September 2, 2014

Thinking Today

The LORD lives! Praise to my Rock! May the God of my salvation be exalted!

I woke up this morning with this phrase stuck in my head: Blessed be the Lord, my Rock! May God, the Rock of my salvation, be exalted! 

Of course, that is a mixture of two verses from Scripture (Psalm 18:46 and 2 Samuel 22:47), two distinct verses that echo the same message (LOL!) It is funny how that happens, how certain Scriptures bubble up in your mind. I will find that often I get fragments of verses, bits and pieces, that float upward and into my thoughts. I seem to remember the Psalms most, with the NT verses following closely behind. Some stories from the OT come to mind frequently, especially those from the early history of the nation of Israel. Two of my favorite books are 1 and 2 Samuel. I love the story of Saul and of David, especially the stories of David.

This weekend, Dr. Michael Moore preached at our church. Dr. Moore is a professor at ASU and Fuller Seminary. His specialty is Ancient Near East Studies and he chose to bring a message about David and Goliath. The story of David facing Goliath is well-told by preachers, so when I heard that he was going to preach on that particular story, I thought "Hmm...I wonder what he will share that will sound like news to me?" Yes, that is something an "oldbie" Christian would say, something that those of us who have been around the church sermon network awhile would think (ouch!)  Of course, I didn't stop to think that perhaps his message was not going to be for people like me (oldbies), but rather it would encourage and equip newbies, those people who are less familiar with the OT stories. In truth, his message was interesting (especially the Hebrew language and context), and I do think it resonated with a lot of people in my church who may or may not know the story well. I digress...

I am not sure why my head has been stuck in 1 and 2 Samuel, but it has been for a while now. I haven't read these texts for sometime (perhaps a year or so), yet I am finding that my mind goes back to the story of the calling of the prophet Samuel, the early years of young King David, and the mighty misdeeds of the ruler David for some time. Perhaps it is because there is so much "mess" in these messages. Yes, David was a flawed human man, a man who lived by his passions, and a man who fell by his passions. Samuel was a man who was born of a Godly woman -- a woman who prayed earnestly for a son (1 Samuel 1) -- and on whom God showed His favor and provided a son. These two men, Samuel and David, represent the spectrum of life for me. On the one hand, there is the mess of human frailty, and on the other hand, the power of God to deliver us from the pain and heartache associated with that mess.

I am not sure why I am focused on the messy part of life, but perhaps, it is something the Lord wants me to think about more deeply. My life has been restored, but for many years, I lived in the mess of things. I look back now and I see great heartache and suffering. I see my own stubborn and obstinate self, my unwillingness to be moved, my refusal to go and to do the work the Lord was calling me to do. I see the results of that willfulness. I see the outcome of a bad attitude -- a hard heart. I also see compromise, taken to an extreme, manipulation, dominance, and selfish interest. In short, when I look back over the course of my life I see so much human messiness, so much hurt, so much pain. Granted, at times I was the one on the receiving end, but it would be unfair to say that I didn't inflict pain on others. I was and still am a prime example of flawed human flesh.

But God be praised -- and blessed be the Rock of my salvation -- I am living now in a new way. I am walking in a new way, to a new beat, and in a new direction. God has turned my mess into a message, and I am living now to help others see that no matter how messy their lives are today, God can heal, can restore, and can rebuild the damage caused through dysfunctional human relationships. Yes, my whole life is now focused on helping others understand that there are two relationships ONLY that matter in our life: the first is our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ; and the second, is our relationship to others.

The Lord has called us to love God and to love others:

Matt. 22: 36-40 - Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

In John 13, verses 34-35, we read the words of Jesus when He says,

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

So often I think that we get the order of these verses mixed up. Instead of placing God first, we place others in that position. We attempt to love others through human efforts, through flawed lenses. The only way we can love others, really love them well, is through the lens of grace. We must place God first, we must make our relationship with the Lord central to everything in our life, and in doing so, then and only then will the lesson of grace become alive within us so that truly we can love others.

I believe that our relationships are dysfunctional when we revert this order, when we place God outside the locus of our lives. I lived this way for many years, even though if you asked me back then, I would have said I was living a faithful and obedient Christian life. The day God transformed my life, the day I came into His grace-filled, love infused relationship was the day that I began to see just how "off the mark" my focus was in my life. I thought that God was centered within me, that He was my focus. I thought that I was being humble, obedient, submissive to the needs of others. I thought that I was doing so well in my Christian walk. I thought all of this, yet the truth was the opposite because all around me was a mess, a shambles, and a war zone.

