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?  

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

The Skip and Alignment with the Spirit Level

I was hurting after a betrayal of friendship and had taken myself off for the day to visit the Tate Modern Gallery in London for consolation and healing.  Art Galleries are my go-to place to lose myself and be inspired and I was really in need of a pick-me-up that day. As I walked around looking at the installations and pictures  I was feeling less than inspired when I walked into an Exhibition called “Between Object and Architecture” and saw a huge skip with builder’s rubble sitting in the middle of the floor, my first thought was the exhibition is not yet  open, but as looked around saw that the skip was part of the installations. I turned on my heel to head out of the door – ‘what rubbish’ I thought. I was stopped in my tracks as a thought came to me ‘go back in there until you have received the message you were looking for’. I turned around and started to look with new eyes at each of the pieces of discarded rubbish and slowly the message came through to me as I looked up and saw a row of old spirit levels in alignment at the top of the wall. Yes, I need to take this to the next level, the Spirit Level! Things need to be in alignment with the Spirit. When you experience the pain of broken relationships, if you take it to the next level, you may see that things were not in alignment with God’s plans for you.

The next piece of ‘rubbish’ was some old reinforcing wire that was wobbly and unstable. Yet when it is cast into concrete it becomes stable and it strengthens the concrete as well. That was pretty clear, relationships need to strengthen and support on another, otherwise they are unstable and fragile.

The next piece of ‘rubbish’ that spoke to me was three white porcelain tiles on the wall, where we were invited to write our feelings in the real world with our heart. Now the message was getting through!  On the first tile I wrote my hurt, the past, the emotional debris, the second tile I left quite blank leaving a big white clean space, freedom and emptiness and the third tile an open-heart expectant and hopeful for the future and new beginnings. As I continued to walk around looking at the pieces of rubbish, it was amazing how my spirit lifted, and I found healing. The next piece that spoke to me was a horizontal row of slabs going up the wall equidistant from each other. Yes, start at the bottom and work your way up to the next level, and the next, and the next until you reach the top where you need to be.  We have so many levels and layers in our lives and it is when we start getting each level and layer into alignment with God’s will for our lives and the purpose he has for us that we make progress towards where we are meant to be.

I left the exhibition on a high note, not believing I could have been inspired by a skip full of building rubble!  There was one more exhibit that left me dancing all the way home. It was a video installation of dance, the inscription was “Performance art is about joy, about making something so full of wild joy you can’t put it into words” Art has that effect on me, something you can’t put into words, something that speaks directly to the soul.

In my previous blog on building from the ground up, I spoke about a skip full of all the old negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences that you built your relationships on, that had broken down. Before you walk out of the door, examine them to find the part they played in getting you to the next level.  What level was your relationship, was it at basement level or at Spirit level? Ask God to show you clearly the next level you need to be getting into alignment with his plans and purposes for your life. How about taking three blank sheets of paper and writing your feelings in the real world with your heart? I hope after doing this exercise you would be able to dance with a joy that you can’t put into words. I would love to hear how you connected with this, do put it in the comments below!

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Uncategorized, Widowhood

Building From the Ground Up

On my walks around the city, I saw an enormous amount of building activity going on. Over the months, what initially looked like chaotic scenes from a war movie morphed into a beautiful new purpose-built school or apartment blocks. As I stood and watched the scene over this past year, I realized it was also a metaphor for change in our lives.

Sometimes, our old negative thoughts and lifestyle patterns have been destructive, and we end up in broken relationships, or in a prison of self-pity, we long to be a new and different person joyful and living a fulfilled life. When this desire has reached its peak and we are at our lowest ebb, that is often the time we are ready to make the changes necessary to start a new and different life. This is the time to do an inventory of one’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual life and thinking patterns.

Breaking down an old structure often requires a wrecking ball and mechanical diggers to remove all the rubble before the foundation can be dug and the site cleared up in preparation for the new building. This is often a tedious and messy process. So it is with us, as we look at our lifestyle habits, what needs to be cleaned up here? Do you need to exercise, start eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, stopping addictions? What do you do for recreation – is this harmful or helpful? What are your thinking patterns, do you automatically think the worst of people, do you beat yourself up over mistakes?  What is your emotional intelligence like- do you manage your anger, or do you have a short fuse? Do you keep up your interest in life and learn new things – are you curious enough to find new challenges and do them? Most important of all, do you believe in a higher power, a Creator who has a plan and purpose for your life? Have you lost your faith? Making changes is not going to be easy, but with the help of God and the support of friends or family or a counselor you can do the work that it takes to get rid of all the old damaged way of living your life. As you deal with each one, imagine you are putting it in a skip ready to be taken away.

