Five Seconds More

“If I’d have let you keep going for five seconds more, you’d be dead.”

Sigh. I was turning on final, I’d unknowingly put in too many degrees of flaps, taken my eyes off my airspeed, and when I realized something was going wrong, instead of taking action to correct it, I just asked, out loud, “What happened?”

Returning to flying after nearly four years off has been a frustrating, embarrassing, and humbling experience.

That said, it’s also been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

Because not only am I, duh, flying again(!), but every frustrating, embarrassing, humbling moment is a learning opportunity. And thankfully, experience is not my only teacher. Because experience sometimes teaches some very costly lessons. Better to have teachers who can stop you on the path you’re on, the one that would lead you to stall/spin induced death in five short seconds, and put you on another path, the one that lets you live to fly another day.

“Whoever scorns instruction will pay for it, but whoever respects a command is rewarded.”. – Proverbs 13:13

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That I May Receive My Sight

Just over a month ago, several of you kindly expressed hopes that my birthday was a fabulous one. My thanks.

My favorite gift may not really be quantifiable as a gift…but I’ll tell the story and let you decide.

My birthday weekend had a lot of potential. My boyfriend would be in town, and we were planning to go to a JAARS missions aviation event, and have a birthday dinner with my family. Thoughts of the impending weekend should have been my biggest distraction during my six hour Friday turbine overhaul class, but they weren’t. My left eyeball was instead.

It started with some mild irritation and a sensitivity to light that only got worse as the class wore on. I assumed it was my contact, but as it was my last one, I wanted to wait til I got home to take it out. By the end of class, it was almost intolerable, but still, I waited. When I finally got home and took it out, the pain only got worse, not better. Obviously, something was wrong.

I called my optometrist’s office; she was out, but the office had a recommendation nearby. The other doctor graciously took me as a walk in, and somewhat gravely informed me I had an ulcer on my cornea. I know, right? I’d never heard of it either. She said it likely resulted from sleeping in my contacts (there’s a lesson to be learned here, kids), prescribed an antibiotic eye drop, and told me she wanted to see me in 24 hours. But in case the condition worsened, she gave me the number of an on call ophthalmologist. I tucked it away, fairly certain I wouldn’t need it. Sure, this was irritating, but how bad could it be?

My optometrist had told me to use the drops once every hour; when I asked her about  what to do when I was, you know, sleeping, she said that should I happen to wake up in the middle of the night, to go ahead and put them in. When I woke up at 1 am, that’s exactly what I did. When I woke up at 4:30 am, I reached for the eyedrops, clicked on my lamp…and realized something was very, very wrong.

I have terrible vision as it is, but I can still, without contacts, make out the thin lines of my ceiling tiles, even at 4 am. What caught my attention was that I could no longer see them out of my left eye. I focused on my ceiling fan, closed my right eye…and the fan disappeared from view, too. In an instant, a terrifying implication had me by the throat: I didn’t know what was happening, but I did know that whatever it was could keep me from flying. I was starting to sweat, I was starting to shake. I threw off my covers, sat on the edge of my bed and prayed. I stopped shaking, and called the number I’d been given, vowing that if the doctor didn’t call me back soon, I would be on my way to the emergency room. He called back within ten minutes and told me to meet him in two hours at his office. I got a fitful hour of sleep, and met the good doctor and his wife at their office on a freezing cold Saturday morning.

He was swift, thorough, and very, very concerned. He explained that his concern stemmed from the fact the ulcer itself was so close to my pupil. He explained what he thought the causes were and walked me through the aggressive treatment plan he was prescribing: three more eyedrops, an optical gel, pills, and cleansing cloths. A rock in the pit of my stomach kept growing with every word I didn’t understand. Finally, I took a deep breath and asked the question I wanted to have to ask the least: “Is there a chance that this is going to leave a scar?”

He paused. He knew why I was asking. “Yes. A small chance, but there is a chance.”

