Of Compassion and Dance Parties

I couldn’t hold back the tears this evening while I stood over the kitchen stove preparing supper, feeling the weight of multiple burdens. Eli (5) and Elsie (2) were playing with play dough at the kitchen table. I tried to conceal the tears, but they are both very intuitive and within seconds Elsie was tugging on my leg saying, “I want to snuggle with you, mom.”

They were concerned, but I didn’t want to interrupt their fun innocent play with adult troubles. I wrestled with how to respond. We have prayed together as a family for the past two weeks for a young man named Marco Kauffman. Our family did not know him personally, but were moved by his story. He died today, leaving behind a young pregnant wife and a family and community who loved him dearly. I explained to the children that Marco died and that my tears were not for me, but Marco’s family and friends grieving this loss.

There are other burdens that have taken up residence in my heart, but I only shared this one with the children. Elsie wanted to pray for Marco again, so we did. Then she cupped my face in her hands and looked into my eyes and said, “I love you mommy.” Meanwhile, Eli set the play dough aside and drew a picture.

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He brought the picture over to me and said, “Mommy, when I die, I want to take this picture to heaven with me to show God and Jesus.”

Of course that comment alone increased my tear-flow considerably. He said the people in the picture are God and Mary and then baby Jesus in the middle. There is a donkey and a star that guided them. The hearts represent God’s big love for us.

The compassion from our children made for beautiful and tender moments. Soon Eli returned to the play dough and started making these.

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I thought they were “sandwiches” like he had made earlier in the day, but he lined them all up and said, “Mommy, I made some candles for you.” (Insert Mommy sobbing!) He knows that I light candles almost daily for remembrances, for reminders, for reflection, and just because I love light.

It is hard to explain to a child that you are crying because you are sad for others. All they knew was that mommy was crying. They both responded with beautiful sincere compassion and were completely at ease with my tears. I was reminded of the Scripture in Matthew 9:36 where Jesus was “moved with compassion.”

Soon after Eli brought the “candles” over, I regained composure and suggested we have a dance party to celebrate those things that we feel joyful about. I wanted them to know that even when we are sad, we can celebrate love and experience joy. I cranked up the music from my Pandora station and we danced until we fell over laughing.

That intentional act of praise filled our hearts with joy and poured back into our cups what had been emptied by sadness and worry.

While I treasure all the time I have with our children this was a rare and beautiful evening, one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I pray that our children will always be moved with compassion and spontaneous dance parties.

Unearthed Musings; a poem, a dare, and memories of my childhood school

I recently came across some writings I had collected throughout my youth. Some were letters, songs and poems I had written, while others were pieces that were given to me. An elderly Old Order Mennonite neighbor, Roy Rhodes, shared the following poem with me when I was starting a significant journey in my life. What makes it even more special to me was hearing him talk about how this poem and others prayers sustained him during imprisonment when he was incarcerated for the sake of allowing parochial schools. (See a more recent article I wrote about my childhood school below the poem.) I keep this handwritten note as a treasure from my childhood, a memory from the special neighbor, and a dare to do right.

Dare to be honest

Dare to be true

The failings of others can never save you

Stand by your conscience, your honor and faith

Stand like a hero and battle ’til death

The following article was published in the Shenandoah Journal and the North Fork Journal in Sept. 2011

 

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Memories of Hickory Hollow School

Memories of – Hick’ry Holler School – As Hickory Hollow Christian School raises funds for a new facility, former staff writer Regina Cyzick Harlow shares school-day memories after a summer reunion.

North Fork Journal (Broadway, VA) – Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DAYTON – Braided pigtails, plain homemade dresses, bare feet and the smell of musty books on the shelf; these memories flooded my mind as I pulled into the parking lot of my first-ever school reunion at Hickory Hollow School in Dayton. The once two-story chicken house had been converted into a parochial school to serve some of the Valley’s conservative Mennonites.

