Praising in the Rain

“It’s raining!” Jenny sighed, fighting tears. “This is meant to be a holiday.”

I frowned into the night. Jenny was a diabetic and her health made it harder to cope with being cold and damp all night.

God, I thought, how do we get things to go better?

Our New Zealand holiday had begun in Auckland with a sunny, blue-skied time. We slept on comfy beds and were treated to wonderful home-cooked meals.
We’d established that we could not hitch our way around the two islands. We’d tried, staggering across the airport lounge with heavy metal-framed back packs on our backs, our knees buckling under us.  We barely made it across the room.

So we bought a car – a 1949 bright orange Vauxhall, for a mere $120 between five of us (1976, mind you). Consequently we called it Amazing Gracie. Little did we know how often that car would earn its name!

Gracie puttered all the way up to the Bay of Islands. We’d heard how beautiful this area was – but we saw only dense white mist. It was raining!

 

 

Photo from Pixabayrainy-day-1831908_960_720
In a gap between rain showers we pitched two tents in a camping ground in the fading daylight. I began the night stretching out my sleeping bag near the tent, hoping to sleep under the stars. Just as I began to relax, a drip fell on my forehead.  Oh no! Then another. Soon it was raining in earnest so I grabbed my sleeping bag and crawled into the tent with the other two girls.
We dozed intermittently while it rained all night. The synthetic tent fabric sagged, soggy and cold, on Jenny’s face.

God! I thought, this is meant to be a holiday!
I was determined not to be robbed. A thought whispered inside me. “Let’s praise God for the rain!” I said.

We began a feeble praising and singing which grew stronger as we cheered up.

Everything was cold and damp. Our clothes, our backpacks, our sleeping bags.
But no longer our spirits.

The tent was sodden.

An unfamiliar man’s face appeared at the opening of the tent.
“Would you girls like to come to our caravan and have a hot drink?” he asked. “My wife told me to ask you.”

We combed our wet hair and straightened our clothes, then followed him to a caravan.
Soon we were sitting in a cosy mini-lounge, sipping hot chocolate and eating a snack breakfast. It warmed us through and cheered our spirits.
Had our praises turned the corner for us? We wondered.

Later that morning we packed up and began the trip back down the island.

 

Thick grey cloud hid the world around us.

Suddenly Peter said, “You’d better pray if you want to see Mt Egmont!”

We gazed in dismay at the never-ending cloud – and prayed.

The clouds parted and a few miles along, there was Mt Egmont, bright and sparkling with its snowy peak piercing the clear blue sky and glittering in the sunshine.

 

Mary River Reflections

I’m floating along the Mary River in a small canoe. It’s late spring and the warm sun is balm on my back. I relax and forget the busy life I’ve been leading back in town. I’m on holidays.

 

Mary River – photo Roger and Daphne Saunders

mary r kenilworth -roger and daphne saunders

Branches trail across the river’s edge, dripping vines into the water. Tiny wrens break the silence with their twittering. The current carries me towards the Homestead shores, so there’s no need to paddle now. Just bask in the sun and enjoy the silence and the beauty as I drift along.

Dragonflies glisten, their wings catching the sunlight as they skip across the water weed.

Beside me float images of pine-clad mountains, trees and clouds. They skim along on the river’s surface.

My mind drifts to that other world of busy people, chatter, teaching lessons. I enjoy it all – but this peaceful world is a haven.

Gazing back at the reflections of clouds and trees, I wonder if this life is a reflection of heaven. A verse from Corinthians tells us we see life and even God as if in a dim mirror now – and in heaven we will see Him and His creation clearly, face to face.

 

If this beauty, this peace, is only a reflection, how wonderful will the real thing be?

How do non-believers view our faith? or any faiths?

How do most unbelievers view our faith? Do they see us as delusional? Or weak people needing a crutch? (That’s what I believed as an atheist.) Or as enviable but rather simple people?

I grew up in a home where my parents apparently had no religion but, being socially correct, sent us to Sunday School. We went to a Methodist Sunday School which I enjoyed but it had little impact on my life.

