Dear January [again],

Alas, we meet again. You know I still don’t like you, but we seem to be getting better at maintaining a tolerable coexistence. I hope you don’t take my disdain personally. I wrote you a letter last year about how I was going to change my mindset concerning you, and I think I did. In fact, when you visited last year, I was putting the finishing touches on my dissertation and preparing to defend it, so that was good. A lot of changes took place last year — so much so that I’m even greeting you from a different time zone this year!

Honestly, I don’t have anything particularly sassy, smart-alecky, or gripey to say to you this year. I suppose this must be what healing looks like. I still don’t look forward to the 23rd, which happens to fall on a Friday this year. I’ll have a class to teach that afternoon, so staying under the covers and pretending not to be a grownup isn’t a valid option. I still have to get the kids to school and then get to school, myself. It’s going to be hard, though. It always is.

Would you believe this is the first Christmas since I lost Nathan that I didn’t cry at all that day? I almost lost it on stage during the Christmas Eve service as we sang Silent Night, though. Normally, I can’t really see the congregation because of the lighting, but they dimmed the lights for the candlelight portion, and I looked over to where the boys were seated. I saw my five boys — thankfully, not setting the pew ablaze — and then my eyes lingered a bit longer on my two nephew-sons. In that moment, I saw a glimpse of Nathan’s facial features lit up in both of them; my eyes got watery and a lump rose in my throat, and I couldn’t sing a couple of lines. I was thinking about singing with him in Glory one day, seeing his face lit up with the Light that lacks shadows, and I felt such a pull on my heart to want to be with him.

Instead of dreading you this year like I have done in the past, I’m going to choose to be thankful for you. Seeing you again is a reminder that my time on earth isn’t yet complete. There’s still work to be finished here, and for reasons often unbeknownst to me, the Lord has designated a few particular things for my doing. So, January, I offer you a truce. Perhaps by the time you roll around again, we might even be friends.

Less than a month to go!

Something truly fantastic happened this week! I was going to wait and write about it when I knew all the details, but I can’t wait any longer to share the exciting news. I received an email from my committee chair saying: “Your committee has unanimously agreed that you should set your defense date in March.” Squee!!! I cried lots of happy tears and practically ran through the building sharing the good news with my colleagues.

We are still ironing out the details, but it’s looking like Monday, March 24, or at least sometime that week. THAT’S TWENTY-FOUR DAYS FROM NOW!!! 😀 😀 😀

I spent some time last night reading through the committee’s comments on my latest draft, and I was nearly brought to tears again with relief. The suggestions that they want me to make are relatively minor, whew. I still have a lot of work to do on Ch. 5, but I’m motivated to finish asap!

Everything (that is, a draft of the full dissertation) needs to be submitted to my committee two weeks before the defense, in order for the department to make the public announcement. That means I have a week to get my act together! :p

Thanks for all of your prayers & encouragement over the past four years. I can hardly believe that we’re this close to the finish line!!

Options?

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.

When you need an ugly cry (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 19, 2014)

Have you ever experienced an ugly cry? I don’t mean the kind of crying you do because you hit your thumb with a hammer or the dog ate your favorite shoes. I’m talking about the raw, vulnerable kind that leaves your ribs aching because even after the tears stop flowing, your lungs keep heaving. The kind of weeping that makes your nose runny and your eyes puffy.

It ain’t pretty, but sometimes it’s necessary.

Sometimes, the way to begin healing the broken pieces is to acknowledge the ugliness. I find it interesting how, in Matthew 5, Jesus’ blessing to those who are humble comes right after his blessing to those who mourn (verses 4-5). There is a sense of humility when you experience loss. Life keeps marching on, while a piece of your heart is left behind, buried. That’s humbling. When we come face-to-face with the reality that we are incapable of controlling the world around us, it’s humbling.

The good news, friends, is that when those wretched moments hit, God doesn’t want to leave us in a state of despair. Jesus said that he would comfort us when we mourn. I like the way The Message goes on to explain in v. 5 about being humble: “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

I know what it’s like when the very air around you feels suffocating, and hope seems to have wandered far away. Yet, I also know what God’s inexplicable peace feels like, and I encourage you to not lose sight of hope. Trust and rest in his promises.