November 30, 2015

Moving Out and Up

It is a chilly day here in Phoenix. I left the house this morning at 6:20, and the outside temperature was barely 35 degrees. There was ice on my car window! You would think that I was living back east by the early morning chill. As I sit here (at home) while I finish some assignments, I still feel the chill in the air. My phone APP says the weather has warmed up to a balmy 52. Our high today is expected to hit 63, so for now, I am trying to keep myself warm and cozy. In truth, I am just as cold as I would have been had I stayed in the library at GCU this morning. I made the decision to drive home during my morning break, and while I am glad that I did, I am just as chilled as I was earlier walking across campus. Oh and learn! As an aside...coming home in between classes costs me about $2 in gas. I save $10 in food by doing it, so I guess you could say I am ahead by $8 on this chilly Monday morning. LOL!

I titled this post, Moving Out and Up, because I am thinking about moving. Yes, I am thinking about it more today than before, and I have to believe that it must be the Lord's intention for me to start "considering" moving house. I love that phrase, "moving house." It is so British, you know, to leave out the article from between moving and house. I mean, are we moving a house (like the structure) or are we moving the contents in the house (as in things). Or are we physically moving our bodies (in a car, truck, van or trailer)? Moving house just means in vernacular that we are moving everything related to one's domicile or home life. I guess in that way, I am thinking about moving house fairly soon.

Getting Ready to Move

This first step in preparing for a move is to get ready to move. I know it seems simple, but for many people, the getting ready part is the most difficult. It involves all the planning necessary to move your home, your contents, and your belongings (like my cats) to another home. Getting ready, then, requires significant planning so that the actual move runs smoothly.  I have been thinking about moving for a long while. I have started the process of moving, the getting ready to move for about 10 years now, but I have never made it farther than just "thinking about it." I have wanted to move, for certain, but the thought of "how to move" always made me uneasy so I would just put it off.

Ten years ago, I was fed up with my life. I started to think about moving, but back then, that was an impossible dream.

In 2005, I was a SAHM, homeschooling her only child while trying to manage a family business that relied on my income (almost solely). I was living in my own home then, but the house had major needs (like physical work), and there never was any money available to take care of these things (it needed a new roof, new siding, inside plumbing work, etc.) It seemed we were always dealing with one thing or another, and so we just made the best of the situation. I was unhappy in this home, even though I picked it out for us. I regret that mistake, truly. I regret that I picked a house that sat on a busy street, and that "looked good" on the outside, but on the inside had a slap-dash fix up. The owners of the house financed it, and well, they did the cheapest work possible to make the home look good. I bought it, and I traded in my home in Scottsdale for this small tin-sided house in Phoenix.

We moved back in 1999 to be closer to the Christian school my son was to attend. But in the end, my in-laws refused to help pay for tuition (which they had promised) and there was no way we could afford it ourselves. We ended up leaving a lovely neighborhood, close to our church, and where we had some friends, for a house in North Phoenix that turned into a money-pit and a constant battled with the lien holder. My life was already stressed, so by the time we moved into this house, it became a living nightmare.

We lived in that home for 12 years, and in the end, we lost it due to foreclosure. I have to say that I wasn't sad to leave that house. It had difficult memories for me, and I never felt "at home" there. However, I was glad to be able to live there, to have a roof over my head, but when the end came, I was glad to see the backside of it. There are times when I drive by the street, and I glance down it to see that house. It has been bought and sold numerous times since 2012, and it appears to be in the same sad shape as when we left it. Sigh.

Since that time, I have moved house twice. Once to my beautiful town home in North Phoenix, and then later to this home that I share with my parents. The next time I move, I am hoping it will be for a good job (full-time), and it will be to move me closer to my love in AL. My hope was that the Lord would provide a way for me to move once -- like as in one time only. I would like to move once, one more time, and I would like to purchase a home, a forever home, so I never have to move again. Of course, that is wishful thinking, and it some ways it is a dream of mind that promises me that I can move once and be settled forever. LOL!

As I consider moving, you know, the real part of moving (the packing, the going part), I think the Lord may desire that I move more than once just to get me going, and then later, to get me settled. I think He might have a two or three step plan in mind. So while I don't like moving (the prep, the packing, and then the moving part), I do see His point. I mean, I need to move to a new city, and since I don't know anything about that new city, it is probably best for me to rent for a time just to make sure I like the place. Furthermore, I am not sure where I will be living, and whether my son will come with me (I think he will), so I need to stop temporarily and be settled to get acclimated to the new place. Hopefully, after a year or two, then I can find that forever home. If that is the Lord's will, I mean.

Thinking and Planning

In order for me to move house, I have to have a full-time job offer. I have withdrawn my two applications at United Healthcare, and I am settled with teaching at GCU for the spring semester. Should I need to stay another year here in Phoenix, and that is a real possibility, then I will teach at ACU/GCU in the fall of 2016, and GCU in the spring of 2017. This would give me four years at GCU, and three years at ACU. Plus I would have my PhD, and I would be free to move because my son would be graduated with his BA in Music degree. My parents, by that time, will need to either come with me or will need to move into assisted living or some other type of care. My Mom's condition, no doubt will continue to deteriorate, and my Dad will not be able to care for her at home. Both of them are nearing that time when they will need to have more care then I can provide. I am not looking forward to that day, but if it is the Lord's will, then I know He will provide a good place near me where they can be comfortable and well-cared for daily.

My hope is that the Lord will open a door for me soon. My preference would be to move next summer, just because the longer I wait, the harder it becomes to make ends meet. However, I am content to wait until 2017 to make that big move. I have always believed that my moving would be in 2017 and not in 2016. I had this date down because it coincided with my graduation from Regent University. I really didn't anticipate graduating earlier, and right now, there is a good chance that I will finish completely by October 2016. This means that I could seek full-time jobs as a PhD in 2016 or in 2017. Either way, I will be ready.

As I think about moving, and then I start planning that way, I am convinced now that I am on the right track. You see, I struggled so much to try to figure out which way to go when in reality I was already going in His direction. I had already made the choice back in 2013, but I was having serious doubts about His provision for me in this path. I had to come to terms with my choice, and that took a lot of time for me to do, but once I did, I was able to let go and let this way be. Once I let go, I received peace back into my heart and my mind, and I felt free to be this thing, to be a teacher, a professor, and to stay put as I mature in my career.

Steps to Completion

For now, my plan is to finish my studies at Regent. I am almost finished with this semester, my last class, and then I will begin the process of studying for exams. I am so hopeful that I can do well and pass my exams. I am confident that I will do well, but still there is lingering doubt about the time remaining to study, to prep, and to be ready for them come February 2016. The time will be here before you know it, and I need to be ready, so ready.

My plan then is to focus on completing Regent, on passing my exams, and on writing my dissertation. Once that is done, and I graduate, then I will be ready to find full-time work. Perhaps the Lord will provide before this time or perhaps He will wait until I am closer to finishing my degree. I am not sure, but either way, I know He has me well-covered.

Thus, today, I am thinking about moving, about taking those next steps, about preparing for that big move. Today, I am resting in His timing, His provision, and His plan. He is good, I know it, and I know His plan for my life is good. I rest now, waiting patiently for His move. He will move in time, and until He does, I wait for Him, and I watch intently, eagerly and with expectation and anticipation. He is good. He doesn't not tarry. He will keep His promise to me. He is good, so very good to me. Selah!

November 29, 2015

Rethinking The Past -- Moving On

Psalm 33:4-5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

For the word of the Lord is upright,
And all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.

It is a blessed Sunday, and I am at rest. Today is going to be a good day, a wonderful day, a day filled with much progress. Yet, my plans are to rest, to cease striving, and to stop trying to make everything "fit" into my own design. I am intentionally setting aside time today to reflect, to think about all that has come before me, and to begin to think more deeply about the path that lays ahead of me. You see, today is November 29, 2015, and this is my last "day off" before I return to the grind of the fall semester. I have approximately 3 class periods left at ACU and I have 5 class periods left at GCU. In this time, I have to get my students ready to present their final papers (starting on Monday), and to finishing writing their commentary and proposal essays at GCU. It is not difficult, but now that I think about the timeline, I realize just how little time there is left to get this work done. Sigh!

The more I think about my situation, the more I come to appreciate the fact that my personality lends itself to reflection. I realize that I should have stuck to my original lesson plans in all three of my courses. I made significant tweaks to my teaching this semester, and for the most part, the teaching content change was good. The assignment change has been less than satisfactory, so next semester at GCU, it is back to students presenting in class the last two weeks of school. This worked really well, and it gave me a great two weeks off at the end of the semester. Plus, I think the students really liked presenting their proposals and essays. Some freaked out, but most were okay with sharing their information with the class. I have some other changes in mind, revisions mostly, that will make my course load better, but generally speaking, I have come to see the error of my way, and that was to second guess what had worked in the past in order to make something marginally better in the future.

Sometimes "change for change sake" is not a good plan. Write that one down, Carol. Do not do this again. Sigh!

