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“The Man said,’Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman
for she was made from Man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh. The two of them, the Man and his Wife, were naked, but they felt no shame.” Genesis 2:23-25 (The Message)

 

I’ve talked on this blog many times about my husband and our love story.  We met through my sister and his best friend who worked together – two people whom we love and trust who thought we would hit it off.  I always joke that I didn’t know who I dated that first summer because the focus was on friendship and it was always my husband, his best friend and me together all the time.

Reflecting back over our now 18½ years of marriage and two years of dating/engagement, that summer still holds some of the best memories for me.  It was a summer of firsts – I learned the beauty of a summer night campfire, watching the sunset at South Haven, the healthy competition of miniature golf, weekly rollerblading sessions at the local bike trail, the love of 7-11 slushies, found a new favorite ice cream flavor and many other things too numerous to list.   That summer I fell in love with my husband… but I also fell in “like” with him.

Almost 19 years later, I can honestly say I like my husband even more.  He and I have grown – in some ways together and in some ways separately.  I like that we share a spiritual bond.  While we actively choose activities to help us grow spiritually as a couple, we also choose to grow our individual relationship with God at our own pace.  While he continues to love rollerblading, I got tired of falling every single time and instead will sometimes walk or ride my bike to keep up with him.  We have also found a new love of kayaking together, which we don’t get to participate in nearly as often but have the anticipation of more of that as our children leave our nest and fly on their own.  A promise for more fun times to come.  We’ve added three kids this side of Heaven and with them a love of hiking, tubing, visiting area zoos and enjoying the beach as well as continued our love of ice cream and fast food.

I really like my husband.  Even if we weren’t married, he’s the kind of guy I would be drawn to spending time with.  I’m glad we are married because then it’s not inappropriate, just a whole lot of fun.  I like the way his whole face lights up when he smiles. I like that he doesn’t take himself (or life) too seriously but yet opens his arms and comforts me when I need it most.  And I don’t even have to tell him – he just knows.  I like that we share inside jokes from 21 years ago (when we first started dating) and still find new ones for each season of life we’re living in now. I like that he’s the kind of guy who takes marriage and family and parenting seriously… but again, not too seriously.  I like that I can trust his decisions will be the best for our family and I like that he’s not too proud to admit when he’s wrong and will change course when needed.

I like how important it is to him that we serve God together as a family.  I like that it’s important to him to build memories with our kids now… without waiting for more time, more money, more convenience. I like that he is a man our children can look up to and they do.  I like that he’s not perfect because if he was, my flaws would stand out even more.  I like that he forgives me.  I like that he shows me with his words and his actions that he likes me too.

I really like my husband.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

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“He had led everyone in his house to live worshipfully before God, was always helping people in need, and had the habit of prayer.” Acts 10:2 (The Message)

 

Our family went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 over the Fourth of July weekend.  This season of parenting is very different from the days of toddlerhood where bad moods melted away with a cookie, a cuddle or a diversion.  The children are bigger and the issues they are facing are bigger too.

While watching the movie I was struck by some encouragement I believe God wanted to give to me.  Today I want to share it with you.

Spoiler alert:  In the first movie, Groot dies except for one little shoot that ends up growing, so at the beginning of this movie, he’s a baby.  A cute baby Groot that everyone adores and protects and keeps safe because he can’t protect himself.  They give him the protection and love he needs to grow into a “big Groot.”

And that coincides with what God reminded me of.  Even though the guardians exchanged barbs with each other, used a lot of sarcasm and raised their voices back and forth, they weren’t fighting.  It was their way of communicating “love.” The interactions they had with Groot were age appropriate and tender while the communication they volleyed back and forth with each other was also age appropriate and understood.

The same goes for parenting.  There are definitely different stages to parenting and different ways of communicating in families depending upon the ages of the members involved.  While I’m in no way advocating being hurtful or disrespectful to each other, the way a parent speaks to a toddler is quite different than the way they communicate with a teenager.  Cuddles, popsicles and cookies work great with a 2-year-old whereas slang, movie taglines and, at times, appropriately placed sarcasm get the point across with those who are reaching for their independence.  I’ve never enjoyed sarcasm.  I don’t think it looks good on me and have been quite bothered in the last few years that it’s attached itself in my conversations.

It was encouraging to me to realize that while our “baby Groots” have all grown up and the stage of absolute tenderness is gone for this season, we are still family and love each other fiercely.  While our expression of that love may change with each season we find ourselves in, there is still always room for tenderness with each child as they need it and that will always be my preferred communication style.  Before we know it, if God allows, we will be welcoming spouses and grandchildren and there will be more “baby Groots” to cuddle.  However, until then, changing our love language to fit the stage our family is in is healthy.  Never to the point of hurtful… just changing enough to speak in a voice they can hear and receive.  Even if that means well placed and never hurtful sarcasm finds a place at our dinner table for a few more years.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Hebrews 8:12 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together I shared with you about a wonderful family, the Wade family, and their purpose of starting a foundation in one of their son’s name.  Mrs. Wade used the phrase “broken crayons still color” and I shared how it resonated with me.

