Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!!!!!

Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

I didn't post a blog last night, because by the time I got around to it, it was 2:15 am, and I was nearly in a wrapping and sugar induced coma.  There was something I wanted to share with you, however. 

Yesterday 5 of my 7 kids participated in the Children's/Youth Choir for Christmas Eve.  I got there very early to drop them off, since Simon was also playing the part of Joseph, and Sylvia was also portraying an angel. (Typecasting?  Maybe.) So I went in and found a good seat where I could see both the skit and the singers. 

And there I sat.  By myself.  I wasn't saving a seat for anyone, because I didn't know who might be coming, but there was plenty of space available near me, should anyone show up.  I knelt down to pray, and tears started flowing uncontrollably.  It's been a hard week, I tell myself, but that's not really it. 

I'm overwhelmed. 

Sally died, and her family is hurting, and I pray for her and them.  Eileen's daughter died, and I'm sitting behind her granddaughter that just lost her mother the day before.  The young lady sits dry-eyed while I sob.  My prayers roll down my face as tears.  I pray for them all.  Mike, Eileen, the kids, all of their friends.  The people who can take strength from her story of courage and faith, I pray for them too.  And everyone with cancer. And heart disease.  And in pain.  And it's too much to bear.  I look up at the crucifix and see the look on this particular Jesus's face.  It is a mix of pain and something else.  Compassion, maybe. I look at the nativity scene, and notice an odd thing. 

This nativity scene also has a fruit lady.  (See the Cabana Fruit Lady of Bethlehem blog)  It strikes me as necessary that she's there.  She has come to represent myself and my family and our place in the nativity story.  It's not my job to carry all the pain.  It's my job to carry a basket of apples, and offer this nourishment and refreshment to those doing the important work of salvation.  This particular fruit lady is perched on a hill quite a way from the holy family.  Maybe God's telling me to remember my role.  I deliver the tears of my prayers for help.  I drop them off at the manger, and m,y kids (and the other 15 or so kids) start singing.  Now I'm crying tears of praise, and my prayer changes with them. 

Thank you SO MUCH for allowing me to stay here so I can hear THIS angelic Heavenly choir.  Made of voices that are a prat of my life.  Thank you Lord, for giving me children that choose to praise you.  Thank you for the tears to cleanse my soul.  Thank you for coming here to this lowly earth and taking all the pain and shame and sorrow, and destroying it all.  So that love can live on.  Life to the fullest.  At this point I think I'm living life to the fullest, when Jordan and Misty come in with the kids.  Evelyn reaches for me, and my cup runneth over with love.  I'm not sitting alone any more.  I give to God what belongs to God, and enjoy the birth of the savior. 

Before him, all those worries were mine to deal with.  Now he's here!  Oh come let us adore Him!  I'm so blessed through the rest of the Mass, even with Evelyn squirming on my lap and sucking on my necklace, and Alex hiding down by the kneeler, I am in my happiest, most blessed sacred place. 

Today is Christmas.  Blessings after blessings after blessings to everyone who reads this blog!!!  May your heart be filled with love, and your burdens given to the one who came to carry them so you could love better.  Merry Christmas!    

Friday, December 23, 2011

All I want is LOVE

I spent a good portion of this day at the mall with my teenage kids, so they could buy gifts for each other and some of their friends.  I saw a crazed frenzy of gift buying.  (My kids were pretty calm, but they were definitely in the minority.) 

People were lined up to the door to buy fragrances and blankets, and sweaters, and who knows what.  They all had the same thing in mind.  "What can I buy to give you to show you how I feel about you?" 

The truth is...nothing. 

There is nothing you can buy me that will show you how much you care about me.  I appreciate that you think of me, and that you saw something you knew I'd like and wanted to give it to me.  I like getting presents, but only because of the person who gave it to me, and the joy they receive when I open their gift.  The bottom line is that there is nothing you can purchase with cash, check, charge or debit that, if it were to appear on my doorstep without you, would tell me that you love me. 

Stuff doesn't equal love. 

Christmas isn't about things.  It never has been.  It's about love.  Love is all I want for Christmas.  Want to show me how much you love me or care for me?  Use words.  Or actions.  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked.  Do all the things Jesus would ask of you, that shows me your love for me and respect for what I believe in.  Say a prayer for a friend.  Send a note to someone you haven't seen in a while. Hug my neck! Smile at me.

I have a few friends that have lost family members this week. The thing they will miss most is the way that person loved them.  Not the stuff they gave them.  They'd trade all the stuff in the world for just one more smile.  One more hug.  One more moment. 

This year, consider giving the gift of love for Christmas.  Make amends.  Say you're sorry and mean it.  Don't waste the precious time we have on this earth. Just give Love.   

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Birthday Party

She's so excited to get to the party.  It's something she's been looking forward to for quite a while now. The birthday party that is so legendary, so super-colossal--but the guest list is super exclusive. 

She's been preparing her gift for...well it feels like forever.  It is something handmade with love.  She didn't choose the materials that have gone into this gift, they were given to her like hand me downs.  She has crafted them with love into something magnificent.  Something worthy of this guest of honor. 

It's nearly time for her to leave for the party.  She puts on her blue gown, and calls her family near her to let them know she's leaving.  They know that this is a trip she will not return from, and sadness fills their hearts. Mostly because they don't yet fully understand what an honor it is to be invited to the party this year.  It's really time!  The Birthday Boy has requested the honor of her presence at his birthday party at His House this year! 

Her family holds each other as they watch her leave.  She takes a breath.  The only way to get to the party is to stop breathing, and she's so tired of fighting, and so ready to see this Jesus that she's loved for so long.  Her life is her gift.  She takes one last breath, and gives her gift to Jesus. 

This year she'll spend His birthday with Him.   

     

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

You are one sweet cookie!

I love baking cookies.  All year round, but especially at Christmas!  Tonight we made 2 of my favorite kinds of cookies, stained glass and white chocolate macadamia nut.  Yum! 

Baking cookies can teach you a lot about your faith as well.  Think about it.  You have to add all the ingredients of your life in the right order and in the right amounts.  You never start a batch of cookies with the flour, and you never begin your life with adulthood.  It's not time yet. 

First you need the creamy butter and sugar, which is kind of like the love and care you get from your family when you're a baby and a little child.  You add a few eggs and vanilla.  Eggs, like puberty, are the beginning of becoming something new, and vanilla to spice up your personality and add your very own flavor. 

Next come the baking soda and salt.  The salt is from the salty tears of disappointment.  The baking soda can do everything--absorb odors, clean your teeth, even soften your bathwater.  In this recipe, it's purpose is to lighten the dough and help it to rise. Very much like prayer.  It serves a lot of purposes, but in this batch of cookies (which is your life) it will serve a higher purpose.  It will enlighten you, and keep you from becoming hard as a brick. 

Then comes the flour.  Lots of flour.  Flour holds it all together, and sticks to all the other ingredients and makes them into one cohesive substance--cookie dough.  Flour is like God's love.  It binds together every little part of your life to make it all something new.  Something even better. 

This is the part where you decide what to do with your dough.  Just like life, YOU decide.  Will you keep the dough just like it is?  Add chocolate chips?  Maybe go a little nuts, and add pecans, or macadamias, or maybe rainbow sprinkles?  Maybe you will roll them flat and cut holes in them and fill the holes with colorful candies, like we do with the stained glass window cookies.  Is your life colorful?  Nutty?  Semi-sweet and chocolatey? 

Right now all we have is dough.  All it will ever be is dough, if it never gets near the heat of trials and tribulations.  If it stays dough, it must be kept cold.  Sitting alone and desolate in a refrigerator or freezer.  Waiting to become something wonderful.  I hope you aren't frozen dough.  I hope you have the courage to go into the 350 degree oven and be changed.  Have you ever watched cookies bake?  They puff up and spread out then they collapse in on themselves and brown.  They come out something totally different from what they went in.  So do we.  We go in the oven full of potential.  We come out browned and baked, and a wonderful piece of tasty treat that won't give people salmonella or e-coli like the dough could.  (Raw eggs, you know.)  Cookies = love where I come from. 

One Warning: Make sure you take them out in time!  If you stay too close to the heat for too long, you come out dried up and charred and useless.  (Check out the cookie tray on my porch if you need an example.)  You no longer contain love or hope.  What you were hoping to be is no more.  You have to go back to the dough bowl and try again.  Remember all the things that went into making you what you are.  Remember the heat of the ovens you've spent time in, and how that formed you and shaped you and changed you into something lovely and desirable that makes people smile, and reach for the milk (of human kindness) to dip you into. 

Enjoy your cookies. 

         

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

...Special Bulletin...This just in...

I got up and started on a mad rush...clothes on...breakfast...getting myself and MY kids ready for school. 

"Mom give me the Quiz!" They shout.   

