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Archive for May, 2016

Exaggerations!

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37 (NIV)

During spring break I took a little more time off than usual and just enjoyed spending time with my family.  While watching a movie, though, and I realized I have a problem.

We were watching a Christian, feel good family movie that our kids had seen the night before and wanted to share with us because they thought it was great.  However, without intentionally meaning to, I kept interrupting the movie with my own commentary.  For instance, one scene depicted two of the kids playing by themselves on a hay bale.

My response?  “She’s going to fall and break her arm, isn’t she?”

The next scene was the older brother riding his bike by the street.

My response?  “I bet he gets hit by a car.”

While all three of my kids thought my comments were hilarious, finally one of our kids pointed out my issue.  “You know, mom, every movie doesn’t have to end tragically.  Some can just be fun.”

My child was spot on.  When did I start viewing life through the lens of “worst-case scenarios?”  When did my mindset change from a peaceful afternoon at the park to how will we protect ourselves if there is an escaped convict or car accident or natural disaster?

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I don’t want to be that woman who lives with perpetual high blood pressure because I’m always on guard for what if’s, now what, or this can’t be happening!  I want to be the mom who lets her kids ride bikes until dark, play outside and catch fireflies, try new experiences and have fun adventures just because they can… without worrying they will fall off the hay bale or get hit by a car.

I’m the only one who can change that mindset… with God’s help.  The first step was realizing it was happening. Now that God’s opened my eyes, I can start to take action.  When fear or worst-case scenario thinking starts creeping in, I can first stop and thank God for His protection.  Then I need to go one step further and remind myself of a truth from His word, a specific Bible verse that talks about how He takes care of His children.  Then, I can’t stop there.  I have to deliberately stop myself from continuing on the path of negative thinking and instead choose godly thoughts, positive thoughts.

I’m not sure how long this process will take, but at least now I’m aware and can start forging a different path in my mind.  Next time we sit down together as a family to watch a movie, I hope the commentary in my mind has changed enough that we can just enjoy the movie… maybe with a little popcorn to keep my mouth busy instead, without fearing someone will choke on a popcorn kernel.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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Conviction

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”

Romans 8:1 (NIV)

 

I’ve spoken about this topic before, but I think it’s important enough to talk about more than once.  I lived most of my life feeling condemned.  I’m not sure why and I still have those tendencies that I’m working on. For instance, if I’m in the room with someone who has done something wrong, I take on the guilt despite being completely innocent.  So, for a personality like that, to grasp the difference between conviction and condemnation was quite difficult.

However, the deeper my relationship with God gets, the easier time I have distinguishing between the two.  Condemnation is hard, fast, doesn’t give you time to think and makes you feel badly about yourself.  Things appear hopeless when condemnation steps into the room.

Conviction, on the other hand, feels peaceful.  Peaceful you ask?  Yup – peaceful.  There is no guilt or shame associated with it.  You know you messed up, you know you need to change, but when God is part of the picture as He is with conviction, it feels different.  It’s a gentle correction, almost like an invitation to step onto the right path and make right what you have done wrong.  No judgments, no harsh words spoken, but still the expectation of obedience.

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People tried to explain this to me for years but until I actually started to experience it for myself, I couldn’t fully grasp what they were describing.  Now that I have, I don’t want to go back.  Now that I have felt conviction, it’s easier to recognize condemnation and I want no part in that experience.

In addition to the differences between conviction and condemnation, God’s voice and satan’s voice are extreme opposites as well.  When God speaks, there is usually a peace that follows.  He doesn’t usually ask me to quickly decide things but gives me time to line up what He is asking of me with His Word.

If satan is speaking, it’s usually a “quick, hurry up and decide” and my blood pressure raises, my “fight or flight” mode kicks in and I feel irritated, anxious, nervous and just out of sorts.  When God speaks, I might be convicted in what He wants me to do, but except for the internal wrestling I might experience with fighting to do it my way instead of God’s way, there is an underlying peace once I surrender to His will.  If I “surrender” to satan, I don’t feel peace. I feel more condemnation.

I’m so glad that God has allowed me to feel the sweet peace of conviction versus condemnation for myself.  I pray that you all are able to experience it for yourselves as well.  While any type of correction isn’t necessarily pleasant, conviction versus condemnation is so much gentler.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)

I think God allows us to be born as infants and grow slowly for many reasons.  One of which I spoke about around Easter this year in the post titled, “The REAL Reason for Easter.”  Basically that we need to learn obedience and have a chance to mature before we are ready to fulfill the destiny that God placed in our hearts before we were even born.

