February 24, 2016

Grace is Good

I am checked in for my flight tomorrow morning. I cannot believe that I am heading to VA to finish my PhD comprehensive examinations. Yes, the time has flown by since I first started this journey. I can remember how I felt making that first flight to VA back in June of 2013. I was excited, nervous, and a jumbled mess. I didn't know if I could hack doctoral study. I mean, I had just finished my MA program with a 3.9 grade point average, but doctoral study seemed so out of reach to me. I knew I would do well, just not as well as I have done in the program. My first class, Introduction to Doctoral Studies had started the month before in May, and I felt so out of my league. My peers were all COM students, some professors, and some media people. I was this English student who had no real experience with either field (outside of web design and marketing). While I didn't think I was going to make it through without hard struggle, deep inside of me there was this sense that everything was going to be "all right." Once I got to Regent University, walked around campus, and experienced the school -- I knew -- I knew I was right where the Lord wanted me to be. There was this wonderful atmosphere, this wonderful presence on campus that made me feel so welcome. It wasn't that I met people or had some personal experience, it was more that I "felt" His presence on campus. I cannot really explain it any other way, but it was like I could feel the Holy Spirit at this school.

As I headed to class that first Monday, my nerves were all in an uproar. I was anxious, and I didn't know what to expect. Once I got to campus, checked in, and started meeting people, I really thought to myself, "I will never cut it here -- these people are so much better than I am." I struggled to make it through those first couple days, and I put on my warrior mask. I did my best, and in the end, I survived the ordeal. I flew home thinking to myself, "Oh, Lord, I am going to have to change my life to accommodate this program." I prayed over my feelings, trusting the Lord to provide a way for me to make it through, and in the end, I felt He was saying to me that the way to go was to follow the path of higher education, to leave corporate work and to embrace teaching.

Of course, I didn't know how to do that at all. I was working in a good job, a well-paying job, at that time, but I knew that I couldn't do the work required of me as a doctoral student AND still do a good job at CVS. So, I started looking for other, less-stressful and intensive jobs, only to find nothing to fit the bill. Finally, the Lord opened a door at GCU as a teaching assistant, and well, within 15 minutes of interviewing, I got that job. I didn't understand how I would live on an hourly wage, not with all my bills, loans, and needs -- but the Lord opened the door -- and I obeyed and followed after Him. In time, of course, this first TA position led to teaching adjunct, and then I moved into full-time "adjunct" where I taught 3-4 classes each semester.

Now, I am still teaching adjunct, but I am ready to move once again, this time into a full-time instructor or Assistant Professor position. I will be ABD come Friday, and all that is left for me to do is write my dissertation. The Lord has been my steady ROCK and I have come to rest and to rely on Him for His leading, His guidance, and His grace. I couldn't do what He asked of me then, and I cannot do what He is asking of me now. I have to wait, to trust, and to obey as He orders my day, makes my way smooth and possible.

It is so funny to think about how much I have changed in three years time. I was this very strong, but very brash graduate student. I was unsure of my own abilities as a scholar, a researcher, a teacher. Now, I am like this bull -- this really strong person who knows what she can and cannot do. I am convinced that there is nothing I cannot do with His help. I mean, I believe that I can go into any situation and WIN if that is His desired outcome. If He wants me to interview as a CEO, and He determined this was my next step, I have full-faith and confidence that He would see to it. He would provide. He is Jehovah-Jireh.

Assuredly, that is not His plan for me, but I have that inner sense that says "I can do it -- I can do it!" Yes, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. He is good, He is good, He is good.
Last night as I was praying over my day today, my upcoming flight, and Friday's ordeal, I started to think about my next steps. What am I to do come Saturday? I will be ABD (all but dissertation), and then I will need to get back on the doctoral horse, so to speak, and begin my proposal (first three chapters). Second, I will need to start my research in June, and hopefully, finish it all by August (mid September at the latest). Next, I will need write -- seven or eight chapters in total -- and be prepared to defend my work sometime in December or early January. Then, Lord willing, I will graduate with this degree. I will finish what I believe is the penultimate goal the Lord has placed before me. Yes, I believe that this goal of getting my PhD has been His intention for me. He made His mind up long ago that I would seek, desire, and pursue this degree. He made it possible for me to do this, and even though it took me 23 years between undergraduate and graduate work, I have finally arrived at His desired destination. Now what? What do you want me to do next, Lord?

