Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In the Bucket

Check out the temps we are getting this week up here in Alaska...yesterday was -2 as a HIGH. What they say is that you have to get out in it. So, that's is what we have been doing. Lindsay and I both went shoeshoeing this week with good friends in the negative temps.

"Don't change your plans, change your clothes." That's what my friend Chris says. The issue with us was different, we had to buy the clothes to stay warm up here.

Today's adventure is riding on a snowmachine with Jacson and Ellie.

Enjoy the pics...
On Top of Peak 2 in the Chugach Range

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'm NOT Dreaming of a White Christmas

This is our first Alaskan Christmas. And unlike the previous 34 Christmases for me, I don’t have to sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” this year. It's been guaranteed since October up here

Lindsay and I feel quite accomplished now that we made it to Solstice (Dec 21). From here on out, the days get lighter. We'll be back to 12 hours of daylight by February. For all of you who believe we get no daylight at all...that's not the case in Anchorage. It's getting light around 9:30 am right now and getting dark around 4:30 PM.

But I gotta say: this darkness is tough! We have been told the Jan. is the tough one. If that’s the case, then January sounds a lot like life…tough. It’s a hard road…it’s broken…and sometimes, it has gotten quite dark.

The truth for me is that I need the help of Jesus and others…I need the hope of the Gospel to Traverse it.

The “Tidings of Comfort and Joy” are not just for the Christmas Season.
I need tidings of comfort and joy everyday.
All of us do as we experience life on this side of Heaven.

The hope of Jesus’ coming to us brings comfort in all seasons and carries us through all circumstances. No matter what our story is…no matter what our life circumstance.
God IS with us. Immanuel to the rescue!

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
(Is 41:10)

Merry Christmas to all you down the "Lower 48."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Just a Quick Update

I hope all is well wherever you are reading this. We are doing well here in Alaska. I just wanted to update everyone on a few things regarding life with the Swain' no particular order.

  • We were able to make a trip back to Tennessee for Thanksgiving. The plan was to be here in Alaska for a year and finally get back to Southern soil in June 09. But, my Papa Swain got sick and we headed home to be with the family. Papa passed a way on Nov 24...he was 92. I grew up with Papa and Granny...they lived only one mile down the road on "Swain Lane." I had the honor to speaking at his memorial service and found God's power and strength fall on me. Hope is an amazing thing. Papa used to say to me when he left our hourse...."come on down to our house...I'll show you how poor folks live." The Lord gave me this for my message: "There will come a day when I see Papa again. He will say to me: Welcome Home son. I'll show you how rich folks live."
  • Lindsay was able to linger for another week and half in Tennessee and just got home on Wednesday night. Jacson and I had to get back for school and ministry responsibilities here at ChangePoint. We missed our girls immensely, but found the time significant for male bonding...finding time for a movie, putt-putt, and an indoor waterpark called "H2Oasis."
  • Lindsay had an ultrasound while she was back in TN. We are having....another girl. That makes 4 in a row. Jacson was quite upset but is coming around to his "high calling from God to be a big brother to little sisters." We are excited and looking forward to meeting our newest little Swain in May. Name is tbd.
  • It's cold and dark here. Tonight, the temps will fall "below the bucket" for the first time. Daylight comes about 9:30 right now and it gets dark at 4:30. After Dec 21, the days get longer mid-Feb we are back to 12 hours of daylight.
  • We have had a lot of snow already. I'm finding myself making up new words to the song "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas." No need to dream of that here.
  • Jacson finishes up school next week and is looking forward to 2 weeks off. I'm off most of the holiday as well...we are looking forward to going snowboarding together. He just finished up basketball season. My friend and co-laborer here at ChangePoint, Jeff Schulte, and I coached the team together.
  • Ellie is involved with AWANA and is really enjoying that. She will be taking a dance class with Savannah starting in January.
Bless you and your family this Christmas season!
For the family,

*getting up tomorrow. driving 10 minutes. hiking to a mountain peak. snowboarding down. home by 11 AM. SWEET!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Eklutna Canyon Ice Climb

This is me and my buddy Adam. Thanks for the invite brother!
I was a bit nervous at this point in the climb.

