©Joy Dunlap https://joydunlap.com

When we make the journey in life less about what we want and more about the people on the path, the encounters and experiences grow our hearts. 

Surprised, humbled and delighted when “The Journey” won first place in the short story category at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference Foundation Awards in November 2020, I’ve since been touched by many congratulatory messages and requests to read it.  As I share “Journey” with you here on Speaking Joyfully, I give glory to God for all His blessings, the opportunities and the people He’s put on my path.

May our journey in life put Jesus in the pilot seat, and keep us ever alert for connections we might miss.

The Journey

©Joy Dunlap

We shuffle onto the plane, carrying bulging backpacks and briefcases filled with computers, business documents and cell phones.  The business flyers and the leisure trippers sit side by side, sometimes two by two, like Noah’s ark, but the animals aren’t the same, not in clothing, not in mindset, not in mission.

The man in the thousand-dollar suit graciously steps out and lets me maneuver into my window seat.  Me with my forest-green backpack filled with a plethora of magazines including People, The New Yorker and Guideposts.  The literary, pop-culture and spiritual living all in one, each with its own influence.  Quickly, I pull out a book, glancing out of the corner of my eye at my seatmate, hoping he’s not a talker.  The opportunity to relax and read is something I cherish since I have to squeeze it in between juggling home and work.

Sixty pages and an hour later, he orders a double on the rocks when the attendants come by.  They pour me a Diet Coke.  In between, I’d eaten two packs of M&Ms, my own soothing manna.  They deliver our meals, a chicken salad with lots of lettuce and little chicken.  Better than just peanuts.

Then it happens.  He speaks.

“You live in San Antonio, do you?” he says, as a piece of lettuce stuck to his upper lip waves like a small green flag when his lips open and close.  The bobbing green against his pink lips and flushed red cheeks remind me of Christmas.  Red and green lights.  Blink, blink, blink.

I touch my napkin to my lips, the universal signal for him to do the same.  No response.  I try to avoid looking at him.  I nod in answer to his question as I gently rub my fingers across my face.  My eyes open wide when my finger touches something moist.  It couldn’t be.  It is.  Ranch dressing on my cheek.  How did that happen?  Embarrassing.

“I used to live there,” he said.  “Before my wife died in that Dallas plane crash.”

Jolted back to listening, I heard, “Then I had to get out of Texas.”

“Where are you now?” I turned slightly towards him and asked as my fingers held my place in the book.

“The power capital of the world.  I figured if I couldn’t have love and marriage, I’d go for money and success.”

His fingers close around the glass and he drains the last few drops of his drink.  Sweat nestles in the furrows of his forehead like irrigation water settling on freshly plowed rows.

“Did it work?’

“Sometimes.  I’m all in to my career and I’m doing all right.  Staying busy is the best medicine.  Next to this, that is,” he says, as he raises his empty glass in a semi-toast.  At that, he rings the call button to order another double.

While he talks to the attendant, I talk to God.  My own desires wage war against obedience.  I really want to finish my book.  I read it years ago, but with all the chaos happening in the world these days, I’d picked it back up for a second read.

“Have you ever lost someone?  Someone you loved?”  His words, crisp yet raspy, puncture my thoughts.

I swallow.  Water wells in my eyes.  “My mom.  She passed away unexpectedly about four years ago.  We were really close so that was tough.”

“Yeah, my mom’s gone too.  A long time.  And the kids, they’ve got their own lives, all their college friends and activities.  But, hey, like I said, I stay busy myself.  I’m on the road about four days a week and then I’ve got lots of work to do when I get home. But, no matter how busy I am, I still miss my wife, my Annie.”

Looking down, he stares into the nearly empty second glass.

“I still miss my mom,” I say softly.  “That hole in your heart never goes away.  The blessing I have is knowing that she’s in heaven.”

“Heaven, yeah?”

I wait.  In sales, you learn the one who speaks first loses. Being a good listener requires patience, not my strength.  My first impulse is to bounce back in the conversation and respond to what sounded like scoffing. Words from the book of James pop in my mind, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Seconds pass.  I keep my lips tightly closed waiting for the Holy Spirit to work.

“Yeah,” he sneers, his lettuce lip curling up.  “I know all about heaven.  Annie used to talk all about that mumbo-jumbo and look where it got her.  She was the good one.  The one who did everything right.  Went to church.  Prayed.  But what good did that do?  Nothing.  She’s gone.”

I nod my head in understanding as he speaks, take a sip of my soda, and turn slightly to face him more.

“What did she talk about when she talked about religion?”

“Jesus this. Jesus that.  But, hey, billions of people in this world don’t believe in Jesus and we can’t believe they’re all wrong.  In fact, lots of those who don’t believe are sports stars and famous actors and, even lottery winners, and they sure seem to be doing all right. To tell you the truth, it sure seems like the ones who talk about Jesus are the ones with no big accomplishments.  And, all that heaven stuff.  While I’d like to believe Annie got what she thought she would, well, I just don’t see it.  We haven’t even found life on another planet much less proven this heaven thing.  The way I figure it is, life is here and now and you better grab what you can now because that’s it.”  He picks up his glass and drains it.

The book I’d been holding slips out of my fingers, falling to the floor between our feet.

“I’ll get it,” he says, lifting up his glass and pushing the tray table up.

He bends over and reaches for it.

Left Behind. What’s that about?” he asks.

The door opens.


Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.  John 14:5-7 NIV

  • Which strangers have you encountered on the journey of life who most impacted you? 
  • Is the woman in “The Journey” initially being selfish?  Judgmental? 
  • Is the man in “The Journey” bitter, angry or sorrowful?  Judgmental? 
  • What connected the two of them? 
  • Where do you hope the journey with God takes you this year? 

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” Matthew 15:32 NIV

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Ephesians 4:2 NIV

Life is Better When It’s Full – Joy-full, Thank-full, Purpose-full and Friend-full!

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