For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
I haven't converted and I'm not reading scripture on a regular basis, but that passage has stayed with me and I look at it every day. And, it has a point to my story.
On the first leg of my Journey, I sat next to a lanky young man who had contorted himself in the window seat in an effort to get comfortable. He had his hat pulled down over his eyes, in an attempt to sleep. It was a difficult moment for me. I had approached several people in the terminal about allowing me to interview them. Nobody was interested in what I was doing. I had naively assumed that people would love to share their stories. That initial rejection rocked my confidence and I got on the bus convinced that this journey idea was a big mistake.
The guy next to me stirred and we began a conversation. He was heading to Philadelphia from Louisville. I learned that he was one of only 60 people in the country who are trained to handcraft bourbon barrels. He'd been creating barrels for Jim Beam for more than a decade. He then told me his reason for traveling to Philadelphia. He met a woman in one of the many chat rooms for the online game World of Thrones. They struck up a friendship over the course of many months. Earlier this summer, a vicious storm damaged the outside of her house and, knowing he was a skilled craftsman, she asked him to come to Philadelphia to repair her home. Is it turned out, his barrel factory was closed, so he had the opportunity to accept the offer. There is a post script to this story below.
After about 30 minutes, he said: "Can we continue this discussion at the next stop? I need to get some sleep." I said sure and he pulled his hat down over his eyes. Before he fell asleep, I said: "Hey, we never introduced ourselves. I'm Doug." "Nice to meet you he said," he said. "I'm Jeremiah, like in the Bible."
I sat next to him, stunned, thinking about Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you..." I've probably been too much of a skeptic to accept the adage that "there are no coincidences" in the Universe. But at that moment, I knew that the Universe had spoken to me in the form of the lanky, bourbon-barrel craftsman squeezed into the seat next to me. And I knew that, regardless of how it turns out, I needed to move forward on this Journey...that there "was a plan for me."
A post-script on Jeremiah's journey to the East. I was fascinated that a woman would invite a complete stranger to travel a thousand miles and spend five days in her home. No less, someone she met in a chat room for a violent video game like World of Thrones.(I can't recall the source, but I swear I read about a research study indicating that people who participate in chat rooms for violent video games are 300% more likely to dismember another human being). Jeremiah gave me Mary's name and I gave her a call.
After a brief introduction I said: "Mary, did the thought occur to you that this guy who you never met before could be an axe murderer?"
"Of course," she said. "But I'm a psycho-therapist and have always had strong bullshit radar. I felt he was a good man and someone I could trust and I went with that feeling. And, as it turns out, he exceeded my expectations and did great work to boot."
Score one for trust!