My heart is settled, though, and I know that over the next few semesters, I will get this "teaching thing" figured out. I mean, I have my content down now so the only thing I need to work on is the assignments, and a better way to assess my students in class. I am thinking about quizzes, and while I hate them, I do think there is value in giving student reading quizzes. It keeps them in the game, so to speak, so I am thinking about how I might work some quizzes into my curriculum. 

My plans for today are pretty simple really. I have two "to-do" items on my list for this week (ending, I mean). My list was very long at the start of the week, but now it is down to two items. I am pretty happy with my progress, and I feel confident as I head into next week, that everything that needs to be finished by the end of the semester will be finished. Still, there is this "doubt" that is creeping into my head, but I am trying very hard to push it away, to refute it really, and to take a strong stand that says "I can do this. The battle belongs to the Lord, and this is HIS GROUND!" The idea being that the Lord has claimed the ground I walk on, the battle ground, that is, so therefore, the ground I walk on, the ground that I walk over, well, it is already His. It belongs to Him, and thus, the battle has been won. This is a mind shift for me, to realize that it is not up to me to take this ground, to make the assault, and to strategize how to win the day. He has already won, so this battle ground belongs to Him. I must simple walk through it, walk on, and remember that, always, He is victorious. He is my VICTOR AND MY CHAMPION. I give Him all the praise, the honor, and the glory this good, this very good day.
As I think about this very good day, I give thanks to the Lord for His faithfulness to me. Last night, I was talking with my good friend about God's faithfulness to me over the course of my life. I had shared some memories, stories really, about how my desire for graduate school was something of the Lord and not of my own making. I was sharing with my friend how I had to set aside my desire to do graduate school because of my pregnancy, and how after my son was born, I tried very hard to make "graduate school" work for me. I went so far as to attend SJSU for 6 weeks before I had to accept the inevitable -- graduate school was not meant to be at that time -- and withdraw from classes. I shared how difficult that was for me, how I was emotionally distraught when I did it, but in the end, how I knew in my heart that it was the "right" thing to do.

In hindsight, I can say with 100% assurance that it was indeed the right thing to do. My son, then only a year old, needed me. I needed to be a full-time hands-on Mother because of his early high needs. I needed to focus on his needs and that meant that I couldn't do graduate study and be a Mom, despite what friends, family, and my mentors at school were telling me. I couldn't put my son in day care because of his needs, and I couldn't work out a way to care for him other than to stay at home. In time, I accepted my path, and I embraced it fully, to enjoy being a Mom. It took time though and there were moments when I felt the anguish of not finishing my education. I felt the pang of regret because I knew in my heart that I was meant to do this level of work. I knew it, I desired it, and I wanted it. But, it wasn't His time, and so I laid it aside, and I did the work He gave to me, which was to devote my life to raising a Godly young man, and to serving my then husband without complaint, gripe or fault.

Overtime, I was blessed with opportunities to teach and to study, and I thank the Lord for His faithfulness in providing me with home school, Charlotte Mason, and classical curriculum. I used the time wisely, studying, reading, and learning on my own, so that when the Lord opened the door for me to return to graduate school in 2010, I was really well-read. I was ready. Moreover, as the time passed, I came to see that it was His intention for me to go through graduate school and on to my PhD in one shot. I am now at the end of that program, and I look back over the past five years and see all that I have accomplished. He has provided a way for me to study, to learn, to graduate with two advanced degrees and to begin a new career path, all within a very short time. He is good like that, He is faithful to keep His word and His promises. Selah!

Now, my life is different. I am a new person. I am ready to move, to embrace His work fully, and to begin this next leg of my journey. So much has happened to me since 2010. My life is completely different than I anticipated it would be, and while that change was not an easy one to process, I have come to accept that it is "what it is" and move on. I am okay with my "status" now, with being divorced, single, and wholly devoted to the Lord. I am okay with the stigma of being the unwanted woman, the unloved mate because I know that the man I was married to, while he was the father of my child, he wasn't the man meant for me. We both tried to make our marriage work (I do give my ex some credit there because the years were not all bad). He left the marriage a lot sooner than I did, and in the end, he moved on faster than I did. He is settled into his life with his girlfriend, and I am settled into my life here with my parents and my son. It isn't the perfect union that Christians believe is possible by any means, but it is the outcome of decisions made, choices, that proved to be ill-conceived and not considered wisely.

As I think about my past and my present, my mind races forward to the future, and I begin to see that I am ready to start this next phase of my journey now. I am ready to begin to enjoy my life, to be settled and content, and to allow God's plan to unfold around me. You see, I feel as though I have been trying to make His plan work for so many years. In fact, I would say that from the time I was a young girl, and shortly after I received His call, I tried in vain to make His plan come to pass. I didn't know what I was doing back then, of course not; yet, I did try very hard to figure it out. I felt His calling on my life, and I believed He had a specific plan for me. I didn't understand how the Holy Spirit was communicating with me, but I believed that He was. I mean, I would get these deep impressions that convinced me that I was to do this thing or that thing, go this way or that way. Sometimes, I followed; sometimes, I went my own way. When I followed, I experienced blessing, goodness, and fruit (spiritual and sometimes material). Sometimes, when I didn't listen, the depression would become almost catastrophic for me. The choices became paramount, yet in my child-like way, I would make choices often in an effort to stop the pain, to stop the torment, to stop the psychological suffering. I didn't know then that had I simply turned back around, I would have found the peace I was seeking -- not in another person or a place -- but rather in the Lord alone.

I wish I would have listened more intently, been more patient, while I was receiving these signals from the Lord. Oh, how I would have saved my life a boat load of heartache! Sigh! Selah! Needless to say, I blundered on through, and because I was trying to make His plans come to pass, I made choices and decisions that altered my life, that took me on a different road than the one He desired for me to take. In looking back, I see how the mistakes I made, mostly in being patient, in waiting for the Lord to show me the way to go clearly, were costly to me. My life took a path that was destined to produce heartache, and while I don't regret the birth of my beautiful child, I do see how the path I chose was filled with strife, with difficulty, and in the end, with pain (so much pain). 

Now, I look forward and I see how the path that is in front of me, well it is good, so very good. The pain I suffer now is different, it is not the pain of a poor choice or of a bad decision (a willful disobedience to the Lord's calling), but rather it is the pain that accompanies the hard work and effort required by the Lord. The pain I experience is physical, and not mental, emotional, or spiritual. I walk on very tired legs. I stand on aching feet. I lift using weak arms and back. Yet, despite the physical pain, my heart, my mind, and my spirit are settled and at peace. I am filled with His peace, and that peace reminds me that the path ahead is good, so very good.

Today is a beautiful Sunday. It is cool and calm, and I am at peace in my life. There is nothing within me that shouts out "this is out of order" nor do I feel the pull of chaos calling out to me and telling me that I am mistaken or misplaced. No, I feel His peace as it sets upon me, and I know that I can rest here, I can stay here, right here in the middle of His blessed peace. My spirit is calm. My heart is at ease. My head is cool. My body, while achy and stiff, well, it is still able to get up and go (praise the Lord). For all intents and purposes, my entire life, with the exception of my body, is in really, really good shape. Selah!

My heart, my head, and my spirit are all united in this one thing: serving the Lord God in this way, in His work and through His word is my soul's delight. I desire nothing less than His best, and that means that I accept His plan, His path, and His provision for everything He desires in my life. I can no longer look to my hand to produce anything of value because the work I do is no longer my work, but it is His work. I go and do as He designs, and I live freely, without incumbrance because He needs me to be ready to go. Today, tomorrow, or perhaps in a year, I will go when He calls me forward. Until then, I will do this work with gladness, and I will serve Him and others with a spirit that is attuned to His desires. He calls me, and I answer. He asks me to do this or that thing, and I respond with "Yes, Lord, and amen." He is good, so very good to me.

Psalm 33:18-22 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
To deliver their soul from death
And to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
For our heart rejoices in Him,
Because we trust in His holy name.
Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us,
According as we have hoped in You.

November 28, 2015

Getting Down to Business

It is a blessed day here in sunny and cool Phoenix. I woke up to the sunshine and cool morning air feeling very refreshed. It is amazing how a week off can work wonders, especially on this frazzled and bedraggled body. It was good to sleep in without any worries this morning. I had no "must have, must do" list so it meant I could just sleep until I woke naturally. Ah! It was so good to just sleep peacefully and enjoy the blessing of rest.

I am so thankful for His rest. I mean, He has given me the perfect job. It is a tough job, no small thing, and it takes its toll on me each semester. But, with all the effort, comes blessed rest once the semester comes to a close. I am looking forward to having three weeks off this next month, and then to my lighter, easier schedule in the spring (just MWF afternoons). The Lord knows how I worry about my summers -- how to pay the bills mostly -- but He also knows that my summers are especially good for me. They give me four months of daily rest. I sleep in, naturally wake up, and I attend to the business at hand, which is, recovering from my depleted mental and physical state. He is good, so very good to me. He knows what I can and cannot do, and He knows my limits. Why do I not trust Him, then? Why do I constantly think I know best? Sigh!

