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Posts Tagged ‘Maxine’

My husband started a certain family tradition many years ago when our three children were young. One by one, he would take them out for a special dinner date. The chosen venue was never anywhere too expensive—when we lived in Adelaide, a favourite haunt was a pancake place called ‘Bertie’s’, which the children all thought was wonderful, considering their dad’s students often called him ‘Dr Bertie’ at that time! Yet whatever the venue, whichever child whose turn it was would dress up in their best clothes and feel so important, as they headed off on their ‘date’ with Dad.

In more recent years, my husband has continued this tradition with our four grandchildren. Sometimes, the chosen venues have been truly exotic—venues such as … um … er … Maccas! But currently, our two younger grandchildren love a certain café near the Nepean River at Penrith that serves extremely tantalising drinks, donuts and desserts. And, since the meal is their choice, this is what they get!

Recently it was eight-year-old Maxine’s turn to go out with her eighty-one-year-old Granddad. When he asked her, her response was, ‘Ooh, I’m going out on a date!’ Great excitement ensued—along with the satisfying thought that her brother would be ‘sooo jealous’!

The evening duly arrived—and yes, Maxine chose that favourite café by the river and that favourite milk shake for dinner, with a big donut perched on top of the container and a straw threaded through the hole into her drink. As well, she was allowed the important task of ordering the food herself and paying for it with her granddad’s credit card, while he watched on.

In my own growing up years, my times with my grandfather definitely did not involve dining out at cafes. Instead, we would often go walking on a Sunday afternoon when he and my grandmother would come for a visit. In my mind, I can still see his white hair and his erect figure, as we strode along and chatted. One of our favourite places to walk was, believe it or not, to the Toowong Cemetery, not far from our home in Brisbane. We would comment about all sorts of things we saw on gravestones there and I’m sure he sought to impart much wisdom to me during those times.

I am not saying God is some grandfatherly figure, sitting on a throne in the sky, smiling and nodding benignly. But I would like to suggest that God’s heart is to invite each one of us on a ‘date’—that is, a time when we put other things aside in our lives and, instead, delight in simply being with our heavenly Father. When we do, we find God has a wonderful feast laid out there for us. And there is such joy too in simply being together with God, knowing we are loved and accepted completely, just as we are.

But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. Psalm 81:16

Why would we ignore those special ‘dates’ or times with God? Why would we ever stand God up, so to speak? Instead, let’s turn up—often. Let’s accept God’s invitation. And let’s drink deeply from all the love and wisdom God showers on us as we do.

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‘We’ll show Mummy you can do something she says she can’t do!’ I told our two younger grandchildren blithely, before they came to spend the day with us. Now the moment had arrived. There was my sewing box, complete with needles, buttons and coloured thread. And there too was seven-year-old Maxine, needle in hand and eager to be shown how to sew a button on the piece of cloth I had given her.

After overcoming the problem of threading that pesky needle, Maxine did well at pushing her needle through the cloth, then carefully through each hole in the button and finally back down through the cloth. I tried to guide her needle close to her earlier stitches with minimal success, but we kept going. And soon she had repeated the process often enough that her button was well and truly attached to that cloth, after Nanna’s help to tie one final knot. Sure, it looked a mess on the underside, but fine on the side that really mattered! Two more buttons followed—and Maxine was soon quite chuffed with all her efforts.

I thought ten-year-old Zain might not want to join in, but when I reminded him how his dad does any mending needed in their family, he seemed more interested. Soon there he was too, carefully sewing on his first button. Despite usually having difficulty with fine motor skills, he managed to thread his own needle and also get it through the cloth and the hole in his button in one go—an impressive feat indeed. Then he chose a more challenging four-hole button and another after that, which he sewed on mostly by himself. Sure, his was a mess of dark thread on the underside too, but those buttons were indeed on there to stay.

At times as I sat frantically trying to rescue both children at once, I sensed a little niggle in my spirit that God wanted to show me something via this whole exercise, but I pushed it aside. Later, however, when I had time to reflect more, I felt I had been offered a gracious, little glimpse into my own sometimes stumbling journey with God.

