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Archive for August, 2015

“So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven.” James 1:16 (The Message)

 

This past summer, my family and I were given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  My parents and my sister and her family offered to pay our way to fly across country and spend seven wonderful days in California – exploring, talking, laughing, and reconnecting.

Some of you may remember me talking about how my sister and I are really close and last year she was given the wonderful opportunity to work at a job she loves but that required them to relocate from the midwest to California. Despite the distance in miles, we take the time weekly to catch up on the phone and stay connected. When she and my parents offered to pay for the five of us to go visit for a week this summer, we were beyond blessed.  I’m not sure what I enjoyed more – the anticipation and planning of the trip or being there.

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The trip was a huge blessing from start to finish.  In addition to seeing where they live and all their new favorites, Bill was able to show our kids where he was stationed for four years when he served in the Navy.  Even though his ship has been decommissioned, the port in Alameda houses the U.S.S. Hornet and we were able to tour that ship, one similar to his old stomping ground.

In addition to touring the Navy ship, we visited Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf, the Oakland Zoo, Muir Woods (my first redwoods up close and personal) as well as lots of family time swimming and playing games.  We each had our own favorites from the trip, but I think we’d all agree that the time spent laughing, playing games, and just enjoying being together was the best part! It, of course, went way too fast, but we came home refreshed, relaxed, and completely filled to bursting with God’s goodness on our lives.

 

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While nothing is completely “perfect” here on Earth, this trip was pretty fantastic and I honestly can’t sit here and tell you anything disastrous that happened.  When I think about our trip, I only remember the fun, laughter, family jokes that were created, and look forward to planning another trip together very soon.

Come back next time to see how God’s blessings shine through even in the imperfect adventures.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

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Weeds

“The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”  Matthew 13:22 (NIV)

 

This summer my family and I enjoyed a month where we were on vacation, coming home from vacation or I left again and my husband was a single parent for a week. Either way, some things in our usual summer chore list were neglected because other issues took priority: mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, washing the clothes, cooking dinner, etc.

As a result, it was over a month that our garden relied on God to water it…and He did quite nicely.  However, besides continuing to grow our plants, when we finally had a chance to step out there, we noticed there was an overgrowth of weeds.  My husband’s first thought was that the garden was a total loss for the year, yet he put on long pants, shirt, and mosquito netting and ventured out there to see if anything could be salvaged.  After working a good three hours on a Friday night by himself, I trudged out there with him the next day and helped finish up.

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We were pleasantly surprised at what we discovered.  Yes, the weeds had tried to overtake our plants. Yes, there was a lot of hard work and sweat that needed to be put into removing them from the garden that was slowly being choked, and unfortunately, there were a few causalities – plants that were smaller, weaker and couldn’t survive the attack.  However, the garden as a whole has been reborn.  The plants that remained are strong, have flowers signaling the growth of vegetables, and have proven that with our continued diligence to keep the weeds away, they will produce a plentiful harvest.

This analogy reminds me of our Christian walk.  Sometimes we neglect certain areas in our life and “take a vacation.”  However, one day we realize we need to surrender those areas that have been overrun by weeds back to God and ask Him to help us restore order.  There might be a few causalities – relationships that are permanently damaged, negative behavior we have passed on to our children or friends, or other areas that will suffer major damage.  However, when we allow God to take control by identifying the problem areas we need to work on, ask for His strength to get rid of the bad habits and keep them gone, the parts that are left are healthy, strong, and able to bear much produce.

We’re never too far gone, my friend, to be weeded and produce a good crop.  We just have to ask God to help identify the weeds in our life and once identified eradicate those areas with His strength. When we ask, He’s more than happy to step in, because unlike me who hates to weed, God loves to remove the weeds from our lives (and He does a much better job!)

©  Cheri Swalwell 2015

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“God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.” Psalm 19:1 (The Message) 

I don’t think God called us to live a boring life.  Unfortunately, somewhere in the last fifteen years, I’ve lost some of my adventurous spirit and turned into a cautious mom.  God started my journey of embracing the adventure back in January and since then, He has given me many opportunities in 2015 to remember how much fun it can be to live a little on the wild side.

