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Archive for March, 2016

I’m Blessed

Blessed: “having a sacred nature : connected with God; very welcome, pleasant, or appreciated”

Taken from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

 

My husband bought me the best Christmas present in 2015.  It’s a necklace that has an opening to put charms in it.  He was very meaningful in the charms that he picked and placed inside. However, the necklace itself says one simple word: “Blessed.”

I wondered at first why he picked that word.  He knows that every year I ask God for a word and for 2016, my word is “peace.”  However, that isn’t the word he picked.  And he explained why.

I was going to get you a necklace with the word “peace” on it, but that is just your word for this year.  That word will change.  Instead I chose the word “blessed” because that word describes you.”

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I thought about it for a minute and he was spot on.  I am blessed!  His words reminded me of how through my words I try and pray blessings on others while at the same time repeat the phrase multiple times a day sometimes, “I’m blessed.”

Looking at our life over the past few years, outwardly you might not consider the trial of chronic illness a blessing or downsizing and then termination of employment a blessing, or even right before that the death of our third child a blessing – but I do.  Not the acts themselves but how God used each of those circumstances for good in our lives and then to look outward and bless others through the lessons learned and the pain endured.

The miscarriage got me angry enough to tell God I was going to do something about a void I saw that could offer encouragement to others who were suffering from the pain of losing a child too soon.  The trials of chronic illness have brought our family closer and made our marriage stronger because we have had to cling tighter to our Father through long nights, endless tests, and anxiety-provoking diagnoses. There is nothing like the loss of a steady income to shake things up. Once again, though, God used that circumstance in our lives to show us how to fully trust Him, who our money belongs to and to see how much we are loved by family and friends who rallied around and helped make ends meet when our checkbook was short more than one month.  Some of the blessings came in the form of providing fun, not just necessities, and reminding me that just because we’re going through a trial, God enjoys lavishing gifts, not just providing for needs.

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Those are all the blessings that came from “not-so-pleasant” circumstances; however, when I think about my life, I’m blessed above and beyond.  My parents lovingly raised me with the model of a relationship with our Heavenly Father instead of a religion.  They helped me begin my own relationship with Him at the tender age of six.  I will forever be grateful for that solid legacy they continue to demonstrate to their grandchildren also. We have two sets of parents who pray for our family daily and are more than willing to help in whatever way possible.

I am married to my best friend who everyday shows me how much he cherishes me but more importantly, shows our kids through big and small ways how much they are adored.  He is a wonderful example of how to be a husband and father for our boys and our daughter. I have three amazing kids here and one waiting for me in Heaven. They love God and are pursuing their own relationship with Him, which is all a mother could ever ask for.

We have amazing friends who even though we don’t have time to get together very often, we know that we are here for each other as prayer partners, babysitters, or whatever is needed. I have a warm house, two working vehicles, a healthy body to pursue the ministry God has laid on our hearts, and enough energy to work three jobs while still participating in activities with the family or extracurricular with the kids.

When I say I am blessed, I’m not talking about lots of money, fancy clothes, or anything material.  I’m blessed because I have a relationship with my Heavenly Father and He provides everything that I could possibly need (not everything I necessarily want).  When I continue to pursue what He desires for my life, He continues to bless me because He knows what’s best.

I love looking down at my necklace that my husband so lovingly made and gave to me last Christmas.  It’s one of my favorite gifts because he realized as much as I do how blessed our family really is.  He gave me a beautiful way to remember that multiple times a day – I just have to look down and see inside the beautiful display some of the many reasons why.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“When this world drives you to your knees, You think you’re never gonna get back, To the you that used to be…” Danny Gokey (Tell Your Heart to Beat Again)

 

I heard this song on the radio recently and fell in love with it.  If you haven’t heard it yet, I would encourage you to download it and add it to your playlist because the words are so powerful.

