Friday, December 17, 2010

Journal #20

This was too good not to share.

I threw my kids a journal topic at the last minute because I needed them to chill before heading into review time for exams. They were just wild things, loping and cackling into the room like adolescent muppets on crack. I told them to settle their feathers and get out their journals. That always seems to calm everyone down.

Here was the prompt (paraphrasing): Write a fable featuring your household pet (discussion about what a fable is, blah blah blah).

So one of my favorite little guys-- let's call him Oscar because I don't have any Oscars this year-- writes this:

"Once upon a time there was a horse named Harrold. He hated to eat apples but he ate one every day. The reason for this is because Harrold hated one thing more than apples-- he hated the doctor. So every day, Harrold eats an apple to keep the doctor away. But today, Harrold forgot his apple and had to go to the doctor. Turns out, Harrold didn't have such a bad time at the doctor's office.

"So Harrold doesn't eat an apple a day any more to keep the doctor away because the doctor's not that bad."

HAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!

Okay, it's not a perfect fable, but if you're hanging out on that point, you're MISSING IT!

It's classic. In so many ways. I'm totally going to do something with it. And Oscar's little brain is just stuffed with stuff like this. I can't wait to see what he's going to come up with second semester. Please feel free to send me any creative writing prompts you have-- I'm all over it. It would be cool to use your ideas and let them see what they can do with them. It'd be fun, too.

Later, all!

Friday, December 10, 2010

sometimes singing worship comes out in tears....

If you don't think it's hard a year and a half after the death of my son, you're crazy.

I say that because somehow, I thought it would be... not easier, but different.

But grief... I remember my earlier thoughts on grief and I still see so much of the same character today that I did when we were newly acquainted. Grief is sneaky. It hides-- it figures out that you're sort of exhausted with its presence and it creeps back into the shadows for a while-- a week, a day, a couple of months-- and then when you least expect it, "Hulloooo! I'm back! Where's dessert?"

Tonight, we're having dear friends over for a Christmas gathering. Don and I are scurrying around the house, mostly happy-- we've had people over at least once or twice a week for the last couple of weeks so we're mostly ready for company-- listening to Hillsong's "God He Reigns (Live)" album at full blast. "Mostly happy"-- always a little on the verge of tears this Christmas season, always feeling a little tender, always feeling a little sad, it seems. Tonight, while folding towels before our friends get here, I realize the words that I am singing...

i don't care what the world throws at me now
it's gonna be alright!
cause i know my God saved the day
and i know His word never fails
and i know my God made a way for me
salvation is here
salvation is here and He lives in me
salvation is here
and He died to set me free...
Jesus, you are alive and you live in me...

And I have to worship. Right in the middle of that little cloud of melancholy.

He set me free. Oh friend, oh childless mother, oh friendless one, oh motherless child, oh woman... He set us free from all this sadness. I mean, we can walk through it without fear of melting into it. We weep our way through the grief, but we are not invisible in it. He's made a way. He walks with us. We are not alone. Death is not the end. Life here is not all there is. He doesn't live there. He lives here.

YES!!!

One of my kids asked me today-- totally out of nowhere-- "Mrs. Swaney, do you love Jesus?" OH YES! My heart leapt inside me when I was able to throw my head back and laugh and say, "Oh YES, I love Jesus!"

Oh yes, I love me some Jesus.

And here is my prayer tonight-- just like it is every time I worship, ever since Ben changed everything-- Praise You Lord, in all things. Even for this. Even in this. Even this. And Lord, I give You my son again. Oh God, how I wish we had a little partner running around here this Christmas. How I grieve His absence. How I wish for the frantic schedule of my friends who are mommies. But I bless You for the grace You've filled my life up with. I thank You for the mercy that You have poured out on me, and I thank You that this life is not the end of the story. And I pray, Oh God, that the bigger thing that You are weaving through this deep loss, this seemingly bottomless grief, would bring You eternal glory. This temporary grief. This earthly sadness that will end in a joyous reunion-- with You and all the saints, my little guy right there in the middle-- that all of this will bring You glory somehow.

That if one person can see that it is possible to sustain a great loss and not lose your faith... to still live and still love You deeply... Oh Jesus, I give it all to You. If You had asked, I don't think I would have been able to say yes like Abraham did, so I thank you for not asking. I thank you for all the mercy You poured out before and after.

I love you, King. Thank You for Christmas. Thank You for Your friendship. For Your sacrifice. That You see me. That You weep with me. And thank you for bringing it out every time I worship You-- I'm crowded with Your presence, You're already holding me before the tears come.

How I love You and long for You.
Bless Your name...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Garments of Praise

Here is how priceless everything He has dumped into our laps is:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61

This is a great and mighty Savior. This is a great and mighty God. And He is calling for a people who would be redeemed and who would receive a cloak of praise in the place of grief and mourning. Worship instead of weeping. Life instead of death. Abundance instead of poverty. Lives full of meaning and purpose and hope instead of despair.

Friends, let's run toward the goal-- toward Jesus, toward purity that can offer Him the praise He is worthy of-- let's not mock Him by living in a manner that would grieve Him. We need each other so badly-- we need to call each other up to good works. We need to -- we were created to-- open mouths that have been made pure by His sacrifice and offer Him the worship He deserves. He has redeemed us! He has saved us! He has set us apart-- He has placed His seal upon us, He has promised us eternal friendship, He has redeemed us for love. Let's not cheapen our testimonies and our friendship with Him and  the truth of who He is by living in carnality and then proclaiming that we appreciate His sacrifice. Let's worship Him and allow Him to break and change us and then rebuild us into a people who display His splendor.

Speaking truth instead of lies.
Sewing peace instead of strife.
Drunk on His Spirit, not on wine.
Free to be His bondservant.
Emptied of ourselves until we are filled with Him.

Maranatha, maranatha, maranatha...come quickly, Lord Jesus...

It's been forever...

Hey... it's been a while!

I know that many of you guys are teachers so you'll totally get where I've been-- first semester is just so overwhelming, it seems. Even after all these years teaching school, I feel like I'm pulling myself through mud as I march from August (July next year) to December, and I'm dragging about 120 students with me. No, I really do like it, but teaching freshmen has a unique set of challenges at the beginning of the year. They're so sweet, honestly, even when they're being bad (many times, anyway), but we find ourselves fighting to help pull them out of the middle school mentality, and they fight right back against us because they resent the fact that we're still referring to so much of their behavior as "8th grade stuff." I totally understand why they hate it-- they've arrived! They've waited forever to be in high school and it feels to them like we're trying to rain on their parade. But the transition, like so many transitions, is one they don't recognize while they're in the midst of it and it hurts, and they don't know why they're hurting. They're just trying so hard to fit whatever molds they've convinced themselves they're supposed to be fitting into. For some of them, the transition is fairly smooth. For others...

"Total chaos" doesn't come close to describing it.

Meanwhile, the freshman teacher is life coach/counsellor/instructor/babysitter/mom/dad/bully/nursemaid,etc. So many of them fail first semester and they don't believe us, no matter what we tell them. We have older students come back to tell them-- they don't believe them. Their parents tell them-- they don't believe them. They think, Nah, she'll just pass me with a 70. That's what they always do.

And then....

Second semester, they believe us. They do much better after coming through that first tsunami of a report card. "I can fail. It can happen. They weren't kidding. Dang." They come back to school (some of them) sobered up. After the initial, "Hey, you gave me a 48," (to which I respond, "I didn't GIVE you anything. I did the math. You gave me just enough stuff to equal a 48") they seem to do so much better.

Which is why I'm glad we don't do The Odyssey until second semester.

:)

Oh freshmen. I'm exactly like them in so many ways.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Squeezed

Sometimes I wonder about Sarah.

