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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

“My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child He loves that He disciplines; the child He embraces, He also corrects.” Hebrews 12:6 (The Message)

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This year, I’ve been on the lookout for what grace is and isn’t. Recently, I was given a choice: To figure out if extending grace meant rescuing or allowing natural consequences. Sometimes, in my opinion, grace is being given the chance to experience natural consequences.

Two separate times this week I was presented with the challenge: Rescue or allow a chance for independence. The first time, I offered the chance for independence. I’m not a stickler for order and passing the white glove test in our home. Even after our massive organization this fall, our house is still comfortably lived in. However, I do have an issue with folding one’s clothes and putting them away neatly. My opinion is this: If I take the time to wash, dry, and fold your clothes – at least take the responsibility to transfer them neatly into your drawers. This is definitely a skill that has to be learned and is not acquired through osmosis. So, after having reminded nicely, more than once, I realized practice might be necessary. All disorganized clothes were placed in a pile in the middle of the room to be folded and put away by the owner.

The time from when I did that to the time our child had an opportunity to put them away was a several-hour span. During that time, I fought with myself. “Am I teaching a lesson or frustrating my child? Is this one of those ‘not-so-great’ parenting moments? Will my child learn more if I choose to come alongside and help reorganize the clothes or would that make things worse?”

I was very close to telling our child to forget it, but instead hung back, watched, and waited. What happened next was wonderful. Our child took ownership of the problem and ended up doing a job much better than I expected. Not only was our child proud of what was accomplished, but I realized what happened was a good thing. And weeks later, the clothes are still neat.

Later that week, we were hurrying to finish dinner before leaving for another commitment and our kids were slow in finishing. I had already told them they would get nothing else to eat all night if they didn’t finish. However, I also knew it wasn’t their favorite meal and they were eating without complaining. As a result, I decided to offer “grace.” When I said that to our four-year-old, he said, “What’s grace?” My answer: “Getting a snack at Gramma’s even though you didn’t finish your soup.” The smile that lit his face was priceless and the rest of the week we had many less food battles than usual.

Have you ever gotten frustrated because you wanted God to answer your prayer one way and it appeared as though He was ignoring you or giving you an answer you didn’t want to hear? Sometimes I think God handles us the way we handle our children (minus the wishy-washy self talk since God knows the perfect solution from the beginning). There are times when He realizes we might need some practice in certain areas in order to grow. Other times, He sees that we have the right attitude but our circumstances are lousy, and so grace is given.

In the past, I used to have a negative attitude when God chose practice for me instead of the easier route. Now, however, I’m quicker to see that by Him allowing natural consequences, He knows I’m quite capable of what He is calling me to do and He wants to give me a chance to grow and develop. Just as with our child and the clothes pile, it’s a compliment to think God feels I’m capable to handle, with His help, what is placed before me. At the time I might wish for an easier path, but when it’s over, hopefully I will see how much I’ve learned. But, other times, as with family dinner, when I come to God with the right attitude but not always the right ending, He gives me the gift of grace and a chance to start fresh. I’m learning to embrace both instances as they both serve a special purpose.

My children are learning that sometimes grace in our house means cancelling the offense as though it never happened while other times it means using natural consequences to grow and develop a little bit more. If I stay close to God, He’ll help me determine which choice is given.

What about you? What’s your response when God doesn’t answer the way you hoped He would? What about when He answers in a much better way than you ever imagined?

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!”

I Peter 4: 8-11 (The Message)

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One of my gifts is encouraging. Another is serving. I love to serve my husband and I love to serve my kids. As a result, I sometimes struggle knowing the difference between teaching my children independence and serving them out of love. Sometimes, my kids get upset with me because I’ll make them do something for themselves but will turn around and do the same thing for their dad. They throw the “It’s not fair” card and to an extent, they’re right. But, on the other hand, they’re also wrong.

