It is Sunday, November 17, 1996, approximately 4:20 in the evening. I have taught and preached this weekend at a little church in the southern Arizona desert, and the Tucson traffic has almost made me miss the plane home. I rush to check in at the American Airline ticket counter, then run — as fast as my stubby, out-of-shape body can travel — to the departure gate marked “Dallas.” I appear to be about the last person boarding. I find my aisle seat on the two-passenger side and fasten in. The flight is about 2-1/2 hours to Dallas, where I will change planes for a 45-minute jump down to Houston.
The lady beside me is wearing jeans, but her hair, jewelry and manner suggest that she is a business or professional woman. She appears to be of comfortable means. I wonder if she is Jewish. (Later, I learn that she is not. I am certainly no accurate analyzer of strangers.) As I sit down, she is dozing. Occasionally she opens her eyes and looks out the window, but she shows no interest in talking so I say nothing to her.
Shortly our big jet takes off and soon we are flying northeast at about 30,000 feet. I take out my book for this trip, a new volume by former Dallas Theological Seminary professor Jack Deere, entitled “Surprised by the Voice of God.” As I resume reading, the author is discussing God’s revealing a word or phrase at times to his children which they would not otherwise know, but which will open doors and add weight to their ministry to some specific individual to whom the word or phrase is very meaningful. I am fascinated at the notion.
Silently, I ask God to give me a word or phrase which will be significant to the lady beside me if I can encourage her or help her in any way. Immediately, the name “Karen” comes to my mind — with considerable force. My neighbor is not wearing any initial jewelry and she does not resemble anyone I know by that name. Still the thought persists. “Karen.”
“Is that her name?” I ask myself. How awesome it would be, I reflect, if God has given me her name. But what if I have merely imagined it? Do I dare say anything to her? If I am wrong, she will surely think this is an unusual “line.”
I argue back and forth with myself for a half-hour, perhaps 45 minutes, as I continue to read, glimpsing at my neighbor periodically, neither of us saying anything or making eye contact. Should I say something to her or not? What will she think? Would it be presumptuous? But what if God HAS told me this name? If, because of fear or timidity, I do not say something to her, I will never know.
About an hour-and-a-half into the flight — no words yet spoken between us, we fly over Abilene’s lights far below. She has opened her eyes and is looking out the window. Finally I speak.”There’s a city,” I say. “It must be Abilene.” She replies, “Yes.”
“I have a daughter who lives there and teaches elementary music,” I add. She smiles and says, “You had better tell her hello.” I wave toward the window and say, “Hello, Melanie!” Screwing up my courage, I blurt out, “Your name wouldn’t happen to be Karen, would it?” Obviously startled, she looks directly at me for the first time. “As a matter of fact,” she replies, “it is.”
“I am a Houston lawyer and a Bible teacher,” I tell her. “I have been out in the desert preaching at a little church. And I was just sitting here reading a book about learning to hear God’s voice. I asked God, that if he wanted me to encourage you, to tell me something about you, and the name ‘Karen’ came to mind. Do you need any encouragement in any area of your life?”
“Not that I can think of,” she responds. “Actually, things are going very well for me right now. I have just visited my daughter and her family in Tucson. Her name is Karen also.”
We continue to converse all the way to Dallas — not surprisingly, about God. Karen is Lutheran by birth, attends a Baptist church, and is very committed personally to the Lord. A single breadwinner and young grandmother, she represents a Los Angeles company whose cosmetic products she merchandises to grocery chains throughout the state of Texas. As we talk about God’s faithfulness and power, she confides, “I don’t know how I could make it through life without God. I depend on him in every part of my life.”
We descend into Dallas. I give her a copy of my little book, “Beyond the Sacred Page,” and invite her to visit our congregation if she is in Houston on a Sunday. We part, both laughing with joy at what has happened, and marvelling at the God who loves each of us so intimately — the heavenly Father who even knows our names.
John 10:3; Isa. 43:1; Ex. 33:17; 1 Kings 13:2; Isa. 45:1-7; Lk. 1:13; Matt. 1:21).