Trust the Pilot

Have you ever been in a hot air balloon? The pilot uses a propane fire to heat the air inside the balloon, and since hot air rises, the balloon floats upward. As the air inside it cools, the balloon descends. The pilot can’t really steer, but he goes up and down until he finds a wind current that carries him in the direction he wants to go.  The balloon can’t travel any faster than the wind – if there’s no wind the balloon just sits there in the sky. The passengers are carried in a basket made of wicker which is a fairly sturdy, flexible material, and can absorb some of the energy shock during landing.  And speaking of landing, the pilot is improvising moment to moment. He doesn’t know where he is going to land until the end of the flight based on the wind currents he finds and the geography he sees. He needs a reliable ground crew to pick him up wherever he lands. Fascinating, right?

Neil and I thought so, too, so we celebrated our first wedding anniversary with an early morning hot air balloon ride. The launch point was about an hour away, and we had to be there at 6 am. The balloons travel early in the morning because the day is not yet deadly calm or already too hot. This particular morning was glorious. The sky was clear, the temperature was perfect, and Neil and I bravely climbed over the chest-height sides into the basket. There was no roof, no side rail, nothing much to protect us from the fire above and the ground below.

As the fire lit up and the balloon gently started to rise, my brain began assessing all the things that could go wrong. Hmm…the bottom could fall out, the basket could tip and dump us,  the wind could change and we could be whisked off course (like the poor Wizard of Oz), the fire could die and the balloon crash to the ground. I was not really afraid of heights, but as we floated above the buildings and trees, the openness of the basket was disconcerting. Shouldn’t this at least be enclosed, I wondered? Our pilot was clearly used to nervous passengers so he rattled off  the various safety features and informed us of  his credentials and extra qualifications. I gradually began to relax as the scenery became smaller and smaller. Neil held my hand and we tried to recognize roads and landmarks down below. Before long I was laughing and having a great time, invigorated and relaxed all at once.

In the distance I could see a large body of water, and we gradually flew toward it, a shimmering mirror of sunlight flickering on gentle waves. It was beautiful, until we floated out over it.  I am a person who loves looking at water, but isn’t thrilled being in it. I could probably swim if I had to save one of my daughters’ lives but anything less dramatic and I’m quite sure I would drown. “You are going to love this!” the pilot exclaimed. Neil always loved water – swimming, water skiing, sailing, surfing, he loved it all – and he was intrigued to see the pilot’s plan.

The fire cooled and the balloon descended, slowly, gently, yes, but in the middle of this giant reservoir. “We’re going to touch the water,” the pilot said happily. “Not many pilots can do this,” he bragged. Sure enough, with my heart pounding so loud I couldn’t hear anything else, he slowly lowered us down until the basket rested on the water’s surface for a few minutes. Thrilled, Neil reached out over the edge to splash me. I was so terrified I don’t think I was breathing, and he and the pilot laughed gleefully as the balloon slowly began to float up again.

Gradually, I began to breathe and relax again. Curious thing though: after the little stint on the water, the height and the open air didn’t bother me at all. Having safely dipped us in the water, I had complete trust that our pilot could manage the sky.

Trust is a funny thing. The balloon had its safety certificates and the pilot had all the necessary credentials, but until he brought me through a terrifying situation, I didn’t completely trust him. It occurs to me I do that with God, too. I read the Bible, I go to church, I know his promises, but in the day-to-day of life I don’t always trust him.

Then something bad happens, and he brings me through it safely and my trust is strengthened. Unfortunately, I tend to forget that trust as time goes by, and the cycle starts all over. I gradually become doubtful again until God helps me get through some other scary thing. He doesn’t make those bad things happen, but he sure does use them to remind me (and you?) he can be trusted.

I just wish I didn’t have to be reminded so often!


  1. Your stories about Neil remind me so much of my husband Frank. He passed away last year. Frank was the ultimate extrovert, party animal, gusto for life kind of person. I was the opposite. As a physician, I was, by definition, very self-disciplined, and controlling. When I met Frank, he was a patient of mine, and he quickly changed my life.
    Before long, Frank was taking me into NYC in stretch limousines, urging me to stand up through the opened moon roof saying, “Hello New York!” He was wonderful. He seemed to find everyone and everything interesting and deserving of his time and attention. When he died, I was lost. I turned to family and friends, but ultimately to Our Lord Jesus Christ, who in all of His suffering revealed to me that my suffering was an inescapable part of life.
    Thank you so much for your blog and for sharing your inspiring memories.

    1. Celeste, I am glad you found your way to this blog. Frank does indeed sound like Neil and you sound like me!
      And I am really glad you found your way to Jesus. I know He bring good out of any situation; we just have to trust and be patient. (I’m not very good at either- but I’m trying!)

  2. Colleen, we met when my husband and I were visiting son Marc who just directed me to your compassionate and honest blog. My deepest sympathies on the loss of your Neil–too young and too soon. Marc’ s father is in hospice suffering the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, rightly named “the long goodbye.” We have lost him before we’ve lost him, but it is a matter of weeks now. Keep writing, and I will keep reading. Your blog is a hedge against loneliness.

    1. Beverly, yes, I remember you I. Your family has been in my prayers as I have heard of your husbands illness and I understand how much pain in causes for all of you. One of my friends recently shared that in a similar situation his mourning Had been going on long before his wife actually died.
      I promise to keep reading and I do hope you will keep reading. There is comfort in sharing.

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