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)

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