God In The Fog – Blinded By A Disordered Life

November 19, 2012 — 4 Comments

Many Thanksgivings ago, I received a gift. However, it took the guiding grace of God for me to understand it––years later––in the context of a spiritually bankrupt life.

City Lights

Ninety seconds isn’t a lot of time. Nonetheless, an event can grab each second by the scruff of its neck and slow its progression as if one goes from gliding on ice to walking in tar. Such a time warp happened to me.

In a minute and a half over the bustling city of Oakland, California, I was confronted with three possible outcomes: life, death or the harming of innocent souls. The irony is that the best result for me, that I would live, could mean that someone else dies.

When I arrived at my first squadron in Yuma, Arizona, I stood on top of the world. As a young lieutenant, I was cocky, indestructible, pure warrior. Inexperienced yes, but it didn’t matter. I was a Marine Harrier pilot, the chosen one. As training is the constant theme for all Marines, within the first month I departed on a cross-country hop to Naval Air Station Alameda, California. Even though I was a fighter pilot, I was still required to log enough instrument flight hours to keep my rating current.

The flight proved uneventful, it was early evening with a partial moon and haze, and I was going to land amid the adjacent lights of Oakland as planned. Therein lies the problem. The lights were everywhere––a Liberace cloak of sparkling, indiscriminate brilliance that yielded zero clues about my landing point. I couldn’t see the airfield in spite of my navigation gear indicating that I was on top of it. Telling the tower I did not have the runway in sight, they wisely vectored me around the field a couple of times so that I might get a visual.

To this day, it remains inexplicable to me that I couldn’t see it. A metaphor for my life? God in plain view but I was blinded by my disordered, ungrounded existence?

Then another complication popped up as well. Predictably. I’d started to run out of gas, dangerously so.

Not a steely-eyed veteran, I began to lose it. If I had removed my helmet, visor and oxygen mask, one would have seen a strained but focused countenance. But deep within, emotions were churning with Krakotoan intensity.

Starting to taste panic, my sight became tunnel visioned, my flying somewhat erratic in terms of holding airspeed and altitude. The airfield tower had me in view at one thousand feet but I didn’t see them or the airport. They told me to keep it coming, maintain my turn; the runway was at 10 o’clock.

Then, as if I was blindsided, flashing lights erupted from the emergency panel and warning sounds screamed at me. I needed to land my jet. My ninety seconds had begun––that’s the approximate time I had before I would flame out.

With no visual discernment of the runway­, I could eject safely but the Harrier would crash where people were watching TV or eating dinner or reading to their children. Magnificent lives were on the brink because of me. I had never had a thought so unspeakable and overwhelming until that moment above the streets of Oakland. I was about to destroy lives.

No. As long as the engine roared, I wasn’t going anywhere. And I kept it coming. And looked. But I never prayed. You see, the supernatural was unacceptable to me. Until this insanely foolish moment, I never thought I would make a mistake––I was god in the cockpit. This omnipotence bled into all aspects of my life, I was the arbiter of everything.

And look where it got me.

No, I needed help.

Blindsided again, in a Where’s Waldo moment the runway lights abruptly appeared and I dove for the deck. Touching down at 160 knots, I stomped on the brakes and skidded to a stop. Not even attempting to taxi off the runway, I noticed my fuel remaining––there didn’t appear to be any––and shut down the engine. I landed on fumes. Seconds were all that separated my touchdown from a crash scene. I was both stunned and hypoxic as they unceremoniously towed me to the flight line.

Everything was going to be okay.

Was it a miracle I landed safely? I’ve generally characterized miracles as either subtle––the wonders that filter through happenstance and are only understood when contemplated retrospectively––or heaven rending. The stuff of Moses. So was it providence something calamitous was averted?

I really don’t know.

Probably.

Nevertheless, miracles happen; too much evidence to state otherwise. I’ve learned that in my own dramatic journey to God. At that time in my life however, they weren’t part of my worldview.

Therefore, God gave me the gift of time. To find Him, to slough off spiritual emptiness, to understand love, to discover meaning, to recognize purpose, to grow wise, and to share this story with others.

Lord, thank you. I know what you did for me.

On that night.

In all things.

For all time.

  • http://profiles.google.com/allianceforlife Doug Lawrence

    My life story is very similar to yours. Hence, the motto at my AskMeAboutGod.Org website: God Loves You. God Will Provide. Relax!

  • Carl

    God’s mercy is amazing! Your story is very similar to mine. One night in 1971, in Vietnam, I became particularly distressed. I was a 20 year-old flying as a TO in an Army YO-3A, and my 19 year-old, inexperienced pilot flew into a cloud bank, despite my protests, in an attempt to reach our mission area. I occasionally could make out identifiable ground features, so I knew approximately where we were, but my pilot disagreed–we lacked a reliable navigational radio. When we turned south as we wandered around in the clouds, I became more agitated as I knew that Gia Ray (a mountain higher than
    the maximum of 1000 ft. that we usually flew) lay in that direction and not far off. I protested more vigorously to my pilot, but he wouldn’t hear it, as I strained to see through the clouds below us and frantically called firebases along our way to ask them to stop firing. After what seemed like forever,
    we finally emerged from the clouds. There directly in front of us and not more than 2 miles distant rose Gia Ray’s peak–above us. The YO-3A was quite slow, but we would have struck that mountain in aprox. another minute if the clouds had extended to it. Why did the cloud bank end where it did? I didn’t think to pray during all this. Instead, I was distressed at the dangerous way we were blundering about and furious at the pilot for not listening to ME. Our Dear Lord continued to knock on the “door” of my heart for many years, and in many remarkable ways, before I finally woke up to answer the door. God’s mercy is amazing! Thank you for sharing your story with us. God bless.

  • Blaine

    I actually have a similar story, as the HAC in an MH-53E on an FCF in Bahain a few years ago. The yaw and roll servos’ inputs were reversed, and some rate gyros were loose – made for one heck of a ride. After three very near-deadly attempts to land and exhausting all ideas of using a NATOPS EP, I asked God to save me, promised to go back to church if he would, and I got the divine inspiration to cut-gun (pull off all three motors and use the remaining rotor energy to cushion the landing) the thing from 30 or so feet. It worked, with no damage to the aircraft, and when released I ran to the base chapel, found the priest and started confessing years of sin. I’m not a great Catholic, but I’ll never be a lapsed one again.

    I really enjoy the blog. While a rotor wing Naval Aviator and Navy instead of a Marine fighter guy, I can relate to a lot of what you write.

    • http://www.marcusallensteele.com/ Marcus Allen Steele

      Blaine, thanks for your comment. Your story as well as Carl’s (an earlier comment) are an absolute joy for me to read. One is never quite sure how God does His thing, but He does. He has done wonders in my life even when I denied Him. Now that I’m open to His grace, I can’t wait to see what else is in store.