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Archive for January, 2015

Choosing Joy

“The key is not to rejoice for the trials, but to rejoice while in the trials.” Pastor Justin

 

December 14, 2014 marked eight years since we had our miscarriage.  December 14th was the day Pastor Justin spoke at our church about choosing joy, the third Advent candle.  And, it couldn’t have been a better message for me to hear that day.

The morning started out with worship as usual and any time our worship team sings a particular song I stop and say a silent “Thank You” to my Father.  Back in May 2014, there was a women’s retreat at our church and God gave me a promise revolving around the Scripture, II Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (NIV) God always has our worship team play a particular song they wrote titled, New Creation, when He wants to remind me of that promise – from Him to me.  On December 14th, the worship leader decided to play that song and I felt loved…by my Father.

The sermon continued on with the same theme, with Pastor Justin referencing II Corinthians 5:17 as well, further reinforcing what God was trying to remind me of.  He also spoke with enthusiasm about Romans 8:28, which states, “ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  (NIV) He asked the question, “How do we find joy in circumstances that are beyond our control – death of a marriage, a loved one, job loss?” And his answer was the above quote.  “We don’t thank God for the trial, but we choose to rejoice while in the trial.”

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I will admit…it took me a long time to figure that one out.  And while I encourage others who are or have gone through trials to feel their emotions, not try to stuff them or ignore them or pretend they aren’t there, but instead to bring those feelings to God, I have learned that even during the hardest of trials, as a child of God, we can have hope during the trials.  Just as I learned I can choose worry or peace, I can choose thankfulness while in heartache.

I thought back over the last eight years of my life, and I realized God has brought a lot of good out of our journey.  He allowed me to fulfill a promise I made to Him in July of 2007, publishing a book offering hope to those who are hurting from the loss of a child.  I have been able to encourage and understand friends and even strangers who have lost not just a child but any family member with understanding I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

 

Hope During Heartache

And while I’m not sure I’m at the place where I can thank God we lost a child, in one sense, I don’t feel like he’s lost.  I feel like he’s waiting.  I know that I will meet him in Heaven someday. I have peace because he never experienced pain here on earth. Instead of hearing my voice when he was born…he was greeted by GOD! Most importantly, having a miscarriage helped me to see life from a heavenly perspective instead of focusing on things of this earth. I know when it’s my time to leave this earth, I will be introduced to him and I can tell him what his early homecoming was able to accomplish on earth.

Thank you, Pastor Justin, for your message on December 14th.  It was more meaningful than you realize.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

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“Worry is a choice.  It is addictive, habit forming.  Jesus gives me His peace. I have to make the choice to stop worrying and choose peace.”

Pastor Sunnock

 

On the second week of Advent, our pastor spoke about peace.  If you have ever felt the peace of God, you’ll understand when I say it’s like no other peaceful feeling you have ever experienced.  I believe that is because when you receive God’s peace, you are receiving peace from the Holy Spirit – a person, not a feeling.  It is not dependent upon the circumstances around you.  Instead of beginning outside with a situation and working its way into your heart, it starts in your heart where the Holy Spirit lives and bubbles outside you, making it something others see and want to experience for themselves.

I had a good friend years ago whom I met through work.  Her life was one of chaos.  They were currently raising biological, foster, and adoptive children and they had 13 at the time.  Every time I would go for a home visit, their house was always so peaceful.  I never understood how so many children and so much noise were described as so peaceful.  It’s because of what radiated out of them toward others.  She was a wonderful example of what God’s peace looks like.

Toward the end of the message, our pastor raised a challenge.  He stated that worry was a choice.  We could choose worry in our lives…or we could choose to put away worry and choose peace.  As someone who has struggled with fear versus faith, I decided what a better time to put away worry for good than right before Christmas.  It seems as though there is always something to worry about – finances, health, family, safety, the government…but God knows all that.  It’s still a choice.  I decided that I would lay aside worry…every time I had an opportunity to feel afraid, I would choose to trust God, inviting in His peace.  From past experience, when I choose to lay aside a stronghold, there is an enemy who doesn’t want me to see victory.  Now I wasn’t inviting him into my life to wreak havoc, but I knew from I Peter 5:7 to “be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (NIV) There are two areas in my life that are easy targets for me:  Financial security for my family and my family’s safety and health.  I was ready for his tricks…or so I thought.

