December 20, 2014

Reclaiming Christmas

If you listen to conservative media and Christian radio you will no doubt hear about the supposed war that exists between the Atheists and the Christians regarding removing Christ from "Christmas." The Atheists want to remove God from all public places, and would be overjoyed if they could even limit an individual's right to free expression of faith. The war against Christmas seems to be raging, and not a day goes by where individuals, groups, organizations, and companies are being told they can no longer worship Jesus or celebrate the day with the traditional greeting of "Merry Christmas."

I started thinking about this idea today, how Christmas is being demoted to just another commercial celebration, how the message of Christ is being removed in favor of every other holiday or religious celebration. Part of me understands and sees the attempt by the PC crowd to limit the influence of Christianity, but part of me also understands and sees the futility of the action by those who seek to limit and those who seek to increase that influence. Let me explain...

I am reminded today of this passage of Scripture. If we consider the words of the prophet Isaiah as he proclaimed the coming Messiah, we should not be troubled by what we see happening in our world today or with the efforts of individuals who are attempting to pervert and diminish the message of Hope.

Isaiah 53 NLT

1 Who has believed our message?
To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
3 He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.

4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.

7 He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
8 Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
9 He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

If you read through these verses you cannot help but be reminded of the truth of Jesus, of his birth, his life, and his death. Our Lord was never received, never believed, and never welcomed into this world. Isaiah paints a clear picture of what was to come, and as such, it should come as no surprise that there are today voices that seek to silence the coming season of light, to silence the chorus of angels, and to silence the cry of worshipers who seek to honor, to praise, and to glorify Him.

Christ has never been removed from "Christmas" and no matter how people try to do so, there is no way that anyone, any human being, can ever remove the love of God from His love for humanity. A day may come when we can no longer openly celebrate His birth, but that doesn't mean that we cannot carry, that we do not carry His love within us. Christ will always be at the center of everything, and therefore, while we may not like what we see being played out on the human stage of events, we can take comfort in knowing that no one will ever shift Him from His rightful place on the throne of Heaven. He is King, He is Messiah, He has come and He is coming again. Praise be to God, hallelujah He has come!

The Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah by George Frideric Handel (1741)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

December 19, 2014

Christmas is Coming!

It is December 19, 2014, and Christmas is only six days away! I cannot believe that 2014 is coming to an end, and that the New Year is just around the corner. It always seems that once December arrives -- the month just flies by so quickly. Before you know it, it is springtime!!

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It always has been the time of year I look forward to most -- ever since I was a child. I was fortunate that my Mom made sure to give my brothers and me a special Christmas each year. Mom shopped all year long, and she was good about finding deals during the off-season. Her approach to shopping always meant that we would find interesting gifts under the Christmas tree. We didn't get big ticket items -- but then that was the way it was when I was growing up. I can remember getting toys, balls, bats, skates, Barbie dolls and clothes, etc. We didn't get fancy games (board games, yes) or electronic gadgets. Mom tended to buy us everyday useful types of things to play with or use. We did get clothes, but she always tried to provide a little bit of both.

With the four of us kids at home, Christmas was a time of great commotion. Mom made cinnamon rolls and we had to eat before we could open our gifts. We also had to wait for my Dad to get up. I can remember the house rule -- no one was allowed out near the tree until both parents were up. We also couldn't get up any earlier than 6:00 am. In those early days, that often meant that my Dad had little sleep because he was putting bikes together in the basement or garage. He usually finished late and only got a couple hours sleep before we were up and ready to tear into the gifts.

The funny thing is that even now (Dad is 81), we still have this same routine. We wait for him to get up, get his cup of coffee and settle into his comfy chair. Mom has the cinnamon rolls in the oven baking, and we are all waiting to open gifts. We also open our gifts on Christmas morning. Several times my brothers (when they visit) will ask if we can open them on Christmas Eve so that they can sleep in -- but Dad always says "No. If you want to open gifts, then you have to get out of bed in the morning!"

As the years roll by and I see my parents age, I think that a day will come when I will be alone on Christmas morning. My son will be out of the house soon, and that means that I will be spending my holidays alone. I don't mind really, but there is still something bittersweet about not having family with whom to celebrate the holidays.

Sometimes I like to think back to Christmases of long ago. I have a particular pen-chance for Victorian England, especially Dickensian Christmases. I would love to visit Haworth (right) sometime during the holiday season. This picturesque village is located in the North of England, in Yorkshire. It looks just like what I image would be a typical Dickens Christmas would look like. Haworth is well known for its most famous inhabitants, the Bronte sisters.

I am not sure why I have such an affinity for English Christmases, but I think it is because of my love of Literature, specifically British Literature. I think that perhaps some day I might take another PhD in British Literature, just to satisfy my love of learning. I digress...

In addition to Victorian Christmases, I also love anything related to Christmas on the prairie. I think this goes back to my childhood days of reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, "Little House on the Prairie" books. There is something about the mid-late 1800s America that also tugs a bit at the Romanticist in me.

Today, I spent the better part of the morning shopping with my Mom. This is something I have done for many years. Now, my Mom is not able to shop without some assistance. She needs me to help her navigate through the mall and stores. I know that some day soon I will not have this pleasure anymore. She is slowing down, losing her memory, and is getting to be unsteady on her feet. The experience has become more trying because she cannot handle the rush and madness of the shops.

I enjoy it all. I like to go and just shop, not even to buy anything, but to walk around and see the holiday displays. It seems like the shops and malls are not decorating as much as they used to do in the past. I miss that aspect of the season. I love the bells, the lights, the carolers. I love the snow and the mush, and everything that says "Christmas is coming!"

Christmas is coming,
The geese are getting fat,
Please put a penny
In the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny,
A ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny,
Then God bless you.

