New Website and 2019 Wrap-Up

We have exciting news! This will be my last post here. From now on, all my blog posts, recipes, reviews, homeschooling information, etc., can be found on our soon-to-be launched family website, http://www.theharlowhearth.com. We are looking forward to connecting with you there!

My friend shared blessings/highlights of each month for 2019, and I decided it would be a fun exercise for me to try. Between these highlighted moments are thousands of ordinary, sacred, beautiful, difficult ones unshared. This reflection reminded me of the gift that is my blessed and broken life!

January

Our rental townhouse went on the market!

Seeing the Sadie Rose Foundation wedding gown to burial gown program really come to fruition.

February

Elsie had her first visit with the pediatric allergist where we learned she has a dust mite allergy.

I attended a heavy, but incredibly helpful suicide prevention training with a group of fellow ministers.

March

Planting trees with our wonderful friends at Caritas Christmas Tree Farm.

We welcomed Baby Ella into the world!

A trip to see my dad.

April

Closing for our townhouse.

I ran my first half marathon.

We said good-bye for now to our treasured Aunt Ethel.

May

Seeing the Rosedale Bible College Salt and Light Team with a friend who I’d toured with on that same team many moons ago.

The Sadie Rose Foundation’s Bereaved Mothers Tea.

June

Eli’s 5th grade graduation.

Sadie’s 12th birthday.

A special Beery Family gathering to connect with relatives from far and near.

Hosting a sweet little respite placement through foster care for ten days.

July

A staycation with special friends.

My sister-in-law’s breast cancer diagnosis.

The decision to homeschool.

Annual Family Camping.

August

Friends.

Elsie’s summer-long participation in her dance studios “Summer Praise” tour, sharing in worship in a different church every Sunday all summer long.

We met Baby Arthur of Camel Lot, a new addition to a farm near us.

Eli’s baptism.

September

My sister-in-law and another dear friend’s breast cancer surgeries.

Hampton Roads Writer’s Conference.

Presenting a workshop for a Shenandoah District COB sponsored grief training.

October

Finding our homeschool rhythm.

We said good-bye for now to our beautiful special cousin, Anna.

Elsie had a full panel of bloodwork to see why she was chronically fatigued. Pesky mono was still present.

Daddy continues to struggle with his health, go through testing, searching for answers.

November

Another sweet little respite placement.

Chili cook-off at church where I won first place. Now I need to perfect another recipe for next year!

December

Reconnecting with a friend I hadn’t seen in twenty years.

We hired a new director for the Sadie Rose Foundation! Welcome Vonda!

All things Christmas.

Planning for the launch of The Harlow Hearth, our forthcoming family website!

What a great, difficult, beautiful year! So grateful for God’s grace and presence, and for our people who love us so well! Cheers for a blessed and healthy 2020! See you soon at The Harlow Hearth!

Burning brakes and fall fun

Last week I set aside this day to take the kiddos on a fall color drive and hike. We set out this morning with no real plan in mind other than starting at Reddish Knob, a high mountain lookout I frequented in my youth.

After enjoying some time on top of the mountain, we decided to try a road I thought would take us to Sugar Grove, WV.

This will be fun, I thought, no rules for the day except to have fun. No GPS. I can always get us “un-lost.”

What I didn’t anticipate was cooking the brakes on our aged van. We laughed at chipmunks running across the road, marveled at the reds, oranges, yellows, rusts, and greens, enjoyed the deer and a moss-covered rock, but as we continued down the steep winding road, I started smelling the brakes. Then I noticed they weren’t responding much when I applied pressure.

Make this out to be NO BIG DEAL for the sake of the children, I thought as I stopped in the middle of the road sandwiched between two blind curves. There wasn’t a place to pull off.

I turned on the hazard lights and told the kids the van needed to rest. By this time the whole interior smelled of burning rubber. I allowed them to get out and play by the side of the road. I tried calling my husband, but there was no cell service. I wanted to be sure if I let them rest I would be safe to continue. After about a half hour of not being able to reach him and no one driving by, I decided we would try again.

I geared down this time, and we inched our way around a few more corners. I assured them if we had to drive into the ditch to stop, we would still be okay because we were going so slowly. I saw a pull off and decided to give the brakes a longer rest. We spread a blanket on the ground and had some lunch.

I heard a vehicle coming up the mountain and flagged down the pickup truck. The young man said we were down the steepest part. Just one more switchback, a few sharp curves, and the road would level out.

I got the kids and the dogs back in the van, feeling confident we could navigate without incident. Thanks be to God, we did.

We found the Trading Post in Sugar Grove, and the elderly gentleman behind the counter welcomed the children with a smile and a cow tail candy. We visited a while. His son is postmaster at the other end of the building. His daughter lives and works within six miles of our house. I asked if they had a restroom.

