Sunday, March 27, 2011

Casting Cares

So my sixth verse for SSMT was Philippians 4:6, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God."

I don't seem to be learning this one very well. You see, it's 3:30 a.m., and I haven't slept yet. In fact, I've been struggling with severe insomnia for the last few months.  I've never had insomnia before, so it's been very difficult on me physically and emotionally.

I would really like to avoid taking medicine every night. So this is my beginning of presenting my requests to God so He can deal with them and help me figure out how to handle the stress and anxiety that comes with all of these things.

Father, here are some of the things that are weighing so heavily on my mind. Please help me to learn how to really give these over to you. Remind me that I don't have to be in control. You, o Lord, are enough.. You are strong enough to hold me up. You are powerful enough to control all of these things. You are intelligent enough to design perfect plans to deal with these things. You are loving enough to never leave me alone in these things. You are merciful enough to provide a way to deal with these issues or to completely end them.

1. Finances - paycheck ends after May 31st, and I currently have about $2500 in bills and not that much money in my account. I also worry that the state will reduce my fiancee's teaching salary again and that we won't have enough income to pay our bills each month. I confess that you are Jehovah Jireh, the Lord Provider, and I ask you to help me trust that You will provide for these bills.

2. Mom's health - you know how much I worry about losing Mom. I'm so grateful that you've given us the last two years, but despite that gratefulness, I fear that I'll lose her soon. I don't know how to get through the week without talking with her. She's my best friend. Help me to remember that You are the one who numbers our days. You. Not cancer. Not doctors. You. You know exactly when each of us will come home. Help me to remember that you hold us in your hands, and that when you bring Mom home to your arms, you won't leave me alone. Help me to trust that you will provide all of us with what we need for what's to come.

3. My health and my fiancee's health - I worry about our collective health issues. I worry that we might not be able to have children. I worry about whether our bodies will allow us to take care of children. I worry that we will never know days without pain. Lord, help me to trust you in this. Help me to trust that you have a perfect plan, whether that includes biological children or adopted children or something else entirely. Help me to trust that you would give us the strength we need if your plan includes children.

4. My career - I think this one has been harder than I ever expected. I have a lot of peace about quitting the PhD program. I really do. But the uncertainty of the future is crushing a bit. I don't know what to do. I don't know if I'll even be able to stay in teaching. I don't know where to look. I am so lost when it comes to this. O Jesus, you tell me not to worry about tomorrow. You tell me that you hold me in your hand, and that your will is perfect. I know that you led me to this place. Help me to hold on to all that I know about you.  Help me to resist the self-doubt and all the insecurities and lies satan tries to tell me to get me off track.

There are more. Many, many more. But these are the most important ones right now. O Jesus, take these burdens and give me the strength to stand. And the peace to sleep again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

God-driven encounter

Before I get to the good part, I have to lament for just a minute. I think I strained my left pectoral muscle. This morning I suddenly woke up to a great deal of pain stretching from my sternum and left breast up to my collar bone and stretching over to my left arm is SO sore. I've been using my heating pad, and that has helped. But wow. I'm guessing it's from being sick all weekend and the strain it took on my muscles. I just pray it relaxes soon. It's disconcerting to have pain that feels like it's inside your breast when it's really from your muscles and tendons. So it's more rest for me now that teaching is done for the day.

But anyway, on to what I wanted to write about. I had a God-driven encounter today. I finished teaching and was driving home afterward when I suddenly turned in to a parking lot and decided to try a restaurant that I've passed every work day for the last 7 months but had never tried. I thought it was a fast food-ish pita place, based on the name. It turned out to be a sit-down restaurant.

Now, I normally don't eat in sit-down restaurants by myself. I feel awkward and out of place and I'd rather eat at home. But I was so hungry and the food on the menu (pitas, Mediterranean platters, chicken schwarma, gyros, etc.) all sounded delicious. So I went in, sat and ordered, and eventually ate an absolutely delicious chicken pita sandwich with garlic potatoes on the side.

I noticed that a particular woman was staring at me as she left the place, but didn't think much of it. About 10 minutes later, though, when I was getting ready to leave, I noticed one of my former TAs sitting on the other side of the room with his young daughter. So I went over to talk to him.

