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

Advertisements

Dirt Road Therapy

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

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

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

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

I’ll Take the Dirt Road – Sawyer Brown

Red Dirt Road – Brooks and Dunn

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams

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

Rest

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

But what about our sick child?

Come unto me and rest…

What about our finances? 

Come to me and rest… 

What about our loved one slowly succumbing to dementia?

Come unto me and rest…

What about the violence permeating our society?

Come unto me and rest…

What about wars and rumors of wars?

Come to me and rest…

What about political unrest?

Come to me and rest…

What about the anguish of the bereaved?

Come unto me and rest…

What about…?

Come unto me and rest…

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

Come to me you weary one…

Come to me…

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

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

Musings from a $1.50 retreat 

Sometimes gifts come in the most unsuspecting ways, like several weeks ago when I picked up a book for $1.50 at a thrift store. I was taking my mother-in-law to an appointment and she loves to stop by thrift stores along the way. The last thing I need is more books, but that section inevtiably sucks me in like a gnat to vinegar. This round of treasures included “A Seven Day Journey With Thomas Merton” by Esther de Waal. 


The point of the book is to intentionally carve out quiet time with God. I love that idea, but my prayers these days are often while I’m driving down the road with a million other things on my mind. 

Waal’s opening recognizes that taking a weekend or week alone is nearly impossible for many of us, yet we still need to create spaces of quiet time with God. For some that might be smaller amounts every day and for others perhaps larger spaces of time once a week, depending on our individual circumstances. 

“… if I am to take myself seriously,” Waal writes,  “to respect the whole of myself, body, mind, and spirit, and acknowledge how essential it is to nurture myself, I know that time apart is essential. It is essential to find time to stand back, to draw breath, not only for my own sake but also for my relationships with my family, colleagues, friends, and above all for an ever deepening relationship with God.”

 

As an extroverted introvert, I am often misunderstood as someone who functions best by being constantly surrounded by people. My chaotic schedule itself would be proof enough to some that I must always be doing. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I absolutely love people and relationships and caring for others, I get overwhelmed in crowds and am uncomfortable in large groups. I crave time alone, yet I’m regrettably negligent in making that priority. 

“The reason why we don’t take time is a feeling that we have to keep moving,” Merton says, “This is a real sickness. Today time is a commodity, and for each one of us time is mortgaged… we are threatened by a chain reaction: overwork – overstimulation – overcompensation – overkill.” 

Guilty. Right here. Those words are for me. And I try to pay attention to where that drive comes from for me. Ultimately, I believe, it is because I buy into the lie that I am never enough, can never do enough, be enough, care enough, accomplish enough. Always striving, but never arriving. I buy into the lie that solitude is selfish, there is too much to be done to rest. 

I memorized this poem by Maltbie Davenport Babcock at a young age and have too long kept it a personal mantra. 

Be Strong by Maltbie Davenport Babcock

Be strong!

We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;

We have hard work to do and loads to lift;

Shun not the struggle, face it, ’tis God’s gift.

Be strong, be strong, be strong!

Be strong!

Say not the days are evil—who’s to blame?

And fold the hands and acquiesce—O shame!

Stand up, speak out, and bravely, in God’s Name.

Be strong, be strong, be strong!

Be strong!

It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,

How hard the battle goes, the day, how long;

Faint not, fight on! Tomorrow comes the song.

Be strong, be strong, be strong!

I still love the message, but one cannot be strong without addressing one’s weakness. I cannot truly offer compassionate care to others without first offering it to myself. In solitude with God I can recognize and own my weaknesses and rest in His strength and sufficiency. It is in solitude with God that I more fully experience His love for me and mine for Him. 

“We have to remember that we look for solitude in order to grow there in love for God and in love for others,” Merton writes. “We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them: we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is always a secondary end. The one end that includes all others is the love of God.” 

In that time of personal retreat, the prayer and Scripture and reflection bring everything else into refreshing focus. Merton sums up the rejuvenation of Scripture-reading with the following, “By the reading of Scripture I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a purer, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green, light is sharper on the outlines of the forests and the hills and the whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music in the earth under my feet.” 



It is only in intentional retreat with God, that I can truly revel in the wonderful aspects of my life and find strength within the difficulties. In that time I am reminded of God’s love in every celebration and concern of life and see that God is with me in it all.  

“It is God’s love that warms me in the sun and God’s love that sends the cold rain,” Waal says. “It is God’s love that feeds me in the bread I eat and God’s love that feeds me also by hungar and fasting… It is God who breathes on me with light winds off the river and in the breezes out of the wood.”

