Thursday, February 28, 2019

Forgotten God-Week 1

Not a Third Wheel

The last thing you ever wanted when dating was a “Third Wheel”; the extra guy or gal hanging out while you are on a date.  Recall the image of Shrek and Fiona on their Honeymoon and there is Donkey, popping his lips right between them (Shrek 2, DreamWorks, 2004).  In fact, just about every romantic comedy these days involve a scene with a third person making the situation awkward. Believe it or not, some if not most Christians, at one time or another equate the Holy Spirit as something akin to a Third Wheel.  This thought is not born out of disrespect for the Holy Spirit, rather a misunderstanding of it.
What causes us to misunderstand the nature of the Holy Spirit?  Well, for me it was as simple as tangibility. I can cast a mental image of God, for many God looks like an old man with a long white beard.  Jesus was even more tangible, He was human. Whether you visualize Him as a European white male with a beard or a Middle Eastern man; He is conceivable.  But what can we ascribe to the Holy Spirit? A spirit is by its very nature intangible; if it has form, it is always changing. A spirit does not have a physical embodiment in the same sense as the other two aspects of God’s nature. The Holy Spirit is felt rather than seen, it is heard introspectively rather than audibly.  When in tune with the Holy Spirit you know its there, but you cannot describe how you know.
As we mature as Christians, we begin to grasp a better understanding of the nature of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus promised us the companionship and counsel of the Holy Spirit. He refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Advocate” whom He will send to us (John 16:7).  Jesus declares that we need the Holy Spirit as our guide because: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12). If God were to truly reveal Himself all at once, we could not bear it; we would simply crumble.  Jesus came to save us all; the Holy Spirit is what guides us to Him and along the path He has set for us.
Psychologists will equate the Holy Spirit to a conscience, which we equate to a moral compass of sorts.  Not to be confused with Jiminy Cricket, the Holy Spirit is so much more. It is the source of power that lives within us; yes, it is the “Spirit of Truth” (John 16:13), but it exceeds any description we can put on it.  The Spirit is how we carry on when we are too weak to do so, it is how we look toward a better day even when we cannot see it, it is a driving source of our faith, hope, and love.
The Holy Spirit is not a Third Wheel, it is not just our conscience nagging at us (nope no crickets here), nor is easily described or explained.  It cannot be fully defined in human terms, but it is undeniably a whole and complete aspect of the Blessed Trinity, the Godhead Three in One.
Lord God I pray for an open heart, a receptive mind, and strong body that is mature enough to hear, feel, and listen to the Holy Spirit within me.  Thank you for giving me this part of you to be forever with me as my guide, my light, and my strength. Lead me, Lord, for I am nothing without you.

~Written by Christian Love

Monday, February 18, 2019

Happy Where You Are--Week 4--Retirement


 “Retirement is for the birds & I'll just work til I drop” would best sum up my long held attitude toward how to spend my senior years...That is until recently, as I've moved into my mid 60's and am finding I'm not quite as spry as I used to be. Lately I have started to think more seriously about how I might spend my time, and invest my resources to remain productive, healthy, & content over this coming life season. Fortunately I still enjoy good health, and I do love my current job as AC3's music director, but also realize at some point in the future the time will come to turn the music leadership reins over to the next generation. So what will I do then? Will I be out of the game and watching from the sidelines, or do I have a choice to stay active and involved?

 I've never liked our prevailing modern retirement model where one leaves the work force behind to live a life of recreation & relaxation. Certainly, I will look forward to spending more time hiking, cycling, gardening, & playing music gigs, but those activities alone won't be enough to avoid becoming restless & bored. I believe I'll need a bigger, more compelling reason to get out of bed every morning. My greatest fear in growing old is to not have a significant life assignment to keep me motivated & moving. I've seen what can happen when a man loses his purpose for living. This happened to my grandfather & dad late in their lives when both, retired, widowed, & without significant other interests, quickly descended into bad health & dementia. 

