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Archive for September, 2013

He’s Gotcha Covered

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2 (NIV).

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Have you ever been at work when suddenly someone’s name comes to mind?  What about in the middle of the night – something wakes you up and you start thinking about someone specific? Is there a certain cause or a particular nationality you find yourself drawn to?

I believe God gives each of us different friends, family members, nationalities of people, or causes that are near and dear to our heart.  I also believe it’s our duty as Christ followers to take action when we’re being nudged about someone or a specific cause.

I used to feel guilty when a person would mention God had laid a mutual friend on her heart and she couldn’t stop thinking about the situation.  I thought, What’s wrong with me that I’m not as moved in this situation? However, it was only after a second conversation where I was sharing about something heavy on my heart for someone else when my friend responded, “I guess that’s why God lays different people on each of our hearts. That’s how He covers them all.”

When I was getting my degree in Psychology, I sat next to a girl who had a desire to help the elderly.  Her passion was to work in nursing homes and bring joy through various recreational means.  I, on the other hand, have always been drawn to little children.  Most of my employment experiences have been working with children, usually ones that have been abused or neglected.

I love that about my God.  If both the girl I sat by in school and myself had a heart for children, then who would be taking care of and standing up for the elderly population, or mentally challenged individuals, or people who are homeless, imprisoned, suffer from disease, or addictions?

When God lays a specific friend on my heart to pray for and another person feels led to intercede for someone different, that’s a time to rejoice. It’s one way God allows the wounded, defenseless, and otherwise hurting people to be cared for by fellow Christ followers.

I’ve stopped feeling guilty if I’m not as moved by a particular cause, event, or situation.  I know as long as I continue to listen to the Holy Spirit when He speaks to me, I’ll be in obedience and bringing the people God wants me to bring before Him at the time He wants them brought.  And that, my friend, is a great feeling.

Have you ever had people come to mind at odd times or do you have a particular passion for a select group of individuals?  Have you considered that just might be the Holy Spirit prompting you to pray or take action on their behalf?

Have you ever been the one feeling in need of some divine intervention?  God loves us all so much, I can almost guarantee there’s someone out there praying for you at the time you need it most because that’s how much our God loves you. Most importantly, you don’t need to worry – He’s gotcha covered!

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” Exodus 14:14 (NIV).

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 Why does God allow horrific things happen? As a parent, this has been a particularly hard question to answer. I teach my kids to trust God, to pray and ask for His protection, but even in their short lives, bad things have happened to our family that don’t feel loving or as though God has protected us.

However, God knows my heart, and He knows I’ve struggled with this question myself.  He loves me far too much to let it go unanswered or to allow my children to stay confused. The more I read the Bible, the more I understand God’s heart and hear His loving answer.  It’s the answer I had a long and heartfelt talk with one of my children about, and hopefully it will make sense as I try to explain it here.

As long as we live on Earth, bad things will happen.  Sometimes very bad things.  However, they’re not caused by God.  They’re the result of sin.  God is love and light.  The opposite of God, or the absence of God, is hatred and darkness.  God is holy and pure.  By His very nature, He cannot sin.  Sin is rebellion against God and His rules. Sin is a result of Satan and his followers, not God.

Because of sin, bad things happen to people, all people.  God allows sin to occur because He created us with free will.  We aren’t a bunch of robots inhabiting the Earth but are given freedom to choose our actions and reactions.  Even though He allows bad things, that doesn’t mean they please Him nor that He’s ignoring the pain or forgetting about us in the midst of our struggles.

No, the opposite is true.  Through Biblical examples and personal experiences, I’ve found God’s waiting to rescue us, to help bring ultimate glory to Himself through circumstances He allowed but didn’t cause. Usually the person who suffers ends up being blessed far more than the sacrifice required or the evil they endured.

Take for instance Joseph in the Bible, found beginning in Genesis 37.  God gave Joseph the gift of interpreting dreams at a young age.  However, he was also immature and favored by his dad over his eleven half brothers.  Instead of trying to keep a low profile, he taunted his half brothers with dreams God revealed to him.  Then, when his father gave him a beautiful “coat of many colors,” he paraded around in it. His father gave nothing to his other sons, which caused them to hate Joseph more.  As a result, the brothers’ got mad, beat him, threw him in a pit for a few hours, and sold Joseph into slavery.  The story is quite long and involved, but the gist of it goes like this:  In addition to being a slave, he was accused of raping his boss’ wife and was imprisoned.  While in prison, he interpreted dreams of two of the king’s staff, which got him noticed by the king.  Then, through a series of events, he became a powerful ruler in Egypt, ultimately saving an entire nation (including his family who had betrayed him) from famine and death.

