“Paula” was raised in a conservative church. When she wound up pregnant out of wedlock, fear of judgment from the church drove her to a dark secret place where her baby was killed and discarded as medical waste. Paula is a Christian and can share the love of God with everyone else, but struggles to forgive herself.
“Betty” was raised in a prestigious home, so becoming pregnant as a teenager was a “stain” on the family’s image. Her parents forced her to have an abortion. Betty is now a Christian and can share the love of God with everyone else, but struggles to forgive herself.
“Carly” became pregnant after being raped by a trusted family member. Her parents forced her to have an abortion. They were leaders in their faith community and regardless of how the pregnancy came to be, a pregnant teenager would not reflect well on their image. After turning to substance abuse and years of shame, Carly is now clean, makes a daily choice to forgive herself, and works to help others heal from trauma.
“Barbara” was surprised to find out she was pregnant. Although she was married, they hadn’t necessarily planned on having more children. She’d had several miscarriages early on, a stillbirth, and a preemie. When she went to the doctor for her first prenatal appointment he said, “You don’t have to go through with this you know.” She refused to see that doctor again and delivered another preemie, who today is a thriving beautiful child.
“Joy” had a miscarriage at six weeks pregnant. She grieved her baby’s death as deeply as I’ve ever seen anyone grieve their child. Her doctor said miscarriages happen all the time and made her feel like her grief wasn’t vaild. Her family and friends struggled to relate to the depth of her loss.
“Tara” called me when she had her first miscarriage, unable to flush the obvious baby who was unrecognized by the medical community as a “life” so therefore didn’t have the right to ritual and burial. Together we were able to secure a proper resting place for the baby she loved deeply. She had several more miscarriages to follow before going on to have surviving children. With each loss, the pain and bitterness and anger grew because so few people recognized her losses as real babies.
“Tammy” was told her baby had a lethal diagnosis and would never survive outside of the womb. Even while desparately wanting her baby, she chose to terminate. She carries her baby’s memory and the “what ifs” with her every day.
“Sue’s” baby was terminally diagnosed during pregnancy, but she chose to continue to carry. While her child has special needs and life hasn’t been easy for them, this beautiful soul is now a young adult and has taught all of us much more about the meaing of life than any formal education ever could.
And during a stillbirth I attended, I tapped out the following message on my phone to ask a few friends for prayer.
“It is sacred and peaceful in this space now. After the initial shock of the silent ultrasound machine, the doctors saying there’s no heartbeat, and as compassionately and matter-of-factly as possible, plans made to induce labor at just less than 5 months pregnant.
We’ve sat through hours of intake process at the hospital, nurses coming and going, the IV specialist searching for a suitable vein. There was even another ultrasound just to be sure…
No silence screams louder than a quiet monitor from that big machine that confirms for us hope and life or stillness and death.
Now, now we are waiting for the doctor to induce her, but in this space, husband and wife have both moved beyond exhaustion and surrendered to some moments of sleep. My heart breaks, hurts so deeply for their pain, for the unanswered questions, for the ways they feel abandoned by God.
Lines from a favorite song keep replaying in my mind. “One day soon we’ll see his face. And every tear he’ll wipe away. No more pain and suffering. Oh praise him for the mercy tree. Death has died, love has won. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Jesus Christ has overcome. He has risen from the dead.”
But here, there are tears. Lots of tears. Suffering beyond the ability to articulate. Words seem wasted trying to describe the intensity of the pain. There is fear. Fear of physical pain and knowing that after the physical pain is the most intense heart pain. To know this physical pain when there is hope for new life makes everything bearable. To know this physical pain will just bring you closer to the reality of death, for that, there are no words.
There is anger. Anger that this dream would “dangle in front of them” just to be jerked away. Anger for bodies that seem to fail us. Anger that a God who is good and for whom nothing is impossible still allowed death to call once more.
These emotions are normal. They are a part of the questions and grief. Yet God is still good. He is the bestower of peace and comfort in the midst of our hardest hard. He is the kind and gentle Shepherd, loving in spite of questions, fear, anger, and pain.
The hardest pain is yet to come. The pain of delivery and the anguish of a quiet birthing room. The physical pain of empty arms that hang heavy by your side when every part of your body is reminding you that your arms should be cradling hope, new life, joy.
We need your prayers. We need your petitions that God would be our very present help in this time of trouble. May the presence of Jesus, the risen Christ, be with us in this time. While for us, death still holds a sting, may we cling to the hope of the Mercy Tree where death has died and LOVE has won. May we hold with a steadfast hope, the promise that our present suffering cannot be compared to the eternal glory that awaits us. Amen.”
