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“Fathers, (mothers) do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Colossians 3:21 (NIV)

I have three terrific kids. They work hard, try to do their best, and are obedient without being perfect. I’m always telling them perfection would be boring…however, lately I’ve been saying perfection would be boring but expecting much more out of them then they deserve. I think it’s stemming from another round of Mom Guilt, only in a different form.

Two years ago, I wrote a post titled Mom Guilt where I talked about how I felt guilty that I wasn’t the mom I imagined I should be. This year, I had huge plans for our summer. It was going to much more relaxing, I was going to have time for leisurely lunches with my kids, afternoon dips in the pool, road trips, hikes at the zoo, and much more.

If the first week of summer break was any indication, they spent the week requesting to go places, me feeling guilty for working so hard that I grudgingly gave in, then all of us having a miserable time because it was “rush, rush, rush” with very little fun. To make matters worse, I looked at our calendar and we are busy almost every single week. For a mom who chose before spring break that our summer was going to uninterrupted, lazy, and full of spontaneous memory-making moments, now it’s just one big penned-in calendar with little time to schedule sleep or bathroom breaks. What happened to the leisurely dips in the pool, spontaneous road trips, or afternoon reading sessions?

 

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First of all, I had to realize that two years ago mom guilt looked different but stemmed from the same place – my mindset. My children are old enough now to realize that just because they want to go somewhere, even if it seems life or death important, they are capable of waiting for a more appropriate time, like when my work is at a natural stopping point. I have to realize it’s a good thing when I allow them to experience delayed gratification. I don’t have to feel guilty for saying, “later” when going now creates more of a burden than benefit.

Second, I realized my kids, despite how grown up they appear and how mature they act, are still children. They are going to ask, they are going to stretch the boundaries that are there, and they are going to try and get me to change my mind. That is their job! It’s my responsibility as the adult to set the boundaries I can live with and then stick with them. If I continually give in to going places out of guilt but then make their lives miserable while we’re there, I’m not honoring God with my attitude and I’m not modeling good behavior. I need to let my “yes” be “yes,” and my “no” be “no” and try to say yes as much as possible, when reasonable. In addition, I need to establish rules with my kids that when I’m working, constant interruptions delay the completion of the work and then the reward they are waiting for may not occur. Again, though, it’s my responsibility to create the boundary and stick with it, possibly giving natural consequences as a result if necessary.

Last, childhood should still be fun. I have one chance with my kids while they are this age. One. There are no do-overs. They are only each age for 365 days…period. Not to add to my guilt, but instead to challenge me to make the most of the ages they are. To realize that life doesn’t need to be super serious all the time (a lesson I constantly need to be reminded of). That work doesn’t have to be finished first, every single time, but when I find a good stopping place, take advantage of the laziness of summer and make a spontaneous memory with my kids. Do I want them to remember me always working, always yelling, and that they can never make me happy with what they do?

Nope! I want my kids to remember spontaneous trips for ice cream, swimming for 20 minutes filled with laughter and games, catching lightning bugs, or a spontaneous trip to the beach because mom got her work done early. I don’t want to be remembered as the “crabby mom.” However, I’m the only one that gets to make that choice.

This will take some work. When life gets busy, my personality doesn’t naturally think peace and tranquility. Life doesn’t slow down by itself. I will have to actively choose what mom I want to be every single day – the crabby mom who allows her mom guilt to scream or the fun mom who realizes and chooses what’s most important – living every day with the least amount of regrets as possible. The only way I will make a good choice is to stay connected to my Father, who is the creator of peace and fun. For that reason, I’m choosing to stick with the basics.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

 

 

Sneak Peak!

Coming Soon!  Spoken from the Heart: Connections

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“…this life is not our life. Our life is eternal, and that is God’s gift to us. And this life is our gift to God.” (Ally Breedlove, When Will the Heaven Begin?)

My husband knows how to give presents. First, he takes mental notes of what people enjoy. Then, he researches the best brand and finally, remembers all the little things that make each gift perfect (batteries, games, accessories, etc.).  The end result is that the person receiving the present feels loved. My husband gets more pleasure out of giving than he ever does receiving.

