Sometimes Life Is Like A Multiple Guess Test

F… F is always a good choice…

If there is anything that sticks out and bugs me most about the culture we live in, it’s the insistence that everything in life should be handled like a test. Every problem has a simple and clear solution, every question has a clear concise answer. We see magazines and videos touting “5 Easy Ways to____” or “Top 10 Solutions to X Problem”. We treat parenting and marriage like there are simple ways to navigate them. We even water down theology to catechism and assume our rote memorization will suffice for true knowledge. 
I think much of the reason we expect our questions in life to have simple succinct answers is that we grew up reading textbooks in school. Then, because of standardized testing we spent great energy applying textbook answers to test questions.  We were essentially trained to think life must have these textbook answers as well. Why would school mislead us? 

We become adults and face decisions and only see “A” or “B”. If we know “A” is wrong, we assume that it must be “B”. 

But is this how life actually works? No. Of course not. Usually there is a “C” option, more often than not there is a “D” as well. The more we look the more we discover that the direction we can go looks more like alphabet soup than a single textbook course. 

Sometimes we arrive at an impasse. There is every conceivable choice with every conceivable outcome. Life becomes a multiple guess test, sometimes with a few random essay questions thrown in just to keep things interesting. 

This of course can be quite paralyzing. To our “A” or “B” trained minds, “C” to “Z” can seem impossible to consider. We can’t possibly interpret all the data being thrown at out heads. We seek out articles and books and videos like the ones I mentioned above to help us parse out and narrow down the data.

But sometimes. Sometimes. There are just too many data points to consider. We can’t make our choice based on textbook solutions. So what do we do? 

We act. 

It is really that simple. 

We may not always know what to do, but we can at least be fairly sure that doing something is preferable to doing nothing. Sometimes you have to stumble through those multiple guess answers to arrive at something of a clear destination. 

Frequently, if we are acting, we “fail”. In the short term our failures seem catastrophic. We chose “C” but the best choice would have been “K”. This bad choice suddenly derails us and we find ourselves wondering if any of our guesses were correct. 

The only answer we know about our lives is that there is a beginning and an end. Often there are no answers about what comes between. Life is not a test. There are no simple ways to navigate its many paths, one just has to pick the path and take it. 

If there is any textbook answer in life it can be found in Scripture. We are promised that if we seek God’s will our paths will be made straight. If we choose our path with an acknowledgement that God is sovereign over all outcomes He will direct our steps down that path. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6

Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established. – Proverbs 16:3

The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. – Proverbs 16:9

So go, do something. Stop expecting easy answers. Stop looking for a textbook to tell you step by step instructions for every detail of life. Even the Bible doesn’t give specific directions. Sometimes you just have to step out in faith and do instead waiting around for a specific instruction. 

Make the guess, let God determine how it all turns out. 

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No-Ass, Half-Ass, and Whole-Ass: How Our Perception Affects Our Ability to “Succeed”, Or: A Tale of Two Insects

One thing (out of many) that marriage has taught me is that personalities and perceptions can vary quite differently, even between two people who have committed their lives to each other. This of course can lead to quite a bit of conflict in relationships. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. No, I want to talk about success and how each of our personalities achieves it or fails at it. 

My wife has a Whole-Ass or No-Ass personality. Pardon the language if you will, but I think it gets the point across, donkeys are notoriously stubborn. She is either going to do something all the way, or she will not do it all the way. If she can’t full-ass it why ass it at all? She claims this has to do with her ISTP personality, I don’t know how much I believe that, but she is not the only person I’ve met like that. 

These people are the Butterflies of the workforce. They flutter around, job to job, task to task, always brilliant, always noticed, and quite good at whatever they do. But they never sit still long enough to leave a lasting impression, and they quickly burn out. 

The Butterflies are specialists. Unless they find a niche to rest on they tend to get blown around by the wind. When they find that niche however, watch out! These niched Butterflies are some of the most “successful” people in the world, career wise. 

The weakness here is that Butterflies never start anything. They are paralyzed by their perfectionist ways. If it can’t be exactly the way they want it, they won’t want it. They would rather do nothing than do a less-than-perfect job. 

This makes life in the conventional world pretty complicated. 

The conventional world generally caters to people like me, the generalist. Generalists are half-assers. We learn to be just mediocre enough to survive. Why get good at one thing if you can be mediocre at all things? 

We are the Jack of All Trades, Masters of None (JATMON). JATMON, unlike Butterflies, tend to be really good at school. Our school systems are designed to bring this personality out in people. Schools are intended to make people “well rounded” which is really just a fancy way of saying “all around mediocre”. 

And schools even reward mediocrity with prestige. As long as our mediocrity is slightly better than the next guy, we are given high grades and puffed up with feelings of accomplishment. 

“Successful” JATMON typically end up as middle management but sometimes rise to the top as politicians or upper management. Rarely do we find ourselves as successful entrepreneurs. When it happens it’s typically because we have just enough of a specialist in us to squeak out a successful business. 

