Never Stop Learning

Not long ago I was reading a book with my colleagues called The Trust Edge by David Horsager. In this, the author suggested the key competency of our time is to be in a perpetual state of learning (2009). When I read this statement I thought, well sure, we live in the information age, this just naturally kind of occurs for us. But, the more I thought about this, the more I was challenged by it. Soon, I began to shift my thinking to being intentional about learning.

As adult learners, we are typically in class year round. No longer do we have the benefit of long summer breaks like we had as kids. Instead, while we are plowing through work and home life, we are also studying. Whether you are in class now, thinking of going back to school, or maybe just graduated, consider this: there truly should be no end to learning.

One of the areas Horsager suggested in which we can learn outside the classroom is through mentorship. What comes to your mind when you think of a mentor? The traditional image is often of a young person being mentored by an adult…someone who has been around the block and has some wisdom to impart. In the business world, however, mentors can look a bit different – a trusted colleague, a professor, or a business associate. Consider finding someone in your life with whom you can be brutally honest, and with whom you can take constructive criticism. Then, begin to cultivate that relationship. It’s going to require an intentional effort on your part – meeting for coffee, setting and keeping regular accountability times, and the willingness to learn from someone else.

Having been involved in several mentoring relationships in my life, I can honestly say it is both a challenging and rewarding experience. In some of these relationships, I may have started out as the mentor, but found myself often as the mentee. I learned from others as they were challenged by obstacles or presented with opportunities and grew both emotionally and spiritually.

Maybe you are at a point in your life where you feel you can help someone else learn from your experiences or skill set. Reach out, volunteer your time to organizations through your local Chambers of Commerce, Boys and Girls Club or Men/Women’s support groups – there are many out there – but the point is to be intentional about your involvement. And, just like me, I’m betting that while you may set out to be the mentor, you may find yourself changed for the better in the process.

Perhaps Walt Disney captured it best when he said, “always be in a constant state of becoming” (Horsager, 2009, p.127). In other words, never feel like you have made it. Instead, begin to tell yourself there is always more out there to learn.

 

Reference

Horsager, D. (2009). The Trust Edge. New York, NY: Free Press.

From Typical to Exceptional: One Student’s Journey

I met Sheilah at the Dalton (Georgia) Business Expo several years ago. As an admission representative for Belhaven’s Dalton and Chattanooga campuses, I’ve heard many of the “typical” reasons adults give for returning to school. Sheilah’s reasons seemed typical. She had been debating the idea of going back to school for several years. She was motivated to earn her college degree by the need to become more proficient in her work and the desire to be an example to her daughter. As with many adults contemplating college, she was somewhat unsure of her academic abilities and more unsure of how school was going to fit into her busy life. A few days later, I was pleased to receive Sheilah’s application and then later, to welcome her to the Belhaven family at orientation…a typical beginning.

So, when do typical beginnings lead to exceptional outcomes? The answer to that question is probably multi-faceted. However, it seems to me that the key to exceptional student performance lies somewhere near the intersection of a talented faculty, supportive staff, and a student’s dogged desire to overcome all obstacles standing in the way of success. Here’s Sheilah’s path to “exceptional” (shared with her permission):

She started her journey with a good decision. Sheilah tells me that returning to school was one of the best decisions she ever made. It wasn’t easy. She wrestled to overcome a difficult past and a lack of confidence in her ability to do college-level work. Now, as a graduate, Sheilah feels that returning to school has greatly increase her confidence in academic work, in her job, and in life. If you ask her, she will tell you that finding the road to success isn’t all that complicated. For Sheilah, it began with one good decision.

She recognized that the difficulties of her past could actually define her future calling. Sheilah writes “I spent a lot of my life caught up in my addiction to drugs and alcohol with no relationship with God. Now I can use my experience to help others recover from the disease of addiction.” Rather than allowing her past struggles to keep her down, she saw them as an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

She allowed herself to grow spiritually. According to Sheilah, Belhaven’s focus on Christian worldview has expanded her understanding and belief in God. It’s obvious to me that students who allow God’s word to influence them while they’re with us are those who make an exceptional impact when they graduate. As a Level 2 Certified Addiction Counselor (with a Belhaven degree and Christian worldview!), Sheilah’s work will result in the healing of many struggling individuals, thus bringing about “kingdom” transformation in their families, communities, and organizations.

