November 8, 2015

Next Steps

It is a blessed day today. It is Sunday, and I am home from church. Well, let's just say I am home from my attempted church visit today. Yep, I made the trip all the way over to SBC this morning only to be greeted by a jammed packed parking lot.  This is something I haven't witnessed in over 15 years, and I knew immediately, that the attempt to park would be futile.

Today is the grand opening of the new worship facility, so the staff decided to hold joint worship services (where all our campus venues meet together). This meant that everyone who normally meets on campus would be moving into the new center for services today. Of course, I think a lot of the winter visitors and the members who chose to temporarily move to our other campuses decided to come back for the day. Anyway, after driving around and seeing the lines waiting to get in and out of the parking lot, I decided that it was not going to prove successful, and I turned around and came home.

My morning wasn't a total loss. It is beautiful here today, warm, but not too hot, and sunny. I drove from my church back home by way of PetsMart and picked up some cat food for my boys. I enjoyed the blessing of living in this beautiful place, and I spent the quiet drive in meditation and contemplation. I also prayed for my family, friends, and loved ones, and I thought seriously about my next steps. All of this quiet time was good. I felt at peace, and I enjoyed the scenery. I guess the Lord knew that I needed some time away from my computer, my studies, and my grading. He is good, so very good to me! Selah!

Putting My Life into Perspective

This week, I have been thinking a lot about self-reflection and how important it is to have quiet time to reflect. On Friday, I showed Susan Cain's TED Talk on the "Power of Introverts" to my class. In her speech, she talks about being alone, setting time apart to reflect and to be quiet. Likewise, I also showed Sherry Turkle's TED Talk to my ACU students this week. Turkle is the author of "Alone Together," a book that looks at the phenomenon of always being connected, yet always being alone. These two talks have gotten my mind thinking a lot about this process of being alone, and what it means to really be "alone." Often, we think it is bad to be alone, that being alone is the same as being lonely. The two concepts are vastly different. In fact, as I prepared my annotated bibliography project for my research paper on Peter Abelard, I read an article that talked about Abelard's insistence on "stillness" or "silence" in his relationship with God. This stillness was not the same thing as oral silence, common in the monastery. No, Abelard, was talking about an inward silence that helps to connect us to God, and helps us to communicate with Him.

I use my blog as an outlet for my self-reflection. I reflect often, daily, and I am always thinking about my life, the choices I make, and the outcomes  I experience. My blog is a way for me to reflect on current experiences, to think more deeply about past experiences, and in some ways, predict future experiences (with limited omniscience). I am able to see a bit further into my future, and through a careful application, I can extrapolate possible outcomes. I may not be sure, certain really, about them, but I am able to use my strategic foresight to suggest plausible outcomes. Let me explain...

Strategic foresight is the "high-level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty" (Wikipedia). Strategic foresight is the ability to use planning, to plan for future contingencies, and to gauge outcomes based upon a predictive analysis. Strategic foresight plays with the future and sees the future not as something scary, but rather as an endless series of possibilities.

I happen to have keen ability in foresight. I am not 100% able to predict outcomes, but I have always been able to plan my way into the future, and to have good success in the process. One of the things I have learned over the past 15-16 years of my life is that I am really good with planning and organization. In fact, planning and organization are probably two of my strongest and most practical gifts. I happen to know how to plan, strategize, and then organize details in order to produce really good results. I am keenly aware of uncertainty principles, and I am adept at avoiding issues that could lead to failure and/or possible process hiccups. The problem for me is that sometimes I become so fixated on the process that I lose track of the purpose. In these times, I can become sidetracked and I forget what the end-goal is, and why I am moving toward achieving it. A perfect example is my life plan, which was set in motion in 2010, and to which I have been strongly following since that time. My life plan was authored, I believe, by the Lord. I have been following what I believe is His calling on my life, His desired ministry for me to do, and His will -- overarching and personal -- to get me from point A to B to C and on into eternity. My life, therefore, has been planned, purposed, and in all practical aspects, has been oriented toward a specific goal, a specific place and time. My life, therefore, was set in motion a while back, and everything I have done thus far as either served to take me one step closer or one step further away from what I believe is His plan, His future perfected plan for my life.

Why Choices and Analysis Matter

Some Christians take the view that they are able to make choices based in human reasoning and that the Lord will bless those choices regardless if they align with His will or not. This view holds that as Christians we are covered by the banner of His grace, and as such, this grace is like a "get out of jail free card." It can be used whenever and as many times as it is needed. Thus, these folks take chances, make poor choices in life, and flounder around in a sort of happenstance approach, all the while believing that the Lord has them covered. Nothing bad will happen to them because He has them covered by His grace.

