March 31, 2015

Men and Women

Some days, I just want to crawl under the covers and stay in bed. I mean it. I really do. There are days when I think "why get up?" I know that is a negative attitude, and that I should be happy for each day I have been given, yet still, there are just days when life seems to be too much for me, and my preferred approach is to run and hide.

Speaking of Running and Hiding...

A friend of mine sent me an a chapter on the roles of men and women, an explication really, of the often controversial "headship/submission" issue within the church. It was a good read, interesting, though not overly shocking in its content. The author, George W. Knight, III, of Knox Theological Seminary, wrote the chapter as part of a book on the topic of Biblical manhood and womanhood. It was first published in 1991, but has been republished recently in 2012. The content was traditional in its scope, presentation, and general explication.  It was well-researched, and aligned with a conservative Evangelical Christian worldview. I found most of the chapter informative, but not "new." I thought it was good, but not novel. I think the reason I felt this way was because 1) I agreed with the content, 2) it aligned with my worldview, and 3) it offered little in the way of application and a lot in the way of explication (explanation rather than applied teaching).

Furthermore, perhaps I was looking for "more application" because I am a teacher now, and as such, I spend my days "pushing content" in order for my students to understand how to apply what they are learning. The days of lecturing and delivering content for the sake of knowledge are long gone. We are now fully immersed in a postmodern world whereby individuals are interested only in how "content applies to them personally." Therefore, application is king, and all teaching must put forth not only a cogent and cohesive argument, but also a method for application (instructions not just telling why you are to do something, but rather, instructions in how to do something). Don't get me wrong, I love instruction, and I readily find it interesting to think about what it means, the variety of ways teaching content can be viewed, etc. I am more interested now in outcomes and as such that means that most of my reading is directed toward how I can use the content for effective teaching and instruction in Godly living.

I guess the issue of headship/submission is important since the church, for the most part, has messed up the teaching/instruction for centuries. In my younger days, women were taught to submit to any man because that was the role given to them by God at the time of creation. Therefore, whether that man was your husband, your father, your brother, or the grocer down the street -- you submitted, you yielded, and you gave over your authority to him -- regardless of if it was Biblically sound to do so. Then the 1970s came and there was the sexual revolution where feminism pushed the boundaries of this notion of headship, roles, and gender to its extreme breaking point. Now, in the 2010s, gender neutral and gender roles are being redefined, boundary lines are blurred, and traditional roles are considered outmoded, outdated, and old fashioned (dinosaurs -- extinct!)

I teach postmodern students every day, and I can tell you that for the majority of them, the idea of Biblical headship and submission is not even on their radar. So many of these young people have been raised in single-parent households, most with Mothers only, and most of them are very open to gender transitive roles. I do have some students who were raised with two parents, and who maintain a very traditional view of family. These are the students who write essays on marriage, divorce, raising children, and abortion. Generally, they write very banal essays with little content because they parrot the typical Christian worldview that says "because the Bible says so, it is so." Again, I don't mean to offend, but in this day and age, students have to learn to defend their worldview with more than this line. They must know why they believe what they say they believe -- if that makes sense. They have to be able to articulate clearly their reasons for believing and to do that, they must fully understand why they believe something to be true. The problem is that in our postmodern world, there are no longer BIG TRUTHS. We live in a world predicated on little truths, truths are are personal and applicable, but not universal. How then can we teach young people to defend their worldview if the world doesn't hold to any universal truth? It is a challenge, such a great challenge!

The Roles for Men and Women

[The article referenced above is a chapter from the book entitled, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Dr. Wayne Grudem. It is published by Crossway books. Chapter 8 is available for personal use, and is linked with permission. For those interested in reading the entire book, the first edition is offered as a free PDF download from Piper's website here.]

This chapter, as stated before, was written by George Knight, III, of Knox Theological Seminary. The author strongly asserts his view of the role of men and women as being ordained by God at the time of creation. This view suggests that the roles were designed before God created Adam and Eve. Thus, God in His great foreknowledge designed marriage to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church -- long before there was a church. This point is central to his argument because without it you find yourself in the quagmire of relativism. This is a universal statement -- the roles for men and women -- were uniquely designed before time began. UNIVERSAL. Therefore, they haven't changed, and were not designed to be fluid, culturally entrenched or shifted. God designed the role of the male to be the head of the woman, and the relationship between man and woman was to be predicated on mutual submission.

I think the interesting point in the entire chapter is the suggestion that submission is attitude and not behavior. While behavior is certainly important, the Bible advocated submission as a way of life for the believer -- regardless of their position or role in society. As a Christian, we are called to be submissive to one another, to yield in love, and this doesn't matter whether it is a parent-child, husband-wife, or friend-friend relationship. Our attitude is to be Christ-like in all we do -- regardless -- of whom we are with at the moment in time. There are specific roles, of course, and the New Testament provides examples of three roles that are specific with guidelines for both attitude and behavior. These roles are husband/wife, parent/child, and master/slave. I thought it was interesting that Knight felt that of these three roles, only the latter, master/slave was cultural -- meaning -- that the first two relationships are UNIVERSAL (since before time), but the last was culturally-specific. Slavery would not always be acceptable as a practice, but while it was in practice, there were specific roles and attitudes and behaviors to govern both individuals.

What Does This Mean For Me

I think it is interesting to consider submission in light of my standing as a single woman. Personally, I have no issue with the Biblical mandate for submission and the roles of husbands and wives. I don't. However, as a formerly married person, now single -- I do consider my role and my willingness to submit to a husband -- a bit differently. I am single, and my head is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the best HEAD any woman could want because He is perfect in His love toward me. I am safe, I am secure, and I am comforted by Him. He fulfills His role well, and makes no mistakes when it comes to His responsibility to care for me as His beloved wife (bride, figuratively). I feel His love, His support, and His sacrifice daily, and I am able to rest in His control and authority. I strain against Him at times, but only because I desire headship over Him (the dreaded curse in the garden). However, when I yield willingly with a good attitude, then I find joy in His headship, and I am free from fear, from anxiety, and from worry. I love my Lord, and I love the way He rules over me.

As an older woman in Christ, I think about possible marriage partners, and whether they will be worthy of my respect. Will I be able to respect a man, yield and submit to his leadership and authority with the right attitude? Or will I want to have my own way because I have gotten used to what it feels like to be in charge, to be in control, and to take the reigns of my life, so to speak?

I can choose to remain single or I can choose to marry again. Of course, this is all predicated on the Lord providing me with a husband who wants me (LOL!) But in thinking about the possibility of it, I do wonder if I will be able to submit to a man's leadership after the experience I had in my first marriage.

I believe this is why the Lord has given me time to rest, to trust, and to learn to yield to Him. I have had to learn how to submit willingly and with a right attitude in order to remain in relationship with the Lord. I am under grace, praise be to God, but still, I have had to learn the hard lesson of submission with a most gracious Master. It has been a challenge for me, but I have done it, and while not perfect by any means, I have learned a lot about letting go, and letting God lead me.

Can I do the same in a marriage?

Knight said something that I thought was good, and that was that respecting the role of the husband is what the Lord desires for us, not necessarily respecting the character of the man. Hmmm.

If this is correct, and I think it is, it is God's way of saying to His children, especially His daughters that they may not marry a man who is worthy of their respect (in character). They may marry a man who does things, says things, and behaves in ways that are not always good, Godly, or God-honoring. Harumph! Does this mean that a Christian woman may marry a Christian man who doesn't act like he is supposed to according to the Word? Yes, I think so. I also think it means that a Christian man may not marry a Christian woman who acts like she should either. Yet, the roles are key, the roles are what matter. God has called His sons and daughters to respect and love the roles He designed for His creation. Furthermore, the way in which we submit to one another is part-and-parcel with the way we submit to God. So if we are living and walking in the Spirit, abiding in Him, then we should be learning how to submit and yield to our brothers and sisters in Christ every day. We should already be practicing submission.  Thus, Knight is suggesting that to be able to submit willingly and with a right attitude to our husbands, wives should not find this practice difficult. The same is true for husbands as they seek to love their wives. If they are practicing love for the brethren, then they should not find it difficult to love their wives as Christ loved the church. So in my view, submission comes down to practicing what the Bible teaches day in and day out, in every way, in every relationship in order to demonstrate our born again status as a Christ-follower. If we are not doing this regularly, then we have an issue with God first and foremost, before we have any issue with our brothers, sisters or husbands and wives (know what I mean?)

I see this as a practical solution to the issue of Biblical headship and submission. I believe that all Christians are called to submit to the Lord and to one another. It is a Biblical mandate. In marriage, submission is practiced just like in other relationships in the church. It is intensified through the union, one flesh, and therefore it is vitally important that the two be "one flesh." You cannot have a body with two heads, so God ordained the husband to be the head, and the wife to be part of the body. Think about it this way, Eve was taken from the side of Adam. She wasn't taken from his head nor his foot, but his side. She was created to be his companion, his helper, his side-mate. Therefore, the wife's role is to be as she was created -- at her husband's side. The husband was created first, and given the role to care for God's creation INCLUDING his wife and children (and all the animals). Thus, the husband is the head of the "one body" with the wife being put back into his (figuratively) side. She is part of his body so that the two can function as one person, living and serving the Lord in union, in harmony, and in spiritual cohesion. It cannot be any other way or you have a weird two-headed distortion, nothing of the like which was created by God at any time during His creative act.