Down the street lived the Joneses, a religious family who were part of a denomination where the people kept mainly to themselves. We socialised with them on rare occasions like birthday parties, the Jones girls always clad in pretty dresses. They were not part of our tree-climbing, cubby-house-making childhood. There was a wide gulf in those days between some of the denominations.
We had no idea of the smorgasbord of faiths our society would embrace in these days to come.

 

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Photo – Oakeybourne, our old Queenslander at Corinda

 

One day I noticed my mother looking sad.
“What’s wrong, Mum?” I asked.
She sighed. “Mr Jones has died. He had an accident.”
“What sort of accident?”
“He was driving home from their Tamborine house and fell asleep at the wheel of the car. He crashed into a tree and was killed.”
I was shocked.
The sudden death of one’s father was a world-shattering event.
“What will happen to them?”
“Nothing. They’ll be all right. Mary has faith.”
And I watched the Joneses continue with their lives, obviously sobered at first, but stoic.
They continued to go to work, to school and even paid us a brief visit at Mum’s invitation.
I watched in bewilderment as Mrs Jones sat in our large old kitchen and spoke calmly and lovingly about her husband. It was an early spring day, fragrant with flowers and the smell of scones baking, while outside the peach blossom tree glowed luminous pink, covered with flowers. I could hear the bees buzzing frantically while the old timber house with its galvanised iron roof creaked in the early heat.
Mrs Jones wiped an errant tear from her cheek but continued talking quietly, gently.
I was puzzled. Why did having faith make such a huge difference?
What did it really mean?
And how come they had it and we didn’t?
“Because they’re religious,” Mum told me.

Of course it’s not that simple.
But I was awe-struck at their coping in adversity.
The image of Mrs Jones talking calmly to Mum stayed with me over the years

Through a Glass Darkly

Late last year in Queensland we had serious bush fires, mainly north of where we live.

“You can hardly see the town from the road,” my sister greets me. “The haze from the smoke is just awful.”
“It must be unbearable up north where the fires are. Straddie too, I heard. And the smoke’s in the air a lot here too,” I reply.
I look out at a blurred landscape. The once bright green trees are dim. Hazy.

For the past few days South-East Queensland has been shrouded in dust and smoke. We look sadly at the hazy landscape; it is the result of many bushfires burning ferociously, north-west of here. Fires rage day and night while firemen and others, even teams from interstate, fight the blazes. Aircraft drop water on the fires. But still they rage.

The mass of smoke and dust from our parched, drought-stricken land stings our lungs with acrid fumes. It heavies our spirits with the pain of human suffering. Television shows us sad families standing beside the ruins of houses and properties. Their faces show shock, grief, sometimes stoicism. The death of lifetimes of dreams.

Even beautiful Kenilworth is smudged out of focus with dust and smoke.

 

Photo by Elvira Meridy White

haze - Elvira

We sigh and pray for rain.
Looking at the smudgy landscape, I think of a verse in the Bible telling us we see through a glass darkly – this earthly life is like a haze hiding the intensity of God’s beauty from us.

 

 

Hazes form from all sorts of  sources. At the beach recently I noticed the long gleaming strip of beach from Coolum to Noosa showed Noosa Heads at the end.

 

 

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A few days later a thick salt haze had swallowed the headland.

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I remember once when I was about fourteen, I sat on the side veranda gazing at the huge old magnolia tree.
Suddenly it seemed a veil lifted and I was aware of a realm beyond the world of my senses, a realm I could not see or hear. But I could sense it. It was real. A haze had departed from my spiritual awareness.

What lay ahead for me? I wondered.
It was like a call. A call to what? To be a writer? A musician? I had no idea, in our godless childhood world.

The veil slipped back and I picked up my notepad and began to write a poem to capture the feeling before it faded. The galvanised iron roof creaked and crackled in the summer heat as I wrote.

Many years later I read that verse in the Bible telling us that now we see through a glass darkly (or in a dim mirror) and later we will see face to face.

