Archive | July, 2020

Safe Vector

2 Jul

“Flight attendants, take your seats.” 

Not the phrase you want to hear when you’re thousands of feet in the air, still an hour away from your Atlanta destination. 

The seat belt light illuminated as the crew scurried down the aisle with the beverage carts. They had not made it to me yet. Oh, boy. This is gonna be fun.

From my window seat, I could see the rain flowing sideways on the glass. Occasionally, out in the endless dark, light flashed, briefly illuminating thick clouds as we began to dip and sway.

Immediately I regretted not taking anxiety meds for the flight. (Never one to mix drugs and alcohol, earlier, at LAX, I had opted for wine instead. Stupid, stupid choice! The calming effects of that fruit of the vine had long since evaporated.)

The plane did a deep plummet. It bounced, shuddered, rattled. It was like I could feel the plane struggling against the volatile, unstable air. I closed my eyes and prayed the crazy silent prayers of the fearful — please, God, please, God, please, God! The man in the seat in front of me was throwing up into a barf bag. A few people screamed out every time we fell like the bottom had dropped away. Tower of Terror ride, anyone? Then, a bright light that illuminated the dark cabin, accompanied by a sound I cannot describe other than to say it was percussive. The plane lurched and dropped even more violently.

Did we just get hit by lightening?! Could I reach my anti-anxiety meds? Could I move at all?

I flattened myself against the seat back, and crazy-prayed for the next hour. Finally, mercifully, we hit air smooth enough to begin our descent. It was one of those landings where everyone cheered.

Thankful and relieved, I dashed off the plane, certain that every second counted if I was going to make my connection to Jackson, MS. I hurried into the tram before the doors closed — a man squeezing in right behind me. 

“Whew! Cutting it close,” I said, adding, “I’m not sure why I’m in such a hurry to get on another plane after the crazy flight I just had.”

“From LAX?” he asked.

I nodded.

“I was on that plane,” he began, his face clouding. “That was ridiculous. I’m a pilot, and that was just dangerous. There’s no <expletive> way they should have sent us along that vector. <Expletive> ridiculous.” 

Oh, boy. He was furious. And me? Just thankful!

What was the difference in our mood? What made him angry and me relieved? 

Control — my friend. Or at least perceived control.

He was accustomed to being in control on an airplane — accomplished, trained, having all the information, and expecting a certain outcome. He probably would have been in communication to the air traffic tower, demanding another vector (I’ve since looked it up — basically it just means a directional heading). He was angry and resentful he had to go through the storm. Certainly it could have been prevented!

Meanwhile, from the back of the cabin, I knew I had no control, and I was in communication to the only One who did. From my perspective, it was a win — I was so thankful to survive that storm!

And of course, that’s the lesson. 

How often do we look back at difficult times with bitterness — even blaming God for sending us through the rough vectors. Why did you let me suffer, Lord? We think we know best, and that He made a mistake, if we acknowledge Him at all. When the air is rough and the journey is perilous, do we think He has overlooked us?

It so happens, the Bible has addressed that. I am in the early weeks of a 30-day covenant with God that includes, among other intentions, ending each day with verses from James 1. “…Consider it pure joy, my brethren, whenever you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NASB)

That harrowing flight was more than two years ago, and my realization of the parallels arrived just this morning as I pondered God’s guidance in these volatile times. Sometimes it’s difficult to “count it all joy,” as another translation has it, when I am facing difficulties. Sometimes the hardships of life are as palpable and unignorable as that bucking aircraft. Certainly, it could have been prevented!

But if we focus on the outcome, with thanksgiving, we can marvel that He carried us through it all, or that He IS carrying us through it all. We can embrace the lessons — sit down, fasten your seat belt and hold on to Me — and marvel in His faithfulness to deliver us safely, increasing our resilience. 

Too often I am like that dead-heading pilot. Grumbling. Wanting to do it my way. Convinced the Control Tower has made a mistake — give me a new vector! I’m taking charge! I am struggling here! How can I stop this?

I am so thankful that He doesn’t hold that against me. And even when I try to burst into the figurative cockpit and sit in His seat, He calmly guides me back to coach. He settles me in, and turns my face toward the window of His might. He promises to bring me safely through the pummeling wind of these trials, shaping me, perfecting my faith along this earthly journey to my ultimate Destination — an eternity with Him.

With seconds to spare that night, I made my connecting flight — but my luggage didn’t. For two years, the story of I’ve told about this trip included the rough flight, yes, but was mostly about the inconveniences of arriving in already-balmy Mississippi without a change of clothes, and buying shorts, a t-shirt, a sun hat and flip flops at the Dollar Tree the next morning so I could watch Day 1 of my son’s track meet in something other than my straight-from-work dark slacks, black sweater and slept-on hair. It made for a funny story, sure.

But now, as I mull over God’s provision for my life in seasons both shaky and smooth, I see the Big Story on that plane, this metaphorical illustration of my own futile but furious struggle to control my circumstances and my outcomes. Me in the cockpit? Y’all better look for parachutes! 

Today, I will acknowledge that God is in control. I will choose to do my part — follow directions (listen!), buckle up (pray!), and take more than a casual glance at that Safety Information Card (the Bible!) Today, I will trust Him.

Wheels up, Captain!

—Cindy McMahon 7/1/20