Thursday, December 15, 2011

Exam Week. Oh, Freshmen...

So, I'm grading papers.

Fine, fine fodder for the "Things Freshmen Say" portion of our show.

1. Today (just now)-- bits and pieces from a short personal narrative:

"I remember the day I got my dog.... My dad said he was going ot surprise me with my third pet. My first two pets were goldfish, but I overfed them. They died, so my dad said he'd get me another pet...When my friends came over for the first time, [he] attacked them because he did not know them...only two of my friends reacted the right way. Now they are the only two friends that [he] knows and likes. So whenever my friends come over, I have to take him upstairs. Except that only two of my friends still come over." 

Earlier, a friend sent me this quote from the same student. This was his response to a question about study habits:

“I best study at home with the TV off, eating some cereal.”

I wish so much you could see this kid.

We love him.

2. Title from another paper:
" How I got a tooth stuck in my head"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Precious in the sight of the Lord...

Precious in the sight of the Lord

is the death of his saints.
Lord, truly I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservantc;
you have freed me from my chains
Psalm 116: 15


My friend's grandmother died this morning, early.

She was an amazing woman, and her family... her legacy is tremendous. Her son and his wife are incredibly influential for the kingdom, and the same can be said for her grandchildren. Her granddaughter is one of my best and favorite porch-mates. We could talk for hours and often do.

She got that from her grandmother.

Anyone who went to see Miss Francis knew that they'd better go over there with time to stay a while. And staying there was a pleasure. Funny, kind, and incredibly honest, she could talk about anything. Her nails and hair were always perfectly done, even when she didn't feel well. She was a great southern lady. There aren't too many like her left in this world. I hate to see her go, but...

My heart is heavy for my friends' loss, but I have been thinking about heaven since I got the message early, early this morning.

All I can think about today is glory.

She's been with Jesus for twelve hours.

She has been absent from the body that served Him, hoped for Him, looked for Him, raised her family to love Him, counted on Him, and longed for Him, for twelve hours.

She's been present with the answer to all her desires for twelve hours.

Twelve eternities.

Glory.

Can you imagine?

Oh GOD, how we long for You. How we long to know, not dimly, but to know You because our hands have touched Your face. To hold You, Lord. To see the forgiveness that we walk in daily, scraped intoYour hands and feet. To know to know to know... to fill our eyes with Your face, to breathe in Your fragrance, to hear Your voice-- its tone, its quality, its depth...

Miss Francis's faith is now sight.

Glory.

I wonder what He said when she burst through those gates. I wonder if she has stopped laughing yet. Oh God, she held all those relatives and Him and Him and Him and Him...

God, You are who we long for, and I praise You for the saints who have gone, are going, and will continue to go ahead of us. Thank You for the great prize that You are. I close my eyes and try to picture it and I find myself just shaking my head. I cannot imagine.

We need not fear death. Friends, rejoice!

We have a hope! Death is not the end! This life? Thinking that this life is all there is is like just reading the prologue of a great novel and then putting it down, and then wondering why you don't feel satisfied. It's like going to hear a great symphony but leaving after they've just finished tuning up. It's like stopping at the bread before a great feast. It's like standing in awe at the front hall of a great castle and just turning to go.

This is not all there is.

This life is prologue. It's the beginning. It's the appetizer. It's the warm-up.

These are the things I was thinking about this morning during worship.

We told Him that we loved Him and that His name was sweet, and I threw my head back and the brightness of the stage lights burned my eyelids and I thought, How much hotter is the light of the Lord on Francis's face?

We told Him that He was faithful and that He was with us in all the dark times and the good times, and that He gives and takes away but is always faithful, and I imagined the strength of the passionate embrace He was holding her in...

We told Him that we longed to hear His voice, and I sang loud and tried to keep my voice from wavering from the intense emotion I was feeling-- can you imagine the sound of His voice as He told Francis "Well done, good and faithful servant"? Oh Mrs. Cheely, is it like the sound of many rushing waters?

Sigh.

People sometimes get worried when we start talking like this-- this longing for eternity... but... don't you wonder? Don't you long for Him? My heart cries out for Him-- to sing to Him-- to see His face as I sing words that right now I can only close my eyes to sing-- my songs are only for Him, only for His face-- and this morning, Francis sang all her songs for Him, I bet. It's only been a little while-- I bet she's still singing. I bet she's still noticing things about Him that our finite minds have never even yet wondered about.

Heaven holds all the answers to our questions-- it's where our God waits for us-- and I rejoice with my elder sister as she dances before His throne, and while I am loving life on earth, I can't help but feel a tug of jealousy that she's standing in His presence right. this. second. There is more to this life than this life. This is not all there is. This is prologue. It's not over.

Ever.

Bless His name.

His love endures forever, and He invites us into it with Him.


YES, Lord!


Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.

            His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
            His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
            His love endures forever.
to him who alone does great wonders,
            His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
            His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
            His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
            His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
            His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
            His love endures forever...
Psalm 136

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thanksgiving

I walked into my house today, exhausted. This time of the school year is so complicated-- it's emotionally taxing, physically draining, spiritually...sigh. Have generations of teachers said the same things we find ourselves saying to each other today?

"This generation just doesn't care."

"This generation has no idea how hard it's going to be on them."

"They don't believe us when we tell them [insert thing they don't believe]."

"We were never like this growing up."

"We were different."

"Our parents were different."

Their parents are starting to freak out because their kids are failing, and many of them blame us because we haven't called them/scheduled a conference/emailed them. But really? I have 110 students. Most of them are struggling in some way. And grading takes hours. So does planning. At the risk of sounding like a government worker, I'm off the clock at 3:45. But am I really? Is any teacher ever off the clock?

So we have dreams-- stressed out, freaked out dreams, many nights, but especially at the end of the semester, about finding out that WE failed 9th grade English and are back in Mrs. Huey's class at Rockdale, and we realize that we totally forgot to read A Tale of Two Cities again. Oh, and we also discover that we're bald. And enrolled in Chinese classes. And we're failing that, too.

But then we come home...

My kids freak out because my house is over 130 years old, but I tell them, "Ain't no ghost in my house but the Holy Ghost." And it's true. The Spirit of the living God is in this place.

After this exhausting day, I walked into my home and asked Him to show me something beautiful.


In my spirit, I heard Him say, "I'm looking at her."


Selah.

Tell me He isn't real. That He isn't kind. I'll show you a Father whose truth and kindness know no limits.


Oh, my sweet Father. How I need you.


I pray that out of his glorious riches
he may strengthen you
with power through his Spirit
in your inner being,
so that
Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you,
being rooted and established in love,
may have power,
together with all the saints,
to grasp
how wide
          and how long
                  and how high
                          and how deep
is the love of Christ,
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-20

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Some days...

So, I've heard so many stories of lost babies in the last couple of weeks. Somehow, my miscarriage of two and a half (has it really only been two and a half?) weeks ago stirred up the old ache for Ben all over again, and hearing other stories of loss has highlighted the loss, too.

