The Skydiving that Almost Wasn't


It was a gorgeous summer day, the clouds were billowing, white marshmallows in the sky, and I was on my way to Cushing, Oklahoma, to go skydiving.

Skydiving is something people always talk about and say, "I've always thought about doing that." But they never do. It could be the expense or the chance of death, but skydiving, much like traveling to a foreign country (except less risky), easily becomes one of those unchecked boxes on life's to-do list.

A friend and I went in celebration of our birthdays (25 and 24, respectively). We called almost three weeks ahead of time to schedule, which gave me enough time to put my affairs in order should my parachute be punctured by a bird, and I plummet to my untimely death. (I can joke about it now that I'm safely on the ground.)

We showed up for our appointment at 3:45 Sunday afternoon, July 25. A few dark clouds could be seen off in the distance, but in all other respects it was a perfect day. They were behind schedule, so we sat around for a good two hours before our names were highlighted on the screen. By then we'd watched at least eight people land safely, so my fear of peeing my pants was slowly transitioning into an excited haze.

Finally, a tall, tattooed man walked over and pointed one of his leathery arms at me. "Are you next?"
"Umm... I think so."
"Over here, then."
I ran beside him, trying to keep up with his long stride as he led me inside the "hanger" to a replica of an airplane. He hopped inside and started gesturing rapidly as he spoke.
"First thing you need to know is that you can't screw up. You can try," he continued, throwing his arm around his neck, "to choke me or kick me, but it'll be hard."
He continued to rattle off instructions, which I did my best to pay attention to, but instead I just watched the tattoo on his arm twitch as he grabbed the edge of the plane and leaned out.
"...foot here...I,2,3 and then we'll..."
Focus, I told myself, now is not the time to zone out.
Unfortunately, by the time I decided I needed to pay attention, he was fitting me for a straps and a helmet.

I was for sure going to die.

He fit us up and tightened everything and led us to the plane. It was small and blue and looked like it needed a paint job. We ran to the side, where the door was open, and my friend jumped in.

"Wait!" The pilot took his earphones off and turned toward my instructor. "It was lookin' dark up there on the last run. There's a hem-haw comin' 'round the shuflaw into a big parcug. No telling when it'll blow over."

(Okay, that's not really what he said. But he was using a lot of "official" skydiving language, which I did not understand. Plus, it was loud because the engine was running. Don't judge me.)

"We're puttin' a hold on the ride," tattooed man said. "Hop out, darlin'." He gave my friend a hand to help her out of the plane then turned to the other instructor. "If we can't guarantee landing here, I ain't goin'. I don't wanna land on the softball field."

The pilot cut the engine, and in the silence I could hear thunder in the distance.
"This sucks," I said to my friend. "We drove all the way out here and got all nervous for nothing!"
"Well, we'll wait around and see if it passes."

We spent the next twenty minutes or so staring at the sky, hoping this wasn't a sign that we really shouldn't go. Maybe God was telling us something. Now, I'm no weather expert, but I was just about to say that it looked brighter when tattooed man came running over.
"I think we've got a window!" He grabbed my harness and started tightening the straps. "We're gonna try to get at least this plane goin'."

The pilot turned the engine back on, and we folded ourselves into the plane. It was tiny inside, and I started to get nervous.

We had been told it would take 20 minutes to get to 9,000ft, where we'd make our jump, but it felt like much long than that as we watched the ground sink farther and farther below. Just when I thought we couldn't possibly go much higher, my instructor leaned back and shouted in my ear, "We're almost halfway up!"

How can this be? I suddenly panicked. We're so high already!

Yet we continued to climb.

Finally, we were told to put on our cap and goggles (like that piece of rubber was going to help if I landed on my head). I turned around and could feel my instructor strapping himself to me...every little bit of him. We were close.

He nodded at the pilot and pulled the latch on the door. Immediately I could feel cool air rushing in and see the ground beneath the thin layer of clouds. We awkwardly wobbled on our knees to the front of the plane (only half a foot or so), and I grabbed onto the frame.

"Smile for the camera!" he said. We turned to our right and saw David, the cameraman who'd flow up with us, in a purple jumpsuit and a helmet with a camera attached on top.

"Okay, now put your leg out!" We put our right legs on the small step outside the plane.
"Now lean." At least, I think that's what he said, but at that point my mind was blank.
All I remember is leaning to the side and being sucked behind the plane. I screamed as we fell, wind rushing at our faces. My legs and arms flew back, and I couldn't even feel the guy behind me. When my scream ended, I took a breath. But the wind was pushing so hard, nothing happened.

