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Archive for February, 2016

 “Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’” Joshua 3:5 (NIV)

“And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

Joshua 3:13 (NIV)

Two years ago our senior pastor began a series titled “Step In.”  During that time, he referred to the passages above when God addressed Joshua, after Moses’ death, telling the Israelites to “consecrate themselves” because they needed to get ready to see the amazing things God was going to do for them.  However, there was one command they had to follow first in order for the amazing things to be seen.  They had to step into the Jordan and begin their journey over to the Promised Land before God would begin to work.

When I think about where God had our family two years ago, at the beginning of that series, we were very much like the Israelites.  We hadn’t been wandering the desert for 40 years, but we did have a decision to make: Step into the river and pursue the path God wanted us to take to our Promised Land, or continue circling around the desert because of fear.  In order to walk into our destiny, we had to first consecrate ourselves and then, take that first step, into a very wide river with a strong current that could take us under.  We chose to step into the river and we saw God do amazing things in our lives.

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It’s two years later… and our pastor is starting a series titled “The Promise.”  I have to admit, at first I was scared to think about starting another journey.  While God had done amazing things for us, to have to go back and relive that journey while it was still fresh in our minds wasn’t something I wanted to do.  I could still feel the ripping and pulling away of my “self” which while it produced many blessings, there was also pain involved.  I wasn’t ready for God to start ripping and pulling away more of me that needed to be discarded in order for His destiny in my life to start shining through.

However, after wrestling a little with God which sounded something like this: “God, You know I want to obey You more than anything… even if it hurts.  I don’t mind dying to myself.  In fact, I’m starting to like it because I know the results will make me more beautiful, but are You sure we have to do this now? I can’t rest a little more first? Catch my breath? I know this is a good thing, but it hurts and I’m still a raw.

It was then I realized a few truths I’d missed when first introduced to the promise.  Come back next time and I will share what God reminded me of.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

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What If?

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him,” Psalms 37:23 (NIV)

 

I just finished a great meeting with one of my bosses this morning.  Do you want to know what made it so great?  My boss shared with me things God is doing in His life for the company. That conversation reaffirmed the whispers I thought I’d heard from my Father as well because they are so closely tied together… and all for His glory.

While I was getting my lunch, I was praying for the people that we had talked about in the meeting and asking God to bless everyone involved.  My thoughts drifted to finances and as I prayed, I was reminded that all the money in the world belongs to my Father.  And I am His daughter.  As His daughter, I have access to all the riches in the world.  I don’t have anything to worry about when I realize the above truth along with the truth that my Father wants to bless me.  He won’t bless me beyond what I can safely handle, but He will bless me appropriately.

All of the above got me thinking about my life.  I’m where God wants me.  For years I wished I didn’t have to work to help make ends meet.  I wished I could just “stay at home” and be a wife/mother without having to divide my time between a business (or businesses) and my family.

However, today, God reminded me that if I didn’t have to work, I would have missed out on so much. I never would’ve had the chance to meet all the wonderful people God has placed in my life… starting with the foster care/adoption agency I worked at for the first five years of our married life.  That job started a friendship which introduced me 12 years later to a beautiful lady whose precious little boy is quietly sleeping next to me while I work two different jobs today.  And, if I didn’t have to work, I never would’ve met the boss I referred to above, possibly blessing him with the confirmation God revealed to me during our meeting. I know it sure blessed me.

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Now, does that mean I think God couldn’t use someone else to bless these people?  To watch the little boy I’m privileged to snuggle with today or reaffirm to my boss that God is in control?  Absolutely not.  I’m replaceable in all these circumstances.  Does that also mean I think that if God didn’t use me in these specific circumstances, He wouldn’t use me as a “stay at home” wife/mother instead?  Nope – I know that as long as I’m willing, God will use me in any situation I choose to allow Him to.

But, it did make my heart happy this morning to realize the answer to my question of, “What if God had chosen to allow me the desire to be a stay at home wife/mom instead of a working mom?”  I could honestly say I was happy that God allowed me the privilege of meeting so many fantastic people because of being obedient to walk in the steps He chose for me. I know that God has our financial situation.  He and my husband and I have the same goal – to be debt free.  Our Father could pay off our debt with a single thought… and while He is replacing my lost income from last year and showing us how to pay it off, I’m content knowing that I’m right where He wants me.  Without the “have to” of work, I would’ve missed out on so many blessings and so many wonderful friendships.

