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Introduce yourself! Share a little bit about who you are, what you do, and what makes you YOU!

This is always a tough question for me, maybe you can relate too? Because there’s a whole lot of things that go into what makes me… “me!” What I do and who I am.

SO many roles.

SO many interests.

SO many seasons of life that have come and gone.

But let’s start in no particular order viewing the aerial scope of “me” and then we will get into the deeper stuff… promise! Because if there’s one thing you should know about me before anything else, I’m a down-to-earth authentic girl who loves to come alongside others and inspire them to become everything they are meant to be in Christ.

So hi! I’m Rachel Swanson. “Rach” for short. By day I shuttle my three tiny tots to preschool back and forth (identical twin boys and 19 months later, my baby girl… would NOT recommend sandwiching kids in so close) while balancing my growing ministry work within the nooks and crannies of my day (writing on my blog www.RefineAndRestore.com or speaking at women’s events locally www.RachelCSwanson.com). Evenings are always a hustle and a bustle with dinner, bath-time and bedtime routines with the kiddos. Then by night I either love a good date night “in” with my husband (because it’s difficult for us to get out!) or I sneak away to purge the words that are always spinning in my head, often to encourage the hearts of women.

I’m a talker. Being a licensed Dental Hygienist was an awesome career where I got to talk all day to people or to myself because they couldn’t talk back to me since my hands were always in their mouth (ha!) But really, I’ve always loved to communicate (too much sometimes!) either in person or by the typing or texting of keys because I love people, and stories, and connecting. I only recently pulled back from working as a Dental Hygienist because God opened the door for me to begin the path to write and speak part-time and pursue ministry type work, which I LOVE! So I travel around speaking mostly at other women’s events where I can share motivational truths based on what God’s been teaching me. I also write on the side. My first book is coming out April, 2017 titled Big and Little Coloring Devotional published by B&H Publishing of Lifeway… which I’m completely dumbfounded about. It was really birthed out of my own desire to find such a book that engages children in coloring and scripture, as well as bring the adult into de-stressing coloring as well as spiritual nourishment through a short devotional about scripture… but I couldn’t find it! So… I created it! Then, God did the rest! It’s an honor to walk this assignment out with God. He’s the one giving out assignments for “such a time as this.” We simply have to walk the path He has laid out for us and follow His direction regardless of the outcome.

Finally, you should know I’m a recovering perfectionist, I drink WAY too much coffee, and am a hat girl (often to cover up the unwashed tresses due to #momlife). I’m eclectic and love way too many things. Sometimes this gets me into trouble when I realize I’m balancing too much because I dove in before checking in with God about what I should be doing or pursuing with Him. When I’m stressed out you will typically find me in my converted “prayer room bathroom” curled up with a bible in my hand and writing out prayer requests on my chalkboard-paint covered wall. I love the Bible. Crave it. Need it… so of course I’m a #jesusgirl through and through, but it didn’t always used to be this way. That’s why my story of amazing grace is such a sweet sound.

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Share your story–how did you come to know Christ? What have been some big milestones, both good and difficult, of your journey?

Oh it’s a wild one. In a nutshell I was born and raised Mormon with super strict parents. Didn’t see that one coming did you!? It gets better. In high school I went off the deep-end, rebelled and fell away from faith altogether. I still maintained good grades, kept up with sports and extracurricular activities, but my heart and soul suffered. Entering college I continued living up the party lifestyle until I had a rude awakening—I failed a class. I know it sounds odd, but being an overachiever and zealous student I never thought this could happen. It woke me up to the realization of how hollow and empty I felt inside and made me assess honestly the path I was heading. There was this void I couldn’t shake no matter how much alcohol, how many relationships I sought to fill my heart with so called love, or how many things I pursued to numb the ache and longing in my heart… which was to be known, significant, and loved. That’s when I became curious about faith again. However this time I took an honest, non-committed look at it from a studious perspective, researching all I could to find real truth about God. It boiled down to Christianity becoming the most palatable option as not only science backed it up, but it demonstrated Biblical consistency whereas Mormonism and other religions lacked these things. My heart began to see the truth of what I wanted to believe even before I committed to becoming a believer in Christ. Yet, after attending a Christian retreat, by choice, I came to a place of understanding. That night in 2002 I came home and prayed to accept Christ into my heart, claiming God Lord over my life.

