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

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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

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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

HOW TO GOAL PLAN DURING EXTENDED CRISIS

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by Beth Ann Morgan

How does a goal-oriented person face the New Year with hope of accomplishing anything in the midst of an indefinite season of crisis? The answer I found for myself during our most trying seasons wasn’t necessarily the one I wanted, but it was the one I needed.

A doable list.

I started my New Year with my annual list-making ritual. I’d always loved to set goals and looked forward to it, the creation of my personal road map for the coming year full of exciting adventure and activity.   I would spend all morning propped up in bed, praying and writing, remembering and learning, hoping and dreaming. By the end of it all, I would have a neat, one-page vision to help set my course and motivate every step.

It was never a question of if but rather when all of the items would get done. With joy.

However, this year proved different, as had the last.   Nearly every goal had gone right out the window, and as I sat with my yellow legal pad and G-2 pen, I struggled to find something attainable to record.

What was the point of making goals if I couldn’t achieve them?

Many of my previous goals had revolved around writing, things to accomplish around the home and in my family/ministry/relational life. After living out of suitcases in the midst of complete upheaval for years, I had to accept that none of last year’s goals had been met and would not be met . . . for a long time.

We no longer participated in ministry outside of our immediate family. We couldn’t keep up with all of the relationships we had enjoyed prior to crisis. We weren’t often home, and I wasn’t writing anything except our hospital blog, struggling to get even a few hours with my children, let alone meet my fancy pre-planned relational goals.

I wept.

I realized I needed to make a choice before the voracious monster of frustration latched its ugly talons on my withering spirit. I could either keep writing lists of unattainable goals, or I could prayerfully jot down a couple of somewhat attainable goals pertinent to my current season of life.

I chose the latter. And it set me free.

Free to focus on the here—and-now. Free to live fully today instead of pushing toward the fantasy of tomorrow. Free to love without distraction.

I kept my list simple.

1) Love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

2) Love my neighbor as myself.

Both kept me plenty busy but deeply satisfied. I’ll never fully master either on this earth, but the very pursuit of them wrought new and beautiful meaning to my goal-keeping. Not that I wasn’t already trying in my own way to love God and others, but my overall focus shifted from accomplishing tasks to loving well.

I’m forever grateful for the change. Even though I’m at a place today where I can add more tasks to my list this year, I’ll always keep these two goals at the top.

Everything else is secondary.

 

Photo credit courtesy of Bosela

PICK ONE

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by Beth Ann Morgan

Christmas cards. Cookie baking. Wrapping gifts. Trimming the tree . . . the list seems to go on and on. When one feels already overwhelmed by the everyday tasks dictated by survival mode, preparing for a holiday you may or may not feel like celebrating can leave a person befuddled to the point of doing absolutely nothing.

My recommendation? Pick one.

Keeping things as simple as possible is sometimes the best thing you can do to love your family during a difficult time. Perhaps in years past, you’ve spent your holidays like mine, steeped in tradition and wonderful memories, all things you’d love to pass on to your children.

Maybe this year things are different. Your husband is gone. Funds are dwindling. A little one’s in the hospital clinging to life. Close friends or family recently moved out of the area and won’t be able to make it back to be with you this year, a time when you need them most.

Whatever your circumstances, I recommend picking one tradition you want to keep and starting there. We chose the Christmas tree. Grandma baked our cookies for us and cards didn’t go out, but we decorated our tree. We used to go to a beautiful Christmas tree farm and spend an afternoon with axe in hand, riding the wagon, drinking hot chocolate in the cozy craft shop.

My heart broke the first year I realized it wouldn’t happen.

We had dreaded Christmas and knew it would soon come upon us. John had spent about six weeks in the hospital and faced another surgery, which meant at least three more weeks of recovery. We all secretly hoped he could come home for Christmas but didn’t dare voice it.

He didn’t make it home until February 21st.

Hannah had wanted to wait for John to get our tree, but the day came when we had to tell her that we would have to get the tree without him. We all cried. It was hard to let go of a memory we so wanted to make, one that would never be

And this year, there was no fancy tree farm outing – we had to stop at Home Depot because it was right off our hospital commute exit. I was afraid Hannah would completely meltdown, but to our great surprise, she allowed herself a smile, walked up to a Douglas Fir, and called out, “This one!”

