The surprising adventures,
secrets and prayers of an
As told by --
BRUCE D PREWER
To all those cool kids who love
the joy-full ways of Christ
and wish that other kids
would join in the fun.
Where did I find this secret diary of an eleven year old child?
That is a secret. My lips are zipped. But I will give you some hints.
Maybe this story was found in a old school bag when I was cleaning up old junk?
It could have been left on my doorstep one early morning when the dew was sparkling and the magpies chortling?
Or then again, it may have been given to me by my grandchildren whose unfolding lives delight me?
It could even be that I found it while praying in a church at Broome or Humpty Doo, Mildura or Bundaberg?
Of course, it is possible it came to me when I was revisiting the place where (long, long ago) I went to school as a child?
Wherever this diary came from, one thing is for sure: If there is any true light and joy in these stories, the source is definitely not me but Somebody Else. Okay?
Bruce D Prewer
Copyright-- Pentecost 1999
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
“Now there’s one mighty plug hole! The largest sewer in the universe!” exclaimed my big sister Lidjet at a family barbecue. I had just finished my second chop and took my fifth sausage. “When any food gets near it, it cannot resist the awesome tug of Chip’s amazing dietary orifice.”
Lidj likes showing off words like dietary orifice and carrying on about my eating capacity. She is practically grown up: 15 years and 4 months. Although we are always arguing, deep down I like Lidj.
I would never admit it to her, of course, but I think Lidj is very pretty and super cool. She is good at most things and is clever at making up cute little poems, like limericks and stuff. She can compose one in a few seconds. In our family we call such poems a lidjettery.
I had better introduce myself. I’m Chip Berry, 11 years old and in my last year at Tower Hill Primary School. That means I’m one of the big kids. I am making the most of it because next year I’ll be one of the small kids at Secondary College. I enjoy my school work, especially maths. I am great at maths. With sport I’m just average.
There is one extra-important fact that I must tell you: I know the Lord Jesus. He is my best mate for sure.
When I say ‘know’ it’s not like I know Mum, Dad, my big sister Lidjet and my little sister Lia, or my favourite cousin Josie.
I know the Lord Jesus much less than I know my family yet also much, much, more. It’s a deeper kind of knowing. Knowing him goes into the secret corners of my mind and heart. In fact ( you might find this hard to believe and think me round the twist) there are times when I seem to hear Jesus or even briefly see him.
I can’t hug the Lord Jesus like I hug Mum. I can’t wrestle with him on the floor like I wrestle with Dad. But in a deeper way his love hugs me and at times his Realness wrestles with the real me as no ordinary person could.
Mind you, he is very slippery. It’s impossible to pin him down. I can’t make him to do what I want, not by force, or begging, or by cunning.
I can often con Lia into doing what I want, sometimes I can be extra helpful to Lidj and con her. But not the Lord Jesus. He sees right through me and is always one step (sometimes a thousand steps!) ahead of me. He is free; very, very free!
By the way, when I’m talking with him, I don’t call him Lord. I reckon that word ‘Lord’ sounds awfully bossy, like an English bishop or something? He is not like that. He is my best Friend. I call him Wirake, which is an old country name that I like. He does not mind.
He treats me as if I were the only person in the whole world. I wonder is that how other Christians feel? Is every person special to him?
My close school-friend is Hamish; whose mum came from Scotland and his dad from Germany. I call him ‘Ham’. Some of the other kids started calling me Egg (like, because ham and egg go together) and even Ham calls me that now. We muck around together at school and often visit each other’s homes during the week.
On Sundays I go to church with my family. Hamish does not go to church much, but when he does, it’s not the same as mine. Ham is not very religious. My cousin Josie goes to her dad’s church; which is also different from mine. Why are there are so many different churches? There is only one God, I reckon.
I spoke with Lidj about the silliness of having so many different churches. For once she agreed with me and later came to my room with a lidjettery about it:
A big mossie who loved to bite,
taught me something that is right:
The blood in every church I visit,
tastes equally exquisite.
There you go. She cannot help using fancy words like exquisite. I nodded my head wisely, but after she had gone I had to look it up in my dictionary.
Maybe you need to know something else about me: I’m a bit shy. Some kids really like performing up front on a stage, or meeting new people. Not me. I take a while to settle in to new situations.
If I have to speak or perform by myself on the stage (it’s not so bad in a group, like a choir) I get some very fluttery butterflies in my stomach. When I’m feeling shy and awkward, it is good to know that Wirake is at my side.
Wirake gives me courage.
SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN
I saw Wirake today. After school, down the valley track, when I was out riding my bike. It’s queer how he often turns up when I have not been giving him the slightest thought.
You see, I was in a bad mood. That’s why I was out riding. I came home from school as angry as an ant. That bully, the Abominable Alby, caused it. It was his fault.
He always seems to pick on me. Like today. He is a year older than I am, and is tall and strong. He is good with his fists too; they say his father trains boxers.
While I was talking with friends in the school corridor, Alby swaggered along , snatched my bag and threw it on to the top of a locker. “There, Chicken Egg” he sneered. “When you grow up a bit you’ll be able to lift it down.”
I yelled at him: “You get that down for me or else!”
“Or else what, Chicken Egg?” he sneered. He pushed me up against the wall and jabbed me in the ribs, before stalking off laughing. The stinker! How I loathe that guy! He always makes a fool of me in front of my mates.
After some unsuccessful attempts at getting the bag down, I had to go back and ask my teacher to help me. I could not rat on Abominable Alby, so I told her I had been swinging my bag and it slipped out of my fingers.
With a broom, she retrieved my bag. But she crossly told me to look after my things in the future. I hate Abominable Alby! I hate him, I hate him, I hate him!
I was still in a bad mood when I arrived home. I took it out on others. I quickly made myself unpopular with my sisters and Mum. So after gobbling three biscuits, an apple and a banana, I jumped on my bike and pedalled off down the valley track.
When I came to the old, flat gravel pit (we call it the bull ring) I threw the bike around a lot, doing wheelies and skidding, making lots of dust. It was my way of trying to let the anger out of my system. It did not work very well. I was still boiling in the guts.
That’s when Wirake arrived on an old rusty mountain bike. “Hi, Chip!” he called. I ignored him; pedalled fast and did a jumbogantic skid. Dust and gravel flew everywhere.
“Not much good for your tyres, Chip!” Wirake said. “You must be made of money.” I just scowled, then did another wheelie.
“Why don’t you go away?” I shouted. I’m not in the mood for sermons!”
“Nor am I”, Wirake said. “So let’s cut the bull dust and talk about what is burning up your guts”.
He came across to me to put his hand on my shoulder, gentle like. We sat down on a rock and were silent for a few minutes. “You going to tell me?” he asked. I told him. It spilled out, all the colourful details of Abominable Alby and his bullying.
More silence. Then Wirake spoke: “I guess Alby is not very good at maths?” “No!” I retorted, “useless in fact, but what’s that got to do with anything?” “Just a thought” Wirake replied. “Forget that for the moment, and let’s deal with your bad mood”.
“Chip,” he asked. “When are you going to get around to forgiving this Abominable Alby?”
That floored me. I was expecting some outburst of anger against Alby, or at least some tut-tutting. But this! Me forgive that stinker? How could he expect me to?
“No way!” I exploded. “I don’t see why I should ever forgive him. The guys a creep, a berk, a galah, yes and a stinkhead! I’m not going to give him the pleasure of my forgiveness!”
“And who does that hurt? Do you think he’s wandering around his home, utterly miserable because of your unforgiveness? Who is the guy who is suffering here, who is it that is burning up inside? Who is missing out on the pleasure of forgiveness?” Wirake insisted.
I did not reply. It was too obvious. I was the one who was suffering most, not the horrible Abominable Alby.
Wirake again put his hand on my shoulder. “Look Chip, unforgiveness is like a jailer; it chains you to the past and stops you enjoying the present. It is a misery. It’s like er carrying an ant’s nest in your pack, or...er... trying to walk fast with gravel in your Reeboks. Unforgiveness makes your own life a little hell, not the other guy’s. So I put it to you: when are you going to forgive the Abominable Alby?”
“But” I complained, “He’s always doing things to me! How many times do you expect me to forgive the creep!”
Wirake replied with words I’ve heard somewhere before: “Seventy time seven, Chip. Forgive him seventy times seven.”
“Dunno,” I grunted. ”Forgiveness isn’t easy; 70 x 7 , that’s 490 times! How does one do that! I can’t see myself walking up to him and saying I forgive you! That would earn me a knuckle sandwich!”
Wirake grinned. “I’m not asking you to do that. I want you to sincerely, forgive him in your heart. Maybe the best way is to just start praying for him, not saying complicated prayers; just asking God to make Alby happy.
I raised one eyebrow and pulled a face, muttering: “Happy? Did I hear you say happy?”
“Yes happy, Chip! Free yourself from bitterness. You don’t have to say anything to Alby. Just truly want the best for him. Pray for Alby’s happiness. Then your attitude to Alby will slowly change. You won’t be notice it, but he will gradually become aware of a new strength in you..”
I blurted out: “But it isn’t easy. Fair go, Wirake! It isn’t easy to forgive a scumbag like him!”
A far away look came into Wirake’s eyes. He fingered old scar marks on his hands. Then he said very softly: “I know, Chip; I know. Forgiveness is not at all easy.”
A GOD’S EYE VIEW ?
I was over at my cousin Josie’s place on Saturday. We plucked up courage and climbed the Big Tree.
Josie was born in the same hospital as I was, on the same day, but just half an hour earlier (Her mum is my Aunt Kate and her dad is Uncle Chris. He is an Anglican minister.) She is much taller and skinnier than I am. Mum says girls usually grow tall before boys. She reckons I’ll catch up to Josie in a few years and even pass her.
Josie and I argue a lot, but it’s a friendly kind of arguing. Do you know what I mean? It’s like a game. She says I should obey her because she is older than I am. I scoff at her, saying I can give her the half hour start she had at birth and still catch her any day. We get into mischief together; not bad stuff, just pranks. She is more like a mate than a girl.
I have nicknamed her Cuz 1 and she calls me Cuz 2.
Anyway, as I was saying, we climbed the Big Tree. The Big Tree grows in a park just over the road from Josie’s house. We have climbed trees there ever since we were tiny kids. We started with easier ones. Then as we grew older we tackled the taller trees. But the Big Tree, which is a monster, had us bluffed.
Last Saturday we reckoned the time had come. Swallowing our fears, we took a small ladder from Uncle Chris’ garage, used it to reach the lowest limbs, and tackled the monster.
We went nervously at first, double-testing foot holds and hand grips. Soon we grew in confidence and slowly worked our way to the top. Josie is a terrific climber. I won’t tell you the secret of who reached the top first. But it was great up there!
The view was stunning. We looked down over the park and saw joggers like dwarfs running along the paths. Looking further away we could see into the backyards of houses where guys were gardening, or cutting lawns, and women (including Aunt Kate) were hanging out their laundry.
On one lawn two teenagers were cuddling and kissing. “Yuk!” I said, “look at that sloppy stuff! It’s enough to make you sick, isn’t it?” Cuz 1 nodded, but grinned slyly, as if she did not fully agree with me.
The cars going up and down the streets looked small too. We felt like giants or kings or angels or something. Down below people were busy or relaxing, walking or driving, chatting or arguing, laughing or brooding, kissing or fighting. Down there were the midgets, but we were the gods, far above all their work and worries. I felt very superior.
I said to Cuz 1: “Makes you feel like God, huh? Looking down on those midgets and their funny ways.?”
She turned suddenly and made the top of the Big Tree sway.
“Go easy!” I cried. “You are making me a bit sea sick.”
Josie, who did not appear to mind the swaying movement at all, grinned and said: “Tree sick, don’t you mean?”
“Either way, take it easy, or my breakfast will end up on those midgets below,” I pleaded.
“I thought you felt like God?” she chuckled. Do you reckon God gets tree sick?”
I made no reply.
“Anyway, Cuz 2, that stuff about feeling like God. What did you mean?”
“Well,” I said, “God is superior; you know. In heaven, above it all, not touched by all that goes on down there. What Lidj would call uninvolved.”
“Do you know what?” replied Josie. “You’re odd, Cuz 2.”
“What do you mean by that?” I demanded.
“Think about it,” she said. “Is a superior, uninvolved God really the kind of God you believe in? Is that what Jesus was like?”
“Maybe”, I said.
“Yuk!” she exclaimed.
Climbing down the Big Tree was harder than climbing up. Even Josie looked relieved when we reached the firm ground.
A young man in a wheelchair came by on the path. As I glanced at him, he grinned and said “Hi!” For a moment he looked just like Wirake.
We returned the ladder to the garage and went inside for a drink and some biscuits from Aunt Kate. Josie has a big appetite like I do.
Later, while I was riding home on my bike, there was an old lady on the footpath, looking around on the ground as if she had lost something. My first thought was to stop and help her. A second thought sneered and told me to: “Let the old duck look after herself.” I rode on, then stopped and went back to her.
“My eyes are not the best,” she said. “I have lost a ring. It just slipped off my finger when I put this shopping bag down on the pavement. It is a ruby, given to me by my late husband. It must be on the ground here, somewhere.”
“Let me help you,” I answered. “My eyes are young.”
I scanned the footpath and soon found the ring, lying up against the curb. As she thanked me, for a moment I thought I saw Wirake in her old eyes.
When I arrived home, Lia was standing in our drive and crying because Jack (a kid who lives three houses down our street) had been cheating in a game. I put my arms around her and gave her a hug. As I brushed the tears from her cheeks do you know what? For a moment her sad face looked just like Wirake.
“Don’t worry, kiddo,” I assured her. “I’ll go and sort Jack out.”
I found Jack hiding in the hedge of our neighbour’s place. He had been watching and listening to us. I grabbed him and threatened to thump him. He looked very frightened. I enjoyed that. But then, suddenly, his terrified little face turned into Wirake’s. My mouth fell open. What was going on here?
Instead of thumping him, I squatted down on the footpath with him and tried to explain how much his cheating had hurt Lia. He nodded but did not say much. I let him go. He scurried quickly away.
What was it Josie had said to me when we were at the top of the Big Tree, after I said I felt superior, like God?
She said something like: “You’re weird, Cuz 2. Do you really reckon God is superior, sitting up high in heaven and looking down on us but uninvolved ?”
I think my Best Mate has been answering that question for me.
HOW DOES PRAYER WORK?
My Sunday School teacher is big on prayer. So is my Uncle Chris. They talk as if we should pray a lot every day, because if we do, then remarkable things can happen.
I am not so sure. I usually say my prayers before I go to bed at night. Also during the day, if I’m feeling especially happy, I might think a thank you prayer. Or when I see my friend Ham in trouble, I find myself silently thinking a prayer for him.
That feels natural to me. But I can’t say that my prayers seem to make much difference. No miracles and that sort of stuff. Next time Wirake turns up, I want to ask him how to do it right.
About three years ago, when I was a little kid, the Sunday School teacher said: “ If you really believe in Jesus, you can could ask anything in his name and get it.” I was very impressed; it seemed better than Alladin and his lamp!
Later that week I was hitting a tennis ball against the wall of our garage. A mishit flew over the fence. I searched and searched without luck. Finally I gave up, came back inside our yard and looked for another ball to use. The only one I could find was one that our dog, Sneaker, had bitten a hole in. Useless mutt!
Then I remembered what our Sunday School teacher had said about prayer. Did I believe? Well, yes. I knew God could do anything. So I prayed: “Dear God. I’ve lost my tennis ball. I believe you can do anything. Please help me find the ball In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Again I searched in the long grass. At once I spotted the ball lying under a big thistle. Wow! It worked! Excited by this new power, I went back inside our yard and began belting the ball extra hard. What did it matter if the ball did fly over the fence? Now I could always find it.
Sure enough, a big forehand drive bounced off at an angle and soared over the fence. I was ready for it this time. Quietly I stood with my head bowed, said: “Dear God, I hope you’re listening again. Please help me to find my tennis ball. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
I cockily strode out to collect the ball. It was nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere, but no ball. I never did find it.
What went wrong? Was the first time a real success or just good luck? Was my second effort a failure or just bad luck? Or was God now telling me that faith was not acting carelessly and then expecting him to come to the rescue? How did it work?
I have tried the special words a few more times since then. Once I prayed, and was successful in evading the Abominable Alby. Another time I prayed for my Mum’s headache to stop and it seemed to work. I prayed for Dad to take me to the footy finals; it failed. I asked God for a new bike for my birthday but instead I received some additions for my meccano set. One day I prayed extra hard that old Mr. Smith from next door, would get better from his cancer; but he died the next night.
I reckon proper praying is a hard thing to learn. I tried asking my big sister Lidj. But when I told her about the ball, and the footy finals, she just shook her head and said : “Don’t be a silly little dumbo! Use your brains!” Then a gleam came into her eye and out came a lidjettery:
There is a weird kid in our street
as dorkish as any you’d meet,
when he loses his things
he prays they will grow wings
and fly back home to his feet.
Well, after that, I did not feel like raising the subject with Dad or Mum, and certainly not with my Sunday School teacher.
Recently at church, the Gospel reading included the words: “Whatever you ask in my name I will do it”. What does that stuff really mean? I wish Wirake would pay me a visit and give me an explanation. I reckon he owes me one!”
One afternoon, mucking around with Ham at his place, I told him what Jesus had said, and asked him what he thought Jesus meant.
Ham laughed and said: “I have not thought much about it, Egg. I don’t do much praying. I leave that religious stuff to guys like you. But, if you do want my opinion , perhaps it’s like with parents. Eh?”
“I don’t get it” I answered. “ How is it like parents?”
“Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Eh?” he said, scratching the side of his head, “When you ask parents for things, they say yes, or no, or not now. Right?”
“So, mate, why can’t God be like that when you ask him for things?”
“Heh! You’re not as stupid as you look, Ham!” I said as I knuckled him on the arm muscle. He grabbed me and we wrestled on the lawn until we were both exhausted.
As we lay there looking up at the clouds I said: “Thanks, you are a mate. Yes, or no, or not now. Yea, right! That’s cool. You know, hamhead, sometimes you say things smarter than my Sunday School teacher.”
“You’re welcome, egghead,” he said.
I paused for a minute, then went on: “But I still don’t understand that stuff about asking in the name of Jesus. It’s very complicated. Why doesn’t God make things plain? I’m not a very good Christian, you know, but perhaps I’d be better at prayers if God made things more simple.”
“Like sending you a fax, I suppose?” Ham said with a chuckle. “I dunno, Eggs You see, we’re just kids trying to understand God. Come to think of it, maybe priests and ministers, are really only little kids trying to understand God!”
Now I chuckled.
We were quiet for a bit. Then Ham asked. “Egg, are you going to stop that praying stuff you do?”
“No way,” I answered. I trust God even though I don’t understand him. Maybe that’s more important.”
WHEN I FIRST MET WIRAKE
Usually I do not actually see Wirake; Often I don’t even hear him Nevertheless, I know he is with me just the same. Let me tell you about the time I first met him. I was nine years old, just a little kid.
