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.