July 13, 2016

Baby Steps

It is a good day today. I slept very well, soundly, despite getting up twice and having odd dreams throughout the night. I feel good, really good today, and I am feeling more hopeful and positive about my future. One thing for certain, I realize now that the path I am on is not the most lucrative nor is it the easiest for me to follow. I mean, I am graduating soon with my PhD, but despite that fact, I may not find a full-time faculty job ever or I may not earn a decent income for many years to come. Sigh! I am struggling with those facts today, and even with the idea of whether or not this is the place for me long-term. How can I make ends meet? How can I live this way?

I guess the realization that my path is limited has finally sunk in for me. Just yesterday I was blogging about receiving a confirmation email from Auburn University. The pay was about what I am finding across the board (in the $30-40K range), and I think to myself, "Oh, my goodness!" The job I applied for at UHC paid $60K and that required a bachelor's degree only. There is such a disconnect between what teachers get paid and what professional business people get paid. It doesn't seem fair, but then as my good friend who is a retired teacher always says, "Teachers aren't in it for the money!" This is so true, I mean, if we were in it for the money, what would the quality of education be today? Perhaps it would be better, you know, more competitive. Or perhaps it could be worse with people who don't care or have any interest in teaching others, but are simply doing the job JUST for the money. I don't know, I just don't know. All I can say is that the more I look down this path, the more I see hardship, severe hardship.

The Lord has promised good to me. He has promised me a good life, and by that I mean a good quality of life. Good as in well-situated and cared for, and not as in financially successful, per se. I just look at my debts and see my student loans and realize that with such a low paying salary, I will not be able to make ends meet. I will not be able to live comfortably, nay modestly, on a teacher's salary. I will be poor for the rest of my life.

Now, my goal was never to be flush, so to speak, but rather because of my situation and age, I had hoped to work for 20 or so years to build a retirement. I had hoped to be able to have half of my income to go into a savings/investment plan so that I would have "something" when I retired. Now, I only see living hand-to-mouth for years on end, and as a single person, that means that my only income will be self-generated. My colleagues who are married are blessed to have a companion to help boost their living ability. I cannot do that, at the least, not now. My life is limited. I will earn a limited amount, and I have to be content to live on what I can earn. I have to be content to live with less. I have done this before, and while I never liked it, I can do it again if this is my only option. I am trusting the Lord to provide for me, to open doors and to show me the way to go, but right now I am feeling pretty hopeless in the outlook. I am feeling pretty down in the mouth, pretty much as though things are not going to improve for me anytime soon.


How Did I Get Here?

So with that depressing lead-in, my thoughts today are focused on how I got to this place, and on what my next steps should be or could be, as the Lord leads, guides, and provides for me. One thing is certain, I am here for a reason. I mean, I didn't choose this path "willy nilly" or without a lot of thought, effort and consideration. No, as I recall, I prayed over it, trusted the Lord for it, and believed He would see me through it. In fact, as I recall, I was offered two possible positions, one as an academic advisor and the other as an instructional assistant. I wanted to teach so I followed the path of instructional assistant hoping that it would lead to adjunct work. It did. I have been following this line of work for almost four years now. It has been good work, practical work, and it has helped me build skill and ability. I have almost four years of teaching on my resume. It worked well for my doctoral studies, provided the down-time I needed to focus on my courses, and generally gave me a very flexible schedule that suited me well. In all, it has been a very good experience for me. Plus, I have learned how to teach, not be afraid of groups, and can present a good lecture with power points. Yes, I am experienced. I am a good teacher. My students like me, my peers like me, and overall, I have been successful in this path.

I have not made a good living, however. I have not made enough money to satisfy my needs. I have used my student loans to help cover expenses, and even with careful spending, I still find I run short every summer. I hate the feeling of being out of control. I hate depending on others for charity to see me through the summer. I want to be able to live comfortably, to no longer worry about spending money on food or gas. I want to live on my own again, but how can I do this? How can I live on my own, pay my own way? I cannot. Not now, anyway.  I am stuck for a time while I linger in this difficult, hard, and strange place. I don't like it. I want out. I want a way out. Yet, the Lord has not relented. He has not allowed me to move out of this place. I am here for a reason, and I know it.

Yesterday, I applied for another teaching position online. It was with Western Governor's University. I have applied there a number of times, but never hear anything from them. I rarely get an automated email from them. The job is as a course mentor, which is a fancy term for instructor. The pay is better than average, and the job is work from home. However, the likelihood that I will get through the door is slim to nil, at the least, I think it is so. What can I do? How can I carry on? I am stuck in this place, and until the Lord relents, I have to be content with it.

