June 30, 2014

Online Dating

So did you see the news regarding Facebook's social science experiment? I read about the story today, but I had heard about this research a couple week's ago. In fact, I remember when Facebook changed the way news feeds populated my page (in 2012). I was frustrated to find that my preference feed defaulted from "Recent Events" to "Top Stories." I never set my page to top stories -- I want to see my friends recent posts and not see top stories that are ranked by the number of "likes!" Agh! I was relieved when finally they fixed that issue (knowing now that it was done on purpose and not a bug in their software!!)

As a new social scientist, I am interested in experiments on social media. I can see why Facebook would want to know this information -- they had really good research questions -- I just don't agree with their method of collecting the data, their covert method, that is. No, I am held to a very high standard when it comes to human subject research. I had to get certified to administer surveys and interview people. The test took about 2.5 hours to complete and I learned all about transparency and the rules regarding working with human subjects. Facebook, IMHO, broke the scientific rules for this research. And, while they did no harm (rule #1), they didn't self-identify or ask for participants. Yep, that was the big rule breaker -- they did this research without letting their users opt-in or out of the study. A big no-no in social science research, so BOO to Facebook for being a big giant and research bully!

OK, so to the topic of this post. In keeping with the social science research theme (and no this doesn't have to do with my current proposal), I conducted a little experiment last week. I wanted to learn about online dating preferences, what men are looking for in women and vice versa. It wasn't that I was trolling for men, please know that, it was more a curiosity that built up until the point where I had to check things out. Let me explain...

The Process

As you may or may not know, I am in the process of finalizing my divorce. I have blogged about this ad nauseum so I won't go into the boring details -- just a brief recap only. My 30th wedding anniversary will be September 8, 2014. My husband and I lived in the same house for 27 years, and I have lived on my own or with my parents for almost three years now. We will be divorced in September. He moved on a long time ago, and started dating other women while we were still living together. He has had a girlfriend for at least a year, perhaps longer. I have remained singly-devoted to the Lord throughout this process, and for all intents and purposes, I have chosen this lifestyle for the rest of my life. I didn't plan on being divorced, and when it happened, I never thought I would want to remarry. God, however, has placed that desire in my heart, and so here I am, almost legally single, and thinking about how I would go about meeting such a person (aka, dating, etc.)

When I was at Regent in early June, several of my colleagues shared their stories with me. I was surprised to learn that so many had met their husbands online. Not news, really, it happens, I know. My cousin, for one, met his lovely wife through Christianmingle.com. They are blissfully happy, and they bear testimony to using online dating websites.

My brother is single and seriously looking for a girlfriend. He is not overtly Christian (he says he believes, but he believes other stuff too) so he is not looking for a religious girlfriend. He has used match.com and has gone out on a number of dates.

My good friend from UOPX has also used a number of websites, but has not met anyone at this point in time through those avenues. She shared a number of horror stories with me, and her testimony was enough to scare me away from online dating forever.

You might be wondering what prompted me to want to research online dating and dating preferences? Well, between this background information and my mother's insistent suggestion that I consider signing up for one of these sites, I decided I would find out this information on my own. So I did.

Oh, yes, I should mention this point too. My brother told me that all the women he profiled on match.com were looking for men who were tall (he is only 5'8"). He had specific preferences in mind for the ladies he was profiling (I shall not go there at this point) as well. So there...

My Method

I asked permission from the Lord if I could check these sites out. I knew already that this is not how I would meet the person the Lord has in mind for me (if there is one). I didn't think that this forum would be a good fit for me, and it turned out that I was correct. EW!

I signed up with eharmony.com first, but because I am honest, I was disqualified immediately. I answered "no" to the question "are you single?" Ha! Truth be told, I am not single yet.

I then looked at christianmingle.com and their signup was not as black/white, so I was able to go through the profiling process and I got to spend 1 day online before I was rejected (LOL!) by their customer care team (for not being single!)

It is hard to be unethical, you know. I felt guilty the whole time I was on this website. I had no intention of contacting anyone, and I knew that once I had read some profiles, etc., I would delete my profile. LOL! Christianmingle.com did it for me -- PTL!

The Research Question

R1. What characteristics are Christian men, aged 45-55, looking for in a Christian woman?

To find out this answer, I filled out my profile, took the personality quiz, the color quiz (all very interesting), and looked at my "matches."

I set some parameters so that I wouldn't have to wade through hundreds of potential profiles. I chose a 100 mile radius from Phoenix. I think I ended up with 25 total.

My preferences for the man of my dreams (LOL!):
  1. Height: 6' 0
  2. Frame: average
  3. Religious preference: evangelical, non-denominational
  4. Attends church weekly: yes
  5. Drinks: never to occassionally
  6. Smokes: no
  7. Ethnicity: caucasian
  8. Education: some college

I think that was it. I wanted to be general as much as possible.

Once the pictures came up, I realized that the matching algorithm was not as accurate as it should because I got a lot of men who were over 60 and of another ethnicity than mine (not that I care that much, it was just a test).


I read the profiles on all of these men and this is what I found out:

Christian men on dating sites say that they want a wife (yes, that is good to know) and not a girlfriend. They say that they want this woman to be: (1) a Christian (of varying levels of commitment); (2) fun; (3) athletic; (4) not self-centered (no head games). This sounds pretty OK considering that there are variations on what it means to be a Christian and all.

If you read deeper in their profile, these are the things that I noticed that are more subtle:
  1. Age - they prefer women who are 10-15 years younger then themselves
  2. Features - they want women who are physically fit, slender with a washboard physic (that says they lift weights)
  3. Most important characteristic - they want to have fun, a good time, good laughs, and someone to do things with (activities like working out)
  4. Least desired characteristics - Godliness, holiness, purity, spiritual maturity
  5. Words they don't say but mean - I want a woman who will devote herself to my well-being, to making me happy, to looking after my needs
  6. Length of time these men used the site - anywhere from 1-4 years*
* this might not be accurate because these men could have walked away from their profile or found someone through another avenue

Yes, I know you what are thinking -- small sample population, skewed perspective. I agree -- the results are not conclusive and they are definitely viewed through my lens (fractured and broken).

The Real Reason Behind This Research

Here is the kicker in all of this research. The real reason why I went looking for this information was to understand what it is like for men and women, Christian men and women, to date (after being married once) in this digital age. Consider my perspective for a moment...

I met my husband at church. I was 19 and he was 23. We married two years later.

For me, if I were to go out on a date, it would be the first time I went out with someone other than my husband or family/friend in over 32 years. Scary thought right there. This doesn't even touch on the fact that dating is expensive (got that story from my brother who is spending $100 a pop to take these ladies out for the evening). I am a cheapskate, I guess. I look at "dating" and I simply run and hide my head. I am so not willing to blow good money on dates! UGH!

I think the thing that shocked me (well not really because I get that being spiritual is not a key characteristic for many people who say they are "Christian") was that so many of these men wanted a wife who "called herself a Christian," but didn't actually walk as a Christian. And, I have to add a caveat to this statement -- I did read a couple profiles where the man said he wanted the woman to walk the walk (good for him!)

I actually read one profile where the guy, a good looking guy by the way, said that he didn't want to have any long conversations with a girl because talking wasn't his thing. Yeah, I thought, so how long have you been hanging around looking for "Miss Right?" Perhaps you should reconsider the "no talking deeply" rule to see if you get more matches! LOL!

Results and Discussion

I guess my overall take on this approach, online dating and such, is that it does work for some people. Like I said, I know several very happy couples who met their "match" using one of these websites. For me, I totally agree with the Lord's view on my dating (to wait), and on online dating,  specifically (no).  It is not for me. My personality doesn't lend itself well to this forum.

As an INTJ personality, most people look at me and assume that I am super serious all the time. Then they consider my education and profession (doctoral student and professor). Oh!! Smacks of fun, don't you think? And, truthfully, my hobbies don't help change that perception (playing cello, going to art museums, and learning foreign language).  Most people, therefore, only see me as this 'egg head' girl with thick glasses! (LOL!)

