October 18, 2014

A Positively Positive Outlook

I am thinking "positively positive" today. I am choosing to think intentionally positive thoughts about the possible outcomes of my life. Yes, I am choosing a "right" mindset, one that focuses on the abilities and the purposes of the Lord, rather than on the limited understanding of my frail and flawed humanness (Prov. 3:5-6).

I did a quick Google search this morning while I was thinking about this blog post. In searching for the catch-phrase "positively positive," I found a whole assortment of sayings about being positive, thinking positive, and how thinking positively has a direct correlation to expected results or outcomes. So I thought for a moment, "what exactly does it mean to be positive about something?" The most "standard" definition is "with no possibility of doubt; clear and definite." Yes, being positive about something means that you have absolute assurance that some "thing" (event or circumstance) will come to pass. There is no doubt. Whatever the "thing" is, you (or I) have confidence that it will happen.

WOW! Once I thought about this more deeply, I realized that the worldly philosophy of being "positive" was a whole lot of hogwash. Let me explain...

In 1952, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale published a book entitled, "The Power of Positive Thinking." The book was a mixture of faith and optimism, written as a handbook to encourage people and to give them direction in how to overcome crippling self-doubt. Dr. Peale went on to publish 46 books before his death in 1993.

The interesting thing about positive thinking is that since Dr. Peale first wrote his book as a self-help guide to overcoming doubt, positive thinking has morphed into a new age quasi-religious cult.

I see quotes such as these sprinkled all over social media today:
"The difference between can and cannot are only three letters. Three letters that determine your life's direction."

"Positive and negative are directions. Which direction do you choose?"

"Being positive or negative, are habits of thoughts that strongly affect your actions and your life."

"Positive thinking is expecting, talking, believing, and visualizing what you want to achieve. It is seeing what you want, as an accomplished fact."
"Riches, mediocrity and poverty begin in the mind."

"Reality is the mirror of your thoughts. Choose well what you put in front of the mirror."

"A positive attitude awakens inner strength, energy, motivation and initiative."

"To think negatively is like taking a weakening drug."
On first read, we think to ourselves, "Hey, this makes such sense!" Sure, it is better to have a positive outlook than a negative one. Consider your every day conversation with a coworker, family member or service provider. If your conversation is a pleasant one, you enjoy the time spent interacting with them. If your conversation is an unpleasant one, you walk away thinking "Oh, what just happened there!" Positive or negative, good or bad, happy or sad -- these are polar opposites of emotional responses we receive on a daily basis. It is an easy choice when it comes to preferring responses -- I don't know anyone who would willingly choose to be greeted with an unhappy disposition rather than a happy one!

Don't get me wrong -- I think that having a upbeat outlook, a pleasant tone of voice, an encouraging spirit is a Biblical (Phil. 4:8) approach to living. I can see where Dr. Peale, an ordained Methodist (later Reformed) minister, initially posited his philosophy and system of positive thinking. The Bible contains a great deal of encouragement for the believer, and includes numerous passages to help the believer remain faithful, dependent, and focused. They key component to understanding Biblical context is to ask the follow up question: on whom are we to be focused? Scripture clearly places as our object of worship one person in particular, and that is God. The Lord is to be our focus, our source, our object of delight (Ps. 37), and our desire. Therefore, to maintain a positive outlook or approach to thinking, we must make sure we have a right mindset, a right ordering of our thinking processes. God, first; man, second.

The worldly view of positivism is that God is not needed as a focus (and in the quasi-religious view, God is "assumed" to be the focus, but He is set as equal to that of man rather than above man). When God is removed as the source of our devotion, and man is placed at the center of positive thinking, then what remains is another form of humanism.

What I find so interesting is this -- as a social scientist (I can call myself that now because I have conducted social scientific research in graduate school) -- I can tell you that one of the things we (social scientists) never say is that something is positively predictable. There is no certainty that any behavior we study will perform as expected. We cannot prove anything, we can simply show statistical evidence that something is probable.

Therefore, to be able to say that "positive thoughts will create positive outcomes" is nonsense. There is no way to say for certain, to be without a doubt, that anything positive (good) will happen. I cannot predict in my social science experiments that a certain outcome will occur, I can only predict that there is a possibility that it will occur. The data, however, may show no statistically significant difference or correlation between two events.

As I consider all the positive posts I see on Facebook, especially many by Christian's, I begin to worry about this "optimistic" influence, this deluded line of thinking that takes Biblical encouragement, and twists it around so that the focus on man instead of on God.

I know this was a very long digression, but I think it is valuable, at least to me (for my own clarity). I see so many graphic images (pretty pictures, really) that contain spiritual sentiment that is laced with positivism. I hear the words spoken from many Christians that mix in positivism with Scripture. When I think about the standard definition of what it means to be positive, to be clear of doubt, I want to laugh at all the worldly posts that suggest that one can control their outcome by simply changing their mind, their thoughts, their attitude. Yes, I think it is better to have a hopeful outlook on life. I think it is better to be cheerful than it is to be nasty. However, I think we have come to use the word "positive" out of proper context. We use equate it with a belief system that promises to deliver results. I only know of one belief system that has ever promised to deliver anything, and that is Christianity. God promised to send the world a Savior. He kept His promise. John 3:16 says,

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."

