December 31, 2014

2014 is Almost Over

It is December 31st, and 2014 is almost over. It is hard to believe that the year has come to a close, but there you have has! God has been so good to me, so very good to me. I am in the most blessed season of my life, and I am feeling so very good about the possibilities for my future. Sure, there are struggles. Yes, I have numerous trials and challenges. My life is not always 100% rosy, and there are days (sometimes weeks) when I think I am not going to make it through in one piece. Yet, somehow, God be praised, I make it through, and I plod on. I think this is why God has given us so many encouraging words in Scripture to help us, to keep us faithful, to keep us moving forward, to keep us trusting in the Lord. Isaiah 41:10 says it this way,

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

Our reminder is that the Lord God is the faithful One. Even when we feel as if we cannot go on, the Lord God is able to strengthen us, to encourage us, and to empower us to "keep on keeping on." We know that our God has planned and purposed a way for us to remain until the end. He has not created within us the desire to quit. Satan's ploy and his number one attack is to cause us so much pain, so much sorrow, and so much grief that we give in and we give up. The Word says "for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7), therefore, we take heart knowing that we can continue on even when we don't feel like it or that we can do it.

Paul writes to the believers at Corinth with this word of encouragement,

This is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long, but they will produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever! So we don’t look at the trouble we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT)

Yes! The present discomfort of this time will last for a short while only. If our eyes are firmly fixed on Jesus, then we look away from the present and forward toward the future, a future filled with "joys to come [that] will last forever!"

As I look back over this past year, I think about all the times I felt so discouraged and overwhelmed. In truth, I probably could say that the majority of the year I felt this way, but there were peak moments when these feelings predominated my thoughts, and almost caused me to give up. In specific, I recall several instances where I felt pushed to the wall, so uncertain of the outcome, that I prayed, seriously prayed for the Lord to release me from the present trouble.
  • Spring 2014 - COM 702 was a good example of a time when I thought I was done in. This Regent University advanced statistics course was the most difficult class I had ever taken. I am not a math person, but I do enjoy some parts of math (Algebra, for example). However, I had never taken an advanced mathematics course nor had I taken a statistics class previously. My plan was to take two courses prior to this one (at UOPX) so that I would feel confident with the course content. I never did get the chance to do that (life and work intervened) and I found myself facing this class head-on, without any preparation, last January. During the semester, I was pushed to the limit, facing a difficult subject without little prior knowledge. Yet, the Lord was with me, and He provided excellent help and instruction. In the end, I passed this course with an "A," and I learned a valuable lesson in trusting the Lord. If the Lord is with you, no foe can stand against you (Romans 8:31).
  • Spring 2014 - ENG 356 was another good example of a time when I thought I had made a major mistake, and I was overwhelmed beyond measure. This was my first teaching assignment at GCU. I walked into a classroom full of eager students, and I felt my knees turn to jello and my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth. I was so certain my students would figure out that I was the worst teacher they could have asked for, and that I knew absolutely nothing about my subject matter. I spent the majority of the semester crying over my poor performance. I was filled with angst and with doubt the entire four months of the contract. However, by the end of the semester, I made it through, and my students actually gave me very high marks for my professionalism and educator ability. I learned that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13)!
  • Fall 2014 - As I headed into the fall semester, I felt certain that I was doomed considering I had accepted four teaching contracts, and I was set to complete two classes at Regent (one a core, and the other a very busy elective). To say I was overwhelmed this past semester is an understatement. I was beyond overwhelm. I honestly do not know how I made it through with my mind in tact. I had 120 students and I had one of the toughest courses, content-wise (COM 701) to complete. I did it, of course, and I managed to successfully pass my faculty evaluations with flying colors all the while maintaining at 4.0 GPA at Regent. I learned once again that God is faithful, and that He keeps His promises (Deut. 7:9)!
I say this not to boast in my own achievements, though I do take great pride in the accomplishment simply because I was stretched beyond what I thought was the breaking point, but rather to give testimony to the Lord, who graciously allowed me to "bend, without breaking!" Yes, the Lord sustained me even when I thought for certain I had taken on too  many responsibilities, too many tasks, and too many things. The Lord was my hope, my faith was firmly fixed upon Him, and while I did doubt His provision (numerous times), He proved to be faithful to me. Yes, the Lord saw me through all these difficulties, and He allowed me to learn great lessons in letting go, and in trusting Him.

Now as I look forward to 2015, I see the same number of obstacles, the same number of tasks and to-dos, and the same number of responsibilities. I have learned that the Lord is faithful -- He is true to His word, and He never gives up on us.  The Lord is good, always good, and His mercy is ever new. I have learned to rely on Him, to rest in His sufficiency, and to allow Him to provide for my security (whether in health, in finances, or in work/life balance). Yes, the Lord meets my needs with sufficiency, and He is my all in all.