One such adventure occurred this summer.  It was the beginning of June and during the monsoon period that affected the midwest this year – that period of time when it rained more than not and we had flooding, although nothing as severe as Texas during the same time period.  It was close to my father-in-law’s birthday and we wanted to get him a specific present and knew we could get a good deal on it at a specific store.  So, after dinner one night we planned on leaving the kids home to clean up (their normal job) while my husband and I decided to run real quick, get the present, and come home.  As we were leaving, it started to rain.

My first thoughts were, “Maybe this is a dumb idea…we’re putting ourselves in harm’s way when we should be responsible and stay home until the rain stops,” but we had time constraints and it was just a little rain. We weren’t in the car more than two minutes when the flood gates opened and in all seriousness, the windshield which had been dry moments before was now in a wash out and the roads were flooding two to three feet high.

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However, I soon realized something. I’m not irresponsible to run an errand in the rain.  There is beauty and excitement to experience in the adventures of life.  Once I looked around at all the different sights, sounds, and smells of the torrential downpour, it was exciting to sit next to my husband and just relax, letting him worry about the road while I admired his strength.  It reminded me a little bit of the adventures we used to take when we were first married, sans kids.

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We ended up having a great time: laughing with other customers of the store while we wrung out our clothes from the 30 seconds we ran through the downpour to get into the store, reminiscing about the past and enjoying our impromptu date.

By the time we got home, the rain had almost stopped and our adventure was coming to a close. We were back to our roles as responsible adults…but for a brief moment that June night, we transported back to young love with less responsibility and more adventure.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

 

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“Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting…”

Ephesians 5:25-28 (The Message)

 

From the time our kids were little, my husband and I never formally discussed it, but it was always a given that when we are together as a family, he and I always sit next to each other and our kids are welcome to fit in on either side as they choose.  Sometimes, one would be on my lap and the other two would be on either side of us, each getting attention and feeling loved, but with the understanding that mom and dad’s rightful place are next to each other.

Two years ago we started attending the church we call home, and I loved watching how each one of the pastors’ families (and there are eight sets of pastors as well as at least four sets of elders) had the same “unspoken rule.”  I would watch from my seat toward the back, next to Bill, as one of the pastors joined his family in the front row and lovingly but firmly acknowledged his son as he affectionately “hugged” him while redirecting him to sit on the other side of his mom. Then, the pastor took his place next to his wife.  I love that.  Each of the different pastors has done that regularly – always showing love and affection for their children – but making it clear that mom and dad’s place is next to each other.

 

Victory Life Church

 

I love how our senior pastor talks about his wife during his sermons.  He lifts her up every opportunity that presents itself.  It’s obvious to see how much he genuinely loves her, possibly more, than when they got married years earlier.  It’s not just him either – in the life groups and when they are preaching, the other pastors show the same level of love for their wives as well.

I brought up that subject at dinner one night, curious if our kids knew the unspoken rule and in typical teenage fashion, while rolling their eyes, they were quick to let me know it wasn’t “unspoken” after all, but very well established.  I like to joke around with them on a regular basis and ask, “Do you want to know a secret?”  The eye roll comes out again when I get the reply, “It’s not a secret, mom.  We know, ‘You really love dad.’”

While I was at the awards night for my dad this summer, I had many opportunities to observe husbands interacting with their wives.  Pulling out chairs, holding hands while walking to the banquet room, holding open doors, putting their hand on the small of their wives’ backs to guide them, etc. Even the hosts who were presenting the awards were offering arms for the women to walk up and down the stairs so they wouldn’t fall in their beautiful dresses and heels.  It was beautiful to see such a huge display of respect throughout the entire event.

 

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I always knew my husband was chivalrous.  I love that he will stop me from walking across a parking lot if there is a car and I’m not paying attention.  I love that he holds my hand and goes first in a crowd so we don’t get separated, making a path for the whole family to follow. I love that he quietly lets our kids know that my place is next to him, always, – showing them he loves me while making sure they feel valued.  And, I love even more that the church we decided to call home has the same unspoken message throughout their families.  With such great examples of chivalry still present today, the next generation has many opportunities to learn and keep chivalry alive and growing for many years to come.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,” Ephesians 6:7 (NIV)

 

My pastor’s wife and myself were talking one day about marriage.  She wondered if people who claim that marriage is easy and naturally terrific are deceiving themselves, intentionally or unintentionally because a good marriage takes work. My response at the time was an attempt to explain that while in my own marriage there have definitely been hard times we have faced, they aren’t what I automatically think about when asked to describe life with my husband.  I’m filled instead with thoughts of all the good memories we have shared and have to dig deeper to find the difficulties to discuss.

