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Posts Tagged ‘Zain’

Jo 12One day last week, our grandson told his dad he would like to pay Nanna a visit. At first, our lively five-year-old was content to play hide-and-seek in our new unit. Then I suggested a simple card game, but he wasn’t interested. And why would he be? After all, he recently mastered the much trickier game of Uno and now has marathon tournaments with his parents! Eventually, I found an old ‘Dora the Explorer’ version of the game ‘Trouble’ and suggested he learn how to play that.

Once our game started, I discovered our son-in-law remembered playing a similar game during his boyhood days in Ghana. Just as I had grown up playing Ludo with my sister, so Kofi had played that same old game as a child too—except he remembered those rules much better than I did.

‘We used plastic counters and dice,’ he told me. ‘If you landed on your own counter, you could put one on top of the other. Then no one could go past you!’

I recalled those double counters, although not how they stopped others from passing. But obviously, this had been a big deal for Kofi as a child because, even as he mentioned it, his eyes gleamed with glee! No wonder his son is now more than a little competitive!

We explained the rules to Zain as we went along, but I soon noticed Kofi and I were doing things a little differently. Several times, I could have landed on one of our grandson’s pieces and sent it back home, but … well, I admit I pretended I didn’t see. I didn’t have the heart to squash his enjoyment of it all—or his hopes of winning. But his dad was having nothing of that. No way! On several occasions, he sent one of Zain’s precious pieces back home with great glee! And, to my surprise, Zain simply accepted this as part of the rules of the game. So much for Nanna’s misplaced kindness!

Yes, rules have their place, don’t they? We would not enjoy those games at all, if we could each do what we liked. And, while life can hardly be called a game, we would soon be in trouble if there were no rules to govern our society. But I’m so glad that, when it comes to the things of God, it’s not all about adhering to laws or rules. Yes, we are called to live in a way that honours God and displays respect and fairness towards others. But living life with God involves so much more than playing—or living—by the rules. It’s about true relationship. It’s about receiving God’s amazing grace, that undeserved favour and kindness that is never misplaced, as my ‘grace’ to Zain was. And it’s about loving the Lord with our whole hearts in return and our neighbour as ourselves, as Jesus tells us:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39

Those rules set a high standard, don’t you think? Yet I’m so happy to take them on board. And I hope and pray our Zain will be too one day.

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Jo 17Recently, our grandson went to dart across the driveway in the grounds of our church when his lovely Kids’ Church teacher managed to grab him in time.

‘Careful! We need to stop, look and listen for cars before we cross,’ she reminded him.

‘Oh, I have supersonic hearing,’ Zain blithely told her. ‘I can hear from a long, long way away. I can even hear people in Ghana!’

Last year, Zain went to Ghana with his family to visit his dad’s home town and to meet his other grandmother, so he knows how far away it is.

‘That’s interesting,’ his teacher said. ‘What are they saying?’

‘They’re saying they need help!’ he told her in all seriousness.

What could he have meant? In Ghana, Zain did visit some little villages not far from his dad’s home town where the children have very few new clothes and hardly any toys, so perhaps he meant his friends there really do need our help. On the other hand, perhaps he was thinking of his favourite ‘Power Rangers’ TV characters, who seem to have all sorts of abilities like supersonic hearing that enable them to know when people need rescuing!

Now our Zain has an amazingly vivid imagination. Sometimes he can become so lost in his imaginary world that he has trouble hearing his parents or grandparents or teachers calling him or telling him to do something. So, while he may not have supersonic hearing, there is no doubt his selective hearing is well developed at least! And that’s something I can easily relate to, especially when it comes to hearing what God is saying to me at times. The reasons for this may vary, but I know that, on occasions, fear and unbelief have caused my ears to become deaf to God’s voice and very selective about what I choose to hear.

One example of this occurred in mid-2003 when I was overseas, visiting a friend. I was reading my Bible one morning and asking God to show me what I was to do next in my life. I had recently left a ministry role and sensed God wanted me to write, something I had wanted to do for years. Yet I was unsure I could do it, so found myself reluctant to try. Then I came to Isaiah 42:18-20:

Hear, you deaf, look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send?  …  You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.”

Wow! Gulp! I knew immediately that God was saying to me, with even perhaps a little sigh: ‘Come on, Jo-Anne—how many times do I have to show you? Go home and start writing!’ So that is what I did—and here I am, almost fourteen years and eight published books later, still writing.

