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Archive for June, 2013

The Depth of Beauty

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7 (NIV).

 Having a nine year age difference between our oldest and our youngest gives a different perspective for parenting than when our only children were a mere three years apart.  I love watching the innocence in our youngest. The contrast of total abandon with the self consciousness that has crept into our older two, though, makes me sad.  I remember a time when our older two shared that same reckless unconscious awareness of others’ perceptions and concentrated solely on enjoying the experience.  Through our older two, I’m reminded of what happens when the world’s misconceptions creep into our subconscious and the innocence of babes is replaced with worry over image.

Our three-year-old loves to parade around the house shirtless.  He’ll run around, flexing his muscles, proud of how big he’s getting and how much stronger he is.  He doesn’t care who sees him, and actually shows off to others, not caring if he’s the best; loving exactly the way God made him.  Contrast that with the message society gives our daughters to look a certain way and maintain an impossible weight.  Don’t forget the pressure that middle school and high schoolers are faced with if they happen to fall outside the “norm” of their friends and are either early or late developers.  Their bodies are perfectly formed; yet they’re made to feel inferior because they don’t fall into the impossible standard set by society.

Counteracting the messages our children are bombarded with on a daily basis can seem dauntless; however, it doesn’t have to be.  Our children may not remain unscathed, but the damage performed on their psyche can be less when we keep reminding them to return to the Word and read what standard God measures us by.   While God does want us to take care of our temples (bodies), it’s not with the idea that we worship them or maintain a physique enviable to all our friends.  No, the goal for our outward body is solely to maintain optimal health so we can carry out the purpose God has for our lives instead of being run down with sickness or lack of energy.

No, God cares about our inward beauty:  Our heart, our attitudes, our responses to others when they hurt us, our ability to reach out to others and show them Christ’s love.  To maintain inward beauty also takes a lot of time and effort.  Studying God’s Word, practicing kindness, learning to praise God through difficulties and allowing His joy to shine through our lives isn’t an innate gift.  It requires practice, a conscious decision to do the right thing, and sometimes a choice to go against the crowd, no matter the cost.

I know there’ll probably come a time when my littlest becomes self conscious. I pray that while my children are being bombarded with messages from society regarding how they measure up, that counteracting those beliefs with the truth from God’s Word will lessen it’s impact.  As my children grow their inward beauty, I pray it helps them shine like a light which inevitably will make them more attractive on the outside as well.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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“Living a life of fear doesn’t change the circumstances, just ruins the journey.” (anonymous)

Waiting and walking seem like opposite actions; however, when dealing with the issue of faith, they go hand in hand.  When I’m faced with a decision that I’m unsure which direction to take, in the past I have prayed and asked God what His will was for me and my family and then sat back and waited.  However, lately I’m realizing God is pleased when after first asking for His will, I sometimes start walking in obedience while waiting for His answer.  Usually when I would wait, it would be because I was afraid of making the wrong choice.  That choice would then sometimes cause the very thing I was afraid of.  Because I waited in fear instead of walked in obedience, I would sometimes miss out on the blessing God had for me all along.

I’m learning there is a different avenue I can travel instead that works a lot better.  When encountering any situation, I first and foremost give it over to God.  I ask for His will to be done, discuss with Him my personal preferences, but ultimately give Him control.  Then, while I’m waiting in faith for the next step God wants me to take, I start walking in obedience, constantly on the lookout for what God is trying to teach me.

A good way to explain the above concept would be through the following example.  What if your family felt led to adopt a child?  You already had three children and your finances were stretched fairly tightly. However, you couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that God had placed the desire to add to your family through adoption on your heart.  After praying about it and feeling that God was indeed leading you in that direction, instead of sitting back and “waiting” for the right child, the right timing, the right circumstances, you start walking, doing what God has equipped you to do in order to prepare for the right timing, the right child, and the right circumstances.  That could look like getting serious about your financial state and paying off your debt or starting a savings program so you have the funds ready when adoption becomes a reality.  That could include fixing up your house and rearranging bedroom space to accommodate another child.  It could look like setting a family budget and sticking to it so when another member is added, you have the finances needed to feed, clothe, and take care of another.  All of these action steps are walking in obedience toward the desire God has shown clearly for your life while you wait in faith for God to arrange the right timing.

