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By Whitney Westbrook

You should see the pictures on my camera roll.

Pictures of things I use to try and fix me.

Things like steaming mugs of coffee.

And the first fire in the fireplace of the year.

And the best Mexican food in my neighborhood.

And, of course, my dog, sleeping peacefully in the sun.

These are signs of warmth when I need comfort, things that tell me I’m full when, really, I’m empty, and pictures of blissful rest that escapes me when I feel restless.

Not to lean too far into introspection, but I sometimes wonder if my infatuation over capturing the perfect still life is just exactly that: My infatuation with the Perfect Still Life.

Like somehow the Perfect Still Life subconsciously means to me that imperfections are absent from my life, that my circumstances are perfect in that moment, and that everything about and around me is “fixed”.

Let me tell you what, my people.

There is nothing picture-perfect about midlife.

That perfect cup of coffee and a cozy fire, that insanely delicious guacamole (that I didn’t make) and the dream of an uninterrupted nap in the sunshine – these things might be just what the doctor ordered, but the “perfection” they offer is simply a mist.

It evaporates behind the lens in real life.

I always need to start over with fresh coffee the next morning. Fires require tending or they dwindle. And everybody knows guac turns nasty overnight.

And a nap? Are you kidding me?

If I could EVEN still my mind enough to sleep midday, you and I both know 72,000 people would pick that moment to need something RIGHT NOW.

Friends, I don’t know – and I don’t want to know – what’s on your camera roll. But I’m guessing like most people, you capture the images you want to see because they speak to you.

Things that speak peace in your life.
And things that spark hope.
And things that inspire joy.
And, of course, things that emote love and good cheer.

These things – the coffee and the food and the fireplace and the patch of sunshine on the floor – these are all good things.

Scratch that. These are all GREAT things.

But I’m convinced these snapshots are gifts that represent something far greater, far more sustainable.

Something far more PERMANENT for which I’m forever accidentally but undeniably searching.

And that something is the Perfect Love of God who shines through all the cracks of my imperfect life and a very broken world.

Photo by Canva

Friends, I offer you this thought: It’s absolutely right to celebrate all of your misty gifts, even while you still struggle with all the imperfections of your (not so) still life.

Enjoy your gifts in whatever images they present themselves tonight, and rest in God’s Perfect Love fully in those moments.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17 (NIV)

By Whitney Westbrook

Original Source of Quote Unknown

I saw a post by Simon Holland, writer and comic, this morning on social media that said:

“𝗜𝘁’𝘀 𝗵𝗮𝗽𝗽𝗲𝗻𝗶𝗻𝗴,”𝗺𝘆 𝘄𝗶𝗳𝗲 𝘄𝗵𝗶𝘀𝗽𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝘁𝗼 𝗵𝗲𝗿𝘀𝗲𝗹𝗳 𝗮𝘀 𝘀𝗵𝗲 𝗹𝗼𝗼𝗸𝘀 𝗮𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗲𝗰𝗮𝘀𝘁 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘀𝗲𝗲𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗳𝗶𝗿𝘀𝘁 𝗱𝗮𝘆 𝗼𝗳 𝗳𝗮𝗹𝗹 𝘁𝗲𝗺𝗽𝘀.”

And I immediately shared it with my husband and close friends as that is exactly, me. Here, in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, we haven’t seen measurable rainfall since spring.

So the forecast alerting us to over an inch of rain this weekend, along with lower temperatures, is being met with enthusiastic hoorays from everyone.

Personally, my ‘Harvest Decor’ has been up since a few days before September (don’t judge), as it hallmarks the “cozy” time of year—and I just couldn’t wait.

But, when I really think about the symbolism of what “Autumn” represents, I’m definitely not the first to dive in and accept that this new season is upon us.

Over 20 years ago, Christian recording artist, Nichole Nordeman, wrote the song “Every Season,” in which she describes the physical, metaphorical, and spiritual purpose of each season of life.

It has become a sort of anthem for me, recognizing that God is with me, no matter where I’m at in life. The song begins with a vibrant description of summer—when life is full and abundant.

Sure, it may seem overcrowded with busyness at times, so there is not a lot of time for reflection—just going, going, going. Having gone through the struggles of many winters of life, “Summer” is where I long to set up camp to create and savor every memory I can make.

But now, I find this verse of the song resonating most:

“And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still, I notice You when change begins
And I am braced for colder wind
I will offer thanks for what has been and what’s to come
You are autumn.”

You see, I’m one of those people who does not like to embrace “change.” I love tradition, routine, and yes, I’ll admit it—control.

CHANGE messes with all of that.

So, for longer than I care to admit, I thought I could beat CHANGE at its own game by preparing for it. I would imagine what a life would look like when my son and daughter eventually launched from our nest. I would ponder the traditions and holidays and how that might be obliterated because of their absence. I would say farewell in my mind to the precious ongoing memories that we make together, as our family unit of four reduces to just two.

As you can imagine (and perhaps even relate to), this line of thinking wrecked me. And not only that, because I had tried to get such a head start in preparing for CHANGE, it was destructive to the moments I had in those final years where we were all together. Instead of embracing those moments, I was fretting over how those moments might be my last.

I remember the first time I watched a parade with my mom and saw those strange flaps next to the eyes of the beautiful Clydesdale draft horses. As she’s the expert in all things equine, I knew she’d have an answer. She explained they are called “Blinkers” and blind the horse from seeing anything to the rear and peripherally. They are used to prevent the horse from being distracted or spooked, especially on crowded city streets.

