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Archive for February, 2014

More Than a Cover

“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (The Message)

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I have previously shared with you the journey God has taken me on from fear of circumstances to faith in Him.  In fact, a few months ago He prompted me to write about the latest journey and offer it in a short book.  As with all things in life, it usually isn’t a straight line from “A” to “B.”  There are many twists and turns when learning a new way of life, and letting go of long-held fears isn’t an exception.

Anyone who has known me for any length of time has experienced my fear of winter weather. I know…you’d think I was raised down South or lived somewhere sunny with moderate temperatures but no, I live in the heart of the midwest and every year, without fail, winter rolls in with a vengeance, usually from October until sometimes April or May.  So, you’d think I’d either be used to this weather by now or I would be over my fear.  No.  I can’t even pinpoint exactly when the fear started.  I’m guessing, though, spinning out of control on a highway in a blizzard, stopping facing the opposite direction with a semi two feet from my compact car didn’t help my anxiety. Nevertheless, every year winter rolls around and every year I panic, just a bit.

Naively, I thought I would be better this year. God brought our family through so much during the summer and fall of 2013, I figured why would I be scared of something trivial like the weather? We had survived bigger obstacles by God’s grace, so why should I be afraid of snow and ice? Nevertheless, I found myself panicking during the first real snowstorm.  This time, I did what anyone who had grown closer to their Heavenly Father would do.  I sat down with Him, read His promises from His Word and then talked to Him.  I committed my family’s safety into His hands, thanked Him for what He has already done and what He is going to do, and then went to bed.  I even reminded Him that He doesn’t want me to worry so to please fill me with His peace instead.

I ended up sleeping all night long, with no trouble falling asleep and when morning came I saw the storm hadn’t been as bad as was predicted.  Despite that, I still was periodically anxious throughout the day. I continued to give my fears over to God and began working.  My eyes were drawn to the cover of my book, Spoken from the Heart: Journey from Fear to Faith, and it was then God reminded me the background story behind the cover.

Last fall another huge storm was predicted.  This time there were tornadoes, massive power outages, and lots of destruction throughout the Country.  A friend of mine in Illinois texted me pictures of the trees that toppled on their property, thankfully sparing buildings and people from their destructive path.  She stated, “Thank God we’re safe and so is our house…it’s headed your way.”

The news had been predicting this storm for days and so my anxiety had time to increase in intensity.  Even though as a family we took precautions, I kept praying and asking God to please spare us.  We didn’t have anything extra to deal with destruction or damage or loss of power – emotionally, financially, or physically.  I already felt battered by circumstances…anything more would have put me at my breaking point. I remember praying and asking God to keep the storm away from everyone, realizing I was selfish when I asked specifically to be spared.  I remember apologizing for that selfishness but asking nevertheless.

I wish I could say that after I prayed, a peace filled me and I was able to enjoy my Sunday afternoon, not worried at all about the storm or any damaging effects occurring.  Nope.  I tried to look calm on the outside, but inside I kept up a steady line of communication with God.  “I’m sorry that I’m scared, God, I really do trust You, I just can’t take one more thing right now.  Please keep our family safe, our friends, everyone.  I know it’s not about me, but if You would please show me grace, I would be so grateful.”  I was far enough in my journey of faith to know God wants my honesty and let me tell you, I was very honest.

We managed to stay busy as it grew darker and darker outside.  We had headed downstairs, a mixture of things we needed to accomplish and me wanting our whole family together.  About an hour later, my husband had gone upstairs and he called to me to “come look.”  I came up, dreading something terrible, only to be rewarded by the most gorgeous sky ever!  It was as though God was saying directly to my heart, “Not only did I spare you, child, but look at the gift I’m giving you as well.”

It was my husband’s idea to capture the images on camera, the colors changing every few minutes.  It was one of those breathtaking pictures that was used by freestyle25 to create the cover for the book about our journey from fear to faith.  I take no credit for the cover of the book, but it’s a daily reminder to me of God’s graciousness.

Does this mean that if our family had been one that was without power or had suffered damage in the storm that God loved us less?  No.  Does it mean that we’re special somehow because we were spared from the destruction of the storm this time?  No.  Does this mean that our family will never have an accident in the wintertime?  No.

