“Are you awake?”

Some mornings I find it difficult to drag myself out of bed at 5:00. I shuffle to the sink to brush my teeth, then pull on yoga pants and tie on running shoes. When I open the front door and step outside, the sky is just beginning to brighten beyond the trees.

Despite my reluctance some days, I enjoy these early morning summer walks when the air is still cool and most of the world sleeps. Our path takes us on three winding miles over tree-lined trails and past still-snoozing suburban housing. Wildlife occasionally wanders in our way. We’ve seen opossums, raccoons, and rabbits too numerous to count. Once a deer watched us warily as we strolled by.

My morning walks all seem the same: the smooth and slowly unfolding trail, the peaceful and slumbering houses, the sheltering and whispering trees.

Yet every morning walk is different.

The wind constantly changes directions – cool and rushing one day, heavy and clinging the next. The light changes by the minute, bringing brightness and clarity to areas that were wrapped in shadow. I never know what four-footed creature may choose to cross my path. Every walk is an adventure. Every step outside explores a new and altered world.

Like early morning light, our lives are always changing. Every sunrise is different, and each day is the start of a new journey. Every moment offers the chance to choose our next move differently, and each step we make may lead us in a new and unexpected direction.

The only way to fail is to stop moving. Only when we refuse to step forward do we get left behind. If we choose to stay safely behind our locked doors and curtained windows, we miss the changing sights just beyond our point of view.

After the three-mile hike, I’m ready to return to my safe and welcoming home, but I am never the same when I unlock and enter the door. My day lies ahead, filled with opportunity, and I am awake to a new beginning.

This morning I encourage you to greet your day as the start of a new adventure. I pray you step forward in faith that God is with you on your walk.

How will you choose to begin your morning? What do you hope to discover on your journey?

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Who am I now? What should I do with myself?

Moms facing an empty nest when their children leave home may ask themselves these questions. These moms may find the answers in the book, Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest, written by Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, and produced by Bethany House Publishers.

The book describes the premise of the Season Principle: our lives naturally move through different seasons of experience and development. The newlywed season is different from the new parent season, which is different from the parenting teens season, and the empty nest season is different from them all. Throughout these changing seasons, it is natural for moms to experience various and changing emotions. We have to give ourselves time and permission to experience our feelings and grow into our changing roles.

To help women make adjustments and experience healthy growth, the book offers many tools and techniques readers can use. Women are encouraged to build strong relationships with their husbands; nurture friendships with other women; turn to God through scripture study and prayer; assess their strengths, values, giftedness, and priorities; and develop mission statements to guide each new season of life. The book offers many practical resources to assist this process, including: suggested books and websites, Bible verses for reflection, a values assessment exercise, and a small group study guide which includes discussion questions and prayer prompts. All these resources may be helpful to moms who are adjusting to changing roles and developing relationships.

All women occasionally need support as we experience life changes. Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest provides resources and encouragement that many women will find useful.

I received a free copy of Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest from the publishers in exchange for writing a review.

How do you feel about facing the empty nest years? What techniques do you use to adjust to the changing seasons of your life?

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January seems like a bad time to make a resolution. Days appear dark and gloomy. Nights stretch long and cold. My willpower flags, and I slip into the malaise of gray days and sofa sitting.

Spring is the time for fresh starts and new beginnings. Days bloom warm and bright. Nights bring peace and restfulness. I feel reenergized and ready to undertake new tasks, embark on new adventures, and accept new assignments that promise expansion and success.

This spring I am looking forward to finding new focus and declaring new goals for the future. I am working to build stronger relationships and define my true priorities. I am excited about the months ahead that will yield a new blooming of optimism and faith.

I resolve to give more attention to my valued friends and family, to listen to their dreams and plans, and to share my own anticipations and hopes. I intend to take more notice of the explosion of growth all around me and to be grateful for every moment of light and life.

I have already deleted the solitaire app from my phone, cancelled our cable TV package, and determined to spend less time in the living room. I’m ready to move forward to face new challenges and explore every opportunity this spring will bring.

This week I encourage you to accept all the possibilities that new beginnings offer. I pray you will be open to receive the promise of a limitless future.

What are you looking forward to finding this spring? How do you resolve to explore the possibilities?

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My hard shoes scraped on the stone stairs. Every morning I climbed the five grueling flights up to my corner tower office where the only window looked out over the parking lot. On the spiraling staircase, each step dipped in the middle, eroded by decades of other wandering soles.

For a year I worked as a proofreader for a government office, in a beautiful old stone building with winding staircases and wide, echoing halls. On my lunch hours I walked alone through dark and mysterious corridors, traveling under the building’s basement through tunnels that looped endlessly back upon themselves. For a year of lunch hours, I wandered those halls and stairways, always circling back to the beginning, always ending up back in the place where I had started.

Over the building’s main entry, a faded mural depicted settlers moving west. A woman in the center of the panel had her arm raised and pointed toward the horizon. The mural reminded me every morning that while the rest of the world explored great adventures, I was stuck quietly walking in circles.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined to me and heard me” (Psalm 40:1).

Everyone experiences periods of waiting. We will all face times when we wander in circles and wonder when we will break out of our pattern to cover new ground.

