Potpourri: no, yes, hope, food

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

This has long been one of my guiding quotes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

Tattoos, Tributes, and the Harlow Family Seal

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

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

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

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

We knew de profundis when our daughter died. 

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

From the depths, SEEK joy!

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

Psalm 30 NIV Translation



1 I will exalt you, Lord,

    for you lifted me out of the depths…

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

    and you healed me.

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

    you spared me from going down to the pit…

weeping may stay for the night,

    but rejoicing comes in the morning…

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

11 You turned my wailing into dancing;

    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

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

    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Read all of Psalm 30 here. 

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

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

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

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

From our hearts to yours, 

The Harlows

Doughnuts, Dwarfism, Adoption, Celebration, Memorium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


 

Happy Adoption Day

It is with unspeakable joy that we officially introduce our daughter, Korana (CORE-ahna) Sky Harlow.


We are not naive to the sorrow that brought her to us, and we are especially mindful of our own sorrow that opened our hearts to receive her as our own. Our first-born daughter, Sadie Rose, would be 10 this year. She died less than twenty-four hours after she was born. Korana and her birth family have had their own sadness that is not ours to tell, but Korana has truly come “By Way of Sorrow.” (Song references and words used by permission of the writer, Julie Miller.)

The nights joy slept for us have finally awakened to days of laughter. The healing addition of two more rockstar biological children, a non-profit in our daughter’s memory, and this sweet babe complete our family. 

We are eternally grateful to all who supported us on this incredible journey of preparation to become foster parents, caring for us upon her arrival, and walking with us on the uncertain road of fostering through the social services system. Thank you for those who prayed for us as our own hearts were torn between genuinely believing for a fully restored birth family and the unimaginable reality that until now she wasn’t ours to keep.

Many times I fell to my knees, unable on my own to support, pray, and accept all the twists and turns of this journey. Many times I re-lived the hours after Sadie’s birth as life and loss hung in the balance. Many times I could hardly catch my breath as fear and hope tangoed in my heart. Many times I surrendered it all to God. Many times I took it back, scared to hold on, terrified to release.

Much more about this journey in my forthcoming book, “By Way of Sorrow – a story of life, death, adoption, and hope.”

With genuine compassion for all who are part of this story, her story, our story, we celebrate our “gotcha day,” April 24, 2017.

Below is a seven minute video summarizing the past eighteen months. The first accompaniment song is “By Way of Sorrow,” written by Julie Miller and recorded by the Wailin Jennys. The second song is “Happy Adoption Day,” written and performed by John McCutcheon.

 

 

Grieving and healing together, as individuals

Often there are people around us who are also impacted by the source of our grief. Certainly our family and friends grieved in their own way for the death of our daughter. Looking back, I can see more clearly how each of them expressed their grief and love in their unique ways. I am so grateful for everyone who has walked this road with us.

I flung myself to the floor, weeping, alone for the first time since Sadie died

The doorbell rang, our neighbor an awkward witness to my uninhibited grief

She brought a beautiful hanging basket and said, “I’m so sorry”

Family cleaned, weeded flower beds, and snapped buckets of green beans and shucked copious amounts of corn on the cob to feed those gathered

Their presence comforted me

Daddy went grocery shopping

I still have the green bottle of Gain laundry detergent, empty now, but a reminder of their coming together and of my sweet Sadie Rose

Not all of them came together for the happiest day of my life, but they did for the saddest

That laundry detergent bottle reminds me so

Two sisters with small infants shied away at first, but upon my request brought their babies for me to hold

They cried survivor’s guilt tears as I held their little ones and wept for my Sadie

They didn’t want to know the pain of empty arms, but they also didn’t understand why they were so blessed

I marveled at the perfection of their tiny infants and knew Sadie was perfect in her own little way

My niece, then 12 years old, brought a red balloon and asked us to write notes to Sadie

We released it in our backyard, our younger nieces and nephews intrigued by the tears but delighted by the floating red heart carried away into the sunset

