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Friendship

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” Proverbs 27:9 (NIV)

 

I just finished reading a great book at the library, Hoodwinked, by Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk.  If you are a parent and could use some encouragement in this area, I would highly recommend it.  It’s packed full of Biblical truths and personal stories, blended together to give meat to chew on during the day as you debunk the myths of motherhood together.

Despite my praise above, this post isn’t specifically about the book itself. It’s about what I realized when reading the last chapter.  Karen was talking about how she had a group of women that had forged a friendship together over the past decade or more who met together regularly.  While they all shared similar values and morals and all were choosing intentionally to raise their children in Christ following homes, they were just as different in other areas.  And that is what I want to talk about today.

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God has blessed me with many different types of friendships over the years.  As I’ve gotten older, I realize what a huge blessing it is to have amazing friendships.  And they are all different.  I have deep friendships with women who are older than me and are ahead of me in their journey, giving me timely advice and praying for me and my family as I face challenges they have already walked through.  I have friendships with women who have chosen to remain childless and they pour into me a different set of blessings – giving me perspective that I can’t see being in the thick of parenting across the different stages of childhood.  I have other friends who have children younger than me that God has brought into my life to pour into them, encouraging, praying for and cheering them on during some of life’s more difficult movements.

More importantly, though, God has showed me through all these friendships and reiterated through the book above the importance of love.  We all share the same goal: To raise children who love God and to help them find and fulfill God’s purpose for their lives.  The same goal we all have for our marriages and ourselves personally: To love God and to fulfill His purpose for our lives.  Thank goodness God made us all different, with different journeys and different purposes to fulfill!  Our job isn’t to dissect our friends’ choices or journeys but to walk alongside them – rejoicing in their accomplishments, cheering them up in their disappointments and encouraging them when they feel like giving up because the journey has become too difficult.

So, today, I just want to say thank you to all the friendships God has lavished on me throughout my lifetime.  I’m thankful for the women who have encouraged, supported, and joined me on my journey.  Some I’ve had the privilege of reconnecting with, some were only around for a season but were such a blessing during that season, some have been with me through many long years and some I’m just now God has connected me with.

Maybe you are reading this, thankful for the many friendships God has graciously given to you.  Maybe you don’t feel you have any godly friendships to call your own.  I would encourage you to ask God for some – He loves us all the same and will gladly answer that heartfelt prayer to fill your life with people who will encourage you in your relationship with Him and also to build you up in your marriage and while raising children, or the specific path God has placed you on instead.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

“What matters most to me is to finish what God started: the job the Master Jesus gave me of letting everyone I meet know all about this incredibly extravagant generosity of God.” Acts 20:24 (The Message)

 

At the time that I’m writing this, it’s the first week of summer vacation for our littlest while our older two finish up exams.  We have 12 wonderful weeks of summer stretched out before us.  As you are reading this, school has been in swing for almost a month now. However, since the older two are still in school, we are still in “early morning” mode for the next two days, but the youngest has the privilege of sleeping in.

This particular day, I was busy working for a couple of hours, watching the clock so that I could go pick up our middle as she only had one, not two exams today.  When it was time and our youngest still wasn’t awake, I went and gently woke him up, encouraging him that if he would hurry, I would make him the butter and jelly concoction he wanted to eat last night but couldn’t because it was too close to bedtime.  That got him moving with a smile and ten minutes later, he was happily eating it while we were on our way to pick up his sister.

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That got me thinking:  Did I use bribery to get him moving faster so we could stay on schedule, or did I just lovingly give him something to look forward to if he got dressed quickly?  How was what I did any different than what we as adults do to ourselves or get from our jobs on a daily/weekly basis?  How many of us plan vacations and then count down the days, getting caught up on work ahead of time at our jobs, mow the grass, pack, stop the mail, etc.?  What about at work: we are motivated to stay late or work harder in order to get the sale in anticipation of the bonus check or comp hours at the end.