Get Dressed?  Yep
Eat Breakfast?  Yep
Brush your teeth? Yep
Pack a snack? Yep
Pack your backpack? Yep
Combed your hair? Yep
Socks and shoes on?  Yep.  Good.  Here's the bus. They ride, I drive my van.

I get to school, and here come the kids. It's a flurry of backpacks and milk money and shoes and boots and mittens and smiles, and complaints, and soon 17 kids are seated at tables eating and coloring and putting stickers on bags that will hold their gifts they made for their parents.  I take a breath.  We're on the move again.  To the big bathroom down the hall...to music class...reprimand a sassy one...back to the classroom...quiet time on the carpet...some rest, some are still working.  We glue, we glitter, we paint, we write stories, we eat a snack, then it's back to the flurry of coats and boots and mail to go home, and snowpants, and some children putting on their boots so excruciatingly slowly you can't actually see them move.  To the bus!  Reprimand the sassy one again.  And off they go!  Another awesome day at work. 


I shop for cookie ingredients and come home.  I chat with Lydia and make a batch of cookie dough that has to chill.  I run her to the bank, then to the school.  Harriett comes home, we chat, I prepare Misty's birthday gift.(No hints!) The rest is a blur of people coming and going until I find myself at the mall with Harriett, Kenzie, and my Mom. 

This just in...I need to interrupt the details of my busy day to remind myself and everyone else that one day,  a long time ago, God took human form and allowed himself to be born as a human child.  He did this because He loves us so much, He couldn't bear to be separate from us.  He couldn't take a chance of us not knowing Him, or how much he loves and cares for us.  He gave himself wholly and completely out of love for you.  Body and soul, humanity and divinity, he gave it all so that we could be near him.  That kind of love deserves a moment of silent reflection. 

This shopping trip is a dream.  We are having fun. I love shopping with my Mom.  She rocks, and she gets me! 

I got home from shopping, got out the wrapping paper for Harriett, gave Sylvia a blessing, said hello to Isaac and Luke, and made another double batch of cookies.  Oh, and I ate some soup. That brings me to now.  Blogging away, waiting for my timer to go off. (For the cookies, not figuratively.)  I'm going to go brush my teeth and admire Luke's handiwork at putting in our new bathtub.  The tub is in, but the faucet and tub surround still need to go in.  He is making good time.  I'm so appreciative of him right now, you have no idea! 

So how was your day?  Feel free to interrupt your regularly scheduled program for a special bulletin from God.  Maybe he's trying to tell you something. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lord, Have Mercy

There is a part in the Mass when the priest says some lovely things, followed by "Lord have Mercy".  Then he says some more things followed by "Christ have Mercy".  Then he says another thing followed by "Lord have Mercy."  This part of the Mass spills over into my life, as I find myself praying this way all day long. 

I am certain I am not saying the same things as the priest, but the idea is the same.  I am incapable of handling this life on my own, and I acknowledge that I need the help of my Lord and Savior, without whom I am useless.  Without his Grace and Mercy, I am hopeless, and frightened, and don't stand a chance of finding success, or happiness, or even acceptance of the way things are at the moment. So when I am overwhelmed I pray, and end the prayer the way we do in Mass.  "Lord Have Mercy." 

Gramma Sally has cancer.  Lord Have Mercy.
We're afraid to lose her.  Christ have Mercy. 
This process of losing her breaks our hearts.  Lord have mercy. 

It works with situations that are not mine, also.  It's important to pray for others who need his Mercy, too.  Don't be all selfish with God's Love!  When you spread it around, it grows and increases. 

Leisha is having quadruple bypass, Lord have Mercy. 
Mike's family is trying to learn how to live with an implanted device.  Christ have Mercy. 
My friend is having marital problems, and can't see the right thing to do.  Lord have Mercy. 

It also works with day to day stuff as well.  It's only by Grace and Mercy that we live each day. 

My children are being mean to each other, and have stopped treating me with respect.  Lord Have Mercy. 
Today I feel like nothing I do matters at school. I don't know how to help these kids. Christ have Mercy. 
Two of my children aren't children any more, but are grown men, with families of their own.  Lord have mercy. 

Think of all the times today that you can ask for God's mercy, and ASK!  He won't turn you away.  Think of all the situations in your life that would go so much more smoothly with a little Mercy in it.  Mercy is what Jesus is all about!  Mercy and love.  Shout it out loud or mumble it under your breath, or think it in your head, but please, ask for it. 

May God bless you today, whatever you are facing.  Lord have Mercy! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Birth of...Spencer

Twenty one years ago today I was wrapping presents, trying to get everything done well before Christmas.  It was hard to sit on the floor and wrap, since bending over my enormous, two weeks past due pregnant belly was no easy feat.  I'd lean forward and stretch out the paper and cut it to size, then sit back and get my breath.  Then I'd lean myself over the belly as far as I could to tape down the paper, then sit back again to get my breath. This process was made much more difficult with this annoying squeezing in my abs that kept happening every 3-5 minutes.  I'd been in false labor since Thanksgiving, so I'd become accustomed to ignoring it.  Pretty soon I couldn't ignore it any longer, as the pains started getting more intense, and things started to feel "different". 

My mother-in-law "Nanny" drove me to the hospital, stopping at Mack-Donalds (as she said it) to get Jordan a strawberry milkshake.  As she paid the drive-thru attendant, she casually asked me what time my appointment was.  She nearly wet her girdle when I told her it wasn't an appointment...it was time!  We made the 3 blocks to Borgess in record time.  I had time to eat a cheeseburger and get my clothes changed before Spencer made his arrival.  I remember my best friend from high school, Terri (and her sister Annie) worked there, and popped in to help out.  Then I met him.  My beloved son, Spencer.  All 9 pounds of him.  He looked nothing like Jordan, and I was glad.  I love Jordan, and I there's only one of him.  Spencer is a completely different, equally beloved person with gifts and talents all his own. 

I have learned so much being Spencer's mom.  I've learned that God multiplies the love in your heart with each child you have.  I learned that sometimes people are cruel when they ask questions about your child. (Such as, "Why do his eyes look like that?  Will they stay that way?") I also learned they don't always mean to be, they just don't know that you would make everything in your child's life perfect for them if you could, and if you thought it would be best for them.  Spencer has had 2 eye surgeries, and even though he lacks depth perception, he has something even more rare and special.  He can see out of each eye individually at the same time.  Not to mention, I have always known that Spencer is perfectly perfect just he way he is.

Spence and I spent a lot of time together as he was growing up.  We watched more than our share of cooking shows, and he still loves to cook.  He was always helpful with the kids around the house, and I pray one day he realizes how much he means to them and how much they miss him.  He's still known as the most flexible wrestler C-S has ever had.  I enjoyed just being around him in high school, and spending time doing nothing together. 

Spencer's senior year got a little derailed because of my cardiac arrest.  I regret that I wasn't able to be there for him as well as I should have.  I wish I had been able to focus on only his needs that year.  A guy should be able to spend his senior year hanging with friends and going to dances, not worrying if his mother is going to die again soon.  He shouldn't have been thinking of me or my problems at all.  I feel like I stole that time from him and I can never give it back.  I hope he knows I never meant to.  I love that kid...I mean man...so much. 

Spencer gives his all to all he does.  He's got more heart than most people I know, and takes care of everyone around him, always putting his needs behind those of the people he loves.  This worries me, sometimes.  I want him to know his humility is refreshing, but he deserves to be treated well and respected, loved and admired.  He is worthy of the very best this world has to offer.  I pray that God will shower him with blessings on this, his 21st birthday, and his whole adult life.  As we decorated the tree tonight, I saw each of the ornaments he's made or collected over the years.  His First Christmas, the year he loved the Detroit Lions (good call, by the way), the year he made a scrollwork angel with Bum (his grandpa) and the corn husk guy known as "the scarecrow" that gets hidden in the tree each year.  It reminded me of 21 years of happy, joyful, loving life spent with Spencer. Happy Birthday, son. I'm SO glad you are MY kid! 

I had no idea back then how this little 9 pound bundle of love was going to change my life.  But then, isn't that what Advent is all about?    

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Husbands and Happiness

I had a date night tonight with my beloved husband, Luke.  We went out with some other friends/family to celebrate my brother-in-law John's birthday.  (Happy 50th, John!)  There are some people who may say this doesn't qualify as a date, but I'll take it.  In our busy life, we don't get to go out much without an entourage, and it's really fun when we get the chance. 

It really got me thinking about husbands, and what there job really is.  He promised to love me, cherish me, and honor me, and so far he's doing pretty well. It's not an easy job.  Some days I'm extremely unlovable.  Some days I'm downright mean, especially if I'm hurt or scared, or unsure of what's going to happen next.  I think we're all a little like that. I've been through some really trying times, and he's been right there with me, reminding me that he loves me through it all.

