'Put your right hand above your head and reach for the handhold' said Courtney. 'Easier said than done' I thought. I was scaling a climbing wall securely belayed but (at my own request) I'd been blindfolded so that I couldn't see how high I was. Working, as it was, by blanking my visual senses, it required an acute sense of audio in order to get up the wall, I was fundmentally reliant on the eyes of another, in this case my cousin, to make progress. For a moment my mind went back 18 years............
......... I still remember the sheer look of terror on his face- Chandler Bing, husband and father, about to throw himself out of an aircraft 4000 feet above the earth, hoping and praying that a 10 ft square peice of material attached to strings would open up and gently navigate him back to terra ferma.
It was my fault that he was here. This was my idea of trying to do something that would help cure my fear of heights as well as raising money for a good cause at the same time. I'd roped him into this and he rashly agreed. Mrs Bing merely shook her head and sighed. This fear though totally irrational was nonetheless real. Even crossing the Forth Road Bridge in a car required eyes shut or blinkers on (though not when I'm driving - that would be stupid!) and in my naievte I believed that climbing thousands of miles in a plane and then throwing myself out would be the cure - Ummm.
Crammed into a Cessna aircraft, 6 of us had made our way skyward for the third time of asking looking for a break in the cloud which eventually came. There was very little chatter as we were lost in our own thoughts about what would follow. 90% of our training had been about what to do in the event of a 'malfunction' - reassuring I thought! Dressed in our orange boiler suits (that a few years later would be associated with something a lot more sinister than crazy thrill seeking junkies) we were harnessed, helmeted and trained up to our eyeballs in preparation for this leap 'to infinity and beyond' - although it has to be said that what followed for Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story realised a rather more bumpy landing than we were hoping for! Chandler was Numero Uno and as such, he would be the first to exit the plane and prove the static line theory actually worked. As the 6th and final member of the group, I counted them all out starting with Mr Bing. Later over a cool beer, I would ask him about that look on his face and he would respond that he was happily married with two young children and, at the point in question, he was thinking 'WHAT AM I DOING??!!' Not being in his position at that time, I didn't fully understand.........I do now!
And so it finally came down to me - sat in the exit door of said aircraft, one leg out, waiting for the instructor's call call to 'jump' and trying desperately to remember the drill that we'd learned in training about a billion times earlier in the day........'1000....2000......3000.....4000.....check canopy!! I jumped! The noise that came out of my mouth would not have translated in any language as being 'the drill' but rather sounded something like......AAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHH.
What followed that sheer terror can only be described as an incredible experience. Suspended in what felt like a giant baby bouncer, the scenery was incredible. To my left I could see up towards Holy Island and the coastline taking in both Dustanburgh and Bamburgh Castles and to my right the coast led all the way down to Blyth. Content in my own world, I looked at the windsock down below and gently pulled on the handles to change the direction of the chute and roughly aim towards the airfield. Meanwhile......3500 ft below the atmosphere was a little more tense. Chandler, as the first person to exit the aircraft had had his 11 minutes of 'floating' and had firmly planted his feet on the green greeen grass of home. His ecstacy was somewhat short lived however as all he could hear was a rather irate instructor using a fair bit of anglo saxon in trying to communicate with 'number 6' on the one way channel. Number 6 was oblivious to the failed calls from said instructor to 'move away from the direction of the overhead cables on the railway line by taking a right turn......please!!' or words to that effect. This monologue was all Chandler could hear and his concern was growing.
Up above, communication was eventually restored and Number 6 was a little surprised at the sharp tone of said instructor (alright keep ya hair on) but submitted to instruction and made away from danger and towards the safety of the airfield and a perfect landing - I have the photographs to prove it!. The adrenaline high lasted a long long time..........
.........back in 2015 I heard the words......... 'well done' said Courtney 'you've reached the top'
What have I learnt over the last 18 years? (1) Despite jumping out of a plane, I still have a fear of heights. (2) I'm more in tune with my audio senses. (3) whether falling down, climbing up or stepping out, I need faith.
4 years ago, I took a step of faith to leave behind a career I'd known for 19 years and do something new. I heavily relied on the 'audio' during this period and listened to wise people but spent a lot of time trying to hear what God wanted. This is walking by faith and not sight. After all I can't see Him but I know He's there. I can't have a face to face discussion but I can still have a conversation.
Because these conversations are real I want them to impact on all I do. I often don't hear Him like I should but that's about my inconsistency rather than His. For in all the work I'm involved with, whether it be debt, poverty, social justice or aspirations, my primary aim is to point people towards the ultimate DAB audio channel where they can encounter a God, not visible, but nevertheless everpresent whose compassion, grace, forgiveness and love surpass anything I can ever offer because ultimately He IS the real deal.