Late one April afternoon in 1945 a little girl was playing near the creek that ran down past the home where she lived with her family: her mum and dad, four sisters and two brothers; all older than herself. It was a forbidden place to play;
“The taniwha* will get ‘chew ‘n eat chew’!” her mother had warned her time and time again. But the blue clay that she often scooped from inside the creek’s banks was always soft and oozy and so easy to make things with: a house and a family sitting at a dinner table, ‘complete with plates, cups and knives and forks’; so engrossed in her play that she was oblivious of the mist that was beginning to rise from the creek and the shadows deepening around her until tantalizing aroma wafted down from the house made her realize it was time to go home – and she’d better hurry as it was getting dark! Fast, as it usually did in this deep Mount Messenger Valley. She was just going to wash her hands in the creek when the soft sound of a horse’s hoof tread caused the hairs on the back of her neck to bristle! Turning her head slightly, she saw a stranger dressed all in black riding on the biggest and blackest horse she had ever seen! His wide brimmed hat hid his face and his cloak draped from his shoulders over the horse’s rump. All this the little girl saw in a split second and bolted! – Bounding across the creek – up the opposite bank – zipped across the yard - dived under the big hedge to hide!
“Oh, little girl! Little girl!” The stranger called, “Oh I say, I didn’t mean to frighten you dear. Little girl!”
The little girl peeping out from the hedge, her heart pounding against her ribs – her throat dry and rasping – her eyes as huge as saucers, popping out of their sockets, watched the stranger ride up to the gate and dismount. Darting across the garden – flying up the steps, burst in the kitchen door, screams “TANIWHA!* TAIPO!*”
(*Taniwha = River monster; Taipo = Monster of the night)
Startled, Mum yells “Luv a duck?! W’ as a’ madder?!”
“I’s a monster Maarm! I’s a Taniwha!” the little girl screams clinging to Mum’s legs.
Knock! Knock! Knock! At the door! “Aah!” screams the little girl and was gone!
(To hide in a dog’s kennel – first pulling the startled dog out, then pulling him back in after her to shield her.)
The stranger was a Catholic priest who being intrigued by a little trail that wound off to somewhere in the deep bush, followed it out of curiosity…… “To find this unique oasis!” He declared
“Oh, I thought you were just lost, Father!” Mum laughed.
“Aye, indeed I thought so too! Little trail seemed to go on forever, and ever climbing. And when I got to that long dark tunnel, my word, you can only imagine my relief when I saw your delightful home down in the valley! Still, who knows? Perhaps the good Lord has led me here, perhaps there’s sheep He wants branded or some that may have gone astray.”
“Be buggered!” The dad snorted indignantly, as he snatched his pipe out of his mouth. “All ‘a sheep ‘as me brand on ‘em. There’s no strays among “em. An’ I’m no sheep rustler!”
“I beg your pardon Sir, I was not for one minute implying anything of the sort, er, I was speaking ‘biblically’.”
“Oh! Oh well in that case pull up a chair by the fire an’ mum’l put the billy on to make us some tea. Tucker’ll be ready directly.”
The priest was made very welcome; someone ran a hot bath and placed warm towels on a stool in the bathroom for him, someone else tended to his horse, unsaddling him – rubbing him down – putting a blanket on him – and giving him a generous portion of oats, at the same time appreciating the beauty of a gentle and noble horse.
During the meal – delicious roast meat and several vegetables which were all home grown, thick brown gravy, followed by apple pie custard and cream. The dad explained, “Lonely place here, miles from anywhere. We’re the only family now – used to be more, but the war took the men, so the women n’ kids moved out. Farms managed by trustees n’ our two eldest girls looks after one of them. Kids not used to strangers – usually some’ lost or running ‘way from police.”
Where the conversation allowed, the priest made friendly comments to the children, especially to the little girl, who ran away and hid in a flea inhabited dog kennel, now sitting quietly at the table with evidences of a recent scrubbing, but whose eyes were still as big as saucers.
After dinner he sat with the children and told them stories about a man called Jesus. Each child was given a “holy” picture. The little girl was strangely drawn to him who had by this time persuaded her to sit on his lap as he told them story after story about that wonderful man!