I'm pretty sure I'm not very "cherish-able" at times, either.  When I'm complaining about this or griping about that, I'm sure he's not holding every second together dear to his heart.  When my mouth gets running, I'm certain he's not looking forward to our next 30 years together...if we get so lucky.

Honor.  That's a hard one.  How does my husband honor me?  He honors the vows we made to each other, but does he honor me?  He helps me be the very best version of myself that I can be.  That means that sometimes we have to have awkward conversations.  Sometimes I need to be reminded to honor myself and be true to who I am made to be and called to be, and destined to be. 

Love.  Honor.  Cherish.  Joseph was a good example of all three of those.  He loved Mary enough to not expose her to shame.  He loved God enough to accept the message received in a dream that Mary's situation was exactly what she said it was.  He honored her commitment to carry the Savior of the world.  He honored and protected, and cherished who she was called to be.  He helped her be the very best Mother of God possible.  He cherished every moment spent with her and her son, even knowing that the child wasn't his.  But he, like other husbands, never promised to make his wife happy.   

It is not a husband's job to make his wife happy.

He can give her opportunities to be happy.  He can provide her with a living situation that can add to her happiness and care for her, but ultimately he can NOT make her be happy.  I'm not suggesting Mary was unhappy, just pointing out that her happiness or unhappiness was up to her.  Luke and I have been through some really hard times together.  There are times, looking back, that I was unhappy and there wasn't a thing in the world Luke could do to "fix" it.  Sometimes I was legitimately sad, like after our miscarriage.  It took a long time to feel happy again.  Sometimes I was justifiably angry, or upset, or whatever.  Sometimes I was just bored.  Whatever the situation, my happiness is up to me.  I have to choose to be happy and do the work to get past whatever is standing in my way.  

I'm very blessed to be married to Luke.  He's been right by my side through it all.  He patiently told me over and over what happened to me in the hospital when I couldn't remember.  The poor man.  He not only had to tell his wife that her heart stopped.  He had to break the news about 900 times, and see my terrified reaction each time (since I was hearing it anew.)  He's held my hand through labor after labor after labor. We raise our kids together.  He's the one I call when life goes to crap, or someone needs to go the ER. He's the one I trust with my innermost thoughts.  He's the one I'm most honest with.  My husband. 

I'm gonna choose to be happy.  I'm going to live up to my promises better today.  Today I will love him, cherish him, and honor him.  Even the hard times are better together.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Time and Love

I have so many friends right now who are facing frightening, life-threatening situations.  Difficult pregnancies and cancer diagnoses, and heart surgeries everywhere I turn.  Difficult, uncomfortable conversations need to be had to repair broken families and restore the love between husbands and wives, and parents and children.  Life seems really really hard for a lot of people living on the edge of "losing it" right now. 

A fat guy in a red suit and a tree with gifts underneath are probably not the answer, but a baby in a manger might be. The answer to all of our problems and difficulty might just be found in that kind of love shown to us in the person of Jesus that night.  He knew what it would cost him to love us, and he chose us anyway.  He loved us enough to give up everything for us.  Like husbands do for their wives.  Like wives do for their  husbands. 

He was loving and obedient to his parents, even though in reality he had authority over them...because he loved them and respected them.  He became a way for us to reconcile to the parents we've mistreated.  We need to seek out and forgive the family that has hurt us, and it won't be easy, but neither was the Cross.  But I dare say it was worth it to spend eternity with the one you love. 

When our very bodies turn on us, and fail and stop doing the job they were created to do, how do we find comfort?  Maybe we can look again to that cross and see how Christ spent every drop of flesh and blood that he allowed himself to be contained in, to love us.  He loved us as he took his first breath, and he loved us with his dying breath, and every one in between.  Our bodies aren't supposed to last forever.  How cruel that would be to keep us away from our Maker for that long!  But we CAN use every cell of our bodies that still works to love each other.  

Christmas will be here in a little over a week, but we are only a breath away from eternity.  What are you looking forward to?  If life is difficult for you right now, don't stop looking forward.  One thing is for certain...it won't always feel like this.  It won't always BE like this.  Time will fade your wounds to scars.  Time will soften the anger in your heart.  Time will change everything. Time and Love. I wish you both. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Joyful Noise

As a mother of seven, I have grown accustomed to a certain amount of noise.  Not any specific noise, just the sound of people moving around and living their lives.  My kids argue like other kids.  They irritate each other and pull jokes and tricks on each other just like everyone else's kids.  They make noise.  At this time of year, they make a special, joyful noise that makes me see God in them.  It touches my heart and makes tears of love flow down my face.

They sing. 

Especially at this time of year, they sing Christmas tunes.  They sing church tunes, and Christmas carols.  They sing every good and loving and Christmassy song they can think of.  Then they make up parodies and sing those for a while and laugh at how hilarious they are.  My kids are definitely hilarious...and creative. 

Their Grandma Swager was a singer and a piano teacher.  She had a beautiful voice, and her children inherited her musical talent.  So did her grandkids, and some of them sang at the Christmas Concert at school today.  She only got to meet one of her grandkids before she died of Cancer in 1995.  If I haven't forgotten any, she's up to 36 grandkids.   My kids have never met her, and yet she is so much a part of their lives. 

When they sing, they honor her, and I feel her smiling down from Heaven. I can see her face, beaming with pride.  She smiles at her Maker, approvingly, as if she's so pleased to have been a part of their creation story.  She smiles at us, their parents, reminding us to see the beauty in them and telling us to enjoy the foretaste of the singing angels in Heaven. I see her in them, and it makes me feel closer to her, and makes me want to be more like her.  More loving.  More appreciative.  More holy.  More willing to give it all.  She spent her life loving her kids, just as I want to spend my life loving mine.  When they sing, it dissolves the petty, unimportant stuff, and sounds like pure love. 

My children have beautiful singing voices.  As the old Baptist preacher used to say,"The Bible says to make a joyful noise. It don't mean it has to be pretty!"  But my, what a gift it is when your children open their mouths in joyful, prayerful, music and such a beautiful song of praise comes out! 

Today I heard a very joyful noise.      

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gramma Sally

I don't have anything clever or deep or profound to say.  If there's a pearl of wisdom hidden somewhere in this blog, God put it there, and good luck finding it.  Sometimes things just are what they are.  And sometimes people are, too. 

Take Gramma Sally, for example.  She is my dear friend's mother, and has been referred to as "Gramma Sally" since she has had grand kids. I've known her for as long as I can remember.  She's quite an amazing lady, although she'd probably just scoff at me and roll her eyes if I told her that. 

Gramma Sally is the lady you know because you see her all over town.  She's not famous, or rich and fancy, but she's the lady who knows your name, and your family, and asks how they are all doing because she honestly cares.  She's spent every ounce of herself trying her best to raise kind, loving respectful kids...mostly on her own.  She's worked to provide for her family, and when necessary, has fought like a mama-bear to protect her young from those ignorant enough to disrespect them. I don't know what it was like to be her child.  I'm sure she wasn't perfect.  I have no doubt she'd lay into her kids when they had it coming, and hold them tenderly when they didn't deserve what life handed them. She never allowed them to wallow in self-pity, but told them to get out there and do all the stuff that kids do. 

She was one of the parents I knew from elementary school because she found a way to be there for all us kids when there was something going on at school. If one of hers was on the team, there was Gramma Sally.  Even with the grand kids now, there's Gramma Sally.  She's traded in the cigarette that used to accompany her for an oxygen tank.  Emphysema makes her sit on the bottom row so she doesn't have to climb many steps, but there she is.  Beaming with pride at those grand kids of hers. 

I have always known her to be an honest woman.  Sometimes she's even willing to say the things that everyone else was thinking but was afraid to say. I admire her pluck!  I admire her strength.  Even as I watch the video clip of her from her hospital bed, I see her putting the needs of her grand kids first.  "I love you very much!" is the first thing she says, as she (once again) puts herself last. 

A day is coming when Gramma Sally won't be last any more.  I hope she's with us for a long time, but her day will come when the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  Gramma Sally will smile up at her Savior, and she'll know she is his beloved.  She'll get her chance to be first. She will no longer have the job of taking care of everyone in her family by herself.  That will be up to God, and each of them.  She's done her part.  Now her job is just to love them all.  Gramma Sally can be a pip, but she LOVES her people.  I'm proud to say I know her, and hope she's feeling better soon.  Do you have a Gramma Sally in your life?  Tell her how you feel.  Look for the things about her that bless you.         

Blessings,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What one little thing can you do?

I had the opportunity to speak at a Go Red For Women Executive Breakfast this morning.  I told the very short version of my story, and encouraged these female executives (and a senator) to get involved in improving the heart health of their employees, co-workers, (themselves) and all the people in their lives.  It is very fulfilling for me to be able to have these conversations.  I want these people to take away something they can do to make life better for someone else.     

