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Archive for July, 2014

 “He knew without a doubt that miracles took place all the time, and that every one – without exception – was from the hand of God…There were big ones. There were small ones….He wondered what the world would be like if people would just stop and take the time to look at everything they were given every day of their lives and be thankful – to offer thanks and try to realize where their personal miracles were coming from, and give credit to where it was rightfully due.” (William Sirls, The Reason)

I started studying the Gospels a few years ago, and every time I come away with something more. My favorite passage in all the Gospels is this: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21: 24-25, NIV).

For anyone who has faced any sort of trial, the above passage offers hope. For those who struggle with watching a loved one (or themselves) suffering from a disease or chronic illness, face financial hardship, employment challenges, or having just reached the end and don’t know how to “fix things,” they’re given peace that Jesus performed many miracles of healing, redemption, and restoration while He walked the Earth. We can go one step further because, since He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, He is capable and loving enough to perform miracles of that magnitude still today.

As wonderful as huge miracles are (and they are), those aren’t the blessings I’m talking about today. Instead, I want to choose to see the miracles in the everyday. For most of my life, I would’ve described myself as positive, hopeful, and happy. However, when it came to seeing blessings in my everyday life, especially when life started to become more difficult, I needed help. Through a variety of people, God introduced me to the concept of a blessings journal. It took a couple false starts, but for the last year and a half I’ve been writing in it every day. What a difference it’s made in my outlook on life.

Some days the best I can say thank You to God for is the beautiful sunrise or sunset. Sometimes, on particularly hard days, all I can muster up is, “Thank You that today is OVER!” However, most of the time I end up filling full pages of all of the blessings He has provided in one day. I have healthy children (especially after our third round with the stomach flu this year), a husband who encourages me to sleep in after an especially busy week, and the same husband who overlooks the messy house so that I can sleep in without feeling extra guilt. Other times it’s a free book from an unknown or well-loved author or enough money to cover the food we need and the ability to learn self control since we don’t have it in our budget to buy all the food we think we want. Or last month, thanking God that He knew what our expenses were and even though I spent many late nights working, I have peace because all the bills will be paid on time and it was He that supplied the work, the time, and the energy for us to pay them.

 

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When I shift my focus from one of expecting good things to happen in this life to one of gratitude when they do (not taking even the little things for granted), it changes my whole perspective. Rain which prevents me from hanging clothes on the line to dry is thought of as a blessing for watering our vegetables without using the electricity to run the hose. A traffic delay or late start somewhere becomes a way for me to thank God for the possible prevention of a horrible accident or putting me in the path of someone who needed encouragement and a kind word.

You can ask my family – Even though looking for God’s blessings has become a good habit in my life, I still have to actively choose every day to be on the lookout. It doesn’t always come automatically. I still have to intentionally choose the blessings some days. However, overall, I’m a more peaceful person now than I was almost two years ago. I know that God is the One who blesses me every day and He gets the credit for all good things in my life.

My fatter than usual paycheck? God. Looming deadlines, a house that needs to be cleaned and laundry that needs to be washed, as well as a garden that needs tending and lawn that needs mowed? Yup, still God. Providing blessings in the arenas of work, provisions, and abundance to share with others.

What are some blessings in your life, big or small, that you might have overlooked or taken for granted? Even if you start out small, I’m pretty sure it pleases God’s heart when we give credit where credit is due – His provisions, His safety, and Him choosing to bless us with colors, smells, tastes, and sights that leave us breathless. When we open our eyes to the littler blessings on a daily basis, it makes it easier to see the bigger miracles for what they truly are – extraordinary gifts from our loving Father.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014
 

 

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~~~ EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT ~~~

JUST RELEASED

 

Spoken from the Heart: Connections is now available

 

Do you like getting lost in large crowds or prefer the intimacy of

one-on-one conversations? Do you enjoy the close ties of having one sibling or were you born as one of many?

