A few days ago my adopted nephew, Tyson Birch, had an unforgettable experience on a train in Utah. I’ve known this inspiring young man most of his life, and the fact that he responded in this way might be the least surprising part of the story.
(Tyson’s father, Matt Birch, might be familiar to many of you. His son, Cameron, died shortly after their family received two of the very first Christmas Jars in 2005. A video with the Birches was released last fall with the movie.)
Tyson, second oldest in the Birch bunch, was on an early morning train headed from his home north of Salt Lake City to Provo to assist a good friend in moving out of her apartment.
“Normally I try to free up all the seats around me so someone can sit next to me if they want to,” Tyson said. But with the coronavirus impacting every angle and aspect of life, he sat in an aisle seat with his backpack next to him to impose some smart social distancing.
Tyson confesses he’s a chronic people watcher, so he was startled when a woman seemingly appeared from thin air and sat on the edge of his very same seat. “She was maybe in her early 30s, and she’s right next to me and asking if I held the priesthood.”
He confirmed that he did – specifically the office of elder within the Melchizedek Priesthood. As he spoke, he scooted over and tried to make space for her. But before he could even move his backpack, she lowered her head, gave her name, and asked for a blessing of comfort by the laying on of hands.
“I was still kind of getting settled in my seat and trying to figure out what was happening,” Tyson said. “And she’s looking up at me kind of panicked and saying ‘please.’”
Recognizing the startlingly unusual circumstances, Tyson asked if they could find someplace more private. The stranger declined, and Tyson knew the moving train, the plea in her eyes, and the Spirit agreed there were no other options.
Violating every possible social distancing guideline, he placed his hands lightly on her head and began to bless her. What came next was, for many reasons, probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“As I spoke, I felt prompted to bless her arm. But I questioned it for a second because she specified she needed comfort and hadn’t mentioned any physical pain.”
Having no reason to believe anything would be wrong with the woman’s arm, he said the words that heaven sent. “I blessed her that her arm would continue to heal properly. And then I could hear that she’d started crying.”
When he finished, the woman stood and hugged him tight, kissing his cheek. “I could hardly breathe!” Tyson said, smiling at the memory.
“When she let go of me, she asked how I could have possibly known that she had just gotten a cast off because a recent surgery didn’t go as well as the doctor initially thought. Turns out they would be doing another surgery soon to fix the unexpected complications.”
The woman thanked Tyson again and they had a brief conversation about God’s undeniable love. Soon she stepped off the train at her stop and disappeared.
Still stunned, Tyson was left to wonder, ponder and pray that given the global pandemic, they would both be healthy.
I asked Tyson what he learned from this memorable and moving moment on a morning train. “This was a real reminder to me of how personal and tangible God’s love is for each of us,” he said. “God is so aware of our circumstances. She may have been a stranger, but in reality, she was actually my sister. I know God works through His children, and what a cool chance it was for me to be an instrument for Him.”
Some might still wonder whether this was a miracle or a coincidence, but Tyson doesn’t.
And, naturally, neither do I.
How about you?