We sat around her grave on a beautiful Saturday afternoon

Nieces and nephews laid stuffed toys on her tiny white casket

We sang Jesus loves me

My father-in-law coughed and rubbed his eyes, grief had snuck up on his stoic composed form

My husband looked off into the distance, always far away, I wondered if he would ever come back

But he did, he would come back for a while to find me

Crumpled in a heap on the shower floor or staring out the window into the night

We fluctuated back and forth, being strong while the other was weak and vice versa

Another sister came after her farm chores

We dunked chocolate-dipped biscotti into our coffee until our stomachs hurt, mostly silent, with occasional bursts of detail accompanied by grunts and nods

Together we grieved, as individuals

Together we remember and heal

Glimpses of the indomitable women that shaped my life

From day one, my life has been blessed with multiple indomitable women. In honor of Honoring Women Day, here’s a brief post about the virtuosic women that have shaped my life. With mom’s stoic Old Order Mennonite family and daddy’s colorful Russian/Hungarian family, I’ve had quite a conglomeration of influences, all of them prodigious!

First and foremost, my mom.

mom 1mom 2mom 5mom

This woman birthed seven children in nine years and three months. Due to circumstances beyond her control, she found herself a single mother and the sole provider for our family.

She literally worked her fingers to the bone, milking cows, tending chickens, butchering animals, working in a bake shop, caring for yet more children, and still running our household.

She lives most of our childhood with a crushed spirit and a broken heart, but her tenacity to provide and care for her brood never wavered. She is a women of quiet yet profound faith. She never allowed us to speak ill of our dad for not being there, even when she had every right to complain herself. She was and is quiet, meek, gentle, soft-spoken, and timid, but hear me when I say she is a force to be reckoned with when her mind is set and when the concerns of her children and family are involved.

Mom, it would take a book to begin telling you all you mean to me, but I pray my heart and life speak as loudly as anything I might say of the legacy you have instilled in me. I love you!

Aunt Lois, mom’s sister, played a tremendous role in my musicality and appreciation of music and singing. Although she was not permitted to have instruments or “worldly” music, I spent hours with her metronome, pitchpipes, tuning forks, and vast supply of hymnals. Aunt Lois taught me how to feel music in your soul. She was also a woman of great faith and conviction which she exemplified by the manner of her living. She died when I was a young teenager. I still miss her.

All mom’s sisters played their own unique role; Aunt Edie let me dress up in “fancy” clothes.

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She still sings like a song bird and her talent as a professional seamstress is second to none. (That’s a skill I never mastered, but have great admiration for.) Aunt Ruth, mom’s twin, has always been a quiet loving presence. Aunt Mim always sees the silver lining, is a prolific writer, and gifted photographer. Aunt Mary Etta, for as long as I knew her, endured tremendous physical suffering and yet praised God anyway. I didn’t know Aunt Mabel as well, she lived in Missouri and I seldom got to see her, but she came to help our family when mom was laid up after being hit by a car while riding bicycle.

Two of my great aunts, Mary and Wilda Beery, and their mother, grandmother Mary Beery, instilled in me a love of memorizing and reciting Scripture and poetry.

Switching gears now, Aunt Nellie, one of my dad’s sisters, could make a sailor blush with some of her language, but she was one of the most caring persons I’ve ever known. I seldom saw her without curlers in her hair and a Coke and cigarette in her hands. She often held a fly swatter too, and her grandkids would say, “no beaty a$$, Nan, no beaty a$$.” Aunt Nellie worked in the coal mines.  Her rosary in her casket was made of Mardi Gra beads and a miniature Coke bottle. She left bags of “beads” for us, and my favorite colorful crocheted afghan for me.

I’m pretty sure Aunt Ethel has an Energizer Bunny inside. She has endured many physical complications from a horrible car accident years ago, yet at nearly 78 years old, she still works and cares for others. She lives a good four hours from us and we’ve never arrived at her house without an entire feast prepared. And we ARE expected to eat, even if we arrive late at night. I recall arriving around two am when we were children (car trouble) and she had baked ham, macaroni salad, and all kinds of other goodies prepared for us and was vacuuming her living room.