As I reflected, the image in my mind of the tangled stitches beneath those buttons spoke to me of the messes in my own life at times. I might have looked good on the outside, but God has always seen beyond that to the confusion below and lovingly reached out to help. With much more patience than I could muster as I helped our grandchildren with their sewing, God has graciously rescued me from the tangles my own thoughts and actions have often created and has persevered in teaching and refining me and helping me grow. Sometimes, I have welcomed that help, like my grandchildren did—and sometimes I have not. Yet God has still persevered, weaving the threads of my life together in a much better and much more satisfying way than I ever could have.

I’m so glad we have a gracious, merciful God who is not fazed by messes, aren’t you?

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. Psalm 116:1-2

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Our nine-year-old grandson seemed happy enough when he arrived to spend the day with us, along with his seven-year-old sister. We chatted for a while and then he opened his laptop, ready to do his schoolwork online, while his sister showed me her workbook. We let them play a little longer, but then suggested they get their schoolwork out of the way so we could do other things.

However, our grandson was not impressed and objected loud and long.

‘He’s just “hangry”!’ his sister informed us in a resigned tone.

I offered him some breakfast, since he had not wanted any before leaving home, to no avail. Instead, poor Zain remained grouchy and most reluctant to do any schoolwork. But we insisted and told him we would check his work at morning tea.

When that time came, he told us he had finished, but … well, let’s just say there were one or two questions he had decided could easily be ignored! We persevered, but in the end, his efforts definitely left a little to be desired. Nevertheless, he quickly uploaded what he had done, thus making it impossible to change anything. He was so bored with it all, we realised—weeks and weeks of doing lessons at home had definitely taken its toll. 

His morning tea disappeared in record time, but poor Zain was still grouchy and did not want to go to the park. Maxine and I headed out anyway by ourselves, she so happy and chatty and I a little more silent, sensing I had not handled the situation with our grandson as well as I might have.

The next day, as I thought more about the whole scenario, I realised I may be more familiar with ‘hangriness’ than I care to admit. I don’t think I become truly ‘hangry’ when I need physical food—perhaps just a wee bit grumpy! But I suspect ‘hangry’ could also describe that rather unhappy, dissatisfied and disconnected sense I experience when I have been unable—or perhaps even unwilling—to be quiet in God’s presence for any length of time. Are you familiar with this sort of ‘hangriness’ too? For me, it may also include blaming or criticising others when, instead, I should be looking inside myself. And when I eventually do look inside myself, I can often magnify my failures and downplay or explain away those abilities God has given me and the things God has enabled me to achieve in life. No, feeling ‘hangry’ is not a pleasant experience at all.

Perhaps the best way to avoid this sort of ‘hangriness’ could lie in accepting the wonderful invitation offered to God’s people centuries ago—and to us today as well:

Is anyone thirsty?

Come and drink—even if you have no money!

Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free!

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?

Why pay for food that does you no good?

Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.

Come to me with your ears wide open.

Listen, and you will find life. Isaiah 55:1-3 New Living Translation

Let’s not stay ‘hangry’. Instead, let’s choose to eat what is good. Let’s choose that finest of food. Let’s listen—and truly find life!

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I wonder if you can recall a time when you felt very much on the edge of a group somewhere. Perhaps this describes your situation right now. Or perhaps, like me, your mind went to some setting years ago where you found you did not entirely belong.

At one stage, my husband returned to pastoral ministry, after some years of lecturing. Our new church welcomed us warmly, but I soon discovered the women had plans for me. You see, this church fielded a large number of netball teams in an inter-church competition, so it was assumed I would happily coach some of these players. Yet there was one small problem. I had never, ever played netball—or even basketball, which was more popular where I grew up!

‘Well—never mind,’ one lady told me, her disappointment obvious. ‘You can give out the oranges at half time instead!’

I knew this was not me, however. Instead, I taught three Scripture classes each week at the local primary school, played the piano at church and hosted various events in our home. I even spoke and sang once when the Sunday School anniversary guest speaker dropped out at the last minute! Yet none of this seemed to matter. I did not join in the business of netball, so never quite fitted in.

