adventure and appreciation

matt battle

My son, John, had the quote of the night. We were waiting outside the downtown venue so that his brother, Matt, could turn in his ticket money and receive his evening time slot for the “Battle of the Bands”.  John stated wistfully…

“I just hope they play better than they dress.”

We were obviously out of our comfort zone. My son, Matt, plays a mix of pop, americana, and country. The band members around us were heavy metal, screamo, rockers… black, ragged clothing and makeup, numerous studs and piercings, long, scraggly hair – lots of it.

We all began to wonder why were there. 

It didn’t get any better.  A solitary woman collected the money in the scary back alley behind the building. The under-age visitors would have to enter in that door at night to avoid the bar area in front. Ten bands would play 1/2 hour sets, starting at 4:00 in the afternoon; Matt would not go on until third from the end at 9:30 pm. I began to greatly regret having invited friends and their children to this “all-age” event.

We took on the adventure.

As the night continued on, it wasn’t really all that bad. Sure, it was loud with a few obscenities thrown in (I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics!), and not my usual music fare, but the people were respectful, the “mosh pit” minimal and under control, and most folks just listened casually to the music. Although it was a bar, those in charge clearly kept all drinking out of the “under-age” area; our group felt safe at all times. I am a regular at new cultural experiences internationally; it was good for me to step into a new culture at “home”.

Matt rocked the house.

Matt was the only non-heavy-metal performance, and he was the only one-man show… AND he won over the crowd… and won one of the top three spots with a chance in the finals! We couldn’t hardly believe it! I was very proud of my boy and very grateful for the friends who bought tickets and came to support him (not one of them a heavy-metal lover).

Common ground built bridges.

There was obvious mutual respect among the musicians. I was very impressed with the number of people who came over to Matt to tell him how much they enjoyed his part of the show. They appreciated his vocals, his looper and guitar skills, and his song writing. One man said, “I’m a metal-head, but that was awesome!”

As some of the bands played, I prayed for the young guys and girls in the bands. I prayed for the ladies who were there drinking alone. I smiled empathetically at the similarly-out-of-place other parents who were there to support their sons. I applauded fingers that flew rapidly over electric guitar necks, and drum sticks that pounded out amazing rhythms, and the synchronized harmony between groups that reflected many hours of practice and cooperation. There was plenty to praise… if I was willing to look.

The heavy metal bands taught me a lesson that night. 

How do you handle new adventures? Can you appreciate those who are different from you? What crazy things have you done to support a family member or friend? 


**You can check out Matt’s music at: Matt Morgan Music (facebook), @musicmattmorgan (twitter) and Matt Morgan Music (Reverbnation)

an end of year reflection

sunrise It is quiet this morning. No one is awake… and it is not early. A bit different from yesterday. It could feel like a let down after all the activity, but this year for me, it is peace.

It was a good day yesterday – not perfect, not without its moments of tension, missing some special people, but a good day. A Christmas reflection began the morning; family hugs, smiles and thoughtful gifts sweetened the hours, delicious foods and home-baked desserts filled every empty place, silly games caused lots of laughter, father and son playing music together finished the evening… a good day in all.

I feel reflective in this unusual silence. Remembering the days gone by. Last year at this time, my mother had just heard of her terminal cancer… but she was with us this year… weaker, tinier, but still baking and smiling and buying small presents… a gift to us.

This year brought travel to foreign places – Africa, Turkey, the Uk – where I had never been before. New friends. Teams. Great leaders. Hope for the nations. I love my work.

We made new friends, and long-time friends and family visited us in Florida. We began the adventure of exploring our new home. I am hoping that many more will come by and spend time with us in our new place in the days to come.

Our children took on new challenges… and wowed me with their accomplishments. They are truly gifted and blessed. I can’t live vicariously through them because I never even imagined doing the things that they do. I am proud of them and their dreams.

We had to say good-bye again. Steve’s dad joined his mom in eternity. We sang his favorite song last night and cried a bit. Earlier, my brother-in-law flew out to help his mom who just lost her husband. The good-bye’s are hard. Memories help the healing.

I have felt much older this year. Physically more challenging to keep up with health and make wise choices. Scary thinking that it will only get more difficult. Watching my dad fail and working through tough decisions for him with my siblings is stretching us.