Now, reading that story, it’s true terrible things happened to Joseph.  There is no question.  However, even though God didn’t cause any of those instances to occur, He used the bad circumstances to prepare Joseph for a much bigger blessing.

That’s just one story from the Bible.  If you want a few modern day examples, Bethany Hamilton and Nick Vujicic come to mind.  Ms. Hamilton was a champion surfer, but after a shark attack left her with only one arm, she has become even more well known.  She has given God all the glory for the ability to continue to surf competitively.  Nick Vujicic is a man who was born with no arms or legs, just a “chicken drumstick.”  He hasn’t let that stop him from traveling internationally to share God’s message of love with everyone he comes into contact with. He’s now happily married with a young child and continues to give God all the glory for his wonderful life.

The first thing I notice about both of these individuals isn’t what they’re missing but what they have that others are missing. Their smiles light up their faces and fill their entire bodies.  They don’t dwell on the terrible things.  No, they focus on the blessings they have received.

Instead of focusing on terrible circumstances that might happen, I want my children to focus on the blessings God can pour out as a result. I don’t lie and tell them bad things don’t happen to good people.  I’m honest and tell them life holds no guarantees.  As long as we live on Earth, bad things can indeed occur. However, I remind them God is right there, not as an absent or apathetic parent, but as a loving Father gently guiding the circumstances and situations in order to bring about an ending far better than we can imagine.  Will it bring back a limb or grow missing body parts?  Not likely. Will it take away the time that was spent in prison or in a pit?  Again, probably not.  However, He can and will use even those times to help prepare us for whatever blessing He wants us to receive.

And, friend, I don’t believe God wanted the bad things in your life to happen in the first place. When He created the garden for Adam and Eve to live in, He didn’t create evil and sin along with His beautiful creation.  No, I firmly believe Satan is responsible for the bad things that occur while we live on Earth.

God, though, is a loving God who is constantly guiding and directing situations and circumstances in our lives for the greater good for His children.  Even though we can’t be assured we’ll never face problems (in fact, the opposite – we know we will face trials while alive), we can be assured God is ultimately in charge and only lets Satan go so far.

So, my answer to my kids when we had this discussion was a definite belief that even if something bad is going to happen, something better will be the result as long as we obey His Word and ask God for help.  When we look to our Heavenly Father, He provides the best outcome in otherwise terrible circumstances.

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” I Corinthians 16:13 (NIV)

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The world we live in is scary.  Or it can be.  Watch the news for a few days and there’ll be plenty to keep you up at night: Murders, kidnappings, terrorist threats, and possible natural disasters to name a few.  For an overprotective parent on a sunny, cloudless, summer day, these scenarios are enough to make me draw the curtains, gather my children together to read some nonviolent books, and eat safe, kid-friendly comfort foods.

What kind of an example would I be setting for my kids if I actually carried through with that?  I would be instilling a lifetime of fear.  I need to equip them instead to go be part of the solution.

I’m reading a great devotional which spoke right to my heart titled In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson.  If you haven’t heard of it, it’s one I would highly recommend reading.  The quote that comforted me is this: “God wants you to get where God wants you to go more than you want to get where God wants you to go….If you keep in step with the Spirit, God is going to make sure you get where He wants you to go.  He is always working behind the scenes, engineering our circumstances and setting us up for success.”

Now, I hear you asking, What does that have to do with not being afraid…and what does it have to do with keeping my kids safe? Here’s my answer.  If God is willing to protect and guide and lead me down the specific path He’s chosen for me, how much more is He willing to protect and guide and lead my children on the path He’s chosen for them?  I don’t think His path (for me or my children) includes hiding behind closed curtains and surrounding ourselves with “safe” things.  I think His path might include a few “risky” behaviors.  However, because of the above statement, I can boldly start walking down a few of those paths God is leading me on (or allow my children to walk their own paths with or without me) knowing in faith He’s guiding our steps, working behind the scenes, and engineering our circumstances for His success.  You see, as much I love my children (and I love them enough to sacrifice my life for them), I didn’t create them.  God did.  And so my love for them, when compared to His love for them, is miniscule.  The question anymore isn’t Can I trust God with my children? Instead the statement is, They are His children on loan to me. Can He trust me to take care of them? and part of taking care of them is letting them go.