Oh my gosh, I thought, I can't breathe. I'm going to die. My immediate next thought was, Where's the camera? Smile, you idiot! Don't look like you're dying inside.
I looked up and saw purple-jumpsuit man (flying? floating? falling?) in front of us. I smiled and gave a thumbs up, trying to pretend I wasn't slowly suffocating. If nothing else, the last picture taken of me was going to look good.

We fell for about 35 seconds (at least that's what I was told) before the parachute was pulled (by the instructor, not me). I felt a slight jerk but nothing painful, and suddenly we were flying. I could see everything, the wind was a comfortable temperature, and I could breathe. Glorious air filled my lungs.

"We've got a good parachute," he said.
I wasn't quite sure how to respond. "Well, that's good."
"Do you want to steer?"
He showed me how to spin by either pulling left or right, and we did at least three spins before he took total control.

I could see the field where everyone was waiting...where everyone else we'd seen land that day. But then I heard, "The wind's pushin' us. We're gonna land over here."
"That weed patch?"
"Yup. Pick your feet up."

I lifted my legs, and we glided down.
"Okay, we're gonna have to sit down. Just sit...sit...SIT!"
We touched the ground, and I didn't sit so much as fall back on him. I could hear him unbuckling straps, and then he said, "You can stand up now."

Because we didn't land in the normal spot, we were driven back on a golf cart--five people, two open parachutes, and a driver packed on one tiny cart.

By the time we got back, the plane had landed, and they were busy pulling everything into the hanger. "We're not taking any more rides today. Storm's comin' in," I heard someone say.

My instructor turned to me. "Guess you girls got in just in the nick of time. Almost didn't get to go."
It goes without saying, but I'm glad I didn't die. I'm glad my chute opened and that I didn't break my ankle or pee my pants. It was quite the experience and most likely something I won't do again, although I would if the chance presented itself.

Mostly I'm just happy I can check skydiving off my list. And if I do go again, I'll remember to breathe.

Birthday and Skydiving


Well, the birthday week is over. Jordan turned a quarter of a century old on Saturday, which means his car insurance will drop, which means he can take me on expensive dates. Huzzah! (I was kidding about that last part. I can't pull off using the word huzzah.)

I finally gave him the present I've had since the beginning of March.

Yankees tickets! Sept 11 vs. the Texas Rangers.

He loves the Yankees like I love ice cream. But he's never been to a game, so I guess that's not the right comparison at all, since I get to indulge in my love on a daily basis. Anyhoo, I gave him the tickets, and he sat there for a good five minutes going, "Wha...? I mean, oh my... wha...?"

It was exactly the reaction I was hoping for.

I can't believe I kept such an awesome present a secret for over 4 months! Sometimes I amaze even myself.

On an almost completely unrelated note, I'm supposed to go skydiving on Sunday.

Okay, so that was totally and completely unrelated. Whatever.

Some Overdue Self-Reflection


Something happened earlier this week. The actual circumstance is not important; what is important is the revelation I had, which was that I am not good at being a good person.

Now before you start thinking that this is just my sad attempt to get some pity, let me be clear. I am not fishing for compliments. No, this is more a public declaration that I have a lot to work on, and I feel that saying it out loud instead of just to myself will be a step in the right direction.

My shortcomings seldom take an outward form, so many people who don't know me well might assume I have it all together. They would be horribly mistaken. It feels like I've struggled my entire life with the same issues---impatience, insane competitiveness, selfishness, anxiety, and (this one's the worst) pride. I realize all this about myself, and I try to be better. I'll do something nice and think, Wow, that was really unselfish. You really are the best at this whole unselfish thing. Way to go, you.

All the while, I fail to realize that my self-congratulation is just me being extremely prideful.

Clearly I've learned nothing.

January 1 of this year I made it a goal to read through the Bible in a year, and I am still on schedule to be finished in December. I have a sheet that tells me what to read, and I mark it off each day. I've only missed a handful so far, and I actually am now so used to reading at night that it feels weird when I occasionally skip a day. (By the way, skipping due to tiredness doesn't actually accomplish anything, since I just have to read double the next day to catch up.) But most nights, as I read, I write down a verse that jumped out at me...for whatever reason. (Unless, of course, I'm reading Leviticus or Chronicles or something. Now there's a way to make me instantly fall asleep.)

Every so often, I go back through my journal and read the verses I wrote down. It's interesting to see what I happened to find worthy of noting, and I think it also says a lot about what I'm struggling with at that particular time.

