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Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel

Enjoying Retirement in Cape Naturalist near Dunsborough, WA

One of the things that many retired people look forward to is to travel, I was no exception, desiring to see the world and re connect with old friends. This trip to Australia was a fulfillment of  those dreams. I was fortunate to have timed my trips just weeks ahead of the COVID 19 epidemic when this would not have been possible. I am truly blessed to have had this opportunity which may never be a possibility for some of you as travel will not be the same again for a long time, so I wanted to share this with you so you can enjoy it with me..

The drive through from Perth to Dunsborough was uneventful as we drove through the Western Australian open bushland with low scrub trees, plants and open fields, quite different vegetation to Queensland’s tropical forests. After driving through Church Mile, an area donated for church and scouting camp sites, we arrived in Dunsborough and went straight to the Sculpture by the Bay Exhibition as it was closing at two o’clock. We wandered through the sculptures, some of which were very inspiring. A large clay snake made by school children with texturing from local natural objects, reminding us to be aware of the environment and bush safety, this was certainly brought back memories of our youth spent in Rhodesia with dodging puffadders and cobras! There were also some pretty poignant pieces, I liked the one of a man sitting quietly looking out to sea, very meditative and part of nature. I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, a red heart made out of broken pieces of reflective glass from crashed motor vehicles really spoke to my heart. When we had finished at the Sculptures, we went to my host’s apartment where we had lunch and enjoyed a cup of tea in the garden.

Reflective glass heart

There were lots of noisy birds in the garden, magpies, twenty eights (parrot like green birds) and others, attracted by the bird seed my hosts fed them! Later that day we walked around the corner to a student art exhibition at the Gallery on the Hill, to be further inspired by local artists. I watched one lady doing exquisite botanical paintings in water color. In the late afternoon we walked down to the beach which was not more than a hundred meters from the house. It was pretty as a picture mesmerizing us as the sun sparkled on the ripples and the gentle waves lapped at the shore in the late afternoon sunshine, while gulls sorted through debris on the beach. We walked the long way home past the Gallery on the Hill, finishing the day with dinner relaxing on the lawn telling yarns of the good old days. 

Pullman’s Resort

The next day we drove down to Meelup beach (‘up’ in aboriginal language means ‘water’), then onto Point Marchant named after a WA historian who specialized in this area where the first French Explorer, Nicolas Baudin had arrived and mapped the coastline in 1801, this area is called Cape Naturaliste after his second ship. The sea here was a tapestry of extraordinary blue and turquoise strips and patches reflecting the blue sky above. From there we drove to Bunker Bay whose lovely long white beaches stretched into the far distance, and onto Pullman’s Resort where we stopped for coffee. This was a very upmarket place so we only had coffee, which we enjoyed looking out over the forests and the sea. The buildings blended into the scenery with roofs painted the color of the forest so they did not jar the eye. The foyer was decorated with beautiful pastel paintings of the ocean by a local artist, Ann Steer, they were a true representation of the mood of the place, the turquoise seas and tumbling waves of Bunker Bay. After exploring the resort with its luxury cabins situated in the forest around a small pond and walking down to the beach, we drove on to the lighthouse on Cape Naturaliste. From here you can get beautiful views

Point Marchant

across Geographe Bay, named after Nicolas Baudin’s flagship, and the Leeuwin National Park. This was quite expensive to visit and I am not good on heights, so I decided to give this one a miss. We drove onto Eagle Bay where there are very expensive homes, but no water, so everyone is dependent on their rainwater tanks. We returned to the apartment and later in the afternoon walked along the beach again to the parking lot where the Curry and Rice pop-up van was parked.  We ordered our Chicken Corma and poppadum’s and sat at the picnic tables enjoying our meal watching the waves and children jumping into the water from the pier. It was really relaxing to just sit and enjoy my retirement connecting with old friends. 

Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel

Rhodesia by the Sea in Perth!

Elizabeth Quay -Perth

LIfe’s Journey takes us through many transitions, one of which is immigration. My generation grew up in a time of political turmoil in Africa, when the winds of change forced many of my friends and I to seek lands where we could once again put our shoulder to the wheel and flourish and bring up our families in safety. One of the purposes of this journey was to reconnect with old friends.

My visit to Perth was to spend time with long standing friends and a colleague from my first job at the Rhodesian Geological Survey, fifty-seven years ago! They met me at the airport and after taking me home for a cup of tea, we went out to Freemantle to look at The Sculptures by the Beach, it was a lovely evening with the sun slowly sinking on the horizon behind the sculptures. This was quite magical as one of the sculptures was of the sunset, so viewing them side by side was special!. When we had completed our viewing of the sculptures, we enjoyed fish and chips at the famous Kailois Restaurant on the quay, before heading home to bed. 

Saturday was spent with other ex-Rhodesian friends, who had been our neighbors; our children had grown up together.  We had a very pleasant lunch at the LoQuay Restaurant with a view over the lagoon. It was so good to catch up on the past forty odd years, the good, the bad and the struggles. They had arrived in Perth with four children, a tent and $500.00 dollars to start their new life. We had fun reminiscing over our children’s adventures in Rhodesia, very special memories! 

In the evening, I walked along the Carring-Swan River walkway with my hosts as far as the Dome Restaurant, a local landmark.  It was a very enjoyable walk as we chatted and looked at the beautiful scenery, catching a glimpse of jelly fish near the Jetty and other sea fowl along the beaches. Apparently, dolphins are also seen in this lagoon at times! We spent the evening talking about our travel adventures! 

Sunday, we caught the train to Elisabeth Quay, a new development cut into the bank of the river in the City, making it a good place for the ferry to pick up and set down passengers. It is also a wonderful place to hang out with friends at the coffee shops and eateries. We looked around the main precinct at the Bell Tower and lovely bougainvillea arches. The children’s playground had a wall with all the children’s names written into it who were at school on a specific day in Perth – what a great idea!

First Contact Statue inspired by the Aboriginal people’s first sighting of European Settlers sailing boats.

After a delicious cup of Cappuccino at the Ritz Carlton my friends left me at the Railway station to catch the train to Joondelup where I met up with another ex- Rhodesian friend, I had not seen since she was a child! She met me at the station and we ate lunch the Dome, where we caught up on the intervening forty odd years. She also had interesting stories of finding family members she never knew existed! She then took me to Ocean Reef,a fairly new small harbor and new development, which was near her house.

I enjoyed seeing where she spent her leisure time, and had a breath of ocean breezes at the same time. We then headed over to Sorrento Quay and Hillary’s Boatyard which we explored, taking in the holiday atmosphere of the place and watching children jump from the Jetty and island into the water. We finished the day with another cup of coffee before she took me back to the station to catch the train back to Bull Creek.  The train was very busy as the Road to Hell Highway had been closed, for a parade in honor of ACDC whose one band member was born in Freemantle. My hosts met me at the station, where we shared more memories of our common history, before packing for our road trip to Dunsborough and Margaret River region. 

Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, Travel, Uncategorized

ADELAIDE – Walk alongside Creation Respectfully

On to Adelaide to visit family members of the Rhodesian diaspora; I had been to Adelaide before on several other occasions. We headed off to the Adelaide Festival after church. This is wonderful Arts Festival is focused around the Rundall Mall, famous for its life-sized pig sculptures. The sculptures were designed by a South African artist, Marguerite  Derricourt, who is based in Sydney. These whimsical pig sculptures are called “A Day Out’, very appropriate for a day at the Festival!  

We went to the Yabarrah Show– Dreaming in Light, the Sleeping Cave.  This was an Aboriginal story time, with amazing technology using lighting and effects. Leading you into the story were Emu footsteps walking alongside human footprints, with the message “to walk softly on country is to walk barefoot.  If you choose to walk this way you will be walking alongside the creation ancestors respectfully.  We have walked this country with our bare feet since the first sunrise.  Our feet are our connection to the soul of our dreaming landscapes.” This resonated with our African roots as we were mostly to be found barefoot, except for school and church, running wild in the Rhodesian bush! After watching this amazing show, we walked to the area called Gluttony, which was also decorated with pigs! We sat down in some shade next to the lake for a break from the hustle and bustle of the Mall. We shared some Vietnamese Spring Rolls with an unusual crispy texture. 

We then continued down Rundell Mall, stopping to watch several Street shows and musicians, which were most entertaining as they interacted with the crowd. We were fascinated with the skills of a juggler on his bicycle. We had to stop for a photo with the large silver balls in the middle of the Mall, which along with the pigs are an icon of the city. We then visited the Opal Mine shop where there was a small museum showing us different opals and how they were mined: this was of great interest to me having spent many years as a geological cartographer. We went into the Rundell Arcade to find a restroom, to our dismay some of the lovely shops we had been in to last time had closed down. There was a lovely festive atmosphere and vibe in the city, but by the time we had reached the end of Randall Mall we were tired and decided to head off home after a very hot and satisfying day. 

The next day was gloriously hot, a beach day, so we drove down to Glenelg, where we walked along the Jetty, looking in the clear turquoise water. We saw several Rays with their flat, almost space-ship like winged bodies swimming along the ocean floor.  A piece of fencing on the Jetty had been used for the ‘Lock Ceremony’ where lovers commit to their love forever, lock the padlock onto the fence and throw away the key. We stopped off at Banjo’s Bakery and Café where the choice of cakes and pies was overwhelming, but we made our choice which we enjoyed with a cup of coffee, while we watched children playing in the fountains near the end of the tramline. We left George to entertain himself as we walked along the promenade to the Marina, so we could see the fancy boats and posh restaurants. When we had our fill of fancy boats, we walked back to meet George on the beach. The water was so warm and the sea so calm we decided to paddle; so different to the beaches in Cape Town where the waves usually crashed onto the beaches. I found a pretty shell on the beach which inspired me to paint it. After this pleasant day of relaxing we headed home where I began working on the shell drawing. 

The McLarenvale Vineyards was the next day trip, Jenny was keen to show me The Cube at d’Arenberg, a newer Vineyard, that had the drawcard of Salvador Dali’s Exhibition of sculptures and paintings, along with other artists in the gallery.  This certainly was the highlight for me as we walked around the estate, looking at the various sculptures in the gardens, before entering the main modern building which was a several storied building, made up of exploded cube parts like one of Dali’s artworks. There were also sculptures of musicians in the gardens, made from Gumboots which were fascinating! We looked at the old buildings, tractors and windmill, which were typical of old Australian landscapes. It was a treat working our way through the galleries – starting with a room with light projections of different paintings and colors coming and going before our eyes, I could have sat there for hours, but we continued the journey through the galleries and staircase decorated with colored balls, lights and mirrors, totally confusing the eye. 

We then decided to visit the restroom, which was made from huge vats; you entered the door into other vats which were individual toilets decorated with paintings. The hardware was also pretty quirky as were the handbasins, we took a peek in the men’s room and saw crazy urinals, more than quirky! We finished off the visit with a bit of wine tasting and more viewing in the new temporary gallery with paintings by Marc Chagall amongst others. In need of sustenance we returned to McClarenvale to the Bakery shop where we bought a chicken pie for lunch before heading home. 

The final day in Adelaide was a social day meeting with Jenny’s Seeds Church friends, one interesting lady was involved in a ‘seeds’ ministry at the prison. Jenny was on duty at the Seeds Café so I joined her for some lunch of toasted cheese and scones. This gave me the opportunity to have some good conversations with people and find out about their lives in South Australia. 

My visit to Adelaide was completed with a walk in the gum tree woods near Jenny’s house and by the stone bridge where the trail started. A family reunion was planned for the last evening enabling me to catch up with other family members, before I headed off into the blue again to Perth, on the next leg of my trip. 

Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, Travel, Uncategorized

Reliving Teenage Memories in a Beautiful Other World

This was what we had worked for all our lives – to enjoy old friends reminiscing about our youth. When you meet up with a friend you grew up with and shared common history with on the other side of the world to where you lived is pretty special. This time spent in Sydney will be added to our archives of beautiful memories!

I was met at Sydney Airport by my childhood friend, Pam.  We had done so much of life together in Rhodesia and it was only when the Diaspora happened in the 1980’s that we lost touch, our lives took us on very different paths, yet at the same time very similar. It was only on social media that we found each other again. This was my second visit and we had much catching up to do. We chatted the whole way back on the train to her home in Woy Woy, a small town about an hour from Sydney in the Central Coast region of New South Wales 

Our first trip was to the Gosforth Art Gallery and Japanese Gardens.  We spent a very happy day there being inspired by a local artist, Helen Geier’s, work with her multilayered colors and geometric shapes. This was my second visit here and I enjoyed it as much as the first. We also saw an old VW Camper van, a symbol of the Hippie era when we were both teenagers. A trip to Umina Beach was next where we walked along the beach enjoying the ocean and the sea breezes, wiggling our toes in the sand and feeling the waves lapping around our feet, hoping the big one wouldn’t wet our trousers! Fortunately, there were handsome young lifesavers there to rescue us should we have got into trouble! We saw a massive jellyfish on the beach and finished the day out at the Beach Café for a milkshake, gazing out at the ocean with its rolling waves and reliving our teenage years! This was what we had worked for all our lives – to enjoy old friends reminiscing about our youth, drinking milkshake as we would have done at the old Emperor Café, and eating our 6d packet of chips from the Sunflower Chip shop on the corner of Moffat Street and Jameson Avenue near to our high schools! 

Milkshake and Carrot Cake

We spent some time viewing the most amazing stained-glass windows in St Luke’s Church near her home. The artist was the vicar’s wife who had skillfully told Bible stories in each of the thirty-seven windows. We travelled to Hornsby to visit Pan’s daughter who joined us at the Empire Marina Bobbin Head at the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, a few miles from Hornsby. We ate a delicious lunch with crispy, curly sweet potato chips on the salad, something I had not tried before. We walked around the marina enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the Cowan Creek River with boats gently bobbing away at their moorings at the quay. We returned home after a lovely day catching up with Pam’s family news in this magnificent environment. 

Empire Marina Bobbin Head

We took a drive out to a specialized fabric shop to find matching fabric for a bedspread Pam was making. The owner of this interesting shop travels to teach fabric craft in USA, Pittsburgh and other places, she had also written a book on her fabric craft and quilting. The final trip in Sydney was to the Penang Botanical Gardens, with its large waterlily gardens and Sculptures Park. We had lunch in the café there over-looking the water gardens.  Walking around we saw a number of different birds and parrots in the gardens, bright red flowers that looked very similar to a passion fruit flower, as well as pink gums hosting a rainbow lorikeet nibbled away at the flowers.  

Water Lily Garden

There was an interesting variety of trees, including bottle trees and of course the bark of different trees that totally fascinated me especially the one that looked like it has been scribbled on! The lotus and waterlily flowers were amazing with their delicate flowers and leathery leaves. The lively tropical plants caught my attention with their large banana like leaves and giant ferns. There was a golden shower of grevilia with spiky flowers, hanging over the wall. We also came across a Christ Thorn plant reminding us of our childhood days in Rhodesia. Christ thorn bushes were grown at the base of hawthorn hedges to keep out wild life and intruders.  And so, ended a wonderful time of renewed friendship, and memories relived as I came to the end of my stay in Sydney. 


Golden Grevilia

Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel, Uncategorized

STRANGE ENDING TO MY DREAM TRIP TO AUSTRALIA

Brisbane

Life takes us on strange and difficult pathways that we would never have dreamt of, so I thought I would share this last intended grand trip with you! After my divorce, I made a dream list of what I wanted my life to look like. One of those dreams was to travel, I had no idea of how that could ever be possible, but other problems I faced in life were actually the opportunities to make this dream possible. My children grew up, moved away, and created their own lives on three different continents leaving me on the fourth! I then had the opportunity to travel to visit them and so fulfilled my dream of travel.

It was my daughter’s fiftieth birthday that brought me to Australia this year, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity and see other longtime friends and family as well, little knowing what awaited around the next corner. After I had booked the ticket which was via Hong Hong which I had never been to before, I started to feel a strong resistance to the trip not knowing COVID-19 was just around the corner.

The whole trip started on the wrong foot when I phoned Cathay Pacific for a request for airport assistance, they told me my flight had been changed and I was flying that night instead of the Wednesday. I had to rush the last-minute packing and get to the airport on time. The flight to Hong Kong was quite pleasant and the staff helpful. Arriving at Hong Kong airport I was met and taken to the Lounge as I had requested, so was able to rest and have a meal of delicious Thai curry with vegetables, during the seven-hour layover. The flight to Brisbane was pleasant. My family met me at the airport and it felt good to be back in Brisbane again. I did not feel as bad as I expected after the 32-hour flight during which I caught up on the Downton Abbey Movie, it was rather disappointing after having watched the series.

The first day we took an easy drive-up Mt Coot-ha, one of my favorite look-out places over the city and the Brisbane river. Following up with a cup of tea at the Café and a walk around the Botanical Gardens. One of the big lizards decided to chase me as I took his photo, I made a hasty retreat! The botanical gardens is one of my favorite paces with brightly colored flowers, interesting tropical plants and big lizards.

My daughter’s birthday was celebrated in style with an English High tea at the Forget-me-not, served out of dainty flowered chinaware holding tasty treats, with beautifully folded serviettes to look like flowers and a dinner at the Bellbowrie Tavern!

Sunday, we drove to Usk, to the interesting little Nash Tearoom which I had been to before, it was still unique and quaint with delicious food and the history and Art gallery on the walls. Interestingly, there was a notice up for the Woman’s day of prayer for Zimbabwe! After my delicious lunch of avocado salad, we went on to the Wivenhoe Dam enjoying the jacaranda and gum trees and the lovely view over the dam. We progressed homeward via Colleges Crossing, where we did a circuitous walk around the picnic site!

We visited the Japanese Gardens at Ipswich enjoying the lovely waterlily pond and more big lizards! We also went through the Nature Centre with easy accessibility to see birds, various night animals, wallabies, kangaroos, black swans and emus to mention a few. There were also a huge flock of bats in the trees, very messy creatures. We finished with lunch at The Hog’s Breath, which was very pleasant and not too busy!

