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.

Sigh.

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:

Worship.

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

Doh!

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.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Overheard

In the hallway outside my classroom day before yesterday, right after school, these two girls were talking excitedly about going to some kind of try-out or something (I think it was practice before cheerleading tryouts). They knew each other in middle school but are only just now getting to know each other...

girl 1: oh my GOSH, i love your shoes

girl 2: thanks. i got 'em yesterday

girl 1: did you see [a boy] talking to [a girl] today? he's talking to someone at salem and she's my cousin or something. i'm gonna tell her.

girl 2: shoot girl. she's gonna be so mad.

girl 1: yeah... [stuff falls on the floor from a locker] oh my gosh, did you know i totally thought you were retarded last year? i mean, like really retarded, like special class retarded.

[silence]

A bunch of girls came running down the hallway just then, so i didn't hear what happened next...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Just when you were really feeling sorry for yourself...

...you stumble upon a story that reminds you that it can always, always be worse. I'm posting this, even though it happened almost a year ago, because my heart is so heavy for this woman and her losses. Will you agree with me in prayer for her?

I am including the link from Facebook where I found her story while I was searching for something else.

Cherokee - Brendan Tye Blanton, infant son of Michaela Layman Blanton and the late Trooper David Shawn Blanton Jr., died Friday, October 17, 2008, at Memorial Mission Hospital in Asheville. Baby Tye Passes Exactly 4 Months To The Day Trooper Blanton Was Killed In The Line Of DutyHe was also preceded in death by his maternal grandfather, Michael Douglas Layman; and his maternal greatgrandfather, Oscar Layman Jr.

For Tye to have had such a short life, he received much love, care, and support. He especially loved having his hair shampooed and cuddling with his mom. He was privileged to have experienced airplane and helicopter rides. On his parents wedding anniversary, Tye was able to taste their wedding cake. He also loved his NICU nurses at Memorial Mission Hospital.

He is also survived by his grandparents, Cindi Layman and her fiance, Dave Grant, of Canton, David Blanton and his wife, Jennifer, of Sylva, and Jeanell Youngbird, of Cherokee; great-grandparents include, Nikki Nations and her husband, Kenny, of Whittier, Mary Youngbird, of Cherokee, Margie Ferriss and her husband, Bill, of Hendersonville, and G. N. Cagle, of Greenville, S.C. Tye was loved by four uncles, Russell Blankenship of Whittier, Jim Kye Blankenship of Cherokee, Jesse Blanton of Sylva, and Ryan Layman and his wife, Shea, of Jonathan Creek; and aunts, Natalie Blanton and her fiance, Brent Ammons, of Sylva; and Jesselyn Ouderkirk, of Canton; along with a vast number of extended family members and the entire community.

The funeral service will be at 1 p.m. Monday, October 20, 2008, at Cherokee Ceremonial Grounds in Cherokee, with the Rev. David Christy officiating. Burial will follow at Thomas Cemetery in Whittier, where Trooper Blanton was laid to rest 4 months earlier. The family will receive friends from 4 until 8 p.m. Sunday at Wells Funeral Home of Canton.
(Cherokee, NC)

Obituary from Facebook group, In Memory of Baby Tye Blanton

Also, please see the site for the foundation established in Tye's honor.

Publix

I love a small town.

I love MY small town. I don't care what all the complainers say-- it has heart.

And it's all happening down at the Publix on the north side of town. Here's what I love: when people say, "Excuse me!" or "Hey, you dropped this!" or "Can I help you with that?" I love when people smile at you, looking you straight in the eye, as they pass you on the cereal aisle.

Today, the grocery store felt like Christmas. People seemed to genuinely have good will toward each other. The smile and nod didn't feel rushed or obligatory-- it felt, when I smiled at this one lady squeezing past my awkwardly placed buggy, that I was pushing happiness through my face and that she reflected it back. No big deal. No commitment required. Just toss it back and forth, like a ball. Toss it and keep going.

Another thing I love about going to our neighborhood grocery store is the fact that I can always count on bumping into friends. Russell and I see each other the most often, and after that is Nancy (whom I haven't seen in a while). Caroline is another regular, as is our good mutual friend Beverly :) (haven't seen her in a while either, come to think of it). This afternoon I saw Carter and one of his beautiful daughters, as well as a couple from my Sunday school class and another family from church. On the way out of the store, I saw Moose, one of the nicest people I've ever met and the owner of my favorite local coffeehouse, Kaiteur.

