November 20, 2016

Quietude

It is a quiet morning. The sun is peeking behind the clouds, and for the most part, it is all grays and pinks outside my bedroom window. I am home alone on this blessed Sunday. I woke up twice, once around 7 and then again around 8:45, each time with a slight headache. I have discovered that my headaches are actually migraines, thus the reason why I have them regularly. They are cluster headaches, and they are mostly likely brought on due to stress and tension (in my neck and shoulders).  It is a "no brainer," (no pun intended) really. My neck is in need of adjustment, and my shoulders, well, they are always tense and tight. I have lived this way for now on 30 years. It comes and goes, some days are better than others, but for the majority of my adult life, I have lived with chronic headache pain. It is my lot, I guess. I know I could do more about it, if I had more money, more insurance coverage, but for now and the foreseeable future, I can only live with it best I can. Still, the morning quietude is a blessing to me. 

Charles H. Spurgeon once said, "Quietude, which some men cannot abide because it reveals their inward poverty, is as a place to the wise, for along its hallowed courts, the King, in his beauty, deigns to walk." When I think about this word, "quietude," my heart seems to settle, to agree, to accept the fact that there is a place where all the quells and the quashes of the world simmer down, they simply settle. "Quietude," which means "a state of stillness, calmness, and quiet in a person or place" (Dictionary.com), is a word that most clearly expresses what I feel inside. Yes, I feel this sense of quiet on the inside of my soul, and my outside, in my home right now, there is peace -- stillness, calmness and blessed quietness. This good day, I am in blissful quietude. I am settled, I am at peace, I have found my rest. In truth, I have found my "bliss."


Following Your Bliss

About five years ago, I worked for University of Phoenix, in downtown Tempe, AZ. I was an Enrollment Advisor, and I worked in Healthcare (Northeast) for almost 15 months. I enrolled students in nursing and healthcare programs, and while the job itself was not a good fit for me, the job was a blessing in so many ways. 

First, it got me out of my home (literally and figuratively) every day, and eventually, the job provided steady income and a bank account filled with "extra" so that I could move into my very first home. I hated the commute from North Phoenix to Tempe, and I didn't like the job itself -- dialing students, leaving messages, and talking with them on the phone for 3-4-5 hours a day. But, the end result of that job made it possible for me to move forward in what I believed was the Lord's plan for my life, to establish me as my own person, and to give me a future that was filled with hope. 

Second, it was in that job that I finalized my plans for doctoral study. I was unsure of the path to follow back then, but I knew that the Lord wanted me to pursue a PhD. I considered taking my PhD at UOPX for a short time, but I also looked seriously at other programs (online and on campus). I also considered my "career," and I realized shortly after arriving that what was promised to me wasn't a reality. I was stuck in enrollment, and I would never be able to transfer to another department or division like I had been told in training class. No, I was stuck in the job, and there was little I could do about it. 

Third, I came to understand myself better. I made the decision to cut the ties with my husband, then separated and not divorced. My colleagues, none of whom were Christian, would always ask me why I was still married when my husband wasn't interested in working on restoring the marriage. Good question, really. I struggled with the answer, but I took comfort in knowing that most counselors suggest that divorce, if that is the route taken, should not be entered into until 1 year has passed for every single year of marriage. So in my case, that meant it would be best for me to be separated for 5 years before my spouse and I divorced. My ex-husband, originally said he didn't want to divorce, but that he wanted me to accept this other woman as his true love. Of course, I couldn't accept that as rational or even logical behavior. Then, he asked for a divorce when the other woman failed to meet his needs and he found someone else.  I hesitated to agree for a long while, but the logic of this advice, made sense to me. In truth, most people divorce too quickly, and they make decisions in the heat of the moment. I waited four-half years between when we separated and divorced. It was a long process, but in the end, I was ready to accept the truth about my marriage and my life. My divorce was finalized in August of 2014, and after 30 years together, we settled, and we went separate ways.

