Monday, December 14, 2015

The Sixth Month

"...and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;for nothing will be impossible for God.”

These words are written about Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, in the story of the Annunciation. That's just a fancy word to mean "the announcement that Mary was going to give birth to the Savior of the World".  I like it.  

This part of the passage really jumped out at me when I heard it read aloud.  

I distinctly recall being in my sixth month.  It's some of the best part of pregnancy.  I was far enough along that I was done vomiting all day, and I had a little poof of belly.  I wasn't yet a planet with my own zip code, and I could still see my shoes from a standing position. I also had the benefit of being chock full of reproductive energy!  I was knocking out projects and getting things done.  I had a nest to feather, and it wasn't going to feather itself!  

So when I heard this passage, I was thinking of it in another context.  

I was thinking about the "sixth month" of life.  It is that time of life when you are most productive, and joyfully going about the business of making the world a better, more comfortable, more loving place.  It REALLY IS the good part!  

Elizabeth was thought to be barren.  Some friends and I hate that word.  It brings an image of the guy in rags dragging himself through the desert begging for water as the scorching sun bleaches the life out of everything. Below are some  definitions of "barren".        

  1. 1.  (Of a woman) unable to have children.  Synonyms:Infertile, sterile, childless.

  1. 2.  empty of meaning or value.  Synonyms:  pointless, worthless, profitless, valueless, unrewarding, purposeless, useless, aimless, hollow, etc....

It is crucial that we ALL agree that only the first definition applied to Elizabeth, and that one was only temporary. Only the first one is meant to describe a person.  

Sometimes, the second one has been used to describe me.  

I've been called each of these at one point or another, either with actual words, or by the actions of others.  I have been encouraged to feel useless and a waste of effort.  I have been defined by others as unnecessary, and not worth the flesh I was made of.  I have had someone tell me, "No court in the land would ever convict me of killing you, you are so ridiculous."  

I believed it.  I lived a very barren life inside myself for a very long time. I believed all the horrible lies I was told about myself, but not now. I am in the "sixth month" of my life.

I don't know when it happened exactly, that I started to see myself differently, but it was solidified when I was held in the arms of my Creator when my heart stopped.  There was nothing to get in the way of His Love.  No kids to take care of, no house to clean, no heart beat, no breathing.  

Just Me and LOVE.  

Perfect, eternal, beyond words and description.  I saw nothing, and experienced Pure Love.  God loves me like a newborn baby.  It's appropriate that He came to Earth that way.  He was Mary's perfect little boy.  Joseph would have looked at him with hopes and dreams and perfect Daddy love, even if this child wasn't the Savior of the World. It's how God sees us.  It's not that He doesn't know what mean things we are capable of, it's that He knows the Love we are capable of, and that we are made for.  

So here I am.  

The sickness and discomfort of my first trimester is done (I hope).  Now I'm on to being productive, helpful, fruitful.  With God's help, I will spread kindness and goodness that will last beyond my years.  I will give my strength and energy to share the love that God made me for.  

It will indeed be the sixth month for THIS woman who was once called all kinds of "barren". 

...For NOTHING will be impossible for God!       


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Do You Love Me Enough?

I was listening to NPR and this fella was telling the story of his sister being in hospice.  He told of how he sat in her room, holding his beloved sister's hand, telling her how much he loved her. As he proclaimed his love for his dying sister, she asked him, "Do you love me enough to trade places with me?"

That stopped me in my tracks and made the rest of the story a blur. He felt very awkward about his answer, so he made a joke about her having to be married to his wife, but what a truly deep question.

"Do you love me enough to trade places with me?"

I remember when my granddaughter Evelyn was born.  She had a difficult time breathing at first, and she required some special care.  Her father (my son, Jordan) is a professional tuba player.  His lung capacity is beyond that of normal humans, yet his baby girl struggled to fully inflate her lungs.  His desire to take her place was palpable.  It was also beautiful.  It's what real love looks like.

"Do you love me enough to trade places with me?"

I think of my own sweet kids, and the times when they had stitches or fevers, or the chicken pox.  I would have gladly taken on that discomfort to ease their pain. I think of poor Luke, when I was in labor all those times.  I'm sure he would have taken my pain, if it was in his power to do so. (Well, once, anyway.)    

At so many points in my life, without saying these exact words, I have had this conversation with Jesus.  

When the baby we created out of love died inside my body, the devastation was crushing my very soul. I may have asked him,"Do you love me enough to trade places with me?"

When I was lost in my brokenness, and couldn't find a friend.  When I couldn't feel loved enough and couldn't feel whole enough, I may have asked him, "Do you love me enough to trade places with me?"

Too stubborn to change, and insisting on doing things my way instead of his, I have broken his heart and his promises too many times to count. Yet, I STILL have the audacity to ask him, "Do you love me enough to trade places with me?"

Nearly 2,000 years ago, he knew me already.  (He's God.  He can do that.) He knew what I would ask, and he said, "Yes, Amy.  As a matter of fact, I do."  Then he took flesh and suffered loneliness and frustration and sadness.  He mourned and felt his soul crushing as his friends turned away and the ones he came to save rejected him.  He took to the cross and died, Because He loves me enough to trade places with me.

It could have ended there, but it didn't. Now, He asks the question.

"Do I love Him enough to trade places with him?"

Look to the manger and answer that one.

Look to the cross and answer it again.

Now look to the Resurrection.

