November 25, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different...

I have never been a huge Monty Python fan, but some 'memes' just stick in your head. I guess it is part-and-parcel with growing up as a Baby Boomer, and with having been raised on TV sitcoms and other satire that was all the rage in late 1960s and 1970s (Mel Brooks, for example). I was thinking about life today, and this 'meme' popped into my head.

I digress...What is a 'meme' anyway? Why do we even say that word?

From the authoritative source, Wikipedia:

"A meme is "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures."

Oh, so that is why. Hmmm. I guess it fits.

I am at a crossroads today. I have looked forward to this day for weeks. Today is Tuesday, just an ordinary Tuesday. It is as normal as normal can be except for the fact that it is the "day after" I had to submit two major assignments in my Regent classes. I have that "hung over" feeling, that feeling that says "I shouldn't have done what I did last night" (or in my case, the weeks leading up to yesterday). I have never felt so bad about turning in assignments like I have this semester. When I say "bad" I mean horrible, filled with dread, with fear and with angst.

Angst. It is one of my favorite words. I am filled with angst. What does angst mean you ask?

Let's go check.

a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.

Yes. This accurately sums up my feelings right now. I am filled with angst, dread, deep anxiety.

Why? Why in the world would I be filled with angst? Good question. The answer is simple. I spent this past semester under the intense pressure of too MUCH of everything. I know, I know -- that makes absolutely no sense. Yeah, I agree. Really, it is a pretty accurate assessment of my life right now. I have had too much work, too much study, too much teaching, too much care giving, too much fatigue, and too much of feeling whipped, beaten down, and unable to get up. In short, I am done. I am worn out and worn in. I am ready to throw in the towel.

You see --> Today was my day of relief. This was the day I have look forward to all semester. It was the day after my last day teaching for Fall break, and it was my day of rest. It was the day when I could sit back and say "I did it" and mean that I had submitted all the major papers and assignments for Regent, and the day I finished all my teaching. The problem is that I don't feel relieved. I was looking forward to this day, thinking and believing that some how I would feel better knowing that I had completed papers and I had done my best. I just don't feel that I did my best. I feel that with all the pressure in other areas of my life, my school work has not been my best. It has been average, and I don't like being average. I want to do my best, always my best, and yet, I feel so let down, so so so BLAH!

UGH!

I have approximately three weeks of teaching and school let to complete before I can wrap Fall 2014 up officially. I have learned life lessons this semester, oodles of life lessons.

  • I have learned my limits. 
  • I have learned what I can and cannot do. 
  • I have learned that no matter how much I desire to succeed, the enemy seeks to destroy any achievement, any accomplishment, and any growth I may experience.
  • I have learned that I cannot do what the Lord is calling me to do.
  • I have learned that what He asks of me must be completed through His strength and His will, and not mine.
  • I have learned that no matter how much I try, I will always fall short of His glory.
  • I have learned that people are imperfect, impossible, and at times, impervious to your suffering.
  • I have learned that the only way to survive is to let go and let God be in control.
  • I have learned that I am flawed human flesh, and that my sin nature desires to rise up when it should humbly stay down.
  • I have learned that I have a very long way to go, and that I am walking on a very long, very hard, and very difficult path.
  • I have learned that despite all of the above -- my Lord loves me, and He has promised to never leave me or forsake me.
  • I have learned that I can rely on the Lord, that I must rely on the Lord, and that these feelings of failure and insecurity are just that -- feelings. They are not truth.
  • Lastly, I have learned to lean on the Lord, to rest upon His complete Person because in this life there is no other NAME, no other PERSON, no other GOD with whom we can place our faith, our trust, and our hope. He is EVERYTHING TO ME.

Psalm 23 (Message)

God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.


Today I take comfort in the fact that what I feel inside is just that -- it is a feeling. My feelings are fleeting and fickle. They are nothing when stacked up against the line of Scripture. When I feel this way, overwhelmed and anxious, I go to the Word and I receive the truth. I go to His Throne and I find rest. I recover, I relax, and when I am ready --> I pick up my cross and I restart my journey. I am not alone for He is always with me. I am not facing the giants on my own because His strength is my shield and His word is my mighty defense -- my sword. I must keep on moving, I must keep on following the Lord. I must go where He sends me, where He beckons me, and where He intends for me to live and to work. I must go wherever He goes for He is my Lord. He is my all-sufficient Lord.

Dear Lord,

This has been one of the most challenging semesters of my college career. I thought Spring 2014 was going to do me in (Quantitative Statistics) and I thought that I would not have any other semester like that one. Never did I imagine that this semester would beat me so hard, whip me, and challenge me. Never did I think I would do so poorly in a class, poorly in multiple assignments, and end up so miserable as I struggled  to do my best. Yet, through it all, You have been my faithful companion, my constant hope in the storm. I confess that I have doubted you, doubted your Word, and I have believed the lies of the enemy that have tried to pull me off course. I have struggled so much, and I have felt so completely out of my league. I have considered the fact that I am not doctoral quality, not a good teacher, not a good Mom. I have thought about all the areas in my life when I felt so inadequate and not up to the task. Yet, You have never let me down. You have rescued me time and again, and You have not let go of my hand. I rest now, Lord. There is nothing more I can do but let all the misses and mistakes go. I have to move on with you. I have to follow where you lead. I have to let the need to be perfect fall and look up. I have to look to the One who is perfect, who is able to overcome all things, and who is able to see me through to the end of this journey. I look up, Lord, and I wait upon you for you are my Lord, my King, and my Shepherd. You are my ROCK, my REFUGE, and my STRONG TOWER. I rest in You alone, Lord. I rest.

November 23, 2014

Enjoying the Blessings of Friendship

Today is a good Sunday! I am home (missing Church) so that I can work on finishing up my critical paper (due now on Monday at midnight). I don't normally like to miss church because I feel like I need it to refresh my weary soul, and I find church especially fulfilling when worshiping with others (in praise and in prayer). But today, I am pushed to the wall (lately that is my motto) to finish my research project so I can end this nightmare of a semester (he he he -- as I recall -- I said that about the Spring and Summer semester too!) The Lord is good to me, so very good to me. He knows me so well, and He provides for my every need. I am resting in His provision of care today, knowing that His will is being done in and through my life, and that part of His will includes my studies at Regent University. I rest and I let Him guide and lead me through this paper and all the other assignments I must complete before the semester closes on December 14. God is good, so very good. He is good all the time, and all the time He is good!


