December 8, 2016

Changing Times

It is Thursday, and praise be to God, I am home. This is my day off, and frankly, I am so happy to be at home resting from my long and stressful week. My students and I have been overly stressed at the ending term and coming final due dates and all that stress has caused tension in the classroom. The combination of the final semester countdown and my own enlarged workload has been a challenge for me to manage. I have so much work to do between now and the end of next week, and I am struggling just to figure out what to do and how to do it. But, praise be to God, I know the Lord will help me. He will provide a way through this narrow and difficult passage, and in the end, I will rejoice when I can finally relax and rest from all my work. Until then, I press on. I run this race of faith with endurance and God’s speed. I do what has been asked of me, and I try my best to keep my head and my heart focused on one thing only, and that is, to bring Him all the praise, the honor, and the glory. He alone is worthy! He alone deserves my praise!

Coming to Terms with My Life

So, it is a blessed Thursday, and as I sit here and blog today, I am reminded of how fortunate and favored I am this good day. I mean, I live in this lovely home, on a lovely street, in a lovely neighborhood. I work for three great Christian schools, and I have a very lovely and flexible schedule. I am finally making more income, so my bills are covered. I am not where I would like to be financially, and I cannot pay my debts off yet, but I am able to make the monthly payments, and still have money left over for some comfortable purchases (like food, clothing or new bedding, etc.) More so, I have my education well in hand, and I am about to graduate with my PhD. My car is in good shape, though a bit dinged from allowing my son to use it regularly. Overall, I have everything I need, and I am in great shape mentally, physically, and emotionally. I am stable, praise be to God, in more ways than one, and I am in this blessed and secure place in my life. The Lord has provided well, and I rest in His exceptional covering this good, good day.

I am thinking about my life in grand terms, and today, in particular, the Lord pressed on me to consider my future needs. I mean, I was praying this morning when I felt Him say to me, “Carol, what else is it that you need?” Yes, I was feeling a bit down about my life, and I was thanking Him for His provision, but still feeling as if life was overwhelming me to such an extent that I was afraid of failing everyone — everything. I heard His sweet voice ask me point blank to consider my needs, to think about my former life and my present life, and then really assess my level of happiness.

I know, happiness is just  a feeling, a fleeting and oft-sought after feeling, but nonetheless, humans (me, included) seem to make the “pursuit of happiness” our life or end goal. Happiness is defined as the “state of being happy” (Merriam-Webster), and happy simply is a synonym for many other words that suggest pleasure, joy, or a sense of contentment or satisfaction. According to Psychology Today (2016), happiness is difficult to define. In a blog post titled, “The Art of Happiness,” they write,
Ah, happiness, that elusive state. Philosophers, theologians, psychologists, even economists, have long sought to define it, and since the 1990s, a whole branch of psychology—positive psychology—has been dedicated to pinning it down and propagating it. More than simply positive mood, happiness is a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life—that is, with a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction (para. 1).
When they say that, “Happiness is a state of well-being” and that it “encompasses living a good life” and that it includes “a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction,” I find myself nodding in agreement. Yes! This is exactly how I would define or articulate happiness, at the least, in my life. I can say with great boldness that I am happy. Furthermore, I can say that I am happier today than I was previously, and that I have a sense of well-being that suggests I will be happy tomorrow and every day into my future life. Yes, I am happy. I am well-satisfied. I am content.

Interestingly, according to the writers at Psychology Today, happiness is something that is generally under individual control, meaning that in many ways, “we are the architects of our own happiness” (Caussé, 2012). Researchers studying happiness and individual control state, “Regularly indulging in small pleasures (such as warm baths), getting absorbed in challenging activities, setting and meeting goals, maintaining close social ties, and finding purpose beyond oneself are all actions that increase life satisfaction” (Psychology Today, 2016, para. 3). Thus, it follows that we can actually increase our life joy or satisfaction simply by engaging in pursuits, interacting with people, and staying involved in activities that challenge us mentally, that push us farther, and that hold attainable achievement as an end result. Clearly, happiness can be achieved, and that it can be something obtainable outside of material possessions or worth. Studies show that money, power, position, etc., can alleviate some worry or stress related to the daily issues and concerns that affect us all, but the fact remains that these things only lighten the load, so to speak. It is personal connection, personal action and activity, and personal pursuit that in the end bring the most satisfaction to a person’s life.

With this in mind, and as I was reflecting on my life thus far, I realized that my happiness is driven by several factors, and these factors are integral to my sense of well-being, my overall feeling of comfort, joy, peace, and harmony.

First, my life has purpose. I have direction now whereas I didn’t before. I have a career that I enjoy, and my professional life is settled. I know my job well, and I can set down roots and begin to develop my skills and abilities in order to improve my position, my standing, and my status. Though I am not driven to excel and become the top dog at some company, I do desire to move from adjunct faculty to full-time faculty soon. I also hope to continue to produce scholarship whereby I can research interests and concerns in order to understand the world better. I also desire to be settled as far as my place of employment, to reduce my commitment to one school rather than three or four. I know that in time, this will be, but until then, I work heartily unto the Lord, and I do my best with what I have been given.