Now you can put in your new foundations, those things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, things of good report; virtuous, things to celebrate and be thankful for, think on these things and let your actions follow your thoughts. As you start to build your new life on these foundations your new life will be built on things of lasting value as you learn to love yourself, to love God and to love others and be thankful for the smallest things. You will find how life changes around you and you will view things differently looking at them from a new perspective, Windows let in the light, your eyes are windows to the soul, let them shine with the new light of joy.

To do the hard work of heavy lifting on a building site often requires a crane to help put things in place and take the stress and strain of the load. Who can you ask to help you in lifting your load? Often, we cannot see a way out for ourselves, maybe there is some trauma from our childhood that is deeply buried in our subconscious. Maybe we don’t know how to change our mindsets or our beliefs around God may be more harmful than helpful. This is the time to seek help from a professional who can help you with the heavy lifting and guide you through the process of putting your new beliefs in place.

Once the roof is in place and the interior fitted out with all new furnishings, and the exterior is landscaped, the building is ready to receive its new occupants. When your new life is in place and you have done the hard work you will become that person God created you to be, as his Holy Spirit takes up residence and completes your transformation leading you into his ordained purpose.

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

GRAFTED INTO THE LIVING TREE

In many ways it is much easier to understand spiritual concepts through metaphors and as an artist, I understand a lot more about God’s love through nature when I can see practical evidence than through mere words which do not capture my imagination, but often sound judgmental.

So, what can ‘being grafted in’ mean for those of us who have had to transition through difficult life circumstances with limited choices, escaped from countries where violence rules or been through a divorce?

As a young child I used to follow my father or grandfather around the garden.  One of the things they did was graft a bud from a new good bearing fruit tree onto the stock of an old fruit tree or one that was a strong grower but did not bear good fruit.  Some of the more delicate trees would not be able to withstand the climatic conditions, but the root stock could and so this symbiosis of the two would bring about the desired fruit.

The prophet Isaiah uses a tree metaphor pointing to the future birth of Christ from the lineage of David ‘a green shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, and from his roots a budding branch,’ He also said that the ‘Spirit of God would hover over him giving wisdom, understanding, direction and strength and the knowledge and the fear of God would be his joy and delight.’ The second half of the Isaiah passage has brought me much comfort where the budding branch (Christ) won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay; isn’t that just what we need? God knows the heart of these matters and will judge the needy by what is right and render justice to the poor.  When people only see what they want to see or hear what they want to hear, when the widow or divorcee has been treated unjustly, God will see and bring justice in his time.

This symbiosis of the root stock and the branch is mentioned again in Romans where Paul writes that the Gentiles (wild olive tree) have been grafted into Abraham’s tree, which was God’s special olive tree so that both could share the rich nourishment from God, for if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be too.

God has a lot to say about the treatment of widows, orphans and foreigners that they should be treated fairly. He made a lot of provisions for them in the laws that governed harvesting and reaping. In this modern age it is hard to see the equivalent when women are treated ‘equally’, orphans are put into foster homes and foreigners are welcome, yet often find it more difficult to get the same opportunities as others.  As I fitted into this category of widow and foreigner, I once asked my pastor how he saw me. He was surprised and said, ‘I see you as a competent woman!” This may have been so, but it did not address the loneliness I felt of being widowed, neither the feeling of alienation from the culture, being an ‘outsider’. This was the time I needed to be ‘grafted into’ the new community. How does that happen, I think it takes the symbiosis of accepting one another, the stable stock allowing the new bud to be grafted in, it also requires that the bud heal into the tissues of the stock and start drawing sap from the root which is grounded.  As the two grow together, the sap (the Spirit) will nourish and bring wisdom, understanding, direction and strength, trusting that God who makes things grow will certainly bring unity allowing relationships to flourish and grow.

The Tree of Life is mentioned in Revelation, where its leaves will be used for the healing of the Nations, in this time of mass migration and brokenness of the family structure, would it not be wonderful if we could learn from the tree and adapt and grow together, each branch grafted into its community and each nation being grafted into the Tree of Life where we would all be at peace with one another and have all our needs met. This is what God intended from the beginning so He could enjoy living among the people He created, He is the root and we are the branches and the sap is the Spirit of unity that binds us all together. Our church communities could be a starting point on a micro level! The weaker cannot thrive without the stronger, the old cannot bear as much good fruit without the strength and vitality of the new graft as it draws its strength for the roots the symbiosis is the living tree bearing good fruit.