May 6, 2016

Making a Start

It is Friday -- the end of the week -- and it seems that I am just getting started! I had such great plans for my week. I had them all written down, with little check boxes next to them, ready to be completed and checked off. And, what happened? Nothing! Well, my son's car broke down on Sunday, and most of my week was tied up with creating a plan to dispose of it. My hope to get further along on my paper didn't pan out as still I am struggling with a loss of focus, a feeling of overwhelm and a dread about tackling this project. More so, I spent most of the week thinking about my life, the ups and the downs, and wondering (yet again) IF I am where I am supposed to be. It is as if everything I had hoped for didn't come to pass as planned. Each day seemed liked more of the same, and now I sit at Friday, and I think I have wasted the entire week without producing anything of value. Sigh!

News and Update

I am sitting at my desk, propped up on my new "kneeling chair" and wondering if this chair idea is going to work for me. My back does feel better -- for now. I woke up with a back ache, and the thought of sitting at my desk to work on my project was too much for me to bear today. My new chair arrived late yesterday, and I quickly assembled it. I tried it for a little while last night, but my back was killing me from working on the computer all day so I decided to not sit at my desk into the evening. This style chair promises to take the pressure off the spine so my back should naturally align to provide proper support and good form (posture). Right now, my knees are feeling a bit of pressure as they are taking the brunt of my weight. I think I might need to readjust the height because my hands are a little too far above my keyboard for comfort. My shoulders, however, are relaxed, and that is a good thing. I think with some time and some minor adjustment, I should be okay. My goal is to get to the point where I can sit at my desk without such extreme pain all the time. After all, I need to complete a major research project this summer, so I will need to spend a lot of time at my desk.

I am also looking down at my computer which bothers me. I have my iMac sitting on a box that is about 2.5 inches high. I may need to put something higher under it. Okay -- back in a flash. I used a small wooden footstool that my Dad made for me. Now my Mac may be too high, but at the least, I am looking directly into it. It needs to be about an inch lower to be perfectly situated. I think I will look for a monitor riser at Office Max. I have seen them before, and if the height is in between my box and the stool, we will be good to go. Back again - I browsed over at Office Max and monitor risers are about 5 inches in height. The stool I was using (replaced now with books) was 6 inches, hence the incompatible distance. The books (English Romantic Writers and Parallel NT in Greek and English) is 4 inches. I am not happy using books, and I worry a bit about my monitor getting knocked about with my cats, who like to jump on my desk frequently at night. I will keep a look out for something sturdier at Walmart -- something that might do double duty as a riser and a storage device.

Overall, I now have lowered my chair slightly so my arms aren't quite so high above the keyboard. This position took the strain off my knees and thighs, and I think it will work. I will check back in to update my progress later today. Hopefully, my prayer is that this new chair will help me feel better -- reduce my pain in my back and shoulders/neck -- while still allowing me to sit most of the day and do computer work.

Checking in at 1:20 p.m. - so I have been sitting in my chair now since about 8:30 a.m. I did take a break to get in the shower, and then I made myself some lunch (around 12:30). I am back to sitting again, and hopefully, will get some work done on my paper. My backside is sore, but not as sore as it was in my old chair. My tailbone hurts a little bit, but so far my upper body is good. My shins are a bit sore too, so I think I will need to add some extra padding to the knee rest part. I had read in the reviews at Amazon that this was the number one complaint of users -- not enough padding on the seat and knee cushions. Without investing a lot more money (like hundreds of dollars), I am stuck with lighter padding than necessary. I will add some foam to both sections this weekend. So far, I have to say I think the chair will work out well. Next update -- tomorrow. Let's see how I feel after a night's rest.

In Other News

So our AC is acting up, yet again. We spent a long weekend several weeks ago without any AC due to a coil failure in the unit. The repairman had to order the part, and wouldn't you know it, the failure and wait took place during an unseasonably warm part of April (near 100). The new unit has been working fine up until yesterday. In fact, over the past couple days, our daytime highs have been very near 100, and we noticed that our inside air temperature is not cooling under 81 degrees -- no matter what number we set the thermostat. Last night, the outside air was cooler than the inside air. It was miserable sleeping -- stuffy and hot -- so Dad called the AC company today to get them to come back out and check our unit. They won't be here until Monday! Thank goodness, we are supposed to have cooler temperatures this weekend -- and even -- a strong chance of thunderstorms tonight. I am hoping so. I mean, with my hot flashes and night sweats, I need AC!

