Tiger Won and I Cried

Today Tiger won his 80th tournament. It was a great comeback. I cried. You see, golf has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Even though I’m not very good at it, I still love it. There’s two reasons why. One is that I spent many hours on the course with my dad who was an “ok” golfer but loved the game so much that whenever I was out with him it was a good day(also the rare time I heard a 4 letter word from him). We laughed, we shrugged, we complimented each other on our good shots and encouraged each other when we had the bad ones. It was a time when my dad was in his element and when we were father and son enjoying life together.

The second reason I love golf is because it brought me and my son together. I couldn’t teach Max much, but I could identify with the frustration that the game brings. I loved watching him. I loved seeing that satisfaction on his face when he “put it close.” I loved being there the first time he broke 80. I was disappointed with him that day when he was on the verge of 80 and didn’t get it. I walked with him when he was brought to tears because he had one of the worst front nines of his life and then celebrated with him when he had one of the best back nines of his life.

Golf is often a “come back” sport. Many golfers go through slumps and then suddenly they come back for a big win. It’s so unpredictable. Like life. So today when I saw Tiger win after such a long struggle to be healthy again, it struck something in me. Yes, Tiger has a rough past, but don’t we all? I don’t claim to know his heart but I witnessed today an amazing comeback.

So why did I cry? It wasn’t for Tiger, win or lose, he has accomplished more than most athletes. I wept for the moment. I wept because of the image of my little Max when he was 3 yrs old wearing a t-shirt that said “Tiger.” I wept because I wasn’t witnessing this moment with my son because he would have been screaming and high fiving and celebrating with all those fans on the 18th green. I wept because of those moments I miss with my dad. I wept because there is still a piece missing from this moment. But I know I’m not the only one. Everyone has something missing from their life that they can’t get back. I hate that I do. But these moments like today remind me of the great comeback. There is a kind of comeback that only Jesus can give. It’s not a comeback from a slump that leads to winning, it is a comeback from hopelessness to hope, from sorrow to joy, from pain to healing, from hurt to forgiveness, from “not enough” to grace and from death to life.

Tiger reminded us today that comeback is possible. Most importantly, Jesus reminds us that comeback is possible. Not in sports, but in life. In God’s world, there is never a moment when we can’t be forgiven. There is never a moment when we aren’t loved. There is never a moment when God doesn’t know our pain and loss. There is never a moment when God can’t change the direction of our lives.

Today, you can be the comeback story. It’s ok to weep. Just know that those tears can be wiped away by the loving embrace of a God who knows your pain. Meet God where you are, not where you think you should be. You can come back.

Can this be right?

IMG_1618 - Copy

As a remembrance on this 3 year anniversary of Max’s death –  our beloved son, brother, cousin, nephew, grandson and friend; I’d like to share with you these beautiful words from my brother Phil that he shared on Caring Bridge just 3 weeks after Max died. They are as powerful today as they were then.   And thank you everyone for remembering Max “Panda” Schwolert.

By  Phil Schwolert — Jan 18, 2013 9:22am 

Nothing feels right.
That’s what I told my younger brother Matt, sitting in his boat as we
tried to enjoy an afternoon of fishing, a few days following Max’s memorial service.  He agreed.  We had hoped to spend an afternoon on the
lake with Tom to give our brother a brief reprieve from all the attention,
confusion, and conflicting emotions.
When he decided it better to stay with his family, we went ahead, for
the same reasons.

Even though Matt caught a few fish (he always does), there
was no escaping all we were feeling.
Nothing felt right.  It was not
right to be fishing while our brother and his fa101_9578mily struggled to cope.  It was not right to stay home, to not make an attempt at moving forward.  Much of the time, we simply sat on the water.  I sent
Tom this text, “We are thinking and talking about you guys.  Doesn’t feel right to be out here.  Doesn’t feel right to sit still.  Nothing feels right about
any of this.  I’m hearing God say, “Bestill and know that I am God.” 
 He responded, “Enjoy.  Just send a picture of your big catch.”  Just minutes later, Matt caught a 4-pound drum on a lure designed to attract black bass.
Along with a picture, I sent this text, “Matt just hooked a drum on a stick bait.  Even the fish are confused about how to behave today.”  Humor is a frequent
communication tool in our family, sometimes to mask our feelings, more often to accentuate them.  Tom was with us.  Max was with us.  That moment felt right, between brothers.

Max silly face020Still, nearly three weeks after Max’s death, nothing feels quite right.  However, I wonder if that is as Max would have it.  I wonder if he ever felt completely right.  I wonder if God intends us to ever feel completely right, in this world that is. I regret and am sad that my life in Colorado prevented me from knowing this dear young man for all he truly was and is. At the same time, I am glad and inspired by him through the stories his
friends and family have shared over the past weeks, the voluminous social media comments, and by the descriptions I have heard of Max by his employer and teachers.  All described a thoughtful and caring person, someone who was fully engaged in this world through his activities and relationships.  Also, they described someone who was different, who in many ways did not fit the typical teenager mold.  He was not right, with
the world.

