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Posts Tagged ‘Maxine’

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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Jo 17I sat down with my cup of tea, ready to play a game of ‘Trouble’ with our five-year-old granddaughter. After deciding whether we would be mean and jump on each other’s counters this time or not, we began playing—and Maxine was very pleased with herself when she won.

Then she started getting ready for a second game.

‘This time, the rules are different!’ she announced firmly.

Apparently, we did not have to throw a six to start—that was the first change. The second was that, if we jumped on our opponent’s counter, we would not send that person home, but instead swap places with them. We did so with such frequency, I thought we’d never finish the game! But eventually, when one of us had almost made it around the board, I discovered change number three. We had to get our counters into the spots where they normally are at the start of a game, rather than into the ‘home’ section on the board—and there were certain rules about doing that which I have yet to understand fully!

Eventually, we somehow finished—but then I discovered change number four. Whoever won was actually the loser and not the winner! And, wonder of wonders, this turned out to be very convenient for Maxine, since I was the first to get all my counters into their designated spots. Now all this was quite fun, to be honest, but it left me marvelling once again at Maxine’s inventiveness. What had made her think up such an idea in general? And how did all those different ‘rules’ occur to her as we went along? So far, that remains a mystery.

As I thought about our game, it occurred to me that I am quite inventive at making up my own ‘rules’ at times too—not for any games, but rather for my life in general. At times, I might well decide I can be less than truthful about something or that I can pass on that juicy piece of gossip about someone or that I can ignore a person who is obviously in great need. I might be distinctly uncaring in the words I say to someone or the thoughts I think about them. I might decide it doesn’t really matter if I forgive fully or not—instead, I can simply pretend to. No one will ever know, after all. Yet in each of these areas, I know full well what God’s standards are and how God would love to see me respond.

Of course, being a Christian isn’t all about rule-keeping—and I’m thankful for that. Where would we be without God’s amazing grace and forgiveness? Yet, for those of us who say we follow Jesus Christ, God’s standards are pretty clear, don’t you think? For example, in Colossians 3, we read:

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander … (8)

Do not lie to each other … (9)

… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. (12-13)

Now those are the sorts of commands we need to listen to—and put into practice—so much more often, don’t you think, rather than inventing those rules of our own?

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Jo 12Whenever we mind our two young grandchildren after school at their home, we go armed with various games, plus something yummy for afternoon tea, of course! On top of that, they have an amazing variety of games and toys and books of their own available. There is a great playground nearby where we can head too. And another option is watching TV, but it is rarely one they choose. Anyway, we can never find the remote!

Each week, we wonder what game or idea will grab them. Will our grandson tackle the ‘Expert’ level of our own son’s ‘Rush Hour’ puzzle again? Will he want to increase his skills at Chinese Checkers, a new game to him? Will our granddaughter beat me at Uno again or play that old card game ‘Donkey’? Or will she want to play ‘Trouble’, a morphed version of Ludo that we loved to play as children?

This past week, however, I was floored when our granddaughter Maxine did not want to do or play anything we suggested. Instead, she chose an imaginary game of her own, with imaginary goodies and baddies—and oh so much imaginary action that stunned me. I was invited/told to sit in a certain spot while she, the heroine, came to my aid after some horrible, imaginary person stole my purse. And, as I looked at her big, trusting, brown eyes, willing me to join in with all my heart, how could I do otherwise? There was much wailing and gesticulating and explaining, as she assured me she knew who the baddies were and would find my money. And to her satisfaction, she did—although I was left wondering where on earth the various story-lines she invented were taking us!

How could she possibly think up such things? Even the names she gave her imaginary characters were intriguing, with some being different people with the same name, just to trick us! For me, the whole experience provided an amazing insight into the intricacies of a child’s wonderful, fertile, unspoilt imagination where everything was possible and where Maxine knew, as the heroine, that she would win through in the end.

It seems a shame that, as the years pass, such joyful imagination tends to be squashed out of us, don’t you think, as we mature and become more logical and pragmatic? So often too, we lose that childlike sense of wonder and excitement I saw in Maxine’s eyes as I played her game with all the enthusiasm and imagination I could muster. And what about our childlike sense of trust that invites grandmothers to join in such games and is positive she will know what to do and say next? How easily that can disappear too!

We all need to grow up and manage our lives well. And we all need to grow and mature in our faith in God too and put childish ways of thinking behind us, as the Apostle Paul explains (1 Corinthians 13:11). Nevertheless, on one occasion, Jesus called a little child to join him and said the following:

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3

Imagine what our world would be like if more of us became humble children again and truly believed. Just imagine!

