Summer was always a special time in my childhood. Being the only son of a firefighter, I was blessed with long camping trips, historical site visits and lots of family time. It was a time to live in the pool, stay up late and ride bikes all over our small town. As I grew up, summer became the time of football two-a-days, basketball summer leagues and lots of high school beach trips. While the activities changed, the enjoyment remained the same.
Recently, as a father, summer no longer holds quite as much charm. One of the results of divorce is that while my wife and I enjoy our kids for the vast majority of the school year, custodial arrangements dictate that they are gone for long stretches of the summer. And by gone, I mean out of town and on airplanes to other states. This casts a bit of a fog over our otherwise sunny Southern California skies. Summer should be a time to take family camping trips, go to Disneyland and BBQ while the kids jump on the trampoline. Instead, it is often a time of loss, quiet, and the hope that they are doing okay.
While this in no way mirrors some of the summer challenges that the loss of school routine and other variables might cause for a family affected by disability, I wonder how many parents look to summer with a lack of enthusiasm? Could a time filled with so much potential to connect and create memories actually become a symbol of struggle? If so, then how to we navigate this in a way that provides emotional health, encourages our family and friends, and ultimately still gives glory to God? Allow me to share how my wife and I navigate our "empty nest" summers. I hope these steps might assist you with finding the "twist" God has for your summer!
First, we have learned over the past five years to trust God in the lives of our children. There are so many factors and struggles that divorce has and continues to cause in their lives that we cannot even begin to actually protect or shield them. This compels us to spend a great deal of time praying and trusting for the well-being of our children while they are away. Each time a feeling of loss or "missing them" occurs, it is an opportunity to again place them into the hands of our loving God. Is this easy? No! And it has not become easier with time. However, it is more manageable each year.
Second, we cherish the time we do have together. The few weeks in August each year where all seven of us are together have become our moments for fun, adventure and memories. While I am a big fan of quantity when it comes to family life, I continue to learn how to enjoy the quality even more when quantity is not available. The lack of quantity also requires us to be a bit more creative in designing memory moments. Camping in the backyard, beach trips and late nights with the telescope have become the norm around our house in August and we love it!
Finally, we intentionally spend a great deal of the summer ensuring that our marriage is healthy and connected. We have six weeks of date nights guaranteed and while it would be easy to fritter the time away, we work hard to build our relationships. Date nights, playing cards, time at the beach and mini-trips around Southern California help to energize our marriage and allow us to be better parents when our children return.
Be encouraged that no matter what your summer might look like, God has plans for it. He is sovereign, He is for you and He desires to invest wholeheartedly into the life of you and your family. As you begin looking at the calendar, whether that is a peaceful or a stressful activity, may I encourage you to take some time to discover God's plans for this summer?
- Where can you reconnect with your spouse, your kids, your extended family and friends?
- Where can you plan for some quiet time with God?
- Are short trips a possibility to enjoy?
- What activities in your town are free and simple to attend that you might consider adding to the calendar for this year?
Here's to summer plans, to God's intervention in the midst of our plans, and to the hope that you have the most peaceful and memorable summer ever this year!
Dear Lord, so many of our plans just don't seem to line up. Help us to find you in the midst of change, busyness and even disappointment. You love us and our kids dearly. May our summer plans become Your plans and may we trust You, even when the plans come with a twist! Amen