Friday, July 31, 2009

Wait! I’m not ready!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2: 8-10

Ephesians chapter two was my Bible reading for today. This is a familiar verse, one I probably memorized for confirmation. As is common, when we are led by the Spirit through scripture, today it has a fresh meaning for me.

I am focusing on the last phrase "to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." The thought that circles in my poor addled brain is this: He prepared the works in advance; it doesn't say He prepared me in advance.

And boy, am I feeling that truth right now. I am, learning all over again, how to write papers with lots of the redundancies that make my past editors cringe. All my years of learning how to write have not prepared me for keeping professors happy; yet, this is the work He has prepared for me in advance.

I feel disoriented about many things for which I feel woefully unprepared. 26 years of teaching young children math, a GRE math score that puts me in the bottom 1/3 (excuse me, at least two standard deviations below the mean) and the work He has prepared for me includes statistics?

26 years of teaching children how to understand what they read and another 10 years of teaching adults how to teach comprehension and now I need to be able to read APA style (Barney, 1997) which puts (Dinglefritz, 2005) stupid (Carbuncle, 2009) references in the middle (Hoosenfuss, 1977) (Peabody, 2001) (Jingleheimer, et al, 2008) of what you are trying to understand.

26 years of wiping noses and solving petty arguments and now I am reading journal articles that are a whole new level of petty arguments. These are solved, not with familiar playground banter, but with huge meta-analysis studies. Yet, they still sound like "but, he said . . . ." Can you even put a theorist in a time-out?

This prepared me . . . how?

The only thing in my past that is working for me is years of convincing administrators that my idea is really their idea so they will be more comfortable allowing me to try it. (insert "professor" for "administrator").

Somehow I doubt this well honed skill will work with my committee. Sigh.

God doesn't prepare us in advance. He prepares us as we need it; sometimes the night before the test or moments before the paper is due. Sometimes He doesn't prepare us at all, and allows us to fail so we can learn something else. He doesn't dress us up in astronaut suits that take care of our every need, and put us in a ministry rocket that has been prepared and checked over and over again. He doesn't even warn us with a countdown. He simply sends us off; ready or not, here we go.

God does not prepare us in advance. God prepares the works in advance. He has the plan, He applies the grace. He knows where we are going to land and has prepared the work waiting for us.

Right now, I am selfishly praying for a soft landing.

Abba, father, amen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Competent confusion

I was more confused than usual reading the chapter on competence. It was posted on-line and I had it blown up 200% to make reading a bit easier on my eyes. I couldn't shake the feeling that things were not making sense. I would be okay in the middle of the page but moving from page to page left me re-scrolling up and down to see if I had skipped something. Slowly it dawned on me: the pages were out of order: 62, 63, 60, 61, 58, 59, etc.

The really sad thing is it took me half an hour to figure it out.

The other day the research we read talked about testing motivation with reading passages that were purposefully confusing to see how long the subjects would persevere. I wondered if this is what the professor was attempting to replicate? I started to panic; what if I did not have the correct kind of motivation? What if I had an entity view of intelligence instead of the much more productive incremental view? What if my attributions were about blame which would obviously mean that I didn't have what it takes to succeed? What if all of this was in vain? Maybe my deepest fear is true – I am not competent to see this assignment to its completion.

Take a deep breath, have some chocolate, relax.

Our first discussion in this class was over a reading that basically took 20 pages of really big words to tell us that we cannot trust the meaning of any terms. Most of my studying this last year has been an effort to bring me up to speed on vocabulary, so I can hope to comprehend what is on the textbook page. Now they tell me that the words I have been writing down in my notes and committing to memory have no meaning.

It is times like these when it is really great to be a child of God. When you have faith you have certainty. When I worry that I am not good enough, or smart enough, or motivated enough; my faith reassures me that I am right. In fact, I can do nothing.

I am so very glad this doesn't depend on me. God is good enough, God is smart enough; God is in control. Sometimes He puts the pages in the right order and gives me a glimpse of His plan. Other times, He tells me to just keep on reading, writing, listening and learning.

When I read my psychology text books I get an interesting picture of mankind's folly. We strive to understand ourselves and how we think, work and hopefully, thrive in the world in which we live. The folly is in believing that we can understand ourselves. One of the researchers cited in my textbook is named Eccles. See if you don't think this is God's sense of humor:

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher.

"Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."

Eccles 1: 2

It is meaningless, isn't it? I don't mean to say the work God asks us to do is useless. He has a purpose for everything that happens and a promise to bring good out of it. It is just that it is meaningless to us because we are the children and not the Father; we are the tools and not the Artist. We are to trust and obey, to believe and have faith, to work and to wonder. We leave the meaning and the outcome up to God. Now that makes sense.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,

do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,

giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Colossians 3:17

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Perfect peace

It's been a long week. It started with frustration and ended with grief. From the computer to the cat, we ran the gamut of stress and sadness. One thing piled on top of the other until I felt inundated. I had trouble ordering my text book for class, so, now I don't know if I will get one book or three books; I just know it will be late. The wireless router wouldn't work so I had to travel all over Lincoln to find a place where I could successfully download readings for the class. When I finally got copies of what I needed, reading them left me stunned and confused. By the middle of the week, the long term care facility, where Grandpa lives, called to tell us he is getting closer to hospice. Then the week finished with the kids and I taking our 22 year old cat for her last trip to the vet.

It is interesting how some things are easier to cry over than others.

At the moment we are blessed with unusually cool July weather. In 40 years of Nebraska summers, I don't remember another July day when I woke up to temperatures in the upper fifties, and left the windows open all day. A rare blessing, to sit out on the deck at this time of the year, and to feel God's love in a warm breeze. So tonight we will eat a picnic supper; enjoy chicken, corn-on-the-cob, and watermelon and we will thank our God for the goodness of a warm summer evening. We will laugh and tease and talk about the next cat. There will be spoken and unspoken memories about Grandpa. We will remember how God loves us.

And He does love us. He loves us when we are basking in the sun of happy events. He loves us when our confusion leads to anxiety and stress. He loves us when we face loss and when we anticipate the good that awaits us in heaven. He loves us.

Next week we will return to the frustrations of work and school. We will find ourselves looking for our cat in her favorite sunbeam spot. We will begin talking about what hospice means and what lies ahead for Grandpa and for us. And God will continue to love us in that perfect and complete way that sustains us, forgives us, saves us, and gives us peace.

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