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Posts Tagged ‘retirement villages’

I have done my share of gardening over the years. Wherever we lived, I usually tried to make some sort of garden or use what was already there as best I could. But then we moved to our retirement village, where we have gardeners to look after all the trees and shrubs and flowers everywhere. And, apart from asking if I could plant some roses near our balcony, I was happy to leave all that trimming and digging and weeding to them!

IMG_20171008_170427567But then I met our wonderful neighbour and soon realised she was responsible for the beautiful flowers growing outside our front door and along the nearby pathways. I would see her working there for hours, as she sat on her little stool and weeded or broke up old leaves, then scattered them back in the earth. She would often spend her own money too, buying little, half-dead plants on special, then bringing them back to life, as well as more expensive ones. But the day came when our friend could no longer care for it all and she and her husband moved into our nearby nursing home.

In the following weeks, I watched as her beautiful garden deteriorated. Occasionally, I pulled out weeds or cut off dead flowers, but we knew that the gardeners, who had been happy to let our friend care for it and indeed to learn from her, would deal with it all in good time.

Eventually that day came and soon, many of our friend’s beautiful plants were no more–although some were left in certain spots to continue flowering where they were. And then something else sprouted in those gardens as well—two little signs that read ‘GardenIMG_20200220_092912991 Renovation in Progress’.

What a lovely concept, I thought to myself. My friend’s garden hasn’t disappeared altogether—it’s just being renovated! No doubt it will all look lovely again soon, with the remaining spaces filled with hardier, easy-care plants such as azaleas and nandina.

But as I gazed at those signs, another thought came to me too. Sometimes, I think my life can be a little like that garden outside our front door. Yes, when I first believed in Jesus Christ, I was given a completely new start in life (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet despite that wonderful ‘renovation’, I can still easily mess things up. I can forget to listen to God—or perhaps deliberately choose not to. At times, my own selfish desires might kick in or I take my eyes off God and let the worries of this world overwhelm me. Then those weeds can begin to grow in my heart—and soon that internal ‘garden’ of mine needs a good overhaul yet again.

I’m so glad God doesn’t give up on us, but instead, graciously sets about renewing us, picking us up and setting us on our feet again. Truly, we are each a ‘renovation in progress’. But we are in the hands of the greatest master gardener ever who will continue to transform us to become more like Jesus. And that has to be the best reno ever, don’t you think?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

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IMG_20191026_124546957‘Do you like rhubarb?’ our dear, old neighbour asked, as he pointed with a trembling hand to a small clump growing nearby. ‘My wife cooks it with apple. Please pick it, otherwise it’ll be wasted.’

That day, he had learnt his wife would need to be in a nursing home and unable to come back to their unit. For thirteen years, she has chosen to care for all the garden areas nearby, with the blessing of our village gardeners, and I remembered how carefully she had tended this precious rhubarb plant in the months it had taken to grow. Now, just as it can be harvested, she is unable to do so.

As he went on to explain that he and his wife would probably both move into a double unit in the nearby nursing home, I noticed how he wiped tears away. He was concerned about the cost and also about the fact that there might not be room for all their possessions.

‘I tried to clean out the garage the other day, but I didn’t get too far,’ he told us. ‘I don’t know what we’ll do with it all.’

We endeavoured to reassure him as best we could. Finding a double unit where they can be together is wonderful, we told him. After all, they have been married for well over sixty years. And their beautiful daughters and sons-in-law will sort out what to take and what to give away, as well as all the paperwork needing to be done.

We felt so sorry for him as he stood there, a frail, old gentleman who is not well himself. Eventually he left, assuring us he had more than enough at home for dinner. Then, feeling so guilty, I went to cut those rhubarb stalks. I cooked them up, along with some apple, then filled a little container for him to take to his wife in hospital. It was the least I could do for her.

As I did, I felt sad, but I also felt at peace for them. You see, they are both Salvation Army officers and beautiful, humble Christians. This time in their lives might be fraught with pain and difficulty, as they suffer ill-health and grieve over the loss of their independence, as well as their lovely unit and garden. But they know where they are going. They know Jesus Christ. They have known him for a very long time. And I know they look forward to the day when they will meet him face to face and be with him forever. I know too they would agree with the words of the Apostle Paul:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

Our lovely neighbours will get over this huge hump in their lives in God’s strength and they will keep on trusting, whatever happens. And one day, I am sure, ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:17)

May we all carry such a hope in our hearts, as we live out our days here with our eyes fixed on the Lord, knowing this is not the end but only the beginning.

