Friday, December 4, 2009

The Promise

The Promise

And you shall call His name 'Jesus' because He shall save His people from their sins.

Even His name is a promise: "The Lord saves." Christmas is the celebration of the keeping of a promise. The promise that God would someday erase the sin of the world in a single day (Zech.3:9). The promise that He would someday walk with us, that we might be His people and He our God (Lev. 26:12). The promise that the fall would be undone by the One who would crush the head of the serpent (Gen.3:15). A saving promise.

Faith, in the Old Testament, is defined by a person's willingness to wait for the promises of God to come. Faith, in the New Testament, means following the Promised One.

In that Promised One, God gave to us all He could give because a part of the "self" is given in the making of any real promise. Overwhelmed by His own desire to give, God sent the most treasured Gift to keep the promise He himself made. God chose to suffer the punishment which should have been inflicted on those who are guilty of breaking a promise. So for those who see Christianity merely as a relationship in which we can ask God for things, Christmas reminds us that He has already given His all, His own Son.

Christianity is founded on a promise. Faith involves waiting on a promise. Our hope is based on a promise. God promised He would be "with us", not as unseen ethereal force, but in the form of a person with a name: Jesus. He promised us salvation in the name 'Jesus', by the name 'Jesus', through the name 'Jesus'.

O Lord, how many are your promises? Are they not all "yes" in the name of the One who is the Promise? Father, let me spend my life pursuing that Promise. Teach me to hope in you, who always keep your Promise. Give my life to your Promise, so that I may shine like a single star in the darkness of this world with the light of your Promised One.

The writing is taken from the devotional book "The Promise"
© 1991 by Michael Card. All Rights Reserved

(emphasis mine)

Check it out!

Hey all-- I've been writing and will update later on, but wanted to post a great new find! My friend Ashley--a fellow studio art major at Agnes Scott from back in the day-- is a design student at The Creative Circus (is about to graduate!) and has the most incredible work!! You have to see her blog!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thinking about loss...

It's early in the morning and I'm thinking about what it means to lose people. Nice way to start the day, huh? :) I don't know. It's part of life... we're part of it. It's part of us. None of us has been untouched, though some to greater extents than others. Somehow, the holidays make the losses come more sharply into view.

There have been moments in the last few days which have brought the whole theme of death and loss sharply into focus for me. We had a healing service the other night at church-- it was a precious night. It was completely unlike any healing service I have ever been to-- my background is truly charismatic, but my husband and I have found ourselves knitted into a church that would not necessarily identify itself that way :). It is a body of believers who truly, deeply love God and who believe everything the Bible says, as a rule, but so far I haven't seen anyone swinging from the chandeliers (and any folks who've gone to church with me in other states/countries know that if there had been a chandelier around, people would have been swinging from them and breaking limbs-- ahem, Pam....). I've been to many healing services and they were loud and sweaty and the worship was invigorating and the air, electric. So many times, sitting/standing/lying on the floor at those services, I wonder how anyone can resist Him. How anyone can let anything stand in their way, blocking them from this.

Anyway, the pastor announced that we'd be having this service at vespers. He taught on healing and a young boy, a prodigy really, was playing hymns on the piano. It felt so old fashioned. So honest. So... pure.

People filed forward, kneeling at the alter for the laying on of hands, the anointing of lavender-scented oil, and I heard sniffles, short gasps of quietly controlled crying, and the low voice of the pastor as he repeated his prayer over and over... I knelt with my mother and two dear friends flanking me, each of us before Him, hearts full of prayers for all kinds of things, and I remembered again and again that He is close to the broken-hearted, and knew, like I know, that He keeps pressing closer to me than I know. My heart is better today than it was a few months ago. There were nights, a few months ago, that I could not imagine living with the agony I was experiencing in my heart-- though my heart will ache for Benjamin until I hold him again one day, it is not like it was...and if you are at the beginning of that journey, know that it isn't simply that the pain fades-- there is one Who can minister peace to your soul. It's real. It isn't an act of mind over matter or self-delusion. His supernatural touch is what has saved my life this season.

As I went back to my seat, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the way the sanctuary feels at night and the closeness of a handful of believers gathered for one reason. I listened to the old hymns, enduring through so many years because so often they are simply, profoundly true, and heard the tears of people around me, mingling with my own.

So much loss. Such grief and suffering. There is only one set of shoulders able to help carry our burdens. My testimony is that He does.

But the depth of loss.... to know that the one we love is gone, even if it is better to be in the courts of God, worshipping before Him all day, it is agony to lose the ability to touch the person we have lost. To hear my child's cooing or crying, to smell his fragrance, to look into his eyes and to see and be seen. For a woman to lose her husband, her companion when everyone else is asleep.... For a daughter to lose her mother, that most unique of all connections-- the womb you spilled from, the woman who nurtured you, the one who loves you like no one else does... These are losses I have seen in the last few months, and just as others cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a child, I cannot imagine what it would mean to lose my husband, parents, brother, sisters-in-law, nieces, close friends.... Each relationship has a unique shape in our hearts.

How do we walk through it?

I didn't walk through the loss of Ben. I crawled. I wept. I sat up late at night, staring at a television screen I didn't see. I was afraid of the dark for a while. I couldn't see a commercial with a baby. I would walk into the center of his room, hang my head and groan with longing. My most oft-cried prayer? "Oh Goooooooooooooood .... help help help help help."

I'm so grateful for a God who knows what I mean even when I don't.

So lately, when I think about loss, my mind gets all jumbled up and all the words seem to push to the front of my mind, all trying to get out at once. So I prayed this yesterday: "Lord, You know." And I allowed myself to sort of feel each thought and imagined myself sort of pointing to the thought and looking at the Lord-- see that one? I'm praying and thinking that. And that, too. Oh, He is such a friend.

Where are these ones we love? For now, it's sometimes not comforting to know that they are in the presence of the Most High-- I'm glad they're safe, but the grief is earth-bound: I want my friend's mother to be with her on Christmas day. I want Wendy' mom to sit beside her, wherever it is that she always sits, on Christmas morning. I want her hands in Wendy's hair and her eyes to be lit with joy over her grandchildren. I want her family to have her. Oh God, oh God, oh God-- help help help help help. I want her husband to have the woman who has kept his bed warm.

I want them not to be alone.

I want them not to ache, as all of us who have experienced loss do, at three in the morning, arms empty and souls craving.

We were not made for this. We were built, designed, created to never taste death, but we are drawn to it in so many ways.

But You promised to not leave us alone. You said that You would send us a Comforter.

You knew that we would need Comfort.

Loss is so deep. So black. So unforgiving. So I pray that You minister comfort, that You minister Your very self to us this season. That You apply the balm of your presence to us as we wade into this, changing the channel when Publix commercials threaten to push us over the edge, or when diaper ads tug at our hearts. Oh God, that we would cling to You-- knowing that we can't get them back, but we can get to You.

And that this is faith, too: hanging on like crazy when it feels like the waves are going to overwhelm us.

Letter from a Friend

One of my dearest friends in the world is a worship leader out west and she read my entry below, sending me this response to my post about worship leading. I just love her perspective, always learn from it, and had to post this. She has years of experience and walks in the fear of the Lord.

i just read your blog about leading worship. i know you love honest conversation, so here's my story.

i lead blind. after so many years of gauging the way i lead a worship set by the reaction or participation of the congregation, i have learned that appearances can be so deceiving.

about 4 years ago, the Lord put me on the bench for the better part of a year. He proceeded to break me into tiny, tiny pieces. He put me back together, and worship was never the same. i have heard a lot of the things you had to say from a lot of different corners, and i believed it for myself for a lot of years, but here's my experience: if i listen to Holy Spirit, He will take us where He wants us to go.
everyone has a choice in worship, to engage or not. my job as a lead worshiper is to follow Holy Spirit and be followable in the way i sing and play. but ultimately, they will choose whether they will open their hearts up. what people see from me is a vulnerable demonstration of honest, passionate worship. yes, style and skill and sensitivity to where people are and with what they are burdened is important. but really, i am simply naked as i worship. a leader being willing to be broken and honest frees the people to also be broken and honest. it puts to death the spirit of performance and the need to be seen as having it all together that hinders true worship.

