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Regular Maintenance

“You’re His child. That hasn’t changed. When children make mistakes, parents hope they get it right the next time, but they don’t walk away. Parents want their kids to be the best they can be. That’s what God wants for you, you know.” (Nancy Mehl, The Gathering Shadows)

It’s easy sometimes to think because I don’t commit the “big” sins on a regular basis, I’m living a life that pleases God. If I really want to feel good about myself, I just need to turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or read a few magazines and someone will let me know I’m doing great…in fact, they might even help me justify my “little” sins as bad habits or little white lies.

However, I’ve shared in the past that approximately two years ago I began a conversation with God asking Him to change me. I know, I know – that’s a terrifying statement to speak to God (at least I’ve shaken in my boots when I’ve uttered those words in the past) but I sincerely meant it. I wanted Him to change me. Take all the bad parts, the not-so-good parts, and even the “halfway decent” parts and start transforming them into parts that please Him. I wasn’t going for perfection, in fact I really didn’t have an ending in mind, I just wanted Him to start taking the bad away and transform it into something that made Him happy.

I got my desire. God started working on me two years ago. At first it felt really hard. I wasn’t used to bending my spirit and will toward His completely and so it hurt. I could feel my conscious wrestling with what I knew God was asking of me and I didn’t like it. I became restless, irritable, and crabby. Not very fun to be around. However, I discovered that when I finally gave in, stopped wanting my way and instead said, “Okay, God, I will give you this part of my life too,” the peace that followed was palpable. No more guilt, no more hiding, no more shame in that area of my life.

So…I shouldn’t be surprised, having had two more years to grow deeper in my relationship, that God continues to fine tune areas of my life that I might think are okay…and shows me I can do better. I may not gossip, but what about the inner thoughts that play like a recording? My selfishness in one area may cause me to be selfish in another, denying someone else a blessing or just plain taking more than I need for myself.

 

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God showed me that I will always have areas in my life that need to be improved if I am serious about wanting to be more and more like Christ. Unlike two years ago, when God whispers those thoughts on my heart or when He speaks very specifically about an area I’m being less than Christ-like in, I’m much quicker to change, to right the wrong, and to do things better going forward. Sometimes it’s a matter of asking forgiveness, sometimes it’s just a heart change, and other times it’s changing my behavior from here forward to be the best representation of Christ I can be.

Because ultimately, that’s what it boils down to. I want my life to be a reflection of the One I serve. When there are areas that need to be changed and I refuse to do the work, I’m setting a bad example for the One who matters most to me. When I finally meet my Father face-to-face, I want to stand boldly in front of Him and say, “I know I wasn’t perfect, but when you spoke, I listened and chose to obey.” Now that’s regular maintenance I get excited about.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

We Are Blessed

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

James 1:17 (NIV)

 

Our daughter sometimes gets upset that she’s the only girl sandwiched between two brothers. Most of the time she enjoys the extra attention. A big brother to teach her new things and a little brother to “baby” or teach. Sometimes, though, she gets frustrated that she doesn’t have a sister to share secrets with or paint each other’s nails. I remind her that God had a reason she was born into a family of only brothers, lives on a street with only boys, and whose best friends live far enough away that seeing them on a regular basis isn’t possible.

I’m a firm believer that children are a blessing from God. I’m not saying that people who cannot have children aren’t blessed…I do mean that when you are given the privilege of being a parent, whether through adoption, genetics, foster care, or guardianship, each child is a blessing. And as I like to remind our daughter, I believe each child God has blessed you with has been handpicked for you, for your family. I believe God loves each and every one of His children so much that He puts us together in the families that He does to help us learn, grow, and develop into the people He ultimately envisioned we would be. It’s still our choice, but He started us down the path with the right combinations of personalities mixed together.

I know for myself, God has certainly blessed me with the children He has allowed us to borrow. I have learned so much from each of them. They are a combination of both my husband and my genetics, yet they are each uniquely their own selves. When issues or problems crop up in their lives, I usually don’t have to look too far to see where the root stemmed from (my childhood perhaps) and then work diligently not only to help them overcome their own obstacle but also deal with it in my life so we’re both healthier as a result.

