Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Slow and Savored Year Round

Beginning of 2016, before the schedule heated up

It’s time for my annual family blog.  Except it’s been two years since the last entry.  It is, however, typical for me to post a blog towards the end of our family respite in Montana.  So the reason for the gap year?  We skipped Montana last summer because of my Final Four gig. First time in a very long time we let that happen.   I think we all agree doing so was a mistake, although we still cannot figure out how we would have swung it.  Needless to say, by the time we made it to the day before our departure this summer, we were fried-to-a-crisp, burnt-pieces-of-toast, totally tired and trying to figure out how to reconnect with each other, how to unwind.    This from a family that really is very intentional about our commitments – a family that says “no” to a lot of things and isn’t out there building our kid’s college resume with a gazillion different activities.  We’ve merely been in a season that has been busy (and I don’t like that word, nor do I throw it out there lightly, I hate it when people are constantly telling me they are “busy”) – some of that from our own stupidity and some of it just because that’s the kind of time we’ve been in with work and school.  The date in late July for our departure was the “finish line” for us - the place that told us we were going to be heading out of the busy season and into a new mode of being.

The drive is usually the unwind piece.  It takes us a couple of days to get here so that by the time we
are rolling down Highway 89 through the Paradise Valley, we have found our bearings a bit, had enough conversation to reconnect, let work go enough to slide into learning how to all be with each other again.  I had a harder time of it this year for many reasons.  But, mostly, I went into our time together completely exhausted and ready to take that one, big, deep breath – back to the rhythm I love and know, with the family I love and adore.    On the drive out, my throat was scratchy and by the time we got here, I had a full blown summer cold.  That told me a lot about the schedule the past couple of months.  But, what was truly great was the fact that I could actually rest and heal.  Which is exactly what I did.

Nate and Poppa fishing at dusk
This is the time I typically take every year to assess where I’ve been and where I am going.  Life is slow here and we savor our time together.  The river goes by steady and easy right outside our backdoor.  Emigrant Peak stands majestic and strong on the other side of the Yellowstone – stalwart, beautiful and the same year to year, which is comforting.  Dusk comes and Nate, Dave and my dad wade into the water with their fly fishing poles and enjoy the quiet and ease of each other’s company, where the cadence of casting their lines is soothing – especially for this momma who sits on the back deck and watches.   Brooks-the-Wonder-Dog perches on the back casting rock and smells the world go by.  Every few afternoons, the wind decides to whip up and throw itself down the valley, bending the trees to its will, but never breaking them.  Once a week at least, a thunderstorm rumbles around Paradise, the lightening show above Emigrant Peak being one of the most magnificent sights I’ve seen, especially around sunset.  When the storm clears, the clouds are all shades of pink and purple, floating over the Absarokas with the last light of the day.  But my very favorite time here in this place are the mornings - when I throw open all the windows and pour my first cup of coffee, find my way
outdoors and sit and drink and think.  These rituals are what bring us back to life again, renew our little weary souls and help us have the conversations we haven’t had in a while.

My assessment a few years ago was how “Full” I was with the good life, having left behind an extremely difficult job time for me.  I literally took the remainder of that year to get my bearings and enjoy the people in my life as I prepared to step into the Final Four mix early the next year.  This year’s assessment is a bit different.   Here, as we near the end of our time in our “thin place” Dave and I have looked hard at where we want to be over the course of the next two years - these final two years that Nate will be under our roof before he heads off to college. 

I know that every parent of a little one rolls their eyes when us old folks tell them that the time really does go by fast.  Somehow, I’ve been told, it negates the difficulties of the present moment.  When I say time has flown by as I have watched Nate grow up, I am not saying that it negates any of the long
and difficult days we might have had.  I am just saying that as present as I have been in a million moments with him, when you get to the point where you realize they will be leaving your nest soon, you really do look back and wonder where the time went.  Sure, the flight back from Seattle to Houston when he was 18 months old and didn’t want to stay in his seat in spite of the turbulence and kicked and screamed to get up, that was one of those days where time was the SLOWEST EVER.  But mostly, the years have flown by.  They really have. 

Our long days in Montana are both slow and fast.  Slow in their pace because we aren’t rushing to anywhere really (except maybe to meet our favorite fly fishing guide, Hank, for a float down the river and a great day of fishing).  Fast in that it feels like we just got here and in spite of the long runs we do up here, suddenly it’s time to pack up and go home.  But mostly, life is slow and savored here in our thin place – this place where heaven and earth converge for us – because of its beauty, because of
the way it settles our souls, because of the way it connects us to each other, because of the relationships it represents on so many levels.  It is the reason we intentionally plan this time out a year in advance.  Our friends think we’re crazy.  First off, we can’t stay at our favorite place (Riversbend Lodge, thanks to Jeff Reed and his folks) without planning a year in advance.  Mostly – it’s because when we intentionally plan and intentionally set our lives into a good rhythm and intentionally make choices about our time and our family and our relationships – we are at our best.

