Retirement, Seasons of Life, TRANSFORMATION, Transitions

THE AUTUMN OF OUR LIVES

The trail

It is not too difficult to find safe places to exercise and enjoy walking near the city, so we headed off to Fort Du Pont Park for a Sunday afternoon walk. The park is a wooded area in Washington DC on the site of an old Civil War fort designed as a defense for a Confederate attack on Washington. It is hard to believe that it is already Thanksgiving time and the end of November, after eight months of living with COVID lockdowns and travel restrictions.

It was a beautiful crisp afternoon, a little bit on the cool side, but excellent for walking. The leaves had mostly fallen, and the forest was open so you could see the naked tree trunks standing amidst the thick carpet of golden and brown leaves that lay at their feet. The smell of slightly damp leaves reached our nostrils as we tramped through the thick piles of leaves along the trail. It became difficult to see the trail as we headed into the middle of the forest after we had left the initial paved pathway. The two men went on ahead of me as I carefully picked my way along the trail not knowing if I would trip on a tree root or fall into a hole hidden under the leaves. If it wasn’t for the men ahead who stopped to point out difficult places along the path I may well have wandered off the trail or fallen over a root or rock. They were patient in waiting for me to catch up as I slowly picked my way along the pathway.

As I walked along, I realized how much more vulnerable I had become with age. In my youth I would probably have skipped along the pathway catching handfuls of leaves and let them flutter down, or as a middle-aged person walked briskly along the path, not concerned about falling. Now I needed to be careful not to stumble or trip over the things that I did not see as my eyesight has deteriorated. A fall could result in broken bones. My knees are unstable, and they do not have the same strength to lift me on the steep places, making a slip or fall more likely. I needed to stop more often to take a breather. Fortunately, someone had marked the trail ahead and I saw there were red splashes on some of the trees. I kept my eyes on the trees along the way, checking where the markers were for the pathway.

As I walked along, I began to get new insights into the seasons of the life that we live in. The seasons roll around with annual regularity, in the same order every year. I would consider that I am in the autumn of my life right now even though I may not like to acknowledge it. My body tells me my strength and stamina are not as strong as it was to navigate the steep places. I need help from time to time to give me a hand up or down. Many things could trip me up at this stage, I become more vulnerable to diseases. Mold and fungi are nature’s way of dealing with a fallen and diseased tree, breaking it down until it once more becomes a part of the earth from whence it grew. A warning to me not to fall before my time! I need to have someone ahead of me on the pathway to guide and watch out for me, someone who can check that I am still on the right path and not heading off into the woods and get lost.

The trail and marked tree

We continued our walk, it was invigorating, with fresh air to fill our lungs as we breathed out the stale city air. We took our time (or should I say I did!) pointing out fascinating fungi on tree stumps. Nature was at work, slowly but meticulously the fungi doing their job, preparing the earth to receive new life in the spring when tree shoots will arise from the leaf mold and broken-down trees.

We were surprised by a couple of deer not far off the pathway, there was no cover to hide them so we were able to look at each other, and after they decided we were not a threat, they continued to walk on. A bit further on a couple of elk made their appearance. They were more skittish and moved off quickly, this was the closest we’ve ever been to deer on this pathway. They may have been there before, but we had not seen them because of the leaves, now they were also a lot more vulnerable, with no leaves or cover to hide from hunters. They must live on their wits and speed to getaway.

We need to recognize when we are in the autumn of our lives. This is one of the hard transitions into the second half of life, admitting we need help and that we can’t do everything we used to be able to do. We do become much more vulnerable, not only physically, but financially, health-wise, emotionally, and spiritually. We become prey for those who will take advantage of us, the scammers who want to rob us financially, or emotionally. We become targets for every type of salesperson selling the elixirs of youth aka medications, supplements, and gadgets.

We need to recognize when we are in the autumn of our lives. This is one of the hard transitions into the second half of life, admitting we need help and that we can’t do everything we used to be able to do.

Loneliness makes us more vulnerable to these types of scams because we are no longer out in the workplace, and family and friends may be at work or live far away. A thought-provoking study in the UK found that although there was technology to help filter scammers from the elderly’s telephones, they often switched them off because at least there was someone to talk to, to break the loneliness of the day. COVID certainly has not helped in keeping community, it has isolated people even more as they no longer can enjoy going out to meet with friends or the odd shopping.

Just as we breathed in the fresh country air and exhaled the city air, we need to breathe in the life-giving Spirit. I have found it particularly hard not to be able to attend church and meet up with my community. Their encouragement and the interaction of sharing lives and worshipping together had always lifted my spirit. I have had to find other means to achieve this with an online church and small groups, this helps. Otherwise, I must be satisfied with solitude, meditation, and prayer, but this was the way of the hermits and contemplatives, and they had a rich relationship with God. One of my favorite contemplative authors is Thomas Merton, I read one of his prayers today that resonated with me, so I will share it with you.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Facing the second half of life, knowing you are more vulnerable, you can trust the One who will never leave you to face your perils alone. You also still have much to give, to help nourish the generations below, the wisdom of experience and compassion for those who are struggling in their life’s circumstances.

