I Do What I Want

I do what I want www.stevieswift.com

Years ago, I took a last minute trip to Iraq. It was two weeks away from my two year-old and it was traveling to a country perceived as dangerous, which made the trip selfish in the eyes of some.

In hindsight, it is easy to see God’s hand in the entire process, but in the middle, as I prepared to leave, I worried whether I was doing the right thing and acting with the right motives. 

I wanted to go.  I wanted it badly. 

I wanted to travel back to the country I last saw as a soldier. I wanted to be a part of something positive there.  I wanted to meet the people under different circumstances. I also wanted adventure.  I wanted to get on an airplane and do something exciting. I wanted to do this thing – go to this place.

I told a friend what I was feeling, how I was scared this was a selfish act, a selfish decision. He responded, “How many people do you know who ‘want’ to do this?”  

And something clicked for me.  A big something.

A life-giving, freedom-giving something.

Wanting to do a thing, wanting to be a thing, wanting to go to a place – these do not poison an action.  They are a part of every poisonous action, which is why I was confused, but wanting is not the poison.

If I am walking with God, abiding in Him, listening to the Holy Spirit – if I am ready and willing to stop when He says to stop, to go when He says to go, to stay when He says to stay – I don’t need to be afraid of my own desires.

If I am seeing Him for who He is, if I am daily giving my life to Him, I don’t need to stress, to strive, to stumble over every decision.  

For six years, I have been doing more and more of what I want to do. Mostly, I avoid doing things because I think I should. Mostly, I avoid doing things because other people think I should.  

I do what makes sense based on my circumstances, my strengths, my weaknesses. I walk closely with my God, so that my desires align with Him and I do the things I want to do.  

I am a servant, but I am a servant to a freedom-giving God. I’m not a slave to my own expectations, nor a slave to the expectations of others. I’m not a slave to God’s expectations either – I could never meet them, they’ve already been met for me, and there is new grace and mercy for me every single day. 

And for you, too.

You are free. Are you living free?

My Unfinished Painting & My Unfinished Faith Race

How This Half-Done Painting Reminded Me To Keep My Eyes On The Race

This is the background of a painting I’m working on. It’s meant to be a background, a foundation, a first layer. I started this piece with unbridled excitement. It’s experimental, it’s a leap, it’s not like anything I’ve done before, and I couldn’t wait to see it finished. 

But something happened over the last couple of days, as I waited for it to be ready for the next layer. I became fond of the background. I became comfortable with it. I started to wonder if I couldn’t, maybe, just leave it the way it is.

It has a simple complexity to it. It reminds me of both the ocean and the sky depending on when I look at it. 

I like it the way it is.

Instead of excitement over the finished project, today I felt fear over losing what I have now. Even though it was ready for the next step – I left it as is.

But tonight, I turned my eyes back to the plan, back to the reason I began this painting. I started to dream again. I started to envision the next layers, to get excited about the original vision. Tomorrow, I'll start work on the next layer. 
* * *
I have purpose in this life. A race. A mission. 

But sometimes I stop and I survey and I see how far I’ve come and I become fond of this place, this season. 

I become comfortable. 

Comfortable with my community, comfortable with my family, comfortable with my routines, comfortable with my habits. I forget the race. I forget the mission. I let fear freeze me. 

I take my eyes off of eternity and dwell on the temporal. And when my focus is here and now, the excitement is drowned in fear.

I have to turn my eyes back to the plan. I have to dream again, to envision the next layers of the journey, to get excited about the mission.

The difference between the painting and my walk with God is this painting could end up total garbage. I could hate it. I could regret the moment I turned my eyes back to the plan.

But I won’t regret turning my eyes back to eternity. I won’t regret adding layer upon layer of surrender. I won’t regret any loss or failure or pain associated with the mission. I don’t know how the finished product will look, but I know it will be a masterpiece.

As for the painting, we’ll see.

How To Face Today When You Sucked Yesterday

Yesterday was awful. Today is New.

The alarm rings and I let it. Over and over again, I let the blaring wash over me.  Yesterday’s failures play through my mind like a trailer for a horror film.  Most days I blow something – lose patience, put my foot in my mouth, turn negative or cynical – something slips and I’m reminded how short I fall of perfection.  

Yesterday though – yesterday was a train wreck.  Every struggle seemed to rise up with the sole purpose of crushing me.  I failed in so many ways and so many times.

The alarm stops, putting itself on snooze, and I know I have five minutes until it starts again.  I try to push back the darkness, but I’m too worn.  My thoughts turn against me, rewinding and repeating my mistakes, the commentary becomes vicious.

The alarm sounds again.  This time I push the snooze, putting an end to the blaring outside noise, but the blaring within only intensifies.  

I will myself to think of nothing, to let the exhaustion cover me like a blanket, to fall back for another five minutes of rest, of quiet.

It seems like seconds before the alarm is going off again and my stomach clenches up tight, faced with just how much I suck at this life thing. What if today isn’t better?  What if it’s better for me to just stay here, under these covers, hiding?   

