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“Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the Lord God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the Lord.”

I Chronicles 22:19 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together I spoke about how God nudged me to change up our yearly tradition of anointing the house with oil before beginning the new school year.  However, I wasn’t sure what He wanted us to replace that tradition with… until the night of our spontaneous bonfire, two days before school officially started.

While our teens were gone, God used our eight-year-old to begin a new, possibly favorite tradition for this time of dedicating ourselves and our household.  He asked if he could gather sticks, one for everyone, and then once his siblings got back, if we could go around and share one obstacle in our life we wanted to give to God.  After everyone shared, we could all throw our sticks into the fire symbolizing giving the problem to God and not being able to pick it back up.

My husband and I thought the idea was great, so our little one went off in search of the perfect sticks while we waited for our teenagers to return. I wasn’t sure how they would react to this sudden serious turn of events during a night set aside for fun, but prayed and thanked God for the heart of a little one bringing us all together and our hearts back on Him.

They arrived with S’more ingredients as well as everyone’s favorite candy bar and I invited our youngest to share his idea.  Having just returned from church camp a few weeks ago where they encountered God in very real ways using a bonfire, they were receptive to the idea and ready to begin.  We all went around sharing one thing we wanted to give God this year, to hand over and not take back.  It was a time of truly connecting as a family because we were choosing to be vulnerable and get closer to our Father.  Then we all threw our sticks in the fire and the moment was over.  However, I’m still touched by that simple family activity which took maybe 15 minutes but has remained in my heart all year long.

Come back next time and I will tell you what two valuable lessons I learned that night which strengthened my faith even more.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

 

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“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” Psalm 84:11 (NIV)

 

Our family celebrates a myriad of traditions every year in our house. Some are generational, some are spiritual and some are just because they are fun and make life enjoyable. Three times a year we dedicate our house to God – a way of giving Him our firsts.  The first of the year (January), the first day of summer vacation and the first day of the new school year. This is our way of making sure we keep God first in all our decisions, in our lifestyle and to remind ourselves that we want Him fully in charge of our lives.

In the past, we have honored God in this way by anointing our doorframes (inside and out) with oil and then taking turns praying for each room – asking God to bless each one and those who spend time there. We pray for health and safety, financial blessings, friends, family, rest, good relationships, peace and joy.

Back in August, before the current school year began, I felt God nudge me to maybe do something different. While the anointing of the doorframes connected with me, I was wondering if maybe it wasn’t connecting as well with all our kids. I began praying and asking God to show me (or my husband) a different tradition if He preferred, but one that would speak to the whole family and be impactful. I promised I would submit if He wanted something different, because it’s not really about the tradition itself.  It’s about God whom we choose to honor with the tradition.

God answered that heartfelt prayer less than a week later. As a family, we love bonfires. Living in the country as we do, on two acres of land, we can have bonfires without bothering our neighbors. The Sunday night before school started, my husband surprised us with a bonfire. We enjoyed playing the bean bag toss game for a while until it got dark and then all gravitated toward the heat. Because of the spur of the moment decision, our kitchen wasn’t stocked with the ingredients to make S’mores, so our oldest offered to drive his sister to the store to pick some up.

Come back next time and find out how God answered that prayer from a month prior in such a sweet way.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

 

 

A Chain of Blessings

“Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”

Joshua 21:45 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together I shared how God revealed two new insights to me from the passage of Luke 1 which I was reading for my daily devotion schedule.  I felt it pressed upon me to write them down in a blog before beginning my day.

Not two hours later, I was having a conversation with someone and she mentioned Zechariah and Elizabeth from Luke 1, the very passage God had talked to me about that morning.  I was able to share with her the insight God revealed to me and that in turn encouraged her to keep hope because God was using those words to reassure her she was right where she needed to be.

During our conversation, I was prompted to share with her about a promise God had spoken to me about someone I love, back in August 2015.  When I was sharing that testimony with her, and the promise hasn’t even come to fruition, yet, she could feel the presence of God in our conversation.  She promised to pray in agreement with me about this promise and I told her she will hear me screaming from the mountaintop when it is fully made known.

She in turn shared with me the beginning of the fulfillment of a promise God had spoken into her life two years ago and I promised to scream alongside her from the mountaintop when that is fully answered.

The night before, I was able to share the testimony of God burning my blanket with a friend over the phone… who in turn shared that hope with her husband who also was suffering with depression and feeling quite hopeless.

When I opened my email the day I wrote this post, a friend had written, sharing that God had healed her throughout the night without medication… with prayer, which is much more effective.