also, i have felt the anointing leave me and have pulled back so many times. finally, a prophetic friend came to me and said, "you keep pulling back just when things are about to break out!" i have learned that when i sense Him 'leaving' me, His presence is really just moving out into the congregation. i have learned how to wait in that place and not get nervous or in a rush. that's when the real work happens, is when He begins to do the stirring. all i am doing is facilitating the atmosphere of Heaven. a lot of times prophetic songs or proclamation or warfare in worship will happen. sometimes He sings over us. sometimes it is silence (people have to work up to that one!).

when i came back after that long break, He asked me to face Him, not the people. at first, it was difficult, because how do you know what's going on out there? but, as i have practiced 'leading blind', i have developed, in the same fashion, an increased hearing of His voice and sensitivity to His heart. i look out there every now and then, but except for communicating with my team, my eyes are usually closed. if i concentrate on what i see people doing, i get distracted. it makes it harder to hear.

i have learned that He means for me to be myself as i do what i am meant to do. i am fully aware that each of us carries a different anointing, and we are meant to. leading worship looks different for each leader and each fellowship. someone once said to me, 'God never intended you to minister like anyone other than yourself.' i thought, 'thank you.' this was a grace to me, and it brought healing to my heart after so many years of trying to perform or please people. i never fit the hole they wanted me to fit.

be blessed in your journey into the heart of God. i am asking for more of His presence, more anointing for you as you lead others to encounter Him in worship. i pray that you live under grace as you worship.

** emphasis mine

This is fantastic. I LOVE when you lead worship. I miss it, dear friend.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Some thoughts on worship leading...

i will be dispensing with capitalization this post-- i'm not being paid to think this week so i'm trying to avoid it as much as possible :)

I want to post part of a note between a friend of mine and me. I've been thinking about this for years, honestly, but the word "midwife" has come to mind a lot-- since watching my friend Elizabeth (my midwife and friend of more than 20 years) and thinking about her job and her role in the delivery room the day Ben died, and the role she played when she guided me through the weeks leading up to his birth (and ultimately, death, much much much to our surprise) and the weeks after his death. she literally "came alongside" me in so many ways.

i believe that the same can be said for pastors, teachers, worship leaders, small group leaders, intercessors.... we are midwives to what the Lord is doing in the lives of His people.

and as believers, we need to be having conversations about what our callings look like. as academics, we have conversations all the time about educational pedagogy -- as believers, we must be fluid in the language of what we believe and why we believe it, and what we do and why we do it.

here is a portion of a note i sent to my friend paul, who is currently leading worship at our church. he has a gigantic heart and profound love for the Lord. i'm on his team and we keep experiencing His presence in our midst. this has to do with something we were talking about...

i was just thinking about [the idea that] the worship leader can't worship while the congregation worships and at first it made me mad-- it's ridiculous! how can you lead where you haven't been?

but then i remembered the word the Lord has been speaking to me lately: midwife. truly, it's like leaders-- pastors, teachers, worship leaders-- of all kinds are midwives to what the Lord is doing in the hearts of His people. the midwife's role is different from that of the people he or she is leading.

the midwife's head has to be in the game in a way that is different from the congregation, but that doesn't mean that he/she isn't worshipping-- it means that the anointing is different. i think that [he] meant that the worship leader can't sink down into the emotion of it b/c he has to be watching and that's true to some extent, i think. BUT it means that they walk into leadership having spent hours of time alone, worshipping, praying, seeking His face, on his or her own before leading in whatever way they're leading. they are worshipping, but they are watching, too, for what the Lord is doing, letting Him lead and watching to see if the people are coming, too, listening for what to do if they are not.

that's why i like the house lights up, too.

because we're not just song leaders. we are worship leaders; worship teachers. as a teacher, i come into my classroom with a plan (i'm prepared, ready, having grasped the concepts that i am teaching them about), but if i don't gauge where my "audience" is, how will i know if my kids are coming? i have to adjust what i'm doing if they're not. the worship leader comes out to say, "this is the way to the holy of holies-- i've been there and just came to say that this is the way-- come with me and we'll enter in." it's a LEVITICAL act! he or she has to be able to see them in a thousand ways. that's why you're totally dependent upon the anointing. upon His presence. it's all about Him anyway. as worship leaders, we have to adjust what we're doing if the congregation isn't with us.

for us, if the congregation isn't entering in, we are praying while we're on the stage, "Oh God, what are you doing now? Where do you want us to go?" or if they're fully engaged, "thank You Lord-- please help us come closer." He's doing it all anyway. it's all for Him, by Him, through Him. and it blesses the mess out of us.

anyway, i hope that's what he meant...because if you, the human leading worship, aren't worshipping, what is the Lord going to have to anoint? i mean, He set things up the way He did on purpose and He wants to pour out His anointing. you're having a different worship time
from the congregation because of the different roles, but you know, you can't control when the Lord swooshes in with emotion no matter what the role is. and i just LOVE that about worship.

it's not clinical, but it's not easily understood. it's profound and none of us has gotten to the bottom of it. it's the cry of the heart. it's important and necessary. the levites led the troops in worship-- i believe that we need it before teaching. the Holy Spirit is working in us, preparing the soil of our hearts. plus, He says that if we only GLANCE at Him, His heart melts.

alright. gotta go melt the heart of the Lord while i pack.

I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart.

That is where He lifts the robes of mourning for just a second and ministers to the still-broken mother's heart in me, and where He has grafted Himself over that torn spot.

He is faithful and mighty.

And I will worship Him no matter what. I didn't know before that I meant that. I know now...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Welcome holidays...

Dear Jesus,

Thank you so much for life. For the fact that this life is completely full of ups and downs. For the fact that I happen to agree with every positive cliche I can think of right now. For the fact that life is both long and short. For the fact that we are learning how to live in You right now-- that, in a way, this life IS a dress rehearsal for eternity. Thank you that we can wake up, nurture our nests and our relationships and watch for Your glory and that sometimes we can weep and grieve and cry out at and to You. Thank you that this life is also short and that we're working our way toward You and we are living to really one day see Your face to face... to hold the children we've lost and the loved ones who've gone on before us. Thank you that, just like Christmas seems to take forever to get here and the morning itself seems like it came all too fast, one day we will hold You and be held by You and it will seem like it was nothing.

Today is beautiful. And tough. The beginning of the holidays without Ben... I know that I packed away an ornament that was for him, for his first Christmas, and I can't remember where it is, so I have no idea when I will discover it. I remember shopping last year and gazing longingly at the precious little ones bundled up and my heart was full with excitement for having one of my own this next Christmas. I remember thinking how our houses would be full of babies to hold. They still are-- they're just not mine this time.

But today is beautiful. TODAY is beautiful. And it's all going to be okay.

Thank you Jesus for grace that spills out of who-knows-where and for the mercy that sustains us, too.

Welcome holidays-- I'm ready for you. I'm going to feel everything and it's going to be alright.


ps i have no idea why my blog is hyperlinking to university of phoenix, but i'll see what i can do to fix it. it's not me!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

i need words
as wide as sky
i need a language large as
this longing inside
and i need a voice
bigger than mine
and i need a song to sing you
that i've yet to find...
i need you
well i need you
i need you
oh i need you...
to be here now...
to be here now...
to hear me now
to hear me now...

david crowder

I told my students today that I love the weather today. It's cloudy and rainy and gloomy and it makes me think of lovely days spent in the library at my dear alma mater, tucked in at a desk with piles of books around me, my winter coat across the back of my seat, my ears crammed with plugs (the only way to avoid distraction-- surrounded by so many precious girls, I had to make myself unable to hear their happy chirping or I would be irresistibly drawn away from my studies). This weather, I told them, makes me feel smart.

They didn't buy it.

They said that it makes them feel sleepy.

I didn't tell them that it makes me feel sleepy, too.


It also makes me sad-- but not because it's gloomy. I'm an artist-- we love gloom. Sorry if you're a sunny daisy artist-- I don't mean to stereotype, but there it is. No, it makes me sad because I find myself slipping farther and farther away from Ben and the months that were his. Right now I am still in the middle of months where I can say, "This time last year I was three months pregnant...." But in just a few months, these months will be no more. That type of connection to him.

But I'll always have the scar. I'm glad. I know, I'm weird.

But also... we've bought a house--I think I mentioned it? In just a few weeks we'll be movin g into it, and moving away from the only earthly home Ben ever lived in, even if his was matryoshka living... The front room is the front room, not "Ben's room."

