Empty Nest, Abundant Life

Nag Less, Pray More

Category: Practical Tips

A Retreat for One

It’s hard to believe that we’ve already reached the final days of January.   One month ago today, I left home for hours to go on my 2nd annual one-woman, one-afternoon retreat.   I do it on the last Friday afternoon of the year, but you can anytime you have at least three hours in a row and enough energy to do some deep thinking.

In the past, when I thought of retreats, I imagined driving with a van full of ladies to a rustic setting in the mountains for a weekend of fun, worship, and teaching.   I have been to many retreats like this, and they required preregistration, paying around $100, packing, picking just the right time to ask my husband if he could watch the kids, and gearing up my introverted self for a lot of “together” time.   Don’t get me wrong;  I have enjoyed, learned from, made great memories, and even taught at some of these experiences, but I was looking for something different.

In December of 2016, I listened to a podcast by one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Sally Clarkson.  She explained the benefits of getting away alone for a yearly reflection.  She also referred to materials from an author whose name I had never heard before, Lara Casey.  I went to both Sally and Lara’s websites and read all they had to say about this event,  put their suggestions into two Microsoft Word documents, and made plans to take my retreat at ….. Starbucks.   Much less money and planning!

I took the following things with me:

  1. My Bible
  2. A ton of notebook paper in a folder
  3. An assortment of brightly colored pens
  4. Inspirational stickers
  5. Highlighters
  6. Posterboard
  7. A Sharpie
  8. Kleenex

I found myself experiencing the entire spectrum of emotions as I sat nestled in a booth sipping on my mocha, thinking about all the wonderful events of the past year and setting goals for the following one.  Because I was alone, I could think objectively about my marriage, my children, and my own life, evaluating the good, the bad, and the ugly, and praying how to work on the difficulties.  I came home refreshed and ready to implement my plans.

Do I achieve every goal I set?  Definitely not, but I like having a direction I am choosing to travel in my life and page after page written in my own handwriting.  I would highly recommend this activity to you and can’t wait to see what God shows you about your life!

What in the World is a Vision Board?

I resisted creating a vision board for many years, giving random excuses like, “I’m not artistic,”  “That’s too trendy for me,”   and “I have no idea how to start!”   An email at the end of 2016 changed my perspective and gave me the initiative I needed, and now I wish I would have started doing this exercise years earlier than I did.

For the past two years, I have participated in fitness challenges at https://www.jennyhadfield.com/.   It provided me with motivation, camaraderie, and expert advice for very little money, and I highly recommend it.  In the particularly dangerous weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, I would receive email with weekly challenges, and the last one in December contained these words.  “Visualization is one of the most powerful exercises you can do for your mind. Professional athletes use visualization to perform at their peak, and when they do, research shows that the their brain activates in a very similar fashion, just like when they train or race.

According to peak performance expert, Jack Canfield, “your brain will work tirelessly to achieve the statements you give your subconscious mind. And when those statements are the affirmations and images of your goals, you are destined to achieve them! Because your mind responds strongly to visual stimulation-by representing your goals with pictures and images – you will actually strengthen and stimulate your emotions…and your emotions are the vibrational energy that activates the Law of Attraction. The saying “A picture is worth a thousand words,” certainly holds true here.

Creating a vision board is one of the most valuable visualization tools available to you. This powerful tool serves as your image of the future – a tangible representation of where you are going. It represents your dreams, your goals, and your ideal life.”

How to Create your 2017 Vision Board

  • Keep it simple and include things you want to achieve, as well as how you want to feel. You can start very simply by writing down words on a blank piece of paper or on your phone.
  • When inspiration strikes, create your board with your words, notes, and things you want to happen in 2017.
  • It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can cut pictures from a magazine, color, use photos, stickers, or images off the web – or simply make it a word-based vision board.

Your board doesn’t need to be constructed this week. Start the process by writing down how you want to feel (calm, present, successful, fit, healthy) and include your goals, and let your visions come to you. Then look for images and ways to express these visually. For years my vision board was just words or numbers on a gigantic white board in my office. It can be as simple or as fancy as it makes sense for you.”

