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Archive for June, 2016

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16 (NIV)

 

Last week was a bit of a discouragement for a variety of reasons.  A friend sent me the above Scripture to encourage me… and it did.  Usually I will just read a Scripture at face value and let God speak to me, but this time, I felt compelled to look up what this particular Scripture means. I love that God whispered that suggestion and that I followed through.  What God spoke to me was this:

My plans don’t matter… not really.  God is going to do what He’s going to do and the part that I play in what God is going to do is my choice.  I can either choose to accept His invitation to be used of Him, in the way He wants, or I can choose to sit on the sidelines.  Either way, though, God is going to work things out according to His plans… with or without my cooperation.

However, on the flipside.  God has a purpose and plan for my life and He wants to use me to help fulfill His purpose in this life… As it states in the verse above, He chose me.  But again, it’s still my choice if I allow Him to use me for His purpose… or not.

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When I look at it that way, it says a few things to me.  First, the pressure is off.  God wants to use my life for His good.  I don’t have to do anything except obey.  The outcome or accomplishment that God wants fulfilled?  That’s on Him.  He is the One who will get the glory and the “pressure” for the miracle or the impossible is on Him… not dependent upon me.  My only role is to obey the path God puts me on and stay faithful to the mission He assigned to me.  If I do that, He will work out the details and as it should be, He will get all the glory.  People will be looking to whether or not God came through… and whether or not I obeyed the directions of His mission.

I wrote this to encourage us all today.  All of us who are God’s children have been chosen by our Father.  Because we have been chosen, we each have a specific mission/ministry that He wants to use us to carry out.  While we are responsible to be obedient to His guidelines (not taking control and doing it our way) in order to fulfill the mission He has in mind for us, the outcome?  That’s completely on God!  He doesn’t need us worrying, planning, taking over, making suggestions, or seeking an alternative route to the mission He gave us.  He just needs us to be faithful children who trust that He has our best in mind and that the mission He assigned us fits within our strengths, talents and abilities.

I truly believe it makes God happy when we surrender our will, lay our agenda down and truly seek to do what He has called us to do.  When we stop wanting our way and surrender completely to His way, that is when He can do His best work because our agendas are out of the way.

God has a goal and purpose for each of us during our lifetimes.  It’s an honor and a privilege to know He has chosen us to help Him fulfill them.  When we ask God what is our part… He is more than happy to answer.  When we do so with an obedient heart, then He knows we are ready to be used by Him.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

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“A cheerful disposition is good for your health;     gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.” Proverbs 17:22 (The Message)

 

In the recent post, Kids Always Need Us, I told about how each family will look different and that what truly matters is that as parents we are there for our kids.  One way to be there for our kids is to intentionally make fun memories.

This can be as simple as free activities in the community, fun activities at home or more elaborate family traditions with traveling or… wherever or whatever you choose, as a family.

One such memory making adventure that our family attempted recently stands out for me.  Normally we like to surprise our kids so we don’t tell them what we have planned.  We just tell them to get in the car and off we go on a fun adventure.  However, this particular Saturday we chose instead to involve them in the planning and execution.

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We decided we had a few hours and it was the first really nice day of the season, so we wanted to have a picnic lunch and then go walk around the zoo for a little bit.  We are blessed each year on our anniversary with an annual zoo pass, so that is a nice “go to” getaway that is relatively inexpensive and something we all enjoy.

Our middle child was more than willing to help me make the picnic lunch, so while I set about making the sandwiches, she filled the picnic basket with the other goodies.  I showed her how to pack the sandwiches in ice and a cooler before adding them to the basket, and suggested we put them in the refrigerator until it was time to leave.

About 30 minutes later we were on our way and had to make one stop first that should have taken about 20 minutes total.  Ninety minutes later, much hungrier than before, we finally were able to head to the zoo.  The first sign that things might not turn out the way we hoped was that the entire parking lot was filled – from the front parking spaces all the way to the back, while we continued to watch more and more and more cars file in.  We went up to the picnic area and decided to eat first, then hope the lines died down some so we could at least get into the zoo.

We found a spot, everyone helped get the blanket spread out and as my husband started passing out the food, he realized our picnic consisted of chips and cookies.  To my horror, the sandwiches were still tucked neatly in the cooler with ice… in the refrigerator! However, this particular day, no one got mad.  We happily ate chips and cookies while enjoying our drinks, still trying to decide if we would stand in the long line or wait and visit the zoo another day.