But as always, I feel the Him of my heart drawing close, cleansing me all the time in a thousand ways. He is whispering to me that He is the center, He is the center. These things matter, but He matters most, and that as I draw Him over me like a warm blanket and as I breathe Him in like perfumed oxygen, He is pouring His life into me. And this deep ache? I offer it to Him daily-- it is not for nothing. And the song that wants to turn into a dirge when I'm not paying attention? He catches it at the minor key and my God, He harmonizes and it becomes something altogether else.

My God redeems.

My God redeems.

This mess is not beyond His touch. I am alive and He is here and this is not the end of the story, bless God.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I haven't mentioned it before now, but we bought a house.

We did it back in September and it's amazing, but we're not in it yet. Renovations, you know.

And that's how this season of my life feels: not yet, because we're in renovations.

Sometimes I feel so hedged in by time.

But I'm filled with the One who created time-- time doesn't tell Him what is possible or probable or impossible. Time doesn't push Him around and laugh at 38 and say, HA! Your eggs are gettin' OLD. Time doesn't decide who does or does not get created. Time doesn't decide when things happen. My Father created Time and plunked me down into the middle of it, but He never restricted me to it. I'm no victim of Time.

If it sounds like I'm talking myself into it, I suppose I kind of am :).

But this season has involved Don and me determining to keep our vision trained above the horizon, off the surface of the water, away from what things look like and focused on the One who loves us more than words can express.

You got dreams
turn 'em into plans
too big for human hands
trust Him and see
He's got all the power you need....
He's real, He's real
faith's a lot stronger than what you feel...

I've been singing this song a lot in the last few weeks.

I've been singing a lot this season, period.

Something about getting the crap squeezed out of me in April has produced music. Not my own music-- no, this has been a season of prose-- but finding these worship songs that say exactly what my heart has been wanting to say. Almost always, I find myself halfway into these songs before becoming completely overwhelmed with emotion and choking the words out, bent halfway over, heaving with deep, cleansing sobs.

He's real. He's real.

Friends, my God is healing my heart. I had no idea that He could do it. Before April, I had no idea who I worshipped. I think maybe I have even less now. Here's what I know: He's real.

How is it possible that a woman can hold her beautiful, perfect, precious, lifeless son, and walk away with hope in her heart?

How is it possible to return to the scene of the crime in my head, over and over again, and not be decimated?

I had no idea what I was capable of, and that there was survival beyond the worst loss of my life. I had no idea that the God that I have placed all of my hopes in is bigger than I thought. I have looked at the deepest sadness I have ever known and my faith in my Savior has been confirmed.

And I have no words for it.

Every time I open my mouth to sing, my mind goes back to the hospital room. I stepped in for Paul and led worship this morning and it happened again-- I'm singing to Him when suddenly, in my mind's eye, I see myself, half-comatose on drugs, holding Ben. I feel like the Lord is trying to tell me something every time this happens.

Today, I was telling Tara and Tinelle that I think He's trying to talk to me about how present He was in that place. How I have no idea how crammed with His spirit that room was. How He was pressing in there at a strength that was more intense than I have ever known.

And my heart's response, when He is showing me this tragic image during every worship time?

Explosion of love for Him.

That's INSANE!!!

Oh, God, how good You are!! How worthy of my praise!! How gentle and loving You are! How mysterious beyond all mysteries You are!! I do not understand Your ways, but I know that they are all perfect.

Thank you for healing me. Thank you that you are healing me every day. Thank you that there is HOPE on the other side of this devastation. Oh, Jesus, thank you for your great tenderness toward me, and that you know my grief and that you bear it with me. I give you my worries about time and age, and I give you my broken heart again and again, and I ask you to glorify yourself in all this. I give you my need to understand-- you know I'll give it to you a million times more, but I give it to you today, and I say YES to you. Yes, yes, yes.

Sweet, sweet Savior.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Fail Us Not" music video

Oh, this song. WORSHIP THE LORD!!! Every word is true!!


Today was All Saint's Day. At our church, as in many, a candle is lit for each of those who have outrun us to Jesus and their names are writ large on a banner and the pastor calls their names and a huge bell is chimed after each one. Their names echo among us like the bell that chimes deep and solemn.

Ben is my dead. The idea of "burying their dead" or "honoring their dead" has always brought to my mind, for some reason, images of long-skirted women, clad in calico and prairie caps, mourning sons and husbands lost to the Civil War or some dread fever.

But today, I was one of those women whose son's name was called-- a list whose twin was "called up yonder" only a few months ago. My son. My son, my son.

The first time the list was called was during the contemporary service, where I'm on the worship team and so, on stage. I wasn't prepared for that-- in years past, we didn't really read the list down in that service. I heard Pastor John say his name, his beautiful, strong name, and my whole chest just heaved. It still surprises me sometimes, the strength with which grief can grab me out of nowhere. Anyway, I kept it together, drawing myself in, asking the Lord for help, and was happy to be able to go straight back into worshipping Him from there-- out of my ashes, though you crush me, though this kills me, yet will I worship. Worship is the only thing that helps, I've found. Honestly. If you're reading this and you're where I was or am, or even just grieving anything at all, try this: worship God. Choose. Make a decision to lay aside all of your arguments and questions and just worship Him because no matter what your brain says, we are all completely inadequate when it comes to understanding the nature of life and death. We can't see anything. We don't understand.

And that's okay, I'm learning. It's alright.

But one of the songs we sang, or one of the hymns we sang in the traditional service afterward, mentioned that God is the keeper of time, and suddenly I had the beginning of an epiphany. I'll try to write it here, but I'm sure it will have to be revisited later. I have to keep thinking about it. I have to keep asking the Lord to reveal it to me. I really felt so much that it was Him.

I realize that it is so hard for me to imagine Ben as a separate person from me. I don't know if that's just normal for a mother, or because he died in childbirth, so he never existed unattached from me, but I don't naturally think of him as a separate individual. I think of his existence in terms of how it affected and still affects me: he surprised me with his conception, he bounced around in my womb, his presence inside me gave me heartburn and a pain in my sciatic nerve. When I was in labor I felt the excitement of it and the pain of contractions, and after he died, I lived in a weirdly calm cocoon of peace mixed with horror for several days. I wept, I laughed, I wondered, I argued, I struggled, I wrestled...

I, I, I.

Today, it occurred to me that Benjamin Joseph Swaney was his own person. True, he sojourned here for only 9 months, in my womb, and never drew a breath of the air we breathe, but he was his own little man. Today, I saw in my imagination a God-like figure standing at a door in what my imagination was heaven. He was waiting. And when Ben died, he went to Him.

It was a really simple little image, but it occurred to me that what happened to Ben was completely between him and God.

Does this make sense?

One of my best friends in the world, Winter, lost her son, Josiah, seven years ago, and it was the first time I had ever walked through anything like that with a friend. When Ben died, she was one of the first people I needed to talk to. Winter is so real, so G0d-fearing... I knew that I needed her counsel. I was right. She got me, every step of the confusing, terrible way. One of the things we talked about was "destiny" and how our sons had a destiny. Remember, we're just wondering. We don't know-- can't know-- what this is all about.

If you've just lost your child, you might not be ready for this lane I'm wandering down. I wasn't at the time.

But Benjamin was a person. He never got to grow up. Never got to feel my lips pressed against his face. Never learned to walk or ride a bike or see all the people who loved him. He heard my voice and I know that he felt the love I had for him-- I was so overwhelmed with feelings, so many times, there's no way he didn't feel the endorphins my body was releasing into his bloodstream-- and the beauty of that knowledge is staggering and intimate beyond anything I can adequately express-- but he was his own person. He had his own perfect little brain and his own little heart and liver and toes. He had his own personality, kicking at me and responding to pressure from my hand in the middle of the night, playing with me, knowing he wasn't alone. But he was an individual. He had thoughts and emotions.

And God had a plan for his little life.

So often, we think of life as something so contained here, in this place where we live, but it's not just here. "Here" will last about 90 years, if we're lucky, but THERE... this life is preamble, at best.