My head started swimming. I broke into a cold sweat. Through welling tears, I told the doctor I thought I was about to pass out. The doctor’s wife got me a cold, damp paper towel, and the doctor told me to put my head between my knees. He also told me I shouldn’t be so anxious, that it wasn’t going to solve anything.

It was good advice. Biblical advice, even. And whether he meant it that way or not, that’s how I took it. Nothing I could do now but take my medicine, go to my follow up appointments, and trust that since God said I would do this, even my own injudicious actions could be redeemed.

The weekend went on as planned, my vision began to improve slowly, and my first follow up was the next day. The doctor was cautiously optimistic, and reduced the frequency of my eyedrops and told me to come in a few days later. At that appointment, he was visibly impressed with my eye’s progress. He further reduced the prescriptions, eliminated some completely, and told me to come back in a week.

After a brief exam, he announced the eye was completely healed, and that there was only a small scar that should go away with a mild steroidal eyedrop. If it didn’t, he said it could also be lasered off if deemed necessary.

He then sat back in his chair, studied me for a bit, and then remarked aloud, “You’re very fortunate, you know. I didn’t think this was going to turn out very well. Certainly not as well as it has.” Tears welled up again, but it wasn’t anxiety this time, it was gratitude, with just a little penitence.

Two days after all of this began, just after my first cautiously optimistic appointment, I was working in the children’s area of our church, with children 4 to 7 years of age. As we do every Sunday, we taught them a Bible verse. That day’s verse was I John 4:18, “1There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I teared up even as I was writing it on their construction papers. I had been so full of fear, and essentially, fear that I was going to be punished for having been careless with my eyes. Not that I thought it was a deliberate punishment from God, but that it was a natural consequence of being neglectful that I was going to have to deal with. At 4:30 am on a Saturday morning, I had forgotten about grace. And mercy. And perfect love. He loves me, perfectly. And because of that, I have no reason to fear.

Because of that, I have my sight.

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General Aviation

I sent off another scholarship essay this past weekend. I wish I’d realized in high school how true it was when everyone told me that there were lots of scholarships out there that no one ever applied for, and that if I would just take the time to do it, my odds would be pretty good because so few others are bothering to. But no. I was one of the masses who made it easier for all those go getters. Well, no more, baby. I’m becoming a lean mean application machine.

Plus, it’s a great incentive to write, and on one of my favorite subjects, too: aviation. This particular application asked for three responses, 500 words apiece, the first two variations on the standards “What do you love about aviation?” and “What are your aviation goals?” but the third was a little more exciting. The third wanted to know what my favorite General Aviation memory was and how it had impacted my views on General Aviation.

For those of you not in the know, General Aviation, or GA, basically refers to aircraft operations by anyone other than the airlines, major cargo operations, or the military. It encompasses everything from single seat, homebuilt aircraft to warbirds to business jets. And it is a tight knit community I am proud to count myself a member of.

I had little trouble choosing a memory, and quite a bit of trouble keeping it under 500 words. But here it is, in its entirety, with some details redacted to protect the innocent. I’ve been meaning to write more here about flying anyway, so…hope you enjoy.

My favorite GA memory comes from an EAA airshow two years ago in the Pacific Northwest. I had only recently begun working with a local warbird group, doing whatever they would allow/tell me to, and doing it enthusiastically. I was there crewing our B-25, and fielding innumerable questions about whether or not I was there because I was married to one of the pilots. At first, it was a bit exasperating, but then I learned it was much more fun to watch people’s jaws drop when I smiled and cheerfully informed them that I was a full-fledged, wrench-turning member of the crew.

We took up several sightseeing flights at that show, beautiful, winding flights through the Cascade Mountains. As a Texas girl, the mountains were impressive enough, but it had been over 110° back home, and the frozen waterfalls hidden in the mountain ranges were particularly enchanting. On sightseeing flights, my job was generally to hand passengers sick-sacks when necessary and make sure they were back in their seats before the aircraft was on final. But mostly, I got to sit in the jumpseat and enjoy the view.

