July 31, 2014

Forgiveness When You Are Angry

It is "one" of those days today. I am sitting here thinking about my day, struggling to comprehend my emotional feelings, and stressing over my looming paper deadline. Yesterday was an intensely trying day for me. It started out so good, but it quickly nose-dived into something horrible. Coupled with the pressure of completing my project, and the strain on my time (for other commitments), I was a powder keg of suppressed emotions just waiting to explode. I did explode, silently of course, into a mass of hysteria and tears. I melted down last night, and I spent the majority of the evening feeling unloved and unwanted.

I did reach out to the Lord. I sought him earnestly. I prayed for understanding, for help, for answers. I cried. I wailed in fact. I so desperately needed His help to move through the emotions and to find peace. The answers were not forthcoming, but I did find some comfort, and I was able to let go of the anger. I forgave the person who angered me, and I turned my hurt over to the Lord for His healing. I finally fell asleep at midnight, and I slept fairly peacefully through to this morning. Shortly after I woke up, I read this very interesting article on Facebook, and amazingly, I found the answer to my prayers from last night.

Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson

A Facebook friend posted this link to an article from Psychology Today. The article title is "Hold Me Tight" and it is written by Dr. Sue Johnson, a clinical Psychologist (published January 2009). In it, Dr. Johnson discusses what she considers the foundational reason why couples (and singles) have communication issues. She ascribes most of her findings to her own clinical practice where she counseled couples and provided therapy to help them reconnect emotionally (para. 2). She states that as humans, "We have a wired-in need for emotional contact and responsiveness from significant others" (para. 3).  She believes it is this emotional need to attach, based on Attachment Theory, that drives us to connect with one another. Issues arise when our emotional contact with those we love disconnects. Instead of re-attaching through touch, which she explores more fully in the article, we begin to internalize "demon dialogs" that trigger our primal fear response. We react out of fear -- a sense that we are losing love, value, dignity, etc.  Our response to this loss is to act out of that point of pain.  We yell, we hit, we blame, we sulk -- we do whatever it takes to get the other person to see our emotional pain. Unfortunately, often our actions mis-communicate our feelings to our partners or our family. And, depending on how our partner was raised, their response to emotional pain, might be counter to ours. In short, instead of stopping the process at the moment when that trigger is pulled -- we dive into emotional tirades that mask the underlying hurt with a myriad of other superficial concerns.

As I read this article, I couldn't help but identity my own trigger responses. I admit that I have anger issues. I have always had anger issues. I had a difficult childhood that was masked under the guise of a typical middle-class suburban Christian upbringing. I suffered great hurt and trauma. I experienced things that made me angry, and as a child, I didn't have the emotional tools to know how to deal with those emotions. So as a child, when I got angry, I hit other people. I screamed when I didn't get my way or understand why a certain thing was happening. I ran away from home (not far, but just far enough to get away). I also sulked, and I hid my emotional hurt deep down inside of me. I suffered emotionally, and for many years, I believed that I was somehow damaged goods. I was the one with the problem. I was the one who couldn't "get over it." Yes, in truth, I did have a problem. I was the one who couldn't properly deal with emotional hurt. I was the one who didn't know how to let go of the pain and allow healing to take place. I wasn't responsible for the incidents that caused the pain in the first place, but I was certainly responsible for how I reacted to them.

The Bible talks about our emotional response to anger in Ephesians 4:16:

And "don't sin by letting anger control you." Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry

And again in Ecclesiastes 7:9:

Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool.

And in Psalm 4:4:

Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah
The Bible doesn't say we should not be angry, it just tells us to be careful when we do become angry. God knows that anger is a human emotion, an emotion that is part of our human character. We have the power to become angry, and as such, we must learn how to deal with our anger so as not to hurt other people (intentionally and unintentionally).

One of the things I liked about Dr. Johnson's article is that she suggests attachment as the root of most communication problems. I have never really considered this view before, and as a Communications scholar, I am now thinking how plausible this is, how attachment or emotional connection, is so vital to proper communication skill. In her view, when we detach emotionally, we begin to allow our internal dialog to convince us that our perception is reality. What we think is happening to us is true -- even when it is not. Our perception of what we think is true when it is not serves only to layer miscommunication on top of miscommunication. We mis-communicate our needs, and we allow our fear to determine our responses.

Thus we can look to attachment needs (Attachment Theory) to provide a practical solution to help us overcome anger fueled reactions. For example, the author suggest that when a couple argues, the best way to shorten the argument is to connect physically, to touch one another. Simple human touch can send a signal to the brain that says "I am here for you" or "I am listening to you." This circumvents the distance that often precedes emotional detachment (a backing away from each other). When touch is established, the couple can begin to work through whatever the fear is that is at root of the problem. Once the true root is uncovered, then plans can be made to address the issue. The overlaying anger and other superficial responses will fade because the main problem, the root, is being focused on and treated.

I was very angry yesterday, very angry, and I allowed superficial feelings to cause me to act out. I simmered for a long while, I moped, and I cried because I felt emotionally abandoned. The root of my problem was not the negative response to my request for help, but rather, it was a fear trigger that was activated as a result.  That fear trigger said to me "I don't love you enough to help you right now. I don't value you personally, and I don't care about your problem." In one small answer of "no," I launched into a prolonged period of anger because I felt emotionally wounded and emotionally abandoned.

I see great promise for myself today. I recognize something important, something that can help me as a Communications scholar as well as a Child of God. Understanding human needs, human attachment, can provide important direction for my focused studies on crisis communication, communication in the church, and so forth. Attachment Theory can help me see how important it is to recognize social bonding, to grasp the significance of intergroup response and trust. Yes, I can see much fertile ground in why it is important to connect emotionally, physically with other people. I can also see how detachment, disconnection emotionally and physically, can lead to communication breakdowns and eventual withdrawl (ending in dysfunctional relationships and even divorce).

As a Child of God, however, I see how important it is to teach attachment as part of the bonding process within the church. I see so many churches fracture and break apart. I see so many damaged relationships, how hurt and pain have crippled people to the point where they are stuck in wounded states. I see value in demonstrating proper emotional connection at all levels of relationship building -- friendships, romantic relationships, familial -- can serve to build up the church, to bind up the wounds, and to generate healing. There is so much potential work to be done here, so much possible growth in this one area.

Most of all, I see hope for myself personally. I know that I suffer from attachment issues, from emotional disconnect. I am learning through the Grace of God how to overcome those fears. It hasn't been easy for me, but I have come a long way in a very short amount of time. I need to be reminded that my trigger responses, my fear-based responses are not always accurate indicators of reality. What I am feeling, while valid, is not always the correct interpretation of the situation, the context, or the intended communication of the other person (or groups of people). Yes, I need to be reminded today that God tells us there is great value in being slow to anger:

James 1:19 - Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

Being slow to anger is key. When we take the time to step back, to step away, to stop and think -- then we can collect our thoughts and determine the appropriate response. Perhaps there is justifiable reason for being angry. Biblically-speaking, there may be rationale for our anger. If so, then we must pray before we act. We must ask the Lord for His Grace so that we deal with the anger and the response to the anger in a Biblical, moral, and spiritual manner.

More than likely, however, our anger is the result of the person we are angry at sending us a misdirected signal. A signal that should be read as "I am hurting right now" or "I am in pain and I need your help" rather than as an inducement to rumble (to fight).

