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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?