All in all, I am at peace with this year. I chose “courage” as my word for 2013, and I have needed it all year long. I have seen it displayed in others. It was a good choice.

I’m thinking about next year already.

And for you… How was your year? Are you ready for 2014? 

independence vs wisdom

tug of war
My dad was in a roll-over accident the other day. Miraculously, he was not hurt except for a scratch on his arm, but he totaled his truck. He is getting older and his Parkinson’s is getting worse, and it is time for another one of those difficult tug-of-war conversations between the desire for independence and making wise choices

This situation has caused me to contemplate the great number of difficult conversations we have on that subject throughout life.

Anyone who has spent time around toddlers knows that the “I want to do it myself” declarations begin earlyIndependence means tying shoes and picking out a favorite shirt to wear. It is a difficult stage for young parents who balance teaching new skills and keeping little ones safe. 

Adolescents push this contrast to a whole new level. With a sense of invincibility, the almost-adults keep parents on their knees as they begin to get around without parent-provided transportation and challenge to make independent decisions about friends and values.

Young adults move out, but are sometimes still tied financially to the nest. Some stay tied emotionally too, but others sever the family cords dramatically as they choose career, spouse, and lifestyle independent of family control.

As we age, we change sides, and the child’s desire for independence from parents converts to the parents’ resistance to dependence on the children. Just as the young ones want to act independently, so do the older adults. Independence struggles for mobility, living arrangement and health care choices.

We all take pride in our independence and do not want to burden others. We each believe we can make (our own) wise decisions and want respect from others as we attempt to stand on our own. These on-going struggles seem inevitable at every life stage and a part of a good, healthy life journey and growth.

If that is true, maybe I should not fight so hard, no matter what stage I am in. I never really have complete control over my life… even less others’. In my heart I know that help from others is a very positive thing; good counsel facilitates wise decisions. It takes humility to accept help, and less pride is good for me too. Perhaps instead of facing this as a tug-of-war, I can view this as a both/and relationship rather than an either/or debate.

How do I find an alliance between appropriate independence and respect at each stage of life AND appreciate the wisdom of others in my life?  How can I help others to do the same?

How do you handle the desire for independence and wise choices?

when holidays hurt

broken ornamentMy husband’s family lost both mom and dad in the last year. Christmas will feel empty at times, like something is missing… because they are gone. There will be a longing in our hearts, tears in our eyes, and arms aching to hug someone who is not there.

My friends have not had any contact with their daughter for 10 years. They can not see or communicate with their grandchildren. They don’t know what they did. They also lost a younger son to cancer over five years ago. Family gatherings are not easy for them. Pain is always there.

Special friends are terminally ill. My mom is battling cancer. I am so very grateful she is with us this year – we did not dare to hope that a year ago, but treatments make celebrations difficult: energy is low, appetite is gone, fears of the future lurk in the corners of our mind.

My sister’s son lives far away. He is making life choices that are not the best. She worries about him and struggles with how to respond and relate to him – words chosen carefully, trying to show more love and less disapproval, but it is hard. Even a phone call takes more emotional energy than is available at times.

Lack of money stresses others. How to explain to the pleading eyes of a child that “Santa” will not bring that new toy? How to help a teenager understand that the new trendy phone is not in your budget, and they do not “need” what “all” their friends already have?

Even inner battles over how to celebrate can plague us. How many presents do we buy? How much do we spend on (more!) decorations? How many parties do we attend? How much food do we eat? … when we know others around the world have no clean water, or food, or shelter… How do we reconcile marketing pressures with message focus?

Tears and laughter are both part of our life-long journey. No one is exempt. A very wise man once said…  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

I have a burden on my heart to pray for those who hurt this year – that they will have someone near to share a shoulder to cry on and hold them in a hug that says that they are loved. Maybe in some cases, that someone will be me.

I also want to delight in the sweet and happy moments of this year and live them to the fullest – not let petty, insignificant things steal my joy or lose my focus… savor every decoration, Christmas carol, and special flavor, and store them as deposits in my soul… because one day I will need to draw from them… or share them with others.

Is there pain in your heart this year?

How do you help others when they are hurting?

in tune with CHRISTmas

starOther people started a long time ago… singing, shopping, decorating.