"Do you love me enough to trade places with me?"

 He does.  He did.  He has.  He always will.



Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Martyr Making

Some would say that their purpose was to promote fear.  Lots of people are afraid, and living in fear.  Luke 12:4 tells us to look at it differently. 

I can't live my life like that.  Each moment is too precious.  Besides, Luke 12:25 says 

There is no terrorist group, no enemy that can steal the love of Christ from me.  I can lay it down,but no power on Earth, above or below it can take it from me.  I will not fear, but I will be vigilant. I need to be aware that my life can be required of me at any time.  Luke 12:39 tells us:  

 "Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Having survived my cardiac arrest, I am acutely aware of the FACT that this day could be my last, and that I need to hold Christ close.  I should honor Him in all I do. When I fail, I need to admit it, and reconcile myself to Him quickly.  I need to look at my life and decide if someone would have to ASK me if I'm a Christian, or if they would just KNOW.   

There are two good things that have come from these terrible actions.  

1. There have been hundreds of new Christian martyrs created.  Because they would not deny Christ in this life, they can now be joined to Him in his death and resurrection.  We Catholic types believe this to mean that they are now one with God through Christ, and can intercede on our behalf.  Which brings us to number 2. 

2.  Many people are asking God to intercede.  They're talking to God.  They're thinking about God.  They're considering God.  I believe others are asking themselves the same questions I am pondering.  Would I swear an oath to save my life? An oath I don't believe?  Would I willingly walk over to the Christian side of the room knowing I would die a martyr's death? I hope I never find out, but I have great respect and admiration for those Syrian and Kenyan (and plenty of other) brothers and sisters in Christ who did just that.  

I choose Christ.  He chose me first. He loves me enough that He died for me, and I give my life to Him every day.  Leaving this life would only be loss to those who would miss me.  For me, it is gaining Heaven, and unity with my beloved Savior. 

I choose Love over hate every single time.     


Monday, November 9, 2015



Empathy is different than sympathy.  Sympathy is when you feel bad for someone because you have felt the pain they are going through, and you have some level of pity for that person.  Empathy is understanding how they may feel, even if you've never experienced the same thing.  Empathy is a wonderful gift, and it can take a million different forms.

I have seen parents using empathy with their Kindergarten students.  I have seen them take off their child's coat and hang it up. They empty the child's backpack for them and tie their shoes or help them take off their boots and change into their shoes. They don't want their child to need or lack for anything, so they do it all for them.  I've seen parents physically carry their children as they're leaving school, because they love them and want good things for them.

I couldn't agree more.  I also couldn't disagree more.

Don't get me wrong, I love those kids, and I want every good thing for them, too.  But that's just the point.  I want it FOR THEM!  I want them to get to feel the pride and confidence that comes from knowing how to zip your own coat.  I want them to be the kid the other kids ask for help because they DO know how to open their own snack. I want them to believe they are strong and capable, and a valued member of our classroom, because they ARE an important member of their class. I want them to know they are capable of amazing things.  I want them to believe that the only reason they don't know how to do things is because they haven't mastered them yet, and not that those things are too hard, or they aren't smart (or strong) enough. I understand their struggle.  I also understand the good that can come from it. I treasure the moment when a child figures out that they can string together the sounds that letters make, and it creates a WORD! It is the monumental occasion in which Daddy's baby girl or Mama's little man has become.............A READER!!!

Just like Mom and Dad, our kids become stronger because they have struggled.  They have taken the time to practice and fail and make mistakes, and get better and better at things.  When we do everything for kids we tell them that we don't believe they can do them.  We may be telling them that we don't have time to teach them, or we can't wait while they try. Sometimes this is true.  As a mother of 7, I can tell you that there are times when I just need to tie the dad-gum shoes for you, or you can work on it in the car on the way to church.

However, we might accidentally be telling them that they are not worth our time.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I understand, and I hope they never feel that way.



Saturday, November 7, 2015

Thank you, Grandma Gibson.

Every Sunday we drive past Grandma Gibson's house on the way home from church.  You can't miss it, really. It looks like a used car lot with so many vehicles parked up in the lawn.  You just know that all the aunts, uncles and cousins are in there, enjoying some tasty kind of dinner. They're probably playing cards, or telling stories, cheering for their favorite football team, or just enjoying each other's company.  I don't know that I've ever met "Grandma Gibson" in person, but she has given me and our entire community a beautiful gift. She gave us her family, but first, she filled them with her love.

It seems like everyone is either related to Grandma Gibson or knows the myriad of wonderful people who are. Her family is made of Gibsons and Eyres and Bordens who keep the community looking nice, take care of sick people, and are easily recognizable by that classic Gibson smile. They drive buses and keep kids safe and the school looking good.  They are just genuinely nice people.  I believe she must have made them that way. This is the way she looked at them.  You can feel the love.

Grandma Gibson was surely the glue that held the family together, and with her passing, I'm afraid I might have to take a different route home.  It makes me sad to think the cars might not be there.  I hope they choose to still get together.  I hope they keep her so close to their hearts that they look for her smile and her love in each other. I hope they find that little spark of her in each other, and honor her by continuing to show her love and spunk to the one who never met her.  I know they will continue to be the loving people she has encouraged them to be.  They are truly a gift.  

Thank you, Grandma Gibson, for being the sweet little lady they all came to see. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of Sunday dinners... and Family.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

8 minutes

I need Jesus.