When I started first grade in 1984, there were 13 students enrolled in grades one through eight and five of those, including myself, were from my own family. High school was not yet offered. Aside from reading, writing and arithmetic, we were taught the foundation of our heritage and how to apply the commitment of our ancestors to our lives today. It was there I received a basic education in worldly terms, but gained values to build my life upon.

The curriculum was aligned with basic Mennonite doctrine. The art portrayed plainly dressed families and the stories centered on their practice of simple living and non-resistance. We were required to memorize and recite poems of great length such as John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Barefoot Boy,” as well as chapters of Scripture.

A typical day began with devotions that included singing-four-part harmony, of course-Scripture reading and prayer. Along with hymns, we often sang from folders that included songs of Stephen Foster and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, spirituals and Native American tunes. Devotions were followed by social studies, science, language arts, lunch, recess, math and Bible.

Our annual assembly program took months of preparation, memorization and study. We worked hard to present our families with poems, readings and songs about the Native Americans, stars and galaxies, our ancestors who lived during the Civil War and other topics.

Hickory Hollow History

The privilege of administering parochial schools, or schools offering religious education, came at a great sacrifice to our ancestors. Some spent time in jail for the sake of the cause and in 1972 an Amish case, Wisconsin vs. Yoder, went to the Supreme Court . The court ruled that due to religious beliefs, the Amish were only required a basic eighth-grade education and one that aligned with their theological views.

Hickory Hollow Christian School began in 1968 as part of Bank School. In 1972, it began operating under its present name in a “temporary” location, the remodeled chicken house that has served as the school for nearly 40 years.

I grew up next door to the school, so many of my childhood memories involve that structure now so precious to my heart.

There, I attended singing school and learned to read shaped-note music.

The school also housed the Country Village Bakeshop for a time. Mom was the chief doughnut maker and would get up at 2:30 three mornings a week, so she had fresh doughnuts ready when the doors opened. She mixed, rolled out, fried and glazed them by hand. Some mornings, I would go with her and sleep on the flour sacks in the corner. On those mornings, I would down a bowl of cereal for breakfast as she quickly combed my hair. Then I walked from the bakery kitchen through the door into my classroom.

Changes

Returning to the building for the school reunion, it was obvious the years of wear and tear had taken its toll. The school enrolls almost 100 students and offers high school classes.

Every crook and cranny has been turned into functional space. Classrooms and storage have spilled into additional outbuildings that eat up playground areas. While the remodeled chicken house served the school well for many years, it’s once ample environment has been exhausted and the need for a new school was clear to me.

The school board has purchased land on Limestone Lane, less than a mile from the current location. Construction has started and plans are to move in by the 2012-2013 school year.

I learned the value of teamwork, perseverance, commitment, and the fundamentals of my faith at my school. Although I have chosen a different path for my life, the core of what I believe and who I have become was established in that old two-story chicken house endearingly referred to by our family as Hick’ry Hollar.

Unveiled; why I stopped wearing a head covering

I’ve noticed a promoted ad showing up in my Facebook news feed, called The Head Covering Movement. I couldn’t help but click on the link.

I was raised in a tradition (the Old Order Mennonite Church) where women wore head coverings, based on the Scripture in I Corinthians 11. As an infant, mom put a covering on me for Sunday morning worship, which was the custom among the Missouri Old Order Mennonites where I was born. We moved to Virginia soon after I turned 2, where girls started wearing coverings full-time as teenagers. I started wearing a covering and caped dress at 16.

I was always told that the head covering was an outward sign of inward submission. I was disappointed to find that even with donning “the veil,” I was still me and far from submissive. I later learned that submission is an inward discipline. I have also seen cases where a woman wore a head covering and plain dress as an outward sign, but it was no secret who really “wore the pants of the household.” If using the outward sign as a reason, those cases simply made it a piece of cloth on the woman’s head.

I went through varied stages of the head covering; from the netted material with strings that fit over a bun to a black veil that covered most of my hair, to a doily. See examples here. I even went through a stage where I wore the veil during my sleep, just in case I woke up and needed to pray.

