Light Before Form (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 7, 2016)

I don’t know about you, but I was pretty certain that I had my life figured out at 19. I knew what career I would pursue, where I would live, the boy I was going to marry, and that we would have four kids together (two boys and two girls—to alleviate some of the sibling rivalry that my brother and I experienced).


As life would have it, though, I never did marry that boy; I’m in a completely different career now; I live in another part of the country; and suffice it to say, God had a sense of humor when it came to allocating my children.


Why is it that we think we have to have our whole lives planned out in advance? Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for setting goals, but we have to be willing to make allowances for change, as well. How can we take steps of faith when God calls us down a different path if we are locked into a certain outcome for our lives?


Even the Creation story echoes this notion. Check out Genesis 1:1-3, where God began by separating light from darkness. He didn’t start with creating mankind, or even sculpting the earth. In fact, verse 2 says, “The earth was formless and empty” (NLT). God built his creation one step at a time: light before form.


Perhaps it’s just me, but I think we often grope through life in the dark trying to get things just-so, when what we really need to do is focus on the Lord first and foremost.


King Solomon mused in Ecclesiastes 2:13-14, “Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark.” If your life doesn’t look like you’d hoped or planned at this point, perhaps a good first step would be to examine the influences of “light” and “darkness.” What are you involved in that reflects the goodness of God? By contrast, what areas of sin in your life are lurking in the shadows?

At What Cost? (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 15, 2015)

I am happy with where I am now, professionally. I absolutely love teaching college students and exploring my research ideas. My schedule is such that most mornings, I’m able to take my younger kids to school, and I even have time to run errands in the middle of the day now & then. I didn’t land my dream job overnight, though; my current success came at a large personal cost. In total, I spent about 10 years of my life in college, and I’m still paying off loans from grad school. I didn’t watch TV for about four years, because I needed every moment of free time in the evenings to study and write. I tried not to miss any big events, but some play time with my kids was also sacrificed during those years when I needed to work late or study.

All that is to say: there’s a cost to be paid in pursuit of our life-goals. Honestly, the same could be said for our spiritual lives. We’ve been working on a new song for the worship team recently, and one of the lines says, “Take it all, take it all, my life in your hands.” Every time I sing those words, I’m reminded of what it costs to follow Jesus. It’s not about having an emotional experience at church or camp; it’s about letting Jesus have total control of every aspect of your life.

In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus had a very frank conversation with a large crowd of wannabe disciples. They wanted to come along for the ride, but he needed them to understand that following him would be costly. Verse 26 often gets misinterpreted as Jesus advocating that we should hate our parents and siblings, but that’s not what he’s saying. I believe what he’s trying to communicate is that we are to have so much dedication to him that our relationships with everyone else – and our view of ourselves – pale in comparison.

The question is: What are you willing to sacrifice? What amount of free time, financial resources, mental energy, and elbow grease are you willing to put on the line to follow Jesus? Following Jesus is truly rewarding, but like the earlier analogy of my job, it takes effort and commitment to bring it to fruition. Proverbs 20:25 (NLT) warns, “Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.” If you are going to sing a song like “My Heart is Yours” or “I Surrender All,” then you need to mean it.

Our Job Criteria (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 25, 2015)

We have several folks in my department who have recently retired or are about to, so I am serving on various search committees this year. In order to avoid a human resources nightmare and possibly get ourselves into legal trouble, there are usually only three reasons that we can use to justify not considering an applicant for a job: 1) they don’t meet the education requirements; 2) they lack the necessary experience; or 3) they fall short on some other aspect of the job description. When we make a final recommendation for the selected candidate, we have to explain why we chose that person over the other qualified applicants.


This painstaking process got me thinking about what Jesus went through when he selected his disciples. Granted, he has a bit of an advantage over us, since he knows our hearts (1 John 3:20, Romans 8:27), and we have to whittle down the candidate pool by reading resumes and cover letters. The four gospels include several accounts of Jesus calling his disciples (Ex.: Matthew 4:19 & 9:9, Luke 5:27, John 1:43).