The weaknesses of the JATMON are pretty obvious. While we may be able to live comfortably by world standards, we hardly ever reach our full potential. Our half-ass nature prohibits us from getting much higher than half of our ability. As long as we put in enough effort to sustain the status quo in our lives we aren’t going to try all that much harder. Given that the vast majority of people have been trained to be this way, it’s not much of a stretch to say we live in a mediocre society. 

When an individual JATMON becomes aware of his own mediocrity (such as when he marries a Butterfly) it can be devastating. His whole life he has put in minimal effort and has managed to climb the ladder because his minimal is just slightly more than the next guy’s. 

Now he’s faced with the very real understanding that what he has done is not nearly enough. He’s looking at a Butterfly but he is merely an ant, working diligently within the bounds of the world around him. He will never fly, he will never be noticed, and he will never be exceptionally good at anything. But, at the end of the day, since he is so trained, he prefers the stability of the average to the flighty life of the Butterfly. 

The Butterfly doesn’t care much about a more stable life. She looks at the ant and his relative comfort and loathes his slavery to conventionalism. Whereas the ant is able to relax after a full day’s mediocrity, she will never be satiated with her knowledge of the world around her, and her lifespan at each task will never be comfortably long enough. 

This makes the Butterfly very difficult to hire. While the JATMON ant is desirable for his ability to do any job mediocrely, the Butterfly is hindered by her inability to accept any less than awesome. This difficulty in the job realm eventually becomes a frustration to the Butterfly, not because she wants stability but because she wants something new and different, but the conventional world doesn’t appreciate her inability to sit still.  

So how do both get what they want? How does the JATMON ant get out of the rut of mediocrity or the Butterfly get a job that’s stable enough to get her her niche? 

The JATMON has to find a job where his varied knowledge and broad skill set can be applied effectively. He should strive to push himself to the max in at least one area, and this may require him to reduce the number of interests he has. He has to accept the fact that mediocrity sucks for getting anywhere in life. It will serve him better to take one of the things he’s best at and hone his skills to a fine point. 

The Butterfly may have to settle on something she’s less than perfect at, for at least the short term. She may have to accept that she is not going to be perfect at everything but that doesn’t mean that she can’t do anything. She has to find a job that satisfies her material needs while still offering a challenge and constant entropy that she needs to keep her mind stimulated. 

The conventional world often defines success in terms of dollars earned. The Butterfly defines success by how good she is at something, the JATMON by how many things he can do. All should define success as a mish-mash of all three: be legitimately good at a variety of things such that you can comfortably meet your material needs. 

By adjusting their definitions and making small compromises, both the Butterfly and the JATMON can be successful despite their limitations. 

Dealing With the Dreaded Monster of Disappointment 

The saddest picture I could find…

The other morning I woke up disappointed, my wife had promised me that she would do something the night before. But we arrived home late and having chased children all day and gone shopping she collapsed exhausted into bed without doing what she said she would do. 

I went to bed sad that she hadn’t done what she said she would do but I forgave it and went to sleep. But after she woke me up at 5:00 AM to lower our awning during a storm,  I could not go back to sleep. I kept thinking of my disappointment.   I did not want to go back to bed. I let my disappointment ruin my sleep.  I was so resentful that when she finally did what she said she was going to do I let the disappointment ruin my gratitude for it.

Disappointment is not sinful. We live in a world filled with sinners and sin, there are going to be plenty of times when we are disappointed.

What is sinful is allowing that disappointment to fester into discontent or resentment. 

What is sinful is using that disappointment as leverage to be selfish and disappoint others. 

There are ample opportunities in life for disappointment to rear its ugly head. In marriage, in parenting, in work. Any place where sinners interact is a place where disappointment can take up a comfortable residence. Everywhere that we have expectations of others is a place we can be disappointed. 

Don’t be like me and not voice those expectations. And really don’t expect others to randomly know what you expect and meet those expectations as though it was their idea. 

Does that person know your expectations of them?  Does that person know how strongly expectation is? Do you express your expectations in a healthy way or do you expect that that person is just going to meet your desires of their own volition?

Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  I’m sure that your wife or your child or your coworker do not make it their goal in life to make your life miserable.  I doubt that they make it their purpose in life to disappoint you.  Sometimes they just don’t know your expectation. Sometimes they just don’t know how strongly you expected it.  Often, they may not know how to go about it or they’re just not going to do it until you press the matter and make it important to them. 

Even in places where we don’t have to interact with people we can find ourselves disappointed. When rain washes out your evening walk. When weeds choke out our favorite garden plants. Really, anytime we don’t get our way is a time in which disappointment can take hold. 

The best way to avoid or turn away that disappointment is to adjust your expectations. Understand the fallibility of those you interact with. Understand the fickle nature of the universe around us and realize that it doesn’t revolve around you. Nature will hurt you, people will hurt you. 

