Embracing Risk

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The door to the plane rolls up, and a blast of air hits my face. Everyone comes to life, securing safety googles, straightening harnessing, checking straps. Twelve thousand some odd feet below and sixty miles away, my family is going about their Sunday afternoon routine without me, because I’m sitting on a bench, rattling my teeth in the smallest airplane I’ve ever set foot in, strapped to a stranger I’m about to trust with my life.

before

My tandem jump guide straightens up. The four pairs of jumpers ahead of us scoot their way down the bench to the front and launch themselves out of the plane. My friend Katie and I high-five each other like amped up high school football players, and I take a deep breath. Katie’s videographer, (all photos courtesy of Katie Folkestad and Sky Dive Twin Cities, Baldwin WI) Katie, and her tandem guide slide to the front, barely pausing before disappearing into the patchwork green landscape below.

katie's face

Katie’s jump

Somehow, it’s my turn. My guide and I awkwardly move off the bench and crouch in front of the open door. This is the part I assume everyone pictures in their mind – eyes frantically searching the unfamiliar horizon, hands clutching the overhead bar, calculating the risk, making that final decision whether or not to jump – except it doesn’t go that way. We face the open door for all of two seconds. I can’t tell you if my guide said ready, set, go, or if he counted 1…2…3… because somehow we just lean forward and tip ourselves out in the open air.

flying

Katie’s free fall. Phenomenal.

When Chris, my friend and youth pastor at church messaged me with the question, “Ready to jump?”, I didn’t know how to respond. He was putting together a sermon illustration and promotional material for taking faith-filled risks in the month of July, and wanted to know if I’d be interesting in skydiving with my friend, his wife Katie. I was standing in my kitchen, surrounded by dirty dishes and the chatter of my children finishing their breakfast. The idea of jumping out of an airplane seemed alien, so different and strange in the context of my normal life.

Jason and I had talked about it briefly over a cup of coffee before he took off for work, but with no real decisions or clarity.

Was I ready to jump?

Are we ever ready to hold hands with that kind of risk?

It seems to me that risk is something I try to steer clear of at this stage of life. I carry the weight of responsibility for my children, who are all still in various stages of physical and cognitive development, and it’s up to my husband and I to know what our kids are capable of – when to protect, when to push, when to maintain status quo. Risks are taken in a calculated, padded sort of way.

But this wasn’t about my children. This was about me and my faith. (Well, I mean, if I died it would be about my children and my husband, *laugh/cry*, but the likelihood of that happening was 0.0007%, much less than the risk of dying while driving a car, which I do every day.)

This was about my willingness to take a risk for something beyond myself.

The whole idea of taking risks is complicated. To be perfectly honest, it’s not often I see the need.  I enjoy wrapping myself in comfort – a solid family, close friends, good food, a snug home surrounded by nature. I like soft clothes and strong coffee and books with hundreds of pages. I revel in hot showers, clean sheets, and the smell of my favorite Aveda lotion.

But life isn’t about comfort. In fact, because I’ve decided to be a follower of Jesus, building a static, easy life built on maintaining my own comfort should be the least of my concerns.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”               John 12:24-25

But was I really, ready to jump?

***

Katie said I should scream, and she was right, because the cold crush of wind roaring in my ears and tangling my hair rips my breath away, and the best way to fight it is to roar a raw mix of fear and exhilaration into the wideness of the sky.

I know I’m falling, but strangely, it doesn’t feel like falling. The ground is so far away that the free fall loses any sense of urgency and instead, I find myself able to believe I’m flying, arms wide spread, screams turning into shouts of astonishment and adrenaline. After sixty seconds, my guide taps my shoulders, alerting me to the parachute that’s just opened above us.

We shift to an upright position as the parachute pulls up on our harnesses, and suddenly me and the stranger on my back are masters of the sky. I can’t help but kick my feet out wide like a baby does when his legs are submerged in water for the first time, excitement coursing through every inch of my limbs. We continue to descend, the air growing warmer around us. The guide asks if I’d like to do some maneuvering, which involves leaning and swirling one direction, then the other. This isn’t my favorite, and I’m thankful when the pressure of the turning subsides.

 

The drop zone is now in sight, and even though I shout that I could stay up here all day, my guide laughs and tells me I better just come back and jump again. We glide through the air, turn gently, and position ourselves to land on the drop zone of green grass at Sky Dive Twin Cities in Baldwin, WI. I lift my feet forward so that they’re parallel with the ground, which is steadily getting closer and closer. I try to savor the last few seconds as we come into land, my guide touching down and leaning back, pulling us down into a controlled slide on our rears.

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high five

The whole process took less than five minutes, and as I shake my arm and legs loose in the harness, I can’t quite believe it’s over. I am flooded with adrenaline, so loose and light in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Katie and I hug and high five again, and I find myself repeating the words amazing and awesome over and over again to anyone who will listen. And then, somehow, I climb back into the 4-runner and drive off down the road, back into normalcy and, in a split minute decision, the Dairy Queen drive-thru.

***

A week later, I’m under no delusion that I did something earth-shattering for my faith. Yes, I took a controlled risk. I conquered my uneasiness and got to jump out of an airplane, which was an incredible life experience gifted to me by my church. Did I change the world? No.

But what if, by practicing taking a non-essential risk, I was preparing myself for something bigger later? What if saying yes this time meant I’d have more faith, and be more ready to say yes to whatever came next?

What if being willing to jump gave me the opportunity to build my trust in One who’s never failed me yet?

That, my friends, is a risk I’d take all over again.

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