In intentional retreat with God I am reminded of my uniqueness as a person and the specific tasks to which I have been called. I have never bought into the “I’m special and God has a great plan for my life,” teaching that makes everyone feel like they will produce profound and wonderful accomplishments for the Kingdom of God. My personal belief falls more in line with this quote from Waal. “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him… The more a tree is like itself it is like Him. This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or ever will do.” 


There are many trees in this world, some of which will never be beholden by human eye or evoke awe in those who see it, but they are nonetheless unique and praising God as no other tree before or after. Our names, our life’s work may never be noticed by others or recognized beyond our family and friends, and yet we can still give glory to God by being who we’re created to be in Him and living for what we are called to do. 

“If I am supposed to hoe a garden or make a table, then I will be obeying God if I am true to the task that I am performing,” Waal writes. “To do the work carefully and well, with love and respect for the nature of my task and with due attention to its purpose, is to unite myself to God’s will in my work. In this way I become His instrument. He works through me.” 

I am still working my way through this sweet little gem of a book from the thrift store, but I am so thankful for a this personal retreat for the price of $1.50. The price for not taking this to heart is much costlier. 

When love and pain get physical 

I’ve started this post a hundred times and simply couldn’t get it out. It feels so vulnerable, but for others who need to learn these same lessons, I must share. 

My husband, our children, and my mission through the Sadie Rose Foundation are, without a doubt, the things I love most in life, secondary only to my love for God. Who knew my deep and unwavering love for them could cause physical pain?



The past few years have wreaked havoc on my health and after many tests, the underlying “diagnosis” was a real wake-up call. Nearly two years ago, I “lost” my voice and was diagnosed with a hemorrhagic nodule on my left vocal chord. I use my voice in many ways, including singing, public speaking, conducting meetings, conversation, and of course, “mommy voice,” so this was a big deal to me. 

My Ear, Nose, Throat specialist prescribed, even ordered, silence in order for the nodule to heal. With the addition of a foster placement during that time, and our family’s entire routine upended, the children needed mommy’s reassurance and stability more than ever. No talking and only whispering when words were absolutely necessary seemed an impossibility, but I took the orders very seriously. Nearly a year later my voice returned to its normal strength and range. 

That experience was my first indication that my body was trying to tell me something. 

This spring I began having pain in my left side and my right foot. After nearly two months, I went to the doctor. The nurse practitioner believed the pain to be muscular. I was also diagnosed with a common infection that cleared quickly with antibiotics, but the underlying pain persisted. 

Another visit to the doctor led them to believe I should have more tests, just to “rule out scary stuff.” In the meantime the pain became unbearable and warranted a trip to the ED. A CT scan showed a few areas of possible concern and I tested positive for strep. 

(A few weeks earlier I had a trip to the ED for a trout bone that had lodged in my throat.) 

In the meantime, I did all I could to keep up with my family, our non-profit, my church responsibilities, and helping care for a beloved family member.   

At some point I realized I had nothing left to give. I drove into the church parking lot for a meeting and the gas light in my vehicle came on. I realized at that moment that the gas light in my life was glaring at me. I was “on empty,” and without refueling, I could not continue. 

Tests were coming back normal and negative, which was great except that I needed answers. I set up a counseling appointment (my first ever) and began seeing a chiropractor. I started noticing improvement with my first visits to both. I have known for a long time that I needed to find a way to release the pain, grief, and concern I carry for others, but I didn’t realize that not doing so could ruin me. 

Where there is love, there is vulnerability to pain. Laura Ramirez

I had dubbed myself “a sacred painholder” somewhere in my journey of walking with those grieving the death of a child, but I needed to learn how to be a “pain-releaser.” Connecting with new families for me always means that their miracle never came, there was no happy ending, it means that a child has died

This is heavy stuff. I held their pain so closely, it became my own. I was imposing my anxieties on my family, frightened with every small pain or problem that they were going to die too, because “I knew someone who…” Besides the weight of grief growing ever-heavier, my daily life became ever-busier. I had over-extended every area of my life, and my body started paying the price. 

My Psoas muscle (termed by some as the “muscle of your soul,”) was the cause of the pain in my side and my other complications seemed to stem from that. Some would say the Psoas muscle is where we hold stress, tension, and anxiety, and I was holding plenty of all three. 

As of several weeks ago, the last remaining tests came back clear, I’m seeing significant improvement from counseling and chiropractic care, I’m deliberately saying “no” to many good opportunities so I can savor the most precious ones more fully, and I am returning to hobbies I have loved in the past and trying something totally new. 

Ballistics and Ballet

One of my favorite hobbies and stress relievers years ago was target and skeet shooting. My husband and I have bonded more in returning to that hobby then I could have dreamed. I also signed up for an adult ballet class! That stretches me (literally and figuratively) far out of my comfort zone, but it is helping me rebuild my core strength and is forcing me to confront a myriad of insecurities. 


