Thursday, July 14, 2016

stuff freshmen say...

Preplanning starts in one week, so I decided that I needed to go be in the space alone for a little while today.

I'm sitting in my classroom, trying to decide what needs to be done first. I came armed with iced coffee with a shot of espresso and extra cream, but I also have a head cold and a pounding headache, so I have the strongest feeling that not one chair or desk will be moved today.

Beside my desk is a huge corkboard that is about to be rotated to the back wall because it is pinned and glued and stuffed to overflowing-- it's one of my favorite things in the room. On this board are old football ribbons, tiny pictures doodled on sticky notes, prom pictures, birthday cards, snarky notes ("Advice to freshmen: If you wanna get cool with the upperclassmen, you def need to do illegal stuff and throw lots of parties. Fights are good, too. Like Mrs. Swaney says, 'Always run toward the fight!'"), a thank you note from a precious struggling freshman (who is now a sophomore in college) that simply says, in trembling script, "Thank you for teaching me." There's a keychain from Korea, a list of idioms from other countries on an index card (I have no idea what assignment that was attached to)-- "To live like a maggot in bacon! German for 'to live in luxury' :), and a newspaper clipping where I came in third after Peggy Hanahan and Mike Ryan for "biggest heart" on the teacher superlatives one year.

At the bottom of the board is an envelope with one of  my favorite things I've read from one of my freshmen. I can't remember what year it was written, but the name of the student is on the front and I will not soon forget him-- he was amazing. Here's what it says:

Dear upcoming freshman,

Now, I am writing this letter because I have to give you advice. Now I'm going to give you advice on what I was asking people older than me in high school or that were out of high school. Like, "how do you get girls?" or "how can I be popular?"

Popularity: Popularity is not all it's cracked up to be. There's more drama and more fake friends usually when you're popular. You let it all go to your head and you leave your real friends in the dark.

Popularity is not the same as middle school. If you were popular in middle school, there's a chance you won't be popular in high school. But on this note, the best thing to do is just be yourself because it's only high school and soon you will be out and no one will remember what you did four years ago.

Schoolwork and sports: School work will always be hard and boring, but that's only if you make it hard. If you have the mindset of "Let me get this done so I can pass and have no worries" then you will be fine.

Once you have your grades up then sports will become easier because you wouldn't have to worry about school work. Always take the chance to make up work, too, because you don't want to do it at the end of the year.

Drama: Every teenager's worst nightmare is to have drama. Try to stay away from drama because it will eat you up on the inside. You might understand how that feels and it's a word I can't write on this paper.

Gang Influences: NO! I'm telling you this is not the way to go. In high school they do not play and you can get hurt bad. It's not like middle school where kids think it's a game...It's not a game, okay?

Swag: Your own swag is your swag. Me, I'm more of a Bred 11s with some camo pants, a t-shirt and a snapback light skin curly headed kind of dude, but that's me. You might be different. But like I said, be yourself.

The rest you can learn on the way and tell that to the freshmen next year. Just remember this letter because trust me you can learn from it. I hope you have fun for the rest of your experience in high school.

Most sincerely...

You know, I quote my students all year long with a hashtag #fqotd or #stufffreshmensay -- freshmen are hilariously funny to me. But this reminds me again that one of my favorite things about freshmen is that they are old enough to have a fun conversation with, but young enough to still say almost everything they think. This transition time in their lives...their skin is freaking out, they haven't figured out their hair yet, and their voices are changing. They are hyper aware of all of their flaws in many cases, but just waking up to being aware that being different can be amazing, too. And if you can catch them juuuuust right....they'll blow your mind with their wisdom.

I think my headache is fading....

