Monday, February 22, 2016

The Miracle on the Track

On Saturday, our family drove a couple of hours to watch Jackson run the 2-mile race at his 1st track meet of the season. His race was the 2nd-to-last race of the day. As he ran, his stride stretched far. He was in the front part of the pack of teenage boys. (As a little reminder, Jackson, by age, should only be in 8th grade, but he was running against varsity runners from all over the state. Seven schools were in attendance.) He had 8 laps to run around the track, and all 7 of us were screaming for him every lap that he came around. As the race continued, several kids started to pass him. We started to worry and screamed louder for him to lengthen his stride, to straighten up his body, and to reach farther with each step!

He finished the race strong allowing only one of his 5 teammates to stay ahead of him. At the end of the race, his coach yelled to us in the stands that he had beaten his previous time! Jackson finally made his way to us and informed us that not only had he ran his fastest 2-mile time, but he had also ran his fastest mile time. Two PR's in one race!!! (PR stands for Personal Record.) Kids don't usually beat their fastest times in their 1st race of the season!

We were so proud of him for running faster than he ever had. As I walked alongside him to the van, Jackson shared this spiritual experience with me:

Since Jackson's race was the last of the day, he had spent the ENTIRE day reading the Old Testament for his seminary class. He said that as he was running the race and feeling like maybe he couldn't keep up his pace, he heard the voice of the Lord speak to him saying, "Jackson, you studied about me all day. I am going to help you."

Both Jackson and I cried as he told me his story. The Holy Ghost fills my soul every time I repeat those words- for they were holy words spoken to my son who knew he was worthy of that help. We knew it was the Lord who helped him run his fastest times of his life. What a beautiful testimony of how the Lord blesses us for our sacrifices. He didn't give Jackson super-human strength. Jackson didn't need to come in first place to know the Lord had helped him. He knew the Lord had strengthened him even before he saw his times… because he heard HIS voice and placed his confidence in that message.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My Own "War Room"

The Gift Card

A little over a week ago Abe and I were preparing to go on our first date in a very long time. We had received some gift cards to restaurants for Christmas. In our move, I had put them all in a ziplock bag and placed them in a very "special" place so that I wouldn't lose them.

As I was fixing my hair for our date, Abe asked me where the gift cards were. My mind went blank. I had no idea where that "special" place was. I figured it would just come into my mind, so I said a quick prayer and continued to get ready. Abe continued asking if I had remembered where I had put them- I could tell he was growing more worried. I stopped fixing my hair and searched again in every logical "special" place… nothing… I began to get worried too. We really needed those gift cards to pay for our dinner.

After I looked everywhere I could think of and after I prayed, I continued to get ready as I pondered about what I could have done with the cards. As I stood in front of my mirror distracted by jewelry, make-up, and hairspray, the thought came to me very strongly to go pray in the right manner. I finally put down all my distractions, went into my closet, knelt down, and said a heartfelt prayer asking God to please help me find my "special" place of gift cards for our long-awaited date.

As I prayed, I felt the Spirit fill my soul, and I had an overwhelming impression that I needed to pray in this manner more often. I had an even stronger impression that my children and my husband needed prayers such as these offered on their behalf on a daily basis. What a difference it would make if I were mustering up this type power for those I love so dearly!! This power was not of an earthly nature by any means. I felt I had been doing my family a huge disservice by missing out on so many deep prayers. I reflected on a movie I had watched recently about a woman who had her prayer room. It was called her "War Room." That was the place where she fought her greatest battles. What a GREAT movie that was!! I could feel that this closet would become my own personal "War Room."

As I continued to pray for the gift cards, an image of the middle drawer of my nightstand came into my mind. I closed my prayer and walked straight to the drawer to the nightstand. Inside I saw an envelope that immediately made me remember the envelopes in my file folders. As I stood up from my nightstand, I knew, without a doubt, that my "special" place with my gift cards would be in that file. I had looked in the file previously… just not amongst the other envelopes.

I thanked God as I flipped through the envelopes and found my ziplock bag of gift cards. I knew God had answered my prayer because of the time and energy I had put into that prayer. I had been lazy before expecting God to cater to me. What a blessing this was to have received such direct guidance for something so simple and insignificant in the grand scheme of things… but an answered prayer and the opportunity to feel the Holy Ghost so profoundly is definitely not insignificant.

The Heavenly Presence

A few days later I was studying with my children. We were discussing history and what took place in different locations in the world. All of a sudden I was overcome by a piece of information that disturbed me greatly. I spent the following 2 hours researching the facts and trying to resolve my doubts. I couldn't believe my faith was under such a strong attack. I tried to push the feelings aside, but they persisted. I could feel myself becoming irritable with everyone around me.

I decided it was time for me to enter my "War Room." I desperately needed understanding and guidance. I didn't want to err in any way in what I was teaching my children. I entered my closet and knelt down. I have gone to God with anxiety about concerns. This was different. I knew God would speak to me. I had already a powerful experience there. There was not a drop of anxiety in my heart. My home was quiet. I entered my closet, gently dropped to the ground, and simply said, "Dear God…"

In the following moments after I said those simple words, I received the most beautiful sensation that rushed over me and through me. It is indescribable in human words. HE was there. Tears poured from my eyes effortlessly, and I sat silently for a while longer allowing the Heavenly rush to continue. When I felt it was time, I began to speak my concerns to my Heavenly Father. I felt my Heavenly Father so close that I fully expected to hear HIS voice. I did not hear a voice. I did not receive a direct answer in my head to the question I was asking. I did not need it. That peace carried me enough to know that God was actively guiding me in my teaching and that HE was aware of all that I wanted for my children. HE would not let me fail as I fought through those ugly feelings to bring my children the simple truths of Jesus Christ and of HIS Salvation.

The Facebook Message

Within an hour or so of that prayer, a dear friend all the way from Canada sent me a Facebook message. (I haven't seen her for about 20 years, but she has always listened to spiritual promptings and followed them. I have been blessed many times by her inspired messages.)

Having no clue about my most recent experiences but feeling that she "needed to pass it along," she shared this talk by Elder David A. Bednar from the 2008 General Conference. It was titled, "Pray Always".

