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

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Writing Mama

5:30 am

Releasing words

On blank page

Husband stirs, coughs,

Releases his own gas

Into the atmosphere

Cats scratch hungrily at the door

Dogs want scratched too, by me

Baby calls for mama

Another needs covers

The third isn’t sure

He can go back to sleep

Just like that my quiet space,

My blank page

Is gobbled up

By the humans and animals I love

The words stay stuck

Inside my head

For one more day

Humor, havoc, heartache, and harmony

An peak into the cadence of our lives.

Why yes, yes there ARE bright pink plastic tablecloths duct taped to my mostly faithful mini van currently parked in the grass of our front yard.

We spent part of the weekend going back and forth to my brother’s camp. After spending a few hours there Saturday, the children and I returned to clean up for my niece’s goodbye party. She left for basic training this weekend to become an Army mechanic.

I was cooking pasta for a salad to contribute to her goodbye meal, when quarter-sized rain drops began to pelt the window. I bolted to the van for the keys I had placed in the cup holder, but alas, they were nowhere to be seen. I remembered the girls lingering briefly in the van when we got home, and our 2-year-old took immediate responsibility for the missing keys. Except that she had no idea where she’d put them!

I pilfered through trash inside and out, scoured the van, rummaged my pocketbook (which deserves it’s own real estate in a blog), all while buckets of rain poured into the open van windows. It’s here I sheepishly admit we only have one set of keys, so we were up the creek if you get my drift.

We missed my niece’s goodbye party. My husband came home from working on our townhouse we are prepping to sell and my mom came to watch the children so we could go get a vehicle from my husband’s car lot to drive in the meantime. As heartbroken as I was to miss the goodbye party, I could only be so frustrated with our adorable little daughter, and I literally laugh out loud every time I see those pink tablecloths on the van. (New keys are on the way today!)

I received a call last week to provide the message for a worship service for the Mid Atlantic Burn Camp’s thirtieth reunion. I was honored to be a small part of this amazing outreach, and once I had confirmed my availability, gave them a yes. But availability for an hour on a Sunday morning, doesn’t factor in preparation, so in between focusing on time with family and other events, I found myself writing the message at midnight Saturday!

Regardless of my personal circumstances demanding attention elsewhere, we had a lovely time together Sunday morning.

A highlight of the Labor Day Weekend was our 7-year-old daughter and I running our first 5K together! I’ve been running all summer. She is bouncy and always active, but hadn’t trained for running. We wanted to participate in this particular event because it was in memory of a young girl who died of cancer and provides scholarships for a summer camp.

As we started running, I encouraged her to pace herself and let me know at any time if she needed to walk. She ran 3.13 miles in 34:32 and placing first in her age group! She would have shaved minutes off her time of she hadn’t stayed behind with me! That time together with my daughter for such a meaningful cause was euphoric.

This weekend also included addressing bullying in various forms, a doctor visit for one of our children, last minute babysitting a toddler overnight, two terrible accidents involving people we care deeply about, “a paint project” by our youngest, and birthday party planning for our son this week, among other things.

Among the general excitement and busyness for the coming months is an incredible opportunity for me to spend a weekend with the lovely Helena Clare Pittman for a memoir writing retreat! I’ve been busy writing and preparing to make the most of this opportunity.

I’m always grateful for your interaction here, even when my posts are sporadic. My writing and readership community are like the friends who, regardless of how much time passes between interactions, we pick right back up where we left off.

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. Anais Nin

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. Sylvia Plath

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. Toni Morrison

Minivan Mom

With apologies to minivan moms who would never find stale fries underneath seats and who are comfortable in designer clothes. I salute you!

This post originated from a conversation with a best friend yesterday about the stigma of moms and minivans. Since I love poetry and it’s April/National Poetry Month, I couldn’t help but honor my minivan with a poem.