I find for myself that when I walk in obedience while waiting in faith, it helps to strengthen my relationship with God as He lovingly and continually shows me through many different ways that I’m on the path He wants me to take. I believe God blesses those who step out in faith, sending them blessings in multiple forms along the way to continue to strengthen the faith they already have so that when the timing is right, God can show off as only the Creator of the Universe can.  When we have God guiding our lives, it’s a lot easier to walk in obedience while waiting in faith.

What is one area of your life God is speaking to you about?  Is there a situation where God has called you to take action while you wait in faith for His timing?

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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Island Living

“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24 (NIV). 

Have you ever had a moment where you clearly felt/heard God’s voice telling you to do something?  It wasn’t audible, but it may as well have been.  You knew with your whole being God wanted you to walk a certain path – begin a ministry, change careers, adopt a child, move cross country, allow your parents to move in with you, homeschool your child for a year, something?  You were incredibly confident you heard Him correctly and not only was He opening doors for you in that direction, but your spouse heard the same message and was walking alongside you.

Life would be great if things continued that smoothly.  However, since we don’t live on an island and we have to interact with others, doubt sometimes creeps in.  A word from a trusted friend questioning if you really want to give up the life you love for one that is more unstable.  An article on Google talking about the severity of the economic crisis and how it’s not wise to make hasty decisions right now.  A few closed doors even though there are windows opening that are better options.  Someone else, who has been around the block a little longer than you, having a bad experience on the journey you are beginning.

We all have faith journeys at one time or another in our lives.  Sometimes they involve career changes, sometimes it’s praying for a miracle for a loved one (sickness, salvation, relationship struggles), sometimes it involves completely walking outside your comfort zone and recklessly abandoning all that’s familiar because God is calling you to something different.

I’ve been on a faith journey, and even though I started out confidently hearing God’s voice and the direction He was pointing me down, I have experienced some setbacks, bruises, and doubts along the way.  I would love to say I have never wavered in my faith for the direction God has called me, but that would be a lie.  I wish I could say I was like the woman in the Bible who’d been bleeding for twelve years and had so much faith that Jesus would heal her, all she did was reach out and touch His cloak, not even His body, just His clothes, and He healed her.  No, instead lately I’ve been more like the father in Mark 9, the above passage, who knew that Jesus could heal his son, had faith in Jesus’ ability, but yet some doubt remained.

I started to question why I was doubting.  God had been opening doors wide open, I had asked (probably too many times) for God to continue to show me I was walking in obedience and He was answering.  However, it hit me the other day.  Instead of focusing on the blessings in my journey, and thanking God for the opportunities and the timing He was giving me, I had started focusing on others’ journeys and where God was taking them.

You see, I realized that no two journeys are the same.  God could be calling me into a new career, along with twenty other people, but our paths to that new career (even if it’s the same career) will look entirely different.  That’s because we’re all entirely different.  God could be calling me and my best friend’s family to adopt children, but the children I welcome into my family will be completely different from the children she welcomes into her family.  What I was seeing as a bad thing is really a blessing.

God made each of us unique individuals.  We all have different personalities, talents, gifts, and skills.  The only similarity is He wishes for us all to use those gifts and talents and personalities to further His kingdom, to help reach others for Him.  However, it will look very different for me from how it will look for you.

When my focus is correct, and I stop concentrating on others and instead focus on the job God has for me, I see the blessings in my journey.  What may appear as a stagnant journey may in fact be God granting me a time of preparation.  Maybe I need to learn time management skills, patience, a different parenting approach, how to take criticism and/or how to settle conflict in a healthy way.  Maybe what is happening is God knows one of my children is going to need more “mommy” time in the upcoming year because of some issue he or she will face.  Jumping ahead of His timing could be devastating for my family.  Maybe I’ll never discover why my journey appeared to stand still while my friend’s progressed at the speed of sound.

