Saturday, December 1, 2012

To the extent that we show mercy...

If we're ever not sure about what the will of the Lord is in any situation, there are always a few things we can count on-- one in particular: 

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command." John 15: 12-14

There aren't any qualifications with this-- not "love each other when you approve of each other" or "if you like the way the other person is doing things" or even "if that person isn't mad at you." The only exchange?

"You are my friends if you do what I command."

We all struggle, but imagine what could happen among us if we chose to obey His word?

Once, when I was very far from the Lord, I came to church on a Sunday night (I was at Rockdale Baptist). I always came in late and sat on the back pew in the back of the church and then I left before anyone noticed me. One night, somehow I ended up down front after the service. I smelled like cigarette smoke and I looked terrible. A woman I had known since I was a little girl, a local educator and school principal and all around woman of God, Libby Gunter-- a woman whose approval I always treasured-- came marching up to me. I was terrified that she was going to take one look at me and know all of the bad things I had been doing.That I had started smoking and drinking and that I was not in relationship with the Lord. I thought she was going to give me what I deserved-- a stern talking to (even though that wasn't her personality at all). But you know what she did?

That beautiful woman grabbed me and put her sweet face in mine and she told me that she loved me and that God loved me so deeply and that He had a plan for my life and that my hair looked beautiful.

Her kindness changed my whole life in just a moment.

What if we practiced that grace toward each other every day?

Accept one another. Love one another. Leave the judgment to the Most Wise Judge. That's not for us-- all He told us to do was to show people how He loves. 

Not one of us is qualified to judge--  He said,
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”(Luke 6:36-38)

To the extent that I show you mercy it will be shown to me.

Not one of us ever graduates from these requirements.

Church, let's stop pronouncing judgments on each other and eyeing each other with such deep criticism-- let's worship God and show others what His love looks like, first, because He commanded us to do it, and second, because our own lives depend upon it: "For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

Monday, October 1, 2012


and it’s like we’re living
on the wrong side of a “what if” scenario—
the part of the movie
that would have happened if the main guy
had made a bad decision.

memories of you float across
a quiet, empty part of my heart,
tiny fragments of the beginning of a life
not filled out
unfinished pages from a coloring book
clothes washed only once, then folded and put away.

there is a bag in the top of the closet
and a box of ashes in the armoire
and all the words have been said—
how many times and ways can I rearrange them
when they all just spell
and Oh God, help.
it just rains.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

When you don't get what you want...

You are my portion, O Lord;
I have promised to obey your words.
Psalm 119:57

So here is what I have been struggling with-- and when I say "struggling," you should imagine me wrestling with a giant beast, trying my best to pin it to the ground and make it stay.

Desire. Hope. Things wanted. Hope deferred. Longings unfulfilled.

Don't worry-- my intention is not to depress. I write with a kind of joy that I can't say I've experienced before. It's a joy that has begun to settle into my spirit, the way feathers from a broken pillow might drift down over the floor-- pieces so light and small, but ultimately covering the place.

Here's the question I've been asking a long time-- it's the thing I've been struggling with: what happens when you don't get what you want?

I think that, so often in the Body of Christ, we insist on calling hope and faith and "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" a promise of what we want to have, what we long for.

How do we continue to believe the Lord for His promises when He doesn't seem to hear that one cry of your heart-- for a husband, for a child, for whatever...? We tell the world that if you just believe God for something, He will provide it in His time, and we wait quietly hoping that it's true, silently willing ourselves not to become bitter or angry with God for not showing up in the way or timing that we're expecting or hoping for.

But what about when it just doesn't happen? Do we give up? Do we throw in the towel because the time stamp on that hope or desire is about to expire? Do we decide to come up with another dream?

In a word... kinda.

Here's what I mean: I'm 41. I've held one beautiful, stillborn son in my arms, and experienced an early (9 week) miscarriage on Halloween, of all days. We have continued to hope and try for pregnancy, but it looks like it might not happen. I won't lie-- having a baby, raising a little one, has been a deep desire of my heart. The loss of two little ones has broken my heart, and it has affected the way I see and understand things. But I have a choice about how I process this.

The whole thing is complicated.

I told my students that there are three ways I got through and continue to get through the death of my baby son: my faith in my God, my relationship with my husband and our community, and writing. But there's a huge key to the first part: worship. 

Here's why: when I go before the Lord in worship, I am dragging my focus back toward Him. I'm looking Him full in the face, and this thing happens when you look Him full in the face: all you can see is Him. He fills the screen. I sort of see Him putting His hands on either side of my face, leaning toward me with eyes full of the most intense and beautiful love and concern, and fixing them on mine. And He just looks at me. And He is my closest, most precious friend. And He understands every pang of grief and He understands all of my frustrations and He knows the whole story that I could never begin to grasp, and suddenly I remember why I'm even alive.