Dolphins, Aboriginal Smoking Ceremony and a Snake!
Another local trip we did was to SEA WORLD on the Gold Coast We spent a delightful day watching dolphins performing with people, penguins, seals, sharks, rays, corals and turtles and tropical fish. The polar bears were asleep, and I felt sorry for them as they looked so hot. The thing I enjoyed the most was the jelly fish I went back twice to see them as their sinuous shapes and umbrella like forms pulsated through the water, quite fascinating! We also were treated to a show of water sport with extremely high levels of skill.

I took my grandson into Brisbane to the Goma Art Gallery where looked at the aboriginal art with its raw colors and layers, using rocks, flowers and natural organic markings as themes. I think it was the colors of the Australian bush, the ochres and blue skies that appealed the most. We also went to an interactive exhibition on water, a vital resource of which it seems Australia has a feast or famine! Water is definitely an important theme for me. The children’s section had underwater scene with corals using raw and recycled materials. We also saw some of the fashion designs from the islands with their vibrant colors and patterns. We waited under the shade of a flamboyant tree looking at the tropical gardens with rich greens, for the Ferry to take us up the river. How I just love the red and green colors, so reminiscent of Rhodesia. We sailed up the Brisbane River to Hamilton passing New Farm, on the Brisbane Roar ferry looking at the changing skyline through bridges and across open water. On reaching Hamilton we returned the same way, back to South Bank as it was a stinking hot and humid day and we had no energy to do much.

We took a shopping trip to Oxley and on the way home we drove through the Correctional Services and Mental Health Campus at Ipswich. It is pretty extensive with lots of buildings including the historical mental health institution which is now a heritage building and not in use. My daughter explained what all the buildings were although we were not able to go in or get out of the car, but it was an interesting tour all the same!

I had an invitation to the Nurses Union Meeting with an Aboriginal Smoking Ceremony. I felt a fraud being there as a nurse, had put on my badge ‘retired’, one of the nurses said to me that nurses never retire! The healing ceremony was interesting, as the Aborigines danced and played their digeridoos, they then lit palm fiber by rubbing sticks until it caught fire, making a lot of smoke. They placed eucalyptus leaves on to burn, then went around the circle of people, blowing the smoke over them in a similar way to natives do with sage. After the Ceremony we walked all the way down the river from West Side to South Bank, in the hot sun to the Queensland Museum where we had refreshments before heading off to Fish Lane to view the wall art, which was quite impressive. I noticed this is a new feature, more public art, sculptures and murals.

Another trip was to the Kohlo Botanical Gardens the other side of the River, another lovely lily pond with a walk through the forested area, the only distraction was the plethora of mosquitoes who thought their Sunday dinner had arrived! Great stands of bamboo h reminded me of the home I had left in Rhodesia many years ago. We followed a trail around the Creek, and looked over the Brisbane river which appeared green and slimy. We saw a beautiful lizard by the waterfall and a bush turkey making my day. My daughter had teased me about not seeing a snake and as we were crossing a little bridge, she grabbed me shouting to wait; there was a snake slithering across the bridge in front of me, eeek!!!

Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, Travel, Uncategorized

My Road-trip dreams..and never giving up!

My Mazda Campervan

This is the last of Denise McLaughlin’s guest blogs for the current season. I want to thank her profusely for filling in the gap whilst I was travelling. Although, I am not yet home, I can now settle down to writing again. When I asked Denise to share her Festive Journey with my readers, it was because she is such a wonderful example of not letting life’s circumstances get her down. Are her circumstances ideal? No of course not, but she has taken what she has and made it into the best she can. I just love this final blog about making her dream of travel come true. Please share this post with anyone you think can benefit from Denise’s ‘can-do’ approach to her life’s journey.

For 26 years this little blue Mazda Soho 1.3 has served me and my wanderlust well. For years it was time-share places and self-catering accommodation. I had however always yearned for longer road trips along the back roads into the beautiful countryside. I thought of the self-drive typical mobile campervan but knew it was beyond my means.
My longing for camper-van road trips, off-road adventures or in fact any kind of camping led me to binge-watch all the Youtube videos on conversions of this type. I discovered the wonderful world of camper-vans being converted from cars, panel vans and even buses. In the USA this kind of lifestyle is big!


Then I happened to see a South African video of a similar small car converted. This was apparently possible, and I set about finding this gentleman who lived about a three-hour drive from me. He agreed and invited me there to discuss the conversion of my Mazda Soho.
Not at all daunted I drove to his town, it felt like a real adventure! He had arranged for me to staying a caravan on a nearby farm. After he had measured my car up, and realising it could be done, I made the decision to leave the car there and come back on a taxi-like bus…in itself a brave thing to do as I live in a rather dangerous country- South Africa. However, the excitement of making this happen, drove me to take a chance – Nothing ventured- nothing gained! I arrived home safely.


Soon after the conversion I took my first solo trip and camped beside the wide Breede River in the Bonnievale area – a region of vineyards and fruit trees and prosperous farms. I spent two nights sleeping in my car – and waking up to the river right beside my window – magic. I felt so daring and free…I had a table top which served three purposes – either outside, on Ironing board like legs, or across the back where the hatch opens as a kitchen table but also as a bedside shelf for all my night time necessities. I had a comfy camping chair and a shiny new kettle to fit onto my minute little gas stove. After making the car into sleeping mode which is no mean feat – as you have to push the passenger seat far forward and down- then add the wooden extension for the bed, get your tog bag with clothes out of the way in front then place the sturdy cool box back to be under the bed, put up silver sunscreens at front and back windows- for privacy – my side windows have little vintage- looking curtains to draw. Then the table top comes in, lighting organised for reading which could be electric lamp, or several other lights – battery, LED’s, large torch or yes-in my case even a candle! (OK, I know that could be risky, but I am careful, and I do love the warm ambience it radiates.


While I am driving, I listen to music like Willie Nelson’s ON THE ROAD AGAIN and other favourites. What a glorious feeling to know I can stop when I like, go anywhere and am living my dream. My next stop was at Greyton, a quaint and lovely village but I instinctively knew; when I saw the campsite I had pre-booked, that I would not feel safe there. They actually gave my deposit back but then the fun and games started as the surrounding towns had no camping spots and my cell phone was losing battery power fast! After an inquiry at a police station, I drove further and luckily found a good spot near Stanford – another small town. This one had a wooden Wendy-house type of kitchen as a bonus. I ended up swimming in the river and got a passer-by to take the necessary photo of me…
To get back to the trimmings, I took an old duvet cover in a soft feminine pale blue pattern apart to cover the mattress of foam and the curtains- my idea of vintage!


My very handy tabletop was painted and decoupaged with travel slogans, maps and pictures it became quite a talking point with fellow-campers. So, with a nifty camper-car – good enough for solo road trips, I was ready to roll. Despite warning from friends re safety and security and the dangers of being a woman on the road, I can now say it works for me- and I feel much safer in my locked car than I would in a tent!
I remain delighted that this conversion was making camping road trips possible and very affordable! I can now live without those lovely big RV’s


Moral of the story – keep looking for ways to make your dream come true and take a risk if it will help. Do not let your age and mindset stop you from living your dream!

Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

REFLECTIONS ON SPIRIT, SOUL AND BODY WHILST IN A TRANSITION

Guest blog by Denise McLoughlin tips and hints for facing the inevitable journey into older age.

When one is going into a new phase of life… Crossing another bridge – maybe the slightly fearful bridge to old age and all it entails- then it could be time to take stock  of where you stand in relation to your spirit, mind and body!

SPIRIT.

 Sunday – my day of rest and the time to meditate or look inwards -I thought I would share this wisdom I have encountered in various of my Quiet time books, one of which is “Streams in the Desert” by a lady called L B Cowman. Over the years I have found real treasures in this little book to guide me on my daily path. For example: ” Everything is possible for him who believes ” Mark 9:23

The “everything “mentioned here does not always come simply by asking, because God is always seeking to teach you the way of faith. Your training for a life of faith requires many areas of learning, including the trial of faith, the discipline of faith, the patience of faith, and the courage of faith. Often you will pass through many phases of faith before you finally realize the result of faith- namely, the victory of faith.

When you have made your request to God, and the answer still has not come, what are you to do? Keep on believing His word. Do not be swayed by what you feel or see. Then as you stand firm, your power and experience are being developed, strengthened and deepened. God will often purposely delay in giving you the answer, and in fact the delay is just as much the answer to your prayer as is the fulfilment when it comes. (ref. Streams in the Desert, L Cowman, 12th May pg 191)

SOUL OR MIND

About the soul or mind side of life there is so much to say… I think the most important thing for me is to take control of thoughts because as you think, so you are! It is so easy to fall into a negative pattern of thinking, especially in today’s world.

I like to turn my thoughts to the positive and part of this is to embrace your life! I try to make my life a celebration because being alive is so special and time is short…. I make my days as pleasant and festive as possible! As we get older there is a tendency to get stuck in a rut and stagnating and not having an open mind …. We should counteract that by doing new things…learn something new- whether it is mastering your smartphone or learning a language or taking up dancing …in all its wonderful forms… or setting up your Bucket List… things you still want to do…. if you don’t think about it and plan for it.. you might never do it!!!

I made a Power Point presentation of my list and have actually achieved  some of my dreams like my road trips with the conversion of my car into a campercar… enabling me to travel on a budget.

THE BODY

When I had to face my ageing body, there is a lot to be said. What comes to my mind is that it is the only body we ‘ve got and as we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” we should look after our bodies… we all know we need exercise but if you are naturally a bit lazy like I am, this could be a schlep… I have, however, discovered how good one feels after a nice fairly brisk walk, out in nature …or even up and down the streets of your suburb, as I have recently started doing. Now if one has kept up with the part that technology plays in today’s life, then may I suggest that on your  smartphone you download a little app called Runkeeper which works with GPS and tells you how far,  and how fast  you have walked… nice encouragement I find.  Just think how impressed your children and friends will be when you show them the visual map tracked on your App! You can also compete against yourself and improve your fitness.

Then of course there is the whole boring thing of eating right or your diet. I once went on the Banting lifestyle for three months and felt wonderfully energetic, lost some weight and it worked.

Then there is the matter of sleep or rest … I find that if I read until the wee hours of the night, I battle to fall asleep, likewise if I am on my cell phone busy with Facebook or whatever, my brain won’t switch off.  I read about digital burnout and how technology in the forms of cell phone, computers email etc can affect your sleeping pattern – something to take into consideration.

 I now made a rule to switch off everything around 9.30 …to then start with a quiet routine eg a warm bath, a book( not too a  stimulating one ) and low light (candlelight in these load shedding days * South African phenomenon due to inadequate electrical provision* ) is perfect. They say you should try and go to bed more or less at the same time every night…it seems to work!

I am coping with the transition of getting older by adapting my lifestyle and trying to stick to good habits. In this way I care for my body, soul and perhaps most importantly my spiritual life!

Divorce, Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, Uncategorized

MY SEVEN-DAY BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION!!

How often we dread the turning of the clock as the years tick by and we reach a certain milestone. Denise Mclaughlan shares how she celebrated her coming of age of three score years and ten as a single person! (This was 5 years ago)

In an effort to accept and make sense of this ageing matter, I had this sudden inspiration to embrace the fact that I was turning 70 in that month of May… so, rather than to fear it or make it go away I decided to embrace it…and that after several years of not easily admitting to my 60-plus status!

The fact is that I feel so much younger…. healthy and with more energy and exuberance than a lot of younger people. I realised that there is no getting away from the years… thus why not go big? Hence the week-long festivities, A 7-day celebration for the 7 decades.

I set about it by creating a Powerpoint invitation of several slides in which I set out the plans I had for doing pleasurable activities every day for a week…with whatever friends cared to join in.

I took great pleasure in designing the page and writing the rhyme/verse playing with the words starting with S as in the heading SASSY SENSUOUS AND A SHARP SEVENTY which is how I tend to see myself… never mind the odd grey hair, the slight stiffness when getting up ; at least I had kept up with the modern world of technology and had refrained from getting narrow in outlook!

On the following slides I set out plans like….a morning tea party at my house (for the older folk who are not working ) … a Pyjamas and Popcorn movie evening for my church cell group on the one evening…a movie and coffee outing with three other friends – who share my interest in movies ( and did we enjoy “Far from the Madding Crowd”!

There was also the Sunday with my little family at home with cake and champagne… and the joy of having two of my three grandchildren with me!   However the piece de resistance was a good old-fashioned Soiree (which for those who don’t know) is an elegant get-together at a home with live music and a dinner. This was in the end held at a very close friend’s house and as a gift she provided her lovely dining-room, most of the dinner and the table decorations which had a vintage theme…and her cook who did the delicious meal. To fit in with the soiree theme, I hired a professional saxophone/clarinet/flute player to do the honours. We were 12 people and I must say they did me proud… a real highlight of my festivities!

On my actual birthday and after the six days of enjoyment, seven friends and I went for a very fine breakfast at Nitida Wine farm near Durbanville where I simply loved the view of a dam , the vineyards in their autumn colours , the fynbos and the Boland mountains in the distance.

This was the most blessed and fun-filled birthday and I actually enjoyed reaching this milestone of birthdays…. here is an excerpt from the speech I made at the dinner on the night of the soiree. 

Seventy years of a good life

……….And so now I am seventy and rather than fear old age I shall embrace the years to come. I will work on my bucket list and I will live life to the full with the help of my Lord in heaven. I am grateful for the blessing of good health and a zest for living … so watch this space!!

Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions

WAYS TO KEEP ONE’S LIFE FESTIVE OR TO MAKE LEMONADE WHEN YOU HAVE LEMONS!

Denise McLauchlin shares her tips on not stagnating but about renewal and change -making the most of what you have.

A little background to put things in perspective.  When you are single (and perhaps not completely happy about it); a reluctant pensioner with the relevant change in income ; the spectre of old age creeping up on you, and you very few family members for support plus a slight tendency to depression/anxiety, then you could just give up or withdraw from society or get bitter and twisted!

Or you could embrace the changes, find renewal in new interests and re-think what you still have.  Arthur Ashe once said,” Begin where you are, Use what you have, Do what you can!”

When I realised it is up to me to make my life happy and to make some of my dreams come true, I decided to renew my life – and yes to make it festive!!

I have always loved writing, I regularly journal and take stock of my life, my talents and skills. I joined the wonderful senior group – the University of the Third Age –U3A – which is active all over the world – and not only did several computer courses learning about the amazing mystery of the Internet and social media but I started writing a blog called Denise’s Festive Journey through Life , I also attended a creative writing group for a while. The U3A offered me groups on History, classical music, play reading, Armchair Travel and a monthly speaker on an interesting topic, besides also meeting new people.

I took my natural creativity to another level by decorating and rearranging my house regularly and on a shoestring budget. Amazing what a difference some hand-sewn cushion covers and framing the results of my other new interest in colouring-in books, make. When I feel lonely on a Sunday afternoon, It is time to make some changes – moving furniture, re-hanging pictures – whatever it takes!

To get out to new areas, and with my love of animals I started house-and pet sitting all over the Cape Peninsular, living in and enjoying the benefits of a swimming pool or the Premium package for TV.  Instead of feeling alone in a relatively strange house, I would get onto the big double bed and surround myself with a few of the pleasures in my life:  a cup of tea, something  to nibble, perhaps listen to my favourite radio station, browse through some new magazines and finally and lovingly turning to my all-time book friends ( by which I mean the books I am currently enjoying). All the while stroking and enjoying the comfort of the cats or dogs around me.

It is invigorating to walk the pets, enjoy a fireplace in winter, change your everyday routine ,not to mention the extra earnings which is always a toss- up between using it for maintenance on my old house, or using it for a weekend getaway ( my substitute for travel).Of course nowadays my laptop and smartphone and the house’s Wi-Fi is part of the enjoyment. I use my smart phone photos to make power point collages on the laptop- for use as birthday cards or to share on Facebook. Found myself thinking what more could an ageing single woman want?

 This brings to me to renewal and enjoying change. Other than the Internet opening a whole world to one, I find that if one goes with the flow of life – accepting changes- rather than to reject anything new or different – it gives one a feeling of well-being and still being part of the mainstream life which one might still be missing. Besides, I found keeping tabs on your teenage grandchildren on Instagram is can be so enlightening and gratifying.

 I have realized that one doesn’t need outside things to make you content and happy. You can make yourself happy by finding things you enjoy –The thing is not to sit around and wait for old age or better days!

Divorce, Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, Travel

VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE

This week Denise Mclaughlan shares other aspects of her life – she has made deliberate choices that have taken her life out of the mundane. …and helps to enhance her festive life.

Variety in my book is stimulating, it means new opportunities, it rules out boredom and rules out being stuck in a rut! What were the things that set me thinking in this direction?

It was when I looked at all the book s waiting for me to read- the variety of which – pleases me immensely. When I go to our wonderful library, I choose fiction, non-fiction, Afrikaans and English and I make a choice of different genres. I enjoy biographies, historical novels but then more specifically about the late 19th century/early 20th century and I adore novels set in the English countryside, or in Italy.

What a pleasure to read widely and to be able to completely immerse yourself in an era of long ago or to read about other ways of life in faraway places!  The library never ceases to excite me – I take my time and browse in the rows of different genres. I can look through the daily newspaper or find a magazine that fascinates me. Other options are DVDs or CDs, not to mention the courses that are on offer and the coffee shop!

Another area of choice and variety  for me are the creative colouring-in books for adults which have become popular in recent times. I love colouring in – and the books range from inspirational, the natural world, fashion and cityscapes. My special favourite- which I shall frame and hang in my home- are the Fashion fantasies – dresses designed out of leaves and flowers or a William Morris pattern book.

One could carry this theme through to many facets of one’s life…. thinking about my friends who are so different and all the more appreciated for their differences. I have single and married friends, some younger and some older – there is something fresh about the young ones and something familiar in older friends. Some are there in my time of need, others inspire me, and I find companionship with all of them.

