September 24, 2015

Turning Around Slowly

Well, I've made it to Thursday, and I am home after my 9:00 class at ACU. Yes, my class consisted of 12 men (the two women were away for games). Despite loads of testosterone in that room, we successfully discussed communication and the "self." Not the easiest topic to discuss with young men, but I think we did it, we covered the necessary parts. I let them out early, and I think, they were thankful for that gift of mercy. I also met my chair on the way to my car, and I had a nice visit with him. He is such a nice man, and the more I get to know him, the more I like him. He is an all-around nice guy.

So I am home now, and I have eaten my Atkins bar, and I am sipping my second cup of coffee for the morning. I am feeling better. I had a good restful night, and I woke feeling less pain, stiffness, and general malaise than the previous day. Perhaps it is because it is Thursday, and I know that I have this whole day to relax. Or perhaps it is because tomorrow is Friday -- I don't know -- I just know that I do feel better (still in pain, but not agonizing pain like last evening). Today is a good day. My parents are out all day -- bible study, lunch and then a doctors visit -- so the house is very, very quiet. My son is at school, and I am sitting in my room enjoying the peace and quiet. It is nice, so very nice, to just sit and type on the computer. No distractions, no messiness, no loud noises at all. AHH!

I am working on my PC today rather than my MAC. It is weird, really, but on Tuesday, the Lord prompted me to switch over my computer. I did as I thought He was leading, just because I trust in His nudges now, and I know that more than likely the "nudge" is a good thing, and just may be a pre-emptive sensing that something might be happening (good or bad). So I switched over the computers, and worked on the PC for a while. Later in the afternoon, I was feeling frustrated, so I switched back to the MAC. I just like working on my MAC better than my PC, and despite some issues with the software (long story -- my MAC mini runs off an external storage device because the internal drive is corrupted -- and it has had a history of software failures), I prefer to use it over the PC. I think I prefer the MAC interface, the way the computer works, the OS, the look and feel of using a MAC, etc. to that of my HP Windows machine.  I also think I am more productive when I am on my MAC. I don't know, it is just a personal thing with me.

The big issue for me, though, is that both of my machines, MAC and PC, have problems. Both systems have major, significant problems -- like the "crash and burn" kind of failure where you end up losing everything on the hard drive. Over the course of the past three years, I have used two systems just to make sure I never am left without any that work well. I keep both with nearly an identical setup just so I can switch one out for the other and keep on working. Since 2011, I have had major hardware and software failures, and I have lost valuable files (almost all my files). I started graduate school in 2010, and because I have come close to losing everything three times, I use this switch-system method to make sure I always have a computer that works and that has access to my school files.

My MAC has been behaving rather flaky lately, so last month, I upgraded my PC to Windows 10. I never liked Windows 8.1, and I had a major software failure twice under 8.0. Win 8.1 was better, but I still had major issues with the computer booting up, staying connected to WIFI, etc. In the end, I shoved it over to the side of my desk, and I only used it when I absolutely had to use it.  I had heard the hype that WIN 10 was better than 8.1, so I figured I had nothing really to lose with the free upgrade. I went ahead and did it, and in truth, I do like the new OS better than the old one. My machine seems happier, less grumpy, and I have not had any issues with it. It is also fast, and for the most part, everything (all my applications) seem fine. So far, no complaints.

My MAC, on the other hand, has been showing some signs of near failure (again). Each time I boot it, it takes longer and longer to warm up. It is so slow, and frankly, I get frustrated with all the issues I am having. Yet, I am hesitant to ditch my MAC because I love it, Apple products, in general. Right now, though, I cannot afford the cost to replace it nor can I afford to swap the hard drive (not something I can do myself) at this point in time. I digress...

Paying Attention to His "Nudge"

Back to that nudging thing...Yesterday, after I came home from GCU, I took care of some business around the house. My parents were out for the afternoon, so the house was very quiet. I wasn't feeling well at all, so I laid down on the bed and crashed for about 2.5 hours. I know, crazy, but when I woke up I was in more pain then when I laid down earlier in the day. I didn't want to do much work, and I knew that the only task I had to complete was my class prep for this morning. So, I logged into my MAC, and I began to make updates to my power point presentation. Yes, I attempted to update my PPT, but after 4-5 tries where Power Point crashed, I finally gave up. My system refused to cooperate with me, and I was fearful that my lessons would be damaged the more I tried to edit them. After about an hour of trying to get my MAC to pay attention to me, I gave in, and I switched my system over so that my PC was active (I share a monitor between the two computers). I then proceeded to work on my PPT without any problems, and before the evening was over, I had completely revamped the slides, and gotten myself in good shape for today's class session.