In the blog about the elephant in the room, I was talking about my heart disease.  MY heart disease.  (I'm starting to own what I couldn't even admit to a few months ago.)  I believe I've gotten very comfortable talking about it now, and that makes it a lot less scary.  I know it made it less scary for me when the ladies at the WomenHeart Symposium talked about their heart disease, and how they are living full and happy lives, elephant and all.  Today I saw it as something God has given me to share, the being brave part. Speaking up, giving a hug, being a friend and advocate.  It's just one little thing I can do. 

Then I went to school.  The young fivers were super happy to see me, and plowed over each other to hug me and say hi.  This is just medicine for the soul, let me tell you!  There are few moments when you feel as loved as when children just honestly care about you and sincerely missed you.   I missed them too, and they are my people.  I care about them very much.  I couldn't do this job if I didn't.  There are parts of our day that only Debbie can do, and there are things in the classroom that only I can do.  Tomorrow I will have a sub (Simon is sick).  I don't think even the best sub knows that snack time just isn't snack time without showing Mrs. Swager the pattern you've created with your snack.  Or at least telling her what shape all the things in your snack box are. It's just one little thing I can do. 

There are lots of little things I can do that don't amount to much in the grand scheme of things.  It's still important to do them. Will the kids in my class become productive citizens without being able to put together "pretzels, drink, pretzels, drink, pretzels"?  Sure!  But I hope what they're learning is that they are important enough to listen to.  Same as my heart sisters.  Same as the executives and Senator Schuitmaker.  They each have something "little" they can do.  Like start an employee fitness plan, or propose legislation, or make a speaker feel that the time her heart stopped was important enough for them to take notice and listen to what else she had to say. 

Whatever little thing you can do, do it with great love.  St. Therese said it, Mother Teresa said it, I'm paraphrasing it. What little thing can you do?          

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mary's Midwife

They never actually say in the bible story, but don't you suppose someone helped Mary deliver her baby?  I mean, she had Joseph, but traditionally, this was not the thing a husband generally did.  I would imagine if she were still at home, her mother, and possibly some aunties, or the busy-body neighbor ladies would be buzzing all around her!  They'd be boiling water, and prepping the swaddling clothes, and getting her something to bite on. Miss Prissy would be putting a knife under the bed "to cut the pain".  (It worked in Gone with the Wind!) 

Here's a dumb question.  Do you think it hurt?  I've had seven children.  Five of them were over 9 pounds.  I am more aware than most people of the exquisite pain that accompanies childbirth.  What I meant was, him being who he was, did she birth him in pain?  Hmmm.  I think yes.  After all, the pain of childbirth is in preparation of the pain that will be with a mother as her child spends his life separating himself from her.  The funny thing about this situation is that he came here to separate himself from her, to pull her (and the rest of us people) closer to him. 

So the question remains.  Who was Mary's Midwife?  Jesus delivered us all, but who delivered him?  Today, I will try to be Mary's Midwife to all those I see.  I will do my very best to "deliver" Jesus' love to those in most need of it.  I will have a smile on my face, and a hug prepared for those who just need to know that someone approves of them.  We don't have to go all the way to the cross to show his love to others.  Just  acknowledge that you can see me! I'm right here! I'm worth you spending half a second to smile at me and look me in the eye.  Lord, help me carry you from your place nestled within the warm confines of my own heart, out into the cold, loud, rowdy world I live in. 

Please deliver me...and allow me to deliver you. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Attention all shoppers:Rejoice!

Today is Gaudate Sunday.  Gaudate means Rejoice! Like, hey, you, rejoice!  Right Now!  Stop what you're  doing and rejoice, because the baby's coming!!  The pink candle is lit on our wreath, and it's the third Sunday of Advent.  We're getting so close!  I started to get a little worked up about my Christmas shopping being nowhere near done, so I went out to the mall for a few hours.  I came to a stellar conclusion.

I am a crappy shopper. 

I looked around for 2 hours with very little inspiration.  Oh, I'd see something and carry it around for awhile, only to change my mind and put it back.  (Usually to the spot it came from.  I hate it when people ditch stuff.)  I saw cute baby girl dresses that my sweet Evelyn would look adorable in.  I looked at more items with Lightning McQueen on them than I thought possible.  Alex would love them all!  I even saw some pretty shiny things that my daughters would all look beautiful in, but I didn't buy much.  I kept being reminded of what I knew before I even got there.

There is no gift I can give ANYONE that's even close to the gift of God's Love.  God loves us so much that he wrapped himself in skin, and knit together bones for himself in Mary's womb.  He allowed himself to be born as a wee little helpless human child, knowing that if he became one of us, we would be able to stand in his presence and live. He allowed his little baby body to be wrapped in swaddling cloths, just as later he would allow himself to be wrapped in burial cloths.  Being human, he would be able to communicate with us in a way that didn't terrify us like the pillar of fire, or a mighty wall of water on either side of the parted Red Sea.  He could hold our hands, and dry our tears.  He could forgive the sorry sinners, and touch the unclean to make them whole. He could love us from among us, like he wanted to from the beginning in the garden.     
What can I give my kids for Christmas that means something like that?  Barbie is so far removed from the goodness of a savior, I feel wrong for even considering her as a gift.  Never mind the World of Warcraft game.  I'm probably not supposed to try to give a gift as great as God's, but it is Jesus' birthday.  I'd like him to be involved in the process of gift selection.

Maybe that's it.  Our speaker on Wednesday was saying she prayed for guidance on her way into the mall, and things went really well.  She felt blessed and found some items that would mean something to her loved ones.   I think I may have to go out again tomorrow and try the "Lord, please bless the selection at Meijer" prayer. 

Or maybe I just need to Rejoice! and stop worrying so much.

Blessings,    




.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bless the Bambinelli!!

Father Chris told us about an old custom (from Italy, I think) in which the children of a parish bring in their baby Jesus from their Nativity Scene, and the priest asks a blessing that the baby from the Nativity scene will help the child become more aware of the Jesus who died for us.  Father Chris will be blessing these "bambinelli" tomorrow at Mass, but the blessing is already happening. 

We got out our Nativity scenes and set them up today.  We have 9 or 10 of them.  I LOVE Nativity scenes, and some stay up all year!  As Simon and Sylvia each set up their own Nativity, they started playing out the story, complete with appropriate musical interludes.  They sang, and played, and cradled their Jesuses lovingly. It might just be a piece of molded plastic, but it made them think of the VERY REAL baby Jesus.  That's how icons and statues work.  We don't worship them.  We allow them to remind us of the real thing, and call to mind the respect and reverence due to that one. 

    Of our Nativity scenes, only 6 of them have removable Jesuses.  (Or is it Jesi?  I'm not sure of the plural, so I'll go with Jesuses.)  Some of them have the Jesus attached to his mother, Mary.  There are monks and contemplatives who have spent their entire lives learning and praying about Jesus being so close to his mother, and vice versa. I am pretty much in full understanding of the love of a mom with a baby, whether he's Jesus, or some sweet kid God blessed ME with.  So, anyway, right now I have a Ziploc baggie in my purse with the six Swager bambinellis.

It's very weird to see the Nativity sets with no Jesus.  All these folks standing out in a stable just looking around.  What's the point?  Then it hit me.  That is EXACTLY the point!  He's the whole thing.  Nothing else matters without the baby.  Joseph, Mary, the kings, the shepherds...all of it...none of it means ANYTHING without Jesus.  In fact, I think it's safe to carry that little ripple effect out even farther.  My life is just as empty as a used feed box without Jesus in it.  It means nothing without him being the middle of the whole thing! 
He is my reason for living, caring, loving.  Without him in the room, I have no air to breath.  Without him being the Way I am completely lost. Without his love, I cease to exist.  Without him becoming my food, I starve, and shrivel up and die. 

That's a lot of pressure for a ceramic bambinelli. Good thing I'm not counting on the ceramic, but the one who created mankind from a handful of dirt and loving breath. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Who is the Cabana Fruit Lady of Bethlehem?

The little Lord Jesus is laying in a manger full of hay.  Mary is reposed next to him, adoring His cute little baby-ness.  Joseph looks like he's in conversation with a shepherd, while the kings look on with their camels watching the whole thing.  The shepherds have politely parked their sheep a little ways away so the small children of Kalamazoo can walk among them and pet their ceramic fur.  An angel appears to be swooping down in the back of this holy, familiar scene. 

We've heard the story.  We know the players.  Shepherds were out watching their sheep...the angel said, "hey, come check this out!"  The kings have come from afar, NOT appearing on the same day Jesus was born, by the way, but a little while later.  You might not even notice her in the scene, but there she is...the Cabana Fruit Lady of Bethlehem.  Well, at least that's what my kids called her.      

