Lessons from screen free week

She handed her shirts to the cashier, and I noticed a theme in the inscriptions of each piece as they were unfurled, scanned, and bagged.

“I’m not listening”

“The less you care, the happier you’ll be.”

(I can’t remember the third one at the moment.)

There are times I think not listening and not caring might relieve some of the weight of life, but as I ruminated, I decided it would also remove the richness.

That’s how my mind works. That’s why my blog description says, “Reflections and Recollections from a Ruminator.”

Sometimes I wish a shirt could just be a shirt, and leaves on the oak tree could just be leaves, and skinned knees and struggling plants could be just that, but my mind always turns them into lessons I’m learning.

Every spring, the new leaves on our pin oak have to literally push the dead ones off. I think how resistant I/we can be to change. How sometimes I find myself clinging to old and dead and former instead of embracing what God is doing right now in my life and what he wants to do going forward.

She cried as I doctored skinned knees this morning, the medicine stung as it chased the “dirty bugs” away. I thought about how wounds hurt, cleansing stings, but untreated uncleaned wounds can literally kill us. I held her as I reassured it wouldn’t sting for long and caring for them would soon help her feel a lot better.

I pondered my one lone house plant, a starter my dad gave me years ago from a plant his mother had before she died. It’s definitely my kind of plant because it needs very little care. The yellow and green leaves remind me of my life, though. The green being times where I’ve nurtured and cared for myself, and the yellow times where I’ve neglected to drink from the fountain of living water. Usually, with enough faithful nurturing, the yellow leaves green again, and the plant plugs along, growing it’s vine and lengthening it’s reach.

Technically screen free week runs through Sunday, but I’ve succumbed to writing this post. Outside of work and school, our family has enjoyed an extraordinary week of planting garden, playing outside, storytelling, cooking together, and playing board and card games.

We inhaled lilacs. The girls and I made a mixed berry pie. (We used whole wheat pie and pastry flour for the crust. It was delicious!

I made chocolate pudding from scratch to serve with the pie, and topped it with whipped cream. Yum!

We lit oil lamps and my husband and I told stories from our childhood.

Most delightfully in my own screen free time, was the discovery this book.

This gem by Tish Harrison Ward is truly transformative. Every single page of my copy is dog-eared and marked up, noted and underlined. I tried to find a few nuggets to share, but choosing was hard because the whole book is a gold mine.

Here’s a quote from page 30.

“We don’t wake up daily and form a way of being-in-the-world from scratch, and we don’t think our way through every action of our day. We move in patterns that we have set over time, day by day. These habits and practices shape our lives, our desires, and ultimately who we are and what we worship.”

Then she references a sign in a New Monastic Christian Community house. “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” Followed by Tish’s own comments that, “You can’t get a revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary… It’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith-the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small-that God’s transformation takes root and grows.” (Pages 35-36)

This book has been a long cool drink of water to green the yellowed leaves of my sometimes soul-weary dry days. If you long to know that your daily ordinariness matters, and be confronted and challenged to examine what your days are imprinted with and how your habits shape, form, and inform you, please give yourself the gift of this book. (Side note: When initially forming this blog, a strong name in the running was The Ordinarian, because of the focus of my truly ordinary broken beautiful life.)

A gorgeous weekend brimming with love and ordinary to all of you!

Our “Dave Ramsey” Family

Our family began the year by taking “Financial Peace University” classes offered by our church. Financial Peace University is a course developed by financial expert Dave Ramsey, teaching people to get out of debt and build wealth using a practical budget system and debt snowball. (Definitely check it out!) It was the beginning of a much-needed, eye-opening, life-changing, journey for us.

However, less than two months after the last class, I found myself in a chain store making an entirely unnecessary impulse purchase that included this book.

The purchase also included an art-prompting sketch book for our son and a poetry journal for our daughter. I am admittedly a sucker for books and writing tools and our 9-year-old son has started drawing impressive comics and our 6-year-old daughter is writing powerful poetry.

That, along with my own need to write, and April being poetry month, it took two seconds to justify spending money not included in our April budget.

Perhaps the purchase will be redeemed, because as I balanced our monthly expenses this morning and determined to end this month with an “every dollar” budget, I used my impulse-buy book to reaffirm our family’s mission, poetry style.

