October 9, 2015

Do You Believe?

It is Friday, and once again, I am sitting at the computer on the 3rd floor of the GCU Student Union. I finished my early morning communications class, and now I am taking a break before I have a short meeting with a colleague to discuss his upcoming peer review (I am reviewing his classroom). I am sitting here reflecting on my morning, and I am thinking about how the Lord has spoken truth into my life the past couples days. If you follow my blog (does anyone follow my blog?), you will have read about my recent struggles with confidence and my concerns regarding inadequacy in my teaching abilities. The Lord has been gracious to me, and yesterday, I made a breakthrough of sorts. Yes, I guess I came to terms with some key items, and as a result, I accepted the path, the plan, and the process the Lord is using to prepare, equip and train me for my future work (His work). Today was another "life lesson" for me, and I think, it was more profound even though it seemed rather innocent and unassuming. Let me explain...

Today started out like every other day. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I teach at GCU. I have three classes, one Communications course, and two English Composition courses. My day is long and tiring, and generally, nothing startling happens. I go to class, I teach, I come home for the day. My students seem to do fine, get the content, do the work, etc. But... I tend to feel inadequate, especially when my students appear to be disinterested in my courses. I take it personally. I feel bad, I feel as though they don't like or appreciate my efforts. And, frankly, I spend a lot of time preparing for class. I create lessons that I think will engage their minds, and will extend the lessons we are learning. I prep, prep, and prep, and still they seem to want to be entertained or spoon-fed bits of information. It bothers me greatly, and as a result, I feel like a failure in class. Yet, I know I am not a failure because my evaluations are always good. My students will often tell me how much they enjoyed my classes, how they want to take more classes from me, etc. I still struggle though, and often, the weight of these feelings wears me down. I become depressed, and I feel like I want to quit.

Yesterday, I had a breakthrough. Yes, I came to terms with this path that I am on, and I came to accept that this is what God wants me to do for the next 20 years of my life. I am to teach. End of story. I get that, really I do, but I still struggle. I still feel inadequate and as though I am not good enough to teach. I realized that a lot of what I feel is predicated on my well-being, my mental and physical wellness. If I am overly tired, not feeling well physically, then my mental state seems to follow suit. My physical ability determines my mental state, and while that is not the best case, in my life, it seems to follow. I try very hard to keep a positive outlook on life. I try very hard to see the silver lining. Yet, I struggle with depression, with feeling blue, etc. It all seems to coalesce during the semester, especially when I am pushed and pressured on time.

As I have processed these facts, I have determined that my lack of confidence and my feelings of inadequacy are misplaced. I have "inferred" incorrectly, and I have done so out of a need for approval. I blogged yesterday about how I once was a people pleaser, and how I desired for people to like me. My self-confidence has always been an issue because as a child, I struggled with making friends, and with being accepted. I was different (I still am), and while I have come to terms with my uniqueness, I still recall the sting of loneliness, isolation, and feeling as though I was not wanted. I have overcome most of my self-esteem issues, but occasionally, I will find myself stuck in these old memories, feeling once again as though I am not "good enough."

Of course, I am 52, almost 53, and frankly, most of those feelings have been replaced by positive affirmations, achievements, and other aspects of my life that have demonstrated to me that I am worthwhile. I am a confident person, bold, and at times, almost strongly assertive. Yet, there is a small part of me, that child-like part of me, that will raise its head up (just every now and then), and get the better of me.

A Case in Point

Today, my Communications students were studying Leadership, and I decided at the last minute (last night) to have them watch a TED Talk by Simon Sinek. I had first watched this inspirational message in my Leadership class this summer, and I was impressed with his message. I know that many people take issue with his simplistic message and his delivery, but despite the flaws and errors (a bit of grandness), there is a good message at the core. I liked his focus on inspirational leadership, so I thought that this 20 minute talk might just make my students think more about communication and how leaders use communication to inspire their followers.

In this message, Sinek, outlines what he calls the "Golden Circle." The golden circle was his "A HA" moment when he figured out that all great leaders (great companies, successful organizations) communicate differently than the average person. Instead of telling their followers what they do, they tell them why they believe what they believe. His reasoning is that "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." It is a good saying, a strong message, and for the most part, I agree with him. He uses Apple Computer, the Wright Brothers as examples of success, and provides TIVO, Dell and Gateway as examples of failures -- all based on the message they communicate (or communicated) to their followers with regard to their product or invention.

I've watched this TED Talk four times now, and each time, I still enjoy it. Like I said, I normally agree with him, and I think his idea, while simplistic, does make sense in many areas, not just in business, but in life as well. As I watched it today (number five is the charm), I was struck once again by the simplicity of the message. I listened as he hammered home his trademark saying "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" a dozen or so times in the 18.04 minute presentation. It was at the end, or near the end, when I had an "A HA" moment too. I heard a voice in my head say to me "Your students won't buy that you know what your doing, until you know why you are doing it."

I sat there for a brief moment, stunned really, as I thought about those words and how my teaching style, my way of doing things, is really different from the way other teachers teach on campus. Yes, I blogged about this very thing yesterday too. I said how I feel pressured to change the way I present information, how I engage students in the classroom. I feel this pressure to be different, to do things a certain way, a way that goes against my natural style. I have tried to change, and each time I try, I fail. I fail miserably. I realized yesterday that I have to be myself, I have to do things my way or else this whole "teaching thing" will not work for me.

Sinek's words stuck in my head as I finished up my class and headed over to the coffee shop. I thought more about them as I sat down to blog, and I guess I came to another conclusion -- a really BIG conclusion. Confidence comes from a belief in something. According to Merriam-Webster, confidence means "full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing." My students need to trust me, to have a belief in my ability as an instructor in order to feel successful in my class. If they do not feel that they can trust me, then they will doubt my effectiveness and could possibly do poorly in class. But if they feel they can trust me because I am trustworthy, then they will gain confidence, and they will do well in my classes. This is important to my students because my desire is always to see them succeed. They must trust me, they must believe in me.

But more importantly, and significantly, is the fact that for this to happen, I must believe in myself. I must believe that I can do this thing -- be a teacher -- and my confidence in the classroom can transform a ho-hum experience into something better. I know this is true, and I know what it feels like to feel good about your performance, to feel confident and bold, and to know that you really do know your content.

I have struggled the past couple semesters with my confidence. Partly this is because I am tired and overworked with doctoral studies, but also it is because teaching is new to me. I mean, I have only been teaching a couple years, and I am still not great at creating lesson plans or even delivering content. I am getting better, and I know that in a year or two, I will be far better than I am now. However, my lack of confidence in myself has served to undermine my performance in the classroom now. I lack confidence, I don't believe what I am saying, and therefore, my students feel it, I sense it, I see it. My failure to be bold, to be confident, has had a direct result on my students sense of well being. This is why Sinek's message rings true for me today:

"People do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe."

Today, I think about this idea, and I see that my lack of belief in my abilities has served to cause a disconnect in what I do. My belief in myself has directly impacted my ability in the classroom. Now, I know what you are thinking, "So just do it!" Well, yes! But that is easier said than done. I have tried to overcome these negative thoughts and feelings. I have tried to tell myself "You can do it, Carol" and so far that has proven to be marginally successful. I am trusting the Lord, of course, and I am asking for His help every day. Still, I struggle. Still, I feel like a failure most days.

How do I overcome these feelings?

Well, I think the key is to understand where they come from and why I suffer from them. I came to terms with this truth yesterday. My childhood experience shaped and influenced my thinking to the point where I often feel inadequate (incorrectly so). I feel most confident when I am functioning my strength areas, when I am independent and able to use my intellect, my intuition, and my ability to infer solutions to problems. In short, when I am engaged in scholarly study, when I am conducting research or when I am producing a product (creating, writing, etc.) or a report. Yes, when I am using my INTJ brain -- then I am confident, bold, and in control. When I am using the weaker skills, weaker areas of my personality such as when I teach -- communicating, emoting, and sensing -- then I struggle. Why? Simply because as an INTJ personality, my strength is introverted, intuition, thinking and judging. This means that I am at my best when I am alone, focused on thinking and judging -- rational and logical explorations of deep things, thoughts, and theories. In the classroom, I have to turn on my weaker areas -- I must be an extroverted, sensing, feeling and perceiving person. This is the exact opposite of my personality profile and it is outside my comfort zone. I must put on this other person for 3-4 or 5 hours each day, and I have no confidence in this part of my personality. I have no confidence in my abilities in this realm of my psyche.

