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Archive for December, 2014

Lonely

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” I John 4:8 (NIV)

 

December 5, 2014 we celebrated Max, our four-legged family member’s 12th birthday.  Unfortunately, part of the celebration involved a seizure.  We were used to these because they began when he was one and one half years old.  Everyone in the family knew what to do because when a 100 pound dog has a seizure and loses function of his back legs – well, let’s just say it takes more than one person to help him get outside until he finds his legs again.

December 16th began as a normal day.  However, around noon, it looked like Max was going to have another seizure.  Again, nothing out of the ordinary as he had them regularly most of his life.  However, this time, he never fully went into one and never fully came out.  Two hours later I could tell something was drastically wrong.  The vet told us to come in immediately. The only comfort I had was that only his organs were still functioning…neurologically he was already gone along with his ability to walk.  Those beautiful, soulful eyes that looked up at me with trust his whole life were now vacant.  Three hours later we returned home without one member of our family, the one who had loved with his whole heart his entire life.

 

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Walking into the house without him was terrible.  Not having my four-legged child to take care of was…lonely!  Despite the five people who still lived here, the house felt dead. I told my husband that as much as I missed him, I knew I had loved him with no regrets and we had given him a great life.  I could let him go knowing that I loved with my whole heart.

I realize that when many people lose their four-legged family members, they cannot bear to get another and start the process of saying goodbye all over again.  Since the odds of our pets outliving us usually aren’t in our favor, if we choose to be pet owners we will probably say goodbye multiple times throughout our lives.  However, I have too much love to give and when I don’t have someone to pour it into, the outcome is…Lonely!  I don’t want to suffocate my husband or children by smothering them and clipping their wings of independence, so we started looking for another forever family member very soon.  I knew if we got a puppy, I was looking at a lot more work than the easy relationship of my 12-year-old companion, but I also knew the hard work in the beginning would reap rewards for many years to come.

The main point of today’s post isn’t profound.  Instead it’s just this simple message: God is love.  When we’re His children, we love. When we love without regrets and the hard times come (and they will), it’s easier to move forward and love again.

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We ended up getting a new puppy, not as a replacement for Max but as another opportunity to love. With this decision, we have chosen less sleep, more activity, and much more busyness.  We have also chosen to fill our hearts with love again for another living creature that is totally dependent upon us.  We have made the choice to love again without regrets.  More than likely I will outlive this little guy as well.  But if I do my job right, when it’s time to say goodbye (hopefully many years from now) I will again grieve with peace, knowing I did my job and loved with my whole heart.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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Truly He taught us to love one another. His law is love and His gospel is peace.”

Adolphe-Charles Adam, composer of O Holy Night (1803-1856)

We were at a concert this month and one of the songs performed was O Holy Night.  This used to be one of my favorite Christmas carols and I’ve sung it myself quite a few times in church or at various Christmas programs while growing up.  However, this time, when I heard the words, God revealed to me a much deeper meaning than I had ever noticed before.

Maybe it was because we’ve been observing Advent for the first time as a family, but I’ve been focused on the words “hope, peace, joy, and love.”  I’ve also been studying the gospels for the past two years, wanting to get to know Jesus and how He lived while He walked the earth for 33 years.

God chose to remind me of an important lesson when I heard the above stanza. Jesus came to this earth as love.  The God I serve is the best example of LOVE we have.  He doesn’t just show love….He IS Love.  God can’t sin.  When we become His children and choose to live under His law, His authority, those boundaries are given because of His great love for His people.  They aren’t given as punishment or to keep us from having fun – they are given to protect us and help us love those around us, modeling Jesus’ love for us and others.

 

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He also is PEACE.  When God is present, He isn’t stirring up problems.  He isn’t gossiping, backbiting, complaining, grumbling, or irritable.  When God shows up, chaos leaves.  When God is present, He brings with Him peace that is indescribable, but a peace that once you’ve experienced it, you want it to stay. When that peace is absent, it isn’t because God is mad at us and punishing us.  It’s because He loves us and wants to warn us of danger if we keep making a bad choice or He wants us to turn back to loving Him with our whole heart.

God’s love is eternal.  He loved us before we were formed in our mother’s womb and His love is so great that He made a way for us to spend eternity in Heaven with Him if we choose to accept His gift, His Son.

