Monday, May 21, 2007
What if the Landing Gear Doesn't Drop?
Brandon and I went to Detroit for a Computers and Writing conference this weekend, which went fairly well. We got to sit in a giant conference room in over-stuffed chairs and talk about all the nonsensical rhetorical theory that supports the technical writing we're building our careers and education around. It was a pretty laid back experience, and the down-time we had in our dorm rooms gave me a lot of opportunity to spend in prayer and devotion. I actually received some direct answers to some questions in my life I had been asking and was feeling pretty peaceful about everything in general.
We had ended up booking a roundtrip flight from Chicago to Detroit in order to save some driving time. After the conference, which ended two hours earlier than we expected, we got a ride back to the airport. We gathered our meager belongings and headed toward the terminal expecting to wait four hours for our flight. We were walking into the airport, and Brandon turns to me and says, "you should ask if we can get on an earlier flight." I responded, "I can ask, but it may cost extra." We arrived at the counter and the ticket guy takes one look at our agenda and says, "do you guys want an earlier flight?" We looked at each other, then back at him, and nodded.
Now, usually when strange coincidences like this start to occur, I get really excited because I've come to recognize the handiwork of God when I see it, but this time, I let my guard down and just thought, "Well, that was convenient." We got on the plane immediately and found that the nice ticket agent had given us the emergency exit seats, which for two 6 foot + guys is amazing because of all the extra leg room, and really the only price you have to pay is helping people exit the plane if you crash. Very convenient, yet again.
We took off, and everything went fine, until we reached Chicago. The captain announced that we were beginning our descent, the stewardesses all rushed to their foldout chairs, and a loud crunching noise issued from the floor below us. Brandon and I looked at each other and both said, "that didn't sound good", and the plane that had been dropping rapidly toward the runway, sped up and rose back into the sky.
The pilot made the following announcement: "Sorry, ladies and gentleman, our panel indicates that one of the landing gear doors didn't lock back into place correctly, so we decided to review the emergency regulations for that situation, and it doesn't look like it should be a problem, so we're just going to circle Chicago, and we'll go ahead and land in about ten minutes."
We heard some more grinding below us and wondered why the pilot was retracting a malfunctioning landing gear back into the plane. We circled Chicago and came back around for another landing attempt. This time the crunching was proceeded by a high pitch whine, and Brandon said, "The landing gear didn't go down at all this time." Sure enough, we rose back into the sky, and the pilot announced an affirmation.
I thought the thing that probably crossed everyone's mind at this point, "we're going to crash". I've watched the news enough to know that landing a plane without the landing gears usually results in great big rolling balls of fire.
The woman sitting behind us leaned forward and asked if we understood how to operate the emergency exits.
We assured her we did.
She laughed nervously and pointed to her two-year old grandson who was sitting peacefully next to her daughter-in-law, a miracle in-and-of-itself. "That's my grandson; he'll need you two to be his heroes."
We smiled and nodded encouragingly.
To make a long story short, the pilots managed to lower the gear automatically, and we landed amidst an armada of emergency vehicles and federal agents. We were towed into the gates, and our fellow passengers broke out into audible rejoicing.
The point of the story isn't God's hand in delivering us safely to the ground--I have no doubt he intended that the whole time--the point of the story is that for the first time in my Christian walk I understood what Fanny Crosby was singing about in 1873 when she wrote, "Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine! / O what a foretaste of glory divine! / Heir of salvation, purchase of God, / Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood" or what John was writing about in 1 John 5:11-14: "And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life" (emphasis mine). In my BC days, I had a few brushes with death, and there was always a knawing fear, but this time as my life hung precariously in the balance of a malfunctioning airplane's questionable landing, I had no fear whatsoever. I knew that no matter what, the situation was in God's hands. If this was the moment He choose to call me home, Hallelujah! If He intended me to live and carry on with the work He's called me to, Hallelujah! If He intended me to crash and burn and live a life maimed, broken, and scarred, Hallelujah! I was so content with whatever outcome He had in mind, that I very nearly dozed off during the crisis.
As I look back on the experience, I can't help but thank God that He gave me the opportunity to build my faith in this way and share it. It really isn't about living in His protection, though that's amazing and important; it's about living in assurance that I'm never out of His will as long as I don't choose to be. If my focus is Him, then everything that happens to me will glorify Him, and that's the only position to be in that will make every event, even death or physical harm, peaceful and joyous.
To God be the praise and the glory forever,