While our conversation wasn't spiritual in nature, I'm still convinced that God led me there so I could talk with him. Things have been changing rapidly in the department here, with the university choosing to "disestablish" the PhD program - in which he is a first-year student. I had been quite worried about him and his family since I heard the news. God gave me the opportunity to talk to him about what the faculty have been saying, what some of his options are within the state at the other state universities, and about resources that I have at my former university that might be helpful for him.

We ended up talking for something like an hour, and when it was time for me to go, he said that he was so thankful because his own advisor hasn't really sat down with him and talked with him in that way.

Again, I know this wasn't about spiritual things, but I feel strongly that God had me go to a place I've ignored for 7 months so I could be of some help to him and his family. It turns out that the woman who stared at me is his wife - she had wanted to meet me, but was at risk of being late for a meeting at work, so she didn't introduce herself.

I just hope that things work out for them. Things are so uncertain these days. But I'm glad that God led me even when I wasn't expecting it. :-)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


So God hit me upside the head a few minutes ago. I was considering what to do for the Living Proof Ministries Siesta Scripture Memory Team #6.  As I've said, I've pledged to commit 24 verses to memory this year. I realized that one of the reasons I've had such a hard time with the last one was that it wasn't speaking to me about something right now- I chose it because I love the message, but I didn't follow God's leading. And yes, we're having a conversation about that one...

But I was browsing some of the other ladies' verses and one had chosen Philippians 4:6, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God


Did you hear that? That was God hitting me on the back of the head (gently, at least, but firmly). He said quite clearly, "My child, you need to learn this one. Not just to memorize, but you need to start living it. You worry FAR too much, and you need not."

You see, I am a worrier. I got it from my mother and my grandmother. They are legendary worriers. But I'm at least a princess-level, if not the queen worrier in the family. It's worse when my migraines flare up, due to the way migraine attacks affect mood and rational thinking.  It also can be worse at night. Earlier this week, I had a major worry attack, and it threw my fiancee for a loop. He loves me, but really didn't know how to comfort me at all.

My worrying brain told me I have tons to worry about. My mom's cancer fight. My aunt's cancer fight. His mom's thyroid surgery next month. His grandmother's declining health. My 3 grandparents' health concerns. My unemployment after May. Finances. My health. His health. The cats' ability to coexist. And more.

But this morning, God said clearly: Your problem isn't anxiety. It's pride. You continue to think that it's all up to you to "think ahead," as you call it. You don't really trust that I'm taking care of it. You keep thinking that you are in charge. (Ha haha! Sorry, but that is pretty funny.) You need to admit this area of pride and start really committing your worries to me. Let me take care of them. I am bigger than all of your problems.

To support this, here are some other things God has said in His word to confirm it:

1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you!

Matthew 6:33-34 But seek first his kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Ephesians 3:20 Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever, Amen!

Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply all your needs, according to His riches in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 2:18 Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.

Jude 1:24-25 To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore, Amen!

These are just a *very small* selection of the verses that emphasize God's desire and ability to take care of us. So, if you're like me, take heart and ask God to help you trust that He really means what He says. Our God is ABLE. Praise Him!

Monday, March 14, 2011

A good day

I know I haven't done as much writing on here as I'd have liked the last few days, but it was a hard week - I had to create and give two midterm exams but also had to calculate and submit mid-semester grades for all 150 of my students. That took forever! (Well, okay, it took about 10 hours of grading and calculating, but in two days, that was a lot of work.) Thankfully, this week is spring break both for me and my fiancee, so I get to spend the whole week down here with him and our cats. The one negative to this is that I have to sleep on a couch for a week, but oh well.
Today was my third day here, and it was a wonderful day, for a few reasons:

1. I was with my fiancee, all day, on a Monday - hasn't happened more than twice since the semester began, since we both teach 5 days a week.
2. I felt good enough to work out this morning before he woke up, and I'm beginning to see results from my cardio/weights workouts.  I definitely feel better about my body and I'm getting stronger. This is a wonderful feeling!
3. I had NO PAIN today.
--> Let that one sink in. I had NO pain. My back didn't hurt. My sinuses didn't hurt. My jaw wasn't swollen. My migraines didn't flare up. I also had no problems with my low blood pressure. I never got dizzy. I got through the entire day, from 7:30 a.m. until now (11 p.m.) like a normal person! That almost never happens. In fact, I can't honestly remember the last time I felt this good. I'm still dealing with my cold, but other than a few coughing fits and not being able to breathe through my nose, today was an absolutely phenomenal day. Praise the LORD for His goodness to me!
4. I got to cook for us. Unfortunately, the recipe I used ended up being too spicy for both of us (which, for me, is a rare thing), but the flavors were actually delicious. Who knew that orange marmalade could be a key ingredient in delicious chicken burritos?
5. My fiancee's cat didn't attack my cat more than twice. This is an improvement!

Tomorrow is the 15th, which means it's time for another scripture to memorize. I don't know yet what I am going to use for this 6th verse. I have to confess not knowing my 5th one as well as I'd like. With all of the stress at work the last two weeks, I confess that I didn't focus on this one as much as I did the previous 4. In order, they have been:

January 1: Numbers 23: 19 - God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind. Does He speak and not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?

January 15: Daniel 3:17-18 - If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us and will deliver us from your hand, o king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, o king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

February 1: Isaiah 43:19 - See, I am doing a new thing! Even now it springs up - do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

February 15: Psalm 4:4 - In your anger, do not sin: when you lie in your beds, search your hearts and be silent.

March 1: John 10:27-29 - My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish: no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.

For some reason, I always get tripped up with "I know them, and they follow me" - I want to switch it around, or say that "they know me," but then I get messed up and have to look it up. So that means for the rest of this month, I will have to practice two of them to get them in my head more.

So this post definitely isn't as deep as some of my others, but I am just so thankful that God gave me such a wonderful day today. I am so blessed by my Father in heaven. I am thankful for the lack of pain, the time with my fiancee, the rest from work, the provision of a home and family and job, and for His daily mercies.

I hope you all have had as wonderful a day!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The loosener of knots

I'm back in my Daniel study again after lapsing a bit this last week. It's no excuse, but being sick left me so tired, I chose the easy route and did not engage in active bible study the last few days. Lord, please change this about me so that I might not choose the easy way of this world, but give me a heart that chooses you in every circumstance!

I'm at the point in Daniel where king Belshazzar has been frightened to death by handwriting on the wall. The queen mother comes and tells him about a Jew named Daniel, who "was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems" (Daniel 5:12).

That last phrase, "solve difficult problems," in Aramaic is literally "the loosening of knots," implying that Daniel could loosen "knotty" things or difficulties. The question was then posed: what knots do you wish God would enable you to loosen?

I have to admit, I had no idea when I came across the question. What in my life is "knotty"? I don't know.

But what if I phrase it a different way: what is there in my life that ties me up, or entangles me?

Ah, now, that is easier to answer.
1. My temper - I don't get "angry" so much as frustrated, and I have been frustrated a lot this past year. It does no one any good, and only works to entangle me in sin.

2. My tongue - ain't this the truth for most all of us? How often do our tongues get us in trouble? Cursing. Using the name of the LORD in an unholy way. Gossiping. Speaking less than the truth. Convincing ourselves (or, worse, others) that the lies Satan tells us are the truth.

3. My self-reliance - here I am not talking about physical reliance, but that ridiculous part of my ego that says I can handle things on my own. The part that tries to tell me that I don't really need God's help, I can figure out life, the universe, and everything without Him. The part that makes me worry until I'm sick about things I have no control over because it says I should have control.

There are others as well. Oh, how these have tied me - chained me, really - to sin. They tie me to the worst parts of myself, and work to prevent the glorious mercies of God from transforming me like He desires to do.

But, friends, there is glorious, wonderful news for all of us who tie ourselves up until we are strangling in our sin and pride.

Christ is the great un-tier. Listen to what He proclaims in Isaiah:

For the Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion -
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of HIS splendor.
~Isaiah 61:1-3

He is the great releaser, the freer, the one who can take our chains (and our knots) and bring complete freedom. He brings beauty, gladness, and praise to replace our ashes, mourning, and despair.

