Bouncy prayers, anxiety, and choosing to believe

“Don’t get suspicious,” our 8-year-old daughter said as she casually disclosed her jaw pain. She was prepared for my anxiety. We’ve already buried one daughter and this one had a two-year span of chronic health issues that left me teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. After a mostly problem-free summer, she started with new symptoms weekly for the past few months.

I don’t know how to suppress fear that tastes metallic and releases chemical pheromones through my arm pits that make me smell like a fetid mammal, but I know every time our daughter starts having chronic symptoms, that fear pounces like the demon it is.

I’ve had occasional generalized anxiety, but all my centering and grounding and Scripture-reciting escape me when this kind of fear clutches my chest. I try to hide it from my children, but they can sense the change in my voice and demeanor. It’s as if they watch my body turn to jelly.

Then I feel guilty, because I’m a Believer and I’m supposed to pray prayers of faith, to trust in God’s goodness. But here’s the thing, I don’t trust God to answer my prayers anymore. Not always, anyway. And not the way I want Him too. I only trust that He is with me in whatever lies ahead.

I learned God wasn’t a Wish-King when my 6-year-old self begged Him to bring my Daddy home, but he never came. Or when I begged Him to let my daughter live and she died anyway.

I learned God sometimes answers prayers when my teenaged brother was riding his bicycle and was hit by a car, causing traumatic brain injury and coma. Doctors said if he survived, he would be in a vegetative state his entire life, but instead he’s a college graduate and has a wonderful family and career. I learned God sometimes answers prayer the following year on that same brother’s birthday. Mom was on her bicycle and was hit by a car. She received life-saving pints of her own blood she’d recently donated.

I’m not privy to the naïveté of saying, “It will all work out, we just have to trust God’s best for us,” when my idea of best and His seem vastly different. But I have known His nearness in suffering and His presence in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I pray the prayer of the father in the Gospel of Mark when he asked Jesus if it be possible to heal his son. Jesus said, if it’s possible? All things are possible if you believe. And the father cried, “I believe, Lord help my unbelief.”

Faith doesn’t come natural to me anymore, at least not in the sense of answered prayers. I have to choose to believe. And I can believe, because I know that ultimately I am held. And though I suffer various trials, my faith is being refined into something far more precious than gold. Though I do not always see or feel Him, I love Him.

We sit again in the pediatrician’s office, and the doctor says we might want to run some labs. I hold my little girl as they draw six tubes of blood from her skinny arm. She goes limp. Loses her color. Gets sick. I tell her she’s going to be okay while fear screams suffering and death in my head. I can’t stop the racing thoughts. It’s the same day my Daddy, who came back into my life as a young adult, gets an “aggressive lymphoma” diagnosis. Only two weeks after my 24-year-old cousin died.

I ask others to pray for us because my prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. I hope for my daughter and weep for my daddy and battle fear that holds me captive. I fight guilt that tells me if I really believed, I wouldn’t be so scared. I am weary. I am tired. I am worn.

When the pediatrician’s phone number shows on my caller ID, I mumble hello around the cotton that seems to fill my mouth.

“How are you,” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say breathlessly, “tell me how I am.”

“You’re good,” she replies. “We’re still waiting on some results, but most of the big scary things have been ruled out.”

There’s evidence of inflammation, but the remaining results we get next week might help guide us to answers. We’ll keep digging. My body feels like jelly again, this time from relief.

Like sinking into my favorite yellow arm chair, I fall into the lap of Perfect Love that casts out fear. This, this is a sensation I want to last. And in the moment, I’m thankful for a faith I can feel.

Double Vision

We’ve had the blessing of healthy children this year. Agents and publishers interested in multiple of my works. I’ve stepped away from my nonprofit and ministry work to homeschool our children. We’re reveling in the delight of longer snuggled mornings, less rigid schedules, and discovering how all elements of life and education are interwoven.

Autumn is kissing the Blue Ridge with a kaleidoscope of oranges, reds, yellows, and browns. We’re loving sweater weather, s’mores, spiced coffee, hot cocoa, cousin sleepovers, fire pits, and friends. Joys and highs and blessings untold.

