Friday, October 28, 2011

Houston, We Have a Problem

Taken from Apollo 13 during the crisis

Last weekend, we watched Apollo 13 with our younger boys for the first time.  I’ve seen it before, but what a treat to see it through their eyes.  Together, we felt the eager anticipation of three astronauts who had labored throughout their careers with the ultimate goal in mind – to walk on the surface of the moon.   Since the inaugural landing had taken place months earlier, Americans were no longer captivated by the endeavor.  What had once seemed unimaginable had quickly become last year's news.  For the astronauts of Apollo 13, however, their eyes were fixed on the goal.  It was to be their turn.  

The entire team of engineers, astronauts, and those on ground control had planned for every conceivable contingency.  They knew that problems could arise, and they had planned accordingly.  Early in their flight, a mishap did indeed occur.  They took it in stride, then were grateful that “our glitch for the mission was over.”  Within minutes, however, everything changed.  “Houston, we have a problem.”  

 The story rapidly unfolded as the three astronauts realized that their ultimate goal of walking on the moon was no longer a possibility.  In fact, it became clear that their return to earth would be somewhat of a miracle.    We were drawn into their tight quarters, felt the loss of power, and more acutely, the loss of control.  No one had conceived that such a multi-system failure could occur.  There was no contingency plan for a disaster of this magnitude.  In the midst of the crisis, they were all forced to disband the plan for what should have been, and to go back to the proverbial drawing board.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”  I’ve said it.  Perhaps you have as well.  We anticipate disruptions in life.  We know they can happen and plan accordingly.  We buy the right insurance, secure the right job, marry the right person, and discipline our kids according the philosophy of the day. We’re not naive – we know that we’ll have our glitches along the way, but acknowledge piously that those problems will make us stronger.  Until one very ordinary day, we’re not facing another malfunction to be repaired, but have suddenly found ourselves drifting in space as the result of a potentially lethal explosion.  We certainly didn’t see it coming, and couldn’t possibly have planned our own remedy in advance.

~Death of a loved one
~A defiant, rebellious child
~Serious Illness
~Loss of financial security

We travel through life anticipating our own version of walking on the moon – the day when all of our hard work will finally pay off.  But in the blink of an eye, everything can change…

Houston, we have a problem.

As the crew became aware of the situation’s severity, a chain reaction of emotion was instigated.  Within minutes, there was an awareness that the pinnacle for which they had trained through the years, would never be reached.  They would not walk on the moon.  This realization brought with it gut-wrenching grief as life-long dreams literally disappeared into vapor. 

Then came the dramatic shift. 

They had to leave behind the dream of “what should have been” in order to accept “what actually was.”

It was only after that pivotal decision that they were able to move forward.  The goal of walking on the moon, which had once felt paramount, instantly became insignificant.  Perspective had changed radically.  The chance of survival was slim.

Alone, they were helpless.  Completely at the mercy of the ground crew which was working frantically to come up with a solution, the astronauts had to wait.  In silence.  In darkness.  In the cold.  Have you been there?  I have, and it’s a terrifying to be thrust into the reality of our own limitations.  

They had to reorient themselves:

~by scrapping the original plan
~by redefining their goal
~by letting go of control and following the direction of another

After days of peril and excruciating uncertainty, the astronauts were successfully brought back home.  That which had once seemed routine became priceless.  Not one of the three ever walked on the moon, but as they let go of "what should be," they were free to discover the miracle of what actually was.

“This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced,” lamented the NASA Program Director.  True.  But not the end of the story.  The Flight Director responded, “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”  

And it was. 

From the ashes of great crisis, beauty can indeed rise.

And one day, we've been promised, that it will.


Intensive investigation revealed that the near-fatal malfunction was a result of a production error 4 years prior to the Apollo 13 flight.  Any blame-shifting or finger pointing during the crisis had been misplaced.  It became clear that the error was not caused by either the astronauts on board or the crew on the ground.  They were all the unfortunate heirs of a pre-existing faulty condition.  

Paul in 2 Corinthians 4: 8 says: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair."

*The word for perplexed in the original means "no way through" and the word for despair is the same word intensified meaning " utterly without any way through".

We can trust the Lord to find a way through for us in all circumstances so that whereas we may be stumped, not seeing any way forward though our problems, He will never let us be persuaded that there is absolutely no way through. He will keep us from despair. He will provide the promised way out. (1 Cor 10:13 )
*Borrowed from Ieuan LLoyd-Jones 


Linda said...

This is powerful, beautiful stuff. I've been there: "They had to leave behind the dream of 'what should have been' in order to accept 'what actually was.'" It took a long time, though, for me to get there, and it hurt, so I think that's why I appreciate your insights and words so much. I'm saying Amen! Thank you!

Greener Trees said...

Linda - Thanks so much for sharing. To me, it's helpful to know that we're not alone in this journey. Grateful with you that we have great reason to hope! Julie