Can this be right?

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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

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.”


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}

The Facts of Life

Did you or your kids watch “The Facts of Life” TV show? It was a show about a group of teenage girls at a boarding school who learn many of life’s lessons and go through adolescent struggles under the guidance of their loving housemother “Mrs. G.” While it was a sit-com and we could laugh together about the funny predicaments they often found themselves in, it also touched on some basic principles that teenagers often need to learn as they grow up. Things like telling the truth, forgiveness, acceptance and others were common themes that “Mrs. G” had discussions about with the girls around the dining room table. [more]


Huntington Beach, California 2Welcome to my blog. I hope it is inspiring and meaningful to you. Pardon the bare bones site right now. I’m just getting this up and running to help me flesh out my ideas on life and faith. It will also be a place to share thoughts on the changing nature of the church. It’s a new endeavor as I have experienced an extreme amount of change over the last year. Some of this change has been incredibly painful and some has been amazingly hopeful, both are hard to put into words. Our son Max died unexpectedly just over a year ago on Dec. 29, 2012 when he got the flu and then pneumonia and an infection while we were on vacation up in Wisconsin. He was 17. We had just spent a joyful Christmas with my wife’s family and then spent four days in a St. Paul hospital as his body rapidly failed. The doctors were baffled and so were we. The pain of losing a child is like no other and the year that followed has been a journey filled with every emotion imaginable.

But God has found a way to faithfully journey alongside us as we wade through the waters of grief.

This huge change also pushed me to wrestle with my call of 26 years of working in congregational youth and family ministry. While my call to do ministry has never wavered, I wondered if working in the local church setting was still for me. The church community was incredibly supportive and allowed me time to grieve, study, write, read and pray. Finally in the fall of 2013 I experienced what I call a nudge of the Spirit. I simply knew that my 8 1/2 years of ministry at this congregation and my 26 years of working full time in churches needed to come to a close. I resigned with absolutely no idea of what I was going to do next. However, I felt so content that God had something in mind for me.

It was not long after I resigned that I got a call from Vibrant Faith Ministries. Through a two month process of discernment I accepted the call to be a congregational trainer, coach and consultant. So as of Jan. 1 another change is upon me. I am very excited and blown away by how God has lead me over the past year. God has led me and now I embark on a new challenge celebrating the gifts God has given me.

I hope you will join me in discovering new and innovative ways of sharing the gospel in a world that is constantly changing. We must face the changes of this life so that God can change lives through us.