Although this proved to be a pivotal, life changing moment, there were still messy areas of sin I continued to divulge in for years which, over time, were slowly stripped out of my head, my heart, and my life. I had many false beliefs about myself and about the God I thought I knew.

I also lost many friends in the process of my change and transformation. My family disowned me for a while and the relationships were strained for many years as my beliefs didn’t line up with theirs anymore. We’ve all come to a place of neutral ground now, however it’s been difficult to connect on a deeper level. It’s still a continual process of growing in my faith and understanding who God really says He is—trustworthy, loving, forgiving, merciful, generous, patient, and more.

A few years ago I had another large milestone in my faith walk as a Christian—breaking free from complacent faith to bold audacious faith in God as He began to show me how much more there was to the Christian life than what I was living. You can watch me share more of my testimony in full on my speaking website. Click and scroll down to “My Story” at the end to view more of my testimony (http://www.rachelcswanson.com/about-rachel/)

Today I still have struggles and God is continually refining my character, but I’ve never felt more sure in all my life that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I see how all things in my life worked out and continue to work out according to His good and His glory because I’ve chosen to believe in Him—which leaves me speechless. And that, my friends, is a good feeling to have and one I pray for you all to experience.

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How have you seen God at work in the hard moments of your journey? Where has God made beauty in the broken and unexpected places in your life?

God is always at work… it’s hard for me NOT to see how and where God is working in my life and in the lives of others around me. My blog www.RefineAndRestore.com is all about how God is at work refining my heart and restoring it back to Him through the messy everyday moments of life. He is continually changing me and bringing about new things to my character, new understanding of Him, and demonstrating who He’s created me to be. The verse 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This is a pivotal message for me to remember. It becomes increasingly hard to be so vulnerable to others about my faith and my areas of weakness… and yet I can’t help but be vulnerable and share the parts and places in my life where God has helped me overcome or been revealing Himself to me so personally.

Most recently God has been bringing beauty and understanding in our difficult foster/adoption adventure as things didn’t turn out the way we expected them to. It has been a hard and painful journey to walk out when we believed God would deliver a specific girl to us within a certain timeframe, only to see it come to a crashing halt. Yet God has been doing amazing things behind the scenes in our hearts and in the hearts of others who have been following along in our journey, propelling further spiritual growth and deeper understanding to how God works. Things we never would have discovered had we not gone through this confusing and difficult circumstance. It makes me believe 100% He is still in this. He has never left us. We are just waiting patiently on Him to bring the girl (will be our 4th child) He has destined us to bring into our home someday.

Why do you think it is important that we share our stories?

There is power behind a personal testimony because it demonstrates the power of God’s transformational love in our lives and in our hearts, attesting to His presence in this topsy turvy world. It’s important to be authentic and real, sharing with others the struggles we are facing, the hardships we are experiencing, but also the successes God is demonstrating through us… which glorifies Him all the more as it reveals the work He continues to do in our lives. I would not be sitting here today typing this out if it wasn’t for God’s grace and diligence in my life. God’s given me a deeper sense of purpose and identity that goes beyond any self-made titles of this world… and this is the story He wants all of us to discover and know as well. To know for certain we are loved, significant, and beautiful daughters of the King. Once we discover our deeper identity and purpose—founded in and through Him—no one can take that away. This becomes life changing.

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Have there been any specific Bible verses/songs/soundtracks/books etc. that have made a big impact on your life and your journey?

Oh man too many to share! Let’s see…

Going through the bible study Breaking Free by Beth Moore was absolutely necessary when I first became a believer in Christ.

