“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; lean not unto thine own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5 (KJV)
One lesson I learned growing up without a dad was how to be self-sufficient. In college, I celebrated and reinforced this philosophy with various classes in women’s studies, feminist literary criticism, and American literature.
But reading Proverbs 3:5 and The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple by Admiral H. McRaven in the same week changed my mind. God’s Word and Navy SEALS wisdom of working with a swim buddy taught me how self-sufficiency could lead to dangerous consequences.
November 1984, I departed Lake Hood, Alaska, with the PA18 Super Cub airplane on skis that my husband built. Stick forward, and full power, my trusty black-on-yellow fabric airplane, nicknamed Woodstock, and I broke free. Free from 16 inches of glistening snow and fully loaded with supplies for a 5-day trip to the remote cabin we built at Trinity Lake, 55 miles west of Anchorage.
Flying low above the braided Susitna River, I sang Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way,” the words roaring above the noise of the 160 horsepower Lycoming engine. I felt like fist-punching the sky as I flew headlong into another Alaskan adventure. I pictured myself and my shelf of books cozied up beside the potbelly stove with the crackling embers sparking into the minus 10-degree night air. Good thing I left my Sheltie home.
Woodstock and I flew over the lake looking for yellow ice, rough spots, and frozen logs that waited to smack my skis and cartwheel the aircraft. Sunlight flickered across fresh white. Upon landing, pristine snow blanketed the plane in a protective powder cushion.
Right away, I pushed the stick forward, keeping the power in and using my rudder pedals to steer us into the safe harbor of the cove. Snow splattered across the Plexiglass windshield, so I opened my pilot door and rubbernecked between the slats, focused on my tiedown spot. It didn’t faze me back then that I had no cell phone or satellite radio to call my husband and report a safe landing. Pilots like me knew the limitations of technology in Alaska. Still, nothing held us back from living a life of freedom and adventure.
During the third night, smoke filled the cabin. Coughing, I stepped outside underneath the starry night to see black smoke rolling out of my chimney. Creosote had accumulated inside the flue and ignited on my watch. Adrenaline kicked in. My mind raced to formulate a plan of action. I could trudge a quarter mile north to my closest neighbor, praying that the absentee owner had concealed a key outside so I could build a fire at his place, stay warm until morning, and depart early. Instead, I could return to my cabin and open the damper to ignite unburned wood particles, something my Girl Scout leader mentioned years earlier. But that plan failed. Increased oxygen fanned the flames, so I shut it tight to smother the blaze.
After starting the fire again, I slept with one eye shut and woke to a loud wop-wop noise outside. Bolting out from my sleeping bag and strapping on my snowshoes, I half-jogged to the snowy lake and into the drop zone. The whirling blades of the helicopter swirled snow around me in a cyclone. One of my military buddies airdropped a pint of Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter, my favorite , like an aerial angel from above. I stood with outstretched hands, blowing kisses toward the chopper.
In Admiral McRaven’s book, I learned how a Navy SEAL understands the concept of trust. How relying on a swim buddy is critical to survival-for the individual and the team. When I flew my Super Cub airplane to my cabin alone, without a swim buddy, what would have transpired if I hadn’t extinguished the chimney fire? Or fell through thin ice? My unwise choice to do it my way -without anyone watching my back— could have led to disastrous consequences.
Since I have a long history of self-reliance, I memorized Proverbs 3:5 because my go-to is to try and lean on myself. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; lean not unto thine own understanding.” It took years to trust Jesus, my forever swim buddy who will never leave or forsake me, and to place my trust in my Heavenly Father every minute of each new day.