How many years did she wander with that man, traipsing through deserts, being disowned as Abraham's sister so that he could feel secure ("Who, her? My sister, my sister! Not my wife! Certainly, she can join your harem...just don't kill me"). How many girls did she grow into womanhood with, watching them get pregnant and give birth, one after another, until eventually she just counted herself out of the game? I wonder if her lack of children ever caused her to doubt her own authority as "head wife" among all the other women they traveled with. I wonder if her childless state inspired her friends' pity, and if that pissed her off.

Sometimes, my heart aches for her. I mean, how forgotten she must have felt. Maybe not in every way, but over and over again, watching and waiting in so many ways.

And then the three strangers showed up. And they said that God would bless her with children.

And she laughed.

And I wonder about the conversation between Sarah and Abraham after that. Just today, I was discussing "characterization" with my freshmen, and we were talking about the different ways by which an author reveals character and how we figure out who a character in a book really was through direct and indirect characterization.

First, we find in Genesis 18:6, Abraham rushing back inside the tent to tell Sarah to "Quick, get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread." QUICK! I would be thinking, "I like how you're telling me exactly what to do. Haven't I made six thousand loaves of bread?" Anyway, at this point, we can't really infer anything about her character (when I say "character" here, I'm talking about the person who is in this role-- I recognize that she was real) -- it's mostly about Abraham's response to the visitors. Still, I see her scurrying around, muttering, maybe, about how he was always rushing her and freaking out about stuff and worrying and she's pounding out the bread and putting it in the oven (Bible scholars, you'll forgive my looooose interpretation of her historic activities here).

But verse 10 is where we get some indirect characterization regarding Sarah. The Lord (one of the visitors?) says, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"

Oh, dear Sarah girl. Did she chuckle ironically, shaking her head back and forth with a sad smile on her face? Or did she giggle like a little girl, covering her mouth with her hand and wondering, "Oh God, could it be?" Or was she bitter, laughing a little sardonically, remembering all of the prayers she had wept before the Lord in her youth, thinking of how much she would have loved to have been a young mother?

But the Lord knew her heart, and perhaps some of what we understand about that heart we can infer through the Lord's words:

(v. 13) The the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”


(v. 15) Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

I know that the passage says that she was afraid, but I think that fear can be manifest in different ways and for different reasons. For instance, I'm a little unclear about who is doing the talking here-- did Sarah lie to the Lord (one of the three strangers) when she said she didn't laugh? Was she afraid that she had offended Him and realized that she didn't need to question what He said so she laughed nervously? Maybe. But what if her fears were just so much more complicated?

If we were assigned the task to figure this character out in the context of this passage, I might say that she was a good woman-- the men of God wanted to bless her with something she's longing for. We can assume that she had their favor. But I might add that it takes serious guts to straight up lie to God about what you know He saw or heard. Guts or just years worth of hiding what you really feel every day.
I don't know.

I love that whether she laughed sardonically or innocently or happily or nervously, the Lord did just what He said. I like, too, that He still did it even though she tried to force her own will when her unbelief kicked in so hard. It says so much more about who He is: calm, steady, determined, forgiving, and dedicated to what He has intended all along, no matter what we do or think or say to screw things up.

He is able to do what He wills and He is able to redeem what we mess up.

I like ol' Sarah. I can't wait to meet her one day. And I'm really interested to see what that whole situation looked like. I wonder what the Lord wanted to teach us through her story. That He will interupt our busy schedules to drop in and make miraculous promises? And that He hears our whispered unbelief and but remains committed to us and His plan?

Hm. Must think more on this...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Call for prayer: Caroline Ingle

Oh, my heart cries out at the subject line on this post.

Hands down, worst Labor Day ever.

You've heard me talk about my girl Caroline before. Caroline is one of the most brilliant, one of the funniest, one of the godliest women I know. She is one of my closest girlfriends, has seen me at my worst and loved me and laughed with me through it, and I can list a thousand things she's done. She memorized every moment of Ben's baptism in the hospital-- have I ever told her that the three faces I most remember from that sad baptism in my hospital room, even more than Ben's, are hers, Don's, and my father-in-law?-- because she knew that I wouldn't remember anything and she wanted to make sure someone kept a record of it. She brought me chocolate. She laughed at my horrible gallows humor (and laughed with me about it a lot in the last year and a half). She cut my hair the night before the funeral and she said beautiful things from the pulpit at that funeral, though for the life of me I don't remember... I just remember that she held my gaze. I remember that she looked me in the eye and said, with no words, "We've got this. We're going to walk through this." We have spent hours talking after school, on the phone, on her back porch, on my front porch.

And these things are just a tiny handful of only SOME of the things she has done for me. If everyone who had been touched by her life were given thirty seconds to sing her praises, we'd be sitting for a year, just listening. She is 35, but she is so much wiser than even that.

And on Saturday, they told her that she has leukemia.

Oh GOD, my heart cries-- not this precious woman! Not Caroline! To imagine the agony of chemotherapy, the hardship of the survival that will be won (it WILL be won!), the isolation and loneliness of a cancer ward where we can't bring germs that might kill her... that's one side of my heart.

But the other side of my heart sits on the edge of its seat. The other side of my heart has experienced the goodness of the Lord in the valley of death and knows that we do not have to fear evil for GOD is our comforter!!! This part of my heart, my testimony, is blown away about the testimony that the Lord is weaving for this woman who can already command a crowd with the simplest of stories. This part of me KNOWS that God is doing something eternal in that woman and I agree with the great thing He is writing.

But I rail against the thing that is coursing through her veins. I say NO to the cancer that would take her down. But I say YES to the thing the Lord wants to do through it!

Will you pray with me?

Lord, we cry out to You on behalf of Caroline! We proclaim that You knit her together in her dear mother's womb and You know exactly how many hairs are in that perfect head of hair she has. You watch her all the time and are intimately familiar with her every moment, every desire, every pain, every longing, every hope, every fear... and You alone have the power to heal her. So we ask You, Lord, to heal her. We ask You to do Your perfect work in her. And we know that You are able to do abundantly more than we could ever even ask or imagine. We trust You with her life and we plead the blood of Your son over her, as her mother and father have surely done countless times, and as she has done over the lives of so many students herself... Have mercy on her, Father, and heal her. Have mercy on us, Lord, and leave her with us for 60 more years.

We trust You!!!

Please go see Caroline's CaringBridge site-- I have it listed on my blog list to the right of this article, and I'm putting a link here, too.

Let us remember our girl tonight while we lie, unplugged and comfortable in our beds, and cry out to the Lord that He would hold her in His arms while she is plugged to machines and IVs in hers.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thoughts...

Today has been one of those gorgeous, shining southern pre-fall days, and they always seem to make me thoughtful. The air is dry and scrubbed clean, lit up with the sun and a light breeze and the assurance (finally) that fall really is coming. It's been hot this summer. Suddenly, I feel like I can breathe outside. I love to run errands on days like today-- to be alone in the sunlight and drive and not listen to the radio or music and just think.

I had a list of things I needed to do today: I looked for curtain rods at five different stores, trying to avoid buying them online; I bought a book for a dear friend who is newly pregnant and worries all the time and with whom I often feel so awkward-- what is my experience to her? I did everything right and look how my story ended? (at least, that part of the story) Never mind that his death had nothing to do with my pregnancy, I always feel so aware of the fact that mine is a sort of cautionary tale, not the comforting story of peace and miracles that a pregnant woman needs to collect for the wee-morning-worrying-rituals. My friend hasn't confessed to such thoughts, but would she? Ah, Jesus, just another place I need Your redeeming touch and power.

But that's why I wanted to write-- not just because I am avoiding scrubbing the tile in the front bathroom. Because God is so very, incredibly good and kind and I have to say it-- proclaim it.

I've learned so much in the last year and half. Before April 28, 2009, I always wondered how in the world a woman could survive the death of her child. I wondered how you go on. I had watched my dear sister Winter walk that path and I saw it nearly kill her for a season, and then I saw the Lord come in like a flood and restore everything the enemy attempted to steal...but still, I wondered. How do you go on? Until you've walked the path, it's impossible to know, honestly.