My prayer today is that I can learn to let go of my anger as quickly as it rises up. Yes, when the time comes for me to react against some Biblical or spiritual injustice, then I pray I will allow the Lord to guide me in handling my response. However, in the dailiness of my life, in the trenches, so to speak, may I recognize the fear-based response, and deal with it appropriately. I need to cut myself some slack, and I need to know that I will always react from that place. I just don't have to let it control me, consume me, and cause me to hurt other people.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for helping to expose this deep issue in my life. Thank you for taking the time, amidst all the other stresses, to show me that this is something I need to address. I need to recognize that I am emotionally wounded because I was abandoned in my marriage. I was emotional distanced by someone I loved, not for a short period of time, but for the length of my married years. This emotional detachment caused severe pain for me, and now whenever I experience any trigger that resembles that detachment, I immediately go to that place of sorrow, that place of hurt. Heal this place, Lord, and give me freedom so that I don't automatically retreat there. I know it exists, but I also know that you and I have worked really hard to help me see the "reality" of the situation. My reality is not always as I perceive it to be. I ask now that you will guide me emotionally as I enter into new relationships, work with the Church to develop crisis communication strategies, and to live my life as a fully functioning, and wholly alive Child of God. Thank you, Lord, for your great Mercy and your great Grace. I pray this all in the Name of Jesus, Amen.

July 30, 2014

Anticipation is So Sweet!

I found this graphic online this morning while searching for something Biblical to tie into my topic on anticipation. I knew I wanted to use this poster the moment I saw it. I cross-posted it to Facebook too. I identify so well with what this poster says -- it sums up my life to a tee. Let me explain...

I would characterize myself as being very practically-minded. By that I mean that I tend to see the rational, the logical, and the "oh so" orderly side of life. If I notice things are not just right, well, I usually point them out. I don't mean to do it, it is just that my brain seems to prefer to have everything lined up perfectly horizontal and vertical. Neat and tidy would be good descriptors of my personality. I like everything to fit nice and neatly into my prepared boxes.

I think this is partly due to my INTJ personality. I tend to like to plan and to purpose my life so that I know what to expect. I don't "do" unexpected events well (though, PTL, I am learning how to handle the unknown and the uncontrollable). So when I point out the mistake, the error, the inconsistency of things, I sometimes appear to be complaining or passing judgment, when in reality, I am simply noting that something appears to be off-kilter. In making these announcements, my goal is not to judge, but to inform. It is like the officer who tells the people of Piza that they really shouldn't sit under the tower because it is leaning. Is he judging them for choosing to sit under a leaning tower? No, he is informing them merely that there is a good chance the tower might fall on them and crush them if they continue to sit under it. I am like this officer. I bring up what I feel is useful analysis of events or circumstances. I want people to know "Hey, there may be something to think about here so let me share my concerns with you." Some people take this well, while others see it as a negative and critical spirit.

It is very hard to purposely NOT notice these things, especially when your eye is drawn to seeing imperfections in everything. Yes, I know, you are thinking "so you point out other people's flaws, then?" No, I don't. I am not about pointing out personal issues, I am more about pointing out how events and circumstances might influence or impact decisions that people make. I want to help people, not hurt them. I digress.

Back to the moment -- I saw this graphic/poster online and I loved the sentiment. I know that while I don't whine often, I do complain sometimes. My biggest issue is the fact that I tend to wear my expression of critical concern on my face, and that critical concern looks strikingly a lot like a FROWN. I notice my frown lines in the mirror daily. I see how deep they are furrowed on my brow, and I don't like that they are there. I think they make me look old, and I wish that I didn't have them. I know they are to be expected considering I have been frowning my entire life. Yet, I think that perhaps if I thought a little more about my expression when I am expressing concern, I could alleviate adding more frown to the mix.

So - ta dum! I am going to attempt to present a warm and fuzzy outlook on my face from now on. I am going to give away free hugs and smiles to anyone and everyone. This is not a far stretch for me. I would say the number one compliment I get is from people who say they love the way I smile or they will tell me that I am always smiling. It is true, I love to smile. I think my smile is one of my greatest assets. Perhaps God knew that I needed a great smile to counteract all that frowning, LOL! Regardless, I am endeavoring to smile more freely, and hug more often.

Update - July 30 @ 6 p.m.

Yes, I just had to add an update to my blog post from this morning. Why is it that whenever you make a big announcement such as "I am going to do such and such starting today," Satan comes and whacks you so hard that you just crumble to the ground. My decision to whine, complain, and frown less lasted a whole 6 hours. Alas, I am sunk! The blessed news is that I refuse to give up. So while the enemy has "counted coup" against me this time, I refuse to sit down in the dirt and give in to these feelings of anger and emotional control. Nope, I refuse to let him win this day.

Now to the point of this blog post: anticipation.

I am really excited and filled with anticipation today.  The funny thing is that I don't know why I feel the way I do. I woke up to a normal day. I was tired, but I think that is due to the stress of my paper deadline looming on Friday. I had to get up earlier than usual today because I had a dentist appointment. I have not been to the dentist for a cleaning since last November. It is my fault -- I lost my dental insurance when I changed jobs, and I simply did not want to spend the money on cleanings. I needed to do it, though, considering the amount of dental work I had done last year. I digress. Anyhoo, I was able to get into the dentist today, but the appointment was early this morning. I went to the dentist, had a very good checkup, and then ran a few errands before heading home.

It was during a quick stop at Arizona Christian University that I had this wave of anticipation come over me. I was there to pick up a new edition of the textbook I am teaching from this fall, and after I had returned to my car, I started to feel this excitement well up inside of me. I was in my car, driving out of the parking lot, when these words just popped into my head:
Lord, I love my life! I am filled with such anticipation about what you are doing for me today. I cannot explain it, but my life is so GOOD. I have never felt this way before, never felt this good about everything going on. I know I am a little stressed over my paper, but even with that little bit of stress, I feel so confident that you are doing something extra special for me right now.
Weird as it may seem, I had this overwhelming sense that my life was heading straight up! I mean, it isn't that I noticed anything in particular at all. I was just driving out of the parking lot, thinking about teaching classes in the fall (in three weeks), and it was like "This is it! I am doing exactly what the Lord wants me to be doing. My life is exactly has He has planned it to be."

I am in such a good place right now. I absolutely love my teaching schedule. I have never had a job whereby I had so much downtime. I have had downtime before, but not like this kind of downtime. I am not bored, I am not sitting at my desk with no work, twiddling my thumbs, and trying to "look" busy so I don't get fired. No, this is free time, downtime with the benefit of allowing me to do other things, on my own time, according to my own schedule. I was telling my Dentist that I would be teaching MWF only this fall. I love the fact that I will have T-TH free to do my school work as well as to prep and plan for my classes. I can hardly believe that I am only "working" three days a week. Yes, those are three very long days. The blessing is that in between those very long days, I will have a day off plus the entire weekend. If you knew me well, you would know that having time off is critical for my well-being. Not only must I be careful not to get overly tired, but I also have to manage my stress level to ensure that I don't get burnt out. God has planned my teaching schedule to give me the maximum amount of credits (contracts for payment) while still factoring in plenty of time to destress, to offload, and to chill out. God is so good, so very good!