God’s love is unconditional and sacrificial.  God loves us so much He chose to send His Son to earth to suffer death on a cross so we could have a real relationship with Him in Heaven when we die.  However, it’s more than a “get out of jail free card.”  He wants to give us eternal life, but He also wants to enjoy a relationship with us while we’re still alive on earth.  Even if you were the only person alive, God would have sent His Son to die on the cross…just for you.  That’s how great His love is for each of us.

While we celebrate Christmas today, I want to take a minute to remember why I celebrate the birth of a little baby in a manger.  A baby who grew into a man who not only loved me so much to die a horrible death on the cross to pay for my sins, but loved me so much He modeled how He wants me to love others while I live on this earth.

 

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The God I serve is very much alive.  I’m so glad I serve a God whose “law is love and gospel is peace.”

Merry Christmas from my house to yours…If you’re looking for that kind of love or peace and don’t know how to become a member of God’s family, feel free to email me.  I would love to share with you the simple steps to find that love and peace for yourself.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 (The Message)

Everyone has experienced heartache of some kind in this life.  If you haven’t…wait, you will.  This life is full of heartaches, trials, pain…but it’s also filled with joy, peace, and love.  The latter come from God. He isn’t the One responsible for the pain.  He is responsible for the joy and peace that can occur despite or during the painful experiences.  However, the joy and peace that God gives isn’t automatic.  He wants His children to ask for it.  He wants His children to come to Him and ask to be comforted, rescued, taken care of.  When we humble ourselves and do that, He always delivers.  Every single time.

Am I telling you it’s not okay to get mad at God when bad things happen? No.  But I am asking you to think of God as your Father and to treat Him with the respect, or more, than you would give to your earthly parents.  He’s strong – He can handle respectful anger.  I remember distinctly getting angry at God after our miscarriage and asking Him why He let our baby die.  While He didn’t answer the “why,” He did meet me in the anger and let me know He loved me.

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I never understood the above Bible passage that talks about the peace that passes all understanding, a peace beyond comprehension, until I personally experienced difficulties. When I realized I had to give up control and give my circumstances over to God, it was then that I first experienced true peace.  It’s a peace despite the situation, a peace that is deeper and more calming. It doesn’t leave no matter how hopeless things look around me.  I find, too, that when things are at their worst, God is able to show off with His BEST. And I always give praise where it’s due – to Him.

The last aspect of our loving God is this:  Part of Him giving good things out of pain takes work on our part. Our family has been walking through a painful journey for almost eight years now that began with a painful circumstance all its own. While I believe that one day the journey will have a happy ending, we don’t have an end in sight, yet.  However, God has used both of our situations, in countless different ways, for us to encourage, sympathize, or walk alongside others while they are walking similar paths. The hope and encouragement He has offered us throughout the years give hope and encouragement to others.  When we choose to share the blessings God has given us or share the hope that God will work in another’s situation, that pleases our Father.  That is helping to bring good out of what Satan meant for evil.

Humanly speaking, when terrible things happen, we want someone to blame.  And we need Someone to offer comfort.  All I’m asking is that we realize the truth.  Satan is the one to blame for the evil we experience in this world and God is waiting with open arms to offer us comfort…love….peace.  We will be blessed if we remember which is which.

© Cheri Swalwell

 

 

 

 

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“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”

John 3:16-18 (The Message)

 

Today I want to continue our discussion by answering this tough question.  “Is God to blame for the hurt and pain in my life caused by death, disease, accident, or tragedy beyond my control?”

The easy answer is no, but most people want to know why He isn’t to blame when He’s all powerful and can stop the pain from happening to begin with if He just would speak the word.  The answer lies in the verses written above.  I think The Message Bible tells the greatest love story of all time in such beautiful words.  God is LOVE.  Everything about God is loving.  God loved His children so much that He allowed us free will to choose how we were going to live our lives.

Some of His children have chosen to live a life where choices have a negative effect on themselves or a ripple effect that hurts others around them.  School or movie theatre shootings, abortion, chemicals in our environment that cause cancer in our bodies, birth defects, rage, alcoholism…all choices that are a result of sin in this world.