Perhaps this is part of the reason I have hated to see people left out in any church communities we have joined—or anywhere else either. And perhaps too this is why my heart went out to our seven-year-old granddaughter, when I heard about a recent conversation that took place at her home. Apparently, Maxine had tried to cheat a little, while playing a game with her mum.

‘If you’re going to do that, I won’t play with you again,’ her mum told her firmly—at which point, Maxine became very upset.

‘Well, Daddy’s too busy working and doing things and my brother’s always playing on his devices and … and because you’re angry at me now, I feel alienated from the whole family!’ she sobbed.

Poor Maxine—although it was her fault, partly at least! Yet where on earth had she learnt the word ‘alienated’? And how did she know exactly what it meant or how it felt?

Most of us, even introverts like me, do not want to feel alienated. We are created to connect, to support one another, to do life together. At times, our church communities may disappoint us in this regard—we are all still works in progress. And at times too, as believers, we may feel alienated from others in the wider community. After all, we are now ‘aliens and strangers in this world’ (1 Peter 2:11), marching to the beat of a different drum. Yet however alienated we might feel from others, we can find such comfort in the fact that we are no longer alienated from God. Instead, through Jesus, we who were far off have been drawn near and warmly welcomed into God’s family with loving, open arms.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! I John 3:1

We belong in God’s family. We are accepted. We are known. We are loved—deeply and forever.

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There we were, our granddaughter and I, chatting away as she bounced on the trampoline. Maxine had turned seven that day, so was particularly excited. We talked about all sorts of things, but at one stage, when she was trying to tell me something I didn’t understand, she looked at me with pity in her big, brown eyes and proceeded to climb off the trampoline.

‘Nanna, let me explain!’ she told me. ‘Now … this is what I mean.’

What followed was a detailed description of a certain game, complete with an energetic re-enactment for my benefit. With great enthusiasm, Maxine swooped back and forth, outlining the parameters of where everyone could run, with such patience and gusto that I did not have the heart to tell her I had no idea what she talking about. Instead, I nodded enthusiastically and said ‘Wow!’—and she seemed satisfied.

Yes, at the ripe old age of seven, Maxine is definitely good at is picturing whole scenes in her mind, then describing them vividly, complete with blow-by-blow actions. Sometimes I find it hard not to smile as I watch her in action with such an earnest expression on her face, while she enters fully into making me understand.

Now that might seem a far cry from anything to do with Lent and the weeks leading up to Easter. Yet later, as I thought about how intent Maxine was on helping me enter into this whole experience, my mind went to God’s ultimate action in reaching out to us through Jesus Christ. For so many centuries, God’s nature and ways had been made clear to the Israelites. Yet eventually, by sending Jesus, God showed them—and us—beyond the shadow of a doubt how deeply we are loved.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Yet as the first disciples began following Jesus, they were still puzzled about who he was. And they were often slow to understand, despite listening to him and seeing him perform many miracles. Once, after Jesus rescues them by rebuking the wind and waves, they cry out:

What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8:27

A few chapters later, we read how Simon Peter at least has realised who Jesus actually is:

But what about you?” he {Jesus) asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

Simon Peter answered. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  Matthew 16:15-16

And this is the question we all are called to answer, isn’t it? In our heart of hearts, who do we truly say Jesus is?

God’s amazing love for us could not have been made any clearer. In Jesus, we see it played out in how he lived and died—for us. Jesus not only talked about God’s love, but also acted it out to the bitter end, despite the cost and the agony involved.

Let’s not take Jesus’ words or actions lightly. As Easter approaches, let’s look at that love of God, played out on the cross for us. Let’s not just smile or pretend to understand, as I did with Maxine. Instead, let’s allow that amazing love to change us—forever.

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‘We want to go the long way—we’ll still beat you to the car!’ our two youngest grandkids informed us, as we went to drive them home after a happy day together during the school holidays.  

We thought they meant their usual trick of heading upstairs in our unit block and down again, while we walked the normal way—but this time, they went further afield. And to their dismay and ours, they soon became lost in our big retirement village.

We waited and waited—but no grandkids showed up. I ran around our unit block several times, calling their names. Nothing. I raced up to the village centre. Nothing. I asked others along the way and, while one lady had seen them dash past, there was now no sign of them. My husband drove around looking. Again nothing.