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Jo 23Well, who would have thought? Just last week, I heard the term ‘buddy bench’ for the first time. I discovered it is a seat in the school grounds where you can go and sit if you are sad and/or in need of a friend. So instead of wandering around feeling lost and lonely, any student can go there and know someone kind and understanding will come along soon to keep them company. Now how good is that?

One recent afternoon, our youngest granddaughter Maxine put her school’s buddy bench to good use when she could not find her mother or her brother anywhere. She had already been picked up from her classroom and the whole family was walking towards the school gate. But then Maxine became lost in the midst of all the other students when her mum was momentarily distracted as she tried to read something our grandson was showing her. Our daughter looked everywhere for her—even down the road towards their car. She asked the school janitor who stands at the gate and always gives Maxine a friendly wave. Then she phoned Maxine’s teacher and they all began searching. And at last another teacher found her, sitting on that buddy bench in the school yard and crying, so she took her by the hand and brought her back to her mum. Phew!

Now I might not have been familiar with the term ‘buddy bench’, but I can think of various challenging times in my life when I needed someone to come alongside me who would listen and understand and empathise. And thankfully, God provided those wonderful ‘buddies’ for me when I needed them most, including my lovely soul friend Joy, to whom I poured my heart out so often. Yet sometimes, especially earlier on in my life, I can remember feeling there was no one around with whom I would be comfortable to share what was going on for me. Sometimes, I suspect the problem was that I was unwilling to be vulnerable enough to admit my need and ask for help. Sometimes, my pride and sense of shame got in the way and kept me isolated, when others would have helped. But thankfully, God reached out and persevered with me, bringing much healing and renewal.

Yes, whatever our age, we still need those buddy benches at times where we can find those who understand and are able to help us—or at least point us to where we can find that help. But whatever our age too, we all need that wonderfully wise and perfect ‘Buddy’ even more, the one Jesus said would be sent from God to be available and alongside us at all times, the helper and encourager and comforter par excellence who will never leave us or forsake us.

But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:25-27

What a privilege to have such a Friend on our buddy bench every moment of the day!

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Jo 17I smiled as I watched a hide-and-seek game unfold before us in the park where our grandchildren were playing. A young woman had pressed herself flat behind a large tree, while a boy searched everywhere for her. At last he made his way towards the tree—but as he circled it, so did the woman. Eventually, the boy hurried to search elsewhere, looking slightly panicked. I felt so sorry for him, but thankfully, the young woman must have too, because she soon went after him and all was well. Phew!

This event must have inspired our grandchildren because, back home, they decided they too would hide from each other. Zain hid first, while Maxine quickly began counting to fifty.

‘I don’t know if Zain’s had time to hide yet,’ I warned her.

‘Yes, I have! You can look upstairs and downstairs!’ a voice boomed out from nearby. Little did Zain realise he had given the game away! In no time, Maxine darted in the direction his voice had come from—and there he was, curled up under the lounge.

When Maxine’s turn came, however, she fared no better. As Zain counted, she tore upstairs to find a good spot. But in her hurry to hide, she omitted to shut the door of the linen cupboard where she had squeezed into a corner—a dead giveaway, to say the least!

For me, age and size often determine how many good hiding spots I can find when trying to trick our grandkids! Yet when it comes to hiding from God, I am much more expert. I know and believe God is all-seeing—so why do I bother hiding at all? And I also know God is eternally loving and gracious and forgiving—so again, why bother hiding? But sometimes I listen to that insistent little voice inside my head that seems to hiss at me, ‘Go ahead and think mean thoughts about that person! Don’t forgive him—he doesn’t deserve it! Don’t offer to help her out—why should you? And why bother praying for those other people, even though you promised to? God won’t notice—you can keep it a secret.’ On and on it goes, until I give in and do the things I truly don’t want to do. Then, rather than coming to God and talking about it all, I try to hide.

It’s a bit like Adam and Eve in the garden, isn’t it?

Then the man and his wife … hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Genesis 3:8-10

What if, instead of feeling ashamed and trying to hide, you and I came willingly before God, knowing that, as God’s beloved children, we will be fully accepted and understood and forgiven? What if, instead of holding onto our guilt or anger, we let it all go and truly trusted God? What if, instead of listening to the tempter’s voice, we were to listen to God’s Spirit who is always there to help and to guide?

