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Archive for December, 2015

Grief

“He heals the heartbroken and bandages their wounds…” Psalm 147: 3 (Message)

 

I’ve been struggling for a few weeks now.  Maybe a few months.  It seems like the majority of the time I’m exhausted, irritable, and my level of caring about things isn’t as high as it should be or usually is.  I kept thinking there was something wrong with me.  My attitude was more negative than usual, my thoughts darker, and Eyeore was back on an extended vacation when I thought Tigger had returned.  I attributed it to burnout and figured, “I have five days off at Thanksgiving.  We’ll be busy, but I’ll try to catch up on sleep, I’ll have fun with family and activities and traditions and Tigger will stay while kicking Eyeore out for good.”

The Monday after Thanksgiving brought with it a whole new set of worries (more about that in another blog) and I was more exhausted than before.  I called on a few close friends and asked them to pray with/for me because I didn’t like who I was and figured it had to be more than normal “I’ve been busy” exhaustion. I kept praying prayers here and there until finally, on Tuesday, I climbed on the treadmill and while walking, started communicating with my Father, really communicating.

I asked Him what was wrong with me. I knew I loved Him.  I knew I wanted to be obedient. I knew a lot of things… so why did I feel like the biggest failure and like I was disappointing Him more than myself? And why couldn’t I snap out of this funk? It was getting old.  I got silent but kept walking… and He filled my spirit with one word: Grief.

Grief, Lord?  Did I hear You right? What do I have to be grieving? You have brought our family out of financial problems, You have showered us with blessings all year… wouldn’t I be a spoiled brat to grieve? I have no right.”

 And then He reminded me.  In May 2013, God gave me a verse:  II Corinthians 5:17 (NIV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  Around the beginning of January, God reminded me that while “the new is here” is exciting (embrace the adventure), sometimes we have to make room for the new by getting rid of the old.  And sometimes, saying goodbye hurts!

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God allowed me to walk back through 2015.  At the time you read this, it will have just been one year since we lost our beloved 12-year-old dog suddenly.  He was here, we thought he was fine, and then in five hours he went from “maybe he’s sick?” to dead.  That was a Tuesday.  We welcomed our new puppy four days later… on Saturday.  Four of the five of us got the flu starting on Sunday… while potty training a puppy. Even though I cried more tears than I thought possible between Tuesday and Friday, it still wasn’t much time to grieve.

While losing our beloved Max was HARD, the new is a hypoallergenic mix who is such a sweetheart.  Without the fur of a black lab floating all around the house, allergies have improved and with them, Bill’s health is steadily getting stronger.

 

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Family:  In 2014 my sister and her family moved to California. I cried when she left, but also knew I needed to let her go with grace.  This was a good thing for them and because I loved them, I was happy for them.  This summer we were blessed with spending seven days with them at their house. Seven fun-filled, all expenses paid days.  That trip cemented two truths:  I miss my sister. She is “home.”  She isn’t coming back.  She isn’t on vacation.  She loves it there and it agrees with her.  While I’m still happy for her, visits in person will be few and far between.  We were hoping to all meet up in Florida this February to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary, but God closed that door. Thankful for weekly phone calls and Skype. Grief.

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I think you get the idea.  There is more, but the point isn’t about the hard – it’s about how God shows up when we ask.  I had no idea what my problem was.  I thought it was just burn out and exhaustion, yet I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t “relax.”  It was grief.

Because I’ve figured out the issue, am I automatically cured?  No, but now I know it’s not that I’m a brat.  I have very real emotions that God wants to help me deal with.  Two weeks ago, our family dealt with the anniversary of our miscarriage (eight years) and our dog last year (within two days of each other).  I keep taking it to God and He does heal the heart.

Out with the old, in with the new.  How very fitting for the beginning of the new year: 2016. While the new can be very exciting, it’s okay to mourn the old a little bit. God knows.  He understands, and it does make it easier knowing He’s comforting me through the pain and that while I at times feel like a brat… it’s called being human.

Take the time to grieve, to feel.  Then let God lead you into the new with excitement and joy for what blessings He’s waiting to give. Because if you are His child, trust me, He has blessings He can’t wait to give to you!

