June 30, 2016

Post Panic

What does it mean to panic? The dictionary defines panic as a "sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior." Wikipedia clarifies the definition by stating,
Panic is a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking, replacing it with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and frantic agitation consistent with an animalistic fight-or-flight reaction.
Panic, regardless of the definition, is a feeling, a sensation, that can unnerve even the most steady and stable person. I know. I suffer from panic attacks every so often. Sometimes the panic is so severe that I become incapacitated for a time, and other times, it is appears as a mild but lingering feeling that seems to never go away. I try hard not to panic -- er -- not to give into panic, yet sometimes I find myself swept away amidst a stream of panic-induced thinking. Why?

Thinking and Doubting

In order to understand the origins of panic, we have to analyze why we choose to panic in the first place. Typically, panic produces a "fight or flight" response in us, and serves as a stress-control mechanism to protect us from harm. If pushed to an extreme, we will either stand and fight or run away. Our loving God created this response so that we could flee circumstances that would harm us physically. It was a gift designed to keep us out of harms way or to give us the courage to stand and fight when the situation required it.

In our modern world, however, often our brains will signal for us to "flee" when we are overcome by other circumstances besides physical danger. We may panic when we are under emotional or mental stress as a result of some type of serious experience. We may find that we become conditioned to panic if we have lived in a prolonged state of stress. Victims of abuse or military action suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to their experience. They will find that they cannot control their desire to run away or to fight. Other people, simply allow panic to become a normal experience, and even when they are not situated in circumstances that place them in harm, will panic (suffer panic attacks).

For many of us, we panic as a precursor to running away. Therefore, panic is the first step in a process that leads us to one of these two outcomes. The key is to recognize why we panic. If we are not in serious danger, then we need to control our stress mechanism and not allow it to lead us to run away. Moreover, if we allow ourselves to be in a pre-panic state for too long, we can inadvertantly allow the process to develop. When we give in to those first "panic" signals, we will 'fan the flame' or 'feed the fire,' so to speak. Thus, the first step in controlling our response to flee is to check our thinking to make sure we are not giving "it" room to develop "panic thoughts." When we check our thinking by rationally analyzing our motivating fears, we can come to recognize the trigger or triggers that are leading us into a full-scale panic attack.

1. Thinking Negatively Begins the Process. Panic begins when we start to entertain thoughts that suggest that a particular outcome will be negative. Typically, panic begins to take hold once we consider the all of the possible negative scenarios that "could happen" as a result of an action or circumstance. Almost always panic presumes some irrational or illogical conclusion. More so, the process involved in determining these negative outcomes is based on faulty logic. We will use post-hoc fallacy such as correlation and causation to suggest an outcome. In laymen's terms, we will assume that just because two things occur at the same point in time they are related to one another. For example, we might say "every time I apply for a job, I am rejected." We are assuming that applying for jobs always equals rejection. The action in applying is directly related to the causal outcome of rejection. However, this logic is faulty. There could be many reasons why an application is rejected. The act of applying may be part of the process, but there is no determining link to the outcome. In philosophy and in argumentation, we call this reasoning "post propter ergo hoc" or post hoc.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin: "after this, therefore because of this") is a logical fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) that states "Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X." 
In short, we panic when we allow illogical thoughts to predominate our thinking. This thinking then creates irrational consequences for us. In almost all cases, the fear sensation is real, but the process that created the scenario is not. In many ways, when our circumstances entice us to panic, it is almost always the result of negative thinking that has caused a fault or error in our ability to conceive a true analysis and determine a more realistic, and yes, positive outcome.

Panic is induced by faulty logic.

The Sky is Falling!

Do you remember the story of Chicken Little?  This common folktale recounts the story of a chick who gets hit on the head by an acorn that has fallen from a tree. The chick runs around crying, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!" In the end, the chick is enticed by the sly fox to enter his den whereby he is eaten (I know, gruesome -- thats how people 200 years ago saw things). The moral of the story -- don't be foolish! It is not wise to believe everything you hear.

In other versions of the story, the moral turns toward courage rather than fear. In either ending, the theme is the same. Sometimes things are not as they seem. Whether an acorn or a leaf, the sky IS NOT FALLING nor is the end of the world imminent.

Sometimes when we doubt, we become like Chicken Little. We take one instance or occurrence of a phenomenon and turn it into wide-scale panic. We presume the worst when the facts run contrary. For example, just because a promised opportunity doesn't come to pass, does not mean that EVERY promised opportunity with do the same.

2. Giving In Rather Than Staying the Course. Albert Einstein is credited with saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. ~ Albert Einstein
Whether or not he actually said this phrase is speculative at best (some people say it was Ben Franklin, but again, that is not a proven fact). What is interesting, regardless, is the underlying premise. This statement presumes that doing the same thing over again and NOT expecting a different result is normal. This would lead one to believe that all actions should be perfectly executed the first-time because the first-time result would be expected to be best.

For example, it would suggest that an athlete doesn't need to practice to improve performance because there would be no justifiable reason to do so. Instead, athletes who train over and over again would be insane to expect to perform better through practice. Likewise, many scientists would not need "trials" or practice attempts in order to develop life-saving drugs, treatments or procedures. Insanity, therefore, would be the result of repeating behaviors with the HOPE that the practice would would lead to perfection (or some measured improvement).

In many ways, this line of thinking is at its core faulty, irrational, and ill-conceived. It can hardly be attributed to Albert Einstein, one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. I doubt we could say Benjamin Franklin said it either. He was known to have created inventions after many failures. The English idiom of "practice makes perfect" stems from older sayings of "use makes mastery" (c. 1560. Apparently, throughout history the belief that doing something over and over was practical, good, and proved a worthy endeavor (just an aside). Many people say that the insanity saying must be taken in context rather than on face value. They will suggest that perhaps he (Einstein) simply meant to say that a some point in time, the return on value diminishes (the law of diminishing returns), and thus, to continue past that point in time is "insane." Most of the time, we hear personal life coaches and others use this saying to encourage individuals to change their behavior. The idea is that if something isn't working, the solution is to change one's behavior. Again, either idea is fraught with illogical thinking. Sometimes the best course of action is to keep trying and to follow the "use makes mastery" approach. Other times, we need to consider the law of diminishing returns as our signal to make a change. Wisdom, consequently, should dictate change -- whether in thinking or in behavior.

3. Always Look for the Root Cause. When I am teaching my students how to write a causal analysis, I have them spend time analyzing causal relationships. Causal relationships are central to many problems we face today. My students find the process difficult, but the truth is that almost all circumstances or situations we face begin with some primary or mediating cause. If we take the time to understand causes and their relationships to variables or factors in our life, often we can short-cut our analysis and determine a wise and appropriate course of action to follow.

A good example is why we choose to change jobs. There can be many reasons for a job change: lack of pay, travel time to and from work, no room for advancement, hostile work environment, etc. Sometimes we change jobs because we are bored with the work we are asked to do. Other times, we change jobs because we want a different career path. Sometimes, though, we change jobs for reasons that appear to be clear on the surface, but underneath are prompted by motivations contrary to expected outcomes. Let me explain...

I recently applied to a job that was not in my current field. On the surface, the decision to change jobs seemed good. It was a practical move, predicated on two primary needs: income and stability. In analysis, the idea was a good one. The current job I have doesn't pay enough monthly and the work is not stable (permanent). Therefore, the practical, good, and rational course of action is to find a different job.

The job I applied for is something I can do (as in abilities). It aligns well with my experience, and my skills and abilities are well-suited to this type of work. The positive outcomes would be better pay, opportunity for advancement, and stability with a good company. The negative outcomes would be having to work full-time in an office, traveling on the freeway (perhaps 25-40 minutes each way), and limited time to complete my research and dissertation. In all, the opportunity is a good one, and the variables are both positive and negative in their scope. The compromise that is required is to determine what pros/cons I am willing to either accept or reject.

In converse, as an adjunct instructor (my current role), I am well-suited to the job now that I have three years of practical work experience. Furthermore, the job is positioned within my educational achievement (English and Communications). The positive outcomes of staying in my job for one or more semesters are freedom in schedule (time off each week), holidays and breaks, as well as choice of teaching assignments. The negatives include low pay, contracted work (not permanent), and no long-term security (work is as needed). Again, the decision comes down to the variables and the determination of what is acceptable to me regarding my work/lifestyle.

