Jacaranda Plains

Chapter 33

“Fourteen years old, and what was he taught of it?
What did he know of God’s infinite Grace?"

From “Only a Jockey” by Banjo Patterson

Michael ducked into his bedroom to grab a change of clothes and grinned at the conversation that penetrated the wall shared with Angie’s room.

“Nope - you still don’t look anything like a truck driver, Mimie!”

“Be a little realistic!” Jemimah’s voice carried more spirit than Michael had heard before. “What did you honestly expect?”

“I know!” came Angie’s reply, then the sound of a drawer opening. “How about I draw on a beard and a couple of tattoos with this black eyeliner? That’ll make all the difference.”

“Oh no!” Jemimah replied, and from her tone Michael could all but see her backing away in retreat. “Definitely not! Why don’t you draw one on yourself?”

“I will. But at least let me put a tattoo on your arm - then it will look like you made a bit of an effort.”

“Okay, just a little one then.” A few minutes of giggling followed, and then Jemimah’s voice again, a little less certain than before. “Are you sure it will come off?”

Michael missed Angie’s reply as he went out into the hall, and closed the bathroom door behind him with a chuckle. It was good to hear the girls getting along so well despite the earlier conflict over the travel arrangements. That it was all a result of Jemimah’s efforts, he had no doubt.

He couldn’t help but feel impressed by this unusual young lady. No-one could have mistaken the tell-tale redness of her eyes after she’d phoned her parents, yet she hadn’t murmured so much as one word of complaint about Angie messing up their plans. Even more than that, she’d worked hard to smooth everything over. There was far more to Jemimah Parker than he’d imagined, and discovering that this afternoon had been an unexpected pleasure.

Being roped into a night out on his first evening home was also unexpected - and probably not a pleasure Michael would have chosen for himself - but the girls’ laughter echoing along the hallway was infectious. As he eyed his own clothes for ‘truckie’ potential, he realised he’d caught a little of their enthusiasm.

Michael stepped into the shower, the hot water a welcome relief to his exhausted limbs. It would be good to see the church folk again, and it sounded like the social nights had been going well. According to Nan, not only had Angie been getting involved in the organisational side, but Jemimah seemed to have found her niche among the young people.

It always caused him more than a pang of regret to discover everything he’d missed during a term away from home, although Nan’s weekly phone calls certainly lessened that by keeping him in touch with many of the local happenings. Jemimah, though, was turning out to be far different to the image he’d built up in his mind while he’d been away. Then again, he’d barely got to know her after she’d first arrived in the Plains. While he felt sorry for her missing the chance to get home that morning, he couldn’t help but appreciate the turn of events that had kept her from leaving town the moment he arrived.

The bathroom had filled with steam by the time Michael dragged himself from the shower, and while he was still running the comb through his damp hair someone pounded on the other side of the bathroom door.

“Sometime today would be nice!” Angie called out, “And don’t you ever tease me again about how long I take to get ready!”

“You did refuse to help me wash Aspro,” he retorted, swinging open the door and almost choking at the sight of his sister. The effect of heavy work boots, thick black socks and navy shorts was even less flattering than her old navy singlet top. The piece de resistance, however, was the five-o’clock shadow stubble of beard regrowth
of black dots heavy-handedly drawn on her face.

“Wow,” he managed to say through his laughter, “I never thought I’d live to see the day you were prepared to go out of the house looking like that!”

“So what? No-one’s going to be there that matters - and Jack can’t accuse me of being half-hearted this time.” She sniffed derisively, “And what are you meant to be anyway? A school crossing guard? Where’s your lollipop sign?”

Michael looked down at the fluorescent polo-shirt he’d been issued for marshalling duties at school and fortunately had left in the boot of his car. “I’m representing the professional side of truck driving - like the ones who give a phone number on the truck to ring if you have any complaints about their driving. I realise with your style of driving why you couldn’t dress like that!”

Angie rolled her eyes and as she swung away from him, Michael caught sight of Jemimah watching shyly from the doorway of Angie’s room. At first glance she looked like a slight teenage boy, dressed as she was in a pair of Nan’s old jeans and a navy singlet under a flannelette shirt that could only have come from the rag-bag. Her hair was hidden underneath a baseball cap, but there was no disguising the feminine softness of the huge blue eyes staring from under the brim.

