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.

They Know Their Sister

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

Potpourri: no, yes, hope, food

Happy New Year!

Our family continues to heal from a grueling last half of 2017, but we are certainly here with more hope and peace than we’ve had in a long time. There are still remnants of illnesses, but overall we are much healthier now too!

I have been learning a lot about self care and setting realistic boundaries for what I can and can’t do. This work empowered me to say no to two seemingly great opportunities to serve our denomination and local church district. I love our denomination, but the heart of my ministry has always been with the local grief community outside the context of church and denomination.

Saying no in turn allowed me to say yes to more with the non-profit my husband and I founded to provide non-clinical peer support for those grieving the death of a child. Just a few days of laser focus on that work and multiple doors are opening that will guide us into the future. Our non-profit turns ten years old this year! Lots to celebrate, even though the work is related to much grief and sadness. I have been contemplating how many people I’ve come to love and cherish that I would likely have never learned to know outside of our deepest sorrow and greatest pain.

This has long been one of my guiding quotes.

In my personal work and soul care, I’ve also been having some fun trying to reconcile the multiple and diverse streams of culture and influence in my DNA. My dad is from an Eastern European immigrant family, Mom from generations of horse and buggy Mennonites in which faith I was raised and colors my understanding of God. Learning more about my whole identity has been fun, but I’ve also been reminded that my true identity is a child of God and the ultimate “Home” I long for is being at home with God.

As always, I’ve been enjoying making some great food! I’m posting some on my recipe blog, The Cultured Country Cook. My purpose for the blog is simply to share great recipes. I’m not a fancy food photographer, but we sure do eat good around here. I was thinking this evening, I sure hope there’s a kitchen in heaven, cooking and baking and enjoying good food are some of my life’s greatest pleasures. Simultaneously I pondered how my husband might hope there’s NOT a kitchen in heaven since he usually ends up doing the dishes.

I read through English veterinarian James Herriot’s books last year, so one evening I made roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, Yorkshire pudding, and creamed peas. I had read some chapters and paragraphs aloud to the family and we had a great time with that meal, recalling specific stories from his books.

We’ve had extremely cold temperatures here the past few days so tonight’s comfort food was cheese ravioli with mushrooms and browned butter, a simple spinach salad with strawberries, oranges, a drizzle of olive oil and a fresh-squeezed lime. Dessert was a homemade maple walnut pound cake with light maple cream cheese icing and homemade coffee custard. I had subscribed to the emeals menu planner several years ago, but haven’t used the recipes a whole lot. Tonight’s ravioli and last night’s Spanish Chicken Soup were both from emeals. I’m hoping to utilize that more!

I made cinnamon rolls for the pediatrician’s office who care so wonderfully for our children.

And a “poop emoji” cake by request for some friends who knew I had made one as a joke for Our son’s birthday last fall.

I continue to work out what it means to be fully present in my life and the invitations to be are all around me, if my eyes and heart are willing to see.

I’ve been delighting in the following words from Bob Goff in Love Does: Discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world.

“There is only one invitation it would kill me to refuse, yet I’m tempted to turn it down all the time. I get the invitation every morning when I wake up to actually live a life of complete engagement, a life of whimsy, a life where love does. It doesn’t come in an envelope. It’s ushered in by a sunrise, the sound of a bird, or the smell of coffee drifting lazily from the kitchen. It’s the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life for one more day. Nobody turns down an invitation to the White House, but I’ve seen plenty of people turn down an invitation to fully live.

Turning down this invitation comes in lots of flavors. It looks like numbing yourself or distracting yourself or seeing something really beautiful as normal. It can also look like refusing to forgive or not being grateful or getting wrapped around the axle with fear or envy. I think every day God sends us an invitation to live and sometimes we forget to show up or get head-faked into thinking we haven’t really been invited. But you see, we have been invited — every day, all over again”

People might choose to turn down invitations to the White House these days, but I refuse to decline this invitation to fully live. May it be so. Amen.

I bargained with God and got my end of the deal! Now what?

For most who know my family, it’s no secret 2017 has been a year of difficulties. I wrote down the “big” things the other day and came up with this list.