Internal Motivating Factors

I chose to look for another job this summer because I realized that my bank account was getting very low. I was worried that I would run out of money to pay my bills. The contracts I have set for fall are not sufficient to meet my needs, and even if I were to pick up another contract, I still would not have enough income to cover my monthly expenses. Furthermore, I was unsure of my financial aid package for fall, and I didn't know if I would be able to borrow loan money to offset some of my living expenses for the year. I didn't want to continue to borrow, racking up debt, and the fear of either defaulting on my loans or my credit cards/expenses sent me looking for a different type of work.

My underlying motivation was based in fear. Fear of losing control of my financial life and fear of what that might bring to me long-term (credit debt, bankruptcy, etc.) Moreover, secondary motivation was prompted by my Dad and his disapproval of my ability to pay my own way. He understands my desire to teach, to complete my PhD, but he also wants to know that he can manage living in the home we share. He cannot do it without my part of the expenses each month. I felt his disapproval, and my response was to look for work in order to resolve that tension. Additional motivation was based on other secondary needs. For example, my son needs a car to get to school in the fall. I cannot pay for a car, so getting a job that solves that problem seemed practical and rational. In all, my motivation determined my course of action. I allowed these internal motivators to cause me to panic, to forget who is responsible for my debts and my life (the Lord), and who is responsible for the steps I take. Now, I am not saying I am not responsible for my own debts, but what I mean to say is that the debts I have are related to school and not my overspending on miscellaneous things. My debt is part of God's plan for school, and while I am not saying He wanted me in deep debt, it was simply a by-product of graduate school. I had to work part-time to facilitate my studies. I had to take loans to facilitate my program. They are part of the process, so I do place the responsibility on the Lord for provision since I believe I am follow His will in this pursuit.

Thus, I can say that my panic produced action that resulted in my seeking a job outside of my current field. I attempted to change course in order to resolve the tension. My motivation to change jobs was not prompted by any rational reason, per se; rather it was prompted by my own feelings of fear of losing control, losing stability, and losing my sense of producing results. I envisioned a negative outcome instead of a positive one. I forgot to consider the options, and in doing so, I followed the wrong motivation.

The better motivation would have been to seek how to please the Lord. Had I said, "Lord, would leaving teaching now please you?" I probably would have heard Him say "remain still." My motivation could have been, "Lord, how can I serve you or others best?" In doing so, I would have been placing ministry above worldly situations, and thus, the answer may have been "stay put." You see, my motivation was based on panic, a flight or fight response and the need to please my earthly father and son. If my motivation had been based in faith, in order to please my heavenly Father and His Son, things would have turned out differently. Am I motivated toward pleasing God in all things or in satisfying my own self and my needs?
In Closing

As I think more about my life, about where I am today and where the Lord is leading me, one this is for sure: I am right where He wants me to be. I am sitting at this crossroads because it is His will for me to be in this place. I am in complete dependency upon Him for all my needs. I am sitting here trying to guess which way to go, and wondering why He isn't providing for me as I think He should. In truth, rather than asking "why haven't you resolved this problem yet" -- I should be asking the better question -- how can I please you today, Lord?

Dear Lord,

I am letting all of this go today and I am choosing instead to focus on your abilities and not my own. I am weak, frail, and filled with human pride. I try hard, but fail often. I want to do my best for you, but often I ended up trying to please other people. I want to focus on your work, your will, and as such, I am struggling to not fall apart. I ask today for clarification as to how I am to go, where I am to go, and what I am to do. I am seeking to serve you and serve others. I ask Lord that you will close the doors you want closed, and open the doors you want to be opened for me. Make my way clear, make my path smooth, and help me to make wise choices this good, good day. I ask all this in the Name of Jesus, my Lord and my Savior, Amen. So be it, thy will be done. Selah!

June 29, 2016

Decisions, Choices, and Expectations

I slept like a rock last night. This is the second night in a row where I went to bed and didn't wake up all night long. I got up around 7 a.m. to use the bathroom, but afterward, I retreated to my warm and snuggly bed for another hour and a half. In all, I slept about 10 hours. I guess my body and mind needs the rest. I have been mentally and emotionally stressed for a while, so sleeping well always seems to happen once I unload, so to speak, all the stress I have been carrying around for a while. It is like when I was young and I couldn't sleep through the night due to traumatic events. I would often crash hard and then sleep for days just to recover. Thankfully, I don't do that anymore, but I do find that my need for sleep cycles like this, after traumatic events and difficult and prolonged stress.

My comprehensive exams took more out of me that I thought previously. Plus, my work/life balance, while in check, didn't really alleviate my stress much. My work schedule was chosen in order to give me the best chance for success last spring. I worked three days a week only, and in doing so, I was able to use my time off for studying and prepping for my exams. Now, I am at the end of that process, and I am working on my dissertation. I hope to have everything finished by December so I can graduate in January. This timeline is doable, but only if I focus 100% on my research. It means I have to have days off this fall, and I have to be able to complete my research and writing before the end of the year.

My plans for this week are to continue resting. The Lord has placed this command in my mind, and I know that when I listen and heed His word, I do well. If I push it and go against His word, I will falter and suffer the consequences (typically, physical consequences). This leads me to the topic of today's post. I am struggling today with expectations, and yes, with decision-making and the all-encompassing issue of making wise choices.

Decisions, Choices, and Expectations

These past two weeks have been troubling for me. I have been in the midst of making some important life choices, and while I felt sure about my decision a couple weeks ago, I am feeling less sure of my decision to change paths today. Really, this has been a progressive feeling, a deepening concern over the past couple days (since Sunday), and now I am feeling less positive that I am doing the right thing in applying for and interviewing with UHC for a position as an analyst. I woke up today, and while I feel good, really, really good, and I have this sense that I am right where I am supposed to be -- right where I am supposed to remain -- I still am uncertain of my future. In some ways it is almost as if previously, I was in the midst of a wide and expansive beach, sitting pretty, feeling good and enjoying the bright and warm sunshine. It was good. I was in good shape. But, then I moved. I walked further down the beach, and all of a sudden, the tide has turned, and it is now rushing in on me. I am standing in knee deep water, and I am watching the waves build out a sea, and I know they will soon crash down and bring that water up higher and higher. I feel like running, but I cannot. I am stuck in the sand, my feet deeply embedded and unable to move. Yet, the water is coming toward me, and I see it. I need to flee. The Lord says to me, "I AM," and He reminds me that He controls the sea. He calms the waves, and He brings them gently to the shore. I am safe; I feel it. I am good; I know it. Still, the waves are there, the tide is rising, and I am standing in a precarious place with no way to move or to go. I must wait. I must stand. I must trust Him to rescue me.

Making Wise Choices

I started to think about my choice to leave teaching last night as I was getting ready for bed. I started to wonder how I would complete everything I need to do AND work full-time. As I analyzed my decision to leave, I remember how strongly I felt when I thought about working part-time into the fall. I mean, I hate the thought, the idea, of working part-time for another one-two semesters. I hate the idea of having less income. It pulls at me. It literally causes me stress and strain. I bend with the weight of worry, of doubt, and of fear as to what will come next. But then I remember that my goal, my task, is to complete my PhD, and that means I have to push everything else aside and focus on this one big THING. I am an adjunct instructor IN ORDER TO facilitate my studies, to complete my program. This I know well. And, what is more, I know that the Lord will cover me. I know the Lord has a plan for my life, and it is good. But, I also know that I cannot lose my focus now. If I were to give in, to not focus on the end, my enemy would more than likely win. He would gain the upper hand, and I would find myself struggling to finish this work. Instead, I know I must not let that happen, so I have to remain fixed on this path, remain steady, and walk straight on toward the completion of my PhD. Thus, today, I am second-guessing whether it was in my best interest to apply for a business position at this time. I am not saying that it wasn't a good choice (the job, I mean) because I know that working as an analyst is a good fit for my skills and abilities. I am concerned about the timing. Did I walk too soon into the surf when I should have simply stayed safely on the beach?

1. Summers - A Love/Hate Relationship. It seems like I have floundered each summer since I started to teach college classes. I love my summers off, and I have greatly enjoyed my courses and my trips to Regent each June. My life has been moving steadily forward, checking off requirements and accumulating the required credits so I could graduate on time. Now, I am at this point where I am in good shape. I have passed my exams, and I am in the midst of my big project (as my professor calls it). My end is clearly in sight, and there is a strong temptation to start other things. You know how that goes...when you are almost finished with one task and you begin to think about all the other things you might do next. It is easy to get sidetracked and to lose the focus to finish what you started. I know this is the case right now. I have been bored while I was waiting for my professor to give me feedback. Now that I have his notes, I need to finish this work. I can do it, of course. I can complete what needs to be done, but I started to feel "ready" to do more work, so I looked around and took some time to apply for positions that would (1) pay me well and (2) align with my skills and abilities. I got called for a screening interview, which I completed on video and in person. I am now waiting to hear back on the next steps. Will I be called for a second interview or will I be rejected and passed over? I don't know, I just don't know.