It wasn't until I put new glasses on, so to speak, God's new lenses, lenses that gave me clearer and sharper focus, that I began to see how far off the mark, how far away I was from the optimal "way" of Scripture. Of course, once I began to see more clearly, once I started to do things differently, my life didn't get better -- it got worse. Instead of experiencing immediate health and well-being, my life ended up in the dumpster. I didn't experience what I had thought would happen once I surrendered and yielded myself (truly yielded), once I put God back on His throne, and once I set about to love others as the Bible calls us to love them. As I look back now, I realize that the more I sought to honor and praise the Lord, the more my life spiraled downward -- until I was faced with utter hopelessness and personal destruction. In the end, I lost everything that I held dear, everything that I had placed above Him. I experienced Matthew 19:29 -- losing the people, the places, the things of this life in order to experience the blessing of an eternal relationship with the Lord.

Matt. 19:29 - And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.

I learned a valuable lesson through this experience. I learned that losing everything for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ brings far greater riches and blessing than one can imagine. Although, I lost so much of my self and my life as I knew it -- I reaped great reward. I gained riches beyond imagination, I gained a right perspective on life, I gained a new hope, and I gained a new way of doing things. Philippians 3:7-8 says in the NLT,

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.

I know that this may sound odd, but I have to agree with Paul. I like the Message version because I think it says what I feel so well, and in plain language.

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

The things that I valued, that I believed were so important in my life, are gone. What has replaced all those things is a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, a right relationship that places God first and others second. Order has been restored to my life, and as such, I am able to look through the lens of grace and see the world from a new and improved perspective. As I look out, I see others the way the Lord sees them. I see their mess, their pain, their sorrow, their suffering, and I long for them to understand the blessedness of a grace-filled, love infused relationship with the God who created them, who loved them, and who died for them.

My prayer today is to be a transforming light in a very dark world. I am not the Light, but I function as a lens to illuminate that light. May I take His Light where ever I go, and I may I cast light into dark places so that the people I meet, the people I come into contact with, and the people the Lord brings to me, may hear the life-changing message of Hope, of Restoration, of Healing.

September 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day

It is Labor Day today. Today is a day when we celebrate the achievements and contributions of workers in the US. I didn't realize that the US has "officially" celebrated workers on the first of September since 1894. This means that today marks the 100th anniversary of the Federal holiday.

I think most people today do not consider Labor Day as anything more significant than a holiday off from work, a day to celebrate with friends and families, or the last day of "summer" vacation. Traditionally, public schools started back after Labor Day, so tomorrow we would normally see children returning to their classrooms for the new school year (here in AZ, school starts in mid August, so Labor Day is the first "school holiday" of the fall semester).

As I think of Labor Day and what the holiday represents, I cannot help but associate resting from work (our labors) with resting in the Lord. In truth, we are called to a "rest" each week -- God designed us specifically for working and resting. And, to encourage us to rest, He created a day for us to rest from our weekly work. We celebrate the Lord's Day on Sunday or the first day of the week (some argue that Saturday is our day of rest; some argue that Monday is the first day of the week). God gave us rest from our worldly labors when He rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2).

Regardless of the day -- each week we are called to rest from our work. For many of us, due to our work schedule, we may not get our day of rest or we may not rest on Saturday or Sunday. For many who work retail (I was one of them), I often worked both weekend days. I took my day of rest in the middle of the week, usually on a Tuesday. Still, my week was ordered to provide one day off for me to rest.

Today, I consider my work schedule and how the Lord has graciously provided four days out of seven for me to rest. I am blessed with this schedule, I am blessed to have so much time off so that I can rest. Even still, even with four days off, I will find myself often struggling to complete all the work or tasks assigned to me. I will push myself to the limit, to the deadline, and still feel the pinch of "time running out." Thinking about my time, how I spend my time, what I do with my time, etc. has become a focus for me. I want to make sure I am making the most of the time the Lord has given to me (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5). Am I using my time wisely? Am I focused on the Lord's work?

