The Southwest Airlines flight attendant leaned against the seat and, in a low “we don’t want the passengers to hear” voice, said to her co-worker, “That was really bad. I’m nauseous.”

We were on the ground in Albuquerque last Monday night, waiting for passengers to board for the next leg to Phoenix. A few minutes earlier we were in the clouds, a 737 jet being bounced around like a ping pong ball in a lottery machine.

Looking out the window all you could see was gray sky pressing its face against the glass. The plane lurched up and diagonally, then a sudden drop that made you glad for the seatbelt. Bump, bump, big bump, huge bump, lurch. Then the back end of the plane jerking to the right, like a cat’s toy ball would feel when batted across the floor.

Except for the commuter flight I once had in a 17-passenger turbo prop during a thunderstorm that threw the ice out of my glass, this was the worst I’ve ever experienced.

A white haired elderly lady in the row ahead of me was quite frightened. From her thick accent, she sounded Russian. She was squeezing the arm of the female stranger next to her and a 40-something man across the aisle was trying to talk her into a happy place. “This is just like deep sea fishing. Come to think of it, that’s no fun either. But don’t worry, we’ll be on the ground soon.”

All I could think was that after this flight, all the rides at Disneyland won’t be fun anymore.

In the middle of the turbulence I noticed myself gripping the arm rests and bracing my foot against the metal base of the seat in front of me.

Then I thought about what I was doing.

Steadying oneself while walking on the ground has some merit. Out for a stroll and hit a patch of rough sidewalk? Grabbing for a street sign or an oak tree makes sense. Keeps you from falling down.

Steadying oneself in a plane? Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

A firm grip on the arm rests and bracing with both feet while riding in an aluminum tube at 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet above the ground is, at best, a good isometric exercise. It won’t smooth the ride and it sure won’t help if the plane crashes.

The obvious truth in that moment was that there was only one person with any control over the outcome. It’s all up to the skill and experience of the pilot. As he goes, so goes the flight. That’s why airlines require a high standard when entrusting the person in the cockpit with the safety of hundreds of passengers.

We live in a rough and tumble world. Our best efforts to smooth the bumps with our jobs and our education and good planning help some. But turbulence is inevitable. And bracing ourselves against it won’t spare us from being knocked around. In the middle of it there’s only One with ultimate control.

Thankfully, God can be trusted to get us through. We may look every bit like a storm tossed mess on the other side, but we’ll have been brought through. Bedraggled and soaking wet maybe. Hopefully stronger. But through.

From Albuquerque to Phoenix there was another patch of bumpy air. This time I crossed my arms, relaxed my legs and resisted the urge to brace myself. It didn’t make it smoother, but why worry about something I can’t control, right?


Then I laughed at myself. Hard. Because I have a PhD in worrying about what I can’t control.

Oh well. At least I gave up being a control freak for 50 minutes. That’s pretty good for me.

Actually, it might be a personal record.

It’s a new week. Fasten your seatbelts. Enjoy the ride.

“Now this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”

– Isaiah 43:1-3

Todd A. Thompson – April 23, 2007

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