Sheilah graduated summa cum laude last December, was inducted into the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society and was selected as one of our campus’s three Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges honorees. These are all exceptional outcomes, but, of course, exceptional doesn’t mean exclusive. Many adult students move from “typical” to “exceptional.” Those students, who like Sheilah, make the “good decision” to start the journey, see the past as a guide to the future, and allow God’s work to speak into their lives, will succeed as students and represent Belhaven well as graduates – like Sheilah.

 

In Times of Struggle

At times, we find out that we are in over our heads. Something happens that complicates your life and you find that the camel cannot hold the one extra straw that was placed on its back. This past week, I found out where my breaking point was. We had an injury within the family, and I have become the designated care giver for someone who is usually strong and resilient. The tasks that were normally performed by this individual have fallen to me, but my daily tasks have not lessened and I am now doing the work of two.

Time is always working against me now. There is never enough time to complete everything that is required of me. And things that I want to do are pushed way down on the list. I have had to come up with a way to prioritize my tasks so that the more important things get done. Unimportant wants are left until time is in abundance. I have found that for a few weeks, I have not been able to do anything that I want to do. I have only had time for the necessaries.

This trial will most likely last for a little while. And in that time, my hope is to tread water. The tasks that I can push off will get done when there is time, and the important will continue to be at the top of the to-do list. As things go on, it becomes easier. It is as though God gives more strength and endurance if I just take the next step in front of me.

I have known those who live their life this way. Many of whom have had life thrust upon them instead of being able to choose how to live. If you are in that boat, know that you are not alone, and know that God has a special grace for you in this time. Many people struggle with the day to day, but God gives strength to those who need it. Especially those who are studying for a degree. Just ask God for his Grace. He will help you through!

Student Outcomes vs. Student Processes

When you first expressed interest in going back to school… a lot of your focus was more than likely on all the steps, processes, and commitments needed to finalize your enrollment. Although all of these steps are necessary and essential phases of the enrollment process, it’s so important to remember that you must ultimately focus your energy on the outcome versus the processes …the WHY of finishing your degree. Now, as you are sitting in class as a student, your focus is likely on your individual assignments, class meetings, and tests that you must complete in order to move toward your ultimate outcome, graduation!

Think back to the time you initially expressed interest… what made you apply to school? What is your ultimate goal or confirmed need for you pursuing your degree? Consider what your future looks like- both with and without finishing your degree. Can you still achieve your ultimate goal and change your life if you do not finish your degree? Can you still see the value of your education?  Continue to remember your WHY of enrolling … and focus on your end result and outcome.  Staying focused on your end result…and what’s truly in this for you… is something all adult learners need to revisit when they want to quit or give up… because focusing on the end of this race, versus the tiresome miles along the way in this race… can be overwhelming… but the end is nearer than you think…and the outcome will be totally worth it… you can do this… focus on the finish line!

Discovery is a huge part of an adult learner’s ability to commit to finishing their education. You must know why you are doing this… you  must know what is going to change (for the better) when you finish, you must know what the outcome of all of this will be… so that you can make a decision, move forward, commit and finish.  If you haven’t thought about this in a while… or ever, I would encourage you to pause, self-reflect and soul-search to discover for yourself your WHY for all of this.  Remind yourself that your current self-sacrifice will get you to your next step in your life… and ultimately…all of these processes will lead to your outcome… of completing your degree. Focusing on the outcome makes the big picture less daunting and the processes along the way, a little easier to accomplish!

Next time you start to think about the date your next class will start… change your thought process on how close you are to finishing this degree and the date for your graduation ceremony! Think long term and think about where you want to go from the finish line… after all… the end of this…is just the beginning!