What they don't know about me is that I happen to like a lot of things, I just don't always do them. For example:
  • I love to fish. I don't eat the little buggers, but I love to catch them. 
  • I love baseball games, especially minor league games.
  • I love hockey!
  • I love football, college is best, but I actually do watch pro games during the season.
  • I love tractor pulls and county fairs.
If I had to choose a vacation destination, I would be torn between the mountains and the beach. I love them both equally. My idea of fun -- is spending time with people I like. I like to hang out, which can be watching movies on TV or at a theater or building things (I do love home projects like painting, wallpapering, crafty stuff, and any time I can use a hammer or drill!) or shopping at Home Depot or just doing nothing at all.

I also am pretty lazy, so I love to sit at home or on a front porch (Oh, some day, I want a front porch!) and just enjoy "sitting awhile." I also like cooking and baking (especially baking). I like BBQing. 

But -- with all that said -- once you factor in school work and teaching -- my life appears to be pretty boring. I do like fun. In fact, I love to laugh and I love to have a good time. I just also like to have quiet time, and I like to engage in very deep, thoughtful, and intelligent conversations, especially about the Bible, God, theology, etc. So while this college professor appears to be scholarly and very serious -- she is pretty complex and diverse in her interests. I believe that every relationship has to have a healthy mix, you know, a good mix of seriousness and fun, otherwise what you have left is a SUPERFICIAL relationship, predicated on outward experiences only.

What really matters to me?

I am all about God-honoring behavior, and living out the Word in every day situations. I am not perfect, by no means, and I don't expect any man I date to be perfect -- but I do expect him to seek the Lord in every area of his life. I expect it, and I would hope that any man who calls himself a born again Christian would understand that no woman will complete that part of him that can only be completed by the Lord Jesus Christ! I am not going to fill up any hole in a man's heart. I am not going to be his self-worth or his identity because those are things that I am not equipped or designed to do. No, those things and everything else that deals with our spiritual state, welfare, and maturity rightly belong to the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, if God does decide to bring me a man, then I would hope that he will be his own person. I want someone who knows himself well (like I do -- the good, the bad and the ugly).  I want someone who is over himself -- doesn't think he is special or great in his own right -- but who is only good because of God's goodness. Yep, head games shouldn't even factor into things.  Personal physical attraction is still a factor because you have to "like" the person you are dating, but it is not the most important thing in the long run.

To me, reputation, Godly image, humility, and grace -- these are the things that matter most because they demonstrate a changed life forged by a deep relationship with Jesus. Then trust, loyalty, and commitment follow which are the out workings of that changed relationship. Lastly, attitude is important to me because a willingness to recognize failure as part of life, and to understand that success comes through hard work and diligence, demonstrate a measure of faithfulness to ones goals, to other people, and most importantly, to God.

What about success, education, power?

A successful man is someone who knows himself well and who lives a right and upstanding life. I have always believed that a man can empty garbage cans with God-honoring integrity just as much as a man can sit behind a Fortune 500 office desk. Integrity knows no financial or educational boundaries -- it is born within a person and it is demonstrated -- through his commitment and honor to God, to his family and to others.


I think when it comes right down to it, the only person I will meet, should there be someone out there, is someone the Lord brings to me. I didn't even mention the creepiness I felt viewing people online, reading their profiles, and their "wish lists" for the perfect wife (yuck!) No, I pray the Lord brings to me whomever He chooses because that way I have the assurance to know that I can be myself and that I don't have to pretend to be anything other than the person God has created me to be.

Besides, what man would want me, considering how much I talk (and blog), the nature of all the things I say and do, and the depth of my writing and interests. I intimidate most men and some women -- I have been told that I exude confidence and strength. In my view then, the only person who could handle living with me would be a pretty special guy -- a guy who was particularly selected and who was chosen by the Lord Himself (:o).

So ends the online dating experience. Interesting results, and a not-so-enjoyable, process collecting and analyzing the data. Enough said...

Dear Lord,

Thank you for letting me learn about online dating through this mini-experiment. I did learn a lot from the process, mostly that online dating is not for everyone. I thank you for your word to me, and for your will in my life. I trust you completely, and I believe that if you decide to bring someone into my life, you will orchestrate the details of that meeting (time, place, and manner). I know that while I may be out of practice (dating), one this is for certain, and that is that I know how to have a relationship with people, in general. I know how to be a friend, and I know what it means to be a wife. I pray that you will cover me completely as I pursue my doctoral studies, begin teaching this fall, and continue to learn more about your expressed will for my life. I look to your hand of blessing, and for your provision over every area of my life. You are my God, and in You I look up and wait. Thank you, Lord for all you do for me. In Jesus' Name, Amen. So be it, thy will be done! Selah!

Happy June 30th

I found this on the web, and it made me laugh! Yes, it is true of some women I know (others, not so much). Thank goodness this is not the case with me (at least not all the time)! I don't think I could live with myself if I was in a continual fractured mental state -- always flipping between mental websites (or thoughts) -- and never focusing on one thing.

Today, however, I feel like my mind is filled with thousands of thoughts right now, and I am struggling to sort out what is most important. I am on a deadline to get my school assignments completed (isn't that always true?) Yes, I know, this is my own doing. Had I focused more last week, I would be farther along in the process. Instead, I rested a lot, and I enjoyed the freedom to do whatever I wanted. Now, I am paying for it. I am hunkered down and working hard to get this paper written. It didn't help that I changed my topic yesterday (well, not really changed it, just focused it a bit more). I feel better about the shift in focus, and I think it will make my research proposal stronger in the end (a good thing!) Still, I have this love/hate relationship with last minute cramming to get work done. Part of me likes the thought that I CAN DO it in a short amount of time. I can write a 25 page paper in 3-4 days. I can get an A on it. I like the fact that I have the ability to focus intently when I need to do so, and I like that I can crank out the work. Then, there is part of me that realizes that I hate the pressure required to work like that -- like a crazy woman for 3-4 days. I think how much better it would be if I just planned out my work, did a little bit here and there, and coasted into the finish line (rested and in a good frame of mind). UGH!

All of a sudden I started to think about procrastination and what the Bible says on that subject (Proverbs 12:24; 13:4, 15:19; 18:9). In some ways, I don't think I have procrastinated at all. I mean, I actually planned my weekend for this task. I didn't feel pressured last week to do this work. I waited until Saturday, and then I spent the entire day (Sunday too), working on this project. I guess that means that I actually did plan for this paper (woohoo!)

OK, I feel better now.

I just rationalized myself out of feeling guilty for not working harder last week!

My plans for today include:
  • Completing 10 more summaries for my annotated bibliography (leaving 5 for tomorrow)
  • Writing up the literature review for my proposal
  • Adding the methods section along with possible theoretical frameworks (I am doing qualitative research so I don't have to have this part fleshed out)
This will leave me with the remaining five summaries and the intro/conclusion of the proposal for tomorrow. The paper is due at 9:00 p.m. MST (11:59 EST) and I think what I have to complete is very doable between now and then. I don't have anything else scheduled today and I know I will feel so much better once I get a little more of this work completed.

In other news:

 Last night, my church hosted a going-away party for our associate pastor. He resigned earlier in the month, and is leaving next week to take the lead role in a small, but growing church near Seattle, WA. It was a difficult blow to the congregation, and there has been some fall out since his letter came out to everyone. The church is in severe crisis right now, so his leaving, while not a surprise, still hit the congregation hard. We have no pastors in leadership at this time, and gauging by attendance yesterday, I would say that the church is facing closure more certainly now. I estimate that we had only 40-50 people at our second service. My Dad said he thought there were 50-60 at the first service (normal for this time). Our service usually runs closer to 100 each week. It is summer, of course, and in AZ, a lot of people go elsewhere to avoid the 100 plus temperatures. Still, it seemed eerily odd to have so few people there yesterday.