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However, when I got to this particular line, I stopped for a minute and really thought about it.  I believe the artist was talking about getting back to the person you were before the grief, the trial, etc. – getting your smile back, your joy for life, etc.

However, God showed me a different viewpoint for the same lyrics and got me thinking about the past two years of my life.  I’m a very different person than I was back then.  Our family has had a lot of growth experiences in the past two years and honestly… I don’t want to go back to the “me I used to be.”  I used to be full of fear and worry. Negative self-talk consumed me.  Perfectionism ruled my life. I repeatedly replayed a destructive cycle, sometimes multiple times a day.  Worry, then fear, then emotional eating, then guilt for the emotional eating, then negative self-talk, then more worry, then more emotional eating…. I think you get the picture.

I can honestly say I’m a different person now then I was back then.  When negative self-talk enters my thoughts, I usually notice it quickly.  I will aloud change from saying, “What an idiot,” to “It’s okay – I’m learning,” and move on.  When fear creeps in and the enemy tries to get me to focus on circumstances that will probably never happen, I stand up to him and tell him, “In Jesus’ name I don’t have to listen to you.”  I pray and ask God to calm my spirit and please replace the lie I’m believing with His truth.  Sometimes I get an answer right away, sometimes it takes a little while but I have peace in the waiting because I know that God will answer! When I start to emotionally eat, I’m quicker to recognize the signs and am just beginning the process of asking God to show me what emotions I’m feeling that triggered that response.  Sometimes I ask for God to help me stop, sometimes I give in and ask for grace.  The point, though, is that I’m moving in the right direction.

Panic has been replaced by peace. God has healed me of my fear of winter driving – 18 years of panic attacks are now gone and I now experience a “normal” person’s reaction to snowflakes falling.  I have watched God replace my job with two ministries that pay the bills.  I know that when we have trials in our lives, God is allowing them and He has the outcome already taken care of.  They are either for my growth, to bless someone else, or for the greater good of pointing someone to the Father.  Life isn’t about me – it’s about so much more.

I love this song.  It reminded me how grateful I am that I’m not the me I used to be.  I pray I never go back to being her again.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” Matthew 3:16-17, NIV

 

Easter is a time to remember what God did for us – sending His Son to earth to die on the cross and allow us the chance to choose eternity in Heaven with Him or eternity in hell without Him.  It’s really that simple.

He didn’t have to send Jesus to earth as a baby – God could have had Jesus come as a man, already an adult, bypassing the “growing up years.”  However, I read a book this week that was talking about why God chose to have Jesus come as a baby.  It is Jewish custom for a child to learn knowledge and “book learning” up until age 12, then from ages 13 through 30, he becomes an apprentice of his father’s business, learning all the tricks of the trade.  At 30, if he has sufficiently obeyed and learned what was needed, he would then be given his inheritance and step into his calling. (Any mistakes about the customs are all mine.)

What did Jesus do? The Bible doesn’t talk much about his growing up years, but does mention the highlights we are supposed to pay attention to. At age 12, Jesus failed to leave Jerusalem after the Festival of the Passover with his family.  When they noticed He wasn’t with them, Mary and Joseph frantically searched for Him for three days, finally finding Him in the temple.  His response to them?  “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49-50, NIV).

It continues to say, “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52, NIV) In other words, Jesus followed the custom of His day and practiced obedience to His parents.

 

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Then the Bible tells us about how when He was 30 years old, He was baptized by John the Baptist and God allowed the Holy Spirit to descend upon Him.  Then He went into the desert and fasted for 40 days, being tempted by the devil before starting His ministry for three years, concluding with His death and resurrection on the cross, the ultimate goal.  (Matthew 3:13-17, NIV).

In addition to learning obedience and building maturity before stepping into His ministry, Jesus also used those 33 years of His earthly life to build relationships with those around Him: Family first, then friends, disciples, the multitudes, everyone He came into contact with.  Jesus didn’t waste any opportunities to build relationships.

