“Circling the Wagons”

Try to imagine being hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles from home and everything you know. (Okay, if you are a military family,  a college student, a missionary or the like, this may not be much of a stretch.) Imagine feeling that you are in hostile territory, you are unfamiliar with the surroundings, and you don’t really know which dangers are real and which are imagined, because frankly, everything seems scary at the moment. How do you cope?

One of the tactics used by our country’s settlers in the 1800’s as they moved West was to arrange the wagons in their caravan into a circle at night so that the people would have at least some sort of barrier from the elements, attacks from wild animals, and the native people who objected to these “intruders.”  The settlers were not completely protected, and vigilance was necessary, but it was the best they could  do under the circumstances.

In modern days we often hear the term “Circling the Wagons” used when referring to a family who may be undergoing a crisis of sorts (dealing with an addiction, a medical issue, working through therapy, etc.).  While I consider myself fortunate enough to not be dealing with any of these issues, I have indeed found myself Circling the Wagons of my family lately. Why is that?

We are moving.

This is usually my first response when it comes to moving. I focus all of my energy “inward.”  All of a sudden, outside projects, assignments, and relationships take a back seat to the details of moving.  Like our adventurous forefathers, I find myself turning my back on anything that might potentially cause pain or difficulty. It is a form of self-protection, yet I am finding, as I get older and gain more experience, that while circling the wagons is a necessary part of making a transition, it can keep us from fully engaging and we can rob ourselves of precious memories.

Circle the wagons too soon, and you risk alienating dear friends.  I made the mistake  of not attending a party for a friend (that was being put on by the families in our husbands’ unit) because my husband was no longer a part of the unit. I wasn’t sure it was “appropriate” for me to attend since, for all intents and purposes, we were “gone” (even though we were still physically there). I think it really hurt my friend’s feelings and I very much regret not attending.

Another problem with drawing inward too far, too quickly, is that you miss out on opportunities. We currently live in the Washington D.C. area. The museums, monuments, and opportunities for cultural experiences are endless.  And yet, I have been so “busy” with trying to prepare for the move…looking into schools, arrange housing, make travel plans, sort through household goods, etc…that I have not taken any time to do any of the fun things available, especially as the weather turns nicer.  For example, I would have loved to have run in the famous Cherry Blossom run. (Okay, that’s a lie.  I don’t love running, but I would have liked to have run in this race).

Circling the wagons too soon or too tightly can actually hurt the very people we are trying to protect: our children. Children have a beautiful way of living in the moment, regardless of where they are. They soak up life and experiences with a passion that many of us lose as we mature. When the big people in their lives are looking forward only and are forgetting to live in the present, the children lose out. A child is invited to a birthday party that will take place a day  before the packers arrive. Do we let them attend, or are we too concerned with how busy we will be? There is a school field trip scheduled and your child would love for you to attend. Have you already mentally removed yourself from this school district and begun focusing on the new one as you  “just get through” the rest of the school year, or do you continue to embrace the “old” school, knowing that your child has not yet made this mental leap and wants to be involved in all the same activities as his or her friends? I’m not proud to say that I am in the “just get through” camp…but I’m trying to get better and be more aware.

It is vitally important that we take care of our homes and our families. When changes like moving occur we do have to prioritize and take care of the “glass balls” of life while allowing the “rubber balls” to fall and bounce. My challenge to myself and to you is to take some time to reevaluate which parts of life are truly glass balls (our kids, our relationships, etc.) that cannot be dropped, and which ones are merely made of rubber and will bounce back (not having the kids’ toys perfectly organized for the packers to move or not knowing, prior to moving, which stores and restaurants are in the new town.)

Please, circle your wagons when a major transition occurs in life, just make sure you don’t do it so tightly that you completely forget the world outside the circle.


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