Our teenage "osprey" loves to fish
So that’s my takeaway from this place this year.  A hope, an intentional planning for slow and savored time with Nate as he heads into the last stretch of being under my roof, an intentional planning of rhythm for our family as we enjoy these two years of the journey and prepare to send our “baby bird” out into the world.  I liken it to the osprey that lives over at Pete and Carol Reed’s place (our dear friends) down the way. Every year she has babies up in her nest (you can watch this ritual live on the Reed’s webcam every spring and summer).  This year we got here late in the season and those babies were pretty much teenagers.  They hadn’t left the nest, but we watched them stretching their wings and flying around  – up and down and all around – while their momma kept an eye on them from her nest perch.  Those teenagers weren’t quite gone, but soon they would be.

I have some work to do because there are always bills to pay.  But I don’t have to say “yes” to every contract.  I can intentionally choose the things that give me the space for good rhythm, time for good connection with the family I love.  I’ve been a working mom all of Nate’s life.  Needless to say, I’ve discovered a few things.  We CAN’T have it all.  We CAN’T do it all.  Us working moms can try and convince ourselves of that, but it just isn’t true.  I know this because I have lived it.  As a working mom, I prioritize, I make decisions about how my time is spent.  As a family with two parents working outside the home, we have come to the conclusion that both of us CANNOT be working like crazy people, be good friends to everyone, take Nate to 10 different activities (because God forbid he gets bored or needs to be sure to have that one activity on his college application), and take on outside projects/boards/community work (because we are overly concerned with our reputations in our neighborhood).  That is not the life I want to live, nor is it one I would ever be very good at. And it certainly short changes the most important people in my life.  You can admire my resume all you want (and I am proud of the work I do and have gotten to do), but my ultimate goal is a son who still admires his parents for our hard work but mostly admires our commitment to a life well-lived, well-balanced, rich in relationship, full in seeking God and moved by deep conversation that changes our hearts and changes the world around us.  And honestly, this isn't just good for him.  It's the best thing for us - even when he has flown the coop.

Hanging with the teenage osprey before he leaves the nest!
So there’s the goal, written out, committed to.  We’ll re-work the family budget, we’ll re-work the family calendar – but we’re committed to slow and savored these next two years.  Right now I’ve got a teenage osprey spreading his wings and flying around the nest.  Before I know it, he’ll be off on his own, making his own way.  So while he’s flying around our nest and testing his ability to fly well, I will be here watching, intentionally working through the projects I decide are right for us, intentionally watching out for our family commitments, intentionally helping us stay in our rhythm of slow and savored.  Hold me to it.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I just compiled a list of the things I love, which is easy to do after a few weeks in Montana.  These
Supermoon over the Yellowstone River & Emigrant Peak
things include the way my footsteps sound on the forest floor when I’m hiking to Pine Creek Falls, or the Supermoon standing watch over Emigrant Peak, it’s reflection bright and clear in the Yellowstone River… or the sound of Nate’s laugh after he’s beaten me at yet another game of pool… or naps in the Master bedroom at Rivers Bend – with the doors open and the sound of the river and the view of the Absarokas in the distance as I fall asleep.

My soul is full.  Filled to the brim.  Sure, there are moments of doubt, or questions about what might be around the corner.  But that’s just life. In this moment, right now, I feel full – that content feeling after a good meal with good friends.   I’m not still a wee-bit hungry, or grossly over-stuffed.  I am just right.  Just full.

And this is after a couple of years of soul-sucking work, long hours and working with many people who took until they took too much.  Too much of me.  Too much from my family.  Too much.  By the end of last year I was sure they had taken so much I might never recover.  Of course, I had something to do with letting that happen.   A big meal spread in front of me so often and yet I chose to starve myself at times, or let others eat what I should have been eating.  So, in all reality, I suppose I was starving my own soul.

But here I am.  Full.

And full didn’t come just from a few weeks of being in our favorite place on earth.  I added to my list of other things I love and am grateful for - and realized that they were things that had been given over the course of the past six months (and much, much longer in most cases).  

Full has come from a deep appreciation for close friends who surrounded me and loved me and spoke truth and kindness to this weary soul that had been broken and burnt out on work and people in ministry.   Sitting here I see people who have known me for two decades or two years and recognize the gifts they have been in loving me well.  I have been struck by the length of years of so many – and am heartened by the fact that they have known me for so long and see the best and most beautiful things in me… and have reminded me of those things.  They've also seen the hardest parts of me - and love me anyway.

Our vacation selfie
Full has come from my best friend – my husband – who talks with me about anything and everything and who still dreams with me after 20 years of marriage. 

