Susan Sparks: Flying Without Wind

A few years ago, Toby and I traveled to the Outer Banks of North Carolina because yes, we wanted to learn to hang glide. There's a school near Kill Devil Hill where the Wright Brothers first flew. It's at Jockey's Ridge, the tallest sand dune on the East Coast.

And so it was that I found myself standing in the sand, staring down the steep slope of Jockey's Ridge dangling from a kite. As I looked down the dune, I thought of the scripture in Hebrews 12:1: "Let us run with perseverance the race that is set out for us." (Actually, what flashed through my mind was that scripture plus the phrase, "You're an idiot.")

We did two runs that morning. The first run was great. We got the glider pointed down the dune, and after a few moments, we saw the flags in the far distance begin to flutter. Then, the instructor yelled, "Wind coming! Clear! Run!" That was the cue for the pilot (me) to run at full speed down the edge of the dune to what I thought would likely be an ugly and untimely death. Despite my misgivings, I did it. Sometimes you just have to leap into the unknown.

I sprinted down that dune until a miracle occurred: suddenly, my feet weren't touching the sand anymore. I was being lifted off the dune like a graceful seabird (although when I looked at the photos later, that image did not come to mind.)

Bottom line: I flew. And it felt so easy and gentle and effortless as the winds coming up that dune just picked me and carried me down.

That was the first run with wind. The second run was a little different.

After dragging the glider back up the dune, we sat, and we waited.

And waited. And waited.

No wind came. Not one flutter. And you can't fly when there's no wind . . . or so I thought.

As we were sitting there stuck on the ground, a lone seagull landed next to us and nestled down in the sand to watch. No doubt she was thinking, "What ARE these crazy humans doing?

When it was clear that we weren't doing anything or going anywhere, she stood up, (rolled her eyes too, I'm pretty sure), and began to run down the dune flapping her wings. It took a minute, but sure enough, between the speed and the movement of her wings, she slowly lifted up and took flight. The instructor laughed and said, "Well, I guess she showed us!"

And, in fact, she did. She showed us not only about flying, but also about life and faith.

Here's a great truth: some days in life you have wind, and some days you don't.

There are days when life seems easy-gentle and effortless. It's like the wind comes to pick us up and carry us home. Then there are days when it feels like there is no wind. Nothing. Not a flutter in sight. On those days, we feel grounded, frustrated, and stuck.

But I learned something important on that dune from that gull: You can fly with no wind.

It just takes a bit more effort. You have to put one foot in front of the other, flap your wings, and try over and over. But like that gull, through putting one foot in front of the other, you can ultimately rise up and soar.

I certainly didn't do much to honor the Wright Brothers' memory that day. But I did, for a moment, lift off the ground. And thanks to that flight, but more importantly thanks to that gull, I learned that with enough consistent effort-wind or no wind-we can fly.

(This article was featured as a syndicated column for GateHouse Media. If you'd like to read more of my columns, click here!)