October 25, 2015

Making the Turn

I'm not sure why the lyrics to the song, "Turn, Turn, Turn," by the Byrds has popped into my head right now, but it has, and my thoughts are running toward Ecclesiastes 3:1. Yes, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens!" I guess it is because it is fall, and I am longing for the cooler temperatures, the changing colors, and the coming days of winter. I am one of those weird people who actually loves winter. I think Autumn is by far my favorite season, but Winter is second, and just the thought that we are about to greet November, gets me all giddy inside. Yes, I am all giddy over the change of the seasons.

I am thinking about how I loved this time of year as a child. I loved the crush of the leaves, the smell of wood burning in fire places, and the damp days as the sun seemed to stay up only "so long" each day. Before long, the pang of cold would hit, and then the snow would fall, and well, Christmas would be upon us. I so loved Christmas as a child. I looked forward to it with excitement and anticipation, and not just because we exchanged gifts, but rather it was the way my Mom always made Christmas special for us. It was just a special time of the year when we would decorate, listen to songs, and enjoy family time. The holidays were special for me, and as such I loved all the prep and time spent getting ready for their arrival. In some ways, I feel that my life has become rushed and pressured, so much so, that I no longer have time to enjoy the season. There is a part of me that wants to rest now and just enjoy the blessing and the beauty of God's glorious season!

As I sit here today, I cannot help but marvel at the majesty of God's intervention in my life recently. I know I have blogged about my depression, and how badly I have felt the past couple weeks (er, months) as I became accustomed to my schedule this semester. This is my last semester at Regent (as a student), and the transition from doctoral student to candidate has taken a huge toll on me. Furthermore, as I struggled to deal with my feet and legs due to my teaching schedule, and the difficult time I am having making it to class at 7 am, my preoccupation with whether or not I was doing "the best" thing (aka, a career) has surged to the forefront of my thoughts. Yes, I have been preoccupied, and as such, I have worried, fretted, and anxiously debated if I am doing the "right thing" with my life. I confessed my situation to the Lord last weekend, and then throughout this week, I continued to seek Him daily for confirmation. Should I go or should I stay?

This weekend has been rough, well, yesterday was rough. I woke up feeling the worst I have in months, and I thought to myself that I couldn't go on, I couldn't face another week or the mounting to-do list that faces me as I turn into the final weeks of this grueling semester. For the first time since I began my doctoral program, I felt like giving up, really giving up. What's more, as I struggled with my list, trying to stay on top of it, I also felt as though I needed to give up on my work. I kept thinking "this too shall pass," but the more I would say that aloud, the more I felt like I was sinking under the weight and certainly the only thing that would pass, would be me (as in pass out!)

Yesterday, was a turning point for me. I came to terms with my situation. I finished my analysis after a long, long two years of study, and I came to the conclusion that the reason I am where I am is because I refused to "go" where the Lord was clearly telling me to go. For some readers, this may seem outlandish, and quite a leap from stress to disobedience, as if somehow I just willy-nilly decided that my life was filled with stress because I was disobedient to the Lord. I know, for many people, stress is just a part of life, and for some people (like me), stress is simply a killer. Between my chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia as well as my other structural issues (back/hip alignment, for example), well, stress is something I have been told to avoid (er, manage). My life, thus, is all about managing stress. It always has been, and I know better. I know what to do and not to do, and I know when things get out of whack that often it is because I have made a decision to do something and that decision has impacted my work/life balance. In short, I tip the scales one way or another, and my life slides out of balance. This balancing act, therefore, is something I manage through prayer, obedience to the Word, and careful application just to make sure that I don't willingly do anything that would cause my well-being to be put in jeopardy (so much as I can control).

So despite what others may think, for me, stress is a key indicator that something is not right with my life, something is out of whack, and something is clearing tipping the scales one way more than the other. Stress is "a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. In other words, it's an omnipresent part of life. A stressful event can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, causing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to surge through the body" (Psychology Today, 2015). For me, stress triggers that adrenaline rush, and since my adrenal system is already on overload (from a life of stress triggers), I have to manage my stress level to keep from going overboard. I came very close to being depleted this time around. I came so close that I thought I wasn't going to recover. But, praise be to God, I was able to short-circuit the meltdown before I ended up needing a major rest.