Today, I looked through higheredjobs.com again. There are NO positions that fit my skills and qualifications. I haven't seen anything for months, at least a year or more, and since last year, I have applied for 10 teaching positions. The only ones that seem to have produced any results were Ohio Christian University, and Colorado Christian University (though I am stuck in that application process), and my alma mater, Regent University. I have a teaching contract starting on Tuesday at Ohio Christian University, and I checked today and there are 19 students enrolled. I am blessed, uber blessed, but found out that I won't get paid until 9/2. This means that I won't get any influx of money until mid-September (financial aid won't kick in either). I am panicked my accounts will overdraw, and that I will be stuck with no income. This is the worst it has been for me. I mean the absolute worse. I just don't know how I can hang on much longer.

I learned a valuable lesson when I went to interview at UHC. My heart wasn't into that job at all, and I know I didn't come off right. I did my best, but I felt so incompatible with the job. I was just saying what they wanted to hear and not really giving my best to the opportunity. I cannot believe I did that, but no matter how hard I tried to be "in it," I couldn't muster up anymore enthusiasm for the work. In my head, the job made the most practical sense to me. It was a good job, a good position, something I could do, and it paid well. What was not to like about it? Well, a lot. I mean A LOT. It wasn't teaching, and even though I detest the way I feel today, feeling hopeless and futile, I simply do not see any other avenue for me. Let me explain...

Choosing Careers

I have blogged about choosing a career for months now (years, really). At first, this path through teaching was chosen for two reasons: 1) it facilitated my schooling at Regent; and 2) it gave me experience teaching and presenting to groups of students. The money was unfortunately an issue from the get-go, but I accepted the low pay as "part of the experience," so to speak. Later, I realized that I enjoyed teaching students, that I loved teaching as a profession, and despite the low-pay and lack of opportunities, it filled a need in me somewhere down deep. It was a good fit on a psychological level. It didn't meet my physical needs or my material needs, but deep in my psyche, it soothed me in other ways, and those ways proved healing to me. I came to love mentoring students. I came to love the gift I have of soothing troubled students, especially those that suffered at the hands of ruthless and uncaring administrators and educators. Now, I find that when I look at other work to do, good and practical work, I compare it to teaching. It may pay me more, but will it satisfy that deeper, more significant need?

As I think about what I can and cannot do, one thing is clear: I am able to do many things well. Yes, I am very capable and possess a wide-range of skills and abilities. But, what do I really love doing? What do I want to do that isn't tied to a price tag?

Last night, while I was laying in bed and trying to fall asleep, I found myself thinking about sitting next to the Lord in His throne room in heaven. The WORD says that the Lord is seated at the right hand of the Father, and that the Father is working to place all His enemies under the Son's feet (Heb. 10:13). I started to think about this truth, how Jesus, after His death, burial and resurrection, ascended to heaven and is seated (as in finished, rested) next to God, the Father. Jesus Christ, who has finished His work of redemption is resting until it is time for Him to return for His final work, restoration. I started to imagine how if I am abiding in Him, then I too should be resting from my work. I realize that we have actual work to do, like day-in and day-out, but this picture presumes that there is a part of our work that is already finished. I understand grace, so I know that I am no longer working for salvation, rather I am working under grace and doing work that is kingdom oriented and focused. Still, my attitude is to be of rest and not of work. I struggle with this thought, how to rest from my work, yet still do "my work." How can this be? How can I rest and work at the same time?

What I do know is that the more I thought about resting, sitting there at His feet, the more relaxed I became, and before I knew it, I had fallen fast asleep. I had rested in a way that allowed my mental and physical burdens to cease their constant call to me. I had stopped striving to make things happen, to figure things out, and instead, I simply sat there in complete rest and waited on the Lord. It was a good thing. I rested the entire night, and frankly, I slept very deeply.

So what does resting have to do with choosing a career? Good question. I guess it has a lot to do with resting in the power of the One who is able to make all things possible (Luke 1:37). You see, Jesus was tempted three times in the wilderness, and three times He denied Satan and chose to follow the will of God. In the same way, we are tempted and we struggle with denying ourselves and our desires in order to follow after God and His will for our lives too. I was thinking about my path through this scriptural lens this morning, how my current situation aligns well with the temptation Jesus suffered in the wilderness. Although I haven't been in the wilderness for 40 days, as was He, I have been stuck in this place (my own wilderness) for three years. In fact, I guess you could say that I have been under trial for three years, and now that I am ready to graduate with my degree, a degree promised to me by God for the purpose of doing His work, I am being harshly tested. This test, this prolonged test is related to my choice of career.

