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“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.” Psalm 18:6a (NIV)

 

I used to mow the lawn regularly and really enjoyed it.  It was some of the best times for me to let my mind wander and create stories in my head… stories which are still waiting to get put onto paper.  It’s relaxing to mow and I love the fresh air and sunshine that goes along with it.  For many reasons, I haven’t mowed regularly but this year, I’m starting to help again.

One Saturday it was hot and sunny but there was a great breeze.  I was mowing along and saw dirt mounds in the grass that I was breaking apart with the mower, sending dust clouds up behind me.  As I was turning the corner after disrupting several dust clouds, I noticed that the dust clouds were accentuating sunbeams shining through the trees that had been there all along, yet I hadn’t been able to see them until the dust particles made them “appear.”  Our family calls those sunbeams “Jesus Hugs.”

Our family has been experiencing some challenges lately.  On the one hand, I’m grateful that God has gotten our attention during this stage because if we had ignored the issues, they potentially may have reached a point of crisis.  However, anytime one goes through a challenge in life, it’s easy in the middle of the moment to blow the challenge out of proportion and feel hopeless.

Earlier that morning, there had been some breakthroughs regarding the challenges.  I was feeling hopeful about some things that had occurred and while the answer wasn’t revealed yet, I felt we were on the right track.  I believe God allowed me to see His “hugs” through the dust clouds on purpose that afternoon.  I believe it was a reminder that sometimes we need a few challenges here and there in life to remind us that God is always with us, always shining down on us, always in control of whatever we face.

Sometimes, when life is going well, and all we see is sunshine, God’s presence becomes invisible even when He’s there the whole time.  Sometimes, it takes dust clouds (challenges) in our lives to see clearly just how present He always is – watching, waiting, intervening, comforting, changing and most of all, taking care of us.

Just as I was grateful God had opened our eyes to some issues that needed to be handled before they reached crisis stage, I was grateful God opened my eyes to His huge hug through the trees that was invisible until showcased by the dust clouds of my making.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:10 (NIV)

 

Our family took an annual trip around mid-May this year.  This was the first time we needed a babysitter for our bearded dragon and we weren’t sure how she would do with a change in her routine and caregivers.  While she was pampered more than she is at home, when she came home she was “crabby.”  I chalked it up to her not getting held for four days because while our substitutes took great care of her survival, they drew the line at cuddling and that wasn’t part of the job description I outlined.

 

I continued to try and hold her occasionally each day, but she was just temperamental and not very fun. I was starting to get scared of her because she would repeatedly try to bite me which was unusual for her personality.  A few days later I realized what the underlying issue was – she was in the process of completing a full shed, meaning not just her head, limbs and tail were shedding but her whole body was shedding and this time was coming off in one big chunk.  If my body was undergoing that type of metamorphosis, I believe I would be even more crabby that she was.  Once her old skin was off and she was wearing skin that fit her bigger body, she was back to her happy go lucky self, jumping up on the window ledge asking to be held and let out of her cage.

I realized from that experience, at times I’m very similar to a bearded dragon undergoing a complete shed. When God is working with me on “shedding” some of my destructive habits or patterns in life, I’m “crabby” because I don’t want to give in or let go – I want to do it my way.  However, it’s not until I fully submit and surrender to doing it my Father’s way, getting rid of the old habits in one big chunk, that peace returns and I’m peaceful once again.

 

I’m going to take it one step further.  If I can recognize that pattern in myself, then don’t my friends and family deserve at least the same grace from me when they are working through shedding their bad habits that God is convicting them of?  It is during those times I need to come alongside them, pray consistently for them and not be so hands on with them, giving God and them time together to work through what our Father wants to reveal to them in their own lives.  If God wants my help, He’ll let me know. In the meantime, the best support I can be is prayer support and being available so that when they have completed their full shed and are feeling their normal happy go lucky selves, I’m waiting, ready to hear how God worked in their lives.

Jewel, our bearded dragon, continues to teach me lessons on a regular basis.  I’m glad that God allowed our family to see life through the eyes of a lizard… especially now that I’ve learned to read her signals and when she’s shedding, give her the space she’s asking for.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1 (NIV)

 

Twenty minutes.  Ten minutes.  A matter of a few seconds sometimes.  I believe as God’s children, there are many times throughout our life that God puts His hand of protection on us and we’re not even aware of how He prevents injuries, sickness and even death from entering our lives.  In fact, our family prays for His hand of protection daily… before getting out of bed Bill and I pray that prayer over our family (immediate and extended), we pray it as we begin driving around as we did that morning before heading to our friends’ house, and we thank Him multiple times for His hand of protection that has shielded us from accidents, injuries or sickness.

