Dear Empty Nesters

Sharon Von Fange, the author of this post is a missionary member of our church with her husband Steve. They have three sons: Brian, Josh & Jesse.

Dear Empty Nesters:

I am fifty-two years old and have been married to my high school sweetheart for thirty-two years.  We have 3 amazing (though sinful like us) sons in their low twenties. One is newly married, another is preparing for medical school and the youngest is finishing undergraduate studies. So, I am still adjusting to this empty nest thing.

We recently downsized from the family homestead of two and a half decades to a downtown condo. Can you say, “CHANGE?” I am a person who likes to prepare for things and take things very slowly.

This is not what happened.

What felt like my only real preparation for the transition consisted of a brief visit with the best mom I knew at the time who had already experienced this season. We met for a late breakfast and her advice was, “They will all come back at least once, and it will be when you least expect it!” I laughed at the time, and thought she was just being funny.

Now, I’m starting to see what she meant.

Though she was talking more long term, what this has looked like in my world has been unplanned texts and phone calls. They usually start innocently enough: “Hey Mom!  What are you doing?” And are quickly followed by the real agenda that requires a quick response time or a listening ear. It could be lunch, help with a quick errand, confession of some error… or the whopper so far; “Hey Mom…Yes, there are some very good reasons we are getting married next week rather than in a few months like we planned...and, since we’re both living in a communist country on the other side of the world, we know you all can’t get visas in time to come over for the ceremony…I just wanted to run all this by you, what do you think?"


A Good Reminder

In all of these moments, I am so thankful that God pursued me and rescued me from my sin in Jesus. Because of Jesus, I am a child of God. My heavenly Father already knows what each day will look like for me. He planned good works for me to do before He created the world (Ephesians 2:10). He has already prepared and equipped me for any phone call or text that could come my way (Psalm 32:8). The most important thing for me is to stay connected to God (John 15:1-17) and to do these things with God, not on my own.

I’m such a homebody that left to my own desires, I could hang out with God, my family and my interests and say, “To heck with everyone else.”  But I’ve also learned, especially in this season of the empty nest, that God has placed us in a spiritual family as His earthly hands and feet (1Cor. 12:7-26). I need to be around and “on call” for my spiritual family, knowing that God uses me to communicate love to them and in turn, He uses them to communicate love to me. If I close my life off to other people, there’s a lot less of God’s love flowing.

Some other practical things I’ve learned:

  • Change is good. God allows it, and even plans it (Eccles. 3:1-8).
  • There will always be a new lingo of vocab words that I don’t understand. The on-line “urban dictionary” is my friend.
  • I still like my husband, and we are back to living like newlyweds! It’s awesome just like I remembered, but there are these things called menopause & aging that are double edged swords for both of us.
  • It’s been hard to figure out how to do ministry together with my husband, because we both have very different hobbies and interests and can be quite independent. God has shown us how we are good apart but that we are even better together. Jesus uses this to encourage us to do more together.
  • I need to maintain healthy boundaries and margin in my life. Aging parents, health issues, weddings, retirement and, maybe, grandchildren are just a few of the things around the corner.
  • I love not having to maintain the yard & exterior of a house and have shifted a good portion of that time into investing in people. I’m so glad God led us to downsize to an urban condo to maximize our ability to love people!
  • My metabolism has officially flat-lined!
  • I am still a mother even though my children have left the nest, because there are spiritual children in my life and around me who need nurturing. And, yes, my “kids” still need me, too, just in less hands-on ways.

I’m enjoying this season of life, and I’m so thankful that I don’t have to go backwards and repeat any of the previous seasons even though most of them were very good.   I’ll look for you running alongside of me or ahead of me in the race of life.  Let’s slow down and walk and talk or “do lunch.”

I can’t wait to hear your story.

Dear New Moms

Courtney Gibson, the author of this post, is married to Adam Gibson, one of our pastors, and is mother to their daughter, Selah Grace.

Dear New Mom

How many ounces of milk does your baby take in one sitting? How many wet diapers does she have in one day? Are you using organic sheets? Do you let your baby cry it out? How many minutes of tummy time can he withstand?

