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“I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.” Mark 8:2 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together I spoke about how there is one universal characteristic which makes a teacher “great.” When a teacher takes the time to establish a positive relationship with one’s students, it makes a huge difference in how much the student will learn and ultimately the student’s overall success.

God has had me on a journey for the past 12 years to learn how to trust Him, with an especially adventurous past five years.  As a result, there have been a few truths God has taught me during the journey that I want to share with you. I’ll share three of them today. Maybe learning these truths will help get you out of your desert faster or at least help you appreciate the journey more.

Truth #1: The Journey is the Destination.

When we began our journey, I was misguided. I thought I was actually setting out for the “promised land.” Even though I didn’t have it well-defined in my head, I knew I would know when I arrived because I would be able to sit on the shoreline, take a huge nap and indulge in some of the “milk and honey” people kept talking about.

It wasn’t until I realized God’s heart for me that I grasped the truth: the journey is as much a part of the destination as stepping into my calling. When I opened my eyes to rsee the journey for what it was, a chance for God to bless during the walk, to refresh me during the tests and trials and lessons and a chance for God to continue to invite me to become the person He created me to be, then I was able to relax and take in some of the great scenery. It was then I was able to realize how much God had His hand on our family while we were still walking. We were never walking alone. We were never left to our own strength. He was always right there, directly in front of us, sometimes also beside us and at other times guiding me by the small of my back to take one more step, go one inch further, because it would be worth it. I had to look back at how far we had come before I could see just how close God had stayed throughout the whole journey. Now I know when I step into my calling completely, I will still be walking the journey.  The journey doesn’t go away – the journey continues even if the scenery changes slightly.

Truth #2: The Journey is Meant to Prepare and Teach; Not Punish.

It took me quite a while to realize this truth. God didn’t take me on this journey to punish me. In the same way, most teachers don’t give pop quizzes and hard tests for the sake of inflicting anxiety on their students. The teachers are wise enough to know what students need to learn to be successful in the real world. Our Heavenly Father has an even more loving heart for each of His children than the kindest teacher. He realizes we each have our own journey to walk. He knows what is needed to equip us for that journeys as well as knowing what strengths need to be strengthened. Those are the areas that He focuses on to help us be as prepared as possible.

When we accept His invitation to work on our weaknesses, we need to keep our eyes open to see the ways in which He is right there helping us learn. Again, though, He doesn’t force. He invites us to choose to learn the lessons and take the tests. And His patience is endless when we come with the right heart. He doesn’t expect us to get it right the first time. God knows practice makes perfect and allows us all the time in the desert that we need. I find that I’m usually the one with the “hurry up” attitude, not God.

Truth #3: We Can’t Fully Appreciate the Blessings until We’ve Learned the Lessons.

I know this truth was an eye-opener for me. I couldn’t fully appreciate God healing me from depression until I had learned what God’s peace felt like. I couldn’t fully appreciate the privilege of working inside my gifts until I realized the discomfort of trying to be successful at a job where my gifts were absent. I couldn’t fully appreciate embracing my role as wife and mother until I tried to juggle that calling on my life with four additional jobs also vying for my attention.

Come back next time and I will share the final three truths God has been teaching me.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

 

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“When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.”

Mark 6:34 (The Message)

 

Do you have a favorite teacher from your childhood?  What characteristics and personality type did that teacher possess? While I think our answers will vary as much as own unique personalities do, I believe we will all share a common denominator regarding one particular preference among our favorite teachers – the motivation behind their requests.

Relationship. The teachers who most positively impacted me (and our children) are the ones who desired to build a relationship with me (or our children) before even beginning to teach any formal lesson. When one invests in the lives of others, trust and loyalty are built. Then, when it is necessary to honor the one in authority (the teacher) with obedience, it is gladly given because there is already an established positive relationship as the foundation. In fact, for me, I find that when there is a positive relationship firmly established, I actually want to work harder to please that person.

When a relationship is already established before the homework assignments, tests and other “hard” aspects of learning occur, it somehow makes the work seem not so difficult. My children don’t see the assignments given by their favorite teachers as a way to punish, but instead the tests and assignments are embraced more as an adventure or a necessary part of the journey.

The same can be said of our Heavenly Father. Twelve years ago I had a conversation with God about the fact I didn’t really trust Him … but I wanted to. That was a scary prayer because at that time in my life, God was still the imposing Judge I had falsely accused Him to be, not the favorite teacher He would soon become. However, in His loving kindness, He took that one sentence I bravely uttered and began the journey of deepening our relationship, all while gently teaching me to trust. He never forced Himself on me – He gently invited multiple times until I chose to step forward and tentatively trust, one choice at a time.

