Creating a Fulfilling Life (Again) when You’re an Empty Nester

My beach porch is my sanctuary. God has met me here so many times… with dolphin shows, storms, gentle breezes, the artistry of a rainbow and the sunsets I so enjoy. Here I’ve received frequent guidance for life’s decisions (it’s where He told me to go to seminary). It’s where I’ve felt His love most deeply.IMG_0036

A few weeks ago some friends walked along the water with their dogs, and maybe it wasn’t the Holy Spirit, but I knew all at once, “It’s time.”

I looked over at Rob and said, “I think I’m ready for a dog.”

Not only has our nest emptied of children, but my home has reduced from an all time high of 3 dogs and two cats to a pet-less last year and a half. We thought we would be practical and wait 15 years or so to get a dog. You know, whenever life slows down and it’s more convenient… we travel a good bit and finally have no commitments or responsibilities at home. We’re foot-loose and fancy free to do whatever we want, whenever we want… but is that what life is really about?

IMG_2066Rob agreed and we quickly moved on to the bigger question: “One or two?” May I introduce Noah and Bristol?! :-)

It became clear to me in watching our friends, that despite all the reasons it doesn’t make sense, they live more fully and abundantly for going to the trouble to fit their furry friends into their lives.

Noah and Bristol are adorable and HIGH maintenance Springer Spaniels. Every reason we shouldn’t have gotten a dog has already come to pass in just one week… we planned a get away for our anniversary, only to realize after a few days — we can’t leave the dogs, yet! They are messy (one threw up in my 4-day-old car, day 1), slow us down, demand attention and need training. However, I am already in love and wouldn’t trade them for the world!

Dogs aren’t everyone’s thing; and this post isn’t about pets per se — or even particularly about midlife empty nesters (that’s just where I happen to be). It is about letting go of fear, convenience, practicality, cultural norms, maybe your pity party or regrets, tidiness, the past or whatever hinders you from MOVING FORWARD from your present “you are here” red dot and into the abundant future God has planned for you.

IMG_1441Life is full of twists and turns. I used to dread the unknown and the inevitable changes that ushered me there. God is teaching me not only to embrace changing seasons, but to relish them. To move forward confidently — not because I have all the answers or know how things will play out, but because my God is Sovereign, and He loves me.

He is worthy of my trust which allows me to live into His peace and abundance — whatever happens. I haven’t written many posts in 2016, because my goal is to share what God is doing and teaching me in my life. Well — I’ve been way too “in process” to put it out there in cyberspace.

Dogs aren’t the only recent change in my life. In the midst of loving my parents, planning two weddings, painting, writing and now the puppies, I am studying to be a certified Christian life coach — I’m starting a new coaching business this fall. Crazy, I know. Maybe even “dangerous.” But like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, our God isn’t safe, but He is always good.

IMG_2136Sure the old trepidation sneaks in (it was even hard for me to publicly commit here to doing this)… but more importantly, I feel alive again. I have a hope and a future beyond being a full-time mom and homemaker  (beautiful roles from another season — from my past). I always dreamed and planned for school, for marriage, for children… and maybe even a distant “old-age.” But I never had a vision for this mid-life, empty nesting stage. Now I do. I’m even thinking Noah and Bristol might be service dogs… (dream BIG — whatever passion God places in your heart).

God is so graciously connecting the dots and guiding my way. Jeremiah 29:11-13 are some of my favorite verses: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

IMG_0756God gives us desires, gifts and a purpose. I was reminded in class that it’s our choice whether we use what He offers us or play it safe and just rock along. But it’s all irrevocably ours and He will hold us accountable one day. I don’t want to leave untapped that which He created me for and intends for me to use for His Glory. That’s why I can enter these exciting changes and all the surrounding unknowns in my life not only with confidence but with compelling gladness. I was made for this!

Outcomes aren’t all up to me.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12 :9). And Philippians 4:19  promises, “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”

IMG_1557Proverbs 20:5 is my vision as I rely on prayer and the wisdom only God can supply for my coaching practice. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” That insight will be supplied by God, if it’s His will that I do this. 