So I got invited to go on my first ice climbing expedition. About 30 minutes from my house and a 45 minute hike into a frozen river gorge and we were there. It was a breathtaking view standing at the was a bit more fearful looking down after climbing up a frozen 160 ft waterfall.

Experienced something I never even dreamed of doing...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Here is some Moose Meat."

I had an opportunity to preach a couple of weekends ago. The next week, a gentleman I had not met showed up at church with some "Welcome to Alaska" game meat and fish.

Right now, we have salmon, elk, and moose in our freezer. Turns out that this guy is on the road kill list when a car hits a moose here in Anchorage. He gets a call, drives to where the dead moose is, and butchers it right there. I guess the city comes after that to clean up the rest...not sure really. So this week, our family grilled us some Moose for the first time. It was quite tasty...we enjoyed it, especially knowing it was "road kill."

Monday, October 20, 2008

"It's not even cold yet!"

I met a guy this morning at 6:30 AM at a coffee shop. It was 27 so I wore gloves. When I put them down on the table, he laughed at me and said, "Why are you wearing gloves's not even cold yet." Really, when did 27 stop being cold?

By the way, when I left the coffee shop at 8 AM it was still dark like midnight. It's getting light around 8:45 AM right now. The darkest days will be in December and January....sunlight at 10 and dark at 3:30. Really looking forward to that.

For lunch, I met Lindsay and girls at a park with a huge hill. We went sledding and then had a picnic. That was a first...sledding during my lunch break.

And if you didn't know this already, we are expecting another child sometime in May. Total surprise...we are excited and adjusting "our plans." Please be praying for Lindsay and our newest little one.

Hope all is well in the "Lower 48."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

First Snow of 2008

While the snow has been on the mountains for a couple of weeks, today it made it down to the neighborhoods. Welcome winter...on Oct 5.

Do you remember Ralphie's little brother in "The Christmas Story?"
First sled run.
Jacson and his best buddy Hunter.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

This is where we live!

The ballpark. That's the city behind us.
New Friends. Good Times. Worship His Majesty.
There is no snow in the city yet, but up here...yes, plenty of it.
Glad Savannah had her walking stick!
Fall in Anchorage. These are good days for our family!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Did I pass or fail? What's my grade?

I have been burdened of late by the enormous weight we carry to make the not pass. I was spending some time with a brother last week who is not able to live in the grace that is ours through Christ. He believes it in his head, but his heart won't receive it and thus, he stays in bondage to performance. I felt the Lord speaking to me: "Tell him I am not giving him a grade. The kingdom is not about pass/fail." It's almost as if the captives that have been set free (Isaiah 61 and Luke 4) refuse to walk out...

"All you need is need." Our pastor spoke these words two Sundays ago as he introduced Galatians to our church up here. And then after the service, I learned that my kids get $20 in mountain money for doing a devotional and memorizing a verse. What? My 7 year old needs to hear "all you need is need" and not "be a good Christian and you get fake money that will buy you toys." God's grace is enough...and I desire for his spiritual life to be motivated by his heart and not by what he gets if he does something. I desire the same for myself. There's a big difference between duty and desire. When we perform spiritually for the reward (a good name, respect, ministry influence, moutain money, etc.) instead of obey out love and worship for the King, we embrace the false theology of achievement instead of a theology of alignment. When we perform spiritually, we are prone to give in to the pressure to impress or hide. If all you need is need, then why does the church seem to be void of people crying out for mercy and letting their need be known without shame. The lady in Luke 7 didn't hide and she didn't care to impress. She needed grace and mercy. And Jesus made an example out of her faith.

Don't get me wrong, there is a reward (66 verses reference reward in the text). A life of faith that is wholly surrendered to Jesus brings big reward...grace for today and hope for tomorrow. I want that to be enough for me, but I have to confess that it isn't most of the time. Asaph's resolution at the end of Psalm 73 is piercing to me. "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you." Whoa. I have a long way to go...but I am free in God's grace as I traverse my life and cling to the truth of who I am in Christ. I am not ok. And I am ok with not being ok. In my experience, the more I have needed Him, the more I have gotten Him.