On the one hand, I long to reach out to those mothers whose babies have passed on to glory-- I long to do what other mothers did for me. I long to tell them, I promise-- I know that ache. I know that sense of desperation. I know that sense of panic you feel at two in the morning when you're all alone and your husband is asleep and your arms are empty, and you realize that this is true forever. I mean, you may have other babies, but this baby-- this one you just spent nine months dreaming about-- this baby will never be in your earthly arms. This baby is gone forever. That choking panic that rises up when you know that this isn't a dream and that there's no fixing this. It's true forever and you must learn to live with the blackest loss.... I long to tell them that relief does come. That it's not cheap relief either-- it's not a forgetful relief that makes your child's importance any less intense. It's not a relief that comes from ignoring the facts. It's a lessening of the sharpness of pain because that pain moves in. The loss becomes a part of your reality, and you grow used to it. That sounds depressing, but to me it isn't. It's simply that I miss my son-- miss getting to know him and love him and hear his voice-- and his life and death are part of who I am now. The farther I move away from April of 2009, the more the loss of him is "normal."

Is there any good way to explain it?

But the miscarriage... it stirred it all up again. I was afraid to relax the whole time I was pregnant-- hanging on for week 12-- and then the thing I dreaded happened... and it didn't kill me. It's amazing what we can live through, isn't it?

Truly, I am grateful it happened at 8 weeks. I am grateful that my body responded well and I didn't need any surgery and I'm back to "normal" today.

But I'm sad that it happened at all. That this wasn't a "viable" pregnancy. That things didn't just progress normally and result in a little baby girl or boy. I'm sad about that. Disappointed. Tired of feeling sad and disappointed.

Someone was telling me how much they admired "how we'll [you're] doing" the other day, but there was an edge to her voice and it occurred to me that it was important to acknowledge that this sucks sometimes, too. That I'm not being "good" or "bad" when I feel angry or sad or depressed or discouraged, but so often I forget to write about that any more.

Here's what I was feeling on November 15 at 9:48pm:

"Oh God, where are you? I feel so rejected by You. I feel rejected as a woman, as your daughter, as a child, as a wife, as a teacher, as a human freaking being. I don't know how to tell my husband what I'm really feeling. I feel like I have to stay 'up' or I'll scare everyone around me. Where are You? My body has lost two children now. Two. Not one. Two. One cut down at the moment he was supposed to begin, before I could see his eyes, before he could see me looking at him, before he could feel my lips on his face, just gone. The other, before he could even grow enough to make me feel his presence, enough to know mine. Oh God. My body fails me. Failed them. I am rejected as a mother. I don't qualify. I can't discuss my birth pains. I am a horror story. Mine is the one people shake their heads at and cover their mouths over. I am rejected. I don't work. My femaleness is an utter loss and a miscarriage in itself. Why am I a woman? Why have I gone through these monthly cycles for all these years? I feel mocked by my own body. I feel like a failure. Where are You? Why won't You speak to me?"

It's like a horrible psalm.

I wait for the

"But You, O God, are a good Father"

while my mind says, "Why does He keep picking on me?"

Sigh.

I'm not feeling that way today. But sometimes I feel that way.

And I don't shake my fist at Him-- He deserves my respect always, no matter how bad I feel about things. I know that He is sovereign.

And I know He isn't picking on me. I won't compare war wounds with other people, but I will say that I am completely aware that mine are not the worst anyone has ever sustained. They're mine and they hurt, but they're not the worst. Not by a long shot.

So what do you do when you feel that way? That's the big question at two in the morning (or at 10 at night). To me, you fight through it. You cry til you think you can't cry any more. You write down or sing what you're feeling and you know that you have a Father who knows every sadness you could ever experience and who is there in every moment. A Father who is not easily offended-- who doesn't get His feelings hurt because He knows what we really mean when we question His wisdom.

But friends, if you've never walked the way of grief (yet), this is the most important part: get your feet on the Rock. Get your house ready for a storm. Get your faith settled. Actively work out your salvation. Because to me, it always comes back to this strong reality: the wise man builds his house upon the rock. And when the rains come, and the winds come, it will not get washed away because it is secure.

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." Matthew 7:24-27

On days when I feel rejected, sad, like a failure, like a ruined temple, I am so grateful for the grace that I know I'm walking in. I know that I am not rejected. I know that He has loved me with a tender and gracious love that has picked me up time and again and set me in the safe place, in His presence. I have felt Him. I have seen so many demonstrations of His favor and mercy. He has given me the faith I cry out for.

But I still want a baby. I still want a better ending to this story.

And I still want to want what HE wants more than what I want.

That is my prayer.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

...but thanks be to God

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ, and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one, we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Such a short time since my last post, in my mind, but so much has happened. And the fragrance of Christ washes up around me, lapping into my face like waves on the ocean, soothing my heart whenever it would creep toward unbelief, and speaking with words I cannot understand, but whose tone and timbre make perfect sense to my soul.

On Monday morning, I miscarried the baby I was carrying, and I have total peace about it. I am sad, but let me explain....

I have been a fretful gardener for a long time-- if you've read anything on this blog and if you know me, you know that I feel endlessly unsure about my ability to keep a plant alive for any length of time.

But one of my best friends gave me a Christmas cactus the first winter we lived here in our dream home, and can I just brag for a second? When she gave it to me, she told me that she hadn't had a lot of luck getting the thing to bloom at the right time and for any length of time, but she had a good feeling about its ability to thrive in my care. Her reasoning probably went something like this: "I have over watered this dagum plant and have payed much too much attention to it. SAMANTHA will not have this problem. She'll probably forget to water it-- which is good because it's a succulent-- and she'll forget she even has it and it will thrive in its total invisibility." Her reasoning was probably spot on. That thing has bloomed with gigantic pink flowers both Christmases we've had it, and the blooms have stayed for weeks. WEEKS.

All because I know how to leave something the heck alone when I need to.

But when it came to the gardening outdoors.... Remember last spring when our friends blessed us with a porch full of the most beautiful flowers and shrubs? I was so blown away at the beauty of the abundance, but was so intimidated by my ability to care for it all. What if I forget? What if I over-water or underwater? What about plant food? What if there's a drought? What if someone's chicken wanders into the yard and eats it all up? What about the tilt of the earth and gravity? I can't even grow a tree frog. What about who's in the White House?

Panic. Sheer panic when it comes to gardening because I have failed in the past. Failed with houseplants. Failed with forgotten shrubs. But this time, the plants weren't from my hand-- they were gifts, so the added responsibility inspired both fear and action.

So after the most incredibly fun work day EVER (loads of people showed up to transform the yard and plant all the plants), it was up to Don and me to water it all and to Miracle Gro it, etc.

But you've heard all this before. Let me skip to two weeks ago.

Don and I have a neighborhood friend that we absolutely adore. Russ is a master gardener with one of the cutest dogs you've ever seen. Since we moved in, Russ has stopped by on a pretty regular basis on his afternoon walks with Baron, the dog.

Well, Russ moved a few streets away over the summer so we hadn't seen him for a while. I had planted three more rose bushes (the climbing kind) over the summer and they had EXPLODED with growth and flowers since planting them. No one was more surprised than I was about that. And here winter was coming, fast, and I had no idea what to do with my beautiful flowers. I sent Russ a note on Facebook and he was at the house the next afternoon.