Thursday, April 14, 2016


normally, i have a thousand words.

i've used lots of them in the last few days so my brain might have turned into oatmeal in the last half hour.

here's the short  list:

a. Amazing police officers stopped by our house on Saturday morning and there is no doubt they were led here-- they were looking  for a crib for a family in need. A family whose baby needed a safe bed to sleep in. Suddenly, the crib I haven't been able to let go of or even talk about letting go of was set free from my heart. I'll write more about this later.

b. Their story, and the story about Ben's crib, kinda went viral. Because people want to hear stories with happy endings. Police officers with gigantic hearts, truly taking care of our community-- defending us, protecting the littlest ones of us. Yes, yes, yes.

c. A bunch of women I have never met sang out, "Me, too! Me, too!! My heart has loved a tiny one who outran me to the Father!!" There's so much comfort in the company of this sorority. We'll see them again! We will!! Rejoice!!

d. I've met a bunch of  journalists who want to report goodness!!! These guys want to proclaim HAPPY and HOPE. Channel 2, Fox 5 Atlanta, Channel 11. They're looking for JOY.

e. I'm reading Shawn Bolz's Translating God. Holy smokes, YES.

f. God has more for us than we could ever know.

g. He's good.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Let No Debt Remain

Don’t owe anything to anyone, except your outstanding debt to continually love one another, for the one who learns to love has fulfilled every requirement of the law.
Romans 13:8 TPT

I wonder, sometimes, if believers have begun to look down on love.

I hear believers talk about it-- not to be permissive, not to indulge or enable, not to be deceived. To avoid something we call "cheap grace" (can grace be cheap??).

And I think so much of it comes from feeling manipulated-- a world that has felt shamed and judged by us throws this in our collective face: "You're supposed to love me, not judge me!" and we say, "Yeah, well, you're not supposed to sin!"

I know-- that's kind of harsh and not every believer feels that way, but I've just been thinking a lot about how adorable we all are to the Father.

Because He is our Maker.

In my little studio space in the attic above the garage, I have a pile of what I like to call "artists proofs," but which are actually just cast off prints that didn't make the cut in my beloved printmaking classes in college.

I kept these prints for all kinds of reasons-- like, for a few of them I just loved the deep, deep burnt orange of the ink, even though I was a completely disobedient printmaker who didn't like the flat perfection that we were going for as much as I loved the grainy, almost spongy texture that came when the ink was too dry or too wet on the roller. The color, so rich, but in no design at all. Just vivid blocks on cheap newsprint.

A couple of the pages are unfinished first run-throughs of a jungle scene for a children's book I had (and still have) on my mind, and if you've ever done a linoleum cut then you'll understand why I couldn't bear the idea of throwing those away. If you've ever run copy after copy through a press at two in the morning on paper that cost $5 a sheet and you're too broke to even buy a cup of coffee, you'll understand why those papers are never getting thrown away.

Several of the pages are from the hours I spent experimenting on the old school letter press. I never knew until the first time I was alone at the letter press that one of my favorite ways to write poetry is while I'm setting letters and words with these little lead pieces of the alphabet, placing them backwards across the scene and tightening them with an old tool that so many girls before me had used in that same basement studio. Here's one:

singing sweet
lyrics, saying LOVE
holding wishes
against their chests
and hope
in their

Anyway, I can't throw any of it away.

All of  those scraps of paper are mine-- I love them. I would bring them all inside. They're safe, protected in portfolios. I'm keeping them for who knows what, but I made them. I could never throw them away.

Sometimes I realize that I am a scrap of paper in the hands of my maker. But I am exquisite paper-- quality stuff. He has mixed the most perfect colors in me. He put me together with intent, with purpose, and He never planned to throw me into the scrap heap, even at my lowest. Because I was always His.

Let no debt remain outstanding except the debt to love. Every one of us is His perfectly crafted piece of art. A holy expression of His joy, His beauty, His faithfulness, His generosity and sweetness. What if we began to see ourselves as a beloved, cherished piece of original artwork? What if I saw you as His prize?

Right now, some friends of mine are waking up in the holy land-- yesterday, my dear friend Toni told me in a message that she was undone to be walking where He walked and my heart nearly explodes with the YES of what she is feeling-- to be where He physically chose to live on earth is like nothing...nothing is like it. It is holy. Sacred.