It was a wintry Saturday. Mum and dad wanted us all to go and visit Aunt Ethelwyn. I definitely did not! I don’t like fussy Ethelwyn who is Dad’s aunt really, not mine! And she does not like me. There was no way I wanted to spend Saturday afternoon with her beady eyes looking down her nose at me.
So I played up; threw a tantrum and refused to get ready. It was quite battle, but for once I won.
“You are not going to let the little creep get away with it?” Lidjet implored Mum and Dad. But maybe I was.
After telling me not to open the door to anyone, or answer the phone, or go down the street by myself; and after making me go through our family fire drill, they prepared to leave. But not before giving me Aunt Ethelwyn’s phone number and telling me they would be back in about two hours.
Dad called back over his shoulder: “As for you, young man, we will think up a suitable punishment for your tantrum. It won’t be pleasant, I assure you.”
Lidj poked her tongue out at me.
At first I felt smart and self important. But after about an hour, aloneness started to bug me. The house felt spooky. I heard every sound as if it was magnified.
Time dragged. Mum and Dad did not arrive home in two hours. I kept looking out the front window. The phone rang a couple of times. I did not answer it, of course.
My watch moved slowly beyond 5.00 p.m. It was getting dark. I was starting to panic.
Picking up the phone I rang Aunt Ethelwyn. She was surprised to hear me, and after rebuking me for not visiting her (I bet she was really glad!) she told me that my family had left her place at about 4.15. Now I was really worried.
I thought I heard a noise that seemed to be coming from the front room. Was it a burglar? I was too scared to go and look. My watch showed 5.30 and now it was practically dark.
I wanted to go to the toilet but was frightened to explore that part of the house.( I was only a little kid then, remember!). I became more and more lonely; jumping at every creaking noise. What had happened to Dad and Mum? What could I do?
I curled up in Dad’s recliner chair. A chorus from Sunday School came into my head. Softly I started to hum, then sing the simple words:
Come in to my heart, come in to my heart,
Come in to my heart ,Lord Jesus,
Come in today, come in to stay,
Come in to my heart, Lord Jesus.
I repeated the song few times. Then as I sang, something remarkable happened. A great Warmth gently flooded through me and filled me. It was awesome! I mean, really, really awesome! Yet it was friendly!
It? I should say He, filled every corner of my body and mind. Without any doubt I knew him. Not a glimpse of him, not a sound of him, but he was more real than the chair, the room, the house, the winter’s darkness. All my fear was drained away.
When Mum and Dad arrived home at 6.30, they found me curled up in the chair, asleep.
Mum was upset, saying that they should never have left me alone. While driving in the rain on their way back from Aunt Ethelwyn’s, a small truck had skidded and crashed into the back of our car. Luckily, no one was badly hurt. But the two vehicles were locked together.
They tried ringing me but of course I did not answer the phone. By the time the police and a tow truck arrived, their statements taken and their car detached from the bumper bar of the truck, it was dark.
Mum hugged me and Dad apologised. Lia hugged me. Even Lidj looked sorry. I lapped up the attention. Mum and Dad agreed that I would not receive the punishment for my earlier tantrums. “You have, Chip my boy, already been punished enough and, I hope, learned your lesson,” said Dad.
“Were you frightened, Chip ?” asked Lia.
“Nope ! Of course not..... well.... yes....I was a bit, Lia”, I admitted. “You would not believe how lonely you can get when you are home by yourself. The roof creaks and the wind whines, windows rattle, the thunder roars and ghosts patter down the passage.” I was warming up to the topic. Might as well impress with my bravery.
“Oo...ooh!” said Lia. “ You’re making me feel scared now!”
“Cut it out little brother” cried Lidj. “You’ve had your sympathy. Don’t give Lia nightmares. Nothing special happened and you know it!
“Maybe you are right. Maybe you are wrong.”
I then sighed, and put on my smug look which says: “I-know-something-you-don’t-know”.
So there you have it. My first meeting with Wirake. No, that’s not correct. I should say it was the first meeting with Wirake where I recognised his presence. Now I realise he has been keeping his eye on me ever since I was born.
Thinking back , one thing strikes me as peculiar: I did not tell anyone about the Warmth. Kids are peculiar creatures, eh? We don’t know how to talk about some of the most important things that happen to us. We just keep it to ourselves.
Mum and Dad did not have a clue about what happened to me that day. I did not tell Ham, not even Cuz 1. I suppose the important thing was that I knew. I’ll never forget it.
JOSIE MEETS ALBY
During the school holidays Josie came to stay at our house for a week.
Being the only kid in her family, she likes being with our mob. Lia thinks Josie is great because she plays games with her and does not get cross like I do. Josie looks up to Lidj as if she were a perfect big sister; Lidj even lets her try on that make-up stuff.
I like Cuz 1 just the way she is. On Tuesday we played tennis. She beat me two sets to one. I promised to give her a walloping next time. She grinned and answered: “In your dreams, Cuz 2. In your dreams.”
Today we rode together down the valley track to the bull ring. For a girl she is okay. I showed her how to do wheelies and she soon got the hang of it. We made a lot of bull dust.
While we were messing around, to my horror I saw Abominable Alby and three of his thugs coming down the track. I said to Josie: “Hey, lets get out of here! This guy is big trouble.”
“Why should we?” Josie retorted. “I’m not going anywhere. We have as much right as they have to be here.” She raced her bike around the bull ring and did a whopping wheelie.”
“Well, well well,” said Alby as he pulled up beside me. “What have we here? The Chicken Egg with a girlfriend. However did a little runt like you manage to con a chick?”
I swallowed hard, and tried to sound tough: “Why don’t you go and get lost. Anyway, she may be a girl and she is my friend, but she is not my girlfriend. And it’s none of your business!”
As a reply, Alby gave me a shove and sent me and my bike crashing to the ground. The creep! He had humiliated me again, this time in front of my favourite cousin. “Like eating dust do we, Chicken Egg?” he mocked.
Josie pedalled across as fast as she could come. She leapt off her bike strode up to Alby and, with hands on her hips, confronted him. “Lay off fathead! You touch my cousin again and you’ll regret it, buster!”
Josie is skinny but tall. Her face was level with his.
Alby just stood there, mouth open , not knowing what to do about this unfamiliar situation.
Then Cuz 1 stepped closer, lifted her hand and with one finger pushed the Abominable One hard on the nose. He took a quick step backwards as she went on: “Why don’t you go and play with some dung beetles, or perhaps lie down on some thistles, or maybe have a nice drink of poison?”
The bully just stood there, with his thugs looking on, dumbfounded. Alby had never been treated like this before.
“Anyway,” Josie said, “What’s up with you? What’s biting you that you have to be such a creep! You know, Buster, I reckon it’s a shame that you make such an ass of yourself. You could do a lot better.”
Josie was not finished with her surprise tactics. She reached out and ran fingers through Alby’s hair. “A pity, you’ve actually got nice wavy hair, Buster. Nice blue eyes, too. You know, you could make something of yourself, if you wanted to.”
This was too much for Alby. There, in front of his thugs, he blushed a vivid red. It started in his neck and rushed right up into his hair.
His gang nudged each other, smirking.
“Come on, Cuz 2,” Josie said. “Let’s get going. I would like some less smelly company.” She rode off up the valley track, with me following, still amazed at what I had witnessed.
When we arrived at our backyard, and were putting our bikes in the shed, I said: “Cuz 1. Did you know the risk you were taking? That scumbag is really bad news. And besides, I felt a fool being defended by a girl, you know.”
“Sorry, Cuz 2, I did not think of that. But why should you feel a fool? Girls are as strong as boys, in a different way though. Besides,” she said with a giggle, “I was bit naughty, I guess. I was hoping that a bully would not hit a girl. If you had tried what I did, you might now be wearing two black eyes.”
That evening, while I was in the bathroom, cleaning my teeth, I went over the details of the day. From somewhere (from within me or outside me, I’m not sure) a familiar voice said: “An interesting day, eh? “
“Oh, it’s you again, is it Wirake? Yep. An interesting day. I still feel a bit of a fool though, being protected by a girl.”
“Well, it’s time you knew better,” he said. “Girls have as much right to protect boys from harm as boys have to protect girls. You are different but equal, okay? I hope you are not going to spend your life imagining that males are somehow superior to females!
That is not the way it is. Together, I say together, you are made in the likeness of God. Why don’t you take the Bible seriously, Chip.”
On the following Sunday, in the second Bible reading, that bloke Paul said: “In Christ Jesus there is there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free-man, male and female. We are all like one person in Christ Jesus.”
I pricked up my ears and grinned.
Lia dug me in the ribs and whispered: “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” I whispered. “Just sort of happy, that’s all.”
SORTING THINGS OUT
It had been a bad day.
I lost my tuck shop money on the way to school. Later, my name went into the Principal’s black book for throwing stones in the school yard. At lunch time, the Abominable Alby pushed me around in front of his gang. After school, I was kicking my football in our backyard but the stupid thing went flat. Then, just as Dad arrived home I got into trouble for teasing Lia (It wasn’t my fault; she started it!)
Following dinner, I had a loud argument with Lidj as to whether the eldest kid in a family was usually spoilt. I called her Daddy’s pet puppet. She called me dumbo-brother. Mum asked us to cool it. We took no notice, arguing louder and louder. Mum gave a big sigh.
I don’t know why I argue with Lidj. She usually wins by wearing me down. This time she finished me off with a typical lidjettery which shut me up and put a smirk on mum’s face.
Second kids get an easy run,
lots less discipline, much more fun.
Pity the first who must go through it,
they teach their parents how to do it.
I was glad the day was coming to an end. At about 8.30 p.m., when I was yawning and pulling on my pj’s, suddenly Wirake was with me, sitting on my bed and grinning.
“What’s up, Doc?” he said with an American accent. “You look as if you have lost ten dollars and found five cents! Lighten up, things can’t be that bad.”
I ignored his nonsense and got straight to the point. “It’s about time you showed up! Where have you been hiding? I’ve heaps to ask you about some very important matters. What’s more, I could do with a bit of sympathy some days, especially today. But you have left me alone, as if I had measles or something. It’s been weeks! Why didn’t you come and help me through all the times when I needed you?”
Wirake stopped smiling. Firmly he said “ Maybe I did come to you, Chip. but you did not recognise me. Maybe I spoke and you did not notice it was me, gave you a prod yet you ignored me. Perhaps I asked for your help but you turned your back on me, I begged for some friendship yet you shut me out of your cosy circle of friends.”
“It sure did not feel like you were with me,” I retorted. “When did I refuse to help you, or shut you out of my circle of friends? When did you speak but I did not realise it was you? The only person who seems to have been close to me lately has been my mate Ham, and he’s not even a keen Christian. Oh, and Cuz 1 of course. She stands up for me. But where oh where have you been?”
“Hold on! Too many questions all at once, Chip. I have a few things I like to bring to your notice. For starters, do you remember last Saturday morning when Lia was wanting some help with her reading, but you pushed her aside and said you were too busy?”
I thought about it. “No. I can’t remember that. Aren’t you getting me mixed with someone else?
“Not at all”, he replied. “And Lia is not the only one you rejected. Remember that new Asian boy named Tan, who started at your school last week, and how he sat near you and your friends at lunch time, but you did not even give him so much as a smile? I was there. It was me you excluded.”
“Chip,” he went on, “don’t you realise that you should look for me in everyone, including strangers and even your enemies? I have been with you Chip, meeting you through lots of people, but you have not been with me.”
“Do you really mean that stuff?” I asked “How can you expect me to keep an eye out for everyone? There are too many people! Too many needs! I’m only one kid!”
Wirake looked sternly at me: “I’m not asking you to take care of everyone, Chip. I just ask you to be ready to meet me in the few people you do meet. And that includes your own sisters! That’s not too hard is it?”
“S’pose not,” I admitted reluctantly. “I hope someone also keeps a lookout for you in me!”
He smiled. “Some will. Some won’t. Your cousin Josie will. Also Tan, that lonely new Asian kid, he will if you allow him. As it happens, Tan is a Christian like you are. He loves me a lot.”
I began to feel ashamed. “Sorry Wirake. I do get a extremely selfish, don’t I?”
“Some love of one’s self goes with being a healthy human being, Chip. A little selfishness is good. You must look after yourself. But it’s when self interest gets out of hand that the trouble begins. Love your neighbour as you love yourself. Open your eyes. Others needs loving too.” Wirake urged.
“You’ve made you point,” I admitted.
“Never forget, Chip, that I love others, even the Abominable Alby, just as much as I love you. But loving them does not lessen the amount of love I have for you. I love you and will forever. If you care about others, you will recognise me in them. Through them I will both give you love and ask for your love. Do you understand this?”
“Yea, I think so, sort of,” I said. A weird thought struck me: “Will you even speak to me from the Abominable Alby” I asked mischievously?
“Maybe I will” he answered. “ If I do, will you be ready to hear me?”
That was the end of it. He was gone in the blinking of an eye. Later, while lying awake in bed, I realised that I had forgotten to ask him about what praying in his name meant. Then, like a brief flash of light, the thought came into my head: Maybe we had been talking about prayers in his name, in an odd kind of way.
TELL IT AS IT IS
He is a nice guy, this new kid Tan.
Recently, Ham and I have made sure we included him in our bunch of friends at school. Tan is quiet, his English is not perfect, but he’s okay. He has a great smile and a good sense of humour. I reckon you must need a good sense of humour to be an Asian migrant.
Not all the boys in our mob welcomed Tan.
Terry said: “Listen guys, I am not going to be friends with slant-eyed slags who had come to take jobs away from my Dad.”
Mike joined in, swearing. “It’s not on fellas! My dad’s unemployed too. You must bloody well decide whether you wanted want us as mates, or this yellow wog!”
The rest of us felt awkward. But we were not going to let them bully us into rejecting Tan. Although we did not do anything as proper as taking a vote, the rest of us stood by Tan. So our mob lost two members and gained one; a very special one.
Tan and his family had a terrible time before they escaped to Australia. Because he was not a Communist but a Christian, his father was put out of his job as a pharmacist and was even spat on in the streets. After that, the whole family was picked on. His older brother was taken away and beaten to death. Also a close friend disappeared.
The family escaped on a old boat and were found by the Australian Navy off the coast near Darwin. They were lucky. At that stage, all their food was gone and nearly all of their water, and the boat was leaking badly. “The Lord”, Tan said, “was look after us.”
That’s one of the unexpected things about Tan: He speaks of his faith the same way as we talk about footy or tennis. He does not keep God out of the conversation.
I do not often talk about my faith in places like school. I don’t like the thought of being laughed or called goody-goody. I suppose you could say I keep my religion private.
Uncle Chris (you know, Josie’s dad) with aunt Kate and Josie came to our place for dinner last evening.
Aunt Kate asked me: “How’s school going, Chip?
“Not bad,” I answered. “We have a new kid called Tan. He’s a refugee from Asia. He’s a Christian and went through big trouble before escaping to Australia.”
“Tell us more,” said my aunt.
I told them what an cool guy he was, what his family had suffered, and how some of the kids were against him because he was from Asia.
Josie said : “Yuk! Megayuk! Those creeps!”
Uncle Chris raised his voice and bellowed: “Yep! That’s really foul! If there is one thing that makes me intolerant, it’s the intolerance of other people! I feel like zapping them!”
He stopped, apologised for his outburst, and then said: “I know I should not feel that way but I do! They suck me into copying their intolerant ways. Then I am ashamed of myself. Ugh!”
“Welcome to the human race, Dad!” said Josie.
Because we knew exactly what he meant about being sucked in, we laughed at Uncle Chris’s frustration.
I added: “Ya’ know, one of the strange things about Tan is that he talks openly about being a Christian; right there in the school yard.”
“What’s so strange about that?”, asked uncle Chris. “It seems perfectly normal from where I am sitting.”
“O come off it, Dad” interjected Josie. “I know you are ancient (she wrinkled her eyes at him) but not so old that you have forgotten what it is like to be a kid at school. It’s not normal to go blabbing about your religion in the schoolyard. It’s a private kind of thing, isn’t it? Between you and the Lord.?”
“No way! Not at all, possum!” exclaimed Uncle Chris. “We are meant to talk about our faith. We call it witnessing to the Lord. I wish there were more people like Tan! Jesus told us to let our light shine in front of others so that they may see the good things we do and start praising God?”
Aunt Kate, with a cheeky glint in her eye, chimed in: “But didn’t Jesus also say we were not to throw our pearls in front of pigs, where the pigs will trample on them? Chris, surely just as pigs will eat junk but trample on pearls, kids can trample on the pearl-faith of kids like Chip or Josie.”
Lidj produced a lidjettery in agreement with aunt Kate:
Pigs and kids are much the same
in a pig pen or in a game,
give them pearls and they will trample
on them for a junk-food sample.
Snorting, stomping up and down
they would make an angel frown..
Before uncle Chris could respond, Mum called us to the dinner table and this conversation ended.
The next day, as I was walking home from Hamish’s house, Wirake appeared at my side. He was wearing a business suit and carrying a brief case.
“Hi Wirake! Where did you spring from?,” I greeted him.
He grinned his infectious grin: “Hiya Chip! I thought you might like someone to talk to. How’s school and my friend Tan? Not getting into too much trouble with the unbelieving kids, I hope.”
“No. He’s fine with most of us. They seem to listen to religious talk from him. I‘m not sure why. Maybe it’s because Tam speaks so naturally about you, Wirake, that it does not sound religious. It makes me wonder whether I’ve been keeping too quiet about my faith.”
Wirake was silent for a dozen steps, then said: “Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. Tell me Chip, are you ashamed of me?”
“No way!” I protested. “At least, I don’t think so. Well, perhaps just a little bit. No, that’s not true either! I’m not ashamed of you. It’s more that I’m timid, unsure of myself. I wish I could speak about you as easily as Tan does. He does not make a big deal of it. His faith just comes out, cheerful and simple.”
“Hang in there, Chip.,” he replied. “Learn all you can from Tan. He is good for guys like you. The main thing is, be true to me. Don’t try to artificially drag my name into a conversation. But, get this Chip, never leave me out when something needs to be said. There is no such thing as private Christianity. And remember , I’ll always be there for you.”
With that, Wirake then stopped walking, faced me, lightly touched my lips with his fingers and vanished.
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES?
Lia is really a cute little kid. I know I tease her and squabble with her, yet I’m proud of her and love her very much. At school she is in grade 2.
On Wednesday, at lunch time, I noticed her sitting alone on a bench crying. I ran to her to see what was wrong. Between sobs she told me that a grade 4 boy named Harry Simpkins had taken her lunch. It seems he is a bully who often takes the lunch off little kids.
I was angry. No one bullies my little sister and gets away with it. I went looking for Harry Simpkins and found him, in the far corner of the school ground, finishing off a banana, the last of Lia’s lunch.
“You little ape!” I hissed. “Grabbing the lunch of little kids is a rotten thing to do; why don’t you pick on someone your own size!. I hope you enjoyed my little sister’s food because you’re not going to enjoy your next meal. With that, I punched him three times in the belly, hard as I could. Quickly, before he could get enough breath to start yelling, I slipped away to the opposite side of the school ground.