Even though Jesus didn’t appear to conduct formal interviews with his would-be disciples, I did notice two things that were consistent in his search. First, Jesus expected them to follow him (see the verses in the previous paragraph for examples). Second, he expected them to stick around for the long haul. Matthew 10:38 gives us some insight into this second point. You may recognize it as the “take up your cross and follow me” verse. What does that really mean, though? The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me.” Jesus wasn’t looking for job hoppers or career-ladder climbers; he was looking for committed servant-leaders.


Jesus wasn’t bothered by the same criteria that we have to abide by in search committees nowadays. He wanted people who were ready and willing to join his work. The exciting thing is that the job notice is still posted! Are you committed to following him for the long haul?

Beyond Your Resume (Prayer Devotional for the week of April 27, 2014)

Twice in my career, so far, I have been tasked with building a team from scratch. As a hiring supervisor, I looked for a number of traits as I interviewed people, but I especially hoped to find folks who would bring useful skills and creative ideas to the table, demonstrate flexibility and a willingness to learn, and complement the group dynamic. That doesn’t mean that I wanted an office full of mini-me clones; however, we naturally had some similarities in our work histories and basic skills.

When I consider how Jesus selected his team of disciples, it doesn’t make much sense to me, from a supervisory perspective. It seems as though he just picked people off the street, with no real consideration of their qualifications. He chose fishermen whose education level was likely very minimal and assigned them the high-profile job of preaching and teaching his message. He even chose a tax collector – one of the most stereotypically crooked professions of all time – as a close confidant.

Jesus put together a team of individuals who, in any other context, might have little reason ever to interact with each other, much less drop everything and live in community together with a homeless prophet for the next few years.

I think what Jesus cared about most of all was not a bullet-point list of achievements on his disciples’ resumes, how many initials they used after their names, or even their connections in the community (because you and I both know that all of those things carry weight in today’s society, for better or for worse). Instead, he cared about their willingness to simply, “Come, follow me” (see Mark 1:16-18 and elsewhere).

Perhaps you know Scripture like the back of your hand because you were raised in church and spent summers attending Vacation Bible School and church camps. Or, maybe you came to faith more recently, and you are embarrassed to even pray aloud because you don’t feel knowledgeable or articulate enough. Regardless of where you sit between either extreme, let me reassure you that when he asks you to follow him, you are qualified to serve on Jesus’ team! Don’t let a supposed lack of qualifications on paper keep you from being willing to lead when he calls you to. (On the flip side, don’t let a litany of leadership qualifications keep you from being willing to serve, either.)

The catch-22 of relocating

Q: What do these pictures have in common with each other?

The view from my seats in McLane Stadium, opening football season 2014

The view from my seats in McLane Stadium, opening football season 2014


Cedar Canyon: Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah (photo credit: Google Maps — click for a gorgeous, panoramic photo tour)

Cedar Canyon: Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah (photo credit: Google Maps — click for a gorgeous, panoramic photo tour)


A: Not a darn thing.


Actually, I guess that’s not completely accurate. The images above have one thing potentially in common: me.

In the case of the football stadium screen shot, my window of opportunity to renew my season tickets at the brand-new stadium occurred this morning at 10:06am. I had to log on within a two-minute timeframe to select my seats, and since season ticket allotments are already sold out, you could run the risk of losing your seats entirely if you don’t renew during your appointed time.

It’s very exciting, seeing as I’ve been at this university for 10 years, and for most of that time, you could hardly give away tickets to watch the Bears play football, much less sell them. But now, everyone is counting down the days until football season begins! (Even those who don’t care about football are pumped up, because school spirit has never been stronger.)

So, I eagerly logged on and bought my tickets. The catch-22 is that there’s a chance I might not be able to use them, which brings us to the landscape photo. (For my Texas friends: those bumpy things in the background are called mountains.) 🙂

The photo above is a street-view screenshot from Google Maps, which I linked to a breathtaking photo tour of Cedar Breaks National Monument. There are places of such beauty like this on Earth where I think that sometimes God must lean back and smile as he says to himself, “Wow, I’m good.”

The reason I shared that photo is because I’m heading that direction next week for a job interview! I’ll share more details if it actually comes through, but this is a follow-up to a Skype interview that we had last month. It’s for a faculty position and seems right up my alley, in terms of my preparedness and the direction I’d like to see my career go. I like what I’ve learned about the university; the public schools in the area sound good; property taxes are about 4-5 times less than what I’m currently paying; we’re supposed to hit the 90s this weekend, whereas it’s still in the 60s & 70s there … the “pros” list goes on & on.

