Swinging Harder by Sonny Terrill
I’ve always been jealous of those testimonies where lightning struck and lives were instantly transformed. Maybe lightening did strike in my life at some point, and I was too dense to see it. Or was it because I was swinging too hard at other things in my life that I couldn’t even recognize God showing up?
I was born in a small town in Louisiana and had a fairly normal childhood until I was eight. It was then that my parents divorced, and my life turned upside down. Just like in many divorced families, I was shuffled back and forth between my parents, we moved a lot, and money was tight. Because of those things (and because I was small for my age), I got picked on – A LOT! So I was angry – A LOT! And I fought – A LOT! Swinging harder had literally become one of my means of survival. I wouldn’t say those were particularly happy times for me, but I have come to realize that some of the survival skills I learned back then are some of the same ones that have made me successful today. Tenacity, stubbornness, hard work, perseverance, and yes, swinging harder have all served me well.
At an early age, God gave me a love of baseball and a gift for hitting so I began to channel all of that aggression and anger into the game. By the time I got to high school, people who didn’t even have kids in school would come to games just to see how far I was going to hit it that day. As a result of swinging hard, I won many awards and set multiple records (some of which still stand today). Because of swinging hard, I was also offered a full scholarship to play college baseball. And the awards continued. And what did I learn from all of that? If you swing hard, success will follow.
After college, I was fortunate enough to marry my best friend and high school sweetheart. We were both Christians, so we did what good Christians are supposed to do – we went to church, we tithed, we prayed – but God wasn’t at the forefront of my life. Life was good, and I was doing just fine on my own. And there was more to swing for.
As I began my career, the one advantage I had over everyone I worked with was I could out work them. I could “swing harder.” So just as swinging harder had worked in baseball, it worked in business as well. My career took off. Promotions, raises, bonuses, awards, new positions, and new challenges all because I was doing what I learned to do as a kid – swing hard.
With my career taking off, we decided it was time to become parents, and God gave us the most beautiful little girl anyone could ask for. Now that I had a child to take care of, I began to swing harder than ever. It wasn’t long until I reached the top of my profession in a position that I had always considered a “home run.”
I maintained that pace and attitude for several years, but as I began to reflect on my life, I realized something was missing. But what? I had it all. A beautiful wife, a beautiful daughter, good health, a career I loved, and money to buy all the toys a guy could want. I decided what I was missing was to be a better husband, father, and Christian. So it was time to “swing harder.” Thinking it would make me a better family man and Christian, I got more involved at church – taught Sunday School, became a deacon, went on mission trips, tithed more. Was I happy doing all of this? Yes. Was I content? No. I must not be swinging hard enough I thought. I know what to do. Swing harder! What I didn’t realize until much later was that despite my good intentions, all of my “swinging harder” was pushing my wife away, causing tension between me and my now teenage daughter, and I was less content than ever. I was frustrated with myself and with God. My prayers became, “What else can I do? I can’t try (or swing) any harder!”
About four years ago, I decided I wanted to take my dad and step-mother on a really nice vacation with us. Fishing, hunting, cruising, the beach – I didn’t care where it was, I just wanted to make it happen. My wife is our vacation planner so we discussed some options, and she went to work planning. She worked for almost five months, and no matter what we came up with, there was always a problem. Too expensive. No vacancy. They had already been there. We had already been there. They wanted something relaxing. We wanted something active. And we were working with only ONE week that we could all go. Finally, we gave up and just decided they would come visit, and we would just do some things locally.
