Bouncy prayers, anxiety, and choosing to believe

“Don’t get suspicious,” our 8-year-old daughter said as she casually disclosed her jaw pain. She was prepared for my anxiety. We’ve already buried one daughter and this one had a two-year span of chronic health issues that left me teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. After a mostly problem-free summer, she started with new symptoms weekly for the past few months.

I don’t know how to suppress fear that tastes metallic and releases chemical pheromones through my arm pits that make me smell like a fetid mammal, but I know every time our daughter starts having chronic symptoms, that fear pounces like the demon it is.

I’ve had occasional generalized anxiety, but all my centering and grounding and Scripture-reciting escape me when this kind of fear clutches my chest. I try to hide it from my children, but they can sense the change in my voice and demeanor. It’s as if they watch my body turn to jelly.

Then I feel guilty, because I’m a Believer and I’m supposed to pray prayers of faith, to trust in God’s goodness. But here’s the thing, I don’t trust God to answer my prayers anymore. Not always, anyway. And not the way I want Him too. I only trust that He is with me in whatever lies ahead.

I learned God wasn’t a Wish-King when my 6-year-old self begged Him to bring my Daddy home, but he never came. Or when I begged Him to let my daughter live and she died anyway.

I learned God sometimes answers prayers when my teenaged brother was riding his bicycle and was hit by a car, causing traumatic brain injury and coma. Doctors said if he survived, he would be in a vegetative state his entire life, but instead he’s a college graduate and has a wonderful family and career. I learned God sometimes answers prayer the following year on that same brother’s birthday. Mom was on her bicycle and was hit by a car. She received life-saving pints of her own blood she’d recently donated.

I’m not privy to the naïveté of saying, “It will all work out, we just have to trust God’s best for us,” when my idea of best and His seem vastly different. But I have known His nearness in suffering and His presence in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I pray the prayer of the father in the Gospel of Mark when he asked Jesus if it be possible to heal his son. Jesus said, if it’s possible? All things are possible if you believe. And the father cried, “I believe, Lord help my unbelief.”

Faith doesn’t come natural to me anymore, at least not in the sense of answered prayers. I have to choose to believe. And I can believe, because I know that ultimately I am held. And though I suffer various trials, my faith is being refined into something far more precious than gold. Though I do not always see or feel Him, I love Him.

We sit again in the pediatrician’s office, and the doctor says we might want to run some labs. I hold my little girl as they draw six tubes of blood from her skinny arm. She goes limp. Loses her color. Gets sick. I tell her she’s going to be okay while fear screams suffering and death in my head. I can’t stop the racing thoughts. It’s the same day my Daddy, who came back into my life as a young adult, gets an “aggressive lymphoma” diagnosis. Only two weeks after my 24-year-old cousin died.

I ask others to pray for us because my prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. I hope for my daughter and weep for my daddy and battle fear that holds me captive. I fight guilt that tells me if I really believed, I wouldn’t be so scared. I am weary. I am tired. I am worn.

When the pediatrician’s phone number shows on my caller ID, I mumble hello around the cotton that seems to fill my mouth.

“How are you,” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say breathlessly, “tell me how I am.”

“You’re good,” she replies. “We’re still waiting on some results, but most of the big scary things have been ruled out.”

There’s evidence of inflammation, but the remaining results we get next week might help guide us to answers. We’ll keep digging. My body feels like jelly again, this time from relief.

Like sinking into my favorite yellow arm chair, I fall into the lap of Perfect Love that casts out fear. This, this is a sensation I want to last. And in the moment, I’m thankful for a faith I can feel.

Double Vision

We’ve had the blessing of healthy children this year. Agents and publishers interested in multiple of my works. I’ve stepped away from my nonprofit and ministry work to homeschool our children. We’re reveling in the delight of longer snuggled mornings, less rigid schedules, and discovering how all elements of life and education are interwoven.

Autumn is kissing the Blue Ridge with a kaleidoscope of oranges, reds, yellows, and browns. We’re loving sweater weather, s’mores, spiced coffee, hot cocoa, cousin sleepovers, fire pits, and friends. Joys and highs and blessings untold.

This year has also come with death, five significant people in my life since May, spanning from aged to young. Two vernal loved ones are being treated for ugly heartrending diagnoses and another young-to-me is being tested for words I can’t make myself utter. Beyond my immediate circle of family and friends, there’s even more suffering, parents scream-praying for children to live, children reeling without parents. End of treatment. No more clinical trials. Hopelessness that prompts unthinkable actions. Familial, social, political, and spiritual unrest.