 

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Other times the lessons are positive ones. I see in my children a love of music, something I have enjoyed since before I could walk. My mom tells me of how I would rock back and forth so hard in my crib it would roll across my bedroom, landing in front of the door, locking myself in. We also enjoy nature, creativity, and most importantly, our love for God. My children challenge me to try new things, try things differently, or realize that I could try all day but maybe I should just leave that particular activity to the professionals because it’s “just not gonna happen, Mom.”

My oldest has taught me the joy in being an introvert and that it’s something to embrace. He has reminded me that sometimes the best in life is missed if I move too quickly and try to cram too many activities into a given amount of time. My daughter reminds me of the joy of being a little girl. Remembering how to laugh, what makes childhood fun, and her enthusiasm for life is contagious. Our youngest came along six years after our daughter and God granted me the chance to savor every minute…knowing it would be our last journey through childhood as the parent. Each of their personalities, mannerisms, strengths, and weaknesses help to make our family complete. We blend together to create our own uniqueness.

What about your family? What strengths, weaknesses, challenges, or successes can you look back on and see how God placed a particular child in your family for a reason…or your past experiences were exactly what was needed to help one of your children navigate life?

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)

Last time I shared the incident about God whispering to me to help a random couple tackle a fallen tree and how I missed the mark. Today, I want to share the rest of the story.

The very next day my kids and I went grocery shopping. Usually we go super early in the morning to get it done before the crowds hit. Since this particular week had been hard and they had little sleep, I chose to show love and let them sleep in, realizing that schedules are meant to be broken when love is given priority.

We had many places to go, so by the time we were checking out our major purchase at the Superstore, we were tired and hungry and just wanted to go home. There was a woman in front of us in the self-scan who was in a motorized cart. Normally I don’t say anything, but this time I wanted to be Jesus’ hands and feet without being prompted. I approached her politely and asked if she would let me bag her groceries.

 

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Her response was not what I expected. “I bet you just don’t want to have to wait for me.” I wasn’t sure if she was kidding or truthful, so I replied, “I really just want to help you if you’ll let me.” She agreed and so I started bagging them as though I were bagging my own. I made sure to keep the bread from getting squashed, double bagged the heavy items, and tried to make it easier for her when she unloaded into her trunk and then again at home.

I attempted to add a little humor while explaining my motive and said, “You know, I’m being selfish by bagging your groceries for you. Yesterday I was given the opportunity to bless someone, and so I selfishly wanted another chance today.” However, from the funny look on her face, I think she still thought I was doing it so that she would leave quicker. (I guess I better stick to my day job and not try to join the comic circuit.)

God showed me something else through this experience. It doesn’t matter the response of the individuals that you’re blessing. God sees our heart. He knows our intentions. He knew that yesterday my intention was to stall because I was lazy and didn’t really feel like expending energy even though He specifically told me to. Today, my intention was truly to bless the woman even though she thought my ulterior motive was to get her through the checkout lane faster. I was thanked for my lousy attitude and blown off for my good intention.

You know what? It doesn’t matter. God loves each and every one of us in the above scenario the same. He used my lousy attempt to obey for His glory as much as He used my unprompted attempt at the grocery store. He saw my heart and He knows that I’ll be much quicker next time to look for and attempt to bless others. To show you the change is real, as soon as I stop typing, I’m getting up and going out to help weed our garden, choosing to bless my husband simply because it’s something that would please God. And you know what? I’m finding that blesses me even more.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

Today I’m going to admit a mistake I made and how God redeemed it the very next day. This summer I was driving our oldest to be dropped off and strangers on the side of the road caught my attention. They were an elderly couple (in better shape than myself) cleaning up a huge tree that had fallen into their front yard as well as that of their neighbors. Normally, I’m oblivious but this particularly time God whispered into my spirit, “You need to go back and help them.” I had plenty of excuses of why I shouldn’t go back and help. Thursdays are my busiest work days and this particular week was one of my busiest all month; I have a four-year-old who could get run over by a car since we were carrying the branches across the street into the field, and I don’t know these people and will feel stupid showing up with my tennis shoes and gloves. Let’s face it – I’m lazy and the thought of sweating all afternoon in the hot sun didn’t appeal to me.

