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"