It becomes difficult when your life is bound by a job (for me this is almost full-time teaching) and school (full-time doctoral study is 6 credit hours or two courses per semester). I have little time for a social life. In truth, I have little time to do anything at all. My life, my daily routine is ordered by the tasks generated for my work (teaching) and my doctoral courses. Yesterday while at church, I said to a friend: "My social life consists of teaching at school and studying at school!"

I know that my life right now is focused on these two things, and that in time, I will be graduated and will be working full-time as a professor. I will have the time I am using for study for something else. Perhaps the Lord will bring me opportunities to develop new friendships, to go new places, or to participate in other ministries. For now, though, my life is routine and it is dull. For now, my life is structured to accomplish these two things: learning how to become a professor, and learning how to use my field of study for ministry.

God has graciously provided a wealth of rich opportunities to me. I may not have a social life right now, but I do have friendships with many people, with colleagues all across the country. I also have reconnected with old friends, cousins, and others through the blessing of technology. I am finding myself surrounded by people who were a part of my life many years ago, but now because of the Internet and social media, are coming back to me. It is exciting and wonderful to see how technology has facilitated such friendships. So while we may not physically see each other again, we can share in life from a distance.

This whole field of social media is one of the reasons I believe the Lord has called me to Regent University. I am studying Communication and Regent places a strong emphasis on social media and digital media influence. I believe the Lord intends to use this niche for my focus, and that He has a plan for me to learn and to study how media can be used to build up the church. I love my studies. I love what I am learning, and I can see how the Lord plans to use this in my life.

As I remember my labor, I think of this verse from Revelation 14:

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!"

I pray for those who have yet to enter His spiritual rest (through Jesus Christ). I pray for those who know Him and love Him that they may learn to enjoy the blessed earthly rest He gives to them each day, each week, and each month. And, although our eternal rest awaits us, I agree with the apostle John when he says:

Blessed are those who find ALL their rest in Him. Amen. So be it. Thy will be done. Selah!


August 31, 2014

The Glory of the Lord


The glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle.

The cloud covered the tabernacle even in the clearest day; it was not a cloud which the sun scatters. This cloud was a token of God's presence to be seen day and night, by all Israel, that they might never again question, Is the Lord among us, or is he not? It guided the camp of Israel through the wilderness. While the cloud rested on the tabernacle, they rested; when it removed, they followed it. The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. In light and fire the Shechinah made itself visible: God is Light; our God is a consuming Fire. Yet so dazzling was the light, and so dreadful the fire, that Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, till the splendour was abated. But what Moses could not do, our Lord Jesus has done, whom God caused to draw near; and who has invited us to come boldly, even to the mercy-seat. Being taught by the Holy Spirit to follow the example of Christ, as well as to depend upon him, to attend his ordinances, and obey his precepts, we shall be kept from losing our way, and be led in the midst of the paths of judgment, till we come to heaven, the habitation of his holiness.

BLESSED BE GOD FOR JESUS CHRIST!

~ Matthew Henry

August 30, 2014

Leaning Upon the Lord

The Lord is so good to me, so very good to me. I am giving Him praise today for He has done marvelous things for me (Psalm 126:3). I stand amazed and in awe of His magnificent Name, and I rest in His sufficiency and provision for my life. The Lord is my rock and my fortress. He is my assurance, my sweet assurance  -- He guides me in safety, and He keeps me in complete comfort and care.

As I rest in Him today, I thank Him for His grace this past week. He made a way for me to experience His mercy, and through that experience, I was able to "see" the truth of my circumstance, my situation, and I was given great hope and encouragement to keep on "keeping on."

To say I was not discouraged last week would be such an understatement. I was so very low, so very discouraged, and so very ill-equipped for the tasks that I had to complete. Furthermore, I was struggling to keep my focus, to remain calm, and to push through the mental fog blocking my way through the assignments, the homework, the lesson plans, etc. that are now such a routine part of my life.

Just when I thought I couldn't take another sling and arrow, the Lord moved in a mighty way, and my strength was renewed. Isaiah 40:31 says,

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Yes, this is exactly how I felt on Friday. I was beat down, burdened, and feeling the brunt of the crushing weight of my long "to-do" list. I felt dejected as if everything I did, everything I tried, simply failed. No matter how I worked to overcome, I felt my feet slipping. It was like I was walking in sand. Every step forward came with two steps sliding backwards. I was frustrated and overwhelmed.

