Coffee-Shop Virtue Chat With Sarah Swafford
She doesn’t knit or sew. Her passion lies in emotional virtue.
A stay-at-home wife and mother of three little ones, Sarah Swafford loves her life in Atchison, Kan. Her husband, Andrew Swafford, is a theology professor at Benedictine College, and they thrive in the supportive community around them.
In addition to dishes, laundry, kissing boo-boos and other tasks fitting the everyday-mom-job description, Swafford has also watched her ministry, Emotional Virtue Ministries, grow over the past year.
She’s also a part of Jason and Crystalina Evert’s Chastity Project, a speaker for Franciscan University’s Steubenville Conferences and a presenter in Ascension Press’ Chosen confirmation study. On top of that, she’s in the process of writing a book and will be a guest on the Eternal Word Television Network this summer.
At the end of 2013, she chatted about the events of the last year.
I wanted to talk to you about all of the different things you’re doing and how you balance it with being a wife and mother. First, tell me more about the Chastity Project, started by Jason and Crystalina Evert.
Jason and Crystalina had been praying for a long time, and they knew that they wanted to start their own apostolate dedicated to chastity. They’ve been working with Christopher West and Christopher Stefanick, Matt Fradd and Dr. Philip Mango. They told me my message fits really well with the Chastity Project and asked me to be a part of it. It’s a place where you can go and get a ton of information, and what’s really beautiful about it is that it’s really cost-effective. The website (ChastityProject.com) is cutting-edge. I really like the format of: "I’m really struggling with this …" and there’s an article for that. People are hungry for truth and beauty. I’m really blessed to be a part of it; it’s been amazing to see [my message] be taken to the Chastity Project. It’s mind-blowing, humbling and beautiful.
That’s totally taking part in the New Evangelization, the new spreading of the Gospel.
People are noticing that. One girl told me that she was so glad she follows people like me on Twitter. You just see a lot of junk, a lot of uninspiring things, and then you have a quote on Facebook or Twitter that’s refreshing. So that’s what helps me: knowing that there are men and women out there who need that. That’s what’s beautiful and overwhelming to me, that I can put something out on my phone, and it’s blasted to thousands of people and that it actually helps people.
That’s so true. I follow people like you and Leah Darrow. That’s a constant reminder for me to keep myself centered on Christ, even in the media.
It’s nice to have it woven in with the other stuff. One thing that’s interesting with social media is: It gives you a good pulse of where the culture is at. It helps me too, to see where everyone’s at and what people are struggling with. But I’m so proud of the Chastity Project. It’s nice to see a team of people take their talents and help thousands of people with something that’s a hard topic. It’s not always easy to put it into words. I’m very thankful that people have a place to go to seek refuge [from detrimental cultural messages].
Tell me about your involvement with Steubenville Conferences.
This past summer, I was at two Steubenville conferences. I had never been before, but they kept telling me, "Sarah, you were made for it, and it was made for you." It was such an awesome experience! I loved it! They asked me to be a part of planning next summer’s conferences, so we got to go on retreat. We talked about the theme and the flow of the weekends and the talk themes. It was so inspiring to see all of these people in the Church using their gifts to make something like Steubenville Conferences [happen], serving over 48,000 next summer. I’ll be at Steubenville North-St. Paul and Steubenville on the Bayou.
You’ve also been shooting some videos for different companies, so please tell me more about that.
I shot videos for YDisciple by the Augustine Institute. It’s their youth-ministry outreach, and it was on true beauty for women. They’re trying to give something for youth ministry, to give some hot-topic things to talk about, and it’s been really awesome. I did videos for WomenMadeNew.com a year ago with Crystalina Evert, and it’s helping women with healing.
Just recently, I shot videos for Ascension Press for their confirmation-study program. The cinematography is unbelievable. They’re these short DVD lessons for confirmation prep, and there’s nothing like this out there. I shot a video called "Who Is Jesus?" on the downtown streets of Philadelphia. I also shot one on baptism in New Jersey on the beach. They will be available in January 2014. You can check out the sneak peaks on their website, ConfirmationStudy.com.
I feel really blessed to be a part of all of that. God calls, and you say, "Okay." It’s an exciting time. I feel like God is, again, using beauty and media and truth and bringing it all together. We’re competing with some pretty loud voices in the world, and if we don’t do it right, and if we don’t do it well, it’s going to be lost. With my ministry, the girls and guys just beg that you be real. They know when you’re not being authentic. That’s what’s powerful. It’s a matter of listening to where they’re at. I’m really sensitive to giving my message in a way that speaks to them and speaks to where they’re at, in venues that they’re used to, whether it’s social media or video or blogging or whatever it is that they respond to.
And you’re also writing a book, right?
Pray for me; it’s a work in progress. It’s one of those things where I feel like God wants me to do it, and I’m trying to let it come naturally. Every time I give a talk, there are a couple people who come up to me in the end and say, "Where were you when I was 16? I could have really used it." So I’m writing it in a way that anyone can pick it up — even if you’re 35, 55 — and get something out of it. We’re under such attack, especially as women. It’s really important to me that men and women understand how the other works, because then we have a choice whether to help each other or hurt each other.
One of the chapters that I’ve been working on is about "untangling the knotted necklace." Every woman has different things that knot up the necklace, and you have a choice: You can pull the necklace out of the jewelry box and toss it. Or you can pick it up and look at it and think, "This is too much work and throw it back in the box." Or the third option is: Take it out, pull it apart and try to figure out where all the knots are coming from. That’s how I see the emotional life. I want girls not only to realize their value and take the time to do that, but also to realize that they’re not alone in doing it. Because it is so much work to address, "What’s wrong with me? I’m such a mess inside. I don’t even know why." From figuring that out, you can strive to become the woman of your dreams.
So the book is centered around your message of emotional virtue?
Truthfully, it’s putting meat on the bones of my talks, and it’s so exciting. And in my talks there’s still so much more that I want to say. I know some girls and guys who want me to go deeper [in the message], so it’s a constant push and pull. I don’t want the book to be super long, but I know people are hungry [for this topic].
Right now, I’m praying through the chapter on breakups. Almost every email I get starts with a breakup story. I feel God calling me to write that chapter, but it’s really hard. And it’s so subjective to each person. I’m also writing a chapter for couples. I’m excited to address things in the book that I don’t normally talk about, and I think it would be helpful for men to read it, too.
You’ve also been asked to be a guest on EWTN?
Next summer I’ve been asked to do a miniseries on relationships. They also asked me to be on EWTN Live with Father Mitch Pacwa, which will be really fun. That’s in July, and I have two Steubenville conferences. So it will be a crazy and fun summer.
How do you balance all of this with being a wife and mother?
The best thing I could say is: prayer. Pray, pray, pray. I always joke that I don’t knit or crotchet, but I really love speaking about emotional virtue. I love helping men and women in any way that I can. I just love applying it to help them with their relationships, with their lives and with their relationships with Christ.
I have so much support. I can’t explain how amazing my husband is. He believes 100% in this message. Being a professor, he sees a lot of the struggles of students, and we see ourselves as a team. We both had our conversions at Benedictine College. How could we not give back? I give what I can, but my relationship with God is first, as a daughter of God. And I always keep the tank full in my marriage. And, with my children, I have that love overflow to them. And, with whatever’s left, I just try to reach out and give of my gifts. I believe in the New Evangelization, and I feel like God is asking me to do this to help. I couldn’t do it if I didn’t feel called. I just feel so blessed to be a wife and mother and to have the opportunity to love and help people through this amazing ministry.
Therese Aaker writes from
in Atchison, Kansas,
where she is a student.