December 1, 2016

Wrap Up

It is a good Thursday in sunny and cold, Phoenix. Yes, it is quite chilly outside. I took the garbage out around 7 a.m. and noticed a distinct chill in the air. My phone says it is 41 right now. Our high is expected to hit 61 today. I am loving the cool crisp fall days for sure. I am so thankful for our minimal change of seasons. It is the best we can expect, so I feel blessed this morning as I sit here at my desk, wrapped in my robe, and drinking my hot cup of coffee. It is good to be home, good to be alive, and good to be in the middle of my Father’s will for my life. He is good, so very good to me. Selah!

The Blessed Season

As I sit here this morning, I am thinking about how wonderful it is to be alive, to be living in the modern era, and to be able to enjoy modern conveniences. I think about my ancestors who lived in rural areas before electricity and furnaces that kept the whole house warm. Yes, there are so many modern conveniences I enjoy and use daily. I cannot imagine what it would be like to wake up on a chilly morning like today and have to tramp outside to the outhouse and then to the wood pile to get wood for my stove — just so I could heat my home and make my cup of coffee. In so many ways, I live a blessed life. I have assurance of good health and of prosperous work. I am able to plan for a future, to hope for better days, and to enjoy the benefits of a modern lifestyle. I used to long for the prairie, long for rural life of bygone eras. Now, I am very content to live in the present, to be thankful for the blessed technology and inventions that have made my life so much easier, and in many ways, better. Yes, I am thankful, so very thankful to God, to His good hand, and to His gracious mercy this good, good day.

I passed a good night last night. I love that phrase, “I passed a good night.” It is sort of an old-fashioned way of saying that I slept well. I did sleep pretty well. My new comforter is actually too warm for me. That in and of itself is hard to believe, but suffice to say, it is very warm. Furthermore, my duvet cover and shams came from Ikea yesterday. I put them on the bed, and I like them. I like the look. I am still waiting for my white coverlet to complete the “look,” but for all intents, I am really pleased with my purchases this holiday season.

I am also enjoying my new keyboard. I purchased a Logitech K750 solar keyboard from Apple, and it arrived the other day. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but after a couple days, I can type just as fast on it as I did my other wireless Logitech keyboard. This one looks more “Macish” and it has a very sleek design. Moreover, it is solar, which simply means that it takes no batteries. The pull was that it would charge itself in normal daylight and keep that charge for 3 months. I hope this is the case because I really do like it. It has a key-pad, and the keys are low enough for me to type fairly quickly without causing me to mistype. Overall, my $8 investment was well worth it (I used my two $25 gift cards and I paid the balance plus shipping). I am blessed. I am pleased. God is good.

It is a good day, therefore, to sit and to think about how blessed my life is — day in and day out — and how good it is to be in the middle of the Father’s will. I cannot stress this enough. Although, I am blessed, and I am starting to see financial blessings as well, being in the Father’s will doesn’t necessarily ensure that I will experience prosperity, though there is a good chance of it. It is more that I feel safe, and that I feel welcomed, free, and settled. Let me explain…

For so many years, I fretted over my every move. I wondered if I was making good decisions, and if the choices I made would have positive outcomes (or expected outcomes). I never felt settled. I never had any assurance that I was doing the “right thing.” Rather, I felt like it was hit or miss most of the time. I lived by my emotions, so if I felt a certain way, I did a certain thing. I wasn’t very logical or ordered or rational in my thinking. It was often like I was tossing darts at a dart board, simply hoping I would “hit something” and the dart would stick.

Now, I have this confidence and assurance that what I do is somehow “right.” I feel content in my choices, and I believe that I am living in a way that produces or will produce good results. I believe that the Lord has provided abundantly for my needs, and in this way, I worry less about my daily needs, and more about making continued good choices. It is like the rough bits have been smoothed out, and while I don’t always “know” what the Lord wants me to do, I feel confident that with His Holy Spirit as my guide, I will be “led” in the right way. Thus, I can take assurance that the choices I make, after prayerful consideration, thoughtful reflection, and considered analysis, will be good ones. I will be able to know for certain that the choices I make are in alignment with the Father’s will, and that means, while I may not always know if I am making the best choice in any given situation, I will know that the decision is safe, verified, and acceptable to Him. This means that I can take confidence in knowing that no matter what I decide, where I end up, or how I get to my next destination, the Lord will have given me approval, the “permission” so to speak, to go, and in this way, I can be certain that my way will be blessed.

