Living Hope in Death

Every time I attend funeral services for an Old Order Mennonite family member or friend, I wish those “outside” could experience their death rituals, rich with culture, community, and faith. The horse-drawn hearse and the four-part-harmony singing make me cry every time.

This week I attended the funeral for my great Aunt Mary. Later that evening, I wrote this poem about the graveside portion of the service.

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

For those unfamiliar with Old Order Mennonites, they are often confused with Amish because they drive horse and buggy, dress plainly, and live simple agrarian lives. My family and I were raised in the Old Order Mennonite faith, and while I had my reasons for leaving as a young adult, I hold many things and people dear from their community.

My friend, Ava, wrote an in-depth article about their death rituals here. She captures the essence of what happens at the time of death through the funeral in vivid beautiful detail.

Here is a link to a photography essay of an Old Order Mennonite Family by a friend of mine, of life-long family friends/neighbors.

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Poetry, Family, Creation Care

A few weeks before Christmas, I took Our 9 and 6 year-old on a walk through the basement of our house. The goal was to find ten items that I would eventually write a poem about. We play the “describing game” all the time where one person defines something without naming it, and everyone else guesses. This time, we described without defining and took it to a whole new level of fun for us!

Here’s the list of items we found: Globe, Horseshoe, Maracas, Christmas lights, Toys, Nativity, Clock, Presents, Coat, Glasses. I had no agenda for what the poem might become. The end result as words flowed from me, was a poem about Creation Care.

I snapped those pictures from some of my favorite places with my phone. I love the way God uses Creation to speak to me.

Treasure

By Regina Cyzick Harlow

Sphere rumbles, rhythmic

Marchers, move toward eternal

Tired, worn out, used up sphere

Capitulating to misuse and consumerism

Wilds waning

Countryside yawning

Cities bursting

Beneath the pounding beat

Blind marchers march

Caught in the flow

Ever consuming

Ever using

Impetuous, heedless, injudicious

The stage set

A junction, once in periphery, becomes clearer

Marchers arrive at the hour of decision

Hope, born into their world

Salvation, Eternal Gift

Birthed from darkness

Offering joy

Pointing beyond time

Gate of Perfection

Marchers, every tongue and tribe and nation

Gathered in orbs of jasper, ruby, emerald,

Emanating from the One True Light

Basking in the warmth of One True Love

Sight returns

Vision restored

A New Heaven and a New Earth

Finally the Marchers treasure the gift

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.

Fear and Truth

Its tendons tighten ‘round her throat

Fear’s icy fingers grip

A lullaby in minor chord 

Echoes from fear’s lips 

Why isn’t she better? The words bounce ‘round

Why is it taking so long?

Did we do the right thing?

Did we make the right choice?

Is there something else going on?
She tries to hush fear’s haunting voice

Pry loose fear’s tightening grasp

But memories of another time

Clench fear’s fingers fast

The weight of a tiny cold dark form

Wrapped in blankets tight 

A final breath escapes her lips 

She slips into the Light
The scent of death and dirt and clay 

As they lay her down to rest

Still fills her senses to this day

And leaves her a broken mess

Trust in God, the faithful quip

He’ll never let us go

And the pious mourners leave her grave

Unscathed by the treacherous woe
Repeat, replay, those memories ore

Her mind cannot turn off

As another daughter suffers long

With pain, and rash, and cough

The surgery was supposed to help

Her healing to be quick

But the progress vacillates and slows

Because she was so sick 
Fear growls in guttural tones aloud 
“she’s mine, she’s mine, she’s mine”

And pins her to the chair, afraid

Immobilized, confined

“She’s not,” the Shepherd’s voice commands 

With authority all Its own 

“She was never yours, she will never be

So away with you, be gone” 
Fear and Truth declare a war

For heart and soul and mind 

And somewhere in her deepest self

Truth’s Hope begins to shine

A knowing that when all she loved

Was ripped from arms and chest

The only thing that held steadfast

Was Truth that never left
Truth cannot lie and will not leave

Her heart to fear’s demise

Truth shrouds her grieving vulnerable soul

With Love from Heaven’s skies 

Truth lifts her trembling doubting head

And turns her face with awe

Plants deep within a greater peace

The Truth, she sees, is God

Beauty from ashes

Nearly every day I travel the same road and turn at this intersection where a house once stood. The vacant house burned to the ground a few months ago. 


The rubble so changed the landscape that the first time I went that way after it burned, I missed my turn.

I took the familiar route for a second time today, but this afternoon was stunned to find merry little daffodils poking through patches of snow and ashes and concrete. 

If you are looking around in your life today and all you see is ashes, rubble, ruin, despair, coldness, hardness, emptiness, I pray for you glimmers of hope. 

When we are in times of great distress, it can feel like our landscape changes. Our sense of direction becomes unclear, landmarks crumble. What was familiar becomes strange. 

But God’s promises are true and he is faithful. 

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 63:1

Like the seed that is buried in the ground, dormant, lifeless, and cold, eventually the seed germinates, a sprout emerges, and a bud bursts forth. 

At just the right time, when it seems there is nothing left to live for and despair seems to have the final word, hope springs forth from the ashes of our lives. 

These “dark nights of the soul” are potential times for great transformation. 

I am reminded of this “Hymn of Promise” by Natalie A Sleeth. 

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;

In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!

In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.



There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;

There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.

From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.



In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;

In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,

In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

May you sense these blessed promises in your own life today! 

Of kings, horses, politics, and hope

“Some trust in chariots, some in horses…” Psalm 20:7a (NIV)

I have known this to be true literally and figuratively. I still have a copy of the letter my mom received by the Old Order Mennonite couple who bought our buggy when mom left the church at age 47. With all sincerity and love, the letter includes chastisement for falling away from the faith (no longer driving a horse and buggy or dressing as a conservative Mennonite) and the immediate and eternal consequences one can expect when they do.

I can read past the judgement now, to see the love and concern they had for our family, but every time I think of this verse from Psalm 20, I simultaneously think of that letter.

Besides putting our trust in our preparedness, wealth, possessions, religious rituals, etc., we also tend to put our trust in our leaders and potential leaders. I get it. I have my own feelings about it all.

But to think that any one candidate alone can save our nation and ourselves, or to think that we are beyond hope and God cannot move or save if our candidate of choice does not win is preposterous.To put our trust in nations, kings, horses, and chariots, (people or possessions) is to miss the point of trusting God alone.

The second half of that verse from Psalm 20 reads, “but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Here is the verse altogether. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:7 (NIV) Read all of Psalm 20 here. 

If we say our hope is in God, if we proclaim that we know and follow Jesus and his teachings, then we should “Let [our] conversation be gracious and attractive so that [we] will have the right response for everyone.” Colossians 4:6 (NLT.) 

“Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Philippians 2:14-15 (NLT)

 “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)

Let us trust in the name of the Lord our God alone, for indeed, He is our only hope.