We weren’t home from church more than thirty minutes when the first test came…finances in the form of the credit card bill.  We have been working on eliminating debt and we had talked that when the bill came, we were going to sit down and discuss a plan of attack.  So, when the bill actually arrived, I was able to put it to the side until we were ready for our discussion, confident that God was in this, He would give us wisdom to get it paid off quickly, and our finances would begin to look healthy.  We were unified in our goal and we were asking God for His help – inviting peace and choosing not to worry.

The second test came approximately six hours later.  We live in the Midwest and it was December.  However, despite a very abnormally cold beginning to the season, it was a nice mild weekend.  We have a black lab who turned 12 years old the day before, so he’s getting up there in age and has always lived inside.  Well, this particular night, for some unknown reason, everyone in the house thought someone else had brought our pet inside.  When we went to bed, my husband remarked he thought it was strange he hadn’t seen Max all night.  My first thought was panic…for a number of reasons.  Wild animals, a neighborhood dog that has attacked him twice in the past or just the fact he’s jet black and it was 10:30 at night.  If he had run away, we wouldn’t be able to see him.  I opened the door and he was sitting right there, a little indignant to have been forgotten about for six hours.  Of course as he walks in, I hear sneezing and coughing so my first thought was “pneumonia…bronchitis…I killed our dog right before Christmas.”

I chose peace…I prayed, trusting my Heavenly Father with my four-legged child and went to sleep.  He got extra attention from our kids and except for feeling chilled, he was no worse for the wear.

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The third test came Monday morning.  I received a text from my dad that he had gone back into atrial fibrillation around 3 AM that morning.  That was a big deal because in June 2014, he had surgery to heal him completely of his atrial fibrillation.  Despite the healing that had occurred, my dad was discouraged and he was still out of rhythm more than six hours later.  I, however, didn’t feel fear like I normally would.  I felt God’s peace and I tried to encourage him to cling to the promise of his healing as well.  By 12:30 PM he was back in rhythm but had two long days to wait to see his cardiologist.  Wednesday afternoon I received a phone call stating the doctor wasn’t worried either, they had a new protocol “in case it happens again, but let’s hope it doesn’t” and that was it.  If I had worried, I would have wasted two days.  Instead, I chose God’s peace and we rejoiced with the answer.

I thought the testing was over.  I thought I had passed…but I forgot to watch for the final blow of the enemy to try and knock me out.  As a result, he almost succeeded.  My husband and I just completed a six month elimination diet (he was much more faithful than I was) but I had gained some major health benefits along with him.  However, then Thanksgiving came and I had dropped off the wagon some…not quite climbing back up since Christmas was right around the corner.  Well, I think my body was rejecting the sugar overload and sudden absorption of carbs and processed food because I started to feel funny.  I took my blood pressure and it was stroke level.  I took it again a little later and it was prehypertension level but not nearly as high as the first reading.  I have had issues with high blood pressure periodically in life which is why we have a home monitoring cuff.  But my thoughts immediately went to, “my kids are going to lose their mother.  I will die and they won’t remember me.”  It doesn’t help when your littlest plays the “Thank You, Jesus” game by saying, “Thank You, Jesus, that I get to be with my mommy forever.”   I didn’t realize I was choosing worry at first, but I was.  I was imaging all sorts of scenarios that weren’t going to happen.  Every book I had read, every sad story I had heard, every worst case scenario I had experienced through others became forefront in my mind as was going to happen to me.

Then God reminded me…very softly and gently.  About the credit card bill.  About Max being left outside for six hours.  About my dad’s health.  And about how I chose peace every single time.  What about now? I thanked Him for that reminder and in that moment, I chose peace.  I realized I was allowing the enemy freedom with my thoughts and he was having fun feeding me lies.  As soon as I chose peace, my blood pressure lowered (imagine that!).

Yes, my friends, worry is a choice.  Will I choose correctly every time? Obviously not.  But God is right there to remind me that I always have a choice.  What is your choice?

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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Hope During the Wait

“My point is this: we may never get to see the end result of God’s plan. We have no way of knowing how long it will take…It may be years beyond us. We may be a step in the middle of the plan, and generations beyond us may be counting on us to do our part now. Keep going! Have faith that God will take care of what is beyond your line of vision.” Jessie Clemence

 

In The Process of Hope, I touched upon Hebrews 11 and the lives of Biblical men and women who were given promises by God that they never saw the completion of in their lifetime.  Abraham, Moses’ parents, and Moses himself were but a few of the famous people in the Bible who showed what real faith looks like.

