March 23, 2016

Tide is Turning

It is Wednesday, and I am up early due to anxiety and stress. I am not sure why this is so -- I mean -- I finished my grading, I slept well (soundly), and I have very few "to do" items on my to-do list this week. For all intents and purposes, I should be running on low-stress. Yet, this morning, I have this feeling, deep down inside my stomach, that seems to be saying to me, "Watch out! Be prepared! The worst is coming head on!" Of course, I don't see anything on the horizon to scare me off, but I cannot help but feel that things are changing, and that I am in the middle of a churning tide.

Today, my prayer is to finish chapter one of my dissertation. I had scheduled time yesterday to work on chapter one, but with Mom's needs and my own desire for fresh air, I found myself occupied with other tasks. I took Mom to Kohl's for some new summer tops before stopping at Home Depot to purchase some plants for our flower pot by the front door. Afterward, we had lunch with my Dad at Arby's. The day was busy, full and busy, but a good day. I was glad to get outside and enjoy the warm, but breezy day. I am hoping to get caught up today, to make the most of this good day, so that I can keep to my timeline of turning in chapter one to my professor by Sunday.

In other news, I received two emails regarding my doctoral studies yesterday afternoon. The first was from Regent University and included my ABD letter. I didn't know I would get a letter from our Academic Dean, but I did. It was very nice, and it commemorates my advancement to candidacy. The second was an email from CIRT at GCU saying that my journal submission had been reviewed and if I wanted to revise and resubmit I could. The problem, of course, is that they want a case study added to my paper, and I don't have one. I think I am going to have to pass on JIR and find a conference to submit to or another journal that will be more open to applied communication and theory. Nonetheless, I felt good about these two pieces of news. They brightened up my day, and they reminded me that I am doing what I am meant to do -- research and writing -- and that while I may not be at the place of His choosing just yet, I am well on my way to getting there soon. At the least, I hope so, I really do hope so.

Feeling Out of Sorts

As weird as it may seem today, I think I am struggling to find my place in the world. Well, my little place in the world, that is. I've tried to reconcile my feelings, and while I know that my feelings are not accurate indicators of truth, they do point to truth at times, and they can be analyzed in order to open up new lines of exploration. In short, while I don't put 100% stock in my feelings, I do consider them because often they point to the problem or they reflect something deeper within me that needs to be examined. My feelings often do indicate something is amiss. This "something" could be my fault (as in a sin I have committed or a bad decision I have made) or they could be the enemy oppressing or even persecuting me for something I did or didn't do. I need to reflect on my feelings, to consider them more careful to make sure that I understand who is the instigator (me or the enemy), and then once I have a good handle of the cause, I can work to resolve the tension and restore peace to my heart and my mind.

I think about my feelings today just to sort them out and to help me understand my life in more detail. My hope is that I can come to terms with the cause of this anxiety, and then put it to "bed" so to speak so I can move on and tackle my to-do list today.

Some probable indicators of anxiety:

  • Number one on my list today is simply stress -- as in -- stress of life. I think I am stressed due to a number of factors, none of which I can do anything about. If this is the underlying stress, then there is little I can do EXCEPT to choose to rest, to trust the Lord, and to let go of the worry. Worry doesn't add anything to our lives, rather it takes away from it. The answer to the stress of life is to just let it go. Carol, let it go.
  • Number two on my list is my current living situation, and while I think I have a modicum of stress associated with living here in Phoenix, being a roommate with my parents, etc., I am not sure that this is really the "stress" that is causing all this anxiety. At least not the anxiety for today.
  • Number three on my list is my schooling, and my studies at Regent University. I am always stressed over school, performance in school, tasks due and papers submitted, etc. Again, I don't think this is the cause of my current feelings of "unwellness."
  • Number four on my list is my life, in general. Yes, I think this is the root cause of my stress, simply because it is the one area that factors in everything "miscellaneous" in my life. My job, my future career, my hopes, my dreams, etc., are all lumped under this one category called "general life." I think this is the root cause of my anxiety today.
Now that I have identified the place of stress, I need to examine what is causing my stress to ramp up. Perhaps it is my job at present. Perhaps it is the UNKNOWN job of the future. Perhaps it is my summer plans or even my desire to move elsewhere. It seems like all of a sudden what has been planned and purposed has been turned upside down, and I feel unwell. I really feel unwell. 