I don't know what he's doing, but I know where he is. And I long to be dressing him in the winter clothes I had for him. And I long to be pressing my nose into the crook of his little neck and to see him laugh at his hysterically funny father and to see my dad hold him and my mom coo over him and my sisters-in-law sit with him in their laps and his cousins pat his face and say "baby." But wherever he is, THAT is what is real to him: his present is in the city of God. Can you imagine? He is surrounded by love and the knowledge of the holy and he understands things that you and I can only guess about. My God heard my cry, that my son would know and love Him early.

Like I said, I'm still thinking it all through. It all boggles my mind.

Anyway, I've found a new worship song to add to my list of songs the Lord has used this season. I'm going to post it in its own post.

love love love.
God is faithful.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Maybe it's because I was never a mother before that I do not mark birthdates and important sections of time and the 28th came and went and I did not remember that my son would have been half a year old.... It was not until I read Susan's beautiful blog for Will that I remembered-- her son was three days younger than Ben and went the same way.

And I am gripped with guilt that I did not know it.

How could I have missed it?

Sometimes I think that I am just whistling past the cemetary, making light of this darkest sorrow, and just trying to barrell past it. I don't know when I started doing that. Maybe when we decided to wait to start trying for another baby until January. Though everything in me screams and weeps at the thought of it, there are a million reasons why and not even one good one to excuse the fact that I am not borrowing my sister-in-law's baby chicken costume for my son to wear tomorrow.

I've been quiet for a month, but know that my heart is such a complicated place. I find my hand tracing the scar across my abdomen when I lie down to sleep at night, and I long to feel a baby kicking there again. And I imagine what my fair haired child would be like and I grieve the upcoming holidays without him and I love my Father in heaven but I wonder again and again at His choice to allow this thing. And I also feel the deep gratitude of survival and I know that I am so happy to still be here, but every time I think of Ben-- which is daily-- I wish I could really remember what he looked like. All I can recall is his strawberry blonde cap of hair and his precious button nose, with brand-new-baby pores that brand new babies have-- you know what I'm talking about? And in my drugged and grief fogged state I poked his little nose, playfully, like I would have had he been breathing, and it was a perfect little nose. I know that I looked at and felt his little fingers and I remember feeling faint when I saw that his nail beds were purpling... horror.

Oh, but know this-- things get better all the time. I do not feel wild with grief like I did weeks ago. I feel that, in a way, it has simply moved in with me. It lives with me, follows me like a faithful puppy, and just sort of waits for me to glance its way. It doesn't assert itself like it used to. But it lives here. It has taken the space my child abandoned.

I cannot believe that I missed his six month mark. What could I have been doing? What kind of mother would I have been, if I could forget such a date? It may seem silly, even trivial, but the weight of it sits on my chest and pounds at me-- guilt. Sadness. Refusal.

My God, I am thankful for this ability to feel and love. Please come make it useful. Please come make this all mean something. And if You see my son, please tell him that I love him...

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Worst Play I Ever Saw, by Antonio*

The assignment: Write a review of the competition One Act that we were able to go watch in dress rehearsal. I am reporting this essay exactly the way it was written.

The Worst Play I Ever Saw, by Antonio*
"The play that I saw last thursday was so so boring. it was boring cause they are the worst actors i ever seen on my life. i told my friend that if i had to choose the play or kill myself, i woula pick killing my self. During the play I falled asleep. By the way that nap that I toook in the theather was kinda confortable. When I was asleep I dream about that the play was over and that every one that was on the theather went running to their class. When we went running the drama teacher came running with us. That how bad it was. Then the next day the drama teacher quit her job. Then it turn out that their was no more plays!!! Hooray!!! We don't have to go to more play at school. When I woked up the play was over and I was happy."

[sic sic sic sic sic sic sic]

I'm very happy to report that I am incredibly resilient, that our drama department is fantastic, and that this little guy is as cute as he is ... not particularly gifted in the area of writing. Except that he's stinking hilarious and when he wants to, he writes just fine. Hm.


For the record, the play was FANTASTIC, and I suspect he thought it was, too. He was just trying to be all bad for his homies.

*not his real name

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I've been gone so long!! I promise that I have not forgotten-- I have begun a couple of blogs that I haven't had time to finish, but I'll do it this weekend... have had a lot on my mind and am eager to get it "on paper." :)

But I had to write, right this minute, to share the funniest little poem one of my boys wrote. I found it on the floor-- he and another boy were pretending like they were fighting, and one of the boys wants to be a rapper so he wrote this long, elaborate rap about how dumb the other boy is. Okay, it was funny and clever, but the response was so cute. The other boy wrote:

Oranges are orange,
Apples are green,
I don't like Stephen*
because he is mean.
He don't really talk
'Cos he got to concentrate
on his walk.

*not his real name

Seriously, they make me laugh.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

I repent!!!

Okay, so I repent. Sometimes I am so completely opinionated and then I feel overwhelmingly convicted and then the Lord shows me something that completely adjusts my perspective. No one wrote to me asking me about this, but I couldn't get it out of my head all day yesterday and had to check some things.

So here is my revised statement:

If you are a blogger who sells things/has ads on your page/likes to link people to other sites, you are not evil or greedy or silly :) There are a handful of sites that I do believe are ridiculous, but they have become kind of famous and that might be why they're moving in that direction. It's not mine to judge.

And yesterday I found a really cool site through anther blogger's site, and the whole right side of her page was covered with ads.

And she seemed like a really nice person.


I repent!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Sorry I've been so out of touch...things have been busy, busy, busy.... I will share more about what-all later (no, not pregnant yet!), but for now, know this: I am well!

The other day, I asked Don if he thought it was normal that I hadn't cried about Ben in several days. I felt so guilty that I had been functioning like a normal person who isn't walking around with a gigantic hole in her heart. Is the hole shrinking? And if it does, what does that mean? Does it mean that I graduate from the sorority of women who have lost babies if my grief doesn't spill from my eyes every day?

Will it mean that Ben didn't come and go while I was asleep, completely unaware of what was happening to the most important thing my body has ever done?

That part still blows my mind. That I was asleep when it all went down. That I was nowhere. I had no dreams. I have no memory. I don't know where I was when that saddest thing happened. Nightmare happened when I woke up.

Don hugged me and said, No, there was nothing wrong with me. Then I cried.



So complicated. How to go on? How to keep walking forward, looking ahead, but not leave my baby behind? His birth and death are so far away in so many ways now. The more life goes on, the more distant April 28 becomes, the harder it is to remember what he looked like... the easier it is, the harder it is...


Another thing: I want you to know that, no matter how many people come and read this blog, for whatever reasons, I will not advertise anything here. Seriously. I have no idea why, but it bugs the crap out of me that some really precious blogs that I've been reading have become so commercialized. I've stopped reading a couple of them because they post links to shops they support or websites who are giving away prizes if you visit them from their page. I feel bombarded with advertisements that are sneaky: at least on Facebook it's expected. I mean, please. It's Facebook. But a personal blog? I don't know. I guess I feel duped. Like I got sucked in to someone's life and grew to care about them and what was going on-- was maybe even learning and getting some insight into my own struggles-- and now I'm being marketed to. It feels disingenuous.

However, I recognize that it doesn't completely wipe out the importance of what's being said on the blogs, so I'm not totally smacking it down. There are only two I don't read any more-- I haven't "banned" them or anything. It's just that I started reading them when Ben first died and I cried and cried because I was reading words from mothers who had been there-- as several of you have emailed and told me, too, which is such an honor and blows my mind--but then all of a sudden every post is about going to check out this site or that site and "I'll take the first 50 comments" and choose to send a free gift... seriously, I started to wonder if these blogs weren't just a cover for some company or radio station trying to get business. They weren't writing about what was on their hearts at all any more.

Anyway, what I was going to say in that last paragraph was that I know that there are some blogs where folks just like to link their favorite stuff because they want to share-- that's cool and that's not what I'm talking about.


Ah, I'm still in teacher mode. Forgive me? I'm going to go do some laundry and read my book-- Anita Diamont's latest book, Day After Night. I suppose not all hyperlinks are evil...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Welcome Carson

God is so good.

Today was so full of emotion. My newest niece came into the world, peaceful and beautiful like a little rosy baby doll. Her name is Carson and she's perfect. And she's the first brand new baby I have held since... well, for quite a few months. The first maternity ward I have been on since... well, for almost five months. I thought I was going to have a panic attack walking through the halls-- had to stop and collect myself before walking into their room-- but then the most amazing thing happened.