The quote from his talk that continues to press upon my mind was this:

"Morning and evening prayers—and all of the prayers in between—are not unrelated, discrete events; rather, they are linked together each day and across days, weeks, months, and even years. This is in part how we fulfill the scriptural admonition to “pray always” (Luke 21:363 Nephi 18:15, 18D&C 31:12). Such meaningful prayers are instrumental in obtaining the highest blessings God holds in store for His faithful children."

It is not a coincidence that the message I had just received in such a beautiful manner was now being reiterated in this message delivered by a dear friend so many, many miles away.

The Invitation to Speak

The following morning I received a text message from another friend. She asked if our family would bear testimony and sing for their youth conference a couple hours south of us. I immediately accepted her invitation. She told me she had the assignment for several months to find a speaker, but she had just received a strong impression the night before that she needed to ask us. We continued to discuss the details of the conference, and then she told me the theme:

“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life”

I had just felt the power of Christ in my heart so profoundly that I was bursting at the opportunity to share my testimony of HIM and to more specifically share of the hope and love that HE gives as we press forward in HIM… the invitation couldn't have come at a better time with a better theme.

God taught me to pray with more depth. HE confirmed that principle with a miracle as I did so. HE confirmed it upon my heart a 2nd time as I felt a Heavenly presence I had only felt a couple of times in my life. He confirmed it a 3rd time by way of a friend following a prompting all the way from Canada just moments after I had been experiencing that powerful prayer. Then the following day I received a phone call for the opportunity to speak on the truths that had just been confirmed 3 distinct times upon my heart… WOW! The Lord certainly is mindful of our lives.

HE is the Master of ALL. I testify to that.

HE wants us to draw nearer to HIM and to be HIS prayer warriors. My "War Room" is where I am choosing to fight for my family through mighty prayer to my Heavenly Father.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Stranger's Gift of Healing

Last weekend I didn't write because we moved to our new house!! We didn't have internet, beds, or our sanity yet. :-) We have now organized every room in our house except for the garage! We are very happy in our new home, and lots of people in our new church congregation have been very helpful.

As I wrote in a previous post, I dislocated my femur bone from my entire knee joint on Christmas Eve. Every time I explain what happened to medical professionals, they assume I am saying that my kneecap was dislocated. No, it was my entire upper portion of my knee joint. I know this because it slips out often… but only slightly and only briefly. I also had 3 long, red lines across my knee for a few days where my skin was stretched to the side so severely. As I wrote in my previous post, I heard at least 5, very loud, pops and cracks deep within the joint of my knee.

Three days after my injury, our family visited The Beaver Bar where my children were being presented some free guitars. I was barely walking with a stiff stabilizer strapped to my knee. I had been to the emergency room, but I had not been to the orthopedic surgeon yet. I was positive I would be needing surgery because of the extent of the dislocation I knew I had endured… and because it felt completely destroyed inside of my knee.

As our family was leaving The Beaver Bar, a stranger approached me. He asked me what happened to my knee. I told him my story. He asked if he could pray with Abe and me right then and there.

I honestly thought it was a little odd that we would be praying in the parking lot surrounded by a bunch of motorcycles. However, I am never one to turn down a prayer, so I accepted.

After his prayer, he then said he had a gift; he was a healer. He didn't know why or how he had the gift. He just had this gift. I was skeptical, but I thanked him anyway for his kindness. After the prayer, he confidently stated:  "You aren't going to need surgery."

Even though surgery would completely incapacitate me while my husband would be traveling, I was so certain that I would need surgery that I immediately claimed this stranger was as fraudulent as I had originally assumed.

My husband had also prayed over me for my healing. He had lain his hands on my head and had given me a priesthood blessing of healing. We both assumed the healing would come by way of surgery.

Also throughout this time, I received multiple messages from friends telling me they were praying for me to heal. I was grateful and truly felt strengthened throughout our move because of those prayers.

I finally saw the orthopedic surgeon about a week later. He ordered an MRI.

I saw him a 2nd time after my MRI. After analyzing my MRI and my x-rays, my orthopedic surgeon found a fracture on the outside of my knee, which would confirm that my upper femur bone did dislocate as I described. From the MRI, my surgeon saw that there was one location on the meniscus that could have been a possible tear, but he felt like it would heal without surgery. After my 3rd visit, 2 weeks later, my surgeon admitted to being quite perplexed by the fact that for such an evidently extreme dislocation, I should have had several torn ligaments… but I was showing signs of improvement. I too was perplexed by the diagnosis because I had felt and heard a lot of things tearing!! Those tears would have definitely required surgery.

After my surgeon talked for a while about all the possible scenarios as to how I could have escaped surgery, I finally said, "Well, I know why they're not torn."

My sweet surgeon seemed interested in the fact that one of us would have an explanation. I simply replied, "It's a miracle."

My surgeon didn't say much after that. I don't think he knew how to respond. Could the answer really be that simple? Could the stranger at The Beaver Bar have really felt and known all along or was he just lucky in his guess? I don't think it was a lucky guess. Miracles aren't always obvious, but they are always orchestrated by divine intervention.

My knee still doesn't bend all the way, and I still can't walk without a huge limp and a brace to support it. However, I know that God is working in my heart and in my body and through HIS servants around me.

Although full movement and full healing will still take a very long time, I am thankful for my husband's priesthood blessing. I am thankful for the man at the bar who was not afraid to bless me, to pray with me, and to confidently tell me the impressions he received from the Spirit of God. I am also thankful for the many prayers from friends around the country on my behalf.

I testify that it is by divine intervention… a true miracle… that my knee is not requiring surgery at this time. I am learning to move slowly as I patiently wait for full healing to take place. But in the meantime… I am grateful to know that I have seen and felt God's hand.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Stepping Stones to Success

As I read a story in the scriptures with my children earlier this week, the thought struck me that just because God commands us to do something does not mean that I will succeed right away! I may fail several times before finally figuring out how it is that I can do what God has commanded me. This was a different perspective for me because in my simple, human mind, I always wanted to believe that since God had commanded it, the way would be opened right away. That's partially true. Yes, the way will be opened, but not necessarily right away. Sometimes the way is opened after some serious failures, and sometimes the way is opened after we discover what it is that HE really wants us to learn in the process. God is amazing how HE turns those "failures" into stepping stones towards success… if we allow HIM.

