A KISS FROM HEAVEN
This week I celebrated a birthday. I have to admit this one was a little difficult. Not only did I celebrate Mother’s Day for the first time without my Mom. This was also my first birthday without her. On a more superficial note, instead of creeping up on 60 years of age, I seem to be galloping at full speed. I have a feeling that the big 6-0 is going to jump on me when I least expect it! I know, I know, age is just a state of mind. Unfortunately, my body and my mind seem to have a breakdown in communication. My mind says I’m still 30; my body just laughs hysterically.
When I was growing up in East Tennessee, we were very poor. We really couldn’t afford big birthdays or birthday gifts. Instead, Mom would cook our favorite meal and cake for supper. For several years, my favorite cake was a deep dark chocolate cake with a special snow-white icing that was hard on the outside and soft in inside (can’t remember what it was called). As I approached my teen years, my cravings switched to her homemade German chocolate cake. My favorite meal for years was her fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green peas and sweet iced tea. Is your mouth watering yet?
When I moved away from home, Mom didn’t always send traditional birthday cards. She had a tendency to make her own or send me a sweet message on her favorite stationary. When Mom started fighting cancer and mental illness in 2005, she would sometimes forget my birthday. For a few years, my feelings were hurt. Now, I realize she was having a hard time just making it through one day at a time.
I miss Mommy. I miss being able to call her and share the joys and struggles of the everydayness of life. I miss being able to send her photographs of my camellias in the winter, gardenias in the spring, and now the peaches from our peach trees. She would get such joy out of the simple things. She loved flowers, birds, trees, and dirt – yes – the dark rich fertile dirt of Tennessee where she and Daddy always had a beautiful garden.
As my birthday was ending and I was getting ready for bed Thursday night, I glanced up to the top of one the bookshelves and noticed one of my old jewelry boxes. I reminded myself to look through it soon and donate some of the old jewelry.
When I came home Friday, I retrieved the box and opened it up. There on top were two treasures I had received from Mom years before. The first was an envelope from October 2000 full of photographs of her front porch, her flowers, her bird bath and many of her simple pleasures. Each had a post-it note attached setting forth a narrative as she gave me a guided tour around her yard, starting with her front porch.
I want to share some of the narrative with you.
Dear Daughter, I love you dearly. Wish you were here. I took these the day
before we had a killing frost. We’ve had one every morning since! “Global
(On the photo of the front porch), “This was before we bought the patio set
and screen. As you can tell the porch needs a railing . . .. “ (On the next photo
of the porch,) “As you can tell the porch needs a pretty wrought iron railing.
It will cost an arm and a leg-but . . .” (On the third photo of the porch), “As you
can tell the porch cries out for a new wrought iron railing!!” (She had drawn an
iron railing around the porch in the photo.) “Isn’t it pretty? I have white and red
roses ready to climb.” “Can’t you hear the wind chimes these cold frost mornings?”
The photographs guide me along . . . out the back door, down the steps,
“See my pretty little bird bath. My bluebirds love it. This is my ‘heaven’! . . .
turn around . . cold, cloudy, wonderful leaf filled day . . . flower filled, bird filled,
dying . . Daddy’s garden . . .see the eggplant, sunflowers, okra, morning glories in
the dead corn! Smell the dirt, cedar, leaves – “Home”! I love you Kathy. God bless
your life with Carey. I hear the mighty hunter returning. Love, “Mommy”
As you can imagine the tears started to flow. Especially when I saw the photograph of her sweet little birdbath and her referring to her "heaven" . . . knowing that right now, she is in her true heaven.
I set those photographs aside and reached for my next treasure.
My Darling Girl,
This is an early “Happy Birthday” card filled with my love and prayers for you—even
enclosed a smell of this place I call home. (She had enclosed a sprig of lavender.)
I pray for you – and yours—sunshine, flowers, peace, the smell of good earth, fresh
Be good dear one. Give everyone hugs and kisses. All my Love, Mommy
In addition to the sprig of lavender, she had enclosed a page from the May 1999 “Country Homes & Gardens” magazine. It was a drawing of a women sitting in a chair on her front porch, a book folded on her lap, while she gazed out over her flowers, her yard, and the trees. Mom had written, “How close our hearts must be – I thought of you on the porch!” I pray this “place of peace” for you. Love, Mommy.
She had written this while I was living in Dallas. I didn’t live in a place where I could sit on the front porch or back yard and gaze out over the flowers or trees. Now, seventeen years later, while living in lower Alabama, I do find peace sitting in my back yard with a book in my lap, soaking up the sun, admiring the trees, the birds, the grass, the breeze . . . praising God for His creation and thanking Him for the senses to enjoy all the “simple” blessings He gives.
For my birthday God allowed my mother to send me a reminder of her love. Finding those little treasures Friday morning was my Mommy’s kiss from heaven.
I am not offering any theological truth here. I’m just sharing the simple blessing of finding memories of a mother who valued the simple things in life. She was a woman that found joy in flowers, birds, trees and dirt (can’t get much simpler than dirt). Most of all, she loved the Lord with her whole heart and she loved her family dearly.