The above phrase spoke directly to my heart.  Ally was having a conversation with her brother when she made that statement.  I love how she took such a huge concept and simplified it into easy to understand words.  It made me stop and reevaluate how I was living my life.

For quite a few years, at the end of my prayer time, I’ve had the habit of holding out cupped hands, palms upward, and saying, “Take whatever You want, Lord, it’s Yours.  And give back only what You want me to have.” However, the last two years or so, that request has slowly been changing.  In addition to asking God to take and give whatever He chooses, I started adding, “My life is Yours. Show me what You want me to change and then help me to change it.”  He answered that heartfelt prayer by starting out small.  He helped me change little sins I didn’t even realize were sins.  Later He started addressing some bigger issues that, to be completely honest – I’m still struggling with – because they require more work, self control, and discipline.

Reading the above quote showed me a different motivation to use while working on the hard changes. It’s about so much more than what I can get out of obedience to God. It’s more about what can I give to God as a result of my obedience.  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the promises and blessings that come from obeying God, but for some reason, the phrase above moved me to the next level.

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Instead of thinking, “What’s in it for me?” my perspective changed.  When I die, I want to present to God a life lived fully for Him.  I don’t want to waste my time with things that don’t matter, but instead I want my motives and actions with others to always lead them back to the One that really matters, my Father. Since this life, compared to eternity, is short, I have a limited amount of time to put actions to my words of “I love You” to the One who loves me most.

When I looked at it from that perspective, it made me want to work harder, live better, and love more “just because.”  It also changed the way I see the areas of struggle in my life. Instead of thinking about how hard changing can be, if I think about overcoming my challenges as a potential gift for my Father, it gives me more motivation to keep trying and not give up.  I have a bigger purpose.

Just as my husband gets pure joy from giving presents to others, I’m more excited about what I can give to God when I meet Him face-to-face someday than all the amazing blessings that He is waiting to give to me.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” I John 5:14 (NIV)

Yesterday we talked about how everyone’s spiritual journey is on its own timetable.  Today I want to talk about another area of timing when it comes to spiritual issues.  Answered prayers.

In my own life, I’ve had prayers that have seemingly been answered overnight while others have taken years before I’ve seen God say “yes” or “no”.  Others…I’m still waiting for the answer to occur while walking in faith that God hears and is working behind the scenes.

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Sometimes I get discouraged when I pray for days, months, or years about a request that is heavy on my heart.  It could be friends and family who haven’t made a decision to have a personal relationship with Christ, sickness that has worn down those I love, or fear, addictions, or financial problems that have held others in bondage.

However, then I remember just because I don’t see the answer right away, it doesn’t mean there isn’t progress.  All the above requests I prayed for line up with God’s Word.  He is a loving Father who doesn’t want any of His children to go to hell.  God isn’t a God of sickness, disease, addiction, fear, or financial hardships.  He is the God of freedom from disease, the God of peace, faith, and provisions.  However, God knows people have to reach a certain point before they are ready to hear and receive the help He offers – either for their eternal salvation or problems they will face here on earth.

So, when prayers seem to take much longer being answered, I can be assured that God is working behind the scenes, orchestrating events in the lives of those I love, myself included, to draw us closer to Him and the best answer to that heart-felt prayer.  Most of the time, I see that my prayer, while full of only the best intentions, isn’t the best solution.  What God ends up answering is far better than anything I could have envisioned or asked for myself.  Other times, He does answer my prayer but it took longer than expected because God was doing much more than answering what I asked – He wanted complete healing for my loved one, not just a quick fix.

Next time you get discouraged and think your prayers aren’t being answered, remember that God works behind the scenes.  He has far more patience, and love, than we do for our family and friends and wants the best for them, on a much bigger scale.  They are His children just as we are.  However, God does allow free will so He isn’t going to force someone to choose the answer He wants.  He will patiently guide, bring others into our lives (or the lives of those we’re praying for) and allow situations that will help draw each of us toward the best answer, but He will never force Himself on us or others.  He is forever the gentleman.