This past weekend, my oldest son, Jackson, had a wrestling tournament. Per his age, Jackson should still be in 8th grade, but we put him in high school 2 years early. Therefore, he has to wrestle against kids several years older and more physically developed than he is. He wrestles in the JV spot on the team and has actually been doing really well against other JV wrestlers throughout the area.

This past weekend, however, almost all his opponents were varsity wrestlers. He had to wrestle against some of the top kids in the state. On Friday, he lost every match. (That would certainly equate to a lot of failures, right?) My father-in-law drove almost 2 hours to our house to come pick us up to take us to Jackson's wrestling match. I took video of the matches and texted them to my husband. He then called Jackson and gave him pointers from what he saw.

On his final match of the day on Friday, Jackson lost again, but the referee, seeing how hard Jackson continued to fight, raised his hand as a winner as well. Our hearts were touched. Yes… he was an athlete who would not quit… therefore he was a winner. Jackson, however, still wanted more and was determined to make it happen.

Abe came home at 3:30am Saturday morning. The wrestling tournament continued into Saturday, so Abe drove Jackson to meet his wrestling team at 6:00am then returned to the house to take the rest of us to the wrestling tournament.

Saturday started out just as bleak as Friday ended… another loss. Abe sat him down and talked to him about how to improve. He told him what to do in certain situations. Jackson listened intently.

By Saturday afternoon, Jackson had only won one of 7 matches. Jackson's next opponent was his own teammate, who had the varsity position on his high school team. Jackson started the match with a drive and wrestled very bravely. Several times he was almost pinned, but he fought and squirmed his way out. Every time he escaped we all breathed a sigh of relief. In fact, the only points Jackson was earning were escape points. When you're always "escaping," that usually means you're being dominated, and Jackson was being dominated… BUT he wasn't quitting!

Earlier in the day, there were wrestling matches taking place on 5 mats; but at this point, Jackson's match was the only one going on. Jackson's coaches didn't know which of their athletes to cheer for since they were both on the same team. Abe, however, was yelling from the side of the mat instructing Jackson as he wrestled.

The two boys then entered the 3rd and final round. Jackson, 3 years younger than his varsity teammate, was losing by a landslide. The score was 18 to 5!!

Abe continued to coach Jackson, and the kids and I continued to encourage him with our yells.

All of a sudden, Jackson's varsity opponent was wrapped up in Jackson's arms!! Jackson had him in a head-lock!! None of us even knew how it happened exactly, but we were all screaming as Jackson began rolling his teammate over onto his back. The time was ticking down, and Jackson's entire team, the coaches from the other teams, and fans from other schools were all rallying around and yelling for little Jackson. Everyone could see the score- Jackson was losing.. by a LOT! And everyone could see that Jackson had clearly taken control with only a few seconds remaining. Would he hold onto this kid? Could he pin him in time?!? Everyone was rooting for little Jackson to get him down!! If he didn't pin him, he would lose. It had to be a pin!

We were all making a scene! I was hopping around on my one leg with the other one extended in the brace. All of my other children were screaming at him and hitting the mat. Jackson kept pushing with all his might!! He had lost too many matches that weekend! He had lost too many times to this kid in practice. Jackson pushed harder and never quit.

We all watched closely with great anxiety as Jackson's opponent's shoulder blades inched closer and closer to the mat. "Bam!!" The referee slammed his hand down on the mat! Pin!!! Jackson pinned him! Screams erupted from EVERYONE! The coach walked up to Jackson immediately after that match and with a big grin said, "You now have the varsity position!"

The sentiment was the same for all of us… what a lesson of never quitting… what a lesson of trying and trying again for success… what a lesson of staying steady and learning from our "failures" along the way so that we can eventually succeed. What a lesson of using those "failures" or losses as "stepping stones to success."

As I pondered all of this today, my thoughts turned to our upcoming move.

I have been given the daunting task to pack our 5-bedroom, 2-story house in a few weeks with my husband only home on the weekends, and a fractured knee which continues to prohibit me from driving, lifting, and bending.

My first few tries at packing up the house failed… I tried to work as I normally did, and I ended up in severe pain each night. My sons had ideas on how to pack things up, but I criticized some of their methods because their methods weren't as efficient or as organized as I would have done it.

So… there I was in a lot of pain and in a constant state of criticizing… it didn't feel good.

Abe had given our boys a very serious talk about their duty in the home while he was gone… especially since I was unable to do very much. Jackson, my oldest, was gone a lot for school functions. He was taking the city bus and getting home pretty late each evening since I couldn't drive him, so my next son was taking charge. It wasn't until I stopped to listen to my surroundings that I realized what was happening.

In the absence of his father and his older brother, Tyson was truly shining. He is 12-years-old, and in my church that means he can receive the Aaronic priesthood. The Aaronic priesthood is the power of God that young men can receive. Tyson received it in December. He knows he is to use that power to serve and to lead. I believe God wanted Tyson to have the opportunity to use that sacred power because I saw something different in him. I saw him take on his responsibility with a different accountability. It was quite amazing what they have done...

My young children have taken 3 bunk beds, and 1 queen-size bed down the stairs. They have also taken 5 dressers and a couch down the stairs. I didn't help with any of it. In fact, the only things left upstairs at this moment are their suitcases and their sleeping bags.

Under the direction of Tyson, the entire upstairs has been taken out to the garage. In the process of it all, Tyson created games to keep the little ones working! They turned each other into wheel barrows. He had a great idea to award stars to the children for every load they carried down the stairs. According to Tyson, the child with the most stars would get to sleep with the cat that night.

All the children have been cleaning and scrubbing without a single complaint!!

I have to keep reminding myself that it's ok that they're throwing wet rags at each other and are often goofing around. They have been called upon to care for their mother, and they are fulfilling that duty.

When I asked Tyson to reorganize the garage to create walkways, he created a clubhouse and hide-outs in the process for his siblings. Of course in my adult mind, that was a waste of time… until I heard the laughter and saw the result… they had done a marvelous job… and created marvelous bonding experiences at the same time.

The moments that have touched my heart the very most are the 2 times when I had a severe fall and re-injured my knee in the past couple of weeks. They rushed to my side and held my hand as I moaned on the ground in pain. I believe they have felt the calling from God to take care of their mother.

