July 29, 2015

Feeling a Little Off

I am feeling a little off today. I cannot explain it really but I have felt "unwell" the past three-four weeks. Yep, I cannot put my finger on the cause of why I feel "off," but I know that something is not right with me, not well with me. I love the old hymn that says,

"It is well with my soul, It is well, it is well with my soul."

I am thinking today that whatever is bothering me must be spiritual in nature. I do not feel "unwell" physically. Rather, I have this sinking feeling in my heart that seems to be constant, it is like a drip of a faucet that cannot be turned all the way off. It is just a slow drip, but an annoyance nonetheless. I feel this deepening sadness, and it seems to be pervading my thoughts throughout the day. At night, I am finding that I cannot sleep well. It is not that I cannot fall asleep, it is just that my sleep is disturbed by dreams that are difficult, unpleasant, and generally scary. Yes, I feel like my mind is racing all the time, and that I cannot sit still or find the peace I so desperately need.

I read a great blog post this morning that gave some background on Spafford's hymn, "It is Well With my Soul" (Horatio G. Spafford, 1873). The blog writer shared a sad story, the passing of a dear friend, and related that news to the details surrounding Spafford's penning of this famous hymn. In both cases, the writers (Spafford and Mr. Lung) described the sadness that accompanies the loss of a loved one. In Spafford's case, he had just lost his four remaining children in shipwreck while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. His wife was saved, but for the Spafford's, the heart wrenching fact remained that God had saved them, but chosen to take all the children home to be with Him. How can anyone process the loss of a child, let alone the death of all their children. Yet, Spafford wrote this beautiful hymn as a way to deal with his grief and his loss.

It is Well With my Soul (1873)

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Psalm 46: 1-3

Today, as I blog, I am reminded of this hymn and the verses that suggested it. Psalm 46 is one of my favorite psalms. I often quote verse 10,

"Let be and be still, and know (recognize and understand) that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations! I will be exalted in the earth!" How I need to hear this verse today! 

Yes, I need to "let be and be still!"

I am trying to understand why I feel the way I do. A good friend reminded me that it is important not to place too much emphasis on your feelings. My friend said that we must be careful not to make decisions based solely on feelings, and while I agree with my friend in part, I also know that often our feelings are good indicators of our "wellness." There is a reason why the Lord has given us emotions. We are not created as 100% rational beings, but rather we are given equal responses -- heart AND head -- so that we can base our decisions, our choices, and our responses on a combination of these two things: emotion and reason.

If we do not trust our feelings, and I am not saying that we should always trust our feelings, we may miss important clues that could help us choose actions that are fueled by compassion and empathy. If we only make rational decisions, where logic predominates our thinking, then we may overlook the feelings and emotional wellness of others. We could be cold, unresponsive, and certainly less Christ-like in our human relationships.

I understand that we can go too far either way. We can become emotional to the point where we no longer think rationally or live in the "here and now," in real-time (as they say). If we rely on our rational, logical head, we may respond in a callous, insensitive way or we may disregard the prompting of the Holy Spirit (which often comes as a "feeling" rather than a "thought") and follow our own line of thinking (Prov. 3:5-6).

It is vital, therefore, to remember that we are to use our God-given gifts, our talents, and our whole being whenever we consider options for our life. Yes, we must go to the Lord first and foremost. Then through prayer and supplication, we are to make our requests known to God (Phil. 4:6). In doing so, we will be putting God first, His will, His way, and His Word before any human logic or emotion. However, I do believe that the Holy Spirit often touches our emotions to get our attention. He is deftly capable of moving us (a sense and a feeling) toward His way. If we are responsive, sensitive to His leading, then we will come to rely on our feelings because we will know the difference between human emotional response and God-prodded response.

I have always been very sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit. I have said this before, blogged about my spiritual experiences many times, but the fact remains that since I was a child, I have always felt the presence of the Lord very closely. I have always felt Him near to me. Once I confessed my need for a Savior, I entered into a communion with Him that brought out a whole host of emotional response from my heart. I learned that I react very strongly whenever I am presented with anything spiritual in its comportment. For example, if a man or woman shares their testimony with me, I am able to discern many things about their spiritual state. I can tell if they are strongly, ardently following the Lord or if they are struggling, trying to figure out their relationship with Him. I can tell where they are spiritually, where their mind is and whether they have a biblical worldview or not. It is not like I have an oracle, some magic instrument to measure a person's faith walk, it is just that I can tell the difference between a sincere conversion and one that may just be partial, a "head only" experience versus a true heart change.

I know that may seem arrogant to say that, and I don't mean that I am better able to judge this person or that person in their faith walk, it is just that I feel something inside me that says "he is in good shape" or "he needs some help." I think it goes hand in hand with my gifting, with my desire to see believers grow in their relationship with the Lord. I am an exhorter, thus it is my gift to encourage the brethren. I am able to encourage and it is just a natural part of my personality. I exhort men and women in Christ Jesus to seek the Lord more completely, more fully, and to place their trust in His Name for every need in their life. I exhort them to find their purpose, to figure out their calling, and to seek clarification on their giftings so that they can be used by the Lord to fulfill the great commission. I exhort believers to learn to lean on and abide in Him so that they will find emotional wellness, wholeness and healing in their lives. Most of all, I exhort them to know and to recognize that God is good, and that everything in their life is good (even when it may not seem like it, feel like it, or look like it). Yes, God is good. All the time, He is good.

Today, I sit here and I struggle with doubts, with feelings of insecurity, and with this dread in my heart that says "something is not quite right." I don't know where this feeling comes from, and the quick response would be to simply say that it is the enemy, testing me, trying me. This may very well be true, but it could also be the result of many other things, most namely a sin issue in my life, forgetting to do something the Lord has asked me to do, or an unwillingness to go where He is sending me (telling me where He intends for me to go). It could be a combination as well, but it is up to me to discern the truth, to get to the root cause, and to act appropriately on the matter. In my case, I must determine the following:
  • If Satan is tempting me, trying me - then I must stand in faith and wield the mighty Word of God (Eph. 6:10-18)
  • If there is sin in my life - then I must confess and repent of it (1 John 1:9)
  • If I have forgotten to do something the Lord asked me to do - then I must make amends and immediately do that very thing (Deut. 23:21)
  • If I am unwilling to follow the Lord, then I must confess this act and agree to His will for my life (Deut. 13:4)
Thus, today, as I think about why I am feeling this way, I have two choices really. One is to stay just as I am and continue to feel "off;" or two, is to get down to business and ask the Lord to help me know what to do, and then as soon as He tells me, I must act and obey (do it). I must not tarry in this or else I will continue to suffer, and I will not come to terms with the "thing" that is causing me to feel this way. I know this is the case, I know it because this is not the first time this has happened to me. No, over the course of my life, there have been many instances when I failed to act on my feelings, failed to take them into account, and in doing so, I missed the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I missed His cue, and as a result, I ended up missing an open door or making a decision that could have changed my life for the better.

Consequently, this is routine for me. I know what I must do, and I know that the sooner I get to it, the better off I will be. I will feel better, and I will have clarification on some point in my life. Yes, I know that I must spend some time before the Lord, seeking His face, and asking Him for guidance and clarification in this matter.

I know what I must do. I know what needs to be done. And, today, I make haste to do it. God is good, so very good to me. Selah!


I pray it is well with your soul this good day.

July 28, 2015

Obedience Matters

Today as I read this verse, I couldn't help but think about all that is left for me to do this summer. I imagined that by this point in the month of July, I would have all my assignments for my classes completed. I would have had most of my fall planning prepared, and I would be starting to read some of my books for my theology and philosophy classes. Instead, I am sitting here thinking about everything that is left undone. Yes, my to-do list is long, quite long, and it seems that as soon as I check off one item, another gets placed on it. Sigh!

