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Invitation to Change

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NIV)

 

I love talking about how much of a gentleman God is.  He doesn’t push His way into our lives, but He continues to invite us into a relationship with Him.  He knows how much freedom can be found in a relationship with Him, but He is ever the gentleman, giving us a choice and waiting to see what we decide.

While the above choice is the most important decision we will ever make in life, God is a gentleman in every aspect of His relationship with us.  Once we choose to become His child, His gentlemanly behavior continues.  He invites us to a deeper relationship with Him.  He invites us to make the tough choices and give up the bad behaviors and sinful lifestyles, because He knows that with those barriers in between, it prevents the blessings He wants to shower on us from flowing completely. But again, He’s a gentleman and will patiently ask and wait, but never force.

It starts with fully surrendering ourselves to a relationship with Jesus Christ.  That’s just a fancy way of saying we give up control of making all the decisions in our lives and trust the God who created the Universe to guide us to make the best decisions instead. Decisions that will help fulfil the purpose and dreams He put inside us when He formed us in our mothers’ wombs.

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However, it’s still an invitation. A choice.  God won’t force our compliance.  God will just invite and then wait to see what we decide.  Recently God gave me that choice.  I could stay in a job that I loved, with people I enjoyed and a position that fit my gifts and talents, or I could trust Him that He had great plans both for the company He was asking me to leave and for the next leg of the journey He was calling our family too.  He didn’t give me any information except… “It’s time to leave.”  No road map of where I was going.  No emails about exotic places I’d always dreamed of visiting.  Just a simple invitation to follow His prompting (it was His prompting that allowed me the privilege of stepping into the job three years ago, so I was familiar with what it sounded like) and then the ball was in my court.  I had to volley but I had the choice if I was going to volley back to Him or if I was going to choose a different game to join.

While I say God invites and we have a choice, it is my opinion that as a Christ follower, a true follower of Jesus Christ, the choice isn’t a choice.  Not really.  I could choose to disobey… but why would I want to?  If I chose to stay when God was telling me it was time to leave, I would be asking for His blessing to be removed from my life as well as from the company’s life.  I would be preventing another person that God was inviting to apply for my job to accept His invitation to come aboard.  I would be hindering the Holy Spirit from working for His good.

I stand by my statement that God is a gentleman.  He doesn’t force us to do anything but He gently invites.  I pray I never stop hearing His voice and responding in obedience.  Not because I’m greedy and want to always be blessed… okay, maybe it’s because I do want to stay in His blessings.  Because what’s the alternative? Disobedience hinders me from hearing God’s voice and I never want to choose that option.  When God invites me to change… I never want to fail to respond.  I always want to choose to trust His plan is for the best, even when He doesn’t show me the full picture.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together, I talked about how the power company informed us hours before a power outage that a crew was already assigned and fixing a problem that didn’t exist yet.  Then, the power was restored quickly and we weren’t notified of the solution until hours later, when we were already enjoying the blessing of full electricity.

God used this event to remind me of a truth I already knew but needed to remember.  He is already informed about our challenges, our problems in life.  I will go even further to say that He is aware of them before we even know there is an issue to worry about!   He already has a crew assigned before the first signs of danger appear and sometimes, He gives us reassurance ahead of time that He’s got this, before we have time to consider what it is that He has.  Then, He has already restored full power to us while we are peacefully resting, trusting His plan.

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When things happen in life that are unexpected, I’m assured that they really aren’t a surprise to Him.  He knew about them ahead of time and He already has a solution in the works that is the best for everyone involved.  I have the choice to rest peacefully and let Him work or stress out and take control, getting fatigued and angry.

I may never know why the series of events happened the way they did that particular night.  However, it has just reinforced to me that nothing can come into my life that God isn’t already aware of and taking care of for me, before I even know there is danger.

That, my friends, is a great place to rest – no matter what text message comes across my screen.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

 

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

 

Last week we had a very interesting thing happen to our family.  Bill and I were relaxing together watching TV and my text alert went off.  Not unusual but when I went to check it, it was the power company… telling me that “our power outage had been reported, they had a crew assigned but no restoration estimate available yet.”