Swain Family Updates:
  1. Jacson is doing very well in the second grade. He has way more friends than the rest of us combined. Basketball season starts for him next week.
  2. Ellie is super busy and mommy is busy loving her and keeping her in line. We have decided to keep Ellie out of pre-school and build into her before she starts kindergarten. We are seeing results (she is our strong willed one). She has already told us that she will not be changing her last name when she gets married one day.
  3. Savannah is determined to not be a "big girl." Pottie training is in a far off distant land...and she is 2.5 years.
  4. Lindsay is building friendships and her new business venture with Market America. She is plugging back in with BSF and is excited about studying Moses.
  5. I am enjoying "ministry of availability." Being a shepparding/care pastor provides many opportunities to listen to people and walk with them.
  6. Alska is getting colder. "Termination Dust" has already fallen on the moutain peaks and we are told that our kids will be trick or treating in snow boots. It hasn't gotten below freezing yet, but we are already in the 30s at night. Right now, it gets light a little after 7 and gets dark about 8 PM. The dark days are Nov-Jan.
on the top of flattop covered with a few inches of snow
Ellie is all pink...all the time. I had to persuade her to not wear a dress for the hike
You can barely tell, but Jacson is showing loosing his front tooth

Until next time...Grace and Hope to you!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Reflecting on some Essential Things

I am on the plane towards Anchorage after being back in Tennessee this past weekend. And find myself pondering on the significant things of life…

• We should never take for granted the history we have with people we love. There is something profound about sitting with people you have walked with over the long haul. While living in Alaska provides the opportunity to establish new relationships (we love this), we miss our history with family and friends in middle Tennessee. A journey with people is a gift. I realize how big a gift it is now that I’m so far away.
• Praying with friends on a front porch is like water over my soul. Thanks Lance, Amy, and Chris.
• Being an uncle to AJ, Madi, and Sidney is a gift of God’s grace to me. We set a new record with 33 hits on the beach ball in my parents’ pool.
• Homemade Ice Cream on a Sunday Afternoon…sitting around eating it together as a family. Good stuff mom and dad. I love the simplicity.
• Sitting on the “side porch” with my PaPa and Granny. Visiting my Pa in the nursing home. I cried when I left them. They are getting older now…I’m sad about that. I miss them a lot…I’m sad about that. They are close to heaven…I’m glad about that.
• “You are Two Imperfect People, Entering into a Committed Relationship, Diligently Pursuing Intimacy, Under the Sovereign rule of God.” I had the opportunity to speak these words to a dear couple at their wedding on Saturday night. I was reminded that marriage is such a gift. My wife is a gift of God’s grace to me…and provision to make me more like the Son.
• Control and Trust are mutually exclusive. “Trust is letting go of our need to control outcomes, letting God be God.” (John Wimber) People joke about being a “control freak.” It’s not a laughing matter…being in prison isn’t something to joke about. If the captives have been set free, why are we still holding onto the chains? “Trusting God is pivotal to this whole business of being a Christian.” (John Wimber)
• “Our words have the power to curse or bless.” (Lindsay Swain) What if we didn’t miss opportunities to tell people what we see in them and how we feel about them?
• Why do so many feel the pressure to impress and the pressure to hide, including me? Why is the truth of our lives and story so hard to trust people with? Why can people tell their secrets to a stranger on a postcard but they can’t come into the light with the people they know and love? I long to see the local church as the place people know they can go to with their pain and shame…to find grace, deliverance, healing, and restoration.
• I am really bummed I’m missing the Tennessee game right now…Why is college football and the NFL so significant to me? To others? What if we gathered in homes to worship and pray like we do to watch games?
• What makes my friend’s wife (she is my friend too) move out of the country to foster her little girl for over 2 months until she can bring her home? What sustains the husband as he waits for his girls to come home? (there is hope Eliana will be home this month…please join us in praying for this)
• Legalism is from the pit. Religiosity keeps people from Grace. Is it worse to be accused of being a legalist or someone who offers too much grace? I’m going for broke with grace.
• When I am away from my kids, my heart physically aches for them. Is this how it is with God when my heart is away from Him? I think so…
• What is it about me that makes me so uptight sometimes at all the insignificant things? What if the small stuff didn’t rob us of serenity?
• If this earth is not my home, why do I live as though it is?
• I wish people would stop apologizing for their tears. Who decided that tears are so offensive? Tears speak to something deep within…they tell what we value. Can you know me if I don’t show you my tears?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Serenity Falls

