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A Valuable Lesson

“First pay attention to me, and then relax. Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands.”

Proverbs 1:33 (The Message)

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How does the saying go, “Hindsight is 20/20?” God is taking me to the next level on my faith journey, and while I’m experiencing a new set of growing pains, He has comforted me with a look at the past. Today I want to encourage those of you on your own faith journey to remember to look back sometimes to see the progress you’re making, since sometimes it feels like an uphill battle with very little progress.

As God calls me to take new steps of obedience, He’s been giving our family a chance to reap the benefits of steps we took in 2013. In God’s Timing is Always Best, written exclusively for Journey from Fear to Faith, I talk about how God spoke to me specific tasks He wanted me to complete. The first one was to have a garage sale. We had been accumulating “stuff” throughout the year, so finding things to sell wasn’t the hard part – it was finding the time. God presented an opportunity, we walked, and the result was better than I anticipated. Second, God prompted me to start organizing our house. As we worked together organizing, sorting, and blessing others with items we had outgrown, we found other areas that had been neglected and needed a little TLC. Home projects were completed and our house was again in great shape.

One direct result of taking the time necessary to get our house in order was the blessing of being refinanced to a reduced interest rate and shaving a substantial number of years off our mortgage overall. I thought the blessings were finished and praised God for His provision. However, as I talked about in Just Enough or The Best?, also written exclusively for Journey from Fear to Faith, God doesn’t want us to just get by. He wants us to live a life of abundance, but we have to obey and follow His lead. God told me this fall to look for ways to lower our expenses before seeking ways to increase my income, so I began looking at other areas we could save. God blew me away with His answer. However, in order to receive that blessing, we needed to have our home inspected one more time. When asked what condition our home was in, I was able to say with confidence, “It’s in great shape,” thanks to the hours we’d poured in this fall. It was without worry that we waited for the final answer and God granted “the Best,” not “just enough.

In order to reap the blessings God had waiting for our family, we had to walk in faith without knowing why He was asking what He was. There were plenty of times during the journey this fall that I wanted to give up. There were plenty of times I didn’t understand why. However, I did trust and walk, knowing I had heard Him clearly and honestly wanted to obey.

So, let my journey encourage you. Sometimes God asks us to take steps that don’t seem to make sense or seem too hard. However, have you ever considered that maybe it’s all part of the process? That God is pleased with your faithfulness by walking in a way that lines up with His Word even when you don’t completely understand the why?

Keep walking, my friend. Don’t give up. In due time, God will not only provide the blessings, but in my experience, they are usually better than what you could have done for yourself.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

In order for God to bring blessings into our lives, sometimes He has to get rid of some things to make room for what He wants to give us.

Our family started saying goodbye last fall to things God wanted us to get rid of.  We are beginning to see some of the blessings God wanted to give. If we hadn’t been obedient and allowed those things to leave, we wouldn’t be able to say “hi” to the blessings that are coming.

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Even when good things come, saying goodbye can still be hard.  Just remember…when we’re God’s children, He doesn’t want “enough” for His kids.  He holds out for the BEST!

Our BEST hasn’t come yet…but I have faith it’s still coming!  And I’m learning enjoy the journey along the way.

What BEST has God brought to you?  What have you had to say goodbye to in order to make room for His BEST?

“Extrovert: A friendly person who likes being with and talking to other people : an outgoing person.

Introvert: A shy person : a quiet person who does not find it easy to talk to other people.”

Merriam-Webster online Dictionary

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Growing up, I always assumed I was an extrovert. I enjoyed people, was told in school I talked too much, and wouldn’t have used the word “shy” in a description about myself. However, the older I get, the more I realize I’m really introverted. The signs were all there, yet I didn’t know at the time how to read them.

Two weeks of selective mutism my freshman year when we relocated to another State. Choosing to live at home instead of in dorms at college. Eating lunch at my desk for five years instead of in the lunchroom with my coworkers. Working from home for the past ten years and loving it.

However, as I said before, growing up thinking I was extroverted, I was thrown off balance when I became a mother and realized I was a closet introvert instead. Being raised by two extroverts, our house was always open to anybody who wanted to drop in unannounced or stay for a few days. My mom was born to be a hostess and always has food in her freezer ready to defrost and cook up gourmet style. My parents welcomed any and all of our friends, at any hour – the more the merrier.

Therefore, it was a surprise to me that as my children got older, I realized I tended to lean toward introversion versus extroversion. For a parent, especially one that enjoys quiet time to recharge her batteries, that can be a challenge. The highlight of my childhood years was connecting with friends, attending youth group, and participating in school activities. There were some days while in high school that I left at 7:00 a.m. and didn’t return home until after 9:00 p.m. because of involvement in so many activities. So I had to ask myself the question: Am I going to neglect my children’s social lives because I need more quiet than my parents did or is there a way I can help them reach their full potential while still taking care of myself?