In class, about half an hour after lunch time, a message came for me to go to the office of the Principal. Now it was my turn to feel sick in the belly. Some kid had dobbed me in! Now I was in big trouble. My feet felt like heavy stone as I dragged myself to the office, knocked, and went in.
“Ah. Chip Berry,” she said. “I want a word with you, young man. I’ve heard something about you which surprised me.”
My stomach churned even more. What will she do to me? What will Dad and Mum say when they find out ?
“Chip, I hear that you are hiding something. Now that is not very clever, is it? It seems, according to your minister with whom I had dinner last evening, that you have an beautiful singing voice. Why have you hidden your talent? Why haven’t you been a member of our school choir? Well I want you to audition for a solo part in our next concert. What do you say?”
I was stunned! I was so relieved not to be in big trouble that I immediately agreed to join the choir. The Principal smiled and said: “Good lad. We can’t have you hiding your light under a bushel, can we?”
What did hiding light under a bushel mean? I did not have a clue. I managed a watery smile and said “ No, Mrs Macalister, I suppose not.” My feet felt much lighter as I fled back to my classroom.
There would be some explaining to do at home. You see, at the beginning of the school year, Dad and Mum suggested I should not join the school choir. I was already in the church choir , with a practice every Thursday evening. On Tuesday night I went to scouts, while on Friday evenings there was the church junior youth fellowship. My parents reckoned that I was busy enough without being in the school choir.
Mum and Dad were surprised. However, when I explained it was only six weeks until the concert, and after that nothing until nearly Christmas, they reluctantly agreed. As Mum said, “We had no idea you were so keen, Chip. We did not want to deprive you, but only to protect you from overwork.” Dad nodded.
So, I had got away with punching Harry Simpkins in his fat belly. It had cost me some choir rehearsals, and I would have to sing a solo, but that was not too bad, I suppose.
That evening, after I finished my homework, I opened my Bible and my eye fell on the words: If your enemy strikes you, turn the other cheek. The next moment Wirake emerged up out of the Bible like genie from a bottle. I gulped.
“Not so smart, Chip. Not so clever at all. Bashing Harry Simpkins did not solve a thing. Except that he won’t touch Lia’s lunch again while you are at that school. But what about other little kids, and what will he do next year when you attend the Secondary College?”
“What do you mean?” I answered. “ I taught him a lesson, didn’t I!”
“Yes, the wrong lesson. All you have done is to encourage his bullying ways. You told him to pick on some one his own size, right? Well you are much bigger than he, yet you thumped him. You taught him, sure, by your actions. Violence breeds violence. You, Chip, are a poorer person because of what you did today”
I felt ashamed, yet puzzled at the same time. “But Wirake, I had to stand up for Lia. You can’t let Harry Simpkins get away with it. To do nothing would be just as wrong as thumping him! I know you taught your disciples to forgive enemies and turn the other cheek, but that’s hard enough if it’s my lunch being stolen, but when it’s my little sister’s? I just had to do something!”
“ I agree, Chip, you should have done something; something more helpful than you did. You could have shown more courage than it took to thump Harry. You could have gone to see Lia’s teacher; letting him know what Harry had been doing to her and other little kids. That teacher could take it up with Harry’s teacher and work out the best way of dealing with the problem. They have much more wisdom than you, Chip.”
“But that would be dobbing to a teacher,” I objected. “You can’t do that. The other kids would call me a rat.”
“Tough. There are times when doing the right thing is unpopular, Chip,” Wirake urged. “I know it takes guts. Nevertheless, if you really care about others, you have to risk your own feelings in order to get wrongs put right.”
“I’ve never promised that doing the right thing will be easy, Chip, but that I will always be with you. Okay?”
With a grin, he seemed to shrink, and disappeared back into the pages of my Bible. Whew!
How often has he been in there but I did not see him?
A TIME TO DANCE
Our family is big on dancing. We don’t dance that often, but when we do we are full on. We get together with our big mob of relatives and friends and go for it! Grandad Fred and Grandma Rita love it. You should see Grandad when he gets going! He seems to find more energy than the rest of us put together.
When I say dancing, I don’t mean ballroom dancing, or the mushy stuff that is done in nightclubs, not even that fancy, classical dancing like Swan Lake. It’s more a folk dance. You know how Australian Greeks, or Australian Irish, like to perform their cultural dances? Well, my old country has its cultural dances too.
I have been dancing ever since I could walk. It’s great fun. Our dancing usually tells a story. These stories go back in history, a long way.
We dress up of course. Dressing up helps us get into the mood. I reckon I’m really handsome when dressed for dancing.
Only twice have I danced at church. At Pentecost last year, when there were lots of families with kids present. Our minister, Pastor Paul, preached about young people having visions and old folk having dreams. In the next song we danced a conga, up and down the aisles. It was great!
A few people did not join in. Half a dozen teenagers and about ten adults stayed in the pews. Pastor Paul said it did not matter if people would rather stay seated and meditate. Some people feel awkward about dancing in church.. That’s okay. We don’t have to all be the same.
For me it was cool. When I move my body, I feel more involved. Jesus said we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Well, I like loving God with my strength. In a dance, I can put all my strength into praising God.
I joined in another dance at Easter. I like Easter. There is so much happiness at church as we exchange the ancient greeting: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
This year we visited Uncle Chris’ church. I sat with Josie. Uncle Chris preached excitedly about the doors which cannot keep Jesus out. Then we sang my favourite hymn:
I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black;
it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone;
but I am the dance and I still go on.
They cut me down and I leapt up high.
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me:
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
In the middle of this song a dance started. It was not planned by Uncle Chris. It just happened. Away we went, up and down the aisles, overflowing with happiness. Josie and I had lots of fun.
Then my uncle called out: “We have no right to keep this shut inside our church!” He led the dance out the doors and around the building a couple of times.
At this stage the woman who was dancing in front of me turned around and grinned. It was Wirake again, sharing in his own resurrection dance as a woman. I was surprised! By now, I should not be surprised at anything he does. But I was. A woman this time! Bingo! Can he/she dance! Every part of her/his body was caught up in the rhythm. This was life! Real life!
I moved closer to her and whispered: “I did not know you belonged to this church.”
She half turned her head and answered: “ Why not? This church is my favourite. It has a special place in my affection. Dance my dance, Chip. Dance, wherever you may be!”
By the time the dance was ended and we were back inside the building, Josie said to me. “What were you saying to Mrs Arrowsmith, Cuz 2 ? You looked as if you knew her.”
“Who is.... Oh yea, Mrs Arrowsmith. Yea. You could say I know her a bit. We have met... er.... elsewhere. Did you... er....er... think she looked a bit odd today?”
“Nope,” replied Josie. “Just the same nice old Mrs Arrowmsith, as far as I could see. But I did not realise she could move like that. Wow! Not bad for an old wrinkly.”
Afterwards, I wondered what Wirake meant when he said that church was his favourite? Does that mean uncle Chris’ church is nicer than the others? Or better at praying, serving or something?
About a month after Easter, our family and friends were together for a barbecue. We danced some of our cultural stuff. In the middle of a dance I realised that the bloke in front of me was remarkably like Wirake. “Is that you again?” I asked out of the corner of my mouth.
“You’ve got it, Chip old son.”
“You really do turn up at odd times. Why with our mob, today? You are not one of us? This dance is not your story?”
“Ah!” he answered. “I am one of your mob; this is my dance. I always have been; always will be one of you. Your mob is my favourite.”
There was that word again: favourite. Struggling for breath from the exercise of the dance, I gasped: “Hang on a minute, Wirake. At Easter you told me that uncle Chris’ church was your favourite. Now you reckon my ethnic group is your favourite? “
What about all the other sections of Christianity, like Tan’s church or or the one Ham’s mum goes to? And how about the other ethnic groups: the Greeks, Scots, Maoris, Turks, Vietnamese, Tongans, Croatians, Irish and...... lots, lots more? How can you have favourites?”
“Why not? I am a Tongan; always have been; always will be. I am Greek; always have been; always will be. Everyone is my favourite. Each ethnic group, each denomination of the church, each individual; they all have a unique place in my love and purpose.”
I was panting by now but managed to whisper: “ You can’t call them all favourites. That makes nonsense of the word favourite”
He danced without any sign of breathlessness. It’s annoying how he can do things like that! He said: “It’s a matter of the size of one’s love, Chip. If love is big enough, there is no problem with having so many favourites.”
“Then you must love with a width and depth I cannot even imagine?” I gasped.
I glanced into his eyes as we danced on. They were dark and deep; bottomless wells of love. There was no doubt about it; I was his favourite too.
WHY ME ?
“Please Miss,” said the Abominable Alby to our teacher, “There’s a bad smell in this room and I’d like to get rid of it!”
Miss Travers looked across the room at him, startled: “Bad smell, Alby?” She sniffed. “I can’t smell anything? What is it, do you think?”
Alby pulled a face as if the stink was foul: “Ugh! It’s called Chip and it is always getting all its maths right.”
Most of the kids broke into laughter. I blushed. Why me? Why does that bully always pick on me and try to make me look silly?
All this happened after the results of a special maths test for all senior pupils at Tower Hill Primary. According to our principal, when speaking at assembly, “Chip Berry did exceptionally well.”
One of the things I am learning about life is that when you do well at things (other than sport) other kids will not like you for it. There is a girl at school called Sandra who is great on the keyboard. But some of the kids are always muttering nasty things about her. And I am good at maths, that’s why the other kids enjoyed Alby calling me a bad smell.
Miss Travers was not so impressed: “Alby Wellings! That was a crude and cruel thing to say. The rest of you were stupid to laugh at his poor taste in humour. I am inclined to give the whole class a detention.”
This really put panic into my stomach. If they were all given a detention, then I would really be hated by everyone. They would not blame Alby but me! Fortunately she did not fulfil this threat.
“ However, that would be unfair. As for you, Alby Wellings, I will make the punishment to fit the crime. You will come with me at lunch time while I supervise you in finding and picking up every smelly thing which is in the school grounds.” A smart move Miss! Now the kids laughed at Alby.
But why me? Why does Alby pick on me? I don’t understand.
To be honest, there are also good things I don’t understand.. You see, I don’t understand why I hear and see Wirake. Why me?
Is it because I am some sort of religious freak? Or perhaps I have more faith than others? Or a more correct belief? Or am I better at prayers? Or far more intelligent? Or because I have read the Bible more than most kids of my age? Why me?
Anyway, getting back to the Abominable Alby. I was going to talk to Lidj about Alby’s bullying. But when I got home and headed for the fridge, bread, peanut butter and biscuit barrel, she aimed a lidjettery in my direction:
Boys are full of hungry woes,
their stomachs stretch down to their toes.
The kitchen is their favourite place
their mouth a trash bin on their face.
After that, I lost my enthusiasm for talking to Lidj about my troubles.
Late Friday afternoon, I was sitting on a log in the bush beside the valley track, doodling with a stick in the sand. A jogger came up the track, running as if there were no hills at all. It just had to be him again. “Hi Wirake!” I called out.
He paused, turned and came across to me through the scrub to sit beside me on the log.
“G’day, young Chip!” he said, slapping me on the back. “How are things with you, eh?”
I continued doodling in the sand, taking my time before I answered. “I want to ask you about two odd things. First, why is it that I sometimes hear you and see you but other kids don’t seem to? Secondly, why does the Abominable Alby always pick on me? Am I a weirdo, or a superior being or something? Why me?”
He laughed. “Not at all, Chip! Believe me, you are not weird and certainly not superior.”
“Look,” he continued, “let me tell you about a friend of mine who lived in Italy long ago. He was a rich and selfish playboy named Francis. Then one day he saw me as a diseased beggar. He embraced me and I changed his life. Francis became a poor monk and a lover of all creatures.. Francis was soon very, very famous in Italy.”
“Sounds a nice guy,” I commented.
“Yes, he was. But there was another monk who was extra clever , good at studies, worked hard, prayed a lot, and who tried hard to be an important person for God. But he was not loved and famous like Francis. This man was both puzzled and jealous. He tackled Francis and said: “Why you, Francis? Why you?”
“A fair question I reckon,” I said.
“Then listen to the reply which Francis made. He thought about the question for a while, sighed and then answered: “I suppose because God could not find anyone more disgusting than I am.”
“Oh, come off it,” I retorted. “He was trying to be funny, right? Or maybe just putting himself down to appear humble; right?”
“Wrong! Francis was fair dinkum”. Wirake put his hand on my shoulder and said: “You see, Francis clearly understood that he was not in any way better, holier, or wiser. God chose him because God decided to choose him; no other reason. The reason was in God, not in Francis. The glory that shone through the life of ordinary Francis was God’s glory.”
“That’s a big, slippery thought for me to try and wrap my mind around,” I said. “Are you trying to tell me that the reason I sometimes hear you and see you is nothing to do with me; it’s just the way God wants it? God just chooses to work in different ways with different people?”
“Then, the question why me is the wrong question, eh? God is, God loves, God chooses. I am what I am only because somewhere in the maxi-enormous-gigantic mind of God it seems best this way. I’m neither a freak nor a better Christian than others?”
“You’ve got it, Chip,” Wirake said.
I put my second question: “What about Alby picking on me. Why me?”
He put his arm around my shoulders. “Ah now, that is a bit complicated. You see, in spite of his swagger, Alby does not like himself very much. He is jealous of you; because you are good at maths and things, and you have nice friends. He is not very clever and only a few tough kids want to be his friends.”
“He also knows you go to church . His parents never even had him baptised. One day he went to church by himself. He felt an idiot because he did not know when to stand or sit, and so on. When the congregation were asked to ‘pass the peace,’ he held up two fingers like a peace-marcher. Some girls giggled at him. He felt embarrassed. So he hates church people.”
Without another word, Wirake stood up and went off up the valley track. I sat for a while, thinking. Do you know what? I almost felt sorry for Alby?
WHO IS JESUS?
How can Jesus be both God and yet a human guy? Tell me that! How can he? It’s a question which often tangles in my head.
I have prayed to Jesus ever since I was a little kid. But I can’t understand it all. Until recently I never thought much about it. Now I think about it a lot.
Once at school, during religious instruction, I asked the teacher about Jesus praying: “If Jesus was God, when he prayed did that mean he was just talking to himself?”
Some of the kids giggled at my question. The RI teacher evidently thought I was just trying to be clever.. He looked down his nose at me for a moment, then retorted: “ Chip, if you want to be a comedian, practice at home in front of the mirror, not in my class. Your audience of one might be impressed with your wit. I’m not.” The kids giggled again, and the teacher looked pleased with himself.
I blushed and shut up. As I told you earlier, I’m a bit shy. It is not easy for me to speak up in the classroom, especially with a visiting teacher like the RI bloke.
Later, I tried praying to Jesus, asking him to give me an explanation. It did not work. He was very quiet. Only the noise of own muddled thoughts rattled around in my head.
Last Saturday afternoon, Dad took me fishing. Fishing with Dad is special. We don’t always catch a fish. Just to be there by the water alone with him, is a good feeling. We brag together about the big fish we expect to catch, moan about the whopper that got away. We have time to chat about sport, school and even what Dad did when he was a kid.
This day, after a long time with no bites, I raised with Dad the puzzle of how Jesus could be God yet a regular guy. He did not laugh at me when I asked whether Jesus was praying to himself.
“Chip,” he replied, “I have often tried to sort that one out, without much success. It might cheer you up to know that for two thousand years some of the cleverest brains in the church have argued about it without coming up with a perfect answer. Whenever some scholar thought he had the right answer, the others said he had made a mistake and was a heretic.”
“What’s that,” I asked as I cast my line in a fresh direction. “What’s a heratac?”
“Not a heretac”, Chip, “ a heretic. A heretic is a person who has wandered too far away from what the first Apostles believed and the New Testament teaches. In the olden days they used to ban heretics from Holy Communion. Sometimes, they even put them in prison or burnt them at the stake. But I reckon when men did awful things like that, they themselves were so far away from the love of God that they had become bigger heretics than the people they were punishing.”
“Yea, gotcha! I’m glad I live these days, not then! Dad, how do you, yourself, sort out the puzzle? How can Jesus be both God and a bloke? You must have some ideas.”
Dad wound in his line, replaced the bait, and cast again before answering me. “ Look Chip, I’m neither a minister nor a scholar. Whenever I try to think deep thoughts about Christ, I almost certainly slip into being a heretic myself. However, I’ll pass on to you something I found helpful when I was a young man. Hey! A bite!”
For a few minutes there was excitement as Dad hauled in a fish. Anticlimax. It was a toady. “Hard luck, Dad,” I laughed.
“You can’t win them all” said Dad. “I reckon that’s a bit like trying to fish for words with which to understand Jesus. You throw in a big bait and come up with a toady,” he chuckled. “Anyway, as I was saying before this toady interrupted me: You know how occasionally you may do something especially good or kind? You even surprise yourself? Then when a person thanks you, then you feel a bit embarrassed because you think: It was not me that did the good deed but God in me.. Right Chip ?”
I nodded: “Uh huh.”
“Well, what if you were always completely, every minute of the day and night, utterly like that; so full of God that you could say all the time it was not me but God in me. You would still be Chip, yet you would be enormously more than Chip. Jesus was better even than that. From his birth he was brim-full of God. There was not the tiniest cranny in his heart and mind and soul that was not filled with God. He was still a guy but also, like we sing at Christmas, “True God of true God.”
Watching the lap of the waves and the slight bobbing of my rod, I had a long think about what Dad said. Jesus was like a cup full and overflowing with God. “ I’ll have to think that one through, Dad. Thanks. Maybe it gives my brain a new way of trying to understand Jesus.” Then I chuckled: “I hope this explanation of yours does not turn out to be just a toady!”
Dad laughed. “Hey! Would I sell you a toady? Maybe my idea is only a tiddler, Chip, but it might make a tiny meal to get you going. Okay?”
That night, as I was dozing off to sleep, I think I heard Wirake softly say: “Keep fishing, Chip. Your hook won’t hold all you catch, but keep fishing.”
AM I A HYPOCRITE?
It really hurts when people say nasty things about us, don’t you reckon? If they call me names, I try to either laugh at them or pretend I did not hear. However, inside me it hurts real badly, like a stomach ache.
The worst of all is when people whom I like say hurtful things. You know? It’s bad enough if the Abominable Alby has a go at me, but it’s much worse if Lidj does it. It upsets me if my teacher criticises, but even more if Mum and Dad criticise me. It seems to me that the more you love people the more they can hurt you. Maybe that is the big risk you take when you love others, don’t you think?
A couple of days ago my best friend Ham and I had a row. We were playing hand tennis. He had beaten me in the first game but in the second I beat him and made the score one all. At the final point in the third game one of his shots just touched the outside edge of the line. I called it out. That gave me the game.
Ham was furious: ”You’re a cheat, Chip! You know it was in! You’re just a bad looser; a rotten, dirty, cheat!”
“Hold on! Are you accusing me of lying!” I protested.
I offered to play the point again. Ham shouted that he had already won the point and was not going to play it again.