May we all be reminded to slow down and value what is most important: our relationship with the Lord, our family and friends, and the simple beauty of all the blessings we take for granted every day.
Thank you Lord for Mommy’s kiss from Heaven.
Coping with Psychological Challenges
Research performed by White and Edwards (1990) suggests that “the positive effect of the empty nest is strongest in the period immediately after the children leave home” (White & Edwards, 1990, p. 241). This research also shows that “the empty nest is associated with significantly greater improvement in life satisfaction when the empty nest includes frequent contact between parents and children” (p. 241). However, the “departure of a child has the potential to set in motion a whole range of family boundary renegotiations and typically constitutes an important identity juncture in parents’ own aging process” (Karp, Holmstrom & Gray, 2004, p. 357).
A study performed by Crowley, Hayslip and Hobby (2003) indicates that job loss is normally more stressful for adults than the empty nest. Crowley, Hayslip and Hobby (2003) attribute this to what they identify as “psychological hardiness.” Hardiness is defined “in terms of more specific dimensions of control, commitment, and challenge-characteristics that may influence both cognitive appraisal and behavior in response to stressful events” (p. 237). Hardiness differs based on the “predictability and anticipatory nature” of events that influence an individual. This research also shows that individuals with psychological hardiness do not fall ill as often when faced with “adverse circumstances.” “Such persons anticipate change as affording them an opportunity for further development” (Crowley, et al. 2003, 237).
Committing to a Successful Second Half of Marriage
As previously stated, Arp and Arp (2001) refer to the empty nest as the second half of marriage. Many of the underlying problems that have been seething beneath the surface of a marriage will carry into the second half of marriage and could very well lead to destruction (pp. 483-484). The children are no longer present to act as a distraction, and a couple will be forced to face issues that they have avoided for years.
Arp, et al. (2001) believe that true commitment will help ease many of the struggles a couple will face. While they point out that there are different levels of commitment, commitment characterized by “personal dedication” is the kind that will guide a couple into a better relationship. Personal dedication is defined as “the desire (and associated behaviors) not only to continue in the relationship but also to improve it, sacrifice for it, invest in it, link personal goals to it, and seek the partner’s welfare, not just one’s own” (p. 206). A woman and her husband may need to seek counseling or a support group to help develop better communication skills so they can encourage each other in a renewed commitment to each other and their marriage.
Developing a Strong Spiritual Foundation
The most important goal for a woman during every stage of life is to develop a close relationship with Jesus Christ. A Christian woman is a child of God. She was chosen by God before the foundation of the world was put in place.
Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy
and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his family
by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do,
and it gave him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:4-5, New Living Translation)
The roles and responsibilities of a woman’s life are prearranged by God. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). A woman’s worth comes from her uniqueness in Jesus Christ. In her lifetime, a woman may be a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, nurse, teacher, executive, and much more. However, all those roles are not who she is. As a believer in Jesus Christ, she is God’s child.
Taking the time to develop the spiritual disciplines of prayer and personal Bible study are essential for a woman’s spiritual well-being during every stage of life. The time to start these disciplines is now. When facing the myriad challenges during the empty nest, a woman needs to have her faith firmly planted in her Lord and Savior.
There may come a time in a woman’s life when she needs to develop the spiritual discipline known as “heavenly reframe” (Clinton & Ohlschlager, 2001, p. 242). This discipline requires the intentional reframing of one’s thought processes. Clinton and Ohlschlager (2001) note that heavenly reframe “involves stopping reactions from a worldly perspective and immediately praying and concentrating on a godly perspective of the issue” (p. 242).
Clinton, et al. (2001) quotes Habermas as referring to heavenly reframe as “top down thinking.” Habermas describes top down thinking as follows:
The God of the universe invites believers to view the myriad details of life
from his eternal vantage point. . . . God and his Kingdom are to be pursued
above all else [so that life is viewed] from his eternal perspective. The result
orders life so that it is single-minded: directed toward eternity [and] freed
from many of its more painful aspects. Directed by God’s power, this outlook
should be thoroughly meshed with everything we think, say, and do. [It should]
influence our worries and fears, finances, raising children, evangelism, assisting
others, our approach to suffering, and our journey through life, even death. (p. 27)
(Clinton & Ohlschlager, 2001, p. 242).
While it is true that a woman faces physical, emotion, psychological and spiritual challenges during the empty nest stage of her life, this stage can be rich and fulfilling. Learning to accept changes to her body, seeking support during the emotional upheavals, and learning to cope with the psychological challenges are important goals for successfully flourishing during the empty nest. However, the most important goal to flourishing during this time is a woman’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Rainey and Yates (2008) also remind women to “focus on who God is rather than who we are or are not” (p. 239).
The key to successfully thriving during the empty nest is to be rooted firmly in God’s love. When the winds of sadness and emptiness threaten to overtake her, a woman firmly planted in her Savior’s love will not be uprooted, as described in Ephesians 3:16-19:
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with
inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your
hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and
keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s
people should, how wide, how long, and how deep his love is. May you
experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.
Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power
that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:16-19, New Living Translation).
There may be times that she feels her heart will break, but the sweet voice of the Holy Spirit will whisper in her heart, “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).