The general feeling I get from the verses I've written is that I struggle with an evil heart. Wow, that looks even harsher to see in type than it sounded in my head. But it's true. I seek validation from other people instead of God. I judge people instantly. I don't like sharing. I want everything to be on my schedule, my way, and I don't like to deviate from the plan. Lack of planning stresses me out, which points to the larger issue of a lack of faith. I hate losing, which is due to my inflated ego. Thus, I have to ask myself some questions:

Do I not trust that God will take care of me? Do I understand that I simply cannot fix myself with his help? Am I lying to myself when I say that I do want his help? Do I seek affirmation and acceptance from God alone?

This week I did some major self-reflection, and the answers to my questions, if I was to be completely honest with myself, were not good.

So where does that leave me?

I was brought to a place where my pride was stripped bare. I am just like all the other people who sin--even if my sin is slightly less public than theirs. That does not make it (my sin) less harmful to me and those I come in contact with.

Last year I read a devotional book. It had most of the typical Christian stuff, but there was something in it that has stuck with me ever since. The author listed something she struggled with, let's say being jealous. So she prayed and prayed for God to help her to not be envious. Later that same week, she found herself in a situation where she became extremely envious, and she wondered why God hadn't helped her. Then she realized that praying for God to help with a certain issue of the heart does not mean that she will never find herself in a situation where she encounters that issue. Instead, it would make sense for God to continue to bring up situations where jealousy might arise, because otherwise how could it be practiced and improved upon?

So that's it, then. Practice. (Ugh. I hate practice.)

I am not perfect, nor will I ever be, but I can recognize different times in my day or week as opportunities to practice those disciplines at which I often fail. Instead of griping about the long line at the store, I can use it as an opportunity to practice patience. When someone asks for a slice of the delicious peach I just cut, practice being unselfish by handing them the biggest slice. If I am beat in a board game or on the tennis court, I can practice being a humble, gracious loser.

Maybe some day, with a lot of prayer, I can get it right. After all, doesn't practice make perfect?

"And he [Jesus] said, 'It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come'" (Mark 7:20-21).

Create in me a clean heart, O God...

24...Not the TV Show


I am not this young anymore. But sometimes still I act like it.
My twenty-forth birthday was on Saturday, July 10. The one day a year that is all about me. And I can get anything I want. (Hmm...that sounded selfish. Too bad I don't care.)

I remember the days when my brothers and I would fight over who got to sit in the front seat. But my birthday was the best, because three words could empty that coveted seat in seconds--"It's my birthday." My mom would cook my favorite dinner (usually something involving pork chops and lemon jello salad), and I got to use the fancy red plate, only reserved for special occasions.

And even though I know I have friends who love me, it becomes all the more glaringly obvious on my birthday, because I receive a barrage of cards, e-mails, phone calls, and packages from beloved family and friends. (I'm not going to mention the fact they all remember it's my special day because I send reminder e-mails every day for a month leading up to it.)

I've received some fabulous gifts over the years, and I truly appreciate each and every one--no matter the size.

This year I got some good stuff. Here's just a sampling:

A Dora the Explorer card with this note written inside: "You're one of the few people I'd give one of my livers for." (Think about that for a second...)

A beautiful pottery bowl from a good friend at work:

This cookbook from my ever-hungry boyfriend (Do you think he's trying to tell me something?), along with some knives to chop and cut and slice:
A card with $1 in it and this drawing from a hilarious friend:
A gorgeous skein of yarn from my college roommate, which she bought at an alpaca farm. (I sense a scarf coming!):
I've had some great birthdays. To name just a few...

Last year for my 23rd, my college roommate (same one who bought me the yarn) flew down from Springfield, IL, and we drove to Dallas to see Keith Urban in concert.
My college friends drove to Chicago for my 21st.
My first (and only) surprise party happened on my 17th.
Got my driver's license on my 16th.
I got tickets to Tim McGraw/Faith Hill for my 13th.
Ears pierced on my 10th.

"Happy birthday to me..."

Stuck On a Boat


Last week I was on a boat. A big, fancy, cruise boat. It had slides and pools and lots of buffets.

And many, many doors.

I soon found out that these doors didn't always lead outside. I had naively initially assumed that, being on a boat, there would be a door every two feet, which would allow me to breath in the salty sea air and absorb the cancerous rays that would leave my skin with a gorgeously golden hue. It took me less than an hour to realize that not every door was a gateway to the outside. No, some doors just led me down unfamiliar hallways, circling around and down and up and back...never to be seen again.

