Inspiration: Finding Your “Treasure” and Your Purpose

This past week I was filling in the “About me” section on a crafting site I run, and one of the questions that was proposed was, “What inspires you to come up with original designs?” This got me to thinking more about inspiration and motive. What is it? Why/how do I use it? And ultimately, what does it reveal about God’s heart?

I invite you on this journey today, and believe this is something that will not only benefit us as parents, but can also be a good tool for teens who are just starting to grapple with the bigger questions of life, such as purpose, and how inspiration/motivation can lead to finding our purpose, especially when we keep God at the center. I would highly recommend taking the time to write the questions in this article down in a journal, and prayerfully answer them for yourself.

Inspiration

It should be noted that inspiration (or motivation), in the sense that I’m writing about today, means taking an idea or emotion, and expanding on it, either mentally or physically. And, not only expanding on it, but applying the results to my life in a broader perspective — that is to somehow be a clearer reflection of God’s character, and heart, as mother/wife/daughter/business woman/teacher. Inspiration put toward a higher purpose, if you will. This is different than perfectionism, and should not be used to compare yourself to others.

What inspires you? When you find that out, you will find where your heart is.

Personally, I’m inspired by beauty in many forms, both the physical — such as flowers, sunrises, family, lace, ruffles, cozy pajamas, and clean sheets (I can almost hear angels sing when climbing into a clean bed); and intangible — like kindness, love, confidence, and selflessness.

I can either look at these things in a passive/dismissive way, or dig deeper and find some truths that may not be so initially obvious about God, and how He designed me. But, not just me; rather, the whole of humanity. You can also think of inspiration as being where your treasure is.

Now it’s your turn: What inspires you? What breathes life into your heart? What makes “birds sing and flowers bloom” in your soul? What is the “treasure” that draws you to a place so lovely, and sweet that you wish everyone knew about it, and could experience it for themselves?

But why?

Once you’ve discovered what it is that inspires you, look deeper. Why does this inspire or motivate me? What place does this touch in my heart? Take some time and write these down in a journal and answer them for yourself. The way I answer (based on the previous paragraph) is because beauty is comforting, it is healing. It reminds me that there are good things in this world. That there are things worth believing in. That all I have dreamed for and of is not in vain, and that one day, all that is ugly and miserable and sad will be removed. That one day I will behold Him face to face — the One who first dreamed of us, and then created the world and everything in it — purposely. Notice how inspiration came before creation, even for God.

What do the things that inspire me say about God’s heart? How does this reveal a greater plan or purpose? And finally… How can I pass that inspiration on to others?

For one, I need to stay connected to the ultimate source of inspiration, blessings, and love. When I seek to know and understand God’s will through prayer and Bible study, the desire for competition ends. I don’t harbor hate, bitterness, and anger, because perfect love drives out fear (fear being the root cause of anger, hate, negativity). I am free to let the peace that passes all understanding take up residence in my heart. I am free to be the person God made me to be, and He becomes my ultimate inspiration.

It is He who inspires me with grace to become a more effective and focused teacher, He inspires me with patience when my children are having a difficult day, and He inspires me with mercy when a friend says something unintentionally hurtful. He shows me that my purpose is to glorify Him in all things. That by seeking His will, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, I will bear the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). I can’t think of anything more beautiful or inspirational than that.

“…Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things,” Philippians 4:8 (NIV).

Below, I’m including the questions asked in this article in one easy-to-see area to make this study more simple.

Questions to Ask Yourself

What inspires or motivates me?

  • What breathes life into my heart?What makes “birds sing and flowers bloom” in my soul? What is the “treasure” that draws me to a place so lovely, and sweet that I wish everyone knew about it, and could experience it for themselves?

Why does this inspire or motivate me?

  • What place does this touch in my heart? Why do I believe in it?

What do the things that inspire me say about God’s heart?

  • How does this reveal a greater plan or purpose? How can I pass that inspiration on to others?

Homeschool Fruit: Sharing…& More

One of the best things — a true fruit — of homeschooling, to me, is being able to glean information from other homeschoolers about how they are doing things, how they have overcome problems, and how they have gotten their kids excited about learning. We have a community that seems to be inherently supportive, and generally homeschoolers are eager to share what has worked well for them.

