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Archive for June, 2014

“To be involved in a relationship that never involves an argument – authentic or superficial?”

Last time we talked about two specific characteristics that one is blessed to find in a relationship. Today I want to talk about one more area of blessing that is given in relationships:  The gift of Godly conflict.

I’m a peacemaker.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I would rather bake brownies and give them to someone who is upset with me or whom I’m upset with than talk about the why behind the tension.  I hate conflict, I hate tension, I hate fighting.  However, recently I’m beginning to realize the validity and purpose behind having Godly conflict.  I’m not talking about temper tantrums, silent treatment, or withdrawing. (I know firsthand about all those methods of not communicating and trust me, they don’t work.)

I’m talking about inviting God into our relationships and asking Him to help us respond selflessly instead of selfishly for the good of the relationship itself. What exactly does it mean to fight selflessly?  One example would be instead of forcing the other to hear and agree with your reasoning, to be silent and listen, really listen to what is being said behind the words.

Is it hard? Yes.  Is it uncomfortable? Absolutely.  Will it take time and sometimes have to be revisited more than once until an agreement is reached? Possibly. Is it easier to ignore problems and hot buttons? Maybe…at first.  But if we want to have a real relationship with another, whether friend, spouse, child, parent, coworker, then eventually we have to choose to walk the path of conflict from God’s viewpoint.

I’ve found for myself, I usually complain about a symptom because I’m too afraid to address the true cause.  I might find the courage to open up about the real problem after I’ve had favorable response to the original complaint, but I’ll usually test the waters with a symptom of the problem first. When we consciously make the decision to see the other person through God’s eyes instead of forcing that person to validate our own needs and wants, it begins to move our relationships from superficial toward authentic, which is what God designed us to crave, especially as women.

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While I’m not advocating being a doormat, sometimes it’s best to let God fight for us instead getting in the last word.  As we talked about previously, God is the only One who can change hearts and behaviors permanently.  We can debate, cajole, bribe, or try and convince another, but God is the One who ultimately will change someone’s heart, attitude, and eventually behaviors and actions.

Just as it’s difficult for a peacemaker to bring up uncomfortable topics, it’s equally as hard for a “fighter” to argue fairly.  However, when we choose to combine the encouragement and acceptance of differences we talked about last time with God’s view of selflessly confronting issues only for the greater good of the relationship (not for selfish reasons), it just might move the relationship you are in to a new level of authenticity.

While I’m not advocating fighting for fighting’s sake, I want to encourage those who prefer to sweep issues under the rug instead of dealing with them.  Conflict, when bathed in prayer, selflessly instead of selfishly, listening more than speaking, can bring about a deeper level to the relationship and a new ally.

When done appropriately, conflict is healthy to a relationship.  Because in reality, if two people call themselves friends but never disagree about anything, is the relationship real?  No two people are so alike that they agree on everything.  Learning how to disagree in a healthy relationship is great practice for getting along with so many different personalities throughout life in so many different situations.  A little healthy conflict, when done appropriately, can be a good thing.

So, if you’re friends with me and we have healthy conflict from time to time, I just might say, “Yay – finally!”  I’m not weird. I’m just glad our friendship is strong enough to be taken to the next level.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

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“I won’t ever stop being the real me to be an illusion of a better but fake Christian version of myself. So if I disappoint you, I’m sorry. Please look to Jesus and only Jesus for perfection. You certainly won’t find it in me, and I promise you won’t find it in others either. But here’s what we can do while we fix our eyes on Jesus… we can encourage one another. We can build each other up and chose our words wisely to share the truth in love…” (Candace Cameron Bure from Who REALLY Runs my FB Page?)

I read the above quote and it reminded me of two specific areas of friendship that when experienced, bring so much blessing into life.

The first area involves acceptance.  Throughout my life, I’ve had many friendships with many women.  Ages, hobbies, ethnicities, backgrounds, and socioeconomic status have all varied. One thing we have in common?  We’re all different.

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My husband and I choose to raise our family a certain way.  We have our own beliefs about politics, healthy lifestyles, hobbies, sports and recreation, and parenting styles. Some of my friends became friends because we met on common ground and hold similar values. Others don’t share our beliefs in any or all of these areas.  And, yet, that’s okay.