Do you see her? 

She's a little behind the king, over Mary's right shoulder.  She's carrying a basket of fruit, and smiling.  She almost looks like she's dancing.  Who is she?  In all the versions of the Nativity I've heard, I've never heard of a fruit girl.  I don't have a problem with her being there, I just wonder if there's some "fruit girl" story out there that I've never heard.  I love a good story, and have been known to tell a few myself, so I have been intrigued by this little lady since we left there.  

Her features aren't as defined as the other statues, almost like she's meant to blend in with the background, but if she wasn't part of the story, why would they even bother to put her there?  I think she's there intentionally.  Obviously some city employee (I picture him being named Mark, although I don't know any city employees named Mark) unwrapped her from her protective summer wrappings and set her here carefully so as not to break any apples off her basket.  But she's not a major player, so why is she here?  

I have a theory.  

It is not based in scripture, or religious teaching, but just the ponderings of my own heart, in conversation with my Maker. I think she's us.  I think she's us regular hard-working people who are going about our lives, selling our apples, or mucking our stables, or working in our cubicles in an office somewhere.  I think she's every person who has been busy with their work, only to look around and discover that God was there!  She is in the presence of Holiness!  She was just doing her job, and she got to see the baby Jesus! I wonder if she helped Mary deliver that baby.  I wonder if she visited them often before they left for Egypt.  Maybe she even helped the kings find the right place.  Look at the joy in her face!  No wonder she looks like she's dancing!  Her heart is dancing with Joy!    

Do you ever feel the presence of God where you work?  How about at home, when you are just going about the stuff you always do?  Laundry?  Dishes?  Do you see God in that job? What if you were doing Jesus' laundry?  Or cleaning the plates Jesus and his friends ate on?  Would you try to grow a better apple if you knew it was going to the Holy Family?  Maybe that's why she's there.  Maybe she's there to remind us that the birthing of a baby in a stable in Bethlehem has EVERYTHING to do with how we live, and work, and love each other.  Maybe it's to remind us that even the Cabana Fruit Lady of Bethlehem has a little piece of GOD in her, and she's part of the story!  So are we. 

My prayer is that today we will do our work like we're doing it for Jesus himself.  I pray we find Joy in serving, and love everywhere we go.  

Blessings!  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You really are beautiful!

If we could see ourselves in God's eyes, we would beam.  We would know our worth.  We would see our own beauty and marvel at ourselves.  It wouldn't even be a conceited kind of marvelling.  We would just be like "Wow.  I had no idea I had those skills.  I didn't know I was made like that.  I didn't know these horrible things that I went through were going to be a benefit to me down the road.  Look how beautiful my brokenness is.  Look how my scars shine when the light of love hits them just right. Look how loved I am." 

Let's try.  Just for one day.  Just for one moment, look at your life the way God might see it. Think of yourself as loved.  Picture God smiling at the thought of you.  You are His favorite. 

Smile.  Know you are beloved.  Spend this day feeling as wonderful as God made you. 

Blessings!       

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sweet little chubby-cheeks Jesus.

I went to "Pack the House" at church tonight, and heard an incredible speaker, Sherry Wolpert, talk about preparing for Christmas.  This season we call Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of little baby Jesus.  She had a lovely power point set to some beautiful music, and images of Mary and baby Jesus.  Some had Joseph in them too. 

There was a fresh newborn Baby Jesus, some Jesus toddlers, and some little skinny baby Jesus's.  My favorite were the chubby-cheeked rolly little Jesus babies.  I picture him that way. (I had a lot of chubby little babies!) 

 One great image had Mary holding her little chubby son on her lap playing with him, and he's looking up at her with that kind of Love a baby only gives his Mama.  I wondered for a minute if she ever made his little fat thighs "run down the street" like I love doing with all the babies in my life.  I wonder if she ever moved his baby arms in silly dances, and pretend to swim with his arms and legs.  I wonder if she sang him songs, and told him the bible stories of old.  I wonder what he learned from her, and what he knew because he helped create the world.  She must have nursed him and weaned him.  She must have potty trained him, and fed him with a spoon.  Picture that!  Little Jesus, in a high chair his Daddy Joseph made for him, with food all over his little face, and his first tooth popping through his gums!  The Savior of the world.  God made man, losing his baby teeth at the age of 7.  Full of divinity and full of humanity, reaching puberty, did the Word made Flesh have a hard time when his voice started to change?    Did he feel as awkward as the rest of us do in his teenage years?

 Did Mary ever wonder if he would meet a lovely girl and marry?  Did she hope for grandkids?  Did she really fully know what the angel meant by "full of Grace" before that grace held her together at her beloved son's crucifixion? Did her most tender mother's heart, broken and crushed by her son's death nearly explode with Joy upon hearing of his resurrection?  Does yours? 

Where are you in the story of Jesus' life?  Do you visit him in Bethlehem with the other wise men?  Do you follow his parents sneaking him to Egypt to preserve his life?  Do you sit with him in the temple with the elders while Mom and Dad travel towards home, then have to come back for him?  Or do you sit at the foot of the cross waiting...loving...hoping...  Maybe you find yourself in an upper room with the doors locked in fear of anyone knowing you are this man's disciple.  Or maybe you open your arms to those who would stone you, like Stephen, but you tell Jesus's story anyway, because you would rather die than waste your time doing something other than what you were made to do. 

Go to the stable for a few minutes.  Go back to where the Word became flesh, and entered the world as a little baby.  Spend a little time with that chubby little bundle of hope.  Be blessed by him. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"The little Lord Jesus asleep on the _____"

I was thinking about our Nativity Scene. (Which is still in a box...I'm getting there, don't judge me!)  And I started thinking about the fact that Jesus was laid in a manger.

Many people already know that a manger is a food trough for animals, and that really isn't big news to most people. When we went to Bronson Park for the big Christmas Light Festivities, the Nativity Scene floor was covered with straw.  One little girl was looking intently at a camel, picked up a handful of straw and tried to feed the camel.  "He's gonna eat this hay." She told her mom.  Some friends of ours were also there, and we got into a lively conversation with this city girl ( and my beloved Sister-in-law) about the difference between straw and hay.  Johnny pointed out that a camel (or any animal for that matter) would be hard pressed to eat straw.  It's good enough for bedding, and to poo in, but not really for eating.  Now hay, on the other hand, they'd love.  Since this substance is not green and grass-smelling, it's clearly not hay.  Camels, sheep, the cow, pretty much none of those animals would not eat the straw, but definitely the hay. 

These are the moments that separate the farm kids from the city folk. 

I'm proud my kids know the difference.  Especially when viewing a life size model of the nativity scene, and wondering why they would lay our newborn Lord and Savior in a feed box full of poky straw.  Truth is, they wouldn't!  The feed box would be filled with sweet, soft hay.  It would be green and dry, but it would smell like fresh grass when you get your nose really close to it.  It would probably have some dried blooms in it, if it were alfalfa hay.  It would be the food that the farmer wanted to keep up off the floor, where it would stay nice and clean.  (Why else would he bother with a feed-box?)  Farmers care about their animals, and this farmer was allowing this transient family to bed down with his in his freshly mucked stable.  It really was a nice thing to do. 

So anyway, back to little baby Jesus in the soft hay.  It occurred to me that this is not a normal place to put your baby, but given the circumstances, it was kind of like God's little hidden irony. 

"I am the Bread of Life," Jesus said.  "Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you have no life within you."  (Paraphrasing John 6.)  Jesus said, "I am your food.  You are my sheep."  (Swagerized version.)

How absolutely appropriate that God would deliver him to a sheep's feed box.  He IS our food.  We ARE his sheep. He is the kind of food you don't just throw around the pen and let the chickens scratch at.  He's the kind of food you put in a feed trough, up off the ground, where it will stay dry and fresh.  Food treated with respect and reverence, because it's the good stuff.  This pricey food grows sheep that are strong and able to follow their shepherd's voice through darkness, and storms, and wind and rain. 

I consider myself blessed to visit the house of my Savior each week to feast from the manger.  I replenish the life within me at the table of our Lord.  I can't live without this food any more than the sheep in Bethlehem could. 

I wish you clean straw to sleep on, and the good food from our Shepherd to eat.        

Monday, December 5, 2011

Don't waste!

Think of every bad or scary thing that has happened in the last three years.  

I thank God for each one of them, because they have allowed me to grow and learn to be a better person. 

Think of every good and wonderful thing that has happened in the last three years. 

I thank God for each one of them, because they remind me of that I'm made to enjoy this life!  The creator of every good thing smiles when I rejoice in his creation.   

Think of every tear that has fallen from your eyes in the last three years.  Every happy tear.  Every mournful tear of loss.  