More so, as I think about my to-do list and all that is still hanging over me, I cannot help but be thankful for the work I do -- teaching and school. In truth, I am thankful that I have good purposeful work to do every day, and that I have a career that fulfills me, provides for me, and gives me the opportunity to invest in the lives of others (namely, in young students). The Lord is good to me, and He has provided a way for me to spend the rest of my work life doing something practical, yet highly valuable. I am in a wonderful position, in such a good place, whereby I can see that my efforts, while not productive in the sense that I "produce" volumes of work, does indeed have merit. Yes, my work, the work I do each day as I teach students how to write essays, is good. It is good, practical work that enables me to live a comfortable life, with comfortable results, and a very comfortable outcome. I am blessed. I am so very blessed. Selah!

The Counsel of the Lord Remains

This is the word of the Lord to me today:

The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of His heart through all generations.

Psalm 33:11 reminds me that the Lord knows what He is doing -- not just in my life -- but in all generations throughout the ages. Yes, the plans the Lord has, those that are in His heart, come to pass -- they will not be thwarted -- and therefore, His counsel stands (it will be proven true.)

I think about the Lord, His sovereignty today because in this world right now, everything seems so very tenuous, so very uncertain. Between the nuclear plan with Iran to the threat of ISIS and the variability of the stock market, the world trade centers, and the ups and downs in the economy, life in its outcome is vastly uncertain, vastly unknown, and vastly unforseen.

How can we know for certain that we are doing the THING the Lord has asked us to do for His Name and His Kingdom?

I am convinced that the Lord has an individual plan for each of His children. This plan is unique to their design, their calling, and their willingness to obey the Lord as He calls to them. Yes, obedience is always a large factor for it begs the question of how one can follow if they are not willing to obey the voice of the Lord?

"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. "If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; "But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword." Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken (Isaiah 1:18-20).

It is a strange thing today to consider, but obedience is something the Lord has required of His children from the time of Israel right up through to those of us who live and call upon His Name today. We don't really like to think about obedience very much anymore, mostly because it smacks of legalism, and to the church, well, that is anathema. We are children of Grace (and rightly so), thus there is no need to discuss obedience anymore, right? Obedience went out the window with the Old Testament, therefore, we can simply live under grace, and not worry about obeying God.

I know that for most believers, reading that sentence would cause them to go into shock. In truth, we know we are to obey the Lord, to be obedient to His word, but we think that it is not up to us to obey, but rather that the Holy Spirit obeys for us. And while this is true in many aspects, the fact still remains that as God's sons and daughters we are called to a life of obedience. The Word, His Word, promises us great reward if we obey. We must remember that like any good parent, God gives rewards to His children based upon their behavior (words and deeds). Yes, God gives liberally in His blessings and in His rewards. Thus, it behooves us, those that call on His Name, to be obedient, to listen and to obey His commands. Yet, for many believers in Christ Jesus, this idea of obedience, well it just doesn't suit well. They like the idea that their Father is tolerant, is easy going, is forgiving because that gives them flex room to do their own thing without His condemnation. It is like this -- we want our Heavenly Father to be a cool Dad -- rather than the RIGHTEOUS, HOLY, AND SOVEREIGN KING that He is. Yes, we want a cool daddy to hang with when in reality we belong to an AWESOME (as in awe, reverent, and fearful) GOD.

What is it about obedience that causes most Christians to recoil?

Obedience means "compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another's authority" (Merriam-Webster). When we obey, we are willingly complying (acting, serving, following, respecting) to a particular command or law. We are choosing to respond in accordance with someone else's wish. We obey the laws of the road, the laws of the court, the laws of nature out of fear of penalty or punishment; yet, when it comes to the Laws of the Lord (God's Word), we hope that the JUDGE will gives us a pat on the back, a pass, a warning only for our habitual failure to comply.

I think that most Christians choose to disobey the Lord because it is in their nature to do so. I always struggle with these verses that say we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. You know, there is this idea that we are made new, born again, and that with it, all the old stuff, the old ways, have passed. Yet, we know that Paul struggled with the old way, old habits, and old thinking even after he was converted (Rom. 7). Thus, this idea that somehow we choose to obey naturally suggests that the Christian life is made perfect at the cross. And while this is true in part, we know that until we receive our new, resurrected bodies and no longer live in the presence of sin, we will continue to struggle with sin issues. We know that the power of sin has been broken in our life (Rom. 8:2). Yet, we still must deal with the presence of sin (in our world) until the day we are taken up to be with the Lord or we die and go home to be with Him forever.

In discussing the four-fold nature of salvation, Pink (1929) wrote, "Sin is yet to be completely eradicated from the believer’s being, so that he shall appear before God without any spot or blemish. True, this is his legal status even now, yet it has not become so in his state or experience." I love this explanation as I think it clearly addresses the point where most Christians seem confused. Christ's death on the cross provided salvation from sin in four distinct ways:
  1. Salvation from the pleasure and love of sin.
  2. Salvation from the penalty of sin.
  3. Salvation from the power of sin.
  4. Salvation from the presence of sin.
It is point four that trips most Christian's up. While we are saved from the pleasure, penalty and power of sin through Christ's sacrificial death, we must wait until a future time to experience salvation from the presence of sin.

Thus, while we recognize that once we become a Christian, the old ways pass away as we are conformed through His death, burial, and resurrection, we simply want to believe that we are also free from sin's effect now in this life. Therefore, we grasp the fact that with all true conversion experiences there is a change of heart, a new attitude, and a new way of thinking (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 2:29). And, we know and recognize that through the Grace of God, we are able to see the truth of our sin and its consequences in our life. We turn from the old habits, and we begin to walk in a new way. Furthermore, we know that to experience ongoing freedom from the pleasure and love of sin, we must abide in Christ as He abides with us (John 15:1-11; Gal. 2:20).  Likewise, we know and we understand that Christ took the penalty for our sins when He bore them on the cross (Gal. 3:14; Acts 17:11). As a result, the power of sin (Rom. 6; 8:2) is broken for the life of the believer, and thanks to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our Helper, we are able to remain free from it's dominion (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; Rev. 3:1). All that is left is to wait for the removal of sin's presence, which will not come until the Lord returns (Heb. 9:28; Rom. 13:11; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2).

So then, where does obedience come into play?

I think that obedience becomes possible through two outflows of the process of salvation. First, when we abide in Christ as He abides in us, we learn obedience through His modeling, through His relationship with the Father (John 15:10). Then through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we learn to obey the Gospel of Christ (1 Peter 1:1-2). The problem, then, is that Christians who do not abide in the Lord, who are not actively being guided by the Holy Spirit, struggle the most with the pleasure and power of sin in their lives. The key, therefore, is to abide in Him, to remain connected to the True Vine (Jesus), and to live in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to overcome the temptations and the trials associated with sin in our life as well as in the world.

As I ponder this today, I am reminded that this obedience to the Lord is habitual. It is a daily sacrifice, a laying down of one's own life, their control, their wishes, their desires, in order to receive the power of grace to overcome any and all temptations.

How then must we live?

I believe we must live and walk in faithful obedience to the commands of the Lord, to the Word of God. John 15:1-11 NIV states,
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full."
In closing, my prayer today is to consider my faith walk from the standpoint of obedience to God's Word. I must ask myself if I am being faithful in my study of the Word, in my daily prayer life, and in seeking the Lord for all direction and spiritual understanding. If I say yes, then I should be filled with the joy of the Lord. If I say no, then I should know and recognize that the lack of peace I feel, the lack of joy, is a direct result of my relationship status.

Joy in the Lord only comes through the daily communion and faithful relationship between believer and the Lord Jesus Christ. May it be so in my life and in yours this good day. Selah!


References

Pink, A. W. (1929). A Fourfold Salvation. Retrieved from http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Four_Fold_Salvation/ffsalvation_preface.htm

July 27, 2015

Seeing Clearly

It is Sunday afternoon, and I have to admit that I am a bit worn out (or perhaps worn in). It was a good weekend for me, not that I accomplished everything that I needed to accomplish, but generally it ended well (or it has ended well). I am finally getting round to writing on my blog, and frankly, I am finding the whole process to be a struggle. It is odd, really, because for the past couple weeks, I simply have struggled to blog about anything, in general. I start a post each day, but often, but the time I am close to finishing it, I set it aside. Later, I delete it -- I just don't want to post it. It is a weird feeling for me because I use my blog for many things, of which, reflection is most important. I need to reflect about events, circumstances, experiences through writing, and this blog (my journal) serves that purpose. I typically can sit down and write a blog post in about 45 minutes. Lately, I am finding that it is taking me 1-2 hours, sometimes even 3, before I get anything suitable to post. This seems odd, really odd, and I am not sure why this is happening. I guess it could be "overload" or "stress" or both. I am not sure, I am not sure at all.