Now, I happen to believe that His grace is sufficient, and yes, we are covered by His banner of grace. However, I do not believe that this view aligns with scripture at all. I believe that as Christians we are under the influence of grace so long as we consistently apply it to our lives. What I mean by this is that we are saved by His grace, and our sins are forgiven (the past, present and future) based on Christ's death on the cross. Therefore, there is nothing we need to do to remain under His grace but to abide (to rest in it). 

In this life, however, and I believe Scripture supports this view, there is the issue of moral and fiscal responsibility. The Word tells us time and time again how it is the wise steward who handles the Master's money, His trust, His blessings with care. Therefore, there is a clear correlation between how we behave, the choices we make, the way we live our life, and the blessing that we receive. Thus, the Master rewards the faithful servant for His good work. In this way, I believe that we do have a responsibility to behave well, to live well, and to be honorable in our work (caring for our families, being a good worker, etc.).

It is my view, then, that the good steward is the one who uses all the gifts, talents and abilities he has been given to do practical work, good practical work. This means that if you have been given the gift of craftsmanship, then you may find good practical work in this area of your life. You may find good work where you can use your hands to produce good products and services. Likewise, if you have the gift of numbers, a natural ability to use math or finance, then you may find that you can produce very good work as an accountant or other business professional. The same is true for the teacher, the administrator, or the nurse. 

Some people believe that they can do whatever they want so long as they do not break the law and please God. I don't know if that is wise or not, but I believe that using the gifts, talents and abilities the Lord has given to you, both natural and spiritual, can produce good outcomes for yourself and your family. Thus, it is wise to use these gifts to provide for yourself, to provide for your family, and to support the church.

Lately, I have heard a lot of talk about ministry gifts and how we must find out our spiritual gifts and then use them in ministry because this is why the Holy Spirit has given them to us. I don't disagree with this view at all, but I do think it places a lot of emphasis on the gift and how it is to be used. I take a more practical view that says that within a small parameter, there are some who are called to use their gifts in a full-time ministry role. These typically are your pastors or musicians who feel the Lord leading them to full-time work in a church or parachurch organization. Most of us, however, are not called to this type of work, so we do, instead, other more practical work (worldly work). There is nothing wrong with doing worldly work -- the world needs workers of all shapes and sizes -- thus it is a good thing to do good work. Paul said it this way in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 NLT,
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.
The issue here is that there were some in the church who were not working, but who were showing up for the communal meal and expecting a free handout. Paul was clear that as the church, we are to be role models to others (inside and out) and that means to be honorable workers. We are to work hard, no matter how much time is involved, to provide for ourselves (and our families). We are not to be a burden to anyone in the church, and this means, that we must work as we can to take care of ourselves. Our efforts will spill over, of course, so that we can take care of those who cannot work (the orphan, the widow, the indigent, etc.).

My desire has always been to be a good worker. I mean since 2010, I have made it my goal to do good productive work. In that way, I mean good work that produces an outcome -- financial gain, security, and a modest living -- to be responsible for myself and my family. I so desired this that I prayed and I asked the Lord to provide good work to me. I never questioned the work, the type of work, and in truth, I took jobs that were difficult for me to do. I did my due-diligence, and in time, the Lord provided better work, work that paid a better wage and that fit my skills more closely. That is until I made the decision to teach. In this one choice, I left the path I was on, a path that seemed to produce very good results, for one that required a lot more effort and produced very little return.

I have blogged about my experience teaching, and how the ROI is so very low. Still, I have stuck this path out for a number of reasons, but now I am carefully considering if the time is right to move into a different way, a way that will provide me with better outcomes, a more secure future, and the possibility for future growth.

One Step at a Time

I have thought a lot about this recently, how I have struggled with my choice to leave teaching, and why I feel conflicted about it. Today, during my quiet time with the Lord, I realized the reason why I am stuck, so to speak, is because I have a backward notion about what is Godly work and worldly work. You see, for some 30 years, my ex-in-laws were strong supporters of doing God's work. In their view, the only good work was work that was ministry related. This meant that you could be a pastor, a teacher, a musician, or administrator, etc. and so long as you were working in a Christian organization, church, or school -- well then -- you were doing the Lord's work. If you worked in the world, in real estate, in business, etc. then this work was second best. Your goal was to be either in Christian ministry or service. This view was very narrow and it came from a life, really a history, of ministry and missionary service. Over the 30 years I was part of that family, my efforts were always being questioned. My work, no matter how good it was, simply wasn't good enough.

When I decided to go back to graduate school, my MIL questioned my intentions. After all, she asked why would I invest in graduate education at this point in my life?  I told her, like I told my parents, that I was getting my Masters degree to teach college. It was a good answer, and the doubters in my life, were silenced. Thus, when I said I was going on to get my PhD, well the doubters asked again, "is it really necessary to get another degree?" I said it was because the only way I would get hired full-time was with a PhD. Thus, my entire education was predicated outwardly on this false belief that said the only reason I was getting my degree was to become a college professor.