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

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Truth AND Grace

“He rules the world with truth and grace…” (Joy to the World)

 

It’s Christmas time – one of my favorite times of the year.  As a result, we get to sing my favorite Christmas carols over and over and over.  Because we sing them so often, sometimes I don’t pay attention to the words I’m singing.  However, last weekend, I was singing a classic Christmas carol and the words jumped off the screen at me.  “He rules the world with truth and grace…”

Truth AND Grace.  Not just truth.  Not just grace.  Both together is the best blend.  This spoke volumes to me as we are in the thick of parenting right now.  Elementary school.  Middle school.  High school.  Each bringing its own challenges and each bringing sweet rewards.  Innocence.  Attitudes. Forgetfulness. Kindness. Hormones. Love.  And when done correctly, lots of memory making and laughter thrown in for good measure.

I tend to take myself too seriously. As a recovering perfectionist, I don’t like making mistakes.  My whole life I’ve wanted to be a wife and mother and it’s too important of a job to make mistakes.  My children’s lives are at stake… or so I thought.  And yes, to a degree they are.  I don’t want to miss out on teaching them the basics, the important aspects they need for becoming self-sufficient, hardworking members of society.  More importantly, I don’t want to miss important opportunities to teach them about a relationship with Jesus Christ because that has eternal consequences.  But, cushioning life’s lessons in between lots of laughter and fun makes the lessons easier to learn.

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Truth cushioned in grace.  Shouldn’t I follow the example of the very person I’m trying to introduce my children too?  If Jesus cushioned His truth, the Truth, in grace, shouldn’t I do the same?  But what does that look like?  Truth reminds me that there are consequences to our actions.  Grace reminds me to look at the heart and use love to cushion the consequences.  It’s always better to err on the side of love.

I think I should sing Christmas carols all year long to remind me to balance out truth with grace… always. I never want to run out of grace with those I love, those I have contact with either regularly or happen to meet only once.  May I be remembered as someone who freely gave grace because while truth is necessary, sprinkled with plenty of grace it’s easier to swallow.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

 

 

 

 

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A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (Matthew 1, NIV)

 

A few weeks ago I was reading my daily Bible devotions and came across Matthew 1.  I normally skip through the genealogies, but this particular morning, I decided to sit and savor the order of people who form the lineage of Jesus Christ.

Two particular truths struck me that morning and today I would like to focus on one, saving the other for another day.  I noticed a few things:  God mentions a few women in the chronology, not many but a few.  Some He mentions by name, others He refers to as “the wife of…” I mention that because if God wants to highlight certain people, He will, regardless of their gender.

The other thing that struck me as I was reading was that the lineage displayed is through the line of Joseph.  I’m not a Biblical scholar and I’m sure there is a very valid reason for that lineage being highlighted, but it brought out a truth to me that I believe God wanted me to grasp.

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Joseph was Jesus’ step father.  God was Jesus’ father.  Mary was Jesus’ biological mother.  He grew inside her, was half man/half God so half of his biological makeup had Mary’s DNA coursing through it – not Joseph.  Joseph was a step dad.  Yet, God saw fit to spend 16 verses talking about the lineage of Joseph that Jesus was born into.  He didn’t spend that amount of time on Mary’s lineage, Jesus’ biological lineage, but instead on the husband of the family, the step dad.

Jesus was adopted.  We are adopted.  I am not Jewish.  According to the Bible, I am a Gentile.  I had to be adopted into God’s family in order to become His daughter.  God loves me as much as His biological children, my Jewish sisters and brothers. God didn’t offer a distinction in the lineage of Jesus in Matthew 1, and He doesn’t distinguish between me and His chosen people.  We are all saved who believe in Him.  We are all going to Heaven if we believe in Jesus Christ, confess our sins, and ask Jesus to be Lord of our lives.

What a wonderful truth to think about on Christmas Eve, the day before we celebrate Christ’s birthday.  God doesn’t care if we’re adopted or biological.  He wants us all to be part of His family and offered the best way for that to happen.  He let go of His Son for 33 years, showing us a glimpse of what a real relationship with Him would look like and inviting everyone to accept His free gift.

 

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Merry Christmas to all my friends and family!  May you all know the love God has for us – whether adopted or biological.  God loves you!  If you don’t know what that love feels like for yourself, feel free to contact me at clSwalwell99@gmail.com and I will be happy to talk to you about it further.  He wants us all to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas together – as one big family!

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:17 (NIV)

 

God’s been working with me on this concept for a long time now. I have many friends who remind me that Satan is the one who condemns, but God is the One who convicts.  I used to think, “Who cares what you call it?  It still feels awful.”

But, that’s simply not true.  I was still living under condemnation when I uttered those words and as I mentioned above, it took me probably two years before I really understood the difference.