Maybe you’re an only child with doting parents…

Regardless of your background or basic personality type, we can all agree on one thing – the fundamental need to connect with others. The One who created this world designed us all with an innate craving to connect on a deeper level with each other – so that we would desire a relationship with Him.

I began a personal journey with my Heavenly Father when I was six years old, but it’s taken me years to discover the depth of His desire for closeness with me as well. Maybe you’ve never been introduced to the God of the Universe or possibly you consider Him a casual acquaintance. Maybe you’ve taken that step to accept His invitation of a personal relationship, but are left with the question, “Now what?” Consider me that friend who’s bringing you to the “party of the decade” or encouraging you while we drink coffee one-on-one. I invite you to join me as we explore different ways to connect with those around us and ultimately with the One who guides us into genuine connections with everyone we encounter.

 

Connections Kindle

 

 

Spoken from the Heart: Connections is the sixth book in the Spoken from the Heart series, but the series itself has something for everyone.  Each book listed below is available at Amazon and/or Deeper Shopping in Paperback and eBook forms.  Paperback books cost between $5 and $6.25, and each eBook is priced at only $1.47.  I wanted to offer books that would offer encouragement, inspiration, and hope without breaking anyone’s piggybank.  Below I have listed the other books in the Spoken from the Heart series so you can pick the perfect gift for that special someone in your life, or better yet, to purchase for yourself for those times you need a little extra encouragement or inspiration.

 

Spoken from the Heart: Journey from Fear to Faith

Spoken from the Heart: Taking it to the Next Level

Spoken from the Heart: Digging Deeper

Spoken from the Heart: Parenting 101

Spoken from the Heart: Parenting 101 Vol. 2

 

Click on the link below for easy shopping at:

Deeper Shopping: bit.ly/M0r9Qd

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1iWexWr

 

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“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7 (The Message)

I’ve mentioned this before, but I grew up a pastor’s kid which means that our house was busy. We had people in and out much of the time, we were at church a lot, and there was always something going on in our lives. I got used to that.

My husband and I met in 1997 and began dating. We got engaged in 1998, married in 1999, and had our first child in 2000. For a period of four years, we were busy. And I got used to that.

Two children and three years later, we discovered we were pregnant again…this time planned by God. We celebrated Thanksgiving by announcing our great news, left two weeks later for a week-long vacation to Disneyland, miscarried the week we returned, tried to celebrate Christmas two weeks later, and then began the now eight-year journey of my husband’s then-undiagnosed illness. I got used to that.

I began to think drama was normal. I didn’t realize how bad it had become until one day my husband pointed out that it seemed as though our family wasn’t happy unless someone had an “issue.” I realized there was truth to his statement. Somewhere through the years, I’d lost my inner Tigger and replaced him with Eyeore, forever looking for my tail. Laughing didn’t come as readily. Smiling wasn’t as often. Living as though an emergency was waiting around the corner wasn’t the way I wanted to raise my family.

 

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(Photo compliments of Stephanie Wittenrich)

God used my husband as my wake-up call. When I asked, God Himself started to heal the areas in my life where I needed healing and the drama was slowly replaced with peace. He reminded me He’s not the God of chaos. The evil one has that arena covered. He’s not the God of turmoil or tragedy or sadness or sickness. No. He’s the God of calm, freedom, happiness, and healing.

While He has promised to walk with us through the trauma, He never stated He was the trauma. He promised to hold us during the drama, but while He’s holding us, He’s showing us how we can have peace.

I realized how much I hated drama and that only I could choose to live my life differently. Changing my lifestyle begins with changing my mindset. When I made the choice, I started to feel peaceful. Peace brings with it calm…hope…happiness…and FUN.