I wasn't going to go to the going-away party last night, but decided to show my support at the last minute. It was a nice affair, with cake and ice cream. There was a good crowd, maybe 100 people, some regulars and a few people who came back for the event. Still, it was bittersweet in a way. I mean, while I do not begrudge our pastor leaving, especially because he believes God has called him to take this new church, I still think that his leaving marks the end of things. I know our board is working to bring in someone as an interim pastor, hoping to stabilize the downturn. Part of me thinks that this will not help, almost that it is too late. Part me of me, of course, wants to believe that the church will be OK, that we will make it through these dark days. Unfortunately, even our chairman of the board feels that the prognosis is not good (and she is a controller for a large Tax audit firm). If anyone knows financial matters, she does. I overheard her saying to my Mom that she is very concerned about the drop in attendance. From a purely financial perspective, less people means less income to pay the bills.

If there can be any good news out of this event, it was that I recruited five good people for my ethnography study. I didn't go there to recruit anyone, but God must have planned it that way. I had people come up to me to ask me about my project (I posted about it on Facebook), and in the course of conversation, I just asked them if they wanted to be interviewed. Everyone said yes! This means that I have 10 people total who have said they would consent to be interviewed regarding their member experience, perception and commitment during crisis in the church. God is good to provide these people -- all good people -- all people with interesting perspectives and various views on the topic. When I say "good" that just means that they are quality participants. A quality participant is someone who will add to the topic, who will provide data, and whose views can be analyzed for study. This is in contrast to a poor participant who may or may not give data or who may or may not provide details that will contribute to the study. I've got good people, and I am jazzed about speaking with them! God is good, so very good!

Dear Lord,

Thank you for this good day. Thank you for your provision and your care. Today, I ask you to cover me as I focus on my research paper for COM 652. I know that I have waited until the last moment to finish this paper, but I believe that you gave me grace to rest and to focus on other tasks (in a timed order). You know what needs to be accomplished today, and what needs to be written for this paper. I ask for the strength to remain on task today, to look at this project through your lens, and to listen carefully as you lead me through the various components required for this proposal. May the topic and the writing bring honor to your Name, and may the research itself, if I ever do carry it out, bring praise to you. Keep me in your care this day, and help me to do the work I have been assigned. I rest in your sufficiency, and I trust you to provide exactly what I need today. I ask all of this in the matchless, merciful, and most High Name of Jesus, Amen! So be it, thy will be done! Selah!!

June 29, 2014

Praising God Today

Psalm 54

For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time the
Ziphites came and said to Saul, “We know where David is hiding.”
To be accompanied by stringed instruments.

1 Come with great power, O God, and rescue me!

    Defend me with your might.

2 Listen to my prayer, O God.

    Pay attention to my plea.

3 For strangers are attacking me;

    violent people are trying to kill me.

    They care nothing for God. Interlude

4 But God is my helper.

    The Lord keeps me alive!

5 May the evil plans of my enemies be turned against them.

    Do as you promised and put an end to them.

6 I will sacrifice a voluntary offering to you;

    I will praise your name, O Lord,

    for it is good.

7 For you have rescued me from my troubles

    and helped me to triumph over my enemies.

Today is a good day to Praise the Lord! My Rock and my Redeemer lives! What a glorious day to be alive and to be living in His will and to be following after His way! God is good, so very good -- and all the time, He is GOOD!

June 28, 2014

Looking Up...Again!

I am looking up again. I have been staring down at my feet for the past couple weeks, and today, I decided it was high time that I looked up. It is funny how we do that, well, how I do that. I mean, when I go for a walk (around the block or on a hike,) I tend to look at the trail rather than at the scenery alongside the trail. I think it is a habit developed because of my poor eyesight. As a child, I always walked into things. It was a normal thing for me to walk into walls, fall up the stairs, or trip over a curb. I was labeled as klutzy or clumsy, but the truth more than likely was that my eyesight caused issues with depth perception. I wasn't able to judge distances between steps, walls, or even uneven surfaces. I did grow out of the klutzy stage so part was because of my age (child to teen). I think that those early experiences caused me to stress over my stability and to counteract my proclivity toward tripping or falling, I started looking down at my feet. Physically I look down, but mentally and spiritually, I should be looking up. I don't do it, however, and as a result, I think this downward gaze has created within me a dependency toward timidity when walking. Let me explain...

God asks us to look up, to look to Him as our sufficiency. He is our Creator and as such He is able to do all things for us. Isaiah 40:26 says,

"Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing."

Likewise Psalm 121:1 says,

"I look up to the mountains--does my help come from there?"

And again we read in Psalm 123:

"I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven."

I believe the reason why the psalmist and the prophet say that we are to "look up" is to remind us that God's perspective on matters is far different from ours. We tend to look at our feet (our feet of clay - a reference to Daniel 2) and see only our limited view. We base our rightness, our judgment, and our views on what is seen clearly around us. Now, I am not saying that we shouldn't have a pragmatic or realistic view of our world, may it never be. I think it is vital to have a firm grounding, to know the difference between worldly things and spiritual things. And, I am not saying that we should walk around with rose colored glasses on all the time. Seeing the glass as half-full is a good thing, but there are times when no matter how much you want that glass to be half-full, in reality it is half-empty or almost completely empty. We need to have a realistic understanding and impression of our own fragility and the fragility of others (Romans 3:23). Yet, I do think that our perspective can be shaped by our willingness to consider our life from God's vantage point.

I wrote about this yesterday, how I felt that my viewpoint, my perspective, is skewed at times. I was thinking about my critical nature, and my ease with which I can critically assess situations (people or events). I understand myself well, and I know my strengths -- critical analysis is one of them. Still, I see how important it is not to be critical all the time, and how valuable it is to the Kingdom of God, to be less critical of others (at least to give them the benefit of grace).

My viewpoint, therefore, is not always spot-on. In truth, it is probably off-the-mark a lot of the time. Looking up can have a powerful influence over my ability to see the truth and to act correctly in light of that truth. I am reminded of the following scripture (2 Tim. 2:15):

"Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth."

I want to be a person who can correctly explain the word of truth. In the KJV, the word used for explain is handle. I like this word because it says to me that we are to handle, to hold, the word of God. It is not just something we speak, but it is a real living thing that can be held onto and shared. I want to handle the word of truth carefully, to share it and to explain it (yes) with great ability. In doing so, I will be a good worker (as Paul states).

This thought sets up the following scenario then:

If I am only looking down at my feet, only seeing the trail I am on -- am I missing the opportunity to minister to others around me? Perhaps there are people alongside the trail (or street) that I am walking by, people who need a word from me or a moment of my time?

Sigh! Conviction comes hard today! Yes, I believe it is so. I believe that I have the opportunity to minister to people standing next to me at the store, in line with me at the movies, or visiting with me online (on my blog, through email, or Facebook). I can be active and alive and a vital minister of God simply by lifting my head up and looking at the faces of people standing next to me.

Today's lesson is to look up, to consider that my life has far greater influence than I can imagine. God is able to use me today in the smallest of details. He can build a future for me out of bricks and stones. He can craft a path for me to follow. He can make a way (as the Don Moen song says) for me this day.

Dear Lord,

I am looking up to see your way, and to recognize that you have far more prepared for me than I can understand or grasp. I am not perfect, and I recognize that my failures are pronounced. Yet, I believe that despite all that I am not (perfect, good, holy, righteous, etc.) it is through my failings that you are made strong. My strength rests in your abilities to accomplish tasks in my life. My hope remains firmly attached to your Kingdom will. My glory, the little that there is, is a reflection of your Glory, and in that tiny reflection, I shine whatever achievements I have to my name, back to you. I want you to receive all the honor and the praise. I lift your Name high today because I believe that the plans you have for my life, the plans you have made and are working out, are good. May your plans come to pass this day, and may your Name be praised forevermore. I confess my utter dependency upon you, and I look up to wait upon your Holy Name this day. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah (pause and calmly think about it!)
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? - See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Looking-Heavenward#sthash.UmPMhCrN.dpuf
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? - See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Looking-Heavenward#sthash.UmPMhCrN.dpuf

June 27, 2014

The Glory of God

Today is a good day, a very good day. I know that, for me, yesterday was a down day. I felt so very blue all day long, and I had this feeling of overwhelm and confusion hang over me. God is good, though, and thanks to some wonderful friends who always keep me in prayer, I was able to focus and complete all the tasks assigned to me.