The “& More” in the title is about something I’d like to share with you, so we’ll veer from general sharing to a specific topic. I have several homeschooling friends who have talked to me about how their kids have problems writing essays, how they seem to freeze and their minds go blank. This really resounds with me. I’ve been a writer and editor for more than 30 years, but I am NOT a creative writer. It just doesn’t flow naturally. And, probably not surprisingly, neither is my son. I have a nifty little formula and writing style, though, for those of us who are a little more at ease with reporting straightforward facts, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you have a hesitant writer, introduce them to newswriting and the “Inverted Pyramid.” This is probably the most basic, building-blocks part of journalism taught in college, and yet it is also very graspable for a young writer — particularly middle-school age and up. The inverted pyramid is merely writing/reporting your story with the most important facts at the top, narrowing to the least important at the bottom. And, it is easy to start off with five basic questions.

Let’s create a scenario that you could work through with your child. Say you ask them to write a report on the church service this coming Sabbath. But wait…

SIDENOTE: Does it seem odd to have an assignment that incorporates the Sabbath? Think about the last time you read your local Union Conference magazine. Did you notice interesting articles about a special children’s service at one church? Or maybe a Sabbath outreach mission? Or possibly a Sabbath concert offered to the community? Somebody who attended wrote those. I see multiple benefits to a Sabbath report for our kids, including better listening and observation skills in church, and maybe even the planting of tiny seeds of interest for future communication work within the Adventist Church. Back to the report…

Besides making sure they take their notepad and pen to church, have them write down the 5Ws the day before:
Who … was involved?
What … happened?
Where … did it happen?
Why … did it happen?
When … did it happen?

Now they have a ready-made list of things to look for. They will probably want to take a church bulletin for themselves to help glean information, including the name of your church, address, time of service, and participants. You could also have them listen carefully to the sermon, and make notes about the main point and primary Bible text used.

They might also look around to see if there are things they think might be interesting. Is the sanctuary decorated especially for Easter? Are there any kids in attendance? Was there a special part of the program aimed at kids? Were there guests present? Any special music? How about a potluck after church?

Young writers will not necessarily think of all those things, but you can help them come up with a list during the preceding week, and have them jot down things they will look for to incorporate in their story.

Another useful thing is to add a quote from someone who was there. Maybe they’d like to interview their best friend to find out what their favorite part of the service was. Remind your child to write it down word for word, and include their name and age. Or, maybe after the service they could tell the pastor what they are doing (the pastor will probably think this is fantastic, by the way), and ask how the pastor picked the sermon subject. There again, they can carefully write down the response, as well as the pastor’s name and title.

Your pastor would probably be delighted to answer a question or two for your child. Kids showing active engagement in church is good news!

Now you can take your sheet of facts home to work on later. It’s easier to write when the event is fresh in your memory, so consider having your child  start in on Saturday night or Sunday, and take some time off during the regular school week.

First, have them organize the facts into three groups:

  • those that they will definitely include in the article (i.e., 5Ws, sermon title or theme, etc.),
  • those that are interesting but not terribly important (i.e., the special music performer was visiting from another church),
  • and those that are related but not necessary (i.e., there were four casseroles at potluck).

Create an article outline. Your outline (and, next, your article) will follow the inverted pyramid. Put the most important information is at the top. Since you’ve already organized the facts, this will be easy.

Time to write!

  • Start with a strong leading sentence.
  • Give all the important details. These are the from the first group of facts in their “organize the facts” list.
  • Follow up main facts with additional information. These draw from the second group of facts.
  • Finish your article. Leave the reader with an interesting point, or maybe an invitation to attend an upcoming event at the church.

Here’s a very short sample article, but one that a middle-school age student could easily put together. It might give you ideas for an easy writing assignment for your child.

Sample Article:

“Reaching Up, Reaching Out” was the theme for a special community outreach planning day at Mount Bountiful Adventist Church, 123 Happiness Lane, in Somewhere, Alaska, Saturday, March 12, 2017. Members gathered to discuss ways to share God with the surrounding community. (See the 5Ws in the first paragraph?)

The special Sabbath program included music, praise, worship, and a chance for members to share ideas for reaching out to their neighbors. Joe Schmoe, pastor, said that he was excited to see nearly every member present, and appreciated how important outreach is to the small church.

The Juniors and Earliteen Sabbath School classes joined to present a skit about helping children in the neighborhood. “It was pretty neat to think of ways to help,” said Janey Doe, age 12. “I hope that we can help some other kids.”

After church the members enjoyed a potluck, and discussed how they might use food and nutrition to reach the community.

