December 31, 2016
Happy New Year’s Eve!
More so, I read the sob stories, the horrible stories of how republicans and conservatives were haters, racists, homophobes, and misogynists. It seemed that people, and I am using this term as a mass generalization, were dying or afraid of dying simply because the political system in the U.S. changed hands. Of course, it was overkill. It was hyperbole. It was mass hysteria, perpetuated by mainstream media that lives to cause riots, ruckus, and real fear among the citizenry of America. Nothing of that sort came to pass. The riots ceased after a couple weeks, the sobbing has slowly stopped, and the fear, while I am sure was well-meant, has given way to uneasiness and a “wait and see” attitude and approach.
With all of this in mind, just yesterday on social media, I saw so many well-meaning and sincere individuals call for “2016” to end quickly, as if the YEAR 2016, was to blame for all the pain, sorrow, and suffering they experienced as well as what others experienced around the world. It seems so surreal because for me because as I look back over the year, I see so many wonderful things that happened, so many positives, so many blessings. Yes, I am not oblivious to the hurt I see as well, but there is no way I can consider 2016 as anything but a very good year. In truth, I see this year as being one of the most significant years in my life, and what is more, this year will be my second highest for blog posts in the 12 years that I have maintained my blog on Blogger.com. Therefore, this fact says to me that 2016 was truly a year of wonderful highs, amazing achievement, and incredible tribute to God, who is my strength.
This morning, I am sitting at my computer and thinking about how wonderful this past year has been for me. I have been blessed — so well blessed — and through it all, I have overcome some incredibly difficult challenges. I have made amazing discoveries about myself, my wants, and my needs, and I have come to this place of settlement, of security, of feeling safe and sound. It has taken me a long time to process all the various details of my life — from my childhood to my early teens to my adult years and my marriage — and to deal with the sorrow and sadness that came as a result of unfortunate events and experiences. I made the decision about mid-year to let so much of the memory go, to no longer think about these past experiences, and to let them remain buried in the past.
Furthermore, as I made such huge strives forward in my program, passed my qualification exams and completed my proposal defense, I began to sense closure in many areas of my life. I began to see my former life drift away from me, and I began to see an end to my days as being transitory, as being in flux, and as never really feeling “set or settled.” It was near mid-fall when I started to see my life change drastically. I started to see my life as being something far more than what I thought possible. I started to see myself differently too, and in that way, I began to imagine a greater outcome than I had previously considered. You see, 2016 was a year of power posing, of power positioning, and of taking power over all the various aspects of my life that seemed to demand control. Instead of relenting, giving in, and accepting less, I reached my hand out and expected more. In doing so, I found that “more” was right at my finger tips, and with an outstretched hand, I began to experience growth, potential, and fundamental change as I considered options, opportunities, and other paths to walk on. Yes, I began to see myself differently, and in doing so, I realized that I didn’t have to settle for less, but rather, I could choose to settle for more. It was simply a matter of making my mind up and then choosing to do the work, the hard work, and to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve whatever goal was set before me.
Power. Position. Potential.
I learned in 2016 that some doors are closed permanently by the Lord. These doors are shut, bolted, and locked, and no matter how hard one tries to pull, push, or “pray them open," these doors will not give way. Then, I realized that there are a number of open doors, always open, that are easily available to us. These doors are often overlooked because they lead to paths that are not always attractively styled. These doors often lead to places where we really do not want to go, but the doors are never bolted, never shut, and never barred from us. Then there are doors with handles that appear closed, but in reality, they are closed and not locked. What is more is the fact that in order for these doors to open, one must simply turn the handle. Yes, in order to pass through these doors, one must choose to turn the handle and pull the door open.
In my review, I realized that a number of my “open doors” led to positions (jobs) that were easily found. I applied to several of these jobs mid-year, and I even had an interview for one during the summer. The door was easily accessed, and I simply walked through it, but the discovery on the other side was that the path was not very attractive, and the actual job itself was not something I wanted to do long-term. These open doors, thus, were easily accessed, but in the end, the path that flowed from them wasn’t something I wanted to do.