However, one of the other reasons I believe God allows us to be born as infants and slowly grow in a family is because Jesus lives with pure joy.  I think He gives us the gift of children to remind us not to take life so seriously but instead to embrace the essence of joyful living.

I am reminded daily by all three of our children to let go of the “serious” of life and just relish in the great moments.  The moments that if you don’t look up from your phone or push away from your computer you will miss because they are spontaneous, incredible and fleeting.

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Children’s faces are barometers of their emotions.  Every day when I pick up our littlest, I wait to see what face will greet me.  Most days I hear, “This was the BEST day ever” and then he proceeds to tell me why…  it could be as simple as getting his favorite book from the library, to something more special like having his beloved children’s pastor come to his classroom and read to the entire class after fist bumping and hugging him personally.  It could be because he got to chew gum or his teacher brought in donut holes or he was the special person or…  Rarely is it about grades or performance.  It usually has something to do with a relationship he has with someone or getting to do his favorite activity.

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Our oldest two might not quite declare it with as much enthusiasm or volume, but they also express their joy for life, sometimes for accomplishments but also mainly centered around relationships and favorite activities.

What a great reminder for this way to often, too focused on goals momma.  I’m continually learning to balance a little more.  Stepping away from the computer after working for an adequate amount of time, finding a stopping point and then letting go, choosing to enjoy my family or friends or at other times, a favorite alone activity.

There will always be more work that needs my attention.  The to-do list might shrink, but it will never disappear.  Even after 12 loads of laundry yesterday, by last night the tubs were filling up again with more dirty clothes waiting their turn in the washing machine.

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I might start stealing the phrase from our littlest and declaring each day, “the BEST day ever” as a reminder to find something joyful to focus on. After all, He has given me another chance to laugh and enjoy the life He has given me.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.”

Ephesians 5:1-2 (The Message)

Suffering of any kind hurts.  There’s no way to sugarcoat it.  Sometimes I wish that I could say to God, “Okay, God, I’ve already walked down this road. It hurt. I learned my lesson. Next issue, please.”

However, that’s not how God works… and that’s not how life works.  It’s true when they say life is like an onion.  I think I have something mastered and I’m doing good and then wham! The same ugly feelings or emotions show up in a slightly different circumstance and while I may deal with the issue with a little more maturity, I still have to deal with the issue, until the next time it rears its ugly head – slightly changed yet again but still there.

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I just finished dealing with that cycle a few weeks ago.  I was dealing with an issue that I continually bring to God in prayer.  You see, I never really thought I had a problem with this particular characteristic; however, I was always praying and asking God to weed even the tiniest form of it out of my life before it could take root and grow.  I think He wanted to lovingly show me that, yes, it was present and it would take a little more than a tiny pull to get the roots this time… because it hurt quite a bit.  However, once I said, “Okay, I see what You’re saying and let’s get this eradicated,” it actually came out quite easily and I feel much better.  His peace is back and I’ve grown a little more spiritual maturity.

You would think those blessings would be enough… yet this time I found an extra benefit that I didn’t necessarily see before.  I used to think that one of the privileges God gave out of trials we face was that when others around us were hurting, we could come alongside them and help them with empathy, having been there ourselves previously.  People who haven’t experienced specific pain can’t fully relate and therefore usually can’t comfort because they just don’t understand that depth of emotion.

However, I’m learning there is one more benefit to the trials we face.  Learning how to relate to people differently before they are hurt.  After reaching the other side of my above growth journey, I noticed the way I related to people had changed. When I would reach out to others, I approached the situation, and them, with more compassion and kindness than previously.  In the past I never intentionally meant to hurt anyone, but nevertheless I would be in a hurry and my interaction wouldn’t be as warm or friendly. A few changes of how I worded things made a lasting impression.

Not only does spiritual maturity benefit us, but I find that it benefits those around us.  When I continue to desire to be more like Jesus, everyone in my life benefits. I become softer, kinder, more compassionate… more loving, just like Him.  And that’s the best benefit of all.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 17:22 (NIV)

 

I have two jobs that I love.  Both of my jobs involve organizing, but they also involve researching people, companies, ideas, and/or ministries.  I’m finding that it sometimes involves many hours of digging deeper to see what their mission statement is and whether or not their vision lines up with what we are promoting… or willing to promote.  Sometimes it pays off well and we add another member of our team as a result.  Other times, the research and hours ends up with… nothing, from the world’s perspective.  We move on or the potential team member declines our offer, or we realize it’s just not a good fit.

As I was shutting down my work for the night, the thought crossed my mind, “Does what I do really matter?”  Are those hours researching and discovering considered wasted if the answer is “no” or… do they still have value?

