Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Home Stretch!

Self-Reliance and "Getting On" with Life

Roughly every 6 weeks, our mission experiences an influx of new, young missionaries and simultaneously an outflux of young missionaries who have completed their term of service (18 months for the Sisters and 24 months for the Elders), and who are returning home.  We call the latter group "departing missionaries", for obvious reasons, and part of their experience as they get ready to go home is sitting through a one-hour seminar on self-reliance, put on by us and/or other senior missionaries.

In this seminar, we talk about several topics:
Helping Out After Typhoon Haiyan (Phillipines)
  • What have they learned during their service?  What good habits have they developed, that they would like to remember/continue when they return home?  How can they best do that?
  • How has their understanding and perspective of life changed because of their experiences?
  • Where are they headed in life; what goals do they have (personal, family, spiritual, education, work, and career)?  Which of those are most important?
  • How should they set and pursue goals?  What can they put in place to ensure they are successful (e.g., detailed plans, good habits, having a trusted mentor)?
  • Why is it important not just to think about ourselves and our immediate family, but also to think about others (extended family, friends, neighbours, random people we meet) and look for opportunities to help them, in whatever way is needed?  In this regard, why is looking outwards more important than looking inwards?
  • Why should the "Self-Reliance Path" be an integral part of their life?

This is a lot of material to cover in one hour, particularly when we would prefer it to be more of a discussion than a lecture.  The discussion is usually vigorous and informative, both for us and for those who are going home.

We held the last such seminar earlier this week.  In keeping with our "handing the reins" over to our replacements, they ran the seminar and we observed.  Initially, we were there just for moral support, but it occurred to me (John) that we were going home soon and should participate fully in the discussion, considering all the questions that we normally posed to others.  After all, what have I learned from my period of service?  It would be a mistake to think that because I am older and supposedly more experienced than our young missionaries, that I couldn't benefit from pondering the questions listed above.

For this blog entry, I would like to focus on two related questions: How has my understanding of and perspective on life changed because of our mission experiences?  Why is looking outwards more important than looking inwards?

One of the reasons for taking a sabbatical from work and "normal" life, and going on a mission, was to provide a space and time in which I could evaluate my life and determine whether I wanted to adjust either my goals or my priorities.  I thought it might be difficult to do that properly while still embroiled in life's normal demands and activities, and that a change of setting and day-to-day focus might open perspectives, clarify thinking and otherwise enable/improve the process.  This has proved to be the case in many ways.

(As an aside, I love this scripture from Psalms 139.  Verses 23-24 read, in their fullness, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.  And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting".)

How has my understanding of and perspective on life changed?  In no particular order:
I am a Child of God
  • God loves every one of his children (period).  Can I do the same?  Can I open my mind and heart to see each person as God sees them?
  • It is important (and possible) to be more observant and caring of others, whoever they might be.  A smile, a friendly greeting, an attentive ear and engaging conversation are good skills to develop.
  • While I love discussing various topics, listening is more important than talking.  A discussion is not about what I think but about connecting and understanding others.
  • It is not difficult to stop what I am doing and help someone.  It is a simple choice.  It is not a distraction; it is the essence of living a joyful life.
  • The time that I spend arguing, contending, judging or complaining is wasted time.  It benefits no one.
    A good Hug is Great Therapy
  • A good hug is a great therapy - I love giving and receiving them (a wonderful Polynesian practice amongst men).
  • In spiritual terms, teaching doctrine, or in worldly terms, teaching ideas, is the most powerful way to influence another's thinking and behaviour.  Each person is a capable human being - leave them be to digest, ponder, feel inspired and take action, in ways that are meaningful to them.
  • When I am patient and forbear to react in word or deed, I make or keep a friend.
  • Love is a verb.
  • Faith in Jesus Christ powers intelligent choice and action.
Are We Following Christ's Example?
The last concept that we want to mention is that there is a simple test for Christian discipleship - do we primarily look outward (seeing and considering the needs of others) or do we primarily look inwards (thinking first of our own needs)?  Someone mentioned to us that Christ always looked outwards, always thought of the state of mind and the physical needs of those around him.  It is a powerful idea, supported by every verse of scripture we have about Him.  It is also a sobering question to ask ourselves - are we striving to be like Him or not?

