From the Basement

February 20, 2011

Praise Report :) (too cliche’d?)

Today, I was admitted to a PhD-track program with full funding. My first admit in my second year of applying.

I jumped up in down in ecstasy and practically launch-hugged myself at my father. I called my fiancé and squealed, then called my mom, and then chatted with those friends who have been so supportive of me over this last year—who have seen me through one season of across-the-board rejections and now this new season, starting with such promise.

I have been on Cloud 9 since that phone call came around 10 a.m. Regardless of whether or not this is the program I attend, I will always remember how this day felt. I feel joy and pleasure and relief and right now, the feeling emerging is one of intense humility.

There is nothing that comes to me that has not passed through His hand.

Last year, I applied to PhD programs with little prayer and even less preparation. Part of this was because I was applying whilst finishing my honors project; my attention was very much divided. Part of it is simply that I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t thought long and hard about why I really wanted it.

I didn’t even contemplate the thought that it wouldn’t work out. Suffice it to say, across-the-board rejections are very humbling. Those of us who could perhaps be called Department Darlings went into the process with the blinders on, buoyed by the praise of our advisors, not even contemplating the possibility that there would be no admits.

Yeah, I had a wake up call. Most of you who read then are reading now, and you saw the aftermath of that process.

Over the last year, I have thought of every reason why I should not be in a PhD program—why it’s something my Abba Father should not allow to come to me. Issue #1: Pride. I have a mile-wide streak of hardcore intellectual pride. There’s uncertainty and insecurity threaded in with that, but it’s still pride. Also, a love for the praise of others—I am always so convicted when I sing the line, “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise; Thou mine inheritance now and always.” And, of course, the possibility of valuing worldly intellect and wisdom above that of my Father. Academia is not exactly fertile ground for faith.

^Which is why my fiancé and I are so determined to serve there. (Another question I considered, really for the first time: Am I as willing to follow him to school as he is to follow me? Last year, I said “He’s going to follow me, and that’s that.” Lots of growth in that arena over this last year. Lots.)

Many questions have been considered, prayed about, and considered some more over this last year. Do I learn because I love? (Thank you, Francis Chan.) Am I more concerned about loving and witnessing to my colleagues than I am about impressing them? Am I aware that any “wisdom” or intellectual prowess I have is a gift from my Abba, and I am to use it according to His will?

Perhaps most notable of all has been the emergence of the previously nascent idea that part of what draws me to the study of literature is that we are all designed to be part of a Great Story—one in which the Creator redeems the created.

Even English professors acknowledge that redemption is one of the most powerful themes in literature. So, I’ve spent time thinking about how, latent in the process studying lit and teaching lit, is an opportunity to subtly point my students towards that Great Story.

All this to say, it’s been a struggle to hold this application season in an open palm, telling the Lord, I am reapplying because I want this, but if you don’t want it for me, I trust you. Truth be told, I didn’t think I could stand a second year of across-the-board rejections, not when I’d done so much to strengthen my application (including writing a brand-new 20-page writing sample), but I took heart in Romans 8:28, “All things work to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes.”

This acceptance has come because He has allowed it to—not that I’m saying “God wants me to go to [this school]”—it could be my only admit, but there could be other options, and my fiancé’s prospects are still up in the air—but I firmly believe—I know—that nothing comes our way that has not passed through His hand.

I am amazed, and humbled, and so very, very grateful that He is giving me this chance. In spite of my sin and imperfection, in spite of everything, He is allowing this to come my way.

And I am so very grateful.

Last night, the sermon was on John 7:37-38: “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’”

As my fiancé and I wait through this admissions season, and as we begin new life as a married couple this fall, my prayer is that we would believe on our Lord, and that out of us would flow rivers of living water.

And because this is the song going through my head (it’s been posted on this blog before, but it’s marvelous):

January 27, 2011

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?”

English departments have begun the arduous process of notifying applicants for graduate work. Stanford and Emory are interviewing, and Northwestern has already sent out acceptances and rejections. None of the programs I applied to have begun notifying yet, to the best of my knowledge, but an interesting few months are upon us.

Last year, I went through January in a state of relative bliss, not thinking about my applications, only to be hit with a truckload of force by my first rejection letter in early February. The resulting anxiety—will I get in? won’t I?—affected me on so deep a physical level that I was throwing up every morning for the month of February. I remember it vividly: wake up, make coffee, check email, work on some homework, and within a half hour to 45 minutes, I would be wretching in the toilet. The feeling was terrible—this focal point in my belly that felt black, that was wound tight with nerves and fear. What if I don’t get in? What does that mean? What if this isn’t God’s will? What if… what if… what if?

It’s that time again: the end of January, where a handful of schools are beating their peers to the punch by sending out acceptances and rejections. The majority of programs will notify mid February through late March, with wait-lists being accepted/rejected even through early May. Like I said, a long process to wait through.

But my perspective is different this year. Last year, I couldn’t imagine not going to graduate school. I was afraid of wasting my life, somehow. A year later, I know that anything we do—even if it’s unexpected, even if it’s not “using” our degree—is certainly not wasted… not wasted when you are seeking the Lord’s direction, however imperfectly, not wasted when you know that he holds the future in his hands.

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. —Matthew 6:28-33 (NIV)

My fiancé loves to quote the verse 27 of this chapter, which states, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (NKJV).

Worrying will not make answers come more quickly. It will not affect an outcome, and it will not even make us feel better. Rather, it makes us feel worse and encourages the vines of self-doubt and pride, anxiety and fear to twine about us, choking out the good that is being nurtured in us.

