The Poncho Blessing

The clouds brightened for just a moment as my sister and I ran to the lookout. The rain and fog had tended to the valley all day, and was only now beginning to unveil its visage. With two new friends beside us, it was a wonderful way to end this testimony; what we reflected on as ‘the poncho blessing’.

IMG_8156This was our first sister holiday. We were now old enough to travel by ourselves, and the opportunity arose for us to visit Sydney. I was attending a graduation ceremony, and the location was halfway to the Blue Mountains from the town centre. We decided to make it a holiday and travel the remaining distance in the morning. Diploma in hand, photos taken and celebratory frappes relished, we retired to the hotel room.

Morning greeted us with rain; a constant downward spray of light, but determined droplets.

“Lord, please let the rain stop,” my sister prayed.

“Yes Lord, we just want to see Your beautiful creation in the Blue Mountains.” I added.

Elijah prayed that it would not rain, and there was none. He prayed again, and it rained [James 5:17-18]. So, in faith we offered up our own little prayer to see God’s creation despite the rain.

We made it onto the train and arrived at Leura. It was still raining, and from there we had a dampening walk down to Katoomba. At the car rental, we received directions to the information centre near the Three Sisters lookout. The fog thickened as we drove into town, with only the dulled flash of headlights alerting us to oncoming traffic. To the right, a group of tourists huddled together, silver ponchos forming a shield against the constant rain.

I parked, left my sister to mind the car, and ran down to the information centre. Tourists whittled their way through the aisles of maps and umbrellas, unsure if they should cancel their hiking plans. Jameson valley was shrouded by fog, and only a scattering of nearby trees could be seen emerging from the smoky sea. The Three Sisters had vanished, and even the balcony lookout was erased by the mist.

“Hello,” I said to the lady at the desk. “Will it still be worth visiting Scenic World in this fog?”

She must had given the answer numerous times, handing me a map and proceeding to explain the possibilities. Scenic World was a tourist attraction in the Blue Mountains that enabled access to sky views, rainforest walks and waterfall routes.

“The rainforest walks are wonderful with the mist,” she said. Then, gesturing to the main shop counter, she smiled. “We have our ponchos ready to go by the desk there.”

I took the maps and thanked her. Behind me, another traveller began to explain their foggy dilemma.

The white ponchos were neatly folded in plastic squares, and I grabbed two of them.

“I’ll take these,” I said to the man at the counter. Outside the rain continued to knock on hoods, ponchos and umbrellas but no-one wanted to answer. At the front of the information centre, I briefly regretted the poncho purchase, but the sheet was already out of its wrapping and, soon it was over my head.

IMG_8210“Too late now,” I thought as I made the quick journey back to the car. As I jogged through the fog in my ghost-like plastic shroud, I noticed a distinctive lack of other poncho wearers. People either held umbrellas, or resigned themselves to becoming drenched. I arrived back at the car to the giggling throes of my shocked, and rather bemused little sister. She refused to wear the other poncho, and I took mine off. The mini ghost-run did not need to be repeated.

We delegated the poncho to the floor of the passenger seat, and drove to Scenic World. There, my sister’s “Broncos” shirt made us many friends, and a concession entry ticket. Waiting in line for our first ride, we jostled each other about the giant garbage bag I had bought, the poncho. More people were wearing them now, and I had brought my sister’s rejected poncho with us, hoping to give it to someone who might actually use it.

“Anyone want a poncho?” I advertised to an invisible audience.

All our poncho punting caught the attention of the couple in front of us, and we struck up a conversation. They were visiting for business from the other side of the world, and had decided to do a day trip up to the Blue Mountains. We spoke intermittently as the line moved forward. Finally, we made it to train and hopped on. The couple split, with the woman sitting in front, and the man joining our row.

My sister and I were taking a train selfie, when the man said, “Why would you take a selfie when there’s a guy right here to take the photo?” We looked at each other, smiled and gave him the camera. In the preceding row, the woman took her own selfie, and we were caught pointing at her camera in the background. Laughing, we explained how we were about to ask if she wanted someone to take her photo. “It’s ok,” she said. The selfie was enough.

Standing almost straight in our seats, we enjoyed the train’s descent into the valley. At the bottom, tourists filed out the doors and quickly climbed up the return decking. It was still raining, and one of the other rides was temporarily unavailable. The people all seemed to ignore the muddy trail to the right as they scampered back around to find a way out of the valley. My sister and I stood at the billboard deliberating on whether we should venture into the rainforest. I had purchased a little umbrella so at least, we now had some covering from the rain. The man from the line joined us, and the woman arrived not long after. We looked at the people, all walking away from us, and away from the rainforest.

The man looked at us, “Well, shall we go then? Just the four of us?”

Looking back at the majority, the woman eyed the board, which listed the walk as medium difficulty.

“Do you think we can make it?” She seemed uncertain about the suggestion.

My sister and I peeked down the path, into the shady depths of the forest and made our decision.

“Yeah it will be fine. Let’s go!” we said.

IMG_8178Our group of four marched through the muddy path, finally reaching a boardwalk. A few drenched travellers crossed our paths, and we were reassured that others had survived the short, but rainy fifteen minute hike. Photos were taken in the various rocky alcoves along the way, and we climbed a set of steep set of stairs together. No-one fell.

