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“Put your feet firmly on the pedals. The bottom of the pedal turns the plane on the ground; the top of the pedal is the brake. Your hands on the yoke turn the plane in the air,” said Tony, the personable flight instructor next to me in the small plane. After explaining the purpose of the many dials on the instrument panel, he was giving me more specific directions.

Is he thinking that I’m going to help fly this plane? Is he kidding? I struggled to coordinate feet and brain as Tony said, “Okay, let’s taxi to the right. When I take over, I’ll say, ‘My controls’.”

Tony kept giving me directions, occasionally adjusting a dial or pressing a lever, and within a few minutes, we were smoothly lifting off the runway. The morning sun was at our backs as we flew over picturesque Fort Vancouver, and northwest along the Columbia River. While I knew Tony was piloting the plane, I was also uncomfortably aware that he was expecting me to do some of the things he had told me.

I had given Larry a birthday gift of a thirty-minute flight in a small plane from Pearson Airfield. I knew he was very pleased, but he said, “I flew in a small plane years ago; I want you to sit in the front seat next to the pilot this time.” Neither of us knew that the pilot would be in teaching mode.

Now in the air, I wanted to look out the window, but Tony said, “Keep your eyes on this dial in relation to the horizon,” and “Push in that lever to put the nose down a bit.” After about ten minutes, he sensed my hesitation, and said, “Do you want to look out the window and have me fly the plane?” “Yes, please,” I replied gratefully. “Your controls.”

Tony smiled, “My controls,” and I relaxed.

As we passed over Vancouver Lake, I smiled at the row of houseboats, like blocky beads strung on the dark green slough. Flying north, we could see cargo ships and grain barges on the broad ribbon of the river; ostentatious McMansions squatted in huge yards, facing the mountains.  Smoke from distant forest fires screened our view of distant snow-capped peaks.

All too soon we were heading southeast again, and the runway was just ahead. Tony put the plane down with less jolting than most airliners we’ve been on, and we taxied to our parking spot. It had been a brief but unforgettable journey, both exhilarating and disconcerting.

Our flight was a metaphor for challenging circumstances in life. We don’t always know at the beginning what we’re getting ourselves into, or if our actions will have a significant effect on the outcome. It’s an incredible comfort to know we can breathe a prayer to God, “Your controls,” and know that we can enjoy the ride and land safely.