July 2, 2016

Making Up My Mind

Happy July 2nd! Yes, it is July! I cannot believe that the year is half-over already. In just five months, I will be as close to graduating from school as possible. In just five months, I will officially have my PhD! WOW! I stand amazed to think of all the Lord has done to bring me to this place, to bring me this far. I am where I am today because of His grace. It is all because of His grace. God is so good to me. He is so very GOOD!

Today is a good day. It is Saturday, and I am home, and I am blessed. Yes, I am so very blessed. I had a good day yesterday even though I didn't get much work done on my proposal or around the house. I stayed in all day long, and with the exception of lunch at the mall with my parents, pretty much just lazed about and wasted time. Well, not really. I took care of some business, and I spent a great deal of time in mental anguish. Yes, I spent most of my day fretting about this job opportunity at UHC. You see, yesterday was "the day" I was supposed to hear something from the hiring manager. In truth, he said that they would be "making a decision" by Friday. I assumed that meant that they would be letting candidates know "yea or nay." I guess "making a decision" just meant that they would be deciding on the candidate and that it didn't necessarily mean "notify all others" in contention.

The worst part of the day was just wondering if I would be selected or not. I mean, I am okay either way. I would prefer to know one way or another so that I can move on. If I am to head back into business, then so be it. If I am to remain in higher education, then so be it. I just want to know for sure so I can close doors, and pick up my things, and move on. You know, "move on down that road!"

I prayed over my emotions all day long, and finally toward evening, made the decision to let this matter drop. You know, to let go of the idea of leaving higher education because nothing seemed to be happening toward that end. I know, hasty decision, right? Well, I considered June 30th my drop-dead date for making a career switch. If I didn't get a positive sign by that date, I felt pretty certain I would have to forgo any change for another year. My contracts with GCU, ACU and OCU are signed. I could have broken them so long as I gave them notice, but now that it is July 2nd, well, I am stuck. I need to be a person of integrity, and that means keeping my side of the covenant, the agreement to teach adjunct in the summer/fall semester.

Last night, I had a good conversation with my friend, and I was lamenting my decision to apply to this job in the first place. I spent most of yesterday reflecting on my motivation to change careers, and in truth, I determined that my primary motivator was fear. Yes, I admit it. I was afraid of running out of money and not being able to keep to my side of the bargain here at home. I allowed my Dad to press my panic button, and in response, I applied for a job I was over-educated to receive. I knew the truth when I interviewed. I knew that the hiring manager thought I was interested in moving up in the company too quickly. I knew it when he asked me about my degree and my focus in communications. It was clear that he was not looking to replace someone in 1-2 years. It was clear he didn't want to hire someone temporarily to do this job. I never communicated that I was a short-timer. I never said anything of the sort, but my PhD is a big sore thumb that sticks out, and it does make potential employers circumspect when they consider it and my worth and value. I get it, I really do.

After commiserating about my experience, my friend was supportive and encouraging to me. I already knew what I needed to do since I have been feeling convicted about it for an entire week. Still, I have wanted to wait this out, to let this job interview play out. I think today I am ready to accept the truth of the situation, to embrace my future, and to understand that I will never find a way out of my circumstance. I will never figure out how solve my problems on my own. No, the only way my problems will be resolved is through the Lord and His direct provision. I will never be able to take the easy way out.

Choosing A Way to Go

On Thursday, I said to my good friend, "I just want to know which way to go. I just want to be 'decided' so I can go in one way only." Then yesterday, I prayed something similar. I asked the Lord to make it clear to me so that I could devote myself wholly to one way. I don't want to vacillate anymore. I don't want to go back and forth, this way and that way. No, I want to be settled, to be sure, to be done. I already knew which way to go, but I wanted to be convinced, to be made sure so that I could have no more doubts about it. I asked the Lord to provide that proof to me, and I think in some ways, He did. I mean, it is not like a light shown out of the sky or a voice boomed at me and said, "Carol, go this way!" No, not at all. Rather, it was more like the decision, the choice came to me after a lot of analysis and reflection, but more so, almost by default. Let me explain...

