December 28, 2015

Reflections of 2015

It is Monday, and that means that it is December 28, 2015. Yes, there are only three more days left in this month and in this year. In some ways, that thought excites me and in other ways, it scares the daylights out of me! So much has happened this past year -- so much change -- yet, in and through it all, the Lord has been good to me. Today, then, is a day of reflection, a time to think back on all that the Lord has done for me, and to remember His goodness and His blessing on my life. Selah!

This year, 2015, has been a significant year for me in many ways:

First, I made it through my doctoral program, completing all my required courses, both cores and electives, and I kept my solid 4.0 GPA.  This is a huge achievement, and it is something I take no credit for at all. The Lord has been my ROCK and my STEADY companion, and through all the trials and stresses of doctoral coursework (the papers, the discussion board posts, etc.), I have come to learn of His goodness, to rely upon His steadfastness, and to expect His faithfulness in every detail of my life. He is good, He is so very good to me! Selah (pause, and think about that!)

Second, as I moved into my new profession as a teacher, I realized that the more time I spend actually "teaching," the more comfortable I become at it. I have learned that "practice does make perfect," and that to become polished in presenting in the classroom requires three things: preparation, presentation, and practice. It is all a matter of being prepared, knowing your material well enough so that your confidence shines through, and then practicing the application of teaching (speaking, guiding, mentoring, etc.) in and out each day. The Lord has shown me that I can be an effective teacher in the classroom, and that I can learn how to guide my students in their studies using my personality, my passion, and my persuasion to do it.

Last, as I think about my future, the plans the Lord has for my life, I realize that nothing I do or even consider is every outside the scope of His authority and His will for me. I have considered a number of options this year including moving to Alabama and Tennessee, taking on teaching jobs at Christian and Secular schools as well as even moving back into corporate communications in order to facilitate a faster return to financial stability. In all, I have considered options that would provide a solid career position for me and that would open doors for further advancement in my professional life as well as in my personal life. Yet, in the end, I chose to stay put, to remain in higher education, not because it was the most lucrative, but rather because it provided the means to enable me to do the Lord's work, His ministry work, and it would keep me focused, dependent, and wholly reliant on the Lord for my every need. I chose this line of work because it requires that I remain fixed to my Lord, 100% dependent on Him for everything, and in that place of yielding and submission, I find that I am most content, most satisfied, and most at peace. It is a good thing, a very good thing.

Reflecting on Key Events

As I think back on this year, several key events stand out as critical to my spiritual and emotional well-being. Of these, two are especially important, namely my completion of my coursework and my acceptance of my role as teacher. I know it seems like obvious to most people, considering I am a doctoral student and a teacher, but to me, coming to terms with these two concepts caused me the most concern, and consumed most of my thought-processes and my time throughout the year.

On Being an Educator

I struggled most with the fact that to remain in teaching, in higher education, I had to let go of the other path I was on, and I had to fully embrace this way as His way. It was difficult for me because the decision process wasn't clear cut. I had to consider two options for my life, and once I had made my decision, I couldn't turn back. No, the decision had to be final, and that meant that once I started walking down this path, there would be no change of heart or mind. The path of teaching was heading in one direction, and the path for corporate work was heading in another. I knew that there would be no other time when a crossroads, so to speak, would appear again; these two paths would never cross for me.

I stood at that crossroads, it seemed for months, wrestling with the decision to choose one way over the other. The process was agonizing for me. However, once I made the choice, and I started to walk forward, I realized that I had made a good decision, a good choice for my life. Granted, I didn't choose the easiest way to go, the way that would provide amply for me, and that would keep me in good financial position. Financially speaking, I chose a less desirable way to go. I think this was the part that was most difficult for me because I was in a position where my financial well-being was perilously close to crashing down on me. In logical terms, choosing a financial option made good sense. I would have taken a job that would have provided well for me, made sure that I was well-cared for money-wise, and would have helped me build retirement. I would have been well-set, so to speak. Yet, my heart struggled to go after the money, to follow that road because I worried whether I would be satisfied in other ways, in more important ways (long-term). Thus, with heart-wrenching and gut-turning agony, I finally I chose a way of life that would meet my spiritual and emotional needs first and foremost. I chose the way that would provide the maximum amount of spiritual well-being and emotional happiness, albeit along with the minimum amount of financially success.