Facing Challenge

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I am struggling to make progress on my dissertation (or project, as my chair calls it). I was supposed to be finishing up chapter 3 this weekend, and instead, I have about 2 pages written (of 30) for my literature review or chapter 2. I am behind, so very behind. Yet, I am trying my best, but feeling thwarted at every turn. I tried to explain my frustration to my family the other day, and I don't think they understand what I am going through. In fact, I doubt it seriously. Most people don't get what I am doing. They don't get that I am writing a book, not a college essay. They don't understand how hard it is to write something you haven't researched. A dissertation that is predicated on research -- an actual study -- is very different from a college essay that uses reference sources to argue a point. Let me be clear -- the two are like night and day -- different.

I teach my students how to write a solid academic essay with 5-7 sources. My dissertation will likely have 90 sources. These sources will be woven throughout the text, in various paragraphs and chapters, as they support my ideas, thoughts, and results. I am conducting research -- not writing a research paper -- and that is the key difference. In research, scientific research, the experiment is hypothesized, tested, observed, and then the results are described using social scientific language. The resultant paper is then written in sections detailing each part of the experiment. Thus, a scientific research study that is published in journal will have very specific information that presents evidence supporting or negating some research question or set of questions.

In a dissertation project that is social scientific, the research project is conducted in a like manner, but rather than simply distilling the information down to fit a journal's page or word count, the paper itself is more like a book. Each section in the paper will be a chapter. Each chapter will have between 10-70 pages, depending on the content. Each chapter will be self-contained, and each section within the chapter will be clearly defined and explained. There is a reason why dissertations take years to complete. There is a reason why the process is difficult, time-consuming, and why it can be frustrating to organize and write.

Just last night, while at dinner, I tried to explain the process again to my Dad. After explaining what was to come (as in steps in the process), he just said, "Oh, so it will be hard. Well, I am glad you are doing it and not me." I get the fact that he doesn't understand what I am doing -- most people don't. I get the fact that he isn't interested in the process involved. However, it is difficult for me to discuss why I am so frustrated, so overwhelmed, when I have few people in my life who are willing to listen to me without giving advice. I don't need advice. I know what to do. I just need some support, some sympathy, some measure of understanding.

My colleagues get it because they are in the midst of the same process. Most of my good friends are in the same boat as I am, so we do commiserate with one another. It is just that I don't get to talk with them frequently, so I don't have that pressure valve to let off steam. Instead, I rely on my family and close friends for support. Don't get me wrong, I know my family and close friends do support me. I know they care about me, love me, and want to see me succeed. It is just that sometimes I find that the people closest to me aren't willing to listen to me vent. They don't know what to say (I am sure) so they either walk away from me or they try to bolster me up with platitudes and happy thoughts. I love that they try, really I do, but I guess what I need most right now is just a hug. I don't need words of wisdom, advice on what to do or not to do, or even a slap on the back and a "you can do it" talk. No, I just need some compassion that says, "I may not understand what you are going through, but I love you and I support your effort in it." Yes, I just need some kindness that says, "I see your struggle." I need prayers of support -- the kind that will uphold and uplift me as I work through this difficult and daunting task.

I hate to whine, and I know I am complaining about nothing really. My goodness, aren't there more important things out there to be worried about than my slow progress on this project? I know, I kick myself enough just for my lack of effort, discipline, and diligence. I knock myself out most days and then find that I sit on my backside and do nothing to get me moving forward. I am my own worst enemy. I know it, I really do.


God-Given Dreams

This morning I woke up thinking about my life, about the choices I have made in my life, and about where I am today. Of course, I always think about where I am going tomorrow, too. I simply want to get through this next step in the process. I want to be over THAT HILL rather than stuck in this valley. I know that the only way for me to get from here to there is to WRITE. I must write. I must do this work. I must focus, and I must settle myself that this is my path for now. But, as I struggle to do what I know I must, I find that I am pulled off-center, pulled from my course, and each time I am pulled in this way, I lose steam, momentum, and pace. I falter, I stammer, and I fall down some times.

