Tuesday, April 30, 2013

To know when to push in and not take no for an answer

I was reading on my chaise lounge when a fly landed on my knee. I swiped him away. He buzzed in a circle for a few inches and returned there again. When I shooed him off the second time, the same thing happened. It was repeated for about five or six times. I said, "You silly wally. What a pea-brain." No, he was smaller than a pea himself, so it would have to be a dot-brain. "What will it take to make you realise that it would be better to land anywhere but there?"

That got me thinking how human beings can be similar to flies sometimes, going around the same dead-ends repeatedly. I picked up my notebook and jotted some ideas about how we tend to make the same mistakes until it dawns on us that it's time to change, similar in our actions to a dumb housefly whose memory is only a split second. Why else have people written sayings such as, When you do what you always do, you'll get what you've always got? I wondered whether celestial beings are inclined to shake their heads while watching us, just as I did with the fly.

When I finished, I looked up and noticed that fly was back on my knee again. As far I'd knew, he'd been there ever since I got sidetracked with writing. I shooed him away but this time, I knew the joke was on me. Here I'd been, writing about his stupidity, and he'd got his way for far longer than I'd intended. Maybe he'd just taught me something about the power of persistence and focus.

For whatever reason, he'd decided that my knee was the best place in the whole room to be, and nothing was going to deflect him from his goal. He didn't go off all depressed and decide to settle for second best. He gave no signs of feeling sorry for himself and thinking that circumstances and providence were pitted against him. For all I knew, he might have been calling me a silly wally.

So as there's wisdom for both points of view, how do we know when to pursue something and when to stop? You can't flog a dead horse holds just as true in some circumstances as Hold fast to your dreams and never give up does in others. That's been a question that's frustrated me, but I'm sure being buffeted by waves of circumstances has taught me something I never used to know. When we do our bit, making an effort to stick close to God through prayer and studying His words and precepts in the Bible, He finds it easier to reveal His plans for us through the promises He's made for His followers for all eternity, which are recorded in His book, and through the gut instincts and promptings we get from our own hearts. Many who are saturated in the Christian tradition call this the guidance and leadings of the Holy Spirit, although you often hear it expressed as intuition, hunches and gut feelings too. When we have clear declarations to the effect that God is going to keep the covenant He's made with us, that's when we need to get a clear idea of what those covenant promises are and push in, sticking to them and expecting them, just as that fly did to my knee.

My history of faint-heartedness and timidity has sometimes disqualified me for receiving the promises because I simply haven't persisted. If I'd been the man who knocked on his friend's door at midnight, asking for bread for my guests, and he told me to go away, I would have slunk off with my tail between my legs thinking, "If only I'd got here before they all went to bed." If I'd been the widow who wanted justice, I would've taken just one scolding from that old curmudgeonly judge and thought, "This is definitely not going to work." If I'd been one of the fellows who carried their paralysed friend on his stretcher to see Jesus, I would've taken one look at that crowd and said, "We didn't get here early enough." I've been quick to acknowledge closed doors without even attempting to give the handle a bit of a twist and a rattle.

Two of my faith heroes are elderly people who lived in the vicinity of Jerusalem's great temple. One was a devout old man named Simeon who had a revelation that he wouldn't die before he'd seen the promised Saviour in person. There was also an old prophetess named Anna, who'd been widowed for 84 years and now lived in the temple vicinity, devoting her life to seeking God's will in prayer. When Joseph and Mary brought in the tiny baby Jesus, both Simeon and Anna recognised instantly who He was. In their expressions of joy at the sudden blessing they were witnessing, they, in turn, blessed Joseph and Mary (Luke 2).

What really grabs me about these two is how persistent they must have been in their prayers and expectation. Jesus was little more than newly born, yet Simeon and Anna had been awaiting his arrival for decades. She'd probably been living her devout routine at the temple for over 60 years. Like that fly, they'd returned to the same place over and over, fueled by their inner certainty that their prayers for the Saviour's arrival would be answered. After a mere 30 or 40 years of praying and hoping, they didn't just shrug and say, "Oh, well, that hasn't happened. There might be some mistake."

