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…

 

 

 

New; my word for 2019

She was a purple Giant. My first bicycle wasn’t huge, Giant was the brand. As an Old Order Mennonite girl, my transportation options were the family horse and buggy, walking, or a used bike from the family stockpile. But at thirteen I got my very first, very own, brand new bike. 

I rode barefoot on long summer evenings to neighborhood softball games in cow pastures, to the river for a swim, to friend’s houses for outdoor sleepovers. I rode in bitter winter with long socks and boots, layers of coats, scarves, and hoods, my hands and thighs numb-frozen when I finally made it to youth basketball games or back home late evenings. 

As the fifth of seven children raised by a single mother, new wasn’t something I was used to. Mom would sew us new dresses, we would occasionally get a new bonnet, and sometimes new shoes, but anything new felt wildly exciting.

New. My word for 2019 has felt slow in coming, but this three-letter gem has become engraved on my heart as the first weeks of the year progress. 

New: not existing before; made, introduced, or discovered recently or now for the first time. 

After three years of what has felt like a “fiery furnace” for our family, it feels like we are on the cusp of something new, something wildly exciting! 

New: my memoir, readying for publication, from the girl whose roles and rules were rigidly defined in childhood, but whose pen and paper secretly realized a much larger story.

New: stepping out in faith into a paid position as executive director of the non-profit my husband and I started in memory of our daughter after working ten years as a volunteer, from the girl who was told women cannot lead. 

New: training for my first half-marathon, from the girl who always before said, “If you see me running you should run too, because something scary is chasing me.”

New: release from a myriad of voices imposing the weight of the world on my shoulders, from the girl who carried far too weighty baggage in childhood. 

New: intentionally setting aside family time, from the girl who has worn too many hats, (not literally, can too many hats be a real thing literally?) 

New is palpitating, coursing through my being, daring me to step forward into the places I am being called, fondly remembering the girl I was, inviting me to become. And that new bicycle I got for my thirteenth birthday? It still carries me today, twenty-eight years later, reminding me this “new” I’m stepping into has the potential to carry me further than I ever imagined. 

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.

Dancing; taboo to therapy 

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

But I digress. 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.

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

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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!

Spiritual pride versus truth in love

Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun. On top was a perfectly placed white head covering, complete with white strings, her modest caped dress hung well below her knees. The 17-year-old scooped ice cream from the cooler as she tried to place the customer’s accent.

“Why do you wear that,” He asked, pointing to her head.

Regina 2
As a young lady (Sorry I con’t figure out how to rotate the photo)

She referenced 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul instructs women to keep their heads covered and Ephesians 5 where the Paul tells women to submit to their husbands. That’s the only answer she knew. Not too long prior, she had called her older sister who had stopped wearing the covering, pleading with her to come back to the faith.

“I’m curious,” the customer continued, “I’d like to know more about your religion. Come see me at the table over there when you get a break.”

She was used to people’s questions and curiosity. She was curious about him. Her first free moment, she walked over to the table where he waited patiently. Their conversation flowed easily. He was a businessman from South Africa and that brought him to the area. He had never seen Mennonites before and had lots of questions about their faith.

“What do they believe about the Holy Trinity,” he asked.

“The what?” She replied.

“The Holy Trinity, you know, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

“Um, I don’t really know,” She muttered, embarrassed. “I’m not sure I really know much about the Holy Spirit.”

“Wow! Really?!” He gasped. “You don’t know what you are missing out on!”

He went to great lengths to share with her how the Holy Spirit guides, convicts, woos, calls, changes, sets free. He told her that while he respected her religion, it seemed to come with a great deal of bondage, unlike the freedom Christ offers. He shared enthusiastically, but with love and joy, not condemning or mocking like she was used to from those who didn’t understand her religion. He seemed to understand that her faith was not just a personal interpretation of Scripture, but was rooted in generations of tradition and ritual that had become her very identity. In her mind she was wondering what kind of flake she was talking to, but something in her spirit stirred.

I am that girl.

Charles and I stayed in touch, writing occasionally, even though I never saw him again. Several years went by. I eventually stopped wearing the head covering and plain clothes and at some point the letters from Charles ceased. I never gave it much thought. I was always amazed he had taken so much time and interest in a little Mennonite girl from across the pond anyway.

