Desire, determination, and a whole lotta heart

Just before Christmas break, my daughter asked me the difference between desire and determination. It was a good question, a question she probably wouldn’t have thought to ask had it not been for her English teacher assigning a paper on the contrasting elements of desire and determination. It was the kind of good question that requires a good answer. I gave an example she would understand and defined the difference as this: desire is want and determination is the work behind the want.

The next morning, when the printer – with its incessant error codes and empty ink cartridges – refused to print her paper, we found ourselves wanting a final draft. We wanted it badly enough to work for it. We gave up on attempting printer repair, drove to Staples, paid a printing fee, and quickly scurried to the school. Desire and determination had joined in holy union, a mind-body connection of wanting something and doing something, resulting in results. Our goal was met.

This whole desire/determination thing was solid stuff, so useful in fact, I decided to write about it. What better way to encourage endurance in keeping New Year’s resolutions than to offer useful knowledge about the merits of staying determined?! Forget desire. Who needs it? Just set goals, store knowledge, stay determined, do the work, get results. Easy.

But it was horse crap. Most of it anyway. My observations read like the scientific method – informative and about as inspiring as the instruction manual for my printer. As if we can troubleshoot our way to the good life. As if knowing what to do and doing it are the keys to living well. Let me tell you, when my brain is overloaded with input, and my body is overworked and my ink cartridges are empty, any memory of previous desires is quickly erased by error codes. I have to get to the heart of the problem. Which is exactly what my goal meeting guide was missing – some heart.

God created me with a heart and I’m not a whole person without it. When it’s properly cared for by my Creator, in healthy harmony with every part of me, it’s my driving force – my motivator – not for function, for more. God designed me with purpose and for purpose: to love Him with all my heart, mind, and strength. Desire God, know Him, and obey Him. 

How do we live with big purpose and fewer malfunctions? Well, my friends, we can’t settle for a quick troubleshoot. Those cutesy woodblocks at Target, with their copious glitter and scrolly words of positivity, reminding you to “Never stop dreaming!” or “Just keep swimming” or “Coffee, cats, rainbows, smile” might encourage you to take a deep breath, but fluffy words aren’t worth a darn when it’s time to roll up the sleeves and push the pile. Loving God with every part of our being requires dedication more than determination.

So make these your goals: Let God care for your heart and guide your desires. Pray His prayers instead of your own. Read His wisdom rather than random advice. Rely on His promises and His strength in your weakness. Speak the truth and find a friend willing to do the same.

And desire Him above all else – that’s purpose defined.

 

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God is my president

So here we are, in a very political country, sweating through an extremely political climate, entering a week with a politically suffocating focus. This year’s election is different, everyone says. And I’d have to agree, because this year, one of my children is old enough to vote. Different indeed.

My husband and I are not the political type – individually or as a couple. Politics is a whole lot of noise, and noise is disorienting and confusing and it tends to attract a lot more noise. That’s my personal narrative about politics. (Don’t worry, it’s safe to keep reading!)

But our daughter – the new voter – has questions, and because of love and responsibility, my husband and I have discussed politics with her. We don’t have answers, necessarily, but we’ve talked through options. Sure, we want to be informed and use wisdom on Election Day, but knowledge doesn’t always provide discernment. For all the media coverage, debates, opinions, discovered secrets, speculations, hypotheticals, and discussions that have fallen on our ears or out of our mouths, we’re still as clueless as we were from the beginning.

Noise. And in the confusion of noise, fear grows. I see it in the quiet way my younger children listen when the adults at the table discuss matters they don’t understand. I hear it in the text from my niece, slightly shaken by the uncertain future in which she will raise and teach her infant daughter.

Because of all the fear, I write today in a different tone.

I was recently reading the book of Daniel when a few verses caught my attention. I reread them, underlined them, and read them again. The words forced fresh air through my lungs like an early morning run in November; it burned, and it made me feel alive. God’s Word does that. I wrote the verse on a piece of paper and taped it where it was sure to be visible to everyone – the pantry doors in the kitchen.

On Monday, my oldest daughter was typing the verse into her phone. On Wednesday, I happened to spot my daughter’s boyfriend reading the verse. On Friday, I repeated the verse in several conversations, and yesterday, my 10 year old asked me to send the verse to her Kindle. In the midst of all this, I wondered what to post, asking the Lord, “What do people need to hear?” It was so obvious. I had already posted what people needed to hear. People need God’s Word, specifically the words posted in my kitchen:

Praise God because wisdom and power belong to Him.

He changes the seasons and controls the course of world events;

He removes kings and sets up other kings.

He gives wisdom to the wise and provides discernment.

