This is Love

It’s been a decade since Andrew told me, but I’ll never forget the words that spilled out of my little boy’s heart effortlessly. Words that changed the way I pressured myself into believing I had to be the perfect mom.

Driving through carpool line, Andrew held his bag of Valentine treats and asked when they’d be passing them out in class. What he meant was, Do I have to I wait ALL DAY to stuff excessive amounts of candy in my mouth or will the teacher let us eat all the chocolate we want during morning snack time?

He didn’t care that his treats weren’t decorated with cool cartoon characters, hearts, or any Valentine Day indications at all. But I felt like the biggest failure as a mom.

The night before, Andrew reminded me he needed treats to give classmates the next day, and I had none. After we put our boys to bed, I ran to Target where the Valentines aisle looked like a bomb had exploded. Mismatched candy and gifts everywhere. No appropriate elementary school cards or treats to be found.

Humiliated, I grabbed a few packs of mini Kit-Kat bars and decided my poor child could write, “From Andrew” with a Sharpie on the back of each treat. I would apologize profusely and promise to never forget again.

The next morning as we drove to school, I wondered if I could make up my for my mom-fail with a big Valentines Day surprise when Andrew got home from school. Realizing it could mean another trip back to Target, I tried to get a sense of  what he’d want, so I asked Andrew, what makes you feel loved?”

He thought for a minute and then he said, “THIS.”

This?” I asked.

“Yeah. This. You being with me. You driving me to school and talking to me about my day. You telling me you’ll be there when I get home. That makes me feel loved and secure. Thanks mom. I love you, bye!”

And he hopped out of the car.

This is love?

You mean, I don’t have to work myself into a tizzy shopping for a toy that will convince my child I don’t forget him, even when I forget important things to him?

I can just be here for him and that will be love. Even though I was a grouchy mom the day before, so much that Andrew asked if I was mad about something, more than once.

This is still love?

I stopped to wonder if God were to ask me what makes me feel loved, what would I say?…. 

Keep reading over at inCourage where I’m sharing this story and how my heart answered that day. I’d love for you to be part of the conversation. Click here to join us. 

The Powerful Gift of Being Weak { + book giveaways }

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“Should I be honest?” I wondered. “What if I start crying?  What if she doesn’t really have time to listen?  What if she is just asking to be nice? I could keep it simple and tell her I’m fine.”

There I was, standing in the lobby at church waiting for my husband, when an old friend walked up and asked how I was doing. Our then three-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with a severe speech disorder a few weeks earlier, and I was not “fine.”

I was exhausted. I was overwhelmed. I was afraid my little girl may never be able to talk.

Yet I felt like I shouldn’t be any of those things. I should have more faith, more stamina, more strength and courage to navigate the unknown path of special needs parenting.

Sometimes it’s hard to let people know how we’re really doing because we don’t want to be high maintenance, right? We don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us. Or we fear that if we’re honest, someone might perceive our struggle as a lack of faith.

Other times we don’t let people know how we’re really doing because we assume they’re only asking to be nice and don’t really have time to listen. And what if we’re honest but it gets awkward because they don’t know what to say?

Sometimes someone sincerely wants to know and we just don’t want to tell them. That is the place where things get tricky for me. I will tell people I’m fine even when I’m not, because I want to be.

I don’t want to be weak and broken. I want to be okay. I want to feel strong, resilient, and courageous. 

And that is where I stood that day in the lobby at church. Everything in me wanted to keep my guard up, keep my heart sealed off and my lips sealed tight. But I was tired of hiding and pretending. So I took a risk and let my heart, my words, and my tears spill. I shared the hard parts of Aster’s countless assessments, unexpected diagnosis, and the heartache of not knowing her future.

Although Kelly probably had places to go, she stayed with me and listened. She grabbed some tissue when the tears started down my cheeks, and asked if there was anything she could do to help.

When I wanted to be strong, God showed me the powerful gift of being weak.

