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Posts Tagged ‘minding grandchildren’

I suspect I am getting a tad old. You see, these days I find I gain an inordinate amount of joy from the simple things in life. Of course I treasure the big, exciting events too. But how wonderful it can be to stop and truly appreciate those seemingly insignificant moments along the way!

One day last week, while in the kitchenware aisle of our local supermarket, I saw a large, metal cake cooler on special for around four dollars. Wow, I thought, it’s so much bigger and better than my old one I’ve used for all those forty-eight years of my married life. IMG_20171006_155427875This one has real wire mesh, so my biscuits won’t fall through and break and my cakes won’t end up with deep indentations on them! So with great glee, I placed that cake cooler in my trolley and headed for the checkout.

Such a simple item—yet how thankful I am for it. And what fun it was too to stare at the old and new versions on our kitchen bench and laugh at myself that I hadn’t bought a new one sooner!

But there were other simple moments in my week that brought even greater joy. OIMG_20171007_091749262ne special delight was to notice the first beautiful bloom on a rosebush I planted in our little garden beside our balcony, not long after we moved in here. To add to my delight, this particular rose is called ‘Just Joey’. How apt, when I was so often called Joey as a child, rather than Jo-Anne!

Another day while on our balcony, I found myself staring at the leaves on the nearby gum trees as they stirred in the wind against a backdrop of clear, blue sky. And one morning, I sat amazed at the myriad of different bird sounds I could hear coming from these same trees and nearby bushland. How easily I could have brushed off these special moments, in my preoccupation with everything waiting to be done inside!

Then one afternoon, I almost missed out again on something so simple, yet so priceless. I had arrived at our youngest granddaughter’s day care centre a little early to pick her up and the children were still playing outside. For a while, I stood and watched Maxine and her little friends. But then Maxine turned around and saw me—and, for a fleeting second, the most beautiful smile of greeting lit up her face. A moment later, she had obviously decided to be all serious again and pretended to ignore me. But I had seen that smile—and I knew she was delighted I had come.

As I reflected on these events, I thanked God for them. But I wondered if God wanted to teach me an even deeper lesson. How often in my busy life do I ignore those simple yet precious truths of Scripture and forget to rest in their power to keep me in a place of peace? Truths like:

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Joshua 1:5

I have loved you with an everlasting love … Jeremiah 31:3a

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. John 14:27a

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

So simple—yet so profound. So easy to remember—yet so often forgotten.

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Jo 17‘What day is it today?’ I ask my husband.

‘It’s Thursday,’ he tells me, without comment. He is used to my strange ways.

‘It can’t be!’ I say, aghast. ‘What happened to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday? Before we know it, another week will be over!’

It seems I am not the only one in our family who is familiar with this ‘before we know it’ feeling. Recently, after picking up our three-year-old granddaughter from day care, we chatted together as we drove along.

‘I fell over at my brother’s school and hurt my knee,’ she told us at one stage.

‘Oh, that’s sad,’ her grandad said. ‘Did you cry?’

‘Yes, I did,’ she replied, ‘but before I knew it, it didn’t hurt anymore!’

This concept of time passing so quickly seemed such an adult thing for a young child to grasp—but obviously Maxine knew what it meant. One minute that pain was there and the next, it was gone. And that’s the case with so many things in life, don’t you think? We think and act as if a particular stage of our lives will last forever—but it doesn’t. At times, we cannot see beyond the now. Yet when we step back and view things with a wider perspective, we realise everything is finite.

One of my favourite movies from years ago now is Dead Poets Society. A key thought the main character, innovative teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams), often expressed resonated strongly with me—‘Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.’ I suspect I saw this movie at a time in my life when I felt a little restless and was wondering what God had ahead for me. I wanted to make my life count, in whatever way God had gifted me to do so. But time was passing, so I needed to grasp hold of those ‘God opportunities’ that arose, however challenging they might be. And I’m so glad God enabled me to do just that. Not long after this movie was first released, I changed jobs—and this change eventually led to my being able to attend theological college fulltime in my late forties and obtain my Bachelor of Theology degree, a dream I had had ever since I was around nineteen years old.

