November 11, 2015

Give Thanks

It is a blessed day here in sunny and cool Phoenix. It is Veteran's Day, November 11, 2015, and I am thinking about all of those who gave their lives to serve our country and to keep us safe and free. I am thankful that in my lifetime, while I have experienced war on foreign fronts, with the exception of Vietnam, I have lived in relative safety. Not so for my parents and grandparents who lived through the horrors of WWI and II and Korea. I am thankful that even though we still have men and women serving in dangerous places such as Iraq, Afganistan and other unknown parts of the middle east, for the most part, we live in a country that is safe and secure.

The Republican political debates last night highlighted many of the infrastructure problems facing our country today, and no, I am not taking a Pollyanna-ish position where I believe everything will turn out alright. I know how this story ends (read Revelation), but still I do feel a measure of comfort in knowing that for now, for this time, my life is relatively secure. I use this term "relative" because I am simply saying that as much as it is possible to control my life and the outcome of my actions, I have a measure of security that assures me safety. This is not the case in many places in this world today. I still have the freedom to worship God opening, to read my Bible in public, and even to pray over my meals in a restaurant. Yet, I know that hard times are coming, that persecution of the American church is at hand. I know this is on this horizon, so for now, I take comfort, and I give thanks for the protection and security that I do have, and I know that my trust rests in the One who is far more able to care for me than any other person or thing. He is good, He is God, and He reigns! Selah!

It is a good day, then, to give thanks. With this in mind, I am thankful for this holiday, and for the fact that I get to spend it at home (no campus classes). I rested well last night, and even though I did get up around 4:30 (thank you, Winston), I think and feel like I rested well. My plan was to sleep in, and I guess I did somewhat. I woke up at 7:30, and for this semester, that is "sleeping in!" I am sitting here now, eating cinnamon rolls and enjoying my second cup of coffee. It is a good day. I feel good. And, I think that today is going to prove promising to me. I love the fact that I am able to rest today, and despite my long to-do list, I can take the day slowly, enjoying it, no savorying it, and still feel somewhat "accomplished" in the end. God is good, so very good to me.

Making Choices Today

I have blogged about my need to make choices recently, and I have struggled with making the BIG CHOICE of whether to stick out teaching or start looking for corporate work. I have been conflicted (note, not convicted) over the two choices, mostly because I didn't want to give in too soon, and I didn't want to let my students down (those who have already registered for my courses). I have stressed the need for steady income, and the desire to have benefits again, and in the end, I made the decision to leave teaching and search for some other viable means of good practical work. Just this past week, I have been praying over my decision, my HARD CHOICE, and while I feel content and at peace, I still worry over whether this is the right direction, the right way to go. Let me explain...

This past weekend, well Sunday really, I prayed for confirmation. I asked the Lord to make it obvious to me, like the "beyond a shadow of a doubt" type of confirmation so that I would know I am heading in the right direction. A couple weeks ago, I blogged about Ruth Chang's video on making hard choices, and I described in detail how I have processed my options and how I have come to terms with the fact that in my life there is no BEST option. Both of my options are good. One is clearly easier, more accessible to me, but neither is better or best because they both are good options. This process of deciding a path to follow has caused me great concern, mostly in my need to be "right," and by that I mean, my need to do the "right thing" always. In the end, though, I made the decision to pursue other options simply because to do so made the most logical sense.

I wavered in the past weeks, thinking for a moment that it is better to choose to follow my heart rather than my head, but after much soul-searching, I decided that the practical way to go is to seek outside employment where I could be readily hired with my existing skills and experience. I am now in the review stage for three potential positions, all within the healthcare industry. Two are work from home (telecommuter) positions and one is local. The local position is my least favored option simply because at this point in time, I feel I must work from home.

So this Sunday, I asked the Lord for confirmation that the choice I made was the "right choice." Keep in mind that it is not the best choice, but more so, it is the "right choice" because it considers the factors in my life now and into my future. I was expecting a call from the recruiter or an email saying "sorry, not interested." This was the confirmation I wanted, needed, but in the end, at the midpoint in the week, I have nothing to report to that degree. I do have some feelings, and while feelings are never a good indicator of truth, they can sometimes point to the truth. In my case, my feelings are telling me that I am doing the right thing, and my witness (what I see) is confirming that I am correct in my interpretation of the matter.