Paul describes what happens when God allows struggles that make us feel weak. And what God does in our weakness when we’re willing to rely on Christ. How God’s power comes and rests on us.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:7 NIV

Paul had been struggling and asking God to take away the pain. But somehow he realized and accepted that God allowed the hardship to continue to protect him from pride and the danger of becoming self-sufficient.

Tweet: There’s nothing that can hinder community and friendships more than us not needing each other. #CravingConnection https://ctt.ec/x1m0u+There’s nothing that can hinder community and friendships more than us not needing each other. Like Paul, I think God wants us to become more comfortable with our weaknesses because it keeps us dependent on Him and needing each other. 

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We don’t need to keep pretending we’re fine. What we need, to have and to be, is a friend who says “you don’t have to be strong all the time.” A friend who gives us permission to be weak and remind us of the truth we so easily forget: God’s power shows up in our weakness when we’re willing to be real about our struggles and our need for His strength.

Before we went our separate ways, Kelly asked if she could pray for me, right there in the lobby at church. Afterwards she thanked me for telling her what was really going on, and told me that knowing I didn’t have life all figured out made her feel normal.

God is able to work His grace and His strength in our weakness. When we’re willing to be weak, He gets to be strong for us. When we’re willing to be real, others get to see, pray for and get to know the “real” us and the real God we so desperately need and love.


One of our deepest God-given longings is to be known, by Him and each other. I’m so excited to celebrate the launch of Craving Connection, my new all time favorite book about the beautiful, vulnerable, hard and holy gift of friendship. Grateful to have my heart and my story tucked in these pages with thirty other friends from the inCourage community who took turns writing each chapter for you. If you want to invest in meaningful relationships right where God has you, become the friend you wish we had, and embrace the desire God has placed in you to connect with friends, you are going to LOVE this book!

 

BOOK GIVEAWAY: In partnership with DaySpring’s inCourage and Broadman & Holman publishers, we’re giving away 6 copies of Craving Connection!! Three of you will receive t books – one to keep and one to give a friend.

ENTER TO WIN:  

  1. SHARE this post – on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram using the hashtag #CravingConnection and @ReneeSwope.
  2. SHARE your thoughts under this post, and let me know who you’d like to give a copy to.Winners will be randomly chosen next week and notified via email. If you are reading this via email, click here to leave a comment on my blog. All entries must be entered on my blog for participation in the drawing. 

Today’s post is a partial excerpt of my chapter in Craving Connection, a new book written by 30 different women from the inCourage community,

Never Alone

JESUS IS THE ONLY ONE

 

Alone again. That’s what she must have thought as she walked to the well all by herself that day.

But she wasn’t alone for long. Jesus was there. Yet, she didn’t know who He was and she couldn’t help but wonder why He was talking to her, a Samaritan woman.

When He spoke, she heard gentleness in His voice. 

Kindness and humility in His simple request for a drink.

In His eyes she saw acceptance, not judgment. Love, not hate.

Many of us know her as the Samaritan woman, but I like to call her Sam to make her feel more like the real woman she was. A woman who struggled with hurt, rejection, and loneliness.

Jesus was on His way to Galilee that day, but Scripture tells us “He had to go through Samaria” {John 4:4}. Yet theologians would tell us Jews considered Samaritans to be the scum of the earth and would do everything to avoid them by traveling around Samaria — but not Jesus.

He had to go through Samaria. Perhaps it be because He knew Sam would be there.

Women normally traveled together to the well, in the cool of the day, to avoid the heat of the sun since they carried heavy jars filled with water back to their homes. But Sam went by herself.

Many believe that instead of avoiding the scorching heat of the sun, she went to the well at noon to avoid the scorching pain of others’ rejection and judgment. Sam had been married five times, and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband.

When Jesus met her, Sam was running an errand, and running from those who knew of her failures, shame, and imperfections. Pursuing her with His perfect love, Jesus timed it so she would run into Him.

He initiated conversation and asked her for the one thing she had to offer, water. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Sam stopped and listened. She let Him speak words of assurance and acceptance into the broken, insecure, empty places of her heart.