Scripture tells us precisely what we are to do when faced with this sort of situation. 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast your anxiety on him, for he cares for you” (NKJV).

The sin often referenced in verses dealing with worry, anxiety, and/or fear is unbelief. John Piper articulates in many of his works that unbelief is the root of all sin: not trusting, not believing, not hoping in the promises of the Lord. Look back to the verse in Matthew 6: Jesus does not tell the disciples that they haven’t prayed enough, or haven’t turned to scripture enough, or haven’t worked hard enough, or haven’t done [fill in the blank] enough. No—he reproaches them: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

You of little faith. This is how Jesus addresses those who worry about whether he will provide, who do not fully trust his promises and live like they trust them.

Because this is the question: are we living like we trust Jesus? It’s one thing to say we trust him, but really—do we? Last February, I would have said with my mouth that I absolutely trusted God with the outcome… whilst my body betrayed the truth of my belief by wretching all my worry and fear into a toilet bowl.

When a situation is so terrible it is difficult to see how good could come of it, it is hard to believe on the promises of Christ. On the flip side, when we want something so badly and are praying for it fervently, casting all our hope on that to do something for us… it can be hard to take a step back, hold out an open palm, and let the Lord take that dream, saying “not now” or perhaps even “no.” But even in these times—especially in these times—we must hold fast; we cannot doubt his promise in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV).

The first chapter of James offers a step-by-step manual, if you will, to dealing with these situations where we are tempted to worry, whether they are trials wrought by our own sin or by external circumstance, whether the outcome will be immediate or long-awaited.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. —James 1:2-8

We are not only exhorted to be patient, but to ask for wisdom. How often do we ask for wisdom as to how to handle a situation in a godly manner? So often I pray for outcomes when I should be praying for the proper, Christ-like attitude. And we should be praying with faith, with total trust, not doubting the promises of Him who is Faithful and True.

This passage ends, of course, with a rather convicting verse about the double-minded man. Oh, have I been the double-minded woman, doubting that the Lord would provide even as I prayed for provision. Or couching my A prayers with B and C prayers, rather like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel—“If this doesn’t happen Lord, then please let this happen, and if you see fit to do this but not this then…” You get the drift.

James calls this out for what this is: unbelief. Sin. How dare we approach the father and pray while doubting him—doubting his promises, which are his very nature—in the back of our minds? We have “some nerve,” my grandmother might say.

James’ words are harsh, but the point is made. We are exhorted throughout scripture to believe on his promises, to let them dwell in our hearts so that our transformation may be from the inside-out, our trust in the promises of God a direct correlation to our growth in Christ-likeness. And here’s the thing: we have no reason not to believe. He has told us that his promises are true, and I don’t know about you, but I can look back on my life—even these short 23 years—and see with stunning clarity how “his grace has brought me safe thus far.” And my prayer is that “his grace will lead me home” – and that I will be receptive to that leading.

He is good. He is faithful. He is true. He will never leave us or forsake us. He holds our lives in the palm of his hand. He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, and he knows our beginning and our end. There is nothing to fear. He is freedom from fear.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;

Whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the strength of my life;

Of whom shall I be afraid?

….

Wait on the Lord;

Be of good courage,

And He shall strengthen your heart;

Wait, I say, on the Lord!

—Psalm 27:1, 14

January 2, 2011

Happy New Year: A (more personal) Update

Filed under: Faith,Grad School,Writing — jeannablue @ 3:23 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

You crown the year with Your goodness

And Your paths drip with abundance.

Psalm 65:11 (NKJV)

My dad has reminded me of this verse lately – it’s been at the heart of the sermon series in his church, and I’ve been letting those words just marinate, becoming firm in my heart. He crowns the year with His goodness, and His paths drip with abundance.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, because New Year’s Resolutions are made to be broken, but it just so happens that the dawning of this new year coincides with the tail end of the graduate school application process, so – there are many changes (in some cases, returns to previous habits) that will be happening this month, the first of which is blogging. I miss writing daily (or almost every day) just… down to my bones, I miss it. So I’ll be blogging regularly again.

And there are a few habits that, since moving to Dad’s, have fallen by the wayside that I’ll be picking back up. First and foremost, going to church. And, frankly, connecting with a body of believers. I have my excuses, and they’re just that – excuses – for not having connected with other believers in the last year. Even if I’m only here for eight months (and since I’m getting married this August and then hopefully going to grad school, I will only be with my dad for eight months), I still need to plunk myself down in a church and get involved in a small group. My social life is composed of Skype and phone dates with faraway friends, and what’s more, I need to dig into God’s word and have conversations with other believers in person, in a structured study. I haven’t had that for a long time, and I’m a little nervous. My fiancé and I were informed by the results of a premarital counseling questionnaire that I am “low” on the pleasing factor and not very socially inclined – that is, I recharge by being alone and can come off as proud, arrogant, cold, and hostile when I don’t know people. I tend to self-isolate when in new territory, especially with other believers, which is not good, so I’m pushing my boundaries. I started going to church again tonight, actually, at a church downtown that has a service on Saturday nights. It was a good service, and there’s a “women’s welcome” next weekend that I’m going to go to. I have never been to one of those so that will be interesting.