Since it’s the beginning of the summer, I’m going to try and implement this tool as much as possible.  Instead of just stating what I need accomplished, I will try and phrase it in such a way that I help whomever I’m talking to anticipate something good in an effort to motivate, encourage and cheer them on to completion of the task.

Isn’t that ultimately what God does for us?  Doesn’t He keep reminding us in His Word about the glory of Heaven that awaits us when we finish the race well?  Doesn’t He encourage us to keep the faith, live in obedience to Him and love others by speaking about rewards that will await us in Heaven for all eternity?  Doesn’t He encourage us to live here on earth but with a mindset that this isn’t our permanent address, just some place we’re passing through?

If God can use hopeful anticipation to keep me on track, then I think it’s safe to say He would be pleased if I choose to use encouragement with those I love as well.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

 

Leeches

“Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.” Matthew 16:25 (The Message)

 

Anyone who knows our family knows how much our youngest loves animals, especially insects, arachnids, reptiles.  He spends hours investigating, catching and studying all things “critters.”  For his birthday, one of his friends gave him a peanut butter jar with two or three leeches in it and he was over the top excited.  For a whole week he caught bugs and fed them, watched them, and showed them to everyone who was interested as well as even a few people who might not have been.

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To top off his adventure, we went to my parents’ lake yesterday to fish and celebrate a belated birthday with them because they were out of town on his actual day.  He chose instead of fishing to wade in the lake with a bucket and see what he critters he could catch.  Well, in addition to water spiders and unidentified animals that live in shells, he ended up with a leech sticking to his foot.  Since mom has longer fingernails, I was designated the “leech detacher.”

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I have to admit – I have grown fond of the intricacies of leeches.  They are very interesting and detailed creatures.  They can be as long as a pencil and yet as small as the eraser on the end.  They transform their shape depending upon their environment and that is also the way they move.

After returning home last night, our son decided that he was being unfair to his leeches and wanted to walk down to the creek on our road and let them go.  He had been their protector for a week now but it was time to let them live free again.  So his dad and I walked with him for the final release.

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Upon arriving, he and his dad climbed over the protective barrier, opened the lid and dumped the water into the creek.  However, we soon discovered that the sticky parts that keep leeches attached to humans and other living creatures, also kept the leeches conveniently clinging to the side of the jar.  No amount of thumping, thudding or banging would loosen their hold and thus grant them their freedom.  After an exhaustive amount of time, our youngest finally gave up and declared, “Circle of life” which is his way of dealing with the untimely death of the animals he loves.

Walking back home, I started to think how many times I’ve been like leeches with my spiritual life.  How many times has God had freedom waiting for me if I would just trust Him and ride the water journey into the bigger creek?  Instead, though, like the leeches, I have clung to the side of the jar, thinking I’m saving my life when in actuality I’m losing it.  During our walk, my husband made the observation that maybe if we had just shaken the jar with the water in it and loosened the leeches hold on the sides, they would have stayed in the water and been released from captivity easier.  That made me think:  How many times has God allowed my circumstances to shake me up so that I’m clinging tighter to Him and more loosely to worldly views or ideas?

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Through the story of the leeches above, I’m learning that true freedom comes from letting go of my ideas and trusting God that His plan is better, all the time.  I would rather be swimming free in the creek than have to have my son declare “circle of life” while I cling to the side of a now empty peanut butter jar.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

Fixer Upper – Part II

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together, I spoke about how God led the Israelites to the Promised Land and it was a fixer upper instead of move in ready.  God didn’t ask the Israelites to go into the Promised Land without Him – instead He tells Caleb and Joshua numerous times to be courageous and not to be afraid and makes numerous promises that He will be there every step of the way to help them fight for victory.

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While thinking about the above truths, God revealed another aspect of the Promised Land that I hadn’t thought about previously.  I have the type of personality that pours everything I have into what I’m doing.  Whether it’s being a wife and mother, working on our ministry, fulfilling the responsibilities of my two part-time jobs, or serving at church – when I commit to something, I’m all in.  However, I’m realizing that I don’t have the stamina I used to have when I was in my 20s and I get tired.

