March 22, 2017

Recovering from Stress

It is Wednesday, and I am at home resting. It is the middle of spring break, and frankly, I am finally starting to feel relaxed. The past couple days have been really slow and well, boring. I know that sounds funny, but after spending four years working non-stop on my school work, the abrupt stop has been difficult to handle. It is like a train rushing full steam ahead and then suddenly screeches to a halt when someone pulls the emergency stop line. My life has come to a crashing halt, and while I have finally arrived — achieved my goal — there is this sense of “is this it?” Is this all there is to finishing a PhD? In truth, I am ecstatic about finishing, and I am so grateful to the Lord for providing a way for me to finish in such a short amount of time. I am happy, joyously happy, that this part, this season of my life, is over. But, there is this sadness too. My good friend, Heather, said she felt bittersweet, and I agree. I feel the same way. I am happy to finish, but sad to leave the experience behind. Getting my PhD was one of the hardest pursuits I have ever engaged in and it took great sacrifice and effort to achieve it. I worked tirelessly for four years and now this episode is over. This chapter has ended, and I am moving on to the next chapter of my life.
Next Move

As I sit here this week, I cannot help but think about how the Lord brought me to this place and this time. I mean, if I am honest, the past seven years have been dedicated to one goal — graduating with my doctoral degree. Second, after graduating, the result of obtaining that degree will be the receipt of a full-time position as a professor. Then, once that step is completed, I will begin to do the work the Lord has set out for me to do (as in communication and the church). So for all intents and purposes, the degree part is done. My dissertation has been proofed and submitted to the library (pending ProQuest’s receipt), which means, that I will officially graduate in May. My official degree will be conferred at some point thereafter, probably in June. However, technically, I am graduated. I can wear the moniker, Dr., and I can advertise myself as a Dr. on my resume/cv and apply for jobs as such. I have what is known in the business as a “PhD in hand” or I will, I mean, by the time school begins next August. This means that when I apply to jobs where this is a requirement, I can honestly say, “Yes” when asked if my degree will be conferred within the timeframe stated.

In all, I have grown tremendously as a person through this process. I mean, when I started graduate school back in 2010, I was still pretty tentative about my abilities. I felt good about my overall ability to do work, and of course, I had a lot of success throughout my life (with various jobs or tasks), but I still felt like I was a “no one” or that my life really wasn’t special or unique. I mean to say, that I felt like I wasn’t anyone “special”. Even after I graduated from Mercy College, I felt as if I was no different. My master’s program was great, don’t get me wrong, and I loved what I learned as I studied  literature at this level. But, truth be told, I was “one of many,” meaning that I was just like many of my colleagues who had their master degree (in business, music, or some other field). I felt average among my peers, and while I enjoyed the blessing of having my masters’ degree, I really didn’t feel like I had done that much, achieved that much, or received that much recognition or fame, so to speak. I was pretty much the same person.

Then, I enrolled in a doctoral program at Regent University, and well, my life changed. Not only did I have to change careers, but I had to put most of my life — my home life, my relationships, my work, etc., — on hold. I had to stop everything so that I could focus on this one goal. In the pursuit of graduating, I worked harder than I had worked previously. I pushed myself, challenged myself, and proved to myself that not only could I be a scholar, but that I had the chops to be a full-time faculty person at a major university. I worked without ceasing, and in the end, I finished my program with a 4.0 GPA, a strong dissertation, and an even stronger feeling of accomplishment that I could have imagined possible. I can say today that I believe the words of Paul when he said, “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me.” I can do all things, and I mean all things — anything — the Lord asks me to do, I believe I can do it. Of course, I can do it with His help, and I give Him all the praise, the honor, and the glory for what He has done with me, in me, and through me. He receives the praise. He receives the honor. And, He receives the glory for His amazing and enabling work this good, good day.

Now, I feel like this door has closed behind me, and it is shut permanently. I can never go back to where I once was; no, I can only go forward now. It is funny how just three-four months ago, I was panicked about the future. I felt so unsure, tentative, and I had this worried sense of “will I make it” constantly in my thoughts. I felt confident that the Lord would see me through to the end, but there was a part of me that simply didn’t know what would be the “next steps” involved.