No, he said, but see that church across the street. The basement door’s open. Go in and turn right. You’ll find what you need there.

To the delight of our daughters, the church was “glittery!” It was covered in pieces of broken glass. I marveled at the metaphor of brokenness shining in the light of the sun.

We drove another twenty miles to hike the Confederate Breastworks Trail, knowing it was manageable for all levels of dogs and children while also getting us closer home.

After the hike, we decided to surprise Dad at work. He kept wondering why he hadn’t heard a peep from us, he said. I was glad I couldn’t reach him when I tried and that I was able to guide us through the brake debacle without alarming (and especially without harming!) the children.

Besides a lovely day enjoying the majesty of an Allegheny autumn, I felt my lately-crumbling confidence grow ever so slightly from working through a scary situation without help nearby. Well, except the most important help.

Cornucopia

Deep autumn air

Finagles through window seams

Invigorating my soul from sleep

Cradled by feather pillows

And fleece blankets

Loves sleep-dreaming around me

Rain forest coffee beans

Party in my thalamus

Crimson pomegranate seeds

Plink into the bowl

Dark wheat bread lies rustic in it’s basket

Tasting of sunshine, rain, and wind

Wood-stove’s heat warms toes and floors

Mocha dog, comforting, protecting nearby

Morning moves over the Blue Ridge

Breaking the quiet stillness of dawn

My day, only beginning

And just like that my cornucopia

Overflows

Bursts goodness

From the million little joys

That fill my life

Lessons from screen free week

She handed her shirts to the cashier, and I noticed a theme in the inscriptions of each piece as they were unfurled, scanned, and bagged.

“I’m not listening”

“The less you care, the happier you’ll be.”

(I can’t remember the third one at the moment.)

There are times I think not listening and not caring might relieve some of the weight of life, but as I ruminated, I decided it would also remove the richness.

That’s how my mind works. That’s why my blog description says, “Reflections and Recollections from a Ruminator.”

Sometimes I wish a shirt could just be a shirt, and leaves on the oak tree could just be leaves, and skinned knees and struggling plants could be just that, but my mind always turns them into lessons I’m learning.

Every spring, the new leaves on our pin oak have to literally push the dead ones off. I think how resistant I/we can be to change. How sometimes I find myself clinging to old and dead and former instead of embracing what God is doing right now in my life and what he wants to do going forward.

She cried as I doctored skinned knees this morning, the medicine stung as it chased the “dirty bugs” away. I thought about how wounds hurt, cleansing stings, but untreated uncleaned wounds can literally kill us. I held her as I reassured it wouldn’t sting for long and caring for them would soon help her feel a lot better.

I pondered my one lone house plant, a starter my dad gave me years ago from a plant his mother had before she died. It’s definitely my kind of plant because it needs very little care. The yellow and green leaves remind me of my life, though. The green being times where I’ve nurtured and cared for myself, and the yellow times where I’ve neglected to drink from the fountain of living water. Usually, with enough faithful nurturing, the yellow leaves green again, and the plant plugs along, growing it’s vine and lengthening it’s reach.

Technically screen free week runs through Sunday, but I’ve succumbed to writing this post. Outside of work and school, our family has enjoyed an extraordinary week of planting garden, playing outside, storytelling, cooking together, and playing board and card games.

We inhaled lilacs. The girls and I made a mixed berry pie. (We used whole wheat pie and pastry flour for the crust. It was delicious!

I made chocolate pudding from scratch to serve with the pie, and topped it with whipped cream. Yum!

We lit oil lamps and my husband and I told stories from our childhood.

Most delightfully in my own screen free time, was the discovery this book.

This gem by Tish Harrison Ward is truly transformative. Every single page of my copy is dog-eared and marked up, noted and underlined. I tried to find a few nuggets to share, but choosing was hard because the whole book is a gold mine.

Here’s a quote from page 30.

“We don’t wake up daily and form a way of being-in-the-world from scratch, and we don’t think our way through every action of our day. We move in patterns that we have set over time, day by day. These habits and practices shape our lives, our desires, and ultimately who we are and what we worship.”

Then she references a sign in a New Monastic Christian Community house. “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” Followed by Tish’s own comments that, “You can’t get a revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary… It’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith-the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small-that God’s transformation takes root and grows.” (Pages 35-36)

This book has been a long cool drink of water to green the yellowed leaves of my sometimes soul-weary dry days. If you long to know that your daily ordinariness matters, and be confronted and challenged to examine what your days are imprinted with and how your habits shape, form, and inform you, please give yourself the gift of this book. (Side note: When initially forming this blog, a strong name in the running was The Ordinarian, because of the focus of my truly ordinary broken beautiful life.)