In my former life, I never really knew what to expect. I had highs and lows, and often, I would cycle between them. I would make decisions rashly, and then I would find that the outcome wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. I suffered, mostly at my own hand, and some of the decisions I made were really not in my best interest. After I surrendered my life to Lord (fully), I prayed to the Lord, and I asked Him to help me learn how to be wise. I wanted to stop the cycle of up/down, and to moderate the highs and lows. I wanted to start making decisions that would help me and not hurt me. The Lord was gracious to me, and He helped me learn how to trust and rely upon Him for my needs. In doing so, I stopped making rash or haphazard decisions, and instead, I started to calculate my moves, consider options and forecast outcomes. In this way, I became shrewd in my decision making ability. I took my time, validated my approach, and reflected on my emotional state. I learned to stop impulse decision making in favor of the slow and steady decisions that reflected maturity. In the end, I found that I made less errors, less mistakes. I still made missteps, and I still felt unsure along the way. In fact, I would say that for a number of years, the options, the choices, were overwhelming to me. I literally had hundred of paths to choose from and I knew that I had to pick just one. I would vacillate between options, go back and forth, and even after I tried a couple efforts, I would retreat back to my baseline before starting again.

Overtime, however, those “fits and starts” were reduced, and then eliminated. Once I was able to determine which path fit me best, I started to settle toward one way only. As I became more settled, my heart was satisfied that the choice I made was a good one. I started to relax and to enjoy the process, and in time, I have come to see that learning how to make good choices was very hard for me. I simply didn’t understand how to go about doing it, and I often second-guessed my choice after I had made it. I think what helped me in the long run was my age. I mean, after all, I am not a spring chicken, and the choices I would make had far more serious consequences. In truth, I have less time to recover so it is vital that I don’t make major life mistakes now. I really have a short amount of time to accomplish the Lord’s will, and thus, I need to be calculating, confident, and calm in every decision I make. I cannot afford to mess my life up, not now, not anymore.

The Graciousness of God

God has graciously helped me learn how to make good choices. Over the past couple years, I have made significant choices that have turned out in my favor. For example, sticking with teaching as a profession has proven to me that I made a good decision. I vacillated on this occupation for a couple years, and I even tried to take a different path last summer. I ended up staying put, and I am so glad I did. I was in the middle of some difficult times, and frankly, emotionally I was in a vulnerable place. More so, I was being pressured to give up this path for something more “lucrative,” and in order to get the pressure to lessen, I applied to a couple of business-type jobs. I knew I had the Lord’s permission to pursue these positions because they were under His will for my life, but what I didn’t grasp was that they weren’t the best “fit” for me in non-financial ways. You see, working in analysis and research, well that aligns really well with my brain wiring and my strong intellectual abilities. However, the blessing I have experienced whereby I encourage and mentor students gave me something I couldn’t really experience in any other environment. It took some time for me to see the value in choosing a way that enabled me to work in my spiritual gifts rather than to simply do a job that aligned with my physical or mental (natural) skills.

Today, I feel so good about my path. I am not sure where I will end up or where I will be hired to teach full-time, but in all, I am very content to be a professor and to work in this field for the rest of my working career. I have contemplated other careers, and I even tried a couple (Advising at UOPX and Analysis at CVS), but in the end, this one path as suited me best. It is not the most lucrative, money-wise, but it is the most satisfying to me. I love my work, my students, and my schedule. In all things, this path has proven to be the best decision I have ever made.