On top of my teaching schedule, I have my continued progress at Regent to be excited about and to look forward to completing. I will be taking a good load this fall, and I am excited for these classes. I see great opportunity for continued research, and for the fulfillment of my doctoral program. I know that what I learn each semester will accumulate and will bless me with both preparation and experience. I will be able to use my schooling to practically improve the Kingdom of God. I am so blessed, so very blessed.

My life is rich and it is rewarding right now. I feel good about everything I am doing, and I feel content to be right where I am. I know that whatever is going to happen to me, it is a good thing, a God-thing. Yes, the Lord is bringing goodness into my life from all angles, and I see it as it comes toward me. I see the blessing, I am experiencing it now. I am the recipient of His good favor. I can hardly stand it, I am jumping for joy because of the goodness of the Lord, because He is Good, and He is showering me with that good today.

July 29, 2014

Putting On My Superhero Costume

It is Tuesday, July 29, 2014. I have four days to finish a major ethnography project. To say that I am "almost done" would be laughable. In fact, our TA sent out an email this week that read:

"By now you should be wrapping up your research and putting the finishing touches on everything, right?"

I thought to myself, "I am so dead right now. Lord, help me!" I need to have 25 pages written in a scholarly format, pre-publication, by midnight on Friday, August 1st. If I were writing a normal research paper, then I would think "piece of cake!" However, I am not writing a normal paper. By that I mean, I am not using scholarly literature to support a theory and answer/defend research questions. No, I am writing intensely personal stories, experiences of incredible hurt and shame and guilt, stories that were shared with me openly and honestly, within the boundaries of interviewer/interviewee confidence. The data, so to speak, is life story. It is what these dear people told me about their experience in a crisis situation at my church. They told me things I didn't know (as a participant observer). They told me how hurt they were, how crushed they were, and how abused they felt by the communication practices of leadership and staff. What I saw through this process was foundational to my understanding of Christian sacrifice and God-honoring behavior. I stand in awe of these people, and I stand with them as they process the hurtful experiences that came as a result of Christian leadership practices.

Last night, one of our Pastors (our ONE remaining Pastor to be specific) posted a great article about living the life of a Superhero to her blog. She writes about how superhero movies appeal to her, how she identifies with the hero, and how she likes it when the hero uses his or her ability to overcome evil with good. She goes on to clarify her comments when she writes,

"But there’s something more that I’m drawn to in these movies. It’s the power. The incredible strength, the belief in their ability to do what they set out to do, no matter what they face. The superhero never gives up but, instead, calls on the power within Him or the power given Him to fight and to eventually win."

Her best point, however, comes when she says that the "power" to be a superhero comes from God and not the world. She quotes John 14:12 and says,

"This verse tells me that I have the ability from God to be a superhero. I have been handed the power from Jesus to heal the sick, to strike the enemy with a single blow, to know the details of a complete stranger’s life, even to raise someone from the dead. That’s what Jesus did. And now He’s telling me that I can do more than that."

I read this article last night, and I thought to myself, "This is so true. These words are power and they confirm to me (us) that we have the power within us (by the Blood of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) to overcome whatever challenges or obstacles we face in this life." Romans 8:38-39 says it this way:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am a superhero today. I have the power within me to accomplish any task that He has set before me. He has called me to pursue doctoral study, and He has equipped me for every good work (Heb. 13:21, 2 Tim. 2:17). Therefore, I am able to do this work. I can produce this report, this scholarly article, this class required paper, because He has provided the ability within me to do it. I will do it. I will get it done.

So today, as I make the turn into the final stretch, and as I look at what I have finished (which is so much less than I had hoped to have done by this date), I am reminded of these words in 1 John 4:4:

But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.

Yes, the One who lives within me is far greater, far more able, far more capable than I am to complete this work. I have never felt so utterly hopeless, so completely without words (and that is saying something), and so desperately in need of His help, as I am right now. I am without power, without hope, without ability; yet, I cry out with the Prophet:

Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

The Lord is with me. He is my God. I will not be afraid. I will rest in His completed work, His abilities, and in His will for my life. I will look up this morning, and I will remember that my power, the power that will see me through is not my own, but it is His. I give Him all the praise, all the honor, and all the glory this day. May His Name be praised always and forever more. Amen. Selah!

July 28, 2014

Finding Hope

Faith. Walking. Finding Hope. Learning to be still. Waiting. Patience. Some days it is so difficult to be a Christian, to stay focused and to remain determined to stay put on the path that the Lord has you on. Some days I so want to jump off the path, and go running toward what looks like a better choice, a better opportunity. Some days I don't want to wait anymore. Some days I want to get moving so fast, so hard, and so RIGHT NOW that I can barely contain myself. Some days are like today where I want this waiting to be over, and the blessing to begin NOW.

Psalm 46:10 says,

"Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world."

The Bible has a lot to say about being patient, about waiting for God to move, for God to deliver, for God to bring His promises to fulfillment.
Isaiah 40:31 - But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; [and] they shall walk, and not faint.
James 5:7-8 - Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

2 Peter 3:9 - The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Isaiah 30:18 - And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD [is] a God of judgment: blessed [are] all they that wait for him.

It is so very hard to wait especially when you believe the Lord is doing something in your life, when you feel His presence, sense His calling, or see Him moving ahead of you. When the Lord is active in your life, when He is moving you, changing you, calling you, building you up -- you delight in Him, you long to experience more of Him, you want to KNOW everything about Him. I liken it to the "kid in the candy store" where the father says "go in my child and take whatever you like." Oh my goodness! My heart cries out, "Daddy, can I really have whatever I like?" My Lord says, "Yes, you can, my child!" 

How do I choose to wait? How do I patiently endure until His plans for my life are revealed to me, and then are fulfilled?

The Veruca Salt Syndrome

Oh, I struggle so with waiting. I want it all now. In a horrible, little child way, I am like Veruca Salt, who screams "I want it NOW!" Veruca Salt, the spoiled bratty character from Roald Dahl's children's book, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," is one my favorite's in the story. There is just something about Veruca that appeals to me. It is not that I was spoiled like this as a child. Nor is it that I particularly like spoiled children (I have seen and heard my share of them). No, it is just that her character is so identifiable, so downright nasty, and so completely human. We all have a little bit of Veruca Salt in us -- whether we want to admit it or not. And, Christians are no exception. We like to hide our inner child well, we put on this mask of humility and piety and tell the world that our natural desires for wanting it now have been crucified with Christ. In truth, our spoiled rottenness was crucified with Christ. It is just that the part of us that remains, that natural human part, still retains some of the patterning of the fall, and at times, it can be seen in our unwillingness to wait, to be patient, to let go of our need to control and let God be God.

But Daddy I want it NOW!