Through a glass darkly.
And through a haze faintly. Trusting that beyond the smudgy distance is the glowing reality.

Peace beyond our understanding

 

 

Rabaul –  photo Zena Grant-Thomsonrabaul zena 1.

“Bye, Robyn!” I called as she headed out to work.
“Have a good day,” she replied.

I combed my damp hair, ready for the day. I was having a relaxing holiday in Rabaul with Robyn, after my year’s teaching on New Ireland.

Suddenly I was enveloped in strong, tangible peace. I stood still to enjoy it. The tropical air was still moist and hot but I no longer noticed it. This peace was all I was aware of. This must be the peace that passes all understanding the Bible mentions, I thought.
I felt so calm. So strong. If I always felt like this, I could do anything, I thought. I could cope with anything at all.

Tyres screeched into the driveway. Footsteps clattered loudly up the steps.
“Michael!” I exclaimed. “I thought you and Arlene were in Tufabi.” (Tufabi is on a different island from Rabaul.)
“Your sister’s in hospital,” Michael said. “She’s very sick. She might be going to die.
The doctor sent her here as a medical emergency” – “life-threatening infection” – “she was green” – Michael’s voice hurried on, blurting out Arlene’s symptoms anxiously.

All through those terrible words and the quick explanation following, I remained bathed in that supernatural peace. For a moment my mind swam with horror, but I felt no fear; only normal concern.

“I’ll pick you up in ten minutes,” Michael said and drove off.

I hurried to my room and sank to my knees. “Father, is she going to – die?” I asked.
The peace grew stronger. A gentle presence like a fine silk shawl rested over me.

Clear, quiet words formed in my mind.
She will not die.
Relief flooded me.
Quickly I packed a few things she might need. I was ready when Michael drove in again.

 

Beautiful Rabaul – pic Rose Glanville- rose glanville photo of rabaul

 

The hospital ward seemed strangely dim. Was it really poorly lit – or was it ‘dimmed out’ by my emotions? I’ll never know.

Arlene lay there, her face a yellow-green colour against the white pillow case. Dark skinned nurses slipped silently around her, adjusting her drip, her sheets.
I talked to her and prayed for her, then left quietly. All the time, I felt a strong Presence holding me up, and that amazing peace sustaining me.

With good medical help Arlene gradually recovered and after a week or two was back in Tufabi.

I have always been thankful for that supernatural peace that enabled me to do all I had to during that time, calmly, with no panic of my own affecting Arlene. And that peace enabled me to pray for her with real faith.

It was a little miracle, too, that God had me there in Rabaul during Arlene’s crisis, after I’d spent a year on New Ireland.

 

Photo – Rabaul from the air – Zena Grant-Thomsonrabaul zena 2. - copy

Our miraculous New Zealand holiday

 

Our five weeks in New Zealand was one of the best holidays I’ve had. We had a wonderful time and all five of us returned safe and well. That’s probably a miracle – or the result of a series of miracles.

We came back radiantly happy, all the best of friends. Another sort of miracle, although we got on amazingly well most of the time.

The real stars of the holiday were New Zealand itself in all its beauty and Amazing Gracie, our orange 1949 Vauxhall.  One another. And God. (Not in that order!)

 

Gracie adn Mt EgmontPhoto of Mt Egmont and Amazing Gracie

 

Amazing Gracie took us faithfully all around the two islands although we had to push it on and off the car ferry, and it broke down regularly.

Luckily for us – or rather, thanks to Gods’ protection – it broke down in all the right places. We wound around dangerous narrow roads, snaking our way down to little towns. Cliffs fell away sharply right beside us.

It was scary.

Gracie remained amazing and took us safely down these roads.

At the bottom, about ten metres from the end of the horror bends, Gracie stopped. And refused to start again.

We grumbled briefly but then realised how it could have been a few minutes earlier.

Peter and Ross walked up to the nearest garage and soon a mechanic was hammering away under the bonnet. Before long the car was fixed and we were on our way again.

