I realise a few people have not pieced together the what or why of my tattoo. On Tuesday evening I was at my friends’ home having dinner and we were reflecting on where life has taken us over the last 5 years. We were talking about the tattoo, as I had shown my friends Kathy & Vicky the design on my birthday. They know the journey because they were my sisters who supported me through it.
I was down at a church in Watford with about 300 others to get our training and team building for going to South Africa a few months later. At the time, I had an infection in my gum which was causing my jaw to freeze or click out of place a lot. Near the end of the day, a guy felt God was saying to him that a few of us needed to be specially commissioned to for our trip, and one of those people had a problem with their jaw, and it had stemmed from a gum infection on bottom left molar.
Pretty specific. And no way I could deny I fitted the description.
I went forward, and some women prayed for me, and as soon as they begun praying I fell back onto the floor. No one pushed me, I hadn’t fainted and I hadn’t done it voluntarily!
While on the floor I had a vision of a woman wearing red, I sensed she was south African, and heard a word. I assumed it was a name at the time. (I later googled it, but I’d spelled it wrongly!)
Over the next few months, every obstacle believable stopped me from getting South Africa. To the point where my Mum said to me ‘There’s so much going wrong, maybe it’s a sign you shouldn’t be going, maybe if you go you’re going to get killed or raped or something’.
To list the ones I remember: My passport application being denied 3 times (because of the photos), my payment not going through as my references got lost in transit, almost being denied a place because of food allergies, my team host getting ill so my original team had nowhere to go, getting a sinus infection and not being able to get my second set of vaccines when I was supposed to, extra bills and debts…Even the day before we departed there had been a terrorist alert and Edinburgh airport had been shut for several hours. Oh, yeah, and finding out that my Dad was in court and could go to prison while I was in South Africa.
But I got there. And it turned out God had reasons for some of it.
On our second day while in the minibus during our orientation, I asked Calvin (an intern in the church) and Ntuks (a young pastor) if they knew anyone in with this name or if it was a word they knew.
‘Do you mean themba?‘ they asked
I said I guess that’s what I meant.
‘It’s a Zulu word – it means faith or hope or love’.
I was floored.
On Day 7 I injured my knee, and on Day 8 I was hopping around the Seed of Hope centre and was struggling to join in as we taught a song that became the kids favourite. The premise of the song is based around the story of Noah and the ark, and how to show God’s promised convenant with his people he puts a rainbow across the sky.
That day we came out, to find a rainbow across Bhekuwandle.
The next day, I met my woman in red.
At the time the blog readers who knew the story from March were leaving me tweets and comments about whether I’d met ‘the woman in red’ yet. So I was relieved she did exist! And that what I shared with her was an answer to something she had been praying about for a while.
After that, I wanted to remember what God did that year. Not only in asking me to trust Him that I was meant to go to South Africa, but the fact that I have no other explanation how a woman who had no knowledge of Zulu language could fall the ground, hear a random word, it turn out to be quite a poignant meaning and in Zulu and be told something and see someone in a vision who she’d never met before then meet her 4 months later in another country.
It was bizarre.
And I wanted to remember.
Because there are days when I question my beliefs and think I’m totally mad. There are days when I wonder if God exists, then where the heck is He? (I actually think Kevin Bridges theory on this at 8:16 is more accurate than he maybe realises). Shitty things happen in life and I have no answers for why one person dies tragically and someone else experiences a medical miracle or by chance ends up not being in the plane they should have been on that crashed.
I just know there is always, always hope that good will come out of the crap.
I trust in that.
An extra bit to this story that made me feel a little bit emotional when I went to get my inking done is that on Tuesday evening, a friend of mine – in fact one of the people who supported me in getting to South Africa those years ago – text me to say that her friend’s daughter had died very suddenly with no explanation to why.
It’s difficult to trust in faith, hope or love when you hear news like that.
But I’ve seen the resilience that themba brings to people who have faced unimaginable pain and heartbreak.
And so now, I’ll always be reminded.
Even when I don’t want to be reminded – it’ll still be there.
Inked on my skin.
Trust. Hope. Faith. Love.