I’m still undoing years of drama living, but I’m making progress. I realize, that despite a crazy schedule, not everything has to be done yesterday, usually people can wait for an answer after I’ve had time to think through my choices, and a soft answer is always best. I better finish learning what God is teaching me as I have an influential daughter starting middle school…and most of us realize that’s a whole new level of drama.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“We may be busier or less busy in each season, but each is only a season.  We must remember to be kind to ourselves as well.  One season may have more time for holding and cuddling, another season has more time for teaching, and yet another season may be just for enjoying, but each season should be treasured for the season that it is.” (Cheri Swalwell, Mom Guilt)

Now that our kids are older, I love that they find fun activities to help keep the family connected. Our oldest saw a card game at the store, saved his money, and brought it home as a surprise. It’s fast enough to play when time is short, fun enough to have tournaments with, and simple enough for our almost five-year-old to understand. In fact, our youngest loves it so much, he asks me on a regular basis, “Mom, how about a rousing game of Andale, Andale?” How can I resist those big brown eyes and that charming smile? Soon, our whole family is taking turns stealing and trading, and making sure the four-year-old gets his favorites, “Spike” and “Cowboy puppy.”

Yesterday tried my patience. Deadlines in both jobs. Writing related assignments. Important phone calls. Six plus loads of laundry that didn’t even reach the clothesline until noon. And dinner that couldn’t be made ahead of time. The icing on the cake? Attempted multitasking gone wrong – I made too many mistakes in every area. When my head finally hit the pillow, I felt sad. Even though I stepped away from work in order to connect with my family at dinner and a few other times throughout the night, the majority of my day yesterday was spent working in one capacity or another. I missed out on quantity time with the four reasons of why I work.

 

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I realize life is just like that sometimes. Deadlines aren’t every day. Some days are busier and other days are more relaxing. Finding the right balance will constantly change as schedules, work positions, and life constantly changes. There are many things I can choose to lessen the guilt that arises, and I want to talk about just two of them today.

First, start my day with a date – with my Heavenly Father. Thankfully, yesterday morning God had woken me up extra early. (He knew what I’d be facing.) I had the privilege of spending one hour, uninterrupted with Him, before the deadlines and the craziness began. That helped set the right tone for me so that when I started to let circumstances dictate my emotions, God was able to bring me back to reality. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I praised Him for the income, the experiences, and the reasons why I had six loads of laundry. This morning, even though God allowed me to sleep in so I could get six hours of sleep, our littlest slept in to and I was able to have that date with God, still uninterrupted, a little later in the morning.

Second, remember each day is just 24 hours. I have another chance tomorrow. (And I thanked God for that this morning too). Take moments, even ten minutes during the really busy days, and actively choose to connect with each person that matters. Then, when life is a little slower the following day or week, intentionally choose to create longer, meaningful memories.

Therefore, this morning when our littlest woke up slightly later than usual, I was the one who turned away from my work and asked him if he was ready to play a rousing game of Andale, Andale. His smile spoke volumes. As he suggested, when everyone else is home and settled in for the night, we’re going to invite his sister and brother to play a few games too.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“Fathers, (mothers) do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Colossians 3:21 (NIV)

I have three terrific kids. They work hard, try to do their best, and are obedient without being perfect. I’m always telling them perfection would be boring…however, lately I’ve been saying perfection would be boring but expecting much more out of them then they deserve. I think it’s stemming from another round of Mom Guilt, only in a different form.

Two years ago, I wrote a post titled Mom Guilt where I talked about how I felt guilty that I wasn’t the mom I imagined I should be. This year, I had huge plans for our summer. It was going to much more relaxing, I was going to have time for leisurely lunches with my kids, afternoon dips in the pool, road trips, hikes at the zoo, and much more.

If the first week of summer break was any indication, they spent the week requesting to go places, me feeling guilty for working so hard that I grudgingly gave in, then all of us having a miserable time because it was “rush, rush, rush” with very little fun. To make matters worse, I looked at our calendar and we are busy almost every single week. For a mom who chose before spring break that our summer was going to uninterrupted, lazy, and full of spontaneous memory-making moments, now it’s just one big penned-in calendar with little time to schedule sleep or bathroom breaks. What happened to the leisurely dips in the pool, spontaneous road trips, or afternoon reading sessions?

