Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Life After Kids: Take Time for a Personal Retreat

Beauty sat across from me during a fund-raising dinner.  Dark eyes full of life.  Slender hands illustrating her stories. Shoulder comfortably nestled into her husband. Seemingly confident in her own skin. 

Yet as we conversed, I learned that this dear woman was entering mid-life, a soon-to-be empty nest mother of four, who shared a common bond with me along with concern for what lay ahead. We’d both homeschooled our children, having invested the bulk of our adult lives rearing the next generation.

And we both teetered on the precipice of a new day, suddenly aware of our imminent launch into the next season of our earthly journeys—life after kids.

What would this new day look like? What would life after kids really mean?

For the mid-life mom in my latest novel, Second Chance, life after her youngest daughter married feels bleak and blah. Concerned that her husband might be having an affair, she bends the ear of her longtime friend and neighbor, who’s shared everything from curriculum to chicken pox with Mave. Somehow neighbor Trish, who’s also an empty nest mom, appears to be dealing with this new stage of life with ease and grace, which both angers and intrigues Mave. When Trish suggests Mave get a life, at first she balks, but then she takes her up on the challenge. What follows is a series of humorous and dangerous mishaps that lead Mave into a world of drugs, gangs, and unwed teen moms, and in particular to a young man who needs her help. Interesting thing is, she also needs his.

Writing my fictional character’s empty nest journey helped me sort through my own. In hindsight, I now know a little R & R and R & R (indulge me, I’m obsessive-compulsive) would have better prepared me for the transition. 

Whether your personal retreat is a day or a month, four Rs can help.

REFLECT on your journey thus far.

Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
May I encourage you—get alone with the Lord.

 Ask yourself: What in my life needs God’s help, healing, and/or direction?

Pull out your Bible and journal. Pour out and put down your thoughts and feelings to Him, no matter what they might be. God can handle your honesty. He already knows you inside and out. But your confession before Him will ultimately set you free!

Perhaps an old wound’s been festering under the surface for many years, placed on the back burner in order to rear your children. Now’s a great time to take the trip inside. Ask God to reveal to you any areas of anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness. 

When I speak to women’s groups, I often encourage participants to build an altar out of the hard, cold, ugly rocks of their past. Based on Romans 12:1-2, you can do this, too. Tear up several pieces of paper. On each piece, write out a hurt or loss you’ve experienced. Tell the truth about the pain. Grieve the loss. Then in an act of release and forgiveness as applicable, wad each piece and then stack them in the form of an altar. Imagine yourself climbing on top, surrendering each hurt and loss to the Lord’s care. 

In addition, examine yourself to see if you need to approach anyone whom you’ve hurt. Be willing to say, “I’m sorry; will you forgive me?” Then leave the results in God’s hands.

In short, take responsibility for your own healing. You don’t have to be a victim. You can determine to change and allow God to heal your heart. 

REHEARSE God’s faithfulness. 

Psalm 77: 11-12 says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”

Ask yourself: What has God done to bring me this far? What about His character stands out to me?

The writers of the Old Testament often encourage us to remember what God has done. This vital rehearsal of His faithfulness reminds us of where He brought us from and gives us hope for the future. 

If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to log the ways God has shown His faithfulness to you. Perhaps He provided money when you most needed provision. Write it down. Maybe He healed a physical ailment or answered a specific petition you offered up for a family member. Before long, your journal will be full of the many ways God has protected you and provided for you down through the years. 

RENEW yourself in God’s love.

Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Ask yourself: Have any past wounds or relationships marred my concept of the heavenly Father? What can I do to restructure my vision of God the Father?

Renewing ourselves in God’s love requires mind renewal (Romans 12:2). Based on Scripture, we must tell ourselves the truth about who we are in Christ (Ephesians, chapter one).  As His daughters, we are redeemed, holy, chosen, beloved, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and adopted into God’s forever family.  We can safely curl up in the Father’s arms, because in Christ we are His children for all eternity.  I like to call myself, “a pauper turned princess”! That’s what we are, ladies. When we come to Christ in our poverty, He makes us brand new. Daughters of the King!

Now, doesn’t that make you feel loved?

RELEASE everyone and everything into God’s care.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 

Ask yourself: Am I holding on to my time, talent, treasure, or significant others? What can I do to release each of these things for God’s use?

I was a teenager sitting in the woods at a Christian camp when the Lord gave me Psalm 46:10. Little did I know at the time that years later He would use my precious daughters to fulfill that verse in my life. Today, each one of them serves the Lord around the world along with their families in fulltime Christian service. The release of my children has not been easy, even though my husband and I trained them to go wherever God might lead. 

Yet in my release, God showed me that He had a new platform for my life, fresh ways He wanted to use my time, talent, and treasure to express His love to the world. And if that wasn’t enough, He brought other sweet surprises my way. In answer to prayers offered from the time my children were tiny, God provided three sons-in-law, whose names all mean “Gift of God.” Then, over the course of four years, He gave us six grandchildren to love and nurture with the commitment to leave a godly legacy to the next generation. 

Releasing my loved ones into God’s care has freed me to live life fully and use my time, talent, and treasure for His glory during this new season of life. 

If you peeked into our living room window, most mornings you’d find my husband and I sitting in our prayer chairs with hands lifted toward heaven. Our motto: “Palms up in the PU!”
In the midst of adjusting to life after kids with its many challenges and heartaches, God has consistently bumped our focus back to Him, assuring us that this new stage of life is simply another step on the journey Home.


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