I want to encourage you to never stop praying and bringing your burdens before God, in faith, knowing that He hears and answers.  And, take it from me.  Whether you’ve prayed for an answer for six months or six years, when the answer finally comes, you quickly forget about the time in between and just praise God for the answered prayer.  Because in reality, it didn’t take that long after all.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,  Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

I was talking with a friend the other day about the growth I’d experienced in my spiritual life over the past year.  Some concepts introduced within the last few months, coupled with ideas I’d known about for years, finally came together and I “got it.”  Some areas took a little practice before I got comfortable and saw my faith grow, such as thanking God ahead of time for answers I hadn’t seen yet but were promises for His children from the Bible. Other topics, like asking God a question and then sitting silently for the answer, were a little easier to put into place and were a fun way for me to grow my relationship with Him.  The blessings journal, something I’d been encouraged to try years ago but finally wrote in on a regular basis brought about extra blessings as I could tangibly see how God was answering prayers, providing for our family, and taking care of our physical needs as well as blessing us with “extras.”

However, one thing my friend and I discussed was that the growth that I seemed to experience in twelve short months really took much longer.  Concepts, truths, and Biblical principles I’d learned about beginning in childhood were built upon in order to get me to the place where I could understand, grasp, and deepen my faith muscles, prayer time, and relationship with my Father.

Another wonderful thing we discovered is that we’re both on the same path but in different places depending upon the topic.  God gave me the word “grace” this year but gave her a different word to work on.  We both shuffle back and forth with balance, moderation, obedience, and faith.  Being on different levels than each other for spiritual truths is exciting and, in my opinion, part of God’s plan so we can continue to help each other along the way.  She introduced me to a specific concept and then it sat.  God then took that seed she planted, and watered it through my church family in the way of sermons and small groups.  Then I was able to go back to her, ask more in-depth questions, and practice until finally that small seed sprouted into a harvest in my life.  Now, I am prepared while I practice the new concept in my life to help plant the seed in someone else’s life so they in turn can reap a harvest.

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If we were all on the same level in our spiritual journey, how could we help each other?  Is it fair for me to judge someone who is on a different level than myself when I have areas I struggle with as well?  God meant for us to help each other.  His example was to show compassion and love while leading His people in the right direction.  I want to follow His example.

I’m glad I had a chance to reflect on my spiritual journey over the past year.  Yes, I’ve grown a lot but I still have so much to learn.  I choose to encourage those God allows me to cross paths with, not hurrying them along or trying to slow them down.  We all have our own pace that is perfect in God’s eyes.  My job isn’t to judge – my job is to encourage and love.  God is in charge of the timing – and His timing is always right.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

 

“Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” Philippians 2:4 (The Message)

 

I heard a sermon by our Student Ministries Pastor, Pastor Justin Smelter, regarding selfishness versus selflessness in dating and marriage.  It shed additional insight for me into the real reasons behind dating and eventual marriage. When he was done, I was glad to know that this man, with wisdom taken directly from the Bible, was going to be reinforcing the beliefs my husband and I have been talking to our children about while they deal with crazy hormones, crushes, and the difficult task of growing into adulthood.

One of the concepts he taught was the real reason to date and eventually marry.  It’s not so much what can I get out of this relationship?, but instead, what can I give to the other person?  The more I thought about the concept, the more I realized he wasn’t just talking about opposite sex attraction.  He was talking about every relationship we are involved in.  Selfish versus selfless.

As it says in Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (NIV)  What that means is this.  When we become God’s children, choosing to submit to His authority first through the salvation prayer and then living a life of obedience to Him out of love, not fear, we are called to a higher standard.  Instead of demanding our way, our wants, and our wishes, our mindset should be that of loving others more than ourselves, selflessly loving those God puts in our path and allowing God to be the One to bless us with what He wants us to have.

