When Adversity Hits You in the Mouth

In the Academy Award-winning documentary Undefeated, there’s a scene in which high school football coach Bill Courtney tells his team how difficult it is to respond the right way to adversity, or, as he puts it, “when this thing hits you in the mouth.”

That phrase came to mind in light of my friends Ricky and Heather Lundholm and their recent experience. Years ago, Ricky and Heather were members of The Crossing as well as a small group I lead. They left Columbia to join Mission Aviation Fellowship, a ministry that resources evangelism, discipleship, medical missions, and other crucial efforts by flying to some of the most remote places on the planet.

After nearly seven years, Ricky was nearing the final stages of an extensive training process when MAF leadership informed him he would no longer be able to fly due to tendencies his instructors observed while he piloted in rough weather/high stress situations. While his supervisors felt it likely that he would have had a long and safe career as a pilot, they were not willing to risk a potential accident.

I would stress that for anyone who has put in as much time and effort as the Lundholms have—not to mention moving their young family around the world to Papau, Indonesia—this news would be incredibly hard to hear. Certainly, Ricky and Heather were no exception. But when my wife Rachel and I received the update in which Ricky explained what had happened, we were both greatly encouraged. Why? Because we’ve rarely seen someone handle this kind of disappointment, by the grace of God, with such wisdom and maturity. A few excerpts from Ricky’s email will help demonstrate what I mean:

…by God’s grace, we had really challenging weather this time, and a very difficult day.
……….
So I praise God for these men who went to bat for me and who made this very difficult decision, and though I am torn, I whole-heartedly support it. They did not make it lightly, quickly, or without counsel from others. And it makes me all the more appreciate Mission Aviation Fellowship and their commitment to standards of safety.
………
We are convinced that God is not surprised at all by what has happened here, and this is not an accident. Along with that we are convinced that the seven years of preparation are not “wasted.” There is a reason for all of it.
………
This was a very hard thing to go through, but we are quite at peace about it right now because Heather and I have been able to see God’s hand in this in very clear ways. We did not begin our journey towards MAF so that I can fly airplanes for the Lord, we began it because of the burden the Lord gave me for those who haven’t had the opportunity to learn about Christ. MAF serves those people in very big and exciting ways. Now my role has changed drastically, but it is an essential part of what MAF does here, and is no less needed than the pilots. I will for sure miss flying to the villages and getting to see the people we are ministering to, but I am grateful that I still have a role here serving them.

So yes, the Lunholms did have adversity and disappointment “hit them in the mouth.” But they’ve responded with a credible humility and a deeply ingrained trust in the goodness and promises of a wise and gracious God. And in so doing, they’ve demonstrated their belief that his will is to be valued more highly than their own.

Hebrews 13:7 reads: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” That kind of imitation certainly seems appropriate in this situation. Of course, we can do so only through God pouring out his life-shaping grace in our lives. Perhaps that’s something to ask of him on a regular basis.

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