Truly, it is a horrible experience, but here's the thing:

Jesus is real. He is real. When I cry out to Him in my darkest moments, I feel and know His presence in my very bones and He lifts the shroud of mourning and I can breathe. He has guarded my mind from insanity and my soul from total anguish. My testimony is that we can experience the darkest depths and lo, He is with us. He is the God who sees-- He is El Roi, the God who sees me. He is faithful. He guards my dreams. He comforts me in the moments I allow myself to revisit the day of Ben's arrival and departure. He softens the memories. He holds me when I know that no one, not even my husband, truly gets the depths of my longing.

He is the same Person for you. He will be.

Cry out.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
Isaiah 43:2

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Let it rain...

You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the LORD, have created it (NIV)

or

Drop down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it (AKJV)

Isaiah 45:8


Oh God, let it be! Let it be according to Your very words!!! Just as You have longed for it, we long for it with you, great God of every living thing.

Let it rain!

Oh, God of our hearts, may we throw our heads back and cry out to You, from the depths of our hearts-- where all the pain that comes from sojourning on this earth hides and rots-- may we open our mouths and TELL you that YOU ARE GOOD! Help us, Spirit, to acknowledge Your goodness and righteousness and Your abundant kindness to us, even when sadness pounds at our hearts-- we acknowledge that Your goodness and the eternal nature of Your being is so much bigger than any grief we bear. And we praise You for everything everything everything, but right now, I praise You because I know that surely You have borne our griefs (Isaiah 53:4) and you never tire of hearing my heart....

And God, I sing praise to You because You would be worth it in any circumstance, and I sing praise to You because You were good today and yesterday and a year ago and the years before that. You have been with us in every dark place-- on every lonely path, in every horrifying situation, in times when I was right and times when I was wrong... You've never left, not for one second.

And sometimes I wonder... would I think of You like I do if Ben was alive? Would my heart be so set on You if tragedy had not struck? Would I have begun to cool, my love for you growing ever more stagnant as I sank into my horror-free life? I wonder...

I mean, I loved you. I knew You. I served You. But I was just... longing for You, but in the same old way.... On April 28, my need for You was blown into a category 5 hurricane. The need in my heart and soul became a screaming, sucking hole; a giant crater in the center of my chest, and only You could fill it.

Oh, and my Jesus, You have been filling it and filling it and filling it...

Here's my cry today: COME DOWN HERE! Pour Your Spirit out on Your people! We are dry and aching and longing to see You! Oh Savior, MARANATHA! Come quickly! You are high and lifted up!! May we worship You-- may we cry out to You NOW, in times of peace and fulness and ease so that we will be ready for the day of turmoil, and our first instinct will always be to worship Your name, even when it all comes crashing down, because THIS IS NOT ALL THERE IS!!!!

Oh JESUS, You are the point of life! Thank You for the beautiful extras, but Oh, God, they do not hold a candle to Your majesty.

And no sadness can dampen the sweetness of Your goodness.

Ah, Jesus, I adore You.

You are good.

Catherine Mullins - Revelation Song - Lakeland Florida Outpouring (USA) ...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A List

Have you ever had one of those days where you have a million thoughts and ideas swimming around in your brain and you know you need to write them down somehow-- journal, blog, something-- but just thinking about writing it writing it is exhausting? So here's a list instead:

*My bathtub rocks.
*The yard needs to be mowed.
*Don told me, "Thank you for cleaning the kitchen. You know that feeling you get when I mow the lawn? I get that same feeling when you clean the kitchen."
*The fact that this came right after the note that the yard needs to be mowed is completely unrelated... :)
*I'm currently living in denial that school starts back soon
*I'm excited about school starting back soon
(oooh-- I am such an enigma... :))
*New light fixture from JD's stash of cool stuff. OH-- good idea for the name of the shop I wish he'd open: JD's Stash of Cool Stuff.
*JD and Kristen are also responsible for the bath tub
*Fantastic-- FANTASTIC-- Sunday school class
*Butt-kicking Sunday school class
*Such fun at Jason and Tara's today. Gorgeous baby. Smiled the whole time. Perfect pink christening gown. Jason's post-baptism ribs were out of this world. The conversation was a blast.
*New friends! So much fun!
*Approaching storm today was brilliant. I love the south.
*Tinelle and Tara are lovely sisters. They've survived so much-- but more than survived. They are thriving women.
*I get nervous telling pregnant women what happened with Ben except when they're believers. I don't want to frighten them or freak them out. I had a conversation with the loveliest pregnant woman today (see "new friends" above :)), and it blessed me so much to see the peace on her face when I shared briefly about Ben after she asked.
*My husband says that I "sang good" in worship this morning
*He also says that we have temporarily cured the cat from sitting on the chair in the den
*He would also like you to know that most of his toenails are clean and also wants to know if I'm really typing that.

:)
Be blessed tonight. God is good.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition

The Two Foundations

24"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.

25"And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.

26"Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.


27"The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall."

28When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching;


29 for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Matthew 7: 24-29

First things first-- I am totally breaking a serious rule in Bible study-- there is SO MUCH to this passage, and if you have a passage that starts with "therefore"-- well, you know you have to search to understand what it's "there for" :). So I had the entire chapter here and realized that I wanted to talk about every bit of it, but I was too all over the place. The real thing is this foundation thing that I keep coming back to in my heart.

My dear friend Jonathan and I were talking on Saturday afternoon (he's a seminary student at Duke and he's interning at a great big church in Atlanta this summer and I could not be more proud of him-- I joked with his mother when D and I first got married that once I was pregnant, I wanted her to spit in my drink so I could have a son just like her sons-- I have a handful of women whose sons are so amazing, I have made the same joke with them...they THINK it's a joke... :)).

Anyway, Jonathan was telling me about the sermon he was going to give the next morning at church and he reminded me of the story of the wise man who builds his house on the rock, which is one that has come to mind for me again and again in the last year.

I remember being a little girl in children's church at Rockdale Baptist Church. Mr. Ronnie and Miss Janet and the other teachers would teach us little Bible songs and I still know those songs, and the Word is written right across my heart thanks to some of those little verses (all of you kindergarten and preschool teachers, don't give up! Your work is so valuable and huge! You never know what kinds of eternal seeds you are planting!!).

The wise man built his house upon the rock

The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rain came tumbling down


Oh, the rain came down
And the floods came up
The rain came down
And the floods came up
The rain came down
And the floods came up
And the wise man's house stood firm.


The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
And the rain came tumbling down

Oh, the rain came down
And the floods came up
The rain came down
And the floods came up
The rain came down
And the floods came up
And the foolish man's house went "splat!"

So, build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ
Build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ... (etc.)

I remember thinking about the images those verses paint-- I couldn't imagine building a house on Stone Mountain or on the big rock that we had out on the play ground at Pine Street. How would they get it to stay and keep from sliding off? At the same time, building in the sandbox was pretty messy and everyone knows that the sandbox is no place to be if it's raining.

Such a literal child, from the beginning.

Anyway, this story is gigantically important to us as believers.

The thing about trials is that we don't expect them most of the time ("no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"). In the parable, Jesus had just been warning his listeners to watch out for teachers who would mislead them and He was advising them to consider the fruit that they bear. The whole warning is fairly intense.

But the thing that stood out for me last year was the fact that we had no idea that a storm was coming. That's the thing about storms (or the Spanish Inquisition...)-- we know to be prepared for them, to mend our leaking roofs or to have candles and extra batteries and a weather radio on hand, but really, you don't have time to replace the entire roof when you hear on the news that a weather event is slated for your area that afternoon.

We didn't know that we needed to be prepared for our worst nightmare last year. We got pregnant, rejoiced over our great blessing, and went about the business of registering at baby stores, designing a nursery, poring over baby name books and sending emails back and forth with funny ideas, giving our family fun "worksheets" at Thanksgiving dinner, asking them for suggestions-- family names, family stories connected to those names, etc. We were prepared for a sunny spring. We were looking forward to happy sleepless nights and figuring out how to breastfeed.

