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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This spring I planted flowers. I filled plastic planters with potting soil, dug hollows, pressed delicate seedlings into place. I dragged the pots to the areas of best sunlight on my patio. I watered and watched, arranged and rearranged, worried and waited for something to grow. And waited.

Days passed without a stirring of greenery on the patio outside my window. I watered more, arranged again, watched and monitored, grumbled and complained that nothing seemed to be happening.

“I planted . . . but God gave the increase”

(1 Corinthians 3:6).

Faith so often means patiently waiting, and it is hard to practice patience. We want evidence that our work will be productive and positive. We want proof that our efforts will create the increase we desire, and we feel anxious when the bounty isn’t immediately delivered.

Growth so often takes place below the surface. While we work and wonder above ground, roots develop and spread beyond our sight. God controls the reaching and expanding that occurs without our knowledge. God generates the life that stirs before we see its presence.

All we can do is faithfully tend, water, weed, and wait. We have to choose to believe that God is acting and will produce the final harvest. We have to cultivate trust that the outcome belongs to God and the result will blossom in its season.

Weeks have passed, and my patio is finally covered in green. All I did was plant, water, and watch the good things grow.

What are you waiting for today? How do you trust God is working while you practice patience?

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Many years ago I worked in a bank. Banking is a fine career for someone with financial aptitude; but for me, it was just a job, and not a job I enjoyed. I felt bored, stifled, and out of place; but I dragged myself through work each day because I was afraid to give up the steady paycheck and health insurance. I had many other dreams for my life, but I told myself I needed that job, and I settled for punching keys at the bank while wishing I were anywhere else.

God doesn’t want us to settle for life that makes us feel stifled and unhappy. He tell us we are capable of reaching the goals and dreams he gives us. Often it is our lack of faith that keeps us from achieving our full potential. Over the years I’ve noticed a few behaviors that keep people from achieving their best.

Limiting Beliefs:

I don’t deserve it. I’m not good enough. I can’t do any better.

Negative beliefs are usually fed into us by other people who believed the same about themselves. This has been the hardest area for me to overcome, and I’ve never found an easy answer. At some point in my journey I decided that I will never know how much I can accomplish until I try, so I at least want to be able to say I made the attempt. That new belief has kept me persisting despite my doubts and persevering toward my goals during many times I wanted to give up and settle for less.

Making Excuses:

I’ve worked all day and I’m tired. I have too much to do. It’s not my fault.

Excuses deflect responsibility, blame others for our failures, and free us from the expectation to work hard. Excuses also prevent us from becoming the people we are meant to be. Becoming all we are capable of means taking responsibility for our actions, discovering how to motivate ourselves, and making the effort necessary to reach our goals. When I stopped complaining about being trapped in my job and started looking for a way to change, my situation improved and new opportunities presented themselves.

Habitual Thinking:

I’ve always done it this way. It will never get any better.  

Habit thinking is hard to identify because so often our bad habits are unconscious and automatic behaviors. It is easy to stay in roles, routines, and relationships that are bad for us because they seem so comforting and familiar. The best way I’ve found for changing bad habits is to work in the smallest possible increments and build up to achieving greater goals and bigger accomplishments. When I decided to leave the bank and began college, I started with one class while I worked. Over time I added more classes and worked up to full-time enrollment.

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Each small step we take leads to the next phase of our journeys. I spent years of working to change my limiting beliefs and reach some of my goals; but I still have far to travel. When we choose to believe that God wants us to live more abundantly, we can faithfully follow wherever he leads.

For more information on changing limiting beliefs, check out this article. For an article about how to stop making excuses, click here. For information on how to change bad habits, check here.

How do you motivate yourself to reach your goals and dreams? How do you choose to live abundantly?

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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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“Abby is giving henna tattoos in the cafeteria after yoga class!”

We moved through tree pose and downward dog, then rolled our mats and hurried to the cafeteria.

The big room echoed with the voices of a few scattered groups sitting around at tables. The dimmed lights made the atmosphere calm and serene while Abby patiently painted brown henna dye onto offered forearms and hands.

For me she designed playful paisleys and sunbursts. My daughter requested a blooming flower surrounded by swirling waves. While Abby worked on my daughter’s design, I chatted with Hank.

My daughter and I had attended this women’s nature retreat together for two years. We hiked in the woods and watched for birds in the treetops, stretched and twisted through yoga class, aimed arrows toward paper targets, roasted marshmallows over the late-night bonfire. Hank, my favorite workshop instructor, had led the birdwatching hikes.

