December 4, 2017 by Kgalalelo
My children have been taking swimming lessons since the beginning of 2015 and they are good swimmers now. It seems easy and effortless when watching them swim, perhaps because they are still young. I tried my luck at swimming once and took lessons but didn’t get far. I ditched them somewhere along the way. I was simply scared of the water and didn’t surrender to allow myself to float. I wanted the water to turn into something I could grab and hold on to, but it was fluid. I was too anxious and as they say, if you panic, you drown.
I received this analogy one Saturday afternoon while sitting at the Bloemfontein’s Bram Fischer Airport awaiting a flight to Johannesburg. There were not many people flying to Johannesburg that day and so I could sit anywhere at the waiting area whilst anticipating the boarding announcement. I was in fact on my way to India to attend a long planned spiritual retreat. My flight was departing only at 19:45 to Abu Dhabi and connecting to Ahmedabad the following morning. The temperature outside was 30°C and spring was nearing the end in South Africa. I was looking forward to the desirable climatic conditions in India. I had been there twice before in previous years in the October month for a similar retreat, flying from Mumbai to Ahmedabad and then Mount Abu. Mumbai was extremely hot and humid, I remembered, and as for Ahmedabad, moderately hot but comfortable. Mount Abu on the other hand, had the nicest temperature in October; very pleasant. We enjoyed reasonable temperature at 27-28°C throughout the day and a cooler atmosphere in the evening.
As I was sitting there waiting, I heard a beep from my phone warning me of an email that just came through. When I opened the email to read, it was a message from the retreat coordinating team in India that read, “Greetings. This is to let you know that the weather in Mount Abu is colder than usual, so if you have not already travelled, you are advised to bring some warm clothes such as an extra jacket. Wishing you a wonderful retreat. The organising team”. I read the message the second time to let it sink in and then panicked!
I had taken the weather condition for granted with the assumption that it would be hot across India in November as the retreat was arranged a month later than usual. The weather was forested to be between 14°C and 23°C during the day and 7°C to 8°C in the morning in Mount Abu but for the first time in my life, I never paid attention to that. The fact that I had been there twice already meant that no matter what was forecasted, the weather would be pleasurable. To my dismay the picture had changed and the reality of the approaching winter season was confirmed with a very short and sweet e-mail. My luggage was packed with slip-ons and sandals, spaghetti strap shirts, Punjabi suits from the last trips and a denim jacket. Everything was packed neatly in the suitcase and I had extra space to pack other stuff as I had little and light clothing.
I was surprised at how ignorant I had been as I’m usually a coldish person and always take the weather with me everywhere I go. I always pack a mixture of summer and winter clothes just in case for every trip and fortunately I had stashed two pairs of socks in the suitcase. I think on this particular trip, I had paid too much attention on the administrative side of things, wanting to ensure that I had all the paperwork that was required in India, my e-visa and some forms required by the authorities and extra passport size photos. I absolutely never anticipated the cold weather and was looking forward to actually wearing my Punjabi suits and be identified with the locals.
Sitting there waiting for my flight and being worried sick, I began seeing my winter clothes in my head and how tidily they were folded away in the closet and I longed for them but couldn’t do anything about it. My husband had just dropped me off at the airport with the kids and I couldn’t call him to hurry home and arrange a jacket and some warm clothing for me as the flight was about to board. Home was eighteen kilometres from the airport, it was far and there was no time at all.
I thought about what I should do and called a friend of mine in Johannesburg to ask that she bring me some of her winter clothes at the airport. This was plan B and in my head, God was giving me a way out or alternative to the problem I was facing but this was not it. My beloved friend informed me that she couldn’t assist as she only had one coat with her as most of the things were stored elsewhere.
I thought about other people but they were far off in Pretoria, it was going to be such an inconvenience for them. The last person who came to mind was my cousin who also lived in Johannesburg and so I texted her and she informed me that she was at a friend’s place assisting with something and therefore couldn’t help. I was running out of options and the more I thought about the cold weather awaiting me, the panickier I became. I was very anxious and the list of possibilities was becoming short. I then remembered that the OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg had a small Woolworths clothing store and perhaps I would be able to purchase some warm clothes there. I went over all the items I needed in my head; the long sleeved-vests and t-shirts, warm jacket and an extra pair of jeans. These would be sufficient.
The prospect of finding all of these items in the small store calmed me down. I kept on rehearsing the revelation I had received, ‘if you panic, you drown -- if you panic, you drown’ over and over again. I knew that the more I panicked, the harder it would be for me to think and hear the voice of the Holy Spirit when He gives me direction and guidance. I had to remain calm and trust that all would work out just fine but it was tough. When the boarding call came through, I stood up and went to the queue while my mind continued to pace to and fro. I handed my ticket to the flight assistant and headed to the plane. I was guided intuitively to the plane as the mind was not cooperating. The mind was already inside the Woolworths store trying to shop for the items needed and as soon as we landed, I called my travelling companion who lived in Lenasia to inform her about my predicament and that she would find me at Woolworths as soon as she arrived at the airport. The only response I received from her was “don’t worry everything will be fine” and so I wasn’t going to worry believing that I would certainly find what I was looking for.
I hurried to Woolworths and paced through the store, frantic, looking for winter clothing and honestly, it is customary in most stores to pack away winter clothes when spring approaches and it was the case with Woolworths too. I only found the long sleeved white vest and as I was paying for it I asked the cashier if they had any warm jackets and she looked at me with amazement and said “in this hot weather?” I paid, took the vest and left.
