Our morning at our new friends’ farm began much later than we expected. We rarely sleep in, but slept through baby’s squawks, Dave having breakfast, and a three year old who wanted to play.
We had the best breakfast! Milk straight from the cow. Eggs straight from the chooks. Bacon – from the friends of the pigs.
Then Chris went with Dave and the sheep dogs to help sort the sheep. ‘Help’ is a rather generous word, by all accounts.
They had to separate the girl sheep from the boy sheep. Chris, being from a farm himself, does know the difference and how to tell. But, try as he might, he could not identify which was which quickly enough to help Dave. By the time he thought he’d identified one sheep, Dave had sorted about four and had swung the gate one way or the other, to separate them into boy and girl pens.
In the end, Chris asked Dave how he could identify them so quickly.
‘Easy!’ Dave laughed. ‘Every sheep has an ear-tag. The boys on their left ear, the girls on their right. I just swing the gate according to which ear their tag is on.’
I think Chris was a little embarrassed, but he told me the story anyway.
Three Sheep Dogs
But his favourite story was about the farm’s three sheep dogs.
Dot, the smallest dog, is a sheep-dog-in-training. To our untrained eyes he looks like a Kelpie. He was efficient and obedient. Despite being the size of a medium-sized puppy, Dot knew where to be and how to convince the sheep where they should be.
Lucy, the biggest dog, was hopeless…well, as far as usefulness on a farm. A Maremma, a guardian of the sheep, Lucy flunked out of ‘guardian of the sheep’ school. Chris described Lucy’s ability to tend and guard the sheep as ‘She just thinks she is a sheep’.
Then there was Lambie. Apparently, Lambie was quite effective at rounding up the sheep and getting them to go wherever Dave wanted them to go.
The only trouble was that nobody has ever told Lambie that she is not a dog. She is a hand-reared sheep. She grew up around the house with Dot and Lucy and does everything with her two doggy-companions.
Even when Dave tried to intermingle Lambie back into the flock, that only lasted until Dave and the dogs headed back home. Then she’d split from the flock and rejoin her ‘family’ at the back door of the house.
So Dave was blessed with a puppy training to be a sheep-dog, a dog that thought she was a sheep, and a sheep that thought she was a dog.
The first time I did it was months ago, when my beloved child was not contributing at all to the smooth-functioning of our household. Instead of doing his allocated chores, he spent his time and energy on playing x-box on our t.v.
When he went off to school one morning, I grabbed his x-box remote and put it away.
I can’t remember whether it was intentional or not. But after I put it away, I forgot where I put it.
Sometimes I’m blessed with a terrible memory.
To say that for a while I was not a popular mum would be the understatement of the year. However, I do remember telling him that, perhaps, if he did his chores, I might be prompted to remember.
Weeks went past.
Everyone in our house has their own chores to do. Everyone else had already taken on his job of feeding the dog.
Shelby the dog was a bundle of white fluff that you couldn’t actually see on her. Chris used to say that she shed more fluff than she could possibly produce. In the ensuing weeks white fluff carpeted the rugs, the floors and every surface in the house.
It was disgusting.
But we were at an impasse.
Stubborn mum refused to look for the remote until his jobs were done. And refused to do his jobs despite living in dog-fluff circumstances.
Son demonstrated that he can be equally stubborn. He inherited a double-dose of stubborn, with an added pinch of passive resistance.
Possibly prompted by an imminent houseful of guests I decided that, regardless of my intentions to stick to my guns, I needed to do the vacuuming. I went to the cupboard in the laundry, picked up the vacuum-cleaner…and there, behind the vacuum-cleaner, was the hidden remote.
I didn’t need to do the vacuuming that day.
I simply went to find the offending son and explained that I’d suddenly remembered where his treasure was. If he did his chores I could make sure they were reunited.
He looked at me with that look that asks ‘Should I believe you?’.
I walked away.
A few moments later, I heard chuckling coming from the laundry.
‘Fair call, mum. Fair call. I deserved that. That was well done.’
Phew! Not quite the reaction I anticipated. But it reaffirmed to me that logical consequences and ‘assisting’ our kids to take responsibility for their actions works – at least it did, that time.
I wonder if he’ll know where to look when he’s looking for his missing computer…
It was BIG! It was fancy and it was very, very expensive.