We will end this section with the following graphic.  It expresses a simple but powerful idea - that we are all (hopefully) on a path to becoming a better person, and ultimately to becoming like Jesus Christ, who is our Exemplar in all things.  The path starts as we learn about God and Christ - through reading and studying the scriptures and other good books, and through speaking to and watching the behaviour of our friends.  It proceeds to a level where we practice what we have learned, providing for ourselves, our family and our loved ones.  At some point, we also progress to serving others, whether that be directly or in a role as a teacher, mentor or coach.  Our ultimate goal is to develop Christ-like characteristics.

In every aspect of our lives, we are somewhere on this path, and hopefully, as time passes, we continue to improve and progress.

A Special Family Visit

Christmas break is, in Australia, also summer break for school children.  Many families pack their bags and head out for 3 or 4 weeks of summer fun and life in Melbourne (and in our self-reliance work) quiets down considerably.

Fortunately for us, one of our daughters and granddaughters came to visit us.  We had a great time over the Christmas break, showing them around our favourite hiking and bird-watching locations.  The following two photos were taken from the Eureka Skydeck - a popular spot for tourists to view the downtown portion of Melbourne.

Looking South from the Eureka Tower Skydeck (88th Floor) at Port Phillip Bay
Daughter and Granddaughter at the Eureka Tower

We spent a couple of days at Phillip Island.  There are fabulous views from Nobbies Point at the west end of the island, three of which are shown below.  It must have been a tough place for sailors but a perfect place for Fairy Penguins to nest.

View of the ocean cliffs.  Ground cover is Disphyma dunsdonii, a small plant/flower shown below.
Disphyma dunsdonii (common name "Pigface"; thanks Plantsnap!)
View of the very tip of Nobbies Point.  The small island is a protected bird nesting site.
The ocean covers part of the access when the tide is in.

We also spent a day at Wilson's Promontory National Park.  Following are a few photos taken inside the park.  The first is a photo was taken at Lilly Pilly Gully, a 6.5 km hike over hilly terrain.  We found an eel swimming in the creek nearby.

Lilly Pilly Gully, named after the unusual trees that grow in this area.

Norman Beach, Wilson's Promontory (Restricted Swimming Areas due to Currents)

Tidal River, near Norman Beach.  Families prefer a quieter setting for their children to play.

The drive to Wilson's Promontory is a long one on secondary roads and seemed to us to be deserted.  Imagine our surprise when we arrived at Norman Beach to find a large camp ground absolutely packed with families enjoying their summer vacation.  As far as we could tell, all camping areas in the park were fully booked.  This is a beautiful area, but if you want to visit in the summer time, book well ahead (a year?).  Day use is free as long as you leave by dusk.

Driving out of the park in the evening was challenging.  We had near misses with a swamp wallaby on two occasions and drove right by a wombat who was feeding at the side of the road (they can weight up to 100 kg and with their bony backs can cause a lot of damage to an unwary vehicle).

Swamp Wallaby, about 1 m high - cute, but you don't want to hit one with your car!

Three Generations of Bird Watchers (at Wilson's Promontory)!

The following video of a sleepy Koala was also taken on Phillip Island, at the Koala Conservation Centre (on the east side of the island).

We also spent a day at the Healesville Sanctuary, which specializes in the flora and fauna of Australia.  Of particular interest was seeing a Dingo - Australia's wild dog that arrived with Indonesian seafarers about 5000 years ago.  They do not bark but howl like a wolf.  They are very thin, as is illustrated by the "normal" size dingo in the following photograph.  In the wild, their prey is mostly wallabies, kangaroos and small mammals.

A Dingo trying to catch up with a dog that, after months of encouragement, he has befriended.

One night we went to Shakespeare in the Park and saw this lovely scene of a palm tree and a red flowering gum tree.  Melbourne's Botanical Garden is a local treasure and well worth visiting.