To know Him. To tell everyone I know about Him. To worship Him. To enjoy Him. To tell everyone I know that He is merciful. That He is kind. That He never abandons us. That this life is simply a through-path to eternity. That the end, here, is not the end: it's the beginning. This life on earth is prologue. Who hangs out on the prologue?

And it's not about being Republican or conservative or any of the trash we find for our hands to get mixed up in on earth-- it's not about being exclusive or inclusive or any of the things we get so distracted by, those things that we use to distract others from just this:

His beauty.

I long for a baby. But it's not what I was created for.

I love teaching students and laughing with them. But it's not what I was created for.

I love my husband and cannot imagine my life without him. But he isn't what I was created for.

I love my family and friends-- but they are not why I exist.

First, I exist for Him.

Then I exist to tell everyone that Jesus Christ is the way to Him.

I exist to know the depth of His love, the sureness of His friendship, the perfection of His plan, and to share it. To talk about it. To talk about His goodness and to sing about it and to write about it. To shine a light into dark places and proclaim that Jesus is good and that He is the hope of life.

Because that is the hope that was set before the people on that list in Hebrews.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been           promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.


So many times, we live our lives wishing for things only to miss what is right in front of us.

For me, my mind has been changing over these last years. I always thought I would have babies. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't. I didn't prepare myself for the possibility that I wouldn't. I just sort of knew that at the right time, it would happen.

I had no contingency for "just in case" because...well... just because. I mean, seriously, what kind of "contingency" plan can there be for hope deferred?

What it has looked like is a sort of bowing in my heart. Grabbing that desire-- that panic that rises at the first sign of my period arriving every month-- and feeling it. Not ignoring it. Feeling the grief of waiting again. Feeling the grief of loss all over again. Disappointment. 

But the emotion that tags along with that grief is anger, and that's when I have to get up and look that thing right in the face and say NO. That's when I have to start singing. That's when I have to remind my soul of why it is here, why the Lord said "YES" at the moment of my conception. I was created to bless His name.

Everything else is extra. 

And every single month, the grief grows a bit smaller, and my faith increases that much more.

Someone asked me, "But how?"

Honestly-- music. Listening to worship music. Singing to Him. Being careful who I talk with about the dreams in my heart-- some friends mean well but do not help at all. Meditating on His goodness. His word.

But how?

Here's your assignment:

1. When you feel the grief of loss and disappointment rising up (because it rises up, doesn't it? Like a really big wave, and you see it coming and you brace yourself for it, but it knocks you down anyway. Sometimes you don't see it coming, but it hits like that, too) allow yourself to feel it if you need to. Cry, write, call a friend who will cry with you and not preach to you about faith or desire or how many people "wish they had what you have" (we all have those friends...we've all been that friend... but after a while, even with the most amazing friends, this becomes a solitary path-- one you have to work through on your own). Don't ignore the sadness-- it's real, and God has created you with the capacity to feel deeply and widely and with great strength.

2. Then think of this: He's in it with us. He's with us. Ultimately, our friends will fail us, our family won't be able to think of anything comforting, our husbands will be out of words (because they're walking this path, too). In the end, it's just you and Jesus. 

3. Give up on trying to figure out why. I've battled this point since the moment I heard that Ben was dead. Did God just think I would be a bad mother (did He think you'd be a bad wife? Is that why you're single?)(by the way, the answer to those questions is "Seriously? Have you seen some of the idiots who reproduce and marry?")? Only God has the answers-- He is sovereign, and He's a good Parent-- He knows what we can understand and what we cannot possibly understand. We live in a fallen world where the sun shines on the good and the evil. We live in a place where we are not exempt from sadness. The difference for those of us in Christ? We are never alone in it. We are not abandoned to it. We understand something else-- we might not understand why bad stuff happens, but we know that we are never alone. 

But we feel alone until we lift our eyes and look at Him.

4. Do something. Sing. It doesn't matter what it sounds like-- He dances over us with singing, no matter how it sounds coming out. When I begin to sing, I feel my whole focus shift. When I begin to truly think about the lyrics I am singing, suddenly I find my vision lifted-- when I begin to worship the Lord, my enemy flees. When I begin to meditate on the goodness of the Lord, it seems like everything else that wants my attention-- my grief, my despair-- falls away. 

Do you paint? Do you run? Do you create anything with your hands? Can you think of a way to do it "as unto the Lord"? Can you do it while worship music is playing in your ears? Meditate on the beauty of the Lord and do something tangible while you're doing it. If you let Him distract you with His goodness, He will begin to fill you with the wisdom we're crying out for. Peaceful understanding that passes all other understanding

There are so many other parts to this whole thing, of course, but these are some of the steps He has been walking me through. 