These instructions gave me the direction and confidence to undertake the task.  While I was on my one-woman, one-afternoon retreat at the end of 2016, I used stickers, markers, and pictures to make the following board:

Just before I went on my one-woman, one-afternoon retreat a couple of weeks ago, I looked over 2017’s vision board and cheered as I realized that I had accomplished each goal I had written on the board.   This fact motivated me to create one for this year.  This is what I came up with:

I have heard that if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.  Planning to make a vision board can make 2018 so much more productive!  It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to follow a particular format.  Please comment if you have any questions or if you would like to share a picture of your vision board.


New Year, New Word

The new year always brings a flurry of thoughts about how this year will be different from all the ones in the past.    It causes us to analyze how we can be more effective and make resolutions to change habits as a result.    I struggled to harness these strong feelings of resolve and to fine tune them, and I have found success in doing this for the past five years.

My secret?  Choose a word!  Just one word.   A word that you want to aspire to learn more about and one that you will come to resemble more and more as the year goes by.

I read a great book on the topic, One Perfect Word, by Debbie Macomber, at the end of 2013, and I was inspired.    On January 1, 2014, I dared to write down my word for the year and pray it each day for myself.  The word terrified me; my word for the year 2014 was Surrender.  I wanted to surrender my plans, hopes, dreams, and agenda to God, who had an even better plan for my life.  I had no idea how strongly this word would play out until I found myself in ICU not able to breathe on my own in June of that year.

By the end of 2014, I had not only gained my strength back but had also learned far more about surrender than I ever imagined possible.  I was hooked on choosing a word, now not only for myself but for each member of my immediate family.  My word for the year 2015 was Rejoicing.   I wanted to learn to rejoice not only when circumstances were going my way but also in the deepest disappointments.  It was a worthwhile journey.  The words I chose for my family were endurance, maturity, and trust.

When 2016 rolled around, I couldn’t wait to do this exercise again.  My word for the year 2016 was Renewal, as I looked at my new life with children moving away and going on the international mission field.  My words for my husband and children were balance, faith, and courage, as they all were learning huge lessons of their own.

By December of 2016, I even took myself on a one-woman, one-afternoon retreat to evaluate my life, set priorities, and, most importantly, determine my word.  My word for the year 2017 was Freedom as I sought to be released my own self-doubt, others’ expectations and opinions of me, and the limits I had placed on myself due to fear.  I experienced my best year yet, achieving more than ever and daring to do activities I never expected that I would.  My words for my family were fortitude, security, and maturity.

This year is no different.  I have chosen my word.  It’s another scary one because I know that there are many lessons I need to learn about this subject.  My word for this year is Humility.    True freedom only comes when I choose to humble myself before God and trust Him completely for my future.   The words I have selected for those closest to me are direction, leadership, and abiding.

I have found a great website that has also helped me in this journey:  www.oneword365.com.  It’s a wonderful community of people who have also chosen one word for the year so we can support one another as we live out our word for the year.

What will be your word for the year?

Stay tuned to my blog for posts about one-woman retreats and vision boards!

Back to School


I loved it from the moment I laid eyes on each building, path, bridge, garden, and pathway 30 years ago this summer.    I was a 19-year-old transfer student, eager to embrace a new life at California State University, Chico, located three hours away from home.  My mother did not share my enthusiasm as she peered into my first dorm room, muttering, “It looks like a prison.”   Within a few days of moving in, I noticed a handsome dark-haired resident as I sorted mail at the front desk.  Less than three years later, I married him. During my college years, I determined my values and morals, stretched myself as an adult, developed friendships that are still influential in my life, made some of my favorite memories in my life, and received a fabulous education.

My husband and I were lucky enough to settle in the same city where we attended university and raised our children only a couple miles away from the rose garden where we first kissed.  We took our children to see performances at the auditorium on campus.  We strolled through the campus with them from an early age.  When it came time for them to determine where to attend college, their choice of majors and preferences in size and extracurricular activities also led them both to choose Chico State for their undergraduate degrees as well.   They attended lectures in the buildings where we once studied.  They met their closest companions.  They thrived in their chosen career paths.  While they attended, I became a member of the Parent Advisory Council, volunteering at many events.  I beamed with pride on their graduation day in 2014, watching them cross the same stage their father and I had crossed to receive our degrees in 1990 and 1991.