This year has also come with death, five significant people in my life since May, spanning from aged to young. Two vernal loved ones are being treated for ugly heartrending diagnoses and another young-to-me is being tested for words I can’t make myself utter. Beyond my immediate circle of family and friends, there’s even more suffering, parents scream-praying for children to live, children reeling without parents. End of treatment. No more clinical trials. Hopelessness that prompts unthinkable actions. Familial, social, political, and spiritual unrest.

My anxiety resurfaced, forcing recognition in the form of physical symptoms, more medical tests, and eventually, treatment for the root cause. Grief, sorrows, and depths of despair.

Driving home from church the other night, I turned on my Rich Mullins playlist, hoping his folksy voice and thought-provoking lyrics would quicken my heart for things eternal. First to play was, “Here in America,” where Mullins describes God’s creativity in natural beauty around the world. Tucked in the chorus are the words, there’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see, But everywhere I go I’m looking…”

That’s what I need, I thought, more eyes to see more beauty.

But if I had extra eyes to see more beauty, wouldn’t I also witness that much more suffering?

Living with our hearts and eyes wide open means truly seeing the beautiful and the ugly, indescribable joy and unimaginable sorrow.

I can’t carry it all, I cried. I never intended you to, I heard.

 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NASB.

I settle into the truth of these words and pray for grace to release my grasp on all I cannot hold. I wrestle with the paradox of being a believer in Absolute Truth who lives with questions. One who hopes against hope to avoid suffering, while knowing the presence and peace of God in the midst of it.

God uses the words of Ann Voskamp to remind me that “Those who long to see miracles, see everyday miracles everywhere.”

“Live like God is a genie in a bottle, and we become like angry drunks.

Live like God is king on a throne, and we become intoxicated with awe,” Voskamp writes.

Again, Rich Mullins sings prayers I cannot speak. “…hold me Jesus cause I’m shaking like a leaf. You have been King of my glory. Won’t You be my Prince of Peace.”

Whether beholding beauty I cannot describe or suffering I cannot utter, a warm blanket of Grace is there to envelop. Abiding Peace that IN all things, God never leaves, never forsakes, never abandons. And if my arms are raised, praising or questioning, my head bowed in reverence or sorrow, my body shaking in joy or rage, I’m held in His Everlasting Arms.

Be THOU my vision, oh Lord of my heart.

Abortion, Death, And A Call To Love

“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. 

 

 

 

 

Healing our nation at the cellular level

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.

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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?

Cornucopia

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

Overflows

Bursts goodness

From the million little joys

That fill my life

Broken Mirrors

I was going through an old binder of original and cover songs when I played and sang with friends on a regular basis. I found this song I wrote in 2005. In some ways it feels more relevant today than it did twelve years ago. I don’t have all the answers, and the song isn’t “all that,” but it did make me pause again to think about how I view myself and others.

Broken Mirrors

By Regina Cyzick Harlow

2005

We must be lookin through broken mirrors

Pointing our fingers and casting our stones

The tainted images need to be clearer

The weakness we recognize must be our own

We often point out the sin in each other

Walking on waters of self-righteousness

Piously judging our sisters and brothers

Blindly refusing the truth within us

We square our shoulders and mask our faces

Shaming each other for personal gain

When truth be told and we’re put together

No one is better, we’re all the same

We must be lookin through broken mirrors

Pointing our fingers and casting our stones

The tainted images need to be clearer

The weakness we recognize must be our own

Love is kind and forgiving and patient

Does not boast, keeps no record of wrongs

And if we really want changes in this world

Loving each other will make our hearts strong

We can’t keep looking through broken mirrors

Pointing our fingers and casting our stones

The tainted image is now getting clearer

The weakness we recognize there is our own

Dog Therapy

These two make my world a much happier place. I need happy right now and thought maybe you could use some too.

Yo. That’s good stuff!

What? You’re taking pictures of this?!

Sheesh Mom, stop embarrassing me with all the photos.

Would y’all stop the shenanigans? I’m trying to sleep over here!

Oh shucks! Now she’s taking my picture too!

Hrrrumph….