 So do I have any hope of avoiding the same, sad ending? I can't say for sure, but certainly want to do everything possible to stay healthy and sharp. For guidance on this I have, of course, looked to the Bible for some instruction, but It has very little to say about retirement in general and doesn't address our current day retirement as leisure model at all. It does, however, have a lot to say about work regardless of our age. First, we are told that work is a gift from God. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it” (Genesis 2:15) Throughout the Bible we are encouraged and instructed to be productive and work as we are able, and are reminded that we ultimately work for God. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

 So continuing to work will be a big part of my plan as I move into this season of life...but what kind of work? Hopefully, it will be something that utilizes my talents, spiritual gifts & experience. Maybe it will require some retooling on my part and a willingness to try something new and different.

 As for the timing, I'll leave that to the Lord. Right now my music assignment at AC3 continues as we mentor & train our younger team members. First and foremost I'll continue to seek the Lord's guidance and will and will trust that He will direct me into useful service. For inspiration I aways come back to one of my favorite verses, Proverbs 3:6. “In all thy ways acknowlege Him and He will direct thy paths”. That'll be my go-to plan as I start to chart a course into my retirement years. 

Jeff Swanson February 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Happy Where You Are-Week 3-Parenting

The Bumps and Bruises

BANG, CLANG, CRASH! The yelling ensues…no this is not a description of an accident scene…this is the sound of two teenage sisters doing the dishes after dinner.  This scene plays out almost every evening, usually escalating to the point of Mom or Dad intervening, also loudly to be heard over the noise. I would like to say this is a thing of the past, I would like to report we have mastered the art of peace and tranquility in our home, I would love to say we have this parenting thing solidly under control; but it would be a lie.  Truth is I am not the perfect parent, nor is my wife, in fact we are more in tune with the phrases “that will leave a mark” and “they will be in counseling for that someday”.

So, what am I, a self-confessed imperfect parent, doing writing a blog about parenting? Well for one, we could not find anyone who was a perfect parent who would write one.  We have more books on how to raise our children than any other self-help topic, there are TV programs and documentaries on how to teach children, magazines that offer confusing instruction, websites devoted to the subject, and yes there is no shortage of well-meaning advice and opinion from people in our lives.  Interestingly enough most of these sources are conflicted and do not agree with each other. Truth is, there is only one perfect parent and He has given us a great handbook to use, not just in parenting, but in our own life as well.

Proverbs 22:6 tells us “Start children off on the way he (or she) should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (NIV).  Oh, how true this statement is. How many of us are living out pieces of our lives simply because that is how our parents raised us? How many times have we heard the words our parents said come out of our mouths towards our children (especially the ones we swore never to say when we became parents).  The fact is, it’s not just the good teachings that carry over to our kids, it’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. So how do we make our children better? How do we become better parents? It’s in the Book.

Step One: Forgive ourselves as we have been forgiven…we are broken and imperfect.  We are not perfect people and we carry the baggage of our past into everything we do; especially our own homes where the world cannot see.

Step Two: Accept our children are not perfect either:  Yes, infants a are cute and amazing gifts, but the Bible tells us that our flaws and brokenness start early.  “Even small children are known by their actions, so is their conduct really pure and upright?” (Proverbs 20:11).   While a young child is given much grace for their actions, they are not perfect angels.

Step Three: Be happy where you are succeeding…just don’t be too proud of it.  While the media and those around us are more than happy to turn a mirror on us reflecting our mistakes, it is so hard to get the positive feed back we need.  Celebrate the successes, even the small ones, sometimes they may be far between amidst a sea of chaos. Listen to the great Counselor we have been given as believers, the Holy Spirit will be your guide to know what actions good ones are, and which will leave the bumps and bruises.

Step Four: Seek and you shall find…God has a plan; it’s there for us to follow, but not always clear for us to see.  Look for the godly counsel of people you trust and respect to help you through the tough stuff. There is a lot to be said about the sage advice of a parent who has “been there”.  Keep in mind however, all advice comes from other broken people so we must pass it through the God filter.

Step Five: Trust in the Lord for strength and guidance for you and your children.  “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Psalm 18:28).  Our God lifts us up and makes us walk when we are weak and weary, He will make even our darkest paths light when we let Him and he will help to fix our mistakes.