When the priest left 2 days later, he gave several gifts to the family. Tea towels and a pretty silk scarf for mum, a wad of tobacco for dad, several spools of ribbon for the girls to share plus a head scarf for each of the 3 older girls, a fancy hair clip for each of the two younger girls a pocket knife for each of the boys and many bible story books and a blessing upon each child; when it was her turn, he said very gently to the little girl, her face cupped in his hands, “Remember little one, God always answers prayer!”
During July, thunder storms in that valley were frequent and severe. Forked lightening jagged viciously across the sky. Thunder boomed and cracked so loud – so close the little house shuddered and the ground trembled. Creeks that were normally meandering streams, swiftly became swirling muddy torrents, very soon breaking their banks, as rain fell in “sheets”. In one such storm the little girl had witnessed lightening strike a cattle beast dead, not twenty yards from her! And in another, from the kitchen window saw a dead tree burst into flames when struck by lightening.
One afternoon in July, mum said to the little girl, “You’ll have to get the cows today dear.” “Ee! But it’s storming “maarm!” “Too bad! Everybody’s out shifting sheep up to high ground – even little Johnny – you’ll have to do it. There’s no one else!”
“Ooh, but the lightening, “maarm” n’ the thunder!” “Oh, don’t be such a sookie buba! Here put this on….” Mum cornered a wheat sack into itself making it into an excellent head to foot, rain coat. “Here this will keep you nice and dry. Go on! You’ll be alright!” She chuckled as she gently pushed her out into the rain because only her bare feet were visible beneath the sack. She hugged it close as she squished down the muddy road.
“Remember little one, God always answers prayer.” “But,” thought the little girl, “if we be naughty an’ do naughty things, God won’t like us, an’ He’ll chuck us in hell when we die!” (A year had passed since the priest’s visit and in that time the children had been receiving catechism by mail and as far as the little girl was concerned, it was all scary stuff from which she had come to imagine that God was a grumpy old man who lived in the sky. Who was desperately hard to please and He noted every naughty thing she did! Why, just yesterday, she had sneaked up to “Lucky-duckie” and scared her off her nest, but how her laughter had turned to sudden alarm when she heard the rumble of approaching thunder! Shaky legs going all watery as she bolted for home! Bursting through the fence sobbing an urgent apology to God! Swiftly the storm came chasing her as she ran across the paddock – “catching” her just as she burst through the kitchen door. “Aah!” Mum yells, “Wa’s da’ madder w’ chew? How many times I tol’ chew not to do da’” “God’s chasing me!” The little girl screamed as she dived under her bed.
And now she repeated that apology and promised. “I’ sorry God! I was naughty to “Lucky-duckie”. I promise not to do that ever again!”
It had stormed all night . The creeks swirled in savage torrents, the gurgling muddy water tossed debri, trees and fences in their mercilessness much higher than usual and far over their banks. Stock had to be shifted to even higher ground. Everybody was out working in the storm – it was all her fault!
“Please God! Forgive me for being naughty to “Lucky-duckie”. An’ if you stop the storm - an’ thunder an’ lightening an’ the rain,” she cried “I promise I never to be naughty to her or any other animal, or bird an’ bee. An’ I won’t break any more spider webs on purpose.” She sniffed her snotty nose, wiping it and her eyes on the sleeve of her cardigan.
At last she found the cows, contently chewing their cuds as they sheltered under a clump of trees.
“C’mon Tiny! C’mon Sally! C’mon Cherry! C’mon ‘ome now!” Tiny, the biggest sniffed rudely right in hr face; Sally rolled her eyes nervously as she sniffed the sack clad object! Cherry hunched her back and emptied her bladder. Then the three reluctantly, but resignedly started for home. The little girl tried to walk as close as she could to Tiny – drawing comfort from her big warm body.
“Sorry to make you walk in the mud an’ rain, cows.” She said.
Suddenly it occurred to her that the thunder had stopped and there had been no lightening for ages – and hey? It had stopped raining! An’ hey! The sun is out!
“Remember little one, God always answers prayer!”
“God did! God stopped the storm! Oh, thank you God!” She whispered almost too afraid to believe!
