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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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Helpmate

“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’…So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribsand then closed up the place with flesh.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” Genesis 2:18, 21-22 (NIV).

When I was growing up, my career goal was to be a housewife, staying home to raise the kids while my husband earned the paycheck.  I never aspired to be the president of a company or become a doctor, lawyer, or work in any other high-paying, high-stress job.  My personality has always been more laid back, happier to follow than lead.  My sister and I had a great system worked out between the two of us:  She would come up with brilliant ideas and I was happy to carry out her orders.

Even my career choices mirrored the desires of my heart:  First, I worked at a residential facility for trouble youth and then ran a daycare out of my home on two separate occasions, for a total of six years, working for the foster care and adoption system in between.

All of those careers helped prepare me for when I got married and we started our own family.  Biblically speaking, God made women to be the helpmates of their husbands, starting back with Adam and Eve.  Just as we are called to respect our husbands, a topic I talked about at length a year ago, God instructs women to be their husbands’ helpmates and equipped us very well for that job.

Some women will argue that to be a helpmate gives the perception that a woman is somehow weak.  On the contrary!  In my opinion, in order to be an effective helpmate, a woman has to have incredible strength. To be a helpmate is not to be a doormat, allowing the man to do whatever he wants and ordering his wife around as though he is the king and she is his servant.

No, a true helpmate is a woman who willingly comes alongside her husband, discovering his strengths and helping him to present his very best for the good of the entire family.  She is his teammate.  She makes sacrifices of her time, sometimes her comfort, and her selfishness for the greater good of her husband and children.  She will choose to clean the house instead of putting her feet up for ten minutes so that when her husband comes home, they can relax together.  She will ask him in the morning “What’s one thing I can do today to make your life easier?” and then do it, with a cheerful attitude.  She will handle the day-to-day scheduling, petty disagreements between their children, endless phone calls, as well as other chores to free up her husband’s emotional and physical reserves for the responsibilities that line up with his strengths.  She’ll consistently keep clean clothes in the drawer, favorite snacks stocked in the cupboard, and occasionally plan a special evening out to help refresh them both.  These things aren’t done grudgingly, but lovingly, out of a desire to genuinely meet his needs, not to check things off her “to do” list.

She will think about and nurture her husband’s whole body:  Spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual; gently encouraging without nagging.  She will highlight his strengths in public and prayerfully consider how to bring up the difficult conversations out of earshot of everyone, including their children.  In turn, she will listen when her husband feels it is necessary to gently bring up a subject or two where she might need some encouragement to change, believing he wants the very best for her in the same way she brings up painful topics because she loves him.  She will show respect to her husband by teaching her children to honor their father, not cutting him down for the sake of a joke, which would minimize his position in their eyes.  She will make sure her husband knows he’s her first priority, second only to her relationship with God.  She will take the time to discover what makes her man stand out from the crowd and choose to encourage those areas, support his activities, and join him in them when able (either on the front lines or the sidelines).

None of the above suggestions can be accomplished successfully, though, without the right attitude.  In order to truly feel supported, a man needs to know that you really want to come alongside him and help carry his burden.  He wants the assurance that you’re his biggest support, even when he messes up.  Just as we want to be believed in and encouraged instead of nagged or ridiculed when we make a mistake, our husbands need to know we’re on the same team and we’re their biggest cheerleaders.

One last advantage for being the biggest fan of my spouse is that I set a good example for my children to follow.  They learn firsthand what it means to be less self-centered and more “other focused.”  When I am serving my husband cheerfully, they see my happiness that comes from sacrificing a little “me time” for the greater good of the family or just to put someone else’s needs before my own.  When I include them in the process such as going on a search for my husband’s favorite ice cream flavor to surprise him at the end of the day or checking off the list of items he needed picked up at the store, they start to feel the joy themselves of serving someone else simply for the sake of serving, asking for nothing in return.  My prayer is that they’ll in turn make that a habit for their own households someday.

Before you think it’s all one-sided and I’m always serving my husband while he sits back and rests, that’s not the point at all.  As I said before, we’re a team.  So when I willingly make life easier for him by taking care of the mundane things around the house, that frees him up to take care of us on the more important things that I don’t want to have to worry about.  It keeps the flow of the house balanced and just helps things run more smoothly than they would if everyone just looked out for their own needs.

As much as I believe my personality was made to be a helpmate, it doesn’t always come naturally for me.  Sometimes I’m in a bad mood, my day is already filled to overflowing, or I haven’t spent enough time being filled by God to have anything left to fill my husband.  Those are the times, though, when it really counts.  Being a helpmate when you are fully rested or when you have extra time is easy.  Being a true helpmate when it hurts a little is taking the instructions God gave us and simply obeying because He asks us too.  Then, I think, is when my husband appreciates it the most.

I just want to take a minute today to say how grateful I am to have the privilege to be Bill’s helpmate.  I’m still a work in progress, but I look forward to many more years of practice!

