Sunday, November 1, 2009


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.


wendymhall said...

Your faith inspires me. I've just quoted you to a grieving friend today. Thanks for continuing to include us in the sorrow and the healing. Wish I could hug you.

Samantha said...

me, too, wend. i love you.