These are all women I know personally. Theirs and many other personal stories I could share about abortion, pregnancy loss, family and community reactions, society’s view of the unborn and the challenges that creates for those grieving pregnancy and early infant loss.
Our own firstborn daughter was a dwarf, a “little person.” During our appointments with the prenatal specialists they offered to “terminate” the pregnancy even though there was no indication that her diagnosis was lethal and there was never any concern that hers or my life was in danger. My husband and I could not even entertain the thought of intentionally ending the life of our baby that had such a vibrant personailty in my womb. She died nearly seventeen hours after birth, but I wouldn’t trade those precious hours for anything. Ever.
Years earlier though, I was in a toxic relationship and thought I was pregnant. (Turned out I wasn’t.) While I had always wanted children, I was ashamed, horrified, and surprised at how quickly the thought of abortion entered my mind out of fear for myself, the baby, and judgement from family and church. I didn’t have to wrestle further, because I wasn’t pregnant, but it humbled me to think of the women who truly face that situation.
With New York’s newest laws passed and a bill introduced and tabled in my own state regarding third trimester abortion, these conversations have become front and center on social media, in our homes, Bible studies, and especially among our child-loss support group.
There is no question internally where I stand on the issue of sanctity of life for the unborn, but my heart simultaneously hurts for those who already live in judgement and regret. While there might certainly be those who’ve chosen abortion without carrying their judgment, I don’t personally know one single woman whose post-abortive regret and sorrow hasn’t consumed her in one way or another. As the church, we must provide space for these women, and men, to grieve, to talk, to call on the grace of our Savior whose kindness leads us to repentance and healing. (Romans 2:4)
As righteous indignation rises up in me regarding these bills, I have been repeatedly challenged by the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13.
As radical as it sounds, I keep thinking, “If I post my oppositon to this legistalture with memes and Scripture, but have not love, I am nothing. If I protest at the local, state, and national level, but have not love, I am nothing. Even if I gave my own body for the sake of the unborn for which I profoundly and fundamentally believe are sacred and worthy of that level of my commitment, but have not love, I have gained nothing.”
Love doesn’t mean inaction. Love doesn’t mean silence. Love doesn’t mean not standing up for the most vulnerable among us. But Love does call us to operate in a spirit of love.
Colossians 4:2-6 says to pray steadfastly, that God may open the door for us to declare the mysteries of Christ, to walk in wisdom toward those who do not believe. That our speech be gracious so that we might know how to answer everyone. (Paraphrased.)
It is from this perspective that I prayerfully measure my words toward all. What if I could sit with those who propose and support these bills I oppose? Would they hear me as a individual, or chalk me up as one more obscure number to defeat? What approach might help them listen? I will call. I will advocate. But I will also offer the invitation for conversation, praying that God might open a door for me to share the mysteries (and love) of Christ. Because only when hearts are opened to the Truth, can lasting change occur.
Lovingly signed, a mother of four including one in heaven and one by adoption.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals.
I can’t think of anything more polarizing these days than my social media feed. It’s easy to sit with my device and post arguments and counter-arguments, but it’s a whole different conversation with a family member, church connection, co-worker, or friend, face-to-face. Social media affords us the opportunity to build personal communities of “friends” who vote, worship, eat, and work just like we do.
People who once were friends, “unfriend.” Posts often include, “If you voted for ___,” or “If you support ___,” “Go ahead and unfriend me now.” Other posts state that if you believe/think/vote for/participate in ____ you are generalized into an extreme group of one party, category, or subgroup. Some include headlines, videos, or articles where the re-poster asks, “Is this who we’ve become?”
That question begs introspection of all of us. Who are we? Who do we want to be? What changes must we make to get there?
The more I ruminate, the more I’m convinced that healing for our nation must happen at the cellular level. We have to be able to see past the rhetoric, smoke screens, and talking heads, to see individuals who are often far more than a viewpoint. If someone is at a place where they simply cannot accept any perspective but their own, by all means, “unfriending” might be the gift they give the universe, but real change happens when we are able to find common ground and build on what unites.
We have to stop gloating when “our side wins,” and instead walk in humility!
Cells combine to form tissues, organs, and organisms to form our bodies as a whole. They are the most basic structural units of the human body, and it’s often at the cellular level where sickness and disease take root. Social media posts and news headlines reveal that our nation is weakened at the most basic cellular level.