Paul wrote that "the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who, with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).  He brings freedom as He transforms us from our sinful selves into reflections of His glory. 

Paul also wrote that "anyone who has died has been freed from sin ... count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:7, 11).

The good news is this, friends: we do not have to spend our lives (or eternity) tied up, chained, constrained, and constricted. We serve the Almighty God, the freer of prisoners, the untier of knots, and the giver of LIFE!

Oh, Lord, untie my knots, release me from my chains, and transform me ever more into your glorious likeness, that I might reflect you and proclaim my freedom in you!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Eternity is stamped on our hearts

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. ~Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

Do you ever simultaneously want two opposite results? You want two things that you know cannot coexist simultaneously, and can't quite get your mind to choose one.

I've been feeling that way often lately. You see, I look at the world around us and get the sense that we are in the midst of what Christ called the "last days." Christ said that in the last days, many will come in His name, deceiving those who follow them. {Check.} You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. {Check.} Nation will rise against nation. {Check.} There will be famines and earthquakes. {Check.} He said these are the "beginning of birth pains." (See Matthew 24:4-8.)

I've read Daniel. I've read Matthew. I've read Revelation. I know what God has revealed of His ordained plan for the end of the age. And so there is a part of me - the eternal part - that is excited about this. It means that Christ is returning soon! And that, finally, the pain, suffering, and hardships of this life will be erased and replaced with the glorious eternity in God's presence for His children. That is a glorious thing, my friends! Listen to how John described it:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then He said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' ~Revelation 21:1-5

Hallelujah! Friends, how can we not leap for joy at these words??!! Glory be to God, who truly makes ALL things new!

I can't wait for that, can you?

And yet...

Here's the other half of my truth. As much as I do earnestly long for Christ's coming, I must confess that part of me hopes it is not too soon.

You see, the non-eternal part of me is looking forward to being a wife come June. It is looking forward to having children with my soon-to-be husband. I want to be a mother, to grow old with my husband. I want to serve God and raise up children to do so as well. I want to run my race. (And I sort of hope that the race won't be cut short before any of those other things happen.)

At first, I felt quite guilty about these feelings. How could I wish that Christ's return be delayed? Do I really want this depraved world longer? Well, no. But I've coming to realize that, when it comes to my faith, both desires are ok. God made me not just eternal - He not only set eternity in my heart - but He also made me temporal. Physical. And He has been shaping my desires for this life as well as my desires for Him.

I think the only thing to do is to expect Him to come, to hope for His coming, but to never forget the race that He has given you to do in the meantime. He knows His plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11), and He has given each of us a purpose. So I will do what I know He has told me to do - to proclaim His word, to worship Him, to grow in faith, to take care of my family - and let Him worry about whether He'll wait until after I have kids or not. :-) I guess this is one area where trusting the sovereignty of God is quite liberating.

Expect Christ every day. Prepare for Him. Be one of the wise brides, and keep the oil in your lamp. But don't use that as an excuse for neglecting what God has planned for you to do before He returns. And rejoice that, one day, you will enter into the glorious presence of your God and never have to leave again!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Shout out

So I have been very sick this week. My throat was pretty raw earlier in the week, but I made it through teaching until Thursday morning. Then I totally lost my voice, so had to let my students go after about 10 minutes Thursday afternoon.

The one plus side is that it gave me the opportunity to drive down to my fiancee earlier than usual. Unfortunately, I have been pretty sick the whole time I've been here, so he has had to put up with a lot of pretty rough coughing on my end.

But I have to say how very thankful I am. Thankful that I have a loving God who provided me with such an amazing man to love me, even when I'm gross and sick and my coughs make my little germaphobe cringe. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to serve alongside this amazing man, to help him and let him help me.

Now if his cat wouldn't attack my cat, and if only my cat wouldn't be so terrified... :-)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thoughts on teachers

I've tried to remain silent, but I really can't anymore. I am absolutely appalled at the vitriol I've been hearing directed toward K-12 teachers, primarily by Republicans, but by some Democrats, too.

