Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mainely Real Life


My hand gripped the arm rest, legs stiffened themselves against the floor and the force of gravity pushed my head against my head rest as our aging minivan came to a screeching halt along the shoulder of yet another stretch of road. As our brakes smoked, the stand-still sent a shock of silence over the occupants. My husband's seat belt clicked, he left his post behind the steering wheel and slid open the side door.

"LISTEN TO ME CLEARLY: IF I HAVE TO STOP ONE. MORE. TIME. WE WILL TURN THIS SHIP AROUND AND GO BACK FROM WHENCE WE CAME. HAVE I MADE MYSELF PERFECTLY CLEAR?!"

Five small noggins nod without a word. Van door slams. Husband resumes his position in the driver's seat. I massage my neck and sigh deeply as we merge back into traffic. I handed him his ear protection and we continued.





And this was only five hours into a twelve hour trip (which we broke up into an overnight) to our now-annual trip to majestic Maine, Vacationland.  Along with all the suitcases, water shoes and bug repellent, I had also packed my expectations that the simplified, lake-side change of pace in the great out-of-doors would be tonic for what ailed our children, a case of chronic conflict. I had high hopes the state would live up to it's motto in a very personal way..."The Way Life Should Be".

We all have our battles that we're fighting from one time to another and I have come to surmise that the Summer of 2016 will go down in the Miller annals as "The Summer of Sibling Unrest".

I mean, it's not NON-STOP. They do pause to sleep. And when they're not together. Sometimes, during a blue moon, if they all want to go the same place, do the same thing, they harmoniously work together to attempt a successful outcome, proving to their parents that they are capable. I keep telling them that they love each other and will always be there for each other, knowing that deep, deep, deep, deep down they do and they will.

A week into our time in the most glorious state in all the land, Maine had still not worked it magic. We were still pulling over on day trips still hearing bickering from sun up 'til sun down over THE DUMBEST STUFF ("I called dibs to hold the watermelon and he took it from me!")  and I honestly didn't know if I wanted to stay the extra few days we were slated to stay. On top of Cadillac Mountain, I forced them to hold hands so I could take a picture of our opposite realty. They were so pleased as is obvious:




We woke up on Day 8 and decided to take the children on a redemptive hike to a remote Indian reservation leading to a spectacular lake, a relatively simple hike that we had turned into a three hour ordeal of bug-biting misery last year when we took a wrong turn. We unloaded, asking everyone to be very quiet, as it was likely we could see a moose along the trail and we wanted to enjoy hearing all the sounds of the forest. Two minutes into the hike, there was already discord over mosquito nets and whose walking stick was better. Five minutes into it, as we reached the fork on the trail the sounds bickering were rising and I was done. Turning around, I put up my hand and commanded everyone to halt. I'll spare you the entire lecture, except for this last part.....

".....If I hear ONE MORE NEGATIVE WORD from ANY of you, ALL of you will automatically be enrolled in an hour-long lecture taught by yours truly here. Instead of roasting marshmallows around the campfire or watching a movie, you will enjoy 60 minutes of hearing your mother's voice lecturing you about peace and love and kindness and charity. You will have to take notes. There will be no snacks and no bathroom breaks. YOU DECIDE."

Now, I am going to give you a visual of what I looked like as I barked out these words and you can see that I have two, maybe three years until they would laugh me up and down the mountain. (Lest you are staring in envy at my head-gear, my husband so generously lent it to me to repel the mosquitoes. It's safe to say no living creature was tempted to nibble at my neck, including the owner of neck-flap wonder.)










Even now, I am pretty sure there were a few eye rolls coming from the middle of the pack, but I let them go. Needless to say, the threat of hearing my voice droning on during prime evening hours afforded us an enjoyable family hike that ended at Endless Lake, which is where Heaven and Earth touch.

After that hike, things seems to take a turn for the better, as they often have in the past in this setting. There was still the bickering, but it came in smaller batches. Maine had worked it's magic yet again. The glimpses of sibling harmony gave us hope for the future. At one point, they all started singing Don William's "You're My Best Friend" in unison, and we thought we had been transported into another realm. Curt and I overly praised them for the sound of music, which we much preferred to the usual. I stopped short of sewing the cabin curtains into play frocks. 

And then we came back home.

Reality was waiting for us at the doorstep (hello ant infestation!) and we all picked up right where we left off. And that's ok because I have come to accept this as a season, as part and parcel of having five strong-willed children in close age proximity and also because school starts up again in nineteen days and twelve hours (not that I'm counting).