The only belief system that incorporates positive belief (absolute certainty, no doubt) is faith in Jesus Christ.

So today, my choice to be "positively positive" is predicated on my relationship with the Lord. I am able to maintain a healthy, happy, and holistic outlook because of the work the Lord has already done on the cross. The relationship I have with Him, the intimacy I experience every day, provides the positive feelings and emotional responses that say to me "I am absolutely sure" that God loves me, that He has a good plan for my life, and that His purposes are eternal.

October 16, 2014

The Need to Control Another

I am at that "I feel like I am going to be ill" place right now. I woke up this morning feeling so-so, sort of quasi-ill, not quite completely sick, but not quite completely well. I think this is the warning sign where my body is telling me that it "might" be getting overwhelmed by viruses, and that I better plan ahead (be prepared) for the onslaught of all the 'change of season' cold/flu symptoms that are passed around campus. My son has been sick the entire week. My Mom told me yesterday that she was not feeling well, and today, Dad echoed the same sentiments. Oh no! The entire family is feeling unwell. My students are unwell. I am praying that I do not get sick, well at the least, seriously sick this season! Oh Lord, help me to stay well!!

I was supposed to go to Grand Canyon today for an "observation" of my mentor. I have been scheduled twice, but he had family emergencies come up that required that he head out of town. I flaked today (emailed to let him know I wasn't feeling well) because my body simply would not move this morning. The thought of getting dressed, hauling myself over to GCU (30 minutes each way) to sit in and observe a class, well, it was just too much for me to contemplate today. He was gracious to me, but still I feel like I dropped the ball and 'gave' into sickness. I hate it when I feel that I cannot be sick or that I cannot say "no" to a commitment. I know where these feelings come from and why they are ingrained in me -- the truth is though -- that while I am free to do as I choose, I still live in bondage often to what I call "old programming." Let me explain...

I grew up in a family that had normal expectations of illness. Whenever we were sick, my Mom kept us home from school. I was home sick often during my childhood. I was prone to bronchitis, and it seemed that every single year (from age 8-18), I was home for 2-3 weeks with a fairly serious infection. A couple times during my middle school years, I ended up with a combination of bronchitis and pneumonia. One time, during 8th grade, I also contracted mononucleosis in addition to bronchitis and pneumonia. I was out for about 6-7 weeks of school. Later on in high school, I was in a car accident right around Christmastime that left me with severe whiplash and the combination of pain medication caused me to sleep through most of January and February (I don't remember much of my Senior year).  Needless to say, when it came to feeling sick, to getting ill, to not being well -- usually -- it was always a pretty serious affair.

After college (the first time around), I found myself ill during the change of seasons (Fall or Spring). In CA, this usually was during the wettest part of the year, so lots of rain, lots of pollen, lots of allergies. I struggled with the same illnesses -- mostly upper respiratory infections, ear infections, sinus infections. I didn't suffer with Asthma until later on, though I was told that I probably had it as a child, but it was only induced during severe cold or exercise (in IL, I remember those bitter cold days when I could barely breathe!) It wasn't until I moved to the desert that I suffered all the more with sinus and asthma. I am thankful that I haven't been severely ill in a long time, years really, but it seemed that for 10-20 years in a row, I was seriously sick every single season.

My approach to dealing with any kind of illness has always been to stay at home. I guess when you are sick a lot, you just know what is best for you. For me, it is to rest, to sleep if I need it or just chill out and relax with no pressure, no appointments, no schedule to force you to go out in public. After I graduated from community college, I got married and I came to find out that my way of dealing with illness was not the same way my husband's family dealt with it. I was used to saying to my boss, my teacher, my parents -- whomever -- that I was unwell and I would be at home resting. I never got any negative feedback other than to make sure I kept up with my commitments or in the case of employment, being careful with my allotted sick days. However, once I was married, I found myself in what I liken now to a courtroom. Yes, to be sick in my husband's household meant that you had to "justify" your illness. There was rarely a reason to be sick, according to them, and that the will was always stronger than the body. This meant that you "willed" yourself to be well, and then you picked up your cross and soldiered on.

If I was unwell, unless I was in the ER, it was expected that I would be at work, at school, at an event. Even then, often you were expected to "show up" after the trip to the ER (I did it -- I went to school or work with a broken foot, a broken elbow, a slashed hand -- stitched of course -- all because it was the "expected thing to do"). There was rarely an excuse that was "good enough" to not keep your commitments. I can remember begging my then husband to allow me to stay at home because I was unwell. I can remember crying about being so unwell that I couldn't get out of bed, and being told that I was not sick enough to stay at home. Yes, it is hard to believe that another person, another unqualified person, could give approval on whether you were "sick enough" to stay at home. In hindsight, I was young, and I was stupid (as I like to say it). I gave a great deal of my personal power to another person, when in reality, that power belonged to no one but me. I digress...