I’m glad God took me down the path of “what if” today.  It reminded me that He has this… our finances for sure, but most importantly our future.  I’m going to just keep walking and soak in all the blessings He’s given so far while expectantly watching for the new blessings He’s sure to bring our way as well.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

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Miracles in Disguise

 

“For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.” Psalm 33:4 (NIV)

 

I read a post from someone on Facebook a few months ago talking about how during an immensely difficult time in her life, if she looks closely enough, there are miracles all around. While what seems in the natural to be another blow/trial/hardship, instead it’s a miracle gifted by God to help her family through their gut-wrenching journey.

I started to think back in my life to areas where circumstances seemed to be just another trial or hardship to endure, but really were miracles in disguise. Thanksgiving weekend 2015 was one such time.  Our family enjoys four fun-filled days of laughter, memory making and nonstop energy – leaving everyone worn out by Monday and in need of a vacation from our vacation. This past year I was exhausted before I started… and knew that while I would have fun, I wouldn’t have minded a little slower pace.  However, I wasn’t going to be the one to suggest skipping any of the fun, so I mentally prepared myself for the late nights, busy schedule and got ready to enjoy every minute.

 

Thanksgiving dawned bright… and early!  We got up early and left the house to get a deal on a winter coat that was needed.  Growth spurts will do that.  After arriving home, I busied myself with preparing the turkey, sat down with the family to our traditional Thanksgiving breakfast and then had about 30 minutes before getting ready to head to my parents’ house to see out-of-town family and spend a few hours while my husband finished the turkey and celebrated with his parents.  I spent a great time walking and reconnecting with my cousin before sitting down to a delicious meal prepared by my mom and aunt… then after cleaning up the kitchen, we settled into the dining room and Skyped with my sister and her family across the country before getting ready to head home.

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On the way home, my daughter looked miserable.  She had been quiet all day but I didn’t think much of it.  There was a lot of people and lots of conversations happening.  She seemed to be part of it, but I soon realized she was sick.  After bringing her home and getting some medicine in her, we encouraged her to rest.  Friday afternoon had us in the doctor’s office with a diagnosis of strep… and more rest.

There went our plans of baking Christmas cookies all day Friday with my side of the family and dinner and laughter with Bill’s side of the family that evening.  While Bill and the boys headed over to spend time catching out with his sister and family who lives out of town, my daughter and I hunkered down for a lazy night.  We watched a movie she had been wanting to share with me, spent some time reading and she even felt up to a game marathon… not too sick to beat me, I might add.

While I missed getting to do some of our ordinary traditions and see some family I didn’t get to see again until Christmas, I wouldn’t have traded that time with our daughter for anything.  What could have been viewed as another trial in our life of 2015, I instead saw as a blessing from God.  He forced us to slow down, relax, and just be together, something that I don’t ever want to take for granted.

While we have memories stored up of many years of Christmas cookie baking, family gatherings and laughter all around, this is one Thanksgiving that I think will stand out in my mind… not because she was sick but because God blessed me with a miracle in disguise.  A chance to make my daughter feel as special as she is and to slow down enough to just be together.  No agenda.  No schedule.  Just “be.”

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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No More Cows

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16 (NASV)

 

I went to church the first Sunday in January and received affirmation from God, without me even asking Him for it. Even though I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, I do start my year reflecting on what changes need to be made in my life and try to create new habits, a new lifestyle that will be sustained past the month of January, when studies show most resolutions tend to fall to the wayside.

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The sermon illustration our Life Groups pastor used referenced the movie, “Twister.” If you’ve seen the movie, do you remember when they were in the middle of a field, with two tornadoes coming toward them simultaneously, and one character yelled, “We’ve got a cow!”  Then a few minutes later, he yelled again, “Another cow!” to which his friend replied, “Nope, same cow.” Our pastor asked the question, “Are you ready to kill your cow (whatever struggle you are facing) or do you want to keep allowing your cow to circle back over and over and…?

One of the ways he talked about defeating that stubborn cow is how we address our problems with God.  He said God showed him the word “bold” which he then decided to see how many times that word is actually used in the Bible, approximately 60 times, enough to sit up and pay attention.  That got my attention. Always in the past, I have tried to fight my cow from a passive stance – “Please, Lord, let me win this time… pretty please.”  However, I had been preparing to slaughter my cow weeks before I even entered the church doors that particular Sunday because I’m tired of fighting the same battles year after year.  I decided to go to God boldly, asking Him to give me the strength I needed to fight because I meant it this time.

