New Food-Only Blog

For those who just want my recipes, follow me at The Cultured Country Cook! 

I will continue to post “reflections and recollections” here. 

Dancing; taboo to therapy 

I covered the phone receiver in my hand and whispered to my co-worker, “Is ballet a sport?” Clearly I knew nothing about ballet or sports. (When I was asked to cover my first county-league baseball game my completed article had little to do with the action on the field and everything to do with the community feel at the park. It ended up a cover for the weekly community paper instead of in the sports section as originally intended.) 

But I digress. 

I was trying to keep the caller inquiring about an article on her ballet studio from hearing my howling coworker laughing at my gaffe. “Ballet is ‘the arts’ Regina,” she gasped between breaths, “not sports.”

Being raised in the Old Order Mennonite faith, all dancing was taboo. Other than witnessing occasional polka dancing at my dad’s non-Mennonite family functions and uninhibited childish hopping when our “worldly” friend played the accordion for us, dancing wasn’t even in our vernacular. But oh I felt music in my soul. 

Mom’s nickname for me was the Pennsylvania Dutch word for clumsy, and I lived up to that like a bull in a china shop. I did enjoy the Monday night square dances on the deck of the lodge at Deer Valley Ranch the summer I worked there, but no one seemed to mind my lack of coordination. 

Imagine then, I birthed a daughter that lives and breathes dance! She was two when I took her to see the spring recital of a parishioner who owned a dance studio. I was so out of my comfort zone, I chose a seat near the back exit of the auditorium. Our little girl had never seen “professional” dancing before, and she was mesmerized. She got down from my lap and in the dark at the back of the room, she followed every move the dancers made on stage. From that moment on, all we heard was dance. 

She was determined to attend their summer dance camp, and when I told her she needed to be potty trained to participate we had instant success. Really! Since then she has taken ballet and tap, and this year she is loving acro. 

I’ve shared before about my health issues this spring and summer, and once it was determined that my Psoas muscle was being problematic, my chiropractor suggested I find activities to strengthen my core. Since that initial “just going to support a parishioner” dance recital, the studio owner has become one of my best friends. When I was talking to her about the chiropractor’s advice, she suggested I try an adult lyrical ballet class as part of my therapy. 


I never once considered a dance class for myself. Ever. But something about the idea stirred my soul. I asked our daughter if she would like mommy to take a dance class too, and she was ecstatic. Yes! 

Imagine the young dance teacher trying to instruct this extremely insecure, totally inhibited, self-conscious non-dancer to stretch my non-dancing body like bubble gum. No finesse, no aplomb, more like a chicken after meeting its demise on mom’s block in my childhood years. But this date with other women, all with their own stories, has fast become one of my favorite spaces in my week. 

I still don’t know much about ballet, or sports for that matter, but the day I stop learning is the day I stop living. Ballet has been the most unexpected productive therapy I have participated in, stretching me literally and figuratively in ways I never imagined. These words of Bob Marley sum it up for me, “Forget your troubles and dance.” 

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. 

When love and pain get physical 

I’ve started this post a hundred times and simply couldn’t get it out. It feels so vulnerable, but for others who need to learn these same lessons, I must share. 

My husband, our children, and my mission through the Sadie Rose Foundation are, without a doubt, the things I love most in life, secondary only to my love for God. Who knew my deep and unwavering love for them could cause physical pain?



The past few years have wreaked havoc on my health and after many tests, the underlying “diagnosis” was a real wake-up call. Nearly two years ago, I “lost” my voice and was diagnosed with a hemorrhagic nodule on my left vocal chord. I use my voice in many ways, including singing, public speaking, conducting meetings, conversation, and of course, “mommy voice,” so this was a big deal to me. 

My Ear, Nose, Throat specialist prescribed, even ordered, silence in order for the nodule to heal. With the addition of a foster placement during that time, and our family’s entire routine upended, the children needed mommy’s reassurance and stability more than ever. No talking and only whispering when words were absolutely necessary seemed an impossibility, but I took the orders very seriously. Nearly a year later my voice returned to its normal strength and range. 

That experience was my first indication that my body was trying to tell me something. 

This spring I began having pain in my left side and my right foot. After nearly two months, I went to the doctor. The nurse practitioner believed the pain to be muscular. I was also diagnosed with a common infection that cleared quickly with antibiotics, but the underlying pain persisted. 

Another visit to the doctor led them to believe I should have more tests, just to “rule out scary stuff.” In the meantime the pain became unbearable and warranted a trip to the ED. A CT scan showed a few areas of possible concern and I tested positive for strep. 

