As my husband and I reviewed our budget last summer, evaluating it against potential upcoming expenses and the desire for a family vacation, we determined our adventure would need to be close to free. One week to all be together, hopefully undistracted and able to go, was important to us.
We’re intentional about making the most of those rare moments when we’re all together.
Our two oldest children are nearing the end of high school and entering the world of jobs, college visits, significant others, and binge-watching shows with friends instead of with us. Our time together as a family felt as though it was slipping through our fingertips like grains of sand on the very beaches we hoped to frolic on.
I began to pray God would provide this “close to free” vacation for our family. Miraculously, he did! A friend of a friend had a timeshare in the Florida Keys he couldn’t use over the Fourth of July week. If we could simply pay his maintenance fees on the condo, the unit was ours!
While we had the normal struggles of separating our children from their various devices, we also took in the beauty of our surroundings, had countless amazing adventures, and made memories we’ll never forget.
Without a doubt, my favorite adventure involved a sale, a coupon, a boat, and Biscayne Bay. Neither my husband nor I had ever driven a boat. However, we arrived on a dock at the appointed time, handed over our coupon along with our driver’s licenses, and the gentleman seemed satisfied. He provided a brief tutorial and a map, and then waved bon voyage.
It was truly one of the most extraordinary days of my life. The map showed us how to locate tiny islands within the bay, where we could tie the boat to palm trees while we swam, fished, and explored the islands. My kids collected coconuts while I rested in the shade of the boat and snacked. I wondered why life couldn’t always be this good, this easy.
When we returned home, life promptly fell apart. My husband was transferred to another state for work. My oldest was diagnosed with mono, then kidney stones. His car was totaled and then replaced, but the new vehicle constantly had issues. I entered into a season of physical hardship that pressed in from every side.
I found myself wondering, where was the brief tutorial on how to get through this season? Where was the map back to the islands of paradise? Where was the quick fix to get me back to bliss?
One afternoon my annoyingly wise friend was talking about something in no way related to islands of paradise or seasons that make you hate life, when she brought up the concept of struggle. “We always think struggle is bad,” she said. “We think if we’re struggling we must be doing something wrong. But the seasons of struggle are where we learn and grow the most.”
To be honest, I mostly wanted to smack her, not thank her, because her wisdom was so annoyingly spot-on. While the islands of paradise had been great fun, they hadn’t done much to prepare my children for college or life beyond the nest.
Yet in these months of struggle, my son has learned all about the inside of his car’s engine. I’ve even had my hands inside an engine for the first time in my life. He has learned about balancing health and studies. He’s been educated on how to make uncomfortable calls. I can attest, his understanding of insurance rates, state laws, road conditions, and contagious diseases is far deeper than he ever dreamed it might be. I fear a twenty-minute tutorial and a map handed to him before he left the nest would not have been adequate.
If you, too, are longing for the easy path to the islands of paradise and find yourself wondering what you’ve done wrong when struggle comes, you’re not alone. The good news is we’re not in trouble. We didn’t necessarily arrive here because we’ve done something wrong. We serve a good God who knows what we need. We can trust him with the ones we love.
The bad news? My annoyingly wise friend was right. We learn the most in seasons of struggle.
Let’s embrace the struggle. Maybe the islands of paradise are right around the corner.
Stacey Philpot is wife to Ryan and mother to Hayden, Julie, and Avery. She is a writer, goofball, and avid reader. Stacey has ministered for over 15 years to youth and women in her community in order to equip them to go deeper in Christ. She blogs at aliferepaired.com and chronicallywhole.com.
Photograph © Timothy Meinberg, used with permission