Second: getting back in shape. I actually enjoy cardio and was really good about keeping up with it in college. So going to the gym and jumping on the elliptical is not a problem for me. More difficult will be moderating my diet and maintaining a weight lifting regimen. Frankly, I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. My clothes do not fit (I’ve gone up a size), I am physically uncomfortable, I can tell that I’m slower, and my flexibility is fleeting – and flexibility is something I’ve never had to work on, so that more than anything freaks me out. Also, I’m getting married, and a wedding goes a long way in giving you a deadline to get in shape by. I don’t need to drop a ton of weight – just tone up, trim down a bit, and get back to (a more fit version of) the size I was before. That will make me very happy – and self-control is something I need to work on, anyway.

Third: reading. For the first time, I did not read my reading goal. I wanted to read 50 books in 2010 – I read 48. Darn it! Grad school and job applications are largely to blame, since they sucked my life toward the end of the year, but I got a slew of new books for Christmas that I am eager to dig into. Also, reading is just better for the mind than internet-surfing, and it makes me a better writer.

Fourth – maybe finish the novel I started last year and abandoned in August.

While major sources of stress in my life are mostly gone (I’m finally working, and the grad school apps are almost done), a few have entered. Wedding stress continues and there is family drama that promises to make this year the most interesting year yet. I have body image issues to keep working through, and relying on the promises of God is a must. Digging into scripture is crucial – these last few months have been very dry on that front and I miss it. I miss a close relationship with Jesus; he’s sort of been on the backburner lately and while we go through dry periods, it’s still not good.

On the plus side, I’m happy to report that my jobs are going very well and living with my dad is turning out better than expected.

Okay: this mostly personal update is coming to a close. I hope to be with you tomorrow or Monday talking about something in scripture, or possibly my review of the Disney film Tangled, which I have now seen twice (once on my birthday and once again with my fiancé when he came to visit – yes, he went to see it with me). I am quite happy to say that my predictions in an earlier blog did not come true; it blew me away, to be honest.

Wishing you all a blessed start to the year. No matter the circumstance, the year is crowned with His goodness.

December 15, 2010

Things God is Teaching Me Right Now (very uneloquent)

Filed under: Faith,Grad School — jeannablue @ 7:11 am

I turned in my first grad school app tonight (!) and it’s for some reason inspired a lot of reflection. It is late, I am tired, and the migraine is still going, but here are some random and unedited thoughts about what the Lord’s been teaching me, even in my ignorant state.

#1: My nanny jobs, a.k.a. Housewife Bootcamp, are throwing me headfirst into the (crazy) realities of running a household and are also helping me consider biblical passages in a new light. For example, I caught myself being crazy-judgmental of the mom of the family I work for. A thought something like this crossed my mind while I was doing dishes: She needs someone to cook meals, and clean once a week, and then have me to keep track of the kids’ homework and get them everywhere? Seriously? And then I realized, STFU, self! The Proverbs 31 woman managed her household. Now, family always comes first – and I do believe that you should reconsider and seriously cut back if things start to threaten that Lord—Husband—Children—Everything Else order. But sometimes, your family is freaking crazy and trying to manage everyone is far easier said than done and does, really, require help. And if we think about it, it’s the post-industrial phenomenon of the middle-class nuclear family (a.k.a. only one woman to get s**t done) that brought on a lot of this division-of-labor debate.

Also, I am learning how to time my household duties/chores to the laundry cycle.

#2: To trust myself and to trust him more. I’ve been working on grad school apps and He’s been on the backburner. And, specifically, I have been soliciting everyone’s advice. Not everyone – I have selectively solicited the advice of either professors, friends who are in grad school, friends/advisors who left grad school, or friend – one friend in particular – who has an editorial eye like you’ve never seen before so once she goes through grad school she’s going to be an unstoppable machine.

But. I have been anxious and worried – not nearly as much as last year, yet – about things and the paper and the statement of purpose and getting stuff done and making sure I have at least one other person “sign off” on all my stuff.

And I’m realizing, I cannot function like that. I am blessed to be surrounded by a village of people and I am well aware that God has allowed that to happen, and I am so, so grateful he has. But at the same time, I need to learn to trust myself, trust my instincts… trust the abilities that he gave me. Not trust that my abilities will inevitably merit something – but just trust that, to do the work at hand, he has fully equipped me. Sometimes that equipping means he brings in other people to help me out. But when I feel like I need approval before I can move forward… when I am wringing my hands over the fact that trusted advisors gave me different advice… that is, perhaps, a mite too far.

So. He’s teaching me about yet another nuance of trust. Big surprise.

#3: He’s got it under control. He really does. And I could have prayed for hours over my applications each night… I could have been polishing this paper for months… but he has it under control. He knows what’s best for me. He knows what’s best for my fiancé. He will put us where he wants us. And I do hope against hope that he may even offer us a choice as to where to go. Grad school is the desire of my heart and it is the desire of my fiancé’s heart. And I know that God knows that. And so I am doing my part… come the end of January, we’ll start to see his response.

#4: Be faithful with the time we are given. This is something that’s come up repeatedly over the last few months, but it’s so true. We are not guaranteed tomorrow, and he has given us today for a reason – to glorify him, to love him, to love each other and share his love with others. And we are given seasons in life where we sometimes don’t feel like what we’re doing is overly relevant, but he leads us places for a reason. Today, one of the kids I nanny for – well, perhaps not a kid, seeing as how he’s fifteen – asked me if I liked college or the real world better. It was an interesting question. On the one hand, I’ve outgrown college – I was ready to leave. It was a healthy departure. At the same time, though, I’m sort of in limbo, knowing what’s coming – marriage, hopefully grad school – but not being there yet. In the meantime, though, I’m being faithful with what God has given me – two jobs nannying for two families. Two opportunities to love on kids and make an impact.

