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

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Gotcha Day 2012: I Hope You Love Well

There is something magnificent about 6:45AM, even on a Saturday morning.  It is quiet.  And this morning I am in the quiet, with the espresso brewing, dawn is breaking with a gentle light in the sky and big clouds are moving across the horizon because it is supposed to rain in Houston today.  This particular day I am reflecting on the two most important guys in my life who are sleeping upstairs.  You see, 12 years ago this weekend Dave and I were preparing to welcome Nate home.  I recently reflected on this marker moment a couple of posts ago (Walks With Nate).  I told my close girlfriends at lunch yesterday - "We are so blessed.  Nate is such a great kid, such an amazing human being."  And it's true.

So this is my letter to Nate on the occassion of his 12th Gotcha Day, who might someday decide to read this with fresh eyes, long after he's left my home and gone on to live life independently (sigh).  This blog, in so many ways already, has been my history for him.

Dear Nate,

Watching you dip your toes into the Pacific this summer
I am not sure you will ever fully understand how much my heart longed for you - even before I saw your face, or knew your personality or heard your cry for the first time.  No little boy could have been prayed for as much as you were prayed for - long before we knew who you were and when you were coming into our family.  But, I will never, ever forget the day your Auntie Sue placed you in my arms.  Never.  It was one of the best days of mine and Dad's life together.

You have been a gift far greater than I could have ever imagined when I was dreaming of being a mother.  You have always had this demeanor of quiet strength - and you needed it for all the time you spent in the hospital in those early days.  I love that you remind me of your dad's gracious, kind and mellow personality.  You are so much like him in that way.  And, like your dad, you smile at my passionate, fierce, push-hard ways.  You even laugh.  I love that you and I can laugh about what a quirky mom I can be - so different from you and your dad.

With Dad in Montana
I love that you love others so well.  I love that you care about how someone else feels and have an empathy for the rest of the world that I think is quite rare (again, this is your daddy in you... and your Heavenly Father at work in your soul).  I love that in spite of the fact that you are quite confused about some of the places I boycott eating at out of principle, you love me enough to go along with it and even go out of your way to honor it when I'm not around. 

I love that at 12 you still want to hang with your parents (although I understand that you are wanting to hang with your friends these days too).  I love that you tell me you love me every day after I hand you your sack lunch.  I love that you tell me you love me at random times when we're just padding around the house - and I love that you can say it in Chinese now.  I love that you love spending hours in the Yellowstone River picking up rocks and floating around.  I love that you have the drive and the patience to learn fly fishing and go on a float and encourage your dad even though he's caught the tiniest trout ever.  I love that you love adventure - rollercoasters, nerf gun wars, begging me for the day when you can go sky diving and bunjee jumping off of the Williams Tower in the Galleria (not yet, dear).  I love that you love college football as much as us and that, like your cousins, uncles and father, you know sports trivia in a way that I never will.

Hanging out in San Diego during our trip this past July/August.
And, I loved our trip, just the 2 of us, to California this summer.  I loved our stops at all the In-N-Out Burgers up and down the West Coast and I loved singing "Payphone" with you by Maroon 5 every time it played on our satellite radio (which was a lot this summer since it was apparently at the top of the charts).  I will never hear that song again without thinking of our road trip along the Pacific.  It was one of the best times ever with you and I am so glad you were willing to be my Wingman on that trip.  I'm also glad that because of that song I could tell you what a payphone was. :)

As always, I can't let a message from me slip by without continuing to speak into your life all the things I hope for you.  I hope you know how much Dad and I love you.  I hope you know how much your Chin and Quan families love you and the beautiful legacy each of these families leave for you in the people they are and the ways they have loved you.  I hope you know how much more God loves you - the deepest love you'll ever know is the Source of the love you've experienced in your family life.  I hope you know that whatever you decide to "be" when you grow up, that your heart leads you there and that you do something you love doing with all the love you can do it with.  Changing the world is a large task and I think parents leave their children with the impression that they are raising them to do something big - like be the President of the United States or start the next Apple - and I think you could do those things.  But when I say to you, "I hope you change the world," I mean that "I hope you love well and that the people who are blessed enough to be around you will be changed and bettered because you have loved them well."  I have no idea what that will look like for you.  But, I do know that I don't really care about you being a huge success story like Bill Gates.  I just care that you stay true to the soul that has been developing in you in this little house in Houston - the "kind Jesus heart" we've seen in you all these years and talked about non-stop.