Everyone is invited to attend a follow-up planning session for outreach, Sunday, March 20, at 2 p.m. in the fellowship hall.
————

Newswriting is factual and tends to be chronological. It also helps young writers start to decipher what is fact versus what is opinion, and what is important versus what is “fluff.” And, it helps them develop organized thought. It is a skill which you can help your child develop, which might ease the fear of “coming up with something to write about.”

There are many other types of writing — creative, essay, research, etc. — which may be developed in the future, but newswriting could be a good place to start.

Thanks for letting me share!

~

“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered,” Proverbs 11:25 ESV.

“The Holy Spirit produces a different kind of fruit: unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, kindheartedness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You won’t find any law opposed to fruit like this,” Galatians 5:22,23 VOICE.

The Why of Jesus’ Birth

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace,” Isaiah 9:6.

In all the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, do we take the time to really think about what the birth of Jesus is all about? There’s also the confusion with the fact that the day we celebrate His birth has its roots in a pagan day.  While we know that Christmas is not the true day of Christ’s birth, we need to understand why He was born at all. Why didn’t Jesus just come down from heaven and live a week or so, then be killed and rise a day or so later? Wouldn’t that have saved us?

With all the controversy over Christmas — from the view that it is totally pagan and should never be celebrated, to the view that it’s roots are insignificant and it should be fully celebrated — maybe we should change our focus to why Jesus would come as baby at all.

As I have pondered why Jesus would come to this earth and be born as a baby, I have seen an importance that we usually miss or pass over lightly. We often look at the cross as being the only thing for our salvation. The cross gives us the forgiveness we need, but His birth gives us the reason and strength to learn how to live godly lives. The why of Jesus’ birth is to give us the desire and strength to live our lives with the connection to Heaven that Jesus had, and to give us the victory over our sinful ways. To have this connection with God in our daily life, as Jesus did, will give us the strength to overcome. This should be something we do every day, so we should celebrate Jesus birth and death every day. Both are vital to our salvation in our lives day by day.

As we enjoy this Christmas season, after all the celebrations and dinners are over, let us not lose the importance of what Jesus came for, and remember His birth every day.

Nurturing Fruitful Thoughts

I like to pride myself that I’m a flexible homeschool mom. But, are my thoughts flexible as well? Do I let God mold my thoughts in the direction He desires?

We’ve fallen behind in our homeschooling. It’s hard to get back on track after interruptions. I get tired and kids get restless with too many days inside during dreary stormy weather. Personal projects are not getting done at the pace I set with high expectations. I’m feeling overwhelmed and overtaken.

Do I trust these feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency, or deliberately choose another course? There are two paths my thoughts can take.

The path to discouraging thoughts is well-worn and too easily taken. Thoughts like “I’m so behind, I’ll never catch up” or I’ll never complete my goals” leave me unsatisfied and stuck in the valley of despair.

Fruitful thoughts take more effort, but speak truth instead of lies: “I’m ready to get back on track,” “I’m making progress, even if in small steps,” or “God will help me complete what’s important.”

When choosing fruitful thoughts I acknowledge my progress, however small, and trust God to accomplish His purposes through me. This leads to confidence and perseverance. 

My feelings get me into trouble. They stall me, rendering me unable to move forward in productive, God-honoring ways. Negative thoughts and feelings are futile and serve no-one.

“The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile,” Psalm 94:12.

How then do I turn negative thoughts and feelings into something positive? Sheer will power and grit are short lasting. My own efforts fall short and lead me into an unstoppable downward spiral.

“Commit your work to the Lord and your thoughts will be established,” Proverbs 16:3.

The only way I press on through setbacks and disruptions is to commit my work to the Lord — commit my children, my marriage, my failures, my successes, and yes, even my thoughts, to the Lord who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that I hope for.

I challenge you to memorize the following beautiful scripture prayer when you need strength and renewal. Then, when the enemy comes in with discouraging thoughts, you can meet him with the most powerful weapon — God’s word.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen,” Ephesians 3:14-20.

A Lesson Learned in Car Line

I had an epiphany sitting in “Car Line” the other day.

I’m a newbie to the whole schooling world, having homeschooled all four of my children until just this year. I had no clue that Car Line was a thing. Oh, yes, my friends. It is a thing! In fact, after I became aware of it, someone posted a meme on Facebook about the RULES of Car Line!

Car Line 02The first day that I took Ethan to school and saw the line of cars snaking their way through the parking lot, moving slower than a toddler on full-distraction mode, I knew that there was no way I was going to participate in that particular ritual!