It does mean, though, I can trust God to take care of us.  I truly believe had we suffered damage in the storm, God would’ve provided the finances for any necessary repairs.  I also believe that if we suffer an accident while driving in the wintertime, God will again come through.

What it means to me is this: All good things that come to us are through God’s grace.  We don’t earn them, we don’t deserve them, they are gifts from our Heavenly Father when we need them the most.  He knew I was close to my breaking point and He chose instead of allowing another learning experience, an opportunity to rest.  He also used the threat of that storm and the beautiful sky afterwards to remind me once again that He’s in charge of the details.  He knew I needed that reminder more than I needed another lesson.

Does that mean I’ll never again be challenged with fear? Again, the answer is no.  But I do know that each time fear threatens to boil over inside, I have many past blessings to remind me of who’s in charge.  And as I focus on Him, the fear lessens to a mere whisper.

Cheri Swalwell

 

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“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27 (NIV)

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My kids and I’ve had quite a few discussions regarding listening to God’s voice and how we know it’s really Him talking.  I’ve never heard my Father audibly, but I have had moments in life when He’s spoken so clearly in my spirit that there was no doubt He had just asked me to obey something or whispered comforting words I desperately needed to hear.

One of the blessings that has come out of our family’s difficulties last fall was a closer relationship with my Heavenly Father.  Waking up to have my devotions every morning is something I eagerly anticipate.  Reading the Bible is more than just a homework assignment.  It’s a chance to get to know the Creator of the Universe and how much He absolutely loves His children, all of us.  Modeling myself after Jesus is easier when I get a chance to study how He did it so effortlessly.  I’m not there yet, but it gives me a mark to try and hit.  A direct result of the closer relationship I’ve developed with God is hearing the Holy Spirit speak more often and about a variety of ways He wants me to obey.

However, the choice of whether or not to listen to what He’s saying and obey is still completely up to me.  Sometimes it’s as simple as, “That person looks sad.  Maybe you should give them a hug.” Other times it’s more complex, “I want you to clean up the house before Bill gets home.  Don’t make the kids do it.  It’s your turn to show love to your family without expecting anything in return.”  Sometimes the consequences of not listening are inconvenient, life learning, but not Earth shattering.  Other times the result of disobedience from not listening creates a financial strain, conflict in relationships, or has more lasting negative results.

I find for myself, when I don’t listen it’s usually because I’m either being selfish or reacting out of fear instead of walking in faith.  Sometimes I’m tired, lazy, or just don’t feel like being nice. Other times I’m feeling internal pressure to try and keep up with people instead of waiting for God’s perfect timing.  It doesn’t really matter why I didn’t obey – the consequences show me I made a bad choice.

When I do choose to listen, put simply – choose to obey, blessings follow.  Sometimes that blessing is peace that I’ve made my Father happy.  Other times it’s a financial blessing or taking a relationship to the next level.  Just being able to go to bed at night knowing I was faithful in completing the jobs God asked me to do is enough of a blessing sometimes.

The closer I grow to God, the clearer I hear His voice.  My prayer is that I’ll continually tune my antennae to His frequency, listening for and obeying what He wants me to do.  I have peace that when I unintentionally don’t hear Him, He will speak again.  And, even when I mess up, God loves me enough to give me another chance to get it right.  I’ve learned it’s okay to ask, “Could you please repeat that?

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“To do more than God asks is disobedience.  To do less than God asks is disobedience.  We are to do exactly what God asks.” (Pastor James Sunnock)

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Last fall I spoke about listening to God’s voice and how we could know it was Him talking to us.  I also talked about the 21-day fast our church followed and how God spoke to me during that time, giving me some specific instructions He wanted me to obey in my life.  Occasionally, since then, I’ve struggled from time to time wondering if I’m doing all He wants me to do.  I don’t want to run ahead and I don’t want to fall behind.  I want to give to others from the blessings given to our family; yet, I don’t want to give recklessly.  I want to give intentionally.  I want to please God and sometimes in my overeagerness, I think if a little is good, then a lot must be better.

That’s not the case when it comes to God.  He doesn’t want us running ahead of His timing.  He doesn’t want us falling behind His lead.  He wants us to stay right with Him, listening to His voice, and obeying His commands.  Not because He is a mean tyrant who wants to make our lives miserable, but because He’s our loving parent and knows what’s ultimately best for us.

