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Archive for June, 2015

Maxine's 1st bday 2015 073eI know. I should never have tried to feed our little granddaughter while sitting on the lounge, but I thought it might work. Besides, her dinner was yummy spaghetti Bolognese—she was bound to like it. I tried to pop that first spoonful into her mouth, but she knocked it flying. I got the message. She was not interested—at all.

I decided to play a game with her. I picked up one long strand and dangled it into her mouth, but she was still unhappy. What she wanted, I realised, was to put her hands right in the middle of that spaghetti Bolognese and shovel it all in herself! She refused every other tricky manoeuvre I could think of to feed her and stubbornly hung out for what she really wanted to do.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. Her Nanna caved in! And a few strands did make it to her mouth. But lots more ended up on us both—as well as the lounge and carpet!

Not long after, it was story time. Our three year old grandson Zain picked out two books and was soon seated on the lounge listening intently as Granddad read the first one. I thought Maxine would happily play by herself for a while, but no. With an affronted yell, she grabbed the other book and, after glancing at me as if to say, ‘Ha! I’ve got a book too now!’, she ensconced herself beside her brother and howled. No, she was not happy sharing Zain’s storybook. She wanted Nanna to read her one of her own. And she stubbornly hung in there till Nanna once again caved in.

Now one might well say I should have let Maxine know at that point who was really in charge and not indulge her. After all, she needs to know she can’t always get her own way. Yet for some strange, perverse reason, I admired her strong determination to go for what she wanted and to persevere, despite my best efforts to deter or distract her. Part of me cheered her along—You go for it, girl! Make it clear to us what’s going on inside that little head of yours so we understand. Grow and learn!

You see, such thinking at certain times in my life has enabled me to overcome so many obstacles, return to study twice and get those necessary qualifications, as well as persevere in my writing journey of recent years. I know I could not have achieved all this apart from God. I would have fallen in a heap many times over, had God’s Spirit not strengthened me to stay focussed on what I believed I had been called to do. Yet I had a choice as well—to give in to the enemy’s lies and taunts or to stubbornly stand firm and resist, as the Apostle Paul urges us to do:

Therefore, put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place. Ephesians 6:13-14

Hmm—I think stubbornness has its place at times, don’t you?

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Jo 17It’s so easy to judge others, isn’t it? As I watch the news each evening, I often do just that when I hear of someone who has reportedly committed a crime or some ‘celebrity’ who has gone off the rails. Admittedly, their track record might speak for itself—but we don’t really know all the facts. So often, we make up our minds about people on a very small amount of information, don’t you think? And that information might well be quite biased anyway.

I remember some girls I taught at an exclusive school when I was all of twenty-one years old. In my naivety, I assumed there was no excuse for any of them to do poorly or behave badly. After all, most came from such privileged backgrounds. Yet I recall one boarder who had trouble passing any exam and would rarely speak in class. When she did, she was quite aggressive. What internal battles was she facing? Homesickness? Loneliness? Lack of self-esteem? I did not enquire and ignored her, failing her in a particular exam by one mark when, in grace, I could easily have encouraged her and no doubt found that mark somewhere.

Twenty years later, I returned to teaching, ending up at a school where students were graded. I taught Introductory Language to all ten Year Seven classes there. Can you imagine how keen that poor tenth class was to learn a foreign language? I worked hard to make my lessons interesting and accessible for them. I cajoled. I threatened. I yelled—a lot. And, in my heart, I judged them as hopeless. Only occasionally did I ever wonder what difficulties they might be facing in their home and family life. Instead, I ranted and raved when homework was not done or the relevant workbook was missing.

Recently, I read some words attributed to the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria:

Be kind to all, because everyone is fighting a great battle.

Yes, those students in my classes were no doubt fighting lots of battles. And, as I think of many around me today, I am aware how real those battles are for them too, in some shape or form. But that’s only those I know about. What are the stories behind the faces of those in our street, at the shopping centre, on the train or bus, at work—at church?

Appearances can be deceptive. Someone might seem to have it all together, yet inside they may well be fighting ongoing emotional battles or wrestling with huge spiritual issues. Some might agonise over things we feel are relatively trivial—yet they are real to them. Some might gain a quick victory in a particular battle, while others may struggle a lifetime. But who am I to judge? Instead, my task is to be kind to all and sensitive to their struggles—as well as very mindful of some wise words Jesus once said:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Luke 6:37-38

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Jo 17I was listening—truly I was. This particular Sunday, while sitting in a church we were visiting on the way to catch up with friends, I warmed to the minister’s gentle, humble manner as he began speaking. But I must say his topic—‘Money’—did not enthuse me so much. This doesn’t apply to me, I thought. After all, we have given our offering every week for years. Besides, I’m still waiting to make my millions as a writer—although I’m sure that Great Australian Novel is just around the corner!

I tried to focus, but my mind wandered a little—until the minister read out some verses from Proverbs:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God. Proverbs 30:8-9

Wow—what a great heart attitude to have, I decided. This person is asking God not to provide him with too much, in case he ends up believing he is the master of his own destiny, or with too little, in case he is tempted to steal and thus try to be master of his own destiny in a different way. That in itself was challenging. But what I found even more challenging was his motivation for praying as he did, which was not to dishonour God in any way via his behaviour and attitude to life.

Hmm. While having either too much money or too little might not be a huge issue for me at the moment, there are other issues in my life I grapple with and need to pray about. But when I do, what are my motives? Is it so I will be more comfortable in some way? Is it to quell my worries and fears? Is it so I will look good in the eyes of others? Is it to bolster my own pride? Or is it to make sure I am honouring God in every area of my life?

But I then began to realise that, even in the area of money, I may well need to watch my attitude at times. Recently, many Australian authors received this year’s notification of payment from the Australian Government’s PLR and ELR programs, which, according to the relevant website, make payments to eligible Australian creators and publishers in recognition that income is lost through the free multiple use of their books in public and educational lending libraries. Yes, I did earn a small amount this time around, to my surprise—but not nearly as much as other authors I know. And I soon found myself beginning to feel a little jealous. Why them and not me? I could make good use of that money. Humph!

As I sat in that church, I recalled this attitude of mine with some shame. It did not honour God, I decided. In fact, it was decidedly self-centred and graceless. Perhaps I needed to listen more closely to the sermon after all.

I want to have that same God-honouring attitude in my life as that writer of those verses in Proverbs had—don’t you?

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One morning last week, I took myself off to the movies to see Helen Mirren in Woman in Gold. I really enjoyed the film—as did the one other person present! I came home feeling glad I had made the effort—until I realised one of my earrings was missing.

P1040097Now these earrings hold great sentimental value for me. They were a gift from one of our daughters and are cleverly handcrafted from slivers of old china. I searched our house, while my husband checked outside and in the car. I then phoned the movie theatre, but to no avail.

I decided to go back myself to look. As I retraced my steps from the theatre complex car park, my eyes were glued to the ground. Nothing. I entered the foyer, examining that multi-coloured carpet with every step. Still nothing.

‘Hi, I phoned earlier about my lost earring,’ I told the young ticket seller.

‘Oh yes—I checked but couldn’t find anything. You can look yourself, but you’ll need a torch.’

I headed along the wide corridor, searching all the while, then pushed the heavy theatre doors open and immediately found myself in pitch darkness. Using my little mobile phone flashlight, I checked around the seat I had occupied earlier, unearthing old pieces of sticky popcorn and other choice morsels in the process. But alas—no earring.

My check of the ladies’ toilets proved equally fruitless. Then, just as I was heading disconsolately back past the doors leading to the theatre, something small and whitish on the floor caught my eye. … My earring! For some reason, I had missed seeing it earlier—yet there it was, as if begging to be found.

Brandishing the earring and babbling with joy, I raced back to the young ticket seller, who obviously thought I was a little crazy. But I didn’t care. As I headed home, the world around me seemed so much brighter and more colourful and I wanted to smile at everyone and tell them about my find. I texted my husband—‘Found it!’ And back came his message—‘Great! Now go and celebrate!

So that’s what I did. And as I sat enjoying my celebratory coffee, I remembered a time when another woman rejoiced at finding something she had lost—a precious coin worth a great deal to her. I remembered too that it was a story Jesus told to illustrate the deep joy experienced by his Father in heaven when one of us is found.

Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:8-10

If my joy at finding my earring was anything to go by, then that heavenly joy experienced when one of us is found must be absolutely awesome. And the love of God that culminates in such joy must be even more awesome and mind-blowing, don’t you think?

I once was lost… but now am found. How about you?

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Maxine4We have a certain one-year-old granddaughter who has a knack of getting her own way—especially with her Nanna! Yes, our Maxine can now walk or climb or even run places. But sometimes it’s a different story. Sometimes she decides she wants to be picked up and carried—or simply held and cuddled, cheek to cheek, to her heart’s content!

At times, I can be working in the kitchen when she will come around the corner, whimpering a little, arms raised. Whatever I’m doing, she wants to be up there with me, seeing what is happening or merely being held. And when I try to meet her eyes, she carefully averts them, as if to say ‘There’s nothing wrong—I just wanted to be picked up! And I got my way—yay!’

There is one problem, however. I have yet to perfect the art of picking up Maxine in a way that does not damage my back any further. Yes, I know one is supposed to use one’s knees rather than bend at the waist. But … well, in the heat of the moment, I tend to forget. I bend and lift and bend and lift because … well, this is my granddaughter we’re talking about! Besides, she’s just so cute and cuddly!

There’s a lot of bending down involved in caring for young children, isn’t there? If it’s not picking them up, it’s getting them into car seats or helping take their shoes off or changing nappies or tidying up toys or cleaning up messes or doing any number of other tasks. One day they will be able to look after themselves—but not quite yet.

It was perhaps because of all this that I particularly noticed some beautiful, poetic words in Hosea 11:1-4 this past week about God’s amazing love for the children of Israel. God called them out of Egypt, strengthening them, teaching them and healing them so they could stand on their own two feet. Yet they still went astray and worshipped other gods. In verses 3-4, we read:

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.

What beautiful images these are of God’s ‘bending down’, as it were, in order to offer such patient nurturing to these Israelites! Here is God, the Creator and Lord of the Universe, pouring out such love on them, leading them to the Promised Land, setting them free, going to great lengths to feed them. And surely this is the same heart God still longs to show to each of us as we journey through life? How many times does God bend down to pick me up on a daily basis, hold me close, clean me up, set me on my feet again and help me walk forward in much greater freedom?

I hope I never take for granted God’s patient, loving nurture of me. This week, every time I bend down to pick up Maxine or care for her in some other way, may I remember to thank God for doing the same—and more—for me.

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