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Posts Tagged ‘minding grandchildren’

Jo 17As an introverted writer, there is nothing I like more than sitting at my desk, typing away in perfect peace and quiet. As I do, I can look out my window at the trees and shrubs and beyond them to the sky. I hear birds chirping and the occasional bark of a dog, yet these sounds are pleasant and somehow reassuring. In these moments, I feel so blessed—and spoilt! I have peace, both inside and out—and I am so grateful for God’s gracious hand on my life.

Yes, sometimes that outer peace of mine disappears when little grandchildren arrive and run around excitedly or when we mind them at their house until mum or dad finish work. Sometimes too, we have visitors for meals or for a longer period. Sometimes I venture out to speak at various events or promote my books, which always involves much relating to others. And each week I attend church and happily mix with the family of God there. I also meet with others one-on-one for coffee and truly value these intimate conversations. Yet afterwards, I scuttle back home to my place of peace, where I sit and process everything—and thank God again for my lovely, quiet space where I can reflect and be refreshed in my spirit.

But sometimes that inner peace of mine can also disappear, which is much more alarming. Sometimes I take my eyes off God and refuse to listen to the Spirit’s voice, urging me to be still, to become aware of God’s presence in me and around me, to remember God knows all about my issues and those facing anyone near and dear to me, as well as those in the world at large. Sometimes I choose to worry so much about this and that, instead of handing it all over to God. Sometimes I fret over situations when it is way beyond my ability to sort it all out for those involved. Sometimes I foolishly ignore that peace God is holding out to me with such love and grace and instead decide to cling onto that deep turmoil within.

How important it is in these times to stop and read again Jesus’ words to his disciples—and to me:

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 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

And how important the Apostle Paul’s words are too:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Whatever is happening in your life right now, may you too be able to turn to God, be still and rest in that peace only God can give.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

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Jo 12This week, our oldest grandchild turns fifteen. Fifteen!  How did that happen? Surely there’s been a mistake, I think to myself—she must have skipped out a few years along the way somewhere. Surely it wasn’t fifteen years ago that we rushed to see her in that hospital, just after she was born?

I remember well those growing up years of our little blonde-haired mite with the grey-green eyes. Each Friday during her preschool days, we had many adventures when we minded her until her father picked her up in the afternoon. We became well acquainted with all the nearby parks and soon worked out which had the best play equipment for whatever age our granddaughter was at the time. And we also came to know which shopping centres provided the best spots to have our important morning tea of juice and donuts!

We enjoyed endless games at home too—card games like ‘Donkey’, where somehow Nanna, with great skill, always ended up with that tattered donkey card left in her hand! We played Snap and memory games and later, Uno. We played Snakes and Ladders and others such as Charlie and Lola’s Pink Milk or that aptly named game Trouble. We watched old videos of The Fairies and The Wiggles and Hi5. We made pretend cakes and biscuits with play dough—but we baked yummy, real ones too, always keeping some for Mummy and Daddy.

Recently, I listened as our granddaughter groaned about the many school assignments she currently has to complete. Her life is so full—she is an excellent dancer, with classes and performances consuming many of her spare hours. Right now, she cannot even think much past these school years, with all those assignments and tests. Yet soon they will be over. And soon those university years will be over too. Soon, she will be a young woman, finding her own way in the world.

Will both my husband and I still be around to see her life unfold? I hope so, with all my heart. Yet none of us knows how long we have on this earth—not even our fifteen-year-old granddaughter. We often think we have years ahead of us, but nothing in this world is truly certain, as James warns us:

Now listen you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:13-14

Even if we all live into our nineties, that is such a very, very short time, isn’t it, when compared to eternity? Of course we have to plan and ‘carry on business’ in life, but how easily we can take our eyes off God and allow things that don’t matter in the end to consume us!

When I am about to vanish like that mist, I don’t want to find myself saying, ‘Where has the time gone? How did that happen? I know there were things God had for me to do, yet I chose not to do them.’ Instead, I want to use those God-given gifts each day as best I can—and I hope you do too.

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Jo 17Have you ever had the opportunity to boo someone off the stage or platform, as I did recently?  What fun it was! Never mind that most of the audience members were around sixty years younger than I am and took up decidedly less space in those City Recital Hall seats.  I was determined to make the most of this chance of a lifetime!

As you may have guessed, we were all at the pantomime ‘Puss in Boots’. What an opportunity to let our imaginations run riot and play that age-old game of ‘let’s pretend’!

The main characters’ costumes weren’t particularly fancy, except for the scary ogre’s colourful outfit. Puss in Boots merely had a furry tail attached around her middle and cat’s ears on her head, then later donned a red hat and boots when she and the miller’s son, Harry, set off on their adventures. The props were simple—just a large folding screen, with doors that rotated, allowing the characters to go through and around it. A few other devices were used, like a cut-out shape of a castle and the big sign prompting us all to boo. There was also appropriate music and stage lighting. But we the audience were the ones who filled in the gaps with our own vivid imaginations. We yelled out, ‘Hello, Harry!’ whenever the male lead asked us to. We responded gleefully with ‘Oh no you can’t!’ to his firm ‘Oh yes, I can!’ We screamed ‘Behind you!’ when Puss couldn’t find the big ogre. Yep, our imaginations had a great workout—especially our grandson’s.

Now Zain has always been quite adept at playing ‘Let’s pretend’ games. ‘Nanna, imagine if …’ he will say, with a twinkle in his eye. And off he goes on a wonderful flight of fancy. But Zain’s not the only one who does this.  I do too—although in nowhere near such a fun way. You see, my ‘let’s pretend’ games tend to happen when I want to impress others. I may want them to believe I have everything under control and am cool, calm and collected. Or I may want them to think I know more than I do.  Perhaps I may even want them to think I’m more ‘spiritual’ than I am or more prayerful or more Christlike or more … on it goes.  That game of ‘Let’s pretend’ is so helpful in hiding my real self that others may not like or approve of.

Do I fool anyone? Maybe—or maybe not. I know I certainly don’t fool myself. And I also know I don’t fool God. What a futile thing even to attempt, when God is present everywhere and knows us so intimately!

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. Psalm 139:1-4

Just as well God is also totally loving, gracious and merciful, don’t you think?  So in 2018, I plan to remember that, keep my ‘let’s pretend’ moments to pantomimes and the like and, instead, be real with God and with others—and with myself. How about you?

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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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