All of these conversations happened in a span of three days, not even a whole week.  How many times does God use His word or the testimony of fellow Christ followers to offer hope and encouragement to His children who are feeling depressed, hopeless, or as though God has forgotten them?  God doesn’t forget His children, but there are times when He is silent during the maturation process, the growing of our faith – those times can be extremely hard.

God used the insight He gave me from Luke 1 and the subsequent chain of events to remind me that when He reaches out and speaks to me, He does it to strengthen my own faith, yes, but He also wants me to use that encouragement to in turn bless someone else… and for them to then use that encouragement to bless someone else… and so forth.  God uses His children to create a chain of blessings.

God’s ultimate plan was for Jesus to die on the cross for our sins so that we could experience eternal life with Him in Heaven.  God has a part for us to play in that purpose as well.  Once we’ve experienced God’s forgiveness and are walking in a relationship with Him ourselves, He tells us to use our experiences to invite others to experience that relationship with Him for themselves.  Just as God uses His children to create a chain of blessings… God uses His children to tell others about His love.  What better time to start that conversation with someone you love than on Christmas, the day we celebrate our Savior’s birth.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

“Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.” Luke 1: 6-7 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together I was telling how I saw new insight into Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story as I was reading it a few months ago.  I spoke about how Zechariah was focusing on the problem, not trusting the Problem Solver and how when he genuinely repented, God restored his speech with no “I told you so” moment.

Today I want to focus on another insight God revealed to me.  The passage above describes how Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s sight, but “childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive…”  Being infertile during that day wasn’t just heartbreaking to a woman who wanted to have a houseful of children, but it signified not having God’s blessing, according to Jewish culture.

I was reading from my Life Application Study Bible which further explained that once Zechariah fulfilled God’s part for him in God’s story, he quietly slipped back into the background and continued to live life as he had prior to being called.  That explanation painted a picture for me.

When I used to hear this story, I didn’t really focus on the years of childless living Zechariah and Elizabeth lived before Gabriel appeared and said they would have a son.  Years.  And God described them as observing His commands blamelessly.  Year after year.  Day in and day out.  Even when Jewish custom told them they wore an invisible sign that screamed to all their friends and family “no blessing from God here.”  Yet they continued to live a blameless life before God.

How often do we forget about the years of heartache and pain that is endured before God answers our prayers?  And in the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth, they had quit asking so long ago Zechariah was taken by surprise when Gabriel approached him.  In order for God’s plan to work and for it to set up the way He designed (the perfect way I might add), Zechariah and Elizabeth had to go through the pain of childlessness.  How else would people see the miracle in an older couple giving birth to a son?  It wouldn’t have been the miracle it was.

Sometimes, for miracles to take place, pain is involved ahead of time or a long, long wait.  Just because we don’t see God working, or we’ve quit asking, doesn’t mean God’s forgotten.  He might be setting up a wonderful miracle in your life.  Don’t give up hope.  Keep trusting that the God of the Universe who loves you has things under control.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

 

“And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1:20 (NIV)

 “He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.” Luke 1: 63-64 (NIV)

 

I read Luke 1 a few months ago and God showed me a few truths in there that I had missed when I’d read it previously.  This is the story of Gabriel, God’s angel, appearing before Zechariah and informing him that although he and his wife are old and previously were never able to have children, Elizabeth (his wife) will get pregnant with a special son who will have the Holy Spirit living inside of him from the time he’s in her womb.  He has a very special role to play in God’s plan and they are the privileged parents of said child.  This child is who we later know as John the Baptist and indeed he did have a very significant role to play in history.

Whenever I’ve heard this story I’ve always remembered Zechariah’s answer of doubt which resulted in him becoming mute from that moment until John is born, when he writes on a tablet, “His name will be John” which loosened his tongue, the Bible says and “he began to speak, praising God.” Instead of all the wonderful things Zechariah did in his life that is the event I remember him most for.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been struggling with disobedience this summer, but today I have more compassion for Zechariah.  Yes, he deserved the consequence God gave him because of his disbelief.  But that’s not what I see today when I think about this story.  I see two truths that shed a little more light on the atmosphere.

First, Zechariah’s mistake was focusing on the problem (we are too old to have children) instead of focusing on the Problem Solver (you and your wife will have a son, not just any son, but John the Baptist).  I think I especially get that today because I’ve been focusing on the problem (my eating which is out of control and the food I will have to give up if/when I choose to do it God’s way) instead of trusting the Problem Solver (I’m blocking His blessing in my life when I choose to disobey, God has something better for me than being a slave to food my whole life but I have to trust and take that first and second and third step to get there).

