July 21, 2014

Healing Hurts

It is a good Monday morning in sunny and very hot Phoenix. Today it is going to hit a record high or so the weather guy says. I am not looking forward to temperatures above 110, but that is what the forecast projects. In truth, there is little difference between 110 and 120. Hot is hot, when you get right down to it. Still, with the added humidity (still low by most parts of the country's standard), it feels like a hot, sticky oven. Our monsoon seems to have faded away, and there is little chance of thunderstorms. The good news, if there is any when it comes to desert summer weather, is that the super high temperatures can generate significant thunderstorms all by themselves. Perhaps just maybe, a stray thunderstorm will develop and make an effort to hit Phoenix with some much needed rain...Sigh. I digress...


Mondays are good days. The week is brand new, and the opportunity for good to happen is always present, always possible. I know that for many people, especially those that do not like their jobs, Monday is a major gripe day, a day to complain about starting the work week. I used to be like that, and often, I dreaded Mondays. If I was honest with myself, I dreaded every single work day. It wasn't that I didn't like my job (necessarily), it was more so that I didn't feel I was doing what I was meant to do. Let me explain...

For many years, I worked at jobs that seemed to just "happen" for me. I applied for them, I interviewed, and I was hired. I looked at the job as a means to an end. I needed the money. I needed benefits. I needed to work. The job served its purpose, it provided for a need, and I was thankful for it. Sometimes the job was good, was challenging or was stimulating. Sometimes the job was difficult, was boring, was not a good fit for my skills and my abilities. Sometimes the environment, the people, the company were good -- I liked going to work every day. Often, though, the environment, the people, and the company were not good -- and I struggled to get up and go into work every day. Sometimes I felt stuck. I felt like I was in a place where I didn't fit, I didn't belong, and where the outer desire (job, paycheck, benefits) did not match the inner desires of my heart (helping people, doing good work, making a difference).

I suffered a cultural and a spiritual clash between what I thought was needed (stable work), and what I wanted (to please God, to satisfy my desire for ministry). I tried to reconcile myself by saying that my job was my ministry field -- something I had heard Pastor's preach from the pulpit so many times. "Bloom where you are planted," they would say. Or they would encourage, "Let God use you right where you are," which never really helped much because it just made me feel inadequate and like a complainer (as if I wasn't already doing that).

How do you reconcile a deep inner need with the practical, logical, and rational cry for outer needs?

For many years, I simply "sucked" it up (my mother hates it when I use that word). You know, I just buried the desire down deep, and I "soldiered on." I was a good little trooper. I prayed and I asked the Lord to use me. I looked for opportunities to be used. I bloomed where I was planted (later only to find that I was wilting on the vine). I listened intently as well meaning friends and family would tell me that "everything happens in God's own timing." "Be patient, Carol," they would say. Then they would encourage me to find a ministry at church. "You know, children's needs more helpers on Sunday," as if filling an open need like the way you fill an empty pot was a good substitute for dealing with one's unfilled vocational calling. I did what I was encouraged to do. I volunteered, I served, I was the "go to girl" whenever the church (my church) needed an extra pair of hands. It got to be a regular thing -- to where anytime there was a need -- my name was on the top of the calling list. I didn't mind, a lot of the time it was nice to be needed. But I never felt that I was doing what God wanted me to do. I was filling time just like I was wiping up spills, picking up broken crayons, and taking kids to the bathroom. I was doing the "dirty work" of ministry -- the work that is not exciting, not challenging, not stimulating.

Then one day I realized that I had spent my entire life being a "Martha." I was a good Martha too. I worked very hard for the Kingdom. I worked very hard to help people. I did get recognition -- my name was always being called, I was always being thanked, I was always being noticed. It was good to be needed, to be noticed, and I should never have complained or felt as if my needs were being unmet. What's more - I believed that it was wrong of me -- wrong of me to want more -- to want something better than being a good helper.

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.  

39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!

42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I have heard this story taught many times. I love the story of Mary and Martha, and I love how the Lord gently helps Martha understand the difference between "doing" and "being." Martha was a doer. She did what was culturally expected of her. She knew her place, and she understood what was expected of her. She dutifully worked, served, and lived her life well within the confines of her place as a Jewish woman.

Mary was different, of course. Mary sought Jesus directly. She wanted to "be" with Him more than she wanted to "do" what the world expected her to do. In fact, she threw her cultural expectations out the window the moment she met HIM. She sat at His feet. She worshiped Him with her whole attention, and in doing so, she listened as He taught her. Mary had found "the thing" that mattered most, and she discovered that "being" with the Lord far surpassed any worldly "doing" she could ever attempt.

I don't remember the exact moment when I came to understand "being" over "doing," but it was about 7 years ago. My life was not going as I expected, and I was struggling to understand my meaning and purpose. I was serving in ministry and working on staff at the large Bible church I attended. I was a Children's Ministry Director, and I was responsible for our evening Grade school program. I was also working in my own business, designing websites for clients. I had over 40 clients, many of whom, I provided monthly service (maintenance updates). I was also home schooling my then 14 year old. And, I was providing weekly day care for my ailing father-in-law (picking him up, taking him to doctors, to the gym, getting him lunch). To say I was "busy" would have been an understatement. I was in full-fledged "Martha Mode." I was working round the clock serving my church and my family.

My home life seemed perfect too -- on the outside. I had a good husband, a well-mannered child, happy parents and parents-in-law, and a thriving business and ministry. Yes, everything looked so very peachy-keen on the outside, yet on the inside, I was miserable, I was lonely, and I was so desperate to find meaning and purpose in my life. My marriage was not good. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't good. My husband worked in his share of the business. He was absent a lot (there in person, but not in person, not communicating, not active). I was burnt out at work, and I had huge unmet spiritual needs -- even though I was so active in church, in ministry, and in my own quiet time with the Lord. In truth, there was a huge hole in my life, and it seemed to be growing larger by the day. To compensate for the emptiness, I consumed masses of "busyness".