Angie was right, Jemimah looked nothing like a truck driver - even the addition of tattoos drawn along each forearm didn’t make her look anything other than sweet. Colour rushed into her cheeks under Michael’s silent appraisal, and she turned quickly to Angie.

“Are we all ready then? It’s probably time we should be going …”

“Ask Michael! He’s the one who’s been holding us up!”

Michael pulled his sister’s cap down over her eyes as he walked past her. “You really wanted me smelling of wet dog, did you? Anyway, I’m ready now.”

He grabbed the keys to his Dad’s ute from the dresser as he passed through the dining room. “I’ll wait for you girls outside. Unless you expect picking up from the door!”

“What makes you think you’re driving?” Angie chased after him while Jemimah caught the swinging screen and closed it gently behind her.

“Because I am,” he answered, dangling the keys out of Angie’s reach as she made a jump for them. “Dad suggested we take the ute since the Sainsbury’s road is rough at the best of times.”

“But this is our night out - you’re only coming along as a guest. It’s not even your own car, Michael! Hand them over now - I’ll do the driving thank you very much!” Angie made another determined leap and grabbed hold of the hand that held the keys.

“If you two are going to squabble over this, I’m obviously going to have to decide the matter myself!”

Michael released the keys in surprise, and turned to see Jemimah standing with her arms folded across her chest, looking at them both as if they were naughty five year olds.

“There is a very simple, Solomon-like solution to this,” she said. “If you can’t sort this out amicably - I’ll drive.”

“Oh, for goodness sake!” Angie exclaimed, and threw the keys at Michael, “You win!”

Michael caught them and looked at Jemimah in bemusement. “Does Angie think your driving is that bad?”

“Worse!” Jemimah admitted with a rueful shake of her head while Angie stalked around to the passenger side.

“If Michael’s going to drive, you can squeeze in the middle, Jemimah! I’m always getting stuck there because I’m the youngest, but I’m pulling rank this time!”

“What ever happened to giving your guests the privileges, Ange?” Michael called to her over the vehicle’s roof. Poor Jemimah seemed to have gotten the short straw again.

“I’m not going to insult Jemimah by calling her a guest - she’s practically family - and she can take her turn like the rest of us!” Angie said, climbing in. “Besides, Jemimah, you’re the one who wanted Michael to drive, so it’s only fair you have to squash into the middle.”

“You were the one who decided he could drive . . .” Jemimah started to remind her, but Angie had already closed her door.

Michael hesitated, his hand on the door handle, and looked down at Jemimah. He hadn’t even considered her comfort when he’d taken up his Dad’s offer of the more rugged vehicle. “Do you mind? We could easily take my car if you prefer.”

She glanced up quickly. “Oh, no - I was only teasing Angie. I didn’t mean to make you think I didn’t want to go in the middle … or that I minded you driving … I …”

Seeing her embarrassment, he cut her explanation short, and gave her shoulder a friendly squeeze as he opened the door for her. “Of course not, I didn’t think that for a moment. It’s just that this isn’t the smoothest ride; this workhorse wasn’t built for comfort.”

Jemimah had already slid across to the middle but at that she looked back at him and laughed. “I assure you, this is a luxury model compared to the old ute of the Hart’s I’ve been having driving lessons in. Now that one makes every bone in your body rattle!”

“Hasn’t Jack given up on that scheme yet?” Angie asked from other end of the bench seat. “I thought he swore it was the last straw when you stalled the ute on the railway tracks at Narrabri.”

“Did you have to bring that up again!” Jemimah covered her face in embarrassment, but Michael was relieved to see she was laughing behind her hands. “But no, even that wasn’t enough to make him admit defeat. Jamie tried hard to get out of it after that, though.”

Michael climbed into the driver’s seat beside her, buckling his seatbelt carefully so as not to knock against Jemimah. Even dressed as she was she seemed so fragile, and he frowned at the thought of her bumping along in the Hart’s old ute. It was generous of the Hart boys to take her under their wing like that, but enduring their rough and ready ways could only be an ordeal for someone like Jemimah.

He eased the ute onto the driveway, picking the smoothest path onto the gravel. He was hardly in a position to criticise anyone, though. With spending his school terms in Sydney and only returning home when Jemimah was heading out of town, it wasn’t like he was able to do anything to help her settle in.

At least there is tonight, he thought, lowering his visor as he turned the car into the afternoon sun. It was reassuring to know he’d be able to watch over the girls, and do everything in his power to make their evening enjoyable.

