Thursday, August 28, 2014

Faith Like a Child--let it be so!

...“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven... Matthew 18:3
This week I had a very visceral encounter with the Lord, and while I don't blog very often...or nearly ever, I needed to get this one down.  
This one has a ton of detail and background, but this is probably more for me than you :-)

The last few months, so Rachelle tells me, I had been slowly losing my joy.  I hadn't noticed it, I was just living life in ministry and doing everything I could to be a better husband and dad, but slowly not experiencing joy in life with family or in ministry.The last two months have really been the worst, and came to a head late last week, on my 38th birthday.  That day, I was acting more like I was 8 than 38.  It was my birthday, Rachelle was out of town, and I was mad.  Mad that i didn't get any birthday cards, mad that I only got one gift, mad that I wasn't being built up on my birthday, it was just another day.  Then I got even more mad because I realized how I was acting so selfishly like a child.
Rachelle got home and sat me down that night to let me know how I had been down and asking where my joy had gone.  Kate had asked her, "What's wrong with dad?  He hasn't been himself." and when I heard that I finally realized how I was feeling.I was feeling unworthy and unwanted in my life.  
One other sweet image I had was after the skin is peeled off Eustace, he was a naked little boy that was tossed into the living waters and redressed by Aslan.  I remembered when I first came to the Lord that I was given another image, an image of me standing in front of a room at a Young Life camp sharing the Gospel with them.  I realized then that I'm that kid again and that 22 years later, I will be speaking for the first time at a YL camp.  If you're bringing kids that weekend, watch out.  The Lord has been working on this one for 22 years, and I'm going to spend my next few months trying to catch up with Him.

Sure, ministry is going ok here, but something in me was longing for more, wanting to be pursued and not feeling pursued by anyone or anything.  I went through the next hours in my deep introspective self, again trying my best to figure out how I can fix this and be happy again.

The next morning I woke up early and went off to our annual staff retreat.  This is a time away from the area with other staff which always sets a great tone for the semester, as we spend time seeking the Lord and doing the business of YL, with a bit of fun and play sprinkled in.  The first morning had lots of good stuff in it, I'm sure, but I had no desire to be there.  My heart was hard and I was just trying to get through the 60 hours so I could get back home and do what I thought was my 'real' work.
In the afternoon it was announced that we were going bowling.  I hate bowling.  I've always been surprised at how much bowling costs and never thought it worth the money (I'm probably cheap, I know) so off we went to another activity that I didn't really want to be at.
I was put on a team with some other YL staff and it was announced that there were prizes for the winning team.  In my heart, I knew we would lose, I had my heart nice and hard and told God how I was tired of coming in second and that's what I had expected to happen again here.  We started bowling and I quickly gave up the idea of being second as I quickly found myself bowling 5s and 2s, a horrid 27 through 4 frames.Then I bowled my 5th frame.  I bowled a strike and something clicked, I knew that if I started on this plank of wood and looked this exact way and bowled this way, that I could do pretty well.  I told the Lord that I was going to try to do well and that I was going to show him that I always end up losing.  I quickly found a groove and ended up being the high score on the top team.  We had won!
Then it was announced that we were not taking the score from 1 game but 2 games, and I was peeved.  My selfish little heart said, "I knew it" and we began a second game.  A couple of my teammates started poorly, but I was peeved now, so I was trying even harder.  I started my game with a turkey and people started to notice what I was doing.  I kept bowling and trying out of spite and kept doing pretty well, quickly noticing that the top score of the day was going to go to either me or the guy on lane 8.  I figured it would be him, but kept trying to show God how much I lose.
We got to the end, calculations were done and not only was I the top score but our team had won!  I continued to be a bit grumpy but smiled a little bit as I knew there was a gift coming.  After dinner the very nice prize was passed out, then there was a prize for the top score.  I had won two very nice gifts.  
We went from this into a time of worship that started with scripture:
 At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” Mark 1:9-11 (MSG)
The question was asked, "What if this is what God has to say about you?" That's when it hit me and I thought to myself, "Crap, this is for me"  As we spent time worshiping after this scripture I buried my face into my hands and saw something weird.  I saw clearly a dragon claw scratching at a scaly, orange belly, as if it were my claw and my scaly belly.  I also knew this was something I had read about in the past but couldn't place where it was from.
We went into another time of scripture:
“The One that God sent speaks God’s words. And don’t think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away—a lavish distribution of gifts. That is why whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever! And that is also why the person who avoids and distrusts the Son is in the dark and doesn’t see life. All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that.” John 3:34-36 (MSG)
I found myself not believing what I had just heard.  How could I not believe scripture?  I struggled as I did not feel like this was true for me.  A lavish distribution of gifts?  Has he not seen my time lately with everything?  I've had it hard lately with feeling bad and people attacking my work and desires and .... heck, my insurance guy didn't even send me a birthday card!
Then it came back to me, that image of the dragon.  I couldn't stand it so I took out my phone and Googled, "dragon peeling heart" and this was the first hit. A blog post recounting the story of Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace has turned rotten and is trying to peel off his skin so that he can get into the living waters that Aslan is near and stop the pain in his arm caused by a bracelet that's now too small.
Eustace tries 3 times then Aslan tells him that he must let him do it.  I spent the next worship session in visceral pain as I realized that was me.  I was trying and trying so hard to peel away and I needed Jesus to dig His claw in there and rip off the layers.  I implored the Lord to do that, with the image of the dragon on his back, exposed and fully submitted to Aslan and I begged for that!
I believe that the Lord met me and took a good amount of that skin off of me that day.  I have a little more pep in my step and bounce for the ounce.  I realize He isn't done, but I'm looking forward to a semester of laying on my back in submission to the Lord.

