November 28, 2015

Getting Down to Business

It is a blessed day here in sunny and cool Phoenix. I woke up to the sunshine and cool morning air feeling very refreshed. It is amazing how a week off can work wonders, especially on this frazzled and bedraggled body. It was good to sleep in without any worries this morning. I had no "must have, must do" list so it meant I could just sleep until I woke naturally. Ah! It was so good to just sleep peacefully and enjoy the blessing of rest.

I am so thankful for His rest. I mean, He has given me the perfect job. It is a tough job, no small thing, and it takes its toll on me each semester. But, with all the effort, comes blessed rest once the semester comes to a close. I am looking forward to having three weeks off this next month, and then to my lighter, easier schedule in the spring (just MWF afternoons). The Lord knows how I worry about my summers -- how to pay the bills mostly -- but He also knows that my summers are especially good for me. They give me four months of daily rest. I sleep in, naturally wake up, and I attend to the business at hand, which is, recovering from my depleted mental and physical state. He is good, so very good to me. He knows what I can and cannot do, and He knows my limits. Why do I not trust Him, then? Why do I constantly think I know best? Sigh!

Today is a good day. It is a good day to reflect on this fact -- the fact that the Lord does indeed know what is best for me. The past few weeks have been difficult for me. I applied to several jobs outside of higher education, and after waiting around for HR to contact me, to give me a "yes or no" to let me know what their intentions were, I had to withdraw my resume simply because the semester was so close at hand. You see, I have already committed (agreed and accepted) my teaching contracts for next January. I can get out of them, but the longer I wait, the more unfair that is to my schools. I do not feel the Lord desires me to string these schools along and then at the last minute cancel my contract. I cannot do that to them, not after their graciousness in hiring me for work. No, I have an issue with integrity, so I prayed over it, and because neither job moved in my direction (perhaps it would have in time), I asked the Lord for His advice, and I felt Him saying to me "withdraw," so I did.

In truth, I had already made my mind up to stay put, so really, withdrawing simply shortened the wait time. I did the deed, took my resume off the table, and I walked away without feeling any issue or concern about it. I am not sorry about the action. I mean, I really didn't mind taking my resume back from consideration. Both positions were good jobs, good paying jobs, but the more I thought about them, the "jobs" themselves, while okay as far as the work was concerned, just didn't seem to sit well with me. I am sure I would have found enjoyment in learning how to do them, and I am sure I would have liked my colleagues and peers. As such, the "work" itself would in time become boring and that concerned me. I am simply the type of person that needs engaging work all the time. I need new things to do, new tasks, and the only real profession that does that is one that allows constant learning. Teaching, medicine, law, business, etc. are professions where the daily work is never the same. Different situations arise, planning for new approaches are required, and the work must be adapted constantly to meet the needs of the student, the patient, or the client. This "always changing" is a good thing for me, and it is one of the ways that my brain stays engaged. However, I don't really like "change for change sake" so what fits me best is prolonged study, difficult work that requires study -- searching, researching, writing, processing, etc. -- all the behaviors that are normally associated with these professions, including teaching in higher education.

The more I look at my situation, the more I factor in my own "prewired" tendencies as well as my preferences, the more I see how teaching in higher education is a good fit for me. Sure, I am plumb worn out most days, and I don't always see the "big picture" due to my aching feet, legs, and back. But, generally, I see opportunity, possibilities, and the hopeful expectancy of a good outcome. I see how my efforts to study, to learn, to adapt, play out in the classroom. I goof, I make mistakes -- all in an attempt to try some new way. Sometimes these "new ideas" work well, and well, sometimes, they fall flat. But, I am able to try them out -- and no one stands over me to say -- "not going to work, so give it up!"

Thus, teaching is a good fit for my brain, for my need to study and learn. It is not the best fit physically, and I know that, but I have come to learn that what I experience (aches and pains) is the same for every teacher on the planet. We all suffer this way, and we all get ourselves up, dressed, and out the door, to do the good work we do. Selah!

I guess I was thinking too small when I assumed that I was the only one to suffer like this, but this week, I had the chance to talk to a dear lady (she suffers from post-polio like my Dad), and she said how she finally retired at age 69 after 30 years of teaching because she couldn't stand anymore. I asked her about it, and she said she never was comfortable "teaching while sitting down!" I laughed because that is exactly how I feel. She said "I just have to move about the classroom, and I never could teach sitting in a chair. It just didn't work for me." I thought, "I am not alone in this. What a relief!"

So, it is a done deal. I mean, teaching for a career, a profession. I made the decision two weeks ago, and since then I have taken the steps necessary to ensure that this is the path I remain on going forward. The Lord has made a way for me to go, and I am content to go in this way, if that makes sense. I struggled so much with the "going," really with knowing that the way I was "going" was the right way, the best way for my life. In the end, I found out that I am right where He intends me to be, and that I have a good thing in my life, a very good thing. I am a part-time (well, between two schools, 40 hour contract) college instructor, and I am doing the very thing I dreamed of doing since I was a little girl. I am about to graduate with my PhD, to be a "doctor of philosophy," and to begin what will be the last push toward retirement as a full-time professor.

How exciting is that? 

I mean, I have desired this for now on 20 years, and the Lord has faithfully provided a way for me to accomplish it in this season of my life. I am seeing my dream come to pass, and I am so excited for the next months, years, that lay ahead of me.

Where will I teach full-time? 

I don't know, but I am certain now that wherever it is, it will be good. I am content to teach English Composition for the rest of my career, and I am very content to simply be a good English teacher. I don't have to publish papers, present in conference or even jump through hoops to get ahead. No, I am content to be a good teacher, to do good work, and to try to do my very best each day that the Lord allows me to do this work. I am no longer looking for other work. This is where I belong. It is where I am meant to be, and finally, finally, I am settled. I am fixed on this way, and now I believe, the Lord can begin His plans to move me, to relocate me, and to provide for me that full-time professor position He has held in His keeping for months, perhaps even for years. He is good, so very good, and I am blessed, so very blessed by His goodness, His lovingkindness, and His great generosity. He is good, He is good, He is so very good to me! Selah!

As I put all this together, trying to make the various parts fit into the BIG PICTURE I think about my life, about where I have been, where I am going, and all that happened to me in between. The Lord has carefully preserved my life, seen to it that the experiences I have had, while shaping me, molding me, and at times, hurting my pride, my self-esteem, and my physical and emotional self, have not destroyed me. I am stronger now than I was before 2010. I am stronger as a single woman than I ever was as a married one. I am stronger as a student, a Mom, a daughter, and a teacher. In fact, I would say that I am strong, so very strong, because of the chastening, the "hardening off" that the Lord allowed into my life, to test me, to try me, and to make me fit (like as in an athlete). My body, physically, suffers but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, I am a warrior. I am a champion, and God has made me this way. I still falter when I see my enemy face to face, when I feel threatened or when I am exhausted to the point where I cannot stand, but through it all, the Lord has held my right hand, He has sustained me, and for that, I am so thankful. He has made me into a strong, God-honoring, God-glorifying, and God-ordained, purposed, and focused woman. I am ready, I am so ready to take on the world, to do this MINISTRY THING He has prepared for me to do. No matter the challenge, no matter the feat, no matter the obstacles that are in my way, I am ready to face them head on. I believe the Lord will be victorious, and I believe He will champion my cause. I have made my plans, laid them at His feet, and in return, He has handed to me His playbook. He has outline the route to follow, the steps to take, and the tasks that must be completed. I am working for Him now, and everything I do is working toward His purpose, His plan, and His providential desire for my life. Selah!

The Lord knows the plans He has for my life -- and yes -- they are GOOD. He knows that this way, the way I am walking, on this particular path, well, it SUITS HIM. It is not about suiting me, per se, though He has graciously considered my needs. No, this path is ALL ABOUT HIM. As a teacher, I know that I am 100% dependent on Him for everything, and this is PRECISELY WHERE HE WANTS ME TO BE. I wanted to be wholly devoted to Him, to have no other head but His, and this is right where He has me today. I can do all things, but only through Christ who strengthens me. I can go here or there in my own strength, but I cannot accomplish His will, His plan for my life, in that strength. I must do everything yielded, submitted, and wholly dependent on His abilities. To do this His way means that I must learn that "way." I must learn how to do His work in the way He intends, and that requires submitting to His authority, His headship, and saying, "Yes, Lord. You are the Master, and I am the student." No matter how much I think "Hey, I've got this!," the Lord says to me, "Not my way, not my will." I understand that to do things His way means that He must be allowed to have His way in me. I must relent, let go, and let Him lead me, guide me, show me how to do the work. It has not been easy for me. I have put up a good fight with Him. I have been stubborn and willful, and even at times, very demanding. He has graciously allowed me to tire myself out, to wear out and use up my strength so that I would see the enormity of the plan, the scope of the approach, and in doing so, I would "with fresh eyes" see the truth that says "You cannot do this on your own. You can only do it through me." Yes, Lord, you are correct. I can do nothing without you. You are everything to me, and I can do nothing without your help, your grace, your love, and your gifts. You are good, Lord, so very good to me. Selah!