This is a pretty obvious statement.  Those of you who know me, know this to be true.  My life gets busy and crazy and I get soooooo distracted. Life is kinda busy right now.

So, here's what's up.

Jordan will deploy to Afghanistan this week.  He'll be gone for 3 months.  A mother worries.  I also know how hard this is on Misty and the kids, so I'm concerned for them.  I love them, and they're all the way in New York, so I can't just drive over and pick up the kids for the weekend, or have Misty drop them off for a few hours so she can get a break.  Spencer is in transition between active duty and National Guard.  He and Melanie are growing my grandson, and moving to Texas. Very exciting, and on my mind.  I hope so many good things for them.  Isaac is working and going to school.  He lives at my house, yet I rarely see him awake and without a screen in the room.  I miss him.  I want wonderful things for him.  I have no idea what he thinks about.  Lydia is a senior.  Very soon she will be a legal adult.  Have I taught her all she needs to know?  Have I equipped her for a life beyond my home?  (Needing Jesus just a little more at this thought.)  Harriett will be taking her driving test this week, since she just turned 16.  Dear Lord, another child driving.  More prayers.  Simon is getting so grown.  Am I giving him enough attention?  Does he have all he needs from me?  What about Sylvia? She's not such a little girl any more.  We need to go shopping.  She needs some longer pants for her very long legs. I feel like Luke lives in another continent sometimes, as we divide and conquer our life together.  I need to write some of the stories in my mind.  I need to prepare for my class.  I need to sleep.  I      Neeed     Jeeeeeeessssuuuuuuussssssss!!!!

So, I did what every good Catholic does.  I went to see Jesus, and spent some quality time with Him.  It's called Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and it is LITERALLY being in the same room as Jesus in his body and blood, soul and divinity.  I needed this time to regroup and renew.  I needed my Holy Hour of Jesus time.  I signed in and walked into the chapel.

There He was.


I did a mental version of what I call a "verbal vomit", except it was supposed to be a prayer.  I couldn't shut up.  I wanted to listen, but I just couldn't shut up!  So I let it out.  Then I smiled at Him.
Then I got up to leave.

As I signed out, I noticed that I had been there for 8 minutes. Eight. Minutes.

Shortest Holy Hour EVER!  I still need Jesus.  LOTS more Jesus.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why Isn't it Just A Song?

It happens every time a football game starts.  Or a basketball game.  Hockey game.  Any competition, really.  Everyone is excited for the fun to begin, and the music starts.  I feel my eyes well up.  I hope people aren't watching me, but at this point in my life, I don't really care.

They're playing our National Anthem.

Now, maybe at this point you're thinking, "Awww.  She really loves America. Isn't that sweet that she's patriotic?" I do enjoy lots of the freedoms afforded me here, but that's not what tugs at my heart. It starts, and I look at that flag, and the thoughts in my head go something like this:

"Oh say can you see?  Yes.  I can see.  I see stars and stripes.  I see the red stripes that remind me of the blood and the limbs lots of young men and women have sacrificed to protect people they love, and people they don't even know.  People like that jerk three rows down who won't even remove his cap to honor the memory of someone's kid that died so he could have the right to say whatever stupid thing comes to his mind.  People like the old guys who served in wars long before these kids on this field were even born, and remember their buddies whose bodies were too destroyed to make the trip home from places like Korea and VietNam.

I see the flag that hung in the room when my own sons pledged to uphold and defend this country of ours with their lives, and I thank GOD with every cell of my being that the ultimate price has not been required of them.  I thank God that Spencer and Jordan and Nick and Jake, Arlea and Adam, and so many others have returned home safely, after travelling again and again to far off lands full of people who wish them harm because of that FLAG and what it stands for.  

I think of my own son, Jordan, playing in the band for troop returns, and how he would play this very song as they unloaded the coffins of those young men and women killed in the line of duty.  I think of Mrs. Little, and Mrs. Polasek, and how devastated they must have been when they received the  news that their sons were gone. I pray for those families.

"Oh say, does that star-spangled Banner yet wave?" Yes.  It does, over the land of the free.  We are free, and it comes at a terrible cost.  As I listen to the song (unable to sing, because I'm way too choked up) I look at the athletes gathered for this sporting event.  These young ladies are getting ready to play volleyball.  How many of them will serve, or have sons and daughters who serve?  What about these fellas on the football field.  This one wants to be a Marine.  I've seen how they defend their quarterback.  I know they understand a team, and know they would protect their battle buddies the same way. I pray for their safety. I pray for safety of their minds, bodies, and souls.

"...And the Home of the Brave."  It may just be two wordy questions posed by Francis Scott Key, but it's so much more than just a song to me.  I am reminded of the many times that flag has been sought after a battle, and the desire of those warriors to return to their home, the home of the brave. I pray they all return to their homes and friends and families.

This is what true bravery looks like:

 "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13)


Thursday, September 17, 2015

To the Parents of the Class of 2028 (Kindergarten)

Dear parents of the new Kindergarten Class,

You did it!  You made it through the first week of your child being a real live school kid! Congratulations!  I know for some of you, this has been the most difficult week of your life (or darn close to it.)  For those of us who work closely with your child, this week has been a challenge of learning new names, and getting to know these awesome kids who will be the graduating class of 2028! (Crazy, right?)