Trial in the Storm of Life

In July 1 of 2007, my husband suffered a heart attack. It was called a "Widow Maker," but fortunately for him, he made it to the ER in time. Most men who have heart attacks like this will die from them. My husband was spared death. I was thankful. I was thankful that I didn't become a widow that day.

The next two and half years of my life was an example of Psalm 23 -- walking through the valley of the shadow of death. My husband suffered continual health issues, was unable to work full-time, and as a result, I had to take on the burden of caring for him as well as providing more financial support for our family. Yes, he did try to work. Yes, he did try to help. It was just that what he was able to do and what we needed were so far apart, so impossible to cover. I struggled daily with the burden of overwork. I became exhausted from the stress, the struggle, the strain. Our marriage continued to disintegrate, and as I watched it crumble, I felt helpless to do anything at all to stop it.

One health crisis led to another, and then in February of 2009, the final blow came. My husband suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. I was told he would die or that he would be left in need of full-time nursing care. I was given the worst possible news -- and the reality of the situation dawned on me -- I would remain married to a man who would need me to nurse him full-time.

By this time, our marriage had suffered a number of other wounds -- infidelity, communication breakdown, and a lack of intimacy. I was living in a shell of a marriage, and the thought of what the next 40-50 years of my life would be like scared me to death. It wasn't that I didn't love my husband. I did. I was committed to our marriage, despite all the sorrow, the sadness, and the pain. It was just that in that moment I came to understand that I had spent all of my days since becoming a Christian serving others, serving God, and serving needs -- without ever considering whether what I was doing was what the Lord wanted me to be doing. Now, after 27 years of marriage, the reality of my life sunk in, and I knew what I had done, I knew how all the dots connected together.

Zoom backwards to 1979 -- I was 16, a newly born-again Christian. I had just come back from a amazing week at camp, and I had an epiphany. I had a spiritual moment whereby I thought I heard the Lord speaking to me. I don't know if what I heard was really Him speaking audibly or not, it was just that I remember hearing His voice. Yes, I had been praying -- standing at my window and looking out at the pine trees in my backyard. I was crying, I was so miserable, so alone. I don't remember what I asked or what I even said in my prayer. I just remember standing there and looking out the window so very intently when I heard this voice inside my head. It was the Lord telling me what I was to do, where I was to go, and why He wanted me to follow Him.

I accepted that call. I embraced it. I was ecstatic. I was on a spiritual high that had no limits, no boundaries. Sadly in time, the cares of the world, the weight of being a young girl, bound by cultural expectations pushed me to turn away from it. I said yes, and then I said no. I walked away from the call of the Lord, and I never forgave myself for doing it. I chose to be a Martha that day, and I gave myself 100% to "doing" what I believed a good Christian girl should do. I gave myself to good works because that was acceptable to do. I started "doing" and I gave up on "being" because what the Lord was asking of me seemed to be too great an impossibility to my very young, very naive, and very sheltered mind.


As I lay on my bathroom floor some 30 years later, I contemplated my life, what might have been, what was now, and what could be in the future. These very thoughts caused me to sink lower and lower into depression. I began to see my life as completely hopeless. What was worse (if there could be anything worse) was that I also began to complain bitterly about my life. I cried out to the Lord to release me from the life I had. I didn't want to live like this -- to live in an empty, loveless marriage -- caring for someone who was not interested in caring for me. Furthermore, I began to cry out to Him, to beg Him to forgive me for not following His call to me. I asked Him to help me understand all these feelings inside of me, to sort them out, to show me the way out.  I wanted out of the situation I was in and I wanted to know how I was to keep my vow to my husband, and reconcile all these mixed up feelings inside of me. I needed to find a way out, to find a way through the darkness. I need HIM to do this for me. I needed HIM so badly.

My life continued to spiral downward through the next 8-9 months, and finally culminated in the decision to separate (and later, to divorce). My husband miraculously recovered (with lingering effects), but through his experience, he made the decision to seek another person instead of me. He chose one way out of the darkness, and I chose another. We began walking on different paths, and in the end, we walked away from each other.

At this lowest of low points, I came to understand what it felt like to be ground up, chewed, and spat out. It was difficult, of course, and there was a lot more heartache to follow. A lot more heartache. There was unending pain, and then there was breakthrough. Through the incredible ache came a blessing, a miracle. As I lay dying, literally dying inside, a miracle began to transform me and I changed from a "Martha" into a "Mary." I sat at His feet, weeping from the sorrows, from the loss, from the ache and pain of deep lingering wounds. I wept and I looked up. I began to see that my life was not over. It wasn't wasted. It wasn't hopeless. God had a plan for me, a very good, a very mighty plan. I needed help, though, to realize what that plan was and to learn how to live so that I could experience that plan. Through my brokenness God healed my heart, bound up my wounds and began to create within me new desires, desires that enfolded all those feelings I had for so many years with the new feelings He was pouring into me (Isa. 61:1; Ps. 147:3; Ps. 37:4-5). I sought Him diligently. I devoured the Word. I pressed into experience Him, and I found Him, I found Him. I learned how to sit at His feet, just like Mary did, and I began to worship Him.


My life is different now. It is brand new. I am a new creature in Christ. I have been re-created for a specific purpose. He has a good plan for my life. I am now walking toward the fulfillment of His will, and I am experiencing a daily renewal that lifts me up and carries me forward. I am moving with Him, and together we are accomplishing great things in His Name.

Jeremiah 17:14 says,

O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed;
    if you save me, I will be truly saved.
    My praises are for you alone!


