Screen Free Week

Dear Friends, just so you know what’s going on, my family and I are participating in “screen free” week starting tomorrow, May 1- Sunday May 7. I will be online for very limited times in relationship to my work, but I won’t be scrolling through news feeds and will probably miss a lot. Should you need or want to reach me, please do so via email or Facebook messenger and I will respond when I can, or use the old-fashioned method of calling. 

The children and I practiced an electronics-free evening last night. We lit oil lamps and had a story-telling contest. They couldn’t wait to do it again. 

I hope many of you will also participate in some way or another and that we all enjoy our families, our friendships, and our solitude in a new way. 

See you on the other side. 

Beauty from ashes

Nearly every day I travel the same road and turn at this intersection where a house once stood. The vacant house burned to the ground a few months ago. 


The rubble so changed the landscape that the first time I went that way after it burned, I missed my turn.

I took the familiar route for a second time today, but this afternoon was stunned to find merry little daffodils poking through patches of snow and ashes and concrete. 

If you are looking around in your life today and all you see is ashes, rubble, ruin, despair, coldness, hardness, emptiness, I pray for you glimmers of hope. 

When we are in times of great distress, it can feel like our landscape changes. Our sense of direction becomes unclear, landmarks crumble. What was familiar becomes strange. 

But God’s promises are true and he is faithful. 

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 63:1

Like the seed that is buried in the ground, dormant, lifeless, and cold, eventually the seed germinates, a sprout emerges, and a bud bursts forth. 

At just the right time, when it seems there is nothing left to live for and despair seems to have the final word, hope springs forth from the ashes of our lives. 

These “dark nights of the soul” are potential times for great transformation. 

I am reminded of this “Hymn of Promise” by Natalie A Sleeth. 

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;

In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!

In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.



There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;

There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.

From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.



In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;

In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,

In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

May you sense these blessed promises in your own life today! 

Ready to rock the big 4 0

Yep. That’s right! I haven’t given it much thought before. Age isn’t a big deal to me, but when someone ask the age difference between my cousin and me and during that conversation we concluded I turn 40 this year, I started ruminating. 

I spent most of my childhood with a broken heart. With love and respect to everyone in my life, the pain and (seeming) rejection of a mostly absent dad left a gaping bleeding wound. (I’m so grateful to be close to him now.)


Along with that, I always felt like a misfit among my peers. It wasn’t their fault. I was raised in a faith community where roles and rules were clearly defined and again, with all due respect, I did my best to fit the mold outwardly, but inwardly I could never find my place. 


During my teen years I made regrettable and unfortunate decisions that only further wounded my already scarred soul. 

My early twenties were wrapped up in unhealthy relationships.

In my late twenties I met and married my amazing husband. 



In my early thirties we buried our first-born child. 



I gained a lot of weight. 



I lost a lot of weight. 


With the addition of two more biological children and becoming a foster mom, these littles and these past few years have given me purpose and mission. (Though none of them will ever replace our daughter, nor would we want/expect them too.) My husband has loved me imperfectly, but oh so beautifully, scars and all. And the love and mercy and grace of Jesus has overwhelmed me, completed me, seeped into every broken crevice and  healed me. 

I think about the clay pot I keep in frequent eyesight. The pot was broken, shattered in some places, and left lying in what seemed like ruin. But carefully, lovingly, the pieces have been glued back together. This pot is a beautiful analogy of my life; broken, scarred, pieced back together. The holes where the light shines through are where I pray my love, my joy, my empathy, and the light of Christ radiates into the brokenness of others, sharing the same healing and love I myself have received. 



I have finally found my place, my loves, my identity, my life. I have embraced my uniqueness and realized I’m really not that different than most people afterall.  I feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually, than I ever have. I’m totally down with being me, having my own voice, singing my own song, writing my own script, without trying to fit into a box or mold others might expect for me. 

I have earned every laugh line on my face. The emerging wrinkles and creases are “character marks,” each one has a story all their own. 


My actual birthday isn’t until August, but I see this fortieth year as my “year of jubilee” and I plan to celebrate all year. 

I am not celebrating the absence of adversity or without the awareness of the frailty and uncertainty of life. I am celebrating the abiding, comforting, healing presence of Jesus, knowing that he has held me through a lifetime of pain and sorrow and he will continue to walk with me throughout my life journey. 

I am celebrating healing, joy, peace, contentment, and fulfillment in spite of continued uncertainties, worries, and fears. 

I’m glad someone reminded me early in the year that this is the big forty for me so I can live it up. I am ready to rock the big 40!