We took it home, decorated it, and even though the entire process was far from ideal, she was happy. There would be years ahead to decorate with frills and fuss over details, but that particular year, “picking one” met Hannah’s need to keep an important tradition and our parental need to make our daughter feel special. Best of all, it gave us the energy and freedom to focus on the most important things, the love of our family and the birth of our Savior.

HOLIDAY SHOPPING IN CRISIS

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by Beth Ann Morgan

The holidays can prove stressful without the added dimension of crisis. When it comes to shopping for gifts, making sure your family has all the bases covered can overwhelm you to the point of creating an incredibly difficult situation.

I remember staying in the hospital with Hannah as an infant over Valentine’s Day, and my husband and I totally forgetting about the holiday. We weren’t in the mood to celebrate while our child lay in bed with an antibiotic-resistant strain of E-coli and a 105 degree fever.

But when more children entered the holiday picture, things changed. They had to.

Our culture starts priming no later than December first. Schools have assigned their book reports on the history of Saint Nicholas. Colorful light displays have popped up all around town, even in the neighbors’ yard, and Sunday schools have sent home all kinds of sticky candy cane decorations and manger scene ornaments. It’s everywhere. To say that kids are excited is an understatement, especially kids whose family is going through a tough time.

Even though presents do not erase the pain children feel, a small gift gives them something beautiful in the midst of tragedy, something to look forward to and give them hope. I saw evidence of this firsthand whenever a loving soul would hand my kids a toy or a coloring book, something to pass the time and distract their hearts from hurting.

The Christmas John had to stay in the hospital, I confided in one of the nurses (I believe her name was Eloise) that I hadn’t started shopping yet, only three days before Christmas. Even though I knew extended family adults expected nothing from us and were extremely supportive, I didn’t want to let the children down, especially Hannah.

She had been through enough. I couldn’t stand the thought of her suffering another disappointment.

Nurse Eloise lit up like a Christmas tree. “I’ll do your shopping for you!”

We continued talking, and by the end, she had encouraged me so much that on my commute home, I stayed out until midnight finishing my shopping. Even though I never took her up on it, Nurse Eloise’s kind offer could have come in handy if I couldn’t have mustered the emotional, mental, and physical strength to complete the task myself.

Planning, shopping, and wrapping gifts are typically not jobs parents want to handoff to someone else, but from one parent to another, give yourself permission to let it go. It can be really hard. Over the years, I’ve gotten really good at delegating, but I’ve finally realized that some things didn’t get done because I wanted to be the one to do them.

Sometimes getting it done is more important than doing it yourself. Christmas shopping for little ones is one of those important tasks, and typically, if you ask in advance, it won’t be too hard to find someone willing to help you shop and/or wrap.

Be careful if you end up doing the shopping yourself. I overspent like crazy the first time I holiday shopped during crisis. Emotion drove me like Mario Andretti his racecar because our degree of suffering was great – my heart leapt on the opportunity to ease the blow.

I highly recommend coming up with a simple budget-friendly list and sticking to it in the store.

May God surround you with much love and richly bless you and yours as you make preparations to navigate the season.

PORTABLE OFFICE SUPPLY KIT

office on the go

One of the things I wish I’d known a lot earlier in my hospital journey was the benefit of carrying basic office supplies with me. I can’t tell you how many times I wished I’d had a pen and paper. Even something simple like a small zippered pouch with pens, paperclips, sticky notes, and scissors would have saved me numerous trips to the unit clerk’s desk or down to the gift shop.

When my mother and sister were in a terrible car accident, I knew they’d stay in the hospital for quite some time. The impact had torn my sister’s right arm from the socket.   And when the surgeon went in to repair my mother’s broken ankle, he later told us the bones had been smashed into pebbles.

With such massive reconstructions and healing involved, many people from multiple disciplines assisted in my family’s care over a prolonged period of time. Physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers, pastors, neighbors, friends, insurance agents, homecare, outpatient treatment, medical supply companies, etc. Keeping everyone’s contact information and documentation straight could quickly have become a nightmare.

I scurried home and opened nearly every drawer, cupboard, and under-the-bed rubber bins. Finally, it stood ready, a large black accordion folder complete with hastily but lovingly assembled products for my family to use during their journey. Perhaps this simple collection of supply items will come in handy for yours as well.

Photo courtesy of decorating files.com via Pinterest

Pictured above: A dish drainer outfitted with cute files and assorted office supplies makes a great portable office.