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Jo 17I could not believe it. Early one morning, I went to check out our little garden just beyond our balcony. At least, it isn’t really ‘our’ garden, because the village gardeners look after it and have planted shrubs there. But I recently added some small, purple lobelia plants a neighbour gave me when some of her garden was dug up to allow for plumbing repairs nearby. I felt sorry for her and wanted those little plants to flourish, for her sake. But this particular morning, I discovered three of them had been dug up and were lying on top of the ground looking extremely forlorn, their roots dangling in mid-air.

How could this happen? I knew it hadn’t been our grandchildren—or the gardeners—or any of our neighbours. Then I noticed our big, local water dragon nearby, scratching the ground with its sharp claws. Could he (or she) be the culprit? Perhaps it was my imagination, but I suspected that cheeky lizard looked a tad guilty as I glared at it! Or could the real culprit be that even cheekier brush turkey who occasionally struts along the bushland corridor beside our unit? One day, my husband even saw it head upstairs to the units above ours, as if it owned the place!

Whoever the culprit might have been, those little plants needed rescuing. I stuck them back in the ground, held up their limp leaves and watered them carefully. And as I watched their progress (or lack thereof) in the ensuing days, I was reminded forcibly of the parable Jesus told about the farmer who went out one day to sow seed (Luke 8:1-15). Some fell along the path and was trampled or eaten by birds. Some fell on rocks, but the resulting plants soon withered because there was no water. Some fell among thorns, which also grew and choked those new plants. But some fell on good soil and yielded an amazing crop.

Jesus explains to his disciples that the seed along the path represents those who hear the word of God, yet never truly believe, because the enemy quickly tramples on their faith or snatches it away. The seed on the rock represents those who receive the word with joy, yet their faith soon withers, like my plants did when their roots were exposed. The seed that falls among thorns represents those whose faith does not mature because their worries, along with the riches and pleasures of life, choke it. Then Jesus says:

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (15)

How quickly that new life drained out of my little plants, as they lay in that hot sun! One day they were happily growing—and the next, they were not. What a stark reminder to me how easily we can die spiritually when, for one reason or another, our roots do not go down deep into God, so that we can withstand any attempts to trample on or snatch away or dry up or crowd out our faith!

May we not only hear the word, but retain it well—and may we persevere, ever maturing and producing the most abundant harvest possible, as God enables.

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Jo 23For a moment, I had trouble believing what I was reading in our village newsletter:

‘Nothing on TV? Come along and join the Bingo crowd each Tuesday!’

Could whoever wrote this be implying that these two activities were the only options? Did that describe their own lives—just TV and Bingo? If that was the case, then I truly felt sorry for him or her.

I know some people may have health issues and can’t participate in other activities, so possibly TV and Bingo are their best—or only—options. But from my perspective at this stage of my life, surely there are other much more interesting and life-giving pastimes available to fill my hours each day? Even within our village here there is a plethora of clubs and groups on offer—aqua aerobics (and swimming), Bible study, cards (500, Canasta, Crazy Whist), chess, choir, crafts of varying sorts, golf croquet, exercise, games (Scrabble etc), hobby workshop (woodwork, metalwork etc), indoor bowls, lawn bowls, library, line dancing, mah-jong, sketching, various snooker groups, table tennis, tai chi, good movies in the movie theatre, a ‘Voice our Views’ group and a writing group. Phew!

Then, of course, there are many other options as well. The village bus goes regularly to different shopping centres nearby, plus there are other bus tours available for different outings further afield. Or we can hop in our cars and go to these places ourselves. We can visit relatives or friends. We can walk through the beautiful bushland nearby or merely through nearby streets. We can chat to people along the way—or to others in the village. There is even a coffee shop on the premises where we can help ourselves to free coffee, while catching up with others. So, barring health issues, why would one choose TV or Bingo instead?

Now I understand the positive aspects of TV as well as anyone. This past month, I have truly enjoyed flicking from the cricket to the tennis and watching both for far too long! Sometimes there actually are worthwhile things on TV. I also love writing, speaking at places, reading and doing word puzzles. But … Bingo? I remember how, when my lovely older friend Joy first moved into a nursing home in the mountains, she was regularly taken to the activities room for Bingo, which she hated with a passion. She and her daughters called it ‘The dreaded “B” word’. I well remember how delighted my friend was when I popped in to visit her once and thus rescued her from participating!

