A Full Heart and an Empty Nest


We use this word to describe the big events in life. From baby steps to potty training, starting school to getting a driver’s license, graduation to college…those are the normal milestones of our lives and the ones we mark with our children.

Enter the birth of a curly-headed little boy back in 1992.

Enter autism.

Garrett age two. Cutest kid ever!
Garrett age two. Cutest kid ever!
As our son Garrett matured, milestones were no longer predictable. As any parent of a child with special needs can testify, our expectations did some seismic shifting. Accomplishments occurred at longer intervals and may or may not have included the typical things that were celebrated by other children. Often, they did not.

So when AWESOMENESS happens in his life, I have to share the good news.

When Garrett finally learned to tie his shoe, spell his name, or ride a bike…it was big. It was HUGE. I wanted to announce it with fireworks and paparazzi! Instead we clapped and cheered and bragged about him like every other parent. Sometimes, I blogged. If you’d like to read about Garrett’s school/graduation experience, you can read about it here.

The term ‘milestone’ denotes a regular rhythm of occurring events. As in: every so often we mark this eventful mile we’ve journeyed with a selfie and–if it’s truly a biggie–maybe a scrapbook. Not to belittle those wonderful incidents that the average person holds dear. I have three daughters that have lived through most of the aforementioned milestones and, yes, we celebrated, and high-fived, and (for graduation) got the scrapbook made. They are beautiful memories and, to be honest, we have grieved the loss of those regular occasions with our son.

But the infrequency of landmark-moments for those with special needs deserves a better moniker than milestone, in my opinion. Ebenezer seems like a better fit. Not the Scrooge-variety Ebenezer but the Bible-variety. It is a word found in 1 Samuel that means “stone of help”. After the Israelites triumphed over the Philistines in battle, the prophet Samuel set up a large “stone of help” to remember the Israelite’s victory. When God’s people looked upon that stone, it would cause them to remember that it was by the Lord’s great help that they had come that far. It was an acknowledgment of God’s provision and blessings in their life.

So this blogpost is going to be my Ebenezer.

TODAY. Today marked a very important day in the FitzGerald household.

Found on Pinterest
This morning I drove Garrett and all of his earthly belongings to a group residence where he will begin a life of independence. He is officially rooming with five other young men of similar abilities. Instead of three sisters, he now has five big brothers. He will be going to Goodwill each day to a life-skills training program, washing all of his own clothes, cooking one meal a week for himself and the guys, playing Xbox, and hanging out in a pretty cool living room plastered with Dallas Cowboys posters.

I dropped him off this morning and I will not pick him up this afternoon.


Catching the early morning sunset on our way to Garrett's new home! Car is loaded with his stuff :) #IhaveJayLenoschin
Catching rays of the sunrise on our way to Garrett’s new home! Car is loaded down with his stuff 🙂 #IhaveJayLenoschin
We have been through hell and back, in many ways, these past two years. Mental illness reared its ugly head and knocked us flat. Ripped the oxygen out of our lungs and left us grasping to get back to the “easy” life with autism. The idiosyncrasies of autism were a picnic compared to the sudden and devastating onset of mental illness.

And yet…

And yet it was through this time in the wilderness, through the hospital stays and medicine, through the sleepless nights and being asked to leave dayhab for behavior problems that we arrived at the doorstep of Garrett’s new home this morning!

Friends, I hope our story will be an encouragement to you in whatever hardship you are facing. Our trials with autism are not worse than your trials of being childless or losing your job or the death of a loved one. Pain wounds us no matter how it manifests itself in our lives. But when we allow God to use that pain for His purposes we can endure it with hope. Pain doesn’t get the last word. Our heavenly Father does.

We don’t get to see the end of the story, let alone the next chapter. We don’t know when a plot twist will leave us devastated or overcome with joy. Although this current chapter may be filled with tests and darkness, and maybe the next chapter and the one after that will be just as awful–but they will ultimately serve a purpose in our lives if we trust God and walk in gratitude and hope.

Not that I’m a shining example of this. But I’m learning.

After Garrett was asked to leave the dayhab he attended we were pretty discouraged. What do you with a 24 year old young man on a daily basis? There’s just not enough stuff to keep him occupied at home. And he can’t be left on his own for long so he mostly did whatever I did, convenient or not.

I called one of the agencies that advocates for special needs clients and said, “Help!” They pointed us to two workshop/dayhab programs that Garrett could try on a three day trial basis. The first day, at the first workshop, we were asked if Garrett might be interested in living in a group home.

Um. Yeah. But that’s sort of like winning the lottery. Practically impossible from what I hear. 


The lady explained that just that morning she found out about an opening in a home with guys that are similar in abilities to Garrett. In the best sort of plot-twist ever, Garrett is now living in that very home! Crazy, right? What we thought was another blow to Garrett’s adult life became a springboard of blessing.

I’m still processing.

And he still needs our prayers and guidance.

Couldn't resist slipping a note into his lunch today. I won't be making lunches for him any longer!
Couldn’t resist slipping a note into his lunch today. I won’t be making lunches for him any longer!
If you think about him, or me, or us, would you kindly ask the Father to help Garrett have the spirit of self-control? In 30 days we are going to meet with the staff and see if this move is permanent. He has already stayed at this home, briefly, to see if he was a good fit. He had issues but none that seemed too daunting for them to take him on.

Like all of us, Garrett is a work in progress. His shortcomings are just a little more in-your-face than our own. He needs compliance, initiative, and the ability to get up early and get ready. Little things for most of us.

Milestones for him.

We are so thankful for the Lord’s provision in Garrett’s and our life. As I packed his things and made him a lunch to bring today, my heart felt so full.

