Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

Have you ever told someone the story of yourself?  Mine might begin something like, "Once upon a time, there was a little red-headed girl named Kelsy. She loved learning and being with her family, but her favorite thing to do was help her grandma bake her famous cinnamon rolls." The story might tell of my favorite Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls that my grandma made for me, a pivotal high school class, choosing a college, becoming a pastor and so much more. In between the highs of my life, there would also be stories I might want to hide or pretend didn't exist, like mistakes made, challenges worked through and tears that were shed. 

I wonder if these are the things that someone else might tell about me. Would my story be unknown? Would it tell of my achievements and failures? Or would it tell a different story of God's justice being lived out and a God who loves us enough to lead us through the dark valleys to the place we can rest in His presence.  

The truth is that no matter what we or others say about our story, God’s story of us is filled with his unending love and grace bigger than any mistake or sin we make. The Holy Spirit is moving in and around us and we have the freedom to be called into his constant presence every single day.

Whatever your story includes, know that God's story of your life is beautiful, good and filled with hope. May we all live into that story. 

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." ~Matthew 7:1-5

It is a conversation where names like Hitler and Stalin quickly come to mind when we start talking about who is “in” and who is “out”. It is easy to go to the worst people we can think of and say that they are not in heaven while always assuming that we, and people like us, are in. I mean, we are good people; we go to church some times, we are familiar with some of the Bible stories. We have never killed anyone, or robbed a bank.

In working with Jr. and Sr. High students the conversation of “who is in and who is out” comes up quite regularly. Part of the reason is because they are still trying to figure out what is needed to be “saved”. What does it take? It has always been interesting to me how we are so concerned about who makes it to heaven and who doesn’t.

This summer after having this conversation for umpteenth time as I sat in my living room with a group of high schoolers, it occurred to me that we are asking the wrong question. So I asked a series of questions going down the rabbit whole of faith. I started with “What do you have to do to go to heaven?” The consensus was to have faith in Jesus Christ. My next question was, “Is there anyone you know that you would want to spend eternity in hell?” Again their was an consensus was “no” they didn’t know anyone they knew who they wanted to go to hell. Then I asked who they thought was in hell? The names of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, child molesters and serial killers were all on that list. When you die and you go to heaven, would you think less of God or be mad at God if you saw that Stalin or one of the people you named were in heaven? There was silence followed by a “maybe” and a few “I don’t know”s.

 As students thought about that question for minute I asked another question. “If heaven is really as great as we are told it is, why wouldn’t we want everyone, no matter how bad they were, to be a part of it? Why would we want to keep anyone from being in God’s presence? The questions that came back surprised me a little bit. They asked, “If everyone got in, what would be the point of living a good life?" And “Why would God want to be around a bunch of murders?”

We turned to Luke 15:11 and read the story of the Prodigal Son. We talked about how the younger son left and did what he wanted, and finally after years away, came back to his father’s house. Instead of casting his son out, the father threw a party, killed a fatted calf and gave him new clothes to wear. We talked about the how the father’s grace overflowed for the younger son, who humbly entered into his father’s house. On the other side of that is the older brother, the one who stood to inherit everything; the one who got to spend all those years in his father presence. He was angry that his father would just show grace and mercy to his younger brother, so he stood outside sulking, instead of celebrating with his father the return of his younger brother.

Despite this picture of the loving father welcoming back his lost son, the reality is that Jesus did talk about hell and what it would be like, and who would be there. However, when Jesus talks about hell and who will be there, it isn’t the prostitutes, tax collectors, homosexuals or even the adulterous women who Jesus says will go to hell; it is those who thought they were holy, those who pass judgment, those who would rather make a list of who is “in” and who is “out” than work to introduce those who don’t know Jesus to his love and grace.

As we continued our conversation it became very evident that it is fruitless to spend much time worrying about who is in and who is out, but rather, we should do everything we can to introduce people to God’s love and mercy. We should not want people to be “out”. We should want everyone “in” instead of passing judgment on someone who is different than us, alienating them for having different beliefs, throwing them out because what they have done or how they dress. We should be more concerned about showing them who God is in our lives; how God has changed us. How we, yet sinners like the rest of the world, try each day to live under God’s mercy and grace. We should show them how important Jesus is to us, not by passing judgment, but by living our lives in a way that glorifies Him and who welcomes others in the Kingdom of God.

When the day comes for us to join the Father in heaven, we shouldn’t be upset with who is there, we should be sad by those who aren’t, and do everything we can to make sure everyone we meet is invited.  



Update on Mildred Swicegood

Barbara and Mildred SwicegoodTwo weeks ago today, on July 27, my mom began receiving hospice care from Sun Valley Hospice in Arizona. She was moved from the Boswell Rehabilitation Center to the SPA at the Woodmark in Sun City on that same day.


My mom began to experience intense pain in her back about a month ago. She had several falls in her apartment and her care giver, Lucy Castillo, noticed she was more confused than ever.


Barbara and I took her to a Banner Health Care Clinic on July 10th where she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. She was sent home with antibiotics but her condition worsened so we took her to the emergency room at Boswell Hospital on July 15th. It was discovered she had a strep infection and an ecoli infection. The infection(s) had affected her kidneys, thus causing intense back pain. She also was experiencing a lot of nausea, and essentially has not eaten much since the third week in July.