Now at this stage of my life, I wonder again what God has for me to do. Should I persevere with my writing and speaking? Or is God leading me into a different kind of ministry? Whatever the answers to those questions might turn out to be, I know I still want to ‘seize the moment’ and make my life count, because, before I know it, I will no longer have these opportunities. Even though we live in different times from the Apostle Paul, I want to heed his commands to do just that.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:16-17

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:4

May God guide us all as we seize those moments we have been given and make the most of them.

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Jo 12After thirty-two years of living in our little, weatherboard house here in Sydney, the week when we move is finally here. Most rooms are filled with boxes, waiting for that truck to arrive on Friday and relocate us just a few kilometres away. Over the past few weeks, I have slowly made my way through all my packing, stopping at times to reflect on memories associated with this or that possession, sometimes culling further, but also holding onto various bits and pieces that still have too much sentimental value to be thrown out.

In many ways, it will not be a wrench to leave. Our old, comfy house owes us nothing—it has served us well, even when our three children still lived at home and it was bulging at the seams. And it has served the next generation well too, with our two older grandchildren spending many Fridays here when they were younger. To me, it is lovely too that even our two younger grandchildren have memories to take with them from Nanna and Granddad’s old house. We hope and pray the next owners will be equally as happy here, perhaps raising their own family to run around the garden and attend school nearby.

Yet in other ways, it is sad to say farewell to a place where so much happened for each family member. For me personally, this is where I prepared all those lessons and marked those piles of exercise books, after returning to teaching when we first moved here. It was here many years later, too, that I returned to study and sat on a stool at our kitchen bench for hours on end at our big, old desktop computer, completing those assignments for my theology degree. Later still, I wrote my first five novels on my trusty laptop at the end of our kitchen table, packing up everything before dinner. Three more books emerged after I finally ended up with my own desk in our spare bedroom—the room where I am now writing this blog for the last time. These are just a few of the many memories I will take with me.

A few days ago, in the midst of this slightly surreal time in my life, I was particularly touched when God reached out to me yet again through the words of a psalm my mother used to sing:

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Psalm 84:1-4

Yes, this psalm may well be speaking of a physical ‘house of God’. But it reminded me too that, no earthly home, whether old or new, can compare with being at home with God. What a beautiful place to live, enjoying God’s close, comforting presence each day! Wherever I am, I am in God and God is in me. And this is the home where I plan to stay put, both now and forever.

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I stood watching our five-year-old grandson digging in our front garden. I had suggested we pull out an almost dead shrub—a task he carried out with great relish! But now came the tricky part—preparing the ground for whatever I would decide to plant there next.

Our Zain can be an eimg_20170127_151716548xcellent helper. The previous week, he and I cleaned our very dirty garage door that rarely gets closed because my car cannot fit in our carport! Zain did an amazing job, scrubbing hard and hosing down everything in sight—including me! But gardening? Well, let’s just say I was a little concerned about the welfare of the other nearby plants in my garden.

However, I had promised he could help, so we forged ahead. I let him use my small trowel to form a neat hole that soon became bigger … and bigger … and bigger. I hurriedly pushed some dirt back in and suggested we didn’t need it quite that wide. So then our hole became deeper … and deeper … and deeper instead! At that point, I explained we needed to water the ground, so it would be nice and moist for the new plant. And soon my little helper had created an interesting mud puddle, complete with brown bubbles gurgling up in the middle.

Deciding distraction was the best option, I suggested we head off to buy our new shrub. Nurseries are not the best place for active grandsons, so I decided the first native plant I saw on a ‘specials’ table would do. Anyway, how could I go past a shrub called ‘Nandina Nana’? We headed home and Zain seemed determined to get our purchase into the ground as quickly as possible—even though I could see that hole was not exactly where I wanted it.

