Daily Devotionals

Lessons Through Strangers in Unexpected Places

Posted in

Scripture: “… But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13:13


Ten years ago, my husband and I traveled to Napa Valley, California to celebrate our 15th anniversary. We had spent months lining up an itinerary that surely would unfold into sweet memories. Bicycle rides to nearby wineries, rich-tasting food paired with deep Cabernets, expansive views of green rows from a hot-air balloon ride. As we had hoped, it was a trip that left a permanent mark on our brains, but not exactly in all the ways we had carefully planned. God had a message for us there, better than any Happy Anniversary Hallmark card could ever deliver.   


Confessions of a traveler: Sometimes long flights on highly anticipated vacations that require lots of packing give my husband and me a bit of anxiety… and sometimes a couple of doses of anxiety from two Type A people leads to a little bickering. And so it went. Somewhere between dropping our bags in our room and finishing our first bites of the most delectable dinner I’d ever tasted, a snide remark slipped, a sharp reply darted, and two little lovebirds transformed into foul fowl. Don’t ask me what our issue was, who started it, or how it was settled. I remember none of that, but I do remember the events and strangers that stole our attention and set us on the right path afterward.


It was the day of the hot air balloon ride, which was strongly recommended on Napa websites. Two fellas in a beat-up van picked us up along with another couple. Complete strangers, but it only takes a little time to learn alot about someone. She was a teacher, he was retired. They had children and a happy life. They had saved a year for this vacation, and, like us, they’d never been to Napa or ridden in a balloon. The van kept winding around roads we thought would never end. While my husband and the lady exchanged photos of children, her husband and I quieted. Car sickness. We looked at each other and without a word understood our commonness in thought: If this stinking van doesn’t stop soon, it’s going to be trouble. Our spouses caught on and asked the driver to make a pit stop, fast. I jumped out– fresh air was all I needed– and my new buddy made his way to the restroom.  


Only a couple of minutes passed, as I grabbed something fizzy to drink and shuffled back toward the exit. Then it happened. I heard a thud and a slightly familiar name yelled in panic. Flexed feet stuck out of the restroom door, held ajar by a body that had collapsed on the floor. Someone dialed 911 while we rushed over to find our new friend in the desperate arms of his wife, calling out his name. He looked toward her with a blank stare as a monotone sound came from his lips. He was having a stroke. Tears blinked from my eyes as my husband and I sat by the wife and rubbed her husband’s shins. The ambulance whisked away the couple; the van carried my husband and me back to the hotel. Silence– no words, only tears of concern for people we’d just met.  


How quickly life can change. Up one road, laughter; down the same road, silence. In one direction, hope and expectancy. Then a switchback jolts you in a new direction of loss, regret, and questions. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was think. What if that had been my husband? I wanted time back. Time. More time for my new friends whose celebration had turned to disaster. And more time for my own husband and me to spend living a life of love. Time living in love: That’s all that matters. 


Through unexpected occurrences and unknown people, God sent us a message that day that we’ll never forget. Life is precious, so live every minute loving the one you’re with.  


Prayer: Sweet Lord, thank you for preserving the life of that couple that day years ago, through whom you sent a message of love. Help me keep my eyes fixed on you, the Giver of life, the Author of love.  Amen.


Submitted by Caroline Bennett