The Lord is so good to us. He knows our hearts and our minds, and praise be to God, He also knows that we are still prone to childish tantrums. He understands us, our needs, our wants, our desires -- and the blessing is -- that He loves us unconditionally.  Now, I am not saying that we get a free pass when we behave like Veruca -- may it never be! No, I am just saying that Grace covers us when we feel like we need something from God now, and the Lord says that we must wait. While we may not scream, throw a tantrum, or sit down in the dirt and pout -- we can in our heart -- choose to not respond appropriately to God's word and His call to be patient and to wait. We can become downcast. We can become depressed. We can get so discouraged that we fail to see all the good things that are happening right now, all the wonderful blessings that are taking place -- often as preparatory -- to get us ready for the BIG REVEAL. Yes, the Lord often allows us to wait while He is prepping us for the BIG SHOW.
I am at this place in my life right now. I am in the midst of an EXTREME HOME MAKEOVER. God has taken my life and completely remade it. He has made me over, and the process, is not complete yet. I so want it to be over. I want to see the NEW me revealed. I am ready, I am willing, I am agreeable to all that the Lord has asked of me, yet I still wait for His perfect timing. I am yielded and I think I am being very patient. Yet, still I wait. I wait. I wait. I wait.

I believe that while the final REVEAL will be wonderful, beyond words, beyond compare -- it is in the waiting period -- that the real miracle exists. Waiting is not just about longsuffering nor is it about keeping your "nose to the grindstone" and hanging in. No, waiting is a wonderful period whereby there is much growth taking place. Consider a home remodel and the amount of work involved in transforming a dump into a treasured palace. The process of the remodel is grueling, and at times, the work load is heavy. The remodel is proceeding according to plans, the timelines are being met. Yet, the work seems to take forever. There is so much to do, so much work to be completed. The end is right there --> right over there --> and the closer you get to the end, the more you can see the final outcome. It is when you are most close to the end that the waiting period becomes interminable. I can see it, I can see the end --> I just cannot get to it. UGH!

Learning how to enjoy the process of the remodel gives us a blessed perspective. Not only can we appreciate the hard work involved in the makeover, but we can also use the time to be sensitive to others around us who are also going through a makeover. If we appreciate the steps, the small changes, the little details, then we can find joy in the moment. Yes, the big REVEAL may be still off in the distance, but we can experience the changes NOW, and we can learn to let go and we can learn to live in peace.

My prayer today, for myself and for others, is to let go of the need to see the reveal before God's time is right for it. I so much want to see the plans He has for my life come to pass, but I know that I am a "work in progress" right now.  God is working on me, making me over, changing me, grooming me, and preparing me for His work. I am choosing today to see all the changes that have been made thus far, and to take joy in what has already been made new. I look with expectancy, with anticipation, and with excitement for the next set of major improvements. In the end, when His time is right, I will be ready to experience the full joy of seeing what He has done with me in this life.

So when will this BIG REVEAL take place?

I believe this time will only be on reflection, when I am in heaven and I am standing before my Lord. I do not believe that I will ever see the BIG REVEAL on this side of heaven. I believe that I will not have the proper perspective necessary to see the entire change -- all the changes -- made in my life until I am free from the presence of sin. No, the BIG REVEAL only comes once we are made perfect, once we have been made complete through Jesus Christ. Until then, I can only see dimly, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, what the Lord is doing in me and through me.

1 Cor. 13:12 - Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Yes, God be praised, the changes He is making within me will be revealed in time. For now, I must be patient and wait for them to come to pass. While I am waiting, however, I can take joy in knowing that the work is being done, that there is progress in my journey, and that I am being made new. Each day of my life, I am being made new.

Revelation 21:1-7

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.   

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”

And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

My heart longs for the day when all things will be made new. Until then, I rest in the knowledge that God is working out His will in my life, and He is making the changes within me to prepare me for His work.

I will patiently wait. I will be still and I will know that He is God.

July 27, 2014

Praise Him in the Storm

Well, it is a fine morning here in Phoenix. We had a major monsoon storm last night, with fairly heavy damage right in our area. Nothing too serious -- lots of trees down, debris in the roadways, roof tiles missing, and some broken walls and bent doors -- normal stuff that happens when you get heavy rain and strong winds in AZ.

It seems always to happen like this -- you are talking with someone about the monsoon, how we haven't had a good sloshing in so long -- and then WHAM! you are hit with a hard storm. The past dozen years, our monsoon has been pretty weak. In the desert SW, the monsoon season is when we get our heaviest rains. We need the rain to keep our reservoir's full, and to beat off the depressing heat. When the monsoon fizzles, we get light rain and a lot of dirt. We need a good gully-washer to help keep us "in the pink" for rainfall totals.

Last night around 10:00 p.m., my phone started to buzz, telling me that there was a dust storm warning for our area. I assumed that we would get dust again, no rain, just a lot of dust. There is always a good chance of rain on the backside of these storms, but lately, they have broken up as they come up over South Mountain (near central Phoenix). We get the outflow without a lot of rain.

It must have been 30 minutes later when I heard the first clap of thunder, and I went outside to check to see if we were getting rain. It had started to rain slightly, and then the lights flickered on/off. We lose our power often, so it is usually not that big of a deal when the lights flicker. They usually come back on and then stay on. This time, they flickered again, and then BOOM! Everything went black. Thank goodness I had already shut my computer down.

As I walked down the hallway toward the family room/kitchen, I could hear the rain pounding our tile roof. It was louder than normal and that was when I figured it was hail. My folks and I tried to look outside but we had zero visibility. The sound of the hail hitting the roof was deafening. My only thought was my car (and my folks) sitting in our driveway. Hail damage is no laughing matter out here -- and the last thing I wanted was to have dings and dents in my car.

My son was over at the church (across the street). He had gone over to practice on the drums because he was playing this morning at our old church, Scottsdale Bible. He texted me to say that he couldn't come home because the hail and wind was so strong in the parking lot.

Of course, as soon as our storms blow in, they blow out. We had some very minor damage, nothing too expensive to repair. Our neighbors had more significant damage, but it appears everyone is safe and sound.

As I think about the storm last night, and the aftermath of cleaning up today, I cannot help but give my praise to the Lord for His goodness and His mercy. Mom said "I cannot believe our cars were not damaged with the large hailstones last night." I said "God placed in His bubble of favor and protection," which I believe is 100% true. There is no reason for our cars to not be damaged by the hail, yet miraculously, they are in perfect shape today.

The Lord is good, so very good. His favor and His blessing rest upon His people. While we may suffer trials at times, and not every day is always a best for us, God's unfailing love never ceases. His love for us, His provision, and His protection are from everlasting.

July 26, 2014

The Lord is Good

The Lord is good, so very good! Today is a great day to give praise to the Lord of Heaven. He is good, He reigns, and His mercy endures forever.

It is a good Saturday morning in sunny and very hot Phoenix. It is July 26 and our monsoon season is in full swing. We have not had as active a monsoon as in year's past, but there is still hope that the rains will come before the season ends. July and August are the rainy months here in AZ. It is normal for us to get good rain storms every other day during these months. Unfortunately, the past couple years (well, perhaps dozen years) the monsoonal flow has not been as strong, and we have languished in the heat and the humidity. The blessing of the monsoon, besides the rain, is that it keeps our temperatures low, around 100-104 instead of the daily highs of 108-115 that will come without that break in the heat. Still rain or no rain, there is blessing in living in AZ (I just cannot think about that right now! LOL!)