Today is a good day. It is a good day to reflect on this fact -- the fact that the Lord does indeed know what is best for me. The past few weeks have been difficult for me. I applied to several jobs outside of higher education, and after waiting around for HR to contact me, to give me a "yes or no" to let me know what their intentions were, I had to withdraw my resume simply because the semester was so close at hand. You see, I have already committed (agreed and accepted) my teaching contracts for next January. I can get out of them, but the longer I wait, the more unfair that is to my schools. I do not feel the Lord desires me to string these schools along and then at the last minute cancel my contract. I cannot do that to them, not after their graciousness in hiring me for work. No, I have an issue with integrity, so I prayed over it, and because neither job moved in my direction (perhaps it would have in time), I asked the Lord for His advice, and I felt Him saying to me "withdraw," so I did.

In truth, I had already made my mind up to stay put, so really, withdrawing simply shortened the wait time. I did the deed, took my resume off the table, and I walked away without feeling any issue or concern about it. I am not sorry about the action. I mean, I really didn't mind taking my resume back from consideration. Both positions were good jobs, good paying jobs, but the more I thought about them, the "jobs" themselves, while okay as far as the work was concerned, just didn't seem to sit well with me. I am sure I would have found enjoyment in learning how to do them, and I am sure I would have liked my colleagues and peers. As such, the "work" itself would in time become boring and that concerned me. I am simply the type of person that needs engaging work all the time. I need new things to do, new tasks, and the only real profession that does that is one that allows constant learning. Teaching, medicine, law, business, etc. are professions where the daily work is never the same. Different situations arise, planning for new approaches are required, and the work must be adapted constantly to meet the needs of the student, the patient, or the client. This "always changing" is a good thing for me, and it is one of the ways that my brain stays engaged. However, I don't really like "change for change sake" so what fits me best is prolonged study, difficult work that requires study -- searching, researching, writing, processing, etc. -- all the behaviors that are normally associated with these professions, including teaching in higher education.

The more I look at my situation, the more I factor in my own "prewired" tendencies as well as my preferences, the more I see how teaching in higher education is a good fit for me. Sure, I am plumb worn out most days, and I don't always see the "big picture" due to my aching feet, legs, and back. But, generally, I see opportunity, possibilities, and the hopeful expectancy of a good outcome. I see how my efforts to study, to learn, to adapt, play out in the classroom. I goof, I make mistakes -- all in an attempt to try some new way. Sometimes these "new ideas" work well, and well, sometimes, they fall flat. But, I am able to try them out -- and no one stands over me to say -- "not going to work, so give it up!"

Thus, teaching is a good fit for my brain, for my need to study and learn. It is not the best fit physically, and I know that, but I have come to learn that what I experience (aches and pains) is the same for every teacher on the planet. We all suffer this way, and we all get ourselves up, dressed, and out the door, to do the good work we do. Selah!

I guess I was thinking too small when I assumed that I was the only one to suffer like this, but this week, I had the chance to talk to a dear lady (she suffers from post-polio like my Dad), and she said how she finally retired at age 69 after 30 years of teaching because she couldn't stand anymore. I asked her about it, and she said she never was comfortable "teaching while sitting down!" I laughed because that is exactly how I feel. She said "I just have to move about the classroom, and I never could teach sitting in a chair. It just didn't work for me." I thought, "I am not alone in this. What a relief!"

So, it is a done deal. I mean, teaching for a career, a profession. I made the decision two weeks ago, and since then I have taken the steps necessary to ensure that this is the path I remain on going forward. The Lord has made a way for me to go, and I am content to go in this way, if that makes sense. I struggled so much with the "going," really with knowing that the way I was "going" was the right way, the best way for my life. In the end, I found out that I am right where He intends me to be, and that I have a good thing in my life, a very good thing. I am a part-time (well, between two schools, 40 hour contract) college instructor, and I am doing the very thing I dreamed of doing since I was a little girl. I am about to graduate with my PhD, to be a "doctor of philosophy," and to begin what will be the last push toward retirement as a full-time professor.

How exciting is that? 

I mean, I have desired this for now on 20 years, and the Lord has faithfully provided a way for me to accomplish it in this season of my life. I am seeing my dream come to pass, and I am so excited for the next months, years, that lay ahead of me.

Where will I teach full-time? 

I don't know, but I am certain now that wherever it is, it will be good. I am content to teach English Composition for the rest of my career, and I am very content to simply be a good English teacher. I don't have to publish papers, present in conference or even jump through hoops to get ahead. No, I am content to be a good teacher, to do good work, and to try to do my very best each day that the Lord allows me to do this work. I am no longer looking for other work. This is where I belong. It is where I am meant to be, and finally, finally, I am settled. I am fixed on this way, and now I believe, the Lord can begin His plans to move me, to relocate me, and to provide for me that full-time professor position He has held in His keeping for months, perhaps even for years. He is good, so very good, and I am blessed, so very blessed by His goodness, His lovingkindness, and His great generosity. He is good, He is good, He is so very good to me! Selah!

As I put all this together, trying to make the various parts fit into the BIG PICTURE I think about my life, about where I have been, where I am going, and all that happened to me in between. The Lord has carefully preserved my life, seen to it that the experiences I have had, while shaping me, molding me, and at times, hurting my pride, my self-esteem, and my physical and emotional self, have not destroyed me. I am stronger now than I was before 2010. I am stronger as a single woman than I ever was as a married one. I am stronger as a student, a Mom, a daughter, and a teacher. In fact, I would say that I am strong, so very strong, because of the chastening, the "hardening off" that the Lord allowed into my life, to test me, to try me, and to make me fit (like as in an athlete). My body, physically, suffers but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, I am a warrior. I am a champion, and God has made me this way. I still falter when I see my enemy face to face, when I feel threatened or when I am exhausted to the point where I cannot stand, but through it all, the Lord has held my right hand, He has sustained me, and for that, I am so thankful. He has made me into a strong, God-honoring, God-glorifying, and God-ordained, purposed, and focused woman. I am ready, I am so ready to take on the world, to do this MINISTRY THING He has prepared for me to do. No matter the challenge, no matter the feat, no matter the obstacles that are in my way, I am ready to face them head on. I believe the Lord will be victorious, and I believe He will champion my cause. I have made my plans, laid them at His feet, and in return, He has handed to me His playbook. He has outline the route to follow, the steps to take, and the tasks that must be completed. I am working for Him now, and everything I do is working toward His purpose, His plan, and His providential desire for my life. Selah!

The Lord knows the plans He has for my life -- and yes -- they are GOOD. He knows that this way, the way I am walking, on this particular path, well, it SUITS HIM. It is not about suiting me, per se, though He has graciously considered my needs. No, this path is ALL ABOUT HIM. As a teacher, I know that I am 100% dependent on Him for everything, and this is PRECISELY WHERE HE WANTS ME TO BE. I wanted to be wholly devoted to Him, to have no other head but His, and this is right where He has me today. I can do all things, but only through Christ who strengthens me. I can go here or there in my own strength, but I cannot accomplish His will, His plan for my life, in that strength. I must do everything yielded, submitted, and wholly dependent on His abilities. To do this His way means that I must learn that "way." I must learn how to do His work in the way He intends, and that requires submitting to His authority, His headship, and saying, "Yes, Lord. You are the Master, and I am the student." No matter how much I think "Hey, I've got this!," the Lord says to me, "Not my way, not my will." I understand that to do things His way means that He must be allowed to have His way in me. I must relent, let go, and let Him lead me, guide me, show me how to do the work. It has not been easy for me. I have put up a good fight with Him. I have been stubborn and willful, and even at times, very demanding. He has graciously allowed me to tire myself out, to wear out and use up my strength so that I would see the enormity of the plan, the scope of the approach, and in doing so, I would "with fresh eyes" see the truth that says "You cannot do this on your own. You can only do it through me." Yes, Lord, you are correct. I can do nothing without you. You are everything to me, and I can do nothing without your help, your grace, your love, and your gifts. You are good, Lord, so very good to me. Selah!

Today is a good day, such a very good day. I sit here and blog, thinking about my life, and how very good it is. I mean, I am in such a good place right now. My semester is almost over. I have just a smaller to-do list than before the fall break, and I marvel at all He has done. He has done this. He has seen me through all the hard work this semester, the Theology papers (ten critical book reviews, a major paper on Abelardian Theology and Philosophy), and TAing History of Communication (all the discussion board responses, the paper on course teaching ideas) and my workload at ACU and GCU. On top of all of this, He has helped me take care of my parents, be a good Mom to my son, and continue to deepen and strengthen my relationship with the man whom I hope to marry some day. All of this, and so much more, has come to pass and He has seen fit to orchestrate it, bring it to pass, and carry me through it. The battle has been stiff at times, but I am alive (Praise God), and I still have some fight left in me. May God be praised today, for He is AWESOME and GOOD.

In closing, as I prepare to sign off for the day and begin to tackle my short to-do list, I am thankful for the bountiful blessings of God's hand this good day. I am excited about my future, and I am grateful for the opportunities the Lord has provided to me. He has seen to my every need, and while there are times when I panic, I worry, and I fear, I am constantly reminded of His faithfulness, His goodness, and His provision for my life. He has me so well-covered, so well-covered. God is GOOD, so very GOOD to me.