Then one day I received another letter post-marked South Africa. This time it was Charles’ mother telling me he had died unexpectedly of a heart attack at 42 years old. While she grieved she consoled me, his long distance friend, that he was ready to meet God and that he would be waiting for us when our time came. She told me that he had often spoken of me to her and that he was excited about the freedom I was finding in my own relationship with God.

I still have a refrigerator magnet he sent me some twenty years ago. Every time it catches my eye, I thank God for sending Charles my way.

As my freedom grew, so did my “Holy Spirit Fire.” I wanted everyone to have a taste of this freedom. I shared with anyone and everyone with or without their consent. I knew the truth and it had set me free.

I got bold with my new-found freedom, but not everyone was ready to be enlightened. I could rapid-fire loveless truth bullets faster than lightening, leaving a trail of stunned, wounded loved ones in my wake.

One day I drove my rusty (not-so-trusty) Chevy Blazer to an Old Order Mennonite preacher’s house, kicking up a trail of dust as I barreled down the long gravel driveway. I caught him completely off-guard in the garden and demanded answers to questions about this faith I’d always had, but was too afraid to ask before. By this point I had studied Scripture on my own and I had a Scriptural rebuttal for every single answer he gave me. He was speechless and I was proud.

Nobody won that day. Although I did eventually gain a reputation as a “Scripture authority to be reckoned with,” I lost friends. A lot of them. No one wanted this freedom I had when it caused me to be arrogant and heartless toward those who understood and interpreted Scripture differently than I.

Over time my message softened. I began to remember where I’d come from and how firmly and faithfully I believed what I believed, despite the bondage. I no longer consider myself any more enlightened than the next person, because we are all on an individual faith journey. I also came to love and cherish the foundations of my faith formed in youth and childhood.

We can boldly proclaim our freedom and enlightenment all day long, but I quote Paul in Galatians 5:13-15 NLT. “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Be aware of destroying one another.”

I go back to my story about Charles. If he had presented his Holy Spirit theology in an arrogant or demeaning way, I would never have listened. I would have been defensive and closed, spouting off my rhetorical answers like a pre-programmed champion. But instead he shared with love and my spirit resonated with his words.

We can dispute our theologies all day long, we can argue man’s laws and God’s laws, and which ones were historical and cultural and which ones are timeless and eternal. But this I can assure you, “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is NO LAW against these things.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Emphasis mine.

There will always be people who disagree or understand differently. We should expect and respect that. But they are living as faithfully to the Gospel as they understand it. I am always eager to break bread together, to share honestly and openly and safely, and to learn from one another. I am faithfully living out my call as best as I can understand it with my finite and imperfect being and enjoy walking this road with others.

neighboring-clip-art

Our faith stories are important. Let’s not diminish or hinder the work of God in one another with loveless truth bullets that maim and wound other parts of the body who understand and interpret Scripture differently. Find common ground and build trusting relationships with people outside of your circle of influence and see what fruit grows. Seeds sown in discourse and contention will reap simply that. Seeds sown in love… Well…

Hebrews 10:24 NLT “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”

Just for laughs 

For some reason my mind was recalling childhood stories this evening and I thought I’d share a few with you. 

1) By 1992, some of the family had strayed from our upbringing and were watching movies and television with friends. This was the year the movie “Wayne’s World” was released and for some reason it was a big hit for my oldest brother. He would walk around the house saying, “Party on, Wayne.”


After this went on for awhile my mom finally said, “I just don’t get it! Why would someone party ON Wayne?!” 

Even after repeated attempts at explanation mom was still struggling with the idea of someone partying ON Wayne. Finally my brother changed the words to, “Continue to party, Wayne.” She got it then. 

I’ve still never seen that movie. 

2) In the lifestyle in which we were raised, it was not unusual for a van load of relatives and/or friends to show up from out of state and stay with a host family. The host family would then drive their guests around for visits with others within the church. 

Even though we all wore the “plain dress,” we could often tell at a glance if someone was not from our area. 

One day myself, my two little sisters, and several neighbor kids, decided to dress up as “Canadian visitors,” and go for a visit. I don’t remember much what the other’s did, but I put powder in my hair to whiten it, pulled it straight back into a bun, and put on my mom’s head covering and bonnet. I also dug out her plainest dress and shoes. I was probably about 12 so to fill out her caped dress, I stuffed tea towels in the top. 

We hitched up the horse and buggy and decided to drive the five miles or so to someone we knew well. I was driving. 