(A few weeks earlier I had a trip to the ED for a trout bone that had lodged in my throat.) 

In the meantime, I did all I could to keep up with my family, our non-profit, my church responsibilities, and helping care for a beloved family member.   

At some point I realized I had nothing left to give. I drove into the church parking lot for a meeting and the gas light in my vehicle came on. I realized at that moment that the gas light in my life was glaring at me. I was “on empty,” and without refueling, I could not continue. 

Tests were coming back normal and negative, which was great except that I needed answers. I set up a counseling appointment (my first ever) and began seeing a chiropractor. I started noticing improvement with my first visits to both. I have known for a long time that I needed to find a way to release the pain, grief, and concern I carry for others, but I didn’t realize that not doing so could ruin me. 

Where there is love, there is vulnerability to pain. Laura Ramirez

I had dubbed myself “a sacred painholder” somewhere in my journey of walking with those grieving the death of a child, but I needed to learn how to be a “pain-releaser.” Connecting with new families for me always means that their miracle never came, there was no happy ending, it means that a child has died

This is heavy stuff. I held their pain so closely, it became my own. I was imposing my anxieties on my family, frightened with every small pain or problem that they were going to die too, because “I knew someone who…” Besides the weight of grief growing ever-heavier, my daily life became ever-busier. I had over-extended every area of my life, and my body started paying the price. 

My Psoas muscle (termed by some as the “muscle of your soul,”) was the cause of the pain in my side and my other complications seemed to stem from that. Some would say the Psoas muscle is where we hold stress, tension, and anxiety, and I was holding plenty of all three. 

As of several weeks ago, the last remaining tests came back clear, I’m seeing significant improvement from counseling and chiropractic care, I’m deliberately saying “no” to many good opportunities so I can savor the most precious ones more fully, and I am returning to hobbies I have loved in the past and trying something totally new. 

Ballistics and Ballet

One of my favorite hobbies and stress relievers years ago was target and skeet shooting. My husband and I have bonded more in returning to that hobby then I could have dreamed. I also signed up for an adult ballet class! That stretches me (literally and figuratively) far out of my comfort zone, but it is helping me rebuild my core strength and is forcing me to confront a myriad of insecurities. 


I’m taking time out and time off from many “extracurricular things” to return to the those that refuel me. I am purposefully praying for myself, something I do well for others but have neglected on my own behalf. I am finding refuge and peace in the constant relentless love of God and in these words from His Word.  

Psalm 139:7-10 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.

Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

First Day of School

Barefoot o’re the dusty pathway

Through the pasture, was the rule

Skipped the girl with brunette pigtails

As she hurried off to school

Ah, the summer filled with daydreams

Hailed her with its final call

Breezes yielded July’s sweetness

To ripened hints of early fall

Deep inhale, she sniffed the pencils

As the sharpener ground the wood

Buried nose into her textbooks

Smelling knowledge to be learned

Classroom chatter all around her

Catching up on summer fun

Couldn’t rival her excitement

Of a new school year begun

Bother math, it still confounds her

Language arts, she wanted more

Reading, writing, singing, playing

Timeless knowledge didn’t bore

Oh those sacred childhood memories

Held forever in her heart

Well from deep within her being

As her own, their school now start

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

Confessions; just in case I’ve misled you

“You have the perfect life,” she said, “a great husband, beautiful children, doing what you love for work. I dream about your life.”

Wait! What?! I nearly spit out my tea. 

“You know, what you post on Facebook,” she added, “Your life is perfect.”

First off, I admit, my life is filled with many wonderful things. My husband is loyal, devoted, rock-solid awesomeness. Our children are adorable, have mostly great behavior, and are respectful, caring, compassionate little humans. I am in awe that I get to live my passion of being there for others in grief, even though that calling was birthed through my own dark night of the soul. 

Additionally, I am generally a “look on the bright side” kind of gal, so even when life’s suck-o-meter hits red hot, I hurt, shake my fist, and with almost every scenario, find a way to see the positive. (There are exceptions.)

I decided a long time ago a life of gratitude is much sweeter than constant comparisons. I’ve never wanted or intentionally tried to pretend my life was perfect. Sharing my shortcomings and chaos helps me connect to others, but I also don’t want to complain or come across as whining. Ask my children, I loathe whining. 

So here’s some real-life relatable blackmail material for you. 

I can eat nearly a whole bag of Lay’s BBQ potato chips in one setting, especially when paired with chunks of yummy cheddar cheese. Sometimes I have ice cream for lunch. As much as I enjoy exercise, I’ve been dealing with an excruciating bout of plantar fasciitis for months and just being on my feet is extremely painful. Exercise is pretty much impossible until this improves. So much for rockin’ 40 in August, but I guarantee I still will!