I might not have supersonic hearing quite yet, but I hope in those years I have become a little better at hearing God’s voice and at acting on what I hear—because that, after all, is what really matters.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

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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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img_20170106_175801393As the years go by, it so interesting to see what captures our grandson’s interest and imagination and what doesn’t. Last week, our Zain turned five and, right now, he has such fun pretending to be one of his two favourite ‘heroes’. Yes, as can be seen from the photo of his special birthday cake his mum made, Michael Jackson currently ranks pretty high in his estimation! Wimg_5707hile in Ghana around a year ago, visiting his father’s family, he heard lots of Michael Jackson songs—and that was that! And of course, with a beautiful Australian mum and a handsome Ghanaian dad, ‘Black or White’ is one of his favourite songs! If Zain can be enticed to sing and dance for us, we soon discover he knows only some of the lyrics—and fortunately only some of those dance moves too! But he has fun trying, especially in his glittery Michael Jackson outfit, complete with sparkly white glove, and especially with the new karaoke toy his aunty, uncle and cousins gave him.

But if you look carefully at the photo below, taken when blowing out his birthday candles, you can see Zain is quite partial to fictional superheroes too—especially Spiderman! So when we reminded him at his party that, when we saw him last, he was convinced he was actually Peter Parkeimg_20170106_194218996r, aka Spiderman, off he went and put on his Spiderman costume over the top of his glittery Michael Jackson one! His imagination is so vivid and all-encompassing that he seems to have no trouble swapping from one to the other—with a good dose of active, normal little boy Zain thrown in as well!

Now while I might laugh at Zain, I wonder at times if I am so different from him. I can easily pretend I am someone other than who I truly am. I might try to be that well-read, experienced author person when promoting my books in a bookstore. I might hope I come across as completely confident and at ease when getting up to speak somewhere. I might pretend to be more extroverted or more patient or more understanding than I am. And—dare I say it—I might pretend to be more Christian than I am at times. I might even think I am fooling God, as well as others, yet in my heart of hearts, I know I can’t. Anyway, why would I want to? After all, I am well aware God not only knows me through and through but loves and accepts me as I am. As David declares:

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. You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Psalm 139:1-5

I hope one day our Zain will experience the deep comfort of these words and that amazing love of God for himself. I hope he will realise he doesn’t need to impress God by pretending to be other than he is. And I hope I realise this more and more too in the coming year.

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Jo 17I wonder if you can remember what you were afraid of most as a child. Our little grandson can become quite fearful when a certain character appears in the TV show ‘Peter Rabbit’. Whenever Mr Tod the fox turns up, Zain has been known to run and hide under the table! Now we try to reassure him and remind him how Peter Rabbit always gets away from Mr Tod—and Mr McGregor, for that matter! But Zain still takes some convincing.

I wonder what things make you fearful now you have grown up a little. Perhaps it’s heights or crowds or enclosed spaces or flying. Or perhaps it’s speaking in public, which apparently is the most common phobia adults experience. To be exposed to possible embarrassment, shame and even ridicule is just too much for many people.

My husband, who has been a minister for many years, well remembers the first time he spoke in public in his late teens. It was in the days of open air preaching and, one Sunday evening, he found himself standing on a street corner about to begin. But alas, after a few words, his mind went blank. He stumbled along until, thankfully, someone rescued him. Yet he summoned the courage to try again soon after—and, over the years, he has now given hundreds of sermons and college lectures.

In recent years, I have spoken many times as well, both in local church ministry and then as an author. I love it, but this year, I gave myself a ‘semi-sabbatical’. Then, somewhat to my surprise, when asked to speak again, I found myself feeling a little fearful. Could I still do it? Would God continue to use me in this way? Would what I say be understood and well received?

Then one day, I found myself reading the account of the resurrection in Matthew 28. Here we read that when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid, an angel appeared in the midst of a violent earthquake and rolled the stone away. The guards were so freaked out that they ‘became like dead men’ (4). But the angel seems to have ignored them, instead addressing the two women:

Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:6-7

But that is not all. As the women hurried away to tell the disciples, suddenly Jesus met them as well and spoke to them:

Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me. Matthew 28:10

I love how, in the midst of such a cataclysmic event, the first thing both Jesus and the angel did was to reach out and reassure the women, urging them not to be afraid. And surely that is still Jesus’ heart for us today—man, woman or child? Whatever fear battle we are facing in our lives, our powerful and loving Lord is right there with us, urging us to trust him and not be afraid. And I’m so glad of that.