So… as far as I can understand, I thought I was commanded to pack up the house. I'm discovering that I was commanded to be humble and allow my children to shine… as I packed up the house. I failed at my first few attempts of humility, but the Lord commanded it, so HE opened up the way for me to see just how influential these children can be if I trust them to lead.

Isn't is interesting how the Lord teaches us? HE loves us so much. God allows us to fail so that we can succeed, but HE even allows our "failures" to turn into beautiful experiences and stepping stones to success if we allow HIM to take charge.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Miracles for Jackson's 5 & the Padres

This past fall Abe and I felt inspired to officially start our family band. We have sung as a family and played instruments for youth conferences, single adult conferences, at a home-schooling conference, and at church, but I felt that we needed to do something more… something beyond that. I have been dreaming about this for many, many years, but we never had the equipment or the know-how to get it started.

All of the children had been blossoming in their talents. Jackson goes to sleep listening to drum line cadences. I knew it was time.

My parents, my grandmother, and Abe's parents pitched in and bought the kids a birthday gift of an electric piano for all their birthdays this fall. From our tax return, I bought a speaker and some microphones. We had a start… it was a meager start, and we still need much better equipment, but it was a definite start!!

For our first official performance, we were invited to perform at the Rosen Hotel outside of Orlando for a fashion show fundraiser for Clarita's House. Clarita's House Outreach Ministry helps the homeless and those living in hotels with food and other needs. Their intentions are Christ-centered and very pure. We were overjoyed to participate. 

We practiced many long hours for that performance. We wanted to give them a great show with dancing, rapping, instruments, and singing.

Before our performance for Clarita's House, I felt an urge to set up other opportunities. I prayed about it and decided to approach a local joint called "Lagerhead's Bar & Grill." I had seen their advertisements in the newspaper about their nightly live performances. They are located right on the beach, and their stage is outdoors.

I said another prayer and mustered up the courage to walk in one day. Of course the owner asked us what kind of music we perform, and we didn't have any recordings of our songs yet. Since the establishment was a bar & grill, I felt just a tad sheepish when I answered that we sing gospel/ pop music. Surprisingly, she seemed interested!! She immediately checked her calendar and said, "Wow! This is rare. We have a Friday night open on November 20th." We scheduled it right away. It would be only 6 days after our first performance at the Rosen Hotel. I was expecting her to give us an hour of playing time. She gave us the full 4 hours to perform that night, and she would pay us at a higher rate since it was a Friday night! Our little family band didn't have 4 hours of material, but my amazing husband could sing for days.

As we started to unload our van with our meager sound equipment, I continued to pray for the best. I hoped people would come. I hoped people would enjoy it. I especially hoped the Lagerhead's owner would be happy she gave us an opportunity. I watched a cute couple with dreads in their hair turn around and decide to stay at the restaurant because they saw the kids setting up. I hoped they would be glad that they had stayed.

Our family band did our set of 4 songs 3 different times throughout the night, and Abe sang in between.  

As we played, we felt so blessed to see so many supporters show up throughout the night. Some people even left and returned to hear some more!! People began pulling over just to see what the commotion was about. It was a windy night, so our sound wasn't worthy of a recording, but the kids performed their hearts out.

Thanksgiving Miracle because of Lagerhead's Bar & Grill

There is a little piece of information I haven't shared yet… just a few days before the performance at Lagerhead's, a couple of huge bills for a few hundred dollars each came out of our account for Abe's work. We thought it wouldn't be coming out until the following month. It left us with $2.00 in our bank account until December 1st. We had already paid our bills for the month, and we had food in our pantry, but I started to panic wondering how I would buy our Thanksgiving dinner. I quickly remembered that Lagerhead's Bar & Grill would be paying us for our performance that very Friday night. She had promised us a good amount, and we were so very grateful. She also told us that her customers usually tipped well.

As we played our music, I watched friends, strangers, and even the servers at the restaurant put large bills into our tip jar. I fought the tears back the entire night. I couldn't believe the miracle that was taking place. Several people approached us and told us they wanted to follow us wherever we played. The owner said we were invited to come back whenever we felt ready. We still don't have a website. We don't even have a good recording. We have a lot of work to do still, but I felt great encouragement from the experience that we could move forward! (We want to return to Lagerhead's when we have even more material and better sound equipment. :))

 The children had been aware of our financial stress over the past few days. They couldn't wait to count the tips. We were in awe and thanked God when we realized we had made over $300. Someday I will tell the owner how she saved our family's Thanksgiving and blessed us with courage by giving our little family a chance.

As we sat down for our Thanksgiving meal, our children were well aware of where our Thanksgiving dinner had come from. What a blessing!

Feeling even more confident, I called another restaurant. They scheduled us. Unfortunately we haven't been able to work out a date with Abe's work schedule yet with that restaurant, but it will come soon.

Then I called the high school and asked to speak with the person in charge of the Black History Month celebration. I spoke with the representative and told him we have a family band that will play some great music representing the style of music that would fit the program. I also told them of Abe's great talent of doing Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. He invited us to his office, and we finalized the details for the February 19th performance. We will be doing a couple of Jackson 5 numbers, and Abe will be doing the speech.

"Kids Rock the Nation" Miracle

I then visited the "Beaver Bar" which is a rustic and fun, gathering place for bikers. The owner asked me what kind of music we played. Trying to answer with more confidence, I told him we played Christian and positive, pop music. He was very supportive and told me to return that following Sunday to speak with Anthony.

Our scheduled meeting was right after church, so Abe and I were still dressed pretty fancy… yep we quickly realized we were WAY over-dressed! There were about 40 motorcycles in the parking lot, and everybody was dressed in biker attire. I was wearing a bright red dress and felt very awkward until a sweet customer sitting on a bar stool in the entryway said, "Hey honey! You look beautiful!" How sweet of her to make us outsiders feel so welcome.

There was a band rocking out on the stage as we looked for Anthony. We met Anthony, and we could immediately feel his love and passion for kids and for music. I loved the vibe of the place. Anthony runs a nonprofit organization called "Kids Rock the Nation." He raises money at that bar to help give kids instruments and lessons who can't afford them. We didn't even bother to ask for money for our performance because we knew we would be supporting his very worthy cause. Anthony immediately gave us a 20 minute spot to play on his stage for the following Sunday. I didn't tell hardly anyone about our performance because I had no idea how our style of music would be received.

