**Flashback Goodie – We each have moments in our lives that signify a distinct direction change and though we might not be able to recognize the full picture during the moment; days, months, sometimes years later we can look back and say, “I remember one time when…” and share the story of a moment that caught your breath. Here is one of mine…it happened five years ago and I thought I’d revisit. When you are on a small plane that catches fire over the mountains it is pretty clear the moment might just be life changing…**
From the moment I gave up all control of my life to God and made a conscience decision to follow only His will because I had no desire to live life if I had to call the shots…fear of death was no longer an issue. This was HUGE. For 10 years (ever since the death of Joe, my first boyfriend) the thought of death could paralyze me into immobility. But when God gave me a taste of heaven that fateful evening on my nasty carpet floor, I knew there was no other place I wanted to be and I wanted to live my life with the goal to get there.
Thursday evening I received a phone call from an old childhood girlfriend (Jenny if you’ve read my book :)) and we hadn’t talked in a while. She called because she said she had ‘one of those feelings’ and just wanted to make sure I was OK. This is not unusual for us. We’ve been connected since the 6th grade and even though we can go a year without touching base we always seem to call one another just as there is a major issue. But there was nothing ‘major’ going on Thursday so we both presumed she was just ‘off’ on her radar and caught up instead on life’s normalcy’s.
Friday morning at 5am I wrote my boys a note, telling them I was proud of them and ‘good luck’ in their Mulan Jr. production on Saturday. Even as I wrote it I thought to myself ‘What if this is the last note they ever got from me?” I know, dramatic, but am I anything but? Yet, with that slight little nagging thought I made sure I included something I wanted them to live by: “Remember to pray beforehand and thank God for the opportunity!”
My first leg of the trip from Houston to Seattle, WA was truly uneventful. It was a 4 hour flight and I watched two movies on the little screen provided. I’d long forgotten the fleeting feeling that anything could go ‘awry’ and at the end of the flight picked up conversation with the woman sitting next to me. In Seattle I had a 2 hour layover so I took the time to eat some famous Alaskan Salmon and call some friends before I got busy with the weekend. I joked about the last leg of my trip being only 40 minutes and that I would most likely be on a ‘puddle jumper’.
When it came time to board for my last flight on United #6275 I groaned when I saw the tiny ‘puddle jumper’ plane waiting on the tarmac. My heart beat a little faster as I approached the plane and I took out my phone to take a picture to send to my friends that I was ‘really’ going on a puddle jumper and to pray for me!
When I boarded there were about 10 rows, 2 seats on the right row of the plane and 1 seat on the left row. So if my math is correct it could hold about 30 passengers. The plane was not full but I had a seat next to a young man in Row 3. We said our pleasantries and he told me that he was anxious to get home. He had finished his 4years with the Army and just flown back from Korea. He had not been home for 11 months. He looked out the window and grimaced, “This plane scares me,” he said.
I laughed. “What? You’ve just come back from Korea and you’ve been in the military for four years and this plane scares you?”
He smiled. He looked out the window and then up at the roof of the plane. “Look at this thing, it looks like it’s going to fall apart.”
Already comfortable with this stranger, I playfully hit him on the leg, “Don’t say stuff like that! Besides, if God was going to take you He could’ve done it in the four years you were in the Army. I think I’m doing pretty good sitting next to you.”
The flight attendant heard our conversation and leaned over saying, “Don’t worry, if one engine were to go this little thing can do just fine on the one engine.”
I looked at both of them and made a face, “I don’t think either one of you need to talk like that!” We all laughed and then went about our personal business. He plugged in his headphones, I plugged mine in and the flight attendant did her duties and sat down ready for take off.
Just about 15 minutes into the air (three songs into Shawn McDonald’s first CD) I heard the flight attendant make the announcement about drinks and then unbuckle to go to the back of the plane. A few moments later she comes back to her seat and buckles up again, her face ashen and her once playful eyes were now wide with concern. My heart began to beat to a spastic tune. I could feel it in every cell of my body, just by reading her face. Something is not right.
She leaned over to the man sitting a few inches away from her in the first row and I could read her lips, “There is smoke in the back of the plane.”
