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This Red Shield Appeal, let your heartache move you to respond


The Red Shield Appeal doorknock weekend is being held on 25-26 May.

This year’s Red Shield Appeal comes at a time when we are more often personally confronted with the struggles of those doing it tough, writes Salvos Online journalist KIRRALEE NICOLLE

 

I haven’t cried in public in almost a decade, but last week, my downfall came in the form of an Elsa dress.


I attended the Red Shield Appeal launch in Melbourne CBD, a timely event amid a soaring cost-of-living crisis and the teasing of Federal Budget predictions.


When a humble packet of fish fingers costs half an hour of a minimum wage worker’s pay before tax, and one woman is killed every four days in a violent incident, it was refreshing to hear television presenter Eddie McGuire acknowledge on stage that there were “grey skies” across the nation.


The stories told were heartbreaking yet hopeful, as time and again, speakers testified of how the assistance provided by The Salvation Army helped them, their friends or family, to get back on their feet and even reach out to others again.


I left the event well-fed, caffeinated and ready for an afternoon of catching up on work. As I sat on the train pondering how I could best capture all the highlights in a story, into my reverie burst a family of five.


Even thinking of them now brings an uncomfortable well of emotion up my throat, blurring my vision.


The woman, who looked in her 20s, was in tears. She stood on the train, shakily scrolling her phone, swearing under her breath. The man sat huddled with three small children, an older boy and girl and a baby boy. The baby slept in the stroller, and the older children silently nestled close to the man.


They all stared ahead. Every now and then, the woman would shake her head and vocalise a complaint. At one point, I caught the eye of the man and mouthed, “Are you ok?”. He nodded slowly, then looked down.


The two adults eventually began talking. I wasn’t trying to listen but could hear everything. They discussed Centrelink payments that had failed to arrive, whether they could get home with the fuel that was in their tank and how long before their next fuel voucher arrived.


They had also gotten a parking fine. That seemed to have been the tipping point of the day.


Throughout this, the little girl sat silent and close-mouthed. Beside her, the boy, slightly older, the same. They didn’t meet eyes with anyone but sat rapidly scanning in every direction.


The little girl wore a pale blue Elsa dress with a fluffy tulle tutu.


She must have been the same age as my own daughter. In the five or so stops that they were on the train, my daughter would have asked for a snack, giggled loudly and possibly gotten the whole carriage singing a rousing rendition of The Wheels on the Bus.


They exited the train, and I watched the small bundle of blue disappear out of sight. Then, I did the thing I hadn’t done in years. I began crying in public. A kind stranger behind me heard me pulling back sobs, and we quietly discussed the pain we felt watching the struggles of those we felt unable to assist.


We’d just seen a snapshot of an unfinished story.


The messy middle

The week before, I had spoken with someone who had been living in a tent because, as he told me, his car was too small to sleep in.


“I recently upgraded my tent,” he told me. “The last one wasn’t very waterproof, and when it rained heavily, everything was soaked.”


“I haven’t had the same problem with this one. It’s been pretty good.”


I told him I worked with The Salvation Army, but he seemed hesitant to accept assistance, so I let him know I saw him and then let him be.


As a writer, I deal in story arcs and happy endings. Many of the stories I tell have a complicated beginning, a point of change and then an upward trajectory at the end. Writers don’t like the middle of stories. Being stuck in the middle means you haven’t finished the task.


One of my favourite parts of the Bible tells of a time when Jesus hung out in the messy middle. Jesus was very familiar with discomfort, which is really quite impressive for someone used to the luxuries of Heaven. His friend Lazarus had died, and even though Jesus knew he could bring him back to life, he was heartbroken.


Before he resurrected Lazarus, Jesus wept.


I don’t have the power, the position or the training to fix many problems firsthand. I can’t do the resurrecting; I can often only cry, pray and support those doing the work.


The power of the Red Shield Appeal is that it gives those with stories that might otherwise stay in the messy middle the chance to see hope.


Frontline workers may not perform daily resurrections from the dead, but with assistance from people like you and me, they can continue helping someone every 17 seconds to resurrect lives from a place of profound hardship to one of flourishing. And when one soul is helped, it has a positive effect on those around the person too.


Children, parents and friends all feel a weight lifted from them.


A broken heart is a doorway to a solution, and with the rising cost of living and other challenges darkening our world, we are all going to be confronted with more and more pain.


May we acknowledge our limitations, and may we be motivated to give.

When all it takes is an Elsa dress to break a heart, imagine all it might take to mend one.


“The power of the Red Shield Appeal is that it gives those with stories that might otherwise stay in the messy middle the chance to see hope.”

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