I’ve learned so much because of the differences that we share.  Just because someone prefers to use modern medicine and we prefer to first try a natural approach doesn’t make any of us bad parents – it just makes us different.  The health of each of our children is top priority to us both.  Whether sports-focused or musically-inclined doesn’t matter much either – we still find common ground in other areas and bring different strengths and weaknesses to the relationship.  Whether single, married, no children, many children – all offer different perspectives than my own from which I can learn and grow and develop more into the person God called me to be.  And, I have the people in my different relationships to thank for that.

The second area involves advice.  I have a select group of friends that I turn to for Godly advice.  They are my friends who share the same core values I do regarding my relationship with Jesus Christ.  When I’m struggling with an issue or situation, I know I can ask them for some Godly counsel and they will direct me to God’s Word, usually helping me find a verse or chapter or book in the Bible to help me see the core issue. They always point me back to the One who ultimately will help me change, give me peace, solve my problem, or calm the storm brewing in my life.

God purposefully created relationships (friendships, marriage, parent-child) so that we have allies in life, people to walk beside us and help point us toward the One who wants to handle all the difficulties we face. Criticizing or condemning one’s preferences doesn’t belong in a friendship or marriage relationship.  God made us all different for a reason.  He and only He is the One who will help any of us change the areas in our life that need to be fixed. It’s not my job to fix anybody but me.  It is my job, though, to guide each person God brings into my life back to Him so He can whisper Truth to them, in His time.  It’s also my job to encourage and support my friend while God works in his or her life.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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What’s My Job?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)

Why does it seem that everyone has an opinion about everything now-a-days? Why is it rare for someone to say, “That’s great,” “I’m happy for you,” or “What an accomplishment!” instead of highlighting the few mistakes or ways to make the finished product “better?”  Why are my personal preferences for parenting, religion, hobbies, and health scrutinized by strangers or made the topic of debate with people who don’t even know me? Why, if I choose to believe or fight for something some don’t agree with, am I considered wrong?

I have to stop and think about the above questions and ask myself, “Is that my job?”  Is it my responsibility to change someone’s mind?  Is it my obligation to present the facts in such a way that someone else feels pressured to switch to my mindset?  Who put me in charge to sway other’s decisions to my preferences, interests, or likes?  If I were to practice the above principles, is that something that would please my Heavenly Father?

I have to think the answer would be no.  And here’s why.  The Bible tells me in Matthew 22:36-40, when a Pharisee tested Jesus with the question of, “…which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus’ answer? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (NIV)

No where does God tell me it’s my job to condemn, criticize, change, or sway a person to my views.  In all honesty, if I were to get someone to “agree” with my opinion after an intense argument, what is the likelihood they have changed their mind permanently? More than likely, they are just agreeing so I will stop talking.  No, honest, true change happens in the heart and I don’t know of anyone who has had a heart change after being belittled, criticized, or condemned.

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So, what is my job?  My job is to love.  Love people.  I don’t have to agree with or condone behaviors that don’t line up with my relationship with my Heavenly Father but I also don’t have to condemn others if they choose to make those decisions.  My job is to love.  Accept the person.  Let others know they are valuable, loved, worthy, and unique.  And, introduce them to our Father.  Then let God be the One, in His time, to show the person what actions line up with His Word. He’s more than capable.  Just another reason why I love having a personal relationship with my Heavenly Father.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

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A Heavy Heart

“Pay close attention, friend, to what your father tells you; never forget what you learned at your mother’s knee.” Proverbs 1:8 (The Message)

Anyone who has ever witnessed a night terror firsthand realizes how intense they can be.  When it’s your four-year-old child, it’s heartbreaking.  Earlier that night, we had cuddled in my bed playing the “Thank You, Jesus” game before tucking him securely in his own bed. Two hours later, he’s sobbing hysterically, “Momma, help me, help me” over and over, shaking uncontrollably, and trying to push against me while simultaneously frantically searching for me.  It’s gut wrenching to watch, even more traumatic to the person trying to comfort and calm.

Thankfully, the episodes typically last less than 30 minutes and occur infrequently.  Soon he melts against my body, soothed by either my voice, words, or calming touch and drifts back to a peaceful sleep. Some mornings I will ask him if he had any dreams last night and usually the response is a calm, “Nope. I had no dreams.”  So, whatever the torment that was experienced, mercifully only the parents are left with the memory.