As I sit here today, I think about all that I have to accomplish today and tomorrow. I am focused on writing my paper, on making good headway. I know that I am at the wall, so to speak. I am at that point where I have to get something down on paper, something that will push me forward toward the goal, the end. I have until Friday to turn this paper in, so today is a critical day. I need to make a dent in the project because getting from 10-25 pages is tough. I can easily write 10-12 pages. I can do this in my sleep (practically). It is far more difficult to write 12-25. You need good content, and you need to be able to get into the details of the paper at this point. The turn is always around page 11, and without good content, the paper lags and ends up being mush (just a "whole lotta nothing"). Today my prayer is to get a good portion of the paper done. I would like to see 5 pages of solid writing today and tomorrow (10 total). That would leave me with 12-13 pages to complete M-F of next week. My overall goal is 22-23 plus references.

I can do it. I've done it before. I prefer to write 15-19 pages, so pushing this up to 22-23 is a struggle for me. God knows what I need to get done today, so I let this go, and I let Him do this work through me. He is good, so very good.

Thinking About My Purpose (Romans 8:28)

I think a lot about my purpose. I ponder my calling, wonder about the plans God has for my life, and I reflect on what He has done and is doing in my life. My life has purpose, and I love the fact that I am called to live my life a certain way, to fulfill certain tasks and jobs, and to be and do things that only I am uniquely created to do. My purpose informs my choices, it focuses my path, and it gives my life direction. Without purpose, my life could feel empty, hopeless, without any form. Therefore, knowing my purpose, understanding my gifts and my abilities, and then actively pursuing their use, is what provides deep soul satisfaction to me. It gives me my reason for being, for living, and for loving this life.

I wish I could say that I have always felt satisfied in life. I wish I could say that I always believed I was called to live a life to the full, to the brim, and with a great sense of hope, but that would not be true. For many years, I believed that life was hard, it was a chore, and it was not a happy, hope filled experience. I had a "school of hard knocks" approach to living -- everyday I put on my hard hat, pulled on my heavy boots, and I prepared myself to spend another day in the trenches. I worked hard, I lived hard, and I "endeavored to persevere." Life was something you churned through, and if you were lucky, you tried really hard not to get chewed up and spat out.

I can remember experiencing that "life is hard" moment for the first time. It happened when I was young, at that point between childhood and adulthood, where you go from seeing the world as rosy and full of possibilities to black and hopeless. I was in my early teens when I experienced the death of a friend. I had lived a pretty sheltered life up to that point, and I had never had to watch anyone in my family die. It is hard enough to lose a family member, but when it is your peer (or close in age person) it hits you differently.

I can remember the day vividly. It was raining outside, and my Mom and I went down the street to visit our neighbor. Her daughter was 16, and she had died recently. She went to my high school. She came home from school two weeks before with flu-like symptoms. She had a fever, and she was feeling sick. Her Mom gave her aspirin to reduce her fever. She died just says later. She had contracted Reyes Syndrome, a rare but serious condition where the brain swells. It has been linked to the use of Aspirin in children and teens recovering from Chickenpox or the flu. Her mother didn't know any better, and she gave her child the medicine she thought would make her better. It didn't. It caused her death.

My mother made me go visit this family. I didn't want to go. I was scared to go. I didn't know if this condition that she had was contagious. I didn't know if I would get sick and die. My mother said it is what you do when someone dies, when a neighbor has needs.

I went to her house. I walked through her daughters bedroom. It was eery and unpleasant. The mother wanted me to see her daughters things, to show me her daughters room. I understand it now, but back then, it just was scary for me.

I remember going home and getting sick. I was sick to my stomach and I wanted to throw up. I prayed to God to spare my life, to not let me get this condition. I was so afraid of getting sick that I would not fall asleep, I would not rest.

I considered my life then, as a teenager, and I knew that the only way I would survive not getting this sickness was to hunker down and be careful. I made it my plan to always do the right thing, to make good choices, to be in control of every detail. I could not risk getting sick or getting hurt. I began a life of seriousness, of not taking chances, of never letting go or giving in. My life became a life of absolute control, and I lost my childhood whimsy, my delight in the possible. I embraced fear and I became paranoid over anything or anyone that might cause me pain or suffering.

Of course, I grew up, and with growing up, you begin to experience other types of hurt, other types of trauma. I never realized how much I gave up that day -- facing death -- fearing death. I never realized that my life of carefully ordered steps and monitored control was a way for me to feel secure, to feel safe. I walked through my life, living in isolation, and making choices that were carefully considered (agonized over). I was miserable, I was miserable.

As I lived in fear of everything, I stopped seeing possibilities, and instead, I only saw negative consequences. Everything had a "rub" to it. People were dishonest. People hurt you. People did stupid things. I withdrew from life, and I lived inside myself. After all, it was only inside of myself that I could be certain I was safe, I was secure.

It is interesting to reflect back on those experiences, to see the choices that were made and the actions that resulted. I am all about outcomes, and as a researcher, I look to outcomes for interpretation and analysis. I enjoy seeing the patterns, the connections, and determining what was the cause and the effect. I think it is because my brain is wired to solve problems, to seek resolutions, to find answers. As such, whenever I study the past, I learn great insight that can be used by me (and Lord willing, by others) to improve or enhance the future.

This is why the words in Romans 8:28 speak directly to my heart.

And we know that God causes everything to work together
for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

They remind me that God has a unique and wonderful plan for each and every single child. He has something special in mind for us, and He wants to work those plans out for the betterment of His kingdom. It is therefore paramount that each child of God come to learn and understand his or her own giftedness. We all have a responsibility to the Body of Christ to do our part, to play our part, as it were (Romans 12:5, 1 Cor. 12:27). It is up to us to seek the Lord for wisdom and guidance, to discern through the Holy Spirit our place within the body, our role, and to discover how can we fulfill our function in the church.

One of the ways a new believer can come to learn more about their gifts is to take a spiritual assessment test. It is best to take these as part of a discipleship class whereby a teacher or pastor can help to explain the Biblical context of the gift and how that gift works in the Church. You can find these online too. Some are better than others. They are also different depending on the church affiliation. A Pentecostal website might have more gifts or a different ordering of gifts than say a Baptist or Lutheran website. I have used a couple of different ones. I think by using various types, you can get a full picture of how the gifts work in an organizational setting.

Once you have a firm understanding of your gifts, both natural and spiritual, you can begin to see how you can influence the Church. I believe that our gifts can be used in more than just ministry -- but rather -- we can use our gifts in every area of our life. I have found this to be true with my own gifts. I use my natural and spiritual gifts at work, at church, at home, and at school. I use them all the time because they are a part of me, they are what make me unique.

Today is a good day, and I am sitting here getting ready to write a major research paper. The research is done. I have to write up the findings, and I have to present this paper to my classmates and my Professor. I am so ready for this paper to be done, for this class to end. I want to finish the summer strong, to go out with a big BANG if possible. I know that this next week requires dedication and focus. I know that without the Lord's hand on me as I write, nothing of good, of value will come of the work I am to do -- I am called to do. I lift my voice now and I cry out to Him to guide my hand, to inspire my mind and my heart, to think critically, and to allow Him to speak through me as I type. I confess with my mouth -- to God be the Glory forever and ever -- Amen!

