Not What You Expected


Carrying my helmet and oxygen mask, I step out of the building loaded down in a flight suit with a G-suit strapped to my hips and legs. On top of that, I’m wearing a survival vest and a loaded life-preserver unit collared around my neck. As I climb into the back seat of the F-16D, I’m thrilled to finally experience a ride in one of the fastest jets in the Air Force. I’ve spent the last 10 months training the fighter pilots in survival, evasion, resistance, and escape techniques, so for a ground guy like me to finally have his chance at a once-in-a-lifetime flight, saying I’m elated would be an understatement. 

We taxi to the head of the runway preparing for a combat takeoff. I’m pushed back into my seat as the jet tears forward down the runway. Before I realize what’s happening, we’re off the ground and blasting straight up towards the heavens only to barrel roll and level out while fully inverted. At this point, I’m still holding it together, but I can tell that I don’t belong here. 

Our training mission is to provide close air support for an Army unit 30 minutes to the north, but on the way, the pilot gives me a preview of what the jet is capable of. We proceed to dive, roll, bank, and turn, pulling ridiculous G-forces as my stomach gets more and more uneasy. Over comms, I tell the pilot that the ride is incredible and inform him that I’m probably not going to be the best company from here on out, due to my motion sickness and weak genetics. I swallow my pride, turn my oxygen up to its highest setting and pull out my air-sickness bag. 

It doesn’t take long. I barely have time to shut off my comms so the pilot doesn’t have to hear my retching and I’m doing that stupid half-coughing, burp noise that warns of imminent carnage. As I scramble for the bag, I wonder how much it costs to have an F-16 cockpit professionally cleaned and if they’ll deduct it from my pay. I pummeled the bag with several violent bursts and quickly celebrated the foresight I had to bring several additional bags in my flight suit pocket.

We arrive on the target making strafing runs and pulling up savagely to avoid smashing into the mountain when it dawns on me that this calamity is not even halfway over. After what seems like hours of this torture and two more full air-sickness bags, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve puked and we’re finally headed home. 

The pilot offers to let me fly the jet while we cruise back and knowing that this will be the only time I will ever have this opportunity, I give it a shot. The jet twitches and jolts at even the slightest input on the controls making me feel even worse and I’m absolutely wrecked, so I turn it back over to him and focus on my breathing.

I survive the approach and landing then collect my “luggage” and stagger to the building where support personnel liberate me from my sweat-soaked equipment. I slowly make my way back to my office where I spend the next two hours laying on the floor. As I wait for my body to recover enough to make it home I think to myself, “Well, that wasn’t what I expected.”

After all that anticipation and excitement, I couldn’t even enjoy it. An experience that was supposed to be awesome turned out to be awful. Thankfully, this was just a bad case of air-sickness that lasted a couple hours, but sometimes we jump on opportunities that cause us more long-term pain, cost, and frustration.

Opportunities that aren’t right for us can certainly backfire. An available path is not always the one we’re supposed to take, nor is it indicative of success. It’s disappointing to find out that we chose incorrectly, but it’s not always a loss, though. We often learn more from disappointments than our successes. In any case, it’s important to keep the right attitude, realize God never left, and then turn it around with His help.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

As Christians, it’s easy to think that every opportunity is God’s way of showing us the path to take. Should you take the new job? Start that business? Ask that girl out? How do we decide?

We have to separate our wants from God’s will. We don’t usually know what’s best for us, but God does, so we weigh it out with prayer.

This is the part where we allow God’s timing to take over. It’s also the hardest part because when an opportunity presents itself, we think it’s a green light to proceed, but some opportunities are simply a catalyst to move us into a phase of preparation and training. 

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9

The bottom line is this: prayer before action. Getting from point A to point B isn’t always the point. It’s the character shift that occurs when God goes to work on us that really prepares us for the new opportunity.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

What if the external opportunity isn’t even the real event? Is the transformation inside not the true takeaway here?