And to think, He physically knit me together. He has touched me-- His own hands formed me, and formed you. He's calling us back-- the artist is calling us back. It is holy. Sacred.

You are wholly loved. Sacred. His own.

Let no debt remain outstanding, save the debt to love who He loves. To treasure what He treasures. Who He treasures.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

bloom and grow forever

I said I'd write tonight. I spent the  day with two of my nieces yesterday, spent today reading  Greek mythology for school, and spent the evening grocery  shopping because I have decided this is the year I'm going to take care of  myself at school, and that means that there must be breakfast at this house.

Now I want to go to bed, but I said that I would write tonight.

So I'm taking some advice that I would give to one of my students if she  knew that she needed to write a journal entry before bed but she was so sleepy she almost tripped and fell over a washcloth in the  bathroom. I would tell her to write what's been on her mind.

So here goes.

I've been thinking of the body of Christ. My little town has been going through a series of crises over the  last couple of months-- violent crime from bored/angry/misguided/who knows? youth has sprung up and the good men and women of this once fairly sleepy town have responded in so many and varied ways, and so many of them beautiful.

Honestly, they've just amped up efforts they were already pouring themselves into. Feeding the hungry, praying for the church, housing the homeless, offering Him worship, crying out for justice, caring for the elderly, loving the unlovable, giving their money, cheering on the discouraged.... so many jobs, so many faithful ones.

Anyway-- and  this is a little scattered, I guess-- I've been thinking about the body of Christ and why we're here and all of  the nuggets of gold He has been dropping  into my heart over the last  couple of months. Like, when my dear friend Kenny Peavy came to lead us in worship in my living room last month and he poured out words about the kingdom. Kenny said something like this: People are walking around all day looking and longing for the Kingdom-- for Jesus Christ-- and we walk up and bam, there it is! The Kingdom of God!

Selah. Pause and think about that.

We carry around with us the  power of  God. We carry around the answer to all of  the pain and sadness of the world. The One who can mend broken hearts lives in us. Our lives of  freedom and redemption are  proof of His ability and willingness to take  and redeem anything at all. He has shone His light deep into  us. And we have the treasure of His presence and His power in these jars of clay, evidence that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. He has taken up residence in us. His's here. And holy smoke, what can happen when the Kingdom draws near. What could happen if the Church were to say Yes? One mighty, holy Yes.

My friend Hayley sat on my front porch in the middle of a riotous display of God's power through thunder and  lightning, and she said, "Lord, You have my YES."

Yes. You have my yes.

I've been thinking about what happens when an army of believers  who have given Him their YES and who have determined that they will embrace the Kingdom of God within them, let His light shine through our faces and noses and elbows and toes, letting every word  drip with the richness of His life within us-- what would happen if that army rushed on the city? Climbed the walls? Loved every single kid they came in contact with? Prayed for instead  of cursing  their leaders-- even  the corrupt, weak, fearful leaders; the ones who have lost our respect? What would happen if the people of God held His Word aloft as our only weapon--the mightiest weapon for which there is no counter?

What is required of us?

We must submit to Him. I must submit to Him. He is worthy of it all.

We have to know Him.

We have to study His word, we have to listen close for His voice because His sheep know His voice, but I will tell you, it takes practice to recognize His voice in the middle of a world where things are hardly ever quiet and every single person you know has an opinion and many of them add "thus saith the Lord" to their opinions.

We are at a critical place (I speak to myself; I share my journal with you) where we have to invest in so much time with Him in the secret place where we are more used to the light of His glory than the light of our iPhones, televisions, and computers.

We have to run toward Him in worship-- musicians, non-musicians, it doesn't matter. His word says that He is looking for worshipers (John 4:23-24). I don't know about you, but if my God is looking for something that specific, then if I don't know anything else about what He wants, at least I know  THAT. What does it mean to worship Him? It's to give Him our attention, our words, our ideas, our hopes, our everything. It's to sit before Him in the quiet or in the loud and put our eyes on Him and tell Him how good He is and how much we love Him...and then wait for Him. Not metaphorically. Wait.