I am going to have to write a blog on how both of these families, while surface-y Christian, are not really devout believers – and how the support staff who works for both families are devout believers. Seriously. The full-time nanny for one family is a believer (this came up during our coffee date where she talked about how the kids love Veggie Tales) and the housekeeper for my other family is also a strong believer and we had an incredible conversation the other day when we were both at work.

God so knows what he’s doing.

So thank you, Lord, for this time. Thank you for your patience. Thank you that you know me, and that none of my behavior surprises you. I am sorry for my sins and for my ignoring you and for not taking enough time, but I am so thankful that you have still answered my prayers for energy and endurance and for hope, even when it’s not a prayer I voiced. I am hopeful, Abba – I know you know what’s best for me and I am pursuing this course hoping against hope that you see fit to allow its continuance come this spring. Thank you for the people you have surrounded me with, for their love and support. Thank you for your reminder that even if I am literally alone, and even if no one is responding to calls or emails, that you are with me always, even to the end of the age. Thank you for your constant companionship and for your love that buoys me even when I don’t see it. Thank you. I love you.

December 9, 2010

Writing, Music, & Little Women

Filed under: Grad School,Writing — jeannablue @ 3:35 am
Tags: , , ,

Over the last few years, I have come to appreciate the role that music has in writing. And not only in creative writing, but critical as well. I’ve had a playlist going for my graduate school applications, composed of rather different tunes:

Siuil a Run – Celtic Woman

The Mystic’s Dream – Loreena McKennitt

Love Game – Lady GaGa

Marry Me – Emilie Autumn

The Highwayman – Loreena McKennitt

The Mummers’ Dance – Loreena McKennitt

Fairytale – Sara Bareilles

Telephone – Glee Cast Version

I recently added Sting’s “Field of Gold” and Loreena McKennitt’s “She Moved through the Fair” and “Annachie Gordon.” I like songs that will soothe in the background as I concentrate intensely on a passage. Others, like “Marry Me,” really articulate the context of the paper I’m writing, and still others  – like Lady GaGa – serve to rev me up when my energy is flagging. I know that Love Game is playfully explicit, but I dare you to not sit up a little straighter when you’re listening to it.

Those songs, however, are not what is so deeply affecting me. Thomas Newman’s soundtrack to the 1994 film Little Women never fails to move me to tears. Someone – bless their heart – has put the entire soundtrack on youtube videos, and I am listening and am just still in a way I haven’t been in a long time. There’s something about that film – and its music especially – that holds a powerful place in my heart. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been watching it since I was six or seven years old… I don’t know if it’s because growing up, I wanted to be Jo the writer who moved away to the big city… who sacrificed a safe marriage to pursue her dreams. She was – is? – one of my heroes. If there is a character in all literature who I adore, it is Jo. Above Elizabeth Bennett, above Anne Eliot, above Elinor Dashwood, there is Josephine March, and hers is the story I will watch on screen over and over again. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever made it through the entirety of the book Little Women – I’m sure I did once upon a time, but when I want to be comforted or encouraged, particularly when writing, I watch this film. It is a powerful sensory experience.

Given that I’m not working on my applications but rather am basking in the glory of the music of one of my all-time favorite stories – in any medium, print or film – I should probably stop listening to the soundtrack. But I can’t just yet. … not quite yet.

December 7, 2010

a disjointed, erratic post on worry

Grad school apps have been consuming my life. When I say that, I mean that finishing (and not finishing) the statement of purpose and writing sample have been consuming my life.

He’s in control. When I’m freaking out and worrying that the paper won’t be good enough – well, who am I kidding? It won’t be. My paper will be finished literally the day I turn it in. And the statement of purpose won’t be much better.

Perfection is unnecessary and what’s more, it’s unrealistic. The idea that human perfection immediately merits results is ridiculous and completely unfounded. We are to work to the best of our abilities… and then to see what he allows to come our way. Example: I recently landed two part-time nanny jobs, and I started one of them today. I have work! This is cause for much celebration! And I find it rather entertaining – I interviewed with this nanny agency in September and they wanted me to start then, and I stopped the process because I was still seeking full-time work… how entertaining that it’s in fact where I end up. And I’ve spent some time thinking, oh, if only I’d started then – how many more months of income would I have accrued! But thinking like that is fruitless. It’s pretty much the same thing as thinking, “Oh, what if my writing sample was perfect already?”

God’s timing is perfect. We act, and then there’s his timing.

Over Thanksgiving, I read a bit of Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something – which on the basis of 60 pages alone I’d recommend – but I had to fight my own spirit of condemnation when reading. His thesis is that our generation spends so much time trying to discern God’s will when, in fact, we just need to make decisions and go for it. Praying for direction is good, but dawdling about in some quasi-spiritual state waiting to hear from God is ridiculous – he says it much more truthfully, lovingly, and thesis-ly than I can. But you get his point. So I was reading this book, still unemployed, I was thinking, what the heck? I’ve been trying to just do something, and that hasn’t worked! (… immediately after the holiday I got in touch with the nanny agency – within the last week I’ve interviewed and been placed, so boo yah, when God lets something happen it happens fast – at least in this case. After the ~counts~ 7 month build up?)

There is not a thesis to this post. I’ve been feeling bad about not blogging and wanting to just write and reaffirm… yes, I trust God, yes, I know he’s in control, yes, my abilities are God-given but his will is ultimate, and yes, it is okay that I am exactly where I’m at with my grad school applications. I need to stop comparing myself to other people and ask, am I pursuing this in a godly way?

