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Jo 12One day last week, our grandson told his dad he would like to pay Nanna a visit. At first, our lively five-year-old was content to play hide-and-seek in our new unit. Then I suggested a simple card game, but he wasn’t interested. And why would he be? After all, he recently mastered the much trickier game of Uno and now has marathon tournaments with his parents! Eventually, I found an old ‘Dora the Explorer’ version of the game ‘Trouble’ and suggested he learn how to play that.

Once our game started, I discovered our son-in-law remembered playing a similar game during his boyhood days in Ghana. Just as I had grown up playing Ludo with my sister, so Kofi had played that same old game as a child too—except he remembered those rules much better than I did.

‘We used plastic counters and dice,’ he told me. ‘If you landed on your own counter, you could put one on top of the other. Then no one could go past you!’

I recalled those double counters, although not how they stopped others from passing. But obviously, this had been a big deal for Kofi as a child because, even as he mentioned it, his eyes gleamed with glee! No wonder his son is now more than a little competitive!

We explained the rules to Zain as we went along, but I soon noticed Kofi and I were doing things a little differently. Several times, I could have landed on one of our grandson’s pieces and sent it back home, but … well, I admit I pretended I didn’t see. I didn’t have the heart to squash his enjoyment of it all—or his hopes of winning. But his dad was having nothing of that. No way! On several occasions, he sent one of Zain’s precious pieces back home with great glee! And, to my surprise, Zain simply accepted this as part of the rules of the game. So much for Nanna’s misplaced kindness!

Yes, rules have their place, don’t they? We would not enjoy those games at all, if we could each do what we liked. And, while life can hardly be called a game, we would soon be in trouble if there were no rules to govern our society. But I’m so glad that, when it comes to the things of God, it’s not all about adhering to laws or rules. Yes, we are called to live in a way that honours God and displays respect and fairness towards others. But living life with God involves so much more than playing—or living—by the rules. It’s about true relationship. It’s about receiving God’s amazing grace, that undeserved favour and kindness that is never misplaced, as my ‘grace’ to Zain was. And it’s about loving the Lord with our whole hearts in return and our neighbour as ourselves, as Jesus tells us:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39

Those rules set a high standard, don’t you think? Yet I’m so happy to take them on board. And I hope and pray our Zain will be too one day.

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I wonder if you have ever experienced one of those weird moments in your life when, with one glimpse of something or one whiff of a familiar perfume, you find yourself transported back through the years in an instant. There you are, a child again in a place or situation you had thought was long forgotten.

Recently, in order to entertain a fourteen year old visitor and his ten year old sister, I decided to check through our board games. Some date back to my own childhood—Snakes and Ladders and Ludo and Fairyland and Motor Race on fragile pieces of folded cardboard, held together in spots by yellowing sticky tape. And our ancient Monopoly game, bequeathed to us by an old friend of my parents and complete with currency in English pounds. And yes, the little silver top hat, boot, racing car and ship my sister and I used to fight over are still there too.

P1030981In the end, I put all these aside. This is 2014—no doubt my visitors would prefer a game on their mobile phones or Ipads. But I couldn’t resist showing them two classic old card games from my childhood years, the boxes now held together with rubber bands. I was sure ‘Donkey’ would be beneath them, but, to my surprise, they were intrigued. In fact, they played three games and were quite chuffed when they avoided that dreaded donkey card! And they were even more intrigued when I showed them my old ‘Comic Families’ card game, with cartoon-style drawings of Pa Lather (the barber), Pa Bones (the butcher), Pa Snips (the tailor) and Pa Chalk (the milkman), among others!

As I sat dealing those dog-eared cards, I remembered the hours spent playing with them in my growing up years. How long ago that was! Many years later, our own children had played with these same cards, then later still, our two older grandchildren. And what had happened to me personally since those early, innocent childhood days in Brisbane? So many, many things I would never, ever have envisaged.

God was there for me throughout all those early years, I reflected then, knowing what lay ahead and drawing me close, even when I was unaware of it. God reached out to me when I was fifteen, so that I came to experience Jesus’ love for myself. God watched over me in the ensuing years, not letting me stray too far and always, always calling me back. And God showered me with grace and continued to deepen my faith, even when I thought I knew it all in later years. God loved me so much as that little girl way back then who played those games with her sister and rarely won. And God loves me just as much now, I realised, as I held those same old cards in my hand.

Games come and go. Things change. People change. But God remains the same, so faithful and so loving through all the ups and downs of our lives. How truly blessed we are!

Praise the Lord, all your nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Psalm 117

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