January 31, 2016

Moving On...Yet Again

It is a blessed Sunday, and I am home and resting. I finally slept well, praise be to God, and I woke up refreshed and ready to tackle my very-full day. It is the Lord's day, and while today, I am staying at home, I have decided that this is going to be one of my last days to miss church. Yes, I decided to cut myself some slack, to give myself a little break, and to focus on what I have to do right now. I am down to 10 days until I sit my comprehensive exams. I need every off day (from work) to prep, and today is the last day I will be prepping before I begin the crush of cramming for the written exams. Once I am through with the written part, I will have about two weeks until I fly to VA to sit the oral part. At the conclusion of my testing phase, I will be advanced to candidacy, and then I will be in the dissertation phase. In the dissertation phase, I will resume a normal work/life schedule -- which just means -- I will be free again (no homework or school work) to resume my normal life! Praise God!

I know it seems weird, and I have to say that I have had some strange conversations with people who think that nothing should interrupt church attendance. I have blogged about this before, and while I agree with this notion, I also know what I can and cannot do -- as in physically and mentally -- in order to keep my ship sailing upright. You see for me, I need my sleep. I always have, and when you add in the stress of working (teaching and standing/emoting) along with doctoral study, well, my physical, mental, and emotional well-being hangs in a fragile balance. I have had to give up, sacrifice a lot of things over the past three years. I have created priorities, that may or may not align with what other folks consider "priority." That's okay, really, it is. I mean, my priorities are not going to align with anyone else's and that is just fine. My life is in flux, temporarily, in this season, so to speak, and that means that I have to do certain things regardless of if they seem right to others. I have to do what I have to do just to maintain my health, my vitality, and my ability to perform at this level. Church attendance has taken a backseat at times, simply because my Sunday has been needed for study or for catch-up teacher work.

It shouldn't be this way, really it shouldn't. If I were only teaching, then I would be able to do everything and still have time to enjoy my life. It is the doctoral study that has taken over my life. No one really gets this other than my colleagues in my program. My friend Jane posted this graphic to Facebook the other day. It represents the life of a doctoral student perfectly. So much of what I do as a student is under the water line, so to speak. It is hidden. No one really knows what it takes to complete a doctoral program unless they happen to be in one. The upper portion, what my family and friends see is simply an illusion. I often hear people say "Oh, I had no doubts you could do this or that thing" as if the thing I was doing was as easy as riding a bike. I know they mean well, but the truth is that often what I am doing is beyond their comprehension. I am not saying this to brag or boast, no sir, it is just that I am saying that no one really gets what is involved, the work level, the stress level, and the time commitment needed to complete this kind of program.

My heart is convinced as is my mind that what I am doing is for the Lord. That may sound so strange to some who would counter, "I am sure the Lord doesn't intend for you to miss church, Carol!" I laugh at that line of thinking because it presumes that someone out there really does know the mind of the Lord! (LOL! Certainly, I don't). What I do know is this -- my mind -- is convinced that the driving ambition He has placed in my heart is working to achieve this goal. If you knew me, my history and such, then you would know that I once was labeled as a "quitter." Yes, I used to quit things when the going got too tough. Now, you would probably characterize me as someone who never quits, who never gives up, and that would be true as well. I would say that I am ambitious, but only for the Lord, and I am driven, but only when He commands me to go. At other times, I am one lazy girl, for sure!

I guess what I am trying to say is this...the pressure to conform is getting harder and harder for me. I am trying very hard to do this work, to finish strong, and to remain steady through these last few weeks. I am being condemned by voices in my head, thoughts and opinions that have no bearing on reality. Furthermore, there is a part of me that struggles to overcome the doubts I already feel inside of me, worry over my future, and the plans the Lord has for me. Even when I feel confident, like really confident, I still worry about what I am to do, and how I am to do it. I think in many ways, this is my thorn, you know, that thing that keeps me from being arrogant and foolish. I can take no credit for anything at all, no achievement, no award, nothing. Everything I do is because of His grace. He has chosen this path, and He has chosen this way for me. I go, I do, and I live in His way -- regardless of what other people might think or say to me. I do it all for His praise, His honor, and His glory.

