May 25, 2015

Making Progress

It is Memorial Day, and that means that this long weekend is devoted to celebrating all those who have died to keep America safe. I am thankful for all of my friends, family, colleagues, and Christian brothers and sisters who have faithful served our country in one of the many branches of the Armed services. I am thankful that my country still is free -- free from totalitarianism, dictatorships, and communism.

I am not always happy with the way our justice and political systems work, but I am thankful that what we still have is a county where freedom exists to a greater extent than in many other countries in our world today.  Still, I pray the Lord of Hosts continue to bless and protect those who serve our country. I pray for my Christian brothers and sisters in the Military who diligently seek His face, and who endeavor to honor and obey Him in all things.  This Memorial Day, let us not forget to remember that He is our Sovereign Ruler, and He is our Most High King. Let us worship His Holy Name this good day! Amen, selah!

Little Steps Yield Big Results

Yes, I am thinking about making progress today. In fact, I am sitting here now as I give praise to God for helping me complete all my assignments and tasks for the day. My courses at Regent are proving to be a perfect fit to my summer plans. So far, nothing has been too difficult for me, and I seem to be handling the workload without any issues or concerns. My Leadership class is only 8 weeks long, and so far, it has been a blast. I love the content and the focus, and the instructor is awesome. It has been such a welcoming experience to study Leadership Theory in this way. My other two classes are more research/publication writing focused, so I don't have a lot of work to do just yet. These classes will require more time next month, but for now, I am finding the research process light and easy. So far so good...

In other news, I am still in a 'wait and see' mode. I am waiting for my final contract to come from ACU, and I expect it pretty soon. I was trying to think when I got the contract last year, and it seemed like it was around May. Hmm... Truthfully, I am OK if that contract doesn't come. I would like the extra cash, but my course load is heavy for fall, so I am fine if I end up over at GCU on MWF only. I know the Lord will cover me, so I am OK with whatever comes to pass.

I am still thinking about finding other work, and I have applied for a FT position at U of A in Phoenix. It is administrative, and while I have experience, I probably do not have all the experience they want for the role. It would be a good solid paying job, though, with good benefits. It doesn't get me to Alabama, and that is my heart's intent, but it would satisfy my needs for the next year or so until I finish my PhD. I am trying to wrap my head around what the Lord intends to do with me. I mean, does He intend for me to step out of teaching completely, and move into a more leadership type role? Perhaps He does. I am content either way, but I am trying to figure out how I can get myself from Phoenix to Alabama within the next year, and right now that path just seems muddied. I am confident that the Lord intends to move me there, I just don't know how or when He will do it. I am open to teaching at any University in the area, and I am trusting Him to provide for me.

My life here in Phoenix is complicated, of course, but it is not overwhelmingly so. I need some direction, a good plan, plenty of resources -- all of which can be provided by Him -- to be able to move. It is not a lot, really, just more about timing and provision. The Lord knows His timing is perfect, and He has my needs in mind. I know He loves me, and He cares for me, and He is moving to make my life align with that of my love's. It is vitally important that I do not panic and pursue change -- I must wait for the Lord to lead. It is important to me, to my family, and to my love. We must move forward in sync so that everything, and I mean everything, works together for our good (each of us individually). God is the God of all things, and I rest in His sufficiency. He is good, so very good to me.

It is difficult for me to put into words how I feel today. I am struggling with issues here at home, nothing major, but just enough "garbage" to bring me down. I want to so much to be free from stress, you know, really free from it. I spent so many years living in stressful conditions when I was married. I told myself that I would not willingly go back into a stress-filled environment, yet, I find that I am in one. I knew it would be this way when I moved in with my parents. I chose to do this because "I believed" it was the Lord's will for me. I didn't know then what I know now, that my Mom would be suffering from dementia, and that my presence here would be a comfort to them. I also didn't know that my courses at Regent would be so challenging, and that I would be teaching full-time and not have enough salary to pay for my own place. Of course, as things worked out, I am right in this spot now, and while I do not like the fact that there is a lot of stress here, I am thankful that I live in a nice home, and that I have nice things around me. Still there is part of me that longs for my own home, a place of my own, where I can live stress free.

Really...Stress Free?

