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Archive for August, 2018

“Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4 (The Message)

 

A friend and I were talking about forgiveness. She was talking about her frustration with herself. She had chosen to forgive someone, thought she had forgiven him/her, and yet, thoughts and conversations kept coming to mind at random times and she was finding it hard to “let go”.

It was easy for me to empathize with her because I struggle in those same areas. I believe God gave me the following analogy to help encourage her and maybe it will encourage you as well, if you are dealing with the struggle of forgiving someone in your life, and truly releasing the hurt once and for all.

First and foremost, I need to make the decision to forgive. That is a choice I make with my head, I say with my mouth and eventually it makes it way down to my heart. After that decision has been followed through with comes the hard part – walking that forgiveness out on a daily basis. I believe the degree to which a person struggles in this area depends upon the degree of hurt that has been (or continues to be) experienced.

Think of the act of complete forgiveness from the perspective of being burned. This past school year I was making muffins that had hot jelly in them. I was hurrying to get them plated and accidentally touched the hot jelly with my finger. The sting was so severe (hot jelly sticks to one’s finger),and my automatic response was to “put my finger in my mouth to cool it down.” However, I missed my mouth and ended up with jelly sticking to the space above my upper lip but below my nose. I ended up with blisters on my finger and on my upper lip for over a week because the degree of the burn inflicted that type of injury. These are the types of offenses that hurt, but are one-time offenses and once they are “healed,” the pain is over. It is done.

However, second-, third- or fourth-degree burns have a much longer healing process. Approximately five years ago I traveled to New Jersey with my family and suffered third- or fourth-degree burns from sunbathing. It was so severe I couldn’t stand to have any clothing covering it up and I developed blisters that lasted several weeks. The rest of the summer, that area of skin remained pink and I couldn’t risk exposing it to the sun at all. Years later, it still burns quicker than any other area of my skin and I have to be ultracareful to protect it to a greater degree than the rest of my body because the damage that was done in the past still has residual effects.

It is similar with hurts that cut deep, sting on contact, continue to burn after the exposure has been removed and remain sensitive to continual exposure. These hurts can be forgiven and completely healed (it’s a choice as stated above) but run the risk of being re-burned if re-exposed to the same heat (hurtful situations).

While I believe a person can forgive each degree of “burn” they receive, some burns (hurts) need more attention to stay forgiven. If a person is continually re-exposed to the hurtful situation, it might be time to talk to a professional about putting up healthy boundaries for that sensitive area in his/her life.

The degree of the hurt (burn) doesn’t determine whether or not one can choose to forgive. God commands us to forgive others of all offenses. Walking out that forgiveness is sometimes a daily choice with the burns that are more severe than those that only scratch the surface. My friend’s frustration above (as well as my own) wasn’t about not wanting to forgive, it was more about continuing to choose to ignore the promptings of the enemy to revisit the hurts and instead choose to train our thoughts on praising God, not focusing on past hurts.

The less we focus on the burn and the more we focus on God’s blessings, the faster the burns will heal with less residual sensitivity. Healthy boundaries are important as well – and sometimes talking to a Christian professional about how to put healthy boundaries in place helps to give the burn time to heal once and for all.

#degreeofburn           #SpokenfromtheHeart       #forgivessnessisachoice

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

 

 

 

 

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“In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” Romans 12:4-6 (The Message)

 

There is a popular song on the radio right now talking about how it’s okay to dream about making a big imprint in this world in Jesus’ name, but don’t let one’s vision for “greatness” overshadow the difference we can make in the here and now today. Raising our children, pastoring a smaller church instead of a megachurch, serving in a smaller, unseen role instead of out on stage – all of these acts of service matter in the lives that are touched and all are seen by God as great, even if the audience that receives the blessing is “small”.

That song came on the radio while driving home on our road trip and our eight-year-old and I started talking about it. I casually mentioned how much I love the song and so we talked about how working in the background was just as important as working out in front.

I had just finished a book over the weekend about newly-married couples and the internal struggle of the wife who was staying behind for six weeks with their 2-year-old daughter and 2-month-old son while her husband went and “built a well.” His “service” seemed much bigger in comparison to hers – she was keeping little ones alive while he was helping to supply fresh water to an entire community. Yet, in God’s eyes, when done with the right attitude, both acts of service were equal. He was equally pleased.

 

God has planted some really big dreams into my heart. In my eyes anyway, they are huge and impossible without His guidance. I’m slowly and steadily working toward the goal of accomplishing whatever God wants me to do in His name. However, God reminded me on this simple early Sunday morning road trip, sometimes, it’s my kids or my husband who will be doing the “big” and I will be contributing in the background with the “small.”

You know what? I’m just as happy stepping aside and letting them do “something big.” Our son was given the opportunity to speak Jesus to a group of fourth through sixth graders that upcoming week – and needed transportation to get there and get home. He would be sharing a cabin, role modeling, having discussions about God, building relationships, etc. to help those kids see God in action. He was doing something big.