Palm and Red Flowering Gum Trees in Melbourne's Botanical Garden


We have a great selection of birds to show you NEXT POST, including some magical shots of Lyre Birds taken at Grant's Picnic Ground just before Christmas.  However, this blog is already getting long enough.  We'll end with three photos of some beautiful water birds, taken at Jell's Park in Wheelers Hill (a greater Melbourne community).

These photos were snapped when many birds were nesting and raising babies.  It is a marvellous time to visit Jell's Park!

Little Black Cormorant babies - Crying (in unison) for their next mouthful!

Lovely shot of a magnificent bird - a Male Australasian Darter

One of my favourite birds - the stately Australian Pelican (showing its breeding plumage)

Monday, December 4, 2017

Christmas is Coming (The Land is getting Hot!)

Light the World

It is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  We invite you to join us an activity called "Light the World".  It consists of performing acts of kindness and showing love to others on each day in December.

You can find further information at this web site: Light the World

High Summer

We are now into the season known as "High Summer" (see our post of 2017.09.09; article on "The Six Seasons of Melbourne).  This is described as "Warm to hot; native grasslands grow tall and set seed; birds feeding their young".  All this is indeed happening, as John can attest from various bouts of "hay fever".  The temperatures are generally around 30 degrees during the day, although it has been as high as 36 degrees (at our place in Heidelberg Heights).  It will only get warmer from here through to the middle of March.  Welcome to Christmas in Australia!!

After our "Self-Reliance Corner", we will share some photos of the wonderful plants and animals that we have seen around Melbourne and in Tasmania over the past month.

Self-Reliance Corner

The Doctrine of Education

One of the main areas of focus in self-reliance is that of education.  From the time of the Restoration of the gospel in latter days, the church and its leaders have emphasized the importance of gaining an education and having a strong knowledge of both temporal and spiritual matters.  Education opens the door to better job opportunities and produces a people who are rounded, compassionate and resourceful.

The doctrine of education is explained in the following scriptures:

D&C 88:78-79, 118-119 "Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

"Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms...

"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

"Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God...".

D&C 90:15 "And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people".

D&C 131:6 "It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance".

It is clear from these scriptures that the Lord wants his sons and daughters to develop in both temporal and spiritual knowledge, and that the two are inseparably connected.  Learning occurs as we combine our own efforts with a faith in Christ, who can strengthen us and open our minds to receive knowledge.

Henry Eyring (1901-1981) American Scientist
Church members are not shy about tackling difficult questions and examining their beliefs.  Henry Eyring (1901-1981), an American theoretical chemist and member of the LDS church said of the above scripture from D&C 88: "Here is the spirit of true religion, an honest seeking after knowledge of all things of heaven and earth".  We particularly like another of his quotes: "Is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men."

Gordon B. Hinckley, a prophet and former president of the church, gave the following advice to the youth of the church:

"It is so important that you young men and you young women get all of the education that you can. The Lord has said very plainly that His people are to gain knowledge of countries and kingdoms and of things of the world through the process of education, even by study and by faith. Education is the key which will unlock the door of opportunity for you. It is worth sacrificing for. It is worth working at, and if you educate your mind and your hands, you will be able to make a great contribution to the society of which you are a part, and you will be able to reflect honourably on the Church of which you are a member. My dear young brothers and sisters, take advantage of every educational opportunity that you can possibly afford, and you fathers and mothers, encourage your sons and daughters to gain an education which will bless their lives."

Henry Eyring had a good companion quote to Pres. Hinckley's advice: "I would like to suggest to the youth who may feel inclined to disparage religion as he pursues other studies, that he might bring enrichment to his life by cultivating faith and an interest in things of the spirit as he follows his other pursuits.  Such faith will never detract from his abilities in other fields, but it will broaden his thinking and give added depth to his character".

(Further thoughts by Henry Eyring on integrating the truths of science and religion can be found in the book shown at left.)

Brigham Young, an early prophet of the church, once asked the question: "When shall we ever cease to learn?".  His answer: "Never, never!"

We recommend to you several of the church's self-reliance resources that deal directly with education, which can be accessed by clicking on the following links:

Success in School Begins in the Home (a course for parents and grandparents who are concerned with the education of their youth).