1. Know Thyself. The Russian poet Rumi once wrote, "Who am I in the midst of all this thought traffic?" He was asking the aged-old question of whether it is possible to really know one's self. Plato attempted to answer that question thousands of year previously when he said, "The essence of knowledge is self-knowledge." Shakespeare said something similar in "Hamlet," when he has Polonius utter these now famous words,

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

It seems that philosophers, writers, and poets have all sought to understand what it means to "know oneself." In my view, knowing one's self simply means that there is a measure of understanding, a knowledge of one's identity and one's purpose. This understanding then forms the foundation for a system of knowledge, often gleaned through reflection on internal motivations and other factors (choices, for example), that lead the individual into a state of knowledge that brings comfort and clarity. In my own experience, knowing oneself has been one of the primary pursuits of my life. I have endeavored to understand why I think certain things, do certain things, and as a result, why I choose certain actions that lead to certain outcomes. I guess I am fascinated with the probability of choice, and I am interested in learning how to reduce risk and uncertainty in order to perfect performance and to guide decision-making. Yes, that is a long-winded answer, but it does make sense to me. In short, I want to know why I do things, think things, and choose things so that I can learn how to make better choices in the future. Knowing oneself is a key ingredient, in my view, to making wise choices.

In my search to know myself, I have had to explore my past history and experiences so that I could use them as a foundation for my present predicament. For example, how did I come to be a teacher? Well, in review, I was able to see that I had a desire to teach formed early on (around age 8). Then through a series of fortunate circumstances (in elementary and middle school), I was placed in roles where I served children. In serving children, I came to enjoy the experience of working in a classroom. In high school, I continued to serve children in church, Sunday School, VBS, etc. This pattern of serving children continued throughout my adult years, and later came to be a strong desire or motivation toward returning to graduate school to earn a Masters degree. One could say that the internal motivator was the desire to serve, to teach and to train children. The reason I am a teacher today is because I followed my heart's desire to become a teacher, despite incredible odds and many block passages. Thus, I am where I am today because of a desire in my heart as a child.

This process has produced a number of other interests, and some of those interests have caused me to question or doubt the results. After my divorce, and in my search for a new career, I had three options to pursue. One was to follow my part-time work in retail. I searched for job openings in retail management and corporate retail as a possible path to follow. I even interviewed with Apple Retail for a position as a store manager, but realized right away that the job was not to my liking. Later, I followed a path into higher education. I worked at UOPX for a time as an advisor, a job I thought I would like, but in actuality, the job was not to my liking at all. It was sales oriented and not the type of "advising" I had hoped to engage in. Then, I tried out corporate work, and I found a good fit in an analyst role. I liked healthcare, and I liked the job. The environment was not suitable because it was a pressure-cooker of sorts, and the ROI, was not satisfactory to my needs. In the end, I struggled with a way to go. I had tried three viable avenues, but none suited me perfectly. 

That is -- I mean -- not until I tried teaching. I had hoped to become a teacher shortly after I received my Master's degree. I wanted to move into teaching, but I found the way blocked. I finally stepped into the role in fall of 2013, and I have been pursuing this line since. It has been a good fit, but not a perfect fit. It has been hard on my body to stand all day long, and my voice aches by the end of the week. Yet, of all the work I have done, this one job is the most satisfying, the most enjoyable, and the most "like" me.

My friends say to me, "Carol, you were meant to be a teacher." My co-workers at Macy's would say the same thing. Yet, for me, I didn't see myself as a teacher until just recently. I didn't see that this was part-and-parcel to my personality until this past semester. Why did it take me so long to agree to this path, to see this as part of who I am? I think the answer is simply that I didn't want to make a decision, a final choice, until I was sure, certain, 100% without any doubt that this was the way for me to go.

I know myself well. I have come to learn about my motivations, my passions, and my desires, and as a result, I know what I can and cannot do, what I like and do not like, what I am willing to sacrifice and what I am not willing to sacrifice. I know where my power resides, and I know to whom I belong. In sum, I know myself well, and I understand my foundation clearly. I know what I must do, where I must go, and how I must get there. I finally get it. I finally am ready to choose a way of life that suits me, settles me, and will serve as a career focus for the next 20 or so years. I am ready to move on.