Sigh.

Peace on earth, good will toward men... Christmas in July. Even though it's August.

It doesn't hurt that the weather in Georgia is gorgeous today. The high was in the mid-80's, which is unbelievably cool for right now, and there's hardly any humidity. The sky is full of gigantic puffy clouds, blown up here from the hurricanes threatening the gulf and the east coast.

Here's something I'm finding: it's okay to enjoy things. I feel really, genuinely happy, even though there are those moments where I remember that someone is missing. Sometimes I feel like I'm walking a tightrope when it comes to that... just keep moving, keep pressing ahead, experiencing things that come, but trying not to get mired down. Sometimes going to the grocery store makes me cry-- especially right after Ben died-- but sometimes it's like today. Either way, you have to go. Best to try to focus on the good. Just keep moving.

Keep moving. That reminds me of something funny. One of my students has, for some reason, starting calling me "Mrs. Dori" from Nemo. I have no idea when it started, but she loves calling me her "Dori teacher" and something in it just makes me smile. Is it that I said, "Just keep swimming" without realizing it? (entirely possible) Have I told them not to get mired down in failure and to keep moving when it seems like they're going to fail? Or is it that she thinks I'm resilient? I don't think I sound like Ellen DeGeneres, and I'm not orange...

But it's true. There is very much a sense of "Just keep swimming" on this season...

Anyway.

There's always more to write, but I have to go finish planning for the week. Many blessings on you-- and thank you for the notes of encouragement. It's so good to know that there are so many of us on this journey together-- whether you've walked through the same experience, your own grief, or you can just empathize... thank you. At the risk of sounding trite, let's just keep swimming...

** Update-- 8/27 So, I asked my student why she was calling me Miss Dori and I laughed so hard when she told me the answer. It's because this whole year I have been so forgetful!!! I've struggled with remembering their names, what time the bell was going to ring, what day of the week it was... ha!!! Oh well, I'm keeping the "keep swimming" thing... :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

journal, journal...

i've been told/that there are those/who will learn how to fly/and i've been told that there are those/who will never die/and i've been told that there are stars/ that will never lose their shine/ and that there is a morning star /who knows my mind/so why should i worry? why should i fret?/ cause i've got a mansion builder /who ain't through with me yet /why should i worry? why should i fret?/ cause i've got a mansion builder /who ain't through with me yet/ and i've been told /that there's a crystal lake in the sky/ and every tear from my eyes /are saved when i cry/ and i've been told there'll come a time/ when the sun will cease to shine/ and that there is a morning star /who knows my mind /so why should i worry? why should i fret?/ cause i've got a mansion builder who ain't through with me yet.. 2nd Chapter of Acts (band)

permit me to write without capitalizing today-- and forgive me-- lately, all of my blog entries seem to read like journal entries :)

sometimes i wish i could teach my students how to live without worry, and then i remind my heart that i need to learn this lesson as well. sometimes i wish that i could just tell them, children, it's all going to be okay. these "light and momentary troubles" you wrestle with in the hallways of your future dreams...they're nothing. they're just nothing.

but when you're fourteen, the hallway is anything but nothing.

do you know that some of them live in abject horror of transitions between classes? and i can tell you that the freshman hallways of our school are packed tight and they look like salmon fighting to get upstream from my desk inside the classroom, and i guess that's exactly what they are right now. fighting to get to safety, to the next level, to mating season, to open water... they are fighting to matter. they are fighting to be heard. they are fighting for a smile or a nod or a laugh or just to be looked at for goodness' sake... sometimes i think they'll do anything to be looked at.

i want to tell them, he's looking at you kiddo. he sees you. he sees me, i know it, and you're in the same room with me, so i know he sees you, too.

sometimes it feels like,

he sees me, kiddo. he sees me. he sees me, i know it, because you're in the room with me and his word says that you have angels watching over you, so i know he sees me, too, because i'm here with you...

i miss my son. and i'm ready to look at the possibility of another child. and i feel so good about being in that place, and i feel so on the very verge of panic over it because already my memories of the days in the hospital are fuzzy (um, the morphine haze didn't hurt in that department...). i feel like i'm looking through the bottom of a heavy green glass goblet when i look at those days in my memory. wavy. i see elizabeth, my midwife and dear friend, and i see dr. c, a precious and good man who will deliver my next child via c-section, and i see my husband holding my son and telling God that we will serve him and i think,

yes, i can do this again. i can.