November 27, 2015

Happy Day After...

Yeah, it is that "day after the day" we give thanks. Here in America, it is called "Black Friday," supposedly the busiest shopping day of the year. People go crazy, lining up for hours, just to try to get some low price on something they just have to have this year. The funny thing is that the experts out there say that, historically, very few items are actually marked down far enough to make them be really good deals on this day. Most often, you can get a better price if you wait until closer to Christmas or if you purchase the item at certain times of the year when manufacturers are trying to push old product (like right before the Super Bowl). Yet, millions of people will venture out early today to engage in this shopping ritual. I prefer to sit at home, away from the "battle fray," and enjoy this day off as it was meant to be -- just a good day of rest. That is my plan, anyway. Here's to another restful Black Friday!

Today is a good day, a very good day. Not only am I well-rested, but I am also feeling good overall (physically), and that means that I must be getting enough rest. I know that I am relieved to have my major paper turned in on time, and I am relieved to be almost finished with my semester at Regent, GCU and ACU.

I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I am beginning to envision my next steps -- studying for and passing my exams, writing my dissertation, graduating with my PhD. I am so excited for these next steps in my life. I have worked very hard for the past five years, and I am so close to being done, finally PHinisheD (as my friend likes to say). I am not sure what the Lord has planned for me next, though I am thinking of post-doctoral study in Rhetoric at some point in time. For now, though, I have to concentrate on these last big events, pushing through to the finish line, and graduating with the BIG DEGREE. It is right there....right there, and I can envision and imagine it happening. I am so excited to be in this place, to finally be at the end of my courses. I cannot tell you how I have dreamed about this experience, how I have wanted to get my doctorate, and how I thought it would never be possible. But, as I have learned time and again...nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

Yes, this is true. All things are possible when God is in control, when He is the author and finisher of our faith. With God, nothing is impossible for Him to accomplish. The key, of course, is that what is possible must be of His desire, His design, and His doing. God must be at the start and the finish, and He must be the agent in the middle, the One who brings all things to pass.

In my doctoral course work, in specific, I have seen the Lord's handiwork, His desires and design, all work together for my good. He orchestrated the classes, picked the topics for me to explore, and when it came right down to it, He helped me, inspired me to write my papers. He made it possible for me to excel in this program, to achieve all that I have achieved, and really, to get me to this place, this very good place where I am about ready to FINISH! I give Him all the praise, the honor, and the glory, for without His abilities, His amazing power, I would be nowhere, nothing, and not even able to do anything of value to further His kingdom plans. He is worthy, He is good, and I give Him all the praise and adoration this good, this very good day. Selah!

So what are my plans for this good day? Well, I guess I should get moving, that is for sure. It is 12:30 p.m. and I am still sitting here in my PJs. I need to tackle some school work today (posts), and I may go ahead and start decorating the house for Christmas. My Mom is not feeling well today, so I am not sure what really needs to be done. I am thinking we will take it easy, perhaps just enjoy this good day, and then maybe have a quiet night in.

I am thinking about my love, who is spending this day in his home, and I am so wishing we could be together. I am so thankful for this wonderful, Godly, caring and supportive man. God has blessed me with a perfect companion, someone who compliments me so well. I think about him, and I smile. I really smile. He makes me laugh, and he helps me to be a better Christian, a Godly woman, and for that I am so very grateful. God knew what He was doing when He brought us together -- in such a carefree and happenstance way. I mean, neither of us where "looking" for a relationship, and neither of us were doing anything at all about it. We just found each other on the Internet, casually, first through my blog, and then later through Facebook. God had a plan in mind, and over time, we clicked, connected, and have become very close companions. It is a sweet and wonderful thing, and I am so hopeful that in time, in short order, we will be together (in person) and be able to plan out our life together. It is hard to believe that we have known each other as close friends for a year and a half now. It seems like it has been this way forever. I mean, I feel like I have known this man my entire life, and I am so comfortable with him that we can talk, joke about anything, and we can enjoy our time together as the Lord provides. I mean, we spend a great deal of time talking on the phone or over video chat. I think we have talked for 3-6, sometimes even 7 or 8 hours at a stretch. I have never talked with anyone for that length of time, but we just get into this groove, and we start talking, and we cannot stop. Sigh.

As I think about my life, about all the blessings God has brought to me, I am thankful for my friend, the man with whom I have come to share a large portion of my life, and I think to myself "How much more can you bless me, Lord? Have you not given me enough?" I would say that He has indeed blessed me beyond measure. He has surely given me everything I need to be happy and content in Him alone. He is good, He is God, and I am so blessed by His presence, His patience, and His perfect plan for my life. Selah!

November 26, 2015

Give Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving 2015! I cannot believe that I made it, but I did! Yes, I finished my paper on time, submitted it last evening, and now I am resting after a very long and hard push to complete my last "required" paper of my doctoral program at Regent University. I still have some smaller assignments to finish between now and December 11, but they are minor in comparison. Furthermore, I am in such a good place, academically, that I cannot think of anything to do EXCEPT to shout out my thankfulness to the Lord because He is good. He is so good, He is so good to me.

Right now, I am relaxing so that I can enjoy some family time later this afternoon. We are eating dinner at our friends house, so there is not much "work" to do this morning. I am enjoying my cup of coffee as I sit at my desk and blog a bit. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is on TV, and my parents are watching it in the family room. I am in my room (always), sitting here with the "boys" (my two cats) and thinking about all that I have to be thankful for this good day. I mean, it is 2015, and my life is good.

Truthfully, there is not much I can say other than I am content, happy, and pleased to be where I am right now. I thought about it a bit ago as I was watching the parade with my parents. I am not sure why this thought popped into my head, but as I was sitting there watching the balloons float down 6th Avenue, I heard this voice in my head say, "I am a teacher." Weird, really, how that happens, but that is what I heard this voice say to me (my inner voice, I guess you could call it). I thought about it for a minute, and then I smiled. Yes, I am a teacher, and somehow hearing that pronouncement made me smile. I don't know why I thought about it in that moment. It wasn't like a saw a "teacher float" pass by on the big screen. It was just something that occurred to me, and in that moment, I felt content. I thought, "Yes, Lord, thank you for letting me be a teacher."

My blog has been filled with my struggles to come to terms with my career choice. This year, in particular, it seems that my thoughts have been focused on this one question: Is being a teacher the best choice for my life? I wrestled with the decision for months, and up until last month, I was still feeling unsure of my answer. Finally, I made the decision to accept it, and since then, it seems that all the "fuss" has subsided, and I have comfortably taken on the role and begun to enjoy it. Yes, it is as if once the decision was made, the acceptance of it received -- the stress and the struggle subsided. It all faded away.

Today, therefore, I give thanks to the Lord for many things, of which one of these things is the fulfillment of a long ago dream to become a teacher. I thank the Lord today for the privilege, responsibility, and opportunity to be a teacher.

It is a good day to give thanks. As I think about all that I am thankful for today, I cannot help but give praise, honor, and glory to the Lord for He has made everything in my life good. I am blessed. I am favored. I am positioned and prepared and purposed for a specific plan, and that plan, it is GOOD.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! 
His faithful love endures forever. Psalm 118:1 NLT

It is funny, really, to think about how much my life has changed over the course of the past three or four years. I mean, this Thanksgiving 2015 marks the third holiday spent together in this home. I can barely remember the previous ones other than to say that today seems strangely different. I am trying to process the change, mostly as I see my Mom and I realize just how limited she is in her abilities to do the cooking, cleaning, and housekeeping. My Mom always had dinner at her house. She always put on a good feast. The last year and now this one, will be spent at a friend's house for dinner. The challenge is to see how my parents can handle the event. Neither is in a good place to be able to enjoy the day. My Dad is dreading having to walk up stairs (nearly impossible for him now), and my Mom, while happy to be going out, is trying to understand everything that needs to be done. I am in the middle of it all, trying to make sure we show up on time, have everything we "promised" to bring, and make sure my son (the sleepy one) is up, moving, and ready in time to leave the house at 1:15 p.m.

What's more is the fact that in truth I would rather had stayed home. Yep, it is true. I would rather have just made a small dinner here, nothing really fancy, but still a good meal so that we could rest more today. Despite my wishes, wants, or will -- we will go -- and I know the Lord will bless our time today. Still, there is a part of me that thinks the days of us visiting with friends or even hosting them here in this house are over.

Give Thanks in Everything

This past week has been stressful for me. It has been awful, really. I had a major blow-up with my Dad, and I suffered most of the week with silence between us. Thankfully, that "silence" is broken now, and we are on speaking terms again. I know how this life is getting to him and to me, and I know that we are "all" struggling to deal with my Mom's deterioration. I see so many things, so many issues crop up that really are all about my Dad's inability to control life now. This is so sad…and while I am not sorry for expressing my frustration and anger at his behavior on Monday, I am grieved that I chose to blow up and lose my cool over such a small thing.