Even though I’m far from perfect yet in my faith walk, I think I’m finally starting to get it.  Usually I talk in my blog about focusing less on myself and more on others; however, in this instance, I believe God wants me to focus less on others’ journeys and instead keep my eyes focused on Him and where He is leading me.  I really don’t want to live on a remote island somewhere, so instead I just need to keep my eyes looking at my Savior.  When I focus on Him, then my faith grows, and I have my confidence back that I’m right where He wants me to be.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” Deuteronomy 7:9 (NIV)

I saw on Facebook approximately one month ago that a woman posted her wedding picture and then a picture of her and her husband “today” on their anniversary.  Her caption read, “I really love this man!”  Her love of her husband on their wedding day was evident in her eyes, but the look they had for each other in the “today” picture spoke volumes.  It held a deeper love – one borne from sharing years of marriage.  It was more authentic than the “starry eyed” love on their wedding day.  Even though their physical bodies had changed, the love they felt for one another was felt on a greater level than looks.

Thinking about my own marriage, fourteen years this year, I can relate.  When you are privileged to share your life with someone intimately, getting to know their dreams, thoughts, feelings, building a family together, working side by side on common goals, and sharing pain, joy, and excitement, those instances are what build a relationship

That thought brought me to Jesus and my relationship with Him.  When I first because a Christian, I was “in love” with God, but it was new and unfamiliar.  I didn’t know much about Him and was excited for the journey.  Thirty four years later, Jesus and I have been through a lot.  Some really great times, and other times that have brought me to my knees in complete despair.  Through it all, though, I have developed a much closer relationship with my Savior.

One wonderful difference between a relationship with God versus my husband – I’m the only one who changes.  God never changes.  I can trust His promises in the Bible to stay the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  As I change in my relationship with God, I draw closer to Him and see more of who He really is.  The more I learn about Him, the more I love Him.  The more I love Him, the more I am able to love others.  I naturally reach out more to those who are hurting, rejoice with those who are happy, and come alongside and help those God places on my heart.  I’m more able to see others the way Christ sees them instead of through my own imperfect lens.  My relationship, therefore, with my husband, children, and extended family and friends will only grow stronger when life becomes less about me and more about reaching out as Jesus does.

My prayer is when people see a picture of me, they see Christ shining through me more than they see a reflection of myself.  They hear the excitement in my voice when I talk about my Heavenly Father and all the wonderful things I’m learning about him that others can experience for themselves too.  The next time I say, “I really love that man,” I hope people have to stop to figure out if I’m talking about my handsome husband or my amazing Savior.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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Rest in Perfect Peace

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3 (NIV).

With our youngest child, his sleeping habits still aren’t what they should be.  I’m not sure if it’s something we’ve done differently or if it’s just his personality, but he’ll still wake up at night.  When he does, he wants to crawl into bed and “cuddle.”  I don’t mind.  I realize this time too shall pass too soon, so I gladly welcome him into our bed, despite the fact he’ll inevitably whack me in the face several times in his sleep.  What amazes me, though, is no matter how upset he is when he originally wakes up, he’s instantly calm and sound asleep within two minutes of settling in next to me.  I marvel at the fact that he can sleep so peacefully just by being next to me.  All anxiety or discontent is replaced immediately with peaceful, rhythmic breathing.

That experience with my son gets me thinking about my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  God is given many names in the Bible and they all describe one or more attributes that He possesses.  He is described as our Father for a reason.  A Father is someone I can approach with confidence, knowing I am loved and He has my best interest at heart.  I might not get what I’m asking for, but I can be assured there is a good reason behind His “no,” or “not now,” and that He delights in saying “yes” when it is appropriate.

I used to approach God in a different manner.  More like a Judge who was waiting to convict me for everything I’ve done wrong.  And believe me, there are many, many things He could convict me about… I could name a handful just from today.  As my husband lovingly reminds me though, that’s not how God sees me.

I’m His child, therefore His purpose in my life is not to harshly judge me when I sin but instead to lovingly bring me back to alignment with His commandments and His Word, the Bible.  So…instead of approaching Him as I would a police officer or Judge of a Court, I can approach Him confidently since He is pleased with me just because I’m His child.  I don’t have to clean up my act to crawl up on His lap.

