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Archive for May, 2013

I’ll Hold

“You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Matthew 7:16 (NLT)

Don’t you love those times in your life when you can tangibly see progress you are making?  Whether you are becoming more patient, loving, self controlled, disciplined?  Whatever it is you are working on (or God is lovingly teaching you what needs to be worked on) and you are seeing results?

I’ve been in a period of holding for the past three months.  Wondering if I’m not listening hard enough to God, wondering if I’m where He wants me, and wondering if I need to change directions because it seems like nothing is happening.  Through His grace, He has recently shown me that I’m in a period of preparation.  Those periods are very necessary, though sometimes frustrating.  You see, I believe God had me in a preparation phase approximately eight years ago, but I argued with Him back then, telling Him I was too busy to obey what He wanted me to learn and I would have to wait to learn it until my schedule got less hectic and I had more time.  Well, guess what?  My schedule hasn’t gotten slower and I don’t have more time.  I have one more child, one and one half jobs, and I’m more mature now to realize when God wants me to learn something, it’s smarter to learn it the first time He presents it to me than waiting eight years and having to fix all the mistakes in between.

I’m so glad, though, the God I serve is patient with me.  I sure need it.  And so, this time around, I’m trying to just obey, without arguing and enjoy the time of preparation He has given me.  During this time I need to work on my priorities, my health, my household routines, and my schedule.  I need to clean and organize, keep what works for our lifestyle. donate what others would find beneficial but we have outgrown, and solidify a routine that will make our house run smoothly while taking care of my body so it will run effectively and meet the demands that will soon be placed upon it.  Because, you see, even though I’m in the “hold” phase or preparation right now, I have faith I’m being prepared for something.  Therefore, I can’t procrastinate, but I need to get ready.  I’m excited to see what exactly God has planned.  Do I think He will wait indefinitely for me to establish a workable routine?  I know from experience He won’t.  He has an overall plan, and I’m just one piece of that puzzle.  When He’s ready for me to start using my piece for His glory, I’ll be called to serve whether I have used this time wisely or not.  I want to take full advantage of the time He’s giving me instead of wasting it as I did eight years ago.

So…back to seeing tangible progress.  I received a phone call from a great friend the other day.  She had terrific news to share with me.  My first reaction to her news was utter and complete joy, and surprisingly, peace.  You see – her news affected me also.  By her receiving great news, I received less-than-stellar news.  And you know what?  That was okay with me.  Absolutely, completely, okay.  What I found even better than my honest “so happy for you” reaction was how God had prepared her a few days earlier to receive her great news at the same time as He was working in me, revealing that now is not my time.  And, because of His love and that preparation, my reaction to her wasn’t a fake, tight-lipped “Congratulations” before going off and licking my own wounds.  Nope – it was an honest, full-out “Snoopy dance!”

That kind of a reaction, my friends, can only come from the peace that God Himself gives.  I take no credit for it, but give full credit to my wonderful Savior.

He loves us all so much that He will lovingly prepare us ahead of time to either fulfill His plans in His time or to receive the news waiting for us, even if it’s “no” or “not yet.”

Have I been guaranteed by any earthly avenue that I’m in a “hold” pattern and my time is right around the corner? No.  But I do have a close relationship with the God of the Universe who has given me a peace while I’m resting, waiting, preparing for whatever journey He wants me to take.  Do I have the journey mapped out and programmed into my GPS?  Again, the answer is no.  But do I trust that God is in charge of the directions and He will let me know if I’m veering off course? Absolutely! Until then, I will continue to prepare; not just my career path, but my health, my relationships, and organize my house while working on perfecting our household schedule.

As happy as I am for my friend (and I’m elated for her!), I’m excited to think about where God might be leading me, and peaceful while I wait for His timing.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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Thank You

Today we take time to honor those who have sacrificed so much of themselves and their families for our freedoms in this County.

On days like today, when I think about honoring our soldiers, I think about the many men in my own family who have made those sacrifices: My husband, my brother-in-law, father-in-law, grandfather, and cousins to name but a few.  I have countless friends who spouses, children, and extended families are also serving or have served.

I just want to say thank you: For sacrificing not only your time, your comfort, and your families so that we can enjoy the freedoms in this county that mean so much.  Thank you isn’t nearly enough but it’s a start.

Happy Memorial Day!

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Copyright: Cheri Swalwell 2013

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So Many Hats

“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40: 31 (NIV).