The Lord healed me, and through His healing, I have been saved. My praises are for Him alone, and my days, my weeks, and my months (and my years) are devoted to one thing -- His work (and not my work). I no longer seek any other work but His. There is no other work for me. I may teach at a Christian college or I may minister to children, to women, to old folks. My work is now fully consecrated, fully devoted, fully surrendered to Him. There is no "me" for there is only "Him." I am poured out as a drink offering (2 Tim. 4:6), and I live to be a blessing to others. I desire nothing else but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

July 20, 2014

The Steadfast Love of God

Today is a good Sunday. God is good, and His Mercy endures forever. I sing praise to the Lord for His great steadfast love for me. He is not moved, He is faithful, and His love is for all generations!

I cannot believe that it is July 20th already. I have 10 days to finish my ethnography project, and I am starting to feel the prick of panic set in. I have my plans laid out for this week, and I have scheduled each of the next 10 days -- one task per day. Truthfully, I am giving myself a lot more time then I normally would. I can write a paper in a couple days, even with significant research, so allowing myself 10 days to finish this project is good. I have added enough padding to cover me, should any thing pop up that might need temporary focus.

I am short one interview for my project, so I am thinking I will revisit someone I chatted with, but didn't record, two weeks ago. She is an older lady in my church, and she lives right around the corner from me. I am in need of a recorded transcript, so adding in her voice will give me that comfortable feeling that I have all my bases covered. God is good. He knows who I need to interview, and He knows what my professor expects. May the two be aligned in every area, and may my paper be profitable for good use in the church.


I woke up early this morning, around 6:30 am. I surprised my Mom when I came out to get my cup of coffee. She doesn't see me that early normally, so she was shocked when I rolled out of bed, and I was up so early. I have been getting up early since I was at my brother's house in So. California last week. I thought that it might be the bright sunshine of sunny CA mornings, but since my room faces west and is partly shaded, I doubt that the sun's influence here in AZ has anything to do with it.

So after my morning coffee, I settled in at the computer to blog a bit before I have to get ready for church. We are expecting a guest speaker today, and I am looking forward to hearing him preach. He is the Campus Ministries Director at Arizona Christian University (where I will be teaching this fall). It will be good to hear him bring us the next message in our series, "That's Life!"

Last Sunday, our board announced that we are getting an interim Pastor. This was really good news because we have no one to preach each week. The board is working with our denomination, and the person we are getting will stay with us for two years (Lord, willing). I think this is a great way to go, considering that we do not have a lot of resources to begin a search process. Perhaps this person will be the right man for the job. Perhaps this person will like the church, the people, and he will want to stay on. God only knows the plans He has for the church, and I am confident that He will bring to pass His will on the matter.

As I think about all of this "unknown" today, I am reminded of Psalm 52 and the steadfast love of God. In fact, I am reminded of the hymn, "O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus," and how the Saviors love for us is unfathomable like the depths of the ocean.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!


O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!


O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!
The Lord loves us with such a deep and penetrating love. He knows everything about us. He knows our flaws, our failings, and our future. He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7) and He understands us so well. I rest in this fact today, and in the truth of His steadfast love.

I confess with David when he writes:

8 But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I trust in God's unfailing love forever and ever.  9 I will praise you forever, O God, for what you have done. I will wait for your mercies in the presence of your people. 

The Lord has done miraculous things for me. He has shown me His great love, and He has showered His mercies upon me. I am able to trust Him for He has proven to me -- shown me time and time again -- that He is God and He is faithful to keep His promises.

Dear Lord,

I confess today that I trust you to work out your will in my life, to bring to pass the plans you have for me. I let go of the worry and the doubt, and I rest in your presence. I believe your word and I look to your hand of blessing as you comfort me this week. Let all that is overwhelming me fall to the side, and let me look up into your blessed face so that I will see your strength, your determination, and your resolve. You are my King, my Savior, and my Lord. I love you, Lord, and I give you all the praise, the honor, and the glory this good day. Amen.

July 19, 2014

Comfort from Above

This whole ethnography project has caused my head to spin a bit. As I have blogged before, I am studying the Church in Crisis. More specifically, I am studying my church as it transitions through a leadership and financial crisis. I have looked at my church through various lenses over the past 8-9 months. I have written on different aspects of my church -- from marketing to image and reputation management to relationship issues. I am currently seeking understanding on member experience and perception or how the organizational crisis response shapes member experience and perception.

The requirement for this project included interviewing subjects to gain insight and understanding. I didn't want to do that part because I thought interviewing was too personal, too emotionally-connecting for me. I am an introverted person. According to Myers-Briggs, I am an INTJ (INtroverted, Thinking, Judging) personality type.

From 16personalities.com:

"It’s lonely at the top, and being one of the rarest and most strategically capable personality types, INTJs know this all too well. INTJs form just two percent of the population, and women of this personality type are especially rare, forming just 0.8% of the population – it is often a challenge for them to find like-minded individuals who are able to keep up with their relentless intellectualism and chess-like maneuvering. INTJs are imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, amazingly curious, but only if their interest is piqued."

Source: http://www.16personalities.com/intj-personality

Asking questions would seem at odds with my personality type. We love to question, to think, to study. We just prefer to do it inwardly, within our own minds, and not outwardly with other people. I don't put a lot of stock in these personality profiles normally, but I have to say that much of what I have read about INTJ's does align with my way of thinking. My son says there are better personality tests such as the Big Five, etc. He is more the Psychologist than I am, but I understand his point: Myers-Briggs is so limiting, sorting all people into 16 different types of personalities. I digress...