I thank God for each one that shows I am still here. I can think and feel.  Each little piece of water is like a fresh baptism for my eyes, washing me clean.  Washing away the pain of sadness, and filling me with the living water of God's unending Love.

Think of every ordinary moment spent near the ones you love.  Talking, laughing, or not speaking at all, but just being together

I thank God for every precious moment spent with my beloveds.  My dear husband, each of my children, grandchildren, Mom and Dad, my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and the friends who are more like family, each one is a priceless gift to me that I treasure. 

Imagine and try to think of every single beat of your heart.Try to fathom how many breaths you have taken in the last three years.  How many times have you woke up in the morning to see a new day?  How many cheeks have you kissed?  How many times have you said "I love you"?  "I miss you?" "I'm sorry?" Each is a gift.  A bonus.  A treasure. 

How many times can I say "thank you"?  Lord, let every pulse, every breath, every minute be gratitude. Nothing but Love and  your goodness and mercy keep me here.  Help me NEVER squander the gift of a moment.  Help me never waste the time I have with the people in my life. 

Thank you, God for three more years!!!      

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I'm Not Ready!

I watched a family light the second candle on the Advent wreath today, and was stricken with a moment of panic.  SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT!!!  I'M NOT READY!!! I'm not ready for Christmas!  I'm not ready to even think about the Lord's birthday!  My nativity is still in the box!  Lights are only up that Lydia took the initiative to put up!  I'm NOT ready!!! 

Some years, I've had most of my shopping and half of my wrapping done by now, and I am not exaggerating when I say I have barely started.  As I have mentioned, I'm just not ready...and I'm a little overwhelmed.  BUT the good news is that this year, Christmas is on a Sunday.  So, really I have three weeks left before Christmas Day.  I can do it.  I just have to calm down a minute and pace myself.  I work really well off of a list.  So, I'll just make my list, and check the items off one by one.

The first thing on my list has nothing to do with the holiday, and it's getting in the way of everything else.  My three year anniversary tomorrow keeps pushing itself to the front of my mind.  I try to just ignore it, and end up thinking "what was I doing three years ago tonight?"  Was I ready then?  I had most of my Christmas shopping done (luckily).  I had things planned, and prepared, and micro-managed.  But was I ready for the things Advent is all about?  Had I done everything in this life to prepare for the next one? Had I prepared for the coming of Christ at the end of the age? 

Was I ready to meet my Savior?  

Maybe that's why I didn't get to see His beautiful face. I wasn't ready to spend eternity with my beloved Maker, and after three bonus years to work on it, I'm still not sure I'm ready.  Willing, yes, but ready?  The closer we get to each other, the more I realize how far I have pushed Him away.  Why?  Is what I want really better than being embraced in perfect unending Love?  Not even close!  I'm supposed to be loving and faithful, and I try, but I'm not 100%.  That's why I need Jesus this Christmas.  More than ever, I need his gifts of grace and mercy.  I need the freedom of knowing that the things "I can't", "He Can!"  I need his gentle reminders that my mission, ministry and purpose is to Love.   And even if I'm not ready, He is ALWAYS ready and willing to love me, and show me how it's done. 

The rest of the things on the list will need to wait.  The WomenHeart Support Network Meeting will happen.  It will be the blessing that God chooses for it to be.  School is school.  The gifts will get bought.  The lights will get hung, but none of it is as important as my heart being ready.  Tonight, my heart is working just fine.  I have a pulse that's keeping me upright and coherent.  I feel so grateful to God for a properly beating heart, and more time with my family and friends! I'm so glad I was alive today.  I'm hoping for another day tomorrow, but if that's not God's plan, I'll be swaddled in Love instead.

I'm a lot less panicky now.  Maybe I'm more ready than I realize.                  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Great Day!

Great Day, Great Friends!  SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO  Blessed by the Audette family, and my own. 

Much Love,

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Need a Honey Dipper!

What a crazy roller coaster of a day!  I started off so sleepy I could hardly move.  (Someone stayed up too late last night, BLOGGING!)  Then I woke up and felt lucky.  You know those days when you feel like,"Hey this could be a great day... at least it has potential!" 

So I got ready and went to work.  (Cue the ominous and foreboding music.)

Within ten minutes of being at school, we had the five-year-old equivalent of a B&E, and a possible kidnapping.  Okay, it wasn't quite like that.  Someone swiped someone else's item out of their locker.   I made them give it back.  He said sorry.  No "kids" were actually "kidnapped".  One of the little cherubs climbed completely inside his locker, and another kid shut the door on him so he couldn't get out.  The door shutter was from my class, and no one in our class wanted to take responsibility for their actions today.  DO WE EVER? 

This was not my best day of school.  I actually cried at one point.  I just want to help them learn so they can work towards making their dreams come true.  Unless their dream includes blowing bubbles in their chocolate milk on the table I'm about to clean...again.  The words, "I don't want to" and "I not gonna do it" were worn out today.  By the time I left work, so was I. 

So, I look for the lesson.  Am I swiping someone else's things?  No.  Am I climbing into my figurative locker? No.  Shutting anyone in?  Don't think so.  Hmm. 

So I come home to wait for the Honey Dipper to arrive.  "Honey Dipper" is the nice word for Septic Removal Truck.  It's a sewer sucker that pumps the poo.  I was told to expect them between 2 and 4, which eats up the whole afternoon.  On the way home from school, I'm thinking, "This day could use a Honey Dipper!  I'd like someone to take away all this...er...septic waste." 

I get home, and the sewer has already been sucked!  They're already done!  No waiting!  No muss, no fuss!          

I pick up Isaac for an NCYC Reunion Dinner with Bishop Bradley.  He wants to know all about the trip.  What did we learn, what did we see?  What workshops did we attend?  Did we make friends?  Etc.  It was wonderful to see everyone again, and to see the bishop so excited to hear their stories.

Just before the bishop left, I had a surge of courage.  I asked the bishop for his blessing on me and my health, and more specifically on the new WomenHeart support group and the ladies it will serve.  He asked a blessing on all of them and all of it, and all the people involved. 

It's just like when I got home from school.  I feel like a freshly dipped sewer!  I feel like someone took truck #84 and turned on the vacuum and sucked out the doubt and fear and uncertainty.  The bishop asked God's blessing over me.  He asked a blessing on my ministry with women living with heart disease.  I am so excited and clean! I feel like we got the stamp of approval on it. 

It may not have started out so great, but the ending of this day was worth it, Big Time!!!   

My Elephant in the room

My anniversary is Monday.  When I'm feeling good about it, I call it my "rebirthday".  Lots of good things came out of that day, December 5th, 2008.  We had sno-cones at school to celebrate the Iditarod race that the kids had been following.  We were preparing to have our family pictures taken for the church directory.  I made beef stew, which is what the kids remember most.  I remember going to the salon.  I remember feeling anxious that evening, and thinking I was just stressed because I had a bunch of things going on.  I remember going to the basement and working for a while, then coming back up, thinking I was going to vomit.  I remember telling Colleen I didn't feel right, and that I'd be back in a minute. 

Then the elephant entered my life. 

For almost three years now, I've gone between ignoring the elephant, denying the elephant, fearing the elephant, avoiding the elephant.  I've looked at other people's elephants and thought, "Wow, I'm sure glad I don't have one of THOSE!"  But I do.  I have a big fat elephant that tortures me.  He wears a neon flashing marquis that puts up slogans for me to read.  "You were dead!"  "You're kids would have grown up without a MOTHER!"  "You scared the HELL out of your Mother and Sister!"  "Your poor worried friends!"  "God, your poor HUSBAND!!"  "What have you DONE!?!" This elephant wails, and roars, and points his sharp tusks at me, pressing them into my chest.  Just below my left collarbone, just above my left breast I carry his scar.  It is almost too much to bear. 

But it's been three years. 

I don't sit all day in my chair, paralyzed by the not-yet-right mix of beta blockers and anti-arrhythmics and Xanax. I don't count each and every beat of my heart any more, thinking, "Is this the last one?  Is this?  Maybe this?..."  I don't spend each day sobbing, and praying that it never happened.  That it's all just a bad dream and I'm going to wake up and have my memory intact, and be able to trust my body to keep performing the most basic, necessary function.  I sleep now.  I can look at my kids without crying.   It took a long time, but I'm working on shrinking that elephant.  The first thing I had to do was get rid of the stupid marquis! 

I was dead.  True.  For a few minutes.

My kids would have grown up with the memory of a mother who loved them (and still does) with all her heart.  And if I was blessed enough to make the journey, I would be consulting away with Jesus about them every second of their lives, until we were together again in paradise.

Luke, Colleen, Mom and Dad, Boo, Laurie, all of my friends and family, I would never cause you one second of pain knowingly.  And knowing that I did makes me feel so very sorry.  More than I can ever apologize for. 