Today I am at a crossroads of sorts. I have to make progress on my project in order to keep to my timeline for graduation. I was trying to explain this to my father, how there are only certain times in the year when I can "defend." In doctoral lingo, to defend means to give a formal presentation where you present your research and discuss with your committee your ideas for research. In the road to graduation there are three "defenses" that must be successfully passed. Each defense opens the door to the next step in the process. So in February, I passed my first defense. I took my written exams, and then flew to VA to defend my answers before my doctoral board. My next defense is my proposal defense which must take place before the end of this month. The final defense will be for my completed dissertation, and that will take place once my committee is satisfied with my research and the scholarly quality of my project (my book). The problem is that for the second and third defense, there is a requirement that states you cannot defend both in the same semester. And, summer doesn't count. So I must complete my second defense before summer. My final defense, Lord willing, could then take place as early as fall or as late as next spring.

To add more mystery to the mix, I must defend in time to file for graduation. The deadline for graduation is April 2017, so that means I have to defend, and then submit my completed book to the library for publication. This process of revising can take time. I might not make this date, if the library doesn't like my finished project. Thus, in all, the pressure to finish according to predetermined timelines is stressful. I have to stay on track or I could risk not graduating on time. Furthermore, if my life is to be waged in academia, then I must stay on track for graduation because it could mean the difference between being hired full-time or remaining adjunct for another season (may it not be so, Lord!)

I know that all of this "deadline" driven panic seems counter-intuitive. I mean, if the Lord has called you to this task, will He not equip you to complete it? Of course, I believe this is so. I do believe He will do it. Why then do you panic? I would say it more like this -- it is not panic -- rather it is simply forecasting. You see, even the most determined and God-reliant farmer still pays heed to the seasons, the times and the epochs, in order to make the most of his planting and harvesting. It will be unwise to scatter seed at the wrong time of the year, and then "hope" that God will produce results from the effort. Instead, the farmer takes heed. He knows when to plant and when to reap. In this way, he works with the seasons to make the most of his harvest. Likewise, one cannot situate faith outside of the timeline or schedule of work. Faith works alongside wisdom, and in such a way, it can produce great miracles. However, to think that it is okay to simply say "Be done" and have something be done, well, that is foolishness. I know my timeline. I know and I understand the amount of work that I must do to complete each step of this difficult process. I know what is at stake if I do not complete it on time. I know what might happen if I continue to waste my days and not devote the time to seeing this project through to completion. Therefore, I must keep my faith in check, knowing that the Lord does empower me, help me, guide me, but that He will not write this dissertation for me. I cannot say, "Lord, make it so" and then wait for a book to magically appear on my desk. No, I must do the work. I must day-in and day-out, do the work. I know that He has given this assignment to me and to no one else. Consequently, I must be busy with this work. I must be about my Father's business this good, good day.

Moving On

It is a crazy feeling to be where I am right now. I mean, I am content. I am happy. I am in a good place in my life. Yet, I feel so stressed, so absolutely stressed about my future. I read this article yesterday that talked about how many PhDs candidates commit suicide each year. The pressure to perform, to succeed, to produce results, etc., takes its toll on all of us who are striving to achieve this degree. I know that I am on a mission from God, so to speak, and as such, I am trying to accomplish a goal that He has set for me. This was my dream, it was my desire, it was my idea -- initially. I wanted this degree for so long, and now that I am where I am, it seems impossible to finish strong.

In fact, I was speaking with my son's music mentor last weekend (at the recital), and he told me that he never finished his degree. He has been ABD for 26 years. I know that feeling. It is such a relief to get to this place, this stage of the game, and then to try to finish when the chips are down, the wall is at your back, and you are feeling the burn of making ends meet -- the task becomes insurmountable. How do you hang on? How do you keep on, keeping on? I believe that the only way to remain faithful to this path is to remember the One who has called me to it. In truth, the Lord has called me to this life, and thus, I must believe that He has a plan of action in place to see me through to the end. I cannot stress over what I cannot control, which is my future, and the life the Lord has for me. I cannot lose hope now, not when I am so close. You know how they say it is "darkest before dawn," well, this is how I feel. I feel as though I am in a very dark place right now. I am in this dark place, and I am trying very, very hard to see my way through to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Over the past three years, there have been many times when I felt overwhelmed and unable to finish my papers or my courses. I have felt the pain and the pressure to give up. I have wanted to quit numerous times, yet I didn't give in because I believed the Lord had a plan for my education. Now, I struggle because I don't see what that plan is anymore. I mean, I have always known that my education was not for a job (like to get a job as a teacher). Nor would my education assist me in business, should the Lord put me in a regular job outside of teaching. My degree -- my PhD -- was for ministry only. It was for His name and praise and it was specific to His calling on my life. Some where in between getting my masters degree and my PhD, I lost my focus. I lost my direction. I became enamored with the idea of being a professor, with teaching, and with working in higher education. I wanted this end so badly, and now that I am in that place, I see how futile my approach was or has been all these years. I mean, what does the job matter so long as it provides for my family and their needs? I mean, what does the job matter so long as the work is enjoyable or challenging? Really, is it not better to have good practical work than no work at all?