I’ve been trying very hard to avoid it. I haven’t thought about it much at all. I have been focusing on the present.

But now it’s right around the corner.

I felt stressed this morning.  

No more pretending.

No more ignoring.

No more procrastinating.

It’s CHRISTmas!

I so often wish that Thanksgiving and CHRISTmas were separated by various months in the calendar instead of back-to-back with only weeks in between. I actually enjoy both holidays very much, but I don’t like feeling that either one overshadows the other.

So I did my best to focus on Thanksgiving until we had celebrated completely… and now I need to re-focus. This year, I have a great desire to spend more time in tune with the Person of the season and less time tuned in to the commercialism and the consumerism that bombards me from all angles.

So far I have thought of a few things I can do…

Daily Reflection – I have already downloaded two new free Advent resources, and I am sure there will be others available. Starting each day with my mind and my heart on the right track will help me remember what is most important during these weeks.

Personal Focus – I greatly prefer experiences and memories over gifts, so rather than shopping alone, I plan to spend more time with the people I love. There are many special activities available during this season. I hope to revisit some old favorites and discover some new ones too.

Say “NO” to Stress – So much of my stress is self-imposed, because I don’t schedule well or I take on too many things without leaving any margin. I’m going to try to choose well according to my priorities and say NO when I feel like I need “down time”.

Take Care of Myself – I have already found that the cold and festivities are wreaking havoc on my exercise, sleep, and diet habits. I know I need to rest, work out, and control my calorie input in order to fight off seasonal “bugs” and have energy for all the extra fun and people.

Practice Grace and Forgiveness – Speaking of people, I often spend time with lots of people during this holiday… some are dear, cherished family and friends… some are more difficult for me. In addition, there is something about the high expectations of special activities or once-a-year visits that set me up for frustrations and hurt feelings. This year I am going in with the expectation that I will most likely have to give and ask for grace and forgiveness numerous times.

What do you do to make CHRISTmas more meaningful for you or your family?

learning to be thankful

ID-10087368I’m not very good at being thankful. Well, maybe I’m not that bad when it means saying “thank you” to the waitress or the hotel clerk. I do that pretty well. I am less quick to express my gratitude to those closest to me… my husband, my family, my God. That is a bit ironic since they are the ones who give me the most and the best of themselves. They give over a long period of time. They give well.

I suppose it is that very consistency that leads me to take them for granted. I hardly notice the effort, or I deem it expected and obligatory… just an ordinary part of life.

But love and sacrifice are so not ordinary.

When a husband stays with his wife through hard times and sad times and keeps loving and laughing and giving and forgiving, that is something special. When children respect and enjoy their parents… and each other… in spite of hurts and differences and distance and time, that is something special. When God loves without limits, unconditionally and unendingly, that is something special.

Not to be taken for granted.

I want to notice these special gifts and be more grateful. Thanksgiving is such a wonderful reflective time of year. It so frequently gets lost in between the other holidays, and yet it is so important for me. I need the continual reminder.

So I don’t just expect and assume with those I love… so I remember to say “thank you”.

Who do you want to thank today? 

how do you want to be remembered?

Bob Morgan memorialHow do I want to be remembered when I die? Not something I think about very often… or want to.

However, attending a memorial service this past weekend caused me to think about things that I am often too busy to consider.

My father-in-law died a few weeks ago (about one year after his beloved wife, Nancy) and we gathered for a very special time with family and friends to share stories, hugs, tears, and time together. Meals, music, and memories filled the days. We remembered Bob as family, friend, coach, and faithful husband.

Bob’s life did not begin easily. His father deserted the family when Bob was young, and Bob ran the streets unsupervised with his “river rats” pals. There are plenty of stories about their escapades and mischief… and probably some that still remain untold! Bob
credited the Marines and basketball for turning his life around, teaching him the discipline, values, and commitments that characterized his later life.

At Bob’s memorial, we looked at picture boards and video presentations and listened to some of his favorite songs and people share about his life. Over 80+ years, Bob left a lasting legacy.