Friday, May 6, 2011 do you define it?

I've been struggling recently with failure.  It's a funny thing, failure.  When I step back and take a look at my life and what God is doing around me, I see His success and if I use my intellect, I can see and understand that I am free in Christ and made perfect in Him.

But I still struggle with feeling like a failure at times.  I don't blog as often as I would like, I don't journal enough (at all really), I don't read, run, exercise nearly enough, I don't eat right, I can't lose weight without some silly diet.  I'm not the husband and father that I desire to be.  These are the things that often fester like boils on my mind.

How do I shake these things?  As a follower of Christ, how do I live in freedom the way that Christ's sacrifice has allowed me to?  How do I shake this bleh feeling?

I'm not sure I know entirely how, but I THINK I do, but its often difficult to do.  I don't believe that it takes MORE doing this or more time in that, not necessarily more Bible reading or more journalling or more doing church stuff.

I believe that it's just more BEING with Christ.  Not as a checklist of things that will help me to feel better, but out of desire to BE WITH HIM, living in His promise that His yolk is easy, that He is always with me, that He has paid the price for my shortcomings.

For me, I believe it just started.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Getting Better

I've been doing some reading lately and am becoming more and more convinced that if I work less, I will be a better AD and leader in my area.

I've thought a lot about 2010 and the difficulties that made it a year to forget.  One thing that I think sums up was my going back to work after breaking my leg.  I was officially cleared to go back to work by the doctor after 6 weeks.  I took 4 days. 4 DAYS.  As I take a gander back, how rediculous was that?

Now, I don't say that to brag.  Quite the contrary.   What kind of fool thinks so highly of themselves that instead of recovering, they keep pushing and working even though its not in their (or their family's) best interest? This kind.  How foolish I was to think that things would not go on without me.  I look back at the things, the damage that I'm having to repair from that time of pushing and not resting, from thinking that I am the only one that could do it, but in reality it probably would have been better off without me.

A good friend told me recently that his goal in his ministry was to make it so it wouldn't matter if he didn't exist.  This was not said out of some evil plot to work less and still get paid, but out of a desire to have our fellow workers in the ministry so in love with Jesus and having so much desire to share His news with our HS friends, that a staff person wouldn't even be needed.  If this is my desire (which it is) how can I draw people closer to Christ, unless I am drawing myself closer to Christ through His rest and time with Him.

Thank you Lord for clarity.

