Like eagles y’all!

“East Texas? Why do you want that job?”

Photo Credit: Patrick Feller via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Patrick Feller via Compfight cc

“Are you sure you like it here?”

“What’s in Marshall, Texas anyway?”

“Isn’t that far from home?”

I’ve been getting questions like these ever since we moved to Marshall – mostly from my parents and grandma – because they just don’t see the whole picture.

If I’m honest, I don’t really see it either. But that’s ok. God does. It’s just our job to trust Him.

In fact, I’ve moved around more than you’re average young adult. And my parent’s aren’t even in the military!

I was born in Shreveport, LA. We lived there until I was 7, when we moved to Euless, TX  because of my dad’s job. When I was 10, we moved to Omaha, NE, again because of my dad’s job. Then I got my bachelor’s degree at Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln, NE. I moved to Saint Louis, MO to get my Masters at Saint Louis University, and moved to Lawrence, KS to get my PhD.

For those of you keeping score, that means moving to Marshall was my my 6th move!

Photo Credit: Frenkieb via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Frenkieb via Compfight cc

My dear, sweet husband has been with me for two of those moves. And that’s a lot for most people we know! Not to mention six!!

Has the path always been clear? Absolutely not!

There were a few veeeeeeeeery long months where I was about to finish my Masters degree, didn’t know where to apply for PhD programs, wasn’t getting accepted anywhere, couldn’t get a regular job, and almost lost all hope.

But then I got accepted at the University of Kansas – my ideal program! I prayed about it, and God said that He told me to wait, and everything would work out.

When I was about to finish my PhD, I had some choices available. I was receiving a tuition grant in exchange for teaching undergrad Communication classes, and it would have been possible for me to stretch out the work on my dissertation another year, and just stay in Kansas for the 2013-2014 school year. I was comfortable there, so I thought I’d just see what kind of jobs were out there to apply for.

There were some veeeeeeeeeeeeery long months where I was looking for jobs, applying, and getting rejection letters. I was thinking that maybe I was supposed to just apply for  positions again the following year, because NOTHING was working out.

But then I got a job at ETBU – my ideal program! I, very excitedly, prayed about it, and God said that He told me to wait, and everything would work out.

Sometimes, in moments like these, God’s voice sounds a little sarcastic to me – like, silly, you know that I will take care of you and that I have a plan, you just aren’t patient enough to see it through. Does that happen to anyone else?

Throughout all of this, I continually turned to Isaiah 40:31. I even had a sticky note on my computer with that verse, so that I would see it every time I sat down to fill out ANOTHER application.

Isaiah 40:31 New Life Version (NLV)

31 But they who wait upon the Lord will get new strength. They will rise up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weak.

Does anyone remember that scene in Remember the Titans where the large, white football player recites this verse in song? That’s how I always think of it :)

If you need a refresher, check out this clip:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M66CWwlrp_c

Well, the moral of this long, drawn out story is that God ALWAYS has a plan.

Photo Credit: EladeManu via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: EladeManu via Compfight cc

And it is ALWAYS better than any plan you or I could dream up. We just have to wait to find out what it is, which is definitely the hard part.

Since coming to Marshall, other wonderful things have happened to me and my family, and it is a constant reassurance that we really are living out God’s plan, and it feels good!

I know that lots of students are staring graduation in the face right now, or in six months, and it is scary.

But take it from me, God’s in your corner, and things will work out if you just wait for His plan!

AL

I “Heart” Poland

Poland3

Will Walker & Alan Huesing

In early-Fall 2009, Mr. Alan Huesing, ETBU’s Director of International Education, asked me to join him on trip. ETBU’s Theatre Department was performing at a festival in Częstochowa, Poland, and Alan was accompanying them as a guide, nurturing ETBU’s relationship with a local sister university, and working towards setting up future travel courses experiences. As the then-Department Chair in Kinesiology, I was asked to join the travel group to explore course options for our department. What a great opportunity!

But I really didn’t want to go, because I was afraid.

I am a Type-I diabetic (I may write more-extensively about this later), and at the time I had been on an insulin pump for only a few weeks after taking multiple injections every day for nearly 20 years. I was not at all comfortable yet with my mastery of this technology that was literally keeping me alive (and that runs on a single AAA battery).

What if I screwed it up? What if something happened to my insulin? What if my pump broke? What if, what if, what if…

Last week, I wrote that “professors must intentionally take students out of their respective comfort zones, forcing REAL goal-directed social interactions among mixed groups. Additionally, students must be intentional in their pursuit of these connections.”

Well guess what? Professors must do the same thing for themselves.

"All along the watchtower, princes kept the view..."

“All along the watchtower, princes kept the view…”

If we only invest ourselves in what and who we already know, we stagnate as professionals, and we stagnate as people. Also, we have to intentionally pursue those opportunities to move beyond our comfort, or at worst, not turn them down when they are presented to us.

As you may have guessed by this point given the pictures, I went on the trip.

I went on the trip and everything went off without a hitch (medically). I had nothing to fear, “For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

From start to finish, the trip was a blessing. This is just a small sample of the positives.