And that question led me to the next… Do the jobs I chose (that God guided me to) add value to my life and those of my employers? Do the activities that I choose to participate in during my down time add to my life or subtract from it? What about my friendships? Am I wasting my time or… am I choosing to make a difference with the choices I make?

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I realized that I’ve had periods of life where I wasted huge chunks.  And I’ve had periods of time where I was very productive.  Looking back, though, even during those periods of time where I wasn’t in the “ministry” per se that God has called me toward, I was instead in a period of “training.”  I’m still in a period of training, just at a different level.  As I get older, though, and as I see that God is allowing me to work in positions where I’m truly gifted, all areas of my life seem to work together to fulfill the plans that God has for me.

My leisure time is spent building memories with my family, in fellowship with other like-minded women, or reading God-honoring, sometimes challenging books to help me continue growing in my relationship with my Father.  God is stretching me further and I’ve even taken it to the next level and started exercising my body as well as my spirit.

Two of our three kids are participating in either track or a running club.  I have never been a runner.  However, the program that one child is participating in seems easy enough that even someone as out of shape as myself can start.  I will admit I’m more than a little nervous.  I’m also afraid I will fail and quit before the end.  However, the 5K occurs on my birthday.  God’s been speaking to me about taking care of my physical body for quite a while now.  He knows nothing motivates me more than wanting to obey Him and any activity that involves my family.

So… I’m going to take the plunge because I’ve realized that what I do does matter, even if it seems at times like it doesn’t.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’…” Matthew 5:37 (NIV)

 

I spoke last time about how God told me He wanted me to talk less and listen more.  I really am trying, but for someone who took a while to start talking and then never shut up, this is a real challenge.  I’m incredibly introverted around new people or in gatherings of more then 6, but within my family of 5 – Nope!  Not shy at all.

However, God has been working with me on various issues surrounding this topic of talk less… listen more.  One major concept is that my husband has a lot of wisdom to impart but when I don’t shut up, he isn’t given a chance to impart it. My husband also has one of Jesus’ wonderful characteristic traits:  That is that he doesn’t waste words.  What takes me three paragraphs to say, he says in three words.

I first noticed that characteristic trait in Jesus when reading the Gospels.  He never wasted His words with people.  He didn’t give in to manipulation, arguments, bragging, lecturing – He never wasted His words.  He said what needed to be said, only when it needed to be said and then let God work on people’s hearts.

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I then noticed that same pattern with God when He would speak to me.  Many times I would ask Him a question and He would answer me with one, maybe two words. I would then counter with an argument, persuasion, or alternative and once again, without arguing, I would hear the same one or two word answer.  Always loving, always timely never wasted.

It wasn’t until after I distinctly heard God tell me to talk less and listen more as well as submit completely to my husband that I noticed my husband has always been like Jesus with that particular habit.  He listens well and listens often… and then when ready to speak, imparts his wisdom in very few words. Impactful, wise, clearly thought out words… and in a way that makes our kids sit up and notice.  That makes me sit up and notice.  And when pushed back on… he simply reinforces his authority in our house along with the previously used words and then allows God to work on their hearts.

I clearly need to keep practicing.  God showed me through another conversation that while I’m moving in the right direction, He wants me to keep trying.  My husband and I attended a class at our church meant to equip and encourage us as we travel the journey of adolescence with our children.  The youth pastor made the comment that we need to keep encouraging our children to ask God directly for answers to their questions.  Our job as parents is to provide the opportunities for these conversations and then to get out of the way so that God can speak directly to their hearts, not always through our voices.  Our children hear our lectures plenty.  It is when they hear God’s desire for their lives that true heart change will take place.

I might have missed that important truth yesterday had God not already started that conversation with me.  “Talk less… listen more” and “Submit completely to your husband.”  Two very short sentences packed with a powerful punch.

I’m blessed to be the child of a Heavenly King who speaks less and hears my heart’s desire to completely obey His commands. I’m so glad He understands my imperfect follow through is based on needing more practice, not a disobedient heart.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly…” Psalm 85:8 (NIV)

 

In What Submission is Not,  I spoke a lot about how God has been changing me to submit more to my husband in all areas of my life.  Another characteristic that God has been working with me on (for a long time I might add) is to talk less, listen more.  To Bill, to my kids, to friends… everyone really.  And I’m finally getting it.  Still not doing it very well, but I’m getting it and I’m trying.

I finished reading a book that caused me to think long and hard.  Maybe because while reading it, I had a conversation with one of my kids where I was trying to impart wisdom and the response I received was, “You just don’t get it.  You’re not listening.”  Our child was right – I wasn’t listening.  I thought I had to encourage, support… all with words when what was really needed was for me to talk less, listen more.