Last time we talked about coming to the realization we are where God wants us to be.  Today, I’ll continue the conversation by talking about how to learn to be content in that place.

Now, I spoke previously about how I don’t usually handle multitasking in my different areas at the same time very well.  However, with a shift in attitude and realizing that I truly am where God wants me at this time in my life, there’s a way to make the most of every situation.  When my attitude shifts, I realize my feelings usually follow.  The same chaos and changed plans occur, but they’re more easily managed because I choose to focus on God’s plan, not my schedule.  But it’s a choice.  Every single day.  Sometimes multiple times a day.  And sometimes it takes more practice for me to get it right than other times.

A few weeks ago I had worked through my “funk” and began thanking God again for the blessings of a messy house (it meant I had family surrounding me), work to pay the bills, and happy, healthy, noisy kids.  Things were going well.  I was keeping my priorities where they should be:  God first, then family, then work and other responsibilities.  Work ran a little later than I had hoped (our printer dying didn’t help), but I took out my eraser and ran with it.  After swapping my dinner ideas around a little bit, I still managed to make a special dessert and have dinner ready at a reasonable time.   I was slightly upset about the printer problems but gave it over to God and only by His grace, found out we would get the new part shipped within 24 hours.  The bonus:  Even with the extra shipping, it cost far less than we would’ve had to pay elsewhere.  I even was able to get dinner for the next two nights prepared ahead of time and found time to relax with my family and connect with a friend before heading to bed.  Things were going well.  There were many issues that day on my schedule I hadn’t planned, but I handled the changes knowing God was in control.  I didn’t have to lose my patience or my focus.

Fast forward to the next morning.  Less than 24 hours later.  I didn’t sleep well because during the thunderstorm that lasted most of the night, my three-year-old took a flying leap into our bed, taking comfort in my arms.  Now…since cuddling with him doesn’t occur as often anymore, I don’t mind a chance to hold him close, but he’s not as little as he used to be and doesn’t tuck up under my chin.  So, after nearly getting my nose broken for the third time in a hour (he’s a deep sleeper and I think he was trying out some wrestling moves in his dreams), I realized sleep wasn’t going to come easily.  After putting him back in his own bed, I had one hour before the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. but instead of getting up early, I chose to try and get a little more sleep.

That was my first mistake.  If I had gotten up early and started my day with God, I would have chosen the right focus.  However, when I did wake up to start my day, I soon discovered our internet was down.  That’s a major problem for someone who relies on the internet to complete her work, on her busiest volume day.  I immediately called technical support and 50 minutes later got a live person on the line.  Now…during that time, I managed to get the chicken (prepared the night before) in the crockpot, make my husband’s lunch and send him off to work (after complaining about my schedule being messed up), get my oldest two up and moving in the right direction, and spend time with God (notice how I still didn’t have my priorities in line?).  And it showed in my attitude.  I started out trying to look at the positive side.  My schedule the week before had shown me I can work with less-than-ideal circumstances.  But, the selfish part of me wanted things to run smoothly and not have to deal with a broken printer and internet problems.  You know what happened?  When I got the live person on the line and walked back to my computer to try and solve the issue, it was already fixed!  There had been a power outage in the area and it was restored while I was waiting.  So…my schedule wasn’t interrupted after all and I was actually quite a bit ahead of schedule with all that had been accomplished while waiting.

Even though I had started the day making the wrong choices, I decided I wasn’t going to continue that way.  I chose to stop what I was doing and thank God right then that despite my negative attitude and complaining, He took care of the situation for me and I was going to learn from my mistake, not continue to repeat it.  Because of my poor attitude, I was able to have a talk with my kids that morning about “what not to do” as well as to apologize to my husband for my crabbiness.  Next time I’m having to change directions with my schedule, I hope I’ll be more quick to see the opportunities for blessings instead of just focusing on the mess.

My point of the above drama is this:  Life is messy.  There is never going to be a “perfect day.”  God doesn’t sit around in Heaven waiting to make my life miserable.  My life has issues and problems that crop up because I live in a sinful world, same as yours.  Our problems may look different, but we all are presented with them periodically.  However, the way I handle my messy life is completely up to me.  I can complain and see only the negatives; or I can focus on my blessings and learn to deal with the messes that inevitably come up.  And you know what?  I find more often than not, when I focus on the right stuff, the messes don’t seem so messy.  And when I allow God to walk me through life’s “not-so-ideal” days, I also allow His promises to penetrate deep into my soul.   In my opinion, the lesson sinks in deeper when I have experienced the mess versus when I just hear about it secondhand.