If you read my previous post, you know that seasickness came on day three, which was the second low point of the trip.

The first low point came on day one, hour two. (Please note that there were only two low points.)

Let's just say that it started with me, a cabin steward, and the question: Can I help you?

Me (frantic): "Yes! I need help! I'm lost!"
Cabin steward (calm): "Where do you want to go?"
Me (still frantic): "Outside!"
Cabin steward (calm and confused): "Outside?"
Me (less frantic, beginning to realize that I might have just asked a ridiculous question): "Umm... yeah."
Cabin steward (confused): "Where outside? Do you want to go to the Serenity Lounge?"
Me (embarrassed): "Yes, I mean no... I mean, I don't care! Just outside. Anywhere."
Cabin steward: "Okay... Well, just go up one flight of stairs and walk straight. You should see a set of double doors. That will take you outside."
Me (willing to resign to my tanless, lonely fate if only I could stop acting like an insane tourist and get away from this person ASAP): "Okay, thank you."

I hung my head in shame and walked away as quickly as I could, trying not to burst into tears. I was a twenty-three-year-old, trapped inside a boat, who'd just asked someone how to get outside.

I don't think I'll ever be the same again.

Why You Should Avoid Following a Hurricane...


Last week, my darling mother and I went on a four-day cruise to the Western Caribbean. It was wonderful and fun and sunny, beautiful weather...until Wednesday.

Apparently we were following the hurricane that was, according to an article in, "a tropical disturbance roaming the Caribbean." Roaming? Disturbance? You're kidding me.

Everything was going well until Wednesday morning, when I had the brilliant idea to get up early and see the sun rise over Cozumel, Mexico. I think I made it up two flights of stairs before the nausea hit.

"I've got to sit down," I mumbled under my breath as I fought my way to the nearest bench.

I tried to focus on on the wall in front of me and take slow, deep breaths. But then...

"Moooom!" I guess we never stop needing our mothers. She took one look at my face and quickly called out to the nearest steward.

"Excuse me... Do you have a bag?"
"A bag?"
"Yes, a bag," my mother said. She pointed behind her to the bench, where I was quickly turning into a ghostly version of my former self.
"Oh! Bag!"

Yes, you idiot! A bag! Otherwise that fake tree over there is my next best option.

"Well...uh..." He grabbed another steward's arm who was walking by with a mop.

Good, I thought, you'll need a mop in about a minute. You'd think the cleaning people would have barf bags available on every corner. You'd think they would have handed them out like candy when we got on the boat. Instead, they took a picture of my mom and I in front of a fake background and were trying to charge us $25 for it. Now where had that gotten me? I had a stupid, expensive picture and was about to throw up in my shirt.

"Bag? Do you have bag?" the unhelpful steward asked a woman in a white smock. She had a name tag, so I assumed, in my sickly haze, that she knew where stuff was.

She pointed down the hall. "There's a bathroom down there."

Thank you. That's extremely unhelpful. Apparently the name tag didn't get her "in the know" to help with emergency situations.

My mother sighed and shook her head. "She can't exactly move right now."

Suddenly, the boat swayed to the right. "Ahhhh." I moaned and crossed my arms, trying to breathe deep. "Stop...the...rocking." I felt like Meg Ryan in that scene from French Kiss where she's riding on a train and has--despite being lactose intolerant--just eaten a lot of cheese. The only difference is, she looked much cuter.

"Here!" Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone rush at me holding a white bag. "I have bag."

"Bag!" Someone else rushed at me waving a white banner.

"Will this help?" Smock lady was back holding a huge red bag. I swear, I could have jumped inside it and camped out. Along the side was written HAZARDOUS MATERIAL. Good grief! What did she think I had inside my stomach?

I continued to sit on the bench overlooking the ocean, holding one bag to my mouth while gripping one white and one red bag in my hand. Somehow, I controlled the churning and was able to make my way outside for some fresh air.

The worst part was, by the time I made it outside, I'd missed the sunrise, which was the entire reason I'd gotten up in the first place! Stupid hurricane.

The next three hours were spent slowing regaining my composure and my pink coloring, and by the time we ported in Mexico, all was well. I did not, in fact, need the hard-to-find bags, but the experience of having at least three stewards frantically running around while I turned more and more pale was slightly embarrassing and one I won't soon forget.

But don't feel too sorry for me, because just a few slow, painful hours after this picture was taken:
I took this one:
Viva Mexico!