Life-Changing Grace

Since 1985, every year on October 9, I remember a terrible-wonderful time of healing and abundant grace upon grace. The first time I told the story was in the December 1986 issue of Family Computing magazine. On October 9, 2010, “Life-changing Grace,” a LivingLutheran blog post remembered the 25th anniversary with gratitude. Below is a slightly edited version of that post. —Sue

It’s been 30 years. Thirty years since the time of amazing, undeserved and life-changing grace upon grace.

Paul, Sue & Annie Edison-Swift, November 1985.

The Edison-Swifts in 1985

On September 24, 1985, I took almost 5-year-old daughter Annie to the pediatrician to be checked for a possible ear infection. He discovered an abdominal mass.

After 36 surreal hours, we had a diagnosis: Stage 4 Neuroblastoma, a deadly childhood cancer. We had a prognosis: My husband, Paul, and I were told it was highly unlikely that Annie would live to see her sixth birthday.

Normal ceased, replaced by test upon test, procedure after procedure. I imagined handing out a list of things not to say after Annie’s death. The don’t-say list included, “God needed another angel in heaven,” and “It’s for the best.”

At this point in the story, even after 25 years of practice, I stumble. The details, etched in my memory, heart and face make the story too long. So, I will summarize: For 10 days there was no hope.

Then, there was a chance.

Annie's incision left a hip-to-hip, upside-down smiley face, badge of courage.

Annie’s incision was an upside-down smiley face badge of courage.

On October 9, 1985, a cantaloupe-sized tumor was surgically removed from Annie’s abdomen. Two days later the lab report confirmed the impossible good news: the tumor was Ganglioneuroma, the benign, “mature” form of Neuroblastoma. Annie did not have, or no longer had, cancer.

I worry about offering the condensed version, though. It’s easy, hurtful and wrong to confuse cure with faithfulness. When the bottom line is “cured,” the point — undeserved grace — can be missed.

Grace: Paul and I were emptied, but not empty. There was nothing we could do to change Annie’s diagnosis or prognosis. Instead of feeling alienated from God, which we had every right to be, when we were emptied of our own usual notions of control and autonomy, we found the grace-space was filled with God’s presence.

Grace: We were given the gift to recognize our assets and could skip the “Why, me?” “Why, Annie?” questions, which we had every right to ask. We lived five minutes from a world-class hospital. Paul worked across the sidewalk from Annie’s hospital room. One or both of us could always be with her. We had excellent health insurance benefits. We had amazing community surrounding us: congregation, friends, family and dear neighbors.

In a time before e-mail, when a typewriter, not a computer, was in most homes, Paul had programmed our address book in our computer. This made it possible to send a series of five letters to about 100 people, who passed the letters on to others and created an amazing support network.

Grace: Sighs and prayers. Most times Paul and I were using the “sighs too deep for words” prayer approach, so we were especially grateful for those people who could voice in prayer what we could not. “I will pray for Annie’s cure every time I nurse the baby,” one acquaintance wrote. “I pray that our faith will be stronger than our fear,” wrote a member of our congregation who was battling cancer.

Vocation. In a November 1985 letter to family and friends, I wrote: “This experience will surely shape our lives, influence our choices, give us direction. … We will learn from Annie how to put some of this experience behind us and some of it ahead of us. Instead of counting blessings, we will try to use them. And, we will always remember how the love of God, our love for each other and the love from all of you saved us.”

In November 1987, Paul accepted the invitation to join the newly formed ELCA churchwide staff and help launch the communication department, believing that God was offering him the chance to “give back.” This led me to begin my 23 years of service at the churchwide office in February 1988.

Home alone one afternoon, 9-year-old Annie read through the scrapbook of letters, documents and details of this time. That afternoon, when she realized how serious her illness had been, she understood that God had a claim on her life. “God must want me alive for a reason,” she told us. Annie was ordained as an ELCA pastor on September 18, 2010.

The Edison-Swifts and Edison-Albrights in 2014.

November 2014: Edison-Swift and Edison-Albright family.

Grace: The gift of gratitude. Each year around October 9, I remember the time of amazing, undeserved and life-changing grace upon grace, and I am reminded to be grateful.

Thanks be to God.

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Let Go and Let God

Let go and let God graphic
Graphic: Kathryn Brewer /The Lutheran

As a piece of popular theology, “Let go and let God” is trite and profound, hurtful and helpful.