I was over in my Dad's office earlier this morning, on the hunt for some super sticky tape when I noticed that my Dad's bell (sort of an old fashioned desk bell) was sitting in his cupboard. I made a remark, "Oh, you found your bell" to which he replied that it had been pushed back behind his desk, and yes, he did find it. It wasn't but two weeks ago that he accused my son of not returning the item after he had used it for one of the plays at the community college he was stage-managing. This was two years ago, and according to my Dad, my son had failed (yet again) to return an item borrowed. The truth, of course, was that the "item" was returned on time, and was where it belonged (in my Dad's office/hobby room). My Dad simply reacted strongly to what he thought was true, when in fact, there was no fault at all, just a mishap and an item misplaced for a time. This is the behavior we are dealing with daily. My mother is not taking her pills each day, so my Dad gets angry. My Dad is having to do more work than he can possible handle (due to his physical limitations), and my Mom gets angry. It is called "old age," and I hate that this is what I see all around me.

I am caught betwixt and between and it is a very difficult place to be. I was thinking about this today, how just three years ago, my parents were planning on moving into an apartment near by. This was going to be a major move for them, downsizing from a house to an apartment. I was living about 10 minutes away, and for all purposes, the plan was a good one. They would sell their home, and then they would move into a smaller place (three bedrooms, but without maintenance, etc.) near by. In hindsight, year 1 and 2 would have been okay, but the turn into 2015, would have caused them great concern. My Mom is not able to prepare meals anymore, and my Dad is not able to do much to help her in the home. How would they have managed? I am not sure. Perhaps I would have stepped in to help more, but then I think, how could I have done that with working full-time and my doctoral studies? It wouldn't have been possible at all.

So, in hindsight, the plan we made to move in to this house together was a good one. I may not like the fact that I have lost a great deal of my freedom, but it has been much easier to care for my parents here than if I was living 10 minutes away and being called on daily to help out. I guess the Lord knew what He was doing by bringing us together these past couple years.

As I process all of this change, I received a photo on my phone from my cousin, Dale, in Florida. He had taken his girls (ages 15 and 13) to see my Aunt in the nursing home this morning. They are good about visiting, and they send me photos to show to my Mom (my Aunt's only sister). I appreciate what they do, how they are good about going there, and how the girls (both sweet and beautiful) are so willing to spend time with their grandmother, who suffers from dementia and stroke.

Today's photo was different though, and for a moment, I didn't recognize the older man standing there next to the girls and my Aunt. As I looked closer, I realized it was my cousin, Mark. Mark is the black sheep of the family, a man who has spent his life pursuing the seedy underside of things. He is often homeless. He is drug-addicted and he is an alcoholic. I know that my cousin, Dale, will not let him see their Mom unless he cleans up. Apparently, he was willing to do that today because standing there in the picture, he actually looked good (clean and presentable, I mean). I felt this strange prick in my heart as I looked at the photo. I remember all the years we spent together, all of us, at my Aunt's home in Ohio, and the fun times we had back then. My grandmother was the center of our home, and she always made the holidays so special. My parents, my Aunt and Uncle, and all of us kids would hang out and just enjoy being together. I think back on those precious memories, and my heart breaks because so much has happened, so much sadness, pain and sorrow. I would never of imagined that some thirty years later, I would be single, living with my parents, sharing a home with my son, and preparing to graduate for the fourth time from a college or university. 

The plans I had as a child never materialized. I thought I would grow up and get married. I wanted a large family back then, about 6 children, and I wanted to live in a house like my Aunt and Uncle had in Ohio. It set far back from the road and was surrounded by trees. It was country living at its best, and I loved visiting with them whenever I could. I thought "this is what I want" someday. Of course, I never thought that I would leave Illinois then. I never thought I would be "anything" special but a wife and a mother (like all my school friends). I wasn't smart. I wasn't a super athlete. I had no special talent. I was just a plain girl, silly often, and really not the most attractive or unique in any way. I hoped God would bring me a good husband. I hoped that He would allow me to have children. I wanted to stay at home, be a wife and a Mom, and just live my life surrounded by my children. I had no visions of greatness, no thoughts of accomplishing anything in my life. Just a home. Just a family. Just a life filled with lots of love, lots of fun, and lots of happiness.

Accepting the Past

Now as I think about what has transpired, that at age 53, I would be ready to graduate with my PhD and go on to being a full-time professor, I wonder about it all. Lord, what did you have in mind for me? Is this what you wanted for my life? I never had a clue. I never had an inkling that this is the life He would choose for me to live. 

My life didn't turn out as I had hoped, but what I have today is very good. I am happy. I am content. I have a good future. I have interesting things to do. I have plans, and I have prospects that say to me "You are going places!" Still, my heart still longs for home, for family, for those warm memories that were so important to me as a child. Perhaps one day the Lord will permit me to have a family again. Perhaps one day the Lord will provide a home, a place where I can live out my days in peace and tranquility. Perhaps one day this will come to pass. Until then, I will carry on. I will move forward with intention, focus, and determination. I will go where He sends me, and I will find peace, joy, and love there. I will live where He tells me to live, and I will make a home that is sweet, warm and wonderful. I will do the work He has prepared for me to do, and I will find joy in it, contentment through the process, and success as my hand produces good results.

Yes, I am thankful today for the twists and turns in my life, for where I have been and for where I am going. I know the plans the Lord has for me, and I am confident that they are, indeed, good.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. 
“They are plans for good and not for disaster, 
to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

The Lord is GOOD. He is so very good, and today, I give thanks for all the GOOD He has brought to me, and all the GOOD He has planned for my future. Today, I give Him thanks for He is so very good to me.

November 25, 2015

It is D-Day...Again!

It is Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and I am sitting here at my desk thinking whether or not I can finish my major paper in time. It is due today, by 9 p.m. PST (well, I guess 10 p.m. since I am mountain time now), and I am no where near to being finished. I am panicked, to say the least, yet I know that I have been in this position before, and the Lord has miraculously helped me push on through.

I am struggling today, really struggling, and it is not about the paper, per se, just more about my life here at home, the unfortunate experience I had on Monday, and the fact, that for all intents and purposes, the environment has turned toxic. It has become unbearable to remain in my home, yet there is no place for me to go, no place for me to run. I must endure, and I must overcome the intense uncomfortableness, and I must do it because this is the will of the Lord, and I am determined to do His will, no matter the cost, the outcome, or the amount of discomfort. He is good, so very good to me.

As I think about where I am today, and how I got here, and by that I mean, how this difficult place came to be a part of my experience this day, I am reminded that my life is no longer my own. Scripture floods my mind, and I cannot help but think about Peter, who heard Jesus tell him about his future death. In John 21:18 we read,

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.

These words come to me, not to scare me, but rather to remind me that this is the path I walk now. I am on a path that leads home, not to an earthly home, but to my eternal home. This path is not easy. It will not be filled with happy days, though I do hope my days will be happy in some way, shape or form. The path is hard, it is filled with difficult and troubled days, and this is the path I must walk. I am called to follow after Him, and in doing so, I must pick up my cross and walk beside Him.

I am struggling today, just with what has transpired, and my role in it, and I am trying to figure out what I must do to make things better. I mean, I can give way, yield, and submit -- but is that the best way to approach this discomfort? Or, should I stand firm, stand my ground, and wait for the Lord to rescue me? I am not sure, but what I do know is that today is a difficult, a troubled, and a unwelcome day. I have so much work to do, so much work to finish, and the time is at hand. Yet, my mind is unfocused, and my thoughts are filled with things that are not serving the Lord's purpose. I am conflicted, and in this way, I am filled with doubts, insecurities, and with an overwhelming sense of dread.

He is good, of course, and I know that I am not alone. I do not stand on my own in this matter. Still, today, I feel all alone. I feel so alone. I wonder about it, why this has happened, how an innocent conversation could take such a dark and stormy turn. Part of me thinks that it is what must be, as in, this must pass so that I can move into the next phase of my life. You see, I wonder if the present trouble is necessary in order for me to experience the goodness the Lord has in mind for me --> over there. I cannot get from here to there without first making this break, without first taking this difficult step, and perhaps this is what this is all about, a breaking free, a release from the tangled web and the ever present power that has held me so tightly back. 

As I consider this as a possibility, I begin to think laterally about this situation. My students know what I mean because when I teach them how to argue a causal analysis, I ask them to think "sideways" instead of in a linear way. I want them to "think outside the box," so to speak, and in doing so, often they will see minor causes that are contributing factors to the main root cause. It is important to consider all causes when performing an analysis, because without looking at all the causes, often we make determinations that are surface-level only. We must look at all factors before making a decision, and in doing so, we will be better informed when we state our final evaluation. We will have identified what we believe to be the root cause of the problem, and then we can see the causes and the effects as well as propose a workable solution to the problem. It is how one conducts a root cause analysis, and the process is very important in order to identify the problem correctly.