This weekend, my middle brother came for a visit. He came to see our Mom and Dad, mostly our Mom, because she is having surgery tomorrow to remove a lump from her breast. I know he wanted to see for himself, to check her condition, and find out on his own whether or not what we were saying was really true (about her condition). The visit was nice, a bit different, but overall nice. It was good to talk with him, and it was so nice that he came to visit (from NV).

The funny thing, in reflection, is how his visit influenced my parents. You know, how they reacted to his presence, his conversation, and his overview of their status (health for example). It was just so interesting to see his impact, short as it was, on our whole life. I guess from a social scientist standpoint, I found the whole weekend fascinating to study. In truth, I was influenced by his visit too, so I would have to cite my own personal agenda in my limitations (LOL!) Still, the weekend, for what it was worth, seemed odd, uncharacteristically out of place, and generally, a befuddlement. Definitely worth some study, for sure, for certain.

I am trying to reflect right now on all the things that are zooming through my head. I am being bombarded by all these feelings, some of them are good, some not so good, and I am trying to piece together the fragments that are true, accurate, and good indicators of the reality of my life. I wish I could say that I have it all together today, but I don't. I am trying to be "in the moment," but there is a part of me that feels like I am just not sure what to expect next. It is like I am living in this whirlwind of great UNKNOWN, and while I am not afraid or anything, I just feel sort of out of balance, off-kilter, and a bit like Alice peering through the looking glass, know what I mean? Do I follow the white rabbit down the hole?

An Interesting Turn of Events

I started this blog post yesterday morning, shortly after I arrived home from church. My day had been knocked off it's "ordinary" schedule, so I wasn't feeling particularly good or in my usual writing mood. I wrote about half the post before I saved it and closed blogger. It happens, you know, writer's block. I have been really fortunate to not have had it happen too often in my writer's life, but I know for a fact that it can be incredibly challenging for many writers who struggle to break free.

Yesterday evening, I spent about four hours working on my poster presentation (due tonight), and frankly, I felt that everything I did was either subpar or didn't make a whole lot of sense. I was frustrated for certain, but now I am thinking it had more to do with being preoccupied with my Mom's pending surgery (today). Now, that I am home, surgery completed and prognosis good, I sat down to finish that project, and thankfully, I did it in about an hour or so. It is done, hooray, praise the Lord, and it has been posted to my assignment forum for grading. I am down to the last assignment now, and then this class (COM 730) will be put to bed. Selah!

In all, today has been a really blessed day. Not only did my Mom come through her cancer surgery well (she just buzzed past me on the walker -- heading to the bathroom), but she is in little to no pain right now. Of course, the Vicodin is helping (she only took half a tablet about 2 hours ago), and for that we are all grateful. Truthfully, the worst thing ever is to see a loved one in pain. It is just horrible when you cannot do anything to help them or make them feel better.

During my wait at the hospital Surgery Center, I had a really nice chat with my Dad. I am glad we had this time together, even if we were both a bit stressed. It was good to hear him say some things about my son, me, my brothers, etc. that confirmed to me that he does understand our struggles and our efforts to overcome them. It is good to be validated, to be confirmed, and to be supported in this way. Even if he doesn't agree with our choices, he seemed supportive of them, and that means so much to me (and to my other family members, I am sure).

This turn of events, sort of a turning of the tide, signaled to me something important. I believe my Dad has come to see the tenuousness of life, what with my Mom's cancer and all. I think he sees that life is perilous, and there is nothing he can do to make things better. He cannot cure my Mom's cancer. He cannot solve my brother's marriage problems. He cannot help my son to not make mistakes. He can be supportive, though, and he can offer wise advice, gentle counsel, and a guiding hand -- all of which he does do regularly. Usually, though, we get the bite that goes along with the advice, and that makes the whole matter more like a "bitter pill to swallow." Today, however, it seemed he was resigned, and not in the defeated way, but rather in a submitted and yielded way. He seemed at peace with what was going on, and generally agreeable to the way things were coming to pass. No one wants a diagnosis of cancer, for sure, but when it does come, how you take it, really accept it can determine your course of action. In my case, I know that my Mom is in God's hands. I still worry, of course, but I believe that He has her well-covered. I don't want to lose my Mom, but I also don't want to see her suffer needlessly. God knows her time, her coming and going, and while I may want to control these events, I simply cannot do it. I am not God, and thankfully, because He is, I can rest, I can relinquish control, and I can relax and deal with life as it comes toward me.

God is good in that way, so very good. He meets us right where we are at, and He remains with us. He sticks to us, and He never lets us go. I may not like what I see, but I know that He is my friend. He is my King, my Lord, and my Savior. He is good, so very good to me.

July 24, 2015

Next Up

WOW! I cannot believe that it is July 24th already! This summer has just flown by. It seems like it was just yesterday when I was getting on an airplane to head for VA Beach and my summer residency course. Now, I am planning out my syllabi and course assignments for fall -- anticipating school starting in just under 5 weeks. I am so not ready for school to start yet. I still have oodles to finish for my own schooling (by 8/7), and I have some preparation work to complete for my exams next Spring. This summer is almost over! Sigh!


I guess the blessing or the good news is that I do have contracts set for fall teaching. I am set as far as my schedule goes (GCU - MWF and ACU - TR). God is good to have provided these classes for me to teach. I am blessed, so very blessed. What's more -- I am seeing the very real light at the end of the tunnel now. I see the finish line for my courses at Regent, and that means, ta dum! I will be an official PhD candidate in March 2016. Woohoo!

My fall is lining up quite nicely. My classes at Regent consist of Theology, Philosophy, and teaching/assisting History of Communication. I will be very busy with coursework, but I am pumped to finish my last semester of classes with grace and strength! The Lord has brought me through to this point, and He will certainly see me through to the end! PTL! God is good, so very good to me!!

Plans for Fall

I have no real plans set for travel as of yet, but I am praying in earnest for a way to fly to AL to visit my love. It would be so nice to spend time with him in person, and I am afraid that if I don't take advantage of my time off this fall, I will be forced to wait until next spring break or worse, summer (I just don't think I can wait that long!!) Right now, my fall schedule is such that I could potentially take time in mid-October, the week of Thanksgiving or right after school ends in December. I have a good three weeks off between semesters, and last year, was able to take some of that time to fly to FL to spend with my Aunt and Uncle. It is a good time for me simply because I don't have anything to do or worry about (except some paper grading) so I am free, free, free! However, what may end up happening is for me to fly there for a long weekend (a Fri-Mon) as that might be all the time he can spare. Sigh! It is a challenge to wait for the Lord's timing. I know the Lord plans for us to spend some time together, physically I mean, but the key is knowing when that will be. My prayer is that it will be soon, but I know that this is not something as easy as pie, know what I mean? My schedule is very tight and a bit inflexible as is his -- so we are both at the mercy of the Lord's will -- and we are trusting for the Lord to make things happen in His time, always in His time.

So for now, I can only think about visiting and spending time with him. I can only imagine what it will be like, and how much I will enjoy my visit. Until the Lord provides, I will patiently wait. I know the plans the Lord has for me are good, so very good, and therefore, I will wait for His perfect plan to come to pass. I want His best for my life, for every area of my life, and that means I must allow everything He has in mind to take place, every opportunity, every challenge, every step. There is no reason to rush, to panic, or to feel pressure because the Lord knows what He is doing in my life, in his life, and in the life we will share together. Yes, of this I am certain...the Lord does intend for us to be together. It is difficult to not want to share that news with friends and family, but the longer I spend time with my love, the more convinced I am that he is a gift sent from Heaven above. Yes, I believe that the Lord has sent to me my perfect fit, the best companion, and the most amazing man -- really the man of my dreams. God has provided to me the most wonderful, most blessed, and most satisfying relationship of my life...thus...I don't mind waiting for His will to come to pass. I cannot imagine anything more perfect from the Lord...yet each day...I feel more and more blessed, more and more confident, and more and more secure in these next steps.