During this same period of time, our community was dealing with two tragedies, days apart.  One was the shooting of innocent people who were just out enjoying life while the other involved a little girl not making it home one night to enjoy dinner, bath and cuddles.  Again, I felt I needed to comfort, reassure, impart wisdom… when what my kids really needed was for me to talk less, listen more.

The book I referred to above was written from a mother of a convicted killer’s viewpoint.  She expressed guilt from page one through the last page at failing to see the signs of trouble. She explained more than once throughout the book she wished she had stopped trying to instill a sense of responsibility and instead listened… asked questions until her son would finally speak.  While listening seems like it would be so much easier than cming up with wise words to say, it’s truly (for me) one of the hardest things to do.

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One theme from the book as well as other various resources God has given to me is this:  those around us need grace, listening ears, sympathy, empathy, and spending time together more than lectures, wisdom or daily life lessons imparted.

There is a time and place for teaching the wisdom we have learned, but I’m realizing if I spent a quarter of the time lecturing and imparting wisdom and three-quarters of my time listening, really listening, I think it would change the dynamics in my household, at my place of business… in the community.

And, God doesn’t usually just teach me these things to have better relationships with those I love.  He teaches me these things so I will ultimately have a better relationship with Him.  I need to learn to talk less, listen more with my Heavenly Father as well.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

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“May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

Proverbs 5:18 (NIV)

 

When I was growing up, my parents didn’t choose professions that would afford our family a lavish lifestyle.  My mom was the queen of frugal and could stretch a dollar farther than most.  We never felt deprived and I learned to be content without the latest, greatest gadget or gizmo.  My husband and I followed in their footsteps regarding our employment, choosing more family time versus a higher paycheck.  While we are blessed to be able to enjoy far more than we deserve, we also try to live frugally.

It is with this mindset then, that when special occasions roll around on the calendar, my usual response is, “I don’t need anything.  I’m happy just spending time with you and the kids and we can use that money toward… (fill in the blank depending upon the season).”  And I really do mean that – I don’t need anything except time to create more memories with my family.  I also feel badly because my birthday is about two weeks away from Mother’s Day so they are “celebrating me” and then two weeks later, “celebrating me again.”

One of my husband’s love languages is to give gifts.  He loves to give people things and truly takes pleasure in choosing the perfect present that will speak to the recipient’s heart.  However, when I know that money is stretched thin and someone always needs something, I have a hard time accepting that money being spent on me.  But I don’t think it’s as much fun to give gifts to someone who feels guilty accepting them.

This morning I was reading an article in the Huffington Post which spoke about when people knew their marriage was over.  It wasn’t really an article.  It was 90 tweets, posts, etc. of polled people describing the circumstances surrounding when they knew they were headed for a divorce.  There were a few themes that were consistent within the 90 responses and one of them was pure lack of treasuring the other person – whether by refusing to be with their spouse during an crisis in their life (death of parents, physical illness) or refusal to acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, etc. at all.

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That got me thinking.  Why do I resist so much when my family wants to honor me by buying/making me something special?  What I originally thought was a loving gesture (“I don’t need anything, let’s use that money for something else”) is not loving at all.  With those words, I’m denying my family the joy of giving selflessly.  That feels selfish to say but it’s true.  And it’s wrong.

I decided that this year I’m changing my tune.  I hadn’t given my annual speech yet of “I don’t need anything” and I’m not going to. We have a family tradition that we hold sacred every year on Mother’s Day and with this tradition, I truly feel honored, spoiled, and treasured.  I honestly don’t need anything else, but whatever my family chooses to do, I’m going to hold it close to my heart and be grateful that I have a family who loves me enough to want to “celebrate me.”

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And when my birthday rolls around in two weeks, I can’t wait to see what we do then too.  Maybe we will do what we do every year and I would love that.  It is, after all, one of my favorite things to do.  I truly don’t need presents because my husband and my kids are my present every day.  But, from now on, I’m going to let them choose how they want to “celebrate me.”  And whatever they choose will be perfect.

So, today, if you are a mother, I would encourage you to allow your family to celebrate you.  Remember, it’s okay to be spoiled by those who love you!

I would love to wish both my mom and my mom-by-marriage a wonderful Mother’s Day today!  We are blessed that we get to continue to make memories with them not just on special occasions but all year long.  I love you both so much!