July 25, 2014

Getting Down to Business

It is almost zero hour, and I am behind on my ethnography project for school. I have everything ready to go, I have just not been able to focus on the tasks at hand. I know what I want to do, and I know how I want to do it -- it is just that I have been distracted this week, and I have not wanted to focus on the necessary details. I purposely planned my week -- I had scheduled one task for each day. In theory, I would have completed the following by today:

-Interview transcription
-Field Notes
-Literature Review

I should begin my findings today. However, I am still not finished with my transcription, and while my field notes are pretty much done, I have not completed my Literature review. In a perfect world, I would be panicked right now. I would feel overwhelmed at trying to finish a 25 page research paper in one week. I am feeling squeezed, but I am not panicked -- well -- not yet. I feel confident that between this weekend and all of next week, I will get my paper written.

I am determined to take a BIG BITE out of the elephant today -- since it is now Friday -- and I have exactly one week to complete this project (due by midnight on 8/1). My goal for today is to begin writing my paper, without my transcription work finished. I am bucking the system, Dr. Fraser's system, which said that I had to write my paper in order. I have never written papers in order. I have always started from the end and worked my way back to the beginning. I think (*THINK* in big BOLD words) this is why I have not liked this project. I think it is because I was being forced to write, to process, to examine this research using another person's method. Don't get me wrong, I think my Professors are brilliant. They are published scholars, experts in their field, and they have conducted over 30 years of research. I respect them. I should follow their advice. It is just that my brain doesn't work that way. My brain doesn't want to go the way they have said "this is how YOU must go!"

It was like how I chose to conduct interviews. I followed their pattern, I created a guide, and I setup interviews just like I was instructed to do. However, when I got into the interview, I didn't feel comfortable with that method. So instead I asked a basic starter question (How long have you been at Paradise Church?) followed by a second basic follow up question (What made you decide to make Paradise Church your home church?) In two questions, I got all the information I needed for my study. I learned about the individuals personally. I learned their reasons for coming to Paradise and staying at Paradise. Moreover, these open questions allowed them to share their story with me. My third and final question (I originally had six) was to ask about our current crisis and their experience. This question was the most involved and the interview took close to 45 minutes to cover this point.

I did ask the staff one more question, and that was if they had experienced crisis (organizational crisis) before in any other church or organization. It was important for me to have a baseline on experience, and since I was interested in the staff's perception of the crisis, it was good to know how experienced they were in dealing with it.

My interviews lasted anywhere from 1-2 hours. They were full and satisfying, and I got what I wanted from them. I think I probably went into this project all wrong because as an ethnographer you are not supposed to go in with precognition, with a gut feeling, and with intention to clarify your own point of view. I tried very hard to be objective, and I phrased my questions as such. The answers were what I had hoped, and the results will be good, very good, should any church leaders listen to me. Overall, I feel that I know what I need to write. I just need to write NOW and not put it off too much longer.

My prayer is that my professor, who will be reading my paper, will like what I have done. I pray that he will see my story, and that he will say it is OK. So many of my colleagues are writing on significant topics, important or interesting ideas. I am writing about one small church in crisis, and I am worried about what the ramifications of this study will bring.

Will I pass this class? 
Will I get an "A" on this paper? 

In the big scheme of things, what I have learned is significant to the church at large. My research may be minor, a tiny little blip on the big radar screen of research, but to God, my research matters. My research is about people, people in a church going through crisis. My research is about how we treat people in a church during a crisis. My research is about restoration communication, about how we can salvage damaged relationships and speak to the heart of the matter without causing more pain and sorrow. Yes, my research is significant when you think about how often the Church hurts its own members, how often Church leaders crush the minds, the hearts, and the spirits of those who call that particular ministry their "home." This type of behavior, this type of attitude needs to be changed and checked. We must stop destroying lives in the Name of Christ, and we must start to realize that our words do matter. Our words have meaning and they bring life or death.

Prov. 18:21 - Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. 

Eph. 4:29 - Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 

Matt. 15:18 - But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 

Prov. 12:18 - There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. 

I think I have found my communication niche. I think I see what the Lord wants me to preach and teach. I didn't get it at first. I thought He wanted me to teach crisis communication to church leaders. I still think this is what He wants, but now I see that while it is important to understand the nature of crisis, crisis response, and communication strategies -- what the Lord is most interested in -- is how we use communication to restore relationships. I think restoration communication is what I am to study, to create -- because it doesn't exist -- not from the standpoint of the Church. I have not seen this term used for any church communication before so it is a possible new area of research and study. This will be my focus on this paper. I will use my interviews to speak to this issue, and to suggest ways to develop strategies that will build up the Church, and create avenues of communication between hurting and broken ministries and the individuals they enfold.

Dear Lord -

Thank you for clarifying my purpose today. Thank you for showing me how my research can benefit the Kingdom of God. Thank you for helping me to see that I can play an important part in the road to recovery and restoration through communication. I ask now that you would bless my time, my day, my weekend, and my week ahead. Let your words flow through me so that what comes out on paper is what you want said. I give you all the praise, all the honor, and all the glory for this research project. I trust that the outcome will be pleasing to you. I pray it is blessed and favored as worthwhile. I ask for your grace as I approach the results, and that I would intently listen to your voice as you speak through me and inspire my fingers to write down your words. I look to you today, and I lift up my eyes up to focus on you as my Source, my King, my Savior, and My Lord. May you receive all the praise this good day. I ask all this in the matchless, merciful, and Most High Name of Jesus, my King. Amen. Selah!

July 24, 2014

When He Moves

William Cowper (1731–1800), English poet and hymnodist, fervent Evangelical Christian, penned these famous words, "God moves in a mysterious way," in his hymn of the same title (1774). This verse, assumed to be from the Bible, is quoted often as a way to help explain the unexplainable -- events and circumstances -- that would appear to be God ordained or God initiated.

The Bible does speak of God moving or guiding the believer as well as of His hand creating or changing events and circumstances within the life of the believer, or more commonly, within the history of the nation of Israel (1 Samuel 5:11; 2 Chronicles 30:12; Job 19:21; 27:11; Ecclesiastes 2:24; 9:1).  Exactly how does God move if He is Spirit (John 4:24)? How does His hand move to guide and direct us when He is not like us in human form? When a believer says that God is moving in their life, that he or she feels the Lord moving within them, what does this mean?

I have experienced God's movement in my life. I have seen His hand upon my life, resting in the details, guiding, orchestrating, and bringing to fulfillment His plans and purposes for me. I have come to recognize His hand, to see His fingermarks, and to know that He is active and present in my daily life. His presence is real, He lives within me, and He walks and talks with me. I experience the fullness of God in my everyday life. I see the out-workings of that daily friendship on the change I experience within my heart, my mind, and my soul. Yes, God moves in mysterious ways, and I am blessed because He chooses to guide me with His hand, and He delights in shepherding me to the places of His choosing. God is good, so very good to me.

As I was praying this morning, I heard the Lord say to me that He was moving again. I know -- what does that mean -- hearing the Lord speak? I cannot explain it, it is just my way of saying that I got this impression that He was speaking with me, preparing me, helping me to understand that I needed to "expect change" in my life. Whenever He moves like this, change occurs. I normally do not react well to His movement because it means that for a short while I will feel out of sorts, off balance. I don't like the feeling of being moved when I am not in control.