I continued my involvement in the Parent Advisory Council after they graduated.   Today it was my privilege to assist parents today as they moved their children in to the residence halls.  I answered questions, consoled, gave advice, directed them to the right places, gave them swag, and sometimes handed them Kleenex as their emotions came bubbling to the surface.  It was so fun to relive memories as I walked around the campus I love so much.

I have learned  great practical tips that I observed from my experience as student, parent, community member, and volunteer, some by dismal failures I have made and some by observing others.  Here’s some of my favorite:

  1. Try to get all your shopping done at Target or Walmart before you arrive.   These stores are a madhouse during move-in weeks.
  2. Assemble a small toolkit for your child with a hammer, pliers, a screwdriver, duct tape, and hanging hooks.
  3. Prepare to expand your flexibility and patience.  If you start to lose your cool, your child’s final thoughts of you before you leave won’t be positive ones.
  4. Make sure you pack lots of snacks.
  5. Don’t overstay your welcome.   Show your support, get them moved in, take them out for something to eat, then say your goodbyes.
  6. Rest in a job well done.  We raise them to leave the nest and soar!


She’s Married!

Abigail and Joseph, picture by Katelyn Owens photography

I awoke on July 8 with the weight of the world on my shoulders yet great anticipation.  Today would be one of the biggest day of our lives as we celebrated our daughter entering into married life.   My daughter told me that all she asked is that I would not be sick or stressed on this momentous day.   I took comfort in my usual morning routines of a quiet time with Jesus, some brain games, and a quick breakfast with my vitamins before preparing myself to go to the church.   I loaded up the car with last minute supplies and prayed with my husband before I headed over to the venue across town.

Abbie had a detailed schedule of the day for all of the people involved in the wedding, and the schedule told me to arrive at 10:30am for hair and makeup.  I am not a girly-girl by any stretch of the imagination but had researched hairstyles that complement my hair length and color.  Lexie, our amazing hair stylist and one of Abbie’s childhood friends, worked wonders on my hair.   Likewise, another one of Abbie’s childhood friends, Emily, brought out features in my face that I didn’t even know existed.   We had many hours of preparation and relaxation before the ceremony.



The entire day passed by in a joyful blur of love, music, smiles, laughter, pride, tears, activity, embraces, pictures, fun, reunions, dancing, waiting, celebrating, and waving goodbye.  I had asked my friends to pray that the triple digit temperatures would miraculously decrease, thinking that would ensure the day’s “success.”  God taught me a valuable lesson by not lowering the temperatures but lowering all stress and tension instead.


For any mothers anticipating their daughter’s weddings, I have some tips of what worked well for us.

  1. If financially possible, get a hotel room for the bride and her closest bridesmaids the night or two before the wedding.  This gives them independence and a last chance for bonding and gives you much needed peace and rest.
  2. Bring a wireless speaker to the room where the bride is getting ready and play her favorite Pandora station.  Music can soothe nerves and promote joy.  My daughter’s request was the John Mayer station.
  3. Order deli trays from the local supermarket to have in the bride’s and groom’s dressing rooms around lunchtime if the ceremony isn’t until mid to late afternoon.   If a friend offers to help, have them pick up the deli trays and even split them between the bride’s and groom’s rooms.
  4. Bring a small assortment of childhood toys to the dressing room if there are children in the ceremony.  We had Legos and Fisher Price toys, and they were not only beneficial to the flower girl and ring bearer but also to the children of the pastor and worship leaders, not to mention some of the adults with a childlike heart.   My husband and I had so much fun playing with 3 delightful little girls during the sound check, and we found that it relaxed us and reminded us of precious time spent playing with our daughter.     
  5. Take fun and candid pictures during the day, but don’t get in the way of the official photographer.
  6.  Don’t insist on your own way.  This is your daughter’s wedding.   Being right isn’t worth more than your relationship with your daughter.
  7. Enjoy yourself!  This is a great day where you get to see many people you love.  Let them know what they mean to you and how honored you are that they are in attendance.
  8. Stand back and observe the precious moments of the day, and tuck those memories into your heart for days when you are missing your little girl.