All thoughts of myself, all that bruised stuff, sort of lost all its air and all I could see was my beautiful sister-in-law and my mother-in-law and Carson, all red and little and gentle. It was like water over my parched heart. Precious beyond belief.

And here she is! :)

Monday, September 14, 2009


Hm. Why did I call this post "candles"? Dunno. Maybe it will come to me by the time I'm finished writing.... I feel like rambling.

So, I have a playlist on my iPod that I named after my friend's playlist on her blog-- my friend Susan, whom I have never met, lost her son four short (long, eternal, minuscule, gigantic, torturous, horrendous, heartbreaking) days after we lost Ben. His name was Will and it still kind of blows my mind how similar our lives are. Susan is an English teacher on the other side of our metropolis. She teaches 9th grade and has the heart of a poet, which you'll know if you read her blog. She finished her MAT program at Emory (alas, her only fault :)) in the last few years. And her heart is broken. I have no idea how we found each other in the fog of those early weeks, but I feel that she is a friend of my heart, though I've never seen her face and we've only connected through our written words. Survivor friendships.

Anyway, I loved the songs she had on her blog and I went and found all of them on iTunes and I named the playlist "Will's Playlist." I don't know if I've told her that.

And it's one of my favorite playlists to listen to. I've added some of my own songs to it, and I listen to it often.

Today, I asked a student to "go to Will's playlist" on my iPod and it occurred to me that I am keeping that boy's memory alive, though I never met him, just by calling out his name. I wanted my student to ask who Will was. I wanted to say, "A friend of my son's." They reached heaven around the same time-- surely God hooked them up, just like He did their mothers.

I gave my kids a writing prompt today that said, basically, "If you could change one thing, what would it be?" They listed all kinds of things. In fact, I'm still at school right now because I had to read all of them-- I had to-- and I had to comment on almost all of them (partly because they'll notice if they didn't get comments, even if they act like they don't care) because they were amazing.

Some kids said that they would change their pasts (at 14? Ah, life...). Some would change their parents' divorces. A couple of girls wrote that they would change what they had worn today :).

One boy wrote, in pencil, at the bottom of his paper,

"Mrs. Swaney, I would change that your baby died."

Oh, my heart.

I called his mom after school. We cried together for a second about how precious that was, and then my phone died and I was saved the trauma of trying to figure out how to end such an intimate phone call with a woman I do not know but whose son blessed me more deeply than he could have even known.

Sometimes freshmen drive me crazy. Other times, they make my heart all gushy and melty and I am so grateful that God created me to be a teacher.

I miss my son.

I've been thinking of all different ways that I can imagine this wreck that happened in the spring that was supposed to be full of dogwoods and roses and pollen and I think of

rose petals
crushed, they release their aroma...

beaten, chiseled and scraped, it releases the shape hidden in the rock...

lit on fire, disintegrating under the heat, melting away, disappearing, only the flame survives all the way down to the bottom of the jar... releasing its fragrance until every thing is consumed.

Oh God, consume us in this fire. It's such a small fire compared to the infernos I have witnessed in the lives of others. But come and burn away the dross here in the light of this fire. Burn up the flesh and the bitterness and the fear. Keep doing miracles that I seem to only be able to see by lamplight. Kindle this fire and keep it stoked. Burn, burn, burn....


Don asked me to marry him on September 11.

Yes, that September 11.

It was our one year anniversary of dating and he had decided a long time before that he was going to ask me on that date. And I kind of suspected that he would.

So the day arrived and I was filled with a mixture of hope and anxiety. You remember what it is like just before something amazing may or may not happen but which rests firmly in the will and decision of another person? It's kind of exquisite.

We were in 1st period at the little (tiny, very small) private school where we both taught when Nikki burst into my room. "MISS H!!!!" (the kids called me Miss H) and she proceeded to speak incoherently for about 45 seconds...

[...which, at our little school of craziness was not uncommon, really. Anything could have happened, to be completely honest....]

Once Nikki calmed down a bit, we were able to understand that something really, truly bad had happened in New York and it involved an airplane and lots of death and oh my gosh, what are we going to do?

And my next thought?

Man. He's not going to ask me to marry him today...

Sue me-- I wasn't getting any younger!

Fast forward past a day full of crying, coloring books and crayons to an evening that was uncommonly beautiful in Georgia.

I will never forget that it was perfect weather. Fall was in the air-- the night was scrubbed clean of all humidity, sparkling and shining with a strong cool breeze. Don came to pick me up from my parents' house after a prayer vigil and we rode over to a park that is special to us in his red Jeep.

Holding hands, we walked down the sidewalk toward the tabernacle. We sat down on an ancient bench and waited.

Reaching around behind a 100 year old tree, Don brought forth flowers and communion.

And this man of mine, with the heart of a cowboy poet, spoke precious things to me, and then he asked me to be his wife and I made him ask me twice because it just sounded so good to my heart. The whole world could be falling down... all was well on that bench.

[...somewhere, someone rejoiced on my dark Tuesday, April 28... I cannot imagine...]

Every year since then, we do it again. We go back to "our spot" and write each other letters about what we're hoping for, for the coming year. And we read last year's letters to each other. And it's always surprising.

I couldn't find the ones from last year, but I only half-heartedly looked for them.

I was six weeks pregnant when I wrote that letter. And part of me was so afraid that it wasn't going to turn out well. Does everyone fear that with their first baby? Or only women who aren't young? I was filled with hope and with the fear of hoping. I was mixed up. And my heart always wants to break a little more when I think about how the Lord let the worst thing happen....

But then I was reminded of a couple of things this weekend. Jesus asked that the cup that He was to drink be taken from Him. And God didn't answer that prayer the way Jesus wanted Him to.

He suffered anyway. He had to. Jesus saw it. We see it now.

And another thing-- my pastor said that prayer is like a rope thrown to the dock when you're trying to pull back in. The rope serves to pull us back to the dock, not to pull the dock to us.

Oh God, I'm trying to pull myself back in to Your will.

But I cannot forget that on a day of such heartbreak, You brought the man of my heart. You blessed me in a way and to a depth that I had never thought to hope for. The whole world wept, but I was filled with a joy that could not be named.

We're together and alone in this world. But always, You are at the center of each of our worlds. Directing this symphony. Striking minor chords here and there. But always watching.

Oh God, I trust You.

And I'm going to learn to trust You more.

Thank you for September 11. And April 28. And all the other days I don't know about yet...

Friday, September 11, 2009


text from Oswald Chambers, September 10

Worshipping in Everyday Occasions.

We presume that we would be ready for battle if confronted with a great crisis, but it is not the crisis that builds something within us— it simply reveals what we are made of already. Do you find yourself saying, "If God calls me to battle, of course I will rise to the occasion"? Yet you won’t rise to the occasion unless you have done so on God’s training ground. If you are not doing the task that is closest to you now, which God has engineered into your life, when the crisis comes, instead of being fit for battle, you will be revealed as being unfit. Crises always reveal a person’s true character.

A private relationship of worshiping God is the greatest essential element of spiritual fitness. The time will come, as Nathanael experienced in this passage, that a private "fig-tree" life will no longer be possible. Everything will be out in the open, and you will find yourself to be of no value there if you have not been worshiping in everyday occasions in your own home. If your worship is right in your private relationship with God, then when He sets you free, you will be ready. It is in the unseen life, which only God saw, that you have become perfectly fit. And when the strain of the crisis comes, you can be relied upon by God.

Are you saying, "But I can’t be expected to live a sanctified life in my present circumstances; I have no time for prayer or Bible study right now; besides, my opportunity for battle hasn’t come yet, but when it does, of course I will be ready"? No, you will not. If you have not been worshiping in everyday occasions, when you get involved in God’s work, you will not only be useless yourself but also a hindrance to those around you.

God’s training ground, where the missionary weapons are found, is the hidden, personal, worshiping life of the saint.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Hillsong Live - Desert Song (This Is Our God)

I think I might have posted this before...but it's worth posting again. This song is powerful. Her testimony is powerful. It's good to remember that we are not walking this road alone. That there are others walking the same road and struggling with the same things... and that "God is still God, it doesn't change what God has called me to be here, what he's called me to do. And he's still on the throne in heaven and he still rules and he's still bigger than everything I'm facing..."

And there are times where we worship even in the face of "I know that you're here God, but...."

