August 6, 2014

School and Other Thoughts

It is August 6th and school is back in session here in Arizona. I don't remember starting school so early in the summer. When I was growing up, school always started after the first of September, sometimes after Labor Day.

It seemed like those last waning days of summer were the best times. My family would often take our vacation early in the summer, so the last days were a mixture of swimming at the local pool or playing with friends in the neighborhood. Our block always had some sort of BBQ for the Labor Day weekend. All of the kids would look forward to school starting. We would go shopping for school supplies and school clothes. It was exciting to think about the new classroom, the new teacher, the new things we would be learning in the coming year.

Now it seems that children get out early in May (they do here) or late into June. I am not sure what the school districts are doing anymore. It seems that they are trying to get rid of kids or keep them longer so they can have more teacher in-service days. I digress...

All my friends with little children are posting first day of school pictures to my Facebook feed today. As I see these school pictures, I am reminded of all those wonderful "first days" at school, specifically, my son and his first day of school. Oh, how I can remember that first day of Kindergarten so well. He was adorable, so ready for school, so excited to be going to school finally. I, of course, was a mess. Typical Mom. I cried all the way to school, and I cried all the way home from school. I think I cried all afternoon (he went in the afternoons).

Just an aside -- The funny thing is that I cried all the way home from his first day at college too. I am such a sap, I know it.

He was so adorable going Kindergarten, so sweet and so loving. He loved school back then. He loved going to school (later we had issues, but Kindergarten and first grade were good). Those were good days, sweet days.

The day I took him over to the community college was different. He was 17, and he was ready to move on to college. He had been home-schooled six years, and he had flourished at home. I loved home schooling him, and I loved looking forward to planning out curriculum, creating lesson plans, and plotting out how we would transition our way through high school. Home schooling was more for me, really, then it was for him. I can say this now because as a teacher I see how foundational it was for me to learn how to teach, how to plan, how to prepare. It also reignited a passion I had for studying classical literature, and in some ways, helped to transition me to the path I am on right now. I consider my home schooling years as preparation for my return to graduate school, and my eventual career change as a professional educator.

Nonetheless, that first day of college was bittersweet for me. I was so happy for him, so excited for him to begin this new journey, to "find" himself, to figure out his passion in life. I wanted him to explore different educational opportunities, to learn as much as he could, so that one day he would understand better what the Lord wanted him to do, what the Lord was calling him to do.

Zoom forward almost four years later, and we are about to start a new school year. This time, we are no longer at the Community College. Instead, we are heading in to the big world of state university life. Yes, my son is about to begin years 3-4 of his bachelors program. He is set to begin to study Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance at ASU. I think he is excited to start school (I hope he is), and I think he is looking forward to new challenges, new opportunities, and new paths to follow. My prayer is as it has been always -- "Lord, help him to see your plan, to come to know your will, to accept you will, and to agree to follow you." My hope is that my son will come to know the Lord's will for his life, and that he will agree to follow after Him -- hook, line and sinker. Yes, I pray for a fully devoted, wholly devoted life of love and service to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now as I prepare for my classes, teaching at Arizona Christian University and Grand Canyon University, I think about my life and where I am this day. I remember all those first days of school, all those transitions from one year to the next, and I cannot help but see how the Lord has allowed me to pass through seasons, to experience change (some of it major), just to get me to this place today, to this very good place today.

Psalm 118:24 - This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

I cry out with the Psalmist today -- I rejoice with him because I agree with him. YES, THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE. I WILL REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT.

Rejoicing is a choice. We can choose to rejoice or we can choose to be sad. We rejoice or take delight in those things that please us, make us glad, or cause us to be happy. Likewise, we are saddened by the opposite. How we look at the world, our little slice of the world is up to us. There are plenty of windows that face toward things that sadden us -- world chaos, abuse, financial struggles, etc. We can choose to look out of those windows just as easily as we can choose to look out the windows that gladden us -- our relationship with the Lord (always number 1), our homes, our families, our work, etc. What gladdens me might not gladden you -- but I am certain that there are things in your world that are just as precious to you, just as joyful, and just as happy as there are things in my world. How we choose to view our world will help to determine our outlook.