Jesus intentionally pursued Sam in one of the loneliest parts of her day and in the same way, He is there in the midst of our sometimes lonely, imperfect lives. He is there when our disappointments and failures leave us empty and make us doubt our worth and purpose. (keep reading here)

I don’t know about you, but this summer I have had many days when I felt alone and just need to know someone sees me. Knows me. Pursues me. Jesus is showing me, He does. Let’s keep talking about this over on the inCourage blog, where I’m hosting today’s conversation and praying for friends like you in our online community. Join me there. 

When You Don’t Want To Be A Burden

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It was supposed to be a prayer request, but my email started out more like an apology. I needed friends to pray, yet I was hesitant to ask. I didn’t want my burdens to burden them.

They already had so many problems of their own: illnesses, a job loss, death of a loved one,  relationship strains, overwhelming stress, and overloaded schedules.

I questioned whether my need rated high enough on the urgency “Richter scale.”

Was it really bad enough to ask for prayer, or should I wait to see how things turned out?

The first sentence in my email went something like this: “I hate to add to your list of burdens, but I need prayer for JJ.”

A routine check-up and blood tests results earlier that month caused my husband’s doctor to be concerned about his liver, which led to a biopsy that week. We didn’t know whether it would be anything serious in the end. I just knew I didn’t want to walk through it alone in fear… {keep reading here}

Ever hesitate to ask others for prayer, because you don’t want to be a burden?  Join me at inCourage where I’m sharing the rest of this story, and what God is teaching me about letting others walk by our side, down a path we were never intended to walk alone. I’d love to pray for you today. Join me here

Is it worth it?

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I thought I was over the hurt. Was sure I had moved on. But as I slipped my thumb under the seal of the invitation to my 10-year college reunion, it hit me:

I had not forgiven her.

During our last semester at school, the harsh tone and accusing anger of a friend had been more than my heart could handle, especially in the middle of my year-long battle with depression. A deep sense of sadness and self-doubt that I couldn’t explain or escape had left me feeling depleted.

When she questioned something I had done and expressed deep frustration toward me, I didn’t have the mental or emotional strength to process her criticism without being pulled into a pit of condemnation.

I knew if I attended our class reunion I would see her and other friends who had gotten tangled in our mess.

And with that possibility came a flood of memories and emotions that paralyzed me. The same way I felt the day our friendship ended. The day that pretty much ruined the last few weeks of my senior year.

Holding the envelope in my hand, all that hurt took hold of me again. Instead of simply deciding how to RSVP, I stood at the edge of a pit filled with insecurity that threatened to pull me back in.

After weeks of holding onto the invitation I decided I was tired of living as prisoner to my hurt. I wanted freedom. The kind of freedom I had come to know in the ten years in-between. The freedom of forgiveness Jesus died to give me.

I needed God’s hope and assurance so I could walk into the reunion, not as a wounded woman but as a secure child of God. Continue reading here.

 

3 Truths To Hold Onto When Our Plans Don’t Go As Planned

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I had it all planned:
when they would all arrive
what I needed to do beforehand
how I wanted my heart to feel when they got here

Not wanting to turn into “the frazzled friend” I can become when planning a get-together, I banned myself from Pinterest and my own desire for “perfect.”

I planned ahead and recruited help from a friend. Together we would be prepared. Simple appetizers and decorations. A few pretty touches. My biggest desire? I just wanted to be ready early, with time to spare and room to breathe.

I wanted to enjoy this night. I wanted to feel calm and happy when guest arrived. I wanted to greet each friend face to face and let her know she was not only welcomed, she was wanted.

But even the simplest of plans don’t always go as planned.
A crisis at work kept my husband from being able to help me get the house clean. Traffic was horrible and my friend/co-host got stuck on the other side of town, unable to come early to help with setup. I was on my own, with three hungry kids piling into the kitchen asking when dad would be home to take them out for pizza.