2. My Priority is School. My task is before me, however, and it remains unfinished. Yet, I look to my circumstances and I see so many needs (BIG NEEDS). What should I do? How do I remain where I am and maintain my lifestyle? It is a difficult place to be in, and I don't like the feeling of being hard pressed to make ends meet. Still, I must hang on. I must not lose my focus. I am struggling to make the "right" decision today. I have had the idea that if I get the call (or email) to proceed to this job, then I can know for sure that this is the Lord's plan for me. If I get the call (or email) saying "Thanks, but no thanks," then I will know this is not the Lord's plan. Part of me sees this approach as a lack of faith. I mean, it is more of a test -- testing to see if God's word is true or not. I don't want to do this, to take this approach. No, I want to be 100% faithful, to believe His word to me is truth. Thus, I sit here and I wonder. I stew a bit, and I ask the Lord for clarification, for His help, so I can know the truth. What is the truth, Lord? Am I just having second-thoughts, doubts? Or, is this feeling simply to let me know that since my primary choice (or first-time choice) is known (as in non-negotiable) my secondary choice (second-time choice) is what is causing me trouble. My second-time choice is not clear. I have options, I have variables, but I have no clear direction at this point in time. I do know that my second-time choice must never be in conflict, must never cause or lead me to a place that is not supportive or dependent on my first-time choice.

It is weird, really, to think about choices this way. I never really understood the process of making good choices, and frankly, I struggle with making decisions today. Last night, while I was trying to fall asleep, I decided to pray about my situation. I wanted clarification. I wanted help in knowing whether I was just imagining the turmoil or if the Holy Spirit was helping me come to a decision once and for all. After I prayed, I googled "making good choices" on my iPhone. I landed on a page that described Ignation Spirituality. If you are not familiar, Ignatian Spirituality is the rule (like the rule of St. Benedict, for example) put forth by St. Ignatius of Loyola. St. Ignatius was Spanish priest who is considered the Father of the spiritual order, the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. St. Ignatius and his order of monks and monasteries founded schools, colleges, and universities all over Europe during the 1500s. He is also known for his spiritual exercises that consist of contemplative prayers and meditation designed to bring the follower closer to Jesus. The Ignatian motto is "for the greater glory of God," and those that follow his directives seek to develop a closer relationship to Jesus Christ, and to live a life predicated on labor for God.

I was familiar with Ignatian Spirituality and had read the spiritual exercises before, but while I was browsing their website in order to gain some insight when it comes to about making choices, I found a page that explained Ignatius' example of how to make an analytical choice to solve some real-world problem. Although I don't agree with everything he suggested, I did find some of what he described as being practical and good common sense. In particular, I read his discussion on how to differentiate between first-time choices and second-time choices.

Ignatius described common choices as either first-time choices or second-time choices. A first-time choices is a "decision that is unmistakably clear" and typically is when "we know what is right." These choices are what I call non-negotiables. These are choices where there little discussion is needed because the answer is obvious. You either turn left or right; you either stop or go. There is little confusion about which way to go so the choice is easy. For example, my calling (my vocation and ministry) given to me by God is a first-time choice. I believed that the Lord personally communicated His desire for me to return to graduate school to pursue study in Communication. I followed the Lord when I made the decision to obey His word to me. My first-time choice led me to the path that I am on today as a teacher and to the place where I am about to graduate with my PhD. I know that this choice, this decision, was predicated on one thing and that one thing was an inner desire to know God, to serve Him and to serve others in order to bring praise, honor, and glory to His majestic name. I am convinced of my calling, convinced and unwilling, to be swayed by any other idea, thought or notion on the contrary. I am pursuing my first-time choice with ardent fervor because I believe it is the Lord's will for my life.

Ignatius describes a second-time choice or decision as "situations where the preferred choice is not entirely clear." According to Fleming (2016), in second-time choices, we are "presented with alternative courses of action that all seem attractive to some degree, and we are not blessed with the gift of a clear certainty about what to do." According to St. Ignatius, "we can discern the right choice by attending to the inner movements of our spirit," which in Ignatian terms means to discern the difference between consolation and desolation. These terms are not familiar to most Christians, so it is easy to misunderstand what he is suggesting. Ignatius believed,
Spiritual consolation is an experience of being so on fire with God’s love that we feel impelled to praise, love, and serve God and help others as best as we can. Spiritual consolation encourages and facilitates a deep sense of gratitude for God’s faithfulness, mercy, and companionship in our life. In consolation, we feel more alive and connected to others.
Spiritual desolation, in contrast, is an experience of the soul in heavy darkness or turmoil. We are assaulted by all sorts of doubts, bombarded by temptations, and mired in self-preoccupations. We are excessively restless and anxious and feel cut off from others. Such feelings, in Ignatius’s words, “move one toward lack of faith and leave one without hope and without love.”
In short, the idea of consolation is a feeling that leads the individual into a closer relationship with God, whereas desolation is a feeling that causes more confusion or an unwelcome feeling of disillusion or restlessness. Ignatius is clear that not all desolation is bad. Sometimes feelings of disillusion or restlessness can signal a necessary change of course or a development that may be leading the individual to a new way. However, the over-arching goal of discernment is to bring the individual to the point of decision, and that decision should always deepen one's relationship to God, and develop a stronger sense of necessity when it comes to serving God and serving others.

I like this idea a lot because it places the focus on "laboring for God." It also clearly addresses internal motivations that may serve to cause distance or dissatisfaction in the heart and mind of the believer. For example, the word clearly instructs us that we cannot love God and love the world (the things of the world). Yet, often we try to maintain both -- a love relationship with the Lord -- and a love relationship with the world. In sum, we attempt to do both equally well -- living in the same manner and style of our neighbors -- yet professing deep faith to God. Jesus says that it is impossible to do this (Matt. 6:24). John says the same thing in 1 John 2:15-17. How can we love God and love others and yet seek worldly comforts and a lifestyle that is so similar to everyone else around us? Is it wrong to seek these things, to seek comfort above a deeper love for God?

3. Second-time Choices. I think in my case, I struggle most with these types of decisions. They are value-based decisions, often good, but not presenting as clear favorites. There is no clear answer, just options or alternatives to consider. Ignatius teaches the importance of using rational thinking, analytically summing up pros and cons, for example, in order to clearly identify underly motivations that may cloud your ability to judge rightly. He also strongly asserts the necessity of emotional reaction or discerning "feelings" as part of this process. In Ignatian ideals, feelings are good things, and not seen as negative or directed solely to selfish pursuits. Similarly, the modern adage, "trust your heart" is something that Ignatius would say is a good thing, but only if your heart has been "schooled" by Jesus Christ. The heart motivations of the believer should always point toward God and not toward self. If the motivation is clearly focused on serving God, the likelihood that selfish feelings will predominate the process is less of an issue. As I consider my motivations, I have to admit that some of my recent decisions have been predicated on what Ignatius would consider as desolation. I won't go into a lot of detail, but suffice it to say that whenever you are actively seeking and serving God, a spirit of confusion can come upon you and attempt to lead you away from God. The goal is to cause you to stop doing what you are doing (good work for His glory) and get you to focus on doing what is better for you (your glory). Ignatius says that we must always test the spirits in order to know whether we are discerning them correctly. 

John says in 1 John 4:1 NIV, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." He is speaking of false prophets, but the command is valid. We must test what we hear, think and feel to ensure that it aligns with the truth, the Word of God. In doing so, we will be better able to understand what is true and good, and consequently, make good choices. Likewise, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:12 NIV, "What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us."

4. Discerning God's Call. In all of this discussion, I believe what is at the root is the struggle I have discerning God's call on my life. What I know to be true, I do not doubt. What I struggle with most, is knowing how my calling is to influence and impact the rest of my life. Is my calling distinctive and unique, only to form one part of my life? Or is my calling comprehensive and complete to the point of transforming my life from the inside out?

Chris Lowney, in his article entitled, "The Voice in Here," discerning God's voice and His call on our life begins inside our heart. He quotes Quaker minister Parker Palmer who said, "Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God." 