The stress started on Monday, really. I was stressed because I hadn't finished and posted grades to my last class. I was waiting for my helpers to complete their grading, and then I had to review everything. I took the extra day to be sure, you know, extra careful with my evaluation. In the end, I was confident that I was fair (probably more than fair) in my assessment. Tuesday followed with stomach issues -- gastrointestinal and other -- that waylaid me a bit. I get this way when my nerves are out of sort, when I am feeling pinched, really pinched. The funny thing is that all through my doctoral exam preparation, examination and defense, never once did I feel this way. I was nervous, for certain, but I didn't have what I have today. So, why now? Where did this anxiety come from? And, why am I all of a sudden feeling so unwell?

My first thought is what have I done? I mean, more than likely, I have done something to make myself unwell. Perhaps I made a decision that is not in alignment with the Holy Spirit, and thus, I am feeling a lack of peace inside of me. Perhaps I didn't make a decision -- you know -- the opposite and this is why I have little to no peace right now. I don't remember deciding anything, really. It seemed like I have been going with the flow of late, letting things be as best as I can, and now I am reeling with emotional distress. Hmmm...

I am not normally like this -- well -- I haven't been like this for years. Yes, this is how I used to be years ago. This was my everyday normal life. But, once I surrendered to the Lord back in 2006, these bouts with anxiety (panic attacks) disappeared, and in their place, I had an abundance of peace. Even during my initial separation and then subsequent divorce, I didn't have these types of panic attacks. No, I was steady, steely, and very, very calm. So what gives today? Why now?

Comparing Then With Now

The past couple years have been blessed, so blessed. I mean this sincerely. I mean to say that over the past five to six years, my life has been in "drive" and the road has been fairly smooth. Sure, I didn't always have what I had hoped, and things didn't work out as I had planned (not exactly), but I was well-covered by the Lord. I was well covered. 

In 2012, my future seemed fairly certain. I would continue my education, graduate with my degree (Masters) and then find a teaching job at a local college or university. I would become a teacher, and for the rest of my working days, this is what I would do. I was content in that plan, happy with that outcome. I graduated in summer of 2012, as the year hit the mid-point and then came to a close, things didn't develop as I had hoped. It would be another year or so before I would even begin to transition to the path I am on.

In 2013, I started doctoral studies, and for the next three years, my life was consumed by one thing -- getting my PhD. I have loved my program, absolutely loved it. Everything else in my life paled in comparison. I was focused, driven to succeed, and excited for every new opportunity to study, to write, to discuss, to research at this level.

Then, my exams hit, and between fall 2015 and spring 2016, my life was laser focused on this major task -- passing my comprehensive exams -- and advancing to candidacy. I achieved this high mark in February, and now I am ABD, an official designation to show my peers that I am no longer a student, but now a candidate for the degree. It is a big deal, really, a big deal. I am ready to graduate, to finish my degree, and to be awarded the coveted doctor of philosophy degree from Regent University. My goodness -- how did all this happen? How did this come to pass?

I look back on my life, and while I see much heartache, I also see a lot of grit and determination. I see achievement upon achievement, and I see how much I have overcome just to get to where I am today. I look backward, and I see my life in clear view. I mean, I was scared back then. So tentative and unsure of myself. I was so alone. Furthermore, I was like a person caught out of phase, out of sync, with the world around her. I didn't fit in. I didn't seem to fit anywhere. I tried to fit in, I really did. I tried being a ministry director. I tried being a teacher's aid. I tried being a website designer. I tried being a home educator. And, while I was successful in some ways, I never quite felt like I was good enough, able enough, validated enough to be able to say "Yes, this is it! This is my life!"