The buggy looked a lot like this one, but had four doors instead of two. The horse was even close the the same color. 
As we drove past the house of someone we barely knew, one of the kids tugged unexpectedly on the horses rein and he turned into their driveway. 

Simple, I thought, we can just turn around and drive right back out. What I didn’t anticipate was a dog barking ferociously that would spook the horse. 

I handed the reins to one of the boys and jumped out to manually turn the horse around, but the dog was awfully suspicious of me, too. Maybe he smelled the baby powder in my hair. 

The dog started after me so I began circling the buggy to jump back in. The kids in the buggy were scared and had closed the door so I was out of  luck. Meanwhile, the matron of the household was standing at the door with a puzzled and somewhat horrified look on her face as the tea towels started falling out of the bosom of my dress. I was never so thankful for a disguise in my life. 

Eventually we got the horse turned back around and I landed safely back in the buggy, along with the tea towels that had tried to escape. We did go on to visit our friends and were so well disguised that we had them fooled until they saw us close up and heard us talk. 

I don’t have pictures because we didn’t have cameras. What I wouldn’t give to have that scene caught on a cell phone video.

For all that was hard in our lives, we sure did know how to have a great time! 

Song leader says ‘Singing gets into people’s souls’

While searching for another church-related piece, I came across this article I wrote that originally appeared in the The Shenandoah Journal, (Dayton, VA) – Tuesday, February 24, 2009. Although my personal taste in music varies from opera, classical, folk, blues, classic rock, southern rock, roots, old country, bluegrass, world music, etc., the four-part harmony acapella singing is still what gets into my soul. It was in the first setting described in this article of the Old Order Mennonite Church where I first felt the connection to Someone/Something way bigger than myself. It was where I first found God. 

I’ve included a poor-quality cell phone video of the described four-part harmony singing during our Hickory Hollow School reunion in 2011.

Song leader says ‘singing gets into people’s souls’

Author: Regina Cyzick Harlow ; STAFF WRITER

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY – Enter one church where stoical parishioners sit on slatted wooden benches and quiet children rest on their parents’ laps. The minister calls a hymn number from behind the pulpit and reads the first verse from a small hymnal. Then a man from the congregation begins singing the first line and slowly others join in. By the end of the first verse, the church echoes with four-part harmony.

Down the street in another church, several people gather on a carpeted stage. The worship music begins with keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, drums and bass. The congregation joins in with the singers, sometimes clapping to the beat and reading the words from a projector.

Two churches – two styles of worship – praising one God.

While different congregations follow different musical doctrines, they all agree that music is an expression of worship and plays an important role in their services.

Even among conservative Mennonite congregations, the style of music varies. According to an Old Order Mennonite minister, instruments are not allowed in the service “for fear of honoring man the creature more than God the Creator.”

However, acapella singing is an important part of their worship. Joining in song is one of the only times during an Old Order service in which the congregation participates; the rest of the service is conducted solely by the ministers.

Singing “gives you a measure of unity you would not have otherwise,” said one song leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It allows you to become a participant.”

The congregation uses several tunes for many sets of lyrics. The first meters of the tunes are depicted in shape notes in the back of the small black hymnbooks.

The importance of singing together is emphasized among the youth who gather nearly every Sunday evening for singings in a church member’s home.

Calvary Mennonite Church, in Mount Clinton, shares some doctrinal beliefs with its more conservative Old Order roots. Instruments are used only on special occasions.

Pastor Paul Emerson said music is important as a preparation to teach the scriptures. His congregation generally sings hymns and gospel songs, with the aid of hymnbooks familiar to most Sunday church-goers.

Music is not viewed as an evangelistic tool and Emerson thinks an emphasis on its selection and presentation to draw congregants is “unfortunate.”

Emerson isn’t opposed to contemporary music, but he “can’t see leaving two thousand years of history behind for a passing fancy.”

“It’s not a question of old versus new. It’s a question of musical structure and harmony,” he said. “We’re talking about a good and best comparison, not a right and wrong.”

He thinks there are distinct disadvantages to its performance-oriented structure. Most praise and worship music is “not well-structured” and appeals only to one generation, he said. In addition, congregants do not participate as much. While listening, they tend to focus on the people on stage.

Mainstream traditional Protestant churches often add piano or organ accompaniment to their songs and hymns are led by the choir or song leader, but do not use church music for entertainment purposes.