A gorgeous weekend brimming with love and ordinary to all of you!

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.

Dirt Road Therapy

Before picking our children up from school today, I took twenty minutes to drive down a lovely gravel road near our house. I’m going to share more soon about the journey our family has been on this past year, but for now, learning how to take a few minutes here and there for recreation has been much-needed spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical therapy.

I wrote a little ditty in my head as a drove.

It doesn’t matter that the trees are bare, that’s how my heart has felt in this past year, deep within those cold brown branches, dormant buds are taking chances, that the sun is gonna shine again, and spring will usher summer in, and hope is carried on the wind, that this is just a season.

Other songs about dirt/gravel roads were playing in my head from my memory long ago. Here’s a few I could think of right off.

I’ll Take the Dirt Road – Sawyer Brown

Red Dirt Road – Brooks and Dunn

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams

What are your favorite songs specifically about dirt or gravel roads? I’d love for you to share them here so my readers and I can enjoy them too.

Rest

I heard the voice of Jesus say come unto me and rest…

But what about our sick child?

Come unto me and rest…

What about our finances? 

Come to me and rest… 

What about our loved one slowly succumbing to dementia?

Come unto me and rest…

What about the violence permeating our society?

Come unto me and rest…

What about wars and rumors of wars?

Come to me and rest…

What about political unrest?

Come to me and rest…

What about the anguish of the bereaved?

Come unto me and rest…

What about…?

Come unto me and rest…

I heard the voice of Jesus say come unto me and rest…

Come to me you weary one…

Come to me…

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭11:28‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If you need encouragement in song, there are three links above the Scripture that will take you to three different songs. May we rest in the Perfect Love that casts out fear. 

Of Praise and Thanks

Words to one of my favorite hymns paired with snapshots I’ve captured over the past few weeks. 


For the beauty of the earth, 

for the glory of the skies, 
for the love which from our birth 

over and around us lies; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For the beauty of each hour 

of the day and of the night, 

hill and vale, and tree and flower, 

sun and moon, and stars of light; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 

For the joy of ear and eye, 

for the heart and mind’s delight, 

for the mystic harmony, 

linking sense to sound and sight; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For the joy of human love, 

brother, sister, parent, child, 

friends on earth and friends above, 

for all gentle thoughts and mild; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 

For thy church, that evermore 

lifteth holy hands above, 

offering up on every shore 

her pure sacrifice of love; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For thyself, best Gift Divine, 

to the world so freely given, 

for that great, great love of thine, 

peace on earth, and joy in heaven: 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 
Text by Folliot S Pierpoint 

Music by Conrad Kocher

Anguish, Bitterness, Hope

Words stir deep within, swirling up to my head, but I have been unable to type or speak them.

A friend calls, crying, concerned about a loved one’s recent diagnosis. Another texts memorial service information for a small child. At church, we gather around a prayer quilt to speak words of hope and healing for a teenager facing a threatening illness. A friend’s marriage is falling apart. The news is reporting speechless acts of violence and terror.

This is just in one day. I am just one person.

To imagine that all around the world there are people in homes and hospitals pleading for more moments, begging for second chances, is beyond my ability to comprehend.

suckometer

I’m a firm believer that only light can drive out darkness, but my lamp is flickering from the winds of terror, injustice, violence, and disease.

I turn to stories of believers across the ages, finding solace in their honest confessions of fear, doubt, and unbelief.

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the LORD, weeping bitterly.” (1 Samuel 1:10 NIV)

“Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:11 NIV)

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (Psalm 56:8 NLT)

The words of Jesus beckon me.

come to Jesus

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

The soul longs for “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,”  (Matthew 6:10 KJV) and for the time when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4 NLT)

But until then we are here, smack dab in the middle of a messed up, broken, anguished world. I don’t have fancy words. I don’t have a master plan to fix the brokenness, but I hear the Master’s voice soothing, reassuring, comforting: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NLT)

May all whose hearts are broken, whose lives are shattered, whose worlds have stopped, know that I and many are collectively weeping for their sorrows and praying for their comfort.

And with their pain in mind, we are trying to be kinder, gentler, more generous to those within our own circle of influence.

change the world

May these words of confession and pardon renew our hope and inspire us anew to share the good news of Christ’s love to all.

Prayer of Confession

(based on John 20: 24-29; Luke 24:36-43)

Wondrous God, we confess that at times our doubts and fears override our hope and faith. Forgive us when we lose sight of the joy of Your love and instead fall into despair and gloom. Lift up our spirits, Lord, and help us to remember the promise of new life here and now, not just the hope of resurrection for the future. We give thanks for Your Son, Jesus the Christ, who continues to offer us new life, who continues to turn us around and upside down, who continues to break down the walls of death in our own life. Forgive us, restore us and renew us. In the name of our risen Savior, Jesus the Christ, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

The tomb is empty. The stone is rolled away. There is no darkness now, only light. God continues to renew us and restore us. We are forgiven, loved and restored, receiving the gift and promise of new life and resurrection now. Go and share the wondrous news of God’s love in Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Words of confession and pardon written by Rev. Mindi, and posted on her Rev-o-lution blog. 