On Finishing Doctoral Studies

As I turned toward the end of the year, the realization that my doctoral studies were ending caught me by such surprise. I had been so fixed, so fervent in my application and my intensity that I didn't realize just how important the routine was to my life. You see, as a doctoral student, everything you do is predicated on one goal -- finishing your dissertation research and graduating with your PhD. My advisor likes to say, "the only good dissertation is a done dissertation" and he is right! Too many students quit before they finish their research simply because it is the research that requires the most effort. The classes often are brutally difficult, but there is routine in them. Each semester, you look forward to the next two classes. You look forward to getting your books, to seeing your syllabus, and to starting your assignments. There is anticipation and excitement, and often, you are joined by familiar faces, colleagues whom you have come to know and rely upon. In many ways, doctoral programs are like families, and through them, you become part of a family of scholars, and that family connection makes the whole process worth while. As a family, you cry with your peers, hug them when you see them, and complain and whine over the hardships you each face. There is a kinship that develops in strong and cohesive doctoral programs, so when the time come to exit out, there is a feeling of isolation, of loneliness, and of exposure. It is hard to explain really but I would guess it would be like a person who leaves the military after a long run or retires from a company after so many years. It is not like you won't ever see your peers again, but the situation will be different, the experience will never be the same.

I didn't see that letdown coming because I was consumed by the work I had to do. This last semester, in particular, was grueling for me. I completed two major courses, and I taught four classes locally. The combination along with family commitments was difficult for me. I survived, praise be to God, and in the end, I finished strong. It was a wonderful, life-changing, and exhilarating process, but now it is over, and I have to look to the next goal: exams and dissertation. I am in the final stretch, winding my way around to home plate, but there is still work to be done, work that must be done. The whole thought that I am almost ABD (in March, Lord willing) scares me. I am apprehensive of passing my exams, but I know that the Lord will see me through just as He has through each course, each paper, and each term. He will guide me, mentor me, and help me to finish this last stretch, this last part with grace and with enthusiasm.

My heart longs to be finished, to finally be graduated. Yet, there is a part of me that is already missing the camaraderie of classroom, the community that was created as part of my cohort. I know my colleagues who are in the same place feel this way too. I also know that these people will be life-long friends of mine, forever friends, because we shared in such an important and awesome journey together. The Lord knew what He was doing when He placed Regent on my heart way back in 2012. He knew that I needed this program, and that this program would change my life for the better. He knew that the work He had for me would begin here and would be built upon this foundation of knowledge. He knew that the faculty would encourage me, pray for me, and guide me, and in the end, I would learn exactly what I needed to know to be: a scholar, a teacher, and a communicator. God knew this was the "best" path for me, and through this experience, He understood how well I would be shaped, molded, and conformed to His will for my life. Selah!

With all this in mind, I turn my attention toward 2016 and the new plans the Lord has for my life. Some of what is in process will continue on through this next year and even into 2017. Somethings will change, of course, and some things will end. But through it all, I know that the Lord has me well-covered, He has me in His steadfast care, and I can rest in the knowledge that He indeed is Lord of all.

Plans for 2016

My plans for 2016 are for the most part set and fixed. In this way, I simply mean that the plans I have in place now are pretty much settled. I don't expect any real change. I always keep an open mind because the Lord could choose to do something that might cause me to be moved, altered or shifted. For now, though, I believe this is what the Lord intends for me to accomplish this coming year.

Regent University

I am scheduled to "sit" my comprehensive exams in February and March. Examinations are a two-part process with the written portion taking place on February 11-12, and the oral defense portion taking place the first to second week of March (typically 2-3 weeks after the written portion is completed). As of right now, I plan to sit the written portion here in Phoenix (at ACU). The oral portion can be done over the phone or in person, but it is best to visit campus and take it locally. I am planning on travelling to VA on Sunday, defend on Monday, and fly home on Tuesday during the second week of March. Once I complete my exams, pass them, I will no longer be a student, but I will be classified as a candidate. This is the official start of my dissertation research, and Lord willing, I hope to have everything completed so I can defend it some time before the end of 2016. My graduation date remains the same -- May 2017 -- and I plan to walk in the ceremony on campus to celebrate my final achievement!

As I consider these next steps, I have several hurdles to overcome, namely studying for my exams (the next 6 weeks), and then taking and passing the written portion. I am confident in the Lord, so while I am apprehensive about the exam process, I know He will go before me (Deut. 31:8), and He will give me good success. My research has faltered somewhat, but I hope to get back on track with it before the end of this month. My goal is to be able to present my proposal to my panel before May 2016 (again, Lord willing).

Grand Canyon University

My teaching contracts are set for spring 2016. I will be teaching three composition courses only so as to facilitate my study program for exams. I am relying on the Lord for His provision of financial support, and I am praying that the Lord will open doors for another teaching position, possibly online, to help me recover some of the lost income. However, I know that He has me well-covered, so I let this be, and I focus on my exams.

