March 5, 2016

Fortune Cookies Rule

It is a blessed Saturday in sunny and warm Phoenix. Yes, it is lovely outside. The temperature is 72 with a nice breeze, and frankly, it is a perfect day to spend outdoors. I am inside now, but thinking I may need some "outdoor" time later today. I spent the morning having breakfast with my good friend and her husband who are here visiting for Spring Training. It was so nice to get together and to see her again after so many years. I marvel at how fast time has passed, and yet, we seem as much the same as we once were ten years ago. God is good to have brought me some "friend time," right now after all I have experienced (exams, travel, stress, etc.). In truth, I am blessed, so marvelously blessed by His gracious hand of giving. He is good to me, so very good to me.

Planning for Tomorrow

As I think about today, I have made some progress in my "mindset" regarding my future. You see, it seems that everyone (including me) is thinking about my next steps. I have had more conversations with friends, family, and peers who have asked the same question that I have been mulling over -- "so what's next?" I am not alone, I guess, in wondering what my future plans will be. In fact, as I was preparing to blog today, I spotted this fortune (from last week's cookie), and it gave me a momentary pause. The Panda fortune maker said,

"Live for today, remember yesterday, and plan for tomorrow"

Even Mr. Panda seems bent to remind me that I need to be planning my tomorrows.

In my schemes and plans, I have considered a number of options. My good friend would like to see me move back to CA now that I am ready to graduate. I love her for wanting me to live closer, but I also know that CA is out of the question. It simply is not an option for me due to many reasons, but mostly, because I don't believe it is the Lord's will for my life.

Just today, I had a conversation with my Mom. I doubt she will remember what we discussed, but the topic turned to me getting a full-time job, so I took a stab and broached the subject of moving "house." Mom and Dad do not want to move anywhere, and I do understand their concern. The thought of moving about did them in last time round (in 2013) so they don't want to even consider moving again. However, I want to get on with my life, to begin "living" and that means that I need to take the steps necessary that will lead to a full-time teaching position. I have blogged about it before, and today, I really spent time in prayer over it. You see, I have been unwilling to relocate away from my parents. There have been many reasons for this, but mostly it was because I didn't want to leave them behind. I have turned down opportunities that would have taken me elsewhere several times now, and so while I feel I am in a "holding pattern" for the time being, I really do want to get some things settled.

I know the plans the Lord has for my life are good (Jer. 29:11), and I am committed to following after Him completely -- even if that means leaving my parents behind and in another's care. I need to go wherever He needs me to work, and that could mean going to a place that is not of their preference or choosing. I read this short devotional from Billy Graham today, and I think it sums up my life nicely. The scripture reference was taken from 1 Kings 17:5 where it says,

"So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord..."

This passage of scripture tells the story of Elijah where he predicts drought, is fed by the ravens, brings the widow and her son favor (their flour and oil do not run dry), and then brings the widow's son back to life after he died. In this one chapter, we see the faithful servant who obeys the word of the Lord experience great testimony and miracles. Furthermore, we glimpse into his life and we see that despite his solitary existence, the Lord was with him, His spirit resting upon him, and bringing to him great power through His presence as he followed the Lord's in His leading.

Elijah was a man of faith, a man who believed in, trusted in and rested in the Lord, his God. Furthermore, Elijah obeyed God's command, and he went where the Lord was leading him to serve. Graham writes about the solitary nature of true servants of the Lord when he says, "As messengers of God, we will often lead lonely lives." He remarks how Paul said, "All men forsook me," thus demonstrating that there is a "price we have to pay" for following the Lord. He says, "there is a loneliness in the Gospel. Yet you will not be alone, because you will be ministered to by the Spirit of God, as Elijah was ministered to at the brook Cherith." Yes, it is true. It does seem that as the Lord calls and leads, often He takes His children into places where they must exist in solitary and isolated places in order to fulfill His will for their lives. I believe that this is to demonstrate His faithfulness to His children because as each child draws upon the Lord, places their complete trust in Him, they come to depend upon Him for their very existence.

I have experienced this truth over the past six years. My life, while not completely isolated, has been solitary for sure. I have been on this one trajectory, this one focused path for a long time. I know where I am going, and I know how I am going to get there, but I don't know what will be in between here and there, if that makes sense. For example, I understand that my life is working toward one end, one final moment, and that is to bring me into the fullness of His will, into a life that is predicated upon utter reliance and dependency. I have surrendered my life, and for now, that simply means that I have let go of the planning steps that call the shots. Instead, I plan what He directs. This means that as the Lord leads me here or there, I am responsible for seeing that His directive is attended to and that I am obedient in seeing it come to pass. He says to me, "Go here," and I go. He gives me guidance in the "going" part, and I make plans that then are blessed as they come to pass. This is how it has worked in the past, and I doubt anything will change for me. He says to me "go" and I go.

The plans therefore are solely dependent upon His determination and decision-making ability. For example, He showed me Mercy College, and I obeyed Him in applying for acceptance. I went to Mercy, completed my Masters program, and graduated from there in 2012. The same was true for Regent University. He showed me Regent, I applied, and here I am now getting ready to graduate once again. The next steps are for a job, and just like with school, He will show me where to apply, and I will obey His directive. It will "happen" just as it has before, and I will be offered a position for full-time work. I have experienced his blessing when it comes to work time and time again. From the early days at Macy to my most recent employment at GCU, the Lord has blessed my "going" as I applied for positions, interviewed, and then accepted them. I have no doubt that this pattern will repeat again, and again, and again until I complete His will for my life.