Cue the wave of conviction that hits like a tidal wave. Okay, God. And what am I feeling convicted over suddenly? Not that I procrastinated – well, I’m worrying that I procrastinated too much to submit a strong application. Worry is what I feel convicted over. I worry … so much. Ask my fiancé. I worry and he is calm. In that way I’m sort of freaky-similar to his mother. ~not contemplating that similarity~ Of course, I’m also similar to my own mother in that way. And most women I know. I worry. So much. So freaking much. My fiancé likes to quote that verse about how worrying will not add one cubit to my height.

Well, this post might have a point after all. I’m going to go dig for some verses on worrying and share them. Sound kosher? (Have I done this before? Hmm…)

Matthew 6:25-27: “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life span?”

Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. [Each] day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”

Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 37:5: “Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.”

Psalm 46:10: “Cease [striving] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 121:1-2: “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help [comes] from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

There are so many rich promises in these verses. Lean on them! I want to let each of these verses fall as a seed on my heart, and just nurture it, cling to it, and protect it from the fear and worry that creep in… fear and worry are never from the Spirit – joy, peace, and righteousness come from the Spirit. We can be assured of our savior’s love and of his desire that we not worry and that we trust him for every day’s needs simply because he told us so. And this is what Kevin DeYoung talks about in his book – why do we spend so much time striving to discern God’s will when he has graciously written so much of it for us?

His will is that we follow him. Simple.

November 23, 2010

Loving the Process

Filed under: Faith,Grad School — jeannablue @ 3:12 am
Tags: , ,

I had the great pleasure of talking on the phone today with a dear friend who is overseas, and our almost-two-hour-long conversation was the sort that is just totally blessed by God, where everything we say to each other seems to be exactly what the other needs to hear.

The reason for the conversation was my grad school applications – this friend is in a Master’s program in English, and she gave me feedback on my statement of purpose, but she gave so much more.

She relayed something her father told her recently: “You need to learn to love the process.”

This friend and I are very alike in that when it comes to academics, we are just as driven as we are insecure in our intellectual accomplishments. And today was such an affirmation from the Lord that he gave us these particular gifts for a reason. At one point, I started typing what she was saying on the computer because it was so true.

We freak out and we pull our hair out and we question ourselves…. And why are we going to get ourselves in that trap [of anxiety]? There’s no reason – it’s so silly what we put ourselves through. How easy it is to forget about the bigger picture and why I’m doing this, or to just appreciate it [what the Lord has allowed us to do]!

And why is it a bad thing if my work is being critiqued? Does a critical review that I write define anything about my life? Does your application define you? Absolutely not! Does it define who you are? Of course not. Does it define even your interest in literature? No. Does it define what you’re going to do with your life? No. Does it define if you’re going to be successful with your life? No. You have everything you need and we should be so grateful in that. We should be filled with so much confidence because everything in our life has shown us that we can do it, that we can always do it.

My friend asked, “Why are we so results driven for education? God does not want us to berate ourselves over our grade. He wants us to acknowledge that He is in this moment and let that be enough.” How true. What a challenge it is to let this time be enough, to let everything be in this moment, to know that in this moment, I’m going to let it all go and give it to God, and I’m going to accept what he gives me with an open mind and an open heart.

Even my last post on “Little Drummer Boy” has a hint of something that I don’t like – the idea that he wants us to say “Lord, this will give you glory.” It’s not necessarily about us seeking his glory to somehow exalt our pursuits… it’s more nuanced than that. It’s including him in the moment. It’s saying, Lord, please be with me right now. It’s asking him a question right then and there. It’s acknowledging his presence. This pleases him, and it does give him glory. It is good to seek things that honor God, but above seeking his glory, we should seek pleasure in his presence – scripture is chock-a-block full of injunctions to rejoice and take delight in him.

And I know – my Abba has affirmed – that he is with me in this season. Right now, when I’m letting go of a school that I really wanted to apply to… when I am avoiding The Grad Café because it does nothing but cause unnecessary anxiety… when I am worried about having time to work on my paper this week since I’ll be spending it with my fiancé and his family… He is providing. He is allowing me new revelations with my paper. The paper isn’t being written, but the thought process is so intense and the developments are promising. And blessed. Of that, I am sure.

I sent the paper – in its desultory form – to one of my advisors. He was infinitely encouraging, and told me this: “Big ideas don’t come out of nowhere. Only after wrestling with the contradictions in ideas for a while do critics find a great idea. Keep encouraged.”

I once likened studying literature and theory to faith – it’s a crucible. There’s pressure. You don’t think you’ll come out alive on the other side. You think you’ll fail. And then… there’s gold.

November 5, 2010

In the face of discouragement, He is my Refuge

Right now, it’s a struggle to remain encouraged. As many of you know, following my turning down of the full-time university job, I switched my focus to the metro area where I’m currently staying. I’ve applied for three jobs as a leave replacement middle school English teacher, I’ve submitted my resume to a temp agency, I’ve visited numerous retail outlets and applied both in person and online, had several on-the-spot interviews, visited restaurants in our neighborhood only to find that they’ve just finished hiring or aren’t hiring or have some strange hiring practice…

Y’all, even with applying for administrative, retail, and restaurant gigs, I am still having trouble finding work. I do have a sort-of outstanding offer with Barnes & Noble downtown, but the pay is only $7.25/hour. Not much. They’re calling me on Monday to confirm whether or not they’ll hire me.