The doors that were shut to me, bolted and locked, were not an issue for me at all. I had already let so many of these doors be closed by the Lord, so these particular doors held no fascination for me. No, for me, the doors that were the most problematic were the ones that required my effort to open. You see, often as Christians, we believe that the only doors we are meant to walk through are the ones that are clearly marked “open.” Thus, we will take these easy doors, and we will assume that these doors are the Lord’s best for us. In some cases, these doors produce a good quality of life, and for many people, they find satisfaction in knowing they have followed a suitable path. But for some people, me in particular, the easy way never appeals to us. Instead, we choose the hard way, the difficult way, the challenging way. Let me explain…
I have always preferred the hard way, the difficult and challenging way, and I have always chosen to go the distance rather than to take the short cut. I don’t mean to say that I have always chosen the hard way over the easy as in disobedience to the Lord and His plans; no, not at all. Instead, what I am saying is that the hard way has always been the most attractive to me.
Consider it this way…
There are two paths that lead to the same destination. One is a smooth walkway that meanders next to a lovely river. The path is smooth, easy to walk, and generally requires little effort other than walking one step at a time.
The second path is a hike, a narrow and difficult path that requires great effort in order to remain on the path. The trail is strewn with rocks, and it weaves in and out of craggy passes. The trail doesn’t just meander peacefully along the river, rather it leads up to the mountain top, high above the river.
The scenery is breathtaking, but the effort to scale the mountain is challenging and even at times life-threatening and difficult. The two paths, however, lead to the same place. The one requires little to no effort while the other requires great skill and ability. The scenery along the way is vastly different as well. The peaceful walk passes by green meadows and pastures. The mountain hike includes glaciers and craggy bluffs where the sky meets the earth. There are mountain streams, and hidden lakes, and the trail never quite clearly flattens out. In fact, the mountain trail at times appears to end abruptly in the side of a hill or at the top of a cliff.
The two paths lead to the same place, but the choice of which to follow depends on personal preference. A casual walk or a mountain hike? Which do you prefer?
As I ponder my life, it is clear that I have chosen, consistently chosen, the mountain hike.
Therefore, as 2016 comes to a close, I realize that the path I am on is not an easy one. It is not a peaceful walk by the river, and no matter how nice that walk appears, I prefer the mountain hike. I desire challenge. I desire the hardship that comes with exertion (physical, mental, emotional) and I love the exhilaration of finally making it to the top, finally achieving the goal. To me, the pursuit of the goal is as exciting as the actual accomplishment, but the goal itself is what matters to me. The goal must be “mountain top” experience, and it must be significant, high enough, and worthy enough for me to sacrifice everything for, everything and everyone, in order to achieve it.
My PhD program was a mountain top experience. I never imagined how difficult it would be to accomplish this level of school. I never imagined how much sacrifice would be required in order to graduate with this degree. More so, I never considered the cost — the stress, the pain, the solitude — just to graduate and to be conferred as a doctor.
As I look back on 2016, I see the mountain path below me. I see where I am on the trail toward the top. I am not to the top yet, but I am close, so very close. I need to reach the top, but there are some challenges in my way. I have to work around some difficult corners, and unless I am careful, I may end up getting stalled. No, I must keep on moving, keep on reaching for the next handhold so that I don’t stop short, don’t stop so close to accomplishing my goal.
Consequently, my year in review includes so many wonderful experiences that have changed me, inside and out, and that have pushed me further and farther than I ever believed possible. I am in this wonderful place right now, and I am about to embark on the next leg of the journey. I am about to take a step forward, and in doing so, I will be propelled onto the next level, the next plateau where I can rest a while before resuming my mountain top experience. Yes, I need to rest, and the next plateau will afford me some down time, some rest time, but I will not stop, I will not sit there for long. No, I will pack up my things, and I will move on. I will keep on moving until I reach my final destination, my final stop on this journey called life.