It turns out the zoo’s line was too long, so we instead choose to drive ten minutes to a favorite ice cream shop.  We sat outside in the sun enjoying ice cream cones before heading home to get some work done.

Because of our adventure and memory-making earlier in the day, my daughter and I had a great time cleaning for a few hours later that afternoon.  Okay… neither of us enjoyed the cleaning, but we did enjoy the companionship and easy talking that occurred because of spending fun time together earlier.  The boys worked outside, us girls worked inside and later we enjoyed pretzels and drinks for dinner when we had to go run a few more errands, picking up things we needed to finish the yardwork.

We have gone on many picnics with our kids since they were born and this is by far one of my favorites.  It will always be remembered as the day mom packed the sandwiches… safely in the fridge.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

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“… They are the children God has graciously given your servant.” Genesis 33:5 (NIV)

 

When we first started growing our family, I wanted to freeze time because I had waited so long to be a mother.  I loved being married.  I loved babies.  I thought, “Life doesn’t get much better than this.”  My friends and sister (who was about seven years ahead of me in parenting) kept encouraging me, “You’ll love every stage.  There is something terrific about each age.”

I never doubted that my love for my children would ever change, but I did wonder if I would enjoy the older stages as much as the infant stages, since I’m just naturally drawn to babies and little ones.

We started a tradition approximately seven years ago, when I was pregnant with our youngest.  We went away at the same time every year and would spend a long weekend together as a family.  We would spend one night at the Great Wolf Lodge (they have great off season rates) and then the other night at a regular hotel.  Throughout the years we have our “favorites” – things we do each time but every year we add or subtract other activities depending upon the weather, our energy level, etc.

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This year we recently got back from our trip.  We ended up spending an extra day up there and it was worth it. Our kids are 15, 13 and 6.  I remember writing a post a few years back, Living with No Regrets, lamenting that I was saying goodbye to the “baby” stage forever and how much I would miss that.

This year our trip looked different… and while I thoroughly enjoyed everything about the infant/toddler/preschool/Kindergarten stage, there are some real advantages to growing up.  This is the first year I didn’t have to worry about someone drowning.  Our youngest took swimming lessons last year and has more confidence in the water.  He is also taller and can reach the activities better, not to mention that any fear of water he might have had before is long gone.  What’s left is just pure delight!  To watch him just have fun and ask me to race him on the slides and run for the bucket is priceless!  Instead of having to carry a little one up the ginormous sand dune, he was running ahead and barely winded.

Our kids are at the stage where they can all participate in all activities now.  We don’t have to separate or split up anymore – mom with the “baby” while dad takes the older two.  We get to do all activities together if we want, or we can split up because we want to, not because we have to.

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I’m looking forward to this summer too.  Our youngest is still mainly home for the summer as he is still young enough to enjoy the simple things.  Our oldest has many activities already scheduled – his activities reflecting that he’s almost 16.  Our middle child who just turned 13 has come up with some pretty spectacular ways to keep herself busy and make a difference in the lives of others this summer.  I’m proud of who they are all becoming.  And I’m looking forward to what the next years have to offer.  I now know that yes, they do keep getting older, but it really does stay amazing!

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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

 

I remember returning to work after our first child was born and crying because I wanted so desperately to be at home with him.  I didn’t have the heart of a career woman – I had the heart of a stay-at-home mother.  I worked with social workers and I remember distinctly having a conversation with an older, wiser friend, telling her that I wanted to be home with my baby because he needed me.  She was on the other side of parenting – her children were all in their teens and I have never forgotten her reply.

“Our kids always need us.  When they are babies, our job is more physically demanding with limited sleep and hands-on care required for them to stay safe.  As they get older, the physical demands may lessen, but the emotional demands increase – being physically present so that when our kids need to talk to us, we are there to offer advice, to keep our mouths shut but our ears open and to make sure they know they are loved at home.”

I’m now about three to four years past the baby stage with our youngest.  Gone are the sleepless nights and the hands-on physical care required of little ones.  We are fully into the throws of grade school and adolescence and her words come back to remind me that my kids need me here at home with them as much or more than they did when they were babies.