Those adorable wildlings that steal my heart create monster messes (shhhhh, so do their parents) and I’d rather write and read than clean. People, hear me when I say my house is nearly always in disarray. We have an endless cycle of laundry; dirty, drying, unfolded. The counter is a catch-all for school projects, art projects, and cooking projects to the point it becomes a science project. Once, a friend for whom I had set a place for supper said, “Wow, I’ve never seen this end of your kitchen table.” He probably hadn’t.

Sometimes the children fight and the baby cries to the point I give up on cooking supper and we eat cereal instead. My husband gets mad at me. I get frustrated with him. 

I have skeletons in my closet. I have family whose skeletons are currently curing. Even when their choices become maddening and hurtful, the decision to love and wrestling with what that love looks like continues to shape and mold me. I fail. Often. 

Hopefully this will change soon, but most all of my work is volunteer so we are always trying to make ends meet financially. I spend too much money on groceries. 

I deal with anxiety and situational depression. Many days I feel like I don’t do enough, am never enough, can never catch up, never measure up, and wonder if anything I do truly makes a difference. I shoulder the weight of the world, even when it doesn’t ask me to. I am not prone to compare myself with others materialistically, but I am my own worst competition when it comes to making a difference. 

I worry about ridiculous things, and our pediatrician can tell you I worry obsessively over our children. Although my Facebook posts might be positive, they are more often a statement of faith than anything else. 

So yeah, I love cooking and eating healthy, but am an emotional eater. I love happy kiddos, but ours are still typical stinkers. I love family, even when they make terrible choices. Our struggles might come in different forms, but ultimately we are all living our own vida loco. 

We all get lemons, I just much prefer lemonade and will go to great lengths to find the sweetness. 

Onward and upward, dear peeps. I’m signing off to clear clutter and eat chips. 

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.


 

Potpourri; food tricks, sin, and working together

I haven’t posted much about food recently, but among my kitchen concoctions this past week were delicious tuna cakes with a chipotle lime sauce. The following evening I made poor man’s Steak, crazy ranch potatoes, pistachio bundt cake, and coffee pudding for some friends, but made enough for our dinner, too. 

Today for our Cyzick/Sych reunion, I made periogis with sour cream, sautéed onions, and crispy bacon crumbles. Pepperoni rolls, double chocolate bundt cake and caramel pudding. 


The tricks? I bought a bag of frozen periogis at Costco and added the toppings. For the pepperoni rolls, I bought a bag of frozen Rhodes rolls, thawed them on a tray, tore them in half, flattened each piece into a small disc, laid a few slices of pepperoni into each one, rolled them and baked them. The recipe for the “shortcut” bundt cakes are at the bottom of this post. Both puddings were made completely from scratch and required much more attention. These shortcuts still make for delicious “heritage” food without as work. And those are just my contributions. There will be even more deliciousness at the reunion!

I’ve been experiencing increasing intense pain in my left side for two months. Initially I figured it had to do with carrying a twenty-six pound toddler on my left hip all the time. This past week though, the pain became unbearable and spread into my back making it hard to function, so I finally went to the doctor. Turns out, I had a severe infection! After a second dose of antibiotics I’m feeling significantly better.

Although the pain was excruciating, I truly didn’t know just how bad I felt until I started to feel significantly better. Sin can be that way too. One wrong choice here or there, unacknowledged, unrepented of, and justified by any number of reasons, will eventually take us to a place where we must address our pain and issues in order to function in a healthy way. When we repent and ask God for forgiveness, he who is rich in mercy, unfailing in love, and slow to anger, will always hear our cries and respond with heart-healing and soul-reawakening. Once we receive the beautiful gift of forgiveness and healing, only then do we start to glimpse how truly lost and pain-filled we were before. 

This morning, our children were playing “tug-of-war” clean up. They were holding on to opposite ends of the dog leash, pulling each other this way and that and seeing how much they could accomplish by pulling each other in opposite directions. As one might imagine, they accomplished little to nothing. Life is often that way. We are all running in our own directions trying to pull others with us instead of trying to find ways to work together. May we all do our part to work together and be the positive change we want to see in this world. 

As promised, here’s the simple bundt cake recipe. 

Fabulous Bundt Cake

1 cake mix, any flavor

1 (3.4 oz) package instant pudding, any flavor

1/2 cup oil

1 cup hot water

4 eggs

Method: Mix all ingredients together until well blended, then beat hard for two minutes. Pour into greased bundt cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. 