Yet, now I see that the Lord has moved me into this place of calmness, stress free waters, so to speak. The previous churn of the river has puddled out and I am floating freely upon the still glassy water. It is a good place to rest. It is a good place to float free. Yet, as I sit here and float, I realize that all of the panic and the dread leading up to this place was worth the effort, the fight, and now that I am on the other side of that rough water, I can look back over my life and see His hand, His guidance, and He complete sustenance as He has provided for me. In truth, I am where I am today because He determined it would be good for me. He said, “It would be good for you to do this thing” and then He made a way. I agreed. I followed. I obeyed, but He provided the tools, the resources, and even the place so that I could accomplish this amazing and wonderful goal.

What does the Lord intend to do next in my life?

As I ponder my next steps, the next move, so to speak, I can only think that whatever the Lord determines for me next, it will be BIG, BOLD, and BETTER than what has come to pass previously. I believe in BIG things from my God, and He has made me ready for the next task, the next goal, and the next step in my progress toward His Celestial City.

Some Ideas to Ponder

Right now, I think the “next” step on my to-do list is to finish the semester, which simply means to focus on my students, attend to my duties as instructor, and complete the work assigned to me. I have 5 more weeks of school on campus, and my online courses just started over (we are beginning week 2).

After the semester ends, I will be free for most of the summer. I have one class scheduled at Regent, and there is a good chance that I will start at Grantham in June or July. I hope this is the case as it would provide much needed income over my dry summer month. Fall contracts are in place at GCU, but if I can pick up enough work elsewhere, I might opt-out of them if the Lord permits me to do so. I don’t really mind teaching out there again, but part of me is so ready to move on, to try something new, and to begin a new work or new job. I will have to wait and see, so for now, I feel content to remain where I am and to wait for the Lord to open up the next door for me to walk on through toward the fulfillment of His plan.

Outside of the immediate plans for work, I also have a trip planned to VA for graduation, and a potential trip planned to Indiana (though we haven’t made any reservations for this trip). My summer as of today is free and clear (praise God) and I do plan to enjoy the down time, the free time, and the low stress of the summer months. Of course, that is assuming that nothing serious or bad happens (circumstances or situations beyond my control). God be praised, my prayer is that nothing serious or unfortunate occurs over the summer.

In thinking about my next steps, there are a couple things I’d like to do or see happen that come to mind. First off, I do need a full-time job. I have decided that working all of these part-time jobs, while a good thing, a blessed thing, can also be a difficult and stressful thing. I am content to remain as I am, but I also see blessing in downsizing and in working in one job that pushes me further in my career. I’ve been considering this for a while now, but I think the Lord desires that I remain where I am for the short-term only. This means that while I love my students at GCU, I honestly do not think this is the school of His choice, long-term. GCU gave me the opportunity to teach, and for that, I am so thankful. But, now that I have my PhD, I realize that I need to be established in a school that respects my area of specialization. GCU is a school that respects hard work, and as such, expects their faculty to work hard, but they do not really push scholarship or treat faculty the way that other, more research oriented, schools do. I am a work horse out there, and while it has been a good thing while in school, I feel like I am ready to take off the training wheels and start riding my bike like a big girl. In truth, I am ready to graduate and move away from GCU, and begin my career as Assistant or Associate Professor at a school where I would be awarded tenure-track.

Last week, after I finished my defense, my dissertation committee chair asked me what classes I intended to teach as part of my future academic career. He basically wanted to know if I would continue to teach a wide range of classes or if I would specialize in one area. I started thinking about his word to me, and really, I understand what he is saying. You see, most full-time faculty teach one class in order to define their subject area, develop strategies, and then pursue scholarship with this work in mind. As adjunct, I teach composition, primarily, and sometimes literature part-time at many schools. My field is communication, yet I haven’t taught communication since last fall (2016). This means that for now, I am pretty much situated in English since this is where I found work easily over the past couple years of schooling. However, with my new job at Grantham University (still part-time), I will begin teaching other communication courses as well as English. The interim chair said she needed me to teach a variety of classes, and while I am happy to do that because I need the income, I really need to decide if I will focus on one aspect of communication for my specialization.