I just have to sit up in bed, after a nightmare or something else that woke me up, and cry out to Him, asking if I can crawl into bed with Him and cuddle.  And, just like with my three-year-old, He will welcome me every time.  I don’t need to be afraid of His answer, I don’t need to fear whatever situation I’m facing because I’m safe in my Father’s arms and He will take care of me.  I can snuggle down close and let peaceful sleep envelop me, resting in His presence until I’m called into action.

And as I love to say because it’s true…What God’s willing and wants to do for me, He’s waiting to do for you.  What’s holding you back from snuggling into God’s lap and allowing Him to ease your burdens so you can rest peacefully?

Happy Father’s Day to my husband, dad, dad-in-marriage, and all the other men I know who are committed to showing Christ’s love to their families.

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” II Peter 3:9 (NIV). 

When I reminisce about my childhood, it seems like a much safer time than the world we are raising children in today.  Part of it probably had to do with lack of electronic devices that allow a person to stay connected 24/7.  Another aspect could be that families, although busy, didn’t seem so disconnected from each other.  More families ate dinner together and whole neighborhoods and communities helped each other out to raise the children.  When I was in elementary school, I knew that if I misbehaved at church, not only would it get back to my parents and I would have consequences waiting for me at home, but I knew that another parent would lovingly step up and stop the behavior right then. I wasn’t afraid of being mistreated, but I knew that obedience was expected and people were watching.

If there was a problem with someone at school harassing you, it usually didn’t follow you home.  More than likely, the person bullying you had parents who monitored his actions at night.  There was no Facebook, Youtube videos, or instant messaging for him to post videos or derogatory statements about you that would “go viral.” You were given a break and a chance to reconnect with people who loved and supported you before heading out again the next morning to face the offender. The bullying probably didn’t reach much further than you and your group of friends, certainly not outside your school or community.

When thinking about the pressures that our children face in today’s society, I can’t help but think how Jesus would respond if He were alive today.  How would He handle the pressures that our kids face?  How would He respond if He were the parent of a child who was bullied…or the one who was bullying?

If you read in His Word, it’s very clear Jesus is all about love.  He was loving in all His actions toward everyone.  He hated the sin, but embraced the human being.  He always responded to hatred, ignorance, and disregard with love.  He did not tolerate evil, but instead chose to lovingly point the individual who was committing the sinful act toward repentance; never with judgment or criticism but always with a feeling of acceptance, regardless of the choice the individual made.

What would that look like in today’s society, using bullying as an example?  I think as parents of a child who is being bullied, after ensuring the safety of our child, we should set an example by praying for the bully.  Jesus was the perfect example of this.  While hanging on the cross for crimes He didn’t commit, He brought His bullies before His Father and asked God to forgive them for their actions.

The next step, equally important to bringing the offender before God and asking for Him to intervene in the situation, would be to show kindness instead of retaliation.  This step is much harder than spouting off a quick prayer and then going about your own business.  This step requires action but follows the example Jesus showed.  I’m not saying put your child in danger, but instead of matching bullying behavior for bullying behavior by posting your own Facebook messages, YouTube videos, etc., purposefully choosing to walk away from those types of behaviors speaks just as loudly as “an eye for an eye.”  Defending the offender if he is being mistreated with a simple word, choosing not to engage in ridicule that others might be instigating, or actually speaking a kind word in defense of the accused all are subtle but powerful ways to show how being a Christ follower makes a difference in your life.  Not easy, by any means, but definitely effective.

I just used bullying as an example but the same principles hold true for whatever situation you find yourself facing.  And it doesn’t have to be your child who is facing the traumatic circumstance.  It could be something you are dealing with at church (churches are not immune to conflict), at work, in your community, or with the parents of some of your kids’ peers.

I want to challenge all of us today.  When we face life’s difficulties (and it’s not a matter of “if” but “when”), how are we going to handle them?  If we imperfectly put into practice Jesus’ perfect example, think for a minute what that would actually mean.  It could mean the difference of where someone spends eternity.  Your response could determine whether that person eventually sees Jesus for the Redeemer He ultimately is or could lump you into the category of everyone else, not noticing a difference in your life and your actions despite the fact you call yourself a follower of Christ.   A response like Jesus could turn a person toward a Savior and a worldly response could ultimately turn them away.