It's obvious that 99.9% of the people yammering about how awful teachers are and how little work they do and how they don't deserve what "we" pay them know absolutely squat about teachers. So here's a little glimpse of what my family goes through:

1. My fiancee teaches from the first week of August through the last week in May. He does not get paid for June or July at all. This whole "they only work 9 months" crap is just that. He DOES NOT GET PAID for the remaining months of the summer.

2. He does not work "from 8-3" and get summers off. On a light day, he is at work by 6:30 a.m. and might get home before 7 p.m. On a heavier work day, when grades are due or extra work has been piled on, he is there from 6 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m. This never changes.

3. He gets about 3 sick days for the year, and even on the rare days he has to stay home, he has to prepare everything for his sub, so he doesn't really get to rest.

4. His salary is nowhere near "$50,000 with up to $45,000 in benefits!" Since he started teaching, his salary has been cut 30%, with odds good that it'll be cut again this summer. He currently makes less than $30,000 a year. As for benefits, he has basic health insurance and dental, and has to give a hearty chunk of his gross salary to the state retirement plan as well. He's not raking in the dough, nor is the state paying outrageous benefits, but the same basic plans that most every other employer is required to offer.

5. Unless you've lived on Mars for the last few decades, you should know that most teachers pay for most of their supplies out of their own pockets. My fiancee has to buy paper, pencils, books, notebooks, and all sorts of other supplies that come out of his own bank account because the school district is broke and can't afford to get books for his students to use. He often can't assign books he'd love for his students to read because the school won't buy books (for the English teacher, mind).

6. With all the vitriol about the power of teacher unions, you need to know that some states don't allow them at all. The state where we live is a "right to work" state, which means you can't unionize at all. That means that here, where education has been the one item slashed every year for the last five years, teachers have no collective bargaining power, and no one stands up for their rights.

7. The teachers in my fiancee's school district can't get out of their contracts, either. They can't just "quit if they don't like it." The school makes them sign a contract that threatens to have their teaching license revoked by the state if they do not carry out all duties for the full term of their contract.

8. The contract also has an "other duties as assigned" clause, which the administrators have taken to mean that they can force the teachers to do all sorts of things (for no extra pay) at any time. My fiancee has been forced to clean the school grounds on the weekends (like last weekend), work as a waiter for school fundraisers (on weeknights, preventing him from grading and doing actual work), and much more. How many businessmen have to do extra crap that's not in their job description?

9. Teachers without tenure have virtually no job security. My fiancee's job is dependent on ridiculous evaluations - usually consisting of a person randomly entering his classroom for 5 minutes and then bashing him for not doing all sorts of other things in that 5 minutes - and on student test scores. Regardless of the fact that test scores depend mainly ON THE STUDENT - their personality, memory, learning skills or disabilities, parental involvement, sleep habits, health or illness, poverty (if they're hungry, do they really care about grammar?), etc. No matter, the only thing that matters is if they improve test scores. If they don't, obviously it's the teachers' faults, and they're going to be fired.

10. My fiancee also has to pay for all of his continuing education credits. The state (or school) has done nothing to help him. Despite the fact that each class he has to take (like one this spring that will take up 3 separate weekends, 10 hrs a day) costs upwards of $400-600, that also comes out of pocket.

So please, before you mindlessly join those lambasting teachers and teachers' unions, please do the research. Know what teachers actually go through. You who have 9-5 jobs, how many of you have to take your work home with you? Teachers' jobs are literally never done. There is always more paperwork - individual plans for each student that has a disability or is behind; evaluations on everything from their behavior to the smallest academic achievement; set lesson plans for weeks at a time (how many of you have to submit a work plan for the next month, every month of your career?); plus the actual lessons, and the grading (my fiancee is required to have his students do one graded assignment per day - that's 80 students a day, 5 days a week, so around 400 papers to grade every week, not counting quizzes, tests, or other larger assignments).

We work hard. We work until we literally can't function at the end of the day. I got the day off today, and yet have been doing work from home for the last 3 hours. Please think about how much is on our shoulders before you cut our salaries to the point that we can't pay our bills.

Thank you.