As I prepare to write my paper (and I have to write a significant portion today) today, I find that I am struggling to focus, struggling to "get down to business," and struggling to not waste time today. It is not uncommon for me to feel this way. In fact, I would say that of all my recent projects -- not one was planned, was purposed, and was pulled off according to my timing or my schedule. No, I did plan, and I did prepare, but what happened (as it seems to every time now) is that I ended up at the end of my budgeted time with all effort failing me. I finished each paper, thank goodness, but not on my own at all. No, the Lord showed up and He inspired me, guided me, and helped me complete the work on time (and with great success). The Lord is good, so very good to me.

So, why then I am here blogging when I should be writing my paper? Good question! Actually blogging is part of the prep work -- free writing of sorts -- to get me into the writing mode. The Lord knows that some times I need to free write before I can start to do my best writing. So blogging is my preferred choice for free writing and it does help me prepare my head and my fingers for writing my papers.

I titled this free writing blogpost "Enjoying the Blessings of Friendship" because I wanted to give a shout out to my friend, Ken, who has been a constant companion to me this semester and who has been very encouraging to me, especially when I felt that I was so stressed over my assignments. The Lord has brought me a good friend, a special friend, someone who shares my love of so many things, and who is always there to make me laugh (when I need it). I thank the Lord today for the blessing of friendship because sometimes it is so difficult to walk alone, so difficult to carry the burden of "life" on your own. Yes, I know that the Lord is there to carry us along, and often He does just that -- He lifts us up and He carries us. However, the Lord knows that we need friends to walk with us, physically, and He brings special people into our lives as blessings from His Merciful Hand of Care. These people are really more than friends -- they are closer than a friend -- because they love us even when we don't feel very loveable. The accept us as we are and they understand our foiables (and our failings). They stand with us and hold us accountable to whatever responsibilities we have and they don't judge us when we goof up. They just love us where we are at -- in the moment -- and to me, that is just about the best thing possible.

Proverbs 17:17 (MSG) says,

Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.

I am so thankful for the friends the Lord has brought into my life. Many have come and gone, but many have stayed the course with me. I love these friends, and I cherish them because they are unique and wonderfully made by God. Each one has a special ability that brings blessing into my life, and each one loves me as I am. My prayer today is to remember the value of good friends. May I be the kind of friend that stays the course, walks along side and helps to carry that heavy burden (if only for a little while or for a lifetime).

November 18, 2014

Turning Toward Christmas

It is November 18, 2014. I am home today (thank the Lord), but since my to-do list is significant, I will not have as much 'free time' to rest. Still, I am thankful that the Lord has provided these days off each week. I do not know how I would have made it through this semester teaching and completing doctoral assignments without the weekly rest breaks (my Tuesdays and Thursdays). The Lord is good to me, so very good to me. He has covered me with His blessing, His favor, and His sufficiency. I rest in His care, in His comfort, and in His confidence. I know that the plans He has for my life are GOOD, and that He is working to bring those plans to fruition. I give praise, testimony, and honor to the One we celebrate this Advent season, and to the who is coming again (soon!)

Semester End Brings Rest and Reward

I have blogged about this semester ad nausea. Yes, it has been challenging to me. Yes, I have been overloaded with work, both in teaching and in preparation. Yes, I know that I placed myself into this position with my desire for money (dare I say greed?) And, yes, I am aware that my heavy teaching load conflicted with my studies at Regent.

Yet, despite all those facts, I see the Hand of God upon my life this past semester. There is no way that I would have been able to keep up with the workload and demands of teaching without His Grace and His Mercy. The Lord has been my ROCK. He has provided the refuge I needed especially in those times when I thought I was overwhelmed and unable to carry on. He has been my SHELTER against the strong winds that have blown hard against me, seeking to knock me over and keep me down. Yes, my Lord is at my right hand, and He is my DEFENDER and my SHIELD.

Now as I consider the fact that I have less than three weeks to finish my semester (teaching and at Regent), I realize just how much the Lord has done for me. He has been the one to move me through these challenging days, and He has been the one to provide what I needed to complete each task and assignment. My to-do list is still long, but I am slowly checking off assignments, turning in work, and moving each day closer to the finish line. The Lord has me well-covered, and He has provided the strength, the determination, and the focus to complete what needs to be completed by the last day of school.

I need to make great headway on several key assignments. I feel confident that I will accomplish what needs to be completed today.

Looking Toward Advent

I have never been a big Advent person, which just means that while I love Christmas, I have never gone all out to celebrate the church tradition we call "advent." Advent normally celebrates the coming birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many families I know have made it a Christmas tradition to celebrate each week as Christmas day draws near. Often, these weekly home celebrations coincided with church events, Sunday services where the Advent candle was lit, and the retelling of the birth narrative from Luke. I love these kinds of traditions, and I think they have a place in our home and corporate worship celebrations. However, for me, since I do not believe that December 25 is the day of the Lord's birth, I have never really focused on the day of celebration, but rather I have focused more on the season of celebration.

In this Advent Season of 2014, I am considering how the coming of the Lord into the world some 2,000 years ago can be experienced still throughout our daily life. I ask myself, "how can we remain connected to the Lord, how can we live out the Great Command, and how can we demonstrate the love of God in our relationships with others?" Advent is a time of preparation, a time when we eagerly wait with excitement and with anticipation for the coming arrival of the Lord. The Lord entered into the world in Bethlehem as a baby. Now we look forward to the Second Advent, to His return, when He will come as Lord and King.

I think for me that the way I can celebrate this advent all year long is to allow Him to reign as Lord and King over my life NOW rather than to wait until He returns. Yes, there is something about learning to live in a way that places the Lord over every detail and event in your life. I know that for many Christians who say they love the Lord, often their lives show a fractured picture of this so-called love. They love Him when it is convenient to do so, when they have great need or when they are filled with joy on Sundays. Yet, throughout their days, there is little love for the Lord showing through to the world. In fact, most often what the unchurched say about Christians is that they live hypocritical lives. They do not live what they say they believe and what they demand that others believe.

I surrendered my life to the Lord a very long time ago. It has been a good 8-9 years since I gave the reigns of my life over to Him, and in that short amount of time, I have grown, I have been changed, and I have been shaped into a new creature, a new person who lives her life in a dramatically different way.

I call this way "His Way" because it is not something I have done to myself (as in legalism to the ordinances and commands of God), but rather it is something He has done in and through me. He has shown me a new way of living, a new way of walking, a new way of talking, a new way of believing. His way has transformed my thinking, radically altered my life plans, and provided a direction for me to go -- a direction that not only has improved my standard of living -- but that has helped me to influence others to walk alongside of me.

It is fascinating to think about it, to think how His way works. I believe that His way is patterned off of the way He walked, talked, and lived with His disciples when He was here on Earth. Once He returned to the Father, the disciples practiced this same "way" and they sought out followers to walk with them. In a like manner, we are also to practice this Way and to lead others (we become the leader and we seek out followers). The goal is to lead others to the One we follow. So while we are leading, we are not becoming Leaders with a capital "L." No, we are simply little leaders (small el) as we live His way, and through our surrendered lives, we then reach out to others to encourage, to equip and to empower them to do the same.

