Time with family. My family generally takes rather low budget vacations. We hike, camp and go fishing - and we love it. I'm not complaining about that in the least. But, the Lily foundation provides an incredible gift for pastors and their family for rest, renewal and... to do things that they would never have been able to do - whether for lack of funds or time or both. And somethings that I would never have DREAMT of doing.
Riding on a Zeppelin falls straight into that category. There is NO WAY that I would have imagined myself and my family taking a Zeppelin ride. You may remember that the blimp-like vessel filled with hydrogen disastrously exploded. But now, a company in the town of Friedrichshafen, Germany has a new helium powered Zeppelin and offers rides. Each ride is expensive and would normally be WAY beyond my budget. But.... thanks to the grant funding... we decided to take a ride.
It was a bit of a risk - not a safety risk but a timing risk. We had to buy tickets ahead of time. They told us the tickets were non-refundable. BUT... if it was raining or if the whether was at all questionable, the trip would be cancelled and the ticket-holders could sign up for a different time. But here was the risk: Our trip through Germany was packed so tightly that we did not have option for another day.. We could have waited perhaps another half hour. But that was all the time I had allotted. It was not the wisest scheduling move, I'll admit, but we had so much we wanted to see and do, that I admit that I packed it in more than a little bit tightly.
Did I mention rain? When I emailed the first hotel that we were to stay in,in Konstanz, the owner wrote back say: Yes, we have your hotel rooms. But please bring sunshine. All we have had is rain. Indeed, when we arrived in Zurich, there was a light rain. Then it poured while we were on the train to Konstanz. But it let up for a while - and rained again. It did not bother us in the slightest. We had raingear - and bought umbrellas. We were prepared and did not want to let a little moisture get us down.
But we knew that if it was raining, we couldn't go on the Zeppelin.
The next morning we took a boat, a catamaran, to Friedrichshafen. The sky was grey. The lake was grey. But I was so excited to be there that I marveled in the beauty of the grey shades. As the rain began to fall, I'll admit that I also began to pray.
It was a pretty selfish prayer. I really wanted the sun to shine -- or at least for it to stop raining enough for us to get the go-ahead. We had barely gotten over our jet-lag, had traveled on train, boat, bus and our feet with heavy packs and had this ONE chance for this dream of my family's to work... that I prayed. I generally don't recommend praying for the weather. After all, someone else may have been praying for rain (but I doubt it). And, it's not like I expect God to cater to my wishes. But.... its ok to share with God what we want - and trust God to give us what we need (and some of what we hope for too). So I rationalized my prayer.
When we got to the hangar, they told us that the past Zeppelin rides had been cancelled due to the weather - but the pilot had not yet decided about our trip. So we waited. And yes... I prayed some more.
Finally... the word came: YES! We could go! We were ecstatic/relieved/ thrilled/ excited (different words for different members of my family).
It was quite the experience. We were given a safety course. The Zeppelin is registered with the German air so actual pilots and flight crew staff the airship. We were loaded 2 at a time so that the air pressure could be safely managed. There were only 12 seats on the airbus. We sat in the pod below the balloon-like blimp and were able to walk around once in the air. (See pictures). The lift-off was quiet, smooth and gentle. We were as light as a feather as the pilot steered us to the lake and then above the city below. It was simply delightful. And the sun came out and shone brightly, allowing us to see the reflection of the Zeppelin in the water below. The whole experience was a pure delight.
Back at the hangar, they took us out 2 by 2 and loaded the next group, 2 by 2, keeping the weight in the airbus as stable as possible. It was only after we were on the ground in the debriefing room that they told us that they had had to disappoint 50 people - but that they would have reimbursed them if they could not reschedule. It made me feel bad for those who had missed this chance, a twinge guilty, and extremely thankful all at the same time. After all, I had prayed for sun (sharing with God my hope and desire), but both the weather and the decision to let our group go was completely out of my control. So, I said a prayer for those who had missed THIS opportunity - and prayed for another or other dream for them.