Looking back over my trust journey, my perception of God was so false. While God ultimately is the Great Judge when we stand before Him after we die, He wants desperately to enter into a loving relationship with us while we’re alive here on earth.  Not just so that we can share eternity together in Heaven, but because there is so much more to this life He first wants to share with us.

Like any loving teacher or parent, He knows that in order to understand and appreciate the blessings as well as step into the calling He has for our lives, we must first complete a series of tests and learn lessons to prepare us for that purpose.  When I look back on the previous 12 years, but especially the past five, there are some major truths God taught me during my journey.

Come back next time and I will share those with you.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

 

“I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.”

Isaiah 55:8 (The Message)

 

I love how God is so personal. I love that God wants me to grow even more than I want to grow. And I love that He takes the gentle approach to teach me.

This past summer, God has invited me to take some truths I already knew from head knowledge to heart knowledge. It takes time for that transition to fully form roots and a permanent change to occur, and God knew I had a little extra time this summer to practice.

I’ve been learning that control is an illusion. If God doesn’t try to control us but offers us free will, how much more should I respect those I love and not try to control them either? I’ve also learned to embrace joy and choose to create intentional “happy” memories whenever possible. Life is meant to be enjoyed and when I choose to create moments of “joy” in the lives of those I love, I please God.

The last truth God wants cemented into my heart is that worry/fear is sin. It’s not just a bad habit. It’s not just a negative emotion. It’s sin. Time to call it out for what it is. It’s also a choice. When I choose to worry or live in a state of fear, I’m telling God I don’t trust Him. Is that really what I want to tell the God of the Universe? The God who created everything? When I worry or allow my mind to focus on fearful thoughts, I’m essentially saying, “God, I know You created everything around me – from the solar system to the intricate details of flowers, animals and even my digestive system. But, my finances (insert your worry here), health or relationships – I’m not sure if You have an answer good enough to solve THAT problem I’m facing.”

 Kind of sounds a little silly when put that way, doesn’t it? If God can speak, not have to draw it out on a whiteboard first to make sure all the details fit, but if God can speak or just think the thought without speaking outloud and the solar system aligns or the world is created in six days, why do I think He can’t take care of whatever issue I’m facing in life?

For me, it’s always been more a matter of Does He want to? Will He answer the way I WANT my problem answered or will He answer in a way that hurts, disappoints or brings pain?

God loves us, plain and simple. He desires good things for His children and wants to bless us. But, just as with our earthly children, sometimes what is “good” for us doesn’t always look good from our perspective. Getting cavities filled, getting stitches or having an operation doesn’t “feel good”, but in ways our kids don’t understand, it’s what’s best for them.

As the verse above states, we will never have the wisdom and understanding God does this side of Heaven. Therefore, we need to choose to trust. Trust that even when outcomes aren’t as we desired (sickness, debt, death, catastrophes, natural disasters, crime) we can trust God still loves us, He is still in control and He can bring good from the pain.

Worry is sin. Fear is sin. God deserves nothing less than our complete trust. There is no one else I would rather trust than Him. And I would rather live my life with joy, trusting God, than filled with worry about things that may never even end up happening.

I’m a work in progress. I didn’t realize how much I pepper my conversations with “I’m worried, I’m scared, I’m ‘concerned’” or how much that speech is prevalent among Christians in general until God opened my eyes and showed me. God reminded this summer if I choose to live in worry/fear, I’m choosing to sin. Living a life of trust is more peaceful but definitely takes practice. When I remember the promise which states God ultimately loves me and wants to bless me, regardless of what situations I’m facing, it makes trusting Him easier and choosing to take worry out of the equation doable.

I’m making that choice – what choice do you want to make?

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

 

“Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!” Romans 15:13 (NIV)

 

Our family planned a fun weekend to officially celebrate the beginning of summer. On Friday night we chose to start with a bonfire. As we were sitting there listening to the Christian radio station in the background, talking and catching up with each other by a crackling fire, I sat and took in the moment. I realized I felt happy. Not for anything in particular, but happy sitting around with family enjoying a fun family moment “just because.”

Saturday we invited a few of the kids’ friends and spent part of the day watching the newly released Incredibles 2 movie. Then Sunday, after enjoying time at church and a meal at Applebees celebrating Father’s Day, we went to the beach and I spent time watching the joy other families had spending time and making memories with each other.

God reminded me during those moments scattered throughout the weekend of the freedom He gave me last year when He healed me of depression, then the bonus “joy” I felt when He healed me from holiday depression six months later.