Let’s not try to hide from God any longer. Instead, let’s allow ourselves to be found and known and loved—perfectly and completely.

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Jo 12A few weeks ago, I went to pick up our youngest granddaughter from school. I thought I knew the way, but ended up at our granddaughter’s old day care centre instead! Well, surely I can get to the school from here, I thought to myself—after all, we had often picked up our grandson there. But that soon proved easier said than done, given the extremely winding and what seems to me utterly confusing layout of Glenmore Park, a western suburb of Sydney, where roundabouts abound and streets meander in all directions. The more I tried, the more confused I became. Meanwhile, time was ticking away—and I needed to be at our granddaughter’s classroom before the bell rang. She has only just started school and would be worried otherwise.

What confused me was that this time I had set out from our daughter’s home rather than our own. In the end, I became so disoriented, I had to call up Mr Google on my phone—and yes, there was that big, blue dot on the map that helpfully showed me where I was. I typed in the name of the school and tried hard to make that dot move closer to my destination as I drove along, keeping my phone in view at the same time (ahem!). Imagine my despair when sometimes, whatever I seemed to do, that blue dot started heading in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go!

Eventually, after a few stops by the roadside to check my phone properly, I somehow happened upon the street leading to the school. I parked at the end of what by then was a massive line of cars and ran as fast as I could to Maxine’s classroom, arriving in the nick of time. Phew!

But alas, that was not the end of the story. As our granddaughter sat calmly in her car seat, I much less calmly managed to get lost again en route to her home! Everything seemed back to front to me. So out came that phone again and in went our daughter’s address, as I blithely explained to Maxine that I was ‘just making sure we were on the right road’! And yes, after several more stops to check, that blue dot finally kept moving in the direction it needed to go and we arrived home safely.

After I recovered and was able to reflect on these interesting experiences, it occurred to me that sometimes I can be like that blue dot on the map, as I live my life. My heart is to keep focussing on God in all I do, yet sometimes I make unwise decisions that lead me away from God’s loving presence rather than closer. Sometimes I too go round and round in circles and up dead end roads before I come to my senses, stop, refocus on God and get my bearings again in my life. Does that describe you too?

In these times, may we all remember to listen again to those wise words from Proverbs 3:5-6—and do what they say!

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. (The Message version)

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Jo 17Recently, our youngest granddaughter arrived for the day, complete with swimming gear galore—enough for half a dozen children! I had promised to take her to the heated pool and spa in our village complex and she was more than a little excited at the prospect.

At top speed, she changed into her cute, little swimming costume, squeezed herself into her brightly-coloured, plastic, inflatable donut ring, strapped a little foam floating device to her back and perched her pink goggles on her head. So, thus attired, off we marched to the pool! While we adults are not allowed to walk through our complex in our swimming costumes, I figured four-year-old Maxine could get away with it. And she did, in the process bringing delighted smiles to the faces of so many who stopped to say hello to her.

‘Guess where we’re going?’ I said, laughing, to each one of them!

We arrived at the pool to find one or two others already there—but they informed us that, while the spa was hot, the water in the main pool was too cold for them. Something had gone wrong with the heating—but that was no deterrent for Maxine.  In a trice, she was bobbing around in that water, while her poor nanna stood waist-deep beside her, feeling a little sorry for herself and wishing she was back home getting those various Christmas jobs done!

We stayed for two hours in the end, chatting away and playing all sorts of games I had to try hard not to win. And from time to time, Maxine would decide to climb out into the much warmer spa, closely followed by her nanna. While I did not mind doing this, it was the reverse that was much harder to take, moving from hot to cold in two seconds flat!

Once or twice, I hinted it might be time for us to head home, but Maxine was definite she had not had enough. So I continued chatting and playing, all the while still feeling a little hard done by. But then, just as I was holding Maxine while she floated on her back and pretended to fall asleep, I sensed God pointing out that this exact moment would never come again. Next year, Maxine will start school. And, while she will visit us these summer holidays, her brother will also be with her, which will change the dynamics considerably. What I needed to focus on at that point was the lovely memories we were making together and the deepening of a bond that will, I pray, last forever.

I’m so glad I heard that little prompt from God. It would have been easy to insist on doing what I wanted to do and cut short our pool time together. And it is sadly so easy, I find, to ignore God’s gentle voice at other times in my life as well, choosing instead to forge ahead and do life in my own way.

Is that the case for you too? As this new year begins, may each of us resolve to choose to listen to those promptings from God more often and follow our Shepherd with our whole heart.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

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