However, it wasn’t until a few days later that I realized how much I agreed with her statement and what I was trying to say. Someone wise taught me when I was still very much single that marriage takes work, hard work.  I could choose to work at it from one of two angles:  the angle of prevention or the angle of repair.  I could either work hard at maintaining a level of intimacy, fun, laughter, forgiveness, and sense of togetherness with my husband or I could wait until difficulties arise and work at trying to repair or put out the little fires constantly.  I chose prevention.

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Prevention isn’t always easy.  It’s a daily choice to put my husband’s needs above my own.  It’s a choice that on days when I’m full of energy comes more naturally, yet is just as important (if not more important) on those days when I have nothing left to give yet am called upon anyway. It’s choosing to serve him with the right attitude, one of a helpmate.  It’s choosing to stand by his side and being his biggest cheerleader. It’s choosing to honor my husband with my words, actions, and yes, even my body. It’s choosing to put into practice the vows I spoke over 16 years ago – both as a reflection of the love I had for him then and the love that continues to grow today. It’s modeling for my daughter the kind of wife that brings joy to her husband and reflecting for my sons the kind of woman to look for in a wife someday, if they choose to get married.

Then, when the difficulties come (and they will), they won’t seem as insurmountable as they could if the foundation of love, honor, and respect as well as laughter, fun, and togetherness wasn’t already firmly established.  And then, when asked to describe my marriage, I can honestly say without reservation, “Yes, life has been difficult at times throughout our 16 years of marriage, but I would have to think hard to give you examples of those difficulties.  However, if you want to know about the great times we’ve experienced…how much time do you have?”

Prevention has definitely worked for me with our marriage.  Now if only I would practice the concept of prevention in other areas of my life – my health, eating well, cleaning and organizing the house…I think you get the picture.  Obviously, I’m a work in progress but my marriage proves that there is hope for me in the other areas as well.

How about you?  Are you a prevention type of person or do you work from the area of repair?

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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He Will Let Me Know

 

“I felt, rather than heard, a promise spoken directly into my heart: ‘Anna, by the time you next finish reading the Bible, you will have met the man that you will marry.’ ‘Lord, please don’t let me miss him. Make sure I know it’s him when I see him, okay?’”

Anna Thayer

I had the privilege of reading an article, “Of Pens, Poets, and Promises” in the July issue of Book Fun Magazine by Anna Thayer.  She was talking about how God whispered a promise in her heart that she would eventually get married, fulfilling a deep desire of hers.  I think it resonated with me because when I was single, I too cried out to God for years, asking Him to please fulfill that longing in my heart. I also related to her response after God spoke, “Lord, please don’t let me miss him…” She went on to say in the article that when she saw his picture, over a year after the above conversation, she just knew in her heart that he was the one.  I had to smile because, while God had never promised me I would get married, it was less than a month after meeting Bill that I knew in my heart I was done dating…God had fulfilled my request. I had complete peace Bill was the man I would spend the rest of my life with.

One thing I’ve learned about God in the past few years is that He never changes.  If He was willing to do something in the past, He’s still willing to do it now.  So, why then, sixteen years later, was I praying the same prayer to God again, “Lord, please don’t let me miss it…” this time not referring to the man I was to marry but to the job He was directing me too.

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For those of you who have been following my blog, you are well aware that God has had me on an exciting adventure that started to reach the climax in August of 2013, but in actuality began years earlier.  In February 2015, I had lost my job and earnestly began seeking what God had as the next chapter in my life.   So many friends talked with excitement about what He was going to do, while I was just afraid that I would make a mistake or walk in the wrong direction and constantly found myself pleading with Him, “Lord, please don’t let me miss it…”

Now that I’m on the other side of the journey, and I believe that I’m in the job God guided me to, I realize once again that when I walk in obedience to my Father, I will know that I know when I’m where He wants me.