The part of this research that interests me most deals with the hypothetical questions, the whys. I want to understand outcomes, why certain things happen, and what comes out of the experience. So for me, the research part, the digging, the studying, the contemplating -- all of these aspects -- thrill me to no end. I am all over the research -- what I don't like, what scares me the most -- is having to get personal with people. I do not want to get that close to my subject, that personal with the details of the individual experience.

Ethnography, by its very nature is a process of research that places the individual at the very center of the research. The formal definition of ethnography is:

the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures.

I agree with this definition to a point. The formal approach to ethnography was to be a distanced observer (think Jane Goodall sitting in a jungle observing her beloved Chimpanzees). Ethnographers, traditionally, didn't cross the boundary and get personal with their subjects. They observed them and took very detailed, very scientific notes.

However, over the last twenty or thirty years, ethnography has changed to include far more personal observation or participant observation. Interviews are a very big part of the process. In my course, the project specifications included personal interviews. The thought of having to sit with people and actually ask them personal questions scared me to death.

So what does my ethnography project, my fears on interviewing and Psalm 23 have in common, you ask?

Well, I will tell you...

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.

1 The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3     He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
4 Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
5 You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.


I love this psalm. It is one of the first pieces of Scripture I memorized as a new Christian. I have recited it often over the course of my life. There are so many wonderful verses in it, but my favorite verse is 4:

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

Verse four is a great verse to recite whenever you are afraid or in need of comfort. The Lord is always near to us, to comfort us. He listens to us, and with His presence, we are protected, we are safe. He guards us with His rod and staff. In doing so, we are able to survive walking through those deep dark valleys, even through the shadow of death.

Interviewing people requires a great deal of comfort. The one who listens, must also be comforting. The interviewee must trust the interviewer. There must be a mutual understanding whereby personal experience can be shared without judgment or without persecution.

I have learned a valuable lesson over the past several weeks of interviewing. I would have said that I wasn't necessarily a good listener before I started this project. INTJ's tend to be introspective. They don't always like to display their emotions. They are uncomfortable around people (extroverts mostly) who do.

In ministry, being compassionate is so important. There are too many hurting individuals out there who need someone to listen to them, just to listen and to care about what they are saying/feeling (not to agree necessarily, but to understand).

As I have gone into the interview process, the Lord has allowed me, privileged me to get close to the people I am interviewing. I know that my research questions were not that good -- probably not even the right questions for the study. Yet, what I received back was tremendous. I listened intently while other people shared their story with me, their experience. I didn't judge them for it, I just accepted what they were saying as "true."

I hate that popular culture saying:

"reality is perception"

but in this case, I believe it is true. For the people I interviewed, their reality was their perception. It was unique and personal to them. It encapsulated their life experiences, and yes, it was biased, it was shaped, and it was colored by many other factors. It was, however, their own perception.

I have come to realize that I can listen to people and learn from them. I don't have to be right all the time. I can let people be themselves, be on their journey with the Lord, and accept them right where they are -- in the moment. I don't have to worry about getting too close. I can love them, I can uphold them, I can cherish them for the wonderful people that they are -- and in doing so -- I am acting as a good shepherd to the flock of Christ. I am using His rod and His staff to enfold those the Lord has allowed me to get to know. It is an amazing and wonderful thing to be used by the Lord in this way.

So as I consider my life today, this one thing stands out for me. Every single person the Lord brings to me has been brought into my life for a reason. I am privileged to know them. It is an honor to listen to them, to share their life with them, and to enjoy them for a season or many seasons. My prayer is to continue to learn to affirm, to accept, and to enfold all of those the Lord brings to me. My life is enriched for the better, and I am blessed through the experience. God is good, so very good.


July 18, 2014

The Lord Provides

I am blessed, so very blessed today. I am giving Him praise and honor for His blessing upon my life. He is faithful and He keeps His promises. I cannot shout enough that the Lord, Our God, is GOOD. He is so very good!

Today is an extra special day for me. It started out as normal as normal can be. I woke up early (OK, well, that is not normal) so that I could take my cousin's granddaughter back down to Grand Canyon for an official school tour. She is a junior in high school, and she has expressed an interest in studying nursing in college. She lives in MD, and she wants to come to school in AZ. I mentioned to my cousin that GCU has a very good nursing program. In addition, they offer a lot of scholarship money to out of state students, and they have no out of state tuition difference (in-state or out of state is the same cost). My cousin had called to schedule a tour, but the person who helped her said that the only tours available were for incoming freshman. I took Janee over to GCU on Wednesday and walked her around campus. On our way into Starbucks, we met an advisor who told us that she could get a tour on any day of the week, so we scheduled a "second" tour for today.

After picking Janee up at my cousin's house, we headed toward downtown Phoenix for the campus tour. We purposely scheduled the tour in the am, just to avoid the heat and humidity. Good thing too -- the official tour had very little walking. We took one of those tour tram carts (like at Disneyland) and were shuttled all around the campus. I was glad for the tour cart because my legs were already sore from our Wednesday hike (up and down four flights of stairs and a good 2 mile walk around the campus).

While we were stopped at the library, I checked my email (GCU has free wi-fi for students and faculty), and of course, Facebook (did I say I was addicted to FB?) I noticed that I had some email from Regent (not unusual, really) so I checked that account as well. Lo, and behold, there was an email from the School of Communication and the Arts. I opened it up, thinking it was just another email blast about fall theater. Instead, it was a letter from the Comm Arts Manager telling me that I had been awarded the Dean's Scholarship for fall. I about jumped out of my flip-flops right there in the library building. The Dean's Scholarship is a 50-100% tuition waiver, awarded to students based on the Dean's recommendations.