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I take most of parenthood in stride.  Late night feedings? Exhausting but temporary.  Potty training? Not much fun but necessary.  Boundaries, discipline, and consequences? Definitely part of the program.  However, listening to your child scream in terror and being unable to calm him down ranks up there with torture.  Pure torture.

This last episode left me heartbroken.  Not for him.  He was fine…really.  And regarding night terrors, I realize they’re an unpleasant aspect of some childhood experiences, but they too will pass. No, I was brokenhearted because of what the night terrors symbolized to me.

My job as a parent is to protect my children.  My job is to guide them, instruct them, and most importantly, give them plenty of opportunities to learn what it means to have a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father.  Ultimately, my children will be the ones to choose whether or not they want to pursue that relationship for themselves, but it’s my job to introduce it and be the best example of what God’s love is for them.

Our littlest, in the innocence and purity of childhood, has asked Jesus into his heart.  He includes in his daily prayer, “Thank You, Jesus, for dying on the cross and living in my heart.”  However, just because he says the words, doesn’t mean he completely understands what he is saying.  Do I believe he meant it when he prayed and asked Jesus to take control of his life?  Absolutely.  However, I also know that there is more to being a true Christ follower than saying some words – it’s a lifetime of learning, growing, and developing that one-on-one relationship with Jesus.  Learning what makes Him happy.  Learning what makes Him sad.  Slowly changing our actions, thoughts, and behaviors to ones that please Jesus simply because we love Him and obeying Him is the top priority in our lives.

Do I think my little one is going to Heaven someday?  Yes.  He prayed the prayer and he is beginning to understand what that means.  He has a heart that wants to make Jesus happy.  He is beginning to show the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) in his daily life and He is eager and happy to learn more about God, demonstrating he wants to make Jesus happy with the choices he makes.

However, I’m also wise enough to realize something more important.  As we talked about in No Fillers…Only the Real Thing,I would be doing my children a disservice if I don’t spend as much time teaching them how to develop their own relationship with their Savior as I do teaching them how to wash clothes, make meals, and find the best bargain at the grocery store.  It needs to be something personal between them and God, not relying on what mom and dad believe to get them through.  Because, when the tough stuff comes, and it will come, they need to have personal experiences in their own life to fall back on.  I’m inspired by reading stories that others’ tell regarding miracles that have occurred in their lives, but I’m changed when God gives me the blessing of having a miracle in my own life.

I want to encourage every parent or mentor or grandparent out there today.  Spending time making memories with our kids is so important and they are moments we will all remember fondly.  However, taking the time to teach our children about God’s great love for them and how He’s waiting to develop a strong personal relationship with them is a spiritual gift you can give that will keep on giving.

Thankfully, night terrors will someday be a distant memory.  Until then, instead of letting my heart break every time we go through the experience, I will use it to remind me once again of the important job God granted me when He chose to allow me to be a parent.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

 

 

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“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!’” Jeremiah 31:3 (The Message)

 I was having a conversation with a trusted friend the other day regarding mistakes made in youth.  I think there are a few factors that play into that role: Residual immaturity as brains aren’t completed developed yet, the invincible syndrome where bad things happen to other people, and if they are a Christ follower, not having fully developed their own relationship with Jesus that has been tested and matured over time.

Now, I’m not criticizing young adults and my friend and I weren’t either.  We were just merely discussing how it seems to happen generation after generation and were wondering what the common denominator was.  The factors above haven’t been scientifically researched – they are just my opinion.

As a parent, I was concerned.  I can’t do much about brain development as that happens biologically and can’t be rushed.  However, the one factor that I can help influence revolves around helping my children develop a strong relationship with Jesus before they leave home. So I had to stop and think about what that actually meant in everyday life.

Looking at my own life and how I’ve grown in my relationship with my Father allowed me to think of ways to encourage that growth with my children.  I easily came up with three specific areas I can actively work on improving.

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First, devotions aren’t just for ‘old people.’  I remember my mom sitting and having her quiet time on a regular basis when I was a child.  I would try to imitate her but I really didn’t know what she was doing or how to do it myself.  It ended up being a time of pretending to be grown up and then going off to play.  I know for myself, in the past, I’ve held my devotions as sacred and don’t want to invite anyone else into that special time.  However, I’m starting to rethink that.  It’s one thing to model “having devotions,” but it’s another to explain what I’m doing and extend an invitation for a season to have devotions with each child to help them develop their own rhythm before letting them take off on their own.

