A Bad Rule That Needs To Be Broken

Oct 21, 2019

I sat alone at Gate C31, lost in my own head and surrounded by fellow passengers and all their backpacks and computer bags. In less than 30 minutes, we’d board the plane. After a glance at my watch, I settled into a free chair and pulled out my laptop, content to be alone.

That’s when I heard the screaming.


A woman’s voice. Frantic. Terrified. I looked up, my brain struggling to recognize what my eyes were seeing.

Less than 40 feet away, a mom hovered over her toddler on the carpeted floor.

“No! Nooooooooo!”

She screamed again, desperate, pounding her son’s back. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew he wasn’t making any noise. She, on the hand, was making enough for both of them. That’s when the the truth of the situation hit me hard:

Her little boy was choking.

Although it felt like hours, mere seconds passed as the mom screamed and the rest of us watched in shock. None of us knew what to do. I grabbed my bags and stood, with every intention of going to help. But before I could take even a few steps her direction, the child vomited up what had brought his mama down.

The small plastic lid of a water bottle.

And then the poor woman collapsed in the ground, cradling her boy.

I wish I could send you a screenshot of what the crowd looked like in that moment. Everyone stared, but no one moved. A woman standing next to the scene scooped up the little boy who was now crying. A relative perhaps? The mom, however, sat on the dirty carpet alone, her fear now swallowed up in post-traumatic tears.

Not a single person out of the couple hundred that mobbed the gate moved even a single step closer. They just watched.

I have to admit, I hesitated. “It’s not my business” seems to be the rule we play by these days. We’re supposed to give people space, a wide girth between their lives and our own. But suffering shouldn’t be endured in isolation. And this poor mama was suffering. The tragedy was averted, but her pain hadn’t yet gone away.

She needed to know she wasn’t alone. And that her screams weren’t annoying, embarrassing, or the slightest inconvenience. Instead, they were good and right and beautiful and worthy. This is what living, breathing humans do when they fear losing the ones they love.

So while the crowd watched and gawked, I walked over.

“Are you okay,” I asked? Stupid question, I know. But it was the only way I knew how to enter in.

“How dumb can I be?” she answered. Already she was berating herself, blaming herself for the near tragedy. “I shouldn’t have left it where he could get it.” She tossed the bottle lid on her chair. As if shaming herself would solve anything.

“You’re a good mama,” I told her, knowing it was absolutely true. “I’ve been there. These things happen sometimes, even when we don’t mean for it to.”

I rubbed her back and said the words I would want to hear. “You’re okay. It’s going to be alright,” I said, keeping my voice reassuring, calm. “You are a good mama.” I reminded.

We can endure almost anything as long as we know we’re not alone. When the worst happens, when life chokes and the world around turns dark, what we need most is presence. Those around us might not be able to do a thing to change our reality, but standing back and pulling away only complicates our pain. We need a flesh-and-blood person to step into our horror and remind us it will be okay, that we’re okay. And that, even if the worst happens, we’ll get through it—together.

My friends, it’s time to stop watching and gawking. It’s time to stop playing by rules that aren’t serving us well. The pain of the world IS our business. And if we claim to love Jesus, if we claim we want to live and love as He did, then we have no choice but to enter in. We must exit our comfortable, easy chairs and help those crying around us know, as best we can, they’re not alone.

Because when you and I stop making another’s suffering our business, we become a little less human ourselves. Suffering is an individual reality with the communal solution. We heal together, not alone.

So next time a stranger screams, don’t pull back. Instead, push in. All it takes to stop choking and breathe again is at least one person willing to stick with us, no matter what comes.

HAVE YOU PRE-ORDERED YOUR COPY OF RELENTLESS? Order before November 12 and receive $150 of bonus resources for FREE, including 12 prayers and meditations, framable scripture download, a Spotify Playlist, and a heartfelt video conversation with my dear friend Patsy Clairmont about the journey of faith and suffering. Don’t miss it!

A steep mountain with a quote: Presence lends us courage to persist.

QUESTION: Think of a time when you were facing a crisis—big or small—and someone stepped in to help. How did their presence lend you courage? Now, how can you do this for someone else today?


  1. Sharon Paavola

    My heart was beating as I read your story pleading for this mom! The significant action you took, will be remembered for the rest of her life.
    I agree wholeheartedly with your premise!

