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Archive for April, 2015

“Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?’”

Matthew 16:24-26 (The Message)

I talk a lot on my blog about the blessings that God wants to lavish on His children.  That becoming a Christ follower isn’t just a “get out of jail free” card.  There is so much more to living a life as a believer in Christ than just assurance that we won’t live in hell for all eternity.

However, it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t also talk about some of the “tough” stuff that comes along with being a Christ follower.  Once you ask Jesus to be in charge of your life, life doesn’t automatically get easy.  Nope!  If that was the case, then everyone would be lined up waiting to join the club.  Sometimes, it seems, life gets much harder once you make the choice to “lay your life down for Christ” and let Him be in charge.

 

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I put “lay down your life for Christ” in quotes because someone who hasn’t grown up in church all their life or a new believer might be looking at me like, “Oh great, she’s using those big church words again, I’m outta here.”  What “lay down your life for Christ” means is simply this – it’s basically giving up control of what you want in life and saying, “Okay, God, I have desires, wishes, wants – but I trust You and what You want for me is better.” It’s really hard to make that choice.  It’s easy to say it, “Your will, God, not mine” (that’s the simple part) but the meaning behind it, being able to put actions to your words, is where it gets difficult.

Let me use an easy example to follow:  Food.  I have a love/hate relationship with food.  It’s my “go to” all too often when life gets stressful, exciting, sad…you get the picture.  If I choose to give God all of my life, then I need to make sure I include food in that list.  Saying to God, “I want You to be in control of my whole life – every part” is easy.  Putting that into practice when I’m staring at an Oreo donut from Sweetwater’s when I’m stressed and it would taste so good when God wants me to come to Him to tell Him about my stress instead is when it gets much harder.  It’s easy to open my mouth and forget my problems for a while with a yummy donut.  It’s harder to resist the “quick fix” but instead go for the long term solution – a closer relationship to God and giving my problems over to Someone who can fix them instead of trying to fix them myself or live in the land of denial.  There is a human part of me that is selfish and wants control.  “God gives grace, so why not eat the donut (even though I’m full), ask for forgiveness later and then ask God to fix my problem too?”  Yes, I could do that but when I deliberately run to something else instead of running to Him, that will hurt Him and cause a rift/break in our relationship. That’s when I have to decide which is more important to me – that donut or a closer relationship with God.

I’m not saying eating a donut is sin.  I’m saying when we tell God, “Your will, not mine” sometimes we are called on to make tough decisions:  Saying no to that promotion in order to say yes to being home to raise the family God entrusted to you.  Trusting God when He promises multiple times in the Bible that He will provide for His children and not to be afraid when the income isn’t there but the bills also don’t go away.

However, when we truly surrender our will to God’s and let Him have full control, something amazing happens.  Come back next time and I’ll share what that is.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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An Amazing Journey

“…and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Mark 10:8 (NIV)

 

This month we celebrated 16 years of married life, 18 years since I first met my husband, Bill.  In one sense, I feel like we’ve been married forever because of how closely we’re connected – a closeness that can only come from living life together. In another sense, it feels like we’re still in the honeymoon stage as I’m head over heels for the man I’m blessed to call my husband!  I can honestly say I’m more in love with him today than I was when I looked into his eyes and said, “I do.”

 

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Today we celebrate his birthday and I want to take the time to tell him how wonderful it’s been to share this journey called life with him leading the way.  He’s been the leader of our house since day one…but he has always led with gentleness, never wavering in unconditional love and commitment.  He’s a man of few words, but when he speaks, I know it will be something worth listening to.

Bill is the one who started our family on this writing journey back in 2011.  One day in 2010 he asked me about my dreams/desires/passions.   Nothing more was said until in January 2011 he presented me with tickets to a writer’s conference the following October.  He had every excuse he knew I would think of already refuted and that was the beginning of our journey.  He has unwaveringly supported, encouraged, listened, and offered opinions for the various projects that we have published together.  His ideas are valued, his insight is priceless, and the books that are for sale wouldn’t be what they are today without his opinion and wisdom.

