I love traveling and visiting new places, but I have never liked the plane ride it takes to get there. In the past, I would take motion sickness medication and sleep until I reached my destination. For a while I tried reading, but that usually made me sick. Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy flying until I started asking “the story.”
A few years ago, my husband and I had a trip planned. As usual, I was nervous about flying, but traveling with my husband always makes me feel better. As I walked down the center of the plane I chose a seat next to a sweet lady in her 80’s that reminded me of my grandmother. A few minutes into the trip I turned to her and said, “Tell me your story.” She gently responded with, “You don’t want to know my story.” I said, “Oh, but I do.”
I was speechless as she shared about her life in a concentration camp during WWII. At times, she had tears in her eyes as she told me the story. I was overcome by the sense of peace and forgiveness on her face in spite of the heartrending experience she had lived through. Her faith and trust in Christ led her to extend forgiveness to the men that had beaten her father and raped her sister.
Once I asked her for her story, she became a different person. She was still a sweet and soft-spoken lady, but her story made me realize how much strength, compassion, and faithfulness was hidden behind her delicate appearance. My encounter with her changed me, and has changed every plane ride since then. Once I started asking for the story of the person next to me, plane rides became a whole new experience!
Since meeting this amazing woman, I have asked numerous plane passengers their story. But it is only recently that I started asking the people sitting next to me at church. I suppose knowing that I will likely see them again makes it feel a little riskier.
I have had many fascinating adventures, but the encounters I have enjoyed the most, that have been the most life changing, have come from the people that are most different from me.
Once I started asking for “the story,” immigrants became neighbors, the elderly became my peers, and the youth became my teachers. Once I started asking “the story,” the disabilities of acquaintances disappeared, only to be reintroduced as a beautiful and integral part of the story.
What I love most about the story of a person with a disability is the variety of forms in which their story can come. Their story may be presented to us through loved ones, a computer, a spirited conversation, or even silence. Whether it is on a plane ride or an hour in a church pew, we have the opportunity to reach across the aisle and listen to someone’s story. Once we start asking for “the story,” we no longer evaluate disabilities, but instead find ourselves getting lost in the story of someone’s life.
“And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Corinthians 3:3
Deana Boggess is the author of Grace Without Margins and the Managing Director of Grace Without Margins, LLC. Deana served as an educator for 22 years and has been involved in disability ministry for 22 years as well. Her passion is to dispel fears and educate the church on disability issues. Her joy is teaching children about children with disabilities and how to be an encouraging friend.