A significant shift has occurred in my journey which has brought a new sense of calm as I soar above the clouds. The peace I have gained when I fly is fresh, new, and comes as an unexpected gift.
Flying is something that never came easy to me. Getting on a plane means holding fast to anxiety-calming traditions and packing as much courage as I can gather. My journey of flying holds fear, terror, risk, and moments of questioning God followed by moments of pleading with God. There has been an oppressive war around my ability to get on a plane and travel from one place to another.
I have had the privilege to fly many times and far too many of those flights have had severe turbulence along with other gut-punching hiccups. My friends have noticed the pattern and even joke (with a hint of promise) to never hop on a flight with me. It isn’t about the fear of heights or sickness as it is the lack-of-control-tornado that rumbles inside of me from take off until landing.
My most terrifying flight came with the risk I took when I said yes to leading a six week Campus Ministry trip to Paris. The risk of saying yes was embodied in the two flights that came with 12 hours above the clouds.
The morning my team and I were scheduled for take off, I noticed that the weather report didn’t work in my favor, as it predicted stormy weather. I was boarding my first of two flights, to Canada. A few staff leaders and 15 college students eagerly and nervously prepared to leave home and head overseas for an adventure. I found my seat next to one of my students, named Emily. We engaged in some small talk as I meticulously walked through my calming rituals. First, I checked for the “get sick” bag in the front seat pocket to be assured I had one, then, I opened my air vents, re-adjusted my thin flimsy seat belt, double checked to make sure I had my water bottle in an easy to reach spot, and did my thorough scan for the bathrooms.
Our big plane took off with a lot of a swift force and might. The view out my plane window was a dark gray sky. I leaned into the isle and rechecked to make sure I could see the flight attendant who was buckled in and sitting in the center of my aisle view. She looked calm and unamused which brought me a little peace.
Within a few minutes of take off, we began hitting some bumpy air pockets and I started praying for it to pass quickly. It didn’t, it got worse. Suddenly an oddly bright light flashed through the windows and within the next second I heard a loud POW! What was that? What just happened? It sounded like something on the plane had backfired, and I waited for our plane to drop at any second. I searched the eyes of those around me and everyone seemed a little startled. I immediately started sobbing, an overflow of fear and helplessness. My sobbing alerted the flight attendant and she got up from her seat and carefully made her way to my row in the midst of the ongoing turbulence. She asked me if I was ok and if I needed anything. I asked her what had happened and she said “I think we just got hit by lightning”. I sobbed even harder. She sought to calm me by bringing me some water and crackers. She gave me a heads up that the rest of our flight was going to be a bit bumpy but the plane was okay. I sat in my seat filled with anger, exhaustion and lingering fear. I was mad that I couldn’t control anything and that I had said yes to leading this trip. I wondered how I would get on the next flight to our final destination. Our landing was far from graceful and smooth, but at least this fight was done.
It took my entire three hour layover to calm my mind and body and yet, somehow through lots of prayer and a friend’s tight hand grip, I made it through the next flight and landed in Paris. I was thankful to be on the ground but now held the ambivalence of my flight trauma with the beauty of a new city awaiting my eyes and curiosity.
That flight did not kept me grounded.
I continued to take risks and fly, and I continued to experience a turbulent oppressive war amidst the clouds.
Until last August.
I was flying home from a life changing workshop in Seattle and I noticed a shift. I was on the plane but something felt extraordinarily different. There was Shalom inside of me. I became curious about it and wondered what had changed. As we prepared to land I noticed the joy inside of me increasing. I tested the moment by withholding my fierce “airplane grip”. We touched down and I was in complete awe, because I realized that something new had come to be and this new was filled with freedom, excitement and mystery. The heavy dark war of fear was over and I could fly!
Sandhya Oaks is a speaker, advocate, and co-founder of The Adoption Triad. She is passionate about story work, racial reconciliation, developing leaders and has a craving for adventure both near and far! Born in India and adopted at age one, she grew up in Wisconsin and is now based out of the Minneapolis Area. Sandhya is on Staff with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) and also serves with The Lenses Institute.