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, 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, 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.