As suggested in the recipe, we LOVE using a yellow cake mix with pistachio pudding for the cake and serving it with homemade coffee pudding.


The cake I made for the reunion was a chocolate cake mix with chocolate pudding. This recipe is so simple, I actually let our 5-year-old daughter make it this morning. 

Let me know if you try any of these tricks or recipes and how you liked them. Have a great weekend. 

“I’ll see you in the sunrise, Mommy”

I wrote those piece more than a month ago, but am just finding the courage to share. Writing has always been my therapy, and this piece brought tremendous healing as I imagined what Sadie might say to me from heaven. 

“I’ll see you in the sunrise, Mommy”

By Regina Cyzick Harlow

April 2, 2017

As my body formed inside of yours, I was nurtured by your love. I knew my frame was not coming together as you expected, but I had to wait until a doctor could verify that for me. I wasn’t upset when you cried the day they told you “something was wrong.” I knew I wasn’t “wrong,” but I understood your tears. Your expectations were shattered. Yet I knew how deeply you loved me.

Daddy’s voice reassured me that through it all, we were going to be okay. You both referred to me as “Chickpea.” I still love that name.

I listened as you consulted with the geneticists and doctors about my diagnosis and was delighted that you chose life, when perhaps death “prepared and scheduled” might have seemed an easier option. I felt your body, tense from weeping, release tears into blankets, your hands, on the shoulders of loved ones, and sometimes even with strangers. I felt the hope you carried that, despite all odds, I was going to remain with you in physical form and not die.

I entered this world blue, without breath. Large hands of doctors and nurses cleared my airways so I could breathe. What was this thing called living, being alive? I went from the security and darkness of your womb into a sterile whirlwind of lights, medical staff, and other babies in the NICU, some alone, others with parents hovered attentively over them.

I wondered where you were, but they told me you had been through some pretty hard times and needed rest. After all, we would get to spend the rest of our lives together. We expected a lifetime of years, not hours.

I was so happy to see you during the day. I was comforted by the scent of your nearness when you were finally allowed to come close. The doctors and nurses were very good to me, but nothing could soothe me like your’s and daddy’s voices floating into my incubator. Those were familiar. Those were mine.

Later that day though, I could feel my little body struggling to breathe. You held me, your tears falling warm on my face. I wish I would have had the strength to wipe them for you. I felt myself slipping into another place, but I was reluctant to go. It was as if I could feel your heart shattering inside as you held me so desperately.

The doctors told you it was time to say good-bye. You gave me permission to move into the next place where I could sense I was being beckoned. You saw my body turn blue again. You heard the monitor switch to a gut-wrenching monotone beep, alerting the medical staff I was dead. You fell into daddy’s arms, weeping uncontrollably.

But mommy, what you saw was only part of the story. When I died I simply left my bars of bone and my house of flesh to transition into eternity. You saw my body stop breathing, but I was more fully alive than ever, breathing in the purest air of love and warmth and light. To go back to my little earthly body would feel clumsy and suffocating. My death certificate says I died because of “respiratory insufficiency,” but that was only earthly air for my earthly body. Here there is no lack of oxygen. Here my lungs breathe deep the air of angels.


The mountains and streams and wildflowers, the sunrises and sunsets and stars that help you feel so connected to me, I’m there, opening your eyes to the beauty beyond the veil of your flesh, the reality that the best is yet to come.

You’re still needed there, mommy. I’m safe and free here, but my brother and sisters and daddy need you, and many others who need to hear your story, our story, to know they’re not alone. I wish you knew how many children I play with here while you meet with their parents and siblings there. We have “Sadie Rose” meetings too, but the tears are absent because God himself has wiped them from our eyes.

Hold on mommy, because yet for a little while we are separated in body. But the day will come when you hold me again, and on that day I will take you to meet the One who has given you the hope and promise of our reunion. Until then, I’ll see you in the sunrise, in the faces of my siblings, and in the hearts and lives of others who know what it’s like to lose a child.  

 

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My Mother’s Day Epiphany

Forbear the depressing parts of this post and ultimately (hopefully) be encouraged. (For mothering hearts everywhere!)

Mother’s Day has long been one of my most dreaded holidays. As a child, all I ever wanted was to get married young and have lots of children (and write.) Beyond my control, was that my Prince Charming took his time building his own life, preparing to meet his damsel in distress. 

I sat through through countless Mother/Daughter banquets at our church with a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart. Would my time ever come? People casually reassured me that it would, patting my arm sympathetically and reminding me to pray. “It would happen in God’s timing,” they said. 

In truth, they were right. I met my future husband at 27, and married at 29. Married more than ten years and I still thank God every day I waited for the right one. 

