If I could sum up the past several years in one post, this post from September 2016 is it. It’s everything I’ve learned about letting go, leaning in, and learning to see things differently. And my wish for you, in whatever part of your story that you’re living right now, is that you would know how much you are loved. My wish is that you find peace and comfort in the painful part of your story. My wish is that you have hope for the promise and the joy of a new beginning.
I carried the nest all the way home. And since bringing it home, I like to keep this little nest out where I can see it….usually in the kitchen or in my office. Because it serves a reminder of everything I have learned about myself over the past several years. A reminder of how far I have come since I wrote my very first blog post.
I had stumbled across the nest when Tripp and I were out walking early on a Sunday morning…before it got unbearably hot and humid. My guess is the crazy storm from earlier that week knocked this nest out of the tree branch it was built on. At first, I walked right on past it, but after a few feet, I decided to go back and pick it up. Something about it spoke to me. Maybe it’s because I know a thing or two about big storms. Maybe it’s because I know a thing or two about an empty nest.
I’ve said it many times on my blog…that my nest is far from empty. In fact, I could say now that it’s just the opposite…I have an abundant life. One that, six years ago, I never could have imagined. But getting here was a process, a journey, an exploration, an excavation really. Digging deep into my soul to discover some essential truths about myself.
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” Brene Brown
I can certainly attest to the fact that owning your story takes an immense amount of courage. And it is indeed a process, one that Brene Brown describes in her book Rising Strong. I read it about this time last year – It’s actually first book I’ve ever read front to back…twice…in a row. I mean seriously, it’s one of those books that is so rich, I think you could read it once a year and discover some new kernel of truth that is applicable to just about any season or any situation. Because in her book, Brene Brown shares the process for how to deal with hurt, get honest with our emotions, and how to write a new, braver ending to the story.
As she describes it, the Rising Strong process is broken down into three main parts. Below is a brief paraphrasing from her book:
- The Reckoning: recognizing emotions and getting curious about our feelings.
- The Rumble: getting honest about the stories we’re making up about the struggle.
- The Revolution: writing a new ending to the story based on what we learned from the rumble.
I’ve had a year to reflect on this book and this process continues to inform my way of thinking about so many of life’s challenges, big and small. But more specifically to my experience with empty-nesting, the three parts of this process could be described as letting go, leaning in, and learning to see things differently. Each part with its own lessons, insights, and blessings.
The Reckoning: Letting Go
Change is hard. And to the extent that one fights and/or resists change, it becomes all that more painful. It’s like that saying, ‘pain is inevitable – suffering is optional’. Yeah, well thanks to my special talents for 1) overthinking things and 2) making things harder than they need to be, I made this transition just about as painful and tormented as it could be.
“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” Lao Tzu
I love this quote…I mean who doesn’t love a new beginning, a fresh start. But you can’t get there without the painful ending. I really, really, REALLY wish that wasn’t the case. I wish you could skip that part. I wish you could hopscotch over pain to get to the new beginning. And I tried! Let me tell you…I tried every possible tactic to avoid feeling the pain, the doubt, the guilt, the fear.
Looking back, one of my biggest mistakes was is not giving myself permission to grieve. To be sad about that part of my life coming to an end. Instead I Mary-Sunshined it, pretending not to feel what I was feeling so deeply.
The truth is that letting go was painful. I was afraid that if I let go – let go of a role, let go of a relationship, let go of a dream – there would be nothing left. Or more accurately, that without these things, I was nothing. That my friends is emptiness…and I know it well.
The Rumble: Leaning In
The middle part. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Leaning into the empty. Asking the “big” questions. Who am I? What is my purpose in life? This kind of soul work is not for sissies. Looking into the mirror and facing painful truths about choices I have made. Feeling ALL THE GUILT about mistakes I had made.
But this part of my journey was also learning that so many of the stories that I had told myself, about myself, were quite simply not accurate. So I started over. And when I couldn’t find the truth in the landscape of my life, I looked in the one place where I should have started all along…I looked to THE ONE. Then the question of Who am I? was no longer a dark void of fear and doubt. It was quite simply, so perfectly summed up in this one expression of light and faith.
I am a child of a good and loving God.
This was the framework upon which I started rebuilding my interior life. Bit by bit, piece by piece, ‘grace upon grace’. Living in the light….knowing and believing that I am loved. That I do not have to hustle or perform to earn His love. That I was especially created with unique talents and gifts. That my only purpose in life is to share my gifts with the world. Because of his Grace. All for his Glory.
The Revolution: Learning to SEE
That thing I avoided for so long – the pain, the uncertainty, the emptiness – what I had not realized was that was where Grace lived. And so to come face to face with the Grace of God, not in my accomplishments or my achievements, but in my absolute nothingness…well it has been humbling to say the least. And it continues, to this day, to fill my soul with a deep and profound gratitude.
Seeing my life through eyes of faith and the lens of gratitude has ushered in this new life….this abundant life. Because when I learned to see myself differently, I saw my life differently. Soon I realized that my nest wasn’t really empty, it just had a little growing room. And this, my friends, was the new, braver ending to that story.
But my story isn’t over yet. I know this. And I’m sharing all of this today because I want you to know that your story is not over yet either. Whatever challenge you’re facing – whether it’s an empty-nest or a broken heart or a scary diagnosis…it’s just the beginning. An opportunity to rewrite your story with a brave, new ending. And the Good News is that you do not have to do this alone.
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
In sharing my empty-nest story, my hope is that it will encourage you to keep moving forward in your own story. Because I promise that abundant life is possible…it just takes a little bit of time, a whole lot of faith, and the courage to see things differently. I am living proof.