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By Debbie Prather

My husband was out of the country on a work trip and while caring for our two boys, I counted the seconds until his return. 

The first days of his absence had been rough, but this one started and ended, almost, uneventfully.

I fed dinner to our then four-year-old, Brett; nursed our then six-week-old, Collin; and somehow got them both in their beds, sleeping soundly. I couldn’t believe that I had, possibly, an hour or two of quiet in front of me and anticipated reading a newly checked out library book.  

I made food for myself by heating up some kind of frozen Mexican dish. I enjoyed it immensely. It wasn’t the taste, certainly, but the peacefulness surrounding me as I ate. 

Within fifteen minutes of the last bite, though, I knew something was wrong.

My bra became uncomfortably tight and soon after my pants did too. I felt nauseous and my head spun. I ran into the bathroom and before rushing to the toilet, I instinctively grabbed the garbage can from under the sink. I needed both for the collection of what began swiftly and simultaneously. I’d never been sicker and barely had the capacity to contemplate the phrase, “food poisoning.” 

I’m not sure how long I stayed like that, in a sitting, bent-over position, retching and moaning, before I heard, “Mommy?” Brett had woken up and was standing in the doorway. “Momma, are you okay?”

“I’ll be okay, honey,” I whispered. “Please go back to bed.”

“The baby’s crying,” he said. Because of his words, I tuned into the faint siren I was hearing in the distance. I soon realized it was our newborn wailing. How was I going to feed him?

“It’s alright, go back to bed and I’ll get him as soon as I can,” I said.

Brett did as he was told and I continued suffering there, praying for the sickness to leave me as fast as it came. The crying grew louder, filling me with intense anxiety because I wasn’t able to get up.

After another length of undetermined time, I glanced to see my big boy, once more nearby, looking scared but determined, his hands packed full. He had his One Hundred and One Dalmatian comforter bunched in one arm and his distraught brother, balancing like a doll, in the other. 

“Careful! Bring him to me!” I said. “Hurry!” 

He did and I took the baby in my arms. When I saw his little mouth, wide open with indignation and hunger, I did what only a desperate mother would do: I put him to me, where he fed heartily, and I was shocked that there was anything left and became vaguely aware that I might very well be doling out the last drops of fluid sustaining me.

There’s not much else I remember about that night, except that we camped out in the bathroom, the three of us. 

I was weak, but we all survived – myself, somehow, a stronger human, emotionally, than I’d been mere hours before. 

Enduring tough situations does that for us. 

And there were, without a doubt, hundreds of other challenging, unexpected, painful ones to soldier through during the many blessed years of raising our sons and our daughter. 

The difficult times become our stories to tell, family lore and legacy, told, often with humor and full-body emphasis, only after enough healing time has passed from the event. 

Now, in a new season of life, when I share these kinds of tales with our grown children who are currently contemplating the idea of babies of their own, they become badges of honor; tokens of pride that display that it wasn’t always easy, no, definitely not, but we made it through, hand in hand – together, sturdy, and strong.

Those (God-willing) future parents listen and look at us with an extra dose of awe and respect, wondering what adventures, or trials, may await them. 

They laugh and shake their heads, entertained and also forewarned, with a secure heart knowing that they were and are so loved and cherished, then and now, that we’d still give them our last drops of anything just as, someday, they’ll do for their own.

Isaiah 54:13 All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.   

“You’re posting all these stories about empty-nesting, and I haven’t even gone back to school yet—you aren’t really empty-nesters,” joked my twenty-one-year-old son.

As if I wasn’t already suffering from imposter syndrome as a want-to-be-blogger. Now, I was being called out by my own kid—for my ‘𝗻𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗻𝗼𝘁 𝗯𝗲𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗲𝗺𝗽𝘁𝘆 𝗲𝗻𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵.’

“Well, your sister is fifteen-hundred miles away, doesn’t that count for something?” I tossed back. (I can’t believe I am actually having to justify whether or not I can call myself an ’empty-nester.’)

“Not really,” he shook his head, not giving an inch, “and then there will always be John…”

“Yes, that may be true,” I agreed. John is our twenty-four-year-old son who has autism and still lives with us. He does not want to move out, and we love having him here, so it’s a win-win.