We didn't expect a freaking hurricane.

But here's the thing that was so beautiful: our house was built on the Rock.

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.

I've thought about that one miracle so many times. That He led us so wisely, so gently, in all the years leading up to April of 2009. The Lord drew us to Himself during the "building phases" of our lives, both together and separately. He inspired a hunger and thirst for His word, so we studied and studied to "show ourselves approved. We took verses like this seriously:

14 Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. 2 Timothy 2:15

...and tried to live in such a way that we were growing into followers and teachers and helpmates who were Christlike. Perfect? No. Seeking? YES!! We were seeking Him out to live Christ-centered lives because it feels good and right and holy and peaceful to live that way. Not to prepare for the worst-- we didn't know we were preparing for anything, really. Eternity, yes. Minor trials and temptations on earth, certainly. But this thing? No, because I thought I was blessed and highly favored and that this meant...well, I didn't think it through. But to me, it implied...

wait...Jesus said in John 16 that in this world we will have tribulations, but take heart! Be of good cheer! He has overcome the world!

The rain fell and the winds slammed against us, but the house didn't fall because the preparation had been done ahead of time. We were ready for anything-- we just didn't know it.

Jonathan and I were laughing about the fact that you can't move your house during a storm. It's either built solidly right now or you're going to have to hang on and fix it after the crisis has passed.

You never know when weather is going to happen. You don't expect the death of your son. You don't expect to get laid off. You don't expect to get a diagnosis of breast cancer when you're only 34. You don't expect a brain tumor at 37. You don't expect to get your heart broken by the man of your dreams. You don't expect to still be longing for a spouse at 43. But the wise man? He builds his house against the day of trouble-- on the Rock. And the rains will come and the winds will howl, and he'll lose some shingles and maybe some siding and a front door, but the house will stand. And God promised to give wisdom to anyone who asked. As much as we want, He's got it.

Church, we have to get building-- we have to turn back to our first love-- the One who wooed us to Himself in the first place. We have to unstick ourselves from church politics and petty disagreements. We have to be about the Cross of Christ. We have to be about Him for Him alone and get our houses off the soft sod with sandy, easy earth underneath and get our butts on the Rock.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Time

This summer seems to have passed so quickly. It's nearly drawing to a close and I haven't gotten half the things done that I had on my list... but I have enjoyed time with my husband and reading book after book at my parents' pool.

So I'm choosing not to beat myself up for not finishing the tasks I had planned. I'm choosing to be so thankful for time to myself. I'm choosing to be thankful for a summer that wasn't drenched in tears.... Don and I have wondered aloud several times this summer, "What did we do this time last year??" We walked. We talked. He changed the dressing on my wound three times a day. We cried. We felt so...sad.

But this year has been different and I'm so grateful. I remember being just at the beginning of the journey of grief after the death of a child and thinking that life would never be normal again. Couldn't be. And granted, there is always this check of sadness in the back of my heart and always will be-- always should be-- but I'm not depressed or hopeless. God has been faithful to heal the ache of the wound. The loss is still there, but the desperation is gone.

It does pop up sometimes. It did last week. I cried on my mom's shoulder three weeks ago. I sometimes stare at the ceiling long after D has gone to sleep and wonder what life would be like with our little guy toddling around. I read a status update on FB where a friend of mine joked that she would like to sell her screaming baby at a garage sale, and I know she's kidding, but I don't think I'll ever hear comments like that from moms ever again and not wince and get a little pissed for a minute. Even if the Lord chooses to give us another baby, I think I'll always want to shake people who say it-- even though they love their babies and would lay their lives down for them. In the same way, I would never joke about wanting my husband to die. It's not funny. It happens to some people. I know that I'm uniquely sensitive, though, so I'll keep it to myself (or share it with you guys here-- but we're on the same page, aren't we, in many ways?).

I saw a Hoarders episode where this woman lost her mind after her baby died in a way that was similar to what we think happened to Ben (I think her baby had a cord accident or something-- can't remember). She started keeping everything. The whole house was out of control. She just couldn't get it together. It had been years and she was slowly falling apart.

I won't judge that woman. I know it can happen. I know that the only thing that has kept me from losing my sanity is my faith in Jesus. Before carrying a baby for 9 (10?) months and then holding him, dead, in my arms, I had no idea how intense a mother's love for her baby is. I had no idea. I didn't even get to know Ben. I can't imagine how insanely intense and agonizing that connection from mother to child is when the relationship is allowed to grow. And when I think of this woman, it occurs to me that she had two other children before the one she lost-- is it possible that her grief was even greater because she understood the fulness of what she had lost? In a way that I can only peek at? How could you endure the death of a child when you know what could have been? Know it from experience?

Jesus. That's all. His goodness and closeness and the fact that this life is not all there is. That we'll only sojourn here for a few years but will spend bazillion gazillion matrillion years with Him and with those we have lost. Time.

This whole journey feels like such a freaking mind bender sometimes, you know? My prayer, constantly, is that the Lord would give me His mind in it all. Just help me to see and experience it the way He meant for me to. Help me walk it out the way He intended. There is so much comfort knowing that He knew what was coming and never planned to abandon me to it. Bad things happen to everyone-- EVERYONE-- and we are ridiculous if we think that somehow we are exempt because we are believers. Instead, we should expect that bad things will happen because we understand that the place we live in-- this planet-- is eaten up with destruction, but that the difference between us before Christ and us after Christ is that there is an answer to our suffering. There is a balm in Gilead. There is One who walks with us. We are not exempt, but we are also not alone.

None of this is pointless.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Call for prayer: Eli Whittemore

Hi guys,

Please be in prayer for baby Eli Whittemore. He is due in early August but was diagnosed with a heart condition in early June. His dad is a great kid (Israel)-- well, I guess he's not a kid any more... :) I knew him when he was a kid, and he has grown into a fine man. He and his wife are in ministry in Arizona and they have a little girl who is around three years old.

Please go check his blog-- he explains exactly what is going on with the baby!!

love,
Sam

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Relatives

Even dunces who keep quiet are thought to be wise;
as long as they keep their mouths shut, they're smart.
Proverbs 17:28 (The Message)



I know that, in life, it's honestly all relative.

For instance, the frustration felt by the housewife who is trying desperately to run a household which employs four gardeners and several housekeepers, battling the pressure to keep up appearances of perfection and the loneliness of isolation, can be crushing.

It's almost impossible to avoid the commentary that must address that, though: I should be so lucky to have the frustration of managing my housekeeper. I'm happy to pay all my bills this month, one woman says. I think I could make myself get over the whole "keeping up with the Joneses" thing-- let's see that lady deal with sucking up your pride at the grocery store when you run out of money at the cash register because you just knew you stuck two twenties in your purse, but there's only one.

Lady One argues back (in my mind), You don't know what I feel. You don't know the horror I deal with daily. At least your husband is home. At least he loves you. At least you know for sure that he's not sleeping with his secretary.

Lady Two considers her luck in that area, but barks back, At least your husband has a job.

And it can go on and on.

So I recognize that so many things are relative-- one person complains about their crappy car situation while his neighbor wishes getting his car fixed was the only thing on his list of things to do after dialysis. The guy with dialysis guy complains about his health while the woman in the butt kicking dream car next to him just lost her job, her home, and her best friend.

I'm not trying to bum anyone out. I promise. It's just kind of what I've been saying to myself about complaining lately. But then, I was listening to this woman talk (I didn't know her, so if we're friends and you had this same tirade in a grocery store lately, don't worry!! It's not you!)-- granted, she really seemed to have a lot on her, but I wanted to hit her in the face. I wanted to scream, "Shut your stupid mouth" and pull her hair.

Surprised? Sorry. I've only ever thought about doing things like that...

That woman was complaining about the curse and burden her two lovely children were to her today. She was tired. Her youngest son, an infant, has been colicky lately, and she was spewing complaints all over, wishing that he had a "mute" button (I've heard that one several times in the last two weeks-- so weird).