Those who listen to Dave’s podcasts, read his books, or have taken the course will recognize his phrases and lingo in the poem. Thanks, Dave Ramsey. We’re one more family on track to change our family tree. Can’t wait for the day we do our own “debt free scream!”

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!

I bargained with God and got my end of the deal! Now what?

For most who know my family, it’s no secret 2017 has been a year of difficulties. I wrote down the “big” things the other day and came up with this list.

Husband – mono (severe) and pneumonia (still dealing with symptoms of mono)

Me – strep twice, months of intense physical pain, tested and ruled out for ovarian, colon, and melanoma cancers

Son – strep four times and mono (less severe)

Daughter – strep nine times, mono (severe), tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy (still dealing with symptoms of mono)

Daughter – respiratory complications that resulted in sometimes upwards of six breathing treatments a day

Another loved one continues to suffer with memory loss/dementia and relies heavily and increasingly on my husband and I for care

And those were just the big things.

Before I go further, we have and continue to address each situation as well as bigger picture causes and possibilities, including air quality in our home. However, our one daughter seems to have been a walking germ factory with her tonsils, and since her surgery and recovery things are improving greatly. My pain seems to have been a result of me needing to take better overall care of myself.

Somewhere in the intensity of the battle, I bargained with God that if we could all get well I would stop holding back and living small.

It felt like a really good deal at the time. Now we are all healing and gaining strength and health and I am processing what I meant by “not holding back and living small.”

I’ve had to confront myself this year on many occasions and came to realize that fear makes my life so small; fear of living, fear of dying (this one is more about me leaving my children or having yet another child die than me actually transitioning to my Eternal Home,) fear of upsetting someone, fear of not standing up for (insert many things) regardless of whether or not it might upset someone, fear of being misunderstood, fear of vulnerability (I have so much I write and want to share, but fear holds me back,) fear of …

Counseling is helping. Friends willing to speak truth, hard truth, is helping. Taking better care of myself spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally is helping. Taking a lyrical ballet class is helping and I can tell an immense difference in my freedom of movement and participation since I resolved to stop living small. Ironically, genealogical research is helping. Confronting the root of my insecurities is helping. Love is helping.

I hope you will join me on the journey ahead as I learn to live into my destiny and perhaps inspire you to live into yours as well. I’d love to engage with my readers more as we journey together. What have you been struggling with? What joys fill your life today? How can I pray for you?

Sharing this photo is a big deal for me. I used to loathe many things about my physical features, but the more grounded I become and the more I delve into my genealogy, the more I see the uniqueness and character that make up the whole of who I am.

Here’s to hope, health, and deeper discoveries.

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. 

Confessions; just in case I’ve misled you

“You have the perfect life,” she said, “a great husband, beautiful children, doing what you love for work. I dream about your life.”

Wait! What?! I nearly spit out my tea. 

“You know, what you post on Facebook,” she added, “Your life is perfect.”

First off, I admit, my life is filled with many wonderful things. My husband is loyal, devoted, rock-solid awesomeness. Our children are adorable, have mostly great behavior, and are respectful, caring, compassionate little humans. I am in awe that I get to live my passion of being there for others in grief, even though that calling was birthed through my own dark night of the soul. 

Additionally, I am generally a “look on the bright side” kind of gal, so even when life’s suck-o-meter hits red hot, I hurt, shake my fist, and with almost every scenario, find a way to see the positive. (There are exceptions.)

I decided a long time ago a life of gratitude is much sweeter than constant comparisons. I’ve never wanted or intentionally tried to pretend my life was perfect. Sharing my shortcomings and chaos helps me connect to others, but I also don’t want to complain or come across as whining. Ask my children, I loathe whining. 

So here’s some real-life relatable blackmail material for you. 

I can eat nearly a whole bag of Lay’s BBQ potato chips in one setting, especially when paired with chunks of yummy cheddar cheese. Sometimes I have ice cream for lunch. As much as I enjoy exercise, I’ve been dealing with an excruciating bout of plantar fasciitis for months and just being on my feet is extremely painful. Exercise is pretty much impossible until this improves. So much for rockin’ 40 in August, but I guarantee I still will!