I love my prayer-warrior friends! I can share my feelings, even if they are just that -- fleeting and fickle feelings -- and they go to bat for me and pray for God's blessing and covering over every area of my day. I do the same for them, of course! As soon as I hear that they are suffering, I lift them up in prayer and I ask for God to bless them and comfort them. Prayer really works! It moves mountains and it lifts the fog of depression. God is good, so very good, all the time.

Psalm 19

For the choir director: A psalm of David.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.[a]
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.
God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
    It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
The sun rises at one end of the heavens
    and follows its course to the other end.
    Nothing can hide from its heat.
The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
    reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right,
    bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
    giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure,
    lasting forever.
The laws of the Lord are true;
    each one is fair.
10 They are more desirable than gold,
    even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
    even honey dripping from the comb.
11 They are a warning to your servant,
    a great reward for those who obey them.
12 How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?
    Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant from deliberate sins!
    Don’t let them control me.
Then I will be free of guilt
    and innocent of great sin.
14 May the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Today, I am focusing on the glory of God. And why not? God's glory is proclaimed every single day when we look up at the sky or consider His creation. Here in AZ, it is hot and always sunny. The days can be brutal, but the mornings and evenings are glorious. Last evening, the sky was completely pink with just scattered gray clouds sprinkled about. It was a glorious sunset and it reminded me that from God's perspective things do not always appear as bleak as they do from our vantage point.

My desire is to look at life, my life and other people's lives, through God's lens. I am not very good at doing this, and I am not diligent to remember to do it, but what a life lesson it would be if I tried a little harder to shift vantage points every so often. I mean, what if I stopped and considered a circumstance or situation from God's point of view? How would I interpret the data? Would I make the same judgment or decision once I had factored in His criteria?

I have a feeling, an inkling, that I would come to a different conclusion most of the time. If the data were limited, I would probably stop and say, "Well, I just don't have enough data to draw that conclusion yet?" Oh, WOW! Just think of the outcome of that type of thinking. Instead of rushing to judgment, I would sit back and not take a position UNTIL I had more information, more input, more data. Yes, I think I would be far more apt to go with the "benefit of doubt" approach than to be so critical all the time.

So today, I consider my life, my approach to life, and I confess that I tend to be critical of matters. It is partly my personality, but it is also my brain wiring. I am a logical, analytical person. I like to analyze data and crunch numbers to get results. I know that I tend to turn on my data collecting machine and just absorb facts. I need to spend more time using my listener capacity so that I don't miss crucial information to aid in my analysis. I guess you can say that I am "just the facts" when I really need to be more of a social observer/sponge. God knows me well, and I believe that my wiring is necessary for the kind of work He has in mind for me. I also know that He desires that I be more relationship-oriented so that I can listen to people, and process emotional behaviors and responses more appropriately. It is difficult for me, but I am willing to be used in this way. God can use me as I am, but I think He would be pleased if I let my heart rule sometimes before I let my head take over.

A case in point: I received some disheartening news today. A close family member (older) had a serious stroke this weekend, but the final diagnosis came in this morning. This stroke comes after a long battle with dementia and other physical issues. It wasn't anticipated, but it wasn't completely out of the blue (age, health, etc.) Still, the impact of this event has triggered a lot of emotion in my house. My first reaction was to analyze the situation and to provide what I thought were "comforting" statistics (data).

In truth, my analysis is probably spot-on -- I mean -- when compared with a cancer diagnosis or other painful death scenario this situation is not the best, but not the worse to be given. The person involved will get excellent care, far better than the care she has had previously. Moreover, this is a better transition into long-term care (ex. how do you tell a loved one that they need to be moved to a care facility because they can no longer be cared for at home?) Although, my approach was oh-so very rational and pragmatic it was not what was needed at the time. I should have just responded emotionally and said something caring such as "I see how upset you are and I understand how hard this is for you" (given the relationship you share with this person.) UGH! The Lord gave me an opportunity to be sensitive and I blew it. I guess this being more sensitive and touchy-feely is going to be more difficult for me than first thought.  

Oh, Lord, help me to be more caring to people, and to show my ability to be "in the moment" and less analytical all the time.

On other fronts, I am almost finished with my Crisis Communication class. I turned in my church-related image management project, and so far I have received good reviews from my colleagues. I am trusting the Lord for a good review from my professor.  I think I turned in the best effort possible, given the limited data and access to crisis information. I am not worried about the grade because I need this class to be over so that I can focus on my ethnography project for Qualitative Research. I can see the light at the end of that tunnel, PTL, and I am getting excited to start interviewing people on their experience, perception and commitment in churches in crisis. I didn't think I would be interested in interviewing (in fact, I was loathing it), but now I am getting charged up to have conversations with these people and to LISTEN to them. The good news is that as an interviewer, I am restricted from making comments and from being part of the conversation. I get to ask open ended questions, but the floor belongs to these folks. I just listen and take notes.

Second news - I am feeling better about starting to create my syllabi for my fall classes. I am actually getting excited to layout the plans for fall, choosing assignments, and coming up with quizzes and exams. I am really looking forward to teaching (Oh, did I say that?!) I have been panicked over teaching four classes, but now that this one big project is over, and my discussion responsibilities finished, I am able to think about next steps. I am really looking forward to these next steps...

Lastly - it looks like the family and I are heading to CA in July. There was a chance we would drive over to see my brother, but schedules were uncertain and such. Now, though, it looks probable that we will get to have a short vacation in So. CAL this summer.

Today is a good day. God is good all the time, and thanks be to the One who sits on heaven's throne, I can rest and be assured that my life is well-covered in and good hands (His!) I trust Him today to show me what to do, to help me focus on tasks that need to be done, and to rest, always to rest, in His care and comfort. I know Him well, and I love Him so deeply. I am fully committed to following after Him and to keeping Him front and center in every area of my life. Selah!!

June 26, 2014

Feeling Depressed Again

Yes, depression has struck its ugly chord again! I don't know why I feel this way today, but from the moment I woke up until now (almost two hours later), I feel like I am sinking under the weight of the world.

I blogged yesterday about how I woke up feeling angry at the world, feeling out of sorts, and how it took a good cup of coffee to pull me out of that funk. Well, today is day two of waking up feeling blue, and now I am thinking that there must be some reason for it.

The funny thing (curious) is that I am normally a very content and happy person. In truth, while I tend to wake up slowly, and I need my coffee to get me perked up, I am almost always positive about life (in general). I don't cycle up and down. I am stable, and I strive for balance in every area of my life. It is just sometimes that I get these feelings of overwhelm, of darkness, of depression. These feelings swell over me, and for a time, I seem to be mired in them. I know this pattern, it has happened to me since childhood, and I know that for this time, I am stuck where I am and I am unable to do anything to pull myself out.

In some ways, I believe this is my cross to bear. It is my thorn. I have been prone to melancholy and I have suffered from depression all my life. It is not the unbearable kind of depression, no, for that I am thankful. It is just a pervasive kind, a come-and-go kind, that hits without warning, and sticks with me for a time. I think it is a form of oppression.

See this article: http://www.charismamag.com/spirit/devotionals/around-the-word-in-365-days?view=article&id=3110:oppression-leads-to-depression&catid=1525

"Depression usually is the consequence of oppression. Oppression is a heaviness or downward pressure brought on by gloominess, negatives, lack of results, loneliness etc. The biggest cause of oppression is sickness. Long term sickness of any kind is oppressive and that oppression almost always leads to depression."

Another article on this subject: http://mercyman53.com/2013/03/02/identifying-and-confronting-depression-and-oppression-in-our-lives-as-christians/

This is another really good article: http://www.riversofrevival.com/site/bibdisplay.asp?study_id=180003756&sec_id=180001249

I have read a number of websites related to this topic, and I know that there are many different views on spiritual oppression. Some parts of the church believe that we are not to engage with spirits, to bind them, etc. Some say that we are to do this, we must do this, to experience a breakthrough. I know that in my case, I have battled with oppressive spirits my entire life, not just in depression, but also in dreams, thoughts, visions, etc. I walk a thin line between the two camps on this subject because on the one hand, I have experienced this battle, and on the other hand, I have also experienced great freedom from this type of oppression. I would say that I am not oppressed regularly, like I used to be, and that for me, oppression comes whenever I open the door and allow a spirit to gain a foothold in my life. I have done this, and I take full responsibility for my actions. For me, this oppression has come on slowly, but I can recall the starting point, the point where I noticed that my relationship with the Lord had changed. I have prayed about this concern, asking the Lord for clarification, for understanding so that I would know exactly what I had done (or was doing). I have struggled these past two months, and now I am feeling the full-on affects of spiritual depression and oppression.