PERSONALLY – Bob invested his life with passion into those things he loved and enjoyed. Bob served bravely and proudly in the Marines. After his tour of duty, Bob dedicated his life to his love of basketball. He played in college, and then coached for many years, winning the 1971 Wisconsin State Championship for high school boys’ basketball… and many years later, he came out of retirement to coach a win-less, small-town, girls’ team to their only winning season. Bob loved the “lake”: fishing, pontoon rides, and the spectacular seasonal views from his front porch. He also loved all kinds of music and enthusiastically sang and played with family and friends through the years. He was famous for his Louis Armstrong karaoke version of “What a Wonderful World”, and we sang it at his service.

What are you passionate about?
Are you investing your time, abilities, 
energy and resources there?

RELATIONSHIPS – Even without early strong role models, Bob left a legacy of strong family bonds and loyalty. Bob adored his wife Nancy; it was obvious to all who knew them. His family laughed together, cried together, disagreed, and forgave each other… always staying close and enjoying time together. Bob also developed long-term friends from all walks of life. He was friendly and witty, and had a special place in his heart for the underdog. The Morgan campfire always warmly welcomed family and loved-like-family friends.

How are your relationships? Are they committed, loving, loyal, deep?

FINANCIALLY – Bob was a high school teacher and coach… not highly paid professions. Yet, Bob and Nancy were excellent stewards of their resources. In life, they were thoughtful gift-givers and traveled frequently to visit family. They opened their home and hearts to many, some for short visits, others for long-term care. They wintered in South Padre, TX for many years, enjoying warm weather and dear friends. When they died, they left an inheritance to their children. They were generous in life and in death.

Are you a good steward of what you have earned/received?
Are you generous to others?

FAITH – Bob and Nancy both demonstrated a personal faith and encouraged it in others. They faithfully attended church through the years, although the particular denomination was not important. Personally, I am grateful for how they encouraged our missionary family and prayed for us, even when they knew that our faith choices meant our family would never live near to them. Both Bob and Nancy understood God’s gift of
forgiveness and were at peace when they died.

Where are you on your faith journey?
Would you be at peace with God if 
you were to die today?

Bob and Nancy have helped me reflect on my own “wonderful world” and the legacy I want to leave behind… How about you? How do you want to be remembered?

a place of community

Grandpa's cabin - courtesy of Sarah Joelle PhotographyI have just been blessed with a few days of family vacation time in the gorgeous Colorado mountains. My dad has a rustic cabin next to the Conejos River, and for many years the extended family (and some special friends) meet there to relax, fish, play games, and eat WAY TOO MUCH. It is a special time and provides sweet memories that last for the rest of the year.

Family get-togethers help me practice being grateful for varieties of talents and differences of opinions! Although we get along amazingly well even with the diversity represented at these gatherings, our personal preferences definitely surface…

  • Some like to talk while others want to sleep in the hammock
  • Some want to fish; others want to read on the porch
  • Some sing; others play games or do puzzles
  • Some enjoy “olympics” competitions; other a talent show 
  • Some shoot; others hike; some run trails
  • Some tell jokes; others laugh ’til they cry
  • Some sleep in late; others go to bed early
  • Some cook; others just eat… and eat… and eat

There is a lot of freedom at the cabin – not much judgement or criticism when we choose to do our own thing. There are usually plenty of people around for any activity, and there is plenty of space to find solitude too. Experts teach how to play guitar or fish or build something; those who think they are experts have a captive audience for their lectures.

We work hard to accommodate each other; bigger families get the bigger rooms, and showers get shortened (except by the teenagers) to save hot water. There is no agenda or schedule or routine. We share groceries, dinner prep, and clean up. We watch out for each other’s children and dogs – with only minimal complaining. It is a place of real community… and love.

Reflecting on that special time, I wonder why I don’t act like that more often… more at rest with time and more at peace with the people around me. Why can’t I judge less what others choose and enjoy more fully what I am doing? Why can’t I give up my space, comfort, and expectations without a negative attitude?

I am hoping this year that I don’t just remember the fun activities, but also the heart attitudes and the shared service that made it so much fun. I hope I can apply those principles not only to vacation, but to everyday life also.

What does your family enjoy together? What do you learn from those times?

destroying double standards

home freedigitalphotos smarnad
Last week I re-posted in honor of my anniversary,”Tips for a long-lasting marriage or friendship“. The first tip I listed was partnership.

Then this morning I was reading the chapter, “Making Your Partner a Real Partner” from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg… so I have partnership on the brain today!