However, I mentioned the thought of helping (not my silent excuses) to my two youngest and they were enthusiastic. In fact, our daughter even reminded me how good it feels to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I agreed, but stated we had to go home first to put on proper shoes, get shoes and a shirt for our littlest, and grab some gloves if we were going to manhandle tree bark. I also had a few errands to run and even though God said to run them after the job was complete, I ignored His prompt, further stalling our return.

In the meantime, my daughter and I started arguing about something trivial. I can’t even remember what we were “fighting” about, but I remember sarcastically stating, “This is great. Here we’re going to be Jesus’ hands and feet, and we can’t even get along.” However, I realized maybe this was the evil one coming at me from another angle. Since stalling didn’t work and we were still going, maybe if he could get me distracted and fighting about something stupid, I would call off our mission out of embarrassment. Nope!

 

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We pulled up to their house, got out of our car with our gloves, and after introducing myself, began moving wood. They said they were done but still thanked us for coming. I looked up and they were right. I felt awful! Not only did I procrastinate getting back after specifically hearing God tell me to help, they were thanking me for doing nothing. We ended up standing talking for a few minutes and they stated, “Out of 200 cars that passed by today, you were the only ones that stopped and offered to help.” That’s when I realized a few things.

Even our imperfect reflections of Jesus can be used to encourage others. I have no idea why God asked me to help that particular couple on that particular day. I do know, though, that He did. Next time I’m going to be quicker to obey His whispers. I also realized that when God speaks that directly to us, I need to be aware that Satan is going to speak to me as well. Whose voice do I want to listen to?

Last, I realized God gives second chances. Come back next time and I will share how He gave me a chance for a “do over.”

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

I Finally Looked Up

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NIV)

My kids and I were at the grocery store last Friday and there was a woman there with two children, one of whom was having a major meltdown.  Most, if not all, of our children have experienced that at some point in public…or will.  And my mother heart wanted to reach out and help her, but I didn’t.  I didn’t know what to do.  I may not have glared at her or whispered or given a disproving look like others did, but I didn’t help build her up either.  She was exasperated, tired, and the louder her daughter became, the higher her stress level rose.  I wish I had been bolder.  I wanted to go over and offer to comfort her child for her, but I wasn’t sure if she would accept my help.  So I stayed silent.  Next time, I pray I at least offer.

My day job is a medical transcriptionist.  That’s how I help support our family during this stage in our lives.  So…I type a lot about people with medical issues.  Like many others, I’m constantly feeling pulled in various directions: doing a great job for my employers, maintaining our home, all while having the physical and emotional reserve my family deserves.  Like so many others, more often than I would like I find myself crabbier than usual, rushed, stressed, exhausted, and far from peaceful.

However, this post isn’t about me, my job, or my circumstances.  I was typing for my day job this morning and realized something as I was typing.  The people I was typing about were just as stressed, rushed, exhausted, and possibly crabby as well.  They needed medicine to help them sleep after taking medicine to help them focus.  They needed medicine to calm their nerves or medicine to help them cope.  They needed medicine for chronic pain or medicine to help them break addictions that had been previously formed for quite possibly other reasons altogether.

 

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That brought me to another thought.  These people who are having trouble coping or focusing or sleeping or suffering from anxiety, depression, or something else altogether are the people I come into contact with at the grocery store, church, bank, or a community activity.  They’re doing their best to cope with their circumstances in life.  What does my interaction with them speak to their hearts?  Do they leave an encounter with me feeling more hopeful or do I add to their stress?  Do I offer encouragement or help reinforce their belief that society in general just doesn’t care? Being silent sends a message the same way speaking up does, but one I don’t want to send.

My goal is to remember to look up from my own circumstances at those around me and consider their feelings, their needs, their situations.  As a Christ follower, I know that God will take care of my feelings, needs, and situations.  Since I don’t know where others are at regarding a relationship with my Father, I may be the only example of Jesus they experience.  I want to make sure I’m showing the best example, the most loving example of God, possible.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” Psalm 40:3 (NIV)

In Please Accept This Invitation, I wrote about how God gently wakes me up in the mornings and how privileged I feel that the creator of the Universe loves me enough to want to spend time together. Lately, I’ve been tired. For a while I was still getting prodded to wake up, but I have to be honest, I wasn’t listening every time. I knew I should get out of bed, and as I thought about obeying, I drifted back to sleep, not waking up again until the alarm went off. That decision was affecting not just me but those around me. I’m a more peaceful person when I have spent quality time with God, alone, then when I try to fit Him in after the whole house is awake. There are too many distractions, too many things on my “to do” list, and too much noise with nowhere to hide.