I have some opportunity at GCU for fall, but mostly, it will be the same as what I have been doing -- teaching part-time adjunct (3 classes maximum). I also have an open opportunity at ACU to repeat the Communications class I have taught twice now, but I really do not want to teach it a third time. I simply do not care for the class, the format, or the content. However, Lord willing, if I must do it to supplement my income, so be it. I am okay so long as the Lord provides and calls me to take that position again.

I have applied for a couple online teaching positions, but so far, nothing has materialized. This leads me to believe that it is the Lord's will, for now, that I teach my three classes and let the idea of teaching full-time slide. He knows my needs, and He has a great plan in mind for me.

Auburn University

I have considered Auburn University for a time now, well for about a year and a half. At first, I thought the Lord wanted me to apply to this school for full-time teaching work. However, as time has passed, I have come to the conclusion that for now, Auburn is not the choice the Lord has for me for my professional career. I was distracted for a long while with the thought of teaching at this very prominent school, and I think my desire to move there because of my good friend, well that colored my idea and confused my thinking processes (in a good way, I should say). Now, though, I think the desire that I have to go to Auburn is more for study than for teaching. I have prayed about this feeling, and while I am not 100% sure of it, I do feel that the Lord may be calling me to post-doctoral study at this school.

I have thought about this quite a bit, and for a time, I was unable to see how the Lord would or could choose to send me here. I mean, I need or will need full-time work just to support myself and my family. Furthermore, the thought of taking on more post-doctoral work seemed like too much for me. Could I even imagine doing more work like this? As I think about it, my mind says yes, I could. I know that seems really crazy and so impractical, but I have this desire to study Rhetoric and Composition, and I believe that this desire is of the Lord (so be it). I am trusting the Lord to provide for this desire, should it be His next move for me, and that means that if He wants me to study Rhetoric, well then He has to provide a way for me to do it. Selah!

Studying at Auburn has challenges, many challenges. The first and most significant is acceptance into the program. Auburn's English program is highly competitive and that means that the Lord would have to move me there, open the door to acceptance, and provide a way for me to live/work/study at this school. It all seems impossible, yet the Lord is known for doing the impossible, so I am letting the details ride, so to speak. If this is His will, it will come to pass. I have seen enough to know that He does mighty and miraculous works still today, and that if you believe in His abilities, and rest in them, well -- anything is possible (Selah!)

So for now, I leave this as an open possibility for 2016. I wouldn't be able to begin this study until 2017, but it would be in my best interest to be settled in Alabama so that I could achieve residency (save some $$). Furthermore, I believe that it would benefit me to be settled and to get to know the area before I have to commute to work/school. Again, these are details that the Lord has in His hand, so I let them be. I trust Him to provide, to meet my every need, and to open the right doors for my life.

Family and Other Commitments

Lastly, as I look forward into 2016, I am convinced that whatever the Lord intends to do, He has my family in mind. The other day, my Mom mentioned something about moving, and my Dad said, "Moving would kill us." I know what he meant by that statement, that moving (the process of it) would be too much for them to handle, but there is part of me that sees this as a real possibility in 2016 (Auburn aside). My parents health is in decline. They are not in-firmed yet, but they are in such a place where they will need more care in the coming year, especially my Mom. My Dad is able to handle most things, but his memory is failing too, and he is struggling to take care of my Mom's health and her memory issues (Alzheimers/dementia). Mostly, Mom's memory is the biggest concern. Her CLL is steady, and she seems less fatigued now. Furthermore, her cancer is gone, and while she is still suffering with some lingering issues (her incision is still draining -- after 6 months), overall, she is doing okay. She will need more care in time, but for now, I see her condition as stabilized.

My son, on the other hand, seems content where he is at presently. He is a Senior at Arizona Christian University, and while he has three semesters before he graduates, he seems to be happy at school (and doing well, finally). Furthermore, he is in a good place with his work and he has found himself a nice girlfriend (yea!) He seems to be maturing into a strong young man, and for that, I am so happy. He is coming into his own, and I feel confident that he will be just fine on his own (again, finally!) This relieves me because I worried about leaving him behind, and I worried whether my actions to relocate would impact his studies or his life. Now, I see that the Lord has provided a strong support group of friends and mentors, and He has opened some doors for him to move into positions of ministry as well as into avenues of work (doing audio/visual engineering). I think he will do just fine in whatever the Lord calls him to do, so my prayer for now is for my son to continue to grow up in the Lord, to develop a strong relationship with Him, and to come to see the power and presence of God's hand upon his life (selah!)