My anxiety resurfaced, forcing recognition in the form of physical symptoms, more medical tests, and eventually, treatment for the root cause. Grief, sorrows, and depths of despair.

Driving home from church the other night, I turned on my Rich Mullins playlist, hoping his folksy voice and thought-provoking lyrics would quicken my heart for things eternal. First to play was, “Here in America,” where Mullins describes God’s creativity in natural beauty around the world. Tucked in the chorus are the words, there’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see, But everywhere I go I’m looking…”

That’s what I need, I thought, more eyes to see more beauty.

But if I had extra eyes to see more beauty, wouldn’t I also witness that much more suffering?

Living with our hearts and eyes wide open means truly seeing the beautiful and the ugly, indescribable joy and unimaginable sorrow.

I can’t carry it all, I cried. I never intended you to, I heard.

 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NASB.

I settle into the truth of these words and pray for grace to release my grasp on all I cannot hold. I wrestle with the paradox of being a believer in Absolute Truth who lives with questions. One who hopes against hope to avoid suffering, while knowing the presence and peace of God in the midst of it.

God uses the words of Ann Voskamp to remind me that “Those who long to see miracles, see everyday miracles everywhere.”

“Live like God is a genie in a bottle, and we become like angry drunks.

Live like God is king on a throne, and we become intoxicated with awe,” Voskamp writes.

Again, Rich Mullins sings prayers I cannot speak. “…hold me Jesus cause I’m shaking like a leaf. You have been King of my glory. Won’t You be my Prince of Peace.”

Whether beholding beauty I cannot describe or suffering I cannot utter, a warm blanket of Grace is there to envelop. Abiding Peace that IN all things, God never leaves, never forsakes, never abandons. And if my arms are raised, praising or questioning, my head bowed in reverence or sorrow, my body shaking in joy or rage, I’m held in His Everlasting Arms.

Be THOU my vision, oh Lord of my heart.

Vote My Poetry Submissions!

I need your help! I’m entering submissions into a poetry contest, and I’m wondering how to narrow these eleven choices to three. I’d LOVE your votes to see which three I should submit. Please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

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1: 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

 

2: Rescue

Flashing blue lights

Watery in my rear view mirror

Rain pounds relentlessly

Sirens scream past

I pause

I pray

For whoever is in need

For officers risking lives to respond

For emergency personnel

Who cannot unsee what lies ahead

For nurses and doctors

Who give all they can

Rain pounds relentlessly

Rivulets shroud my windshield

I pause

I pray

For all impacted

By those flashing lights

Watery in my rear view mirror

 

3: The Scent of Grief

Liquid gold, drinking in the aroma of Gain laundry detergent, regular scent
Inhaling deeply the month of June, sterile hospitals, funeral homes, and her, still covered with the fluid of my womb

Whispers of family and friends on soft summer breezes, gathered fully together for the first time in years, to mourn our lost love
Eyes averted, conversation avoided, but inhabiting one space
Tears and laughter juxtaposed
Could it be? Heart healing in our greatest pain?
Cleansing communication, only love remains
Empty bassinet, unfinished nursery
Tears washing grief from our eyes
Hearts united in the sacred dance of grief and joy
Her scent now faded from her soft white blanket
But not from the laundry that hangs on the line

 

4: Veins

As I child, I noticed mom’s hands

Worn from labors of farming and gardening

I pushed in her blue veins

And laughed as they filled again

They looked so different than my smooth soft hands

Now that I am Mom

My hands too, are worn from labors

I hold my young daughter

She laughs as she manipulates my blue veins

 

5: Our “Dave Ramsey” Family

By Regina Cyzick Harlow

4/14/2018

Stuff and label envelopes

Assign specifically to spend

Our monthly budget on a plan

To pay debt snowball to the end

Tweak, adjust the budget app

Enter every dollar spent

We’re only halfway through the month

But now we know where money went

Beans and rice and rice and beans

No more going out to eat

Cooking skills put to the test

As lentils take the place of meat

Limit our vacation plans

Yes to less and no to more

Protect from impulse purchases

By taking lists to every store

Kids think “Uncle Dave’s” no fun

Until allowance pay-out day

When scheduled worked-for chores are done

And mommy is prepared to pay

Persist, endure, and persevere

With “gazelle intensity”

Will all be worth it in the end

When we are finally debt free!