  • I had the awe-inspiring experience of touring different camps in Auschwitz.
  • I learned about Alan’s history working with ETBU International Education (more on this next week).
  • I re-established old connections with the ETBU Theatre Department. As part of that, I gained a better appreciation and understanding for what Traci Ledford and others in their department do; she’s a coach, not of a sport, but of a physical performance. The skillset is amazingly similar to what a head coach in a sport might do during game preparations and on game days.
  • We got to attend several tremendous productions, including our own production of All My Sons.
  • We went to Jurassic Park.
  • I accompanied Alan, as he met university presidents and school headmasters, helping set up future travel opportunities (the Kinesiology travel course to Poland happened in May 2011). We were even treated to a children’s play.

I would have missed out on all of this had I not overcome my concern. Just as we encourage those in physical training to go beyond comfort in order to have physical benefits and just as we must encourage our students to expand their horizons in order to grow, we must progressively overload ourselves to produce personal growth. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Even in Poland.

WW

With fear and trepidation

Photo Credit: Matt Hamm via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Matt Hamm via Compfight cc

There’s a reason that I rarely post to Facebook, avoid Twitter, and have never started my own blog. It might seem strange that I now am blogging about my avoidance of the social media bandwagon, but frankly I am terrified to throw my ideas out in public for the entire world to peruse, review, and critique without the ability to have a face-to-face and preferably one-on-one conversation about them.

The thing I most loved about my graduate school experience was sitting around the conference table having passionate debate with people that I could still consider colleagues and friends at the end of the day.  My experience reading discussions online hasn’t replicated this experience. I find that (some) people tend to throw out niceties and manners when they arrive in cyberspace and rather than having sensible discussions about differences of opinion they attack, point fingers and resort to name-calling.

The fact of the matter is that, even were the entire world kind and gracious, I don’t really like drawing attention to myself.  Most people find it odd to learn that I’m an introvert as I don’t mind teaching in front of a classroom or even a stadium full of people. While being in front of people isn’t a problem, talking about myself rather than my subject tends to be difficult. So we arrive again at my hesitation to post personal reflections that the entire world can see.

So, what do I do? I submit my name for consideration as a Spring 2014 blogger for the Intersection. (Yes, I am aware that this might mean I’m crazy!)  Even as I type this first blog post on the CECS Intersection, I do so with a bit of trepidation.

And yet, I choose to post these thoughts because even more than I dislike the vulnerability of this discussion that is open to the world, I love to converse about the intersection of my discipline (leadership) and our Christian faith. I find myself having this conversation quite frequently in recent weeks…

  • With our commencement speaker as we waited in line
  • Standing on a curb in the bitter cold wind (Why didn’t we move inside?)
  • At the car lot with a (really helpful and kind) salesperson

It seems that just about everyone is interested in a conversation about leadership.  And though many people are surprised to hear that leadership is my academic discipline (or an academic discipline at all), I’m pleased that it is the kind of discipline that most people feel they can converse about. So, I’ve decided to move the conversation online. And though, I’d like to keep the conversation pleasant and lighthearted, I fear it may occasionally (next week, for instance) dip over into the controversial or difficult. Still, I’m willing to risk it so that we can all be a part of this conversation about what it looks like to lead as followers of Christ.

And maybe, just maybe we can do so without forfeiting kindness, graciousness, and civility.

 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

-EP

This Side of Heaven

Sharon and I stayed close to home this Thanksgiving.  My parents were traveling, so we invited a few friends over for dinner.  My wife can cook.  And she can decorate.  The table was perfect.  The food was too.  And at the end of the evening, Sharon prepared to-go boxes and sent everyone home with leftovers to enjoy the next day.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

But for the families of two of my friends, sadness found its way into the week.  And Thanksgiving Day did not go as they had planned.

Last Tuesday, in the Ambulatory Surgery Center at Good Shepherd Hospital in Longview, a man went on a stabbing spree—leaving four people injured, one critically.  A nurse lost her life in the confrontation.

The man’s name was Harris Teel.  He was stabbed in the heart while waiting for his son to come out of surgery.  He is the father of a friend I used to teach with.  He is still fighting for his life.  And I know that his family is on their knees praying for his survival.  I am lifting up prayers for Mr. Teel and his family as well.

The nurse was Gail Sandidge.  When she heard the disturbance, she left the patient she was caring for to be of assistance.  She too was stabbed in the heart.  She was related by marriage to a dear friend who is a member of the church where I worship.  Gail was a wife, mother, sister and dear friend to so many.  And besides being a devoted nurse who loved her patients, she was a believer who walked close with God.

I didn’t know Gail.  But I have been in that part of the hospital as a patient before, and the nurses on that floor have been a blessing to me.

As I reflected on this tragedy, I remembered a day six years ago when I was having a catheter surgically implanted in my chest just above my heart.  The catheter would serve as the entry point for my chemo drugs.  The morning of the surgery, I was apprehensive.  But then a nurse breezed into my cubicle and smiled warmly.  She asked me about my cancer and I told her I had lymphoma.  Then she told me that she was a stage 3 breast cancer survivor. “Your oncologist,” she said, “was also mine, and he’s the best.”