In conclusion, husband and wife must behave in mutual submission to one another in order to fulfill God's design for the marriage. Without mutual submission, yielding, love, and agreement on the roles each is given, the marriage will struggle, will flop side-side, and will be a constant strain as both individuals play tug-of-war with each other. In short, the union will not produce the "work" God has designed for it to do because the individuals will be working against one another like squabbling siblings in a he-said/she-said fight. God's design for marriage pictures a union of two individuals working together, cooperatively, moving forward with God as their Head. The only way to move forward is to do it in agreement, with submission and yielding of each other's "way." It is the picture of our relationship with Christ -- we come to the Lord and submit to His Lordship over us -- and in doing so we yield our way to Him. We let Him lead us. The same is true for the wife as she allows her husband to lead them together toward God (and not away from Him). She supports him, respects his role, and encourages, comforts, builds him up -- so that he is able to fulfill the role God designed for him. The husband needs his side-mate to do her part so that he can do his part for God. Together, they both fulfill their individual roles and their collective, unionized roles as "one flesh" in order to bring God the praise, the honor, and the worship due His Holy Name.

March 30, 2015

Feelings of Acceptance

"I told you so," is the oft-repeated phrase issued usually in a passive-agressive (hostile) manner by someone who struggles with the need to control and dominate other people. I don't think I have ever heard these words issued in a positive way; rather, they always follow on the heels of a mistake, an error in judgment, or simply an issue of ignorance. On occasion, they have come after an uncontrollable circumstance, which makes the hostility of the speaker, even more apparent.

I love this quote by Ursula Le Guin. I think she nails the sentiment of the person on the receiving end of things. She reminds the sender that never will that remark be taken in any other way than as a condemnation.

I hate it when I hear "I told you so" because it reminds me of all the years I heard it growing up. Even now, as a 52 year old, the phrase turns my stomach and makes me feel so small, so little, so insignificant. Why do people feel that they have to be "right," and why must they denigrate another person in this way?

I know the answer. People who say "I told you so" do it to make themselves feel better, to feel in control, and to feel as though they "know best." If you know a "know it all," it can be difficult at times to tolerate their smugness. They simply know what is best, and they never make mistakes. Or so they would like you to think this is the case.

In truth, they are just as fallible as the rest of the human race. The only difference is that they hide their mistakes from the world, and they cover up any flaws with their incessant perfectionism; their need to control themselves, their world, and everyone in it; and their use of a biting and often hurtful tone of voice that makes sure everyone around them knows how to live up to their expectations as well as what will happen if they don't.

Unmet Expectations

Today, I was on the receiving end of a dose of the "I told you so." Actually, the words came last night, but the lingering affects of the phrase hit me hard first thing this morning. It is difficult living with a "know it all," even worse, it is near impossible to live with a controlling "know it all." Controlling people can be devastating personally and their behaviors can cause long-lasting interpersonal relationship harm (generational harm).  Let me explain...

I have blogged about my need for achievement a number of times. In fact, I have labeled myself an "over-achiever" more times than not. I accept the fact that I am wired and driven to excel, yet, I often do not point the finger at the reason why I strive for achievement because to do so would require a closer examination of my own father-daughter relationship.

I would characterize my relationship with my father as strained. Over the course of my life, I have run away from my father's controlling and punitive approach to parenting, and I have made decisions in my life that were not always in my best interest, in order to avoid his criticism and condescension. My father is a good man, don't get me wrong. He has always provided a stable home, and he has been "present" in our home. However, he has not been a kind or considerate father. He has been stalwart, rugged, and determined. He has always done his best to provide for his children, but he didn't cultivate a close personal relationship with them because he never had that sort of relationship with his own father. Instead, he was a distant father who expected performance, routine, and order. In short, while he was in our lives, he was rarely "in our lives." I think this was the norm for many fathers who were raised in the 1930s. It was just the way life was back then, and often, through hardship and difficulty, they learned to overcome and achieve results through effort. As a result, they came to expect this behavior from their children. Hardworking parents wanted hardworking children. If the children were lazy, disordered, or fragmented in their personality or style, this caused a disruption in the smooth-running machine that characterized their home.

I grew up a child of the 60s and early 70s. These were my formative years. I tried very hard to be liked by my father, to be approved by him, and to be appreciated by him. I know that my father loved me, and I know that he does now. It was just that to earn my father's love and respect, one had to prove themselves through hard work and effort. It meant that one earned good grades, worked hard in their jobs, and provided for their own needs as soon as possible. Mistakes were to be avoided at all costs, and failure to take responsibility for needs was never an excuse. Expectations of behavior became the unwritten rule in our home. You performed or you were not approved.

My father's tone of voice can be sharp, biting, and critical. It can also be loving at times. Generally, though, what you hear underneath is more of discontentment and disapproval. Daughters need their father's approval. They need their unconditional love, and their affirmation of their self-worth. Even the most absent of fathers are still vitally important to their daughter's emotional well-being. In fact, studies have shown that father's play a significant role in their daughter's psychological well-being -- even more so --- than their physiological well-being.

Scripture gives specific commands to fathers, especially telling them not to exasperate or frustrate their children. The Bible says that fathers are to love their children, to teach them well, to provide for them, etc. But in all the "doing," they are specifically told not to cause them to lose heart (to become disheartened). This charge goes for Mom's too, especially single-mom's like myself, who can assume the dual role of mother/father, and who can frustrate their children without even being aware they are doing it (ouch!)

Dealing with Expectations

I read many blogs and articles online that stress ways to deal with expectations, expectations we set for ourselves and expectations for others (or vice versa). In my view, I struggle with the expectancies I set for myself as well as the expectancies I perceive are being set by others that affect me. Typically expectancies are set by the following individuals or groups:
  • Yourself
  • Your family
  • Your peers or school
  • Your work
  • Your social involvement
  • Your society (culture)
For the most part, the first four seem to cause the majority of interpersonal problems for us. We set our own banner high, we jump through hoops, and we keep impossible task lists in order to meet or exceed our own expectancies. In short, we perform to prove to ourselves that we are worthy, valuable, and affirmed. Second, we learn early on how to navigate the family rules and social mannerisms in order to be accepted by our families. Our first social relationship is our family, so we learn many valuable interpersonal relationship skills in the family unit. We also learn many bad behaviors, and we learn how not to communicate effectively through dysfunctional family dynamics. Our peers reinforce social boundaries, and our school experience often taught us "right from wrong" based on an arbitrary standard of performance (good athlete or smart student; bravo!). Lastly, our work environment reinforced ethical practices and social conformity. We are judged daily by our peers and bosses and we are either "approved" or "disapproved" based solely on our work ethic (how hard we work, how well we do our job, etc.)

Human beings live in a world predicated on expectations of varying degrees. We live by these unwritten rules of performance and social manners, and at times, we can become so fixated on meeting these standards, that we forget that we are not mice running on a wheel, but rather we are human beings in need of love, of affirmation, and of valuation.

Jesus Christ Died to Meet All Expectations

WOW! What a statement to make, especially here at the beginning of this Holy Week! Well, think about it - whose standard did He die to meet? Jesus died on the cross, taking on the sins of the world, in order to meet one IMPOSSIBLE STANDARD, the standard set by God, a holy and righteous God. Yes, He was perfect, and in His perfection, He met the standard set by God, and through His sacrificial act of atonement, He brought freedom from the penalty of sin to the entire world. He died to save me from the penalty of sin and of death. In doing so, He met the highest standard, and He gave to me the right to be set free from all other worldly standards, all other standards set by men and women. In essence, by meeting God's standard of performance, of judgment, of righteousness, I no longer have to meet anyone else's standard for my life. No one has the right to judge me, to determine or approve me, or to set my personal worth but God. As a blood-bought child of God, I am no longer my own, but I belong to the One who has stamped me "APPROVED, WORTHY, AND VALUED!"

Stop and say that to yourself...

God has stamped you and me as "APPROVED, WORTHY, AND VALUED!"