Is that not a wonderful name for a waterfall? One of the places where my mind and heart find serenity is at the bottom of a large waterfall. It's one of my favorite places to be because I seem to listen more intently and hear God's voice more clearly. This past weekend was no different. Our family took a 12 mile bike ride [Jacson road 24 miles in all...we are so proud of him] to a mountain cabin for two nights. Breathtaking views of a glacier, the falls, and a swift mountain stream.

At the base of this waterfall, God impressed deeply upon my heart the truth of Psalm 121. I am continually being reminded that when I bring my nothing to the Savior, I get His everything. My neediness ushers me to freedom. "Oh how I need you Lord, to come and rescue me, to come and give me life." I realize that I am prone to wander...prone to trust in what God has done in me and forget what He has done for me. Mercy is what I need. When I minimize my sin or self-justify, the cross becomes less ,I rest in what God has done in me, and miss the power of His mercy and grace. But when I face my own shame and step into the light with it, I find rest and healing for my a waterfall called serenity over my heart and mind.

The trip was wonderful for our family. We are so thankful for the Sheldon family and their invitation to us to join them on this adventure. Enjoy the pics
Eklutna Lake...on the way to our cabin. See the princesses in their chariot?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wild Alaskan Salmon

Jacson and I floated on the Little Susitna River last weekend...41 miles over 3 days and 2 nights. Even though I'm a country boy from Gladeville, TN, fishing is not something I have ever been fond of. But we are becoming fishermen here. Actually, I think I like catching and not fishing...I've been told a fisherman can fish all day with nothing to show for it and still love it. I don't think I'm there.

This is the first fish Jacson and I have ever caught together...a "silver." I hooked it and Jacson reeled him in. Later in the day, the little man was hooking and landing "pinks" by himself. No one eats "pinks" up here because they don't taste good. They eat the "kings, reds, and silvers." But, from what I understand all of you in the lower 48 eat "pinks" every time you eat salmon. "Hey Jeff, does anyone eat pinks up here. No, but they feed them to the their dogs."

Hope you enjoy our dog food the next time you eat salmon. :)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Courageous and Dependent

Courageous: not deterred by danger or pain.
Dependent: unable to do without.

This is what I saw in my son this week. And these are the two words the Lord sp0ke loudly into my heart. "Trust me in this new adventure. Be courageous. But don't forget that you're wholly dependent upon me for your strength."

Jacson wanted to go to a day camp this week at Kincaid Park called "Wilderness Skills." We are learning that his bent is towards learning new things and doing creative things. The camp was for kids that were 7-14. Jacson was the youngest kid in the camp. I was so proud of his courage. My heart was beating out of my chest as I dropped him off Monday morning...watching my little guy walk right in, and ask if he could play a board game with 2 other kids he'd never seen before. Jacson was not deterred by the unknown...but he was also dependent. "Dad, could you hang around for a while today?" "Sure, son. How about I stay here in the park the whole morning...that way you know I'm always close by."

The Lord spoke to me as I watched my son: "This is how I want your posture to be. Courageous and Dependent." His voice was very clear to me. Courage comes from knowing that "I am with you wherever you go." (Josha 1) Dependence comes from knowing that "apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15).