    With much love from the father and mother of the bride!



Developing Habits

It can be so difficult to motivate myself to accomplish all that I want to.  For so many years, I was on a downward spiral of developing habits of laziness, unhealthy eating, wasting time, and letting my mind turn to mush.  I would make excuses such as, “I can’t help it,”  “I don’t feel good,” or “I am so busy with the kids that I just need to veg out right now.”  I let those excuses control me far too long as I watched the numbers increase on the scale, noticed a growing distance between myself and God when God hadn’t pulled away, and felt my mind growing duller.

As the children reached the end of high school, I decided to take action in my life on many fronts by developing new habits in my day.   I started with the activities I enjoyed doing but needed more discipline to do.  I began consistently having a quiet time with God each day.  I also began to do a Sudoku a day, as I watched my father struggle with forgetfulness.  I then branched out to exercise, simply walking or doing Wii Fit a few times a week.  At first, it was hard to adjust my schedule and life to accommodate these activities, but once I got used to them, I missed them if I skipped them.

A year and a half ago, I became much more serious about managing my health.  I even hired a weight loss coach who taught me to use my smart phone to log my nutritional intake and my exercise.   Before I go to sleep each night, it takes me less than 3 minutes to enter this data.   Just by developing these habits, I have lost nearly 60 pounds since then.

Now I’ve lost count of the activities that have become habits.  Before even getting out of bed, I have a prayer and Bible reading time and complete one Sudoku.  I make an apple cider vinegar concoction each morning and use it to down my vitamins and herbs.  I sing the Matt Redman song, “10,000 Reasons” as I rid the sink of dishes.  I complete a brain test on Lumosity, and finish two Spanish lessons on Duolingo.  Before I go to bed each night, I brush my teeth for a full 2 minutes, scrub my face, enter my nutritional data into myfitnesspal.com and my exercise into mapmyfitness.com and do a Bible reading plan through YouVersion.  All of these activities combined take less than half an hour, but they are prolonging my length of my life and the health of my spirit, mind, and body.

Does that mean I never miss a day of any of these?  Certainly not!  The difference is that instead of beating myself and completely giving up, I quietly strengthen my resolve and get right back to it the next day.

What habits do you want to develop in the coming year?

Sundays at 10

The last picture of my father and I, February, 2015

I had an appointment every Sunday morning for well over a decade that I seldom missed.  I kept this appointment in airports, car rides, hotels, and outdoors, but I usually was at home.  As the clock displayed 9:59, I would make myself comfortable and dial a Kansas phone number with my father’s words about curfew when I was a teenager reverberating through my head, “When I say 10 o’clock, I don’t mean 10:01.  That’s not good enough!”  As soon as the clock struck 10, I would connect the call and hear my father’s booming voice on the other end.  Our Sunday telephone calls would last up to two hours as we discussed everything under the sun from gas prices to family life to health issues to Shark Tank, one of his favorite television shows.   We never failed to tell one another that we loved each other before we completed the call.

My father was a  good and brilliant man, but he was not easy to please.   One of his favorite sayings was, “Be reasonable.  Do it my way!” and one of his favorite books was “Winning through Intimidation.”  He was emotional and passionate bout many things, such as real estate lending, his dog, saving money, and his family.  I was the youngest of his two daughters, and by the time I was born, my parents’ marriage was already disintegrating.  My mother and sister were extremely close, so Dad would often spend extra time with me.   We bonded over reading the newspaper and taking tandem bike rides.  He moved out when I was 6 years old and remarried when I was 7.   Over the course of the next 10 years, he moved to three different states.  I would spend summers and every other Christmas with him.  I came to live with him and my stepmom, Marsha, for my last three years of high school.  I really got to know him better during those years.  By the time I graduated, Dad had already moved from Ohio to Arkansas and he and Marsha were divorcing, so I came back to California.