Today, I was dying inside. In fact, I lost my cool, screamed and stomped, and even slammed the door in the face of another's expectations. I blew up, the simmering rage inside of me, boiled over, and I let loose a tirade of angry, of hurt, and of painful words. I realized once the feelings came out, the emotions exploded, that what I was angry at wasn't so much the situation I was in presently (a car battery and my son's car), but rather it was year's of hostility, of anger toward my father for all the pain he caused me as a child. Yes, I lost my cool at 52 for an incident that took place nearly 48 years ago. As a child, I wasn't able to deal with my anger toward my father. I wasn't able to express my dissatisfaction with his imposed standard for our lives. I had to live the way he wanted us to live, and I did so with discontentment for 21 years -- until that is -- I married and moved out of my father's house. Even then, I still felt the sting of disappointment, disapproval, and dissatisfaction. Even from a distance, I felt unworthy. I did my best to "prove" to him that I was good enough, but I never felt that I was acceptable. I pushed those feelings down deep inside, and I turned them into hard work and effort, the two things my father respected most.

In hindsight, I see it all clearly, and I see what I have done to myself. I also see what I have done to my son, what I have done to him, by inadvertently placing pressure on him to perform as well. I did it to him, and now I see that it is why he has chosen some passive-aggressive behavior as his way of telling me he is angry and discontented too. I am so sorry for doing this to him. I never wanted to hurt him in the way that I was hurt as a child.

Learning from the Past

So what does this mean for me today? I think the best thing is that I have realized that my need for approval stems from my relationship with my father. Although we have a cordial relationship, and we currently share a home, our relationship is strained as I stated earlier. It is not loving nor affectionate. I tolerate him, which is something I need to understand more deeply. I need to release all these angry feelings, and to accept the fact that I am no longer responsible for making my father pleased with me. I serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and I work for Him alone. I still need to be cordial to my dad, respectful to honor him, but I am not required to meet his standard of behavior and manners any longer.

I need to ask my son to forgive me for making him feel pressured. I need to let him know that he is accepted, approved, and worthy. I need to make sure he understands that I do not expect him to perform for me. I accept him just as he is, and I love him unconditionally for the young man he has become and is becoming daily.

Thank you, Jesus -- this has been an unpleasant day, but I have learned a valuable life lesson through the experience. May I live out what I have learned today, loving people, affirming them, valuing them, and expressing my appreciation for them every single day. May I do this to please the Father, and to demonstrate His great love for His creation. May I do all this in your Name, and through the power of your Name. You alone are worthy, you alone are good, and you alone are holy. Thank you for your life, for your love, and for your lesson this good day. Selah!

March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the church holiday where Christians remember Jesus' triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem to begin the Passion Week or Holy Week, the week leading up to the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ (or Messiah). The story from Matthew 21:1-3 says, "As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. Go into the village over there," he said. "As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will immediately let you take them." 

It is a weird day, really, because very few churches celebrate Palm Sunday with palm fronds or branches. I remember growing up, and I always loved this day because it meant that we would receive small palm frond crosses as bookmarks for our Bibles. Sometimes they had pins and you would pin them to your dress or suit. Those were the days when ladies and girls wore "Sunday best" clothing to church. Men and young boys wore suits. Today, you find just about every kind of clothing, from short shorts and mini skirts to flip flops. Styles have changed so much since I was a child -- church itself -- the way we do church too, has changed. 

I went to Paradise Church today, after a very long hiatus. It felt bitter sweet in some ways. I mean, it was nice to be back, but something was missing, something was not the same. I missed my friend, Bobbi, who was our lead worship singer for over a year. She and her husband moved to WA this winter, and while the band still plays the same music, it is just not the same dynamic. It is weird, that is all.

I have blogged about my challenges in finding a church home before. I am a member at Paradise. I have been worshipping there for now on 8 years. My parents attend this church, and my son used to be part of the worship team. He has now moved over to my former church, SBC, and he seems settled to be part of the praise team. I miss him so much, really so much. I miss seeing him play keyboard or drums every Sunday, and I miss spending time with him on Sunday afternoons. He is almost 22 now, and he has his own life. Still, there is a part of me that feels so sad that he is growing up and growing away from me. I feel so alone some days. I feel so lonely.

Our pastor preached a good message today. The music was okay, different, but not great. It seems like so much of my life is in flux these days. My church is not the same, my life is not the same, and my home is not the same. I feel like a person out of step, out of time, out of tune. Why is this? Why do I feel this way?

The message was on the triumphal entry. It is a common message for pastor's to preach on Palm Sunday. I would say that it wasn't anything special, meaning that our pastor didn't really share anything new with me. What was unique was the conversation I had with the Lord RIGHT before, DURING, and AFTER the service. Let me explain...

I entered into the main worship center a little before 10:30. The house was sparsely attended, which made me wonder how many people were still attending the second service. Once the music started, however, more people showed up, and then by the end, the place was pretty full. Anyway, there was a new girl leading worship, and I didn't recognize her from church. I think she was visiting. Well, she started to sing that sort of "Hillsong" way, and then was all over the place vocally. I mean, she had a nice voice and all, but she was singing in a key that no one in the congregation could sing, and she was scatting her notes so the congregation was up when she was down low. On top of that, she was shouting at us "C'mon, lift your hands and praise Jesus! Worship the Lord!" Okay, a bit pentacostal for my tastes, and even though I would describe myself as quasi-charismatic (in worship style - I do lift my hands to sing), I don't like being told to how to worship. The majority of people in our congregation are staid, and not "holy rollers." There are some of us who clap, sway and lift our hands, but we are the minority and not the majority. What bothered me most was the way she was prancing on stage. Bobbi, our former lead singer, was very bluesy in her style. She had this way of bringing you into the music, and creating a worshipful atmosphere. This lady seemed to be upset that we weren't expressing ourselves the way she wanted us to do it. I felt embarrassed for the other people. I felt uncomfortable, and I usually don't get uncomfortable at church. She just seemed to be yelling at us, trying to make us worship a certain way. I didn't like it, and I couldn't wait for her to finish her performance.

Our pastor came on after and like I said, preached a good message. He is a nice man, just temporarily preaching for us, but still a Godly man with a love of the Word. I was feeling lonely, missing my boy, sitting all alone in the middle row. A couple people waved and said hi. One friend hugged me before running off to her own row. I sat down, took out my bulletin and wrote these words: Lord, help me to understand the next steps of my life.

As I sat there listening to the pastor preach, this is what I heard the Lord say to me.

Q1. Will you go?
Q2. Will you go?
Q3. Will you go where I send you?
Q4. Will you do my work?

I heard these words, questions really, in my head as the pastor was teaching from Matthew. At one point in his message, he said that there were different responses to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. The first response was from the disciples who were with the Lord. Their response was to obey His command, to submit to His authority, and to follow Him without question. He noted that they had questions, but they kept them to themselves rather than ask them directly (they did this sometimes, and sometimes the Lord answered them before they even asked Him anything). The key thing was that they had questions, but they didn't wait for answers before obeying the Lord. He said "they went wherever Jesus sent them. If Jesus said to 'go,' then they listened and they went." My heart was cut to the core because I have heard the Lord telling me to 'go' before, and while I have not literally (physically) gone, I have agreed to go wherever He wanted. The kicker was that our pastor described the difference between a disciple and a follower this way:
  • A disciple believes so completely in His master that he willingly follows after Him.
  • A follower believes in what the Master is saying, but questions the why's, the what's and the wherefore's before he will follow.
Then he asked, "which are you?"

I sat there in silence listening to these words, and thinking to myself that I am not a disciple. I am a servant, for sure, but not a disciple. At least, not yet.

The Lord knows I am willing and agreeable to follow Him. I ask questions, though, all the time. I question His authority, His integrity, and His directives. I constantly beg Him for reasons, for rationale, and for logic. I want to know why...all the time...why?

As the message drew to a close, I couldn't pull myself back to the moment because I was deep in thought. In fact, all through the offering, the closing song (which was better), and the blessing, I was focused on my response to the Lord. Am I a disciple? Am I willing to go where He sends me?

I wrote out the answers to the questions I heard in my head.

A1. Yes.
A2a. No. Why? Because I cannot see the way. 
A2b. Yes, because when it comes down to it, you are God, and I trust you, I believe in you, and I want nothing but what you are to me.
A3. Yes. There is no place I can go where you will not be.
A4. Yes, Lord.

So I sit here today, no closer to finding out the plans the Lord has for me, other than to say that I am a complete and utter failure when it comes to obeying the Lord. I am willing, and I am agreeable, but I won't go --> why? I won't go because the cares of this life consume me and keep me from letting go of them. I have my parents. I have my son. I have my work. I have all these things holding me here in Phoenix. In fact, this has always been the case. I have heard the voice of the Lord telling me to "go" for many years now, and our conversation always comes back to this very sore point. I simply will not go. I am like the man who asked the Lord if he could go and bury his father BEFORE following Him. The Lord replied "let the dead bury their dead." His meaning, that there was nothing the man could do for his father now that he was dead. Jesus was calling to him to follow after Him. 

I am like this man. My parents are alive, but they are not well. I don't know how long they have to live, only the Lord knows that timing, but I don't want to leave them behind. I am not afraid to go after the Lord, no not at all. I am simply trying to understand why the Lord would ask me to leave my parents now, I mean, at their age. I know my father will not move away from Phoenix. My mother is not well enough to go, certainly not now with her dementia getting worse. My son is in school, not close enough to graduate, so there is that worry. Why now, Lord? Why now?