Christmas is coming soon, and again we will celebrate the arrival of our blessed Savior. I wish I had another two weeks to enjoy before the day arrives. This month has been chocked full of busyness. I finished the semester on the 12th, flew to Florida on the 13th, returned on the 17th, and completed grading on the 18th. Today is the first day I have had to rest and to enjoy my winter break. Before you know it -- it will be Christmas week, and then New Years week, and then school starts again. The days are zooming past at full-speed ahead. I am praying for a restful two weeks off before I have to begin teaching and school (at Regent). In all, though, I am blessed beyond measure. I am relieved and relaxed and ready to enjoy the end of the year. I pray the Lord will continue to bless me, my family, my friends as we all anticipate the birth of our Lord. Come, Lord Jesus, come!

December 18, 2014

Planning for 2015

I am in planning mode today. I have a lot on my plate, and I feel the need to start revising my plans for 2015. I have been on this trajectory for the past couple years, working my way through my PhD, and focusing on completing the task at hand. This has included reducing my workload to part-time so that I could maintain my 4.0 GPA in my program, and so that I could ensure I had enough time to devote to my advanced studies and research interests. Now that I am completing my second full-year, I am looking forward to full-time teaching at some college or university. I have left the destination open, believing that the Lord will provide a job for me in His perfect timing.

In truth, I couldn't focus on much else besides my school work, and worrying about working full-time was an added burden I couldn't handle with all the other stresses in my life. I have struggled over this fact, and I have had to let the "stress" go, choosing instead to rest in the Lord, trusting that He has me covered, well-covered. It has been difficult for me to see my income go out, and to know that my income would not be regularly replenished. It is not as if I have a lot of demands for income, but I do contribute to my living arrangement with my parents, and I do have certain bills (car loan, for example), that are automatically debited from my account each month. Because of my situation (living with my elderly parents), I also share the burden for food expenses as well as other miscellaneous expenses. Since I am working part-time as an adjunct instructor, the pay barely covers my needs. I don't have benefits, and that is a constant worry for me (as well as for my college-aged son). Still, I rest in the Lord and in His provision. He meets my needs with abundance, and He allows me to feel safe and secure knowing that I am in His tender mercy and care.

The Planning Process

I am a planner by nature, and that means that I plan everything out in great detail. For the most part, I work through my plans with goals and tasks set to achieve them. I don't consider my plans "fixed" in the sense that I must complete them, but rather I look to the plans as placeholders of sorts. The plans are in place and they are "good" and I am working toward their completion. However, should an opportunity arise that either meets or exceeds the plan's placeholder, I maintain flexibility to move this way or that way so that I am always moving forward toward the end goal (the overarching will of the Lord).

As I look back over my goal sheet and planner for the past couple years, several items stand out as "misses" and "near misses." In some ways, these misses were simply options or possibilities based on my willingness to "go" where the Lord was leading me to go. In other ways, they were "like" items, things that I wanted to accomplish but that required certain other items to fall into place BEFORE I could take that particular path or road.

My planner and planning ability has morphed over the years. I used to plan tasks in a linear fashion. Everything was a straight line from point A to point Z. Then after spending time with the Lord in Word and Prayer, I came to realize that the Lord doesn't work that way in our lives. We have free will, and as such, our individual choices can take us on alternate paths. Even when we are fixed on following the Lord, we can still misinterpret His whisper and nudge and end up on a completely different path. Note that I said "different" and not "wrong" path. I do not believe that there are "wrong" paths unless the believer is seeking their own will above that of the Lord's. No, if the believer is seeking the Lord's will, and patiently waiting for His direction, then the paths we choose can often have multiple outlets. We may end up here or there, but generally we remain within the Lord's will for our lives. Let me explain...

Early on, everything I did was ordered. I am a rational and logical thinker so my mind tends to work like a computer program. I process new information through a systematic approach that takes me from one line of code to the next. Errors result in loops of logic, and without an exit strategy, I can at times become boggled down in irrational thinking. To overcome this event, I recompile new information -- in short -- I run a program internally that takes the new information and places it in its proper context within the sub context of what is already there. My brain, therefore, is like a giant filing system and new information is labeled and sorted and then filed according to its place in the filesystem.

I started to take over the plans for my life in 2006, prior to my divorce. I had come to a deeper place of faith, and I began to place my trust in the Lord for His complete provision. My life was in turmoil, and I was struggling to deal with a failing marriage. I was seeking the Lord's will, and I was making great changes (sweeping changes) in my attitude, heart, appearance, and general acceptance of what I believed was the Lord's revelation of my calling. In short, my life was in upheaval, and the Lord was revealing His will to me daily. I was in constant prayer, deep devotional and Word study, and I was seeking Him fervently with the hope that He would save my marriage, and provide a way out of the mess I was in. I never expected to come out of that mess as a single person, but that is what happened to me. Thus, for the first time in nearly 25 years, I found myself faced with a life of options, and with no experience in planning or preparing for a future alone.

It didn't take long to realize that I had too many options to sort and compile. My life was an open book with new chapters being written daily. I had choices now, and I could go here or there based solely on what I believed was the Lord's will for my life. However, with all that freedom came the "rub" of responsibility. I had to come up with a way to analyze choices before making life-altering decisions. And, I had to factor in more than my own wants and desires. I had a teenage son to consider, college plans, and aging parents. My little world became a complex mess needing a carefully planned outcome.

As I approached creating a "life plan," I attempted to use my standard "go to" method of linear organization. My process was very structured, and it was good for general tasks or work related items. In short order, however, I learned that this approach didn't work well for life planning. I found my approach frustrating because each new task required that I resort the existing files to keep everything in order.  This caused great stress whenever the plan didn't come to fruition. I found myself confused and even depressed when certain events didn't come to pass as I had hoped and/or planned.

