My friend does these occasionally on her own blog using the same list each time. I always enjoy reading them.
Outside my window…rain, sleet, and turning to snow! Expecting about six inches of accumulation for our area tonight and tomorrow.
I am learning…that worry really does rob us of present joys.
I am thankful…for our wood stove, extra snuggles with the kiddos, for a life of unfathomable blessings.
In the kitchen…mini chocolate chip muffins from breakfast and our favorite chili in the crockpot for this cold snowy evening (recipe to come).
I am wondering…if the children’s school will release early today due to increasing inclement weather and declining road conditions.
I am listening…to Curious George.
I am remembering…several children and teenagers who are celebrating heavenly birthdays today.
I am going…to work from home today.
I am trying…to simplify my color-coded calendar. Too many colors means I’ve said yes to too many things. Slowly but surely I am successfully scaling back to focus on my most important priorities.
I am reading…”Black Milk: On the Conflicting Demands of Writing, Creativity, and Motherhood,” by Elif Shafak.
I am hoping…that our toddler will soon be fully potty-trained. So ready to move past this phase of parenting, but I’ll always remember how it felt when our first born died and I wanted nothing more than to change messy diapers and be the sleep-deprived parents we have since been so blessed to be.
I am looking forward to…snow, even in spring. We don’t get much snow around here and snow days are my favorites. I usually bake cinnamon rolls or doughnuts and share them with neighbors or those out plowing the streets and other community workers.
I am realizing…that our children are growing into little adults right before my very eyes. Be still, my heart.
Around the house…two dogs and two cats sleeping and children’s books scattered everywhere.
I am enjoying…our new CD by The High Kings, one of our favorite music groups from Ireland. I took our 9 and 6 year olds to see them in concert Saturday evening, St. Patrick’s Day. It was our children’s first concert and we got to meet the group. Amazing!
A kid quote…after gloomily watching a few minutes of a black and white Andy Griffith our free-spirited vibrant 6-year-old said, “Mommy, I like to see the colors of life. Gray things make me sad!” I laughed and told her she could change it to something she wanted. Immediately our 2 year old started asking to watch “Barney,” and she wasn’t talking about the big purple dinosaur. We love color. We love Barney Fife.
A few of my favorite things…dirt roads, mountains, and campfires.
A few plans for the rest of the week…much of what I had planned will depend on how much snow we get and how quickly it melts. I had planned to attend a funeral tomorrow, but if our children are out of school and the weather is bad I will regrettably not attend. I have much to do for our non-profit, some of which I can do from home, and I plan to do some writing, cooking, and baking and soak up whatever time I get with my husband and children. All of these pretty much sum up my life.
A good life happens when you stop and are grateful for the ordinary moments that so many of us just steamroll over to try to find those extraordinary moments. Brene Brown
My mom, with her sister/brother quartet, used to sing this poem in slow doleful harmony. A young girl on her lap, I would shiver at the very thought of Robert’s words as mom softly crooned in her low alto. I hum this to myself often, especially when death arrives yet again as it has so suddenly in our tight-knit community this week. It’s a sobering thought.
Just think! some night the stars will gleam
Upon a cold, grey stone,
And trace a name with silver beam,
And lo! ’twill be your own.
That night is speeding on to greet
Your epitaphic rhyme.
Your life is but a little beat
Within the heart of Time.
A little gain, a little pain,
A laugh, lest you may moan;
A little blame, a little fame,
A star-gleam on a stone.
May the God of all comfort be with those who are facing this reality tonight.
Forgive the unoriginal title.
I made white pizza for supper. (Vegetarian recipe, but could add some crumbles of bacon. This recipe is really versatile.)
You should definitely try it! There are multiple steps, but it is still quite simple and oh-so-tasty!
I served it with leftover corn-poblano-potato soup, (vegan recipe) and fresh strawberries we bought from a friend in 4-H.