Like I said, Bill and I were sitting there watching TV as the phone is telling me we have no power, but the crew is assigned and addressing the issue.  Fast forward approximately 1 ½ hours later – all homework completed, showers taken and everyone is settling in getting ready for bed.  All of a sudden, no power.

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This time I called the power company and the automated message told me that power was estimated to be restored by 11 PM the following day.  More than 24 hours without power.  We now have a reptile living in our home who needs heat lamps.  Gone are the days of pretending we’re pioneers.  With our little one asking the innocent question, “Does this mean Jewel is going to die?” we spent the next 45 minutes starting the generator and showing our son Jewel’s heat source burning brightly before going to sleep.

We woke up the next morning to the wonderful surprise that our power was back, fully functioning.  Knowing I needed to put some gas in the car before taking our youngest to school, we went to a different gas station than usual.  There were only two people pumping gas – us and a man filling up gas cans, a sure sign that he also has a generator.

I proceeded to ask him, “Did you lose power too?”

“Yup,” was his reply.

“I’m so sorry – where do you live?”

In our conversation I discovered that he lived not too far from us and that his estimated restoration time was also 11 PM this evening.

After dropping off our son, I went home and put in a full day’s work and early afternoon received another text alert, from the power company:  “Your power has now been restored.”

That whole experience baffled me.  We live in the country and lose our power a lot.  Especially when the wind blows and it was blowing hard that particular day.  However, never in the 17+ years I’ve lived with my husband have we EVER had the power company alert us that we have no power (when in fact we still do) hours before we actually lose it.  Then, to have it be restored during the night but the power company doesn’t tell me again until hours later.

Come back next time and I will tell you how God used this very interesting event to speak to more for me than just electricity.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

 

 

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” I Peter 4:10 (NIV)

 

In the last two posts, I shared how God allowed two very different experiences when attempting to add a bearded dragon to our family of five plus one dog.  However, little did I know that God would use those experiences to help me with some major decision making I would have to do in the very near future.

Three years ago, January 2014, during a time of fasting and praying, God impressed upon my heart to reach out and ask to volunteer at TBCN.  He had opened up my schedule to include a little free time and Fred accepted my help.  God richly blessed that decision. I’ve loved my job there.  It started out small and grew to include coordinating and organizing the READERS ONLY GROUP and being Editor of Book Fun Magazine.  God blessed me through the family I worked for whom I still consider family, the members, author and publishers I now consider friends, and the valuable experience I gained, skills I learned and confidence it grew within me.  God opened up my eyes to how satisfying it is to work within the gifts that He had created in us.

In addition, because of TBCN, in 2015 when I lost my medical transcription job suddenly due to downsizing, I had skills to change careers and was hired by another amazing company that loves God and allows me to use my gifts for them as well.  Without the experience at TBCN, I never would have had the confidence to think I would even have a chance.

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Recently, almost a mirror image of three years ago, God started impressing upon my heart that it was time to leave TBCN. No bad feelings, nothing happened… I just sensed a “time to go” command from God. Kind of like when the Israelites were commanded to follow the cloud by day and the light by night in the desert.  While it’s not our place to understand the “why” behind the command always, it is our choice to ignore His voice or pick up our stuff and get moving, trusting Him no matter what, even or especially when we don’t know the destination.

I obeyed God’s command and started looking for alternate income, wanting to do my part to walk through doors, trusting God to open and close the appropriate ones as He saw fit.  During 2015 when looking for new employment, I was filled with fear with “what will God expect of me?  Will I be forced to work a job I hate… or hours or outside the home when I don’t feel it’s the right time for that right now?”

That is when our experience with the bearded dragon came back to me.  I don’t want to settle for dragon (job) #1 that isn’t the best fit for our family.  I want to pray about and make sure and wait for Jewel (the job), that best fit our lifestyle.  A job that would fit into the life we already have instead of forcing our family to fit into a rigid job.