Today is a good day, such a very good day. I sit here and blog, thinking about my life, and how very good it is. I mean, I am in such a good place right now. My semester is almost over. I have just a smaller to-do list than before the fall break, and I marvel at all He has done. He has done this. He has seen me through all the hard work this semester, the Theology papers (ten critical book reviews, a major paper on Abelardian Theology and Philosophy), and TAing History of Communication (all the discussion board responses, the paper on course teaching ideas) and my workload at ACU and GCU. On top of all of this, He has helped me take care of my parents, be a good Mom to my son, and continue to deepen and strengthen my relationship with the man whom I hope to marry some day. All of this, and so much more, has come to pass and He has seen fit to orchestrate it, bring it to pass, and carry me through it. The battle has been stiff at times, but I am alive (Praise God), and I still have some fight left in me. May God be praised today, for He is AWESOME and GOOD.

In closing, as I prepare to sign off for the day and begin to tackle my short to-do list, I am thankful for the bountiful blessings of God's hand this good day. I am excited about my future, and I am grateful for the opportunities the Lord has provided to me. He has seen to my every need, and while there are times when I panic, I worry, and I fear, I am constantly reminded of His faithfulness, His goodness, and His provision for my life. He has me so well-covered, so well-covered. God is GOOD, so very GOOD to me.

November 27, 2015

Happy Day After...

Yeah, it is that "day after the day" we give thanks. Here in America, it is called "Black Friday," supposedly the busiest shopping day of the year. People go crazy, lining up for hours, just to try to get some low price on something they just have to have this year. The funny thing is that the experts out there say that, historically, very few items are actually marked down far enough to make them be really good deals on this day. Most often, you can get a better price if you wait until closer to Christmas or if you purchase the item at certain times of the year when manufacturers are trying to push old product (like right before the Super Bowl). Yet, millions of people will venture out early today to engage in this shopping ritual. I prefer to sit at home, away from the "battle fray," and enjoy this day off as it was meant to be -- just a good day of rest. That is my plan, anyway. Here's to another restful Black Friday!

Today is a good day, a very good day. Not only am I well-rested, but I am also feeling good overall (physically), and that means that I must be getting enough rest. I know that I am relieved to have my major paper turned in on time, and I am relieved to be almost finished with my semester at Regent, GCU and ACU.

I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I am beginning to envision my next steps -- studying for and passing my exams, writing my dissertation, graduating with my PhD. I am so excited for these next steps in my life. I have worked very hard for the past five years, and I am so close to being done, finally PHinisheD (as my friend likes to say). I am not sure what the Lord has planned for me next, though I am thinking of post-doctoral study in Rhetoric at some point in time. For now, though, I have to concentrate on these last big events, pushing through to the finish line, and graduating with the BIG DEGREE. It is right there....right there, and I can envision and imagine it happening. I am so excited to be in this place, to finally be at the end of my courses. I cannot tell you how I have dreamed about this experience, how I have wanted to get my doctorate, and how I thought it would never be possible. But, as I have learned time and again...nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

Yes, this is true. All things are possible when God is in control, when He is the author and finisher of our faith. With God, nothing is impossible for Him to accomplish. The key, of course, is that what is possible must be of His desire, His design, and His doing. God must be at the start and the finish, and He must be the agent in the middle, the One who brings all things to pass.

In my doctoral course work, in specific, I have seen the Lord's handiwork, His desires and design, all work together for my good. He orchestrated the classes, picked the topics for me to explore, and when it came right down to it, He helped me, inspired me to write my papers. He made it possible for me to excel in this program, to achieve all that I have achieved, and really, to get me to this place, this very good place where I am about ready to FINISH! I give Him all the praise, the honor, and the glory, for without His abilities, His amazing power, I would be nowhere, nothing, and not even able to do anything of value to further His kingdom plans. He is worthy, He is good, and I give Him all the praise and adoration this good, this very good day. Selah!

So what are my plans for this good day? Well, I guess I should get moving, that is for sure. It is 12:30 p.m. and I am still sitting here in my PJs. I need to tackle some school work today (posts), and I may go ahead and start decorating the house for Christmas. My Mom is not feeling well today, so I am not sure what really needs to be done. I am thinking we will take it easy, perhaps just enjoy this good day, and then maybe have a quiet night in.

I am thinking about my love, who is spending this day in his home, and I am so wishing we could be together. I am so thankful for this wonderful, Godly, caring and supportive man. God has blessed me with a perfect companion, someone who compliments me so well. I think about him, and I smile. I really smile. He makes me laugh, and he helps me to be a better Christian, a Godly woman, and for that I am so very grateful. God knew what He was doing when He brought us together -- in such a carefree and happenstance way. I mean, neither of us where "looking" for a relationship, and neither of us were doing anything at all about it. We just found each other on the Internet, casually, first through my blog, and then later through Facebook. God had a plan in mind, and over time, we clicked, connected, and have become very close companions. It is a sweet and wonderful thing, and I am so hopeful that in time, in short order, we will be together (in person) and be able to plan out our life together. It is hard to believe that we have known each other as close friends for a year and a half now. It seems like it has been this way forever. I mean, I feel like I have known this man my entire life, and I am so comfortable with him that we can talk, joke about anything, and we can enjoy our time together as the Lord provides. I mean, we spend a great deal of time talking on the phone or over video chat. I think we have talked for 3-6, sometimes even 7 or 8 hours at a stretch. I have never talked with anyone for that length of time, but we just get into this groove, and we start talking, and we cannot stop. Sigh.

As I think about my life, about all the blessings God has brought to me, I am thankful for my friend, the man with whom I have come to share a large portion of my life, and I think to myself "How much more can you bless me, Lord? Have you not given me enough?" I would say that He has indeed blessed me beyond measure. He has surely given me everything I need to be happy and content in Him alone. He is good, He is God, and I am so blessed by His presence, His patience, and His perfect plan for my life. Selah!

November 26, 2015

Give Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving 2015! I cannot believe that I made it, but I did! Yes, I finished my paper on time, submitted it last evening, and now I am resting after a very long and hard push to complete my last "required" paper of my doctoral program at Regent University. I still have some smaller assignments to finish between now and December 11, but they are minor in comparison. Furthermore, I am in such a good place, academically, that I cannot think of anything to do EXCEPT to shout out my thankfulness to the Lord because He is good. He is so good, He is so good to me.

Right now, I am relaxing so that I can enjoy some family time later this afternoon. We are eating dinner at our friends house, so there is not much "work" to do this morning. I am enjoying my cup of coffee as I sit at my desk and blog a bit. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is on TV, and my parents are watching it in the family room. I am in my room (always), sitting here with the "boys" (my two cats) and thinking about all that I have to be thankful for this good day. I mean, it is 2015, and my life is good.

Truthfully, there is not much I can say other than I am content, happy, and pleased to be where I am right now. I thought about it a bit ago as I was watching the parade with my parents. I am not sure why this thought popped into my head, but as I was sitting there watching the balloons float down 6th Avenue, I heard this voice in my head say, "I am a teacher." Weird, really, how that happens, but that is what I heard this voice say to me (my inner voice, I guess you could call it). I thought about it for a minute, and then I smiled. Yes, I am a teacher, and somehow hearing that pronouncement made me smile. I don't know why I thought about it in that moment. It wasn't like a saw a "teacher float" pass by on the big screen. It was just something that occurred to me, and in that moment, I felt content. I thought, "Yes, Lord, thank you for letting me be a teacher."

My blog has been filled with my struggles to come to terms with my career choice. This year, in particular, it seems that my thoughts have been focused on this one question: Is being a teacher the best choice for my life? I wrestled with the decision for months, and up until last month, I was still feeling unsure of my answer. Finally, I made the decision to accept it, and since then, it seems that all the "fuss" has subsided, and I have comfortably taken on the role and begun to enjoy it. Yes, it is as if once the decision was made, the acceptance of it received -- the stress and the struggle subsided. It all faded away.

Today, therefore, I give thanks to the Lord for many things, of which one of these things is the fulfillment of a long ago dream to become a teacher. I thank the Lord today for the privilege, responsibility, and opportunity to be a teacher.

It is a good day to give thanks. As I think about all that I am thankful for today, I cannot help but give praise, honor, and glory to the Lord for He has made everything in my life good. I am blessed. I am favored. I am positioned and prepared and purposed for a specific plan, and that plan, it is GOOD.