For me, this process of being extroverted and sensing and feeling is a challenge. It is draining emotionally, and it also is a playground where I feel outnumbered, out performed by others who are naturally this type of person. I want to retreat to my inner world where it is safe, where I can be myself, and where I can do my work, my way, and according to my own wisdom. Yes, I want to do things my way, the way I work best. But, I cannot do this, not now anyway. I have to learn how to be this way, and frankly, this process is wearing me down. I feel, I sense, I perceive and I don't like it.

My rational brain kicks in and says to me "This is stupid, Carol. You are saying and doing things you don't believe, and your students "see" it!" Of course, this is not 100% true, but there is a sense of great fear in it because most INTJ's fear failure and they fear being found out as a fraud. Yes, the fact that we might be failures, frauds, and fakes looms over our heads night and day. We fear this to be true, even though we know the likelihood is slim that this will ever come to pass, the feeling is still there. This is why I over prep, I over teach, and I over do everything. I have to have checks and balances that are backups to checks and balances. I am zealous because I need to be sure, really sure, that there is no chance I will fail.

This pressure to perform is tiring. The pressure to be perfect is difficult, and while being perfect in the sense of one's work can be a strength, it also can be a weakness, if not kept in check. You see, one of the great things about being an INTJ is that I rarely miss a detail. Moreover, I am able to spot problems, issues, concerns far off in the distance. I work very hard to observe, to see any mishaps or hiccups in the process. I work to avoid error. In all this "extra" effort, I enjoy a great measure of success. I achieve a lot. I am an over-achiever, and I am OK with that label.

Thus, through teaching, I have come to learn the hard lesson of life, the life of the perfectionist, the researcher/scholar who must have all her ducks in a row. In teaching, I cannot have things my way. I cannot have my life the way I want it. Instead, I have to play in the unknown, disordered, and dysfunctional playground of my sensing, emoting, and perceiving brothers and sisters in Christ. I am learning to live in the world, in the real world, the place outside my head, the place where people live and where they die. I am learning to live in and love the world through Christ. To do this, I must open my eyes, I must learn how to sense, perceive and feel. I must learn how to fail, and I must learn how to trust the Lord. I cannot simply be content to do easy work. No, He has called met to learn how to be this way, and it is hard for me to do. Yet, there is a purpose in it, and I must learn what He wants me to learn, which is this:

To live for Christ, is to die to the self.

Galatians 2:20 says it this way, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." My confidence can no longer be in the flesh, but must be in Him and Him alone. Paul writes in Philippians 3:3-4, "for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh," in order to demonstrate the difference between justification by the law and justification by the blood. The Jews who professed faith in Christ, still held confidence in their obedience to the law. Paul was saying to them, "Look brothers and sisters, there is no confidence in the flesh -- it cannot save you! Our hope and confidence is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone!"

As I learn how to do this thing called life, I am learning how to do it His way. I wish I had a handle on it, and I wish I could explain it better. But when it all comes out in the wash, as I like to say, what I am learning is that to please Him, to be pleasing to Him, I must sacrifice everything that is me in order to receive everything that is Him. This means that the work He has given to me cannot be done without His presence in and through it. The work cannot be done in my flesh; no, it has to be done in His spirit alone. My INTJ brain and wiring so desires to do things my way. He is calling me to learn how to be like Him, to relate, to communicate, and to teach the way He does. He is calling me to learn how to be more ESFP like, to become someone different, new, and relatable by the world. It s not that the Lord desires me to stop using my introverted brain and my ability to analyze -- rather -- it is that He is saying to me that for me to be an effective minister I must learn how to relate to people through my other senses, my other personality. In some ways, He is showing me how a life lived for Christ is a life lived in Christ. My personality, hard wired and coded from birth, is being rewritten by His presence in my life. I am learning how to be Christlike, and to live like Christ, I must be like Christ.

"People do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe."

If I say I am a Christian, then I must live like one. I must not be a white-washed pagan. I must be a person who is trustworthy, who is believable, and who lives out what they say they believe. If people are to follow after me as I follow after Him, then I must be able to live out what I believe. If I don't believe it, then they won't believe it either. This is the life lesson I am learning. This is the life lesson that will take me from where I am today to where He wants me to be tomorrow.

October 8, 2015

Giving Praise

Today is Thursday, and I am home. In truth, I love Thursdays this semester. Thursdays are like Fridays to me. I treat them like other people do a Friday (TGIF!). They are the day that reminds me just how close I am to resting, just how close I am to the weekend so I can rest. Thursdays wrap up my teaching time at Arizona Christian, and while I still have Friday left at Grand Canyon, for the most part, I am on cruise control. I am pushing toward the weekend -- full steam a head -- so looking forward to my Saturday and Sunday. Ah, rest. I am so in need of a good long rest.

The good news is that next week, I have Tuesday off. ACU has a short fall break in October, so the students have M-T off next week. I only teaching a TTR schedule, and that means, I get just one day to chill out. I am planning a research day on TH, and I have an extra credit assignment available for my students to do for me. Mostly, I am going to give them a reason to enjoy their break from class. Plus, I am going to enjoy my break from class too. It is a good thing, a really, really, good thing.

Praising God Despite Troubles

As I sit here today, I am praising God for His mercy and goodness toward me. I know I write this a lot, often, daily, and the reason I do it is to bear witness to God's goodness in my life. You see, I feel that I must tell others about His Name, and I must give praise, witness and testimony to His goodness. I am "compelled" to do it, and no matter how I try to get out of it, to stop doing it, I just cannot. It just comes out of me -- in one way or another -- it just happens. I am like David who said something similar in Psalm 22:22,

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.

Yes, I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you! God is Good. All the time, and in all ways, He is good.

I think about His goodness a lot. I mediate on it, I ponder it, and I wonder about it. I see His goodness all around me, and I feel His goodness in and through my life. It is in the midst of trials, difficulties, and storms when I need to remember His goodness most. It is during these times, times when I am at my worst, lowest, and my least "good" that I find this truth most helpful. You see, when I think or remember His goodness, I am able to continue on. I can press on through whatever trial I am in the midst of, whatever circumstance seems to be besting me, and whatever problem I am trying so diligently to solve. Yes, I need to remind myself that He is good. When I do, my eyes lift up, my head turns around, and I see the goodness of the Lord all around me. Let me explain...

I have not been feeling well now for the past three-four weeks. I am not sure what is wrong with me, but I am generally not well. I know I am tired, very tired, but also I am struggling with pain issues that seem to be persistent. I either have a migraine or I have searing back, leg or foot pain. The pain is causing me to feel depressed, and on top of all of that, I am struggling to keep on top of my studies at Regent and present good content to my students. It seems like this semester is the most difficult, the worst so far (studies and teaching), and even personally, the most challenging for me. I am doing my best to be faithful, to see the blue sky behind the clouds, but in truth, I am worn out. I am road-weary, and I need a long rest. I am not sure how I will make it through to December. I know, of course, that the Lord will see me through it, but day in and day out, I am finding that I am losing control of the little I hold within the grip of my hand. I let most things go, I mean, I really do. I am holding onto only those things that I have direct responsibility for -- under the Lord's guidance -- and yet, I am losing them as well. I feel as though I am an utter failure at my job. I feel as though I am a poor daughter to my parents who so much need and rely on my care. I feel as though physically, I am not going to make it much longer. The pain is all-consuming, and my attention is scattered. I don't know what day it is most of the time, and I run from one place to the next without much control. I mean, I feel like I am struggling to hold onto my little world, and the harder I try to keep all the balls in the air, the more they seem to fly out of my hands. I am not sure how much longer I can take this stress. I know I must, I know I must keep on pushing through this, but truthfully, I feel as though I am about to hit a very hard wall.

A Case in Point

This past week, I thought seriously about leaving teaching and returning to a 40-hour week job. I mean, I did this work before, and I know I can do it. I can make good money, and I would be able to leave my work at "work." With teaching, I am always teaching. I bring my work home with me, I prep my work at home, and then I revise it AT HOME. I cannot get away from it. Furthermore, as I struggle to process the weekly schedule and the demands on my time, I think to myself "how I can possibly handle all of the work?" It is too much, just too much at times. I have learned a very valuable lesson over the past three years, and that is that teaching is the most difficult job in the world. It is by far the most challenging job -- physically, mentally, emotionally, and at times, spiritually -- of all the work I have ever done. While it comes at a great price -- teachers sacrifice their time, their families, their money in order to meet the demands of work and the needs of students -- it also comes with a super rewards package. Yes, there is great reward in seeing students learn, make connections, and grow and develop as human beings. This is the blessing hidden within the high price that comes with being a teacher.

