May 4, 2015

Speaking Words

I study Communication at Regent University. I am not sure how I came to be a communication student, but suffice it to say, I am one. I started on this path with great hesitation. I was one of those students who never really knew what they wanted to study. In the beginning, way back in the beginning, I vacillated between a number of "possible" career paths. I guess I found the pursuit of knowledge fascinating so much that I never could decide on one way only. In the end, I bounced back and forth between disciplines, mostly in the Humanities and Arts, before I landed squarely in the Social Sciences. I am still bent toward Humanities, and I have a deep love for all things literary. But there is another part of me that enjoys theory and the demands of thinking abstractly about the "whys and wherefores" of social behavior. In some ways, I think perhaps I should have become a sociologist or an anthropologist since this is what I enjoy most. I enjoy thinking about why people do what they do, why they make certain choices, and how the "idea" becomes an "action." Yes, I am in communication study because it is the place where these kinds of thoughts can be realized, where a person can have free reign to play with ideas, and to conceptualize outcomes. It is a proving ground of sorts, and in this play area, there is freedom to pursue whatever idea or notion strikes your fancy. I like that about the social sciences, where "A HA" moments can turn into research projects, where deep concerns can be analyzed through a theoretical lens, and where questions, yes questions, can finally be answered. It is a good fit for my analytical mind, and it is a comforting place to reside, academically speaking. I find that I enjoy communication study more and more with each passing day.

Today I am a graduate student, tomorrow I will be a full-time professor. Of course, between today and tomorrow (figuratively speaking), I have much to complete. I have to finish my remaining courses, tackle my exams, and then write my dissertation. I am ending my time in class (this fall), but will begin the next big adventure as I work toward graduation. I feel uncertain today, mostly because I feel as though I am not "good enough" for exams. So many of my colleagues have gone before me, and they were successful in their exams. However, I feel less than prepared, less than ready to take this next step. Yet, here I am, and my prayer is that the Lord go before me to prepare a way. I am at Regent in response to His calling, and my hope, my prayer, and my desire is to accomplish the work He has called me to complete. There is much work to do, and praise be to God, I am ready to do His work. I cannot think about tomorrow (just yet) because there is plenty to do today. So be it, thy will be done!

It is a curious thing to say this because just last week I was walking in such peace, I felt so calm, and so in control again. Now, I have this sense of stress, of dread, and of panic. Why is this so? What has happened for me to lose my cool, lose my focus, and to lose that sense of rest?

As I ponder these questions, I think it is because of two things in particular. One was a conversation I had with a colleague this morning. She is struggling with so many things right now, and she is doing her best to keep her life under control. She attends Regent with me, though we only see one another for our weekly residence, and we text occasionally as the need arises. I felt the need to encourage her, to lift her up in prayer, and to listen to her as she shared her story with me. God seems to be calling me to this type of work -- to listen to people's stories -- and then share some word of encouragement with them. It is a funny thing because lately it seems this is what I have been doing frequently. My story doesn't matter; my discomfort is not important. It is all about listening to other people, letting them share their sorrows, and then supporting them in those sorrows. I am finding that I listen rather than speak, I communicate only after they have shared their story with me. I am not perfect in this work, I still interject too much, but I am learning. I am learning how to listen, how to wait while others share their needs with me. The more I do this, the more I practice it, the better I will become at ministering to others. I believe this is what the Lord desires from me, and I believe this is what He intends for me to do. It seems natural, it just happens, and I go with it, and I let it be. God seems to choose the people for me to minister to and He seems to know that they need me to listen to them. I marvel at His work, how He chooses to do it without any fanfare. There is no hustle or bustle, but just a calm quiet approach that says "I am listening to you."

Communication is often perceived as speaking or the act of speaking, but it is very much a discipline of listening too. While the emphasis seems to be on the speaker most often, there is messaging and intention that falls somewhere in between the sender and the receiver. Active, intentional listening is critical to communicating shared understanding. This is an area where I am very interested in research. I want to learn how to actively listen and engage people for the purpose of ministering to them. You see, it is easy to have a conversation. Two people can speak, send messages back and forth, and there is some level of understanding, of comprehension that takes place. This happens every single day, and it often happens without much effort or thinking. However, to make a deep connection with another person, there must be more than sending-receiving of messages. To connect deeply, spiritually, and with intention, there must be more. I believe that this is the love language that God uses with us. God doesn't just send-receive messages. He is intentional, and He speaks deeply into our souls -- He speaks life changing words to us -- and through the communicative act, we are changed. Our lives are ministered to when the Lord speaks to us. I believe that we are to be like that with other people, with the people God sends to us. We are to speak life changing words to them, the kind of words that build up and edify. Yet, so very often, this is not what happens at all. Most of the time, the words we speak are useless, meaningless, and often they inflict pain instead of bringing praise.