That thought, though it may lead to roads where I’m facing down a lion on a snowy day, is actually quite comforting.  Knowing that God is in control and ultimately, the end result will be one that gives Him glory, reminds me to keep the curtains open and take my kids by the hand while we go out looking to see how we can be part of the solution instead of avoiding the situation, which would in turn contribute to the problem.  By setting an example of faith, instead of fear, hopefully I’m modeling for the next generation how to take a stand, get involved, and make a positive difference.

There’s nothing wrong with cuddling together on the couch with a favorite book and yummy snack, but it tastes sweeter after we have completed the work God has chosen for us to perform.

Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” I John 4:7 (NIV)

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Every family has something that connects them.  For some it’s a love of sports.  Others join together around the family piano or drum set for impromptu jazz sessions.  Some have a love for the arts, drama, or all day scrapbooking sessions.  Whatever it is that draws your family together, it’s definitely something to be celebrated.

The biggest prayer I have for my own family is to stay cemented together through our love for God.  While each person has had to come to the decision about whether or not to follow Christ on his own, it’s been my prayer for each of my children since before they were born that he or she would make that personal choice.   Sharing a love for God brings us all together, cementing our love for each other on a deeper level.

It makes the fun times better, the hard times easier, and the boring times more manageable.  Does it mean we don’t ever fight or we all sit around complimenting each other all the time?  Absolutely not!  Our life is messy, crazy, loud, and sometimes even a tad inappropriate.  But, at the end of the day, when things have settled down into a semblance of calm, putting God first in our individual lives has allowed us to start putting each other before our own motives.

Sometimes that means the kids pool their money and buy a special treat for the family to enjoy rather than spending it on Tic-Tacs and Twix bars.  Other times it means refusing to complain when one of our kids has to pick up the house for the fifth time this week while the other one studies for yet another hard test.  Sometimes it means standing up for each other, mowing the lawn because you are able-bodied, or encouraging another to rest and relax while you clean the house for company.

We have other traditions in life that make us smile and help us remember what it means to be a family:  Summer bonfires with S’mores, camping out under the stars, a yearly trip to Traverse City, family movie nights with popcorn, silly private sayings that will remain private, bike rides, and Sunday afternoon hikes to name a few.  However, through all of the laughter, drama, tears, and sometimes frustration, our individual commitment to God helps join us together and cements us with a glue that cannot come undone.  For that reason, I take time on a daily basis to thank God for such an amazing blessing.  Because, as our family verse says, “With God, all things are possible” Matthew 19:26 (NIV).

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” Ephesians 6:1-4 (NIV).

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I talked earlier about a great show on the Discovery Channel called North America.  During one episode, they highlighted prairie dogs.  I had no idea how communicative and family oriented those cute little creatures could be.  They have a different sound/call for just about everything. They make a special noise when there’s trouble brewing and a predator is nearby as well as an “all-clear” sound to name a few. I was incredibly fascinated by how protective they were of their family unit and community.

My prayer is that every family have that type of bond.  I want our children to protect and look out for each other. I want us all to have certain gestures and glimpses to let our kids know when there’s danger around or when it’s safe to relax and have fun.  I want to live in a community where we’re not afraid to stand up to the enemies and defend our spouses, children, and friends.

It’s nice to think that in the “olden days” it was like that.  I remember growing up in a small church and it was that way to an extent.  There were maybe one hundred twenty people total, around forty families, with a handful of children ranging from babies through high school.  The parents in the church didn’t differentiate between “my children and your children.”  If there was a problem, they stepped in and took care of it, knowing that the other parents would be supportive.  If there was something to celebrate, we came together and celebrated as a family unit.  We celebrated Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and New Year’s altogether with homemade ice cream and eclectic food. There was lots of laughter, plenty of games, and many late nights.

I believe that’s how God wants us to be.  He wants us to reach toward others and share His love in a community type setting.  He wants us to look out for each other, stand up for those who need defending, and cheer on each other’s accomplishments.  With the invention of modern conveniences that supposedly make life easier, sometimes I think they just make life busier.  Facebook, iPhones, and other electronic gadgets and chances to network are great, don’t get me wrong.  I love them
as much as anyone else.  But, sometimes, I really miss those days when the only form of communication we had was face-to-face conversations and heart-to-heart talks.