Visual word picture: Imagine a big arm sweeping down from heaven, firmly grasping you and lifting you up and off the ground. Then that big arm whisks you from the spot where you have been, that very comfortable spot, and takes you to a new, unfamiliar spot. The arm carefully, gently sets you down in a place where you are unfamiliar, unsure, and uncertain. You are now in a new place, and you are unprepared, not sure what you will encounter or how you will endure. This is what change is like for me. I feel like this is exactly how the Lord moves in my life or moves me in this life.

I have learned to deal with His movement. I have learned to expect the uneasiness that comes with change. I have also learned to accept the new and the unfamiliar as good gifts -- good things from the hand of the Lord (James 1:17). Most often, after a short while of being off balance, I come to find that the new place is much better than the old place. I find that there is rich blessing and reward in the new place, opportunities and challenges alike, but all of the possibilities are good. They have good outcomes.

I used to panic and fear whenever I sensed that the Lord was moving in me. I thought, "Oh, Lord -- not again? Not now. Not when I just got myself settled." Now, I am more like "Let's go for it. Let's do this thing" because I know that whatever He determines to do is for my best, it is to help me to be more like Him, and to prepare me to do His work. It is all good, all good.

So today I felt Him saying to me "Let's move" and I responded with "OK, let's do it."

No earthquake. No shaking. No nothing. Yes, when the Lord moves, I don't always feel the actual movement. I don't sense being picked up and tossed about. No, the realization of His movement comes after a while, after I have landed in the new place, after I have adjusted to the change. Then, in prayer or through some event or circumstance, I realize that I have indeed been moved. My life will be different. I will see it, I will know it, and I will receive confirmation of it. I will reflect on my life, think about the past couple weeks or months, and BAM! I will get it. I will see the path change, and I will connect all the dots that show that I took some pretty big steps forward in my life, in my relationship with the Lord.

God is good to give me time. He knows me so well, and He loves me so completely. He doesn't want me to be crushed to the point where I cannot recover from His movement. He needs me to be ready, to be alert, to be willing to engage, to learn, to process. He needs me active and present and willing to do whatever He asks of me. Yes, Lord, I am ready. I am so ready to do your work and your will. May it be so, may it be so.

Today, I feel that He is moving or has moved. I wait to discover the change that will occur as a result of this move.

What will this move mean to me? 
How will it influence my life? 
How will I be changed as a result? 
What will I learn from it? 
How will He use me because of my willingness to allow Him to move me?

The Lord has great plans for my life. I am certain of this, I know it deep down in my heart. I see those plans coming to pass, and I jump for joy at that very thought. He is making a way for me.

Isaiah 43:19 - For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

Yes, the Lord is making a way for me, a pathway through the wilderness. I am moving, I am walking along side of Him, and together we are doing something wonderful for His Name, His Praise and His Honor. Selah!

July 23, 2014

The Goodside of Life

My life is good. My life is very good. I am blessed in every area of my life. I have the sweet satisfaction of knowing that I am in the "right place" at the "right time;" and I am doing the "right things" for the "right reasons." My life is good, so very good.

I was over at Walmart this morning, doing some food shopping (I decided I would make dinner for my parents tonight), when this thought came to me:

God has given me a GREAT life!

As I thought about my life, I couldn't help thinking about how blazing hot it was outside.  It is pretty miserable right now (July and August are our worst months), and I was thinking about how much I do not like summers in Phoenix. I mean, summers in Phoenix are better than summers in the Sahara desert (if I have to compare them to something -- why not pick another desert place, KWIM?) They are better also, sometimes, from summers where the humidity and heat hit record highs. Phoenix, while not the garden spot of the Universe, is still not a shabby place to live. It is good here (most of the time -- like the 6 months when we have beautiful weather -- LOL!)

So as I was driving over to Walmart, thinking about my life, about the good things in my life, and about where I am right now in my life, I was also thinking about all the things I have to accomplish before school starts in August (a momentary panic came over me, I digress). In general, though, I was thinking about how very different my life is right now, I mean, from what it was like just a year ago. So much has changed for me, so much has happened to change my path, to alter the plans I had for myself. Let me explain...

Last year at this time, I was working for CVS Caremark. I had a very good job. I was well-liked by my peers, poised for a big promotion, and sitting in a good position, financially-speaking. I was finishing up my first year residency class, and I was thinking about how I was going to work full-time and complete doctoral classes. Part of me was panicked over trying to do doctoral study and work for CVS. My job was pretty grueling, and I often worked long hours during the busy season. I had to work overtime from home too. Plus the department I worked in had major drama issues -- lots of heated arguments (I don't do arguments), and not-so-nice contests between people who had personality and control issues. I felt like every day was a battle. I went to work, kept my head down, did my work, and went home. There were happy times, don't get me wrong, fun times when we would all kick back and laugh -- but generally speaking -- the proverbial "%$#@" hit the fan more times than not.

After I came home from Virginia Beach, I started to realize just how much drama was going on at CVS. My week at Regent was blissful. It was a lot of hard work, but the people, the faculty, and the place -- they were magical to me. I spent a week surrounded by spiritual people and spiritual things. My colleagues were exciting to meet, and I loved getting to know them. I saw a whole other side of the world during that one short week on campus. I came away thinking to myself "Is this all there is to my life?"

Prior to starting my classes at Regent, I struggled to figure out God's plan for my life. I had a calling to ministry and missions, but I knew that it wasn't something I would do right now -- it was set for a future time. I was working in corporate business, but studying to be an academic. I was trying to rationalize how I would merge the two together -- merge doctoral study with corporate work. Surely, there was a way to do this? No matter how many times I tried to figure it out, I couldn't do it. It was like they were oil and water -- they mixed up temporarily -- but later separated.

Coming back from Regent and seeing the intense drama at my job convinced me that I needed to do something else. I needed a different job, a job that would align more closely with my study. I thought about my time at University of Phoenix, how I loved the idea of working at a major university. In truth, I didn't like working in enrollment, which was just a fancy name for sales. I did like the school, and I liked helping students achieve their college goals. I had always wanted to work in higher education, to teach or to be an academic adviser. I felt this draw toward academics, and I knew that of all the places I could work, a college or university would be a naturally good fit for my education.

I never guessed that the Lord would open a door for me to teach at Grand Canyon University. I never thought that this was something I could do. I mean, I did want to do it, and I did believe I could do it. I just never thought that it was going to work out that way. I was, after all, 50 years old. Friends and family said "nicely" that I was too old to change careers, to go into teaching. They suggested I keep my good paying job at CVS and be thankful for it.

I was thankful for the job, oh yes! I was so thankful for it. Without that job, I wouldn't have been able to buy a new car, to travel to Regent, to do so many things that I got to do during that year long experience. I was very thankful for God's blessing of CVS in my life. It was more that I felt that working at CVS didn't fit the plans the Lord had for me. I felt good in taking the job initially. I thought CVS was a good company to work for and I felt that I had good opportunity there. It was just that the work itself didn't satisfy me. It didn't make me want to get up and go into work every single day. I did it, I was faithful, but it was more of a drudge to do it, than a joy.

My decision to follow what I believed was the Lord's open door for me at Grand Canyon resulted in a complete overhaul of my life's desires, plans, and goals. It has taken me a year to get up to speed as a teacher, but now I can say that I am truly loving my job as an educator. I cannot think of a better job for me. I love working as a professor. I love teaching students. I love the schedule (oh yes!) I love the fact that my work and my education are in sync now. I love the opportunity for teaching, and the possibility for a full-time contract sometime in the future. In so many ways, I see teaching as the perfect fit for my life. In this season, I am a teacher. I am right where I belong, and I love this feeling of job satisfaction.