It is considered appropriate to set out some resolutions for the New Year. My resolutions revolve around my PhD program, but also around my finding and securing a full-time teaching position. I have always believed, and I still do, that 2017 was my YEAR. I mean by this that 2017 would be the year I would graduate with my PhD, and it would be the last year I lived in Phoenix, Arizona. I have believed this was the case for close to 10 years, and today, on December 31, 2016, I can say I believe it even more strongly than ever before. And, in reflection, I can say that the past ten years have been significant for me, and that they have served as the catalyst that propelled me to this place where I am today.
It was in 2007 when I made the difficult discovery that my marriage was not what I thought it had been previously (solid, safe, and secure after 23 years together). Instead, I learned the awful truth that my marriage was a sham, and that I was being lied to and fooled into thinking that fidelity, honor, loyalty, were shared ideals when in fact, they were not. It would be three years before my marriage came to an end, and even though the final divorce degree wouldn’t happen for seven years, the fact was that the preceding period was a time of great uncertainty along with incredible pain and sorrow.
With my marriage in crisis, I had several options open to me. One was to continue to stay put, to remain in a dead marriage. I was strongly encouraged by my Christian friends and family to remain in my marriage and to not think about leaving it, no matter how difficult, trying, or challenging it was to me. I was told that this was what it meant to “keep your vow,” and regardless of whether my husband wanted this or not, it was my choice to sacrifice my happiness, my well-being, my sanctity for the preservation of the vow.
The second option was to walk away, to simply trash the past years memories, and rush out and find a new “love” to fill the void. I was encouraged to follow “my heart” by many well-meaning and good-hearted people I knew from business. They felt I was justified, and that as a reward for being betrayed, I had every right to step out and play the field (regardless of whether I was divorced or not).
The third option was to remain where I was for a time, and to spend that time working toward developing a plan that would provide for my welfare as a single person as well as my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. This option was not put forth by my Christian family or friends. It was not supported by my business associates and non-religious acquaintances. No, this option was revealed to me through prayer, through supplication, and through a deep and difficult dive into the Word of God. After much consideration, prayer, and yes, counseling, I chose the third option. I chose to remain in my marriage for a time (four years), and I took that time to create a way out, so to speak. I made a plan, set some goals, and began work toward creating a new life for myself. And, part of this new life included returning to school.
In 2010, I started a master’s program in Literature. This masters degree program was completed in 2012, and shortly thereafter, I found work as an adjunct instructor. In 2013, the year after I had graduated, I started a PhD program, and now four years later, I am getting ready to graduate again. What is more, since 2013, I have become a successful college instructor. I have learned how to teach on campus as well as online, and I have the blessing of teaching for several (count five) universities.
Moreover, in 2011, I moved into my very first home (on my own), and I lived there for almost two years. In 2013, in order to focus on my PhD, I made the difficult decision to move home, to live with my parents, so that I could teach part-time while I went to school full-time. I gave up a lot — mostly my freedom and my power — in order to live with my parents after some 30 years away. It has not been a wonderful experience, but it has been successful. I have been able to provide care for my parents as they struggle and come to terms with their end of life. Both of my parents are in failing health, and both struggle with day-to-day care issues. My place in this shared home has served all of us well. I have had to sacrifice my privacy, my personal style, and my preferences for just about everything in order to live here, but I have made those sacrifices all for the sake of my goal.
My future seems to hold untold possibilities. I have options now when before I had none. I am a published scholar. I am ABD and will be PhD in less than 3-4 months time. I have four solid years of teaching, and I have just been hired to teach online at a very prestigious school. I am still adjunct, but in time, this will be a way to earn secondary income (my plan for retirement). I believe that in 2017, I will have a full-time faculty, tenure-track, position. I believe that I will be offered full-time employment, and with that offer will come another round of sacrifices. Yes, I will have to sacrifice my life here in Phoenix as I move to this new location. I will have to leave my precious boy behind as he finishes his bachelors degree at ACU. I will leave the memories I have of Phoenix, and I will leave my connections — to church, to friends, to coworkers — and to everything I have held onto so tightly the past 20 years. I will be asked to let all of this go in order to take on the next leg of my journey. I will have to move by myself across the country. I will have to find a home, a place to live, and organize support services. I will have to manage my life without my parents help and security, and I will have to live alone, all alone, for a time while I engage in teaching, scholarship, and life in this new unknown place.
