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.

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SPRING FORWARD – FALL BACK

It 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, 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.

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?  

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