So, we are basically done with the second week of the first month of this new year. The grand collide of family, holidays, gluttony and bad sunburn is gradually fading into the background as the flustered faces of fellow colleagues begins to filter into your everyday vision. It’s the slow phasing out of one year into another. Letting go of what was and could have been and holding onto hope in the potential of what the next twelve months could hold. A process of perspective.
I have a friend who is working on a project that seems excessively massive. However, she puts up a post every now and again to chronicle her process, and this draws me to think about my own process and feel a little more brave about it. Most of us spend our days in some process or other, and I want to share what that process has looked like for me lately.
Sitting on the edge of my seat as I was asked to go up and make an impromptu speech on a word I’d genuinely never heard before. A Toastmasters meeting at the Italian Club in Bedfordview. The Portuguese lady next to me began telling me about her son (Pedro) who was in South Korea teaching English. An idea like a flame was lit. A moment in March 2012 that seemed senseless, awkward, insignificant, soon to be forgotten… like any other.
But our lives are always more than that.
Made up of dots that somehow connect looking back.
“When there’s a burning in your heart, an endless yearning in your heart.
Build it bigger than the sun. Let it grow. Let it grow. When there’s a burning in your heart – don’t be alarmed.
When there’s a burning in your heart, and you think it’ll burst apart.
There’s nothing to fear. Save the tears. Save the tears. When there’s a burning in your heart – don’t be alarmed.”
(Death Cab for a Cutie – You’re a tourist)
From that moment at Toastmasters to sitting on the edge of a small seat on an SA Express flight with my backpack on my lap and eyes as wide as a frightened deer. Not knowing a single person in a land I never imagined stepping foot into.
My car, fridge and bed sold.
My sentimental life stacked into a couple of boxes.
My heart beating to the sound of adventure.
I knew it didn’t make sense to some or most. I am 27 and should be “settling/ed down”, climbing a corporate ladder, positioning myself to meet a good, christian South African boy to marry and begin having kids (my gran reminds me of this often enough). But I’ve always known my life would look a little different. I’ve always known I’ll dream of the impossible and pursue it. I have learnt to follow my heart as God whispers into the areas I am yet to tread. I know I’m far from perfect and will bump my head more than once to live without regret. However, I am ready to risk it all. I am no longer afraid of the stuff that used to weigh so heavily on my shoulders. I was not pursuing some romantic ideal. I know culture shock is real but I had no intention on backing out “the first time I cry”. I didn’t hold some great mission to save Asia or be a rockstar gangham DJ. I wasn’t going to simply pursue adventure or travel. I was going because each day this aching conviction grows within me that LIFE IS SHORT. And I’ll do anything to feel alive.
It began with survival of the 9 – 5. It began with wanting more. It began with a realization. It began with an idea.
I allowed the idea to simmer since early March 2012. The idea moved from zoning in on a number of things to having its place onstage. I filtered through the research and cut out the most important and interesting parts. Then it had begun coagulating. Like a soup that starts thickening, a story started emerging. Shortly after completing an online TEFL course - I resigned from my rather comfortable job at an environmental company and began selling, shifting and moving. I moved home (Eastern Cape) for a month or two, hoping to confirm a position at a school in South Korea as soon as possible. It took a little longer due to the overload of paperwork required (ASIA is passionately fanatical about documentation). I eventually received a position in August for an academy in a small city named Gumi. I passed the rather intense two-hour interview and was told I got the job. The next part of this process was finalizing the rest of the complicated and rather dramatic documentation, which entailed driving to Port Elizabeth and Pretoria and sending a few costly DHL packages over to South Korea. I had to be there on the 28th October for training on the 29th in Seoul so it was a race against time. I only received my final documents on Thursday 25th October and had my flights booked on that same day to leave Friday morning 26th October. I spent a load of cash on all this, including doctors appointments, vaccinations, buying toiletries to last a year (blame it on the paranoia about toothpaste and face cream that leaves you ugly), a good quality backpack and camera, buying dollars and all the other odds and ends one needs to think about when moving overseas for a year. I packed on the Thursday night (with the help of both my parents) over two bottles of good wine. We played house music, chatted and tried to squash as many items of winter clothing that could fit into my case.