When you live in a controlling environment such as I did for so many years, you begin to behave and act in certain ways to keep a balance, to keep an even keel. You do whatever is necessary to not upset the apple cart, so to speak. You play the games, you accept the consequences, and you willingly choose to do certain things just to keep the peace.

There were numerous times when I almost died due to asthma, kidney stones, or other serious illness. Yep, I almost died simply because I didn't have permission to go to the doctor or I was told that there was no money to pay for doctors visits. As I look back on those years, I cringe to think that I allowed myself to remain in that kind of environment for so long. I did it, of course, because I believed so strongly in my marriage vow. I signed on "for better or for worse," and well, just because I got the worse part of the deal, that didn't give me permission to walk away.

Zoom forward to today, to 2014. Even though I have been single, living singly for four years now, that old programming still kicks in whenever I get to feeling unwell. Yes, I heard the tape say today: "Are you really sure you are not well enough to keep your appointment at GCU?" I wrestled with it for about 10 minutes, thinking that I was a failure, a loser, a sham artist for giving in to feeling poorly. I prayed about it, and I asked the Lord for permission to stay at home. I said, "Lord, is it OK to stay at home today?" Yep, I am still asking permission to be sick, to stay at home, to rest. Of course, it is better to be asking the Lord for permission than to ask another person, right? The blessing is that I am covered by grace so regardless of what I decide to do, stay or go, the Lord covers me. And, yes, there are consequences to consider, always consequences. Yet, the consequences are manageable, and they are not going to set me back or adversely affect me.

Some day I would like to study controlling behavior, to look at the communicative processes that take place in controlling environments. I would like to help young women, girls, to learn to use their power in a way to stop the cycle of abuse that occurs when one person forces their will and their way on another. I experienced this power-play for years, and not just through my marriage, but through the extended family I was part of because of my marriage. This kind of controlling lifestyle was the new "normal" for me. I went from a fairly low key, easy going family (my own) into a high-voltage, high-maintenance, and high expectancy family (my husbands). Instead of being able to decide for myself on various issues, every decision had to be passed through the hands of the family (first my husband and then his family). My life was no longer my own, it was part of a larger dynamic, and decisions were always made that reflected what was best for the "family." So for example, when I wanted to study Humanities at SJSU, I had to get family permission. Of course, my choice was vetoed as not being a "God-honoring" discipline. When I wanted to return to graduate school to get my Masters degree in order to become a teacher, I was told that my continuing education would not be in the best interest of the family (it was time I settled down and had a child). When my son started school, I was told that only schooling option was Christian school, even though we didn't have the money to afford the tuition. Likewise, when the bullying at the public school became serious enough to consider home schooling, I was told that home education was not an acceptable alternative (only Christian schooling was OK).

The long and short of it was that despite what I wanted or believed was God's will for me, for my child, for my marriage, etc., the family always had a "say" in the matter. The family rule was akin to Scripture. You didn't argue with the family because if you did, then you went against them, and that was not a good place to be. Yes, going against the family caused all sorts of difficulty, pain, suffering. At times, the decision was often made by choosing what would be "the lesser of two evils." The wrath to come was weighed based on the expected outcome. Sometimes it was better to take the wrath. Sometimes it was better to tell yourself no and let something go, something die, simply to avoid the wrath.

It is hard to believe that I still allow that kind of thinking to percolate up in my head, but I do. I am honest about it, I am open to the truth of the experience. I lived in a world of control for nearly 30 years, and it took its toll on me physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I am a different person today, having come out of that environment. I am well, healed for the most part, and free from the pain, the bitterness, and the anger that could be justified because of that experience. The Lord has done a marvelous work in me, and He continues to strengthen me, to comfort me, and to care for me as I learn how to live on my own again. I still allow those old thoughts to come back, every now and then, but I am learning how to let them go. I pray that I never experience that kind of life again. I pray that I never willingly allow any person to control me, to say "yes or no" simply because they feel they have the authority to do it (Biblical authority). My prayer is for me as well as for all those young women and girls who are either brought up in this kind of environment or who marry into it. I ask the Lord to give me the courage, the grace, and the confidence to speak into their lives and into their hearts so that they can see and can hear that there is freedom in Christ, freedom from this kind of authoritarian grip that unfortunately predominates much of the Church today. This is my heart-felt prayer, and perhaps someday, the Lord will provide a way for me to share the message of hope, of love, and of acceptance to anyone who needs to hear it.

May the Lord's will be done! Selah!

October 15, 2014

Getting Down to Business

Happy Tuesday! It is a great day to be alive! I am blessed, so wonderfully blessed, and I am enjoying the goodness of the Lord this fine day.

I love Tuesdays (Thursday's too) because I get to stay at home and rest. In truth, I do school work, and I play catch up with grading assignments for my students at ACU and GCU. I do get to rest, though, and I get to sleep in a bit, which makes it a good day all around. Tuesdays and Thursdays are blessings to me, special blessings from the Lord, granted to me because He knows how much I need to rest and recuperate from my long day of teaching (on M-W). God knows me so well, and He provides for me amply so that I don't become too frustrated or over-tired (it is not a good thing to see Carol cranky -- just saying!)