While our kids may not attend every single event that their friends do, there are benefits to having an introverted parent as well. I’m not afraid to tackle tough subjects with my kids. Even though they’d prefer to tell me about the latest movie or videogame, I’m always asking them to talk to me about them. I want to know how they are, what they’re interested in, and share an open dialogue regarding topics of drugs, sex, and other touchy matters. Any friend of our children’s that comes over is welcomed into our home as one of the family. I may not cook a gourmet meal, but I will try and have something enjoyable, like macaroni and cheese or pizza.

For an extroverted parent, the experiences make look different but be equally as challenging. And, when you are introverted but are parenting an extroverted child or visa versa, that brings in a whole new host of issues to navigate.

I wrote this post to be an encouragement to all parents out there. Whatever way God created you, rest assured He didn’t make a mistake. He loves that you are introverted or extroverted – neither one is better than the other. And the children you were called to parent? God put them in your family for a specific purpose as well.

My extroverted children are helping me come out of my shell while I can relate to the introverted aspects of my other children and come alongside them with the added layer of truly understanding what they are feeling. After all, if I can try something new where I’m not comfortable and live to tell about it, they can muster up some courage to take a small step toward that goal as well. Also, I can bring a better understanding of being sensitive to introverts for my child who is extroverted and doesn’t have a clue that some people need quiet to recharge.

However, having said all that, when I took on the responsibility to be a parent, I made a commitment to be the best one possible with my strengths and weaknesses. Knowing now that I’m more introverted than previously realized, I need to make sure to recharge my batteries, as much as possible, before my kids come home from school so that they get the best parts of me and not the leftovers. Same with my husband – He deserves much more than an exhausted wife who can barely keep her eyes open at night. It is my pleasure, as much as possible, to reserve some of my energy so we can laugh together while watching TV or make up new inside family jokes.

What about you? Are you introverted or extroverted? A great friend of mine posted a free questionnaire on her website that can help you determine which category you tend to lean toward. Here’s the link if you’re interested: http://marianneclements.org/career/introvert-or-extrovert/.

Extroverted or introverted…just remember each personality type has many gifts and talents they can bring into their own lives and others around them to help encourage, build up, and guide. I believe, when all is said and done, our kids don’t care what type of personality we were born with. For my own, I just want them to know that my priorities in life are God first, then their father, and then them. They are more important than friends, work, or hobbies. If I can succeed with that goal, then I know I’ll have done my job well, introverted or extroverted.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

We are getting ready to celebrate Easter this weekend, but before we know it, Mother’s Day will be here.  Do you need something special for that wonderful friend who is also a mother?

Coming within two weeks, Spoken from the Heart: Parenting 101 will be available to purchase.  A great gift to give to that soon-to-be mother, first-time mom, or seasoned mother of many.  Encouragement, comic relief, and a chance to sit and relax for just a few minutes every day packs this great little book which is small enough to fit just about anywhere.

Official announcement coming soon…but here’s a sneak peak.

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“Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” Romans 12:14-16 (The Message)

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Pastor Sunnock gave an illustration one Sunday and it stuck with me. He was talking about various ways people interact with each other. When you first meet someone, everyone starts out on the front porch. You are strangers to each other, friendly with each other, but it doesn’t go much further than that. However, once you begin to learn more about each other, you found out whether or not you have things in common. Those that do are the people you invite into your living room. While you are more comfortable with the people in the living room, conversations are still guarded somewhat, a little bit formal, and people tend to still be nervous around each other. He went on to say only a select few from the living room ever get invited into the kitchen. Those that do are the ones you trust – with your heart, your family, your secrets, your dreams. The kitchen is where the fun is. The kitchen is where you bare your souls, usually over good food, fellowship, and fun.

Some people are very comfortable on the front porch. They don’t want to let people into their lives and for various reasons they don’t care to be let into others. Other people feel they’ve made it if they are in the living room. They relate more than superficially, but don’t have a desire to dig deeper and don’t want people prying into their lives. Others are most comfortable in the kitchen. They have a desire to be vulnerable with others, share their hearts and expect the sharing to be reciprocated. Invitations into the kitchen come with some risk, though, because the more you expose yourself, the greater chance you have of being hurt. However, the more vulnerable you are, the better the opportunity to experience acceptance and love in the form God intended.

Where are you standing? Are you comfortable on the front porch? If so, have you considered maybe taking those few steps into the living room? Allowing yourself to open up to someone you can trust and see how it feels? Are you already in the living room but would like to move into the kitchen? Are you in the kitchen and you see someone in the living room waiting for an invitation? What about out on the front porch? Can you see the front porch from your position in the kitchen?