So what happens when we don't get what we want? How do we cope with disappointment and longings left unfulfilled? I've been discovering that these aren't questions that have easy answers, but that they are the gates some of us walk through to greater depths of intimacy and friendship with Jesus Christ.

Because here's the bottom line: no matter what longings we're left with on this earth, He has accomplished the deepest desire of all of our hearts-- He has given us His Spirit, His Son, Himself. And that is no small thing, dear friends. That is no small thing. It is the only thing. 

And worshiping Him brings my soul back up into that truth, out of the depths of grief, every time.

Because no matter what I long for on earth, He is my portion. He is my great inheritance. He is why I live. 

Songs for lifting our vision higher, for reminding our souls about the beauty of the King we were created to know (I'm not that all concerned about the videos-- it's just the music):

Saturday, August 11, 2012

part of worship

sometimes the sound of rain pounding down on the roof is as satisfying to my spirit as the most profound worship song.

i've been thinking about humility lately. how it comes. why it comes. how much it can hurt, but how much joy is found there.

He tells us that He is drawn to the humble, that He resists the proud (james 4:6)

He tells us that our state is humble anyway-- our righteousness and our righteous acts are as filthy rags. He doesn't mean that our good works mean nothing, it's just that in comparison to His great goodness, they could never measure up, no matter how much we produce. He's just that good.

He tells us that we are strangers here-- this place is not our home. we are sojourning-- we are travelers. sometimes we are revelers. often, we are mourners. but either way, we are just visiting. visiting a place that we don't come from, ultimately to return to our home in His presence.

so why do we struggle with thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to?

how can the created thing think that it can understand the mind of the Creator? understand how He chooses to work, to decide, to choose? how can the created thing presume to tell its Creator how things should be done?

we created things are created in His image with minds and imaginations and hopes and dreams and aspirations. and those things are good-- but they have to be managed.

He resists the proud and is drawn to the humble.

and He has shown us what is good and what He requires of us-- that we would love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with Him.

all that, and He invites us to walk with Him.

has anyone ever asked you to take a walk with them?

that is such an intimate thing.

how can a God, so perfect in all His ways, want to walk with me?

this is the same God who put His life on the line for me. who walked straight into death to restore me to His Father. our Father.

this God walks in so much humility that He can lay His life down for me, redeem me because He is sinless, and also invites me to walk with Him.

there are no words for how mind boggling this is.

and when i think of what it means to worship Him-- that He would lean close to hear my heart-- i am filled up with joy. He invites us to worship Him-- He says that if we won't do it, the rocks and stones will! is it because He's an egomaniacal god who lives to hear how great he is, or is it because He knows that we were made to worship Him-- that we were made to touch the divine in the place of worship, where we understand  who He truly is, and that this is the place where we truly commune with Him? and that THIS is what brings life? this intimacy with Him. and it doesn't matter to Him how we sound in the face of that-- He asks us to bring our whole, most sincere selves into His presence, lift up our souls and remind ourselves by telling Him how lovely He is...

i have a good friend (who is not a believer) who once bristled at the thought that i was commanded by God to worship Him. i totally understood what she was saying, and i don't guess she knows that i have thought of her words so many times since then. she wasn't being haughty-- she was trying to understand.

i've come to believe that there is something so basic and instinctual about worshiping Him. in the same way that i must tell my husband about my deep love for him, that it's good for our relationship for me to tell him how i feel, we must tell God. when we tell someone how much they mean to us, it reinforces what we already knew. He is emphatically telling me what i must do to stay connected to Him, reminding me of what this earth would make me forget-- that i was created to worship Him, not the things He created. He knows what will produce life in me.

does that make sense?

there's power in proclamation-- we remind our spirits that He is good and kind and holy and creative and powerful and wise and noble and fair and merciful. and when we sing...oh, if everyone could just relax into singing... it's like flying. to just "forget about ourselves and magnify the Lord and worship Him"...

He is drawn to the humble. He made the way for us-- He showed us how it is done. He did not demand the place of honor and He even allowed Himself to be misunderstood and wrongly accused to the point of crucifixion-- when He could have snapped His fingers and disappeared.