But unlike the fly (well, as far as I can tell), they had solid reasons to believe that their persistence would yield its reward. They had the promises of Scripture recorded with words, and Simeon had his personal revelation to support it. We have promises in Scripture recorded with words too. Knowing that's true, I love to figure out what's definitely promised to me and press in for it, even when it seems I'm getting shooed away.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

That we can honour by remembering

Tonight, I was reading through some genealogy research I'd typed out for my dad several years ago. There is a long and interesting section about his father's experience in the First World War. Charlie Mitchell was born in 1892. He was nicknamed 'Red' because of his bright hair colour. My father, Bryon, is his second youngest child, born in 1932. I am the youngest of the next generation, born in the very last week of 1969. I'm proud to have had a grandfather serve his country in WW1, although he and my grandma both died in the 1960s before I was born.

The true story of Red Mitchell's war experience begins when he left Adelaide, just before Christmas, 1915, with the expectation that he and his fellow soldiers would reinforce the ANZACs on the beach of Gallipoli. It turned out their battalion evacuated Gallipoli one week earlier, so they joined them at Alexandria, Egypt. Next, they joined the trench warfare in France.

Typing it out brought the hardships vividly to life. My grandfather was one of the brigade runners, whose job it was to sprint and deliver messages between trenches, the sort of thing we now use electronic communication for. Running at top speed while trying to breathe through a gas mask took its toll on him, and he suffered from rhinitis, which was severe inflammation of the mucous membrane. At one time, he was severely shell shocked while running, and couldn't avoid breathing in a lungful of chlorine gas. He never recovered his sense of smell for the rest of his life.

Dad's story describes how the soldiers lived with deafening and unceasing shell fire, unable to get any quality sleep. They had to march through muddy trenches, after weeks of downpour. The boggy ground sucked their gumboots off and seeped through to their skin. Whenever anybody peeled off his boot to examine his chafed feet, it was almost impossible to wriggle them on again. 'Trench foot' was the most common condition treated by the medicos.

I think my extended family still has an old postcard, sent from Charlie Mitchell to his mother in Adelaide, telling her that they were soon expecting to go to the front line but for her not to worry.

Here is one of my favourite parts. One day, Red Mitchell and a mate were walking in the vicinity of a German prison camp and heard wild cheering and singing from the captives within the walls. They popped into a bistro in the nearest village to learn that the War was declared over. Something about both sides being united in their happiness and relief touches me.

Throughout my life, I've had moments of being a worrier and control freak. Reading this brought something home to me. If I'd been conscious somewhere in 1915 to 1918 to witness how many times my grandfather's life had been at risk, I might have panicked about never being born. As it all worked out without my input, I find it a good reminder to entrust other aspects of my life to God too.

Still, I think of the young soldiers in several wars who made the ultimate sacrifice and never returned home to have children. In the 1970s, when I was a little girl watching the ANZAC march in Adelaide, there were still a number of frail old diggers from the first World War, as well as a pretty large number from World War 2. My mother would always cry.

Having all this at my fingertips really makes me want to try writing a story in the form of a novel about this time period, but I haven't mustered the confidence yet. I believe we do honourably to remember those brave men and the women they left at home, who all sacrificed so much, enabling us to live safely in our beautiful country. I'm probably going off to our local Dawn Service at 6.30am tomorrow morning. Will you do the same? And if you want more food for thought, why not get hold of a copy of "The Greenfield Legacy", the novel I co-wrote with my friends Meredith Resce, Amanda Deed and Rose Dee. It has a strong ANZAC theme running through it, as one of our pivotal characters won the dubious 'lottery' making it compulsory for him to serve in the Vietnam War. We consider it our tribute to those soldiers. When I think of the spirit of Australia, still a reasonably new nation at the time of WW1, rising to the serious occasion, I feel very proud.
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