Thinking of one’s daily way of life, I believe -why live a monotonous life of doing the same things at the same times and in the same ways? Why not a life full of variety and alternatives and choices? Even holidays…. I never wanted to go to the same place year after year. That is why road trips appeal to me and train trips with different stations and landscapes to gaze at. I cannot resist using this old cliché – a change is as good as a holiday.

Even in nature and in the seasons we find the wonderful variety of new buds in Spring, the sunshine of a summer day, the change of colours in Autumn and then the bare trees on a winter’s day . I don’t think life was meant to be the same every day, but then I have always shied away from too much routine and not enough new and different ways of living your life

It is said the only constant is change. Therefore, embrace the changes that you make or that are perhaps forced upon you. Sometimes when you are in the doldrums all you need is a change of scene or a change of mindset.

So, give me the spice and color that variety in any sphere of life brings… Have you perhaps changed anything in your life recently? I hope you also experience it as refreshing and uplifting?

Divorce, Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, Travel, Uncategorized

LEARNING TO BE CONTENT WHATEVER THE CIRCUMSTANCES


Reflections on solitary outings and activities, by Denise McLaughlan

Being single again has many challenges and loneliness is one of them.  Denise shares her story with how she has been able to be content within her circumstances. This has been a day by day walk.

These days I am constantly aware of the merits of going -it-alone! Being an extrovert and socially inclined, the prospect of outings and get-togethers used to be paramount. I could even admit to a touch of Fomo- fear of missing out, but lately I have tempered this inclination. Maybe due to the ageing process- which I tend to ignore!

 I am discovering the pleasure of pursuing passions for certain things like country drives – I call it Small-town Hunting, I love weekend getaways or just sitting alone in lovely surroundings. This could be a coffee-shop with atmosphere, a tea-garden – anywhere I can sit, read, or write in my journal, also to take photos of old buildings/landscapes. It seems to me that the only requisites are a pretty, vintage-like or close-to- nature setting, a book, a pen and the money for a coffee or light meal…Sometimes I take my own picnic. I am discovering that much pleasure is to be found in simple things that need not cost much money.

My weekend often includes just one outing or pleasurable activity to keep me content  – to feel less lonely .An example would be my drive one Saturday morning to Franschhoek, a very pretty historical town with a decidedly French atmosphere -mainly to go and listen to a well-known journalist/political commentator at the Huguenot Association of S A where I could also find out more about my Cilliers family research.

Beforehand I enjoyed a coffee milkshake at an open-air cafe, then strolled through a market, where I bought a blackboard and chalk, a new straw hat for the summer and six plants for my new-found interest in my garden, all at a very reasonable price! The trick is to focus on places where you can indulge in your own interests or passions – whatever they may be.

I thoroughly enjoyed mingling with other descendants of the French Huguenots, listening to the topic of the day and actually finding out some vital information about my paternal grandmother!

On the other hand, I have started cherishing time spent in my home and garden. My various activities include reading, knitting, creating little corners of interest or displays such as my travel corner in the entrance hall complete with a globe, vintage suitcase and old-fashioned picnic basket plus travel magazines!  I have also arranged a bookcase with comfy chair and little table for tea as a reading corner with invariably the French doors open for the summer breeze and a view of my little side veranda. To enjoy time alone I find I must create the setting and get the right atmosphere – which could be a simple as a little glass container with a few small flowers from my garden, maybe a candle and the inevitable cup of tea- definitely in a pretty porcelain cup !

Then of course there is my hobby of adult colouring books where I can indulge in my love of color and creativity… I already own ten such books.   When one lives alone (and originally this was not by choice), you can eventually learn to enjoy the companionship of a pet- and my white cat Saphera purrs happily when she tentatively creeps onto  my lap while I knit or write or colour in. Who can resist such closeness?

Another source of stimulation and enjoyment is my creating PowerPoint Collages or cards – often for someone’s birthday using some of my many photographs. If permitted I share them on Facebook – another nice-to-do thing. That is to say if one has embraced new technology- which I would not want to be without now.

I am deeply grateful that I found it in myself to be on my own and not only to keep productively busy but also to be truly satisfied and content with who I am and where I am at. I am striving to have more time quiet time, in my case with my Lord Jesus, but could be spiritual awareness for someone else. I know that my abundance comes from Him.

More and more I am choosing to spend time alone and enjoying the freedom and choices that living alone gives one, therefore still maintaining a festive outlook on living alone!!

Paul said he had learned to be content whatever the circumstances, I think learning was the operative word. It is a process, and Denise has clearly outlined how she went about being content as a single person. What are you doing to learn contentment in your circumstances? We would be really happy to share your thoughts on rebuilding a contented single life.

Divorce, Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, Travel, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

FINDING MEANING IN LIFE AGAIN

Article and Photos by Denise Mclaughlan

Denise continues to share her Festive Journey, how she in turn was inspired by her grandmother. How often we just need the example of someone who has done something before to inspire us on our own journeys. It seems their courage can synthesise and help us get a firm grip to say yes to life.

Highlights of my life in these past 28 years was a month-long visit to Italy with a friend, learning to speak some Italian in preparation, and the wonder of travelling at will with no pre- bookings.  Did I mention that I have an adventurous spirit?

Another venture I particularly enjoyed was my long-distance train trips over a five-year period from Cape Town to Johannesburg – a 1800km distance with one-night sleepover – to visit old school friends and attend some reunions. Despite the fears that many South Africans have about train travel in S A, I took it on wholeheartedly, meeting people of other cultures and feeling like a true adventurer. Of course, the lure was also my memory of childhood train trips since my dad was a railwayman. I had a few interesting encounters on that ShosalozaMeyl train!

To get back to the adventurous spirit, which I think has come not only from my brave grandmother who went overseas alone at the age of 78, but also the fact that I have been blessed with lots of energy and good health. As an extrovert I enjoy new places and faces! I like to be stimulated whether it is by reading all kinds of books, joining a photography group, doing computer courses, or enjoying music theatre and movies. I simply love swimming and am not fussy…river, dam, pool or a cold Atlantic sea!

A very meaningful part throughout my life has been writing – letters, diary keeping and then journaling. I love describing places and experiences, also tried my hand at a spot of poetry and then of course my Quiet times with the Lord is also affirmed in the journal. I usually use different devotional books like the wonderful Streams in the Desert By Mrs LB Cowman,    Come to me Beloved My Beloved by Frances J Roberts,    Joyce Meyer and a more recently I have used a book “ Fear is Never your Friend by Gary L Richardson. When I still get depressed or anxious it helps to write about it and to take stock of where you are in your life. I tend to do a fair amount of introspection.

Now in my 70’s I realised a dream to go back to camping and road trips (in my married years we caravanned and had an old Land rover) I missed the great outdoors and after watching a lot of Youtube videos about camper conversions and solo road trips, I managed to find someone to adapt my relatively small Mazda Soho 1,4 into a tour car. I have a full-length bed, some side cubbyholes for packing and storage under the bed for small tent, camping chair and other camping gear. I did two solo road trips and described the fun I had in some newsletters which I sent out via Facebook and e-mail. I then acquired a blow-up 2-man canoe which my son and I have enjoyed. Unfortunately, I had to undergo shoulder surgery and have been out of action for around 7 weeks.  Yes I am feeling the pitfalls of ageing in that I get stiff when sitting, my knee seems to be playing up, I drink all the usual pills  – but what is keeping me young are my thoughts and attitude- I try to stay positive and adapt to changes. I take stock of all the aspects of my life regularly and am dabbling with the new buzzwords – living mindfully!  I endeavour to stay in the here and now- to notice the small things around me; to forgive and forget, to take the best out of my past and hand over the control of my future to God my Father.

Denise has brought so much meaning into her life by being aware of her thoughts and attitudes, it can be so easy to slump into negative thoughts and attitudes, she has spent a lot of time cultivating the garden of her mind, pulling out the weeds of toxic thinking and replacing them with positive and affirming thoughts, this all manifests in her being able to take on her Festive Journey and enjoy the life she has been given. How about you? Do comment and let us know how you have taken something negative and made something positive out of it.

Divorce, Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, Travel, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

PICKING UP THE BROKEN PIECES AND DENISE’S FESTIVE JOURNEY BEGINS

Article and photos by Denise McLaughlan

I am a lively and enthusiastic nearly 75-year-old woman who has embraced life despite 28 years on my own. I live in Cape Town South Africa in my 1837 characterful home. I have two grown-up children and three grandchildren, no other close family. I Grew up as an only child and used to feel lonely quite often. The latter has changed somewhat now that I am older and wiser.  Part of my nature has also been to engage with people, to be curious and have many interests. I have a a zest for living , and am not fazed by changes  – in fact I welcome new things- whether it be  learning all about technology, enjoying social media like Facebook trying new activities like PowerPoint collages or simply rearranging and decorating my house in a different way. I can bounce back from bad situations, for which I am thankful.

 Part of my ongoing verve is because since becoming a child of God, I have realised repeatedly that I cannot cope without Him in my life. He has led, guided, protected and provided for me for these 28 years since 1992, when I was only 47 and was broken, divorced, forced to go forward alone, find work (after 12 years at home). It wasn’t easy to get back into the workplace despite being a slightly-out- of -touch teacher and having worked in various fields such as an officer in the S A Army, selling insurance from a call-centre and many temporary jobs. I was fortunate to obtain the bond for my house and after 25 years it has been paid off!  My house has worked for me –providing income.

Over the years I was faced with times of unemployment, my children leaving home and having quite serious problems, depression and anxiety. I always believe there is help out there and one must go and get it. I attended Deryn’s Divorce Recovery workshop, I was active at my church and I resorted to my old-time journaling. Keeping a daily diary from my teenage days evolved into journaling my Quiet time with the Lord plus writing about and working through all the problems of the time. Later I started a blog and more recently some newsletters about my solo road trips in my converted Mazda camper car- more about that later!!

Some of the aftermath of the divorce was the ongoing problem of finances and so I started to take in boarders – or rather –tenants offering a room in my house plus sharing my kitchen, bathroom and at times my living area. So, doing I had extra income and felt safer after my children left home. I must admit I really enjoyed the young vibe and life in my home, which also freed me to pursue another great love of mine – weekend getaways and any form of travel. I would save or work as a showhouse sitter on Sunday afternoons just so I could afford a little trip…at first always looking for a friend to go along but lately I go it alone- if needs must be!

At around 60 years the young and fast call-centre environment got to me and I went back to teaching for two years- at a small Christian school where I had to take on Grade 2 and 3 in one class ( and this while I trained as a high school teacher!) I tackled it but then they realised I would be better with the Grade 5 and 6 class. This episode prepared me well for the next phase of my working life – that of being a part-time au pair for school going children working for one particular family. I was suited for this being a teacher, a mother and grandmother. This I did for 10 years – I mostly enjoyed this but it also had its difficult times. During this time, I started doing House-and –Pet sitting. Besides loving pets, it would give me that most welcome extra money – (always a toss-up with on whether to do maintenance on the house with it or save for a trip!?)

You will have gathered that I was inventive in surviving the working years, but this builds in faith that God will provide, and I never once went without a roof over my head or food to eat. I my next blog I will show you how my adventurous life developed over the years.  Please join me for the journey and I would be happy for you to comment below.

Divorce, Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, Travel

LOVING LIFE AND SHARING IT

I love the life I have been given where I get to travel and see new places, family and friends – turning strangers into friends. I love the thrill of seeing nature in all its diversity in new places and wonder at the majesty of Creation.  I get to spend time with precious family members and friends who once were part of our tightly knit community in Rhodesia, now scattered over the four corners of the globe.  I get to meet the new families and friends they have created in different cultures and settings. I am inspired by their stories and resilience to hardships. In turn this inspires me to share our common stories and my passion for travel, art and writing with you my friends and followers.

My adventurous life may sound romantic, colorful and exciting and it is, but it is also scary – going into the unknown, making decisions, not knowing if they are the best. On this trip to Australia, I chose an airline that goes through Hong Kong, never having been there before, not having a clue what to expect, and not knowing that the coronavirus was just about to break loose! My stress levels were heading through the ceiling at the prospect of finding my way around with a seven-hour layover at the start of Chinese New Year! Eventually I took my pride in my pocket and asked for Airport Assistance! What a blessing, lovely people met me and took me through the right routes to get me to my destination with minimum stress and I was delivered safely to the bosom of my family in Brisbane.

This was a new thing for me to start to trust other people to guide me through difficult terrain I had never been before, yet it was the very thing that I needed to help me keep calm and enjoy my journey.  How often do we hold back on asking for help when we think we can do it all ourselves, or we are to prideful to say we can’t do it alone? I know I have been the mistress of independence for many years, but somehow age seems to bring a certain vulnerability too.

I also realized I could not do my blog justice while on the road, as I am busy gathering material for the next few of years’ worth of stories.  I did not want to leave you without contact for several months, so again I have asked for help! I have asked one of my very first clients at one of the Divorce Recovery Workshops I ran, Denise Mclaughlin, to be my guest blogger, sharing her “Festive Journey” with you.

I have been so proud of the way that Denise got on with her life after divorce. It has not been easy for her most of the time, but she has with faith, rebuilt a life she enjoys and can be proud of. She inspires me with her adventures (much more adventurous than I, travelling alone in her converted Mazda) and I am hoping she will inspire you too.  Life can throw us curved balls and bad experiences, but I love to share other perspectives on what could have been a disaster and upset for us in these difficulties and show that God is able to work all things together for good, for His purposes. Sometimes it is a point of new growth and where once we were stunted, the dead wood had been trimmed away allowing new heathy growth to take place. Sometimes we just need a bit of help and guidance through the difficult places before we get that breakthrough.

I am hoping that you will be inspired by Denise’s’ Festive Journey, please leave your comments and feed back in the contact form, we would love to hear from you.  Denise writes in both English and Afrikaans, her personal blog is written mainly in Afrikaans one of the twelve official languages of South Africa.  I will leave her to introduce herself in my next blog.

www.crossingmybridges.com

https://myfestivejourney.blogspot.com/

Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions, Uncategorized, Widowhood

TRANSFORMING THE BRIDE

transformation2.jpgJesus used many parables and examples from nature during His time on earth. The book of Romans tells us that we are without excuse because since creation His attributes have been clearly seen and understood through what was created.  This has caused me to look at spiritual concepts and view them through nature and thus enrich my understanding of them.

Look at the Church, the Bride of Christ, we all understand that concept. We see the denominational diversity, divisions and competitiveness – how can we really become the one Bride of Christ?  Jesus said they shall be known because they love one another!  The conflicts and religious wars of history have shown that that hasn’t happened.  How can we accept one another’s differences and love one another at the same time? Let us look in creation for a metaphor and see if we can find an answer.

A tree has four components, a trunk, branches, leaves and roots. Without these it cannot live each being dependent on the other as a whole and the spirit (life-force) within that maintains its cycles.  If we look at each part and compare them to denominational or religious philosophies, we can see how much we depend on one another and therefore need each other to prepare the Bride of Christ.

The trunk, solid and immovable on what is right or wrong, black or white, no shades of grey. The Word of God is the Truth; we need to be reminded that this is so, that our focus is kept on the Triune God and that no other philosophy can woo us from this Truth. Trunks are covered with bark, that bark can be smooth or rough, striped, ringed or covered with thorns, and depending on how our Truth is projected or told to others can either protect or harm them. Fundamental Truth and belief systems.

The branches represent those who teach the Intellectual and Practical outworking of this central Truth.  Their programs reach out like the branches; they offer shade and shelter to the weary and to passersby. They reach out to causes like prisons, missions and good works.  They bear fruit; they feed the hungry, comfort the sorrowing.  They are always reaching out, even in winter when the branches are bare.

The leaves are seasonal and colorful. You know the wind is blowing by the rustling in the leaves. Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind; no one knows where it comes from or where it will go.  The leaves flutter and give trees their glorious colors.  In the Psalms it says the trees in the field will clap their hands in joy, charismatic movement.  We need the joyousness of the leaves to lift our souls in worship above the heaviness of life and to know when the Spirit is moving.  The leaves are there for a season, then drop to the ground where in due course they provide food for the roots.  The young leaves are then formed for the next season’s growth. There are seasonal patterns in our spirituality and belief systems.

We cannot see the roots, but we know they are there, they draw the nourishment and water up from the soil to feed the tree. There are people who set themselves apart to pray, those who withdraw from the world, contemplatives and mystics where meditation and prayer are central; the prayer warriors, monasteries, convents and communities.  Even if we do not see them, if these people stopped their function in the Church it would become very sick and maybe even die. We all need their prayer and deep connection to the Creator

Nature has given us a solution to the problem of religious and denominational difference and diversity.  We must accept the place God has assigned for each of us individually, whether it is the trunk, branches, leaves or roots and fulfil our function with all our hearts, minds and souls. This may be for a season or for a lifetime. We then must accept that God has assigned different people to different places and they are there to create balance, diversity, color and strength to His church so that the Church Universal can fulfil its function.

If we each maintain our own identity and function and accept everyone else’s identity and function as God given and as part of the whole, together we can transform the Bride of Christ because the Church will be known “because they love one another”. A tree will not survive if any one of the four components are missing so we need each other to grow in love and unity so we may be THE Bride and not many brides.

Grief, Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Widowhood

THE WHEEL HAS MADE A FULL TURN!

 

January is the month we usually set our goals and resolutions for the year. One of my goals during this season is to find my artistic voice. I was looking back through my old sketchbooks and journals, to my amazement I came across a sketch I had made in 2001 of black and white geometric patterns, with a rainbow through the center, with the words “Transformation” and “Integrations”. A few years ago, after I had been widowed, my church had been going through a program of transformation and reconciliation, and responsible renewal in which they examined scripture in the light of today’s societal problems, updating their thinking and policies accordingly. This had inspired the sketch.

Fast forward ten years, I have been through nine years of working in a new country attending another church, which was not as progressive in their thinking and teaching. I knew I had to get back to the place spiritually I had left in South Africa. Moving to a new country yet again, I had the freedom to be discerning as to where I would worship, I was blessed to have found a local church that stood for all I believed in. I still had places to go in my past to clear up wrong thinking about God, which I dealt with.  I was invited to answer “My Most Difficult Question” at one of our church services to tell my story. I was also participated in writing a chapter for an Anthology “How Seven Women of Faith Manifest Godly Success Through Spiritual Intimacy”, The name for my story was ‘From Black and White to Rainbow Colored Thinking’. So, why was I so surprised when found my old sketch when looking to find my artistic voice?