I’ve thought a lot about those little leather patches, as I believe that has been what God has gently been attempting to use on me, “blinders” to keep my focus on the present. He’s been nudging for this all along.

Still, perhaps the introduction of Covid, forest fires, and a further dividing climate in our country has forced me to accept this perspective or risk plummeting fully into a life of constant anxiety and worry. Instead of using my imaginary telescope to zoom in on what might be furthest on the horizon, God has instead said, “Focus right here, Steph, I don’t want you to miss what I do TODAY.”

He’s also encouraged me to find joy in all the memories and traditions of the past, but not mandate they be part of the blueprints of the future. As the Ultimate Architect, He may actually have something so much better.

Another quote I love is, “Autumn teaches us how beautiful it is to let things go.”

Again, I’ve loved this statement because fall brings out all the “feels” for me. I ooh and ahh at every notice of vibrance in the changing colors and eagerly anticipate the first frost and opportunity to wear a sweater. However, it has been uncomfortable to attempt to unpack that sentiment and apply it to my life.

Now, I am finally recognizing its truth. CHANGE can actually be beautiful.

In my own life, it dug up lost dreams and passions that had been set aside because my family came first. I was offered a position to take over a third-grade classroom, and it was like a part of my soul emerged from its dormant cocoon. It was scary, exhilarating, and so far beyond what I believed I was capable of doing or any plan I might have construed—it ended up feeling like I had been made for just that position.

Likewise, my husband’s career transformed, offering more travel and responsibilities that ideally fit his personality but weren’t what was best for our family for two decades.

Trust me, as I share all of this, I still fail to keep this perspective on a daily basis. I’m constantly batting and pulling down those “blinkers” to see what others are doing at this stage of life or dwell in the concerns I have for what lies in the future.

But more importantly, I am starting to see the beauty in my own “Autumn” of life and perhaps the brilliance that comes from ‘change’ too.

“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.’

Wild Horses by Pixels

“Are we going to see the wild horses?” my not-yet-college-bound, have-to-be-dragged-everywhere, youngest asked. “You promised.”

We were on a college visit trip with her older brother.  5 colleges in 5 days.

The drive to see these mythical creatures on an exotic island was about an hour out of the way and I was exhausted from tours about professors/safety/dorms and hotel rooms with weird smells/bad breakfasts/non-working hot tubs.

But my memory of the picture on the cover of the book, Misty of Chincoteague, a beautiful wild horse, and her foal, drew me in and convinced me to keep said promise.

As we pulled into the park and made our way to the restrooms before embarking on our glorious, out-of-the-way adventure, signs warned not to feed the horses as they may bite and to ensure our safety by staying 40-feet away. This was exciting!

Bladders empty, we were ready!  We couldn’t wait to see these wild creatures, prancing in the sand dunes and uttering high-pitched neighs.

What happened next was stranger than strange.

We rounded the corner and there was a horse, in the middle of the parking lot.  Not prancing. Not neighing. Standing. Still. So still, we thought it might be a taxidermist’s latest “stuffing” project.

We got out. Walked around it. It did NOT move. Just stood there. We did see it take a breath, so we surmised it was alive and didn’t belong at the local Cabela’s.

The “wild horse ” in the parking lot

We had so hoped to happen upon a wild, prancing, neighing horse, enjoying the sands of Virginia beaches and its ability to roam FREE.

But what we found was more like a TAMED mule ready to plow the fields under the guise of some master who needed to get things done.

As we ventured on the park pathways, we saw a few more horse/mules milling around, and I can assure you that we were not scared, or excited, not even one little bit.

We got back in our cars and my mom thoughts took off into those mom places only they can go.

Are these horses like my kids?

Longing for adventure, FREEDOM, and curiosity to discover, hope, and dream?

But standing around, TAMED, bored, and controlled because of how me, as a mom, and society, as a whole, has directed them?

Don’t bite.
Stand still.
Be quiet.

Don’t stand up for yourself (your true self). Fit in.
Do what everyone else is doing. Stay in the box.
Control yourself at all costs.  Never color outside of the lines.

College visits.
What everyone else did.
What we were supposed to do.

Over the next days, I kept coming back and back to my thoughts and these horse-mules and my kids.

I did not want them to be mules.  I wanted them to be horses.  WILD ONES.  Not TAMED into submission to some arbitrary set of rules that who knows who made up.

I wanted them to be FREE.  To discover, hope and dream.

I talked and talked and talked to them about it.  And then talked some more.

Guess what happened?

My college-bound son said, “NOPE.”
He decided to take a gap year.
He enjoyed the end of his senior year without the pressure of choosing.
He never went to any of those 5 we had visited on that trip.
He discovered a school that made his heart happy.
FREEDOM.

My baby watched him intently.
She spent an extra year with him, the two of them becoming the best of friends.
When it was her turn, she chose an out-of-the-box school where she could get her Bachelor’s degree in two years. Two long, hard years.
She moved to California at 19 to pursue her dreams, graduation behind her.
She wants to win an Emmy.
FREEDOM.

Guess what else happened?

I began to wonder the same thing about me.

Do I have the FREEDOM to discover, hope, and dream?

As a middle-aged, regular, mom who has always played by the rules?

Who didn’t bite, stood still, and was quiet?

The answer:  YES.  YES, I DO.

I might stand up for myself.
What if I forge my own way?
Maybe I will even draw my own lines to color inside.
We’ll see how it all plays out.
It’s going to be good.
FREEDOM.

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