I had applied for the Dean's Scholarship back in March, and while I was hopeful of consideration, I assumed that I would not be considered for it. I didn't think that my case was worthy for this scholarship because of the fact that I am able to qualify for financial aid. There are a lot of students in my program who are married and who work as professors and adjunct instructors (or other professions). These people do not qualify for financial aid because they make too much money. Often, they have to take private loans or they pay out of pocket. I have several friends in the program who struggle to make ends meet (with their families) and who attend school on a semester by semester basis (never knowing if they will be able to swing the tuition each semester). I assumed that I would not receive any additional funding from Regent besides my financial aid (student loans) and my PhD grant (because of my high GPA). More so, I assumed that I wouldn't get any additional funding because of the growth of the program. This summer, the 2014 cohort had almost 35 students in it. Regent is expanding and is growing stronger in the Communication field. All those incoming students, many with educational funding needs, would surely be considered for assistance ahead of me.

Yet -- the email stated that I had been chosen to receive this award. The word "chosen" was used and that means that someone or some committee considered all the applicants and picked my name/record out. WOW! I am as excited about this award as I was when I found out that I was chosen to attend doctoral study there. There is something about this idea of being wanted, being considered, being approved that resonated with me. Regent wanted me to study at their school, and now, Regent is providing a way for me to study there at a reduced cost to me. God is so amazingly wonderful -- He is so very Good to me.

When I think about being chosen for this scholarship, I am reminded of the Lord's promise to me. I am reminded of His nature and His character and that one of the Old Testament names for the Lord is Jehovah-Jireh (The Lord Our Provider - from Genesis 22:14). Of all the Old Testmant names for God, this One name means the most to me. I have often cried out to Jehovah-Jireh in my deep need, and I have rested in His promised provision for my life.

In the over 42 years that I have been a Christian, I have come to understand that I have two great needs (outside of salvation, of course). My two greatest needs are:
  1. Security 
  2. Provision
For me, I need to feel secure (safe and protected), and I need to be well-provided (financially, materially). I need both or else I feel panicked (prone to panic attacks) and full of anxiety. I have come a long way since the days when I would suffer panic attacks, but deep down inside of me, I still become very uncomfortable whenever I think my security or provision is threatened. I will do almost anything to make sure that I am always safe and protected, and that I am well-provided for financially.

As a child, I suffered trauma whereby I was forced to live and to go school in an unsafe place. I experienced this trauma on a daily basis, and it became routine for me to suffer from sleep deprivation or to feel trapped (flight or fight response). Even though I was finally able to overcome much of those effects through counseling and therapy, there are still times when I begin to feel the panic come over me. The Lord has calmed that raging storm within me. Friends tell me how calm I am, how peaceful my life is -- I give testimony to the Lord because He has done this for me. He has healed me from the hurt I suffered at the hands of others, and He has stepped in to be my Shield and my Strong Tower. I am safe, and I am secure because the Lord covers me well.

Materially speaking, I struggle with not having "enough" provision because I spent almost 27 years living in a hand-to-mouth existence, never having enough, never being able to live responsibly. I thank God that I was never homeless. I was however constantly living in debt, in fear of collectors, and always in arrears. There was never enough money to keep the lights on so to speak. I hated the feeling of being indebted to others (mostly my family), and I hated the fact that nothing ever changed, nothing ever improved for my life.

Once I moved out on my own, I made the commitment to never be without money. In fact, I made a vow to the Lord that I would never be late on a payment nor would I refuse myself anything (within moderation and limits). I lived a life of having to buy weekly groceries for our family, and making everything fit within a $20-40 budget. I always gave up my wants, needs and desires to accommodate my family's need. I learned to say no whenever I wanted anything -- even a stick of gum.

As I began to depend on the Lord for my every need, He helped me recover financially. He helped me build credit, learn to pay bills, budget wisely, and spend money. Yes, I say that with great joy -- the Lord showed me how to spend money! I can remember going to Walmart after I was separated from my husband, and I put items back on the shelf because I didn't want to spend the extra $5-10 dollars. It took a year before I was able to walk to the register and not panic when the bill rang up. Since that time, I have bought two cars, rented my own town home, traveled a lot, purchased computers and gear -- not to mention a cello -- all without overly panicking (a little panic still was there).

I had to learn to trust the Lord for my provision. He has never failed me in all this time. I am not financially well-set by any means, but my bank account never runs empty. I am like the widow with her mite or Elijah with his oil. There is always enough to cover my needs. I still worry about having "enough" and there are times when I do panic over my financial aid debt (it is a lot). The Lord promises me that He will provide for me, He will provide for every need. I have seen His provision time and time again, and here today, I see the outpouring of His blessing in spades! God is good, so very good to me.

Today is a good day, and it is a good reminder of how faithful our God is to His beloved children. I used to pray for the Lord to meet my needs, and while I never lost the roof over my head (until our home was foreclosed -- but I had already moved out), I never felt completely safe, secure or well-provided. I believed that the Lord could provide, but I didn't think He would provide for me. I didn't think I was worthy of His provision or His protection. I simply didn't think my life was worth anything to Him.

In just eight short years, my life has completely been up ended. I am blessed, and I am highly favored. I say this not to boast in my self or in my abilities, but to give testimony to the Lord. The Lord has chosen me as His own unique possession. I am treasured, and I am blessed in all that I do. He pours out His life into mine, and I allow Him to fill me up. In doing so, He is able to use me as a living sacrifice. He uses every part of me, my mind, my hands, my feet to do His work and to accomplish His will. I am a recipient of His blessing and His favor -- and as such -- I receive great reward through my obedience and my faith. I am blessed and I am highly favored this good day.

