I board an airplane for the first time in ten years. I’m all by myself on a cloudy day and I’m a bit nervous…ok, a lot nervous. I remember that I recently posted about fear on my Facebook page and have written more than once about fear on my blog. But here I am buckled in my seat attempting to fend off panic by reading Psalm 34 on how the Lord delivered me from all my fears. All of them, Lord? Really? ‘Cause my fear meter is pegged at the moment.
After takeoff (which is one of my least favorite parts of flying, landing being another, and well, the actual flying part being the other), we ascend several thousand feet through solid whitish grayness. Up, up, up through complete nothingness. Sure glad I got a window seat for this view. Of nothing. For some reason at this time, I recall the moment an X-ray tech slid me into a narrow, whitish grayish MRI tube, and wish I could now inform the pilot that he needs to slide me right back out of this tube.
But when I look out my window again between prayers and between glancing to my left where I picture a strong angel in the small seat, I see what you see in this photo. We break through the lower cloud cover and there is the gorgeous sunset blazing through, with another layer of clouds above.
Being the type who looks for a spiritual application in nearly everything, of course I’ve got one for flying. The experience of being strapped into a jet engine-powered tube and being flung into the sky, well, it’s a lot like life–fast, bumpy, and scary, and sometimes you can’t see where you’re going. But then you break through the clouds into a place of relative serenity where you can enjoy the ride and the view for a bit. The unknown is still ahead, but you can see God so clearly in that moment…sense His presence, feel His comfort, absorb His peace.
But then the thing has to land. This 60-ton tube with engines has to get from hurtling through the air at 300+ mph back to the earth, all in one piece, on good old terra firma, and then manage to come to a complete stop so I can get off. The pilot, apparently unaware of the effect his actions will have on the jittery occupant of seat 19F, puts on the brakes right there in the sky. Disturbing sounds, disturbing wobbling. And then he tilts the plane, which causes me to wonder if this unnerving tilting is on purpose or if the plane is actually just uncontrollably careening to the earth. And, oh no, I have yet to witness to a single soul on board.
Of course, since I’m married to an aircraft mechanic, I know the pilot is actually lowering the flaps and bringing the plane down to the runway at the proper speed, attitude, and altitude. And since I’m married to an aircraft mechanic, I have heard way too many stories about what can go wrong. At this point I’ve stared at the seat beside me multiple times, knowing full well there really is an angel stationed there, albeit probably one of the smaller ones assigned only to business class and compact cars. But he’s still an angel and I figure even a smaller one can fulfill Psalm 34:7 and encamp around me. And silence the voice of my mechanic husband, as well as that of the flight attendant who had previously instructed us to use our seat cushions should we see the need to float. Good heavens.
I whisper more prayers for a safe landing past the water I see below me and to get to finish raising my children, then feel the grinding jolt of the landing gear lowering. I hang on as the tires bump the runway. Upon contact with the ground, the plane morphs into a runaway bullet train rocketing down the track. Suddenly the pilot reverses thrust (impressive, eh?) and applies the actual brakes, and within seconds the plane comes to a crawl as it taxis to the gate. And I breathe, Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Oh, how I love Him. And walking on the ground.
On the return flight, my mechanic husband is with me. We are seated on the plane 30 minutes past the scheduled departure time, so I pray that the fleet service and flight crews are not rushing through procedures to get this plane off the ground. Then I hear a disheartening chopping, hammering sound. I ask mechanic husband what the noise is. He calmly informs me, “They’re probably just busting up ice.” Ice?? It’s October in the southwestern United States, but the fleet service crew is hammering away at ice on the bottom of the plane and landing gear? I ask mechanic husband, just to clarify, “So the ice is from up in the atmosphere?” (I really can’t believe I’m telling this part of the story.) He responds, “No! They’re busting up ice in the galley!” As in, the flight attendants in the galley right in front of us are breaking up the ice in the bags. For drinks. Inside the plane. Sometimes my creative side just needs to stop.
That mechanic I’m married to? After his second or third plane-related comment, none of which serve to alleviate my fears, I tell him to just not talk. I am joking, sort of. Since we’ve been instructed to turn off all electronic devices (as if cell phones determine the fate of this flight and all on board), I dig my actual Bible out of my bag so I can reread Psalm 34, and then I just hold onto my Bible for comfort. Who knows, maybe it will also make a good flotation device.
Spiritual application, anyone? When you feel like you’re sinking or headed for disaster or just scared out of your wits, hang on to truth, to the word of God. Claim it, believe it, know it, trust it. Claim Jesus, believe Him, know Him, trust Him. He knows how to bring you through all the turbulence and blind spots into a place of rest and peace. His power and love and truth will hold you up, buoy you, keep you from drowning.
Does trusting Him mean you will never be scared? That you will never wonder if you really meant all that stuff you wrote about not being fearful? That you will never wish airplanes hadn’t been invented? Probably not. Because even though He tells us over and over do not fear, there are times when we do fear. There are times when we are just plain (plane?) scared. But I think it’s during those times that He proves Himself to us, that He brings us through, so that the next time we are in a daunting situation, we can look back and be reminded that now, in this moment, we are OK. Because He is faithful to help us trust Him and to become fearless. Little by little, fear by fear, flight by flight.
So I’ll have to get back to you about my next aviation adventure. Maybe I won’t wait ten years for the next flight–because now I am fearless. Well, more fearless than I was before. But I still might reread Psalm 34 and tell my mechanic husband not to talk until we’re off the plane…
Janice Powell 2013
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them. Psalm 34:7 NAS