With many interests and being able to enjoy drawing different styles, objects and thoughts I had not been focused on developing any specific style.  It now dawned on me there was a common theme to many of my pictures, geometric patterns, both abstract and natural, I liked my pictures to tell a story. God’s story in my life has taken a long time to unfold and is still unfolding. Perhaps I was not focused on following His lead to where I should be or maybe I was following Him through the forest and could not see for the trees!  Why do I want to write and paint on this theme of black and white and rainbow colors? Black and white rigid thinking only within your known parameters can seriously hold you back from experiencing the best God has planned for you. I want to be able to share my perspective and perceptions with people who struggle to let go of fundamental thinking.

The starting point is the character of God, I had been indoctrinated at an early age of a God who was always angry and only wanted to punish me, reinforced by family and church discipline. So how could I possibly know Him as a God of love when this was not demonstrated to me? My journey through life has taken me through divorce, widowhood and loss of homeland. It has been a long journey to get from black and white to rainbow colored thinking. To work through the belief systems that did not serve me well, to come to a place of rest in the God of Love. That is why I write and paint what I do, inviting you my readers and viewers to participate in this journey, hoping that if you too have struggled trying to find that God is Love, you may also have the scales from your eyes removed so instead of seeing everything within rigid black and white lines, you can see the radiant burst of color and light that emanates from Him through His creation and eventually be able to appreciate that He is Love and loves you with an everlasting love.

Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel, Uncategorized, Widowhood

REFLECTIONS ON RETIREMENT

Gazing across the still lake at Claremont Gardens in Surrey, the golden reflection of trees looked up at me mirroring the great oaks and beech trees along the water’s edge. This beautiful sight caused me to reflect on the last two years since my retirement and my first visit back to the UK since I went to live in the USA.  This was a major transition, from working to having time on my hands, from living alone to living with my family and learning yet another culture in new land and dealing with the ubiquitous bureaucracy!

I had spent several years on planning for this move, so adapting to the new culture was not too difficult having visited with family on numerous occasions. On arrival in the USA I was exhausted from the past few years of a strenuous job and the handing over process, of saying goodbye to family and friends and going through the immigration process.  This was probably more emotionally draining than anything else. My body felt very tired and I even wondered if I had some dreaded disease, I felt so bad. This was a time to ‘Be still and know that I am God’.  Quite often we are not even aware of how tired we can become in serving others, we give because we enjoy helping others, we give because we know that is what God has called us to do, but even Jesus grew weary in his earthly body and needed to go aside to rest and pray. It is important to allow your physical and emotional body to recover from a big transition. 

Looking at the tranquil water of the lake, I could feel the rest and calmness in my body, something that I had not been able to experience when I was working, always expecting an emergency phone call or my mind working on a problem that needed to be solved. I had to learn once again to be mindful, to live in the moment, to appreciate my environment and what I could see, I needed to learn to tune into the ‘still small voice’ in contemplative prayer and allow God’s voice just to tell me how much He loved me again.  It is easy to lose the focus of God’s goodness when you are in transitions as there is so much going on.

It was important to hear God’s voice saying, ‘well done, you have added value to my Kingdom, rest here awhile to recharge before your next assignment’. Your value is not determined by the work you do, so when you are no longer working you feel you have no value.  Your value is determined by the fact you are a Child of God, His daughter or son and just because you are, you are valuable. So, taking the time to be still and re-establish the strong foundation of who I was in Christ was very important to me.

Taking time to explore new places, find a new church and a new group of friends and different ways of worshipping, doing art or writing all became part of the journey into my new life. Reflecting on the past and knowing my giftings and strengths, putting them out before God as to what plans He has for me to use them in this new venture of retirement required time.  Two whole years have passed, and I am now ready for the next adventure in what plans God has for me.  I have written an Amazon best-seller in the Christian Liberation category. I have joined the Creative team in my church giving an outlet for some of my gifts, I have created my on-line presence of blogging, art gallery and e-course. I have met and made so many new friends from diverse backgrounds that have made me explore even deeper the meaning of life.

I think most of all I have learned that ‘in quietness and confidence will be your strength’, as God reveals things to me day by day with the people He puts in my life to support and help going through difficult life circumstances. He has given me that compassion and caring for them and some creative solutions that they can use to help themselves through hard days.

One day I asked my son what was the one thing he felt I had given him of value and he told me it was living with me through such a variety of life circumstances, that we had survived and succeeded and he was able to apply that foundation and confidence to his life, and that all three of my children had come out not only survivors but winners in successful careers and family lives.

I think the main take away from my reflections must be that difficult and diverse life circumstances build resilience and faith in Someone who is bigger than you, who cares for you, protects and provides even though you may not see it in the moment. It is with gratitude I embraced all the challenging times to bring me to this place of quiet restfulness and peace.

Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel, Widowhood

‘LEAVES’ ME WONDERING

One thing that never ceases to thrill me on my travels through woodland and forests, is the variety of trees and leaves and how each one adapted to its environment. The beautiful woodlands and forests of Pennsylvania were pretty as a picture with the sun back lighting their brightly colored fall leaves, and carpets of leaves beneath them. Or, have you ever seen the massive leaves of the ‘elephant ear’ plant? A tropical plant designed to live in shady humid forests. Their broad leaves capture sunlight which they turn into energy, the ready supply of moisture and water slides off their pointed leaves keeping the soil around them moist. There are often cyclones and high winds in those areas so the leaves can have splits in them like a banana and palm tree to allow the wind to go right through the leaves without uprooting the tree, they are perfectly adapted to their environment. My meditation on leaves took me right back to Creation when God created trees, after the Fall of man (interesting use of the word ‘fall’ in this context!) Adam used a fig leave to hide his nakedness from God, so I followed the theme of leaves and their metaphors. 

Trees are a metaphor for life, and we destroy them at our peril. The prophet Jeremiah warned the Israelites of God’s anger, by “blowing them away like withered leaves, I went out to see if I could salvage anything but found nothing: Not a grape, not a fig, just a few withered leaves. I’m taking back everything I gave them. I’ll blow these people away— like wind-blown leaves. It’s because you forgot me and embraced the Big Lie, I threw you to the four winds and let the winds scatter you like leaves.” Trees give life, shade, shelter, nourishment, God’s provision for us to live, the leaves clean the air, support nature, birds, fungi, they are the lungs of big cities absorbing pollution and cleansing the air that we breathe. 

Even Jesus referred to the fig tree as an indicator of times, “Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. The same here—when you see these things happen, you know God’s kingdom is about here.” How often do we really look at the leaves on the trees, in fall they shout out with their vibrant colors, but do we notice when they are getting damaged and unhealthy? I used to manage a property that had beautiful Stone Pine trees on it, every year I used to get the Tree Doctor to inspect them, as they could cause major damage to the houses if they broke or fell during a storm. Sometimes great branches had to be removed as there was an inner rot that weakend them, it was insidious, it only became noticeable when it was well advanced. When do we stop the rot in our lives and society? Do we see the signs and take action before it is too late, and the damage done? Sometimes we need to stop the rot before it sets in, bad habits, lack of respect for the environment or our neighbors, unkind words or hate speech for people different from ourselves. In the city, I often see rubbish piled up against fences that will eventually find its way into the city drainage system ending up in the ocean becoming a pollutant to sea life, which in turn will end up in our food.  Everything in nature is connected and our wellbeing depends on us taking note of the small things like leaves and choosing good habits and attitudes, treating the land and our neighbors with love and respect.  

The good news is that one day all will be restored, the Revelation tells us that “The Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.” We can work with our Creator to bring about that day by respecting creation, the land, plants, animals and people, and by trusting His goodness and love for what He created. 

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Widowhood

TREASURES AT YOUR FEET

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Anyone who knows me well, knows I have a fascination with fungi.  This was not always so, the day I started to take notice, was a dark and gloomy day when I was walking through Bedford Park.  As I passed a very large and old copper beech tree, out of the corner of my eye I saw something large and white at the base of the tree. Curious I stopped to look; there I saw the most amazing sight. The largest bracket fungus I had ever seen about two feet across, with layers and layers of beautiful convoluted creamy brackets, layered with brown and orange stripes. I rushed home to get my camera to take a photograph of it.  Thereafter, I would stop by the tree and watch the life cycle of this fungus, noting that every year several more would pop up in the same place. After that experience, I used to be more aware when I was walking, and my eye would start to pick up a wide range of different fungi, some of the most beautiful or strange looking gems of creation, along the pathways I walked along.

Sometimes we are just not aware of treasure at our feet, we are so busy and distracted at looking at what is up ahead and the noise of our hectic schedules that we miss out completely on the beauty of the moment. These treasures can be an opportunity to connect with our Creator when we stop to meditate on a beautiful flower, a colorful leaf or an amazing fungus. Those busy thoughts that were distracting us, those worries we were trying to find a solution to, that problem we wanted an answer for, that difficult relationship that we need to bring resolution too; set them aside for just a moment. Take in the beauty, the wonder, the detail, the scent, the color and shape of these treasures of nature, take a moment to thank God for the amazing diversity of His Creation before you go on and pick up your busy thoughts again. You will find that your mind has cleared a space where the solutions you were looking for will start to filter in, maybe even with a completely different perspective to what you were looking for.

What makes fungi unique is that they are the only organism that will break down fallen leaves and trees to recycle the nutrients back into the soil.  That is why you will find fungi in wooded and forested areas, where they have an important job to do in breaking down old wood. Not requiring the sun for energy, as they do not photosynthesize, but absorb their nutrients from their environment of decaying organic matter using enzymes.

Sometimes it is the quiet and inconspicuous things that we pass by, that would be the most helpful for us in processing our grief or our loss. When we are in a lot of pain, we want it to go away, we want to feel whole and happy again quickly.  But grief does not work like that, it is a process of breaking down and healing, breaking down and regrouping, Like the fungi in the dark forest, it is in the darkness that the work of breaking down the old memories and patterns of life happens, it is waiting for the spores to develop and be released to grow new ideas, new patterns of functioning in your changed world.

We know that some fungi are highly toxic as well as those that are edible, and we have to learn to distinguish between the two. When we are dealing with divorce and grief there are some thoughts that are toxic to us which we need to break down and release otherwise they will poison us, and we will become bitter and ill. The most toxic thoughts are those of unforgiveness, and vengeance, when we can break these down and learn to forgive and release them our healing will come. Like a fallen tree will not be consumed in a day, but over time, forgiveness happens one day at a time learning to release it day by day until you are free.

If you are struggling with forgiveness and would like someone to help you walk through it, I would be happy to show you though the e-course I have created to help people who are dealing with grief and loss in their life how to heal through forgiveness. If you want to find out more about my e-course click here

You can follow me on Instagram at @derynvan or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Derynsbridge/

Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Widowhood

SPRING FORWARD – FALL BACK

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is that time of the year when we set the clocks back again.  I don’t know about you, but this practice perpetually confuses me, and I have ended up either missing something or been an hour too early!    

Growing up in Central Africa there was no need for daylight saving, it seemed we got up with the sun and went to bed with the sun!  Before we had electricity, at five o’clock all the paraffin lamps would come out, the wicks checked and trimmed, the glasses checked to see they were clean, and the bowl filled up with paraffin if necessary.  Dinner would be prepared on a coal stove and later a paraffin stove, but it was easier to make sure all the cooking was done before the daylight went.  As there was not a lot of light to do things by after dinner, just paraffin lamps, us children would be tucked up in bed under mosquito nets and the room sprayed with a Flitz pump with mosquito repellent, long before aerosol sprays! When the sun rose, we would climb out of bed and the day had begun

Turning the clock back reminds me that we really cannot turn back time, we may be able to manipulate the hands of a clock but in life what is done cannot be undone and what is past is gone. If you have been through difficult life circumstances like divorce, you may wish you could go back and make different choices, or marry someone else, but you now must live with the consequences of those choices and decisions.  You may have been widowed or lost someone dear to you through no choice of your own –  illness, accidents these are all part of life. You have to go on with living and life without that person.

So how do you move forward after this kind of loss and grief? Just like you turn the clock back in Fall, you turn the clock forwards! After the winter time of grief and mourning is over (it is always healthy to have that break to work through the primary emotions of pain, anger, loss and sadness),it is time to look forwards again. It was a new day that dawned when our old homestead was connected to the electricity grid and we were able to flip a switch to have light, we could cook on an electric stove and use a washing machine. What fun to listen to the radio in the evenings and later television as it came to Africa; we watched Lassie, The Flintstones and other early TV shows and so every year we progressed with some new technology, man on the moon or other leaps of mankind forward.

So, when your winter is over, it is time to start making plans for a future on your own, a time to make new memories and overwrite the sad old ones.  It is time to reflect on things you could do differently in this time season of life. It is also time to gather the old memories, keeping those that are happy and discard those that don’t serve you well for the future. Time to spring clean your home as well, making space to enjoy new memories as you create your new life.

It is helpful to have someone who has travelled this road before you to help you through the difficult places, as they inevitably will surface when a memory is triggered by something out of the blue or you find you just get stuck. I have written a self -directed e-course to help you, with lots of work sheets, you may get lost at times. Some places you may travel through a few times before you can move on. Following my map, you will find your way again to a fulfilled new life.

The blogs I write are here to encourage you as you walk through the different landscapes of life, take a moment to look through the archives if you have missed some. You can follow me on Instagram at @derynvan or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Derynsbridge/  If you want to find out more about my e-course click here

Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

ASK THE BIRDS AND THEY WILL TELL YOU!

I was waiting at the bus stop watching pigeons pecking away in the leaves looking for scraps of food, right next to them was a cigarette butt which they totally ignored. This set me thinking about the birds and how God designed them, how did they distinguish between what was good to eat and what was not? Did you know that in the book of Job, God said we will find answers in nature? “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you.” Jesus himself referred to birds when he was teaching on God’s care and that we were not to worry “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?”

One of the fascinating things about birds is their migration. I first became really aware of this when I was visiting Finland one summer and saw a golden oriole, which I had always thought of as being a Southern African bird. I was told that it breeds in the northern hemisphere and winters in the south, its migratory route is straight up the eastern coast of Africa to the Baltic regions – Finland being on almost the same latitude as South Africa. How do the birds find their way? How do they know when to move? How do they know they will survive the trip?  What drives them to migrate? There are so many questions you can ask, and scientists are finding answers.

So, what do we ask the birds teach us about answers to some of our life questions – why do they migrate? For so many of us from the southern hemisphere we have had to migrate for survival to rear our families. We have realized that by staying we would not be able to survive financially or perhaps even physically with the levels of violence that were present in our countries of birth. God tells the birds to migrate so they can safely breed and rear their young in a place of bountiful food. You may have your own reasons to move from one place to another but migrating is usually about improving your circumstances. Not all birds make it to their new breeding grounds, there is also danger in migrating. Finding out everything you can before you make those decisions and making adequate preparations will lessen the risk of being taken advantage of, or even falling foul of immigration laws. You may also find yourself in a place where you cannot get the work you thought you would; you may find yourself the victim of local prejudices and still feel no better off than if you had stayed in your country of origin. This is the reason why it is so important to plan for these moves.

Knowing that Creator God has said he will provide for the birds of the air, should give us the confidence to move forward knowing He will provide our daily bread. The planning and preparation require the Where and When questions to be answered. I have had to move several times as my family kept on moving to different continents, and while I was still working it made sense to earn in a more valuable currency and to be near one of my children as well. The Lord did provide me with a good job for those years, but when I came to retire, it made more sense to move to the country where the majority of my extended family had settled so we could reform the family support system we had had in Southern Africa. Migrating does not mean that God will send a loaf of bread out of the sky on a parachute to feed you, but that He is giving you new opportunities to find work or become part of a community that you can contribute to. The golden oriels still had to go and find insects, build their nests and do the work of raising their fledglings, but they could do this in relative safety using their unfettered energy to look for food and prepare again for their southward flight in the autumn to warmer climes. The large population of golden orioles are widely distributed, stable and in no danger of being endangered, their migration pattern has seen to this. Migration has been God’s way of preserving His people, from the nomadic Israelites to modern man. Yes, nature will inform you -your Heavenly Father loves and values you more than even the birds whom He feeds daily and takes infinite care of. 

Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel, Uncategorized

Looking at the Landscape with Intention

One of the many blessings of travelling is to see the landscape in its many forms and colors.  When did you last REALLY see the landscape?  Do you have your mind on something else as the trees and fields go flitting by? Or do you look with intention and thank God for the beautiful world around you. While driving through the fields of Pennsylvania recently, my friend was shocked when I asked him to stop so I could take a photo – he could see nothing in sight except the fields.  I ran across the road, dropped to my knees next to a pumpkin and took my photo, much to his amusement. But that moment opened his eyes to appreciate the beauty around him in the details.

There are passages in the Bible that say “you will know them by their fruits. Do you gather grapes off a thorn tree, or figs off thistles? By their fruits you will know them know them, and different kinds of fruit trees can quickly be identified by examining their fruit,” I reflected on this teaching of Christ as I looked at the fields with different crops, corn, soya beans, pumpkin, sunflower and chrysanthemums. They were not planted higgledy-piggledy, but in neat patches and rows, so they were easy to care for and harvest.  They all bore a different type of seed or fruit and matured at different times, requiring water, fertilizer and spraying at different stages and they all had different uses.

When it is young corn on the cob is perfect to eat with salt and butter or barbequed.  As it gets older it is harvested and sent to the canning factory and packaged by frozen food companies.  Later when it is dry, it is harvested for seed or stock-feed or sent to the factories to be ground into cornmeal of different grades, yet it is still all corn.  Soya beans and sunflowers go through similar processes, but mainly to extract oil.  Chrysanthemums and young sunflowers are sent to florists and shops to sell for gifts and to cheer people with their bright colors. Pumpkins are for food stock-feed and fun as well as seeds for health food.