I think that’s a great way to approach God… to approach life.  Boldly.  Confident that He will answer.  Confident that He will direct.  Confident that my problem isn’t so big He can’t handle it but walking in faith that He can.

I use that to encourage you today.  Whatever battle you are facing in 2016, or maybe that you’ve been facing for years now, remember that God wants us to approach Him boldly, with confidence, asking for wisdom in how He wants us to proceed.  In our own lives… in our family’s life… any issues in life we may face.

I will leave you with one last thought from my pastor: “The level we approach God with is the level God will respond with.”  Do we want God to answer our prayers boldly?  Then let’s approach Him with the same bold reverence, in faith, knowing He will answer.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”

Jeremiah 29:12 (NIV)

 

I have three very different children.  One child sees everything in black and white with very little gray.  Another child doesn’t think the rules necessarily apply personally.  And still another child struggles with submitting to authority and will weigh the pros and cons of getting caught before deciding if disobeying will be worth the inevitable punishment. All three children born from the same genetics, all three children very different.

Have you ever heard this question asked by well-meaning Christians? When talking about someone they know or someone they love fiercely, if they see a person choosing to live in sin, they wonder if that person ever truly accepted Jesus into their heart and made a decision to follow Him. Because, they argue, if they truly were God’s child, would they live a life of deliberate disobedience?

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Every time I hear that question, I cringe a little. At one point in my life, I was that Christian in question. I accepted Jesus into my heart at six years old.  I knew what I was doing and I remember making a conscious choice to have God rule my life.  And for many, many years things went really well.  Then I hit a period of time when I questioned if doing things God’s way was really working for me.  When I sought after a godly husband, choosing someone in a leadership position in a Christian organization, I got an abusive relationship instead. When I tried to break free from that relationship, I got stalked across state lines. When I chose to do what I thought God wanted, I got hurt.  It appeared as though my nonbelieving friends were more authentic, nicer, and treated me better than those who claimed to represent God.  At the same time, someone else I loved was experiencing a similar situation… with a man who claimed to also love God.  As a result, I took a detour from what I knew was right, ignoring God’s whispers for me to turn around, and took a path that wasn’t honoring to my Father.  However, during the period when this was occurring, while I ignored His voice, He never stopped talking, never stopped asking me to come back.

From all outward appearances, people would’ve been able to question whether or not God truly lived inside of me because I was doing a great job of ignoring His voice in certain areas of my life.  While I never completely turned my back on Him, there were areas that I made off limits.

God did get me back… stronger than ever. While I don’t like to admit that time in my life where God didn’t get all of me, it’s part of who I am. God used that experience of mine to give me compassion and understanding for people who are caught between doing it their way and surrendering completely to Him. It taught me a valuable lesson as well – only God knows a person’s heart.  It’s not our job to judge where a person is in their relationship with their Father.  That’s His job, period.  Our job is to pray, love, and only if God makes it very clear, gently rebuke and encourage a fellow Christ follower to turn from their sin and ask God’s forgiveness.

I want to encourage you today, my friend. If you have taken a detour in your relationship with Christ and think it’s too late for you, let me be the first to tell you it’s never too late.  God will continue to call His children back to Him and He will continue to invite those who aren’t His children to experience the freedom that comes with complete surrender to His ways.  Will it be easy?  Maybe not.  But speaking from experience, it will definitely be worth it, every single time.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2 (NIV)

 

I don’t usually have time to watch many movies, and when I finally get to watch one that isn’t necessarily a movie our whole family will enjoy, it’s usually months or years after it’s been out that I finally view it.  That was the case this week.  I watched a movie that left me emotionally drained.  It was about a woman who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and the decline of her mind, body and relationships as a result.

Since I’m in my 40s and my body isn’t as resilient as it used to be, I have conversations with myself sometimes about would I rather lose my eyesight or my hearing?  I really don’t want to lose either, but I’ve tried to figure out which one I could “handle” losing more than the other.  I love seeing the faces of my loved ones, reading books, and seeing all the beautiful colors that God displays on a yearly basis, each different every single day.  However, I also love music and it moves me to a different level of worshipping my Father.  I love hearing my family say, “I love you,” listening to the way the wind and the birds all join together in worship music as only nature can.  I love waterfalls, the gentle sound of rain as I fall asleep, or the sound of ocean waves or the innocence of a baby’s laugh.

