Tag Archive | giving back

Coping with the empty(ing) nest: Expand your circle of concern

Community_garden_2

Image by Klest, via Wikimedia Commons

by Chris Little

So, in my ongoing exploration of the transition years when the kids are getting older and leaving home, last time I wrote about the importance of looking within, of getting to know yourself again after what so many years of raising the kids, when our own concerns are often placed far into the background.

In this post I’d like to talk about another strategy for coping with this sometimes-painful transition: expanding your nest. When the kids were little, after I had stepped off the merry-go-round of my full-time career to devote my time to raising them, my focus was pretty much entirely on my family and my home—my nest. I stenciled walls, mixed up batches of homemade play-dough, baked bread, made scrapbooks, the works! Sure, I taught some Sunday school and helped out at the kids’ school, but for the most part, my focus was on my young family. Nothing wrong with that!

But I find that as the kids inch their way out of the house—they’re 15 and 18 now—I’m finding that I have a little more space in my life, a little more time and energy, and a little more interest in looking outward and broadening my circle of concern to include more of my community.

In a way, I’ve begun to think of my entire community as my nest. And it strikes me that getting more involved in my community through volunteer work might be a meaningful strategy for transitioning out of the child-rearing years into my life as a mom with children who are out in that world themselves, instead of living at home with me.

Doing meaningful volunteer work doesn’t pay, of course—but it’s work that our communities desperately need. And who is better positioned to do this work than those of us who aren’t tied down to full-time careers? What’s more, in addition to helping make our communities richer, healthier places, we’ll be setting a great example for our kids.

So here are three steps to keep in mind as you think about expanding your nest to include your community:

1. Take stock of your heart.

What do you love? What are you really good at? What excites and motivates you? How do you spend your free time? Focus your energy on these things, and volunteering will feel meaningful and rewarding. I know a mom who always loved to play tennis with her kids, so as they grew up and out of the house, she started a young peoples’ tennis league in town, and now she’s teaching kids of all ages to enjoy her favorite game.

2. Take stock of your community.

What’s going on in your community that interests or excites you? What’s not going on in your community that you would like to see happen? If you’re concerned about funding cuts to your kids’ schools, it might be meaningful for you to volunteer for the high school sports booster club. If you love to exercise, how about teaching a fitness class at the local YWCA?

3. Step into it! But strive for balance.

It might take a little courage to step into volunteering in your community, especially if you haven’t been involved previously. Start small, and be careful not to overcommit. And remember that the work you do, no matter how small it seems to you, makes your community worth living in—and worth coming home from college to visit! And I can only think it will make your own life richer and more rewarding too.

So I wonder, what volunteer work is meaningful to you? How do you find ways to engage meaningfully in your expanded nest?

Next time I’ll write about another strategy for adapting to your empty(ing) nest: Investing in your work.

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The Reason for the Season

By Ruth Topper 

If you are like me, it gets to be the second week in December and holiday panic starts to hit you.  Christmas is just two weeks away and the list of things to do to “get ready” keeps growing.   There is shopping to do, gifts to wrap, a Christmas letter and cards to get in the mail, cookies to bake, and concerts/parties to attend.  With all these things to do it is very easy to lose track of the true meaning of Christmas.

My son Josh (a few years ago) was apparently tickled to be a cow!

My son Josh (a few years ago) was quite the happy cow!

But there is one event that helps me keep the true meaning of Christmas in mind:  Helping to coordinate the annual Christmas Pageant at my church.  About 10 years ago for some now unknown reason I said “yes” when asked if I would like to help coordinate our first pageant.  (Perhaps it was that my home church never had a pageant while I was growing up and I had an inner desire to be part of one!)  My decision may also have been made a little easier knowing that there was a script, music director in place and that two other friends, Julie and Kathleen, were also willing to help.  Thus began my pageant coordinating career.

It never fails to amaze Julie and I how well the pageant “production” turns out!  We leave our Saturday morning practice the day before the big event and just shake our heads, wondering how this is ever going to pull together.  Although the kids have been practicing the music with our wonderful and talented music director, Pete, for more than a month, you just never know exactly what is going to happen when you have 2 year old lambs and 4th graders playing the roles of Elizabeth, Zachariah, Mary, Joseph, the Innkeeper,  the angel Gabriel, etc.

Our original script included children from age 2 through 8th grade.  Volunteers sewed costumes for our shepherds and cast, made sheep, donkey and cow “heads” (so our pre-schoolers would look authentic as our friendly beasts), cut angel wings out of posterboard and decorated Burger King crowns for our Wise Men!  Ten years later we still make use of all of those wonderful costuming props.

Some of my favorite pageant moments over the years have been:

  • Never knowing exactly what those 2 and 3 year old lambs are going to do…
  • Sean, now graduated from high school, playing the bagpipes, several years in a row, for the processional for our 3 kings
  • Our band of 6th to 8th graders playing several of our pageant songs
  • Hearing “Mary” and “Elizabeth” sing the “Cherry Tree Magnificat” based on Luke 1:47-55

    Fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round blogger Karen's daughter Kelly as the angel Gabriel

    Fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round blogger Karen’s daughter Kelly as the angel Gabriel

  • When Pete, our director, asked where the Innkeeper’s Wife was at practice one year and Matt (the Innkeeper) calmly replied that he was single!
  • Learning and loving songs that I had never heard until I got involved with the pageant – “Get Ready”, “Mary Had a Baby” and “Little Lamb”

Every year as the pageant season begins again I question myself as to why I continue to help with it.  My kids are “aging” out of the pageant and I certainly don’t need something else to add to my “to do” list.  However I just think about my favorite pageant moments over the past few years and it draws me back again.   So–if given the opportunity–I would encourage you to attend the Children’s Christmas Pageant at your church or school.  It will certainly bring a smile to your face and help remind you of “the reason for the season.”

How do you keep the true meaning of Christmas alive?  Have you helped organize a similar Christmas pageant, play or musical event?  Feel free to share your experiences below.

The cast is assembled!

The cast is assembled!

My daughter Rachel and a friend sing Elizabeth and Mary's song

My daughter Rachel and a friend sing Elizabeth and Mary’s song