I often wonder if there such a thing or place without stress? Stress is defined as "a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances," which says to me that it is very possible to live without it. You don't have to live with stress, you can choose a path or a place where there is little to no stress. Keep in mind that often stress is produced by our own hand. We choose workplaces with stress. We allow our homes to become battlefields. We refuse to get along well with others. There are a lot of things that we do intentionally to create stress. Then there are some things that happen outside our control and stress is exerted upon us. Another definition of stress, a more mechanical one, fits this scenario. Stress can also mean "pressure or tension exerted on a material object," whereby the "material object" can be human.

Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, and at times, it can be so overwhelming to us that it can cause severe physical and mental problems. Stress, according to medical professionals is the body's natural response to fear. According to Smith, Segal, and Segal (2015), "Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body's defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight-or-freeze” reaction, or the stress response" (para. 2). Your body naturally ramps up to defend itself against attack of any kind. How you respond to stress is key. If you allow yourself to go into "stress overload," you can actually condition your body to accept stress as a normal part of life, rather than as a fear-based situation. This stress overload can cause damage to bodily systems, and can lead to a myriad of stress-related disorders. As such "Stress affects the mind, body, and behavior in many ways" and because "everyone experiences stress differently" stress can "take a toll on your relationships at home, work, and school" (para. 3).

For a list of stress related symptoms see here.

I have stress in a number of forms in my life, and with each one, I find I exhibit different responses. I think it is important to understand how we respond to stress, and to differentiate between the different types of responses. This can help us moderate our overall response to stress-filled situations, and it can also help us make decisions that can influence choices. Let me explain...

Smith, Segal and Segal (2015) state, "Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best" (para. 1). Moreover, they write, "The stress response also helps you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you'd rather be watching TV" (para. 4). Thus, in the right measure, stress can motivate you to excel and to perform at your best. It can be an ally when the chips are down or when you are called on to meet a demand in short order. Stress can provide that necessary "boost" to get you over the hump, to help you accomplish a tough goal, or to see you through a particularly challenging event. It can help you at times, especially when you feel the pressure or pinch to perform or meet high demands or expectations.

Therefore, one of my stressors is school. I am a doctoral student, and school stress is a large factor for me. I am called upon to write scholarly research papers, to meet demands of course assignments, and generally, to perform at a scholarly, academic level during my PhD program. This kind of stress gets to me occasionally, mostly at the end of the semester when all the assignments are due, and I am waiting on final grades. It is a temporary stress, and while I don't like the final push to the end of each semester, I enjoy my classes so much, that I put up with the stress because I know that the goal is worth the temporary discomfort. In short, I see stress as part-and-parcel with my goal of achieving my PhD.

I also have work-related stress. I love teaching, don't get me wrong, but there is stress involved in the dailyness of teaching college level courses. I stress over prepping for my classes. I stress over managing my schedule, meeting with students, grading papers, etc. I find the whole teaching process to be stressful for me. Though I would rate the stress as low-level, in that it is not overwhelming, but rather more of an annoyance. It is pressure like a tight ace-bandage wrapped around a sore ankle. I feel it, and I see it, but I don't necessarily like the compression. I know it has an end each semester, so like my school stress, I put up with it because it goes hand-and-hand with being a college teacher.

I have family tension that often erupts into stressful events. This is normal for most people. Unfortunately, family tension is common because of many reasons. Family dynamics and personalities seem to create tension especially when coupled with financial matters or sexual issues (marital problems, etc.). Family tension is one of the most difficult forms of stress simply because you cannot always disengage yourself from your family. Family is family and while we may want to forget certain members, stay away from them, or even refuse to have any relationship with them, they are still tied to us through other connectors (for example, your parents, siblings or children). Thus, family tension can be on-going or cyclical (like at holidays). It just depends on the family dynamic, relationship style, and established routines and protocols for handing difficult family members. In my case, I have family stress because of personality quirks. Generally, I get along with my family. I have a close-knit and loving family, but due to personalities, flare-ups can cause issues that affect the entire family. One family member can disrupt the whole family system. Moreover, because I am dealing with elderly parents, there are associated challenges such as dementia, physical and medical issues, that cause stress, repeated stress.