As I consider my life today, and after reading Lowney's uplifting article, I cannot help but rethink my decision to leave teaching for a more stable, lucrative, and positively rational decision in corporate business. Yes, I am poor (hopelessly poor). Yes, I am overworked at times, pushed to the brink of exhaustion, and often unable to stand up. Yet, there is part of me that relishes that experience, that derives such delight from it. I think to myself that my work as a teacher pleases God greatly because I am using one of the many gifts He has given to me. This doesn't mean that I do not or would not please God when using my brain, my analytical skill or my leadership ability in the same way. No, rather it simply means that when I stop and think of how I can "find God in all things," I cannot help but know that God is present in my teaching just as certainly as He would be in my business pursuits. He is with me, and whether I go this way or that way, He never leaves me. But, when I am doing work that honors Him, directly ministers to others, and places my wants and needs as secondary, well that I believe brings a smile to His face. Yes, when we submit and yield to others, and when we do so voluntarily, then we are seeking to do His work in all places.

When we are using our gifts and talents for God's kingdom, then we are doing something special and wonderful. We are fulfilling our purpose and we are working in alignment to His plan for our life.  Not every person is called to full-time religious life (as in a pastor or minister). Many people receive callings that include actively using their gifts and talents in multiple ways. In this way, when we are actively embracing and using the gifts God has given to us, then we are spending our time here on Earth doing quality work, good work, good things. Lowney says it this way, 
“What fuels one to perform with excellence has a spiritual quality that inspires, nurtures, and sustains one’s work. . . . I find when I experience extraordinary talent in someone—whether it is playing tennis, singing, preaching, caring for the sick—it reminds me of God’s grace and seems to be a very wonderful way for that person to use his or her time and energy.”
5. Choosing Based on God's Desires. This discussion leads me to believe that my decision to leave teaching was motivated by selfish desires and a need to satisfy my own sense of fear. I believe now that my decision to look for work in business was prompted by what Ignatius would consider a spirit of desolation. According to Ignatian Spirituality, the key to understanding good and bad "spirits" results when motivations are brought to light. Heart motivations can either serve to bring the individual closer to God or move them further away from Him. Ignatian Spirituality writes, "For people who are trying to live a life pleasing to God, the good spirit strengthens, encourages, consoles, removes obstacles, and gives peace. The evil spirit tries to derail them by stirring up anxiety, false sadness, needless confusion, frustration, and other obstacles."

I see this thinking bear itself out constantly in my own life. I know that when I am confused, confounded as to what to do or how to proceed, I often will note a sense of desolation overcome me. I will become more anxious, more confused, more frustrated. In time, I will begin to experience greater obstacles, and if left unchecked, I will often find my path completely blocked. I will be unable to move forward. Barry (2016) writes that often when we experience a sense of desolation it is because our enemy is seeking to push us away from God. He says, "it is characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul.” Likewise, when we are doing what pleases God most, then we experience blessing. Paul writes about the fruit of the Holy Spirit as evidence of a life that is doing what God desires. In Galatians 5:22-23 we read, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These characteristics are demonstrations that we are walking in behavior that is pleasing to God. My experience bears testimony because if I am doing what God has asked me, no required of me to do, (say, my studies), then I am overcome with peace, filled with joy, and I experience patience and self-control to do what I must. Moreover, I am filled with a deeper sense of love for God,and with a sense of goodwill toward others. In short, I feel good about what I am doing, and I feel hopeful that my time is not being misused or wasted.

In Closing

Ignatius describes contemplation as a process of spiritual discernment. In his spiritual exercises, the believer is to spend time in prayer thoughtfully reflecting on any heart motivations that would run contrary to pleasing God. The idea is to allow the Holy Spirit to direct the believer to consider behaviors, thoughts that lead to actions that cause a move away from God to percolate to the surface so that they can be confessed. This process asks the penitent to carefully consider anything that might be standing in the way of a deepening relationship with God. In this manner, as the penitent reflects on these heart motivations, they are able to clarify issues (emotional, spiritual, mental or physical) that are keeping them from making good choices. I realized in my own time of reflection that I struggle with several issues that need to be addressed. For me, I suffer from a lust of the eyes, as John says, whereby I focus on things more so than on doing what is pleasing to God. Yes, my heart desires to please God above all else, but the world and the things of the world tempt me. I know this is the case because I have struggled with this my entire life. I have kept my desires in check or I should say, the Lord has kept them in check through situations and circumstances that have made it impossible for me to produce the kind of income I desires. More so, I have struggled also with pride, and the desire to be in positions over others so much so that I think about this often. The key thing in both of these two areas of disobedience is that I think upon them too much, which places these at odds with God's design for me. If the Lord chooses to place me in a position of leadership, then that is His business. If He chooses to provide abundantly to me, then again, it is up to Him to do so. I must not seek either at this time, and this means that I must choose a servants position in order to learn humility.

My heart's desire is to love God and to love others. I must be motivated toward this end, and I must not become confused by any other desire. My work, the work I do day in and day out must also be aligned this way, and that means that I must forsake any path that will not produce this particular result. I must not seek worldly contentment when the motivation of my heart is set upon spiritual contentment. I must choose willingly to be led away from this path, and I must surrender myself to His best, His choice for my life and my life's work. I understand this now, and I see how easily I was tempted to find a "better way, an easier way" than the way the Lord set before me. It is not that working in business is a bad decision or a wrong choice. It is simply that for me, and for this time in my life, I cannot entertain any thoughts that will place me in a position of spiritual weakness. These are my achilles heel, so to speak, and I must defend against them. I must work in humble circumstances, and trust the Lord for His provision so that I can do His work with the right heart motivation.

Thanks to Ignatius and his spiritual discernment practice, I came to see not the wrong path, but rather the wrong way to go. I must go His way, only His way. The path is immaterial to me so long as I am seeking Him and His kingdom first (Matt. 6:33).

June 28, 2016

Peace Today

Happy Tuesday! It is a good day here in sunny and humid, Phoenix! Yes, we had some monsoon action last night that brought in the moisture, but didn't really produce anything other than dry lightening storms. Today is sunny and hot, with higher than normal humidity levels. The good news is that our dew point is up in the low 60's and with our forecast high near 110, I think we could expect some good rain showers later this afternoon or evening. I am ready for some relief, and rain is the just the ticket to get this summer rolling. Yay!

My happy attitude isn't just on account of the potential rain, but rather it is also because I slept well. I mean, I really slept well. I went to bed around 11:30 last night after I watched several episodes of "Stargate Atlantis." I am up to episode 18 out of 20, and then my summer binge-watching will come to an end. In all, I have watched "The Minions" movie and most of "Midsomer Murders" (Seasons 15-17), "Happy Valley" (Season 2), "The Brokenwood Mysteries" (Seasons 1 and 2), "Kingdom" (Series 1-3), George Gently" (Season 7), Hinterland (Seasons 1-2), and "Broadchurch" (Season 2).

I binge-watch Netflix and Amazon Instant Video every summer since I rarely get the chance to watch TV or movies during the school year. My summer vacation is all about relaxing, and even though I am still a bit stressed (over the unknown in my future), I find watching my favorite series a good way to get away from reality for a while. Of course, after a couple months of binge-watching, I typically get tired of the activity and then move on to more practical and productive things. But, still, I always enjoy watching new series or movies when I know I don't have anything better to do with my time (LOL!)

So all of this is to say I am relaxed, and I think this is why I slept so well last night. I am a little groggy this morning, but overall, I do feel rested. The other reason, though I am not sure about it, is my realization that through-and-through I am a professor. I know, rocket science! I came to terms with this fact this weekend while I was considering the opportunity I have to work for UHC as a Business Analyst. Right now, I am a little confused as to what my next steps should be. I mean, the likely scenario is for me to take this job, if offered, because the pay is significantly more than what I will earn as an adjunct. However, I cannot help but think that if the Lord wanted me to receive this offer, then things would have played out differently for me last week. I don't mean to say that my interview was not a good one, it just wasn't an interview at all. It was more like an info-session, and that leaves me thinking that I was asked to come in for a "chat" without any hope of securing the position. I don't know that for sure, but it feels that way. What is more is the fact that I am starting to think that perhaps it is the Lord's will for me to tarry in this role (as adjunct) for another one or two semesters while I finish my PhD completely. Moreover, because it is now at the end of June, if I don't hear something soon, I will have to stay with my contracts for fall. I am struggling with that thought right now because I cannot leave these schools in the lurch. I have an issue with honor and integrity, and that means that I cannot walk away and leave them without faculty at the last minute. I have to make a decision this week to either stay put or to go. It cannot go on any longer, and right now, I am feeling as if the Lord wants me to stay for a time. I don't know. I just don't know.

I am patiently waiting, and perhaps the way I feel is simply nervous tension, I am not sure. What I can say is that I have a sense of peace about my thinking-change. This peace is not about the new job, but more so about staying where I am, even if the path seems so futile and hopeless. You see, I have prayed for the Lord to open and close doors. I have prayed for Him to make my way clear, to show me with no uncertainty where to go. And, yet, I feel tension (slight) when I move in one way, and rest when I move the other.