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

It is funny, really, to think about how much my life has changed over the course of the past three or four years. I mean, this Thanksgiving 2015 marks the third holiday spent together in this home. I can barely remember the previous ones other than to say that today seems strangely different. I am trying to process the change, mostly as I see my Mom and I realize just how limited she is in her abilities to do the cooking, cleaning, and housekeeping. My Mom always had dinner at her house. She always put on a good feast. The last year and now this one, will be spent at a friend's house for dinner. The challenge is to see how my parents can handle the event. Neither is in a good place to be able to enjoy the day. My Dad is dreading having to walk up stairs (nearly impossible for him now), and my Mom, while happy to be going out, is trying to understand everything that needs to be done. I am in the middle of it all, trying to make sure we show up on time, have everything we "promised" to bring, and make sure my son (the sleepy one) is up, moving, and ready in time to leave the house at 1:15 p.m.

What's more is the fact that in truth I would rather had stayed home. Yep, it is true. I would rather have just made a small dinner here, nothing really fancy, but still a good meal so that we could rest more today. Despite my wishes, wants, or will -- we will go -- and I know the Lord will bless our time today. Still, there is a part of me that thinks the days of us visiting with friends or even hosting them here in this house are over.

Give Thanks in Everything

This past week has been stressful for me. It has been awful, really. I had a major blow-up with my Dad, and I suffered most of the week with silence between us. Thankfully, that "silence" is broken now, and we are on speaking terms again. I know how this life is getting to him and to me, and I know that we are "all" struggling to deal with my Mom's deterioration. I see so many things, so many issues crop up that really are all about my Dad's inability to control life now. This is so sad…and while I am not sorry for expressing my frustration and anger at his behavior on Monday, I am grieved that I chose to blow up and lose my cool over such a small thing.

I was over in my Dad's office earlier this morning, on the hunt for some super sticky tape when I noticed that my Dad's bell (sort of an old fashioned desk bell) was sitting in his cupboard. I made a remark, "Oh, you found your bell" to which he replied that it had been pushed back behind his desk, and yes, he did find it. It wasn't but two weeks ago that he accused my son of not returning the item after he had used it for one of the plays at the community college he was stage-managing. This was two years ago, and according to my Dad, my son had failed (yet again) to return an item borrowed. The truth, of course, was that the "item" was returned on time, and was where it belonged (in my Dad's office/hobby room). My Dad simply reacted strongly to what he thought was true, when in fact, there was no fault at all, just a mishap and an item misplaced for a time. This is the behavior we are dealing with daily. My mother is not taking her pills each day, so my Dad gets angry. My Dad is having to do more work than he can possible handle (due to his physical limitations), and my Mom gets angry. It is called "old age," and I hate that this is what I see all around me.

I am caught betwixt and between and it is a very difficult place to be. I was thinking about this today, how just three years ago, my parents were planning on moving into an apartment near by. This was going to be a major move for them, downsizing from a house to an apartment. I was living about 10 minutes away, and for all purposes, the plan was a good one. They would sell their home, and then they would move into a smaller place (three bedrooms, but without maintenance, etc.) near by. In hindsight, year 1 and 2 would have been okay, but the turn into 2015, would have caused them great concern. My Mom is not able to prepare meals anymore, and my Dad is not able to do much to help her in the home. How would they have managed? I am not sure. Perhaps I would have stepped in to help more, but then I think, how could I have done that with working full-time and my doctoral studies? It wouldn't have been possible at all.

So, in hindsight, the plan we made to move in to this house together was a good one. I may not like the fact that I have lost a great deal of my freedom, but it has been much easier to care for my parents here than if I was living 10 minutes away and being called on daily to help out. I guess the Lord knew what He was doing by bringing us together these past couple years.

As I process all of this change, I received a photo on my phone from my cousin, Dale, in Florida. He had taken his girls (ages 15 and 13) to see my Aunt in the nursing home this morning. They are good about visiting, and they send me photos to show to my Mom (my Aunt's only sister). I appreciate what they do, how they are good about going there, and how the girls (both sweet and beautiful) are so willing to spend time with their grandmother, who suffers from dementia and stroke.

Today's photo was different though, and for a moment, I didn't recognize the older man standing there next to the girls and my Aunt. As I looked closer, I realized it was my cousin, Mark. Mark is the black sheep of the family, a man who has spent his life pursuing the seedy underside of things. He is often homeless. He is drug-addicted and he is an alcoholic. I know that my cousin, Dale, will not let him see their Mom unless he cleans up. Apparently, he was willing to do that today because standing there in the picture, he actually looked good (clean and presentable, I mean). I felt this strange prick in my heart as I looked at the photo. I remember all the years we spent together, all of us, at my Aunt's home in Ohio, and the fun times we had back then. My grandmother was the center of our home, and she always made the holidays so special. My parents, my Aunt and Uncle, and all of us kids would hang out and just enjoy being together. I think back on those precious memories, and my heart breaks because so much has happened, so much sadness, pain and sorrow. I would never of imagined that some thirty years later, I would be single, living with my parents, sharing a home with my son, and preparing to graduate for the fourth time from a college or university. 

The plans I had as a child never materialized. I thought I would grow up and get married. I wanted a large family back then, about 6 children, and I wanted to live in a house like my Aunt and Uncle had in Ohio. It set far back from the road and was surrounded by trees. It was country living at its best, and I loved visiting with them whenever I could. I thought "this is what I want" someday. Of course, I never thought that I would leave Illinois then. I never thought I would be "anything" special but a wife and a mother (like all my school friends). I wasn't smart. I wasn't a super athlete. I had no special talent. I was just a plain girl, silly often, and really not the most attractive or unique in any way. I hoped God would bring me a good husband. I hoped that He would allow me to have children. I wanted to stay at home, be a wife and a Mom, and just live my life surrounded by my children. I had no visions of greatness, no thoughts of accomplishing anything in my life. Just a home. Just a family. Just a life filled with lots of love, lots of fun, and lots of happiness.

Accepting the Past

Now as I think about what has transpired, that at age 53, I would be ready to graduate with my PhD and go on to being a full-time professor, I wonder about it all. Lord, what did you have in mind for me? Is this what you wanted for my life? I never had a clue. I never had an inkling that this is the life He would choose for me to live. 

My life didn't turn out as I had hoped, but what I have today is very good. I am happy. I am content. I have a good future. I have interesting things to do. I have plans, and I have prospects that say to me "You are going places!" Still, my heart still longs for home, for family, for those warm memories that were so important to me as a child. Perhaps one day the Lord will permit me to have a family again. Perhaps one day the Lord will provide a home, a place where I can live out my days in peace and tranquility. Perhaps one day this will come to pass. Until then, I will carry on. I will move forward with intention, focus, and determination. I will go where He sends me, and I will find peace, joy, and love there. I will live where He tells me to live, and I will make a home that is sweet, warm and wonderful. I will do the work He has prepared for me to do, and I will find joy in it, contentment through the process, and success as my hand produces good results.

Yes, I am thankful today for the twists and turns in my life, for where I have been and for where I am going. I know the plans the Lord has for me, and I am confident that they are, indeed, good.

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.
Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

The Lord is GOOD. He is so very good, and today, I give thanks for all the GOOD He has brought to me, and all the GOOD He has planned for my future. Today, I give Him thanks for He is so very good to me.

November 25, 2015

It is D-Day...Again!

It is Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and I am sitting here at my desk thinking whether or not I can finish my major paper in time. It is due today, by 9 p.m. PST (well, I guess 10 p.m. since I am mountain time now), and I am no where near to being finished. I am panicked, to say the least, yet I know that I have been in this position before, and the Lord has miraculously helped me push on through.

I am struggling today, really struggling, and it is not about the paper, per se, just more about my life here at home, the unfortunate experience I had on Monday, and the fact, that for all intents and purposes, the environment has turned toxic. It has become unbearable to remain in my home, yet there is no place for me to go, no place for me to run. I must endure, and I must overcome the intense uncomfortableness, and I must do it because this is the will of the Lord, and I am determined to do His will, no matter the cost, the outcome, or the amount of discomfort. He is good, so very good to me.

As I think about where I am today, and how I got here, and by that I mean, how this difficult place came to be a part of my experience this day, I am reminded that my life is no longer my own. Scripture floods my mind, and I cannot help but think about Peter, who heard Jesus tell him about his future death. In John 21:18 we read,

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.

These words come to me, not to scare me, but rather to remind me that this is the path I walk now. I am on a path that leads home, not to an earthly home, but to my eternal home. This path is not easy. It will not be filled with happy days, though I do hope my days will be happy in some way, shape or form. The path is hard, it is filled with difficult and troubled days, and this is the path I must walk. I am called to follow after Him, and in doing so, I must pick up my cross and walk beside Him.

I am struggling today, just with what has transpired, and my role in it, and I am trying to figure out what I must do to make things better. I mean, I can give way, yield, and submit -- but is that the best way to approach this discomfort? Or, should I stand firm, stand my ground, and wait for the Lord to rescue me? I am not sure, but what I do know is that today is a difficult, a troubled, and a unwelcome day. I have so much work to do, so much work to finish, and the time is at hand. Yet, my mind is unfocused, and my thoughts are filled with things that are not serving the Lord's purpose. I am conflicted, and in this way, I am filled with doubts, insecurities, and with an overwhelming sense of dread.