As I study the Bible and grow closer in my relationship to God, I feel there are three elements needed in order for hope to fully blossom in a Christ follower’s life.  The first is that my focus needs to shift from an earthly perspective to a Heavenly perspective.  Instead of focusing on what the promise means for me, the focus becomes, “What role does God want me to play in His plan…for His greater good?”

Second, I believe that most of the time when God calls us to an assignment, at least part of the requirements of the job will line up with our gifts and talents or experience.  If you look at Abraham’s promise from God, Abraham and Sarah’s desire was to have a child of their own.  God speaks very clearly in Genesis 17:1-2: “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (NIV) God didn’t give Abraham that promise for Abraham. He gave Abraham that promise because God knew His glory and His promise would be fulfilled through Abraham. However…at the same time, what was the one thing Abraham and Sarah wanted more than anything? A child. God took the desires of their heart and fulfilled His promise through their desires.

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Another example in the Bible is Joseph.  Joseph wasn’t put in the position of power for the sake of Joseph. He had dreams about that promise when he was a teenager, but they weren’t fulfilled until he was much older.  However, God had created Joseph’s personality and leadership abilities and used those to fulfill His goals for His glory.

The last element I believe that completes the puzzle is this: Contentment.  God wants me to enjoy the moment I’m living in and embrace fully where I am all while continuing to have hope about what God has planned for my future.  He doesn’t want me living for the future and missing out on the blessings He has for me now.  He doesn’t want me missing out on blessing others because I’m too focused on myself, holding tight to what I’ve been given.  He wants me living with open hands, experiencing the blessings He has given me to enjoy now while hopeful for a great future as I continue to obey His commands and walk in the direction He asked.

God has great plans for each one of His children. Those plans will be fulfilled not because of us or necessarily for us, but for Him. Wherever we are in the process isn’t what’s amazing.  That He wants to use us as part of His big picture is!

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“Challenges are ways God can draw us in and teach us…ways to introduce in our lives hope…Once I have faith in my life, than I am given the hope of how He will take care of me in the future.”    Pastor James Sunnock

 

This past December our pastor began a series about Advent.  I had never celebrated Advent before and honestly didn’t know what it was.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but when our pastor said he was going to teach about Advent, I equated it with Lent or something similar that is celebrated before Easter.  In a way it kind of is…it’s a chance to focus for a full month on the real reason we celebrate Christmas which includes Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.  There are five candles total, three purple and one pink and then one big white one in the middle that is reserved for Christmas Day.  Each of the purple/pink candles represents a word that families are encouraged to meditate on for one week each.  The first week a purple candle which symbolizes “hope” is lit. Then the second week, another purple candle “peace” is lit, and combines with “hope.” The third week the pink candle “joy” is added to the previous candles, and finally the fourth week the last purple candle, “love” is lit as well.  Each week the candles burn brighter as their flames join together and then on Christmas Day, when the big white candle in the middle, representing Jesus as a baby is also lit, the light being given off from all five candles is very bright.

The sermon that most intrigued me was the first one…about hope!  Through the message I was able to understand what God’s hope is versus the imitation that the world offers.  Hope starts with reading God’s Word and personalizing it for myself.  Have you ever read the Bible and asked God for clarity for a problem in your life and then hours, days, sometimes even a week later a Bible verse will “pop” into your head and you wonder where it came from?  Yet, it’s a verse that speaks to exactly what you’re struggling with and offers a glimpse of hope?

Almost two years ago, we started attending what is now our church home and the pastors have really taught me how to press in and listen for God’s voice.  To not be ashamed to ask Him questions…and then to patiently wait for the answers.  When I do that, the answer I get is one where I know that I know that I know it’s something God wants me to do or a promise that God has given me.

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Once I’ve gotten that promise or call to obey in a certain area, then it’s time for me to step out in faith.  Usually that requires consistent and sometimes hard work on my part.  And, usually, what I’ve been asked to do doesn’t focus on me or my needs but on helping to ease someone else’s burden…ministering to God’s children or furthering His kingdom or a combination of the two.  God blesses obedience…in His time.  All the people of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 were blessed for their obedience even if they didn’t see the final result of that obedience in their lifetime.  Abraham was granted a son, Moses’ mother didn’t have to watch her son die, and Noah and his family were saved in the flood instead of dying with the rest of the people.

Faith that I heard God correctly and then action by obeying what He has called me to do bring hope.  Genuine hope brings peace…and joy.  When I know that I know that I know I’m walking in the path God wants me to walk in, then I know I’m resting in hope, not wishful thinking.