Until then...I rest completely in the Lord's care, in His provision, and in His protection. He has me well covered, so well covered.

Today is a good day, a very good day. I am thanking the Lord for His manifold blessings, and for the security and the love He has provided to me. I cannot think of anything I want or need for today, His manna has been sufficient, it has been enough, and I am well cared for, so well covered. God is good, so very good to me! Selah!


July 22, 2015

Preparing for Fall

What an amazing day it has been! And, it is only 1:30 p.m. here in sunny, hot and humid AZ. Yes, the Lord is good to me, so very good to me. First off, the Lord has once again pressed upon me to get myself prepared, to make myself ready, for the plans He has for my life. Proverbs 19:21 says, "You can make many plans, but the LORD's purpose will prevail." The writer of Proverbs is stressing the idea that the plans we make, while good and fine, will not take the place of the Lord's purpose for our life. Of course, this presumes that the man or woman of God is diligently seeking the Lord, and is willingly obeying Him as He leads and directs their steps. In my case, this is exactly true. I am seeking the Lord in every area of my life, and while I may not always know exactly what He is doing (behind the scenes), I do believe that His purpose is always first and foremost in His mind. Thus, the plans I make, and I make many of them, are all focused on this one thing -- on seeing the Lord's will, His expressed and precise will for my life -- coming to fruition, coming to pass.

It excites me to no end when the Lord moves in my life. For a long while, I used to panic whenever He moved. I sensed change, great upheaval, and in His movement, I always felt as if I was being jerked forward, clearly out of my comfort zone, and into some great big UNKNOWN. It hasn't been until recently that I began to realize that His movement, no matter how small, always was for my good. There is nothing the Lord does or allows in my life that doesn't further His plans and purpose for me. Consequently, He may cause some circumstance to come to pass or He may permit some hardship for a time -- all in order to prepare me, grow me, equip me -- for His work, His service, His name and honor. I have come to rest, to recognize His movement, and while I still hunker down a bit, making myself "ready" for the jolt, I know that it is all for my good, for my best, and for His will.

Today is a good example of such a move. I have felt the Lord moving in my life the past couple of days. I think it started this past weekend, and it culminated with my blog post on moving on (letting go) from my past. Yes, I think the Lord placed on my heart the importance of letting my past go, and while I had done that before, many times before, I hadn't gotten to the place where I could "walk away" from it, no longer discuss it, or allow it to remind me of past hurt. The last few days, however, have been freeing for me. I have found such peace, such comfort, and such amazing grace as I walked away from everything that was before, and I embraced everything that lays ahead. I picked up my cross, so to speak, and I started walking on. Yes, I know that I have done this before, like I said many times before, but this time somehow it was different. I was intentional about it, I guess, and in being intentional, I realized that I had made a choice, finally a choice, of where I was willing to go. Let me explain...

I have blogged about my situation recently, well for eons, really, and in doing so, I have spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting on the past, looking backward for hints and clues to behavioral patterns and interactions that caused me to make certain choices. I thoroughly analyzed my childhood experiences, my teenage romances, and my marriage -- studying it through a microscope at times -- so that I could really grasp the significance of the decisions I made, and I could understand the motivation for them. It was a good thing, really, it was a very good thing. I learned a lot about myself, mostly what not to do in the future, but in total I came to respect myself and to accept the person I am (warts and all). Yes, I was able to say "I accept you, Carol," and that is a big deal, a very big deal. As God has helped me deal with past hurt, He has also enabled me to see my part in how everything came about, the good and the bad. It has helped me maintain a realistic perspective on my past, and as such, I feel that I have a better handle on my future. As Martha Stewart says, "it's a good thing!" Yes, indeed, it is a good thing!

Turning a Corner

So today has been interesting, with a lot of potential change on the horizon, and some very positive opportunities potentially opening up for me. I am excited to say the least, and I feel that perhaps this is the Lord's movement in my life.

1. Just yesterday, my son and I had a good chat about his upcoming school plans. He has changed colleges, thanks in part to a major scholarship from the school, and some prodding and encouragement from some of the pastors at our church. He is enrolled in a BS in Music program, and should now graduate in 2017. In the end, he will be in school for a lot longer than most kids his age, but he is on track to graduate and praise be to God, his degree is something that I believe aligns with the Lord's will for his life. My son got a full scholarship to study music, and on top of all that, just was offered a position at our church to work part-time starting in August. This is such a praise because he has been applying for a while without any interest. This position pays well, and it should provide for him. I am so blessed, so very blessed.

2. This morning I received an email from GCU asking if I was interested in applying for a contract position as a facilitator for CIRT. This is a short-term opportunity, as needed really, but the pay is excellent. It would be such a blessing should they choose me to facilitate this summer. I really could use the extra income between now and when school begins. Furthermore, this might be something I could do throughout the year as needs arise. What a blessing for me!

3. As I was praying today, the Lord placed the idea of applying for some extra work on my mind. The Lord directed me to GCU (praise be to God), and I noticed that they were hiring for adjunct Online instructors to teach several communication courses. This is a rarity for GCU, so I applied just to see if they would consider me. I always have trouble making it past their HR screener so we will see what happens. I would be blessed for this opportunity, though. I believe this would be for 8-week classes, and that should make it possible for me to do a couple of these classes, and still keep my fall on campus class schedule. I would welcome the online classes -- just to build my resume in that way -- but it will be up to the Lord to convince the HR person to interview me.

Now, I am not saying that I have everything figured out yet, but it does seem that things are happening again, and for that, I am so grateful. God is good, so very, very good.

Preparing for Fall

So what does this mean for me? Well, right now, not very much, other than the fact that my son is set for fall, and with a job, that means I will have to pay for less and less of his keep. I love my son, don't get me wrong, but it has been a challenge and a strain for me to pay for his schooling this past year since he lost his job. He has been very thoughtful and careful, but in truth, I simply cannot afford to pay for his upkeep and my own.

Furthermore, as I begin to prepare for fall, one thing is for sure. I realize that I cannot bear the responsibility for caring for my parents anymore. I love them, surely I do, but their care has taken a big toll on my finances, and while the Lord has not placed me in this position directly, I have felt responsible for their care. Mostly, it is my Mom, as she wants things (like Starbucks or Chinese) and I have been seeing that she has what she wants. My Dad started this off when Mom was diagnosed with dementia in January. He was very tight with the money at first, but since June, he has simply given in to her wishes. Now, I understand this thinking, but I am not in a position to do that and it sort of just happened to me. I made the decision yesterday to let this go as part of my closing the chapter on the past move. I love my parents, and I want the best for them -- but -- I am not their primary caregiver nor am I in the position to pay for their needs. My father, Lord willing, is the one calling the shots for Mom's care, and he is managing their remaining years. I support them, certainly, and I do care for them physically, but I can no longer purchase items or pick up the tab for them. I have tried to exit out quietly, to turn down dinner offers and such, just because I don't have the money to splurge. It is difficult for me, but I also realize that this is part of life, and that I have to be responsible for my own care first, and my son's care second.

Thus, as I turn toward fall, I am confident in this one thing -- God has a great plan for my life, and He is working out all the details to prepare me for my final year at Regent, and for relocating me closer to my love. I believe this is the Lord's will for my life, but I cannot up and move until the Lord opens that door. I am patiently waiting for His grand move, and until then, I am focused on the work I must do now. I have courses to teach, classes to prep for, exams to study, and of course, a dissertation to write. There is a lot on my plate, but praise be to God, it will all be done in His time, and with His overall blessing. I am sure of it.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

July 21, 2015

Getting Down to Business

It is a very good Tuesday here in sunny, hot and humid Arizona. I am sitting at my desk, blogging, and it is almost 1:30 p.m. My routine has been upset today, thanks in part, to my email not working properly. I have had issues with my email for the past couple months, but it was very sporadic, so I didn't make a big deal about it. The past couple days, however, have been trying. I have felt like I wasn't getting my emails at all, and that was really bugging me to no end. I spent the better part of the morning trying to fix whatever was wrong with my inbox. I have thought for a long time that the problem was with my service provider, Cox, but now I am thinking that it is Thunderbird (a Mozilla product) that is causing the problem. I read online that there was a known bug in the program. The main issue I have is that all my emails are stored in Thunderbird, and I cannot import them into another reader so that they will be accessible to me. It frustrates me, but I know that in time, it will be okay. This too shall pass...so the saying goes. I guess the blessing of having email problems is that the work I did, trying to get everything fixed, spurred me to get organized, and that as Martha Stewart says, is a "very good thing."