Because many have asked — coaching is different from counseling which valuably helps people cope with disruptive and painful problems from their past and heal what’s wrong in their lives to find stability.

IMG_2089Coaching looks forward. It’s a discovery process toward developing growth and potential. It’s more about building inherent strengths than overcoming. It’s not directive or about the coach’s expertise, but more about a partnership where the coach manages the journey by listening selflessly and asking skilled questions that guide another to set their own fulfilling agenda. Coaches help you think out of the box, and get “unstuck” or see a new vision that enhances life. Clients discover where they are and how to move from there to whatever and wherever God wants them to be. It’s the claim of John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” That’s what we are made for — all of our days.

Henry David Thoreau ominously wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation…But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

IMG_1787As Christians we don’t need to share in this tragedy. Our God has a plan for each of His children (in every season of life) and calls us to cooperate with Him. Uniquely suited to our gifts, experiences and the desires He has placed in our hearts, the plans and purpose He has for us are assured. And they comprise our best life.  In Him we can find our confidence to embrace future change and movement with joy and thanksgiving. Sometimes we just need a little help from a friend.

Let’s bring on the puppies or whatever adventures, plans and passions He has for our tomorrows. JUST GO FOR IT!

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How to Rid yourself of Smoldering Discontent

IMG_3428We’re not so different from the wandering Hebrew people who wanted to return to slavery in Egypt — just after God miraculously rescued them. Familiarity feels safe and comfortable. Even more so when we enjoyed our yesterdays. We long to go back instead of trusting God today and into our future. We often let a smoldering discontent permeate our being.

Webster’s offers the following definitions

  • SMOLDERING: feeling a strong emotion but keeping it hidden
  • DISCONTENT: not pleased or satisfied 

I’m a midlife, empty nest mom… some might add in a midlIfe crisis? These middle years showcase a well-discussed season of change and transition. I’m writing from my current perspective, but my post could apply equally well to many others:  from someone just graduating college, to someone in their so-called “golden years,” or anyone facing change and transition.

Rob and I moved to a new town … when I was turning 48… after my nest emptied a 2nd time…  to start a new business… as we gutted our house.  I worked full time with him and tried to juggle relationships and the changing dynamics in our family sandwich (us in the middle of aging parents and launching “children”).

Let’s just say I was too crazy busy and distracted to know which way was up. God had blessed me with a marriage beyond my dreams, and that was enough for a while.

IMG_1556 After a few years, my recovery from unexpected surgery stopped me in my tracks. That’s when I started realizing our life wasn’t quite what I wanted. Little felt comfortable or familiar to me, so I assumed our life needed my attention to “fix” things. Get us back to what we had always dreamed life would be. That’s when discontent slithered in… and began smoldering.

I started worrying and scheming.  Why hadn’t we found the “right” church. We needed to develop friendships. Were we good parents … good children? Were we engaged enough in the community? Should we travel more? Serve better? Play tennis again? Why was it so hard to have quality time with God like I used to? Or exercise? Or read my book club books? Everything had previously fit into my life neatly like a puzzle. 5000 tiny pieces… it was chaotic and zany at times, but it all worked together. I was living the American dream – raising a family.  Now, I didn’t really have a relevant dream. Maybe if I just better organized the remaining pieces…

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Though I tried to ignore it, discontentment flavored even the best parts of my life.  I might be around another 30-50 years. Is life really about trying to reclaim a few shining moments of my past dreams? Or do I want to open my heart, mind and resources to the abundant life God promises me TODAY. And every day that I will surrender to Him in gratitude and trust.

IMG_1764The AHA moment came. So gently it had to be a divine message.  “Louise, I am doing something new.”

At first I said, “Great! I’ll get everything ready for you, God! I know the framework for a good life!”

I redoubled efforts to reclaim or recreate everything good from before and find ways to make it fit into our life today. Ever heard of the round hole and the square peg?

Again gently, but with clarity God said, “Stop. Stop your doing.”