With my parents consideration and needs in mind, and my son's present situation, this leaves my personal life hanging in the balance. The Lord has brought me a wonderful companion and friend whom I have grown very fond of and with whom I have become intimately involved. I have begun to see my life beyond Regent and Grand Canyon and even Phoenix -- all because of this special relationship. We have discussed a future together, but for now, we have not taken the next step to relocate near one another. We both are waiting for the Lord's timing, and His will, of course, but there is clear indicators that this is the "next step." This means that I would be the one to go, simply because I do not believe that the Lord intends for me to stay in Phoenix long-term. Thus, the idea has been in my head for a long time (some 7 years) that I would relocate to the southeast sometime before or near 2017. Now, I am thinking that this is the Lord's plan for my life, to move to the southeast for school (rather than work) and to be settled near my good friend so that we can enjoy the blessing of a stronger and more supportive relationship.

Once again, the thought of moving scares me. Not only are there logistics involved, but the very fact that human emotions and intentions are at the forefront causes me the greatest concern. I have four people to think about, myself not included. I have my parents, my son, and my special friend -- all who are important to me. I want what is best for all four of these people, and my feelings aside, I know that the next step I take has to be ordained and provided for by the Lord. I cannot do this, even think about it, without His grace, His mercy, and His provision. I am 100% beholden to the Lord to give me direction, guidance, and clearance to "go." Until then, I stay put, and I focus on the tasks at hand, which are significant and mighty.

Therefore, as I look forward into 2016, I see great hope and promise. I see a lot of work, hard work, but I also see great achievement and reward. I am determined to remain faithful to the Lord, and to stay fixed on the path I am on. I am open to relocating in 2016, should the Lord provide a way for me to go, and I am strongly feeling that the Lord does intend for me to engage in some post-doctoral study.  My heart is open, my head is ready, and my body, well frail as it is, is willing to follow after the Lord in this way. He has been faithful to me. He has been my steady ROCK, and as such, I have learned to depend on Him for meeting and supplying my every need. Should the Lord open a door that leads me to Auburn in 2016, I am willing to go. Should the Lord provide a way for me to go, then I know that He will provide a way for my parents to be cared for (either by me or another means) and a place for my son to remain while he completes his education here in Phoenix. I have full-faith and confidence that the Lord knows what is best for me, and just as with Regent University, if He chooses Auburn as the next place for me to study, well then, He will provide and He will see me through it. Of this, I am certain. God is good, so very good! Selah!

My life is in His hand. I am letting go of all the plans, the thoughts, and the ideas for now because I have other more important tasks that need my attention. I am praying today for the Lord to move through my life, resort and reorganize, and in doing so, He will clear away the clutter and the refuse. I am asking Him today to reaffirm His call on my life, to help me reconnoiter myself so that I can see where I have been and where I am going. In this way, I will get a better feeling for the direction He intends for my life.

Furthermore, I am asking that as He provides a way for me, He will convince me, really convince me that this is His will. I don't want to lose focus or lose hope, but I also need to know this truth so that I can set it aside (sort of see it, then let it be) so I can concentrate on the work that must be finished first. It is like I need to know enough so that I can say "Amen, Lord. So be it" and then move on. I am asking for His grace and mercy today as I complete my study notes, and prepare for my exams. I am also asking that over the course of the next weeks, the Lord would move in my parents heart and convince them of the need to downsize (perhaps). This would make my life easier in some ways (more challenging in others) because it would mean that I would need to consider options for their care. I don't want to be the one to say to them "Hey, I am moving out!" Rather, I would prefer for them to say to me, "We need to come up with a better plan, a better care solution for our needs." This would relieve me of the burden, and I would be able to assist them in making whatever transition would work in their best interest. In addition, I would like to see my parents understand that my relationship with my special friend is good, and that there is a future for me in it. Right now, they consider it a friendship because we are apart, so I would like for them to see the progression of this relationship as a good thing for me, personally. I am asking the Lord to place on their heart the desires that I have for marriage and longevity so that they will see me less as their single daughter and more as a woman who needs, wants and desires marriage. It would be a good thing, a very good thing.

In closing, 2016 appears to be a pivotal year for me. I don't know what will be, but I have strong feelings that the year will prove to be successful for me, and that I will move one step closer to achieving the plans and the will the Lord has for my life. I believe that all things do work together for our good, and that the Lord has orchestrated these details, these events, to make His good will come to pass in my life. I am resting in His provision, in His security, and in doing so, I am letting all the "unknown" go for now so I can focus on all that is ready and at hand. God is good, so very good to me. Selah!

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