Maybe that’s why the movie affected me so profoundly.  I realized that to lose one’s mind and all the memories made would be far worse than losing my eyesight or hearing.  I always knew Alzheimer’s was devastating. We have a history of it in my family genealogy and so while I didn’t witness it firsthand as my grandparents lived many miles away, I was told of the daily struggles my grandmother went through as her husband slowly forgot.  There was a couple in a neighborhood I used to live in and although I didn’t know them personally, at times the wife would be sitting in the middle of the road while her elderly husband attempted to coax her to stand up and go home.  It was a busy street so not only was it heartbreaking but dangerous as well.

Maybe the movie wouldn’t have been so devastating if the husband’s reaction had been different. He couldn’t deal with his wife’s failing memory and the patience (and love) that she needed.  She begged him on multiple occasions to take a year sabbatical to spend with her while she still had her memories and could create new ones.  He refused.  He took it one step further and chose an advancement of his career and left his wife with his youngest daughter, ironically the one whom had the most combative relationship with her mom of all three siblings.  The movie showed that while this child tested the limits the most, she also was the one who was the most patient, loving, and in the end, the most committed to her mom, willing to do “hard,” while the rest of the family disappeared.

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My poor husband… I greeted him at the door that day with these words, “I just need you to hold me,” and he did.  No questions, no, “Don’t you want to hear about my day?” no explanations needed.  We stood in the entryway, him just holding me tightly in his strong embrace, no words needed, and I felt completely loved.  Completely accepted.  Safe and secure in the love of my family, a contrast to what the woman on the screen was given.

I realize that movie was fiction. It reminded me of the devastation of a disease that robs a person slowly (or quickly) of their memories as well as their ability to perform simple tasks.  It also reminded me how truly blessed I am to have married the man God placed in my life and to have three amazing children as well as extended family who love each other fiercely.  It reminded me to be more patient with everyone – those in my family whose memories are fading due to age, those in the community whom I don’t know what they are dealing with, and to pray for those whose family’s look more like the woman in the movie than the one God blessed me with.

I’m grateful God allowed me the time to watch that movie.  It brought a difficult topic into better focus.  It gave visual details of a disease that I had only read about.  And it gave me a better understanding of the difficult months my friend dealt with her mother’s neurological decline due to brain cancer and what the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury really look like.  It gave me the chance to see… and as a result, to pray with more understanding, for those I call friend.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

 

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“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”

Proverbs 18:22 (NIV)

 

When Bill and I were dating, I couldn’t believe how much we had in common.  While he introduced me to things I hadn’t experienced before or had little experience with (rollerblading and camping to name a few), our values and the things that made us who we are were spot on similar.

In anticipation of our marriage, we attended premarital counseling and were given a test to determine what areas we needed to work on: finances, parenting, in-laws, holidays, etc. Our counselor was surprised to see how similarly we answered each section.  She remarked that she rarely saw this type of compatibility between people.

We’ve been married over 16 years and while we have both changed and grown independently and together, we still have many similarities.  However, what fascinates me is that while we both agree on what needs to be done, our course of action to accomplish the goal couldn’t be more different.  It’s never anything earth shattering, just a matter of preference.

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Different isn’t a bad thing… unless both people insist on their way.  Ask any of our children this question and you will get the same answer, “Who’s the big boss in our family?”  The unanimous answer is always, “Dad.”  They know that when dad isn’t around, I will exert my authority and they need to listen to my directions, but when we are both present, we defer to his judgment.

I choose to live my marriage that way.  I like living my marriage that way.  I have two jobs where I have to make decisions under two different bosses.  I know what my boundaries are and what decisions I’m trained to complete as well as what issues I need to present to them and ask for their preference before I proceed.  The same goes for my writing:  There are many decisions I make independently, but when it comes to the important stuff, Bill and I are a team and I value his input.

This past holiday season, I noticed again that while we both have the same goal in mind, we approach the steps to complete the goal very differently.  Our personalities are different and therefore our paths are different.  However, I would much rather defer to his path when he is around than insist on my own.  He doesn’t force me to defer.  I’m sure if I asked if we could do it my way and he would be fine with that.  However, I willingly choose his way because I love him.  We are on the same team.  I would much prefer him having the chance to be involved in the daily, mundane things then insisting on doing it my way. Making memories in the significant moments as well as the everyday life moments is what marriage and love is about.

If I had to choose between doing it “my way” and getting the privilege to join him in doing it his way, hands down I’m going to choose “his way with him there” every single time.

I want to encourage you as we step forward in 2016.  If given the choice, isn’t it more fun to make memories with everyone present, even if the path to the common goal looks a little different then what you envisioned?  You never know – you might find a new “favorite” way to complete the task.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

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