The Lord rescued me. He lifted me from the pit of my own depression and set my feet on the clear and solid path. Why was I so downcast last week? There were multiple reasons, but mostly, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work required to teach full-time, and I felt increasing pressure to preform well. These two things coupled with my anxiety over my courses at Regent formed an oppressive veil that kept me shrouded in darkness, in feelings of low self-worth. Truthfully, the Lord had me so well covered, and while I believed He was there to see me through, I still struggled to control all the details, to complete all the tasks, and to show up and be "on" for my students. I was doing it, of course, in my own strength. My strength failed me, and still I tried to hustle up a little bit more, just a bit more, to see me through to the end of the week. On Thursday, I crashed and burned. I hit the wall. When Friday came around, I knew that I couldn't go on. I was at the end of my ability, and my resources were not going to make "ends meet."

God moves when we are at the end of ourselves. This is the time when the Lord steps in and does the very thing we cannot do. It is His preferred way of doing things -- to do what we cannot -- so that He receives all the glory and praise. I, of course, was already wanting Him to have that praise, to have that glory -- I just wasn't ready to let go, to lift my hand off, and to quote Carrie Underwood, "let Jesus take the wheel!"

I did, however, let go. I released my grasp on my life, my plans, and my desires -- and something marvelous and wonderful happened. The Lord took over, took control, and in an instant, everything that needed to be done was done. My tasks were completed. I was refreshed, I was renewed, and I was reinvigorated (encouraged and filled with hope). Yes, the Mighty God of Israel, showed up BIG time in my life, and as a result, I experienced His Majesty. I saw Him as I AM, and I realized that all my attempts at control, all my desires to go my way, all of it -- my effort -- resulted in no gain, but plenty of pain. I let go, and in a moment, I rested. I experienced that "being" in His presence.

Today, I reflect on that experience and I know that what the Lord calls me to do is impossible for me to do. Even with all my skill and ability, with my experience, with my faithfulness and obedience -- I fall short. I cannot do what He wants me to do. I am not able to be the person He is calling me to be.  I am not giving up, per se, but rather I am giving in, giving in to a power and presence that far exceeds anything humanly possible or plausible. Yes, I am giving over control to the One who is able to do for me far more exceedingly abundantly that anything I could ask or want (Eph. 3:20). I am resting in Him, letting Him "be" in my life. I look forward to the plans He has for me. I know they are good, so very good. They are so good, in fact, that only He can accomplish them, only He is able to bring them to pass in my life.

May the Lord be praised this day. He is good. His mercy endures forever.

August 28, 2014

Strategy

It's Thursday, and I am reeling from my week. Yes, it has been a good week. I have accomplished a lot, and I am confident that I will finish out the remaining two days with strength. Yet, there is a part of me that feels overwhelmed at the lack of a good plan, at the feeling that I am walking into the unknown without a good plan of attack. Let me explain...

I am a strategist by nature. By this I mean that in everything I do, I plan, I prepare, and I purpose my way so that I will accomplish the goal or task set before me. I scope out the best way to go, and for me, planning/purposing, the action of planning or designing that way, is what brings me the "sense" of control I need to be confident in the outcome (the possibility of good success). It is not that I have to be in control, per se, it is more that I need to believe that in every situation I am moving forward, I am moving toward the goal. If I sense that I am spinning my wheels, running in circles, or standing still, then I will feel as though the effort expended is not worth my time. In short, I will stop what I am doing, turn around if necessary, or head in a new direction. Therefore, to feel successful, to feel as though I am directed, I have to believe that the steps I am taking every single day are purposed, are planned, and are leading me toward the final accomplished goal.

From Wikipedia:
Strategy (from Greek στρατηγία stratēgia, "art of troop leader; office of general, command, generalship") is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty.

Strategic planning is an organization's process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy.

Strategy has many definitions, but generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. A strategy describes how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). 