I also learned one other valuable lesson from my early morning experience: Just how easy it was for me to allow work to creep back into “first priority” in my life.  Now, I realize that sometimes I’m going to have to spend more time working and less on other things, but overall, my work needs to stay in its rightful place.  As someone wise once said (don’t remember who), multiple people could replace me in my job.  To my husband, my children, and those who love me, I’m irreplaceable.  I need to remember that when work tries to invade their territory and instead keep it where it belongs.  Having said that, my husband is at work, my little one is still asleep (wrestling with his pillow instead of my nose), and the older two are at school.  It’s time for work to get my focused attention so I can enjoy my role as wife and mom when they get home.

The same author of There’s a Plastic Green Monkey in my Purse, wrote an encouraging blog speaking about feeling overwhelmed.  Here is the link if you want to read it for yourself for an extra boost:  Jessie’s blog post: http://jessieclemence.com/2013/04/09/encouragement/.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 (NIV).

Do you ever wish you could change things in your life?  A different career, more children, volunteer in the community, work outside/inside the home full time or part time?

I learned as a young adult I do much better when I get to focus on one thing at a time.  I can multitask really well within that area, but give me too many different jobs and I tend to stress out.  When I was newly married, without children, I worked outside the home and managed to keep on top of my responsibilities.  Even after our first child, I continued to cope well. After our second child arrived, though, I talked with my husband and we decided it would be much better for our family if I could contribute to the household income from inside the house versus outside the home.  That’s when I chose to get relicensed for daycare and I got paid to be a mom to multiple children, something I relished.  I got a full night’s sleep but had cute little ones all day.  One more child and a job change later, I realized again the truth that I function much better focusing on motherhood or a career rather than trying to juggle both.  That used to discourage me because I felt like I did a lousy job at both jobs:  Motherhood and my career.

I was reading a great devotional, There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in my Purse by Jessie Clemence, and she was telling all these truly inspiring stories about women who homeschool, have more children than I, cook organically, grow their own garden, etc. and do it with a smile.  I thought, That’s who I want to be.  I want to be a stay-at-home mom, make all our food from scratch…

At first I was discouraged I wasn’t doing all I thought I should be, but then God again lovingly, reminded me that I am exactly where He wants me to be.  God is the God of the Universe which means He owns everything:  Jobs, finances, children, possessions, etc.  If God truly wanted me to be a stay-at-home mom, He could think the thought and our finances would be such that I could be.  However, He doesn’t work that way.  Maybe He has something to teach me by having me juggle a career and motherhood.  Maybe He wants to teach my children more independence.  (As I wrote in a previous blog, if I was a stay-at-home mom with nothing else to do, my children would be lazy and spoiled because I would do everything for them.  By working and having other responsibilities, they are required to pitch in to help make our household run smoothly and for the record, they do a great job at it.)

The point isn’t that I know the why behind where I am; the point is I can trust that God has me right where He wants me.  I can take that thought one step further.  Not only can I trust God for where I am now, but I can trust God that if I continue to obey His guidelines and not run off and do something foolish that I will regret later (like charge $10,000 on a credit card “just because”), then God will guide me to where He wants me in the future.  And, that, my friends, changed my perspective.  I realized I am right where I belong – juggling a career and motherhood, going a little crazy at times, but confident that God is teaching me and my family what He wants us to learn.  And I can rest in that peace even while multitasking.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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Pencil…Or Pen?

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Proverbs 19:21 (NIV).

 

I read a great devotional today which included this: “Write your schedule on your calendar in pencil.  That way it won’t be so annoying when you have to erase it because of (fill in the blank)”  (Cynthia Ruchti).

Lately this aspect of motherhood, or life, has bothered me.  I’ve been so focused on what I want to get accomplished (or not get accomplished), that I’ve been more irritated than the situation calls for when my plans have changed.  I’ll wake up, have my quiet time, and then go about the list in my head of all I want to take care of.  Nine times out of ten, none of it got crossed off, not enough got crossed off, or I got irritated with all the interruptions.  And, I feel horrible admitting this, but even my kids were crossing into the “interruptions” instead of the blessings arena.  My priorities, obviously, were way out of balance.  Work was becoming more stressful and more “important” than my family, the people I was working for.