Whenever I wonder about this concept, I’m drawn back to the Israelites who wandered the desert for forty years.  They were guided by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  When the cloud settled over an area, the Israelites knew to set up camp.  When the pillar lifted, then the Israelites knew God wanted them to move.  The Bible tells us in Numbers 9:23, “At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.” (NIV)  If the Israelites had decided to leave camp before the pillar was lifted, they would’ve disobeyed.  If they decided they wanted to sleep in or spend another day taking in the sights when God lifted the pillar and said, “Move,” they would’ve been disobeying as well. 

So, if God tells me He wants me to give some of my kids’ outgrown clothes away, if I give away more than He says, I’m disobeying.  If I hear His voice nudge me to give away clothes and I choose instead to sell them, again, that’s disobedience.

When I thought about it that way, the pressure was relieved.  At the same time, fear set in.  What if don’t hear God correctly?  What if He’s nudging me and I miss it? Then God nicely reminded me He doesn’t want me living in fear…of any kind.  Self induced or false guilt.  If I’m truly living a life of obedience, then God won’t let me miss His still small voice.  He might have to tell me a few times, but if I’m listening, then I will hear Him correctly.  Maybe not until the third or fourth time, but I will eventually hear.  Disobedience and missing the mark aren’t the same thing.

God’s not in the business of using fear tactics to get us to bend to His will.  He just asks me to be willing to listen and obey His voice.  Sometimes easier said than done, but He already knows I’m not perfect.

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Free or False Advertising?

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27 (NIV)

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My mother-in-law gave me an amazing gift for my birthday last year.  Our family verse is Matthew 19:26, and she found a purse with matching wallet that says, “With God all things are possible.”  Mark 10:27 (NIV).  I absolutely love the gift and I’m finding, others do too.

Ever since receiving the beautiful present, complete strangers will come up to me at stores or other venues and remark about how they love my purse.  I have met some of the nicest people as a result.  One woman chased me through Meijer just so she could tell me how much she appreciated my fashion accessory.  Another lady and I ended up chatting for ten minutes and parted ways after exchanging a sisterly hug, even though we were generations apart and had been virtual strangers only moments before.

I have to admit, sometimes I forget the message hanging off my shoulder, and as a result, instead of pleasing my Father whom I represent, I’m pretty sure I embarrass or anger Him.  You see, it’s similar to the “Jesus fish” bumper sticker which used to be so popular.  I never put one on my car because in all honesty, I’m not the best of drivers and would hate to misrepresent my Father.  I’m not mean and don’t engage in road rage.  If anything, people get road rage because of following behind me or having me follow them.*

However, by “wearing” God’s Word on my shoulder, I’m advertising for Him, consciously or unconsciously.  I realized the gift my mother-in-law gave me was two-fold.  First, it was special because it was beautiful and she lovingly bought me something that held special meaning to me and my family.  Second, my major goal in life is to live authentically for my Father.  I want to represent Him well in my public and private life.  The worst “secret” I want my children to keep about our family is how weird mom looks when she wakes up in the morning with bedhead, not that “the lady you meet at school functions doesn’t match the lady we call ‘mom’ at home.”

By wearing my Father on my shoulder, it’s a daily reminder to make sure all parts of me please Him.  My attitude at home as well as at the store.  I use self control on my grumpy days so innocent bystanders don’t become victims.  Grace, which I am putting into practice this year on a regular basis, is seen and freely given to everyone – cashiers, drivers, family, and friends.

I have a choice in life – to be free advertising for the One I claim to love with my whole heart or false advertising due to my own issues and lack of love.  I choose to be free advertising so that others can know His great love as well.  However, I’m sure there will be days that false advertising leaks out.  I ask for grace once or twice, but if you see it becoming a habit, please call me on it.  I want to be the best representation possible for the One who loves us all.

(For the record, my husband will be teaching our children how to drive.  I have a safe driving record, so anyone riding with me is completely safe.  I’m just not someone whom should be teaching lasting driving habits to impressionable people.) 

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Extremely Connected

“Shout your praises to God, everybody! Let loose and sing! Strike up the band!  Round up an orchestra to play for God, Add on a hundred-voice choir.  Feature trumpets and big trombones, Fill the air with praises to King God.  Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause, With everything living on earth joining in.”