Russ, Don, and I walked the perimeter of the house-- we were running all around, showing Russ all the stuff we've planted like he was our dad, competing for his attention-- "Look at the blueberries! Look at the orange tree!"-- and he was just shaking his head in wonder. He couldn't believe how gorgeous the roses looked. He exclaimed over the perfect spot for the blueberry bushes.

"It's this soil you guys have," he told us. He lived about one mile away and his soil was totally different, he said. This soil in our yard, he told us, was rich and black and perfect for growing things. It was like miracle soil.

Miracle soil.

So I have been thinking about this a lot.

It has been very difficult to understand the mind of the Lord when it comes to whether or not it's in His plan for us to have a baby. I don't understand so much of what happens in the world and in our lives, but that's mainly when I try to understand it in pieces. I find that when I look at the Big Picture, it makes more sense: we live. We are citizens together with so many others on the same planet, but we are simply sojourners in this place. Travelers. We don't settle here. Our home, our settlement, is so much farther beyond. Here, we learn the taste and fragrance of the God we serve-- there, we will see His face. Here, we learn to rely on something we do not see-- there, we will see the One upon whom we have relied, and I cannot begin to even think about what new things He will teach us there.

As a believer, I am not exempt from the trials of this earth. A baby lost during labor and another lost to miscarriage is nothing compared to the agony that others have experienced. For others, it is a bottomless well of grief. But whatever our experience, we are not exempt.

And we know this, I think, but there's this little voice deeeeeeep down inside that says,

Yes, but I am Your beloved! How can you let anything bad happen to me? Can't You hear my prayers? Are you mad at me?

God has planted us here, on this planet, and He is the master gardener. He know the conditions. He knows if you are designed to thrive in the Coastal South while I am perfectly made for the Western Mountains and High Plains.

I remember seeing these stunning flowers that looked just like really tough red roses on huge bushes in Sweden. It was 35 degrees below zero and the leaves were perfectly lush and green and the flowers were as crisp and fresh as a spring day in Georgia. In the dead of winter, those camellias were thriving. I have them-- hundred year old camellias-- along the front of my home. They only bloom in cold weather and they blow my mind every year.

So when I think about gardening and about how overwhelmed I have always been about it, and I think about the things my heart cries out for and the powerlessness and helplessness I sometimes struggle with feeling, I begin to remember this about the Lord (totally taking this verse out of context, but there is another thing I am seeing here):

"I [Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow." (1 Corinthians 3:6,7).

Paul goes on to say that each of the men have their purpose (the planter and the water-er) and each will be rewarded  according to what they did, but that we cannot forget that we are co-laborers with God, and HE is the one who does the Big Thing. Only He can say yes to the seed. Only He can approve its growth or not.

And there is so much mystery to just that, too.

Think of seeds planted in the worst of circumstances-- rape, prostitution, drug addiction, intense poverty, disease-- and those seeds embed, thrive, and come to fruition nine months later. We so often hear stories of great men and women being born in just such circumstances. These individuals grow to be amazing citizens of this earth. Seeds planted in soil that didn't appear to be "good"-- or at least not "ideal," whatever that means-- but God said yes. He said, YES, those seeds will live.

But what of us? What about the rest of us who wait, taking vitamins and shunning alcohol and diet coke, with lovely little future-nurseries in our houses? Russ was blown away at the roses in my yard. He just shook his head and laughed about the fact that these difficult roses were thriving even though I consistently forget to water them and hadn't given them rose food even one time since I planted them in the heat of the summer. It this magic soil, he said over and over.

It isn't in the will of  the gardener. It isn't in the will of the planter or the water-er. It is in the will of the One who orchestrates it all. So many times, my students question why we are doing this part of a project first or why they can't skip steps three through five, and I don't always tell them. I don't often tell them, in fact. I tell them to press on, to trust me, and that they'll see when we're finished why we needed to do it this way. Almost always, I hear, "Ohhh....that's why...."

I know that when I stand before my Father in heaven, I will say, "OH, that's why...." My Father, the maker of soil, the grower of roses under the hand of a forgetful, fretful earthly gardener, will make all things clear. But here are the lessons I can see now:

-- He is the maker of the soil. I am not making a judgment call on my "soil" (my womb)-- it is simply that HE can make roses grow when they shouldn't have. If He wants us to have a baby, I don't need to worry about the soil-- HE will do it.
-- He is the master gardener. He knows the climate. He knows what would thrive in this environment. Children are not all He has for us. We long for them. But He knows.
-- He is the teacher. He knows what steps we need to go through to get to the point of this lesson (LIFE). He knows that it will all make sense to us later, but for now, He asks us to trust Him with the process.
-- He loves me.

I am sad that this seed, this little baby, was planted and died before coming to fruition, but I am thankful that it happened early. I am thankful that it was at week eight and not week eighteen. I am thankful that the Lord heard my prayer-- when I started to suspect that it was happening, I prayed that it would be quick and clean, and it has been (so far). I don't understand the "why" of it, but who ever does? I cannot be controlled by the questions that threaten to plague. I am thankful that the Lord has been with me through every step and that He is not silent.


No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those
who love Him--
but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2: 9-10

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fall break-- a list


I love this old screen door. It's hand-forged
and a little tattered, but it stays.
 It's the last day of fall break.

Here's what I have done this week:

* Read two books
* Made lunch and supper several times (Don made breakfast most days :))
* Made several attempts at cleaning the house
* Went shopping a couple of times (except that I'm really, really cheap, so I never buy anything really)
* Slept in
* Prayer team
* Coffee on front porch with Don
* Started a cool project for Christmas (more on that later)
* Spent a day at school, working in my classroom. I love working in my classroom when no one is at school.
* Front porch with friends (almost chilly enough for blankets a couple of times!!)
* New baby niece was born (baby Caroline to join Ella)
* Almost nothing else that was productive :)







It was so warm all summer-- I'm wondering how long I can keep these ferns alive. I want to see how much bigger they can get, too. I'm going for EVEN BIGGER next year! It is important to note that until the last couple of years, I have not
been able to keep plants alive. The fact that these ferns are alive is a big deal-- the fact that they are nearly three times the size they were at the beginning of the summer...we could practically apply for "miraculous holy site"...
  
One of our fall traditions: Mums go into planters the first weekend in October!



The trees are finally turning. I was so worried about these trees in the intense
heat of their first two summers, but they're thriving!

Don, carrying tools to what will soon be the fire pit.


We have a fantastic plan for this old shed. When we first bought this place, it was crammed full
of all kinds of crazy stuff-- some treasures, mostly junk. But look at it! It has so much potential!
I wonder sometimes if God sees parts of my life that way... Hm...


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Trusting Jesus 101

Being pregnant this time feels like those dreams where you find out you have to go back to kindergarten or ninth grade because someone lost your transcripts, and you're squeezed in with all these little kids, learning the alphabet all over again, or some crazy grammar, and you realize that you've forgotten half the rules you used to know.

Every day, I feel like I've been re-enrolled in faith courses.