The problem was that the real reason why I was getting my PhD was to facilitate the Lord's will for my life. You see, I believed, and I still do, that my degree was needed in order for me to do His work. His work wasn't to be teaching or anything of this sort. No, His work was going to be in communication, and it was going to be in an international organization whose efforts were specific -- ministry and evangelism -- in a global context. I knew it, but I was afraid to say this out loud for fear of ridicule from the naysayers. So instead, I fabricated a lie that sounded really good, and on the surface, quieted the doubters in my life.

I transitioned into teaching for one reason only. I wanted to try it out before I made the decision that it wasn't the Lord's will for my life. I remember the conversation I had with the Lord, clear as it can be, I asked Him if I could try it out before I walk away from the idea of being a teacher. The Lord told me in no uncertain terms that this path wouldn't provide for me, that it wasn't a good fit for my skills, and this wasn't His preferred way for me to go. Yet, I pushed Him, pleaded with Him, and in the end, He gave me my choice. In hindsight, I knew I had made a bad choice when I saw my first pay check come in. I think I got paid $375 for two weeks of instructional assistant work. I cried. I literally cried when I saw that paycheck because I was used to seeing four-times that amount being auto-deposited into my account every two weeks. I thought, "Lord, what have I done?"

It took me about two months before I admitted to Him that I had made a mistake, and that it wasn't practical for me to do this line of work. Not now, I mean, not when I was single, living on my own, being responsible for myself and my son. The Lord quickly opened a door, and I exited out, but I never felt good, never could accept that I was walking away from the "thing" I thought I wanted to do since I was a child. I lasted all of 30 days in that job before I ran back to GCU, and I tried teaching again. In fact, I remember saying to the Lord that I wasn't ready to give it up, and I needed to try it one more time. The Lord was adamant that I couldn't do this -- switching back and forth -- and so I said I would stay the course, and stick it out this time. And, I have -- I am.

But now, I see my life in full view, and I see where I am and where I need to be and the path I am on isn't leading me there. It is taking me in a different direction, and the path that is right there --> right there -- seems to be more straight, more focused, and clearly a better option for me.

Do I deserve another chance? Can I really leave this path and take that one? Is the timing right to make such a move? Do I have the option? Is it still open to me?

I have wrestled with these questions over and over again, and the one thing that comes to my mind is this thought:

If I do not go now, what will happen tomorrow?

You see, my parents are in a difficult place in their life. I am functionally head-of-household, and that means that I am taking on more and more of a responsibility for their care through the end of their days. While the Lord has not called me to be full-time caregiver (like a nurse), He has clearly told me that I would be head-of-household, and with that, I would bear a greater share of the responsibility and burden for their care then my brothers. This word has come to pass (it is true), and here I am today, serving in this role. Yet, my mind races to my finances, to my needs, and to my future, and all I see on this path (the teaching path) is empty hands and an inability to keep up with the demands. I see on that path, the other one, the possibility for a better life, a more quality life, and an easier way to fulfill this role in my parent's life (as they draw to the end of their lives).

Moreover, I see my son and I realize that he is almost grown and on his own. The time is coming when he will move out and I will be alone. I don't mind really. I mean, I have lived my life alone, even when I was married, I was often left alone. I am used to it. But there is part of me that realizes that in that aloneness, I long for good satisfying work. I long to be used by God for greater purposes and to achieve the things He desires for me to do. I want to be about His business, and for a long time, I thought that teaching was doing just that. This weekend, however, I came to the conclusion that doing His work isn't about the job, but the heart and the intention to do whatever work He brings to us to do. You see, I allowed my own motivation, desire, and even the conditioning of others to keep me from being ready to go where the Lord was or is clearly calling me to go. I let the past, my poor choices, and my desires to finally be "someone of value and worth" determine the next steps in my life. God has given me a brain, strategic foresight, and keen skills and yet I am not using these strengths at all. I am living in a way that is very uncomfortable, that is perpetuating a cycle of debt and dependency, and that is not focused on possibilities. In many ways, I reverted to the life I once lived with my ex-husband, where I rationalized and justified something that was broken rather than seeing the reality of the situation. My eyes have been opened, and with freedom, I step out in faith and take these first baby steps toward a brighter future. I believe that God's grace does cover me, and as long as I endeavor to remain in His will, I know that He will lead me and guide me on to the place of His choosing. I let go, once again, I let go, and I say "Yes, Lord. I am ready now. We can go."

God is Good to me. He is so very good to me. I give Him praise today for His goodness and mercy cover me, and I know that I am right where He wants me to be today. May His will be done in every area of my life, and may I walk on toward that future, the one that is filled with hope, positive outcomes, and a clearly defined purpose for my life. He is good, He is so very good to me. Selah!

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