The wind is in the barley grass,
The wattles are in bloom;
The breezes greet us as they pass
With honey sweet perfume.
From “The Old Australian Ways” ~ Banjo Patterson
When the weekend passed without Jack making any further mention of her friendship with Matt Gordon, Jemimah almost believed the whole issue had blown over. Her qualms weren’t so easy to dismiss the following Friday afternoon, though, when her headmistress asked if she’d be seeing ‘the young man from the Courthouse’ that weekend.
Jemimah had been walking along the verandah on her way to change into running clothes when Linda Armstrong popped her head out of her classroom and asked the unexpected question.
“No,” Jemimah answered a little warily, her encounter with Jack coming to mind,“why did you think I might be?”
“I heard you were going out him. Aren’t you?”
Jemimah’s grip tightened on her basket handle. “No. Matthew Gordon’s just an old friend I went to school with; we’ve known each other since we were five. It’s nice to catch up with him when he’s here in town once a fortnight with the Court - but I’m certainly not going out with him, or seeing him at any other times.”
“Oh, well - he seems a nice young man. Good looking too. You never know, Jemimah,” Linda smiled indulgently, “something may still happen.”
“No, Linda - I can assure you that nothing will - he’s not that kind of friend.” Jemimah was beginning to feel queasy. “You know how I’m a Christian - well - Matthew doesn’t believe in God or the Bible at all. I could never date someone who didn’t share my beliefs”
Linda straightened up, her smile tightening. “That’s pretty extreme, isn’t it? To not go out with someone just because of a difference of religion. I thought the whole point of Christianity was to be loving and accepting.”
“I couldn’t honestly practice my religion if I was in a close relationship with someone who wasn’t a Christian.” A Bible passage she’d read only the night before came into her mind. “The Bible describes it like having two oxen in one yoke that are so different to each other they can’t walk together, let alone pull the same load. Either your beliefs or your relationship would have to go.”
“You think you could compromise a bit - it’s not like someone who has a different religion is any less of a good person,” Linda’s voice was sharper now. “What happens if you fall in love a person who has different beliefs? You can’t pick and choose who you’re going to feel attracted to.”
“No, I guess you’re right about that,” admitted Jemimah.
She knew the way she felt about Michael Turnbull couldn’t be turned on or off at will - even though she’d be much more comfortable if she could switch off her dreams of gaining more than his friendship.
“But the Bible says that a Christian can only marry another Christian. That’s why I would never start a relationship with someone like Matt Gordon. No matter how nice he is - and Matt is a lovely person and a very good friend - I still couldn’t marry him. I’d avoid ever getting into a situation where my feelings could possibly get involved because I could never act on them.”
Linda folded her arms across her chest, her face pinker than ever. “I must say I’m really disappointed in you, Jemimah. I thought civilised people got past this kind of bigotry centuries ago - not marrying someone because they’re a different race or religion. You are the last person I’d expect to be so judgemental. I guess I’m not good enough for you either, because I’m not one of your new church friends. I wouldn’t want to be a bad influence on you either.”
Jemimah’s eyes stung with tears. Heavenly Father - I’ve made such a mess of all this, she prayed in a heartbeat. Please help me fix it, let me know what to say!
“Oh, no, Linda - I haven’t explained myself properly if you think that’s what I mean. If only you knew how much I appreciate your friendship - how thankful I am to have such a great boss and colleague to work with. I could never think any less of you or anyone else just because I have different beliefs.”
Even as she spoke, Jemimah realised that Linda’s bitterness stemmed from far more than this conversation. She remembered her touchiness the very first time she’d mentioned her involvement with the people from her church, and now wondered whether Linda felt jealous of the friendship she shared with Marlene that went well beyond seeing each other at school everyday.
“What I was talking about with not dating someone like Matt is something completely different to our friendship.” Jemimah continued, her throat tight. “I hope you and I will always be good friends, even if we don’t always see everything the same way, we can still respect and appreciate each other. I only ever meant that I’d avoid a romantic relationship with a man who wasn’t a Christian, because that kind of relationship would put pressure on me to go against what the Bible teaches.”
She took a breath, searching for any softening in Linda’s features. “And I guess that’s why I’ve been fine about seeing Matt when he’s in town - we are just friends - we don’t have any of those kinds of feelings for each other. If I did feel any kind of attraction to him … I don’t think I would feel okay about catching up with him.”
Linda shrugged, but her brow was still creased as she said, “It’s your life, Jemimah. I just hope it makes you happy.”
At a loss for anything more to say, Jemimah just stared helplessly until Linda suddenly flicked off the light switches and pulled the door shut behind her.
“You’re going for your run, are you?” she asked briskly, and Jemimah nodded, although at that point she doubted she could ever move her feet from where they were stuck like lead to the floor.
“Don’t forget to lock up then,” was her boss’s parting comment before she turned on her heel, leaving Jemimah to burst into tears a moment later.