After several disappointments like this, I asked the Lord for a better way to view my life and the plans He had for me. The Lord revealed to me or perhaps it is better to say that He helped me see that my life is not like a straight line from Destination 1 to Destination 2, but rather it is more like a road map. I am still working my way from one destination to another, but instead of taking only one route, I am presented with optional routes. If you think of a map of your local area it is easy to conceptualize what I mean. If I want to get to Walmart at 48th Street and Bell Road (in Phoenix), I have multiple paths and choices to take. There are a number of ways for me to get to this destination. Some are faster depending on the time of day. Some are less traveled. Some have road construction on them (perpetual) so the delays are extensive. Yet, each path I take will deliver me at my destination. I might have to leave a little earlier or drive a little slower, but generally speaking, I will still achieve the goal of arriving at Walmart.

The plans the Lord has for my life are similarly laid out. He is moving me from point A to point B, but instead of taking one path only, He has showed me that there are alternate routes available. Each route has minor issues, delays or aspects that may or may not be favorable depending on the other issues in my life. Therefore, before I take any path, I have to analyze fully the various options, consider the issues or delays, and factor those into the final decision making process. In the end, if I stay on the path chosen, I will arrive at the destination. I will accomplish the goal or the task.

Therefore, the road map of my life is complex, and it offers a variety of opportunities. I can take any number of paths and still complete the Lord's will for my life. I used to consider these options as a negative thing -- favoring the "one way" only approach. But after spending considerable time with the Lord, I have come to see options as a good thing, a very positive thing. The Lord knows all the options, all the opportunities, and He sees how the paths intersect in my future. In this way, I can rest knowing that so long as I am willing and agreeable to take whatever path He chooses, I will accomplish the goals, the tasks, and the plans He has for me. I will end up right where He chooses that I end up -- praise be to God -- I will make it to my final destination, Heaven, ready to receive the prize in His hand!

Review of the Plans for 2014

Last December, I created several "options" for my life plan. One of these options was to work as an adjunct instructor at GCU while I completed some of my more difficult courses at Regent. I had prayed about my coursework, and I felt certain that I would not be able to work full-time and complete my doctoral classes. The Lord graciously opened a door of opportunity for me at GCU last August 2013 so that I could begin transitioning to teaching college English.

My plan at that time was to teach adjunct (part-time) for several years so that I could gain work experience and move through my program at Regent with less stress. In January 2014, I transitioned from Instructional Assistant to Adjunct Instructor. In August 2014, I picked up two more courses at Arizona Christian University, which provided more English Composition courses and added in a bonus Communication course.  I am set to teach again at GCU in January 2015, this time just three English courses (one Literature and two Composition). I am on track to continue to work as an Adjunct Instructor through the end of 2015. More than likely, I will teach at both schools in the fall of 2015, unless the Lord chooses to provide a full-time position instead.

My 2014 Goal Planner had the following items on it:
  • Transition to teaching at GCU (completed 8/2013)
  • Complete major core courses at Regent (to be completed 12/2015) with a GPA of 4.0
  • Look for a full-time teaching position at a college/university (begin 12/2014) for a start date of 8/2015 (tenure or multiple year contract)
  • Move in with my parents to assist them with expenses and care (completed 5/2013)
  • Travel to VA (completed June 2013 and 2014)
  • Purchase a second car for my son (completed 8/2013)
  • Purchase a better quality cello (completed December 2013)
Most of my goals have been completed. I have one still to achieve, and that is to find a full-time teaching position for a fall 2015 start.

Plans for 2015

The new plans for 2015 are a continuation of the old ones, and function more to move me closer to the goal of finishing my PhD.
  • Complete the remaining core classes at Regent (December 2015)
  • Study for Qualification Exams (June 2015-March 2016)
  • Apply for Qualification Exams (December 2015); and sit exams (March 2016)
  • Begin applying for full-time teaching positions in AZ (December 2014) 
  • Move to a full-time position either in AZ for Fall 2015 or outside of AZ in Fall 2016
  • Continue to care for my parents (ongoing)
  • Continue to provide for my son's education (through May 2017)
  • Purchase a better quality car for my son (Summer 2015)
  • Travel to VA (June 2015)
  • Present at NCA Las Vegas - Visual Communication Panel (November 2015)
These are the plans I have now, and for the most part, they are set and fixed. By that I mean that they are required items that must be completed before other opportunities can exist. For example, I know that I cannot be hired as a full-time tenure track professor without my PhD in hand. Therefore, I must plan to study and to sit my exams before I can begin my dissertation. There is a path associated with my education, and timing is critical for how I move through Regent's process. Likewise, I know that to be considered for a full-time teaching position, I have to have certain work experience. Generally, this is at least 3 years of teaching along with some scholarly publication success. I am in that process now, and I hope to begin writing scholarship that could be submitted for publication in 2015. It is a layered process -- one layer at a time -- but eventually the full picture will be seen. For now, I take one step, one layer, and I stay focused on the end goal of graduation in May 2017.

As I consider the plans the Lord has for me (His will), I must confess that my life seems to be well-ordered and running smoothly. I am working my way through each step, each goal, each task -- toward the final outcome -- His will. I am humbled by His provision, by His grace, and by His mercy. He has taken what was shattered and bruised and made something beautiful. He has helped me accomplish great things, to experience the blessing of life, and to envision a future that is filled with hope. I am hopeful, I am open to new experiences, and I am believing in faith that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Yes, the Lord is at the helm, and He leads me on. I follow, I follow, I follow Him. There is no other way than through the door He has opened for me. I seek no other Head, no other Leader, no other Champion or Victor. The Lord is my Shield, my Buckler, my Defender. I go forth in His Name, and I seek the Lord's will, the Lord's word, and the Lord's way in all things. He is my King, my Savior, and my Lord.