I am thinking sideways right now. I am looking at this problem, my home situation, with different eyes. What I see is this:

I see a life that is in flux, my life. I see that I am in a place where I don't belong. I am in the middle of another life, that of my parents, and while I am here and there are benefits to being here, I am stuck in someone else's world. It is like I have found myself trapped inside one of those snow globes. I am stuck on the inside of someone else's world, and I cannot find a way out. For a time, this little world was magical, it was fun, and it was all "snowy and white" (perfect). But the glass enclosure has proven too tight a fit for me, and I need to find a way out. I need to break free from the enclosure and I need to be my own person now. I cannot go "home" so I must go where I can find my own way, my own place, and my own life. I see this as part and parcel to my story. I have been encased in glass, made to stay put for a time, but now the globe has shattered, and there is a small opening, and I am peering through it. I must step through the hole and walk out into the bright light of freedom.

In thinking this way, I see what has happened. I see it now in clear detail. I made the decision to move in with my parents in order to alleviate my fears of graduate study. I believed that I couldn't work full-time AND go to school full-time and still maintain good grades. I believed that the only way I could make it through Regent was to work part-time, to teach, and thus to teach part-time meant that I couldn't live on my own. I sacrificed my life in order to live with my parents for a time. I believed it was a good thing, and that it would prove beneficial for all of us. 

In truth, it has been a good thing, in some ways. In other ways, it has been difficult. I gave up my freedom, my own home, my solitude and peace for a shared life with my parents. I entered this home as an adult woman, but through efforts by my father, I have become an adult child. I allowed it, for sure, mostly because I was occupied with other things, my studies mostly, so I didn't really pay attention. Once it had happened, I began to feel the constriction upon me. I began to feel as though I was being strangled by responsibility, care, and other worries that simply were not mine to share.

I remember the moment I realized this was happening to me. It was last holiday season, and I was thinking strongly about moving to AL to be near my friend. I had applied for a job at Auburn University, and I was very excited about the opportunity to move there. I wanted to pursue this relationship, to take it to the next level, and I was open to the Lord, should He decide that this was His plan for me. I remember boldly when I said that I was thinking about moving to Auburn, and I remember the reaction I received from my father. It was as if he turned against me, right there at the dinner table, and pronounced in "no uncertain terms" that he was not going to move anywhere away from Arizona. I remember my family sitting there, looking rather dumbfounded at his remark, and I started to think to myself "I will never leave this place."

Do You Love Me?

The Lord has called me to go several times. The Lord has put on my heart the possibility of jobs elsewhere in the country, and I have even applied for a couple of them. Every time I do, though, I hear myself say to the Lord, "What about my parents? What will they do?" 

John 21, verses 16-17 tell the story well,

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He *said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He *said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He *said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He *said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.

and I have heard these same words echo in my head more than once. I have heard the Lord say to me, "Carol, do you love me more than these?" My response to Him has always been, "Yes, Lord, I love you more than...[insert thing]!" However, while I have said that I loved the Lord more than my life, more than my desires, I have struggled to actually put Him first in many areas in my life. I love the Lord more than my studies at Regent, more than my family, yes family, and more than anything I own or desire in this life. Yes, Lord, I love you more than these things.

I know this may seem weird, even outlandish, and to some people, the story I am telling doesn't or will not make sense. But, the problem is that for me, I have always been tied to my family. I am like the man who asked Jesus for permission to bury his family before he followed after Him. I am the one who has said "I will follow you so long as it doesn't conflict with my family or their plans." I have followed the Lord, for certain, but never very far from my parents influence. I have never really left their side, their home, or their life. I have justified my way by saying that I am a good daughter because I have stayed near them, I help them, and I am close to them. In truth, I have used my parents as shelter, safety, and security for far too long. I have never shattered the cord that binds me to them, and in that way, I have remained chained to them for more years than I should have allowed. 

I purposely chose this way because of the pain I suffered in my marriage. I had no friends, real friends, and I had no social circle outside of my ex-husband and my family. Thus, when things turned sour in my personal life, I retreated to my old home, to my childhood where I felt safe. Even though my childhood was far from safe, it was the place where I could rely on my parents for help, so whenever I got into trouble or felt so overwhelmed, I would run home.

In 2011, I moved out of my shared home with my ex-husband, and for the first time in my life, I moved into my own place. It was my own place. I loved my town home, and I loved the freedom I had there. I called the shots, I did whatever I wanted, and I loved it. I so loved it. Then in 2013, I made the decision to leave that home and to move in with my parents, temporarily, to finish my PhD program. It was a good move, and I still believe that it was the right thing to do. They needed to downsize, and I needed to reduce my expenses so I could transition to teaching college. In the end, the process has been somewhat smooth, somewhat acceptable. But there have been times when living in this home has become too much for me, when I needed my privacy, and I needed my freedom. I have learned to be content to live in my 10x12 room. I have learned to share this home, and while I am not complaining about the arrangement, in general, what I am saying is that as I begin the process of completing my degree program, I am starting to think about what is next for me. I am starting to think about next steps.

However, I cannot think about next steps without thinking about my parents long-term care. Thus, I feel trapped in that globe because I know that my leaving will cause them great harm and disruption. I don't want to go, but I know I cannot stay put. I must follow the Lord, and I must let go of this life, this way, and this home.

Perhaps then this latest squabble is simply a way to show me that this is not my home, not where the Lord intends to keep me, and that I must not be too comfortable here because in a short time, He is going to call me AND provide for me so that I can move on.

Yes, I believe that this is what is happening. This is His way of reminding me that I must be ready to go when He is ready for me to go. I cannot hold on to this life. I must walk freely where He sends me. I may not like what I am experiencing, but what I see around me is the truth, the reality of this situation. I must be free to go, and that means that I must no longer retreat to the safety of my parents home, but rather, I must be the adult woman that He has made me, created me to be. I must take authority over the enemy who wants to keep me down, to keep me unfocused, and unable to work out the details. I must take this authority, and accept that the plans the Lord has for me are good, they are good. 

Dear Lord,

I am not sure if I have this figured out or not, but I do think that what I am experiencing is part and parcel to your will. I am not saying that you have tempted me, but what I am saying is that this trial was purposed to help me see that I must not hold too tightly to this life, this temporary life here in Phoenix. You have a great plan for my life, and it includes moving to another state, another job, another home. I am not afraid to go, even if I worry about my parents care. I want to go, I want to do your work, and I want to follow after you because I believe, in no uncertain terms, that the plans you have for my life are good. They are so very good. I ask today for peace in my home, as much as it is possible, and I ask that you help me broker that peace since I am part of the problem here. I ask for the grace to forgive and forget, and to recognize the truth that exists in my home. I am leaving, and my parents know it. They don't like it, but it is truth, and they must accept it. I am moving on, toward the life you have planned and purposed for me, and I must go when you are ready to go. Until then, I ask for the grace to be able to be calm, in control, and compassionate toward my parents and their needs during this difficult time in their life. I ask to be set free from all control, the control that other people seek to have on me, and I ask to be able to take control of the details of my life, those that you have given to me so that I can accomplish your will. I trust you completely, and I take this authority now given to me by your hand, and I look to you for guidance and goodness as I step out in faith and move toward the fulfillment of your will. I ask all this in the Name of Jesus now, Amen. So be it, thy will be done. Selah!

November 24, 2015

Choosing to Be Happy Today

It is a somber day here in Phoenix. I am feeling spent, worn, and used up. I did sleep well last night, and I woke up feeling fine (physically), which is such a change for me. I know it is because today is Day 2 of my fall break. I am so blessed to have this week off. I needed the rest, and I needed to focus on my last "to-do's" before my semester at Regent ends. I am in the middle of a major Theology paper, and I have some small tasks for my History of Communication class (as a TA). Overall, I feel solid about my finish. I feel confident that I will get an A in this class. My professor is a hard man to please, but he is genuine and caring, and I know that he will fairly evaluate my scholarly effort. My prayer, of course, is to finish this class well. I want to finish strong. My good friend and colleague, Amanda Jo, posted this reminder to our Blackboard course yesterday:

"All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.” -William Bradford

I love this quote. It reminds me that nothing worthy of our effort will be easy. The best things are always worth the wait, as the saying goes, and I think this holds true for achievement as well. When you overcome obstacles, difficulties, and even tragedies, you become stronger than you thought possible. In short, you see what you are made of, and you realize just how "tough" you really are inside. Knowing what you are made of, the tough stuff on the inside, is important. When you know that you can withstand trial, hold off temptation, and overcome most any tragedy, well then you really know what you can and cannot do in this life. So in truth, the things we value most, hold dearest to us, and work hardest for, often are the things that cause us to grow, to develop, and to change. I know this is true in my life...let me explain...

Yesterday was a difficult day for me. I actually accomplished a lot. I worked very hard on my major paper, completing the entire history section, and I felt good (overall) about my progress. My paper is due tomorrow, so today's task is to complete the critical analysis and the theory section so that I can be ready to conclude, proof, and edit tomorrow. I am confident that I can do this, and I am feeling good about the shape and style of my paper (thus far). I am trusting this paper to the Lord since it is difficult for me to write. It is on Peter Abelard, a 12th-century philosopher, and I am struggling some with cohesiveness and a solid thesis. I know better than to write a paper without a thesis, so my prayer is that I can get everything written that is needed AND THEN revise my working thesis to be more on point. I am praying the Lord works this out for me since this paper is worth 60% of my class grade. I know He has me well-covered, and I know He knows me well. Selah!