I know what you are thinking because I am thinking the same thing: the timing of the Lord is perfect. It is true, really, it is true. I know this is the case. There is nothing I can do on my own, and if I am really His disciple, then I go where He sends me, when He asks me to go.

It is done.

March 28, 2015

Testing and Knowing

As I sit here today, I wonder what in the world is going on in my life. I mean, I am thankful and grateful for the blessings I have, and I am at peace with the path that I am on. Yet, I struggle to know where the Lord intends for me to go, and how He intends for me to get there. I pray every day for the same thing, and I ask the Lord for clarification so that I would know what it is that I am asking Him to do is part of His will for my life. I struggle with testing, and with knowing for certain that what I am doing is right, that it is the way the Lord intends for me, and that I am being faithful in my obedience to His Word and to His will.

I am in the midst of this weird crisis of sorts. In fact, this crisis has been ongoing and no matter how I have tried to figure it out, not so much its coming on, but rather its ending, I simply cannot do it. I feel like I am stuck in a maze, one of those big corn mazes where you don't know which path or route to take to find the open door. I have tried so hard to let things go, to understand why certain things are not happening, and why I seem to be running on a treadmill. I mean, for a while there (a couple years ago), my career was moving forward, my life was in high gear, and I was fully in control (under the Lord's leadership and guidance). It seems like the past two years have been a time of great trial, of struggle, and of never ending "unknown."

I wish I could say that I am happy, but I am not. I am not happy, and that is the truth. If you would have asked me two years ago if I was happy, I would have told you yes, and I would have meant it. But no, in truth now, I am not. This bothers me greatly. I know that happiness is a fleeting emotion, and that it is something we are to experience, but not live by (simply meaning that life is not always a bowl full of cherries). No, life has ups and downs, and there are days, weeks, and months when happiness evades us -- no matter how hard we try to find it, to experience it, to want it. Today, I am not a happy camper, and I am tired of being tired, unhappy, and disappointed. I want to know why I feel the way I do, what I did to bring this on, and what I need to do to get myself righted and back on my way to feeling good again.

Testing and Trials

The Word tells us that God tests us for a purpose. God allows testing to come into our lives for a number of reasons, and they are all GOOD. My faith in the Lord is such that I believe He is good. I say it all the time, God is GOOD. Even on days like today, when I feel crappy and moody, my feelings about God haven't changed. He is good, all the time, He is good. Still, I don't like tests. I don't like trials. I don't like testing of any sort, of any kind, or of any shape. I don't like to be put under the microscope of trial, and I don't like feeling like I do when it happens. And, it happens often. Lately, it seems to be an everyday occurrence.

Why does God test us?

God tests us (yes, Scripture tells us that He does test us) to prove us, to demonstrate to us, the nature of our faith. God knows us well, and He knows our faith (what we believe). He tests us in order to show us our faith, so that we can see where it is that we place our faith, our reliance, and to know what we must do to improve our faith in Him. In short, the tests we encounter always SHOW US the truth. God doesn't need us to pass tests for His benefit. He already knows our strengths and our weaknesses. We are the ones that need to SEE the cracks in our faith pot, and to KNOW why we struggle so much to believe and to trust Him. Often, it is because we place our faith in something other than the Lord. We trust in ourselves, our abilities, our riches, or we trust in others who will provide for us (as in an employer or a spouse). We put our trust in worldly, earthly, and temporal things rather than placing our trust in the Sovereign and Holy God.

The Word says it this way...

Isaiah 2:22 - Don't put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they?

Psalm 146:3 - Don't put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there.

When we place our faith (strong belief or trust in someone or something) in things other than in the Lord, we rely on these things for our welfare and benefit. We begin to look to these things for our daily support. The Lord is the Lord overall (Psalm 103:19, 113:4), and the Word tells us that He is Lord over our finances, our future, and even our faith. Yes, the Lord is the author and the finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Whenever we place our faith, our trust, our belief in someone or something other than His Sovereign will, power, and authority, we are casting doubt on His Nature (His Goodness), and His Lordship in our life. We are, in essence, saying to Him that we do not believe He is God nor do we believe He can effect change in our life. He is impotent to do what He says, what He promises, in His Word to do. We are calling Him a liar, a thief, and a fool (as in someone who lacks wisdom or judgment).

If we were to say that the Lord's face or even in prayer, we would be ashamed for even considering the notion. In fact, we would probably argue that we have never even considered this to be true. Yet, in our heart, and through our actions, we do this very thing every day. We trust in everything and everyone except for the Lord.

Why do we do this?

We do this, in my view, because we are impatient and we want quick answers. We do not want to wait on the Lord for His answer, His provision, for our life. So we run to other people or we look to ways to provide the needed security. The Bible tells us that we are to seek the Lord's face, to ask God (our Heavenly Father) for our needs, and then we are told to have faith (to believe).

Matthew 17:20 - "You don't have enough faith," Jesus told them. "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible."

Furthermore, Jesus tells us that we are pay attention to where we are placing our faith or to what or whom we are trusting. In Matt. 6:19-21 we read,

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The object of faith is clear. We are to place our faith in no one but God. In doing so, Jesus tells us that nothing will be impossible for us to accomplish.

I know that I struggle with this issue. It is no secret that I have spent the past four-five years stressed over my financial needs. In fact, I would say that I spent the past 30 years worried, but I had faith in my ex-husband, my parents, and my parents-in-law to provide SHOULD we ever need help (and they did, well the parents and PIL). Once I became single, however, I found that I was fixated on finances. I mean, FIXATED. I constantly worried over my bills, my credit cards, and my car payment. I had full responsibility for myself and my teenaged son, and my greatest concern was that I would not be able to make ends meet. I can remember praying to the Lord, asking Him to help me because I didn't know how to do anything -- I was unemployed for almost 18 months -- and during that time, I didn't have any way to sustain my needs. The Lord supplied, and supplied, and supplied, and I ended up learning how to manage my income (what little I had), and to trust and to rely on Him for my every need.

Lately, I have become fixated on needs again. I think it is because of my current situation with my parents. I love my parents, don't get me wrong, and I love the thought of living with them, but I struggle with their declining health. I worry about them, leaving them, and moving to a new place because I think of what they will go through just doing that with me. I worry about my son, his needs, and the fact that I would be uprooting him to move him to a new place, perhaps a place that is not as cosmopolitan as where we currently live.

I don't mean to do it, and I do know where my supply comes from...I know the Lord is my provider and my sustainer. It is just that I worry constantly about having "enough" or about how I am going to get out of debt. I feel like I constantly fear this debt is going to consume me. I know the Lord has me covered, but I see the mounting debt, I see the lack of income, and I see my parents and my son's needs. When I try to figure out how to cover all those needs, I see one big ZERO! 

I panic. I stress. I worry. I fret. 

Yes, I admit it. I do all these things. I also pray. I trust the Lord. I push the thoughts away, and I focus on what I can do now. I think about how the Lord has provided for me in the past and how He has not let me down or let me overdraw my accounts. No, the Lord has provided for every need in my life thus far so surely He will not fail me now. Still, the thoughts creep back into my mind "there is always a first time..." I know that voice. I know the one who whispers it in my ear. It is not the Lord, for the Lord shouts down to me "I am here. I will never leave you nor will I forsake you!" The enemy whispers these doubts, these little reminders that there is always a first time, and to expect the Lord to fail me just like every other person or thing I know. The Lord is not perfect. He is like every human being -- He is flawed and a failure -- He will fail me.

I know the truth. I know the truth of God's word, and I know that these are lies of the devil who seeks to pull me from God's appointed plan. I know that the Lord is perfect, that He is my King, my Ruler, my Sovereign. And furthermore, I know that He has already overcome, He is victorious, and He is faithful and true. The Lord is GOOD to me. He is Good to me all the time!

So today, as I sit here on this good Saturday, and I blog and stew and fuss...I am reminded that the trials I encounter are to help me see the holes in my faith-logic. It is not my faith that is weak, for I know that is not the case. Rather, it is my logic that is faulty. I have bought into the lies of the devil, and I am believing what he is telling me instead of believing the Word of God. I know better, I know better. 

Heavenly Father, 

Thank you for loving me. Jesus, help me to trust you as I should. Help me to put all of my trust in you and not in man. I thank you for the people you have put in my path to support me along my journey, and I ask you to bless them. Help me now to know that you are the One who can truly help me recover and succeed in this life. You are the only one who can heal me, help me, and hold me to your plans, your will, and your way. You are the only one who truly loves me, and you will never forsake me. Forgive me for the times I didn’t trust You, but trusted instead, other people or other things more than You. Teach me how to trust you fully and to find my security in you. I ask this in Jesus name…Amen.