Another blessing I gained from working for three years at TBCN was that through that position God uncovered what my talents and gifts are.  He also used that three years to teach me skills necessary to complement other positions He has already chosen for me.

I have peace using that as my test for whether a potential job is an Um potato? or a Jewel – oil and water or the BEST fit for our family.  I was presented with a job opportunity recently and while I’m sure it would be fulfilling and enjoyable, it didn’t meet the requirements of being the BEST fit for our family so I knew I could pass with peace.  If God loves us enough to gift us with Jewel, a lovable pet that keeps getting better and better; then I can trust that He loves us enough to provide the best job fit as well.

Just like I had to reach out and ask the store manager before we could find our best fit, God asks that I step out in faith when He calls me so that He can lead me to my next assignment in His perfect time.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together I was sharing about how our first bearded dragon was more of an alpha dragon and our family does better with passive animals.  The pet store was more than accommodating to help our family find the best fit for us, and today I want to share how God redeemed the entire situation and taught me a lesson that I am carrying over into the rest of my life.  I love how personal God is.

It was approximately one month later when I was finally willing to try again.  We had bought a different cage and different lights and while at a pet store 45 minutes away, God allowed an encounter with another worker who let me hold her personal dragon for about 30 minutes.  This dragon was full grown and the most passive, gentle creature around; yet I was still scared.  I was dreading starting over because I didn’t know if I could handle it; yet I loved my little boy fiercely enough to try.

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We were schedule to go in a week prior, but I woke up with no voice and what was later diagnosed as bronchitis.  We decided to wait one more week, which I know now was all part of God’s wonderful plan.  We stopped at the pet store to buy one more item for the cage (in preparation for the following week) and while my husband looked at items, I stood in front of the bearded dragon cage realizing that one week from now I would be bringing another one home.  And my pulse quickened at the thought.

That is when it happened.  I was by myself.  No workers around, my kids were back and forth looking at the dragons and other reptiles and it was just me and the selection in front of me.  One particular dragon came up to the glass and looked at me with that adorable slanted head look.  First one way and then the other.  I slowly put my finger on the outside of the cage, and she licked it. Then she ran around the log in the cage and kept coming back, as though playing with me.  I seriously felt peace settle into my body and I thought, “Wow, I think I might actually like having this one.”  But, we weren’t buying one for another week so I started to worry.  “What if she’s sold?  What if I don’t remember which one she is?” (they all do look very similar).

Then I remembered, “We’ve been praying for our new bearded dragon for a month, for God to pick out the right one for us.  If this one is it, then she will still be here and I will recognize her.”  I started to look to see if she had any distinguishing features and it looked to me like she had a little more orange around where her tail and body meet.  I nicknamed her “orange butt” and left that day content that if she was the one, we would get her.

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One week later we met the store manager and she greeted us to help pick the best fit for our family.  I asked her which of the ones they had would work well for us and she picked out two… then I asked her about orange butt.  She said that particular dragon would also be great because she was a sibling to the two she picked out and also calm and quite friendly.  She spent two hours with us while we held “orange butt” and her sibling and during that time I started to bond.  Really bond.  The manager was there to help me stay relaxed when I started to get anxious and interpreted the various moods and personality traits.  We left there with a family member, not a pet.  Even after we got home and the manager was still at the store, when my anxiety started to rise, I replayed her words in my head, quickly calmed down and our dragon felt the tension leave my body too.

It’s been a little over a month now, I think.  I don’t keep track because she’s ours.  Her name isn’t orange butt – it’s Julius, Jewel for short.  She definitely has lived up to her description of best fit for our family.  She loves being held and has even fallen asleep in my hands twice now.  She loves to look out the window and watch the birds at the bird feeder and even will climb up on her ledge to let us know she’s lonely and wants to hang out.

She’s still a little squirrely (quite young yet) so I can’t wait until she matures a little more and I can trust her to ride on my shoulder or snuggle on me and sleep, look around or just be with us.