I’ve made such a mess, thought Jemimah as she locked herself inside the staff room. Why did I ever try to explain about Matt, why couldn’t I have just simply said that I wasn’t going out with him, and just smiled when she thought I’d like to be?”
She was staring at her ultimate nightmare - the fear that lay beneath her wariness of getting involved with other people. After everything was going okay, I’ve ruined everything, she accused herself, I’m just no good with people at all. I can’t get close to anyone without making a huge mistake.
Jemimah heard the sound of Linda’s car starting up behind the building, and mopped her eyes with a tissue. She looked at the empty staffroom - dreading the tension that would fill it on Monday. There was nothing she could do about it now, yet in the state she was in, she couldn’t walk home to her unit either. She was sure to meet someone while her eyes were still red and her face blotchy. And that would be all around town in an instant, too.
Her running clothes lay in a bag at the top of her basket, and more because she didn’t know what else to do, Jemimah took them into the ladies room and changed. Minutes later she was pounding along the bush track behind the school.
If I run, I don’t have to think, she reasoned , yet as she pushed herself at a faster pace than she’d ever attempted, thoughts darted through her mind like shafts of summer lightning.
Why did I have to explain about Matt to Linda? So what if she went on thinking there was a relationship in the wind?
Because she’d get the wrong idea of how a Christian should live.
Now she’s got an even wronger idea of what Christians are like. And she probably hates me.
Maybe I should never have had dinner with Matt in the first place? Then Jack wouldn’t have had anything to accuse me of either.
But how would rejecting Matt’s friendship have helped him learn more about God? How could I have given up the chance to witness to him again?
Jemimah’s muscles were beginning to burn as her feet flew over the dirt path but she didn’t let herself slow down. The scrub was becoming dense, the sunlight flickered through the branches into her eyes, and a pair of birds startled and fluttered away at her approach.
She turned a bend and became immersed in the bush, the sights and sounds of town completely shut off by the forest. She’d always feared loneliness - but she had come to love the isolation of this part of the run. Total seclusion from the pressures of town, yet with her feet on a path that always led her back.
A gecko, sun-bathing across the track, quickly scuttled from her path. Catching sight of its tail disappearing under a bush, Jemimah pulled up short until she registered it wasn’t the back end of a snake. Her breath came in great gulps, and she leant her hands onto her thighs. It was time to admit defeat - she couldn’t run the course right through at that pace, anymore than she could outrun her miserable thoughts.
When her heart rate began to ease she started up again, but this time with a more manageable jog. I’m sorry God, I’ve made a real mess of things, she prayed, finally willing to face it, what now?
As she focussed on putting one foot in front of the other, Jemimah remembered a verse about God’s sovereignty from the sermon last Sunday night. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
Pastor Turnbull had used the biblical account of Joseph and his brothers to illustrate how God remained in control of everything, and would bring about his planned purpose even when men went made their own deliberate schemes to do evil. The story of Joseph and his multi-coloured coat was familiar to her from Sunday School days, but it wasn’t until she’d read through the whole section in Genesis after church that night that she’d clearly seen the power of God in bringing about his will through people who weren’t even aware of him.
Even though Joseph had been attacked by his brothers, sold into slavery, propositioned by his master’s wife and then misrepresented and thrown into prison - God had not forgotten him for a moment. All the while Joseph seemed to be merely the victim of his brothers’ jealousy and revenge, in reality he was being placed as the tool for God’s deliverance for both himself and his entire family.
It was the words Joseph spoke when he finally faced his wicked brothers years later that kept going through Jemimah’s mind as she pushed herself along the bush track.
“You meant it for evil, yet God meant it for good.”
God can even use my mistakes for good, Jemimah realised. If he could use Jacob’s brothers’ evil scheme to bring about his provision - and I didn’t even mean any evil - how much more can he make my mistakes turn out okay?
She remembered Pastor Turnbull explaining that while all things worked according to God’s secret plan, everyone is still completely responsible for the decisions and actions they take. Even with the comfort of God’s sovereignty, they have to face the consequences of their actions on themselves and others.
And that’s what I don’t like! Jemimah admitted ruefully. It made her feel ashamed that Jack could think she’d acted improperly by seeing Matt - and it hurt to know that Linda would think so much less of her because of what she had said to her. They were both seeing her as the kind of person she knew that she wasn’t.
Lord, I just pray that you will still glorify yourself through all this - that I mightn’t bring shame on your name, Jemimah asked, and that you’ll give me the grace to deal with the consequences of what I said.
A gum tree tied with a pink plastic strip marked the half way point, and as Jemimah passed it she began to hope she’d maybe overreacted to the whole thing. People got offended at each other all the time - maybe it wasn’t such a big deal after all. Even Jack’s teasing about her seeing Matt - which had upset her for days - blew right over.
Perhaps a home-baked chocolate mudcake for morning tea on Monday would let Linda know how much their good relationship meant to Jemimah … and might begin to repair the damage?
Without realising it, Jemimah had slowed down to a shuffle, and when she glanced at her watch she realised she would have to pick up the pace again. Angie would be walking to her flat straight from work, to have dinner there before they both went out to the social night together.