I think of my role in His grand plan and the only thing I can determine is that the process the Lord uses to draw each person to Him has not changed in all these thousands of years. Each individual and each heart is transformed in the same way, with each life experience shaped and molded to create a similar desire. The Lord does not work in one person 'this' way, and in another person 'that' way. Yes, we all come to the Lord through our various paths, and we bring many hurts, hang ups and habits to the Cross. Yet, in truth, we all come to Him the same way --> BROKEN --> and in need of a Healer and a Savior. The transformation process that takes the broken individual and restores them to wholeness is magical (not in an occult-like way, but rather in simply a mysterious way). The Lord of the Universe transforms what was damaged and cast off into something beautiful and useable. We become useful to Him as we undergo this transformation process. It is GRACE at work in us, and it is GRACE that transforms us into the followers He needs us to be.

Therefore, this Advent Season, my desire is to become that person of Grace, to become the one individual in my small sphere of influence who brings hope, who brings healing, and who brings Him into the lives of those who desperately need to receive Him. My focus is shifted toward a healing ministry, a ministry that seeks those that need to hear the message of salvation, that need to experience the healing touch of a loving Savior, and that need to learn what it means to follow after Him. I want others to be transformed just as I have been transformed so that they too can experience life to the full --> the abundant life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him and call Him Lord.

November 13, 2014

Knowing The Way to Go

Today is November 13th. I cannot believe that I have one week of teaching left (then a break) before finals. This semester has flown by so fast. I am looking forward to the break (three blessed weeks), and to the change in courses (Spring term brings a literature class and another argument class). My plan right now, Lord willing, is to finish strong, to make it to the finish line (at Regent, at GCU, and at ACU). I am praying for strength, for perseverance, for discipline, and for focus so that I can end this very challenging semester on a high note.

To say that I am worried is true. I am worried. I am worried about my performance at Regent, about my COM 507 class, in particular, and my overall success in my teaching assignments. My life is complicated right now, and I have so much on my mind. I am questioning the plans the Lord has for me, I am questioning the path I am on, and I am questioning IF I am where the Lord wants me to be.

How did I get to this place? How did I get to the point where I began to question Him about the plans He has for my life?

Not long ago I was on the firm track toward graduation at Regent. Not long ago my life seemed peachy-keen. I was confident of the path, of the plans, of the way He was leading me. I felt for sure that I "knew" exactly what to expect in the coming months (meaning the Fall). I was excited about the opportunity to expand my teaching assignments, to try new things, and to experience new opportunities. It seemed like 2014 was a year filled with many options, many choices, many possibilities.

As I consider the fact that the year is almost over, I guess now is as good a time as any to reflect on the past 11 months. My hope is that through reflection, I will come to understand why I am feeling the way I feel, and why I am struggling so much right now (with doubt mostly).

  • January 2014 - I found myself teaching my very first college class, ENG 356 The Short Story, at GCU. 
  • February 2014 - I struggled some with the lack of income (only one teaching contract). I realized early on that that teaching one class was a blessing to me. My COM 702 class at Regent was intense, and since I needed extra time to focus on the course content and assignments, having less work to do outside of class was absolutely necessary. God is good, so very good to me.
  • May 2014 - I made the difficult decision to divorce my husband. After a four year separation, I finally submitted the paperwork to the county. My husband had asked for the divorce the year prior (2013), but I was waiting for him to file the papers. He didn't do it, so I prayed about it, and with the Lord's approval (note that I say approval, not blessing), I filed for divorce after 30 years of marriage (26 years living together).
  • June 2014 - I spent my residency week at Regent (2nd year), and I started COM 703's major research project. Truthfully, my week at Regent was easier than the first year, but not as satisfying overall. I was stressed over having no income all summer long, and I didn't like the research project parameters. Still, I barreled on through the course content and finished the summer strong.
  • July 2014 - While on a short, but blessed trip to So. CAL to visit my family, I meet a man online in a rather happenstance way (through Facebook). We become online friends (we share many interests, mostly our devotion and service to the Lord and His work), and begin a relationship of mutual support and affirmation.
  • August 2014 - My divorce decree is finalized (only four months from start to finish), and I am single again. It is a weird feeling to be legally single. I have lived singly since 2010, but to no longer be attached to someone you've lived with and known for such a long time is a weird feeling.
  • September 2014 - School begins for me at Regent University. I am enrolled in two classes as usual, but the volume of work is significantly higher than expected. I begin the spiral into concern as my four teaching contracts move into high gear (2-2 at two schools).
  • October 2014 - Pressure mounts with school work, projects, teaching contracts, and family commitments. My parents, with whom I share a home, are struggling more financially and have some degrading health issues. I am feeling the pang of care, and I am worrying more about my lack of income, my ability to provide for them should they need full-time care, and my future plans (which are in flux).
  • November 2014 - I have successfully passed my teaching evaluations at all three schools. I don't have the final reports, but for all intents and purposes, I feel confident that I am set for teaching for Spring and onward.
  • December 2014 - Unexpected plans have caused a trip to FL. My aunt suffered a stroke in late August and is in nursing care. My uncle called to ask us to come to visit. I am flying there on December 13, taking my mother who cannot fly on her own, to visit her sister before she passes away. The stress of finishing my projects at Regent, grading essays for all my students (122 of them) is weighing on me. Lord help me to stay focused and to finish this semester (and year) strong.
This is my year in review. Even though December is not here yet (it is around the corner -- so say the stores and TV/Radio stations), the end is coming quickly, and I am starting to panic over it. Why am I stressed? Why am I panicked? Good questions -- I wish I had the answers right now!!

Daily Living

My teaching and doctoral workload this semester is grueling. I am tired, so very tired, and I am struggling with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Teaching four courses, studying two doctoral courses, and caring for my family has taken its toll. I am overwhelmed and overly stressed due to the weight of the burdens I bear. It is difficult for me to let things go. By nature, I am a planner. I don't give up nor do I give in. I finish my projects, I take responsibility for my actions, and I assume leadership roles when asked or when it is critically necessary to do so. I think the hardest part for me is the fact that I carry this weight on my own. One of the blessings of being married is having someone to walk with you, to share the load, and to help lift you up when you feel you cannot walk on. Yes, the Lord is my husband. He is my provider and my protector, and He most certainly lifts me (He carries me most days) through the hard and difficult parts of life. Yet, in this life (earthly) God created man and woman to be life partners. I believe that one of the reasons He did it was for this very purpose -- so that the burdens and cares of the world would be shared and not borne solely. The weight can be crushing at times. It can be difficult to know and to understand if you are moving in the right direction. Therefore, having a partner to hold you, to keep you focused, can make all the difference. When two are committed to following the Lord, to seeking His will in their life, they are able to ensure that they continue to move forward in the same direction, to stay firm and fixed, on the Lord's will for their lives. It is a blessing to be married, to share a life with another person, and to help carry those burdens that at times seem all too heavy and overwhelming when carried alone.

