May 15, 2016

I Love My Life

Happy National Chocolate Chip Day! Yes, I saw on Facebook today that May 15th is reserved in honor of the chocolate chip. I thought it was interesting that this day, of all days, was set aside to remember the chip and what it has done for our lives. Then I googled "National Day" and soon realized that every single day of the year has been "named" as some special day to commemorate people, places or things. Interesting! How does a chocolate chip get a named honor? I don't know. But, nonetheless, today is national chocolate chip day so have at it. Eat a box of cookies. Enjoy sharing them with a loved one, a friend. Most of all, sit back and relax and enjoy that tiny morsel of chocolate goodness. Yes, it was a good thing to honor the chocolate chip cookie. #ChocolateChipDay

Blessed Sunday

So it is a blessed day here in Phoenix. I slept well! Woohoo! I had another great night, thanks in part to a four hour conversation with my good friend. I am not sure why, but whenever we are able to spend quality time conversating (as he says), I always sleep so well. Maybe it is because I feel like everything is "right" in my little corner of the world. Or perhaps it is just that I find our conversations to be so relaxing. I am sure it is a little bit of everything, but the good news is that I woke up feeling very refreshed, very relaxed, and very ready to work on my project.

I ended up staying home from church today. I had thought my son needed my car to go over to Mountain View Presbyterian Church to play with their praise band, so I didn't bother moving myself early enough. My reminder on my computer has been flashing for the past twenty minutes, letting me know when church is starting. UGH! I do hate missing church. I need it. I mean, I really feel so much better after I spend time worshiping the Lord, praying corporately, and hearing a good message. Still, I know that the days are short, and my project, well it is on a timeline. I am trusting the Lord in this matter, and I feel that He will let me know if I am out of line (He always does). So for now, I am content to stay home this morning, and to get a major start on revising my chapter 2 literature review.

Yesterday turned out to be a very good day for me. It was Saturday (of course), and my family was out of the house (PTL!) I spent the majority of the day, alone, in my study writing, editing and then revising my major paper. My parents were at wedding down in Mesa, and my son was at work at our church, Scottsdale Bible Church. I had the house to myself, and it was peaceful, quiet, and serene. It is funny, but yesterday I thought about my good friend, Heather, who has recently finished her program. I remember how she said she wrote almost all of her dissertation at Starbucks. Her house is filled with little kiddos (three to be exact), and while her husband and parents (they share a home) are supportive of her need for quiet, it turned out that she worked best at a Starbucks. I giggled when I heard that at first, and then I thought, "Oh, no way! I couldn't work with all that noise around me." Yesterday, though, I could see the blessing of that maneuver. 

In truth, even though you have to contend with people coming in and out all day long when you are in a public place, you can pretty much isolate yourself in a corner (with headphones on, etc.) so that you are in the "writing zone." I thought about how having zero distraction -- no goodies laying about, no cats climbing on my lap, and no interruptions from my family -- could be beneficial as I move through the more difficult aspects of my paper. In fact, I have thought about places I could go to write -- solo -- like the library at GCU (in a closed room, nonetheless). I don't really care to write on a laptop, and I prefer to use my desktop iMac, but if "push came to shove" as they say, I could definitely drive over to the library and either work on their Macs or bring my laptop and just sit in a closed room. For now, I plan to stay here at home and do most of the work from the peace and quiet of my own study. This is the plan, anyway.

I am in a really good place, work wise. I mean, yesterday, I wrote the entire literature review introduction and the first section on organizational communication. I also edited the opening of my second section on computer mediated communication. I will begin revising the third section on case studies and fourth section on the megachurch today. I hope to have all of chapter 2 completed before I turn in for the night. This will leave me with chapter three, methods, to write tomorrow and on Tuesday. Lord willing, I will send off the draft of my proposal (chapters 1-3) to my committee chair mid-week. I feel good, really good, like I have finally pushed through the wall, and I am now moving forward toward those BIG next steps (proposal defense and research phase).

My plan for this project has really taken on a life of its own. In Mid-March, I had this great schedule all laid out. I had it figured out right down to the wire, how I would be ready to defend my proposal next week, and how I would begin my research starting June 1. Well, that schedule came and went. As I struggled to come to terms with my passing (exams), and then with all the stress of finishing my semester of teaching, I fell behind. Well, I am actually FAR behind that original schedule, but I am content to be where I am today. I feel good. I feel like what I am doing is finally making sense to me. I need to go back and edit chapter 1, again, but I will do this AFTER I finish my literature review. It is funny, but I had read online that in qualitative studies, the literature review is critical because often the research questions, the proposed method, etc., are brought into view only after the review of current research has been completed. I have struggled to write my introduction (chapter 1) simply for this reason -- I honestly didn't know what to say in it -- because, while I had reviewed my literature (as in read most of the articles), I didn't really have a firm grasp of their fit within the context of my study. Now that I am almost finished, I can see how I can tighten up my introduction so that it reads better. My goal is to sell my proposal -- to really sell it -- and to demonstrate validity for my research. I think I can, well, I know I can do this, but I may need more literature to support my proposal and methods. For now, though, I am going with what I have written. I figure that my committee will ask me to revise or even clarify some aspects, so rather than focus on doing that now, I will give them what I have so they can become familiar with my topic, my ideas, and my rationale behind the study. If I haven't clarified enough, they will tell me what to do. I am trusting them -- these are good scholars -- and I know they want me to succeed.