Condemnation makes you feel bad – about yourself, the situation, those around you.  For me, when I would feel condemned, I felt like I had a spotlight attached to me as I walked around and interacted with everyone – that they could all see the areas in my life where I fell short, sinned, or just plain needed helps, and lots of it!

Conviction, however, is quite another experience altogether. It’s a soft whisper that speaks directly to your soul.  It invites you to want to change, whispering the promises of Truth, encouraging change.  Instead of the glaring spotlight that highlights my mistakes to everyone I interact with, it’s more of a voice in my ear encouraging me to make the right choices – to please my Father and reminding me of the reasons why I want to choose wisely.

Conviction and condemnation both require hard work to make the necessary changes to rid myself of the bad choice.  The difference is condemnation has guilt attached to it whereas conviction energizes and reminds me I’m not that choice – I’m a child of God and He will help me if I ask.

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It goes one step further.  Not only am I not on this journey alone, but conviction invites me to come to God while I’m still messed up, still sinning, still making choices that displease Him but with a heart that wants to change.  I give Him a willing heart – He replaces my sin with victory by showing me how to change.

The revelation that had been explained to me for years but I finally have started to experience firsthand brought with it another blessing.  I was able to see I have a choice in how I respond to others mistakes – namely my children’s.  I can offer them condemnation and all the guilt that comes with that or I can gently convict, praying that God will touch them in the areas they are failing and motivate them to come to Him for help to make the changes necessary in their lives.

Condemnation versus conviction.  Both can bring about change. One will make me feel guilty and worthless while the other encourages and builds up.

Just as it took me two years to understand the difference, I’m sure I have a learning curve ahead implementing the sweet song of conviction to those around me…but I have a willing heart and God loves to use that when I freely give it to Him.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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“It is amazing that Paul, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually catalyzed the Christian church, which has become the most powerful movement in human history.”

George Weaver, Book Fun Magazine September 2015

 

Last time we were together, I shared that God gave me two nuggets regarding the life of Paul and shared the background of the story of how he went from being Saul, a man zealous for ridding the world of Christians to Paul, a man zealous to share just how real God was.

The first thing God showed me was that there were consequences to Paul’s previous behavior.  When Ananias was afraid, God didn’t back down with His directions, but He did offer an explanation along with His command.  He reassured Ananias he would be safe, but He also stated that while He has chosen Paul specifically for this assignment, “…I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’” Acts 9:16 (NIV) 

I had never really thought about Paul in that way previously.  I knew that Paul had suffered much for Christ during his ministry years, I knew that Paul had asked God repeatedly to take away the “thorn in his flesh” multiple times and then finally submitted when God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9, NIV)  But I had never really seen where God told Ananias He was going to show Paul how much he must suffer for God.

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Now…I hate to admit this, but I think I got a little smug.  I thought to myself, “Hmmm, God gave him what he deserved, punishment and torture.”  However, God lovingly reminded me vengeance isn’t in my gene pool and showed me the whole picture just two days later through the above quote from Book Fun Magazine.

Yes, God did allow Paul to pay the price in suffering for loving God just as He allows many others in this world to suffer persecution for His name.  However, God didn’t turn a blind eye to that suffering.  He was right there with Paul every step of the way.  And Paul was known throughout history as being a man who “catalyzed the Christian church, through the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Wow – what a legacy!  So while he suffered much, God used that suffering for good and was able to do great things through Paul because Paul unreservedly, unashamedly, wholeheartedly served God.

That’s when I realized God made Saul and knew he had a zealous personality for truth.  While he was misguided as a young man, he still was very zealous in his confusion and that caused a lot of hurt.  However, once he allowed God to get a hold of him and reveal the truth, he used that same zealous personality for good…good that affected millions of people and is still affecting millions of people today. God knew that Paul could handle the tough assignment.  He was the Navy Seal of the Bible…not afraid to get in there and get the job done.

Made me think of two things:  One, God is a just God.  There are consequences to our actions.  However, God is also a loving God and while He had a special way to use Paul’s enthusiastic personality (and let’s face it, some people are just destined to do greater things than others) He was with Paul the entire time.  Paul suffered, but he also reaped many blessings from his relationship with God and was able to use his talents to help point millions of people to the One true God.  While his beginnings were off course, when he let God get a hold of his life, his ending was amazing.  There’s always hope for all of us my friend.