It's an interesting war that is battling in my mind, and I recognize that the peace that I really am feeling is because the Holy Spirit and I have been walking together for a long time, so I know Him, but He's asking me to learn a new language, or new rules, or new something.... The war over my tendency toward double-mindedness: I know you are faithful, but I thought you were faithful the other time... or... Being pregnant is just a biological fact, so what if this pregnancy falls through? I think I'd be alright if that happened, but is even thinking about it a lack of faith?

I really wish I could hear clearly right now.

So my only choice is to trust.

If you think that's easy, you're only halfway right.

Because on the one hand, it's all I can do-- just trust Him. But it's what I'm "just trusting Him" for that is the kicker. Am I trusting for a healthy pregnancy and successful delivery and baby? Or am I trusting Him to walk me through another tragedy? Because He can do both things. He has shown me that. Am I making gigantic assumptions when I assume that He has allowed and smiled on this pregnancy and will bring me through it? Better women than me have experienced heartache like I cannot fathom-- why not me?

My BRAIN!!! AIGH!!!!

So here's the prayer, again, always:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus... only You, only You, only You.

Because here's what we know: He is good and He is trustworthy. He is not checked out of my life. I am not a "special study" on his chart of experiments He is performing on humans. I am His daughter. And this life is not all there is. He knows my heart, and He knows what is good for me and for my family.

Breathe.

I spotted during aerobics last night. I spotted with Ben, too, and the nurse told me just to rest, and I did, and everything was fine. No cramping ever happened. I called my friend Sarah F. as I hopped into the car and she counseled me out of freak-out mode. I went home, took a shower, and put myself to bed. The spotting was never heavy and it was totally done sometime in the middle of the night.

Of course, I've run to the restroom a thousand times today. All clear every time, but my mind races.

But here is where our confidence lies: it's not in the getting of what we want. It's not in the keeping of what we've been given. It's in the Giver of all things, with no caveat, no "oh, also's"-- it's just in Him.

No matter what.

So here I am, back in Trusting Jesus 101, but I think He's going to teach me some new things this season. I'm holding out for that.

:)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Something new...

First, let me tell you about my yard.

Gigantic yellow chrysanthemums and blooming roses and daisies and fluffy ferns and a slow burn just on the maple trees all invite you to stay in the rocking chair just a few minutes more. The wind chimes are finally starting to be stirred on a regular basis and if you scoot just past the planter filled with rosemary and lavender, a cloud of fragrance will force you to collapse into an adirondack and just breathe. The climbing roses in the back and along the chimney are starting to reach and actually climb, and sometimes, if you stand in just the right spot --in the driveway-- in the middle of a strong breeze, some mysterious fragrance (smells like jasmine? Maybe rose?) makes you breathe deep, sniffing the air and following it like a bloodhound. I think I found the source yesterday, I think, but I don't know what kind of bush it is-- is there such thing as a flowering jasmine bush? 

Even though it's fall and, technically, everything is about to die, it feels like brand-newness. In the south, we're all headed outdoors. The oppression of the last few months has lifted like a reprieve on death row and you'll find us on porches, at the lake, tailgating, walking to town, and crowding all the outdoor seating at restaurants. The last hurrah of nature will turn everything bright orange and gold and red and we have to be outside to see it.

Because I guess it's not really death, is it? It's more like sleeping. All of nature feels the biting sting of winter coming, so it pushes all its baggage off the end of its branches and heads underground for a long respite, stretching out roots and shoots, snuggling deep down into the warm earth for a restful nap, to dream about spring and new birth and new life. Snuggling deep, soaking up nutrients, hiding the beauty of its perfection until the unveiling begins in April. Nature gestates while life is woven and knit over and over and over again in a womb of dirt and roots.

And it's happening inside our house, too, and the mystery is just as profound.

I am newly, finally, pregnant. My hands shake as I type the words.

You've seen my last posts... I'm only about four weeks pregnant... I wasn't expecting it....I mean, I was hoping, obviously, but had come to a sort of settled peace about the thing...

It's early to share, but how could I not, really? Most people wait, right? Twelve weeks, or at least six, is when most of my friends seem to share their news, but they are better people than me-- I couldn't keep this to myself.

And for me, as my dear girl Sarah said, I must proclaim faith over this little one. I know that I will battle fear over the next few months. Not over the pregnancy-- my pregnancy with Ben was so easy, so uneventful-- but over that last bit of the journey, the doorway between cuddling under the earth and pushing the shoots forth: delivery. I have commanded my mind to stay put, in the name of Jesus, and will continue to as the months push on into the journey. I know my weak points, and I know the weapons of the battle.

God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

A sound mind.


Here's the battle cry of the enemy:

"What if?"

It's a puny, whiny little voice that creeps and screeches and picks and drags. The battle cry of the enemy is:

"But how come last time...?"


But my God is good.


His battle cry is:

PEACE, PEACE

and Goodness

and Hope

and Charity

and HOLINESS.


God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore I will not fear, though the earth should change
and though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Selah.

Psalm 46:1-7



There is a new baby here within, and I am grateful. And somehow, I am sad about Ben all over again, in a way that I have not experienced before, and while I don't understand it, I sense that it is part of the process.

There is so much more to this story, and I will share more later, but I had to share this news. Praise God for this new thing that I had only hoped for! Praise God in advance for this gift that I must hold with open hands-- if I have learned anything in these last two and a half years, it is that we simply cannot read or comprehend the mind of God. So I accept today and pray for His blessings and trust Him that He is endlessly kind and wise and merciful, no matter what.

But I will not expect the worst-- I will simply sit back and enjoy the colors as nature beats a hasty retreat into gestation with me, and will wrap the two of us in a cozy blanket and enjoy a companionable silence together as we wonder at the silent, dark knitting that is happening in us both, and hope for a blossoming in the spring. Wait and expect new life.

Selah.


3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.


I love You, Jesus. Thank you for today.


1 Peter 1: 3-10

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Letting some things go...

I can't believe I didn't write about this before. It won't be poetic or lyrical, this re-telling, because I'm trying to remember the details, but I feel like it's important-- I've gotten notes from people who have wondered about when to break down the nursery and how to do it, and I want to address the way I did it. There will be holes, but this is what I remember (I should add that the initial taking down of the nursery was forced upon me because we moved about eight months after he died. All his stuff went into the attic. If we hadn't moved, I don't know how long it would have taken me...).

June:
At the beginning of the summer, I decided that it was time to make some space in the studio above the garage. It was time to begin to really use it like a studio.

I opened the door to the room and was greeted by two things: a blast of 100+ heat and a pile of baby stuff.

Baby stuff. Ben's stuff. Precious gifts from friends who fully expected to hold my son in their arms, but which now sat unused and unopened in a blazing hot attic.

I've known the stuff was there for a long time, but I haven't wanted to think about it. Since moving out of the old house, those things have been sort of my last link to my son-- and I know that they're just things, but...how do I explain that I held those things in my hands while he was with me? That my husband loaded the car up with those gifts while I waddled behind him, carrying our son. That those things were his, not mine, and his name is attached to every piece in my mind. I know that those things don't bring him back, but they sort of bring me back....