Throughout that year of waiting, as I was forced to circle back and confront myself every day, I learned many lessons about facing my fears and conquering the frustrations that kept me from moving forward. I began to see the value of traits we develop during times of waiting.

Patience: We can choose to have patience. We can commit to learning everything possible from our current situation. When the time is right and we are ready for new lessons, the road ahead will turn and take us in a different direction to a new and surprising destination.

Perseverance: We can’t stop walking. The only way to move forward is to keep moving, keep traveling. When we hit an occasional dead end, it’s alright to turn back and try a different route, but we have to keep taking one step after another.

Trust: God is working for us behind the scenes. While we wait and trust, God is shifting walls, removing barriers, and directing the traffic that will take us where we need to be. When we’re ready to move on, God will rearrange the signs to point us toward the place he wants us to go.

Hope: As long as we live, we will always have hope. There are always new opportunities to find and new challenges to face. When we keep moving and keep looking forward, our path will be open to new experiences and our eyes will discover new vistas.

After a year of walking through the cold and empty hallways, I did set off on a new path. I moved to a new home, started a new school, changed jobs, made new friends, and met my future husband. When we wait and trust in the path God has planned, we will escape the daily climb to reach more wide and expanding spaces.

How do you face a period of waiting? In what direction is God leading you today?

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I wrote “Liz” at the top of the paper, and my Communications professor told us to pass our papers to the person on our left. She instructed us to write our first impression of the person whose name appeared at the top of the page, then fold the paper over to conceal our comment, and pass it on. The pages moved around the circle. My sheet with “Liz” at the top was returned to me. I unfolded it and read.

Several of my classmates had written “caring,” to describe their first impressions of me. Maybe their description was only a generic compliment to describe a classmate they didn’t know well, but I decided to appreciate their comments, and for a while I tried to be the kind and caring person I thought people believed me to be.

But over the years I grew less and less sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. I became busy with my work and career. I focused on my progress toward status and success. I listened to the “take care of yourself first” propaganda our society broadcasts, and I forgot to be the caring, compassionate person I once believed I was. And as I grew older, the world began to seem like a harsh, cold, and uncaring place.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~~ Mahatma Ghandi

This year I want to be the compassionate person God created me to be. I want to be the caring person my classmates recognized in that long-ago college classroom.

“As God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

In 2017, I’m planning a few actions steps to return me to the caring person I used to be.

Reach out to some old friends I haven’t seen in a while. Plan to meet someone to reconnect over lunch or coffee each month.

Serve without calculating how many hours I spend.  Volunteer without asking, “What’s in this for me?”

Be present and pay attention to the people in my life every day. Ask them how their day was and really listen to their answers.

Say “Thank you,” I understand,” and “I’m grateful” to someone every day.

Perform regular random acts of kindness. Look for opportunities to give someone a surprise gift or compliment every month.

If I want the world to be a more warm, welcoming and compassionate place, I need to be a more interested, open and caring person. In 2017, I’m writing “caring” at the top of my list and passing it on.

How do you show your care and concern for others? What helps you show compassion and kindness to the world?

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img_0480Behind the library lies a serene, wide lake circled by a walking path and weeping willow trees. I like to walk the path, enjoy the breeze and the shady trees, and check out the metal sculptures like this blue flower and this bizarre bird. img_0475

My favorite sculpture is labeled "Sprout" and depicts the circular seed just beginning to unfurl. I love the spiraling expansion and swirling lines. Looking at Sprout makes me think about what it means to live and grow.

sprout

 

  1. Growth follows seasons. Our lives move through times and phases, planting and harvest, dark and light. We all experience times of great movement and change, but also times of great quiet and rest. Both phases are necessary and valuable. In times of quiet we learn and prepare to move forward. In times of action we leap ahead to new achievements and experiences.
  2. Growth produces fruit. The seed's only goal is to blossom and create. To produce the harvest, the seed first has to die, shatter its shell, and spread roots into the soil. The seed leaves its old state behind and presses forward toward its new and improved form.
  3. Growth requires struggle. Challenges and obstacles build strength and endurance. The green shoot forces its way upward, pushing through rocky soil, creeping around massive stones, and straining through narrow pavement cracks. The growing plant knows which way to turn, always reaching upward toward light and life.

God gives us all this instinct to grow, to look ahead, and move forward. We have to honor that drive, welcome the struggle, and give thanks for every opportunity to learn and change. To encourage growth in ourselves and others, we have to be willing to:

  1. Explore. To grow we have to seek new sights, pursue new experiences, and accept new challenges. We have to have open minds, expansive hearts, and willingness to walk an unfamiliar path around a deep, mysterious lake.
  2. Question. To grow we have to think about our place in life, our future, and our destination. We have to consider where we came from, ask ourselves where we are going, and wonder what we will find around the bend and beyond the trees.
  3. Believe. To grow we have to know that we all have a purpose, whether or not it is always apparent. We have to trust that we each have a reason to exist, and with persistence and faith we will grow into all that we were meant to be.

This season there are so many places I want to investigate and explore. I am looking forward to a quiet time of rest this fall and winter before an explosion of growth and change in the spring.

How do you encourage growth in yourself and others? How do you expect to change in the coming season?

 

 

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