Strategy includes processes of formulation and implementation; strategic planning helps coordinate both. However, strategic planning is analytical in nature (i.e., it involves "finding the dots"); strategy formation itself involves synthesis (i.e., "connecting the dots") via strategic thinking. As such, strategic planning occurs around the strategy formation activity.
I am most comfortable when I am planning or designing processes that support outcomes. As an analyst, I enjoyed studying problems and synthesizing the details. The mental energy expended in these activities challenged me greatly, and as a result, I was able to focus and strive for clarity (clear direction) in the task or assignment.

I was happy as an analyst. I enjoyed the work of analysis. I felt good when I figured out how to get from point A to point Z. I believed I was using all my God-given gifts and talents when I was set to the task of figuring out how to solve some problem.

Since I transitioned into teaching a year ago, I have struggled with figuring out how to plan curriculum, plan lessons, and deliver content. You would think that the process would be simple, straightforward, and clear -- but it is not. In fact, I would say that the process in teaching is very difficult because it is not theoretical in nature -- it is practical. While living within my strategic planning brain, I can envision multiple scenarios, test out routes for efficacy, and make decisions in moments -- all with the assurance that no harm will be done. In a classroom, however, the same is not true. I cannot make changes without impacting my students, without causing issues for administration, and without feeling like I am a ship without a rudder (clueless, rudderless). No, I prefer theoretical to practical -- despite the fact that I am a pragmatic person who seeks ultimate fulfillment in life application.

The Nuts and Bolts of It

I am a planner. I love to plan. I love to think about improvement in planning. Yet, I am also practical in that the plans I create, I want to make sure that they prove practical, beneficial, and that they produce good results. I am all about the results!

In teaching college, most of the planning for semester courses is done during the summer months. I had decided early on that I would use my summer to plan out my courses. Unfortunately, I didn't receive curriculum instruction, syllabi, etc. until late August. I was left with very little time to put together a good solid plan. Thus, I have been planning on the go, which to any good Analyst and Strategic Thinker is the absolute worst kind of planning you can do. Momentary planning is something that should happen occasionally, not regularly.  In fact, with a good plan of attack, a good design, instances where momentary planning changes are needed can be incorporated with less disruption, with more ease. It is far easier to adjust a good plan, than to constantly attempt to reinvent a bad one.

As a planner, therefore, I feel the need to know where I am going, to know how I am going to get there, and to know that each day I am checking off the steps, and moving forward to the final conclusion.

Why Teaching is so Difficult For Me

I have thought about this for a while now, and I have come to this conclusion: I am not a natural born teacher. Even though I have desired to be a teacher my entire life (from my earliest memories, I "played" teacher), I do not feel equipped to be a teacher. I know that sounds crazy. I have been told nearly as long as I have been alive that I am a good teacher. I get compliments all the time -- "Carol, you are such a good teacher!" It is true, I do enjoy teaching others. I like seeing student's grow and learn. I enjoy helping them improve. With that said, if I face the truth, though, I do not see teaching as a natural ability for me -- it is difficult for me to do. I am a good teacher because I care about my students. I am a good teacher because I plan well, execute well, and succeed well. Yes, I can teach because I am a strategic planner at heart.

As I consider the plans the Lord has for my life, as I see His plan unfold for me, I cannot help but wonder if I belong somewhere else, doing something else. I do love teaching, I enjoy it. I just feel that because I struggle so much in teaching, that I struggle so much with the uncertainty of the outcome, that there may be something out there that is a "better fit" for me.

Perhaps the issue is that the part of teaching I enjoy most is the research, the academics of it, the scholarly activity of being a professor. Perhaps it is the freedom of the schedule (summers off?) Perhaps what I really want to do is stay in the comfortable zone of research analysis rather than live in the present moment, the practical moment of the classroom. I don't know...

The Lord knows me well. He knows how hard I am working toward my PhD. He knows that I am using this education for two purposes: the first is to lead me to a full-time position as a professor; and the second is to prepare me for His work, for ministry. I am thinking now that perhaps the experience I am getting in the classroom is to provide credentials so that I can find "that job" in research or in administration. Perhaps the Lord is telling me to bide my time, use this time to learn about teaching, about the classroom dynamics, about student-centered instruction, so that I can focus on practical work that involves strategy and planning. I don't know...

It is not that I want to give up teaching. It is more that I feel so constrained by the whole "teaching" process, that I do not understand how to do it, that I struggle against the grain of it. If I could work in a role where I was planning and researching, I would be happy, I would be relaxed. It is a strange feeling right now, a feeling as though I am where I belong, but I am not where I am supposed to be long-term. UGH!