Our scheduled date was for Sunday, December 20th. We of course took our church clothes off, put on some jeans and went to our gig.  Anthony already had a keyboard, mics, drum set, and the speakers for us. We pulled out our bells, hand drum, and violin. As we began pulling out our instruments, I noticed some strange expressions on some faces. One man back stage said, "I don't know how you'll sound, but this certainly the most INTERESTING set-up I have ever seen on this stage. (As if we already didn't know we were very different.)

The kids were brave! We had 4 songs we decided to do. There were over 100 people in attendance, but not all of them were paying attention when we started. I began to worry a little when I heard some bikes revving up to leave… but the kids kept singing, dancing, and playing their instruments. The longer we performed, the more people stopped chatting and began to watch. They were intrigued… We introduced our last song. It was "The Little Drummer Boy." We allowed our little Jayden to sit on a stool- front and center of the stage- to play his drum while the rest of us did our parts. I noticed tears began to stream down several faces… people began singing with us… that was the moment when everyone came together… it was my absolute favorite Christmas moment. Our style of music was very different than what they usually had there, but the power of Christ's birth was universal.

We left the stage, and lots of people began approaching us. They were asking us about our next performances and our website! I couldn't believe they wanted more!! We were thrilled.

Before we could leave, Anthony asked us why we didn't have a guitar player. We told him that Jordan had been trying to teach himself on an acoustic guitar, but that we didn't have a real electric guitar and that neither of us knew how to teach it to him. He asked us to wait around for a bit.

Within 15 minutes, Anthony had pulled Jordan up on stage to give him a free electric guitar, a free amp, a free tuner, and free lessons!! Oh my gosh! We were bawling and so was the audience.

We never could have imagined that we would have received such a blessing. Anthony then asked if any of the other kids were interested in learning the guitar. Mariah and Tyson had also tried to play our acoustic guitar a little bit. He asked us to come back next week. He said he felt something special about our family band… that our family band was what this was all about… and that he wanted to give Mariah an electric guitar, an amp, a tuner, and lessons, and he wanted to give Tyson a bass guitar, an amp, and a tuner and lessons as well.

I sobbed again… for me, there aren't many gifts that can even compare to the gift of music… and this was a gift of music to help our children progress and to develop.

In the following days, Anthony and I exchanged several text messages talking about the future of what our kids could do if they really wanted it… I felt God's support in this dream that I have… I felt that my dream was in alignment with what God wants for our family.

A Painful Turn

Four days later, on Christmas Eve, I was playing football on the beach with my sons when my knee slipped out of the socket just a tad. This happens to me every year or so. It usually hurts for about 5 minutes, then I'm up again feeling grateful it was just a minor slip. I felt the slip, stopped for a few moments, and then continued playing. After all, I had to show my big boys that their mom was still the boss. :-)

While we were playing, Abe came down to the beach to play football with us. He pulled me aside to tell me that he had just received a letter from our landlord. He informed me that our landlord, whom we have never even met, had changed his mind about our lease. Even though we pay our rent every month… even though we expressed, in writing, our desire to stay in our house and eventually buy the house… even though he had promised us as much time as we needed to buy the house… even though he knew it was our dream house… he informed us that we needed to be out of our house in less than a month because he wanted to sell it immediately.

I was crushed. Completely. But for the time being, I pretended like I didn't hear the awful news and decided to continue to play football with the kids… I knew I would mourn later in my private time. Less than an hour later, Abe threw a long pass intended for my son, Jackson. I jumped up and caught the ball! Yes! I intercepted my husband's pass. I saw him standing between myself and the goal; I was going to run a pick 6! (Abe says there was no way I was getting past him… we all know the truth. :-)) My excitement must have been faster than my legs! I don't even know how it happened, but my whole femur bone left my knee socket and moved all  the way to the right.

I heard about 5 loud cracks and pops as I dropped to the sand. The pain was so intense that I buried my face into the sand and clawed at the sand with my fingernails as if I was crawling somewhere. I had sand in my eyes and my mouth, but I didn't even notice or care because of the pain that was shooting throughout my entire leg. When I could finally speak… but still feeling excruciating pain, I asked Abe if the bone had gone back into place. He assured me it had. I didn't even look at it- I just yelled out, "Thank you God! Thank you God!" I knew my knee was seriously messed up, but I really didn't want to see it that way. I also didn't want to have to go to the emergency room on Christmas Eve for them to put it back into place. I would just stay off of it until after Christmas when I could see an orthopedic surgeon.

The verdict:  I have fractured my knee, the surgeon doesn't want to do a scope until the swelling goes down, and I still can't bend it because of the severe pain. He still doesn't know all that's wrong with it or when I'll be able to use it again. I am learning to be patient...

Our New Home

How does all of this relate to the family band and the guitars?

On Christmas Eve, I felt like everything was ripped away from me. I couldn't move, and as I looked at my home I felt bitterness that I would soon be losing my dream home in such an unfair way.

We didn't know where we were supposed to go, but the thought continued to press into my mind that the Lord had something better for us. In my mind nothing was better than a beach house. Quiet time at the beach had become my truly sacred time with God.

The following Sunday we returned to the Beaver Bar for the presentation of the other guitars.

The experience was just as emotional as it was the previous week. We took pictures together with the new guitars and some pictures with Anthony. Anthony promised to continue to support us as long as the children showed their strong commitment to music. God spoke to my heart once again. I felt a strong feeling that we needed to stay close by, and I told Abe of my impression. He agreed… but where would we go? Nothing felt right...

As we looked for a new place to live, we couldn't find a home in our current town in our price range, so we tried to keep open minds. We traveled all the way to Georgia looking for homes. We looked a couple of hours south of us. We looked a couple of hours west of us. Everywhere we looked, it just felt hollow… we couldn't force ourselves to feel joy about any place. The hollow feeling continued to press upon us. Abe and I and the children continued to beg and plead for inspiration.