Full has come from a sister who has rooted for me no matter what’s been going on in my life (or hers for that matter).   And, full has come from hearing her call things as she sees them.  She’s been doing that for a while.  I finally listened. :)

Full has come from a pastor friend who gently and humorously restored my faith in my faith. 

I am realizing that full hasn’t just come from one good meal.  It’s come from many good meals. I realize that I was being fed when I didn’t even know it or when I wasn’t in a position to recognize it. 

Perhaps what Montana has afforded me (yet again) is perspective.  The ability to see clearly.    To see not what I am lacking but what I am filled with.

And I’m grateful.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

This is a Picture of Our Friend Mark

This is a picture of our friend, Mark.  Well, actually it is one of the many pictures that our friend Mark took.   Because when I went looking for an actual photo of Mark after finding out he was gone, I couldn’t find one.  Instead I looked on my wall and in old Christmas cards and saw the photos he had taken of our family over the years.  Our little family unit.  And Mark, well, he was the guy behind the camera.  Which tells you a lot about our friend, Mark.
Mark's photo of our family, Christmas 2007

I haven’t blogged in quite some time – lots going on in our little family over the year.  Nothing I felt compelled to write about.  Life gets busy.  Life gets in the way.  But, this is a family blog, and Mark was family and for so many reasons it is important to me that there is a record of him here, where family is written about and treasured.  This is the picture I want to show you of our friend, Mark.

Because there isn’t really a public record of Mark.  He wasn’t on Facebook or Instagram.  There are very few photos of him that his friends have.  He didn’t blog and there wasn’t even some sort of cached record of any of the work he has done.   I’m not sure why this is so.  But it bothers me.  It bothers me a lot.  I don’t think there will be an obituary and only immediate family will be at his funeral.  And that will be it.   No one will have any public record of the beautiful, kind, gentle man that graced so many of our lives. 

He had drifted away from us.  Life gets busy.  Life gets in the way.  Lots of assumptions are made.  And then, all of us together find out he took his life three weeks ago – and none of us knew it because well, he had drifted away from us and  life got busy and in the way and lots of assumptions were made.  After a time of no communication with his parents, they came to town to realize what had happened, put the pieces together only to have their world come falling down around them.   We hardly slept last night with the hole that has been left and the overwhelming sense of sadness in realizing how lonely his final days were.  How intentional he was.  How much pain he had been in.

Mark and Dave met in an elevator at a law firm over a decade ago.  Mark was interning for the summer and Dave saw that Mark had a bag with the International Justice Mission logo on it because he had interned there as well.  It’s a ministry Dave loved and they struck up a conversation that day.  He found out Mark was finishing graduate school in the fall and was looking for a job and really didn’t have any place to go while he looked.

So we did what the Quans have done for years.  We added him to our family.  He moved in after graduation and started looking for a job.  He bartended to get by and lived in one of our guest bedrooms for about a year.  The day he moved in he showed up with a special gift for Nate – a McDonald’s Play Dough set.  Mark and Nate sat at our kitchen table and made Play Dough hamburgers and french fries for hours.  At one point, our 3-year-old threw his arms around Mark’s neck and declared that he was his ‘brother.’  And Nate couldn’t have had a better big brother.  Who else would have bought him Spider Man swim flippers for the bath tub?  We would all laugh until we cried watching Nate run around the house with nothing but those dang flippers on.

We had just talked about Mark the other day, wondered how he was doing.  Nate has started shaving and it took us back to our earliest memories of Nate.  Mark had given him a Bob the Builder shaving kit (with no razor of course).  It had shaving cream, a plastic shaver and one of those old-fashioned brushes you use to slather on the shaving cream.  Nate would climb up on his stool in front of the bathroom mirror and Mark would direct his shaving techniques.  When Nate finished, Mark taught him to put his hand on his cheek and say “smooth like butta.”  And so, as Nate entered the world of real shaving this past month, we’ve been jokingly using the term Mark taught him all those years ago.  And we wondered how he was doing and talked about giving him a call.  But life was busy and it got in the way and we made assumptions.

Mark was a man of integrity.  Character mattered.  Relationships mattered.  He loved his family fiercely - a protective big brother to his sister and a son who longed to care for his mother.  He was funny and witty and willing to live with the numerous Aggie jokes thrown at him as he lived in a Longhorn house.  He was never hurried when it came to being with Nate - happy to sit and talk about the things Nate loved or for his 10th birthday, head to the park with Dave and 8 boys to play a big game of football or gather a group of friends for a meal.  He loved us all so well.  Without any holding back.  Full out.  Genuinely.  Humbly.  I can still see his kind face and hear his chuckle and the greeting he gave Nate:  "Hey there buddy..."

