The Influence of a Child

When’s the last time a child influenced you in a meaningful way?

I’m not talking about the “Adorable!”, “Grandma’s gotta have a picture of that!”, cutesy kind of way.  I’m talking about a child, simply by being who they are, reaching deep down into the core of your being and stirring something profound inside of you, a movement powerful enough to fuel passion that changes the way you think, act, or feel.

I remember a time when Hannah, my ten-year-old, bounded down the basement stairs and found me with slumped shoulders and downcast countenance, staring at my beloved craft corner.  The once-inviting studio bore what visually appeared like the aftermath of a grenade attack, its basic structure still in tact but the remaining clutter tossed violently askew.

Disheveled stacks laid atop the “Creation Station”, a lovely table, intended for the arts of painting and sewing, it now served for sorting and filing.  Boxes of mementos and crafts crammed together beneath it, and bits of this and that – markers, paper scraps, fabric squares, glue sticks, etc. – lay scattered about every remaining surface area.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

In a rare moment of discouragement, I blurted out, “I feel so disorganized.”

Hannah briefly surveyed the situation and then returned her gaze to me, smiling.  “But, Mommy, that doesn’t mean you are disorganized.  Look at the rest of the basement!”

My mouth fell open.  I obeyed her kind directive and surveyed the oversized plastic containers  of toys and activities.  My eyes took in the household supply racks, freshly sanitized foam tiles, and the multi-bin organizer of homeschool supplies and activities.  Even the play kitchen held a brimming plastic food basket, carefully placed appliances, and neatly stacked plates and cups.

I grinned as I wrapped my arm around her.  “Thanks, Sweetheart.  I needed that.”

Her gracious encouragement inspired me in many ways.  It reset my perspective.  It fueled my determination to get the job done.  It also reminded me of the importance of separating feelings from truth and not allowing those misconceptions to shape my identity.

Just because I felt disorganized didn’t mean it was true.

In that moment, I realized that Hannah had spoken to me the very words she longed to hear when her room is messy, revealing how much she values encouragement when she’s feeling disorganized.  Not a lecture, not bossy directives birthed from parental frustration.

The entire interaction grew me as a parent, and I had my sweet daughter to thank for it.  Thank you, Hannah, for being who you are and for reminding me what’s true, what’s important, and how to best encourage you during the challenges you encounter.

Thank you for making a positive impact on me, both as a person and a parent.

Thank you for being a wonderful leader.

What if we as adults realized and helped develop the great potential within every child to lead and influence others in powerful ways – not only when they grow up, but also – today?

I had the privilege of attending TEDx Morristown yesterday and hearing my friend, Dr. Yvonne Bleam, give a wonderful presentation (which will be online in roughly six weeks) about encouraging leadership at an early age.

The influence of a child can prove powerful when coupled with the careful cultivation of loving adults attuned to the value every person can give.  Dr. Bleam has written an outstanding book titled A-Z of Being the Best Leader You Can Be:  Leading Through the Alphabet, which gives parents and teachers an effective tool that encourages children to pursue leadership in everyday settings and circumstances.

Each chapter focuses on a different character quality and tells a story that every kid can relate to, even the quiet and shy, the unlikely leader.  For example, Quinn, the quiet listener, leads by listening to the teacher while other kids are talking and hearing the assignment that’s due the following day.

Whether used at home, school, or church, A-Z of Being the Best Leader You Can Be gives a message of hope and well explains how kids can influence others – even adults – by simply making good choices.  Questions and activities at the end of each chapter drive each character trait home and provide fodder for good conversation, enabling kids to think through their responses to particular situations.

Dr. Bleam is the perfect one to write this book because she leads by example.  I’ll never forget one particular time when she and her husband, Brian,  reached out to my family.  We were in the thick of a traumatic season of life, constantly gasping for air and desperate for reprieve.  When Yvonne caught wind of it, she invited us over for dinner.  The entire Bleam Family blessed us that night, listened to us, fed us, encouraged us to press on through some of our darkest moments.

What especially impressed me that night was the way the Bleam children, Hunter and Brooke reached out to my little Hannah (only about four years old at the time).  Because most of her remembered life experience centered around her brother’s nearly fatal birth, visits to the hospital, and his home health needs, Hannah didn’t know how to be, how to act, or what all of this over for dinner “thing” was even all about.

Long before the book was birthed, Brian and Yvonne had done a great job encouraging leadership traits with their own kids, and it was evident by the way both Hunter and Brooke did an amazing job of entertaining Hannah that night.  They exhibited grace and compassion through the gentle way they spoke to her, played with her, and did their best to make her comfortable in their home.  Their kindness evidenced a maturity beyond their years.

Little moves me more than kindness given to my suffering child.