but i want to build an altar. i want to create some testament to ben's life. the drowsy artist in me wants to build and i am thinking things over in my mind and heart. what to do, what to make....

and i want to do it now, while his loss is still in its infancy.

and i need to do it, because already i can tell that my wound, bruised and scarring, is still painful for others, too, in a different way, and it's easier on them if i don't talk about it. so i hold him, not forgotten, in my heart and i know that this child will never not have lived. his entire life was entertwined with mine, part of my bloodstream, held and cradled and nourished by me and the scar across my tummy is a memorial that i love-- his mark. he was here. he was there. he came forth and went ahead of me. he beat me to eternity but he was here.

but...oh, how can i explain it? the loss sometimes feels so lonely. like a spanish guitar, intense and intricate, filled with long silences, followed by complicated runs of notes and notes and notes.... my husband mourns with me, as do friends and family, but the scar stretches across my body and i think of him morning, noon, and night.

always thinking of you, dear baby ben.

so it's hard to describe the deep hope that i feel being born again in me. the sense that, while everything is changed for me-- even the way the light looks against the trees after a storm is not the same--something new is pushing forth. it's hard to describe the newly twinned nature of my heart: i'm both sad and serene. the part of me that had never known loss, was the uncolored page in the coloring book that was my heart, is colored with red and flesh and strawberry blonde hair, while the old me is waking up again. i am both old and new. i am here and there.

sometimes i leave.
sometimes i'm not in my eyes. sometimes i leave and i sigh. sometimes this blank heaviness is too much and i am sitting with you and then i am not. sometimes it is like this. sometimes i sink into remembrance that looks like forgetfulness to you and i am grateful when you let me go... i will remember myself again and come back again, but i'm always both here and there. lately i'm more here than there, but i guess i'm always both places anymore...

i wonder if anyone else sees it. that i'm older and different. don and i have done this together-- i think it's hard for us to see the changes sometimes. we had such a good relationship before-- i had no idea how powerfully tragedy would strengthen us.

i love him in a way and to a depth that i did not know what possible. i need him. i am so grateful for him.

and God?

this relationship is so complicated.

here is one thing i know:

in the beginning i never knew/just how much i really needed you/more than a friend/someone i could talk to/ you've changed me in so many ways/nobody knows me like you/ you put your arms around me and bring me through/there's many times i don't know what to do/ though some know me well /still nobody knows me like you/all of my secrets to you i tell/you saw each time that i slipped and fell/all of my faults, yes you know them well/but you've never turned me away, no no no/nobody knows me like you... walking in your presence is where i wanna be/ you said in you word/ you said you would lead me /yes i love you, oh i really love you/ i'll go anywhere as long as i know that you'll be there.... all of those nights that i was afraid/ i stood on the promises that you have made/ the way that i act sometimes i am ashamed/but you never turned me away, no no no... nobody knows me like you... (benny hester)

sometimes i think, you know, if i can still love -- me, a woman whose righteousness is as dirty rags-- if i can still love him after all of this... how much better than me, how much higher than me, is he? if MY puny love can survive this heartache that everything inside of me insists he could have STOPPED, then how much deeper and more trustworthy is HIS goodness? how much more amazing and trustworthy is His love if my flaky self can still follow?

friends, our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. it's all him.

friday night...light

had an amazing weekend.

it was good, too, to get out of the house. i've been really hesitant about going out in large groups-- i don't know if that's part of the grief process or not, but i've just felt overwhelmed at the thought of being in a gigantic group, but my friends miki and elizabeth organized a three-ring-very-southern-circus and i simply could not resist.

we began the night at the whistle post in historic old town conyers, eating frikkles, drinking sweet drinks and watching for the rockdale citizen/teacher paparazzi to come take pictures of all of us drinking fizzy drinks and printing mug shots for the whole town to see :). we laughed our heads off and i think multiple conversations were begun and left unfinished and it was just fine. i love parties like that-- happy madness.

from there, we walked over to the new depot to see steel magnolias, directed by one of my favorite friends in the universe, jay tryall.

it was fantastic.

besides laughing my head off at miki, who was in rare stand-up-comic form (i've known miki my entire life-- literally since i can remember knowing any human-- and there is still noone alive who can make me laugh like she can), the play was incredible. i can't say enough about the entire cast, but cyndi evans was hysterical as ouiser boudreaux. i have to find her and introduce myself to her at church next week. i almost want to ask her for her autograph. i love how she just threw her entire self into the role and i can't imagine how that must feel for an actor. i wonder if its anything like singing can be sometimes-- when you just so totally mean it. you close your eyes and open your lungs and go for it and ... freedom. i wonder sometimes if that's what acting feels like for people who are really good at it.