I am not your child's classroom teacher, but I am one of his or her educators.  My title is Paraprofessional.  You can think of us as "accessory players" or "sidekicks" or "hero support".  We do everything from check out library books to assisting in the lunch room to applying bandages and looking for head lice.  We comfort them when they're afraid, and help them learn to solve problems and make good choices.  We also help them learn to read, write, and do math. It's a busy job and I love it. It gives me an inside perspective of what's happening at school. There are a few things I'd like you to know (from the inside track) that you might not realize.

 We KNOW that you have entrusted us with your greatest treasure!
Whether this particular child was one of many, long-awaited, or a total surprise, this is YOUR BABY!  We are fully aware that this child is a piece of you and owns your heart.  We completely understand that they are your reason for getting up in the morning, and the happy thought that allows you to sleep well at night.  We respect that.  We see the amazing-ness of this little person you get to love and raise and call your own.  They are priceless and irreplaceable.  We know this.

We truly want the best for every single child in our school. 
We know that not all children have the same gifts and abilities, but we firmly and completely believe in each child's ability to learn and grow. We believe they are capable and strong.  We expect good things from them. In fact, we insist on it. Kindness isn't on the MEAP test, but it's the most important thing we can teach.  Teachers always have the best interest of the student at heart. It might mean the little guy misses out on a fun activity (if Jr. needs to learn a better choice) but the big picture goal is worth the short term unhappiness. We need to challenge every student to do their best, because...

We LOVE watching your child succeed.
There will come a moment when your child brings a book to me and says, "Mrs. Swager look at me!  C-A-T spells CAT!  I can READ!" This is the reason I come to school! This is my "winning lotto numbers" moment!  When they ask to count the change in my pocket BECAUSE THEY CAN, it is a huge victory and cause for my personal celebration.  My SuperBowl is when the little guy who struggled to hold a pencil properly can now write whole sentences! I love my job because your kid is awesome!

Probably the most important thing you should know is this:      
We call them ours.  
I gave birth to 7 kids, but I have so many more than that.  Every child in that school is my responsibility while I'm there, and I take that very seriously. Trust that I will do everything in my power to help your child become the very best version of himself or herself.  As I said, these children are your treasure, however, they are OUR treasure as well. We care for them and protect them and laugh with them and learn with them for most of their day. We find them dry clothes if they pee their pants.  We hear about the new baby in the family, or grandpa dying.  They share their lives with us. We can't help but love them! They are dear to our hearts, and have very quickly become part of our school family.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your child's life, and thank you for letting him or her be part of mine.  Keep up the good work, and pace yourself.  Only 12 3/4 more years to go until graduation!


Mrs. Swager
Title I & General Ed Paraprofessional
Cafeteria Supervisor



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

God's Junk Drawer

"In a large household there are vessels not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for lofty and others for humble use." --2 Timothy 2:20

I live in a large household, and like all large households, I have a variety of vessels. I don't own any gold ones (except for the gold rim on my fancy holiday plates.) I have some silver, but just a few fancy serving pieces.  I have lots of wood, and some clay, glass and stoneware.  I have plenty of plastic. 

As I read this verse, I'm not thinking of any of those dishes.  The ones I'm thinking of are the ones that fill my kitchen junk drawer.  It's not really junk, it is an eclectic variety of implements intended for use in the preparation of food.
So, as I look inside the drawer at this menagerie of implements, I wonder what God is telling me about this verse.  

If God is looking into HIS kitchen junk drawer, which implement would I be?  

My friend Kathy would be his whisk!  She is gifted at stirring up the fire of faith in the teens in our parish.  She's fun and athletic, full of spunk and Spirit.  She's a fast mover. She takes that which is heavy and lightens it with air.  She's a whisk! 

Now Sue is the wooden spoon. She keeps everything going by performing a multitude of duties.  She can stir people into ushering at Mass, she scrapes up volunteers to read and distribute Communion.  Just like the wooden spoons I've heard stories about, she can also be useful with distributing justice.  

I believe Uncle Hugh might be the can-opener.  When questions of Church History come up, he opens up a can of... Well, he actually opens up books of information and shares that knowledge with those most in need of correction.  

I have friends who may be cherry-pitters.  Yep, I have one of those.  It's express purpose is to pop the pits out of cherries.  It's a very specific device with a very specific purpose. Some of us are like that.  Some of us just lay in the drawer waiting for our turn to be useful.  Some of us are spatulas, made to turn people over so they don't burn.  (Burn, get it?)  Some of us are measuring cups.  Some of us are rolling pins.  Some of us are egg separators.

I think Jesus might be like a cutting board.  

He stands between the utensils with sharp edges and the countertop, protecting His home and kitchen. He allows himself to be wounded to keep his home safe.  

I still don't know what I am.  I don't know precisely what my job is.  Am I a cheese grater? An egg timer? Salad tongs? Maybe I'm a bamboo skewer! I just don't know!  

It is my honor to be in the drawer.  It is my honor to be a vessel for God's use.  Whether I am for lofty use or for humble use doesn't matter to me.  I am here for his use.  

Please open the drawer and use me, Lord. 

Help me to be of use to you.        


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pedicures and Epic Failure

While working in the kitchen at Catholic Heart Work Camp, my new friend Marianna and I were discussing the benefits of a pedicure.  On the one hand, we are here to serve the needy of Springfield, Illinois.  On the other hand, she's been working like this for 3 weeks, and has 3 more weeks to go in this summer stint as a part of the CHWC staff. We decide then and there, that if time allows, we will go get this elusive slice of Heaven, known as the Mani-Pedi.  