We never lived closer than 2000 miles apart for the next 27 years.  We would visit him, and he would visit us, and we always had our Sunday morning chats.  It was the perfect way to stay connected and current with him.  In March of 2004, he called during the week, which was quite abnormal.  The news he shared was urgent and devastating.  He’d just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, cancer of the blood plasma.  Over the next 11 years, he fought the cancer hard with chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, and frequent discussions with his doctor.  His final year was very hard on both of us.  He fell many times and needed to be placed in skilled nursing care as his body weakened.   My phone calls became more frequent.   My husband and I flew out to visit him in February of 2015.  He still believed than someday, he would be released from skilled nursing care back to his own home and resume living independently.  By the end of our visit, he came to the sad realization that he would never drive or live on his own again.   He chose to receive hospice care shortly after we returned to California.  I called him almost every day after that just to check up on him and hear his voice.  The last time I called, his voice was so weak that I could barely understand him.

Two years ago today, as I was driving across town on a busy day, I received a phone call from a hospice nurse.   My heart sank as she asked me to pull my car into the nearest parking lot.  I asked her in a whisper as I was pulling my Camry into a Starbucks, “Is he dead?” and she confirmed my suspicions.  She reassured me that his passing was a peaceful one, and he was now free of the pain that had plagued him for over a decade.  I never thought that day would come, and when it did, I felt lost.

Two years later, I still feel lost.  Being an orphan sucks, to be gut level honest!  I wish I could have one more phone call or visit with Dad to let him know that I love him and miss him.   My world will never be the same, especially on Sundays at 10….

Meal Planning

Dinner time has changed in the Clark house over the course of our 26 year marriage.  It began with painful attempts on my part to cook and a stubborn refusal to accept my efficient husband’s suggestions for improvement.  Then came the years of distracted dining with newborns, infants, and toddlers, as we went from spoon feeding our children to teaching them how to feed themselves.  The longest era of Clark dinners were the busy ones carved out between children’s activities, full of chatter and family-friendly foods.  Slowly, the times when all four of us could eat dinner began to diminish as our children obtained jobs and social lives away from our home.  When both children moved away, I tended to still cook as they were home, leaving many leftovers of foods that weren’t nutritionally best for us.  I definitely needed to change the way we planned for meals in our home

Now, each week, I print out a grocery shopping master checklist I developed on Microsoft Word, containing our favorite ingredients in the order we like to shop for them in the store.  The different headings include:  Produce, Meats, Cheeses, Refrigerated Items, Dairy. Frozen Foods, Canned and Bottled Goods, Dry Goods, Paper Products, Beverages, Breads, Toiletries, Cleaning Supplies, and Hardware.  Then I determine how many dinners we will be eating at home as well as the staples we need for breakfasts and lunches.

During the past two years, I have worked to reduce fat, sugar, and carbohydrate intake while increasing protein for my husband and I.  I have also been diagnosed with dairy and soy food sensitiviies .  My favorite recipe websites are those that contain recipes submitted by other people just trying to put dinner on the table like I am.   Reading reviews on each recipe from others who have attempted the recipe alerts me to any problematic elements of the recipes as well as tweaks I can make to enhance the flavor.  I have also enjoyed those sites that allow searches based on either ingredient, length of preparation time, and health parameters (calories, amount of fat, grams of protein, and more).  I love that all the nutritional values from these websites have already been entered into https://www.myfitnesspal.com/ so I can track my caloric intake and my nutritional value with the click of a button instead of painstakingly thumbing through calorie counting books every single ingredient as I remember my mother doing during many of my growing up years.  My two favorite recipe websites that I use on a weekly basis are https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/ and http://allrecipes.com/ . I then print out the recipes and transfer the ingredients I don’t have to the shopping list.

As my husband and I sample each recipe, we evaluate it and decide whether we like to use this recipe again in the future.  We also talk about changes that we would make.  We have expanded our culinary horizons and discovered many new foods that we can enjoy together.  What are your favorite recipe websites and ways to plan for dinners in your empty nest?

Bon Appetit!