Second, my life has routine and regulation. The previous 30 years of my life were fraught with upheaval and uncertainty. This was how my ex-husband chose to live his life, never knowing if he would be paid today or tomorrow, and always living on a “wing and a prayer.” I never was comfortable with that approach to life. I am a planner by nature, by design really, and for me, that means that I need to know when I will be paid and how much I will be paid. I budget, I make my payments on time, and I need the regularity of scheduled life to give me comfort and to bring an ease — not just of lifestyle — but of mind. I struggled so with “not knowing” and I lived in a state of constant stress whereby I wasn’t able to control anything in my life. I couldn’t control my hunger, my warmth, or even the quality of my life simply because my ex-husband didn’t work a regular job nor did he want to do so.

In my new found life, praise be to God, I work a regular job (without shame), and I cherish the fact that I get paid regularly (bi-weekly and bi-monthly). I also love my schedule, whereby I know what days I work, and what days I have off. My ex-husband would always look down on people who worked a regular job. He would say, “Only losers and those without any goals work in 9-5 jobs.” He wanted to be self-made, a self-made man, and well, in the end, that is what he became — self-made — but not wealthy or affluent — rather poor and in dire need of other people’s help. I didn’t want that for my life. I wanted to be responsible, to take care of myself and my child, and to not have to rely on others for their care or compassionate generosity.

Third, my life has satisfaction. I know my purpose. I know my calling. I know the plans the Lord has for my life and the plans are good. I know where I am going (spiritually), and I know that day in and day out, my life is moving toward the fulfillment of His will. I am working my way to my end — the glorious day of His return — and in doing so, I am content, satisfied. I am not just content in my own hand or accomplishment, but I am content in the plans He has made for me. You see, I am content in knowing that the plans the Lord has for me will bring me through this life and into the next. My salvation is assured. I am well-saved. My soul is where it needs to be, and He has satisfied it with His glorious and amazing presence. I am well because He is alive in me this good, good day.

Accepting the Truth

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with my life and to accept that that my life has been less than satisfying simply because of some poor decisions and choices I made early on in it. Some of these decisions were made in my youth, and well, since I wasn’t the most educated, informed, or even mature at the time, the decisions were made in haste and without a lot of forethought. Unfortunately, the biggest decision I made, the decision to get married, had long lasting consequences, and those consequences directly shaped and influenced much of my adult years.

My decision to get married was not a bad one, per se, but rather it was poorly made simply because I didn’t consider the long term results of my action. I didn’t consider my life partner and whether he was suited to me. You see, I found a nice guy to marry (or so I thought). When I met him, he appeared to be a young man with a future ahead of him. He had his education (so I thought), and he was working for a good company (so I thought). He came from a good family, a Christian family, and he seemed to be serious about his faith in God.

In my sheltered experience, he satisfied my simple needs. I wanted a man who loved God, lived a Christian life, worked hard, and desired to be married and raise a family. I wasn’t looking for fame or fortune. I wasn’t looking to be wealthy. I simply wanted a life that placed God at the center, and where I could live my life as I had been living it (under my parents roof). In truth, however, what I wanted was freedom from my parents control, which I thought was excessive and too strict. I wanted a purpose, too. I wanted to have a “life,” a career, and a job that I enjoyed. I wanted routine and regularity, but without the stress and the strict rules that came from my parents control. In short, what I really wanted was my own life. Yes, in hindsight, I wanted to be on my own, to be living as I desired, and to be in control of my days. Instead, I exchanged remote controllers — my parents for that of my husband — and in the end, I found myself dominated, manipulated and controlled to such an extent that I considered seriously ending my own life, twice.

I don’t blame my ex-husband anymore (I did for a long time). Rather, I blame myself and my failure to recognize that what I really wanted was to grow up and to be my own person. Had I simply chosen to get a job, move out on my own, and begin a career — I doubt seriously that I would have even paid attention to my ex-husband’s interest. I would not have found him attractive in any way, and I would have spotted those red flags more clearly simply because I would have had a more grown-up perspective, and more serious approach to life commitments such as marriage.

In my desire to be free from my parents, I ran from their home to marriage, in the hope that I would find safety and security (the two things I need most), but with some of the benefits of being a grown up. What I didn’t bargain for was the lies about his education, his job, his former life, his former girl friends and the trouble he had with them. I didn’t bargain for the over-reaching in laws that dominated and controlled our life or the lack of interest in stability and general life. Within three years of marriage, I knew that I had made such a horrible mistake. I knew that I had chosen poorly. I knew that my life, for all intents and purposes, was over. There was no hope, no way out, and no chance of improvement. I was stuck, for better or for worse, in a marriage that was not the Christian marriage I desired. In fact, the marriage was filled with debt, lies, tax issues, pornography, and lack of responsibility. There was no security and no stability. There was no Christ centered home. There was just the lust for things: sex, money, power, position, and place. My little dream world of a Christian marriage, a home and a family, was shattered long before we had even made any plans.