It is hurtful when served with a side of “get over it already” or “you just have to trust.” The thinly veiled accompanying message might be “You are taking too long to grieve” or “If you faith was stronger you wouldn’t worry–consider the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:25-29).

It is trite when the perceived meaning reduces God to a Magic 8 Ball decision-maker (“It is certain”) or absolves personal responsibility (“God’s work, not mine”).

Mary Lynn Hendrickson, a director of faith formation in Stoughton, Wis., wrote: “For people who are in recovery–who have been to hell and back–and found sobriety through Twelve Step programs, ‘Let go and let God’ is a powerful statement. I embrace the phrase from the likes of them and offer it as a supportive reminder in return. All it means is we let God be God instead of ourselves.”

In We Know How This Ends: Living While Dying, the late Bruce H. Kramer wrote: “The arrogance of my own able-bodied existence allowed me to believe that I was in complete control of my fate.”

“Let go and let God” becomes profound when we realize “let go” is not about ceding control as if it were ours to hand over to God. Instead, we come to understand the emphasis is on “let God.” When illness or other loss empties our arrogant notions of self-sufficiency and control, we have the grace-space to experience the fullness of God.
Sue Edison-Swift

This contribution to the “Adages” cover story appears in the July 2015 issue of The Lutheran magazine (pages 16-21), and includes a congregational study guide (page 22). Adages considered by other writers include “Part of God’s plan,” “There but for God’s grace go I,” and “God must have needed another angel.” 

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A transformational act

On the last day of the NGO Forum on Women (Beijing, China, 1995), I witnessed a transformational act.

It had been an empowering, world expanding 10 days. I listened to women wanting to be both faithful and feminist, demanding full human rights, protesting globalization and its representative Ronald McDonald, celebrating the power of “Grandmothers for Peace,” selling and singing, cooking and eating, walking and talking. And, everyone was talking about the keynote speaker for the closing event: Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The weather did not cooperate. Rain. Icy cold rain. The venue, 30-some miles outside of Beijing, was nothing more than a building or two and a large field–now a large muddy field–populated with tents. Because of the weather, the closing event, including Clinton’s speech, had to be moved indoors to a small auditorium.

Glenndy and Betty Lee, my traveling companions, and I arrived on the steps outside the auditorium almost three hours before the doors would open, adding our umbrellas to the colorful sea. Drizzle alternated with downpour. Just when you thought you couldn’t get wetter, water running off a neighbor’s umbrella would run down your back.

Finally, something was happening. Were the doors opening? Wait…what? We watched as a line of young men with linked arms–military police–took their places along the full length of one step. I’m not sure who first figured out what it meant, but soon we all understood.These young men formed a human barricade. The women behind them would be able to enter the auditorium. The women in front of them, including Betty Lee, Glenndy and me, would not.

There was a stunned silence as this sank in. The young men, trying to stand stoically, were shaking. They were cold and wet and fearful of the sea of cold and wet women in front of them.

And that’s when I witnessed a transformational act. Without a word, an older woman (I think of her as a grandmother) placed her umbrella over one young man’s head. In seconds, each man had a personal valet holding an umbrella over his head.

Nothing was different–some would get in the auditorium and others would not–and nothing was the same. The tension was gone.

With a host of others, we made our way off the steps to find someplace dry and warm to celebrate the last day of the NGO Forum and the first day of the rest of our lives.

Sue Edison-Swift

P.S. The Internet is an amazing resource. Years after that wet day in Beijing, I found the text of Hilary’s speech ( “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference,” she said, “it is that human rights are women’s rights–and women’s rights are human rights. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely–and the right to be heard.”

P.P.S. For a short-and-sweet summary her experience at the NGO Forum on Women in Beijing, see Myrna Blyth’s remembrance in the September 2015 edition of the AARP Bulletin (

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2014 Christmas Greetings e-Edition

December 2014


We jumped on a Thanksgiving-weekend promotion to create this Christmas card, to double as a “We’ve Moved” announcement.  The e-edition you are reading now offers additional “hyphenated life” news.



While setting up the tripod for the family photo session, we captured this favorite picture of Walter and Sally.




Lest you think all was “Christmas-card perfect” that afternoon, here are some of the outtakes.