Today, I read Psalm 143:8:

Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.

I thought about this Psalm, and I began to meditate on what it might mean for me. I am trusting the Lord for every provision, every need. I want so desperately for Him to show me where to walk, I want to follow Him, and to go where He leads me. I have given myself wholly to Him, I have laid my life at His feet, and I have committed to living a life of devotion to His Holy Name. Yet, despite all of this, I feel today as if my feet are slipping, as if I am struggling to walk in a way that is slightly off-kilter. Is it me? It is my faulty sense of rightness (not righteousness, but of uprightness, being straight)?

The Lord knows my needs. He knows what I can and cannot do. He has provided for my every need. He knows my school schedule at Regent, and He knows how much I need to focus on my studies. He also knows that teaching is difficult for me (it is draining for me), and that while I love mentoring students, and I love seeing them come to new understanding, there is part of me that struggles with the whole process of teaching. I don't know how to reconcile these two things -- I don't know how to figure this problem out. 

A HA! 

I figured it out! The reason I am struggling so much is that I am faced with a problem that has no solution. There is no solution, and for those of us who are driven toward results, a problem without a solution is a conundrum, and in mathematics, an unsolvable equation is called inconsistent equation. Oh yes! I am faced with a conundrum and an inconsistent equation.

In Googling for inspiration, I ran across this quote:

If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact - not to be solved, but to be coped with over time. ~Shimon Peres, Israeli Prime Minister


Yes, I believe this is true. I believe that this is exactly why I am where I am for this season of my life. I have always said that I didn't view teaching as my "ministry." A lot of people tell me otherwise, and I do understand (and even agree with them). It is just that I know my "ministry" specifically, and teaching is not it. I do minister to students, therefore I am using teaching as a ministry. However, my ministry, my true calling is not as a teacher or as an educator. No, the Lord has called me to study Communication for a reason, and my "ministry" is all about communicating to the church. Of this, I am 100% certain.

So why then am I teaching? I think the reason I am teaching is just as Shimon Peres suggests. I am learning how to be a teacher, not to BECOME ONE, but to take the skills and abilities involved in teaching, and use them for this other thing the Lord has in mind for me to do. Teaching is then a learning ground for me, a place where I go to practice the skills I am learning about in other studies.

So what does that mean for me?

I think the solution to my problem of teaching is this: I need to rest in the fact that I am teaching for this season of my life because the Lord has provided the opportunity for me to do it, and He has a plan to use what I learn for His work. Therefore, while I stress over the practical application of teaching, while I struggle with planning and implementing lessons, the truth is that I am learning valuable knowledge that will be used by Him in some other capacity down the road. I am a teacher-in-training, and I am learning new skills, refining old skills, and coming to terms with the strategy of coping with difficult trials. Yes, I am learning how to cope with the unsolvable equation, the unanswerable question, the conundrum of teaching.

August 27, 2014

Struggling to Rest

Yes, it has been exactly one day, perhaps two since I made the grand pronouncement that I was choosing to REST in the Lord. After my struggles last week, I had made the decision that the stress I was feeling, the overwhelming panic inside, was due to my refusal to allow the Lord to control my circumstances (namely my studies at Regent and my teaching at ACU/GCU). I was fed up, or so I wrote on this blog, with feeling awful, with the nagging doubts and insecurities, with the sense of failure that seemed to cover me in a cloud of despair. I wanted out of that vicious cycle, and I made a commitment to the Lord to trust Him for each and every outcome this semester.

So here I am floundering -- AGAIN! I am awash in a sea of doubts, in the murkiness of feeling raw and vulnerable amidst all the tasks that are piling up on my massive and un-scalable TO-DO list!

I woke up this morning feeling dread, that sensation that what was to come (later this morning/afternoon) was going to prove to be a miserable experience for me. I didn't sleep well last night, which only compounded the matter. I had dreams all night long, and I tossed and turned as I moved through the various sleep cycles. I never felt rested or relaxed. When morning finally arrived, I rolled out of bed, and immediately felt that the day was going to be "one of those days."