Likewise, I could say, was the decision I made to trust the Lord for financial aid and pursue my Masters degree. I really struggled with going back to school, and I was so unsure that it was the right thing to do. I was separated from my husband then, but we still lived together. It had only been a couple months before that we made that awful decision to go our own way. We still shared almost everything, but I had slowly pulled away once he told me he wasn’t willing to let go of his first love (his college girlfriend, with whom he had reconnected over social media). I had bought my own car, and I was actively seeking work outside of his business. I had worked along side of him for 20 years, and frankly, it was all I knew how to do. The thought of having to choose a career after all those years was daunting. I considered website design, which I had done as part of my husband’s business, but I really wanted to be as far from that vein as possible. I tried to get into higher education administration, something I thought I would like to do, but the doors didn’t open for me. The Lord pressed on me the idea of going back to school, and well, the idea of getting a Masters just sounded so good to me. I was terrified of failing. I didn’t know how I would pay for it, and since we were married, unsure if I could get financial aid without my husband’s approval. It took a step of faith to submit my application, and within a month or two, I had my answer. Not only was I accepted, but I was granted financial aid. The door was blown wide open, and by the end of summer, I was a graduate student, bent on completing a Masters degree in English Literature.

Zoom forward to 2016, and I am a PhD candidate. I have been teaching English for almost five years, and while the journey has been so uncertain financially, the process has actually been incredibly smooth. I completed my MA in 2012, graduated with distinction, and then started at Regent University in 2013. I have completed my studies, also with distinction, and passed my qualification exams with flying colors. I am in the middle of my dissertation, and I am on track to graduate in May 2017. This whole journey was unexpected, unplanned, and unexplained, other than to say that the Lord suggested it as a plausible route for me, given my new found “single” status. It took a lot of faith to get me to this place in time. I had to trust the Lord for financial aid, scholarships and grants to pay for my education. I had to trust the Lord for teaching positions, which came slowly, and increased in availability with my experience level. Now, I teach 5-6 classes each semester, some on ground, and some online. The combination is starting to pay off for me, but the grind gets to me after a while. Still, I know that the pacing, mixed with the flexible schedule, really fits me well. It suits me. I am able to pick and choose my classes each semester, and I have total control (well not total, but a lot of control) over my classroom. I love the freedom I get, the freedom to be myself in the classroom, and the freedom to explore, engage, and encourage my students toward excellence. In all, teaching has given to me the sweet satisfaction I longed for through the years. I never felt satisfied, I never believed I made any difference, and now I enjoy that blessing every single day. I know I do make a difference, and praise be to God, it feels so good to be doing this work, this very special and privileged work.

The Blessing of the Father’s Will

It is a good thing to be in the Father’s will. For some people, that turn of phrase means nothing to them. For others, the idea of being in God’s will excites them to no end. And, then for others, the idea that God has a will for each life is confusing to them. I didn’t always believe that God had a plan for each life on earth. I didn’t believe that God cared about our choices and our careers. I lived my life pretty much as I wanted, and I made huge mistakes that caused me great suffering. I prayed for His covering, of course, and I asked Him to help me. But, I didn’t listen to Him, and most often it was after I had already headed down the wrong path.

As I matured, however, I learned that God actually cares about our decisions and our choices. He cares greatly for us, and He longs to help guide us. Scripture is clear on this point. God really does delight in the details of our lives. The problem is that most people, most Christian people, simply view God as distant and not that interested in the little things in life. After all, He is really busy with world peace, for example. Why would God care about a decision I make?

This view places God as a distant caregiver, someone who oversees the universe, but who doesn’t really get involved in the dailyness of life unless He desires to do it. He has a casual, laissez-faire attitude toward His creation. Many, many people, Christian and non-Christian, see God in this way. But, the Bible tells us this is not an accurate depiction of God. He is Creator, and as such, He cares for His creation so much that He gave the most blessed gift possible, the life of His own Son as a ransom for all. This is not the mark of a casual, not-very-interested God. Rather, this attitude and this action demonstrate God's love for us, that while we were sinners (cast out because of our sin), Christ died for us. He redeemed us because God loved us so much that He chose to send His Son as a Kinsmen-Redeemer — to redeem mankind from the effects of sin — to offer to all eternal life, life everlasting.