We have to come alongside Him-- figure out what He is doing and do that with Him.


These are some of the things I have been thinking about.

He has planted us-- we  are called to be oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor (Isaiah 61:3).

I want to be one of those oaks whose limbs bend and sway with the wind of the Spirit and whose roots grow deep into the soil of His presence and His goodness. I want Him to cut me down and use me to build. I want Him to call me up out of the dirt to stand with arms outstretched in worship. I want to bow or sway or burn, but for His kingdom. I want His Kingdom established on earth as it is in heaven because I love Him and it's what He wants. I want Him. There is nothing more important.

Night and day and day and night, let incense arise.

Bloom and grow forever.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

welcome :)

It's been ages since I updated this blog.

I think about it almost daily, honestly. "I should write about this" and "Hm...interesting... I should record this on the blog..." are thoughts that fly into my mind and sort of escape by the time I make it home. Time, worship rehearsal, Facebook, the house, front porch conversations, art, reading, grading-- these things compete. The reality is, though, that I should be writing.

[all the writers nod in total guilty understanding]

But here's what I have been thinking of the last few days-- every year, my blog registers a surge in readership around the beginning of the school year. Parents and students do what we all do (I did it in college, too!) : google your professor, look up that teacher, see if you can find a mugshot, hope to find academic honors, get the inside scoop on the person who will be waxing [hopefully] eloquent from the front of the room for the next nine months.

Anyway, I'm not advertising this blog on my school website-- this is my personal blog, but if you guys are as nosy as I am, you'll find yourself here eventually.

I understand and welcome the research, so I thought that this year I'd make it a bit easier to get to the bottom of some things! :)

1. The first thing to know about me is that I'm pretty much exactly the way I seem. Some of you will meet me for the first time tomorrow night (freshman open house at our school) and you will wonder if I'm always this hyper. The answer is YES-- if I seem like I'm having a great time, I really am. Being crushed together in one place with one goal is one of my favorite things, whether it's in our classroom (because it's not just mine-- it's yours, too) or in a living room packed with friends who are worshiping or studying. I love being part of a pack. And that means that I love community. And that means that I like being with people who like each other. And that means that I am going to do my best to help create an environment in our classroom where we like each other. Mutual respect-- it starts with me because I'm the grownup. You're welcome :)

2. You won't find any mugshots of me online. That doesn't mean I'm perfect, it just means God has been watching out for me for a very, very long time. My life is a constant example of His grace and goodness. And my life is also pretty much an open book-- when you google my name, you'll see that I am very active in church (I lead worship with a team of passionate believers)-- but I will love and accept you no matter what your belief system is (I guess I draw the line at cannibalism, though). I kind of like mean people because usually they're ridiculously sweet under all that anger, too, so don't count yourself out if you're a turd.

Btw, while we're on the might indeed find dirt or mugshots or hear rumors about your teachers, but I will tell you this-- if it makes it to you, it's not a scandal and you didn't discover it. Your teachers are [mostly] good men and women who are trying their best to do right by you. We've all made mistakes, right? Your parents, your friends, YOU... let's just do this: try to treat others the way you want to be treated. You don't judge your teacher for what you've heard about him/her, and we'll try not to judge you based on what we've heard about you. Let's deal with the person standing in front of us. Deal? :)

3. I like English Literature a LOT, but I LOOOOVE teenagers and I feel called to be in your lives. I feel part of what I was created for was to be an adult in your life that does her best to find the gold in you. If that involved reading a good story together, or figuring out why an author chose THIS symbol over maybe THAT symbol, then all the better. I'm nosy, so I'll ask you to write about things that make you sad or that make you happy. I will also want to know if you've ever been in love :) I want to know what makes your heart sing and what makes you laugh or cry. And I think sometimes you care about what I'm feeling, too. I love that about teenagers. I want to help you get ready for life-- I want to help you figure out what you want to be when you grow up and how to work through all kinds of problems. Many times, writers have done the work of figuring out some life lessons we can learn from, and I feel that I glean new stuff from old classics every year-- often, through some insight brought to the class through the voice of a 14 year old genius (A4, class of 2017, I'm looking at you guys). And that's why I teach high school.