I think that is a great reminder for us.  Are we taking the time to build relationships with those around us?  Those God has blessed us with to share life or those God puts in our path for only a little while?  When we take the time to build authentic relationships, then when “THE Christian holiday” appears, we will have built true connections with others. They may be waiting to hear about the choice we are all given by God:  Choosing a relationship and eternity with Him in Heaven or choosing to reject Jesus’ gift and spending eternity forever separated from God.

I’m not an evangelist and sharing my faith with others is difficult.  But building relationships with others around me?  I can do that!

It really is that simple.

Blessings to each of you this Easter weekend!

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

 

 

 

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“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25 (NIV)

 

I’ve been speaking about how last year at this time our family was hit with a big whammy.  I think I spent the first week in shock and panic.  I would worry, feel guilty for worrying, confess that worry, worry about something different related to the same whammy, feel guilty for worrying, confess that worry… I think you get the idea.  When I wasn’t worrying, I was taking control in the form of trying to figure out what steps I needed to take in order to make sure God did what He needed to do.  I stupidly thought He needed my help (and input) to accomplish His goals for our lives.

I did a few things right too, though.  First of all, I had a willing heart.  I wanted God in charge.  I didn’t want to fix this problem alone (even though I had a hard time remembering that He didn’t need my help to move things along faster).  I fasted before doing anything else – asking God for direction.  My husband and I asked for prayer from our church and a few close friends, and I made the decision to trust God even though my mind immediately went to “worse case scenarios.”  I went back and forth between trusting that God would give me a new job by February 1st to “we’re going to lose our house.”  I realize now looking back how fear still had a strong grip on my life.  I was listening to the enemy’s lies more than standing on God’s Word.  I’m so thankful I had so many godly people in my life who continued to patiently (and I do mean patiently) remind me of the Truth – God’s Truth – when the enemy’s voice would grow too loud.

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This year, it’s day three after being hit with the potential of two whammies.  The first day I vacillated between fear and faith… but before I went to bed, I can honestly say faith was winning.  Day two (yesterday) I actually had PEACE because I was focusing on the PERSON, despite the fact the circumstances haven’t changed.  God used a devotional to bring peace about one whammy and a person to remind me of His Truth about the other.  Day three (today) as I’m writing this, I not only have PEACE still, but I can honestly say I have JOY as well.  I am able to live my life, moving forward, continuing to accomplish the areas in life God has already assigned me while waiting to see what more He might be calling me to, or what He might be taking away.

I realized something through all the different feelings.  I realized the reason why I have PEACE this year versus the absence of it last year.  This year instead of trying to control the situation, I’ve completely submitted it to Him.  He has big arms – they are big enough to handle everything I’ve put in them this week.  Not just the two whammies but I added all my other “concerns” to the growing pile… and then I did something different from last year.  I walked away and instead of focusing on how I can help God fix things, I’m actively listening for His voice.  Last year taught me three very important lessons: God wants to take care of me.  God doesn’t need my help.  God will show me what the next step when He’s ready.  Until then, I don’t have to waste time and energy running around.  Instead, I can rest in His arms, accomplishing what He wants me to do just for today, while I listen intently for my next assignment.

Which do I like better – worrying last year while exhausting myself trying to help God fix our whammy… or resting peacefully in His arms, only accomplishing the assignments He has already given, listening for His voice to tell me when/what He wants me to do next?   Worrying or listening… both require energy, both require focus.  One brings peace, one brings exhaustion.  I know which one I’m choosing because I can honestly say I feel peace.

