Turbulence

By: Sarah Morrison

Early morning was spent winding through the twisted mangroves of the Caribbean, trees intertwined in cozy hugs. Our driver dropped us off at the airport early and we sat in the aggressive air conditioning for a few hours as we waited to board our plane. Traveling in another country inevitably left us with no cell service; we spent a peaceful few hours in the airport terminal reading.

We’d had a refreshing week away from the hardships of church planting and ministry. We love the church dearly. If we didn’t, we certainly wouldn’t have endured so much pain on Her behalf for so many years. As with most vocations, breaks are necessary and warranted. Our decision to go on a vacation was not necessitated by a disappointment with our lives, but instead the weariness of heart. Like all good things, vacation came to an end. We boarded the plane and I landed in an aisle seat. I’ve never been a good flier. The plane looks flimsy, made out of paper that could crumble if I sneeze.

In the air things begin smoothly. A bump every once in a while, but I listened to a podcast to distract myself while Paul watched a movie. My mind turned off of vacation mode and I began to think about what would happen when the plane lands. Will the tires hit the tarmac and the earth around me shatter? It feels as though that’s likely. Will I turn on my phone and be bombarded with requests, inquiries, and painful admonishments from friends, family, and enemies? If I even survive the plane ride, will I survive the burden of others’ perceptions? The flight attendants make their ways down the aisle with drinks and snacks. They gave me pretzels instead of the stroopwafle I’d hoped for.

I had several stress-dreams on vacation. Phantom rude-text messages and unwholesome attacks haunted me as I slept on the mattress stiff as an ironing board. Unfortunately, for most of our break, I was troubled by returning home. Thankfully, the waves were loud enough to drown out most of my fears. On this flight there’s no ocean to drown out the noise in my mind, only an older woman not wearing headphones behind me, watching something on her phone.

Fears like a parasitic vine creep into my mind, telling ghost stories of what problems await us on the other side of the border. I wonder if all the rest we just stored-up for ourselves would drain from our bones as soon as we landed. I vaguely made out my reflection in the TV screen on the back of the chair in front of me. My eyes are dull and I can see the bags under them. Are they my personal item, or my carry on? I briefly wonder if I’ve always looks like this, or if the past three years caused my features to sink. It is probably a little of both. Turbulence picks up again. I convince myself it is a metaphor for the troubles awaiting us on the runway. When the rubber meets the asphalt, will it mirror the collision of my vacation life and my home life?

Maybe it’s bad news from the congregation. Maybe something’s gone awry. Maybe when our feet step back on American soil everything looks crooked, broken, or distorted like looking through a coke bottle. The plane jolts and it feels like we’d bounced in the air like a ping pong ball. I audibly gasp, almost a squeal, and my stomach turns to knots. I squeeze Paul’s hand until my knuckles whiten. Moments later, the pilot announces its time for our descent. The woman in the window seat keeps her shade closed. I’m helpless to anticipate how much sky is in between the plane and the ground.

Landing takes a full fifteen minutes longer than what was intended. Fifteen more minutes of bouncing through the sky like we were on the moon. Fifteen more minutes of stomach churning as the wind bats at us like a cat. Fifteen minutes of me praying for God to smooth the air before us and carry us to earth safely.

Fifteen more minutes of me wondering what laid ahead of us on the tarmac. In between prayers and gasps, I wondered if I’d have a hurtful text message waiting for me on my phone, or maybe a disconcerting email. I wondered if our church would survive. I wondered if I would survive.

Fifteen minutes later, the plane’s tires smacked into the runway. Rough. Each row of seats crackled like a campfire and the carry-on storage above us swayed like the palm trees we’d just left on the beach. It felt like the plane would never slow to a stop, like it couldn’t. Like a slingshot.

We landed, safely. I turned on my phone. Turns out, there was nothing in particular waiting for me in America. Except for Whataburger.

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