He grabbed the ball and stalked away. Suddenly he stopped, turned and yelled: “Cheat! You go to church and reckon you are a Christian? You’re not a Christian, you’re what Jesus called a hypocrite! Do’ya hear me, Chip! You’re a hypocrite!”
That really hurt. I felt I was a hypocrite for sure. How could I be anything else? Claiming to love God and then cheating on my best friend? That was a really gross thing to do. I felt awful.
I walked slowly home from school by myself that day. Ham had ignored me and went to the corner shop with Damian Smithers. I did not feel hungry when I got home, which made Mum raise her eyebrows.
Then, at dinner time, I pushed my food around the plate and did not eat much. This caused Dad to ask whether I had filled up with lollies or chips after school.
Lidj looked at me wisely. She can be smart and kind, as well as being sharp and mean sometimes. After the meal she surprised me by giving me a hug. As she did so she offered me a kind lidjettery:
My little brother needs a cuddle,
he’s feeling hurt, thoughts in a muddle.
He looks sad, like a lost red setter,
I’d like to make him feel much better
In my room I sat at my desk and tried to do my homework. I fiddled and squirmed but could not concentrate. The door opened and Mum said; “Can I come in?” I replied with a sigh: “I suppose so”.
She sat down behind me on the bed and asked: “What’s wrong Chip? Your Mum knows when something is up. Lidj saw it too.”
She sat and waited. My Mum can be very patient at times, as if she understands how hard it can be to find the right words. I drummed my fingers on a pencil case. Mum still waited.
Suddenly I blurted out: “Mum, am I a hypocrite ?”
Very gently she replied: “That all depends, Chip”.
“Depends on what, Mum?”
“ It depends whether you are or not. You see, only you can really know. It’s a matter of whether you are fair dinkum deep in your heart. Do you know what the word hypocrite really means?”
“Well , yea,” I answered. “I think so. A hypocrite is a person who reckons he loves God and goes to church and all that, but does bad things. A hypocrite is a cheat, a bad Christian!”
Mum came over and put her hand on my shoulder, just like Wirake does. “Chip, you are wrong about the word hypocrite. We all do bad things sometimes. Your Dad and I, ministers and priests, even the saints. But that does not makes us all hypocrites.”
“Well what does?” I asked
“Look, Chip. The word hypocrite means an actor; a person who plays a part on the stage. In his heart the actor is not really that person in the play. If you, my dear son, are only playing at being a Christian, without your heart being in it, then you are a hypocrite. But if your heart is in it, though you may still do some bad things of which you are ashamed, then you are not a hypocrite.
A big black cloud seemed to float away off my head. “I think I’m fair dinkum, Mum. Sometimes I’m stupid, unkind, selfish, but maybe I’m not a hypocrite. You know, I do really love God, Mum.”
“Good. Now would you like to talk about anything else that has been bugging you?” she asked.
“Not really” I mumbled. “I think I can sort things out from here”.
Mum gave my shoulder an extra squeeze, bent down and planted a kiss: “That’s my boy” she said, and quietly left my room.
Later, when I was cleaning my teeth in the bathroom, Wirake appeared beside my face in the mirror. I looked around, but he was not there. I looked back at the mirror and he was there. “How do you do that?” I exclaimed.
“My secret” he said with a grin “Well, Chip, did I sort out the meaning of hypocrite for you?”
“No, you did not!” I retorted. “You did nothing. Just stayed away and left me stew. My Mum was my saviour this evening. Not you.”
Wirake put his hand on my shoulder. “You are wrong Chip. I did help you.” He gave my shoulder an extra squeeze, just like Mum.
“Tomorrow you must go and apologise to Hamish,” he continued. “Make things right with him. Then the healing of forgiveness can take place. And always remember this: you are not a Christian through being good but by trusting my saving love for you. Okay?”
Next day I plucked up courage and apologised to Ham. He looked relieved and said he was sorry for calling me a hypocrite. We are good friends again.
I then told God I was sorry for being such a dork. It worked. I feel extra okay, as if I’ve been standing in a warm shower with the love of God washing over me.
DRIVING BETWEEN THE
Last Saturday I went with Josie and uncle Chris to the footy. For a girl, Cuz1 really knows a lot about football. For a priest, uncle Chris has a lot of loud advice for the umpire. It was fun. I then stayed overnight with them
After dinner, uncle Chris went to his study to go over his sermon and stuff. Aunt Kate, Josie and I played monopoly. At the end of a very long contest, Cuz 1 cleaned us up.
I did not like being beaten (who does?) but I forced a smile and congratulated Josie. “Good win, Cuz 1, you wiped us off the board. But watch out next time! I’ll get you, but!”
Josie gave me a dig in the ribs: “ Oh yea? You’ve no chance. Why don’t you face it, Cuz 2, you are out of your league!”
Next morning I went with them to church. On the left hand side of their church, up near the front, the Apostles Creed is written on the wall in old fashioned letters. On the right hand side (in smaller letters to fit all the words in) the Ten Commandments are inscribed. When the sermon became a bit long, I read the Commandments again and tried to work them out. I wonder why they are so important?
Then I noticed him; Wirake that is. He was in the choir, robed and all, sitting near the Commandments. He caught my eye, turned and looked at the 10 C’s, and then smiled. This distracted me from everything else. How on earth could he be there and other members of the choir not notice? Why didn’t my uncle Chris point him out and give him a special welcome? Why wasn’t Wirake giving the sermon? He would be a great preacher. Was I the only person who recognised him that morning?
Uncle Chris raised his voice and became extra excited towards the end of his sermon. This turned my attention back to him. Later, when I glanced back at the choir, Wirake was gone; his seat was empty. Most odd!
“How did it go?” asked Mum after Uncle Chris had dropped me off at home that afternoon..
“Great. Footie was exciting, aunt Kate’s food was yummy, and church interesting. A bit different; okay but.” I could not mention that I had seen Wirake; parents would not understand.
Before I could say any more, Mum interrupted: “Chip, I wish you would not say but at the end of a phrase. It’s bad grammar. What do they teach you at school these days!” She bustled on with the task of preparing the evening meal.
I thought to myself: “I don‘t say or write but when I am at school. This is not school, but!. This is home sweet home and surely a guy’s entitled to relax his speech at home, but?” I did not explain this to Mum. It’s not worth arguing grammar with parents, but. You save your arguments for really important matters like pocket money and watching telly.
During dinner , Dad asked about church. I mentioned the Creed and the Ten Commandments being written on the walls.
“Uh huh, I’ve noticed that when I’ve been to Chris’ church,” said Dad. “When my attention wanders, it gives me something else to think about.”
“Really Col! Your attention isn’t supposed to wander,” reproved Mum. Then she giggled: “I must admit mine does sometimes, but. O confound you Chip! I’m now tacking on but like you do!”
Lia chucked; imitating Mum’s voice she said: “Naughty, naughty mother, but!”
A little later, after I had demolished the food on my plate, I said to Dad: “Why are the Ten Commandments so important? They are very old; I mean really old. Why do we still make a fuss about them?”
Lidj interrupted: “Don’t be a dork, junior! They are important because God gave them; that’s why! Any slughead should know that!”
Dad ignored her. “They matter, Chip, because they are a part of God’s guidance on the road to happiness. God did not give them just to boss us around, or to make life more difficult. In fact they make life easier for everyone who tries to live by them.”
“ Yuk! How can more rules ever make life happier or easier” I protested. “The more rules they make at school the harder it is to keep out of trouble! We have less freedom. Why can’t God tell us just to do the decent thing and leave it at that!”
“Ah my boy, but what is the decent thing? How do we find out? Who decides? God, who is cleverer than all the brains of the smartest people put together and multiplied by a billion x billion, knows what leads to misery and what leads to happiness. The Ten Commandments are a gift of love, for our happiness.”
Mum added: “They are like those white guide posts on the side of our roads, Chip. If you stay within them you can have a safe and happy journey to where you are going. If you reckon you want more freedom and try driving outside them, you will soon hurt yourself and others.”
“If the ground was level you might not hurt yourself” I argued.
Dad pursed his lips, then answered: “You could still become bogged in mud or sand, get a puncture, break an axle, and get lost. Besides, the ground outside white posts is not very level, is it? More often it is rough and dangerous. The guy who sticks on the road between the white posts will get to his destination a lot quicker and without too much grief.”
“The white guide posts are extra important in the dark,” commented Lia. “Lots of people have to drive in the dark, don’t they?”
“Good one! little sister”, said Lidj.
Lia was right. Life has many dark times. If we do need some white posts in the daylight, we certainly need then at night. As I looked at Lia, for a moment I think I saw Wirake’s grin shining through her smile.
Mum sent me to the corner shop near the school to buy a loaf of bread. On the way back home I spotted a purse lying on the footpath near a post box. Was I in luck! Inside the purse there were two $50 notes and some coins. Wow! I was rich! I tucked it inside my shirt and hurried home.
Alone in my bedroom, I emptied out the purse to count the cash: $107.60! Think of all the things I could buy! For a while I lost myself in day dreams about new possessions.
Then some guilt started to trickle into my head. The money was not mine. “Finders keepers!” said one bossy voice in my mind. “You must not steal” insisted another quiet voice. For a time the two voices argued . My stomach started to twist: “Right! “I said. “Its not mine. I must find the owner”.
With that I examined the other articles in the purse: lipstick, a shopping list, a stumpy pencil, a packet of Quickeeze, a jacket button, a receipt from K Mart, and a Pension card. It belonged to a Mrs Johnson who lives three streets across from us in Keatley Road.
I went to Mum, explained to her how I had found the purse, and showed her the pension card..
Mum looked into my eyes: “ So Chip, you took it to your bedroom because you were tempted to keep the money, huh?”
I nodded guiltily.
“I can understand that,” Mum said. “Yet you did not let the temptation win, did you Chip. I’m glad and I’m proud of you!”
She kissed my forehead. “Now you had better go and find Mrs Johnson and give back her purse. I’m sure she has been very worried about it.”
I felt a bit awkward and shy about it. Mum read my thoughts: “Get Lidj to go with you , Chip. She won’t mind.”
Lidj did mind. However, after a protest she put down her book, yawned, got up and went with me to Keatley Road.
It was an old house. We rang the door bell. An elderly lady opened the door but kept the security door locked. “Yes? “ she said.
Then she spotted the purse in my hand. “You’ve found it! Oh! What a relief!” Quickly she unlocked the security door and I handed her the purse. I was tongue tied.
“ Chip found your name inside it, Mrs Johnson,” Lidj explained. “I think you will find everything is still there.
Mrs Johnson unzipped the purse and said, almost unbelieving: “Yes, it is all there. You have no idea how relieved I am. I live on my pension and that money was the last I have until next pension day.. And I have to pay my electricity bill. Where did you find it.”
I explained: “Not far from the shop. Near the post box, just lying on the edge of the footpath.”
“ You are a very good boy” she commented. “ There are some people who would have taken the money and thrown my purse away, do you know that? I’m so grateful. Here, let me give you $5 for your honesty.”
Now I was both embarrassed and (remembering how tempted I had been) ashamed. “No. No thank you. It is yours, Mrs Johnson. I only did what any decent person would do.”
To my surprise she put her arms around me. “You, young man, are a little saint!” With that she kissed me. It made me feel good that I had made Mrs Johnson so happy, but I did not like either the kiss or that saint stuff!
We said goodbye. Outside the gate, Lidj leaned forward and leered into my face: “Hello little saint Chip!” she taunted, “would you like another kiss-a-wissy. I made a dive for her. She was too quick. In a second she was sprinting out of my reach. From time to time she stopped and called back at me: “Come along , saint!”
Things got worse. The Abominable Alby rode by on his bike just as Lidj called me a saint. He looked back over his shoulder with a horrible smirk on his face. (By the way, I’ve been asking God to bless Alby, but I can’t say there has been much improvement in his attitude.)
I kept chasing Lidj of course, for my honour’s sake. But I had no hope of catching her.
When I arrived home, I told Mum how thrilled Mrs Johnson was. Naturally, I left out the saint and kiss bit.
That was not good enough for Lidj. “Did you know, Mum, that you have a little saint in the family?”
Though little brother is a saint,
you wouldn’t know it.
Old ladies may think he is quaint,
if he don’t blow it.
I wonder why at home he ain’t
able to show it?
Mum raised her eyebrows. Lidj told her everything. Lidj does have a big mouth at times!
Mum poured a cake mix into a tin. and placed it in the oven. She wiped her hands, then turned to Lidj and me: “It’s not such a weird idea, you know. Maybe there are saints in this family.’
Lidj snorted: “You could have fooled me ! If there are, they must be hiding! As for little brother being one, it’s a sick joke!”
“The early Christians did not think so,” Mum replied. “ For them, every person who belonged to God through Christ Jesus was a saint.
“Do you mean,” asked Lidj, “that all the early Christians were very, very good; with extra faith and love and all that?”
“O no!” exclaimed Mum. “Far from it. They were much like us, with plenty of faults and sins. They were just ordinary people who were caught up the extraordinary love of the Lord Jesus. The word saint did not mean that they were extra good but that they belonged to the extra-goodness of God. It is God’s holiness that makes us holy, not ours.”
“Well, maybe I am a saint”, I piped in. I put on my holiest look, folded my hands and strutted around the kitchen.
“In my nightmares, little brother!” Lidj said, and then added: “Maybe I should mention to Hamish that Chip is a little saint, so he can tell all the kids at school?”
“You do and I’ll.... I’ll... I’ll do something horribly nasty to you!” I yelled.
That evening, while I was having a shower, the curtain was parted and Wirake poked his head through.
I protested: “Haven’t you any respect for a guy’s privacy!”
“Not really,” he said with a chuckle. That’s not my style. I even know your thoughts before you are aware of them, Chip. And your temptations.”
“Don’t go on about that,” I said. “I feel bad about wanting to keep that purse. I’m sorry Wirake.”
“Don’t be,” he retorted. “You have no reason to apologise for being tempted. Chip, there is nothing wrong with temptation. It does not make you bad. It does not make your soul dirty. Only when you give in to temptation are you dirty. Only then should you be ashamed and apologise to God. Get that?”
I nodded. “But I was close to giving in,” I said.
“So was I, at times” Wirake assured me. “ Yet, like you today, I did not give in. So sleep well, saint Chip, my peace is with you.” With that his head withdrew from the curtain and he was gone.
I slept well.
A TIME FOR CRYING
Our home is an unhappy place at the moment. We are all feeling miserable. Dad and Mum try to be cheerful but it is hard.
Grandma Rita has suddenly died. Dad says her heart has been worn out and weak for a long while. While she and Grandad were holidaying in Darwin, her heart suddenly stopped.
Grandma was a very kind, happy woman. She made each of us grandchildren feel as if we were extra special to her.
We are all going to miss her very much. Especially poor old Grandad Fred. We met him at the airport when he arrived home from Darwin. He and Dad just hugged each other for a long time. That made .Mum, Lidj and Lia cry. Lidj says that crying is good. It’s God’s way of helping us wash out some of the pain. I wanted to cry also but could not do it; it sort of got stuck in my throat.
If someone whom you loved very much has died, you will understand me. It hurts badly, like your soul is torn deep inside your chest. But you can’t always weep when you want to. Nor can you get at the pain with medicine or pills.
I sobbed a bit when Mum first told me. It hurt but I felt quieter afterwards. Now I seem to go up and down. One moment I remember something funny about Grandma and I smile; the next moment I think of her as dead and I am down in the dumps.
I’m lucky to have a family to share it. A hug helps more than words. We have done plenty of hugging. Uncle Chris, Aunt Kate and Josie came over and we did a lot more hugging.
Grandma Rita was not Josie’s grandma. But Cuz 1 seemed to understand how I was feeling. She just sat with me for a long while saying nothing. I appreciated that.
As for Wirake, he seems to have been far away. I have not even glimpsed him or heard a whisper from him. I can’t understand why. I could really do with his help at the moment.
The Bible helped me. Sometimes when I read the Bible, it just seems a lot of words. But this morning, I was leafing through the Psalms (they have a lot of tears in them) when my eye fell on Psalm 42. As I read that Psalm, a peculiar thing happened at the last verse: it stood out as if it were written in thick capital letters:
Why am I so sad? Why so troubled? I will put my hope in God.
Once again I will praise him, my saviour and my God.
Those words were meant for me. I let go of my sadness and trusted God. A kind of peace spread inside me, deep down in the painful spot where nothing else had reached. I cried gently for a long time, then I felt calm. Later, I looked at the verse again. It no longer stood out in thick black letters. Had I imagined it? No! The lovely calm within me was a sure sign that something special had happened.
I wonder is that why they sometimes call the Bible the Word of God?
The funeral for Grandma is this afternoon. Our neighbour, Mrs Thomson, who says “a funeral is no place for kids,” suggested we stay at her place this afternoon. However, Mum and Dad said we can all go to the church and cemetery if we want to, or stay with Mrs Thomson, if we prefer that. Although I am scared, I will go with Mum, Dad and Lidj. However Lia, has chosen to attend school. Mrs Thomson will collect her after school.
I wonder why Mrs Thomson said : “A funeral is no place for kids” ? I am a bit frightened; a lot more since Mrs Thomson said that. Are funerals a horrible experience? I must be brave. Now it’s time for me to have a shower and get dressed. I’ll talk to you later.
Funerals are okay! It was not at all scary like I thought it might be. There were sad moments of course. Yet there was also a kind of solemn happiness which we all shared together. Lidj and I sat one on each side of Grandad and he held our hands as if we were strong and he was weak.
Grandma’s priest, Father Tony, said we were together to celebrate Grandma Rita’s life and to trust her into God’s eternal love. I liked that; we had lots to celebrate. We sang hymns, read from the Bible, said some great prayers, and then Father Tony spoke about Grandma’s lovely life. It made us feel sad-happy-proud-grateful-tearful.
After the church service we went to the cemetery. That was more sad. We stood around the grave while the priest said some prayers and read some Bible verses. Then they lowered the coffin. Father Tony read about “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. It was over quickly.
Then any of us who wanted to, threw a handful of soil on Grandma’s coffin. I liked that part. Her body is at rest in mother earth.
I knew that my real Grandma was not in the grave; just her old, worn out body. I don’t understand heaven, but that ‘s where she is. It’s a happy place. Like the priest read from the Bible: “There is no more death, grief or crying or pain” in heaven.
Josie came up and gave me a hug. She said: “I didn’t. know your Gran very much, Cuz 2, but I’m sure she was special.” I cried a bit.
I began to feel much better. It was as if sharing these ceremonies together with our family, and with friends who also loved Grandma, was like medicine, helping to heal the wound deep within our souls. I’ll never be frightened of funerals again.
After the cemetery, we had a kind of party back at our place. The house was crowded with uncles, aunties, cousins and many friends. They chatted about Grandma, remembered the kind things she said or did, and chuckled about humorous events. It was very noisy in a sad-happy way.
But Wirake still has not visited me. I don’t understand why he seems to hide himself sometimes. Or is it that my sorrow is like a cloud which blots out the sun?
It must take a long time to get over the death of a person whom you love. I still feel sad without Grandma Rita, even though I don’t find it easy to talk about.