I have no, none, zilch, nada Pinterest/Family Magazine/Parenting Forum-worthy list of suggestions in how to deal with this...and quite frankly, I'm too tired to care to find new and creative ways to help them work through their sibling stress. It's just the stuff of LIFE as an imperfect human living with other imperfect humans. I'm just going to hold onto and highlight the beautiful moments and memories as we keep moving forward, sometimes hitting the rumble strips, sometimes stopping to regroup and always remembering we've got a (really) good thing going overall. We're never going to reach a plateau of perfection, so we might as well lean into the grace and goodness of God that covers our multitude of sins. Each and every (long or lovely) day.

If you're interested, here are a few of my favorite pictures from our time in Maine. Thanks for taking time to stop by!






Creeks always bring out the best in our crew. Team work...it CAN happen!



Me and my girls at Moosehead Lake








A little blueberry something to cheer on the mama.

My favorite form of escape. 

The awkward, half-hearted "hug"

Lobstah lovers.

My dream family vehicle. Have already looked on Ebay. No luck.




"Sleeping Queens"...a new family favorite. Best 8.99 spent on Amazon.

Eastport. My favorite little coastal town in Maine. Teddy and Eleanor used to frequent the town, and I
am trying to convince my husband I could withstand the winters here. 

Always fishing. Always setting new records.

My good man. Overseer. Leader. Van Puller-Over.

Diva Hikers. "We can't go on". 















Love,
The Millers

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Serenity How.

Setting the Scene.
(How Things Appear)

I submit to you the two pictures I posted on Instagram today,
this the first half day of Summer Break 2016:




As it appears, and as it is, we are two long-time friends in our late thirties, christening the good 'ole summertime with icy Starbucks coffee drinks, bright smiles and a neck-up selfie taken from on high (on purpose and thanks to my extraordinarily long appendages). The second picture involves our two cuties who share the same first name and who played so sweetly together.

All in all, these pictures, while genuinely happy, show nothing of what really went down the first four hours of Summer Break 2016.



Behind The Scenes. 
(what really went down)

Janelle and I share a long history and I love her so much. Since we've had children, I've always had a convincing suspicion she's done a much better job at producing well-mannered, quiet and peace loving children, even though are families aren't around each other enough to either confirm or deny it. We now reside in the same school district, and although our children are in different elementary schools within that district, our children all had half-day last days. Being quite comfortable in our friendship, I had suggested celebrating the last day of school at their perfectly adorable backyard pool. She graciously welcomed the idea and we exchanged texts declaring our anticipation for this time together. I wrote her "my children will be over the moon about this!".

After savoring every blessed second of school-time peace today, the children burst through my reverie at approximately 1:30pm EST and I welcomed them with open arms, exclaiming the great news that we would be celebrating the completion of another school year at the pool of our dear friends. Cheers erupted and everyone eagerly ditched their backpacks in exchange for their swim gear. They were, indeed, over the moon.

Barely ten minutes into the drive, I realized it was a full moon they were jumping over after suggesting a stop at Target for a few new beach towels and flip flops, since I could only find a few thread-bare towels and an odd number of sandals.

"MOM! Come on! That's no way to start summer break by dragging us into a store!"

"Yea! He's right! Go when it's just you!"

Oh. I see. {Grips steering wheel tightly}

PARDON ME for infringing on this school ending-celebration I thought up and am driving you too! How very RUDE of me.

I should have known this would be the last time they agreed on anything. These complaints ushered in a downhill slope of intense fighting between all peoples located in the middle and back sections of the 2007 Toyota Sienna. At one point, I dramatically pulled my phone from it's purse and loudly called upon Siri for assistance:




The request provided a lull in the arguing and I took the opportunity to launch into the now-yearly "I Want To Have A Great Summer As A Family But It's Up To You" speech (from which no one has ever had a come-to-Jesus moment).

As our sexy van turned onto the road of our destination, I told them this (because I somehow believed this to be true):

"These children whom we are visiting are VERY NICE, PEACE-LOVING PEOPLE. They are not used to fighting and if they see five hooligans spilling out into their pool who are fighting and full of unkindness, they will be VERY SCARED. SO BE NICE AND BE CALM!!! OR WE WILL NOT BE INVITED BACK AND WILL BE NAPPING THE REST OF THE SUMMER AFTERNOONS!!!!!"


