Wednesday, December 17, 2014

When our plans don't look like God's you may find yourself talking to sheep

In 2013 when our family returned from our trip of a lifetime, I began thinking and planning for my next trip to explore the things I wanted to see again and see things I couldn't see the first time.  I find that cruising is a good way to see a lot of places without the stress of having to drive from place to place and find hotels and places to eat.  But that's just me.  There is a downside to cruising and that is you can't drive from place to place and see more of the inland parts of a land and find hotels and places to eat, but if you're a rookie at foreign travel, cruising is a good way to start.

So back in May I was surfing on our preferred cruise line's website, dreaming and looking for the next cruise I would start saving for, probably in 2016.  One of the places that my husband and I both wished to see was Rome and as I perused the cruise line's website, I saw an advertised "hot deal" for a 10 day cruise starting in Rome that was almost too good to be true.  The catch was that it was in December of this year I told my husband, to which he replied, "I'm not doing anything in December."  Oh the retired life!

So I checked with my boss and when she told me we could make it work, put a deposit on the cruise and started saving fast.  

Our plan was to go a day early so that we could spend it in Rome before leaving on the ship.

That was our plan.  I bought tickets to see the Vatican and bus tickets to ride around the city so we could see as much as we could as fast as we could in one twenty four hour period.

That was our plan.

The night before we were supposed to leave, my husband tried checking us both in on the airline website.  He was able to check himself in ok but when it came time for me, it wouldn't let him.  My passport was going to expire soon after our return, and we thought that might be the problem so we called the airline to find out.  The agent assured me that the passport was not the problem, that I would be pulled aside to be screened and that's why it wouldn't let us check in.  I asked her one more time before we hung up, "but my passport is ok?"  She assured me again, my passport was ok.

It wasn't. 

When we got to the airport the next morning and the agent there who was checking us in scanned my passport she said, "oh oh, I don't think you'll be able to go."  In our shock, in our disbelief, as we stood there trying to process what she was telling us, I couldn't get on an airplane, she said that the airline required AT LEAST ninety days left on your passport AFTER you have returned to the US.
AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Still standing in shock and disbelief and tears welling up, the agents nonchalantly told us that we would have to drive to Chicago and get a same day passport.

Wait, what?!  Drive to Chicago?  Today?

Yes.

But we're supposed to be in Rome tomorrow!

You're not going anywhere until you get a new passport.

A ticket agent, smiling assuredly and saying, "this happens all the time," assisted my husband in trying to get an appointment for me, that day, in Chicago, 3 1/2 hours away, while another agent was working to rebook us on another flight that would get us in Rome with enough time to get to the ship before it left.

Me?  I just stood there.  Jaw on the floor, tears in my eyes, wondering what in the world was going on.

We couldn't get an appointment for that day in the time it would take to drive to Chicago, but they did get us an 8:30 appointment the next morning.  

Then there was the issue of the rebooking fee.

Three, yes three THOUSAND dollars.  

Each.

When we told them about the prior night's phone call to an airline agent and that she had assured me that my passport expiration wasn't an issue, not once, but twice, they were kind enough to waive the rebooking fee.  

But spending the day in Rome was out.  Prepaid Bus tickets lost.  Prepaid Vatican tickets lost.   Prepaid hotel and transfer fees to the ship.  Lost.

Now we were on the clock and looking at a number of miracles, one at a time, that had to occur before we were ever going to make it to the ship.  And there wasn't a darn thing we could do to make any of them happen faster or in a different order.  One couldn't happen until the one before it happened.

The only thing we knew to do in that moment was roll our luggage over to a waiting area and sit in disbelief and try to figure out our game plan.  (I think I heard a chuckle when I wrote that).

It was too far to go home to have to get up early enough to drive to Chicago, taking into consideration the wonderful traffic that is always a problem there.  

We started looking for hotels on the internet, close enough to downtown where the federal building is and where I needed to be at 8:30 in the morning.  They were either booked or at least $300 a night.  So I texted a friend of mine who lives outside Chicago and does a lot of travel arrangements in her job.  She started texting me hotels I didn't know about and still I came up with them either being booked or way out of our price range.  She was kind enough to offer a bedroom at her house and so we made arrangements to head there. 