Decisions are not My Best Friend

I am not very good at making these kinds of decisions, so I have trusted Him as my manager to see to my needs. So far, He has not let me down. So far, He has provided and met every need, desire and want in my life. I lack nothing. I am completely provided for, blessed, and enabled as He leads, guides and directs my steps. Selah!

Why, then, do I worry so much about tomorrow?

Sigh! I think it is because I know the plans He has for my life, and frankly, they excite me to no end. I want to be about His work, to be "actively" doing His work. I don't want to be this "holding pattern" any longer. I want to "go, go, go" where He is leading me to go.

I guess you could say that I am impatient. I would agree to some extent. I happen to be both, patient and impatient when it comes to the plans He has for my life. I understand that some things take time (like degree programs, moving across country, job promotions, etc.), yet still, I want to see the forward momentum, the progression as I move from A to B to C to D.

I read a really interesting article at Psychology Today that suggested that impatience is not a "lack of patience" as most dictionaries define it, but rather impatience is a natural state that develops in order to help us make decisions. The author, Dr. Jim Stone, suggested that when we become impatient it is because a goal we have is not progressing as we had hoped, and we are faced with making a decision whether to stay the course or find an alternative route. I like his analysis because it suggests that impatience needs to be treated not as a negative thing, but instead as a positive emotional response to conflict (as in goal management). Stone asserts that often we become impatient when our goal is thwarted from being achieved. In this sense, when we find ourselves "stuck" we must make a choice to wait it out (to exercise patience). Often, though, we make alternative choices, some with detrimental consequences simply to avoid the "cost" associated with being patient. Thus, whether we are patient or impatient, we are assessing the costs of waiting for something to come to pass.

With this view in mind, I can see how my patience has been rewarded by God. For example, I have made some very good decisions of late, all of which were hard-fought when it came to goals and analysis of outcomes. The choices ended up in my favor, and I experienced good results by patiently staying the course. In my career at GCU, I made the decision to stay the course (after a brief move to another company -- and the awful result that occurred). It took a great deal of humility to return to GCU after leaving the job as an instructional assistant. When I went back, I took a promotion as Adjunct, and I have been there since. I am now finishing my third year teaching, and I am looking forward to a full-time position (either at GCU or another school). The same is true for my Master's degree and my PhD. I wouldn't be where I am today without sticking with both programs -- even when I thought I needed to give in due to time, to stress, to home/life factors.

Stone also says that the cost associated with our goal can be a determining factor in our impatience. For instance, I am prone to re-evaluate my career path because the cost associated with teaching has been very high. I gave up a solid salary and benefits to transition into teaching. I made the decision, but the cost has been rough -- losing income, incurring debt, and facing uncertainty in the job market -- all because I wanted to "try" teaching college.  Some might say that I chose poorly, that I gave up a lot in order to get a little in return. Yet, I have been rewarded many times in other non-financial ways. I have less stress, more free time, and great relationships with my students and peers. In all, teaching has changed me for the better -- but the financial cost of that change -- was a very high price to pay.

Similarly, Stone states that in addition to the cost associated with goals, another factor that leads to impatience is an abundance of choices. I have been in this position numerous times in the past when I have looked at options for jobs. It is easier when there are limited options -- the choices become easier to make -- then when there are numerous ways to go, many chances to consider. In my case, I vacillated with choice last year when I had to make the decision to stay on this path, this path of higher education. I considered leaving teaching for a position in business, a position that would provide a solid income, benefits and a good retirement. It seemed the logical way to go, and yet, I decided in the end to stay this course -- counting and accepting the cost associated with it -- for the intangible results that come with teaching students. Some people would say I chose poorly, but I know that while I chose a more difficult route, I think the return on investment is greater. At the least, I hope it is.

Counting the Cost

As I think about Billy Graham and this short devotional written by him today, I am reminded of the cost associated with following the Lord. I have experienced great loss in my desire to follow after the Lord, to believe His word to me, and to accept His plan for my life. I gave up everything (well, almost) to serve Him, and as a result, my life has taken a turn for the better. In common terms, my life seems worse off -- I am less secure in my finances, less secure in my future prospects, and less secure overall as I pursue the course that He has in mind for me. In short, the cost associated with my decision to serve the Lord with my entire being has been very, very high.

Now that I am at the "what's next" place in my life, I am reassessing costs. I am thinking about the costs of the decisions I have made previously, and I am anxiously trying to determine if the path I am on is the best one to remain on. It is time for me to patiently wait for the Lord to provide a way to go, and as I consider the costs, I must accept that I will either wait (exercise patience) or determine that the cost associated with this path is too high for me. If the latter comes to pass, then I must go a different way, do a different thing, and accept that there is another way. However, since I have relinquished the decision making process, and I have accepted that His way is best, I must rest until He chooses to release me to go a different way. Until then, I will rest. I will patiently wait for His "go," and I will stay the course I am on. He is good, so very good to me.

In sum, as I consider these next steps, I know that regardless of what choice is made, the decision will be a good one. I will accept that decision, I will obey as Elijah did, and I will rely on and trust in the Lord to provide for and meet my daily needs. He alone is able to do this -- He alone is able to move me, make me, and minister to my needs. Selah!

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