Dear Lord,

I rest my weary body today knowing that you have me so well covered. There is nothing I need, I want or I desire that you have not already provided to me. I have no lack -- nothing is withheld from my hand, nothing is out of my reach. I am seeking you fully and completely for you are my PROVIDER, you are my PROVISION. I need nothing else but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I seek to know nothing, to believe nothing, to seek nothing, and to desire nothing but the deeper and more intimate revelation of your GREAT NAME. May your Name be praised this day, and may I humbly seek to worship you, to follow you, and to submit to you. You are my Head, my Portion, and my Cup. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! You have made me glad this good, this very good day. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah! Pause and calmly think about it!

December 17, 2014

Glad to be Back Home

It is a good day to be at home! My Mom and I just returned from a five day visit to see my Aunt (my Mom's sister) who is in a nursing home in FL. My Aunt has had dementia for about 15 years, and in June, suffered a traumatic stroke. My Uncle called before Thanksgiving to ask if we would consider coming to visit because he was afraid that she would not live much longer. I took my Mom to see her sister this week, and while it was a good visit, it was also difficult and very depressing.

Of course, we give thanks to the Lord for the time we did spend together, and we are glad that we were able to see her now while she was still able to recognize us. Yet, the heartbreak comes when you realize just how awful the combination of disease and stroke are, and what kind of results come from their onset. My Mom struggled this week, but the Lord sustained her and gave her a comforting visit with her only sister. I enjoyed spending time with my Aunt as well as seeing my cousins, some of whom I have not seen in over 30 years. In all, the Lord provided a bittersweet moment for us where we were able to spend quality time with our family during this blessed Season of Light.

Today was a long and tiring day for the both of us. We were up at 6 and at the airport by 7 (4 and 5 our time, respectively). The flight home was long, with a two hour delay in Denver, and the stress of maneuvering through airport lines took its toll on my Mom. We made it home safely, praise the Lord, and now are resting after a nice dinner out with my Dad and son. Overall, we are glad to be home, and relieved to have this trip behind us. My work (teaching) is done for the semester, save posting end of semester grades by Friday. My school is on winter break as well so I have two blessed weeks off between now and January 5, 2015.

My heart is tempered today, and perhaps it is because of the strain of caring for my Mom as she grieves the loss of relationship with her sister. I think there is also the issue of my own parents ill-health (declining), and the thought of what I might have to do at some point in the future. My cousins and my Uncle are doing a fine job caring for their Mom. However, the costs associated with this kind of care are beyond my means and that of my parents. It adds a level of pressure on me just to think about what might be needed down the road. I am trusting the Lord, of course, and I know that He has me so well covered today. I pray for His grace and mercy as I look forward to the future, and I hope that He will continue to care for my parents as they transition through this season of their lives. God is good, and I give Him all the praise, all the testimony, and all the glory. Only He is worthy of praise!

In other news, I am struggling to make sense of some recent events in my personal life. Nothing earth-shattering, but still a bit distressing for me considering all that I have on my plate right now. I know the Lord has everything under control, and I am trusting in His provision for my life. I believe He will see me through to the end of all things (I love that quote -- "I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam." -- JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King). I am feeling that way today, a bit down and a bit depressed. I feel at times that I see the "end of all things" literally and figuratively speaking, looming ever so closer each day. My prayer is to rest in the security of the One who holds the "end of all things" in His blessed hand. Yet, there is a part of me that struggles with the weight and the burden of so many, many things. At times, the weight is difficult to bear. I struggle on, I trudge on, and I follow the Lord as He leads me onward --> to that majestic end. The Lord has me covered, and I place my hope and my security in His Name. Still, I struggle, I falter, and at times, I feel so very overwhelmed by everything that is in my life.

As I consider my life today, I am reminded of how good it really is, how sweet it is right now, and how blessed I am. Truthfully, I am in a special place in my walk with the Lord. I am feeling the hand of blessing rest upon me, and I know that He is with me. He is good to me. He cares for me. He lifts my head, and He carries me when I feel that I cannot go on. He is my blessed Redeemer, my Savior, and my King. I give Him praise now and forevermore.

Lastly, as I contemplate my life, I am beginning to see the figurative end of my time here in Phoenix. I am beginning to see my life change, alter, and morph into something other than what I anticipated previously. I was recounting the past couple years to my cousins this weekend, and the weird thing was that I was thinking back on the reasons why I moved to Phoenix, and the reasons why I stayed in Phoenix all these years (almost 19 years now). I have lived in Phoenix for more years than I have lived anywhere else in my 52 years of life. Now I am looking toward moving elsewhere, to go where the Lord sends me for a job, a career move, a new life. I looked at the map this week, and I realized that I could move anywhere in the USA. In truth, there is no state that is off-limits. If I want to go back to CA, I can do it. If I want to move to FL, I can go there. I need to pack my things, my cats, and my books/cello and I am off. The only reason I stay here now is because of my parents ill-health. If the Lord chooses to move me, so be it. I will go wherever He leads me. Right now, I am thinking that I will move somewhere for the 2015-2016 school year. However, should He ask me to stay for another year, I will do it. My Lord knows what is best for me. He knows what I need, and He knows where He wants me to go. I pray that wherever He leads me, that He will allow me to settle down. I don't like moving around, so I really would like to stay put someplace nice. I am open to moving to the snowy North or to the humid South. It really doesn't matter to me because wherever He chooses, I will go. I will gladly go.