 

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I was able to put this principle into practice not long after I heard the sermon.  I had an argument with a close friend.  We were both frustrated and while we were fighting in a healthy way, it was still an argument.  Some words were exchanged that stung.  It was then I had a choice to make.  I could prove my innocence and take a chance I could change this person’s opinion of me or I could hear what was being said behind the words, which was that I’d hurt this person for a period of time unintentionally and it was finally coming out. I chose the latter.  I chose to forgive instead of let bitterness grow.  I chose to love selflessly instead of rubbing salt in wounds that had been inflicted, unintentionally, in the past.  And do you know what I found?  I was flooded with peace from God.  I was still hurt.  My mind still wanted to replay the argument over and over again.  I had to counteract those thoughts by consciously switching tapes to remind myself of how this person does love me, warts and all.  And the more I chose to actively love selflessly, the more those feelings become real.

The best part is God rewarded that act of submission to His ways.  This friend and I have reached a deeper level of friendship, I learned how it feels to listen to the feelings behind words, and as a result, I grew closer to my Father as well.

Even though selfless choices can initially be harder than selfish choices, God showed me they are truly the only choice – when I want to live the life He called me to live. With practice, I’m sure they will become much easier.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“To be involved in a relationship that never involves an argument – authentic or superficial?”

Last time we talked about two specific characteristics that one is blessed to find in a relationship. Today I want to talk about one more area of blessing that is given in relationships:  The gift of Godly conflict.

I’m a peacemaker.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I would rather bake brownies and give them to someone who is upset with me or whom I’m upset with than talk about the why behind the tension.  I hate conflict, I hate tension, I hate fighting.  However, recently I’m beginning to realize the validity and purpose behind having Godly conflict.  I’m not talking about temper tantrums, silent treatment, or withdrawing. (I know firsthand about all those methods of not communicating and trust me, they don’t work.)

I’m talking about inviting God into our relationships and asking Him to help us respond selflessly instead of selfishly for the good of the relationship itself. What exactly does it mean to fight selflessly?  One example would be instead of forcing the other to hear and agree with your reasoning, to be silent and listen, really listen to what is being said behind the words.

Is it hard? Yes.  Is it uncomfortable? Absolutely.  Will it take time and sometimes have to be revisited more than once until an agreement is reached? Possibly. Is it easier to ignore problems and hot buttons? Maybe…at first.  But if we want to have a real relationship with another, whether friend, spouse, child, parent, coworker, then eventually we have to choose to walk the path of conflict from God’s viewpoint.

I’ve found for myself, I usually complain about a symptom because I’m too afraid to address the true cause.  I might find the courage to open up about the real problem after I’ve had favorable response to the original complaint, but I’ll usually test the waters with a symptom of the problem first. When we consciously make the decision to see the other person through God’s eyes instead of forcing that person to validate our own needs and wants, it begins to move our relationships from superficial toward authentic, which is what God designed us to crave, especially as women.

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While I’m not advocating being a doormat, sometimes it’s best to let God fight for us instead getting in the last word.  As we talked about previously, God is the only One who can change hearts and behaviors permanently.  We can debate, cajole, bribe, or try and convince another, but God is the One who ultimately will change someone’s heart, attitude, and eventually behaviors and actions.

Just as it’s difficult for a peacemaker to bring up uncomfortable topics, it’s equally as hard for a “fighter” to argue fairly.  However, when we choose to combine the encouragement and acceptance of differences we talked about last time with God’s view of selflessly confronting issues only for the greater good of the relationship (not for selfish reasons), it just might move the relationship you are in to a new level of authenticity.

While I’m not advocating fighting for fighting’s sake, I want to encourage those who prefer to sweep issues under the rug instead of dealing with them.  Conflict, when bathed in prayer, selflessly instead of selfishly, listening more than speaking, can bring about a deeper level to the relationship and a new ally.

When done appropriately, conflict is healthy to a relationship.  Because in reality, if two people call themselves friends but never disagree about anything, is the relationship real?  No two people are so alike that they agree on everything.  Learning how to disagree in a healthy relationship is great practice for getting along with so many different personalities throughout life in so many different situations.  A little healthy conflict, when done appropriately, can be a good thing.

So, if you’re friends with me and we have healthy conflict from time to time, I just might say, “Yay – finally!”  I’m not weird. I’m just glad our friendship is strong enough to be taken to the next level.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

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