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” II Timothy 4:2 (NIV).

Now that I’m willing to embrace the role of teacher I purposefully chose, I want to make sure that I’m inspiring, effective, and encouraging.   In order to be the most successful, I need to look not only at the examples given to me by those I love and admire, but I need to dive into God’s Word and see how Jesus, our perfect example of humanity, taught those He loved.

When looking up various scenarios, I read how patient Jesus was with His disciples, those who came to listen to Him preach, and those He came into contact with occasionally or many different times.  He never strayed from the truth, but to those who were seeking, He presented it in a gentle and kind way.  If you were to read John 4, verses 1 through 25, it talks about how compassionate Jesus was with the Samaritan woman and because of His kindness, she realized He was the real deal.  He never dismissed her sin but instead embraced her despite her flaws, and she in turn embraced what Christ had to offer.  As a result, she went out and shared with others how wonderful Jesus was.

When you have more than one child in your family, you naturally will relate to each unique personality differently.  Therefore, one style of parenting isn’t going to work for each child, just as in the classroom, one learning style isn’t successful for each student.  It’s our job as parents to find the right parenting style to help encourage our children to reach higher, work harder, and gain success in their own life.  It’s a little challenging, especially if one particular child’s style is completely opposite from yours, but it’s possible.

For instance, we have one child who challenges every direction given, one child who resists having to complete the directions, and another if given an explanation will (usually) willingly do what was asked.  It’s difficult at times to go back and forth continuously, sometimes in the same hour, between all the different styles.  Ultimately, obedience is necessary regardless of the way they approach directions, but patience on my part is definitely a wonderful attribute to cling to during the process.

Another area of being a great teacher involves being able to correct gently.  Who remembers the teachers in school that were considered yellers versus the ones that got the same point across but with a gentle tone?  I have always striven to be “gentle in Spirit,” but instead find myself crying when I’m angry and yelling when I’m scared.  I would love to be more like my husband who is very controlled with his emotions and thinks before he speaks.  I, on the other hand, say “I’m sorry,” more often than not because what came out of my mouth wasn’t always what (or the way) I intended.

In Matthew 11:29, Jesus uses the following words to describe Himself: “I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Now, I have to admit growing up, I really struggled with this picture of Jesus.  I saw Him, and my Heavenly Father, more as Judges or Creators who wanted to punish me.  However, the older I get, the more I see the true picture of who Jesus came to be for us.  Just like His Father, Jesus came to this earth to save us, to love us, to give us a chance to live with Him in eternity.  He is a just God and has to punish the wicked, but He is patient and loving and wants us to turn from our sin and embrace His free gift of salvation.  Now when I read passages, especially in the New Testament, His love for me comes through in the words written in the Bible.  That is the example I want to follow for my kids.

When they’ve done something wrong, even though consequences are necessary, I want them to feel gently corrected, not harshly, unjustly treated.  I don’t take pleasure in their mistakes, but I am happy they are given a chance to learn from their mistakes while under their father and my protective shelter, before they grow up and have to face life as an adult.  That’s why we have the saying in our house: “There is nothing you can do that will make me love you more and there is nothing you can do that will make me love you less.”  Our love for them isn’t based on what they do, but instead just because they are who they are.  The same way that Jesus loves each and every one of us.

Lastly, I want to be the kind of teacher who is fun.  My kids have had the privilege of being under the care of many “fun” teachers.  These teachers have taught the necessary skills, but have the gift of presenting the material and conducting their classrooms in ways that draw the children in, make them excited about being there, and anticipate going back after a long weekend or Christmas break.  That’s the atmosphere I want to create in my home.  One of fun, acceptance, and laughter; where my kids enjoy being at home and can’t wait to come home.

The above character traits are ones I want to infuse in our household on a consistent basis, but there are also areas I need to work on eliminating, the most important being my tendency to take over a job for which my kids are very well capable of handling on their own.  I’m used to and have a lot of experience in caring for infants who need a caretaker to provide for all their needs.  However, all three of my children are out of the infant stage and I need to provide opportunities for them instead to practice their life skills.  The more I let go in this area, the more I realize the benefit for us both.  They give me a much needed break from feeling like I have to “do everything,” and they get the chance to raise their self-esteem by accomplishing a task by themselves.  I still provide plenty of opportunities for them to gently remind me that I’m taking over.  We share a laugh and I apologize as I move out of the way so they can continue perfecting their newly acquired skill.

Being a teacher can be demanding, never-ending, and frustrating at times, but I have to admit, it’s also very rewarding, challenging (encourages me to keep growing and raising my own personal standards), and is definitely the most rewarding job.

I want to say thank you to all the teachers out there, my friends and relatives, my kids’ teachers, and my mom, who are great examples of what I hope to someday be with my own kids.  Thank you for inspiring me to be the best I can be through your own laughter, patience, gentle correction, and fun.