The triumph isn't here yet, but it's coming.


Labor Day

Labor day. Labor of love. Four short hours of labor.

I'm cleaning Ben's room today.

I think I knew I'd do it, planned to do it, this weekend during a beautiful breakdown last weekend.

What is it about doing dishes and taking showers that seems to bring out the crybaby in me? It happened last Saturday morning. I was leaning over the deep sink, bathed in bright green light pouring through one of my favorite stained glass pieces (I'm starting to get the stained glass itch again, by the way... couldn't do it the whole time I was pregnant because of the toxins in the adhesive I use and haven't felt like doing it since Ben died. It's been a year since I touched colored glass), listening to worship music turned way up, when I broke.

I'm telling you, if you're a believer and you're struggling with something with deep roots, trying like crazy to dig to the bottom of it, worship will do it every time. My dad was saying yesterday that it's like a prayer language that totally intimidates the enemy and he has to flee when it begins. And I think it's also like fire and the enemy, like sin, is completely flammable. When we walk into the presence of the Lord-- whether we dance, crawl or limp in, singing-- the consuming fire that is His holy presence begins to burn away the dross in us. And the enemy, who would press my face into my navel, not looking for the Lord, cannot stand that holy presence. I think that's a big part of the whole mystery. It shows up in the psalms all the time-- start off with "OH, woe is me..." and end with "You alone are perfect in all Your ways! Praise You!"

Anyway, I'm standing there with suds and water all over my hands and somehow all over my arms and in my hair, weeping, singing "You alone are holy, You alone are worthy, You alone are God and worthy of my praise," adding "dammit" every few lines. It went against everything within me, honestly, for a few minutes. Look, the bottom line is that this is literally the most mysterious road I have ever walked down with the Lord. But I cannot leave Him. Everything in me knows that He is good. And I'm not brainwashed or fearful or stupid: I know it. I know that I simply cannot see anything. So when I can't see anything ahead of me, and can only sort of make out the stuff behind and beside me because of the film of confusion that comes when I try to figure out why Ben died, I can only look up. That's the only place where there is no confusion. He has not changed. He still has Don and me in the palm of His hand. There is a peace inside Don and me that is supernatural. I cannot say that I have ever experienced such mercy in the face of what sometimes feels like punishment. It has to be God because I cannot manufacture the peace that passes understanding.

He poured Himself out on me as I stood there and I proceeded to cry the whole weekend-- sometimes from the heaviness of His spirit on me (like a blanket in front of a fireplace; sweetest heaviness) and sometimes because I am simply not finished grieving my son. But I could almost hear it, like the turning of iron bars in an old jail-- something shifted inside me. I don't dare name it. I have no idea what it was. But it was Him, and I'm learning to sit quietly and wait for Him in the face of things I do not understand. Trusting Him.

So today, Don is doing his own labor of love on a project I will tell you about soon, but I am here alone. I wanted to clean Ben's room alone this whole time. It's not a process that Don needs-- he is walking through things in his own way, and I am so grateful for the strength of our relationship and the friendship we have, where we can allow each other the space to grieve the ways that we need to, which also gives us room to grieve together the way we need to. I had no idea, as I've said so many times, how complex grief is. Some of it is solitary, some of it is communal. During the days (really, weeks) after his death, my mother, all four of our parents, and many of our close friends and family came every day after work to just sit with us. It was like I've heard of in the Jewish community, where friends come and sit with the grieving family and just mourn with them ("sitting shiva").

But there were times when I just needed to be alone. It usually happened at night, when I couldn't lie down on the bed and was sleeping sitting up (because of pain, but I was also weirdly afraid of the dark, and constantly reminded of the bassinet that was removed before I got home). I found, however, that too much time spent alone found me spiraling into so much darkness. Don never left me to that for any length of time. He took me for walks in the park and read to me from a book of cowboy short stories. When he needed time alone, he would drive.

And today is one of those days. My plan is to turn on worship music, sit in the middle of the floor, and fold the precious clothes that Ben never wore. I am armed with a breve cappuccino, a box of Kleenex, and a bottle of water. I will sing and I will cry and I will pray.

And when I am finished, I will walk into the next chapter. I'm not forgetting him, and I'm not done grieving him, but I must begin the process of pressing onward in this physical realm.

I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.
Philippians 3: 12-14 (The Message)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

God's Chisel-- The Skit Guys

God's Chisel « Videos « The Skit Guys

This is a really powerful little skit...

Shared via AddThis


I wonder
If you would have had a
lopsided grin
like your father and your brother.

I wonder
If you would have laughed early
And if you would have laughed often
And if you would have been ticklish
And if you would have loved to be held
And if you would have liked playing alone
Or with people.

I wonder
If your hair would have stayed blonde
And if you would have been tall
And if you would have loved music
And if you would have liked camping
And if you would have liked reading
And if you would have been like my side of the family
or your father's.

I wonder
If you would have loved Jesus early
And if you would have walked away
And if you would have walked back
And if you would have worshipped like I did
And if you would have been an artist
And if you would have loved beauty
like it would have loved you.

I wonder
If we would have ever called you Benny
And if you would have played soccer
And if you would have fallen in love
And if you would have had children
And if you would have become a missionary
And if you would have ever been hurt
Or if you would have been hurtful

If you would have been a poet
Or if you would have been a writer
Or a mathematician
Or a builder
Or a doctor
Or a comedian
Or an actor
Or a juggler.

I wonder
So many things about you.
Who you were.
How the whole thing is possible.
If my heart will heal.
If you knew my voice.
If you knew you were loved.
If you can see me now.
If you were afraid at the end.
If you just slipped into the arms of Jesus.
If you felt my excitement
And my total lack of fear
And if you felt the love in the room,
Your father, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and
friends and friends and friends...

Oh Ben,
I pray God whispers in your ears
How deeply you were loved
And are loved
And how we really did carve a place for you
That no one will ever be able to sit in.
I hope that He lets you see my mother's heart
And how it longs for you
But that you aren't sad-- just that you see.
I hope that you know...
How much worth you had... have....
I hope you know that
even when I'm not crying
I'm longing for you
with a longing like none I've ever known
And that I won't forget,
though the months seem to fly by now...

Dear Ben, son of my right hand,
Know that you are permanent here,
And your loss has changed us all in so many ways
And that I will not become bitter with the Lord
But I will always struggle with questioning
His plan...
Son of my right hand, son of favor,
I would have loved you with all my might
And would have done my best
to do right by you.
And I miss you, I miss you, I miss you, I miss you....

My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them...

Psalm 139: 15-16

Oh The Glory Of It All - David Crowder* Band

Sometimes, when we wonder about what this is all about, I'm reminded that He is what it's all about...


Here's a page of why you should feel grateful every day.

Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss Blog Directory

Cry Me A River.

You know when some things just start to get under your skin?

Lately, I am surrounded by pregnant people, or news of pregnant people-- and no, that's not what gets under my skin :). As I toss and turn with alternate bouts of grief, worry, and hopeful expectation for the future, I'm so fortunate that I am not wrecked and aching with jealousy... though I would be lying if I didn't admit that there is a strong longing that gets stirred up when I think about pregnancy. I know that the Lord has His eye on me. I'm trusting Him for another shot at this baby thing.

No, the thing that gets under my skin is the complaining. I mean, hardcore, "I hate being pregnant, this is so awful, get it out of me" at-three-months-along pregnant complaining.

How about this one: "I hate being pregnant and all of the crap that comes with it. Dear God, this is way worse than I anticipated."

Not kidding.

People, as the saying goes, don't know what they've got til it's gone.

Granted, I had a pretty good pregnancy. I was tired like crazy and nauseated the entire first trimester, but it really was an uneventful pregnancy as far as discomfort goes.

Or maybe it was uncomfortable but I was just too blissed out to really complain.

Or maybe I just felt so fortunate to be pregnant...

The nurses at my doctor/midwife's office could tell you that this is the truth. They counselled me through worrying, but I was always happy. Happy to be carrying this baby. Happy that he was healthy. Happy that I was healthy. Happy to be gestating. Happy to be getting ready to be a mother. Happy to get the chance. Surprised and happy. Maybe I didn't feel great all the time, but what's new? It's uncomfortable. You're making a person. That takes time and energy. It's inconvenient.

But that baby in there... sigh. Happiness.

