I hate feeling out of control. In so many ways.
The butterflies in my stomach fluttered as the small aircraft that was carrying us picked up speed down the runway. Faster, faster, faster. My body was stapled to the seat and my heart was vigorously reminding me that it was still located within my chest cavity.
I was used to big planes…
But a small 10 seater? Different story.
We were flying southeast to the province of Cuando Cubango. Dr. Kubacki was scouting this province for potential medical work. We were headed to the provincial capitol, Monangue for a few meetings before flying out to explore the rural villages.
The Portuguese used to refer to this region as “The end of the world.” The thought laced my veins with an epic surge of adrenaline. Our plane neared the group of trees at the end of the runway and the front wheels lifted off. Butterflies. Adrenaline. I never did like Cedar Point. The feeling of impending death is not something that I joyfully embrace.
We began climbing higher in the gorgeous African sky, the turbulence jostling my frame against my carefully tightened seatbelt. Far below, the terrain, the rivers, the trees, the huts began to shrink.
Our pilot, Gary is skilled at what he does.
But I still hate feeling out of control. In so many ways.
When circumstances happen in my life that threaten my facade of control, I respond with the fear and desperation of an injured animal. When things that I feel are necessary for my very existence are abruptly removed from my life, I break down. Unable to move. No matter how much money I possess. No matter the comprehensive nature of my insurance plan. No matter the relational security that I think I enjoy.
I lose control.
Life happens, right? Investments go bad. Accidents occur. Relationships are broken.
How do I respond?
More turbulence. The butterflies seemed to be morphing into birds within the confines of my insides, clamoring for a way out. I was seated directly behind Gary. He leaned back in his seat, elbow resting comfortably on the armrest at his side.
Our pilot wasn’t concerned.
He was in control.
I watched as he and his “co-pilot”, Dr. Kubacki traded smiles through their headsets. They were laughing about something.
My mind eased. And the butterflies began to dissipate, content with the knowledge that I was going to be okay.
I don’t think I need to even finish the spiritual application. But for my own sake, because I need to see it written down, because I need to remind myself of it again, I will.
So far in my relatively young life, I have learned a few simple things. Detours are going to happen. They just are. And most of the time they hurt. Horribly. Painful changes parade into what we thought was going to be a “wonderful” life. Circumstances mock our ability to control. For as long as I can remember, my reaction has been to arrogantly cling tighter to the control panel. It’s the “American” way. With white knuckles and clenched jaw, I wrap my fingers around the steering wheel, daring even heaven itself to pry them off.
But strength wanes. Fingers tire. Fighting to remain “in control” becomes miserable.
And heaven wins.
In walking with Jesus, I am coming to learn that surrender is beautiful freedom.
Not painless. But beautiful.
I peered out the window as we began our smooth descent into Monangue. Slowly, the leaves on the trees began to regain their demarcations. The landing gear engaged the ground with a thud. Thanks to our experienced pilot, we landed safely.
And I was okay.
In single file, we exited the plane.
My feet graced the floors of the beautiful government airport. This palatial structure stood in stark contrast to the rest of the city. Everything sparkled. Only a few meters away, homes were built of clay and the floors were made of dirt.
My mind wrestled again.
We and our luggage were escorted through the city to a mission which would serve as our home for the night. Our hosts, a beautiful South African missionary couple were incredibly gracious to us. These wonderful people whom we had never met, welcomed us as if they had just discovered long-lost relatives. So much love on this trip. They shared their story with us. For years they have been faithfully serving the people of Angola, despite many obstacles and discouragement.
You can learn so much about a person from their eyes. They say it’s the “window of the soul.” I believe it. And when I looked into the eyes of our hosts, I came face-to-face with genuine, humble, sacrificial love. Everything I desire to be was here, right in front of me. Eyes like that don’t develop by default. No, I imagine they can only come from hours, days, years spent walking slowly with our Creator.
They cared for us well.
Our meeting was in the morning. In order to do his medical mission work in this rural province, Dr. Kubacki needed permission from the provincial vice-governer. It was a somewhat pivotal moment for the mission work here and we were unsure of how our proposal would be received. We slept quietly that night, wondering, hoping for a positive reception.
The following morning, the hot sun rose again — as it always seems to do. We ate our breakfast of cereal served with hot milk and tea. As I chewed, I could tell Dr. Kubacki was mentally preparing, steeling himself for whatever the vice-governor might say. When he donned a suitcoat on top of his jeans and polo, I knew he was taking this meeting seriously. He was the picture of confidence.
That’s when he said it.
He looked at Kyle and I and said: “Boys, go put on the best clothes that you packed.”
The blood drained from my face.
I hadn’t thought to pack nice clothes. My dusty jeans and this old plaid button down WERE the best that I had packed. I didn’t even bring shoes, only my trail running sandals. I didn’t see this one coming. Kyle and I looked at each other with wide eyes and I knew we were thinking the same thing: “We can make this work.”
So, with meticulous attention to detail and the confidence of a couple of Hollywood movie stars, Kyle tucked his t-shirt into his jeans while I tried to wipe the dirt stains off of my pants. There wasn’t time to shower so I splashed water onto my face and tried to fix my hair. But I would need more time than I had. The back of my head carried an uncanny resemblance to a disheveled peacock. And it refused to be tamed.
Our morning hair was certain to impress the vice-governor.
We arrived to the meeting. And it actually went quite well! All of the government officials were dressed to the hilt in their neatly pressed suits and ties. Gary was dressed in his impressive pilot uniform, wing button sparkling from his front pocket. And of course, our fearless leader Dr. Kubacki, in his sportcoat and polo shirt.
And then there was us…dirty blue jeans, dusty sandals, old t-shirts, and hair that would have made Albert Einstein feel at home.
Thankfully, the vice-governor gave us the permission we were looking for. And that is truly all that matters. It was encouraging, to be sure.
Today was an incredible day. There is so much more that I could write about. I am constantly coming face to face with ways in which I need to grow.
And I am meeting so many incredible people in the process.