On Fear & Anxiety, as told from 36,000 feet…

Flying in airplanes is my greatest fear. Or at least the single greatest trigger of anxiety and panic attacks for me. (I still feel funny using words like panic attack, because I don’t have a diagnosis and those are “other people’s words”. But I’ll borrow them for a minute today.) These are my thoughts while flying home to the north side of Minneapolis from Solymar Beach Resort, 18.75 Km Av. Kukulcan, la zona hotelera, Cancún, Q. Roo, MX.

Flying makes a fool out of anyone who struggles with fear and control. In situations where I’m afraid, I see a clearer picture of how tight of a grip I try to have on my life. I have exactly zero point zero control over a single thing that happens while I’m strapped into seat 15F. Yet hilariously — or holy shittifyingly, depending on your perspective — I am constantly checking out the windows, looking up ahead, then back out the windows. Are the wings still on? Do they look normal? Should we be turning this sharply? Why did the engine get quieter? Excuse me, Mr. Pilot, sir. I think I better go join you in the cockpit; you just turned too sharply on too steep of angle while in too much turbulence. I am uncomfortable now and — shit, did we just drop a little? Shit! The engine noise sounds different! Now my heart is pounding, palms sweating, my senses are aware of every tiny minute detail and my ears pick up any sound or change in sound like a hawk.
I am happy to call this anxiety/panic and no longer care that a strong prescription of Lorazepam once seemed like a cop out. Forget all that, at this point we just tryna make it. This leg of the trip the pills are not really doing their job anyway.

But this vacation is special for several reasons. 1. It’s my first flying adventure with the lovely new friend we call Lorazepam and 2. The first leg of this trip, my departing flight from Minneapolis, is when God showed up and met me in my fear.

Departure required two back-to-back take offs (the straight up pee-my-pants part of the flight. I don’t care if it’s 80% safer than getting out of bed in the morning, it sucks) and therefore two back-to-back pills of sedation before getting on the plane.

Departure one was a standard fare of shaking, sweating and trying to trick myself with mind games and distractions that never work (“Come on, self. You’re just riding a bus, this is just like a normal bus ride… Bullshit! You’re trapped on a 40,000 foot death coaster!”). But it was definitely a better version of past experiences that had left me literally shaking and crying in my husband’s lap next to me — absolutely convinced that this was my moment of death. (I still shudder to think of that.) We took off at 6:10 am in total, frigid, Minnesota-winter-morning darkness. Wonderfully, half way through this first flight I was completely comfortable being in the air. Relief… Breathing calmly, heart calmed. Thank you God for the pills, for the chance to travel. Breathing… in, out. In, out. “I’ll have a coke, please.”

And then — pure, glorious amazement happened. Light came into existence over the dark clouds, first a few shimmering rays, turning the clouds from black to dark gray and slowly to white. Then a rich, golden bar of it appeared on the horizon, which grew slowly higher and wider and rounder until the whole cloudy landscape below us was dancing and shimmering with golden light. Ahh… The sunrise. It was so blindingly bright that for a second the crazy thought of an atomic flare crossed my mind. But despite my knowledge of fallout, I couldn’t take my eyes away from this. The whole experience was completely ethereal. Flying low over a golden cloudscape, I felt like our plane was the only earthly observer of this dazzling world above the clouds. Thanks to the clouds and the eastward flight pattern, complete darkness became blinding, brilliant, soul-filling light in less than a minute. It was like watching the sunrise via a time-lapse video, yet so much better… It was as though we participated in, got a front row seat to a miracle.
We flew on. The sky sat still, bringing reverberating waves of pure golden joy, washing away my anxiety more each time.
By the second departure, I felt no nervousness at all. The glory and the pills had worked courage into my bones. I was ready for my next glimpse of glory, my next ride with the sun, the next — gift. Yes, this was a gift — from Him who knows about good gifts… Oh! God had met me. He met me in my terror and showed me… Beauty. Glory. It was a gift I could only receive way up in the sky. Only in the throes of my greatest fear could I watch the sun make its grand entrance and turn darkness into a dancing world of beauty.
Even after all of that he continued to shower me with displays of his artwork. Huge puffy white clouds casting shadows down over turquoise and aquamarine water you only believe is real from those Sandals commercials.
It was sheer, glorious grace.
I write from the third and final leg of this trip, the flight home. This flight, though nonstop, has been a harder one. More anxiety, the pills didn’t seem to work as well, choppier. But I realize he met me again with beauty. I listened to Hello by Adele for the first time and put it on repeat. That’s beautiful. I thanked God for the beauty of her voice, and then I thanked God for the turbulence, for the way it makes the flight feel more like a bumpy bus ride (even if the mind games don’t work). Once again, he meets me in my fear. He does it his way. But he does it so well. Here’s to the journey of trusting Him more and savoring his gifts more and certainly thanking him more for everything.
About to land… Whew. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for solid ground.

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