Me: “Even the good and worthy stuff? That which you directed?”

God: “Stop doing life as you know it, in order to make room for Me and My plan.”

IMG_1507(This “conversation” isn’t real. It’s my attempt to communicate several years of devotions, Bible study, prayer and my responses as God led me. Transitions are often slow and comprised of many small, courageous moments of obedience.)

Me: “Ok. I’ll stop — well except for a couple things. Obligations that would be embarrassing to back out of early.”

Life felt selfish. Slow. Not very exciting, but I appreciated the rest. Then new circumstances kicked in, and I dropped out of even the last couple “old ways of doing things” — that’s when God spoke discipline and wisdom to me very personally.

God: “Let go of your determination to serve and to live your way, and follow me.”

Why did I think I knew what my life was “supposed” to look like? I memorized Proverbs 3:5-6 as a child, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

IMG_1772While rapidly moving forward, as life tends to do, I was constantly looking backwards for answers. Wanting to be where I once was or grasp what I thought I had missed out on. In the process, I was missing much of God’s best in the present. I was also putting myself at risk; I think Satan loves our stubborn discontentment. My way left little room for God to show me the new and abundant life He has for me NOW. The NEW plan for THIS TIME that He’s been working toward all along!

Imagine driving a car while steadily gazing in your rearview and side mirrors! It’s dangerous (I know from taking these pictures). Mirrors are only to glance back, to see if there is information that might help you as you move forward, giving utmost attention to the road ahead.

IMG_1781I realized I needed to confess my grip on the gifts from my yesterdays of active motherhood and a full house. Turn to Him and be grateful. Learn lessons. Cherish memories. Trust God, and let Him do a new thing in the spaces left by what is seasonally in my past. Live fully engaged in the present — where God is with me.

I believe an omnipotent God has been allowing and orchestrating all the events of my life to this day. He has an ongoing plan for me, and I only need to seek Him in order to discover what He has already prepared. He will give me all the resources I need to live abundantly for as long as He gives me breath. And then He will welcome me to heaven! He’ll do this for you too, if you’ll let Him.

Phillipians 4:19 promises us, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

IMG_3600God wants to heal the smoldering discontent — sin — in our lives, and transition us toward His gift of peace that passes understanding. To redefine and refocus our efforts to serve Him. To give us a new dream, uniquely suited to where He holds us today.

No matter how hopeless, lonely, scared, sick, tired, overwhelmed, depressed, obsolete, unworthy, broken, anxious, unsure or _____ (fill in with your own word) you may feel, God is with you.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 143:18)

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2)

IMG_0155He has a plan that He wants you to joyfully join in with Him. God’s richest blessings to you, wherever life finds you. His promises are true for all seasons of life.

Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”

Jeremiah 29:11 says trust Him always — and rejoice: “For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the LORD. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.”

And finally, one I take great hope in — Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

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How I Know that YOU are an ARTIST!

IMG_1305A blank slate can be a scary thing.

It holds infinite possibilities and promise — as well as risk and responsibility. Who wants to commit to a pristine canvas, when you might “mess up?” Who wants to expose her heart for others to interpret? Often insecurity intimidates a would be painter from putting brush to paper.

It’s true in life too. Sometimes we avoid the art of living the abundant life (John 10:10). We prefer to admire or critique the works of others from a distance. We don’t risk engaging with others outside our comfort zones. It’s too messy, so we isolate ourselves in our safe circles of influence.

IMG_1270In my experience, the artist eventually breaks out, and I never regret it. My God-given desire to create and impact the world can’t be quenched.

Art can take a myriad of forms.  Conversation. Relationships. Visual arts. Performing arts. Cooking. Sewing. Writing. Software, interior or fashion design. Event planning. Mechanics and engineers. Crafting a business deal, a speech, lecture or a sermon. Gardening and flower arranging. Managing people… all these and more are forms of artistry.

According to the dictionary, to “create” means to bring something into existence or to cause something to happen as a result of one’s actions. Fairly all-encompassing — so I believe an artist is within ALL of us. Don’t trust me… you are an artist because God says so.