A Case in Point

Yesterday, I took my Mom to the store. It was close to dinner time, and I knew we needed some things for dinner. My Mom asked to go along, and while I normally do not take her because she is unable to make decisions now, I relented this time. We drove to Safeway, our closet grocery store, and we went in to get the food supplies we needed to make dinner at home. My experience was typical, but because I was relaxed (knowing I had today off), I let her wander about and I didn't pressure her to hurry up. I bought her a Starbucks on the way out, and I thought to myself "Thank you, Lord, that I am able to spend time with her." My Mom has mild-moderate Alzheimers, and that coupled with her CLL (Leukemia) and recent bout with breast cancer, well, has made our life a challenge. Her dementia is worsening. She is still able to do a lot around the house, but she cannot make decisions anymore. So while she can get herself dressed, make herself a cup of coffee, and even load the dishwasher or washing machine, she cannot make judgments on any type of matter that requires even the smallest amount of critical thinking skill. She doesn't drive, she doesn't go shopping, and while she does go to the library, more than likely, she checks out the same books each time. She still goes to Bible study and to the Women's club meetings, but she is not able to participate in anything other than being present.

My Dad has tried to make her life easy, as easy as possible for her. Yet, he struggles with the loss of his wife, with the fact that for the past 56-57 years, she has "handled" everything in their life. Now, he has to take care of her, and at 82 he is not able to do this on his own. More so, he has become increasingly tired. I have caught him sleeping more and more, and not just napping, but laying down on the bed. This is something my Dad never does unless he is ill. My concern is that the stress of caring for her, in his condition (post-polio) is causing his rapid decline as well. Hence, I see my role and responsibility in their life becoming progressive, more significant as time goes by. I see the role I am in now, and the role I will hold in a few months. I see it, and I have to begin to take this change in leadership role seriously. I have to be in control now, and not when my back is forced against the wall, know what I mean?

I feel that I am where I need to be and that the choice to look for "work from home" positions is the next step in my life/career. Last night was a perfect example of what I mean, how a small thing, gets blown up and out of proportion simply because of what is going on with my parents ill-heath. You see, I had taken my parents out to dinner the previous evening, and as part of their early-bird dinner, they each received a free slice of pie. The waitress was kind and she gave me one as well. We came home, and my parents put their pie in the refrigerator because they were full from dinner. The next day (yesterday), the pie was still in the refrigerator. After dinner last night, my Dad came into my room to ask who had eaten his pie. I said that it wasn't me because I had my slice the night before. He assumed it was my son, but I reminded him that his grandson doesn't eat pie. I said "casually" to ask Mom, and that is when all hell broke loose. It was determined that my Mom threw the pie out. She confessed it to me later, but she only said to my dad that "perhaps she threw it out." I asked her why she would have done that and she said "I thought it looked old." I said, "Mom, we just got that pie last night" and she replied, "I thought it looked funny so I through it out." This is what I mean by not being able to make critical decisions. She will throw out perfectly good food, and cook with food that is past its expiration date. This is typical of Alzheimer patients. Often, their sense of smell goes, and they cannot make critical judgments like to look at expiration dates or because the often struggle to retain "dates" (the daily information of life), they forget when things happen.

My father blew a gasket, you know, exploded and stormed off. I was left with the residue of dealing with my Mom, who in truth, didn't feel any sense of remorse (another sign). I walked back to my room and murmurred to myself "Oh, Lord, what am I going to do?" Later on, I took the trash out to the curb, and in a plea, no a cry, I said "Lord, is this how it is going to be? Is this why I need to find a telecommuter position now?" As I walked back into the house, I knew my answer. I knew that the answer was yes.

You see, my focus previously was on my need only. I see my mounting credit card debt, my student loan total, and my need for regular income and solid benefits. I see my need as realistic and potentially escalating. I am aware of my parents needs too, don't get me wrong. I do see their need, and I am aware of their financial situation. I know that they do not have the financial resources to handle in-home care or assisted living at this time. In fact, I doubt seriously that they would have enough coverage for anything outside the normal needs of age. My mother's bill for her cancer surgery, radiation, and follow up care has been in the $20-30K. Medicare has paid almost all of that bill, but still, my parents have had to put some on their credit cards. They live on social security and a very small pension, so while they can live comfortably with my help (sharing the living costs), they do not have the resources available to pay for long-term care or specialty services or support.

I know that the Lord has not called me to be my parents full-time caregiver, yet it appears that this is the role I am to have now. I know the Lord has a great plan for my life, but caring for my parents, well that was not on my plan or agenda. I have been fairly stalwart in saying that I believed the Lord had other plans for me, relocating, potential remarriage, etc. Now, I am faced with the uncertainty of caring for my parents, and when I look at my hands, all I see is emptiness, a lack of resources and an unknown outcome.

As I consider this road now, I realize that where I am is the place where the Lord intends to keep me. I mean, if I am called to move to a new place, another state, for example, my parents will need to come with me. It is a given now, no other option, no matter how much my Dad protests. He knows it too, though he is unwilling to admit it. He knows that this is the end of their life, and whether that end comes in a year, five or ten, this is what their life will be like. I see it as well. I see the truth, and for a long time, I simply wanted to avoid it. I asked my brothers to step in, and while they have lent their support, in truth, they are choosing to remain on the sidelines. I took offense early on, thinking that this burden was to be shared by us all, and while I know they will help, the fact remains that they live elsewhere and I am here. So for whom the bell tolls...