Fourth and last, I figured out what I wanted to be when my education was all said and done with, and I knew in short order that it wasn't working in administration or in sales. I knew that I wanted to teach college, preferably online, but to teach English college courses. I had a chance to teach college way back in 2012, but I ran from that opportunity out of fear. I was afraid that I couldn't do it, but also, I was afraid that I couldn't make ends meet, pay my bills, and take care of my son (then in community college) with a part-time teaching position. I stayed at UOPX for another half year, before moving on to CVS Caremark for a year. Then finally, I transitioned to part-time teaching (hard to believe it), and well, the rest is history. I am where I am today because I followed my "bliss" as my senior director would always say.

What is "Bliss?"

I remember the day when my senior director met with me. It was a day I had looked forward to for some time because I had hoped she would offer me a better position in the company. I wanted out of robo-dials, and I wanted to transfer to a department where I could use my education and my skills more effectively. I remember sitting in her office and listening to her give her story, how she had lost everything, and how both her and her husband were almost homeless when they both landed at UOPX. In her words, being an enrollment advisor was her salvation. She ended up being promoted quickly to management, and then made a solid career out of educational sales. Her speech, while inspirational and motivational, didn't do anything for me because I knew I was not in the "right place." In many ways, I wanted UOPX to be the right place for me. I wanted to make it fit me, but the more I tried to make it fit, well, the more the edges pinched. It was like when you squish your foot into a shoe that is just a bit too tight. You might be able to wear the shoes for a while, but after time, the pain is going to get to you. UOPX was like that for me. 

In the beginning, it was a good fit. I was so happy to have full-time work, especially since I had been unemployed for almost 18 months. I had been working part-time, I should admit, but part-time retail wasn't paying my bills nor was it helping me to get out of my shared home. No, I was looking, actively looking for full-time work, and with the recession in full-swing, I was stuck working retail and earning a pittance each week. UOPX came right when I needed it most, and over the course of the 15 months I worked there, it brought me a better quality of life. Yes, despite the "pinch," the job itself helped to propel me to where I am today. I am thankful to UOPX for that gift. It was hard won, but well worth it in the end.

So, my director, a very kind woman, was obviously enamored with her job. She made no bones about the fact that I was "lucky" to have the work, the job, and that there were oodles of other people waiting to sit in my cube. I was disappointed in her speech because she didn't listen to me at all. She just kept telling me how I should be happy to be where I was and how I should just stop complaining about the way things work in the company. Of course, I knew right away that she was telling me to "stop whining and be happy." But, when I said that wasn't good enough, she simply said to me, "Carol, sometimes you just have to follow your bliss." What she meant was if UOPX wasn't the place for you, go somewhere else. She wasn't interested in helping me out, she just wanted me to make my numbers each month so that her department looked good. I understood her views, of course. I had been married to a sales and marketing person for 30 years, and well, I get the whole sales and numbers game. Still, I was so surprised she would tell me to leave the company rather than try to encourage me to stay.

I was not happy with her remark, but in hindsight, I now see that what she meant for harm, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20). She said I should "follow my bliss" or in other terms, I should go where I will be happy. This phrase comes from Joseph Campbell, who said,

“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn't know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else”

This ideology, sparked from Joseph Campbell's interview with Bill Moyers in 1987, has taken on a life of its own. Campbell, who was an American mythology professor, is best known for his work in comparative mythology and religion. In his posthumous book, "The Power of Myth," Campbell (1988) said, "My general formula for my students is "Follow your bliss." Find where it is, and don't be afraid to follow it" (p. 120, 149). What Campbell meant by "bliss," was really burning passion. In his way with words, Campbell was not saying "do what you like," but rather, he was encouraging his students to identify the thing they were most passionate about and then take the steps to do it. He wanted them to not be stifled by the fear of the unknown, but to be courageous and to find their "bliss" so they could experience inner satisfaction and joy.

According to the Joseph Campbell Foundation (2016), following your bliss "isn't merely a matter of doing whatever you like, and certainly not doing simply as you are told. It is a matter of identifying that pursuit which you are truly passionate about and attempting to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent" (para. 6). I think following your bliss simply means to follow your passion, and for Christians, that should be the call the Lord has placed on your life. Campbell said, "Wherever you are -- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time" (p. 113, 120).