My friend needed me to listen today, and I was glad I was able to do this for her. I thank God that He gave me the opportunity to minister in this way today.

The second thing that happened, I think, was the "thing" that sent me feeling stressed. I received a request today to write another letter of recommendation for a friend, a colleague. I have been asked a couple times to do this, and I am glad to help out. I am praying for my friend, for the Lord's will, and for a job for her because I know they need the income. The request for a letter wasn't really the thing that got me going today, rather it was the job position she is applying for, and the way I felt when I read the description. My friend is in the same field as I am, so the positions she is seeking are similar to what I will be seeking eventually. I guess the process of applying for these positions is what gets me down. I mean, getting a full-time teaching position is difficult, really difficult. I see that now, and when I think about it, I get depressed. I am happy teaching adjunct at GCU and ACU. In fact, I am really happy about teaching adjunct in general. I have been wanting a full-time position for awhile, and I often will say that I am looking for one now. In truth, I have been looking for a full-time position for about 6-months. I applied to a number of open jobs, but nothing came about from them. I am thankful for the consideration, but in truth, the positions I applied for were OK but not 100% spot on to what I wanted to do. They were all very good jobs, but none seemed to be "made for me." Let me explain...

I feel called into ministry, probably more so today than ever before. I teach, and I am blessed to be a teacher, but I do not feel that this is the ministry the Lord intends for me to do. I have always said that teaching is a job for me, it is what I do, and while I am thankful for it, it is not the "thing" the Lord wants me to do. I could easily be an analyst or a marketing person, and I would feel the same way. These are jobs that pay the bills, that provide income and benefits and are practical work. I consider them this way, they are the everyday jobs that we must do to live in our world. The work I do, however, is not bound up in these every day jobs. The work I do is for the Lord, and that work is eternal and life-changing. I pray I have the opportunity to participate in this kind of work every day so that I can be about my "Father's business." I am thankful for the opportunities that do come my way. I am thankful for the open doors when I can speak life into a person whom God has brought to me. However, the daily work I do is often a grind. I get tired easily, and I struggle sometimes to fit in the demands, to manage it all. Still, the work (practical) is blessed, and I give Him thanks for providing it to me.

Teaching, therefore, is a means to an end. I like it, and now that I have been doing it for three years, I am comfortable being called a teacher. I cannot imagine doing any other work right now. I mean, I really cannot imagine wanting to do any other work. I am content, I guess, to be a teacher for the rest of my life and to do this practical work. I want to do my best, always, and I plan to spend this summer working to improve my technique, my presentation style, and my approach to pedagogy. In all, I want to be the best teacher I can be, and that will require some work on my part. I am willing to study hard to learn how to become more professional in the classroom, less teacher/mom like, and generally, a stronger facilitator of content. Now that I know this is what I am to do for my career, I am comfortable in the work involved. I know that I need to improve in these areas simply to perform better. I am confident in my abilities, my faith in the Lord, and in His provision for my path. I want to do my best in this work because it is the work the Lord has provided for me to do.

So what then is my calling, you ask? Great question! I am not sure other than to say that I am called as an exhorter, and as such, I am programmed (wired) to encourage Christians, well anyone really, to continue to be faithful to the Lord, to seek His wisdom, guidance, and grace. I am not called, per se, to preach the Word, but I do it when I exhort. I am not called to evangelize, but I do it when I encourage (especially if the person is not a Christian). In short, I encourage and build up individuals in order for them to see God's Goodness in their lives. It is my calling, for sure, but the way in which I live out that calling, well, that is still a bit of a mystery.

I exhort when I teach, for sure. I encourage when the Lord leads me to people who need an ear and a hug. I build up egos and esteem, reaffirm identity, and address false truths and faulty thinking. I try to use my abilities, my spiritual gift, in every way, every day, whenever possible. I am still learning how to use it, and I still make mistakes at times. Overall, I believe that my calling as an exhorter is now part of who I am, and it is the gifting of the Holy Spirit that puts me in the places where I can be used. Thus, while I know this for certain, what I don't know is how the Lord intends to use me in ministry. I feel called to minister, like full-time ministry, yet I am teaching and reaching people through my daily activities. I feel like I am to do "something," but what that something is right now is a mystery.