2. Go and Do His Work. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the voice of the Lord say to me "Go." I am not sure if I really do go or not, I just know that He will often tell me to go when I finally make up my mind to listen. It has been so hard for me to wrap my head around my work, my job, and my ministry calling. Are they one in the same or are they unique, separate things? In truth, I think the answer is both. I mean, my calling to help the church communicate faith is my main ministry focus. But, I teach and in and through teaching, I am learning how to "do" my ministry focus. The two things fuel one another. Furthermore, as I study communication, as I research in this field, I am actively pursuing God's will for my life. I know it. I am blessed in my studies, and I am able to do amazing and wonderful things. My life makes sense right now, and I have to tell you that means the world to me. I have been so confused lately, so twisted up inside. My life just makes sense when I do this kind of work. My purpose is clear. My path is obvious. My focus is intent. I am not confused so long as I consider this way. When I think about doing something different, well, I get all messed up in my head. My life gets out of whack, and I feel the discontinuity growing within me. No, this is the right way. This is the path to follow. This is my chosen profession.
Surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7 (GWT)
Rick Warren once said, "You know you're surrendered to God when you rely on God to work things out instead of trying to manipulate others, force your agenda, and control the situation. You let go and let God work. You don't have to always be in charge. Instead of trying harder, you trust more." Warren, Pastor at SaddleBack Church in Irvine, CA, wrote a short blog post on how to live a surrendered life. I browsed the Internet this morning for a devotional that reflected my thoughts and found this one. As I read his words, I couldn't help but think, "This is truth." I so needed to read his words of encouragement to remind me that it is impossible to serve God and man. A surrendered life is one that is wholly devoted to God, and that means a life that is completely surrendered to no longer focusing on the needs of self. Warren said this specifically in regard to the pursuit of money. It spoke to my heart directly because this has been my challenge for the past six years.
The most difficult thing for many people to surrender is their money. Many have thought, "I want to live for God but I also want to earn enough money to live comfortably and retire someday."
The world tells us that our goal should be to live comfortably and work so that we can retire some day. I have been focused on my career choice and the opportunity to earn a good living so I can retire. At 53 years of age, retirement is on my mind, especially since I care for my elderly parents and see how expensive it is to provide for them and their health issues. I don't want to be in the same boat when I get to be 83. Thus, my focus has been on finding a good job that will pay a living wage and allow me to work toward retirement. I don't think there is anything wrong with this thought, and I doubt seriously that Christian financial managers and gurus would argue against it. However, Warren notes that retirement is not the end goal of the Christian life. Instead, he says,
Retirement is not the goal of a surrender life, because it competes with God for the primary attention of our lives. Jesus said, "You cannot serve both God and money," (Matthew 6:24 NIV) and "Wherever your treasure is, your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21 NIV).
In some ways, I see that the past couple years, in particular, have been a case of surrendering my will to His. I always say, "I am yielded, surrendered, and willing to go and do His work," but clearly I have not been so readily willing to do it. I have balked at walking this hard road. I have wanted to have it easier, more carefree, and less stressful. I believe the Lord has promised me good things, a good life, a secure life, but not without hardship. Yes, we all must suffer as we come to maturity. Warren says, "Surrender is hard work. In our case, it requires intense warfare against our self-centered nature," and he is right. We surrender to many things in this life, but surrendering to self is the most difficult. For me, I had to surrender my right to choose a way to go. I had to surrender my right to a life that seemed good to me. I had to surrender my right to live the way I wanted, I thought best, in order to experience the good He had in mind, in store for me.

This last hurdle, I think, was for me to realize that when God has placed you on a path, the enemy will try to get you to deviate for very good reasons (such as better opportunity, more money, moving, etc.) He will attempt to persuade you that there is a way for you to achieve God's plan without following after God. I know this is true because this is exactly what I did when I applied to this job. I thought I could accomplish His will better by having a job that paid more money, provided for my needs, and gave me a secure and stable future. I believed that in applying, this would be acceptable to God. Yet, when I did it, I never felt right about it. On face value, the job appeared to be so good. But after sitting awhile, waiting, and thinking more, I realized that I was seeking a worldly solution to a spiritual need. Yes, the place I am at right now, including my school debt, is a spiritual one. I returned to school for His work, His kingdom, His calling, and while finding a good job could be His provision, this job wasn't. I know it know.

And, to clarify, there was nothing wrong with the job itself or the company. No, this whole week of worry hasn't been about the job or the company or anything of that sort. It was all about whether or not I could be content in the place the Lord had me, and whether I was willing to surrender my needs, my fears, and my doubts to the Lord to let Him handle all things. Was I willing to let go and let God handle my concerns? Or would I take matters into my own hand in order to do as Warren says, "to manipulate others, force your agenda, and control the situation." BINGO!

3. Resting in His Provision. When it comes down to it, my greatest need is to rest in His provision and to know that He is God. It is Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God," and it is understanding that surrendering to God is all about giving up control. It is about resting, choosing to be at rest (be still, not struggle, not force your way) no matter what circumstance or situation occurs. I realize that for the past three years, in specific, I have not been at rest. I have not let go, surrendered to God's will, and allowed this life lesson to come to pass. I have wanted to control outcomes, produce results, and take care of "business" just so I could avoid the pain that comes from lingering in difficult by-ways. In many ways, I wanted to hasten the lesson by taking control and doing some "now" to bring it to a close.