****


I walked up to my beautiful friend whose voice is as welcoming as her hug. I tried to appear more up-beat about the the new summer freedom (read: lack of peace & quiet) than I felt and without skipping a beat she clipped, "Come on in...don't mind the child in the gazebo. One hour in, and we're already on our first time-out."

Immediately, I loved her even more and felt my body relax (including the belly under my tankini I was trying to suck in).

Within minutes, our children were splishing and a'splashing. It felt like the good old summertime we wanted for our children whom we love. We snapped the above shot of ourselves, with me  invisibly blocking out the sound of my son repeatedly whining about having to share a large inner-tube with his twin brother (life is SO HARD, Johnny, I KNOW!). We commented on our daughters playing so sweetly together, one older Annie  pretending with the younger Annie.

And then, the sound of a child panicked, choking on pool water ceasing all frivolity...and when he could finally talk, accusing his little brother of trying to "drown" him.  It was one of THEM. Not us. I was shocked (and I won't lie: relieved). My children stood around the pool with dripping crotches and confused expressions on their faces as they surveyed the scene. They had just been told these were a peace-loving, harmony-abiding people group they were visiting, but all evidence was currently to the contrary. The turf we were on felt very familiar. Like...ours.

It appeared we were all indigenous creatures from the same land, all belonging to an imperfect sect called HUMAN BEINGS.

And guess what? WE WERE! WE ARE! WE SHARE THE STRUGGLE!

We had moments of fun and moments of frustration. Life is a messy imbalance of "and's" and we're wise to allow both sides to co-exist. We have all of eternity to experience perfect. Here on Earth, it's a whole lot of balancing two uneven sides.

Janelle and I, even with our different family dynamics, were able to share the knowing of what it's like to be an imperfect human raising and loving and learning to discipline (smaller) imperfect humans. Against the beauty of a carefree summer day, we felt the heaviness of our human condition. And under a pool-side umbrella, we came up with no answers and plenty of empathy. We sliced up a big watermelon and went on with the afternoon because what else could we do? We're only human and sometimes consequences must wait while we figure out the next step.

***
Whether you're a person weighing in on a gorilla controversy or one looking over your neighbor's fence and hoping she's not judging you as she peers over on your side, or driving to the pool belong to a family you perceive as much more peace-loving than your own warring tribe,  KNOW THIS:

We are all human. We all have our battles.

Our perceptions are just that: perceptions, assumptions...not reality.

The truth remains:

WE ALL STRUGGLE, 
whether we're good at covering it up or assuming incorrectly (my default!).

This is why when we are looking for serenity-in summer, or any other season, the only way we'll begin to find it, is when we acknowledge and embrace the truth we are not alone in the struggle to live and love well.

This is how serenity starts.

We're all in this together. 

Summer-on, my friend.


 

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Middle Season.



Once upon a time there was a young woman who believed in her heart she would do great things. Or maybe, just one really good thing. She had the understanding that while she was not a possessor of multiple talents, there was tucked deep inside of her a tiny bundle of mysterious knowing that God had something in mind especially for her to do. The seed of her personal mission from God was implanted, creating a buoyancy of expectation as it does when one is young, feeling their whole life is before them, with plenty of time to figure it out, to stretch and grow.

Just as she rounded the curve of her late-twenties, emerging through a season of disruptive cultivation in which all she knew to be firm and factual was uprooted (and in some cases, weeded out), she found herself knee-deep in the early years of motherhood, with precious little time and brain clarity to reflect on the shift in her life. She blamed it on sleep deprivation. It was bare bones, spiritually speaking, during those years...and it was enough. In the pursuit of survival, she almost completely forgot about that "tiny bundle of mysterious knowing" inside of her. There wasn't even time to speculate if it had grown or what it would become. And that was ok.

The now not-so-young woman passed through the early motherhood season (which felt eternal during) into the middle one. The middle one involved many factors, both internal and external:

*children are in school, creating glorious SPACE and QUIET,  with more time to nourish herself spiritually. You once again become aware of that little knowing.

*children come home from school, like cattle through a shoot. School papers, noise, homework, activities,  dinner, counseling, etc. (the spiritual nourishment takes a hit).

*More time, yes...but also, more boundaries with time. Keeping up with what you could not for years, namely, laundry .

*The real thinking part of parenting is introduced. After years of primarily physically demanding work, your brain is called to action and it's a bit alarming. You're still tired from Phase 1, but you realize Phase 2 involves both. You wonder if you'll completely lose yourself - and the newly rediscovered yearning for more--in the role of mother.