My job isn’t to train my husband. His mom did a great job of raising him and he has already learned how to be a fully functioning, independent adult. We got married a little later in life, and he lived on his own for many years before we met. I have no doubt about his ability to cook, clean, wash, shop for food, etc. However, our children haven’t achieved that level of independence yet, and it’s my job as their mother to teach them. Someday, if God allows, they will get married and I would love to know that I did my best to equip them well to fulfill their role as husband or wife and, again, if God allows, mother or father.

Therefore, if I continue to do everything for them, they’ll never learn the appropriate skills to pass on to their children. And, quite honestly, a huge motivating factor for me to continue to teach these skills is because I don’t want to be known as the “mother-in-law who never taught my spouse how to be independent.

It’s my choice to serve my husband by supplying food he enjoys eating, clean clothes, a relatively clean house, and a chance to relax at night while the dishes are washed and put away. It’s also my choice to give my children practice to learn the above skills so that they in turn can choose (or not) to serve their spouses in that way when they get married. Or, so that they can gain the confidence needed in those areas before venturing out on their own and focus on other aspects of adulthood – such as studying for their career of choice, working hard at their job after graduation, or focusing on reaching out and helping others.

I show love to my husband by making his life as easy as possible when he comes home. I show love to my children through practice of necessary life skills. The scenarios look opposite, and may seem unfair to those who are given the direction to work, but both are ways to love those God has blessed me with.

Everyone deserves a break, though, so when they least expect it, I will continue to give grace to each child from their chores occasionally – which is another way to show how much I love them.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

No MVPs Allowed

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,”

Colossians 3:23 (NIV)

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Have you ever heard the following statements? “It’s not fair,” “It’s not my turn,” and “I set the table for three days in a row and (fill in the blank) hasn’t had to all week.”

My husband and I try to model certain behavior. We don’t keep score, we don’t divvy up jobs according to “husband/wife, boy/girl,” and we don’t split work 50/50. We do have our certain roles and specific areas of the house we’re usually in charge of so things continue to run smoothly, but if we see a job that needs to be done, even if it’s one we normally don’t do, we quietly take care of it.

Fairness in a family is an important concept to practice on a regular basis regarding physical and emotional needs. That is one way to ensure children grow up feeling valued, unique, and loved within the family unit. If one child gets a piece of cake, then all children should be allowed a piece of cake. If one child gets to have a special date with mom or dad, then the next time another child should be allowed that privilege. Within reason and according to age differences, children’s legitimate needs should be met equally.

However, that’s where equality should end and the concept of working together should begin. Working together for the greater good of the family as a whole is best accomplished when everyone in the family takes ownership for aspects they can developmentally handle. For instance, a child shouldn’t be in charge of the family finances, but upon returning home from a family outing, if one child discovers the trail of garbage throughout the kitchen thanks to Fido hunting down a snack, he can grab a broom or gloves and start picking up the mess instead of stepping over it because “mom or dad will clean it up.” If a sibling has a school project or after school job or sports event, then another sibling can pick up the slack and do her chores for her that night or several nights in a row. If mom or dad has spent the entire day chauffeuring the kids back and forth to various activities, then it’s realistic to assume the other parent can start dinner and the kids can take over cleanup.

When family becomes less about keeping score or one particular family member always getting out of helping out while everyone else works overtime and actively looks for ways to keep the household flowing smoothly, everyone wins. First, it pleases God when we take our responsibilities seriously and work as though we’re working for Him. Second, when going the extra mile is modeled on a consistent basis, it usually happens that others will join in. Third, messes that are taken care of right away usually don’t turn into major overhauls and it leaves extra time for having fun together, building memories instead of spending all day organizing and cleaning.

God didn’t design families to be sports teams. There are no MVPs in a family unit. When everyone adopts that mindset and works together, doing their best to please God, everyone wins.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“The most loving thing I can do for others is to let them express their love to me.”

(Eva Piper, A Walk Through the Dark, pg. 131)

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I used to run a daycare out of our home when our kids were younger. The parents I served became an extended part of our family. During the time I was privileged to watch others’ children, one family in particular had a rough couple of months. You know the kind – where Murphy’s Law decides to camp out at your house and it appears as though he isn’t leaving for a while. As a family, we were able to step in and help them out. What we did was very minor compared to their needs, but it was something and it felt good to bless them. Soon they were back on their feet and life continued as is.