You know where I'm going with this...

That woman probably has other stresses that she's not as comfortable blabbing about in a public forum, but the anger I felt listening to her was directly related to this. "YOUR BABIES ARE ALIVE," I wanted to yell at her. At least your son has living tear ducts to cry from! You can hold him to your heart, lady, and he will eventually calm down, and I know you're tired, but you sound like a spoiled brat. You sound like that girl on Willie Wonka that everyone cheered for when she blew up (is that right? It's been so long since I saw that movie... I just remember that I hated her and we all clapped when she came to an end). You have everything, everything, and you want to mute your child?

Sigh.

But it's all relative. Maybe her husband is a jerk. Mine's pretty great. Maybe her living situation is rocky. Mine is stable and comfortable.

Or maybe she just doesn't know what she has.

Okay, I'm convicted. I'll pray for this stranger, that she will know as deeply as she has ever known anything that she is a mother who is richly blessed. And just like I need to cry out to the Father to help me remember how extraordinarily blessed I am, I will pray for her that she will remember the women who long for babies to comfort.

How different would this place be if we stopped complaining? If we were ever aware of how bad it makes us sound, and how it sometimes serves to highlight what other people lack? How amazing would this life be if we focused on the things that inspired our gratitude instead of the things that inspire our grief?

There's a key to something eternal here. If God is the point to everything-- every day, every mundane thing, all of our breaths and blinks of our eyes-- then it should all somehow lead back to Him.... My friend Matt used to say that the secret password into the Holy of Holies is "Thank you"....

4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise

Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
5 For the LORD is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100:4-5

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Love it

Okay, I just have to say that I love my home. LOVE it.


It's an old, old house (built in 1880) that we renovated (I say "we" but I really mean our good friend Chuck, who is amazing) (there it is, in a photo from this past winter... so cozy). Chuck made it happen in just over four months... can you believe it? The house had been completely empty for over 35 years. And the Lord... oh, He is good. He knew exactly when to bring this place into our lives. I've loved it since I was a kid, and we bought it just a few months after Ben died. He knew we needed a project, a major distraction, and this was the most precious distraction ever.

We have prayed over this place so many times... together, separately, with friends, our pastor-- we have prayed that the Lord would use this place for ministry. That He would fill it up with His presence. And He has surely done it. It's heaven on earth to me.

But right now it's freaking HOT. I thought high ceilings would help keep it nice and cool in here... but I guess I should stop being such a miser and turn the air conditioning on, huh? :) We have it set to be almost completely off while we're at school-- but, um, it's summer time and we're home and we're having a heat wave in the southeast. Oh, and we're pathetic whining babies, too. We used to be able to take anything-- Don was in the Navy and I was a missionary, for goodness sake! Hellllooooo! Haiti was WAY hotter than this....

Anyway, the thing is, I'm completely stuck, design-wise. Take, for instance, the living room:


Lovely, isn't it?? Right now, though, it's boring. BOOOORING.

The room is way bigger than this, but I'm not on the computer with all the pictures on it right now.

Anyway, it's all very neutral because I'm all about getting cool accessories and all that.

But I'm stuck.

It's like, I am living in the house of my dreams-- literally, if anyone came to try to buy it from us, we wouldn't want a dime. We're here. We love our neighborhood, we love the yard, we love the flow of the house, we love it all. But I'm in here and afraid to scuff up the walls.

Is there some sort of deeper message here???

I keep thinking of that thing people always say-- life is short! Use the good silver! Eat dessert first! Don can patch up any holes you make in the walls! Rearrange the furniture! Buy interesting artwork (this I would have no problem with-- being furloughed last year cut into my design budget BIG TIME)! But I'm frozen! What if I screw up?? I have serious staging fright.

(clever, that bit)

So I'm open to all advice-- let me have it. If you have any cool design websites, I'm all about it. I like midcentury mixed with traditional and orange and red are awesome with me. And if you're an artist and you want to donate any awesome gigantic paintings to the cause, let's talk. The house will be on a tour of historic homes in the winter time and it'll be a cool way to get your work out there.... :)

Post your comment here or send me an email-- it's good either way. I just need HELP!!!! :)

Nurseries in Heaven

So, I'm reading this book.

And after reading a certain chapter, I closed the book and wept. And this is what I prayed:

Oh God, I do not know when this pain will go away. It doesn't feel like it did last year, but I'm sometimes surprised by the pain that shows up fast, out of nowhere-- the longing for my son. I've heard from women whose babies have died that they never "get over it"-- that the grieving looks different, but it always stays, even once they have other children to fill their arms. It has been a little over a year and sometimes it feels like it has been a day... it is so surreal.

But at the same time, I am not in despair, and I have to ask you, would you tell Ben that I love him tonight? Oh God, will you lean close to my son and whisper to him that his mother loves him? And that I miss him and I long for him, but Lord, I don't want to bum him out. I know that he exists, that he is alive somewhere, that he is with you, so just kiss and hug him and tell him that I love him so, so deeply. And if a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a moment, tell him that I'll be with him shortly-- even if that's 50 years from now-- and that I long for that day.

But here's this: Lord, I prayed for him-- I cried out to you for this child the way Hannah cried out for Samuel, and I told you before he was born that he was Yours for all the days of his life. I dedicated him to you. So I don't know how much sense this makes, but Lord, I pray that he still fulfills his destiny. I felt so strongly before he was born that you had created him to be a worshipper-- that my son was a musician, that he would glorify your name with his voice and his hands, so I pray that even in heaven, my son would fulfill his destiny. You knew that he would be with you early-- you knew the plans you had for him just like you knew the plans you had for me when I was born. I long for him, but I say yes to your plans. I say YES to your higher ways. I release him, as pitifully as I am able, into his destiny-- whatever that looks like. It's too high for me to understand. It's too supernatural. It's too otherworldly. It's so beyond me. He is with you, and to be with you in your presence has to be so much more alive than to be here in my presence. So again, I bless your plans. I thank you that I am his mother and that I will see him again one day, and I say let it be with him according to your will-- and I thank you that your will is perfect. And that you have given me so much peace.

Know that I feel perfectly kooky praying like that sometimes.

I mean, seriously-- praying "for" someone who is already dead? That doesn't even make sense to me. It's like, whatever-- game OVER, right?

But his life was just beginning. I have just had the hardest time accepting that it was over for him. Don and I have talked about it so many times, and we always end up talking about Ben in the present tense, wondering what God's plan for this whole thing was. Knowing that life on earth is a blip on the screen-- 80 years or more if we're lucky-- so it's entirely possible to have been created for something beyond life on this planet. That, like my friend Winter said so long ago, our sons' destinies were to be with the Lord early.

Ah, friends, we have hope, don't we?

I mentioned a book... I'm hesitant to put it here because, well, these types of books bring out the skeptic in me (which is funny to even say, and if you ever saw some of the prayer sessions I was a part of in the Schools of Intercession, Worship, and Spiritual Warfare in YWAM, you'd laugh at me calling myself a skeptic about anything prophetic, because we saw some amazing things in those prayer times-- though I confess, one of my biggest struggles as a believer has been "intellectualism"-- which is just a fancy way of saying that my dork mind has the temerity to actually think it's smarter than God).

Anyway, I'm totally putting the book title in here and I'm going to type an excerpt, too, because I was profoundly blessed while I read. So far, every single word the author has written has brought glory and attention only to God, never to herself, and has not contradicted anything I know of the Word, and these are things that I look for when I read prophetic books (this is a woman's account of prophetic insights into heaven-- it's fairly radical). I first heard about the book on Facebook-- a dear friend had posted the link on her page and I clicked on it because, I mean, really, who isn't going to at least be a little curious when they hear someone say that the Lord took them into heaven during one of their times of intercession (and if you know any real intercessors-- the kinds whose prayer sessions last so long that they take lunch breaks-- you know that God does crazy stuff with them. And that makes perfect sense-- they spend hours and hours on their faces before Him, listening to Him, talking with Him. There is something very precious about the relationships built with the Lord in the place of prayer)? And this lady was saying that He had taken her up repeatedly.