I have had doubts about my teaching ability for the past three years. In truth, I have probably doubted my abilities for 20 some years. I do not feel that I am a good teacher. I try very hard, but I don't seem to be able to make it happen. I watch other teachers and I see their zeal, their efforts, their reaction to and from students. I am not like this -- and no matter how hard I try -- I do not generate the same kind of reaction. I want my students to like me, of course I do, but I also want them to learn. I see them struggle, I seem them flounder, and I see them "check out" in my classroom. I feel like a failure every time I see a student sigh, gasp or tune me out. I think, "I've lost them, and I have to get them back." I can't do it. I have tried, I have really tried, and I still cannot do it. I lose them, and I cannot get them back.

This week, in particular, I think I came to the conclusion that as far as being an "entertaining" teacher, I am an utter failure. Yes, I am not a fun teacher to have in the classroom. I am not entertaining, I am not fun, and I am not interesting. I am boring, difficult, and at times, obtuse. I know it, I do. I am, after all, an INTJ, and as such, my brain is wired for research, and not for teaching. Furthermore, I am not funny. Yes, I cannot tell a joke, and I cannot make students laugh. Well, some do, but most find me to be bland and boring. I know it, I am aware of it, and I struggle against it. The problem is that I am the way I am because God designed me to be this way. In short, I cannot be an entertaining teacher because God didn't make me to be one.

I think this is the crux of my problem. I am not fun. I am not interesting. I am not going to make class easy. No, I am going to drill into my students what they need to know, and I am going to tell them why. They may not like it, but it is what it is. I am going to hold them to a standard, and while I give more grace than most teachers, I am simply not going to be something I am not. I cannot. I cannot be what I am not, and that is the rub in all of this.

For the past three years, I have tried to be someone else in the classroom. I have tried to use assessment techniques, technology, and other interesting approaches to teaching in the classroom. I have attended seminars on it, I have tried to incorporate as much as I could into the classroom, and even still, I fail. My students check out. They simply do not care. 

Now, this is not 100% true, of course. I actually do have students who tell me they loved my classes. A few of them, that is. Most probably are so glad to see the back of me, that they will never sign up to take another one of my classes again. Okay, I can live with it. I can deal with that fact.

Why Do I Need Their Approval?

This is the $64 million dollar question, and I think the answer lies at the bottom of most of my stress. I am trying to make my students like me, like my class, like the way I teach, and as long as I focus on this as a pursuit, I will fail. My job as a teacher is not to make my students like me. My job is to teach them how to write a solid academic essay. My job is to teach them how to communicate well. They may find me boring, true, but in the end, I have to say that I did my best to teach them what I felt was most important and most crucial to their learning experience. That my friends is the end of it.

It seems that I have gotten myself on this merry-go-round of "approval seeking," and in doing so, I have sabotaged my own efforts this semester. I am not sure how this happened, but perhaps it was because of the classroom dynamic or perhaps it was just because I am so road-weary right now. I don't know, I just don't know. But I am feeling sick, and to keep from getting sick (I am on the cusp of it), I am stepping off this merry-go-round, and taking a break from "people pleasing" activity.

What is a people pleaser and how do you know if you are one? This is a good question, and I can tell you that I used to be a people pleaser. Oh my, yes! I learned the hard way how this type of behavior doesn't do anything to help you, and that in the end, it only hurts you. According to Darlene Lancer (2014), people pleasing begins in childhood, and often leads to dissatisfaction in our adult life. She writes, "Everyone starts out in life wanting to be safe, loved, and accepted. It’s in our DNA. Some of us figure out that the best way to do this is to put aside what we want or feel and allow someone else’s needs and feelings to take precedence" (para. 1).  People pleasing stems from a need to be loved, and people who engage in this behavior tie their self-worth to approval. Therefore, if I am loved, then my self-worth says that I am a lovable person (para. 3).  Lancer states that it is possible to change, but to do so, we must be willing to do the work to change our view, our self-assessment, and our mindset. She says, "It’s possible to change and find our voice, our power, and our passion. It requires getting reacquainted with that Self we’ve hidden, discovering our feelings and needs, and risking asserting and acting on them" (para. 11). Moreover, she continues, "It’s a process of raising our sense of self-worth and self-esteem and healing the shame we may not even know that we carry, but it’s a worthy adventure of self-reclamation" (para. 11).

In my case, I feel as though I have tied my self-worth to my performance as a teacher. In this way, when my students don't show me respect, love, or approval, I feel that I have failed in my ability to teach. Yet, my students performance in class, their quality essays, demonstrate something different. My student's performance (of which almost all have As) shows me that I have not failed, but that I have succeeded in teaching them something. 

My need for approval is part of my personality. I desire approval, and I always have desired approval since I was a child. I needed my father's approval, and I still try to prove to him that I am good at something -- teaching, computing, parenting, etc. Yet, my need to find approval in teaching has come about most recently in my struggle to change careers and to embrace a part of my personality that is weaker, less assured. You see, as an Analyst, I am very strong and confident. As I teacher, I am weak and overwhelmed. Yet, in both jobs, my strengths are obvious to those who see me in action. When I perform analysis on anything, I am able to do so with precision and ease of effort. My analysis is usually spot on and I know that I am capable, able, and good at doing this type of work. Likewise, when I am teaching my students, my teaching ability stems from my knowledge of my subject, and the way I present it to my students. I engage them with content, and in doing so, I encourage them to think laterally. Most of my students don't get this approach, but that is because they have had 12-years of spoon feeding, and I am asking them to engage their brains and do more than just sit there and let me "choo choo" content into them. When I am observed by Faculty trainers, I am always complimented on my approach, and I am told that I am a fantastic teacher.

Why is There a Disconnect Then?

I think what has happened to me is that I have seen a disconnect between the way I teach, and the way my students learn. I am being asked by faculty training to change the way I teach (not directly, but through seminars and other assessment courses) to be more student-centric. I am being encouraged to facilitate and not teach, to entertain and not educate. I cannot do it. I just cannot do it.

My personality, the way I think, the way I process, all works against this mindset. I am not able to teach my students through a "spoon fed" approach. I cannot do it, I will not do it.

Since day one, I have walked into my classrooms and I have felt like my approach is bad, and because I am not doing things the way the experts say work, I am a bad teacher.

Bad, bad, bad.

Now, why have I accepted this determination? It goes back to people pleasing. I want want people to like me, to think I am smart, good, etc. I want to please people, and frankly, the more I try to do it, the more I fail.

Paul says it this way in Galatians 1:10 NLT, "Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant." Ouch! 

Am I trying to please people or am I trying to be Christ's servant? WOW! What a difficult question, but so pertinent to understanding why I feel the way I do, and why I am struggling so much with process. In truth, I am seeking Christ's approval. I am a fully-devoted, wholly committed servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. In my work, my good practical work, I seek to serve Him always. I show up, I do my best, and I pray that He blesses my efforts. I receive grace over and over again, and for that I am thankful. Yet, there is a part of me that wants to please people, to be liked, to be approved.

In Colossians 3:23 NLT, Paul writes again, "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." No matter what job we do, we must always work for the Lord, and that means doing our best regardless of the outcome.

Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church says it this way:
He's [Paul] saying that no job is too small: no job is too menial: no job is too insignificant when you have the right motive and perspective. We should think, I'm doing it for God; I'm doing this job as if I'm doing it for the Lord. I used to clean meat lockers in a butcher shop, and I would clean it as unto the Lord.
Warren goes on to say that if we are working for the Lord, then our motive should produce two characteristics: excellence and enthusiasm.

We should work hard and with great enjoyment because we are working for the Lord.

As I think about this, I think to myself, "Am I working for the Lord or to please my university, my dean, and my students?" Truthfully, I do need to do good work for all three of these people (and institutions), yet if I am serving the Lord first, then my actions should satisfy the rest. Matthew 6:33 NLT says it this way,

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Recently, I read C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity," and in it, Lewis offers his own explanation of why we must put God first in all things.  In his "Letters," he writes,
When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest t all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.
When I think about it this way, it makes sense to me. So long as I put God first, and view my practical work (as service to Him), then I have a right order and perspective on things. I am putting "first things first" so to speak. All other things will find their proper place so long as I put God first in my life. I know that I want to do this, so much so, but my flesh gets worried, stressed, and fearful when I feel as though I am failing, not doing my best, or out of my element. God has not called me to a life of luxury or of ease. No, He has called me to be diligent and faithful, to do good work, but to remember that in all things I am to serve Him first and foremost.

If my life is ordered rightly, then as Matthew said, "all the rest will be added to it." I will have everything I need to do life according to His will, His work, and His way.