I was not calm. I was not happy. Things weren’t getting done and I was coming undone.
My kitchen was a mess. Food wasn’t ready. And just as women started arriving, my tech-savvy-son told me our computer wasn’t compatible with our television, which meant streaming the inRL sessions (a highly anticipated part of our evening) was looking like another fail.

Deep disappointment and a slight sense of panic came crashing in.

Why do I even try??  I so desperately wanted to enjoy this night. These friends. And then I remembered…

CLICK HERE to join me on the (in)Courage blog today, where I’m sharing three powerful truths I learned that helped me 1)reset my perspective 2) see my imperfections as a gift 3)enjoy the party!

Instead of Giving In…

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I’ve always admired people who never give in.

You know, the ones who don’t consider defeat when they blow it?

I wish I were that brave.

But honestly, I tend to beat myself up a little when I fall short of the woman I want to be, or the woman God is calling me to be. Like the other day when I got upset with my son and went on a rant about his room being a mess.

Soon after, my internal bully (the mean voice in my head) started ranting about the mess I had just made and how I’d blown my chance of being a good mom that day. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve let failure knock me down, tie me up with ropes of regret and hold me hostage for a day, or two.

Maybe you’ve been there? If so, let can I whisper some assurance into your heart. You are not alone. I am with you and so are a boat load of other women just like us. In fact, while I was writing  A Confident Heart, I surveyed over a thousand women and discovered two of the most common causes of self-doubt are rooted in our past failures and our fear of failing in the future.

The greatest defeat comes when we allow failures, sins, and broken relationships to convince us we might as well give in.

But look at what God tell us in Psalm 37:23-24, and insert your name in the blanks as you read it:

“The steps of ____________ are established by the Lord, and He delights in ____________’s way. When ____________ falls, __________ will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds ________’s hand.” (NASB)

Instead of giving in, Jesus wants to empower us to get up again. {Read the rest of today’s post on (in)Courage) where I’m sharing more about giving in or letting Jesus help us get up again. I’d love to connect with you there!

Because {YOU} are His

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Startled by the silence, I shot up in bed and searched for blurry neon red lights that confirmed it was three in the morning, time to feed the baby. But Andrew, our then newborn son, hadn’t made a sound. Was something wrong? Or was he actually sleeping through the night?

Wavering between panic and joy, I felt my way down the hall to the nursery and leaned over my sweet baby’s crib. Listening for the sound of his breathing, I carefully rested my hand on his tiny chest to feel the gentle rhythm of its rising and falling.

Moonlight slipped through the blinds, helping me see he was perfectly fine.

Most sane mothers would have gone back to bed, but not me. I stood there for a while watching over and delighting in my child. 

I desperately needed sleep. And I should have gone back to bed knowing Andrew might wake up any minute. But my desire to be with him erased all logic. I wanted to savor this quiet moment and overwhelming sense of love I felt for this little guy who set my days in motion with his cries and smiles.

Andrew developed a routine of sleeping through the night soon after, yet there were nights when I’d still sneak into his room because I wanted to be with him. To watch over him. And then I’d tiptoe into his big brother Joshua’s room and watch him slumber, too.

Looking at my children’s faces, I’d sometimes imagine the boys God was shaping them to become and I’d ask Him to calm their fears, fulfill their dreams, and establish their steps to follow His.

My sons are seventeen and nineteen now, but sometimes I go in their rooms to pray over them and watch them sleep. They aren’t doing anything to make me feel proud or happy. In fact, they may have even driven me to my wit’s end that day, but it doesn’t matter. I delight in them because they are mine.

Zephaniah 3:17  reminds us that God feels the exact same way about you and me.

“For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”(NLT)

I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded that God wants to be with me.  He loves to watch over me – and {YOU}. Not because we are doing anything for Him, but simply because we are His.

Right now, in this moment, HE is watching over you with His love. He is there to quiet your fears, insecurities, and doubts each day….

KEEP READING HERE => I’m sharing more about God’s love for us over on the (in)Courage blog. I’d love for you to join me there and share your thoughts!