I did my best to counteract those thoughts -- stopping them at the door (as Kay Arthur likes to say) -- so as not to give in to them, to allow them to take root. While I battled these thoughts, I reminded myself of the truth of the WORD, that the Lord is my strong tower, that He is at-the-ready to defend me, and that no mountain is too high for Him to push aside (yes, I am hearing Diana Ross and The Supreme's sing -- "Ain't No Mountain High Enough").

Once again my enemy has hit me hard, right where I am weakest -- in my pride. My pride, my sense of self-value and self-worth, is a weak spot for me. I do not consider myself haughty (arrogantly superior and disdainful) nor would I say that I suffer from over-weening pride (an excessive feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements).  In truth, I know where my success comes from, and I can state emphatically that it is all of the Lord. Yet, if that is true (and I believe it is), then why do I feel so rotten, so down regarding my performance as a teacher?

It is because there is slippery sliding scale when it comes to pride. It is possible to slide quickly from humility into pride. So while I can say with assurance that I have a healthy dose of pride (a right sense of what I can and cannot do), if not kept in check, then my intent to assume full responsibility for my work, for my achievements, will push me into the prideful category.  In my view, there is nothing wrong with feeling satisfied by one's own abilities or performance. It feels good to be successful, to achieve a goal, to do a job well. However, when we begin to take credit for something that does not rightly belong to us, well, then we run into the issue with being prideful.

In looking up the definition of pride, different resources will state different things. Some consider haughtiness to be synonymous with pride, while others do not.

Dictionary.com says pride is defined as the "pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself" whereas Merriam-Webster says pride is "a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people." Both include conceit as part-and-parcel with pride. Conceit is too much pride in your own worth or goodness.

So where does this leave me today...

I think of Micah 6:8:

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Yes, the command given by the prophet Micah is a good reminder to each one of us. God asks us to walk humbly with Him. Humility is a modest or low view of one's own importance, so to walk humbly simply means to recognize that in our relationship with the Lord there can be ONE GOD only. In all our work, in all our efforts, in everything we do -- we are to remember that the Lord God is the ONE who empowers, who creates, who sustains, who educates, etc. He is the ONE who deserves all the credit, who we should reflect all success toward. The Lord is the One who works through us, and whenever we begin to take credit where credit is due His Holy Name, then we have crossed the line from walking humbly with the Lord to where we are walking in pride-fulness or conceit.

Today, I remember the words of Micah, and I think carefully upon my role as teacher/scholar. I reflect the credit back to the Lord, and I rest in His ability to do this work. I lay down my hat, my teacher robe, and I say to the Lord: I am weak, but you are strong. In my weakness Lord, complete your work, your good work today.

August 26, 2014

Thankfulness

Today is a good day, such a very good day. I am thanking the Lord for His marvelous provision!

I woke up feeling refreshed, which completely surprised me given the fact that I went to bed last night completely exhausted. Yesterday was my first full day of teaching. I had a good day, my classes went well, and my students seemed to like my content and style. However, teaching for five hours took its toll on me. My personality is introverted, but after many years of professional work, I have learned how to "turn on" the extroverted part of me (to get through meetings, presentations, group events, etc.) Small bursts of extroverted feeling do not bother me much, but long sustained periods drain me, literally drain me.

Last night, after I ate some dinner and sat down to check email, my eyes started to lose focus, and my head began to swim around. Just as I was ready to hit the sack, my son came home from school, eager to tell me all about his classes. He is a Junior at ASU West, and yesterday was his first full day of classes. He was all excited about his professors, his coursework, and the opportunities he will have this semester. So -- an hour later -- I was finally able to close my eyes and rest. I don't think I moved the entire night.

As I woke up this morning, the first words out of my mouth were "Thank you, Lord, for giving me T-TH's off this semester!" I remember back to when I was looking over the teaching schedule last Spring, and I was considering teaching five days a week (two classes on M-W-F and two on T-TH). The Lord kept pressing me to find classes on M-W-F. I was able to finally work out a schedule whereby all my teaching ended up on three days. At the time, I was thinking that this was to facilitate my Regent coursework (giving me teaching days and study days). Now, I see that it was to give me "down days" -- days when I could rest and relax, recoup, from all that extroverted expenditure. Yes, I will use these days for my Regent studies too, but I think in the grand scheme of things, I will use them more to recover from all that extra energy I expend on my days in class.