Our family, on the other hand, took our role of “dreaming big” alongside him seriously. As I told him when he thanked his dad and me countless times for our help, “that’s what family does.”

That type of service and coming alongside one another shouldn’t be confined to biological families. It should be evident with church families as well. It’s important to “dream big” alongside each other as we all fulfill the purpose God gives all of His children – pointing others to Jesus, the only One who can save.

I still have big dreams. God will help me fulfill the ones He wants accomplished and will change the others or help me let them go. In the meantime, I get as much pleasure in helping my family – husband and children (and other brothers and sisters in Christ) “dream big” by coming alongside and doing the “small” which is necessary to fill in the gaps for their “big.”

Because, in reality, every act of service, when done with a heart of praise to Him, is all big in God’s eyes.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

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“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” James 5:13 (NIV)

 I spoke earlier in “The Summer of … Intentional Memories” about the opportunity for a road trip this summer. The plan was for a family road trip first and five days later a road trip with the kids and I. However, the morning we were to leave, two of the five of us were unable to go after all, so it was up to me to get our oldest to his destination safely.

Okay, I was ready to adjust. We all prayed in the driveway before our two boys and I headed out, and I trusted God had our back. Both boys quickly fell asleep in the pre-dawn hour and I turned on the radio for some “God and me time.”

 

Soon I noticed it was getting darker instead of lighter. Then I noticed some spatters on the windshield and my first thought was … “Really, God? I don’t know if I’m up for dark and rainy. I don’t like either. I can handle one or the other, but both?”

However, before that thought could settle into my spirit, I chose to “praise God for the rain.” My next prayer became, “Okay, Abba. Driving in the rain is not my idea of fun, in fact it makes me nervous … really nervous. But, if this is what you are choosing for me this morning, then I’m going to praise You because I believe You are allowing the rain to protect us from something else.” At this point, I was envisioning heavier traffic, deer running out in front of me – something more dangerous than just steady rain. And then I continued to sing to the radio, thanking God when the rain lightened and gripping the steering wheel tighter to steady the car when it came down heavier.

It wasn’t until we had arrived back home and were running some errands with the rest of the family that God gave me a glimpse as to why, maybe He allowed the rain this morning. The sun was shining and it was HOT, really HOT. I had another conversation with Him: “Did You allow the rain this morning to keep the intense heat away, knowing that driving in a car for five hours with the sun beating down throughout the windshield isn’t very fun? Sometimes it’s also hard to see with sunlight glaring through the windshield. I’m really glad I chose to thank You instead of complain this morning.”

I believe God gave me a choice that morning: praise Him for the rain, trusting that His plan was the best or complain about a small inconvenience that prevented what could have been a bigger inconvenience or even a tragedy.

I don’t always get to see why God allows what He does, but I don’t have to. There are circumstances my family and I have been walking in for years and while we don’t see the answers (or reasons) why at this point, it’s simply for us to trust. And praise God through them. And I do.

What about you? What rain can you praise God for in your life that may be keeping your car cool and comfortable during a long road trip or preventing other worse trials from crossing your path?

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

 

 

 

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“Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.” John 7:16 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together I shared three truths God taught me during the last five years our family has been on a “God-adventure.” They included:

  • The Journey is the Destination
  • The Journey is Meant to Prepare and Teach; Not Punish
  • We Can’t Fully Appreciate the Blessings until We’ve Learned the Lessons

Today I want to share with you three more truths God has spoken directly to my heart.

Truth #4: God Doesn’t Play Favorites.

I’ve learned through my time in the desert that our Heavenly Father loves me as much as He loves you. And He loves you as much as He loves me. What I mean by that is this: God isn’t going to hurt me to bless you and He’s not going to bless me to hurt you. This has become one of my favorite truths and I apply it to so many different situations. God loves all His children equally. When I stay in tune to His voice, He is going to guide me toward the best choice in my life but never at the expense of someone else. That is reassuring. When I listen to His voice, I’m assured that my actions speak love to those around me.

Truth #5: It’s Not Always About What It Seen.

How many times in the past have I allowed my feelings to get hurt by what someone has done or said? Recently, it came to our family’s attention that something we were doing was being questioned by others. In the past, I would have felt guilty and ashamed and done whatever I could have to make things right, to get back in good standing with this unknown person.

This time, though, God showed me the greater purpose of the conversation. God had been inviting our family to step outside of our comfort zone and make some changes in our lives, but we were happy, comfortable and loving what we were doing. However, due to this person’s observation and remarks, we were able to take a second look and have a much-needed conversation with God to see exactly what the best “yes” looked like for our family during this upcoming season.  While we’re still having the conversation presently (God hasn’t fully revealed the next step yet), instead of being upset at the circumstances that started the conversation, I’m focused on being grateful the conversation began.  God knew from past experience we wouldn’t have stepped out and started the conversation ourselves. We’re more than willing to listen and obey, but we were enjoying where God had placed us until He let us know it was time for a change..