I remember when I worked outside the home as a newlywed and then with two small children.  When our second child was born, during maternity leave, I sensed God calling me to work from home and so for quite a few months, I worked double jobs until I could transition fully to my at-home position.  Even then, I was running a full time, 50+ hours a week childcare business while studying to become a medical transcriptionist.  At one point I was working 1st and 2nd shifts at two different businesses and as a result, life suffered.

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When thinking about how the Promised Land isn’t a move in ready dwelling, I realized that it’s wise to conserve some energy for the sweat equity required of us when we get to the Promised Land.  We can’t be so burned out that we collapse over the finish line and look forward to sleeping for a week straight.  We need to have reserves so that we can begin the construction projects and see the demolition and repair through to the end.

I’ve started making that shift in my life recently.  I’ve started exercising regularly, finding a work schedule that fits our family’s lifestyle the best, and taking time to relax, regroup and refresh – either on a date with my husband, reading a book, spending time as a family or with extended family or with friends in a weekly Bible study.

As the above verse states, God didn’t just promise us life but an abundant life.  It’s hard to embrace an abundant life when we’re exhausted and need to sleep or if we wear ourselves out until there is nothing left to give.  I used to live life as a sprint – always running hard until I wore myself out, then needing extra time to recoup before pushing myself to my limits once again.  I’m realizing that taking time in the afternoon to go swimming with my kids or making sure our house is presentable but not necessarily magazine cover quality so we can watch a movie or go to the zoo are all good things.  It helps me conserve energy for when I need to tear out some more drywall on the dream home God picked out especially for me.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

Fixer Upper – Part I

“Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, ‘The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.’” Numbers 14:6-9 (NIV)

 

I love watching fixer upper shows with my husband.  Some people are truly talented because they take a house that is literally falling apart and transform it (with a lot of sweat equity and money) into something beautiful.  Instead of spending more money on a home that is move in ready, people choose to spend less, but invest more of themselves and the result is the home of their dreams.

We had a sermon yesterday at church about the Israelites and the Promised Land.  The actual sermon was about Joshua and Caleb and their correct response to the enemies in the Promised Land.  It was an encouragement to remind us how God wants us to respond to the “enemies” in our life.  However, that got me thinking about the Promised Land in greater detail.

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God could have made the Promised Land move in ready.  He could have killed off all the inhabitants of the land before the Israelites crossed over – after all, they were postponed 40 long years wandering in the same circle in the desert.  Instead, God presented the Israelites with a fixer upper.  Maybe, God wanted them to invest a bit of themselves in their new home, with His guidance, to make it the home of their dreams.

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And, just like real life today, some people choose to skip fixer upper properties, preferring instead to move into “ready to possess” homes while other people see excitement in the adventure of taking on the challenge of creating their own space.

 

God didn’t expect the Israelites to go into the Promised Land without His help.  Just like on the reality TV series that has Chip and Joanna taking charge of the renovation project, God is right there with us, wanting to take over, asking us only to obey.  There might be quite a bit of sweat equity (sacrifice) required of us, but God sees the final outcome before He even asks us to step in and begin.

God was Someone the Israelites could trust many years ago to lead them to victory if they chose to obey and focus on Him, not their circumstances.  God is the same today as He was back then.  If God is leading you through your own desert to your own Promised Land, I can’t promise you that it will be a move in ready victory.  More than likely, your Promised Land will be a fixer upper that will require sweat equity and sacrifice.  However, if you continue to obey God and look at your circumstances through the lens of His promises, your Promised Land can also be transformed into something beautiful.  The choice is yours.

Come back next time and I will share the other truth God revealed to me through the Israelites and the Promised Land.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

“But I have raised you up[a] for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:16 (NIV)

 

I spoke last time about how God started talking to me about my writing journey back in January and through a series of conversations throughout the year, showed me a truth that I hope will encourage you as well.

After God didn’t give me any writing goals to achieve in 2016 and my schedule just became increasingly busier juggling family activities and two jobs, I got discouraged instead of encouraged.  I thought maybe God was telling me this writing journey was over; however, that thought contrasted with the passion God planted in my heart that hasn’t come to fruition yet.