March 26, 2015

Keep Moving

It is a great morning here in sunny and warm Phoenix. Yes, our daytime high is expected to hit the mid-90s. I am so not ready for summer (and it is only March), but the inevitable is coming, and there is nothing we can do about it. Yes, time keeps marching on, and here in Phoenix, the seasons (our two -- warm and hot) cycle around like clockwork. Sigh!

I am officially worn out, by the way, and even though I am tired, so very tired, I must keep moving on. Yes, in order to keep my balance, I have to keep peddling and moving on. In class yesterday, I remarked that we had six more weeks of school. My students reminded me that there are five more weeks (this is five). Oh, they are so smart! I double-checked and they are correct. My schooling for Regent has six more weeks, but my teaching contract at GCU ends the last week of April. WOW! Another semester down, and in the books!

As I think about time, and how it moves on without a hitch, I am reminded of my life, and how just a couple years ago, I never thought I would ever become a teacher. In fact, I had told my parents and my family that the reason I had returned to school to get my Masters degree was so that I could become a teacher. It was a plausible excuse, and it sounded good. The truth was that I returned to school because I felt the Lord leading me to do it. I didn't have an end goal in mind, and I didn't think about a PhD back then at all. The thought had crossed my mind, but I was in the midst of separation from my husband, and my life was all about survival. I was looking for full-time work, which preoccupied my time, and school was a pleasant thought only. In time, though, I did go to school, and I did graduate from Mercy College. It was during my time at Mercy that the Lord laid the PhD on my heart, and He began to draw me toward Regent University.

After I graduated from Mercy, I felt the Lord drawing me toward teaching, but no matter how often I applied for positions, no one would look at me. I didn't have any experience, and I didn't "show well" on my resume. Even with my business experience, and corporate training, no college gave me a second look. Though little by little, the Lord provided for me, and continued to pull me through to this road. I would pray about it, asking the Lord why He would ask me to get my Masters if He didn't intend for me to teach. After a while, and with no hope for a teaching job, I gave up, and I settled into my work as an Enrollment advisor at UOPX. The work was miserable, and I hated the job. Yet, I was happy to have good practical work, and I loved my colleagues and the environment. I loved working in higher education, and I felt that I was meant to work at a college or University. Still, I thought about teaching a lot, and everyone I knew said to me "Carol, you are such a teacher! Why aren't you teaching?"

After what seemed like a dozen rejection letters, in the summer 2012, I had received a call to teach English at one of the small business/for-profit schools in the area. I was ecstatic, and I jumped at the opportunity to interview. My hopes were dashed when I found out that they wanted me to start in a week's time. Plus, I panicked at the thought of leaving UOPX and taking a job with no benefits and no guarantee for long-term employment. My family was dead-set against the move, and they felt that it was even ridiculous to consider teaching adjunct when a perfectly good job was already had.

I prayed about it, and I felt confident that the Lord would provide for me. In fact, I was going to interview and do the "mock teach" despite what my family thought about it. I told a colleague of mine (well, several), and when I confessed my fear about leaving UOPX for this uncertainty, she said this to me "Carol, you will never know if you like teaching unless you try it out." I told her that I didn't think I could walk away from my steady employment to teach for this college. The Dean called me twice, begged me to reconsider, but I said no to her. I told her I couldn't live on adjunct pay. The funny thing was that she told me I could teach extra general education courses and that I would be able to earn enough. I didn't believe that teaching four classes would be "enough." In the end, the truth was that I was afraid that I couldn't teach -- as in unable to teach well enough. I thought that because I didn't have any materials to present, I would fail miserably at teaching. Furthermore,  I couldn't imagine myself teaching English without any "field" experience. Even though the Lord assured me that He would provide teaching materials, and that I could indeed teach -- I caved into fear, to doubt, and to the unknown. I caved.

After that opportunity passed by, I found the position at CVS Caremark, and I took that job. I liked the work, the environment, and the pay. The thought of teaching, however, never left me, and even though I never felt called to teach, I did have this desire to try it out.

After a year at CVS, I started my PhD program, and I knew that it would be difficult for me to work there and complete my studies. I prayed for an open door, a different job whereby I could have flexible hours in order to focus on my studies. The Lord showed me the IA position at GCU, and pressed me to apply. I didn't do it because it was hourly pay -- and a far cry from the solid salary I was making at CVS. Still, I felt this pull toward GCU, so I applied for a dozen or so positions. Nothing materialized until late summer 2013, when I applied for an adjunct position. I interviewed (praise God) but because I lacked teaching experience, I was offered the chance to student teach (the IA position the Lord showed me). In July 2013,  I stepped out in faith, and I took the job.

I have been teaching at GCU since 2013, and while I don't like the adjunct pay, the "never knowing what you will get each semester when contracts are handed out," I am content to be there. I like the school a lot. I love the students. I love the support you get from the faculty services folks.  The Lord was gracious to me when I asked for the opportunity to 'try' teaching, and with that prayer, He opened the door to where I am now. Moreover, He provided a second opportunity for me to teach at ACU, and with that school, I have been able to teach a 4/4 load and bring home about what I was earning at UOPX (minus the benefits).

Despite all the Lord has done, and miraculously done, I still stress over teaching every single semester. I worry about my performance, and I fear the unknown future. Yet, when I stop and think about it, I realize that here I am, surviving it all, learning from the experience, and doing my best, my best each day. The Lord sustains me, and He helps me understand that as long as I am teaching, I am relying on Him and not resting in my own strength and ability. I am learning how to trust Him, to abide in Him, and let Him lead me and work through me.

Now I am at this transition point whereby I have enough experience to seek a full-time position as a teacher. I am not 100% in the best spot yet, but I am close. I will have two full years of experience. Most schools want you to have three to five years of full-time experience. I am adjunct, which is part-time, but I can show that my teaching load is 3/3 or 4/4 and that equates to full-time. Still, for me to find a full-time position, I need to be ABD or PhD ready. I am not quite there, but I will be soon. Therefore, I must keep on pedaling my bicycle. I cannot give up now nor can I rest for too long. I have to keep on moving toward the full-time teaching position that the Lord has in mind for me.

I have applied for two positions in Alabama, and for two positions in Arizona. So far I have not heard a word on the two in AZ. I am able to see that my applications for the schools in AL are "in progress" which just means that my packet has been forwarded to the hiring department. My only hope for a position rests with the Lord. I realize that I can apply, but the Lord must open the door. He must put my application at the top of the stack, and He must make the hiring manager like what he or she sees in my resume. I cannot control the outcome. I can apply, step out in faith, but then the rest is up to the Lord.

As of right now, I am convinced that the Lord desires me to move to AL. I have applied in two locations in the state. The preferred choice is Auburn, but I am willing to teach at any of the schools in the area. I am a dark horse candidate so to speak because I don't have the exact experience needed. I can teach English with my Masters degree, but to teach Communication, well that requires the school to look past my Masters and focus on my completed coursework at Regent. They might, they might do this, but it is an unknown. Also, I have only taught one communications course. I have plenty of English experience, but I have little communication experience. Even though I teach my English courses as more 'argumentation in culture studies,' schools may not like that I am not a traditional educator. We will have to wait and see, just wait and see.

I've given up the thought of working in Admin roles. I did apply for two jobs that were admin focused. The one closed, and I was notified that I wasn't selected. The other one is still open, and my application was forwarded to the hiring department. No word on that one, but I am thinking they probably won't consider me simply because I have spent the last two years teaching. Part of me likes admin work, and then part of me doesn't. I really do like teaching, and I really do like the control I get when I teach -- it is all me -- 100% me and my effort (well, the Lord working through me, but you get the picture). I don't have a boss standing over me, and I can do what I want (within limits). I also like the freedom I get to have my summers off (whoohoo!) and my breaks throughout the year. It is a place where I can be free to be me, and I can push myself and my students as the Lord leads me. Moreover, I get to mentor, which is my calling, and simply the fact that I am mentoring my students, well that brings joy to my heart.

Thus, my heart's desire is to do whatever job the Lord has in mind for me. I have given up the notion of a career at this point, and I am focused on good practical work. I am content to teach so long as the Lord provides a place for me to do it. I am content to do other work as well. He knows that I need full-time salaried work and benefits. He knows my skills and my abilities, therefore, whatever door He opens, I can take confidence to know that it will be a good fit. He knows me well, so I don't have to worry about what kind of work He wants me to do. I will do whatever He brings to me, and I will relax and let Him do the providing. Yes, Lord, I let this go.

I am thinking that I will remain in teaching, even though it is hard on me physically, simply because it is where I am and my recent experience is all teaching-related. Plus it aligns with my studies at Regent, my scholarship, and my focus in communication research. However, if the Lord chooses to move to another type of work, so be it. I want whatever work He has for me, and I believe, no I know, it will be good.

