I was pregnant with our middle daughter, Claire, the first time I stepped inside the beautiful Harbor House Inn in Grand Haven, MI. Our extended family was watching the musical fountain show over the water on a beautiful July evening, and I had to go to the bathroom. (I was in my second trimester with my second daughter which meant I had to go to the bathroom every five minutes). As soon as I walked through the front door I was in love. The Victorian Inn was beautiful, charming, and felt more like my Aunt Carol's house than a hotel. And when the Innkeeper graciously agreed to allow me to use the powder room I decided my husband, Bernie, and I needed to return -- as guests.
That fall we did just that. Shortly before Claire was born, we dropped our firstborn, Kate, off at my mom's and celebrated our anniversary at our first (and only) bed and breakfast. And over the last twenty years we have visited this inn more than a dozen times. It has changed ownership and management. It has gone through some significant renovations. But they still provide the same homemade caramels in little longaberger baskets in the rooms and serve the same cinnamon bread for breakfast. They still have a DVD library of classic movies we've never seen and DVD players in every room. They still serve tea and coffee and freshly baked peanut cookies every afternoon, and the view of the bay is breathtaking every time.
Kate now goes to college in West Michigan, about twenty minutes from Harbor House Inn, and Claire has recently finalized her decision to attend the same school in the fall. So as we are navigating the challenges and joys of launching our daughters, we are finding a gift in proximity. Brenna, our youngest, is happy to stay with her sisters on campus which means Bernie and I are enjoying overnights at HHI more and more often.
Our most recent visit during spring break left me overflowing with gratitude. As Bernie and I enjoyed a beautiful dinner at Snug Harbor with a gorgeous view of the bay, as we watched the sunset sky change from gold to orange to pink to purple, I was overwhelmed by God's goodness to us. Having the girls leave home has been hard. As we are launching our kids into the world, time seems to be launching Bernie and I closer and closer to the empty nest season of life. I'm finding a mix of emotions, including sadness, excitement, and anxiety. But mixed in with all those emotions is a deep sense of gratitude that we are moving into this next phase of parenting together.
Harbor House Inn is a romantic place. And Grand Haven, MI is beautiful and picturesque. But the honest truth is that our visits over the years have not always matched the lovely ambiance. We have gone through some extremely painful seasons in our marriage, and I can remember the decor of the room we stayed in one year when our visit was marked by pain and tears. After that visit we considered not coming back. We felt like maybe those hard conversations had tainted a place we had loved so deeply.
But we came back. Because in a life-long marriage that is what you do. You come back to the hard places. You revisit the hard conversations. You pull back the bandage to expose the wounds so there can be healing. And as you grow and mature and heal, you find you are able to extend more grace and see the gifts that have always been there.
Bernie and I are far from perfect. But I am thankful beyond words for our history in this Victorian Inn. I'm thankful for God's work in us and in our marriage. I am thankful for the friends and family who have walked with us through some hard seasons. I'm thankful for our daughters who have given us reasons to persevere through hard times. I want to tell young couples to not give up. I want to tell parents in every season to fight for your marriage. I want to encourage you if you feel hopeless. And for those of you who find yourselves heading into the empty nest season (or another season) without your marriage intact, without your spouse by your side, I want to remind you of God's grace. Even in your most profound disappointments, God is with you. He walks with you. He will never leave you. He splashes His love and faithfulness in vibrant colors across the sky for you and for me.