and to top the entire night off, the weather in georgia was perfect. breezy, not too humid, almost cool (what! imagine that in august!).... lovely.



there was this moment, right after the play, when it occurred to me that life could be normal again and was normal right that minute. we were all posing in front of the stage that jay had meticulously put together and jay -- the director who was being interviewed by the paper but who graciously stopped to take our picture-- goes, "okay, say 'shelby'" and we laughed and said it and my heart was full...


full for these women, only a few of whom i really even knew, for being a safe first-outing since the death of my son. full for the midwife who has been my friend for 20 plus years, who has literally seen me inside and out and who was in the room for the nightmare and who was two feet away from me, normal as grass. full for miki, who i've always loved and laughed with, who shared my childhood and is as much a sister as any blood sister could be and who i still want when bad things happen. full for caroline, my sweet compatriot and co-conspirator and who can be trusted with any secret. full for karen who didn't come to the play and who ordered two salads because she is karen :). full for val, who is kind and spunky. full for the clever, funny women all around that stage. full with affection for the sweet mother of a former precious student (i see where kelsey gets it from now, that sweet kid). full, knowing that each of those women has been touched with her own sorrows, but that each of them put on lipstick and packed their purses with steel magnolias memorabilia per miki's command and we laughed and laughed... full because i have wept with jay and no one in the room knew but jay and me. i have also laughed with him til i thought i would choke.

so many stories in that room.

we are surrounded, all of us, with jars of clay, holding precious treasures of pain in our hearts. we bump into each other, jostling each other and helping to catch the falling burdens, without even knowing it.

i loved a lot of people friday night.

it was good.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sigh.

I want, I want, I want, I want...

Sigh.

It's okay.

Finding lately that "I want" is coupled with "I hope," and that, dear friends, is a good thing.

So much love-- thanks to all of you for continued emails, calls, facebook comments... what a sweet, weird little community :)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Good Lord...

Oh, I'm tired. But glad. Sad, but today the sadness doesn't go from front to back. It's light-- it's so weird.

There is no end to what I am learning this season. And it's so hard to put it down in words, but I am compelled to do it.

So often, I wonder if I'm feeling the "right" thing: on days when I go hours without thinking about my son, I wonder if that's okay-- if I'm alright, if I'm in denial, if it's too soon to sort of be... okay... again. On days that I come home and collapse on the bed, angry and irritable and exhausted and pissed off with sadness, I wonder if I'm like a wound that has healed wrong, with infected tunneling and cavities and pockets of disease, needing to be broken open, cleaned out and set right again.

Sometimes I feel like the only thing that will make it all feel better is thrashing around on the bed and holding tight to this little teddy bear my friends sent me while I was still in the hospital. I wonder if the pain is too much, to be this many weeks out from his loss. He would be three and a half months, I think, and double over with a new wave of pain.

And I'll tell you the truth: my God is good. And patient. Because the anger that seemed to stay so at bay before has come knocking with a big, arthritic fist, pounding against my heart. And in my mind, my Father sits beside me on the bed, while I groan with weeping because I have run out of words, and am tired of saying the same ones, and He loves me.

Here is my heart's cry: He is good. Oh friend, everything can fall away and break to pieces on the floor, but call every man a murderer and a liar and evil, and God alone is good. I do not understand this thing-- and it's NOTHING compared to losses others have sustained, but here is the message I am getting from him, through the darkness that would overwhelm my heart and mind:

He alone is good. He alone is holy. His love does not waver when our faith does. He loves he loves he loves he loves he loves. Even when He is quiet, he grieves with me. I know it. I know it-- and that is just His spirit in me. The very fact that I can know that He loves me, even after this and in the face of what the world would tell me is evidence to the contrary, I KNOW that my redeemer a) lives and b) loves me.

So here is my challenge to us: Can we love Him back, in this fallen and sometimes cruel world? Oh God, here is my ugly, under-construction prayer-- that I will offer all of this pain to you, new waves of it daily, and tell you that I will love you and I will look for your goodness and I will not listen to the enemy of my soul. I will not go down the path that leads me toward blame and anger toward you. I will not shake my fist at you.