I was out with my parents yesterday evening, and while sitting with them at dinner, a dear friend of the family stopped by to say hello. He and his wife used to attend our Church, but now they go to a different church (where their daughter goes). He is a sweet man, 88 years old, a WWII veteran, and a Gideon. He gives 50 cent pieces out to every single kid he meets. He shares the gospel with them, and he tells them how much Jesus loves them. Gene came and sat by me in the booth, and we chatted a bit. They were on their way home, so they didn't stay too long. After he left us, I sat there and marveled at what a neat guy he is, and how the Lord is still using him in ministry. I thought about this for my life, how I want to be used in ministry this way when I am his age. I want to spend every single day purposefully focused on serving the Lord. I don't want to waste a minute not being active in service to God and to others.

Over the course of this summer, I have had some rich and wonderful experiences, life changing experiences. I will say that this summer has been influential in confirming to me the plans the Lord has for my life. So many wonderful things have happened to me, and all of these things have worked together to show me God's blessing and favor on my life. Not a day goes by that I don't wake up happy. I mean really, really happy. I may be a bit grumpy in the mornings, but in my heart, my mind, and my spirit, I am so content. I have so much joy. I can say that I love my life, every single part of it, and I am blessed to experience new things, new people, new opportunities every day. God has worked a miracle within me. He has opened doors for me, and He has said to me "Go! Go out there and do my work!" I am ready to do His work, so very ready to do whatever work He has in mind for me.

Today is a good day. I am thankful for every single person the Lord has brought into my life, and for all the experiences (both good and bad) that have helped shape me, helped create me, helped make me into the person I am this day.

He is good. He is so very good to me.

July 22, 2014

Believe What is True

Are you a glass half-full person or a glass half-empty person?

I used to be a glass is ALWAYS half-empty person. In fact, I would say that for many years, I walked around with a negative belief that said "nothing good would happen to me."

I can tell you that I didn't start out to believe that way. I was a very optimistic and idealistic child. I always "believed" in good things, and I always dreamed anything was possible. Life was rosy, life was warm, and life was good.

Even when things were not good -- at school, at home -- I still had this cheerful outlook. Most people would tell me that I was a happy child, wistfully simple, delightfully hopeful. Always, I was sunny side up!

Later in life, toward the end of my teen years, my attitude started to sour. I think it is a natural part of growing up -- when we begin to see the real side, the gritty side -- of life. As we mature, we begin to change our thinking to align more closely with our experiences. As we suffer, as we learn hard lessons, we shift our mindset from the "everything is coming up roses" approach we learned from experiences in childhood to the "batten down the hatches" approach we learned from those first experiences in the school of hard knocks.

Life hits us hard right around this time. We may experience the first pangs of love, and then suffer the sorrows associated with unmet expectations, withering passion, and the fleeting feelings of infatuation. We may learn that jobs are hard work, that bosses expect a lot from us (like showing up on time, doing a good days work). We may leave home and face the uncertainty of earning our own way. We may experience great loss, parental divorce, or death of a loved one.

All of these things color our perception of reality. These experiences begin to shape us, to make us, to harden us. Often, we are ill-equipped to handle events such as these so we learn to suppress our emotions, our feelings, and we tell ourselves that we are OK, we are good -- when in reality -- we are not.

The more we suffer, the more our attitude sinks down low. We may become depressed, dejected or we may allow these negative thoughts and feelings to cause us to become bitter toward life, toward God (if we blame Him for our circumstances).

It is difficult to recover a "winning attitude." It can be a challenge to think that life has potential especially when what you see around you is screaming otherwise.

Some people choose to tell themselves life is good. There are books, tapes, and other "self-help/motivational" works out there that encourage a positive attitude. I have read and watched a number of them, and they all start at the same place: they begin in the mind. Recovering a new attitude is about changing your mind, changing your thoughts. They sell the idea that if you "just believe it and it will happen." Changing your mind is key, I agree. It is just the process of changing your mind that gets muddled a bit.

How do you change your mind and thoughts that are so ingrown and pervasive? 
How do you change your thoughts when they are hardwired into your very being?

I have tried the "thinking better thoughts" approach before, and I have to say, it didn't work for me. I repeated the same mantra day in and day out ("I am beautiful, I am successful, I can be anything I want to be, and so on") and my attitude never really improved. My life didn't change. I got very good at saying the "right words," but I didn't see any motivational change happen within me. What I noticed was that the more I tried to believe in a positive outcome, the more I was convinced that I was just fooling myself. I put on a good show outwardly, when all the while inwardly, I was still saying the same negative things.

So how do you recover a positive mindset and a winning attitude?

In my view, there is only one way to do it successfully, to experience the outworking results. You must change your mind. By this I mean, your mind MUST be changed. This is not something I can do. I cannot change my mind, replace my mind with a better mind, a newer mind. No, this is something that God is able to do for me, and in fact, His word promises that He he has DONE this for me.

1 Cor. 2:16 says,

Who can know the LORD's thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?" But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

As a Christian, one of the gifts of salvation is a new mind. The old mind that belonged to the old self was crucified with Christ. At the point of redemption, we are given a new mind along with a new self, a new nature.

2 Cor. 5:17 remind us of this truth,

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Our new life comes with a new mind, the mind of Christ. This new mind is not filled with the old thoughts, old habits, old patterns and old ways of thinking. No, it is filled with the very mind of Christ. We have within us the ability -- because of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection -- to no longer be a slave to the old ways of thinking, the humanistic ways that placed us at the center of our universe. Yes, we can begin to think the way God thinks, to see the world through His eyes. In doing so, our inward perception of reality becomes aligned with His outward perception of reality. We see the world, other people, and ourselves through new, improved, and clarified lenses.

Thus, changing our mind begins with salvation. Moreover, keeping our mind free from worldly thoughts, habits and patterns requires training and discipline. Since we have not been removed from this world, we are in it still, we must remember that our minds are like giant radio/satellite dishes -- we pick up transmissions from all sources. We must, therefore, carefully tune our minds to the one DISH that radiates the best thoughts, the best ideas, and the best interpretations of our world reality. That one DISH is the Word of God. There is no other source necessary for our instruction, for our edification, but the Holy Scripture.

2 Tim. 3:16 says,

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

The best way, and I would say, the only way to renew our minds, to keep positive thoughts, attitudes and beliefs is to immerse ourselves within the Word. Paul says it this way,

Romans 12:2: Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

It is possible then to have a renewed mind, filled with potential and optimism -- but only when we set the Word of God as our one true Source. In doing so, our minds will be constantly renewed, and we will find the strength to filter out the negative humanistic thinking of the world around us. We can be people of great faith, great belief, and great wonder -- people who stand in awe of God and of His marvelous workmanship. We can believe God, and we can trust Him -- take Him at His word because we will know His word, and we will see that it is true.

God is good. All the time, He is good. His word is truth (John 17:17b).

Believe today that His word is truth. Trust in Him, and allow His word to richly dwell in you, transforming you, and changing the way you think.


July 21, 2014

Healing Hurts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trial in the Storm of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 17:14 says,

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

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

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