Simplifying in 2017

Six people in a 1700 square foot house has caused me to re-evaluate “stuff.” We’ve always had clutter but I never saw it as excess, just disorganization. 

I’ve long felt the call to live simply and sufficiently and in many ways I feel like we do. I cook nearly every meal from scratch with many homegrown preserved ingredients. I make our own variety of soaps, detergents, deodorants, and try to live as closely to the earth as possible. We have one TV in the whole house, which is one too many if you ask me. I shop at second hand stores and we wear our clothes completely out. We live and work and play very closely as a family, focusing on building character, relationship, and communication skills and try to avoid excessive digital/electronic time. 

But now, now we’re busting at the seams of this sweet little brown brick ranch and I realize the piles of dirty dishes and clean unfolded laundry are more because of excess than disorganization. It’s not that I’m disorganized, although my husband and brother-in-law would sniff at this comment or rather burst into fits of uncontrolled laughter, but we simply don’t have the room for what we have.

 This sign on the door of my kitchen cabinet aptly sums it up. 

I’m responding to the internal tug to minimize, simplify, reduce, and refocus. I’m pretty sure God and the universe are trying to tell me this, because I’m seeing shared links, blog posts, books, and quotes about simplifying everywhere. 

Besides clearing clutter and excess from our home, I’m also taking a hacksaw to the commitment calendar and it feels oh so good. I’ve had to practice saying “no” in the mirror, but I’m getting the hang of it. My life is of little value to others when my own well is empty and dry. My prayer is that I maximize my opportunities to serve in the capacities to which I am called. 

I will share more with you along the way, but here’s our pretty little cabinet that contains all our dishes now. (And it’s still more than what we need daily.) Imagine, I thought we needed an entire cabinet for cups and glasses and one for plates and bowls and I still didn’t have room for everything before the purge. 

I hope you all have something to look forward to in 2017. I’m looking forward to a slower pace. 

Peace and Love, y’all. 

Life, Love, and an Unforgettable 10th Anniversary Celebration

Saturday the husband and I celebrated ten years of marriage. Ironically, the weekend of our wedding we had leftover hurricane rain and winds but everything cleared out just in time for a perfectly beautiful Sunday afternoon wedding. This weekend we had the leftover rain and winds from Hurricane Matthew. 

“Rain on your wedding day is auspicious,” my friend told me, but apparently the rain fairies didn’t get the message to the marriage fairies. 

The first ten years we weathered some pretty difficult storms; the death of our firstborn daughter, the death of his father, additional loved ones in declining health, me giving my life to the work of our non-profit, him working six days a week at the business he started, three years of ministry school for me, and the list goes on. 

We’ve also been incredibly blessed with two more biological children and the opportunity to love a foster child for nearly a year now. 

Some of this crazy was our own volition, some was life’s calling. For example, we chose the addition of children and to become foster parents, the husband chose to start his own business, both of us knowing it would be a grueling first couple of years with no guarantees we would make it. (We would make these same choices a thousand times over so no regrets.)

I have been present with mothers delivering stillborn babies, officiated funeral services for deceased children, sat with countless families and individuals grieving the death of their child, grandchild, sibling, texted with moms in the middle of the night because that’s when grief overwhelmed, visited with mothers on the mental health floor because all she could say to the doctors was that she wanted to be with her child that died. I conduct groups meetings and one-on-one support, plan and officiate multiple annual remembrance ceremonies and events, and I do nearly all of this as a volunteer. So… I got another part-time position to help with our household income, but both my work through our organization and my part-time job are life callings. Sure, ultimately it was my choice to say yes or no, but the call was birthed from excruciating pain and purpose and what an honor it is to serve our community in these ways. 

As we planned for our anniversary weekend, we talked about driving a few hours east for an overnight getaway. However, as I looked around our house, I had an epiphany. 

Why not have the kids stay with mom and the husband and I take two days to work on cleaning and organizing our house. (With the exception of dinner and a movie.) Surprisingly the husband agreed! 

I’ve never been a romantic and I’m practical to a fault, so I don’t think this caught my husband off guard. 

September a year ago our basement flooded from heavy rains. (We lost some sentimental items in that flood that gave us only a mere glimpse of what people in Hurricane Matthew’s path have lost. My heart has hurt so much for them this week.) The husband tore out the carpet, but everything has been sitting there waiting to be put back together. He started repainting this summer, but there was still more to be done. 

We have been blessed with cousin hand-me-downs, but they have accumulated without being sorted through, completely overtaking prime real estate in our daughter’s room. With our long days and tag-team schedules, clutter had unfortunately taken over way too much of our already small living quarters. 