I have been writing a special prayer to God about Grandma. Would you like to see it?
Dear God, I’m glad Grandma is there with you.
I miss her, God; I will miss her very much.
Please look after her and cheer her up when she misses us.
Thanks for giving me such a beautiful Grandma.
Thanks for her big smile,
the way she read books to me when I was little,
her extra warm cuddles,
the photos she liked taking of me,,
the band aids she put on my cuts and bruises,
all the special meals she cooked for us,
the times we went together to the zoo
or swam at the beach,
and the good feeling of sitting close beside her..
Dear God, help Grandad not to feel too lonely.
Send Jesus to visit him often Amen.
The sadness does not hurt as much as it did at first. No longer is there that tearing feeling in my chest. In fact, some times I can go almost a whole day without thinking of her.
The queer thing is that when I do forget about her, I end up feeling a bit guilty, as if I’m letting her down. I told Cuz 1 about this. Josie said: That’s cool, Cuz 2. You need not feel guilty. Besides, your grandma would not want you to stay miserable. She is not unhappy, why should you. be?”
When I am alone, I think about being dead but alive with God in heaven? What ‘s it like?. I tried talking to Cuz 1 about heaven. She listened carefully, fiddled with her hair like girls do, but she could not explain it any better than I can.
Lidj, being a smarty-pants, reckons she understands heaven. She thinks heaven is like an entirely different universe (not young like this one) that has been with God forever. I pretended to understand her (a fella can’t let on to his sister that he’s a thickhead) but I was unable to picture what she was talking about.
Where has Wirake been over the last couple of weeks? He seems to have deserted me.
********** *********** **********
Hi! It’s two weeks since I last wrote in this diary. Heaven still puzzles me. It’s hard to imagine something which is not like anything in this world.
Tan has been helpful. He knows about sadness. Before he came to Australia, his brother and one of his friends died. Tan reckons you don’t ever completely get over it. A scar replaces the wound, he says.
When I asked Tan about heaven, he said that he thought about it a lot after his brother died: “Heaven is good, you know, Egg?. There we are free like the risen Lord Jesus, yes?”
Tan went on: “There we have bodies , different bodies, yes? Not made from of flesh, blood and bone but from everlasting stuff. No wars, no prisons, no pain, no cruelty, no suffering, no dying. Wonderful! Yes?”
“But where is it,” I asked.
“Don’t ask me!” Tan exclaimed. “It no matter, where. You can’t discover where, Egg. God knows and that’s okay. I ask you read Bible, Egg. Read Bible, First Corinthians 15, verses ‘bout 35 to 44, I think. Good words. Better than my words, yes?”
So here I am at my desk, trying to understand the words of St. Paul. I reckon Paul is hard to read. So I have tried to write down what he says in my own words. Okay?
Some kid, trying to be smart will ask, “How? How can the dead be raised to life. How can they be living if their body lies buried in a cemetery?”
To which I reply: “Don’t be a dork! If you plant a seed in the garden, it does not rise up again as a seed. After it is buried, something very different comes up. What you plant is just some common seed: a bean or corn or maybe a pumpkin seed. God causes new life to spring from that seed.. He gives it a new body, wonderful, special, and beautiful. Very different from the old seed.
Look, aren’t the bodies of all living things different? People have one kind, wombats another, galahs and yabbies have different bodies. So also the bodies of beans, corn, and pumpkins are different. Even the sun and moon have different bodies. And there are different kinds of stars, like pulsars and quasars, red dwarfs and white giants, each beautiful in its own way.
That’s very like it will be when we are raised up from death to new life. The old body that is buried in the earth belongs there. When we are raised, our new bodies will belong to heaven. Our earthly body is a weak thing, and useless when dead. When we are raised like Jesus, we will be beautiful and strong. It is a flesh body that is buried in the ground. It is a spiritual body that God raises up.
That is how it is. Just as there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body! Right?”
Right! Thanks Paul! You do make sense, sometimes!
Come to think of it, when Wirake visits me, I glimpse his spiritual body, just like the first disciples did at Easter. You know, like Mary beside the empty tomb did? Or in that locked room where disciples were hiding? And at the beach on lake Galilee when Jesus served them breakfast? They saw his new, spiritual body.
Right now, Grandma Rita has a spirit body too. So will Grandad Fred, one day, and my Mum and Dad, Lidj and Lia and even I! God will do it.
Thank you God! You are the greatest!
SEEING AND BELIEVING
“It’s about time you showed up!” I exclaimed, as Wirake joined me in the garden where I was inspecting some radishes which I had planted. “I needed you after Grandma died. Where have you been?”
“Here and there,” he answered me.
I retorted: “You may have been there but I doubt that you have been here!”
“Both,” he said, “ here and there is my thing. I have been with a hungry child in Cairo and an archbishop in Rome; with a lonely student in Tokyo and a worried mother in Rio de Janiro; with a Palestinian student in Bethlehem and a doctor in Calcutta; with a taxi driver in New York and with my friend Chip in Australia.”
Then he started to sing: “I’ve been everywhere, man. I’ve been everywhere.”
I chorused:: “And I’ve been to Bali too.”
Wirake chuckled: “Now you are getting the message. I live in the everywhere, Chip. I never walk out on you. ! You are usually unaware of my Presence, but I am with you always, to the end of the world. Everywhere.”
“My head can’t get round all that stuff about the everywhere,” I said. “Anyway, why didn’t you come when I most needed you. I was very upset, you know.”
“Chip, most Christians don’t ever see me. There are millions who have never seen me yet they believe. Josie has never seen me. Yet she believes.”
I said peevishly: “Yea, but you could have let me feel that you were with me when I was so sad. When I feel you near me, even though I can’t see you, it encourages me. Feelings are important, you know.”
Wirake put his hand on my shoulder: “Chip. Don’t depend on your feelings. Feelings can trick you. Feelings can alter, depending on whether you ate salad or pigged out on pizza, whether you had a good night’s sleep or stayed up till midnight, whether your footy team won or was thrashed. Feelings can betray you. When people are grieving, most don’t feel me near them. Their sad feelings get in the way. So I repeat, don’t put all your faith in feelings.”
“What do I trust then?” I asked, as I pulled some weeds from among my radishes.
He joined me in the task of weeding.“ Live by faith. Trust my promises in the Bible, Chip. Trust your baptism. Trust the gift of faith which the Holy Spirit has placed in you.”
“Also trust the help and advice of your fellow Christians, like Tan and Josie. Trust the wisdom of all those who for two thousand years have believed in me. And think about those times when I seemed far away, yet later you realised that I had in fact been very close to you.”
I pulled out a sour thistle before replying: “It is not as easy as you make it sound, Wirake. When I don’t see you, hear you, or feel your Presence, it is hard to be confident. In fact, the more I am down in the dumps the harder it becomes. You don’t understand. How can you, you are the Son of God. You don’t know what it is like to feel completely alone.”
A pained look came into his eyes. After tugging out a stubborn root, he softly said: “ You are wrong, Chip. More wrong than you will ever understand. I do know what it is like to feel utterly alone.”
“Okay, tell me,” I responded.
“Well, my own family thought I had gone crazy. My mother, sisters and brothers came to take the madman home. That really hurt, you know? A madman?.”
I began to be ashamed of my complaining.
He continued: “My rabbi at Nazareth, and most of the preachers and priests all over the country, started to call me wicked; they warned people to keep away from me. They plotted my death. Finally there was hardly a safe place to rest. The foxes had lairs and birds nests, but I had no safe pillow for my head.”
“ Mate, it must have been bad, like a criminal on the run,” I said.
“You’ve got it, Chip. I did feel like a criminal on the run.. I was counted with the evil people, despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and very familiar with grief. It felt awful!”
This was not the cheerful Wirake whom I usually see.
He drew a deep breath: “Things got worse.. Whenever I talked about the suffering that must come to me, even my own disciples did not understand. In the end, one betrayed me, one denied me, and the rest ran away.”
I had stopped weeding as he spoke. My mind felt swamped with the loneliness he had to bear. After a long silence, broken only by a plane flying overhead, he asked me a question.
“Chip, when in the whole of history would you say that God was the closest, super-closest, to people?”
That was a tough one. I wrinkled my brow and thought hard. My answer came in the words of a hymn, which I softly recited: There is a green hill far away.
Wirake put his hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze: “ Spot on, little brother,” he said. “Yet that was the hour in which I felt cut off from God. The time when I felt most misunderstood and alone. I cried out: My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me”.
That got to me. Tears came into my eyes. We knelt there together, for a long time, saying nothing. It was like being under a spell. Two magpies, which were sitting in the gum tree at the far corner of our back yard, began to warble.. I looked up at Wirake. He looked into my eyes, and then faded away into the mystery of the everywhere.
TEASING AND OTHER STUFF
“ If you don’t stop teasing your little sister, you can go to your room, buster!” said Mum on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, she was speaking to me.
Without looking up from the book she was reading, Lidj recited: “Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Or in your case, do not pass the kitchen, do not collect a sandwich!”
Knowing that when Mum gives a warning she means it, I stopped teasing Lia but took the risk of poking my tongue out at Lidj.
She saw me and lidjetted:
Chip be nimble,
Chip be quick.
Get out of here
or I’ll be sick.
You know, I don’t understand why I do it? Tease, I mean. Kind teasing is okay but it can easily slide into hurtful teasing. I don’t like myself when I tease hurtfully, but I find myself doing it. Why is that, do you reckon?
When I gave my heart to Jesus, I thought I would completely stop doing bad things. But it does not seem to work that simply.
Fortunately, on that particular wet Saturday afternoon, Tan and Ham called to see me. The three of us all hived off to my room, where we fooled around and talked.
Ham startled me, when suddenly he said: “Do you church guys always like yourselves or are there times when you don’t?”
Tan turned to him: “Sometime I not like me. But I not let guilt bully me. It not right to stay ashamed, it not the Christian thing.”
“What do you mean,” I said. “ You are a really good bloke, Tan. What could you do that would make you dislike yourself?
Tan pulled a face and shook his head. “Things. Many wrong things I do, or good things I no do. My sins make me feel bad. Like when I feel jealous of you guys because you speak right. Like when I save my money until I get selfish. Or like when I tease little sister Le’in; not nice teasing but bad teasing. She cries.”
I interrupted. “You? You, Tan, tease your sister? I never thought of you doing that!”
He nodded. “Bad, yes? I make my little sister cry. You see, I am not good Christian. I think you are shocked by my badness. Yes?”
Ham cut in: “ No, Tan. We are not shocked but surprised. You see Tan, I know that I don’t go to church and that I do bad things. I’ve also seen Egg tease Lia in bad ways. I just did not think you were like us. So I am surprised but not shocked. In fact I am bit relieved. If a great guy like you can do bad things, then we don’t feel so hopeless. Right Egg?”
“Right” I agreed.
Tan looked embarrassed: “Please, I not great guy. Just sinner who Jesus save. Not more, not less. Okay?”
The deep sincerity with which he said this made Ham and me shut up. We nodded. Ham fiddled with a puzzle he had in his hands. I picked at a small wart which I had on my second finger. Tan lay on his back and looked at the ceiling. I broke the silence. “Tan, a few minutes ago you said something about it not being right to stay guilty. That it is not the Christian thing. What did you mean?”
Tan sat up and hunched his knees under his chin. “It hard to speak. But I try. Okay?”
“The Lord Jesus, he my Saviour. But it big work saving me; it take long time. I slow learn. But I must trust forgiveness each day; then get busy loving him and others. But if I get guilty heart, heavy and tired, feeling sorry for me, then I no use. Okay? But that is stupid. You see, Jesus make me God’s child. God’s child, not slave. So I better welcome his forgiveness, get off knees and stand high. Right? That good; it praise him. It the Christian thing. You know? Stand high.”
“Right,” I said, “the Christian thing. Right!”
“I think I get you,” Ham added.
More silence. Not an empty silence but a full, overflowing silence. I was sure that Wirake was present with us in an extra wonderful way.
After a while, Tan said. “You know, if we not trust the Lord’s forgiveness, we get bad, and then more bad. Like, if I hate myself, I more do wrong things. Yes? Like feeling bad makes me want to hurt others? With no forgiveness, we less and less kind people.”
How about that? Tan is a deep one, isn’t he? He understands things that I don’t even begin to get sorted out.
A funny thing happened the following day at Church. A bit from one of Paul’s letters was being read. It was as if God had a special word for me.
Paul let on how hard it was to be a Christian; something like: Hey! What’s going on inside me? It’s a stuff up!. The good things I really want to do, I fail to do. But the bad stuff I hate doing , that’s what I find myself doing. What a miserable creep I am! Who can rescue me from this dead body? Christ Jesus will! He’s the answer, thank God!
That’s like me, you know? Paul, a famous Christian, had a problem like mine. I don’t suppose he teased sisters, but he did things which made him ashamed. But best of all, he was sure the Lord Jesus was his Saviour. He trusted Jesus. Right?.
O Wirake, wherever you are, please continue to save me from myself. I am weak but you are strong. Make me a kind brother, a thoughtful friend and a brave Christian. You can do it. Thank God.! Amen!
FOR GOODNESS SAKE!
During our evening meal, Lia was complaining about a girl in her class at school. It appears that this kid, Samantha, is not only good at her work but has awfully good behaviour. She never gets into trouble, does not get her clothes dirty, and helps the teacher in every way possible.
“She sounds a disgusting little creep!” I said.
“Well I think it’s nice,” said Dad, cutting into a potato, “to hear about a child of such good character. Tell me, Marie (that’s Mum’s name) where did we go wrong with our three problem kids?”
Lia pouted: “ That’s not funny Daddy! We’re not problem kids! You did not go wrong with us. You are great parents. We are just normal kids. Not like Samantha, teacher’s pet! She’s not normal. She’s awfully, awfully good and she is terribly, terribly horrid! I hate good people!”
“Well, well,” responded Mum, “ great parents, huh? It’s good to know that we have not gone wrong in bringing up you three. Col (Col is Dad’s name) let’s take a bow!”
“Don’t get carried away,” snorted Lidj. “I can think of quite a few things where you could do a lot better. Starting with pocket money.”
Parents think they understand,
the ins and outs of moneyland.
But I remind you it’s no joke
to be a teenager who’s broke.
Dad pulled a face: “That’s life, Marie! One minute we seem to be perfect parents riding high among the clouds and the next moment we come back to earth with a thump. Ouch!”
Mum managed an exaggerated sigh, then turned again to Lia: “So you don’t like good people, is that it, Miss Lia?” Lia nodded and tried to balance some peas on her fork.
Mum turned to me: “Okay, you, Chip!. What do you think about good people? I’m sure you have an opinion, you usually do?”
“I’ve been thinking hard,” I said, putting a wise look on my face with the corner of my eyes crinkled up a bit ( I had been practising this look in the bathroom mirror). “I agree with Lia. Very good kids annoy me. When I was in Grade 3 there was a kid named Graeme who was always showing off his goodness. Now, at scouts one of the guys has tons of badges, never gets into mischief, and always sucks up to the scoutmaster. I reckon good kids are real nerds. They get up my nose!”
“A very unpleasant place for them to be, I would say,” commented Dad. Remind me never to get up that nasal orifice. By the way Chip, give it a blow now, it needs it.”
I blew vigorously into my hanky. Lidj said: “Yuk! Turn away from me when you do that.”
I ignored her and honked more loudly.
Not put off by my performance, Mum came up with a question: “What about Jesus? He was a very good person, wasn’t he? Don’t you like him?”
That floored me for a moment but Lia responded immediately: “That’s different, Mum. Jesus was different.”
“How different?” Mum asked.
Now Lia was lost for words. I found my tongue: “Well, he was different wasn’t he? Like he was good without showing it off. He did not make bad people feel worse about their own faults. No matter how sinful they were, he had time for them. He was friendly. They could talk to him and be honest with him. His goodness did not put others down. It was... sort of.... like.... I reckon Jesus did not even think of himself as good. He just was.”
“That’s quite a speech, young man!” Dad commented. “ What about the good kids you have known? Why do you think they are different from Jesus?”
“Easy” said Lia, “Like little Jack Horner. Good kids are too good, sort of proud of it. Like Jack Horner sticking in his thumb, pulling out a plum, and saying What a good boy am I!”
You know, for a sister, Lia is really smart at times. I gave her a big nod and grin: “ Yea, little sis, you’re right. The kids who reckon they are good make me wonder whether they look in a mirror and brush their goodness a hundred times each day, like Lidj brushes her hair. It’s a selfish kind of goodness.”
Lidj kicked me under the table. I tried to kick back. “Children!” said Dad in his warning voice.
“And Jesus?” queried Mum.
“Jesus is more like a friend,” I said as I rubbed my ankle with my right hand ( my left was holding a fork with a piece of sausage pinned on it.) “His goodness was unselfish. He did not think about himself.”
“Uh huh; well what about you kiddo? Do you want to be a good person , Chip?” Mum asked.
Before I could reply, Lidj gurgled sarcastically and Lia said giggling; “He can’t be good, Mum. He’s a boy and he’s my brother! Yuk!”
“Quiet! you gigglepots!” said Mum. “I was being serious and I want Chip to give me a serious answer. In fact, you two ought to think about the same question. Chip can think about it and answer me later when you girls are not around to be sarcastic.”
Later, while I was washing the dishes and Mum was drying them, I said to Mum: “That stuff you asked me; about being good. It’s not easy to explain it, Mum. But I do want to be a good person, on one condition: It has to be the kind of goodness Jesus had. The not-thinking-about-myself brand of goodness. Yep, I really want that. And I want the Lord Jesus to help me with it. But not the other sugary, sickly kind of goodness; that’s gross!”
Then I came out with a bright thought; one that I had never had before in my whole life: “With Jesus his goodness was love and his love was goodness.”
WHEN IT IS HARD TO UNDERSTAND
I was down the valley track, sitting under a gum tree, thinking about Grandma Rita. I still miss her although nearly all of the sharp pain has gone.
“How’s it going, Chip” said a voice. I looked around. for Wirake, before realising that his voice was inside my head, not outside. Evidently it was not one of his appearance days. Often it’s like this; a conversation going on in my own head. I don’t even have to speak aloud.
I answered him in my thoughts: “I was just sitting here and thinking about Grandma. How good she was and wondering how she is getting on.”
“ I am the resurrection and the life,” said Wirake.
His comment did not make much sense to me . Maybe it was because my own feelings were cluttering up my thoughts. I said: “Grandma was very good, in the right kind of way; the loving way, you know. A good person like that must be in heaven, right?”
“Wrong”, he said.
That hit me like a punch in the ribs from the Abominable Alby. “What do you mean? She was really good; fair dinkum good. If Grandma is not in heaven none of us will ever make it!”
“Wrong again”, his voice said. “ I did not say she was not in heaven. She is extraordinarily joyful right now. But it is not because she was such a good person.”
“Now you are confusing me!” I said.
“Ask your uncle Chris”, he advised. “He and Aunt Kate are coming to dinner Friday evening.”
“Mum has not said anything about that”, I replied, aloud now.
He surprised me by answering: “She does not know yet. She will tomorrow.”