I’m grateful God chose to bless me with my word for 2015 back in October 2014.  I’m also grateful He allowed me to struggle with whether or not hope was something I wanted or not.  Because wishful thinking? No thanks, I’ll pass.  But genuine, Biblical hope – absolutely!  I don’t mind waiting for God’s timing to fulfill the promises He whispered on my heart that He wants to fulfill in my life…because while I’m waiting for them to occur, I’m filled with peace and joy.  Peace in the waiting and joy in knowing that I’m part of a bigger picture…that my obedience to my Father is being used for a greater mission than just receiving blessings in my own life.  My choice might just help change someone else’s future for all eternity.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

 

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“Hope is not in a specific outcome, our hope is in God!” Pastor James Sunnock

Every year I ask God for a special word for the following year.  For 2015, God granted my request earlier than usual.  He revealed the word He wanted to give me back in October:  Hope.  I asked for confirmation and everywhere I turned, I was seeing the word “hope” so I was confident I had heard Him correctly.

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After realizing hope was the word I was given, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to accept.  To me, hope meant that whatever we were “hoping” for wasn’t going to happen but instead was going to stay out in the distance and I didn’t want that.  I was tired and wanted to see progress in the areas where I had been faithful and while I didn’t ask God for a new word, I “hoped” maybe I didn’t fully understand the definition of what hope was.

At the same time, I was reading in Hebrews, especially Hebrews 11 which is otherwise known as the famous faith chapter of the Bible and got even more discouraged.  You see, in that particular chapter, most of the people named were known for their great faith (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and  Moses’ parents to name a few) but as it states very clearly in verse 39, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”  (NIV)  I wondered if God was telling me my dreams of better times were just that…dreams, wishful thinking, unrealistic goals.  What made me think I was special or different from the people in the Bible?  If they died still “hoping,” then what made me think my life would have an alternate ending?  Instead of being hopeful, I was quickly feeling hopeless.

However, as God’s child, I don’t believe He wanted me discouraged.  And when I’m honestly confused and not being stubborn, He also loves me enough to sort out that confusion and bring clarity.

So I began asking…and reading His Word to find out what exactly was the difference between wishful thinking and true hope.  They may look the same on the outside, but internally they are very different.  Wishful thinking is just that…a wish.  There is always a question mark as to whether or not what I’m desiring will occur or not.  And, for me, I find that wishful thinking usually centers around my wants, my wishes.  A more selfish type of hope.  A “What’s in it for me?” question and “How will this affect my life?” instead of how can my actions and response to this mission I’m called to do help fulfill Jesus’ goals for my life?

So then my question turned to how do I attain genuine hope and not wishful thinking?  And I grappled with that question for about six weeks…until God shared the final puzzle piece with me at the beginning of our church’s advent observation.

Come back next time and find out how God showed me the Truth about the word hope.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,”  Ephesians 3:17-18 (NIV)

On the way home from school last fall with our Kindergartener, he casually mentioned how three kids in his class used bad words.  He informed me that two used the “s” word (stupid, of course) and the last one used God’s name in vain.  We reinforced how that’s not the words we use in our house and it was sad his friends were using those words.  There was no condemnation toward his friends, just reinforcement we choose a different path.

Fast forward a few hours and our middle child came to inform me that her younger brother just used God’s name in vain himself. My first response was concern, then a little anger. Anger at the situation and “growing trend” with our youngest, not anger at our child. We choose not to talk that way in our house and we have taught our children how much that hurts God’s heart when His name is used the wrong way. The part that bothered me the most was this isn’t the first time our youngest has used that phrase. So I turned to my husband and very emphatically insisted, “It’s time you had a conversation with him. He obviously isn’t getting the message from me.”

I heard our littlest in the other room crying…not because he was sorry for what he did, but because he knew he messed up and was going to get in trouble. I have to admit, I had little sympathy for him at that point. This is a lesson we’ve discussed multiple times and I was feeling like the “bad mom” for not being able to solve it quickly.

 

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I called him over to me with every intention of having his dad, who was sitting next to me, address the issue since dad’s words carry more weight. However, before I knew it, words were coming out of my mouth that I didn’t intend to say. The conversation went something like this:

“Do you know why we don’t say God’s name like that?”

Our littlest nodding his head, still crying.

“It hurts God’s heart when we talk about Him like that.  Did you make a mistake? Was it an accident?”

Again, nodding his head, crying a little less this time.

“You know, as God’s child, He knows that you’re going to make mistakes and He’s not mad at you.  He just wants you to say you’re sorry and try not to make the mistake again.”

