Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Way Out

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.  Corinthians 10:13

For the past six year, I have felt like I was in quicksand and slowly being pulled under.  The harder I tried to escape, the more deeply mired I became.  I was dying both in mind and body.  I became complacent over the past six years.  Six years ago, I had been looking for a college teaching job because I had two choices: find a good job and finish my dissertation or move home and finish my dissertation. I couldn't financially sustain my life as it was.  The problem was that six years ago, we were right in the middle of the Great Recession.  Every job I applied for had their search cancelled because of lack of funding.  Without a good job that would also allow me to research and write, I could no longer financially support myself and have any hopes of finishing my dissertation.  So I moved home with my parents.  I continued working on my dissertation and believed that I was making progress and I continued to look for a job.  Neither worked out as planned.  My dissertation advisor, who I was thrown to when my previous advisors all left for other universities, hated my dissertation topic and did not believe in me.  By the time I finally got a new advisor, I was so discouraged that I just couldn't bring myself to finish.

I also knew that I had to get out of my parents’ house so when the chance to teach at a small private school in Alabama came my way, I took it.  That's when I really got bogged down in he quicksand that has been Alabama.  I became complacent here.  I got even more discouraged over further rejection letters as I continued to look for other employment.  I got discouraged to the point of barely even looking for other jobs.  Then that door was slammed in my face as a coach was hired to replace me.  A coach that my former colleagues describe as having the personality and teaching ability of a door knob.

The last five years, I have had one thing that sustained me and kept me from completely being consumed by the mire of Alabama.  It was this blog.  Not only did it give me a creative outlet but it brought into my life some truly wonderful people, some that will be lifelong friends.  They have helped me through the rough times.  Four years ago, one of those friends sent me two articles from the New York Times’ Sunday Magazine about homosexuality and religion.  Those articles began a personal study on the churches of Christ and homosexuality which became a week long set of blog posts.  In turn, it led me to write my Sunday devotionals/bible studies.

I have always said that these Sunday posts were my own personal bible studies but that I posted them for those who wanted to study with me.  My faith has grown stronger because of these bible studies.  I never lost my faith in God, but I had lost my faith in Christians.  The more I studied, the more I came to understand the true depths of God’s love.  Homosexuality cannot be a sin because love cannot be a sin.  Love is not exclusive to opposite sex couples, but to all people regardless of gender.  I also came to realize that those people who preach hate are not Christians at all because they do not follow God.   God is the God of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” 

When I lost my job four months ago, I never let my faith waiver.  I knew that God would provide.  For the last nine months, he has provided a wonderful man in my life.  I know that my boyfriend was a gift from God.  He has been there for me and encouraged me.  God brings people into our lives when we need them most.  He brought some very special blog friends into my life, some who provided great encouragement and advice when I needed it most.  You have provided prayers when I needed them, and you have proven without a shadow of a doubt that prayers do work.  I found a dream job, I am getting out of Alabama, my headaches have improved, and Miss E came through her surgery very well and continues to improve.

I believe that God has guided me and provided for me, especially in the last four months.  I believe that He guided me to the job announcement for this job.  It was not a job site I'd ever known about but was led to it and I saw this announcement.  I knew immediately that it was a job I had to apply for.  I labored over the application to make sure that it was absolutely perfect.  I firmly believe that God sent me certain signs of encouragement along the way.  While interviewing for another job, the woman interviewing me was very interested in the same experience that I'd relied on for the Vermont job.  At the time, I thought that if she was intrigued by this experience, even if it had nothing to do with the job she was interviewing me for, that it must mean that it was a very strong part of my resume.  I hoped that it would shine through with the people in Vermont.  Apparently, it did.  Also, Vermont kept popping up everywhere.  My boss where I'd volunteered over the summer (I'd told her about the job when I applied), handed me a Vermont quarter one morning.  Later that afternoon, I was called for the telephone interview.  The next week, while also volunteering, I picked up a quarter off a cart that I was moving.  Guess what, it too was a Vermont quarter.  That day when I got home, I had a message on my answering machine inviting me up for an interview.  God works in mysterious ways.  And it could have just been coincidence, but I will always believe it was God telling me, “Be patient, I've got you covered on this one.”