I had allowed Eyeore to take up residence in our home approximately 11 years ago, but God, in His grace, kicked Eyeore out once and for all, making room for Tigger to come back. While I still feel sadness and disappointment and a myriad of other emotions from time to time, they are very different from the heavily weighted down blanket of depression. I find when I do struggle with darker feelings, I’m usually needing to work through another layer of “life” and once I surrender to God whatever it is I’m holding back, His peace and joy quickly return.

I decided during that weekend I was going to be more intentional about making fun memories this summer. We found out a few days later our oldest had the opportunity for work 2 ½ to 3 hours away, which means he would need a ride there and back. I’m already thinking about the “road trip” and what I can do to make it more fun than just “six hours in the car” twice in one week. Our kids are getting in on the fun too. Suggestions have been made about a family scavenger hunt that will last all summer, the alphabet game while grocery shopping, and spontaneous trips to the beach, zoo, and library.

Eyeore has officially moved out and he’s not welcome back. Tigger may have to remind me once or twice how to bounce, but this summer I’m ready to learn.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

“He continued, ‘Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!’” Nehemiah 8:10 (The Message)

 

We decided as a family to celebrate the beginning of summer with a bonfire. My husband cleared away the winter debris and got the fire pit all ready, I had bought the ingredients for S’mores the day before and we were ready. Something to drink, some music playing on our phone and we were relaxing, enjoying the soft breeze and evening noises set against the backdrop of a crackling fire.

While our eight-year-old was off finding creatures, birds, and hoping to see a snake or two, our teenagers, my husband and I were enjoying catching up about life, movies, friends, plans. I spent more time listening to them banter back and forth with their dad than contributing to the conversation. Then it hit me … I’ve lived a full year without the weight of depression on my back and six months without the weight of holiday depression. As I was sitting there, I realized I was feeling happy. I was joyful.

I still struggle from time to time with emotions of disappointment, exhaustion, defeat … and had just come through two weeks of working through some of those layers. Maybe that is why joy and happiness were felt so strongly by me tonight. Maybe it was because this summer was a summer of transition – and my heart was still catching up with the emotions of our oldest graduating from high school a few weeks ago. Regardless of why, I was so thankful to God for the opportunity to feel joy and happiness while sharing a simple bonfire surrounded by family.

That’s when I realized something else about myself. For many years I took the “job” of Christ follower seriously … very seriously. I was always afraid of disappointing, disobeying, angering or grieving my Father or the Holy Spirit that I lived intentional and at times “all business,” trying to make sure I didn’t “mess up.”

God has grown my relationship with Him over the past five years and it was during the bonfire I remembered what He’s been teaching me. Jesus loved to have fun. He was always telling people to “let the little children come to me.” He is described in the Bible as speaking with compassion, grace, love, and bringing peace to others. And while the topics He spoke about were indeed serious – eternal life is no joking matter – I believe Jesus lived life enjoying it, not taking it as seriously as I have been.

During the bonfire, we had talked about dedicating our summer to God by throwing sticks in the fire after naming something we wanted to give to God and not take back. We had done the same exercise in the fall and it was very meaningful. However, that wasn’t the mood of the bonfire on Friday night and that’s when it hit me. There is a time and place for reverence and “serious.” And there is a time for just enjoying God and embracing “fun” which can be just as reverent. We were sitting around the bonfire, bonding as a family with the Christian radio station setting the mood in the background and I realized our home was being dedicated to God just as much with the “fun” as it does when we anoint the doorframes with oil or symbolically throw sticks in the fire.

I knew the vision of our household that would please God this summer. I also knew I was dedicated to doing my part as the “heart of the home” to create the right environment as much as possible, with His help. I knew that while this year’s dedication looked different from years past, God knows our hearts and I believe we pleased Him.

It was at that bonfire my heart was opened to do my part to create the summer of joy.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

God, God, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. Still, he doesn’t ignore sin. He holds sons and grandsons responsible for a father’s sins to the third and even fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7 (The Message)

 

Previously I shared last summer was the “Summer of the Momma.”  It was a bittersweet 12 weeks of enjoying one last season before our oldest graduated from high school this past spring. My “momma” heart knew this summer would look very different and I treasured all the “simple” things last summer offered.

This summer began harshly. Instead of enjoying peaceful moments and leisurely days, I was hit with a stark reality of a personality flaw of mine, and was given a choice of embracing the transition and making a significant change or fighting it and making everyone in the family miserable, including myself. I chose change.

God began preparing me this past spring by cementing into my heart the reality which states “control of anyone other than myself is an illusion.” Most people learn this lesson long before their mid-40s, but I’ve been a slow learner. And while I had head knowledge of this truth, at the beginning of this summer I was given the opportunity to turn it into heart knowledge. I decided I loved peace and joy in our home much more than I enjoyed the illusion of controlling others, not to mention deep down I don’t want to control those I love. I love that they are growing, changing and becoming their own people with thoughts, feelings, interests and abilities separate from me. I don’t try to control my husband – why do I feel it’s right to attempt to control my children?