The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Hebrews 13:6

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There are certain little members of our family who are adept at delaying tactics. At a family birthday celebration this past week, I watched as our grandson kept refusing to eat his dinner, despite the threat of no special dessert or lollies until he ate some of it at least. Eventually, he gave in and wolfed it all down in no time—we are still mystified as to what the fuss was all about.

IMG_20150702_144848558Then recently, his little sister discovered a very useful little phrase. She has started saying, ‘Not yet!’ in a definite voice to her mother when faced with having to do something she doesn’t want to do. Can you imagine a sweet little eighteen-month-old sizing you up with her big, brown eyes, then uttering those two powerful, little words?

Now how did our Zain and Maxine come to be so determined? Did they inherit this from their father, who readily admits to being very strong-willed as a child and getting into lots of trouble? Perhaps our daughter was responsible—or maybe even their Nanna! I well remember my mother saying to me as a child more than once when I would not listen to her or do what she asked: ‘I might as well speak to a post!’

Sometimes this childish wanting our own way carries on into our adult years as well. And, sadly, that was the case with me as a young mum when it came to my attitude to God—that is, until one Sunday morning over forty years ago now. I was standing in the crèche at the back of the church we attended, holding our baby son who was unwell. I had come because I wanted to hear the visiting speaker. Instead, God spoke to me so clearly through the Bible reading that preceded the sermon—the parable of the unmerciful servant from Matthew 18:21-35—that that was all I remembered afterwards.

You see, I was very involved in church activities at the time, but I knew I was neglecting my own personal relationship with God. So there I was, listening to the story of the servant who owed the king a great deal of money and couldn’t pay. And then came verse 26:

The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘And I will pay back everything.’

I did not hear the rest of the story that day—how the king forgave the servant that huge debt and how this servant did not show similar compassion to others. All I heard was God saying clearly to me, ‘This is how you’ve been treating me, Jo’. In an instant, I realised I been saying to the King of Kings: ‘Yes, I know I need to spend more time with you, but I’m too busy right now. Just wait—just be patient and I’ll get back to you when I’m good and ready!’

It was as if a knife had been plunged into my heart as I realised the enormity of saying ‘Not yet!’ to God. That day I repented—and my journey with God changed forever. Yes, our God is gracious and longsuffering and so patient with us. But let’s think twice before we turn and say ‘Not yet!’ to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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Maxine and glassesI had just picked up our two youngest grandchildren from day care and was making sure we had everything. Two large backpacks? Tick. Two lunch boxes? Tick. Two water bottles? Tick. Two jumpers? Tick. Two lots of shoes and socks? Well … almost. Only one pair of socks missing this time around—not too bad. Two children signed out? Tick. So off we headed to the car.

I managed to get everything in safely, children included, and drove off. A few minutes later, we were home. I proceeded to collect my own bags and get out of the car. My next task was to undo three year old Zain’s seat harness and steer him around the car onto the footpath, then inspire him to stand still while I put his bag on his back.

‘What a great help you are to Nanna!’ I told him, as he obliged.

Then it was Maxine’s turn to be extricated from her car seat. I decided she could walk the short distance to their apartment, so went to hold her hand and pick up both her bag and mine. But she was having none of it. At eighteen months, she managed to convey to me in no uncertain terms that she wanted to carry her own backpack, thank you very much! The only trouble was, it was not only about as big as she was but also rather heavy.

For a few moments, Maxine managed to stand upright, then—whoop—over she went backwards! It would have been funny if it wasn’t just that little bit cruel. Of course, I tried to take the bag off her—but she was having none of that either. She hung onto it for dear life and yelled! All I could do was walk along slowly beside her, trying to steady her and help when she fell backwards yet again.

As I thought about this later, I began to wonder how many times I have done something similar in my own adult life. How often have I tried to carry a big, pink backpack that was far too heavy for me? How often have I rejected help, wanting to do it all by myself? Have often have I turned a deaf ear to God’s gentle voice, showing me a better way ahead, offering me a much lighter load? How often have I worried and stressed too much over things when God was right there to ease my burden?

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

I wonder if, right now, some of you might be in a place of needing to take off that heavy load that is making you struggle and stumble. Is it time for you to take Jesus’ outstretched hand and allow him to help you move forward in his strength rather than your own?

May your load soon be much lighter as you journey on with Jesus. And may you—and I—carry just what he gives us. No more and no less.

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