Those adorable wildlings that steal my heart create monster messes (shhhhh, so do their parents) and I’d rather write and read than clean. People, hear me when I say my house is nearly always in disarray. We have an endless cycle of laundry; dirty, drying, unfolded. The counter is a catch-all for school projects, art projects, and cooking projects to the point it becomes a science project. Once, a friend for whom I had set a place for supper said, “Wow, I’ve never seen this end of your kitchen table.” He probably hadn’t.

Sometimes the children fight and the baby cries to the point I give up on cooking supper and we eat cereal instead. My husband gets mad at me. I get frustrated with him. 

I have skeletons in my closet. I have family whose skeletons are currently curing. Even when their choices become maddening and hurtful, the decision to love and wrestling with what that love looks like continues to shape and mold me. I fail. Often. 

Hopefully this will change soon, but most all of my work is volunteer so we are always trying to make ends meet financially. I spend too much money on groceries. 

I deal with anxiety and situational depression. Many days I feel like I don’t do enough, am never enough, can never catch up, never measure up, and wonder if anything I do truly makes a difference. I shoulder the weight of the world, even when it doesn’t ask me to. I am not prone to compare myself with others materialistically, but I am my own worst competition when it comes to making a difference. 

I worry about ridiculous things, and our pediatrician can tell you I worry obsessively over our children. Although my Facebook posts might be positive, they are more often a statement of faith than anything else. 

So yeah, I love cooking and eating healthy, but am an emotional eater. I love happy kiddos, but ours are still typical stinkers. I love family, even when they make terrible choices. Our struggles might come in different forms, but ultimately we are all living our own vida loco. 

We all get lemons, I just much prefer lemonade and will go to great lengths to find the sweetness. 

Onward and upward, dear peeps. I’m signing off to clear clutter and eat chips. 

The power of intentional living

It’s true, most of my problems are merely first-world inconveniences. Yes, there are those valid emotional agonies and scarring life experiences that are universal, but all too often my stresses are self-imposed and stem from over scheduling and busyness.

So when our riding lawn mower had an extended stay in the repair shop, I was only slightly daunted by the task of tackling our overgrown yard with a non-self-propelled push mower.

Considering it takes three hours with the riding mower and someone else feeding our little urchins and wiping their noses and bottoms, using the push mower and being solely responsible for the kiddos at the same time made this look like an all-day affair.

Those who really know me know that I not Pollyanna by nature. I am selfish, cynical, critical, ungrateful and extremely impatient. (My husband is a little more gracious in his description of me.) None-the-less, I have to practice an attitude of gratitude. Living my life on purpose is the only way I can be and become the person I want to be rather than who I am. I decided to take this land-mowing opportunity to be intentionally grateful.

As I pushed the mower along, I became aware of the gift of walking. I breathed in the hot sticky air and was thankful for the gift of smell. I was truly aware of what was around, beneath and above me.

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Now I am more of a wildflower gal, so I don’t get who invented this lawn mowing business anyway. Metaphorically, well-manicured and perfectly tended lawns and lives seem a bit boring to me. Give me beauty all-naturale any day. But I consciously gave thanks for the gift of green grass that needed cut according to town ordinances and machine-powered mowers as I walked back and forth in the hot sun.

This evening, Lee and I are celebrating eight years together. While we have much to celebrate, cultivating our marriage has been intentional as well.

Together we have experienced the unimaginable grief of the death of our daughter, we’ve experienced job losses, and typical marital stresses. But by being intentional about caring for each other with mutual respect and commitment, these adversities have only fertilized and watered the lawn of our relationship and turned what could have been dry, dusty, brown and dying into lush beautiful and green.

I made an intentional effort to continue counting blessings throughout the morning, but as the sun grew hotter, the air stickier and combined with multiple interruptions to care for the babies, I had to become even more intentional. This was not a sprint, but a marathon and the excuses for quitting mounted with each passing swath.

As with anything in life, growing and cultivating takes time, perseverance, and doing and living on purpose.

But when the baby comes to me, clearly taking advantage of my in-attention by eating dirt, and offers me a hand-picked dandelion or our son uses his magic wand to turn the push mower into a rider, all the combined wealth of the world could not afford so rich a moment. The power of intentional living has the power to transform. It only takes a moment of purposeful intentional reflection to be reminded How. Blessed. I. Am.

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Us seven years ago on our 1-year dating anniversary

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Elsie Ray with her dirty face and beautiful dandelion

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Eli using his magic wand to turn my push mower into a rider

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Us this evening