I’m taking time out and time off from many “extracurricular things” to return to the those that refuel me. I am purposefully praying for myself, something I do well for others but have neglected on my own behalf. I am finding refuge and peace in the constant relentless love of God and in these words from His Word.  

Psalm 139:7-10 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.

Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

Unclenching my grasp and breathing peace 

Eight years ago I was balancing work and a newborn baby. My job as a staff-writer for a local community paper allowed me to work from home at times. 

One morning I opened my work email and in place of my signature and work title it read, “I will unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.”

The words took my breath away. 

The message was perfect for me at that time in my life, but I couldn’t imagine who, how, or why my work signature was changed to that sentence. I called my co-workers and they knew nothing about it. I logged back in and there was my original work signature as pretty as you please. 

It left me unsettled not knowing how or why it happened, but the message stuck. My co-workers were equally intrigued and so poignant was the message that one had it written in calligraphy on a beautiful note card and framed for me as a gift. That framed message sits on my desk at the Sadie Rose House today and it always seems to catch my eye at a time when I need to be most reminded.  

I never thought before or since to search the Internet for that quote.  

This past year has been one of grasping, clenching, holding, releasing, and growing with two foster children in our home. One has been with us for more than a year now and the tension of rooting for others to get their lives in order while loving their child that feels like our own has driven me to my knees many times. 

My grasp was firmly clenched, the little fingers wrapped tightly around my heart. Releasing this precious child to the process has shaken me to my core. I breathed way more anxiety and fear than peace. 

Another child joined us more recently. Again I find myself loving, grasping, clenching, and holding even though this one will most likely be temporary. 

I have known moments of peace recently, but the reality is that we are barreling through life at breakneck speed and the train is having trouble slowing down. We are fighting fierce battles against hellish addictions and patterns and learned behaviors. At the same time we are fighting stigmas that are coming from the most surprising places. 

Through it all, I have been grasping my own abilities, answers, sanity, and love, clenching tightly to my own strength. There are many days my well is dry. I open my tightly clasped fingers to see my own strength evaporating like a vapor. What little I thought was there seems more like an illusion in light of the chasm of need. 


Now we are here in this season of advent where, as Christians, we prepare for the coming of the Savior. I’ve said it, heard it, read it… Emmanuel, God WITH us. We celebrate a Savior who enters our darkness, chaos, mess, and brokenness, and whose love permeates every broken messed up hellish place of our life. And yet I’ve struggled to feel it in my heart even though I know it in my head. 

Where is this Emmanuel in the broken stories of our foster children? Where is he  in the grief of those whose children, spouse, parent, best friend has died? Where is “God with us”when nations and cities and regions are ravaged by war. Where is he when people are neglected and power abused, sometimes even in the name of this God?


And then today, my dear friend shared a post on Facebook that once again took my breath away. 

“Christmas at Midlife

I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.

I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.

I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task

I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.

I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.

I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.

I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.

I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.

I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.

I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.

I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.

I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness. I believe, I Believe.

-Mary Anne Perrone

Via Sacred Dreams”

Did you SEE that?! Did you catch it?! Right there, smack dab on the middle of this beautiful advent poem is THAT VERY SENTENCE! 

“I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.”

When I read my friend’s post, my breath literally caught in my throat. I have been grasping the wrongs things. I have been looking for Emmanuel in a God who comes and makes everything right, (and I believe one day he will.) But I’ve been caught up in looking for “God with us” in leaders and princes and kings and changed circumstances.  

But no, “Emmanuel with us” is right here in our home, wrapping his arms around broken hurting foster children. He is with us in the friend that walks with those in grief, sharing tears and offering shoulders. Emmanuel God with us is working through the lives and hearts of those who are silently and anonymously bringing Christmas cheer to the hurting and lonely. Right here in the middle of our messed up broken hellish lives Emmanuel is sharing coffee and bagels with those on the streets, loving the unloveable through very ordinary broken people just like me. 

Clearly this sentence, “I will unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out” is timely, poignant, and personal once again. 


I’m letting go of my own abilities, releasing my grasp and relinquishing all to the One who meets us at the point of our need. When my life is fully surrendered to Emmanuel’s love, mercy, and provision, then and only then can I truly unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out. 

May you also experience Emmanuel God WITH us this Christmas season and in the coming year. 

Anguish, Bitterness, Hope

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

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

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

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

suckometer

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

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

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

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

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

The words of Jesus beckon me.

come to Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

change the world

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

Prayer of Confession

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

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

Assurance of Pardon

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

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

Amen.