296315_1506854327490_1214514488_nStories and comments revealed that Max was in this world,
but not of it – not right with it.
Through belly-deep laughter and wrenching tears, his parents and sisters
conveyed both humorous and poignant insights about Max that confirmed he was
often conflicted and uncomfortable with the behaviors of some peers.  He frequently struggled with his choices to
not conform to the expectations of his generation.   Isn’t that how it should be for us all?  Should we ever feel completely right in this world?

Romans 12:2 instructs us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  DSC_0208

Max’s faith in Jesus Christ made him not right with this world.  That is why his presence in it was so powerful and
his impact will be so lasting.
It is also why his absence is so painfully evident.

Nothing feels right.  Max is no longer with us in this world.  Yet, his positive presence is unmistakable.  His family grieves deeply.  Yet, his life continues to be celebrated.  I am heartbroken at my brother’s family tragedy.   Yet, I am gratified by how their community has surrounded them with love.  I regret that my opportunity to know Max better is
no longer.  Yet, I rejoice in his eternal security and am confident in our eventual reunion.  It is right to not feel right in these early days of conflicting emotions.  It is also right to not feel right in this world as we move on in the days to come, by faith.

Max Smile

Thanks for listening,

Uncle Phil Schwolert


Max – your smile will never fade and your life never be forgotten.

We love you!

~Tom, Melanie, Jazzy & Zoey

You Could Change the Landscape of Youth Ministry – Part I

I thought I would re-post my Vibrant Faith blog from last week on my own personal blog since it got some good traction. If you have been doing youth ministry for a good while, I think you’ll relate to this one…



The Scary Bridge


I love bridges. But I didn’t used to.

A couple of days ago, I drove over the causeway bridge that leads into St. Petersburg, FL. It’s a long bridge with a super high point. It was a beautiful drive. As I began the ascent a memory came to mind:

When I was a child we went on a family vacation to Galveston and I experienced my first tall causeway bridge. I’ll never forget looking up and seeing that bridge that seemed to go straight up into the clouds and not come down. I remember the lump in my throat and the butterflies in my stomach. And I remember the climb that seemed to go on forever and there was no end in sight until we got all the way to the peak of the bridge. And then it happened – my dad said, “Whoa! Here we go!” And the descent ensued with laughter from me and my siblings and a huge, “Wow!” as we headed down to the other side.

Are you looking at a bridge with fear and trepidation in your ministry? Are you hoping for change but not sure how to get there?


You Too Can Be a Hula Hoop Champion


One toy that has not changed a bit is the hula hoop. There’s nothing you can do to innovate it. It’s simply a round circle of plastic that comes in various colors. Pretty basic, and it has never changed.

When I was a kid, everyone had a hula hoop in the neighborhood. Occasionally we would gather all the kids together on the block and have a contest to see who could hula the longest to be the hula hoop champion. I must confess: I was not very good at it and never won the championship. It always seemed to be the girl from down the street who was in dance class and could just go on forever without any effort. But hey, it brought everyone together for lots of fun and laughter. Oh yeah, and it was “groovy” and we wore bell bottoms. {more}




Years ago I used to take youth on canoe trips to the boundary waters in northern Minnesota. This is a pristine area of the north that is unknown to many that remains one of the most beautiful places in the world I have ever been. These were always amazing trips full of challenge, fun and Spiritual renewal. I remember one particular moment when I got “stuck.”


Who’s Your Neighbor? No Really…



One of my favorite games to play with young people is called “Who’s Your Neighbor?” In fact, I often got the eye roll when playing it with middle school or high school kids because I played it so much. But I played it anyways because the eye roll was quickly stopped in its tracks with lots of laughter. And best of all, names were learned. You don’t know the game?…(more)

Dead Trees

We moved into our house about 9 years ago. It was built in 1980. We had two beautiful Silver Maple trees in the front yard. Last year they died. It was sort of a slow death, but they both began dying at about the same time. It was a bummer to watch because they provided some nice shade in the yard. We finally had to take them down. I later learned that many builders will plant Silver Maple trees because they grow relatively fast. Nobody wants to have little trees in their yard, at least not in this neighborhood lined with huge, beautiful shade trees. So I was talking to my brother (who has a forestry degree) about what would be the best tree to plant. [more]


No Church Buildings (Part 2)

I seemed to have struck a chord with folks last week. As it turns out there are many people who have had a similar thought about doing ministry beyond the church walls. Go figure. It also turns out that the idea of ministering without buildings (or at least outside the church walls) is not a new concept. It’s been going on for a couple thousand years. As you well know, Jesus was the ultimate example of going into the messy places of peoples lives. That’s not to say he didn’t go to the synagogues. Yet so often his “sermons” were about ministering to the people on the streets.  He often had some choice words to share with the scribes and Pharisees as well and also questioned people’s behavior.

Let’s just say, Jesus rarely asked us to sit still and wait for people to come to us.80aES

Last week…{more}