 

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First of all, I had to realize that two years ago mom guilt looked different but stemmed from the same place – my mindset. My children are old enough now to realize that just because they want to go somewhere, even if it seems life or death important, they are capable of waiting for a more appropriate time, like when my work is at a natural stopping point. I have to realize it’s a good thing when I allow them to experience delayed gratification. I don’t have to feel guilty for saying, “later” when going now creates more of a burden than benefit.

Second, I realized my kids, despite how grown up they appear and how mature they act, are still children. They are going to ask, they are going to stretch the boundaries that are there, and they are going to try and get me to change my mind. That is their job! It’s my responsibility as the adult to set the boundaries I can live with and then stick with them. If I continually give in to going places out of guilt but then make their lives miserable while we’re there, I’m not honoring God with my attitude and I’m not modeling good behavior. I need to let my “yes” be “yes,” and my “no” be “no” and try to say yes as much as possible, when reasonable. In addition, I need to establish rules with my kids that when I’m working, constant interruptions delay the completion of the work and then the reward they are waiting for may not occur. Again, though, it’s my responsibility to create the boundary and stick with it, possibly giving natural consequences as a result if necessary.

Last, childhood should still be fun. I have one chance with my kids while they are this age. One. There are no do-overs. They are only each age for 365 days…period. Not to add to my guilt, but instead to challenge me to make the most of the ages they are. To realize that life doesn’t need to be super serious all the time (a lesson I constantly need to be reminded of). That work doesn’t have to be finished first, every single time, but when I find a good stopping place, take advantage of the laziness of summer and make a spontaneous memory with my kids. Do I want them to remember me always working, always yelling, and that they can never make me happy with what they do?

Nope! I want my kids to remember spontaneous trips for ice cream, swimming for 20 minutes filled with laughter and games, catching lightning bugs, or a spontaneous trip to the beach because mom got her work done early. I don’t want to be remembered as the “crabby mom.” However, I’m the only one that gets to make that choice.

This will take some work. When life gets busy, my personality doesn’t naturally think peace and tranquility. Life doesn’t slow down by itself. I will have to actively choose what mom I want to be every single day – the crabby mom who allows her mom guilt to scream or the fun mom who realizes and chooses what’s most important – living every day with the least amount of regrets as possible. The only way I will make a good choice is to stay connected to my Father, who is the creator of peace and fun. For that reason, I’m choosing to stick with the basics.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

 

 

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Sneak Peak!

Coming Soon!  Spoken from the Heart: Connections

Connections Kindle

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“…this life is not our life. Our life is eternal, and that is God’s gift to us. And this life is our gift to God.” (Ally Breedlove, When Will the Heaven Begin?)

My husband knows how to give presents. First, he takes mental notes of what people enjoy. Then, he researches the best brand and finally, remembers all the little things that make each gift perfect (batteries, games, accessories, etc.).  The end result is that the person receiving the present feels loved. My husband gets more pleasure out of giving than he ever does receiving.

The above phrase spoke directly to my heart.  Ally was having a conversation with her brother when she made that statement.  I love how she took such a huge concept and simplified it into easy to understand words.  It made me stop and reevaluate how I was living my life.

For quite a few years, at the end of my prayer time, I’ve had the habit of holding out cupped hands, palms upward, and saying, “Take whatever You want, Lord, it’s Yours.  And give back only what You want me to have.” However, the last two years or so, that request has slowly been changing.  In addition to asking God to take and give whatever He chooses, I started adding, “My life is Yours. Show me what You want me to change and then help me to change it.”  He answered that heartfelt prayer by starting out small.  He helped me change little sins I didn’t even realize were sins.  Later He started addressing some bigger issues that, to be completely honest – I’m still struggling with – because they require more work, self control, and discipline.

Reading the above quote showed me a different motivation to use while working on the hard changes. It’s about so much more than what I can get out of obedience to God. It’s more about what can I give to God as a result of my obedience.  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the promises and blessings that come from obeying God, but for some reason, the phrase above moved me to the next level.