Jemimah stepped down from the Sainsbury’s verandah and ran across the lawn to where Angie and Michael were waiting for her by the ute. She was hot and tired and covered in grease and dirt and bits of grass, but so exhilarated that it was all she could do not to skip and jump like an excited little girl.

“Great night,” Michael greeted her with a warm smile, and held the driver’s door open for her as Angie went around to the passenger side.

“Oh, yes! Thank you,” Jemimah answered and she slid once more to the middle of the bench. She was sure to explode if she had to wait much longer before sharing her joy with Angie and Michael.

Michael waited while she did up her buckle and then climbed in beside her. The long length of his leg pressed against her as he reversed the ute onto the driveway, and she shifted slightly to give him more room. On the way to the Sainsbury’s she’d been so incredibly aware of his closeness beside her that she’d struggled to converse normally, but now she was so taken up with the events of the night she hardly noticed.

Even a few hours earlier she wouldn’t have thought anything could have made her happier than Michael’s kind attention through the evening - but there was.

She waited impatiently for the final goodbyes to be over as they drove slowly around the turning circle in front of the Sainsbury’s home, and then squeezed Angie’s arm. “I hope you don’t feel bad anymore about us not leaving today, because we were definitely meant to be here tonight!”

“Why do you say that?” Angie asked.

“The most wonderful thing happened.” Jemimah blinked back the tears of emotion as she thought back over her conversation with Jarrah earlier that evening. “Jarrah gave her heart to God and has become a Christian.”

Perhaps because she expected Angie and Michael to react with the same enthusiasm that consumed her, the immediate silence that followed her announcement took her completely off guard. After a few moments Angie gave a non-commital “Uh-huh,” and Michael looked briefly toward her before turning his attention back to the road, his face showing nothing.

Only a heartbeat later, however, he asked her to tell them all about it in a tone of such warm interest that Jemimah thought she must have imagined the initial lack of response.

“Jarrah was the young lady in the red shirt, wasn’t she?” he continued, “Is she one of the teenagers you’ve been tutoring after school?”

“Yes - only it’s not really proper tutoring, just a little bit of help with things as she needs it, that’s all,” Jemimah explained, feeling flustered. None of that seemed important right now, but she didn’t want Michael to have the impression she was doing more than she was. “Really, I think Jarrah’s been giving me even more help with my running than I’ve been giving her … but I do get to see her and a couple of the other young people most afternoons.”

“Have you and Jarrah spoken about spiritual things before, Mimie? You haven’t mentioned it,” Angie asked.

“No, we haven’t really. I’ve said a few little things about church now and again, but Jarrah hasn’t really seemed interested before.”

Michael glanced across at her again. “And what made her ask you about it tonight, do you think?”

“We sat with the Clarkes at tea time. They were talking about how Ashley had gone over to the Anderson’s to take care of things while they’re away, and that Gabi was helping out at the Hart’s because Leanne and Richard were going to stay there and Mrs Hart was still a little run down with the flu. Mrs Clarke had brought along a couple of casseroles to send home with them, you see. Well, Jarrah asked if they were all related to be going to so much trouble for each other. The Clarkes explained that even though they weren’t related, because they were Christians they were like family - since they loved Jesus they wanted to care for his family, too.”

“It is lovely how Christians show God’s love in their commitment to each other, isn’t it?” Michael said encouragingly.

Jemimah nodded. The Bible said that the world would recognise that people were Jesus’ disciples by their love for each other, Read John 13:34-35 in the ESV Online Bible. and it had made her heart glow to see it happening - but even more so that Jarrah had seen it. “Afterwards Jarrah said how she’d noticed we seemed different to a lot of people she knew, and she liked that and she would like to be a Christian too. That’s when we sat down on our own and I told her how to become born again. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Mmm,” murmured Michael, as though preoccupied. Jemimah glanced at Angie, whose face was briefly lit by an oncoming car. It looked like she was about to say something, but as the car flashed past Michael flicked his headlights back to high beam and asked, “Were you able to explain to her what it meant to be a Christian?”

“Yes …” For some reason his question made Jemimah nervous and self-conscious. “I explained that we were all sinners, but that Jesus had died on the Cross to pay for our sins so that we could be forgiven by God and go to heaven when we died. I told her how if she said sorry to God for her sins, and asked Jesus into her heart as her Lord and Saviour that the Holy Spirit would come and live in her heart and she would be a born-again Christian.”