My view of God was radically altered when I experienced His love firsthand. I had been a Christian for a very long time, but I held a view that placed God as judge and jury, as holy and righteous, but as  punitive and difficult — not the loving, gracious savior — He really is. It took time for my life to be turned around and for my understanding of God’s grace and favor to alter my attitude and my thought processes. Once that happened, I began to see God in a new way, and as I studied the scriptures, specifically the Psalms and other Old Testament books, I came to see God as Almighty, Awesome, and worthy to be Worshipped. My view changed, and when it did, my entire life shifted from man-centered (with God floating around the perimeter) to God-centered (with man established within God’s overarching and commanding presence). In this way, I began to experience God’s control over my life, and I realized that with free will, I could still choose and go my own way (buyer beware) or I could submit and yield every thought (holding it captive) and every decision to His marvelous judgment and grace. As I began to surrender decisions, I also began to experience blessing. I began to see a plan unfold for my life where none had existed before, and as I walked in His plan, I experienced life in a new way.

My life didn’t mystically or magically improve, but over time, I saw great strides toward new levels of understanding, and with constant supplication, constant devotion, I began to see change all around me. Mostly, I saw it within me. I saw the change transform my life, and as I was transformed, my thinking, my desires, and my hopes changed as a result. I became newly made, convinced of God’s plan, and that He did desire for me to accomplish certain things in my life. I was coming to His mercy and goodness late in life, but I was coming with maturity, age, and enthusiasm. I was coming to Him as wholly devoted rather than partially interested. I wanted ALL of Him, and I wanted to experience full blessing through spending time in His presence. I used to say that I was drawn to the Father like a moth to the flame. I felt consumed by His presence, and still today, I can say that this is true. I find His being, His Spirit, and His character to be all-consuming, and in many ways, it is like a fire that consumes everything in its path. I have been consumed by Him, and in this way, I have found a lifestyle, a way of life that satisfies and soothes my soul. I am all in, so they say. I am all about Him, His way, His will, and His work. I desire to know nothing else but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Over the course of my life, I have experienced many things — some good and some painful and difficult — yet, despite it all, I have experienced the goodness of God. I have seen His handprints upon my life, and while I walked away from Him for a time, refusing to accept His call and His mandate for ministry, He never once let me go. He never once said, “I give up. I’ve had it with you!” No, He kept pursuing me, seeking me, longing for me to return to Him. Once I did, once I returned, it was blessed reunion, sweet times and wonderful praise. But, there was always this sense of pain, that I had caused such pain, such sorrow in the Father’s heart. I knew I was forgiven, but I also knew that I would keep on doing the same thing — causing the Father’s displeasure — because I was still bent on having it my way. Thankfully, I made the decision some 10-12 years ago to stop that pattern of behavior, and to trust God once and for all, so that I could start living my life as I should. These years have been golden to me. They have not been warm and fuzzy, mind you. They were fraught with great hardship, a lot of pain, and a lot of heartache. But, my Lord was constant. He was present, and His blessed hand rested on me. I learned a lot over these years, and in the end, the experiences contained within this period of time have radically shaped me, made me into this person today. I am who I am all because of the work of Christ in and through my life. It has been hard to let the battle go, to lay down my arms and no longer seek to go against the mighty and blessed hand of the Lord, but I know now that it is always in my best interest to agree with Him, to accept His gift of mercy, and to willingly follow along after Him. It always in my best — for my best — to let the Lord lead, guide, and provide for me. He does know what is best, and so long as I remain well within His blessed will, I am in the best place possible. I am where I belong, right where I belong.

In Closing

As I contemplate the blessed season that is upon us, I remember the years previous whereby I never knew what my days would bring or how I would survive through them. Today, I can say with great boldness that I know exactly where I will be in 5-10 or 15 years. I will be right where I am today, right in the middle of the Father’s will, and while my circumstances, my environment might change, my position, my place, will be secure. I will not be moved. I will not be shifted. I will remain faithful until the end. At the least, this is my prayer, this is my prayer this good, good day.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, 
and may your entire spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless 
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.
(1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 BSB)

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