On Thursday, the time arrives, so Marianna, Courtney and I meet at the nail salon. This is only the third time I've had a professional pedicure, and as this young man massages the soles of my feet and calves with sugar scrub, I wonder why I don't do this more often.  He scrubs away the dead skin and trims the nails on my toes.  He removes a bit of callus, and discovers that my feet are really ticklish. John, my nail technician, is a young Asian man with a 4 month old son. At the moment, he and his co-workers look like Jesus to me.  He is washing my feet.  They are giving rest and comfort to those of us who will give rest and comfort. The significance of this is at the front of my mind, and I silently pray for him and his family. 

And he is very SKILLED at comforting my feet!  

I have been soaked and scrubbed and lotioned and oiled.  I have been given a base coat and a cuticle push, a coat of the purple polish I chose, and then a top coat.  My legs and feet feel spectacularly refreshed. John puts my toes into the foam toe spreaders and we walk out to the manicure area, and I sit on a bar stool awaiting the next pampering.  It is time to work on my hands.

During my time at camp, I have become known as the "High Five Lady".  I have exchanged high fives with so many students, I can't even count them.  Actually, there are 260 of them, but I've high fived so many times that the skin on my hands is actually split and cracked. I love the enthusiasm of these teens, but come on, boys!  You don't have to "wind-up" before you smack the old lady's hands!  I love camp, and being a part of it comes at a cost.  I am in dire need of hand help.  The cure is called a Paraffin Dip.  

My hands are oiled and anointed with lotion and dipped in hot paraffin wax that warms, relaxes, and renews the muscles of my poor beaten hands.  After a time, my nails are polished and shined and look fabulous. John adds a coat of glitter and sends me to the drying table. I'm waiting for my friends and my nails to be ready when I notice a problem.  I have bumped my big toe against something and botched the paint job. 

OH GREAT!  I wrecked it!  This is SO typical of me!  I finally get to do something nice and I WRECK IT!  I had this great thing going, and I BOTCHED IT!  Grrrr!  I am furious with myself, and frankly, I'm disappointed.  I wanted to be beautiful!  I wanted to look good!  Every time I look at this toe, I will see and be reminded that this was a failure!  The pedicure was a failure.  

I am a failure. 

I have looked at that toenail every day for the last month, and I now realize how wrong I have been.

I am still a bit defective.  But I was wrong to think that it was the polish that made our feet beautiful.    Long before any of us, or even the Lord was born, Isaiah 52:7 said, 

"How beautiful upon the mountains*
are the feet of the one bringing good news,
Announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”
That's EXACTLY why we're in town!  Our feet were beautiful before we even got there.  John's work on my feet was not in vain.  I was mistaken to believe that one little flaw negates the goodness of the rest of the experience. A centimeter of missing purple doesn't undo all the good of the massage, or the sugar scrub or the paraffin.  It doesn't undo time spent with new friends, or the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ with 260 slap-happy campers and the people of Springfield Illinois. When I looked at my missing polish, I was thinking of what WASN'T, instead of all that WAS, and that is a mistake. 
WhenI focus on what didn't happen, or what didn't work out, or what it LOOKS LIKE, I completely miss the point!  Our whole lives are a series of events that we can choose to see the missing or find the blessings. My heart disease is like that. I can weep over having been dead for a few minutes, and how my heart doesn't work right, or I can thank God for the time spent in His loving embrace. My heart still mourns for the baby I lost, but I thank God for the knowledge that I have an intercessor in Heaven, and that my child is loved and cared for until we are together again. 
I am so very thankful for Marianna and Courtney for sharing this experience with me.  Had I not been accompanied by these beautiful servants of God, (and their beautiful feet) I may have missed out on this valuable lesson.  You amazing ladies have reminded me to use my beautiful feet for the glory of God.  


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Retail Therapy

I've never been a very girly girl.  When I was a kid, I spent most of my time with boys picking up frogs and snakes and rarely washing my hair, which flowed in lovely mats halfway down my back.  There was way too much coolness going on outside for met to notice that my church dress was on backwards.  I did notice that I didn't quite fit in with the pretty girls, and that was okay with me.  (They didn't know how to bait their own hooks, anyway.) Now that I am a full grown woman with grandkids and a mortgage, I wash my hair much more.  I usually have my dress on right. (I think.) Yet I still don't feel I fit in with the pretty girls.   

Having been pregnant or nursing for over ten full years of my life, I have struggled with my body.  I have lost and gained well over 300 pounds, if you tally it all up, I have been at odds with my body for a long time, and my Sudden Cardiac Arrest brought on a full-blown body break up.  

We stopped speaking, this horrible lump of betraying, untrustworthy chunk of flesh and I.  It abandoned me in my hour of need, and I was angry!  It has taken  years to get back on speaking terms. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say I'm quite comfortable in the skin I'm in. Now I'm ready for RETAIL THERAPY, and I've found the perfect way to do it!  

Everyone who knows me, knows what it means to me when a business steps up and makes a difference.  Lord and Taylor is one of those retailers.  I realize there is not a Lord and Taylor in scenic Climax, Michigan.  (Actually, we're doing pretty well to have a Post Office and a hair salon.)
There isn't one within 100 miles.  There is one right at my fingertips.  On the Magic Interwebs I can go on there and see the really pretty stuff that the pretty girls are wearing in New York City (which I thought was one of the coolest places I've ever been.)  I can order it, and this weekend they'll make a donation to WomenHeart to help me and other WomenHeart Champions offer support to the others who have broken up with their bodies also.  