One particular Sunday we visited one of our churches in a nearby city. A sister there told us she would help us find a home. Even though she was a realtor, I was very doubtful. Abe and I had searched that city. We had searched every home in every city in fact. She found a home that had just gone up for rent that day. We walked into the home and loved it immediately… but we worried about the school.

We especially worried about Jackson since he started high school so young. How would he be accepted there? We worried about his music career. He currently played the snare drum on the high school drum line. He had just played at the Sugar Bowl. We hated taking him from a place where he had worked so hard to prove himself.

We were given a tour of the high school and immediately felt peace again. In every classroom we entered, the kids waved, smiled, and told Jackson he should go to school there. In addition to the jazz band and percussion classes, they even had a steel drum class! The teacher took time out of her class right then to show Jackson how to play the steel drums!! They were even needing a drum set player for an upcoming performance in Virginia Beach. Jackson is amazing on the drum set. He would also be able to continue his AP music theory course as well at this new school.

A few days passed, and Jackson finally told his current band director about our pending move. That night his band director called me personally and said that he is good friends with the high school band director at the school where we were planning to move. I didn't even tell Jackson's band director of our concerns, but he then offered to personally call the band director the following day to tell him how wonderful Jackson and our family are. What a miracle for a mother's worried heart, and what a blessing for Jackson.

This new place would bless our most avid music lover in ways we couldn't have imagined, and we would still be close to where "Kids Rock the Nation" and the promised guitar lessons are. I would have to let go of hearing the ocean waves crashing at night in exchange for our children to have more focused opportunities in music.

I am still trying to figure out how my injured knee relates to all of this, but maybe it was to get me to return to writing. I'm not saying that God injured my knee, but I know that several of you, my dear readers and friends, have been writing me and gently encouraging me to write again. I have also felt the gentle urgings from my mother, my 96-year-old grandmother, and most importantly my Heavenly Father. Because of my knee, I am now forced to sit… and write… and process the events of my life and how God is still placing miracles in my path. I recognize God is always in our lives; but when I write, I focus on those blessings more than I do on the losses of this life.

It is so very easy for me to focus on what is lost, but it is so much more rewarding, healthy and honest for me to see what God is providing in place of those losses. God never fails us. I believe God wants our dreams to come true… even when we don't like the painful process of digging our nails into the sand with pain along the way.

So… yes… we are moving to our 12th home in almost 15 years of marriage. It's a beautiful home in Palm Coast, FL. Yes… I'm tired of moving… but most importantly, I am grateful that God has heard my pleadings, and that he is providing opportunities for me to sacrifice what I want now for what I want more.

P.S. The name of our family band is "Jackson's 5 & the Padres" because Jackson is the oldest brother. He is also the one with the greatest passion for music…and he has 5 younger siblings. That's why it's the possessive Jackson's 5. :-) "The Padres" are an after thought really since the band is more about them performing together, and we just help out when we are needed. :-)

Stay tuned for more Mills' Family Band adventures. :-) In fact, we are performing at a talent show on Sunday, January 17th. We now have a Facebook page. I just started it and haven't shared it until now. I will post information there.

"Clarita's House"
"Kids Rock the Nation"
"Jackson's 5 & the Padres"

Monday, May 4, 2015

My Wish List

I'm sorry I took so long to share my story of so many Christmas miracles… they were miracles that came at a time that I needed profound healing… and the results thereof were still raw and too sacred for me to share… I think I was also in shock at the abundance of love that came our way.

I continually see and will forever proclaim that GOD IS REAL!!  HE LIVES!!

This past fall, I kept pondering on all the things I wanted or needed to buy for my children. Among other trials, our financial position was very difficult because of jobs that did not pay over several months.

I remember one day as I was praying I felt an overwhelming impression to put my wish list in writing. I felt silly because it seemed as though it was an impression from God, but why would God want me to put a silly wish list in writing? I obviously couldn't buy any of it; but since it was a Spiritual impression, I did it. 

I decided to be obedient. My list included some things such as clothing items for my children, but it also included large things like a drum set for my dedicated drummer, and a surf board for my passionate and improving surfer. I also had extra little small wishes for my girls on my list. They love everything from the movie Frozen.

I didn't show my list to anybody… not even Abe. I just kept it hidden safely in my wallet.

The Shirts

Soon after I had made my list, I took a trip to the grocery store. I saw an inexpensive shirt that Jackson would love, so I tried to get an early start on Christmas shopping and bought it for him. 

(He really needed more than one shirt. He had grown several inches and put on 26 pounds in the past year. To buy him several shirts was on my wish list.) 

As I went through the checkout, the shirt was only a couple of dollars!! What a surprise! It hadn't shown that sale price anywhere! I was so excited because with the money remaining from the discount, I had enough money to buy 2 more shirts!! I felt as if I was completely splurging… oh how our perspective changes in times of financial distress. 

As I walked to the car, I felt God telling me that this was only the beginning of HIS miracles… HE was working on my wish list. I thought that was so sweet and tender… but I knew there was absolutely no  way we could buy the big things for our children for Christmas.

The Surf Board

About a month before Christmas, I walked around an art fair. I began to talk to a man whom I knew was big into surfing. Tyson, my avid surfer, had a foam top surf board- those are great for beginners. Now he was ready for the next step up. I had no money to buy it for him, but I just wanted an idea in my mind of what he would need and how much I would need to save up to buy it for him eventually. I picked the man's brain for a minute about the next type of surf board my son should be riding. The man smiled really big and told me he had an idea. He wanted us to come see him in a few weeks, and he would have something special for our family for Christmas. A few weeks passed, and I was embarrassed to go see the man… What if he didn't remember our conversation? What if he changed his mind? What if I looked greedy coming to get the special gifts? I couldn't do it… 

A few days later, I received a text from somebody who knew the man and who also knew us… I had only met her once, but she happened to have our phone number because she had texted a picture to my phone a while back. She simply said I needed to go see this man because he had a surf board for Tyson. I was in shock. I cried. I couldn't believe our little Tyson would actually have a surf board. When we arrived he also had toys for Jayden, a wetsuit that would fit Jordan and money for us to buy other gifts for the children. I secretly hoped to be able to buy wetsuits for all the children for the winter months, but those were WAY too expensive. 