At least that Bingo invitation in our newsletter has caused me to think carefully about how I plan to spend my time this year. Yes, I need to look after myself and relax and have fun doing what I love to do. But while I’m still able, I also want to invest my time and energy in those worthwhile things God wants me to do and connect with the people God gives me to connect with. And I’m sure I will enjoy all that too. There is more to life when we are on the journey with God, don’t you think? So much more than only TV and Bingo!

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

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Jo 23

In the recent Christmas heat, I watched some of the shrubs and plants near our unit struggle to stay alive. Even some of the hardiest ones in pots on our balcony suffered, as the hot sun scorched the leaves and shrivelled the flowers. The native trees nearby survived the best—those gum trees and grevilleas and callistemon have had to learn to be tough in our dry terrain. And it was in the midst of observing all this that I read the following:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.

They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” Psalm 92:13-15

Have you ever noticed how some folk in their sixties look and act old before their time, while others in their nineties still seem quite young and are happily engaged in life in all sorts of ways? Of course, ill health and other difficulties can make life hard for some. Yet even apart from that, some seem to shrivel up before their time, like my pot plants, and resort to sitting on the sidelines rather than fully participating, while others much older continue to lay hold of life with both hands.

Recently, I discovered that one gentleman who is a member of our Village choir is actually ninety-nine years old! I would never have guessed it. He is interesting to speak to, alert and observant, obviously highly intelligent and also a gifted artist. Someone else told me that when he didn’t turn up to choir last year for a while, they discovered he had gone to Poland for his great-grandson’s wedding!

Now while some might consider me so old already—including our youngest grandchildren—I am actually thirty years younger than this lovely gentleman! So I have been asking myself what God might have in store for me, should I too have another thirty years ahead of me. After all, I did not waste the first thirty years of my life or the second thirty—so why waste the third thirty or beyond? In my old age, which I’m sure I haven’t quite reached yet, I feel there is still so much for me to do. I have ideas for books I would still like to write. I have many more ideas for my blogs. I would love to continue speaking for a while yet. I enjoy mentoring several wonderful women leaders. Everywhere I look, I see other opportunities for ministry. And of course, beyond all that, I want to see our grandchildren grow and flourish and still be invested in their lives for many years to come.

So in 2018, and for as long as God enables, I hope and pray I can be more like the native trees and shrubs I can see from my balcony and not those sad, wilted pot plants. As I keep my feet firmly on that Rock who is the Lord, I hope I can continue to flourish, bearing good fruit and staying fresh and green, for a long time to come yet.

How about you?

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piano-1655558_1920I wonder if you have ever been thanked for something you truly had not even thought twice about—something that perhaps came easily to you or was almost automatic? This happened to me on two occasions recently—and, with each one, it had to do with playing the piano, something I have not done seriously for many years.

The first occurred just before I was due to accompany our Village choir for their Christmas presentation in the nearby nursing home. Before the program started, I decided to play some carols softly, more for my own sake than anything else, to get my fingers working. I did not think many were listening—but I was wrong. Later, as I was about to leave, a lady stopped me.

‘I truly enjoyed your soft playing before the choir came,’ she said with some emotion. ‘It was so beautiful—it made me cry!’

I was quite shocked—but also extremely humbled.  I had not really thought about those residents sitting patiently waiting—I was just running through some simple carols. Yet somehow God used my playing to bless one other person at least.

The second occurred a few days later at a Christmas gathering for our particular area of the Village, when a lady I had only vaguely seen in the distance prior to this approached me.

‘I want to thank you so much for playing those carols in your unit!’ she said. ‘My husband is not well at all and can barely get out of bed. But he wanted me to tell you how much he has enjoyed lying there, listening to you play. So thank you!’

This time, I was very shocked. I am always aware when I play my piano in our lounge area that nearby residents may hear me, but I did not think the sound would reach as far as the unit where this lady and her husband live. Yet in this case, what I thought might annoy someone intensely turned out to bless them deeply instead. Once again, I had underestimated God. Once again, even when I was not trying much at all and not producing any sort of polished performance, God used my playing to bless this sick man.

At first, these events almost made me feel guilty. I should have tried harder. I should have put more thought into my playing. But then I stepped back and decided instead simply to be grateful that something I could do relatively easily could bless others so much. And I remembered too my old music teachers of many years ago who schooled me so well in sight-reading and music theory. As a result of their efforts, I had much less trouble swapping from one key to another for each carol!

It’s kind of like the story of the loaves and fishes, don’t you think? An insignificant offering—yet the end result was something I bet that young boy whose lunch it was could never have envisaged (John 6). So in the new year, let’s continue to offer up and use our God-given gifts, even without thinking too much about them, and watch God do the rest!