I woke up in a fine mood, thinking sweet and wonderful thoughts, and feeling really really good. My life seems to be moving in the fast lane, and while I normally do not like to go too fast (my son can tell you that I am such a slow driver) or lose control, I have to say that I am loving the excitement of heading into unknown and uncharted waters (I was going to title this post 'walking on the wild side' but after I Googled that phrase, I realized quickly that it leads to some very inappropriate content!) I decided to err on the side of caution and redirect my thoughts toward pro-activity (versus reactivity). Yes, I love being proactive, and I find that staying in that mindset can pay big dividends in the end.

So today my focus is on being proactive. I decided this morning that I was going to get out ahead of the ball rather than continue to feel like I was always behind it. I can tell you that I don't like the feeling of playing catch up. I like to be in control of my "to-do" list rather than always feeling like I for every item checked off, another two get added!

I looked over my list this morning so that I could get a better idea of what is on tap the next few weeks. This is my list so far:

Regent Courses
  • Modular Week 10/13-10/17 (no homework!)
  • COM 507 - Twitter responses (3) by 10/20
  • COM 507 - YouTube Viral Video project by 10/21
  • COM 507 - Pinterest Project by 10/28
  • COM 507 - Social Media Curriculum Project by 12/3
  • COM 507 - Consulting Project by 12/12
  • COM 701 - Rhetorical Criticism Paper by 11/23
  • COM 701 - Peer Response by 11/30
So much for finishing my blog post on Tuesday. I got to the end of my list, and life intervened. Sidetracked and diverted, I never finished my thoughts or my post...

UNTIL TODAY (Wednesday)

As I consider all that is on my list, I realize that I am unable to keep this pace up for much longer. Yes, the Lord sustains me, but only He is able to perform, to show up, and to accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished. In truth, I like to think that I can do it, but I cannot, I simply cannot. I try my very best to be organized, to be proactive, to think analytically -- yet every time I take credit for my own achievements -- I fall flat on my face, and I fail miserably.

Today was a perfect example of what I mean. I started this blog post on Tuesday. Today it is Wednesday, and for all my bravado of the previous day, today I found myself empty, spent, and utterly overwhelmed. My day started out fine, but in short order, it went from bad to worse. Yes, I experienced utter failure over and over again today. By the end of the evening (when I left GCU), I was ready to give up teaching completely. I was ready to find a different career, a different job, a different life -- anything -- to free me from these intense feelings of inadequacy. I thought to myself "Lord, you really have to be kidding me! How can you even think that I am a good teacher? I fail miserably with ever lesson I teach, with every moment I stand in front of these students. Surely you can see that I am not cut out to be a teacher. I need a different job, a different way to live!"

The funny thing is that as I walked from my class over to my car, the sun was setting. The sky was dark blue with just a tinged of pink left over on the horizon. I thought about the beauty of that sunset, and how the Lord created it specifically for this day. I thought about His abilities and how easily He performs glorious masterworks in nature. Then I thought to myself "here I am, complaining about my failures when the Lord of the Universe is working to display His goodness and beauty every single morning and every single evening."

I got into my car, and I started to drive home. I still felt overwhelmed, and I felt that I was being battered and bruised by the enemy, who would like nothing more than to see me quit teaching and run from the hard way of the Lord to another "easier" way (my way). Yes, this is exactly what the enemy wants me to do -- to give up -- to give in, and to go my own way.

The blessing of this good day was that while I was harrumphing and complaining, the Lord was patiently waiting for me to get it all out of system. Once I had it all out of my system, after I had cried it all out on the way home, I realized that I was being spiritually attacked, and as such, I was feeling the biting sting of a critical spirit. I laid all my frustration at the Lord's feet, and I stood up with my shield of faith and my sword of the Spirit, and I defended myself from the enemy's assault. Why does it always take me so long to realize that I am being attacked spiritually? Why do I suffer for so long before I recognize that I am not doing what the Word tells me to do -- to stand up!  As soon as I figured it out, I stood up and took my place behind my Victor and my Champion, and I allowed the Lord to help me to overcome, to help me withstand this particular affront.

I made it home safely, but not without some minor scrapes from the battle today. As soon as I got in the door to my house, I praised the Lord for His faithfulness and His goodness toward me. Yes, the Lord is good to me, so very good to me. So while I may feel the pain of this skirmish, I am not down and out. I am standing firm, waiting patiently for my King to reign over my insecurities, my inadequacies, and all my inabilities. He is more than able to perfect anything that concerns me this day. He is able, more than able to take care of me this good, this very good day.

October 13, 2014

Positive Thinking

It is a good Monday morning, and I am praising the Lord for His goodness toward me. The Lord kept His promise to me -- He gave me the strength to tackle all the projects I had scheduled for this weekend -- AND -- the discipline to complete all the grading I needed to finish for today. God is good, so very good to me!