He is good, of course, and I know that I am not alone. I do not stand on my own in this matter. Still, today, I feel all alone. I feel so alone. I wonder about it, why this has happened, how an innocent conversation could take such a dark and stormy turn. Part of me thinks that it is what must be, as in, this must pass so that I can move into the next phase of my life. You see, I wonder if the present trouble is necessary in order for me to experience the goodness the Lord has in mind for me --> over there. I cannot get from here to there without first making this break, without first taking this difficult step, and perhaps this is what this is all about, a breaking free, a release from the tangled web and the ever present power that has held me so tightly back. 

As I consider this as a possibility, I begin to think laterally about this situation. My students know what I mean because when I teach them how to argue a causal analysis, I ask them to think "sideways" instead of in a linear way. I want them to "think outside the box," so to speak, and in doing so, often they will see minor causes that are contributing factors to the main root cause. It is important to consider all causes when performing an analysis, because without looking at all the causes, often we make determinations that are surface-level only. We must look at all factors before making a decision, and in doing so, we will be better informed when we state our final evaluation. We will have identified what we believe to be the root cause of the problem, and then we can see the causes and the effects as well as propose a workable solution to the problem. It is how one conducts a root cause analysis, and the process is very important in order to identify the problem correctly.

I am thinking sideways right now. I am looking at this problem, my home situation, with different eyes. What I see is this:

I see a life that is in flux, my life. I see that I am in a place where I don't belong. I am in the middle of another life, that of my parents, and while I am here and there are benefits to being here, I am stuck in someone else's world. It is like I have found myself trapped inside one of those snow globes. I am stuck on the inside of someone else's world, and I cannot find a way out. For a time, this little world was magical, it was fun, and it was all "snowy and white" (perfect). But the glass enclosure has proven too tight a fit for me, and I need to find a way out. I need to break free from the enclosure and I need to be my own person now. I cannot go "home" so I must go where I can find my own way, my own place, and my own life. I see this as part and parcel to my story. I have been encased in glass, made to stay put for a time, but now the globe has shattered, and there is a small opening, and I am peering through it. I must step through the hole and walk out into the bright light of freedom.

In thinking this way, I see what has happened. I see it now in clear detail. I made the decision to move in with my parents in order to alleviate my fears of graduate study. I believed that I couldn't work full-time AND go to school full-time and still maintain good grades. I believed that the only way I could make it through Regent was to work part-time, to teach, and thus to teach part-time meant that I couldn't live on my own. I sacrificed my life in order to live with my parents for a time. I believed it was a good thing, and that it would prove beneficial for all of us. 

In truth, it has been a good thing, in some ways. In other ways, it has been difficult. I gave up my freedom, my own home, my solitude and peace for a shared life with my parents. I entered this home as an adult woman, but through efforts by my father, I have become an adult child. I allowed it, for sure, mostly because I was occupied with other things, my studies mostly, so I didn't really pay attention. Once it had happened, I began to feel the constriction upon me. I began to feel as though I was being strangled by responsibility, care, and other worries that simply were not mine to share.

I remember the moment I realized this was happening to me. It was last holiday season, and I was thinking strongly about moving to AL to be near my friend. I had applied for a job at Auburn University, and I was very excited about the opportunity to move there. I wanted to pursue this relationship, to take it to the next level, and I was open to the Lord, should He decide that this was His plan for me. I remember boldly when I said that I was thinking about moving to Auburn, and I remember the reaction I received from my father. It was as if he turned against me, right there at the dinner table, and pronounced in "no uncertain terms" that he was not going to move anywhere away from Arizona. I remember my family sitting there, looking rather dumbfounded at his remark, and I started to think to myself "I will never leave this place."

Do You Love Me?

The Lord has called me to go several times. The Lord has put on my heart the possibility of jobs elsewhere in the country, and I have even applied for a couple of them. Every time I do, though, I hear myself say to the Lord, "What about my parents? What will they do?" 

John 21, verses 16-17 tell the story well,

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He *said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He *said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He *said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He *said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.

and I have heard these same words echo in my head more than once. I have heard the Lord say to me, "Carol, do you love me more than these?" My response to Him has always been, "Yes, Lord, I love you more than...[insert thing]!" However, while I have said that I loved the Lord more than my life, more than my desires, I have struggled to actually put Him first in many areas in my life. I love the Lord more than my studies at Regent, more than my family, yes family, and more than anything I own or desire in this life. Yes, Lord, I love you more than these things.

I know this may seem weird, even outlandish, and to some people, the story I am telling doesn't or will not make sense. But, the problem is that for me, I have always been tied to my family. I am like the man who asked Jesus for permission to bury his family before he followed after Him. I am the one who has said "I will follow you so long as it doesn't conflict with my family or their plans." I have followed the Lord, for certain, but never very far from my parents influence. I have never really left their side, their home, or their life. I have justified my way by saying that I am a good daughter because I have stayed near them, I help them, and I am close to them. In truth, I have used my parents as shelter, safety, and security for far too long. I have never shattered the cord that binds me to them, and in that way, I have remained chained to them for more years than I should have allowed. 

I purposely chose this way because of the pain I suffered in my marriage. I had no friends, real friends, and I had no social circle outside of my ex-husband and my family. Thus, when things turned sour in my personal life, I retreated to my old home, to my childhood where I felt safe. Even though my childhood was far from safe, it was the place where I could rely on my parents for help, so whenever I got into trouble or felt so overwhelmed, I would run home.

In 2011, I moved out of my shared home with my ex-husband, and for the first time in my life, I moved into my own place. It was my own place. I loved my town home, and I loved the freedom I had there. I called the shots, I did whatever I wanted, and I loved it. I so loved it. Then in 2013, I made the decision to leave that home and to move in with my parents, temporarily, to finish my PhD program. It was a good move, and I still believe that it was the right thing to do. They needed to downsize, and I needed to reduce my expenses so I could transition to teaching college. In the end, the process has been somewhat smooth, somewhat acceptable. But there have been times when living in this home has become too much for me, when I needed my privacy, and I needed my freedom. I have learned to be content to live in my 10x12 room. I have learned to share this home, and while I am not complaining about the arrangement, in general, what I am saying is that as I begin the process of completing my degree program, I am starting to think about what is next for me. I am starting to think about next steps.

However, I cannot think about next steps without thinking about my parents long-term care. Thus, I feel trapped in that globe because I know that my leaving will cause them great harm and disruption. I don't want to go, but I know I cannot stay put. I must follow the Lord, and I must let go of this life, this way, and this home.

Perhaps then this latest squabble is simply a way to show me that this is not my home, not where the Lord intends to keep me, and that I must not be too comfortable here because in a short time, He is going to call me AND provide for me so that I can move on.

Yes, I believe that this is what is happening. This is His way of reminding me that I must be ready to go when He is ready for me to go. I cannot hold on to this life. I must walk freely where He sends me. I may not like what I am experiencing, but what I see around me is the truth, the reality of this situation. I must be free to go, and that means that I must no longer retreat to the safety of my parents home, but rather, I must be the adult woman that He has made me, created me to be. I must take authority over the enemy who wants to keep me down, to keep me unfocused, and unable to work out the details. I must take this authority, and accept that the plans the Lord has for me are good, they are good. 

Dear Lord,

I am not sure if I have this figured out or not, but I do think that what I am experiencing is part and parcel to your will. I am not saying that you have tempted me, but what I am saying is that this trial was purposed to help me see that I must not hold too tightly to this life, this temporary life here in Phoenix. You have a great plan for my life, and it includes moving to another state, another job, another home. I am not afraid to go, even if I worry about my parents care. I want to go, I want to do your work, and I want to follow after you because I believe, in no uncertain terms, that the plans you have for my life are good. They are so very good. I ask today for peace in my home, as much as it is possible, and I ask that you help me broker that peace since I am part of the problem here. I ask for the grace to forgive and forget, and to recognize the truth that exists in my home. I am leaving, and my parents know it. They don't like it, but it is truth, and they must accept it. I am moving on, toward the life you have planned and purposed for me, and I must go when you are ready to go. Until then, I ask for the grace to be able to be calm, in control, and compassionate toward my parents and their needs during this difficult time in their life. I ask to be set free from all control, the control that other people seek to have on me, and I ask to be able to take control of the details of my life, those that you have given to me so that I can accomplish your will. I trust you completely, and I take this authority now given to me by your hand, and I look to you for guidance and goodness as I step out in faith and move toward the fulfillment of your will. I ask all this in the Name of Jesus now, Amen. So be it, thy will be done. Selah!