Naturally, I started to think about other things I would like to study after this degree. I have many interests, but most of them align or are very compatible with my communication path. I know this is His doing because He has put these desires into my heart. I am fully following after Him, so that means that I desire what He desires. In thinking about possible next steps, three things come to mind:

  • A desire to study linguistics
  • A desire to study theology
  • A desire to study law
These three desires have been percolating in my heart for a long time, but I haven't figured out how He intended for me to go. Last night, though, I started to do a little research to see what might be possible, and this is what I have come up with:

First, my desire to study linguistics is not to understand language as acquisition (as in TESOL -- teaching second language acquisition) but rather to explore semiotics or language and meaning, how we understand language and come to make sense of the world through language. Semiotics is something I have been passionate about learning since I was in my master's program at Mercy College, but I couldn't quite figure out how I would study that since it is not something that many colleges and universities still teach. The study of signs and symbols has merged into other disciplines so there are computational semiotics programs (looking a computer/machine language) or cognitive semiotics (neuroscience emphasis). I want to study true semiotics, but unless I travel to Europe, I am not going to find such a program available to me.

Second, my desire to study theology has been long-term. I mean, I asked the Lord if I could study theology at some point in time perhaps 10-15 years ago. I have been helping my friend look over theology programs so I know what most are like. I am not wanting a traditional theology program, but rather I want a program that explores the philosophical underpinnings of theology.

Last, the Lord has put a desire to study law in my heart for some time now. At first, I thought He wanted me to pursue a JD -- to actually become a lawyer -- but since starting my PhD, I have realized that it is more learning about the law that interests Him. He desires for me to learn more about the law as it pertains to very specific types of businesses, most namely, nonprofit organizations.

I took some time last night to troll the Internet as I browsed for programs that might fit His next steps for me. I found a couple that looked promising. Of course, I have to finish Regent -- that is my number one priority right now. But, God be praised, I feel good that part of His next steps for me includes more study (yes!)

The good news is that there are programs out there that will benefit me (give me more to study) and enable me to fulfill His call on my life. I am thinking now, praying now I mean, about the following options to see if these "stick" to me:
  • Regent University's Master in Law program with a concentration in Nonprofit Organizational Management
  • George Fox Evangelical Seminary's Doctor of Ministry degree in Semiotics and Future Studies
  • Talbot Theological Seminary's Masters degree in Philosophy
These degrees are very specialized and in sum would probably take me another 5-6 years to complete. I don't really need a DMin, but the degree itself is very interesting. It is in semiotics, but the emphasis is on end times. This area fascinates me, and I think it would be something useful for kingdom purposes. Regent's MLaw degree is practical, and it can be completed in about 12 months time. It covers American law as well as business law, and I feel the Lord desires it since He has imparted to me that part of His plan will be to manage some type of ministry organization. As I think about these two together, I see great emphasis on practical work, kingdom specific work, and that excites me to no end. The final degree is for me, I think. The MPhil is a difficult degree, probably as difficult as my PhD, but rich in theological content and philosophical study. The MPhil would give to me the philosophical understanding necessary to do what He is calling me to do. 

In short, of the degrees that the Lord has provided thus far, two have been practical in their outcome. My English masters provided an open door for me to teach students at the college level. My PhD in Communication furthered that study to provide a higher level position as a professor. But, it also, prepared my heart and mind for His work. I learned what He wanted me to learn -- human communication is fraught with difficulty -- and as such, it is the avenue He travels to reach the hearts and minds of His creation. Understanding how and why we communicate benefits not only intrapersonal, interpersonal, and group communication, but it will provide the knowledge in how to improve communication between God and man -- AND -- man and man. Communication has been God's wonderful gift to me. I have been changed through this study, this program, and I will use what I have learned to develop curriculum to help God's people communicate better with one another and with the church as a whole. Selah!