Plain dresses and head coverings did nothing to address the soul care I so desperately needed. The only concern expressed from my faith community to me through these stages were not about what was going on inside, but what was coming off outside.

I studied the Scriptures. I wanted nothing more than to please God. I believe that ALL Scripture is inspired by God and relevant for our lives today. My heart was stirred by the Scripture in Mark 12: 28-31. And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” and John 13:34, A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” And Micah 6:8, He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

While I was very familiar with the Scripture in 1 Corinthians, no where in my research could I find that the head covering was required of me to live a Christian life today. I know there are those who disagree with me, but I have “worked out my own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)

As I have tended to my soul, my outer person continues to be transformed as well.

I have utmost respect for someone whose firm conviction is to be veiled. However, I can’t help but wonder if a greater movement might be based on Mark 12.

 

 

The Stuff Summers are Made of

We were not home for a full day after a week-long visit in Chicago, when Eli arranged for a few cousins to come for the night. My first “sigh” was instantly replaced with musings of how we could make it a memorable summer night.

I think we accomplished that.

We built a fire in the pit and set up the tent for playing in.

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Elsie played ride-a-horsey and ring around the rosey with Cooper.

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We made s’mores and played kick the can and dodge ball. Our Anatolian shepherd/chocolate lab, Sampson, even joined in.

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We chased lightening bugs and ate insane amounts of air-popped popcorn covered in our favorite Wildtree popcorn seasonings. We watched Duck Dynasty and read stories.

We went to bed at midnight and slept in until 8 o’ clock this morning. We made fruit and yogurt smoothies for breakfast and the kids are already back outside enjoying an unusually cool summer morning. We picked fresh tomatoes for lunch later.

Forget the cares and worries that try to creep in, we are enjoying all things summer and making memories to last a lifetime.

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Letter to a Teacher

Dear Teacher,

Our son is about to enter your kindergarten class. Admittedly, this mama is a nervous emotional wreck. As a former preschool teacher, I know that a child’s caregiver knows more about that child’s family than the parents would ever want to admit. But that’s not what makes me emotional. I have not yet been able to comprehend sending my child to someone else for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I am grieving the loss of time I will be able to spend with him.

We considered homeschooling, but ultimately, we believe YOU have something unique and special to offer our precious child. We are trusting you to see him as an individual, not just as a student.

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You see, he was our second-born living child, but sadly, the first one we were able to bring home from the hospital. From birth, he has had an amazing ability to sense sadness and loneliness, and respond with compassion, wisdom and tenderness beyond his years. Death has been a part of our everyday language, but he is still filled with vibrant wonder, trust and belief in God and humankind.

He always remembers his angel sister he never met and is fiercely protective and loving of his baby sister. He adores his dog, Sampson, and his cats, Green Bean and Nelson.

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He loves camping, fishing, bugs, mud fights, swimming, campfires and helping daddy around the house. He has an incredible ear for music and knack for memorization. If he talks about healthy and unhealthy, it is because he helps me cook and garden and our conversation is often centered around nutrition during those times.

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He clothing style is shaped by his farming, cut-up t-shirt wearing Uncle Mikey, whom he adores, as well as by his love of bull-riding he shared with his late grandpa. His grandma intervenes with some dress clothes you might see him wear on occasion and he loves to wear ties like his daddy. There are times when he insists on wearing ties with his farm shirts, but I don’t mind because he is so cute.

Although we’ve had “the talk,” he might occasionally bring up a conversation about guns or knives. Rest assured, these are all tucked safely away in a locked cabinet. Our family values living off the land as much as possible and that includes harvesting game to grace our table and fill our tummies when we can. Even his BB gun and fishing pole require one hundred percent adult supervision.

He is a fairly typical child in many ways. He will certainly need your instruction, your affirmation and even your discipline at times. It is my prayer that you will see him and all the children in your classroom as unique as their DNA proves them to be. All of them come to you with a diverse set of stories and circumstances and will learn through the lens of their own experiences. You have a difficult job, a calling that I am not equipped to walk in. You hold in your possession the power to help shape the lives of these precious children into responsible contributors to our world.