The Lord has a good plan for my life, and I need Him desperately. I need Him to keep this ship afloat. I need Him to find a good job for me, a nice little house, and a sweet little lifestyle. I believe that He will do it, and I have confidence that whatever He decides will be in my best interest. I let go the worry about my parents, about my son and his education, and about my own job/career and school. I cannot worry, stress or be concerned about these things -- most of which -- I cannot control. I let go, and I rest today knowing that my Lord loves me, and He has promised to never leave me. He is good to me, so very good to me.

December 10, 2014

Worth the Wait

What a blessed day to stand and give praise to the Lord! He is good, so very good!

Today I am standing in awe of a majestic God, Jehovah, Yahweh, Jesus! I give praise and honor and testimony to His Great Name, and I lift my voice in gratitude and thanksgiving for His mercies, which are new every single day. He is good, so very good to me!

It is a blessed Wednesday in sunny and warm Phoenix. Today is my last day of teaching at GCU. I am ready for the winter break, and I am glad that my classes are finished (or will be tonight). It is a good feeling to wrap the semester up, and to move on to the next adventure (new students, new teaching) come this January. I think this is one of the reasons I love teaching so much. Sure, there are days when I loathe teaching, when I loathe the grading, and when I feel so overwhelmed and full of doubt. Those days come hard and fast to me, and at times, I do give my decision (well, the Lord's really) to be a professor a second-thought. If I am honest with myself, the fact remains that I love the flexibility of teaching college courses. I love the variable schedule, the days off, and the holiday/vacation breaks. I also love the fact that I get to help students learn how to be better students, that I get to mentor and advise them, encourage them, and generally motivate them to work hard toward achieving their goals. I think that in all, teaching is the most difficult job I have ever done, but it is surely the most rewarding. I complain a lot about the job, the tasks, the pressure, the workload. In the end though the job itself provides interest and the opportunity for change. I teach one set of students and one set of classes each semester -- when the semester ends -- I get to repeat that experience and enjoy the blessing of change. There are not many jobs where that is the case and where you can influence directly so many people at one time. Yes, I am blessed to be an educator, and I am blessed to be able to teach at the college level. God is good, so very good to me!

Last night as I was getting ready for bed, my phone buzzed at me to tell me that I had new messages. I have my phone set on silent mode all the time so I normally hear the buzz when there are voice mail, email or other notifications. This time it was a notification that a grade had been updated in Blackboard. Blackboard is the online learning management system for Regent University. I have been dreading these notices because this semester, in particular, was very difficult for me. I taught four classes and with each one came extra requirements for mentoring and grading. My courses at Regent were challenging, and the workload was grueling. I felt pressured, stressed and overwhelmed all semester long. I also felt that I didn't do my best work, that while I did give great effort, I wasn't able to do my best in either class.

The notification was that a grade had been entered in Blackboard for my COM 701 class. COM 701 is a core class, a required methods course. It is one of the last methods courses I have to take for my doctorate. I have loved this class -- and I feel that I learned so much of value in it. I have also come to see Historical/Critical Research as the best "fit" for my scholarly study. I struggled through Quantitative and Qualitative research methods -- liking aspects of them -- but not feeling a particular affinity for the approach. This class was IT for me. I guess my background in criticism helped, but for all intents and purposes, I fell in love with the approach and I knew immediately that I would want to focus on this type of method for my doctoral dissertation and any subsequent research projects.

Despite my enthusiasm for the method, I stressed over the major paper required in the course. I conducted a visual analysis of a Heard Museum exhibit (Remembering Our Indian School Days). I felt that I couldn't do my best with so little time, and that the paper, while good, was not as thorough as it could have been. Still, I submitted it on time, and I prayed it would be well-received (always my prayer). These past couple weeks have been filled with such doubt about my performance on this paper. I didn't think it was good enough nor did I feel that it would be well-received. I discounted my own efforts, and I spent so many days and nights weeping over the quality of the work.

So last night, I received the notice that this paper had been graded. To say I was worried -- well -- I would say panicked -- was an understatement. This paper was worth 400 points and it could either sink me or send me on my way with high flying colors. I held my breath as I dove into the email. I thought "what do I have to lose now?" The time was past for crying, and now all that was left was to "grin and bear it."

As I opened my paper up, I scanned for the comment at the bottom of the page. This was 24-page paper, and even at that length, I felt it was not long enough to do the subject justice. Once my eyes settled on the comments, I was aghast. In a short paragraph, I read my professors comments to me. Superior work. A grade. Paper needs to be presented at conference. I was shocked, literally and figuratively. The Lord had told me previously that I was in for a high honor, that I should expect some word that would bring me notice. I believed His word to me, but I didn't understand exactly what would come of it. But there in black and white were my professors comments, encouraging me to pursue this field (visual rhetoric). The Lord is good to me, so very good!

I praised the Lord in silence last night. I couldn't believe my eyes nor could I believe that the Lord had delivered on His word to me. I remember praying about this the previous day, and hearing the Lord say to me "you will not believe it." Yes, the Lord knows me well. He knows how I stress over my performance and how I worry and become so doubtful every time I submit an assignment. He knows that while I am well-equipped and capable, I cannot do this level of work without His help. He guides me, He inspires me, and He fills me with whatever is needed in the moment so that I can be disciplined, be focused, and be driven to do the work, His work. Yes, the Lord is at my side through each class, through each assignment, through each bulletin board post. The Lord is gracious to me, and He never leaves me nor does He forsake me to handle things on my own. He is good, so very good to me.

I calculated my grade in this course today and I have a 98.5% total. I am amazed, really amazed. The Lord promised me an "A" in my course. When I say that I mean that I prayed over my courses, my grades, my effort, and in every instance, I surrendered my will to Him. I agreed with Him that whatever the "review," as long as He received the honor, I was OK with the "grade." I have surrendered my desire for As in my courses, even though I still desire them, want them, and at times, need them, for validation. The Lord knows this, and because I know that I tend to fixate on them, I have to be extra careful not to allow my "need, want and desire" to move from honoring the Lord to idolatry of self. Yes, I am well aware of that slippery slope.

