December 18, 2014

Planning for 2015

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

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

The Planning Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of the Plans for 2014

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

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

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

Plans for 2015

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

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

Dear Lord,

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

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