How quickly has your worth started to feel measured by your answers to these types of questions?

And just when you feel like you’ve got all the answers, someone throws a new one at you: “Are you using orthodontic pacifiers? Because if you’re not using the orthodontic kind, your baby will develop a horrendous overbite that even braces can’t cure.” And instead of responding with a simple: “My baby doesn’t even have teeth yet,” if you’re like me, you send your husband out to Target so you can add, “orthodontic pacis” to your list of answers.

Answers that feel really, really important.

Answers that ultimately aren’t nearly as important as they seem. But it’s easy to forget.

Lessons from an Explosive Poop

For me, it took a dear friend and an explosive poop up the back incident to remember.

By the time my daughter, Selah, was two-weeks old, I could give the mommy answers on auto-pilot: “4 ounces, seven, no, yes, .2 seconds, and of course we’re using orthodontic pacifiers… who doesn’t?”

But one dear friend who came to visit didn’t care about these questions. She and I were chatting about life when Selah had an explosive diaper—the kind that defies gravity and travels up the back. My friend followed me upstairs to the changing table as I stripped Selah down and began applying an entire case of baby wipes. During this process, my friend didn’t ask about the type of diaper ointment I used or if I’d considered cloth diapers. Instead, as she helped me wipe the poop off my daughter’s back, she asked: “So, what have you learned about God through being a mom?”

Her question switched me out of Mommy auto-pilot. And my honest answer was: “I haven’t really thought about it.”

But as I changed my daughter’s soiled outfit for the third time that day, I remember telling this friend that being a mom for only two weeks had helped me understand how it really was possible for God to love me regardless of that fact that I could do nothing for him.

In the middle of feeling like I had to prove my worth as a mom, God was repeatedly giving me a picture of his unconditional love for me—a love that wasn’t based on what I could do for him or how well I could clean up on my own. 

That night, with my friend’s question in mind, I asked God to reveal more of himself to me. I asked that I wouldn’t miss the little (or big) things he wanted to teach me through motherhood. That I’d let this be the question that mattered.

The Wrong Question and the Right Question

Selah is now a year-and-a-half, and while a lot has changed, I still have two main options when it comes to the question that I can choose to focus on: 1. How am I performing as a mom? 2. How is God revealing himself to me through motherhood?

One of the biggest ways the Lord revealed himself to me this past week was in the midst of my frustration with getting Selah dressed. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have a strong-willed toddler. This is one of my favorite things about her and I’m praying that the Lord will use this characteristic for good in her life. But currently, it causes what should be a thirty-second outfit change to turn into an elaborate game of cat and mouse. I tell Selah it’s time to get dressed. She runs away. Lately, she heads to the corner of the room and covers her eyes because she believes that if she can’t see me, I can’t see her—that with her eyes closed, she’s in control.

Last week during one particularly epic battle, I took a deep breath, and asked the Lord to meet me in my frustration. I asked Him to continue to help me have wisdom to know how to love Selah well and be the mom that she needed. And then, I asked Him to reveal himself to me. And as I sat on the floor, watching Selah in plain sight, with her hands over her eyes, believing she was the one in control, I began to see a whole lot of myself in Selah. Like her, I too tend to cling to my illusion of control. More often that I’d like to admit, I’m running around, unwilling to surrender to the Lord’s goodness and trustworthiness.

Jesus is using a strong-willed toddler to convict me of sin and direct me back to Him. Every clothing battle becomes an opportunity for me to surrender my own desire for control—to lay it at the feet of the one good parent.

Asking the Important Things First

So dear new mom, this is my prayer for you: that your eyes would be firmly set on our heavenly Father and that you would find your value in what He has already done for you in Jesus. That you would not be defined by the types of baby products you purchase or the parenting philosophies you adhere to. In fact, I’d love if we could work together to create a culture where these types of questions are only asked after we’ve first asked each other the more important questions: How is the Lord revealing himself to you? How is being a mom making you more reliant on Jesus and less reliant on yourself? How today, in the daily routines of parenthood, have you experienced the grace and love of your savior?