However, God started giving me another gift. On most days when I would choose to sleep in, I would wake up with a song running through my head. The first few times it occurred, I chalked it up to coincidence. It continued regularly and was usually a different song. I started paying attention to which song it was and what the words meant. More often than not, it was something I needed to hear on that particular day. A personal love song from God to me.

 

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Unfortunately, though, my default button tends to think rules versus relationship. While my husband and I were taking a walk this morning and I was enjoying the beautiful sunrise God gave us, I started to criticize myself. I felt like I’d failed because I hadn’t been getting up early to have my quiet time regularly and wondered if God was displeased. It was then I paid attention to the song still running through my head and I realized freedom.

God and I have grown in our relationship. He isn’t relegated to only 2:00 a.m. or 4:15 a.m. or whatever time He gently asks if I want to wake up and be with Him. If I miss that timeframe, for whatever reason, He and I both know that we’ll meet up a little later. It doesn’t mean I’m sinning if I choose to sleep in some days and instead have our date at 8:00 a.m. or 9:30 a.m.

God showed me through a different song every day that our relationship is more than a time on the clock. I see Him in the different sunrises He surprises me with every morning, the beauty of the deer laying hidden in the dewed-covered grass, a special verse that seems written just for me, or the way my family loves me no matter how many times I mess up. I find, too, that sometimes I’m the one who misses our early morning, unhurried, dates and so when I get that nudge, I’m quick to get up and settle into my special place, anticipating what He wants to tell me.

That’s the beauty of a real relationship. It changes and grows over time. As I learn more about who God is, I learn what makes Him happy and I want to obey. Not because it’s something to check off my “to do” list, but because of love.

Is there something God does specifically with you that lets you know how special you are to Him? I would love to hear how He makes Himself known in your life.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12 (NIV)

Summer is definitely in full swing by now.  Maybe your family likes to schedule activities to keep your kids from getting bored, maybe another family has a list of chores that everyone has to complete and then they get free time.  Maybe your family takes a more spontaneous approach or maybe you find keeping structure and schedules even in the summertime keeps everyone from mischief.

Whatever style of parenting you choose, I’m pretty sure you have heard, “Moooooom” quite a bit in the last few weeks.  Such as, “Mooom, I’m boooored,” or “Moooom, where’s my bathing suit?” or “Moooom, tell Timmy to stop touching me.”

Thinking about how many times I hear, “Mooooom” in a given day, I stopped and thought about why we, as moms (or grandmas) do what we do.  Every day we are called upon to be referee, lifeguard, chauffer, cook, nurse, or teacher to name but a few jobs the title “mom” entails.  Yet, at the end of the day, we go to bed, only to rise again the next day and do it all over again.

I had to stop and think why???  Unconditional love.  Devotion to our family. Commitment to raising other human beings the best way we know how.  Only love motivates a woman to rock or walk for hours so that her colicky baby is comforted.  Only love motivates a woman to get up every hour during the night because those teeth that are pushing through HURT.  Love doesn’t mind being thrown up on, cleaning up bathroom floors where children have missed the target, scrubbing muddy shoe prints off kitchen floors, trying to save a baby bird because your child insists you can do it, or spending more time in the car than anywhere else because of your kids’ jobs, sports camps, sleepovers, and dates.

My love for my kids reminded me that my Father loves me as much as I love my kids times infinity.  His love for us was what motivated Him to die a gruesome death so that we could choose whether or not to spend eternity with Him in Heaven.  His love comforts us through heartaches, brings peace when our life has been turned upside down, and will last for all of eternity.

 

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There is a favorite saying in our house: “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and there is nothing you can do that will make me love you less.”  To imagine that God feels that for me to a greater degree than I could ever feel it for my children.

Maybe the next time you hear “Mooooom” this summer, it will bring a smile to your face.  Not only will it remind you of the precious blessings God placed under your care, but maybe, just maybe it will remind you who loved you first!  And because of His love for you, maybe that will make cleaning melted crayon off your car seats a little bit easier.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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