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
~John Donne

As much as I don't like it, and by that I mean seeing my parents life in this way, I know that this is part of the road I travel. I must walk this way, and in doing so, I must do the work that the Lord calls me to do. I have relented. I have accepted this fate, if you want to call it that, and I have agreed to care for my parents through the end of their life. I believe this action, this attitude, really, pleases the Lord, and in doing so, I am trusting Him to provide for their long-term care. I also realize that to faciliate this part of their life, I need to make some changes to mine.

As I see it right now, my greatest need, and I am being practical when saying this, is to find good work that will provide well for me and for my son. Granted, my son is almost grown, but as long as he lives at home, is a full-time student, etc., then I feel it is my responsibility to provide for him. I provide supportive care now since he also works part-time. I provide food, shelter, and at times, clothing, but mostly he takes care of himself (eating on his own, etc.) I also provide medical care, which is an issue since we were denied for Obama Care and now have no benefits and no recourse left to us. Furthermore, my responsibility here at home is shared. I do not bear the brunt of our expenses, but I do contribute half of our costs to keep our home, utilities, food, etc. My parents cover their own clothing, living, and medical care.

My needs run approximately $2K per month. I have maintained this level of living since 2011, and while I can live comfortably on an earned income of $40K per year (less 23% estimated taxes) or $2500 per month take home pay, I prefer to have a wider margin of left over to cover unforseen costs. Moreover, with my credit card debt and school loans, $40K simply will not cut it. I have to earn substantially more to get out of debt and to start saving for retirement. As I look forward, I realize that I need double this amount of income in order to live comfortably and retire at age 70. That means that if I continue to live modestly, and I will, I need to bring home closer to $6-7K each month. As a single woman, head of household, I pay more in taxes than most, but still this is the budget I anticipate needing going forward.

As a full-time faculty member, I could potentially earn between $40-80K in salary. Sure, there are more lucrative posts, but I am never going to be a full professor (rank) simply because of my age, my experience, my schooling (I didn't go to Yale) or my record of publishing. Therefore, the most I could expect to earn is $40-45K -- and that is dependent on securing a full-time position at a school somewhere local or in another state. I have been applying since 2014, and so far, I have had no takers whatsoever. I have received polite thank you's only.

I started applying for corporate communication and technology positions in mid-October. I have been looking for awhile, just to see what was out there, and I am honest when I say that there are plenty of positions I could do given my experience and education. The typical salary for a position that fits my skills and abilities starts at $60K, but averages closer to $80K. The national average is for midrange positions is near $100K and in time, with experience, seems to settle around $120-150K. Now, if I were only after the money, it is clearly a no-brainer. But, I want a good job, to work for a good company, and to have longevity, career progression, etc. Still, I cannot hide the fact that my skills put me in this salary range, without doing much more than applying. Why then, do I struggle to follow the practical path?

Answered Prayer

I guess the Lord answered my prayer, and while I am thankful for what I do now, teaching college, I realize that it was a means to an end. It facilitated my desire to work part-time while I completed my Ph.D. I guess I had hoped that other options would exist, that I would be hired to do full-time teaching at a school somewhere. But even in that, I have come to realize that teaching, in and of itself, isn't the "best fit" for me. I am bone weary, stone tired, and worn out each day. I am stressed most days, and frankly, my recovery time (weekends, holidays and summers) seems to be to used to recuperate from the physical stress and toll teaching takes on my body. I don't want to live like this anymore. I don't want to suffer physically unless it is unavoidable, know what I mean?

I do enjoy the process of teaching. I enjoy working with my students, helping them succeed, and I enjoy the freedom that comes with teaching adjunct. But, in truth, I know that I will be bored longterm, and that I prefer to do work that is more challenging, complicated, and based on rewards and achievement. I guess, when it all comes down to it, I know what is "best" for me. So even though there isn't a best way, per se, there is a better choice that suits me, provides for me, and will help me feel better (physically), and feel more in control (financially), all the while giving me a measure of security and provision that will meet my needs. Selah!

Choosing This Way

I made the decision to go this way last week, and I feel as though the Lord has confirmed my way this week. Now, I must rest. I must wait to see if the positions I have applied for are within His scope for my life. I hope so. I am open to going anywhere He leads, and even if that means some place hot and steamy or cold and blustery. I know that wherever He leads me, it will be good.

I guess the truth of my situation has finally settled in. I see the path I am on, I see where I am going, and while, my heart is steady in it all, I know that what passes before me will not always be sweet, warm and wonderful. I am determined to make the best of this situation, and that means that I will "endeavor to persevere." I will do my best to make my life good, you know, within the parameters of the Lord's will, and I will be responsible as He leads and guides me. God is good to me. He is so good to me, and I know that His hand of blessing and favor rests upon me.

Psalm 34:8 - Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!

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