I will never qualify as a Navy SEAL for the military, and God may never ask me to be His SEAL either, but I do choose to be the best “me” for Him, with His strength, that I can be.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’” Acts 9:15-16 (NIV)

 

Our church gives the opportunity every year to read through the New Testament. This is the second year in a row that I’ve chosen to accept the privilege.  I love how passages I’ve read my entire life and also exactly a year ago reveal new spiritual truths despite their familiar words.  Sometimes, I admit, I almost skim the words because I think I know what they are going to say and then God shows me I had no idea the nuggets of knowledge He had waiting for me on the page.

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That happened to me around the end of the summer.  I was reading in Acts about Saul’s conversion.  For those who aren’t familiar with Saul, before his conversion and name change to Paul, he was considered a “zealous” Pharisee who relentlessly persecuted the early Christians.  In fact, in Acts 7, readers are given the impression that Saul might have had something to do with having Stephen stoned to death because “…witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:58, NIV)  Then, two chapters later, God gets a hold of Saul’s life, blinds him on the way to Damascus and gives him an amazing God encounter which results in Saul surrendering his life completely to God, God changing his name to Paul, and then going on to be part of catalyzing the Christian Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are two nuggets in this story that God revealed to me, a few days apart.  In order to explain the nuggets, I must first continue with a little more background.  The story continues in Acts that after God blinded Saul, the men he was traveling with led him into Damascus according to God’s instructions.  Saul remained blind for three days, not eating or drinking anything.  Meanwhile, God then went and talked to a disciple named Ananias and instructed him to go pray over Saul to restore his sight.

Ananias refused at first.  He reminded God that Saul was wicked and liked to kill people like him, so he really didn’t want that assignment.  God got more insistent with Ananias and in the verse above stated, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16, NIV)

Come back tomorrow and I will share what God revealed to me through not just these verses but then pulled it all together using an interview I read in Book Fun Magazine.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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“Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind, God vitally empowering him for the rest of his life…”

I Samuel 16:13 (The Message)

 

I was reading a devotional the other day which was talking about how David, a shepherd boy at the time, was anointed by Samuel the prophet because God showed Samuel that teenager was to be the next king of Israel.  The devotional was talking about how God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

At the same time that I read this devotional, my daughter was reading Bathsheba by Angela Hunt, a fictional account of the Bible story about Bathsheba and David.  We have had many great discussions regarding David’s influence as a father (some of his children did some very bad things) and the sins that David himself committed (adultery and murder to name a few).

Reading the devotional above about how David was anointed king by God because He saw something extraordinary in him contrasts quite differently with the “older David” who committed some major sins.  I was commenting to my husband a few days ago, after one particular conversation with our daughter, that it just doesn’t make sense to me that God described David as “a man after His own heart” when David committed sins that affected many people.

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That led me to two conclusions this morning.  One:  I believe God has a special purpose for each of us to fulfill in life and it always somehow revolves around sharing about Jesus dying on the cross so that everyone who chooses to can have a personal relationship with Him.  While God may call some of us into positions that are more “in the public eye,” we all have a responsibility to live our lives authentically and with integrity, so that we never have to live in fear of secret sins being found out.  It made me stop and think about my own life.  I had a chance just this week to take one of two paths: telling the truth or trying to get away with something.  I chose the option that allows me peaceful sleep at night.  I think periodically throughout our lives we’re all presented with choices of integrity or deceit, which reminded me of David.  He had the option to live a life of integrity or deceit and he chose deceit…not every time, but enough times that God mentions his sins, and the consequences, in the Bible.

That leads me to my second conclusion: No sin is too great for God to forgive if we come to Him with sincere repentance.  David, despite committing murder and adultery, fell face down in front of God and repented, and God forgave him.  God still, after all the evil that David did and was carried into the next generation as well, called David “a man after God’s own heart.”  There is always forgiveness given when we truly repent.

I’m conflicted every time I read about David.  I think to myself: “I want to be like David because he worshipped God with his whole heart”…but then I think, “I don’t want to be like David because he really made some major detours in his life which caused a lot of pain.”

I think we can learn a lot from David.  Encouragement that no sin is too great for God to forgive and also that we all are appointed to fulfill a purpose for God and we should take that job seriously, staying as close to Him as possible so that the inevitable detours aren’t catastrophic.  Staying humble, having a moldable and teachable spirit, and pursuing a relationship with our Father should help keep us honoring and pleasing our Father.  Hard at times when the easy road seems appealing, but definitely worth the peaceful night’s sleep every time.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

 

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