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Faith in Flight…

And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions.” – Joel 2:28

Major Dowd and his crew rushed into our Avionics Shop early one morning barely giving the on duty NCO to call the room to order. “Never mind men, at ease,” he hurriedly commanded.

I was standing at the test bench going over some equipment that had come in during the previous night’s routine airplanemaintenance. He looked in my direction, “Grab your flight bag, you’re coming with me Airman.” A lump instantly grew in my throat the size of a watermelon. It seemed the only time a maintenance crew member got to fly was when there was a plane so broken, that the only way to reproduce the problem was to take her, the aircraft, into flight. Before I could reply, “Yes sir,” MSgt Hall spoke up, “I better go too sir.” He looked at me and winked then turned back to the Major, “She’s been giving us a fit on the ground so it will take two of us.”

“That’ll be fine,” the Major replied, “Meet me on the flight-line in 30 minutes and we’ll take her up.”

“Yes sir,” we both replied.

The Major and his entourage turned and departed. Sergeant Hall turned around and grinned that Missippi toothy smile at me, “Don’t worry, it’ll be fun.”

All I could do was shake my head and bite my lip. Yes, I was in the Air Force, but the truth was, I hated flying.

Growing up, I had repeated dreams of flying in the most unconventional manner. It seemed each time I would take flight as if I were swimming in the air. However, instead of flapping my arms, my altitude was always maintained by kicking my legs. Many times my preferred dream aircraft was an old tire swing. Unfortunately, in almost every dream, it would end in a downward death spiral, one that I could not control. Each time I would wake up on impact, breathless but still recalling the thrill of the flight, if only a few seconds afterward.

Later in life, I would continue to dream, but not as often of flying. My dreams would turn to things that pertained to my life and what sometimes might lie ahead. When writing, I would turn to God and pray for an answer to where my plot line might need to go. I would wait for a sign or a word. Many times, the answer would come to me in a dream or vision. Today, I still draw my inspiration from dreams, and so it was with this story.

That particular day the Major came into our shop, we loaded into the SINCSAC’s plane. It would eventually be the same plane General Schwarzkopf would command from during the beginning of Desert Storm and during the Gulf War. Needless to say, this was mainly the reason for the Major’s hasty visit to our shop that morning and our immediate orders for in-flight repair; it was a crucial plane.

We climbed into the command quarters of the prestigious aircraft and took a quick survey. The aft section of the plane contained a comfortable sleeping quarters and conference room fit for any General. There was even a full-blown kitchen with a menu of steak and lobster; nothing was spared for the top brass. The flight crew showed us to our seats. Unlike any other KC-135, these were plush commander-in-chief type seats, complete with covered head and armrests. The sergeant and I buckled into the nicest seating we’d ever know and prepared for the flight from hell.

We knew in advance that there was a problem with porpoising. Porpoising was the gentle arcing of a plane during autopilot. Plus or minus fifty feet was within specifications, which is what she had tested on the ground. Yet, the flight crew was reporting severe porpoising, nothing like we were saying we found; thus the surprise flight. As the plane climbed to altitude, we were well over the base were I was stationed at Warner Robbins Georgia. Below, through the pilots window, we watched as all of Georgia spread out before us prior to Major Dowd issuing the command, “Ready gentlemen,” he said to his crewmen. It was then I noticed the flight engineer grab the edge of the command center wall.

Something bad was about to happen, I could just sense it.

When God calls us, we often run and hide. We find our hell becomes the world we are creating in order to avoid his call. We find our lives slowly beginning to spiral down, down, down. We push away until all is lost.

Many are called, but few are chosen.”

My mind raced back to those childhood dreams and the death spirals. I pushed them away and listened as the Major then spoke to Sergeant Hall and myself as he looked back toward our seats, “I’m going to engage the autopilot now, you may want to brace yourselves. You’ll see what we mean when we say it’s out of specs.”

My hell was about to become real. Had I run until it was too late? Was this my wake up call?

Initially, there was only a minor jolt. “Hmm, not so bad I thought,” as I looked over at Sergeant Hall. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “I don’t see any problem either.”

