From the very beginning of the flight was turbulence like I've never experienced on a commercial flight. In fact, "turbulent" doesn't do it justice. It felt more like a roller coaster in the sky. Tornadoes touched down in middle Tennessee today, and the high winds tossed the plane up and down and from side to side for the entire duration of the hour-and-a-half trip to Chicago.
Having flown frequently since I was a little girl, I'd say I'm a pretty good passenger overall. I understand that turbulence is just like bumps on a road and sometimes, I don't even think about it. This was way different. Every time a wing dipped down severely, there were a couple of shrieks of surprise heard in the cabin and fear was written all over my fellow passengers' faces. The older man two seats down from me chomped on his nails until I was convinced he was eating his fingers. My heart pounded in my throat and my hands stayed cold and clammy. I heard at least one person behind me throwing up. I think you get the picture - this was no walk in the park.
As soon as I realized what a difficult flight this was going to be, I frantically found my Bible and turned to Psalm 121, mouthing the words of the last two verses over and over:
The Lord will keep you from all harm -I begged the Lord to keep this promise. I begged him for a lot of things: for wisdom for the pilots, for smoother skies, for an announcement. The announcement came, but it wasn't good news. The pilot's words went something like this: "Please make sure your seat belts are fastened for the duration of the flight. These are some challenging skies. Flight attendants will not be doing drink service today." Challenging?! Not exactly good bedside manners if you ask me. I just knew he'd come back on and say, "Brace for impact."
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Trying to pass the time and feel any sort of peace, I turned on my iPod and the first song that came on was my friend Jason, singing these appropriate words: "Hold on, hold on. When the current pulls you under and your heart beats like thunder, just give me your hand. Hold on, hold on until the storm is over, and I'll be fighting for you. Just give me your hand and hold on." Peace washed over me for a brief moment and I looked out the window at my first glimpse of the horizon. I was comforted that the earth hadn't moved. God hadn't changed. I felt so small so high in the sky, but pictured our plane cradled in the hands of God. There could be no safer place.
One thing that really struck me was a kid - about 10 years old - sitting next to me in the middle seat. Within 10 minutes of take-off, he fell asleep for the rest of the flight. I was utterly amazed (and envious) of his childlike faith that instinctively knew he had no control of the situation and he relaxed enough to sleep peacefully. Truly thinking we may crash, I debated waking him up to tell him about Jesus, but I let him sleep, figuring I was acting out of fear. I prayed for him instead.
Finally, after a tortuous hour and a half, the miracle of landing came. Cheering broke out as the wheels touched down and skidded down the runway.
I left the airport as soon as I could to see my sweet husband at work. Being safely on the ground and in his embrace allowed me to breathe easier. We headed home for a few minutes, then to a Good Friday service at our church where Shawn was doing much of the Scripture reading. It was a beautiful, meditative service, but I fought the entire time from being gripped by fear when thinking about my horrible flight. And then I focused on Jesus. As I had dreaded what I thought would be ensuing pain if we crashed, it was hardly a fraction of the dread my Savior must have felt 2,000 years ago on this dark Friday. He must have dreaded the physical pain that he knew was coming (he was fully human, after all) - and few things could be more painful than crucifixion. But even more than physical pain, he dreaded separation from his Father. He asked if there was any other way, but knew that only by dying could there be life for those he loved. From the cross, he cried out the now familiar lament, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" But he knew the answer. We were that answer. It's astounding that he deemed us worthy of such agony.
After the service, Shawn and I headed home and as soon as we walked in the door, nausea overtook my body. I felt as if I was going to throw up and, at the same time, began to shake with the chills. I thought I was getting sick fast, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I paced around the room as Shawn and I prayed out loud and asked for swift healing for whatever this was. We called my parents, asking them to pray, too. I took a bath, hoping to stop what I thought were chills, and I was able to calm down a bit. But the one thing that was very different from when I've been sick like this before was my pounding heart. It beat as though I had just finished a road race.
Shawn plugged in my symptoms on the internet and quickly found the most obvious diagnosis: an anxiety attack, a first for me. Almost every symptom listed lined up precisely with what I was experiencing. The flight had shaken me more than I even realized. We think now that adrenaline kept me going through the flight, but the stress manifested itself physically hours later.
Because the cure for this kind of thing is listed as "will power" I tried everything that was suggested. I tensed my major muscle groups then let them relax. I breathed in slow and deep and let it out. I thought about the beach (ha). Not much seemed to help. Clearly, my will power was not enough; only Jesus' power could calm me down. The most surprising thing about this was that I could not control a bit of it. With every bit of will power I had, I could not make the shaking or pounding heart calm down.
So I laid in my bed, calling out to Jesus, for the next 3 hours. The tremors finally subsided, my heart slowed down to a normal rhythm, and the nausea disappeared. And in the meantime, I found Jesus to be enough. I pictured him reaching out his hands and touching my helpless, shaking limbs. He brought many Scriptures about himself to my mind: He is near to the broken hearted (or the racing heart, as I found) and saves those who are crushed in spirit. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. Draw near to him and he will draw near to me. As I write this now, I am past the debilitating attack (praise the Lord!). And I can't think of a more appropriate way to spend this Good Friday than remembering the suffering of my Jesus as I suffered. And as I did, I reached out and found him so near he must have brushed my cheek. He not only healed my body tonight, but he healed my soul on this night 2,000 years ago. May my life be worthy of such a sacrifice.