You see, I could have easily taken the better way, the way that promised provision. I was already in a business position that offered a good rate of pay. I had a good life. But, I was concerned that I couldn't focus on the Lord's work and do business work -- the two were incompatible in my mind. So I asked the Lord for another way, a way where I could put my studies at Regent University first on my heart always. I am teaching today as a result of that request. But, this path is fraught with hardship. It is not lucrative nor does it offer any measure of security. In this way, my wilderness is where I must rely 100% on God for His provision. I struggle to rest while I am waiting for Him to provide. I struggle to rest and not think about all the "things" I could be doing or have or purchase that would make my life easier, less stressful. Yes, I am tempted by things -- food, clothing, and shelter -- and in this way, I am tempted as Jesus was in the wilderness when Satan offered Him what His body needed most, food.

Secondly, my flesh desires power, position, and yes, glory. I desire leadership roles because part of me likes to be in charge, in control of things, and to be in a position of authority over others. I desire to make the rules, and to keep the ship functioning as it suits me best. In a similar way, my desire for power, authority, and glory is like the way Satan tempted Jesus when he offered Him power. I have been tempted to leave this path for a more lucrative and more career-focused alternative. Yet, like Jesus, I chose to follow what I believe is the will of God for my life, and teaching, whether I like the low-pay and lack of promotion, is part of His will for me.

Lastly, I desire to be in control of my circumstances. I often will complain about the lack of control I have when it comes to overseeing my responsibilities. I feel lazy, unproductive, and un-resourceful, and even at times, like a failure, all because I cannot provide for my family as I feel I should. Yet, in a like manner, Jesus was tempted by Satan who offered Him everything -- the world -- if only He would worship him instead of God. I find that at times, I am prone to worship created and materialistic things. I need to get my son a car, for example, and I have no way of doing it. Thus, my desire is to think of ways in which I can manipulate my situation, my circumstances, and even my God, to get the problem solved. I want to be in-control, to be the one who controls my own life. But, as a Christ-follower, I am called to obey, to submit, and to yield to God's authority over me. I am to live a life that is wholly devoted to Him, and that means I cannot have it my way AND His way. No, as the Word tells us, it is impossible to serve two masters. My response is often as was Jesus' and that is to reaffirm my obedience to the commandment that I will have no other God than Jehovah-God. Yes, there can only be one Master in my life, and it is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thus, in many ways, I have been tempted for several months now in the same way as Jesus was in the wilderness. Edrick (2014) says that each of us (believers) are tempted in these ways on a daily basis.
  1. We seek to satisfy ourselves instead of God
  2. We manipulate God to attain our goals of power and glory
  3. We desire to BE as God so we can have it all
I think about these three temptations, and I see how I have fallen prey to Satan's lies. I also see why the Lord has chosen to keep me in the place where I am. I may not like the fact that I earn such a pittance for the work I do, but I know that by denying myself and my desires for worldly gain, I am able to focus on His work and be wholly devoted to it. I am "stuck" so to speak in a position where there is no opportunity for promotion, glory or power. Furthermore, I am reliant on God for His provision, daily provision. I cannot live without His help, and I cannot find success in any other way than through His efforts. Therefore, God receives the glory instead of me.

I realize now that this what the Lord has meant to me when He has said that I am right where He wants me. I am right in the place of utter dependency, and in that place, my fleshly desires are kept in check. I still am tempted, for sure, but I have less temptation than if I worked in a more easy, lucrative and prosperous career.

I know that may sound like I am rationalizing my situation to match our Lord's, but I think it is more like I see that my cry to give Him praise, honor, and glory has resulted in this response. He has given to me a way that keeps me sheltered, keeps me focused, keeps me determined. And in this way, I believe He has prepared me for His work. The work I do is everything. The work I do is what He has called me, equipped me, and prepared me to do. Now, I must accept that as part of this work, I will have to deny my flesh and follow Him. I must willingly sacrifice myself, my needs, and my desires in order to follow after Him.


In Closing

I certainly haven't solved my problems today, but I have come to terms with some of the reasons behind them. I may not be happy about my situation, my lack of provision and all, but I also understand that there is a reason why I am where I am, and that reason is because God has said it is best for me. He has chosen this path, this way in order to prepare me for ministry. I may not be happy or content, though that is a choice I make despite my circumstances, but I can take comfort to know that I am like all of His other servants who were tested in the wilderness prior to beginning their public ministry. Thus, today, I say "Not my will, Lord; but thy will be done," and I relent. I let this temptation come and pass. I choose to believe God and His word today. I choose to draw near to Him, rest in Him, and let Him have control. I surrender my needs, my desires, and my fleshly wants in order to please Him, to serve Him, and to do this important work. I confess my sinful desires and lusts of the flesh and mind to Him, and I repent. I turn around, and I obey the Lord as I walk on after Him. There is only one Master for me, and it is my Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen, so be it, selah!

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