Worn sienna leather lined the small plane smelling oddly like car oil with a trace of cigarettes, the kind of smell that you can taste. My dear friend, Savi, sat crammed in front of me. In front of her was her tandem guide sandwiched against the wall of the plane. My instructor, Leon, crouched directly behind me.
One thing you should know about Savi is that she is keeping me young. Her joyful spirit and willingness to adventure on a whim plays along well with mine, and time with her usually means lots of laughter and those occasional conversations where we dig deep. (Also it should be noted that we shouldn’t be together unattended for too often, lest we take too seriously each other’s spontaneity and get ourselves into trouble).
That morning, we set out to see the world from a different perspective and experience the rush of adrenaline by jumping out of a plane. Since childhood, I’d wanted to do this (thank you Peter Pan for shaping my life’s ambitions).
What I wasn’t mentally prepared for was the cramped quarters of the fuselage and the wispy little plane that aimed to bring us to our destination: 13,000 feet above the Wasatch Mountain range of Utah. Four adult humans packed like a stack of Pringles in the small plane seemed entirely more terrifying than jumping from the heights.
Leon tugged at my harness straps, cinching them tighter, ensuring I was bound to his.
“Breath!” he yelled above the roar of the engine and then tapped the glass of the window. “Enjoy the view!”
What a novel idea, I thought. Yet, something as natural as breathing seemed to take a bit of unnatural effort in that moment.
The plane flew steady. Its roaring engine drowned out my fears as we soared higher and higher. I gave Savi and big wide-eyed grin and a hearty thumbs up. She beamed back matching my excitement in her smile.
For late summer morning, it grew surprising cold, and I fought to keep my teeth from chattering. Along the horizon, the majestic peak of Mount Nebo sat in wait behind a hazy curtain of smoke still lingering from the California fires. Otherwise, it was a perfect day to dive.
Suddenly, I heard a click and jerked my head to the window. The hatch that had been keeping us locked lifted open, and my instructor signed it was go time. Above the roar of the engine, the howling wind engulfed the fuselage ripping my hair from its braid. Leon gave me a thumbs up, which I returned with an over-excited nod. He positioned himself behind me, and I pulled my left leg out, setting my foot on the small ledge that jut out from the air craft no bigger than a foot long. It was oddly comforting that the plane did not tilt as we teetered out of it's door.
Then, the time had come.
From way up there, the ground seemed soft like a giant picnic blanket spread out below ready to catch us within its fluffy folds. How strange, I thought with a giddy grin, the surge of glee bubbling in my chest. With a little difficulty, I unfurled my right leg from the cabin and set it next to its partner on the ledge.
Breath, I reminded myself. After all, that was my only job. Just breath.
Adrenaline pumping, I remained oddly calm. I was ready, ready to jump. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was happy to rid myself of that small airplane, or maybe it was because I’d been waiting my whole life to do this, but, I wasn’t scared so much as I was in awe. The world below was no more menacing than a giant pool we were about to dive into.
Then, Leon shoved us off! My head spun as we somersaulted, plummeting fast. I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut. 1—2—3— seconds, and he leveled us out with our bellies face-down in a racing free-fall.
Don’t miss it! I said to myself, forcing my eyes open. We were still falling…and falling. And it was beautiful! With arms spread wide, I hollered into the sky, ready to embrace the world.
Given the fact that you are reading this tale, you surely know I survived to tell about it.
I can scarcely understand the logic when I recall that experience. I simply was not afraid. Nervous? Yes. Excited? You bet! But, afraid? Definitely not.
Perhaps it had more to do with who I flew with than that there is a screw loose in my brain (Haha, let’s hope, anyway).
What I haven’t revealed much about at this point is the person who held my life in his hands. My instructor, Leon, actually owns the skydiving company along the Wasatch front and routinely launches himself out of planes 5-10 times a day. He’s a tall strongly built man maintaining a confident air. In the hour I spent with him, he kept the mood light routinely and spouting sarcastic jokes about his client’s nervous jitters. In fact, his whole crew has dealt with unseasoned crazy people like myself who would be stupid enough to jump out of a plane and splat on the ground if it weren’t for their experience and training.
Seriously, though. Some tandem skydivers have lost their breakfast mid-air or even gone completely unconscious and still made it safely back to the ground!
Leon, he’s experienced—me—I’m a novice. What’s more, is that, strapped to Leon’s body was our parashoot, and he is aware of precisely when to pull the cord and at what speed and angle to guide our sails in for a soft landing. I was not afraid because Leon was in control, and I was just along for the ride.
I’ve heard this analogy myself before, and maybe you have too. But, that day, God made these connections more concrete. When I finally landed safely on the ground, I couldn’t escape how the whole experience paralleled our walk with Jesus, how we are called to live a life of faith. I marvel at that faith. It’s such a gift of God, one that I do not and will not ever deserve. One that I thank him for in my life, and in the lives of those I get the privilege to live life with, like Savi.
It’s faith in Jesus, not ourselves or our ability to navigate our experiences that calls us out to live in ways that defy logic. That same faith and Spirit alive in us that inevitably empower us to fall fast and love the world around us, embracing it all with arms spread wide. So often we watch others do extraordinary things, applauding them for the ‘good’ that they’ve accomplished.
But, what is the REAL marvel is that Jesus IS the GOOD. His goodness was exemplified through what He accomplished on the cross, a sacrifice for our wrongs, for our brokenness, for our good at the price of his bloodshed. Now, He is the one moving in His people, changing lives, and allowing us to be a part of His loving the world.
I just want to say that we can all have Him, you know. We can ALL live radically different lives, empowered by the Spirit within us because Jesus has our back, and he is trustworthy. Nothing else compares to how faithful, good, and true he is. He’s in control. When he calls us to something, it is for our eternal JOY and his GLORY. (I’m not saying EVERYONE should jump out of a perfectly good airplane), but figuratively, YES. Jump! There is no greater joy than walking with Him. If that thought stirs up all of the fears and angst inside of your soul, then I want to challenge you to get to know the One who will see you safely to the ground.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”