The Middle Season is a weird little place with awareness behind and uncertainty in front. You can find yourself in it at any point in life. It's a season most every human has found him or herself in and it requires faith to forge through.

This woman now finds herself with a bit of time to remember that little seed she used to coddle and wonder over and feel purpose from. She feels that surely it has grown enough to be clearly visible, if not to others, at least to herself. And it is, but still, it's not clear what exactly what it is. It's easy to look around and see what everyone else is doing with their own. Some people have several growing wildly...all at the same time, and quite successfully! How do they know so instinctively what they are to do? Where do they get their energy or find the time to do it? Is this mysterious offering inside of me even something the world really needs? It appears there is plenty of everything going on already. And even though she still has the knowing it is THERE, she also hears a whisper that says "Almost! Just wait a little longer. It's not quite time...". 



***


The Middle Season is where I have been living. God has been growing ME up in the midst of it and with it that seed of personal mission must be stretching out too. One of my favorite offshoots of growth is coming to grips with what I am and what I am not. This has been important to understand, accept and embrace. I've been able to let go of the expectations dragging me down and embrace the few things I do well. Even with all of that, I still feel as though God still has something else in mind for me. It's hard to put in words, but if you have that same inkling, I know you'll be able to fill in the blanks.

As I wrote in my last post, we live in a world that is obsessed with showcasing. This is especially true when it comes to our gifting. This is not all bad and in fact, I think there is much good that comes from it. It simply makes it fertile ground for comparison or for giving up on nurturing a gift when you are one of the hearts who knows there is something God has planted inside of you and yet your understanding of it, the practicality of it and/or the timing for it haven't quite lined up...YET.




Last week, I took a long walk along the shore. I decided to walk as long as it took to clear my mind, which ended up being over two miles (it's become a junk drawer of thoughts). With my eyes fixed on the horizon, I kept the last remaining errant thoughts from entering and I told God if there was anything I needed to hear, I was listening. No obligation.

No audible voice was heard, these four thoughts came consistently lapping into my quieted mind:

1. Keep your eye on your Maker. 
Keep your vision, eye contact, concentration on the One who made you. Make time to reacquaint yourself with the God who is stirring something in you. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you. He knows the plans He has for you. You're gift might look similar to someone else, someone who seems to be right where you think you should, but that's only a surface glance. God see's below and beyond and far and above that which we can. What you have is needed to reach specific places at a specific time, and your Maker has a viewpoint deep and wide enough to release it for maximum impact, and rarely is it measurable this side of heaven. Keep your eyes on your Maker, not the measuring.

2. Do not frantically search for the Message/Mission/Whatever You Want to Call that Unspoken Knowing.
It is already inside of you, waiting for the time when God calls you to use it. It's been quietly growing and deeping as you experience life, faith, heartache and happiness. This is what is watering it. Keep the eyes of your heart on your Maker, and in the right timeit will be uncovered, shown, made clear to you...and even though you will likely doubt or feel adequate to the task, you will know it's time to take that step.

3. Do not fret over or try to figure out the means by which it will come.
My imagination has always been a good friend and a dream-dampening enemy. It's a perpetual assumption that the release of my "gift" will be triggered by a horrible tragedy. "She came through a fatal accident that took the life of her entire family, leaving her with nothing but stubs as as arms...and now she shares her story, after teaching herself how to type with her unusually long toes..the only part of her body left unscathed.". Every time I've thought of the means by which God will chose to use me, my inner control freak emerges and tries to prepare myself for the misery. We all have different struggles. Perhaps others struggle with matters of practicality or insecurity. For me, it's my over-active imagination...and one-dimensional, warped sense of how God works. We've all got our party poopers.


4. Do not try to control the wattage of the light given to you.
We all have a light within, ignited by faith and hope in God and the good things He has prepared us to do. It is our job to keep it lit (and even that we need help with at times), but it is NOT our job to control it's reach. I know I often try to minimize the small ways I think God uses me, because i perceive it to be a matter of humility, when it's actually suggesting my understanding is greater than God's. Focusing on ways to increase my wattage is no better. I can relax my grip. The wattage of my light is God's business. Not mine.

I walked back another two miles to my place on the beach, thanking God for choosing to air-drop that message into my heart and head. I share it only in hopes it will encourage someone else like me, who is living and loving and still waiting in the middle season.



 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Ephesians 3:20

(and this, courtesy of Jen Hatmaker):



 

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