Less crying and looking at me now.

“Are you God’s child?  Did you ask Jesus into your heart?”

“Yes.”

“Okay then, as God’s child, if you ask Him for forgiveness, tell Him you’re sorry, He will forgive you and it will be as if you didn’t say it.  But you have to ask.  He’s not mad.  He just wants to hear you say you’re sorry and that you will try to do better next time.”

Silence as he thought about what I said.

“Do you want to ask Jesus to forgive you?”

“You do it.”

“I can’t do it for you.  You have to do the asking because you are the one who made the mistake.”

He hopped off my lap, went into the other room and had a conversation with his Father by himself.  He then came back and the crying was over.

All the while this conversation that I never intended to have was taking place, my husband was looking at me with a question in his eyes.  I think he was wondering why I had taken over when I had, only two minutes earlier, told him he needed to handle it because my approach wasn’t effective.

And you know what?  My approach wouldn’t have been effective. When I say those weren’t the words I intended to say, I meant it.  I was going to talk firmly, with probably a raised voice to make sure he understood how serious I was taking his mistake and since this wasn’t the first offence, I was thinking of punishment/consequences/privileges lost (although I had no idea what they would be).

Instead, God allowed the Holy Spirit to step in and teach me the interaction He wanted me to have with our kids. I’m so glad I obeyed and let the Holy Spirit take over.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t me very present in the interaction.  It just means that the words I thought needed to be said were overridden by words that were whispered on my heart to be shared.

As I reflected this morning about the conversation, I started thinking about my role as a parent.  Yes, I was given authority by God to “raise children from infancy into (hopefully) responsible adults.”  But you know what? I was given authority to nurture, love, guide, and protect, not rule with an iron first.  Do I want my kids fearing their Heavenly Father (or me) or do I want them learning that God welcomes us with open arms when we make a mistake and ask forgiveness?  We all need a healthy fear of those in authority, but that truth should be clothed in love.  The truth is God loves us.  Sometimes love is shown through trials and difficulties but because we’re His children, all our sins, deliberate or accidental, are covered with Jesus’ blood.  As a result, we can approach God even or especially when we’ve sinned as one who is loved, not condemned. That is the lesson I think God wanted me to remind my son of.  Maybe He realized I needed that reminder myself.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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Kids Notice

“One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: ‘Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.’ After laying hands on them, he left.” Matthew 19:13-15 (The Message)

 

Our youngest loves his teacher. He was blessed last year to have two wonderful preschool teachers and this year he is blessed to have an incredible kindergarten teacher. I’ve seen her in action and yes, she is amazing.  If he has to be away from me for eight hours a day, I want him to be with her.  She is loving, kind, has endless patience, and makes the day fun. She has helped our five-year-old blossom at school into the fun loving, humorous, creative boy that we see at home.

A couple of months ago she was gone for two days and he had a substitute.  We prepared him ahead of time and so when I went and picked him up, I asked how she was, fully expecting to hear great things.  His response, “She yelled…a lot.”  I asked him why she was yelling and his response was, “Because kids kept making bad choices.”

Now, whether or not she really did yell a lot or just occasionally, whether she had “angry eyes” or just used a level of voice above a whisper, I don’t know.  The point I’m making is this: Kids notice.  Our littlest has never once come home and said his regular teacher yells.  Not once.  So, whether she has yelled and he doesn’t notice or pay attention because of how she keeps his emotional love tank filled or maybe she is truly gifted and really doesn’t yell at all.

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It got me thinking about how he would describe me.  Would he describe me as the teacher he adores?  Or would he describe me as his substitute – “she yelled…a lot.”  I’m thinking I wouldn’t pass the test.

Kids notice.  They know when we’re being fake and they know when we’re genuine.  They know when we pass along superficial compliments and they know when we’re authentically interested in their lives, their passions, their hobbies.  They are more apt to give grace when we have consistently filled their love tanks than when we barely deposit anything.

I have a choice to make.  I can choose to be more like Jesus, who filled love tanks wherever He went and left people in a better condition than when He first met them.  Or I can rush around, spending my energy on things that don’t matter and don’t last, living with regrets and having to always fix relationships instead of investing in them ahead of time so that when stress comes, people’s response to me is with grace.

I’m glad our youngest had a substitute teacher a few months ago and I’m glad God cared enough about my family to ask me to “Fast yelling.”  It got me thinking about which type of person I want to be.  I’m making my choice…because kids notice and I want mine to look back on their childhood as having had full love tanks, not she “yelled…a lot.”

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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