I think this type of thinking, this belief in doing something valuable that contributes to the betterment of society, has been long missing, undervalued and underrated in Christian circles. How often do I see men and women of Christ work in jobs that they loathe, do tasks that they find boring and unimportant, simply to pay their bills, to eek out a living. There seems to be an impression that Christian people are not to be happy, are not to be passionate about worldly pursuits, or are not to find joy in their work. Yes, the Bible does stress the importance of being content in whatever circumstances one may find themselves in, but it is vital to remember that when the New Testament was written, in particular, jobs were hard labor, and not plentiful. Thus, with few options and opportunities due to location, education or class, most people simply lived humble lives well-within their station. This attitude, therefore, has been passed down throughout history to now where we see many Christian people believe that they should not seek fulfillment in work, in jobs, or in any pursuit that is not directly related to the Kingdom of God. Yet, how often do we see good people, men and women, doing work that brings value to society, that helps those in need, and that provides valuable services. In my view, following your bliss simply is a way to remember that with God, all things are possible (Luke 1:37). There is no work that is off-limits to the child of God, save that which is illegal, unethical, or immoral. Thus, men and women should seek to identify their passion and then pursue it. It is high time we stop saying that it is right and proper to do ditch work when the Lord may be calling that ditch-digger to a very different life, to a very different outcome.

In many ways, my director's comment has served to remind me that God has a very unique and wonderful plan for my life. It took me a long while to figure it out, to give myself permission, really, to follow His plan. For a very long time, I thought I had lost the opportunity to do His will. Then, later, I thought I was meant to pay for missing that opportunity with a life of hardship and unfulfilling work. Now, though, I see that with God, all things are possible, and while I may have lost years in the in between time working in jobs that were not part of His passion for me, I have come to see that it is never too late to do what God asks you to do. He is patient. He waits for us to turn around, to relent and repent, and to agree to do His specific work. 

In my case, that specific work is being a teacher. I have always wanted to teach, ever since I was a child. But, I made some costly mistakes, some poor decisions and choices that took me very far from the thing I was most passionate about, the thing I desired most in life. I learned lessons, many of them, through the "school of hard knocks," but in the end, I came round to the fact that what I am most passionate about, the thing I love to do most, is to teach students. I am now where I should have been 30 years ago. I am now doing the thing I love most, and like Campbell said, it is as if doors have opened for me. I enjoy the inner blessing and satisfaction of my work. More so, the refreshment that I experience daily doesn't directly come from my work, though in part it does; rather, the refreshment comes from knowing that I am doing the very work God has assigned to me. I am where I am because this is the place of His choosing for me. I am at peace in this work. I am at rest. I experience joy and satisfaction daily as I do this humble and modest work. I have found my bliss, thanks to my senior director, and now I can say that I am truly where I belong. It is a good feeling, such a good feeling, to know that I am doing what God purposed and planned for me to do. It is a good feeling to know that He is pleased with my work.

Passionately Pursue Your Bliss

If I can give one piece of advice to anyone reading this blog, it would be to passionately pursue your bliss. Take the time to identify what it is that you want to do and then find a way to do it. Do not allow fear to control your outcome, like it did mine; nor allow fate or the belief in fate to determine your course in life. I believed for so long that I was destined to suffer because of the wickedness I sowed in my early years. I believed that, while I was forgiven of my sins, God simply wasn't going to forget them (Isaiah 43:25). In this way, He was going to make me "pay" for my sins with hard labor all the days of my life. And, to tell you the truth, it sure seemed like it was so. I mean, my life was not happy, nor was I content during much of my young adult-adult years. I suffered daily, and I lived without provision and protection. I believed, erroneously, that this was God's "pay back" for my disobedience (Romans 8:1). 