Are there more steps…yes; do I know them all…no; have I mastered the ones I have listed?…Not in the least.  I am an imperfect person who has been blessed to have a beautiful, yet broken, wife and three beautiful, yet broken, children whom God has entrusted me to be the earthly guide that shows the way to Him.  I am damaged with my own brand of bumps and bruises that God is working on healing and using for his great purposes. I am not a perfect parent; I am way out of my league in writing this blog, but I feel God has a plan in this too.  I will try to make the good calls that guide my children to the best choices they can make, but accept that I may and will fail again. So, forgive me and even lift me up in prayer the next time I am seen carrying my 5-year-old out on my shoulder kicking and screaming.  Inside I am screaming and kicking too, because God’s not done with me…renovations are still underway.

-Written by Christian Love

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Happy Where You Are-Week 2-Married

I fell deeply and madly infatuated with Lee Braaten almost immediately upon meeting him. The way his eyes crinkle when he smiles made my heart skip a beat instantly. I knew this man was something special, and I had a bit of experience with lots of not so special. As we would learn, though, infatuation is not enough to sustain a relationship, let alone a near 25-year marriage.

The saving grace for our relationship is that neither one of us ever wanted to divorce at the same time. We were both young and stubborn, and as much as it pains me to admit it, A LOT of the turmoil was my creating. Interestingly, both Lee and I were raised in non-Christian homes with parents who divorced. In fact, my own biological parents were married to other people when I was conceived. Lee’s parents divorced after nearly two decades of marriage. Needless to say, neither one of us had any idea how to navigate a healthy marriage.

Lee himself had been married and divorced years before I met him. I had been involved in a complicated relationship right out of high school that had been what I will only describe as abusive and codependent. Consequently, I was raising my son Chase as a single mother when Lee and I met. We both can say with complete transparency that we began our journey together with a few suitcases full of baggage and no clue in which direction we were headed. It was like we didn’t have the compass to find our way to happiness, not to mention a reliable road map to be happy where we were but heck if we were not going to get married and give it a try!

And try we did! And yet, within our first five years of marriage we faced huge financial problems, dealt with child custody in regard to Chase with outrageous attorney fees and welcomed our son Caleb into our lives. In addition, Caleb was born with a condition in which he would need two kidney surgeries, and I lost my (foster) father to leukemia, which broke me in many, many ways. So, here we were: I was broken, depressed, and empty. Lee was stuck, frustrated, and tired. We were lost. Yet, God in His mercy met us where we were. We heard the Gospel, accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, were baptized, and started a new path with a life-changing trajectory.

And guess what, even with our change of direction, Lee and I had even more challenges, trials, and tests as new baby Christians. Our life was full of strife and pain and loss. Lee lost a job but then took a job that required him living in Wenatchee during the work week, we faced a potential foreclosure, and I experienced my most painful season of losing babies to both miscarriage and stillbirth. And that is where we clung to Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Memorizing scripture sustained us as the word of God does. He is the bread of life and we rested in Him. Lee usually did this far better than me, but I am a quick study and followed his lead as he followed the leading of God in our lives. He was steady and patient as Jesus is with his disciples. Lee would encourage me to find comfort in God, despite our circumstances.

Being happy or content in marriage is no easy task. It takes a great deal of dying to self and perseverance, patience, and a softening of one’s heart. And that is the thing of marriage; it is a constant journey. Being married is not just a legal document that entitles me to a portion of Lee’s 401K. For us, our marriage is a connection that honors God. My marriage is the catalyst that compels me to look at Lee the way God looks at him, with great joy, love, and hope. I am finding more and more every day that being my husband’s biggest and loudest cheerleader is far more fulfilling than constantly critiquing his choice of shoes, how he spends his money, or the status of his facial hair. I love him with a love that is beyond me. I love him through my loving Jesus. I am not equipped to do this on my own. It is only through the Christ that I find the strength to love Lee the way I was designed to love him. I honor my marriage with the grace of Jesus. Do I mess up? Every day! Do I confess, repent, and try again? Every day!

Being married to Lee Braaten has brought me immeasurable joy. Seeing him smile after well over two decades together still makes my heart skip a beat. Our life together is only sustained through our complete devotion to God. We approach our marriage with Paul’s words to the Colossians “and whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through him.” This approach allows us on most days to say that we are truly, madly, deeply happy where we are, married.