With gladness we thought of the morrow,
We counted our wages with glee,
A simile homely to borrow --
“There was plenty of milk in our tea.”
From “Old Pardon, the Son of Reprieve” ~ Banjo Patterson
When Jemimah stole back into the living area, Nan was lining up cups in front of the kettle while Angie wiped over a large platter with a tea towel. Angie looked over the top of it at Jemimah, and grinned. “Ha, I see you’ve been given homework!”
Jemimah immediately flushed with guilt over her ambivalent feelings about the Confession of Faith Pastor Turnbull had given her, but Angie had turned to put down the platter and was already onto the next subject.
“Nan was just asking if you’re going to stay with us until we head off for church tonight. I just assumed you would - it’s hardly worth the trouble of you driving back into town only to come halfway out again almost straight away.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought,” was all that Jemimah could utter. She was tired. Not only had the depth of her discussion with Pastor Turnbull reduced her mind to mush, but she was worn out from the last few days of preparing for school under Linda Armstrong’s exacting supervision. Then she’d gone straight on to the social night at the Hart’s - and had been in Angie’s vigorous company ever since ….
Jemimah dropped into the wooden dining chair beside her, and tried to make her brain work. Last Sunday she’d been swept through the day by the Harts, and this week she hadn’t thought any further than getting through the fellowship time after morning church and then meeting Angie’s family over lunch at the Turnbull’s.
At home Jemimah’s family had only gone to the morning service, and after lunch they’d just spent the rest of the day relaxing. Jemimah’s dad might mow, and her mum would potter in the garden or sometimes they’d all go for a drive and a find a nice coffee shop near the water. Her parents often watched a documentary or a video together after tea, and after she’d ironed and got her clothes ready for the next week, Jemimah relished the chance of curling up with a good book.
She appreciated the spiritual refreshment of being at church on Sunday mornings, but had come to rely on the rest of the day as a chance to catch up with everything else. The idea of going week after week to church morning and night seemed exhausting - but now she wondered if that was what everyone did here.
“We won’t be at all offended if you want a little time at home before the evening service, Jemimah,” Nan told her, her soft blue eyes resting gently on hers, “but you’re more than welcome to stay.”
So it was expected that she be there for the night service, Jemimah thought, trying to decide what to do. The stress of the drive in and out of town again would negate any benefit of going home for a rest, but she had already so much on her mind that she longed for a little peace and quiet.
“Do stay,” Angie added, “Nan might make something a bit more exciting than usual for tea if you do.”
Her grandmother laughed, shaking her head. “There’s nothing stopping you from cooking something, Miss Angela, if cup-a-soup and toast doesn’t appeal. Anyway, I’m just working on the hot drinks at the moment. What will you have, Jemimah?”
Angie made a sound something like a snort. “She’s not even a tea-drinker but Michael’s already converted her to an M.I.F. No hope for her now – he’s ruined her taste for ever.”
“Has he then?” Nan looked with interest at Jemimah, before turning back to the cups. “Well, if you take it Mikey’s way that’s even sweeter and milkier than the rest of us have it. You know, when he’s home I have to lay in extra supplies of sugar. Not only does he heap in two or three in each cup, he’s a serial tea drinker - sits there reading late into the night and drinking cup after cup of tea.”
Just the mention of Michael made Jemimah’s skin tingle and she could almost see him in one of the deep armchairs, leaning over a thick book from his father’s study. It was incredible to be here in his home, at the table where he sat - seeing his photos, speaking with his family - and the secret pleasure all that gave her made her feel a little guilty.
“Oh, and I forgot to pass on that Mikey sends his regards, Jemimah,” Nan turned back around, her casual remark sending the colour flooding into Jemimah’s face. “He was asking after you when he rang last night. He’ll be pleased to hear how well you’re settling in.”
The older woman’s eyes lingered on her as she spoke, but if she noticed Jemimah’s blush she gave no indication, and went on to relate snippets of Michael’s news to the two girls as she prepared the drinks and set out cream biscuits on a plate.
“It’s a pain when Michael’s here, but I have to admit it is quiet when he’s gone,” Angie said as she reached out to take a strong smelling black coffee from her grandmother.
Nan placed a rose patterned china mug in front of Jemimah. “You never know, he might come back to stay one of these days.”