I read an article about Michelle Duggar, mother of nineteen children.  She and Jim Bob were at the kitchen table writing a book.  The children kept coming in and interrupting them, so that they were very slow making progress.  The interviewer made a comment stating if the children would stop interrupting, they would be able to get some work done.  Michelle answered in essence saying the book was the interruption.  Raising her children was her real job.

That statement hit me hard.  My main role in life is not working for any company.  My main goal in life is to work for God, and He has placed three children under my care to love, protect, nurture, and train.  Somewhere along the line, I stopped holding my hands out to God and asking Him to balance my day, write my “to do” list, and show me what He wanted me to accomplish.  I failed to remember God was in charge of my life, He was in control of my schedule, and it was truly His goals I wanted to accomplish, not mine.

When I remembered the truth and started putting it into practice, my whole outlook changed.  Flexibility remains important as the amount of time I have still doesn’t equal the amount of work that needs to be finished.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed and succumbing to stress, real or imaginary, when I let go and let God be in control, I started to enjoy the process more.  The joy was back in my step, I was able to enjoy the activity I was involved in, and my kids stopped being an interruption and again became my focus.  That doesn’t say I don’t need to set boundaries since I do work from home with deadlines and turn-around times, but instead of taking the defense and deflecting situations, I’m on the offense and heading off crises.  By preparing a little bit ahead of time and relearning the art of flexibility, my mood is happier and therefore, the day goes much smoother.

I find when I keep my priorities in line with God’s priorities, giving Him my firsts and keeping Him in charge of my life, (something I needed a reminder of lately), then even the interruptions don’t bother me so much.  And, keeping that pencil handy to write my “to do” list sure helps too!

 

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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Wisdom…Humility

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”  James 3:13 (NIV).

I’ve been in a funk for a few months now.  I thought it was just exhaustion, lack of energy, or working too hard.  While I’m sure my schedule hasn’t helped, I think the above feelings were just symptoms of the real underlying problem.  Lack of humility.

I had forgotten that all I have in life is a blessing and none of it is deserved.  While I deserve nothing, God has given me so much.  I used to be really good at realizing this and thanking Him daily for it, but for the past few months, I have been focusing more on where I think I should be instead of thankful for where God has me.  Now, to say I was prideful doesn’t sound very pretty but in order to change the behavior, it needs to be acknowledged correctly.  I wasn’t going around thinking I was better than anyone else; I just didn’t want to be worse either.  I wanted to be the same.

Well…God didn’t make me the same.  He creates timetables for a reason.  He allows certain people to be blessed in certain ways at certain times because He is the Creator of the Universe…not me.  I don’t want the job, really.  I can barely keep a household of five running smoothly while controlling our chaos; I certainly don’t want the responsibility of running the entire world.  That’s too overwhelming.

So, when I finally woke up (literally and figuratively) one day and realized my “funk” was self induced from self indulgence, I started to see and hear things differently.  I realized God wasn’t ignoring me or my desires.  He isn’t mad at me and I’m not being punished because others are further ahead in their journey than I am.  No…I am in a holding pattern right now.  God sees not only where I’ve been, but He sees much further ahead in my future than I could ever predict.  He knows my priority is first and foremost obeying Him, then my relationship with my husband, then nurturing our children, then my career, and lastly everything else.  He also knows next year is going to be slightly crazier than most.  And, He knows better than I do the word He gave me for this year:  Balance (moderation).

Now…once I figured out that I was in a preparation phase and not actively “running full speed ahead,” I was able to slow down a little and begin to enjoy the journey again.  I realized I don’t have to be in control.  I realized it’s not really up to me whether or not I succeed or fail.  I realized I don’t have to have all the answers, just an obedient heart.

And you know what?  The journey got fun again.  God knows my heart better than I do.  He knows what I’m passionate about, what I wish I was doing versus what I am doing, and He knows (better than me) what it will take for me to get there.  And now that I have been reminded yet again that I don’t have to hold the map for the journey God has placed me on in life, I’m more able to sit back, trust, and enjoy the scenery.  When I focus more on giving God my best instead of comparing myself to others or trying to take over, the journey gets sweet again.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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I Am…

“God will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you Moses?’ Rather he will ask me, “Why were you not…” (Ian Morgan Cron, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), 67. 