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I’m so glad I didn’t resign myself to life with our first bearded dragon.  The thought of ten years with him was pure torture, for our family.  (Update:  In less than two days, he stopped his temper tantrums because the right people were handling him and within a month or less, he was sold to his forever family who is extremely happy with him too).

God, in His infinite personal love, gave our family an added blessing through this whole experience:  Not only did we get the best bearded dragon for our family but I feel like we’ve made a friend for life with the manager of the store!

Come back next time to find out the best lesson God showed me that I’m still using as my caliber test in all areas of my life.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”

Proverbs 21:5 (NIV)

 

Last fall I spoke about how our littlest wanted a bearded dragon for Christmas and we ended up purchasing one that fall.

Then I stopped talking about our new pet… for a reason.  Approximately three weeks into bearded dragon raising, I called the pet store where we purchased and had a conversation that went something like this:

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Me:  “Hello.  Can I please speak to the manager?”

Store:  “This is the manager.  How can I help you?”

Me:  “Well, I have a question.  We purchased a bearded dragon three weeks ago and I noticed on the slip it said we could bring him back if he was sick.  He’s very healthy… but I think I ruined him.  Is there any way I can return him, even if I can’t get my money back?”

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The manager proceeded to talk me off the ledge for the next 45 minutes.  I explained all the ways that I thought I “ruined” Um potato, from changing his environment too often, to going too fast too soon and she was quick to reassure me it might possibly be that he, Um potato?, just wasn’t a good fit for our family.

She offered many suggestions, including ways to help us bond, exchanging him for a different dragon that she would help us pick out, etc.  She even allowed us to bring him back now, give me time to regulate my blood pressure before attempting life with a new dragon. That was the option we chose.

Three days later I got to meet the nicest lady whom I only knew previously from that 45 minute conversation.  She took Um potato out of the box and while he showed slight attitude, he was easily controlled with her whereas 15 minutes earlier I had to put on gloves to put him in the box as he tried to bite me.  He had associated me with being tasty and someone fun to hiss at.  “Hiss at the lady and watch her jump.”

We left the store that day relieved.  He was back with people who knew how to get him ready for the best forever home for his personality and we were given a few weeks to rest before finding the best fit for us.  I loved observing the manager with him.  It was very obvious that she deeply loved these little guys, even the ones with attitude.

Come back next time to find out how God picked out the best fit for our family and the additional blessings He gave, just because.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12 (NIV)

 

Eleven years ago I had a conversation with God that I wanted to live my life with purpose for Him. And I waited.

Ten years ago I had a conversation with God that I wanted to learn how to trust Him… but to please be gentle.

Five years ago God had a conversation with me and I argued, but eventually obeyed.

Four years ago our family had a conversation with God through prayer, fasting and committing ourselves to His unknown – having no clue what it would look like.

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Three and one half years ago, God invited me to talk.  Five months later, God suggested I buckle up.

Three years ago God had a conversation with me.  After dedicating my firsts to Him, He invited me to approach TBCN for a volunteer position that wasn’t even posted.  That obedience has blessed me and our family in more ways than I can describe.

Two years ago, God asked if my seatbelt was still fastened because the adventure was starting to pick up speed.  Was I going to choose to embrace it or live in fear? One day later I was informed my job was being eliminated and I had 30 days left.

Two months later, God opened the door to work for both TBCN and Ascendant Group, both companies blessing me more than I deserve.

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Last week, God again invited me to switch addresses, telling me “it’s time” to leave TBCN for the next adventure He has waiting.

Ten years ago, I asked God to teach me how to trust Him completely because I didn’t think I did but please be gentle.

While some of the invitations God gives can be painful, I’ve learned how to pack my bags quickly so I can follow Him when He invites me to go on an adventure.

Last night I had another conversation with God: “Thank You, Father, for teaching me how to trust… and for being gentle during the process.”

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© Cheri Swalwell 2017