Deut. 7:6: For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

July 17, 2014

Rocking the Identity Crisis


Today was another awesome day for me. I completed one of my last interviews for my Church in Crisis project. I have to say that I am enjoying the interview process. I blogged about my insecurity a couple weeks ago, and I wrote about how apprehensive I was feeling at the thought of sitting down to talk with people about their experiences during the crises at our church. I was hesitant about asking personal questions, and I didn't know what to expect from the interviewees. Would I get a range of emotions or would I get reflective analysis? I was hoping for the latter because it would be easier for me to process and then interpret for my research study.

Over the past three weeks, I have interviewed about 11 individuals -- a range of people -- from staff to members -- spanning all ages. I have been so blessed during the interviews, and I have come away with fresh insight into each person's own experience and perception of the crisis. I have learned a lot of information as well -- some of it pertinent -- and some of it not. I have heard stories that now have been confirmed by more than one individual, and in many ways, my heart is broken at what I learned from them. I have seen hurt, a lot of hurt, and some deep wounds that will need healing. Overall, though, I am impressed with the integrity of the members, their willingness to share these experiences, and I feel that I have a good handle on the research outcomes. I am blessed. I am so very blessed.

Case in Point

Today was extra special for me. I spent the morning and early afternoon talking with someone I love so much. I had the blessing to interview Bobbi Jo, our interim worship leader, and I came away from our time enriched and empowered to embrace my missions calling. Bobbi Jo has a deep and sincere heart for Africa. She has been to Kenya twice, visiting our church's sponsored missionaries, and she has brought back with her a desire to help a local Luau tribe build a church. The village she visited has recently become Christian, and for their village to be recognized by the government as having a church, the building must be a permanent structure (with walls and roof).

Last December our church raised money for this village, but somehow that money was never used for this missions project. The issue is that now this village, so desperately in need of money for their building, is waiting on our church to deliver the needed materials. It is such a heart-wrenching situation, and it is one of the many scenarios I uncovered during my research study. I don't mean to point fingers or to lay blame, but something needs to be done to right this wrong. These kinds of "issues" often occur when organizations are in the midst of a crisis. My prayer, of course, is for the truth to be brought to the surface, and for wrongs to be redressed.

As I sit here today, I am reminded that throughout a crisis, whether personal or professional, there is always the possibility for change to occur. God uses crises as a way to get our attention, to get us to stop what we are doing and to focus on what He wants us to do. Most of the time, it is His way to get us to stop trying to control the situation. We want to be in control, we want to direct the program, and we want to avoid pain whenever possible. This avoidance of pain is a good example of the Pleasure/Pain Principal -- the phenomenon that states humans avoid whatever brings them pain, and embrace whatever brings them pleasure.

I was thinking about my own life and how often I will make choices that are comfortable for me. I prefer to live within the parameters of my box (as my son likes to joke). My box is perfectly suited to my lifestyle, and it accommodates me well. I am happy in my box. Everything is in order within my box. I don't need to step outside my box because I have everything I need right inside of it. The problem with living in a box is simple -- your view or perspective is limited by the confines of the box itself. Four walls, a ceiling, and a floor do not always make for the most accurate view of reality.

God calls us to step outside our box, to open our eyes, and to consider a wider experience. In doing so, we are able to minister to others, in our families, our homes, our churches, and our communities. If we refuse to look outside our small window, then we will miss out on opportunity for God to use us in far greater and more meaningful ways.

This "box" analogy stuck with me today when I was speaking with Bobbi Jo. I was sharing my story of the Masai in Africa (actually my Professor's story -- one that he shared with us this past June). After I had finished my story, she shared her story (of her travels there). I mentioned that in many other cultures people learn through oral storytelling. I then went on to say that my dissertation will be on faith stories or narratives and digital storytelling. I still don't have the details fleshed out, but I feel that this is something the Lord wants me to pursue. I also feel that my work with crisis communication and my focus previously on relationship building is central to His calling on my life.

Point on Perspective

My box was fairly limited a few years ago. Back in 2010, I was settled in my life, working towards a graduate degree in English, and I was planning how I would manage in my newly singled person life. I wasn't divorced yet, but I was waiting on the Lord for His provision and His plans. I was working toward becoming an English teacher, and I was thinking that I would remain single my entire life. I never anticipated that my life plan would change or that I would be where I am today, studying for a PhD. I am now moving on a completely different path than before. While I am still pursuing teaching, I am now learning as much as I can about crisis communication and response strategies because I believe I am to use this knowledge specifically for the church and for ministry. I don't know where the Lord intends for me to live or where I will work once I graduate from Regent -- but I can say that my life will continue to be shaped and moved by His hands until I am right where He wants me to be.

My life is blessed, abundantly blessed, and I am ready to step outside my box and begin to see all the opportunities the Lord has in mind for me. As an introvert, embracing change, meeting new people, standing out in public, and speaking my mind freely are scary endeavors. I would rather sit behind the computer screen and chat then to engage people in real face-to-face dialog. Yet, the Lord seems determined to put me into positions whereby I have to be recognized. I know that with experience, I will be more comfortable with the process. I may even come to enjoy it. It is just like interviewing. I was panicked initially, and after several good interviews, I feel so confident, so comfortable with this aspect of people-building. In fact, I am tempted to say that I am excited about doing it again, and again, and again. Yes, the Lord has asked me to step outside my box, and to consider His World from His Grand Perspective. My life is open to experience this change -- within me -- so that I can be used in greater ways for His Kingdom work and to bring Him Glory.

Thank you, Lord -- for these experiences, these shaping experiences that are changing my views on so many things. You have opened doors for me, introduced me to new friends, and shown me how exciting life can be when it is surrendered for your purpose. I trust you now to bring to me the people, the purposes, and the plans you have for me so that I can be fully immersed in your work. May your Name be praised today and forever more!

July 16, 2014

Discouraged

Oh, Lord, why do I feel so discouraged today? How can it be that the pendulum of my emotions swings so strongly from one direction to another? It is as if one day I feel so good, so up; and then the next day, I feel so sad, so lonely, and so afraid.