It has been hard to learn to rest, but I am well on my way to finally learning how to do it. I am still a babe when it comes to trusting the Lord completely, and I am still taking baby steps as I move through this faith walk called life. My hope is that through it all, I will eventually learn how to surrender completely, how to live a fully devoted and surrendered life. Yet, I know that to do that I must lay down my life daily. It is a daily application of a life process. You cannot surrender once and say "I'm done!" No, you have to surrender each day, every single day, because our human nature, our self-centered and self-directed nature always wants to be in charge and in control. I know it. I get it. I see it.

Understanding My Self Better

It is funny, really, how difficult it can be to come to terms with your own self -- your needs, wants and desires -- and then to be able to articulate them clearly so others understand you better. I have tried to use this blog to help me learn about myself, my fears, my struggles, my doubts, etc. In all, I think I have done exactly what I set out to accomplish. Over the course of the past ten years, I have written thousands of pages where I poured out my heart, cleared my mind, and generally, described my feelings for all the world to read. I know some people have thought, "Oh, she is way to personal," but I knew that the only way I could use this vehicle for God's purpose and glory, was to be transparent, and to bear my all (so to speak). I couldn't hold anything back, and in doing so, I have was able to see how my struggles became monsters in some respects. What may have been a small tick at the start became a gigantic bug at the end. In the middle, however, I explored every nuance, every shade, and every variation of that "thing" until I knew it, I understood it, and I accepted it. Now, I am at this place, this very good place where I am finally no longer at odds with myself. I am able to say with clear and calm words, "I am OKAY." I mean, I am OKAY. I am GOOD. I am HAPPY. I am CONTENT. I don't need to search anymore. I don't need to probe or dissect the past nor do I need to question every issue or concern in the present. I think I have finally arrived at the "weigh station" and I am ready to embark on this next phase of my life.

I give thanks to the Lord for His kindness toward me. I give thanks to the Lord for His goodness in every area of my life. I give thanks to the Lord for His patience and His provision. I give thanks to the Lord for He has made a way possible when I believed there was no way to recover, to recoup, or even to restore my past. Instead, He made a way. He gave me new hope, and in doing so, He showed me that He is with me, always, and that He has a great plan for my life. Thus, today, I am thanking Him for all that He has done to show me the truth about myself, my inner longings, my deepest insecurities, and my strongest desires. I have come to see that the person I once was a long time ago is still here. She is here. I have aged a lot, but I am still the same girl I once was, still the same person who wanted so much to love God and love others. I see now that I am right where the Lord wants me to be because to know myself means that I have finally come to terms with who I am. I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I don't have to be like anyone. No, I can just be me. The Lord loves me and accepts me as I am. He has me in this place because it is good for me. He knows my needs, and He understands my hurts. He has healed my frailty, and He has made me strong. I am ready to step out in faith again, to believe Him for His good works, and to show the world just how much I trust the One whom I call my Lord. I am ready, Lord, I am ready. Lead on!

In Closing

Today marks a turning point. I have laid down my life yet again in order to follow the Lord. I don't have the answers, and I am no longer in control of my life. I am trusting Him to provide for me, and I am resting in His provision this good day. I am staying put, not deviating from this path. What I finally grasp this week is that the path I am on is not about a job or a career, rather it is the path of surrender. The journey I walk is about maturity, and not about what I do in this life. I am learning how to be a servant, and whether I teach or conduct business, the process is about learning how to let go of my self and grab hold of Jesus. My work, the work I do is immaterial to this point. In truth, everything is about Him, and nothing is about me. Though I live, breath, work, communicate, etc., what I do day in and day out is nothing. It is all vanity.

I don't mean to say that the Lord doesn't care about our daily needs or what we do for work (to earn a honest living) because the WORD clearly says that He does. What I am saying, however, is that what we do physically to meet material needs is always secondary to our spiritual maturity. God cares more about our growth and development as His child then He does about our material welfare. The Word promises us that our Father knows our needs. He is aware we need food, clothing and shelter. But, our spiritual growth, our maturity, and our relationship with Him is of far more importance than these things. This is why the lesson of surrendering cuts us to the core. It asks us not only in whom do we trust, but rather, how much do we love Him. John tells us that if we say we love Him, then we keep His commands. More so, if we love Him, we surrender ourselves daily and we pick up our cross and follow after Him. I am learning what it means to be a servant to the Master. I am learning what it means to leave behind father and mother, children, property, and all worldly goods and possessions in order to follow after Him.

The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! Psalm 18:46 (NIV)

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