I am on the countdown to graduation at Regent University. I have half my program to complete, and I will be technically finished next December. I know it seems like a lot to complete 20 credits, but in reality that works out to be six, eight, and six credits or spring, summer and fall. One more year, and I will be ABD (all but dissertation), and I will be ready to take my qualification exams and begin the final stretch through to graduation (expected in May 2017). God be praised, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I still must focus on the task at hand. I cannot lose my focus now, and I must continue to rest in His provision for my grades, my scholarship, and my daily work. I cannot give up nor can I give in -- not now -- as I can see the end so clearly.

The Lord knows that this last year of classes will be the toughest for me yet. It is not that the content will be more challenging in previous years, but that it will simply mean that I will find my time stretched as I take on more teaching contracts (potentially a full-time job). My career is swinging up while my education is swinging down. And, yes, that is really good news for me. I love the thought of being a full-time faculty member, but at the same time, it is a scary prospect. I believe the Lord is moving me to another state, to a job at another school, and that whole process (applying, interviewing, and the meet/greet) is nerve-wracking for me. I know He will go before me, He always does. Still, my flesh fails, and my spirit is weak. I feel so inadequate and under equipped for the challenge that lays ahead. God is good, so very good to me. I know He has me well-covered, yet I still have lingering doubts as to His faithfulness. Oh, Lord, help me to believe, to rest, and to trust you this day!

Plans for 2015

As a planner, I have my next year sketched out. It is not fixed in stone, per se, but rather it is laid out with bullet points of strong possible tasks/goals. I know I must be flexible, that I must keep my hand open and not grip any one thing too tightly. I have to be fluid, to allow the Lord to move me into the tasks, responsibilities, and opportunities that He chooses. Thus, my next year (tentatively) looks like this:
  • Spring 2015 - I will be teaching three classes at GCU starting next week. I have two sections of English 106, and one section of English 356. I have taught these courses before so I am pleased that the preparation time will be minimal each week. In addition to teaching, I am taking COM 704 Applied Methods and COM 705 Advanced Theory at Regent. I am actually excited for the theory course and for the projects that will be produced through that content.
  • Summer 2015 - I have another summer at Regent planned (first week in June) and I will be taking 8 credits in order to finish by December. I have planned on COM 730 Writing for Publication along with COM 628 Communication in Leadership and COM 795 Dissertation Research. I am a little concerned about finances over the summer as I won't have any contracts or work to do. The Lord has told me not to worry so I am not worrying (well, trying not to worry!)
  • Fall 2015 - My last semester at Regent should be a good one. I have COM 709 Theology in Communication and COM 791 Doctoral Pedagogy. The latter is a course where I get credit for being a TA for the professor. The actual course I will TA for is History of Communication (one of my favorites). It should be a fun class since most of the students will be first year only (newbies!) I am uncertain what the fall will bring as far as teaching goes. Right now, I have applied for one position locally, but I feel confident that the Lord intends on moving me next year, so I am thinking that if what I am feeling is correct, then I should find myself teaching at a different school for the 2015-2016 school year.
Other than school and teaching, my primary responsibilities are to mentor my son (who will be 22 next year), and continue to care for my parents. These two responsibilities create difficulty for me, but only from the standpoint that I have to do mom and parent things in addition to teaching and student things. I wear a lot of hats, and sometimes it gets to be a bit too much when I find that I am wearing more than one hat at a time. But Lord willing and God be praised -- somehow -- it all works out. God is a very good multitasker! Nehemiah 9:6 states,

"You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you."

Yes, Lord - help me to remember that you are CREATOR over all things. Thus there is nothing that is too high for you, too difficult, or too challenging for you. I rest in YOU, in your ABILITY, and in your CHARACTER. You are ALL SUFFICIENT, and you are able to handle what concerns me this day.

Psalm 138:8 - The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

December 30, 2014

Hard Pressed...

It is December 29th, 2014, and the new year is just around the corner. It has been a good year, a year of transition, and a year of learning to trust the Lord for my every need. I struggle still, especially when I feel hard-pressed by life, to let things go and to rest in His sufficiency. I blog about this often, and I remind myself daily to let go, and trust the Lord. Yet, saying it and doing it are often two very different things.

Today has been especially stressful for me. My plans for this week had included spending each day in preparation for next week's start of school. Instead, I found myself ferrying my Mom around to the shops so that she could take things back after Christmas. I felt pressured all day long because what I wanted to do was not what I could do. Instead, I had to do what I didn't want to do, and even though I realized the value of it, I still felt pinched by the fact that the decision was made without consideration to my needs, to my looming deadline.

It is difficult to explain it really, but suffice it to say that I am experiencing what happens to many people when they are faced with caring for aging parents. It seems that your needs, your wants, and your desires get placed on the back burner while you care for others. I don't mind caring for my parents, it is just that I receive rejection, criticism, and negativity from them, and that hurts when I am already overloaded with the demands of my own life. I know that they don't mean to be this way, and that it is reality of their lives that has caused them to become angry and depressed. I know that while they don't want to hurt my feelings, they do because they are focused on their own needs, and on their inability to meet them. I find that I have to be the "bigger person," to let more things slide, and to accept words and attitudes that aren't always accurate or fair. I do my best to let things go, to not take offense, and to respond correctly, but there are times when the pressures of life, the demands of home, and the fear of the unknown coalesce to cause a storm, a major storm in my life.