I’ve come to the conclusion after watching North America that I think I would like to be a prairie dog.  Or at least have the sense of community that is naturally bred in them.

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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Kick the Wolf

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

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A few months ago my family and I started watching a show on the Discovery Channel titled North America.  I absolutely loved the program. The majority of the show focused on different animal groups in their natural habitat and how animals interacted with each other in the wild.

While I was watching a particular group of bison, I was struck by what kind of parents they were.  Bison travel in herds and during this particular scene, a pack of wolves attacked.  The adult bison surrounded the babies inside a circle while they ran, keeping them protected from their natural enemy.

However, one mother and her baby got separated from the pack and this is when it became interesting.  The mother did her best to protect her child from the wolves, but it was three against one.  She had strength and size on her side, but not numbers.  Finally, after being repeatedly bitten by the wolves, the baby realized he had some strength and kicked one wolf, who let out a cry and fell back.  This action caused the baby to gain some confidence and after a few minutes, they were back with the herd, the wolves slinked away, and the baby lived to see another day.

This got me thinking about humans.  We parents want to protect our children from all danger.  However, as animal parents know better than we do, in order to truly protect our children, we have to give them an opportunity to “kick the wolf.” If I always rescue my children, they’ll never learn the skills needed to function independently of me as grownups.  As much as I love my kids, it’s not healthy or normal for them to live with me until I die.  My goal as a parent is to teach them how to “kick the wolf” in the right way.  It’s not about teaching our children to fight back harder and stronger.  It’s more about teaching our children the most effective way to stand up for themselves while still allowing God’s love to shine through.

I realized from watching North America I was not only getting a great lesson about bison, but I was learning how to be a better parent.  It’s still hard for me to step back and let my kids get bumps and bruises; however, I realize the more I let them practice their own skills in independence, the better off they’ll be.  My job is to stay nearby in case they need help, and we all need help sometimes, but to show them I have confidence in their ability to “kick the wolf” when necessary.

How about you?  Have your mastered letting your kids “kick the wolf” or do you need more practice?  I’m praying for wisdom for us all as we navigate the gift of parenting together.

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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Grandparents Are Great!

“…but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” Exodus 20:6 (NIV).

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I love watching our children with their grandparents.  The interactions between both sets make my heart happy. The love that passes between them, the bonds they have formed and which continue to deepen make me proud.  Our children are learning so much from their grandparents, and I would like to think their grandparents are learning from them too.

The other day my littlest was invited over to play.  He got his backpack all ready with stuff to take and then called Papa to pick him up.  He looked so proud standing at the door waiting for his arrival.  Once Papa came, it took a few minutes for our littlest to get adjusted in the van, climbing up into the too-big seat all by himself and dragging his backpack full of heavy toys beside him.  However, Papa wasn’t in any hurry, and it was all right with him to wait that extra few minutes for our youngest to stretch his independence and build some self-confidence.

The same thing happens when he practices his communication skills on the telephone with my parents. They are familiar enough with his language, spending time with him twice a week, that the conversations about dinosaurs and wrestling as well as inside jokes flow freely back and forth.

It’s not just about our littlest child, though.  I love how this summer our oldest took the responsibility to help Papa keep the lawn mowed.  His self-esteem grew as he accepted mens’ work because he has an important role in keeping our family running smoothly.  Our daughter is very kind and sweet to Gramma too.  She helps her clean around the house or goes over to spend time together “just because.”  All of our children enjoy going and visiting at my parents’ house as well.  Time outdoors, sharing pizza and game nights, or just having a chance to borrow books from my mom’s vast library.

I love how grandparents naturally have a slower pace.  I believe God allowed us the privilege to start life crawling and then slow down toward the end as well.  What a great way to appreciate all the wonderful creations He has blessed us with.  When going for a walk, little children notice every rock, branch, bird, and flower.  When helping children, grandparents take their time brushing hair, getting them dressed, and fixing them meals.  They instinctively know it’s more about the heart-to-heart talks than actually assisting with life skills.

Grandparents bring a lot of wisdom and experience, and hopefully also a lot of love and humor to relationships with their grandchildren.  Grandkids bring back laughter, innocence, and a second chance to enjoy precious moments grandparents might not have had time to experience with their own children.

Today I want to say thank you for the grandparents who have been in my life as well as to our parents who are grandparents to our kids.  You’re all a blessing to our family – thank you!

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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