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Right before the jetway door closed, I scrambled aboard the plane going from LA to Chicago, lugging my laptop and overstuffed briefcase. It was the first leg of an important business trip and I was running late. I had a ton of work to catch up on, half wishing, half praying I muttered, "Please God, do me a favor; let there be an empty seat next to mine, I don’t need any distractions." I was on the aisle in a two seat row. In the seat beside

mine, next to the window, was a young boy wearing a big red tag around his neck: Minor Traveling Unattended. The kid sat perfectly still, hands in his lap, eyes straight ahead.

He’d probably been told never to talk to strangers. Good, I thought. Then the flight attendant came by. "Michael, I have to sit down because we’re about to take off," she said to the little boy. "This nice man will answer any of your questions, okay?" Did I have a choice? I offered my hand, and Michael shook it twice, straight up and down. "Hi, I’m Jerry," I said. "You must be about 7

years old." "I’ll bet you don’t have any kids," he responded. "Why do you think that? Sure I do." "Because I’m six." "I was way off, huh?" The captains’ voice came over the speakers: "Flight attendants, prepare for takeoff." Michael pulled his seat belt tighter and gripped the armrests as the jet engines roared. I leaned over and said, "Right

about now, I usually say a prayer. I ask God to keep the plane safe and to send angels to protect us." "Amen," he said, then added, "but I’m not afraid of dying. I’m not afraid because my mama’s already in heaven." "I’m sorry." I said. "Look at those boats down there!" Michael said as the plane banked over

the Pacific. "Where are they going?" "Just going sailing, having a good time. And there’s probably a fishing boat full of guys like you and me." "Doing what?" he asked. "Just fishing, maybe for bass or tuna. Does your dad ever take you fishing?" "I don’t have a dad." Michael sadly responded. Michael got the VIP treatment from the crew during snack time. I took out my laptop and tried to work on a talk I had to give, but my mind

kept going to Michael. I couldn’t stop looking at the crumpled grocery bag on the floor by his seat. He’d told me that everything he owned was in that bag. While Michael was getting a tour of the cockpit the flight attendant told me his grandmother would pick him up in Chicago. In the seat

pocket a large manila envelope held all the paperwork regarding his custody. He came back explaining, "I got wings! I got cards! I got more peanuts. I saw the pilot and he said I could come back anytime!" For a while he stared at the manila envelope. "What are you thinking?" I asked Michael. He didn’t answer. He buried his face in his hands and started sobbing. "What’s the matter buddy?" I asked.

All I got were muffled words "I don’t know my grandma. Mama didn’t want her to come visit and see her sick. What if Grandma doesn’t want me? Where will I go?" "Michael, do you remember the Christmas story? Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus? Remember how they came to Bethlehem just before Jesus was born? It was late and cold, and they didn’t have anywhere to stay, no family, no hotels, not even hospitals where babies could be born. Well, God was watching out for them. He found them a place to stay; a stable

with animals." "Wait, wait," Michael tugged on my sleeve. "I know Jesus. I remember

now." Then he closed his eyes, lifted his head and began to sing. His voice rang out with a strength that rocked his tiny frame. "Jeeesus

looooves me--thiiiiiis I knowwwwwww. For the Biiiiiible tells meeeeee sooooo....."

Passengers turned or stood up to see the little boy who made the large sound. Michael didn’t notice his audience. With his eyes shut tight and voice lifted high, he was in a good place. "You’ve got a great voice," I told him when he was done. "I’ve never heard anyone sing like that." "Mama said God gave me good pipes just like my Grandma’s," he said. "My

Grandma loves to sing, she sings in her church choir." The seat belt sign came on as we approached O’Hare. By the time the seat belt sign went off, passengers were rushing down the aisle. Michael and I stayed seated.

"Are you gonna go with me?" he asked. "I wouldn’t miss it for the world buddy!" Clutching his bag and the manila envelope in one hand, he grabbed my hand with the other. The two of us followed the flight attendant down the jetway. All the noises of the airport seemed to fill the corridor.

Michael stopped, slipping his hand from mine, he dropped to his knees. His mouth quivered. His eyes brimmed with tears

"What’s wrong Michael? I’ll carry you if you want." When I knelt next to him, he grabbed my neck. I felt his warm, wet face as he whispered in my ear, "I want my mama!!!"

I tried to stand, but Michael squeezed my neck even harder. Then I heard a rattle of footsteps on the corridor’s metal floor. "Is that you baby?" I couldn’t see the woman behind me, but I heard the warmth in her voice. "Oh baby," she cried. "Come here. Grandma loves you so much. I need a hug baby. Michael’s grandma stroked his arm. "You’ve got folks waiting for you out there Michael. Do you know that you’ve got aunts and uncles and cousins?" She patted his skinny shoulders and started humming. Then she lifted her head and sang. I wondered if the flight attendant told her what to sing, or maybe she just knew what was right. Her strong, clear voice filled the passageway, "Jesus loves me -- this I know..." Michael’s gasps quieted. Still holding him, I rose, nodded hello to his grandma and watched her pick up the grocery bag. Right before we got to the doorway to the terminal, Michael loosened his grip around my neck and reached for his grandma. As soon as she walked across the threshold with him, cheers erupted. From the size of the crowd, I figured family, friends, pastors, elders, deacons, choir members and most of the neighbors had come to meet Michael. As I made my way to the gate for my connecting flight, I barely noticed the weight of my overstuffed briefcase and laptop. I started to wonder

who would be in the seat next to mine this time...... And I smiled.


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