In the Midst of the Storm

It was supposed to be the last flight of the day. After a leg from Reno, Nevada to Wilmington, Ohio, I would be able to go home for a few days. I hadn’t flown out of Reno before, but I’ve visited the area in the past. It’s near beautiful Lake Tahoe and surrounded by mountains, not that I could see any of them since it was a dark and stormy night with low clouds, wind and rain. We were near our maximum take-off weight, and as I pushed up the power, the airplane grudgingly started to move. As we accelerated down the runway, the instruments and crosschecks looked normal. Suddenly, right before lift-off, the airplane abruptly yawed to the left and the First Officer tensely called, “power loss, left engine!” It was too late to abort the takeoff, so I followed procedure by applying corrective rudder and continued the take-off. Remembering that Reno had a special climb out procedure in case of engine failure, I asked the First Officer to read it to me so I could follow the prescribed flight path. We managed to climb and shut down the engine, but the aircraft could barely climb on one engine and I was very concerned about the mountains all around us. Suddenly, the terrain warning started to go off and we heard the “whoop whoop, pull up” ground proximity warning. Not good. The airplane wouldn’t climb any better. I thought I was following the proper flight path, but the ground was still rising fast. Why was this happening? Then, all of a sudden, there was a jolt and a loud buzzer sounded. The lights came on and the instructor, who had frozen the simulator after we hit the mountain, said, “Ok, so what do you think went wrong?” After talking about it, the instructor made the clouds disappear and showed where we had strayed from the proper flight course ever so slightly, and how that was enough to get us in trouble. We re-set the simulator and got to try it again, this time successfully.

Don’t you wish that life had a re-set button or that you could have a life simulator to practice situations before they occur? I happen to be in my own life emergency right now. After flying with my company for over 12 years, they are losing their biggest customer which means there is a very good possibility I will be furloughed sometime this next year. Pilot job prospects are very bleak right now, and the prospect of starting all over again at another company is far from appealing. Is God playing some kind of game? On the one hand, He had brought us out to Ohio three years ago and has opened doors for ministry, but on the other hand, He’s going to let it all come crashing down? If there was any time He could hit the “freeze” button and re-set everything, it would be now! What can this kind of situation do to one’s faith? Do I work harder, hope harder, pray harder? Or do I panic and take matters in my own hands? How will I take care of my family? Do I look for another job now, or wait and see what happens? Should I even stay in aviation? There seems to be so many questions right now with no definite answers.

Fortunately, I began preparing for this many years ago. I’m not talking financially or even emotionally, but spiritually. Now, I’m certainly no spiritual giant or guru, but several years ago when I made Jesus the Lord of my life, I began to think long and hard about what that meant. If I was to trust in Jesus with all of my heart, soul, and entire life, doesn’t that include whatever the world or this life could throw at me? If I meant what I said and truly gave myself entirely to Him, then that should mean that my family, my possessions, and even my job and career were His. I felt it was important to have a basic answer to the “what if” questions answered before they happened. What if I get sick? I still follow and trust Jesus. What if I lose my stuff? I still follow and trust Jesus. What if I lose my job and can’t ever fly again? I still follow and trust Jesus. In flight training, we regularly practice and discuss emergency procedures. Why? So we will know what to do when we have an emergency. These procedures can’t cover every situation, but through practice and proper knowledge of the aircraft, we will have the tools we need to face whatever comes along. This is called being proactive. Victor Frankl came up with this term many years ago, and it basically means “anticipating problems and taking affirmative steps that prepare your response for when they come rather than reacting when the situation occurs.” In other words, being proactive is preparing beforehand, while reacting is only dealing with something after it occurs. Remember the parable of the two men who each built a house (Matthew 7:24-29)? One was built on a rock, and the other on sand. The storms came, and the house on the rock continued to stand firm while the house on sand crumbled. Notice two things. First, do you think the first man just accidentally built his house on that rock? Of course not! He showed foresight and did some planning when he built his house. I think the second man put his house in the most convenient place, never thinking a disaster could happen to him. Secondly, notice that Jesus said when the storms came. One thing that we can count on here on earth is that we will encounter storms. Some storms are small, and some are big, but we are all guaranteed to experience the rain and wind that will beat against the foundations of our life in an attempt to make us fall and crumble into the sea. Another lesson I learned years ago in flying is that your training and character are revealed during emergencies. In flying, those who had prepared and thought through situations usually did ok. Those who did not would often times panic or at the very least get tunnel vision and lose situational awareness (the big picture). I experienced it myself when I was a new pilot, and when I was an instructor I saw this often in inexperienced pilots. With experience and practice, however, their abilities to handle emergencies would increase along with their confidence. Emergencies in life are also designed to strengthen us and build character, which is all part of the process of being transformed into the likeness of God’s Son (2 Cor. 3:18). James writes, “Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything” (James 1:2-4, NLT).

Even though I have thought through these questions in the past doesn’t mean it’s easy. My feelings have been very up and down through this. But one thing I’ve noticed is this: Whenever I try to take matters into my own hands, I begin to get off course and withdraw from God. There’s a lot of emotion that goes along with a situation like this, but whenever I let fear, anger, or worry take over, I move away from seeking after God and trusting Him. Whenever I become obsessed with rumors, feel sorry for myself, or worry about how I’m going to get my next job or take care of my family, I spend less time with God and think less about His Truth. Now is the time to fall back on my preparation. Now is the time to remember what I promised and committed to God. Now is the time to make a course correction by remembering and reflecting on His Truth. He promises never to leave or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6), and that if I will continue to trust in Him and lean not on my own understanding, He will direct my path (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Just a note for those of you who maybe haven’t done the preparation you needed to do to handle the situation you’re in now and you’re feeling lost, hopeless and in a state of panic. The best thing for an inexperienced or unprepared pilot to have along in an emergency is a pilot who is highly experienced and knows what to do. If you’ve been cruising along in life with God as your copilot, or worse, He’s been assigned to a seat in the back, isn’t it time to put Him in the captain’s seat and let Him take control of your life? It’s not too late. You just have to make the decision to trust Him. Hearing or reading about someone else’s faith story can be inspiring, but relatively easy. When someone else talks about the trials they faced and the miraculous ways God brought them through their situation, we get all inspired and say “amen” and “praise God.” But it’s a little different when we’re going through it ourselves, isn’t it? No, it isn’t easy for us, just like it wasn’t easy for anyone else who went through hardships and trials but who came out the other side with a stronger trust and faith in God. So now this is my time, and if you are going through hardships and trials of your own, it is also your time for God to write His own Faith Story in your lives.

Written by Mike Patrick, former Airborne/DHL pilot and currently flying for Air Japan.