I have fallen victim to an attitude that I once hated, despised, and said I would never manifest. Yet, I have this same attitude now, and I am angry with myself for allowing it to live inside of me. This attitude is the one that says "I will do this work or that work so long as ___________(fill in the blank) happens or is provided." I lived with this attitude for nearly 30 years, and it was a regular part of my daily experience. It was the attitude that said "good practical work is beneath me" and maintained that "I will only do work that suits me, is easy, affords a certain lifestyle, and lets me be in charge (or free to call the shots)." Yes, I have adopted this same attitude of late. I refused to give up my summers, my holidays, and my school breaks for another type of job. I refused to work in an office where I would be required to work 40 or more hours per week just to have good pay and benefits. I refused to accept work that was beneath my education, that didn't align with my education, that didn't have the same measure of prestige as my current title (of professor). I allowed pride and arrogance and yes, foolishness to keep me stranded in this place of little pay and no reward for a very long time. I justified my existence here, and granted, the freedom was a bonus when it came to working on my studies and doing well in school. Yet, the trade off was that my life became focused on the title, the job, the status, the school; rather than on the fact that I was blessed to have good practical work to do each and every day.

Now, I sit here trying to finish this difficult task, to graduate, and I am fixated on finding a job. I can certainly stay in teaching, to continue to work as an adjunct teacher, but for how long? How much longer must I wait before I can find a full-time teaching position? I could simply ditch it all and apply to jobs in business that would not give a hoot or a holler about my education. I could refrain from even posting that I have my PhD in order to apply for entry level or low-level positions that would pay me a living wage. I could do all of this, but I would have to agree that the work I would do would be practical and good. It wouldn't be for ministry. It wouldn't be for any other reason than to provide a living wage for me and my family.

How do I reconcile the past three years of hard work and effort then? How do I move forward without considering how the major achievement of my life has changed me, impacted me, prepared me? The problem is that I cannot. No matter how hard I try to distance myself from my education, it follows me. Hard. Hard after me. I cannot turn without seeing my degree, the title, staring me in the face. Thus, I have to reconcile myself to this way, to this path, to following along even if I know that the future is not secure, not bright, not shiny, and not filled with hope. The future is hard. The future is futile, and the likelihood that I will prosper in this way is non-existent. Yes, in that article I read about PhDs committing suicide, the author conceded that he never achieved his dream job -- to be a professor of Physics. Instead, he became a writer, and in all the years since he obtained that miserable degree, he has never once used what he learned in graduate school.

I feel the author's pain. I understand how he feels. The thought of not being able to do what you have studied for, agonized over, and sacrificed all those years is numbing. What is the point, then? Why do the work if you don't expect to achieve the outcome? I mean, why go on?

Yes, that is the rub in all of this mix. I am doing something that is not of my own hand. I cannot take credit for it, and I cannot make sense of it. Thus, I can only do one of two things: I can quit and give up on what God is calling me to do OR I can forge on, trusting Him for the outcome, and resting in His sufficiency and security. If I choose the first option, then all the hard work and effort would truly be for naught. If I choose the second option, I at least have the satisfaction of knowing that I was obedient to God's call. I can let the outcome be up to Him, and no longer take responsibility for what comes to pass. It becomes His business to do with this degree what He desires, and it is my business to simply let Him have His way.

I either must give in or I must go on. The choice before me is simply one of two options. Which will I choose? I will choose to go on. I don't like the possibilities of the former, so I will hold on to my faith in God as God omnipotent. I will hold on to my faith as God, who can see and who will provide. I will hang on to my faith in God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. He is God, and I am not, and in this matter, I am lacking the ability to see past the end of my nose. My way is blocked. I must rest. I must trust. I must let this go.

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