Each one should use whatever gift he (or she) has received, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various ways. 1 Peter 4:10

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Jo 17Years ago, I discovered something that intrigued me. I was in the middle of preparing a talk and had become stuck, as I tried to organise my thoughts. So I took a break and went to have a shower. To my surprise, as I stood there, letting that water flow over me and mulling things over in my mind, my input simply fell into place. Somehow, it was as if the water was cleansing not only the outside of me but the inside too, washing away my muddy thoughts and bringing so much more clarity.

Now some might say it was the relaxing effect of that water flowing over me that cleared my mind—and I’m sure that was part of it. But I suspect there was more to it too. It seemed to me that, as the physical water flowed over me, so did the living water from God’s Spirit, inspiring me so I could express myself so much better. And, while I hadn’t swallowed any actual water, I felt I was being filled up on the inside with ‘spiritual water’ somewhere deep in my being, so that the right words were able to form and bubble away there, ready to flow onto the page and eventually out to my audience.

Only a few days ago, I experienced something similar—but not in the shower this time! Twice a week, usually late in the afternoon when no one else is around, I try to make my way up to the heated pool and spa in our Village Centre, not far from our unit. I am quite out of practice as a swimmer, so each week, I challenge myself to do a few more lengths of our smallish pool and improve on my previous efforts. Gradually, I am beginning to enjoy the sensation of that water flowing under and around my body again, now that I don’t have to focus on whether I will make it to the other end of that pool or not! Instead, I can let my mind mull over whatever blog I am writing or whatever talk I am preparing and chat about it all with God as I swim.

It was afterwards, while relaxing in the spa, however, that I felt that lovely, cleansing flow of both actual and living water strongly again. As those super warm bubbles surged around me and the water jets massaged my body, it was as if a curtain lifted from my mind, giving me much clearer direction for my writing projects. Then, once again, I sensed that deep peace and joy filling me up inside. And I knew the Source of this peace and joy was Jesus, who still delights to provide living water today, just as he offered to give that Samaritan woman at the well all those centuries ago (see John 4).

How much I need that beautiful, life-giving water to fill me, so it can overflow to others as I write and speak! How much we all need it, so we can bring light and life to our hurting world!

… Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37-38

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IMG_20170609_143813167I sit at my desk, enjoying the sunshine that streams through my study window. I can see shrubs close by, then taller trees beyond. Today, their leaves are rippling in the wind—it feels somehow soothing to watch them and to note how their shapes are etched against the bright blue sky. It is cool outside, but I am warm and snug, as I try to find words to describe what I am seeing and feeling. I love writing about my beautiful surroundings, but I so much want to do justice to it all.

As I reflect, I realise I am feeling a twinge of what could only be called guilt. How did we end up here, after living in our little, wooden house for thirty-two years? How come that old house sold for such a good price, enabling us to afford our comfortable, spacious unit? Perhaps it’s all a dream, I think to myself. Perhaps I’ll wake up one morning and find myself back in our old home, instead of in this lovely, quiet place where the only sounds are the birds outside, twittering and singing to one another. I know there are people nearby, but we are on the edge of our Village, where our peace is largely undisturbed, unless we choose to venture out somewhere.

In the quietness, I try to slow my racing mind. God is here with me, I know—and I choose to stop, be still and settle into that warm, loving Presence all around me. Yet, for some reason, I feel unworthy at this point in time. God, why have you chosen to give us all this beauty and comfort, my heart cries out. What have we done to deserve so much material blessing? Could it be … maybe you meant it for someone else, God? Has it all been a big mistake?

Then I sense God’s loving arms around me and feel the Spirit’s warmth and fullness flooding my being. I open my Bible, but even before I do, I seem to hear God’s gentle, reassuring voice: This is no mistake, Jo-Anne. This is just a picture in the natural of the grace I have poured out on you in the spiritual. As you look around and enjoy what you have received, know it is my delight to give you a place where you can flourish and where you can serve me with a heart at peace and overflowing with my love for others. And as you do, may you be reminded of the abundance of my grace that called you to be part of my family forever—that grace beyond measure that you can never earn or buy.

I turn the pages then and read one of my favourite verses written by the Apostle John, then another from the Apostle Paul:

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! 1 John 3:1

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God …. Ephesians 2:8

Then I sit back and relax. Yes, Lord, it is all gift. Everything we have, everything we are. Thank you, from the depths of my heart, for your amazing, overwhelming grace.