Thank you, Hunter and Brooke, for leading through your thoughtful words and actions that showed compassion to my hurting little girl.  You may not have known until today how much that evening meant to us.

To me, an adult.

Thank you, Brian and Yvonne, for being faithful friends through the storms of life and for raising your children in a way that brings tremendous blessing to others.

Thank you, Yvonne, for creating a practical resource that ignites and inspires the hearts of young leaders to make choices that influence others in a positive way.  Thank you for making it easy and enjoyable, meaningful and lasting.  Thank you for investing in the future of our homes, our community, our world.

Thank you for the sacrifice you and your family have made in order to lead us all to sow into the lives of others.

I look forward to using A-Z of Being the Best Leader You Can Be: Leading Through the Alphabet with my kids.  Hannah got a jumpstart – she’s halfway through the book already.

I caught John on the sofa with it this morning, pen in hand.  Methinks I need another copy!

Tornado

Have you ever been caught in a tornado?

We nearly drove through one on Saturday.  Literally.

I’d heard a storm was coming, but because I no longer live with my weather-forecasting-sister, Krissie, I did’t think much about it.  Until . . .

All five of us Morgans felt quite festive as we barreled along the highway to the Scranton area for Nani’s 92nd birthday party.  Christian and I bantered back-and-forth while the kids watched a movie, so none of us noticed the ominous sky surrounding us.

Sometime around 3:15 pm, my phone beeped as it received an official weather text alert stating that a Tornado Warning was in effect until 3:30 pm and that we should seek cover immediately.

I grew up in Illinois where tornadoes are a part of life, so much so that we had tornado drills at school, scrunching up into little balls in the interior corridors.  I can still remember my surprise at seeing my mother participating in a real tornado emergency while pregnant with my younger sister, Jenny, all huddled up, lining the inner staircase of Wild Rose Elementary School with the other PTA parents.

So when I got the text message on Saturday, I knew I wasn’t watching for a tornado.  One had actually been spotted.

My eyes instinctively searched the sky.  There it was, a dark billowy mass of cloud hovering out the left-front window.  It wasn’t as defined as I would have expected, but only later did I realize that we were too close to see it.

I peered over my shoulder.  The kids were oblivious, thankfully, and I turned back around.  We were potentially in big trouble because the next exit lay several miles down the road.

As we drew closer, dark whips of cloud seemed to be everywhere in the sky immediately above us, and uneasiness rushed over me like the first jump into a swimming pool.  I felt small in the face of this inverted mountain of wind, rushing and swirling all around, tugging at our SUV with a vigor that made Christian hold tight to the wheel.

“Christian, we’d better get off at the next exit.  I just got a tornado warning text.”

“Really?”  He craned his neck and peered through the windshield.  “Awesome!”  He whooped and hollered while reaching into the backseat for his GoPro camera.  I motioned for him to keep his voice down, but he paid me no heed.  “Kids, check out the tornado!”

“Where, Dad?”  Hannah paused the movie as they pressed their faces against the windows.  They located the darkest patch and collectively said, “Ohhhhh!”

John complained loudly that he couldn’t see the vortex.  Hannah thought it was extremely cool and handed Daddy the GoPro.  Little Abby burst into sobs.

“Are we going to die?”

In that moment, something flashed through my mind that I’d read years ago.  Author and speaker, Christine Caine, had once recounted a time when she, her husband, and a few other tourists were stranded on a jungle tour.  Something went terribly wrong, and for a couple of days, they’d had to fend for themselves.

At times, Christine found herself wondering if they would survive their ordeal.  She shared that once she returned to safety, God impressed upon her heart to never forget for one day from what she had been saved.

Her story made a huge impression on me.  How true it is that I, with so many comforts and conveniences at my fingertips, can easily distract myself from facing my own mortality.

Life is but a breath.

Saturday’s storm jolted me into remembering how important, how essential the daily contemplation of death truly is.  Doing so doesn’t fill me with fear.  Rather, remembering that my days are numbered infuses me with passion to more fully live.

I found myself thankful Abby had voiced the question.

“Mommy,” she said again, tears streaming down her rosy cheeks.  “Are we going to die?”

Christian seized the moment before I could speak.

“Who’s going to pray?”

Hannah volunteered and quietly offered up something sweet and simple.  Peace washed over our vehicle and stilled Abby’s soul.  As our eyes returned to the skies, Christian took my hand and smiled.

We were now less than seven minutes from our destination, so we decided to make a run for it.  Apparently, our family missed the heart of the storm by less than two minutes because cars still huddled under the overpass as we finally made our highway exit.

Residents started slowly emerging from their refuge as we drove through Dunmore and surveyed the damage.  Fences were down, branches strewn everywhere.  A trampoline stood awkwardly bent nearly in half, pressed up against a battered shop wall.