I get it now. I see how I have put pleasing my students into a higher rank than I should. I have considered their feelings and satisfaction as being more important than pleasing the Lord with my excellence and enthusiasm. I am to work for God's approval and not man's. No matter how good it sounds, how much it makes sense to please another person, it should never take precedent over what we do in God's Name. After all, like David said,

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you!

It is God whom we praise, not men. May His Name be praised today and forever more. Amen, so be it. Selah (Pause and calmly think about it!)

October 7, 2015

It is a New Day

It is a beautiful day here in sunny and cool Phoenix. Yes, I put those two words together and matched them to my city, Phoenix. I know, miracle-of-miracle, I am saying that Phoenix is SUNNY and it is COOL today. Sure enough, our wet weather yesterday brought in much cooler temperatures, and thankfully, we are having a blessed "fall like" day today. I am in bliss, Nirvana, and total happiness!

I found this clip today with Eleanor Roosevelt's quote, "With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts" on it. I love this statement because I think it represents a part of our perspective that we often overlook each day -- hope and optimism -- that the new day will bring a good outcome.

New Day, New Perspectives

Today started off with a crash. Literally. I got to my exit off the freeway this morning only to find that the street I turn on (the main drag in front of GCU) was closed due to an accident. I hadn't received the update on my phone until I was sitting at the corner and noticing the red streaming flares blocking entrance to the street. It turns out that there was a fatal crash some time earlier in the morning. I was at the corner at 6:35, which is pretty early for me, and the road was already closed. The notification finally came through my phone and said that the intersection would be closed all morning. Thankfully, I made it to class on time (I had a colleague waiting to observe me this morning). I don't mean to sound inconsiderate of the victims in the crash -- I have prayed for them and their families -- it is just that on my early mornings into GCU -- any type of obstacle like this can cause major delays. As Adjunct faculty, I am required to be on time every day. I cannot take off or show up late. Of course, in instances like this, it is okay to be late. Still, my heart and my mind were interrupted from my normal routine by this unfortunate accident.

Despite the interruption, I made it to my class, and passed my observation (at the least, I think I did). As I walked over to the coffee shop on campus, I was thinking about my teaching here at GCU, and how much I like this school. In fact, I was praying about this last night, and I asked the Lord if there was anyway I could just stay at GCU for a time. I mean, I am contracted to teach next semester, and more than likely, I can continue to teach adjunct for them as long as I desire to do so. I would like to be hired permanently at GCU, and while I like this school, there is a part of me would like to try living some place else. In fact, I have always believed that the Lord would move me from Phoenix to another state at some point between 2015-2017. I am on track to see that come to pass, but even with my desire to move someplace "less hot," there is a part of me that is very comfortable teaching at this school. Sigh! Yes, it is true. Part of me is happy to be right where I am, and part of me longs to be some place else.

You see, I like GCU a lot. I like the technology in the classroom, I like the students, the staff and the faculty. I like the courses I teach, and generally, I like the direction the University is going as it grows and influences the valley for Christ. I am blessed to teach at this school -- it fits me -- and I am very happy to be able to be part-time faculty. I have thought about this idea, about teaching full-time for a long while now, and I guess I just never imagined it would or could happen for me. GCU, generally hires adjunct to fill vacancies. However, I have heard from some managers that with the explosion in growth, there is a good chance they will begin hiring full-time faculty for fall 2016. This leaves me wondering if this might be what the Lord has in mind for me -- at least temporarily -- while He prepares another place for me. After all, I will have my PhD next fall, and that means I would make a good candidate for hiring since I will have three full-years of teaching at this school, and for the most part, I am well-liked and well-received by the full-time faculty. Could this be what you want for me, Lord? I just don't know, I just don't know.

It is so hard to figure this part of the puzzle out. I mean, for the longest time, I have been fixed on moving some place else. I have desired it, dreamed it, and made decisions about it. I have been mentally preparing to move for the past 8-9 years. I have been bold and confident when I told friends and family that I believed that the Lord intended for me to "go" some place and serve elsewhere. Yet, here I remain. I have always believed I was here for a reason, mostly for my son and my parents. Moreover, I have felt that while I was finishing my PhD, it was just best, I mean better for me to stay put. It made good sense to stay put. Now, though, I am beginning to wonder if this is the Lord's plan for me. I have tried applying for jobs in other states, and nothing has come to pass. I mean, nothing. I have applied for out of state jobs at least 50 times over the past five years. Not all of these jobs were teaching positions, some were just good work. The Lord has not seen fit to move me, and so I have tried to remain content to be where I am. It has been difficult at times because I have not been happy here, generally speaking. What has made it so difficult has been the fact that I really do see good things here, and on top of all that, my parents and my son are here. I have wrestled with leaving, moving away, and with all that is involved in moving. Still, I have remained firm in my belief that the Lord does desire me to move -- to go -- I have just not been able to "go" yet. Let me explain...

Going Where He Calls You

This whole bit about "going" has me somewhat befuddled. The other day, in my despair, I applied for two jobs at Arizona State University. These were good jobs, mostly in marketing and communications. Each came with a nice salary, a good benefits package, and for the most part, would align with my strength -- analysis. I was depressed over my teaching ability, over my lack of response to some teaching jobs in other states, and my general disillusionment as to where the Lord was sending me. I mean, I am in this weird place right now. I am about to finish my PhD, conclude my studies at Regent University, and I am thinking about moving to another state to take on a full-time faculty position. I want to go, don't get me wrong. I want to try living some place else -- but -- there is my life here, my family, my son and my parents. I have a good life here in Phoenix. It is hot, sure thing, but Phoenix is a good place to live. I mean, it is relatively safe. There is crime in the inner city, but where I live, it is safe. I live in an upper middle-class neighborhood, and I have a good life. I have my needs met with sufficiency, and my life is comfortable. It is good.

So while my folks are coming to the end of their lives, they are not to the point where they need full-time care yet. No, we have challenges like other people, but every day we are making it, and our days are good. This will not always be the case, but for now, it is good that we live together, that I am able to take care of my parents like this. On top of this, my son is experiencing great growth through his new school and ministry work at our church. It is so exciting to seem him grow spiritually, and I am blessed to be able to be here for him.

How do I know where the Lord wants me to go?

It is a challenge, for sure. I was thinking about this very thing today as I walked across campus. After I got my coffee, I came up stairs to the library. There was a nursing student in the elevator with me. She sighed heavily, and I said to her "It is Wednesday!" She smiled and said, "It isn't hump day (referring to that middle of the week status), but it is almost the end of the week." I could tell she was tired, and I smiled back at her. I wished her well, and I exited the elevator to come sit at the computers and do some busy work before my classes this afternoon. Her words stuck with me, and they prompted me to think about my outlook, my perspective on life. I mean, how do I see my life right now? Do I see it as a hump in the road? Or do I see the progress I am making to the end -- to the my final destination -- where the Lord is leading me?

Too often, I see my life as one long speed bump. I am cruising along, and then WHAM! I hit a speed bump. Sometimes it seems like I am constantly speeding, slowing down, speeding, slowing down. I am tired of the fits and starts. I want to get "going," to get moving and GET to my final destination. Yet, the Lord has me where I am for a reason, and the process can not be shortened. No, I must walk this path and follow it to its proper end. I cannot take a short cut. I must wait patiently. I must wait for the Lord to lead me forward.

As I thought about this metaphor of the "hump day," I started to think more deeply about what it means to be an effective minister for the Lord. I mean, here I am at this very good school. I am part-time, and while that is not the best case, it is good enough for now. I am finishing the last part of my PhD race, and praise be to God, I am so close, so very close. As an aside, I just got a text message from my colleague, Ashlie. She was taking her oral defense today, and she passed -- she is ABD! My other colleague, Heather, passed her oral defense today too. This is two of the five "girls" in our program -- Marie is up last today -- and then it will be me and Kelly who will bring up the rear in March, 2016. I am so close to being finished, and I am weary, so tired, so burned out. God has provided a way for me to finish my program, and that way includes teaching part-time for now. I know He will bring me a full-time position soon, but until then, I must be satisfied with His provision now.

The same is true regarding my time here in Phoenix, and my teaching contracts at GCU. I cannot have more until I have used up what has already been given to me. I must be patient and thankful for the manna He has provided today. Tomorrows manna will be enough. But I cannot bank on tomorrow while I am still enjoying the satisfaction of His good grace today. Selah!