We wandered around with our mouths gaping wide at the opulence of the Opryland Hotel. The ceilings were so high we almost couldn’t see them. Birds flew around us and then flew upwards into the canopy of tropical rainforest palms. While private rooms and suites formed the perimeter of the hotel, inside, under the main roof, were streets and arcades. There were conference rooms among ballrooms, ice-cream parlours next to saloons, beauty boutiques among fashion shops, florists and toyshops.
As we passed by a conference room, we noticed the paraphernalia displayed by sales representatives in the lobby outside. We looked with interest, surprised by the variety of ‘Christian’ items available on the market: stickers, birthday cards, wall plaques and children’s Bibles complete with colouring pencils.
But as we continued to look, we recognised ‘normal’ things that were labelled with ‘Christian’ symbols or texts, with prices to rival any Nike or Billabong product. My imagination ran away with all sorts of other advertising gimmicks: ‘Holy Handbags’, ‘Heaven Scent!’, ’Perfume of Paradise’, ‘Jesus Jeans’.
My eyes opened a little further that day – and unfortunately I think I became quite cynical.
What is a ‘Christian handbag’ anyway?
Does it make me holier if I use a ruler with a cross printed on it, rather than one I bought from the local newsagency?
At which stage does a pencil become a ‘Christian’ pencil? Is it born again when it goes through the printing press?
Obviously, ‘Christian’ sells. We only have to remember Christmas sales and the consumption of chocolate in Australia at Easter.
But where is the boundary between ‘Christian’ as we followers of Christ would call ourselves and ‘Christian’ as a brand-name? Should we trust everything that is called ‘Christian’? Should we distrust everything that is not marketed as ‘Christian’? Should we trust that everything sold in a ‘Christian’ bookshop is good, and reject other products on that basis?
How do we figure out what is good and what is not? It’s called discernment. And where do we get it? Good question.
I was once told about the people whose job it is to identify fake American dollar notes from real notes. What are their instructions? Instead of knowing every type of fake note available, they are to become so familiar with the real notes that any slight variation from the truth is very obvious.
As Christians we have the truth available to us in the Bible. If we become so familiar with truth by knowing the Word and have the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can learn to spot a phoney a mile off. That is discernment.
As Lutherans, we have the legacy of Luther’s Small Catechism which Luther wrote for parents to teach their children. An added bonus of the catechism is that it teaches us to ask continually: ‘What does this mean?’ It encourages us to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking until we have answers. Searching for answers helps us to find discernment.
We have a banquet of books and other resources available to us. Some are classics, some are fun. Some are religious, some are Christian… Some are rubbish.
Reading, to some of us, is an absolute joy. To some of us, writing, too, is a joy and a privilege. But nothing compares to the word of God in teaching truth.
No books – not even Christian books or bible concordances – should ever take the place of our study of the word of God.
Max Lucado points out that Christians too often rely on somebody else’s interpretation of Scripture instead of reading it themselves; and that makes as much sense as eating what somebody else has already half-digested. In the same way, we miss out on discernment if we rely on others to pre-digest our knowledge.
Discernment cannot be passed on: we must grow it ourselves.
Don’t stop reading other books – but remember that God’s word is truth. How does the Christian book you are reading stand up against God’s word? Is it consistent with the Bible’s teachings, and does God’s love and grace shine through? Are the Scriptures that are quoted used ‘in context’?
John MacArthur from Grace Community Church once gave a sermon titled, ‘Mary had a little lamb’. MacArthur strung a collection of Bible verses together, completely out of context. It was the funniest sermon I have ever heard – but he made the point very effectively that words and verses from the Bible can easily be made to say what anybody wants them to say.
Discernment looks at any verse in the light of the whole of God’s truth.
There are plenty of things on the market and even in our churches these days that appeal to ‘good, Christian folk’, and being a Christian does not protect us from sales-pitches. Some marketers actually take advantage of the trusting nature of Christians!
There are some valid questions that may help us learn to be more discerning; before we read a book, get involved in a program, sign up for a new course, a new roof, a diet plan, sponsorship, cosmetics… anything that is sold in Jesus’ name:
Does it glorify God or itself?
Does it edify (build up) God’s church?
What does it cost, and who will benefit from the cost?
Where will the money go?