We may still get hit with one or both whammies this year.  I realize that, but worrying ahead of time isn’t going to help.  Worrying if they do hit won’t help either.  I realized through our whammy last year that God does bring us through.   Our best doesn’t look like I thought it would – and I’m glad because His best (while not completely realized yet – we’re still walking toward it) is far better than anything I could have imagined anyway.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

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“… You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity…” Philippians 4:19-20 (The Message)

 

A few weeks ago I was reflecting on the adventure God took our family on.  While we have different challenges this year, last year was a year of truly pressing in and finding out which direction He wanted us to walk.  During that period, my questions and prayers for wisdom and fasting seemed to lead to… silence.  God uttered one word multiple times to my prayers, “Wait.”  And I didn’t like it.  I was used to doing something, taking action, moving in a direction, any direction, and God continued to tell me, “Wait.”

So I waited all of one month, but not really.  Even during that “wait,” I looked for jobs, applied for jobs, worried about jobs, checked for jobs, applied for more jobs, prayed about jobs… instead of just waiting and listening for His next direction.

During my reflection about how I didn’t obey God’s command very well, I was reminded that one short year later, I finally trusted God completely.  It only took approximately 8 months last year and approximately 8 years before that, when I first uttered the prayer, “Lord, I want to learn how to trust You, but please be gentle.” for me to be able to honestly say I trust God and that He has a good plan for my life.

Then God reminded me about another choice I had made approximately eight years prior.  I was at the beginning of my trust journey with God.  Life was chaotic for our family, to put it mildly.  I’d had a miscarriage in December 2006, February 2007 brought the beginning of a chronic illness for my husband that we are still battling today (although we are seeing God’s healing power), and I was at a crossroads, again with my employment.  I felt like I was hearing God tell me to stop the daycare that I’d run for three years and transition into medical transcription full time.

I wasn’t sure if I was hearing God correctly and I had families that I truly loved and didn’t want to inconvenience.  So, I prayed for God’s wisdom and His will.  I could see myself doing either/or but wanted to walk in His blessing.  I prayed and then waited.  Continued doing my job, didn’t look for more transcription work, just waited.  Two weeks after my initial prayer, one of my families came to me and announced they were moving and at the end of the school year, a few short weeks from our conversation, they wouldn’t be coming back.  While deeply disappointed in losing them, I remember my first words in reply to her were, “I guess that’s my answer.”   Probably seemed like a strange way to respond, so I then explained what I meant and began the process of saying goodbye to two girls I had helped raise since birth.

That memory was significant for me.  Why was I able to wait patiently eight years ago when last year I kept running ahead of God?  Eight years ago I had the innocence of a child still.  While our lives were beginning to change drastically and we were dealing with many upheavals, I still had a steady job and income.  Last year I was without an income and that was scarier.  However, through the past year, I’ve learned that life wasn’t an emergency in either situations – not when I have a steady income and am contemplating a change or when I have no income and need to make a change.

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God isn’t a God of fear.  If I hear the word, “wait” from God, then I’m to wait.  That means I keep my eyes and ears open and listen for a change in His plans, but until then, He will meet my every need because He told me to wait.  If God said walk and I choose instead to wait, well, then, He might not meet all my needs because I’m not obeying what He asked me to do.

I’m glad God reminded me of my journey – both the accelerated version of 2015 as well as the entire adventure starting eight years prior.  While I seemingly obeyed more in 2007 because I prayed, sought God’s wisdom and then waited, I think I grew faster in 2015 because of the intensity of the trial.  Do I wish I had viewed our circumstances last year through God’s eyes?  Yes.  Do I wish I would’ve waited when He told me too?  Absolutely!  I believe He wanted me to wait because He knew that when He gave me the command to walk, I would need to be rested and ready for the journey.  I got tired quickly when the signal came because I’d ignored His wait.

When life starts to feel like an emergency and decisions need to be made “right now,” that’s usually a message from the enemy and not my Father.  Sometimes God will tell us to hurry up and be quick, but most of the time His peace comes because there is time to seek His wisdom and sometimes to wait.