As we talked over tea cups in the cafeteria, Hank told me about his health problems, his wedding anniversary, and the appreciation for family and friends he developed as he grew older.

“Enjoy your life while you can,” he told me. “Enjoy your partner while you can. You never know how much time you have left.”

Abbey finished her work on my daughter’s arm. I thanked Hank and said good-night, left my cup in the kitchen window, and retreated to our cabin for the night.

It occurred to me that I may not return to the nature retreat next fall. I may never sit and chat with Hank again. That evening’s talk in the cafeteria may be the last conversation he and I will share.

In the morning we packed the car and headed home. The henna dye had cracked and crumbled. The dust washed off in that night’s shower. The red markings that remained gradually faded through the next week of washings.

“You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

Our lives are like henna tattoos, beautiful designs lovingly crafted and carefully painted into place, destined to give temporary joy before fading into memory. Our lives are as beautiful and brief as flowers that fall in the field, clouds that skim across the sky, waves that break and churn upon the shore.

“Enjoy your life while you can. You never know how much time you have left.”

We cannot know how long we have to share with the people who improve our world. All we can do is decide to be grateful and choose to enjoy the special moments and companions while we have them.

Today when we pray, I encourage my friends to give thanks for every moment of our short and amazing existence.

Thank God for every minute we spend with people who encourage and cheer us.  Appreciate conversations shared over teacups, wisdom offered and welcomed, and every chance to speak positive words into someone else’s life.

Thank God for beauty of trees and birds, clouds and sky, made more precious because we know this world around us is constantly changing.

Thank God for opportunities to help others and share, for the privilege of praying for the people we love, and the time we can spend enriching someone else’s experience.

Thank God for the unique abilities he has given to each one of us, for all the talents he entrusts us to invest, and for every cherished gift that blesses our days.

I thank God you are reading today and I pray you will remember that every life is a work of art. We are all merely the creations of God’s generous and loving hands.

What do you have to thank God for today? How can you be grateful and appreciate each beautiful moment of your amazing life?

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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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What am I doing here? I wondered as I trudged up the hill toward the middle school.

In 2001 I worked as a teaching assistant while I finished my Elementary Ed degree. I had no experience working with kids, felt very insecure about my abilities, and quickly questioned how I had gotten hired.

I thought: God made a mistake bringing me to this place in my life, this school, this job, this town.

Within walking distance from my apartment stood a small shopping mall with a big bookstore.

I like books, I decided. I’ll quit my job and drop out of school to sell books instead.

On Saturday I revised my resume walked through the hilly neighborhood to the mall, but when I rounded the corner, I encountered an enormous “Going out of Business” banner tacked to the front of the bookstore and flapping in the breeze. I literally turned in my tracks and marched home.

When I called my friend Paege and told her what happened, she said, “I guess God gave you a pretty big sign.” On Monday I went back to work at the middle school, and I worked there for two more years.

Signs are not always as big and bright as a “Going out of Business” banner on the side of a building. Many signs arrive as subtle clues, quiet whispers, or gentle nudges turning us in the direction God wants us to travel. Signs may be missed if we’re not vigilant and watchful for the methods God often uses to steer our steps.

Conviction is that gut feeling we get telling us when one option is right and the other wrong. Conviction often defies logic and relies on hunches and emotions. Going to college as a single mom made no logical sense at the time, and though I often questioned my abilities and claimed I would quit, I always felt a certainty that I was called to return to class.

Coincidences are those seemingly unrelated events that happen at just the right time and place. Coincidences are often unexpected and unexplainable. I had not applied to work at the middle school where my daughter was a student, but the principal coincidentally found my resume in the school’s district office and called to offer me a job.

Conversations with friends and advisors often offer insights and revelations about God’s intended purposes. Chance comments from others often help us see and understand our circumstances more clearly. “I’m glad I work with you,” my coworker Molly told me after one particularly disappointing day. “God brought you here because he wants you here.”

For two years I worked at that middle school. The work was never easy, but I began to see the reasons God wanted me to stay. I received college credit for my hours in the sixth-grade classroom. I made connections with teachers who helped me with my homework assignments and later offered me job references. For two years I walked to school with my daughter every day. I knew her teachers and friends, and I felt we developed a better relationship through our time together. Most importantly, I learned to persevere through sometimes difficult and discouraging circumstances, and I began to realize that when we pay attention and follow God’s directions, we are always exactly where God wants us to be. God never makes mistakes.

What sign is God showing you today? How do you watch for his clues and direction?

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