My heart jumped and I could feel the blood literally begin to pool at the bottom of my feet. I took the headphones out of my ears and looked her right in the eye. She tried to smile but I could tell she knew I knew. She grabbed the phone that communicated with the pilot and I leaned over to the young man next to me. I nudged him in the leg and leaned over to whisper in his ear, “She said there is smoke in the back of the plane!”
He took out one of the headphones. “What?”
I repeated the news and he gave me a sarcastic ‘yeah right’ and plugged in his music. When I looked back to the flight attendant she had leaned over to the man again and said, “We will have to turn back to Seattle, even though we were just about ½ way to Spokane its safer to go back to Seattle just in case something blows.”
I’ve been thinking all weekend about how I could describe what I felt in that second. To even ponder on that feeling for more than another brief second brings me to tears and clogs my throat. It was a mixture of raw fear, anger, helplessness, and uncertainty. I leaned over to the young man and nudged him harder. “She is serious.”
He took the music out of his ears, looked at me and then looked at her. At this point I didn’t dare turn around for fear if the other passengers didn’t know I didn’t want to make it obvious. Just then the captain came on the speaker, “Ladies and gentleman we need to turn back to Seattle. I’m sorry for the delay.” That’s a paraphrase, I can’t remember exactly what he said but I do remember he gave no reasoning, no excuses, just that we needed to turn around and that he was sorry. That was it. When we began to do what felt like a U-turn in the sky the young man looked over at me and that’s when I saw it in his face too…that jumbled emotion I still can’t find the words to describe.
I leaned back in my seat and tried to pray, I thought to myself, “This is about the time I pray a rosary, right?” So I prayed Hail Mary’s over and over and over again yet I couldn’t really think to do an actual rosary. And as the minutes ticked and I looked a the flight attendants ghostly face I looked to the back of the plane and saw the smoke and the other passengers stricken faces. That’s when I turned back in my seat and felt the arms of God around me. I thought of all the things I had accomplished in my life since that moment of putting it all in His hands. My life in the past 9 years had all been His doing. I did my best to follow His will and He had rewarded me greatly. That is when I felt the warmth of peace wash over me like an ocean wave falling steadily on the sea bank, covering it at first and then soaking in. “If this is Your will then I am fine. I am ready to be with You.” I began to say Hail Mary’s again, one for each person on the plane. I prayed for the young man next to me, hoping he had done what he needed to do in life, and for the young family in the row in front of me, and for the stricken flight attendant.
After another few minutes I began to feel the fear seep back in…fear if something did blow and suddenly we would dive straight down, fear of what it would be like if we couldn’t land and had to literally crash, fear of what the pain would be. But I quickly brushed it away and then prayed, “God, you always say to tell you what we want. And I DO want Your will, I do, but I would also like the chance to see my boys again, and to be with Neal through his journey with MS, and to write the next book with Neal and maybe even to see grandchildren one day. Either way, I just wanted you to know.”
Not a second later I felt the wheels bounce on the tarmac and the plane shudder and then settle to a halt. The minute we were on solid ground people from the back began to come up to the front, sitting in any vacant seats available and standing in the aisle. The door opened and a firefighter came in. “I need you to wait one moment,” he said and pushed his way to the back of the plane. Next thing I heard was, “Everyone needs to get off the plane.”
He didn’t have to tell us twice. We all filed out and everyone began to whip out their cameras taking pictures of the swarm of fire trucks that surrounded the tiny machine. We grabbed our bags and headed up the stairs to the airport terminal where we were pushed aside to the corner.
My body was responding to the adrenaline rush and I was texting my husband, my friends and the conference people, just in shock over what I’d gone through. The young man that had sat next to me came up to me upset. “They say we can’t get out of here till tomorrow morning.”
He looked at me and I was overwhelmed with this certainty that he and I were about to take a journey. “What are you going to do?” I asked.
“I want to rent a car, but I’m only 20.”
“Do you know your way to Spokane?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s a 4 hour drive, but a straight shot.”
“Well, go make sure they don’t have flights out tonight,” I told the young man and then called my husband and told him about my plan and upon getting his approval, I called a few people that were at the conference and told them what my plan was. Everyone seemed to agree and understand.
I went up to the young man and when he turned around I could see he was clearly upset. “We aren’t going anywhere. I just want to get home.” He said. I extended my hand to him and said, “My name is Shannon, what’s yours.”
“Well, come on let’s go get a car.”
I’ll fill you in on Part II tomorrow morning!
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