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Instead of thinking, “What’s in it for me?” my perspective changed.  When I die, I want to present to God a life lived fully for Him.  I don’t want to waste my time with things that don’t matter, but instead I want my motives and actions with others to always lead them back to the One that really matters, my Father. Since this life, compared to eternity, is short, I have a limited amount of time to put actions to my words of “I love You” to the One who loves me most.

When I looked at it from that perspective, it made me want to work harder, live better, and love more “just because.”  It also changed the way I see the areas of struggle in my life. Instead of thinking about how hard changing can be, if I think about overcoming my challenges as a potential gift for my Father, it gives me more motivation to keep trying and not give up.  I have a bigger purpose.

Just as my husband gets pure joy from giving presents to others, I’m more excited about what I can give to God when I meet Him face-to-face someday than all the amazing blessings that He is waiting to give to me.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” I John 5:14 (NIV)

Yesterday we talked about how everyone’s spiritual journey is on its own timetable.  Today I want to talk about another area of timing when it comes to spiritual issues.  Answered prayers.

In my own life, I’ve had prayers that have seemingly been answered overnight while others have taken years before I’ve seen God say “yes” or “no”.  Others…I’m still waiting for the answer to occur while walking in faith that God hears and is working behind the scenes.

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Sometimes I get discouraged when I pray for days, months, or years about a request that is heavy on my heart.  It could be friends and family who haven’t made a decision to have a personal relationship with Christ, sickness that has worn down those I love, or fear, addictions, or financial problems that have held others in bondage.

However, then I remember just because I don’t see the answer right away, it doesn’t mean there isn’t progress.  All the above requests I prayed for line up with God’s Word.  He is a loving Father who doesn’t want any of His children to go to hell.  God isn’t a God of sickness, disease, addiction, fear, or financial hardships.  He is the God of freedom from disease, the God of peace, faith, and provisions.  However, God knows people have to reach a certain point before they are ready to hear and receive the help He offers – either for their eternal salvation or problems they will face here on earth.

So, when prayers seem to take much longer being answered, I can be assured that God is working behind the scenes, orchestrating events in the lives of those I love, myself included, to draw us closer to Him and the best answer to that heart-felt prayer.  Most of the time, I see that my prayer, while full of only the best intentions, isn’t the best solution.  What God ends up answering is far better than anything I could have envisioned or asked for myself.  Other times, He does answer my prayer but it took longer than expected because God was doing much more than answering what I asked – He wanted complete healing for my loved one, not just a quick fix.

Next time you get discouraged and think your prayers aren’t being answered, remember that God works behind the scenes.  He has far more patience, and love, than we do for our family and friends and wants the best for them, on a much bigger scale.  They are His children just as we are.  However, God does allow free will so He isn’t going to force someone to choose the answer He wants.  He will patiently guide, bring others into our lives (or the lives of those we’re praying for) and allow situations that will help draw each of us toward the best answer, but He will never force Himself on us or others.  He is forever the gentleman.

I want to encourage you to never stop praying and bringing your burdens before God, in faith, knowing that He hears and answers.  And, take it from me.  Whether you’ve prayed for an answer for six months or six years, when the answer finally comes, you quickly forget about the time in between and just praise God for the answered prayer.  Because in reality, it didn’t take that long after all.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,  Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

I was talking with a friend the other day about the growth I’d experienced in my spiritual life over the past year.  Some concepts introduced within the last few months, coupled with ideas I’d known about for years, finally came together and I “got it.”  Some areas took a little practice before I got comfortable and saw my faith grow, such as thanking God ahead of time for answers I hadn’t seen yet but were promises for His children from the Bible. Other topics, like asking God a question and then sitting silently for the answer, were a little easier to put into place and were a fun way for me to grow my relationship with Him.  The blessings journal, something I’d been encouraged to try years ago but finally wrote in on a regular basis brought about extra blessings as I could tangibly see how God was answering prayers, providing for our family, and taking care of our physical needs as well as blessing us with “extras.”

