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 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. 


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, 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.