If the Lord opens up the door for me to continue to study, I see the following progression as plausible right now. I would undertake the DMin next since it is only 36 credits and it aligns well with my research at Regent. It would extend my studies as a researcher and would enable me to cross into theology well. After this degree, which could be finished in two years, I would then return to Regent and tackle the 30 credit MLaw program. This would be finished in one year. Then last, I would entertain the MPhil and complete my studies, my preparation, for ministry. This last degree will take me probably 3-4 years total. Once I am finished with the philosophy degree, then I am finished with all my higher educational goals and pursuits. Selah!

In all, I would finish my education:
  • BA in Humanities (European Studies) (1993)
  • MA in English Literature (2012)
  • MPhil in Philosophy (2024)
  • MLaw in Law (Nonprofit Management) (2020)
  • DMin in Semiotics and Future Studies (2019)
  • PhD in Communication (2016)
It seems like overkill to me, but I have prayed about this path, and really, it makes sense. You see, if I am going to study something, I want to get something at the end of all that sacrifice. Since I am an achievement oriented person, getting a degree (yep, that silly little piece of paper) is a strong motivator for me to pursue a path to completion. The Lord knows that I could learn these things on my own, but that I do best in a structured environment. I need classes, papers, and grades to move me forward. I simply won't do the work on my own (it is true, so true).

My plan now is to wait and see what the Lord does, I mean, it is all up to Him. If He wants me to pursue more study, so be it. He has to help me pay off my current student loan debt, and then provide funds for me to take the next degree. I am not independently-wealthy so the Lord has to provide a WAY for me to get through each degree. I believe He will because I believe that nothing is impossible for God. For with God, all things are possible (Luke 1:37). It is up to Him, and if He says "it is so," then it is so. I rest.
As I think about all this "study," one thing is important to remember -- I do nothing for my own purposes or outcomes. I am not "into" getting degrees to show off, to lord my abilities over others, or even to get "jobs." The Lord has clearly forbidden me from seeking higher education for job-related purposes (outside of my Masters, which opened the door to teaching). My PhD is for ministry, always has been, always will be. This is why I am not going to be a communications professor. No matter how many times I teach a fundamental COM course, I will not be a full-time COM professor. No, I will teach English Composition and an occasional literature course. In fact, a year or so ago, amidst some crisis, I recall the Lord saying to me that if I stayed in teaching, I would only teach undergraduate courses -- freshman composition. I remember agreeing to that proposition, and well, it appears that His word to me has come to pass. I am set on being an English teacher until I retire. I will teach freshman comp classes over and over again -- until He says otherwise. He is good, He knows me well, and the plans He has for my life are solid! Selah!

Thus, what I study from this point forward is all about Him and His work. If He desires these programs because of their content, then I will go and study them in order to please Him, to satisfy His need (whatever that may be). He knows what He intends for me to produce (curriculum) as well as research (scholarship), so I have to let Him lead me to each school, to each program, and to each area of study. You see, His plan for my life is specific. I have known this for a long while, but I haven't really understood what He wanted me to do exactly. I have had "inklings," simply impressions that formed in my mind that suggested things He would want me to create. I struggled at first because I didn't have concrete details. I wanted to know "specifics" but He wasn't going to reveal those to me just yet. I still don't know, but I know enough to say that these degrees seem to "fit" His plan (overall plan, I mean). 

Now, I have to rest. If this is His will, it will come to pass. If He chooses for me to go a different way, to different schools or programs, then He will show me. Until then, I focus on the task at hand, which is to finish my PhD at Regent this year. Selah!
Dear Lord,

I know it seems brash to post these thoughts online, so I ask that you will cover me with your good grace this day. I will do these things only with your permission, provision, and participation. I cannot do them on my own, even in my strength for one moment. I can only do them in your strength, with your vision, and with your power -- so I ask that you bless my way -- and that you reveal your will to me so that I can move where you desire for me to move. I let go the need to know for now, and I rest in your provision for every event, need, detail in my life this good day. You know what I need -- today -- and you know where I need to be tomorrow. I ask for your blessing over my life, that you would care for me as I travel tomorrow, and of course, that you will show up and do my oral defense for me. Please be with me, Lord. I need you today, so desperately, today. I ask this now in Jesus' Name, Amen! So be it! Selah (pause and calmly think about it!)

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