I still struggle at times to believe the Lord. I struggle still to believe that I can actually do this level of work. I give my best; but often, I feel my best is not good enough. The Lord covers me, and He gives me His grace to do this work well. I thank Him today for the blessing of provision, of good success, and of achievement. I pray that through the remaining semesters and courses that I will continue to rely upon Him, to seek Him, and to trust Him for guidance and inspiration. I cannot do this work without Him, and I desperately need Him to oversee everything I do at Regent. After all, I am at Regent for His Name, His Praise, and His Honor. Therefore, everything I do should be for His glory.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for guiding me through my courses this year. Thank you for another great semester at Regent University. Thank you for my Godly Professors, the men and women, who seek to honor you through their efforts at this fine school. I pray you would continue to bless them and cover them with your mercy and care as they finish out their semester, complete their grading, and transition into the blessed Christmas season. Bless and cover their families and their ministries. Continue to encourage their scholarship, and to lift their heads so that they can bear testimony to your faithfulness and provision in and through their lives. Keep them now in your mercy and grace and give to them each need, each concern, and each prayer request. May Psalm 37:4-5 be the cry of their heart as they make you their delight, and in turn, you give to them the desires of their heart. Be with them now and throughout this Season of Light. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah (Pause and calmly think about it!)

December 9, 2014

Finding Patience

The deep of night turned silently into the peaceful quiet of the morning. I laid awake for a long time before I forced myself from under the covers. It was warm and comfortable in my bed, and while I was wide awake, part of me didn't want to get up and start the day. It was nearly 5 when I rolled out of bed. Normally, on  my day off, I would sleep in until 8 or 9 am, but for some reason, I woke up on my own and my body refused to fall back to sleep. I did drag myself out of bed and down the hall to the bathroom. My boys were waiting patiently at my Mother's bedroom door (their daily ritual).

I returned from the bathroom with two cats in tow, obviously they thought I would "fill" in for Mom, but instead they saw me climb back into bed. I don't remember much of what happened next because somewhere between 5 and 8, I fell into a very deep sleep. I do remember that I dreamed a weird dream -- a dream where my Mom and my sister-in-law were having a phone conversation. The conversation was about my niece returning to graduate school to work on a PhD. I can remember hearing the conversation, and becoming angry over the fact that I wasn't asked my opinion on the matter. If anyone knows what is involved in applying for a PhD program, it is me. If anyone can give practical advice on how to complete the application, it is me. Yet, somehow, no one bothered to ask me for my input. I can remember yelling at my Mom and telling her how upset my niece will be when she is rejected because she didn't provide the "right" kind of information on her application and statement of intent.

I woke up for the second time when Ike, my very fat Siamese cat, jumped on my desk and began to chew on my papers. All I heard was the rustle of papers on my desk, and I knew, he was up there. I jumped out of bed, rushed to the desk, and shooed him out of the bedroom. As I wobbled back to the bed, I realized the time, and I thought for certain that I must have fallen deep into sleep at some point. I had one of those "hangover" feelings -- the one where you were awoken from a deep sleep -- and where your body/head seem like they were not attached. I was dizzy when I returned to the bed, but after a short time resting, I was finally able to get up and start my day.

What an odd story to start off my morning and what in the world does it have to do with being patient? I am not sure, but I thought I would share it nonetheless and perhaps through explication of my thoughts and feelings today, the tie-in will reveal itself.

I am struggling today. I am feeling that feeling of dread, of discontentment, of despair. I am not sure why, but I woke up feeling this way, feeling as if I had been "wrung through the ringer" so to speak. Yes, perhaps my night of weird dreams and my thoughts of impatience do have something in common. Let me explain.

Last night, as I drifted off to sleep, I prayed over my life, my situation, my semester. I have several people that I pray for regularly, well daily, and those people were first and foremost on my mind. I was talking with the Lord, in a conversational way, praying over these people, asking for certain things for them, trusting their care and welfare to Him and His will. I was thinking about their importance in my life, how much they matter to me, and how much I love them. I was talking with the Lord about their lives, their messes, and how they are seeking Him diligently, waiting patiently for the Lord to move in and through each specific circumstance. I was interceding on their behalf, asking for what I believed was His will in their lives, and praying with faith that the Lord would answer my prayers for them.

I normally do this, but sometimes I fall asleep before I finish. I wonder if this is why my mind was filled with impatience this morning, why I am struggling to wait for the Lord's deliverance?

Yes, I think this is part and parcel to my experience. In truth, I am feeling a bit snappy this morning. I snapped at my Mom, I snapped at the commentators on Fox News, and I snapped at myself (for being snappy). I feel off, odd, out of sorts today. I feel as though I am sitting outside the window of someone's life and I am looking in at them. I feel as though I am sitting here wishing my life were different, wishing that my circumstances were altered, and that the events of my life were like that of the person living inside that --> home (over there)! Yes, I feel like my life is going no where, and the world and everyone in it is moving forward, finding comfort, finding success, and finding peace.

Why do I feel this way today?

Partly I think it is because I am struggling to let go of certain things, certain people in my life. Partly I think it is because I am living in transition -- transition between here and there -- between today and tomorrow. Yes, my life is in flux, filled with change, and fueled by my submission to follow the Lord. I am in this weird lonely place where I feel as though nothing I do is good enough. I feel as though I have let myself down, my family down, my faith down. I have succumbed to the demands of working full-time and going to school full-time, and I am not functioning at my best. I am beset with fear, with doubt, and with feelings of inadequacy.

