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Adventure Awaits

She never wanted to leave her hometown. So why did she fall in love with a Navy man?

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This was all David’s fault. David, my longtime boyfriend. I mean, my ex-boyfriend. I had been so sure that we were soul mates, destined to spend the rest of our lives together.

David and I had met in high school and dated all through college and graduate school at Georgia Southern University. We were two months away from graduation when he took me out to dinner and popped the question.

Only it was the wrong question.

That’s why I was 3,000 feet in the air, in a small propeller plane, crawling toward the open door. Wind whipped at my face and my oversized red jumpsuit. I sat, dangling my legs out the door the way I’d practiced, and looked down carefully. Very, very carefully. Everything on the ground seemed so far away. The grassy field where I was supposed to land was the size of a pea.

“Ready?” the jumpmaster shouted over the engine noise.

Ready? Not me!

I wasn’t an adventurer, a risk taker, a daredevil. I was a homebody, a planner. I knew what I wanted out of life. And things had been going exactly as I’d mapped out. David and I had been together for six years. We were in love.

The next step was obvious. After we finished our master’s degrees—entomology for him, early childhood education for me—we would get married and settle down in our hometown of Statesboro. I’d teach at the elementary school I’d attended as a kid. David would find a good job too. Then we’d start a family.

So when David took my hand at dinner and looked deep into my eyes, naturally I thought he was going to ask me to marry him.

But that wasn’t what he asked.

“Julie, there are no jobs in my major around here. I’m going to become a Navy entomologist,” he said. “That means moving. Maybe across the country, maybe even around the world. You’ll come with me, won’t you?”

I couldn’t leave Statesboro! Everyone and everything God had blessed me with was here, not on the other side of the world. Just the thought of being uprooted made me panicky. “This is the only place I have ever called home,” I told him. “I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

“Statesboro will always be home for me too, but I have to go where my job takes me,” David said. “I love you, Julie. Please think about coming with me.”

I burst into tears. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”

David shook his head, looking as miserable as I felt. “I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” he said. “It’s only going to hurt worse when I ship out.”

Six years together, and just like that, it was over. I would have hidden away at home, nursing my broken heart and filling out my teaching application. But my best friend, Debbie, had other ideas.

She called me one day with such excitement in her voice that the phone almost levitated.

“Guess what, Julie?” She didn’t wait for me to answer, just rushed ahead in typical Debbie fashion. “I signed us up to go parachuting!”

“You what?”

“You need to get out. This will be the perfect thing to get your mind off your breakup,” she said. “We’re going to jump out of a plane. Next week. I already paid for it.”

“I can’t jump out of a plane,” I protested. “What if I break my leg? Or end up paralyzed?”

“Will you stop worrying and do something wild for once in your life?” Debbie asked. “Come on, it’ll be fun! Just imagine it—floating, the sky all around you….”

She kept talking about how cool parachuting would be.

I tuned out, my gaze wandering around my bedroom. Photos of David and me covered the walls and the top of my dresser, going all the way back to our first big date, the homecoming dance our junior year of high school.

In the corner stood the three-foot-tall stuffed dog he’d won for me on a church trip to Six Flags. The pink Izod sweater he’d given me on our first Christmas as a couple hung over the back of a chair. I’d worn it to tatters but I couldn’t bear to toss it.

Everywhere I looked, there was something that reminded me of David, and how our lives were intertwined. David and I were so different, it was a wonder that we came to be attracted to each other at all.

He was the son of academics, I was a farmer’s daughter. His family belonged to the country club, mine was just country. He was Methodist, I was Baptist. We didn’t meet until eleventh grade, when we ended up in the same chemistry class and discovered we had more than a little chemistry of our own.

Of course I had noticed the hunky guy with the adorable smile, but I didn’t think that he had taken any notice of me. Then, one afternoon in class, he saw that the laces on my tennis shoes were undone. “Let me tie those for you,” he said, and proceeded to get down on bended knee. My shoes were so cheap and old that when he pulled on the laces, they broke right off.

The world looked so different from
up here. So much bigger and more
spectacular. So…inviting. Was
this what God wanted me to see?

Not that I cared. The class hunk was flirting with me!

“Julie, you there?” Debbie said.


“Yes, you’re there, or yes, you’ll jump with me?”

Maybe I did need to do something wild. “Both…I guess.”

A week later, Debbie and I were at jump school. We practiced how to depart the plane, how to deploy the chute and steer it, how to land safely, what to do in case of emergency. I was intrigued by something else the instructor told us. “The word parachute is French,” he said. “Para means ‘shield’ and chute means ‘fall.’ A parachute does exactly what its name says. It shields you from a fall.”

That made me think of one of my favorite verses, Psalm 119:114: “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.” Why hadn’t God shielded me from heartbreak? He knew I was a small-town girl. Why did he let me fall in love with a Navy man who wanted to see the world? Was it God’s fault, not David’s, that I was about to jump out of a plane?

All those questions, and more, ran through my mind as I sat, my legs dangling out the open door. What if I let go too early? What if my parachute lines got tangled? What if something else went wrong, something I hadn’t even thought of?

The jumpmaster shouted again. “Ready now?”

Not really, but Debbie would never let me hear the end of it if I backed out. I felt behind me, checking just one more time that the parachute was in my pack.

I grabbed the strut—the part holding the wing in place—firmly with both hands. The metal was cold. I inched toward the drop marks—two pieces of tape on the strut that showed where I was supposed to hold on before releasing my grip.

There. The drop marks.

“Go!” the jumpmaster commanded.

Good thing the roar of the propeller drowned out the pounding of my heart. I took a deep breath and let go. Of the strut, of safety, of all reason.

I went plummeting through the air. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, I counted. I reached for the rip cord and pulled. My body jerked upward. I glanced over my shoulder. My chute billowed reassuringly and hovered over me, easing my descent.

For the first time since I’d gotten into the plane, my heartbeat slowed back down to normal. I tugged on the toggles, my brakes, and steered toward the landing spot.

The sky was robin’s egg blue, with only a few wisps of clouds in the distance. Stretching below were grassy fields like patchwork stitched together by roads and fencerows. A ribbon of silver—a stream—meandered through the trees and found its way to a larger body of water.

The world looked so different from up here. So much bigger and more spectacular. So…inviting. Was this what God wanted me to see? That falling in love meant expanding my horizons, opening my heart and my imagination to a world beyond the little patch that I knew? Yes, he would shield me from harm, but not from experiences meant to help me grow.

The ground rushed closer. I pulled on the toggles and got into position for landing. My feet touched the earth. I rolled the way we’d practiced, got to my knees and stood, feeling triumphant. Debbie had landed too. She ran toward me, grinning.

“So, are you handing in that application to teach at your old school?” she asked me.

“Nah,” I said. “I’m going to call David.”

Guess what? David and I got back together and got married. More than 25 years later, we live in Statesboro. But only after moving all over the country and traveling all over the world, courtesy of David’s career. Like the Navy slogan says, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.”

Our marriage has been an adventure too, the most wonderful kind, where love led the way.

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