We're putting down roots in Watertown.In June, we bought a 15-year-old ranch house in Watertown, Wis. It has three bedrooms, two baths, two-car garage, home-office for Paul, dining room, eat-in kitchen, small laundry-room, living room with a fireplace, and an enormous basement. Before moving in, we had wood floors installed and replaced the tub in the master bath with a walk-in shower. It’s close enough to Bethesda for Sue to come home for lunch.


Check out photographer Annie in the mirror.


The bedroom where Walter sleeps has capacity to sleep four: a bunk bed with a trundle and the original Umma’s motorized saucer chair. When Sally graduates from the Pack n Play, she’ll take the trundle. The storage-chest steps for the bunk bed remain in boxes until the kiddles are old enough to be trusted on the top bunk.


Initially we made great progress unpacking the boxes in storage for three years. Once our household reach enhanced operational-level, however, our motivation plummeted. Anything takes precedence over further unpacking and organizing.

DSC_0918For the first time in years we put up a full-size Christmas tree. Here’s the story about buying our first Christmas tree.

Last week Sue learned of her acceptance in the 2015 Certificate in Theology and Ministry program from Princeton Theological Seminary.  There are six five-week online classes, meeting Thursday evenings: Old Testament, New Testament, Forgiveness and Reconciliation, Theology for Faith and Life, Pastoral Care, and Congregational Leadership.

Annie tells us that Walter led their Advent devotion before lunch today. He sang “This Little Light of Mine” and gave this prayer: Dear God, We know you have been there a long, long time in heaven. You shared with people a lot of things and you’ve been nice to them. Amen. This reminds us of almost-5-year-old Annie’s Song of Community, and prompts us to ask, Hello, hello, how are you doing?

More Favorite Pictures from 2014:

Christmas and New Year blessings,
Sue and Paul

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2014 Edison-Swift Christmas Card

2014 Xmas Card 01

Greetings from Paul and Sue, pictured here with Annie and Sean, Walter (3 in October), Sally (1 in August) and Hank-the-Dog. This card doubles as a “We’ve Moved” announcement. In June, we bought a house. Our new address:

617 Chadwick Dr, Watertown, WI 53094

In February, Sue became Bethesda’s Corp. Dir. of Faith Life Resources, which includes coordinating the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability ( Paul has a dedicated home office and continues working as a Web Analyst/Developer for the ELCA Churchwide Office in Chicago.

January: Paul had a successful cardiac ablation-no more afib! Celebrated the life and witness of Sue’s Aunt Sally. June: Flew to New York with Annie and Sally for Rachel (Paul’s niece) and Matt Lauster’s wedding. September: Attended the memorial service for friend Mim Woolbert. Annie and Sean arranged for a surprise “Sue and Paul birthday” breakfast with dear friends. October: Joined the Edison-Albrights for a holiday in Door County (cherries!). November: Annie receives 2014 Brave Preacher Award from The Beatitudes Society; so proud. Bought our first-ever snow blower; used it twice.

Love, Sue and Paul

P.S. For more pictures and stories see the e-edition.

Download (PDF, Unknown)

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AKA Chili

Tomato Soup with Hamburger, Sweet Potato and Beans
AKA Sue’s Chili

The soup Sue calls chili.

The soup Sue calls chili.

On Facebook, I announced my first soup – making in the new house: chili with diced sweet potato. When asked for the recipe I was undaunted even though I have never made any soup the same way twice.

What has me humbled as I start writing down the ingredients, however, is the realization the person recipe-asking is from Texas. Texas, where chili is king. Oh dear, I had better confess. This is a slightly sweet chili with beans. Maybe I should call it Tomato Soup with Hamburger, Sweet Potato and Beans.

  • 3 lbs ground beef, browned and drained
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, cubed
  • Although not in this batch, cubed celery root (celeriac) is a yummy addition

Simmered in

  • 3-4 cartons of rustic cut tomatoes in puree
  • ½ bottle ketchup (2 cups?) with an equal amount of water
  • small carton (1 cup) unsalted chicken stock
  • 1-2 TBS of Penzey’s Chili 3000 spice (I usually get more creative with the spice drawer—including cumin, cinnamon and chili powder—but last time I got too creative and didn’t love the result. Since the ingredients are high in sodium, I do not add additional salt.)