I spent so many years trying to be someone I wasn't. I tried to become what other people wanted me to become. I even tried to change my personality, change my inner person, just to keep people happy. I was miserable, of course. I was so very miserable. And, yet, I did what I had to do to keep my marriage working and my family relationships on an even keel. But inside of me, there was this deep longing to be someone else, to do something else.

It seemed that whenever I would try to do something similar, I would fail. I would find opportunities that gave me a chance to be a teacher, without really being one. I taught Sunday School. I taught Awana. I coordinated children's leaders, volunteers, and children. I tried to teach others through my business. I tried to teach my son at home. It seemed I was always trying to be a teacher, but I never experienced success.

Then my life went sideways, and all hell broke loose. I had to change my plans, change my path, and in doing so, I ended up somewhere totally unexpected. I ended up here -- right here -- on the road to becoming a full-time professor of English.

Now, I am firmly rooted on this path, and anytime I try to move off of it, well I feel this sense of purpose that says to me "this is where you belong, don't deviate from this path." Yet, even with this sense of purpose, I struggle to understand, to accept the ups and downs, and to find meaning in it all. I want to be content. I want to be happy. I want for everything to work out well. I try, really I do, but I cannot seem to get to that point where I am able to feel "accomplished."

I cannot believe that I am still reeling from the experience of last week. I have prayed about these feelings, and I have let them go. Yet, they are not leaving me, not disappearing, not lessening in their intensity. Why, Lord? Why is this so? 

Putting Things "In the Frame"

I can only think of two things that may have spurred this downward spiral of late. The first is my Sunday experience at SBC whereby our former pastor preached on surrendering to the will of God. The second is the experience at GCU that has followed me through two weeks now, and that has not lessened it's grip on me. Let me explain...

Last week, I had an abrupt meeting with my faculty member that left me reeling, really feeling as though I was an utter failure. I considered quitting teaching on the spot due to the comments I received about my performance. In truth, I thought my world had come to an end because the comments were so out of left field, so to speak. I had no warning, no lead-up, no knowledge of anything being amiss, so when I was called to account, I really was caught off-guard. I did my best to address the issues raised, even making strides to correct them this week. Yet, the feeling of being condemned has not left me all week. I've stood my ground, stood up and took the assault like a good little warrior, but in the end, I have crawled off the battlefield bloodied and bruised. Yes, I received correction that didn't serve to improve my performance, but only made me feel belittled and useless. In the end, I felt that it was impossible to move forward in my life, at the least, impossible to move forward as a teacher or within the teaching profession.

The second incident stemmed from my Sunday worship experience, whereby I was reminded of surrendering to the will of God in order to experience the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I enjoyed the message preached, and I gleaned some good insight, but overall, I felt in many ways that I was stirred to leave the path of grace and embrace, instead, a life of obedience. Now I am not saying that we shouldn't be obedient to God, may it never be! No, I am just saying that there are different approaches to obedience, and while I agree with my pastor that the true path of obedience begins with surrender, I don't agree that surrender is always the best way to keep one obedient. 

I was praying about this yesterday, how parents often teach their children "first time obedience" as a way to create Godly characteristics. First time obedience means that when a parent asks a child to do something, their first response should be to obey. In this Christian parenting approach, there is no questioning, no hesitation, no thinking it over. Children are taught to respond the first time. 

I raised my son using this approach, and while it did work for a while, in the end, it simply replaced grace with legalism. My son learned that in order to avoid punishment, he had better respond the first time. Rather than instilling a sense of humility, it simply created a hostility that simmered beneath the surface. First time obedience is not grace-based, it is law-based. It presumes that behavior is modified out of fear and not motivated by love. Our Father doesn't punish us when we fail to obey. No, He graciously waits for us, and yes, sometimes He does allow the consequences of our refusal to obey touch us. But often, He gives us grace-based life lessons, where we come to learn on our own, to choose His way. 