Why did I take so long to describe the diversity of crops and their uses?  Because Jesus also used crops, seeds and trees as metaphors for the Kingdom of Heaven.  We were not all created to be carbon copies of each other, but to grow into fullness and bear the fruit of the specific person God created us to be.  When you are in alignment with who God created you to be, you will be able to produce the right fruit.

For years I struggled in churches where I had to conform to their ‘standard of thinking and being’, which always seemed at odds with and cut off my creativity, because it did not conform to their ideas of church or ministry.  I felt I could never be a ‘good Christian’ by their standards as I did not feel comfortable trying to do their way of evangelism.  It took a major shift in mindset to change and break through this black and white thinking that had chained me down and become the person that God had created me to be.

Crops, plants and fruit trees and the fruit they bear are so diverse.  We must allow each person to develop the fruit they were designed to bear for God’s specific blue-print for their lives.  It is no good forcing a pumpkin to be a cornstalk as it is to force an artist to think in only one color, or a teacher to be an accountant, hairdresser or mechanic, if they are not wired that way.  God has gifted His people with many diverse talents and spiritual gifts, it is up to the Body to recognize, encourage and bring to maturity each of God’s children.  When this happens everyone one benefits, not only the church, but the community as well as they experience the diversity of God’s love toward them expressed through His people’s various gifts.

One last word on nut trees.  I have been fascinated by the development of walnuts on a walnut tree, from the flower tassels, to the big green balls that contain the hard shell of the core of the walnut.  The green fiber outer ball must be removed to get to the hard shell which in turn needs to be cracked open to access the nut you can eat.  There are some people who are created like that walnut and it takes a lot of time and processing to become all of what God made them to be.  This should be a lesson in patience for us with slow growers until their developing and bearing process comes to fruition.

Divorce, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel, Widowhood

THE SUNFLOWER SEED -(Harvesting the Crop)

Autumn is harvest time showing the result of the hard work that the farmer has done since spring, his preparation and provision for market and winter. Travelling through the beautiful farmlands of Pennsylvania, I looked across acres and acres of fields with ripening corn. The contoured hillsides were patterned with stripes of green and gold, strips of soya bean, drying ready to be harvested and strips of green and brown corn tassels dried with the corn cobs hanging drying out filled with golden rows of ripened corn waiting for the harvester. Fields of golden sunflower heads bowed down heavy with seed waiting to be picked. With the amount of rain in this current year there should be a bumper yield, unless a disastrous storm or other disaster should strike before the crops are safely in the barn.

So many metaphors were swimming around in my mind while drinking In the beauty of the landscape, so I will share just a few with you.  Growth is a process, the ground needs to be prepared, the conditions need to be right to plant the seed so it will germinate.  Once it has germinated the seedlings need to be constantly monitored to see they have sufficient moisture, food and light to grow and mature, until they have hardened off into the environment and can withstand the normal fluctuations of temperature and moisture.  So it is with us as humans, especially as we grow up, we need the right conditions to grow well, we need the nurturing of good parenting and schooling to prepare us and harden us up to withstand the pressures of a more hostile environment outside of the home.  We cannot be held in hothouse or abusive conditions and then let loose into the world without the necessary preparation of reality, this sets us up for failure to flourish in our work and life. Without the right help it will be difficult to thrive.

When you are transitioning from one season in your life to another, it is so important to prepare the ground ahead of you as much as possible so you ‘transplant’ more easily and once you have rooted in your new environment you will flourish. Those transitions that we are flung into without preparation, such as widowhood or divorce are so much harder as there is insufficient time for preparation and the struggle will be in trying to put down new roots in a more hostile environment. This is where you may need help from the Master Farmer (our Creator) and a counselor to help nurture you into new growth again.

I also noticed the crops were not all ripening at the same time, the farmer planted fields of corn several weeks apart over a period of months so that there was a good chance of perfect conditions for at least a couple of fields, as the farmer did not know in advance when it would rain.  He also diversified his crops, not being reliant on only one type of crop.  There is a lesson to be learnt from that too. It is wise to spread your options, not relying on only one skill or source of income, but to diversify your skills, building up a good portfolio of things you can do well and could earn a living from.  I have seen people laid off work with only one skill, not wanting to retrain in another field become lethargic and disinterested in life as they find it harder and harder to get work with outdated skills.  In this modern age of technology and knowledge it is easy to do online courses to update your skills and give you new interests and excitement in life again as well as increasing your employability.  This is especially true for those who have been divorced or widowed who had relied solely on their husband for provision.

The third metaphor I wanted to share was the quantity of seed produced from a single seed.  This is probably the most fascinating of all, how one seed can multiply into hundreds of seeds. This is what Jesus meant in the parable of The Sower, where he said the good seed produced a crop a hundredfold!

I looked especially at the sunflower heads. One tiny sunflower seed produced a beautiful strong and healthy plant, which followed the sun each day growing tall – a wreath of golden yellow petals around a small brown heart. As the small inner florets were fertilized and grew into seeds they started to swell and to grow and eventually the heart of the sunflower became the main seed head maybe as big as a foot across, so heavy with its hundreds of seeds it had to bow its head. When we are like that little sunflower seed, sown in the right conditions, and we look to the Son and follow Him, our hearts will grow and in due course we will bear much fruit – I also noted the plant was old and bowed by the time it had borne much seed!  Yes, it is a lifetime process, a young plant only has to grow strong and follow the Son and the energy of the Son (the Holy Spirit) will develop the seed, so when you are old and bowed with age, your seed will be ready for the next generation and a new season and your work on earth will be done.

Seasons of Life, Transitions, Uncategorized

CHANGE OF SEASON

How Do you know when you are entering a new season of your life? 

Traveling to Pennsylvania on the coach, I was left in no doubt that the landscape was transitioning into fall! No longer, fresh green leaves, but leaves in every shade from dark green through yellow, red and bronze. Nature shows us the change of season through the landscape when it is moving into a new season. So, what signs do we look out for when we are changing a season in our life? 

Graduating from school, college or university draws a distinct line on the past childhood. You are now entering the world as an adult where you will find your place in the workforce.  After some years of enjoying the freedom of earning your own livelihood, you desire to settle down and share your life and the search for love and happiness with a life mate and starting a new family begins.  

Waiting for the arrival, a pregnant couple prepares a home and space to receive the child by attending prenatal classes and learning all that they can about parenthood. After years of child rearing and being a family together, one by one, children leave the nest to become independent adults. They leave a void that is sometimes hard to fill, if the children have been the main focus of the family. This can be an unsettling transition as you are no longer needed in your role of nurturing, provider parents. The empty nest syndrome can kick in as there is often a gap of several years as the children settle into their new lives, often too busy to call home. This is a hard transition for parents into the new role of friend or mentor to their offspring, but it is a necessary transition and needs preparation and wisdom from the parents.  

The circle makes a full turn as their children complete their education and become independent working adults and find a mate, marry and settle down. Transitioning into being grandparents is probably the most beautiful of all transitions. It can be expected or unexpected, but the entry into the world of your grandchildren is magical as you hold the precious little bundle of joy for the first time. Again, wisdom and knowing your boundaries is required, leaving the parents to make their own mistakes and learn from them, only giving advice when asked for. 

The signs of the next transition are usually physical. You can see them in the mirror! You can feel them in your energy levels, retirement from the nine to five job is on the horizon. Even if your boss hasn’t told you yet. This is a time you should have been planning for, putting some money aside for retirement, taking up new hobbies and interests, getting involved in the community and your church. 

The transition into retirement will often depend on how much planning you put into it as to how easy it is to change your identity and role in the world. Without adequate planning, some people end up feeling they no longer have any worth, which of course is not true. Effort needs to be made to create a vibrant retirement at the pace you choose.  

During the course of the natural and expected seasons of life, our pathway can sometimes be   completely disrupted by unexpected events like the death of a child, divorce or widowhood or chronic illness, forcing us into a new season. After we have stabilized new growth can begin and we enter a new season. 

One of the transitions that are part of the cycle of life is the death of your parents pushing you to the top of the family tree. This can be quite intimidating as you come to terms with your own mortality. 

As the trees shed their leaves and the bare branches stand in the icy cold, similar are the signs as you enter that final cycle of your life. Often it is your health that strips our independence, and you need to be taken care of by others. It can just be a slow decline of strength and faculties, sight, hearing and taste. Then just as a winter storm can strike and the tree falls, your body switch can turn off and you’re gone from this earth. That final transition to those who believe in Christ as their Savior are promised to be changed into the eternal bodies to live with God forever. This transition requires that you have faith, which you should have been nurturing during your preparation for the latter years. 

Yes, the signs of transition are all about us. Do we recognize them? Do we desire them, plan and expect and prepare for them?  

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

The Skip and Alignment with the Spirit Level

I was hurting after a betrayal of friendship and had taken myself off for the day to visit the Tate Modern Gallery in London for consolation and healing.  Art Galleries are my go-to place to lose myself and be inspired and I was really in need of a pick-me-up that day. As I walked around looking at the installations and pictures  I was feeling less than inspired when I walked into an Exhibition called “Between Object and Architecture” and saw a huge skip with builder’s rubble sitting in the middle of the floor, my first thought was the exhibition is not yet  open, but as looked around saw that the skip was part of the installations. I turned on my heel to head out of the door – ‘what rubbish’ I thought. I was stopped in my tracks as a thought came to me ‘go back in there until you have received the message you were looking for’. I turned around and started to look with new eyes at each of the pieces of discarded rubbish and slowly the message came through to me as I looked up and saw a row of old spirit levels in alignment at the top of the wall. Yes, I need to take this to the next level, the Spirit Level! Things need to be in alignment with the Spirit. When you experience the pain of broken relationships, if you take it to the next level, you may see that things were not in alignment with God’s plans for you.

The next piece of ‘rubbish’ was some old reinforcing wire that was wobbly and unstable. Yet when it is cast into concrete it becomes stable and it strengthens the concrete as well. That was pretty clear, relationships need to strengthen and support on another, otherwise they are unstable and fragile.

The next piece of ‘rubbish’ that spoke to me was three white porcelain tiles on the wall, where we were invited to write our feelings in the real world with our heart. Now the message was getting through!  On the first tile I wrote my hurt, the past, the emotional debris, the second tile I left quite blank leaving a big white clean space, freedom and emptiness and the third tile an open-heart expectant and hopeful for the future and new beginnings. As I continued to walk around looking at the pieces of rubbish, it was amazing how my spirit lifted, and I found healing. The next piece that spoke to me was a horizontal row of slabs going up the wall equidistant from each other. Yes, start at the bottom and work your way up to the next level, and the next, and the next until you reach the top where you need to be.  We have so many levels and layers in our lives and it is when we start getting each level and layer into alignment with God’s will for our lives and the purpose he has for us that we make progress towards where we are meant to be.

I left the exhibition on a high note, not believing I could have been inspired by a skip full of building rubble!  There was one more exhibit that left me dancing all the way home. It was a video installation of dance, the inscription was “Performance art is about joy, about making something so full of wild joy you can’t put it into words” Art has that effect on me, something you can’t put into words, something that speaks directly to the soul.

In my previous blog on building from the ground up, I spoke about a skip full of all the old negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences that you built your relationships on, that had broken down. Before you walk out of the door, examine them to find the part they played in getting you to the next level.  What level was your relationship, was it at basement level or at Spirit level? Ask God to show you clearly the next level you need to be getting into alignment with his plans and purposes for your life. How about taking three blank sheets of paper and writing your feelings in the real world with your heart? I hope after doing this exercise you would be able to dance with a joy that you can’t put into words. I would love to hear how you connected with this, do put it in the comments below!

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Uncategorized, Widowhood

Building From the Ground Up

On my walks around the city, I saw an enormous amount of building activity going on. Over the months, what initially looked like chaotic scenes from a war movie morphed into a beautiful new purpose-built school or apartment blocks. As I stood and watched the scene over this past year, I realized it was also a metaphor for change in our lives.

Sometimes, our old negative thoughts and lifestyle patterns have been destructive, and we end up in broken relationships, or in a prison of self-pity, we long to be a new and different person joyful and living a fulfilled life. When this desire has reached its peak and we are at our lowest ebb, that is often the time we are ready to make the changes necessary to start a new and different life. This is the time to do an inventory of one’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual life and thinking patterns.

Breaking down an old structure often requires a wrecking ball and mechanical diggers to remove all the rubble before the foundation can be dug and the site cleared up in preparation for the new building. This is often a tedious and messy process. So it is with us, as we look at our lifestyle habits, what needs to be cleaned up here? Do you need to exercise, start eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, stopping addictions? What do you do for recreation – is this harmful or helpful? What are your thinking patterns, do you automatically think the worst of people, do you beat yourself up over mistakes?  What is your emotional intelligence like- do you manage your anger, or do you have a short fuse? Do you keep up your interest in life and learn new things – are you curious enough to find new challenges and do them? Most important of all, do you believe in a higher power, a Creator who has a plan and purpose for your life? Have you lost your faith? Making changes is not going to be easy, but with the help of God and the support of friends or family or a counselor you can do the work that it takes to get rid of all the old damaged way of living your life. As you deal with each one, imagine you are putting it in a skip ready to be taken away.

Now you can put in your new foundations, those things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, things of good report; virtuous, things to celebrate and be thankful for, think on these things and let your actions follow your thoughts. As you start to build your new life on these foundations your new life will be built on things of lasting value as you learn to love yourself, to love God and to love others and be thankful for the smallest things. You will find how life changes around you and you will view things differently looking at them from a new perspective, Windows let in the light, your eyes are windows to the soul, let them shine with the new light of joy.

To do the hard work of heavy lifting on a building site often requires a crane to help put things in place and take the stress and strain of the load. Who can you ask to help you in lifting your load? Often, we cannot see a way out for ourselves, maybe there is some trauma from our childhood that is deeply buried in our subconscious. Maybe we don’t know how to change our mindsets or our beliefs around God may be more harmful than helpful. This is the time to seek help from a professional who can help you with the heavy lifting and guide you through the process of putting your new beliefs in place.

Once the roof is in place and the interior fitted out with all new furnishings, and the exterior is landscaped, the building is ready to receive its new occupants. When your new life is in place and you have done the hard work you will become that person God created you to be, as his Holy Spirit takes up residence and completes your transformation leading you into his ordained purpose.

Divorce, Grief, Transitions, Travel, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

FROM VICTIM TO VICTOR Learning, Overcoming rejection or Abandonment

2018-06-27 01.31.20-1
At Santa Barbara

Last week we looked at the scenarios that led us to feeling rejected or abandoned. How do we take positive steps to take back our power and not feel the victim of someone else’s decisions? We may need to look back further than the current situation to find our healing.  Sometimes these feelings of abandonment start as a child. Were you ever in a supermarket or fair and you could not find your parents?  Did you parents neglect to spend a lot of time with you, leaving you to your own devises or a long line of child minders? 

Parents that were not available to you to nurture the bond that should be between parent and child. Perhaps your parents were divorced, and you could not bond with one or the other parent at a time when your greatest need was to feel safe and protected.  This may have led you into unhealthy attachments to caregivers or a romantic partner when you did find someone who took care of you. Instead of a relationship based on mutual care and love, you fell into a co-dependency role in an unhealthy relationship that led to divorce.

As a widow you may feel more intense grief at the death of your partner, feeling abandoned.  In the school grounds you felt abandoned and rejected when your best friend went off with someone else and you were shunned from the group. These are the roots that make us feel these emotions more intensely and if they have been a habitual pattern in your life may continue to plague you until they are recognized and dealt with.

So how do we get past this feeling of abandonment and rejection? First, you need to stop believing that you were not good enough or it was all your fault. (This could be from the childhood root).  Start to nurture yourself, where you felt you lacked, start making time to fill those places with self-love and care.  Take yourself out to the movies or a cup of coffee and cake, something that will feed your soul.  Listen to beautiful music, it washes your heart with tears.  Read good books, and if you are not a reader, listen to podcasts, but especially listen to the Word of God.  If you read the Psalms, you will find so many that meet your heart’s cry for answers. It is beautiful, when you come across a Psalm that speaks directly to your need, a message from God. Psalm 94:14 “The Lord will not reject his people; he will not abandon his special possession.” When we think we are unlovable and nobody will ever care for us again, remember that God who created you loves you and is there to help you through this dark place.

Don’t beat yourself up over the what ifs’ focus on replacing old memories with new memories and dreams of another future. Celebrate the good times and create an action plan for the future. I have found it to be much easier if you have a clean break. If you are divorced minimize contact to basics or via a third person.  Put emotional distance (physical environment too if possible) between you.  Heal your heart before dating again otherwise your same lack of confidence and unhealthy attachment pattern may rise up to sabotage you.

https://ntrelationships.com/single-again-dating-after-widowhood/

https://ntrelationships.com/single-again-dating-after-divorce/

Clear out the cupboards, get rid of items that bring back memories that hurt. I gave my wedding pictures to the children.  Or if widowed just making a special album or decorating s corner in your home to remember your departed where you can go when you want to remember. Make a space for your new future to emerge.

It is not helpful to follow your ex on social media or get the kids to spy on him. Keep taking back your own life by making new memories to replace the old hurtful ones. Visit new places, do things that you did not do with him. On a rough day, do hard physical exercise, walk run, play a sport. Scrub floors, whatever it takes to get it out of your system.

Spend time with friends or family, people who have your back and will listen to you. Join in community activities like hiking clubs, art or book clubs, try to find ones that are not couples orientated. Reinvent yourself – reassess your values and start doing the things that make you happy. Make some new life goals, set yourself challenges, learn new skills. Set goals that encompasses spiritual, mental, physical and emotional aspects so you grow in all areas.

There is a lot of learning to be done in this space, finding yourself again, and what you want for the future.  It is often helpful to make a vision board of what you would like your life to be like. This is all part of recovering your sense of self-worth – learn new skills so you can feel you have achieved something, that really gives you a boost. Continue to grow mentally, spiritually, and physically and you will see how they all work together to help you grow emotionally. Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations and Bible verses that say you are beloved by God.  I took Art Classes and painted my heart out, just the positive feedback from another human being may be all you need to build your self confidence again.  Walk away from anyone who want to criticize and deride you and set boundaries on your own and other people’s behavior towards you.