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Jo 23I think I have more or less come to grips with how various things work in our new unit. The clothes dryer was no trouble—and I have at last figured out how our oven and grill function. The fridge-freezer we bought to fit the space available has lots of great bells and whistles I hope I understand now. And the same goes for our new air conditioner. I have mastered the art too of using a remote control ‘fob’ for our garage door—and another to let myself into our Village Centre on weekends or after hours. I am beginning to feel quite accomplished.

Recently, however, our two older granddaughters and I decided to try the heated pool and spa in the Centre. That day, it happened that we were the only ones in the pool area—and what fun we had, trying to work out what switch turned on what! Was that one for the lights? Which should we push for the spa? And, most important of all, which one unlocked the door so we could eventually get out?

In the end, we guessed right, although we weren’t game to press one big button in the change room, since it looked distinctly like an alarm. But when I went to swim another day, I decided to risk it. Lo and behold, no one came running—it turned out to be a much-needed heater! All up, I was quite proud of myself.

But then my husband traded in his old car during the recent end-of-financial-year sales. I drove it too at times, but I prefer our eighteen-year-old Ford Fairmont that has clocked up around 250,000 kilometres! However, the car seats for our two younger grandchildren have always been in my husband’s car, so I knew I would need to familiarise myself quickly with his wondrous new vehicle, if I were to take our grandchildren anywhere.

‘Everything’s much the same as in the old car,’ my husband told me with great assurance. ‘Oh—except there’s no hand brake. It’s a foot brake instead—there’s an extra button-type pedal just to the left of the real brake!’

Hmm. I went for a drive—and I think it will take a few more hundred times before I do not grope at all for that usual, old hand brake!

Yes, sometimes I am slower to adapt to new things. Sometimes I want to cling to the old. After all, I argue, it works okay. And, more to the point, I am familiar with it. But these recent experiences with various material possessions have made me wonder if I do the same with the things of God. How often do I ignore some new challenge from God? How often do I refuse to trust God and try a better way? How often do I choose to wallow in the old rather than move on and embrace the new?

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are made new—we become completely new creations. And as such, we can choose to step out in the Spirit’s strength each day into all the wonderful, new things God has for us to learn and experience.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Are you up for the challenge?

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Jo 12There I was, busy unpacking the final carton from our move, when the lights in our living area went out. I heard voices outside, went to investigate—and was hailed loudly by a gentleman from upstairs.

‘Hi, my name’s Bill. You’re new, aren’t you?’

‘Yes—my name’s Jo-Anne.’

‘Good to meet you, Jo-Anne. Welcome to this wonderful place where the electricity isn’t working!’

Soon, more folk from neighbouring units appeared.

‘Why are the lights out?’ one lady asked.

‘Oh, we mustn’t have paid our bills!’ another man joked.

We all chatted for a while. Then those lights came back on and everyone disappeared inside again.

Another day, I had walked up to our Village Centre to use the wifi there. Before we moved, we arranged with a certain well-known telecommunications company to have our phone connected at our new address and also the internet. Alas, four weeks later, we are still waiting! During that time, I have realised how much I rely on touching base with author friends and others via email, Facebook and blogs. So there I was, hoping to work quickly and quietly at my laptop in the coffee shop. But soon a man and a lady sat down nearby, obviously wondering who this newcomer might be. I chatted with them for a while, then tried to return to my work. Yet, every few moments, one of them would say, ‘Excuse me, do you know …’, ‘Excuse me, have you seen …’, ‘Excuse me, are you aware …’ and so on. They simply wanted to connect with me and be helpful to someone new. So in the end, I forsook my online friends and opted for the folk seated right in front of me.

On yet another day, I met a lady slowly coming downstairs with some rubbish.

‘Do you need help?’ I asked reluctantly, a little unwilling to stop and chat.

‘No thank you, I’m fine. My name’s Marie.’

‘Oh, that’s my second name,’ I told her—and she was delighted.

Soon I discovered she is ninety and has a twin sister who lives just across the way in another unit.

‘We can wave to each other from our balconies!’ she told me—and I could see how important this connection was for her with the one she has known for all of her ninety years.

As I have reflected on all these recent connections with others and how ready each person was to chat, I sense I have been strongly reminded of God’s heart to connect with me in a meaningful way each day. Yet how often do I momentarily touch base, then scuttle away, as when that electricity came on again in our block?  How many times do I ignore God, as I tried to ignore that couple while answering my emails? How often do I refuse to acknowledge God’s presence at all, as I almost did with ninety-year-old Marie?

It’s about stopping in the midst of our busy lives. It’s about becoming aware God is with us and wants to relate to us. It’s about truly connecting—then listening and responding.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I given them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:27-29

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