But I stood there, hands on hips, and I knew it was time. It was like a peace and a resolve came over me and I simply felt okay about it. It was like, all of a sudden, the thought of doing it didn't make me want to throw up. I needed to do it. I wanted to do it, and fast. It wasn't a feeling of desperation-- it was like I was just rolling up my sleeves and ready to get down to it.

So I called my friend Miki. Miki always knows what to do. If you have a crisis or a dilemma, she's the go-to girl for the solution or at least fantastic ideas on how to find the solution. I've called Miki in moments of crisis several times over the years and she has never failed me. She's a genius. And a precious friend. And as much like a sister as anyone I know-- we've been friends since infancy, and to me, that's as good as blood.

Of course, Miki knew exactly where to go.

"Miki, I want to donate this stuff. I have piles of diapers, wipes, bottles..."

It was a Thursday and she was out of town. I wanted her to go with me, so I loaded up the car while my heart was still in it and I waited until her return-- which was kind of funny. I drove around all weekend with loads of baby things shoved into my station wagon-- my car smelled like a baby every time I got into it and I was able to think about the fact that someone who desperately needs this stuff is going to be blessed and that I was sad that I had hoarded it all this time, but at the same time, I had needed to...

I'm so glad I have a huge, loving, caring, thoughtful Father in heaven.

So Miki and I drove over to Refuge Pregnancy Center in Conyers that following Monday morning. Walking to the door, she looked at me and said, "You wanna drive or you want me to?" I told her I wanted her to, and I am so glad I did.

The place was really beautiful. The office is a former doctor's office with a skylight and comfortable couches in the antechamber. We went to the front desk and Miki asked to speak to one of the counselors because we had a donation and would like to speak to someone-- proof number one that Mik was the person for the job on this mission. I don't know what I would have done. I think I would have just said that I had some stuff to donate and then would have just lugged it inside, leaving without a word and with no sense of closure at all.

But instead, the woman at the front window was so nice. She went and got one of the volunteer counselors (whose name I have forgotten, and I so wish I had not!), who brought us back to a counseling room. It was small with a small TV and VCR, a comfortable couch and a couple of chairs. The counselor, a gentle soul, told us that she was happy we were there and asked how she could help. I nodded at Miki and she gave the most beautiful rendition of Ben's story that I have ever heard. My friend of 39 years told this woman how much we had longed for Ben, how we had loved him, and how senseless the thing seemed, but how we have asked the Lord to somehow be glorified. The counselor and I both cried. I felt so deeply honored  to hear my story told so generously. The counselor shared her story about the passing of her daughter (as an adult-- I cannot imagine) and the three of us shared a good cry together again.

We prayed together and then she gave us a tour of the place. There's a little "store" where the moms can use the points they earn from classes to buy maternity clothes (they love donations, if you're ever trying to figure out what to do with yours!), formula, baby clothes, shampoos/lotions/diaper ointment,etc., car seats, tubs-- you name it. If it's for babies or moms and it has been donated, the girls can earn them. They have bags of diapers that the girls can earn and an emergency supply that they have limited access to. The center wants to aid the girls in becoming independent, but also wants to support them as much as they can without crippling them. There's so much wisdom in what they do there.

After the tour, Miki and I brought loads and loads of stuff inside. I wish I could describe how right it felt. I'm usually pretty good at describing stuff... this one is tougher.

After lunch, Miki gave me a gift: a set of wind chimes for the front porch for remembrance. It was perfect.

For me, giving Ben's things away wasn't an act of "giving up"-- that's sort of what I had been afraid of before. I was afraid that giving the things meant for him was an act of wiping my hands and saying, Oh well, no babies for me! But that wasn't what it meant. In fact, my main thought-- the one that really did it for me-- had to do with other babies. I looked at my gigantic pile of Huggies and I remembered children I have seen who live in poverty. I thought of students of mine who have had children, with no money to pay for the things they need. I thought of little ones who get rashes because their diapers aren't changed enough. I thought of the expensive creams and shampoos my friends had blessed me with, and I thought of the girls who don't have adult friends who love to go to baby showers. When it was time to give up Ben's things, it wasn't about giving them away... it was about giving them to....

I am so thankful for the friends who have been walking this long road with Don and me this last couple of years, and so thankful for their support in all kinds of ways-- flowers to remember Ben and bless our family, donations of money to organizations in honor of his memory, and truly sympathetic companions to cry with us (and sometimes speak for us when it's too difficult).

We're not done with this road, but I feel like the load is lighter now in many ways. And I love the thought that there are some sweet-smelling babies out there who are benefiting from the fact that Ben lived for 9 beautiful months and was expected by a community of generous people.



If you ever want to donate to Refuge Pregnancy Center (time, resources, money), please head over there. They are some of the nicest people you could ever want to meet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thankfulness, still

It seems to always happen to me in the kitchen.

I had just rushed to my house between meetings yesterday and I was standing at the counter, looking into the foyer, when a rush of love for my home just came at me. Thankful. So thankful for the way my Father loves me. So thankful for the way He has blessed Don and me. Longing for so many things, but thankful, still.

I wrote it down on my ipod right afterward, but I wanted to reproduce it here.



Here was my magnificat:

Lord, thank You for this house. Thank You for this beautiful house You built so many years ago, just for us. Thank You for the floors and the ceilings and the way the light pours in the windows. Thank You for the porch. Thank You for the friends I have laughed and cried with on that porch. Thank You for the red-checkered floor that my Don put down in the laundry room. Thank You for Chuck's brilliant idea to put in a staircase to the attic. Thank you for the perfectly preserved doors and door knobs. Thank You for the front door and the gigantic Christmas tree and the way Don and I laughed and laughed as he pulled it through. Thank You for this place, Lord.

Sigh.

And Lord, fill this house. Fill it. Fill it with Your Spirit. Fill it with children or fill it with friends, but fill it. Lord, we want Your will for our lives, for our home. We hope our desires are the same as Yours, but if they aren't, I ask you to help me to want what You want. Only You can see everything. We see such a little part. If what I want isn't what You want, I submit my heart to You for change. Mold me-- I give You permission to bend me. Fill my home and my life with Your light and Your life and Your will and Your presence. You, Jesus. You. Make it what You want-- we give You permission-- but help us to want what You want.

And Lord, if it's not a baby, then let me just offer that desire to You as a sacrifice of praise. I tell You that I choose to worship You either way. And not begrudgingly, but joyfully. This is our small sacrifice: to submit to Your will. To worship You in the face of longing. And to choose to long more for You than for the things of this place. Just help me, Lord. Help my heart to want what You want. Do what You will, but help me to love Your will. I trust You Lord.You are worthy of everything good.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Planted deep

It's dry in Georgia. School has started back and the kids are wilting under the rainless heat, though they do find it manageable to complain about how cold my room is-- I like to keep it at a temperature where germs cannot live and where meat can be stored along the walls if we had some sort of crisis and needed to do that (yeah, that doesn't make sense to me either :)). Anyway, it's hot. And dry. Good hair days, but not great for the flowers.