Despite my good progress, my day didn't go as well as it could have due to a argument early in the day. I hate arguments. I hate to raise my voice. In fact, I will do most anything to avoid contention, but yesterday, well the odds were stacked against me, and I blew my cork. Yes, I let my tongue loose, and frankly, I said things I should not have said. I rarely do this, and I mean that sincerely. I simply felt defensive, and whenever you feel you have to defend yourself, well, that is when you tend to say things that would be better off left unsaid.

My morning started well, and in fact, I spent the early hours alone at home. My son was at school, and my parents were off at doctor's appointments. The house was quiet, just the way I like it, and I was working on the computer most of the morning. My parents arrived home around 11, and I made the mistake of mentioning a phone call I had received earlier that *suggested* my Mom had made other plans for the morning. Note: This is happening more frequently due to my Mom's dementia. She doesn't remember that she agrees to volunteer to help or to meet someone or to do something. My Dad tries to keep her calendar up to date, but Mom doesn't always tell him when she makes these plans. It is not a big deal normally because whatever she chooses to do typically is not important, per se. I just mean it is something for her to do, to help out, and not a doctor's appointment or critical appointment that she cannot miss. I handled the mishap with the person who called, explaining the mixup and that Mom wouldn't be able to attend due to her doctors appointments in the day. The caller was kind and understanding, so we left the conversation well in hand. 

The problem, I think, stemmed from my Dad's unwillingness to accept that he wasn't in control of the situation. I really think this is what the root cause was of the conflagration.  [An aside: I will discuss this more in detail further on, but for now, know that this new "revelation" has come to me overnight. Yesterday, unfortunately, I was clueless as to the the cause.] The situation started rather innocently, but in short order, erupted into a violent volcanic explosion in no time at all. The problem centered on my futile attempt to share my earlier phone call conversation with my parents so that my Mom would know what had happened, just in case she wanted to call the ladies from Church who were involved in the event to explain why she was absent. The issue turned sideways very quickly because my Mom couldn't remember what I was talking about until midway through my explanation. As I explained the call, she remembered the event and said, "Oh, I remember. I had volunteered to help the ladies stuff stocking today!" 

It was right in the middle of this somewhat non-offensive conversation, simply the relaying of factual information, that my Dad started to attack me. I can only explain it as such because it couldn't have been anything else. He refused to listen to what I was saying, calling me, in essence "a liar" because what I was saying didn't match with his understanding. I did try to calmly address the issue, calmly explain what I was saying, but it just didn't help. He refused to listen to me, and when I asked twice if I could finish, I was told to be silent. I didn't get it. I didn't understand what was happening to me, and why my Dad, who can be prickly on even the best of days, would behave so strangely. It was as if something was motivating him to attack me, to egg me on.

My fault, of course, was in the fact that I didn't walk away. I should have walked away. I should have said to my Mom, "Why don't you call Miss Z back?" and just leave it at that. Furthermore, I could have just left the message on the answering machine, rather than interrupting the caller. I only did it because she was coming to the house to pick up my Mother, and I didn't want her to make a special trip over here and then find that my Mom was not home. I figured I could either answer the phone and tell her the story or I could wait until she showed up at the door. It was one of those "either/or" scenarios, and I chose to keep this dear woman from making an unnecessary trip.

Psalm 39:1b - I said to myself, "I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me."

I regret my actions, my tone of voice, and the words I allowed to flow from my mouth. I regret that I behaved so badly. But...

I couldn't understand why I was being so vehemently attacked. Why this stupid conversation sparked a controversy is beyond me, and honestly, it is only today, after reflecting and thinking deeply about it, that I believe I was spiritually attacked. Furthermore, I believe that it was my Dad's perceived lack of control that sparked his willingness to "participate" in this argument. The combination, in my view, provided the fuel for the fire, so to speak, and now I am better able to see how everything worked together to great this "perfect storm."

In hindsight, I see that my Dad's behavior, while not out of character completely, was for all intents and purposes, a reflection of his perceived inability to control my mother's deteriorating health and her subsequent slide further into dementia. The fact that I was the target is unfortunate, but in truth, it seems that this is "par for the course" these days. The trigger incident was insignificant, and unfortunately, happens far to often in our home now that Mom has mild-moderate Alzheimers. It is just part of our normal daily life, and typically, we just go with the flow. My Mom is not able to remember details or events, and often struggles to recall instructions within minutes of the conversation. It is a fact of life for us, and we are all doing our best to deal with her condition.

So rather than being the sympathetic daughter I am normally, yesterday, I lost my cool, and I rebuked my Dad. I've been thinking about my behavior since it occurred, and I am sorry that I allowed the enemy to hurt me, to press me, and I, in turn, allowed myself to explode and retaliate at my father. 

Coming to Terms with this Illness

As I think about the days ahead, I know that there will be more and more of these "incidents" simply because of the nature of this awful illness. My Mother is losing ground daily, and while she is still able to handle some every day living (cleaning, laundry, etc.) she spends almost all of her day reading or watching TV. She doesn't cook, isn't able to cook anymore, and she can no longer drive. She talks on the phone with friends, and she keeps herself busy around the house. She is a shadow of her former person, a lively, engaging, and compassionate person. When I look at her, I see her frailty, and I see how far she has slipped away. She still laughs, and she still is "there," but I see the rapid change in her health, and sadly, I see the end coming soon.

Furthermore, when I look at her, I see how sickly she appears. Her bout with breast cancer has left her struggling. She has recovered from the disease, so say the doctors, but she has to have repeated trips to the surgeon to remove excess fluid from her incision area. This is the fifth visit, and each time she returns home, she looks so unwell. The procedure is painful, and she is uncomfortable for days on end. It seems that just as soon as she starts to feel a little better, the fluid returns, and then the discomfort, and finally, the repeat process to the doctor starts.

All of this is taking a huge toll on her life. And, while she is not bedridden at this time, she seems so pained, and this coupled with her memory loss, just zaps her strength. Her Leukemia is in check, which is a good thing, but to see her slumped in the recliner sound asleep most of the day, well, it is difficult to take. I try my best to keep the house running, but with my heavy teaching schedule and my doctoral course load, sometimes the pressure is too much for me. I lose my cool simply because I am tired, and I am overloaded. The last thing I need is to be accused or attacked for no reason.

With all this in mind, I am still faced with my response to my Dad, and my understanding of the situation at hand. What do I do about it? How do I handle this type of "thing" going forward? My good friend gave me some wise counsel last night, and I appreciate his response to the situation. He said to me that the only way to solve the problem was for me to look at what I could do rather than to focus on what others needed to do. Let me explain...

My problem is two-fold, really. One, I am dealing with spiritual attack; and two, I am dealing with the ramifications of my Mom's declining health, my father's attempts at caring for her, and my living arrangement (temporarily) in their home. I cannot expect my Dad to change his behavior or attitude at this late day. He is, after all, 82, and while he is prickly and stubborn, there are times when he is genuinely caring and compassionate. He is a difficult person to live with, for sure, and I say this all the time, I honestly do not know how my Mom put up with his antics for nearly 57 years (suffice it to say, she has). Still, I need to address these problems, the underlying problem that exists between me and my father, because putting my Mom's condition aside, and accepting the spiritual warfare that is ongoing, there still exists tension in this home, and that tension exists between me and my Dad.

I have to address both problems, spiritual and personal, and come up with a way to deal with the situation for as long as the Lord allows me to remain here and in this home.

1. Addressing the Problem (Spiritual)

Psalm 37:7 - Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don't worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.

I wish I could be still and patiently wait for the Lord. I need to be still. I need to be patient. Yet, like most human beings, I am impatient, and I am more apt to run ahead of the Lord, than to wait for Him to move. I know His timing is perfect, and I know that His way, His plan for my life, well, it is very good. I sometimes wonder why all this is happening now, and why I am struggling so with everything. I mean, when is "enough enough?"

My good friend said to me yesterday that perhaps the reason this is happening to me is to test my strength, to see what I am made of, and I think he is correct. I do believe that the spiritual attack yesterday was part-and-parcel with my proclamation of the Lord's will for my life. I spoke the words, I gave witness publicly, and in doing so, I incurred the enemy's attack. You see, whenever you speak your calling, you speak God's will in and through your life, and I don't mean to just say "I know the Lord's got a good plan," but rather, when you speak the actual plan, when you speak the words the Lord has given to you that pronounce that plan, articulate it, and give it "life," well that is when the enemy hits you the hardest. This is what I believe happened to me. This is what I think is really going on. I gave testimony to what I believed was or is the Lord's precise will for my life, and as soon as I did it, I was hard pressed on all sides. I was punched hard, and that punch hurt me deeply. I recovered, praise be to God, but I am still reeling from it. I think to myself, "Is this what I have to look forward to, Lord?" I mean, I know that in this world we will have suffering because our Lord told us so. Jesus said, 

Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:32-33 NIV).