Ministry

The Lord has called me to a specific ministry. I am aware of my calling. I have blogged about it before, but as the time goes on, I come to see it more clearly, more completely, and with more focus. I am called to use my communication studies at Regent along with my previous work experience (teaching, project management, technology, etc.) for the Lord's work. Everything I do is predicated upon my finished degree at Regent University. The PhD is the end for me -- > it is my goal in life. Yes, it may seem weird to think that a degree is that important, but in my case, it is vitally important. My preparation and training at Regent are key to accomplishing the Lord's will for my life. I must go through Regent (to earn the degree). I must complete the task assigned to me. Yet, even with that in mind, I am still not clear on what I will do with that degree. Part of me assumes that the PhD will help secure a full-time position teaching somewhere. Most major Universities want faculty to have PhDs, so getting hired without one is difficult. This is part of my struggle now, knowing that I can work adjunct at most places, but I cannot live on adjunct pay. I need a full-time job, with solid salary and benefits, but at this time, I can only work part-time. It is frustrating to me, but I believe that the Lord knows that working part-time, as hard as it is for me, is necessary so that I can finish His work, His preparation, His training for my life. Yes, ministry comes first, always first. I must do the work the Lord has called me, equipped me, and prepared me to do.

Priorities

As I consider my priorities, my mind eases a bit. I must remember that the Lord only gives to us what we can handle. My first thought today was 1 Cor. 10:13, but that speaks of temptation. I am not being tempted, I am being tried (tested). Surely, my faith is being tested to see if I will do what the Lord has asked me to do. Two verses bubble up in my mind. The first is from James 1:2-4 (the beloved James):

"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."

and the second comes from 2 Chron. 32:31,

"And even in the matter of the envoys of the rulers of Babylon, who sent to him to inquire of the wonder that had happened in the land, God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart."

The first verse, one of my favorites, is a reminder to me that all testing has value, that it is God's way of proving us (proofing) through trials. Endurance, the kind that is needed to finish the race strong, is what every Christian needs. Yet, how often are we willing to submit to the trial or test in order for the fruit of endurance to take hold? No one likes to be tried, no one likes to be tested, even if the outcome is blessing, is favor, is endurance, and is a winning faith to finish strong.

My priorities are in order, of this I know. The Lord has given me the following responsibilities (not many, Praise God), and these are the things that I focus my faith, my hopes, and my strength on:
  1. Completing my degree at Regent University
  2. Mentoring and supporting my son until such a time as he comes to know the Lord's will for his life
  3. Caring for my parents until the end of their lives
Testing Through Trial

Now with these scriptures in mind, I see clearly that what I am experiencing is a testing of my faith. The question must be asked then --> what is the Lord testing? My faith is strong, my confidence and hope are in the Lord, so therefore, what else is under scrutiny?

I read this today, and it helps:

"When God tests His children, the purpose is to prove that our faith is real. Not that God needs to prove it to Himself since He knows all things; rather, He is proving to us that our faith is real, that we are truly His children, and that no trial or test will overcome that faith" (Got Questions Ministries, 2014).

This is an interesting answer to my question (why does God test us). At first, I thought that God tests us to prove our faith is real. OK, but who needs to know if our faith is real? Does God need to test our faith so that He will know that it is real? Hardly. An all-knowing God already is aware of our faith. He is always in "the know" when it comes to matters of faith. Therefore, the testing of our faith must be for our benefit, to show us that our faith is real. This aligns with the answer I searched for above --> God tests us to prove to us 1) that we are His children, 2) that our faith is real, and 3) that our faith will overcome any trial we encounter in this life.

So what does that mean to me?

I believe it means that God has allowed the testing of my faith to confirm to me that what I believe, what I feel, what I think is real -- is true. Secondly, I believe that God is testing my faith to show me that no matter what comes against me, no matter the storm, the difficulty, or the challenge, my faith in God is enough to overcome anything the enemy or the world throws at me. Lastly, I believe that the testing of my faith is a sign for me to understand that I must endure hardship, difficult times, and challenges in order to grow into all maturity, all wisdom, and to achieve standing where I lack nothing (as James says).

The comfort that comes through this experience is satisfying, but only if you allow it to sink down deep and to understand that God doesn't test us to prove to Himself anything, but rather He tests us in order to prove to us that our value, our worth, our dignity, our hope, and our security rest in Him.

Consequently, the question that begs to be asked is this: where does your (or my) security lay?

"Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help" (Ps. 146:3 KJV)

Yes, in the end, the answer is God. If your trust is placed in anything else, you will never find the peace, the comfort, or the security you seek. In my case, when I worry about worldly things (even practical needs), I am seeking trust in people, in things, and in places that can never fully provide for me. More so, when I consider that my life is wrapped up in a ministry-focused direction, it is all the more important that my trust sit securely and confidently with the Lord. He is my provider. He is my protector, my shield, and my defense.

Now with my experiences reflected, my case carefully articulated, I am able to see clearly how I have allowed faulty logic and reasoning to pull me off the mark. I have not moved from the path the Lord has me on, but I have questioned the veracity of His plan, I have wondered if I was doing the right thing. In truth, I am doing the right thing. I am walking in the direction of His will. It was not my doing that was in error, but rather, it was my thinking that was taking me astray.

My faith has been tested to show me that everything in my life is right and proper. It has been ordered by God (Ps. 37:23). I am walking in His way, I am moving with Him and not against Him. The proof of the trial was to confirm to me that what I am experiencing, while difficult and challenging right now, is part-and-parcel with my life plan during this season. God has not abandoned me nor has He forsaken me to struggle, to suffer, to endure on my own. Yes, the challenges are heavy right now, but they are not for a lifetime, but only for this season (this time). My faith is strong. My confidence is secure. My hope is bold. The Lord has me in His tender loving care. He knows the plans He has for me, and they are good. He is working in me and through me to bring me to fullness of stature, to maturity, and He will accomplish the good work He began in me (Phil. 1:6).