But I didn't do anything wrong!  That elephant can roar it's terrible roar, and wail away, and even try to tear at my body, but today I will look it in the eye, and say, "Knock it OFF!". You don't get to scare me today.  I'm alive, and no stupid elephant will keep me from being who I am, because I survived, I'm recovering, and I'm living happily ever after!       

Somewhere there is a woman who just received her elephant today, and I'll do my best to help her.  I'll tell her it's okay to be scared for a while.  I'll tell her it's okay to be sad for a while, but don't get stuck there.  I'll tell her it's okay to get really REALLY angry at her Maker, and really REALLY let loose your anger with him, because he's big enough to take it, and still love her.  I'll tell her she's not alone, then I'll make sure that's true.  When I help her, my elephant shrinks.  Hers will shrink, too, and I hope she won't feel like the same crippled, lost heart patient that I did back then.  I hope she's in a really good place when she finds herself at "three years later".           

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are you Listening Today?

This has been one of those stay inside days.  I feel like I just woke up, and I've only walked about 2500 steps all day.  I feel a little like the puppy in the crate, and the walls are closing in on me.  I haven't really done much of anything today that I can point to and say, "there, that is the masterful mark I have left on this day."  "Here is my gift to the world!"  But maybe I expect too much of a snow day. 

When I look at this day differently, maybe I did do something of value.  I talked on the phone with my sister-in-law for an hour and a half about our kids, and life, and being a good mom.  That wasn't sewing clothes for the orphans of Africa, but I love Arlea, and she makes me feel like my advice and experience are valued, as well as my friendship.  She is a blessing to me, and I hope I am to her as well.  I'm glad Adam picked her. 

Then I was on the phone with my sister for a while. I love my sister dearly, and I owe her my life.  I like talking to her (and texting, even when it is questionably appropriate.)  It may have looked like I was just wasting time, but I think I was choosing to spend it with her.  She makes me feel valued and loved, too.  I hope she knows how much her friendship means to me, sister or no sister. 

I did get some emails sent, and checked to find out if our plans were still on for tonight, which was questionable, given the snow day.  They were.  I made a few doctor and dentist appointments that needed to be made, and got out a recipe for Lydia to make a batch of cookies that were delicious (and quickly devoured. 

Then my heart sister called, and we talked out how our meeting is going to look.  I'm very excited about having our first EVER WomenHeart Support group meeting in Kalamazoo, and so is Sherry.  I'm a little nervous, since there is an elephant in my room today, and I'm not willing to acknowledge him yet.  Maybe tomorrow.  I am certain it will all come pouring out very soon, but not tonight.

Today I did do some good things.   I watched my son receive awards for Cross Country and football.  I allowed my kids to go sledding at the park, and playing in the snow.  I allowed them a day off to goof around and watch a little TV.  I listened to my friends and sisters. 

When I was at NCYC, we were asked to choose a leaf.  On that leaf, we were asked to write down one thing we would do when we returned home to honor Jesus.  I wrote "Listen Better."  I'm not a very good listener, sorry. I try to be, but I usually only catch bits, and then I wish I could rewind the whole conversation, because I wanted to catch it all, but only pieces stick in my head.  This is a problem when I'm writing news-type stories, or trying to remember details like names and dates. But I'm trying hard to listen. 

When I came out of the gym from the awards banquet, the kids had gone ahead of me and were happily arguing over who got the front seat, and if someone was a noob for locking the others out of the van, and all the other joys of being siblings.  I looked out over the snow, and had that sensation I used to love as a child.  I looked at that hill in the crisp air, and the snow looked like piles of millions of sparkling diamonds that God had poured out there just for me to see.  It's like he wants me to look at it and see, "this is what you are worth to me." 

I was listening today, and I heard, "You are Loved."   

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NCYC Traders, My Pockets, and the Angel Gabriel

This is a picture of Isaac at the National Catholic Youth Conference recently in Indianapolis.  He is having a conversation with the girl seated behind us, trading items that they have brought or collected during this pilgrimage that we were on.  I was totally moved by this interaction, (and thousands like it over the weekend, one of which included me wearing a necklace of cheese!)  It sounds something like this: 

Isaac:  Wanna trade?
Girl:  Sure.  (Opens her arms and indicates the treasures hanging from her neck and pinned to her shirt.)
Girl:  What would you like? 
Isaac:  What would YOU like?  (Proudly displays the treasures he has amassed, including the cool cow hat that moos and lights up.) 
Girl:  What did you bring with you? 

At this point, Isaac shows her the red cloths we brought to represent the cloak of St. Martin.  He shared his cloak with a freezing beggar, then Christ appeared to him in that same cloak in a dream.  (The word "chapel" comes from the churches built to house the remains of St. Martin's Cloak.)  She agrees that would be a great trade for her white beaded necklace.  They trade, smile, and go on about their business of worshipping with the other 23,000 teens in attendence.

So then God puts this other transaction in my mind.  There's this girl, about the same age as the girl in the picture.  And this guy in a white suit comes up to her and says, (and I'm using the Swager-ized translation here) "Wanna trade?" And she says, "Sure, what would you like?" (Her arms open wide.) And he says, "I'd like you to carry the son of God into this world.  I'd like you to be his mother, and share in his pains and bear the shame of people talking about you being an unwed mother.  They may even stone you.  She probably thought about it for a minute...trying to comprehend this bargain.  "And in return, he will raise you with him to glory, and become the most perfect variety of love ever imagined, and all will call you blessed."  "Uh, you know I'm a virgin, right?"  She clarifies the deal.  "Yep, I know.  This kind of love is much more than sex can ever be."  "I am the handmaiden of the Lord...Let it be done as you say...Deal!"  I like to think they traded, smiled, and went their ways.  

So I kept seeing these two stories and how they were alike, and then this little guy at school blew me away.  I'll call him Mikey which is not his real name.  Mikey has a different way about him.  We were working very hard at the concept of  "Make a candy cane, give it a shoe, that's the way we make a 2."  It's pretty tough for Young fivers.  He was really struggling with where to put his free hand, and where to put his fingers on the pencil, and really, it was like watching a fish try to ride a bicycle.  This fella was not born with a pencil in his hand, but he really wants to make a 2.  So I reach into my waitress-type apron pockets that I wear at school, and I find a ring with an eyeball on it.  I slip the eyeball ring on Mikey's pointer finger of his free hand, and tell him that hand gets to watch what the other hand is doing.  (BIG kudos to Isaac's old OT!) Pretty soon, there it is...a candy cane...a shoe....by golly!  It sure looks like a 2 to me!  Mikey and I take a second to rejoice!  Then, in his slow-talking, I'm-on-my-own-schedule sort of way, Mikey says,"Mrs. Swager, when God made you he put a lot of good things in your pockets."  I told him I was sure he had great things in his pockets, too, but he pointed out that he was wearing sweatpants that had no pockets, and the point was totally lost on him.  But not on me. 

I do have a lot of good things in my pockets.  And God put all of them in there.  I hope I can be like the girls in the stories above.  I hope if a man in a white suit visits me, I can open my arms (and my blessing-filled pockets)  and ask "What would you like?"  And I hope I have the courage to say, "Let it be done to me as you say." 

What's in your pockets?  What are you willing to trade?    

Monday, November 28, 2011

The waiting is the hardest part!

As I mentioned yesterday, waiting is one of the hardest parts of Advent.  Heck, if you know me at all, you probably know that waiting is one of the hardest parts of my existence.  I've never been good at it.  I've done it a lot, but I don't like it.  If I had back the minutes I've spent waiting for the bathroom alone, I'd probably recoup hours over the course of my lifetime.  But I can't.  So there you go. 

You might think I just ADORE Christmas so much that I can't even wait for it to get here, and that's true.  I love seeing people open the gifts I've selected for them.  That moment when they discover that Mom and Dad got them a Wii that are just priceless.  I have a warm place in my heart for the year that Harriett asked the Santa at the Mall for her very own jar of peanuts for Christmas.  There it was, Christmas morning, from Santa, her very own jar of Planters honey roast.  She couldn't have been happier with a whole bucket of gold!  She carried that jar around like it was her prized possession.  There's just something wonderful about being heard and having the desires of your heart fulfilled. 

That is the waiting that is hard for me lately.  Three years ago, I experienced God in a different way.  When I had my cardiac arrest, my body was laying on the floor of the salon.  I was being held in the arms of my Maker.  I felt like the most beloved child of the Most High Creator.  I've never been part of a love so complete and whole and perfect.  I love a lot of people, and I wish I could share with them even a tiny spark of this love that I was engulfed in.  The only word to describe it is love, and we've all but ruined that word.  People love their new car, or love a pair of jeans.  Not like this.  Those things don't exist compared to this real, deep perfection of love.  I was allowed to survive that cardiac arrest to try to share this love with you.  I think it would make God happy if I told people how amazing his love is, and that he loves you as much as me. 