November 24, 2015

Choosing to Be Happy Today

It is a somber day here in Phoenix. I am feeling spent, worn, and used up. I did sleep well last night, and I woke up feeling fine (physically), which is such a change for me. I know it is because today is Day 2 of my fall break. I am so blessed to have this week off. I needed the rest, and I needed to focus on my last "to-do's" before my semester at Regent ends. I am in the middle of a major Theology paper, and I have some small tasks for my History of Communication class (as a TA). Overall, I feel solid about my finish. I feel confident that I will get an A in this class. My professor is a hard man to please, but he is genuine and caring, and I know that he will fairly evaluate my scholarly effort. My prayer, of course, is to finish this class well. I want to finish strong. My good friend and colleague, Amanda Jo, posted this reminder to our Blackboard course yesterday:

"All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.” -William Bradford

I love this quote. It reminds me that nothing worthy of our effort will be easy. The best things are always worth the wait, as the saying goes, and I think this holds true for achievement as well. When you overcome obstacles, difficulties, and even tragedies, you become stronger than you thought possible. In short, you see what you are made of, and you realize just how "tough" you really are inside. Knowing what you are made of, the tough stuff on the inside, is important. When you know that you can withstand trial, hold off temptation, and overcome most any tragedy, well then you really know what you can and cannot do in this life. So in truth, the things we value most, hold dearest to us, and work hardest for, often are the things that cause us to grow, to develop, and to change. I know this is true in my life...let me explain...

Yesterday was a difficult day for me. I actually accomplished a lot. I worked very hard on my major paper, completing the entire history section, and I felt good (overall) about my progress. My paper is due tomorrow, so today's task is to complete the critical analysis and the theory section so that I can be ready to conclude, proof, and edit tomorrow. I am confident that I can do this, and I am feeling good about the shape and style of my paper (thus far). I am trusting this paper to the Lord since it is difficult for me to write. It is on Peter Abelard, a 12th-century philosopher, and I am struggling some with cohesiveness and a solid thesis. I know better than to write a paper without a thesis, so my prayer is that I can get everything written that is needed AND THEN revise my working thesis to be more on point. I am praying the Lord works this out for me since this paper is worth 60% of my class grade. I know He has me well-covered, and I know He knows me well. Selah!

Despite my good progress, my day didn't go as well as it could have due to a argument early in the day. I hate arguments. I hate to raise my voice. In fact, I will do most anything to avoid contention, but yesterday, well the odds were stacked against me, and I blew my cork. Yes, I let my tongue loose, and frankly, I said things I should not have said. I rarely do this, and I mean that sincerely. I simply felt defensive, and whenever you feel you have to defend yourself, well, that is when you tend to say things that would be better off left unsaid.

My morning started well, and in fact, I spent the early hours alone at home. My son was at school, and my parents were off at doctor's appointments. The house was quiet, just the way I like it, and I was working on the computer most of the morning. My parents arrived home around 11, and I made the mistake of mentioning a phone call I had received earlier that *suggested* my Mom had made other plans for the morning. Note: This is happening more frequently due to my Mom's dementia. She doesn't remember that she agrees to volunteer to help or to meet someone or to do something. My Dad tries to keep her calendar up to date, but Mom doesn't always tell him when she makes these plans. It is not a big deal normally because whatever she chooses to do typically is not important, per se. I just mean it is something for her to do, to help out, and not a doctor's appointment or critical appointment that she cannot miss. I handled the mishap with the person who called, explaining the mixup and that Mom wouldn't be able to attend due to her doctors appointments in the day. The caller was kind and understanding, so we left the conversation well in hand. 

The problem, I think, stemmed from my Dad's unwillingness to accept that he wasn't in control of the situation. I really think this is what the root cause was of the conflagration.  [An aside: I will discuss this more in detail further on, but for now, know that this new "revelation" has come to me overnight. Yesterday, unfortunately, I was clueless as to the the cause.] The situation started rather innocently, but in short order, erupted into a violent volcanic explosion in no time at all. The problem centered on my futile attempt to share my earlier phone call conversation with my parents so that my Mom would know what had happened, just in case she wanted to call the ladies from Church who were involved in the event to explain why she was absent. The issue turned sideways very quickly because my Mom couldn't remember what I was talking about until midway through my explanation. As I explained the call, she remembered the event and said, "Oh, I remember. I had volunteered to help the ladies stuff stocking today!" 

It was right in the middle of this somewhat non-offensive conversation, simply the relaying of factual information, that my Dad started to attack me. I can only explain it as such because it couldn't have been anything else. He refused to listen to what I was saying, calling me, in essence "a liar" because what I was saying didn't match with his understanding. I did try to calmly address the issue, calmly explain what I was saying, but it just didn't help. He refused to listen to me, and when I asked twice if I could finish, I was told to be silent. I didn't get it. I didn't understand what was happening to me, and why my Dad, who can be prickly on even the best of days, would behave so strangely. It was as if something was motivating him to attack me, to egg me on.

My fault, of course, was in the fact that I didn't walk away. I should have walked away. I should have said to my Mom, "Why don't you call Miss Z back?" and just leave it at that. Furthermore, I could have just left the message on the answering machine, rather than interrupting the caller. I only did it because she was coming to the house to pick up my Mother, and I didn't want her to make a special trip over here and then find that my Mom was not home. I figured I could either answer the phone and tell her the story or I could wait until she showed up at the door. It was one of those "either/or" scenarios, and I chose to keep this dear woman from making an unnecessary trip.

Psalm 39:1b - I said to myself, "I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me."

I regret my actions, my tone of voice, and the words I allowed to flow from my mouth. I regret that I behaved so badly. But...

I couldn't understand why I was being so vehemently attacked. Why this stupid conversation sparked a controversy is beyond me, and honestly, it is only today, after reflecting and thinking deeply about it, that I believe I was spiritually attacked. Furthermore, I believe that it was my Dad's perceived lack of control that sparked his willingness to "participate" in this argument. The combination, in my view, provided the fuel for the fire, so to speak, and now I am better able to see how everything worked together to great this "perfect storm."

In hindsight, I see that my Dad's behavior, while not out of character completely, was for all intents and purposes, a reflection of his perceived inability to control my mother's deteriorating health and her subsequent slide further into dementia. The fact that I was the target is unfortunate, but in truth, it seems that this is "par for the course" these days. The trigger incident was insignificant, and unfortunately, happens far to often in our home now that Mom has mild-moderate Alzheimers. It is just part of our normal daily life, and typically, we just go with the flow. My Mom is not able to remember details or events, and often struggles to recall instructions within minutes of the conversation. It is a fact of life for us, and we are all doing our best to deal with her condition.

So rather than being the sympathetic daughter I am normally, yesterday, I lost my cool, and I rebuked my Dad. I've been thinking about my behavior since it occurred, and I am sorry that I allowed the enemy to hurt me, to press me, and I, in turn, allowed myself to explode and retaliate at my father. 

Coming to Terms with this Illness

As I think about the days ahead, I know that there will be more and more of these "incidents" simply because of the nature of this awful illness. My Mother is losing ground daily, and while she is still able to handle some every day living (cleaning, laundry, etc.) she spends almost all of her day reading or watching TV. She doesn't cook, isn't able to cook anymore, and she can no longer drive. She talks on the phone with friends, and she keeps herself busy around the house. She is a shadow of her former person, a lively, engaging, and compassionate person. When I look at her, I see her frailty, and I see how far she has slipped away. She still laughs, and she still is "there," but I see the rapid change in her health, and sadly, I see the end coming soon.

Furthermore, when I look at her, I see how sickly she appears. Her bout with breast cancer has left her struggling. She has recovered from the disease, so say the doctors, but she has to have repeated trips to the surgeon to remove excess fluid from her incision area. This is the fifth visit, and each time she returns home, she looks so unwell. The procedure is painful, and she is uncomfortable for days on end. It seems that just as soon as she starts to feel a little better, the fluid returns, and then the discomfort, and finally, the repeat process to the doctor starts.

All of this is taking a huge toll on her life. And, while she is not bedridden at this time, she seems so pained, and this coupled with her memory loss, just zaps her strength. Her Leukemia is in check, which is a good thing, but to see her slumped in the recliner sound asleep most of the day, well, it is difficult to take. I try my best to keep the house running, but with my heavy teaching schedule and my doctoral course load, sometimes the pressure is too much for me. I lose my cool simply because I am tired, and I am overloaded. The last thing I need is to be accused or attacked for no reason.

With all this in mind, I am still faced with my response to my Dad, and my understanding of the situation at hand. What do I do about it? How do I handle this type of "thing" going forward? My good friend gave me some wise counsel last night, and I appreciate his response to the situation. He said to me that the only way to solve the problem was for me to look at what I could do rather than to focus on what others needed to do. Let me explain...

My problem is two-fold, really. One, I am dealing with spiritual attack; and two, I am dealing with the ramifications of my Mom's declining health, my father's attempts at caring for her, and my living arrangement (temporarily) in their home. I cannot expect my Dad to change his behavior or attitude at this late day. He is, after all, 82, and while he is prickly and stubborn, there are times when he is genuinely caring and compassionate. He is a difficult person to live with, for sure, and I say this all the time, I honestly do not know how my Mom put up with his antics for nearly 57 years (suffice it to say, she has). Still, I need to address these problems, the underlying problem that exists between me and my father, because putting my Mom's condition aside, and accepting the spiritual warfare that is ongoing, there still exists tension in this home, and that tension exists between me and my Dad.

