It was for a while, but now it’s now no secret that I abhor flying. This raw hatred of mine toward flying began when I was pregnant with my oldest child and the turbulence that I would normally snooze through felt like a looming threat to my unborn son. Irrational fear gripped me, and I haven’t been able to shake it since. I’ve tried everything. I pray. Oh, I pray. I read scripture. I pray. I watch movies. I pray. I study the science of flight. I pray. I study flight attendants. I pray.
So to go on these hardcore flying trips to Alaska and to other places I’ve been to around the world I do a couple of things. The first thing I do, quite actively and purposefully, is live in denial. I do not think about the flying part until I am buckling my seat belt. Well, actually, that’s not totally true. I ask my Sunday school class to pray for sanity and safety before I go, but then no more thinking after that. Denial can be a beautiful thing.
Secondly, I read the 91st Psalm. It’s been read in my family before each trip for a few generations. I could tell you story after story of God’s miraculous hand of protect during our various travels, including one where the axle broke on our shifty-McCracken, Plymouth Horizon on our way home from Washington DC in the 1980’s and rendered the front, right wheel and steering wheel useless at top highway speeds. . . But that’s for another day. I am careful not to read this Psalm as a superstitious, family chant, but rather, I remain mindful of the promises of God’s hand in our lives in accordance with his good will for us all. I firmly believe I can trust him with my family no matter what and with that comes peace. . .
Except that I really, really don’t want to fall from the stratosphere with a couple hundred other moms, dads, beloved family members, or children. Oh, how I hate, detest that thought so much that I just fly along feeling like I am dangling precariously closer to a massive screaming and falling situation with each passing mile.
That being said, it’s really not the death that gets me as much as the painful, several-mile-long, fall. I can’t even handle the dropping sensation of a roller coaster without fighting the urge to black out. We’ve all gotta die at some point, but I could, in theory, opt out of falling to my death.
I hope to goodness you’re chuckling to yourself at me. . . It would make me feel better if you were.
So, what am I writing about? Oh, yes. Alaska. We take a large commercial airliner for the five hour flight from Atlanta to Seattle or maybe two and half hours to Minneapolis. Then a smaller airliner from one of those two cities for a few more hours to Anchorage, where we must spend the night because the flight out to Nome doesn’t happen until the next morning.
The flight on Alaska airlines from Anchorage to the Northwestern part of the state (either directly to Nome or a quick stop in Kotzebue in the Arctic Circle), not connected by any roads to rest of the continent, is on a combi-jet. The front half of the airplane is strictly for cargo to and from one of the most remote regions of the world, and the back half looks like a typical, commercial airliner. It looks quite odd, and since it’s me talking here, creepy as all-get-out to see an abrupt wall directly in front of me instead of seats leading up to the cockpit.
From Nome, it’s another hour or so, 8 or 9 passenger, bush flight out to a strip of runway on the Island of St. Lawrence on which the villages of Gambell and Savoonga lie. The first time I flew on one of those bush flights in 2012, I posted to my friends on Facebook to pray for me before I could even walk out onto the tarmac. I was ridiculously FREAKED OUT until I clicked that seatbelt. Then peace washed over me like a flood. We had the most serene flight out to the island and back with world-class pilots. Those flights were better than any commercial flight I had ever been on. Plus, you just don’t fly terribly high, so at least if I crash into the Baring Sea it’s over before I have much time to think about it.
This year was different, though. We got to Nome on schedule, but fog over Gambell delayed our flight out there. The bush airline, Raven, wanted so much to help us get out there that they finally called us at the church we were hanging out at in Nome to come back to the airport. The pilot was going to attempt to take a little over half of our team out there, and land beneath fog if we could.
The flight out there was pretty uneventful. We could tell we were flying in from a different angle than any of us had experienced before, but no real cause for alarm. These bush pilots are the real deal. However, when we descended and finally emerge from the incredibly low cloud cover, we weren’t even over the runway. We could see the waves of the sea crashing up on the shore just below us, and no runway in sight. Before we had time to really process what was happening, the pilot pulls up hard and we are up above the cloud cover again headed back to Nome.
Well, oddly enough, I’m bummed, but I’m not terribly distressed. “Oh well. We’ll try again tomorrow.” As we approach Nome we can see this odd, massive blotch of red on the pilot’s radar that has settled over the part of the peninsula we were headed to that was not there when we left two hours earlier. My brain is throbbing at the sight of it, and I’m praying ninety-to-nothing. “Oh, lord, don’t let my kids grow up without a mother or father! OK, but either way, I trust you to raise them better than we can. I surrender my life, and the kids and their lives to you. BUT LORD, Please, no. Let this be nothing! Help us through this.”
Well, since you’re reading this post you know I didn’t die. But, yeah, that descent was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life INCLUDING but not limited to the time I had to leap from a speeding hot air balloon into a farmer’s field before it hit power lines. Stephen was a few seats in front of me, but neither he, nor anyone budged an inch in look at anyone. White faces stared straight forward as that plane lost and gained elevation rapidly, banking to the sides and flying sideways while falling or being shot back up. Rain was pounding the windows and lightning was flashing all around us. I could finally see the bitterly cold sea crashing below us and I’m singing praise songs under my breath to keep me from crying out. The warm, loving hand of Mrs. Dorcas, my much beloved Eskimo grandma figure who was sitting across from me, grabs tightly to mine and we pray together. The world to me became a singular black tunnel of total panic waring against the part of me that peacefully surrendered my life to whatever God asked of me and my family at that moment. I wanted Stephen to turn around, but if there was fear in his face, I knew I would lose it, so I just prayed. It was me and the Lord and the firm grip of my beloved Mrs. Dorcas.
I’ve never been so happy to bounce around like crazy on a runway than I was at that moment. Oh, man, even if we flipped I could probably survive it from there, but to be out from over the sea with cold water and creepy things lurking under the water and those last moments of thinking of the suffering of my team and the grief of my children and family back home. . . I was grateful to say the least.
Now, realize, the next morning after kissing that arctic dust on the ground when we landed, I had to get back on the same plane and try again. In my flesh and blood, I can’t do it. I can’t make my stiff and heavy legs do it. It’s not in me, BUT it’s in the One who lives in me. He carries me when I can’t do it. He bends and lifts my legs when they won’t move on their own. I was not in Alaska for my sake, but for the sake of those God sent me to show his love and mercy, and so I must go at all costs to fulfill what He has called me to do. As I walk to the plane, climb the steps, buckle my seatbelt, speed down the runway, ascend into the air, fly out over the sea, descend onto a short, narrow runway between the sea and a large lake, feel the plane break to a swift stop, I am praying, “Lord, I surrender my life to you. It is yours. I surrender my motherhood to you. It is a gift from you that is yours to give and take as you see fit. I surrender my will to yours. I surrender my desire for comfort and ease to you. I surrender my fears to you. I seek you for peace and strength and even joy. I am nothing without you. I trust that you will raise my children to serve you all of their days with or without me. May my life or my death pave the way for their lives to be lived completely for you. . .”
And I firmly believe that because of the obedience of our team, God blessed that trip in a mighty way, and we saw fruit we never imagined. I don’t want to share the stories of anyone else on that trip, or anyone on that island. Those stories are for them alone. But I do have another story of the miraculous, loaves-and-fishes-style, provisions of God that I wouldn’t have believed if I didn’t experience it for myself. That is for “Part Three” of this story. There are dozens of other amazing happenings from the trip that I would be happy to share in person, but I wouldn’t dare air other people’s personal business on the internet. After I share “Part Three”, feel free to call or email or take me out to coffee if you want to hear more. I’d love to share.