Truth #6:  Praising God During the Test is as much for Me as it is for Him. This lesson was one of the hardest for me to learn, but now that I have, it comes so much quicker and it’s authentic. Even when I’m not sure what to praise God for, I can always go back to the basics and praise Him for loving me, taking care of me, and teaching me. Praising God through all circumstances is so important. Praising God truly does change my mindset. It takes me out of worry and into worship. It takes me out of panic and into peace. It reminds me how strong and capable my Heavenly Father is and of all the times He has come through for me in the past as well as the truth He won’t suddenly change His mind and leave me on my own.

Those are just a smidgen of the truths God has taught me while I have journeyed through the desert. I’m still in the desert but have gotten a taste of what life will look like when I’m walking in my calling. I look forward to continuing to journey, knowing when I say I trust God, I mean it with every aspect of my life. I also know, for me, I needed that period of desert walking to get to this place of complete trust. I also know I never want to go back to fearing God instead of fully living in faith that He loves me and wants the best for my life. The best may not always look like I envision it, but it’s always what I need.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

 

 

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“I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.” Mark 8:2 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together I spoke about how there is one universal characteristic which makes a teacher “great.” When a teacher takes the time to establish a positive relationship with one’s students, it makes a huge difference in how much the student will learn and ultimately the student’s overall success.

God has had me on a journey for the past 12 years to learn how to trust Him, with an especially adventurous past five years.  As a result, there have been a few truths God has taught me during the journey that I want to share with you. I’ll share three of them today. Maybe learning these truths will help get you out of your desert faster or at least help you appreciate the journey more.

Truth #1: The Journey is the Destination.

When we began our journey, I was misguided. I thought I was actually setting out for the “promised land.” Even though I didn’t have it well-defined in my head, I knew I would know when I arrived because I would be able to sit on the shoreline, take a huge nap and indulge in some of the “milk and honey” people kept talking about.

It wasn’t until I realized God’s heart for me that I grasped the truth: the journey is as much a part of the destination as stepping into my calling. When I opened my eyes to rsee the journey for what it was, a chance for God to bless during the walk, to refresh me during the tests and trials and lessons and a chance for God to continue to invite me to become the person He created me to be, then I was able to relax and take in some of the great scenery. It was then I was able to realize how much God had His hand on our family while we were still walking. We were never walking alone. We were never left to our own strength. He was always right there, directly in front of us, sometimes also beside us and at other times guiding me by the small of my back to take one more step, go one inch further, because it would be worth it. I had to look back at how far we had come before I could see just how close God had stayed throughout the whole journey. Now I know when I step into my calling completely, I will still be walking the journey.  The journey doesn’t go away – the journey continues even if the scenery changes slightly.

Truth #2: The Journey is Meant to Prepare and Teach; Not Punish.

It took me quite a while to realize this truth. God didn’t take me on this journey to punish me. In the same way, most teachers don’t give pop quizzes and hard tests for the sake of inflicting anxiety on their students. The teachers are wise enough to know what students need to learn to be successful in the real world. Our Heavenly Father has an even more loving heart for each of His children than the kindest teacher. He realizes we each have our own journey to walk. He knows what is needed to equip us for that journeys as well as knowing what strengths need to be strengthened. Those are the areas that He focuses on to help us be as prepared as possible.

When we accept His invitation to work on our weaknesses, we need to keep our eyes open to see the ways in which He is right there helping us learn. Again, though, He doesn’t force. He invites us to choose to learn the lessons and take the tests. And His patience is endless when we come with the right heart. He doesn’t expect us to get it right the first time. God knows practice makes perfect and allows us all the time in the desert that we need. I find that I’m usually the one with the “hurry up” attitude, not God.

Truth #3: We Can’t Fully Appreciate the Blessings until We’ve Learned the Lessons.

I know this truth was an eye-opener for me. I couldn’t fully appreciate God healing me from depression until I had learned what God’s peace felt like. I couldn’t fully appreciate the privilege of working inside my gifts until I realized the discomfort of trying to be successful at a job where my gifts were absent. I couldn’t fully appreciate embracing my role as wife and mother until I tried to juggle that calling on my life with four additional jobs also vying for my attention.

Come back next time and I will share the final three truths God has been teaching me.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

 

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“When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.”

Mark 6:34 (The Message)

 

Do you have a favorite teacher from your childhood?  What characteristics and personality type did that teacher possess? While I think our answers will vary as much as own unique personalities do, I believe we will all share a common denominator regarding one particular preference among our favorite teachers – the motivation behind their requests.