“Did Jarrah ask any more questions?”

“Only about how to actually ask Jesus into her heart. I told her how praying was just talking to God, and that he could always hear her, whether she spoke aloud or just in her heart,” Jemimah added, the warmth of her joy cooling under Michael’s sober questioning. “Then I helped her pray the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ that we use at my church. And after she had given her life to Jesus I explained that now she was a Christian she needed to spend time with God every day by reading the Bible and praying - I’ve given her the little New Testament I keep in my handbag, and I’ll get her one of her own as soon as I can - and that she should start coming to church to learn more about how to live the way God wants her to, and to be with other people who love him.”

“What did Jarrah say about that?” Angie asked.

Jemimah pulled her lip between her teeth. That was the one bit that hadn’t gone as she expected.

“She was a bit unsure about that,” she admitted, remembering Jarrah’s alarm when she’d mentioned church. “She’s worried about what her family and friends might think, but that’s understandable - I know first hand the negative attitude her step-dad has toward anything to do with church. And Jarrah’s never been into a church except for a funeral service in the big church in town, which she found very intimidating. But she promised to think about coming along with me when I’m back after the holidays. Things sometimes are a bit hard when you’re a new Christian, aren’t they?” Jemimah asked, hoping for reassurance. “It’ll be easier for her to get used to following God when she knows a bit more, won’t it?”

The thoughtful silence that followed her question made Jemimah’s heart quicken nervously.

“The Bible says that if a person is saved, they are a new creation 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. and they will show the spiritual fruit of their repentance by following God and growing in grace, Read John 15:1-17 in the ESV online Bible Michael said slowly. “But what makes you think that Jarrah is saved, Jemimah?”

“She - she prayed the Sinner’s Prayer and accepted Jesus into her heart tonight, while we were together. That means she’s saved, doesn’t it?” she asked, frightened by the unexpected turn in the conversation.

“But that’s not how that Bible teaches us to come to salvation. Can you think of anywhere in the Bible where we’re told to ask Jesus into our heart to be saved?”

Michael’s voice was gentle, but his question plunged her into icy waters of doubt. Was he saying she’d told Jarrah the wrong thing? That Jarrah hadn’t become a Christian? Of course it was in the Bible that you had to open the door of your heart to Jesus and ask him in - she’d been taught that all her life.

Jemimah remembered clearly the day she’d asked Jesus into her heart when she was a little girl and her mum had shown her the special place in the back of her Bible to write her name and the date that she’d made her decision to accept Jesus as her Lord and Saviour. It always comforted her to see in black and white the very day she’d given her life to Jesus, and be reassured that she was truly saved.

She wanted to be able to tell Michael the parts from the Bible that talked about it, but her brain was so numbed by confusion that for the life of her she couldn’t remember anywhere that said exactly that.

“But if we don’t ask Jesus into our heart, he can’t save us, can he? He wants to forgive our sins and make us born again, but is waiting for us to receive him,” she began, then felt relief as a passage of Scripture finally came into her mind, “Like in that verse about Christ knocking on the door of our hearts. I can’t remember just now where it’s from, but it says that we have to open the door for him to come in.”

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me, Read Revelation 3:14-22 in the ESV online Bible” Michael quoted. “It’s from Revelation chapter three, but it doesn’t mention Jesus coming into anyone’s heart, and it’s not an instruction on how to become a Christian. It’s part of a letter to a Christian church, and Christ is reproving them for their lukewarmness in serving God half-heartedly, and warning them of their need for repentance. Jesus certainly promises his presence and fellowship to all who leave their sins to turn to him - professing Christians who have fallen into sin, and those who have never known him - but it is simply not a text instructing us how to evangelise.”

He paused while he slowed the ute to negotiate a particularly choppy section of road and then said, “Do you really see the God of the Bible - who made the whole universe out of nothing, who raises men from the dead - as powerless to save us unless we give him permission to be involved in our lives? It’s not us who choose God - it is God Who chooses us. The concept that we are saved by asking God into our hearts, or that we’re instantly born again by saying we accept Him as Lord and Saviour isn’t in the Bible at all,” he explained patiently. “God alone achieves our salvation - our responsibility is simply to trust Him and obey Him. The biblical answer to the question ‘how can I be saved?’ is to repent and believe and follow Jesus - not to simply say we believe and repent and will follow him.”