Is there any level of secrecy i.e. do you have to be a member or make a purchase or commitment in order to find out what it’s about, and are you allowed to share or discuss it with others?
What kind of language is being used: Is it ‘sales’ talk; does it use big words that you may have heard of but don’t really understand?
What are the claims: Is this the ‘only’ way, the ‘best’, ‘God’s way’, the ‘newest’?
What is the response if you say, ‘I will need to go home and pray about it’?
Perhaps if something is advertised as ‘Christian’, it may be worthwhile to bring out your cynical stick. But better still…
‘Keep sound wisdom and discretion:so they will be life to your soul, and grace for your neck. Then you shall walk in your way securely. Your foot won’t stumble.When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet.‘ (Proverbs 3:21–24 WEB).
Originally published as ‘Holy Handbags’ in the Heart and Home column in The Lutheran, 2008, September Issue.
Ted and Mae’s plan was already in tatters—and Ted hadn’t even begun the first step. By 22:10 he was supposed to have secured the quilt—folded like a road map under his left arm—and strolled into the darkened corridor. But it was already 22:25. South Wing was still lit up and the last of the nurses on the late-shift were only just leaving, almost half-an-hour late.
In a lot of ways it would have been more logical for Mae to make her way to Ted’s room, instead of the other way round. Her night vision was better and so was her health. But Ted’s rapport with the nurses in the rest home was more likely to get him out of trouble if he was discovered.
In Room 3 East, Mae waited…and waited.
She had purchased a new night-gown for the occasion. And she made sure she was wearing a tiny bit of the pink lipstick Ted said he liked, that first day she’d felt alive again— the first time in forty-four years that a gentleman had been kind to her, or had taken any notice of her at all.
Their friendship blossomed almost from the beginning – when Ted first noticed her ‘gardening’ in the courtyard shared by the South and East wings.
‘You’d better not let Fred catch you stealing his flowers,’ he said.
‘Oh, I’m planting, not stealing. See?’ Mae held up a tiny trowel and a packet of poppy seeds.
But the next day, and the next day… and the next, Ted noticed her doing the same thing, though in a different place each morning. It was a week before he realised that she was indeed ‘planting’— but the poppy seed packet was a cover-up for the pills she refused to swallow.
While the nurses thought she was sweet, if a little eccentric, Ted found her delightful. The more he got to know her, the more he liked her. They discovered a mutual love of gardening, history and reading.
Before long, they were sharing all of their meals and spending much of each day sitting together in the garden or, on rainy days, in the sunniest spots by the windows. Ted read aloud while Mae stitched.
Two weeks ago, Ted proposed an after-hours rendezvous. Mae responded that she was ‘a bit-old-fashioned that way.’
‘Well marry me, then,’ he said.
‘Okay, I will. Thank you for asking.’
Ted announced it to his family the next day. They could not have been happier for him. It was good that he was here, well cared for and with great medical facilities nearby, in case his heart skipped a beat again. Best of all, he was close enough that his daughter and the grand-kids could walk there to visit.
Yet he hadn’t really settled. Until recently.
They had noticed something about him was different. There was a new spark; something that had been missing since their mum died … it must be Mae.
But Mae’s son Eric, ever-protective of his inheritance, threatened to stop her from seeing her two grandchildren if she went ahead with the marriage.
Mae’s sweet demeanour always disappeared after conversations with Eric. This conversation was rowdier than usual – heard all the way down the corridor. Ted fully expected Mae to stay in her room for days afterwards.
Yet she surprised Ted the next morning by greeting him at the breakfast table and announcing, ‘I had forty-four years of being bossed around by his father. I’m bothered if I’m going to be bossed around by him.’ Then she whispered, ‘Let’s not allow anything to get in our way. I have an idea.’
Ted leaned over and listened as Mae revealed her plan. ‘Whether or not it’s true is a bit contentious,’ Mae explained, ‘but the story goes that during the time of slavery in America, women stitched secret codes into quilts to guide the slaves to safety. I’ve decided to sew a quilt so you can find me in the middle of the night.’
Mae couldn’t sit still. She sat on the edge of her bed. Then she sat in her arm-chair. She turned her main light on and off and on again. She smoothed out every wrinkle on her bed, pressed and re-pressed the folds of her quilt, and adjusted the pillows… again.
