I love a good story. The only thing I enjoy more than listening to a good story is telling one. I love having people’s eyes focused on me and watching them as they wait for me to craft the perfect description of my experience. I work to put words together that will make them laugh, make them anxious, and make them want to guess what happened next. I love telling stories because it draws me close to people; for the time, it draws them into my world, into my thoughts, and into my emotions. I love telling stories so much that I often find myself embarking on adventures simply because I anticipate the amazing tales that will come out of it.
My freshman year of college I signed up to go skydiving for just this reason. I couldn’t convince any of my friends to go with me, so I went by myself. I didn’t tell my mom I was going and I certainly didn’t tell my dad, for fear that one of them would talk me out of it (plus, I get a crazy sense of satisfaction when someone asks “You did WHAT??!!”). So, on a chilly Saturday morning in October I walked to the parking lot in front of Dodd’s hall to catch a ride to the airport with several other brand new members of the skydiving club.
We sat through four hours of the required training before making the dive. This “all-inclusive” training was made up of several less-than-interesting videos (surely made in the late 70’s before I was even born) describing how to steer the parachute, many minutes hanging in harness and ropes to practice our form, and more than one jump off of a rickety picnic table to practice our landing. When it was finally time to sign my life away and pay the big bucks for this adventure, I felt much less than prepared for what was to come.
I climbed into the Cessna with three others, not realizing at the time that my hesitation to get into the plane before them would end up meaning that I would have to be the first one out! I sat crouched on the floor of that old plane in an ugly orange jumpsuit and helmet, almost falling backwards with the weight of the parachute on my back. I didn’t know whether I should pray for the loud plane to make it off the ground or to stay on it. Either way the plane took off, and we soon reached jumping altitude.
It was impossible to hear anything over the roar of the plane’s engine, so the jump instructor simply pointed to me and called me to the open door with his finger. I scooted on my bottom towards him and he signaled for me to turn and let my legs hang out the door. I was frozen; couldn’t move an inch. He grabbed my pack and shoved me to the door. It would have been nice if he could simply push me out of the plane and let me dive into the open air, but it wasn’t that sort of jump. Instead, as I had learned in the video, my next action was to stand up on the step OUTSIDE of the plane and make the long reach to grab for the handprints on the strut under the wing. My head was spinning with questions. “How in the world am I supposed to hurl my body outside of this plane and grab onto a bar that feels like it is 10 feet away?” And “If I am actually able to make my arms stretch that far, how in the heck are these small hands (that were certainly dripping with sweat even through my gloves) going to hold my post-freshman-fifteen body on the strut of a plane soaring what seems to be a thousand miles per hour through the air?” (Even as I type this, my hands are sweating from the memory.) I was certain that I was going to reach, miss, and go crashing into the side of the plane just before falling to my death. But I took a deep breath and did it. I grabbed onto that strut with every bit of courage I had in me and I was successful!
I can vividly remember the great sense of satisfaction I felt rush through my body as I hung there feeling the strong wind on my cheeks and seeing my hands holding me in place. That satisfaction only lasted an instant. That wonderful instant before I realized what I had to do next. I looked over my left shoulder at the jump instructor and the smile vanished from my face when I locked eyes with him and saw him give me the thumbs up: the signal that I was to let go. I had fooled myself into thinking that it would take strength to hold on when really it was going to take one heck of a lot more strength to let go. It was going to take all the strength and courage I had in me. Time stood still. But I did it. And what followed was glorious.
God showed me something wonderful that day; He let me learn a lesson that I often want to forget. He helped me to understand that what we deeply long for doesn’t come when holding on with our own strength, but it comes when we have the strength and courage to let go.