She was admitted to on Boswell Hospital on July 15th and was discharged to the Boswell Rehab Center on July 23rd. Under the recommendation of the infectious diseases physician we agreed to have her discharged to the Boswell Rehab Center, where she needed to continue to receive drip iv’s to battle her infections. We were first told she would need them for two weeks. Barbara and I debated long and hard over this issue, but we felt that it would be akin to giving her a death sentence if she didn’t receive the antibiotics. (She can’t take many antibiotics in pill form because of numerous allergies.) We hoped that the antibiotics would attack the infection and at least give her a chance to get out of bed again and use her walker. She was completely bed-ridden by the time she left the hospital. 


After two days in the Boswell Rehab Center we noticed how miserable she was and was not improving. We wondered if it was time to consult with a hospice organization. I spoke to her wonderful primary care physician, Dr. Karen Frank, and the infectious diseases physician, Dr. Amardeep Sodhi. Dr. Frank pointed out that the medical community will keep treating someone until they have one foot in the grave. Dr. Sodhi outlined for me that mom would need FOUR WEEKS of antibiotics, not two as we had originally understood (One of our learnings in navigating health alternatives is that it has been devilishly difficult to determine what would be the best treatment for mom among the various and conflicting recommendations from the doctors.)


Both Dr. Frank and Dr. Sodhi agreed that it was appropriate to have a hospice evaluation. Over the weekend of July 25th and 26th mom was evaluated by Sun Valley Hospice. She was transferred from Boswell Rehab Center to the SPA at the Woodmark on July 27th and came under care of Sun Valley hospice the same day.


Over the past two weeks many in our family have been in Arizona to see mom and say goodbye: Amie and her family are here from The Netherlands; Jeremy and his family were here from North Carolina; my sister, Melissa, has spent two weeks with mom; Shannon, my sister’s daughter, flew in from Dallas on August 8th. I have seen mom most every day, as has Barb.


Mom grows weaker each day, but she has a strong heart and her vital signs continue to be good. All of us in one way or another have given her permission to stop fighting. 


There has been so much to give thanks for throughout this ordeal: the medical community and Medicare which enables mom to get appropriate treatment; our friend and mom’s physician, Karen Frank, who has been unfailingly wise and responsive; the Woodmark Community in Sun City; Bridgette Fette the director of the Monarch where mom has lived since last October; and Doreen Maniag the director of the SPA. The superlative staff at the Monarch and the Spa, and the world-class ministrations of Sun Valley Hospice.


And, above all else, the prayers and kind wishes of all our friends. I told mom recently how many people came up to me at Pinnacle during church telling me they were praying for her. Mom said, “I feel it.”


Our mom has “three children.” I am first-born, Melissa, second, and Barb since 1966. Barb has been mom’s primary care-giver for the past three years and we all salute her for a job well-done.


Mildred Wilson Swicegood has been a strong, independent, and competent woman for her entire life. She has always done her duty to work and family. Before she was no longer able, she was an active church woman in the United Methodist Church.


She loved her husband, Jim Swicegood, until his untimely death in 1975. She was blessed to find Charles Bunn, and they were boyfriend and girlfriend for 22 years until his death in July, 2012. She has been a great mom to Melissa and me. If asked, there was nothing she would not do to help and support us.


The Christian faith rises or falls upon one fact: the resurrection of Jesus Christ to eternal life. That fact–and that promise–is given to all who believe. We pray for a peaceful death for mom and for that wonderful promise to be fulfilled for her.

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.Matthew 25:40

Over a lengthy term of my life in education, I have heard many parents’ dreams for their children. They, of course, have ranged from such things as success in careers, happiness with life, financial security and finding true love. I can only think of one conversation among hundreds, where a father said his greatest wish for his daughter was that she would become a missionary. If you are thinking, “better his kids than mine,” you are not alone because that was my thought at the time of this conversation years ago.

There is a little more to this story. Dan had also been a missionary several times, both as a child and an adult. His father was a doctor, and his mother, a nurse. They spent their entire lives on mission trips, too. You might say serving God was the family business. I remember Dan telling me that he wanted his children to see the same sort of world he did; a world stricken with poverty and disease, a world discouraged and distraught, but also a world full of hope and promise. Knowing this world brought Dan closer to God as it had with his parents and, by now, certainly has with his kids. Dan, however, didn’t see the world as a messy place. He just looked around and saw Jesus. He saw his Savior time and time again in the least of these.

I mention Dan’s story as a reminder to us all. Whether young or old, parent or not, we all have a duty once we enlist in the church. God calls us all to see Jesus in everyone, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to spread the Word. We can listen to sermons and read books. We can dream of making a difference in the world. We can send money to starving children. These are all wonderful and amazing things. But, I am growing convinced that if we want to inspire the next generation with a heart for mission, it comes in lessons that are caught more than in the lessons that are taught. We can talk and talk and talk about how important it is to love our neighbor, but if those around us don’t see it in action the words are meaningless. If the reach of our faith extends no further than a Sunday morning service, then too, the reach of our servant heart will be only a fraction of its potential. The next generation’s faith will only mirror our own.

My friend has a heart for mission because God has inspired him to continue in his family’s ways. I have a growing heart for mission because the more I see, the more I do, and the more I do, the more I see. If you are struggling to find a heart for mission, if you are trying to instill selflessness in your children or family, or if you just think maybe God has more planned for your life than the status quo, I have some simple advice. Roll up your sleeves and get involved. Just like Dan’s spirit descended through his parents and then into his children (and likely someday into his grandchildren) we need to pass on a heart for mission to the children in our care. The fact is that we all learn best though doing. So let’s all do something!