The next day, when I checked on our handiwork, I noticed the ground was still soft. img_20170203_081329095So—you guessed it—on the spur of the moment, I dug my little shrub up and moved it about twenty centimetres to the left, where I had wanted it to be all along! Hopefully, Zain will never know. And yes, my ‘Nandina Nana’ is still alive—for now at least.

As I reflected on our gardening attempt, I could not help but remember the many times God has had to exercise great patience with me, as I forged ahead willy-nilly in life, wanting to help others without stopping to listen. How many times has God mopped up messes I created as a result? Just as well the Supreme Fixer-Upper has been so ready to forgive my failures and mistakes, put my botched efforts to rights and enable me to stand tall again.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:8, 13-14

Each day as I walk past my new little shrub, may it continue to remind me to be so thankful for our patient, compassionate God. May I learn to listen more often—and then obey. And may God enable me to show something at least of that same patience and compassion towards others, including our lively grandson!

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p1040398I stood at our kitchen bench with our oldest granddaughter. She had come to spend the day with us and wanted to make herself useful, cooking Christmas treats and wrapping Christmas gifts for our family.

‘We could make these Peppermint Creams,’ I told her, as I opened a plastic covered spring binder containing recipes for various sweet treats. Then I noticed most were written in my mother’s rounded handwriting—she had faithfully copied out her favourite recipes for me when I was married almost forty-eight years ago!

‘Or perhaps we could make these again,’ I then suggested, as I pointed to a recipe for Gingerbread Men in an old,  spiral-bound book I own, with its front cover almost torn off. As I did, I realised exactly how old this particular book was too—it was produced by the Nursing Mothers’ Association of Australia in 1975!

‘Or for a “no-bake” recipe, we could use this one,’ I added, digging out some neatly printed instructions for a yummy chocolate hazelnut slice. At least this recipe was roughly from my granddaughter’s vintage, as it had been emailed to me by a young friend only in the past couple of years.

In the end, our granddaughter opted for creating our chubby gingerbread men once again, so we set to work. Yet, all the while, my head was spinning. Surely it could not be forty-eight years ago that I was given those recipe books? How had all that time passed? And surely this beautiful granddaughter of mine working so deftly beside me could not be thirteen, going on fourteen? On top of that, surely it had not been a whole year since we last stood beside each other, baking a batch of tubby little gingerbread men?

It can be scary, can’t it, the way the years fly by? In no time at all, we realise we are at a different stage of our lives and the past has become just that. Our priorities change—who knows whether, by next Christmas, our granddaughter might feel a little less inclined to spend a whole day baking and wrapping presents with her grandmother?

In James 4:14, our lives are starkly described as ‘a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes’. As I reflected on our granddaughter’s visit, I realised all over again the truth of these words. Then the next day, I read the following from 2 Corinthians 4:18: 

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Yes, so many things we think are important in this life will not always be with us. Soon those old recipe books of mine will have fallen apart completely. Even now, our children and grandchildren have trouble reading my mother’s handwriting and understanding what some of the more old-fashioned terms mean. Soon all those Christmas presents our granddaughter wrapped so carefully may well have been forgotten or may no longer be needed. And even sooner, all those little gingerbread men we baked will have disappeared forever.

By all means, let’s enjoy the wonderful temporary things around us, especially at Christmas. But let’s not forget that unseen, eternal dimension either—because, after all, that’s what Christmas really is about.

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Maxine's 1st bday 2015 016eOur three-year-old grandson discovered a whole new concept recently. He has come to believe that anyone or anything he doesn’t approve of might well disappear if he ‘magics’ them away! No doubt he saw this happen on some children’s TV show and has decided this might be quite a handy skill to acquire. So when some animals featured on a particular page of one of his favourite books do something naughty, what does he do?

‘I’m going to magic you away!’ he declares to them firmly, with a sweep of his hand.

For some reason, it doesn’t seem to deter him when those animals don’t actually disappear. He just keeps on trying. And not only on characters in books either.