In truth, I know what to do. I must stand up and face my attacker, and I must confess my sins and regain my righteous standing before the One who is able to liberate me from these oppressive spirits. I ask now for God's power and grace to do what needs to be done. I know this, and I stand ready to face the onslaught of this spiritual attack, knowing that the plans God has for me are good, that His will is perfect, and that I desire nothing but His will for my life. I confess this now, all of this now, in the matchless and mighty Name of Jesus, Amen! So be it, thy will be done. Selah!

June 25, 2014

One project down, two to go...

It is funny how feelings are fleeting, how one moment you feel this way, and then in the next, your feelings change. I guess that is why we are encouraged in the WORD to not place any trust in our feelings (Prov. 14:12-13). If we allow our minds to be ruled by our feelings, we will end up choosing foolish things over wise things (Prov. 28:26).

I woke up this morning feeling so blue, so depressed, so angry about the world (in general), about the way my life is going (today), and about how the dreams I had last night (and my lack of good, restful sleep). In truth, I had nothing really to be upset about -- it was just that I had a rough night, filled with unpleasant dreams and thoughts, and I was sore (backache) and grumpy when I finally did wake up.

I prayed to the Lord right away, and I can remember saying to Him:

Lord, why am I so depressed today? Why am I feeling this way?

I was not a happy camper, and as my mother likes to point out, I was wearing my "I am not happy so do not ask me how I am feeling today" face!

The good news is that after I made myself a very large cup of Donut House coffee (did I say that I love my Keurig?) and sat for a while, I naturally pulled myself out of the deep, dark funk I was in. It took me a good hour (I know, crazy to think of it -- buyer beware -- I am not always sunny in the mornings!) to get myself into a better place (or as my friend used to say "a better head space").

God is good like that, I mean, He is good to me, and He knows that sometimes I wake up feeling this way. He knows that I need time to reconnoiter, to relax, and to refocus my mind. Once I had taken some time to reflect on the past night, really the past couple days, I was able to see the truth, to know the truth. My feelings are never good indicators of the truth.

Psalm 63:1-11

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.

O God, you are my God;
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and
weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips...

Note: This is my favorite psalm turned into praise song. Listen to Matthew Ward of 2nd Chapter of Acts sing this song.

Last night, I finished my COM 652 Image Project. It was a real bug-bear to finish, but I did it and I submitted it on time. Now praying that it is well-received by my colleagues and my instructor. I know I didn't cover everything that I needed to cover in it, but I did the best that I could do, given the parameters and the information I had access to at my church. I am praying I get an "A" (of course, always an "A"). God is good, He knows me well, and He knows how I stress over grades. Yes, at this point, I should let the grades go, and I have to say that I have gotten better at letting the grades slide. I mean, I am not nearly as panicked over my grades this summer as I was last Spring. I have learned the value of the grade, and I have learned to let God direct my steps through these courses.


As an INTJ personality type (controlling), and as a Type-A/Perfectionist, I know that for me grades and achievement are tools that I use to judge myself. I consider my efforts worthy by the grades I receive and the levels of achievement or success earned. Some people are motivated by love, affection, etc. I am motivated by achievement. I always have been, and I always will be. How I deal with success or failure is up to me -- meaning -- how much time I put into stressing over it is a choice I make. The Lord is my judge when it comes to my work production. If He says "I am well-pleased" or even "pleased" then I know that my work is satisfactory to Him. If He tells me that I am well-covered when it comes to my assignments, submitting them, completing them, then I know that I can let them go (submit them) and accept the grade as given. I have learned to say "enough" and to let the project end when the time comes to end it. It may not be perfect, it may not be complete, but it is as "good as it gets" and I have to let it go.

It is hard sometimes to let things go, especially if I know I could have done better on them. I have to set limits to my time, my investment, and my ability to complete projects. I cannot do everything anymore, I cannot pull all-nighters to get the work submitted. No, I have to manage my time, manage my sleep, and manage my physical and spiritual wellness. In doing so, I am able to remain well despite the increased workload. God is good. He knows me well. He cares for me completely.

Today, I am starting my COM 652 proposal on how social media is used during times of crisis. It is due next week, and while I have to review 20 sources, the proposal itself is only 4-6 pages. Once this paper is turned in, then my COM 652 class will be done (Praise God!) This has been an intense 8-week class, but it has been so good. I learned so much from the readings, and I think the study was practical and will be useful to me down the road. I am ready for this class to end, that is for certain, and I want to get working on my ethnography paper as soon as possible. All things in their proper time, of course, and I will get to that paper just as soon as I crank through this last assignment.

I also have one last DQ to post and then the weekly portion of the class will be over. I have to respond to my colleagues (I have until 6/30) and make sure I have completed all the last remaining tasks on Blackboard. It will be good to wrap this class up, and then work on wrapping up 703. I am at the point where I see the light at the proverbial end of the tunnel. I have a gap period of about 15 days between finishing 703 and starting up fall teaching. I have a lot of prep work to do between now and then (slated for July), and God knows me well, so He has my schedule well-covered. I know it will all work out, and that He will provide everything I need. He is good, so very good all the time.

As I consider this day, I am thankful for the bright sunshine and the good news of God's grace. I may not be perfect, but I am perfectly covered by His Grace. I know He has me covered, well-covered, and I can rest in His presence. I can rest and I can know that God is good, all the time, and because He is good, my life is good.

June 24, 2014

Sacrifice of Praise

I think it is an interesting turn of phrase to say that we are to sacrifice praise to God. I understand the biblical application of sacrificial giving, but I think our modern understanding of what it means to sacrifice praise is skewed and distorted. Why should we sacrifice praise to God? I mean, why should our praise of God be sacrificially given? Shouldn't our response to God be one of praise -- without any notion of there being a sacrifice involved?

Biblically speaking, we are no longer sacrificing animals for the forgiveness of our sins. The old system of atonement was passed over for the new system of grace. Ours sins are forgiven and our guilt is washed away! Since we have no sacrifice to make (physically coming to the altar at prescribed times), we are encouraged to make sacrifices that are spiritual (our bodies, for example). Our praise is to be sacrificially given as well.

My question, though, is why we don't give praise without thinking that it is a sacrifice to be made?

In my view, praise comes forth through a heart and mind that acknowledges the goodness of God. I know that He is good, and therefore, my praise resonates with that understanding. I don't stop myself and say "Oh, I have to go sacrifice some praise to God right now" because it just happens. I praise God all the time. I hear myself saying "God be praised" or "Praise the Lord" or even "God is good." These utterances, I believe, come from my spirit which has been moved by the Holy Spirit and my mind and body being yielded to His presence simply allows them to come out. I often do not realize I am saying these things. The words just come out of my mouth. I believe this is a praise-state that happens only after you have fully surrendered your life to the Lord. I don't wrestle with God over praise or thanksgiving -- these are naturally occurring events that are generated out of a surrendered and fully compliant spirit.

I am always struck by teaching (from the pulpit) that suggests that it is normal for Christians to not want to read their bible or praise God. I hear it all the time -- sort of -- I know how hard it is to choose to pray or choose to read the Word. I think to myself that this is not normal or more appropos it is not normal for Christians who have been saved. Our salvation is not partial, it is not progressive as some like to say it is. Some denominations teach that you are saved once -- saved and sanctified -- and that from that point on, your old life is gone and the new life is reborn. Other denominations teach that you are saved, but you must remain in grace to reap the rewards of salvation. This is a progressive sanctification and it is predicated on obedience to the Word and behavioral change. In short, one view takes the opinion that the work of salvation and sanctification occurs by the Holy Spirit with no assistance from us. The other view says the initial work is by the Holy Spirit but the ongoing "keeping the faith" work is up to us. We must remain in grace, we must obey, we must do the right work, the right kinds of things, to experience sanctification.