SPRING… a time of renewal

 

 

Spring is a time of renewal. The earth is being renewed after the cold of winter. The temperatures are warmer, and the colors of the budding and blooming flowers, trees, and other plants are beautiful to see after the dullness of the winter landscape.

Renewal.

Becoming new again.

Refreshing what was tired and weary.

I love spring because of the promise it brings of brighter days and replenished energy. I don’t know about you, but it has been a long winter for me. I am ready for the newness of the seasonal change.

If you are one of our adult students, I’m sure you need encouragement for the journey you are on. It sometimes seems like a long road. I also know that feeling. I was an adult student myself as a single parent and know the struggles of trying to balance family, job, school, church, etc.  I also know the satisfaction of completing the goals I set for myself.

As you consider where you are on your road, remember why you started this journey. What were the reasons you wanted to complete your degree? Take a deep breath. You are doing it! Look ahead and see the finish line is up ahead.

Are you weary? Have you asked God to refresh you? He will give you the strength and focus you need to continue. Just ask Him. Don’t look back. Look up and in front of you! Your goal is within reach if you don’t give up.

God bless you as you move forward, my friends.                 

Who are you serving?

Have you ever observed someone who is really wealthy, really smart, or really gifted, and think, “It must be nice being that person. They’re their own boss!”

There’s a great song by Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which contains the following lyrics:

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Dylan’s song expresses a timeless truth: everyone serves somebody.

One of the dangers of achieving higher education is growing prideful and forgetting who we are and Who we’re called to serve.

Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV) reminds us that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Let’s remember that our academic achievements are meant to equip us for service in God’s kingdom. Remembering Who we serve keeps us humble, gracious, and patient. It makes us useful in our vocations. It keeps us from serving ourselves.

If we “gotta serve somebody” in our academic pursuits, let it be the Lord!

New Year, New You (and me)

Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

As I think back on the holidays, the stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s feels like a blur. Parties, gift buying and giving, travel, eating and cooking, and did I mention all that wrapping paper to clean up? Whew, just thinking about it makes me tired. It’s easy to feel like we need a vacation after the vacation.

God’s word, however, tells us to rest and be reminded of our blessings. I love how The Message translation captures this:

I said to myself, “Relax and rest. God has showered you with blessings.
Soul, you’ve been rescued from death;
Eye, you’ve been rescued from tears;
And you, Foot, were kept from stumbling” (MSG)

Rest doesn’t only mean physical, but also emotional and spiritual. Sometimes rest means finding a quiet place to reflect and spend time alone with God. Even Jesus urged his disciples to do this. I do not believe this happens by accident, I believe that in order to truly experience rest we must be intentional about it. Yes, I hear you, “Amanda are you saying I have to plan rest into my day”? That is exactly what I am saying. Otherwise, it will fall further and further down on our list of priorities.

Earlier this year our family took the first of what I hope will be many camping trips. There is a picture I snapped during our hike that I come back to in my mind. At a beautiful bend in the trail my daughter found a bench and laid down. She didn’t just briefly sit down, she laid completely flat and stared at the sky. In full surrender and abandonment to everything around her she said, “look at the top of the trees, mom, they are dancing” (referring to them blowing in the wind). I certainly would never have thought to describe them this way, or even to have laid down and looked up mid-hike. But this act of complete and total pause allowed her to see things she might not have seen otherwise. I can’t help but think the Father has so much to show us and tell us if we just stop, look and listen. We can’t do that if we are constantly in motion.

So this year, my resolution is to plan for rest of my mind and my spirit. That may look like starting my day with a devotional at my desk, or with a carved out time on my calendar for prayer or a conversation with God. I’m still working out the details, but the important thing is I am going to be intentional about it.

Students, consider how this intentional quiet time with God can positively impact your studies and the way you approach presentations, class discussions and projects. How do you plan to incorporate this into your life? What spiritual resolution could you consider this year? I would love to see your comments below.