Or, in our family currently, three of us have accepted the challenge of reading through the New Testament in a year through our church.  However, I need to take it one step further and offer to read alongside our child instead of just being available to listen and discuss what has been read separately.  I know for myself, the accountability and knowing we’re doing this together has helped me stay on track.

Second is the area of giving or blessing others.  I remember fondly of times in my childhood where my parents helped others who were in need.  I got to thinking – how can we give our children more ownership so that they personally experience the joy of blessing others and feeling like it’s “the family” and not just mom and dad?  We’ve begun bringing certain needs and requests that we are made aware of and ways that our family has the resources to help others to our children.  Usually during dinner, we will discuss different options and different families or causes that need help and then decide together if we have the time, money, or both to step up and make a difference.  I don’t know for sure if they are taking ownership as a result of these discussions but if done consistently, my prayer is that they will start noticing in the community around them ways they can get involved and make a difference.

Finally, in my opinion, it’s so important for my husband and I to not only share with our children ways God is blessing our family or providing for our needs (without scaring them ahead of time of dire situations) and then giving them a chance to watch God work a miracle in their individual situations.  Whether it’s asking Him for help on a test and they ace it, finding something of value they lost and He helps them locate it, or helping them to listen to His whispers in their own hearts when they ask Him for guidance, wisdom, protection, or help.  There is nothing that has grown my faith more than pouring out my heart to God, especially in desperate situations, and then watching Him work a miracle.  I think as parents, we need to regularly share with our kids the way God is working in our lives so that they can start watching for and recognizing when He works in theirs.

Do I expect that if I put into the practice the three areas discussed above my children will have a seamless transition from teenager to adult?  I wish, but no.  However, I do know if I ignore the above areas and don’t regularly talk with my children about the benefits of growing a personal relationship with Jesus now before their life gets rough, they may travel a path that has long lasting negative consequences.

No one said parenthood was easy or came with a guarantee.  However, when we actively seek to grow deeper in our own relationship with God, then lovingly share the byproducts of that relationship with our children in everyday situations, they’re bound to reap some of the benefits.  And, that, my friend, is the real thing.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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I Am Treasured

Thinking about Father’s Day and the important men in my life, I realized I am treasured.

I am a woman who is loved by her husband.  He provides for our family by working hard outside the home and maintaining the inside with his amazing carpentry and fix-it skills.   He protects us, teaches our children that life is meant to be fun even while role modeling what hard work looks like, and provides a wonderful example of what it means to be a man of faith.  God answered many prayers when He brought my husband into my life and I thank Him daily for the blessing of a man after His own heart. Our sons are blessed to have their father as their role model and our daughter will be a blessed woman if she marries a man with the qualities her daddy possesses.  Among other things includes the smile reserved just for me, the laughter that fills our house on a regular basis, and all the inside jokes that stay between the two of us.  We were best friends when we got married and have only grown closer the longer we share life together.  I loved the excitement of life after we said “I do,” have fully embraced our role as parents to three incredible children, and am excited to see what God has planned for our lives when this chapter is complete and we’re in the next stage (which won’t be for quite a while).  From remembering the little things to purposefully celebrating the big things, my husband shows me his love always.

My father: when I think of him, I think of a man who loves to take care of people, especially “his girls.” Growing up, my father taught us how to take care of ourselves, but also was quick to take care of us.  I may not have inherited his gift for fixing things but not due to his lack of trying to teach me. A lot of what my dad did for us on a daily basis I took for granted, not on purpose, but because I grew up thinking everyone’s dad did those things. Nope!  As I get older and see the effort and time he invested in our lives, my appreciation grows daily.  He was, and still is, a man who prays for our family on a daily basis.  His prayers were some that were answered when I said “I do” to my amazing husband, a man who treasures me for who I am as my daddy asked God for.  My dad has baptized me and married my husband and me. He has also dedicated each of our children and had the privilege of baptizing our daughter.  She is excited about the day her “Pop-Pop” will marry her and her true love, someone Pop Pop is already praying for even though we don’t know his name.  Watching my dad’s face light up when interacting with my kids touches me to my core. Even as I’m writing this post, I just got off the phone with my dad.  He was telling me of yet another blessing he was gifting to our family to make our life easier.  I am treasured.