I don't want to feel this way. I don't want to be in a constant state of emotional flux. I want to be steady, to be calm, to be at peace (rest). I want my emotions to rest so that I can face each day with the same type of resolve (fortitude).

Discouragement has hit me hard today, and it is difficult for me to shake it off. And, what makes this feeling so difficult is that I don't have any indicator of what may have brought this on. It is not as if anything has changed in my life, it is not as if some unplanned or unforeseen event has taken place. No, my life is proceeding as it has now for many months. I am working through the details, the minutiae, and I am walking forward, walking in His way and His will. So why has discouragement hit me so hard this morning?

I cry out to the Lord today, and I look up. I wait for Him to answer me, and I trust in His provision. I know that whenever I look to His hand of mercy, I will remember then that His is my Savior and my God (Ps. 42:5).

Oh, how I hate being discouraged. I absolutely detest this feeling. When I feel discouraged, I feel as though my confidence has completely drained away. I feel as though I have lost my hope, my sense of certainty. Doubt has surfaced, and I have exchanged fearlessness for fearfulness.

Merriam-Webster defines the word discouraged (verb) as:
  • to make (someone) less determined, hopeful, or confident
  • to make (something) less likely to happen
  • to try to make people not want to do (something)
Synonyms of discouraged include:
  • chill, daunt, demoralize, dishearten, dismay, dispirit, frustrate, unman, unnerve, throw cold water on
Related words include:
  • browbeat, bully, cow, intimidate; depress, sadden, weigh; afflict, try; damp, dampen, deaden; distress, trouble; bother, irk, vex, worry; debilitate, enfeeble, undermine, weaken; frighten, horrify, scare
I think it is interesting that the word discouraged is state of being verb or a verb that describes a state of existence. To be discouraged says that something or some action has occurred that has resulted in a changed state, a different type of experience. I like to look at synonyms and related words for clarification -- often the related word list helps me to understand the significance of the word choice. As I look at these words, certain words jump out to me -- specifically words related to FEAR. I underlined all the words or related words that ascribe fear because fear is a big problem for me. My issue with fear stems from specific childhood experiences of trauma. Fear and these associated words contribute to my feelings of insecurity.

Insecurity
  • not confident about yourself or your ability to do things well : nervous and uncomfortable
  • not certain to continue or be successful for a long time
  • not locked or well protected
Of these three definitions, the third one I own -- the feeling of not being well-protected. Victims of abuse, any kind of abuse (specifically physical abuse) understand the need to be well-protected. Growing up and living during a time of riots, gang violence, school violence, etc., shaped my deep need for protection. I lived for a time in a place where it was unsafe to go to school. In our modern world, we struggle to understand school shootings, mass violence, and the indiscriminate murder of innocent victims (children). It is abhorrent to think about what motivates people to shoot children in school buildings or students on a college campus.

When I lived in IL (from age 9-16), the dominant and minority culture was in flux. Tension between black and white was escalating, and the violence overflowed in local communities outside of Chicago. My elementary school was located in a middle class white neighborhood. My junior high was in the middle of a poor, all-black neighborhood. My high school was in an affluent upper class white neighborhood. Chicago school officials made the unwise decision to desegregate the schools during this very volatile time. The result was school violence.

As a preteen and teenager, I not only witnessed violence (student-student, student-teacher, teacher-student), but I was also the victim of that violence. To protect myself from student violence, I learned to defend myself. I allowed my rage, my fear, my need for protection to drive me. I lived in a stress-filled bubble. I don't remember any time when I didn't have intestinal problems, headaches, and other ailments. There was no diagnosis for PTSD back then and the doctors never explored stress-related illness. For many years after my experiences, I was told that the symptoms I was suffering from were in my head (Yes, I actually had doctors tell my parents that I was making everything up -- the pain, the migraines, everything -- just to get attention). It was difficult for me to process those experiences, and it took many years, many sessions with good counselors and health-care professionals to help me understand what I had experienced, and how the lingering effects of those events still haunted me. I had to come to terms with the fact that even though I defended myself, held myself up, and fought off unwanted advances, I still suffered the effects from the trauma of living on the edge, of never feeling safe.

The interesting thing is that now after some thirty years distance, I still react to fear, to insecurity, in the same way. It is not as pronounced of course, and I don't suffer the physical symptoms anymore. Now it is more psychological and emotional -- certain thoughts and/or feelings trigger my need for security. I panic, I stress, I worry, I doubt -- these feelings, when I allow them to predominate my life -- will overwhelm me, and will cause me to feel discouraged.

How do you counteract discouragement?

As I have matured and grown in my relationship with the Lord, I have also experienced great healing and a restoration -- God has healed my mind, my body, and my soul -- my whole being. His marvelous grace has comforted me, and His presence has provided the security I so desperately need. I have everything I need to be at rest, to experience His peace, and to feel safe and secure. Yet...

Scripture is my source of daily renewal (Rom. 12:2). I look to His Word to remind myself of many things, but mostly, to remind myself that the Lord is in control of my life.

Isaiah 41:10:  Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Psalm 34:17-19: When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

1 Peter 1:6-9: In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I know that when I go to the Source of all Sufficiency, I find exactly what I need, in the moment, for the experience I am in. God is good, and His Mercy endures forever. He is always there to comfort me with the comfort of His Word.

Then, after I have read the Word, and confessed it with my mouth, I recite Jer. 29:11:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

It is hope that brings sweet peace to our troubled minds, it is hope that brings us confidence that there is a reason, a plan, a purpose to all our experiences. The key is of course that we choose the correct HOPE for our trust.

Ps. 146:3: Don't put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there.