I started to think about this yesterday, how the last thing I wanted to do was to return to legalism and to a life predicated on obedience motivated by fear. I don't want to go there. I will not go there again. Instead, I want to choose to follow my Lord willingly, with a heart turned toward Him because of His grace and mercy, and not because I am afraid of what He may do to me, should I not relent.

I don't mean to put into my pastor's heart any such intentionality on his part because I don't know if he is legalistic or not. He has always seemed fairly gracious in his teachings, but I do think there is a smidgen of legalism due to his background in the Southern Baptist tradition. I guess what I realized is that some pastors and teachers believe in being punitive when people do not do what is expected. This punitive behavior is not grace-filled, and it is not how the Lord would like us to behave. I am guilty of behaving this way recently, and I think this is part of the stress I am suffering with today.

My heart and my mind is running amok with several lines of thinking. The first line of thinking is accusatory and condemning. It says to me "You were not gracious with your students, Carol. You treated them harshly and unfairly when you graded them this weekend." Okay, I got this one nailed. This is the enemy speaking to me, speaking lies and trying to get me to feel condemned and to further convince me to give up teaching as a career -- as a God-designed and ordained -- way of life for me. Not going to happen. No way. I will not listen. I reject this line of thinking because the word of the Lord has borne testimony that has said, "This is what you were meant to do" and "I am well-pleased with your progress as a teacher."

The second line of thinking seems to be saying to me "You are not ready to take on a full-time faculty role simply because you cannot handle rejection." Again, this is a lie of the enemy, and while this may be true in some regards, it is not 100% true. I hate rejection; but then, who doesn't hate it? I mean, come on, we all hate to receive critical feedback. It cuts to the core of our ego and our pride. I want to do my best. I try my best all the time, but often, I fail. I flounder. I goof. Yet, the Lord covers me with His grace, and as such, I am able to maneuver through the flak most of the time. When I do get pegged, it hurts me deeply. But, just for a time. I heal, as do other people, and in time, the wound no longer causes me pain. When I pick at it, though, then I seem to stress over healing, and I prolong the suffering. This is my fault, my doing, so I must let the wound heal. I must give it air to breathe, and bright sunshine, and I must let it heal.

The last line of thinking says to me "You are no good. You are not able to do what God is asking you to do, so just give up, give in." Yes, sigh. This is another futile attempt by the enemy to sideline me, to stop me in my tracks, and to make me rethink the Lord's will in my life. I know the plans He has for me are good, so this means that the plans He has are for MY GOOD. Meaning, that the plans and the paths He has chosen for me are to share His goodness with me. I am to experience His goodness in and through them, therefore, they are GOOD through and through. God is good all the time. Thus, His plans are good too. I can rest in the sufficiency of His plans for I know Him, the Plan Maker, and His work is so very good!

Rejecting Lies and Embracing Truth

As I think about these things today, I know what I must do. I must reject the lies of the enemy, and embrace the truth of the Lord. I am reminded of Micah 6:8, where we read,

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you Except to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion), And to walk humbly with your God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]

These verses remind me that God had clear expectations with His people. He expected them to be just, to love kindness, and to walk humbly before Him. This means that our actions are to be motivated by fairness and kindness. Our heart is to be surrendered before the Lord, and we are to humble ourselves before Him.

Today, I think this is true. I think I can move on despite the turning tide. I can withstand the waves and the rip current because I am doing what He has asked of me. I surrender my sense of self-righteousness and my pride to the Lord, and I embrace the path He has placed me on. Why? Because He is good, and the path He has chosen for me is good. His word is truth, and His way is always to point us to that truth. He is the way, the truth and the life. I trust in and rely upon the Lord, who is the author of all truth. I rest now. I rest my case. I sit down, and I humbly accept my lot in life. He is good, always so good to me. Selah!

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