So as I think about everything as it stands today, I realize that I am still in this limbo land. I am in Phoenix, living and working, but without any measure of security outside that of the Lord's provision. I would like to move to AL to be near my love, but again, that is in the Lord's hands. I feel it is His will, and I strongly desire it, but I cannot go without His provision, so I wait. Until He opens that door, and I receive a call to interview, I am right where I am. I can only keep on moving forward with His provision of a clear path. I do have tentative contracts for fall, and if that is the choice of the Lord, so be it. I can remain in Phoenix for another year. It will not hurt me to do so, but it will be another year of 100% reliance on the Lord. The Lord is well aware of my financial and security need. I trust Him to provide, and until He says otherwise, I will do the work assigned to me here, and I will be content in His provision and in His security. He is God, and I am not, therefore, He knows what is best for me. Selah!

March 25, 2015

Reeling from Unmet Expectations

Have you ever experienced the let down of an unmet expectation? Perhaps you were expecting someone to do something for you? Or perhaps you were expecting something of yourself, to stand up for or against some injustice, and instead of doing "what needed to be done," you sat in silence or you simply ignored the problem, hoping it would go away?

Unmet expectations are a killer to any relationship, whether with another person or with God. When we place expectations on another person, we are in essence, saying to them "I expect you to fulfill _______ in my life." When we do this to ourselves, we tell ourselves "I will not be satisfied until I do ________." In short, we place fulfillment and satisfaction at the feet of another human being. We ask the extraordinary out of the ordinary. We ask for the impossible.

The Word says that nothing is impossible for God. The actual scripture says it this way,

Matthew 19:26 - "Jesus looked at them intently and said, 'Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.'"

The backstory is that of the rich young man. The verses preceding this one speak of the challenge of getting a camel to pass through the eye of the needle. The moral of the story, it is easier to push a camel through a tiny hole than it is for a rich man to give up his riches. The disciples, upon hearing this story, and understanding what Jesus was teaching asked him, "Who can be saved?" This response, then, is the truth -- no one can be saved of their own accord. Only the Lord can save, rich and poor, alike. Furthermore, Jesus tells the disciples that by choosing to follow after Him, they will give up everything. Peter, of course, asks the question "so what do we get?" The Lord replies, "eternal life!"

I think it is interesting to consider this story from the point of unmet expectations. The rich young man had expectations of what would become of his life. He had kept the scriptures, lived righteously, and acted in accordance with Jewish law and custom. He had lived a perfect life. But when he came to Jesus to ask about his eternal destination, he was deeply distraught when his expectations were not met with the Lord's approval. He assumed he would receive a "well done, my good and faithful servant," but instead, he was told that he had to go and sell everything to follow the Lord. What do you mean there is MORE! I have done everything, yet I have to do MORE? Yes, my good man (or woman) there is more.

This parable is often taught as a moral story to encourage faithful obedience to the Lord, thoughtful consideration of idols and idolatry, and even instruction in how to live appropriately (give away everything to follow the Lord). I think these interpretations are good, but they are not the root of the story. I think the story is quite simple on face value. We come to the Lord expecting that our works will be valued and acceptable to Him (just like Cain did in Genesis). We expect favor and blessing because of our works. The Lord sees our efforts, and pities us because He understands that while what we are doing may be worthwhile, it is human effort designed to gain Godly favor. God's favor, judgment, and blessing are impartial. He chooses whom to bless based solely on His judgment and determination. Furthermore, we know that no effort of our own will grant us entrance into the Kingdom of God, but only faith (belief) in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. So, why then do we strive, attempt to perform and to prove our worth? We do it because we feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied with this life, and with what the world offers to us. We seek to exchange temporal pleasures for eternal security.

I struggle with unmet expectations. I try very hard not to place expectations on another person because I know how it feels to be put in that position. Often, when you are the one doing the expecting, the person you expect to fill your needs has no clue that they have been given this "special gift or responsibility." They are unaware that you expect them to do something for you. Thus, when you discover the need unmet and launch into a tirade on why they didn't do this or that, they are shocked because they never knew they were supposed to do anything at all. Miscommunication 101 - happens all the time. 

My problem is that I expect a lot from myself, and I hold myself to a very high standard. I have expectations for my behavior and performance, so when I fail to meet my own needs or standard, I have no one to lash out against but myself. I am my own worse enemy.

Striving and What Not

I prayed today, and this is the word I received back from the Lord. The Lord said "cease striving." I asked Him, "Lord, what do you mean by 'cease striving'?" While I was waiting for clarification, I went to my trusty dictionary and looked up the word. The word, strive, means the following,

1. make great efforts to achieve or obtain something.
2. struggle or fight vigorously.

So I asked the Lord, "Which am I doing? Am I trying to achieve something or am I contending with you?" The answer came back the former and not the latter. Yes, I assumed as much. I tend to strive to achieve (as I have blogged before -- oodles of time). I do contend with the Lord, wrestle with Him, but knowing that is a losing battle, I refrain from getting into those types of squabbles. I knew it was the first because I am a performance-oriented person, driven by achievement, and the need to prove myself worthy. 

So the word today was to stop trying to do everything in my own strength. This means to stop trying to solve all my problems through human will, work, and wisdom. Trust the Lord, let it go, and let it be as the Lord leads and determines it so. 

I know, I know, I know. Still, I strive. I let it go, I trust the Lord, I rest, but I cannot help but strive because I don't see anything being done. 

Truthfully, I only see mounting debt, unmet expectations and needs, and dwindling security. I see depression, despair, and destruction. I see a not so happy ending, and it scares me. I see a man (well, me) scrambling to paddle and maneuver my boat in order to avoid the impending waterfall (see picture to left). I am awash in the rapids of life, and I don't like the feeling of being out of control. I like the still calm waters, the place where I could comfortably sit and let the current move me forward without much fuss. I don't like this place, where everything is all jumbled, and I cannot see anything up front of me. I feel the current pick up, I see the waves crash around me, and I can see -- I can feel -- I can imagine -- that there is a big drop ahead. I am scared, and I am panicked. I don't want to be where I am right now. I want to paddle backwards to keep my boat from going headfirst over that cliff!

As I strive, I find that I am wearing myself out. I am paddling so furiously to keep from going over the falls, but my strength is failing. I cannot stop this boat from going where the current is leading me. I cannot do anything but pick up my paddle, tuck it in, and put my head down, and let the current take me over the edge. I am too far gone, too far down the river to turn back. I have to let go, and let this baby fly.

Really, as sappy as this sounds, it is the truth of my life. Perhaps it is the truth of your life as well. Perhaps you have been following after the Lord, but lately, you are encountering rough waters. The days of smooth sailing and flat easy waters are behind you. Your view is like mine, narrow and winding, with unpredictable twists, turns, and uncomfortable drops. You are holding on as tightly as you can for fear of being overturned and washed away. You are trusting the Lord, but you are striving to keep your ship (or boat or tiny canoe) afloat. You are afraid, panicked, and uncertain as to what lays ahead for you. You hope the river will flatten out and be smooth again, but there is no guarantee, no assurances because you cannot see a mile down the way. You cannot see where this river goes or how big, how far, how deep it really is because your vantage is blocked, and your view is limited. You must trust in the canoe. You must trust in the safety of the net that holds you in. Your life jacket, your helmet, and your paddle. These are tools to help you, so you rely on them. But the canoe is your life. It is what keeps you out of the water, and away from the dangerous current. You are a good swimmer, but you know that if you end up in the water, the current could easily suck you down. You cannot rely on your own strength or your abilities. No, you must trust in the canoe to do what it does best -- stay afloat. You let go, and you ride the canoe. You take a deep breath and you let go.

I am in this place now. I have so many unknowns in my life, and I am struggling to let go. I say I will let go, and I will let the river take me where it wills, but then I stick my paddle back in the water and try so hard to turn myself around. I don't like what I see. I don't want to go where I am going. But I have said I will go. I have said I will do the work. I have said I will live where He leads me to live. I have said so, I have promised Him so.

What Do I Do Now?

I can either let go and let the river win OR I can continue to wear myself out trying to turn my canoe around and head up river. The river is going to go its own way. If I get turned around, then I will have a huge fight on my hands. I will not win. I could perhaps get myself over to the side, to rest a while, but then what will I do? The terrain is rough, the place is unknown. I cannot remain here indefinitely, so at some point, I will have to get back into the river and take on the rapids. I have no choice really, but to trust what I know to be true, and to take the river head on. I must go with the flow, and let the river take me to the end.

Dear Lord,

I have come to the end of my battle, the end of my struggles. I am so very tired, so very worn out. The problems, the issues, the debt -- it is all too much for me. I need full-time work, I need relief, but I don't see anything on the horizon to help me, to offer me that hope. I am trusting in you to provide. You have always been my provider, my shelter from the storm of life. But now I am fading fast, and I am overwhelmed and I am in fear of what will come. I don't know why this is, but I know that I am where I am because I believed you had a good plan for my life. I believed you called me to this place, to this journey of faith. The river has always been good to me. It has always been smooth, flat and even on the surface. I have enjoyed the blessing of calm, of peace, and of restful sailing. Now, I am in the rapids of life, and I don't like what I am experiencing. I don't like this part of the trip. Yet, I know that this is all part of my life plan, and while I am afraid of what I am experiencing, I refuse to stand on the sidelines. I refuse to go backward. I know I must go forward, no matter what is up ahead. I am committed to following after you, and in obedience, I will let go and stop trying to slow the process. I will let the process, the change, the river take me over the edge. I will trust in the security of my Lord, my Savior, and my King. He will protect me, and He will provide for me. He is good to me, so very good to me. I let this go now, Lord, and I rest. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah!

