August 12, 2015

Celebrating Small Achievements

Today is a good day. I woke feeling refreshed even though I passed a rather difficult night. My heart was deeply grieved, and I longed to be comforted and consoled. I struggled through some painful reminders that brought back memories that I had pushed deep into my subconscious mind. I spent most of the night in prayer as I tried to reconcile myself to the suffering I endured through most of my childhood and youth. My heart ached and my head throbbed as I recalled these memories. As I processed each one, visiting the memory, reflecting on the past, and then accepting the truth as the Holy Spirit revealed it to me, I couldn't help but experience the momentary pain of a long-healed wound. Yes, my wounds have healed. The emotional pain and the trauma I endured long ago has since passed, yet the place where the wound remains, well, it is still tender, and it is easily bruised. I know that the Lord has given me grace to recover, grace to accept my past hurts and move on with my life. Still, there is pain in the remembrance, pain in the reflection because with this type of wound, complete healing will not come until I go home to be with the Lord (Selah!)

Today I am reminded of the blessed words uttered in the writings of Jeremiah. In Lamentations 3:22-24, the Prophet writes,
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,Because His compassions fail not.They are new every morning;Great is Your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,“Therefore I hope in Him!”
Yes, great is the Lord's faithfulness! His compassion fails not and His mercy is new every morning (Selah!)

As I process what has transpired, and how a simple conversation started a night of sorrowing and sadness, I remember that it is God's mercy that has saved me, it is His mercy that reminds me of His great love for me, and it is His love that enables me to endure all things. My hope is in the Lord for He is my portion and my cup!

Celebrating Small Achievements

Despite feeling lonely and lost today, I rejoice for the Lord has lifted my head, and He has restored to me His goodness and His favor in my work situation. Praise be to God, His mercy endures forever!

Earlier in the week, I noticed that one of my classes at GCU had been dropped off my schedule. This is not uncommon as GCU is always shuffling students around and will reassign classes at the last minute. This same thing happened to me last semester, and thankfully, I was able to pick up another class that provided enough income to cover me through the spring. I had hoped to teach four classes this fall, even though I was concerned about the volume of work and whether or not I would be able to keep up with my studies at Regent. I am a bit overwhelmed right now, but I know that what I am set to do is of the Lord, and therefore, He will see me through it. Yes, what He has brought me to -- He will see me through -- to the end, to His finished work (Praise God!)

It would be untrue to say that I was completely content to teach three classes (two at GCU, one at ACU), but I was adapting to the idea, believing that it was the Lord's will since it did indeed happen suddenly. In many ways, I was relieved to teach less time and to have fewer papers to grade. In other ways, I worried about my expenses and whether I would have "enough" to cover my needs for the fall term. Still, I trusted the Lord for He knows my needs, and He is my provider (Jehovah-Jireh). He is the Master Scheduler in my view, and that means that it is up to Him where I teach, what I teach, and how often or many courses I teach each semester. He handles all these needs, and I simply do as He says, I obey and I follow His leading and guiding in my life (Selah!)

I have been praying about my fall and my spring course load, all with anticipation of what the Lord might want me to do or if He was thinking of moving me to another state for full-time work. It is with a heavy heart that I think about moving, not because I do not want to move, but rather because of my current situation, living here with my parents and son, and dealing with my Mom's illness and debility. I want to go where He leads me, but I struggle with the timing because of what I know my Mom is experiencing. It hurts my heart to think about leaving my parents, to let them fend for themselves at this stage in their life. Yet, I know I must go when He calls me forward, and I know that no matter what appears to be true today, it is only the Lord who knows what tomorrow will bring. I trust in Him, and I rest in His provision and security (Selah!)

Thus, as I prayed about all of this yesterday, I felt the Lord pressing upon me to visit GCU's website. I normally do this during the week, at least once or twice, just to see if there is any news that I need to be aware of before school starts on the 24th of the month. I felt Him saying that I should visit the careers link, so I obeyed. As I sorted the jobs, one of the top posts was a position for adjunct faculty to teach COM 100 - Fundamentals of Communication. The jobs post said they needed someone MWF at 7 a.m. (yuck!) I started to apply for this position, knowing of course that GCU never responds to my application. Instead, I asked the Lord if I should email the Dean directly, rather than post my interest via their online jobs board. I felt the Lord say to me that I should do this, and so I did. I sent off an email and within 10 minutes, I had my response back: yes!

