Karen Swim

Writer, Marketer, Woman of Purpose

Joyful Flights and Soft Landings

For a time I lost my voice, not the physical one for that would have been less painful, but my writing voice. Fingers stilled, words no longer bubbled to the surface begging to flow onto the page. This was no ordinary writers block but a crisis tantamount to the loss of a vocal cord. It was an obstruction that would require more than the usual tricks of the trade.

Initially I welcomed the silence as one does when ordered to a day of voice rest. I needed the time to be still, to quiet the noise that not only surrounded me but had permeated my being. But the silence stretched on and my voice went from a tired croak to a soft whisper to nothing at all. While my voice was silent my world and head were filled with the haunting voices of others. No matter how hard I tried to push them down, they rose angrily to the surface like ugly ghosts clawing at me with skeletal fingers in the graveyard of disillusion. I ran from the page to escape their grip desperate to once again reach the welcoming light of day. I was afraid to venture back into the catacombs to find my voice so I stayed in the safety of daylight comfortably ensconced on a bench watching the words of others go by.

Then one day a floodgate of emotion arose like a tsunami sweeping away the locks and chains that held me captive. Its force propelled me into mid-air light with reckless abandon. In flight I did not open the parachute of perfection, not caring if I landed in an undignified heap on the rapidly approaching concrete. Broken bones, bruised ego and a hard landing would be far better than the prison of silence to which I had been confined.

Words tumbled out propelling me through my flight of fancy. Certain I would crash at the bottom, fear mixed with the heady excitement of freedom. I cascaded through raw emotions strung together into sentences, unpolished, uninhibited, toward my fate. Vulnerable, unequipped I stretched my fingers quickening my flight. Near the bottom, I squeezed my eyes preparing for the final fall, willing to accept a hard landing that would leave a permanent stain of failure that would seep into the grout and crevices of my legacy. But I did not go splat. Inches from the ground I was safely gathered in a net woven by caring souls who had witnessed my fall and cushioned by landing with their gentle words of encouragement.

Giddy with the thrill of adventure I bounced upon their gentle net before I climbed safely down. I looked up and shouted with my newly recovered voice, giving thanks for my freedom and for good friends who stood by when I was silent and cushioned me when I dared to once again take flight.

Special thanks to Joanna Paterson, Lillie Ammann, and Crieg Bryan for cushioning my landing.


August 16, 2011 Posted by | Personal Essay | 4 Comments

The Psalm of the Un-Mother

A baby was born. As I genuinely celebrated the wonderful joy of new life and family, I could not control the pang of heartbreak that momentarily shot through my soul. I listened as they extolled the addition of another to the family tree and the blessings of multiple generations, smiling as parents, grandparents, and great grandparents marveled at the expansive family tree. As their hearts swelled with pride at multiplying and filling the earth, I thought of my own meager field of one. As the other branches of my family tree spread wider and richer with fruit, my own branch was empty and forlorn like the old tree by the window disrobed for the winter season. Yet my joy for this precious baby’s entrance into the world was as real as my sadness that I would never be a parent.

I have learned to live with the duality. I do not spend days in constant mourning over my childless state but the grief sneaks up on me at times, grabs me by the heart and demands to be acknowledged. In the same way that an unexpected moment ushers in a fresh wave of mourning for those I’ve loved and lost, the child that never was is also a loss. The baby girl or baby boy that never formed in my womb is a part of my history, woven into the tapestry of my heart as securely as my mom and husband. I never birthed, held or nurtured this not born child but my love for what could have been is no less real.

In silent prayer I seek the comfort of my savior, curling up in His wide open arms transforming from wounded un-mother to child of grace. In His presence silent tears free my heart and allow me to give thanks for a heart that can love, mourn, celebrate and yes nurture. Children are a blessing but I know in truth that each of is solely responsible for the legacy we lead. With or without children how my life is remembered and the impact I make rests squarely on my shoulders. My heart fills with a fresh store of love and grace ready to spill upon my own field. While I am not a mother, I can love with a mother’s heart. I can comfort in the storms, issue words of encouragement and praise, teach valuable lessons and listen with a tender ear.