I’m starting to feel frantic. I know I haven’t applied to a ton of places, but I’ve applied to quite a few, and have heard nothing. Or been outright rejected. Or have them tell me, we’re sorry, we can’t work with your schedule.

I still ask: God, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I changed my focus! I’m looking for retail gigs! Am I not humble enough yet? I could always be looking more and be out there every day all day, but I also have grad school apps to work on. And on Wednesday, I stayed in the loft all day, because I walked so much between Monday and Tuesday that by the time I was on my way home Tuesday evening, I was limping. I limped… a dozen city blocks?… back to the apartment, where I proceeded to almost collapse upon arrival. So Wednesday, I bummed around because I couldn’t walk more than five feet without needing to sit down.

Again, I have no idea what God is doing.

Yesterday was a reminder that He provides in unconventional ways. I want a job. Have I said it loudly enough yet? I want a job! And even the easy ones – I can’t get even the easy jobs! OK, there is the Barnes & Noble offer, which I will take if nothing else comes through. $7.25/hour, 25 hours a week? That’s it? Okay, God. Okay.

But I digress – yesterday, He provided in a cool way. My future mother-in-law’s boss has a friend who is an OXO rep (OXO being a line of kitchenware, for y’all who don’t cook), and future MiL’s boss must have told him about my fiancé and I, and so the OXO rep, out of the blue, gives us almost $200 worth of FREE items from our registry. The measuring cups, measuring spoons, can opener, swivel peeler, salad spinner, the three mixing bowls… everything. What generosity. What a blessing.

God provides. His methods are unexpected and unusual and most of the time, I have no idea why He’s doing what He’s doing. How hard should it be to find a retail job that pays more than $8/hour? Even a seasonal temp job? (Which is what the B&N gig is.)

This week I’ve had my dad’s downtown loft to myself as he’s out of state training with his company. And honestly, my quiet time has sort of diminished. I’ve been frantically applying for jobs and working on grad school apps and, frankly, flipping the eff out over both. Worrying that no matter what I do, it won’t be enough. Worrying about whether I’m doing the “right” topic for my writing sample. Whether my statement of purpose is focused enough. Whether my cover letters – my freaking awesome cover letters for RETAIL jobs, people – are good enough.

I am worrying whether they’re good enough for the eyes of humans rather than trying to please my heavenly Father. And what pleases him is not a perfectly worded cover letter or a perfectly constructed 25-page writing sample. What pleases him is my heart. My attitude. Whether or not I trust him. And frankly, I haven’t been acting like I trust him this week. Ain’t that a kick in the pants?

And even in the midst of trust, he somehow puts it on a guy’s heart to offer my fiancé and I some much-needed items for our kitchen. Even when I’m not trusting. Even when I’m worrying. He provides. In his own way and in his own time.

I wish I knew his mind. I wish I knew what he was planning right now. If I let myself, it’s very easy to feel like a failure. The on-the-spot interviews I had all took one look at my resume and asked what exactly I was doing and is there a reason I’m not employed?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

But so too is He our refuge, the God who sees, the God who is accessible to his people because he loves them.

As for God, his way is perfect:

The LORD’s word is flawless;

he shields all who take refuge in him.

For who is God besides the LORD?

And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength

and keeps my way secure.

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;

he causes me to stand on the heights.

He trains my hands for battle;

my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

You make your saving help my shield,

and your right hand sustains me;

your help has made me great.

You provide a broad path for my feet,

so that my ankles do not give way. — Psalm 18:30-36

My mom says that when I was a little girl, verse 34 was my absolute favorite verse, that I would walk around quoting it: “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze!” Something in me clung to that fighting imagery, that the fight was in my hands, in my fingers, in my arms. Given that I’m a writer by vocation, it’s decently prophetic. But these verses still inspire me today. They give me strength. Everything the Lord gives us, every situation Jesus allows us to walk through – it’s preparation. These verses are reminiscent of putting on the “armor of God,” as Paul writes in Ephesians 6, but what I love about this is that David is talking about how God trains him, how God gives him the strength. “You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me… you provide a broad path for my feet.” Mm. I love that.

“He shields all who take refuge in Him.” It doesn’t matter what we need shielding from. Unemployment. Alternately, the job you’re in. A relationship. Doubt. Discouragement. Fear. Feelings of unworthiness. Abuse. There is no difficulty or hardship in this world that our heavenly Father cannot shield us from. He is our hope when we are discouraged. He is our strength when we have none. In Him can we boast. He is our delight.

Psalm 37 exhorts us, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” But I want to focus on the first clause: take delight in the Lord. Delight yourselves in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always. These commands permeate scripture. In every situation, we are to delight in Him.

I don’t have an eloquent way to end this post, but to proclaim Christ’s sovereignty over my life. I am so thankful that my imperfections and shortcomings are filled up with his spirit, that my sins are covered by his blood, that he is my refuge and my rock, my Redeemer in whom I take all delight.

October 31, 2010

“Do you learn because you love?” – On Francis Chan, Humility, & Graduate School

One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard, hands down, was Francis Chan’s message at the Think conference. I posted the link to the video in the last entry; you should really take a look, it’s fantastic. His talk centered on 1 Corinthians 8:1-3:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.

Chan quoted John MacArthur who said “Knowledge is essential, but it’s not sufficient.” The pursuit of knowledge and critical thinking is absolutely crucial to the Christian life, but it must be girded, hedged behind and before, with the love of God, without which our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.