Please help me and pray for me that this would not be a season but a lifestyle.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Root

I've been struggling for some time with the reason that I love food so much.  I don't like that I do, and I'm getting back to my heaviest point again.  I could simply blame it on the fact that I have not been able to run in a year, but don't think that I'd be much different if I was able to run.

Am I filling a void?  Am I finding my identity in the food? Should I be giving more of me to the Lord (pun intended)?  Am I addicted to food?

It frustrates me that as I've really been leaning into and praying about the issue, I'm simply getting fatter.  I find myself tempted by the commercials for this program and that program.  I've lost weight before (40 pounds a few years back) and they are almost all back with me now.

Lord, search my heart.  Find the root and pull the bugger out.  I'm ready for a change, I need to know what it is.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Conflicted on conflict

Growing up, and even through high school and college (and grad school) I was never a reader.  I've gone through spurts of reading and really enjoy taking the appropriate time to read.

I've come to realize that good books are dangerous for me.  When I say good books, I don't mean a good Harry Potter story or a nice romance novel, but books that are Biblical and practical for where I am in life (and for my friend Jeff, don't have a picture of the author on the cover).  Recently, I've gotten back into some reading, picking up some books by some of today's popular "theologians" to get their take on stuff and see what the buzz is about.

I'm also continuing my pursuit of a Master's from Fuller and am on my way to Colorado for a week's intensive class, which has required me to read a book with an interesting title by an author I had not heard of.  Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical and it sounded a little hokie to me, but I've quite enjoyed it.  It has some shortfalls I know, but if viewed within the correct context, offers some helpful tips.

Here comes the dangerous part.  Parts of the book talk about allowing God to work through emotion instead of stuffing it back and acting like it's not there. 

For about 7 months, I've had a conflict in my life.  I've done my best to seek wise counsel, pray and be patient through the process.  It's had multiple flare-ups through the time and I've 'known' that more are coming.  Today I received communication from the other person asking to put the incident behind and move forward.

I'm now conflicted by what seems wise advice to proceed with caution, and other wise advice to forgive and forget. 
Part of me would like to just move on, part of me would like to make sure there is accountability.
Part of me wants to trust that this isn't a ploy, part of me can't.
Part of me wants to just ignore it, but I know I can't do that.
All of me desires to be God-honoring in handling this situation.

Thus I am conflicted on conflict.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Do you like stuff? What stuff do you have that you could do without? Is your stuff well used? Organized? Burdensome?

This is a difficult thing to think about, as my society and the environment I grew up in placed a lot of value on stuff.  In my family I am known to be a bit of a gadgeteer, enjoying all things electronic.
As I've matured (especially in the last few years) I've learned how unimportant stuff is.  Moving a few times helped us realize how much stuff we had that we didn't use, and I'm sure that there is plenty of that stuff still sitting around.  Fortunately, I am blessed enough to be married to a non-stuff person, who organizes the stuff that doesn't get tossed.  She has taught me well.

I even alphabetized my books the other day!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Girls' Night IN!

I'm a bit late getting this one out, but going back in time a bit to New Year's Eve....the guys (Daddys and little boys) went out to dinner and a Suns' game so the Mommys and girls enjoyed some fun at home. We brought in Pei Wei for dinner, gave each other pedicures (with our new nail polishes from our stockings), watched the movie Ramona and Beezus while munching on popcorn, dipped bananas and marshmellows in chocolate fondue and sipped sparkling apple cider! Oh, and we can't forget the wild pillow fight that Kate and Makaila finished the night with.

Kate and Makaila were SO excited about the girls' night! They got in pjs before they even ate dinner and posted the title of the movie on a small portable white board. There were tons of giggles throughout the night. The biggest surprise, though, was the smallest little girl, Kara. It was as if she understood that this was a special night just for us girls. She snuggled in the blanket with the girls during the movie (only for a few short minutes at a time, but frequently), ate several bowls of popcorn, quite enjoyed the chocolate dipped bananas and showed off her dance moves while standing on a small piece of furniture! She did NOT want to go to bed, staying in great spirits well past her normal bedtime. I do believe that a girls' night should be a part of every Swank-Baker visit!