August 21, 2015

Looking Toward Home

Today is a good day. Yes, it is a very good day. I am giving praise to God for my Mom's care during this difficult time as she deals with the after effects of breast cancer. Thankfully, the surgeon was able to remove all the affected tissue, and now she only requires radiation treatment to ensure that no stray cells are left that could migrate into other parts of her body. The radiation itself is the least problematic of all the treatments doctors can prescribe, but still it is taking a toll on her physically. She is very tired. Her breast is swollen and sore. She doesn't feel well. We are thankful that she isn't suffering with chemotherapy as well. I don't think she could handle the effects at all, and in truth, with her frail condition due to her Leukemia, I just don't think she could deal with the other physical side effects (like nausea, hair loss, etc.).  Furthermore, without outside help, I don't think my Dad could deal with her care either. He is already struggling -- I can see it -- and I can hear it in his voice (being short-tempered and disagreeable most days). The grind of driving my Mom over to the care facility for 17 days in a row is growing thin on him. We are blessed that she only has to go this many times, and not the 30 they originally wanted her to come. Still, it is the whole grind, the process of going and coming, and then dealing with the aftermath (excessive fatigue on top of what she already has with her CLL). Then there is her memory as it seems to fail more and more each day. I hate to say this, but I do not think we will be in this position come next year. Truthfully, I cannot see how we can remain where we are, living in this lovely home, and being able to have a routine life (like we do now). No, I really think that her condition will deteriorate, and my Dad's health along with it. I simply see the end, and in some ways, that comforts me. Yes, I think we are all looking toward home.

Planning in the Midst of Unknown Circumstances

It is difficult to make plans when you are in the midst of unknown circumstances. I am a planner by nature, and often I blog about the plans I make. I plan, plan, and plan again, simply to help bring order to what feels like chaos in my mind. I know that my life is very ordered and structured, and in general, everything is well in hand. Yet, there is a part of me that feels the sway of circumstances, and my brain starts to think "Uh oh! Time to check the plans because this movement was not expected!" I know that seems silly especially if you are not a Type-A controller like I am. Your life might be swell, just living with the give and take, the ebb and flow as events unfold. But for those of us who are controllers (of events, not of people, I should say), then any movement, any change, or any possible alteration to the plan causes us to feel unwell. This unwellness surges in us and we feel the need to get out the map and check our course. I liken it to what a course navigator does when the Captain calls out to have the coordinates checked. In my case, the Lord is my Captain, and the Holy Spirit is the Navigator. Instead of trusting these two to lead me through the deepest and most difficult paths, I feel the need to recheck the coordinates, to double-check the route, and question if we are moving in the "best" possible way. I know, sad to say it is so.

The Lord is my guide, and He directs my steps (Is. 58:11). He is the One who makes the plans for my life (Ps. 37:23), and it is He who takes delight in them. I forfeited my right to make my own plans the day I knelt at the Cross. Although I didn't relinquish my control right away, I did come to learn the way through trial and circumstance. As I have walked on this faith journey, I have come to learn that I make less judgment errors when I submit and yield to the Lord's plans as well as acknowledge that He is the One who is directing (guiding and leading) my steps. Yes, I have found that life runs smoother, has less bumps, and accomplishes more when I allow Him His rightful position as Lord over my life. Still, in my flesh, I strive to figure it all out, to be part of the leadership team, and whenever I do this, I feel the chaos, the confusion, as I try to take on roles and responsibilities that are not mine.

I know my place, surely I do. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. This means that I live in submission to His will, His way, and His word. I am not a leader of Jesus Christ, as many Christians attempt to be. No, I follow where He leads. This means that wherever He chooses for me to go, I go. I pick up my cross and I follow Him. I pack my bags, and I walk on, I walk on.

Faith Makes it Possible to Walk On

Today is a good day, a very good day. My circumstances are settled for the most part, but there is still much that is "unknown" in my life. For example, I have no real knowledge of what will come December. I will finish teaching at GCU and ACU, but I will not have any real knowledge of what I will do once January 2016 arrives. I have some plans set down such as sitting my exams here in Phoenix (in February 2016), travelling to Regent for my qualification oral defense (in March 2016), and the expectation of adjunct contracts at GCU. Other than these items, my life is an open book. I have been praying for a full-time job, knowing that in the Lord's time, He would provide one to me. It looks like now I may end up graduating almost 8 months earlier than expected, and that means that I will be in good shape for securing a full-time teaching position. When I think about doing this, I get that panicked feeling inside of me. I think about my life here in Phoenix, and I wonder if I will have the guts to move some place else. Frankly, I have only had two times in my life that I screwed up my will and moved away from home. The first was when I got married, and I moved out of my parent's home; and the second, was when we left San Jose to move to Phoenix. Both times, I went against the Lord's will for my life, and both times, I knew it -- deep down inside -- I knew it. I felt the conviction, I felt the pressure to relent, to let go, to turn around. Still, I convinced myself that I was doing the "right thing" (in man's eyes) and that it was noble to sacrifice my life in such a way. Yes, I consider these choices as self-sacrifice, but not as in Romans 12, but as in a sacrifice made in order to please someone else -- not necessarily the Lord.