What to do? I stood on a corner, hoping they would see me, and thought of calling the police. But at last, a lady I know came walking towards me, holding Zain and Maxine’s hands. At that point, she seemed like an angel to me!

‘Would you like two grandchildren?’ she asked, as I tried not to burst into tears.

Zain and Maxine looked even more sober and scared when they saw they had upset me. They did their best to explain how they tried to find their way back but had become completely confused, and their rescuer also explained how Zain had been very sensible and asked her nicely where our unit was. But what a fright for them—and us! The next time they were with us, they willingly made thankyou cards and some chocolate brownies for their rescuing angel—and their thanks were indeed heartfelt.

I wonder if you have had a similar heart-in-mouth experience of losing someone or of being lost yourself? Once when travelling in Turkey with a friend, I went to find a bank, while she waited at the bus station. On the way back, I took a wrong turn—and there I was, lost in the middle of Turkey with minimal Turkish at my disposal. To my relief, however, after managing to ask directions in a shop and then having a stern Turkish policeman come to my aid, I was reunited with my friend, just before our bus arrived. Phew!

We can feel so helpless in such situations, can’t we?  But I have discovered that such experiences can also teach us something more about God. By being lost in Turkey, I realised again my deep need of a rescuer, both then and in my life in general. Without God, we truly are lost, without hope and without purpose in life. And by losing our grandchildren, even for only a while, I sensed again God’s deep grief when we lose our way in life or reject God’s offer of rescue and reconciliation. Yet how eagerly our loving Father waits to welcome us home, just as the father in the story in Luke 15 welcomed his lost son home.

Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:23-24.

It is not pleasant to be lost. But it is the most wonderful experience ever when we find our way back into the loving arms of God.

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Jo 12



I had obviously failed bigtime in our grandson’s eyes. There he was, excitedly commenting on his favourite superheroes characters in a puzzle book I had given him, while I stood beside him, blank and befuddled. Now, I know my basic superheroes like Spiderman and Iron Man and The Hulk, but alas, there were so many others I did not recognise. As for how they ended up with their various superpowers, it was clear to our eight-year-old grandson that I did not have the foggiest idea.

‘What? Don’t you know anything, Nanna? Everyone knows that!’ Zain told me in a tone dripping with disgust, as he launched into an exasperated explanation of how Spiderman came to be Spiderman and The Hulk came to be … well, hulky.

Later that day, as I sat eating dinner with our granddaughter, she suggested we might watch something on YouTube at the same time.

‘I like this show,’ Maxine told me. ‘It tells you what to do in an emergency, like when there’s an earthquake or someone gets hurt. You’d better watch it too, Nanna, because you don’t know!’

Hmm. Once again, I seemed to be a dismal failure, at least in a six-year-old’s eyes. So much for my two university degrees and teaching diploma!

Later, I remembered a response I learnt as a child that might have come in handy in both these instances when our grandchildren seemed to decide I know nothing. It originated from something that happened during my mother’s own growing up years. There were seven children in their family, with the youngest being a boy. One day when he was still quite little, his older siblings teased him about something he did not know or understand. But to put them in their place, his response apparently went something like this:

‘Well, I don’t care—I only just know a good couple of things!’

At my stage of life, I think can say without too much pride that I know a ‘good couple of things’ in some areas at least, as I’m sure you do too. Yet there is so much more I would love to know—so many great works of literature and art and classical music yet to explore, for a start. I would love to learn how to paint too. And I would love to own a violin and know how to play it.

I wonder what things you would like to know more about or be able to do. Yet, whatever knowledge or skills we gain, one day it will all be put aside and forgotten, won’t it? In fact, one day, the only thing that will matter for us all will be whether we know Jesus, the one ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians 2:3). This is the knowing that can truly satisfy us deep down and enable us to stand tall, whatever knowledge we might lack in others’ eyes.