© Cheri Swalwell

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“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” Psalms 127:3 (NIV)

 

Parents have a hard job… but it’s also the best job.  One weekday in February, I was reflecting on this as I was driving home, finally, from multiple trips to two schools, all before 8:30 a.m.  Our kids are high school, middle school, and elementary school – fairly self sufficient so gone are the days of extremely hands-on parenting and we’re onto more support parenting.  Two of the three of them make their own lunches (the third will begin next year with supervision), they take care of the dogs before they leave for school (take out and feed) and they can dress themselves, feed themselves, etc.  It’s more a matter of just making sure the household continues to run smoothly and stepping in to offer a hand when schedules get behind.

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This particular morning, I was driving our two oldest to school because one had to take a test and needed to be there early.  My husband used to drive them daily but with his promotion, his hours changed and therefore they were back to riding the bus.  This meant the youngest also had to get up and be ready to go much earlier than usual, which he didn’t mind.  We dropped them off and when I arrived home, I realized our oldest’s phone had fallen out of his pocket and was lying on the seat… which meant another trip to the school before driving our youngest to his, because with an after school job and a winter weather warning, I needed to be able to reach him if necessary.

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After finally driving home from my last drop off (the elementary school), I realized just how crazy mornings are for parents, no matter how many children you have.  While it seems like it lasts forever, it is a short time we get the privilege of helping our kids grow into adults.

I am privileged to have the advantage to work from home so my schedule is slightly more flexible than others.  I give extra credit to parents who work outside the home and have to fit everything into the short hours between after work and bedtime and the weekends.  Add in other factors like extra travel time in bad weather, sickness, bad days, etc. and your normal state of chaos can quickly derail even further. Even the most organized households have some form of hectic when trying to get everyone out the door at the same time… all dressed, with lunches, sports and/or band equipment, homework, briefcases and of course the much needed coffee.

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I realized on that cold, February morning – I thrive in this type of hectic.  I’ve been known to get more done in the two hours I first wake up than the six hours delegated to working while everyone is at school.  Dinner in the crockpot, two loads of laundry, lunches, dogs, and even some work at times.  I will miss these mornings when all our kids are grown and gone.  I will miss the laughter, the chaos, the help in the kitchen, the peanut butter smeared on the counter – most importantly the hugs, kisses, and knuckle punches as everyone walks out the door or standing outside the school chatting with other moms and kids about random stuff while we wait for the bell to ring.

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I want to offer encouragement to all those parents out there – those that work from home, outside the home or are full time homemakers.  Parenting can be hectic but there is nothing more rewarding in life than having a great relationship with your kids.  It’s absolutely my favorite job!

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© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

 

 

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“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

I have three jobs that keep me pretty busy.  However, my real position is: Daughter of the King, wife to my best friend and an amazing husband, and mom to some terrific kids!

Today was a decent day.  Instead of provoking my kids by mindlessly barking out orders, I gave choices.  I stated what was expected in a friendly voice instead of a lecture or “I-told-you-so” attitude.  I accomplished a decent amount of work with one job and while I’m not done yet with the duties for my other position, I have a fairly good handle on it.  Not my best day but certainly not my worst.

Typically, we reserve Monday nights for a date night between my husband and our daughter and Awana for our boys and me.  Our oldest and I serve while our youngest gets to hide God’s word in his heart and make new friends. However, the third Monday of every month we usually miss Awana because I have responsibilities with one of my job that keep me at my computer instead.  I don’t mind – I love what I do and I enjoy that aspect of my job as well.  In the past, to make it easier, all three of us would just stay home; however, this particular night, our teenager decided he didn’t want to miss out and asked his dad if he would drive him there and pick him up afterwards.  My husband was happy to comply and away they went.

I was standing at the door watching them leave and it struck me.  While I couldn’t hear the conversation, I could see the animated laughter permeating the car as the three men in my life truly enjoyed being together.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about memory making – making sure to take the time to appreciate those I love because I never know what the future holds.  Not in a sad, depressed way but to truly tuck away the special times, the ordinary times, the “lasts” that I don’t realize are lasts until they never happen again.

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We don’t have much longer with our oldest – he is growing so fast and before we know it, we will be down to two children living in our home… then one… then hopefully they will at least come back to visit on holidays and in between. We are blessed with both sets of parents living close – close enough to visit daily or at least several times a month.  Saturday my parents had made a date with one of our children and while the youngest was having his turn with his Saturday dad date, my parents spontaneously asked the other child to join them on their shopping excursion.  While said child was supposed to be catching up on work around the house, I chose to dismiss chores for what was more important… time with grandparents that could never be gotten again.

I need to remember more often why I work… why I do what I do.  It’s so that I can enjoy the time I have with those I love.  Not rush through life checking off my huge “to do” list, but intentionally taking time to spend with those who are important to me… remembering what’s most important.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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