I came to faith in a church that believed the latter. I lived under the law for many years, believing that while I was saved, my salvation was only as good as my obedience to the Word of God. I regulated my life, inner and outer, to conform to the Word. I read my bible, I prayed, I studied, I did good works. I lived by a code that said I had to keep myself under grace. If I stepped outside grace, then I had to start over again. There was repentance and forgiveness, of course, but the process was like climbing up a steep mountain side. If you slipped up, you dropped back down and you had to climb again.

I experienced grace-liberating faith a couple years ago. I was in the midst of great turmoil in my life, and I was at that place where I questioned God's goodness. I had been a Christian for a very long time, and I had sacrificed everything to be faithful and obedient. I came to the conclusion that my faith was built on works, and that while I believed the Word of God, I didn't love the Word or Jesus. I didn't want to go to hell, but I didn't love the One who saved me from it. It was a difficult place to be in, to admit that the One you were following was not someone with whom you loved. I confessed my lack of love for the Lord, and I asked God to help me come to know Him, to love Him, in a new way.

God answered my prayer, and from that moment on, my heart was changed to where I learned what it meant to love the Lord. I began to praise Him, to honor Him, to seek Him, and to know Him. I didn't do anything legalistically -- there was no obedience, no rules or regulations -- there was just an upwelling of Love for the One who died to save me.

I also learned that my sins were forgiven once for all on the cross. I didn't have to keep on asking to be forgiven, for unknown sins. I didn't have to keep asking to be cleansed from the guilt of those sins. They were taken on Him, and I was washed clean by His blood and the waters of baptism. I was cleansed, and I was able to come into the throne room of God, not because I was a good Christian, obedient and faithful, but because my Lord opened the door for me and bid me come in.

Since that day, my heart and my mind have been conformed to His will for my life. My words have been changed, and my attitude toward my life has altered to follow Him. The praise I have for His Name comes out of a place unbeknownst to me. It is deep inside me, and it bubbles up, and out the words come. I give Him praise. There is no sacrifice for it, it just happens.

June 23, 2014

Keep Calm and Carry On

Psalm 46:10 is one of my favorite verses. No matter how many times I read this psalm, I find comfort in these words:

Be still and know that I am God.

I struggle with being still, with ceasing to strive or remain in control. I want to be assured that everything will work out, and the only way that I can know for certain is IF I control all the details of my life. I know of course that I am not the best person to be in control of my life. I have learned that lesson well -- to know that God is far better able to watch over me and care for me -- than I can. Yet, I refuse to be still, to let go, and to let God take control.

This past Sunday, our Associate Pastor gave his last sermon at our church. It was a bittersweet moment for me, sad in that he is leaving under a cloud of circumstance (crisis), but happy that he and his family have a new calling to pursue. His message was entitled, "Keep calm and carry on." The message title referenced the WWII poster created by the British government to encourage citizens in case of an invasion of the island.

Our pastor used it as a metaphor for the current crisis at our church. His point was that God has us well covered and although he and his family are leaving the church to take a new pastorate in Seattle, he wanted us to know that God had a plan for our church.

While I thought the irony was a bit much -- truthfully -- I am still stinging a bit from the fact that all of our teaching Pastors have resigned -- I did get his point. I mean, I believe that God does have a good plan for Paradise Church. I am confident that He will bring the best person to fill the interim Pastor position and that this church will not close its doors anytime soon.

As I thought about this message I was reminded of the fact that I too need to remain calm despite all the turmoil and unknown in my life. I am, after all, trying to complete doctoral study and work full-time. I am trying to manage my finances, living on very little (no income this summer), and waiting for promised reward this fall. I am trusting the Lord to provide everything I need, and at times, I lose my patience and become frustrated over what seems like unending "waiting."

I am also waiting for my divorce to be finalized, and while I am not anxious for it to be over, there is part of me that sees closure as a good thing. I have been waiting for closure for five years, and now that I finally made up my mind to end my marriage legally (instead of continuing to wait for my husband to do it since he was the one who left), there is this feeling of "getting on with it." Yes, I am impatient at this moment and I feel at times that until that door is finally closed, I am still sitting in limbo land -- unable to be single, yet no longer married.

The blessing of it all is that God is faithful to me right where I am today. As Joyce Meyer often says "thank God I am not where I used to be." The idea being that while I may not be where I want or hope to be, at the least, I am not where I used to be. Yes, God has faithfully provided a way for me to live my life as a new single person. He has given me greater education, freedom to change careers and become a professor, and a new life driven by His purpose for me. In all, He has made a new way for me, and I am blessed, so very blessed.

Today, I am choosing to be patient. I am choosing to be still and to wait for the Lord's provision of every good thing He has in mind for me. I will wait, I will let go, and I will let God run my life as He determines best. He will move me to the place of His choosing. He will prepare me for ministry to do His work. He will provide every thing I need -- food, shelter, clothing, jobs. He will do everything in His way and in His time. I will wait upon the Lord, and I will look up and Let God be God over every detail of my life.

Yes, I will wait, Lord. I will patiently wait for you this good day.

June 22, 2014

Interesting turn of events...

Today has been a good day. God is good, all the time, so very good -- but today has been especially good for me. It is not that anything spectacular has happened, in fact, today was pretty normal, well within the scope of my "normal." It was just that I experienced a wonderful sense of God's presence today, in a most unusual way, and that experience has left me feeling very upbeat and positive. What a good thing it is to be able to come into the presence of the Lord:

Psalm 16:11 - You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.

Let me explain...

I have blogged about my Crisis Communication class and how I have to complete an Image and Reputation Management project this week. I chose to focus on my church, out of practical reasons, because I needed to have access to an organization where I could meet with leaders and gather information about their crisis communication plan (or lack thereof). I have been able to use my church for my projects and papers, praise God, which has made it possible for me to complete the assignments in my doctoral classes. I didn't plan to continue to use my church, but with this latest class focus on crisis, it just made sense to continue to focus on how I could apply my learning from class to real-world situations.

Today, in between our first and second services, our board chairperson and several board members met with members to discuss our crisis and the continued loss of leadership. We had about 35 people, spanning a good demographic of the church, show up to ask questions and get some "news" on what the board plans to do to stabilize our leadership crisis. The good news is that everything that was discussed today aligns with the reading text in my crisis class. I mean it was spot on, and that means for me, that my project got a huge boost in the arm, so to speak. In short, what I was going to propose is already being considered as next steps. This means that while I still have to present these suggestions "in theory," I am actually getting to see the process working out in real-life. It is so exciting to see God work in this way. He is leading our board members and in our meeting today there was no sense of worry, of doubt, or of fear.  In fact, I would say that the tenor of the meeting was calm and peaceful. It was more like "concerned" but with faith in God's leading and direction. I am so jazzed that the environment amidst the leadership crisis is so positive. This is a huge change from February, when the board announced that they were letting our lead pastor go due to financial crisis. Yes, we have had pretty severe membership drops since then, but it seems that the members who chose to stay seem to be OK with what has happened. I talked with some today and they are like "well, we just have to pull together and fill in the gaps where leadership is missing." I was so amazed at the attitude and willingness of people to step up and do whatever needs to be done. How encouraging to see the people of God doing what is right during a time of great stress and trial. God is good, so very good!

Plans for tonight: Rocking and rolling on this project. I need to get 3/4 of the way through it so that I can finish it up tomorrow. I feel confident that I can do this tonight and still get to bed at a decent time. Praying for guidance now as I continue to work on this project. May the Lord be honored with my work, and may His will be done with this project and the plans He has in mind for me this good day.

