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Lessons Learned in the Empty Nest

My transition to the Empty Nest was as smooth as silk. Well, most of the time. Ah, perhaps I should say, “Some of the time.”  Full disclosure? Ok, not all of the time.

Two major surgeries and two children leaving simultaneously for university hurled Larry and me headlong into the Empty Nest. The Atlantic Ocean accentuated the distance between us our three young adults. We hung up from our weekly Sunday night phone calls and just stared at each other. Another long week would pass before we would hear their voices again. Lack of the internet and exorbitant international phone rates made communication painfully scarce. 

Back up:

Larry, being the visionary that he is, worked hard to prepare me for this life change. At 18 months out he began to say, “I am so thankful that in a year and a half, you will be traveling with me.” A year ahead he would say, “I am thrilled that you and I will share more and more of life together.” And even at 6 months he said, “I am so thankful that you will soon be packing a suitcase with me. I really don’t know if I could continue to do this alone.”

As a new comer to the Empty Nest, I allowed myself a year of transition. Larry's overtures beckoned me toward my life waiting around the corner, but simultaneously the daily reminders in Budapest stared me in the face. Our university students felt a lifetime away, indeed, part of a life gone by. As my friend Kathy Anderson so aptly stated,  “I felt I had the world’s best job, and suddenly I was unemployed.”

So, Debby found herself experiencing life on two levels. 

My lifetime mission to help fulfill the Great Commission pulsated within me, and participating God's Harvest was a privilege. Larry and I robustly traveled together throughout the 21 countries of Eastern Europe and Russia, and I relished the privilege to be with our 1,250 co-laborers. As Ambassador to Women, I embraced my job description with conviction and vigor. 

I declared,  “Our Empty Nest is really empty, because we are rarely in it!” 

But then we would come home. 

As soon as we collected our suitcases at baggage claim, and got in the car for the 45-minute ride home, my heart would start to sink like a descending elevator. When I walked in the front door, it felt more like a museum than like a home. I walked around an empty collection of memories and remembered. What now? Looking forward into a very different future, I was challenged. My head and my heart refused to be in sync.

"We need to drive a stake and move forward."

"We need to drive a stake and move forward."

This pattern continued for an entire year. Then, at the one-year mark, Larry and I went on a marriage retreat. In the quietness of a Hungarian hotel room, Larry articulated the obvious: this is now the way it is. This is life. In honesty wrapped with kindness he said, “Debby, we need to drive a stake and move forward. If you and I do not accept this new phase of life with joy, one of us could make the mistake of communicating to the other that we are discontent with each other.”

Ooooo. What do you do with that? Well, I accepted his message, spoken and unspoken, and before God in prayer, we drove the stake.  

With that decision, as a couple, we turned the corner. We set out to embrace God’s new future for us - new opportunities, new togetherness - together

My activities did not change, but my outlook did. The ride home from the airport became more peaceful; the entry into the house became more welcoming. My enthusiasm for our future was bright and healthy. I still looked forward to phone calls and visits, but my heart and emotions did not crumble when the receiver was placed back on the cradle or the last wave faded through airport security.

I am thankful for that year of transition, but it needed to end. My life was not over, but my life stood at a point of pivot. God and Larry were asking me to make the pivot.

Points that helped the pivot:

I listened to Larry.                                                                                                                               I looked ahead to what God had planned for me.
I took my time in transition.
I allowed the past to be a precious memory but not a sacred cow.
I launched into one of the absolute best seasons of my life.

So, I offer my suggestion: 

Customize your Empty Nest experience to your pace and your personality.

Some of my friends encountered no adjustment at all. Others needed a much slower passage. But I urge you: make the transition. Your life and your marriage depend upon it. And as you are adjusting, remember what is true:

Empty Nest is not empty life.
Empty Nest is not empty heart.
Empty Nest is not empty head.

The Bible has the Bottom Line:                                                                                                        Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Life changes, He does not. Lean into Him and let Him lead the way. Goodness and mercy will follow.

A woman of God smiles at the future. (Proverbs 31:25 NASB). March confidently ahead into the life that God has for you. Embrace His new future for you, as a person and as a spouse!

Question: What is your experience with the Empty Nest, assuming you are there? If you are not in this season of life, my guess is that someone close to you is. How can you be an encouragement to her?