I was feeling the crunch last night when I thought just perhaps I wouldn't finish everything (I had a minor setback when my TA uploaded graded essays without comments in them -- turns out she uploaded the wrong documents!) in time, but the Lord gave me grace and fortitude to not give in and to hold on to the end so that I could finish my last assignment (my Twitter paper) for the week. 

Today, I am blessed to have my morning free due to ACU's fall break (Monday-Tuesday). I teach at GCU this afternoon, which means I have the entire morning to rest and get ready for my afternoon/evening classes. God is so good to me, so very good to me! He knows my limits, and He has seen to it to make sure that I am able to complete every assignment, every task, everything asked of me.

Romans 8:28-31

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called;those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

As I consider my life today, I am reminded of these verses from Romans. I love the Book of Romans! It was the very first book I studied formally. I was a young married woman (25 years old) when I signed up for a Precept Upon Precept(c) Bible Study course at my church. A friend of mine suggested that I join the evening Bible Study class. I was working full-time, but often I found myself alone in the evenings. My then-husband was involved in league sports (softball and basketball) and was out almost every night of the week and most weekends. I was alone a lot of the time, and the thought of coming home to an empty house was difficult. I decided to follow my friend's advice and I joined the Bible Study not even knowing anything about Kay Arthur or inductive Bible study.

Once I realized that I would be completing an intensive (10-hour weekly commitment) course, I panicked a bit, before I agreed to stick out the two-year program. I have to admit that this course through the Book of Romans changed my life. It not only gave me great instruction in the foundational belief of the Christian faith, but it invigorated my walk and my testimony. The Lord used Precept Ministries and this study, in specific, to encourage me in my faith, to deepen my walk with the Lord, and to enlarge my witness to my peers and colleagues at my work.

As I studied the Word deeply, prayerfully, and with commitment, the Lord opened my eyes to the world around me. I began to have a heartfelt sympathy for those who were lost, for my family, my friends, and my peers who didn't know God or even care to know Him. I loved studying the Word, and I loved the inductive method, closely reading the text, waiting on the Holy Spirit to illuminate the meaning and context of the passage. In many ways, this study helped prepare me to return to college (two years later). I consider the approach of reading closely to be  foundational for the understanding of any text, be it Scriptural or secular.

The words Paul writes in chapter 8 have stuck with me over the course of the last 20-30 years. Whenever I am faced with difficult times, hard walks, and weary paths -- I recall these words in verse 28 AMP,

We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.

I like the Message version too, which says it this way -- 

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

I take great comfort to know that God knows my needs, He understands my situation and context (relative to time and space), and He desires to create within me His plan for life. My life is not my own, and I no longer decide where to go, what to do, or how to do it. No, I rest in Him, and He provides the way for me to go. He provides the strength, the fortitude, the discipline, the interest -- He does it all -- from beginning to end in order to complete the work He started in me before the foundation of the world. My life has been planned, is planned, and the details of that plan are coming to pass. Nothing that happens to me, Lord willing and provided, is outside His plan for me. Nothing is happenstance or circumstantial so long as I am seeking Him diligently, seeking to follow after Him, and seeking to know Him more intimately. He is my first priority, my first and only OBJECT of great importance. As such, my life, the life I live, flows from His hand and moves and changes as He sees fit. My life is fluid, not constant. My life's work is formed to His thoughts and His ways. I go where He sends me, where He directs me to go.

Therefore, when the work I do becomes overwhelming I remember that He is working through me. I may feel faint, unable to keep on with the tasks, but the Lord is the One doing the actual work. It is up to Him to say "enough." Until He tells me otherwise, I remain firmly fixed on this path, firm footed and fixed (ah, alliteration!) as I move forward to the place of His choosing.

The truth is that my life is no longer my own. For many years, I lived what I would call the normal Christian life. I was a married "church going" woman. I prayed, I studied my Bible, I went to church, I served in ministry. I raised my child to know the Lord. I was involved in all sorts of Christian adventures -- VBS, day camp, Awana. I did what I believed was the "normal" for being a Christian wife and mother. Unfortunately, all that "doing" ended up leaving me dried up on the inside. I wasn't happy, I wasn't content, and I wasn't filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. I knew about God, but I didn't know Him personally. I knew His Word well, but it wasn't living inside of me. I believed what I was taught in church, but I didn't believe the truth in my heart.

One day, adversity, hardship, pain, and suffering entered into my life and all that "Christian" doing ceased for a time. I found myself staring face to face with the hard road of life -- completely bare and naked -- with all the "Christian" things set aside. For a time, I walked a very difficult path all alone. When I thought I was at the breaking point, when I thought I could not take another step, then something wonderful happened. SOMEONE showed up. SOMEONE reached down and picked me up. SOMEONE carried me through the hardest part of the journey. Yes, that SOMEONE was my Lord. My Lord was there next to me all along, but I wasn't looking for Him. I didn't see Him because I believed that He was far away from me, up there ^ in Heaven, looking down on me with pity. Yes, I believed that my Lord loved me, but that He wasn't with me. He was on His throne in Heaven. It was up to me to walk, to suffer, to endure. It was my lot to bear, so to speak, and the Lord wasn't going to assist me, to help me, to carry me.