I am not certain why I began to rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 4:4), but I would say that I have been fixated on joy for the past four years. Yes, I have had this exploding sense of joy flood my soul and my spirit since 2010. Odd as that may seem, 2010 was my year from "hell." It was the year when I made the decision to leave my husband. It was the year when I sat face to face with the biggest fear of my life -- living alone, living single, and learning how to be single again. At that point, the last time I had been single, lived on my own (roughly), and responsible for my own life, was in 1984. Consequently, I had not made a decision on my own for nearly 26 years. I had never considered living alone. I had never thought I would be divorced. Now I had to figure out how to live my life, how to provide for myself, how to take care of my then 17 year old son.

I didn't have a job outside the home. I didn't have a career. I did have my education, but I hadn't done anything with it for 17 years. I didn't have my own car, my own checking account, my own resources. I had nothing at all. My entire life up to this point revolved around my husband, my family, and the life we had created together.

I was overwhelmed. I was so overwhelmed at the thought of starting over. I didn't know what I would do, where I would go, or how I would live. Yet, within me, I began to experience His peace, His comfort, and His strength. I gained resolve, I gained fortitude, and I gained a new perspective on life. My worldview, my outlook began to shift from hopelessness to hopefulness. I began to focus my entire self, my entire being, my everything on Him. I had no one else to turn to, no one was going to save me, so I turned to the One who had never left my side, never forgotten me, never forsaken me.

The Lord worked a miracle in my life, and as I came to know Him more intimately, I began to see Him as my Source for everything. I began to experience what the Word calls the JOY OF THE LORD. I began to find my joy, my happiness, my gladness -- in my relationship with the Lord. My problems didn't disappear overnight, mind you. I was unemployed for nearly 18 months. I did work part-time (PTL) in retail, but I didn't get hired full-time for almost 18 months. And, because of that delay, I had to live in the same house as my husband -- sharing what was once a joint home with someone who didn't want to be with me. Moreover, as we began to split up responsibilities, our home went into foreclosure. I was faced with dealing with the foreclosure, with everything involved with the foreclosure, on top of all the other burdens. I began to become the sole provider for my son. I took on the responsibility for his education, I helped him make decisions on where to go to school, and what courses to follow. I became the financial provider for him as well. I was solely responsible for his every need. It wasn't that my husband didn't contribute anything at all -- he just didn't contribute very much. He let go of the both of us, and he let me take the reigns of our fractured life.

In the end, I had to assume the role of single parent after spending 26 years sharing that responsibility. I did it, praise God, I did it. But, without the Lord's provision and His constant security, I would not have been able to live through that experience. Of this, I am 100% certain. The weight, the crushing blow of being abandoned, being betrayed, was too much for me. The Lord sustained me, He covered me, and through the darkness, He showed me the light. I found my JOY in the Lord. I found my HOPE in Him, and I learned to REST in His Presence.

The Lord graciously answered my prayer. I asked Him for Peace, and He gave it to me. I asked Him for Joy, and He provided it. I asked Him for Strength, and He delivered it to me. The Lord has provided everything I have asked for with sufficiency and abundance. I take great confidence to know that there is nothing I can ask for today that will not be given to me.

Hebrews 4:16 - So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

John 14:13 - You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.

Matthew 7:7 - "Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.

Yes, I believe so very strongly that the Lord is near by, that He does answer prayer, and that He is keen to help His children learn how to live their lives with JOY and HOPE.

I know that many Christians do not believe this is true. Many ask why the Lord doesn't answer their prayers, why He is so distant from them, why He is not a ready help in times of trouble (Ps. 46:1). I cannot answer this question because I only know what has happened to me. I don't know the specifics of other people's lives. I don't know the parameters of their relationship with the Lord. I don't want to guess, to speculate or to explain why someone is where they are because I am not God, I do not know the intricate details of that relationship.

I can only say that Scripture clearly tells us that the Lord is near to those who call upon Him.

Psalm 145:18 - The LORD is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth.

The Lord is near to us. The Lord is our Help, our Refuge, our Strong Tower.

My prayer is for all Christians to come into a more intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, for each one to experience His Joy fully and completely. My hope is that the Joy of the Lord would be your cry this day.

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