My Thoughts Today

It has been a good day thus far, even though I haven't gotten much work done on my dissertation revisions for the week. My friend from Regent texted me this morning to ask if she could call me to discuss her method for studying for exams. I spent the better part of three hours with her on the phone today. I am glad I was able to encourage her. She is such a dear sweet lady, and I am blessed to know her. My prayer is that my words served as comfort to her and that she feels more confident going forward. May God be praised always. His word is truth, and He alone is worthy of all praise and honor.

So here I sit. I chugged down some left-over lasagna and salad for lunch, and now I am back to my computer. I thought I should finish out this blog post, but I am afraid that I don't have much to say anymore. My mind has been transformed, thanks to my conversation with my colleague, and in an instant, I seem to be feeling as if everything is "right with the world." Oh well...

It is funny how that seems to happen. It is funny how a seemingly simple conversation can turn your entire day around. It wasn't as if I was depressed or anything this morning, more so it was like I was at peace, feeling at rest, and then was party to a intervention by the Holy Spirit of God. Part of me was like, "Hey, this is neat," and the other part was just clueless regarding the whole matter. I mean, how is it that the Lord works this way. I mean, yesterday I felt so ready to chuck in my desire for a bigger income, and my desire to leave teaching (the path I am on), and today I feel like I am ready to let go of every need, wish or desire except for His will for my life. I cannot explain it other than to say I have this sense of "rightness," that I am right where I belong, and that despite the lack of income and such, I am where He wants me to be -- 100% dependent on Him alone.

I cannot believe that I am saying this but I think I am supposed to remain in teaching -- despite -- no hope for income, no future prospects or no sure way around this BIG ROCK in my way. I am feeling like David as he stood before Goliath, overwhelmed and undervalued, yet with great faith that rested in God's abilities and not his own. I am standing here with these five small rocks and I am aiming to hit a giant (debt, loan, lack of income, etc.) with them. In whom do I trust? Where does my faith rest?

I stand here today and say with utter abandonment that I cannot imagine doing any other work than the work I currently do. Yes, I need money (who doesn't?) Yes, I need some more work. Yes, I need a plan, a path to follow, and some way out of my circumstance. But, the path I have chosen to follow, while good and practical, is not the path the Lord desires for me to follow. Not now, that is. Not again. I thought that perhaps I could go back to the place where I diverted, back to the place where I stopped following this way (into teaching) and where I pursued corporate business. I thought if I just turned around and found my way back there, everything would be good. All that seemed wrong would be righted, and in one fell swoop, I would have my provision, my promised provision. I was wrong. I was so very wrong.

I guess my realization that I am where I am for a reason began this weekend. I started to think more about how I will take care of my ailing Mom and how I will finish my dissertation this fall AND tackle a new job. I started to think about my professor's words to me from last week. He said, "Don't give up on teaching just yet, Carol." I always believe my professor's words to me. He says things to me that seem so wise, and I trust his advice. Then there was my good friend from Texas who texted me yesterday and said to me the same thing. She said, "Keep on looking for full-time teaching work, Carol. Don't give up yet." And, if that wasn't enough, my good friend today (another from TX) kept saying to me, "You and I are so alike, Carol. We are both English teachers. This is why we think the way we do." I couldn't help but think, "You are right. I am an English teacher. I cannot get away from it. This is what I do so well."

Now, I am not saying that I am thinking that all of these people were speaking God's word to me. Rather, it was more like God used them to send me confirmation. I had asked Him to confirm my way, to show me that without a doubt I was to head into business and leave teaching behind. Now, granted, I started to have some doubts over the weekend, so by yesterday, I was already thinking that the Lord was saying for me to remain, to stay put. Yet, I didn't relent right away. I didn't agree to stay put until last night. I remember saying to Him, "Lord, I am content to be a teacher for the rest of my life, if that is your will. I am content to live as you have me for as long as you provide a way for me to do so." Then this morning, I prayed for doors to close, to shut, and for me to know that I am to remain where I am. As I was getting dressed, I prayed in my spirit, and I heard myself say, "Lord, even if I have to give up a salary and benefits, I will choose to this work so that I will be 100% dependent on you." Now, that didn't come from me because I wouldn't say I was willing to live in poverty to do this work -- that would be impractical and unrealistic -- yet that is pretty much what I agreed to say to Him. I am willing, Lord, to live as I am. I am willing to forgo efforts to build a life through my own efforts just so I can be dependent upon you. I asked Him to take away all desires for wealth, security, provision -- everything -- that could be generated by my own hand so that I would have to rely on Him alone. Why would I say this? Why would I agree to living this way?

All I can think of is this -- if the Lord desires to receive all the glory -- and that is what I have said I wanted, then I cannot share in any achievement that is not His alone. This means that for me to be elevated in a position that is not directly of His doing, I would be "potentially" receiving praise that is due His name. I cannot do that so I must choose to humble myself, and take on a servant's role so I can be lifted up in His time, for His work, and in His way. I cannot seek any praise outside of Him.

Turning Around

I turned myself around and I walked back to where the Lord had me stationed. I took up my shield of faith, my sword of the Spirit, and with the full armor of God on, I stood my ground against the enemy as he taunted and tempted me. I know my weaknesses, and frankly, while I felt I had them under "lock and key," I didn't realize just how vulnerable I really was until this past weekend. I mean, the three greatest sins are lust of the eyes (greed), lust of the flesh (immorality), and pride of life (not needing God). 1 John 2:15-17 NIV says it this way:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not from the Father but from the world. The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God remains forever.
Likewise, Solomon said, "Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied" (Proverbs 27:20), and he was correct. Inside man are hidden desires, lusts as John calls them, that drive humans to want to possess things, to act in certain ways, and to think that they do not need God. Now, I wouldn't say that my desire for more income was a lustful thing, per se, but I cannot help but think of Jesus' words of caution regarding temptation and sin. In Matthew 18:8-9 NIV, we read,

If your hand or your foot causes you to fall into sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than to have two hands and two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to fall into sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

I thought I could handle lusting after things. I thought I could handle the thought of having more money. I thought I could handle the idea of being promoted, praised, and lifted up in a leadership position. But this wasn't true at all because shortly after I found out the salary being offered for this position, I immediately took issue. I said to the Lord, "I don't think it is enough or will be enough to take care of all  my needs." In truth, this may be the case, but clearly my thoughts were running to the fact that the increase in salary would indeed solve my immediate problem (debts). Again, I am not saying there is anything wrong with wanting to earn more income or to possess a modest lifestyle, but when wanting something entices you to sin, then that THING becomes sin to you. 

Paul writes about the law of love in Romans 14:22-23 BSB when he says,

Keep your belief about such matters between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the one who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that is not from faith is sin. 

In this same way, my desire for more income, a better quality of life, etc. has become a sin to me. I think about it, dwell on it, and run after it, so much so that it loses its practical properties and becomes a temptation to me. Thus, it is better to enter the Kingdom of Heaven with less than with more -- even if it means to cut off a part of your body to do so. In my case, I believe that my desire for a job far exceeds my reliance upon the Lord for His provision for my life. I have known this for a long time, and I have understood that teaching places me in a position of surrender to the Lord. In this way, I must continue to choose a way that keeps me 100% dependent upon Him for my provision and my security. 

I know what you are thinking. Couldn't you do that and still possess a better paying job? I am sure many people could do that, but for me, it is impossible. I know my weakness. I know my frailty. I know where my armor exposes my skin and my enemy is smart enough to exploit that flaw. I surrender to the Lord, and I place upon me the armor of God to protect me and keep me free from sin. It is my job to make sure I do not put myself into positions whereby I will be tempted. Therefore, if I remain in teaching, choosing the hard way, the difficult way, then I know I will be safe from the lust of the eyes (greed).
In Closing

I am still not sure what the Lord wants me to do, but I have a strong feeling that I am to remain where I am for a time. If I am wrong, then I will hear back positively on the job interview from last week. If I am right, then I will receive an email thanking me for applying but stating that I am not being considered for the job. I hope the latter is true, as weird as it seems. I just want this test, this trial, to come to an end. I need to patiently wait for the Lord to end it, but for now, I will rest in Him, and let Him sort out the details. He has a way for me to go, and there is no other way now. I feel confident that this is true, but I have asked for formal confirmation so I can know for certain. Until I receive word, I will just wait as I have and focus on the needs at hand. I will continue to trust the Lord, and I will continue to wait and to look up.

