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Posts Tagged ‘Zain’

I enjoy board games—well, many of them anyway. My sister and I grew up playing endless rounds of Snakes and Ladders, Ludo, Chinese Checkers, Draughts and Monopoly, not to mention Dominos, Pick Up Sticks and a little quiz game called ‘Tell Me’. There were card games too—children’s ones at first such as Donkey, Old Maid, Comic Families and good old Snap, then, later, Coon Can, Euchre and Five Hundred. What fun!

Nowadays, however, children’s games somehow seem to have become trickier—for me at least! Our two younger grandchildren still enjoy their Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, Dominos and Donkey, but, well … what sort of person would think up such annoying, confusing games as one our ten-year-old grandson introduced me to recently called ‘Exploding Kittens’?! Ugh!

Zain is good at explaining the rules of games and did his best this time around, then patiently continued helping me. Yet it seemed that, whatever card I chose to throw out, something worse happened to me, until our grandson could block my every move. And, of course, I ended up becoming the victim of that dreaded ‘exploding kitten’!

At least this experience was marginally better than the time a few weeks ago when Zain tried to teach me how to play chess. We gave him his chess set for Christmas—and, suddenly, he has taken to it in a big way, strategically plotting his moves ahead of time. Meanwhile, I had to be told over and over the names of the various pieces and what they are allowed and not allowed to do! No wonder I ended up cornered in this game as well, with nowhere to go.  

At times, life can be like that too, can’t it? For whatever reason, sometimes we find ourselves in a real-life board game situation where we can feel quite cornered, even powerless, with very few options available to us. Perhaps we end up stuck in some exhausting job or ongoing argument or draining relationship or debilitating health challenge where there seems to be no way out. And that can be very hard indeed.

I remember a time years ago when I was employed in a demanding teaching job which left me feeling exhausted and trapped. I knew I had to keep going to help pay our mortgage at the time, but each Sunday, my heart sank, as I thought of the week ahead. In the end, God graciously provided a way out for me and into an editing job I loved. Yet it does not always happen like that, does it? Sometimes in life, there is no way of escape provided. Instead, we have to press on, doing our best to remain positive, as we look to God for the strength and courage we need. And God is surely right there beside us and in us, comforting and encouraging us, even as we walk through those deep, dark valleys—and will be forever.

Whatever your situation and however cornered you feel right now, I pray you will sense our strong Shepherd’s hand on your shoulder today and know again his deep love and compassion for you.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. Psalm 23:4 NLT

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Some years ago, a friend pointed out how I often use a particular little word when writing or speaking about family members. ‘Our Jane changed jobs’ or ‘Our Zain is doing better’ or ‘Our Amy started university’—yes, that little pronoun ‘our’ in these and other similar comments made in an email or while chatting seemed to have captured her attention.

‘It sounds so nice’, she said, although I cannot remember why she thought that. Perhaps to her it spoke of how we love and value whichever family member I was referring to. Perhaps it conveyed our concern for their welfare or joy at their successes or pride in their decisions. Perhaps it showed we truly identify with that person, believe in them and want the best for them. One day, I will ask her what she meant but, whatever the reason, that little three-letter word of mine seemed to touch her heart.

One morning recently, however, I suspect I caught a glimpse for myself of how my friend might have felt, as I started reading the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians once again. It was not long before I had to pause—in fact, I did not get past Paul’s greeting right at the beginning:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus. To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2

What could be so remarkable about these verses? Why did I stop at that point and sit staring into space? Somehow, that little word ‘our’ in the last sentence had touched my own heart. I knew Paul had written that greeting and that he was no doubt referring to the fact that Timothy and he and the believers in Philippi all belonged to the same heavenly Father. But that morning, it was as if Jesus himself was saying gently to me, ‘Grace and peace to you, Jo-Anne, from God our Father—yes, our Father. I gave you the right to be part of my Father’s family when you believed in me. We will always watch over you, so be at peace today and know you are surrounded with our love and grace.’

How could that little word ‘our’ convey so much to me that morning? Perhaps it was merely my imagination. After all, I am a writer. But something changed inside me as I sat there, reading those words over and over. I had been feeling tired and quite discouraged, yet now I sensed Jesus understood, identified fully with me and had reached out in love to remind me who I belong to. I could be rational and tell myself this is not what those verses actually say or mean—or I could choose to listen with my heart and be reminded deep in my spirit that I am included in the beautiful, warm circle of God’s family, joined to other believers but also to Jesus Christ—forever.

I remembered then too those first words Jesus himself uttered when teaching his disciples how to pray:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. … Matthew 6:9

There is that little word ‘our’ again. Important to Jesus then and now—and so important for us too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jo 17Can you remember a time when you went somewhere with a particular purpose in mind, only to find God had some surprises in store for you—or perhaps even an entirely different agenda? What was your initial response? Did you perhaps feel a little ripped off, like I have at times? After all, what could God be thinking, to mess up my lovely plans!

A couple of weekends ago, my author friend and I were promoting our books in a Koorong bookstore. Our day started off well. On arrival, I found someone had bought one of my books already and was waiting for me to sign it. He also insisted on having his photo taken with us, so, for a few seconds at least, we felt like celebrities! While things were a little slow after that, we still had some lovely conversations with customers and sold a few books. Besides, there was always hope things would improve after lunch. But we had no idea of the special experiences God had in store for us.

Our first ‘God surprise’ came via a friendly man and his severely disabled teenage son who was in a wheelchair. I chatted briefly with them, before moving away to talk with someone else. But when I returned, the man and his son were holding hands with my friend and praying for her! Later, I discovered the man’s son had felt God wanted them to pray with her about a particular health issue, so, after ascertaining that this was indeed something my friend suffers from, they had done exactly that. I silently joined in the prayer then but also felt so humbled that this young man had listened to God and was so keen to pray for others. What amazing, compassionate people, so full of the light and love of God!

Later, when it was almost time to leave, a lady came by whom I had met several months earlier when we had last signed books in the store. She and a friend had subsequently met with me for coffee and, on that occasion, I had told them about some issues our grandson Zain was having at school. Now, as she greeted me, her first words flabbergasted me.

‘Hello—so lovely to see you again! How is your little grandson Zain? My friend and I have been praying for him by name that God will provide the resources that will help him.’

This beautiful lady, with so much else going on in her life, had gone on faithfully praying for our grandson. What’s more, while I could not even recall her name at first, she had remembered his name and was so eager to hear what was happening for him. Again, what a wonderful, humbling, encouraging ‘God moment’!

Initially, I saw these experiences as interruptions. I did not want to be side-tracked from what I thought was my much more important task of engaging with new customers and promoting our books. But how wrong I was—and how much more amazing were the things God had planned for us that day!

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ Isaiah 55:8-9

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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