Husband – mono (severe) and pneumonia (still dealing with symptoms of mono)

Me – strep twice, months of intense physical pain, tested and ruled out for ovarian, colon, and melanoma cancers

Son – strep four times and mono (less severe)

Daughter – strep nine times, mono (severe), tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy (still dealing with symptoms of mono)

Daughter – respiratory complications that resulted in sometimes upwards of six breathing treatments a day

Another loved one continues to suffer with memory loss/dementia and relies heavily and increasingly on my husband and I for care

And those were just the big things.

Before I go further, we have and continue to address each situation as well as bigger picture causes and possibilities, including air quality in our home. However, our one daughter seems to have been a walking germ factory with her tonsils, and since her surgery and recovery things are improving greatly. My pain seems to have been a result of me needing to take better overall care of myself.

Somewhere in the intensity of the battle, I bargained with God that if we could all get well I would stop holding back and living small.

It felt like a really good deal at the time. Now we are all healing and gaining strength and health and I am processing what I meant by “not holding back and living small.”

I’ve had to confront myself this year on many occasions and came to realize that fear makes my life so small; fear of living, fear of dying (this one is more about me leaving my children or having yet another child die than me actually transitioning to my Eternal Home,) fear of upsetting someone, fear of not standing up for (insert many things) regardless of whether or not it might upset someone, fear of being misunderstood, fear of vulnerability (I have so much I write and want to share, but fear holds me back,) fear of …

Counseling is helping. Friends willing to speak truth, hard truth, is helping. Taking better care of myself spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally is helping. Taking a lyrical ballet class is helping and I can tell an immense difference in my freedom of movement and participation since I resolved to stop living small. Ironically, genealogical research is helping. Confronting the root of my insecurities is helping. Love is helping.

I hope you will join me on the journey ahead as I learn to live into my destiny and perhaps inspire you to live into yours as well. I’d love to engage with my readers more as we journey together. What have you been struggling with? What joys fill your life today? How can I pray for you?

Sharing this photo is a big deal for me. I used to loathe many things about my physical features, but the more grounded I become and the more I delve into my genealogy, the more I see the uniqueness and character that make up the whole of who I am.

Here’s to hope, health, and deeper discoveries.

Musings from a $1.50 retreat 

Sometimes gifts come in the most unsuspecting ways, like several weeks ago when I picked up a book for $1.50 at a thrift store. I was taking my mother-in-law to an appointment and she loves to stop by thrift stores along the way. The last thing I need is more books, but that section inevtiably sucks me in like a gnat to vinegar. This round of treasures included “A Seven Day Journey With Thomas Merton” by Esther de Waal. 


The point of the book is to intentionally carve out quiet time with God. I love that idea, but my prayers these days are often while I’m driving down the road with a million other things on my mind. 

Waal’s opening recognizes that taking a weekend or week alone is nearly impossible for many of us, yet we still need to create spaces of quiet time with God. For some that might be smaller amounts every day and for others perhaps larger spaces of time once a week, depending on our individual circumstances. 

“… if I am to take myself seriously,” Waal writes,  “to respect the whole of myself, body, mind, and spirit, and acknowledge how essential it is to nurture myself, I know that time apart is essential. It is essential to find time to stand back, to draw breath, not only for my own sake but also for my relationships with my family, colleagues, friends, and above all for an ever deepening relationship with God.”

 

As an extroverted introvert, I am often misunderstood as someone who functions best by being constantly surrounded by people. My chaotic schedule itself would be proof enough to some that I must always be doing. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I absolutely love people and relationships and caring for others, I get overwhelmed in crowds and am uncomfortable in large groups. I crave time alone, yet I’m regrettably negligent in making that priority. 

“The reason why we don’t take time is a feeling that we have to keep moving,” Merton says, “This is a real sickness. Today time is a commodity, and for each one of us time is mortgaged… we are threatened by a chain reaction: overwork – overstimulation – overcompensation – overkill.” 