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These words aren’t designed to make anyone feel guilty.  There are women who are better moms because they work outside the home full time or part time.  There are women who have wanted nothing more than to be a stay-at-home, full time mother and are blessed to have that privilege.  And there are women who have a heart’s desire to be one or the other and because life’s not perfect, they are living the opposite of the life they would choose if they could.

Regardless of which description best fits you, I’m here to encourage each parent, moms and dads, that our kids need us.  They don’t need us perfect.  They don’t need wonder woman or superman.  They just need us.  They need us to put down our phones, step away from our computers (speaking to myself here) and do life with them.  It is when we are doing life that conversations start.  It is when cookies are available (store bought works just as well as homemade) or a drive-thru ice cream cone on the way home from work and school that emotions are shared… lives are lived… connections are strengthened between parents and children.

The best part?  It’s going to look different for every family.  Some families will enjoy family game nights while others would rather serve together at church or a local organization.  Some families will eat dinner together every night while others will sit down to breakfast because of shift work.  It doesn’t matter what your family looks like.  It just matters that we as parents remember… our kids need us at every stage, and my husband and I want to be there for them through each one.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“God said to Abram, ‘Know this: your descendants will live as outsiders in a land not theirs; they’ll be enslaved and beaten down for 400 years. Then I’ll punish their slave masters; your offspring will march out of there loaded with plunder. But not you; you’ll have a long and full life and die a good and peaceful death. Not until the fourth generation will your descendants return here; sin is still a thriving business among the Amorites.’” Genesis 15:13-16 (The Message)

I was reading a book the other day and it got me thinking a little deeper about the Israelites.  I’m not sure why I never thought about the Israelites and their 40-year journey quite this way, but for whatever reason, I didn’t.  I always thought of the Israelites as that grumbling, complaining group of people who disobeyed God constantly and He got angry with them from time to time, despite how much He loved them.  However, I never really thought about the Israelites and where exactly they came from.

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The Israelites were slaves.  By the time Moses rose up and freed them, the majority (if not all) of them had been born into slavery so they knew no other lifestyle.  Therefore, they had a slave mentality, not a “freed” mentality.  They were used to people telling them what to do 24/7 and knew there were dire consequences if they disobeyed.

Now, I would like to think that if I came from that background and then my Heavenly Father comes and frees me, I would be so grateful that I would choose to obey Him without complaining, being incredibly thankful for all the blessings that come with living a free life.  However, I don’t think their life looked very “free” to them.  They were wandering around in a hot desert, they didn’t have many choices for food, and they were now free but homeless.  What exactly did their freedom look like?  First, they were chased by the people who captured them and then they had a cloud to follow by day and a pillar of fire to follow by night.  They were told when to leave, when to camp, when to stay and when to go.  I’m not sure if this was what they were feeling, but it seems like as they were tasting their first sips of freedom, they weren’t going to let themselves be chained down again… no matter if it was God or the Egyptians trying to force them to obey.

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All of the above is just my speculation.  I don’t have history to back it up, I don’t have any facts.  I just let my mind wander one day and tried to put myself in their shoes, wondering how it might feel to be a former slave, now free but wandering around in a desert after having been told about a “promised land” but not seeing any tangible results of that promise.  They were given miracle after miracle but were they too broken to believe God would continue to provide?  I heard speculation once that God used that 40 years of them wandering around in the desert to help them change their spirit from an orphan spirit (slavery) to a sonship spirit (believing that God was their Father), choosing to obey not out of fear but out of love.

How many of us wander around in our deserts for 40+ years because we can’t grasp the fact God loves us? A love because He is our Father, not for what we do for Him but because we are His children?  I’ve always known I’m too much like the Israelites, grumbling and complaining about my self-imposed deserts.  God is asking me to replace the orphan thinking I’ve done most of my life with the inheritance He wants me to have as His child.  It took the Israelites 40 years.  I hope I learn a faster than that.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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My Orphan Pup

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14:18-21 (NIV)

 

It’s hard to believe but our sweet puppy is already one and one half years old.  While he has lived in our house for almost two years by now, he still has an orphan spirit.  We provide him with more than enough toys, plenty of fresh air and almost enough exercise (can you ever give a puppy enough exercise?), lots of snuggly blankets as well as his choice of five different laps to cuddle on.  I would be neglectful to forget to mention the nutrition dog food we picked out for him as well as the special treats he gets occasionally.  We have done our best to show our dog that he is 100% part of our family.