“Hey, hey, heh!!” I cried aloud, “That’s weird. You’re going too fast! Hold on a minute!”
I had been so caught up in my conversation with Wirake that I had not noticed the Abominable Alby bounce down the track on his mountain bike.
He startled me with his sneering voice: “Fast? Going too fast? Do you reckon that’s fast? What are you, some kind of sissy! No, I forgot, you are a chicken egg! Even when you break out of your shell, Egg, you’ll still be a chicken! Anyway, why did you ask me to hold on a minute? What the hell for?”
How was I going to get myself out of this without getting a knuckle sandwich? I muttered: “Actually I did not even see you, Alby. I was just sitting here talking... er... talking to ...myself.”
He laughed. “Well now, so you are a nutter. You talk to yourself. You know, Egg, I was thinking of giving you a good thump on the nose but you are not worth it. There’s no fun in thumping a nutter. My old man says that the clever ones are always a bit crazy. He’s right.”
He rode off without even looking back at me. I gritted my teeth and tried to pray for him: “God bless Alby and give him happiness.” I said. Such praying was like trying to eat saw dust.
I tried to return to the conversation which I had been having with Wirake. It didn’t work. It had now become like trying to talk to myself.
Later, back home , munching a third sandwich, I said to Mum, “Any visitors coming to dinner this week or next?”
“No. Not as far as I know,” she said.
Lidj jumped on the theme of visitors and lidjetted:
Visitors are extra good,
Mum prepares delicious food.
If visitors came here every day
Chip’d get so fat he could not play.
I grabbed an apple from the bowl and hurried to my room.
He was sitting at my desk, reading a school assignment on Preserving Our Native Fauna. Wirake said: “Not bad Chip. I like the section on the bilby and that last, rather sad, page about the thylacine.”
“Yea. It is sad, isn’t it” I replied. “I would love to think that some still existed somewhere in the mountains of Tasmania. Hey! You must know, Wirake! Do they still exist?”
“No comment,” he said, and turned a few pages of my assignment.
I took up our interrupted conversation from earlier. “You told me to ask Uncle Chris about heaven and good people like Grandma. How do you know that Uncle Chris and Aunt Kate are coming to dinner on Friday? Mum does not know, I asked her.”
Wirake chuckled; “It must seem strange to you. But I do know. Remember how I told you that I live in the everywhere?”
“Well Chip, there is more to it than that: I also inhabit the everywhen. Get it? The everywhen. So I know who is coming to dinner on Friday evening. Right?’
My mind spun. I put a hand to my forehead. He was speaking things I could not possibly understand. “You’re weird! The everywhen ? You mean you travel through time? Like the time travellers on telly films? Or maybe like the Sliders?”
He grinned: “Much more wonderful than time travel, young friend, but if that will help you understand me, think of it in that way. Sliders, you said? Think of me a super slider. The main thing is to know that when you were, I was with you; when you will be, I will be with you; where you have been, I have been there; where you will be, I will be there. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Everywhere, everywhen.”
I nodded as if I understood, and tried to revert to a previous conversation: “Now about goodness and heaven?”
He waved me to stop talking; “Ask Uncle Chris next Friday,” he said. He stood up, reached out and affectionately ruffled my hair. “See you,” he said and walked off through the bedroom wall.
The next day, when I arrived home from school, and was busily crunching a nashi pear, Mum said to me: “Guess whose coming to dinner Friday evening.”
“That’s easy. Uncle Chris, aunt Kate, and Cuz 1. Right?” I said nonchalantly. (Do you like that word nonchalantly? I only found it last week in a book. Cool, hey?”)
Mum put her hands on her hips and stared at me. “Smart guy, my son! How on earth did you know? It was only this morning that I saw Kate in the supermarket and on the spur of the moment I invited them. You could not have seen them since then! Hey, you have not been wagging school, have you?” she added anxiously.
“Of course not, Mum. I just had a lucky guess, I suppose.”.
Friday night brought a happy Aunt Kate, Uncle Chris and Josie to our place. Lia was all over Aunt Kate, full of all her news from school and showing off her latest painting, which was of an elephant juggling. A big imagination, our Lia has. Cuz 1 and I played checkers.
Lidj bailed up Uncle Chris. She wanted to ask him about evolution or something. They sat down in the lounge and talked seriously until dinner was ready. The food was yummy. Mum had cooked one of my favourites: lemon chicken. She followed it with apple strudel and cream.
It was after dinner, while Dad was making coffee and opening some Tim Tams, that I got some time with Uncle Chris.
“How’s school, Chip? he asked.
“Okay. Pretty good. I was given an A+ for an assignment about Australian fauna.” This was my chance: “Would you like to see it? It’s in my room.”
“Yes, sure, lead on , O mighty A+ student.” We walked to my room where Uncle Chris praised my work. Now was the moment.
“Uncle Chris, could I ask you something serious, about Grandma?” I said.
“Certainly, Chip. What’s bothering you?”
“Well, Grandma was an extra good person”. He nodded. “Well that means that she is certainly in heaven with God. Right?”
He shook his head. “It’s not quite like that, Chip. I believe Grandma is certainly in heaven. But it is not because she was good. Chip, do you know the word grace?”
“Mmm, sort of. It’s a odd word, because it is used in very different ways. We sometimes say a good dancer moves with grace; and Dad reckons Ricky Ponting bats with lots of grace. Then the prayer we say before eating a meal is often called the grace. They don’t have much connection, do they?”
Uncle Chris laughed. “No, they don’t seem very related, do they? But I was wondering whether you understood the word grace in the special way we use it in church?”
“You mean, like, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and so on? I’m not sure what that grace means. I know Jesus was not a cricketer, so perhaps he danced very gracefully,” I chuckled.
“Now listen, Chip,” said Uncle Chris firmly. “Write this on your brain in big letters. Grace is the unexpected, undeserved, unmeasured, unceasing saving love of God. Okay? We say ‘the grace of Christ” because in his life, and especially on the cross, he showed us how far the saving love of God would go for us. Okay so far?” I nodded.
“Now, about Grandma. She is with God in heaven because of God’s free grace. Nothing we could do could earn us a place with God. We could never be good enough. Not even your Gran. But Gran trusted the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; accepted the Saviour into her heart. By faith we accept the grace of God. Do you understand Chip?”
I thought about it for a while. Uncle Chris sat on my bed and waited. “Yea. I think so. Like the prodigal son in the parable that Jesus told?” I asked. “I reckon that guy did not deserve a place back home with his dad. Yet because his dad loved him ( like with me; I think Dad and Mum would take me back, no matter what I had done!) he welcomed him back home and gave him a party. Is that like grace?”
“Yes, Chip, that’s like grace. And you are a very lucky boy to have a mother and father who would welcome you back home. Not every kid has such parents. The love of your Mum and Dad can help you to understand God’s grace”.
“My brain was racing ahead: “ Does that mean that being good does not matter. God loves us anyhow, so we don’t have to bother about being good?”
“Slow down, sneaky nephew!” exclaimed Uncle Chris. “ Of course goodness matters. When you love those who love you very much, you want to please them. And you want to make them happy. Does the fact that your Dad and Mum love you , mean that it does not matter whether you are good or bad?”
“Nah! Of course not. When I’m bad it makes them miserable. They are cool parents; I don’t want to hurt them. For that matter, badness makes me miserable too. I don’t feel right until I’ve sorted it out with Mum and Dad.”
My mind jumped again. “Hey, Uncle Chris. Is that what that song Amazing Grace” is about? So it’s God’s unexpected, undeserved,...er...er.... un...something and unceasing love for us. Right?”
Uncle Chris put his hand on my shoulder and grinned, just like Wirake does.
I liked it. Uncle Chris is the type of minister who encourages people.
“Where have you two been?” asked Cuz 1.
“Having a man to man talk,” said Uncle Chris.
“I find that hard to imagine,” snorted Lidj.
“O you of little faith”, chuckled my Uncle. “You would be surprised!”
The Tim Tams were good. That night I dreamt I was flying.
Would you believe a person could get lost in their own home? Well, they can. I know it’s true because I have been lost in my home.
You see, I sometimes walk in my sleep and wake up in the dark, totally lost. It’s scary! I know I am in my home, but I do not know which way to go.
I trip over furniture and bump into things. After a while, my thumping and bumping wakes Mum and Dad. One of them comes and switches on the light. I discover that I have been bumping around in the lounge trying to find a door behind the piano, or maybe in the laundry attempting to climb into the washing machine. I go back to bed very relieved.
That’s one way of getting lost. There is another. I did that too, recently.
It started with the ‘flu. If Ham and Tan had not been absent from school with the ‘flu , I may not have been sucked in by Abominable Alby and his gang.
On Tuesday I felt lonely all day. Walking home after school, I met Alby and his gang near the corner shop. They seemed to be having a good time.
“G’day, chicken Egg, Alby sneered. “ It’s about time you did us a favour. How about borrowing some chewing gum from the shop for us, heh?”
“No way!” I said. “Do your own thieving!”
Alby poked me in the ribs: “Ya know what your trouble is, chicken Egg? Y’ve got no guts! You’re a sissy.”
The others laughed at me. I felt rotten. I found myself saying: “I’m not a chicken. I’ve got guts!”. Just because I don’t show off does not mean I’m scared!”
“Is that so,” said the Abominable One. “Well in that case, prove it by nicking something for us.”
I went into the shop. My blood pulsed in my head. I felt sick. I pretended to be looking at some comics. When Mrs Mac was serving Judy Harris, (who lives in our street) I reached across to the chew bars.
I slipped some into my jacket pocket. Then I paid for a comic, my heart beating so loud that it seemed certain Mrs Mac would hear it.
She looked at me and said: “Are you all right, luv? You look a bit seedy. You’re not getting the ‘flu are you?” Her kindness made me feel even worse.
I protested my good health and scuttled from the shop. Feeling very dirty, I walked to Alby and handed over the spoils.
“There, that wasn’t too bad, was it chicken Egg? Ya look a bit sick; hey! Don’t wet ya dacks about it. After ya done it a few times, y’ll get used to it, no worries,” Alby told me as he and his gang walked away.
I felt confused and lost.. Mrs Mac is a really nice lady. Did she guess? Did Judy Harris see me steal the chew bars? Why had I been so weak? What a rotten thing to do!
For the rest of the week I felt yuk. I could not even pray. I was rude to Mum, mean to Lia, and bad tempered. at school. Then I picked a big fight with Lidj which ended with Lidj pinning me to the floor until I reluctantly muttered the magic words: “I’m sorry”.
“Humph!” She said. “About time too, you little horror!”
Chip, Chip, pizza eater,
fought his sister but could not beat her.
She wrestled him through the kitchen door,
and left him snivelling on the floor.
I didn’t feel like going to church the next day. I wondered if I could con Mum into believing that I was getting the ‘flu ?
Then I thought: “I must talk with Cuz 1. She can keep a secret.”
When I asked Mum if I could ride over to Uncle Chris’ place, she said it would be good to see the back of me.
Josie was hitting a tennis ball against a wall when I arrived. She is good at sport. She sat down beside me on the lawn and said: “Well? What’s eating you, Cuz 2? You look sick, sort of like a lost dog.”
“Is it that obvious? “ I asked.
She nodded, fiddled with her pony tail as I told her the lot. She is a good listener.
After I finished, she said quietly: “Not good huh? Are you just feeling sorry for yourself or do you want to do something about it?”
That shook me. “A bit of both, I suppose,” I gulped.
“If you really, really want to stop feeling so lost,” she said ( I nodded) “I reckon you should go to Mrs Mack, own up and pay up.”
“She’ll hate me, for sure, and she might even tell the police,” I protested. “ Anyway, it would cost me my whole week’s pocket money.”
For a moment, Cuz 1 looked just like Wirake. “That’s a risk you must take and a cost you must pay,” Josie said, as she jabbed me on the upper arm with her knuckles. “I’ll come with you if you like.”
“Thanks, but no,” I said. ‘It my mess and I must clean it up.”
Cuz 1 nodded, and said : “Go for it then. Do it now.”
With a churning tummy I rode to the shop. Mrs Mac solemnly heard me out and checked the money.
“That was a very stupid thing for a boy like you to do,” she said sadly. “However , it took courage to come here, own up and pay up.”
Then she smiled: “Thanks, luv. You’re not a bad kid really. Just you watch the company you keep! Off you go and keep away from Alby’s trouble makers! You could lose your decency in that mob. Okay?”
The day seemed extra shiny as I left the shop. I was no longer lost. On the way home, I felt very much at home.
“Up! Up! Up!,!” cried Dad as he pulled open the curtains on my bedroom.
“What’s wrong!” I grumbled.
“Don’t tell me you have forgotten about our family bushwalk today,” said Dad.
I had forgotten. It was Saturday and our family and Uncle Chris’ were going to hike to a favourite places in the hills.
We are big on bushwalking and camping. Perhaps camping is not the right word . You see, we don’t use tents. We prefer to sleep in the open under the stars. Dad reckons no one has really lived unless they have gone to sleep under the Milky Way.
Maybe he is right. On cloud-free nights, far away from town lights, the skies are magic. Mum tells us that we are made from star dust. We are the star children of God.
I quickly dressed and ate breakfast and joined the others in the car.
Our favourite place was only forty kilometres away so in half an hour we arrived. Uncle Chris, Aunt Kate and Josie were already there. Soon we were striding out along a track, Lia leading.
We saw wildflowers, rosella parrots and grey kangaroos, and descended a rugged gorge.. We rested at a small creek where the water ripples and makes a tinkling music over stones. Lia, Josie and I climbed an old gum tree which must have been there for centuries.
About 4 kilometres further on, we arrived at the most magic place: a grassy hillside covered with nothing but tall grass trees. You know grass trees? Some people call them black boys. Our family call them yakkas. Dad says this is one of his special soul places “Nature is like one of God’s books,” he tells us.
We took of our packs and flopped down on the grass.. “Right” said Mum. “Let’s eat.” We needed no further invitation.
Half way through munching on an egg and bacon sandwich ( one of my favourites!) an odd question rose up in my brain:. “What do you reckon?” I asked. “If Jesus had not shown us God’s love, would we still feel God close to us out here in the bush? Or would nature be like a closed book?”
“That’s an odd question,” answered Uncle Chris. “What are you getting at, Chip?”
“It’s easy Dad !” Said Josie. “Like, if I did not know the Lord Jesus, would I still feel God near me in places like this?”.
Uncle Chris said: “I reckon that without Jesus we might not learn true things about God from nature. On sunny days we might think God was in a good mood. Right? But in bad weather, what then?”
Aunt Kate added: “Maybe on stormy days we would reckon God was in a bad mood and that we should make sacrifices or something to calm him down. We might get a lot of things wrong, huh?”
Uncle Chris nodded: “Without the Lord Jesus, the bush would be a very confusing book.”
Lia piped up: “I sometimes feel God smiling at me in the wild flowers. And look how he feeds the birds like parrots and honey eaters. God must be good.”
“But maybe that’s because Jesus taught us that God is our loving Father,” Lidj said. “I reckon we see nature through the eyes of Jesus.”
Josie put down her mug of tea. “Heh! I’ve got it!” she exclaimed. “Perhaps God gives us three books. One book is nature, where we see a tiny bit of God. A second book is the Bible where we see more of God. And the third book is the Lord Jesus who shows us the lot and helps us understand both the Bible and nature. “
“That’s a long speech for you, kiddo,” Uncle Chris said. “There is a lot more going on under that curly hair of yours than you let on, eh?”
After lunch, while the others were lying in the shade, I wandered off among the forest of grass trees to sit by myself. A guy needs to be alone at times.
Glancing to the east, I spotted an aborigine, gathering something from around the base of a fire-blackened yakka. He noticed me and then beckoned with a tiny flexing of one finger. I walked across to him.
As I came near he grinned. There was no mistaking that grin: it was him again!.
“Hi!” I greeted him.
“Hi, Chip! Out for a hike are we? Not a bad spot, huh?”
I smiled at him; “I did not expect to find you here, Wirake. I like your new, black body. Very cool.”
He was rolling a dark red substance (like play-dough} in his hands.
“What’s that stuff?” I asked .
“Yakka sap. My people used to use it for helping fix points to spears or handles to axes. The women used it for mending cracks in bark water bowls or in seed coolamons.”
“Your people?” I asked. “Before missionaries came, were they your people?”
“Sure! My people. I was with them when they first came to this land, long, long ago. They were mine then and always have been.”
“They did not know it, but I was close to them. I sent glimmers of light through their dreamtime stories and I made them hungry for the Spirit. I prepared them for the Gospel. They are my own, dear people. For them I died, for them I rose, for them I come again. I love them dearly.”
Tears came to my eyes. I stood silent among the yakka trees. I reached up and laid my hand on his left shoulder. He reached his right hand across and laid it on top of mine. I don’t know how long we stood there. It was like in Holy Communion.
The silence was broken by my father calling: “ Chip? Chip? We are ready to go.”
“See you, Chip,” Wirake said.
“Yea. See you Wirake. I fact I see you better than I ever have before,” I answered.
FAITH AND PRAYING
I opened the curtains and looked out at the sunny morning. It was Sunday and I was second up. Lia and I usually have breakfast together while Dad, Mum and Lidj sleep in. Lidg is always the last up.
As I looked out the window I said aloud: “I wish Wirake would not come and go so quickly. There are heaps of things, like prayer, that I want to ask him But he does not stay long enough. I’m beginning to think he does not want to give me answers. Perhaps he wants me to work things out for myself.”
“Who are you talking too? “ came Lia’s voice from the family room.
“ Mind you own business, midget”,” I answered. “If I want to talk to myself it’s nothing to do with you.”
“Weirdo!” called Lia. “ I’ve got a crazy brother who talks to himself.”
I ignored her and went for a shower . Standing under the lovely warm water I thought again about praying; and how I’m not very good at it. I do try though.. Before I go to bed I read a prayer from a book that Grandma gave me before she died. It’s called “Prayers for Aussie Kids”.
However I don’t get any big answers. Perhaps I don’t do praying right.
Lia and I had breakfast. Mum and Dad wandered out later. Last of all Lidj made it to the bathroom and kitchen. As usual, we were running late for church and only got seated a couple of seconds before the minister started.
Today, it was a visiting preacher. He said that our prayers are weak because our faith is weak. He raised his voice and loudly urged us to pray with more faith. “More faith!” he said, banging his fist on the pulpit. ”More faith! More faith! More faith!”
Anyway, how do I get more faith? Is it a matter of will power? Or does faith get bigger after we have been especially religious?
Travelling home in the car after church, Lidj said to my Mum and Dad:. “You know, I reckon that preacher this morning went over the top about faith. No once did he mention it was a gift from God. All we can do is accept the gift. Right, Mum and Dad?”
“Partly right,” said Mum, “Accept it and then use it. Faith is a gift. You can accept it or reject it. But if you accept it, you must use it. Put it to work in the way you love others.”
“Yea, I suppose so, said Lidj. “Does that include rats like little brothers?” She gave me a dig in the ribs, a favour which I returned.
“Ouch!” she said, but it did not stop her talking: “So faith is a gift yet it has to be exercised?”