He knows what lies hidden in darkness.

A prayer of Daniel, compiled from 5 translations of chapter 2, verses 20-22

Thousands of years ago, during the uncertain times of his day, Daniel took his concerns, fears, and confusion to the same God of today. God’s wisdom and power were all Daniel could be sure of, so rather than pretend he could control his future, Daniel found comfort in trusting God’s control.

It’s a wonderful thing to have a voice and a vote, but they can’t promise certainty in uncertain times, and tomorrow is certainly uncertain. This week is uncertain, this year is uncertain, and we don’t know what the future holds. We never have and never will. But God knows. He knows all, sees all, and is powerful enough to handle it all. Take comfort in that!

And then do more – share the comfort you have in the God who knows.

Share Daniel’s prayer. Let it be heard above the noise.

 

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Brothers and Saints

I have 4 brothers. None of them are actual blood brothers, they’re brothers-in-law, but it’s their in-lawness that makes each of them so individually wonderful and lovable. One brother saves me tasty produce from his garden, another is my workout buddy and idea bouncing buddy, one hungers for knowledge and loves to talk books, and one accepted Christ while a teenager at church camp and now he’s a compassionate father for lost children. Because I am the oldest in my family and my husband is the youngest, my brothers span a twenty year age spectrum, but as different as these guys are, they all have one important thing in common – they all love Jesus (and yes, they all have me for a sister in law, but that’s not as important). Because of marital ties and spiritual ties, we are family, and I’m proud to claim these men as brothers.

In pursuit of learning, and because of his soft spot for his Catholic roots, my fellow book nerd brother recently began texting me a daily reading from the yellowed pages of his book of saints. We live in separate time zones, so he texts me during his morning reading time, then I wake up a little later, grab my phone, and read my lesson for the day. We’re a few weeks strong into Saint School and we’ve already added a new student, so it seems that S.S. is gaining accreditation.

My brother and I share a bond with our recent enrollment in Saint School, plus we share a love for my sister (his wife, and also, the new student), but we also share a name – the feminine and masculine forms of the same name – and Thursday happened to be the feast day of our names’ saint: Michael, the archangel. Had I known sooner, I may have planned a more feast-like dinner, but lackluster leftovers were taking over the fridge, so I figured I’d skip a night of cooking and begin writing an unexpected post about saints and brothers.

Before Saint School, I was very unfamiliar with the saints and their stories – my protestant background focused on persons of the Bible, testimonies of church members, and happenings of missionaries – but reading about these men and women has strengthened my commitment to living my faith well. I’ve been challenged to give more generously, inspired to pray more effectively, and encouraged to love more dangerously. Some of these Christ followers endured horrible persecution and death for their faith, reminding me that my freedom to worship is a privilege I often view casually.

The faithful mentioned in Hebrews 11 and all throughout the Bible, the saints remembered in my brother’s book, and the loved ones who followed Christ before us are examples of great faith because of their devotion in living, not only in dying. As noble as it may be to die for your faith, it isn’t as inspiring as living wholeheartedly for the God of your faith, but the only way to live in full dedication to Christ is to die in another sense: die to selfishness.

Dying to selfishness means living with less so you can give more. It means forgiving, listening, noticing, sharing, and yes, it means loving the unlovable. These are simple reflections of the God we live for, but these are the examples of Christian faith that people are desperate to see. It takes commitment to put others before yourself. It requires daily focus on the One you’re living for, so that you’ll be strong enough to live His way instead of your own way – which is exactly how Saint School came to be. My brother begins each day with a commitment to read his book, which reminds him to live for Jesus. Then he remembers He’s not alone as a follower of Jesus, so he reminds me (and my sister) to live for Jesus, and together, we are strengthened in our commitment to live our faith as best and as simply as we can.

So strengthen your family ties with your Spiritual brothers and sisters. Read the stories of those who have lived in faith, but more than that, surround yourself with loved ones who will live in faith with you today.

 

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Aloha for all seasons

Temperatures are sweltering here in Arizona, but the school year is already underway, making it official: summer is over. But don’t fret, I’ll give you a summer recap in throwback style.

“Here’s what I did this summer…”

Lounging on a Hawaiian beach has been one of my #goals since before there were #goals and this was finally the summer for making my dream a reality. My husband and I hadn’t been together without the kids since our honeymoon, so doing whatever I pleased, going to bed as early as I pleased, and never once cooking a meal was a shock to my system and a dream week come true. The waves were relaxing, the Hawaiian people were simple and kind, and the aloha culture was calm and unrushed. When we boarded the plane to come home, I felt completely refreshed. My beach vacation had ended, but I wasn’t bummed, because I was bringing the spirit of aloha home with me – like a souvenir for my insides. I couldn’t wait to share it with my children. We would enjoy each other and a laid back summer break.