James 1:2-8 states, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”  When I lost my job, I was devastated but realized that that when I “face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy.”  I realized that losing that job was a blessing.  When I asked for wisdom about interview techniques, I received perfect advice from an amazing friend.

Having this understanding about what trials can accomplish enables us to have a joyful attitude toward such trials. To truly turn trials into triumph, we must let patience do it's work.   Too often, we want to get our trials or difficulties over with quickly, but there are times when the best course is to bear up under the trial patiently. Instead of grumbling and complaining, patiently endure the trial, doing good despite the trial.  When we experience rejection of any kind, we must show patience and let our own good work and righteousness speak for us. When patience has the opportunity to work, it produces maturity.  In James 1:4, the word "perfect" does not mean that we must be sinless; Romans 3:23 states that "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," instead perfect means  "completeness, wholeness, and maturity."

We should remember that Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  The chorus of the hymn “He Lives” says, “He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.”  Life may have its difficulties and sometimes they may seem like it is more than we can handle, but we must keep our faith, we must pray to God, and we must remember that God is with us every step of the way.

I'm going to close with a poem that was much beloved by my grandmother:

Footprints In The Sand 
by Mary Stevenson

One night I had a dream.
I dreamed I was walking along the beach
with the Lord..

Across the sky flashed scenes from my life..
For each scene, I noticed two sets of
footprints in the sand,
one belonging to me, and the other to the Lord..

When the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that many times along the path of my life
there was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in my life.

This really bothered me
and I questioned the Lord about it:
"Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
you'd walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most
troublesome times in my life
there is only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why
when I need you most you would leave me."

The Lord replied:
"My precious child, I love you and would
never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints, it was then
that I carried you."

These last six years, God has tested me, but not so much that I could not bear it.  There was a reason for His tests, and I know that I am a better Christian for this journey.  He has strengthened me.  I have triumphed over adversity, and he has provided me with a way out of the quicksand that was slowly killing me as it drug me under.  There is still a lot to do as my time in Alabama grows shorter, but God arrived with the rope to pull me out of the quicksand just when I needed him most.


Michael Dodd said...

Years ago a spiritual director told me gently that I, who had always expressed my spiritual quest in terms of wanting to see God, needed to realize that the people I loved were the face of God for me, that loving them was a way of loving God, that they were the instruments of saving me. Always remember that the rope that God cast to you was made of the linked arms (and hearts, minds, wishes, prayers) of people who care about you. See the face of God shining on and in each one.

silvereagle said...

You write from the heart on every Sunday....thanks

jlo said...

Joe, I just want to let you know that I never lost faith in you. And you are loved.

Susan said...

Your blog today is beautiful, Joe. Truly lovely and heartfelt. The poem is very emotional. Thank you so much for sharing it. You continue to be in my prayers.

Amanda said...

Wonderful post Joe. Your blog not only helps you but others as well. You never know who may be reading your words and are affected by them. I'm so happy for you and know you will appreciate and enjoy any opportunity God sends your way. It's funny how each little (or big) step leads to the next. I don't believe in coincidence because He doesn't make mistakes. (Love the Vermont quarters!) Thank you for the blog and always trying to stay positive with your message. :)

mike said...

well written and touching post...

Mike said...

I just think Vermont quarters were overproduced... just kidding!

Can't wait to hear of your travels north, and am so excited for you!!! Glad for your friendship!

Andrew Weiss said...

Not are you smart, knowledgeable amd kind, you are one of the most genuine people I have ever had the privledge of knowing. You speak from the heart with total honesty. I again want to congratulate you for your new hiring and wish you the best!

dl.miley said...

I have wondered why I like reading your blog. It is your genuine and insightful writing that I like. I am not a religious person, but your approach with your views on your religious belief is inspiring to read. You are much younger than me but have such a mature way about you.

I wish you well in your travels and the best of luck with your new job in Vermont. It is such a beautiful state. I was there earlier in the summer and enjoyed my short stay.