Very few things in life are true emergencies and I’m so glad God reminded me of that this week.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

 

 

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“Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Psalm 115:1 (NIV)

 

We drive two old cars and as a result, something always seems to be breaking down.  Last fall we found a new mechanic and took our car in for necessary repairs.  The price was right, they fixed the problem and God created an opportunity for me to share hope with one of the mechanics.  He had opened up that they had lost a baby at birth and from the way he was talking, it was evident he was still hurting almost two years later. I was able to give him a copy of a book I’d written dealing with that very topic, Hope During Heartache, praying that God would use those words to help him and his family.

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Fast forward three months later.  Bill was driving home from work and he called me up, asking me to “pray him home” because the brakes had gone from fine to almost gone with the snap of his fingers.  I did, God brought him home safely and the next day we were able to get our car in right away.  The same mechanic greeted us that morning and quietly mentioned, “This week was the anniversary of his death.”  I knew right away what he was talking about and was able to reach out again to offer comfort, this time in the form of brownies (nothing says comfort like chocolate!).  That afternoon as we were driving our once-again-fixed car home, I realized a few things.

I could have gotten upset with the inconvenient, expensive car repairs we were dealing with, again, or I could look at this situation from a different perspective.  I believe God allowed our car to need repairs so that we could meet this particular mechanic.  I also believe He allowed our car to break down again when it did because it was the anniversary of his baby’s death and he needed extra comfort. I believe it was never about the car needing to be repaired at all.  I believe it was more about reaching out and attempting to show Christ’s love to a hurting man than it was about paying for another car repair.  God provided the money for the repair just as He provided the opportunity for us to help someone who was hurting.

I want to encourage each of you today.  When life hands you situations that are inconvenient, sometimes expensive, and definitely not what you planned, consider looking at them through the lens of an eternal perspective.  While the money we spent on car repairs won’t matter five years from now, my prayer is that the mechanic will make an eternal decision to accept the healing Jesus offers… and then share that with his family as well.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” Hebrews 9:27 (NIV)

 

I have referred to the fact that God delivered me from the fear I used to have of winter driving.  It was bad.  About a month after I experienced the deliverance, I again experienced overwhelming fear about Bill’s safety going into work.  That was odd because I had been experiencing peace.

Instead of dwelling on the fear, I chose to turn to God instead and give it over to Him.  He reminded me of a conversation I had with a close friend the previous summer.  We were talking about how there is comfort in knowing that God knows the number of our days before we are born.  Thinking about that fact brings immense comfort to me.

While I’m not planning on going out and doing something reckless and put God to the test, I am comforted that I can obey the path God set before me in peace.  Nothing will be able to kill me before it’s my time to leave this earth and nothing will be able to keep me here when it’s my time to leave.  I don’t have to pass up opportunities to be a blessing for God because He will keep me safe until it’s my time to graduate to my eternal home.

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I will even go one step further and say I have complete peace that those who are God’s children will be escorted into Heaven with peace and comfort.  I don’t know who will be the escort, but I truly believe that when it’s our time to leave this earth, there will be no fear because God will be right with us.  One example we have is Stephen in the Bible, and I have heard of too many bedside conversations where peace has surrounded the room of the one going home.

I used to live my life in fear, especially once I became a mother.  I felt I had to protect myself, not put myself in harm’s way because I had a responsibility to be there for my kids.  Instead, I think that mindset backfired.  I believe I taught my children to live life cautiously instead of with abandon for God.  I taught them that they are in charge of taking care of themselves instead of learning how to trust their Heavenly Father to meet their needs and keep them safe.

It didn’t take long for the fear I felt about Bill to be replaced with God’s peace.  He reminded me gently, not with harsh accusations or incriminating words, that Bill’s days are numbered.  He is in charge and it’s not my job to worry about Bill’s safety.  He wants me to keep praying and asking for His help, but then let go and let God do what He does best – take care of His children.

It really does comfort me knowing that my days are numbered.  My only job is to continue obeying the commands God has specifically given to me and then when it’s time, knowing that He will escort me to my new home where I get to live for eternity.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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