Vacation = Happiness? Lessons From a Popsicle.
Months ago I discovered M, my curly-haired 4-year-old, bawling beside our fence. Why the very loud tears, you might ask? A Popsicle. The neighbors had given her one, and she was crying that she couldn’t have another. After my initial, “What now?” thought, I saw more than tears and blonde curls. Conviction rushed in, and a flood of words, words from Give them Grace and One thousand Gifts – words that come straight from The word. These words pointed to me and said, “This is how you look.” Indeed, I AM that curly-headed girl, shedding tears over unmet expectations, rather than giving thanks. How could I help her see when I was just opening my own eyes to this simple self-evident (and yet so easily overlooked) truth?
I told her that she had a choice, a critical choice. She (and I – countless times a day) could choose to be grateful for what she had gotten, or sad that she hadn’t gotten more. Oh that I would open my eyes wider to see how much like a pre-schooler I really am!
How does this tie in with vacation? Well, it ties in whether your kid is in a hospital on a vent or you have a vanilla life with the occasional hitch in your day. We all could use some perspective, right? No matter the circumstances there is always the opportunity to get tangled in the popsicle moments. So as to vacation, bear with me for a sec, first a note on special needs and vacation…then to my notes from my own bumy road to gratitude.
We special needs parents learn how to move quickly in crisis. Many of us have emergency bags packed ready for a hospital stay (or know how and when to round one up FAST.) Somewhere on the kitchen counter lie long lists of contacts and providers, should someone have to step into our shoes, if something happens to us. There is the daily grind that may look much different from our friends, but after a while, it becomes comfortable and…safe.
Vacation? Vacation is often not safe, but it can be good – depending upon our attitude as we ride these waves.
Handicap accessibility is a great unknown for every restaurant we consider, every threshold we cross. Lifts for safe transfer and hospital beds…these don’t seem to exist in vacation-land. We never know around what corner unkind children and their uncaring parents lurk. How to make it all work – where to tuck the medical equipment, the logistics of making family fun – fun, and then the deeper darker concern – in the midst of all the busy-ness will we have time to really get to interact and connect with this child that cannot speak for himself.
I considered calling this post “Being Still,”, because I really DID get a chance to “be still” on this vacation – but maybe not in the way that you think. The still-ness came in hard-fought gratitude. Being still on vacation in the normal sense? The kids are 2, 4, and 6-years-old, and there are the days of packing and hoping and praying that critical items like the feeding pump, cochlear charger, medical formula and 100’s of other things aren’t left hours behind us. Then there are the 3+ hours of unpacking (if the kids cooperate with a nap, once we get there). And as for the beach, we haven’t sat in a beach chair since we became parents. We have one 60+lb kid that must be held the whole time and 2 girls that might like you to think they can swim.
This type of listing – tallying of trials comes to me all too easily. Whenever we get a week away, without fail, it hits me like a wave. My ingratitude. My natural posture. The counting – of remaining days, hours slept, days that we manage to make it to the water, days since a shower (You know, the kind of counting we moms do!), time spent cooking/cleaning, loads of laundry…you KNOW what I mean). The comparisons – what vacation looks like for other families, how much more quickly a family with 6 kids can get out of the car vs our 3. Picket fences have to fall every. single. time. Expectations and layers of grief have to be peeled back, like layers of wallpaper that never end. Change the environment – see our family and our son’s trials from a new angle – pull back the curtain on unfamiliar limitations.
Circumstances never being what I expect them to be, I embark on these disastrous trails of thought. In choosing this route, I bring little bits of disaster to my own and, in turn, my family’s happiness.
If I want to enjoy vacation (or life, for that matter)…I have to fight for it – tooth and nail. Yep, in the midst of blessings without number – ON VACATION, I have to FIGHT to be happy. Ridiculous, I know.
I’m always painfully aware of the mother sitting in a hospital with her daughter, the friend awaiting the results of her 2 year old’s tumor, the mom that longs to have siblings for her special needs child, the friends that have horrible health insurance that struggle to keep their heads above water, the family mourning the loss of their teenage son that suffered from Kernicterus. There are always those circumstances around me to remind me that even in our hard times, there are others that would trade to be in our shoes. But, shamefully, even with this knowledge…it doesn’t stop my heart from wandering! I’m learning that it is only with prayer, studying God’s word, and real concentrated effort (writing down the daily gifts) that I begin to exercise a truly grateful heart, alive to the “good and perfect gifts” – gifts that always abound, whether I notice them or not. I battled this out over vacation, and it was NOT always pretty, at all. But in the end, I look back and see moments where the gifts were so sweet, they brought tears to my eyes. I was truly IN those moments. I was PRESENT (a rarity, for me). As to the tears…well, I just happen to be the type that will tear up at the drop of a hat. And I’m seeing that it’s a raw and unruly place…dwelling in these moments of gratitude! A vacation with these moments, and a day with these moments is the best that I could ask for.
So, today in a midst of things falling apart and phone calls that did not let up, a WHEEL fell off my boy’s lounge-wheelchair. Yep! It just FELL right off! The nurse and I were shocked and jumped into action to make sure he didn’t fall. And my boy….he sat in his chair laughing with real pure uninhibited joy! There was still the wheel to fix, and the internet was still down and there were phone calls to be made, but in that moment – in that priceless moment – we allowed ourselves to tumble into splendid waves of laughter with him.
Counting these gifts, savoring every last sugary bite of the popsicle for whatever moment we have it – THIS IS JOY! This is joy that points to our creator…joy that comes in humility…joy from the knees, not proudly standing saying, “I’ve got this!” You don’t give thanks for things that you feel yourself entitled to. Raw thanks puts you on our knees.
Grace flows down.
Thanks glorifies our creator. In thanksgiving we enjoy Him as he intends us to. Giving the hard thanks…the thanks that comes from a broken and contrite heart that is willing to take out whatever He gives, this is living on the edge…living in a dangerous and beautiful place…a sw
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.”
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