The information can be found at the end of this blog, and I hope you'll visit their store or website to get your "shop on!" I just can't help but spread the word and share the love when companies choose to support me and show me some love.  For me, it's very personal.  I hope you'll support Lord and Taylor, and shop this weekend!  

On May 2nd, Lord & Taylor is hosting a national Charity Day for women’s health. Customers can support organizations nationwide benefitting women’s health. Customers can specifically support WomenHeart in three ways:
1.     Starting today, visit, donate $5 to support WomenHeart, and in return get one 20% off storewide savings pass and two 30% off single item coupons, to use in any Lord & Taylor store on May 2, 2015.
2.     Shop at on May 2, and a percentage of net proceeds from purchases will benefit WomenHeart!
3.     If you are in the New York City area on May 2, visit the Lord & Taylor flagship store at 424 Fifth Ave., New York, NY, purchase a $5 savings pass, and receive the greatest discounts of the season on your Lord & Taylor purchases that day! Proceeds from the $5 savings passes sold at the Lord & Taylor flagship store on May 2 benefit WomenHeart! 

Learn more by visiting Shop at Lord & Taylor for that perfect Mother’s Day gift while supporting WomenHeart!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dear Mrs. Little...

Lance Corporal Jason Little gave his life for his country in January of 2006, just as my own son was considering his post-high school choices and leaning heavily towards a military career. This letter has been 9 1/2 years in the making, and it's about time I told her what she and her son have meant to me.

Dear Mrs. Little,

I have thought to write you so many times, and I never know exactly where to start.  Being from Climax, I am certain our paths have crossed many times, but I can't really say we know each other. We probably have a lot in common, and I have prayed for you and your family many times.  I am so very sorry for the loss of your dear son.

I have tried not to imagine the pain and grief your family has endured, but it follows me.  It has been my greatest fear, ever since my oldest son joined the Army in 2006. With Jason's death having been in January, Jordan's induction in June stirred up thoughts of him and your family from the very beginning. Six years later, Jordan's younger brother Spencer would swear the same oath.  I was so proud of my sons as they swore an oath to protect this country to the point of death, and I wondered if you felt that same pride when Jason pledged the same thing. Surely, you were as afraid as I was.  I prayed for you on those days.  I prayed for all of our sons, and all the sons and daughters who take that oath, hoping they understand that it means exactly what it says.

When my Jordan deployed, I thought of Jason.  I'm sure they were both excited for an adventure, and a chance to see the world outside of the village limits. Jordan went to Germany, and my mother heart was worried. I knew his wife would be with him, so it wouldn't be as scary as being in a combat zone, but it's still awfully far away.

When Spencer told me he was being deployed to Afghanistan, I got panicky.  I wondered how you handled the news when Jason told you he was going to Iraq.  Were you in the same mixed bag of feelings I was?  Were you excited that your son would have the chance to be brave and valiant, and see the world and work to make it a better, safer place?  Were you, like me, terrified for them to be in a place where people wanted to do them harm? What a roller coaster of emotion! I took to the practice of hugging random uniformed service people, since my own son was unavailable.  (They didn't mind too much, and I asked first.)  I swear I held my breath for months, treasuring each letter and message, fearing each one would be our last. I feared that you and I would one day be standing side by side, mourning our sons together in Fort Custer. I prayed to have strength. I prayed for YOU to have strength.  I prayed that God would hold you in his arms, and you would find comfort there.

I've prayed for you so many times. I prayed for you and Jason, and the birthdays you will celebrate and remember the day he was born, without him.  Every Christmas, I think of you, and send up a prayer that somehow Jason will be present with you, smiling down on you and your husband and his siblings.  I pray that you will have so many wonderful memories of him, that his absence will not overshadow them.  I pray for his sister and brother, as I watch Jordan and Spencer's siblings rally around their brothers when they come home for a visit.

What I really want you to know is that Jason is not forgotten.  You raised a son who was brave, and willing to do all it took to protect our way of life.  He gave the ultimate sacrifice, and he gave a piece of you with it.  Your son is not forgotten. Neither are you. I wish I could carry away a piece of your pain.  In my heart, I see him when I see men in uniform.  He is honored every time the National Anthem plays and caps are removed. He is not forgotten, and neither are the others.

I saw in this week's Climax Crescent that you and your daughter are running a marathon in Washington DC in Jason's memory. It is a fundraiser for the Semper Fi Fund, which offers aid to wounded service people of all branches of the service. I will make a donation to support you and Stephanie financially at this donation website , and please know that I support you in prayer... still.

It's hard to believe it's been almost ten years.  He is still in my thoughts, and so are you.  Thank you, bless you, and stay strong.

With love and admiration from one Military Mom to another,

Amy Swager


Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Red Boots

As I scrambled madly, up to my elbows in shoes, trying not to be late for whatever really important meeting I needed to be at next, I realized the truth.  My shoes, as well as my life, are a disorganized mess.