I also loved Francine Rivers books when I first became a believer, especially the one titled Redeeming Love. I feel like it mimics my own story in life—sadly—but thank God, literally, He brought me the most amazing husband, just like in this story as well.

There are too many good ones but also the book, Experiencing God by Henry T. Blackaby is one I refer back to often for guidance and wisdom… besides the Bible of course. It is full of biblical references backing up everything he has to share as well. It’s literally been life changing to my understanding and walk with God. Get it!!!!

One of my favorite verses is “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) This one however is used out of context often. It does not mean God is like a magic genie who will give you every wish and desire you ask for. God will only give you what He desires for you. However as you seek Him, delighting in Him, falling in Love with Him, His desires for you will become your desires. I’ve experienced this multiple times in my life where originally I had no desire for something—such as fostering. But the more I sought God in prayer and through scripture, the more He gave me the desire for the thing I had no desire for in the first place. Of course these desires are and should be holy desires… anything else which goes against His Word and teachings is not a desire given by God.

I can always listen to any Jeremy Camp song on repeat. Or Casting Crowns. Both total winners.

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What is one thing you would like readers to take away from your story and your experiences?

I know what it was like before I was a Christian and what it’s like now. The void in my heart is gone. Although that doesn’t mean I’m free from struggles. I’ve still battled depression as a Christian and experienced seasons of extreme loneliness, grief, and feeling very lost. But even during these times of struggle as a believer, it’s nothing like the emptiness I’ve felt when I had no real relationship with God. Receiving the Holy Spirit in my heart filled that void in ways I never thought possible. God is truly my best friend… besides my husband that is. 😉

I’ve also known what it’s like to be a complacent Christian. Checking off my to-do list: church, bible study, doing good things, reading my Bible, etc. And yet, I wasn’t experiencing the fullness of God like the Bible teaches. I was doing all these things and yet it felt more like a chore more than a joy. However, a few years ago, I reached a life changing point in my experience with God. I got honest and real with God, and instead of thinking that would separate myself from Him more, He began to reveal how real and close He really was all along. He began to show me, like literally SHOW me how much He loved me, loves me still, which I believe He was always showing me before… I was just too distracted to see.

Now, I can’t get enough of Him! I want and need to spend time with because I desire Him rather than dreading that time with Him. There’s a difference. This difference came when I began to refine the areas of my heart and soul, stripping away idols, distractions, sins in my life I was secretly committing, and pursuits which were not holy or pleasing to God. Because these things were distancing myself with Him in ways I didn’t understand until I was on the other side of it. He awakened my heart. He spoke softly to me sharing His distinct plan and purpose for me, beyond the surfacy Christian life I was living… if I decided to obey His assignments. It’s been so exciting following God and seeing how He continues to show up in crazy ways! It should be too! Because a life with God should be exciting, thrilling, and mind-boggling as we begin to step out and do things in obedience to Him. Oh but this also doesn’t mean it will be easy, always fun, or things will happen overnight. It’s usually a mix of everything… but it’s worth it! Following Jesus will involve a little bit of risk, and sacrifice. Similar to when Jesus asked His disciples to drop everything and said, “Come, follow me… and I will make you fishers of men/people,” it’s what’s propelled me to step out in faith on the unsteady path He desired for me, one of which is becoming an author and speaker to encourage the hearts of others (Matthew 4:19). To help others discover God’s purposes for their lives. To experience God’s wholeness instead of substitutes of whatever we tend to fill ourselves up with instead.

My mission is to propel others to discover their assignments by God as believers in Christ through the various roles we hold: single, wife, mother, daughter, friend, leader, career woman, college girl, etc. It changes through the seasons, but God never changes and therefore we can trust to follow Him when things become uncertain. He gives us our plan. He will light up the path and show us the way if we simply, “Be still, and Know [He] is God.”

To connect more with Rachel, you can find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, as well as her website. If you want to connect with her about a speaking event, click here.

All images taken by http://www.inyourimagephotography.net/

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