Jemimah’s heart sank - she would much rather have curled up in bed than faced people that night. One thought cheered her, however, and that was the knowledge that Jack Hart would be away. Without him there the evening couldn’t be too complicated - and in any case, her day could hardly get any worse.
God is good, thought Jemimah, walking back to Karen’s house after seeing off the last group of young people. The treasure hunt had been great fun, and after trudging over the house paddock for nearly an hour by the light of a dodgy torch, she was pleasantly tired.
Being here, being involved with other people had been just what she needed - rather than if she’d been at home, alone and worrying over that dreadful conversation with Linda. There’d been little moments too, when she felt she was making some headway with Jarrah. She wouldn’t go so far as to call it friendship yet - but the girl didn’t look at her warily when she came close now. Jarrah still wasn’t saying too much, but she didn’t try to escape when Jemimah made conversation, either.
Jamie was always close by too, and with him Mitch, and usually Leanne gravitated toward Jemimah as well. It was nice feeling as though she were becoming accepted by these young people, and Jemimah had to admit she found it easier than trying to socialise with the adults who came along. The young people never put her on the spot with awkward questions or comments. Being a teenager had been so hard for Jemimah, but now she was in her twenties she was finally comfortable amongst them.
“Last ones gone?” Karen called out from the kitchen door. Jemimah offered to come and help clear-up in the kitchen, but Karen shook her head and came out onto the cool verandah.
“It’s all done. Marlene’s just drying up her containers, but I think I need a breather. Have a seat and I’ll join you, Jemimah.” She slung a checked tea towel over her shoulder and sat on the verandah railing opposite the wooden chair that Jemimah chose.
“So you know Matthew Gordon from the Courthouse?” she began conversationally.
Jemimah’s stomach lurched at the mention of his name, but she was sure Karen was only making small talk. “Yes, he’s from Newcastle, too. We went through school together from kindy on - it was quite a surprise to meet him all the way out here.”
“He seems like a nice fellow - I’ve said hello to him a couple of times in town. Is he a Christian?”
Jemimah shook her head. “No, he’s very sceptical about religion, actually. I think he was a little surprised that I still believe in God as much even now that I’m an adult. It’s good to get the chance to witness to him again, even though I don’t seem to have gotten through to him yet. I guess I’ll just have to keep praying and trying.”
“Well, I’ll pray for him, too,” Karen said, swinging her long legs back and forward beneath the rail. “Where are things at between the two of you? Just friends? Or something more?”
Jemimah’s breath rushed out of her and she slumped back against the chair. “Of course there’s nothing more! Matt’s not a Christian …. I’d never consider going out with him like that.”
“That’s a relief, then. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on.”
“That’s a relief to me, too!” Added Marlene, emerging from the kitchen door. “I’m sorry - I was listening in. I’ve been a bit worried myself, Jemimah.”
“Why didn’t you say something to me? I could have explained it straightaway,” Jemimah answered, and then, quite unintentionally, burst into tears.
Karen was by her side in a moment. “I’m sorry, sweetie - I wasn’t having a go at you - I was just asking. I guess we just don’t know you very well yet.”
Hating herself for her weakness, Jemimah tried to wipe the tears from her eyes as she looked up at Marlene, who had sat down on the other side of her.
“But you thought so too?”
“Jemimah, I didn’t know what to think,” Marlene admitted. “I know how serious you are about following Jesus, but some girls think it’s okay to have a non-Christian boyfriend, that they’ll bring him to Christ before things get too serious.”
“I do want to …. to bring Matt to Christ,” Jemimah covered her mouth as she hiccupped, “but I’m not his girlfriend, and I’ve never wanted to be. He’s just an old friend. All I’ve done was have dinner with him when he’s in town. I never thought everyone would assume there was something between us.”
“I guess that when you are regularly going out to dinner with someone, people jump to conclusions as to the nature of the relationship. Particularly as you already knew Matt.”
“The only reason I went out to dinner with him was because I thought that the most appropriate thing to do was to see him only in public …. I could hardly invite him over to my place.”
“No, of course not - and I’m sure no-one thinks you’re doing anything wrong.” Karen reassured her, “We just care about you, Jemimah, and didn’t want to see you getting involved with a non-Christian man. Please don’t feel upset about what I said.”
“No, I don’t feel upset about what you said. I’m glad you cared enough to say something, it’s just … it’s just,” Jemimah sniffed and tried to blink back the tide of tears that welled in her eyes, “you’re not the first person to have gotten the wrong idea about Matt … and … and … it’s been a hard day.” She broke off and wiped ineffectually at her face, embarrassed by being so emotional in front of them.
“Oh, sweetie!” Marlene hugged her shoulders and Karen passed her the tea towel that had been slung over her shoulder.
Without thinking, Jemimah dabbed her face with the tea towel and then, when she realised what it was, handed back the tea towel with a watery chuckle. “Is this your way of telling me to dry up, Karen?”