So this summer I set expectations, both of myself and for our children and then took my hands off. I stop micromanaging. Our children are capable of telling time, following through and completing chores. I continued to encourage, offered wisdom when appropriate but took a more hands-off approach and tried to give the message (verbally and nonverbally) that I trusted them to make great decisions the way God was leading them. I also took inventory of my parenting style and realized I had been too strict in some areas and so this summer I chose to lighten their load some. I worked alongside them more instead of assigning chores and walking away to get my own work done. I know the idea of completing huge projects feels overwhelming when facing them alone; yet, they are finished much quicker the more hands involved.

As I sit and write this, our children are sleeping in. There is a list on the counter of the six items that need to be accomplished before 2 PM, when I’m choosing to take them to the library before we drop our car off to get repaired. Six items for three kids (2 items each). I have already washed all the laundry and it’s outside drying on the line. I’m using this time to write while the household is quiet, before normal chaos ensues. The result? They are happier because their days aren’t filled with getting up early and “working all day” while I’m happier because I know the things that absolutely have to be done today will be accomplished by happier children because they now feel (I hope anyway) heard, respected and in control of their own schedules, working inside their own preferences and not trying to fit a mold that doesn’t feel right.

The best part of the whole learning experience? The grace my kids gave me during the transition. They saw my heart – it wasn’t that I wanted to control them, I just struggle sometimes with transitions, even good ones and “control” is my default button. With God’s help, I’m changing that.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

“ The angel of God came back, shook him awake again, and said, ‘Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.’ He got up, ate and drank his fill, and set out. Nourished by that meal, he walked forty days and nights, all the way to the mountain of God, to Horeb. When he got there, he crawled into a cave and went to sleep.” I Kings 19-7-9 (The Message)

 

I recently came out of a very busy season in life. While most of what we were participating in was fun, it was still busy and at times stressful and exhausting. I had promised myself a reward of sorts. Everything we were responsible for would be completed by June 11th. I gave myself permission on that Monday, after I saw our daughter off to school and my husband off to work, I would go back to sleep, in the bedroom and not wake up until it happened naturally. That was a goal I looked forward to as I neared the homeward stretch of our “busy.”

As seems to happen at times, life didn’t get my memo. Saturday afternoon, my husband came home from his weekly date with one of our kids and informed me we had an electrical problem with one of our cars. I called around that afternoon but it turns out we couldn’t get it looked at until Monday. Okay, so my plans changed slightly.  “I’ll drop off the car early in the morning and still have time to come home, crawl into bed and sleep until I feel like waking up.”

 I asked the mechanic to please call my husband when they figured out the problem, before performing any repairs, and then told our kids not to wake me up unless there was a true emergency. I slept all of one hour – until I was woken up to be told something important that couldn’t wait. After falling back to sleep, I was woken up again one hour later, this time having to deal with car issues that continued for the rest of the day. My nap was permanently interrupted by life once again.

Throughout the week I realized I had no energy or motivation to do anything. My creativity was bottomed out, my emotions were all over the board (weepy one minute, angry the next, feeling guilty for being angry and/or crying) and I soon realized I wasn’t crazy, I was just exhausted. I decided to give myself grace. I got my work done but didn’t work ahead. I went to bed early, read some “just for fun” books without an agenda and I spent a day running errands with my kids and helped plan a fun weekend.

Most importantly, though, I took time each morning, when the house was still quiet, to spend time filling up with my Heavenly Father. I took the time (and my emotions) to Him and asked how He wanted me to deal with them. He revealed some important “growth” areas I needed to work on this summer: giving up control, worry/fear is a sin, and live in the joy of life to name a few.

I realized exhaustion (mental, physical and spiritual) can be a breeding ground for many negative emotions (fear, worry, bitterness, anger to name a few) and the enemy likes to capitalize on the times our strength has been depleted. Filling up with God first and foremost is the best resource for combatting the enemy and his lies. Then, once we are feeling more spiritually strong, we can tackle the issues we have allowed to creep in, asking for God’s help to destroy them once and for all. By Friday, after having had four days to rest, fill up with my Father, and accept His challenge to grow this summer, I entered into the weekend with my family with joy and peace.

It’s important to remember that busyness, whether celebrations or challenges, can lead to exhaustion and if left unchecked, that exhaustion can open up the opportunity for dangerous cycles of negative emotions. Filling up with God and allowing Him to speak His truth into your life destroys those cycles and ushers peace back into our lives instead so we can remember our busy seasons with joy instead of sadness.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018