And that's why I wanted to write for a minute tonight. I've been woefully negligent of this blog in the last year, and I know it relates to this sense of waiting that I'm still doing. Waiting to see if we'll ever get pregnant again, waiting to see if the Lord will remove the desire from my heart, waiting to see if He has a plan I didn't know about. But this blog... the Lord used this blog and you, my precious friends who read and cried with me through so many pages, to heal my heart after Ben's death. When people ask me how we got through that trial, and are still walking through it, I always say Jesus, our relationship, our family, our friends, our church, and for me, this blog. Writing and hearing back from people-- the ones I knew and the ones I'd never met and likely never will, was like almost daily balm to my burned and bruised soul. I wasn't alone. Other women had grieved the loss of babies-- many, many women, and sometimes the loss of more than one baby...and in the same manner... I cannot imagine-- and held my hands to their hearts and said, "I know. I know." And they did.

Did I ever say thank you?

Thank you. Oh, friends, thank you.


Tonight, I'm thinking of the state of my garden.

As you saw, a few months ago my amazing friends blew our minds and showed up on the front porch with loads of flowers and bushes and our yard exploded in color and responsibility. Planting the flowers is not the extent of the care we are to show to flowers [she says to herself]. They have to be weeded. They have to be watered and Miracle-Gro'd. They need...attention.

And I struggle with paying attention to things, honestly. Fortunately, I am really, really motivated by guilt, though, so I have paid attention and the roses are blooming and the gardenias are blossoming and the orange tree has little tiny white flowers and some tiny green fruits and is growing very, very tall.

But we haven't had rain in about two weeks, and the rain is critical to my perennial ADD (pun, anyone?). If I forget to water, the Lord remembers. If I planted something in too much sun, the clouds block the sun awhile. But for the last couple of weeks, not many clouds have stood guard over my lack of plant-knowledge. It's been straight up them-against-the-elements and I have been hidden safely inside, where there's air conditioning, water, and books.

The phlox didn't make it.

Maybe.

I knew it was time to water and Miracle-Gro tonight when my skin felt dry when I got out of the car after school. My skin never feels dry, so I knew the plants were screaming. I grabbed scissors and a trash bag (unfortunately did not remember mosquito spray-- those things are the devil. They're thriving in the dry weather, it seems. HOW?) and headed for the water hose. I dead-headed and weeded and watered and saturated and Miracle-Gro'd and swatted devil bugs for an hour.

And I thought about the dry leaves. And I thought about how I needed the Lord to help me to remember to cultivate the things I have planted, even when they aren't that exciting to me any more. I need to take care of the things He has given me responsibility for (a class or a certain student or a friend) even when it's not particularly entertaining or starts to feel burdensome. Pulling at the dry leaves of hostas, I prayed that He'd help me to remember the gifts He has given to me-- the calling on my life and on my husband's life-- and to cultivate them. Not to take them for granted. Not to just enjoy them, but to nurture them. And I prayed that the leaves that I allowed to become crunchy would grow back supple and large...and the same for the hostas ...

Moving around the the front of the house, I began watering the boxwoods and azaleas and roses and ferns and this huge awesome other-bush that we don't know the name of but which is really great looking. I started thinking how much better these plants were-- much of it has to do with the fact that they get mainly morning sun, and the fact that we tend to water these more often when we're outside talking with friends. But as I saturated the ground around the camellias and saw the little tight buds tucked into the dark green leaves, I was amazed at how sturdy they are and how they didn't seem to have wilted or suffered at all in the heat and almost-drought.

And I began to think about how old they are-- these camellias are probably 100 years old, and the boxwoods and the awesome-other-bush are probably the same age. Their trunks are 5-6 inches in diameter and their roots reach way, way down to where the water is hiding under the brittle grass. These plants are rooted and established and solid. They can stand drought. They don't wilt in the heat. They bloom in the snow. Their leaves stay dark and shiny in the most harsh conditions.

Planted deep. I want to be planted deep. I want my roots to sink so deeply into the Lord that I thrive even in the driest conditions. I want to be so established in Him that I bloom even when everything around me withers. I want to be so entrenched in Him that no matter the weather, I cannot be moved.

That's the only way we'll live, brothers and sisters, in a world where babies die and husbands get shot at war and dream jobs get cut. The only way to live is planted deep in His word and His presence; watered and bathed in intimate times of worship with Him.


How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
Psalm 1: 1-3

 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Establishing Mood

...And now for something completely different...


American freshmen everywhere are studying for the End of Course Test. Today, my English Lit classes were reviewing certain literary terms, and I asked this question:


me: How might an author establish mood in a story?

(possible answers might include things having to do with setting, tone, etc.)

student: Oh, I don't know-- light some candles, throw some rose petals around...



Sometimes, freshmen are very, very funny people.

Friday, April 29, 2011

730 Days: Still missing you

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24)

This is a profound mystery.

How many times have I thought those words-- "this is a profound mystery"-- to myself over the last two years?

How many times have I admonished myself with Friar Lawrence's words--

A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back;

Happiness courts thee in her best array;
But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench,
Thou pout'st upon thy fortune and thy love:
Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.
(Romeo & Juliet, 3.3.141)

You are alive-- there art thou happy.
You lived through surgery-- there art thou happy.
You have a beautiful home and a job you love-- there art thou happy.
You have a husband who loves you and takes care of you and makes you laugh every day-- there art thou happy.
You are surrounded with faithful, loving friends and family-- there art thou happy.

A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back, Samantha-- happiness spreads itself out at your feet every day in a thousand ways, singing and springing forth in a thousand voices, but, like a spoiled child who is used to everything working out just as she wants it, you pout when your foot stumbles down a tough path. Watch out! Pay attention-- this is no way to live your life, and if you choose to do so, you might as well have died that day, too.

But, oh, Benjamin Joseph Swaney, I love you. Oh God, I long for him. I crave his presence in my life today.

You wanna know the key to the fact that this line of thinking is not crushing?

Because my Father does not ever, not for one second, begrudge me my grief, even 730 days later. Oh, my Father is gracious in His mercy-- He is boundless in His compassion. He alone perfectly understands every thought and emotion that races through my head and heart at warp speeds. He knows each one. He does not indulge me: He understands and loves me.

I've been told that I am remarkably in touch with my emotions.

My poor husband. I'm hard to follow sometimes. My dad says he's watched me do it my whole life-- I can feel a thousand emotions all the way through and name them, all in about 20 seconds.

Losing Ben took me to a level of feeling stuff that I never knew existed.

When your child dies before he ever had a chance to live, your mind rushes through a seemingly endless list:

-Wait-- what? I took all my prenatal vitamins.
-I went to every dr. appt, I didn't drink Diet Coke or anything even questionable.
-What did I do?
-I thought you loved me, God.
-Why did you even let me get pregnant in the first place if this was going to happen?
-Did You know this was going to happen?
-What do I do with his things? Why did You let me buy those clothes, Lord? Didn't You know?
-What do You know? The knowable? What does that even mean?
-Was this Your "will"?
-Am I to believe You were trying to teach me something? Couldn't You have just led me to a book or something?
-What's going on up in heaven that You decided to bring him up there now?
-Did you know that I would be a terrible mother so you just saved him from countless hours of therapy?
-Was he going to have a dread disease, so you took him before he could suffer?
-Was he going to be a criminal, so you took him before others could suffer?
-Are you mad at me? Did I disappoint You? Not pass a test?