Aunt Tresa was full of life and laughter. She wore red lipstick and red heels. She kissed my brothers and made them cry. (Not really, she just loved how embarrassed they got with a bright red lip print on their little cheeks.)

Nearly all of my aunts lived out of the area, but they have all left their imprint in my life.

My mother-in-law, Sandy, has spent her life invested in children, teaching them to read. She has traveled the world, and is independent, stoic, composed, intelligent, a master gardener, and a life-long learner and reader.

sany.jpg

My sisters and sisters-in-law have also inspired me in many ways.

sistrs

This brief post is only a glimpse of these tremendous women, and there are many others who have shaped my life in various forms. If I can leave even a portion of the legacy of faith, tenacity, and meekness that these woman have instilled in me, my life will have been worth it.

On this day of honoring women, today I salute my grandmothers, my mom and mother-in-law, my aunts, my great grandmother and great aunts, and my sisters and sisters-in-law. I am who I am because of each of you! I love you!

Risking love and loss… Again

Emotions swirl like a whirlpool in my gut. Thoughts circulate my head like a tornado. We have found ourselves at a place we never really thought we’d be. As foster parents, we knew that any number of circumstances were possible, but subconsciously I think we really only saw two outcomes; adoption or return home.

But now we have this precious little human that has been with us for several months. Home is not ready at this time, but we must let them go. We never anticipated a pet allergy severe enough to become unmangeable. We never saw ourselves too busy to give all that some little ones might need, but that is also the case.

There is relief on one side, that this little pumpkin will no longer have to suffer ongoing severe allergy symptoms. There is hope that a new home will be able to provide them more attention than what our already busy schedules allowed. But there is sadness, a deep sense of loss, and absolutely no regret for saying yes to the initial placement call. I can’t see through the tears to type these words. Writing them makes it all that much more real.

We can only pray that our time together has been productive, fruitful, and life-giving and affirming.  Releasing a child I’ve grown to love into the system, outside of the perimeters of my mothering heart, is requiring more faith and trust than I ever dreamed. My heart feels broken and fragile.

If you are so inclined, please breathe a prayer of blessing over this little person, unknown by most of the world, but created and deeply loved by God, and for the new home. Pray for the biological family as well, and for our own dear children who will grieve this loss deeply.

Our hearts will need time, our souls, reflection.

“I guess by now I should know enough about loss to realize that you never really stop missing someone-you just learn to live around the huge gaping hole of their absence.” ― Alyson Noel, Evermore

 

Corn working day

Two of my sisters and I worked sweet corn today for the freezer. I left over lunch to honor a commitment to my mother-in-law and then had to skip out before we were done because it got too hot and sleepy for the baby. All told, we put 50 quarts of corn in the freezer today. That doesn’t count the crazy amounts we fed on as we worked. #summer #gratefulfortheharvest #willenjoycornthiswinter 

Family, Camping, and Food

Our family (my husband and I) have mostly adopted a whole-foods plant-based diet, but we make exceptions and camping weekend is one of those. 

For the next three days, twenty plus cousins will play with sticks and stones and water. They will play frisbee and Uno and blow bubbles. They will NOT play on electronics. 

My siblings and mom and a few other relatives will reminisce family stories around the campfire. We will passionately debate religion, politics, and current events and afterwards we will play music and sing together like we never disagreed to begin with. 

We will eat Stromboli and tacos and Granddaddy Garry’s famous chipped beef gravy and mamaw’s famous biscuits along with copious amounts of other deliciousness. 

Last night I made two Strombolis; one filled with meats and cheeses and the other filled with spinach and roasted red peppers and such. Picture to come when I get around to posting the recipe. 

I made a batch of Chex mix so large I had to mix it in a large kitchen-sized garbage bag. (Clean of course.) 

I made layered Jello squares. 

And mixed the dough for four cream cheese cherry Danish braids. This morning I rolled out the dough and assembled the pastries. They are rising now and almost ready to bake. 

This will all be added to the wonderful dishes contributed by other family members. 

This is the weekend of the year that recenters my soul, that grounds my sense of who I am and where I’ve come from. 

Praying for a safe and great weekend for all.