I don't worry about making these same mistakes, but I do worry about the whole process. I worry if I will be able to handle what the future holds for me. I am content to remain where I am, and I have always had the security of my parents to back me up. My parents have always been there for me. They have provided material needs when I couldn't provide for myself. When I was in a bind, they stepped in and helped me out. They have always been there to catch me when I would fall. I know, you would think that at some point, they wouldn't have to do this for me, but I needed them to be there, and they did it. I am almost 53 and I should be able to stand on my own two feet, yet I feel afraid to do so. I mean, I can do it so long as I am near my parents. This has always been the case. It is like that moment when you teach your child to ride a bike for the first time. You hold on to the back of the seat and help them steady their balance. At some point, you let go and you watch them soar. You stand by and you watch. You remain close by in case you are needed, but you take comfort in their ability to navigate life on their own.My parents have always stood beside their children. They have always been there for us, and they have always been available when we needed them. Sure, there were times when they took more of a parent role then they should have, but generally, they have let us live our lives in our own way. They have remained close to us, and they have been rock solid.

It is sad for me to think that this is the way their lives will end. You never want to see your parents grow old and become frail. My folks are still in relatively good shape, as Mom likes to say to her well-wishers who call to check on her condition. They are both fairly well, all things considered. Still, their various infirmities are taking a toll on their lives, and it is just a matter of time when they will not be able to care for themselves. It is a burden I gladly bear, as do my brothers, though the ramifications of the care are significant. I mean, the cost of long-term care is exorbitant these days. Nursing and skill cared is out of reach for most Americans and that means that most older folks will need to live with their children during their last years. I am okay with this, I mean, I live with my parents now (well, we live together). How much longer, though, can we remain together in this home? This is the big question on my mind. Just yesterday, my Dad cut himself. He said he reached into a bush, but I think he tripped outside and fell into it. He won't admit it, but he has fallen twice recently, and while he wasn't injured severely, he knows that he is losing strength. In his condition (post-polio), he must conserve his strength. Polio victims suffer in a way that means that they cannot rebuild muscle strength. They simply expend what strength they have. Once it is gone, it is gone. I think this is why my Dad is so disagreeable today. He knows that he cannot physically care for my Mom, and that he needs me to do it for him. What is more is the fact that I think part of why he is unhappy is that I told him that I would be graduating earlier than expected. I wanted to share my excitement, so I shared it with him yesterday. Since then, he has been sullen and distant. I know that he is happy for me, but I know also that he is thinking that this means that I will want to move away next year rather than in 2017.

This has always been my plan. 2017 was my target date for moving from Phoenix. I remember when I first returned to graduate school in 2010, I made a plan to graduate with my Masters degree in May 2012, and then begin my PhD in September 2012. My graduation date back then was May 2016. I believed it was doable to complete my Masters in two years, and my PhD in four. I didn't expect hiccups along the way, the registrar not processing my paper work so that my graduation was delayed by a semester. This little "oops" ended up setting me a year behind my start at Regent. Instead of starting in May 2012 (summer start), I ended up starting my program the following year. In truth, this was clearly the Lord's plan because my colleagues in my cohort are my rock. I love them dearly, and I cannot imagine what my program would have been like had I entered the year previously. Granted, I know some of the folks from that cohort and they are lovely -- it is just that I have bonded with my group, and I love all them.

When I spoke with my professor on Wednesday, I really wasn't expecting him to tell me that I should plan on a September 2016 graduation date. I just didn't think it was possible. He is confident that it is, and I trust his opinion. This means that I will be finished, finished with graduate school in Fall 2016. I will be able to say finally "Carol Hepburn, PhD!" I know that seems lame or arrogant, but let me say that I plan to wear that title proudly because I have worked beyond my means to accomplish it. I cannot even tell you how difficult my path has been, how hard the coursework, the research, etc. There is no way that I will treat this achievement lightly. No, I am privileged to wear the doctor rank. The Lord provided it, He saw me through it, and I give all glory, praise and honor to Him alone. He alone is worthy of all praise, all praise, all praise!

Trusting the Lord for this Last Year

I think it really comes down to trusting the Lord. What else is there? What more can there be than to trust the Lord with your whole heart? Proverbs 3:5-6 says it this way,
Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.
Today, I may feel overwhelmed, worried a bit, and thinking that my ship is swaying a bit too much, but I rest and I rely on the Lord. He is my Captain, and He has firm control of this ship. I know that the plans He has for my life are good (Jer. 29:11), and I know that He delights in my way. He leads me, guides me, plans and purposes the details of my life, and in and through it all, He is Author and Finisher of my faith. I walk on until He calls me home. I trust Him, I rely on Him, and I rest in Him. He is my Provision, my Security, and He is my Hope.  Selah!

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