Then before our thoughts could allude any further separation from the truth, there was the feeling of your stomach climbing into your mouth as we looked out the front window to the horror of only the ground below in our sight. We had begun a complete nose-dive. In fact, we seemed to be headed straight for a Kamikaze strike upon my mobile home below, sitting in the on-base Trailer Park.

God, is this it,” I thought to myself as I looked at Sergeant Hall who was beginning to turn green.

In the next instance, there was nothing but blue sky in the windshield as our stomachs went from our throats down to our ankles.

There was an immediate sensation that I was about to lose my breakfast.

How embarrassing,” were the stifled thoughts as I watched Hall scramble to unleash his seatbelt. He was beginning to turn green himself.

The plane continued the death spiral to near stall climb, over and over. Meanwhile, Hall inched is way over to the equipment rack. Nearby, the flight engineer took his seat. Later I would learn that flight engineer’s prided themselves on standing the entire flight; all but this one of course.

We had learned in Tech. School that the one thing you never, ever wanted to do to the autopilot equipment was to bang on it, ESPECIALLY while in flight. Our equipment was created in the 1950s and as such, contained tubes. They had not yet transitioned to digital flight components. Part of the reason they had not been upgraded was because of the ability of the amplifiers to withstand nuclear pulses. So, if you jarred one of the primary controllers tubes hard enough, you could send the plane into an unpredictable attitude. Meaning, we could turn upside down and crash!

It was then I watched in horror as Sergeant Hall began beating upon the main control amp in desperation to release us from the prison the Major had purposely imposed upon us in order to gain an understanding that the plane was definitely still broken. It was then the thought passed through my mind, “Would the Major really try to kill us all just to prove his point? Surely not,” I answered in a not so confirming reply.

I closed my eyes and prayed. Swirling death spirals returned to my mind. I prayed harder.

Sometimes, when all is lost, the only recourse we have left is prayer and our faith. When Waldensians, the people of the valleys of the Cottien Alps, were released from their prison cells the size of modern day wash machines, their emaciated bodies were then forced to march 128 miles to Switzerland during the middle of winter. They had been imprisoned for their refusal to abjure their faith. Three thousand left for their freedom. Over 400 died along the journey. They recalled to those Swiss waiting for them with open arms, as a heroes welcome, “Faith in God is all we had.”

So it is in the darkest hour, we often find, faith is all we have left.

The plane jerked, then jolted and suddenly the porpoising ceased; at least for the moment.

“That’s it,” Sergeant Hall quickly reported to the Major, “You’ve got a bad Op Amp.”

“But I thought you said you already replaced it,” replied Dowd.

“Sure enough,” Hall responded, the color now returning to his forehead. “Well, this one must have been defective. You know how this old stuff can act up.”

The Major smiled and nodded. “I’ll turn off the autopilot just to be safe and take us back home.”

We all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

God had once more answered prayer.

The sergeant looked at me and whistled a quiet reprieve out of view of the flight crew on the others side of the wall from the equipment rack, wiping his forehead with his forearm. We both knew we were lucky to be alive.

When we landed, the sergeant requested the entire system be replaced. We called that “Shotgun” maintenance, meaning that if you don’t know for sure what the problem is, you just take a shotgun’s blast approach and replace it all.

I was never so thankful to be back on the ground once again.

We recalled the adventure to the rest of the Avionics shop, and they all agreed it was the best move, but none could believe that Sergeant Hall had actually pounded on the Op Amp, and we survived.

Looking back, I know that all through my life, even in the darkest hour, God was always there. Even when I was not seeking Him, He was still there for me, with me and watching over me. As it says in the 139th Psalms, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways.”

Nowadays, my flights are few and far between, both those imagined and real. But today, my walk with the Lord is ever more close as I seek Him in all that we do. Yes, those dreams of old were there to serve a purpose, and those to come will do likewise. All we have to do is to listen and He will direct our paths.

Thanks be to God.

