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"