One evening when we were minding him, he decided he wasn’t ready to go to sleep, despite the lateness of the hour. We had already read books and enjoyed a special treat—a big, juicy strawberry from the fridge. But one was definitely not enough—he wanted more.

‘Perhaps when Mummy comes home, you can ask her for some more,’ I stalled, hoping he would fall asleep long before then.

But our determined little grandson was not happy with my response.

‘I’m going to magic you away!’ he informed me, with a stern look and a very definite, commanding gesture.

But he still wasn’t finished.

And I’m going to magic Mummy right here!’ he announced with a flourish.

About two seconds later, we heard a sound at the front door—and there was Mummy, home from work! I laughed, knowing it was sheer coincidence. But our grandson’s face registered all sorts of emotions—shock, joy, pride, satisfaction … and yes, anticipation of more yummy strawberries to come. In fact, without even greeting his mother, he headed straight for that fridge to help himself!

This interesting experience later caused me to think about how I view God at times. How often have I prayed some frantic prayer, in the hope God will immediately step in and ‘magic’ away some disaster or difficult situation? How often have I felt I had the right to expect God to do this, even if I was responsible for bringing about the disaster or difficult situation? How often have I treated God as some sort of all-powerful magician, always ready to save the day and do exactly as I want?

Yes, God has often rescued me out of difficult situations. But God has also chosen to walk with me through them instead—and these have been the times I have grown the most. Then I learnt to rely on God more, became stronger, gained some wisdom and was equipped to empathise with others. I often did not appreciate it, but God was there through it all, holding me, helping me, comforting me, teaching me, as 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

No, God is not a big magician who is obliged to do what we say, making people we don’t like disappear or zapping us out of some tricky situation. God is soooo much more than that—don’t you agree?

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Jo 23Yesterday, I noticed a small, stand-up calendar on my desk. According to the month it showed, we were still in April. As I went to flip the page over to May, I gasped. Surely only a few days had passed since I had changed this calendar from March to April? How could another month have disappeared so quickly?

It seemed to me the year was fast slipping through my fingers, with no new book completed and very little preparation for upcoming speaking engagements done either. True, I submitted another non-fiction book to my publisher in January. And true, I have at least begun a new novel. And I had prepared for a speaking event this past weekend, only to have it cancelled, due to unforeseen circumstances. But … well, I seemed to have achieved so little in the light of all those weeks and months that have now passed into oblivion.

Then in the stillness around me, I became aware of God’s gentle voice speaking into my spirit. I sat up straight and breathed deeply. Yes, in this year, I have done my best. I have tried to take more care of myself, after ten busy, busy years of writing and speaking. I have tracked with several women, listening as they have shared what is happening in their lives. I have provided many meals for visitors in our home. I have minded grandchildren. I have rearranged our garden a little. And yes, I have kept writing too. Gradually, my heart was able to receive that gentle reminder of God’s total love and acceptance of me, whether I produced anything or not, whether I was digging the garden, speaking to a large group, writing that next great Australian novel—or simply doing nothing.

‘Am I not enough for you, Jo-Anne?’ God seemed to say. ‘Don’t you trust me to watch over you and bring good out of all the various strands and events in your life? I see exactly where you are up to in your writing. I knew ahead about that cancelled speaking engagement. I’m aware of how you feel about those fleeting months. But surely your times are in my hands? And don’t you yourself matter more to me than anything you might produce?’

I turned then to a book I am using at the moment entitled The Ignatian Adventure which contains spiritual exercises for each day—Scripture readings, other reflections and personal questions to ponder. I turned to the day’s reading—Jeremiah 17:7-8:

But blessed is the man (woman) who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He (she) will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Yes, however fast those months fly by, I know I will bear fruit as I continue to allow my roots to go down deep into God. The fruit may vary in type and in abundance—but the Lord is trustworthy and his love for me will never change, month after month, year after year, and on into eternity.

As the year slips by, are your roots going down deep into God too?

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