The moral of this story: pay attention to the Lord's "nudges" because HE DOES KNOW BEST! I am now working on my PC, hoping that I can remain settled for a time, and feeling blessed that the Lord does care about the work I do. I don't know if my pre-emptive sensing was really a "gentle nudge" from the Lord or not, but what I do know is that the feeling I had that something was quiet right, and that it might be wise for me to use my PC for a time, proved accurate. My sensing of an imminent issue worked itself out in my MAC refusing to allow me to do my school work. My PC stepped up to the challenge, and as for today, I feel that I am right where I am supposed to be.  Sigh!

With all that said, I guess the long and short of it is this, I believe that the Lord delights in the details of our life. In Psalm 37:23 NLT, David writes, "The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives." I believe this is true, and from experience, I feel that the Lord does take an interest in the casual, the mundane, and the everyday circumstances of my life. You say, PC or Mac? Really? I say, "Yes, the Lord cares for me, and He cares about my ability to do my job, complete my courses, and do the work He has called me to do!" He delights in the smallest of detail, and He is active and present in helping to guide and direct our steps. Selah!

Today, I sit here and I blog. I am enjoying the peace and quiet, and I am hoping that I can accomplish all that I have set out to do today. My task list is not long, but it is significant. I have a lot on my plate right now. I have a lot of work that must be done. Still, I know that the plans the Lord has for me are good, they are good. I am trusting in His sufficiency, in His abilities, and in His way -- He will see me through, He will cover me, and He will provide for me so that I am able to do that certain "thing" He has called me, purposed me, and planned for me to do. Selah!

Some News on Planning and Purpose

I have struggled the past couple weeks with understanding exactly what the Lord intends for me to do. I was talking with my son the other day, and I mentioned that I would need to be ready to move soon. He was wondering where I would go, what job I would do, etc., so I shared with him what I "felt" the Lord was saying to me. Of course, I don't have all the details yet, but I do have some strong feelings toward one way in particular. I think the biggest revelation is that I am set in my career path. I know, news flash! Well, to me, it has been difficult for me to accept that this is the "thing" the Lord wants me to do with my life. I have felt that this is the case, but I always believed that the "thing" the Lord called you to do would be easy, not difficult. Let me explain...

I listened to some Pastors many years ago that said to me (well, to their congregations) that when you "found" or discovered the Lord's path for you, His expressed will for your life, then you would know it because...
  1. You would have a strong sense of peace about it
  2. You would find that you naturally are inclined toward it (possess skill already)
  3. You would desire it above all other things
  4. You would do the work with ease
I believed that once I figured out my calling, all of these statements would be true. The problem was that for a long time, I had one or two of these things, but not all of them. When it came to teaching, I struggled because I didn't have any of them, so for many years, I simply believed that I wasn't meant to be a teacher. It was not my calling, and I wasn't supposed to do this work.

The funny thing was that my last job prior to teaching was one that I enjoyed greatly, and I had a natural inclination toward it. I liked being an analyst, and I was very good at it. I liked the kind of work, and I thought it was a good fit for me. The only thing I lacked was a sense of peace. I never did have a great deal of peace in that position, but I believed it was provided for a purpose, so I viewed it as a temporary measure and not "the thing" the Lord desired for me.

If I were to rate teaching, I would say that I don't have any of these four things to help me know that I am doing the thing the Lord desires of me. Teaching is not easy, for sure. I don't necessarily desire it, and I am not naturally inclined toward it. I also do not have peace, outside of a general peace that tells me I am where the Lord wants me for now. So what does this mean? Am I on the wrong path, and am I doing the wrong thing?

My mind has been fixed on this question for a long time. I have been seeking peace, ease, and the fulfillment of desire for a long, long time. I don't understand why it is not this way. I hear Pastors and preachers say the same thing that I heard some 20-30 years ago. If everyone in ministry believes this is true, then what does that mean for me? What am I to infer from this assessment?

For a long time, I believed that I wasn't called to teach. It wasn't in the Lord's plan for me because I didn't meet these qualifying statements. Furthermore, I spent a lot of years working in jobs that I didn't really like, jobs where I struggled, stressed, and strived to figure out. I never felt good about any of them, and in the end, I went from one thing to another. My family would ask me "Well, Carol, what exactly do you want to do?" I would shrug my shoulders and say "I don't know, I don't know."

How do you make rhyme or reason out of it? How do you figure out what you are called to do?

