October 18, 2018

Pastoral Nuggets: A Tattooed Skydive Instructor

Brother-Aaron-236x300Several years ago I took my wife skydiving. It was on her bucket list. Not mine! Anyway, believe it or not, she jumped out of a perfectly good airplane at 14, 650 feet!

A 25-year-old named Ryan was her skydive instructor and tandem parachutist I readily admit that when I first saw him I was taken aback a little – uh –okay – a lot!

You see, Ryan had a stud sticking through the middle of his bottom lip, had his tongue pierced, had tattoos from his neck down to his feet, and had those big earring type things that stretch out your earlobes and make big holes in them. He had half-inch holes in both his earlobes.

You could read a newspaper through those holes! I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my Lord! This is her instructor! I’m placing my wife’s life into his hands! She’s gonna die! I’m gonna be a widower!

My kids will never believe that I was dumb enough to let my wife and their momma jump out of an airplane harnessed to someone who looked like him.”

I could hear their questions, “Dad, couldn’t you look at him and tell he was a deadbeat, no account, shiftless, goofball, who was probably strung out on every kind of illegal drug known to man? How in the world could you allow our momma to jump with him?”

And I must admit that at that point I didn’t have any good answers to the questions I supposed they would ask!

As Ryan began to strap Marianne into her harness he began to go over instructions with her. As he finished giving her instructions, we had a little time, so we struck up a conversation with him. It’s amazing what people will tell you if you’ll just take the time to listen to their story.

In about ten minutes we learned that Ryan’s father was a parachutist too. And that by age eight he had Ryan packing parachutes for other skydivers.

However, Ryan’s home life wasn’t very good and basically, as a teenager, he was abandoned by his family. He told us, “You see all these other skydivers in the room? They are my family. They took me in and raised me. And you see that taller, older skydiver? He became more of a father figure to me that anybody.”

He continued, “And did you see that tall blonde working in the office? She’s my wife. We have a one-year-old son. I hope he doesn’t want to be a skydiver. I know the risks. It’s a dangerous sport. But if he wants to be a skydiver – I’ll teach him. Skydiving is my life. My biological father told me I would never beat his jump record. He has over a thousand jumps.”

He paused for a moment, then, with a look of great pride and accomplishment, he announced to Marianne and me, “I now have over seven thousand successful jumps.”

Marianne looked at him and said, “Son, my children are older than you. I want you to treat me like I am your momma and take care of me.” He promised her he would. She later told me, “He checked, rechecked, and adjusted every strap on my harness until we jumped out of the plane.”

There are some great life-lessons in my story today. First, I judged Ryan by the way he looked and not by the skills he possessed. Don’t judge. Secondly, take the time to get to know folks. You might like them if you do. Third, everybody is good at something. Even when they don’t look like what you think they should – everybody is good at something.

Ryan is an excellent parachutists/instructor. And in retrospect, I sure am glad Marianne had a tattooed skydive instructor named Ryan – even if God did use him to remind this ole preacher of some timeless truths!

Brother Aaron

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