It's almost autumn, and the world is changing. The kids have gone back to school. Summer vacations and adventures are over. The air is starting to cool. Halloween and Thanksgiving are around the corner.
This used to be my favorite time of year. These days, I really prefer Summer and the adventures it permits. But autumn is a time of reflection for me. It is the season between seasons--the gateway to winter. This Fall, my thoughts have turned a lot to my grown sons. I still miss them every day. I miss the adventures we had skiing and hiking. I miss the movie nights and the conversation. I miss the road trips we took together. In a way, I'm looking back and missing the "Summer" of my life.
When I think of it, though, life is still full of possibilities. I started a new career at age 54. Cathy and I were anticipating a baby in 2019, but lost it. The next ten years could bring another baby. Who knows? It is certainly bringing grandchildren--the first due in February. I have young step kids, so I'll be parenting for at least another seven years. Seven years used to seem like a long time. My two older boys grew up overnight. Seven years doesn't seem very long anymore. I am old enough that I think of the past with a certain amount of nostalgia.
If I can offer one small piece of advice to you mid-single parents, it is to make sure you are not so mired down in your own problems that you miss your children's childhood. I lost perspective for a while after my divorce and it cost me a lot in terms of time with my youngest son. I am grateful that he and I are close now. Sometimes I still feel the pain of regret of all that I missed out on there. Don't miss out. Save your pennies and take that road trip with your kids to Yellowstone, even if it's a splurge. Make memories. Money comes and goes. But your children's childhood is a one shot deal.
I recall back in 2008, as my marriage to my kids mom was winding down, I was miraculously reunited with a woman I baptized in the mission field. That's a story for another day. But, at the time we were reunited (an ocean apart), she sent me a baptismal photo to verify her identity. I looked at that photo again and again. I saw a light in the eyes of my 20-year-old self that I desperately missed and longed for. There was a look on my face that revealed a young man that was idealistic and full of life. I suppose I naively believed that I had the answers and that life would be an endless Summer for me, enabling me to help with other people's problems. I thought my mission was to reach out and help others with problems, while I coasted along in my own trouble-free life.
As naive as I had been at 20, at age 42 I longed to be so hopeful again. I hungered for it. I suppose disappointments in my career, the losses of an election, a business, and a long-term marriage took some of the wind out of my sails. Over the next year, I would lose everything. I lost my marriage, my home, my business, and a lot of time with my kids. I think maybe I had to lose everything to really appreciate my life when those things were restored to me. I take nothing for granted anymore. I was single for almost a decade in my middle years, and I know the pain and loneliness that can come from that. So, there is never a day when I am not grateful for my loving wife and my four children. I have had the experiences of losing a business, being laid off, being completely broke, and having to start over and rebuild from scratch with nothing to invest but my own blood, sweat, and tears. So I can never really be thankful enough for my new career and the business I built over the five years previous to it.
Of course, today I still try to help people--out of a reservoir of experience and even pain. I don't assume that I have all the answers anymore, or that they are always obvious or simple. But, looking back, I know how a lot of the pain could have been avoided. I know how I could have achieved peace and happiness faster. That's why I take the trouble to write these essays and serve as a life and relationship coach. It's the reason why Cathy and I wrote our soon to be released book. I have learned that we minister to others out of our own pain and experience, and we teach people how to find joy out of our own joy and happy experience. As an enthusiastic 20-year-old, I couldn't really relate to good people whose lives got completely upside down. At age 54, I understand.
Today, approximately 12 years after I saw that picture of my younger self, I can happily report that I am as hopeful and optimistic as that 20-year-old in the picture. I am old enough to know and young enough to do. I am grateful for the things I have learned, and for the blessings that have been restored to me. That restored hope grew out of some difficult experiences. My Father in Heaven knew what I needed to become the man he knew I could be.
Friends, in the middle of Fall activities, Halloween parties, back to school nights, and preparing for the holidays, take a moment to pause and reflect about all that is good in your life, and your hopes and dreams for the future. I believe you can only experience joy in the things you appreciate.