I love fall and wish that it could last longer. Here in Illinois, it begins in late August when the cornstalks turn a warm wheat color and the soybeans are a beautiful green-gold. The scene is transformed daily as, one by one, fence rows of maple and pin oak trees turn from green to glorious yellows, crimsons, and molasses-browns, changing their clothes as quickly as an actress in a summer stock production. The sky becomes more azure as the days go by and soon sumac joins the parade of color, turning a deep magenta-red, becoming the backdrop for wild black-eyed Lazy Susans and tall, gangly golden rod.
September comes and the days are often cool and rainy. The farmers have to work strategically now, harvesting only when the plants are dry. On those days, there is a cloud of corn and bean powder that drifts across the fields and smells amazingly like fresh-baked bread.
October is right behind with the first frost that means hooded sweatshirts, wiener roasts and hayrides, and the unmistakable rosy pink of the Indian prairie grasses. Pumpkins and mums take their front-row seats at the supermarkets before they come home to rest in the yard among the leaves that start to fall more frequently now.
The colors are even more glorious and distracting through my window. The whole house takes on a warm glow as the trees put on their golden dresses and wave at me to look at them from inside….”See me, see me!” they seem to say, “I will soon be changing my clothes again, and I know this is your favorite dress.” I pull out the pumpkin cake recipe, enticing my children with the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg. The crock-pot takes up permanent residency on the kitchen counter with vegetable beef soup or chili a near-daily tummy warmer for those who must go outdoors.
At last, November blows in and gray and brown are the palette of choice. I have to blink to be sure I didn’t really see Indians and Pilgrims breaking bread together across the field and along the fence line. Birds come to my feeder, anticipating another sort of feast, often just dropping by for a quick bite before they continue on south to warmer climes. Squirrels grocery shop in my yard, disappearing into the front doors of their homes in my neighbors’ old oak trees.
Yes it is fall, the season of harvest, of enjoying the fruits of our labors, of pulling our favorite corduroy jeans and wool sweaters from storage, sliding our sandals under the bed and donning socks and boots and cozy knit scarves. We long for comfort foods and comfort clothes, sensing that winter won’t be far behind and the days of spring and summer will be only a distant memory as the winds blow.
I have long thought of my time as a homeschooling mom as really days on a calendar, each season bringing with it something fresh and exciting, new challenges and events that will shape both the lives of my children and of me.
I remember the thrill of choosing a phonics program when my younger three children were still small, of looking through catalogs and listening to friends described the various ways they taught their children to read. And I remember excitedly planning unit study projects, loving everything from the paste and glue to the frogs in tiny portable aquariums. That was in the spring of homeschooling, when everything was a new beginning, when I was young and more eager, full of ideas and surrounded by babies and toddlers, just beginning to till the soil and place tender seedlings into the ground. Gently we tended them, fertilizing with love and staking them to what was good and true and right. Strong winds of discouragement and exhaustion threatened to beat all of us down but God, in His mercy, kept us.
Time went by so quickly and had I blinked I might have missed those long days of summer, the season of enriching the soil of their hearts and minds with good things, taking their yearnings and dreams and helping them prepare to see their own fruit. This was the season of toil, of pulling out weeds that encroached on the now sturdy plants, of watching the soil every day for bugs or insects that might destroy, of drawing up a plan for harvest.
And then one day, noticing the blossoms were now gone, amazingly, fruit appeared and it was fall. Our job was to continue to nurture that tiny fruit, watching it grow, trusting it to become mature in God’s perfect timing and by the full measure of His grace. It was now fall and harvest was approaching.
I love to call this fall season of homeschooling, of mothering, the sweater years. It is when we can enjoy our children who have grown into adulthood, experiencing some of the harvest after spending years in the growing seasons that brought us to this point.
But, one of my greatest concerns about moms who have reached the sweater years is that they will not be prepared for the changes that are coming, that they will not be willing to not only accept but to embrace what the Lord has for them in the next season of their lives. In essence, I wonder how many of us have put on that comfortable sweater and are ready for the cold days that are certain to come. How many of us actually look forward to this season and excitedly anticipate even the winter that will be certain to follow?
We know that changing seasons are of the Lord, they are part of His perfect design for His whole creation. In the second chapter of Daniel we are told: “Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” This passage reminds us that we serve a God who is sovereign, who rules over all things, including the changing years of our lives.