March 24, 2015

Will It Ever Get Easier?

It is Tuesday, and I wish I could say that it is a good day. In truth, it is a very good day because the Lord has made it.

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

Still, I am not one-hundred percent satisfied with this day being called "good!" Harumph!

I am guessing my feelings about the day are a direct result of my lack of sleep last night. After I had a wonderful phone conversation with a good friend, I graded 20 essays and 16 quizzes. By the time I finished, it was 1:20 a.m. I knew I had to get into bed because the carpet guy was coming this morning to clean our carpets. Well, I laid down and then waited. I mean, I waited to fall asleep. I think I finally drifted off around 4 a.m.

I woke up at 7:20 with a pounding headache, and the thought "why did we ask the guy to come at 9:00 today?" Well, as I recall, my Mom asked him to "come early" because she likes things to be done really early in the morning. I am not a morning person, never have been, never will be. My son had school early, so at the least, he is out of the house. I am sure he wasn't happy about this day either. He had to clean his room up, which I think took place sometime between 2-4 a.m. He was out of the house by 8:30 in order to make it to his 9:00 class. He isn't a morning person either (a chip off the old block).

I am choosing to see this day as good. Why? Well, how about because the Lord is good, and everything He creates is good! Yes, that is a fine reason to view the day, IMHO!

Oh Lord, help me! I am trapped in my room with two cats. No one bothered to tell me that the carpet guy would need the front door open so his hoses can come in the house. This means that, Ike, cannot free roam as he normally would. Winston, poor Winnie, is under the covers of the bed simply because the door bell rang. Ike, on the other hand, is Mr. Nosy. He has to be in the middle of everything. He is not happy being stuck in this room with me. He is crying at the door, but I will have to remain firm. I cannot risk him getting outside!

So is "no news, good news?" I hear people say that all the time, but I don't really think it is true. I mean, just because you don't hear any news doesn't necessarily mean that when you do, it will be good. In argumentation, this is a false assumption based upon correlation. The two things aren't necessarily correlated to one another. So just because I haven't heard anything from my job applications, doesn't mean that I will hear anything good or at all. I have let this go, this need to know about the job because truthfully, there is nothing I can do about it. I mean, perhaps worrying about it would give me a sense that I am involved in the process, but really, my worrying has no direct cause/effect to the outcome of whether I will be asked to interview. Weird how that is, but it is the truth. We worry over things we cannot control all the time. The worrying has no effect and will not change the outcome, yet we do it nonetheless. 

I have thought about the two jobs I have applied for at Auburn University, and I cannot make up my mind which one I would like best. They are different positions, one teaching and the other administration, but they both would be good full-time work for me. I would like the one that is the least stressful, of course. I doubt either are less stress. I would like the flexible one -- teaching -- because of the varied schedule and the holidays and summers off. I would also like to keep on teaching because I do love the experience of engaging my students in dialog. Yet, so many times I feel absolutely rotten about my performance, and it is on those days, that I want to give up and give in.

The administrative position would be good because it is long-term and stable. It is a "good pay, good work, until I retire" kind of position. I like that idea. I like the thought of having a job that would have no worries as far as income and stability. Whew!

But then I think to myself "Is one a better fit for me?"

Isn't it funny (not as in ha ha, but as in curious) that we often think there is just "one" right way to go. I have blogged about this before, but the concept of "one right path" sticks with me. Yesterday on Facebook, I read a article called "No, God didn't tell you to marry your spouse." The writer was writing about the fact that some people believe that there is "one right person" to marry. I guess this is why this is on my mind today. Is there "one right person to marry?" Is there "one right job to take?" If so, how do we know when we are offered choices to make that we will make the "right choice?"

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I have read elsewhere that the best approach to decision-making is prayer. Then it is wise counsel. Then it is pro-con list making whereby we line up the options against the Word of God, the needs of our family, etc. The outcome of the decision should be that it doesn't go against the Word, hurt our family, or cause us to sin. If it doesn't do anything of these things, then the decision could be considered a good thing.

Still, I wonder if that is the "right way" to make a decision. It does sound good to me. But then there is Proverbs 3:5-6, which says,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Hmmm. Lean not on your own understanding...what does that mean? Wouldn't my pro-con list be my own understanding of matters? If we are to trust in the Lord, first and foremost, and acknowledge Him (as knowing what is best), then I would say that anything we do in our own interpretation may be "wrong." This leads me to believe that it is better to follow the path of peace in decision making than to use human wisdom.

Is human wisdom wrong then? No, I don't think so. I think it is more a matter of praying about the decision, seeking the Lord's counsel, and then trusting Him to lead you into the place of peace. If you have peace, then you can know that you are on the "right track." Sure, from this point, you can make pro-con lists, discuss with others, validate your approach with scripture, etc. But without peace to guide you into all truth, then I think we run the risk of "leaning on our own understanding."  John 16:13 says,

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.

Hmmm. So the Holy Spirit will guide you in all truth. He will not speak of His own volition, but He will tell you what He has heard [from God]. And, He will tell you about the future. This seems to me to say that if you want to know what will be, then you must seek the Lord's counsel through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Okay, so is there one right path to go? I am not sure, but the Word says that the Lord will guide us in our steps (our path).

Isaiah 58:11 - The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.


Psalm 32:8 - The LORD says, "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.

Moreover, we read about guidance in the following verses...

James 1:5 - But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Psalm 25:4-5 - Make me know Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; For You I wait all the day.

Psalms 143:8 - Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul.

Okay, so clearly the Word is instructing us in the truth when we are encouraged to seek the Lord first regarding any question on the path we are to take or choice we need to make. However, are we talking about paths (as in direction) or character training (as in my integrity or righteousness?) Good question. I think the answer is both. 

We are to seek the Lord for our character-building (again something we do not do, but more so, what the Holy Spirit does in us). How we walk, thus, is in direct correlation to our relationship with the Lord. If we are walking in His way, seeking Him, trusting Him, etc., then our outward behavior, manners, and our inward conscience should be aligned. Furthermore, any decision we make or need to make would be considered in light of our relationship with the Lord and our desire to accomplish His will. It would also be a direct result of our desire to please the Lord, and in pleasing Him, we would want to seek to do all the things the Word tells us we should -- for our good and for the good of others. Therefore, I would say that we are to seek the Lord first, trust in His voice and in the Holy Spirit's peace and comfort, and then acknowledge that because He is God, He does know best for our lives. Once we let go of our need to use human wisdom to figure things out, to decide what is best, then we can rest and He will direct (guide and lead) our steps.

So then is there ever a reason to worry, to doubt or to fear when it comes to making a decision or choice for our life (be it marriage, a career change, birth of a child, relocation, etc.)? I think not. I think that if we have done what the writer of Proverbs says in chapter 3, verses 4-5, we are doing the best thing we could do -- we are seeking the Lord for His guidance and wisdom. But, we are not just leaving it at "asking God what to do," but rather we are "trusting or believing" God for what He tells us to do, knowing that it is "right, good, and proper" for us to do it.

When I think about my decision to move to AL, I am reminded of the steps I took before I applied to these positions. First off, I sought the Lord's wisdom on location. Second, I inquired as to the timing of such a move. Third, I did consider my family needs. Fourth, I studied the practical aspects of making a move. And, last, I made sure that I was not seeking my own way or will, but rather, I was seeking what I believed was the Lord's way and will.

My decision-making process, therefore, seems sound. Still, I worried about the outcome, the details, and the what-ifs of making such a bold move. I also questioned my own motives, my wants and my desires. I vacillated between teaching and admin work, living here or there, and of course, the timing of it all. I came to the point where I felt I had made a mistake in taking such a step of faith. Perhaps I was short-sighted. Perhaps I was being too bold. Perhaps I was guiding my own steps rather than letting the Lord guide me.

I had peace, for sure, but did I have "enough" peace. Did I have the right kind of peace to ensure that I could follow through on such a move?

When it comes down to it, this is what I know...

Whether I go or stay, I do so with the Lord's permission and His provision. I cannot go on my own so therefore I am free to be bold. If I erred in stepping out, then it was an error in my faith in the Lord, believing that I was to go forward at this time and to this place. No harm, no foul. I stepped out in faith. The Lord didn't open the door, but that doesn't mean He won't do so in the future. 