At the end of our lives, may we all, with complete honesty and humble certainty, be able to echo the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy:

… I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return. 2 Timothy 1:12 NLT

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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 23I have had some notable cooking disasters in my life. Several times, I have baked cakes that were well-browned on the outside but, alas, still gooey in the middle. I also remember roasting a chicken once as a newlywed, only to find that when I cut into it, the middle was still pink. Then as I tried to put it back in the oven, I dropped it in a sink full of washing-up water instead! Yes, sometimes things might look good on the outside, yet turn out to be far less desirable on the inside.

Or perhaps you have had the opposite experience of something appearing not so good on the outside, yet once you delved a little deeper, it turned out to be surprisingly palatable. When our daughter was little, if she did not like the appearance of something I served up for dinner that she had not tasted before, she would say, ‘I won’t like it!’ She had already made up her mind, merely on the strength of how that particular food item looked.

Recently, our youngest granddaughter and I had an interesting experience. Someone we did not know was rude to us because we had unwittingly inconvenienced them. This person’s plans were messed up—and she let us know that in no uncertain terms. Now, I did not know quite what to say to our granddaughter to explain this person’s behaviour, so I just said something like, ‘I think she was a little bit mean, don’t you?’

Sometime later, when we saw this person again, Maxine waved to her in her usual friendly way—and, lo and behold, this person waved back enthusiastically, as if we were her long-lost friends! Maxine then said to me, ‘Well, they’re a little bit nice—and a little bit mean!’

Later, I wondered whether she had said something quite profound. Perhaps she was right. What’s more, could this be true of us all, including me? Are there times when I too can be ‘a little bit nice—and a little bit mean’? Hmm!

This seems to be what even the Apostle Paul experienced at times as well.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. Romans 7:18-19 New Living Translation

I can relate to that, can’t you? But thankfully, there is a way out for us, as Paul goes on to say:

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 7:24-25

But wait—there’s more!

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:1-2

Phew! What a relief that we can have God’s Spirit within us to empower us—that we can belong to the one who is more than able to help us be a little less mean and a whole lot nicer!

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Jo 23‘I have HOMEWORK!’ our almost six-year-old granddaughter announced ecstatically, her big brown eyes wide with anticipation, as we picked her up from school one afternoon last week. ‘I’m going to do it right now!

Then and there, in the middle of the schoolyard, Maxine wanted to set to work. But I managed to get her to the car and then home at least before she tackled this wondrous new thing called homework. Last year, she had spelling to practise at home. But now being all grown up in Year One, she finally had those magical homework sheets in her hands.

First off, she tackled her spelling list for the week. She wrote out all her words in the column marked ‘Monday’ —then the Tuesday column as well, since she might not have time the next day. The Wednesday column soon followed and the Thursday one too.

But wait, there was more. As well, we completed some little ‘Maths’ exercises to do with measuring things and deciding which things were bigger or smaller than something else.

‘This is fun!’ she declared—until her granddad tried to help her draw a map of her bedroom. But she did not want help. She did not care if things weren’t in the right place or weren’t drawn to scale. What mattered to her was making that chest of drawers she drew bigger and brighter than everything else in her room and enjoying the whole experience of doing her very own homework!

As I watched, I found myself hoping she continues to be as enamoured with the idea of doing homework for a long time to come. After all, she has plenty of it ahead of her. But I began to think too how I initially embraced some things in my own life with passion and excitement, only for it all to die down a few weeks or months later. For example, I know I should walk regularly and I do enjoy it. I used to walk every day. But things happened—and now I resent the time I need to take from my writing to go walking. Then there are some books I have started reading too with enthusiasm, even taking notes as I went. But sadly, I soon became too busy—or too lazy—and lost interest in them.

I’m so glad God has enabled me not to do the same in my Christian journey. I well remember the joy and enthusiasm with which I embraced my new-found faith in Jesus Christ in my mid-teens. Over the years, while this joy and enthusiasm may have changed in degree or shape, even becoming a little dulled at times through the pressures of life, it has never left me. Today, many years later, I still rejoice that I am God’s beloved child, through the great grace God has shown me and goes on showing me. And, through God’s strength, I am still embracing with enthusiasm the things I have been given and gifted to do right now.

May that deep joy continue to flourish in my life and yours—and may we, like Maxine, embrace all God has for us to learn and experience with enthusiasm, whatever our age!

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

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