And that’s exactly what we did. We played board games and did puzzles, we swam and watched afternoon movies, and for a solid month or so, our house was the hotspot for friends and neighbor kids. Most mornings I even slept in past 5. It was an extraordinary summer of ordinary moments and laid back living.

One afternoon, the kids and I were going about our summer business, headed to the Dollar Store for summer delights like candy and cheap pool toys, when we were suddenly bombarded by  ‘2 cool 4 school’ signs and giant bins of glue sticks and index cards, all displayed next to the 4th of July decor. I was tempted to grab some eraser caps and lined paper, you know, to make me feel like I had a jumpstart on the back to school thing, but I had plenty of summer left to enjoy and I refused to be rushed. I remained calm and squeezed in a few more laid back weeks before beginning the back to school preparations.

Turns out, there was quite a bit of back to school preparing to be done. My children were passing the summer days in leisure, but their bodies had been growing at a less than leisurely pace. We made our lists and even though they were longer than usual, I had every intent to keep things easy and breezy. The office supply store was first, then a couple department stores, and then Dairy Queen – to rejuvenate. We hadn’t found everything we needed, but we figured we’d finish up the next day. Nope. Weeks of precious summer were depleted skimming through clothing racks and rows of expensive shoes (even cheap shoes are expensive), filling the cart and emptying my wallet, checking pencils off the list only to realize we still needed binders, and then finding the binder shelf empty. What had happened to my laid back summer?  I felt like a half-crazed hunter-gatherer collecting items for my offspring and it was during these last few days of summer vacation that I uttered something I rarely utter: “I’m ready for the kids to go back to school.” The Aloha spirit that set the summer ablaze was hardly a flicker. Time for a new season.

New seasons bring fresh energy, but the first day of school brings unique energy. My kids were awake and ready early, chattering all through breakfast, and smiling big and proud for pictures before they left. It’s the fresh start, I think. It’s the unmarked notebooks and the unscuffed shoes and the clean slate with a brand new teacher. I had a fresh start, too. I had a quiet house (that stayed clean all day!) and new energy for endeavors that the summer noise couldn’t accommodate. But new seasons also bring new challenges. Quiet days quickly become busy afternoons of carpools, and math problems, and dirty school uniforms. Kids come home tired from structured days and no longer find it thrilling to wake up before the alarm. Within a week, the fresh energy of the new season was already gone.

Late the other night, my daughter sat on her bed – the bed she should have been snuggled in – surrounded by books and papers. Her eyes were too tired to read and too bewildered to close. She was overwhelmed. I was stretched across her bedroom floor doing my best to reel her back in and assure her she wasn’t destined to live in a cardboard box if she didn’t make straight A’s as a high school freshman. She was struggling to fit cheer, homework, downtime, and adequate sleep into the rushed school week and I was attempting to offer good solutions, but nothing sounds good to a tired teenager, or a tired mom. I was also overwhelmed and doing my best to reel myself back in from believing that the public school system was ruining my life. How would I shuttle children to activities, help with homework, get an adequate amount of sleep, and still find time to enjoy life? I headed to bed frustrated and half convinced I was packing up the family, moving to Hawaii, and reclaiming my aloha.

Exhausted but unable to sleep, I crept back to my daughter’s room to find her lying under the covers, her room dark except for the glow of the full moon on her face. She was turned toward her window, peacefully gazing at the sky. Her unfinished assignments would keep until morning. She asked why sometimes she could see the moon and other times she couldn’t, and I reminded her that the earth and the moon are always moving, making the moon visible from her window during different seasons. We admired the view for a little while. It was beautifully ordinary and soothing, just as our summer had been. We prayed together for refreshed minds and renewed spirits. We were in a busier season now, but perhaps we could still enjoy some laid back moments – we’d just have to be more deliberate about finding them. As I left her room, I whispered to my daughter – as much as to myself – “God is good to give us different seasons.” She agreed.

When I’m overwhelmed, I may benefit from a vacation or a little more sleep, but if I want to be truly refreshed, I need a renewed spirit. A renewed spirit is a shift of focus from the inside, like a change of pace for the soul. A renewed spirit is kind of like an aloha summer – it’s embracing the moment, and knowing when to do more and when to do less. I can’t avoid the challenging seasons, but I can trust the Giver of changing seasons is also the Provider of energy for each season. He’s taken great care in creating beautiful moments for every season.

So embrace your season and enjoy life, one moment at a time.

 

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