But knowing what that Perfect Love feels like makes waiting to feel it again even harder. 

I had my taste and I ache for more.  Waiting is NOT an option!  So I look for ways to find little glimpses of love.  It's kind of like peeking at the presents, except without the guilt.  I go visit the Sisters because I've seen the light in their eyes that tells me they know about this love.  Their lives are like the star that guides me to the perfect light.  I watch my children sing praises in Mass, and I rejoice that they hold tightly to that piece of divinity that each child is born with. I am overcome with tears of joy remembering each of them being my baby (and being God's baby) and taking a turn as the dear child that I nestled close, like a young virgin did in a stable all those years ago.  Each one is as precious and dear to me as He was to her. 

And now, all grown up, he is precious and dear to us all.   

So we wait.  And we prepare.  And we watch for the signs and sneeked peeks of holy love. 

Blessings,         

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Advent of a New Season!


It's Advent!  That wonderful 4 week season of the church calendar when we anxiously await and prepare ourselves in anticipation of the coming of Christ.  Yes, it ends with the anniversary of his birth, but he doesn't exit the womb every year, just as we don't on our birthdays either.  (As a mother of seven, I am unbelievably glad of this little detail!  I'd be just popping out babies all the time!)  So what are we really waiting for? 

Well, in years past, I thought we were waiting for Christmas.  Wrong.  Then I thought we were waiting for Jesus' second coming...getting closer!  To say we are waiting wouldn't really do this journey justice.  When I have taken my turn at expecting a baby, I wasn't so much "waiting" as I was "preparing".  There are diapers to buy and exercises to do and prenatal vitamins to take.  There is a question of where this little bundle of Swager-y goodness is going to sleep...or if it will sleep.  What are we going to name this baby that doesn't rhyme with or is slang for a body part?  What nickname would Grandpa Swager call this kid?  (His grandkids include Buzz, Hack, Zack, Twenty, Der, Lyd, Lemon...you get the picture.)  There are all kind of important things to do to prepare for this new life that is soon to become completely intertwined with the life we've already been given.  And as we prepare, and the time gets closer, the more excited we become!  The more little signs we see of a new life stirring become greater reason for excitement and celebration!    

 I will say that waiting was much HARDER than the preparing, however, and so is that part of Advent. We'll talk more about waiting tomorrow (Hah!  Made you wait!)  The new life we prepare to receive isn't so much a new baby, but a new life in Christ.  Even very old Christians will experience the love of Christ brand new every year, if they prepare a new stable.  Refresh the straw in your manger in anticipation of this new life needing a place to find rest. Welcome in the little baby of faith, hope and mercy, and allow it to settle into your thoughts that you are not only loved, but BELOVED! 

I am going to prepare my heart for this refreshment of my spirit by blogging whatever God puts on my heart this Advent season. This is a very scary prospect, but it worked out okay during Lent last year, so we'll just trust what God has to say.  Pray for me that I'll have the courage to write the words I am given.  I pray that it blesses those of you who read it.    

Monday, October 31, 2011

Old School trick or treat

I love trick or treating as much as the next parent, but I'm kind of cranky today.  It seems kids have forgotten how to knock on doors and yell trick or treat.  Or even say anything, for that matter.  I open the door, and they just shake a bag in my direction and give me the "come on, hurry up, I've got more houses to rob" look on their faces.  And forget about a thank you.  Not that I give treats to get a thank you, but I especially love and appreciate the parents who insist their child say it, or stand at the door for what must seem like an eternity to the kid until they say it.  You are teaching your child to appreciate that someone did you a kindness, and that is a huge life lesson. 

I read an article recently (in Catholic Digest, October edition)  about an old tradition from like Medieval England or something, when people used to celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day with all kinds of excitement.  To enjoy the annual celebration of unity with their family members who had already passed from this earth was cause for a huge feast, and all kinds of Medieval merry-making.  Fancy cakes were made, and I am sure there was music.  (How can you properly celebrate ANYTHING without it?) 

Anyways, the tradition was that in the midst of this merry-making, the poor of the area would go door to door asking for "soul cakes".  From the article I gather that this would be some sort of bread or cookie that people would make to celebrate this occasion. Sounds a little like "trick-or-treat", right?  But wait, there's more!  The poor people would NOT just go door to door demanding their ration of "soul cakes".  They would ask if they could offer a prayer for the family (and one could assume, the deceased members of that family that they were thinking of) in EXCHANGE for the soul cake.  If the person behind the door said yes, the person requesting the soul cake would offer a prayer and receive their thanks in the form of this bread or cookie. 

I was picturing this while reading the article.  Knock knock on the door.  "Who's there?"  May I offer a prayer for your loved one in return for a soul cake?"  Silence on my end.  I am up to my ears in soul cakes, since I love to bake for fun occasions.  "Sure, yes. We have plenty!" I would say.  Then as this dear soul drops to his knees on my doorstep and talks to the God we both hold dear in our hearts, and asks for mercy, not for himself or HIS needs (even though they may be many) but for the peace of the souls of MY beloved people, I realize the value of what he has given.  He has asked for peace for Vic, my father-in-law.  He has asked our Creator to allow Kathryn (my mother-in-law) to be in paradise with her son, Little Vic, her husband, Vic, and the Lord Jesus, whom she loved more than anyone. There is no amount of soul cakes that can equal the gift this man has given to my family.  I can see myself packing a whole bag of soul cakes, and maybe slipping a little ham in there, an apple or two, a juice box (if they existed), maybe a toothbrush, some soap...(Those of you who know me...well, you know how this works.)  Then off he goes to bless the next home with his prayer, while I go for the tissues.   

I love this story.  I told this story to Sylvia and Simon and told them that this year we would start a new tradition.  Ask God to bless each home as you walk away from the door (right after the THANK YOU!)  You don't have to say it out loud, or drop to your knees, but just a quick, "Please Bless Them."  No one even has to know you are doing it.  YOU will know that you gave them something way WAY better than a full-size candy bar. 
 
As you go through your kids' bag of "soul cakes" say a little prayer for the families who gave these gifts to your children.  You will be blessing your neighborhood more than you know! 

Happy All Saints Day and Happy All Souls Day, and may God bless the members of YOUR family who have already died, that they might be with him in paradise forever more.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Friday Night with Smoochy

About 9 years ago I gave birth to a 9 lb 11 oz cherub with cheeks so chubby he could barely open his eyes.  He instantly became known as "Smoochy".  The funny thing is, several people who didn't really know each other called him that, without knowing anyone else called him that, which was beyond odd.  Smoochy.  We didn't name him that, you'll be glad to know, we decided Simon was the right name for this guy.  Named for Simon the Zealot.  I had a feeling he might be zealous.  He is.  Good call. 

So Friday night, Isaac (Smoochy's big brother) had his first varsity football game, and I had a chest cold, so I stayed home.  Smoochy stayed with me.  We decided we'd make cookies for the Bishop, since I was going to be at a meeting he was coming to on Sunday.  Yes, I'm aware that I have a rather strange life, filled with Smoochies and bishop cookies, and zealots.  It's a blessing, really. 

It was the first time we'd spent just the two of us in quite a while.  It was bliss! We ate pomegranates and left-over Chinese food.  We listened to the radio, played with the dog, spilled flour, made cookies, ate cookie dough.  Laughed.  Talked.  Caught up on life.  It's amazing how much a 4th grader knows.  Even when his teachers think he's not listening, he is.  My sweet son was born with an amazing sense of justice, and is ready to stand up for those who aren't able (or willing) to speak for themselves. (Even if he has to "snap a Z" to get my attention.) 

I learned some things that were good to know.  Samantha is still his best friend. He loves, LOVES I say, loves playing basketball.  He loves science, and thinks Mr. Colby is pretty cool.  And he loves his mother.  He also reminded me how important it is to make cookies together some times. Even if I wasn't going to see the bishop, I just love to bake with my kids.  Some of my best memories with my kids are making cookies with them.  Like that one time we put cocoa powder in the chocolate chip recipe to see what would happen, and turned the mixer on too high and ended up covered in chocolate dust.  That was awesome. I pray that CSI never has to swab my kitchen.  They'd be so confused!        

Eventually, we got in our pajamas and watched a little TV until everyone else got home.  We had that wonderful comfortable feeling like we were the only two on the inside of an inside joke. I kissed his little chubby cheeks goodnight, and as I did, I saw my baby Smoochy in his face.  I also saw another Smoochy that is starting to emerge.  A growing-up Smoochy that will lose that angelic singing voice, and get facial hair, and try to pick me up when he realizes he's taller than me.  (Why the heck do they ALL do that?) 

I'm not ready for that Smoochy yet, so I'm really thankful that I had this wonderful, blessed moment in time with the Simon of right now. 

Blessings!