It was about this time that the Lankfords were home for their annual furlough. Joey and I had been deacons together before he left for South Africa, but we didn’t know each other well. Anyway, it was the second Sunday in June (June 10 to be exact), and we ran into Joey in the lobby of our church as he was leaving the first service, and we were about to go into the second. We reintroduced ourselves and talked briefly before he said, “Come see me (in South Africa) and see what we have going on over there. We’re here until July 17, and then we’re headed back.” I said I would think about it, but what I was thinking was, “Have you lost your freaking mind? South Africa?” As he left to meet family at a local Mexican restaurant, my wife and I just stood there. Before I could even process the moment, she grabbed my arm and said, “Let’s go. Let’s do it. I just feel like it’s something we’re supposed to do.” And of course, as God would have it, they were headed back to South Africa two days before the start of our vacation! It was then that we both realized why our months of trying to plan a trip with my dad hadn’t worked out. God had something bigger and better planned!
We didn’t even go to church that day. We ran to the car and called my dad in Louisiana to see if they wanted to go (not really expecting him to answer because he’s normally in church at that hour). Knowing that they are not the overly adventurous type and never having been out of the country, if he did answer, I knew he would tell me I had a screw loose. Not only did he answer but his immediate response was, “Sounds like a plan.” Are you kidding me? As simple as that. So we found Joey at the Mexican restaurant and to say he was surprised is quite the understatement. In just under 30 minutes, he had invited an almost complete stranger to visit him in South Africa, 10,000 miles from middle Tennessee without telling his wife, and this crazy person has not only committed himself, but also his wife, teenage daughter, father, and step-mother, and they’re coming in five weeks!
When God has a plan and we’re willing to follow in faith, it’s amazing what can happen. By the next day, my parents had already received their shots and were doing research on what to take. My wife was leaving for a mission trip to Italy that Friday (June 15), but before she left (and with no help from a travel agent), we had plane reservations for five, a place to stay, a car rented, and the necessary shots. Talk about swinging hard and God showing up!
So after 27 flight hours and little sleep, we landed in Cape Town on July 20 – in the rain, in the middle of the night, to a manual transmission rental car with the gear shift on the left, with no luggage! Four hours after finally arriving at our rental home, Joey shows up at my door to pick us up for a day of TOMATO PICKING! I was ready to fight! All I could think about was I just spent a fortune flying my family half way around the world, I’m wearing clothes I’ve had on for almost three days, I’ve had no sleep, and you want me to pick freaking tomatoes! This wasn’t what I came for but so we began. There I was on my knees surrounded by hundreds of tomato plants, and at some point I looked to my left, and there was my beautiful wife and daughter laughing and picking tomatoes with an African woman and to my right was my dad and step-mother picking tomatoes and engaged in conversation with an African man. And that’s when it happened. I heard God as clear as any human voice I have ever heard, “Boy, quit swinging so hard, and give it all to me.” I was in a daze for the rest of our time in Africa, but what I finally came to realize was that although my intentions were good, I had been trying to put my life together (and that of my family) all by myself by “swinging hard.” I grew up believing that if I swung hard enough, I could control everything and everyone around me. It took God taking me to Africa in a cold, damp tunnel to humble me and make me realize that I could never swing hard enough. That was His job.
Why then and why there, I may never know. I wish I could say I was completely obedient and changed at that moment, but I wasn’t. Instead, it was a beginning. At that moment, I began to hand over my life fully to Jesus Christ, and the more I surrendered, the more I was at peace. It is an ongoing process, but I can tell you that my relationship with my two girls is stronger than ever, and I feel that I’m better at work because I now give problems and situations to Him that before I would’ve tried to control and fix completely on my own (by swinging harder).
Do I still swing too hard some days? Absolutely. But I am at Peace. I have more balance in my life. I am more patient. I have more empathy for those around me. Phillipians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I understand what that means now and am striving for it every day.
If you are in a place where you find yourself swinging too hard and you still can’t find peace, you don’t have to fly 27 hours to Africa to pick tomatoes in a cold, damp tunnel to find Him. He will find you right where you are. And if you do feel like picking tomatoes and feeding the hungry, come join Cul2vate. We are a platform that is built for the sole purpose of loving people. And who knows…. You may just be still long enough while you’re picking those tomatoes to hear what God has to say to you.