My mind is racing right now as I think about my sweet soul sisters passing their exams. This is a huge hurdle that no one but another doctoral student understands. The grueling days of study are over, and all that remains is the final research project. God has each of us in His tender care, and He has a great plan for each life. Knowing and understanding that plan is so difficult at times, especially when you are confronted with challenges outside your control. We have all experienced such trauma, such difficulty, such heart ache, and yet we are all working through it, persevering and moving on to the completing of a very hard, hard goal.

When I think about where we were just three years ago, and where we are now, I stand in awe of God and His great mercy. I mean, we all were so nervous, not knowing anyone, and finding ourselves alone in this journey. Yet, God provided sweet caring companions for us to partner with through this difficult road. In the end, we are going to graduate -- all of us -- with a PhD in Communication. We will all go our separate ways, but the experience we have shared along the way will remain with us forever. This is interpersonal relationships at its finest. This is RELATIONSHIP 101 in real life. Moreover, this is what the Lord desires from us -- to engage in true fellowship -- to support, to encourage, and to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have had the blessing of doing this over three years, and as God has ordained, our time together is drawing near. Yet, we will remain good friends, good, good friends, and God be praised, His word, His will, and His way will be promoted wherever we end up.

I have worried over the "going" for so long. I mean, I have stressed, strived, and struggled to figure it all out. I so wanted to go some place else, to do something else for the Lord, to see new things. Yet, here I am in the same place I have been for the past 20 years, and guess what? I am seeing, doing, and experiencing new things right where I am. I am seeing the world from a different perspective, and I am sensing His pleasure as I relax and let go of my need to "go." Instead, as I settled down, I feel Him sigh. I sense Him saying "Well done, my good and faithful servant." I am seeing the world right here in front of my eyes, and I am seeing my life as it impacts and influences my little piece of the pie. I may not be a full-time professor yet, but I am investing in the lives of others, teaching and reaching them for Christ, and I am being faithful in what He has called me to do NOW.

Manna. It will be there tomorrow. Today, I will look at what is on the ground around me. I will take what the Lord has given to me today, use it, and enjoy it. I will not worry about tomorrow for I know, tomorrow has its own worries and cares. Today is a good day. I am content. I am satisfied. It is good.

October 6, 2015

Thinking Out Loud

Today is one of those days! Yes, I am stressed, and I am trying very hard to keep everything in my life under control. First, I am not feeling well. I think the semester is taking its toll, and right now, that means that I am feeling the crush of all my "to-do's" falling down hard against my time line. You see, I have four classes in process along with two doctoral courses. Second, I have my other responsibilities here at home. The care of my parents, my son, and keeping a home is getting to be a bit much for me to handle. Then, if that weren't enough, I am not feeling well. I am tired, and I think I am on the brink of having a relapse (Chronic Fatigue). So with all of that on my plate, I am feeling like my life is becoming too much for me, too heavy, too stressful.

I blogged about my feelings the other day, and frankly, since that time, I have seen my attitude and my approach go from good to bad to worse! Yes, I have sunk low in the mud, and I am feeling the press of burden weighing me down. Yesterday got the best of me, and I really came "this close" to quitting. Yes, I admit it. Yesterday, I was ready to chuck it all in and walk away from teaching for good.

When You Are Ready to Quit

I read this quote from the movie, "Rocky," today. It got me thinking about why I want to quit, and why I believe I must "keep on, keeping on." I love Rocky Balboa, and I love the "Rocky" movies (well not all of them, but the first couple were good). This quote speaks to life really well...
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!
After I read this quote, I thought to myself, "Doesn't Sly Stallone have a good grip on life?" Yes, I know. Sly Stallone wrote this bit of dialogue for his character, Rocky, to say to his son in one of his later movies. I thought about these words, and while they certainly are not biblical or scriptural, they do ring true in many ways. First, life is hard. No one who has walked on planet Earth can say that life has been easy for them (if they are honest, I mean). Second, there is no guarantee that "life" is going to treat you well. And yes, often we are left to make the most of what we are given at birth -- be it a handicap of some sort -- or some other obstacle we must overcome. Third, no matter if we work hard, if we are smart, if we do all the right things -- there is no guarantee at all  -- that we will find happiness, success, or financial gain. No matter what the purveyors of the 'power of positive thinking' say, we are not born with any "given's." We are born, we live, and we die. We take our chances, and we deal with "life" in the best way we can.

The writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says it this way:

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.

Yes, there is a time appointed for every season, every thing, under heaven. Everything has a beginning and an end, and the result of our work is toil, hardship, and difficult work. In the following verses, 9-10, we read,

What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils? I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.

Life is hard, it is difficult, and in the end, man dies. He is like a wisp of grass, a blade that is here today and gone tomorrow. It withers and it dies. Yet, we read in verses, 11 and following that God has made everything for a purpose. 

He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.

The writer of this short book suggests a moderate approach to life, a realistic and down-to-earth way to see all of life. He likens good work to a gift from God. He says in verse 12, "I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God." 

Making Sense of it All

If we take these words to heart, we can learn a valuable lesson from these verses. So often, we get the mindset that life should be good, that it should be filled with all possibility, and in that sense of optimism we seek our own good. We say "I can do it," and we set out to prove to ourselves and to those around us that we are capable, able, and proficient enough to do whatever we set our mind to doing. 

In America, especially, we have a "bootstraps mindset" that says that if we just tough it out, stick to it, and persevere, we can overcome anything life sets before us. In true Rocky Balboa style, we scale the steps of the Philadelphia courthouse, we rise to the status of champion, and we win the fight.

Cut. Stop the film. Let's get real, people!

Yes, this is such a good story on film. We cheer, we shout, and we believe "Hey, if he can do it, so can I." The problem with this mindset is that it precludes any notion of God. It is man-centered, man-focused, and bent on elevating man above that of any other creature. It is idolatry. It is seeking to show that man is capable of doing anything, and that in doing so, man doesn't need to believe in God, to worship God, or even acknowledge the existence of God.

I feel like I have been hit hard. Just like Rocky says, life has hit me really, really hard. I am winded, and I don't have the strength to even walk to the courthouse steps, let alone run to them. I am tired, and I want to quit. I want to walk away from all the responsibilities, and I want to do something easier, less stressful, less intensive. I want an easier path, I want to experience a more gentle life. I want to take the comfortable road, the one where I can ride in that "air cooled" bus and simply look at the window as the scenery passes by. I don't want to work hard anymore. I don't want to do anything that is going to require me to expend all my energy, and to "go the distance." Yes, I want to curl up into a little ball, and lay down and let "life" pass me by.

This is not reality. I know it. I feel it, and after sinking down into the muck, and feeling pity rise up out of my experience, I realized that what I wanted is to be comforted in my distress. So often, we think what we really want is to be lifted out of our distress. More often than not, we don't want to quit or give up, we simply want to rest. We need a "time out" so that we can reconnoiter, so to speak. We need time to review our surroundings, to scope out the territory, and then to recalculate our next steps. It is like when you are on a long journey and you stop for the night. You need to rest, for sure, but you also need time to put what has passed by into perspective.

A Fresh Perspective

I wrote about this on my blog last week, how I am a reflective person, and how reflection serves a purpose for me. Reflection helps me to figure out the "big picture." I am not an ideas person, a visionary or a creative. So for me, I spend a great deal of time dealing with the 'details.' You know the saying that the "devil is in the details" well for me, it is more like the original phrase "God is in the detail." This idiom refers to the fact that within the details -- there is always a hidden, mysterious, thing that must be uncovered through or with or by using a careful analysis. I am a details type of person, and as a logical and rational thinker, I spend a lot of time pondering details, looking at how things fit together, and trying to make a rational picture out of random bits and pieces. I really do enjoy this kind of thinking. In fact, I would say that I enjoy deep thinking activities, deep diving into the rational and logical realm. I ponder deep thoughts, think about philosophy, religion, etc. In all, my mind seems to find the challenge worth the effort. I know that there are many people out there who do not feel the way I do. They eschew details, and would much rather be spontaneous. I am glad they are the way they are, because in truth, I am rather boring. My interest in details and logic, falls short when it comes to interesting conversation or debate. I simply prefer to just sit and think. A lot. Often. Without concern for time. Yes, this is me. I am a thinker, a rational person, and as such, I tend to enjoy the details.

Except for when I cannot find a solution. Yes, when I am sorting through details, that hidden mystery perplexes me. It is the "God thing" in the midst of all the details, and whenever I get too close to "it," then I find that I just cycle on down, spin and sputter, and end up face down in the mud and the muck. Why? Well, the Word says it this way,

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9 KJV).