On the very last flight of the second to last day, the flight was particularly enjoyable. The air was crisp and calm, the flight was full, and nobody was feeling ill. I was at my usual post, delighting in the usual sights, when some movement to my left caught my eye. The owner of the aircraft and co-pilot for this particular flight was removing his headphones. He was getting up. And then he pointed at me, and jerked his thumb towards the right seat.

I barely remembered to remove my own headset before vaulting into my new seat, and figured I’d worry about stuffing my heart back down my throat later.

“Welcome,” said the other pilot, and I think I barely managed to squeak out a greeting in return. He gave me a heading, noted our altitude, and said the three most magical words I’d heard in a long, long time: “Ok. Your airplane.”

Yep. Me. A broke, out of work, desperate young pilot with maybe 47 flight hours to her name. I was flying a B-25. And I think, in that moment, I understood what general aviation was all about. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I had done nothing that I could think of to earn it. It was a gift, pure and simple. A gift given to me by people who themselves had received gifts from others in the aviation community for years. I can’t think of a single friend I’ve made in this unique population who doesn’t have stories to tell of the people who gave to them knowing they had nothing comparable to give in return. With all of the challenges general aviators face, I believe that we are a group who survives best by paying it forward, and I’m very much looking forward to being able to do the same some day.

**********edit**********

The scholarship committee, while choosing someone else for the advertised scholarship, liked my essays so much they decided to make up a whole new one and give it to me! Huzzah!

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Faithfulness, When I am Faithless

People frequently wonder right out loud what a nice young lady like myself is doing in a field like aviation maintenance. Their responses vary wildly, from the enthusiastically encouraging to the mildly insulting, when I tell them it’s so I can be a missionary pilot. The most amusing one I have heard to date came from a gentleman at work: “A missionary pilot? What does that mean, are you gonna preach to the passengers over the intercom or something?”

It’s an entertaining idea, sure, but one that would likely cut an airline career pretty short. Good thing an airline career is not even a remotely tempting prospect for me.

Other possibilities, though, have presented themselves more alluringly. It’s been interesting, over the course of the last few months in particular, to be faced with such a plethora of opportunities. It’s funny, the things that so clearly portray the ever present battle between our flesh and our spirit. Things you never even thought would be an issue suddenly appear before you and begin to tug at your heart like crazy. Career paths. Job opportunities. Relationships. Hobbies, even.

I worry, sometimes, about these things pulling me off the path I’m on without me realizing it. I worry even more (though even more rarely) about these things pulling me off the path I’m on with my full knowledge and cooperation. But I am not so naive to think it could never happen. And that thought that it could…well, to be honest, it terrifies me a little. I’ve been telling people I’m going to do this for almost three years now. I have poured literal blood, sweat, and tears into the pursuit of it. I’ve counted the cost and I’ve said “yes,” time and time again. And yet, I can still see myself walking away from it. It would almost be too easy.

So. What do I do? I remember Isaiah 30:21: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” And that, as Paul told Timothy, though I may be faithless, God will always be faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. And I remember the book of Hebrews, the stories of those who lived and died by faith in the promise of God, who looked forward “to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God,” who longed for “a better country—a heavenly one,” and for whom God is not ashamed to be called their God. I remember the cry of King David: “Lord, the LORD Almighty, may those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me; God of Israel, may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me.” The Word is good to remind me of so much, not least of which is that beautiful amalgamation of my weakness and His strength.

Pray for me, friends. I want to hear His voice, and walk in the ways it tells me to go.

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Insert Charlie Sheen “Winning” Joke Here.

So, back in February, an announcement scrolling by on the big flat screen at school happened to catch my eye. The Northrop Rice Foundation had scholarships available, with an application due date of March 1st. I checked out the list of scholarships, and my heart leapt at two little words: Snap. On.