I have to address both problems, spiritual and personal, and come up with a way to deal with the situation for as long as the Lord allows me to remain here and in this home.

1. Addressing the Problem (Spiritual)

Psalm 37:7 - Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don't worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.

I wish I could be still and patiently wait for the Lord. I need to be still. I need to be patient. Yet, like most human beings, I am impatient, and I am more apt to run ahead of the Lord, than to wait for Him to move. I know His timing is perfect, and I know that His way, His plan for my life, well, it is very good. I sometimes wonder why all this is happening now, and why I am struggling so with everything. I mean, when is "enough enough?"

My good friend said to me yesterday that perhaps the reason this is happening to me is to test my strength, to see what I am made of, and I think he is correct. I do believe that the spiritual attack yesterday was part-and-parcel with my proclamation of the Lord's will for my life. I spoke the words, I gave witness publicly, and in doing so, I incurred the enemy's attack. You see, whenever you speak your calling, you speak God's will in and through your life, and I don't mean to just say "I know the Lord's got a good plan," but rather, when you speak the actual plan, when you speak the words the Lord has given to you that pronounce that plan, articulate it, and give it "life," well that is when the enemy hits you the hardest. This is what I believe happened to me. This is what I think is really going on. I gave testimony to what I believed was or is the Lord's precise will for my life, and as soon as I did it, I was hard pressed on all sides. I was punched hard, and that punch hurt me deeply. I recovered, praise be to God, but I am still reeling from it. I think to myself, "Is this what I have to look forward to, Lord?" I mean, I know that in this world we will have suffering because our Lord told us so. Jesus said, 

Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:32-33 NIV).

And Paul writes these words to Timothy to remind the believers of the coming persecution.

Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:17 NLT).

As a Believer in Christ Jesus, this is what I must accept -- that in this life -- there will be troubles, trials, and tribulations. I will suffer persecution, and this persecution is going to come at me from all sides, and even at times, from people who are friends or family members. I must remember to be strong, to be still, and to patiently wait for the Lord. I must rely on His Word, to seek His counsel, and to abide in His Holy Spirit so that I can learn how to keep my tongue, to keep from going on the defense every time I am accused or attacked. The Word says it this way in Ephesians 6:10-17 NASB,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

My response is not to return the volley, but rather to stand fully clothed in the armor of God. I pray that this is my response from now on, and that as I stand firm, as Paul writes in this section from his letter to the Ephesians, I will overcome the attack of the enemy.

2. Addressing the Problem (Personal)

The second part of the problem is more difficult in my view because it is personal. Even though Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against people, but against spirits, it seems that people can cause a lot of pain and suffering for us. Our relationships, in particular, are a major source of pain. Yes, I know...sin is the cause, the root of evil behavior, but still, human beings are the ones who cause the majority of problems in this world. How then do we defend ourselves against the flesh? The Word is clear that we are to defend ourselves against the spirits with the Word of God, but what works with the people in our lives who are prickly, difficult, and at times, abusive or violent toward us?

As I was getting dressed this morning, I prayed to the Lord to ask for His help in dealing with this problem for me. You see, I am not able to simply up and move right now. I am close to finishing my PhD, and for now, that means that I don't make enough money to live on my own. I need to remain where I am until the Lord chooses to move me, so I must learn to live with this difficulty and in learning to live with it, I must learn how to communicate better so as to avoid conflict whenever possible (Romans 12:18).

As a communications scholar, I understand how difficult it is to handle conflict. I also know the steps advised to handle conflict. Furthermore, I know that conflict is not avoidable. I just mean that it is impossible to not have conflict in our relationships, so we must learn how to deal with conflict in appropriate ways. Conflict management is the "process of limiting the negative aspects of conflict while increasing the positive aspects of conflict" (Wikipedia). According to Scott Williams of Wright State University, there are numerous strategies for dealing with conflict. We tend to use the strategy that seems most comfortable to us, but sometimes the strategy we choose is not the best for the given situation. The most common strategies for conflict management include:
  • Forcing - using formal authority or other power that you possess to satisfy your concerns without regard to the concerns of the party that you are in conflict with.
  • Accommodating - allowing the other party to satisfy their concerns while neglecting your own.
  • Avoiding - not paying attention to the conflict and not taking any action to resolve it.
  • Compromising - attempting to resolve a conflict by identifying a solution that is partially satisfactory to both parties, but completely satisfactory to neither.
  • Collaborating - cooperating with the other party to understand their concerns and expressing your own concerns in an effort to find a mutually and completely satisfactory solution (win-win).
I can tell you that in my own personal experience, I have used accommodating, avoiding and compromising most frequently. I have found that neither has been a successful strategy, and that most of the time, the problem wasn't resolved satisfactorily.

Thus, the best strategy is the one most people prefer not to choose and that is to collaborate and create a positive solution. I believe the reason why people do this is because it is easier to accommodate, avoid, or compromise than it is to actively work toward a solution. Collaboration is the preferred strategy by most corporate managers, yet it is the most avoided choice in interpersonal relationships. The reason for this is simple, collaboration takes time. Williams states, "There are many advantages to using a collaborating strategy to handle interpersonal conflict situations.  Collaborating with the other party promotes creative problem solving, and it's a way of fostering mutual respect and rapport.  However, collaborating takes time, and many conflict situations are either very urgent or too trivial to justify the time it takes to collaborate" (para. 5).

Williams suggests that the above strategies work dependent upon the situation. It is vital, therefore to assess the situation to determine which strategy will work best. Evaluating the "importance" of the issue is key to determining how to react. For example, categorizing the issue as follows can help determine next steps:
  • Issue importance - the extent to which important priorities, principles or values are involved in the conflict.
  • Relationship importance - how important it is that you maintain a close, mutually supportive relationship with the other party.
  • Relative power - how much power you have compared to how much power other party has.
In my case, clearly the issue of how to care for my Mom and how to remain neutral in a shared home is of vital importance. It is in no one's best interest to keep the tension riding high nor is it possible to avoid conflict long-term. Thus, collaborating is a good choice because it lays the table bare, and it allows for both parties to express their opinions on the matter in a non-confrontational way. Then, it also allows for the two parties to come to a workable solution that is in the best interest of all parties involved.

As I consider this approach, I realize that while I may be able to get my Dad to agree to some things, this approach is not going to work for us. Even though, I consider our relationship of utmost importance, it is also an issue of power, and I think that the problem stems more from a lack of power or a perceived lack of power that causes animosity between us. You see, my Dad has always been in a power position in our home. Growing up, my Dad was the one to "lay down the law," and we all knew it. In business, my Dad was a Director, and later a Sr. Director, of his company. He was used to getting his way. As an adult child, my Dad always tried to overstep his boundaries in my life, especially when he thought I didn't know what I was doing or he felt my decision-making process was faulty. Thus, I have grown up feeling as though my decisions were critically analyzed and found wanting by my Dad. I avoided conflict with him, and I accommodated him to avoid clashes. Now, that I am living with my parents (temporarily), I am seeing this power structure in play. My Dad is trying to remain in control like he once did when I was young. He is losing control with my Mom as her condition deteriorates, and he is attempting to regain control over me and my son to reset the power structure in the family. The problem is that the power structure has shifted, and that means that I am in control of my family (my son). My parents are autonomous, and they are living in this home as their own family unit. In many ways, we cohabitate, but we are not a family, per se. We are related to one another, but in authority, I am authority over myself and my son. My Dad has authority over my Mom. This is Biblical, really, and I have no issues with the arrangement. I think the problem occurs when my Dad attempts to reclaim authority over me because he feels that I am acting irrational or I am making decisions that he doesn't agree with and he wants changed.

Therefore, I have decided that in my present situation, the best solution is to compromise. I am not willing to give my authority to my Dad, and I do not want to take his authority away from him and my Mom. I need to establish some stronger boundary lines, and that means that I have to be more present in what goes on in the home that affects me. I spend a great deal of time in my room, partly to focus on my studies. I am going to start taking a more active role to ensure that my son and I are not unfairly treated. Furthermore, I am setting boundaries on my expenses and what I am willing to contribute above and beyond our agreed upon monthly limits. I have been spending more money than necessary to ensure my Mom has the little things she likes. In doing so, I have enabled my Dad to get away with doing less for her. I am going to stop doing this because this places me in a subordinate position to my Dad who assumes I will do what he wants. It is not that I want to see my Mom suffer, but my stepping in has caused this power rift, and I need to step back out and distance myself somewhat from my parents daily routine and life. They must figure out how to live with this disease, the ramifications and outcomes of it, and in doing so, they must come to understand their own limits. I cannot protect them nor can I provide for them. I must let my Dad be the one in charge of my Mom, and in doing so, he will feel more in control. 

