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

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.