I know it’s not all up to you. As his parents, we commit to continue our part at home. Please let us know the ways we can best support each other in raising this precious gift we cherish so dearly. And know that while he is making you laugh, testing the limits or trying your patience at school, we are eagerly awaiting his return to our arms every day.

Sincerely,

Eli’s Mom

Waiting

Waiting. I am currently waiting for a haircut appointment. I have someone else waiting on me for an appointment. But sometimes the waiting is more difficult. Sometimes waiting requires being present. Being present requires being still, reflective, looking deep within and acknowledging all that we are and then addressing that which is revealed.

Yesterday I waited for my grief to diminish. Grief that caught me off-guard as I anticipate the 6-year anniversary of our daughter’s birth and death this week. Six years. Haven’t I waited long enough?

I wait in anticipation of my upcoming licensing service this Sunday.

I can fill my waiting time with meaningless clutter or I can sit, be present, feel and acknowledge whatever emotions I am experiencing at that moment and pray that in the waiting I am learning and growing, emptying and filling.

And sometimes, waiting is done best by playing…

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Rainy Day Ramblings

The day started with a basket full of love and happiness.

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It was a lovely rainy day, the kind that inspires me to bake unnecessary confections and get into various other forms of tom-foolery.

But mostly I worked on the upcoming 5/K Run/Walk for The Sadie Rose Foundation and sang songs and played games with the Eli and Elsie.

One of our new favorite “rediscovered” songs is “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd,” by the late great Roger Miller. You know, you can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd, but you can be happy if you’ve a mind too.” We like making up new lyrics. For example…

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You can’t take a nap in a mandolin case, but you can be happy if you’ve a mind too.

The kids had yummy strawberry banana smoothies and I made juice for myself from these…

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We watched a Christmas video, made sausage and vegetable Quiche for supper and then I had meeting this evening.

Six years ago on Saturday, June 23, we gathered in the back corner of Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren cemetery to lay to rest our precious infant daughter, our sweet Sadie Rose. This year, Sunday, June 23, I will be licensed to the ministry at that same church nestled in the beautiful Beaver Creek community of the Shenandoah Valley. I did not put together the significance of being licensed on the day of our daughter’s funeral until I was driving home from my meeting this evening.

Yes random rainy day thoughts to be sure, but sweet, beautiful thoughts of faith, family and community.

One more picture just in case you haven’t had enough cuteness yet and a quote to ponder. “The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived.” Soren Kierkegaard.

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The power of intentional living

It’s true, most of my problems are merely first-world inconveniences. Yes, there are those valid emotional agonies and scarring life experiences that are universal, but all too often my stresses are self-imposed and stem from over scheduling and busyness.

So when our riding lawn mower had an extended stay in the repair shop, I was only slightly daunted by the task of tackling our overgrown yard with a non-self-propelled push mower.

Considering it takes three hours with the riding mower and someone else feeding our little urchins and wiping their noses and bottoms, using the push mower and being solely responsible for the kiddos at the same time made this look like an all-day affair.

Those who really know me know that I not Pollyanna by nature. I am selfish, cynical, critical, ungrateful and extremely impatient. (My husband is a little more gracious in his description of me.) None-the-less, I have to practice an attitude of gratitude. Living my life on purpose is the only way I can be and become the person I want to be rather than who I am. I decided to take this land-mowing opportunity to be intentionally grateful.

As I pushed the mower along, I became aware of the gift of walking. I breathed in the hot sticky air and was thankful for the gift of smell. I was truly aware of what was around, beneath and above me.

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Now I am more of a wildflower gal, so I don’t get who invented this lawn mowing business anyway. Metaphorically, well-manicured and perfectly tended lawns and lives seem a bit boring to me. Give me beauty all-naturale any day. But I consciously gave thanks for the gift of green grass that needed cut according to town ordinances and machine-powered mowers as I walked back and forth in the hot sun.