I turn my attention back to the present with an inward smile, thankful that though not a mother I have a Father who loves me unconditionally.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | Personal Essay | 9 Comments

To God Be the Glory

In recent days, there has been a great deal of negative press about “the church.” It breaks my heart that many will be turned away from seeking God by the very human, fallible actions of the body. Yet, I am not ignorant in our collective part in allowing “the church” to overshadow God. I do not have an issue with the size of a church or of a pastor’s bank account BUT I do take issue when anything takes the spotlight off the one who has provided it all.

Prosperity pimps are preaching a gospel of wealth and people are flocking in droves to get in on the wealth equation, but what about the wealth giver?

Deuteronomy 8:17-19 (New International Version) says:

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.

I am not against wealth but it troubles me that we have allowed the seduction of riches to cloud our vision about the word of God. We have elevated mere mortals to god-like status and have failed to test their words and actions against the only standard for our life – the word of God.

I have come to understand anew why many choose a vow of poverty. Without the trappings of cultural “success” the truth stands alone on the platform.

I speak as one who is daily “working out my own salvation,” painfully aware of the beam in my own eye but together we must do better.  We should all seek to live the words of John 3:30 (NIV) “He must become greater; I must become less.”


October 14, 2010 Posted by | Personal Essay | 1 Comment

Dappled Leaves of Joy

Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color and...
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“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”–Psalm 16:11

This morning I woke up to sunlight streaming through the windows. I had slept with the windows open and there was a gentle breeze that set the tone for a peaceful day. I laid for a moment enjoying the sound of the fountain outside and the pattern the sunlight made on the vibrant green leaves of the tree as the branches gently swayed in the morning breeze. I arose from the bed giving thanks and spent some time just looking through the window enjoying the serenity. It was not the first sunny morning I had seen , it was not even the first this week but  today I did not want to take for granted the beauty that had been served up to mankind. I was so thankful for peace – inside and outside. I recognized the incredible gift of being able to fully enjoy the small moment of a morning filled with sunshine. How many others had awakened this day to challenge or grief? How many were fighting to grasp peace in the midst of chaos thrust upon them by life. Having just come through a long season where my life resembled the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-2), I understood that not all days are this easy. So it is with a grateful heart that I truly give thanks for the respite from the storms of life, for relaxing by the still waters, for the sunlight that streams through my window and for the ability to say it is well with my soul, it is well.

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August 28, 2010 Posted by | Personal Essay | , , | 2 Comments

Beauty for Ashes

ash pile from other wood what was burned
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Beauty for Ashes has long been one of my favorite Crystal Lewis songs, the words haunting and speaking of a celebratory redemption following  a struggle. I adored Crystal who was 5 ft of boundless energy who seemed to reflect a never ending joy for Jesus.When the song first came out  I was in my 20s believing that I was adult and wise. I closed my eyes and sang the song but it would be two decades before I fully understood what it meant to have my Lord give beauty for ashes.

Kneeling in a pile of my own ashes feeling that life itself had burned down around me leaving me weak and battered the words came flooding back with a force that overwhelmed me. I raised my head to the sky and allowed the tears to come in gulping waves of hope. I read the words of Job aloud, sobbing with understanding and filling my heart with fragile hope that my part two was nigh. I would not be left alone to scratch the boils of my soul with shards of pottery. Though I wanted to simply lie down in my misery He said “live.”

“So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.”–Job 2:7-8 (NIV)

Beauty for ashes, strength for fear. No one but Christ could take that which had been burned to nothing but ash and resurrect it into even a semblance of beauty. The smoke of my disaster clouded my vision stinging my eyes and mouth but He gently picked up the ash in His hands and brought beauty from the ruins.

I had lost so much but standing there fear was replaced by strength. Not strength to fight but strength to simply stand and allow His hand to guide me away from the rubbish to the beauty that was just ahead.