But the first stop was a Walgreen's to get a new passport picture taken.  As I write that I am SOOOOOO thankful for technology.  I had my picture taken, processed and paid for within 10 minutes.  

The rest of the story I will tell using the pictures I took along the way.

I posted this picture on Instagram while waiting for my husband to park the car at the first airport.  The airport we had planned to leave from.   The boastful caption read, "On our way to Rome."  Little did we know a few minutes later we might not even be going.


The welcoming committee at my friend's house.  We enjoyed some good pizza and chatted about the Packers, the playoffs, Delia the world famous dairy cow and then headed to bed early for a 5am wakeup call to head for Chicago.  Normal traffic time 90 minutes without traffic.  We didn't want to take any chances of missing the appointment.  Miracle one was about to happen.


On our way to Chicago, not what I thought we would be seeing at the time of day on that day.


It looks like we could be in Italy, but unfortunately we weren't.


Not the Sistine Chapel.  Traffic stopped.  7:30 am.  Three miles to destination.


Miracle One:  We made it downtown by 8am, found a place to park about 4 blocks from the Federal building.  We stopped in a Panera, got a coffee and bagels to go and then entered the Federal building.  A line had already formed behind security and we got in it.  A few minutes before 8:30 they started screening and we got on the elevator and went to the 18th floor, to stand in another line before the doors to the Passport office opened.

When we were allowed in I went to a window, showed them my documents, paid the $170 to get the passport and was promised a 1pm pickup time.  There was nothing to do but wait until we could pick up my passport, IF it would be ready at 1:00, so we decided to walk to the Public Library we passed on our way from the parking lot and use the wifi there, while we thought of what we should do.   I still didn't get it, there was NOTHING we could do.  We played a game of checkers while waiting and surfing.



When that took all of thirty minutes we decided to take a walk outside.  I mentioned to hubs that I had never seen the famous river that runs through downtown Chicago, so he found that we were within easy walking distance and we bundled up and headed outside.




That took all of about forty five minutes and it was 11:00 by then, even after going up every floor of Macy's, we were anxious and decided to go back to the Federal building and see if my passport may be ready.  The security on the 18th floor wouldn't let us check, but told us there was a snack bar on the second floor we could go to and wait there.  So we did.  This was our view as we waited there.


At 12:30 we decided to try again and this time we told the Security guards on the 18th floor that we had a 5pm flight we were trying to get to.  They let us through and at 12:41 I sent a picture of me with my new passport to the text thread of daughters and my Mom who were praying us.  Miracle number Two. 

 Now the need for a really big miracle.  Getting to the airport.  It was not technically high traffic time, but as anyone who has traveled in Chicago knows, that doesn't matter.  We still had to get to the airport, park our car, get on the shuttle bus that would take us to the train that would take us to the actual international terminal, and then... check in.  Getting on the plane seemed nearly impossible and we had agreed that if we didn't make it we would just get in the car and head south to visit the kids.

(In the back of my mind I was thinking, "that's what we should have done.  We shouldn't have spent the money to go on this spur of the moment trip.  We should have never done this," scolding myself, thinking that maybe I might be outside of what God wanted, even though I had prayed before booking the cruising and buying the airline tickets that if it wasn't His will for us to go, just shut the door.  The door hadn't closed.  But it sure seemed like it was now.   AFTER all the money was paid.  Even though we had insurance I highly doubted there was a clause on there for stupid people who don't check passport regulations).

But Miracles 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 happened.  No traffic, we made it to the airport, we found a parking spot, we got on the shuttle and we were checked in to our new flight via Paris and sitting at the gate by 3pm.  As we settled in our seats at the gate and texted our prayer warriors, we each took a turn to find something to eat because we hadn't had anything since our bagels that morning.  