I get to the point where I cannot figure "it" out, and the reason why I cannot figure it out, is because what I am attempting to understand is not been made known to me. I find that when I am at this point, stuck in the middle of the puzzle, with no way out -- then and only then -- must I stop looking, stop hunting, and stop trying to figure it out on my own. Yes, it means that I have hit the wall, so to speak, and the thing I want to know is not knowable at this time in my life. I want something that only God knows. I want to know something that He is not ready to reveal to me. Thus, I must rest. I must stop looking for it. I must trust that it will be revealed in time, and until then, I must be content to know the Knower. Yes, I must be content to know the One who knows my beginning and my end. In this way, I lift my focus from the details back toward the One who authored the details. In doing so, my perspective shifts from the unsolvable puzzle to the majesty of the One who created the puzzle in the first place. It all comes down to knowing, to knowing the One, to knowing how much is enough, and when to stop the search.

I have tried to figure out the details of my life, to sort through them, and I have hit the brick wall, the closed door, the locked gate. I cannot go forward at this time, I cannot search anymore. I must now rest, and be thankful for the good gift the Lord has given to me. I must take the gift of work, the gift He has chosen, and allow it to be enough for me. In this time, in this place, in this way -- it must be ENOUGH. I must learn the lesson of satisfaction, and that lesson is not learned in any other thing, place or person, but only in and through knowledge of God. Yes, I must learn that He is my satisfaction, He is my all, and in doing so, I will stop searching for the bits and pieces, and accept the fact that the puzzle I am staring at is His work, His creation, His masterpiece. I cannot do anything to add to it, to change it, or to reshape it. It is His work, and in His work, only He will say it is approved.

As I struggle to come to terms with the details of my life, I am reminded of this fact. I am reminded of the fact that the Lord needs me to stop getting mired in the muck. He needs me to stop sitting down and looking around in the dirt. He needs me to be active, alive, and involved in what is going on around me -- to see what He is doing in me and through me -- rather than what I see or think I see. In truth, He is doing a phenomenal work in me. He is making me new, whole, and healthy. He is changing my life for the better, and I am at peace in that process. I am letting Him have His way in me, and in doing so, He is retooling, reworking, and remaking me into the "thing" of His choosing. He is good. He knows what He is doing. And, I am at rest.

October 3, 2015

Pause, Relax and Think

It is a good Saturday, and I am sitting at my computer getting ready to start my day. I have a paper to write and two discussion board posts to post/reply to before the day is over, but other than that, I am in good shape (Regent-wise). My week, in review, has been quite good. I survived quite a bit of pain, and I made it through my courses, pulling myself along by my proverbial bootstraps to get to the end of the week. It was a challenge, but God be praised, I made it through in one piece.

Reflection -- It's a Good Thing!

Yes, today is a good day to stop and reflect. It is a good day to sit a while, to stop and to take a long, deep breath, and just relax for a moment. I have been working full-steam the past couple weeks, and frankly, I am worn out. I have worn myself to a "frazzle," and I am at the point where if I do not stop and rest, I will become so weary that I will not be able to go on. I've been to this place before and it is not comfortable. I know better, though, better to head off the "inevitable crash" at the pass, so to speak, rather than to let the extreme fatigue that is waiting, hanging over me, have "its" way. I know what I need to do, how I need to stop now before it is too late. So today, on this lovely October Saturday, I am taking a break, a rest day. I am going to pause, relax, and think (reflect) a while. My prayer is that through this action, I will come to see my life in clearer view, I will come to understand, perhaps, more clearly exactly what the Lord is doing in and through my life as well as the plans He has for me.

My blog is about reflection, self-reflection mostly, and as such, I do spend a great deal of time thinking about my actions, my experiences, and how my actions and experiences shape or influence my circumstances. I guess for some, self-reflection seems maudlin, you know, selfish and self-centered because often those who do reflect, will do so in order to pity themselves or to seek pity from others.

In truth, reflection is simply a way to acknowledge the past, whether what is in review are mistakes or missed opportunities, or are positive experiences of good fortune. According to Merriam-Webster, reflection means "the throwing back by a body or surface of light, heat, or sound without absorbing it." It also means giving "serious thought or consideration" to something. When we engage in reflective behavior, we are in essence, shining a light upon the surface of some "thing" we wish to examine more closely. So when we reflect on a past experience, we are examining it, carefully considering it, and often, we are using the light of the present to illuminate the darkness of the past (if that makes sense).

In Communication, we consider "lived experiences" to be a significant area of study. Ethnography is one way researchers come to understand the way experience informs and influences behavior. Thus, when we take the time to reflect or to deeply think about our lived experience, we are able to create meaning from those experiences. Meaning making or sense making, while traditionally considered more along the lines of a group or social dynamic, does have a role in forming our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

In my case, when I reflect on my lived experiences, I can learn from them. This process enables me to make sense of my life, and through relational interpretation (seeking patterns and how they interact to creating meaning), I am able to understand (to learn, to comprehend, and to know) my life as a whole as well as how the parts "fit together" to form the whole. Let me explain...

Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning

In computer science, pattern recognition is "the recognition of patterns and regularities in data" (Wikipedia), and is most often associated with machine learning. Machine learning is a sub-field of computation theory and in recent years has been most frequently studied as it relates to artificial intelligence. According to Stanford University, "Machine learning is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed." Interestingly, humans are by far the most adept when it comes to pattern recognition. Thus in neuroscience and cognitive psychology, pattern recognition is described as "a cognitive process that matches information from a stimulus with information retrieved from memory" (Wikipedia). Humans recognize patterns in a number of forms including language, symbols, music, as well as through facial features and nonverbal cues. It is fascinating to think about it this way but "humans are amazing pattern-recognition machines" (Basulto, 2015). Furthermore, pattern recognition happens almost instantaneously, and often without consideration that it is happening at all. It is a key criteria for decision-making. In many careers as well as research fields, pattern recognition ability is essential for research, analysis, and skillful deduction for problem resolution.
"The ability to spot existing or emerging patterns is one of the most (if not the most) critical skills in intelligent decision making, though we’re mostly unaware that we do it all the time. Combining past experience, intuition, and common sense, the ability to recognize patterns gives us the ability to predict what will happen next with some degree of accuracy. The better able we are to predict what will happen, the more intelligent we become" (Miemis 2010).
I am not sure why this is so, but I love pattern recognition exercises. I have always been able to spot patterns, even as a child, and I always scored very high on any tests that featured these types of questions. I guess that is why I enjoy the reflective process. I like looking for patterns of interaction, to see how patterns in my experiences match up to my stored memories. To me, pattern recognition allows me to search through my experiences, sensory impressions, and then make connections to whatever "thing" I am processing at the moment. It is like as though I am putting together a puzzle, and I have a piece in my hand that doesn't quite fit the overall picture yet. I can search through my data archive of memories and impressions and find a corresponding puzzle piece. Once I have two or three connecting pieces from my memory, I am then able to put the fourth piece (the one in my hand) together and place them into the puzzle frame. In this way, I am making sense of my experiences and I am working to make sense of my world and my place in that world.

Learning Through Experience

I enjoy this learning process. I think I enjoy reflection more than any other experiential form of learning. For me, to sit and to think, to reflect back on lived experiences brings me great joy. It is fun for me to remember, to recollect, and to reorganize my experiences into some meaningful holistic form. I find the process liberating at times, and while I get bogged down occasionally, I still enjoy the effort. I find that I am able to come to terms with my past more quickly and with more control than if I stuffed those memories away and never looked through them again. It would be like taking photos of a favorite trip, but never getting them out to browse through them. You would just store them away, allowing them to collect dust, and you would forget that they were even taken in order to remind you of the experience.

Today as I sit here, and I write this post, I am reflecting on my past experience, on how far I have come and how I am almost ready to be a PhD candidate. It was nearly 23 years ago that I first starting thinking that I could study for a doctorate degree. I had not considered it previously, but one of my professors mentioned it to me in passing. She said to me, "Carol, have you considered getting a PhD?" I thought, "Oh, you are kidding me!" I knew she was serious when she said to me "You should really think about it. You have really good ideas, and you would do well as a doctoral student." I started to think about it, and I can remember asking my friend, Martha, what she thought. She was like "Are you crazy, Carol? Of course, you would be good at it!" I had never thought I was smart or even good enough to get through a Bachelors program so how in the world could I imagine myself as a PhD student? It was true, really true, I was never a good student in school. I barely made it through high school, I almost flunked out of community college, and only after a 6-year break, did I find any measure of success in college again. Now, almost 23 years later, I have completed a Masters program, and I am wrapping up three years of intensive coursework for my PhD in Communication. It is crazy, wacky really, to think that I am about to complete a dream, to a achieve a long held goal, and to embrace a strong desire that God put into my heart and mind so long ago. I am about to graduate again, perhaps for the last time, who knows, and about to begin a new career as a full-time professor.