As I have reflected on these early experiences, I realized that the road to recovery was heaven-sent and heaven-blest. I lost my marriage due to infidelity. I lost my identity, formed through that marriage, as a consequence of the infidelity. But, the Lord restored my sense of self, and He gave me a renewed identity securely placed in Christ. As I came through the devastation and destruction of that life, I was reborn in more ways than one. I was already a Christ follower, but my devotion to the Lord deepened as I struggled to deal with my marriage, the cancer inside the marriage, and the eventual death of the marriage. The Lord used the heartbreak, the horror, and the hurt to help me come to Him fully. I fully surrendered my life to the Lord in 2006, well before the worst parts came to light. By the time that 2007 rolled around, and my life hit the skids, I was much more secure in my faith in God. Then in 2009, when the infidelity really came into focus, I was far more ready to place my faith and my trust in the Lord for His comfort and care.

As 2010 started, and the hard decision was made (whether to stay or to separate), I realized that I was strong enough to go it alone. Over the course of previous three years, the Lord helped me regain my sense of self worth, and He helped me see the deep and dark hole I was living in. His light helped me accept the truth of my situation, and with my utter and sheer devotion, I made a pledge to Him to seek Him and to follow Him all the days of my life. I committed to my marriage, and for a good year or so, I did everything possible to submit and yield to my husband, in order to show him preference, favor, and respect. In many ways, I did what Naomi said to Ruth — to humble herself before her master, Boaz — so that he would see her has worthy to be redeemed. But instead of redeeming my love and my affection, my ex-husband rejected it all the more. In fact, he turned further away from me as I turned further toward the Lord.

Although I didn’t formally separate from my ex-husband until November, 2011 — in many ways — I lived a separate life from him for approximately 22 months (January 2010-November 2011). We shared a home, but not a bed. We separated our income, and we lived separate lives but in the same house. I made the commitment to the Lord to be gracious, kind, and compassionate toward him. I did everything I could to honor him during that difficult period. I didn’t argue. I didn’t complain. I kept my commitments to the home — cleaning it, cooking for our family, caring for the inside and outside — all the while, he did nothing.  Most months, he couldn’t pay the mortgage or the utilities, so I would do that (thanks to my small income that the Lord blessed). The Lord provided security for me, and He opened doors for a career. I began to work part-time in retail (much to my ex’s chagrin), and I started graduate school online. I trusted the Lord, and I lived in horrible strain and stress as I leaned on Him for resolution. Of course, I had no idea what would happen eventually, and in time, the end did come. Our home was foreclosed and was sold at auction. I had moved out the month prior, and my ex found an apartment in the city. I took our son and the cats and some of our old things, but most went to the city dump or with my ex to his new place.

It has been five years since that move out, and in that time, my life has been blessed and favored. I didn’t come to complete terms with my life right away, even despite counseling for a year-and-half. Eventually, though, I did accept the terms. I agreed with the Lord that I played a part in the life I lived, and while my ex did inappropriate things that caused our eventual break, I walked into the marriage with my eyes wide open. I made the choice, and for all intents and purposes, I did the right thing. I honored it. I lived it. I committed to it. I kept my vow.

It is now 2016, the end of the year, and in less than five months, I will graduate with my PhD in Communication. I blog often about my dream of becoming a professor, and here I am, a professor of English, teaching online and on campus, and impacting and influencing students on a daily basis. I live with my parents now, but soon I will be on my own again. My son is with me (as well as the cats), and in time, we will be free to live someplace else, somewhere the Lord desires us to live. Until then, I continue to focus on the call the Lord has placed on my life, and I wait patiently for His deliverance, His provision that will enable me to take full charge, full responsibility, full authority over my life. He is good to me, so very good to me.

In Closing

I think about my blessings today and about how far I have come since my marriage ended. I realize now that the Lord redeemed me when my ex-husband chose to let me go. The Lord said, “I will be your husband,” and as such, He has done just that. He has provided a covering for me. He has given me security and provision. He has created stability in my life. He has given me a plan, a purpose, and a path to walk on, and in and through it all, He has been my constant and steady companion. His presence has provided such sweet satisfaction, and I have come to rely on and rest in Him. I love the Lord so deeply. I desire nothing else but the comfort of His abiding Spirit and the blessing and favor that comes from living a yielded, humble, and fully surrendered life. I am “all in” as they say. I want nothing — no — I desire nothing else because Christ is my ALL IN ALL.

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