In reality, my life and the way of my life, was simply the result of those really bad choices I made. It was not God's determination or penalty for me to suffer for years; rather it was simply the choices I made, the path I took, and the place where I was at that were generating continued stress, strain, and sorrow. God was steadily my keeper, and He was my friend and companion, but until I agreed to change my mind, to turn myself around, to head in a new direction, my life didn't really start to look better. It took time, a lot of time, and the going wasn't easy. I didn't become a teacher over night. It has taken me 7 years of education and almost five years of hard work to get to where I am today. I had a lot to make up, simply due to my age and my professional standing, but I believed it was what the Lord wanted for me, so I gave myself passionately and whole-heartedly to the pursuit of it.

I think the thing that was most difficult for me was to let go of my belief that God wanted me to pay for my disobedience for life. I really believed that I had "made my bed," and thus, I would have to "lay in it" without hope of restoration. This idiom has some Biblical truth to it. If we believe the words of our Lord, then we understand the mandate of "reaping what you sow" (Galatians 6:7). In layman's terms, laying in a bed you have made suggests that once a choice is made, the consequences must follow. In other words, "Should you make your bad badly, you will probably have an uncomfortable night, for which you will have only yourself to blame. In much the same way, all of us are responsible for the consequences of our actions, so we must put up with them" (Proverb Hunter). And, while this is true, we forget that our God is loving, merciful and gracious. He forgives us, and in that act of mercy and grace, He restores us to our rightful position. You see, while we sin and walk in disobedience, when we return to God, He forgives us and He welcomes us back into His loving arms. Remember the story of the prodigal son? The son returned after "riotous living," and the Father welcomed him home with open arms and a banquet feast. The Father placed rings of gold and a cloak of purple on him. The son was given back all that had been rightfully his as heir. He wasn't sent to serve the hogs again or to work in the fields, though he would have gladly agreed to do so. No, he was given a welcome fit for a child of the King.

In a like way, when we are welcomed back to the loving arms of our Savior and King, we are forgiven, but not set aside. We are reunited, rejoined in fellowship, and in this way, we are restored to our former position. It is imperative that we, as Christians, remember that our God, while perfect, righteous and holy, is merciful, compassionate and kind. He will restore you, and He will reimburse you for all that has been lost while you walked in disobedience. The key to that restoration is true repentance, humbled heart and mind, and an attitude of supplication. Arrogant, foolish, and those who think God can be mocked, are not inheritors of the Kingdom of God (Galatians 6:7). God is Holy, and His justice is sure. Still, our God is loving and good and kind, and with a humbled heart and attitude, one can find the sweetness of restoration at the tips of our Saviors fingers. 

My heart today is changed completely from the heart I started with some 10-12 years ago. I had been a Christian for a very long time previously, but I had been hardened by the consequences of the life I had made for myself. I was living in sorrow and sadness, day in and day out, and over time, I began to experience deep and dark depression. My King lived inside of me, but I felt hopeless and as if there was no better future than for me to go to be with my Savior or for Him to return for me. In this way, I desired death more than life. I humbly waited, suffering in silence for so long, until one day, I decided to do something about it. I decided that I no longer wanted to live the way I was living, and I no longer wanted to be miserable, unhappy, and live without any hope. That day, my life changed forever, and the path I am on now, was a direct result of that turn of heart, of mind, and of will. I turned around. I gave up my way, and I asked, humbly asked, for a new way, a different way to go. The Lord graciously provided a new way, and to say that it was all joy and thanksgiving, well that would be the farthest thing from the truth. This new way was filled with even more heartbreak, heartache and sorrow. However, it was more like removing the layers of a plaster cast from a broken arm. The pain associated with the process was difficult, but the underlying skin needed the light and fresh air of the day. Once the layers were removed, the freedom that came was refreshing and brilliant. The road to healing was fraught with difficulty, but in the end, that road has proven to be my very salvation.

The person I am today is the result of a life born of sin, but a life that was redeemed and ransomed by a Savior who simply would not let me go. I am so enamored with my King, my Savior, my Lord. He is my everything, and today I give Him praise, honor, and glory. I desire no other satisfaction than His pleasing look, His wonderful love, and His deep and abiding goodness in and through my life. He is everything, absolutely everything to me. In short, my bliss -- my passionate pursuit -- began with my Lord and ended with me finding a work that suits me, comforts me, and engages me daily. He has provided abundantly to me, and for that, I am truly thankful.

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