I had to be torn down, broken and standing in the pile but now I know His power in ways I could not have imagined at age 20. I now know what I did not know in the ignorance of youth -He is capable of creating beauty from the ugliness we create but this beauty is for ashes. While He does not orchestrate or take joy in my suffering, when I hand Him my brokenness, my ashes, He trades it for beauty – a beauty that is unique because it requires me to give willingly the pile to Him. Just as He traded His blood for me, all He asks is that I surrender my ash to Him. And so at 46 I now finally understand words that now bring tears to my eyes for I have lived it:

He gives beauty for ashes

Strength for fear

Gladness for mourning

Peace for despair

Today will you hold on to your ashes or trade for His beauty?

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July 7, 2010 Posted by | Personal Essay | 4 Comments

How to be Bold in Business

1st Samuel 17:37
Image by ramoo76 via Flickr

I woke up this morning thinking of the often told story of David and Goliath. I felt energized and ready to slay the “giants” in my own life. Goliath was a giant. He towered over his enemies at nine feet tall and wore armor made of bronze. I can imagine that as he stood and challenged the Israelites that his voice boomed out across the land. By comparison the Israelites surely resembled a scrappy band of would be warriors.

I have often read this story with thoughts of the personal challenges in my life but today I am struck by the business application. There are times that I feel like a scrappy little underdog who doesn’t stand a chance against those who tower above me in professional stature. Can you relate?

David, was far from a giant, yet he never once questioned his place on the battlefield. He got excited about the rewards that would be given and confirmed three times what the victor would received. He volunteered to take down the giant because God had been faithful in the past, and David believed that God was with him. He said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (I Samuel 17:37)

He may have been a lowly shepherd boy but with God on his side he had past successes and he had not doubt that God did not care if it were a lion or a giant, it could be slain.

I admit to having my moments of doubt. When faced with bigger opportunities, or new challenges I wonder if I’m up to the challenge. Today, I am reminded that I don’t need to fear the giants and their fancy armor, for God has already shown me that He is with me. While I may fear a new “challenger” God does not. Today, I stand like David knowing that He who delivered me in the past can surely deliver me today.

So, I pick up my smooth stones and stand firmly knowing that I can boldly take my place and claim my reward!

What about you?

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April 19, 2010 Posted by | Personal Essay | , , , , | 3 Comments

Marriage is not a Public Sport

Bullock at the premiere for The Proposal in Ju...
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Yet another marriage scandal has gone public with the revelations about Jesse James and Sandra Bullock. I am heartbroken about the infidelity but more heartbroken that a very intimate incident is being trotted out for sport in the media. Infidelity is complicated and painful and hard enough in private, the spotlight only serves to amplify the pain.

When it comes to marriage, I believe there is no public opinion. Public figures and celebrities should have the right to at least have this intimate relationship protected from the scrutiny of the public eye. We have no right to vote, or cast judgment upon anyone else’s marriage.

Infidelity in a marriage is a horrible thing but not irreparable. Couples can overcome and have a stronger marriage when they are allowed to heal, work through the issues and rebuild trust. The last thing a couple needs in this circumstance are other people weighing in with opinions about whether or not they should reconcile.

Yes, we live in an age of disclosure but at some point we must draw boundaries. This seems a good place to start.

Would you want the public involved in your most intimate relationship?

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March 28, 2010 Posted by | Personal Essay | , , , | 2 Comments

True Love

Leaving church yesterday, I found myself behind an older couple. Both were sharply dressed and had an air of quiet elegance. She moved slowly but regally in her high heels and he walked carefully behind her with a hand lightly touching her back. We reached the door and he held it open for his wife and me. I did not hear the first part of their exchange, but as the door opened, I heard her words to him: “Every day is a holiday.” She turned to smile at him and spotted me grinning from ear to ear at the statement.

“How priceless is your unfailing love!” – Psalms 36:7 (NIV)

A couple who has clearly spent 50+ years together put it all into perspective. Love  does not require a commercial holiday to be celebrated. It is celebrated daily in the quiet moments of life. It is celebrated when we respect and honor our mates and endure in the face of challenges. It is celebrated when we worship together and honor the God who is love.

I walked to car remembering the twinkling in the woman’s eyes and though I did not have a valentine, I was joyous for being in the presence of true love.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Personal Essay | , | 2 Comments