And Paul writes these words to Timothy to remind the believers of the coming persecution.

Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:17 NLT).

As a Believer in Christ Jesus, this is what I must accept -- that in this life -- there will be troubles, trials, and tribulations. I will suffer persecution, and this persecution is going to come at me from all sides, and even at times, from people who are friends or family members. I must remember to be strong, to be still, and to patiently wait for the Lord. I must rely on His Word, to seek His counsel, and to abide in His Holy Spirit so that I can learn how to keep my tongue, to keep from going on the defense every time I am accused or attacked. The Word says it this way in Ephesians 6:10-17 NASB,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

My response is not to return the volley, but rather to stand fully clothed in the armor of God. I pray that this is my response from now on, and that as I stand firm, as Paul writes in this section from his letter to the Ephesians, I will overcome the attack of the enemy.

2. Addressing the Problem (Personal)

The second part of the problem is more difficult in my view because it is personal. Even though Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against people, but against spirits, it seems that people can cause a lot of pain and suffering for us. Our relationships, in particular, are a major source of pain. Yes, I know...sin is the cause, the root of evil behavior, but still, human beings are the ones who cause the majority of problems in this world. How then do we defend ourselves against the flesh? The Word is clear that we are to defend ourselves against the spirits with the Word of God, but what works with the people in our lives who are prickly, difficult, and at times, abusive or violent toward us?

As I was getting dressed this morning, I prayed to the Lord to ask for His help in dealing with this problem for me. You see, I am not able to simply up and move right now. I am close to finishing my PhD, and for now, that means that I don't make enough money to live on my own. I need to remain where I am until the Lord chooses to move me, so I must learn to live with this difficulty and in learning to live with it, I must learn how to communicate better so as to avoid conflict whenever possible (Romans 12:18).

As a communications scholar, I understand how difficult it is to handle conflict. I also know the steps advised to handle conflict. Furthermore, I know that conflict is not avoidable. I just mean that it is impossible to not have conflict in our relationships, so we must learn how to deal with conflict in appropriate ways. Conflict management is the "process of limiting the negative aspects of conflict while increasing the positive aspects of conflict" (Wikipedia). According to Scott Williams of Wright State University, there are numerous strategies for dealing with conflict. We tend to use the strategy that seems most comfortable to us, but sometimes the strategy we choose is not the best for the given situation. The most common strategies for conflict management include:
  • Forcing - using formal authority or other power that you possess to satisfy your concerns without regard to the concerns of the party that you are in conflict with.
  • Accommodating - allowing the other party to satisfy their concerns while neglecting your own.
  • Avoiding - not paying attention to the conflict and not taking any action to resolve it.
  • Compromising - attempting to resolve a conflict by identifying a solution that is partially satisfactory to both parties, but completely satisfactory to neither.
  • Collaborating - cooperating with the other party to understand their concerns and expressing your own concerns in an effort to find a mutually and completely satisfactory solution (win-win).
I can tell you that in my own personal experience, I have used accommodating, avoiding and compromising most frequently. I have found that neither has been a successful strategy, and that most of the time, the problem wasn't resolved satisfactorily.

Thus, the best strategy is the one most people prefer not to choose and that is to collaborate and create a positive solution. I believe the reason why people do this is because it is easier to accommodate, avoid, or compromise than it is to actively work toward a solution. Collaboration is the preferred strategy by most corporate managers, yet it is the most avoided choice in interpersonal relationships. The reason for this is simple, collaboration takes time. Williams states, "There are many advantages to using a collaborating strategy to handle interpersonal conflict situations.  Collaborating with the other party promotes creative problem solving, and it's a way of fostering mutual respect and rapport.  However, collaborating takes time, and many conflict situations are either very urgent or too trivial to justify the time it takes to collaborate" (para. 5).

Williams suggests that the above strategies work dependent upon the situation. It is vital, therefore to assess the situation to determine which strategy will work best. Evaluating the "importance" of the issue is key to determining how to react. For example, categorizing the issue as follows can help determine next steps:
  • Issue importance - the extent to which important priorities, principles or values are involved in the conflict.
  • Relationship importance - how important it is that you maintain a close, mutually supportive relationship with the other party.
  • Relative power - how much power you have compared to how much power other party has.
In my case, clearly the issue of how to care for my Mom and how to remain neutral in a shared home is of vital importance. It is in no one's best interest to keep the tension riding high nor is it possible to avoid conflict long-term. Thus, collaborating is a good choice because it lays the table bare, and it allows for both parties to express their opinions on the matter in a non-confrontational way. Then, it also allows for the two parties to come to a workable solution that is in the best interest of all parties involved.

As I consider this approach, I realize that while I may be able to get my Dad to agree to some things, this approach is not going to work for us. Even though, I consider our relationship of utmost importance, it is also an issue of power, and I think that the problem stems more from a lack of power or a perceived lack of power that causes animosity between us. You see, my Dad has always been in a power position in our home. Growing up, my Dad was the one to "lay down the law," and we all knew it. In business, my Dad was a Director, and later a Sr. Director, of his company. He was used to getting his way. As an adult child, my Dad always tried to overstep his boundaries in my life, especially when he thought I didn't know what I was doing or he felt my decision-making process was faulty. Thus, I have grown up feeling as though my decisions were critically analyzed and found wanting by my Dad. I avoided conflict with him, and I accommodated him to avoid clashes. Now, that I am living with my parents (temporarily), I am seeing this power structure in play. My Dad is trying to remain in control like he once did when I was young. He is losing control with my Mom as her condition deteriorates, and he is attempting to regain control over me and my son to reset the power structure in the family. The problem is that the power structure has shifted, and that means that I am in control of my family (my son). My parents are autonomous, and they are living in this home as their own family unit. In many ways, we cohabitate, but we are not a family, per se. We are related to one another, but in authority, I am authority over myself and my son. My Dad has authority over my Mom. This is Biblical, really, and I have no issues with the arrangement. I think the problem occurs when my Dad attempts to reclaim authority over me because he feels that I am acting irrational or I am making decisions that he doesn't agree with and he wants changed.

Therefore, I have decided that in my present situation, the best solution is to compromise. I am not willing to give my authority to my Dad, and I do not want to take his authority away from him and my Mom. I need to establish some stronger boundary lines, and that means that I have to be more present in what goes on in the home that affects me. I spend a great deal of time in my room, partly to focus on my studies. I am going to start taking a more active role to ensure that my son and I are not unfairly treated. Furthermore, I am setting boundaries on my expenses and what I am willing to contribute above and beyond our agreed upon monthly limits. I have been spending more money than necessary to ensure my Mom has the little things she likes. In doing so, I have enabled my Dad to get away with doing less for her. I am going to stop doing this because this places me in a subordinate position to my Dad who assumes I will do what he wants. It is not that I want to see my Mom suffer, but my stepping in has caused this power rift, and I need to step back out and distance myself somewhat from my parents daily routine and life. They must figure out how to live with this disease, the ramifications and outcomes of it, and in doing so, they must come to understand their own limits. I cannot protect them nor can I provide for them. I must let my Dad be the one in charge of my Mom, and in doing so, he will feel more in control. 

The key then becomes one of balancing the needs of the family with the provision the Lord provides to me. I have never been called to provide for my parents financially. I have never been asked by the Lord to provide for them physically, either. I care for them, I offer support to them, but I am not their caregiver. I must be careful not to assume a role that the Lord has not given to me. I am not called to be a full-time caregiver, and this I have known for a long while. This doesn't mean I don't care or that I don't help out as I am able. I do. It just means that I am not to become a full-time nurse for my parents or "live-in" help, which is what I am becoming, thanks to my Dad. No, I must not do this. I am here for a time only, while I finish my PhD. My parents have come to rely on me, and they believe that I am to care for them through the end of their lives. This is not the Lord's will for me, and while I do care for my parents, I am not to take on this responsibility and forget my calling, the expressed plans the Lord has for me. He is calling me to do great things, to go places, and to do work that is specific. Therefore, I must stand firm, even in this case, because in some ways, the enemy uses my attachment to my parents, my love for them, to keep me from following after the Lord. I must go where He sends me, and that may mean, leaving my parents behind to be cared for by others. I know that sounds so harsh, so cruel, but really it isn't cruel, mean or harsh at all. It is life. It is my life.

As a single woman, I am not in the position of caring for my elderly parents the way a married daughter could. You see, if I had a husband who made good money, to the point where I could stay at home, well that would be very different. I have to work. I have to do work, and I will have to do work until age 70 (at least). This means that I cannot stop what I am doing to be a full-time caregiver to my parents. I can be supportive secondary care, for sure, but not "on call" or "live in" care. I understand this now, more so than before, and I realize that the enemy seeks to play with my emotions and my feelings of responsibility. In doing so, he seeks to pull me from what I believe the Lord is calling me to do -- and that is to serve Him and others in a global context. Yes, I will serve others as I am able in my home, in my community, in my school, etc. We are all called to do this -- but some are called specifically in helper roles, as caregivers, while others are called differently. I must do what the Lord is calling me to do. I must do it.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely;
and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete,
without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-34 NIV