People react to stressors in different ways. Not everyone experiences stress similarly, and not everyone uses the same skill mechanisms to deal with the stressors in their lives. The problem with stress is that it is a part of life, and there is little we can do to avoid it. We can learn to manage the triggers, which is what I have done, so that I can avoid the most harmful stressors. I have learned to manage my life to such an extent that I am able to be fairly productive even when under a great deal of stress. But, and this is key, I know my breaking point. I've been there before, so I know what triggers will send me past it. I don't want to break down ever again, and I have the Lord to thank for that blessing. He has brought me back from the brink of severe depression to the point where I am able to live productively and engage in rather heady pursuits. Yet, I know that without His direct influence and intervention in my life, truthfully, I wouldn't be here today. He has saved me time and time again, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Today, I woke up refreshed, like really refreshed. I haven't felt this way in months, well not since last summer when I had no pressure at all. I slept well, and I woke up feeling good. I has some slight aches and pains, but nothing like the previous 2-4 weeks where I could barely get out of bed and walk to the bathroom. I took my time this morning, but I made it to church, and enjoyed a wonderful message on evangelism and discipleship. After church, I came home and I rested some more. I spent time with my Mom, and then I took a short nap, just to relax a bit before working on my projects and papers. It is now 7:39 p.m. and I am about to wrap up my work for the evening (after this blog post). I plan to enjoy my evening, rest some more before turning in early tonight. It has been a good day, a very good day, and in short, I am feeling better about my life, my path, and the plans the Lord has for me.

The Turning Point 

As I was driving over to church today, I was praying in the car, and the Lord spoke truth into my life. I realized that I had been lax in obeying His call to go, and in doing so, I have been 'stuck' in this place, sort of a "whalish experience" that I liken to the biblical narrative of Jonah and his refusal (at first) to go to Ninevah. While the Lord wasn't sending me out to a specific place (as I had once thought), I came to terms with the fact that the Lord did clearly tell me to go, and I said I would, but in the end, I didn't actually go. I remained where I was, and in doing so, I have suffered a slow degree of burn, sort of that burn that slowly depletes you, almost to the point of extinction. Once I realized that I had actually disobeyed the Lord, I confessed it, and I asked the Lord if I may still go where He is sending me. I believed His answer to me was "yes," so as I made it to church, and settled in to the service, I felt relaxed and confident that the Lord would help me get turned around, and would provide a way for me to get back to my "Ninevah."

It was right as the service started that I received that word of testimony from the Lord. Our new Missions pastor was introduced to the congregation today, and as I listened to him, I couldn't help but hear myself saying aloud, "Lord, this is what I want to do." In a rush of a moment, I realized what I had said, and how the Lord had told me some 4-5 years ago what He intended me to do for ministry (down the road). It was all part of the plan for my life, and it was the "thing" that started me on the journey toward becoming a PhD candidate. In just one small story, I saw my life, and the part of my life that motivated me turn back on. It was light a little light bulb moment, you know, when you get that "A Ha!" feeling and you just "get it."

Well, for me it was something the new pastor said. He was remarking how in the past 200 years the mission field has been Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and that now all these folks are embracing Matthew 28:19 -- the great commission -- to "go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." With this verse, the pastor said something that jarred me from my seat, something that made me sit up and take notice. He said that all these people have this verse underlined in their Bibles and they are ready to go and do this work, but that someone has to teach them how to do it, how to go, how to make disciples. I know it seems really silly, but in my ethnocentric worldview, there is a part of me that assumes that Western Europe, of which America was a part, was the catalyst that changed the world through embracing Jesus' command. It is weird to think that people from the countries that have been evangelized will now be the ones the Lord sends out. I cannot explain what it meant to me, but in that moment, I realized that this is what the Lord has been calling me, preparing me, and equipping me to do. I have always known that my role was to be part of that education process, to use my communication study and skill to help equip people for ministry. I just didn't put two and two together until I heard this pastor say it. I still don't have it all figured out, but what I do know is this: my path is to be a part of this work, and that means that I am to go and do this work, this global work to equip ministers to preach the good news.