Nurse Rosie noticed the light going on and off and went in to check that Mae was okay. Mae made up a story about needing to mark the page in the book she was reading, climbed into bed and asked Nurse Rosie to turn the light off, please.
‘Dear ol’ thing,’ Nurse Rosie said to the other nurse when she returned to the desk. ‘I saw her doing some embroidery the other night – the most unusual stitches I’ve ever seen. Said she was making a ‘quilt-as-you-go’ quilt. I’ve seen some of her other work – very intricate and detailed. This was more ‘folksy’. You know, thick wool, coarse and lumpy stitches. Not my cup of tea. But each to her own, I s’pose.’
It was now 22:45 and still, no Ted. It was unlikely he would be able to make it in the next half hour because the nurses tended to do another round between 22:50 and 23:10.
A tear dropped from Mae’s face onto her pillow. She had not cried for twenty years.
A scream shattered the silence of West Wing. Three nurses rushed to Room 3. One turned on the lights. Another raised the security alarm. They found Mrs Campbell attacking an intruder who was now cowering under cover of a grey-brown quilt.
A nurse yanked off the quilt.
‘Mr Collins! What on earth…?’
Another nurse steered Mrs Campbell to an armchair as nurses, guards and available staff appeared at the doorway. Nurse Rosie arrived last – just in time to see a security guard manoeuvring Ted out of the room, and carrying the quilt.
‘Hold on,’ said Nurse Rosie. ‘I recognise that quilt. What are you doing with it?’
‘I…I can explain,’ said Ted, but not quickly enough to stop Nurse Rosie from grabbing the quilt and returning it to Mae in 3 East.
‘Oh dear,’ said Mae as spread the quilt out on her bed. Then, out of her sewing basket, she took a hand-drawn map. Mae traced the map with her finger; then matched it, block by block, against the stitches on the quilt.
‘Oh no!’ she said. ‘It’s all my fault. Here! Block 3D. I’ve turned it left instead of right. He’s gone to the right room in the wrong wing!’
Today was one of those days I should have stayed in bed.
I took too long to wake up, so my coffee intake was late.
The kitchen was full of people,
and I was full of caffeine-withdrawal shakes.
That was easily remedied with a quick coffee.
I’ve been trying to get into the habit of a walk each morning.
So I set off – with my phone, a drink, pens and a notebook in the quilted bag I’d machine-embroidered – custom-made for walking and writing.
Usually I walk about one kilometre, then turn around to walk in the opposite direction. But this morning I felt that I should cross the main road, sit by the duck-pond and spend the morning in quiet contemplation.
Last week I bought new walking shoes to go with my new orthotics. I decided to break them in…this morning. So my feet hurt.
The opportunity to sit for a while before the return trip home seemed to be favourable both to my head and my feet. So off I toddled.
Soon I reached the board-walk by the duck pond and found a bench. I checked the bench for tell-tale signs of early morning dew. I’d had wet pants from wet benches before. There were no dew-drops on it. So I sat down upon it.
It wasn’t until sometime later, after I’d been contemplating the ducks, the skeletons of dead trees, and a magnificent river red gum on the bank of the creek, that I decided to do some writing in my notebook.
As I began to write, I noticed that my fingers were green. I looked inside my bag, knowing that in it was a green fluoro-pen, and it would not have been the first pen to leak in my bag.
So I dug it out.
Aha! I thought as I turned the pen around in my fingers, not realising that my fingers were making the pen green as I turned it over and over.
I looked into the bag. There was no evidence that anything had leaked. I emptied the remainder of the contents of my bag onto the bench, then picked up my notebook. It too was green.
This is really strange, I thought – as I stood up to survey the bag more closely.
Then I happened to look at the seat again. Graffiti on the seat shouted at me in bright fluoro green.
Very strange. I thought. I didn’t notice that before.
I looked closer.
The shape of my bottom and thighs encircled the graffiti; the knit pattern from the back of my jumper patterned the backrest. And a little further up the bench, underneath a pile of stones to keep it in place, a scrunched paper sign warned
It was then that I realised the enormity of what I’d done.
My backside was green
and my face was red!
Today was one of those mornings I should have stayed in bed.
A true story – it happened to the friend of a friend of mine…me!
(Facebook Post by Julie Hahn, June 11, 2013)
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