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The world that God originally created was one in which sin didn’t exist.  That was the world God wanted.  One filled with love.  God created human beings to have free will, the ability to make choices for themselves instead of only doing what they are told to do. He didn’t create robots, He created people with the ability to choose a life of obedience to Him or to choose to do things their own way.

It is a mother’s responsibility to lay a good foundation for her children to follow, teach them the difference between right and wrong, and give them opportunities  to build character traits that will help them be successful in life, but ultimately the choices that her children make are theirs.  They choose their own life style and they are responsible for the consequences of their choices.

God gives us the best foundation possible.  Through the Bible He gives many examples of how to do life well. There are also examples of consequences as a result of negative choices.  Because of free will, sin entered the world and bad things happen to all of His children.  No one will be immune to bad things as long as we live on earth.  However, the bad things that happen are a result of sin, a result of Satan, not God.  Our Father is waiting with open arms and the Bible tells us in Psalm 56:8 (The Message) that God has “kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.”

You might wonder, “How can you say that? How do you know He isn’t waiting to punish me, but instead that He wants to comfort me?  You don’t know what I’ve been through.”  You’re right – I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I can tell you through my experience what God has done for me. As I love to say, what He’s willing to do for one, He wants to do for everyone.  Join me next time as we conclude these thoughts.

© Cheri Swalwell

 

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“You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.” Psalms 56:8 (The Message)

 

Last time we were together, we talked about how mothers are sometimes falsely accused for the choices their children make.  I wanted to talk today about how I think society is quick to falsely accuse God for the pain of this world as well.

Why is it when a child is abused, a fire claims the life of an entire family, or someone succumbs to cancer – God is the One who gets angry fists raised at Him? Is it because people agree that He is the Creator of the Universe and therefore has the power to stop bad things from happening?  Is it because they believe He is the Master and we are just puppets, made to do His will without our own voice?

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Well, the following are my thoughts. God was the very first parent…ever.  As I talked yesterday, while it’s a mother’s job to teach and train a child properly, setting good examples, and providing a loving, nurturing environment, ultimately it’s the child’s choice whether or not he or she decides to follow the examples and stay within the boundaries that the mother places on him or her.  The same can be said of mankind and our interaction with God.

God provides the best instruction manual we could ever ask for – the Bible – which provides us with all the help we need to live an abundant, joy-filled life.  In it He provides countless instructions of how He expects us to handle finances, relationships, parenting, work, and leisure time.  He provides many examples, through Jesus living on earth for thirty three years, of how to interact with others, how to pray and fellowship with Him, how to handle difficulties, pain, trials, etc.

However, while God provides all these things, we still have free will.  We are free to choose to follow His directions and live a life with joy and peace despite the trials and pain we face. We are also free to choose our own path and not only have hurt and pain in our own lives but willingly or unwillingly inflict pain to those we love around us as well as create a ripple effect with complete strangers or future generations.

While this answers the question of who is responsible for the choices we make in our own lives, it doesn’t necessarily answer the question of, “Is God to blame for the hurt and pain in my life caused by death, disease, accident, or tragedy beyond my control?”

Let’s come back next time and discuss that important question.

© Cheri Swalwell

 

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“Point your kids in the right direction—     when they’re old they won’t be lost.” Proverbs 22:6 (The Message)

Why is it that society seems to be quick to blame the mother when problems arise with children?  If a child suffers from obesity, the mother is accused of not offering healthy choices, visiting fast food restaurants too often, or not exhibiting will power in her own life, providing a poor role model for her child to follow.  If a child fails a subject in school, the mother is looked at as not helping with homework, accused of not reading to her child every night, or not being involved in the PTA or other school programs to help foster that relationship between school and home.  If a child gets in trouble with the law, has sex outside of marriage, or participates in any form of illegal activity, the mother’s parenting style is questioned at some point in the discussion.

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While I firmly believe that parents, mothers and fathers, have a huge responsibility when it comes to parenting each and every child they have been blessed with, I don’t believe the “blame” or consequences of each child’s decisions rest firmly on his or her parents’ shoulders.  As parents, we are held to a high standard. To raise our children to be productive members of society.  To teach character traits such as kindness, honesty, integrity, a strong work ethic, and self control to name but a few.  And, I also believe that children come into this world helpless, unable to provide for themselves and need a loving, nurturing environment in which to thrive, where their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are consistently met.

