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When our first baby was about to be born, I became very aware of what is known as the nesting instinct. I wanted to make sure the nursery was finished in plenty of time just in case the baby should come early. So as the due date approached, we painted the walls, put up the Care Bear wall paper, refinished the crib, and laid the handmade quilt invitingly on the new mattress. 

This spring I noticed the nesting instinct as I watched a pair of eagles and a pair of robins building their nests, hatching their babies, and nurturing their growth. It's a natural process of life for parents, which is both challenging and fulfilling. But with enough time, the nest becomes empty, which is a part of the journey that arrives so soon, it seems, that parents can feel rather bewildered as to what comes next.

Having gone through the transition of the empty nest, I can spot certain points where I think I was unconsciously trying to hold on to the nestkeeping. For example, when our daughter went away to college, I got a baby goat, which I fully intended to keep as a pet. A close friend smiled about this and gently suggested that perhaps I was looking for a baby to care for. I denied it at first, but then had to give it an honest consideration. Not that a goat could replace our daughter, by any means, but I had to admit to myself that I did have a maternal attitude toward getting the baby goat. When our son left for college, I started a children's club at our church and thrived on nurturing those little ones.

More recently, I have caught myself doing a new form of nurturing. Gardening. Now, I've always loved gardening, and I did garden even when our children were still in the nest. But it seems I've gotten deeper into it with time. In part, it is because I love that partnership with God and the Earth. But I do believe that I actually gain fulfillment from nurturing the plants. The whole process. From preparing the soil to planting the seed, to training the young plants as they begin to grow and produce. Like parenting, it is an opportunity to see God's hand at work and to have a part in what is produced.

In a few months, many parents will face an empty nest as children go away to college, get married, or begin new careers away from the nest. While these are all good things that parents can share with their grown children, it is important to still keep that natural desire to nurture alive in a consistent way.

Here are Some Suggestions.

1. Garden! If you gardened with your kids before, it's a great place to relive happy memories. If you didn't garden with your children, it's a great place to begin a brand new nursery! The plants need your tender care and your prayers. And when they produce, you can rejoice in the blessings of your work.

2. Get a pet. Or perhaps think about becoming a foster pet owner. There are growing numbers of pet rescue groups that need foster pet owners to care for rescued animals while they find them permanent homes.

3. Keep nurturing those grown kids. Even though our grown children don't need us for their daily needs, they do still need us for support, love, laughter, and for making future memories.

One day, Jesus will return and there will be one, big happy nest for all of the saved family of God to occupy together. What a wonderful experience that will be! But until that time, we need to acknowledge our need to be needed. And we need to use the opportunities that God gives us to continue to productively nurture whoever He sends our way.

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By Gwen Simmons. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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