Identifying a Calling Versus a Job

It is an interesting thought to consider if there is a difference in what we do each day for work and what we think we should be doing for "ministry." I read an article by a professor at BYU recently, and in it he spoke about how difficult it is to identify a calling because of the way the world views professional careers these days. He spoke about how the nature and understanding of work has changed throughout history. In ancient times, work was considered drudgery, it was hard, and it was necessary for survival. During the Reformation, Luther wrote about work as fulfilling our calling in Christ through service to the body. In short, our work is to do whatever we are called to do based on our station in life. If we were raised by a father who was a baker or cobbler, then our calling would be to do this work, and to do it with the mind set that our efforts are feeding or shoeing the children of God. Calvin added a spiritual component to the idea of work, making work more spiritually fulfilling, but not really changing Luther's understanding of why we work. Calvin suggested that our work always has a spiritual basis since we are called to love God and love others. No matter the work we do, the job so to speak, we are to serve God with a pure heart.

It wasn't until the early part of the 20th century that the notion of work lost its spiritual connection and took on purely secular underpinnings. Work lost its religious foundation and began to be a motivating force for personal satisfaction. Our work, therefore, became a vocation, a calling where we would find fulfillment, joy, peace, happiness, and ultimately satisfaction. Unfortunately, this view of work moved God from the center of our focus and placed human achievement in its place. Work became an idol, and in order to find fulfillment, we prostrated ourselves at the altar of a job or vocation.

Moreover, since the late 1970s when there was a spiritual renewal movement in the US, churches and parachurch organizations began investing in tools to help believers "identify" a calling through a spiritual gifts test. This approach suggested that you calling was something different than your work, that you calling would be specific to the spiritual gifts you possess. This idea, I think, has caused further confusion and has created a division between work and calling. In a way, it has made it difficult understand if the work we do (practical work) is ministry or if the work we do is just a bill-paying system, and nothing more.

I know that I have fallen into the trap of seeing my spiritual gifts through this lens. I have come to see that the work I do is separate from my calling, my purpose, and in that way, I have treated my work as just a "means to an end." The more I think about it, the more I pray about it, and the more I reflect on it, I realize that my work, the work I do, is to serve the body of Christ. So whether I teach or I clean, as long as I am doing this work to serve others for Christ's name, then I am actively engaged in ministry and using my gifts as God desires. You see, I think I have been confused by the words, "calling," "vocation," and "job." I have wanted a professional career, but I have believed that having a professional career that is outside of "ministry," is somehow wrong. I realize now where that line of thinking stems. I see that my marriage, my long relationship with my ex-husband's family has colored this perspective. You see, my ex-husband came from a family of professional ministry people (PERPS). His family had a history of missionaries, pastors, and teachers in Bible schools and colleges. Almost everyone in his family was involved in full-time ministry. Therefore, any job outside of ministry, church, or a para-ministry organization was considered secular and not worthy of pursuing. Thus, if you taught school, you did so in a Christian school. If you were a missionary, pastor, or some other support person, you did so through a ministry organization or a church. In short, all "acceptable" professions must be ministry-based. No other work was approved.

I think this is why my ex-husband's parents looked down on his desire to work in business. My ex-husband was a salesman, and from the earliest days of our marriage, his parents sought to turn him from his worldly path to a religious one. It was an intensive process, this turning from secular to Christian, and he fought against it. In the end, he turned as far from Christianity as he could without fully walking away from the remnant of his faith. I came to see that the only valid job would be one in the church. For a wife, my primary role was to be a mother and wife. My secondary role, if I had to work outside the home, would be to work at church or to be a Christian school teacher. There was no other acceptable path to follow.

Thus, my early desire to be an artist was met with much disdain. My secondary interest in studying Literature was also met with vocal protest. I was slowly slipping down the slope into secular humanism as they believed, and without restraint, I would be lost forever.

Reconciling Myself to My Work

As I read this article on the nature of work and identifying your calling, the author stated how for many years his work life, his professional life seemed to take him around and around without really confirming his "calling" in life. He shared how he did many jobs that contributed to what he called the "tapestry" of his career. I liked the way he said that because his experience aligns well with mine. I never desired a career outside of being a wife and a mother. I did consider teaching children very early on, and I did think I would like to work in some capacity as an artist. But, even with those interests, I never really landed on anything that was fulfilling, satisfying or at the minimum, what I could identify as a "calling."

Now I am in my early 50s and part of me thinks that I am still trying to prove myself as worthy when it comes to the nature of my work. In truth, I have desired a "career" for the past four or five years. Why? Well, I think mostly to get my family to stop looking at me like some sort of failure. Much of my motivation has been to "prove" to others that I was good enough, on the right track, approved for service. Yet, no matter what I did for practical work, I have never been satisfied, never been happy or content. I have liked various aspects of the work I did, but never really felt like I could say "I am content to do this work from now on."