Christian whistled and murmured, “Something definitely came through here.”

We arrived at his grandmother’s house, grateful.  His family breathed a sigh of relief as we crunched across the hail-covered lawn and into the sturdy ranch-style house.

In the face of death, we celebrated life, the wonderful gift of Christian’s grandmother.  How ironic an afternoon, how fitting an ending, how blessed our family, getting to grow together through yet another of life’s storms.

May God continue to richly bless our family and yours, through storms and sunshine, both today – and beyond.

Through It All

I had the privilege of spending last weekend on a Ladies’ church Retreat in Long Beach Island, NJ.  What a wonderful time!

We stayed in a large retreat center right on the water.  Our back door opened to a sandy beach and long dock over the water.  The view took my breath away and gave quiet respite to my soul.

Since breaking my foot in June, my leg and foot muscles have not yet returned to their pre-injured state, so I probably should not have eagerly participated in a pickup volleyball game wherein I wrenched my right knee.  It’s slowly healing, but I’ve learned my lesson.  Strength training and toning for me throughout the remainder of the year.

The best part was the testimonies.  Women of all ages and life stages came forward to share how God had worked in their lives over the years and how He still moves hearts and minds today.  Friend after friend got up and spoke about various trials and heartaches, joys and sorrows, pain and loss.  Some had lost parents or children, others homes and husbands.  One woman had been raped at knife point.

Courage and strength shone through their countenances as each described how the Lord had carried them in the midst of suffering.  Some stood in the midst of fire even as their shared, believing their Lord would continue holding them up by His mighty right hand, challenging me to trust Him whatever storms come my way.

I spoke about my family and some of the trials we’ve faced.  Then, my friend Ivette and I sang Through It All, an oldie but goodie by Andrae Crouch.  I’m pasting the link below – may God bless you through its message.

Love Walking

You would never have known I had purchased the plain black, somewhat saggy umbrella at a dollar store had you seen the radiant smiles emitted from beneath its cover.  My four-year-old and I giggled as I wrapped my arms around her like a mother pretzel and made our way into school all snuggled up, holding hands.

So sweet.

Abby tilted her head to the side and leaned into me, smiling, smitten by the beauty of the moment.  We sauntered slowly across the lot, savoring each step, making a memory.  As we approached the security guard, Abby glanced up at him.   She’d never before uttered a word in his presence, but today, she could not contain herself.

“We’re love walking.”

He had grinned at our approach, but when he heard her explanation, he nodded straight-faced.

“Love walking, yes.  Yes, you are.”

He and I exchanges smiles.  I floated to class with my Abby Mae, not wanting the moment to end.  When we reached her room, she pulled my head down and kissed me fast and firm.

“I love you, Mudder!”

I walked back to my car alone, remembering the countess times I’d crossed a parking a lot just to be with her.  That particular lot never saw rain.

It stood beneath The Children’s Hospital of Philadeplia.

Over the course of several months, this massive gloomy dungeon of a garage bore little light, happiness, or hope.  I will never forget the oppressive, smothering feeling that would overtake me as my SUV lumbered through the entrance, sinking lower and lower into the quagmire of emotion and unknown below.  The dim lighting, bland concrete walls, and blunt yellow lines provided no comfort, serving only to highlight my heartbreaking reality.

Parents from all over the world walked this very lot, not knowing whether their child would live or die.  The unwelcome enemy loomed around every corner, waiting to send families home with empty carseats and devasting loss.  We all prayed that today would not be our turn.

Some have loved and lost.  Some have experienced joyful discharge celebrations and have whisked their child away, never to return again.  Some are still there.

All of my family is finally home, praise God, but I still remember.   Every day I pray for the families going through hospital crisis, praying that one day they would finally cross the horrible yellow parking lot lines and carry their children home.

Yellow is Abby’s favorite color.  She loves yellow parking lot lines and relishes the opportunity to balance beam her way across them.  I find it ironic how her sunniness often defies all logic, the amazing way she brings quiet out of the corner, giggles to the lips of lonely, and joyous song out of sorrow.

Adversity has made her shine.  I checked my watch and sighed.  Only 8:32 am.  It would be a full three hours and five minutes until I picked her up.

May it be raining when I return.

DOUBLE CHECK

bills medical

by Beth Ann Morgan

If you’ve had to deal with medical and/or pharmaceutical insurance companies during your period of crisis, my guess is that at some point, you’ve received an unanticipated bill in the mail. The emotional jolt you felt may have proven quite unwelcome, especially in the midst of all your family was facing.

After catching your breath and feeling your heartbeat return to its normal pace, I recommend picking up the phone before heading for your wallet should you find yourself in this predicament ever again.