 

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He has always supported me when I begin a sentence with, “Bill, I think God is telling me that we need to…” His usual response, “If God is speaking, then we need to listen.”  Other times it’s him that comes to me, “Cheri, I think God is telling us we need to…” and then I’m quick to support what God has revealed to him.  We are partners, through the good, bad and ugly, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

No one makes me smile quite as wide as he can with just one look.  No one can make me laugh with one word that reminds me of a shared moment from years past. No one else can finish my sentence that began with, “I think…” so accurately.

Emergency room visits, 24 hour plus deliveries, late night feedings and night terrors, puppy training, potty training, adolescence and temper tantrums – I wouldn’t want to have shared these moments with anyone else.  Sunset cruises around Lake Michigan, picnics in the living room on a snowy Sunday afternoon, bonfires in our backyard, family vacations cross country or two hours from home, building snowmen, raking leaves, and celebrating special holidays.  I can’t imagine sharing those special moments with anyone else and I can’t wait to share the rest of my life and all the new adventures that God has planned for us together for many years to come.

 

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Thank you, Bill, for asking me to be your wife back in 1998 and choosing to share all of life with me.

I thank God every day for the privilege of loving you.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

 

I wrote an earlier blog entitled God Trusts Me With His Silence.  During the latest trial that our family is still walking through, God showed me another blessing.  I’ve continued to ask God to show me what direction He wants me to take (keep waiting, start walking in a new direction, or continue obeying with the previous assignment).  I’ve also tried to put this trial into perspective.  It could be much worse than unemployment and while that brings about its own stresses, I have friends walking much more difficult roads.  Through it all, I’ve continued to listen to any sign of His still small voice speaking to me. Because when He chooses to speak, I want to be listening.

Today I got a hug from God.  I had felt Him nudging me to invite a lady I know only casually out for coffee.  When I found out my schedule was going to be a bit more free the next few weeks, I got excited thinking, “Now I have the time to ask her for coffee and get to know her more than superficially.”  However, at the same time, I’ve felt pressure to be looking for income to replace what we’ve lost, pressure to continue to work hard on the assignments God has previously called me to fulfill, and to play “catch up” on things I’ve neglected for far too long.  As a result…the invitation wasn’t spoken.

 

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Today I arrived for pickup a few minutes early and told our daughter, “I’ll be right back.  I want to catch up with our friend.”  So I approached her and we started chatting.  I ended up inviting her for coffee and she was very receptive, although the actual “get together” is being postponed an extra week.  (I think I’m going to pray about that and ask God to open my schedule up sooner as I don’t want to miss what may be a divine appointment.)  However, at the same time, she asked me a question that I wouldn’t have had an answer to if our family wasn’t walking this journey presently.  And I said that to her – that maybe one reason God was allowing me to be unemployed was so I could help her with resources I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

I say that as a reminder that it’s not all about me.  I am but a small piece in the puzzle of life and God’s biggest purpose – to point people to His Son so that they may experience eternal life.  As I pointed out in God Cares More About the Journey, this particular trial was never about my next job.  It was never about being unemployed.  It’s always only been about God ultimately getting the glory – fulfilling His purpose of pointing all of us toward His Son and eternal life in Heaven.

I’m so glad that God loves me enough to give me the privilege of being a small part of the puzzle to point others toward Him.  I’m not an evangelist.  I don’t do well when trying to explain my faith or how to have eternal life.  But I do love God with my whole heart and if people can see that difference in me and have patience as I try and find the words to explain what that means to me (and to them), then I’ll have done what God asks of me.  Ultimately, that’s all that matters.  And I smiled a little today when I realized that even when God remains silent about the “job,” He’s still speaking loud and clear about my real purpose on earth – pointing others toward Him.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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What do you say to that friend who longs for a child but doesn’t talk about it because, despite trying, it hasn’t happened?