While I’m not advising forcing someone from the front porch before they are ready, I’m asking this: Do you live your life in such a way that you’re welcoming those who choose to take that next step? Are you approachable? Friendly? Vulnerable?

For myself personally, I try to camp out in the kitchen with most of my relationships, but have had a tendency to stay on the front porch too long or linger in the living room in others. I definitely have room for growth.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

Opening Night

“I want you to realize that this life we’re living right now is not a practice game. It’s the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Olympics all rolled up into one.”

Jim Stovall, The Millionaire Map

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I’ve never been one to worry too much about what age I am. When I turned 30, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. We were actively working on getting pregnant with our second child, we celebrated at one of my favorite spots, and it was just another decade. I did remember being filled with hope of what I would accomplish in my 30s. So, when I turned 40, I was surprised it bothered me as much as it did. I felt, in a way, like I had let myself down. There were certain goals I’d worked on endlessly during my 30s, hoping to put that part of my life behind me so I could concentrate on other more important things. But, instead of making progress, I had seemed to go backwards. I didn’t like it.

This year, I will turn 42. The truth of that hit me hard when I read and really absorbed the words of the above quote. This isn’t a practice run. Life can get better…it can get worse…but it will keep moving. What I choose to do with my time, talents, attitude, circumstances, how I choose to respond to others’ around me – this is the real deal. I don’t get a do over on the time I’m living right now.

I don’t get to relive my 30s. They’re gone. And while I hate to admit it, I have regrets. I’m disappointed in how I focused too much on certain areas, letting them affect every other choice I made. While I can’t get those moments (or that decade) back, I can choose to move forward and do things differently from here forward. I can choose to live purposefully. I can choose to seize opportunities as they arise and make memories to store away for later. I can choose to live the best “me” every day, instead of thinking I can “start over tomorrow.” I can choose to move my body, eat healthy without deprivation, love hard, forgive more. I can choose to hit the “restart” button faster when I fail, and I will fail, instead of wallowing in regrets, guilt, and self condemnation. I can choose to follow the path God put me on instead of wandering over to other’s paths, contemplating if I should be there instead.

Will I get it perfectly? Nope. When I hit the next milestone (50), I’m sure I’ll still have regrets. Some areas may not have improved as much as I would’ve hoped, but I pray I’ve made some progress in extending grace for those imperfections…to myself, my kids, and those around me. I would rather be an imperfect example filled with grace than a perfect example of what not to do.

I need to keep reminding myself this isn’t dress rehearsal. I can’t stop the play if I mess up my lines. This is opening night. When I mess up, and I will, I need to keep going, keep trying, and maybe learn to laugh at myself a little more. After all, most mistakes are better when you laugh about them later.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6 (NIV)

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Twelve years ago a coworker stated she hadn’t used an alarm clock for years but instead relied upon God to wake her up. I didn’t have enough faith at the time to try it out. A few years ago God reminded me of that conversation. I was working from home and waking up early to have my devotions and/or to work in the quiet of the morning. Since I usually slept through the alarm and my husband would have to gently shake me several times, he wasn’t sleeping soundly. I decided to talk to God and ask Him to wake me up instead. And guess what? He did!

One might question – was God really waking me up or had my body just readjusted to a new sleep/wake cycle? It’s no coincidence that on the nights I would ask God to wake me up early, He would. Yet, on the nights I chose not to ask, I slept through ‘til morning. Sometimes, though, when I was especially tired, I found myself almost resentful when He would wake me up. Sometimes I ignored His prompting, turning over and going back to sleep, or other times I would get up, but not be too happy about it.

However, one particular morning, God woke me up without my asking the night before. It was one of those experiences where you just know it’s Him. I got out of bed quietly, grabbed my devotional books, and got settled in our big brown chair, blanket securely wrapped around me for warmth. That particular morning God spoke directly about an issue I’d been struggling with, bringing me encouragement and hope. I crawled back into bed afterwards and slept peacefully until my husband gently shook me to start the day with everyone else.

It wasn’t until later that I realized what had really happened. God, who created Heaven and Earth, loves me so much that He gently whispered an invitation to join Him. All these mornings I’d been taking God for granted. When I really thought about it, I stopped thinking of those early mornings as inconveniences or something I “had” to do.

My whole perspective changed. When I realized Who was inviting me into a quiet relationship free from distractions every single day, I realized how special that was. He still lets me sleep in some days and we spend quiet time together after the household has settled down, but there is something extra special when He wakes me up early.

What He does for me, He’s willing to do for you. Have you ever thought about asking God to wake you up early for some one-on-one time together? It’s an experience I have come to really enjoy. You don’t have to be a morning person to enjoy a private moment with God before the rest of the household wakes up. Now when He extends a personal invitation, I’m much quicker to accept.

©2014 Cheri Swalwell

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