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Too Much Thought for a Simple Mind…

As I watched a portion of the documentary film about the annual TED conference yesterday  http://www.ted.com/ (albeit old news now that it was filmed in 2007), I got the feeling that as much as we try, we often are like waterrunners, sprinting as fast as we can go,  but our legs are submerged in water, impeding our progress, slowing are real abilities.  It was invigorating to see various speakers who ranged from Rick Warren to Larry Brilliant, all with ideas and visions that exceeded what they could do locally, taking these thoughts to the global scale; the God-scale.  They were all interviewed either before or after they spoke and described having the similar feeling, as if they couldn’t do enough on their own to achieve their goals or visions which was part of the reason why they were there at the TED conference.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and was created as a platform to bring together diverse thought and ideas from around the globe in order to concentrate the human capacity for each of the three aspects in hopes to achieve a higher degree of psyche as a global community.

I  began to think about the scope of what we do daily in our own lives and how little if any that affects the outcome of what goes on in the world. That is the fallacy we face.  Yes, we  put our time in for charitable purposes, telling ourselves, “Every little bit helps.” Then we turn around and second guess ourselves, thinking inwardly, “How can this really matter when there are thousands more children who will go hungry, people without adequate housing or enough clean water for entire towns?”  However, in reality, it does take thousands, even millions of tiny inputs to make dreams come true.

Answer: We cannot do it alone.

Each TED prize winner was asked before they left the stage if they would tell the world, if they could have one dream answered, what would it be. Each of the speakers or audience members, many were  entrepreneurs of significant industries or inventions that have transformed our world, were  interviewed in the documentary and realized either before, during or after the conference that those dreams were only capable because of the financial, intellectual and inspirational collective whole in attendance or connected to the conference in some manner.  In other words, it took the world to make changes on a global scale. Granted, there might be the occasional oddity that might take off on its own and become something without little or no input. But the real game changers, the ideas that could make an impact either by, for example,  preventing a global pandemic to creating sustainable housing anywhere in the world, were only going to be possible with the creative minds of the world working in unison.

A global consciousness is what began to emerge as a theme for the movie; a consciousness that seemed to be taking something for granted. This is where it began to bother me, the fact that many of the most brilliant minds were quite full of themselves, egotistical if  you will. Only when they were placed on a global scale did they feel small and insignificant; thus they had for a second stepped into God’s shoes. It was here, they realized they were incapable of the daunting task that would be required to achieve their dream. It was here they realized they needed help.

Now, few of them, if any, gave pause to reflect on the spirituality of what they were creating as a whole. Again, I have to stress here that it is and was exciting to hear and see all of these brilliant minds present their thoughts and visions. While I may not agree with some of them or adhere to their tenants, it was more than inspiring to learn all they had to tell. When I stopped watching, my mind was on fire. I was ready to jump up and do something,..anything, yet here I was getting ready to go to work; another night shift, another proverbial shift in the salt mines.

It was here that the feeling of, “So much to do, but so little time to get it done,” came back. Yes, we might feel as if we are running in place, or submerged in water feeling as if we can’t do enough to make something happen, but what we have to realize is that we cannot do it alone. And if we really think about it, we cannot do it without God. Leaving faith out of the equation is a mistake mankind has made before, when it comes to giving God the credit for what we are capable of acheiving.  When we don’t give credit where credit is due, we will soon find that we will falter and become mislead in what we seek to achieve. We have seen it time and time again in the Old Testament, when the Children of Israel forgot who they were and what they were there for. They sought to build grand temples, only to have them destroyed, again and again, when they would become misguided and wander down the wrong path.

Let us go forward, seeking to make the world a better place, but be cognizant of the fact that we are not alone, neither in our effort nor in our abilities, which were given to us by the creator; God the Father. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves and think we know more than he who hath made all things, great and small.

Let us do great things on a global scale for noble causes, but keep it all in perspective  and may God bless us all.

“O Lord, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You shall be ashamed. “Those who depart from Me Shall be written in the earth, Because they have forsaken the Lord, The fountain of living waters.” – Jeremiah 17:13

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