Dear Lord,

I have struggled these past months as I sought to understand your will for my life. So much has happened this year, there has been so much change, and I have found myself frustrated at various points along the way. You have remained faithful to me. You have provided for me, met all my needs, and kept me covered throughout the days and weeks and months of this year. Now we are at the end of the year, and in looking backward, I see how many things have changed in my life. I never handle transition well, yet you have been my steady comfort, my rock, and my refuge. I accept the fact that I have been tested these many months, that my faith has been proven time and time again. I trust that the outcome of these tests have been to grow my faith, to secure my confidence, and to give me hope as I move into the next phase of the plans you have for me. I trust you Lord, I continue to place my full hope in you and in no one else. I look to your hand of provision, to your shelter of care. I rest in the knowledge that you are God, and that there is no other Name, in which we may call upon to be saved. I praise you now, and I lift my voice to worship you. Only you are worthy of my praise. Only you are worthy of my adoration. Only you are worthy of my life. I surrender all to you this good day. Amen. Selah!

November 9, 2014

Chronic Fatigue

It is a good Sunday in Phoenix, Arizona. I am home this morning because I am struggling with Chronic Fatigue, and I overslept again (another missed Sunday at church). I feel bad about missing church, but at the same time, I am thankful that I am under grace and not law when it comes to such matters. The Lord knows me well, and He knows when I need to rest. I hear His voice whisper to me "Rest, Carol, rest." Yes, I know that He is telling me to let go, to stop worrying about the details (the millions of details) that are outside my control. I know that He is reminding me that He is in complete control of my life. But I also know that He is telling me to stop what I am doing, to physically let go, and to REST.

I have felt the symptoms on Chronic Fatigue coming on now for a while, but yesterday and today, I woke up with that overwhelming feeling where my body stopped functioning. Yes, this morning especially, my body behaved like a stubborn mule -- I asked it to "get up and go" and like that stubborn mule -- my mind and body brayed "noooooo!"

My family will say to me, "Carol, you need to go to bed earlier. You are tired." They are right of course, but being tired is just part of the Chronic Fatigue package. Tiredness or being tired is only the tip of the iceberg. The mountain of fatigue exists under the water so to speak, and the tip, what shows on the outside, is what most people see and respond to with advice. However, I know the truth of the matter. I can tell the difference between being tired (lack of sleep) and true chronic fatigue. I know the feeling, the sensation that tells me that I am "at that point" where I am experiencing adrenal overload. That feeling is clear to me, and it reminds me that if I don't take the warning signs seriously, I will cycle down into a period of chronic illness.

The last time I felt that serious warning was toward the end of my Masters degree program in 2010. I was working at UOPX, and I was exhausted every single day. I was getting up for work, driving the 45 minutes into the office, and then sitting on the phone all day long (with students), making robo-calls, before turning around and driving the hour back (with extra traffic). By the time I would get home, I would be so exhausted (mentally and physically) that I would crawl to the door and before doing anything (eating, for example), I would collapse on the sofa or the chair. Usually, I fell asleep in the chair most nights. The fifteen months that I worked there were grueling for me. I am thankful for the experience. I am thankful for the provision (I have blogged about it before) of job and salary and benefits. I never thought that being an online advisor would be so difficult and would take such a toll on me physically and mentally. I was glad when I left that job, and I was so thankful for the next job the Lord brought to me at CVS Caremark.

Still, the experience of a full-on CFS episode caused me to take steps, which I did, and thankfully I was able to finish my MA program and stave off more chronic issues. I was able to survive by taking five Friday's off in a row, three day weekends, where I could sleep in and rest. I was writing my thesis and completing an intensive writing class on Humanism. The work load plus the mind-numbing tasks at UOPX coupled to bring on some of the symptoms of chronic fatigue.
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of memory or concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
  • Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise
Over the course of the past thirty or so years, I have had several severe episodes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. These episodes were so severe that I was unable to work, to function (literally), to manage daily life, for several months at a time. 

I was first diagnosed with CFS in 1988. At that time, I was working for Share Base, Inc., in Los Gatos, CA. I was putting in very long hours, subbing for a coworker who had drug and alcohol problems, and who frequently called in sick. I was responsible for my own 8-5 job AND working during the overnight or early hours to fill in for this other person. The stress of that job plus the fact that I became very, very ill (Bronchitis/Pneumonia) several weeks previously brought on my first diagnosed episode of CFS.  Moreover, while I was so sick, so overworked (mentally and physically), my company chose to let me go (lay off). I took the lay off personally, of course, feeling the deep sting of injustice because of the fact that I was doing so much work for them, and not getting paid anything extra. 

In hindsight, getting let go was a blessing in disguise because I needed to rest, really rest, and quitting my job was not an option back then. The time off in between jobs was welcomed, but  even though I had recovered from my earlier illness in January of that year, I still wasn't able to shake the excessive fatigue. So when I suffered another physical setback in mid-March (a broken elbow), I wound up so depleted that I ended up in the doctor's office crying for help. I was desperate to understand why I was so tired, why I was so depressed, and why I wasn't able to regain control over my life.   My doctor diagnosed me with CFS even though back then there wasn't a method for diagnosing this syndrome (researchers still do not know the exact cause of the disorder). His prescription was to rest, to take a prolonged vacation -- like months -- free from stress, from work. In addition, he focused on my health, and my well-being.

Hearing that diagnosis was like a breath of fresh air to me. Finally, I had an answer to the symptoms I had been experiencing for so long. In truth, I probably had other episodes of CFS prior to this point in time. I can remember these exact same symptoms in high school, specifically in the months after my car crash in 1979. More than likely, the adrenal overload started around that time. I kept the symptoms in check by working sporadically, off and on, while taking classes at the Community College. My family considered me lazy. They complained about the long hours I would sleep. They urged me to get a "regular job" or to focus more on my studies. It took me four years to complete my Associates Degree, and while I am glad I did finish it, truthfully I found the whole process -- school, work and such -- a blur. I was in a mental fog during those years. I look back now and see the Lord's hand on my life, His provision and control, helping me through those very dark and debilitating years.

Now, all these years later, I can point to a roughly ten year pattern of symptoms. I can also see mini-episodes where CFS seemed to rear its head and because of the Lord's doing, I was able to avert a major onset.

So here I sit today, on this blessed Sunday, feeling a bit guilty over missing church again. I realize that my workload and the stress of my doctoral program are creating the "perfect storm" where CFS could sideline me. I was praying this morning, asking the Lord for His intervention, when I remembered a conversation I had with Him previously. I think it is funny when that happens, when the Holy Spirit brings up a time of prayer and petition, and you realize (sort of an A HA! moment) that the Lord really does know what He is doing in your life. Let me explain...