The last time we saw Mark, he had come over to take one last picture for me.  I needed a ‘head shot’ as one of the local execs for the Final Four and I had an important presentation in front of a bunch of big wigs so they needed a pic for the program.  I had no time for trying to find some uppity-up photographer.  And so I called Mark.  And he came over and took a great pic, and we talked and laughed a bit and then he was gone.  And life got busy and in the way… and a few years of more assumptions.

We were close enough to Mark to know some of the sadness that lay beneath the surface of his quick smile and patient countenance.  Many of us struggle with some of the same things.  We loved that Mark had a deep relationship with Jesus and authentically wrestled with the ins and outs of living that out, owning that, knowing it, holding on to it.  In many ways I am certain he was still operating out of that when he made the decision to end his life.  That sounds odd, I know.  But if you knew Mark, you know what I am talking about.

I want to honor Mark’s desire to be somewhat anonymous and I want to honor his family during this time by not revealing his full name or the full details of his final days.   But I also don’t want there to be no public record of his life.  I want people to know that one of the most genuine, kind and loving people in the world is gone.  I want Nate to grow up to remember the ‘sibling’ that he had for a time.  I want people to know that a man who walked alongside so many – praying for them, encouraging them, pointing them to the One who makes all things new – is no longer with us.  His life mattered.  His passing matters.  And we will miss him and we are mourning him.

It is also a reminder to us that we can’t let those assumptions take over when relationship wanes.  When someone crosses our minds, it means something.  It means we should act.  My heart is aching over the deep, deep sadness that overtook our friend.  I pray, pray, pray that in those final moments he knew he was loved, that he knew he was heading towards Love.  I pray that as he stepped into a new reality that all that pain was replaced with immense and immeasurable joy.  That the memory of what was only served to show him the realness of the good and beautiful life that he is now enjoying.

When Mark joined our family, he also joined our church family.  And soon, many others’ lives orbited around his.  It was in the rich relationships he cultivated there that I think many of us made assumptions about where he was and how he was doing.  Some of us will be gathering some time soon, at a home somewhere, celebrating his life and his love and his home going.  We’ll say goodbye and remember and be grateful that there is still life together to look forward to.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Where We Find Our Souls

After a thunderstorm in the Paradise Valley
We are grieving.  Again.  It isn’t the horrible, tragic kind of grieving.  But it is grief, nonetheless.  We are grieving having to leave our sacred space, our thin place -  one more time.  On Wednesday morning, we’ll drive out of the Paradise Valley, our hearts grateful and our eyes tearful.  Every single year, on the banks of the Yellowstone River, under Emigrant Peak, in the shadows of the Absaroka Mountains... we find our souls.   

We forget what day it is.  We forget what time it is.  We bask in the morning sun and listen to the river flow by our bedroom.  We revel in the sweet fellowship we have with family and friends.  We laugh as we watch our dog, Brooks, run in circles around Riversbend Lodge, hoping a bunny will slow down enough to let her catch it.  We drift in and out of sleep for an afternoon nap.  We turn off all the lights in the lodge and look up at the stars we can hardly see when we’re in the city.  We fly fish with our grandpa and play poker with childhood friends.   We build a fire and roast marshmallows with a treasured niece.  We pour out our hearts to our mentor-friends who ask good questions and remind us to go easy on ourselves.  We eat well and enjoy our wine.  We read all the books we haven’t gotten to during the rest of the year. We settle in for long silences.  

Sunset from Riversbend Lodge

Henri Nouwen said:  “The whole of nature is a sacrament pointing to a reality far beyond itself.”  

This statement is never more true than when we are in this place.

This place is our reminder.  Our marker.  So that in September we take some time for a longer walk and pay more attention to the sky above us.  So that in November and December we are more present with our family as we recount our blessings.  So that in February, in the bleakness of winter, we begin to think of the coming Spring with anticipation. So that in April, when something particularly difficult might have happened, we more quickly remember that we are cared for.  So that in May we are dreaming of cool temperatures, clear water and time with those we love in the place we love.  So that in the summer, as we drive back into the Paradise Valley, our smiles big and our hearts full, we are ready again to find our souls, in the nature that is a sacrament pointing to the One who sustains us all year long.
Rachel and Nate @ the Livingston Rodeo

Long ago, we learned that when we say "Amen" at the end of a prayer or something that someone says, we are really saying - "So be it!"  And so...

Amen from the Quan Family!

 P.S.  As always, we are grateful for our MT friends - dear people whose hospitality makes our life richer.  Thanks Carol & Pete Reed for the hugs and the cookies, the shooting lessons and the grace you extend to us all year long - and thanks, Jeff, for building such a sweet retreat! 

Nate's Big Catch

Poppa and Nate fly fishing at dusk while Brooks & Dave watch