4. Did I mention that I'm nosy? I have one word for you: journals.

5. The classroom: My classroom is very much conversation centered. We'll talk all year. Which means that you need to do the reading that is assigned-- hopefully, having your own mini-computers this year will help with some of that. Anyway, in order to have a good conversation, all participants need to feel liked and respected, so we'll start there-- I like humor, but I avoid sarcasm because sometimes people don't know for sure if they're being respected or being made fun of. I don't allow people to talk about people who are not in the room, unless it's Lady Gaga or you're related to one of the Real Housewives and you have dirt. You know. Stuff like that. It's all about respect and information-- you saw that I'm nosy, right? :)

OH! Some of you lucky ones will have a class with two of us in the room-- it's an experiment Mrs. Overby and I are doing, and you lucky things will be the object of all of our studies. You should know that you can completely distract us, especially if you laugh at us. We're pretty much hysterically funny. Mrs. Overby is like no one you've ever met before. I'll let you figure that out for yourself.

6. I will straight up quote you. If you make me laugh, you will find yourself being quoted (anonymously) under the "freshmen" or "overheard" label (see the right margin of this blog-- you should check those out. My favorite is the one where one of my boys said the dumbest thing about sneezing). I don't typically start right away. But it'll happen.

7. Both of my degrees are from Agnes Scott College and I love, love, love my college. If you're a smart young woman, I will likely push ASC on you for the next four years. My little seven year old niece understands that first she will go to Agnes Scott but then she told me this summer that she needs ME to understand that she will spend some time ALSO playing soccer at University of Georgia and also, btw, War Eagle (she has a lot of adults in her life with agendas... :) ).

8. My husband teaches English at Rockdale. And he's awesome.

9. To parents: You guys have my respect. I cannot imagine how much courage it takes for you to release your precious ones into the world every day. They are your jewels. You have fought for them and fought with them and fought over them and will go down fighting for them until your last breath. Thank you for trusting us with your sons and daughters. My heart is to be the answer to your prayers for your child's teacher this year. I'm not bionic, but I want to do my best to honor you and to honor them. I know you're doing your best, too.

There's so much more to know, but we have the next few months to find it all out. Plus, I'm going to tell you all of the class rules for the first week of school. You think I'm kidding?

You're welcome to read anything on this whole blog and find out other stuff. There's some sad stuff here, and there's some funny stuff here. You'll figure out pretty quickly that I'm a Christian and that it's the most important thing about me, but please don't be scared if that's not the way you think. My call is to be loving. I'm trying my best to follow my Savior's example in that. You'd love Him if He was behind the podium in my classroom, and if He lives in need to feel loved by the person behind the podium, no matter who you are.

We'll have fun this year!!!!

Mrs. Swaney

(this is beautiful)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

This is That, Part One

First, here is what I know:
*God is looking all the time, everywhere, for a people who will worship Him because it was what we were made to do. 

*We are at our most beautiful when we worship Him.

*He is longing to make His glory known across the earth so that the lost will see and know that He is good.

*He loves me.

And what I don’t know?

*There isn't enough room on the internet to contain all the things I don’t know.

So I want to tell you about this summer, but I will have to do it in parts. There's just so much. 

I don’t know how it is for the rest of the adult world, but for teachers, the seasons are very well defined—when you ask a “regular" adult what they’ll be doing this summer, I wonder if they're thinking, “What do you mean? Do you mean do I have plans to do anything other than go to the job I go to all the time except that this time I’m doing it during the time of year it’s hot outside?” 

