Wednesday, July 9, 2014

This is That, Part One

First, here is what I know:
*God is looking all the time, everywhere, for a people who will worship Him because it was what we were made to do. 

*We are at our most beautiful when we worship Him.

*He is longing to make His glory known across the earth so that the lost will see and know that He is good.

*He loves me.

And what I don’t know?

*There isn't enough room on the internet to contain all the things I don’t know.

So I want to tell you about this summer, but I will have to do it in parts. There's just so much. 

I don’t know how it is for the rest of the adult world, but for teachers, the seasons are very well defined—when you ask a “regular" adult what they’ll be doing this summer, I wonder if they're thinking, “What do you mean? Do you mean do I have plans to do anything other than go to the job I go to all the time except that this time I’m doing it during the time of year it’s hot outside?” 

Sometimes I feel bad talking about summer to my regular adult friends. I mean, I know I’m not being paid to be “off” during these months (our pay is 9 months spread out over 12), but everyone feels better in the fall after a few weeks away from each other.

Seriously, you guys should all be teachers. It’s hard, but dang. So fun.

But I digress (which is why I’m a pretty good teacher, I think. Digressing keeps it interesting. I mean, really—you can only talk about capitalization for so long).

So when people asked me what I was going to do this summer, here is what I said:

“Work on some stained glass, do some paintings, and write.”

Oh, and also, “not one thing.”

But God? He always has these other plans and I am so glad to love a God so full of surprises.

Here’s what happened to me this summer:

I brought my wounded heart before the Lord and He breathed on it and made it whole. The part of my heart that I had kept separate from the other parts. The part that had the name of my son scraped across the front of it, that I kept hidden in a pocket inside my coat, the part that only came out when my heart flew up to that deep place in worship—that place where you’re just getting ready to dive and fly at the same time. This is what would happen every time:

I would stand before the Lord-- sometimes on a platform, leading worship, sometimes alone in my home—and would open my mouth to sing to Him when suddenly my heart and attention would sort of bump up against this lone, aching thought: “But why did you take my son?”

And the ache would rise to the top like cream—rich, full, heavy—and the next thought I would always have was, “But I will still worship You. You are worthy. I don’t understand but I’m going to worship You in the face of this.” Every time. My heart would wrap itself around the hurt place with one arm and would press through, like a quarterback, onward in worship.

I bring the sacrifice of praise, Father. I will keep bringing the sacrifice of praise.

And of course, people told me that it was normal to still have grief—that my little son was worth it. And they were right. Of course they were and are right.

But you know when you sort of just know that what you’re feeling isn't exactly healthy?

This thing in me felt like a splinter that had gone undetected after the dagger had been removed and the wound washed clean. He had rushed to my rescue when Benjamin Joseph Swaney died and I gave Him almost all of it when He began the work of healing me, but I held this one thing back: the “but why?” Like a splinter will, it grew infected deep, deep within my heart, but only I knew it, and I only felt it when I pressed near that area…during worship, when all of my whys disappear in the face of His great beauty, I had this one unanswered question and it wasn't okay.

It was distracting. It was painful.

But I told the Lord, like I told Him so many years ago in Cimarron, Colorado, that I would serve Him every day of my life no matter what. Back then, I told Him that I would serve Him even if I struggled with unbelief and a lack of feeling for the rest of my life. This time, I told Him that I would sing to Him even if all I ever felt was pain every time I opened my mouth. So I sang through it. And it was a beautiful thing between us.

But we were designed to recover, you know? He made our bodies to heal. Sunburns turn to tans. Scrapes turn into scars. C-section scars turn into jagged reminders of what happened, but they heal.

I was keeping that part of my heart covered, holding onto it, snatching it from Him. I remember my father trying to remove a splinter from my foot once when I was a little kid—my dad is the gentlest person I know and he was an EMT so he knew what he was doing, but I just screamed and kicked and wouldn't let him near it. The skin around it had already inflamed because I had been afraid to show it to him (for fear of this very thing) and it seemed like it hurt to even look at it. Of course, he knew what would happen if it was left alone so it had to be taken care of. I don’t remember how he finally got me to settle down, but I still have my foot so it must have worked.

A few months ago, I started to think that maybe I had a splinter in this part of my heart. Ben would have been five this past April—I know that I will never get over missing him and that it is especially understandable because I never had more children, but there is something that happens with grief over time… it gets quiet. It becomes bearable. It stops naming you. You can have regular conversations and sleep and hold people’s babies and visit newborns in the hospital. You laugh again.