Jemimah’s eyes were stinging again, but not with the happiness that had moistened them such a short time earlier. She couldn’t really understand what Michael was saying, but the implication seemed clear.

“So are you saying that Jarrah hasn’t really become a Christian?”

“Jemimah, it is very encouraging that you’ve built up such a good rapport with Jarrah, and that she has been asking you about your Christian lifestyle. It may well be that the Holy Spirit is working in her heart and drawing her to God,” he answered. “But from what you’ve told me of your interaction with her I’d be surprised if she really had any understanding about what sin is - or why she even needs a Saviour. She probably has no concept that her sins are so bad before the eyes of a Holy God that he would be just in condemning her to eternal hell, or that the only way she can obtain forgiveness is by believing in the punishment of Jesus Christ in her place as payment for her sins, and in his resurrection from the dead to bring new life to all who trust in him.”

Michael continued speaking, although his words only made Jemimah feel more miserable. “Jesus says we need to know and count the true cost of following him Read the passage in Luke 14:25-33 about the cost of discipleship and for us to long for salvation so much that we count losing everything, even our own life, as well worth the cost. Jarrah might find the love and friendliness of the Christians she’s met attractive, but it won’t outweigh the difficulties she will suffer through following Jesus, unless she first feels deeply her own desperate need for God.”

Jemimah stared down at her lap, grateful for the darkness that hid her from Michael and Angie. She felt as though deep waters were closing over her head - and worse than anything that she’d dragged Jarrah down with her. What else could she have done? She’d told her the gospel - only Michael was saying she hadn’t said what was right.

“But … but what do I tell Jarrah now?” she managed to ask before her throat became too tight.

“The Bible teaches us that we are saved by grace, through faith - and that faith comes by hearing the word of God.  Read Romans 10:12-17 in the ESV online Bible How are people to hear? Through the preaching of the Word - which is God’s appointed means of salvation. You’ve done well giving Jarrah a Bible, Jemimah, now try to spend time reading it and discussing it with her. Bring her along to church, we don’t need to wait for someone to be saved for them to come along to church - bring them along to hear the Word preached so they come under conviction of God’s holiness and of their sin.”

He braked smoothly, and made the turn into his family’s driveway.

“The Word of God is a mighty and wonderful thing,” he added, his voice warm with enthusiasm. “It shouldn’t surprise us that God primarily uses the preaching of his Word to call sinners to himself. Read Titus 1:1-3 at the ESV online Bible. After all He created the heavens and the earth with the Word, He revealed himself to Abraham and Moses and the other prophets with His Word, and stilled storms and raised men from the dead with His Word. We have a natural tendency to want to simplify spiritual things - to reduce God’s wisdom down to four simple steps or a formula that we can administer like a dose of medicine with guaranteed results. But God’s ways are not our ways --”

Michael stopped the vehicle under the awning of the machinery shed but made no move to get out. Trapped between him and Angie and with no route of escape, Jemimah drew tightly into herself. What Michael was saying about God and his Word should have made her feel good - but all she felt was the abject misery of confusion and of how wrong he seemed to think her. She shrugged the shoulder of her flannelette shirt against her damp cheek as Michael finished what he was saying.

“-- and when He works the effects are powerful and transforming. That’s why salvation is described as being born again - we are not merely altered slightly, we are totally transformed into a new creation. We don’t need to look at the card in the front of our Bibles for the date we made some decision to assure ourselves we are saved --” The rest of his sentence was drowned out by the rushing of blood in Jemimah’s ears with mortification at this seemingly personal chastisement.

Just when she thought the sobs that welled in her chest must surely explode, Angie opened her door, filling the cabin with cool night air. As she stepped out Jemimah slid straight out after her, not even pausing before she escaped into the darkness and fled toward the house.

Only a little while earlier she’d been fooling herself to think that after all his kindness to her that Michael might even be a little bit interested in her - but now it was clear exactly what he thought of her beliefs. He’d said she didn’t know what the gospel was – did that mean he didn’t think she was even saved?

Did they all think so poorly of her here at her new church - was that why Pastor Turnbull hadn’t wanted her to come straight into membership?

Jemimah knew she loved God with all her heart - could they really think she so was wrong?

© R. L. Brown 2008

Eos Development