On Christmas Eve day, I was driving down the street when I had a strong impression to pull over to Goodwill. I had never been to that particular store; but since the impression was so strong, I turned in. I didn't even know what I was going there for. There wasn't anything particular on my mind at that moment.

I walked into the store and it was as if the wall was singing!!  There were hanging several wetsuits for the older boys and for Abe and me. After I draped the wetsuits in my shopping cart, I turned around and saw 2 wetsuits hanging on a rack right behind me. They were just the perfect size for Mariah; one was even pink!! Next to the wetsuits was a floatie with shorts just Jayden's size. I felt surrounded by gifts from God! I couldn't believe it. I bought them all with the money we were given and still had money leftover for a few of the kids' other needs like socks and underwear. I thanked God with all my heart. I had NEVER seen wetsuits in a second-hand store before… they were there… just our size… just for us.

Anonymous Angels

Several weeks before Christmas a package came in the mail. I burst into tears as I opened 8 gift cards with a substantial amount of money for each child. I didn't take another step before bowing my head and pouring my heart out in gratitude to my Heavenly Father. We would be able to buy almost all that the kids needed from my secret Wish List. The package came from an anonymous sender. The return address was from the Orlando area where we had lived the year before. Nobody knew how rough the past several months had been on us financially- especially nobody knew from Orlando. We had no idea who would give so generously to bless our family so abundantly. I sobbed to think that God already knew this would be happening when HE told me to write down my Wish List. 

I believe God wanted me to put my wishes in writing so that I would recognize that HE was meeting all my needs through HIS loving servants.

The blessings continued as other anonymous friends left beautiful, thoughtful gifts for our family at church and on our doorstep. We said so many prayers pleading for God to bless these souls to know how much they blessed our lives…. because we could not thank them personally. I cried as I pondered on the souls who spent so much time pondering on what would make our family happy.

Christmas Program

We have some wonderful neighbors. Most of them are elderly. Abe and I had put on a Christmas program at our church, but we wanted our elderly neighbors who can't travel as far to be a part of the program as well. We held a Christmas program of singing, musical instruments and food in our home just a couple of weeks before Christmas. Tears were shed as we, as neighbors of all different Faiths, shared our love for our Savior's birth. 

Our dear, sweet neighbors also showered our children with gifts of love. We all felt blessed and felt the Spirit of God.

Movie Night

Right before Christmas, I asked Abe what he wanted for Christmas. His only request: to go to the movies. He wanted to also take the family to the theater. I bought him movie tickets for Christmas, but it would cost too much to take the whole family. Nobody else knew of this request. 

A friend whom we had just met asked us to come to her house one Sunday afternoon right around Christmastime. We had a lovely time chatting. Before we left, she presented us with movie and dinner tickets for the entire family!!!  It couldn't have been any more perfect… of course I cried again. This was not a need… but it sure let us know that God was mindful of our efforts and of our struggles. HE was truly giving us all that we asked for… and we were growing in our humility as we saw the hands of so many angels acting as instruments in HIS hands.

Side Jobs

Right at this same time period, a dear friend hired me to tutor her daughter in reading. That same dear friend demanded to pay me a Christmas bonus for my work with her daughter. When I arrived to her house to teach her daughter, she had gifts for our family and a gift card to the exact place where I found the perfect shoes for Mariah… which was also on my Wish List. 

That same friend took a pay cut in order to allow Abe to do a job with her. She could have done the job by herself and made twice the money, but she gave him half her pay in order to allow him to work. I cry now as I think about that sacrifice… to allow my strong husband to bring more money in for his family. What a blessing brought about by great sacrifice. 

Another dear friend hired Jackson and me to teach piano lessons to her granddaughter. Our Christmas bonuses included a trip to McDonalds for the whole family and to another wonderful restaurant!!  What a treat!! We called her in the drive-thru line to tell her how delicious every bite was!! 

My Final Wish

One afternoon I was feeling especially grateful. I was speaking to my sweet, little piano student's mother and grandmother about my Wish List. I was thanking them again for blessing our lives so much. I didn't tell them what was on the list, but I told them how God was miraculously fulfilling almost everything on this long list. (Her mother later told me she was listening carefully to see if I would tell her what was left on the list, but I never did. :-))

The children were not expecting many material gifts at all for Christmas. We had been warning them for months that this Christmas would be different than other years. This year we would be making things for each other. Several of the children had been preparing coupons for each other… promises to massage feet… promises to make beds, etc. They were actually very excited to serve each other in this way.
Jordan jumped into Jackson's arms as he thanked him for his coupon gifts.

What a surprise on Christmas day!! The children walked downstairs to gifts that they never anticipated. 

We opened the presents slowly and said many prayers of gratitude for the sacrifices of so many.

The girls squealed as they received all kinds of gifts from the movie "Frozen."

Jayden had a blast with everything …and also enjoyed photo bombing little Juliana as she admired herself in her new gifts. :-)

I shared in a previous story about Jordan's Christmas surprise. Here's the link:

You probably could have heard Tyson scream all the way to California when we brought his surf board out with a big bow on it… he never expected such a wonderful gift. 

Jackson loved his new shirt. :-)

Sweet Jackson never looked at his siblings' gifts with the least bit of coveting. He was genuinely happy for them, and he loved all that he received. Still, Abe and I wished we had found a drum set for Jackson for Christmas. We had been searching for weeks. We saved most of the money people had given to Jackson to try to find a drum set for him. 

A drum set had been Jackson's wish for years now. He rides his bike 19 miles a day just so he can play his drums at school. He is dedicated and loves his music. It's his truest passion.

Even on Christmas Eve I was still driving to pawn shops and contacting sellers on Craig's List trying to find a drum set that we could afford and that would be of good quality for Jackson to perform. Most were way out of our price range or way too crummy. 

After Christmas, my piano student and her family whom I had told that I had a wish list announced they were moving. We were all so sad for they were so dear to our hearts. We helped them move; and as we said goodbye, they gave us yet another loving gift. She pressed a gift card into my hand and said, "This is for you to complete your Christmas list." Christmas had already passed. They didn't even know that there was something remaining on my list. Only Abe knew… and God. 