Organizing My Life

There are many systems or ways to organize one's life. I think most people like to be organized, but for many, the process of organization seems to be what causes them the most problems. I happen to be an organizer by nature. I find organization fun to do, and I like to get my things in order. I guess I am like this because of the way my brain works. I tend to find clutter distressing, and I worry about missing important dates or assignments simply because I might misfile them or misplace them on my desk or in one of my many organizers (file folders). I tend to stick to an old fashioned system of organization, and as such, my process is all about sorting and collecting like items. I don't really maintain file cabinets anymore, simply due to a lack of space, but also I found that I tended to stuff things away (never to be seen again), and that really didn't benefit me in the end. I have since taken to purging, and I love the feeling of getting rid of things. In fact, I am thinking of picking up on the latest fad in organization called "Kondoizing," which is based on the book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing," by Marie Kondo. I am not sure if I can go all the way with Kondoizing or not, but I do think there is value in purging, and creating a streamlined and slimmed down, minimalist approach to life.

The Minimalistic Approach

As I plan for fall 2015, I am already thinking of ways to stay organized. You see, I haven't found the perfect solution to keeping tabs on all my students yet. I checked today, and I think I have about 130 students at GCU, and more than likely, I will have about 25 at ACU. This means I need to track assignments and grades for close to 150 students. On top of this, I also have my studies at Regent, and I need to start planning for my Qualification exams in the fall. In all, I need a good system of organization to help me stay focused and on track -- right on through to December -- Praise the Lord! So for right now, I am contemplating several ideas that will help me be more organized come August. I need a system for school (teaching), exam prep (Regent), and home keeping (my current house and my future home). In the past, I have tried several systems. They each had pros/cons. I am seeking a new way, a better way than these tried-and-true approaches. I am thinking of going minimalist, but not 100% minimalist as I stated. I am looking for something in between, something that suits my style, my needs, and the way my brain works. Hmmm....

1. The Box System

One of the many systems I have tried to use in the past is a box system. In a box system, everything that belongs together is placed in one box. I like this idea, and it seems simple enough. The negative to it is that it makes it difficult to find that "one item" you may need because it is sitting at the bottom of a box. I tend to go to the box system first because it fits my mind well. I typically categorize my tasks so that I can know what I need to tackle next. So for example, I label my tasks according to their group -- classes at Regent -- for example. This enables me to work on a task, but it back into its box, and then forget about it while I move on to another box. I compartmentalize well. I am just not sure if this is the best way to organize my life, know what I mean?

2. The File Drawer/Cabinet System

For many years, I lived by file drawers and cabinets. I think it was a left-over from my days working in offices where everything was filed in folders and hanging folders. In those days, we had walls of cabinets, offices filled with cabinets, and everything had its place in its own folder. Folders were grouped into categories based on their function, and then placed in cabinets stored for convenient retrieval. For years, my home office also had file cabinets in them. My ex-husband was a good one for liking the file cabinet system so we had dozens of file cabinets. I found them to be dust-catchers and after a while, they seemed to be "dead zones" where you put stuff you didn't want to keep out on the desk. It seemed like to me they were simply good for hiding the clutter, the mess of materials an office collects over time. I came to hate them in the end, and now I do not have a file cabinet to speak of in my house.

3. The Less is More Approach

After the divorce, I had to give away much of my old life because I didn't have enough storage space for it. I kept the most important "things" attached to my memories, but generally, I purged like crazy. It felt so good to let things go, especially those old dusty things that didn't really matter to me, but were stored on a shelf or in a drawer for "emergency use." Yes, I was happy to finally get rid of all the "just in case" stuff that cluttered up my life. Now, I am thinking of using this system again, the paring it down to the bare minimum, just so that I can learn to live with less. I really like the idea of form and function, having one thing to meet a need rather than 3 or 4 similar items that get used rarely. I have started to think about this in terms of clothing because I tend to hoard shoes, purses, and t-shirts. I love shopping, even though I don't buy expensive clothes, I do have a thing for t-shirts.

My first move after the divorce was to a rented town home. I had about 1200 SQFT and plenty of room for storage. I purged initially, and then a bit more after I was settled for a bit. When I moved from this home to my present home, I had to purge even further. Mostly, I gave up "things," household things, because I was merging my house with my parents. I packed some keepsakes away, but again, I purged and tossed anything that was not functional or that I thought wouldn't be used over the next couple years.

Since that time, I have purged again, and now I am ready to really get organized, to make use of the remaining items, and to put together a system that will work going into the future. One thing is for sure, I am never going to live in a cluttered and dirty (grimy and dusty) home again. I lived that way for 30 years, and while I made the best of it, the truth was that I never could get used to the fact that my ex was a hoarder. He would try, but in truth, he never could toss anything away. He would complain at me all the time, telling me that I need to clean and clear away the clutter. The problem was that there was no place for me to store things because he had items that were 20 and 30 years old (in boxes, never touched, never used). When you live like this for a long time, you get used to it. I mean, you finally give in to the overload, and you realize that there is no way to tackle the mess, so you just ignore it. I know for a fact that part of the reason why I was so unhappy back then was because of the mess. I cannot live in mess, I just cannot. I am not a perfectionist, a Mary Poppins, so to speak, where everything must be "spit spot." No, I do have some clutter around, but for the most part, it is minimal mess.

In clearing away the clutter, I have always used the following system for sorting/prioritizing my tasks and my things:
  1. Most important, first
  2. Most valuable, second
  3. Most tedious, third
  4. The rest...
It seems weird, but I tend to accomplish tasks based on a values system. I do sort by time/date, but then I decide based on value -- what has the most value or bang for the buck. In organizing my home, it is which task will reap the biggest reward. This way, you can accomplish one task and see the results right away. Sometimes people focus on all the little tasks, and while they are good to get out of the way, the big picture is still a bit of a mish-mash (a pistache!) I have also followed this approach with good success, especially at work.
  • Make a list of everything that must be done today. Mark them as urgent and non-urgent.
  • Assess the value of each item. Prioritize based on value -- is a school assignment more important than replying to emails? Do what is most important first. Save the busy work for later.
  • Set realistic goals for what can be done each day. Don't try to do too many things, instead focus on what is "do able" for that day only.
  • Budget some "flex time" so that you can handle emergencies. Sometimes life happens so make sure your 'to do' list is not so packed that you cannot be flexible to handle other immediate needs.
  • Say NO to the time wasters - social media, telephone, TV, Netflix, etc. These things can zap your time and shorten your attention span so that it is impossible to accomplish anything.
When it comes to clearing up around the house, well, then a better system is to decide schemes based on room use. For example, in the living areas of the home, I cannot stand clutter. I need to have everything put away, and I like to have a purely functional space to do things in. So for example, in my kitchen, I rarely have things on the counters. I keep only those items that are necessary on the counter, and everything else gets put underneath or in the pantry closet. In the family room, I have space cleared for sitting, reading, and TV watching. I don't like to see newspapers, mail, magazines, or even books littered about. I like to know that should someone pop in for a visit, my main areas are clean and presentable.

In the back of the house, I try to keep the bedrooms ordered. I always make the bed, every day, and I always put my clothes away. I don't stack laundry in piles or baskets, but I put them where they belong. I also make use of closet space and cupboards so that seasonal items are put away. I use the under the bed space too, and I try to minimize the number of "things" that catch dust. I hate to dust, it is right up there next to vacuuming so I have learned that the best way to keep from having to do it, is to reduce the clutter and items that collect dust.