As I process these three different types of stress, I notice my response to the stressors is different. For example, with school-related stress, my response is to hunker down, work harder, plow on through to the end. I tend to perform and produce in order to overcome the stress. It is a way for me to remove the stressor from my life, and in doing so, I accomplish two things. I accomplish an end to the stress, and I accomplish an end to the goal.

My response to work-related stress is one of endurance. I consider this type of stress to be cyclical. I mean, as long as I am teaching, I will have this stress. It will start in August and end in December. It will start again in January and end in April. My summer is my release where I can relax and recuperate from the semester-long stress of teaching college courses.

In both of these cases, the stress I feel is managed because of the fact that I see "light at the end of the tunnel." I realize that the stress is short-term, relatively, and that by recognizing that there is an end in sight, I can push through it, handle it, and deal with it simply because I know that the pain I feel will be over soon.

Family tension/stress is another matter entirely. I cannot be completely free from my family stress unless I choose to relocate far from them. In doing so, I would be channelling this stress into a temporary type because it would mean that I would visit my family and endure the stressful relationship on a temporary basis -- just until it was time to go home again. But since, I live with my family at present, I have to deal with the stress as it comes. Most of the time, the stress is minimal. It may come as a result of some change in schedule or routine or it may be isolated to a specific cause (like miscommunication or a mishap). I normally can deal with this kind of stress because I understand the root cause of it. I know that some of the stress comes from the blending of two families (mine and my parents). It also comes from having two older people, a middle-aged person, and a young person living under the same roof. Competing generations cause stress simply because of communication challenges. It happens; we deal with it.

Yet, with all these kinds of stressors, I find that it is the internalization of stress that causes me the most concern. This is the kind of stress that comes as a result of worry, of doubt, and of fear. I worry over my life, the plans the Lord has for me, and the current tenor of my situation. Will I get that job? Is there a better job on the horizon? What should I do today? How will this decision impact my future goals and plans?

Internal stressors are best dealt with through prayer. If you can realize that you are stressing over things you cannot control or that are not your choosing, then you can let them go, and not worry about them. Some things will not go away immediately, but the Lord can give you His peace to help you endure the length of the trial. You can find peace in any situation, and the Lord can provide you with hope for a change at some point down the road. There is always hope, but often, we lose sight of it simply because we focus on the stress and the cause of the stress. Whenever we become microscopic, we lose sight of the bigger picture which includes the realization that our God, our Father in Heaven, is Sovereign over us. He reigns, and we can take comfort in His authority over our heads. God is good, so very good to us.

Today, I think about the stress I have in my life. Most of it is temporary, and in time, it will be resolved. Some of it is family related and there isn't much I can do except move from my family and limit my contact to them. I don't want to do that at this time, so I have to learn how to deal with the communication challenges, and general unpleasantness that comes with "doing life together." It is all part of learning how to get along in the body of Christ, and at times, it can be difficult. We must remember to trust the Lord in these situations, to let go, to give grace, and to recognize that relationships are messy, always messy. God is good, He is sovereign, and His grace is sufficient. In all things, I acknowledge Him, and I give Him praise. He is good to me, so very good to me.

Living and Looking Forward

What I know today is that my life, while at times a bit rocky, is not status quo. God is moving in and through me to bring me to the position of His choosing. He is moving me to the place of His choosing. He is moving me toward prosperity and not poverty, and He is providing me with grace and opportunity to realize that He has a unique and wonderful purpose and plan for my life. All of this moving takes time, time to negotiate changes, time to prepare for future relationships, and time to settle the past while opening doors in the present. Time is everything, and rushing through the various stages now could prove disastrous in the end. I know what I want, and I can see it over there on the horizon. I want a good life, a safe life, a happy life. I want a life where I am able to fulfill my calling in Christ Jesus, and where I can live and work according to His plans and purposes. I want a good life, a life that is upright, honorable, and holy. I want the life the Lord has for me, and I must wait while He moves everything and everyone into their places. To shorten the process, to cause steps to be missed, could end up making the outcome less than satisfactory. No, I want His best, and for that I must wait. I must wait until He is ready for me to go, to do, and to live in His way. He is God, and He is good all the time. He is so very good to me.

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