Relationship. The teachers who most positively impacted me (and our children) are the ones who desired to build a relationship with me (or our children) before even beginning to teach any formal lesson. When one invests in the lives of others, trust and loyalty are built. Then, when it is necessary to honor the one in authority (the teacher) with obedience, it is gladly given because there is already an established positive relationship as the foundation. In fact, for me, I find that when there is a positive relationship firmly established, I actually want to work harder to please that person.

When a relationship is already established before the homework assignments, tests and other “hard” aspects of learning occur, it somehow makes the work seem not so difficult. My children don’t see the assignments given by their favorite teachers as a way to punish, but instead the tests and assignments are embraced more as an adventure or a necessary part of the journey.

The same can be said of our Heavenly Father. Twelve years ago I had a conversation with God about the fact I didn’t really trust Him … but I wanted to. That was a scary prayer because at that time in my life, God was still the imposing Judge I had falsely accused Him to be, not the favorite teacher He would soon become. However, in His loving kindness, He took that one sentence I bravely uttered and began the journey of deepening our relationship, all while gently teaching me to trust. He never forced Himself on me – He gently invited multiple times until I chose to step forward and tentatively trust, one choice at a time.

Looking back over my trust journey, my perception of God was so false. While God ultimately is the Great Judge when we stand before Him after we die, He wants desperately to enter into a loving relationship with us while we’re alive here on earth.  Not just so that we can share eternity together in Heaven, but because there is so much more to this life He first wants to share with us.

Like any loving teacher or parent, He knows that in order to understand and appreciate the blessings as well as step into the calling He has for our lives, we must first complete a series of tests and learn lessons to prepare us for that purpose.  When I look back on the previous 12 years, but especially the past five, there are some major truths God taught me during my journey.

Come back next time and I will share those with you.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

 

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“I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.”

Isaiah 55:8 (The Message)

 

I love how God is so personal. I love that God wants me to grow even more than I want to grow. And I love that He takes the gentle approach to teach me.

This past summer, God has invited me to take some truths I already knew from head knowledge to heart knowledge. It takes time for that transition to fully form roots and a permanent change to occur, and God knew I had a little extra time this summer to practice.

I’ve been learning that control is an illusion. If God doesn’t try to control us but offers us free will, how much more should I respect those I love and not try to control them either? I’ve also learned to embrace joy and choose to create intentional “happy” memories whenever possible. Life is meant to be enjoyed and when I choose to create moments of “joy” in the lives of those I love, I please God.

The last truth God wants cemented into my heart is that worry/fear is sin. It’s not just a bad habit. It’s not just a negative emotion. It’s sin. Time to call it out for what it is. It’s also a choice. When I choose to worry or live in a state of fear, I’m telling God I don’t trust Him. Is that really what I want to tell the God of the Universe? The God who created everything? When I worry or allow my mind to focus on fearful thoughts, I’m essentially saying, “God, I know You created everything around me – from the solar system to the intricate details of flowers, animals and even my digestive system. But, my finances (insert your worry here), health or relationships – I’m not sure if You have an answer good enough to solve THAT problem I’m facing.”

 Kind of sounds a little silly when put that way, doesn’t it? If God can speak, not have to draw it out on a whiteboard first to make sure all the details fit, but if God can speak or just think the thought without speaking outloud and the solar system aligns or the world is created in six days, why do I think He can’t take care of whatever issue I’m facing in life?

For me, it’s always been more a matter of Does He want to? Will He answer the way I WANT my problem answered or will He answer in a way that hurts, disappoints or brings pain?

God loves us, plain and simple. He desires good things for His children and wants to bless us. But, just as with our earthly children, sometimes what is “good” for us doesn’t always look good from our perspective. Getting cavities filled, getting stitches or having an operation doesn’t “feel good”, but in ways our kids don’t understand, it’s what’s best for them.

As the verse above states, we will never have the wisdom and understanding God does this side of Heaven. Therefore, we need to choose to trust. Trust that even when outcomes aren’t as we desired (sickness, debt, death, catastrophes, natural disasters, crime) we can trust God still loves us, He is still in control and He can bring good from the pain.

Worry is sin. Fear is sin. God deserves nothing less than our complete trust. There is no one else I would rather trust than Him. And I would rather live my life with joy, trusting God, than filled with worry about things that may never even end up happening.

I’m a work in progress. I didn’t realize how much I pepper my conversations with “I’m worried, I’m scared, I’m ‘concerned’” or how much that speech is prevalent among Christians in general until God opened my eyes and showed me. God reminded this summer if I choose to live in worry/fear, I’m choosing to sin. Living a life of trust is more peaceful but definitely takes practice. When I remember the promise which states God ultimately loves me and wants to bless me, regardless of what situations I’m facing, it makes trusting Him easier and choosing to take worry out of the equation doable.

I’m making that choice – what choice do you want to make?

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

 

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