But that nagging question will kill you.

Because none of us will understand why babies who are longed for die. No one will be able to adequately answer this question. I understand that this is something that there are a thousand answers for, but not the kind of answers that make your heart okay.

So I gave in to the sovereignty of the Lord and made peace with the answerlessness of the thing. I remembered that my son didn't stop existing. That somehow, somewhere, this was the plan God had for my son—my son who grew inside me, but who is a whole other person, separate from me, with his own life and destiny and relationship with God. God’s call on his life is between them. Who am I to try to come between them on that? I know it like I know my own name that my son is walking in his destiny and I will see him again. I have no idea where he is or what he is doing, but his Father in heaven does.

Still, I would open my mouth to sing His praises and the little tiny voice in my soul would sing out, “But why did you take my son? My only son? Why?” That line of questioning between my soul and the fact of His sovereignty and the fact that He would tell me if I could grasp it is exhausting.

So I went to worship Him with my friends at the beginning of the summer.

A couple of churches had come together to worship Him and see what would happen. There was a man who clearly operated in the office of the prophet (Eph. 4:10) and the Lord had shown him some key things and we would worship the Lord and this man would speak. Some people were healed. Some delivered of demonic oppression. The Lord Himself visited us. We worshiped loud and hard. How can you not? When you find yourself that close to the glory, you tap into a desperation in your heart that is not easy to resist.

One night, that first or second weekend, the man of God asked for people who needed some kind of healing to come forward. We had been worshiping for a couple of hours and many of my friends had gone home with the exception of one of the coolest teenagers I have ever met and a couple I have known since I was a little girl. I looked at them and said I was going forward. The teenager, Jordan, sort of shrugged like, “Hey, why not?” and went with me. My friend Lori was close behind me.

One of the pastors came over to me and asked me what I needed prayer for. Words tumbled out of my mouth—something about my baby died, my heart is too sick still, I need help.

As he prayed for me, I felt something shift. It’s hard to explain, but if you've read this far, you've probably felt this kind of thing before, too—that pain that is like a live thing that sometimes stirs, like a monster, at the pit of your gut. Or it’s like a stone that covers a grave. For a moment the garden tomb in Jerusalem flashed through my mind and then retreated.

The music was loud, and that was good. I couldn't hear a lot of what the pastor was praying, but it didn't matter—he was speaking to Someone else and I was agreeing with him and crying out to the Lord myself. The splinter monster thing budged as I received and agreed with the prayer.

The pastor stopped praying and looked at me, asking me how I was doing. I was weeping and that part of me that is a good student who always wants to get the answers right almost said, “I’m so much better now, thank you” and walked back to my seat with a waking monster in my gut. But I couldn't do that. I couldn't hold onto this infected place in me—it was painful and distracting and not God’s best for me. I told the pastor that I wasn't done.

We moved closer to the altar and his wife joined us and we continued to pray. The music began to build in strength and volume and I suddenly had the urge to yell. When I tell you that I had the urge to yell what I really mean is that I had the urge to scream. A lot. I needed to push. I needed to yell out every ounce of pain and grief and sadness that had become lodged deep inside my heart. I was so grateful for the loudness of the music—more than once, I made the decision not to get embarrassed about how loud I was being and just push through.

And then, just like that, it was gone.

I knew it like I knew my name. I felt Him come for me. My Father came for me in the midst of my pain and I finally opened that part of my heart that thought if I kept at least a tiny bit of the raw grief of losing Ben alive, I would keep him current. I would keep him just now, not five years ago, or ten years ago, or twenty years ago.

But that’s not the way He designed us to work. He made us to heal. He made us to grow skin across those wounded places.

It has been more than seven weeks since that night and I can say that my heart is whole. He healed me. Do I still feel the sadness of his loss? Friends, please hear me: I will never be over that loss. He was my baby. I long for him every day. That is normal, I think.

No, I am talking about the part of grief that starts to interfere with our relationship with God. The part that interrupts our worship. That part has to go. I walked into that church with a broken, infected heart, and the God who had been waiting for me to just let Him “take a look” (like my daddy would say) rushed in the second I pulled my hands away. I am able to throw my head back in worship and look Him right in the face and worship only Him—with both hands, my whole mind, and all my strength.

There is no end to His goodness.