The Lord has promised good to me. He has promised me that He would remain faithful to me. I have seen His hand upon my life, but still I fail to trust Him, to rest in His sufficiency, to BELIEVE Him. I so struggle to believe, to be faithful, to be ready to do His work. I want to do it. I want to believe Him and His promises to me. I want to keep strong. Yet, I feel so completely inadequate, so unable to do whatever He has asked of me.

Psalm 37:7 - Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act.

I look up and I wait patiently for the Lord to act on my behalf. This is what the Psalmist says we are to do. Psalm 37 is one of my favorite Scriptures. I love verses 4-5 -- and I have taken these two verses as promises for my life. Yes, I am patiently waiting for the Lord to act. It is just that while I am waiting patiently, my life seems to be running at a dizzying pace, and I am feeling the pinch of being hard pressed between immovable objects (work and school). I am struggling to remain composed, to remain steady, and to remain obedient to His Word to me. I am struggling today with my feelings, my emotions, and my concerns over my progress at Regent. Will I do well in my courses this semester? Will I receive grades that are reflective of my experience (working full-time)? Will I be disappointed in my performance?

I feel as though I have not performed well. I am like an actor on stage who gave the opening performance of their life, under incredible strain and pressure, and who now sits in their dressing room waiting for the reviews to come in. I am waiting patiently for my review. Did I do well enough or did I fail miserably because of my overwhelming and hectic paced schedule this term?

Of course, I have no way of knowing until the grades are posted. I have no indicator for my progress. Both of my courses are not tallied through points so I have not really known throughout the semester where I stood grade-wise. I had some indicator early on, but then I noticed the points were not calculated properly, and when I emailed about it, I was told that final grades would be posted through the registrar and that I shouldn't pay attention to the points listed. My heart sank because my only indicator was now said to be nothing of value. I am left sitting here waiting, hoping my performance was good enough to earn the grade, to make the mark, to be acceptable to me and to the Lord.

Why do I struggle with acceptance, with performance, with achievement? Why must I always get "As?" Why must I always do my best, give my best, perform at my best? Why am I not satisfied with the status quo, with doing well, and with accepting "less than perfect?"

Col. 3:23 - Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.

Yes, I am driven to succeed. I am driven to achieve. I am driven to perform. I never realized just how "driven" I was until I returned to school back in 1990. Up until that time, I would have said that I was lazy, undisciplined, and unfocused. I had no ambition, no goals in life, no direction. I was married, and I was working in the high-tech industry (as an Contracts Administrator). I had a good job, I liked working for the company, and I felt valuable to them. However, I had this nagging feeling of inadequacy. I felt that I was uneducated. I was reminded of my lack of education almost daily by a guy who worked in our Software department. For whatever reason, this guy harassed me daily. He made snide comments about the way I spoke, the way I wrote, about everything that I did. He once told me that I needed to go back to high school and learn English because I was worthless in my role and in my job. The funny thing was that in my role as Contracts Administrator, I was receiving great accolades for my work ethic, my resolve, and my innovation. Yes, in less than 9 months on the job, I recovered nearly 6M in misplaced and uncollected revenue. I received the Employee of the Year award for my hard work and effort. Yet, regardless of my performance, there was this one guy who would not leave me alone. He harped at me, constantly abused me, and went out of his way to prove to me that I was an uneducated and worthless person.

When I returned to school to study Humanities, I did so with the desire to "prove" to this guy, this one guy, that I really wasn't as dumb as he thought I was. Of course, by the time I graduated with honors and I was being solicited for graduate school and fellowships, this guy had moved on to another company (and probably to terrorizing some other poor hapless victim of his incessant bullying). I never did get the chance to tell him "See! I showed you -- I am smarter than you are!"

Over the course of my adult years, this one instance has remained with me. In many ways, I have to thank this guy (John) because he gave me the hard shove to get moving forward, to step out in faith, and to put my work ethic, my innovation, and my efforts to the test by excelling in academics. His bullying tactics didn't cause me to crouch in fear, but rather they spurred me on to a rewarding career in higher education. Yes, John, would not be happy to know that I am now a college English Professor, and that I will be graduating shortly with my PhD. 

Still, I think back to this specific time and I realize that it was pivotal to creating within me the desire to excel, to achieve, and to prove to myself and to others that I am adequate, that I am OK, and that I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me!

I think the enemy knows when I begin to focus on my performance, this "need" to be approved rears its ugly head. My need to achieve, to be confirmed, and to be valued starts to cloud my judgment, my thinking, and my approach to everyday living. Yes, my need, my driving need to be accepted ends up stealing my joy, stealing my peace, and ultimately, stealing my rest. It is a mighty lie of the deceiver, and he attacks me when I am most vulnerable -- when I am having to patiently wait to the "reviews" to come in.

I stress over this one thing each and every semester. I can remember some of the older students at Regent making a big deal about not letting grades determine your outlook. After all, they said, no employer is going to look at your grades. Yes, yes, yes, I agree. However, for those of us who use grades as an indicator for success, for achievement, for satisfaction -- poor grades or less than satisfactory grades -- becomes the silent killer of confidence. My valuation in academics is bound up in my grades. If I do poorly, then I run the risk of believing that I am not that "good" and that my abilities are not up to the standard required at this level of study. 

So what must I do to overcome this problem? How can I resolve to no longer allow my grades to drive me to such a level of distraction? 

Personally, I do not think it is possible. People who are achievement-oriented like I am tend to be hardwired from birth. I did a little bit of research just now and there is actual theory to back up the fact that people are achievement-oriented and performance-oriented (Cognitive Theory). It is an interesting study, and isn't surprising that gifted children naturally fall into one or two of these types of personalities. I am a bit of both, which is odd, because research says you generally are one or the other. It is nice to know that I am "normal" and that my drive to succeed is hardwired within me. This makes me wonder why I am this way, and what factors were in play (genetics) that caused me to be born with this natural inclination to succeed?