Jackson's birthday was the following week. I knew I had to use this money for Jackson's drum set. I called his grandparents and asked if they would like to donate to a drum set for Jackson as his birthday gift. I asked his siblings if they wanted to donate their extra change for Jackson's drum set. Everybody put their money in, and I added the leftover money from Christmas. I checked Craig's List again… 

There was a beautiful drum set that had just been posted! It came with free delivery, free set up and 3 free lessons!! With the money from our anonymous angels, the money from our friends who wanted to complete our wish list, and the money from grandparents, we would be able to buy the drum set.

I called the man selling the drum set. He was so nice and so genuine I thought he couldn't be for real… but he was. He drove 25 minutes to our house and spent over an hour teaching Jackson all he needed to learn about the care of the drum set and how to tune it. He drove to our house 3 more times to teach Jackson even more. It couldn't have been a better situation… so perfect, in fact, it seemed only God could have orchestrated such a perfect gift… and in fact HE did orchestrate the completion of my Wish List.

Jackson has since been asked to practice and perform with 2 different rock bands, and he will also play the drum set in a couple songs for the high school jazz band concert. What a blessing this has been for his musical progress.

God Is Real

I hesitated to share this story about my Wish List because I really would have been fine without the material gifts…

Also, our children really would have been happy at Christmas without any material gifts…

But it wasn't about the material gifts… it was about what the material gifts represented…

I believe God wanted us to know that HE was aware of our many trials… God wanted us to see the goodness of people… God wanted us to know we were important enough to HIM to send so many angels our way.

It was so much more beautiful and life-changing for all of us to see how the Lord made up for where we lacked… to see that our Wish List was important to HIM… 

I am humbled. I am grateful. I thank God for showing us HIS hand. I am thankful for the example of sacrifice and love that so many friends and anonymous friends gave to our family. So many beautiful miracles… 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Purse Drama

Last Tuesday, I gathered my children to race out the door for Grandpa's surprise birthday party. "Grandpa" is the grandfather of our congregation at church. EVERYBODY loves him. He makes us laugh, tells wonderful stories, gives special little gifts to the children, and loves us so sweetly. He was completing his 85th year. My children were VERY excited to go to his party- they even dressed up like him!

I called to the children to get in the van while I ran to grab my purse out of my closet... it wasn't there. How could that be? I always put my purse in the same place. All the children began racing around the house looking for my purse.

I retraced my steps:

I taught seminary at the church that morning. My kids didn't have school that day, so I didn't even drive ANYWHERE else that day. I had so much work to do in the garden that I didn't even go upstairs the entire day. My house was clean, so I thought I should have been able to find my purse quickly. All of us looked in every possible place.

The only thing I could think was that it must have been at the church where I taught seminary. I carried little, sleeping Jayden into the church while Jackson carried my purse. Jackson said he remembered placing the purse on the table in the room where I taught at the church.

People were already beginning to arrive at the birthday party at the church where I thought my purse could possibly be, so I called two different families to go look in the seminary room. Neither of them found my purse. They said they searched the entire room.

I was very worried. My purse had my credit cards, bank cards, license, money... EVERYTHING. I needed my purse to buy groceries while we were out. We live 30 minutes away from the church and the grocery store.

Since my friends couldn't find it at the church, I knew it had to be in my house. I prayed over and over again for God's divine help.

Seven-year old Mariah stopped me and said, "I know what you need to do. You need to be calm and then pray again."

I smiled at her and told her she was right (even though I had been praying, and I felt like I was really trying to be calm enough to listen to the Spirit).

I took her advice and knelt down right there and offered up a calmer prayer. Up to that point, I wasn't ready to accept any other option other than staying in my house until my purse was found.

As I prayed I felt God tell me to just "go to the church anyway."

I didn't like that answer because everyone at the church had already been looking for it. It wasn't there, and I just wanted the inspiration to know where my purse was BEFORE I left. (It was a timely matter.)

On the way to the church I continued to ponder about my purse. I had another thought. I told Jackson, "I don't think you put my purse where you think you put it this morning."

We arrived at the church. The children rushed in to see Grandpa. They arrived wearing sweaters just like he wears to church, and they each had their own stick to represent Grandpa's cane.

Meanwhile I went straight to the seminary room. Yep... just like everyone had told me... my purse was not in there. I had a fleeting thought: There had been a TV in the seminary room. 

I planned on checking on that, but by the time I entered the gym to celebrate with Grandpa I had forgotten that fleeting thought. I became distracted.

Grandpa and I hugged. I made him a balloon hat and made balloons animals for the children.

I still had a heavy heart feeling worried about all that I had lost from my purse. People had checked the lost and found and the clerks office- they checked pretty much everywhere. I decided I would have to go to another room and make some phone calls to cancel all my cards in the next few minutes.

Less than two minutes later, Tyson walked up to me holding my purse!!  I squealed with excitement!!  Everyone around me did too because they had been feeling my worry.

Tyson had been praying to find my purse, and he said his eyes just stopped right at the television. It was the same television that had been in the seminary room... the one that God had brought to my attention, but I became distracted before I could act on that inspiration. My purse was sitting on the television stand all along... in the very room where we had been celebrating Grandpa's birthday!

Tyson had saved the day. My cute son couldn't stop smiling. I grabbed him and kissed him all over his face as I thanked him for listening to the Spirit.

A few things touched my heart about this experience:

*God told me to go to the church, and I had to obey even though I thought I had the better plan. (I didn't want to leave home until it was found or confirmed that it was found at the church.)

*I received that strong prompting to go to the church AFTER Mariah challenged me to pray with a calmer heart.

*God spoke to my heart that the purse was probably not where Jackson said it was during seminary. Therefore, it might be a little harder to see.

*God gave me a gentle, quick thought about the television that had been missing... but I became distracted and missed the further inspiration that would have brought me peace much sooner.

*Tyson continued to pray for inspiration and allowed his eyes to be an instrument in the Lord's hands. I could see the joy in his eyes knowing he had followed the promptings of the Spirit. I'm thankful the Spirit continued to find somebody with a listening heart.

*My purse was found just minutes before I was ready to cancel all my cards... I often see the miracles happen right at the last moment. I believe that sometimes God allows that to happen so that we have the opportunity to grow our faith in HIM. 

I am so very grateful for those answered prayers and for the lessons I learned along the way.