Psalm 98:4-7 (The Message)

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I can’t tell you what triggered it.  I can tell you where I was when it occurred.  It was an otherwise ordinary day and my family and I were walking home from my in-laws.  It’s a short walk, really.  Across the field.  I wasn’t talking, just watching…when all of a sudden I was filled with an overwhelming love for my Heavenly Father.  Not for anything in particular.  Just…for everything!  Then I started to feel guilty.  I know…you are probably thinking why?

My thinking went like this.  “I should be thankful like this all the time, Lord, never taking for granted the blessings You have given me of being alive, having the love of a family, extended family, friends, health, food, a safe house, etc.” Then I got quiet and just listened.  Soon, I saw God’s response.

He drew my attention to my husband, up ahead, actively engaged in a fun conversation with our oldest.  I watched him smile the way that melts my heart and I was reminded of the fact I love my husband all the time, but there are certain times when I feel especially close to him.  During those times, my heart swells to overflowing with love for my best friend, the father of my children.  It doesn’t mean I don’t love him any other time, it just means I appreciate even more what he means to me.

That realization took away the guilt I had been feeling and I was free to continue to enjoy the overwhelming love I was experiencing toward the Creator of the Universe.  I realized I don’t have to feel guilty when my feelings are less enthusiastic, I don’t have to feel better about myself when they are overwhelming. Feelings shift constantly and I don’t have to feel guilty about that.

Just like with my husband, God knows my love for Him never disappears.  Sometimes, though, I get the pleasure of experiencing moments of overwhelming love that take my breath away. When life’s burdens weigh me down, it’s nice to be able to remember just how blessed I really am.  As with my husband, I treasure those times of feeling extremely connected to my Heavenly Father.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

 

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God blessed Job’s later life even more than his earlier life. He ended up with fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand teams of oxen, and one thousand donkeys.  He also had seven sons and three daughters…Job lived on another hundred and forty years, living to see his children and grandchildren – four generations of them!”

Job 42:12-13, 16 (The Message).

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A friend of mine has had a very hard year.  It feels like she is getting hit from all sides with barely any time to catch her breath before the next round.  She referenced that she felt like Job. Trying to encourage her, I reminded her of the double blessings Job received when his testing was complete.

However, after I hit “send,” I started thinking about the life of Job. I realized a truth I’d glossed over.  I find for myself, having been raised in the church, I’ve heard these stories told repeatedly so I get immune at times to the details.  By getting to read the whole story at one time, I sometimes skip the “bad” parts to get to the victory.  However, thinking about my friend’s situation reminded me of the pain Job suffered and the loss he felt from what was taken from him before he received the double blessing.  I had forgotten about the loss and the hurt involved.

Yes, I’m sure Job was happy to be given a second chance at being a father; however, that doesn’t take away the ache of losing the children he loved for a lifetime before.  I can personally relate to that aspect.  We were privileged to have two healthy children before suffering a miscarriage in 2007.  Two years later, God created a “bonus blessing” for our family.  This third child has brought a lot of joy to our lives, as much joy as our first two.  However, there is still an emptiness, an ache in my heart over the child we haven’t been privileged to meet yet.  I know Job’s suffering was much deeper, but I think it’s important to remember that losses still hurt even with the hope of blessings after the trials are over.

Having that conversation with my friend reminded me about the importance of my words to people who are going through difficulties.  As much as I want to encourage them to “…look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west.  All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Genesis 13:14-15, NIV), the Bible also encourages me to “laugh with (my) happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.” (Romans 12:15, The Message).

So while the blessings Job received after his testing were doubled from what he started with, it’s important to remember there was still significant loss he had to deal with. I pray I will be sensitive to that with those around me who are hurting.  Encouragement is good, but being a true friend also means providing Kleenex while I cry alongside you.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

 

 

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What better way than Valentine’s Day to take time to get closer to those you love?  The second book in the series, Spoken from the Heart: Taking it to the Next Level is now available via paperback.  Watch for the eBook version by this weekend.    Previously titled, A 40-Day Habit Between Friends: Taking it to the Next Level, this book will help you grow closer in your relationship with the One who created you.

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Here’s an easy link if you want to order one now:  While you’re at it, why not grab one for a friend too?

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all my friends who feel like family.  Praying you take some time today to spend with those that mean the most.

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