I woke up at 2am on Friday morning, unable to sleep with last minute ideas. We headed to the airport at 8am and I booked my luggage through from East London to Inchon (South Korea). As I was standing there, a curveball was thrown in my direction and landed perfectly in the middle of my chest… BOOM! Instant adrenaline-rush of fear.
I received an email from the academy I was going to be working for. It was a basic outline of what training would entail and how I would need to do an online test on Sunday before I began their training on Monday. At the end of this email they stated that “depending on the outcome of your training in Seoul we will decide as to if you are employed with us or not”… I read those few lines as if I’d been given a life sentence in a Syrian prison. Pure panic. There I sat with my tickets in hand, waiting for my boarding call as the hair on my neckline stood on edge. Going to a foreign country in Asia, YES ASIA, not knowing anyone and being highly dependent on this job to be the real-deal when I arrive. However, there was nothing I could do about it. As much as I wanted to, I could not back out or run away.
I bid farewell to my parents and seated myself on the small SA Express plane whilst my over-analytical brain began creating headlines: “South African girl left to fend for herself in the streets of South Korea.”; “Teaching English Scam uncovered through misfortune of SA girl.”; “Scandal uncovered as SA girl fights to survive in South Korea.”
STOP. STOP. STOP.
As I sat there, I closed my eyes and began to pray. I asked God to stop this entire thing if it was wrong or if I was making one big mistake. I asked HIM because it is all I could do. My mom said that as my dad and her were driving away from the airport she also prayed that God would do something big if it was wrong. She said she kept reminding herself, “No man, God is so big – of course she can trust that.” About 10 minutes of sitting on that plane an announcement was made that the starting engine of the plane wouldn’t start so they would be “rebooting” the plane. A flight full of businessmen sigh in unison. Time was ticking. There were important Friday meetings in Jozi they had to get to. They attempted to restart the plane three times, and as they switch everything off for the third time – I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, God was in the midst of this...
The next announcement sent shockwaves of muttering rippling through each passenger, “Please disembark and collect your luggage as this plane will not be able to leave East London until we receive further technical assistance.”
Everyone hustles off the plane to collect their luggage. The absurdity was that I felt complete relief. My phone wouldn’t work so I asked some random guy and his girlfriend if I could use their phone. He gladly offered it to me and allowed me to call my folks. As I handed the phone back to him, while we were all still waiting for our luggage, he asked me to explain where I was supposed to be heading. I described the general outline of it all while he seemed to stare blankly at me. As soon as I had finished talking he said, with a dead-straight face, “Wow, so you are Jonah! You’re the very reason we are all standing in this airport.”
To a man in a whale, the world is a whale’s stomach.
As comical as that may have seemed, something within my heart was beating to the drum of this supernatural and divine story that was unfolding before my eyes. I’d been spat out the whale. I was confused in this stormy water, but relieved at what was going on.
I went to customer services and requested assistance as it had been announced that the flight that was meant to leave at 9:50am was now going to leave East London at 15:00. There were loads of businessmen and women all complaining that this had never happened before. The consequences of the delay meant my missing the flight from Johannesburg to Dubai which was due to leave at 14:10 that day (and then from Dubai to South Korea). The service centre for SAA could not assist me as the agency (who purchased the ticket) were required to contact Emirates directly. They also stated that they could get me to Dubai but not to South Korea before Monday (when the training was due to begin). I spoke to the manager of SAA and requested he draft a letter stating what had happened for me to send to the agency (needing proof of what was going on).
The end result was my not being able to go to South Korea.
No newspaper headlines.
No foreign country.
Just the process of reaching dry land.
It is a strange thing. We plan our lives and attempt certain feats. We work, save, eat, exercise, board planes, and yet, God is always at work. I know that everyone has an opinion on God and his reality or existence. I know everyone holds certain convictions about the amount of control He has over our lives. I have seen his fingerprints all over my life and known his intervention in crazy and impossible situations. There is no silly coincidence. It is all about Him. Life can seem messy at times. Things don’t always turn out as we expect or plan or desire. However, I wanted to write this down, this way-too-long post, because I believe that as much as there is mess – there is beauty. And I really hope that this year finds you tumbling down a rabbit hole of seeing His reality in your life. In the words of Switchfoot:
“Born for the blue skies – we’ll survive the rain;
Born for the sunrise – we’ll survive the pain.”