    • Patty Carlson

      Thanks for sharing this..brings me back to a situation in life when I was heartbroken over a situation in our family and couldn’t stop crying and a friend saw the tears, and she looked at me and said, “it’s going to be ok.”.,,oh how the Lord used that one phrase to confirm in my heart, “that everything was going to be ok!”

  2. Sondra

    Michele, this is such a beautiful story! Scary and sad, but you brought out such important points! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  3. Gail Helgeson

    What Sharon said.
    My heart was pounding too…YIKES!
    You wrote that as if I was right there with that momma. WOW…I think I would enter in…..I pray I would. This post will stay with me for a long while as a remembrance to do what Jesus would do…enter in. Thank you.

    • Linda Mensching

      This is why I love you. You help us to know how to live life together. I would hope I would push in but would I? I’m shy by nature and that would be out of my comfort zone. But if I am here to serve my Lord and do what He would do then I would have to take that first step. He would supply the courage that I would need to push in. Thank you for helping me to see this. Love you

  4. Rebekah B.

    I will remember this…your story gives me courage and confidence that it’s okay to step closer…Jesus will guide the rest!?

  5. Tricia Ann

    I am one of those people who hesitates in my actions, but I want to love people more. Love them to Jesus. Thank you for sharing that story. Thank you for loving that Mama!

  6. Pam Brown

    Due to using CBD oil I suffered panic attacks so bad that I couldn’t be left alone for weeks. Without my family and friend,Sandy I would have never made it. I couldn’t sleep alone. They constantly reminded me that I would get through this and they would not leave me. My daughter took me home with her and when panic would come she would talk me down. It was weeks of hell. We need family and friends! My church family called me and sent me messages constantly. I thank God people cared.

  7. Jerolyn Rosentrater

    Thank you so much for sharing this. People are desperate to know they matter, that they are seen. Thank you for loving your “neighbor”!

  8. Diane

    This is a beautiful reminder of our assignment as followers of Christ. I’m pretty sure I would have gone to her….I’ve been through so much “hard” in my life I can’t bear to see someone suffer alone.

  9. Susan

    Our world seems to be so uncaring and no one wants to get involved in much of anything. A few years ago, my husband was hospitalized with heart problems. We lived 3 hours from home and all I knew to do was call a friend from home. They drove 3 hours to be with me through some of my darkest days until family could take time off from work. These friends step in with many hurting people and I am so thankful for them…even to this day!

  10. K. Roper

    “Because when you and I stop making another’s suffering our business, we become a little less human ourselves. Suffering is an individual reality with the communal solution. We heal together, not alone.” Oh, my Lord! This is everything! Thank you sooooo much for this poignant and powerful story. I felt every bit of it. Awesome!

  11. Brenda

    Thanks for sharing this! I so agree with this. How we need to remember that we are human, and we so need each other. I’m so thankful that you were there at such a time.

  12. Rebecca Hastings

    I heard a similar frantic mama scream once. It wasn’t in an airport but on a beach, a mama looking helpless to the sea at her children caught in a riptide. And she couldn’t swim. It was heartbreaking.

    My husband and one other woman went in to help. I called 911. It was terrifying, especially when my husband and the other woman found themselves stuck as well.

    Luckily, my husband had the foresight to bring a boogie board. They put the boy on it (the girl made it out of the riptide on her own) until help arrived. (In the form of an angel on a paddle board, but that’s a story for another day.)

    People need help in their most terrifying moments. It means being willing to step in to the terror with them. That can feel hard. But God always meets us in those places of compassion and love. (Even if it’s scary)

  13. Zoe Hisey

    This is so encouraging, Michele. I love that you admit how awkward it felt.
    I have been in something very different yet much the same. I am still impacted by how much she said my effort to connect was exactly what she needed.
    We do need to put our self-conscious aside and be there for each other.

  14. Gail

    You were right on, good job Michelle. I ordered your new book from Amazon. Your I Am book – I bought 4 extra books. I have given 2 away, The comment I got was it’s ministering to me and she is telling others about you and your book. Praise God.

  15. Kelli

    Such a true statement. The world is our business. It needs people to step into the messiness of life and offer the gentle reminder we are not alone.


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