I know what you're thinking: Hindsight and all. But no-- you can read my blogs from the pregnancy. I was honestly not complaining. I was the recipient of the unexpected favor of the Lord and was not about to jinx it by murmuring and complaining.

Remember what happened to the murmurers and complainers of the Old Testament? In the words of Keith Green, "the ground opened up and had some of them for lunch" (Numbers 11:1; 16; 26).

Here's my point: far be it from me to tell you what to do, but consider the countless women who are grieving about pregnancy in some way. Perhaps they cannot get pregnant. Perhaps they cannot stay pregnant. Perhaps they are beyond baby-making years and never had the opportunity to try. Perhaps, like me and many of my friends in this community, they made babies and never had the chance to nurse or raise them. Count yourself blessed with every kick to the liver. Count yourself blessed and praise God for every ache-- you are working toward a gift that does not have measure.

I think of it now, almost every time I visit the restroom at my school. I remember that I felt like I lived in that restroom last school year. And I remember laughing as I practically ran the final steps more than once... and for the millionth time, I scratch my head and look at the sky and ask, "Why?" I didn't complain. I loved being pregnant. I was so stinking grateful. Why my son? Why did this pregnancy end so sadly? I didn't complain, Father-- I didn't whine. I was good. Why?

I know somehow that it's not about that. I still wonder, though.

I don't resent my pregnant friends, and I don't begrudge them the right to complain-- honestly, if there is a list of legitimate times in life when you have plenty to complain about, I'm sure pregnancy is at the top of it. I just... I guess that aching thing in me wants to shake them and make them know how lucky they are. To make them feel the emptiness, for just a second, that they could be feeling... see if they would trade it for their current back pain and sleep loss.

But honestly, I'm sure these pregnant women do know it-- they wouldn't trade the pregnancy for anything and they love those unborn boogers who are bouncing away on their bladders, and it's harmless, really-- but for those of us who are longing to receive such abuse again...

it's really hard to sympathize with you.

In many ways, it's like hearing a rich man whine about how heavy his wallet is.

I would love to carry such a burden.

Really. I would.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I can hear it-- a new season approaching. I'm happy and sad-- happy, distracted, pleased, excited, inspired, contrasted with sentimental, overwhelmed, intimidated and reticent. I'm excited for the new things the Lord is opening up to us, and sort of sad to the leave the world where Ben was... he will always be a part of me-- heck, I spent all last weekend crying and feeling the grief that always sits by the door like a dog scratching to get out. But moving my mind on to new things-- possibilities of new living spaces, another baby one day, new students, new me-- means leaving the me that was and walking ahead with the me that is.

Thing is, I am always scarred; permanently tattooed with Ben's mark across my abdomen. I have heard women groan with it, so I have to wonder if I am completely demented to be grateful for it. I have something of him with me always. The line that marks the spot where we were joined. He was the first to create that spot in me. He opened my womb. It's his flag.

Call me crazy-- I don't care. It is precious to me. I don't want to over think it.

Anyway, the reality is that even if Ben had not died (oh, that he had not died...) I would still be a different woman than I was. Even if April 28 did not clearly mark the date that I was changed forever, I would be different today. I am daily walking in a New Me. We all are.

Where am I going with all this? I don't know. I'm just thinking. Thinking about doors that I need to walk through that I never walked through with Ben in my womb. Doors that house rooms that never expected his presence. Days that were destined to exist, prophesied by calendar makers, whether he breathed in or out on those days. I wish so much that he was walking with me, with us, but either way, here I go...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Perfect Prayer

Okay, so I have been struggling with the whole concept of prayer in the last few months.

I prayed for Ben almost every day. My mind wanders toward insanity when I begin to think, "Well... I think I might have skipped a couple of days. Surely there were a couple of days when I just forgot and I went about my business... is that why he died?"

Intellectually, and even spiritually, I know that this is wrong thinking. I recognize it as condemnation from the voice of the one who would accuse and lie and steal my joy because he cannot steal my life. Still, it does sneak in and I battle with it.

And I've been struggling with the question of God's sovereignty. Know this: never in any of this have I doubted His existence and the fact of Jesus and His goodness. It's just that I have never suffered the kind of loss that would shake me and everything I know before. I thought I had suffered loss before. I recognize all day long that there are those whose losses outnumber and even outweigh mine, but it occurs to me that what I am struggling with is the shock that something bad like this could even happen to Don and me.

You love us, I've been thinking. I thought You loved us. I thought that we were the apple of Your eye. I thought I was adored and cherished and set apart. I thought that You melted with just the glance of my eye. What happened? What did I do to lose that?

The bruised part of my heart is weeping with this refrain, but the rest of it knows that those things are still totally true. Just like it is true that He is close to the broken hearted.

I did mention that I am struggling with self-pity, right?

So, I've been wondering about the whole concept of prayer and it seems like I have had so much learning that He is calling me back to the basics. Here goes.

Jesus was giving his men a list of "good things to remember," and avoiding sounding like a jerk in the place of prayer was one of them. And if Jesus said, "This is a good way to pray," then I'm starting back right there. Another thing to remember is that every time we see Jesus talking to His father, there is this sense that He is sort of throwing His head back in total, abject devotion, in the face of whatever is coming His way, and He's reminding God, "I remember that You're in control and I trust you."

Matthew 6:9 (NAS)
9Pray, then, in this way:
'Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.

First, I know You're holy. I know that there is no sin or sick thinking in You. This means that You're completely trustworthy.

10'Your kingdom come
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

Okay, He's asking that God's will be done. Jesus' point was that His men do not put on a show-- He was being intentional. So, does that mean that we ask that His will be done on earth as in Heaven so that it WILL be, or is He simply asking us to acknowledge it?...

11'Give us this day our daily bread.
12'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13'And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]'

...Because we know that He will never lead us into temptation and He's instructing us to ask Him not to here...

(The Message)
7 -13"The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need.

Okay, Lord, I understand and agree with this. So why do we even have to pray it?

With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.

Okay, this part I can grasp-- it's a relationship. He wants us to pursue Him. He's not just some big floating entity-- He's the real thing. He wants more than a bunch of freaked out mannequins following Him because they're afraid of burning in hell.

Set the world right;
Do what's best— as above, so below.

Again, relationship.

Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.

"from ourselves and the devil." This is the temptation part. Hm. Yeah, we're asking Him to help us to resist sin and the enemy.

You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

Always come back to worship. This, my mind fully grasps.

(The Amplified Bible)
9Pray, therefore, like this: Our Father Who is in heaven, hallowed (kept holy) be Your name.

It is important that we acknowledge His holiness. That first and foremost, before everything that is on my heart, You are holy and I proclaim it. We might struggle with understanding, but we must always start at this foundational truth, just like any relationship. I don't understand what's going on, but I know that this is always true.

10Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us this day our daily bread.
12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven (left, remitted, and let go of the debts, and have given up resentment against) our debtors.
13And lead (bring) us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

"For yours is the kingdom..." All of this is possible because all of this is Yours. You can do all of these things because it all belongs to You.


Bad things are going to happen to us. We live in a world where really truly crappy stuff happens to lovely people. But He has not left us without His presence in the face of things. We are crying out for His kingdom to come here or there or wherever we are so that these crappy things will fall away forever. We live here, are sojourning here, for a season and we will get bruised up along the way. But we have to cry out to Him to help us. We live here. He is longing to redeem what we have screwed up. I may not be Eve, but I have done my share of screwing things up on this earth for sure. Ben didn't die because I didn't pray enough. This bad thing happened because I live on earth and sometimes things suck.

My heart is encouraged by meditating on His prayer today.

Amazingly powerful, His word is.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Always right around the corner...

I am daily astounded at the weirdness of grief and the complexity and beauty of the heart and mind to deal with it.

Here are some basics of what I struggle with when my "pen" (read: keypad) is nowhere near the paper:

* when I think of the fact that Ben "didn't make it," I feel like a total and utter failure and guilt hammers at my heart. You can tell me all day that it's ridiculous to feel that way, but I do and I am working through it... and you're right. It is ridiculous. How did he make it all the way to full term and then I wasn't able to help get him out? What happened?

* Why pray? I know-- explosive idea here. I LOVE the Lord and I know that He created us for relationship with the God-head. But I'm struggling with the whole idea of prayer and His sovereignty and why why why. If He's going to do His will no matter what... did I just not pray enough? This is too complicated for me...