Education for Better Work (a course for adults who seek to improve their education).

In addition, the following is a short video in which a church member shares the strong culture of education in his family - taught to him by his parents and in turn passed on to his children.  This is a family culture that we would all be wise to cultivate.

Flora and Fauna

Flowers / Plants

The scenery for plant life is spectacular, wether walking in our neighbourhood and admiring local gardens, or walking in nearby parks.  Here is a sampling.  This is no guarantee that we know what any of the flowers are called, but we have used a wonderful app (available on the iPhone) called "PlantSnap" to check the identification.

Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia)
Everyone probably knows this as a potted plant back home in Canada.  Here in Melbourne, the Bird of Paradise grows in profusion in local gardens.  We love this "hedge" along one of our neighbour's fences.

Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans)
This photo was taken in Hobart, on the south coast of Tasmania.  We believe, even though it looked like it was growing "natively", that it is an introduced species.  Nevertheless, it seems to love the location and the amount of sun.

Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia)
This is another ornamental that will be familiar to Canadians.  We found a spectacular specimen growing in a village green in the small town of Poatina, in Tasmania.  This is a great spot to stop, rest, enjoy some great food while travelling south from Deloraine to Hobart, on the route past Great Lake in the centre part of the island.

Purple Carpet (Drosanthemum floribundum)

This gorgeous carpet was growing on a boulevard along someone's yard near a park in which we frequently walk.  We couldn't resist stopping and taking a photo, even though the owner probably thought we were crazy.

As a wrap on the flora, we have to include the lovely Jacaranda tree (again, not native to Australia but found in profusion throughout Melbourne).

Full view of Jacaranda (mimosifolia)

Close up of Jacaranda (mimosifolia)


While we are normally focused on birds, we do see and take photos of some mammals, which we would like to share below.

The first one is of an Echidna.  They are not that common (at least in the places we haunt) and we are always excited to see them.  We saw the following little fellow on the side of the highway when we were travelling in Tasmania.  Janette was worried it was young, inexperienced and about to get run over.  So we backed up and tried to encourage it to go back down the bank.  It was not budging.  It had found a nest of ants just under the pavement and was stubbornly going to stay until it had eaten its fill (hmmm...sounds like a few kids that we know :>)

Echidna (digging for Ants)

If you look closely at the following photo, you can see the ants swarming on the Echidna's head.  Look carefully at the bottom right of his head, right on his snout.

Ants Swarming Echidna's Head
We saw this small "kangaroo", about the size of a rabbit, hopping through a forest near Hobart, Tasmania.  It is called a Tasmanian Pademelon.  You get some sense of size from the fern frond in the foreground (did you like that alliteration?).

Tasmanian Pademelon


Last, but not least, some interesting new (to us; except for the eagle) bird species that we've seen recently, all on our trip to Tasmania in early November.

Wedge-Tailed Eagle

Australian Shelduck (Male)

Australian Shelduck (Female)

Horsefield's Bronze-Cuckoo

Green Rosella

 (Not so) Common Greenfinch

Monday, October 30, 2017

Self-Reliance Corner

Be Thou Prepared

"Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them". (Ezekiel 38:7)

This statement, made by God to the enemies of Israel whose armies will gather in the last days, was an ironic one, for no matter how well prepared those armies are, they will not be able to stand against God's forces. However, the lesson contained therein is still a valuable one for those of us who live in the latter days and face various storms of life, be they temporal or spiritual. We are to be a guard for all our company, i.e., our immediate and extended families, wards and communities, to protect them against the coming storms. In part, we are to do that by being prepared in all things. Most importantly, as we are taught in self-reliance classes, we must be prepared spiritually.

How can we be prepared spiritually?  One way is by reading the word of God as found in the scriptures.  We used to read scriptures daily while at home, both individually and in our family, but we have found since coming on a mission that we have studied and pondered the scriptures more intensely - seeking to understand and apply them in our lives.  In the process, we receive spiritual promptings that help us in various situations.