Happy 12th Gotcha Day, Nate.  I could not be more proud of who you are and who you are becoming.  I am so glad I'm your mother. 

Love Always,


With your families:  The Chins and The Quans

Friday, June 15, 2012

My Thin Place

Emigrant Peak at sunset
No, this particular entry is not about weight - or at least about the kind that involves dieting and the shedding of pounds.  When I say "Thin Place" I mean a place, a space, a moment in time, a term first used by Celtic Christians - it's a space described as the place where heaven and earth meet, where the veil between the spiritual and physical world becomes very thin - so thin that you swear you have broken some barrier and are standing on holy ground.  It's a sacred place, one that is not oft experienced.  But, when it is experienced - you remember it, mark it.  You long to return to it.

So it is that the Paradise Valley in Montana is my Thin Place.  And it's the place I return to year after year.  The beauty of it all is that it isn't just my Thin Place - it is Dave's Thin Place and Nate's Thin Place.  And, for the friends and family who have joined us here each year, I would venture to say that they have had a similar experience here.

Brooks and Nate at the Lodge
This is the place where heaven and earth converge for me in a way that I cannot explain and have never been able to replicate in other spaces.  One cannot stand on the banks of the Yellowstone River, looking around at the Absaroka Mountain Range and not sense that something far greater than you has been at work, is at work and will be at work long after our footprints on the shore have been erased.  The veil between the spiritual and physical is always thin around here.  It's thin when the hard winds come down from Yankee Jim Canyon and whip through the cottonwoods.  It's thin when a storm descends on the valley and drops snow on Emigrant Peak.  It's thin as the river rises and falls with the time of year, flowing north, sometimes so swiftly it takes whole trees with it, sometimes lower, slower and clearer - perfect for fly fishing. 

I live in the city year-round - off of a busy street.  I love my home because it is the home I've built with Dave and Nate.  The love that goes in and out of that place throughout a calendar year is special.  And I have experienced a few Thin Places during my journey in the city - Christmas Eve and the lighting of the Christ Candle every year, memorable visits from friends, cuddling on the couch with my now 12-year-old boy (and these days, any cuddling is uncommon and therefore memorable).  But Thin Places are rare, which is why they are special, and in our case, why we leave our city home and come back to the same place summer after summer after summer.
The whole family on the swing at Riversbend Lodge
 Here in the Paradise Valley, when I wake up in the morning, throw open the curtains and the door to our bedroom... and I hear the water moving by, see Emigrant Peak rising above it, I step out on the deck and close my eyes and step into my Thin Place.    When the moon rises over the Absaroka Mountains, perfectly reflected in the river, and the pelicans floating with the current suddenly take flight - quiet, soft, majestic - the boundaries between heaven and earth simply vanish. 

It is our last full day in Montana before we head to Colorado for work.  But, we'll be back.  Because we have realized that without our Thin Place we have a hard time making it through the rest of the year.  As I write this blog and stare up at the mountain, watch the river flow by beneath it, I take every second of it in.  I smell it, breathe it and tuck it away to pull out on a particularly hard day when I can't find my bearings.  Life is meant to be lived this way all the time.  And, we're working on that plan.  In the meantime, we've deliberately slowed down the pace back home as best we can over the years.  We've said "no" to many a thing, we've committed to more of these Thin Place moments, even when we're outside of our favorite place on earth.

Tomorrow we'll pack up and drive out of the valley again - teary eyed and ready for next summer's visit.  I hate to give away our sacred place, but will do so anyway.  A "shout out" to Jeff, Pete and Carol Reed for sharing Riversbend Lodge with us each year.  You know the treasure you have in the lodge and the B&B, and the rest of us have enjoyed being the recipients of this Thin Place.  Of course, we're working on being your neighbors someday. :)

Wherever your Thin Place is - our prayer is that you would find it and live there as much as you can!

-Rachel for the Quan Clan