God, Help. It’s the closest thing to a prayer I can muster.

He agrees.  I do suck.  I hurt people, say the wrong things, waste inordinate amounts of time and energy and talent.  I want things my way, and I always, always, always want to be right.  There is truth in the lie.  But the rest?  The conclusion?  The "I should stay under the covers and sulk" bull?  Pure fiction.

Sometimes I don’t suck.  Sometimes I lean right into him - right into love and sacrifice and humility and selflessness. 

AND.

Every time, I woke up for a reason. Every time, there is purpose in my breathing lungs and beating heart.

AND EVERY TIME His grace is new, and EVERY TIME His mercy is all I need. Whether yesterday was an apex day or a stuck in the muck day, I get fresh mercy today.

Thank God. 

Lord, Make Me Beautiful

God made us to desire beauty, to desire being around it, to desire being it, but maybe we are confused about what beauty means.

 Father, make me beautiful.

This has been my one of my prayers for a few years now.. And I will keep praying it. I want to be beautiful.  I think we all do.

We were made to be beautiful, attractive - a light to the world - and something inside of us knows this and craves it.

But something distorts our perception of beauty.  We label and sort and pick and choose and select some humans to be beautiful and some to be ugly.  Our labels and our sorting are like revolving doors, never stopping, and those who try to keep up only run in circles.  

As a race, us humans can't seem to land on which things are "beautiful" and which are not. Is my butt supposed to be flat or round?  Strong nose, or straight, or thin? Big eyes or small?  Don't get me started on eyebrows.

Us human people - we desire beauty, but our standard for what fits the definition is ever-changing.  

Why?

I think it's because the thing we want - that elusive thing - it is not something we can define in human terms.

I think it's because beauty is something far more mysterious and holy than smooth skin and long eye lashes.  Beauty is God in us. It is light in us.  It is love in us. Beauty grows, it doesn't fade.

I bet you know someone who avoids smiling in pictures because smiling brings out the little lines around her eyes.  Someone who hides something beautiful - a smile, a laugh - in an attempt to be more "beautiful."

How often do we cover up beauty while trying to be "beautiful?"

It's maddening.

The striving, the spending, the comparing - futile.  It is all part of an empty game we are destined to lose.  It's a waste of our dang time.

I will get old.  I will get saggy.  Soon enough, no amount of money will be able to transform this body into something "beautiful."

But I don't have to play this game.

Why chase "beauty" when I can have beauty?  And so I pray.  I don't know what beauty is exactly, but I know it is good, I know it is God's thing, and I know He can give it.  I have tried to land on a definition, but I can't find it.  Maybe you have a definition, but honestly, I think your definition will fall short. I think beauty is a Kingdom thing, something we can't quite understand. Not yet, anyway.

So I pray, "Make me beautiful."

We'll see how He answers. 

(Photo Credit: My Mom :)  And I chose this picture, despite it's terrible quality, because it shows me in glasses - which is when I feel the least "beautiful," AND simultaneously shows me in the place on earth I love the most, with some of my favorite people, happy as a dang clam.)

Dear Struggling Single Mama

Dear Struggling Single Mama

It is one of my favorite things about God - how, when he tells us to do something, it is for us, it is for OUR benefit, it is for OUR good.  He's not sitting in heaven watching for someone to follow the rules and then pulling a string to drop blessings on the one who is obedient - the rules ARE the blessing.  His commands, the things he asks us to obey, are for US.  He doesn't tell us to forgive so a burden will be lifted from someone else - he commands us to forgive so a burden will be lifted from US.  He doesn't tell us to be careful with our words simply to avoid hurting other people - he tells us to be careful because the words we use affect US.

And when he tells us to love others - when he says this is the second greatest commandment - it is not only for the people we love, it is for US.

This is what I don't want you to miss, single mom who likely has more than her share of burdens, I don't want you to miss this step. LOVE OTHERS.  It is too easy to get lost in the muck - in all of those unfair and impossible things.

In two sermons and on one radio show this week, I heard speakers talking about "reaching out" to single moms or "helping" single moms.  Don't hear me wrong because I think this is fantastic.  Many among us could use a hand - we could use a little love sent our way.  But those messages are given to encourage the hearer to reach out to others AND THOSE MESSAGES ARE FOR US TOO. It is not a message to single moms to wait for someone to help them, or to get angry because no one is complying.  Even if we are on the list - that list the preacher gives of people who could maybe use a little help, a little love - we are still called to reach out.

And this call is for OUR good.

Because if you are focused on your own muck, it will drown you.  We have to look out - away from ourselves.  We have to turn our attention from our muck to the muck of others.  God gave you gifts - talents and skills - and He has a purpose for your life, for every day you live.  He wired you to find fulfillment in reaching out to others, in offering your talents and skills for their sake.

Freedom is there in the reaching out.  Growth is there.  Healing is there.

Reach out.