It was 2013, summer to be exact, and I was praying about my work situation. I had completed my first doctoral class at Regent and I was panicked over my workload at CVS Caremark. I felt certain that I couldn't work full-time and complete my studies -- that the combination of stress from work and the demands of doctoral research would be impossible for me to manage. I remembered praying about teaching, thinking that the perfect solution to my problem was a teaching position.  Teaching, the thought of it, as well as the contemplation of the possibility of teaching, was not a new topic of discussion for me and the Lord. No, this conversation started way back in 2010 when I first started applying to graduate schools for a masters degree. 

Zoom backward to 2010 -- I was in the midst of separating from my husband, and I knew that I would need a career (sort of) to provide for my needs (short-term and long-term). The Lord had placed the idea of graduate study in my mind 17 years prior, but due to constraints and the difficulties of my life up to then, it was not doable. That is until my life turned upside down and I found myself suddenly single. So as I listened to the Lord, stepped out in faith and applied to Mercy College for a MA in English, I remember discussing options for using that degree. Option one was to teach. Option two was to become a writer. Option three was to work in corporate business marketing (sort of a combination of my experience and my studies).

Working on my Masters program gave me time to think about these options. I also started working various jobs, Macy's first, UOPX second, and finally CVS Caremark, third. I had opportunity to explore corporate business life, and I tried to move into positions where I could use my marketing experience and my graduate study to benefit a career. It seemed that I had good success in my work, but doors didn't open to let me pursue these other jobs. So while everyone at my work encouraged me to apply for "better jobs" -- the doors just didn't open to allow me to follow those leads.

I thought seriously about working from home again, about having my own business, about managing my time/work/life in a home-based business. Part of me loved the idea -- setting my own hours mostly. But the other part of me panicked at the thought of being self-employed. I had lived that life for so long, and I hated it, simply hated it (not enough income, no benefits, no security). Even though the Lord did offer me opportunity to work from home, I rejected the idea with emphasis. I didn't want to live that way again (O, ye of little faith, Carol!) so I pursued option one, teaching.

Curiously enough, my desire to "try" teaching failed initially. I started applying to schools as soon as my MA was posted. No one took a look at my resume. I became depressed over the thought that I had misread the Lord's directives so I focused on internal jobs (at UOPX and later CVS). I thought "Ok, option one is not going to work, so on to option three (again!)" It seemed like I spinned my wheels for a long while until finally a door opened for me to be a teaching assistant at Grand Canyon University. I jumped at the chance to gain teaching experience, and I enthusiastically threw myself into learning how to become a teacher.

Zoom forward to 2014 and to where I am this day. I am presently teaching adjunct at two universities: Grand Canyon and Arizona Christian. I enjoy aspects of teaching. I enjoy the idea of teaching students. However, I am seeing the backside of the profession, the difficult and long days, the mounds of paper, the student struggles, and the administrative/policy issues that make being a full-time instructor difficult. Pad in there the low wage, the bare minimal existence for adjuncts, and the fact that I have no benefits to speak of at this point in time. Sigh!

Lately, I have questioned whether this is the best path for me to be on, whether I made the best choice. In reality, I don't think I made any choice. I followed the open doors. I prayed about each opportunity, and in many cases, I was guided to the opportunity (I wasn't even looking for it) by the Lord so I really just prayed for confirmation that I was hearing His voice. I cannot say that I took any of these jobs without the Lord's permission (even the horrible NurseWise position that I held for three weeks). No, I carefully considered each opportunity. I prayed over them, considered them, meditated on them, and when I was finally convinced of their approval, I stepped out in faith and applied for them. I doing so, I trusted the Lord for His grace, for His guidance, and for giving me the opportunity to experience various positions. The Lord guided me to the position, through the application and the interview process, and then into the 'experience' of learning how to do the work. In each case, the Lord covered my steps, and He gave me great success and favor with employers and coworkers.

I say all this to convince myself that the path I have followed has been God-ordained. Yes, I do believe that I have followed the Lord faithfully through every opportunity, every open door, and into every single path, no matter how twisted or turned. He has led me by the hand as I transitioned from one life (married) into another life (single). Now I am struggling with fatigue, with the mounting pressure, and with the burden of financial care. I am struggling, I am feeling the pinch and bite, and I am trying very hard to reconcile the past, the present, and the future. I know the path I am on is sure. I know that the Lord will provide a full-time position for me --> at some point --> down the road. My physical condition, however, screams that I need to rest. My mental state cries out to the Lord for rescue. My emotions are in check, praise the Lord, and my spiritual state is rock solid. Yet, I am struggling to make ends meet, to get out of bed each day, and to complete all the tasks on my to-do list. 

So what do I do? What is the best course of action? How do I figure this one out?

Only the Lord knows the plans He has for me (Jer. 29:11). I believe in faith that the Lord does have a good plan for my life. I believe in faith that He knows me well -- my coming and my going -- and that He has me well-covered with His grace. I believe in faith that the Lord is my Shepherd, my Guide, and that His word is my Lamp. I trust in Him, I believe in His goodness and His mercy. Therefore, I rest (spiritually) and let all this go. I surrender all to Him, all to Jesus. 

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!

Words by Judson VanderVenter, 1896

Yes, I wait upon the Lord, and I look up. He is my Rock, my Refuge, and my Strong Tower. I place all my faith in Him, and I rest.

November 1, 2014

Teaching with Excellence


It is a beautiful day in Phoenix. The sun is shining (always in Phoenix), and the temperatures are warm (finally, we are out of our 90s). It is November 1st, November 1st! I cannot believe that the year is almost over. It seems like 2014 just flew by so quickly. I know that I say that every single year, but really, this year does seem to have passed by more quickly. Perhaps it is because I have been so busy. Or perhaps it is because my life has taken such an interesting turn, and the events that have occurred have made the days seem to slip by with more ease. I am not sure, I just know that I am sitting here at my computer this morning, thinking about today being the first of November, and contemplating that there are 60 days left until 2015 arrives! Oh my goodness!

As I sit here today, I marvel at the work of the Lord in my life. I am almost finished with the most grueling semester of my life. Yes, I mean teaching, and not graduate studies (that honor goes to Spring 2014 when I passed Quantitative Research Methods!) This semester I took on four courses, thinking that the extra income would be a welcome relief (from my poverty status as an adjunct professor). I am teaching at two schools, about 30 minutes apart from each other, and although I am in class MWF's only, the travel and prep time has doubled the teaching workload (as weird as that may seem). Moreover, I am teaching four different courses -- all new to me this semester -- and I am learning "on the go" so to speak. I am learning how to teach, how to prep, how to deliver lessons -- all in real time. This is not my preferred teaching/learning method. No, I prefer to know ahead of time so that I have a better than average chance of success. I rarely go into any endeavor without preparation, and I rarely will choose to do anything where I have a good chance of failure. For me, failure is not an option (well, as far as failure can be avoided).