I am not overly happy about teaching an early class like this, but the more I think about it, the more it seems like a good idea. I am on campus from 12-3, MWF as is now so adding in an early morning class works. I wasn't sure about the big lag time in between, but then I started to think about it and I realized that I could spend 3-4 uninterrupted hours working on my Regent school work in the Library or in the lounge. I could bring my laptop and make use of that time without having to worry about traveling to and from campus. Furthermore, as I considered this opportunity, I started to think that the class itself would be a good one for me to teach this semester. The class description is:
COM 100 - This course is an introduction to the field of communication with emphasis on the history of communication study, relevant communication theories guiding current research, the contexts in which communication occurs, and issues faced by students of communication. The course focuses on introducing students to various communication models as well as theories and skills in interpersonal communication, small group communication, mass communication, intercultural communication, and public communication.
In many ways, this class mirrors the course I teach at ACU each fall. It will use a different textbook, but the course itself is similar. What is more is the fact that I am TA'ing in a doctoral level History of Communication class this fall as well. So with all things considered, it appears as though the Lord has given me a fourth class to teach, but one that is so similar to what I am already teaching that the prep work will be minimal and the teaching load easy.

Of course, I have no idea how many students are enrolled in this 7 am class. My hope is that the class size is not gigantic, but if it is, so be it. I will do my best, and I will make the most of the class opportunity.

Making Sense of It All

In Communication study, there is a theory called Sense Making. Sense Making Theory is the process by which people make sense of their experiences. In many ways, my blog is a perfect example of sense making theory in practice. I write about my experiences and through the process of communication, I attempt to make sense of my experiences. I used reflection technique to aid me, but generally, I create sense out of my life experiences in order to help me understand myself and my place in God's kingdom. Weick and other researchers studied sense making as it related to information processing, systems, and organizational communication. Sense making theory bridges the gap between human computer interaction, sociology, and psychology.

Likewise, Sense Making Theory is often coupled with another theory called "meaning making." Durkeim's Meaning Making Theory also attempted to clarify and categorize how individuals make sense by suggesting that human social interaction and structure were necessary for making sense. Another theory called transformative learning (Mazirow) suggests that from a psychological standpoint, meaning making or sense making occurs as an individual comes to understand their self better. Elias (1997) states, "Transformative learning is the expansion of consciousness through the transformation of basic worldview and specific capacities of the self; transformative learning is facilitated through consciously directed processes such as appreciatively accessing and receiving the symbolic contents of the unconscious and critically analyzing underlying premises" (p. 3).

Transformative learning suggests that there are three aspects to the process of making meaning: understanding the self (psychological), revision of belief (conviction), and changes in lifestyle (behavioral). Mezirow (1975) posits that transformational learning enables individuals to "construe, validate, and reformulate the meaning of their experience" (as cited in Cranton & King, 2003). The process of reflection is critical to helping individuals understand their experiences. Mezirow (1991) asserts that critical reflection of their experiences "leads to a perspective transformation" (p. 167).

Thus, as I reflect on my own experiences, I am attempting to make sense of them. Writing for me is the process by which I use to gain perspective on my life, to understand my role, my actions, and my behaviors as I interact and socially engage with others in relationship. For me, this process of reflection, of writing and communicating my experience enables me to gain a deeper appreciation of the work of faith in my life. Through this process, I am able to identify aspects of my faith as I explore the deeper connections of suffering, sorrow, and sadness.

Looking Forward While Reflecting on the Past


Some people will say that it is not good to dwell on past experiences, that it is better to move on, to pick up, and to look forward. I read with great interest whenever I see this quote posted on social media. There are variations of this theme, but generally they all suggest a humanistic perspective that champions personal power. 

  • Alyson Noel -- "Our past may shape us, but it doesn't define who we become."
  • Dave Ursillo -- "The past does not define us; what does is only what we choose to be."
  • George Elliot -- “It's never too late to be what you might have been.”
  • Amit Sodha -- "Only the past is destiny, the future is as free as you choose it to be.”

The problem, as I see it, is the fact that so many people seek to be free from the experiences of their past. I get it, I mean I do. No one wants to live their life as a victim of another's choices, yet in reality, we are all victims of one person's choice. I mean, my parents made the choice to have a fourth child, and I am the result of that choice. Praise be to God, my parents are good people, and I had a relatively good life under their care. Yet, I didn't choose to be born. I didn't go before God and say "make me be born!" No, I was the result of a conscious decision on the part of my parents to enlarge their family. I am thankful for that decision, and I appreciate the life that was given to me. However, I am not responsible for that choice. It was given to me by my parents.