“Not likely! If he was going to discover he preferred this place to the delights of the city, it would have happened years ago,” Angie stated.
The older woman just raised her eyebrows slightly, and headed down the hallway with Pastor Turnbull’s cup of tea.
Jemimah raised the delicate mug and took a sip of the tea, the taste immediately evoking the sense of comfort she’d felt in the old kitchen where she’d sat with Michael.
“Well, Nan sure likes you.” Angie’s blunt comment cut into her thoughts.
“Why do you say that?”
“She’s given you her favourite cup. I’m not even allowed to drink out of that one.” Angie shook her head, as though it added another slight to her list against her family and picked up the book that Jemimah had put on the table. “So, are you familiar with the Confession of Faith? Do you have this at your church?”
When Jemimah shook her head, Angie gave an exasperated sigh. “You know, most Christians I meet outside our church circles haven’t even heard of it. It’s no wonder so many churches go off in all kinds of directions if they don’t bother teaching basic doctrine.”
The comment stung like vinegar in a cut, but Nan spoke from behind them before Jemimah had even realised she’d returned. “Just because a church doesn’t formally adopt a Confession of Faith, doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t teach good doctrine, Angie. If the pastor holds to the truths of the Bible, it will come out through his preaching and teaching, so the congregation might well learn these things, even if they weren’t aware they are truths that were carefully worked through centuries ago.”
“Yeah, but it’s not enough to just put it all onto the Pastor. Every Christian’s got to take responsibility for checking what they’re being taught against what the scripture teaches, like the Apostle Paul commended the Bereans for.
If the church doesn’t know what they hold to, what happens when a new Pastor comes and believes something different to the last one? Or when half the church believes one thing, and the rest another. How are you meant to have unity?”
Nan took a seat next to Jemimah, and patted her hand. “How is your cuppa?”
“Perfect, thank you,” Jemimah answered shyly. Nan smiled encouragingly and looked back across at Angie.
“I’m not saying that it’s not important to have unity in the truth of the Word,” Nan clarified, “I’m just saying it can be there, even if it isn’t always spelt out as clearly.” She held out the plate of biscuits to Angie, who took one, offered it to Jemimah and then selected one herself, dunking it into her cup and obviously savouring it.
Jemimah watched them from under her eyelashes. Her family only got this involved in discussions when they were really worked up about something - yet both Angie and her grandmother seemed perfectly at ease with each other. It reminded her of the back-and-forward between Michael and Angie in the car on the way home from church the previous Sunday night. Perhaps this was just the way the Turnbulls discussed things?
“It will be a good thing for you to learn, anyway,” Nan was saying to Jemimah now, “even if you’ve not come across it in your church before. The truth of God’s Word comes under attack from so many different directions these days - often from within the church - and you really can’t know what is error unless you have a good grasp of what the truth is. It’s like bank tellers looking out for fraudulent currency," Nan continued in her mellow, unrushed way.
"By studying the legitimate bank notes and knowing all the specific marks they should contain they can recognise the counterfeit notes when those things are different. Recognising false teaching about God’s word is a lot like that - just like counterfeit notes they might appear to have a lot of similarities with the real thing, but it’s the differences that show whether it is genuine or not. And for us it’s even more than mere money; we don’t want to be robbed - or rob anyone else - of the precious truth of God’s word because we don’t recognise when it’s been distorted.”
“I’ve heard that analogy any number of times before,” said Angie. “It’s one of Dad’s favourites.”
Nan shrugged. “It’s a good one. And it’s good to be reminded how precious God’s Word is to us. When God chooses to reveal himself to us through a book, we want to make sure we take what’s written in that book seriously. It’s how he makes himself known to us, it’s how we come to know about Jesus and his love for us.”
Jemimah nodded, and Nan reached over and squeezed her hand. “You’re not saying much, sweetie, have we completely overwhelmed you?”
“Oh, no, it’s just … it’s just,” she had almost spoken her thoughts aloud, but just caught herself.
“Go on, Jemimah - don’t worry about us. Say what you’re thinking,” Angie prompted a little impatiently. When Nan added her encouragement, Jemimah sighed and admitted that the whole thing about the confession and doctrine made it all seem terribly complicated and like very hard work to sort out.
“It is hard work,” Nan replied. “but it’s necessary. Again and again the Bible tells us to stand fast in the truth
- not try to stand fast in vague ideas, but in the revealed truth of God’s word.