My future is bright, but it is scary for me to think about and ponder. I am facing a wall, a cliff really, that appears unscalable. Yet, the Lord is with me, and He is telling me that there is a way around this sheer cliff wall. He has said to me, “Trust me,” and I have said, “Yes, Lord, I will trust you.” In return, He has held out His hand, and He has offered to lift me up, to help me over this insurmountable obstacle that is directly in front of me. I trust Him with my life, with my future, with my heart, and He has said to me, “It is Okay — I’ve got you covered.” I relax, and I take a deep breath, and I say, “Yes, Lord, I believe you have me well-covered this good, good day.”
Moving on means letting go, and letting go is difficult to do. I am ready to let go, and I am eager to experience the next mountain. Yet, I am afraid of what the costs will be to me. How much more will I be asked to let go, to leave behind? I think of Lot and his wife, and the fact that the Lord commanded them to go and to not look back. I want to be ready to go and not look back, but I know that to do that means great hardship for me, great sadness, and even greater sorrow. Still, letting go is a good thing. It means that with open hands, I am available to receive more, to hold new things in my hands. I ask the Lord to show me how to do this work, how to do this business, and how to go where He is leading me to go. I ask the Lord to help me accept that which I cannot change, and to forget that which seems to be difficult to forget. I ask Him to show me how to be a professor, how to do this work, to engage in this work, and how to be “scholar-like” so that I can perform in this arena. I ask Him to help me mentor my son, to be an encouragement to him as he seeks God’s will for His life. I ask Him to care for my parents, to provide for their end of days because I see that I am not equipped or enabled to do so. I need His help. I need Him to provide a place for them.
In all of this review, reflection, and resolution, one thing becomes increasingly clear for me. I am in this place because of His choosing. I don’t believe the Lord ended my marriage, but what I do believe is that He provided a way out of it. I don’t believe that it was His intention for me to live alone, not after committing to a vow that says to love in “better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” I do believe, however, that when that vow was broken, I was set free to choose a path, and I chose the path that He showed me. I chose to follow Him out of the brokenness of my life and into the blessedness of His life. I have followed that path for 7 years, and now, I am about to follow it again for another 7 years. In biblical terms, 7 is a blessed number. It represents Him, and I believe that my life has followed biblical terms — years — or times. For example, I started my PhD program in my Jubilee year. It was at this time that many things were restored to me (part of the biblical commandment), amongst them my personal liberty, my personal property, and the beginning of a simple life. More so, this new year will be a sabbatic year for me — a year of release. I know it sounds odd, but this is how I see it. I have believed, and I still firmly do believe, that every seven years, there is a rest, a sabbatic rest. My seventh year is coming up tomorrow, and this means that I will find rest in the year. This brings me great cheer and joy because I have worked very, very hard these past seven years. I am so ready for a sabbatic rest period.
As I close out this blog post for today as well as for the year, I am reminded of His faithfulness to His people, and how the Lord has determined the days, the months, and the years of His provision. For me, 2017 is a big year. Not only will I graduate with my PhD, but I will also find that blessed rest as the Lord provides a full-time job for me. I will enter His sabbatic rest for a year, and in this way, I will find refreshment as I consider what plans He has for me for the next seven years of my life. My life is full and filled with great plans for His work, and in and through that work, I feel His blessing and favor upon my life. I am prospering in His way, and as He provides for me, I am finding His amazing protection and His peace rest upon me. I am safe. I am secure. I am settled. He is good to me, so very, very good to me! Selah!