Psalm 46:10 NLT - "Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world."

June 27, 2016

Getting Ready to Go

It’s cloudy outside! I think we may get some rain today, praise God! The weather forecast said there was a chance of rain this week, but I didn’t think it would be so soon. Still, clouds and the “chance” of rain is so much nicer than our usual “sunny and warm” scenario. A nice rain shower would be so welcomed right now! Sigh!

It is a good Monday, at the least, I think it is. I am home, of course, but feeling the pinch of unmet expectations. My future is unknown right now, and while I am not frightened by the outcome, I would much prefer to know what to expect so I can relax and let all this stress go. My plans for today include revising my chapter one proposal and then studying some SQL to brush up on my knowledge of querying databases. It has been a long time since I worked with SQL directly, and my new job may require it. I have the time, and a refresher course would do me no harm.

My hope is that I hear back on my status as a candidate soon. The hiring manager said he would let me know by Friday, and I am sure he will. Still, I have a weird feeling. I mean, I never spoke with the recruiter, and I went directly to the hiring manager for a chat. What does this mean? My Dad thinks it bodes well for me. My friend is concerned that the screening interview was not as significant as it should have been. This leaves me wondering if I am being considered at all. I mean, what if they interviewed me as a courtesy, but they already had someone else in mind (like an internal person). Was this just to satisfy human resources requirements since I met all the required qualifications for the position? I don’t know, I just don’t know. Hopefully, the word will come soon, but until then, I need to focus on my research proposal, and leave the outcome to the Lord. He is good, so very good to me! Selah!

Making Decisions Today

I titled this post, “Getting Ready to Go,” because I feel the Lord is pressing on me the need to make provision so I can be “ready” to go at a moment’s notice. You know how it is, like when you are getting ready to go on vacation and you start planning out your needs before the big day arrives. You make your plan, make arrangements for your stay, and then create a schedule of the things that must be accomplished prior to your leaving. If you are wise and a good time manager, you schedule everything so that when the day comes to load up the car, everyone and everything is in order. You have it all under control, and you are able to pile into the car and head off for your week or two week’s planned vacation.

I can remember my parents getting us kids ready for summer vacation. Often, we just stayed at home and didn’t travel anywhere far from our town. But, one summer when I was 12, my family took an extended vacation and travelled to South Carolina to spend two weeks at the beach with my cousins. Of all the trips we took as a family, this one was most memorable. My parents and my Aunt and Uncle rented a beach house, and we all stayed right at Litchfield Beach. We were a short walk to the beach every day. It was two weeks of playing in the surf and sand. Two weeks of spending time with my Grandmother and my cousins from Ohio. The trip to and from IL to SC included stops at famous places, so the entire vacation was one big experience for me.

I loved it, and I fondly recall my time spent there. But, I also remember the lead-up to that trip. My Mom planned our trip carefully. Dad handled the map and car needs, but Mom planned everything else. She made sure we had packed the “right” clothes, and she made sure that we had enough supplies to get us there and back. Plus, we took our little dog, Taffy, with us so she had his needs covered as well. My cat, Snowball, stayed home. My two best friends, Karen and Nancy, fed her daily and she was in fine shape when we returned home. The planning of a vacation with four kids and a dog wasn’t easy. Then, considering that my Aunt and Uncle had their three kids and my Grandmother to plan for, well, that just meant that we had 12 people who needed food and shelter for the two week period. Like I said, it was one of the best vacations I took as a child.

Planning a major event such as a big vacation or a wedding takes time. There are so many details to discuss, so many decisions to make. In all, the big day arrives and either you did your “due diligence” or you didn’t. Any oversight or failure will come out in the wash, as they say — meaning — you will see your mistakes clearly once the big day arrives. In my case, I am not really sure what the Lord has in mind for me. I mean, I know the plans He has for my life up to my graduation from Regent University. I know that He has me well-covered through my dissertation phase and into my final defense. I know what I need to do as far as my research is concerned, and I know my deadline and the timing of the big tasks associated with it. Still, before and after the event, everything is a bit fuzzy.

For example, should I plan to be hired at this company in late July or early August? If so, then I have to manage my teaching contracts (exit out of them gracefully). If not, then I have to buckle down and know that money will be tight for one or two more semesters until I graduate. Then there is the business of whether or not the Lord intends to move me physically. I mean, if I stay here, I have to have a full-time job. I cannot pay my way, pay my bills, etc., without full-time work. This work can be as faculty or as a business professional, but I have to have a salary and not just a jumble of part-time work to cover my expenses and my needs. If the Lord plans to move me, and I think He does, then I have to have enough income to prepare for that move. I have to get my financial life in order, pay my debt down, make preparations like finding a place to live, etc. Of course, I need to know where I will go, what city He wants me to live in, and so forth. I cannot make any moves forward unless I know where I am going, and how I am going to get there. These details, these variables are unknown today. So until He reveals them to me, I have to wait on Him, trust Him, and rely on Him to lead, guide and provide for me. I cannot move forward without His input, His provision, and His permission.

In short, I am stuck in this “status quo” for some time still. I would like for everything to fall into place, but I cannot see how things “fit” just yet. I don’t have a full-time position as of today; I only have part-time work and at best, a minimum amount of income set for the fall. I don’t see other teaching opportunities on the horizon, but of course, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there —just that I don’t see them on the jobs boards I visit daily. I don’t have other offers hanging in the balance. I don’t have other jobs where I am being considered for work. What do I do? How do I make plans when I don’t have all the variables needed to plan properly?

The Lord Leads and Guides

Today, I woke up after having a rather interesting dream. I don’t remember much of it, other than I was staying at someone house. I don’t remember the person who owned the house, just that I felt like I was a visitor, and not in my own home. I saw myself in this home that I didn’t recognize, and I was discussing things with people I didn’t know. They were strangers to me, yet I did feel like I knew them in some way or another. I remember that at one point I made the decision to go home. My Mom was in this dream and my brother, and I said to them that I was going to go home for a while. I saw myself tying my shoes and making myself ready to go home. I remember thinking that I would pick up my laptop, which was at home, and bring it back with me. Apparently, the place where we were staying had Internet, but I didn’t have access. I got dressed, and then I started to leave when I woke up. The funny thing, as dreams go I mean, was that in my dream I was talking with my cat, Ike. Then I woke up to Ike crying at me. I know…weird.

In this dream, I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t belong where I was, that the house I was staying at wasn’t my own, and that I was there not by choice or will. I could freely leave, but for some reason I chose to stay. I wanted to go home, but up to that point, I hadn’t gone anywhere. Then, I made up my mind to go home and that was it. It was like, “I’m ready to go now,” and I put my shoes on and started to leave.

In some ways, this is the story of my life. I have always stayed too long in places where I have lived. I have tarried much longer, not recognizing the signs, and then when things turn sour, I find I must leave in a hurry. It is like being rushed out the door or told that you have to leave right NOW. Often, when you go in a flash, you forget important things, necessary items, etc. I don’t want to do that again; I don’t want to move in haste. I would like to move on as soon as the Lord makes plans for me to go. I would like to trust His timing on the matter so that I have plenty of time to pack up and prepare my way. This is important to me because it would give me the least stressful approach and provide a gentle way to leave one place and head to another. My goal, then is to be ready, to have all my “ducks in a row” so I can leave in peace.

His Peace is Everything

I read a quote by C.S. Lewis today, and it reminded me of how important it is to remember that when we abide in the True Vine, we have our peace. Apart from the Vine, we can find no solace, no hope, no joy, and no peace. In Mere Christianity, chapter 5, Lewis writes, "God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

This is truth, plain and clear. Whenever we seek satisfaction, joy or happiness in anything outside of God, we will come up empty handed. Sure we can satisfy our hunger and our emotional needs temporarily, but nothing save the Lord Himself will ever meet our deepest need for security and for provision. Today, I am realizing this truth. I am coming to terms with the fact that the Lord is my everything; He is my all in all.

I will often say that the Lord is my everything, but then in times of trouble, I find myself running to the THING that will most readily solve my problem. In my case, this is to some solution that will provide for me extra income — a job, a handout, a loan, etc. My Lord is my everything, and if I really do believe this is true (and I do), then I need nothing save Him alone to satisfy my deepest emotional, spiritual, mental, and yes, physical need. He is enough. He is SUFFICIENT.

David wrote in Psalm 61:1-3 NIV,

Hear my cry, O God; Give heed to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a refuge for me, A tower of strength against the enemy…

Why do I not run to the ROCK when I fear for my safety, when I lack provision? Why do I always try to make ends meet using my own resources, my own understanding?

Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV says,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

I cannot work my way out of any circumstance or scenario. Why is this so?

I believe the reason is simply this: the Lord is the One who orders my days and make the plans for my life. Finite. 

Proverbs 19:21 NLT says, “You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.” Likewise, we read in Proverbs 16:19 NLT, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Psalm 121:8 NASB reminds us that it is the Lord who watches over us, who guards our ways. The Psalmist said it this way, “The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever.” Thus, we see that no matter how much we try to control our day, our way, and our time — the truth is that the Lord is the One who plans, who guards, and who oversees our future. That is to say, for those who have made the Lord’s will their ultimate goal in life.

Choosing His Way

It is funny really, but after my interview on Friday, I had this feeling that the whole process was simply a test for me. I know that sounds fantastic, but what I mean is that the interview itself was not really an interview at all. It was a conversation between two people. The hiring manager didn't interview me at all, instead he simply spent the better part of an hour talking about how great the company was and how it had such great benefits. I thought it was strange from the get go, but I didn't feel pressed to say anything at all. I just listened to him. I would say it was more like an informational session than an interview for a job.

At first, I thought, "Okay, that is a blessing for certain." But, after time passed by, I started to wonder why this person would take time from his busy schedule to meet with me and tell me that the company is great without really asking me anything about my experience or my abilities. In fact, as the interview ended, and I walked away, I thought to myself, "I don't think anything really happened here." It was weird. Not unfriendly weird or strange weird, just plain weird.

Saturday, I started to feel doubts about whether I should leave the path I am on for this new avenue. The path appears to have all the hallmarks of a good road to follow. It seems smooth, it seems easy, and it certainly appears to be solid as far opportunity. Yet, there was something not right about it, and I couldn't figure it out until today.

Yesterday, I felt completely off. So much so that I stayed home from church and vegged out the entire day. I rested well last night, but this morning, I woke up with this feeling like "something is not right." Of course, I am over-reacting. I always do that. I worry about nothing, and then something good comes from it. Perhaps I am just feeling a twinge of regret, you know, leaving my path of teaching for this new venture. In all ways, this new way seems exciting, good, prosperous. The old way is hard. It is difficult for me. I am in pain constantly, and there is little income opportunity. But, I do have freedom and I am home to help care for my Mom. Still, how long can I play school? You know, how long can I put off the inevitable?

So this morning, after I finished this post, I was praying to the Lord. I was asking Him to help me understand why I feel the way I do about this interview. I realize that nothing could be wrong at all. I could be just over-thinking the situation, placing too much emphasis on my feelings and the like. But, then there is this sense that where I am at (as a teacher) is a good thing. One thing is for sure, my PhD is welcomed at my schools. It is expected, in fact. In business, I just look over-qualified or like someone who is not going to hang around for long. I get it, I really do. The problem is that as an over-educated individual, I can do nothing to change my situation other than to lie about it. No, I have to be who I am, and frankly, that means being the professor God has allowed me to be.

In my prayer today, I said to the Lord, "Lord, do you want me to leave teaching for this position in business? Do you want me to stop being a professor and take on this business role?" I knew what His answer would be, but it was comforting when it finally came to me. I realized that no matter how I try to leave teaching behind, teaching has become part of me. I am a professor, through and through. I may not be a ranked, tenure-track professor, but I am a professor none the less.

I guess what I am saying is that at this point in time, I may find it difficult to transition into business. It is not to say it is impossible or anything because nothing is impossible for God. I am just saying that the road through business might not be as smooth as it appears initially. Will a company hire me with a PhD? Maybe. Perhaps. If it is the Lord's provision and His will. Will a school hire me without a PhD? Yes. Will they hire me with one? Yes. It is about 50/50. Which, I guess is to say that at this point in time, I am 100% dependent on the Lord for making a way out of my situation, my circumstance and for providing a future that accomplishes His will for my life.

My Life is Not My Own

In Acts 20:24 NLT, Paul said, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” In this way, he was affirming his role and his position in God’s providential plan for His kingdom. You see, when you come to faith in Jesus Christ, and especially when you receive a calling from Him, you willingly lay down the right to your own life. It is part of the covenant made between you and the Lord. He promises to give you eternal life, and you promise to follow His commands. It is an exchange that requires faith and obedience. It is not one or the other, but rather it is a combination of both. You receive eternal life through faith alone, but you live out that faith through obedience to God’s Word. You are to live a certain way, do certain things, and go certain places. Your life is no longer about your choices, your decisions or even your desires. No, it is all about His will, His way, and the wishes He has for your life — to better you, to bring you to maturity, and to eventually lead you to the “promised rest.” You cannot go where He doesn’t lead. You cannot find hope, peace or rest where He is not present.

I realize this today as I have struggled some to come to terms with the recent changes in my life. I mean, I was so set, so established as a teacher. I was enjoying my everyday life (to quote Joyce Meyer), and I was at rest. I had peace. I was comfortable in this way. Then I panicked, I started to think that the only “right way” out of my situation was to turn toward business, to take a position as an analyst and find a solid path, a good means of provision. After all, my greatest need today is financial. I need to make more money, thus the solution is to find a job that will do that easily. And, I did. I applied for a position that I was well-qualified to be considered. I applied where my education was overwhelming more than needed. Yet, I had no luck previously when I applied for roles that required more education, more skill or more experience. I applied, and guess what? I was asked to interview — finally — after 17 attempts, I was asked to interview. But, what then? What happened next?

I am sitting here waiting to hear back on whether or not this job, a good job, a good paying job will be offered to me. I have no other recourse than to stay put, to remain where I am for a time. In short, if this job doesn’t come to pass, then I will have to wait another year for an infusion of income. I will have to wait to look for work after the fall semester is over. I will have to patiently endure hardship and the unknown until the Lord opens the next door.

My life is not my own. I cannot go where He doesn’t lead me. I cannot hope for provision that is not of His hand. I must remember that I abide in the True Vine, and apart from Him, there is no other provision, no other way. I must relent. I must relinquish everything, every desire, every want, and yes, every need so that He alone is my SOURCE and my SATISFACTION.

Today, I look to His hand of blessing. I look to His favor, and I trust that He will provide for me. I can do nothing apart from Him, but it is in His strength that every thing becomes possible. Yes, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13). 

In Closing

In closing today, I remember that I am not my own person anymore. I am a bondslave of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as such, I am His to do with as He desires. Like Mary, I am the Lord’s handmaiden. Luke says in chapter 1, verse 38, “And Mary said, ‘behold the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her.” In a similar way, Paul said in Galatians 2:20 KJV,  “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

What does this mean? Can a Christian maintain ownership of his or her life or does this run counter to the Word of God? Oswald Chamber’s gives an eloquent answer when he says, “The passion of Christianity is that I deliberately sign away my own rights and become a bond-slave of Jesus Christ. Until I do that, I do not begin to be a saint.” Echoing Paul’s testimony in Galatians, Chambers says, “These words mean the breaking of my independence with my own hand and surrendering to the supremacy of the Lord Jesus.” Yes, one cannot be had without the other. In order to be a bondservant, a bondslave of the Lord Jesus Christ, one cannot continue to make decisions, make provisions, or even make preparation outside of the will of God.

It means breaking the husk of my individual independence of God, and the emancipation of my personality into oneness with Himself, not for my own ideas, but for absolute loyalty to Jesus.

As I think about my life today, I am humbled as I am reminded of this truth. To whom am I bonded? To whom do I belong? I am no longer my own, and I cannot make decisions about where I will go, how long I will tarry, or whether I will do this thing or that thing. No, I relinquished my independence at the foot of the cross. I was “emancipated into oneness” and I am loyal to Jesus. It is all or nothing. Nothing but Christ crucified, as Paul so beautifully wrote. I am crucified with Him, and as such, all worldly desires, hopes, dreams, and aspirations are crucified as well.

Dear Lord,

I humbly confess to you today that my life has become all about things, about wants, and about desires. Yes, I have tried to consider your desires only. I have tried to place your views, your opinions, and your counsel above my own. Yet, time and time again, I have failed to do what you ask. I have fallen into the trap of my enemy who seeks to dazzle me with my own abilities. He says to me “Look what you could have if only you leave the path you are on.” I have been enticed to walk in a way that solves my need without you. I have listened as my enemy as said to me, “Does the Lord want you to suffer in this way?” When I think about my “lack” or my growing “debt,” I immediately begin to fear, to worry, and to doubt. Today, I recall the words of my Lord who said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:19 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Oh, Lord, how I have succumbed to the temptations of this world. I regret my lack of faith, my weakness, and my willingness to be easily pulled away by  the enticing riches of this world. You alone are my sufficiency, and in my weakness, you are made strong. I relent today, and I choose to follow you. Yes, I relent today, and I accept the burden I must bear as I follow you. I will wait until you provide. I will wait until you lead me. I will allow you to be my entire life, and by that I mean, I will remain in utter dependency upon you and you alone. 