June 21, 2014

Getting Down to Business

Yep, I am officially procrastinating -- putting off until tomorrow the THING that needs to be done today. I woke up this morning, panicked as usual, and thinking "Oh, Lord, how will I get everything done today?" The truth is that I have had a good five days to get my work done, and while I have accomplished a few items, I am further behind on my projects then I should be. I planned this week out to be THE WEEK to get my research project and proposal completed. Yes, they are not technically due until next week, but I didn't want to spend all my time on the weekend working on research. So, how'd that super planning go for me? LOL! Not very well. It is now Saturday, and I am crashing and burning -- working until the wee hours -- to get all my research completed on time. Yep, it is no one's fault but my own, and there is no one to blame, but me. Sigh!

The funny thing is that I do this all the time. I don't like to think of myself as a A+ PROCRASTINATOR, but that is exactly what I am. I like to chill out, I like to rest and to relax. I love the work, mind you, it is just that I would rather play than do work. UGH! When push comes to shove, however, I get down to business and crank out the work. I guess I prefer to work in overload mode...

It's Saturday, and I am working on two projects. I have to complete my Image and Reputation Management project and I have to begin an annotated bibliography and research proposal paper. I have about 3 pages completed on the first project -- needing at least 12 -- so this is my first priority today. My proposal is not due until 8/1 so I have a little more time (like next weekend) to work on that one. I already have my topic picked for research, and all I really have to do is summarize the literature that supports my research interest. I can do it, I can do it, I know I can do it.

I am feeling a lot better today, re: my church and the current crisis there. I went to dinner with my parents last evening, and I had a good conversation with my Dad. My parents attend the same church so it is good to hear their point of view on the matter. My Dad is pretty low-key about these things -- I guess it helps that he is 80 -- and he has been through these types of situations before. God is good, you know, to provide someone who can be a sounding board for me. I tend to get whipped up over the injustice and unfairness, and then my Dad calmly tells me what he thinks about the matter. He gets upset too, but for different reasons. He is more concerned about the people, and how the people feel right now. He is not worried about the church going under at all. He assumes they will just keep on "keeping on." I think this is because he has come through so many trials in his life, and at this point, he has seen "it all." He may not like the ways things have turned out, but he doesn't get upset over them. He may be saddened, but generally, his attitude is to "solider on." God is good to provide such a solid view on things. It helps me to see that while I do feel justified in my attitude, I need to recognize that not everyone has the same view as I do. It is good to stand down and wait -- to be patient -- and to let God work things out. Yes, Lord, you are right! You know what is best for our church and for the people who attend there.

Today is a good day. It is a good day to reflect on where I have been, where I am now, and where I am going in the future. God is good, He has me well-covered, and I am highly favored and blessed today. I give Him the praise, the honor, and ultimately, the glory. May the Lord be praised forever more this day! Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah!

June 20, 2014

Feeling Sad and Unwell Today

I am not sure if I am sad or angry today. I think it might be a combination of both emotions, swelling up together, and creating this sense of unwellness inside of me. I don't like the way I feel, that is for certain, but I also understand the mixed emotions that seem to coincide with crisis. I have been in personal crisis before -- very deep and dark -- personal crisis. I know that feeling, that sense of utter loneliness and hopelessness. I haven't been in that place for a very long time, and in truth, I am not even near there now. I just feel similar to how I felt when I was in the midst of my separation, and I don't like feeling this way.

I found this graphic online this morning while I was googling for something about sadness. I think it is funny (curious/interesting) that almost all the graphics about sadness stem from a loss of "love." You know, I miss you "love" and I cannot live without you "love." I thought it was curious that most people, er, the people who make graphics for the web, equate sadness with being out of love. I was trying to find the perfect graphic to match my mood, and I was not finding anything but sad pictures of people crying over lost loves. Now don't get me wrong, I did my fair share of crying about lost love, I just thought it was odd that the only pictures I could find were about love.

After digging a little deeper, I found this picture above and I chose it because it represents what I think is the crux of my feelings this morning. I am not lamenting a lost love or even a love that will never come to pass. No, I am expecting something to happen that in all likelihood will never happen. Let me explain...

I am very sad/angry over what has happened with my church. I blogged yesterday about the crisis, the history leading up to the current crisis, and the situation we face now in that crisis. Today, I spent about an hour and half updating the church website. I have been working as part of the Communication's team since January, and while I am happy to help out (I don't have a lot of time now), I feel that the progress we made on increasing our communicative reach has been for naught. I  mean, we redesigned the website, upped our communication blasts through email and social media, and generally improved the overall access to communication materials in a very short amount of time. We have received good reviews on our efforts, and we are working hard to continue to get the word out there that Paradise Church is an active and functional ministry organization.

But --

This is only a lie. The church is not a functional ministry organization at all. It is a sinking ship -- the commander has jumped ship, and the rest of the crew are following suit. The ship is sinking with all passengers aboard, and somehow, this act is sticking in my craw, so to speak. Yes, I do believe that the Pastors need to support their families, and I do understand the need to move to a more stable place of employment. This is practical, pragmatic thinking, and it is OK to take this view. However, part of me thinks that this move of jumping over board has been in the works since January, and that no transparency has been made to let the members know this was going to happen. I mean, you just don't get another job as a Pastor overnight. It can take months for these kinds of appointments to come through, to work out. So -- no one has bothered to be up front about the planned exodus and this makes me really angry.

This type of miscommunication or noncommunication is not a new thing in Crisis circles. It happens all the time -- it is called the MUM effect and organizations use it to downplay the negative impact of decisions during a crisis. Christian organizations are prone to using the MUM effect a lot. They cloud decisions in Biblical precedent, choosing to look honorable when blessing Pastors for leaving congregations because they need stable jobs with good pay. Its like "Bless you Pastor -- go and find better fruit elsewhere!" All the while the congregation they are leaving is in shambles and poised to go under. I know it is a hard decision to stay during crisis, hence my research project, but part of me thinks this is just wrong. This is the wrong kind of behavior to have in a church during crisis. I am not saying that the Pastors need to hang around, but what I am saying is that mistakes made a year ago have now been compounded to the point of causing a church to collapse. Had warning signs been noticed and decisions made to thwart crisis -- yeah -- we would probably not be in this situation now.

I am sad to see a church go under. I am angry at the Pastors and staff who did nothing but hide under cover and allow so many warning signs to go unchecked. I am angry that the members are left holding the ship afloat while the Pastors skip town and head to greener pastures. It shouldn't be this way. It is wrong, and I don't think this behavior is God-honoring at all.

Yes, so my righteous indignation has risen to the forefront, and I am angry at what I believe is a mishandling of the stewardship of God. Yes, this is why I am both sad (that it has happened), and angry (at those who were responsible). I may not like what has happened and the crisis we are currently in, but one this is for certain: God is our fortress and refuge in times of trouble.

I do not wish anything bad on the Pastors who have chosen to abandon our church, and yes, I consider their actions, abandonment. I pray they are seeking the Lord's will for their lives, and that they will learn from this experience so that they never willingly do this again. Pastors are held to a higher standard and they are called to shepherd not only the sheep, but also the financial resources of the flock. These men and women are human, and as such, they are prone to the same sin as I am. I get this, and I grant them grace. I know how difficult it can be to handle crisis -- however -- if you choose to serve in ministry, then you are choosing this path fraught with crisis, with difficulty, and with consequences. It is a choice, and in ministry, you cannot just walk away from your obligations and responsibilities -- just because the going gets tough. You have to be faithful and you have to hang in there. If the circumstances are dire, as in "there is not enough money to pay you," then the ENTIRE CONGREGATION has to have a part in the decision making process. The church as a whole needs to be involved, not just in "pony up so we can keep staff," but in considering the next best steps.

In business, you can walk away. You don't like your job, change it. You need more money, ask for a raise or go elsewhere. In ministry, people's lives are at stake, they hang in the balance, and the Lord's work is placed in jeopardy when you (pastors and leaders) walk away. Think carefully before you jump ship. Consider the collateral damage of your actions. Walk away if you must, but do it only after being 100% transparent with the congregation and explaining WHY you are doing it. Just saying "God is calling me to pastor a new church" doesn't cut it or "I am being called to start a new church" falls flat. You are leaving a church in crisis to go lead another church or start a new one? Really? Really? No, you are leaving because you need money, and the current church is so messed up (in part because of your actions or lack of actions) and you see no way out. You damaged a God-thing, and are leaving to take lead in another God-thing. I pray your actions do not repeat themselves. You have done enough damage as is...