 

What do you say to that friend who suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth… or is facing the anniversary of the death of her child gone way too soon?

 

What if “that friend” is YOU?

 

Instead of worrying what to say or instead of grieving alone…

Give your friend (or yourself):

 

Hope During Heartache

 Hope During Heartache

Allow the stories of 13 different men and women comfort you or your friend and help you or her to find hope during the heartache. Then…let these brave yet strong individuals offer you or your friend a chance to experience that hope.

 

Available on Amazon in paperback:

http://amzn.to/1CJVqXy

 

The perfect gift for Mother’s Day when you want to say the right thing but just aren’t sure what that is.

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ATTENTION ALL BOOK LOVERS!

 

I’m giving away ONE EBook. 

 Hope During Heartache

Please stop by…Here’s the link…

 

https://connywithay.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/contest-hope-during-heartbreak-1-free-e-book-giveaway/

 

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“…Moses stepped into the deep darkness because God was there. It’s the mystery part of following God. I feel like that is what we’re doing now. Instead of pulling back in fear, we’re stepping into the deep darknes of the unknown future…And the reason we’re doing it is because we know God is already there and more than anything, we want to be with Him.” (Robin Jones Gunn, Forever With You)

I’ve been discussing trials a lot lately.  You might be getting tired of hearing about them.  But I learned another truth about myself throughout this present journey.  I would rather step into the darkness where God is than travel a well-lit path on my own.

Like everyone, if you’re alive, you’ve had trials in one form or another throughout your life.  In the past, I’ve tried to do it through my own strength and my own “smarts.”  I may not have realized exactly that’s what I was doing but I definitely know I didn’t stop at the beginning of the trial, ask God to take charge, and then follow through by listening to (and for) His voice the entire way.  I would pray and ask for His help, but then would try to get things done, thinking my way was best or worse yet, thinking that my way was really His way and inviting Him into my plan instead of asking for His plan.

 

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However, I find comfort in the above verse…stepping into the darkness where God is.  A perfect illustration of this occurred when we first brought our new puppy home.  He had come from a pet store so everything involving “home” was new to him.  It was quite funny to see his reaction to a collar, leash, and even something simple like steps or a couch.  He was nervous, scared and only felt reassurance or comfort if he was touching us.  Throughout the weeks we’ve had him home, he has relaxed and begun to see his new home as an adventure, something to get excited about instead of something to fear and while he will wander away for a short time, he is happiest when he can be touching us.

That is how I feel with God.  Trials aren’t something I ask for but they are a reality in this life.  The longer we live, the more trials will cross our paths.  I don’t believe that God gives us trials as punishment but I do believe God uses trials to help us mature.  I’ve done trials in life both ways – with and without God.  And I’m a living testimony when I say I would much rather step into the darkness with God, trusting His way as the right way, than to live life trial free without Him.

Just like our puppy, I’m much happier when I’m touching God, doing life His way than when I’m trying to do life on my own.  I’m so thankful to have a loving Heavenly Father who wants me to cling to Him…every step of the way.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

 

 

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It’s almost Mother’s Day and time to start thinking about the perfect gift for your special friend, sister, or daughter.  Flowers die, candy gets eaten, but inspirational devotionals start on a page, get planted and bloom forever in one’s heart.

 

Whether she is already a mother, about to become a mother for the first time (or second or third…), or dreams about one day becoming a mother…here’s a great idea that will keep giving and giving and giving.

 

 

Spoken from the Heart: Parenting 101

 Parenting101_Kindle

AND

 

Spoken from the Heart: Parenting 101 Vol. 2

 Parenting2_Kindle

Available on Amazon in paperback

http://amzn.to/1H7aHGY

AND

http://amzn.to/1DinGDc

 

Short, light hearted, encouraging devotionals that can be read one a day for a month or all at once – whatever you choose.