This semester has been my greatest challenge thus far. I am working hard at being a good teacher, learning how to deliver lessons with more effect, and to engage my students in discussion. It is difficult for me, but I am constantly changing, re-evaluating, learning from mistakes, and improving my performance. Am I successful? I don't know. I think I am functioning at about a "B" level right now. I have not figured out where my "sweet spot" is so I continue to refine and revise to improve my efficiency, my proficiency, and ultimately, my results -- successful results.

Teaching is a challenge for me. I am not a natural born teacher. I enjoy mentoring, and I enjoy learning (oh yes!), but I really do not think the way a natural born teacher thinks. Let me explain...

The good teachers I have had in my life seem to have one thing in common. They all seem to have the same mindset that is "student-oriented." This is critical in my view, especially now that I have experienced the thrills, the highs and the lows, of being a professional teacher (two years now). Student-oriented simply means that the approach taken in the classroom considers the needs of the student above the needs of the teacher. In the old days, in my old days (college), my professors were "lecture oriented." They were self-determined experts in their field, many had been teaching for decades, and they delivered content -- heavy content. My job as student was to be a repository -- to be an open vacuum that sucked up all the information they gave out. I then had to process that information and synthesize it (along with the reading material) and be prepared to write about it or take a test on it. My job was to listen. Their job was to disseminate information.

In this new modern age of teaching, the job of the professor has shifted from knowledge dispenser to discussion facilitator. Teachers are encouraged to elaborate on the material presented in class, but not "lecture" to the students. Students are supposed to be engaged, to be encouraged to learn, to be inspired to think about the materials. Students do the learning; Teachers present and facilitate. The role of teacher and student have shifted over the last 20-30 years. Studies in learning adaptive strategies suggest that students learn best when stimulated through activity. Students enjoy discussion, enjoy learning in peer groups, and enjoy processing information collectively. They are not solo learners (so the pedagogy suggests). I agree with the current trend in many ways. The problem I have is that I am a student-learner at heart. Therefore, I struggle to take my learner cap off and put my teacher-facilitator hat on.

So those good examples of teachers I have had in the past fall into one of two categories: those that inspired learning through information dissemination and those that encourage learning through hands on activities. I am unique in that I learn best through self-study. I learn best through reading and processing solo. I don't like group work. I don't like group discussion. I like the lecture style of teaching, and I engage with the material through reading, writing, and note taking. It is difficult for me to shift my mindset to a student learner approach simply because it goes against the natural way that I learn best.

In my opinion, natural born teachers are those that understand that the student needs outweigh the needs of the instructor. I can give you a good example of this point. At one of the schools where I teach, there are several instructors who spend the entire semester teaching students how to write essays using a deconstruction method. By this I mean that these instructors spend weeks on one essay, asking students to deconstruct the introductory paragraph, find the topic sentence, highlight the thesis statement. Students take a part well written essays to look for their constructive elements. These students are detectives. They are engaged in the process of mimicry. The goal is to train students to see what other writers, good writers, have done and then ask them to replicate that technique. I get this approach. For many years, I believed that replication or mimicry of good writing was the key to learning how to write well. I believed in this approach, and I thought "Yes, this is how to take a poor writer and help them improve." This style of teaching is common in freshman level writing courses. I would think that for many writing instructors, teaching format writing, is a time-honored, proven method for helping students learn to write well.

As I said, for a long time, I agreed with this approach. In fact, I taught my son how to write well using a format structured curriculum (Jensen's Format Writing). I believed that teaching format writing was part of a 50/50 plan that would give the student the tools and technique needed to write a well-crafted essay or research paper. My mistake, now in hindsight, was assuming that students (not mine) were learning to think critically across the curriculum, that they were reading challenging materials, discussing difficult topics, and being asked to think deeply on a wide variety of subject matters. My son was of course, but that was because I was home schooling him using a classical curriculum. I was asking him to read the great works of Western Civilization and synthesize them, draw parallels, think about them, and formulate opinions on them. Thus, when it came to writing about these works, he had plenty of "cannon fodder" as I like to say it. He had a lot of good thoughts to expound upon in his formatted writing.

Zoom forward to my first teaching assignment, to my first college class.

I was fortunate that my first college class assigned as a teacher was a course in American Short Story.
My students were mostly literature majors, some minors, and a few education majors. For the most part, all my students were excellent writers. They were readers first, writers second. They had passion, and they loved to dissect good works. I was in heaven. All I had to do was give them discussion questions to prompt them to think more deeply, more critically about the stories we were reading in class. My approach to teaching was to facilitate discussion on a variety of interesting topics, to probe, to question, to listen, to enjoy. I fell in love with teaching, and I knew right away that I wanted to be a teacher after completing this course.

Things changed, however, after I got my first writing class assigned this past August. I had to come up with a plan for teaching freshman composition so I reached back to my home school days and pulled out my old trusty companion, Jensen's Format Writing. I looked through some of my other materials, and I decided that the best approach was to teach technique, to teach my students to write through format. With my pedagogy in hand, I planned my lessons, and I created steps to help my students learn what was considered "good essay" format.

My first couple weeks were smooth as butter as we tackled thesis statement creation, format, style, technique. The problem came when I asked my students write about a critical topic, to analyze and synthesize an important issue, and present what they learned through that good 5-paragraph essay. I had trained them well, I showed them how to craft a good paragraph, a strong introduction, etc. What I learned from my experience was that I got a 5-paragraph essay back for sure, but it lacked substance, major substance. My students could put together an essay that was filled with garbage.

This got me thinking about writing, and about whether it is more important to know how to format an essay or whether it is more important to know how to think and write critical analysis. I know that many of the instructors at my school would argue that they are doing both through this deconstruction process, that they are teaching students how to analyze a paragraph, how to analyze a good argument. However, when it all comes out in the wash (as my grandmother used to say), my experience has shown me that students cannot write critically unless they can think critically. Thinking critically is a far more important skill, in my book, than formatting a paper properly. Yet, given the heavy emphasis on formatting papers (MLA or APA) you would think that technique and format are the focus of the writing process. I digress...

My teaching style has shifted over the past two months. I started out focused on teaching technique, and I have ended up teaching critical thinking. Yes, my students write -- they write a lot of papers -- in my classes. The problem that I struggle with, and I think many new teachers struggle with, is that fact that we (as an educational community) no longer regard critical thinking as a critical component to creating intellectual curiosity and engagement in thought. No, it is much easier to tell students what to do, to train them, and to test them in performance.