This evening, Lee and I are celebrating eight years together. While we have much to celebrate, cultivating our marriage has been intentional as well.

Together we have experienced the unimaginable grief of the death of our daughter, we’ve experienced job losses, and typical marital stresses. But by being intentional about caring for each other with mutual respect and commitment, these adversities have only fertilized and watered the lawn of our relationship and turned what could have been dry, dusty, brown and dying into lush beautiful and green.

I made an intentional effort to continue counting blessings throughout the morning, but as the sun grew hotter, the air stickier and combined with multiple interruptions to care for the babies, I had to become even more intentional. This was not a sprint, but a marathon and the excuses for quitting mounted with each passing swath.

As with anything in life, growing and cultivating takes time, perseverance, and doing and living on purpose.

But when the baby comes to me, clearly taking advantage of my in-attention by eating dirt, and offers me a hand-picked dandelion or our son uses his magic wand to turn the push mower into a rider, all the combined wealth of the world could not afford so rich a moment. The power of intentional living has the power to transform. It only takes a moment of purposeful intentional reflection to be reminded How. Blessed. I. Am.

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Us seven years ago on our 1-year dating anniversary

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Elsie Ray with her dirty face and beautiful dandelion

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Eli using his magic wand to turn my push mower into a rider

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Us this evening

Charmed Moments in an Ordinary Day

Today has been wonderful. We had Eli’s preschool graduation picnic at the park this morning.

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I spent the afternoon writing homework assignments for class Saturday. For a fun break, we went outside and escaped hovering hyenas

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And lurking lions

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And jumping jaguars

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We have enjoyed an ordinary uninterrupted day and for that, I am thankful.

“…there is no such thing as a charmed life, not for any of us, no matter where we live or how mindfully we attend to the tasks at hand. But there are charmed moments, all the time, in every life and in every day, if we are only awake enough to experience them when they come and wise enough to appreciate them.” Katrina Kenison

More Interruptions

I had no idea when I posted last about life’s interruptions how greatly our life was about to be interrupted. Death, a most unwelcome intruder, visited our family once again with the unexpected passing of my father-in-law, Edward Lyle Harlow. He died of an apparent heart attack April 30.

I was going by to drop Elsie off for a few hours so I could paint at my office. I was pulling into the driveway when my mother-in-law found him collapsed on the kitchen floor.

The next few hours were a blur. As we sat around the kitchen table, steam still rising from his coffee cup on the warmer, I was reminded again of how our lives had been interrupted.

I was angry. I hurt for my husband, my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, myself and our children. I was not at all ready for this interruption.

While are hearts are still broken, our eyes still weeping, the memories too fresh, we have found comfort in the gifts our dear daddy/husband/grandpa left behind.

An avid gardener and lover of flowers, trees, plants and landscapes, it was almost like our dear Ed knew what was about to unfold. Nearly every day since his death two and a half weeks ago, plants he ordered have arrived in the mail, one of which is called “Widow’s Tears.” A fancy honeysuckle showed up that he intentioned to plant along our chain link fence as well as wave petunias, dahlias, heirloom tomatoes, peppers and other plants. He had a sense of humor that was always present even among the most magnificent garden displays as shown in these photos.

Although we have had many moments of intense sadness, these “gifts” have evoked smiles through the tears. Although Eli and Elsie have had many questions and have cried many tears for grandpa, we are taking time as a family to care for his plants and remember him in a beautiful way. There is something so powerful and unifying in watering and tending flowers together as we rehearse stories and laugh about cherished memories of our precious loved one.

Interruptions. We cannot avoid them. We cannot prevent them. We cannot expect them to adhere to our schedule. But in time, we can find beauty rising from the ashes of our sorrow. We can find small, seemingly insignificant things that become the most meaningful moments of our day and if we allow it, we can grow from these interruptions. Just as we are tending the plants from daddy and encouraging them to grow, these interruptions can cause us to blossom more fully into the persons we were created to be. Adversity can be the fertilizer that nourishes the most beautiful gardens.

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