Give the gift that keeps on blooming to the person you love this Mother’s Day.

 

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The Wrong Focus

“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” Colossians 3:1-2 (The Message)

I shared in He Sees My Heart Even When… that God wants to be invited into our messes, our sin, because God is the redeemer.  The following phrase was spoken by someone in our Bible study:  “He can take our messes and turn them into messages” if we will invite Him in to do some spring cleaning.

As I was reflecting about my deliberate binge recently (purposeful sin), I realized that while the external factor appeared to be emotional eating, it really could be summed up as a wrong focus.  How many times do we allow ourselves to get distracted with the symptoms of our situations instead of focusing on what God is doing to get us out of our situation?  As I was sitting here today writing blogs, sharing about the various ways God has reinforced His protection and provision, encouragement through others in similar circumstances who have reached the other side, and remembered the different lessons God is teaching me, my faith muscles were again being strengthened.

 

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My biggest prayer during this adventure is for me to learn the lesson God wants me to learn quickly so I don’t get sidetracked and wind up in the desert for forty years.  When I choose to have the wrong focus, that’s one way Satan allows me to be sidetracked.  You may wonder why I’m being so hard on myself when it’s just “eating a little too much.”  But it isn’t.  Not really.

God wants my heart – all of my heart. When I take my focus off God, when I get sidetracked with anything that isn’t pleasing to God, then my heart is divided and that is setting myself up for a long trek in the desert.

I want to keep my focus where it belongs – strengthening my faith, growing in ways that please my Father, and continuing to move in the direction that God wants me to take.

I’m so thankful God not only loved me when I invited Him into my binge but continues to loves me as I am working my way completely back on the path He wants me to take.  I know that His love was what reminded me of how far He’s brought our family in just four short weeks.  I also know that if we stay focused, the blessings He chooses to give when this adventure is finally over will be “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV)

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

 

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“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” I Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

Last time, through sharing my struggle with food, I talked about how God sees our heart for Him even when we deliberately choose to disobey.  Today I want to talk about the other side of that issue:  God seeing our hearts when we think we’re obeying but still falling short of the mark.

It is my opinion that our kids, for the most part, try to be obedient.  Whether that is because they love their dad and me and want to please us or whether they are trying to avoid a negative consequence, I’m not sure, but overall they have a heart to obey.  However, recently I saw in action that disobedience occurs…at times unintentionally.  There is nothing sweeter than to see the innocence in your child’s face when they think they are obeying even when you know they have missed the mark. That moment when innocence and confusion collide, when they realize they have messed up is when I can see a glimpse of their heart the brightest.  And I can’t apply a consequence to a misplaced behavior when their heart was in the right place.

 

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I think that’s how God sees us sometimes.  In fact I know He cares more about our heart than our actions.  He says in I Samuel 16:7, “…‘The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (NIV)

I’m glad that God judges us based on our heart, not based on our actions.  We aren’t perfect and therefore we will sin.  A lot.  Even when we try not to sin, we will still fall short and disobey at times.  Just as I can’t bring myself to punish one of my children when they disobey unintentionally, I’m glad God doesn’t punish me when I disobey unintentionally.

Instead of punishing or condemning our misguided behavior, God gently and lovingly gets our attention and then speaks truth into our life, giving us a chance to obey.  When done that way, I gladly obey and change my path.  God has done that multiple times in my life, in fact one time very recently.  In the summer of 2013, God used a friend to recommend a book to my husband and I: The Blessed Life.  We had been tithing faithfully, but the book showed us areas where we had been misguided and needed to change.  Our heart was in the right place, but our actions spoke a different story.  We gladly made those changes.  In 2015, we were again re-introduced to The Blessed Life through a simulcast at our church.  I was excited to go through the message again and this time, God pointed out another area where I was again disobeying, not intentionally, but disobeying nevertheless.  I’ve gladly changed directions and now have peace that my actions and my heart once again line up.