One of the things I think about now is whether or not I will continue on with my studies. You know, do I stop after the PhD or do I go on? I want so much to keep on studying but I am tired right now. As I was writing this blog post, I thought to myself, "Now, Cognitive Neuroscience would be really interesting field to study?" Yes, I know. I am interesting in brain stuff, and I love the whole field of study that involves meaning making or sense making. How do we make sense of the world? More than likely, once I finish my PhD in Communication, I will probably (Lord willing) study Rhetoric. Yes, I love rhetoric, and specifically, I love studying language systems and language processing. Where do ideas come from? How do we create ideas, thoughts, and how do we attach meaning to them? Yep, that is my little playground. I am not sure where I will find a program to study these concepts, but if the Lord allows me to do it, then I will take a short break, perhaps a year, and then engage in scholarly study a second time through. We will see...we will see.

Thoughts and Processing Details

It is interesting to me that as I close out this chapter of my life, this long, long, long chapter, I am thinking toward the future, toward new horizons view and new mountains to scale. The Lord is the one who is leading me on, so if He desires that I study this thing or that thing, then so be it. He has to find purpose, value, and meaning in the effort, and for that to filter down to me, it simply means that the Lord must purpose and desire that I study a particular discipline. He must find value in the time, and He must determine that it is a good fit for me. I might like the "idea of it" or even think I want to do it, but unless the Lord sees that there is a reason for me to do it, then I will let that spark go out. You see, there is only so much time left in my life. I know, maudlin sounding, right? I mean, that I am 52 now, will be 53 this month, and frankly, I have a life expectancy of about 47 more years (if I make it to 100). That is not a whole lot of time to accomplish much considering what has already transpired. Yet, if the Lord desires it, then He will make a way for me to do the 'thing' on His mind. I am open to it, so long as He does it through me (just like He did with Regent). I cannot imagine any study program being successful without His 100% support and help. I won't even attempt it unless He leads me to it and through it. He is God, and as God, only He can do this kind of work. Selah!

Today, my mind is running to so many memories. I am trying to put my puzzle together, and frankly, I am failing miserably. I want so much to be able to rest, to kick back, and just rest. The path I am on is not quite concluded because I am not at my intended destination yet. I am close, so very close, but I still have quite a ways to go. The Lord knows me best, and He knows what I can and cannot do well. I want so much to do His work, to please Him, and to go where He needs me to work. I struggle, I stress, and at times I contend with Him (strive against Him). Still, I relent, I let go, and I release my grip on the "thing" and I say "Yes, Lord, I trust you." Yes, Lord, I trust you today. Whatever we need to do, let us do it well. Let us walk forward, let us go, and let us enjoy, embrace and fully experience all that you have in mind for our life (yours and mine) this good day. You are God, you are good, and I rest, I rest in your sufficiency, your provision, and your care today. Amen, so be it, selah!

October 2, 2015

Flashback Friday

You know how that Internet meme goes around on Facebook and Instagram, well, I am flashing back to last summer today. I know, silly, silly, silly me. I posted this photo to my timeline today because it reminded me just how close I am to finishing my PhD program. God has faithfully brought me through this program, a program so challenging and difficult, that I have believed at times I would not make it. Yet, here I am, almost finished, and I am resting in the knowledge that I have come this far, surely God will see me through to the very end.

Of the five ladies pictured (right), three are preparing for their oral defense next week. The other two, me and my friend, Kelly, will follow after them next February. God has equipped each one of them, guided them, and given them the grace to complete this program. They all face challenges of one sort or another (disabled children, loss of loved ones, sickness, and new life), and yet despite these odds, they have placed their faith in God alone, and are on the way out of three years of intensive study at Regent University. God be praised, of our cohort, the majority will finish the program. Some have chosen to not continue on, but most are hanging in there, and will complete their courses in 2016 and 2017. I would say that the majority of the students will be graduated by 2017 or 2018 at the latest.

I look up today, and I offer praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for He has brought me through this very difficult journey. I am alive, praise His name, and I am hanging in there, completing my last required courses, and preparing for my dissertation. God knows the plans He has for me, and I trust in His provision -- He will see me through -- He will carry me through. He is good, so very good to me.

As I sit here today, I think about my life, where I am at, and where the Lord is sending me. It is an odd thing to think that the Lord is preparing to send me "somewhere" to work. I mean, I am teaching at GCU today, and I am thankful for this teaching opportunity. In fact, I would say that I love teaching at GCU. It is easy, so to speak, to teach here. GCU takes so much of the work out of teaching by giving you the curriculum to use. You just "teach" it. Granted, you have to prep, plan, and then carry out the lessons to facilitate learning, but you do not have to create your class scratch. I am thankful for this experience because it has helped me develop course content as I have worked my way through these courses. This is my third semester teaching English 106, so by this time through, I have figured out what works and doesn't work in the classroom. I have modified my lessons each semester, tweaking them, and finally feel that I have a good mix that works well for small classes or large classes. The same goes for English 105. I am on my second go-round with this course, and I am still figuring it out. It is not my favorite class, but this semester, I have made good strives that I think will work for the long-run.

The Lord has graciously given me teaching experience at a school that welcomes new teachers. This has made it possible for me to take advantage of a lot of the resources that GCU provides to new teachers. In addition, I am also now a certified Peer Reviewer. I am scheduled to complete my first peer review in the next 21 days. This will give me opportunity to watch other instructors in the classroom as I review them for competence. This process should help me continue to refine my skill as an instructor, but also provide me with the tools needed to serve in greater capacity as a faculty support person or even as part of faculty development.

The Lord is gracious to me. He has seen to provide me with a viable means of support, and for this, I am grateful. The Lord took me from a place of desolation, and instead of leaving me shattered, He has rebuilt me, self-concept and esteem, back into the person of His choosing. The miracle in all of this is that the person I am today -- bold, confident, and ready to tackle the world -- is so because of what He has done to me and through me. I wish I could say that this process of growth and development has been easy, but that is just not the case. No, I am not the same person because the tool the Lord use to shape me was unpleasant, it was rough, and it chipped away at the hard edges to produce something beautiful, smooth, and useful for His work. Yes, I am giving Him all the praise, glory and honor this good day because He has done this to me. It hurt, it caused such sorrow, but I am stronger today than ever before. In so many ways, I am at my weakest, feeling so unable to do anything, yet I am powerful, bold and strong. He has done this, and today I give Him all praise!

I am listening to Darlene Zschech sing her live version of "In Jesus Name." If you have not heard her sing this song before, check it out. You can listen to it via the internet, I am sure, or if you subscribe to Spotify, you will find it on several of her albums. This song is so powerful, and every time I listen to it, I find renewal. I am not sure why, but I believe it is simply the words she sings which remind me that Jesus is the power in whom I trust. It is in Jesus' Name that demons flee. The Word of God says it this way, "The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe" (Proverbs 18:10). The Name of the Lord is powerful, and in the name of Jesus, there is victory. We have overcome, not through our own strength or power, but through His victory over sin and death. We stand strong because of the Name of the Lord. He is our righteousness, and in His Name we can do anything He asks us to do.

My heart is feeling better today. I feel better. I feel as though my world, my little world, is starting to make sense again. You see, for the past couple weeks, I have struggled so with knowing the plans the Lord has had for me. I try not to focus on them, but when life intervenes and I am faced with challenges, I cannot help but wonder what the Lord plans on doing in me and through me. I mean, where will I go? Where will you take me Lord? How will I get there? These questions and many others cause me to focus on the plans because my life right now is in such a flux. I think about my parents, my son, my teaching, etc., and I cannot wonder where I will be in a year or two. Will I still be here in Phoenix or will I be living someplace new. I feel in my spirit that I am to move, that the Lord doesn't intend to keep me here much longer. I know that I need a real job (not that adjunct isn't real, but more a job that pays a living wage), and that GCU and ACU are not viable options for me. I can stay here as adjunct for ever probably, but I cannot live this way much longer. I will be done with my PhD in 2016 and then I will be saddled with huge student loan debt. I have to live and I will have to pay these loans back. I need work, good paying work, soon.

The Lord knows this, and He has a plan for me. I know that this is true because He has not failed to see me through yet. In fact, I would say that I have so many witnesses, experiences and testimony to tell me that His hand is on me, resting on me, so I can let this worry pass. I can trust Him to provide. He will do it, of this I am confident, I am assured. I must wait patiently, and He will reveal it to me. He is good, so very good to me.