Surprise! You may think you have nothing to offer but you still have time to bloom. Yes, there are winter flowering plants! In the northern hemisphere, the hellebores and snowdrops still cheer in the middle of winter snow, and the lovely aloes in the southern hemisphere when all is dry and drab sing forth their joy with orange and red spikes of cheer.

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

YOU WILL NOT BE BURNED

2019-03-02 09.44.52For the past three weeks I have spoken about wind, how it disperses seed to grow, lifts us above our circumstances and give us energy to move forward.  Today I want to focus on fire which is also a necessary element to growth.  

There is a beautiful flower in Cape Town, in fact the national flower of South Africa, the Protea. This plant amongst other ‘fynbos’ plants requires fire before the seeds can germinate.  Fynbos needs to burn at least every decade to keep regenerating the species and the local ecosystem. Dormant seeds which may have been buried under the soil for a few years are triggered by the heat of the fire to stimulate growth. The fire burns out all the old undergrowth and seeds that have been carried away or buried by rodents, birds, ants and insects lie waiting and when the rain comes continue with the growth process. Depending on the heat of the fire, some may only be triggered to germinate after waiting fifty years! Fire can occur naturally with a lightning strike, accidentally with sun rays through a broken glass shard or deliberately with arson. Fires are unpredictable and so it is with the germination of different seeds after each fire and its intensity and how soon the rain falls after the fire! This is such a marvelous example of what is was like at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit arrived with wind and fire to empower the disciples after Jesus’ ascension into heaven and His continued work in the world today. They did not know what would happen next! Neither do we – growth happens in unexpected ways, in fits and starts.

Sometimes when we are going through a time of intense grief and struggle, trials and tribulations, God is using the same process that the protea requires. Perhaps there are a lot of old ideas and beliefs that hinder us and need to be burnt out.  Perhaps our ‘shell’ is so hard it takes the extreme heat of the trials to trigger growth for us.  Perhaps it is the timing – it is also unpredictable.  How often we want the predictable and understandable, our routines and comfort zones.  It may then take an extremely hot fire to move us to growth. We need to learn to let go of the predictable when we go through these life transitions and rather hold on with faith, that at the right time and conditions we will grow and flourish and maybe even bloom in the desert.

Fire in the Bible had a very special symbolism. God said, ‘When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not consume you.’ God stood with Shadrach, Mesheck and Abednego in the fiery furnace and they were not burned. So, Moses was given his commission at the burning bush; Isaiah was given his when the seraphim placed a burning coal on his lips and sent him on his mission. Fire is used to refine gold and silver to burn off the dross, it symbolizes holiness, intersession and worship and incense on the altar as our prayers ascend to God.

If we were to look at our current trials through the lens of God’s growth and refining process, it enables us to use the energy of the heat to spurt on new growth and momentum in moving forward.  We may not know what happens next, but if we allow the process to take place, will we indeed bloom like the beautiful King Protea and know that God is still working with us and preparing us for our mission in life.

 

Divorce, Grief, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Widowhood

RESURRECTION

 

As we head into Easter and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, thoughts of what resurrection really means crossed my mind which I want to share with you.  When I was a child, we used to climb up a massive granite kopjie (a hill made up of rock) called Domboshawa.  It was always a treat to head there for a picnic to climb and slide down the rocks. On this rock mass there grew a plant called Resurrection bush, a woody shrub which when you looked at it, you thought it was dead, it was lifeless, dried up and black. This bush would suddenly burst into a mass of glossy green leaves as soon as it rained.  We used to love to pick a few twigs and take them home and put in a jar of water, when we woke up in the morning, the twigs had come to life and were full of green leaves!

When we have been through a time of grief and loss, we can feel lifeless and dried up, with no future. Going through the caring process with my late husband until he passed, I had felt my life blood being drained with the stress and demands of his illness and having to provide for everything, at times I thought I would be six feet under before him.  There are times in transitions that you will feel thoroughly depleted as you have used all your energy to cope with just getting through the day. But as the journey progresses you learn new ways to cope or it is necessary to take a regular rest breaks to recover.  What you really need is that refreshing rain to bring you to life again and flourish and thrive.

What we are looking for is for our life to be restored and renewed.  The plant had conserved its energy by shriveling up until the rain when it was rehydrated and able to mperform its process of photosynthesis to make energy again. We need to take care of ourselves and conserve what energy we have until our situation passes or the initial phases of grief have subsided, and we are in the healing process.  There is a fountain where we can sit, meditating on Scripture and quietly wait for the new life and vitality to seep back into our souls. Sitting watching water flow, a fountain, river, waves washing onto the beach or any place where you can see and hear the

This is a season in our life, and we need to recognize it and know that as surely as Easter comes around every year and the trees burst into blossom every year, so this season of dryness and death will be a part of our lives in one form or another. But just as it is part of our walk though life so are the refreshing rains and fountains.  We are restored, made new, reanimated we are resurrected.

Think about what ‘The Resurrection’ means to you – are you in a dry place now? Or have you found the fountain and are being refreshed and restored? I would love you to share with me where you are on your journey through loss.