Most of you know the story from here. Our first-born baby died before living a full day outside of my womb. In fact, it was Mother’s Day week 2007 we found out something was wrong, and although we did not know at the time that our baby’s diagnosis was fatal, that Mother/Daughter banquet overwhelmed me. 

By Mother’s Day 2008 I was pregnant with our son. People said, “Well now you’ll finally get to be a mother,” not understanding how that felt to the already mother of a dead baby. All I could think about that Mother/Daughter banquet was how I wanted to take my plate to the cemetery just outside the church basement walls and eat with my daughter on her grave. Instead, I sat quietly, pushing the tasteless food around on my plate, pretending to be interested in the laughter and conversation, silently willing the whole event to be over. 

Our son and two more daughters have filled my soul with copious amounts of joy and happiness, but I still find the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend to be one of my most difficult days. There have been times I’ve woken up on this Mother’s Day Saturday crying, unable to get out of bed. This morning I woke in a mood so foul our 5-year-old daughter told our son, “Don’t worry, mommy must be under a lot of stress.” 

I never expect it, I don’t plan for it. Most of the time it takes me a while to even figure out why I’m feeling this way.

It is the hardest thing in the world to explain how a bereaved person can be grateful AND grieving. “It’s been ten years,” some say, and I want to scream, “And I’ve missed her every ______ day!” “You have other children,” some say. And I want to ask, “Which of your children would you want to give up?” 

Even my husband said this morning, “I thought this would be a good Mother’s Day. The adoption is finalized,” referring to the eighteen-month adoption process of our youngest daughter. It IS good, it really is, but my heart still aches and our family still feels incomplete without Sadie here. Many people fill our lives in multiple ways, but no one person replaces the other. 

My husband ended up taking the two older children to work with him. I felt guilty because I was so out of sorts, guilty because I was missing time with them, guilty because this is not their fault! I was, however, relieved for time alone (with the baby) to process my thoughts and emotions. 

I decided to mindlessly sort through a box of random pictures I’d found. Staring back at me were children with smiling faces. Children from Zimbabwe, one without legs being pushed in a rusty wheelbarrow to receive rice and beans and prayers. Children from mountain villages in Mexico. Children and orphans in El Salvador, one where I’m holding a set on newborn twins we found contented in a hammock in the yard outside their family’s mountain hut. I recalled, but don’t have pictures of, the baby that had been born eleven days before my second trip to El Salvador and the mother waiting until I arrived so she could name her baby after me. There were smiling children and “earthquake orphans” in Haiti, clamoring for time in my lap. I thought of other women on these trips, some of whom I know still long for children of their own, and marveled at how well they love these children too. 

There were many pictures of children from my years of teaching preschool and working in a special education classroom. Children with wheelchairs and walkers, children laughing with elderly adults when I’d taken them on field trips to the nursing homes. There were Kids Clubs in inner cities, Sunday school children, nieces and nephews hiking, riding horses, enjoying campfires and sleepovers. 

I smiled through tears as the epiphany came. I’ve been a mother all along. 

All these years I’ve loved on children, taught them ABC’s and 123’s, have nurtured my mothering instincts. I still have stuffed bears, hand-drawn pictures, and Christmas tree ornaments from children who came through preschool. I stay in touch with many of their parents and watch with pride as they perform in musicals, play sports, and graduate high school. All these trips loving orphans and children in second and third world countries, all the time invested in nieces and nephews, all little ones of no relation who have called me “Mama Nina or Aunt Nina” throughout the years, have played a role in fulfilling my mothering destiny. 

I have a mothering heart. I was a mother long before I ever had children of my own. Mothering is coded into my DNA. At the very core of my identity, I am and always have been, a mother. Tonight at our annual Mother/Daughter banquet I will celebrate my life of mothering in a new and fresh way. 

If you are the mother whose dreams of having your own children have yet to be realized, I encourage and celebrate you. If your only children are those you hold in your heart instead of your arms, I ache for you and I celebrate you. If you are the Mothering Sunday school or secular school teacher and you return home to a child-less house, I’m amazed by you and I celebrate you. If you have children in heaven and here, I embrace and celebrate you. If you are mothering your own brood, and loving them well, I applaud and celebrate you. If you are the widowed mother or the single mother, I have no words for my admiration of you and I celebrate you. If you are the mother whose given your child up for adoption because you loved them that much, I admire and celebrate you. To those who work on behalf of children everywhere, in the medical field, school systems, volunteer programs, social services, adoptions agencies, orphanages, for all the mothering hearts out there loving children in any capacity, I celebrate YOU this Mother’s Day! 

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