However, at times I do feel like we have a renter upstairs. John has a busy life with work and daily activities, so when he’s home, he likes to retreat to the peace and quiet of his ‘apartment’—“No Visitors Allowed.”

So maybe by some standard, we at least qualify as ‘quasi empty-nesters’?

All joking aside, this is a new season for us, with our youngest having just left for college—I know it is a new chapter in many of your lives as well. For most of us, there have been years of these little bursts of energy swirling through our lives, our homes, and most importantly, our hearts. So after the whirlwind of laughter, late-night snacking, football, soccer and basketball games, tennis matches, and band practice subside, there is most definitely…a void.

Of course, they’ll be back for the holidays—thank goodness. For turkey and stuffing smothered in grandma’s special gravy, their favorite apple pie, and opening gifts on Christmas morning. Sure it’s a magical time, but it’s still not the same as when they lived under our roofs full-time…(insert ‘a sigh’ here.)

Fortunately, in an effort to help me prepare for this new chapter in my life, my mother gifted me with a golden piece of advice a few years ago. She told me to “find something you would like to try, or you would love to do and get started BEFORE your youngest leaves for college.”

And, so I did that just that when I launched this blog, I Do Part Two—Empty Nesting & More, about two years ago. Maybe for you, it’s not about writing or blogging or podcasting, but I hope you will see this time in your life as a chance to try something you’ve always wanted to do. Now, is a great time to rediscover interests you may have set aside while you were raising kids.

Ask yourself–

What did you use to like to do?

What do people ask you to get involved in or compliment you on?

What kinds of books, podcasts, and activities do you gravitate towards?

What lights you up?

What leaves you drained?

“Listen to the whispers,” a friend tells me, because everything you do or decide not to do, is leaving you clues.

I truly believe if we stay open to the possibilities, this season in our lives can be a time of amazing growth, new connections, and beautiful opportunities. The world is waiting-you are never too old, and it’s never too late—to discover who you were truly meant to be.

P.S. Just for the record, my son is back on campus. Maybe now, we can officially call ourselves ‘quasi empty-nesters.’

A few weeks ago, we took our youngest child to college. I confess I started counting down the weeks to that moment even as the summer days appeared endless.

This transitional season brought with it plenty of questions and grief for me. While I knew my son’s new place of residence was where God wanted him, I wasn’t ready to let him go. It meant recognizing the end of a parenting season, a change in our relationship, and a noticeable absence in our home. However, I clung to my long-held faith that he is God’s child first. Releasing him for God’s purposes is part of parenting.

So on move-in day, we drove those three and a half hours to a city with which our family is not familiar. It is nowhere near either my husband’s or my hometown. No relatives live there. It is a small town and agricultural and we are used to the city and suburbia. Three and a half hours felt like a way longer trip into foreign territory.

After moving him into his huge dorm in the middle of unfamiliar land and saying our goodbyes, we made the trek back home. Understandably, the sobbing commenced as I made a beeline for the car. The ride home felt just as long as the ride there.

As the flood of both emotions and tears continued, I wondered. Why did this trip feel so long when my own hometown is about the same distance? My oldest son goes to school there but it does not feel so far. How does releasing your child in an unfamiliar place equally far away feel so different?

I think of all the parents around the world releasing their kids at various times for God’s purposes. Some of those places are way farther than three and a half hours. I remember the mothers in scripture who did so not knowing how deep in their souls that separation would later feel. Their narratives have been lifted up by me as inspirational. But now I sit with them. I feel their conflicting emotions more than I could have expected.

Leaving our kids in a foreign place feels counter instinctual.

Our whole lives we sought to straddle the line of protection and empowerment. Of course, we know that it will all come to fruition at that moment far down on the horizon. And then we realize it has arrived. All that we believe about God, provision, protection, and purposes looms in front of us.

Those goodbye hugs symbolize all that we have known all along. There is a time to hold tightly and a time to let go. Releasing from the embrace, I watch him walk towards his home. And my husband and I go towards ours. In all of it, I know that it’s where we are all supposed to be.

*Photo courtesy of Canva

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