I am interested keenly in why I am this way from a Christian standpoint. I mean, does God value achievement-oriented people? Does He find people like me annoying and difficult? Or does God use people like me to do certain tasks, certain activities, certain things to honor and to praise His Name? I think there are examples of people in the Bible who were performance and achievement oriented individuals. Two that come to mind right off hand are David and Moses. Both individuals achieved great things, and both individuals were used mightily by God for His work in the nation of Israel. Sure, some might say that Moses was hiding out in the wilderness for 40 years, but that was simply because he had run away from Egypt for the crime he had committed (lets call it a character flaw). Prior to his leaving Egypt, he was a Prince in the house of Pharaoh. You cannot get much higher than that nor can you achieve a better stature unless you intended to dethrone your step-father.

Therefore, I have to believe that while I struggle with this need to achieve, God is able to use it for His success, for His glory, for His good. Of course, I must submit and surrender it to Him so that it doesn't become an object of worship -- but -- the Lord can and does use it to accomplish His will. I believe this is so, and while I may not like the way I feel while waiting for those dreaded "reviews," I know that this pattern, this habit, this annoying aspect of my personality will not go away, but will return yet again come April 2015 (end of semester).

All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live. 
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

December 8, 2014

Contemplation Today

Today is a good day. It is a good day to praise the Lord, and to meditate upon the blessedness of His word. Today is a day when it is good and proper to consider the blessings and the bounty of the Lord's provision. Yes, today I am giving thanks to the One who has saved me, who has sanctified me, and who has secured my eternal destination.  I give thanks to the Lord God, the Holy One, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yes, my praise, my honor, and my testimony is set for Him and Him alone. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah (pause and calmly think about it!)

For whatever reason, Psalm 1 has bubbled up in my mind today. I was thinking about blogging, about what I should write today, and this is the Psalm that came to me. I love the Psalms -- they are my favorite part of Scripture. I read the Psalms most days. I used to read them twice a day, but with school and work, I find that I don't always get to do that regularly. Still the years of reading through the Book of Psalms has paid off because I remember so many of them, not perfectly as in recitation, but bits and pieces of them, and they comfort me, they calm me, and they call to me when I need them most. It is a blessedness of the Holy Spirit that the Word of God lives deep within my soul, that I remember the Word during hard times or when I am stressed. Yes, the Word of God dwells within me richly, it edifies my soul, it brings me wisdom and understanding, and most of all, it brings to me the reward of knowing my Lord and His Word well. I love the WORD and I love the study of the WORD.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. Col. 3:16

As I think about my life, as I consider my days, Psalm 1 stands out for me. The Psalmist writes,

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Read the words -- blessed is the one -- who does the following:
  • Doesn't walk with the wicked, stand with the sinners, sits with mockers (slanderers)
  • Delights in the Law of the Lord
  • Meditates on it day and night

Why? Because those who follow or do not follow the instruction set forth will reap the following reward...

Those that follow will:
  • Prosper in every area of their life
  • They will be firmly planted, deeply rooted
  • Bring forth fruit in season
  • Will not wither (die early)
  • They are watched over by the Lord
  • Their way is righteous

Those that do not follow:
  • They are liked dried up chaff that is blown away by the wind
  • They will not survive judgement
  • They will not be counted among the righteous
  • Their path leads to destruction

Yes, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Ps. 19:14).

The Lord is good to me, so very good to me. He watches over me, He leads me and He counsels me. He directs my steps, and He gives me good success. My way prospers, and my life is righteous (not on my own, but only through Christ). He gives to me good things, and He provides for my every need. He is good, so very good.  All the time, the Lord is GOOD.

Today I am determined to finish my work, to finish my semester at ACU and GCU with grace, with humility, and with dedication to my students and their academic success. Today, I look to the Lord for His provision so that I can continue to teach, continue to study, and continue to be trained in the way of His Word, His Way, and His will. Yes, today I am committed to seeking Him first (Matt. 6:33). 

The Word says it this way (NLT):

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

I desire nothing else but to do the Lord's work, to live and walk in His way, and to conform in all areas of my life to His will. I am ready to be that person, that individual, that believer who lives out the Word of the Lord, who does as Psalm 1 instructs, and who experiences the continual blessed state of living righteously within the security and stability of the Lord's way. To me, there is no other way, no other desire, no other THING than to serve the Lord, to follow Him in every area of my life, and to submit fully to His will. I surrender my desires, my needs, my wants, my heart and my head in order to go where He is sending me. I long to do what He is calling me to do. I long in my heart with a passion and a deep desire to fulfill His calling. I long for the time when I will be able to be fully immersed in His work, to taste and see the Goodness of the Lord as it is spread throughout the land of the living. May the Lord be praised today and forevermore. May the Lord have His way in me, and may His will come to pass in my life! Selah!

It is a good day to give praise to the Lord. It is a good day to see the hand of the Lord as He moves in and through my life. It is a good day to know that my Savior lives, that He is seated on Heaven's Throne, and that He is Sovereign. There is no fear that has taken me -- for He has overcome sin and death -- and His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). I am ready, Lord. I am ready to do your work, to seek you diligently, and to open all the doors that you stand before and call me to walk through. May I do what you ask me today. May I live my life righteously and with honor and integrity. May my words be uplifting and encouraging. May my testimony bring you praise and glory. May I seek the lost, seek those with deep hurt and wounds, and may I bring your healing touch into their lives so that they too may taste and see that you are GOOD.

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

My Lord, I surrender all to you this day. I wait upon you and I look up.