Tuesday, September 29, 2009
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
Monday, September 14, 2009
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
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....
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
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
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.
I'm cleaning Ben's room today.
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.
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
If you would have had a
like your father and your brother.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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
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
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."
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
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...