Most of all learn to enjoy your own company while you are working through this loss, rather like a butterfly when it is in the chrysalis, quietly transforming on the inside, until you are ready to emerge in glorious technicolor.

Divorce, Grief, Transitions, Widowhood

ABANDONMENT, REJECTION OR MOVING ON- We Still Need Relationships

When we move through a transition in our lives, it is often because people in our lives have either rejected us or have died or have moved on themselves, sometimes it is because we have moved on ourselves or moved to a new destination so we leave people behind or outgrow them.  Some relationships are meant to be transitory, for a season and others to be of a more permanent nature, such as marriage, or kinship.

We were created to be in relationships, when God created man, He said it is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helper for him. When we lose a primary relationship through divorce or death, it can bring on intense feelings of loneliness, abandonment or rejection. This week I will discuss rejection and loneliness and the following week what we can do about it.

When you go through a divorce the feelings of rejection are intense especially if there is a third party involved.  You may beat yourself up, why was I not good enough? What does he see in her? The questions will mull around endlessly with no answers. Rejection affects the way we think and feel about ourselves and can spiral out of control into a depression. We may try to cling on to every bit of hope to try and get our ex-spouse back, layering even more rejection on at each rebuff, adding fuel to the fire already out of control and making us feel we want to take revenge. These are all negative and will not bring us peace of mind or joy, neither will they help us heal and learn new lessons becoming the person we were created to be.  Quite often, a divorce is part of a refining process, where you will be put through the fire and how you handle it will prove your character, whether it will consume and destroy you or bring out the beautiful qualities that are within you.

Widowhood can also bring on feelings of rejection or abandonment if the cause of death was self-inflicted, the same questions of, ‘was I not enough for him to hold onto life’ may haunt you. I had a fiancée who committed suicide and it was hard not to think that I was not enough for him to hold onto life and sort out his problems. I later came to realize that some depressions are a physical disease and just like cancer cannot be cured, resulting in the same end -death.

Moving destinations can also cause you to lose people in your life. People who you were once really close to, when you moved away no longer keep in touch, or maybe it was you who broke the communication by not responding to them. Either way some form of abandonment will be felt, especially when you thought they were a lifelong friend. It is good to view these as transitory friends and mourn their loss, although sometime later in your life you may pick up those strands of friendship again. After the Rhodesian diaspora many of my friends scattered over the globe as did I, as we moved around from address to address, we lost touch as there was no internet, only snail mail!  Today with social media, I have picked up ties with many of them again, being able to share our common history and struggles in our new environments, their friendship is richer and even more valuable now.

Loneliness is the result of this alienation, rejection or moving on.  This can be really hard to deal with especially if you have always had people around you that knew you and you could talk to. When loneliness takes over you are vulnerable to depression, self-harm or addictions and may start to live like a hermit without the confidence to move out and move on and find new people to relate to.

The first step of moving forward out of this vortex of depression and self-sabotage is accepting that this has happened, it is something that nothing you can do will change it. This is the start of taking your power back and getting out of victim mode. The second step is believing in yourself again, a beautiful person created in the image of God, someone who was born for a purpose and finding that person and purpose in life again, connecting with  God and asking for His help to bring you into alignment with His plans for your life. Thirdly is doing the hard work and changing your belief systems to empower you to make the changes you need to move into the next chapter in your life.  Next week’s blog will address some of those changes, so be sure to check in again next week………..

 

 

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

GRAFTED INTO THE LIVING TREE

In many ways it is much easier to understand spiritual concepts through metaphors and as an artist, I understand a lot more about God’s love through nature when I can see practical evidence than through mere words which do not capture my imagination, but often sound judgmental.

So, what can ‘being grafted in’ mean for those of us who have had to transition through difficult life circumstances with limited choices, escaped from countries where violence rules or been through a divorce?

As a young child I used to follow my father or grandfather around the garden.  One of the things they did was graft a bud from a new good bearing fruit tree onto the stock of an old fruit tree or one that was a strong grower but did not bear good fruit.  Some of the more delicate trees would not be able to withstand the climatic conditions, but the root stock could and so this symbiosis of the two would bring about the desired fruit.

The prophet Isaiah uses a tree metaphor pointing to the future birth of Christ from the lineage of David ‘a green shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, and from his roots a budding branch,’ He also said that the ‘Spirit of God would hover over him giving wisdom, understanding, direction and strength and the knowledge and the fear of God would be his joy and delight.’ The second half of the Isaiah passage has brought me much comfort where the budding branch (Christ) won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay; isn’t that just what we need? God knows the heart of these matters and will judge the needy by what is right and render justice to the poor.  When people only see what they want to see or hear what they want to hear, when the widow or divorcee has been treated unjustly, God will see and bring justice in his time.

This symbiosis of the root stock and the branch is mentioned again in Romans where Paul writes that the Gentiles (wild olive tree) have been grafted into Abraham’s tree, which was God’s special olive tree so that both could share the rich nourishment from God, for if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be too.

God has a lot to say about the treatment of widows, orphans and foreigners that they should be treated fairly. He made a lot of provisions for them in the laws that governed harvesting and reaping. In this modern age it is hard to see the equivalent when women are treated ‘equally’, orphans are put into foster homes and foreigners are welcome, yet often find it more difficult to get the same opportunities as others.  As I fitted into this category of widow and foreigner, I once asked my pastor how he saw me. He was surprised and said, ‘I see you as a competent woman!” This may have been so, but it did not address the loneliness I felt of being widowed, neither the feeling of alienation from the culture, being an ‘outsider’. This was the time I needed to be ‘grafted into’ the new community. How does that happen, I think it takes the symbiosis of accepting one another, the stable stock allowing the new bud to be grafted in, it also requires that the bud heal into the tissues of the stock and start drawing sap from the root which is grounded.  As the two grow together, the sap (the Spirit) will nourish and bring wisdom, understanding, direction and strength, trusting that God who makes things grow will certainly bring unity allowing relationships to flourish and grow.

The Tree of Life is mentioned in Revelation, where its leaves will be used for the healing of the Nations, in this time of mass migration and brokenness of the family structure, would it not be wonderful if we could learn from the tree and adapt and grow together, each branch grafted into its community and each nation being grafted into the Tree of Life where we would all be at peace with one another and have all our needs met. This is what God intended from the beginning so He could enjoy living among the people He created, He is the root and we are the branches and the sap is the Spirit of unity that binds us all together. Our church communities could be a starting point on a micro level! The weaker cannot thrive without the stronger, the old cannot bear as much good fruit without the strength and vitality of the new graft as it draws its strength for the roots the symbiosis is the living tree bearing good fruit.

Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

BLESSINGS OR CURSINGS

Today, I am going to walk you through a forest of different stories, they are linked by a theme of blessing or cursing. What does this mean for someone who has been widowed, gone through a divorce or lost their home?  What does this mean for those who are transitioning to new places? These stories symbolize to me God’s providential care and provision represented by the place trees held in the stories.

I was fascinated to learn the role trees played in early Biblical history. In the beginning God created trees and declared them good: they were to be used for man’s food and enjoyment. After Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit from the tree in the Garden of Eden, the first thing Adam and Eve did was to sew leaves together to cover themselves and hide in the trees. Instead of food trees were used for cover and protection!

Growing up in Africa with shady trees; we enjoyed many a meal or afternoon tea under a tree with our guests, a place of hospitality and protection from the sun. Abraham bought a plot of land at Mamre that had a cave and trees on it, he entertained God’s messengers under the trees, this is also where he buried his wife Sarah and others who died. Have you noticed that old graveyards have trees planted around them, especially the ones with tall cypress trees standing like sentinels to watch over the dead? Trees provide peace and protection to the dead and living alike.

When Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go, God sent a hailstorm that shattered the trees, and so began a pattern in the Old Testament of destroying trees as judgement. When they were about to besiege a city, the Israelites were instructed not to destroy the fruit trees, so they could eat the fruit but they could cut down non fruit bearing trees to make ladders, portable towers, and battering rams to get into the city. After the enemy was captured quite often the bodies were hung on trees. Jesus was hung on a tree when he was crucified; the symbol of redemption too, provision for our salvation protecting us from God’s wrath. Even in modern times this practice of hanging was practiced as a form of capital punishment.

There is a correlation between blessings and cursing with trees. When people turned away from God, their crops would be stunted, locusts would eat their plants, there would be droughts and fire and olive and fig trees be destroyed or not bear fruit. In other words, their provision and protection were withdrawn. On the other hand, when God blessed the people, their fruit trees and fields yielded bumper crops, and everyone lived in safety. The prophet Habakkuk said even if the fig tree did not blossom and there are no grapes on the vines and the crops and livestock failed, he would continue to rejoice in God his Savior. You may ask whether you are suffering under a curse when things seem bleak after your loss? Turning to God, will help transform your mindset to blessings even if you can’t see them right now, if you rejoice in the presence of God, you will still be under His covenant of provision and protection.

Trees were also used in decoration and celebration. God gave the blueprint for the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, to be made with richly carved and gilded wood. Solomon’s Temple was made with wood brought from the forests of Lebanon, firs, pines, and box trees carved and gilded to beautify the sanctuary. Medieval churches were also richly decorated, something modern man could be missing out on! The Festival of Booths, (boughs were cut from trees and booths were made from them) was to remind the Israelites they had lived in tents in the wilderness and God had provided both food and shelter for them and when they arrived in the Promised land, he gave them vineyards and olive trees they had not planted. This festival was at the end of the natural harvest cycle and was a joyful celebration. Our modern Harvest Festival has a similar tone, to celebrate the provision of God in the harvest.- Even families were likened to olive trees, the psalmist wrote “your wife shall be contented in your home, and the children sit around the dinner table as vigorous and healthy as young olive trees!” Again, a symbol of fruitfulness and provision and children would be a protection in their old age.

We may be travelling through a desolate place right now, through the wilderness, and yet God provides food and shelter in those places. When I think back to the times I have been through the wilderness after my divorce and widowhood, there has always been a roof over my head and food has been provided in one way or another. When I first started my new job in Johannesburg, the company put me up at a hotel for a couple of weeks. As I had made an international move, they extended my stay until the end of the month and my first paycheck.  I then stayed with a family member for a month until I could get my own apartment. The company also had a policy of ‘Meal Tickets’ which you could exchange for a meal at the local fast food stores.  I had had to move forward in faith not knowing how I would get by until my first paycheck and yet there was not a day I was not provided for. I have had to trust the Lord to protect me to take care of my children going to school, when I was seriously ill with a deep vein thrombosis and when they had to move overseas to make their own way in the world.

Sometimes we may have escaped from a situation where we felt like there was no fruit, no joy and no blessings, that we were being punished for what has gone wrong in our lives and bad choices we had made, our person-hood was under siege or we were the victim of other people’s choices. When next you look at trees, stop to think about what they symbolize – Enjoy their beauty and know that God will provide and protect you especially when you are going through the wilderness. “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4

Chopped tree
Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions

TREES AS METAPHORS FOR LIFE, GROWTH AND DEATH.

My grandfather had a saying, ‘I am nearer God’s heart in a Garden than anywhere else on earth’.  In many ways I think this is true, God walked and conversed with the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden.  There is a peacefulness among trees shading you from the sun as you listen to wind rustling in their leaves. There are so many sayings and metaphors written about trees – poets, artists, writers and philosophers have sat and thought great thoughts under trees.

Author L M Montgomery has captured the essence of trees through the voice of Anne of Green Gables, ’I could not live where there are no trees, something vital in me would starve’; Anne named trees that delighted her senses. This probably rubbed off on me as I sat in my beloved tree house reading Anne of Green Gables and being entranced with the lovely purple tubular flowers of the jacaranda tree.

Oak trees have associations with death. At the Memorial Service for my late father one of our friends said, “A Mighty Oak has Fallen”. This was appropriate for my father, who had been well respected leader in the institutions in which he worked in Africa. Another tree that spoke of death was the tree upon which the Savior of the world died, the old rugged cross. People were buried under oak trees and David’s son Absalom caught his hair in the branches of an oak tree and died.

Trees have many symbolic and metaphorical meanings. A sapling needs protection from the wind and deer, it needs to be watered and nourished until its roots are deep enough to find its own nutrients and water. As children we require the protection and nourishment that our parents give us to grow strong enough to stand on our own two feet. Sometimes they overprotect us, and we don’t develop our own strength and become dependent on others to support us when the parental role has gone.  Sometimes they don’t protect us enough and we are stunted or get damaged by droughts or predators. This can cause difficulties in our adult life and in relationships and sometimes it takes a failed marriage to understand what needs to change and maybe a bit of pruning or reshaping is required to grow strong and healthy again.

Growing a heathy tree takes time and good practices. You will notice the growth rings on a tree that has been chopped down, these rings are year on year growth, emotional intelligence, mental capacity, physical strength and spiritual growth.  When the rings are even and close together the trunk of the tree is strong, when there are gaps, unevenness or damage, these are places when rot can set in. Protect them by renewing your mind, getting rid of old belief systems, choose actions that protect and not harm you, making you strong and healthy.

Once the roots of the tree are well established, they go deep down into the soil to find nutrients and water necessary to sustain the life of the tree. The sap runs up and down the tree, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing it as oxygen, keeping our environment healthy too.  The roots in a forest entwine with other tree roots making a stable tree community in the forest. We need to be kept accountable by being rooted in a community where we will flourish; a lone tree stands danger of being struck by lightning, eaten by deer or being chopped for firewood. If we don’t have a supporting community, we are an easy target for those who would harm us.

The trunk of an established tree stands firm supporting the branches and carries nutrients from the roots. It has some flexibility when the wind blows, its strength preventing the tree from being blown over; year on year it becomes stronger and stronger.  Our growth into maturity should be supporting all our activities (the branches) our relationships and our emotional intelligence. Each year a layer of wisdom added from our life experiences, we should be able to discern our places of weakness and attend to them so we become strong and not be swayed by the winds of other people’s opinions, but be confident in our decision making abilities with the help of our inner guide, the Holy Spirit.

Branches grow upwards and outwards, they provide shelter to birds and small creatures, they provide shelter from the storm and shade from the sun. The branches bear fruit providing food or beauty for the eye of the beholder. As we mature, our branches are our children, families, and relationships with others, providing for them, shelter, food and pleasure. We reach out to our neighborhood and beyond with the abundance of our excess. Some of the fruit remains on the branches, for the birds, animals and the poor and hungry.  This is mentioned as ‘gleaning’ in the Bible, people were instructed not to strip their fruit trees but to leave some fruit for the widows, aliens and orphans. Giving to those in need from your excess, to charities helping the poor and needy.

What about the leaves?  The colors of fall are a delight to the eye when the leaves are their brightest, before they drop from the tree. Leaves are seasonal, they sing and dance in the breeze, and provide a mulch for the tree where the leaves break down and once again enter the soil as nutrients the tree will take up in its next season. I love the metaphor of the seasons, at times we can be so busy doing, we don’t have time to just be. After a busy season of growing fruit and harvesting it is time to rest. We think we have to be constantly busy doing and working, but that is not the pattern God set for our lives, there are seasons of growth and seasons to rest and be still, there are seasons to bear fruit and seasons where there is little or no fruit.

When we go through transitions, we are like trees that need to rest, to conserve and renew our energy, it is the end of that season in our life. We may even be transplanted if we move to a new location, this will take a long time before our roots settle down into the new soil and find their food and nutrients.  Until we become stable again, we will be vulnerable. These are the times we need to be nurturing and taking the most care of ourselves, so our roots survive enabling us to thrive and bear fruit in another season. Take the time to walk and talk with God in your new garden, so He can infuse you with life and vitality as the sap rises again.

Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel

PEEPING THROUGH MY TREE HOUSE WINDOW – The Blessings of Trees

Oh how my eyes just drank in the sight of those beautiful colors! In fact, I copied a painting in the Queensland Art Gallery of people sitting under a jacaranda tree enjoying tea, so that I could keep this little snapshot memory for when I wanted to pull it out again.

On many of my travels I have gazed out of the coach window at mile upon mile of forests, whether in Finland, Scotland, Australia or Pennsylvania. So this month my theme is trees.

Trees have played a big part in my life growing up in Africa, where trees were abundant. As children, we could climb without restriction and soon learnt not to climb where we could not get down again, our hand, eye and foot co-ordination became fine-tuned to climbing up and down trees like monkeys. My grandfather built us a beautiful double story tree house in a jacaranda tree, where we spent many happy hours (it could be used as extra emergency accommodation!) We spent most of our days outside, playing in or under the trees or hauling a basket of textbooks up a fruit tree to sit and do our homework where we could enjoy the fruit while we studied. Our primary school headmaster would say to the class “Take your Readers and go sit under the trees”, we did not think we were deprived, we loved being outdoors. On Sundays groups of people could be seen gathered in the shade of trees holding their church services.

I checked my Bible to see what God had said about trees. They were right there in the beginning in the Garden of Eden, God created them, and they were good! He created a huge variety of trees for different purposes, food, beauty, shelter and decoration as well as having symbolic and metaphoric meanings.

When I moved countries or even towns that had a distinctive climate, I had to adjust to different trees. It can be something as simple as a tree that will bring back memories and longings for a place you once lived. My first move was to Port Elizabeth on the South African east coast, it was not called “the Windy City” for nothing; the few trees that grew there were bowed in the direction the wind blew, and after a few months of living there, I admired their tenacity to thrive in that climate!  I missed the jacarandas with their purple carpets and flamboyant trees with their flame-red colored flowers, I missed the wet and dry tropical seasons, when the Msasa trees would come out in their cloaks of different oranges, reds and greens against the granite hillsides. I missed that landscape, I had to adjust to my new landscape which was mostly windblown, but on a good day there were magnificent beaches where you could walk for miles and hear the waves crashing on the beach licking the salt spray from your lips, enjoying the sight of seagulls coming into land and fight amongst themselves.  It took a while to adjust from enjoying my old landscape to embracing my new landscape and feeling at home in it.