This blog, like my shoe closet (and my life) is a random conglomeration of the stuff I care about, the things I need, and the "shoes" that have been given to me, and I hold onto, hoping they will fit one day. My style could be called "eclectic" since my shoe closet contains an array of styles, from the black platform boots that make me at least 5 inches taller, to the slip on casual beach shoes that I wear when I want to relax, to the sparkly princess shoes that go with the blue cocktail dress that is still waiting for the right occasion to be worn. Some of my shoes are incomplete pairs.  There's probably a match to it in there, I just haven't needed it badly enough to search for it. These lonely fellows remind me of the things I will get to "some day".  Like learning to speak fluent Spanish, and knitting.  Both are on my list, and I'm not willing to throw them out.  They're just waiting their turn.

I have to admit, one of my favorite pairs of shoes are my red boots. They make me feel like I can give heart disease a kick in the pants and a run for it's money. I feel so empowered when I wear them. They remind me of my friend Stephanie, and how she survived a heart attack on Pike's Peak, waiting for hours for the helicopter to rescue her.  They make me think of Sue walking into the ER as her heart was stopping, announcing to the nurse "I think I'm having a heart attack."  They make me think of my sister doing CPR to save my life in a beauty salon, and I want to take away how scary that was. These boots make me stand tall and proud like Wonder Woman. They make me turn my fear and anger and uncertainty into strength and resolve and drive.

I wish I could give every woman living with heart disease a pair of these red boots.

They say that 1 in 4 women will die of heart disease.  When I'm wearing my red boots, I feel like I can stand up and say, "Not me." (Although, technically, I've been without a pulse, so you could say I've already died.  I didn't "stay dead", so it doesn't count.)  In my red boots, I feel like I can stand in front of my Mom and say, "You can't have her".  I can stand in front of my sisters and friends and say, "Not her either.  Move along"

If we all had our red boots on, we would stand together as an Army of  Red-Booted Warriors!  We could stand in front of every 4th woman and say, "No, Heart Disease. You can't have ANY of us."

It's a great goal, but for now, my WomenHeart sisters and I will do the next best thing.  We will educate everyone who will listen.  We will wear the boots for each other when one is having a "grippy socks in the hospital" kind of day.  We will seek out the sisters who are suffering alone and trying to pretend to their family like this isn't the scariest thing they've ever faced, and support them.  We will teach people how to save lives with CPR.

We will help others find their own pair of "red boots".  We will hold each other up, and try to help each other live long enough to make it all the way to the bottom of our lists, so I can say something in Spanish beyond "eat your beans" and someday knit a really ugly sweater.



Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Oscar Goes To...

Enjoying the Oscars with a LARGE Popcorn!
We're watching the Oscars, and thoroughly enjoying them, and will probably remember certain moments forever.  Or at least until the next award show...or tomorrow, whichever comes first.

For example, I treasured the performance of Lady Gaga singing selections from The Sound of Music.  Not just because she showcased a lovely singing voice that has been previously eclipsed by wearing a suit of meat, but because Harriett and I spent the performance cheering for Gaga to "keep it normal" and "keep the dress on!"  We were both delighted when she remained relatively normal throughout the entire performance.  Hats off to you, Gaga.

Then the REAL Julie Andrews came out!!  We love her!  Harriett was surprised to learn that she's 9 years older than Grandma!  Very Cool!

I got thinking about my own Oscars.  What would my life's story be called?  If I was giving out Oscars to the people who do the most important things in my life, The Oscars would go to:

Best Producers:  Pat and Dick Thompson (Get it, they "produced" me!)

Best Editor:  Luke Swager  (He keeps me from getting too far off the beaten path)

Best Soundtrack in a feature film: My Kids:  Jordan & Spencer Roberts  and Isaac Swager on Tuba, Lydia, Harriett, Simon and Sylvia Swager featured on a variety of vocal and background noise.

Best Screenwriter for my feature film: God (He writes ALL of my stories)

Best Set design:  Again, the Roberts/Swager kids for their constant re-design of my background (and foreground.)

Best Supporting Actress: The nominees are too numerous to mention.  If you are a woman and one of my dear friends, IT'S YOU!

Best Supporting Actor:  Again, hard to call:  If you're one of the fellas that make my life a better place, IT'S YOU!

Best Electrician: MAXIMO (My Pacemaker) and Dr. Liu (My pacemaker cardiologist)

Best Gaffer:  Joe Thompson.  Hands down.  Best. Gaffer. Ever.  (Good brother, too!)

I feel like Meryl Streep should have won something, as she's been such a lovely actress for a long time in lots of movies I've enjoyed.  However, compared to all of you, she can't hold a candle.  I've been so blessed by so many wonderful people in my life!

And the one you've all waited for:  Best Picture goes to my life story, which is called...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On our knees

Fat Tuesday was a booming success at the Swager household!  We ate paczkis, we went out to dinner, we polished off the Valentine's Day candy, and started our preparations for Lent.  We didn't have a parade, or throw beads, but we celebrated Mardi Gras in our own frozen, Michigander way.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, things went wrong.  The people in Haiti will spend the next three days weeping and mourning for the 16 people who died in a tragic Carnival float accident.  It would appear that the float hit a low power line.  As the sparks began to fly, people panicked and got trampled.  This Haitian Carnival Tragedy breaks my heart.  It brought a celebrating people to their knees.

Maybe that's what we needed today. Not the death of revelers, but the dropping to our knees.

Mardi Gras really is only important in that it precedes Ash Wednesday.  It's the last day before everything changes.

