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.

Divorce, Grief, Transitions, Travel, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, Widowhood

FROM VICTIM TO VICTOR Learning, Overcoming rejection or Abandonment

2018-06-27 01.31.20-1
At Santa Barbara

Last week we looked at the scenarios that led us to feeling rejected or abandoned. How do we take positive steps to take back our power and not feel the victim of someone else’s decisions? We may need to look back further than the current situation to find our healing.  Sometimes these feelings of abandonment start as a child. Were you ever in a supermarket or fair and you could not find your parents?  Did you parents neglect to spend a lot of time with you, leaving you to your own devises or a long line of child minders? 

Parents that were not available to you to nurture the bond that should be between parent and child. Perhaps your parents were divorced, and you could not bond with one or the other parent at a time when your greatest need was to feel safe and protected.  This may have led you into unhealthy attachments to caregivers or a romantic partner when you did find someone who took care of you. Instead of a relationship based on mutual care and love, you fell into a co-dependency role in an unhealthy relationship that led to divorce.

As a widow you may feel more intense grief at the death of your partner, feeling abandoned.  In the school grounds you felt abandoned and rejected when your best friend went off with someone else and you were shunned from the group. These are the roots that make us feel these emotions more intensely and if they have been a habitual pattern in your life may continue to plague you until they are recognized and dealt with.

So how do we get past this feeling of abandonment and rejection? First, you need to stop believing that you were not good enough or it was all your fault. (This could be from the childhood root).  Start to nurture yourself, where you felt you lacked, start making time to fill those places with self-love and care.  Take yourself out to the movies or a cup of coffee and cake, something that will feed your soul.  Listen to beautiful music, it washes your heart with tears.  Read good books, and if you are not a reader, listen to podcasts, but especially listen to the Word of God.  If you read the Psalms, you will find so many that meet your heart’s cry for answers. It is beautiful, when you come across a Psalm that speaks directly to your need, a message from God. Psalm 94:14 “The Lord will not reject his people; he will not abandon his special possession.” When we think we are unlovable and nobody will ever care for us again, remember that God who created you loves you and is there to help you through this dark place.

Don’t beat yourself up over the what ifs’ focus on replacing old memories with new memories and dreams of another future. Celebrate the good times and create an action plan for the future. I have found it to be much easier if you have a clean break. If you are divorced minimize contact to basics or via a third person.  Put emotional distance (physical environment too if possible) between you.  Heal your heart before dating again otherwise your same lack of confidence and unhealthy attachment pattern may rise up to sabotage you.

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https://ntrelationships.com/single-again-dating-after-divorce/

Clear out the cupboards, get rid of items that bring back memories that hurt. I gave my wedding pictures to the children.  Or if widowed just making a special album or decorating s corner in your home to remember your departed where you can go when you want to remember. Make a space for your new future to emerge.

It is not helpful to follow your ex on social media or get the kids to spy on him. Keep taking back your own life by making new memories to replace the old hurtful ones. Visit new places, do things that you did not do with him. On a rough day, do hard physical exercise, walk run, play a sport. Scrub floors, whatever it takes to get it out of your system.

Spend time with friends or family, people who have your back and will listen to you. Join in community activities like hiking clubs, art or book clubs, try to find ones that are not couples orientated. Reinvent yourself – reassess your values and start doing the things that make you happy. Make some new life goals, set yourself challenges, learn new skills. Set goals that encompasses spiritual, mental, physical and emotional aspects so you grow in all areas.

There is a lot of learning to be done in this space, finding yourself again, and what you want for the future.  It is often helpful to make a vision board of what you would like your life to be like. This is all part of recovering your sense of self-worth – learn new skills so you can feel you have achieved something, that really gives you a boost. Continue to grow mentally, spiritually, and physically and you will see how they all work together to help you grow emotionally. Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations and Bible verses that say you are beloved by God.  I took Art Classes and painted my heart out, just the positive feedback from another human being may be all you need to build your self confidence again.  Walk away from anyone who want to criticize and deride you and set boundaries on your own and other people’s behavior towards you.

Most of all learn to enjoy your own company while you are working through this loss, rather like a butterfly when it is in the chrysalis, quietly transforming on the inside, until you are ready to emerge in glorious technicolor.

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, 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.