Minivan Mom

By Regina Cyzick Harlow

4/6/18

Hat hides uncombed hair

Yoga pants and maxi skirts

Feel good on a shape

That has birthed babies

And bears the look of one

Who stress eats and sneaks treats

From the children’s candy jar

Fancy vehicles feel as much a misfit on her

As designer clothes

Skinned knuckles reveal

Wrestling matches

With car seats and buckles

Stale fries underneath seats

Reminds her of bargaining for sanity

Sticky-fingered handprints

And cartooned stickers

Placed haphazardly on smudged windows

Evokes smiles

As she revels in the unspeakable joys of motherhood

I am she and she is me

I am a proud minivan Mom

As much as I own “minivan Mom” status, I have very few photos to prove it. Someone snapped this when I was leading runners and walkers for our annual 5K.

Then there’s that time we were snowed in.

And the other time when a summer storm brought a tree branch down on my van.

And that’s about all I’ve got for photos.

Currently my van is in the repair shop and I’m driving an SUV. The lovely folks in the school pick-up line shout out, “that’s a nice ride,” but I can’t wait to be back in this white beauty. (In the eyes of the beholder, right?)

Daybook – March 20

My friend does these occasionally on her own blog using the same list each time. I always enjoy reading them.

Outside my window…rain, sleet, and turning to snow! Expecting about six inches of accumulation for our area tonight and tomorrow.

I am learning…that worry really does rob us of present joys.

I am thankful…for our wood stove, extra snuggles with the kiddos, for a life of unfathomable blessings.

In the kitchenmini chocolate chip muffins from breakfast and our favorite chili in the crockpot for this cold snowy evening (recipe to come).

I am wondering…if the children’s school will release early today due to increasing inclement weather and declining road conditions.

I am listening…to Curious George.

I am remembering…several children and teenagers who are celebrating heavenly birthdays today.

I am going…to work from home today.

I am trying…to simplify my color-coded calendar. Too many colors means I’ve said yes to too many things. Slowly but surely I am successfully scaling back to focus on my most important priorities.

I am reading…”Black Milk: On the Conflicting Demands of Writing, Creativity, and Motherhood,” by Elif Shafak.

I am hoping…that our toddler will soon be fully potty-trained. So ready to move past this phase of parenting, but I’ll always remember how it felt when our first born died and I wanted nothing more than to change messy diapers and be the sleep-deprived parents we have since been so blessed to be.

I am looking forward to…snow, even in spring. We don’t get much snow around here and snow days are my favorites. I usually bake cinnamon rolls or doughnuts and share them with neighbors or those out plowing the streets and other community workers.

I am realizing…that our children are growing into little adults right before my very eyes. Be still, my heart.

Around the house…two dogs and two cats sleeping and children’s books scattered everywhere.

I am enjoying…our new CD by The High Kings, one of our favorite music groups from Ireland. I took our 9 and 6 year olds to see them in concert Saturday evening, St. Patrick’s Day. It was our children’s first concert and we got to meet the group. Amazing!

A kid quote…after gloomily watching a few minutes of a black and white Andy Griffith our free-spirited vibrant 6-year-old said, “Mommy, I like to see the colors of life. Gray things make me sad!” I laughed and told her she could change it to something she wanted. Immediately our 2 year old started asking to watch “Barney,” and she wasn’t talking about the big purple dinosaur. We love color. We love Barney Fife.

A few of my favorite things…dirt roads, mountains, and campfires.

A few plans for the rest of the week…much of what I had planned will depend on how much snow we get and how quickly it melts. I had planned to attend a funeral tomorrow, but if our children are out of school and the weather is bad I will regrettably not attend. I have much to do for our non-profit, some of which I can do from home, and I plan to do some writing, cooking, and baking and soak up whatever time I get with my husband and children. All of these pretty much sum up my life.

A good life happens when you stop and are grateful for the ordinary moments that so many of us just steamroll over to try to find those extraordinary moments. Brene Brown

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.

Holy airs versus holy heirs

She became a holy heir because she drank from the living water offered through Jesus Christ. No doubt there were many with holy airs scoffing at the idea that she would ever amount to anything good.

I’ve been ruminating holiness. What does God’s holiness look like through humanity.

Growing up in the faith tradition of my childhood and youth, one’s level of holiness was determined by the severity of one’s plainness and cooperation to follow the church rules. As an adult, I know there are true authentic believers in that faith tradition, as well as those for whom it is a way of life more than religion. There are also those who hide dark secrets behind their facades of piety. (It’s that way in many forms of strictness and piety, I’ve learned.)