I bought a sprite, a bottle of water and some fruit snacks and as I was walking back, this mannequin in an airport store window caught my eye.  I knew God wasn't telling me to have faith for the Chicago Bulls.  He was telling me, reminding me to have faith, we were going to get there.


It's kind of blurry but this picture at the gate for our flight to Paris says
"Paris/De Gaulle
On Time".
Miracle 9


I have no idea what time this is, but it is in Paris at the airport.  I was excited to see the Paris skyline but it wasn't meant to be.  It was a cloudy, hazy day.  But that was ok.  We were one step closer.


When we were still in the airport in Wisconsin, after it was really happening that we weren't going to Rome that day, I called our cruise line consultant to ask for her help and to tell her we wouldn't be needing our hotel in Rome after all and the bus transfer that had already been paid for was cancelled along with the hotel because it was a package deal.  She assured me that there would be a cruise agent at the airport in Rome who would get us on the bus to the ship.  She told me the manifest for the bus transfer had already been closed so there was no way anyone at the airport would know there were two more people who were hoping to hitch a ride.  We just had to find the agent and tell him or her ourself.

Welcome Miracle 10.

When something happens that is totally outside your control and there is only the step in front of you to take, you can only take the step in front of you.  By this time, after being up for I don't know how many hours, and the silly anxiety of wondering if you'll make it and what if you don't, then what? and you're tired and hungry and just feeling like surely you made a big fat huge mistake by ever wanting to travel outside of the country, my husband and I stood at the baggage claim in Rome, willing our luggage to come down the belt.

We couldn't leave the baggage claim to go look for the cruise agent until we had our luggage.  All we could do, tired as we were, was get testy with each other, he annoyed with me, me annoyed with him wondering if we would ever be able to find the cruise agent, if our luggage would ever come off the (^&%^&$$ conveyor belt!

Finally it did.  And we started to take the next step.  Finally.

Miracle 11 was just waiting outside the baggage claim.  We each were dragging two bags, well, I had four.  My big suitcase, my carryon, my tote bag and my cross shoulder purse (of which my husband, the family follower of rules and order pointed out I was exceeding - I told you testy and annoyed this pair.) And a winter coat that couldn't fit in my suitcase that kept falling off my luggage.

So there we are, hubs racing ahead of me trying to find a cruise line agent, asking taxi drivers where he might find one as they were asking us if we needed a taxi.  They directed him to the next terminal and as I was struggling to keep up with him and keep my coat from falling I saw him turn to a woman leading a group of travelers.  As he was asking her where he could find our cruise line agent, I saw her lift up her placard with the cruise line logo high above her head.

Just like that.  We were going to make it.

Standing in line to get on the cruise line bus to the ship.


On the bus.


Miracle 12


It's not the way we planned to get there.  We did miss Rome, but oh well.  We got to see and experience a lot of other cool stuff which I will share.  There was absolutely nothing we could have done to make any of the events leading up to getting on the ship change.  It was totally out of our hands but carefully held in His hands.

Along the way God got to bring people into this story who may have just been having an ordinary day but then they got to pray for us and this journey when all I could do was stand in disbelief and shock.  We got to see the kindness of one ticket agent in particular at the start of this who fought for our rebooking fee to be waived.  She didn't have to do that.  She could have said, "you should have known."  But she didn't.

We got to receive the kindness of a friend since 7th grade and her husband and receive their hospitality and fun conversation that we never otherwise would have had. 

Our texting/prayer warriors kept me going, kept me smiling.  One of my daughter's texted this "Praying that there are 0 issues getting your passport tomorrow and that your flight is on time AND THAT YOU ARE BUMPED UP TO 1st class."  And then a few seconds later:  "And that George Clooney is on your plane. " We didn't get first class or George but we did get a passport and an on time flight.

Isn't God good?

The moral of this story:

If you are traveling out of the US, make sure your passport is not going to expire within 6 months of your return.  That's the safest way to make sure what happened to me doesn't happen to you.

And, trust God.  If you only have light for the step you're in, use that light.  He's got ya!  You'll get to where you're going not a minute early nor a minute late, but right on time.  His time!


Peace,
Ronda



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