Please don’t sit here, I silently willed to the people passing by. It’s an almost full flight. I continued hoping that the travelers would keep moving toward the back of the plane, passing up the empty middle seat next to me.
“Mind if I sit here?” one shy traveler asked.
I looked up to see a man 10 in his mid-60s asking the question. He sat down, yielding the armrest to me, and smiled a playful grin. How could I not like him?
“So, what do you do?” I asked, thinking I might be able to start and finish the obligatory conversation, and move on to the book I was holding. He had no carry on luggage.
“I farm,” he said. “In Central Nebraska.”
And then he told me his story. He runs a family farm in Central Nebraska, approximately 30 fields that span 30 miles. From Kearney to Gibbon, much of it on rented land.
At first, he and his father farmed. Then he and his brother farmed. Now it’s him and his two sons. His grandsons have said they want to farm, too. Sure it’s hard, but they find ways to keep going.
His wife suffers from MS, a debilitating disease that shuts down muscle groups one by one. She’s had it almost 20 years. Five of her high school classmates were diagnosed with it and have passed away. She considers herself fortunate.
I’m leaning in. “How do you cope?” I asked.
Every morning he gets out of bed, fixes her breakfast and helps her get dressed before he heads off to farm. She reads a lot of books, he tells me. Including the Bible. Friends call her and grandchildren stop by after school to visit with her. She gets around in a wheelchair. She keeps a phone close by so that if she falls, she can call him and he can help her.
One day, after a faithful friend who calls every morning didn’t get an answer, the friend called her husband, the farmer who immediately went home and found his wife on the bathroom floor.
“Why didn’t you call me?” he asked.
“I knew you would be home soon,” she said.
Another day he came home and found her on the floor surrounded by grandchildren. She had fallen, and they couldn’t help her up. They made the best of it by playing cards together until he returned. They looked up and smiled at him as he entered the house.
I want to meet this woman, I thought to myself. She sounds wonderful.
Yes, it’s hard, he continued. She’s frustrated that she can’t do more for herself, but she refuses to give in to self-pity. “You can leave me,” she once said. “I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”
“No,” he said. “This is the life God has given us. We’ll find a way to make it work as best as we can.”
Children, grandchildren and a network of friends, including those from church, help him keep that promise to her. The plane descended toward the airport and the captain turned on the fasten seatbelt sign.
After thinking for a moment, he said, “I get up every morning and I know God is with me. That’s how I cope.”
The presence of God, that’s his secret. Friends and family help, but his faith is the glue that holds it all together. God never promised a pain free life, but he did promise his presence. “I will be with you always,” Christ said. “Even to the end of the age.”