Add in

  • 2 large onions, minced fine in food processor
  • whole stalk of celery, diced fine
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  • Usually add sweet peppers (green, orange or red) but didn’t this time
  • 4-5 peeled cloves of garlic, smashed (so you can fish out again)
  • Two large cans of red kidney beans, rinsed
  • Two small cans of reduced sodium black beans, rinsed

Since my soup pot was full, I added the beans to the containers, not the pot. I’ve been known to do the same with the browned hamburger.

Sue Edison-Swift
August 24, 2014

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New home

We're putting down roots in Watertown.We’re home owners again! This afternoon we closed on a sweet 14-year-old ranch in Watertown with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a two-car garage and gigantic basement. In the three years we’ve rented in Johnson Creek, Walter and Sally have joined the family. It will be very good, indeed, to have more room.

By planting ourselves in a house we’re saying “We’re here for the duration. This is our community.” It’s a leap of faith.

We’ll have two residences for awhile as we have work done on our new house.

Looking forward to your visits!









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God is a he (lowercase)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” —John 3:16 NRSV

Why Not Capitalize the Godly He?*

Resist the urge to capitalize pronouns for God.  Illustration by Ann Rezny,  graphic designer at the Herron Studio.

Resist the urge to capitalize pronouns for God. Illustration by Ann Rezny, graphic designer at the Herron Studio.

1.       Because pronouns for God are not capitalized in the Bible or standard stylebooks like AP and the Chicago Manual. 

2.      Because pronouns for God are not as clear as names for God.

I once asked a group of about 50 colleagues, “When someone signs a letter, ‘In His Service,’ who are they talking about?” I was surprised to learn most thought this meant “In God’s Service,” not “In Christ’s Service.”

Using names for God instead of pronouns is especially important when writing something for reading aloud, for example, a devotion. Listeners cannot hear the capitalization or scan back to determine the subject of the sentence.

If it is necessary to capitalize gendered pronouns to make it clear the reference is God, rewrite.

3.      For some, capitalizing pronouns for God is a sign of piety and respect. For others, this seems as antiquated and stodgy as using thee and thou.

While readers are unlikely to notice lowercase pronouns for God, capitalized pronouns call attention to themselves. Thus, a capitalized He runs a greater risk of a negative reaction.

*  Many people, myself included, prefer not to limit God to gendered pronouns–he or she. Capitalizing pronouns for God emhasizes the limits of the English language and a too-small image of God. This post, however, is an appeal to the faithful for whom God is, and always will be, a he. It is a case for lowercase.

Sue Edison-Swift 

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Piggery in UgandaDaughter Annie, grandson Walter and granddaughter Sally stayed with us over the weekend. Sleeping on a cot in our bedroom, Walter (2.5 years) woke up sobbing at 2 a.m.

“The PIGGIES!” he wailed. “I’m scared of the piggies!”

“You’re having a nightmare,” I said, scooping him up. Baba turned on the battery-operated candle to illuminate the situation. “See, Walter? There are no piggies here.”

On our second trip to the rocking chair, Walter whispered, “I hate that piggy sound, Umma. Have you ever heard that sound?”

That’s when it dawned on me. Snoring sounds a lot like piggies.

Umma Sue, 3/17/2014

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For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.–Jeremiah 29:11

On Friday, I packed my office. It was my last day as Corporate Director of Marketing and Communications for Bethesda Lutheran Communities. On Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, I begin as Corporate Director of Faith Life Resources with the Bethesda Institute.

BiblesHymnalsAs I packed and labeled a box of Bibles, hymnals and other important books, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Imagine the luck to have a career of positions where Bibles and hymnals have a prominent place on the office bookcase.

This newly created position is “responsible for growing the spiritual life initiatives and resources on the Bethesda Institute, a division of Bethesda Lutheran Communities.” I’ll serve as the principle organizer for the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability (June 16-20 in Dallas); develop and direct faith-and-disability research initiatives; and direct the planning and implementation of all religious resources and periodicals.

I’ve served as Interim Vice President of Marketing and Communications since Laura Reilly resigned in November. While I enjoyed the interim, I quickly discerned the permanent position was not for me, and did not apply. I was especially happy, then, when David Morstad, Bethesda Institute’s executive director, approached me with this opportunity.

“You’ve been preparing your whole life for this,” Nancy J. Stelling, the first editor of Lutheran Woman Today (now Gather magazine), will say whenever someone needs an encouraging push to do something new. In many ways, my years with LWT, and all that came after, prepare me for this new first-day. Forward!

Sue Edison-Swift
  Feb. 9, 2014

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