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So, why is it that he still has an orphan spirit?  We bought him from a pet store where he lived the first few weeks of his life in a cage.  While he caught on to potty training quite easily, he still has some annoying habits that prove he doesn’t believe we will take care of all his needs.  For instance, he steals food.  Obnoxiously.  He also chews incessantly… stealing socks, napkins, toys, and my least favorite… my glasses!  We went through FOUR pair before I got wise and bought the warranty, to which now either I am smarter or he is more mature.

God brought our family into our church family approximately three years ago.  We have grown so much deeper in our relationship with God during that time.  Our church would mention the idea of the “orphan spirit” but I didn’t really grasp it at first.  Then I read a book, Spiritual Slavery to Sonship recently and the pieces started fitting together more clearly.

I believe that everyone is born with an orphan spirit because that is what draws us into a relationship with our Heavenly Father.  Without that, I don’t believe we would ever recognize our need for a Savior… that we can’t save ourselves.  However, once we have accepted Jesus into our heart, some people have a harder time grasping what it means to be God’s child and that we are orphans no more.

While working through the above book, I realized how much our dog still has that orphan spirit, and how many of those characteristics I see in myself as well.  I don’t eat glasses or chew up napkins, but why is it so hard for me to accept that I’m God’s child and He wants to bless me?  He wants to provide, heal, redeem, protect… all because He loves me. And He loves me because I’m His child.

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The best way, I’ve found, to combat and remove the orphan spirit from my life is to hide God’s promises in my heart from His Word.  Reading Scriptures that describe God’s attributes as well as how He sees me is what will allow the orphan spirit mentality to disappear and for me to be firmly planted in His truth, that I am His loved child.

I love how God used our sweet (with a few obnoxious qualities) puppy to reinforce the truths He was teaching me about how He truly sees me.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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Truth and Friendship

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” I Peter 3:15 (NIV)

 

I’ve been reading a great book called Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi.  This is a book that cannot be read lightly because when read slowly, it causes one to think, really think about the struggles Muslims face when introduced to the truths of Christianity.  For three years, Mr. Qureshi sought after the truth and that path led to his choosing to accept Jesus into his heart, fully submitting to God despite what it would ultimately cost him in his culture and with his family.

I believe that God used that book in my life to remind me of a few things.  First, I am incredibly blessed.  When I gave my heart to God at six years old, I didn’t have to make a choice between my Heavenly Father and my earthly Father.  I wasn’t sad because I had a family who rejected me and my “religion” but instead I was brought up in a home where God was the center and learning about Him and His truth was something to be embraced, not rejected.

Second, I believe God used that book to remind me of a truth I have always believed in and tried to implement in my everyday life: to live a life that imitates Christ means to love others, build relationships and fellowship with others.  Not judging their choices but living side by side and showing them God’s love through my actions more than my words.

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However, that brings me to the third point I think God wanted to show me.  There needs to be more.  I can’t just rely on the fact I’m showing others Jesus’ love by my actions – I have to know the Truth behind what I believe in because people are hungry for the Truth.  While an emotional connection with God will come because God is very much alive and so incredibly personal to every human being who seeks Him, for many, it starts with Truth.  Why do I believe what I believe?  Can I back up my beliefs with facts? People aren’t impressed and many don’t change their way of life, their cultures, their practices because of a “feeling.”  They want to know that if they have to risk everything, who and what they are risking it for.

Mr. Qureshi stated that one of the major factors that helped lead him to Christianity was the deep friendship he and his college buddy, David, had with each other.  David wasn’t afraid to confront Nabeel with the truth and Nabeel was able to accept it because of the solid friendship that was already established between the two of them.

I will admit that I am not where I need to be with that third Truth.  I need to learn more of why I believe what I believe and be able to explain that coherently to others who are truly seeking.  I believe that is one of the best gifts we could give our children too – knowing how to defend their faith and knowing why they believe what they believe. It doesn’t have to be scary but it will require time and effort to uncover those answers.

I’m an emotional person.  If given the choice, I would rather read a biography about a person’s life than a text book.  And that’s okay.  God created me to be relational with people for a reason.  However, it’s time I start digging a little deeper so that when people ask, I can give them facts that back up the Truths I know to be reality.  May God help me balance out building relationships with people so that when we have discussions about God’s Truth, they will see my heart.  I’m not here to force them to choose my way.  I’m just here presenting them God’s Truth to allow them to make that choice for themselves.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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