Everything is about to get stark and real.  We're about to take a good hard look at our choices and our lives, and the things that really matter to us. We'll strip away the things that distract us. We spend time in conversation and contemplation about our relationship with the one who knows us better than anyone else: Our very Creator.  Then, when we've spent time un-building the walls we've erected between us and the Lover of our Souls, we'll walk through the Passion and Crucifixion of our Lord and Savior.  We'll remember the pain he went through for us, and rejoice at his Resurrection.

We will mourn.  The time is fitting for it. But there will come a time to celebrate again.    

I will be posting Love letters to my Creator on my "Lent to Me" blog during Lent.  I hope following me will bless you.

And may God's comfort and Mercy be with those in Haiti, and everywhere that people are in mourning.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Poor Kitty

I can't imagine what she thought when her son brought me home.

She probably had that same feeling a mother has when her son chooses the kitten with a gooey eye that doesn't open all the way, missing parts of an ear and the tip of a tail, and breathes like a heavy smoker.  He picks it up, which is fairly easy, as the poor thing limps around with one leg shorter than the other three (an old wound never properly healed) and declares this bony ball of fur and sickness "the most beautiful, perfect kitty in the whole world!" I AM that kitty!

I was broken down, used up, devalued, starved, pitiful, and hopeless.  I"d been played with for a minute, then thrown out the window of the moving car.  I was worthless and pathetic.  And sad. I was just another stray in a vast sea of strays who are lost and looking for a home. I'm sure she could see it and feel it and sense it.  I will never be good enough for her son, We both know it.

When faced with the kitty, most Mom's are thinking, "Right.  I'll give this poor wretched thing two weeks, and if it doesn't die of this respiratory infection, I'm sure it's intestinal worms will work their magic and put the poor dear out of her misery." Then, because she loves her son and her son CLEARLY loves this kitty, she helps him nurse it back to health. She may be secretly hoping he loses interest in this poor wretched thing, but his love heals this desperate, broken soul.  His love feeds her and returns the shine to her eyes, and the softness to her fur.  His love softens Mom's heart, and soon Mom sees his beloved through the son's eyes.

Mothers-in-law have a certain reputation.  For a reason.  It is the mother's job to protect the son.  This child is the fruit of her womb!  His care and protection is no small feat!  This particular son is not like any other man on the face of the earth!  He is her beloved son!  It is his mother's job to protect him.  It is the mother's job to keep away the rabble and those women who would suck the Spirit right out of him until he's a shell of the man he was intended to be.  It is the Mother's job to make certain that his lady understands how special and wonderful he is.  He deserves to be loved and appreciated for all of the wonderful things that he IS, and adored for the way he loves so completely.

And in the case of Mother Mary, it is her job to see me, her son's beloved stray kitty (me), through Jesus's filter of love.  What an incredible job for a human woman.  Even one full of Grace.

So now I have the responsibilities of a daughter-in-law, where it comes to her. I will learn the traditions, the recipes, the history of his family through her.  I will ask her to share the stories of him as a child, and learn the special language that each family has to communicate with each other. I will get to know them because I love him.  She and I will share him lovingly.  We will mourn together remembering his crucifixion, and rejoice together on Easter remembering his Resurrection.  We will each hold a beautiful and perfect place in his heart.

We will love each other. His love makes me worthy, and his love makes her accepting of me. We will love each other for love of him.  I hope that all that I do gives proof to my loving intentions towards him.  I hope that my words and actions illustrate my affection and adoration.

I hope to live up to my Mother-in-Law's expectations.

 ***Any discussion of daughters-in-law must come with a disclaimer.  I have been one, and I have some.  I've walked this path from a variety of directions, and I know that I have been blessed by both of my Mothers-in-law, and both of my Daughters-in-law.***

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Best. Decision. Ever.

There are days when I'm a little jealous of others.

There are days when I look at the lives of my friends who are religious sisters or priests with envy.  I see how they have time in their lives to contemplate the depths of God's love or to sit for hours on end in Eucharistic Adoration, doing the hugely important work of spending time praying for every other person on the face of the Earth. I envy that a little. 

I see the pictures of amazing places my friends have been, and I feel a twang of envy.  There are jungles and mountains and cities all over this planet that I'd love to see with my own eyes.  It makes me just a bit jealous. It makes me question the choices I've made.       

Because I'm A MOM!!!!  I have Mom things to do.  

Twenty-seven years ago, my son was born. He had greenish-brown eyes and dark hair, and came out battleship gray. He smiled at me, then took a dump right on my stomach. I'd never loved a person so much in my whole life. Twenty-seven years ago a Mother was born.  Jordan has been a gift and a challenge.  He reminded me to check to see if soap is toxic before I wash his mouth out with it. I'm his Mom!  I'm the one he cried for, and clung to.  I fed him and clothed him and swaddled him, and did my very best to protect him.  I gave him the gift of siblings.  I came to know God through the lens of parenthood. In return, he's blessed the world with his artistic and musical talents.  He's blessed me with a daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.  He's given me a legacy and a lineage.  Best. Decision. Ever.

So I may not be available for hours of endless uninterrupted prayer, or travel to exotic places.  I praise God in each moment of being the Mom.  I adore the presence of Christ, and acknowledge it in each of my children, and see Him in their beautiful faces. I have seen the amazing sights of my children playing and singing and praising God.  I have felt the warmth of a cuddle on the couch during a snowstorm. I've been moved to tears by their smiles, and shared their tears.  I hold my children in my heart, and it has changed me, and created me into a new creation.

Happy Birthday, Jordan! You helped me find my purpose and calling.