So as I enter this new journey as a Care Pastor at ChangePoint Church here in Anchorage, I am embracing the words Courageous and Dependent. May it be true for you as well...that you have courage in the unknown of your life because you believe in the promise that Jesus is with you wherever you go. But that in your courage, you know and understand that Jesus is our only hope and sustenance.

Here are some pictures from our last week here. Like they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do...

Yes, those are two husky pups. We went to "consider getting one," and came home with two. My wife blindsided me and ganged up on me with 3 kids. I had no choice. Ellie is holding "Cody" and Jacson is holding "Shasta."

Fishing for "pinks" at Resurrection River in Hope, Alaska. Didn't get one though.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Friday Night Hikes

The last two Friday nights, I've had the opportunity to do some hiking. The range is right behind our house...only a 10 minute drive to the trail head. I didn't get any pictures from last week (peak 2 summit) but remembered the camera last night for the Peak 3 summit. I hiked with Joe Boland, Jeff Schulte, and Jay Schulte. We finish the night off with a little "Taco King."

Something happens in my soul when I am in the moutains...something comes alive...God's voice is louder in my heart because my spirit is calm. The Spirit led me towards repentance and thus, freedom in His grace. "I life my eyes up to the mountains. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 121
Jay Schulte and I on the way up.
On Top!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

When I Dip, You Dip, We Dip

So Jacson and I went 3 hours south this week to Kenai. There is a thing here called "dip netting" and we went along with my friends Jeff Cowell and Jeff Schulte. We all brought some kiddos along too. If you are a resident of Alaska, they allow each family 10 red salmon per person for subsistence. I wasn't able to "dip net" but in one year, I will get to wade into the ice cold water and stand with a mongo net and hope a fish swims into it. When it's hopping, you can walk away with dozens of fish. Unfortunately for us, we only came away with 8 total.

It was a great time because it was the first campout I've taken Jacson on. He had a total blast playing in the sand (we camped on the beach of the Prince William Sound at the mouth of the Kenai River), clobbering red salmon on the head, eating s'mores, and laughing with friends around the fire. It rained on us the second night so we had that wonderful experience of tent camping in the rain. Ever camped on wet sand with a 7 year matter how much you say "knock the sand off of you" it doesn't make much of a difference.

I am grateful for good friends, new friends for my son, the beauty of the water with the mountains in behind, and another Alaskan memory.

Yes, that is a fish head getting "grilled" on the fire. Lindsay asked me when I showed her this picture: "Did he touch it with his hands?" The answer from me: "Of course."
Silliness around the fire.
You gotta "do the dew" when you "dip net."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Moose Dropping Festival in Talkeetna

New friends at our church invited us to a little Alaskan town called Talkeetna (2 hours north of Anchorage) last weekend. Robert grew up there and bought the little house he grew up in. We were excited because it was the "36th Annual Moose Dropping Festival." On Saturday at 6 PM, they drop numbered moose poop on a target. The poop is painted white (not sure how they do that) and glued to a pin so everyone can wear their numbered poop on their shirts. Each dropping costs $5. We waited for the line to go down so we could purchase ours, but they were all sold out by the time we got there. The winning poop dropping won $1500 bones.

The town is at the base of the Alaskan Range with majectic views of Denali (Mt. McKinley). [too bad it's cloudy every day here and we didn't get to see it] Everyone who climbs Denali flys to the base camp from Talkeetna. It has 3 rivers that converge there and the Alaskan Railroad comes through. The town only has 400 people that live there but it's swimming with tourists in the summer months. Minus the moutain views, train station, and rivers, it reminded me of where I grew up in Gladeville, TN...softball field, town crossroads, small little market.

Here are some pics of our weekend. The highlight for us was the mule trip to the "beach" on the river where we fished (no luck), grilled, and sat around a fire.

Playing in the river.

The highlight of the weekend was riding on this mule. The sand on this beach was deep. Of course, Lindsay loved it.