* his bassinette was supposed to be right. there. beside. my. bed.

* beautiful, gorgeous, gurgling babies at 4 and 1/2 months. I love them and walk away hurting. But they simply cannot be ignored :).

* calling any "guest" bedroom in a possible new house "Ben's room." When we no longer live in this house one day, there will be no "Ben's room." This tears at my soul.

Maybe it's because I'm tired-- really, really tired-- but last night I just had to hold that teddy bear that Mrs. Peavy gave me from Kenny and Rebekah while I was still in the hospital and I cried and cried. Is it normal that I feel something like ghost kicks in my tummy? I know. I sound insane. I'm hesitant to say it out loud, but almost always-- just when I think I've completely lost my mind-- someone emails me and says, "ME, TOO!!" It has only happened a couple of times, but anyway....

The grief I feel now, four and a half months after my son's death, is different in many ways. It's just profoundly sad. Not really angry today. Maybe it will be tomorrow. But today is just that longing to know him. To nurse him. To be picking him up from mom and dad's after school. And then I think, "Oh God, did you take him because I was going back to work?" and of course that is a thousand kinds of ridiculous, but until I knew this kind of sorrow I had no idea the extent to which the brain will go to reconcile the situation-- to make it make some sort of sense.

Don says, "Understanding it wouldn't help. Gone is gone."

He's right. So why does my brain thrash around that issue?

Because it feels personal, so often. It feels like the answer to "why?" might be, "Because you suck, Samantha."

And it's so wrong to judge others, you know, but sometimes I look at situations and I wonder, "God? Do you think I would have been a worse mother than that? Did you save my son from a fate literally worse than death by taking him from my home before I could screw him up?"

Oh, did I mention that I'm really dealing with self-pity at unbelievably high levels right now?

So complicated.

Because I never knew how perfectly possible it is for your mind to be fractured into a thousand pieces and still be able to mostly function. I don't always feel sad or full of self-pity or angry with myself and my God, but when I do... when I do, I know that it's been lurking in there the whole time. Hiding. Sulking.

You know what works, though? If you're walking through sorrow, too, I'll share something that I have found that works:


And this is my proof this season. The fact that worship eases the tormenting, pervasive sadness is proof that He is real. And proof in the face of self-pity that He loves me deeply, truly, madly.

And that He is not relative. I'll be completely frank: I absolutely disagree with people who believe the existence of God is relative to where you're standing or what you've been through or how you've been raised. I am not smart enough or strong enough to have created a God who can do what THIS God is able to do when I worship Him.

I do not understand how He can use all this pain. Here's what this pain looks like in my mind: imagine Christmas morning. All of the packages have been opened and the gifts are lying in boxes and the toys are waiting to be played with again after breakfast and there's wrapping paper everywhere. Happy chaos. Your whole family is smiling and laughing, drinking coffee and eating Christmas casserole. Now bring in a shredder and a chainsaw and a chipper and a blow torch.

I do not understand how He can recycle this hurt. But I know that I have only felt a fraction of what others have felt and He is going to do the same for them, and that is completely overwhelming. I do not understand how He can swoop in when I'm lying on my bed, clinging to that white teddy bear, imagining what he would look like right now, remembering the last time I saw him, and make me know in my inner-most being that He loves me tenderly, deeply, truly, madly.... Only He can reach me there. And He does every time. He has never abandoned me in those moments.

Only He can reach me there.

But OH GOD, I want this to never have happened. I want to be listening for Benjamin Joseph Swaney breathing in the other room. Not to have been cremated. Not to have been torn from us. And my God, how I loved a person who never lived in my arms is a mystery that is the most profound I have ever known. What is this love? What is this grief? Is there no bottom to either one of them?

So I run. Run back to Him. Apologize for being so pissed off at Him. Apologize for my crappy attitude. Thank Him for everything I can think of. Pray the same prayer over and over again:

Please help me, please help me, please help me...

Oh God, how I love you. And how deeply I need you. Nothing can replace my son. Nothing can ever happen that will take away that pain. So will you fill this up with something? Anything? Something beautiful? Something helpful? Something holy? Please help...

1 Praise the LORD!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.

so You knew, You knew, You knew what was going to happen... You made provision, right? Oh Lord, please pour it out, in Your kindness and goodness, please pour out the comfort You planned to comfort me with from the foundations of the earth...

5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.

So You know, You know, You know how all of this sorrow feels... Oh Lord, truly, there is comfort in knowing that Your understanding is beyond measure....

6 The LORD lifts up the humble;
he casts the wicked to the ground.
7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

Okay, Lord-- even in this I will say "yes" to You... I will trust You and thank You... only give me grace to mean it...

make melody to our God on the lyre!
8 He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.

Oh God, make grass grow in this barren wasteland again... pour out Your rain....

9 He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

All of my hope is in Your steadfast love, Lord...
Come Lord Jesus, come...
Psalm 147


So, have you ever just stuck your foot in your mouth? I mean, just put it in there and chomped right down on it?

I have. Oh my gosh, I so totally have.

But for me, something that's almost unbearable is when someone else does it-- and what I mean is that I can so totally relate that the sympathy I feel is almost as painful as having actually been the one to do it!!

Here's what happened this week. It all happened on one afternoon and within three hours' time.

Situation One: Meeting in Ms. K's room (you should read her travel blog, by the way. But only if you're sitting and don't have to go to the bathroom. She's hysterically funny and a precious friend of mine). The woman leading the meeting is from the county office and she's really nice. I'm on my way to the meeting when it occurs to me that I was pregnant the last time she saw me. Now, we come from a small community and literally received well over 300 cards and letters when Ben died, but I felt fairly certain this woman wouldn't have known about what happened because I can't think of her name right now and I'm pretty sure she just knows me by sight. It occurred to me that she might ask me about the baby, and I knew that she would feel like crap if she asked me about it and I had to tell her, so I hoped she'd ask someone before I got to the room.

No such luck. I walked in and that sweet woman's face lit up. "Hey! How's that baby?" The moment she saw my hesitation, her hand flew to her mouth and pure panic registered on her face. "Oh no." I knelt down to her and laughed nervously as five of my co-workers watched silently. What to say? I laughed and said something like, No, no, it's alright... I'm okay. Which isn't exactly true, but it's mostly true, and what are you going to say? I felt so badly for her. She didn't know and we were in front of people I love and trust and she had no way of knowing that it was alright that she had asked me. She was so gracious. I was embarrassed for her even though she had no reason to feel badly, but we ended up having kind of a beautiful moment and it was alright.

Situation Two (which will collide with Situation Three): I was leaving school about two hours later. A parent of a former student was driving into the parking lot as I was pulling out of my spot. My window was down and I didn't feel like talking to anyone-- plus, I just had this feeling again.... So I was trying to get Don on the phone so I'd look busy when she called out to me, "Hey!! Mrs. Swaney! How's that baby boy??" Oh gosh. She was four or five cars away in a parking lot. How do you just yell that across the parking lot? Oh gosh. Awkward. So, I sort of tried to back my car closer to where she was. Just as I got kind of close and said, "Um, he, uh, didn't make it..." another car (Situation Three) drove up almost between us. The mom's hands covered her face and she gasped, "Oh my gosh, I am so...." and she was just shaking her head back and forth. The mom who just pulled up didn't see what had just happened and she leaned out her window, grinning and smiling. "Hey! Did you ever have that baby?"

It was actually kind of funny in a really terrible way.

There's no good response to that question, you know? It's awkward to greet such a joy-filled question with such a crummy, crappy, awful answer. Just suck it up, say what happened, and try to make the asker feel better.... it's not their fault. They didn't know. They were happy for us-- and now they feel really, really bad for us....

Don had the same thing happen the next day at Rockdale with a former student. It happened in a parking lot, too. It's tough-- you don't want to really start an in-depth conversation about it, but you want to stand closer to the person to say it quietly-- it's not really "shout-across-the-yard" kind of information.

Anyway, it was weird. It was literally the first time it had happened to us with people who had known us before Benjamin was born, being asked how he was by folks who didn't realize what had happened (we were so surrounded by church and school communities when it happened, I'm often surprised when someone doesn't know!). And it happened four times, between the two of us, in two day's time. Crazy.