Dear Lord,

I am angry at this situation, and I am angry at the leaders who got us into this mess. What angers me most is that all of these people will leave our church and move into new places of ministry. They will survive and continue to do the Lord's work. Yet, lives have been damaged and crushed, and ministry has been thwarted because of decisions, bad decisions, that were made in your Name. Now what is left over is fragments of what was at one time a thriving ministry. What do we do? How do we survive? What are our next steps? I believe that your will is perfect, and I trust you to see us through this -- to whatever conclusion you choose, you desire, for us. May your will be done in the lives of the Pastors and leaders as well as in the lives of each and every member who called Paradise Church home. May God be praised today and forever more. Amen, so be it, thy will be done! Selah!

June 19, 2014

Crisis Communication Project and Other Stuff

I am currently taking a Crisis Communication course as part of my PhD program at Regent University. It is interesting that this course coincides, timing-wise, with a real crisis occurring at my church, Paradise Church, in Phoenix.

I have blogged about my church before, but never with detail on the issues that seem to plague this small Evangelical church body. In some ways, I think the church itself has been doomed (I know, that is a horrible thought) from the start, given that the history of the church has been sprinkled with leadership crisis since its founding back in 1984.

In fact, I can recall two major crisis that have occurred over the last 30 years. One crisis was not made public (per se), but caused a split in the church. I was not a member at that time, but a regular attender at one of the larger Bible churches in nearby Scottsdale. My parents, however, were members, coming in at the end of that crisis, and staying on through a number of leadership changes until things seemed more settled. I found out about the issues from a former pastor who was working with me in Children's Ministry. He didn't tell me everything about the case, but he gave me enough detail to know that some serious business had occurred, serious enough to cause the church to split, and serious enough to require several leaders to step down from ministry.

Over the course of a couple years after this incident, the church struggled financially and with message/identity issues. I started attending this church in late 2007, mostly because my son was Jr. High age and was active in their youth ministry program. The church seemed to get straightened out for a time when one of the associate pastors/interns was asked to take the lead role. In 2008-2011, the church seemed to be back on track to overcome all the struggles it had formerly been embroiled in.

No organization is immune to crisis, and churches are no exception. In late 2011, the lead pastor stepped down, citing burnout, and stating that he was taking a lead role in a smaller start up church in Phoenix (that is in and of itself speculative). He left the church in the hands of the associate pastor, a man whose father had been the first pastor called to the church when it was planted in 1984. He had a long history with the church, was well-liked by the members, and generally a good preacher.

In 2012, the executive leadership team and the board started a search for a new lead pastor. Why the associate pastor was not called is beyond me. He was a candidate until the board decided they had found a better person for the job. This better person turned out to be the wrong fit, and over the course of another year, ushered in our current and most lasting bout with crisis.

We are now in survival mode, and there is a very good chance that the church will close its doors permanently. Within the last month, the Youth Pastor, Associate Pastor, and Operations Director have resigned. The word on the street is that the Children's Pastor is leaving as well. In fact, as of this Sunday, we will have no officiating pastors remaining on staff. The church is currently being run by the board members and a group of volunteers.

Now, I realize that there are many churches across this nation in similar situations. Many churches do not have lead pastors. Many function on volunteer workers. I am struggling to wrap my head around the details of how and why churches exist amidst so much competition for members and member dollars. To me it would make far better sense to merge congregations, share the load and financial resources, and build community through combined efforts. I don't 'get' why churches choose to be autonomous and struggle when they could be strong, be healthy, and be proactive by working together with other small, but struggling congregations. Oh well...I digress...

So back to the topic of this post --

The Lord has placed my church history, struggles, and crisis in front of me, and He has given me opportunity to explore organizational issues since I started at Regent. I believe this is His will for my life, and the courses that I have taken thus far have been to prepare me to minister to churches, whether in crisis or not, in the future.
  • I wrote my first paper on my church for my COM 631: Organizational Communication course. The paper was entitled, "Paradise Church: Strategies to Enhance Member Communication Effectiveness" and looked at ways to improve communication using digital media.
  • I wrote a second paper for my COM 785: Family Communication course entitled, "Family Communication and Storytelling." I used Paradise Church as focus of that paper, and continued on the theme of using digital media to enhance and strengthen member communication.
  • I wrote a third paper for the same class entitled, "New Media Studies: Social Identity within Age-Restricted Groups in the Church." This paper was proposed during my COM 700 Introduction to Doctoral Studies class, in summer 2013. The subject of this paper was cultural community building and looked at the demographics and the cultural change within organizations.
  • I am currently writing a fourth paper for my COM 652: Crisis Communication course. This paper will focus on image management and reputation, and once again, Paradise Church will be the subject of the study.
  • Lastly, my major research project for COM 703: Qualitative Research Methods will be an ethnography (or a cultural study of a specific group of individuals) on crisis within the church. I am interested in exploring member experience, perception, and commitment in churches in the midst of crisis.
If you consider what I have written about over the past year, it is clear that the Lord had something in mind for me regarding this church, in particular, and the issues affecting the members and community culture. I am not sure what the outcome will be, but frankly, there is a pattern emerging that places Paradise Church at the forefront of my scholarly research.

My next series of classes will probably shift my focus from Paradise Church to another subject. I will be taking Social Media and Internet Marketing along with Historical/Critical research methods in the fall. Right now, the SM class is a gimme for me. It is a 500-level course, and I know the professor who teaches it. It will have an applied project, and I am thinking I will focus on SM and Education (I can use my students for guinea pigs). The Historical/Critical class is going to be my favorite, and if possible, I hope to conduct a Rhetorical Analysis of Ojibway Culture using John Tanner's autobiography, "The Falcon" as a primary source text. I don't see any studies revolving around Paradise Church for fall or for spring 2015.

Perhaps the reason the Lord is having me focus on my church is that it is such a good example of what not to do before, during and after a crisis. If the Lord desires that I learn how to minister to churches -- then what better subject than to focus on one dealing with communication issues and leadership crisis. I am not saying that all this has happened just so I could get paper topics, may it never be! No, I just think the timing was right for me to focus on something like this while I was studying about the topic in my courses at Regent.

As I consider the nature of my church, and I think about the future, I can surely say that I will not be one of the members who stays to see things through to the end. It is not that I want to leave a sinking ship, by no means, it is just that I have spent about 6-7 years at a church that didn't meet my needs. I know, how superficial is that statement? Yes, it is truth. I have been part of this church based on the "need" of having a place close by where my son could be involved in youth ministry. This was why I left my big Bible church, which I loved, to come to a small church that I liked. I did it for my son, and now that my son is 21, and on his own, I am ready to love a church again. Please know that I do like Paradise Church. I like the people a lot, but there are no ministry opportunities for me outside the website (which I help with now), and there is no place I can serve specifically geared toward my gifts. I am no longer called to serve in Children's ministry, and I have never been involved in Women's ministry (outside of doing Bible Studies when I was a SAHM). I am looking for a place where I can be involved in an active way, using my gifts and talents specifically for ministry. I am open to the Lord's leading, and I know that my needs, my wants, and my goals for ministry will align with His plan for my life.

I was just thinking about this situation, reflecting on what has happened, on my part in the story, and on my path forward. I am trying to make sense out of this reality (a communication theory called sense making -- whereby individuals try to make sense out of their current situation). What am I to do? Where do I go? What church do I attend?

Right now, my heart is saying that I am supposed to see this crisis through to the end of my project. At that point, the Lord will let me know where He wants me to fellowship next. Part of me wants to go to a Bible church, whereby the method of preaching is not "feel good" but expository teaching. I miss line-by-line preaching from the Word of God. I miss hearing the message of the Word over the message of popular culture. Yes, I want a good old fashioned Bible message. The Lord knows me well, and He knows the plans He has for my life. I am trusting Him to open doors, to provide answers, and to show me the way. He is good, so very good. He is so very good to me.