Lately, I have been thinking about my approach to teaching, about how I learn best, and about how I want my students to learn (to really learn). I realize that I am struggling right now. I am learning how to teach at the same time that I am learning how to be a doctoral student. I struggle with these two roles. However, soon, very soon, I will be finished with my schooling, and I will be a full-time professor somewhere (Lord willing). As such, I need to get my teaching hat prepped and ready to be an excellent instructor in critical thinking "across the curriculum." By this I mean that I want to teach critical thinking through all my courses, no matter whether I am teaching writing or communication, I want to teach my students to think critically, to analyze, to synthesize, and to argue persuasively for their point of view (we all have points of view).

My task is set clearly before me. I am in the process of learning how to become an "A level" professor, and to do that, I need to study and to approach the discipline from the most respected teachers on the ages. My analytical leanings tend toward Socrates and Aristotle, so I think I will spend time studying the great thinkers of Greece and Rome, and devote time to learning how to teach using critical thinking methods. There are some excellent studies available for teacher training -- I just need to apply myself (in my spare time -- oh -- what is that?) to learning how to become a better educator. God is good. I know He knows my concerns, my desires, my wants, and my needs. He will provide for me, He will guide me, and He will show me how to prepare, to plan, and to pursue teaching with excellence.


October 18, 2014

A Positively Positive Outlook

I am thinking "positively positive" today. I am choosing to think intentionally positive thoughts about the possible outcomes of my life. Yes, I am choosing a "right" mindset, one that focuses on the abilities and the purposes of the Lord, rather than on the limited understanding of my frail and flawed humanness (Prov. 3:5-6).

I did a quick Google search this morning while I was thinking about this blog post. In searching for the catch-phrase "positively positive," I found a whole assortment of sayings about being positive, thinking positive, and how thinking positively has a direct correlation to expected results or outcomes. So I thought for a moment, "what exactly does it mean to be positive about something?" The most "standard" definition is "with no possibility of doubt; clear and definite." Yes, being positive about something means that you have absolute assurance that some "thing" (event or circumstance) will come to pass. There is no doubt. Whatever the "thing" is, you (or I) have confidence that it will happen.

WOW! Once I thought about this more deeply, I realized that the worldly philosophy of being "positive" was a whole lot of hogwash. Let me explain...

In 1952, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale published a book entitled, "The Power of Positive Thinking." The book was a mixture of faith and optimism, written as a handbook to encourage people and to give them direction in how to overcome crippling self-doubt. Dr. Peale went on to publish 46 books before his death in 1993.

The interesting thing about positive thinking is that since Dr. Peale first wrote his book as a self-help guide to overcoming doubt, positive thinking has morphed into a new age quasi-religious cult.


I see quotes such as these sprinkled all over social media today:
"The difference between can and cannot are only three letters. Three letters that determine your life's direction."

"Positive and negative are directions. Which direction do you choose?"

"Being positive or negative, are habits of thoughts that strongly affect your actions and your life."

"Positive thinking is expecting, talking, believing, and visualizing what you want to achieve. It is seeing what you want, as an accomplished fact."
"Riches, mediocrity and poverty begin in the mind."

"Reality is the mirror of your thoughts. Choose well what you put in front of the mirror."

"A positive attitude awakens inner strength, energy, motivation and initiative."

"To think negatively is like taking a weakening drug."
On first read, we think to ourselves, "Hey, this makes such sense!" Sure, it is better to have a positive outlook than a negative one. Consider your every day conversation with a coworker, family member or service provider. If your conversation is a pleasant one, you enjoy the time spent interacting with them. If your conversation is an unpleasant one, you walk away thinking "Oh, what just happened there!" Positive or negative, good or bad, happy or sad -- these are polar opposites of emotional responses we receive on a daily basis. It is an easy choice when it comes to preferring responses -- I don't know anyone who would willingly choose to be greeted with an unhappy disposition rather than a happy one!

Don't get me wrong -- I think that having a upbeat outlook, a pleasant tone of voice, an encouraging spirit is a Biblical (Phil. 4:8) approach to living. I can see where Dr. Peale, an ordained Methodist (later Reformed) minister, initially posited his philosophy and system of positive thinking. The Bible contains a great deal of encouragement for the believer, and includes numerous passages to help the believer remain faithful, dependent, and focused. They key component to understanding Biblical context is to ask the follow up question: on whom are we to be focused? Scripture clearly places as our object of worship one person in particular, and that is God. The Lord is to be our focus, our source, our object of delight (Ps. 37), and our desire. Therefore, to maintain a positive outlook or approach to thinking, we must make sure we have a right mindset, a right ordering of our thinking processes. God, first; man, second.

The worldly view of positivism is that God is not needed as a focus (and in the quasi-religious view, God is "assumed" to be the focus, but He is set as equal to that of man rather than above man). When God is removed as the source of our devotion, and man is placed at the center of positive thinking, then what remains is another form of humanism.

What I find so interesting is this -- as a social scientist (I can call myself that now because I have conducted social scientific research in graduate school) -- I can tell you that one of the things we (social scientists) never say is that something is positively predictable. There is no certainty that any behavior we study will perform as expected. We cannot prove anything, we can simply show statistical evidence that something is probable.

Therefore, to be able to say that "positive thoughts will create positive outcomes" is nonsense. There is no way to say for certain, to be without a doubt, that anything positive (good) will happen. I cannot predict in my social science experiments that a certain outcome will occur, I can only predict that there is a possibility that it will occur. The data, however, may show no statistically significant difference or correlation between two events.

As I consider all the positive posts I see on Facebook, especially many by Christian's, I begin to worry about this "optimistic" influence, this deluded line of thinking that takes Biblical encouragement, and twists it around so that the focus on man instead of on God.

I know this was a very long digression, but I think it is valuable, at least to me (for my own clarity). I see so many graphic images (pretty pictures, really) that contain spiritual sentiment that is laced with positivism. I hear the words spoken from many Christians that mix in positivism with Scripture. When I think about the standard definition of what it means to be positive, to be clear of doubt, I want to laugh at all the worldly posts that suggest that one can control their outcome by simply changing their mind, their thoughts, their attitude. Yes, I think it is better to have a hopeful outlook on life. I think it is better to be cheerful than it is to be nasty. However, I think we have come to use the word "positive" out of proper context. We use equate it with a belief system that promises to deliver results. I only know of one belief system that has ever promised to deliver anything, and that is Christianity. God promised to send the world a Savior. He kept His promise. John 3:16 says,

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."

The only belief system that incorporates positive belief (absolute certainty, no doubt) is faith in Jesus Christ.

So today, my choice to be "positively positive" is predicated on my relationship with the Lord. I am able to maintain a healthy, happy, and holistic outlook because of the work the Lord has already done on the cross. The relationship I have with Him, the intimacy I experience every day, provides the positive feelings and emotional responses that say to me "I am absolutely sure" that God loves me, that He has a good plan for my life, and that His purposes are eternal.