Loving My Life

I titled this blog post, "I Love My Life," for a reason. This morning, after I pulled myself out of bed, I spent a little time relaxing by the open patio door. I used to do this in the town home, before I moved in with my parents. My boys, Ike and Winston, were lounging with me, and for a short time, I felt absolutely at peace, completely at rest. I thought back to how this behavior was our "normal," and how I enjoyed sitting in my comfortable club chair, lounging with my cup of coffee, and just relaxing as I listened to the birds sing outside my patio door. My boys would look out the door for a time before they would come and sit with me. Winston would perch on the back of the chair, and Ike would curl up in my lap. It was a blessed way to begin each day.

Since I have lived with my parents, I haven't been able to practice this early morning ritual. I tend to get up, get my cup of coffee, and then retreat back into my study. My boys follow me, and after a time, they settled elsewhere (under the bed or out on the living room sofa). I miss these quiet moments, so today, I took the time to just enjoy that feeling, that sense of "wonderment," that amazing quality of life that is mine now that I am single.

While I was sitting there, resting, my mind wandered back through my memories to a time when I lived in San Jose, California. I loved San Jose. I loved living there. I loved the fact that my family all lived near by, and that the weather, well, it was absolutely perfect. I loved everything about San Jose -- except for the cost of living. 

Yes, San Jose was a tough place to live as a grown up. Unless you worked in the high-tech industry or in some other scientific field, it was very difficult to earn enough income to live comfortably, let alone buy a home. My ex-husband and I rented, and while our experience wasn't wonderful, most of the time, it was satisfactory. As I was thinking about my former life, I couldn't help but wonder if we had stayed in San Jose and not moved here to Phoenix, would I still be married to my ex? I mean, would staying in San Jose, near my family and friends, have made a difference in the outcome of my life? As I pondered those thoughts, I couldn't help but think that more than likely, if we had remained together, I wouldn't be getting ready to graduate with my PhD. In fact, I wouldn't be a college professor. I would be working, more than likely, at Apple Computer or for another big company. My ex would be doing what he is doing now -- barely earning an income -- and our son would have been raised in day care. Yes, the only way we would have been able to live would have been for me to leave the home and work full-time.

One of the reasons we left San Jose was to give us a better quality of life. My ex thought coming here to Phoenix would open doors in the golf industry. I wanted to stay at home, to remain in the home, so our son would not be placed into day care. His fragile temperament wouldn't have meshed well with day care (and in fact, later in preschool, it didn't) and I believed God had called and prepared me to be in the home for this very reason. Coming to Phoenix then, held the possibility of a better kind of life, a good life.

Unfortunately, coming here didn't pan out that way. Yes, we did improve our quality of life somewhat, but I still had to work to help make ends meet. I worked from home, and for many years, I wore multiple hats just to keep the lights on. My son did grow out of his temperament issues, and thank the Lord, he is doing fine now. But, my marriage crumbled, and I found myself separated and then divorced. My life went from barely hanging on to demolished in a matter of 20 years time.

The funny thing, though, is that I am where I am today only because I am single. I would not have become a professor in San Jose simply because my ex-husband would not have permitted me to return to graduate school nor incur financial aid debt to get this far. Yet, I have always believed that this was God's plan for my life -- to become a teacher -- to have this level of education. From my youngest years, I always "played" teacher. In my early teens, I was open to this path as a good career. During my first college years, I got myself all messed up, but still felt the call to teach. 

In fact, I have blogged about how I felt pulled to leave the community college and start at our local Christian college (a Bible college then) in Education. My parents wouldn't go for the change, and in the end, I looked for support elsewhere. I found my ex back then in the college group at church, and he was the first person who showed me any kindness. He told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do, that I was smart and that I could become anything, so long as I was willing to work hard at it. I needed someone in my corner, so I was drawn to his words, and to his interest in helping me recover my esteem. However, I never realized just how messed up he was or how messed up his family was back then. I was naive, simple-minded, and I didn't have much experience with men. I looked to this man, rather than to God, for my deliverance, and in the end, I married him -- thinking -- somehow that it was the Lord's will for my life. What I didn't know then was that the Lord had other plans for me. My husband quickly put the kibosh on any plans for furthering my education, and I in turn, took jobs working in companies that didn't pay well and that stressed me physically and mentally. In short, I gave up what the Lord was asking me to do in order to be married to a man whom I thought would save me from my family and their lack of support, my poor self-esteem regarding my abilities, and my sin.