“It is to praise God and to communicate and proclaim the gospel,” said Jeffery Sonafelt, pastor of Reformation Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Market, adding that many of the Lutheran hymns are “Biblically-based.”

The Rev. Kathleen Miko, with St. Paul’s Lutheran and Rader Lutheran in Timberville, said while the congregation generally sings hymns during worship, they occasionally add a guitar, violin or flute.

People are drawn to certain styles of music, Miko said.

“I’ve seen people move from church to church because of music.”

Praise and worship music is a major part of the services in some inter-denominational and non-denominational churches such as New Beginnings in Bridgewater and The Potter’s House Worship Center in Harrisonburg. Both churches open the service with several worship songs, accompanied by a full band.

The Potter’s House music information on their Web site references II Chronicles 5:13-14 where the “choir and the trumpet made one voice of praise and thanks to God…”

Although the majority of songs at New Beginnings are modern praise songs, they try to incorporate a hymn into their service weekly.

“The culture we live in now does not really appreciate hymns from the early church,” New Beginnings Pastor Ed Heatwole said. “With a band, we can jazz up the music without changing the lyrics.”

A multimedia projector displays images that correlate with the theme of the words being sung. For example, if the congregation is singing a song about God the Creator, scenic images are played, and if the congregation is receiving communion, images of a cross might be used.

“The background themes are important,” Heatwole said. “We give a lot of attention to that. It draws worshipers into the presence of God.”

According to Heatwole, their worship band is also a tool of evangelism. Nonbelievers in the band have developed a relationship with the Lord because of the music.

“We sing songs that really speak about the person and character of Christ and how he relates in our everyday life,” he said.

Heatwole believes that music touches people’s emotions, regardless of its form of delivery. “God inhabits the praises of his people,” he said, “and that can be all forms of singing.”

The praise and worship band at Potter’s House Worship Center uses contemporary music, and seldom sings a hymn.

“I think that because there are so many different churches and so many different tastes, people gravitate to a church that plays the music they like best,” said Renee Garber, co-pastor and worship leader.

Although there are different preferences in the style of music, most churches share the philosophy that sacred music is an expression of worship and a preparation for the message to follow.

“It’s a form of worship and connecting with the Lord,” Garber said. “It’s also an act of prayer. Songs are musical prayers.”

“Music is one of the most important things we do in church,” Heatwole said. “It draws you into the presence of God.”

“Music is one’s expression to God in worship,” Emerson said.

Singing allows the congregation to participate in the service in whatever style the church uses.

“Singing gets into people’s souls,” said a song leader for an Old Order Mennonite congregation. “It adds a charismatic spirit, some involvement. I guess it brightens the soul.”

Record Number: 10032360 Copyright (c) 2009, Byrd Newspapers, All Rights Reserved.

Unearthed Musings; a poem, a dare, and memories of my childhood school

I recently came across some writings I had collected throughout my youth. Some were letters, songs and poems I had written, while others were pieces that were given to me. An elderly Old Order Mennonite neighbor, Roy Rhodes, shared the following poem with me when I was starting a significant journey in my life. What makes it even more special to me was hearing him talk about how this poem and others prayers sustained him during imprisonment when he was incarcerated for the sake of allowing parochial schools. (See a more recent article I wrote about my childhood school below the poem.) I keep this handwritten note as a treasure from my childhood, a memory from the special neighbor, and a dare to do right.

Dare to be honest

Dare to be true

The failings of others can never save you

Stand by your conscience, your honor and faith

Stand like a hero and battle ’til death

The following article was published in the Shenandoah Journal and the North Fork Journal in Sept. 2011

 

Regina 1

Memories of Hickory Hollow School

Memories of – Hick’ry Holler School – As Hickory Hollow Christian School raises funds for a new facility, former staff writer Regina Cyzick Harlow shares school-day memories after a summer reunion.

North Fork Journal (Broadway, VA) – Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DAYTON – Braided pigtails, plain homemade dresses, bare feet and the smell of musty books on the shelf; these memories flooded my mind as I pulled into the parking lot of my first-ever school reunion at Hickory Hollow School in Dayton. The once two-story chicken house had been converted into a parochial school to serve some of the Valley’s conservative Mennonites.