Then she did something extraordinary.  Something I will never forget.  She looked at me and said, “I had the same procedure you’re having today.  I had a catheter placed in my chest too—Here, let me show you my scar.”  And she pulled the collar of her uniform down just enough to show me where the catheter had once been.  “You don’t have to be afraid,” she said. “You’re in God’s hands.  It’s up to us to fight the cancer, and it’s up to Him to do the miracles.  And He can do miracles.  I’m living proof.”

She didn’t know me.  But she knew how to bring calm into that cubicle.  She expressed vulnerability.  She showed me her scar.  She made the unknown known.  She didn’t waste her cancer.

And when she left the room, Sharon whispered, “Little angels.”

Last Tuesday, when Gail went home to be with the Lord, heaven certainly gained another precious angel.

I know Gail’s family is mourning her death.  But as he reflected on the loss, Gail’s minister, the Rev. David English, said this: “We grieve, but not like those without hope.  God can and will redeem this loss somehow, although we may not be aware of it this side of heaven.”

His words struck me.  Each one of us, after all, is living just this side of heaven.

I am mindful, always, that my life is a vapor.  Six years into remission, I understand that each day is a gift from God.  And each day is filled with gifts for us to treasure.

I live a blessed life.  And I am grateful—for my wife, my family and friends, and for the students on this campus that God has entrusted into my care.  Each day, I have the opportunity to invest in their lives, with the dream that they will, in turn, invest in the lives of others.

And so, while I’m still this side of heaven—

May I be a faithful servant to the students in my classroom.

May I be a man who reveals the heart of God.

May I be willing to share my scars with others.

And may I remember that someday on the other side—“. . . there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.”

(Revelation 21: 4)

 skc

 

The Fear Factor

I went to an academic conference over the summer.  Several of the speakers zeroed in on an area of research that is finally getting some traction.  The question they addressed concerned student success in college.  One survey, taken at the Community College of Baltimore, discovered two primary reasons students drop out of school—They are overwhelmed by life problems.  Or they are overwhelmed by affective issues, mostly centered around “fear, anxiety, and a suspicion that they are just not college material.”

In other words, ability is usually not the problem.  Life is. The fear factor is.

So, how do we help these students?  The suggestions given are common-sense ones—“Create a safe atmosphere” in the classroom.  Find a balance between “flexibility” and “tough love”—between “compassion” and “firmness” (a lot harder than it might sound).  Implement “confidence-building experiences” early on in the semester.

And be aware of mindsets—because students will have “fixed mindsets” or “growth mindsets.”

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says that a fixed mindset is “the belief that intelligence is fixed [which] dampens students’ motivation to learn, makes them afraid of effort, and makes them want to quit after a setback.”

So when classes get hard, students give up.  Because when they struggle, Dweck says, they “feel dumb.”

Do I have students who have this mindset?  Of course.  But my confession is this: Sometimes I have the same mindset.

I fear failure.  And in my profession, where performance is evaluated and measured each semester, I often feel like I’m not measuring up.  And when I struggle, I feel dumb.  This doesn’t motivate me to be better.  It discourages me and makes me want to give up.

I guess the question is this: How do we establish growth mindsets?  How do we establish the belief that just because something is challenging and causes us to struggle, this is not a reflection of our intelligence or ability?

I’m pretty sure that most of the speakers at the conference did not embrace a Christian world view.  If there is such a thing as grace, I learned, it is merely a human grace we extend to each other.  And as teachers, we know the expectations of gracious teaching.  Help students to realize their potential and to be true to themselves.   Encourage.  Uplift.  Reinforce.  Reaffirm.  We do this because we care about them.  But we do this too because we care about retention, and we must always be looking for ways to keep students from dropping out.

But is this all there is to teaching?  Just getting students to finish college and get jobs so we not only identify them as successful but ourselves, as well?

I worry a lot about leaving God out of this equation.

Do I care for my students? Yes.  Do I want them to graduate?  Yes.  Do I want them to get good jobs?  Yes.  But. . . .

If this is all we are about as educators, we only address part of the need.  Because each one of us has a soul.  And souls don’t have expiration dates, like milk.  We will all live forever.

I take education seriously.  But I take eternity much more seriously.

I admit to my students that college is a big thing.  But it is not the whole thing.  God has opened this door of opportunity for you, I tell them, so seize it.  Work hard and be successful, not to bring honor to yourself, but to bring glory to God.

And when they get scared.  When they start to struggle.  When the challenges seem insurmountable.  I remind them that they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength.  Trust Him, I say.  Lean on Him.  Because He is real and He is relevant.

I work hard in the classroom.  I take the material seriously.  But I am also serious about modeling a life that glorifies God, the author of grace.  If they don’t see that life in me, I have failed.  Measure me all you want.  Evaluate me all you want.  But I have a greater judge.  And when I stand before Him, I hope I hear these words—“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I want that for me. I want that for you.  I want that for my students.  Because that is true success.  

SC