Black Jellybeans (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 18, 2014)

It takes a lot of courage to play the kids’ game of “Open your mouth & close your eyes, and you will have a big surprise!” You could end up with a delicious caramel or a licorice jellybean. (Unless you actually like black jellybeans, in which case, more power to you. Just thinking about them makes me want to gag.) I’ve been on the receiving end of one too many yucky surprises, so I am reluctant to play the game anymore. The trust just isn’t there.

Isn’t that like life, though? Sometimes we go through phases that feel like we’ve been given one bite of bitter licorice after another, so we lose trust and decide that God must not have our best interests in mind, after all. Jeremiah 29:11 is a popular verse, which reminds us that God has a purpose and plan for us. However, if you read the verse in context with the rest of the chapter, it illustrates this notion of choices and tricks very well. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon. God tells them straight up that they might as well make the most of their situation, since he intended to leave them there for 70 years because they had turned their backs on him and followed false prophets, instead.

Granted, I don’t think that God plays tricks on us for a good laugh, but I firmly believe that he often lets us experience the consequences for our own choices. It might sound like a silly analogy, but we can’t expect to hang out with people who love licorice, keep candy jars full of black jellybeans in our homes, frequent the candy store, and then have the gall to complain about the licorice.

Sometimes we go through unpleasant times simply because we didn’t bother to step off the path that took us there.

Hopefully any trials that you are experiencing are more along the lines of icky jellybeans than decades of exile, but regardless of what your “Babylon” circumstance looks like, heed the instructions of Jeremiah 29:7: “And work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray for her, for if Babylon has peace, so will you.” Don’t wallow in your misery and feel sorry for yourself; strive to make it better, and honor God through your efforts.

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.