Full of wonder. Full of hope. And, to be honest, full of anxiety.

Will this really work out?

Only God knows. I must continue to cast my cares upon the Lord and trust His goodness and purposes for Garrett, and us, no matter the outcome.

Garrett in front of his new home :)
Garrett in front of his new home 🙂
For today, I move forward as an almost empty-nester. With two adult daughters at home that lead busy lives–and have lived abroad and plan to do so again–it is often going to be only my husband and myself. Since he’s hilarious and gorgeous and my best friend, I’m kind of excited about this.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. If we want to be spontaneous, we can book a hotel without a second thought of how to take care of Garrett’s needs while we’re away.

Hmmm . . . Tempting!

What seemingly negative circumstances have become a blessing in your life? Please comment and share your story with me!



33 comments on “A Full Heart and an Empty NestAdd yours →

Comments are closed. You can not add new comments.

  1. Heather, I’m rejoicing with you, especially after reading the update post! Thank you for your testimony to the Lord’s great goodness! I am so thankful that He has provided for y’all and Garrett in this beautiful way.

  2. I’m so glad I found the post leading to this blog! I am awash with memories of that curly-headed baby boy. You had only just had him when I came to SWCC. I love that you prefer Ebenezer to milestone… I do, too.
    This is beautifully written, and more so to me because I have watched you and your precious family walk this path faithfully with my own eyes. I am praying that this moment of success leads to many more for Garrett, that he can celebrate God’s faithfulness in full cognizance for the rest of his life.
    I love you, Heather!

    1. I love you too, Bev! It’s only because of our friendship with you and others at SWCC that we walked with grace and sanity (seriously!). I’m so thankful for the bond in Christ that we all continue to share. So sweet to beat each other’s burdens together.

  3. Heather,

    One never knows what is beyond the next door we open. For some, it’s just another day, those living with someone with autism, you never know what is beyond that next door. But, I do believe, that whatever comes for Garrett and your family, it will be another new chapter for him, and you. I always remember the first time I meet Garrett, he came funning up to me, whom he didn’t know at all, and gave me a hug! 🙂 I know God will be protecting him on this new adventure, and our prayers will be with your family for God’s peace and calm to be with Garrett on his new daily adventures. All my love to you Heather…enjoy your new chapter too. 🙂

  4. Wow. What an amazing, wonderful story. Thank you so much for sharing, Heather. this story truly touched my heart. I’m so excited for Garrett as he moves into this new adventure. Yes, I will pray for him and for you as you all adjust.

    My story? I was thinking about it the other day as wonder blanketed my soul. A few years ago I submitted my book to Summerside. They’d already published three of my Love Finds You books in their series. The four almost didn’t happen–I almost pulled it due to some issues during the contracting process. I was discouraged, feeling I hadn’t gotten a good deal, and wishing I’d pulled it and let my agent shopt it elsewhere. I’m so glad I didn’t. THAT book with THAT company is the one that so impressed a movie producer that she contacted me, asking if I’d write a contemporary romance for them. (She would never have seen it published with anyone else, as she had been working with that company in the past). The UP Channel wanted a romance for a movie. Two years later, that book is close to being finished and the movie will start shooting late spring and will air in October, Nov and Dec., as a three part mini-series. Isn’t God amazing?

  5. Ohhhhhh, Praise the Lord!!! For His Springboards of blessings, for the milestones He prods, pushes, and carries us through. He has provided in so many amazing ways for us, too. Hallelujah! Big hug!!!

  6. Wow. You made me cry. What an amazing, wonderful, scary new adventure for you, Garrett and the rest of your family. Praying for you all in this time of transition… As I wrote those words without forethought, this thought that my pastor said at the beginning of the year came up in my heart. He felt as if God spoke it to him for the church body. I believe it fitting for you as well. “2017 is going to be a year of transition that will lead to transfiguration.” Multiplied blessings to you!

  7. I love you buddy! I will be praying for you and Garrett. You are such a wonderful and positive Mom❤️I’m truly proud of you and the sacrifices you have made. I got choked up ❤️???????Praying ???I wish I could give you a big hug right now!

  8. Sweetest, saddest, happiest blog post I’ve ever read. Not sure how all of those emotions combined into one – but wow what a tear jerker! I am beyond excited for your family and for Garrett! How wonderful for him to have this opportunity. Continued prayers. XOXO

  9. Thank you for this. I cried. But it been a hard day. I was happy and sad when crying. Maybe it’s because can relate, to loss and hope. But either way, somehow, it ministered to me. I just think you’re a cool person & a great writer and have an awesome family. At least that’s what your testimony says!!! Thank you for sharing & being vulnetable. I am sorry for the obstacles but am grateful for the gifts I see the Lord has bestowed upon you. I will keep you in my prayers.

  10. Thank you, thank you for sharing your story.
    I’m encouraged to see how The Lord uses all The FitzGeralds.
    May God be glorified!

  11. Thanks for sharing Heather. We have prayed over Garrett, but will do so much more fervently ! And I agreee that God’s timing is pretty awesome-celebrate love tomorrow- for each other & your sweet family!

    1. Thank you for the encouragement and, especially, the prayers! I waffle between faith and fear some days. God is faithful, even when we are not. Lord help my unbelief!

  12. Wow, what a journey you and Billy have been on. Thanks for sharing. Prayers for you and Garrett that this will work. As far as empty nesting goes……it is fabulous! And what a better day to celebrate than Valentine’s Day. Be spontaneous!

    1. Thank you, Shelley! It’s been quite a ride. Yes, I think I can get used to the empty nest thing easily enough 🙂 We will see about Valentine’s…may wait for the weekend. Honestly with all of our preparation for Garrett it has snuck up on us!