 

6: Wind

By Regina Cyzick Harlow

3/1/2018

Caterwauling wind

Scrapes branches

Against my nerves

Rattling my soul

Leaving me in a constant state of angst

Unsettled, unnerved, gloomy

Perhaps a kite

Or harnessed power experiment

Might lift my spirit

But instead

I’m drinking coffee

And sulking

In my favorite yellow chair

About the wind

 

7: Stoic Hope

Regina Cyzick Harlow

2/27/2018

From Aunt Mary Beery’s funeral

Shovels scratch

Dirt onto the coffin

Filling the grave

Formed from dust

To dust returning

Mourners

Black hats

Black shawls

Sturdy shoes

Singing

Shoveling

Discretely wiping tears

Faint florals blend

With horses

Leather

Farm

And moth balls

Wafting on the breeze

Sunshine

Blue sky

Breathing deep

Crisp air

Inhaling the promise

Of Living Hope

 

8: Creation of the Violin

By Regina Cyzick Harlow

She longed for me, my mother did

To hold her baby flesh and blood

When I was born into this life

She fell ill and shortly died

I lived without her twenty years

I cried ten thousand bitter tears

But I went off to find my love

Guided by mother’s hand above

I came across a palace grand

A rich king with a daughter’s hand

Men had tried the world around

To win his daughter and his crown

I trembled low before His Honor

What must I do to court your daughter?

He cursed at me and bellowed loud

Threw me in the dungeon crude

Foolish boy, I thought aloud

For I am just a peasant’s child

What right have I to royalty

A beggar’s life is fit for me

Doom, despair, despondency

My self-fulfilling prophecy

Poverty is all I know

Crept it’s way into my soul

Light pierced through the dungeon black

A Fairy Queen, and from her back

She took a box and rod of wood

In my hands she placed the goods

I plucked some hairs from off her head

And strung them o’re the box and rod

I tucked the box beneath my chin

And touched the bow upon the string

As music filled the dungeon chamber

Fairy Queen was filled with laughter

Then as I slowed the bow and string

Tears became her offering

I felt a surge within my soul

Another language took control

Tears and laughter came and went

Evoked by my own instrument

Into the box and rod I poured

My lonely tears my childhood joys

My mother’s longing and her death

The odds of poverty and wealth

The chorus of ten thousand others

Joined the song across the ages

Haunting voices throughout history

From the future, still a mystery

Hope, despair, joy, and sorrow

Amalgamated and crescendoed

When at last I took a rest

I could hardly catch my breath

We had no words, the queen and I

No cheers to laugh no tears to cry

The song transcended any language

Gave voice to my deepest anguish

I sat once more before the king

Touched again the box and string

Moved by the magic of the music

King gave his daughter to this peasant

Happily, our ever after

Peasants, Royalty, together

Joined in song by box and string

Creation of the violin

 

9: 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

 

10: The Days Are Swiftly Marching

Mid youthful scenes of summer’s play

I often whiled the days away

By dreaming of the years to come

Of husband, family, hearth, and home

Sunrise to sunset took sweet time

As childhood years rolled gently by

But now I’m living in those years

And oft’ I’ve wept life’s bitter tears

For young and old who’ve gone to rest

Longing once more their brow to kiss

I wonder where the years have gone

The days are swiftly marching on

Day in day out the cycle goes

The winter’s snow, the summer’s rose

I long to capture every breath

Each kiss, each tear, each soft caress

Life is fleeting with each sigh

The days are swiftly marching by

 

11: Rambling Thoughts

1/22/2017

Gray January day

Our nation celebrates

Our nation weeps

The divide is palpable

Fear pulses

Anger boils

Victory cheers, expectant

What will happen?

What will be?

 

Homeless are still homeless

Children’s blank faces

Wonder what is a CPS worker

And where they are going

Hunger roars

Lonely sit silent

People pass by, coming and going

What will happen?

What will be?

 

Big houses, busy families

Working parent’s too engrossed

To notice their daughter

Lured into the night

Sold for entertainment

Their son, retreating into depression

Their marriage, crumbling

What will happen?

What will be?

 

Problems, we have so many

We fold our hands and acquiesce

Too big for me

Some march in protest

What difference does it make?

We toss coins at million dollar problems

Our small adds up

What will happen?

What will be?

 

Gaze deeply into the faces

Of our circle of influence

One need helps moving

Another, a job

A widow weeps

Parents mourn their child

One celebrates new birth

What will happen?

What will be?

 

Send that “thinking of you”

Allow someone to go in front of you

Look beyond the surface

Listen to stories

Tell yours

Build relationships

What will happen?

What will be?

A revolution?

We will see…

 

 

 

Update

Dear Readers,

It’s been too long, so long that the WordPress app offloaded from my phone. I’ve missed you! I’m on chapter six of writing my book, I ran a half marathon, and family and work life have continued briskly since you’ve last heard from me.