Around the House

Everyone has a different idea about what they want to see in a home. For me, the most important part of home keeping is "keeping a home" so that it is functional and useable. My home is very important to me. It is a place of solace and a place where I can decompress from the stress of my work. Therefore, I need a home that is ordered and clean. The very thought of coming home to a mess is what drives me crazy. The first thing I would do is want to clean -- and after a long day teaching -- it is the last thing I should be doing every day. Thus, my home is my castle, and as such, I am particular as to how I keep it in check.

Home keeping has been defined many different ways over the course of the past hundred years. Check any of the free online dictionaries and you will find two definitions: 1) staying at home; and 2) not gadding about. According to Merriam-Webster, the term, home keeping has been around since 1616. Generally, it was used to denote the roles and responsibilities of those who "keep a home." This would include the cleaning and caring of a home as well as storing items used for or in the home.

Home keeping to me means all the things a person must do to keep their home functioning well. This includes repairs, inside and out, as well as practical solutions that serve to prevent problems from arising in the future. Good home keeping then is essential to maintaining a well-ordered, well-run, and well-maintained home.

Getting Started with Minimalist Thinking

As I mentioned in the opening for this post, I have seriously considered going the "Kondo" way when it comes to "less is more" thinking. I don't think I could go 100% minimalist, but I certainly can adopt some of this thinking to shape the way I choose to think about items. For example, some organizer/bloggers suggest rethinking the idea of "space as a cost" measure. The idea is that often we grant something a place in our home simply because we have "room for it." So for example, in that spare room you might be storing things that have never been used or not used in years simply because you have room to keep them. Secondly, some bloggers suggest that it is important to consider the cost of keeping items -- not just from a space/value perspective -- but from a mental clutter perspective. This is my big issue -- clutter isn't just about space, but it is about the energy generated or drained from items that are nonfunctional and useless. In my view, holding on to boxes and boxes of pictures, for example, is a waste of space and energy. It is better in my view to take out the precious photos, scan them to CD, and save them electronically. This frees up floor storage space, while also making them available for use online. Furthermore, saving some of these photos and arranging them in frames would make them easily accessible for viewing. I know I rarely dig through those old photos anymore, and over time, they are fading and becoming quite brittle. If I don't preserve them soon, they will be unrecognizable.

Purge, Purge, Purge

I am at the point now where I feel like there are several areas I can still purge to reduce the clutter. The first is with my closet. I have a lot of clothes, and as I am intent on losing this last 20 pounds, more than likely many of these items will be tossed to the Goodwill. A natural purge is on the horizon for sure. Still, I must resist the temptation of buying the same amount of things, just in a smaller size. I am thinking of creating a wardrobe that is pared down, minimalist, and functional. Steve Job was known for his minimalist approach to dressing. He favored jeans and a black turtleneck shirt (or tee shirt). He wore the same thing every day, and no one every looked at him and said "Oh poor, Steve Jobs! He doesn't have any clothes to wear!" In truth, Jobs certainly could afford a luxurious wardrobe, but instead, he chose a simple style that fit his personality well.

I read a review for a book I am thinking about purchasing on Amazon. I like the premise, and the reviews are fairly positive. It is called, "Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving" by Lorilee Craker. In the book, the author interviews Amish people to find out how they are thriving during a down-turned economy. The book jacket states, "When writer Lorilee Craker learned that the Amish are not just surviving but thriving in the economic downturn, she decided to find out why. What she found was about a dozen tried and true financial habits the Amish have employed for generations that will make your cash last longer and help you build wealth."  So I am not planning on converting to Amish Mennonite any time soon, but I do value the hardwork and the diligence these people seem to characterize most. Craker mentions four specific principles that seem to predominate Amish thinking towards sufficiency and contentment.

I find that I can identify with these tenets as well.

Use It Up!
  1. Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without
  2. Rethink your gift giving
  3. Repurpose, recycle, and reuse
  4. Eat like royalty for a peasant's pittance
According to Jeff McMahon, "Money Secrets of the Amish isn’t so much about making money; it’s about family, discipline, and redefining what wealthy means. This is a great read that helps us all to see more clearly what’s really valuable in our lives." I think this is important to remember -- what we strive for in life must always be of the most value to us. The Bible says it this way in Matt. 6:19-24 AMP,
Do not gather and heap up and store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust and worm consume and destroy, and where thieves break through and steal. But gather and heap up and store for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust nor worm consume and destroy, and where thieves do not break through and steal; For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your entire body will be full of light. But if your eye is unsound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the very light in you [your conscience] is darkened, how dense is that darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stand by and be devoted to the one and despise and be against the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (deceitful riches, money, possessions, or whatever is trusted in).
The idea is that what we attend to or give preference to is a right indicator of where our heart is focused. Thus, if we focus on things, accumulation of things, and we do not keep them in check, we run the risk of placing undo attention on them. I believe that living in a messy or cluttered home, a place where there is an accumulation of "stuff" is indicative of a mind/heart issue. I am speaking of myself here, so as not to point the finger at anyone else, but it is something to pause and carefully consider. You see, in the Word, we know that the Lord told His disciples not to accumulate "things" because they would not need to worry about their daily requirements. Jesus said that the Father would provide for them, so they didn't need to amass a large wardrobe or even carry much with them when they traveled about doing the Father's business. I see a parallel with how most Christian's live their lives today. Should the Lord say "Arise, take your stick and walk" would we be able to do so without it taking months to purge, to clear away the dross, and to make ourselves ready to do His work?

In this day and age, living simply can have many benefits. First, it can help us to stay focused on the Lord's work in our lives, and on ministry opportunities where we can be used to help others. Second, it is a way to clearly define our lifestyle from that of the world. The Amish have done this for centuries, and yes, while they refrain from using "worldly things" such as electricity, they have made a mark as "plain people," people who have learned the value of living simply. Three, when we live without by choice, we say to ourselves that we are choosing to live freely and without incumbrance. We can move about, go where we need to go, all because we have little to hold us to one particular place. Last, minimalism is also frugal, and it make use of every item, in every way, and it enables a greater respect of the item's function and form simply because it is useful (utilitarian).

I started thinking today that perhaps I would keep a second blog titled, "My Simple Life." I don't know...it is not like I have a lot of time to blog about living simply, minimally, these days. If the Lord chooses for me to do one, then I will do one. Until then, I am thinking about ways to downsize, to minimize, and to live more simply. I think there is value in the purge, the pursuit, and in the end, the process. I am thinking perhaps the Lord is preparing me to live this way. I am okay with this direction, and the Lord knows that I am content to live in whatever condition He chooses for me. Perhaps this whole process of purging, of letting go, has been to get me ready for the next step, the way He has in mind for me. I am ready, Lord. I am ready.

July 20, 2015

Rethinking the Past

Yesterday I came to the conclusion that my past is not something I need to run from but rather it is something I need to embrace. So often, I think people fear living in the past, living in regret of past mistakes, and as a result, they never come to experience any closure on the choices they made 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years ago. I read once that closure, emotional closure, related to past experiences is part of the process of life, of learning to let go and move on, and to not allow the past opportunity to control or define you. Furthermore, closure implies acceptance, and it is the act of accepting the past, that enables us to move forward in life. Brenner (2011) states, "Closure means finality; a letting go of what once was. Finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what's finished to something new. In other words, closure describes the ability to go beyond imposed limitations in order to find different possibilities" (para. 1). Whether the past contained mistakes made through poor choices or events or circumstances that seemed to be thrust upon us (a death of a loved one, a divorce, etc.), the closing out process, the ritualistic expulsion of our memories, of objects, and of meaningful artifacts, can be difficult and painful for us to do. Yet, psychologists suggest that this process of letting go can actually bring positive results and open doors of opportunity for future experiences. Thus, "Finding closure allows you to move into your future, unencumbered and optimistic" (para. 13), in order to move forward, we must close the door on our past.