God is good, so very good to me. He knows me well, and He knows what I can and cannot do. I hear Him say this to me: "Carol, I have you so well covered. I know what you can and cannot do. Trust me and rest." Yes, Lord, help me to trust you and to rest in you.

After I spent some time relaxing this morning (aka -- drinking my coffee and watching the news on TV), I came in to my office and sat down to check my email. My pay email arrived from GCU along with some other junk messages. I didn't bother to open it up, knowing that it was just a breakdown of how I will be paid this semester (in 8-9 periods, usually every two weeks). I read some other mails before clicking on the pay period ones. I needed to add the pay days to my calendar and align them with ACU's pay periods (1st and 15th). As I was checking the pay breakdown, I noticed that my contracted amount was adjusted upward for my ENG 105 class. I knew that GCU did this for courses over 50 students (that class had 53 students enrolled as of last week), I just didn't think that they would adjust my contract (Why? I don't know. I guess I just didn't put two-and-two together). WOW! I was so blessed!! Once I calculated my GCU pay along with that of ACU's contracted pay, my bi-weekly payout is almost exactly the amount I was making when I worked at CVS Caremark last year. Grant it, this is only for four months, but still it is four months of solid salary, and it is about $600 more per month then what I was expecting.

To say that I was relieved would be a huge understatement -- I was RELIEVED!! I have struggled with adjunct contract work for a year now. The whole idea of working on contract scared me -- so much so -- that I quit GCU at the end of the fall semester 2013 to take a horrible full-time salaried position working for a company I had no interest in (content-wise, nursing services), just to have regular pay and benefits. I hated that job, I hated the commute, and I hated the feeling that I had run away from a God-given, God-ordained, and God-provided opportunity SIMPLY because of the nature of the work, the nature of contract work. It only took three weeks of being miserable before I turned around, before I made up my mind to go back to where the Lord placed me (yes, I did a Jonah for three weeks). Once I returned to the job of His choosing, everything fell back into place, and I had peace, such great peace.

Sure, the idea of not having money in between contracts bothered me. I still panicked over going an entire summer without any pay. In fact, I have had to trust the Lord this entire summer, resting in His provision each time I looked at my dwindling bank account. I would see the money going out, and my heart would race. Oh, Lord, when will this feeling of insecurity end? Then today I opened up an email and bang! -- the Lord showed me His provision. The Lord showed me that all along He had me so well covered. Oh, Lord, when will I rest and trust you completely?

I think about the Psalms, about all the times when David praised God for His provision and His goodness.

Psalm 84:11 - For the LORD God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. The LORD will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.

Psalm 34:8 - Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!


Psalm 100:5 -
For the LORD is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.


Psalm 118:1 -
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Yes, the Lord is good to us. The Lord watches over us, and He is faithful to provide for our needs, abundantly and sufficiently.

Philippians 4:19 - And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

As I was praying this morning, I heard the word of the Lord: "Carol, rest in me. Trust me to provide for you." I responded with "Yes, Lord! May it please the Lord to do so!"

My prayer today is to rest. I ask the Lord to let me rest in Him, to completely rest in Him. I am at the end of my strength -- the thought of teaching this semester, completing my doctoral courses, ministering at Church, supporting my family -- is too much for me to bear. I am physically worn down, weary from the weight and the burden of it all. Yet, I am compelled, as if a force outside of me is pulling me forward, moving me toward some distant goal, some distant place. I feel myself moving through these "things," these tasks, often without any real doing on my part. I move through the days, I submit the assignments, I create the lessons, I show up, and I teach. I do all that is asked of me, yet I don't know how I do it. I just do it. I cry out to the Lord: "Lord, I am so tired. I am so very tired. I cannot do this anymore." The Lord replies to me, "I have you covered. I have you so well covered." 

The Lord is my Shield. He is my Buckler. He is my Strong Tower. I run to Him, and He saves me. He captures me and says to me with great joy: "I have you. I will not let go of you." I rest in Him because He is able to do all things through me, ALL THINGS, regardless of my skill, my ability, my talent. I am nothing; He is everything. I rest in Him, I look to Him, I trust in Him, and I rely upon Him. He supplies all my needs, and He covers me with His grace so that I can do whatever He asks of me. 

I rest in Him. I rest in Him. I rest in Him.