The real issue at stake here, in my view, is that many people see the past as a constraint. They see the past and the experiences they had as something they desire to forget. Yes, I know that there are some people who only live in the past, but I would hazard to guess that the number of those who live in the past versus the number of those who bank on the future would be a lot less, and here is why I think so. First of all, generally people who live in the past are individuals who have spent their lives -- they are at the end of their life. These are the folks that are staring death square in the face and they know the number of their days are limited. The majority of people I know live on a "wish and a prayer" because they are always borrowing today to pay for tomorrow (another good quote). Furthermore, since the late 1980s and the rise of pop psychology, the emphasis on individuals affirming personal responsibility and integrity shifted in favor of a self-centered approach to life. Everything suddenly became all about ME. Meism is rampant in our society today. And, since I am at the center of my world, the universe I exist in revolves around my needs, my wants, and my desires.

Therefore, by definition, the past may have not served my interests well, so it is best to forget it, and to move on to where I can control the future to ensure that I remain set in the middle of everything. According to the Oxford Advanced Learning dictionary, when we define something, we are attempting "to say or explain what the meaning of a word or phrase is." Thus, when we allow our past to define us, we are allowing those experiences to explain the meaning of who we are, what we think, or what we do. In short, when our past defines us, our past speaks on our behalf and it bears witness to who we are today. You see, our past experience is a valuable tool for assessment. Our past does define us, but since we are not a static entity like an object that possesses no ability for transformative learning, we can learn, discover, and grow. In short, we are transformed through these experiences, but only if we allow them to define us, to stand in and provide meaning to our lives.

I believe that individuals who use this quote make a serious error and interrupt the process of transformation. I believe that when we refuse to take responsibility for our past, all of our past, we short-circuit the process that can result in transformational learning and living. As Christians, it is vitally important that we do not do this because our past is part of our testimony, and it is the witness that tells the world the story of true Transformation. Yes, we are born again through our faith in Jesus Christ, and in this conversion experience, our past is reframed in order to provide us with experiences that demonstrate the spiritual renewal of our new birth. Thus, we must not forsake our past. We must accept it, understand it, and allow it to be one of the reasons why we are no longer living in that way. Instead, we give credit where credit is due, and that is to tell the world of the marvelous work that has occurred in our life, and that we are no longer held captive to the former life we lived. You see, all the self-help gurus and marketing whizzes out there who want people to run from their past and embrace "choice, change, and contentment" in their future, mistake the truth of the matter. They say our past doesn't define us, that we are free to be whatever we want to be, to believe whatever we want to believe. The truth of Scripture is this…
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Romans 8:1-2, NIV).
For me, my past does define me because it gives meaning to who I am today. I am not an entity without any start or finish. No, I am a human being who has suffered, who has been wounded, and who as overcome the pain and the sorrow of personal experience. I may not like the experiences I had in my childhood and my youth, but I recognize that the person I am today is a direct result of those experiences. Yes, those experiences have shaped me, made me tough, strong, and resilient. They have also made me sympathetic to others, especially individuals who are going through similar trials. I use my past to help bring healing to others. I recognize that while I am not stuck in the past, living with regret or shame or pain, I still carry those things around with me. I may want to off-load that baggage, but I cannot because the wounds are part of me. You see, no matter how much you heal, you will always bear a scar from the injury. The scar may fade in time, but it will still be there, it will be a part of you until your body ceases to exist. Emotion and physical wounds are similar -- they each create scars. The main difference is that emotional scars are tied to psychological wounds that are buried deep inside the recesses of our minds whereas physical scars are on display for the world to see. We may attempt to cover up the physical scars, but they will always show through in one way or another. Likewise, emotional scars will show as well, no matter how we may try to hide them from our loved ones.

Therefore, instead of hiding the wounds we carry with us, I say that we should proudly bear them. We should do this with great humility and without a sense of right or wrongness. We should know and recognize that these scars are tribute to the fact that we were wounded, but we survived. We survived whatever brutal attack may have occurred. We survived.

Caged Bird by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

There is no shame in bearing our wounds. There is no shame in choosing to be defined by our past. The only shame is in running from these experiences, from never fully accepting them, reflecting on them, and realizing that they are our witness, they are our testimony, and they can bring healing and help to those around us who are hurting and in need of comfort.

References

Cranton, P. & King, K.P. (2003). Transformative learning as a professional development goal. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 98, 31-37.

Elias, D. (1997) It's time to change our minds: An introduction to transformative learning. ReVision, 20(1).

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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