This blue dish was a gift to me as a young teenager. I know this makes me sound old-fashioned and, well, just old, but when we were young, we always had planning for marriage and family in our forefront. Many gifts I received were given with the idea that one day I would use them in a home of my own. This is one of them. I still treasure this gift, but more so, the friend who gave it to me. I think of her every time I use it.
Here’s what it looks like empty.
May your memories be warm, your dishes filled with goodness, and your friendships sweet.
By Regina Cyzick Harlow
Against my nerves
Rattling my soul
Leaving me in a constant state of angst
Unsettled, unnerved, gloomy
Perhaps a kite
Or harnessed power experiment
Might lift my spirit
I’m drinking coffee
In my favorite yellow chair
About the wind
Every time I attend funeral services for an Old Order Mennonite family member or friend, I wish those “outside” could experience their death rituals, rich with culture, community, and faith. The horse-drawn hearse and the four-part-harmony singing make me cry every time.
This week I attended the funeral for my great Aunt Mary. Later that evening, I wrote this poem about the graveside portion of the service.
Regina Cyzick Harlow
From Aunt Mary Beery’s funeral
Dirt onto the coffin
Filling the grave
Formed from dust
To dust returning
Discretely wiping tears
Faint florals blend
And moth balls
Wafting on the breeze
Inhaling the promise
Of Living Hope
For those unfamiliar with Old Order Mennonites, they are often confused with Amish because they drive horse and buggy, dress plainly, and live simple agrarian lives. My family and I were raised in the Old Order Mennonite faith, and while I had my reasons for leaving as a young adult, I hold many things and people dear from their community.
My friend, Ava, wrote an in-depth article about their death rituals here. She captures the essence of what happens at the time of death through the funeral in vivid beautiful detail.
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!
A few weeks before Christmas, I took Our 9 and 6 year-old on a walk through the basement of our house. The goal was to find ten items that I would eventually write a poem about. We play the “describing game” all the time where one person defines something without naming it, and everyone else guesses. This time, we described without defining and took it to a whole new level of fun for us!
Here’s the list of items we found: Globe, Horseshoe, Maracas, Christmas lights, Toys, Nativity, Clock, Presents, Coat, Glasses. I had no agenda for what the poem might become. The end result as words flowed from me, was a poem about Creation Care.
I snapped those pictures from some of my favorite places with my phone. I love the way God uses Creation to speak to me.
By Regina Cyzick Harlow
Sphere rumbles, rhythmic
Marchers, move toward eternal
Tired, worn out, used up sphere
Capitulating to misuse and consumerism
Beneath the pounding beat
Blind marchers march
Caught in the flow
Impetuous, heedless, injudicious
The stage set
A junction, once in periphery, becomes clearer
Marchers arrive at the hour of decision
Hope, born into their world
Salvation, Eternal Gift
Birthed from darkness
Pointing beyond time
Gate of Perfection
Marchers, every tongue and tribe and nation
Gathered in orbs of jasper, ruby, emerald,
Emanating from the One True Light
Basking in the warmth of One True Love
A New Heaven and a New Earth
Finally the Marchers treasure the gift
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.
This Christmas season has been a weird one for me – in a few ways. Most obviously, it is my first Christmas with my husband. Also, my first Christmas with his dog (now our dog), Charlie – the beagle in the photo! Did you know that when you get married, you buy twice the gifts?! And you have double the dinners? And you spend A LOT of time with your spouse? But these things are not really why this season was weird – I actually really enjoyed these things.
The weird thing was this sadness I carried. About a week before Christmas, I experienced heart-wrenching disappointment and loss. Not death in the physical sense, but death all the same. Some of you know the field in which I work – anti-trafficking. And the week before Christmas – it was a doozy. All the drama and the brokenness and the despair. …
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I’ve been ruminating holiness. What does God’s holiness look like through humanity.
Growing up in the faith tradition of my childhood and youth, one’s level of holiness was determined by the severity of one’s plainness and cooperation to follow the church rules. As an adult, I know there are true authentic believers in that faith tradition, as well as those for whom it is a way of life more than religion. There are also those who hide dark secrets behind their facades of piety. (It’s that way in many forms of strictness and piety, I’ve learned.)