Guilty. Right here. Those words are for me. And I try to pay attention to where that drive comes from for me. Ultimately, I believe, it is because I buy into the lie that I am never enough, can never do enough, be enough, care enough, accomplish enough. Always striving, but never arriving. I buy into the lie that solitude is selfish, there is too much to be done to rest. 

I memorized this poem by Maltbie Davenport Babcock at a young age and have too long kept it a personal mantra. 

Be Strong by Maltbie Davenport Babcock

Be strong!

We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;

We have hard work to do and loads to lift;

Shun not the struggle, face it, ’tis God’s gift.

Be strong, be strong, be strong!

Be strong!

Say not the days are evil—who’s to blame?

And fold the hands and acquiesce—O shame!

Stand up, speak out, and bravely, in God’s Name.

Be strong, be strong, be strong!

Be strong!

It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,

How hard the battle goes, the day, how long;

Faint not, fight on! Tomorrow comes the song.

Be strong, be strong, be strong!

I still love the message, but one cannot be strong without addressing one’s weakness. I cannot truly offer compassionate care to others without first offering it to myself. In solitude with God I can recognize and own my weaknesses and rest in His strength and sufficiency. It is in solitude with God that I more fully experience His love for me and mine for Him. 

“We have to remember that we look for solitude in order to grow there in love for God and in love for others,” Merton writes. “We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them: we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is always a secondary end. The one end that includes all others is the love of God.” 

In that time of personal retreat, the prayer and Scripture and reflection bring everything else into refreshing focus. Merton sums up the rejuvenation of Scripture-reading with the following, “By the reading of Scripture I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a purer, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green, light is sharper on the outlines of the forests and the hills and the whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music in the earth under my feet.” 



It is only in intentional retreat with God, that I can truly revel in the wonderful aspects of my life and find strength within the difficulties. In that time I am reminded of God’s love in every celebration and concern of life and see that God is with me in it all.  

“It is God’s love that warms me in the sun and God’s love that sends the cold rain,” Waal says. “It is God’s love that feeds me in the bread I eat and God’s love that feeds me also by hungar and fasting… It is God who breathes on me with light winds off the river and in the breezes out of the wood.”

In intentional retreat with God I am reminded of my uniqueness as a person and the specific tasks to which I have been called. I have never bought into the “I’m special and God has a great plan for my life,” teaching that makes everyone feel like they will produce profound and wonderful accomplishments for the Kingdom of God. My personal belief falls more in line with this quote from Waal. “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him… The more a tree is like itself it is like Him. This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or ever will do.” 


There are many trees in this world, some of which will never be beholden by human eye or evoke awe in those who see it, but they are nonetheless unique and praising God as no other tree before or after. Our names, our life’s work may never be noticed by others or recognized beyond our family and friends, and yet we can still give glory to God by being who we’re created to be in Him and living for what we are called to do. 

“If I am supposed to hoe a garden or make a table, then I will be obeying God if I am true to the task that I am performing,” Waal writes. “To do the work carefully and well, with love and respect for the nature of my task and with due attention to its purpose, is to unite myself to God’s will in my work. In this way I become His instrument. He works through me.” 

I am still working my way through this sweet little gem of a book from the thrift store, but I am so thankful for a this personal retreat for the price of $1.50. The price for not taking this to heart is much costlier. 

Tattoos, Tributes, and the Harlow Family Seal

I’ve learned to ask for stories behind tattoos. Many are in tribute to a life or a belief, while others have no real thought behind them. In the child-loss community, some have initials, angel wings, or even actual pictures, foot prints or echocardiograms of their child.  

I’m not a tattoo person myself, but at our Sadie Rose Grief Retreat, hearing all the meaningful stories and seeing the unique expressions of tattooed tributes to their loved ones, I began to wonder if I was missing out. 

What I came up with instead of a tattoo is the Harlow Family Seal; a symbol that encompasses our story of life, death, adoption, and hope, that can be used as a stamp, a letterhead, on a t-shirt, or made into pins and buttons. 

De profundis is Latin and means, “from the depths. A heartfelt cry of appeal expressing deep feelings of sorrow or anguish.”