As I consider the plans the Lord has for my life, one thing is for certain: while I believe that that they are good, I know that hardship, trial, and difficulty will not disappear. No, the plans the Lord has for my life are good, very good. Yet, the enemy desires to destroy me, to steal my joy, and to cause me to suffer in any way that he can. Therefore, I will face various trials, various times when I am hard-pressed and pushed aside. How I react, how I choose to face these tying times will demonstrate the mark of my character. Will I face them with excellence, with total dependency upon the Lord or will I succumb to the ways of the flesh and give in to selfish and self-promoting desires?

I have several life verses, among them I recite this one often:

Micah 6:8 - He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

I desire to walk humbly with God. It is something I have prayed about often, it is something I struggle with to overcome. I long to have a friendship with God, a faith journey that is predicated upon true friendship. The Word says that God is our friend.

John 15:15 - No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

Today is especially rough for me. I am struggling to process some truth, some difficult THING and it is hard for me to let go of my desire to control the outcome of my life. I want so much to walk humbly with God, to be His friend, to seek Him and to wait upon Him for His counsel and advice. Yet, the world presses in on me, demanding that I make decisions and choices NOW. There is fear in their voices and the calmness and slowness of the Lord's timing is not welcome. I can answer with confidence that the Lord has this situation covered, He has me well-covered, and He has all my needs in His care. Yet, the voices are clamoring for an answer, a way, and resolution, and I am not prepared nor ready to give them what they want. I must wait. I must be patient. I must draw near to my God, and to humbly sit before Him and to trust that His timing is perfect. He knows me best. He knows what my tomorrows hold, and He knows what I need most. If I panic and give into the fear of others, then I will risk making decisions that are not in alignment with the Lord's perfect will for my life. I am pulled between two options -- to do what seems right in the mind of man or to wait for the Lord's provision and the thing that is right in the eyes of the Lord.

On Sunday, I blogged about the moment when I saw the chorus "I have decided to follow Jesus," flash on the overhead screen at church. I wrote how I felt in that moment when I realized that I was sitting there as a new person, not as the old person whose life was altered by divorce. Yesterday, I was hard-pressed by loved ones who wanted me to make life decisions in the moment, without consideration for the Lord's timing. Today, I am still working on the details, trying to sort through the emotions that are pulling at my heart, and hoping to find some clarity to lead me through the turmoil and back into the blessed calm of the Lord's perfect will.

December 30th, 2014 - Update

Now I am faced with a series of decisions, a series of choices that all have uncertain outcomes. The Lord is my Provider. He is my Provision, and as such, I go where He sends me. I do the work He has prepared for me to do. For now, that work is part-time adjunct instructing at GCU/ACU. As such, money is very tight. I trust the Lord for Him to cover my needs, to provide enough for me to pay my bills. I wish my life were easier, financially speaking. I wish I had money in my savings account, and money that could be easily given away. But at this point in time, I have to watch my pennies, and I have to be careful about what I do spend. This means that every purchase, every option must be prayed for and waited upon until the Lord says it is OK for me to invest or spend. I trust my bank account to Him. I trust Him to meet each need. Still, I would prefer to have more, to have just a little more so that I could relax and no longer worry about money. I believe, and I have believed this for a long while, that what I am experiencing now is training ground for my future life.  Let me explain...

My previous life, my married life, was fraught with lack. Yes, I lived in constant fear that the law would show up and evict us from our home, that the IRS would impound our vehicle or our assets to cover back unpaid taxes. I lived in constant fear that I wouldn't have enough money to buy food for my child, to put clothes on his back, or to pay for necessary medical expenses. My days were filled with dread, constant worry, and anxiety over never knowing if there would be enough money to meet the basic needs. Family members often supplemented our income, met our needs, and provided for the shortfall. However, these times of blessing were often double-billed. They were both a blessing and a cursing because with every handout came expectations of service, and demands for more and more control over our personal lives. We were stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard spot -- needing help, but not wanting to take it because of what the "pay back" required.

After I came out of that life, I had to learn to depend on the Lord for His provision. I struggled early on with spending money. I would become ill just thinking about having to spend money. Grocery shopping was a challenge, and for many months, I would put items back on the shelf if I felt they were too expensive or too luxurious. I only bought generic. I only bought the bare necessity because that is how I had lived my life for so many years. It took time for the Lord to help me learn how to manage money, how to live within my means, and how to let go of the fear and anxiety over my work.

The Lord was gracious to me, of course, and through the first couple years, He gave me opportunity to learn how to manage money. I bought a car, a computer, booked trips, and paid for my education. I learned how to use credit wisely, and I learned how to invest what little extra I had each month. In addition, the Lord provided job opportunities that provided for my daily needs. I worked part-time for a while to help build verifiable work experience (as opposed to the years I worked on my own). Then I worked in two corporate jobs where I had benefits and a good salary. I took care of health needs for both myself and my son -- long put-off health needs -- so that we could feel confident that we were healthy. It took two years of saving before I was able to take care of my dental work, but praise the Lord, He provided an excellent dental benefit, and I was able to have major work done last year. In all, the Lord met each need over time, and as I learned to rely upon Him, I became more and more comfortable with His guidance and direction.