I wasn’t sure how to resolve that conflict until God showed me through a series of different sources that my problem might be completely different than what I thought it was.  I was more concerned with comparing my journey to others’ instead of focusing on the unique journey God had our family on.

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In my mind, I’d been working hard to fulfill this purpose for God for five years.  It felt as though instead of continuing to grow to the next level, I was moving backwards.  I was publishing less books instead of more, I wasn’t attending any trainings or conferences to further my skills and my other goals were sitting in my computer instead of getting closer to completion.

That’s when God reminded me, the only race I need to worry about is my own.  I’m not competing with other people and their journeys.  I’m only competing against myself.  As long as I keep focused on my Master’s voice, then I’m winning.  Just like with My Fitness Pal when I compete against myself regarding how much I exercise and eating the correct number of calories for my own body, my writing goals and journey are between God and I.  There will be seasons when I’m moving faster and seasons meant for slowing down.  There will be seasons when I’m growing and spending more time in the classroom and seasons where I’m collecting life experiences to use to help others later.

When I stepped back and looked at things from God’s perspective instead of my own small view, I am more able to see the bigger picture and it brings me peace.  Did I ever get the promise from God that if I choose to obey and step back a little during this season I will indeed get the promised ministry I want?  Nope.  I got something better.  I still have that seed of passion growing inside of me.  I can tell that whatever God has planned for our family isn’t done yet.  I may not know what the ending looks like, but I do know I want God to stay in the driver’s seat and I’m happy riding shotgun.  Obeying, doing my part but waiting on Him for the right schedule.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,” II Timothy 1:9 (NIV)

 

I’ve spoken in the past that when God wants to get my attention, He uses several different ways to speak the same message to me.  This past summer, while pressing in to hear God’s voice, my Father shared another truth that He wanted to remind me about.  This one focused on being myself.

Every January our family prays and fasts, dedicating the whole year to God and refocusing our priorities.  Each January since starting our journey toward fulfilling His purpose in our lives, God has given me a goal.  Many times it was the number of books He wanted me to publish, sometimes it was a specific book He wanted me to publish and other times it was other things centered around fulfilling His purpose.  January 2016 found me without a goal given by God.  I didn’t hear a number, I didn’t hear a specific book, I didn’t hear anything really in regard to my writing journey.  So… I thought I might have just missed the connection and created a goal for myself.  It was one that God had given in prior years and seemed doable.

I also decided that maybe I needed to reengage in guest blogging and reached out to see which ones would be willing to let me write regularly.  I received the information but then it sat in my inbox, waiting until I had time to respond, which still hasn’t happened eight months later.

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In addition, sometime in the spring, I heard God remind me of what my priorities needed to be: Him first, then my husband, then my children followed by job/ministry, extended family and friends.  He was very clear that if I had to choose between spending time with friends or my children, I needed to keep my children the higher priority.  I thought about it and realized that too many times when asked to do something, I would say “yes” and think, “It’s just this once, my family will understand,” and then have nothing left to give them, physically or emotionally.  God opened my eyes to show me it happened more than “just this once” and it was something I needed to change now, not wait until it was too late.  My family needed to know that they were my priority, not last on my list.

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A few months later, I felt a stirring on my heart that maybe, just maybe God was telling me I’m in a season where my family needs to be a bigger priority than fulfilling His purpose in the community.  I wanted confirmation from Him that if I chose to obey in this area, to an extent laying down my passion now, that He would give it back to me even bigger later, when my kids were older and parenting wasn’t so hands on.  However, while I felt the stirring that I needed to lay it down at least partially, I never felt the second half of the promise I wanted to hear.  I never heard confirmation that God would give it back.  However, I couldn’t deny that I felt God telling me I needed to let go of my goals and instead listen closer to what His goals were for me in this season with my writing.

Come back next time and I will show you how God took all these pieces of conversation and showed me some truths that I could hold on to, some truths that I hope will encourage you in whatever journey God currently has you on.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016