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. 
Romans 11:36 ESV

June 26, 2016

Thinking More

Blessed Sunday! Oh, what a good day to be alive and to give praise and honor to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! It is a good day, such a very good day.

It is 9:27 a.m. and I am thinking about whether I should get myself ready to head over to SBC for church this morning. Part of me knows this is a good idea, but part of me would rather stay at home and enjoy the peace and quiet. All is well, mind you. I am feeling pretty good, even though I didn't get to bed earlier than I had hoped. I stayed up watching the end of season 4 of "Stargate Atlantis" on Amazon Instant Video last night. By the time I made it to the season ender, I had to stay up to watch episode 1 of season 5 just to make sure all was well with the team stationed in Atlantis. Whew! What a relief. The funny thing is that I don't remember seeing all of these episodes originally. I am thinking that I must have missed some of them back in 09' but that seems odd to me. Back then, my family (my ex-husband and my son) religiously watched "Stargate SG-1" and the spin-off, "Stargate Atlantis" every single Friday night. It was our "family TV" time and we made a big deal out of it. I honestly didn't remember most of season four episodes. I recall falling asleep through a number of them, and I am guessing that is what happened. Anyway, last night I remembered why I enjoyed this TV series so much. The Stargate team of writers created such dynamic and humorous situations for these characters and they gave the actors great freedom to express themselves through dialog and action. Plus, the stories were so good -- mythic and filled with good versus evil -- plots, characters, and drama. The series and the spin-offs recreated the enjoyment of old fashioned Sci-Fi like "Brave New World" and "I, Robot" along with the hyped up super spectacular movie science fiction of the "Alien" franchise. Anyhow, I am a bit tired today so as I sit here, my mind is thinking perhaps it is best to just stay at home.

I know, I know, staying up late to binge-watch an old TV series is not a good reason to miss church. Sigh!

Thinking About My Life (in Retrospect)

I woke up this morning thinking about my life and how I am at this transition place once again. It has been three years since my last "job" change, and right now, I am feeling convicted over my decision to leave teaching for a position as a business analyst in the healthcare field. I spent some time in prayer this morning, and then I surfed the web looking for articles to soothe my worries and fears. I also spent some time re-reading my blog. I looked back over my life beginning in 2008 and then spent time in some of the posts from 2012. In all, I came away thinking how I am on the right track, at the least, with my thoughts toward fulfilling the Lord's will for my life. In one particular post, I realized how often I am in this same place, thinking about "what may or may not happen" and how I always remind myself where to place my focus, my resolve, and my hope. Yes, I come back to the fact that my security and my provision is never to be placed in things, in people, or in the world. I am to place my hope -- all of my hope -- in the One who is my Lord. Whenever I look to my own hand or to a job for security (stability) and for provision (wealth), then I am taking my eyes off God and off of His role in my life. You see, the Lord is our security (eternal) and He is the provider and sustainer of our life. He meets every need with sufficiency, and while this is true (and it is), where we struggle most is when our sufficiency (our faith, our trust, and our reliance) in the Lord seems to run counter to our circumstances.

For example, we may believe that the Lord loves us, cares for us, and yes, provides for us (materially -- physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc.), but when our bowls are empty, our wells dry, it becomes difficult to remain faithful to God. It is hard to "eat" hope, drink "faith," etc. I understand what it is like to be at the short end of the stick each pay period. I understand what it feels like to want to have "more than enough" simply to stave the worry, the fear, and the doubt. I know how good and pleasant it is to have that satisfied feeling of fullness. I long for it, desire it, and at times, worship it. I shouldn't. I shouldn't do this, and when I find myself prostrate before the idol of security and provision, I have to remember whom it is that I worship. My allegiance is to the my Lord alone, so I have to pull down all those high places, those ashram poles, and those altars. The word of the Lord forbids us to worship any created thing (Ex. 20:4), and financial wealth, prosperity and security are created things.

Over the course of the past few years, I have made seeking wealth a priority. Now, I haven't made it my goal, but rather I have desired to be free from the bonds of debt. I have desired to be free so that I could rest, enjoy life, and no longer be stressed about money matters. My reasons for doing so were simple. When I came out of my marriage, I vowed to the Lord that I would never be poor again. I didn’t blame the Lord; rather it was more a statement of fact and a plea for His help to keep me from ever sinking to a created low. I believed, and I still do, that poor decisions made during my marriage led my family into a life of poverty.

In short, poor business decisions created a scenario of long-lasting poverty. Averting disaster was more a matter of the will than unforeseen circumstances. My ex-husband refused to do any other work except for being self-employed. Even when circumstances were dire, he refused to stop pursuing wealth through ill-gotten gain, and to find an honorable job to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I stopped nagging him after many years, and I resigned myself to living above the poverty line just to keep our marriage from coming apart at the seams.

In hindsight, I should have stopped giving in, and I should have taken a defensive position in order for him to see the damage he was causing to all of us. I didn’t do that, so I always felt partially responsible for our living situation. Once I was free and no longer forced to live this way, I asked the Lord to help me recover my standing, and to provide a modest life for me and my son. I didn’t seek wealth or fame as my ex-husband did. I simply wanted to be secure, to have “enough” and to never be in debt.

My heartfelt desire, natural and not born in idolatry, was understood to be a consequence of a life lived this way. But, over time, especially after I started working full-time, I began to see the power of my abilities to earn income. I also began to see the favor and blessing of productivity given to me by the Lord as skills that could be used to pursue great wealth. In order to provide for myself and my son, I often looked to my own abilities, my gifts and talents to meet our needs. Thankfully, when this has happened, my efforts to produce good work, to create positive outcomes, and yes, to enjoy the blessing of provision have simmered, and sometimes, ceased all together. In time, I have come to the knowledge of this behavior only after a circumstance or fact whereby I realized that I had leaned on another source rather than the One True Source. Thus, I know better, I always know what NOT to do. Yet, there is this voice that calls to me, enticing me to entertain this longing. This voice entices me to follow after worldly efforts, efforts that produce results.

Forsake Worldly Things

Hebrews 13:5 NIV - Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

The word clearly tells us that we are to forsake all that ensnares us. We are to treat sinful lusts and desires by cutting off the offending part. Now, did the Apostles mean we were to literally cut off our tongue or pluck our eyes out? No, of course not. But we were to treat these desires as though they were a sickness, a device of the enemy designed to pull us from our true calling — to worship the Lord will all our mind, our soul, our body, and our strength.

John says in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.” And Paul reminds us in Romans 12:2 NIV, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”

Clearly, Scripture tells us to be careful when we pursue money or the “love of money.” We must not run after worldly things or the world’s system. It is too easy to become entangled in the trap of the enemy and lose our purpose, our calling, and our life.

I know the ruse of my enemy. I know how easily I am ensnared in his trap. I know that I must turn from all thoughts, all motivations, and all desires that would place a created thing upon the throne room of my heart. I am to do nothing that would compromise my walk, my integrity, or my testimony.

This makes me wonder if I am to remain where I am, in forced poverty simply to keep myself from giving into these desires. I wonder if this is right and proper. Then, I realize that flagellation is not what the Lord desires in me. No, the Lord desires my humility and that means that He is already aware of my propensity to elevate these two things to a high place. I must therefore humble myself, and place these desires at His feet. I must acknowledge that what I want is never to run counter to what He wants for me. I must let His will come to pass because He will tend to it, keep it, and make it so that His will always is for my best. I must rest in His authority over me, and remember daily that He is the One who provides everything to me. He is my security. He is my portion. And, yes, He is my cup.

Choosing Today

Thus, I choose today to submit and yield all worldly desires to His mighty and merciful hand. I cannot stand against the onslaught, the world that says "you must have," so I trust these desires to Him and I ask Him to root out all evil and all longing that is counter to His desires for my life. I must let Him right my ship in His way. I must let Him bring to completion His work. I must allow Him to resolve the tension in my life, and I must rest in His way, His plan, and His provision. I must never look to my own hand to provide anything again. I must never let my desires for wealth, security, and provision drive my decision-making. I must be wise, yes. I must be a good steward, of course. I must be a strong manager of my home, my business, and the work the Lord calls me to do. But, He is the Overseer, and in that role, He takes responsibility for every provision, every process, and every ounce of prosperity I receive. He alone is to be worshiped. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah!