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Posts Tagged ‘being a grandparent’

Jo 23‘Nanna, why do you say ‘love’ all the time when you talk to me?’ our six-year-old granddaughter challenged me last week.

‘Pardon?’ I asked, wondering what Maxine could mean.

‘Why do you call me ‘love’ all the time?’

Before I had a chance to respond, she answered her own question.

‘Maybe it’s because you love me!’ she said in a satisfied tone.

‘Yes, I do!’ I told her, ‘so I like to tell you that.’

She went on with her day then, quite happy with herself and the world in general. But this little interlude set me thinking. Yes, I do love her—and her brother, who was also often called ‘love’ that day, as we looked after them. But I know too it has been a habit of mine for years to call lots of people ‘love’. Now the word slips out without my even realising. And now too, on those occasional ‘seniors’ moments’ when I forget someone’s name, it can be a handy substitute—as long as it’s appropriate enough!

Later, as I thought more about it all, my mind jumped back to the beautiful way my special ‘soul friend’ Joy used to greet me, each time I arrived at her door:

‘Oh, hello, Jo-Anne—dear friend! So lovely to see you!’

On the odd occasions too when she would email me, she would often begin with the words, ‘Dear friend’ or perhaps ‘My very dear Jo-Anne’. Somehow, those simple words touched and encouraged me, even before I read on. By them alone, I knew she loved me and valued our friendship. I felt treasured. I felt significant. And I also knew that, whatever her email was about, her words would have been written with much thought and care and with a heart to bless me.

The way we address each other can be so important, don’t you think? But I wonder if you have thought about how important it is to know how God addresses us—to hear and take into our hearts the words God loves to use when speaking to you and me. If others can touch our hearts and encourage us via a few loving words, how much more can God do the same for each one of us?

One evening many years ago, when I was in quite an exhausted state, I believe God gave me a picture of Jesus, holding me in his arms as a baby and looking down at me with the most amazing love and delight shining from his face. And all he kept saying was, ‘Wow—Jo-Anne! Wow!’ Through that simple yet utterly profound experience, I knew deep in my heart that Jesus saw me as his precious creation, that he was so delighted in me, that he valued me and that he would always love and care for me. I can hear his voice even now, as I write this—and that beautiful voice still has the power to speak such love and grace into my spirit.

May you too, even today, hear that gentle voice speaking clearly to you, calling you by name and letting you know you are indeed God’s much-loved child, so valued and treasured.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1 NLT

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Jo 17During the school holidays in particular, I am thankful for the lovely heated pool and spa in our village. Usually, our two younger grandchildren enjoy being taken there, but one day recently, our grandson elected to play games at home with Granddad instead.

Meanwhile, his sister Maxine and I headed for the pool. Almost two hours later, as we were still bobbing around there, the cleaning lady arrived to mop out the change rooms.

‘She’s like Cinderella!’ Maxine announced after a while.

‘Pardon? … What do you mean?’

‘Well—she has to do all the work!’

Of course! Why didn’t I see that connection immediately? I laughed, then pointed out that must mean we’re the Ugly Sisters!

Later, however, I began to reflect on Maxine’s immediate response to the scene before her. She loves those old fairy tales, especially the ones featuring beautiful heroines with long, flowing hair. So far these holidays, along with the inevitable, more recent Frozen, we have watched DVDs of Snow White and Tangled (the story of Rapunzel), some more than once. We have also read different versions of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and such like together over the years. And recently, Maxine even managed to cajole her granddad and me into acting out one of these stories with her—this time, Little Red Riding Hood, including cutting that big, bad wolf open with relish, stuffing stones in him and sewing him up again with a flourish! These stories have well and truly made their way into Maxine’s imaginative little mind and continue to play out there in technicolour—for her, it’s natural to think of Cinderella immediately, when she sees a cleaning lady working hard, with no one helping!

All this caused me to reflect again on the power of story and on the fact that Jesus chose to use stories at times as he taught (see Matthew 13). I have read them often, yet how deeply have I allowed them to impact my mind and spirit? How much have they changed the way I see the world and the way I respond immediately to situations around me?

I thought back then over some of these stories Jesus told—the parable of the sower, the good Samaritan, the lost sheep, the unmerciful servant, the wedding banquet. As I see people in need, such as right now, with our bushfires and drought, have I been shaped into thinking immediately of the good Samaritan? Am I prepared to put myself out and give in a costly way—or am I more like that Pharisee who stayed at a safe distance? In my life, am I still acting like that unmerciful servant who was happy to receive the king’s forgiveness, yet did not extend that same forgiveness to another? Or have I allowed God’s mercy to transform me and flow onto those around me? Am I like that dry ground in the parable of the sower where the seeds could not take root? Or have I truly softened my heart and provided a fertile space where the things God says can flourish, bear fruit and bless others?

In 2020, may I remember Jesus’ parables and internalise them more and more. And may Jesus open my eyes too to see the ‘Cinderellas’ around me and reach out to any who need comfort, help and understanding.

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We were blowing bubbles together in the grounds of our village, our youngest granddaughter and I, when she announced she wanted to dance for me. She is only four and has never learnt ballet—but that did not deter her. With a wonderfully professional air, she slowly moved her hands and arms around her head, caressing her face and gazing up at me with such a soulful expression that I was hard-pressed not to laugh. Some interesting movements then ensued, until her carefully executed performance ended with a flourish and a creditable version of the splits.

How on earth had she learnt to dance so expressively, I asked myself. It could only have been through watching movies like Frozen or Moana or perhaps her favourite shows on YouTube. All she knows, she has learnt by imitating those beautiful heroines in her favourite shows—even down to their dreamy facial expressions!

IMG_20180919_133830660Later, back at our unit, Maxine decided to ‘play’ our piano, but then stopped abruptly.

‘Wait—I need some music!’ she declared.

So she proceeded to fish a music sheet out of our piano stool and place it carefully within her line of vision where she must have seen those real pianists place theirs. Then, with one hand tracing the notes on that piece of music, she proceeded to play gently with the other, checking often to ensure she was ‘reading’ the music correctly.

Again, I was hard-pressed not to laugh. She has no idea what all those funny-shaped notes and symbols mean—but she was determined to appear as if she did. Surely if one imitates well enough, she must think, she will at least look like she knows exactly what she’s doing.

As I thought more about this whole act of imitation, I realised it can be seen in either a good or a bad light. If a piece of jewellery contains imitation diamonds, for example, it is considered much less valuable—even a fake. If a singer sounds too much like the artist who made a particular song famous, he or she can be written off as unoriginal and boring. Young children, who learn by imitating those around them either consciously or unconsciously, can pick up undesirable behaviour from us. And sometimes we adults can decide to be nasty and mimic someone’s voice or mannerisms, in order to ridicule them.

Yet copying others can also be a positive thing. How wonderful it is when we notice children learning to act in respectful and responsible ways gleaned from their parents’ positive example—or even their grandparents’! But how much more it must delight God when we set our hearts and minds to imitating Jesus, just as the Apostle Paul did. In 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul simply urges the believers to imitate him—a command I used to think was a little arrogant. Yet a few chapters later, we see he is only able to say this because he knows he is following Jesus’ example with his whole heart:

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1

One day, I would love to say these same words as confidently as Paul did. But right now, I think I need a little more practice in that fine art of imitating Jesus. 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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If there were a degree in playground assessment, I reckon my husband would pass it with honours. He well knows the various criteria that must be met as far as playgrounds go, according to which grandchild one is trying to entertain. The equipment has to be suitable for the child’s age—not too adventurous and not too boring. It is preferable for there to be some shade. There has to be good parking nearby. And it also helps if said playground is not too far away.

P1030367AAnother plus is the presence of a particular piece of equipment we call the ‘basket swing’—that is, a shallow, basket-like circle made of some webbed material attached via chains to the apex of a strong support structure that enables it to swing in all sorts of directions. In past years, our two older granddaughters loved swinging together in one of these. Now our grandson lies back just like they did and is happy to be pushed for as long as Granddad has energy to do so. Sometimes he even goes to sleep in the process. Zain, that is—not Granddad!

I thought of this swing recently when I came across some words in Isaiah, which, while spoken to the people of Zion, God’s chosen children, surely also apply to God’s children today:

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

What has this verse to do with basket swings, you may well ask. To my mind, lying back in a basket swing is a wonderful picture of what I believe it means to truly rest in God’s unfailing love. Just as our grandchildren relax and enjoy the ride in this swing, trusting Granddad to keep on pushing faithfully and in a way that is safe for them, so I know I can trust the Lord to be there for me and to go on loving me, whatever might lie ahead.

Yet it is one thing to agree God loves us with an unfailing love but quite another to live as if we actually believe it, I have discovered. Why do I sit here, for example, worrying about so many things if I know the Lord has such compassion for me and is able to keep me in a place of peace, even if everything falls apart around me? Why do I so often forget about God’s amazing love for me that will never, ever waver, however much or little people might value me as a writer and speaker?

So … as 2015 begins, once again I choose live my life secure in that basket of God’s unwavering love, knowing God understands me perfectly, values me so much and will provide for me, whatever happens in the coming year and beyond. When those doubts and fears come flooding in, I plan to choose to rest back in those loving ‘basket swing’ arms of God and allow that unshakeable love to consume me once again.

If you find yourself feeling a little shaky as you look to the year ahead, may you too experience that unshakeable love of the Lord once again that will never fail you, whatever happens.

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We have a dilemma in our household. I am the archetypal, introverted, rather reclusive author, who is happy to sit alone at her computer all day and write. Now don’t get me wrong. I love popping up to speak and to promote my books from time to time. And I really enjoy good conversations with family and friends—including our beautiful grandchildren. But mostly, I am content with my own company—and God’s!

My husband also spends many hours at his computer, but he’s definitely more extroverted than I am. He becomes restless much more quickly than I ever would and, at times, heads off to our local shopping centre merely for a change of scene—and for that milk shake or cup of coffee!

Lately, however, he has found another reason to get out of the house. You see, we have a very active two year old grandson, Zain, who loves his granddad. Recently, his mum caught Zain singing a song he had made up for Granddad—using a little vase he found somewhere as his microphone! So one day last week, my husband decided to call our daughter:

‘Mummy, can Zain please come out to play with me?’(!!!)

IMG_20140614_152530Sometimes they go to a nearby park and have all sorts of adventures, chasing each other or sitting down wherever Zain chooses or picking up interesting things. And sometimes, that route home just happens to take them past a certain fast food chain where they can buy an ice cream and enjoy eating it together.

But my husband’s enjoyment of his grandkids doesn’t stop at Zain or his baby sister, Maxine, who is too little yet to interact much with Granddad, except to smile at him. This past week, even though we did not need to pick up our two older granddaughters, Amy and Olivia, as usual on a Friday after school because their father was able to instead, their doting granddad chose to drive across town to meet them anyway. His excuse?

‘I’d like to get out of the house—and it would be a surprise for the girls.’

Oh, and they just happened to swing by another of those certain fast food chains on their way home, in order to have a sundae each ‘to celebrate the end of term’!

I love to see my husband’s kind heart in it all and the good relationships he has with our grandkids. But as I think about it, this reflects so much of God’s heart for each one of us too. How often does our loving Father invite us to ‘come out and play’—to spend time with him, talking about all that’s happening in our lives and simply enjoying each other’s company? How often does God want to surprise us with such grace and blessing, yet we don’t show up to receive it? We are too busy, shut away in our own little lives, trying to hide from our loving Father, who longs to give us such joy and fulfilment.

I want to have that innocent heart of a child who is so happy and at home in God’s company—don’t you?

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Matt 18:3-4

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I wonder how you choose to spend your spare time. For many of us, it can be a bit of an unknown quantity—and that’s why I recently questioned the wisdom of spending a whole day at a retreat, focusing on what God is doing in my life. It is also the reason I almost thought twice before offering to care for our grandson for the day this past weekend because our daughter was unwell. After all, I had deadlines to meet and a book launch and other events to plan.

As it turned out, my day spent with God was invaluable—I am still reflecting on how it rescued me from becoming far too inward-looking and anxious about my writing to facing the future with much more thankfulness and joy. And as for my day with my ‘little man’—well, yet again he managed to wrap himself around my heart with those beautiful, big smiles of his. I watched him crawl for the first time and also saw how his face lit up when his father arrived home—precious, irreplaceable moments now etched in my memory.

It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? What’s really important in our lives, when all is said and done, and what will turn out to be something that in the end isn’t doesn’t mean very much?

A short while ago, I was chatting with my sister. She and her husband currently have their son, daughter-in-law and three lively, young boys living with them while their own home undergoes a ‘makeover’. Already the family has been there for several months and will be for a while to come. Now my sister is doing lots more washing and cooking that she ever dreamed she would be in their retirement, yet she is happy to help out. She knows how significant this is for their little family—and I’m sure those three boys will long remember the months they spent living with Nanna and Grandpa and the special things they did together.

‘What’s a year in the big scheme of things, when all is said and done?’, we both agreed readily enough. You see, I have learnt this well in my writing journey, where it can take many months and even years to complete a book, only for significant parts to be thrown out during the editing stage—or worse still, for the entire manuscript to be rejected by a publisher. Yet, if we are doing exactly what God wants us to do in those days or weeks or months or years, isn’t that what matters?

I have come to the conclusion that our God, who is eternal, sees time just a little differently from me. And God also knows what things are worth pouring those days and weeks and months into—and what are not. So these days, I’m trying to listen more and recalibrate my life according to God’s agenda rather than my own—our God who declares, ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven … (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

So how is your recalibrating going? It’s a lifelong learning project, isn’t it? But let’s not give up trying to ‘number our days aright’ as Psalm 90:12 puts it. One day we will see as God sees.

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

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Zain four days oldIt has been six years since I last held a newborn baby. In that time, I seem to have forgotten how tiny and how amazing these little people are. So imagine my awe today as I held our new little grandson, Zain, for the first time!

Now of course he is the most gorgeous baby boy there has ever been. He has the cutest little face and lovely, long fingers and toes, despite his weighing only a little over three kilo. But that’s nothing compared to his ears! You see, because Zain’s father is Ghanaian, this little one has a lovely dark tinge to his skin. So at present, each little fold of his ears is a different, dusky shade somewhere between black and white. For all the world, as our older daughter commented, it looks as if this little one can’t quite decide which colour he wants to be right now!

But as I examined our new little man more carefully, I realised the same awe was welling up inside me that I had felt when our own children were born. All those years ago, I remember looking down at each of them, overwhelmed at our God who could create such a beautiful, perfect, intricately made little human being and enable this little one to develop and grow right inside me, entering this world through my own body. What an amazing, overwhelming act of creativity from an amazingly creative God!

Yet more than that, here I was holding a new little person created in the image of God, so full of promise and with all sorts of inbuilt potential for doing amazing things in the years to come. And I was overwhelmed all over again with the incredible privilege of it all and the depth of trust God had shown in us as parents to give this new little one into our care.

So at this time, what do I pray for my daughter and her husband and their new little one? Well, I pray for them as parents that they will walk closely with God throughout their lives, modelling God’s love and grace and forgiveness to little Zain. I pray they will be filled with God’s wisdom and listen to the guidance of the Spirit within them in all the decisions ahead of them in his upbringing. And I pray for Zain, that he will grow up to be a strong man of God, living a life of compassion, creativity, honour and integrity and becoming all God purposes him to be.

But how amazing and reassuring it is to realise that our God who created him and knew him even before he was born also knows all about what the years ahead will hold for him. In Psalm 139:13-16 we read:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

So Lord, may our Zain pray those words one day for himself. May they rise up from a heart full of reverence and love for you. May this little one who has been created in your image and likeness be conformed more and more to your image in the years ahead. And may your beautiful, gracious and creative heart flow out of him, bringing new life and new hope to many. Amen

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