I had been taught the hard road of legalism through my church affiliation. I had also come to learn the hard lessons of disobedience, and the resultant guilt and shame of my choices.  I was told that these choices would stick with me, and that I would have to live with them for the rest of my life. Well meaning older Christians told me that my life would reflect my choices and that my burden would be my penance. I was reminded that had I chosen more wisely, had I listened, had I obeyed -- well -- then my life would have been less difficult. Obedience was the key, obedience to the law was what would keep me free from regret, from shame, from guilt.

Now as a single Christian woman, some 27 years later, I know the truth. I know that all the shame, the guilt, and the regret of my past choices was taken to Calvary's cross. I was set free from the penalty of my sin the day I gave my life to the Lord. Carrying the guilt and the shame did nothing for me except cause me excessive weariness. I carried a burden that didn't belong to me any more. Yet, because of the way I was taught in Church, I believed that even after being saved, it was my duty to carry that ugly, stinking, rotting bag of sin-choices.

As a liberated woman, I am free now to walk in the blessedness of grace. God's grace, His marvelous grace surrounds me, comforts me, shelters me, and covers me. I am free to be the woman God called me to be, to experience the life He purposed, He planned, and He designed for me. I am free to walk in liberty, to live my life wholly devoted to Him, and to experience His goodness every single day that I live and I breathe.

God is good. He is so very good to me. May His Name be praised today and forever more. He is good, all the time, He is GOOD!

October 12, 2014

Psalm 108

It is a blessed Sunday morning, and I am at home resting. I took another Sunday off from church (I know -- doesn't that sound awful?) so that I could catch up on my school work and my essay grading. Something is definitely wrong when you cannot attend church because of the amount of papers you have to grade (LOL!) Still, I praise my Gracious God who knows my frailty. He knows what I can and cannot do, and He gives me the grace to say "let it be, let it be!" Yes, Lord, I cry out with David this morning as I shout Psalm 108:13:

With God's help we will do mighty things, for he will trample down our foes.

Though I know that David was fighting against a real enemy, and I am just fighting against my growing to-do list, still my God is able to do mighty things, to help me overcome the pressures and the powers that seek to control and to consume my peace. He is able to do all things abundantly better than I could ever imagine or attempt (Eph. 3:20). Yes, my God is good, so very good. He is good to me, so very good to me.

As I sit here today, in the peaceful quiet of my office/nook, I am contemplating on the "good" that the Lord has provided to me. I cannot thank Him enough for His presence in my life. I cannot thank Him enough for His power over everything that desires to control me. I give Him praise and honor for His mercy is new -- it is new every single day! I lay my life at His feet, I worship Him alone as God, and I rest in His blessed sufficiency today.

Yesterday was a good day for me. I can say that now because I am on the backside of the panic and worry leading up to this weekend. Let me explain...

It is now week 8 of my semester study at Regent University. I am at the mid-way point, and this is the time when the first major projects are due. I have already started a number of projects in my COM 507 Social Media and Internet Marketing class. These are applied projects, which just means that they are not pure research, they are research and application combined, and as such, are less intensive than a major research paper. My first major research paper is due today. It is for my COM 701 Historical-Critical Research Methods class. This paper is a research prospectus or a paper that suggests a research project based on a site visit to a library or archive. It is informal in that it is to be written in a first-person narrative style (hooray!), but it is specific in that the type of prospectus requires significant research and a scholarly approach. 

To say I was panicked about my timeline for writing it -- is an understatement. I was consumed by anxiety and worry over whether I had followed the parameters for the site visit (I chose to visit the Heard Museum in Phoenix), and whether I had "enough" research material to propose a scholarly project. I was filled with angst over the content, and I was pressured to complete the assignment by the due date. I was not confident that I would make it, that I would be able to complete the work and turn it in on time.

I pushed the writing of the paper off until Thursday. My plan was to start writing it two weeks ago. I had it down on my calendar, and I had worked out the details so that I would be able to easily write this paper and turn it in on time, without any panicking. Of course, that didn't happen. No, I didn't anticipate how many papers would need grading, and how many other projects (applied) would also be due. I found myself drowning in paper work, and I thought "Lord, I am not going to make it."

The funny thing (not as in humorous) about the Lord is that He never makes a promise He won't keep. He had told me (yes, in Spiritual confidence) that I didn't need to worry about these assignments. He gave me boldness to write my prospectus, to lead weekly discussion, to complete the myriad of other items on my to-do list. I was working my way through all my assignments for Regent, and keeping up with my teaching responsibilities -- yes I was tired, yes I was intellectually drained, and yes I felt like I was going to sink -- still the work was getting done, somehow it was getting done. I cried out to the Lord for His help, and He calmed my fears. He told me to "let it go, let it be" and He asked me to rest. I listened to His soothing voice, and I let it be.  Miracle of miracle, the Lord kept His Word to me. He gave me the strength, the discipline, the fortitude (I love that word) to do what needed to be done. He did it, He completed the tasks, and He gave me the grace to rest. God is good, so very good.