Usually I go about my day thankful that God is protecting me but not giving it much thought.  Then something like what occurred on that relaxing Sunday morning happens and God reminds me that even when I can’t see what He’s doing, He’s taking care of us.

If God is willing to protect us from a herd of deer smashing through our car window on a random January night or a man recklessly, purposefully speeding through an intersection on a Sunday morning in the summer, how much more is He willing to take care of us through other trials we might face in life – loss of finances, loss of employment, death of a child, sickness, strained family relationships?

You might be asking me, though – what about the people who were involved in the accident?  What about them?  Why didn’t He protect them?  I believe He did protect them. Three cars total were involved in the crash.  The car who purposefully sped through the intersection directly hitting a mother and five-year-old daughter, causing a chain reaction of her car careening into a third. I believe that while the third car itself was damaged, the people walked away relatively unharmed.  The mother of the car the speeding driver hit?  She suffered minor injuries and was resting at home comfortably 24-48 hours afterward.  The child?  Not a scratch on her.  My first thought was that God had sent an angel to cushion her impact.

Just four days’ prior, a co-worker emailed me to say her husband had been in a tragic car accident and while he was okay (injured but not fatally) their car was totaled.  Why, you may ask, were we prevented from being hit and these others weren’t?

I can’t answer that question.  I do know, though, that had we been involved in the accident, our prayer would have been for God to use it for His glory. I think, this particular time, He lifted the veil for me to see Him working behind the scenes as reassurance that He is working behind the scenes in our lives. We are facing some issues presently in our life and I believe God wanted to remind me He has each detail under control.  And for that reason, I’m so grateful He sometimes allows the veil to lift, giving peace that we can trust Him to work behind the scenes even when we can’t always see the results right away.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

“The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all;” Psalm 34:19 (NIV)

Earlier this summer, a friend called to ask for help.  Bill willingly agreed to see what he could do, so after a good night’s sleep, he and I left our kids home and went to see what assistance we could give.  While I had a chance to catch up with a good friend, Bill went to work and 20 minutes later, we were heading back home and our friends were pleased with the results.

Taking the opportunity for a rare date, I offered to give my free Biggby birthday drink to Bill and we headed in that direction, traveling on roads we seldom use.  The next half hour was spent reconnecting, laughing and enjoying being together.  Soon after, we were back together as a family of five, enjoying the rest of our weekend and getting ready for the last week of school.

Bill came home from work the next day and showed me a video of a major accident that claimed the life of one while severely injuring several. It had occurred at an intersection we had passed through yesterday, 20 minutes after we were gone.  Twenty minutes.  If the job our friends had asked us to help with had taken 20 minutes longer, we would have potentially been involved.  If we had stood around chatting, we could have been in the hospital or morgue instead of spending the afternoon and evening with our kids. Twenty minutes.  That was a sobering thought for me.

Tuesday, Bill came home from work with even more information about what had happened.  It appears that the driver who ended up losing his life was purposefully speeding through the intersection.  Video was taken of him speeding through the first time, missing all cars and ten minutes later speeding through again when this time he connected with the innocent, causing the accident which led him to lose his life, severely injure his passenger and several others.  Not 20 minutes as I originally thought.  A mere 10 minutes between a calm relaxing drive that we experienced and an accident that quite possibly could have permanently changed our lives.

This near accident made me think about an incident I’ve written about previously in Spoken from the Heart: Embracing the Adventure.  I stated that I was informed I was losing my job on Monday, but God lifted the veil on Tuesday night to show me His protection when our family was almost involved in a multiple deer accident that would have severely injured or killed my husband and son while I watched from the passenger seat.

Come back next time and I will share what God reminded me of through both of these incidents.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3 (NIV)

 

As summer starts to wind down to a close, and the long, hot days meld into one another, tempers start to flare.  It’s really quite similar to the long, cold days of winter when everyone is trapped inside and too much togetherness happens.  Irritations that are trivial become magnified.  A snarky remark is volleyed, only to have another equally snarky remark returned. Even when I have the best intentions, weather, mood and exhaustion will at times get the best of me and I’ll wish I could take back what was said in the heat of the moment.

I’ve talked previously about a book, Imagine Heaven, by John Burke, which changed my perspective about my relationship with God, my relationship with others and my perspective on how I live my life. The above is another way it’s made me stop and think before blindly reacting.

My Heavenly Father is all about relationships.  As I’ve said previously, He specifically put me in specific families, in specific locations and surrounded by specific people that He has given me the opportunity to influence with the way I relate.  I get to choose how I will respond to those God puts in my path; but even then He doesn’t tell me I’m on my own.  He wants me to fill up with Him first and continuously throughout the day as I relate to those I love and those I meet so that when they see me, they are really seeing a reflection of Him.  I can’t reflect Him very well if I’m empty or trying to model His behavior and example without His help.