October 1, 2015

Confusion and Clarity

What do you do when you feel confused about something? How do you handle confusion?

Today is Thursday, and it has been a good day for me. Truthfully, Thursdays are welcomed, celebrated, and enjoyed -- simply because -- they signal the end of the week, and they remind me that I am almost finished, almost ready for the weekend. My week is heavy this semester. I have so much on my plate, so much work, and frankly, I am sinking under the pressure to perform and to get everything turned in on time.

My courses at Regent are fine, they are fine, but I am not on top of them like I normally am, and I am feeling the pressure ramp up as we make this turn toward the midpoint of the semester. I am doing my best, and the Lord is providing for me, but I feel as though I am not giving 100% of my time or my attention to my studies. On top of that, I am dealing with pressure at GCU, and the feeling that I am not doing a good job for my students. I know that this is more ME, my mindset, than actual reality, but that isn't helping me to think that I am a failure every time I walk into class. Last, my Mom is not doing well, and her recent cancer surgery, while it turned out well, has had some set backs, and I am having to do more work around the house. Thus, my time is precious, and that precious time seems to be slipping away faster than I prefer.

I am sitting here at my MAC, trying to focus on the tasks at hand, and thinking to myself, "What is the point?" I mean, I am feeling less enthusiastic about doing the work that I need to do, and I think the reason I feel this way is because I have absolutely zero control right now. I feel like I have no control, so why even try do to the work, if I cannot control any of the outcomes! I hate this feeling, I really do. Mostly, it is because I hate feeling so helpless, so unable to effect change. What's more, I see all that needs to be done, and I look to my hands, and I see that they are empty, empty! I am unable to use the tools, the resources, and the gifts the Lord has given to me, and as such, I sit here thinking that I am impotent, literally unable to perform.

As I sit here, I think about Exodus 34:20. This is the passage in Scripture where the Lord renews His covenant with the children of Israel. The details are recorded in this chapter, but verses 19 and following say this,
"The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep."You shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem all the firstborn of your sons. None shall appear before Me empty-handed. "You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest"
I am not sure why this verse came to me just now, but perhaps it is because of the way I feel. I am feeling as though all my work as been for naught, that my efforts have fallen short, and that I stand condemned before the Lord because of my failure to do His work, to go His way, to live according to His will. Yes, I am feeling convicted, and in that feeling, I am crushed. The Lord knows that I desire to follow after Him, that I long to be wherever He wants me to be, but lately, I have struggled to figure out where He wants me to go. You see, I want so much to follow Him, but when it comes right down to it, I struggled against His way. He calls me to walk on, to move, to go -- and I recoil because I feel like the way is blocked, the way is too hard, too difficult, or too impossible. I know that my perception is skewed, my view is limited, and what I see ahead of me is unclear. It is as if I am looking at Goliath right now, and when I look down, all I see is those five smooth stones. How, Lord? How can I go, move, live someplace else? How can leave all that I know to follow after you? How can I go now, right when I am needed here most? How can I look forward and even imagine the future being anything but difficult, impossible, and unattainable?

Doubt and Confusion

As I think about my feelings, about why I feel this way today, I am reminded of this story. If you recall, this story takes place shortly after the children of Israel rebelled in the wilderness, created the golden calf and worshiped it. Moses had been with the Lord on Mount Sinai, and was coming down to bring them the Tablets of the Law. When Moses saw what the people were doing, he threw the tablets down and broke them.

This story has significance for me because in it we read of the Lord's promise to the children of Israel, but also to Moses, with whom the Lord had special favor. Moses was commanded to lead the people, but the people were difficult, "stiffnecked" and he was afraid they wouldn't follow him. Moses spent a great deal of time with the Lord, sat in His presence, and experienced the "glory" of the Lord on numerous occasions, yet he still found it difficult at times to believe the words of the Lord, and go where the Lord was commanding him to go.

I know what that feels like too. I feel as though my relationship with the Lord is strong, it is good, and many times, I have experienced the glory of the Lord in marvelous and miraculous ways. Yet, I don't always believe Him. I don't always go where He tells me to go.

I was thinking about this today, specifically, because I believe that the Lord is calling me to go someplace that I don't really want to go. I have said that I would be willing and agreeable to going anywhere the Lord sent me, but in truth, I was only willing and agreeable up to a certain point. I was hoping the Lord would choose to send me someplace where I could go easily, where the path would be straightforward, and the work easy. Instead, the Lord has chosen to send me someplace dark, some place difficult, and someplace that is not perfect, good, or even desired. No, the Lord is choosing to send me to a place where He intends to use me, and that means, to a place where I am needed. This is difficult for me to write but I do understand what He is saying to me. It is this way...

I would like to go to a place of comfort, of goodness, and a place where I could be "at home" for the most part. I want to do good work, to enjoy life, and to live a comfortable lifestyle. I am not seeking riches or positions of privilege, no not at all. Instead, I am simply asking for a good place to work, a nice environment, and a good pay check. The rest doesn't really matter to me so long as I am cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I say this just because as I have gotten older, I struggle with extremes in temperature. I am cold almost all the time so being in a very hot climate like Phoenix takes its toll on my physically. Living in a super cold place like I did as a child, scares me. I worry that I cannot handle the heat or the cold. How can I live then?

Today, I was praying and the Lord made it clear to me that the time was coming for me to go. Once again, as I have done so many times before, I balked at the thought of "going." I mean, I really do want to go, I really do want to be obedient to the Lord. It is just that the very thought of going scares me so. I wish I weren't alone in this, but the Lord has called me to walk on alone, and that scares me too. I don't know how I will make ends meet. I don't know how I will get hired teaching at a different University. I don't know how I will find a house, make such a major move, and resettle myself again. What's more is the fact that I don't know how I will leave my elderly parents or my son. I know the Lord will care for them, but the thought of picking up and going some place where they are not, well, it really scares me.

Hearkening back to the story from Exodus, I am reminded of the words of the Lord. No one is to appear before the Lord empty handed, without a redemption sacrifice (according to the Law of the Covenant). My hands are empty, yet I stand before the Lord with nothing to offer to Him but myself. I can do nothing in my own strength, and I cannot go forward on my own. I am not able to do this work, not at all. Yet, inside me there is a small quiet voice that says to me "I will do it, I will go for you, I will help you." Praise be to God, I know that my hands are empty, but His are not. He is able to do anything, small or mighty, so long as He determines it to be so. Therefore, all the doubt and confusion I feel is just the recognition that I am unable to do this work, to do this level of work. It is too high, too hard, and too heavy for me to do. It is at these times when I confess with Paul, "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me."

Furthermore, we read in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10,

And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

My weakness, my flesh is failing. My hands are empty, and I am struggling to hold on. I remember that when I am at my lowest point, then I am 100% dependent upon Him for His grace and mercy. I can not do what He is asking me to do. I cannot go. I cannot live. I cannot work. I can do nothing in my flesh that will please, honor, or bring Him glory. What's more, at this point in time, I can do nothing at all -- physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally -- because I am spent, literally spent.  I am at the point where for me to go, I must rely upon Him for everything, every need, every requirement, every resource. I am unable to produce any good thing, no outcome, no product, nothing. Yet, the Lord is able to do all things through me so long as I am willing and agreeable to allow Him to do it.

So today, I think about my empty hands, and I realize that what the Lord is asking me to do is mighty, it is BIG, and it requires BOLD FAITH. I can do it, but not in my own strength, by my own will or even shear determination. I can only do it by laying my life down as a living sacrifice, by giving up everything I long for, desire, and want in order to sacrifice all these things for His name and praise.

Dear Lord,

I have struggled again to understand what you are doing in my life. I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot stay in Phoenix for much longer, and that you will be opening a door for me to walk through soon. This door is going to take me to a place of darkness, of great need, and in that way, I will be facilitating your work and serving others in the Name of Christ. As I think about the timing, the days and weeks as your plan for my life unfolds, I realize that I must start to let go of the things I am holding onto most tightly, namely my life here in Phoenix, my parents and their health needs, and the care of my precious son. As I let these things go, my dearest and most tender possessions, I am becoming ready to move, to go, and to follow after you. I ask now Lord that you go before me and prepare the place of your choosing. Open up the door you have chosen for me, and give me grace with employers, realtors, and others as I seek to move to a place I have never been before. I need so many things, so much money to go, but I know that you will provide exactly what is needed. I trust you, Lord, and I rest today in your sufficiency because you are God, and you are so very GOOD! I ask all this now in Jesus' Name! Amen. Selah (pause and calmly think about it!)