So yesterday I finished a 15-page site prospectus -- a darn good one I might add -- well within the timeframe required. I still need to spell check and grammar check it, and I have to review my citations, but the work is done, it is completed, and I am blessed to be moving on.

My to-do list just got a little bit shorter (LOL!) I still have many more things to do, but for this day, I completed the big project, the one thing that was worrying me the most. I did it, and I give all the praise, the honor, and the glory to the One who is my EVERYTHING!

Now, I make the turn into Week 9, and I can see the end in sight. The semester end is there --> right over there --> and with it will come three blessed weeks of rest. I feel empowered to crank through the rest of the semester, to not give up, to stay focused, and to push on through the night and into the blessedness of the beautiful day!

The Lord has me well-covered. He knows me so well. He understands my needs, and He loves me completely. I panic, I stress, I worry, I doubt, and I allow myself (often) to be consumed with thoughts of inadequacy, with feeling less than "perfect," with criticism (in my head and sometimes from others) who want so much to keep me down, to make me feel less than worthy of the call on my life. The latter is what stinks the most -- I know it -- criticism from outsiders, individuals who are not Christian, who do not understand the high calling of serving the Lord. Yes, those remarks sting at times, and while I rarely let them hurt me, it is always at times of high stress that they seem to zing the most (I am sure it is a plan of the enemy). When my guard is down or when I am overwhelmed by work -- this is when criticism seems to hurt the most. No matter how often we tell ourselves not to listen, not to believe what others say about us, we seem to give in when our backs are against the wall, when we are facing our 'giants.' We know that the time for us to fight is at this very moment, when we are facing our giant, when we are at the end of our strength.

This is the moment when we confess to the Lord our weakness, and we rest in His strength, in His ability. This is the God-moment when He shows up, and He claims victory for us. Time and time again, the Lord acts valiantly on our behalf. He is our victor and our champion. He triumphs over our foes, and He wins the battle. Still, we cower in the corner feeling as though we are helpless and alone. Never! May it never be! We are with our Lord, our Mighty King -- it is just that we forget to look up, to remember who He is (and who we are). The Lord is our strong tower, our refuge, and our strength.

I look up this day and I see that the Lord has everything under control. Yes, my list sits next to me (well, there is a sleeping cat laying on top of it right now), and I know that there are many items on it that need to be completed today. I rest in His ability to see me through those check boxes, and in doing so, I give Him the praise now for the work He will accomplish for me this good day.

The Lord is worthy to be praised!

Psalm 145
A psalm of praise of David.

1 I will exalt you, my God and King,
    and praise your name forever and ever.
2 I will praise you every day;
    yes, I will praise you forever.
3 Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
    No one can measure his greatness.
4 Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts;
    let them proclaim your power.
5 I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor
    and your wonderful miracles.
6 Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue;
    I will proclaim your greatness.
7 Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness;
    they will sing with joy about your righteousness.
8 The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
9 The Lord is good to everyone.
    He showers compassion on all his creation.
10 All of your works will thank you, Lord,
    and your faithful followers will praise you.
11 They will speak of the glory of your kingdom;
    they will give examples of your power.
12 They will tell about your mighty deeds
    and about the majesty and glory of your reign.
13 For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
    You rule throughout all generations.
The Lord always keeps his promises;
    he is gracious in all he does.
14 The Lord helps the fallen
    and lifts those bent beneath their loads.
15 The eyes of all look to you in hope;
    you give them their food as they need it.
16 When you open your hand,
    you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
    he is filled with kindness.
18 The Lord is close to all who call on him,
    yes, to all who call on him in truth.
19 He grants the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cries for help and rescues them.
20 The Lord protects all those who love him,
    but he destroys the wicked.
21 I will praise the Lord,
    and may everyone on earth bless his holy name
    forever and ever.

October 11, 2014

Overcoming Adversity with a Smile

I am thinking philosophically this morning. I woke up early, but instead of getting up and getting started on my day, I ended up falling back to sleep for another hour and a half. Normally, I wouldn't think anything of doing that, but today, I happen to have a full schedule of things that "must be done." I guess my body needed the sleep -- well -- I know my body needed the sleep. I have been burning the candle at both ends (as the axiom goes), and my body is starting to react to the lack of sleep and the ongoing pressure to maintain this heavy pace.

I don't know how much longer I can keep up with this pace. I need a break, a nice long break, but there is no "break" in sight for at least another month. I am trusting the Lord to provide for me, to keep my head in the game, and to help me complete all the tasks assigned to me. Still the workload is getting to me, and I am feeling my "50-something" body start to complain loudly that it is being pushed to the limit. Oh, to be 25 again! Yes, I would welcome the energy, the zest, and the ability of that 25 year old "me!"

Sometimes I think, well I ask, the Lord why He waited so long to bring all this "good" into my life. Why Lord? Why now?