Sandberg writes mainly advocating for women in leadership, but this chapter
advocates very much for men.

One thing that has concerned me through the years has been the limited role of men in home and family. As a woman blessed to have a spouse who has been a “real partner” for our 28 years of marriage, I find it easy to advocate for real partnership in marriage, home, and work.

Sandberg mentions various barriers to real partnership at home that I have seen and experienced myself. She also suggests ways to overcome the barriers. I wonder if you can relate to any of these?

1. Empowerment

Just as woman struggle with lack of empowerment in the business world, men often face a lack of empowerment at home.Too many times I have heard women criticize their husbands’ for how they feed, dress, or interact with their children. In my opinion, these women not only sound disrespectful and insulting, but also prideful, and they are doing their marriage partnership a great disservice (and increasing their own work load). Sandberg correctly states, “Anyone who wants her mate to be a true partner must treat him as an equal–and equally capable–partner.“¹ it is fine to choose task assignments according to preference or skill, but assuming and communicating that a man cannot do (or learn to do) a good job at home is demeaning and de-motivating. On the other hand, empowering will help to take down the barriers between real partners.

2. Encouragement

Derogatory jokes, lack of role models, and social stereotypes all make it more difficult for men to openly and actively participate as full partners at home. I have known a few men who were the primary care-givers for their children. I have known more men who shared equally home and family responsibilities (my husband included).Others teased, questioned, and sometimes isolated these men because of their desire and commitment to actively engage as true partners, rather than praised and honored for their choices.Thankfully, these men did not have the (oft-ascribed) fragile male egos I am frequently warned about, and they refused to be discouraged or dissuaded by stereotypical expectations. Men and women both can do a better job at encouraging men when they act as true partners.

3. Employment policies

Most companies do not offer men the same paternal benefits that are available to women. According to Sandberg, “Only two states offer paid family leave that fathers can use”². Men often pay an even bigger penalty than women via social pressure, low performance ratings,and fewer advancement opportunities if they take time off to prioritize family needs. I believe we need to improve the organizational/governmental policies and laws to support true partnership.

Sandberg claims that true marriage partnership results in greater satisfaction, less divorce, and more sex³, and greater father involvement produces “higher levels of psychological well-being and better cognitive abilities”⁴ and “higher levels of educational and economic achievement and lower delinquency rates”⁴ for the children. These benefits motivate me to work to eliminate the double standards that inhibit true partnership.

Are there ways you can improve true partnership in your marriage?

If you are dating, are you establishing true partnership patterns today for future marriage? 


**For more chapter summaries from Lean In, read here and here.

¹ Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013, pg. 109, para. 2. 
² Ibid, pg. 113, para. 2.
³ Ibid, pg. 118, para. 1. 
⁴ Ibid, pg. 113, para. 1.

flashbacks and memories

She would have been on the porch waiting and watching anxiously for our arrival. She would have walked slowly over the gravel rocks to the parking area to bear hug each one as they exited from the car doors. With a sweet, gentle smile, she would have commented on how each child had grown, how good they looked, and expressed how happy she was that we were here… but, she wasn’t there this time.

photoThe house seems quiet without her, but her presence is everywhere: her handiwork on the walls, her pictures on the fridge, her jackets still hanging and occasionally borrowed for a walk down the lane.

Conversations frequently turn to her… “Must be weird for you to be here…”, “First time back since…”, “I miss her too…”. Eyes fill with tears.

I missed her especially in the kitchen, where she was often, brewing the morning coffee, making up a quick snack or a full meal, answering the phone, taking notes, finishing crossword puzzles, always with a warm welcome when we came upstairs.She probably would have baked a cake for her firstborn’s special visit… but there was no welcome cake this year.

I missed her at the campfire too. How she laughed at the antics of the dogs and the people. How she loved to listen to the music. She would smile so proudly and compliment each musician in turn. She would sing along with the favorites and listen carefully to new melodies. This year, Papa sat alone at the fire-pit.

Papa is so sad and lost without her. The love of his life is gone and life feels empty and lonely and long.

I understand. I miss her too. Her life was a legacy. I know she’s in a good place with no more illness or hurt, but that doesn’t lessen our pain here. It’s only been a year, but her absence will be felt forever. ♥

Have you lost someone special? Are there special places or times that remind you of them?