How will I know if my boldness paid off? I will wait and see what comes to pass. If nothing, then I know that I stepped out in faith, but the timing or other details were not "set." If one of these jobs does come to pass, then I will know that the prompting I felt from the Holy Spirit was "spot on." What if it is the former rather than the latter? I guess that is simply part of the life lesson. Learning how to walk in faith, to step out in boldness, and to be faithful are all lessons we must learn. We each learn them in different ways. For some, the lesson comes from merely considering the move. For others, it is taking a step and applying for a job or visiting some new place to "scope it out." And, for some, it is to go, to walk about, like Abraham, leaving everything behind and walking in faith without knowing any outcome or expecting any blessing other than that which comes from a keen desire to walk in obedience to the Lord.

I pray that my faith will be like Abraham. I feel like my faith is weak, so weak. I struggle, I strive, and I stress over every detail. I suffer needlessly most of the time simply because I worry about the things that are out of my control. I shouldn't do it, yet I do. I know better. I know what it does to me, how it makes me feel, and why it is not good for me (health-wise). Still, I try so very hard to figure it all out, to know the outcome, and to expect the result. I want to expect nothing but the pleasure of obeying my Lord. I want to believe that He is pleased with me when I trust Him, lean on Him, and abide in Him. 

You might ask me if I seek Him for worship and adoration or do I seek Him for blessing and provision?

Yes and yes. I do both, but I know the latter seems to be more of a "desire and need" than the former. Ouch! It is something I think about often, and something I do consider deeply. My devotion to the Lord should be because of who He is, and not because of what He does for me. BAM!

Yet, He does so much for me. It is difficult not to focus on the provision and blessing because it seems that there is so much of it. At the least, this is true of late. The Lord has blessed me richly, abundantly, and with great favor. I haven't done anything to merit it, yet the blessing comes to me. Lately, the blessing has been stifled a bit, slower to come, not as frequent. Why is this? I don't rightly know, but I do wonder about it.

Blessing and favor are in His hand. He chooses whom to bless, and His timing for blessing is perfect.

Romans 9:18 - So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

Yes, I have no control over the blessing or the timing of it. I do know that I can stop the flow of blessing by sin. Yes, if I am willfully engaging in sinful behavior, in lust or in other evil desires, then the flow of blessing is stopped. One cannot be blessed if they are outside the specter of grace.


I don't think this is the reason at all. Therefore, if blessing and favor has been stifled or slowed, there must be another reason. I do not know, but because of the Word of Romans, I can take comfort in the fact that the God of all Blessing freely chooses to bless whom He chooses. I have no control over the blessing or the timing of the blessing. I am simply a recipient of His marvelous and mysterious grace.

As I consider this day, whether I feel it is a good day or not, the fact remains that God is good, and that everything He does (past, present and future) is good. I can rest in this fact alone and know that I am blessed, favored, and that my life pleases the Lord. I seek Him diligently, trusting Him with everything I have, all that I am, and all that hope to be. Matthew 6:33 says,

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So whether I come or I go, whether I live in Phoenix or in Auburn, whether I teach or I administrate -- I can take comfort in the knowledge that He will give me whatever I need, whenever I need it. Selah!

March 23, 2015

First Day Back

It is my first day back at work after week long break, and yes, I am feeling that feeling of "UGH!!" I am thankful for my job teaching at GCU, and I do love my students and my courses. It is just so hard to pull myself together and do the work I have been assigned to do each day. I think it is because of my school work. I mean, if I were a teacher only (and not a doctoral student), my life would be so much easier (less stressful). But alas, I am both, and at the least for the foreseeable future, this is my lot in life. Sigh!

I had a breakthrough of sorts last week. I started to feel better about my life and the plans the Lord has for my life around the mid-point of Spring Break. I have had an issue with teaching for a long time, and I came to terms (finally) with the fact that there are aspects of teaching I love and aspects of teaching I loathe (isn't that the case with every job?) In truth, I don't think there has been a single job I have held throughout the course of my 30-40 years working where I said "I love this job!" No, most of the time, I would agree that I liked parts of the job, but not all of the job. I know I should be thankful for "the job" because frankly jobs are hard to come by and I am glad I have one (KWIM?) Still, I wonder if it is possible for me to have a job I love -- 100% love -- or if that is just a pipe dream and a wishful feeling.

I remember someone famous saying once that when you are doing your "dream job" then you will be happy. I don't remember the exact words but the message was that there was a job that would "fit" and once you experienced that "fit" then you would feel good, enjoy your work, experience satisfaction, etc. I know that for some people they have actually experienced that kind of job. My dad is such a person -- he still says that he loved his job as an Engineer -- and that every day of his 50 plus years working, he was happy. Now, that is not to say that he didn't have stress or pain or difficulty because he certainly did. I think he felt that he was doing a job that he enjoyed -- the actual work -- and that brought him great happiness and satisfaction in his life.

I tend to view this whole "dream job" in the same way. I don't think there is a perfect fit job out there, really I don't. What I think is that there are jobs that align with your personality or experience or skill and when you are in those kinds of jobs, you feel in control or satisfied. You experience happiness as a result of the work you do because the work you do aligns well with YOU.

I have struggled with fitting in to jobs. I have struggled with fitting into life. And, I think I have struggled most whenever I have chosen a job based on factors other than "good fit." Let me explain...

I had a boss once who told me that people stay in their job for three reasons:

  1. They like the position (the work, the tasks, etc.)
  2. They like the pay
  3. They like the people
He said that people will stay in the job so long as they have two of the three going for them (good pay and people, good position and pay, good position and people, etc.) However, if they find that they only like one of the reasons, then they will not stay in the job nor will they find job satisfaction. The key is to find a job that provides any combination of the two of these things.

I know that in my recent employment history, I have struggled to find all three things.
  • GCU/ACU - I like the people
  • CVS - I liked the position, the pay, and the people (most of them, but not all of them)
  • UOPX - I liked the people and the pay
  • Macy's - none
  • Web Design - I liked the position
So here is my issue - in my present line of work, I struggle with liking the work. I am not paid enough to live on and while I do like the people (colleagues and students), the bigger issue is job satisfaction and wage. I like other things about the job of teaching, but mostly it is just the variable schedule and the fact that I get my holidays and summers off.

I am teaching college because it is something I always wanted to do. I wanted to try it out in order to see if I liked it. I have been teaching for two years, and while I like the flexibility the most, I do not enjoy the lesson prep or the low pay.

I have applied for other positions, positions that are more administrative with the hope that I could make more money and find more satisfying work. So far I have had no success in making it past the HR screener. This means that I am stuck in my role as teacher for a time -- that is -- until the Lord chooses to move me into a different position.

I can remember asking the Lord for permission to try teaching. I remember saying that I wanted people to see me as a Professor. I wanted to be "accomplished" in something, to finally have a career where I could be proud to say "I am a teacher" whenever I was asked "so what do you do?"

Vanity of vanities...

The Vanity of Life (Ecclesiastes 1)

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

2 “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

3 What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
4 One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.
5 The sun also rises, and the sun goes down,
And hastens to the place where it arose.
6 The wind goes toward the south,
And turns around to the north;
The wind whirls about continually,
And comes again on its circuit.
7 All the rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full;
To the place from which the rivers come,
There they return again.
8 All things are full of labor;
Man cannot express it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor the ear filled with hearing.

9 That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been in ancient times before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come
By those who will come after.

I am guilty of the sin of pride. I admit it. I wanted a job whereby I could show the world two things:
  • My achievement
  • My education
Ever since I was a child, I have been told that I would never achieve anything of value nor was I smart or educated. I heard these remarks from my family, from my friends, and from my teachers. These two things, two statements were burned into my brain to such an extent that I believed they were true assessments about me. I set out to prove all those naysayers wrong, and as a result, I have finally arrived at the place where I can shout them down. I am a professor, and I have an advanced education.

But just like the words in Ecclesiastes, I have found that this path to prove the Negative-Nancy's in my life wrong, has not brought me any measure of joy, of pleasure, or of satisfaction. I admit that I have enjoyed my studies -- I love the intellectual challenge of studying at advanced levels -- but the satisfaction of achieving my goal of becoming a teacher/professor has not fulfilled me in any way, shape or form.

I can say that other work, other achievement has done that, but only occasionally. I enjoy solving problems, figuring out solutions, and learning new things. I like the challenge that comes from achieving personal results, personal goals. I don't like party-lines and politics nor do I like pleasing people (I do, but not to get ahead).

I was saying this to the Lord this morning..."Lord, why don't I have peace about this path?" I mean, I don't feel chaos or anything. I just don't have a settled peace and a feeling that everything is right, is good, is the way it should be. No, I don't really feel anything. Perhaps it is because I am overworked. Perhaps it is because I am struggling to figure out the details of what lays ahead. Perhaps it is because I am worried about the next couple months and how I am going to make ends meet?

Well...I may not have the answers today, but one thing is for sure...

The Lord has me well covered, and He knows the plans He has for my life. These plans are good, very good. Of this I am certain.

He is good, so very good. All the time, He is good.