There will be times in our lives when we will disobey God deliberately and also unintentionally because we are sinful creatures.  However, God sees our heart and when we are His children, He continually calls us back to Him, wanting us to show true remorse to continue a close walk with Him.  I’m so glad that God sees my heart and “want” to obey even when my actions scream the opposite at times.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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“Search me, God, and know my heart;…” Psalm 139:23 (NIV)

 

I was having a tough day, not really for any particular reason.  I wasn’t extra crabby or lashing out at people…I was just struggling with my flesh and as a result not wanting to obey.

I’ve been drawing closer to God lately.  Trials and challenges can do that.  Actually, I’ve found for my own life, trials/challenges will either draw me closer to God or cause me to hide. Thankfully, my mode of operandi in the last few years has been to cling tighter to God when things get tough.  As a result of the deeper intimacy that has grown between us, He has started to talk to me again about obedience, namely self control.  I’ve talked in previous posts about my lifelong struggle with food.  God gets all the glory for the taming of the beast in the arena of food during the summer and fall of 2014.

January 5th I found out I was losing my job (major stressor) and while I fasted for three days for divine wisdom on what path to take, since then I’ve allowed the emotional eater in me free reign.  God, being the gentleman that He is, hasn’t condemned my behavior but has reminded me gently that if I truly want to keep growing closer to Him, I have to choose  – stepping toward obedience/self control or not.  It’s a simple choice, really – one or the other, but even with the best intentions, it’s hard!

 

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After starting over each day this week (not waiting until next Monday), as I was reaching for something not remotely considered healthy, I saw myself slipping back into past bad habits of hiding my weakness from God, hoping He wouldn’t see.  However, because I’ve grown closer to God, I didn’t want to do that. I made the choice instead to invite Him into my binge.  Now that just seemed weird – invite God into my disobedience.  But wait…I not only invited Him into the disobedient moment, but I told Him I was tired of giving into my lack of self control but wanted to want to obey.  Then I proceeded to eat what I had fixed…along with a few other things I hadn’t planned on having, none of which tasted very good but I ate anyway. Because of my continued disobedience in this area for a while and needing to re-break bad habits, I already knew that while not impossible, it would be difficult to restart.  But I had a desire to obey.

And you know what I found?  By inviting God into my mess, I started to feel some of His strength.  By telling God why I was behaving the way I was (not because I was rejecting His authority in my life, this was just an area I really struggle with), I started to feel His love.  By asking for God’s help instead of pushing Him away, I am sitting here typing this feeling hopeful.  And the best part?  Thoughts of food that had permeated my mind for weeks are starting to disappear. Thoughts of how much God loves me even when I deliberately sin are lingering instead.

God reminded me of the reasons to keep trying…to keep fighting with His help and of the rewards waiting for me when He helps me overcome in this area in my life. I’m not looking for a certain number on the scale.  I’m anticipating a closer relationship with my Father, a stronger relationship with my family, and a healthy balance of enjoying what God created for our pleasure while worshipping Who created it, not what was created.  I’m committed to a heart change, not a quick fix.

Would I rather have not had this moment of weakness today and instead started to build my self control muscle weeks ago?  Maybe.  Not because of the negative consequences that go along with sin (there are always negative consequences because God hates sin), but because I hate to grieve my Father.  However, He used even this mistake in my life to show me that He sees and loves my heart for Him even when my actions speak contrary.  I’m not waiting until Monday…or even “tomorrow” to hit the restart.  I’m taking the love and forgiveness God gave this afternoon when I showed true remorse and confessed my sin and after asking for His strength, I’ve already begun the journey toward self control again.

Will I mess up again before the heart change is fully developed?  Probably, but in the meantime, I will keep clinging to God and asking for forgiveness and accepting His love, inviting Him into my mess.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

 

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