I’ll be back soon though, I need to hear from you all, my blogging and reader friends, to connect again. Anyone headed to upcoming writer’s conferences? I’m planning to go to one in Hampton Roads in September. If you’re there, I’d love to connect!

In the meantime, here’s a guest post I wrote when asked to share about grief and loss for a pastor’s forum. While the article is geared toward pastors, it speaks to anyone wondering how to support someone in grief.

If you’re on social media, you can find me on Instagram and Facebook by searching Sadie Rose Foundation. Check out the wedding gown to burial gown project we have happening over there.

Please comment and tell me what you’ve been up to! Link your blogs so I can go catch up!

See you back here soon.

My favorite chair with my faithful writing and study companion.

We’re enjoying Spring in our area!

Grief: misunderstanding to compassion

When I first witnessed her grief, I felt pity. In my youth and naivety, I somehow thought I could pray her grief away. How pious. How wrong. How antipathetic.

Several times a day she paced back and forth on the concrete basketball court beating her chest, raising her arms, rocking back and forth, wailing for her child.

She didn’t speak English, and her family shared with me that ever since her child died and they had come to the United States, it was if she had locked herself inside. She anguished daily for her child she left behind.

When I first witnessed her grief, I felt pity. In my youth and naivety, I somehow thought I could pray her grief away. How pious. How wrong. How antipathetic.

Today, on the eleventh birthday of my own deceased daughter, I anguished in a fetal position on our front porch couch, unaware and uncaring of witnessing neighbors or passers-by. My new normal has slowly evolved around this pint-sized hole in my heart and while my life is filled with tremendous joy, the ache of her absence is ever-present. Among the many things I’ve learned over the years, is that grief is lonely, even when surrounded by an entire community of love and support.

I weary of explaining to the “young mes” out there, that the Eternal Hope that carries me doesn’t mean I don’t miss her. I pray to not be deeply hurt when the “former Reginas” mistake my life-long loving and missing her as being ungrateful for our other children. I feel judgement from the “pious Reginas” when I succumb to anxiety regarding the health and well-being of our surviving children, especially given our family’s past year’s health situations. And today, I sit on our porch, tears falling like the summer rain dripping off our rooftops, and I remember the bereaved mother to whom I could not relate those many years ago.

If I could go back to this sweet grieving mama, I wouldn’t feel as though we needed to speak the same language verbally, I would wrap my arms around her grief-weary shoulders and cry with her. I would understand that I couldn’t fix it for her, but that I could walk alongside her without my ridiculous ideologies of what it means to parent a deceased child. Instead of trying to pray her grief away, I would pray that she would somehow sense God’s comfort and presence in her grief. Instead of coming to her with tired cliches and empty platitudes, I would tell her that I didn’t know what to say, then I would sit with her in weeping and wailing, in anger, in silence, in laughter, and without judgement.

I’m so grateful for the compassionate people who do the same for me, of which there are many.

P.S. Writing this out helped me gather myself together on this day of remembering. As I hammered out the words on my mobile blogging app, our 6-year-old daughter, whose own health has kept my heart anxious, came out from the screen door with a coffee mug and said, “Mama, I made you some lemonade. I thought you could use something to make you happy.” She wrapped her skinny little arms around my neck and held me as I feel apart. Again.

They Know Their Sister

They know their sister by tear-stained photographs

By a worn-out guestbook from her funeral service

They know her by playing in a cemetery

Around a cold hard tombstone

They know their sister by our “Sadie Rose” friends

By support meetings and remembrance ceremonies

They know their sister by the faraway look in mommy’s eyes

By the silences, the tears, the whispers of her name

They know her by the scent of a flower

By a butterfly’s soft-winged flight

They know their sister by the cloud’s silver lining

And by the stars that light the night

How I wish they could play with her, hold her hand, kiss her goodnight

But they are content knowing her in this way

Always looking for reminders of her presence

And, as only children can, they accept that this is how they know her

And they love her, just as they know her

Just Think!

My mom, with her sister/brother quartet, used to sing this poem in slow doleful harmony. A young girl on her lap, I would shiver at the very thought of Robert’s words as mom softly crooned in her low alto. I hum this to myself often, especially when death arrives yet again as it has so suddenly in our tight-knit community this week. It’s a sobering thought.

Just Think!

BY ROBERT W. SERVICE

Just think! some night the stars will gleam

Upon a cold, grey stone,

And trace a name with silver beam,

And lo! ’twill be your own.

That night is speeding on to greet

Your epitaphic rhyme.

Your life is but a little beat

Within the heart of Time.

A little gain, a little pain,

A laugh, lest you may moan;

A little blame, a little fame,

A star-gleam on a stone.

May the God of all comfort be with those who are facing this reality tonight.