Less than a year later, it appeared as though Murphy left their front yard and took up residence on our property. Now we found ourselves on the receiving end of their help and I had a hard time accepting it. Not because I didn’t appreciate it. On the contrary – it was sorely needed, but I like the role of blessings others better than having to be blessed.

Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you: I hate asking for help. I don’t just not like it, I hate it. It’s not that I think I can do things better than others. In fact, I know I usually do a worse job, but I don’t like feeling as though I’m inconveniencing others, putting others out, or forcing them to do something they don’t really want to. However, God recently brought me to a place where I realized it is as much a blessing to allow others to “bless” me as it is for me to have a chance to bless others.

I have a great friend who is always telling me, “Don’t steal my blessing,” when their family does something nice for us. That phrase sums it up nicely. As much as I love doing things for others “just because” or to help them over a rough spot, others also want to have the pleasure of doing in the same way. Acts 20:35 says it nicely, “…You’ll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, ‘You’re far happier giving than getting.’” (The Message)

It really does feel good to give to others expecting nothing in return. However, there is a lesson to be learned in allowing others to bless you as well. Thank you to all my extended family and friends who have blessed us with so much, especially lately. It’s humbling to be the one getting the blessings and I pray we’ll hear God’s promptings to use our family to reciprocate or to “pay it forward” to others who have been given the unfortunate opportunity to house Murphy on their front porch.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

I Was Wrong

“For now, I pray that my husband feels loved by the specific things I choose to do on a daily and weekly basis to keep our love alive just like we did when we were dating.” Cheri Swalwell (Top Priority)

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Last month Bill and I were enjoying a leisurely browse through our local bookstore. He had bought me my favorite coffee, which I was sipping while looking at familiar, new, and favorite titles. It was then I realized…I was wrong.

In 2012, I had written a blog titled, Top Priority, when I talked about how couples don’t necessarily need to plan date nights once a week or once a month. I gave ideas of how you could find alone time by leaving older children at home with a walkie talkie while taking a walk around the neighborhood or strapping younger children in a stroller while you walked and talked.

I still stand by the suggestions I gave in that article and we still spend time doing them regularly; however, as our children are now almost two years older, we have started implementing date night again. Our oldest goes to youth group, so we drop the other two off with Gramma and Papa and spend time reconnecting with no distractions. I think it’s the no distractions part where I was wrong. I realize, now that we participate in it on a regular basis again, how much it was missed.

There is something to be said about uninterrupted time together when you don’t have to talk about deep topics, financial or parenting issues, and you can just relax and enjoy why you fell in love. And, this year, our kids are older and the youngest finally sleeps much, much better, so we will be getting a day or two away over our anniversary. I’m really looking forward to two days to recharge my batteries and have time to talk (or enjoy the silence) with the one I pledged to love for the rest of my life.

So, as much as I still agree with the examples and helpful hints I gave in the former blog, Top Priority, I was wrong to discount the importance of scheduling regular time away (even for an hour or two) to focus on just each other. The outings or activities still don’t have to be expensive. Sometimes we will grab a “buy one get one free” coupon to our local coffee shop and with only paying for one drink, get the advantage of having two. Or sometimes it’s more fun to share one. I find the more creative we are, the more memorable and fun the outing. I’m looking forward to the warmer weather when we can hike local trails, a totally free and healthy activity that will help us reconnect and refresh. Until then, I love the free bookstore and the coupons for coffee.

It’s not just all about the parents either. Your kids will be having fun spending time with people they love. Everyone has a chance to miss one another and appreciate each other more. The best part? When kids see their parents putting their relationship first, they have a great model to follow and the security that their parents are committed to each other. Leaving that legacy, along with plenty of laughter, is important to our family. What legacy do you want to leave?

©2014 Cheri Swalwell

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