I began to relax after so many years of panic, and I began to see the blessing of the Lord manifested in different ways in my life. If I needed a major purchase, the Lord provided. If I needed to buy a new computer, the Lord provided. It seemed that no matter what the need or the expense, the Lord provided for me.

In late 2013, I left my steady work as a Communications Analyst for an opportunity to teach college English. It had been a long desired dream of mine to work as a professor, and the Lord opened that door for me through GCU. I have been a teacher since August 2013, and I am currently pursuing this path to become a full-time Professor. The road has been blessed, but not without uncertainty. Adjunct instructors are paid on contracts. There are no benefits. Contracts are Spring and Fall only, so there is no summer work. I am seeking a full-time position, but there are challenges to making that step up. First of all, most major Universities only hire PhD's for full-time positions. Second, most schools (colleges and Universities) expect to see 3-5 years of teaching experience. Third, tenure-track positions typically seek candidates who have published articles or presented at conferences. It can be a challenge for an adjunct professor to move into full-time work because of these missing criteria.

Thankfully, I am on my way there. I will have two full-years of teaching by the end of Spring 2015. I will also be what is called "ABD" by the end of Fall 2015. I have one paper that could be presented at conference in 2015. I will be working hard this next year to write other papers that might also be successfully submitted to journals. I have blogged about this before so there is no need to rehash it again. However, what is important to note, at the least to remind me of what the Lord has said to me, is the fact that I am in a transition period, a time when I am gaining experience and education to prepare me for His work. I have known this for several years now. I have believed that both corporate positions, and even Macy's prior, were temporary jobs to provide for me, to establish me, to help me set myself up as a single person. In truth, I had never been responsible for myself in over 30 years. I didn't manage our shared finances (my ex did that). I didn't purchase any of our cars or even our house. He did everything, and I would often sign on the line as his spouse, but almost all financial decisions were made my him. Unfortunately, my ex was not a wise financial steward. He desired wealth, sought wealth, and spent money as if he had wealth. Thus, our weakness was that we didn't seek the Lord's guidance for our financial well-being. Our coffer was empty simply because we never asked the Lord to be LORD over His financial provision to us.

I had a lot of learning to do once I found myself single. I had to get my own bank account, my own credit card, buy my own car (twice). I had to arrange for a house to live in, and I had to travel for business and for school all on my own. I had never done any of those things prior to being married, and now the Lord was showing me how to do it all without panicking, without anxiety attacks.

The jobs I had were good, and they provided well for me. But they weren't the Lord's will, per se. They were His will because He provided them, but they weren't the "way" He had in mind for me to go. What I mean is that while these were good jobs, they weren't the "job" the Lord desired for me to do. I always heard Him say to me that "I would do no work." I didn't understand this for a long time, but once I started teaching at GCU, it made sense to me. I realized that what the Lord was saying to me was that I wouldn't do a job outside of ministry. I would work full-time in ministry. I wouldn't work at UOPX and do ministry. I wouldn't work at CVS and do ministry. I wouldn't even teach and do ministry. I would only do ministry. Granted, one is always "doing ministry" regardless of the job or opportunity. What I mean is that the Lord was calling me to full-time professional ministry rather than corporate or higher education. Yes, I do ministry as part of my teaching, but I am not engaged in full-time ministry as I teach. No, I am teaching English or Communication skills to help my students succeed in their academic careers. Thus, all of these jobs were a means to an end. They were provision for me during the time when I needed the provision most, if that makes sense. They were gifts and blessings to enable me to learn how to live my life, trusting the Lord, and moving on to where He was calling me to go.

Since I transitioned into teaching, I have sought to take a permanent non-academic job twice. Once I actually did it, and I was miserable for the three-weeks while I worked in a dead-end, boring, and ill-fitting job. The second time I considered it was just this month (several times this month). I thought that it would be easier for me to work full-time in some capacity so that I would no longer have these stresses, these financial worries. Each time I pressed the Lord about it, the same words came back to me: trust me.

Yes, Lord, I will trust you. I will wait for your perfect solution and not run ahead of you trying to resolve something that is part of your timing.

My enemy, the devil, desires to see me stray from the Lord's plan. He would like me to give up waiting on the Lord, and choose instead, my own way. Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV says,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

The biggest mistake I could make right now is to give into the temptation and allow the enemy to lead me off course. It is paramount that I stay firmly fixed. Proverbs 4:26-27 MSG says,

Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust.

This is the enemies plan of attack, to cause me to panic and to dread what is not known so that I will make a choice based on my own interpretation of the events. I do not know what the future holds, and I do not know where the Lord intends for me to land (right now). My hope and my prayer is that the Lord intends for me to move me where my heart wants to go (near to someone I have fallen in love with), but I will not know that until He actually moves me. I am trusting Him for this relationship as well as for my future so I know I cannot just up and move someplace else simply to avoid the hard-pressing nature of the world right now. I must wait for the Lord's hand and for His provision. He knows what He wants me to do, and He knows where He wants me to go. Until He reveals His plan to me, I must wait and be patient. I must let the voices that clamor for me to make a choice, to make different plans fall silent. I must listen for One voice only, and that is the voice of the One who is my Lord and my Savior. All other voices must be tuned out so that I am not swayed by the persuasive words of the enemy. I listen to the Lord. I look to the Lord. And I wait upon the Lord. Selah (pause and calmly think about that!)