For example, Sister Sobkowicz mentioned one scripture that brought comfort to her in our previous post (Helaman 5:12, 47).  She also felt prompted to share, at our nephew's memorial service, a hymn we had been singing with a choir in Australia.  Eight family members sang this hymn, including her brother.  The words and music of the hymn are beautiful:

Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing
(Words by John Fawcett; Music by Tom Clark; copyright 2014)

Lord dismiss us with thy blessing, fill our hearts with joy and peace.
Let us each thy love possessing triumph in redeeming grace.
Oh, refresh, oh refresh us, travelling through this wilderness (repeat).

Thanks we give and adoration for the gospel's joyful sound,
May the fruits of thy salvation in our hearts and lives abound.
Every faithful, ever faithful to the truth may we be found (repeat).

So that when thy love shall call us, Saviour, from the world away,
Let no fear of death appal us; glad thy summons to obey.
May we ever, may we ever live with thee in endless day (repeat).

Community Service

While walking in one of our favourite local parks a month or so ago, we met an older gentleman who was pulling weeds from along the trail.  We stopped to chat with him and found that he was dedicated to removing invasive species from the park and re-establishing native plants.  The park covers a large area and this is a huge job.  He has been working at it for over 20 years and has organized other people in the community to help.  Their combined efforts have allowed them to clear and maintain a portion of the park area.  It is a beautiful place to walk and as a result of their efforts, many native plants thrive and are appreciated by the park users.

We spent some time weeding with him and learned more about the local flora and fauna as a result.  

Sister Sobkowicz got a little too close to a Cupboard spider" (fortunately for her, she wasn't very interested in biting anything human).  The fellow we were with was quite happy to let a Redback spider crawl on his bare hand - he said they were much more afraid of us than the other way around and were fairly harmless as long as we weren't hurting them.  But both the Cupboard and the Redback spiders (which we see in our yard) are venomous - the Redback can cause serious illness and on some rare occasions death; the Cupboard spider has a less serious but still painful bite which can lead to skin lesions.

There was a hollow in a tree near where we were weeding which became a nesting site for a pair of Kookaburras.  If we are lucky, perhaps we will see the young Kookaburras later in the spring.

Pair of Kookaburra's Observed at Grant's Picnic Ground in the Dandenong Mountains

Other Birds

We came upon a couple of Pied Currawongs along one path who were being remarkably brave.  Normally shy and hiding amongst thick tree branches and leaves, they were hopping along the side of the path, eating bugs.  Their normal breakfast fare is the eggs and young chicks of other birds, so it was unusual in that they weren't being chased away from the area by other birds.

Pied Currawong - in Plain View, for Once

Pied Currawong - Showing off its Gorgeous Patterns

We were visiting a well known, large Rhododendron garden near Melbourne and came, by good fortune, across another very shy bird.  The Superb Lyrebird, named for its wonderful, lyre-shaped tail (when unfurled, of course) is reclusive and difficult to photograph.  Its main claim to fame is an uncanny ability to imitate almost any sound it hears - not only other birds but trains, whistles, chainsaws, etc.  It can apparently produce more than 300 distinct sounds.  This particular fellow was in a patch of shade at the bottom of a gully, so difficult to photograph clearly.

Superb Lyrebird

Female Australian King-Parrot
We were looking down from a bridge on the Yarra River and couldn't resist this photo of a mother duck and babies.  It takes some time to get used to the ever-murky quality of the water, but it's clay banks for as far as you can see!  The ducks don't seem to mind.

Momma Pacific Black Duck and Babies

We guess it must just be baby season.  Here is a mother black swan with her cygnets.

Black Swan and Cygnets
To finish off this month's posting, a few photos of raptors taken when we were out at the Werribee Water Treatment Ponds.  The first two are of an unusual sighting of an Eastern Osprey (common in Canada, but uncommon in southern Australia).  The last photo is a White-bellied Sea-Eagle - seen from a long way off, taken with maximum telephoto lens (400 mm at the time) and digitally enlarged to the edge of recognition - still an awesome sight!

Eastern Osprey, perched about 100 m away from us - amazing!

Eastern Osprey - Oops - We got a little too close for comfort

White-bellied Sea-Eagle - taken from a long distance, but a magnificent bird!