I feel privileged to have the chance to study Jesus’ life in the Bible and how He responded to situations that He faced many years ago but are still occurring today.  When God describes in the Bible that Jesus knew temptations as we do, yet did not sin, it reassures me when I go to Him with my problems, He really does understand what I’m going through.  He experienced that and much more.  So, when He asks me to respond in love, He’s not asking me to do anything He wasn’t willing to do for me.  When I look at it that way, what other way can I respond but to follow His great example of love?

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set youfree from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2 (NIV).

 

My family really enjoyed watching the Bible Series on the History Channel earlier this year.  I couldn’t believe how the stories I’ve read my entire life really came to life when I saw images versus just reading words on a page.  I didn’t realize how difficult and turbulent the times were that Noah, Abraham, and Jesus lived in until I saw them play out on the screen.

I fell in love with the actor who portrayed Jesus.  Not as, “I’m attracted to him because he’s gorgeous” (definitely not as handsome as my husband), but I was incredibly impressed with the way He portrayed my Savior.  When I looked into his face, I felt the kindness, strength, and gentleness that I believe Jesus Himself gave to all with whom He interacted.  I could truly feel the gift of His love emanate through the eyes and hands of the actor through the screen.

The times we live in currently are unstable as well.  We have wars being fought internationally and nuclear threats from other countries.  People within our own Country are suffering terribly through poverty, disease, unemployment, and the devastating after effects of natural disasters.    If that’s not bad enough, our Country is divided on some pretty major issues:  What constitutes when life begins and the institution of marriage to name just two of the “political wars” we are debating.

As a result of studying my Bible and seeing the stories come to life through the Bible series, I stop and think how Jesus’ response is the best one for every situation that we face.  He never condemned people.  He didn’t agree with all of their choices, but He never condemned the person making those choices.  He couldn’t condone the way certain people chose to live, but He never criticized the person herself.  Jesus approached all people, regardless of their status in life, with compassion.  He would first reach out and touch them physically, but that wasn’t the end.  He wasn’t finished until they were satisfied emotionally and spiritually as well.  He never forced Himself or His beliefs on others, but willingly gave of Himself to those who sought after Him.  He chose to meet all their needs in a way that left people feeling better for having encountered Him.

I then take that thinking one step further and wonder how I can apply that to my life.  What if we showed more compassion toward others who didn’t hold our same values instead of silent (or outright) condemnation? When we accept others as the uniquely created individuals that they are, that doesn’t automatically assume we agree with everything about their lifestyle.  It means we accept that person at his core.

Reading God’s Word, especially the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) give a very clear description of how Jesus handled the “outcasts of the day.”  He didn’t shy away from them, didn’t try to be politically correct, didn’t stand and debate their lifestyle.  No, when a leper was walking down the street, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man” (Matthew 8:3, NIV).  He didn’t wait to see what the disciples were going to.  No, He chose to be the example of compassion, not condemnation.  And as a result, the man was immediately “cured of his leprosy” (Matthew 8:3, NIV).

That got me thinking.  I can’t miraculously heal people the way Jesus does, but I can make a difference in my community with my attitudes and actions.  What exactly would that look like if I was choosing to model Jesus’ response to people who feel as though they are outcasts of society or whom others might choose to condemn?

I can start out simply by looking around and attempting to meet their physical needs:  Offering a ride to someone walking in the rain, buying some extra groceries for someone who needs a little extra to make ends meet, or offering to babysit for the single mother “just because.”   Once I have accomplished that aspect, I can add emotional and spiritual compassion along with the physical acts.  Some examples could include baking a pan of brownies for someone who is lonely, calling a friend who needs some encouragement, or meeting someone for coffee and letting them talk through grief or pain, choosing to listen without offering advice.

What if everyone starting implementing these changes in their lives?  Can you imagine a world where people are accepted for who they are, where those who can step up and offer physical help to others suffering or emotional support when they see a need instead of expecting or assuming someone else will take care of it?

With Jesus as my example, I hope to be quicker to offer compassion to those who need it.  I want to eliminate all forms of condemnation from my vocabulary, my body language, and my actions.  If I truly want people to see Christ when they look at me, then compassion needs to become my second skin. That’s my goal and I plan to continue to implement it, one act at a time.

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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