I listened and wanted to roll my eyes, but couldn't. Don and I both sat on the couch and listened to this very nice, very normal lady being interviewed in what looked like someone's living room and couldn't help but smile. We were both waiting, though, to hear about the babies. We knew that something was coming about babies. If you're reading this and you've ever lost someone, you know that feeling-- that constant curiosity to know where they are, what it might look like, how it might feel for them. I have always known with 100% certainty that my son is not alone and that he is loved and that the Lord has let him know that his mother and father did not willingly give him up but that we bless the Lord's plan for him, but I have also wondered.... will he be an infant still when I see him again? Will he be a grown man? Who is taking care of him? Have our grandmothers seen him? Have our grandfathers kissed his face? Have our friends and family who have gone on before us been able to coo over him, the way babies on earth get adored and cooed over? Oh, I pray so. I pray that my friends Ellen and Stacie have held my son, and that my grandmothers have playfully argued over whose side of the family he resembles (they're both out on that one-- he was his father's side of the family, all the way). I wonder if Winter's boy Josiah knows him, and if Susan's boy Will, four days younger than Ben, has become one of his playmates.

How does it work, Lord? How does it work?

I should say that I don't think about this all the time-- just sometimes. Sometimes I give myself permission to dwell on it because it's fascinating, but I can't go there often because I am aware that these sessions usually end in weeping. And that's okay, too, but life would become fairly unmanageable if that was a daily event :) .

Anyway, I know that I have many, many new (and old) friends reading this blog who have also lost babies, and I wanted to share this with you-- I'll post a link to the website where you can buy the book if you're interested in reading the whole thing for yourself.

p. 74 (a couple of pages into the chapter about "heaven's nurseries")

...[The] nurseries hold all the babies [aborted, miscarried, stillborn, etc.]. They are received by Jesus and He heals the wounds of their hearts. They are cared for by angelic beings who sing to them as they rock them in their arms. The breath of God nourishes them as they grow ever so slowly. Because of the goodness of God, a 20 year old mother could miscarry her baby and 50 years later die and go to heaven; her baby would only be around 3 years old (in earth years). She is given her baby when she arrives and she gets to raise it. How wonderful for all the parents who thought they had completely lost that privilege!

... The first illustration is of [an angel] and a baby named Precious who was miscarried in 2006. This baby girl was wanted very badly by the parents and one day she will be restored to them, because they have received Jesus as their Savior. She will be treated like a princess until their arrival in heaven. There will be many surprised women who did not know they had miscarried a baby, because it was so early in the pregnancy. What a shock when they arrive and find a little "package" waiting for them.

The facilities where the babies are cared for are very beautiful. There are arched ceilings with openings at the top which cause the rooms to be bathed in a warm peachy glow. Flowers are growing right out of the walls and tiny birds come and perch on the branches to sing for the babies. The babies' beds have the appearances of beautiful sea shells that come out from niches in the wall. Every baby's  name is etched in the wall above them; embellished onto lovely ribbons if it is a girl and on stately shields if they are boys. If you have a baby in heaven and you haven't named it, please do so...

Some of the angels appear to be male and some female but they all wore soft ivory gowns with pale colored sashes. They held the tiny babies (some only inches long) in the palm of their hands and the bigger ones against their chests. Even though these babies are tiny, they are different than the babies here, because they do not necessarily need to sleep. They do rest, but they also play. They already have the ability to "know" things and they can communicate. They are raised in the perfect love of God and joy is an automatic part of their lives [just like I prayed for Benjamin before he was born-- that he would know the perfect love and joy of the Lord from the womb]. It was the most beautiful place, filled with the peace of God. Their little faces reflect the Glory of God and they will know Him as we all should know Him.

from Revealing Heaven: An Eyewitness Account, Kat Kerr

See what I mean? Precious. What if?

Here's the bottom line:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:33-36

Because whatever the truth is, it's good. Wherever our children are, it's okay. As long as my God is the God He keeps on showing Himself to be-- the one who comforts me in the middle of the night, who saves all the tears from my eyes, who cradles me like a little child, who never disappoints me, and who fills my life with good things-- yes, GOOD THINGS, even in the valley of the shadow of death. As long as that God is with me and fills me with His Spirit, it's all good. It's all going to be okay. Because whatever the plan, even if it's not this one, it's perfect.

But I'm glad He's cool with us wondering.

And I hope this lady's right.

:)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Overheard...

Administrative Duties...
In a note sent to my husband from another high school teacher in our community today...

Girl: Mr. Smith [not his real name], I just got my administration and I really need to go change my pants...

Fashion Diva meets Brainiac...or not

Three of my students were having an argument about the exam schedule for next week.

Boy: Shut up. You know you ain't done homework for that class in a month. You always cheatin'. You don't know nothin' about no exam schedule.

Girl 1: You a lie.

Girl 2: Girl, I got this. Bobby*, I know you think you're mad smart with those new glasses, but it ain't true. They cute glasses but they ain't magic glasses.

I am going to miss this crop of freshmen. Well, most of them. But this group-- even the bad ones-- has made me laugh so hard this year.

Monday, May 17, 2010

sigh.

Oh, good afternoon.

Tired. All the tired teachers go, "haaay..."

And feeling a little quirksome.

The end of the year is like... what's it like? It's like... four weeks of feeling like you're being squished into a tiny bean bag, slooooowly.

The kids are at each other's throats, the teachers are stretched as thin as can be, the parents are completely freaking out, the wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round...

Something funny happened after Ben's birthday.

Nothing.

I don't know what it was. This whole year, I have felt like I was on some sort of countdown toward this magical, heartbreaking date, and once it happened, it was... anticlimactic? That's not right. It was...just a day.

He was just as gone.

He was just as much the gigantic life-changer wrapped in a teeninesey package as he ever was.

The scar across my tummy still itches.

The pain in my heart still comes and goes.

I don't know what I expected from that day.

But here's something I know now: I can cry out to the Lord and He hears me. I have been offered so much advise from so many beautiful, genuinely good-hearted people this year and have found that so much of what I really needed to hear and know could only be spoken to my heart through His word and waiting in His presence.

I have also learned that He can speak to my pain through the lips of people who do not know or love Him. I just have to listen. He's hiding everywhere.

I have learned that He really is the only source of life for me. That Jesus Christ is the only answer for me.

I have learned that I can run to the Rock of my salvation and even though I can't lay my hands on Him physically, He unfolds me and pours out the balm of His presence into my aches.

And I am learning about the sheer power of gratefulness.

Yesterday, I stood in my kitchen and got all teary-eyed and began to just say, "Oh Lord... thank you for my house. Oh wow, I just love my home. Thank you, thank you, thank you...."

And I felt like dancing.

And for a minute, I thought of how sweet it would be to be dancing my son around this beautiful home, but I knew we would dance around one day... just not today... and I brought my brain back to this moment of thankfulness.

Oh, how I love Jesus. Oh, how I love Jesus...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Happy birthday, little boy

April 28 was a beautiful day.

The air was scrubbed clean and it was shining like polished brass.

The rain that came to us over the weekend washed all of the pollen-dullness away and the grass and trees fairly vibrated in their green dresses, and bride-white flower petals sparkled, and sky-blue lightheartedness danced all around us.

Purple prose. I do acknowledge that I am overstating it…

But it was good. It was really beautiful outside. There was a lovely breeze and all the colors really were that pretty and Don spent the whole day mowing the lawn (the back yard was covered with wild-as-my-fourth-period-class wisteria for a little more than a generation, and we tried to pull a ton from the trees a few weeks ago, but dang) and I cleaned the house that I love so, so much, and we both felt the Lord visiting with us. Every once in a while, I would glance out the back windows to watch Don working and a rush of gratitude would wash over me: I miss Ben, but look at what I have. Look at this precious man that I have. I was happy when it was just us, before Ben was even a thought—even if God chose to never bless us with another, I still have this man who makes me laugh and think and who sometimes makes me mad, but always keeps me company in the most profound way. I love him. I wish our son was toddling around with us, but I love his father and I never want to look back at our life together and wish that I hadn’t wasted this moment or any moment.