Amen.

Love Challenge

We just passed the annual day of love. I am someone who is generally turned off by the commercialism surrounding holidays – any holiday, and Valentine’s Day is no different.

However, as a child, my dad nicknamed me “the love bug.” I have always loved love and the idea of love. I was born with a strong “mercy gift” and compassion for others that I did not (still don’t) understand. But when I compare myself to 1 Corinthians 13, I also realize how I fall short of true love for myself, my church, my community and my world.

According to 1 Corinthians 13, Love is patient. I am not. This is one of my most self-recognized “flaws.” Get-er-done already. That’s my motto. I don’t care if it’s a task, an idea, self-improvement or home improvement, just do it already. And the words “waiting” and “patiently” do not co-exist in my vocabulary. Love Challenge: Embrace the waiting in every situation and trust what God is doing.

Love is kind. Ah, well, sometimes I can be kind. Especially if someone is kind first. But Scriptures tell us it is easy for people to be kind to others who are kind first, true love is being kind even and especially when others are not. Love Challenge: “Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

It does not envy. Hmmm… I don’t envy many material things, but guess what? I envy others’ gifts. I would love to be as even-keel and rock-steady as my husband. I wish I were as gifted with words, math skills, organizational skills… and on and on and on as my friends. This envy has at times prevented me from developing and stepping out in my own gifts because I measure my inadequacies and insecurities against other people’s gifts. Which leads right in to the next two… But first, Love Challenge: Recognize my own strengths and trust that I am who I am for a reason. Rely on God to help me use those strengths for the building of his kingdom and to accept his grace in my weaknesses.

Love does not boast, it is not proud. Ahem… (a little throat-clearing here.) Sometimes what seems like humility and inferiority is, in reality, an ugly form of pride. Yep. I deal with it. Love Challenge: Do not “boast” in or call attention to my insignificance in an effort to have others build me up. Recognize my identity as a child of God and rest in that.

It does not dishonor others. Uh oh. Repeating that embarrassing moment a co-worker shared in confidence, wishing (mentally or by telling others) that “over-spiritual zealot” would stop talking so the service could move along, reliving the past or revisiting moments that are shared only to let others know how I was wronged. Love Challenge: Choose to see every person as God sees them and then to love them as he does.

Love is not self-seeking. Sometimes doing good things can become more for the praise of others than because we should. As another portion of this Scripture says, we can give all we have to the poor, we can give our body to be burned at the stake for the sake of what we believe, but if we do not have love, we have nothing. Love Challenge: Don’t glory in the good I have done or will do. Recognize that the good we do often happens in times and ways that others will never know.

It is not easily angered. I’m not necessarily easily angered, but easily frustrated is a whole different story. I think it correlates with my impatience. Love Challenge: When I find myself becoming frustrated, take time to breathe. Take time to understand the source of my frustration or anger. Is the target of my frustration really the source? Is it worth the investment of time and energy it takes to hold on to the anger or frustration? 

It keeps no record of wrongs. This is one of the toughest parts of this Scripture for me. I. Keep. A. Checklist! Sometimes I’m not even conscious of this checklist, but I know it is there and I can pull those hurts out of my memory box without digging too deeply. I don’t believe we completely forget the hurts that caused our deepest pain, but I do think we can hold on to it by sharing only to retaliate against the perpetrator(s). This one can be really tricky.  Love Challenge: Burn the checklist. When the reminders come, make a conscious decision to let go… again… and again and again… 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Sometimes I think our national and local media would do well to remember this one, but it is a good reminder even for myself. Love Challenge: Do not glorify the bad. Rejoice in and promote truth and light. Even the smallest light overcomes darkness. Be that light, carry that Light. 

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I fall way short on the trusting part of this sentence. I do not always protect those I love from harmful gossip nor do I protect the defenseless and “least of these.” Love Challenge: Trust. Not in others, not in myself, but in God. Protect those who are in my care, whether I know them or not. 

Love never fails. Well, this one I cannot live up to, but by trying to live by the above challenges I pray that I become better at this loving thing.

Read the rest of this Scripture here.

Despite all my shortcomings and failures to live up to this perfect love, I still love love. I still believe that love ultimately wins over hate. I pray that with God’s grace I can live his love in such a way that others want to experience it too.

Anyone else have a love challenge or want to join me in mine?