Dear Lord,

These past couple weeks have been so difficult for me. I have struggled to know your will, to see your plan, and to wait for you to lead me. I have patiently waited, rested upon you, but I am being pressed and pushed and pulled in other directions. I ask now that you will give to me your comfort and your care. Cover me with your wings and protect me from the enemy and his desire to pull me off course, to set me on the wrong path. Silence these other voices, some of whom are well-meaning, but who do not seek your will nor your way. Let me only receive counsel from others who desire the same thing as I do, and that is to follow you with all their heart, their mind, their body, and their soul. May your Name be praised today and forevermore. I know that each need I have right now will be met with your sufficiency. I lack nothing for I have YOU, and in YOU, there is no lacking, no lessening, no loss. You are ENOUGH for me this good day, and in YOU I rest knowing that you have me well-covered, well-covered. I pray now that you would reveal your will to me so that I can have comfort, find strength, and be stable, strong, and stalwart. May my feet stand firmly planted and rooted in your presence, for you alone are my sufficiency. You meet my needs with abundance, and I give you praise, and honor, and glory this good day. I ask this in Jesus' Name, Amen!

December 28, 2014

Following Jesus

It has been an interesting day so far. It is December 28, 2014 -- the last Sunday of the month and the year. WOW! It is hard to believe how this year has just flown by so quickly (it always seems to be the case). I feel like so much has happened this past year, so many new adventures came to pass, and so many new opportunities and open doors gave me pause to think and to consider. In all, it has been a good year, a very good year for me.

This morning, I wasn't feeling so chippy, so confident, and so convinced that the year had passed by well. In fact, I was feeling rather down, a bit blue, and a bit off (just saying) as I considered whether or not to get myself up and dressed and out the door in time for the second service at Scottsdale Bible Church. In fact, I was feeling so uncertain about what to do that I prayed about whether or not I should return to my old church, Paradise Church. In truth, I have been feeling uncertain about my decisionto leave Paradise and return to my former church, SBC. I made the decision to switch churches in late October, shortly after my son started playing every Sunday as part of the Venue worship band. It wasn't a quick decision really, considering that I had thought about returning to SBC on numerous occasions during the past seven-eight years. However, my reasons for staying at Paradise, and my feeling that I was where the Lord wanted me to remain were solid. So I stayed, and I stayed, and I stayed. Until, that is, I felt the Lord's hand releasing me to attend another church. I had been in prayer over this decision for about a year, and each time the feeling would bubble up, I would ask the Lord for permission to return to SBC or another church in the area. Each time I asked, I felt the answer was to stay put for a while. I also wasn't sure that SBC was the right place for me to go to, especially after my divorce, and the chance encounter of running into my former husband during Sunday services. Still, I rested in the knowledge that wherever the Lord wanted me to fellowship, He would show me when the time was right.

So today I was feeling that uneasy feeling and wondering if I had made a mistake leaving Paradise for SBC. I have to say that the past 5-6 weeks have been wonderful at SBC. I have enjoyed the worship and the preaching, and I have felt at peace during the services. My concern for whether I was in the right place surged to the forefront a couple weeks ago when I sat in church waiting for the service to begin, and I saw my ex-husband and his girlfriend sitting several rows in front of me. I struggled to keep my focus during the service, and thanks be to the Lord, I stopped looking at them and thinking about my past, my present and my future life, and started to concentrate on the pastor's message.

I dealt with seeing my ex and his new person well. It is not as if I am still hoping we will get back together nor do I have issues with the fact that he is bringing her to church. My hope and my prayer for the both of them is that they place the Lord first and foremost in their lives, and that they seek Him diligently to guide and to direct their steps. Still, it is a weird feeling to see part of what was your life sitting there with another person. More so because so much of our life here in Phoenix was centered on SBC, it seemed so odd to see him there with her. I mean our family spent a lot of years at SBC. We were a family, the three of us, and this was our home church. Now, the three of us are at the church again -- my ex, me and our son. It is just that we are no longer a family. At the least, not in the way we once were a family.

I asked the Lord for understanding today. I asked Him to help me know what to do. As I prayed to Him, I heard His voice saying to trust Him, to let this go, and to rest in the sufficiency of His will for my life. I thought maybe I should not go to church today, but I felt the Lord pressing me on, so I gathered up my gusto and I drove over to church.