And for a church, it’s the only way to have true unity. Fellowship and unity isn’t just about having church picnics together, it’s about striving together for the same truth, encouraging each other in it,
warning each other when we stray from it, and praising God for it. There’s that verse - oh, where is it from - that talks about building each other up in unity.”
“From Ephesians chapter four?” Jemimah asked. “Pastor Turnbull just read that out to me. I’ve never thought about it like that before. I was familiar with the verse about not being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, and I’ve often heard the last bit of the passage about the members of the church being like parts of the body, but somehow never twigged about them both being part of a passage on unity.” She looked up suddenly as a frenzy of barking came from outside the door, and swiftly moved around the house.
“What are they on about?” Angie tilted her head to listen, “I didn’t hear a vehicle.”
Nan shook her head. “No, probably just some kangaroos in the paddock.”
“I’ll go and have a look, anyway. I heard another couple of steers disappeared from the Haney’s last week - it’s been happening a bit lately around the Plains, just one or two quietly going missing,” Angie explained to Jemimah as she got to her feet. “Nan says cattle are always getting through fences, but I’m not so sure. Do you want to come for the walk?”
Jemimah shook her head vehemently. She’d had more than enough of dogs to do her for the time being.
The door slammed behind Angie and Nan collected the empty cups. Jemimah started to rise to help, but Nan patted her shoulder and told her to sit back down. “You look worn out. Angie will probably be a little while before she’s satisfied herself there are no lurking cattle thieves, so why don’t we go and have a quiet sit in the lounge? I’ll just make another cuppa first. Would you like one?”
Jemimah declined, and Nan began to potter in the kitchen, talking to Jemimah over her shoulder.
“How do you find our church services compared to your own?”
Jemimah frowned in thought. Angie’s comments about her not being taught about the Confession of Faith in her own church had made her feel a little defensive, but Nan seemed to ask only out of kindly interest.
“Certainly the main parts of the service are the same: praise and singing, prayer and Bible reading, and the sermon - though I guess the style of worship is a bit different,” she said, then quickly added, “although I’m perfectly comfortable with either of them.”
“Good,” Nan nodded, pouring the kettle. Jemimah smiled as she heard again the distinctive melody of Nan’s tea-making. The ringing of the teaspoon being stirred several times around the china mug, the bell like tap-tap-tap on its rim, then the low pitched final note as the spoon was laid on the glass spoon-rest.
“How about the sermons? Are they as long at your church?”
“No - they’re much shorter at home,” Jemimah told her, wondering as she said it whether that was one of the reasons she felt reluctant to have to work her mind so hard again that evening. It wasn’t just the length though, there was just so much more to think about in the sermons Michael and his father had preached. She wasn’t used to leaving church with her mind still churning over the message.
“You’re quite blessed then coming straight from Uni - you would have had practice listening to lectures for that period of time. In today’s culture where many people are used to short bursts of information bundled with entertainment it can take quite a bit of discipline to put in the effort to sit and listen.”
Jemimah picked up her books from the table and followed Nan into the lounge room. “I’ve never thought of church being like a Uni lecture before.”
“But much more than a lecture too - because when we study the Bible it is worship and listening to God as well as intellectual learning. But we can be a bit lazy as Christians.
Our salvation comes absolutely free to us from God - but he certainly expects us to work hard once we become his servants.
We no longer live for ourselves but for him.
The older woman walked over to the stereo and ran her finger along a row of CDs as she spoke. “You know, I think of the effort people put into studying for a particular career, or in mastering a sport or a hobby. All those things will pass away very quickly - and so few are willing to really work hard at learning about the Bible, despite that being where God reveals who he is and how he wants us to live for him.”
She removed a CD from its case and turned to smile at Jemimah. “If Angie were listening she’d rib me about using another of my favourite analogies, but I think that studying God’s Word is like mining for precious diamonds. Yes, you’ll pick up the occasional gem on the surface, but it is only when we dig deep that we can unearth the rich treasures of the Bible. And that takes a lot of time and effort.”
Jemimah nodded. “I like that illustration. It reminds me of the parable where God says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field.”
“And the man who found it sold everything he had so he could possess that field and the treasure it held.