My sister and mom have the gift of hospitality.  My mom is a natural teacher and my sister is excellent with finance and accounting.  My mother-in-law is described by everyone who knows her as generous and kind.  My sister-in-law is a true friend: She has deep connections that date back to elementary school.  I have friends who are so incredibly creative they can take a piece of rope or wire and turn it into a Valentine’s Day decoration or create a bulletin board that should be hanging in a museum instead of an elementary school.  I have other friends who can strike up a conversation with complete strangers and make them feel welcome within twenty minutes while others walk into a room of middle schoolers and are comfortable getting real no matter what the topic.  I have other friends with the gifts of crafting, organization, imagination, housekeeping…and the list goes on.

Thankfully, when it’s time for me to meet Jesus face-to-face after I die, I won’t have to worry about Him asking me why I wasn’t more like one of my friends or another teacher.  All Jesus cares about is that I was the best “me” I could be and how I tried to be more like Him.  You see, when I start to compare myself to others, a thought that comforts me is God made me the way He did on purpose.  He knew me before I was born.  Therefore, He made me with all the lumps and bumps and talents and dreams and hopes and gifts I possess for a reason.  He knew the areas I would consider my weaknesses and also the areas I would deem my strengths.  He knew what weaknesses I would need to work on improving while others I would have to learn to let go.  He knew how He could use some of my weaknesses to show His strength and His glory, which is the ultimate goal of my life anyway.  He knew the passions of my heart and the level to which I would need to develop some of those areas.  He also knew I would never be any of my friends or relatives, no matter how hard I tried.

He didn’t make me to be more like them…He made me to be more like Him.  That is a very freeing statement.  It frees me up from comparing my inadequacies to my friends’ strengths.  It helps me keep the big picture in mind:  God’s desire for my life is different from that of my friends and my family.  He made each and every one of us for a unique purpose and only I can fulfill the purpose that He put on Earth for me.

What about this scenario?  You’re a teacher and in your opinion, striving to be the best teacher ever.  However, when you sit in the Teacher’s Lounge every day, you start wishing you were more like the Kindergarten teacher because she’s always happy, has way more energy then you, and everyone seems to love her.  Or maybe you want to be more like the fifth grade teacher.  He always has some great project in mind to help his students really grasp whatever concept he is presenting that day.  What about the gym teacher?  She definitely has more energy than you do and is physically fit.  She gets the fun job of exercising and getting paid to stay in shape.

Comparing myself to someone else in the same “field” as myself is especially dangerous.  God doesn’t want me wasting my time worrying about how much better the Kindergarten teacher is at her job than I am.  I’m not a Kindergarten teacher.  If I’m a second grade teacher, then I was called to be the best second grade teacher possible, not get sidetracked by worrying how I can be more like the Kindergarten teacher on her best day.  When my focus is on how lousy I am, then my performance will naturally suffer as a result.

And, lastly, while reminding myself that I’m most effective when I keep my focus on what God wants me to accomplish through His strength instead of being jealous about what everyone around me is accomplishing, I am setting a great example for my children.  My daughter already wants to write “like my mom” and sing and dance at church “like you did, right?”  As great as that is, I gently remind her that as long as she is using her own talents and gifts (which very well may include writing and definitely already include singing and dancing) for God’s glory, then it doesn’t matter if I did it first or not.  She is special because God created her for her own unique purpose and I can’t wait to watch her discover all He has in store for her.

As much as it hurts my heart to see my children compare themselves to others, I think it grieves God’s hearts when we waste our time comparing and being jealous of the gifts we see others possess we think somehow have passed us by.  I can honestly say, in the areas God has called me to use for His glory, accounting has played a very small role.  My hospitality might not be Martha Stewart caliber, but when friends stop by, they are welcomed to our “lived in” house and invited to eat some frozen chocolate chip cookies while we sit back and catch up, usually with our feet resting comfortably on the couch cushions.  And even though my organizing and putting things in a “safe place” is continuously more frustrating than helpful, I’m learning to develop a sense of humor about it, as I fear it will only get worse as I get older.

I’m happiest as a parent when I see my children discovering their own unique purposes and passions and then using them for God’s glory.  How much more do you think God is proud of us when we do the same?

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, mother-in-marriage, and all the other women in my life that are pursuing their passions for God’s glory.  You are great examples for me to follow.

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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