My companion finally arrived and assured me that everything would be okay, that I could borrow her jacket. It was not a big deal to her and she was well taught to remain calm in all circumstances. I admired her that she had a teachable spirit. I frequently forget the knowledge that I should live by sometimes. It requires practice and constant meditation and prayer to remain peaceful in the midst of the storm. We all fall short once in a while.
We boarded an eight hour flight to Abu Dhabi in the evening and it was cool inside the plane and so we were offered fleece blankets which made a huge difference. I thought about asking the flight attendants to take the blanket with me when we arrive but I was filled with doubt and so left without. When we got to international transfers, some of the ladies had the blankets and I wanted to kick myself for not having asked. I needed the blanket for Mount Abu. Abu Dhabi was cool as well as we arrived early in the morning and I had to talk to my body to regulate as the mind had been anticipating coldness throughout the trip. We headed to a coffee shop as we still had a few hours before catching a two and half hours flight to Ahmedabad. My final plan was to go shopping as soon as I landed at Ahmedabad which I knew would be pleasantly hot once we arrived. The challenge was leaving Ahmedabad to Mount Abu, a trip that would take four hours by taxi. I found it challenging to surrender and trust that I would float no matter what happened, God would not allow me to drown in despair.
We stood up shortly and went to the boarding gate just in time for the boarding call to Ahmedabad. When we handed out boarding passes to the attendant, my companion and I were informed that we had been upgraded to business class and we didn’t have a clue why but were thrilled. It was all God’s grace and the business class service was tops. They had better and warmer blankets and I thought to myself, ‘this time I will really ask, God didn’t place me on business class for nothing, it was a sign’. My guess was wrong again as when I asked for the blanket the flight attended stated that they were not allowed to give them away. I was shuttered. I was delusional and misread what I thought was a sign from God and was disappointed as a result.
On arrival at Ahmedabad at 18:30 p.m., we were picked up from the airport as we had to sleep over and then travel to Mount Abu the following morning. We slept at a residential centre with other pilgrims who were also travelling for the spiritual retreat and we had to share accommodation. The retreat was open for all spiritual enthusiasts from all over the world. My companion and I were separated and so I was placed in a room with a visitor from Brazil. She was a lovely soul and as we were discussing the retreat I informed her that I had wished to get the opportunity to purchase some warm clothing as I had received the message late that it would be cold in Mount Abu. To my surprise, she informed me that she had two blankets she had obtained from the plane and she would give me one and actually took it out and handed it to me. It never occurred to me that God would respond to my cry in that manner and I realised once more that I couldn’t never box God nor think for Him. He uses His ways that turns out to be perfect and so I had something I could use to prepare me for the cold and I was glad.
My plan to go shopping in Ahmedabad, however, failed dismally as I never had the opportunity to go into town and shop in the morning and a part of me succumbed as we drove off to Mount Abu. The small blanket was not enough as I needed a warm jacket and pants. We drove for two hours and the taxi driver made a quick stop half way to purchase refreshments for himself and my companion and I went out for a leg stretch. I felt unsettled still when I went out of the car, as I wanted to feel whether it was getting cold as we were slowly approaching Mount Abu. The weather was pleasant enough outside and when our fifteen minute break was over we travelled two more hours and finally reached Mount Abu at 12:00 p.m.
I couldn’t wait to get out of the taxi so that my entire body could face the harshness of the cold weather on the mountains. I knew that whether I liked it or not, I would have to endure the cold until it was time to go back home. I counted the days that I had to be there and they seemed long. I opened the door and stepped out and to my astonishment the atmosphere was agreeable. The weather was wonderfully sunny and warm. I was wearing my denim jacket and it was enough. In that moment, my fears vanished as God made me realise that He was with me all the time, feeling my anxiety but not entertaining it. He knew what was awaiting me and how He had already solved my problems but I couldn’t see it. I was like Thomas in the Bible, who didn’t believe other disciples when they told him that Jesus had risen from the dead and they had seen Him. He said “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25).
We went for registration and submission of all the paperwork required for the remainder of our stay in Mount Abu and when evening came, it was a little chilly but the kind that I could handle with the clothes that I had on my back. I was ecstatic as I rejoiced and thanked the Lord for being wonderful to me. We were allocated rooms that we shared again and everyone had a duvet and a blanket and with the warmth of the room, I never even required the small blanket I received from my new friend from Brazil. In the morning, I met her and she said to me ‘you know I have a warm jacket and a T-shirt that I brought with me from home but they don’t fit me. I thought of donating them but if they fit you, you can have them’. I thought ‘ding--ding’ and started worshipping the Lord. She brought the items to me immediately and they fitted perfectly and the jacket was snuggly fleece jacket. The Lord had done it again, in His own way. I received a blanket, a warm jacket and a long-sleeved t-shirt from a single person. Everything that I wanted and not even paying for them. God had given them to me for free.
I had panicked since I left Bloemfontein, received signs from the Lord that I would be okay, in His own way but I still doubted. He first gave me a companion who was my constant comfort throughout the trip who kept on telling me that everything would be ok. The Lord gave me a stranger to bless me with the clothing items I required. I had surprisingly taken two pairs of socks which came in handy. The weather was bearable, just cold in the mornings and evenings but warm in the day. I managed to purchase another warm jacket in Mount Abu for a minimal amount. I received warm food and soup every day of my stay. I had taken a pair of closed shoes with my sandals and slip-ons that I wore the entire week I was there with my socks. The host then gave all of us shawls as gifts on the first day to wear for the remainder of our stay there.
Isn’t God wonderful! How about making gratitude your religion.
Kgalalelo Saane Mphephuka
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