UA Flight 581 to Portland is delayed and now will depart at 8:30 from Gate C27. *Insert 9 million eye rolls.* The notice on the reader board was the latest in a series of unpleasant travel updates on my trip to Portland. Those of you who travel with any degree of frequency know exactly this moment in your itinerary. As my friend Sammi astutely points out, when it comes to delays and trouble with flights, its never just one thing. Either your travel goes off without a hitch or it becomes the longest, most convoluted story you tell at Thanksgiving.
I won’t regale you with the all the details. Reading it would either make you cringe from the memory of a time when your travel plans were just as messed up, or you’d roll your eyes thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, travel plans are never right, get over it.” Needless to say, there I was. Decidedly not on a plane. Decidedly not yet home.
I was standing behind a gentleman in line at the gate, waiting to ask our questions of the gate agent. I surveyed the details as he spoke with the agent. Red Sox hat, blue button-down shirt, jeans….hmmm….white beard, roundy glasses…..hmmmm, Is that Bob Goff? Disneyland watch! Yes. No doubt, that’s him.
Slow your roll, Jenn, he’s travelling. Leave him alone. I didn’t make any fan-girl moves and calmly approached the counter and asked, “Is flight 581 still slated to depart at 8:30 or will there be an additional delay?” Travel Hack: Gate agents often know more details than what’s on the reader board. If the flight will ultimately be cancelled I want to know so I can just get to a hotel and go to sleep. So, I ask. I cannot even tell you how tremendously lackadaisical and uninformed and unhelpful the response was. Whatever. Add it to the list of reasons this trip is a mess.
As I’m walking away I notice Mr. Goff has taken a seat, leaning up against a wall, and is eating. I walked by him, thinking to myself, “Now he’s eating and still travelling. Definitely leave him alone.” I passed by. And then paused. Do it, Jenn. I turned back around and awkwardly approached, knelt down next to him as he took a bite of his dinner (jeez, girl) and said, “I’m so sorry to interrupt you while you’re eating. Are you Bob Goff?” He sprang to his feet, mid-bite, eyes bright and wide, and said, “Yes! That’s me!” I reached out my hand to shake his, but instead of taking it he opened wide his arms and he hugged me. Excitedly he asked, “Who are you?”
Pause for a moment to consider the beauty of the question “Who are you?” in contrast to “What’s your name?”
Let that marinate in your spirit for one lovely moment.
“I’m Jennifer Lenhardt! I just wanted to thank you for your book Everybody Always. It was such an encouragement to me in a season when I needed encouraging. So thank you!”
Hand on his heart, “Wow! I’m so glad to hear that. Are you living in Portland, still?”
“Yes, I am! I’m headed home tonight. I’m in the first year of a divorce with two small kids and your book was just such a blessing.”
“How old are your kids?”
“Almost two, and five. I listened to it on audible and hearing your voice was like listening to a favorite uncle, reiterating what is real and true and cheering me on.” I got a little teary-eyed, like you do when you’re me and crying is what happens with any and all feelings.
“Your water table’s pretty high right now. Are you writing? Writing all this down? This is the time, when all those feelings are right there, right at the surface.”
Stunned is an understatement. “Actually, I am writing. Yes, I’m working on a book right now.”
“Great! This is the time to get those fingers on a keyboard! What’s your book about?”
“It’s a book about breaking cycles of failure. It’s about how teachers can help their students who are failing in Math. How failing in Math isn’t a matter of skill so much a matter of identity and belonging. I used to be a math teacher.”
“Wow! Where are you promoting your work? What platforms are you using to spread the word?”
“I just purchased a domain name and I’m working on my website. And I am involved in a podcast with a colleague and dear friend. I’ve spoken about this at a couple conferences in California and at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. And I’m scheming about a TedX talk.”
“What about MomCon? You know? You have one conversation with 30 moms there and it’ll spread like wildfire. Who’s the target audience?”
“Teachers I think, but this isn’t like a ‘How to teach math’ book, it’s about the softer side of teaching, about the humans we have in our classes, about seeing students. It’s not a Christian book, per se.”
“It’s about telling the truth.”
“Yes. It’s about telling the truth.”
“What about a literary agent? Who will publish it?”
“I work for a division of a publishing company, so maybe they will? I’m not sure yet.”
He offered the name of an agent in California, he offered me snips of advice about being a Jesus-follower and how that impacts writing and would impact my book. He asked more questions, offered more encouragement. He told me Sweet Maria was flying in that evening to have dinner with him in the airport before he heads off to Afghanistan. Let me repeat that. He told me they haven’t had dinner together in a few nights and that it is important, so she was flying out to Chicago and then back so they could have dinner together.
He said, “Get your story out there while its fresh and all your feelings are so strong. This will be an encouragement to thousands. You will bless thousands.” Then he thanked me for saying hello, I wished him safe travels, we hugged goodbye and parted ways.
I walked back to my colleague that was on the same flight and said, “You’ll never guess who I just met! Bob Goff!” She wasn’t familiar with him or his work. I told her a little bit and then we went about the business of w a i t i n g for our flight.
Let me just pause to provide a little smidge of perspective. I had a nasty cold. I was exhausted from travelling while sick. I had just finished two days of company meetings. In those meetings, a person had said a thing, to me, that was over the line and hurt my feelings. I was on night four away from my babies. My FaceTime call with my daughter was teary and heavy. It was all heavy. My literal and proverbial baggage was heavy. You know that Lauren Daigle song, Look Up Child? Meeting and talking with Bob Goff felt like God’s gentle, quiet way of seeing me. “Jenn. Look up, child.” Tough stuff with work, tough stuff with my kids, with their dad, with travel, with health, with all the things. None of that is the main thing.
Look up, beloved one. Look up.
I share this story as a reminder and encouragement to myself. Perhaps it’s an encouragement to you as well. He is a big, good, God. He sees all the things, all the people. And every now and then, when we find ourselves knee-deep in the weeds, He finds a way to remind us that He was before all things, and through Him all things hold together.