People brought us things. Mom remembered that I always forget that I love peonies, so she brought me some to plant. Others brought us hanging baskets, and vases of Publix flowers (a flower is a flower is a flower— I loved them so shut up, MC). Chocolate. Sent cards. Called. Mostly, I think, people prayed. The whole day was filled up with goodness.

I had asked Don to get the bag of stuff from the hospital down from the attic. This is the bag of the most special of Ben’s things. This bag sat in his crib until we took it down—I wasn’t trying to be maudlin about it at the time, but it was the best place for it in our tiny house. We bought our “new” home about four and a half months after Ben’s passing and I had left his nursery up the whole time… I just never could decide when the “right” time to take it down might be… it was sort of my last connection to his reality in our lives and I couldn’t bear to say that final goodbye. Dear women who had gone before me told me to take as long as I needed— hearing their words set my heart at ease. I don’t know when I would have taken the nursery down if we hadn’t moved. If you’re reading this and you’re just now walking through it, here’s what I think: you leave that nursery up for as long as you need to. At some point, you’ll need to walk on…but not soon. If you need six months, take six months. The people who love you will gently lead you, I hope, when it has been too long… but for me, I am so grateful that my husband was alright with letting me have that time. I’ll tell you, though, he was happy to take it down when we finally did.

Anyway, we took showers and sat down on the bed, all scrubbed and clean and we got out each item: his little footprints (did I say little?? I had forgotten how big his baby feet were!), and the length of measuring tape with his 19” marked off. There was a smudge of cord blood on the measuring tape and I could feel the peace in my heart begin to move…a piece of him. I’m so grateful that the nurses left me that blood.

We looked at his little hospital bracelet, and at ours. “Mother” and “father” and “baby Swaney.”

We looked at the blanket they wrapped him in. I unfolded it for the first time… another spot of cord blood…my son had so recently been alive when they wrapped him in this blanket. I gasped slightly. His blood. My baby’s blood. He was alive, alive, alive, and he had my blood running through his little veins and he was mine. Ah, God, he was mine.

We opened the ziplocked bag that held the onesie and undershirt that they had put on him. I had saved it-- it has never been opened since the nurses put it in the bag and last year, I resisted opening it. I wanted to save touching it for the first time for his first birthday. We both cried as we looked at his little things, at his little marks of life, his footprints, his hair clippings...

We prayed together that the Lord would somehow let Benjamin know that his parents love him and long for him and that we have not forgotten him and that we won't. And that there are lots of other people who will remember him, too. And that if it was possible, could You hug him for us, Jesus?

And then we put the bag away and held each other and went to sleep-- missing him, but okay.

And I think that's how life is going to be. I'm going to miss him, but I'm going to be okay.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day Twenty-seven of the First April Remembering

Writing this post right now is a dangerous thing. In about 30 minutes I am going to be sitting on a stage beside a bunch of other teachers because one of my precious girls is a genius and she is going to be honored tonight and she chose me as her "honor" teacher. I am so blessed and proud and thrilled to have been honored by her in this way-- she is one of those children who earned my respect in class with her insight and dedication and integrity. To be respected in return...well, that is an awe-inspiring thing.

So I can't cry when I write this, but I want to write because I'll be too tired later.

Today is Tuesday. It's not the date of his death, but it's the day. Tuesdays were ugly, ugly for so long. And today was Tuesday all day long and all I could think of was that tomorrow was the 28th.

But this exact day, this Tuesday, one year ago, I was completely out of it right at this moment. I was in hell and I was on drugs and I was in shock. It had been three hours or so since I held him for the first and last time. My husband was doing whatever he could to make things keep going, but neither of us had ever walked that path. Our parents and our friends and my doctor and midwife and the nurses walked us through it all. Oh, and our Beloved Jesus.

But if I think of this date as the day before he died, a Monday, I remember that right about now I was getting my stuff together to go to the hospital. I had spent another hot afternoon lying across the bed with the fan blasting across me, singing to Ben and crying a little because I couldn't wait to hold him. I was so deeply full of peace. I remember that I was irritated with Don because he was taking forever doing something... I can't remember what... and mainly because I was just irritable.

We felt so unprepared.

Sometimes... sometimes I wonder if we knew that it wasn't going to happen. If somewhere deep inside each of us, we knew. We didn't even have the car seat installed yet. Don was going to get my brother to show him how to do it the next afternoon in the parking lot. His room wasn't decorated-- one of my sweet friends on Facebook told me that it didn't matter, that the baby wouldn't care :)-- but his bedclothes were all clean and the bottle stuff was where it was supposed to be in the kitchen. I hadn't yet gotten the breast pumps from some friends of ours and I hadn't interviewed a pediatrician or even given it much thought. I mean, I had a name, a short list, but still.

It was like... I knew.

Of course, I'm also the kind of girl who sort of throws things together after I've been stewing on them for months and it just sort of works out perfectly. I don't know how that works, but it does. It's how I will think and think about a painting or a little picture and then take 30 minutes to execute it and it's almost exactly what I wanted. So the whole "not being prepared" thing might have just been a "Don and Samantha being themselves" thing, too.

But our hearts were 100% ready. Oh man. I never had one doubt, not one. I mean, we had HOPES that we would be good parents, but no doubts that we wanted him or that we were simply called to be his parents. My confidence lay in the fact that I knew that we were going to love him and raise him to be a godly man and that he would be a worshipper and that we would always do our best to make him know that he was deeply, truly loved and admired and... just fantastic.

The 27th of April can be compared to the day before my wedding, or even the morning of the wedding-- thrilling, full of hope and nerves, but so much like standing on the bow of a great ship as it took off for adventure. The adventure of a lifetime. If the 28th of April was the darkest day I have ever known, the 27th was one of the brightest.

So there. I did it.

I have no idea what tomorrow will look like. I don't know what I'll do. What Don and I will do. I have a few plans.

Oh God, this year has been so long, and so incredibly short. It is amazing what a person can walk through. I'm both happy and sad to see tomorrow-- happy because it is a significant date, something I can share with my little boy, even though he's not here to share it with me (is that weird?? I don't know). Sad because it puts me farther away from him-- he will no longer have died just a few months ago... he is outside the parenthesis of one year-- on Thursday, he will have been gone a year and a day, and it begins again... year two without him. Somehow, that seems sadder.

But it's hard to put into words, these feelings. It's like trying to describe color sometimes. How do you describe orange? I mean, it's bright and fiery and sweet and tangy... but that could be yellow, too.

Ah, Lord. We wait for you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Day Twenty-six of the First April Remembering

Psalm 31: 19 -24
What a stack of blessing you have piled up
for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
to escape an unkind world.
You hide them safely away
from the opposition.
As you slam the door on those oily, mocking faces,
you silence the poisonous gossip.
Blessed God!


His love is the wonder of the world.
Trapped by a siege, I panicked.
"Out of sight, out of mind," I said.
But you heard me say it,
you heard and listened.

Love God, all you saints;
God takes care of all who stay close to him,
But he pays back in full
those arrogant enough to go it alone.

Be brave. Be strong. Don't give up.
Expect God to get here soon.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day Twenty-five of the First April Remembering

This is the week.

This is it.

I just went back and read this one post and had forgotten about the water running down Ben's little cheek after our pastor baptised him. I wonder how much I have forgotten....

And I read the last line, where I wondered how long I could live, feeling that grief... and I can honestly tell you that, one year later, it's not the same. It aches. It hurts. But it's not the same raw, stormy, violent grief that I was experiencing on May 19. It's manageable, maybe. I can compartmentalize, maybe? I don't know. I'm going to think about it more later, but my testimony is this: it's possible to laugh deeply these days. It's possible to sigh and feel completely content some days.