Not everyone agrees that emotional closure should be the end goal of grief. Sociologist Nancy Berns suggests that closure is a myth. She writes about the pop psychology beginnings of the term "closure" in her book titled, "Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us." Bern states that closure is a made up concept, and that because grief is uniquely personal and individualized there should be no pressure to end the process. She states, "The idea of closure [is seen] as a new emotional state for explaining what we need and how we’re supposed to respond to trauma and loss. But closure is a rhetorical concept, a made-up term . . . .Closure is not something that we can simply find or something we need. It’s a frame used to explain how we should respond to loss" (as cited in Dehrer, 2011).

Berns is suggesting that grief is a fluid process, one without a specific end. I understand her view, and I do think she is right in part. I think that no one who experiences grief should be made to conform to a set period of time or made to feel as though their feelings are not valid just because they are still grieving their loss some 1, 5 or even 10 years after the experience. What I think is wrong, however, is this idea that it is okay to remain stuck in grief, that it is "normal" to stay tied to the past long after the event has ended. This to me, and granted I am not a psychologist, seems to suggest that there is no value in moving on, in looking forward, or in approaching life with an optimistic outlook.

It is an interesting topic to consider, and when thinking about the fact that "closure" is a term with almost no legitimate psychological backing, it does make one think about whether or not closure even exists (Bandes, 2008, p. 2; Berns, 2011). Yet, not withstanding critics, there are some practitioners who suggest, no who argue, that closure is vital to successfully ending the painful process of emotional healing. Bandes (2008) writes about the nature of our emotional responses, and states that they are sociologically complex. Her view is that "emotions are not formed, experienced or expressed in a vacuum" (p. 6), thus suggesting that cultural heritage as well as personal experience often influence the way we process our emotional states. In short, because of the very nature of emotional experience, it is difficult to characterize one way or to suggest an approach that can enable an individual (a victim of a crime, as she asserts) to find closure.

Therefore, considering the tenability of emotional processing, it is clear that closure or a sense of finality is something that many scholars feel is unlikely to exist let alone become a psychological panacea to help victims and individuals overcome their emotional baggage and pain. Yet, while I agree that "one size doesn't fit all" in the case of closure, I do believe that the Bible clearly addresses this idea, and encourages it as a means to enable individuals the ability to move past certain experiences. The Old Testament law, for example, included a number of regulations (see Leviticus) that were permitted to allow individuals to receive "pay back" as a means of victims rights. Clearly, God concluded that relationships, while messy and difficult, needed a system of regulations that would permit individuals the opportunity "to forgive and to forget."

As I think about my life today, I am wondering how much of my life is stuck in "N." I mean, have I really let go of the painful experiences of my childhood, my marriage, or my former life? I think in many ways, I have moved on. Yet, I still blog about these experiences, and I still share them with others, and even though the pain is lessened, and the past dimmed, I still wonder how much of my former life I am holding onto because of my fear of the finality of closing that chapter. I know that my experiences have shaped my character, and in many ways, the person I am today is a result of those experiences. So whether or not I have closed each chapter, I still find that much of what I am, of who I am, is the result of my former life.

I am blogging about closure today because I feel like this is something the Lord has laid on my heart. I have been very transparent with my experiences, and I have not shied away from the hurt I felt as a child, the victimization I experienced at the hands of others during my childhood and teen years. I have been open about the pain in my marriage, and the struggles I have had coming to terms with the reality and the truth of my responsibility in the choices and patterns (behaviors) I engaged in. Still, there is part of me that knows that I have moved on, that I have made great strides forward, and that I am now at the point where I am ready and willing to begin a new chapter in my life.

How long must one grieve for the loss of a relationship? What is an acceptable amount of grieving?

In my case, several friends and family members questioned my grieving process. They felt that I was too quick to give into the loss of my marriage, that I resigned myself to the finality of the decision, and that I didn't "try" hard enough for reconciliation. I certainly grieved, privately of course, and I did publicly share some of my emotional turmoil as I processed the truth of my marriage ending. Still, I suffered condemnation from well-meaning individuals, Christians, who refused to consider the details of my life as being satisfactorily "sanctioned" for divorce. What is more is the fact that I as meet with other divorcee's, I find that their experience is similar to mine. Many share the fact that their church refused to counsel them, to help them, or to support them as they dealt with their divorce. Many turned their backs on them, refused to acknowledge the process, and later treated them as "different" because of the fact that they were now single. It is true, and it is a shame that this happens in our Churches, but it does, and it does so frequently.

I wonder if this is why the Lord has allowed me to blog so openly about the painful discoveries I made, and the process I have experienced as I learned how to live as a single person again. I have no doubt in my mind that the Lord intends me to counsel others, simply because I have experienced the pain and the sorrow of seeing a marriage come to an unexpected end.

Moving On

I was reading online today about "closure conversations" and how many psychologists suggest that couples who are breaking up have such a conversation. The idea is to recognize the end of the relationship, and to ritualize the closure so that the individuals can move on freely and engage in other relationships without fear of guilt or shame. It is an interesting idea for sure, but I wonder how many people are adult enough to handle having such a conversation. I mean, I cannot imagine having a conversation with my ex-husband in order to "move on." We pretty much did this already, but let's say I decide to move across the country, and I am planning on getting married again, would this be a necessary step for me? Would I have to have a "closure conversation" to let my ex-husband know that I am moving on with my life?

Hmmm. I am not sure. I guess it does make sense, really. How else would he know that I was moving forward unless I took the time to tell him about it. I guess I could post my status on Facebook, mark my relationship from "single" to "in a relationship." I am sure that would cause some heads to turn (LOL!) I see young people do this all the time, and I wonder about it. What would my family think? What would my friends say? Would they congratulate me or would they grill me for details?

When it all comes down to it, I believe strongly in the providence of God. I believe that God orchestrates the details of our life, and that He is intimately aware of the goings on in it. As such, the Lord cares for us, and has us well covered, so whether we are struggling to put our life back in gear after a loss or whether we are trying to let go of long ago pain, the Lord is there with us. He is holding on to us, and He is helping us learn to trust Him so we can move forward.

My life has been mixed up for a long time, but now I see with great clarity and focus. I am expecting good things to come from the changes the Lord has allowed in my life. Some of His providential care enabled me to avoid calamity, and some enabled me to endure as I processed through the painful experiences and learned lessons from them. In all, God has kept me in His great care, and He has surrounded me with His mercy and His goodness.

Today, as I think about moving forward, starting to drive forward toward what I believe is the new life the Lord has in store for me, I remember the past, but I no longer hold on to it. I let it go, all of it, and I let it live in the past memories and pages of those long closed chapters. I am writing a new book, a new story, and the details are emerging every single day that I am alive and walking in His word, His wisdom, and His way. God is good, so very good to me. I look forward to the plans He has for my life, and I embrace the opportunities He is bringing to me. He is the author and finisher of my faith, and as such, He is authoring these details, these next steps. May God be praised forever more, and may His Name be lifted high. For He alone is worthy of our praise!


References

Berns, N. (2011). Closure: The rush to end grief and what it costs us. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Brenner, A. (2011, April 6). 5 Ways to Find Closure From the Past | Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-flux/201104/5-ways-find-closure-the-past

Dreher, C. (2011, September 4). The myth of closure - The Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/articles/2011/09/04/the_myth_of_closure/

Setting Things Right

Today is a good day. And, even though I woke up with a headache (thanks to the rain that arrived last night), I am good, I am so very good. It is Sunday, and due to my sinuses acting up, I decided to stay at home and not go out to church. I always feel guilty when I miss church, but in truth, I was so very tired, and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I guess it is a good thing since I was able to spend some extra time in prayer, and I was able to enjoy the peace and quiet (the stillness) in the house today. God is good, and He knows my needs well. I am thankful that His hand of mercy rests upon me, and that He has me so well-covered, so well-covered (Matt. 6:8).