While I was waiting for the service to begin, the thought came over me again: this is not my home church, this is not where I belong. It used to be my home church. It used to be where I found a home, a family, and where I loved to fellowship. I pushed those feelings down as the music began to play. It was when we were singing that I realized my ex and his girlfriend were sitting there in front of me again (this time, I sat on the other side of the worship center). The pang of feelings came back especially when I noticed that his girlfriend had brought her grandchildren to the service (two boys about aged 12 and 14). As I watched them, my heart sank for a moment. I thought "they are a family." My ex always wanted a large family. He always blamed me for not being able to have more children. I wanted more children too, but it certainly wasn't my fault that the Lord closed my womb and chose to give me one child instead of many. Still, my heart was sad for a moment. I thought "now he has what he has always wanted." You see, it was difficult to accept the fact that my ex wanted to end the marriage -- not that he didn't want to be married -- but that he didn't want to be married to me. I struggled with that for a long time before I let it go, and accepted the truth and made the difficult decision to move on with my life.

I should add that yesterday evening while I was praying, the Lord pressed upon my heart that something significant was going to happen. I say it this way because it is the only way I can really articulate it whenever He does things like this in my life. I get these impressions and feelings that seem to say to me "be prepared, something BIG is going to happen." I prayed for clarification as I drifted off to sleep, but nothing came to me. Even as I drove to church today, I wondered about that feeling, and I thought what might be "waiting for me."

It wasn't until about halfway through worship that I realized what the Lord meant when He said that "something significant" was going to happen to me. I had assumed it related to teaching or to school. Instead, it was the realization of the path I was on, the life I had chosen, and the direction I am currently moving in. Let me explain...

I was sitting in church by myself, as usual. The worship band was playing (my son was on drums) and I was looking around the center thinking back to when I used to lead kids in Awana games (so many years ago). My life was different then, so very different. I started to think about where I am today, what I am doing with my life, and why I am working so hard to earn a PhD, etc. Then this thought popped into my head: You have closure now. You have come full-circle. You started here at SBC when DJ was 3. Now he is 21, and you are preparing to leave AZ for a new life, a new job. The circle has closed.

It was at this point when these words flashed on the overhead screen:

I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus--
no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me,
the world behind me, the cross before me,
the world behind me, the cross before me--
no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, I still will follow,
though none go with me, I still will follow,
though none go with me, I still will follow,
no turning back, no turning back.

Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?--
no turning back, no turning back.

I couldn't help but feel that the Lord was speaking to me directly. In that moment, I realized that I made a decision a number of years ago to follow Jesus. Yes, I gave my life to the Lord as a little child. I recommitted to Him when I was a teenager. I followed the Lord in baptism as a young woman. I lived what I thought was an honoring life as a wife and mother for many years. Then I found myself single. In between, I received His call again and I accepted it. I began the process of following Jesus as a devoted believer -- seeking His Kingdom first and foremost -- and pledging my life to His service. The past 8-9 years have been all about me learning what it means to follow Jesus. I have come to accept my calling, to understand my role, and to find myself walking in very different pathways than I ever anticipated before. My life was upended one day in 2007, and now in 2014, I am following Jesus with my whole heart, my whole mind, and all of my soul and my being. 

While my ex-husband is seeking a new family, I am seeking to go where the Lord sends me, to do His work, and to honor Him with all my effort. My life is moving forward in a new direction, and it is all because I decided to follow Jesus. I realized that what the Lord was saying to me last night and early this morning was this:

"Dear Carol: You made a choice to follow after me. I have never let you down, and I have never left your side. You are well on your way to accomplishing my will for your life, but you must let this old life go. You must let it go so that you can continue to walk where I am going. You are ready, you can do this, so let this go and come walk with me."

The service ended with a great message that helped to confirm to me that I am right where the Lord wants me to be. SBC, for all intents and purposes, is a good church. I like the preaching and the worship, but it is not my home any longer. My home is with the Lord, and that means that wherever He goes, I go. I am home so long as I continue to follow Him.

December 26, 2014

Christmas is Done for 2014

It is the day after Christmas, and I have the "blues" (or greens, if you go by the photo!) Yes, I always experience that "big let down" right after Christmas ends. I know it shouldn't be this way, that I shouldn't focus on the "event" part of the season, but I cannot help it. It seems like each year, the same thing happens. There is all this build up to December 25th, and then BOOM!, the day ends, and the 26th arrives with a thud. Life resumes, the clock ticks on, and I go back to the business at hand. Sigh!

Yes, I know that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, and I know that the whole reason we celebrate Christmas is to focus our hearts and our minds on the blessed coming of the Savior. I think that Christmas, for me, has become a holiday -- in the true sense of the word. It is just like Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, Labor Day, and so on. The holiday happens to coincide with family visits and gift giving, but it seems that the magical aspect of the season has been lost in the commercialization of the event. Let me explain...

Last night, I was sitting in the family room watching TV with my Mom. It was 6:30 and dinner was over. The dishes were done, and Mom and I were "chilling out" while my Dad and my brother (visiting from out of state) were putting a puzzle together. It was that "after dinner" time when you realize that you have eaten too much, sat too much, and generally lazed about too much. I had control of the remote (for a change), and I was flipping through the channels to see what was on TV. Mostly, there was nothing worth watching so we switched back and forth a couple times (an old movie, a TV series, and a Christmas holiday special). Then I landed on the 1966 version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." It was good to hear Boris Karloff's voice, and the see all the little Who's from Whoville as they were doing their Christmas thing. I sat there enthralled for a moment, listening to Boris Karloff read Dr. Seuss' twisty dialog and studying the animation and color -- Metrocolor (thinking of how green the "green" was and how "red" the red was in the original version). I was waiting for my favorite moment (when the poor little dog gets the antlers strapped to his head and he is forced into pulling the Grinch's sleigh), when my mind just traveled backwards to 1966.