I don’t negate the issues that divide us are real, impassioned, cellular-level, core convictions that guide each individual and I’m not suggesting we sacrifice our beliefs on the altar of unity. I just can’t help but wonder what would happen if we put partisanship aside and truly focused on finding a way forward despite our differences.
Studies show that proper nutrition, especially a plant-centered diet, has the potential to reverse genes that cause heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses and turn on genes that prevent disease. An article by Project CBD explains the benefits cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can have on our body’s cellular system. Other studies show how meditation, exercise, and deep restorative sleep can change our bodies at the cellular level.
If we can change that which causes disease and illness at the cellular level in our bodies, can we also evoke change in our nation with contemplative and intercessory prayer, positive social actions at the local level, deepened personal relationships, and increased involvement in our own communities?
In Romans 12:9-21 the apostle Paul writes, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (NIV version)
Or in the words Henri Nouwen, “Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.”
What if we loved sincerely, hated evil, clung to good, was devoted to one another in love, and we honored one another above ourselves? What would that look like? Would that be the change that helps us become what we know we can and should be? What if we approached our conversations, our social media posts, our relationships with these measures? Could that help heal our nation at the cellular level and in turn, change our world?
Deep autumn air
Finagles through window seams
Invigorating my soul from sleep
Cradled by feather pillows
And fleece blankets
Loves sleep-dreaming around me
Rain forest coffee beans
Party in my thalamus
Crimson pomegranate seeds
Plink into the bowl
Dark wheat bread lies rustic in it’s basket
Tasting of sunshine, rain, and wind
Wood-stove’s heat warms toes and floors
Mocha dog, comforting, protecting nearby
Morning moves over the Blue Ridge
Breaking the quiet stillness of dawn
My day, only beginning
And just like that my cornucopia
From the million little joys
That fill my life
Flashing blue lights
Watery in my rear view mirror
Rain pounds relentlessly
Sirens scream past
For whoever is in need
For officers risking lives to respond
For emergency personnel
Who cannot unsee what lies ahead
For nurses and doctors
Who give all they can
Rain pounds relentlessly
Rivulets shroud my windshield
For all impacted
By those flashing lights
Watery in my rear view mirror
Regina Cyzick Harlow
On blank page
Husband stirs, coughs,
Releases his own gas
Into the atmosphere
Cats scratch hungrily at the door
Dogs want scratched too, by me
Baby calls for mama
Another needs covers
The third isn’t sure
He can go back to sleep
Just like that my quiet space,
My blank page
Is gobbled up
By the humans and animals I love
The words stay stuck
Inside my head
For one more day
As I child, I noticed mom’s hands
Worn from labors of farming and gardening
I pushed in her blue veins
And laughed as they filled again
They looked so different than my smooth soft hands
Now that I am Mom
My hands too, are worn from labors
I hold my young daughter
She laughs as she manipulates my blue veins
Several times a day she paced back and forth on the concrete basketball court beating her chest, raising her arms, rocking back and forth, wailing for her child.
She didn’t speak English, and her family shared with me that ever since her child died and they had come to the United States, it was if she had locked herself inside. She anguished daily for her child she left behind.
When I first witnessed her grief, I felt pity. In my youth and naivety, I somehow thought I could pray her grief away. How pious. How wrong. How antipathetic.
Today, on the eleventh birthday of my own deceased daughter, I anguished in a fetal position on our front porch couch, unaware and uncaring of witnessing neighbors or passers-by. My new normal has slowly evolved around this pint-sized hole in my heart and while my life is filled with tremendous joy, the ache of her absence is ever-present. Among the many things I’ve learned over the years, is that grief is lonely, even when surrounded by an entire community of love and support.
I weary of explaining to the “young mes” out there, that the Eternal Hope that carries me doesn’t mean I don’t miss her. I pray to not be deeply hurt when the “former Reginas” mistake my life-long loving and missing her as being ungrateful for our other children. I feel judgement from the “pious Reginas” when I succumb to anxiety regarding the health and well-being of our surviving children, especially given our family’s past year’s health situations. And today, I sit on our porch, tears falling like the summer rain dripping off our rooftops, and I remember the bereaved mother to whom I could not relate those many years ago.
If I could go back to this sweet grieving mama, I wouldn’t feel as though we needed to speak the same language verbally, I would wrap my arms around her grief-weary shoulders and cry with her. I would understand that I couldn’t fix it for her, but that I could walk alongside her without my ridiculous ideologies of what it means to parent a deceased child. Instead of trying to pray her grief away, I would pray that she would somehow sense God’s comfort and presence in her grief. Instead of coming to her with tired cliches and empty platitudes, I would tell her that I didn’t know what to say, then I would sit with her in weeping and wailing, in anger, in silence, in laughter, and without judgement.