On a visit to Australia, once again I could enjoy the beautiful jacaranda and flamboyant trees, the climate of Queensland being close enough to that of Rhodesia to support tropical trees.  Oh how my eyes just drank in the sight of those beautiful colors! In fact, I copied a painting in the Art Gallery of people sitting under a jacaranda tree enjoying tea, so that I could keep this little snapshot memory for when I wanted to pull it out again. Memories of the good days and what I had left behind, but without the longing for being there, it was merely the beauty I had enjoyed that fed my senses. When we leave a part of our life behind, we know we cannot go back again, but we can have a little snapshot or window we can peek through from time to time to light the spark of joy we felt then. Treasure those memories.

Journeying through the forests of Finland was a new experience for me, I had never seen so many fir and birch trees before.  The Finnish culture is built around their forests and lakes and I was fascinated to learn that trees are planted when someone is born so that in eighty years’ time, they will be ready to be harvested to pay the person’s death duties!  They have a wonderful way of planting and harvesting the trees that does not deplete the planet, the trees fall into the rhythm of life. Sometimes it is good to realize that life has stages in it and we need to adapt and plan for those stages, what foresight the Finns have in planting trees!

Modern life has made us feel that we need instant solutions or gratification, but when you go through transitions it take  time, it takes understanding of where you are in your life cycle, it takes understanding of your roots, (mine felt cut off when I left my land of birth). Take those happy memory snapshots to keep with you, but also learn to plan ahead for your future needs, which like a tree need time to grow. Remember the provision of God and the beauty in the variety of your inner and outer landscapes, you can grow with them and mature like those beautiful trees.

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

MY TEARS ARE COLLECTED IN A BOTTLE

On a visit to Pennsylvania the friend I visited would collect water in containers at the local spring.  I was fascinated by this; as we searched for the spring which was hidden away alongside a small road. We carried our empty containers down to the collecting pipes and filled them. Once the containers were full, they became heavy and more difficult to maneuver. That was the week’s drinking water supply and it made me realize if you must collect and carry your own water, you won’t waste a drop!  We have lost that sense of preciousness of water, by having it on tap when we turn on the faucet.  How much do we waste?

When we look from the perspective of water as a precious commodity it really helps to understand why wars were fought over wells and springs in the past. Armies needed to set up camp at a spring so that their horses and men could be watered and refreshed. King Hezekiah had prepared for war by fortifying Jerusalem and constructing an underground tunnel to bring fresh water into the city from a spring outside the walls, as he knew they would be under siege. He decided to plug the springs outside so the enemy could not have access to water.

The children of Israel camped a long time in Elim where there were twelve springs of water and palm trees. God promised them the land they were going to was a land of brooks, pools, gushing springs, valleys, and hills. Can you imagine after being in the desert for such a long time, thirsty for lack of water what this promise meant to them, not having to search for water and carry it with them until the next place they could find water? When they arrived in the Promised Land, Caleb gave his daughter some land for a wedding gift but it was desert, so she asked him for land with springs as well.

When a very dear friend of mine died her daughter asked me to do a painting for her from Psalm 84:6 “When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of springs where pools of blessing and refreshment collect after rains!” this reminded her of her Mom’s life and her last struggle with cancer. We all prayed so hard for healing, and believed it would come, but after a short struggle my friend died. We were all devastated that this precious woman could go so quickly. Yes, when we go through the loss of a dear friend or family member, we shed many tears, our eyes will leak at the slightest thing and yet this is a necessary part of the grieving process.  Grief helps us to treasure those tears, they are valuable in processing the loss and remembering all the good and wonderful blessings we received through that person’s life. Not a tear is wasted, in fact the psalmist said ‘You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book.” Just as I came to realize when you must collect your own water, you wont waste it. How amazing that God will not let your tears be wasted either. He stores them for refreshment later.

There will come a time when you will be happy and joyful again, when you have processed the loss and accepted it was part of your life’s journey. The prophet Isaiah puts it so well, “The lame man will leap up like a deer, and those who could not speak will shout and sing! Springs will burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” You will also have treasured memories in your heart, those tears you shed will become like pools of blessing as you remember the precious life of your loved one and that life is not limited to the here and now but is eternal.

Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel

THE BOUNDARIES ON YOUR TRIALS HAVE BEEN SET

One of my favorite places to visit when I lived in Cape Town was Blouberg Strand. Most of the iconic photos of Cape Town have been taken from here as you look across the bay onto the table like profile of Table Mountain with its cloth of cloud hanging over the side. The beach is wide and you can sit there wriggling your toes in the warm soft sand watching the seagulls scrapping for food and listening to the waves as they roll in and crash upon the beach. As the smell of seaweed wafts by and the seagulls screech overhead, the waves mesmerize you rolling in and sucking back.  I found there was something very healing just sitting watching the waves meditating on the timelessness of the ocean. It has been there from the beginning of Creation, the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters before there was light. God “laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths, He assigned the sea its boundaries and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.”

My move to Cape Town was several years after my divorce where I had to make a new life for the children and I. It was a beautiful place to make a new start and we would go down to the beach quite often. I enjoyed living at the sea after having lived inland for most of my life. That time of rest at the beach from the hard work of being a single parent used to refresh me as the children enjoyed playing in the sand at the water’s edge. In winter it was a different scene when gale force winds would whip up the foam and the sea became an angry and seething mass of waves crashing onto the beach bringing up flotsam from the ocean floor. Occasionally the tide would rise so high it crossed the boardwalk onto the road and I was reminded that the Lord “defines the ocean’s sandy shoreline as an everlasting boundary that the waters cannot cross. The waves may toss and roar, but they can never pass the boundaries I set.”

Years later after moving countries and I was in a serious condition with pneumonia and could not travel to visit my daughter for a special birthday, I was reminded of this time at Blouberg and I did a painting to comfort myself as my travel plans were cancelled, “All your waves and billows have gone over me, and floods of sorrow pour upon me like a thundering cataract.” I drew myself as a vulnerable tiny person held in God’s hand as the waves washed over His hand protecting me. In the curl of the wave I drew a tree representing Psalm 23, leading me besides still waters, that even though the waves were billowing over me, I could still find the peace.

Sometimes we may have to navigate more than one transition at a time, suffering a loss and having to relocate at the same time.  This can certainly put a strain on you as you work through grief and starting a new life somewhere else. At times life may just throw you a curved ball on top of this and you feel overwhelmed with the difficulties as they seem to roll in one after another in waves. That was certainly how I felt at that time.  But it was having imprinted on my memory the happy and beautiful times of sitting on Blouberg Beach, that I could make this a place of refuge in my mind. I would repeat The Lord is my Shepherd to myself and imagine I was sitting on the beach with the Lord beside me and knowing He had set a boundary for the sea, He also had set a boundary on my trials, the psalmist said “Give your burdens to the Lord. He will carry them. He will not permit the godly to slip or fall” and again, “He reached down from heaven and took me and drew me out of my great trials. He rescued me from deep waters.” Yes, I missed my daughter’s birthday, but I recovered my health and was able to visit another time. I was disappointed, but I was given the grace and the strength to see that trial through and my painting has encouraged others too when they have felt overwhelmed by the billows of life crashing over them.

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

WHEN YOU GO THROUGH THE RIVER OF DIFFICULTY, YOU WONT DROWN

I was born in a country that has two great rivers for borders, the one was the Zambezi on which the Victoria Falls is situated and is a treacherous river with crocodiles and hippopotami.  It is also one of the most beautiful rivers when the sun is setting, and the sounds of wildlife and birds fill the air.  The sun has a magnificent orange glow that sets the river on fire and silhouettes the palm trees, and as you listen to the lapping of the water on the shore or on the boat for the Sunset Cruise, there is no more beautiful place on earth. I can imagine this was like the river mentioned in the Garden of Eden. The southern border of my land of birth was the great, grey, greasy Limpopo River cited by Rudyard Kipling in the Elephant’s Child in Just So Stories, also a dangerous river with crocodiles and hippopotami. People have lost their lives trying to cross these rivers, the Limpopo in particular, as it is shallower and people wanting to cross without going through the border post stand in danger of losing their lives if they risk crossing.

There were times when I was trying to relocate internationally that the bureaucracy was unbearable. To obtain all the documentation and proof of identity that was required of me, was difficult to get from a country in chaos. This among other things made leaving my land of birth a hard time.  But harder still was leaving family and friends and the land that was and still is beautiful. I cherish the memories of my childhood years and the land of freedom and milk and honey (so it seemed to me). I have moved internationally four times and each time has had its difficulties, but I also learned how to navigate through the bureaucracy making it that much easier each time.

I have never been tempted to swim the Limpopo river! I crossed the Beitbridge which takes you into South Africa. I leant all I could about the country on the other side of the bridge and taking the steps necessary to be able to cross over at the Immigration post with my paperwork in order, knowing I had a job waiting for me so I could pay my way. This is part of the process getting to know the culture, language, geography and history of the place your are relocating to, making the transition easier.

I kept my faith that the path that God was leading me was the right one for me and took comfort in the words of Isaiah “When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up—the flames will not consume you.” That is such a comforting verse for people leaving a conflicted land. Not only that, but Isaiah goes on to say “For I’m going to do a brand-new thing. See, I have already begun! Don’t you see it? I will make a road through the wilderness for my people to go home and create rivers for them in the desert!” Words of hope for the future!

Yes, the Lord has been gracious and given me a future in each land I have lived, it has not been an easy road, but with God’s help there has been work that I could do and people to help me when I have sought them out in the churches in my new location. If you are going through an international relocation right now, patiently follow the process, there is no quick and easy way. Take comfort that God goes with you and is with you through each of the trials you may face.  Treasure the memories of your past place of living, but keep them in a box to be pulled out every now and then to be enjoyed, mourn the loss of your past life, but also embrace the new, letting the past remain there, it cant be changed. Focus on building up your new life, making new friends and contacts and exploring your new environment. In due course you will feel like a native in your new land.

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

REFRESHED AT THE FOUNTAIN

During my travels, I have come across many different fountains, from exotic colored musical fountains to simple garden fountains.  There is something soothing about watching the rise and fall of water as it makes patterns, droplets, glistening like diamonds as they tumble down only to be sucked up again to rise in a glorious pattern repeated again and again.

I think it is this repeating pattern of joy that the psalmist was thinking about when he wrote “For you are the Fountain of life; our light is from your light.” There are many mentions of fountains in the Old Testament; people who lived in the desert and dry landscapes where water was so precious.  For us modern man we have lost the awe for water as we can turn on a faucet at any time and be refreshed: but for those who were thirsty travelers, it must have been such a relief to find a fountain. Proverbs states that ‘reverence for the Lord is a fountain of life, its waters keep a man from death’ and ‘wisdom is the fountain of life to those possessing it’.

When you are travelling through life transitions, especially when you feel dry and shriveled up with the cares of trying to find your way out of this desolate place and you can’t seem to find refreshment, anywhere or your pitcher is broken and the water runs out. This is the time to hold tightly onto your faith, John the Baptist said, “Those who believe him discover that God is a fountain of truth”.

There were many times I felt dried out as a single parent trying to manage a career, attend to my children’s needs, keep the home running smoothly, making ends meet, maintaining a social life and doing ministry. I am not going to tell you I just sat in front of a fountain and felt better!!!! No, but the fountain showed me a truth, it is the repeated pattern that is the key.  Reading God’s word, and affirmations about who I was, who He was and that He cared about me and the children.  It was the daily quiet times spent in prayer and meditation letting His words wash over me, it was the listening to music that soothed my soul that refreshed me, even if it was just for the next half hour, I could go on.

There is no instant turning on the faucet to get relief when you are going through these difficult transitions, I wish there was! Isaiah said “I will open up rivers for them on high plateaus! I will give them fountains of water in the valleys! In the deserts will be pools of water, and rivers fed by springs shall flow across the dry, parched ground.” Rain is seasonal and in South Africa there are many dry riverbeds. Local people may have to dig down into the riverbed to find some water which they will carefully lift out with a cup or a bowl just enough to sustain them another day. So, it is with us, just enough of God’s word to sustain us through this day waiting for a time when there will be showers of blessing and the dry rivers will run again.  It is through these dry times that we can really appreciate a word of encouragement from someone else who can empathize with us and reassure of God’s love in our difficulties. Once we are through this season in life let us be that fountain of joy and hope to another struggling through their time of loss, disappointment or despair. Don’t let us be like the person in Proverbs who polluted the fountain, by compromising with the wicked. Our words will carry weight, choose them carefully. Rather, be present and let silent prayers of love and encouragement wash over their suffering, than say something judgmental that would hurt them further. Let the joy of sparkling water droplets be the words that fall from your lips to sustain them another day

Hydrangeas
Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

Bridal Bouquets

BRIDAL BOUQUETS

I could not let June go by without talking about bridal bouquets! When I was a child, Mario Lanza would sing a song from “The Student Prince”, about ‘taking your girl for a honeymoon in June, June’s the month for honeymoon’. There are numerous songs written on this theme, and it seems that June has been singled out for marriage, perhaps resulting from the romance of Valentine’s day earlier in the year with the red roses!

When I walk down the street and peek into people’s gardens at this time of the year I am amazed at the variety of beautiful white blossoms, many of which remind me of a bridal bouquet with long trailing stems or lovely compact posies of tightly packed florets. (If you see me stopped outside your house one day just gazing at your flowers, I am merely appreciating God’s beautiful creations and not just being a crazy woman! )

We were talking about not worrying about our temporal needs last week.  Our provision which once was God’s natural provision for families through marriage has been removed, by divorce, widowhood or loss. After a time of grieving and learning to manage on our own and rejoicing in the provision we have had for several seasons in our lives, there may come a time when God wants to provide for you again through the institution of marriage.

Once you have learned any lessons you needed to, in maintaining healthy relationships, settling family of origin issues or forgiveness and you feel that this where God is providing for you, you are ready to enter the dating world again.

The Song of Solomon is filled with love songs, poetry and flowers “My beloved is a bouquet of flowers in the gardens of Engedi”. This time of courting should be filled with the enjoyment of each other’s company and growing together spiritually, emotionally and mentally so you can establish a strong foundation for the relationship.

Romance is fostered by the bringing of flowers and bouquets “My beloved is mine and I am his. He is feeding among the lilies! His cheeks are like sweetly scented beds of spices. His lips are perfumed lilies, his breath like myrrh. He has gone down to his garden, to his spice beds, to pasture his flock and to gather the lilies.” This is a time to value one another, who you are and what each contributes to the relationship.

It is well worth your time to read all the wonderful descriptions this pair of lovers have for each other in the Song of Solomon, it is an example of how lovers need to appreciate one another. Many of the herbs and spices were expensive at that time, by comparing your lover to something that is precious and to be cherished will help establish how valuable a good loving relationship is, “You are like a lovely orchard bearing precious fruit, with the rarest of perfumes; nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, and perfume from every other incense tree, as well as myrrh and aloes, and every other lovely spice.” Do we get caught up in the daily routines of life and not make time to really connect on this deeper level of appreciation with prospective mates? When the heady time of love blossoming is over just like the  bouquet fades, and you have decided to make that permanent commitment – Celebrate the goodness of God and His provision for you both, and having grown together at a new and deeper level, with lessons learned from your past, you will travel the next part of your journey through life togeth

Desert cacti
Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

BLOOMING IN THE DESERT

BLOOMING IN THE DESERT  

I have travelled to many places all over the globe, and in each of those places I have found beauty.  I see beauty  mainly in nature in the amazing variety of indigenous flora. I have seen beautiful lace plants in Finland at dawn when the early morning sun turned every drop of dew into a diamond. I have seen acres of lupines alongside the roads.  During my stay in England, I never ceased to wonder at the amazing variety of bulbs that appeared in spring. I went to the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands to see the fields of tulips (my favorite flower, my late husband always gave me the first tulip of the season!) Australia has its variety of flowers that in many ways are similar to those I grew up with in Rhodesia, the beautiful purple jacaranda trees lining the avenues throwing down their purple carpet.  Flamboyant and tulip trees with their red carpets of fallen petals beneath them.  In South Africa in the Western Cape, the fynbos has a special kind of flora indigenous to that region, and Namaqualand daisies that only flower once a year after rain has fallen in the desert.

What is the difference between thriving and surviving? Indigenous plants flourish and thrive because they are in their home environment and have adapted to the conditions, so they grow strong and healthy. Desert plants do not thrive in wet conditions and visa-versa. After I had been divorced, I felt uprooted, I left my country of birth, I was transplanted into a new environment when I moved to Johannesburg and Cape Town.  In these right conditions I started to thrive, I found new friends who uplifted me, a church that supported me in my journey into wholeness and work that I loved. Because I thrived and grew in my new environment it helped my children to as well.  There were difficult times as well, but we lived through the storms, because we were in the right environment.  After my husband died, I transferred to the UK to start my life again.  This time around was a lot harder as the environment was more difficult to adapt to.  The weather for a start!  Eventually I established myself in my new environment, but I am not sure whether I was merely surviving, I would not classify my existence as joyfully thriving though! After a time of rest and renewal since retiring and moving to the USA I found I was thriving again.  I had found my right environment, a church that practices a creative ministry where I can use my gifts, family around me and friends young and old whose company I enjoy.

Sometimes we may just be in an environment that is not conducive to thriving after we have been divorced or lost a loved one.  Our inspiration and will to live is battered by these storms.  Do you wait out the storm and bloom in the desert like the Namaqualand daisies? or do you transplant to a better environment where you can thrive?  Those are questions you will need to answer for yourself. The prophet Isaiah has some words to encourage us “Even the wilderness and desert will rejoice in those days; the desert will blossom with flowers”. And again “Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! The deserts will become as green as the Lebanon mountains, as lovely as Mount Carmel’s pastures and Sharon’s meadows; for the Lord will display his glory there, the excellency of our God.”  Ask God where He wants you to bloom, be it the desert, mountains or meadows. Wherever it is He will display His glory through you.