I hope that the next time I’m faced with another journey in life (and I know it’s only a matter of time) I will remember.  God gave me my wonderful husband and a job that fulfills the gifts and talents that He created me with, so He is more than willing and actually wants to guide me to the right path for that particular journey as well.

I’m so glad I read “Of Pens, Poets, and Promises” in Book Fun Magazine this summer.  It not only took me down memory lane of when I fell head over heels in love with my husband but reminded me that God always guides us to that place of peace in our lives…if we will let Him.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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Sowing and Reaping

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:8 (NIV)

 

The older I get, the more I realize the truth behind the principle that what you sow, you will reap.  If you sow generously, you will reap generously.  If you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly. (II Corinthians 9:6)  And if you sow with a thankful, generous heart, you will be blessed generously as well.

Our family has been blessed multiple times over.  I have found that when we choose to unselfishly give to others, we receive tenfold in return.  We don’t give for that purpose, to be given back more, but I find that it always seems to happen.

Years ago, when our middle child was around preschool age, we thought our family was complete. A friend of mine had a little boy and so we chose to bless her with things we had.  While I truly wanted to bless her, there as a part of me that had a hard time letting go.  Not because I didn’t want her to have the “stuff” we had been blessed with, but because of the memories of such a sweet time in our family was over and I felt like I was giving up the memories along with the material items.  I had a harder time letting go of that age than I did of the clothes that represented it.  Another aspect, I think, that played a part in the difficulty of letting go was subconsciously I wouldn’t have minded if God continued to bless our home with more children. I wanted to keep little ones around…but that wasn’t the plan for our family, at least not then and so while I obeyed, I was still a little sad.

Fast forward four years and a miscarriage later. I was “planned by God” pregnant and we had no baby paraphernalia left.  This particular friend out gave what we had given her and continues to out give us today.  We also have another friend who has out given us time and again…between the two of them, I think they singlehandedly supplied our littlest with more and better than we could have ever dreamed possible.

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Fast forward to this spring.  We were cleaning out our clothes and we had boys and girls clothes (along with some toys and books) that needed to go. I am perfectly content with the size of our family now and so giving away comes much easier.  I’m also wiser and realize just because the clothes aren’t in the house, the memories remain in my heart.  God whispered the name of a friend on my heart and coincidently, she was coming for a visit the next day.  As I ushered the clothes, toys, and other things into her car, not two hours later my dear friend from above called and asked if she could drop “a few things off” for us.  What we had just given away was returned to us tenfold in bigger sizes and more appropriate aged toys.

Two months after that, God placed another lady into our lives.  During a casual conversation we were having, He whispered on my heart to give her a specific baby item we had.  It was practically brand new and a gift so I had originally thought about keeping it to use for grandkids, many years from now. However, God said, “she needs it more than you do.  Give it to her.”  So I did.  The very next day my parents took us on a shopping spree and blessed us with clothes for my husband and I that were so needed and not in our budget at this time.

While God doesn’t always work that fast, I have found for me that the sooner I obey His whispers, exactly as He asks and not my version of obedience, He does bless that obedience in ways that are greater than I could ever imagine.

Is there something God is asking of you?  I don’t always get it right, but I do try and follow as closely as possible to what He is asking of me.  Not because I know He will reward me, not looking for the reward, but always with the confidence that He will supply all our needs.  And, it’s really fun to know that I’m in God’s inner circle and He loves me enough to invite me to be part of blessing others.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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“Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” I Chronicles 29:13 (NIV)

 

In the summer of 2013, God wanted to teach our family a lesson on where our money truly came from.  It started with my income being reduced and a recommendation to read the book The Blessed Life.  God used that book to speak to my husband and me about how He wanted us to tithe…which was different than what we had been doing.  That was a faith test as my newly reduced income created more bills than present income and God was asking us to tithe more.  He didn’t stop there.  He challenged us in the area of our propane bill as well.  Every year they examine how much we used previously and then adjust our budget accordingly.  Our bill came back for the year of 2014 less than what we had paid in previous years.  God whispered in my heart that He wanted us to take that extra money and instead of paying ahead to cover unexpected fuel charges, to use it to bless others.