What I needed back then was a good shock -- like an electric shock -- that would pull me from my false belief that I should look to a man for rescue. I should have looked to the Lord, and I should have trusted Him to provide everything I needed back then. I needed my Savior to rescue me from my sin. I need my Savior to give me the esteem and identity I needed in order to accomplish all He had in mind for me. I needed my Savior to show me the way out, the way to separate from my parents (in a good way, I mean) so that I could become a self-sufficient adult. I needed the Lord in every area of my life.

The truth was that for many years and months prior to meeting my ex-husband, I was on the path leading to knowing God in more deeper, more significant ways. I was growing, developing a deep spiritual relationship, and learning to lean on Him. I was in this place of amazing development, and for a time, I felt His call on my life. I knew what I was supposed to do, but whenever I said anything about it, I only received condemnation for it. I was on fire for Jesus back then, but everyone around me was shooting water from fire hoses. They were bound and determine to extinguish the fire that the Holy Spirit was causing to flame in my heart.

I know all this now because I have spent years reflecting on my experiences. I know this now because after all the pain and the disappointment, I see clearly how the Lord was planning to provide for me. I simply refused to wait, to be patient, and to endure the trial in those early formative years. I chose another way, a way I thought would please the Lord, but in the end, all it brought was misery and sorrow. 

As I look back now, I realize that where I am today is the direct result of the actions I took when faced with a difficult decision back in 2010. I had a choice to make. I could either remain with my husband, a man who said he didn't love me nor want to remain married to me because he was in love with another woman, or I could walk away and start again. I could stay where I was, miserable, treated as second best, and thrown over for another woman or I could walk away into uncertainty, into an unknown future, but a future that was predicated on the Lord, and on resting in the Lord for His provision and protection. It was a difficult choice to make, but in the end, I chose to follow the Lord, and my life as a result, was immediately changed. It was up-ended, for sure. It was devastated, and the pieces were shattered into little bits. But, the Lord took all that brokenness and He created something lovely from it. The person I am today is a compilation of that shattered life. I bear the scars of a life of mistakes, of errors in judgment, and of believing in people who ultimately let me down. Now, though, I have beauty -- beauty from ashes -- and my life is good. Yes, my life is good.

The more I thought about my life this morning, the more I realized that I am right where the Lord wants me to be. Sure, I don't have everything I need, but what I do have is wonderful, marvelous, and fantastic. I said this very thing to my love last night. I told him that I love that I get to conduct research, that I get to be about this business of academic scholarship. I love that this is my life now. It is not perfect. I don't have a full-time faculty job, a home of my own, or even security and financial stability (yet). But I do have this sense of peace, this feeling of contentment, and this knowledge that I am doing the THING of His choosing. I am a teacher, a professor -- not because I chose it -- but because He chose this line of work for me. I am a scholar, a PhD Candidate -- not because I desired it -- but because He gave me this dream nearly 27 years ago, and now, I am at the brink of seeing it come true. I am finally free from those doubts and insecurities regarding my abilities. I am free from the low-self esteem that punished me and made me feel so worthless. I may not always feel empowered to do good things, but I know from whom my identity exists. I know that I can do all things, not of my own hand or my own mind, but because my Lord permits it, provides for it, and takes great pleasure in it. He alone is worthy to be praised! He alone is worthy to receive all our praise and adoration!!

Yes, I love my life. My broken, fragmented, and somewhat messed up life. I love what is becoming of my life, where I am going, and the way the Lord seems to be leading me. I love the future hopes of being married again, of living well, and of enjoying the blessing of ministry. I love what is possible, what is potential because I love the One who is filled with all possibility (Luke 1:37). Yes, with God all things are possible; nothing is impossible with God! Selah!

Moving On and Making Progress

As I close out this blog post today, I am reminded of how far I have come in this walk of faith. I am reminded that there are times when the Lord gives us the years the locusts ate. In my life, He has given back to me the dream I had to become a teacher. He has given to me the desire I had to get my PhD and to teach college English courses. He has renewed my interest in being married again, and He has placed a passion within me for ministry. He has made it possible for me to raise my son to manhood, to care for my elderly parents, and to live in a very peaceful and comfortable home. Yes, I have blessing upon blessing now -- all because -- I followed after Him, and I made Him Lord over every area of my life. My life is good, now, so very good. I have such high hopes and firm expectations, and I know that whatever the Lord desires for me, it will come to pass. I can trust in and rely on Him for His provision. I can feel safe in His presence, and I can plan and purpose and do all the things He asks me to do simply because I know that He will never leave me nor will He forsake me. He will bring this to pass, His will, because this is what He does best. He knows how to take the shattered remains of a life and turn it around so it blooms once again. He takes death and gives life. He resurrects hope, future, and opportunity, and in an instant, He makes all things new, beautiful and new. He is good, so very good. His goodness streams from the heavenly places, and for those of us who call Him "Abba Father," we experience His goodness as it runs over our heads. Yes, we bask in His goodness, in His goodness as we run to Him, wrap our arms around Him, and know that He is God. He is the One who loves us so dearly, so deeply and with such devotion that He spared nothing to retrieve us from the pit of sin, of hell, and of death. To God be the Glory, forever, Amen.

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