Sometimes I feel bad talking about summer to my regular adult friends. I mean, I know I’m not being paid to be “off” during these months (our pay is 9 months spread out over 12), but everyone feels better in the fall after a few weeks away from each other.

Seriously, you guys should all be teachers. It’s hard, but dang. So fun.

But I digress (which is why I’m a pretty good teacher, I think. Digressing keeps it interesting. I mean, really—you can only talk about capitalization for so long).

So when people asked me what I was going to do this summer, here is what I said:

“Work on some stained glass, do some paintings, and write.”

Oh, and also, “not one thing.”

But God? He always has these other plans and I am so glad to love a God so full of surprises.

Here’s what happened to me this summer:

I brought my wounded heart before the Lord and He breathed on it and made it whole. The part of my heart that I had kept separate from the other parts. The part that had the name of my son scraped across the front of it, that I kept hidden in a pocket inside my coat, the part that only came out when my heart flew up to that deep place in worship—that place where you’re just getting ready to dive and fly at the same time. This is what would happen every time:

I would stand before the Lord-- sometimes on a platform, leading worship, sometimes alone in my home—and would open my mouth to sing to Him when suddenly my heart and attention would sort of bump up against this lone, aching thought: “But why did you take my son?”

And the ache would rise to the top like cream—rich, full, heavy—and the next thought I would always have was, “But I will still worship You. You are worthy. I don’t understand but I’m going to worship You in the face of this.” Every time. My heart would wrap itself around the hurt place with one arm and would press through, like a quarterback, onward in worship.

I bring the sacrifice of praise, Father. I will keep bringing the sacrifice of praise.

And of course, people told me that it was normal to still have grief—that my little son was worth it. And they were right. Of course they were and are right.

But you know when you sort of just know that what you’re feeling isn't exactly healthy?

This thing in me felt like a splinter that had gone undetected after the dagger had been removed and the wound washed clean. He had rushed to my rescue when Benjamin Joseph Swaney died and I gave Him almost all of it when He began the work of healing me, but I held this one thing back: the “but why?” Like a splinter will, it grew infected deep, deep within my heart, but only I knew it, and I only felt it when I pressed near that area…during worship, when all of my whys disappear in the face of His great beauty, I had this one unanswered question and it wasn't okay.

It was distracting. It was painful.

But I told the Lord, like I told Him so many years ago in Cimarron, Colorado, that I would serve Him every day of my life no matter what. Back then, I told Him that I would serve Him even if I struggled with unbelief and a lack of feeling for the rest of my life. This time, I told Him that I would sing to Him even if all I ever felt was pain every time I opened my mouth. So I sang through it. And it was a beautiful thing between us.

But we were designed to recover, you know? He made our bodies to heal. Sunburns turn to tans. Scrapes turn into scars. C-section scars turn into jagged reminders of what happened, but they heal.

I was keeping that part of my heart covered, holding onto it, snatching it from Him. I remember my father trying to remove a splinter from my foot once when I was a little kid—my dad is the gentlest person I know and he was an EMT so he knew what he was doing, but I just screamed and kicked and wouldn't let him near it. The skin around it had already inflamed because I had been afraid to show it to him (for fear of this very thing) and it seemed like it hurt to even look at it. Of course, he knew what would happen if it was left alone so it had to be taken care of. I don’t remember how he finally got me to settle down, but I still have my foot so it must have worked.

A few months ago, I started to think that maybe I had a splinter in this part of my heart. Ben would have been five this past April—I know that I will never get over missing him and that it is especially understandable because I never had more children, but there is something that happens with grief over time… it gets quiet. It becomes bearable. It stops naming you. You can have regular conversations and sleep and hold people’s babies and visit newborns in the hospital. You laugh again.

But that nagging question will kill you.

Because none of us will understand why babies who are longed for die. No one will be able to adequately answer this question. I understand that this is something that there are a thousand answers for, but not the kind of answers that make your heart okay.