But if you don't take this list and submit it as quickly as possible to Jesus, the King of your soul, the Lord and Keeper of your everything, you can drown in it. Bitterness and fear and anger and misery will overwhelm you. More than one time, I have had to picture myself running to Him, stapling my list to His throne, pushing it into His hands, and begging for more mercy-- more grace, more patience, more faith, to be able to wait until my faith becomes sight, to understand "Oh God, why?"

Did I say "why?"

I meant "Oh, God, whhhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?"

The Lord reigns. He is the answer to every question. The fact that He can see all of the things that I cannot see has become one of the most comforting things I've experienced this last two years. Oh, friend whose heart is aching-- oh, dear woman whose arms are empty, He knows. He hears the cry of every aching heart-- and we are deceived by one who hates us if we believe that He is uncaring, or powerless, or cruel. Our Father sees that we are made of clay and we live in a world that is made of clay. We live in a place where things that hurt happen every day. He saves us from more things than we actually walk through. Can you imagine what all this will look like when He shows us all the things we didn't see? When we see this life from heaven's perspective?


The Lord reigns
Let the earth be glad
Let the distant shores rejoice
clouds and thick darkness surround Him
righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne
fire goes before Him and consumes
His foes on every side
 His lightning lights up the world
the earth sees and trembles
the mountains melt like wax before the Lord
before the Lord of all the earth
the heavens proclaim His righteousness
and all peoples will see His glory...
Psalm 97

The earth is the Lord's, and everything that is in it.

If the earth is the Lord's, and I am the Lord's, there is something sacred and eternal that I am touching when I touch this thing that has happened to my life. My child, my son, was taken immediately to the Most High God for reasons that He has not chosen to reveal to me, but if I can fix my gaze upon Him... If I can strap the blinders to my head and focus on Him alone, suddenly things are not hopeless.

My Ben is gone, but he is not dead.

He is, to take from Shakespeare again, "some other where."

What fruit is being birthed from this death? His life and death have changed his mother and father in a way that no light trial could have ever accomplished. His coming into my life, the most precious and tragic experience I have ever known as a woman, has changed me intrinsically. I am not the same. And it's for the better. Oh friend, this is a profound mystery.

This life is not about you or me. It's about Him and His beauty and His great worth, and there are very few ways to really get to Him-- the way is narrow and straight. It seems the more desperate I get for comfort, the more willing I am to stay my focus on Him. The more I search for His worth. The more I am grateful for His redemption.

Here is what has begun to happen to me in the last two years: I have begun to realize that all of my stuff is in heaven. I have a beautiful home on earth, but my home isn't here. Everything looks different in the light of eternity. If my whole purpose and goal in life is getting to Jesus without doing too much damage to the Kingdom between here and there, suddenly the crappy stuff that happens here is not as heavy. You and I are in a race-- if we're running a race, do we stop to check stuff out along the race route on the way to the finish line? Do we get worried about what color some of the shops have chosen to paint their buildings (well, if it's lime green, maybe, but if they're nice people we'll let it go...)?

Do we get caught up in the things of this world when we were created for the reality of that world?

All of my hope is focused on Him. All of my life springs from Him. He is where we are going. And only He can see the answers to all of our questions-- I have faith that He will reveal it when it is time. And my son? He is safe-- he is completely safe, learning about Moses from...Moses. He's got the whole Red Sea thing down cold. He heard all about Noah and Jonah and Ruth... from the stars themselves.

Jesus's death and resurrection and our redemption are the point of this life. To worship Him in the face of darkest difficulty is wine culled from the bitterest grape that somehow comes out sweet.

I'm not telling the truth if I say that it doesn't still hurt like crazy, especially not knowing if we'll ever have another baby, but I decided a long time ago that my remedy for the sadness that would overwhelm me is worship. How is it that what is meant for Him is like water to my soul? It's like an embrace in some ways, I guess-- our aim is to hold Him, and we look up and find that He is holding us.

But this morning, Don and I woke up and talked about the day Ben died and we cried and we prayed, all before getting out of bed. It was an intense time of remembering. And then
we got up and washed our faces and waited for mom and dad and Nathan and Ella to get here. And then Don came to get me-- "Samantha, you gotta hustle. Get out here right now!" I thought Ella must be doing something outrageously cute, so I rushed out to the porch...

Oh, our friends.

Last year, Don and I decided that we would spend Ben's birthday planting and working in the yard, and that we would try to sort of make that our tradition-- celebrating LIFE on his birthday, and remembering his death, too. Last year, very precious friends decided they wanted to bless us with azaleas and cut flowers and peonies and we were so thrilled. This year, Caroline thought it would be fun if they could amp that up a bit. And let me tell you, when my girl Caroline decides to flip the switch on something...well...

Our porch was crammed with Gardenias and Hydrangeas and Tiger Lillies. A blackberry bush and a blueberry bush. Rose bushes galore. Gerbera daisies. A butterfly plant. Hanging flowers. A Japanese Maple. And so much more. Our friends had gotten them together at Caroline's house and a small group of them-- Rob, Robert, Brandon, and Caroline (Flower Ninjas)-- brought them over before 6am so we would wake up on this sad day and be blown away by their love and friendship.

It worked.

I wonder if Ben sees all this stuff. You know? If God lets stuff like that happen. I bet yes.

Day 731 without Ben has begun, but heaven is my true measure of time: this life is but a moment. There's so much we don't know. When our faith becomes sight and we are finally looking at the Him of our souls, this life will seem like a fragment of a second. In His light, everything else will make sense. Until then, He loves us and holds us and pours beauty out on us every day, if we'll only open our eyes to see it.





 



God will provide rain for the seeds you sow. The grain that grows will be abundant. Your cattle will range far and wide. Oblivious to war and earthquake, the oxen and donkeys you use for hauling and plowing will be fed well near running brooks that flow freely from mountains and hills. Better yet, on the Day God heals his people of the wounds and bruises from the time of punishment, moonlight will flare into sunlight, and sunlight, like a whole week of sunshine at once, will flood the land.... Isaiah 30:26
 

What a pack of blessings lights up upon thy back...and these are some of their names...


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Overheard

Frank: Dude, you need to take those glasses off. You’re going to go blind.


Allen: (gets really excited) Man, if I go blind I’ll get a [something I didn’t understand] German Shepherd. So cool.

Frank: If you go blind you won’t be able to watch TV. That would suck.

Pause

Allen: Yeah. That’s true. But these glasses look awesome.... Anybody wanna wear my special glasses?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

O Canada

"Most Canadians get famous if they try hard"

Gotta love those freshmen.


(I will elaborate on this conversation later on--had to post this before I forgot)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Grading

Something short.