Today is a good day, then, to finish strong. My to-do list includes finishing my exam outlines, and then resting (at some point). Next week, beginning with Monday, I will be reviewing everything every single day/night until I get to Wednesday, February 10. Then I will pray, take a deep breath, and commit my work to Him. I will trust Him to see me through the two-day written exam, to help me remember all the details I need to write eight solid essays. Then on February 12, I will rejoice that the first part of this grueling process is over. I will take the next 14 days and review my answers for errors or omissions, and I will study again in order to pass my oral exam. Once I finish, and praise be to God, that will be February 26, I will rejoice as loudly as possible. I will know that He has done this marvelous work in and through me, and He has completed, fulfilled His promise to me. He is good, He is so very good to me.

But until then, I have to work. I have to keep moving forward, moving on, and taking those next steps as they are illuminated. It is a difficult thing, but I know that I am not alone, and that He has made this way possible. I cannot imagine doing anything more difficult than this program. I cannot imagine working any harder than what I am doing now. In fact, I would say that I have never worked harder in my life than at present. Even when I was working 60-70 hours a week, even when I was dealing with the stress of nasty coworkers or a downturned economy. No, nothing can compare to what I am doing now. Nothing can compare to it. I am blessed beyond measure, and as I move through these next weeks and months, I am convinced, utterly convinced that God is going to move in my life in a major way. Yes, I believe that once I advance to candidacy, there will be a full-time job for me. Once I begin my dissertation phase, the Lord will move me to the place of His choosing. Once I complete all these remaining tasks, then I will go (physically), and begin the next phase of my life, ministry. I believe all of this, all the work, the pressure, and the challenge has been for one purpose and that is to prepare me to do His work, His specific ministry calling. I am convinced of it. I am utterly convinced of it.

This is my command, He has said to me, "go and do my work." I have tried my best to obey. I have tried my best to be a good follower. I haven't always done what He has asked of me, but I certainly have tried to listen and heed. The process has helped me learn how to be a good follower for sure, and the process has created great change within my heart and mind. Lately, my mind has been moved to be more in step with His mind, and by that I just mean that my desires are changing to align more with His word. I asked this to be so a couple weeks ago, and this is what I feel is happening within me. I am moving away from my own desires, and moving closer and closer to His desires for not just my life, but His Kingdom. You see, we are all called to ministry to the Kingdom of God, and that means to the church as well as the unchurched. We have a dual role to play to build up the body of Christ while we also reach out to the lost souls who are so desperate for the hope we have within us. We are to be inward and outward, and our inner and outer selves should be mirror images. However, for many Christians this is not the case. Their inner life doesn't match their outer life or vice versa. We (as a community) have done great damage to the cause of Christ simply because we have not taken heed to align our inner heart with our outward motivations. There should be no difference between who we say we are and what we believe and do.

My work, thus, is to be an outward manifestation of the inward transformation that I experienced at the cross of Calvary. My heart has been radically changed, and the person I am today is not the person I once was many, many years ago. I have been transformed by His grace, and as I spend time with Him, immersed in the Word, and living and walking with Him in spiritual communion, my outward life is changed just as completely as my inward life. Therefore, my work, what I do or think God wants me to do is predicated, completely and thoroughly on His calling in my life. I am to do nothing other than the work He has called me to do. I can feel it inside of me, and I can see it as it is manifested outside of me -- the two halves are similar and they function as a whole. I am eager, I am excited, and I am enthusiastic in this work. I want nothing else but to be used by my Lord and my Savior to further the Kingdom and to build up His church. God is good, so very good to me! Selah!

As I move through my day today, I give Him praise. I look up and I rest knowing that He has me so well-covered. He alone is worthy of my praise. He alone is worthy of my adoration. He alone is worthy of my devotion, my attention, and my love. I give Him this praise today for He has seen to my needs. He has provided richly, and He has cared for me completely. He alone is my Lord, my Savior, and my King. Selah!

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