This leads me back to the reason why I felt so depressed today. I read the job description for the position my friend is interest in. I read it with interest because I wanted to see what the credentials and requirements were for the position. As I read it, I had this sinking feeling, this sense of "well, that will never be me." Then I started to look at other jobs at this school, and with each posting, I felt all the more depressed. I then looked at GCU, where I work now, and I noticed that while they do have a few professor roles open, most are in Nursing, Healthcare or Business. The rest of the positions are adjunct or service roles. So as I look at these jobs, my heart sinks a bit, and I wonder "where will I end up, where will I find a permanent job?"

Moreover, as I think about the jobs that are available out there, and I consider whether I will teach English or Communication, what I find is that I do not desire to teach communication. I know, right? It is my field, and I love the study of communication. It is just that I don't desire to teach communication courses. I love teaching English, writing and literature, and while I do enjoy cultural study (I weave this into my courses), the plain truth, is that I don't see myself being happy teaching intercultural, organization, speech or any other derivation of a communication course. I ponder this, and I think this is why I felt so "ick" when I read the job post today. I thought "I don't want to do this, Lord. I don't want to teach these types of classes."

I want my friend to succeed, and to find that "perfect job" that will meet her needs. I want to have a full-time job too, but my heart longs for something else now, for another type of job. I find myself thinking about 'career' positions, and it is like that desire has just evaporated from me. If you would have asked me a year ago what I wanted to do, I would have said that I wanted to work as a full-time professor, earn a good income and conduct research. Now, what do I want to do?

I want to work in whatever type of job the Lord brings to me. I want to live a modest, yet comfortable lifestyle, and I want to enjoy the blessings of life-long companionship. I see working as a means to an end now, and not as anything that identifies me. I am a teacher. I am glad to be a teacher, but what I want more than anything else is to be a part of another person's life, to live and to love, encouraging, supporting, and building them up so that they can do the work the Lord has called them to do. I want to be in full-time ministry, even if that ministry is behind the scenes as a wife, a mom, a Sunday School teacher or as a full-time instructor (note the word, not professor, but instructor).

I realized this when I read the job post today. I realized that I don't want that type of life. I don't care about power, prestige or position. No, I want to teach young men and women how to write well, how to succeed in college, and how to perhaps make good life choices (to choose the Lord first and foremost). I want to teach young people what I know about communication, how to make friends, develop deep significant relationships, and what it means to be a Christ-follower.  I want to spend the rest of my days loving one person, one man, cherishing him, encouraging in him, and working along side of him so that he can be the person God is calling him to be. I want to spend my time being active in the pursuit of speaking words into the lives of people that bring them hope, that help them heal, and that point them toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, this is what I want to do, nothing more, nothing less. I want to be used by God every single day, in whatever the capacity, to show people the way -- the way to live, to living Godly lives, to redeeming the time, and to investing in the building of God's church on earth. This is my calling, I believe it is so, and I am most content when I am doing the thing, these things, that God has purposed and planned in my heart to do. I am good, so very good. I am at peace. I am enjoying the blessed day that the Lord has graciously given to me today.

As I consider all this today, I am reminded of the fact that God said it was not good for man to be alone. In that statement, God created woman, and with His blessing, He commanded them to be fruitful and to multiply. I am too old to bear children, but my heart longs to see people of all ages come to know the blessedness of our Lord and Savior. I feel that my calling, in short, is to build up and equip people with the knowledge that Jesus is Lord, and that they can come to know Him in ever increasing depth and dimension. I am called to encourage, to speak words that affirm and esteem, so that each person I meet can receive what they need to accomplish the will of the Lord in their life. It is a mighty task, one that I don't rightly know how to do, but one that is vital to the health of the church. I trust the Lord to provide everything I need to do His work. He has me well-covered, and He has provided me with everything I need -- a good practical job, a home, a family, extended education, opportunity for advancement, and the blessed hope of a marriage some day. Yes, the Lord has changed my life around, and I am now completely redirected, moving toward something I never thought I would want, with a fervor that tells me that "it is good." I am heading in a new direction, and I feel so content about it. I feel such peace, such blessed peace as I walk in this way. God has taken this broken woman and given her a new identity, a new life, and a new set of dreams. I am blessed, so abundantly blessed this day.

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