I’m so grateful for the compassionate people who do the same for me, of which there are many.
P.S. Writing this out helped me gather myself together on this day of remembering. As I hammered out the words on my mobile blogging app, our 6-year-old daughter, whose own health has kept my heart anxious, came out from the screen door with a coffee mug and said, “Mama, I made you some lemonade. I thought you could use something to make you happy.” She wrapped her skinny little arms around my neck and held me as I feel apart. Again.
They know their sister by tear-stained photographs
By a worn-out guestbook from her funeral service
They know her by playing in a cemetery
Around a cold hard tombstone
They know their sister by our “Sadie Rose” friends
By support meetings and remembrance ceremonies
They know their sister by the faraway look in mommy’s eyes
By the silences, the tears, the whispers of her name
They know her by the scent of a flower
By a butterfly’s soft-winged flight
They know their sister by the cloud’s silver lining
And by the stars that light the night
How I wish they could play with her, hold her hand, kiss her goodnight
But they are content knowing her in this way
Always looking for reminders of her presence
And, as only children can, they accept that this is how they know her
And they love her, just as they know her
She handed her shirts to the cashier, and I noticed a theme in the inscriptions of each piece as they were unfurled, scanned, and bagged.
“I’m not listening”
“The less you care, the happier you’ll be.”
(I can’t remember the third one at the moment.)
There are times I think not listening and not caring might relieve some of the weight of life, but as I ruminated, I decided it would also remove the richness.
That’s how my mind works. That’s why my blog description says, “Reflections and Recollections from a Ruminator.”
Sometimes I wish a shirt could just be a shirt, and leaves on the oak tree could just be leaves, and skinned knees and struggling plants could be just that, but my mind always turns them into lessons I’m learning.
Every spring, the new leaves on our pin oak have to literally push the dead ones off. I think how resistant I/we can be to change. How sometimes I find myself clinging to old and dead and former instead of embracing what God is doing right now in my life and what he wants to do going forward.
She cried as I doctored skinned knees this morning, the medicine stung as it chased the “dirty bugs” away. I thought about how wounds hurt, cleansing stings, but untreated uncleaned wounds can literally kill us. I held her as I reassured it wouldn’t sting for long and caring for them would soon help her feel a lot better.
I pondered my one lone house plant, a starter my dad gave me years ago from a plant his mother had before she died. It’s definitely my kind of plant because it needs very little care. The yellow and green leaves remind me of my life, though. The green being times where I’ve nurtured and cared for myself, and the yellow times where I’ve neglected to drink from the fountain of living water. Usually, with enough faithful nurturing, the yellow leaves green again, and the plant plugs along, growing it’s vine and lengthening it’s reach.
Technically screen free week runs through Sunday, but I’ve succumbed to writing this post. Outside of work and school, our family has enjoyed an extraordinary week of planting garden, playing outside, storytelling, cooking together, and playing board and card games.
We inhaled lilacs. The girls and I made a mixed berry pie. (We used whole wheat pie and pastry flour for the crust. It was delicious!
I made chocolate pudding from scratch to serve with the pie, and topped it with whipped cream. Yum!
We lit oil lamps and my husband and I told stories from our childhood.
Most delightfully in my own screen free time, was the discovery this book.
This gem by Tish Harrison Ward is truly transformative. Every single page of my copy is dog-eared and marked up, noted and underlined. I tried to find a few nuggets to share, but choosing was hard because the whole book is a gold mine.
Here’s a quote from page 30.
“We don’t wake up daily and form a way of being-in-the-world from scratch, and we don’t think our way through every action of our day. We move in patterns that we have set over time, day by day. These habits and practices shape our lives, our desires, and ultimately who we are and what we worship.”
Then she references a sign in a New Monastic Christian Community house. “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” Followed by Tish’s own comments that, “You can’t get a revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary… It’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith-the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small-that God’s transformation takes root and grows.” (Pages 35-36)
This book has been a long cool drink of water to green the yellowed leaves of my sometimes soul-weary dry days. If you long to know that your daily ordinariness matters, and be confronted and challenged to examine what your days are imprinted with and how your habits shape, form, and inform you, please give yourself the gift of this book. (Side note: When initially forming this blog, a strong name in the running was The Ordinarian, because of the focus of my truly ordinary broken beautiful life.)
A gorgeous weekend brimming with love and ordinary to all of you!