I always double-check.

Over the years, we’ve received countless bills for which we were either not responsible or were eligible for some other type of financial assistance. Miscalculations happen all of the time. Services are double-billed, billed to the wrong insurance company, billed under the wrong plan, etc.

It’s stressful to get an $883 bill in the mail two hours before you’re told that your child needs an emergency procedure. The time it takes to straighten out billing discrepancies is precious, and unfortunately, it happens all too often. For us, problems seemed to escalate after our children were discharged to home where we had no assistance managing bills from home care, medical supply companies, pharmacies, etc.

Even as I type, we are still waiting for a $300 bill to be resolved that is over 16 months old. Abby qualified for a special vaccine to protect her from RSV last year. Our pediatrician’s office did an amazing job getting the precertification taken care of, but the insurance companies are still going around about who’s going to pay for it.

If I had taken that bill and simply paid it upon receipt, we would have been out $300 that we didn’t need to pay. All of those “odds-and-ends” bills add up. We would have lost thousands of dollars over the years had we never checked them.

Sometimes when I called to verify, we were indeed responsible for the charge, and I submitted payment immediately. We have no problem taking responsibility for what we owe. We just don’t want to pay for anything further.

Especially when the stack of bills grows tall.

When in doubt, even the slightest inkling, give a call. It never hurts to double-check.

PAPER AND PLASTIC

Plastic Utensils in Cup

by Beth Ann Morgan

Sometimes crisis situations cause a rethinking through every process involved in daily living. When you’re down to your last fork and dinner plate, it’s time to consider making a temporary switch to an immediate time and clutter saver: disposables.

I initially recoiled at the idea of using all paper plates and plastic utensils. Eating like this reminded me of the hospital cafeteria, and during the few nights a month when I actually got to sit at my kitchen table, I wanted to use real plates and silverware. But the pileup in the sink waiting for me in the morning prodded me to reconsider.

The following weekend, I arrived home to find packages of paper bowls, plates, and cups with an enormous box of plastic ware on the counter along with a note from my husband.

Please don’t use anything that needs to be washed!

It made sense, and he was right. While I hated pouring money down the drain, the time disposables saved us was invaluable. We had no room for dirty dishes as our counter space was already filled with multiple lists and instruction sheets, pumping supplies, NG tube placement supply and diaper baskets, medication bins, etc. Clutter threatened to consume us. We fought upstream to manage it all to the best of our ability with lots and lots of help.

Abby has only been stable for one year . . . December to be exact. We were all teary-eyed as we prepared to celebrate the holidays, remembering what it had been like in years past, both the good and the bad, and then we shared our joy about being home and healthy together this year. We’re so grateful. Intent on enjoying today, taking time to heal together.

The whole experience changed me forever. While I still appreciate a pretty place setting, the moment is fleeting in the face of what matters most.

On Christmas Eve this year, I didn’t flinch when I picked up our Boston Market rotisserie chicken meal (I can’t handle cooking big holiday meals yet – ordering out helps me relax while feeling like everyone can enjoy a special meal together – I highly recommend it).

“Ma’am, would you like disposable plates, utensils, and cups?”

“Yes, please!”

 

THE BEST CALL

clarita

by Beth Ann Morgan

Ever have one of those days when everything seems to be falling apart, and then, you get “the call”, the one your heart has been waiting for, the one that helps you carry on in spite of the ordeal ahead of you?

As I held my little girl in my arms one terrible spring afternoon, I knew she would not survive until morning. The doctors had run all the tests, knew what was wrong, and needed time to figure out the best way to fix it.

Time was a luxury sweet Abby Mae could not afford.

Tears muddled my window view of the brilliant reds and yellows lining the pavement below. Abby’s breathing sputtered and spattered, her body fidgeting and wrenching on my lap. For the millionth time, I checked my phone.

To my surprise it rang, startling both Abby and I. It was my dear friend, Helen. I answered, relieved to hear her voice. I gave her the quick update and then waited to hear her response. She’s a doctor, so I guess I thought she would say something profound or have a question or suggestion. What she said comforted me more than anything I have ever known.

I don’t know what to say, my friend.” Pause. “I just had to call.

We cried together. Neither of us said anything for a long time. The “being together”, experiencing the painful shared burden, no matter how far the distance between us, was powerful. No fancy words, no needless sentiments.

I don’t know what to say.” She said it again. “I just had to call you – I love you and Miss Abigail so much! We are praying.

I thanked her as my husband entered the room.

After an emergency surgery at 11 pm, Abigail survived, thank God. The call of my friend was pivotal to my being able to get through the entire situation. Simple love extended when it mattered most.

May God help me be such a friend to others in their times of need.

 

photo courtesy of clarita