Only hold me, Lord. Oh, God, that you would make yourself felt in a way that we have never felt you before. What I had of you before is not enough for today. Let the world accuse you of being unjust-- as for me and my house, we will serve you. Only hold me and let me hear you and feel you in a way that I have never experienced. New depth, new truth. Do something new, Lord, and make yourself the center of my attention. Not my loss. Not my sadness. I give it all to you. Only hold me.

Be glorified in all of this mess. Pull my heart up out of this valley of death. Only you are good and worthy of being praised. I command my heart, worship Him.

Let us tell our souls, Bless the Lord. Let us command our hearts, Look at Him and wonder at his goodness. Let us set our eyes on the things above.

Ah, Sabbath.

Go here to hear some powerful worship music. The musician is one of my best and oldest friends. This man is living what he's singing. Kenny and I have been there and back together and I am so blessed to be listening to Him worship our God... Kenny Peavy

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

First days

School has begun!

And it's weird. And good.

Freshmen are strange little people-- already at an incredibly awkward age, add this huge transition and they're even funnier.

I'm sleepy so I won't write too much, but I wanted to tell you about telling the kids about Ben.

I did exactly as I planned-- during introductions, I told them that I wanted to tell them something sad, but something that was important (I should add that this portion of class was very short. We only talked about Ben for a couple of minutes-- no more than one or two). I waited until the very end of my introduction-- I told them happy things and then told them this one very sad thing. Their responses have been so interesting. For one thing, I feel pretty certain that many of them already knew (b/c of having older siblings). That was nice, honestly. They were looking at me with such tenderness and sympathy as I was talking to them, before I told them what happened.

For the rest of them, their first response is mild shock-- a collective gasp and then the precious young teenager "Awww...." I don't know if you know any teenagers, but I've heard this expression of sympathy before-- there is a thing inside teenagers that somehow honestly feels for people. It doesn't show up all the time or in all situations, but when it does, it's uniquely...heavy. Beautifully heavy.

I asked them if they had any questions. Several shared that their moms had lost babies, either in childbirth or during pregnancy. Others shared that they had lost siblings or cousins to accidents or sickness. It was honestly one of the most fascinating "get to know you" first days I have ever experienced. It was not sad or depressing, but it was very real. I think they wondered about the fact that I did not cry as I shared with them (though I almost did yesterday). A couple asked me if this was my first baby and if I wanted to have more.

I loved how real their questions were, and how respectful. These children do not know me, and I do not know them yet, but they blessed me.

And while I have them to thank for that, somehow everything inside me only wants to praise Jesus.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday

We went to church with Don's folks today. It was fantastic. The worship...oh my gosh. It reminded me so much of Eastwood Baptist, back in the early 80's. It was anointed and I wept while I sang-- I have needed a worship time like that in such a bad way. Maybe it's because we were in a different place than normal. Maybe it's because the room was dark and the music was loud and the congregation entered in as a whole (none of this is a commentary on my own church-- I love LOVE my church-- but rather on this blessing the Lord gave us this weekend). I was able to throw my head back and just sing.

And they did Desert Song. That is the song that has brought me such comfort and so many tears all of these weeks. I couldn't believe it. It was the first time I've sung it with other people-- usually I'm in the car or in my classroom with it blasting.

If you live in the Athens, Georgia, area you should check it out: Grace Fellowship.

The Lord is so kind. I've been so hurt...just hurting with Him. Feeling like, okay, there is the pain of this loss, but then also, Lord? Do you love me? My mind always seems to go there first-- I wonder about His love for me. Not His existence (though that has occurred to me, too, but fleetingly-- I know He's real). I don't wonder about His goodness or His love for you or for China. I wonder about how incredibly unloveable I must be.

Oh, self-pity, thy name is SAMANTHA.

And just when I want to completely go under, to totally drown in a pool of total, devastating self-pity, He brings me into a church where the worship is exactly my style. Exactly what I needed. To close my eyes and tell Him, "YOU ARE GOOD. Your lovingkindness is everlasting!"

And then, on Saturday, a book comes in the mail. My friend, and one of my favorite leaders and mentors in YWAM, Paul Hawkins, sent me a little book written by his wife, Peggy. She has suffered from crippling, mind-numbing pain for the last 30+ years-- the kind of pain that makes you shake your head.... It's called "Though He Slay Me" and it was and is the word of the Lord for me. Peggy addresses questions that my heart has been struggling with: If You're good and You love me, then why this unfathomable pain? I want to write more about what she's written and I will after I finish reading the book.

God is so good. And He is paying attention.