I think if we’re honest, we can all admit to being Zechariah at some point in our lives.  Focusing on the problem instead of trusting the Problem Solver.   The second truth God reminded me of with this particular response was that God is always the God who restores and redeems when we repent.  God knew Zechariah’s heart.  God described both him and Elizabeth as righteous in His sight, one of the main reasons, I’m assuming that they were chosen to be John the Baptist’s parents.  And when Zechariah decided to just trust and do it God’s way, there was no condemnation, no lingering punishment, no “I told you so”… instead the Bible says “immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.”

I’m so thankful for God’s examples from the Bible which show me I’m not too far gone either.  I’ve been deliberately disobeying for quite some time now.  But my heart is being pulled back to obedience and I have assurance from this example that with true repentance, God will welcome me back too.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

 

Eleven years ago this week our family had to say goodbye to our little one before we had a chance to officially meet.  One day shy of entering the second trimester, within a few hours of waking up, we lost our baby.  Being an avid reader, during the months that followed, I searched for a book that would reassure me I would indeed one day smile again. That I wouldn’t stay stuck in my grief forever.  I didn’t want a book about medical reasons or statistics – I wanted to hear about how others’ had survived their grief… and the books I read left me angry, not hopeful.  It was then I promised God that one day I would write the book that I wanted to read to maybe help others who were looking for hope in their circumstances too.

God heard that promise and eight years later, in September 2014, Hope During Heartache was published.  It’s the stories of 13 men and women, told in their own words, of how they found hope during the heartache of losing their child, either through infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of an older child.

Our family’s story is one in the book… and I can honestly tell you, 11 years later, I have gotten my joy back. I still miss our little one (he will never be forgotten) and can’t wait to be introduced in Heaven someday, but I’m here to tell you, hope can be found during the heartache.

 

As a way to help others who might be hurting, especially during the holiday season if dealing with the grief of losing a child too soon, I lowered the prices for the paperback and eBook versions.  You can order them from Amazon here:  http://amzn.to/2Atkf03

In addition, God led me this year to write a book to encourage those who are in the role of caregiver.  With practical tips I’ve learned throughout the last ten years of caregiving, and questions at the end of each chapter which are useful for a book club or study group, Caring for the Caregiver was released a few weeks ago.

If you or someone you know is in the role of caregiver and needs encouragement, buy a copy today: http://amzn.to/2AuWgOa

Praying blessings on each and every one of you during this Christmas season.  May Christ fill you with peace, joy, love and especially hope.

“… if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.” I John 1:9 (The Message)

 

I have been disobedient lately… not willing to surrender my will to what God wants for me.  And I’ve been miserable… both physically and spiritually.  As I have continued to refuse to submit, my body has borne the brunt of it.  While my actual clothing size hasn’t continued to increase, I can feel the difference when I walk, sit, exercise – just live.  And while I hate the changes my body has been making, I still continue to give in and eat what I know God is telling me to put down.

It’s not that food is bad.  What God is telling me is not necessarily what He’s telling you.  It’s a heart issue, a surrender issue.  And honestly?  I’m not sure what I’m not willing to surrender to Him.  The food itself doesn’t taste that good.  I want God to be in charge of my whole life, so why do I continue to rebel?

To make matters worse, I was winning this battle last summer and so I have those mile markers from a year ago to compare myself too. This time last year I was down another size and fitting into… (clothes that don’t fit anymore).  This time last summer I had… (fill in the blank with another goal achieved).  And those voices aren’t helping.

This morning I woke up after having failed yet again yesterday, the first day I committed to a fasting lifestyle.  However, God allowed a few different thoughts to run through my brain that I thought I would share with you.

God is getting my attention, pure and simple.  He has been patiently, lovingly, consistently using friends, blogs, sermons, etc. to tell me I need to repent and get back on the right path.  However, even during His consistent messages, and at times rebukes, He continues to bless me as His child.  He’s not condemning me or inviting me to obey because He wants me to live this miserable life.  Even as His messages have had to get a little more neon billboard for me to really pay attention, He’s doing it for my own good.  That’s right – His agenda is to help me, not harm me! He continues to try to get my attention because He loves me!

Second, I decided today (after making one more major change in our household that should help with success) that instead of shaming myself with the negative changes I now see in my body, I’m going to thank God for them.  What? you may ask.  You’re thanking God that you are heavier, bigger and have more work to do to get your body healthy in addition to fully surrendering your actions? That just seems like a lot of work.

Yes, it is going to take hard work, but I’m choosing to thank God for the body that looks back at me in the mirror and the body that I notice when I walk and sit and get dressed.  That body reminds me of how far I’ve fallen.  It’s a physical reminder of what happens when I choose not to repent right away and do things God’s way the first time.  I’m choosing to let it remind me of how far God will go to get my attention out of His love for me. And if I learn that lesson in addition to the sweet taste of complete surrender just because God wants my food, then the hard work of obedience is worth it.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017