Birds were singing and flying about; fantails were ducking and diving around the cows. The dark clouds swiftly sailed away and big white roly poly ones parted to show blue sky! She took off her “sack coat.” The sun felt so good on her back! She noticed the buttercups that were bobbing up an down in the muddy water as it rushed by. How bright and pretty they were growing along the banks of the overflowing ditches, their little muddy faces, lifting up “smiling” toward the sun ”the storm already forgotten and forgiven”. She picked a sprig and gently wiped the mud from their petals. “How pretty they are!” She thought; then considered carefully, “If God made everything – then He made the buttercups! An’ if He made something so pretty – then He can’t be grumpy! Maybe some day I’ll find out more about God an’ maybe we can be friends!”
Everyone was relieved that the storm had passed and although the creeks remained muddy and swollen for several days, some fences were wrecked and lots of rubbish was scattered about – there had been no stock lost – that time.
One night after the storm, after dinner, bath and now ready for bed, the little girl was sharing a big picture book with an older sister. The shiny pages had pictures, about the life of Jesus, His suffering, crucifixion and resurrection. One showed Him with a cruel crown of thorns on His head. The thorns so cruelly pressed in that blood ran down His face that was grey with so much pain.
‘You do ‘dat to ‘im when yo’ naughty!” The 8 year old sister stated. “Not fair! Didn’t mean to! Didn’t know!” The little girl protested. “I don’t wanna look at that picture!”
“Well when you’r naughty I’ll make you!” The pages were gently turned, the girls savouring every picture. Then there was one of Jesus after He rose from the dead. He was wearing a white robe, sitting with His hands folded in His lap. “I like that picture!” The little girl stated. “But He looks so sad! Why does He?” “’Cause He just wanted to be friends with people, but no one wanted to be friends with Him.” The older sister explained.
The little girl looked deeply into the eyes of Jesus and after a long moment said ”I’ll be His friend!” And kissed Him. Whack! A stinging slap on her bare thigh! “Ow!”
“You’re naughty! You’re bad!” The older sister shouted.
“What’s the row? What’s going on?” An elder sister demanded. “She kissed Jesus!”
“How dare you!” The elder sister spat. “You disgusting creature!” Smack! Smack! Smack! “Now go to bed! And NO CANDLE!!” “Eeeh!” wailed the little girl. She was terrified of the dark.
Summer had come at last! Golden day after golden day! The little girl most always played alone. One day she was lying in a little hollow looking up at the clouds, looking for animal shapes in them; when she got to thinking about Jesus – she often found herself thinking about Him, but always pushed the thoughts away because she felt ashamed. But today she allowed the thoughts to stay. She remembered that picture of Him and recalled how she had been punished for kissing Him. She had never seen that book again. Mortified and with tears in her eyes she rolled onto her side, resting her head on her elbow. “Didn’t mean to be naughty.” She pouted at a baby pine tree that was growing beside the hollow, “Didn’t mean to be cheeky or rude! Just wanted to be friends.” Then, slowly rising to her knees, slid closer to the tree, grabbed hold of two tiny branches and said, “Tell you what little tree, on day when you’re big an’ I’m big, I gonna fine’ Jesus an’ Him an’ me are gonna be best friends”………..
A strange warm wind brushed her face, played with the little pine tree and whispered through the grass around the hollow. She got scared and ran back to the house.
1993. A woman was strolling along a beach one Sunday morning in July. The sun felt so warm and good on her back! She loved this world and all the good things God had made, as personal gifts from Him!
Her life had been dogged by disappointments one after another. Bitterness had been her companion for years! Cheated by the devil and entrapped in a commune for many years where hr family, health and her will to live had been destroyed! But rescued and set free at last, by the hand of Jesus, she had every reason to be grateful to be alive. Today – she felt wonderful!
Notwithstanding her life had not been without sin, even recently, she had journeyed off into a far country – searching for herself away from God; into the regions of Maoridom,
Until realising it was a dangerous place without Him.
She watched the wavelettes swish up the sand, pause oh so briefly – rush back to the sea.