Today I want to talk about a different truth I got from the same phrase with just as special a meaning.  When I think about broken crayons, I either think about our previous conversation of how people who have suffered different types of trials in life have more empathy for people walking similar journeys… or I think about what I’m going to share with you today.

The picture created from broken crayons looks very different from a picture colored with brand new crayons.  However, I believe God enjoys both the masterpieces of broken and brand new crayons, because each have a different story that they tell.

There are several people in my life who have colored consistently with brand new crayons.  When given a choice, it seems as though they always make the right decision, learning either from the mistakes of others or not needing a lesson in “how not to” do something.  They just naturally have a sense of doing it right the first time and don’t experience learning the hard way. And their masterpieces are beautiful and a wonderful testimony of their consistent obedience.

We are in the middle of parenting teenagers.  While we have spent years in discussion about right versus wrong, making good choices, the expectations of our household, etc., there is nothing like the fast approaching “magical number” of adulthood to get those thoughts revved into high gear.  While our oldest child is entering his last year of high school, our daughter is entering her first.

There have been many posts coming across my computer about how to prepare your children for college, living on their own, etc. and many of them focus on mistakes they will inevitably make.  That got me thinking.  While it’s important to have those conversations with an 18-year-old child, I believe it’s just as important to have those conversations with our 17- and 14-year old children, as well as modified versions for our youngest.  Because let’s be honest.  Sometimes even with the best of intentions, crayons get broken.  Mistakes are a part of life.  Most mistakes can be fixed relatively easily with some sweat equity, money or a conversation.  There are a few mistakes that are much harder to fix (addiction to name but one) and other mistakes that involve the safety of your children that may get to a point they cannot be fixed, just recovered from (kidnapping is one extreme).

While I admire the people in my life who consistently color with brand new crayons, I need my children to know that broken crayons from time to time are a part of life. I’ve broken a few crayons myself.  While it’s a no brainer that I prefer brand new crayons when it comes to safety issues, they need to know it’s safe to come to me and their dad with their broken crayons – however that may look.  I want to be the same safe place for my friends when they come to me with broken crayons of their own.  And I want to have that safety to go to others when my crayons break.  The picture we color can still be beautiful with God’s forgiveness… and maybe even more so because we can use that brokenness to invite other crayons into a relationship with the One who specializes in healing broken.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

“Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my  side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.” Psalm 23:4 (The Message)

 

Two years ago I was introduced to the Wade family on Facebook as they were fighting pediatric cancer for one of their twin boys.  Within a year, they had to temporarily say goodbye to their brave son, Jonny, whom they will see again in Heaven but continue to fight to eradicate pediatric cancer in his memory.  You can check out their website and foundation here if interested:  http://kidsshouldnthavecancer.org/

I watched an interview Mrs. Wade was doing and she made a statement, “broken crayons still color” which resonated with me.  The picture that broken crayons create is very different from a picture colored with brand new crayons.  However, I believe God enjoys both the masterpieces of broken and brand new crayons – each with their own story and their own mission.

God used that phrase to speak two truths to my heart.  Today I want to talk about the first and the next time we’re together I’ll share about the other.  I had a back seat to Mrs. Wade’s journey of helping her son, Johnny, through his sickness as well as his twin brother find his new normal after his death.  I will never understand the heartache at her level; however, I do understand what it means to say goodbye to a child lost to miscarriage.

Each of us has the choice to either color with the broken crayons of life we’ve been given or leave them in the drawer and reach for brand new crayons.  Each of us can present those broken crayons to our Heavenly Father to create the masterpiece of His choosing and along the way help others whose crayons have been broken too.

I don’t believe God intended for us to have broken crayons in this world.  He intended for perfection… a life without sin.  However, sin did enter the world and broken crayons were introduced.  And what we choose to do with the broken crayons in our lives does matter.  Throwing them away, hiding them in a box or ignoring them doesn’t create the masterpiece God is able to use to encourage another person with their own brokenness.  However, choosing to use them to create the masterpiece God intended leads to beauty in the broken. I believe strongly that pleases our Father.

What the enemy chooses for evil, God can take and turn into something beautiful.  We just have to be willing.

Come back next time when I share the other truth God taught me from broken crayons.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

 

Directionally Challenged

“Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day,
I had holy plans for you… ” Jeremiah 1:5 (The Message) 

 

I have been directionally challenged for as long as I can remember.  I feel sorry for my husband who has patiently tried to help me overcome this issue for over 20 years now to no avail.  If someone wants to give me directions, I don’t understand N, S, W, or E.  I am a, “turn left at the red barn and then right at the oak tree” kind of girl.  If someone repaints the barn or cuts down the tree, I’m in trouble.

However, being directionally challenged doesn’t make me less of a person.  It probably says more about which side of my brain I use more.  I’m definitely a creative person by nature – one who is driven by feelings and emotions more than logic.  I have learned to compensate for my non navigating skills over the years by making sure I ride with someone like my husband who is exceptionally skilled or carry a GPS or old fashioned map with me.