I’m not perfect and I never claimed to be.  Tempers, weather and exhaustion will get the best of me more times than I like.  Cabin fever, wind chills below zero and stress will get me at times too.  However, the more I consciously fill up with God at the beginning of my day and continuously refuel throughout my day, the more I hope to reflect His love, His character, His example in my everyday attitude and responses.

Relationships are important to me too.  Much more than simply being able to say “I’m right.”

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

 

“Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.”

Colossians 3:22-25 (The Message)

 

I’ve been reading a book lately that is so fascinating and has really gotten me thinking about life here on earth as well as what life will be like for eternity in Heaven.  Imagine Heaven by John Burke is definitely well worth your time if you feel like reading something that will get you excited about eternity as God’s child.

One area that is talked about in the book is what is our main job here on earth – what does God really care about and what will be His focus during the life review He has with us after we die?  As the above verse clearly states, God wants us to work well at every job assigned, as though we are working for God and not a paycheck or employer.  However, I tend to agree with the author that God will put more weight on the quality and investments we made in the relationships He gave us the opportunity to begin and maintain then on our paycheck or pension.

God is all about people and relationships.  He wants more than anything to have a personal relationship with every human being He created.  That is God’s main goal – so why should it surprise me that God’s main focus for my life would be about the relationships with people He allowed me to intersect with, He blessed me with to call “family” and “friends”?

Thinking about life that way, while I still strive to be an excellent worker who goes above and beyond for my employer, I am thinking more about the relationships I have (or don’t yet have) with those in my inner circle.  God chose specific people for me to share a bloodline with.  God allowed specific people to attend my children’s schools, my church, shop where I shop when I shop, bank where I bank, etc.  He cares about what I choose to do with those relationships and whether I will neglect them, nurture them, invest in them or ignore them.

Our life here on earth is short.  Even if I live to be 90 years old (which is definitely on the high end), it will be over before I know it. My timeframe of working and earning a living is even shorter than that.  While I want to be a good steward of the talents and gifts God has given me and a body able to work while it can, I don’t want to forget that relationships are at the heart of God’s salvation message and genuinely investing in relationships with those around me gives me the opportunity to introduce those I love (and those I cross paths with) to the One who can change their life for the good for all eternity.

It was a great reminder for me where my real investments should take place.  A great reminder of what my real job here on earth is.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

“ Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” Proverbs 19:20 (NIV)

 

We watched Manchester at the Sea yesterday.  While I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone (there is quite a bit of profanity and mature audience subjects), it was a thought provoking movie.  However, I don’t really want to talk about the movie itself, but a lesson I needed to be reminded of which was told so perfectly on the screen.

Casey Affleck portrays an uncle who takes custody of his 16-year-old nephew. Upon first impression, this teenager is quite mature and handles adult situations in a way some adults haven’t even mastered. However, as the story unfolds, it’s clear to see he’s still only 16.  There were a few scenes where the actor did a great job of showing he still needed the loving adults in his life to guide him.  He hadn’t crossed the finish line into adulthood yet.

In one particular scene, they were sitting in his uncle’s car and Casey asked his nephew a question, waiting for an answer.  He received the standard, “I don’t know” reply to which the uncle responded (paraphrased so as to not give away the story), “Well, it needed to be a ‘yes’ for me, but that’s me.  No is acceptable too.  I don’t care what you decide. (long pause) Do you need me to decide for you?”

That’s the part that struck me.  “Do you need me to decide for you?”  We have two teenagers in our house and an elementary school-aged child.  It’s easy for me to interact with our youngest child.  I still make the majority of the decisions for him, while he gets to express his opinion and make his preference known, because the most difficult questions have to do with what food he wants to eat, when he needs to go to bed, and what animals he’s going to get next or how many. Pretty straightforward, simple questions.  Questions that won’t ruin his life if he chooses wrong.

However, interacting with my teenagers is different.  While I want to give them as much practice as possible to exert their independence, this movie reminded me that my job isn’t finished.  There will be times when I will need to decide for them.  I have the wisdom and insight from living twice as long as they have to make some of the hard decisions, knowing what kind of an impact their choices will have on their life now and possibly for their future too. Their decisions aren’t simply bedtime routines and how many times they will eat in a day.  Instead of feeling guilty for not letting them sprout their wings completely, I need to be strong enough to step up and say at times, “I need to make this decision for you.”

We have great kids.  They make great decisions.  But it was a good reminder to me that my job, while approaching the finish line, isn’t completed yet.  And if done well, I will never completely be without a job. I will always be their mom.  I will always have lived 25+ years longer than they have, and while eventually the roles will change and they will have to decide if they want to take care of me when I’m too old to care for myself, for now, it was a good reminder that I can (and should) step up and ask, “Do you need me to make this decision for you?” when necessary.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017