Yes, how much more should we spend as much time and energy as we can searching out the treasures of God’s Word. Now, this is my very favourite album,” Nan interrupted herself as the soothing sounds of an orchestral hymn arrangement wafted like a gentle breeze through the room. “It’s funny to visit a church where people start yawning and looking at their watches if the message goes for more than twenty minutes, when there are those who have such a hunger for the truth that they won’t let the preacher stop even after hours, just like they did in the times of the Apostles. Oh, sweetheart!”
Nan had turned to see Jemimah still standing uncertainly behind her, not wanting to sit by mistake in someone’s favourite chair. “Sit down, anywhere. Here I am talking your ear off, and I meant you to come in here and have a quiet rest.”
Assuring Nan that she hadn’t minded at all, Jemimah sat in the armchair nearest the piano, and noticed for the first time the kitten curled in a triangle of sunlight by the window. Her movement disturbed the kitten and it stretched lazily, then regarded her with huge eyes. When it came to wend itself around her ankles, Jemimah stared down at it with her hands firmly in her lap, thinking how glad she was that she had worn pantyhose that morning.
“You don’t like cats?”
Jemimah looked up guiltily to see Nan watching her closely. “Oh …. she’s very cute. It’s just, um, when I was little I was allergic to cats. I guess I still feel awkward touching them.”
“I’m sorry - I had no idea. I’ll just go and put him outside.” Nan bent down and scooped up the cat.
“Oh, no - please don’t trouble - it’s fine really.” Jemimah felt the heat rushing up her neck, but Nan smiled and patted her on the shoulder.
“It’s time he had a bit of outside air today anyway. He’s been cooped up inside all morning, haven’t you little man?”
She left the room, and without being aware she was doing it, Jemimah turned immediately to the family photos above the piano. She could almost taste the rich scent of the roses in the bowl as she leant her chin in the palm of her hand and gazed at the pictures of Michael. It was such a privilege to have met a man like him - even if that was all there would ever be to it.
“I forgot that Mikey said to tell you he’d be praying for you especially when school goes back this week. Which day do the children start?”
Jemimah jumped. She hadn’t heard Nan come back into the room, and felt caught out - as though Nan must have known that Michael’s was the only face she saw in the whole collection of pictures.
“On - um- Tuesday,” Jemimah blinked, trying not to look as discomposed as she felt. “Just the kindy children and the year six students though, and the rest on Wednesday.”
“How are you feeling about it? Are you very nervous?”
“Yes.” The unexpected mention of Michael had made her feel very nervous indeed, especially hearing he’d said he would be praying for her, and it had startled her into a blunt answer. Nan’s smile was encouraging though, and trying to push her thoughts of Michael into a back corner of her mind, Jemimah told her all about the plans and preparations she and Linda Armstrong had been making during the past week.
“I’ve done everything I can to be ready, but I’m still frightened that when the children come I won’t be able to do it,” she admitted at the end.
“You’ll just have to trust that God will give you the grace you need at the time,” Nan told her. “Sometimes God doesn’t seem to give it to you a moment before you need it - but I can promise you that no matter how hard things are he always carries his people through. I have every confidence you’ll do fine.”
The front door slammed again, and moments later Angie joined them looking hot and bothered.
“Anything suspicious, love?” her grandmother enquired.
“No, just kangaroos like you said.” She ran the back of her hand across her glowing forehead and looked at Jemimah. “So, what do you want to do?”
“We’re just going to sit here quietly and read for a little while,” Nan told her firmly. “Why don’t you go and get a book and join us?”
Angie didn’t look enamoured with the proposal, but returned shortly with a cold drink and a book and made herself comfortable on the long couch opposite the piano. Jemimah had the Confession of Faith open in her hands, but despite reading the first paragraph over several times, it was far from her thoughts.
Michael Turnbull was far from Jacaranda Plains, but knowing he was thinking of her and would be praying for her as she began teaching made him feel very close again. Nan’s admonition to rely on God supplying his grace when she needed it had been a timely reminder, and Jemimah realised now she was longing to get her first week over with. When she saw Michael again it would be wonderful to be able to tell him how very much she’d appreciated his prayers, and how God had answered by carrying her through.
Jemimah sighed and let the book close in her lap. She had to believe God would carry her through …. if only she would remember to keep her eyes on him.
© R. L. Brown 2007