“Hey, someone should climb that tree.” The man pointed out a sturdy looking tree that branched out over the path’s steep descent.

“I will,” I volunteered. I carefully tested its strength with my boot and jumped up onto its outstretched branch. More photos were taken, my sister subsequently climbed up a fern-fronded slope, and I climbed down to get a little closer to the waterfall.

The Katoomba falls greeted us with its cascading waters; its beauty framed by fog as it proudly watered the rainforest below. Satisfied, the four of us made our way back to the main area. A different selection of tourists now inhabited the path, and we detoured into the rainforest again. This time, we explored artefacts of mining times, scattered in amongst the trees and moss. My sister ran into the old wooden hut.

“This could be our new home,” I exclaimed.

The man raised his eyebrows. “Could you live there?” He challenged. “No wifi.”

“Oh well.” I shrugged, took the picture and re-joined our companions.

We moved quickly through the remaining boardwalk and arrived at the cable car. Having spent some time exploring the rainforest, we discovered that the ride was now fixed and working. In line once again, we introduced ourselves properly to our new friends.

Back in the entry way of Scenic World, we browsed the array of natural products and souvenirs. Our walking buddies seemed to disappear and reappear amongst the aisles.

IMG_8238“What shall we do?” My sister asked. We were not sure whether our new friends wanted to continue sightseeing together, or whether they now had their own plans. We decided to ask. The woman shrugged. “I’m not sure,” she said. We discovered they had bought a day pass for the buses, and planned to return to Sydney that evening. After a quick discussion and some phone calls, the four of us walked back to our car. “You can come along with us!” My sister and I were glad to welcome these travel buddies.

We lunched in the main town, checked-in to our motel, and visited the local chocolate factory. All the while, our male companion kept to salads.

“I’m so full” he groaned. “We’ve been eating all day.”

It was true. With the mist still keeping avid tourists at bay, we had decided to sample a great variety of local foods and chocolates. Over dinner, we learnt more about our new friends. They came from different parts of Asia and worked in different sectors of the same company. Throughout the conversation, there were hints of life back home; the different challenges they might be facing, the experiences that might have shaped them to be the way they were now.

Deciding against dessert, we looked out the restaurant window. It seemed as if the fog had finally relented. We hurried back to the car and drove to Echo Point, the Three Sisters lookout. As we drove, a small ray of sun peeked through the crescent of blue sky. The rain had stopped.

We were one of the first to arrive at the lookout, and the beauty of the Jamieson valley spread out before us like a tapestry. A few wispy clouds continued to cling to the tree tops, but the majority of the fog had dissipated. Just an hour and a half ago, we had been unable to see more than ten metres in front of us. Now the whole valley was clearly seen. To the left, the Three Sisters surveyed the land. On the right, the Jenolan caves dove into the forest. We ran up and down the boardwalk, taking photos of the scenery, and styling other tourists in creative poses as we took photos of them.

Soon, it was time to take our friends back to the train station.

“Don’t forget your souvenirs,” we said as we waved goodbye. We exchanged emails and promised to send some photos. Back in our motel room, my sister and I thanked God for the events of the day. Nothing had gone to plan in Sydney, yet we both felt that everything had worked out perfectly. This was not our itinerary, but God’s.

IMG_8232Initially, I had thought to visit Sydney alone and have a little prayer retreat. However, I felt God suggest that perhaps He had other ideas. As it turned out, my sister and I were unable to meet up with any of our Sydney friends and instead, God caused us to meet many new ones: the young woman planning to start her studies in Adelaide next month, and the two co-workers who became our Blue Mountains travelling buddies. Multiple small things seemed to just work out. We had scenes of ethereal fog, yet still managed to see the picturesque iconic landmarks. The restaurant we picked for dinner was booked out when I called to increase our booking to four, but when we arrived, another table had decreased their booking from four to two. Furthermore, due to the restaurant’s popularity, we were only able to pick the early dinner spot. Since the fog lifted around what would have been a more typical dinner time, this enabled us to catch the valley view while it was still light, and before our friends travelled back to Sydney. There was God’s grace in the lost keycard, and the tangible sense of His presence in all that we did, wherever we went.

My sister and I reflected on all these things – on those little coincidences, and on the many people we unexpectedly met.

“It is truly amazing how everything worked out the way it did,” my sister said.

“That’s because God holidayed with us,” I replied.

Both my sister and I are looking forward to our next sister holiday – Japan, in the middle of this year. We are not sure what impact our prayers and actions will have on those we meet, but we know God will be with us. When you love Jesus, He works in and through you, even when you might not be in “work” mode. He blesses in the smile that you give to people, encourages in the simple thanksgiving prayer before dinner, and speaks through the excited non-sensical exclamations of two sisters on holidays.

IMG_8152Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all…” I go back to work this week, and my sister will be preparing to return to university. As we return to Adelaide, we fondly remember this testimony that God has given us. The story hasn’t ended, and for all the jibes we made about that white poncho, we will give it this – the most memorable aspect of our Sydney trip was the blessing God started through the purchase of a plastic poncho.

 


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