The key then becomes one of balancing the needs of the family with the provision the Lord provides to me. I have never been called to provide for my parents financially. I have never been asked by the Lord to provide for them physically, either. I care for them, I offer support to them, but I am not their caregiver. I must be careful not to assume a role that the Lord has not given to me. I am not called to be a full-time caregiver, and this I have known for a long while. This doesn't mean I don't care or that I don't help out as I am able. I do. It just means that I am not to become a full-time nurse for my parents or "live-in" help, which is what I am becoming, thanks to my Dad. No, I must not do this. I am here for a time only, while I finish my PhD. My parents have come to rely on me, and they believe that I am to care for them through the end of their lives. This is not the Lord's will for me, and while I do care for my parents, I am not to take on this responsibility and forget my calling, the expressed plans the Lord has for me. He is calling me to do great things, to go places, and to do work that is specific. Therefore, I must stand firm, even in this case, because in some ways, the enemy uses my attachment to my parents, my love for them, to keep me from following after the Lord. I must go where He sends me, and that may mean, leaving my parents behind to be cared for by others. I know that sounds so harsh, so cruel, but really it isn't cruel, mean or harsh at all. It is life. It is my life.

As a single woman, I am not in the position of caring for my elderly parents the way a married daughter could. You see, if I had a husband who made good money, to the point where I could stay at home, well that would be very different. I have to work. I have to do work, and I will have to do work until age 70 (at least). This means that I cannot stop what I am doing to be a full-time caregiver to my parents. I can be supportive secondary care, for sure, but not "on call" or "live in" care. I understand this now, more so than before, and I realize that the enemy seeks to play with my emotions and my feelings of responsibility. In doing so, he seeks to pull me from what I believe the Lord is calling me to do -- and that is to serve Him and others in a global context. Yes, I will serve others as I am able in my home, in my community, in my school, etc. We are all called to do this -- but some are called specifically in helper roles, as caregivers, while others are called differently. I must do what the Lord is calling me to do. I must do it.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely;
and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete,
without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-34 NIV

November 23, 2015

Moving as He Moves Today

It is Monday, and I am home! I have finally made it to Thanksgiving Week, and that means FALL BREAK, here at GCU! I am so relieved, so happy, and well, so HAPPY! Yes, all semester long I have been working hard to push my students to this point, to get them to the finish line. We are almost finished with the semester, just two more weeks, and then we will be done. I love the end of the semester because it reminds me that we can overcome all obstacles, hurdles, and roadblocks in our way -- so long as we are focused, determined, and unwilling to deviate from the path we are on.

Today's reading comes from Proverbs 4. Verses 25-27 in the Message states,

Keep vigilant watch over your heart;
that’s where life starts.
Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth;
avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip.
Keep your eyes straight ahead;
ignore all sideshow distractions.
Watch your step,
and the road will stretch out smooth before you.
Look neither right nor left;
leave evil in the dust.

I love this series of verses, especially in the Message translation because the Word is explicated more clearly, and we see that the writer (Solomon) was stressing the importance of Godly character and walk MORE SO than purpose or direction. I know that at times, I am guilty of taking Scripture out of context, and for using it to suit my interpretation (or my thoughts, feelings, etc.) However, as I think about these verses today, I am reminded that often our purpose AND our walk coincide. This means that where we walk (e.g., the path we walk on) is just as important as how we walk on that path. Does that make sense? 

The writer of Proverbs is stressing the importance of not walking toward evil things, but staying focused and determined on the good path, the path that leads to life (in Jesus). The call is to remain fixated on the goal, to not lose sight of the purpose of our walk. In this way, we see that our purpose and our path as well as our position (how we walk) all merge together to form what I believe is the call of every Christ-follower -- to walk in such a way that the world sees that we are different -- that we have something they don't, and that something is the hope of Christ, eternal life. Yes, our calling is more about showing the world this HOPE than it is about telling them, yelling at them, or demonstrating against them. It is about living out what we believe, and making sure that our life, all the aspects of it, align with His Word, His Way, and His Will. We must be consistent, neither turning to the left or the right, but staying the course through to the end. This is what is the good will of the Father, the will that pleases Him most. The Lord desires to see us come to maturity, to be strong believers, faithful to His cause and genuinely concerned for the world.

As I think about my life, where I am today, and where the Lord seems to be leading me tomorrow, I am aware of the importance of these verses. I see that often I feel pulled one way or another, and that pull seems to hurt the most, when I strain against it. I want to stay steady, to be strong, and to not give in to the enemy as he tempts me and taunts me with his lies. I want to be stalwart (my favorite word) because I know that each time I stand, each time I lift my shield of faith, and each time I brandish the sword of the Spirit, I am able to defeat him, beat him back, so to speak. I overcome this world, the evil onslaught through His blood and the word of my mouth (my testimony). Revelation 12:11 NIV says it this way,

And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.

These are powerful words of encouragement, and they foreshadow what is to come -- the day when the accuser is thrown out of heaven and cast down for all eternity -- and because of John's blessed vision, we can take hope to know for certain, for sure, that this is what will be in time. We can be bold in our faith, bold in our courage, and bold in our witness because we know the end of the story, we know that Christ has TRIUMPHED, and evil has lost. We can stand free, so long as we stand in His blood, and are empowered by His Holy Spirit. His grace truly is sufficient for any situation, any circumstance, and any event that we may face today. Selah! God be praised!!

As I mediated on the Word today, I am more and more convinced that our road ahead, the hard road ahead will not become easier for us, but the walking on it, the traveling and journeying, will be less difficult as we draw nearer and closer to the Lord, and as we rely upon His strength, His power, and His Goodness each and every day. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me this good day! Selah!

My life has clarified of late, and I am seeing it more and more as a long journey toward my home going. I love that phrase, "home going," and I mean it just as it is stated here. In common language, it simply means when we die and leave this earth and enter into heavenly bliss. I know that my time, the day and hour, are fixed. The Lord has my days numbered, and He knows both my beginning and my end. Thus, I can focus on the days because I am not concerned with His time, and I am not worried that today may or may not be my last. I can live with abandonment (in a good way) and not think so much on the end, but rather focus on the in between, the journey, the process, and the way.

My life thus has become routine. I know what I will do today, what I will do tomorrow, and what will be the eventual outcome of all my days on this planet. I will seek to serve God and others, I will demonstrate my love for God through my love for others, and in the end, I will do the work He has purposed, planned, and prepared for me to do. I will do it until the last breath, and I will remember that my witness, my testimony, is predicated not on what I do, but solely upon what He has already done. I work steadily, with steady hands, to do this work, and in my faithfulness and obedience to His call on my life, I will show, I will demonstrate, His goodness to the world around me. I will do this today, tomorrow, and every day henceforth, and in doing so, I will feel confident that I am living out my calling, my purpose, and I will take joy in the fact that I am doing the very thing He has desired for me to do. I was created for a purpose, and praise be to God, I know what that purpose is and in knowing my purpose, I can live my life freely, completely, and undeniably "sold out" for His Name, His praise, and His cause. He is good, so very good to me.

Today marks a new beginning for me. I am completely confident that the plans the Lord has for my life are far bigger than I can imagine. I stress over the details, the "minutia" as I call them, when in reality the details are so large that I cannot even fathom them. Yes, the Lord has a very good plan for my life. I am blessed, I am highly favored, and I am good. In that, I simply mean that I am in a very good place, and because I am resting 100% upon Him for everything, my every need, want and desire, I can be bold in knowing that the plans He has today will be fulfilled. I will not stand in His way. I will not be the problem, but I will be part of His solution. I will go and do as He asks, and I will faithfully, with cheerfulness, do the work He has assigned to me to do. It is a good thing to be used by God. I am blessed in that He has chosen me for this work, and I am thankful that He has equipped me to do it. I may not always like what I am doing, and there will be times when the workload seems too heavy for me to bear -- but -- I can take heart to know that He has me well-covered, and that He is with me, right up to the end of my days. He is good in that way, He is so very good to me! Praise His Holy Name! He is Good, He is Good!

On this beautiful morning here in sunny, and somewhat warm Phoenix, I am resting well because I know today what God wants me to do with the rest of my life. Selah! Yes, I finally figured it out! Praise be to God! Praise His Holy Name! As strange as that may seem, to have finally "figured it out," I guess I am saying that I have finally come to terms with IT all, with the struggle, the strain, and the stress that has consumed me for the past five-six years. I have finally said "You win, Lord!" and I have given up my desire to have my way. I have relented, let go, and in doing so, I have accepted His way over my way. In this grand move, I have said to Him that in no-uncertain terms, I trust Him completely, that I believe what He is doing is far bigger, better, and bolder than my imaginings, and that He is more capable and able to do this very thing than I could even attempt. In short, He is able, and I am not, and for all my attempts (futile at best) to do the work, to complete the work, to even contemplate the work, I have failed. He has succeeded as only God can succeed, and my limited efforts have fallen short, missed the mark, and failed to measure up. He is good, He is God, and I am blessed in the knowledge that as God, He truly does know best. He knows what is best for me and for my life. Praise God! Selah!