“You shall go so far and no further!” “Oh God You set Your decree for the sea – and it obeys You! Oh God how wonderful! How scary, awesome wonderful!” Then fear took hold of her as she thought “What if the sea was rebellious like people and disobeyed God?! There’d be enough water in this great ocean to drown the whole world in a moment! She recalled the times she had been rebellious and disobedient and was mortified to tears! Until again touched by His grace she rejoiced in laughter and joy. She skipped along the beach, so in love with God!
“Oh God! I love You!” She shouted and threw kisses out to where the sea and sky met! With her fingers wrote in capital letters in the sand “I love You God! “ and a string of kisses! Then in her spirit she heard:
“You cannot out love God!”
She sobered, “I know that.” She walked quietly for a while skipped again and shouted “But I love You God with all my heart and soul!”
She sobered again and responded “I know that.” Sitting on a log of driftwood pondered “I know I can’t out love God, an’ I’m not trying to. All I know is that I love Him with all my heart an’ soul! With everything I got! I love Him with ALL of me!!” Then after a moment or two of thought “How much does God love me? What’s the difference? What’s the comparison, I wonder.”
Immediately the Lord spoke in her spirit: Go into the sea, up to your knees; there cup your hands together and take up as much water as you can to overflowing.”
When she had done what He had told her to do, He said, “There! That’s your portion…. The rest is mine! That’s the difference, there’s the comparison!”
“Oh God” she cried, cupping her hands she tried again and again to take up much more water, each time crying, “I love You God!” And each time a wavelet would scoop the water out of her hands and the Lord said: ”Even though you love me with all your heart and soul, your love is only a small handful in this great ocean! Each time you take a handful of water and cry you love Me, and I know you do, yours is overwhelmed in mine!” She ran from the sea! Scrambled up a sand dune and sat stunned! Drawing her knees up wrapped her skirt and arms around them; stared out to sea, in awe and wonder and afraid. She was very aware of Him as He came and sat down beside her, gently putting His hand on her shoulder spoke on:
“And this is the great Pacific we’re talking about, not just any ocean or just any sea, but the great Pacific, the greatest of all My oceans. And who has measured it’s width, it’s depth, it’s length or it’s volume; or who can tell it’s strength, or who can tell the treasures of this great deep? Yet great as it is, it is only a pond compared with My great eternal love for you!” Just then a very soft breeze brushed her face and tenderly He said “This is how much I love you!”
She wept until she was empty of weeping then softly whispered, “God, I didn’t mean to be rude or cheeky, or smart, I just wanted to know, to understand.”
He put His arm around her shoulders, “I know, He said, “I understand.” There was a smile in His voice.
They sat together thus for a while until being comforted and encouraged by His presence, she turned to Him and shyly asked, “God, can we be friends? Do You mind? Can we – can we be best friends?”
“But we are!” The Lord’s reply startled her, ”We are? You mean…….already?”
And He showed her a little girl kneeling beside a baby pine tree, looking at a picture book, a promise sealed with a kiss and buttercups bobbing up and down in muddy water!
“Oh God!” she gasped in astonished delight. ”You mean You were there?! I mean, You saw? You heard? You didn’t get mad? It was okay? You didn’t think I was stupid or bad, or disgusting?!”
“I was there, I saw, Iwas not mad, I heard and received, and yes, it’s okay! And no I didn’t think you were stupid or bad or disgusting! I thought it all so very sweet!”
“Oh Lord, I had completely forgotten about that little tree and those times.”
“I had not.” The Lord stated
She thought about that little pine tree with mixed emotions of pleasure, joy and sadnss when she remembered the storms, the thunder , the lightening and the rain.
“That tree must be full grown by now, God.” She sighed.
“Yes!” He chuckled and showed her the full grown tree so far away, blue in the distance of time long ago. It was obvious that it had weathered many a storm in it’s life, a broken branch or two. A snarled trunk, it’s heavy boughs spread wide, standing so strong. “And that strange wind that time; was that You God?” She felt His smile.
“Thank You God! Thank You so very much for so much!” she said, appreciatively
“You’re welcome!” The Lord replied.
After a short silence she proclaimed “Oh God, I am so happy! It’s a dream come true! I am a friend of God! Just like Abraham! Oh God! Bless You and thank You!”
They laughed together and hand in hand walked along the beach……..
A promise fulfilled!