God is our HOPE, our Source of our TRUST. There is no other person or institution -- no man, no machine, no government -- for our our help and our hope. Only God is able to provide for each and every need, and it is only in Him that we find our blessed HOPE.

Romans 15:13: I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

So today, even though I feel discouraged, I find my hope in the Lord. I trust in Him, and I rest in His provision for me. I may feel insecure in this moment, I may feel afraid of the big unknown that is out there. I may worry, and I may doubt my own plans, my own way, my own abilities. Yet, my hope rests in Him for it is in Him that I find everything I need this day. God is good, so very good. All the time, He is GOOD.

July 15, 2014

Plans for This Week

It is a good Tuesday! God is Good, so very good!

It is July 15, and I have approximately 18 days to complete my COM 703 paper. So far, I have conducted 7 interviews, but only 1 was recorded (my fault for not recording the other people). I have 3 more to do, and my plan is to record them so that I can include four transcripts along with my project (Lord willing).

I have to say that I am pleased with the information gathered so far. I am not surprised by the general answers to the experience/perception questions. They fall well within my expectations, however, I have found that the strength of the member commitment to the church to be significant (which is what I had hoped!) This means that the members who have stayed through the crisis at church, have done so because of their faith in God, and their commitment to the families in the church -- and not because of a particular leader or mission/vision statement. This is such good and welcoming news. I am blessed, and I feel confident that my project will be worthwhile (from a scholarship standpoint).  An aside: If I were conducting quantitative research, I would say that p<.05, which means that the data show a statistical significance in relationship to organization when it comes to commitment level!

This week is going to be busy for me. I have these three remaining interviews to do, and then I need to transcribe the recordings, and type up my field notes. Once that is done, then I need to begin my literature review. I am not worried about my lit review, but I am concerned about the data and content. This class is important to me. My professor doesn't post any grades during the class so we never know where we stand grade-point wise. It makes it hard knowing how well or poorly you are doing going into the final project. I would prefer to know my grade so that I can make changes to my study habits, reading, posting, or research BEFORE submitting the final paper. Sigh.

The good news is that Jer. 29:11 covers me well. The Lord has decreed:

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

I take this verse to heart for I believe that it is true for me just as it was true for the nation of Israel during the OT times. God does have good plans in mind for me. He has given me (through Christ Jesus) everything I need for a blessed future and for hope of eternal life. I am good because of His Goodness toward me. God is good, all the time, He is good.

As I consider these plans, I am reminded that nothing I do is out of control. My life may appear to be spinning hopelessly without purpose, but this is not the case. As a child of God, His hand rests steadily upon me. He is here with me, living in me, and providing guidance and direction to me.

Ps. 37:23: The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. 

Prov. 16:9: We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.

Prov. 20:24: The LORD directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?

The Lord is the One guiding my steps. He is leading me through the desired path He has in mind for me. I am leaning upon Him, abiding in Him, and trusting Him. As a result, He is taking me by the hand and directing my way. So long as I continue to rest in Him, my steps are ordered. They are purposed, they are planned, and they are provided for me.

My way is secure. His plans are approved. Together, I am assured of a good future filled with hope. God is good, so very good to me.

So while my calendar appears to be full, and at times, I panic over the details -- I can rest in knowing that nothing I have planned is too big or too difficult for him.

Luke 1:37: For nothing is impossible with God.

Yes, I can be bold and take confidence that the plans the Lord has for my life, for my week, for my day is well-within His abilities. Nothing is impossible for Him. I can rest. I can relax.

My To-Do List

As I write out my to-do list today, I am repeating this mantra: The Lord has me well-covered this day.
  • 7/15 - Radio Shack - pick up a mini USB cable for my digital recorder (must!)
  • 7/15 - Interview Gina for my project
  • 7/15 - Begin my literature review -- collect articles and scan for content
  • 7/16 - Take Default papers/Motion filing to court house
  • 7/16 - Take Janae over to Grand Canyon so she can see the school
  • 7/16 - Take Deb and Janae out for dinner (Thank you for feeding the cats)
  • 7/17 - Return DJ's flute to the music store
  • 7/17 - Interview Bobbi Jo for my project
  • 7/17 - Interview Dan for my project
  • 7/18 - Begin reading the Bill Strom book for COM 203 class prep
  • 7/18 - Begin Power Points for ENG 101/105
  • 7/18 - Pick up survey results/focus group information from Stella (for project)
OK, I am officially panicked. Now that I see my list, I realize just how much I have to get done this week in order to stay on top of my project. This weekend will need to be set aside for transcription. Once I get the transcription finished, then I can relax a bit because I will only have writing to do (and this girl loves to write!) This week is critical for me, it is my MUST week. 
I am praying for God's peace over these tasks and for His strength and wisdom to approach each one with fortitude and discipline. 

He is good. He is good.

The plans the Lord has for me include His provision of peace. He is the Prince of Peace and as such I can have His peace flow through me and over me this day (and every single day of my life). This peace is available, always available, and it is activated by faith. We must choose to allow His peace to flow through us, we must allow His peace to be active in our life. Oh, Peace, Sweet Peace!

I am reminded of this verse:

Phil. 4:7-8

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.


Yes, Lord -- may it be so, may it please the Lord for it to be so!

Dear Lord,

I need your active and working peace in my life this day. I ask now that you would allow your peace to flow through me, to cover me as I work through the details on my to-do list. If I have forgotten anything or if I need to add/remove any items from this list, please let me know. My life is in your hands this day, and I am trusting in you to provide for each and every need. I believe your Word, and today, I look to your Word for guidance and for wisdom. May your peace be felt in my home, in my work, and in everything I do today and every day. I ask all this in the matchless, most merciful Name of Jesus! Amen! So be it, thy will be done (Selah!)