IMG_1285Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning, God created…” He is an Artist. It goes on a few verses later “So God created human beings in his own image.” We are His unique creations, made to create. We all have some form of creative, expressive, influential DNA, derived straight from the Creator of the Universe. We need to find where God is calling us to “create.” Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” To glorify Him and edify others.

While each new day is often compared to a blank canvas, I see it a little differently. A canvas, yes, but not a stark white one. Our God never slumbers, so each new day, there’s a picture in progress on the canvas, a story unfolding. We only need to look for Jesus’ hand and join in where He’s already at work. John 5:19 says “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

IMG_1289When I was little I felt tremendous joy in a fresh box of crayons. I still remember the smell and those neat little points! I’ve loved writing and painting all my life. They have always drawn me in and offered me great expression. Rest and peace. But there have been many years where I haven’t painted at all.

After 7th grade, I dropped art class for more rigorous academics. Places I believed could lead me to success and reward. I decided painting was frivolous child’s play. My juvenile assessment persisted into adulthood. Art was for personal enjoyment.  Leisure after the important things were done, or not at all. My painting served no real purpose, unless I could be really amazing — a profitable artist or master of my trade.

IMG_1288God is changing my point of view. Today I not only value creative expression, but believe no one is living completely as God desires them to unless they value their creative niche, and risk sharing their God appointed art form with others.

God is using painting in my life in important ways.

Recently, we removed a rarely used pool table and turned our pool room into a TV room.  With all those windows, there was too much glare by day and a fish bowl effect by night. And really — who needs multiple sitting rooms? With no more practical uses, I timidly suggested maybe I might paint more if I had a space I could keep “messy.” A studio? And all that natural light made the pool room perfect.

IMG_1122We transformed it, and like many a white canvas, it remained untouched. The shelves were loaded with brushes, art books, canvases and paint… but the artist was not present.

Consumed by what felt urgent, critical, and mine to accomplish, my life’s pace just wasn’t compatible with creativity. Despite helping, going and doing, I felt guilty and inept. I tried hard, but it was never enough — and I was instead being controlled and consumed by my trials… by life on this earth.

IMG_1285Then one day on a whim (and a prayer), I painted something. And right alongside my easel, the Potter began molding His clay, pliable and surrendered in His hands.

He is giving me new Life! A new purpose. After asking me to stop all my busyness and just be, He is beckoning me to His new plan. To work He has uniquely molded me to do (more later on that).

You are an ARTIST! I hope you have discovered a form of artistry that draws you completely into the present moment, as it temporarily drains away worldly concerns and distractions. A place to be vulnerable, authentic and raw.  Where you can lose yourself.

God led me back to painting… to teach me about His nature, expose a little more of my flesh, and to transform me for His glory. Artistry is good for that. It helps us embrace and engage fully — letting go of what’s broken and left undone.

IMG_1284Sharing my art requires me to be vulnerable. Trusting God in all the details as I rest, slow down, fill my cup and make time for Him. This “frivolous” creating has allowed God the space to teach me a little more about His desires for me and where He truly wants me to join Him in His work.

Like Eric Lidell said in “Chariot’s of Fire, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  God gave me a love of painting… and when I paint, I feel His presence and His pleasure. It has less to do with what I produce on the canvas than the freedom and the abundant life He offers, as I become more fully “me.”

Matthew 11:29-30 sheds some light: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (emphasis mine).

IMG_1228Are you drowning in pressure? Do you believe you’re made in the image of God and as such, an artist? Could acknowledging whatever art form God has place in your heart help you gain His Holy perspective?

I hope you have something that provides in-the-moment creative joy in your life. If not, ask God to reveal His gift to you. Then look for where He is already at work, and calling you to join in His creation. Pick up your “paintbrush,” choose your favorite color and go to work with Him on the canvas He has waiting for your contribution.

IMG_1262“To me, the purpose of the arts is to introduce people to life in all its breadth and complexity and thereby to find oneself, others, the world and God more fully.” Gary Collins

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