When I think about being content in one's work, I think of my Uncle Bob. My uncle was a well-respected doctor. He served for 50 years and took care of the poor in his community. He died a couple years ago after having traveled to Africa and served as a missionary doctor caring for the people of the Congo. It was a dream of his to do this work, and after being a faithful servant for so many years, loving and healing many in his local community in IN, he went home to be with the Lord. I remember him saying to me that he never wanted to do anything else. He only wanted to be a doctor, and that was the career he pursued and he lived out all the days of his life. He died in satisfaction that he ministered through his efforts in medicine. He did good practical work on this earth, and he touched the lives of many. In short, his life and his career seemed matched. He was a Godly man, loved the Lord, and loved people.

How then do I reconcile my life, my work, which has been haphazard at best, and for the most part, never provided any satisfying reward to me?

I think the only way I can come to terms with my work and my career is to realize that my calling is to love God and to love others. I cannot see any other ministry work outside of this basic calling. Furthermore, I must accept Luther's definition of work as being any job that benefits humanity, that demonstrates the love of God. Thus, whether I teach, I sculpt, or I engage in scholarly activity, my approach, my attitude, and my application must be to convey God's love for humanity. I work unto the Lord, and I do everything in order to bring Him glory. I do not seek a specific career so therefore there is no idolatry or desire to find satisfaction outside of my relationship with God alone. In this way, I can do whatever the Lord calls me to do (as in sends me out to do), and I can know for sure that I am doing what He is asking me to do.

As I ponder this question, I think about my spiritual gifts and how the Holy Spirit has empowered and equipped me to serve the body of Christ. My top gifts always seem to fall in the same order: Wisdom, Faith and Prophecy. After these three, I will score very high in administration, knowledge as well as exhortation. If you look at this list, you can see how confusing it has been for me to find that "calling" because my gifts tend to be focused on building up the body of Christ. Yes, this is my calling. I am called to exhort, encourage, and to remind the people of God that He loves them, cares for them, and that in His goodness, He has a unique and wonderful plan for their life. The only gift I possess that could be translated to a real-world job is administration. I am a gifted administrator, I know this, and I enjoy doing this type of work. I like to be ordered, logical, and structured. I am also very good at planning and at creating long-range plans. The problem as been that whenever I work in this type of job, I usually have been in a secular environment where I have had conflicts with my other gifts. You see, my desire is to equip the church, to build her up, person by person, but I cannot do this in a secular place. I can certainly help those who are lost see God in a new way, perhaps to encourage them to consider faith in Jesus, but I cannot do my top three gifts in this way. Therefore, the only place where I can use my spiritual gifts is in some ministry capacity where I am around church people every day, all day long.

The Lord has seen fit to place me at two Christian universities, and in this context, I am able to share my heart and encourage renewed faith in God. But, teaching is not a strength for me, so I teach as a way to minister to young people in a Christian environment. It is a struggle for me, but I do it, and in doing it, I am using my gifts daily. The problem as I see it is that teaching is a weaker gift for me, and while I believe that the Lord helps me, I still struggle with teaching as a career.

I guess my lot in life is to do whatever work the Lord calls me to do without ever defining a career path because my work is in His church, and there is no other place for me to do that work than in and around Christian people.

Coming to Terms with My Life

More than likely, I feel that the Lord is preparing me for some special job, some place where I will be able to fuse my daily abilities with my spiritual gifts. Is this necessary for satisfaction? I think so. I think that to come to terms with our calling and our work, we must accept the following tenets:
  1. Work in whatever capacity the Lord calls you. Luther said to whatever station you were placed, so this tells me that we are to work in whatever place, job, or opportunity the Lord provides for us. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God."
  2. Seek to demonstrate the love of God by loving others. Loving others is best done through a humble and willing heart, attitude, and mindset. We are to remember the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 22:37-38: "Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
  3. Know that whatever you do, whatever type of work you do, you are called in faith, not in service. This is a mistaken belief, but the Word speaks of our calling as a response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and not to a specific type of work. Yes, some are "called" to specific ministry positions, but whether we are placed in a full-time role such as a Pastor or Teacher, we are to demonstrate our spiritual gifts through our efforts regardless of our place, our position, or our practical work.
With that said, I can see how the Lord is using me as a teacher. Even though I find that the work is not easy, is not filled with peace, and is not a good fit for me physically, I am able to use my spiritual gifts to benefit the church. In this way, I am using my practical work to help me live a life of ministry to others in the body of Christ. Perhaps some day, the Lord will provide me with a different type of job, something less demanding, tiring, or challenging. Until then, I will do what I am able to do, and I will remember that it is in everything that I seek to honor, to worship, and to glorify the Lord. Selah!

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