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