Dad joined in: “Right. Coaches tell netballers, swimmers, tennis players or other athletes: If you don’t use it, you will lose it. Faith is a gift, Lidj, you’re correct. But muscles are also a gift. But if you don’t use them you will lose them. What’s more, the more you exercise them the stronger the muscles will become.”
“So if I exercise my faith more, more of my prayers will get answered?” I suggested.
“Not quite,” said Dad. “ If you exercise your faith more, you will have stronger faith with which to serve God.”
We turned the corner into our street. I was beginning to think about lunch. But Mum wasn’t.
Mum said : “Look Chip, you seem to think faith is just a matter of getting your prayers answered. Faith is much ,much more than prayers. In fact, if your faith is strong, you will go on trusting God’s even when your prayers do not seem to be answered. Faith is trusting God to do the best thing for us and for others.”
“The most faith-full prayer you can pray is: Not my will but your will be done, God. Now that’s really praying in the name of Jesus. If you pray like that, your prayer will always be answered.”
“Didn’t Jesus say something like that?” I asked.
“He sure did”, replied Mum.
“I have faith”, said Lia. “I say that prayer. I say it every Sunday. You know, in the Lord’s Prayer: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. I must have faith.”
Lidj grinned and gave Lia an affectionate hug: “ So you do, little sister, so you do.”
Then it got freaky! In a moment Lidj seemed to become Wirake. I watched him put his arm around Lia and say: “Unless you have faith like a little child, you shall not see the fullness of God’s kingdom.”
Mum and Dad, of course did not see it happen. But they heard it. The difference was, they heard Lidj, I heard and saw Wirake.
We entered our drive. Dad added: “There is an ancient book which they found in Egypt, called the Gospel of Thomas. In this book the author has Jesus saying something like: “ The very old man will not hesitate to ask a little child of seven about Life, and the old man will then live”.
“Does it really say that?” said Mum. “I like it.”
“So do I,” said Lia.
I saw an opportunity not to be missed: “ An old man, huh? Does that mean even a very old bloke like you, Dad? Can you be shown the way by a little child.?”
Mum spoke before Dad could. She, spun around, rapped her knuckles on my knee and exclaimed: “That’s enough of that old man business, my boy! Your father’s not old. He’s just in his prime.”
“Yea, yea , yea” I chortled.
“Truly though,” added Mum, “Many adults have been shown the way to God’s kingdom by a little child.”
In my heart I knew she was right. Lia’s simple faith had sometimes redirected me.
WE GET TO KNOW TAN’S FAMILY
My friend Tan, from school, is one of the wisest kids I know.
I was complaining one day about a bruise that the Abominable Alby had given me, and the saw dust he had flicked in my eyes while we were doing some woodwork in a craft lesson.
Tan quietly said: “ Bruises? Dust in your eyes? It no matter what happen you, Egg. What you then do with bad stuff; this what really matter. The Lord Jesus can use our pain. Change bitter water into wine, yes?”
There was no doubt about it. Tan had taken the bad things that had hurt him and let God use them to make goodness. I just complain about bruises and sawdust. Tan lets God transform them; like turning water into wine.
I was pleased that evening when my dad said: “Let’s ask Tan’s family over for a meal.What do you think?”
Mum was a bit cautious; “I would like to Col but can they speak English? And what about the food? Ours might seem yuk to them.”
“No worries,” said Dad. “Tan can translate. I will do a barbeque with kebabs and shrimps if you fix rice and salads. They ‘ll like that.”
“Okay, let’s do it,” agreed Mum.
“Stand back!” exclaimed Lidj “ for my father the great chef. I think this calls for a lidjettery!”
In his big apron by the fire
Poor Dad fell in and did expire.
But what is really, really sad,
all the kebabs were burnt with Dad.
In spite of Lidj’s gloomy rhyme, the BBQ was a fun time. Tan’s mum spoke English quite well.. Tan’s dad knew less English but was great at miming. He had us in fits. Tan’s little sister, Le’in, played with Lia -- they know each other at school.
After the meal our parents got into heavy talk; you know how adults go on. Dad said: “I hope you have been well treated in Australia. You haven’t copped any ugly racist things, have you?”
Tan’s mum replied. “Don’t worry, we are okay. The nice Aussies are many more than the bad ones. Besides, there were racists back in my own country.”
They spoke for a while about the terrible things that had been done to them before they fled. With tears running down her cheeks, Tan’s mum
told of the death of her eldest son and the bad way they had treated her husband. He shook his head slowly and said: “Bad men. Bad, bad, bad men. Animal, many bad animal. Yes?”
He took his wife’s hand and held it. She smiled through her tears and commented: “The good Lord never promise we not have trouble. Bad things happen for many believers. Trouble, yes; but Jesus say he will be with us to end of world. We have come to the far end of world. He with us; much, much with us.”
Her sincere faith hushed us. No one spoke.. She looked at us all, mistaking our silence for something that might have offended us. “What have I said? Ah; end of world? Oh, I sorry. Australia end of world for us, centre of world for you. Sorry.”
Both Dad and Mum quickly assured her that we were not offended. Mum explained that we had been quiet because we were all very moved by the story she had told us.
“Moved?” whispered Tan to me. “What moved mean? Shifted? Like on furniture truck?”
Dad heard the whisper, grinned and said: “ The word moved sometimes means our feelings” He made circling movements over his belly. “ Our feelings are stirred up and move around inside us when we hear all that you good people have suffered. Also, our feelings are moved when we see how much you love and trust the Lord Jesus. Okay?”
Tan’s Dad understood. In what was perhaps the most adventurous statement he ever tried in English he said. “We moov-ed. We too” He made circling movements over his belly. “You believers like us; good. We much moov-ed. You welcome us, bring us to house, eat with us, laugh with us. We moov-ed. Egg, er, Chip, he good friend with Tan. Lia play with Le’in, happy. We happy. God good. God much, much good! Hallelujah!”
Now Dad had tears in his eyes. “Hallelujah!” he said.
After Tan’s family had returned home, Dad said to Mum: “It’s a funny thing, isn’t it my love? I thought we were being generous by giving up a Saturday evening to some newcomers.. But they gave us far more than we gave them. I feel much richer through that family. It was as if we were entertaining Christ himself.”
Mum gave him a hug and said. “Maybe we were.”
At that very moment I saw Wirake’s face reflected in the shiny side of a stainless steel teapot. He turned, looked straight at me and winked.
I winked back and grinned. Dad noticed me and said: “What’s so funny? Admiring your own reflection in the tea pot huh?”
“No,” I replied. “But you wouldn’t believe me if I did tell you what I was looking at. It’s out of this world”.
Wirake raised his eyebrows, winked again and faded away.
“You are right!” Dad said with a laugh. “Maybe I wouldn’t believe you. With your fertile imagination, God only knows what you might see in the shiny side of a tea pot.”
“You’ve never said a truer word,” I answered.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT I REALLY WANT?
For months I wanted a new video game called Black Hole Invaders, as advertised on telly. It looked great! My fingers itched to get at it! A few kids at school had it. They reckoned it was the coolest thing yet.
I asked Mum and Dad could we have one, because all the other kids had one and we are missing out.
“All the other kids?” asked Dad, with one eyebrow lifted high.
“Well, almost all. I reckon we should have one because....... it’s very educational You know, all that scientific stuff about black holes out there in space. I should keep up with knowledge, shouldn’t I Dad?”
Dad did not fall for my educational bait. He said I could certainly have the game, if....if...... I saved up my pocket money and bought one myself.
It took ages. But at last I became the proud owner of Black Hole Invaders. Wow! For two days they could hardly drag me away from the computer. I was in love with it.
But four days later, do you know what? I became bored with it. Bored! Things are like that, don’t you reckon? My room is full of things which I once thought I desperately wanted, yet which I rarely use now.
Black Hole Invaders was still okay. But I no longer rushed home after school to play. It has not filled my whole life with happiness. It is just another one of my many things.
Tonight, immediately after I switched off the computer and stood up, Wirake emerged from nowhere. “ Hi, Chip! Having fun?” he asked.
“Sort of. Not fun exactly. A bit of pleasure I suppose. But yes, I do like computer games. Do you?”
“I can take it or leave it,” he said.
“Yea. It can become boring!. But it gives me a buzz when I set a new personal record.”
He turned to the computer. “Maybe it’s time you set a new personal record in a game you have not tried much.” He wrote something. “Now that’s more like it,” he said as he grinned at me, and then disappeared into the screen! Those kind of tricks still make me gulp!
I took a look at what he had written. “God programmed us to love people and use things. We are unhappy when we try to love things and use people.” He added a PS: “God’s game, Chip. What’s your score?”
A week later I did something I never thought I would do. I don’t know what got into me. It just happened
I was riding my bike down the valley track; beyond the bull ring. I skidded around a bend and almost crashed into the Abominable Alby. He was standing and looking sourly at his bike. I saw the cause; he had a flat tyre.
He glared at me; “Shut up, Chicken Egg! Don’t you laugh or I’ll belt you!”
I wanted to laugh and ride on. After all, he couldn’t catch me now that he had a puncture, could he? But something stopped me. “A flat, huh?” I said.
Alby sneered : “What do you think!”
Alby had neither a pump nor a puncture kit on his bike. It was going to be a long, long, hot, dusty walk home for the Abominable one! Now that would make me happy!
But would it? In spite of my pleasure at seeing Alby in trouble, something was niggling inside my head: “Love people..” Before I knew what I was doing, I jumped off my bike and started to unbuckle my puncture kit.
“We had better fix that tube, hadn’t we? “ I said.
Alby looked at me in disbelief, licked his lips, kicked the dust, looked at me again: “Whatya up to, Egghead?” he asked.
I opened the kit and handed him the tyre leavers: “Lets get on with it”
We worked together in silence. Fifteen minutes later the bike was fixed. Alby looked at me with puzzlement in his eye. Without speaking, he got on his bike and peddled off up the track.
Now, here is the oddest thing: I felt happy, deeply happy. It was as if I had given away something special (my revenge on the Abominable Alby) yet I had found happiness. I arrived home whistling like a canary.
“Someone sounds in a good mood!” said Lidj as I entered the kitchen.
“Why not? Life’s okay. Even sisters are okay, sometimes,” I said.
Lidj screwed up her face and lidjetted:
Happy little Chip-brother
is in a splendid mood,
Is it food or something other
that makes him feel so good?
Maybe he’s just a friendly pup,
maybe he is in love?
Perhaps at last he’s growing up?
If so, I much approve.
I grinned; “Good one, Lidj! You are not just a pretty face.”
Lidj curtsied. “Oh, thank you, kind sir”, she said. After pushing a carrot into my gaping mouth, she danced off to her room.
That was a week ago. The amazing thing is that I still feel happy about helping Alby. Not that it has made much difference to him. He still swaggers around the school ground as if he owns it.
Yet, come to think of it, lately he has not actually waited at the corner to thump me on my way home from school. Has he changed? Nah! A leopard does not change its spots.
It’s almost time for bed. After finishing my homework, I play ‘Black Hole Invaders. Not very exciting.
Life is strange, isn’t it? I saved up for ages to buy this computer game, and now it only it gives me a small pleasure. Yet I helped my enemy, the Abominable Alby, and that gave me a happiness which does not go away.
“God programmed us to love persons and use things,” Wirake had written.
Love ? Had I loved the Abominable Alby by helping him? Is that a part of the new game that Wirake gives us to play?
What do I really want?
SMOOTHIES AND DRAGONS
I think I’m addicted to drinking banana smoothies!
Whenever Ham and I go to our local shopping mall, I can’t resist buying one. Like last Thursday. Ham drank his quickly, I drink mine very slowly. While I sipped he went and looked in the toy and book shop.
I was deeply absorbed in my smoothie, when Wirake came and plopped down opposite me. He was wearing a revolting track suit of many bright colours, which could only have been bought at some cheap bargain shop. He began drinking a smoothie too.
“Hello Joseph and dream coat!” I exclaimed. “No wonder your brothers got rid of you!”
He stopped drinking. “Joseph huh! Glad you have read your Old Testament, Chip.”
I finished my drink, wiped froth from my mouth with the back of my hand and answered: “The musical, actually. I was thinking of the musical: Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.”
“Ah, yes; musicals. They even had one about me. Do you know my favourite part of the Joseph story ? It happens many years after his brothers sold him as a slave. Joseph becomes Prime Minister of Egypt. He meets up with his brothers and says: “You intended evil in what you did to me. But God intended good.”
“How come?” I queried.
“Its like what happens every day, Chip. A heap of bad things happen to good people. But God can takes the devil’s work and turn it to good. He always wants to bring goodness out of badness.”
“Is that so? Well, God’s got millions of bad situations to work on,” I said. “It seems to me that the devil is winning hands down! You know, all those terrorist bombs, bloody massacres, millions of starving people; and the bashing of old people and little kids; you know? The telly is full of it! On top of all that there is the Abominable Alby!”
“O dear! You do sound gloomy.” He looked at me with great kindness in his eyes as he had a few more sips of his smoothie.
“Can’t avoid it,” I answered. “ We kids may not talk about it much. But we have eyes and ears. The television does not hide much from us. We try not to think about it, hoping it will go away. But it won’t. I don’t think God wins very often.
“What about Easter?” Wirake asked me.
“What about it?” I answered.
“At Easter each year, you and your family ( with about 800 million other Christians) celebrate God’s victory over evil and death. The victory was won. God has already won, Chip.”
I bit my lip, wondering whether I dare say what I was really thinking. It suddenly exploded out of me “Rubbish! How can you sit there and say it! My eyes and ears tell me evil is stronger!. I love you, Wirake, I love God. But how can you say that God has won? Look at this world! It’s a mess!”
He was not angry with my outburst.. In fact, he nodded his head in an understanding way.
“I know it sometimes sounds all bad news,” he said. “It is hard to explain, but the bottom line is good news.. With God you really are on a winner.”
At that point Ham headed back towards me. Wirake got up and left.
“Who was the weirdo you were talking to?” Ham asked
“Just a bloke,” I said.
“Anyway” said Ham, sorry I was so long. I got reading a peculiar story from a book in the shop.”
“Any good?” I asked.
“Weird, I’d say. It went something like this:
Once upon a time there was a young Prince who went out to fight the wicked dragon which had been stomping around the whole kingdom as if he owned it.
The Prince met the awful dragon in the black forest. There was an incredible fight which lasted until the third day. On the third morning he returned, wounded but full of happiness, saying that he had defeated the dragon; the kingdom was going to be a much happier place.
However, some of the dragon’s gang, the dark knights, were still going around frightening folk, beating them up, and stealing their food, and saying : “You’d better do what we say; the dragon is still in charge”.
What’s more, every now and then the people still heard the dragon roar in the black forest and they saw puffs of fire and smoke. They would not believe that the dragon was defeated. Many of them joined in doing wrong things, serving the dark knights.”
So the Prince led his close friends, who were the light knights, back through the forest to the dragon’s lair. There they saw the enormous monster, roaring and blowing out fire, but with his back broken , unable to walk or ever win another battle. The prince told them not to fear the dragon any more. Their job now was to clean up the mess that the dragon and the dark knights had mad;. to mend the damage and heal the wounds
The white knights had a party. Their Prince had won. The light knight went throughout the whole kingdom, telling the good news of the Prince’s victory and caring for all those who had been hurt. Once a week they held a party to celebrate the victory. They were winners for sure! The final result was absolutely certain.”
“Peculiar story, huh?” said Ham. “I’ve got the feeling it is supposed to tell me something.”
“Yea, I think you are right.” I said. Maybe it was meant for me.”
“Wotcha getting at? “ asked Ham.
“Just personal sort of stuff. Nothing for you to worry about, “ I replied.
“Suit yourself,” Ham said. “Hey, there’s that clown you were talking to. Look he doing tricks for the crowd over there. Come on, lets join the fun.”
We walked over and watched Wirake doing magic tricks. He was good. Really good. He could make white doves appear out of nowhere.
GIFTS ARE GIFTS
Maths. I love maths. Some kids reckon I’m weird to like maths. But I just do; it’s really interesting stuff.
Ham likes geography. He is never more happy than when he has a map in front of him. Tan is also good at maths, although he likes health science best. Lidj is different again, she’s great at learning languages. Lia tells me she likes religious education best. I wonder what job each of us will have when we grow up?
Although Lidj likes learning German and Indonesian, she struggles with maths. When I was telling Mum about my latest maths results, Lidj came up with this lidjeterry:
Good, better, best,
oh what a pest,
when Chip’s good is better
than my very best!
On this occasion Mum tried her hand at a rhyme:
Sad, bad ,and worse,
of what a curse,
when Lidj puts down herself
in a lidjet verse.
“Point made,” said Lidj. “I am grateful for my own gifts, Mum. What’s more,. I’m actually proud of my little brother. But don’t tell him; his head is big enough already.”
They both grinned, hooked their little fingers and linked them. I went off to my room.
Maths is that it’s like a wonderworld where all the rules stay the same. You know? Mathsworld is an invisible world above and in and through everything. Wherever we are, the mathsworld is still with us. We can explore it as long as we keep the rules. Break the rules and it becomes useless. I can do serious stuff with this wonderworld or I can just play and enjoy it.
Hey! I have been raving on a bit, haven’t I?
I don’t want to brag but.(well, maybe I do want to brag a tiny bit!) I recently won a prize for maths. It was given by an insurance company to honour the four best primary school kids in the whole of my State.
The award was given to me at school. An important man, I think he was called the Director of Education, came with the manager of the insurance company to hand over the certificate and a cheque for $1,000.
Our Principal made a speech ( a nice short one) the insurance man made a speech ( too long!) and the Director gave a speech ( boringly long!).
I felt proud but a bit embarrassed. In his speech, the Director said : “Chip is a very, very gifted young man.” I blushed at such praise. As the insurance bloke handed over the cheque, he said: “ It is a privilege to hand this cheque to a boy with such outstanding gifts.” I blushed again. There was loud applause. Once more I blushed.
Of course, I had to try and make a speech. My mouth was dry and my knees were knocking. I managed to mumble my thanks and say how pleased I was to have had such good teachers at Tower Hill Primary.. More applause, more blushing.
I was both glad and sorry when it was over. It was the closest to being famous that I am ever likely to come. I was very pleased with myself.
That night I was no sooner snuggled under my doona than my room filled with light. It was him again, standing beside my bed.
“I thought I had better come and see a very gifted boy,” he said softly. At that I blushed with pleasure.
He studied my blush and pursed his lips before saying: “ Chip, why are you blushing?”
I was puzzled: “Because you were praising me; of course.”
“Who gave you any praise? I don’t recall that I praised you?”
“You did. Like the insurance man and the Director; you said I am gifted.”
He looked solemnly at me. “ You are a nitwit, Chip! I did not praise you. They did not praise you. A gift is a gift. It is nothing to be proud of. Grateful, yes! Be grateful, but never proud.”
I had never thought about it like that.
He continued: “ Look, Chip, if your Mum and Dad gave you a new computer, and Ham said it was a great gift, would you believe Ham was praising you?
I shook my head.