The focus of the sermon was humility, and even though Chan’s illustrations about speaking were obviously meant to apply to, y’know, speakin’ and preachin’, I took them heart even regarding my applications:

“I’ve told my preaching students, if you feel nervous, it’s probably because there’s sin in your life. And you’re thinking about a person, you’re thinking about pleasing someone, you want someone to approve of your message, rather than thinking about God. And the nerves often are not because you love the people, it’s because you want them to love you and you want them to like you.”

Before he preaches, Chan asks himself questions in order to check his heart, such as “Am I worried about what people will think of my message, or am I more concerned about what God thinks?” and “Do I genuinely love these people?” Because this is what he emphasized: when you are giving a message or leading a bible study or speaking even in a conversation, is your motivation to be loved or to love them? Are you asking God for the words that will best enable you to love them or are you worried about being seen as intelligent or articulate or [fill in the blank]?

Chan posed the question: “Do you learn because you love?”

Wow. Do I learn because I love? Is my desire to learn, to go to graduate school, for my colleagues, for those in my cohort, for my advisors – is my ultimate goal to love them to bring glory to my Redeemer, who because of his gracious nature alone saw fit to rescue me from the pit? Is my desire that they too would be rescued? Do I have, as Chan quoted the Apostle Paul, an unceasing anguish for the lost?

Sometimes, I feel like Jonah. I want the easy road; I am scared to minister to the people I think God’s calling me to (confirmation: when your fiance wants to minister to them, that’s probably a sign from God!). Sometimes, I think and pray, “Oh God, why can’t a literary agent just stumble onto my blog and I can write a book and go around speaking at Women of Faith conferences or something and just talk to other broken down Jesus Girls whose parents are divorced and who don’t know what love and marriage look like and who are looking to feminism and women’s studies as the answer and oh God, why can’t you just let me minister to women like me, women who need encouragement and who just want someone to love them?”

Because women like me go to college and grad school. Because women like me look to the life of the mind – to intellectualism – for answers. Women like me think we’ve got life beat. Women like me need Jesus.

My heroes are in academia. Some of the people who have had the greatest impact on my intellect, who I know God allowed to be my professors, who he put in my life in specific ways to nurture and guide my intellectual development – many of them are not believers. My honors advisor, who I love so dearly, has an utter disdain for religion and Christianity and marriage, and for the life of her, she cannot comprehend my faith. We’ve touched on it occasionally, but so much went unsaid throughout those four years. So many opportunities passed me by to share my faith with her, to try and help her see.

And you hear about how academia in the United States is one of the most hostile environments for faith, and I’m sure that many of you who’ve gone through college have encountered at least one openly anti-Christian professor on campus, and probably many more who were implicitly critical of religion, and I can’t help but think, what purpose would this serve, Lord? Evangelical Christians have zero cultural capital in higher education. To put it another way, they have no intellectual blue chips. My faith and my education are so seemingly at odds in the world, even if I see them as flowing beautifully together… and I ask again, to what purpose, Lord?

I think that we forget that people are watching. I think we forget that our calling is higher. Loving them in word and deed is far more important than being hailed as wise and knowledgeable in the ways of the world.

One of the writer friends I cherish most dearly is probably almost twice my age. She went to a top 10 English program, has written books, articles, you name it, she’s done it – and she cares about her students. She’s also one of the most ridiculously intelligent women I’ve ever met; she explained a complicated literary theorist to me using Harry Potter. I mean, come on!

Well, she and other writer friends of mine were at a convention, and apparently the conversation in her suite turned to faith, Christianity and Harry Potter. She sent me a message saying she wished I had been there to share my insights.

They are looking. They do notice that you’re different. I say to God, my professors – these are my heroes – they’re so smart – they write books and articles and prepare hour long lectures that leave me just mind-blown and they debate supreme court justices and went to top 10 and top 20 programs and – I get so intimidated by them. And so scared to talk to them about matters of faith. What could I have to say to them about Jesus and about what he has done in my life, how knowing I am loved by him gives me vigor and excitement that only further stimulates my mind?

Do I love them more than I care about them respecting me? That’s the question. Do I love them enough to risk my scholarship not being taken seriously?

In grad school, is it more important that I love people, emulating Christ, or that I produce groundbreaking scholarship?

And does what’s on the other side of grad school really matter? If God sends my fiancé and I to grad school, it’s to love people, pure and simple. Whether I’m teaching or writing or working in publishing or doing whatever on the other end of it doesn’t really matter – God will put me where He can use me. Here I am, Lord.

1 John 4:12 tells us, “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” It is by our love that people will know we are his disciples (John 13:35). Are we acting this out?

Chan reminded us of 1 Corinthians 12:7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” In response to this verse, he said, “Why did God gift you in the way that He did? It’s for us, it’s not for you! [The question to ask is] how can I build my brother up? How can I build my sister up?”

Today is my self-imposed deadline for the statement of purpose. Suffice to say, it’s not finished, even though there’s plenty written. And all day, I’ve been terribly nervous, trying to remember that no matter how I articulate my research interests, God has the final say.

Chan’s words have convicted me. Why on earth am I nervous? Because I want them to like me? In short, yes. But God’s the one who has the final say, and I can’t enter a program all willy-nilly over wanting to be liked. To repeat a phrase, if God puts my fiancé and I in grad school, it’s to love people. To witness to them. Plain and simple. Whether I’m teaching at an R1 on the other end doesn’t really matter.

This is what the LORD says:

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom

or the strong man boast of his strength

or the rich man boast of his riches,

but let him who boasts boast about this:

that he understands and knows me,

that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,

justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight,”

declares the LORD. — Jeremiah 9:23-24


What is the life of the mind without the love of God?