As women, we are hit right between the eyes with this bittersweet time of life as we experience both our children leaving home and our physical bodies changing, most of us aware that our days of pregnancy and babies are behind us. We should not be surprised when the fall season comes. All of our lives have been spent working toward this time. In fact, the whole world around us is moving in the same direction. Jeremiah 8 says “Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration.” Should we, too, not look upon growing older and seeing major changes in our lives as a natural part of life?
I love so much that familiar passage in Ecclesiastes 3 that says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build.” It assures us that God gives us just the time that we need to accomplish all that he has for us in each in every season of life. We never need to fret that our childbearing days are gone or that we somehow missed something that he might have intended for us in another season. We don’t have to fear that we might “die before our time” as some foolishly say. We can have every confidence that God has every stage of our lives under control. We can rejoice with the psalmist that “I trust in you, O Lord, You are my god. My times are in your hands.” We can claim God’s promises that He, the Lord never changes. We can rejoice in the assurance that, as he promised to the prophet Isaiah, “even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He. I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you, I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
But I have to ask these questions:
What are you doing now to prepare for those days?
Are you investing in the lives of your children in such ways that the harvest season of life, the sweater years, will be ones that brings joy and delight to you or investing in ways that will bring regret and sorrow?
Do you have goals you are working on to bring you confidently into the changes that are inevitable or are you putting off thinking about what might be in the future for you?
How are you preparing spiritually for the coming changes in your life?
Are you dwelling on things on earth or on things in heaven?
Are you pondering the ways God might be able to use you in future ministry, to be a blessing, encouragement, and even a source of hope and joy to others? Or are you spending your time fretting about the temporal issues of life, those things that are truly beyond your control? It is so easy to be caught up in today because we live in the here and now. Most of us have been living on one income and as such have no retirement plan that comes along with a salaried job. We have invested our time and money into raising and educating children and are a virtual of fountain of information without a sticker price. We know things like the fact that hanging cloth diapers in the sun will bleach out the stains and remove diaper odor and but how does that translate on a resume?
Instead of trying to evaluate our lives based on what the world sees as important or worthy, we must learn to see all the wonderful things that God has taught us about Himself and the blessings and privileges he has given to us, opportunities that have equipped us for the task He gave us in raising children, wisdom and knowledge that we can pass along to others who are still on that same path.
As older moms, Titus 2 tells us that we have an important role in the lives of younger moms, teaching them both in word and by our very own lives, to love their husbands and children. As we become more and more like Jesus ourselves through the years, we will gain both the ability and the credibility to teach what is good. As younger moms, we are to seek out older women for this sort of encouragement, not just the ones who are in the same season of life and who struggle in the same ways that we do. God’s plan is that those who have gone through the seasons of life must be willing to share their joys and sorrows as they have reaped them, with those who are still planting.
As we spent time raising our children, I think one of the things that is often seen as optional is spending time in the Word and really studying what the Scripture has to say to us. Many families see the spiritual nourishment of mom as something that can be placed in a holding pattern, waiting for another season of life. I can remember spending many hours in a nursing mom’s room back in the bowels of the church thinking “one day, I will be able to hear an entire sermon.” I also remember seeing many other moms in the same situation and after 4 or 5 little ones in a row who needed to nurse and burp and walk, before they knew it, years had gone by and their spirits felt dry and their souls cried to be fed. And life and home was full of even more responsibilities that they allowed to keep them from having a quiet time with the Lord.
Moms, the sweater years of your life will be so much more rewarding and full of contentment if you prepare for them by seeking to grow in God’s grace through reading his word, actively participating in worship, feasting on solid Bible teaching that will inspire you to be like Jesus. Do whatever it takes to spend time with the Lord, to hear good Bible preaching, to fellowship with older moms who have experienced many seasons of life. It is an investment you will never regret.
And, are you learning to be content now so you will be prepared for whatever changes come to you, understanding on a deep level what it means to live each day to the fullest and not to worry about tomorrow? The Apostle Paul admonished his hearers that true gain, true riches are godliness with contentment and that ought to be central to any retirement plan we make. Our only true spiritual goal is to know Jesus and to be like him, looking forward to spending eternity in heaven with him. And along with that, we are to seek to take as many people long with us as possible. If we are preparing for heaven and are witnessing to and discipling others, we are on the right path that will take us into our sweater years with grace and confidence.
Genuine contentment means that we will not only accept the changing seasons of life as homeschooling moms but we will recognize how, through homeschooling, God has been preparing us for the next season!