They were awarding five sets of Snap On aviation tools, valued at $4,900 apiece. My heart raced as I opened the application and scanned the requirement list. They wanted an essay. And…….they didn’t have a word limit. I swear, the sun shone a little brighter, the angels in heaven began to sing, and I started to write.

One essay, one transcript, three letters of recommendation, and two weeks later, my application was on its way. The winners were set to be announced at the annual Aviation Technician Educator’s Council’s conference on April 10th, and it didn’t occur to me until April 9th to think about how the winners would be notified. Would they be told after the announcement? Before? Had I missed out? Had I already lost? April 10th came and went without a peep from anyone. So did April 11th. On April 12th I realized our own department chair was attending the conference, and so I set about pestering his administrative assistant for any news. She, wonderful lady that she is, paged him *and* emailed him, and got no response, but assured me he’d be in the next day. Which, if you’re keeping track, was yesterday.

I stalked his office for a few hours that morning before he came in. When I finally saw him, I made a beeline for the door, actually cutting off another student in the process. “Well?” I asked.

“Your name came up at my conference this week.”

“AND?!?!”

“Seems like you may have won a Snap On scholarship of some kind.”

……………I may or may not have made some loud noises…….maybe cried a little…….maybe…

Part of me was still holding my breath until the official email came today. I mean, when I sent it, I felt like I had a winner, but after losing the Delta Airlines Women in Aviation maintenance scholarship…..to a dude……my confidence was a little shaken. But the Delta application had a limit on their essay: 1000 words. I guess I only needed 179 more to get my point across, my point specifically being, “Hey, I’m broke as a joke, help me out here, wouldja?”

I stated in my essay my intent to enter the mission field, and that I’d like to be as well equipped as possible when I finally do, and that that not only included experience, but also tools. Yes, it was part sycophancy, but it’s also unquestionably true. I’ll be taking these very nice tools with me to the other side of the world someday. I’m exceedingly grateful and thoroughly humbled by that thought. I know I don’t deserve to be blessed in obedience, but He does it anyway. Amazing.

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In Which I Commemorate My “A”

If I have to own things (and, well, I do), I like them to be things with stories behind them. So I am often inspired by major milestones in my life to go shopping. Weird? Maybe. Materialistic? I hope not. The things I buy are often practical (like the watch I bought when I was getting my pilot’s license), sometimes cheap (like the pocket compass I bought to celebrate my 4.0 in my first semester of A&P school)…I intend for them to be things that remind me of where I’ve come from and where I’m going. They’re also great conversation starters, and I love few things more than talking to people about where I’m going and of the One who’s sending me.

This week, I got my Airframe license. I’m halfway to becoming a certificated aircraft mechanic, which is halfway(ish) to becoming qualified to be a missionary pilot. It was a solid year’s worth of schooling, a few weeks of really intense study (you can see the stack of books here), then nine grueling hours of questions, answers, and skill demonstrations. Well, ok. The last three were grueling. The first six were pretty breezy. But still. It was kind of a big deal. It’s the first really big step toward the ultimate goal: mission aviation. (The first big step would have been my pilot’s license, except I got that before I knew I was going to be a missionary pilot.) Many of you have probably heard the story (for those who haven’t, I’m sure it will be the subject of a future post), and so you know I feel particularly called to Papua New Guinea. Shortly after I got called, I had to go to traffic court to get a brakelight ticket dismissed, and a young man in front of me was wearing an Adidas track jacket emblazoned with the flag of PNG. It’s been over two years and I’ve never been able to get that jacket out of my head.

So last night, on a whim, I searched for that jacket. eBay, as it turns out, is a magical place, full of long discontinued items at sensational prices. And thanks to that marvelous “Buy It Now!” button, my shiny new track jacket is on its way from Pennsylvania, hopefully arriving just in time for the cold front moving in early next week. Every time I wear it, I’ll be reminded again of where I’ve been, where I’m going, and the One who is leading me every step of the way. Hopefully, everyone around me will too.

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