 

 

Gracie and usPhoto – us, Peter behind the camera

 

There are many stories involving Gracie and its amazing ability to know just when to dig in its heels (well, wheels). Stories of God rescuing us. Of God blessing us with the right weather at the right times. Some of these anecdotes appear in my blogs and even in magazines and books (see The Gecko Renewal, the Stories of Life anthology 2017 and the  Stories of Life’s Three Dummies in a Dinghy, 2018). Life on our trip was not dull, even apart from the magnificent scenery and all our fun.

Some stories can wait for another time but I must mention this little one.

We stopped for five whole days in Queenstown to have a rest and enjoy the stunning scenery. We actually rented a unit with big plate glass windows facing the Remarkable Mountains.

After two nights of gazing at the bare rocky mountains glowing orange and rose pink in the late light (it was January), one of us said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if God made it snow on the mountains!”

“Oh yes!”

 

remarkables

Photo – snow on the Remarkables, street below with Gracie parked.

 

The next morning we woke to a light flutter of snowflakes. The Remarkable Mountains had snow sprinkled across the tops of them. It continued to snow lightly and the snowline crept lower and lower.

A ray of sunlight chinked through the heavy ceiling of cloud. Everything sparkled.

The whole world glowed and shimmered white.

It was a completely different scene from yesterday.

God had answered our prayer!

 

Photos provided by Margaret J Smith, who was one of us in NZ

When I think I’m going under

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Jenny and I were paddling, sometimes floating, hanging onto the edges of a rubber raft in  shallow water. It was an unpatrolled beach on the Gold Coast.

The warm sun lulled us into a hazy, ‘half with it’ state as we talked …

 

Suddenly Jenny interrupted. “Nettie, can you touch the bottom?” her voice curled tightly around the question mark.

I poked my toes down. Further and further. All I felt was cool water and no sand at all. What had happened to the beach?

“We’re way out!” I exclaimed, looking in dismay at the fast-receding beach. “We’re caught in a rip!”

Jenny was a good a swimmer so was less concerned then I was.

I was scared.

We were soon out in the menacing-looking ocean, surrounded by turbulent waves as deep currents swirled against one another and splashed wildly.

I felt helpless.

Were we going to be drowned?

 

“Let’s praise God,” Jenny suggested. “You know, like Paul and Silas.”

So we did. Out loud against the roar of the crashing waves. And still we clung to the rubber raft.

As I praised Him, I heard a familiar still small voice assure me we would be safe.

 

Then a HUGE wave towered above us. A mass of churning foam and wild roaring. It pushed me down, down, and down. All that water, so deep, but still no sandy floor… I flailed and spluttered my way back to the surface only to realise my rubber raft had been wrenched from my hands.

My life raft.

Not a strong swimmer, I was at the mercy of this wild, destructive ocean.

 

Jenny was metres away from me now, still swimming. Fear gripped me and my entire body felt weak – powerless to resist such force.

Father! God! My heart screamed.

 

Another roar sounded behind me and again I was pushed down and rolled over and over like a rag toy in the hands of an angry giant. Still no sand beneath my feet.

I gasped and coughed as I surfaced again. God had told me we’d be safe – but what if it wasn’t God? What if I’d heard only what I’d hoped to hear? One more wave like those would surely be the end for me.

 

My heart sank as a third wave thundered towards me. Again it pushed me down and rolled me over and around. Over and over, and then – I almost sobbed with relief – my feet and knees scraped upon wonderful, solid sand.

Still floundering, I tried to stand up.

 

A stranger was running into the water. He helped me onto shaky legs and I was thankful … but I knew God had already rescued me. Jenny was walking out of the now-shallow water too.

A bubble of joy swelled inside me at the thought of it – God had sent those huge, terrifying waves not to scare us, but to carry us back to shore.

 

 

A slightly longer version of this story won a third prize and was published in A chicken can make a difference, the Stories of Life anthology 2016.

 

Have you ever needed God to intervene to save your life? I’d love to hear about it.