They Also Serve Who Drink and Weep

Coming home .. .. The writing life takes me away from home often. I write this the day after returning from 2 weeks of travel, home to Kodiak Island, to my husband and sons and daughter and Yorkshire terrier who badly needs a groom. I walk through my door and want everyone to kiss me as if I have just been born, as indeed I have.


I am home, but I cannot stop thinking about her, the woman I met on the plane. It was the fourth and last plane of the trip. I was almost there. I edged down the aisle and saw her—crying. Sobbing on her phone. My eyes went dark, my heart tightened. As I stepped past her, I heard her say, “They just told me. I have pancreatic cancer. He gave me 3 – 6 months to live. I don’t want to die!” and she dissolved again into weeping, running her hands through her hair.

She was beautiful, dark-skinned, dressed in expensive jeans, a leather jacket. Her phone was pink. She gripped it so hard, hanging on to whoever was at the other end. My seat was one row back and one row over. I could see her profile, hear every word. I looked around desperately. A woman was dying! And we were calmly sitting in our seats, buckling our seat belts against death—and would soon follow all the safety requirements, while she was no longer safe. What do I do?

a woman with hands covering face

Men sat in front of her, and in back, each one with the bland face we wear when we pretend we don’t hear because we too are afraid. I wanted to do this too, but there was an empty seat beside her. She would be alone this entire flight with no one .. .. And how could I forget what I had prayed that morning? In the hotel room, on my face, wanting this day, this one day, to have a pure heart, to serve someone . . . “May your kingdom come, Your will be done .. May I hear you and serve you this day . . ..” and off I went into another day of terminals and planes—and there she is near me, still crying, the seat beside her empty.  I have work to do—a chapter is due, edits for an article are due, but the seat beside her is empty.

airplane seat

Shaking, I unbuckle my seatbelt, lift my bag and stand beside her. “Is it okay if I sit beside you?” I smile. She looks up at me, surprised, with her ruined face and nods, trusting, like a child, her eyes again filling with tears. I sit, she watches me settle. “What has happened?” I ask her and it pours out, but there are hands now to catch what falls, our shoulders touch, I stroke her arm, and we mourn and grieve and sit together in the shock of it. She is young. She knows Jesus, but she doesn’t want to die she cries again and again through a twisted mouth. I silently scream to Jesus to give me the words. I need them when I am writing, but I need them even  more now … .and they come. At one point she grasps my hands and says, “God sent you to me.” Mostly I am there to cry with her, to drink chardonnay with her. I know the chardonnay will wreck me, but had she offered me whiskey, I would have drunk that too.

It wasn’t much. I write all this not for anyone to say, “Oh, what a great servant you are!” Because I am not. How many people have I not seen and walked past? How many have I seen and still walked past? But this is instead about this wondrous, terrifying God we serve, who has asked one of his daughters to die a hard, early death, and who asked another selfish frightened daughter to sit with her in her fear and aloneness for a short time. It was so little. And she staggered off the plane to walk into the end of her life—and I staggered into a car taking me to stages and microphones.

Here is what I remember : “They also serve who only stand and wait.” John Milton wrote in his sonnet “On His Blindness.” I was going to speak on podiums, in many places, before many people for two weeks, but none of that mattered then. Of all I did on that trip, perhaps this mattered most: “They also serve who only sit and weep.”

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Can tears really be enough? For that day, for that hour, yes. God will provide another servant, and another for every empty seat beside her.

Do we dare ask this each morning? “May I hear you and serve you this day.” Yes, dare. Then watch for the empty seat. Bring tissues. Drink wine if you must. Become a child. Give whatever you’ve been given. Sometimes it will be words. More, it will be your presence and your tears.

And the kingdom of God will come near.

30 Replies to “They Also Serve Who Drink and Weep”

  1. Heart-wrenching gut-punching truth: “I write all this not for anyone to say, “Oh, what a great servant you are!” Because I am not. How many people have I not seen and walked past? ” The lines sucked the breath from this busy sister. Thank you. I needed that.

  2. Wonderful. thank you. Just the perspective I needed as I approach my deadline and have said no to the important in lieu of the “urgent”. This will give me pause.

    1. Laurie–thanks for pausing. So true—-we try to balance all these things that feel equally important, and then we’re smacked on the head with what really IS important!! Thanks for reading, Laurie.

  3. Thank you, Leslie, for this beautiful and touching post that was so timely for me. I’m praying for the young woman on the plane and also thanking God for providing you to her that day.

  4. Oh man. That touched me so deeply. Thank you so much for getting out of your seat and being the one who could be there for her. My prayer is that this stirs many more like you. That’s the love that Jesus speaks of. Thank you.

    1. Megan—-I don’t have any courage in myself. It’s what He does, though, regularly. How else can we go out our doors every day?? Thank you for reading, Megan. I know God will empower you just the same way.

  5. What a moving story! “Being with” is just what that woman needed. Too often we think we’re supposed to fix someone with words, but words are not what God wants from us. He wants our presence. That’s what you gave that woman that day. Thank you for sharing the moment with us.

    1. Connie–so kind. I’m just thankful God didn’ t let me forget that prayer that morning. And that He enabled. (And if we could get over the idea that we have to fix things . . . we might minister so much more!!)

  6. How I wish someone would have done the same for me. I was on a plane, returning from my trip to be with my adult son. He’d just been diagnosed with cancer….again. My friends at home didn’t understand my grief, either. I hope to be that soft shoulder for someone else.

    1. Ohhhh Jane!! So sorry no one was there. But you have resolved to be someone who IS there. What grace. I know God will call you to someone’s side at the right time. And I I’m so sorry to hear of this great grief. Your son. Praying now for his strengthening, for his spirit to find rest in God’s Holy Spirit . . .. Blessings, dear sister. Leslie

  7. Beautiful–simply beautiful. You remind all of us of what it means to be servant. Thank you for sitting down next to the woman. And thank you for allowing God to use you as a vessel through which He has ‘come near’ in your words.

    1. Mickey—-All of this happened not long ago, but I am reminded even as I think of it to not rest on this one moment, this one woman . .. .but to continually be that person. Thank you for your encouragement—and I hope we will all ask God to make us a vessel that nears those who are suffering.

    1. Kay–I love that! Just that simple resolve, and to choose the place where you will serve. Thank you for offering yourself to those kids and staff, who will be blessed by your servanthood.

    1. Jarm—-yes, so true. How can we regret following His lead? It will not always be comfortable, and we won’t do it perfectly, but there IS such joy (through tears) in the obedience of it. thanks for reading!

  8. Leslie, you will receive stars in your crown. That lady was right, God sent you to her. This was definitely a God moment for her. Bless you for your obedience,

  9. Thank you, Leslie, for reminding us to step outside our own needs, to keep our eyes and hearts open to act when Jesus moves us, and to weep or drink whiskey when it comforts another. God bless you and your inspirational writing!

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