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. 

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, 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.

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

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.

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.