Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel, Uncategorized, Widowhood

REFLECTIONS ON RETIREMENT

Gazing across the still lake at Claremont Gardens in Surrey, the golden reflection of trees looked up at me mirroring the great oaks and beech trees along the water’s edge. This beautiful sight caused me to reflect on the last two years since my retirement and my first visit back to the UK since I went to live in the USA.  This was a major transition, from working to having time on my hands, from living alone to living with my family and learning yet another culture in new land and dealing with the ubiquitous bureaucracy!

I had spent several years on planning for this move, so adapting to the new culture was not too difficult having visited with family on numerous occasions. On arrival in the USA I was exhausted from the past few years of a strenuous job and the handing over process, of saying goodbye to family and friends and going through the immigration process.  This was probably more emotionally draining than anything else. My body felt very tired and I even wondered if I had some dreaded disease, I felt so bad. This was a time to ‘Be still and know that I am God’.  Quite often we are not even aware of how tired we can become in serving others, we give because we enjoy helping others, we give because we know that is what God has called us to do, but even Jesus grew weary in his earthly body and needed to go aside to rest and pray. It is important to allow your physical and emotional body to recover from a big transition. 

Looking at the tranquil water of the lake, I could feel the rest and calmness in my body, something that I had not been able to experience when I was working, always expecting an emergency phone call or my mind working on a problem that needed to be solved. I had to learn once again to be mindful, to live in the moment, to appreciate my environment and what I could see, I needed to learn to tune into the ‘still small voice’ in contemplative prayer and allow God’s voice just to tell me how much He loved me again.  It is easy to lose the focus of God’s goodness when you are in transitions as there is so much going on.

It was important to hear God’s voice saying, ‘well done, you have added value to my Kingdom, rest here awhile to recharge before your next assignment’. Your value is not determined by the work you do, so when you are no longer working you feel you have no value.  Your value is determined by the fact you are a Child of God, His daughter or son and just because you are, you are valuable. So, taking the time to be still and re-establish the strong foundation of who I was in Christ was very important to me.

Taking time to explore new places, find a new church and a new group of friends and different ways of worshipping, doing art or writing all became part of the journey into my new life. Reflecting on the past and knowing my giftings and strengths, putting them out before God as to what plans He has for me to use them in this new venture of retirement required time.  Two whole years have passed, and I am now ready for the next adventure in what plans God has for me.  I have written an Amazon best-seller in the Christian Liberation category. I have joined the Creative team in my church giving an outlet for some of my gifts, I have created my on-line presence of blogging, art gallery and e-course. I have met and made so many new friends from diverse backgrounds that have made me explore even deeper the meaning of life.

I think most of all I have learned that ‘in quietness and confidence will be your strength’, as God reveals things to me day by day with the people He puts in my life to support and help going through difficult life circumstances. He has given me that compassion and caring for them and some creative solutions that they can use to help themselves through hard days.

One day I asked my son what was the one thing he felt I had given him of value and he told me it was living with me through such a variety of life circumstances, that we had survived and succeeded and he was able to apply that foundation and confidence to his life, and that all three of my children had come out not only survivors but winners in successful careers and family lives.

I think the main take away from my reflections must be that difficult and diverse life circumstances build resilience and faith in Someone who is bigger than you, who cares for you, protects and provides even though you may not see it in the moment. It is with gratitude I embraced all the challenging times to bring me to this place of quiet restfulness and peace.

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. 

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.

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.