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My father-by-marriage: In addition to being treasured, I’m realizing I’m a bit spoiled.  My father-by-marriage has shown his love for our family from day one through his actions.  No request is denied, no matter how big or small.  Watching our dog when we’re on vacation, running to the store when I have sick children at home, seeing a cup with our family verse and buying it “just because,” mowing our lawn, shoveling our driveway, or rising early and coming to stand outside with me to wave to his grandchildren as they get on the bus are just some of the ways he has shown through his actions how treasured we are.  As I write this, I just finished watching our littlest run across the lawn that separates our properties so he could spend time with Gramma and Papa.  Watching two generations sharing memories regularly makes my heart happy.  We are especially blessed because my father-by-marriage also believes in the power of prayer and covers those he loves with petitions to our Father on a regular basis.

To all the other men in my life: brother-in-law, uncles, grandfathers by blood and grandfathers born from the heart.  I’m so thankful to each one for making me feel treasured and loved in their own special way.

Father’s Day: time to reflect on the past, cherish the moments today, and look with excitement toward memories which will be made in the future.  Thinking about our boys becoming fathers themselves, if God allows, fills my heart with anticipation.  They have many great role models to learn from who will offer encouragement, advice, and reminders that the best way to lead is by covering their family in prayer to the best Father of all.  I have always said fathers have a harder job than mothers – they are the earthly example of our Heavenly Father.  I am blessed to have been borne into the family I was and allowed to marry into the one God chose for me, each pointing me in the direction of our Heavenly Father and His unconditional love for all of us.

Who was instrumental in your life to show you what unconditional love from the Greatest Father of all looks like?  If you haven’t been introduced to, but want to find out how to make sure you are a child of the most amazing Daddy, I’d be happy to have that conversation with you.  Email me at clSwalwell99@gmail.com or comment in the section below.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“…Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” Genesis 6:9 (NIV)

I admit it.  I’m lazy.  Sometimes I get overscheduled which leads to exhaustion and eventually to the response of, “Whatever you want to do…as long as it’s legal and not dangerous.”  Then I regroup by sleeping too many hours (if have the time), watching too many movies, or vegging on the couch while the furniture collects dust and the dishes remain unwashed.

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That’s an okay attitude to have once in a while if the only casualty is dust bunnies under the bed and takeout pizza a few times too many.  However, God used the above scenario the other day to remind me that when it comes to my relationships with those who don’t know Him, complacency is far more dangerous with much more far-reaching consequences.

Some might ask me, “Why does it matter so much that those I love have a relationship with God?  Why can’t I just leave them alone and respect their choice ?” I guess it boils down to love. When I became a Christ follower, it changed me.  As I’ve grown closer to my Father, I find I continue to change.  And I want those I love to experience that as well.  Because it’s too good to hide or keep from those I love.

I don’t have the gift of evangelism, so others can explain this better than myself, but I speak so that my heart will be heard.  It’s all about the love.  God loved us so much He didn’t want anyone to die and spend eternity separated from Him.  Yes, there are boundaries God wants us to stay inside and commands God expects us to follow when we choose His way.  While some of them may be difficult to accomplish in our own strength, the more we grow to love God, the more we see His motivation behind His commands, His boundaries, and His rules.

It’s similar to that of a parent.  We give our children rules to follow because we love them.  God gives us rules to follow because He loves us even more.  By following the rules, we will experience more joy, peace, and contentment than if we choose to do things our own way.

So, I desperately want those I love to make the choice to follow Christ not because I think I’m better than they are.  No, it’s because what I’ve found in a real relationship with Him is something I don’t want to keep to myself, but I want to share with everyone I can.  But, it’s ultimately their choice.  God loves each of us so much He allows us to make our own choice.  And, even though I won’t stop sharing when the moment presents itself, I also can’t make the choice for another.

I’m thankful God reminded me again how important it is to keep looking for opportunities to share His love with others.  Sitting on the couch and letting dust bunnies grow won’t kill me.  But there’s too much at stake if I sit too long and miss an opportunity God wanted me to take.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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