When I started first grade in 1984, there were 13 students enrolled in grades one through eight and five of those, including myself, were from my own family. High school was not yet offered. Aside from reading, writing and arithmetic, we were taught the foundation of our heritage and how to apply the commitment of our ancestors to our lives today. It was there I received a basic education in worldly terms, but gained values to build my life upon.

The curriculum was aligned with basic Mennonite doctrine. The art portrayed plainly dressed families and the stories centered on their practice of simple living and non-resistance. We were required to memorize and recite poems of great length such as John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Barefoot Boy,” as well as chapters of Scripture.

A typical day began with devotions that included singing-four-part harmony, of course-Scripture reading and prayer. Along with hymns, we often sang from folders that included songs of Stephen Foster and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, spirituals and Native American tunes. Devotions were followed by social studies, science, language arts, lunch, recess, math and Bible.

Our annual assembly program took months of preparation, memorization and study. We worked hard to present our families with poems, readings and songs about the Native Americans, stars and galaxies, our ancestors who lived during the Civil War and other topics.

Hickory Hollow History

The privilege of administering parochial schools, or schools offering religious education, came at a great sacrifice to our ancestors. Some spent time in jail for the sake of the cause and in 1972 an Amish case, Wisconsin vs. Yoder, went to the Supreme Court . The court ruled that due to religious beliefs, the Amish were only required a basic eighth-grade education and one that aligned with their theological views.

Hickory Hollow Christian School began in 1968 as part of Bank School. In 1972, it began operating under its present name in a “temporary” location, the remodeled chicken house that has served as the school for nearly 40 years.

I grew up next door to the school, so many of my childhood memories involve that structure now so precious to my heart.

There, I attended singing school and learned to read shaped-note music.

The school also housed the Country Village Bakeshop for a time. Mom was the chief doughnut maker and would get up at 2:30 three mornings a week, so she had fresh doughnuts ready when the doors opened. She mixed, rolled out, fried and glazed them by hand. Some mornings, I would go with her and sleep on the flour sacks in the corner. On those mornings, I would down a bowl of cereal for breakfast as she quickly combed my hair. Then I walked from the bakery kitchen through the door into my classroom.

Changes

Returning to the building for the school reunion, it was obvious the years of wear and tear had taken its toll. The school enrolls almost 100 students and offers high school classes.

Every crook and cranny has been turned into functional space. Classrooms and storage have spilled into additional outbuildings that eat up playground areas. While the remodeled chicken house served the school well for many years, it’s once ample environment has been exhausted and the need for a new school was clear to me.

The school board has purchased land on Limestone Lane, less than a mile from the current location. Construction has started and plans are to move in by the 2012-2013 school year.

I learned the value of teamwork, perseverance, commitment, and the fundamentals of my faith at my school. Although I have chosen a different path for my life, the core of what I believe and who I have become was established in that old two-story chicken house endearingly referred to by our family as Hick’ry Hollar.

Response to head covering post

Yesterday I posted a blog about why I stopped wearing a head covering. Read that here. I have had a number of public and private responses, so I wanted to share a little deeper.

First of all, the only grace I can claim for myself is the amazing kind, that’s why I love it so much!

I have had responses from people who are firmly convicted about the head covering and I always take those comments to heart. I have also had people thank me profusely saying this was an issue they have struggled with for a long time and that my personal testimony helped them. I did not write the post to change anyone’s mind to veil or not to veil.

I wanted to clarify that for those who believe that wearing the head covering draws them closer to God, I have absolute respect for them. I cherish the friendships I maintain in the Mennonite community and value the way I was raised. (There is way more positive than negative growing up in that community.) Also, I would never intentionally insinuate that everyone who wears a covering is fake and just because I don’t, I am not. Authenticity is an attractive discipline and I know many wonderful authentic folks, some who cover and some who don’t.

It was seeing the ad for the Head Covering Movement that really prompted the blog.

Truth is, I am often asked by Mennonites and non-Mennonites alike, why I left the denomination. The issue of the head covering frequents those conversations. It was not to make people question if they should wear one, nor to discourage those who do. Neither was it to cast a negative light on the denomination. What I wrote in the blog yesterday was simply a public response to something I am asked in private all the time.

There is so much more to all of us than this online discussion and your stories are as important as mine! I invite you to respond by sharing your testimony in a comment on this blog. (If you share the comment on Facebook, those who read the blog, but are not Facebook friends with me will not be able to read it.) Tell us, do you veil or not, and why?

God’s grace, love and peace to all,

Regina