There is a video that was posted on the lit forum at thegradcafe.com which I then shared with various friends. Entitled, “So you want to get a PhD in the Humanities,” it has been hailed as alternately funny and depressing by friends who are professors and grad students – depressing because it’s true. (http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7451115/)

The video isn’t what took the wind out of my sails this week, but it reminded me of the numerous doubts and thoughts that creep into my mind unguarded:

Do you think this is a good use of your time, doing research that no one cares about?

Academia is one of the most hostile environments for faith in the United States. Do you honestly think you can make a difference?

Won’t any impact you have be impeded by your own intellectual pride?

This isn’t a Christian pursuit – how does teaching about women’s writing in the 1790s further the cause of faith, exactly?

Not to mention the concerns over the fact that I’m in a dual-academic relationship, so we’re trying to get into schools in the same geographic area (easier said than done) and then, on the job market (provided the Lord allows), we’ll have to limit our choices in an already difficult market to places that are hiring in both Physics and English.

Then there’s the fact that the first application is due December 1st and my statement of purpose and writing sample have yet to be written.

And then, that several of my professors or friends who are professors or grad students are suffering severe disenchantment with the field.

And then there’s the cloud hanging over all of this, that I got across the board rejections last year.

My friends, it is very easy to become discouraged, but in times of discouragement, we must cling to His hope.

I was spilling my guts to God and partly trying to remind myself of why this is a godly pursuit, and the line came to me:

“What is the life of the mind without the love of God?”

My brain is obviously taking cues from the Think conference I attended earlier this month, but it is so very true. To the doubts that look to the disenchantment in the academia, especially in the humanities, that say it’s not worthwhile, that say that God could not place this desire on my heart – of course the life of the mind is painful WITHOUT the love of God! Knowledge and intellectualism do not satisfy. We are human. We fail. But when the pursuit of knowledge and – more importantly – ministry to those who pursue knowledge is buoyed and anchored by a passionate knowledge that I am loved by God, oh, the mighty things that can happen!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

I must remind myself, ever, that it is for His glory. I am aware of the danger in this pursuit, namely that it plays very close to a great weakness of mine, which is intellectual pride, but Lord, keep me humble. I pray for a passionate love for my future students, colleagues, and advisors –

My fiancé and I have often talked on how our hoped-for ministry as professors is sort of like going into the lion’s den. These are people who, for the most part, think they have life beat. They are the educated, the knowledgeable, the worldly wise, the philosophical elite who Paul tangoed with in Greece… they are the Seekers who have yet to find – who perhaps do not want to find. They turn down their nose at religion. Are there believers among college faculties? To be sure. But many of my closest advisors had a distaste for religion, especially Christianity, and of my peers… well, in college it’s cool to seek but not quite as cool to find.

I know that, should God choose to use my fiancé and I in this way, it would be powerful, and Abba, let it ever be for YOUR glory and not our own. That He chooses to use us in ways that magnify our gifts and give us great joy is truly beyond me. I remember hearing harsh scriptures or sermons as a child that had me convinced that God only used people who were in “Christian” careers. I thought, is it bad that I don’t want to be a missionary? It took me years to realize that He uses us where we’re at, in many, many careers “outside” official Christian ministry. That being a college professor, as a Christian, is your ministry. That teaching about women writers in the 1790s is a ministry!

We are all called to ministry in different ways. Writing is my primary calling, but I am inextricably drawn to academia, and I love to teach, and I see great opportunity, a great platform on which to build a ministry. Should God allow. I keep saying “should God allow” because this last year has been an exercise in being brought to my knees… he humbles us to draw us closer to him.

God has been putting this verse in my life through sermons and readings, and I want to share it:

Psalm 18:1-3: “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”

And this verse:

Psalm 73:23-26,28: “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by your right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.”

We are called to place our hope in Him. To trust His plan. To know that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. To be assured beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is our Savior, our lover, our husband, our friend. He holds us. Even when we do not want to let him, he is still holding us.

In Angela Thomas’ Do You Know Who I Am?, she offers the following as exhortations to hope:

Hope ushers in the goodness of God: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” Lamentations 3:25

Hope gives us protection: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness.” Psalm 33:18

Hope gives us strength, courage, boldness: “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

Hope gives us confidence for this life and our callings: “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” 1 Timothy 4:10

And in closing, she writes:

He is worthy.

He is your comfort.

He is the God who sees.

He does not grow weary.

He is your sufficiency.

He is your Savior.

He is here.

He is your strength.

He is generous.

He is your King and Father.

He is your Redeemer.

He is your hope.

He calls you His daughter and treats you as His own. (211)

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Matthew 22:36-40: “ ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I love that. We are called to love God, and a means of loving God is using our minds. And then we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And John 13:35 follows this line of thinking: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

Love is the mark of a Christian. Not what we do as a career, but what we do in the everyday minutiae: when you’re in the break room, when you’re in the hallway, when you’re greeting your co-workers in the morning.

A struggle for me is making plans for myself while knowing that God has “better.” I struggle and think, since I’m applying to grad school, does this mean I won’t get in? Am I pursuing the right plan? What if this isn’t what He has for me? And then I remember: he places desires on our hearts for a reason. He places people and situations in our lives for a reason. And sometimes what we think is “no” just means “not now.”

I don’t know how these next few months will turn out. But I know that my Abba is good. I know that he loves me. I know that to love Him is the greatest thing I can do in this life. I know that only by His enabling will I ever be able to love him and other people. And I pray for the grace to endure, to persist in that truth.

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