I can remember watching the original version when it aired on CBS in 1966. I was four at the time. I also watched all those wonderful claymation specials from the same period (Rudolph and Frosty, for example). As I was thinking back to those Christmases from my early childhood, I couldn't help but remember how much I loved Christmas time. I loved everything about the holiday season -- prepping at school, making gifts in the classroom, looking for the snow to fall outside the class window. I loved decorating the house with my Mom, setting up the tree, and putting the outside lights up. I loved going shopping for gifts, especially when all my brothers were home. I loved the whole experience of Christmas -- from beginning to end. I loved going to church on Christmas eve and singing Christmas Carols. I loved seeing the manger and nativity scene, watching the little kids in the nativity play. Christmas was special then, so very special to me.

I sat there for a moment while my mind raced through the years, hitting this memory and that memory, before it settled on a specific one from 1981. Christmas 1981 was very special for me. My parents and I flew to Ohio to spend the holiday's with my Aunt and Uncle and Grandmother. My Aunt and Uncle had already moved to FL, but they brought the family back up to Akron for this special get together. My Grandmother still lived in Akron, but she was planning on moving to FL later in the year. Her sisters, my great Aunts were all in the area, as were most of my second cousins. We stayed with my Grandmother, which just meant that we were the "destination spot" to meet all the relatives. I think this was the only time when I spent significant time with all the Ohio relatives (most are passed now). I had told my Grandmother that I was praying for snow -- and Lord willing -- thinking that I needed a white Christmas (it had been three years since I moved from Chicago to San Jose, and I was missing the cold and the snow). The Lord granted my prayer because the snow started to fall on the 23rd and it didn't stop until the 26th. Beautiful Lake-effect snow covered the ground, oodles of it (some 11-12 inches), so much that Christmas eve services were cancelled, the malls closed early, and everything shut down in order to keep people safe. The good news is that the relatives who lived in OH took it all in stride and made the trek to my Grandmother's house for Christmas dinner without a single concern.

I loved the snow, and I loved the fact that Christmas was spent with so many friends and family members around. We laughed, told stories, and generally spent 24-48 hours together (I mean together -- some 20-40 people crammed into a small 2-bedroom apartment). It was a blessed time, even if it wasn't spiritual or overtly focused on Jesus). Some of my relatives back then were Catholic, some were Baptist, Presbyterian and Brethren; some were agnostic. Yet, despite the various differences in belief, we all gathered together to remember the Savior, to remember why we were celebrating the coming of Christ.

I was thinking about this special memory, and how I still looked forward to Christmas. I was a freshman in college, was in the middle of an on again/off-again relationship (sadly, I read recently that my first boyfriend passed away earlier this year), and I was trying to figure out my life. I was a Christian, and I was struggling to understand my faith and my calling. I was unhappy in school (studying Art), and I was unhappy in my relationship with this young man. I was feeling the pinch of parental expectation (go to school or get a job), and I was thinking that my life wasn't going anywhere special. I was stuck, and I was feeling as though I was on the wrong path, going in the wrong direction.

Still, the memory of that time with family was sweet and warm. Christmas was special then, so very special.

Zoom back to last night and the strains of the Who's singing their Christmas hymn. I kept thinking to myself that the "Grinch" was so last-year, if you get my drift. I watched the show and I thought that it had lost all appeal to me. In fact, as I changed channels and I stopped to watch other "Christmas" themed shows, I felt the same "ugh" come over me. Nothing mattered, nothing seemed to create within me any desire to celebrate, to enjoy the festivities, to enjoy the reason for the season. Later in the evening, I thought about watching one of the holiday favorites on DVD. I thought about looking through movies on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, but instead, I ended up going to bed early. Christmas 2014 had come and gone without much fuss. It was over, and I was tired from the experience.

Why? Why am I feeling this way?

I woke up this morning, and the first thing on my mind was all the work I have to do between now and January 4th, 2015. I am teaching three classes at GCU, and while I have most of the curriculum/teaching materials created, I still need to create a syllabus for my students, and a plan for how I will teach each unit. On top of that, I am thinking about Regent, and my courses starting the same day. Plus, I am dealing with some challenges at home (parents and son).  I have a full plate heading into 2015, and in some ways, the load is overwhelming to me. Part of me wishes I could go back to 1981 and start over. Part of me wishes that I could be a young adult again, someone with little responsibility, and with a whole unknown life ahead of them. Instead, I consider my life, and I consider that 2015 will be a replicate of 2014 (more than likely). It will be filled with school (so much school) and work (more school, though teaching rather than studying). I don't know what the future holds for my parents, and I am uncertain as to my role in their prolonged care.