 

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The Paradox of Cultural Engagement

Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 5:13-14, calls his followers to be salt and light in the circumstances to which he has called us. We are to flavor, preserve, and illuminate our families, communities, and workplaces – to imitate, as much as possible, characteristics of his kingdom in our various spheres of influence. On the other hand, the apostle Paul writes that we are not to be conformed to this present world, but to be separate from it (Romans 12:2).

At the surface, the idea of cultural engagement as described in the gospel of Matthew seems to be at odds with the concept of separation from the world as presented by Paul in Romans 12. How can I be salt and light to the culture in which God has placed me and be separate from it at the same time?

Those who are called to follow Christ and who want to make a difference in this world will wrestle with this apparent paradox. The way we approach the issue of cultural engagement will ultimately impact how we carry our Christ’s great commission, so our conclusions are of extreme importance. Will we approach our culture as an entity created and loved by God (but in need of redemption) or as something to occasionally encounter but mostly retreat from in order to enhance our own personal holiness? Is it one or the other or somehow both?

The answers to these questions are not simple and, in reality, represent, for the serious Christian, an ongoing exploration. In Romans 12:2, Paul labels this inquiry a “renewing of your mind” (New English Translation). So, rather than defining separation from the culture as embracing a list of restrictions, Paul defines it as an intellectual process that leads to our discovery of God’s will for our lives (verse 2) – what it’s like for us, in our particular circumstances, to engage our culture for Christ and his kingdom.

Although there are many ways to renew one’s mind in preparation for kingdom service, university studies provide a depth and richness perhaps not found in other venues. At Belhaven University, regardless of one’s area of study (there are many from which to choose), the exploration of how a biblical worldview informs the ways in which we engage God’s world is of primary importance, especially for non-traditional adult students who are deeply entrench in family, community, and career. As stated on our website, our programs “are taught from a Christian worldview perspective and are guided by the mission to prepare students academically and spiritually to serve Christ Jesus in their careers, in human relationships, and in the world of ideas.” At Belhaven, our students learn of Christ and how to apply his teachings holistically to a culture in need of biblical flavor and illumination – to “approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.”

 

 

The Battle Belongs to the Lord

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We are all fighters. And we are all fighting battles on multiple fronts. Some of us are fighting to keep our jobs. Others are fighting corporate skirmishes. Still others are slaying imaginary dragons living in our children’s closet. We feel like we are pounding away. Sometimes, we even feel that we are winning the fight. At other times, the monsters in our head keep us lonely and depressed. Regardless of what it is, we all fight for what we believe to be right.

 

But you have fought to be here. You are a student at Belhaven University where you are striving to attain a degree that will improve your life in many ways. The trick is to remember what you are fighting for, and to stay in the fight. I heard it best from a mentor who told me, “Just keep fighting. Hold your head up and keep working hard. You’ll make it.”

 

Remember that at the end of the day, Jesus has already won the most important fight. He expects you to strive to do your best. Fight! He has already won your battle!

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Harvest Celebration!

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Harvest is a time of celebration! Those who work in Higher Education know how much hard work goes into the spring and summer months for the planning and preparation of Fall Enrollment. The time has now come to celebrate with our new and current students…. But we must never give up!  Every season is an opportunity to work hard and plant seeds for the future!  God has called us to help others and to minister to one another.  Fall is a wonderful time to reflect on all the work that we have done for His Kingdom… and I’m often reminded of the beauty of how the Lord uses nature in fall to mellow us all after the long and hot summer.

BC Forbes once said “It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the spring, who reaps a harvest in autumn.”

Whether we are working hard on the job….or diligently studying in class… our hard work will pay off, if we do not give up. In Galatians 6:9… it says “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  As easy as it seems sometimes, to just quit or take a long break… consistency will truly pay off in the end and we will get to enjoy the benefits of our labor.

Encouraging ourselves and others to stay the course can be easier said than done; however, holding one another accountable and staying focused on the end result is key to finishing a long project, a huge task, or completing a course in school.

This fall… Enjoy the benefits of your labor and rejoice in knowing God is using you for His purpose and your hard work will pay off!

 

-Erica Johnson, Director of Admission and Student Services -Belhaven Memphis Campus