So I gave in to the sovereignty of the Lord and made peace with the answerlessness of the thing. I remembered that my son didn't stop existing. That somehow, somewhere, this was the plan God had for my son—my son who grew inside me, but who is a whole other person, separate from me, with his own life and destiny and relationship with God. God’s call on his life is between them. Who am I to try to come between them on that? I know it like I know my own name that my son is walking in his destiny and I will see him again. I have no idea where he is or what he is doing, but his Father in heaven does.

Still, I would open my mouth to sing His praises and the little tiny voice in my soul would sing out, “But why did you take my son? My only son? Why?” That line of questioning between my soul and the fact of His sovereignty and the fact that He would tell me if I could grasp it is exhausting.

So I went to worship Him with my friends at the beginning of the summer.

A couple of churches had come together to worship Him and see what would happen. There was a man who clearly operated in the office of the prophet (Eph. 4:10) and the Lord had shown him some key things and we would worship the Lord and this man would speak. Some people were healed. Some delivered of demonic oppression. The Lord Himself visited us. We worshiped loud and hard. How can you not? When you find yourself that close to the glory, you tap into a desperation in your heart that is not easy to resist.

One night, that first or second weekend, the man of God asked for people who needed some kind of healing to come forward. We had been worshiping for a couple of hours and many of my friends had gone home with the exception of one of the coolest teenagers I have ever met and a couple I have known since I was a little girl. I looked at them and said I was going forward. The teenager, Jordan, sort of shrugged like, “Hey, why not?” and went with me. My friend Lori was close behind me.

One of the pastors came over to me and asked me what I needed prayer for. Words tumbled out of my mouth—something about my baby died, my heart is too sick still, I need help.

As he prayed for me, I felt something shift. It’s hard to explain, but if you've read this far, you've probably felt this kind of thing before, too—that pain that is like a live thing that sometimes stirs, like a monster, at the pit of your gut. Or it’s like a stone that covers a grave. For a moment the garden tomb in Jerusalem flashed through my mind and then retreated.

The music was loud, and that was good. I couldn't hear a lot of what the pastor was praying, but it didn't matter—he was speaking to Someone else and I was agreeing with him and crying out to the Lord myself. The splinter monster thing budged as I received and agreed with the prayer.

The pastor stopped praying and looked at me, asking me how I was doing. I was weeping and that part of me that is a good student who always wants to get the answers right almost said, “I’m so much better now, thank you” and walked back to my seat with a waking monster in my gut. But I couldn't do that. I couldn't hold onto this infected place in me—it was painful and distracting and not God’s best for me. I told the pastor that I wasn't done.

We moved closer to the altar and his wife joined us and we continued to pray. The music began to build in strength and volume and I suddenly had the urge to yell. When I tell you that I had the urge to yell what I really mean is that I had the urge to scream. A lot. I needed to push. I needed to yell out every ounce of pain and grief and sadness that had become lodged deep inside my heart. I was so grateful for the loudness of the music—more than once, I made the decision not to get embarrassed about how loud I was being and just push through.

And then, just like that, it was gone.

I knew it like I knew my name. I felt Him come for me. My Father came for me in the midst of my pain and I finally opened that part of my heart that thought if I kept at least a tiny bit of the raw grief of losing Ben alive, I would keep him current. I would keep him just now, not five years ago, or ten years ago, or twenty years ago.

But that’s not the way He designed us to work. He made us to heal. He made us to grow skin across those wounded places.

It has been more than seven weeks since that night and I can say that my heart is whole. He healed me. Do I still feel the sadness of his loss? Friends, please hear me: I will never be over that loss. He was my baby. I long for him every day. That is normal, I think.

No, I am talking about the part of grief that starts to interfere with our relationship with God. The part that interrupts our worship. That part has to go. I walked into that church with a broken, infected heart, and the God who had been waiting for me to just let Him “take a look” (like my daddy would say) rushed in the second I pulled my hands away. I am able to throw my head back in worship and look Him right in the face and worship only Him—with both hands, my whole mind, and all my strength.

There is no end to His goodness.