I know the answer, of course. His answer to me is always "I know you well" or "You were not ready." In truth, He does know me well. He knows my days and my hours. He knows my coming and my going (Psalm 139.2). He knows exactly what I can and cannot handle.

I take comfort in that thought, in the knowledge that the Lord knows my limits. Yet, there are days like today when I think He must have forgotten that I am almost 52 years old (on the 18th), and that my body doesn't do well without plenty of sleep. Lord, you do remember my age, don't you? (I hear him whisper to me "Yes, I know your age. I have you well-covered!")

Today is a good day. It is a good day to be alive and to be well. I am struggling with being overly tired, so tired that it becomes difficult to keep my eyes open. Yet, I have much work to do, and the deadlines are hard and fixed, they cannot be moved. I have to push through and keep on going, I cannot rest until I complete these tasks. Once I am done, then I will rest, then I will relax, then I will find restoration.

Today is a good day to be alive and well. It is a good day to be used by the Lord for His purpose and for His glory.

October 5, 2014

Joy of the Lord

My heart is filled with joy and gladness today. The Lord is good to me, so very good to me. He cares for me, and He provides and meets all my needs!

It is a good Sunday morning, and I am at home resting. Yes, I am home. I am missing church because I am feeling a little under the weather. I have been feeling a little out of sorts the past couple weeks -- just struggling with a mixture of sniffles, sore throat, and sinus -- the result of the change of seasons and the start of a new school year.  I woke up this morning, and I just felt like I needed a day of rest. So many of my students are sick, and the last thing I need right now, is to pick up a cold or flu virus from them. I don't get sick time anymore, not since I started adjunct teaching, so I do not have the ability to take time off if I get sick. I get paid for every day that I am contracted to teach so if I need to miss a class, then I have to find a substitute teacher to fill in for me. The old axiom of  "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is my motto now. If I am feeling tired or overwhelmed, then I take some time off, even if it means missing church every once and a while.

So my morning is blessed, so wonderfully blessed. It is quiet this morning, the house is still, and I am enjoying the peace of being home. My prayer today is to rest up, finish up all my outstanding to-do tasks for school and work, and to enjoy some of the beautiful fall-like weather outside (perhaps just sit on the patio and appreciate the flowers and trees).

As I think about my life, where I have been and where I seem to be going, my heart soars with excitement and anticipation at what the Lord is doing in me and through me. My life has recently experienced such a blessed change. I am in the midst of watching the Lord do something that I never thought would happen, to open doors that I thought were permanently closed, to reignite passions that I had surrendered, and to restore desires that I believed were lost in past regrets. He has upended my life, so to speak, and He has placed me on a different path, on a different trajectory, on a different plane. 

Yes, I am still moving along in the same direction, focused on His will for my life, working toward the plans He has for me, and surrendering to His desires as He shapes and He molds me to His expressed purpose. And yes, I am still (practically speaking) right where I have been for the past two years. I am living in Phoenix, teaching college English and Communication courses, and slowly chipping away at my PhD program requirements. 

On the outside, nothing much has changed for me. I live with my parents and 20-something son, and I work at two Christian universities. I am active at church (media and website), and I am content in my status as a single person. For all intents and purposes, my life is running smoothly in drive. I am fixed, I am focused, and I am fruitful (bearing good fruit -- at the least -- I think so!) in doing what I believe to be His work, His calling, and His mission for my life.

On the inside, however, the Lord seems to have put my life into high gear, in overdrive, and I feel as though I am speeding toward something wonderfully blessed. I am feeling the intensity of a major life change, the possibility of such a change down the road, and the feelings I have right now both scare and excite me. The Lord has chosen (I believe this is so) for me to experience something more than what I hoped to experience in the third quarter of my life. I look to Him and I ask Him how there can be more to what He has already given to me? My life is full to overflowing. My heart wells up with love for the Lord, love for His Kingdom, and love for all of those who live outside the blessedness of grace. I have everything I could possibly want. I need nothing more. My heart is happy. I am content. My life is good.

I ponder the marvelous mysteries of the Lord. I ponder the depth of His riches and His grace. I perceive His mercy, and I experience His love for me. The Lord is gracious to me (Isa. 30:18) and He knows my needs well. He looks upon my heart, and He sees that there is something missing, something not quite right (in the midst of all that is right and good). Yes, for all that is good, all that is perfect, and all that is complete in Him -- the Lord sees that there is something missing in me. He sees that an additional blessing is needed to complete me, to make me whole. It is not that I needed anything to be complete because I believe that the Lord is my sufficiency, my everything. Yet, the Lord chose out of His goodness and His grace to consider my needs and to give to me that which He determined I was lacking.

Lamentations 3:25 - The LORD is wonderfully good to those who wait for him and seek him.

The Lord has called me to look up, to lift my head, to change my gaze, and to realize that there is something, someone, out there who needs me to bless them, to love them, to care for them. My heart is filled with joy today and I think about that thought, to consider the possibility, and to imagine (once again) what it means to love someone deeply, completely, and perfectly (in His peace).

God is good to me, so very good to me.