There are “cons,” as well, and I haven’t overlooked them. The football tickets are a bit tongue-in-cheek, because if it really came down to it, then I could sell them. Besides, the Bears are playing so well now, odds are good that several of the games will be televised beyond just our local region. More important “cons” include leaving family, friends, church, and the sheer logistics of relocating. But, those aren’t insurmountable obstacles, and I’m hopeful that my path will be pretty clear in the coming weeks.

I hesitated to share anything here about the interview, but several of you have been so faithful to pray with and for me over the years, and I would appreciate your prayers for this season of my life, as well.

On the bright side, if the job doesn’t work out, I still have football to look forward to. 🙂


I don’t talk a whole lot about the “tears” part of my blog name, except in posts having to do with grieving. I guess it’s because I don’t want to sound like a pessimistic whiny-baby, and besides — I get enough of the “I don’t see how you do it” type of comments as it is, and I don’t want to swallow my pride to admit publicly that sometimes my day flat-out stinks. Sometimes, whole weeks stink. Sometimes, I just want to make it to the next month. Get my drift?

Perhaps I’m fooling myself, but being overly emotional is not typically how I would categorize my personality. I can be emotional, of course, and I feel passionate about certain issues, but I’m also pretty logical — to the fault of over-analyzing things, at times. So, when tears well up in my eyes out of the blue — like driving to work one morning, it makes me pause and think about just how stressed out I am trying to pretend not to be.

I know the Bible verses like Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 3:6 & 16:3 … verses to remind me that God isn’t going to leave me hanging out to dry, that he has a purpose for my life, etc., etc. I get it. I know it. But sometimes, I don’t feel it, and it’s hard to cling to it.

I don’t talk a lot about money, because a career isn’t just about money, but truth be told, I am actually making less in my current job than I made 10 years ago when I first moved here. I have a master’s degree and am thiiiiiis close to finishing my doctorate, yet my kids qualify for the Reduced Lunch Program. Granted, we’re not destitute, and I am immensely thankful that all the bills get paid each month — even the ridiculous $450 electric bill that arrived in December after a heat pump fried. I’m thankful for the Social Security survivor benefits that have helped bridge the gap since my brother died. Each month comes and goes, and I still manage to make ends meet with some slack left over.

I’m thankful for all of that.

And yet, when I think about the hard work that I’ve invested to improve myself professionally, sometimes it feels like I’m spinning my wheels. I don’t dislike my current job, necessarily, but it isn’t what I set out to do with my career, on the whole. I love teaching (college) and research, but I don’t know what options exist for me anymore. Since the fall, I have applied for 16 faculty positions around the country. One of them — ironically, the lowest position of all (just a lecturer) — was right here in my own university. As each week goes by with no communication from the search committee, it appears that I’ve been passed over from consideration, which stings my pride like plucking my eyebrows. More than one faculty friend has advised that sometimes you have to go away for a few years and then come back to a university before they’ll take you seriously, especially since I did my master’s degree here. Most places don’t often hire their own, apparently.

The other positions aren’t shots in the dark, either; they are professor-type jobs for which I am well qualified. I don’t relish the idea of moving, but what is left for me to do here? There’s a chance that a position will open up next year at the community college where I’m currently teaching part-time, but it wouldn’t provide four years’ worth of tuition remission benefits for the boys like working at a university could. Do I stay in an underpaid staff position (or pursue a different staff role) for 13 more years until the last of my kids graduates from college, even though I’m qualified to be a tenure-track assistant professor somewhere else? Even if that were a feasible option, the odds of being seriously considered for a faculty position after spending so many years away from “academia” are slim to none, and Slim is out of town.

“If God is in it, then it’ll work out.” Right. I totally agree, but I also believed (and still do) that “God was in it” when I decided to move to China in the mid-90s, and that went over like a lead balloon with most of my family. How much more so now, since I have the bulk of the grandchildren on either side of the family?! I run the risk of hurting feelings and sounding unappreciative just by venting about this.

I feel like I’m trapped between a rock and a hard place, for lack of a more creative analogy. If I stay, I give up something significant — my dream of teaching full-time, the chance to pursue my research ideas, perhaps more income. If I move, I also give up something significant — my support network.