I sit here on my blog, and for a moment, my mind wanders backwards. I see what has transpired over the past 10-15 years, and I see how everything in my life has worked together to get me to this point, this very point. How precious and good is His plan? He has known what it would take to get me to agree with Him, to come into 100% agreement, and to accept His provision for my life. He knew that I would not relinquish my efforts, not stop trying to do my best to be acceptable, until I was put in this very place, this place of utter and complete dependency upon Him. He knows that, in my flesh, I am capable. I am smart, I am strong, and I am disciplined. People who know me well marvel at how much I can accomplish in a day -- should I put my head and my heart into it. They know that I can do pretty much what I promise or that I will attempt to keep my word no matter how many competing thoughts or activities come against it. I will always do my best, give 100% to the cause, and in the end, more than likely through sheer effort and determination, I will overcome and achieve whatever I put my mind to doing. 

It is a good thing by world standards, but it can be a challenging thing when it comes to the plans of the Lord. I mean, the Lord loves disciplined and focused people. He has always seemed to favor the stubborn, the hard headed, the willful, for His work. I wonder why sometimes, and then I realize that it is the will, the determination, the sheer effort that these people possess naturally that the Lord desires to harness for His Name. He must do it, though, and to get to the point where He can do it, well that requires a lot of work on His part. He must tame the beast, so to speak. He must get the horse to accept the bit, and that requires a gentle whisperer who can persuade, convince, and in the end, prove faithful and worthy. He has done all of this, and He is worthy, He is faithful, and He is good. The Lord has demonstrated His care toward me. He has shown me time and time again His faithfulness. I have strained at the bit, not wanted to be "broken," but in the end, I have come to see His bit and His brokenness is what I must allow in my life. I have learned through His strong arm that "things" will be easier, the yoke I mean, if I let it rest on me. His yoke makes my life better.

Thus, today, I think about all the straining, the pulling at the yoke, and I realize that my broken experience has been necessary. My will had to be broken, not crushed, but broken so that I could accept His yoke, and in doing so, I could allow Him to begin to rebuild my life, to center it around His will, His way, and His work. Yes, I had to be broken before I could follow Him wholly, completely, and without fear of death (as John says in Revelation). I had to get to this place where I was able to say, "Yes, Lord, I will go" and mean it. I had to be able to say "Yes, Lord, I will do this work" and mean it. I had to be able to say, "Yes, Lord, I will live this way" and mean it. 

For years now I have said that I would go and do His work. I have repeated my mantra (so to speak) that says,

I will go where you send me
I will do the work you have prepared for me to do
I will live where you tell me to live

And, truly, I believed every word. I believed that I would do those things, yet experience has not proven this out. In truth, I was not willing to go, to do, or to live where the Lord wanted. I liked bits and pieces of the plan. I liked parts of the idea. But when it came right down to it, the only place I was truly content to remain was right where I was -- in Phoenix, doing the work of a teacher at Grand Canyon, and living with my parents and son in this shared home. I didn't want to go anywhere else. I didn't want to do anything else. I didn't want to live in any other way than the way I was living at present. Sigh!

Face palm.

Yes, I am sure the Lord has "face palmed" me a number of times. I am sure He sighed as He waited patiently for me to let go of the reins, and for me to stop "straining at the bit." I would often ask Him, "Lord, why are you so good to me? Why are you so patient with me?" and deep within my spirit, I would hear Him say to me, "Because I love you." Yes, He loves me. He waits for me, patiently waits, while I learn what it means to live "broken." He waits for me to let go, to rest, to stop wanting my own way because He knows that in time, in time, I will stop. I will rest. I will let go.

God is so good to me. He is my King, my Shepherd, and my Rock. I have come to learn what it means to rely on Him, to abide in Him, and to lean upon Him. I have come to rest in His mighty and majestic Name, and to recognize that He is God. He is so much bigger than my mind can comprehend, and He is so much more able to do His work than I am. I mean, even in all my perfected strength (if there was such a thing), I couldn't achieve what He is asking me to do. Even in all my "best efforts," I would still fall short. No matter how good, how studied, how well-seasoned, etc., I would still not be able to do this THING, this work. Not to His satisfaction, that is. And, not to His beautiful and wonderful standard. No, I would fail miserably. I would fail, fall on my face, and faint through the effort, the process, the outcome. I can only do this work through His effort, and because I must rely on Him for everything, I must be totally willing, completely surrendered, and officially resting for Him to begin the work.

My day has begun a new way. I am ready now to do the work the Lord wants me to do. I look at my life, I see it in its completeness, and I think to myself, "How is all this possible?" How could the Lord take what was used up, cast off, and unwanted, and turn it into something beautiful, something powerful, and something useful for His purpose and plan. I look at my life, where I once was, and how miserable I was as I lived the yoke of bondage, a life of enslavement to sin, and a life mastered by people who desired only to control me, to use me, to take what I had naturally and profit from it. I lived as a person under the control and authority of another for so long, and after a time, I came to accept that way of life as being "normal." I came to accept the life I was living as "all that there was," and I believed that my life would never be any different, it would never be better, and I would have to suffer through it because I had chosen the path, chosen the way, and made the decision to align myself with someone not interested in following after the Lord. 

In the end, once I was freed from that life, I came to see just how awful it was, and not just through my own eyes of experience, but through the eyes of others (family members and friends) who saw what was going on and who tried to tell me the truth. I accepted His free gift, His freedom, and I walked away from a life I once believed would be the answer to all my prayers -- prayers for safety, prayers for provision -- and prayers for security of home and family. I came to see that my prayers, while good, were predicated on belief that the person I had found had honest intentions, that he was worthy, trustworthy. Unfortunately, I realized too late that I had misplaced my trust, given my trust to someone not worthy of it. The Lord had to show me that there was only One person who was worthy of my trust and that person was Him. I came to trust Him, and in time, I came to experience friendship, relationship, and love. I came to see that He is good, He is fair, He is just. I came to rest in His steadiness, His unchangeableness. He is always the same -- yesterday, today, and forever. He never changes. His character and His nature never shift. He is the same, and He is trustworthy. He keeps His promises, and He never changes His mind. 

It was a difficult journey for me, from childhood to adulthood, and the life I once lived is dead. It is gone, it is buried. The mistakes, the pain, the sorrow, the suffering -- all buried now -- buried with Christ Jesus. I am able to look back without the twinge. I am able to reflect without the sorrow or the regret. I can see the past for what is was -- a journey to break me, to create in me a will that is surrendered and submitted to Him -- so that I could do this THING He is calling me to do. I had to learn how to trust Him. I had to learn how to love Him. I had to learn what He was willing to do for me so that I could accept what I would be willing to do for Him. It was a long, difficult process. It was a hard journey, but now as I make this turn, I see it all clearly. I see the past for what it was, and as I stand in the present, I see the future in unmistakeable clarity. I see where I must go, the work I must do, and the way I must walk. All of it is clear to me now. No more fuzziness, no more confusion. I see it, and I know this is the way -- this is the WAY.

Today is such a good day. A day of new beginnings. A day when I pick up my cross and walk on. I know that the path before me is not easy. The path before me is not level. It is going to be straight, for sure, but it is filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, mountains and valleys. It will be a long journey, a long walk, but I will not walk it alone. I am yoked to the One who loves me most, and who knows where He is going. I am walking with Him, beside of Him, learning from Him, and in that way, we walk this road together. From beginning to end, we will walk it together. He is good, so very good. I am blessed, highly favored, and in that relationship, I experience all that is good in Him. I am blessed, so very blessed this good day. Selah!

Dear Lord,

As I consider what you have said to me this day, I ask now for the words to convey your will so that others, those that are closest to me will know and understand what it is that you are asking me to do. I pray that they will understand, that they will accept your will, and that they will not argue against it. I ask now Lord for the grace to be kind, to be thoughtful, and to demonstrate your great love for all of those you bring into my small circle of influence this day. I ask that you will cover me with your blessing, your favor, and see to each and every need so that I no longer have to worry about them. I ask that you will care for my son, provide for his needs, especially his schooling costs and other concerns this day, and that you will continue to show Him the way you want Him to go. I also ask now Lord that you will honor my request for my parents health and well-being, and that you will provide for them through their remaining days. You are able to care for them far better than I can, so I ask now that you will see to their needs, their physical, financial, and spiritual needs in order to alleviate the pain and suffering they are experiencing now. Lastly, Lord, I ask that as you reveal your will, as you show me my next steps, you will give me the grace to articulate these steps to others. It is important to me that I be able to clearly state what I believe your will is, and to be bold in saying it. May your Name be praised always, and may all my days be summed up in You. Always in You for you alone are worthy. You alone are my sufficiency and my all. You are everything to me, and I give you praise, honor, and ultimately, glory. It is in Jesus' Name that I ask this now, Amen. So be it. Thy will be done. Selah! *Pause and calmly think about it!