All of us are skilled in certain areas and not as much in others. I used to think I had to keep working on my areas of weakness in order to improve them instead of focusing on improving the areas where I naturally am gifted.  However, I’m learning that there are some areas I may never be able to overcome – for instance, being directionally challenged.  No matter how many different ways Bill tries to explain N, S, W or E, my brain doesn’t compute how to translate that into something intelligent.  I may to some degree figure out the general direction I need to be traveling, but I couldn’t tell you whether I’m traveling north, south, west or east – just either toward home, toward church or somewhere in between.

The older I get and the closer God brings me toward the area of ministry He has designed for me, the more I enjoy working in my sweet spot.  I realize how important it is to listen to God’s voice regarding where He wants me to focus my attention and training and what He wants me to leave for someone more qualified.  I have found out during this past year I love to encourage others, pray with others and come alongside them as they travel through difficulties in life.  While God is growing my organizational skills, I am not someone who understands the ins and outs of business management or accounting.  And I’m realizing that’s okay.  It’s better than okay because there are others out there who may not enjoy encouraging people but instead love numbers, facts and taking an idea created by someone else and fleshing out all the details.

Being directionally challenged isn’t really all that challenging when I’m with someone who knows the way.  I’m grateful God used something I’ve known about myself for the past 20 years to encourage me to focus on growing the gifts He has given me instead of frustrating myself to become someone I’m not.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

“Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.” Ephesians 4:29 (The Message)

 

Our family grocery shops every two weeks.  During one particular trip, only my daughter chose to go with me so we enjoyed two hours of “girl time,” enlisting the help of the boys when we got home to unpack and put the food away.  About ten minutes into it, one child slipped and landed on a grocery bag.  Before I could assess the damage, I reminded myself, “I will not get upset.  My child is worth far more to me than any wasted food.”  Thankfully the damage was fairly minor (smashed donuts which were bought as a treat) and we moved on. However, not five minutes later, another child was throwing the cottage cheese container in the air, missed, and cottage cheese covered the floor, drawers and counter top.  My reaction this time?  Not quite as loving.  While I apologized for my reaction later, reminding my child that I did indeed love him/her more than a container of cottage cheese, I realized I blew an opportunity to speak unconditional love at that moment.

That weekend, I read the latest Karen Kingsbury book, Love Story. In the book she gives an example of how a child played football in the house and broke a water pitcher.  The mother lovingly glued the ceramic pieces back together and displayed it proudly for the family – taking the time to teach the lesson that while we all make mistakes, when we repent, God can take our brokenness and turn it into something equally beautiful.

Ouch! Why couldn’t I have done that? That is the type of mother I want to be.  One who demonstrates the beauty in brokenness – whether smashed donuts or splattered cottage cheese.  One who shows her children that very few mistakes in life can’t be fixed, who welcomes mistakes because she realizes sometimes that’s what it takes for real growth and maturity to bloom.  A few days afterward, I was in the car alone with one of our children and I brought up the conversation.  I figured it was a good time to let this child know mistakes are welcome in our house as a result of this mom growing herself.

I debated about whether or not to purposefully break one of our pieces of pottery to have an opportunity to glue it back together and remember daily how beautifully broken our house is.  However, wisdom told me to give it time.  Mistakes will naturally happen and I’ll have the opportunity to show my growth to my kids in more mature response as well as the chance to have a group project of mending the mistake.

My reaction this summer clearly showed my need for growth as a mother.  I’m thankful God has given me multiple chances to show my kids the beauty in my brokenness and the value of embracing mistakes as learning experiences.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

 

Last week my kids were attending their youth group and I ran into the church for a quick minute.  The doors to the worship center were open and we could see the teens worshipping but then my eye caught someone else.  One of the volunteers, instead of choosing the fun job of worshipping alongside the kids, was worshipping on his hands and knees scrubbing the garbage can as well as the surrounding area.  I know this volunteer some and so I commented as I walked past, “Way to serve.”

His humble reply was, “It’s Jesus.”

So, I paused for a minute before answering, “Well, Jesus looks really good on you.”

His equally humble response?  A big grin accompanying the words, “I like that.”

Three simple words from him, a 30-second conversation between the two of us – but its impact has stuck with me seven days later.

I pray daily that when people see me, they see Jesus.  In the way I respond verbally and nonverbally, in the way I dress, walk, act and all decisions I make.  Some days are easier than others and they might get a glimpse of Him.  Other days I fail miserably.  The days I fail?  Those are the days I need to ask for His strength so Jesus is seen more, because those are the days others will be watching more closely.

I want to be Jesus’ hands and feet to others around me.  I need to start with my immediate family, then stretch to my extended family, then to friends, acquaintances, strangers – you get the idea.  I want to reflect Jesus so much that it becomes second nature.  I want others to see a difference in me, and even if they don’t know what’s different, for it to make enough of an impact that it starts a conversation.  Like the volunteer on Sunday night who was on his hands in knees scrubbing a garbage can and the surrounding area while the teens were worshipping, lifting their hands, five feet away.

I want someone, someday, to say, “Jesus looks good on you” when they have an encounter with me.  Someday…

© Cheri Swalwell 2017