He resists the proud.

resists. pushes against. does not cooperate with.

there is so much pride in me.

so tonight, i'm thinking of Him, anticipating worshiping Him with my friends tomorrow, and asking Him to help me walk in mercy, kindness, justice, and humility. asking Him for wisdom.

humility can hurt, but there is so much freedom in it-- walking in humility, there aren't the false expectations that accompany prideful proclamations. humility does not seek the best seat or the most attention. humility seeks to become less so He can become more.

there's this verse-- fall on the rock and be broken lest the rock fall on you and crush you to dust.

that sounds like a picture of humility to me-- we fall on Him, confess to Him our need for Him in our despair, depravity, selfishness, ambition, greed, fear, etc., and we are broken-- in His mercy, there is forgiveness, and we are given hearts of flesh. but if we resist that brokenness, we will ultimately find ourselves crushed under inevitable judgment. it's the Law. it's what we choose if we don't choose His mercy.

what an amazing God. by fessing up and losing ourselves in Him, we are restored.

let's forget about ourselves, concentrate on God and worship Him.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012



Girl: Are you going to be a doctor when you grow up?

Kevin (again): Yeah, man. I'm going to be like House, man. I'm gonna wait til the last five seconds of your life and then save you just in time, just because I can. And I'm gonna be famous for it. Heck yeah.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"The Kicking and Screaming Blogger"-- mi esposo

Don came home yesterday telling me about some of his students. I begged him to write it up for the blog, and here it is! He wanted to call this blog entry "The Kicking and Screaming Blogger" because that's what he is :)

I am not a big blogging fan and would never in a million years try to be a blogger so please consider this the blogging version of a big foot sighting.

So we had a fun class today. As a ninth grade inclusion English teacher, we do everything we can to make class fun for everyone. We are starting a unit on Romeo and Juliet and my co-teacher and I pull out all the stops when it comes to making Shakespeare fun. It is very hard for ninth graders to read Shakespeare and they get bored very quickly so we do everything we can to get them into it.

So our lesson today was titled “Shakespearean Insults.” The students were given a sheet with different derogatory adjectives and nouns and were instructed to construct insults from the list. They then had to memorize as many as they could and go head to head in front of the class insulting each other. The first one to forget or hesitate lost. It was a Shakespearean version of “Wild N Out” with Nick Cannon. The kids were very hard to control but it was ridiculously funny.

Before you read further, check out this list and try it on your spouse or kids. There are 3 columns. Pick a word from each column and say them in left to right order. Precede the insult with “thou” or “thou art.”

A good example is “thou art a goatish, flap-mouthed, foot-licker!” or my personal favorite: “thou art an unmuzzled, rump-fed, pignut!”

In and of itself, this is a funny lesson. But with our “crazy” class period, the kids got going and couldn’t stop. Our “crazy” class consists of our smartest group of kids but they also happen to be hardest to control with blurting out and laughing out loud and dancing and singing and getting out of their seats. They are a very funny class but will get out of control very quickly if we aren’t staying on top of them. We had to put the brakes on when they added in their own insults to the competition. Those insults included, but were not limited to, the following:

“Thou art a loggerheaded, boody-lickin, bacon-neck!”

Oh yeah, well, “thou art a butt breathing, dirty footed, nut-grabber!”

“Thy mother is a plus-sized, over-grown, corn-niblet!”

Oh YEAH, well “THY mother is a broke-toothed, 12 sandwich eating, wildebeest!”

I was laughing pretty hard as I disqualified each one. Needless to say, we will need to adjust the rules next time we do this with our “crazy” class. There was only one class that went wild with it. The others were pretty tame.

So, preceding a long weekend, this was a good class but we got lucky that no one got too out of hand.

Good luck with your insults!

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Get a dictionary"

...and sometimes, they're crazy smart, too.

Here's how the first five minutes of one my classes went today-- I'm changing the names of the players, of course, and imagine this conversation going really, really fast:

Me: Alright everybody, take a seat. TAKE A SEAT. Please take out four sheets of paper.

Kevin: Four sheets of... hey, wait. [notices projector screen, which tells him that he is taking a practice writing assessment today] WHAT? NO. Mrs. Swaney, I can't handle this today. You didn't tell us this was happening.

Me: Kevin, take a seat; you'll be fine.

Kevin: No, you don't understand. I have test anxiety. I'm about to pass out [I should mention that this child is never anxious about anything] Look. I'm shaking.

Me: Then it was a gift to you. Me not telling you saved you hours and hours of anxiety. Take a seat.

Kevin: [standing, arms overhead] This helps me breathe. I'ma close my eyes and breathe deep.

Me: Are you familiar with the word "histrionics"?

Kevin: histor--what?

Anne: What does that mean?

Me: [to Anne] There's a dictionary on your table-- look it up. You'll like it.

Kevin: [to himself] Just breathe, just breathe.

Anne: "Histrionics" it is: Histrionics. Dramatic representation; theatricals; acting. Behavior or speech for effect, as insincere or exaggerated expression of an emotion; dramatics; operatics. [laughter]

Joey: Kevin's a drama queen.

Yeah, Joey got a Patriot Point for that one :)