I was grading papers earlier and the letters had started to run together-- multiple choice tests with answer keys, one long page of numbers with letters A, B, C, or D alternating all the way down. My brain feels like it's going to turn to soup when I'm grading those things-- I save the essay portion for later.

Anyway, I was grading a paper when I realized that I had started grading the key instead of the student's paper. I had just gotten so into the "A, D, D, A, C, B, B, ad infinitum" zone that I didn't even notice. When I finally realized what I was doing, I had to go back and fix my key and regrade the paper.

Sometimes I think we do that with the Lord, with much more serious consequences. Somewhere along the walk, we begin to grade Him according to our thoughts and ideas, our opinions, our desires (both carnal and spiritual)... confusion sets in when we realize that we got off somewhere and somehow, our minds are no longer in line with the mind of Christ. Sometimes we repent and refocus... other times, we continue trying to live according to a new "key" and call it righteous.

I wonder how many areas of my life I've done that in. Started grading God's key with my test, instead of the other way around.

Selah.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hope

Since it's been so long since I've written, I should probably introduce myself...

Hi, my name is Samantha and I love Ticonderoga pencils, peppermint tea, and houses whose paint is old and peeling. I live in a small little town in the house of my dreams and I love orange. My husband is the funniest person I know and our families are made up of the nicest, most genuine people either of us has ever known. I am an artist who is afraid to hang anything on my 130 year old walls and I'm pretty sure I know all 1030 friends on my Facebook page. I am an English Lit teacher to some of the greatest kids around. My Sunday school class is amazing and my car passed emissions the first time this year, bless the Lord.

There. That's better.

But I can't get away from this one, tiny little thing: my son died almost two years ago and it is that, my almost-motherhood, and a deep love for my God, which continues to define this new woman that I am.

I've gotten several email messages and a couple of FB posts reminding me that it's time to get back to writing. My husband even asked me earlier today, "Do you think maybe you need to go write tonight?"

The season is starting to change-- grass is starting to sprout up in weird places, little tufts of baby green all over the yard, and the trees are sporting tiny nubs of possibilities. Some of the cherry blossoms are even starting to bloom. Surely the dogwoods are next. Our neighbor's pink and red camellias began blooming two weeks ago, and I wonder why my white ones bloomed in the dead of winter when theirs are just now here. So much birth and life, sprouting up and out. When it's not relapsing into winter, this is what my friends and I like to call "porch weather."  We sit, like hens, all lined up across the front of my cozy porch, cackling and talking and solving all the problems of the universe. There are plenty of babies to hold and people we know honk and wave as they drive by. Outside is where everyone wants to be this time of year. It's good to be alive in March in the South.

But just as rebirth is happening all around me, there is a deep unrest still stirring in my soul, and it's hard to get away from. I've pointedly avoided the topic in my blog, but it's time to face it: I don't know if I will ever have another baby, and I have to learn to live with that.

I should share the fact that, whenever this subject is broached aloud or just in my head, I feel the need to qualify the statement. I know that I have friends who have not had children and likely never will-- some of them have chosen that route and have peace with it, while others longed for children and for whatever reason never had any. We all have our stories. For me, I always assumed that I would have children. Don and I wanted them (and still do). I have no idea how all the years got away from me-- one day, I looked up and I was 37 and pregnant for the first time. And then I was 38 and the mother of a baby who had just died at birth. And then I was 39 and about to celebrate the first anniversary of his passing. And now I am 40 and still not pregnant, though I had assumed I would be. I had hoped that I would be.

And what do you say after that?

Maybe that's why it has been hard to write. Because I don't want to share this particular ache. Because I know that, once I share it, I am opening myself up to a round of advice (adoption, fertility treatments, druidic smoke dancing-- I dunno, I made that one up) that only sinks the knife of sadness about this particular thing deeper.

Some of you can relate.

We don't want more babies to replace our babies-- no child will ever be Ben. He's alive some other where and I will see him again. I long to hold him and I ache to raise him, but to have another baby is not to replace him... it's to do the thing I feel such a longing to do: bring another person into this world, to raise that person and nurture him or her, to take care of them, to raise them to know God and honor Him. To laugh and cry with them. To see a mash-up of Don and Samantha in a little human package.

But here is my challenge: will I love Him even if that never happens?

And what happens to hope if I resign myself to the possibility of it never happening?

What am I hoping for anyway?

And that's the thing I have been learning in the last eight months of trying to get pregnant (we didn't start right away)-- my hope is in a Who, not a What.

My hope has to be nailed to His heart, His visions, His dreams-- not the thing that I long for. I have to lay that down.

I was looking up the word-- hope--  in the Bible, and most of the time the word was connected to hoping in Him, not for something.

Psalm 39.7
I hope in You, O Lord

Psalm 42:5
Why are you in despair, O my soul?

And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence

(by the way, David repeats this refrain over and over-- Psalm42.11; 43.5-- commanding his soul to hope in God)

Psalm 62.5
My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him.

Psalm 71.5
You are my hope; O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth

You get the picture.

The psalmist proclaims that God is his hope and salvation. The implication, over and over in the pages of the Word He gave to us, is that hope that is focused on Him is firm and secure. It is founded on solid stuff. It is a hope that has substance. And it is hope in HIM-- not a thing or a reward.

He is the ultimate answer to all of our prayers.

He is what we hope for in the dead of night.

He is our hope.

I don't claim to understand a whole lot of Job, but one of his friends said this about hoping in the things of man:

the hope of the godless will perish,

Whose confidence is fragile,
And whose trust a spider's web.
He trusts in his house, but it does not stand;
He holds fast to it, but it does not endure...
Job 8.14-15


If I focus all of my hope on the thing that my heart longs for, I will grow bitter, because it might not be the thing He has designed for me. And even if it is what He has for me, I might miss the blessing of it because I grow insistent and entitled-- it's my right, you owe me. But if I put my hope in Him, I find myself

Falling in love with Him
Over and over and
Over and over again,
He gets sweeter and sweeter
As the days go by
Oh what a love between my Lord and I,
I keep falling in love with Him
Over and over and
Over and over again...

(if you don't know that old praise chorus, don't look it up-- the tune is so cheesy, but the words are precious)

If I place my hope in Him, I will never be disappointed because He never fails. Baby or no baby, He is perfect in all His ways. I know it. I knew it the day Ben died and I know it now. He has proven it by holding me every single day of this journey.

And I have no idea how He does it.

It's a miracle.

Lord, I put my hope in You again tonight. I take it-- all the hope that is bunched up tight and packed deep in my heart-- and I put it in Your hands. And I confess to You that You alone are holy, You alone are worthy, You alone are God, and worthy of my praise. I consciously take my focus off the desires of my heart and look instead to You and I say that You are the desire of my heart. Oh Jesus, the peace that fills my soul-- how do you do it? I give you my fears and sadness-- here, I hand it to You-- and I receive Your peace. I choose not to let my mind race ahead to all of the things that could possibly disappoint. You are my hope, O God. And I trust You to heal my heart, no matter what the outcome. I have to trust You. Where else could I go? You have ruined me with Your beauty. No one compares to You. You alone have the words of life-- You alone are trustworthy. You alone are eternal. And You are good.