All children are born with free will.  Even little ones, while helpless in many ways, are in charge of three major aspects of their life:  If/when they will eat, sleep, and eliminate.  No matter how healthy the food presented is, how quiet and dark the environment is, or how much encouragement is given to eliminate toxins from his or her system, if a child doesn’t want to eat, doesn’t want to sleep, or doesn’t want to use the bathroom, there isn’t anything a parent (or any other caregiver) can do about it.  The child is in control.

As a child gets older, the control over activities, food choices, and other important elements of his or her life continues to increase as he or she spends less time under the direct supervision of parents and more time with friends, pursuing passions, or in a learning environment.  While parents are responsible for setting a good example from an early age, ultimately the child is responsible for the choices he or she makes.

Come back next time as I continue my thoughts on how falsely blaming the mother for the choices a child makes is just as wrong as falsely blaming God for the pain of this world.

© Cheri Swalwell

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“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)

 

Grace was my word from God for 2014. This was the second year I had asked and received a word from God and this time, I was ready to put some work into figuring out what the word He gave me meant and doing my part to learn what He wanted me to learn.

Today, while letting my mind wander, I realized another lesson that God had been trying to show me all year. I need to extend grace to everyone. Before you think I’m super mean and stingy with my kindness, let me explain:

I have a friend who has been dealing with a rough situation for years….that’s right, years. God has been showing me that my role in this friendship isn’t to try and fix anything, but just to be supportive, staying out of the way so God has time to work without me butting in. My job is to show grace. Now…showing this person grace is easy. Really easy. We’re close enough and have years of past experiences behind us that grace comes second nature to me with this person.

However, God used my relationship with this friend to open my eyes that I have a child who needs the same grace I willingly give to my friend given to as well. It was a series of different messages that God gave me over a few week span that made me realize a few things. I was falsely under the assumption that I had to be “tough” and hold my boundaries firm or my kids will think I’m easily manipulated and they will take advantage of me. I also falsely assumed that what my child was experiencing was just a growing pain and would eventually disappear or lessen. Well, whether or not the latter is the case, God showed me what my role as this child’s mother truly is, and grace is at the center.

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The first thing God reminded me of was this: All of my children are different. They learn differently, they think differently, and they respond to the same “direction” differently. I was listening to Family Life today regarding intentional parenting and one example given during that program was how one child responded better to “we” commands. He was relational and therefore, when the parent offered to come alongside and help with the task, the response was much better. It is not giving in or backing down by coming along your child (my false assumption) – it was responding with grace to the way the child is wired and showing him love while teaching the life skill.

The second reminder God gave me was this: He showed me in a different book, Simplified, that when an area of a person’s life is stressful, it affects the whole person. Instead of being energized and having more to give, the person is drained of energy and has nothing left to give, even for fun, re-energizing activities. While this book was talking about adults and job situations, the same theory could be applied to children. We have a child going through a stressful period that has lasted a few years. I figured as the parent I needed to keep encouraging and pushing because “this is the real world,” and everyone needs to learn to deal with the real world eventually.

However, God opened my eyes through my friend’s experience to teach me that even though I have to instill boundaries and teach life skills to each of my children, we have three kids in our house and each one learns and responds differently. I needed to show one child in particular more grace…on a continual basis. Coming alongside and offering a “we” situation wasn’t being manipulated, it was being loving. Cutting some slack so our child could reenergize after a particularly trying day wasn’t babying, it was showing grace. Reading through the harsh words and seeing the heart behind the frustrated speech wasn’t excusing behavior…it was showing that our child is still valued and loved even when he or she feels unlovable.

As much as I’m continually praying that my friend’s situation will soon change for the better, I’m almost glad I’ve been invited to walk this journey as God used it as the final element to open my eyes to ways I needed to show grace in my parenting.

Parenting is hard – I know just because God has revealed the direction He wants me to take in parenting I won’t always get it right. As long as I begin to err on the side of grace instead of boundaries and rules, I’ll be learning what God is teaching me…using His grace.

Grace doesn’t mean excusing behavior…grace means despite the behavior, you are loved!

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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