Ellie loved the store so much she jumped for joy!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Polar Bear, Grizzly, and Mountain Lion

Lindsay and I met a couple at our church this weekend that invited us over for dinner tonight. They are our age but don't have kids. (we warned them beforehand and they invited us over anyway) I looked over while we were getting things together to eat and saw Jacson jumping off the arm of the couch into the cushions and hearing Stacey say "oh my." Doug is from Zimbabwe and has an accent...Ellie asked him why he spoke Spanish. What? After finally sitting down the eat Moose hot dogs and fresh salmon from the Russian River, Ellie threw a fit because she wanted to sit next to Mommy. Finally, after she was disciplined in the bathroom we all sat down to say grace. I said, "We are the Swain's and we'll never be back in your home again." They laughed. Later they laughed again said "it's fine" when Savannah got ketchup on their carpet. I bet they weren't saying that when they scrubbed it after we left. I was shocked when Doug invited me to mountain bike with him on Sunday at the end of the evening. :)

So...we didn't know this when we arrived, but Doug and Stacey are quite the hunters. As you walk into their home you see the mounted Mountain Lion. And then when you round the corner you see the HUGE Polar Bear and Grizzly Bear in the living room. Our kids were fascinated...I was too. Stacey is the only woman in the world to have killed all four kinds of bear (grizzly, polar, brown, black) with a bow. Doug is a former professional hunting guide in Africa and specialized in Elephant and Lion kills. Looking at his pictures was a total "WOW." Toto, we are not in Tennessee anymore.

It was a great night...experiencing new things with new friends. I'll be sure to post a picture when I kill my first big game animal.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

First Days in Alaska!

We are full of feelings as we make this, loneliness, sadness. It's tough to start over relationally (we just did this in Jan 07 when we moved to LA), but we are so hopeful and confident that this is right where the Lord has us.

Pictures speak louder than what I can articulate at this point in our journey here you go:

Watching the sea planes take off and land at Lake Spenard!
A "baby moose" in the backyard of the house we were staying at. The sucker was huge. The kids were singing..."moosey, moosey, moosey on the loosey, loosey, loosey!"
New friends. These are the Cowell girls. There dad and I will be serving together at ChangePoint Church.
Jacson with Drew and David Schulte on the 4th of July. Nice view!
4th of July pic in front of our new 10:30 PM.
Sillyness on the 10:30 PM!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

We Made It!

It has been a whirlwind week for us...saying goodbye to many wonderful friends and family in SoCal...visiting the beach one last time...packing and loading the truck in 100 degree heat...and taking care of all the details of buying a hew home in Anchorage.

We arrived last night at 12 AM...still daylight here. The whole 5 hour flight from LA was light. Savannah didn't sleep a wink the whole way. (By the time we got here in bed it was 2 AM). We had a good omen at LAX: no line at the check-in or in the security line. Literally, not one person in front of us either time. We were high fiving all they way to the gate. "This is like a dream." If you haven't ever had the honor of traversing LAX (with 3 kids in tow), then you have no idea how wonderfully insane that experience was for us!

I found the peace of the Lord with me on the flight. I have been asked many times in the last month if I was nervous or excited. I am excited for sure. But even more, I have confidence that the Lord has called us to be here. I have deep inner peace that this is where we are supposed to be. Of course, I'm energized about all that Alaska will offer our family...and a bit nervous about the winters here. But this is secondary to the call on our life to bring hope and grace to people here.

Here are ways you can be praying for us in the next few weeks:
  • I need to buy two cars for us to drive. (our van is still in LA...please pray we can sell our car there quickly)
  • Fun memories for our family. We want to play hard (Alaskan style...whatever that means) before I start ministry in Aug 1.
  • Serenity and to rest and ponder.
  • New Friends.
Here are some fun pics of our last week in LA!

Our Family at the BIOLA fountain.
I spent many hours reading and studying by this fountain over the last two years.

Saying Goodbye to Lindsay's dad (Randy)
and her brother (JD)

My buddy Brett and I at an Angels game.

Owen and Ryan...2 of the young guys I have had the honor of mentoring.

3 of my best buddies at Talbot: Brett, Phil, and Derek