It is difficult for me, even now, to separate pious and practiced “human holiness” from one who lives a life of holiness in service to God and others. By indoctrinated instinct, I “see” holiness in the way a person dresses. But as one who as devoted my life to God’s work and who is occasionally directly and indirectly snubbed (and sometimes outright chided) by the very people my childhood self understands as holy, I have been ruminating on what being holy actually looks like lived out.

Holiness: the state of being holy.

“a life of holiness and total devotion to God”

It is one thing to put on holy airs, presenting a pristine and sterilized image of God’s Kingdom through dress and piety. It is another thing entirely to become a holy heir of God’s Kingdom through Jesus Christ where He meets you right in your mess and changes you from the inside out.

Scripture has a lot to say about people who look good on the outside, those who take pride in their strictness and humility while at the same time discriminating the work of God in the lives of others when it doesn’t look like their understanding of who God can use and how God can work.

Matthew 23:25-28 NLT “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Certainly Scripture also gives instructions for how a believer should live and present themselves.

II Corinthians 6:14-18 NLT “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. ””

As I’ve contemplated and observed holiness in action, (a life of total devotion to God,) I’m reminded of the broken flawed people (and donkeys) God used for the good of His Kingdom. While there are many examples in Scripture, none speaks more personally to me than the woman at the well whose life was a mess, she met Jesus, her life was changed, and she went and told everyone what happened so that the whole town believed. (John 4:1-42) She became a holy heir because she drank from the living water offered through Jesus Christ. No doubt there were many with holy airs scoffing at the idea that she would ever amount to anything good.

I’ve seen holiness in the couple that showed up with frozen spaghetti and a long-adored musical instrument. For you, they said, as I grieved my daughter. I’ve seen holiness in the support they provide for the most vulnerable in our community and literally around the world, without ever making it about themselves.

I’ve observed holiness in the couple who befriended a homeless man and gave him work, helped him find shelter, and have stood by him even as life knocks him down again and again.

I’ve heard of holiness in the successful business owner who collects cardboard boxes and gives them to children for recycling so they can earn money for field trips, building character and confidence and helping them take ownership in their efforts.

I’ve been the recipient of holiness through the actions and kindnesses of my childhood faith community as they supported my family in countless ways, especially when my brother and Mom were recovering from life-threatening accidents. I’ve heard holiness in the songs and acapella harmony hymns of my childhood and felt holiness in the anguished cry for help as an adult.

I’ve tasted holiness in the meals provided after the deaths of our loved ones by those whose only motives were simply to provide basic nourishment to grieving bodies. In the Italian sausage and cherry Coke I shared with a homeless women when I found her after she spent a night violent weather. In the bread I break with the bereaved.

I’ve witnessed holiness in the tattooed, pierced, skull-cap wearing farmer who takes time to eat school lunches with his numerous nieces and nephews and who goes on field trips with his “little brother” through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization. This person who gives his time to the little ones and who makes a larger-than-life impact as he shares the heart of God with them.

These are only a few small stories of big generosity. These and so many more give of their time, talents, and resources silently, anonymously, without expectation. They embody holiness in thrift-store jeans and “Jesus sandals,” farm boots, and homemade aproned dresses, with casseroles and carpenter’s tools. They live beautiful broken authentic lives, and would resist attention to what I’m sharing.

They are heirs of the Kingdom of God refusing to put on airs. They know it is not of their own righteousness or goodness, but only God’s grace and mercy that accomplishes any good through them. I am reminded of the prayer of Hannah who rejoices in the Lord, who recognizes there is no one holy like the Lord, and who understands it is the Lord who judges our actions.

I Samuel 2:1-3 NLT “Then Hannah prayed: “My heart rejoices in the Lord! The Lord has made me strong. Now I have an answer for my enemies; I rejoice because you rescued me. No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. “Stop acting so proud and haughty! Don’t speak with such arrogance! For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done; he will judge your actions.”

May we live as holy heirs without putting on holy airs.