Acting Under The Influence

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit…” Ephesians 5:18

My dad slipped the surly bonds of earth at 6:21 the morning after Thanksgiving Day.

One of the many things he gave me was a private pilot’s license. The year was 1975, my first year living as a Christian. He secured a gentlemanly co-worker to be my instructor and paid for about fifty hours in a Cessna 150. Voila! I was a pilot.

Some of our best times together were flying a little J-3 Cub out of Mangham Field, where I had trained. The Cub was a pre-WWII taildragger without an electrical system, and my heart coughed and spurted right along with the engine as Daddy pulled the prop through while I stood on the brakes. During the weeks before his death, when I knew he was dying, I drove repeatedly to where Mangham had been, searching for some sign of the old runway or the hangars. I even flew over the site one day, but could see no trace of the once busy airport. Nothing. It made me sad because Daddy would soon be like that small general aviation field: I would look for him but not find him.

When I was through my worst grieving, I began to think about the particulars of my dad getting me that private pilot ticket. My folks weren’t rich, far from it, and he was just a few years from retirement. Not only that, but I had never shown the slightest interest in aviation. His offer to pay for flying lessons came, literally, out of the blue. Moreover, I was a timid young woman, slow to take command of the aircraft. It’s a wonder I stuck with it.

I tried to imagine how he had arrived at the decision. Knowing my dad, I seriously doubt he arose from a bout of deep intercession or three days of prayer and fasting with the revelation he needed to expose his youngest child to aviation. Much more likely, I imagine some off-hand conversation in the break room at work stuck with him until he thought, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” Yet he could not have been more clearly directed by the Holy Spirit. The role of aviation in the course of my life has been integral. And that’s not even mentioning the pure joy of flight, of a greased-on wheels landing, of a smooth aileron roll, or of watching a flock of birds a thousand feet below rise from the ground like confetti.

Sometimes I think our most profound, influential decisions are made in those moments we haven’t planned, those times when we find ourselves acting under the influence. These opportunities are the fruit of faith and of faithfulness. Before we know it we’ve planted something eternal in someone’s life, though neither person may be aware of the moment’s import until years later. Furthermore, we need to recognize and nurture the plantings of others in our lives, as Paul exhorted Timothy, “Stir up the gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands”. And be thankful.

I look forward to seeing my dad again. He’s going to laugh out loud when he sees what the Lord and I have done with his gift. Maybe he’s smiling already.

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