We knew de profundis when our daughter died. 

SEEK are the initials of our four children, Sadie, Eli, Elsie, and Korana. 

From the depths, SEEK joy!

Psalm 30 is a personal favorite that speaks of God rescuing from the depths, turning weeping into laughter and sorrow into joy. 

Psalm 30 NIV Translation



1 I will exalt you, Lord,

    for you lifted me out of the depths…

2 Lord my God, I called to you for help,

    and you healed me.

3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;

    you spared me from going down to the pit…

weeping may stay for the night,

    but rejoicing comes in the morning…

10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
    Lord, be my help.”

11 You turned my wailing into dancing;

    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.

    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Read all of Psalm 30 here. 

From the depths, de profundis, from the anguish of the death of our sweet Sadie Rose, the joy of our beloved Eli, Elsie, and Korana is that much sweeter. We will always miss our first born, the one who made us parents. Our arms always ache for Sadie’s presence. Tears still slip from my eyes and there are days I still struggle to function, even ten years later. Yet we love more deeply, savoring moments more fully with each other and our living children, because we know all too well the frailty and brevity of life. Truly de profundis, from the depths, we SEEK (Sadie, Eli, Elsie, and Korana) and have found joy!

The cross in the middle of the seal symbolizes the faith that has carried us through it all. Only God in his great love and mercy could turn our weeping to laughter and our sorrow to joy. Bittersweet as it is, we are grateful for laughter and joy. 

The bottom of the symbol carries an H for Harlow and a c for Cyzick, weaving Lee and I into the circle and the story. 

When you see this symbol, we hope you’re also encouraged to seek joy de profundis. 

From our hearts to yours, 

The Harlows

Doughnuts, Dwarfism, Adoption, Celebration, Memorium

Ten years. That’s how long it has been since we’ve held and kissed our sweet Sadie Rose hello and good-bye. In memory of her 10th birthday, we are inviting all who wish, to celebrate with us in a unique way. Most who know us know our passion for our work through the Sadie Rose Foundation. Most know us know our passion for adoption. In memory of our sweet Sadie Rose and honor of our heart for adoption, read on to see how we invite you to celebrate her life with us.

While I talk and write about her often, few people remember or associate her as a Little Person (someone with dwarfism) and think of her more simply as a baby gone too soon. In the grand scheme of things, that is perfectly fine, but with her diagnosis of hypochondrogenesis, a rare form of skeletal dysplasia including dwarfism, she has always connected us to the Little People community.

Little People of America, is a non-profit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families. Their mission statement is: “LPA is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with dwarfism throughout their lives while celebrating with great pride Little People’s contribution to social diversity.  LPA strives to bring solutions and global awareness to the prominent issues affecting individuals of short stature and their families.”

One of the ways they support the Little People community is helping children of short stature find forever families through their adoption advocacy and grants. Here’s a link that explains specifically how they work to fulfill this mission. 

Here’s a link to view children of short stature waiting to find their forever families. I dare you to let it break your heart. It crushed mine.

Here’s a link from a familiy’s first-person experience with adopting children with dwarfism. 

Finally, here is a link to our ambitious goal of raising $1000 in Sadie’s memory to cover an adoption grant for one of these waiting children and their forever families. 

We are also taking orders locally for mom’s famous homemade doughnuts made fresh and ready for pick-up Friday, June 16, 8 am, at the Sadie Rose House, 195 Main Street Dayton. One hundred percent of money raised will go toward this adoption grant. In an effort to keep track of orders, please ONLY order through our Facebook event page, Celebrating Sadie’s 10th Heavenly Birthday. If you do not have Facebook, you can call or text your orders to Regina at 540-421-6458.


Whether or not you can make a financial contribution to this cause, we would love for you to consider a random act of kindness in memory of Sadie on June 20.

Your friendship, your love, your support has meant the world to us these past ten years. We will miss Sadie until the day we hold her again on the other side of eternity, and in the interim we will do everything we can to reduce the pain of others along the way. Thank you in advance for helping us accomplish this goal!

Our eyes are on heaven, our hands stretched toward humanity.