After dropping the kids of with my mom Saturday morning, he went to work in the basement and I began methodically working my way through the bedrooms. All said, I hauled twenty-one garbage bags out the door. Only two were trash though, the rest were clothes stored for future use or donated. I also washed, folded, and put away twelve loads of laundry! (I don’t remember the last time all our beds had clean linens at he same time and being completely caught up on laundry!) He got the basement painted and ready for carpet.

We went to Union Station Restaurant and Bar for dinner, a historic building that housed Wetsel Seed Company for many years that has now been brilliantly transformed into a quaint restaurant. I had blackened tuna and steamed broccoli, he had country carbonara. The food was fabulous, but we hardly knew how to act without the three munchkins. I was reminded why I fell in love with this man. He is caring, a mama’s boy, has a shameless dry humor, and is a delightful conversationalist. 


We went to Lowe’s afterward to look at ideas for basement flooring. I’ve had a movie theater gift card for two years that we thought we might use, but we didn’t see anything that captured our attention. We came home and watched “Fireproof,” a movie about a couple on the verge of divorce but found a way, ultimately found God, and worked their marriage out to be better and stronger than ever. 

This morning I made three loaves of bread and ministrone then continued cleaning. This afternoon I made peanut butter bars. Mom brought the kiddos home after church and the husband enjoyed the Washington Redskins football win. 

The children were so excited about their clean organized rooms that they just wanted to hang out there. They promised to help keep them that way. We had our traditional Sunday evening routine; a big bowl of popcorn and America’s Funniest Videos.  

Our tenth wedding anniversary celebration was nothing like how we originally envisioned it, it was so much better. Next to my faith, there is nothing in the world as dear to me as my husband and children. Spending this weekend with and for them was the greatest joy of all. 

To many more years…

The tension of grief and joy

“Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
I have found this quote from Elizabeth Stone to be true wherever your child might be walking. 


On golden streets…


Or grassy yard..

Yesterday our first born would have been 9 years old. Instead of an elaborate birthday party, we went to her now moss-covered grave and read a story about the Invisible String (by Patrice Karst) that keeps us connected no matter where we are. 

There were tears. There was laughter. There was a particular gift in sharing the day with a young child living their own grief. Sometimes spoken, sometimes without a word, we danced the sacred rhythm of grief and joy and were reminded that the depth of our grief is a testament to the depth of our love. 

Together we found there was much to celebrate about the ones we were missing. And we gave thanks for the invisible string of love that connects us all. 

“Mothering is to teach the art of living to children.” — Elaine Heffner

It is this mother’s joy and challenge to teach the art of living in the tension of present and hereafter, to live with purpose, intention, and to instill eternal values. To model (so clumsily most of the time) the calisthenics of a full life balancing sorrow and hope, grief and joy. 

“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” –Anne Lamott

Dear June

I wrote this letter to June in 2012. An updated response is churning. Look for it soon!

Dear June,

I never gave you much thought. As a child, you were the month that started my care-free summers. By the time I was a teenager, you were just another page on the calendar. But now you haunt me. I am never prepared for the wave of conflicting emotions that wash over me every time you come around. It feels like June 2007 every year you visit. 

Sadie Rose

Your sweet fragrance of summer brings with it the smell of hospitals and funeral homes. The delightful sound of children enjoying your sunshine also rings with the sounds of hospital carts squeaking down the hall, doctors and nurses talking in hushed tones, and hearts breaking. Your beautiful green mountains and bountiful gardens remind me of the greenness of the cemetery grass, the tiniest white baby casket surrounded by flowers, family gathered to remember. Your fresh corn on the cob leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth as I remember feed-sacks-full being shucked to feed our family that had gathered in shock and disbelief after the death of our baby girl.

Sadie in sand

So much I want to remember, so much I long to forget.

June, my dear June, I don’t hate you, I just don’t know what to do with you. One minute I welcome your presence and the next I am overcome with another wave of sadness and memories. You seem like a dream. Are you real or just a ghost to remind me of what we had and lost? What do you want from me? Do I have to give up Sadie again every time you come around? Will you hurt me forever?

Sadie's stone

This carousel, this annual visitation, reopens the wounds of my already aching heart. I want to be friends, but I don’t know how. If you find me distant, if your sweet summer breezes cannot penetrate the barriers of my heart, please know that I am just now learning how to accept you. I am trying to understand how our relationship has changed, how I have changed. Walk with me sweet June, and we will eventually come to a new understanding, a fresh hope. And in the meantime, just continue being that steadfast annual presence. 

Sweet Sadie, sweet memories, sweet month of June. 

Sadie Rose Harlow, born, lived, and died, June 20, 2007.