However, one thing my friend and I discussed was that the growth that I seemed to experience in twelve short months really took much longer.  Concepts, truths, and Biblical principles I’d learned about beginning in childhood were built upon in order to get me to the place where I could understand, grasp, and deepen my faith muscles, prayer time, and relationship with my Father.

Another wonderful thing we discovered is that we’re both on the same path but in different places depending upon the topic.  God gave me the word “grace” this year but gave her a different word to work on.  We both shuffle back and forth with balance, moderation, obedience, and faith.  Being on different levels than each other for spiritual truths is exciting and, in my opinion, part of God’s plan so we can continue to help each other along the way.  She introduced me to a specific concept and then it sat.  God then took that seed she planted, and watered it through my church family in the way of sermons and small groups.  Then I was able to go back to her, ask more in-depth questions, and practice until finally that small seed sprouted into a harvest in my life.  Now, I am prepared while I practice the new concept in my life to help plant the seed in someone else’s life so they in turn can reap a harvest.

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If we were all on the same level in our spiritual journey, how could we help each other?  Is it fair for me to judge someone who is on a different level than myself when I have areas I struggle with as well?  God meant for us to help each other.  His example was to show compassion and love while leading His people in the right direction.  I want to follow His example.

I’m glad I had a chance to reflect on my spiritual journey over the past year.  Yes, I’ve grown a lot but I still have so much to learn.  I choose to encourage those God allows me to cross paths with, not hurrying them along or trying to slow them down.  We all have our own pace that is perfect in God’s eyes.  My job isn’t to judge – my job is to encourage and love.  God is in charge of the timing – and His timing is always right.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

 

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“Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” Philippians 2:4 (The Message)

 

I heard a sermon by our Student Ministries Pastor, Pastor Justin Smelter, regarding selfishness versus selflessness in dating and marriage.  It shed additional insight for me into the real reasons behind dating and eventual marriage. When he was done, I was glad to know that this man, with wisdom taken directly from the Bible, was going to be reinforcing the beliefs my husband and I have been talking to our children about while they deal with crazy hormones, crushes, and the difficult task of growing into adulthood.

One of the concepts he taught was the real reason to date and eventually marry.  It’s not so much what can I get out of this relationship?, but instead, what can I give to the other person?  The more I thought about the concept, the more I realized he wasn’t just talking about opposite sex attraction.  He was talking about every relationship we are involved in.  Selfish versus selfless.

As it says in Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (NIV)  What that means is this.  When we become God’s children, choosing to submit to His authority first through the salvation prayer and then living a life of obedience to Him out of love, not fear, we are called to a higher standard.  Instead of demanding our way, our wants, and our wishes, our mindset should be that of loving others more than ourselves, selflessly loving those God puts in our path and allowing God to be the One to bless us with what He wants us to have.

 

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I was able to put this principle into practice not long after I heard the sermon.  I had an argument with a close friend.  We were both frustrated and while we were fighting in a healthy way, it was still an argument.  Some words were exchanged that stung.  It was then I had a choice to make.  I could prove my innocence and take a chance I could change this person’s opinion of me or I could hear what was being said behind the words, which was that I’d hurt this person for a period of time unintentionally and it was finally coming out. I chose the latter.  I chose to forgive instead of let bitterness grow.  I chose to love selflessly instead of rubbing salt in wounds that had been inflicted, unintentionally, in the past.  And do you know what I found?  I was flooded with peace from God.  I was still hurt.  My mind still wanted to replay the argument over and over again.  I had to counteract those thoughts by consciously switching tapes to remind myself of how this person does love me, warts and all.  And the more I chose to actively love selflessly, the more those feelings become real.

The best part is God rewarded that act of submission to His ways.  This friend and I have reached a deeper level of friendship, I learned how it feels to listen to the feelings behind words, and as a result, I grew closer to my Father as well.

Even though selfless choices can initially be harder than selfish choices, God showed me they are truly the only choice – when I want to live the life He called me to live. With practice, I’m sure they will become much easier.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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