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Mary, the Child and the Sword

As I sat in that courtroom — a cold, impersonal, austere space — I looked straight ahead at my adopted teen son with his feet in chains. He was dressed in that dreaded orange outfit.

  • J. Grant Swank, Jr.,
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As I sat in that courtroom — a cold, impersonal, austere space — I looked straight ahead at my adopted teen son with his feet in chains. He was dressed in that dreaded orange outfit. His otherwise handsome face was grimaced, especially as he shot shamed glances at his mother and me when entering through the side door. Guards were on either side of him.

He was being sentenced for a crime he did not commit. He would end up in a federal prison for several years. Two other youths framed him, naming him in order to let a third youth go free.

However, his mother and I both knew that Jay was on a course of self-destruction. He had run away from home several times, was unruly when he was in that surly mood, and regarded no other final authority than his own. Not good for making it through this life.

Nevertheless, as my striking multi-racial boy stood straight before the judge, I could not help but see — not that grown teen — but a little baby only two and a half months old. That was his age when we adopted him, gave him my name and hugged him to our hearts.

I saw in front of me, not a man before the law, but a little babe, a tiny tot, cuddly and warm, smelling of fresh powder and looking endearingly into my face. He was wrapped in that first blue blanket we bought him. He was smiling, cooing. How we delighted in showing him off to everyone we met!

Then I recalled visiting him in the state youth center after one of his earlier escapades. My wife and I dreaded that crudely put-together waiting room. We had to sign in, behave ourselves as if we were under some sort of investigation, treated somewhat humanly. If this was the "cordiality" we were accorded, what was it that the youth were enduring?

As Jay would come into the room to visit with us each Sunday afternoon, I saw there, not so much my misbehaving son, but a squirming baby boy in my arms, held tightly to my heart. Then I saw him as a toddler, then off to the waiting bus on his first day at school, then a pre-teen all dressed up for some event.

During one visit, a mother from the northern part of our state introduced herself to us. I could tell that she was distraught. She too was waiting to see her troubled teen son. Then it was that her boy came through the door, dragging his chained feet behind him.

In an instant that anguished mother jumped to her feet to embrace her own. Many tears flowed from the two of them. Not much in the way of words; but much in the language of the soul.

It was then that I could feel in her the wretched piercing of that sword, just as it had pierced my heart on too many occasions. There was a mother seeing, not so much her sixteen-year-old son, but her six-day-old newborn, her six-week-old baby, her six-month-old growing child.

It was when my son was in prison that I wrote him a letter in which I related to him that when a child goes wayward, the parents are cut through and through with the memories of childhood.

I then attempted to get him to understand the slippery, twisting sword that cuts right through every one of life's muscles. I am not sure if he got the message; but one of these days, if he has children of his own, he will get the message.

Nevertheless, I do know that our prayers were eventually rewarded by Jay, in prison, giving his life to Jesus. That, of course, made all the sorrowing worth it.

So it was that once again this Christmas I thought of still another parent. Her name was Mary. She had in her womb the Son of all sons — Jesus. In the jubilation of that pregnancy, however, there was a sword promised her. Luke tells of it in his account. It was a dagger that would cut close to her very nerve.

Mary. Mary! How you ever lived through all of that utter brokenness I will never fathom. It simply is beyond my imagination. When I compare the pain that my wife and I have endured, how then did you ever stand up beneath all that needless anguish inflicted upon your holy Offspring, Jesus?

He too wore the chains. He too was scoffed and derided, led before authorities for harsh scowls and snickers. He then was laced between heaven and earth for a crime that He never committed — but for crimes which WE have done. Yet through it all, you stayed there beneath His bleeding frame — patiently praying, wrestling with the shame.

Surely, as you looked from Calvary into the face of your grown Son, you too held in your arms the precious Bethlehem Baby. Cuddling Him. Kissing His cheeks. Spreading your kind fingers across His brow. Wanting to rub out those fears and injustices.

Yet when He was but a tiny One, as you held Him in your arms beneath night's Star, you knew in your heart of hearts that someday you would hold Him in your arms when He lay limp from the cross. Pieta. How could it be?

At this Christmas, I give praise to God for Mary, a parent who endured the sword, who stayed true to Her Son because of that sword and now receives the just honor given her.

May every parent who likewise endures the sword find such courage as came from Mary. Thank you God for providing the strength to endure to the very end, for her and for us.

  • J. Grant Swank, Jr.
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