I also find myself wrapped in a quilt, weeping on my front porch, calling my dear friend in Alaska who lost three babies and now has three beautiful children on earth. I call her, sniffling and gasping for breath and in the background, her precious children squeal and scream and rush around her house and I know that there is hope... there is hope.

I remember when she lost her son, Josiah. Winter was seven months along and she was one of my first close friends who had had a baby, as an adult, and my first close friend to lose a baby like that. Josiah had anencephaly and we had believed God for a miracle for four months, since she and Scottie had first found out that the baby had that disorder. Winter had suffered through two miscarriages and I remember the day that she pulled our friend Amy and me into a bathroom at the school where we taught and told us breathlessly that she was pregnant and we praised God with her. When we found out that the baby was sick, we just decided that we were going to believe for a miracle. Winter held on to that hope until the moment she delivered and she knew that the Lord had not chosen to heal Josiah. My heart ached for my precious friend when she called me from England, where she delivered the baby while at The Factory at the YWAM base in Harpenden. I wanted to hold her, to weep with her in person, to brush her hair back from her face, but instead we just cried and cried on the phone.

Seven years later, she has done the same thing for me repeatedly. This time, we were pregnant together and she delivered her third son about three weeks before Ben was born. When Don called from the hospital room to tell her that Ben had died, she was shocked all over again and she told me that she thought it was the worst joke she had ever heard-- it just couldn't be. She told me that she felt her loss all over again. Later, she told me that she laughed out loud when I sent her one of the close up pictures of Ben's little face...she laughed because he looked so much like Don and was just so beautiful. It was so unreal. So impossible. She has picked up her phone to my tear-choked voice countless times this year and she has dropped everything, every time. 

If you've ever wondered how to be a friend to a woman who has just lost a baby, I will tell you this: listen to her tell the story over and over again. Never tell her that you heard her say something before. Be honest about the grief you're sharing with her-- I can't tell you how affirming it has been to me when my friends shake their heads and say that they just don't get it, that it's just not right...and that they trust God still.

Virtually all of my friends have been that kind of friend this year. I am so blessed. I can call any number of women at any time of the day and they will listen to me. They will come to my house. They will meet me anywhere and continually pursue me, even when I don't answer the phone sometimes or respond to invitations to baby showers that they wrestled over sending to me but didn't want to leave me out of...

Oh gosh, how loved I am. Jesus, Jesus, you have poured out Your love over me a thousand times in the wet embraces of women who know my secrets and those who only know my name. All have blessed me and held my heart. Oh Lord, You have ministered to me through Your body, the community of believers all over the world-- from women who have never had children but whose hearts are full of understanding and so creative and can only imagine the horror of the loss, and so full of empathy, who are willing to sit in the darkness and feel as much as they can with me. I have felt Your embrace from mothers who have never lost children but who can imagine the horror of it (how can I name you all? If I name one, I have to name forty... I cannot bear the idea of leaving any of you out... you have been a better friend to me than I ever deserved-- you are so selfless, dear women-- P and T and M, R and D and P and T and M and D and C and S and G and K and K... see? And that's not even close to the start). I have felt Your sweetness in the words of women who have walked this path before me, whose testimony is that it always hurts like hell but that it does get better and that there is hope and who tell me to keep talking, keep talking, keep talking... and who keep listening, keep listening, keep listening.... I have never been alone, even if I have felt it. I have been husbanded by a husband who loves me as Christ loves the church and I have been mothered by my mother and pastored by my father and gently held by my brother and nurtured by sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law. My mother-in-law has gently reminded me with her tears that she loved him, too, and that she longs for him, too, and my father-in-law has answered questions about what he thinks about eternal things in the light of our little boy being there, and I have remembered that this boy was part of his lineage, bearing his name. I have been shown friendship by my friends because Jesus is real and He has never abandoned me.

And He never leaves, even when I question His goodness...because I still question His wisdom in all of this, often. But there's a thing called "acceptance" that I am only beginning to understand.

I am crying out for something special on Ben's birthday.

This time last year I was getting the nursery ready. I was packing my bag and making my list and getting ready to leave on Monday afternoon. I was excited. I was scared of the pain of labor, but I did not think anyone would die. This time last year, I lay down on my bed, burning up hot, and talked to him... told him that it wouldn't be long now. I think I sang him a song. I had two afternoons like that-- today and tomorrow are the one year anniversaries of the last time I sang Ben a song.

I didn't have any idea how precious those memories would be one day. What a treasure those moments that felt so slow and heavy and hot were. Oh God, I wish I could go back and tell myself to pay more attention. I wish I could tell myself to make sure to tell him everything and poke him and feel his little body squirming and make him feel your hands pushing against him and make him hear your voice saying, "I love you, I love you, I love you-- mommy loves you, baby."

But I keep thinking that he knows. Right now, he knows. Wherever he is, he knows.

It's almost your birthday, baby. My God, how I miss you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Overheard: You betta move

Conversation overheard between two young men in my classroom (scene: "Breon" just came to talk to me at my desk and "Dante" took the seat he vacated. Breon just walked back to his seat and wants Dante to move. "Frankie" is admiring Breon's new-found eloquence).

Breon: Oh, oh, young man, why do you continually put yourself in this predicament? Why must you force me to discipline you? I will be gratefully appreciative if you will just get your sorry a… out of my seat, sir.


Frankie: Ooooh, look at B using good etiquessy. Them was some big ass words you was using.

Dante: Spell what you just said. Serious. Spell it. I ain’t doin’ it if you can’t spell it.

Breon: Boy, you betta move.
 
 
Bonus:
Dante: You know why Jason was tryin' to kill all them people in that movie? Cause they was tryin' to take his weed.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day Twenty-two of the First April Remembering

Here are some things I wish he knew about me:

That I wear rose perfume that smells just exactly like roses and I smell it everywhere, even though I chose to not bring it to the hospital when you were born because they told us that the baby needed to just smell my unperfumed scent. At the time I thought, That’s cool. I’ll wear it as he gets older and when he’s an old man, he’ll remember that his momma wore rose perfume. Now, it always reminds me of you.

I wish you knew that I love to sing and that I had been singing to you while you were in my tummy…hm. Maybe you knew I would sing to you, then. And that when I was pregnant with you, I was overcome whenever I sang. So much emotion. My heart so full of love for you that sometimes it made me feel like I could break apart with weeping.

I wish you knew that I loved to paint and draw and that I had already bought you a book by my favorite children’s author. That I had daydreamed about fingerpainting with you and making crazy looking cookies for your grandparents when you were old enough to be able to do stuff like that and still young enough to not take yourself too seriously. I daydreamed about making a painting of you while you slept.

I wish you knew that I had an amazing childhood and that your father had one, too, and that I had so many hopes for traditions we were going to make for you.

I wish you knew that I had dreamed about nuzzling you right under the chin. Kissing your nose and forehead. Memorizing the smell of you. I wish you knew that I didn't mean to not do that... I wish I could go back to those moments and shake off the drugs, and this time I would hold you and hold you tighter, kiss your face, undress your tiny, perfect body and memorize every line of you. I wish I could tell you that.

I wish you knew that I have horrible luck with cars but that your dad doesn’t, and that your dad was going to teach you how to fix them. And how to fix lawn mowers. And how to fix anything he could think of. That Don was calling you his “little partner” and that he would have made you laugh every day.

I wish you knew that your mother is a woman deeply loved by your father and that I wanted you to be like him. I wish you knew that we are so happy, even though we miss you, and that we are deeply blessed, even if we do sometimes feel like we're walking around a gigantic crater blown into our lives that has "April 28" written on it.

I wish I could look into your little baby eyes and know that you see me and that you can feel the love that still sits in my heart for you, that rocks back and forth and feels desperate for you. I wish I could sing you a song and put you down for a nap and wake up to your laughter.

I wish you knew about me that the day you were born became one of the most important things anyone could ever know about me.

I wish you knew so much.
 
Maybe you do.