I left the service today feeling convinced that this is the Lord's will for my life. I prayed all the way home, and I knew that this is what I have been trained to do. All my study at Regent has prepared me to work in organizational communication, to engage in interpersonal and intercultural communication, and to use technology (mediated content) as a means for sharing the message of Christ. I see it now, I get it, and I realize that this is why the Lord chose to send me to Regent, and why I have been studying so diligently these past three years. Now, I am ready, I am ready to go, and guess what? I have refused to go. My Ninevah was waiting for me, but out of fear of the unknown, I simply chose to do things my own way.

It if funny, really sad, I mean, but so often, I would pray to the Lord, asking Him, no begging Him to tell me why I was stuck, why I felt so awful, so like a failure, and why I wasn't able to experience the blessing, the favor, the amazing goodness that I first felt when I embraced this path. I mean, I rationalized it as stress, hard work, school, etc., almost anything that made some iota of sense to me. But deep inside, I always felt that there was some other unresolved tension. I knew that I was contending with the Lord, striving, struggling against Him, and throughout this time, I would relent, and let go. But then the pattern seemed to repeat itself, and I would find myself stuck again, stuck and feeling so depleted, so awful, overwhelmed, anxious, and uncomfortable. So I would pray, and then I would hear His voice say to me, "You cannot have what you want," and I would sit and try to figure that out. What did I want, Lord? What was it that I wanted that was not meant to be? I would ask Him, praying, crying, and begging Him to help me understand, and I would hear His voice say "What you want, you cannot have." It was like a merry-go-round ride. I would strive, struggle, and stress, and He would calmly remind me that I couldn't have what I wanted. I would walk away thinking, "I don't get it. What do I want, what do I really want, Lord?"

Yesterday, after feeling so horrible and all, I finally figured it out. I got it, I mean, I really I got it. I finally figured out that what I wanted was my way, as in wanting to do things my way, when all along He had a plan for me. He was telling me that at this point in my faith walk, I could no longer have my own way. I had to lay down my wants, desires, and feelings in order to embrace His way. That meant that my way was to be submitted to His, and in doing so, He would give me the desires of my heart (fill me with His desires) so that I could do the things He wanted me to do. As I started to think more and more about this truth, I realized that yes, I have wanted my way in so many things. More and more, I have been determined to go my own way. I often would think that somehow I could do it my way, and that this would please Him. Perhaps my way would work?

Turning Around and Heading Back to Ninevah

The Lord is the Lord of All, and therefore, there is only one way, and it is His. I struggled and contended with Him for months, now on two years, and in the end, I had to relinquish my way to Him. I had to say "Yes, Lord" and mean it. I had to say "I will go," and then really, really go. I had to trust Him to provide, to open doors, to make ways for me, and in doing so, I would exercise my faith, and He would lead me on to where He wanted me to be planted, to serve, and to do His work.

I gave in this weekend, and as a result, I began to experience the freedom of breathing, of resting, of relaxing so that I could do what He was asking me to do. It has been a long, hard battle, and He has won. He has won the day, and I am glad because now I know that I am no longer battling the impossible One, but instead I am listening, abiding, and relying on the Possible, the One who holds all possibilities in His hand. I am glad to be done, to be free, to be able to be what He wants me to be, and not what I think I should be. I am so glad, so very glad that today I am His, and He is mine. I am so glad that my life has purpose, it has a plan, and there is indeed a path for me to follow. Get that --> FOLLOW --> not lead. I am glad that I am following after Him, knowing that He knows where we are going and why, and that He will provide for me today, tomorrow and every single day forward. I am so glad, so very, very glad we are done. We are done, and it is over.

Praise be to God.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

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