First I tried the “Drop and Run” method. I would approach the turn into the parking lot as if to join the fun, but then as traffic would slow for the turn and perhaps even stop, my son would hop from the car, allowing me to avoid it at the last second! And best of all, I wasn’t interfering with anyone since the flow of traffic was naturally stop and go.In fact, I would build up goodwill by allowing one or two unfortunate saps, those turning across traffic into Car Line, to go in front of me before I drove straight past the lot!

After a few days, one of the teachers monitoring the parking lot — I affectionately refer to them as Car Line Nazis — asked my son if he were being dropped off, and proceeded to chide him for walking between the cars in Car Line, forcing the cars to stop.

Forcing them to STOP. You gotta be kidding me! Even if he laid down in front of one of them and played a hand of Yahtzee, he wouldn’t slow that line down even marginally!

Ethan and I rolled our eyes at one another and proceeded to method #2: Pull Over and Drop.

This was similar to method #1, with the exception that I drove past the lot entrance, pulled over onto the sliver of shoulder on the road, and Ethan would hop out and would walk around the Car Line, not impeding their lightening pace.

Soon Ethan was accosted by the Nazis again, this time because parents were complaining that I was endangering my child.

By now, I was getting really annoyed. Ethan is 16 AND a half years old. Because of the benefit of homeschooling (and my free-range parenting techniques), he’s particularly agile at avoiding traffic! Especially that which is creeping along at a snail’s pace on both sides of the parking lot entrance because of all of said traffic! It’s not like I’m pulling over on the side of the interstate! And, it’s not like I’m dropping off my preschooler!

Oy vey.

I ended up avoiding the feeder road leading to the parking lot altogether, instead opting to drop Ethan off farther up the road at a traffic light where he crosses from one side of a road to the other, approaching the school parking lot at the far end of Car Line where he can skirt it.

Then came the morning that I found myself in Car Line. It was raining and I had time, so instead of making Ethan walk and get drenched, I joined the masses creeping my way through the parking lot.

I became acutely aware of those who were doing what they shouldn’t do. At least what I assumed they shouldn’t do. Not like I’m an expert! Since my son couldn’t walk between cars and stop progress, I observed someone stopping and letting a child out way earlier than they should. How inconsiderate!

Then there was the person who turned left out of the parking lot despite a “No Left Turn” sign. I tsk-tsked to myself at their audacity.

All this got me thinking. Why did any of those parents who chose to participate in the inanity that is Car Line give two hoots where and how I dropped my child off? Why did it matter whether he walked between two cars inching along with 200 of their closest friends?

All of a sudden, I totally understood.

Because they were following the rules.

And, I was not.

That was eye opening for me! I started looking at all the places where I encountered intolerance in myself and compared it to this new paradigm and realized that it was true!

Whenever I’m obeying the law and someone else flouts it, it makes me mad!

All it takes is for one idiot who decides that they can go riiiiiiight up to the very front of the line if we’re all merging into one lane for my blood pressure to go off the charts! I will always merge over at the most appropriate time, signaling and sometimes with my window rolled down, a questioning look and a wave of thanks.

That’s the right way to do it!

So, when I see Joe Schmoe riding the shoulder, going past everyone else beginning the merge process, I will go above and beyond — even riding the shoulder myself hovering in my place in line — to slow them down and keep them from jumping line!

This has profound implications for relationships all over the place!

Those who have, for one reason or another, placed themselves under the law struggle to abide those who decide that the rules are not for them!

The problem is that following the rules sets us up to feel better because we’re “doing it right,” and to resent those who don’t. The older son in The Prodigal parable is a perfect example of this.

We don’t slow down long enough to think about whether the “rules” are true rules or more a choice or preference. And, even if they are valid rules (like God’s rules), a valid question to ask is perhaps why someone is doing what they’re doing.

The thing that I struggle to come to terms with is that, fundamentally, it’s not my business to feel anything for those doing things differently than they “should” (i.e. breaking the rules) — other than love them and perhaps harbor an understanding that there might be more to the story than I know.

What’s sure is that many times, this attitude keeps us from loving those who might be “breaking the rules” because of pain in their hearts, abuse in the past, or a myriad other reasons that,  were we aware of them, might soften our hearts and our responses.

I’ve been mulling this over since this realization hit, and I’ve determined to have it radically alter my relationship to those who do life differently.

I might even allow Joe Schmoe to blaze past me. Who knows!?