A case in point -- I took my Dad to breakfast on the 24th and he shared with me his anger about the situation. I appreciated his emotional response because he and I had some words the previous night, and I felt bad that we got angry with each other (my Dad was short with me, and I let go and was short back with him). It was an angry exchange by two people who felt pinched by the reality of the situation -- by the fact that my Mom (his wife) -- is more and more confused and more and more forgetful of momentary experiences. The level of care for her well-being is first and foremost on each of our minds. I was tired of having to carry the burden of making sure the daily things got done, things that Mom has normally done, but that would now fall to my already heavy plate. My Dad was tired of having to manage their limited finances, double-check the expenses, and consider next steps in both of their care/living situation. We both exploded, and we both let our emotions get out of control.

The Lord was gracious to both of us that night. The steam was let off, and the next day proved beneficial. I enjoyed spending time with my Dad -- it was good to talk about our feelings in a rational and logical way. We didn't apologize directly -- it wasn't needed -- because we both understood clearly what prompted the exchange; the mutual frustration, anger, and the unwilling realization of what the next year will be like for my parents. It was a bittersweet moment, a difficult and challenging time, but a good time, at the least, let each other know that we agree on what lay ahead for the three of us, on the challenge of navigating the uncertainty of the days, and on the fact that we are committed to doing whatever is necessary to work through it.

Christmas 2014 was difficult for me because I spent most of the month in direct care of my Mom. I did the grocery shopping, the gift buying, the decorating, the cooking, and the cleaning. I did all the things that my Mom normally would do, and I did it in addition to finishing my schooling, and closing out my teaching contracts. It was a lot of effort, a lot of work. I made it through, of course, thanks to the Lord, and I am now on the backside of the last major holiday of the year. Still, my heart is heavy because I look forward and I see what is to come. Sure, I don't really know what will be, but I have a strong inkling of it. My Mom seems to be following in the same type of dementia as her sister (my Aunt). What I am seeing now, is the same thing that my Uncle saw in my Aunt ten years ago. Of course, my Aunt's dementia came on early as a result of a traumatic head injury, and she suffered with it for 15 years before she had a stroke that took her into full-time nursing care. My Mom is 81, and is experiencing the onset of these same symptoms (forgetting what she just did 10 minutes before, confused and lost in public places, spending an hour in the grocery store without buying anything, unable to plan normal activities like cooking or cleaning). Her long-term memory is good, normal for a person of her age. It is her short-term memory, and the confusion that is causing the problem. She has admitted that she is so confused. She thinks it is because of our trip to FL, but truthfully, this has been coming on now for a couple months. It seems to be progressive, and it seems to be getting worse by the day.

As I plan my 2015, one this is for certain: the Lord has me well-covered. I know that the plans He has for my life are good, so very good. I know that the plans He has for my schooling and my career are good. I know that He has my parents care in His hand, and that He understands their needs far better than I do. I know that whatever happens, whatever comes to pass, that the Lord's will will be done. I know this, I believe this, and I trust Him in all of this UNKNOWN.

So as I consider this holiday season, one thing is for certain. I may not like the fact that the sentimentality of Christmas is gone. I may not like the fact that the holiday has been hijacked by non-believers who seek to commercialize on it. I may find the whole "event" -- from the nonstop Christmas Carol's on the radio to the early displays of lighted trees -- annoying and over the top. I may think that Christmas eve services, once soft and holy, are now designed as major theatrical events, with flashing lights, loud music, and pounding beats. And, I may find the shopping, the baking, and the decorating to be passe when compared to all the other demands placed on me during the month. Despite all of these "downers," these once looked-forward-to experiences, I still find the blessing of the Savior, His coming into the world and into my life, to be the only thing that matters when the bang, the bells, and the whistles, are all silenced. Yes, despite everything that seems to be heading my way, all the trials and difficulties, Jesus is my reason for living, my reason for holding on, and for staying the course.

We Are The Reason (1980)
by David Meece

As little children we would dream of Christmas morn
And all the gifts and toys we knew we'd find
But we never realized a baby born one blessed night
Gave us the greatest gift of our lives

We were the reason that He gave His life
We were the reason that He suffered and died
To a world that was lost, He gave all He could give
To show us the reason to live

As the years went by we learned more about gifts
And giving of ourselves and what that means
On a dark and cloudy day a man hung crying in the rain
Because of love, because of love

And we are the reason that He gave His life
We are the reason that He suffered and died
To a world that was lost, He gave all He could give
To show us the reason to live

I finally found the reason for living
It's in giving every part of my heart to Him
In all that I do every word that I say
I'll be giving my all just for Him, for Him

And we are the reason that He gave His life
We are the reason that He suffered and died
To a world that was lost, He gave all He could give
To show us the reason to live

He is my reason to live

December 20, 2014

Reclaiming Christmas

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

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

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

Isaiah 53 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

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

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

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

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

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

December 19, 2014

Christmas is Coming!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 18, 2014

Planning for 2015

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

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

The Planning Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of the Plans for 2014

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

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

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

Plans for 2015

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

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

Dear Lord,

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

December 17, 2014

Glad to be Back Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 10, 2014

Worth the Wait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Lord,

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