I’ve prayed about this for a couple week’s now, and my gut is telling me that the Lord desires me to begin this transition soon. I believe He desires me to focus on crisis and small group communication because both are related to my interest in organizational communication and culture and identity studies. However, until He opens that door, I need to remain where I am — and that means — teaching English. As such, I am thinking now that the full-time position I will be offered will be in Communication and not in English. I will continue to teach composition and some literature as a side option only (through my online courses). This means that I need to move into my field of communication this summer. I need to find a job where I can teach these types of courses and where I can begin to develop skill and experience in these areas within my specialization. At present, the only school where I will teach these courses is through Grantham (Lord willing).

I am open to teaching at any school of the Lord’s choosing. He will lead me to a position that will offer the right combination of courses. The pay will be within His parameters, and hopefully, the school will provide benefits to me so I can let go of Obama Care. Also, while I am hoping for online work, I will teach on campus as the Lord leads, guides, and provides for me. If He wants me to teach FTF, so be it. My preference and my choice is online simply because it gives me the most freedom. Yet, I understand that I may have to take on work as full-time faculty on campus. Of course, the Lord knows my needs, and I am trusting Him to provide for me.

It is really crazy to think that I am about to leave the safety net of English for a deep dive into the pool of communication. After all, I have spent the past four years studying Communication, and praise be to God, I have learned so much about this particular field of study. In some ways, I wish I would have been teaching communication all along, but I think the Lord put me in Composition, in particular, so that I would have the opportunity to teach online as a retirement strategy. I always thought this was my focus, but I could never grasp why He would have me study communication only to work in English. I really do not fit in English, and it is obvious to me now as I look for work. The open positions ask for PhD in Literature or in Rhetoric and Composition and not Communication. Thus, I need to move to my field now, and to seek work where I can make a name for myself as a scholar.

As I begin this process of moving from one field to another, I realize that I have the blessed opportunity to remain connected to English virtually. I have the opportunity to teach online at several schools and enjoy helping students write good essays. I think the truth dawned on me the other day when one of my peers was helping a student in my class. He was working with this student to help her write, but he was instructing her at such an advanced level. He was pushing her ahead of where she should be as a freshman. I appreciated his tenor and his interest, but I was like, “This is so unnecessary.” You are pressuring this student to perform when she is simply learning to express herself well. I teach writing freedom, creative expression, and the interest in writing as a love, a process, and a journey. I do not teach it compositionally, and that is why I don’t fit well in composition courses today. I simply do not fit in this way. I think this reality has been coming to me for a long, long while, and despite my unwillingness to accept it, I realize now that I need to go. The Lord is showing me an out, a way out, and I have to take it.

I am a communications scholar who teaches in English. I need to move to my own field and begin teaching what I know as my subject area. I need to move now.
In Closing

I am ready now, today, I mean, to let this go. I am ready to pack up my things, and to exit out of English and to embrace my field of study, to embrace communication. I embrace it with the thought that this is what the Lord intends for me to pursue — with a passion and intensity — and I need to make communication as much my home as English once was. I am not an English teacher anymore. I am a communications professor, and it is time I wear this hat and proudly begin to represent my field in and among my peers, my colleagues, and my students at the university of His choosing.

What does this mean for me today? Well, I really think it means that I am ready to be moved by the Lord into a position of His choosing, for His name, and to bring Him praise. I am ready to do this work, this level of work, and as such, I am ready to begin to study, to write, and to publish articles that serve to promote me, to polish me, and to open doors to professional opportunities within Communication.

Lastly, as I process this change, I cannot help but think that this is what the Lord has wanted for a long time, but that I was hesitant to trust Him to develop me as a teacher and a scholar. I know that I enjoyed teaching communication previously, but that I felt more “safe” in composition classes. Now, though, I feel like I am being pushed out and in this way, I am being told to “move on.” I need to move on, I know this is the case, but I guess, I didn’t think it would come this way. Thus, today, I accept this as a fact, that the Lord intends to open a door somewhere wonderful, and within that wonderful school, I will finally find my perfect “fit.”

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