It is difficult for me, even now, to separate pious and practiced “human holiness” from one who lives a life of holiness in service to God and others. By indoctrinated instinct, I “see” holiness in the way a person dresses. But as one who as devoted my life to God’s work and who is occasionally directly and indirectly snubbed (and sometimes outright chided) by the very people my childhood self understands as holy, I have been ruminating on what being holy actually looks like lived out.
Holiness: the state of being holy.
“a life of holiness and total devotion to God”
It is one thing to put on holy airs, presenting a pristine and sterilized image of God’s Kingdom through dress and piety. It is another thing entirely to become a holy heir of God’s Kingdom through Jesus Christ where He meets you right in your mess and changes you from the inside out.
Scripture has a lot to say about people who look good on the outside, those who take pride in their strictness and humility while at the same time discriminating the work of God in the lives of others when it doesn’t look like their understanding of who God can use and how God can work.
Matthew 23:25-28 NLT “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Certainly Scripture also gives instructions for how a believer should live and present themselves.
II Corinthians 6:14-18 NLT “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. ””
As I’ve contemplated and observed holiness in action, (a life of total devotion to God,) I’m reminded of the broken flawed people (and donkeys) God used for the good of His Kingdom. While there are many examples in Scripture, none speaks more personally to me than the woman at the well whose life was a mess, she met Jesus, her life was changed, and she went and told everyone what happened so that the whole town believed. (John 4:1-42) She became a holy heir because she drank from the living water offered through Jesus Christ. No doubt there were many with holy airs scoffing at the idea that she would ever amount to anything good.
I’ve seen holiness in the couple that showed up with frozen spaghetti and a long-adored musical instrument. For you, they said, as I grieved my daughter. I’ve seen holiness in the support they provide for the most vulnerable in our community and literally around the world, without ever making it about themselves.
I’ve observed holiness in the couple who befriended a homeless man and gave him work, helped him find shelter, and have stood by him even as life knocks him down again and again.
I’ve heard of holiness in the successful business owner who collects cardboard boxes and gives them to children for recycling so they can earn money for field trips, building character and confidence and helping them take ownership in their efforts.
I’ve been the recipient of holiness through the actions and kindnesses of my childhood faith community as they supported my family in countless ways, especially when my brother and Mom were recovering from life-threatening accidents. I’ve heard holiness in the songs and acapella harmony hymns of my childhood and felt holiness in the anguished cry for help as an adult.
I’ve tasted holiness in the meals provided after the deaths of our loved ones by those whose only motives were simply to provide basic nourishment to grieving bodies. In the Italian sausage and cherry Coke I shared with a homeless women when I found her after she spent a night violent weather. In the bread I break with the bereaved.
I’ve witnessed holiness in the tattooed, pierced, skull-cap wearing farmer who takes time to eat school lunches with his numerous nieces and nephews and who goes on field trips with his “little brother” through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization. This person who gives his time to the little ones and who makes a larger-than-life impact as he shares the heart of God with them.
These are only a few small stories of big generosity. These and so many more give of their time, talents, and resources silently, anonymously, without expectation. They embody holiness in thrift-store jeans and “Jesus sandals,” farm boots, and homemade aproned dresses, with casseroles and carpenter’s tools. They live beautiful broken authentic lives, and would resist attention to what I’m sharing.
They are heirs of the Kingdom of God refusing to put on airs. They know it is not of their own righteousness or goodness, but only God’s grace and mercy that accomplishes any good through them. I am reminded of the prayer of Hannah who rejoices in the Lord, who recognizes there is no one holy like the Lord, and who understands it is the Lord who judges our actions.
I Samuel 2:1-3 NLT “Then Hannah prayed: “My heart rejoices in the Lord! The Lord has made me strong. Now I have an answer for my enemies; I rejoice because you rescued me. No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. “Stop acting so proud and haughty! Don’t speak with such arrogance! For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done; he will judge your actions.”
May we live as holy heirs without putting on holy airs.
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.