Copyright Deryn van der Tang 2019

Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

YOU WILL NOT BE BURNED

2019-03-02 09.44.52For the past three weeks I have spoken about wind, how it disperses seed to grow, lifts us above our circumstances and give us energy to move forward.  Today I want to focus on fire which is also a necessary element to growth.  

There is a beautiful flower in Cape Town, in fact the national flower of South Africa, the Protea. This plant amongst other ‘fynbos’ plants requires fire before the seeds can germinate.  Fynbos needs to burn at least every decade to keep regenerating the species and the local ecosystem. Dormant seeds which may have been buried under the soil for a few years are triggered by the heat of the fire to stimulate growth. The fire burns out all the old undergrowth and seeds that have been carried away or buried by rodents, birds, ants and insects lie waiting and when the rain comes continue with the growth process. Depending on the heat of the fire, some may only be triggered to germinate after waiting fifty years! Fire can occur naturally with a lightning strike, accidentally with sun rays through a broken glass shard or deliberately with arson. Fires are unpredictable and so it is with the germination of different seeds after each fire and its intensity and how soon the rain falls after the fire! This is such a marvelous example of what is was like at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit arrived with wind and fire to empower the disciples after Jesus’ ascension into heaven and His continued work in the world today. They did not know what would happen next! Neither do we – growth happens in unexpected ways, in fits and starts.

Sometimes when we are going through a time of intense grief and struggle, trials and tribulations, God is using the same process that the protea requires. Perhaps there are a lot of old ideas and beliefs that hinder us and need to be burnt out.  Perhaps our ‘shell’ is so hard it takes the extreme heat of the trials to trigger growth for us.  Perhaps it is the timing – it is also unpredictable.  How often we want the predictable and understandable, our routines and comfort zones.  It may then take an extremely hot fire to move us to growth. We need to learn to let go of the predictable when we go through these life transitions and rather hold on with faith, that at the right time and conditions we will grow and flourish and maybe even bloom in the desert.

Fire in the Bible had a very special symbolism. God said, ‘When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not consume you.’ God stood with Shadrach, Mesheck and Abednego in the fiery furnace and they were not burned. So, Moses was given his commission at the burning bush; Isaiah was given his when the seraphim placed a burning coal on his lips and sent him on his mission. Fire is used to refine gold and silver to burn off the dross, it symbolizes holiness, intersession and worship and incense on the altar as our prayers ascend to God.

If we were to look at our current trials through the lens of God’s growth and refining process, it enables us to use the energy of the heat to spurt on new growth and momentum in moving forward.  We may not know what happens next, but if we allow the process to take place, will we indeed bloom like the beautiful King Protea and know that God is still working with us and preparing us for our mission in life.

 

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel, Uncategorized, Widowhood

Wind Energy

On a recent trip to Pennsylvania, I travelled across the hillsides dotted with wind-turbines, their massive white bases reaching high into the sky and their silver arms slowly circling in massive arcs across the landscape.  I will not go into the pros and cons of this method of harvesting energy as I don’t want to step into a minefield.  The Dutch had used wind as a method of collecting energy for centuries, their picturesque windmill sails capturing the wind to grind their crops, this was far easier than turning the millstones by hand,

On this meditation on wind, I was struck again how God has given us nature to help us, we just need to be channels for His energy to flow.  What is wind? We can’t see it yet we can hear it, feel it and see the effects is has. It is naturally occurring air flowing through the earth’s atmosphere. Jesus mentioned this when he was talking to Nicodemous, a religious leader, telling him how hard it is to explain spiritual things, they are like wind, you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going, yet you are aware of it.

Like a windmill when you are facing difficult situations, you need the courage to face them head on, as a windmill faces into the strongest wind, the sails or blade of the windmill are set to capture the most energy. Quite often it can be anger or fear at a situation that drives the energy to move things forward.  Righteous anger in unjust situations can be a powerful force to motivate you out of lethargy into taking the necessary action to protect yourself or to make courageous choices.

The Holy Spirit was described as a rushing wind. He was sent as a Comforter and Helper, I like to think that as we make ourselves available, open our heart and arms and set our face towards God, the Holy Spirit will give us the power, the energy and the help that we need to move through our problems, giving us the insight and understanding of what we need to do or whether we need to wait.  Sometimes the arms of a windmill stand still, they are just waiting for the wind to blow again to set them in motion. Sometimes we too need to listen until we can hear the movement of the Holy Spirit moving us on again, we may have had to reset our sails to face in another direction to catch the energy.  Being in tune with the flow of energy around us and linking up with others who are also on this journey gives us more power.  Just like the wind farms all link up to the grid and provide energy that can be utilized anywhere the grid can be switched to where industries and people need it.

By linking up with a support group to go with you through your grief process and transition back into singlehood will give you the motivation, support and energy when you need it. This is true for whatever problems you may be faced with, find a group of people who you are able to connect with to get the synergy of working together and getting things done.  I invite you to join my private FaceBook Group for the Hero’s Journey through Grief, Divorce and Loss.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/324574228228420/?ref=bookmarks

Next time the wind blows, or you see the wind turbines give a thought to the positive energy we can tune into by setting our sails into the wind of God’s power through the Holy Spirit.

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Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Widowhood

Seeds Need the Wind

Have you ever decided to go out for a walk on a glorious spring morning, only to find it turns into a dismal day with a howling gale ready to sweep you of your feet?

Spring is a time a when the weather is really unsettled, and it is hard to decide what to wear or what to do when you get up each day.  When you are going through a transition, you will find that you also can feel this way.  There is overwhelm, fear and maybe also sadness and depression making it hard to get out of bed in the mornings and focus on the day’s tasks. Especially as you work through grief and loss – you will get these days.

As an artist, I look to find answers in nature that are metaphors for what is going on in our lives.  The amazing thing is that the Bible also uses these metaphors so we can get answers and when I was meditating on the spring winds that brings in the season in Ecclesiastes, the wisdom was there! “He who watches the wind waiting for all conditions to be perfect will not sow seed and he who looks at the clouds will not reap a harvest.”  What the writer was saying was there are some things that you cant be sure of, you just have to take the chance and plant your seeds anyway.  We always want to be sure of our outcomes in the decisions we make, this is not always possible, we need to make decisions when the conditions are relatively good, but not perfect, and get moving with it because the perfect conditions will probably never be there. If you don’t make that decision to plant your seeds, being afraid of every cloud that could bring rain, you wont have a crop to harvest anyway!

Another lesson I found in nature was the wind was absolutely necessary for planting of seeds. How is this?  There are certain seeds that are only dispersed by the wind, when their seed capsule opens, the seeds with wings or parachutes need the wind to take them far from the parent plant to start a new colony further away, so there will not be too much competition for the same resources. As I walked along the side walk I saw thousands of winged seeds that had just fallen to the ground waiting for the wind to blow them into a place where they could take root and flourish.  How many of those seeds would survive?  I can imagine that not many of them would have made it to a new place where they could thrive.  Yes, there will be disappointments when your decisions don’t work out, you will make mistakes, there will be times of discouragement but trusting God to take just one of your seeds to a place where it will grow and thrive you will reap that harvest.

I have had to make many of these decisions as I have moved countries when I was both divorced and widowed, I had no idea how I was going to be provided for at the time, but the conditions were as good as they were going to get, I just had to make that call and pack my bags. There were mistakes I made, there were discouragements and times of extreme loneliness as I struggled through these decisions, but each struggle made me grow my root further and further into the soil of God’s love and provision for me and strengthened my faith.

If you are going through the winds of adversity at this time, and don’t know which way to go, I would love to hear from you and walk with you through this struggle. There is a seed of good in what you are going through that needs to be planted.

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Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Widowhood

RESURRECTION

 

As we head into Easter and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, thoughts of what resurrection really means crossed my mind which I want to share with you.  When I was a child, we used to climb up a massive granite kopjie (a hill made up of rock) called Domboshawa.  It was always a treat to head there for a picnic to climb and slide down the rocks. On this rock mass there grew a plant called Resurrection bush, a woody shrub which when you looked at it, you thought it was dead, it was lifeless, dried up and black. This bush would suddenly burst into a mass of glossy green leaves as soon as it rained.  We used to love to pick a few twigs and take them home and put in a jar of water, when we woke up in the morning, the twigs had come to life and were full of green leaves!

When we have been through a time of grief and loss, we can feel lifeless and dried up, with no future. Going through the caring process with my late husband until he passed, I had felt my life blood being drained with the stress and demands of his illness and having to provide for everything, at times I thought I would be six feet under before him.  There are times in transitions that you will feel thoroughly depleted as you have used all your energy to cope with just getting through the day. But as the journey progresses you learn new ways to cope or it is necessary to take a regular rest breaks to recover.  What you really need is that refreshing rain to bring you to life again and flourish and thrive.

What we are looking for is for our life to be restored and renewed.  The plant had conserved its energy by shriveling up until the rain when it was rehydrated and able to mperform its process of photosynthesis to make energy again. We need to take care of ourselves and conserve what energy we have until our situation passes or the initial phases of grief have subsided, and we are in the healing process.  There is a fountain where we can sit, meditating on Scripture and quietly wait for the new life and vitality to seep back into our souls. Sitting watching water flow, a fountain, river, waves washing onto the beach or any place where you can see and hear the

This is a season in our life, and we need to recognize it and know that as surely as Easter comes around every year and the trees burst into blossom every year, so this season of dryness and death will be a part of our lives in one form or another. But just as it is part of our walk though life so are the refreshing rains and fountains.  We are restored, made new, reanimated we are resurrected.

Think about what ‘The Resurrection’ means to you – are you in a dry place now? Or have you found the fountain and are being refreshed and restored? I would love you to share with me where you are on your journey through loss.

 

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Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Transitions, Travel, Widowhood

PILLARS OF FIRE AND CLOUD

On this third meditation on travel, I will talk about God’s presence on the journey. It is not always easy to discern, especially as your emotions are running high in times of grief and stress.  I took comfort in verses about God’s presence with the children of Israel through the wilderness.  “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.  Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” I could identify this with a steam train whose engine was up ahead pulling the carriages behind it, smoke billowing out of the stack. In the daytime it looks like white smoky cloud and at night you can see the sparks glowing in the dark.

Many of the journeys I have taken have been by train.  In fact, I think I enjoy train travel the most, particularly steam trains. The routes are direct as the rail system is set along specific lines. I like the clickety clack of the wheels running over the tracks, and if it is a sleeper, the comfortable bunk beds and food in the dining car. It is more leisurely, and you can enjoy the scenery as you go clicking by, making a pleasant journey.

I have travelled through the desert in Botswana and the train I was travelling on in Rhodesia was stoned during political upheavals – probably most of my adventures in travel have been on trains. I have travelled on high speed trains, but steam trains are still my favorite.  I have puffed through the Welsh Valleys on a narrow-gauge steam train enjoying the magnificent scenery. In Queensland Australia, I have travelled through multiple tunnels on the Karunda railway, where I could marvel at the workmanship of the tunnels and forests.

I was travelling on the Sky Rail down the mountain at Karunda when I had a moment of terror suspended midair over the tropical forest. The Skyrail, is a cable rail with three stations down the mountain where the cable cars are suspended as they are winched down the mountain in three stages, as it is so high.  I was all by myself in the car when it suddenly jolted to a stop and there I was swinging, suspended way above the forest in the mist and wind.  I felt so alone and adrift at that point. I knew if the car fell off the rail into that forest, it would not be found for days, and not a soul in the world would know where I was.  I was out of phone touch with my family, they knew I was in Queensland but not where. This thought terrified me, to be so totally alone on the face of the globe, as I hung there dangling and swaying above the forest.  Suddenly I had the feeling of God’s presence with me, and He said, “while you are up here take the opportunity to appreciate my creation from a new angle, just look at those amazing tree ferns growing out of the top of the trees, look at the variety of trees and plants” – that calmed me immediately and I took out my sketch book and started sketching the top of the forest! After a few scary jerks, the car made its way down to the next stop and the bottom of the mountain.

This last incident truly cemented my belief that there is no place that God is not with us, and for the most part on our journey through life He is there going before us like the steam engine, we may not know what is going to be ahead of us, but He does, and the tracks we go along will lead us there eventually.  There may be scary places along the way, but His presence is with you at those moments. Sometimes we just have to trust that all will be well.

What have been your scary moments? How were you able to get through them?  I would love for you to share your story with me in the comments below.  If you are still struggling with fear of moving on, please contact me  so I can walk with you through your fear.

Grief, Transitions, Widowhood

WE HAVE SERVED OUR GENERATION

I recently went on a trip to Pennsylvania. It was midwinter and there were thick snow drifts alongside the main road.  The magic of the winter wonderland was not lost on me and I wanted to take photographs.  Passing a cemetery, I looked at the rows of graves covered in snow, with the wind blowing snow across the desolate landscape.  Immediately I thought of the finality and coldness of death. People long gone planted beneath the frozen sod, covered in a blanket of snow.  And yet this picture gave me hope as well.

In Psalm 116, the psalmist says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is his loved ones, he does not let them lightly die.”  This has certainly been a comfort to me when beloved family and friends have died.  Paul also said in Acts 13:36 “For David, after he had served his generation according to the will of God, he died and was buried.” We all have a God given purpose to serve our generation, leaving our footprint in the hearts of our family and friends. When our time is done and our work is complete, we are called home to our eternal rest.

We certainly have questions when a loved one is called suddenly, but it is not why they are called we should question, but how can we use this suffering to be healed in our hearts and how can we help others to heal who have been through this experience?  My pastor told me Christ is unveiled in suffering when my fiancée took his own life. The suffering he went through with depression and the pain he left for his family to work through as he left this earth has enabled me to have compassion for those facing similar situations. The long journey through illness and dementia of my late husband taught me so much about having patience and the trauma caregivers have to work through, caring for their loved ones.

These experiences have certainly given me the insight and the compassion to walk with others through this rough patch on their journey of life.

Job certainly had a lot of grief to process in his life. Job 24:19 He said, “Death consumes sinners as drought and heat consume snow.” Looking at the graveyard deeply covered in snow, I could imagine the time when the sun would melt the snow and the grass would grow green and plants and trees in the graveyard would start to send out shoots. Job also said ( Job 37:6 } For he directs the snow, the showers, and storms to fall upon the earth. and cause the grain to grow and to produce seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry”.  Yes, when the coldness of death and grief has been processed those green shoots of life begin to grow as we take up life again.  This is also a time for growing in new directions and being able to produce a crop of goodness that will feed others.

This journey of grief takes time and maybe you are starting to feel the green shoot stirring in your heart and would like to pick up the pieces of your life again.  if you would like me to walk with you through this stage of your life, please get in contact with me through my web page http://www.crossingmybridges.com, I would love to give you a map and guide posts to help you find your way.

Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Transitions, Widowhood

YOUR JOURNEY THROUGH TRANSITIONS

cropped-scanfinaltransmap2-e1534282544842.jpgHERO’S JOURNEY MAP

From the day we are born to the day we die we are on a journey called LIFE! We will experience many things on this journey both happy and sad, some things we had a choice in and others that were done to us.  We will have learned many things, intellectually, physically and spiritually which have left an emotional footprint in our hearts.

I have been through the University of Life and have experienced the trauma of divorce and widowhood, I have had to move countries and adapt to different culture four times and now I have retired am moving into the second half of life, I also managed an old age home and learned how the final years of your life’s journey need to be planned.

With all this in mind I have designed a map to chart the pathway through these difficult transitions.  Allow me to hold your hand and guide you through your difficult places. Download the Map and Questionnaire here and feel free to reach out to me.

Your adventurous guide and mentor

Deryn

Divorce, Grief, Uncategorized, Widowhood

You are the Hero of Your Life’s Journey

Thank you for joining me!

You chart the path ahead of me, and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where where I am. Psalm 139:3 (NLV)

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“YOU ARE THE HERO OF YOUR LIFE’S JOURNEY – no one else can do it for you, others can point out the best route, they can encourage you and feed you, but you are the one who has to do the work putting one foot in front of the other to reach your destination.”

Have you ever had your life suddenly disrupted?  Life was jogging along with its routines and ups and downs when an event or news disrupts your life and it changes for ever.  You were thrown into a great ocean of emotions swirling and crashing around you, they ebbed and flowed like a giant tidal wave and you struggled to surface again.  How do you get back on track with your life again?

Or did you wake up one morning and look in the mirror and see your wrinkles and the spectre of old age looking back at you?

Hi, my name is Deryn, I was thrown into this life changing moment when at the age of 38 my husband of 17 years wanted a divorce. I had to cope as a single parent, I moved countries, changed jobs and had to start my life over.  This was the first of many re-inventions of my life, I realised that through these transitions I had built up resilience to change and could help guide others through their transitions.

I would have loved for someone to have helped me finding my way, a friend who could have guided me and encouraged me.  I did have the help of some family and friends and my faith in God which helped me back on my feet again.

I worked as a Geological Cartographer as well as an artist and I came up with the idea of a map designed as a guide to help you navigate through these transitions.  There are so many metaphors in the mining world that helped me see beyond the present circumstances, and I hope they will help others too.

You are the Hero of your own life’s journey, no one else can do it for you, others can point out the best route, they can encourage you and feed you, but you are the one who has to do the work putting one foot in front of the other to reach your destination.

So if you are willing for me to be a guide and help you navigate through your transitions, we will cross those bridges not only when we get to them, but we will plan for them in advance, as preparation is key to remaining calm and having a plan of action. This doesn’t mean you wont have the swirling emotions that go with them, but that you will be anchored. You have a map to find your way.

My secure world was shattered the day my husband asked for a divorce, and again later when the man I was going to marry committed suicide.  I never expected to be the carer for my late husband who had vascular dementia and the road that would lead me along.  I prepared well in advance for retirement, but even with all the planning and foresight, wisdom and experience it was still a difficult process that had to be navigated.

I am still on this journey called life, I still have my faith in God as that is my final destination and have that inner joy of being contentment in all circumstances and am rich in experiences which I shall be happy to share with you to encourage you along your pathway through life’s transitions.