This coming week is Teacher Appreciation Week – How can you say thank you to the special teachers in your life?

Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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I Am Not a Teacher

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” II Peter 1:5-7 (NIV)

 

I grew up surrounded by teachers.  Since becoming an adult, lots of my friends are teachers and I’m privileged to be friends with many of my kids’ teachers.  My mom is a teacher and I was blessed to be raised by someone with the gift of bringing out the best in others, presenting ideas in ways that are easily understood, and an ease with which she presented them.  I followed in their footsteps to the degree that I’m drawn to working with children and most of my careers have centered around helping children in one form or another.  I naively assumed with the wonderful examples that surrounded me, I too would just naturally step up and be a great teacher.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Anyone can teach, but not everyone can inspire.  Anyone can present ideas and concepts, not everyone has the ability to help another grasp those concepts and claim them for themselves.  The older I get the more I realize the “teaching gene” passed me by.  I do have a natural ease with children.  I’m comfortable around children, and I have the gift of helping children feel loved, special, and safe while giving them the gift of belonging, whether they were born from my womb or live in my heart.  However, I don’t hold the gift of teaching independence or certain skills in a way where both the child and I leave the encounter peaceful and wanting to try again.

If I were completely honest, I would have to admit I’ve known this to a certain degree my whole life.  I have always joked (with more seriousness in there than people realize) when it came time for potty training, training wheels, tying shoes, and driver’s training – I gladly hand the reins over to my husband and go sit down and read a good book.  I don’t have the patience (or the confidence in my own skills) to break down the task into manageable pieces and present it in a way that is fun, natural, and a pleasant experience for all.  However, I have to say – with three children under our belt, I’m holding firm with the rest of the above-mentioned skills being assigned to my husband’s capable hands, but I have learned how to potty train with fewer tears (from me) and many more smiles, so there is hope for me yet.

Having said all that, I was willing to resign myself to the fact that I’m not a good teacher and leave it to those who excel at it.  But, God spoke to my heart and reminded me when I chose to be a parent, I chose to be a teacher.  And, do I want to be one who inspires or do I want to just get by until summer vacation?

While I may not have the gift to sit down and clearly present math or reading or science concepts so I don’t need a timeout when I’m done, I’m a teacher when it comes to the really important areas in life – values, morals, daily habits, self- discipline, balance, and moderation.  That really hit home.  Every morning when I wake up, I’m making a choice of what I’m going to teach my children that day.  Is it going to be that a soft answer turns away wrath, that my body is a temple of Christ and I need to take care of it by fueling it well and exercising to stay strong, or am I going to teach my kids that those rules apply to other people and other circumstances and they don’t have to make good choices either.

Wow – When I thought about it that way, I realized I have been a worse teacher than I realized.  But…just because teaching doesn’t come naturally to me doesn’t mean I get a free pass.  Instead, it made me realize I have to try harder at something that came naturally to my mom, to my friends, and to my other relatives.  Teaching is just a way of life for them and they’re terrific at it, but it’s something that I need to keep working on in my life so my children can reap the benefits I did while growing up.

When my kids grow up and leave our house, I want to make sure they’ve been introduced to and had plenty of time to practice the life skills that are important to God.  Therefore, I want to be the best teacher possible in areas such as II Peter 1:5-7, teaching my kids the necessary skills of faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, etc., as well as introducing them to and giving plenty of time to practice the fruits of Spirit found in Galatians 5:22 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), not to mention how to wear the full armor of God found in Ephesians 6:10-18.

Just like with all teachers, though, it’s one thing to present the ideas and then test their basic “memory skills” with a test, but completely another when the teacher gives examples and makes the lessons come to life.  Those were always the teachers I admired, the kind of teachers that I’m friends with, and the kind of teacher I want to be.  It’s one thing for me to lecture my kids about self-control while stuffing my face with a donut on our weekly shopping trip, but completely another example to explain that I struggle with self-control and then resist the donut aisle completely.

That’s how I found myself gently challenged by God about a month ago, when I was trying to help my older kids with their homework and ended up more frustrated than they were.  I realized I need to leave the academics in the hands of those I trust, their teachers, but shine in the areas that God has for me – teaching them how to have a true relationship with God, a friendship with their Creator, to obey out of love and devotion, not out of fear, to know the basics of how to have a happier and more peaceful life and the rules and boundaries from which that happiness can burst forth, as well as knowing the why behind it.  For example, when I’m practicing self-control in all areas of my life (food, finances, exercise, work), then naturally I’ll be more peaceful because my clothes will fit, our bills will get paid, I’ll have the necessary energy to complete the work God has for me, and I’ll find satisfaction in a job well done.  The best part is my kids will see that example lived out in front of them, hopefully inspiring them to want peace and happiness in their life as well. I’ll still have bad days, but hopefully those will be the exception instead of the rule.

I guess, bottom line, I am a teacher, whether I realize it or not.  Now, the question is, what kind of teacher do I want to be?

Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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