Stillness and His Voice

Last night, my friend and I were discussing the work of the Holy Spirit, and how many Christians take differing views on His work and power. I think all Christians accept His divine role as third person in the Trinity, but many do not agree on the scope and limit (if there is any) to His power. Moreover, the various camps in Christianity view the work of the Holy Spirit differently. Charismatics see His power as unlimited, with personal revelation and outpouring of gifts as a natural characteristic of His person. Reformers tend to view the opposite, and regard His work as limited in scope, more along the lines of His power to instruct from the Word (interpretation) and His influence in guiding the Christian into right thinking and behavior (conviction and confirmation). Then there are some who land in the middle of the spectrum or who simply do not know what the Holy Spirit really does in their lives.

In my view and experience, I tend to side toward those who share in the knowledge that as God, the Holy Spirit has unlimited power, and that He does personally speak to the Christian through the Word as well as through personal revelation. I am not a cessationist as I do believe that the gifts such as tongues, miracles, and healings still exist today. I do not ascribe any special meaning to the gifts, so in that way, I differ from Charismatics on the role of these gifts. It is more that at this point in time, I am not willing to discount the work, limit the work, or diminish the power of the Holy Spirit in any way, shape or form. Thus, I hold the position that the Holy Spirit is active and present in the lives of Christians, and that individually, He leads and guides, works in and through them in a unique and personal way.

Therefore, as we were discussing the Holy Spirit, we touched on the subject of if we believed that God had a unique plan for each person's life. You know, questioning if God have a special plan, a design for your life and for my life, and if we believe that this design works toward His plan for eternity? We both agreed that God does call individuals to certain lines of work, to ministry, and to tasks that He desires them to complete. Furthermore, we agreed that God does orchestrate the details, create opportunities, put paths in our way, etc., to enable us to walk in the direction of His plan for our life. I realize that for some believers, the idea that God cares about their work (job) or their choice of life partner (spouse) comes as a surprise. I know many believers who feel that they can choose whatever they desire and because they are saved, they believe that their choice will be blessed.

Again, in my view, I feel that this is errant thinking. Scripture seems to suggest that the man or woman who leans on their own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6) runs the risk of making poor choices. Furthermore, Scripture also suggests that because God delights in the details of our lives (Ps. 37:23), He longs to be intimately involved in all of our decisions and our decision-making process. The Lord of Heaven longs to guide and direct our steps (Prov. 16:9). If we allow Him this authority over our days, then we will see our life and our path set in a new way, a new direction that aligns with His will for our life (Ps. 37:4-5).

Listening for His Voice

The Word says that "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27 NASB). The Voice of the Lord is audible to those who call on the Name of the Lord. When we think of hearing the voice of the Lord, we immediately assume that it means "out loud" like when Moses heard the voice of the Lord from inside the burning bush or when the Father spoke from the Heavens at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan river. But the word "audible" means many things, and not just, to hear something aloud. Merriam-Webster defines this word as meaning to be "heard or able to be heard." Synonyms of audible include words such as hearable, perceptible, discernible, detectable, appreciable, clear, or distinct (Merriam-Webster). Thus, when the Word says that we can hear His voice, we are told that as believers we hear "The voice of Christ in his Gospel, both externally and internally" (Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible). Of course, some people will say that this verse is simply saying that the disciples heard Jesus' actual speaking voice and they responded to Him. Others might say that this verse is simply referring to the Gospel message itself, and therefore, anyone who shares the Gospel with another, is in a way, speaking Christ's words. I personally believe that Gill's interpretation is accurate in that the voice we hear in our heads and our hearts is both delivered through the power of the Gospel message (the words themselves), but also through the inner working of the Holy Spirit who enables us through grace to respond. In this way, when believers hear His voice, they hear Him (Christ) speaking through the written Word, and they hear the Holy Spirit who lives within them (internally and externally) confirming and affirming the truth of that Word.

Furthermore, I believe that God in Christ Jesus, speaks to us in a number of ways. The believer must listen for His still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13) so that he or she doesn't miss the message the Lord has for them. This act of listening requires faith (believing the Lord does speak to us), obedience (trusting that He will speak to us), regular practice (daily reading of the Word and time in prayer so we can hear Him), and the desire to hear His voice (enjoying communion and fellowship with Him). I think that many believers today are too busy to spend time in the Word or in prayer, and as such, they lack the desire for deep communion with God. Some may be afraid of what that kind of relationship might mean for their life (changes due to the conviction by the Holy Spirit, the illumination of sin, or certain areas of concern) or they are not willing to experience that kind of fellowship with the God of the Universe. Yet, for believers who are willing to engage in a deep personal faith like this, there is great joy to be had through the experience. 

For believers who struggle with this idea, my encouragement today is to remember that there are many ways to hear his voice.

Eight Ways to Hear God's Voice 
  1. Through His Word
  2. Through Christ Jesus
  3. Through His Creation
  4. Through Other Believers
  5. Through Music
  6. Through Circumstances
  7. Through the Holy Spirit
  8. Through Prayer
I believe it is vital to be open to hearing God's voice in any or all of these ways. We must be willing to engage with Him so that we can come to know Him more intimately. We must ask Him for this deeper relationship, and then be willing to go to Him, to sit with Him, to learn from Him. The Lord waits for us to come to His side, yet so often we are busy with life, and we do not take the time to sit, to rest, and to enjoy His presence in our life. His is willing and He is ready to meet with us, but we must put aside all our cares, all our "to do's" and sit down and fellowship with Him. Furthermore, we must remember that all relationships take time to develop. Thus, if you desire a closer walk with the Lord, then you must get closer to Him, spend time with Him, and learn from Him on a daily basis. You cannot just drop in for a quick chat and then go about your business for days, weeks or months (or even years) and expect to have close fellowship with Him. That would be like expecting to be "best friends" someone without spending time together. The best you could hope for is a casual relationship, to be acquaintances only. I believe that there are many Christians today who have a casual relationship with the Lord of Hosts. Yes, they are saved, but they only know the Lord in passing, as a bystander in a one-sided relationship. I believe this is why so many believers struggle to overcome the hardships in this life, and why they continue to live "less than victorious lives." They simply have chosen to remain "distant relations" rather than to be known intimately by the Father -- and as a result -- that do not enjoy the blessing of a true father/son or father/daughter relationship with Him.

In my view, then, to develop your relationship with the Lord, you must first spend A LOT of time getting to know Him. Remember that He already knows you -- but you don't know Him -- so don't rush the process, and expect to know everything there is to know in one or two visits. Rather, relax, and let the Lord introduce Himself to you in the way He chooses to do so. I have found that in doing so, you will come to know the Lord in a unique way, a way that is particular to the plan He has for your life. In truth, the Lord seems to introduce each of us to one of aspect of His character based upon our need and His need for us to share it with others. You may come to know the Lord as holy, righteous, loving, merciful, kind, good, or patient. The Lord will choose to make Himself known to you by one or more of His attributes so that you can learn about Him in a deeper and more intimate way.

In my case, the moment I came into this deeper more intimate relationship, I realized one thing about God, and that was that He was so good to me. I was overwhelmed by His goodness, and since that day, I have spent nearly every single day bearing witness to the goodness of God. Goodness, therefore, was the attribute that resonated the most with me. And as a result of my experience, I seem to be focused on His goodness, and I share this testimony daily -- on this blog, in person, through emails or social media. It seems I cannot pass a day without saying something to the effect that "God is Good." I believe that this is the one thing the Lord desires I share with believers. I feel that part of my unique and special calling is to equip and build up the church, the body of believers who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, I seem to be appointed to tell my brothers and sisters in Christ, to remind them really, that God is so very good to them. I shout it from the rooftops, and I post it everywhere I go -- God is good, so very good!

Today as I think about my life, all the stress and strain, the pressures and problems, I am reminded that no matter what happens to me, no matter what comes to pass or doesn't, one thing remains -- God loves me, He cares for me, and He meets my needs with abundance and sufficiency. I do worry -- A LOT -- about making ends meet, about having "enough" material resources to make it through each day. But in the end, the Lord stands firmly as my provider. He keeps me in check, He balances my needs, and He provides for the desires of my heart (His desires in me). I let go, and I rest -- I trust Him for His provision, and in faith, I choose to believe that today, I am well-covered. And, that tomorrow there will be daily manna, daily bread. Yes, the Lord is good to me, He is so very good to me.