“Gifts are just that: gifts! We cannot earn them or buy them. So it is with your gift for mathematics; God gave you a gift; you are gifted; it is not your doing but God’s. Be grateful, use your gift, but don’t ever take credit for it.”
He sat on my bed and put his hand on my shoulder; “Okay?”
“I have been a dork, haven’t I?” I admitted.
“Yes, but no more a dork than lots of other folk. They usually imagine that they should be praised for their gifts. Don’t be too hard on yourself, Chip. I realise how you see a lot of silly pride on television. They praise and even clap themselves; rarely give praise to God.”
“The jockey did”, I said . “You know, after he won the Melbourne Cup the other year; Darren Beadman . He gave God the thanks and praise. There’s also that South African cricketer, Jonty Rhodes.”
“Two in a million,” he said.” You can make it three in a million. Right?”
“I’ll try, Wirake. I said. “Will you help me?”
He then did a unexpected thing. He lent over me and kissed my forehead. “The peace of God be with you Chip.” Then the light faded away and he was gone.
TRAPPED BY THE ABOMINABLE ALBY
“Hey! Chicken Egg! I want ya!” the Abominable Alby yelled at me.
I was on my bike going down the valley track, he was puffing uphill. I did not wait for an interview with my enemy. I took off like a rocket , pedals whirling. He would have to stop and turn around, before he could chase me. I had a good start.
Down hill I plummeted, ploughing the dust on each bend. Behind me, I could hear Alby yelling. Gradually the yelling became louder and louder. He was gaining on me. My heart was pounding, my breath was gasping.
The next bend brought me to a branch track. Just as he was almost up to me I swerved to my left down that track. It was too late for him to follow. He speared on down the main track, braking and cursing. This time I had even more start. I rode hard and felt less panic. I could not hear him. Whew! What a relief..
There was still no sound. I slowed down. Safe! The Abominable One had evidently given up the chase.
About two kilometres further on, the side track joined the main track. I was happily relaxed as I joined it, whistling like a canary.
Not for long. With a shout, Alby emerged from behind a tree. I was ambushed. “Ya! Chicken Egg! I want to say something to ya!”
Fear drove my legs. I spurted off again with my enemy after me. The dust flew, his yells followed me, my mind frantically searched for some trick that would let me elude him. If only an adult would come along the track; a police officer or something; even a stray dog to run in front of Alby’s wheels to sent him flying.
No such luck. He gained on me. Before long I felt a tug as his hand grasped the back of my bicycle seat. “Got ya!” he yelled. We came to a stop.
He was not even panting; he must be as strong as a bull.
“Now that was a stupid thing to do, Chicken Egg. You did not really think ya could escape me, did ya? When I said I wanted ya, I meant it. What I want I get. Understand? Now I don’t know whether I will first have a word with ya or maybe knock ya around a bit for starters. Huh? Ya deserve a thumping..”
I steeled myself for a bashing, determined not to cry. I would not give him that satisfaction.
“Look at ya,” he mocked. “Skinny as a ferret. Ya need toughening up, Chicken Egg. Now that I look at ya, y’re hardly worth thumping.”
Then to my utter surprise he grinned. Not a sneering grin; a real friendly sort of grin. “Don’t dirty ya dacks, kiddo. I’m not going to thump ya. I just wanted to say something to ya. What I want to say is not easy. I punch better than I talk.”
Now wasn’t that the truth!
I eyed him with amazement. Something weird was going on; I had never seen Alby like this. I swallowed and said: “How was I to know? It’s no secret you hate my guts.”
“Yea. Well, I did. Ya’cn be a real nerd ya know ? Good at ya school work and getting awards for maths. Maths! How ya can like it I don’t know! It’s crap!”
He grinned and put his hand on my shoulder. I tried not to flinch. “Anyways, what I wanted to say is that ya not a complete nerd! A know-all at times, too goody-goody for my liking, a pain in the butt when you go getting awards, but not the full nerd! What I mean is: thanks for helping me that day; ya know? When I got that puncture? I was sure y’d just ride by and let me walk home pushing me bike. But ya didn’t.”
“I’ve bin thinkun; any guy what does what you done is not all bad. Like, y’re not just a pain in the butt, huh? But don’t expect me to be this friendly when I’m with me gang; I got me reputatun to keep, right?”
Now I was lost for words. How should I respond to this strange Alby whom I have never seen before? I did not know this new Alby.
Awkwardly I said. “ Yea, Alby. Okay. Thanks for saying thanks. As you say, I’m not all nerd.”
Then a thought hit me. It was my turn to grin. “Hey, I reckon you found it a lot harder to say thanks to me than the day you fought that big High School kid, right?”
He just looked at me for a moment with a serious face. Then he laughed. “Yup. A lot harder. It was hell! Look I gotta be goin. See ya Egg.” He mounted his bike and turned uphill.
That was the first time he had called me Egg. You know, without the Chicken bit, you know?
I got on my bike and headed for home. As I did so, another cyclist caught up with me. It Wirake again. “Going far?” he asked.
“I’ve already gone much further than I expected”, I replied. “ I came down here hating Alby’s guts. I have travelled such a long way that I am returning home half liking the guy.”
“That’s what comes from too much praying, Chip. Keep at it and you will have no one left to really hate. Just think what would happen to the world if everybody caught the habit. It would turn things upside down.”
“Yes, wouldn’t it, but,” I replied, “It would be a revolution.. I would like to see that!”
“You are seeing it,” he said. “ It’s happening. Still a long way to go. Hang in there, Chip.”
We rode on for a while without speaking. Then with a chuckle he said: “Wow, did you flinch back there when I put my hand on your shoulder!”
“Your hand? You don’t mean..... it couldn’t be...... you? Your hand? Alby? No! !”
“Yes” he said. “If I can touch people through the hand of one sinner, say a guy called Chip, why can’t I touch a person through the hand of a sinner called Alby?
He had me there. If he can use me, he can use anyone. Okay?
WHAT DIFFERENCE WILL IT MAKE?
Lia looked up from her plate, where she had been mixing her serving of ice cream and fruit into a mush, and asked: “Daddy, who made God?”
Dad looked startled. “Oh my! Ask your mum, Lia, she is better at big questions than I am.”
Mum pulled a face at Dad: “Thanks a lot!” she said. He grinned.
“Well then?” said Lia. “Come on; give me your answer Mum. Who made God?”
Mum and Dad again looked at each other. Lia wondered what was going on.
“Why are you two acting silly? Have I asked a naughty question, or something? Is it a secret for grown-ups?”
Dad quickly answered: “No Lia, not at all. Your mum and I are being silly because we do not know the answer. Your question is too big for us. It leaves us answerless.”
Mum added: “You see, Lia, parents like to be able to answer their children’s questions. It’s one of the things parents are for. But who made God is a question that’s too large for our little, human brains. God is too big for us. God just is!”
“Gazooks!” said Lia. “That’s spooky! I wish I had not asked . But when I have been around for ages and ages, like you and Dad, I’m going to have an answer.”
Dad smiled kindly: “I wish you luck. When you have your answer, tell us, won’t you Lia?”
She nodded, and returned to mushing up her food. Yuk! I don’t know how she can eat it like that.
Lia’s question set me thinking again about how God got started. At school the next day, I very casually (as if I was inquiring about a tennis score or what was in their sandwiches) put the question to Tan and Ham. “Guys, who made God?”
Tan stopped munching his pork roll and just looked at me, with the slightest of smiles on his face. Ham scratched the left side of his head, laughed and knuckled me on the upper arm before muttering: “ You must be kidding, right? “
I shook my head. “No, I’m serious. Who made God? Where did God come from? There must be somebody who knows the answer!”
“Why ask me?“ replied Ham . “You are the church guy, not me. Why don’t you ask your God? No don’t. I reckon the answer is so big that if God told you, bang! Your pea-sized brain would blow up! Even my obviously superior, king-sized brain could not contain the answer!”
I punched him on the arm. “Superior? Yuk! Just listen to the nerd will you Tan? He’s got a swollen head but its not from brains!”
Tan laughed with the soft laugh that is his specialty. He finished his pork roll and wiped his fingers before continuing: “Serious talk, right? Like: what is emu? Dictionary: Emu is big, flightless bird., three toed, runs fast, native to Australia. You know?. A what you call it a de..fin..it..ion?”
Ham and I nodded.
“Okay. What is God? Fool question.. Dictionary only for all made things. But God is not made; God the only notmade.” He looked into my eyes: “You get it, Egg? God is notmade, that is part of what the word God means. No beginning, no end. Holy, holy, holy! My answer is to kneel and worship. Okay?”
This guy Tan is for real! And smart! I again nodded and Ham scratched the side of his head. For a while there was deep silence. The sound of the school bell summoned us back to class.
Later in the week, after school, I rode over to the lake. (We call it a lake; actually it is not much more than a big pond. But it has some great yabbies in it) There was a familiar guy there. He was feeding some coots and ducks with bread.
“G’day,” I said. “What’ya doing?” A silly question. It was obvious what he was doing.
“And good day to you, Chip,” he said as he turned around. “I’ve been expecting you. What’s news?
“Nothing much,” I said. “ Just normal stuff. You know. Except there is something I’d like to ask you. We were talking about it at school today; Ham, Tan and I.”
“ Ah,” he responded, “Lia’s question, the big one.”
“Yep,” I said. “I should have guessed you would already know about it. You don’t miss much, do you?”
“Nope!” he said, as he threw the last of his bread to the ducks.
“Well?” I queried.
He turned and looked at me: “Well what?”
“Stop fooling around. You must know. Who made God?”
“Ah; that. Let me ask you a question: “What difference will it make to the kind of person you are, and the things you do, if I give you an answer to your question.?”
“What do you mean,” I asked.
He put his hand on my shoulder. “Chip. Will an answer to your question make you happier, or more generous, or kinder to your sisters, or more forgiving of Alby, or more thoughtful of your parents, or a better friend to Ham and Tan? Will an answer cause you to give more of your pocket money to starving people, or will you become more friendly towards new kids at school, or will you stand up for me more bravely? What difference will it make if I you could understand who made God?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I really don’t know.”
He grinned that affectionate grin of his. “ Think about it.”
With that he went to the edge of the pond, stepped on to the water, walked across to the other side and disappeared among the trees.
As I rode for home, I thought about what he asked : “What difference will it make?” Maybe I should stick to questions that can make a difference?
WE HAVE SEEN THE GLORY
“I’m starving,” exclaimed Josie, “let’s stop and eat our lunch.”
“Me too; I could eat a horse,” I cried.
Tan laughed; a soft kindly laugh; “ You guys know nothing what starving means.”
That shut us up. We both knew Tan and his family had been through really bad times. For Tan, really bad hunger and thirst was a terrible fact of life.
This happened while my family, Josie’s and Tan’s we on a hike. We were walking about 20 kilometres along a national park track which met the sea from time to time. We waited for our parents to catch up and begged to be allowed to stop near this rocky point for lunch. The parents looked at watches and agreed.
I always eat quickly. Today I ate like a Tasmanian devil.. My lunch was finished while the others had hardly started theirs.
“Can I go and have a look at the sea around that rocky point?” I asked.
“Be careful. Take 10 minutes, definitely no more,”
I worked my way among the rocks until I was around the point. There was a small bay and a sandy, horseshoe beach on the other side of the promontory. What I saw there froze me in my steps. It was unreal!
He was there. He sat on a rock, his feet in the sand. Crowded around him were animals and birds. A mighty sea eagle perched on a rock near his left shoulder. Beside it, without any sign of fear, sat some peaceful doves. A big grey kangaroo stretched on its side on the sand, totally relaxed. A wombat and an echidna looked up at Wirake. At his feet lay a dingo with a young bandicoot resting comfortably between its front paws. A magpie sat on his right shoulder with its head turned sideways. On his lap coiled a large tiger snake , sharing the spot with a joey. There were heaps other birds and animals gathered around, like a church congregation.
He was speaking to them. I could not hear what he was saying but they seemed intent on every word. The wombat nodded every now and then, as if he agreed. The snake lifted up its head to get a better look at the speaker.
I was spellbound. It was awesome, as if I was looking a long, long way into the future? Or was it the past? Or was it both? Or was it into heaven? There also seemed to be a light, a soft shimmering radiance flowing from Wirake, which embraced all the creatures.
As I watched, a seal came lumbering up from the sea, taking its place among the other creatures, its head cocked wisely on one side. A wallaby hopped across the rocks and joined them. A crimson rosella flew down and sat on Wirake’s left wrist.
After a while, Wirake stopped talking, turned around, looked up at me, and beckoned. Slowly, afraid that my movement might spoil things, I walked down to join them. The grey kangaroo shifted and made space for me near Wirake’s feet. Humbly, I moved into the gap and did the only thing I wanted to do: I knelt there at his feet.
For how long? I do not know. Maybe a few seconds, maybe minutes. Time seemed to exist no longer. Rocking a little, with my head bowed, I found myself whispering: “My Lord. My Lord. My Lord. My Lord and my God.”
He gently reached a hand to my chin and turned my face up to his. His eyes were pure love as he spoke: “Don’t be afraid; it is I.”
Was I afraid? It is hard to describe. I was less afraid than I had ever been in my whole life. yet I was also more afraid; kind of overwhelmed. It was not a terror, but a holy kind of feeling made me shiver and shake.
The spell was broken by the sound of clambering feet and voices. Tan and Josie were coming looking for me. Wirake smiled and nodded. I stood up and climbed quickly up from the beach. Near the top of the rocks I looked back. Wirake was no longer there. Most of the animals had gone. I saw only a wombat waddling along the beach and the seal snorting in the shallows.
Josie and Tan emerged over the promontory. “Wow!” shouted Josie, “just look at that! A fur seal! Wow!”
“And there’s a wombat,” gasped Tan “Look at him walking like old fat man! You see, Egg?”
I joined them and looked back. “Yes, I sure did, I said. I really saw them.”
“Hey! What have you done to you face?” asked Cuz 1. “It looks kind of shiny. Are you sunburnt or something?”
That surprised me. I had no idea that my face was shining.
I said: “Err...excitement I reckon, at seeing wild creatures; and the exercise from climbing up these rocks from the beach. It’s great spot though, isn’t it? You know, I feel very close to God in places like this.”
Tan nodded and looked deep into my eyes as if he guessed something of my secret. I smiled. He smiled.
Josie said: “Come on, lets get back to the others. You are going to get a big lecture, Cuz 2. You overstayed your ten minutes by a lot.. Your dad is not in a good mood.
She was right. I copped the full blast of dad’s displeasure, which included doing the dishes every night for a week. But any punishment was outweighed by my remarkable experience; outweighed like the ocean outweighs a cup of water.
A FRIEND TO THE RESCUE
“Come here you black runt, I want a word with you.”
I ignored the speaker. Dad has taught us not to respond to racist taunts.
I was in the newsagent’s shop, looking for a new folder for some school work. The speaker was the owner who usually sits in his little office at the rear of the shop. Today he was prowling around the shop.
His fingers dug into my shoulder and he swung me around to face him.
“I’m speaking to you darkie,” he snarled. “I’ve been watching out for the shop-lifters and I reckon I got myself one. You and your lot have been costing me a packet.”
I felt very embarrassed. Other people in the shop turned to stare at me.
“Turn out your pockets,” he ordered.
“You’ve no right!” I said. “I have done nothing wrong. You cannot do this.”
“O yes I can and I am!” he shouted. “I know about you lot. You are all the same. Bludgers and thieves and mongrels! Turn out your pockets!” He dug his fingers more deeply into my shoulder. With his other hand he began searching my pockets.
Finding nothing, he took my school bag, undid it and tipped the contents on the floor. Seeing a new exercise book, he grabbed it and waved it at me: “Gotcha! I knew you had been at it.”
“No,” I answered, “you are wrong. I bought that last week.”
“O yea? Sure! And I believe that pigs can fly!” he retorted.
By now I was near to crying. Some of the people in the shop laughed scornfully.
I suppressed my tears and said: “It’s true. I bought it last week. Look inside; you’ll find work which I did last Wednesday.”
“Fair enough’, commented a blond woman who had not joined in the laughter at my expense.
“Give the kid a break. Take a look”. She came up and stood beside me.
“Rubbish!” replied the shop owner. “ You are one of those do-gooders, I bet. Look, see for yourself!”
She took the book and opened it. Five pages were already written in. The first page had last Wednesday’s date on it.
“There you are,” she said. “The kid is telling the truth. I reckon you owe this boy an apology.”
“Apology?” cried the shop owner. “No way! No apology to a thieving black fella. They are trash, all of them. I bet the little crap stole it last week.”
The woman turned to me: “ Come on, she said, let’s leave this shop. It has a smell about it which I don’t like at all. In fact it stinks so badly that I’ll never shop here again.” With her arm around me she ushered me from the shop.
Outside, she smiled and said: “My name is Cynthia Fox. What’s your name, young man?”
“Chip. Chip Berry,” I replied.
‘Not a son of Col and Marie Berry?”
Now she smiled broadly. “I know your Mum and Dad very well. You are a lucky boy to have parents like them. Hey, Chip, what happened in that shop was disgusting. It must have really frightened you. Try not to let racists like that idiot get you down. Not every kupa is like that. Right?”
“I know,” I said, grinning at her use of ‘kupa’, one of the aboriginal words for white man. “Thanks. Thanks for coming to my rescue, Mrs Fox. I’ll tell Mum and Dad how you saved me.”
I watched her walk away. There was something familiar about her walk. You know, a bit like Wirake?
As I rode home, I reflected (like I have a million times) on the experience of being a aborigine. I am proud to be a koori. Yet even with the encouragement of great parents like Mum and Dad, it is still hard not to get bitter.
There is always somebody ready to criticise. I reckon that if you are a koori, you don’t have to just behave as well as the white guys, but better. Even then, plenty of people talk down at you, or treat you as if you are some kind of exception.
Like after I won the maths prize: a parent of one of the other kids congratulated me and said: “Well done Chip. What a surprise! You have done wonderfully well; especially considering your background.”
What a stupid thing to say! I consider my background and I’m very proud of it.
It is great that mum and dad gave us aboriginal names. Our names can be abbreviated into English but at times it is good to write my name properly: Chipala Berri. Chipala means a whistling duck and Berri is a kind of shrub that grows in Dad’s home country.
Maliandra, which means butterfly, suits my little sister Lia. Lidjet is nice too; it means a pretty bird called a finch .My parents have animal names. Mum’s real name is Mari, which is a word for wallaby, and Dad’s is Coolawin, meaning big koala.
Sometimes the Lord Jesus comes to me as an aborigine. That’s why I call him Wirake, an old aboriginal word that means friend or mate. Jesus is my best friend, the only one who knows all my faults yet still loves me; the mate who will never ( no matter what happens) let me down.
Ham and Tan don’t mind me being an aborigine, nor do most of the kids at school.. They are good mates. Only a few kids, like Alby and his mob, make things difficult for me.
When mum gets abused, she says to us: “ If it was not for the Lord Jesus I would have lost heart, years ago.”
Come to think of it, what kind of a person would I be without the love of God in the Lord Jesus Christ?