I have to admit – I was nervous approaching my husband.  I was already feeling like a failure for my income being reduced and not being able to replace it, and now God wanted me to ask my husband to use more of our money to bless others.  I had that conversation with Bill and as I should have expected, his response was, “If that is what God is telling you, then that is what we’ll do.”  End of discussion.

Each month the propane bill came, we used the extra money as a blessing offering.  And that year was the first of a two-year (so far) cold snap where our temperatures got colder than normal.  We were doing okay with our budget until the middle of May.  One week I remember thinking, “Good, I think we made it.  The propane won’t be filled again until fall and we can pay off our balance before they estimate our new budget.”  No sooner had I gotten home from grocery shopping when I found…the propane truck had filled our tank and we had a new bill.  It took a lot of scrimping that summer but we were able to pay the extra amount and get our balance to zero before the new budget was calculated.

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God began to bless us.  First, He allowed us to get into the co-op, something we had attempted in the fall of 2013 when we were doing whatever we could to reduce our monthly expenses to match our new income.  We were denied in 2013, but accepted in 2014.  Then, because of the colder than usual winter, our budgeted monthly bill went back up to its original monthly price and because we had consistently given that money away all year, it was still in the budget for 2014 and we didn’t notice the increase.

Something else exciting happened though, too.  We had started to enjoy giving God a blessing check every month and so we adjusted our budget in another area and continued the blessing for another year.  When God says it’s more blessed to give than receive, I believe that truth (Acts 20:35).  Our entire family enjoyed blessing others and so we continued, knowing that it pleased God and reminded us of the big picture.

This year, despite another colder than usual winter, our propane bill will be paid off by next month and we will begin to bank money toward our 2015 year.  I don’t know if our budgeted amount will increase, decrease, or stay the same…but I do know God used our propane bill to get our family thinking about others, reminded us where our money truly comes from, and who it ultimately belongs to.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

 

 

 

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Thank You Before

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1 (NIV)

 

A couple years ago I remember reading a Facebook post from one of our pastor’s wives stating that they had prayed ahead of time, before a shopping trip, for God to bless their money and help them find good deals and they were happy to report He had delivered above and beyond.  Just yesterday a good friend showed me a devotional that talked about praising God before you see the miracle in your life….not waiting until after or forgetting to praise Him at all. Another pastor at our church challenged our small group to praise God for our paychecks and the ability to stretch our dollars before we even begin working on the bills.

I realized that a few months ago, my husband got me started on that wonderful habit of praising God beforehand…fully expecting and believing He would work a miracle in our lives.  Every two weeks, we both praise God for the deals He is going to give us at the grocery store and how He is going to stretch our dollars to fit the list each time, because each trip the needs change in our household.  And every time, without fail, God delivers.  Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in smaller ways, but always delivers what we need, when we need it.

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Some weeks there is 5% or 15% off all groceries or apparel.  Another week it was $5 off every $50 I spent – and I spent $150 so I checked out three times and saved $15, along with coupons, mperks, and other rewards.  Still other weeks there are huge sales on certain things we need.  For instance, we get great deals on a specific brand of shampoo…combined with coupons I end up spending less than half of what the normal price would be and I get to stock up until the next time I get to do that again.

This week was grocery shopping week.  I had to buy a few extra items this week and I was a little worried I would have to dip into another account to pay for it.  We also had different food items to buy this time…so I didn’t really know how far my budget would stretch.  I gave it all to God ahead of time and thanked Him for the money to cover it.  And guess what?  I was able to spend cash on all of it and saved over $70 with all the coupons, deals, sale prices, etc.

I really do believe that it pleases God when we praise Him ahead of time just like I believe it pleases God when we choose to praise Him during the trials in our lives.  It’s a lot easier to praise Him when we see the deliverance, the blessings, the “good stuff,” but it requires a little more faith to praise Him before we see the results.

What if we don’t get the results we thought we should…or we thought He was going to give?  Praise Him anyway.  We don’t know the big picture.  We don’t know what He’s teaching us.  All we do know is that He is God and if we are choosing to obey, then He will work it all out for good eventually.

I may never be a coupon diva – but when I listen for His voice and try to obey with my spending, God creates sales and savings that continue to bless our family.  Praising Him ahead of time gets easier with practice…and I don’t forget to praise Him afterward too!  After all, everyone likes to hear the word “thank You!”

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

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