Adjusting your expectations doesn’t mean that you become a pessimist and expect others to fail. It just means that you anticipate the possibility and have the grace to accept failure when it occurs. 

When my wife fell asleep before the lights of the trailer were even out, I responded sinfully by holding onto her failure towards me and letting it fester into resentment. Instead, I should have forgiven her and given her grace. I should have adjusted my expectations (she was exhausted) and let it go. Then, when she did get around to doing it, I could have enjoyed it and been grateful instead of grouchy. 

Disappointment is a fact of life. The better we learn how to handle it the better off we will be. Adjust your expectations of fallen man and learn to forgive. Only then can you begin slaying the beast called disappointment. 

Silence Is (Not So) Golden

Nothing new here. Life is moving on imperceptibly slow. Sure, there are minor details of life that may be interesting to some, but for the most part life has been nothing but the slow turn of the Earth, marching onward with no slow down in sight. 
I’m not sure how much time has passed since I have been here. Sure, a calendar will tell me it has been two weeks since my arrival, but every day has felt like many days. Even yesterday is a blur at this point. 

I went without running water in my temporary home for almost ten days only to find that the leak that had once forced me to keep it off has mysteriously ceased. I had a shower today and it was lovely. Also, my dishes that had piled in the sink refound their homes in cabinets and drawers. 

Life has been good, yet lacking. 

I miss the companionship of a wife and children. I miss the noise that accompanies the domestic half of my life. Work is a welcome distraction from the silence of my borrowed trailer, but it is no substitute for the joy of family. 

So I wait, impatiently, for their arrival, angry at those who have delayed it with their careless (and possibly criminal) actions (or lack therof). 

Perhaps I should relish the silence, enjoy the time spent in quiet. Perhaps I should take this time to reflect or grow. 

Not for me. For me, there is no growth without the stress of noise. There is nothing in silence but time for navel-gazing and dangerous over-contemplation of one’s life choices. 

I think too much when I am alone. I go to places the mind should never go. I worry and fret and despair over details of life which I have no control over. I take too much credit for my position in time and space. 

If I have discovered anything in this time of silence it’s this: God has given me gifts which I have taken for granted. I assume that what I have is normal and is a part of me, like appendages. I did nothing to bring them into existence, they just are. Every good gift must be something I deserved, merely because I exist. 

But, a wife, children, and the fertilizer of chaos are not deserved, they are gifts. God supplies them for the growth of a man, and when they are removed, even temporarily, a man can find himself stunted and unable to flourish. 

God knows I need noise as much as He knows I need times of silence. One to grow me, the other to force acknowledgement of His gifts. 

Pray that they arrive safely and more importantly soon. 

Tumult

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The mind of a two-year old is a tumultuous place, going from the highest of highs to the lowest of sorrows in a single breath. Sometimes I wonder if my mind is much different. I fear that our highest highs get numbed, while our lowest lows get more morbid with time. Death is always ever closer. We feel not simply the sorrow of not getting one’s way, but the sorrow of knowing that every moment gets more and more valuable. To watch a young child get frustrated with circumstances one is convicted that one is nothing more than a young child all grown up. As we get older we are still frustrated, but our frustration is directed at different objects. Life never cooperates. By the time one figures that out, life performs its last frustrating act: it ends.

I am terribly resistant to change. I want everything to stay the same. I will go to great lengths to ensure nothing ever changes. I take pictures. Lots of pictures. Not because I will ever look at them, but because they preserve every present moment. No one changes in a picture. No one grows up. No one ages. No one dies. That moment is perfectly captured. Frozen. Still. I resist change and attempt to live my life in a series of these frames. But life is never still. Life is never frozen. I can’t hold a single moment in a frame and be there forever.
Perhaps I am subconsciously preoccupied with death. Not a fear of death. Just a fascination with its inevitability. It is the one thing we all experience. It is the destination of all of our changes. Good changes, bad changes, all changes end with the one final change.
I don’t think God wants us to be morbidly occupied with our death. We should be acutely aware of it, but we should not allow it to dominate our lives. We were made to glorify and enjoy Him forever and “forever” begins in this mortal life.  If I am to truly enjoy Him I should enjoy His gifts in my life. I should enjoy my children and my wife. I should enjoy good food and drink. I should enjoy music and friends and knowledge. I should embrace the world around me with unabashed joy.
If I am to glorify Him I should show the agnostic and atheist world around me that there is joy in knowing the Creator. There is pleasure in His creation. Death is inevitable but it is not to be feared. It comes at precisely the moment God decides in His wisdom to bring it. And those that know Him and His salvation have even less to fear, because while that enjoyment begins in this mortal season it gets better in the eternal season.
I want to learn contentment this year.  Part of contentment is accepting change. Part of accepting change is accepting the inevitable. To accept the inevitable one, has to accept the ultimate inevitable: death. Only when I accept death and place it in its proper place in my mind will I be able to enjoy life with contentment and without tumult.

Some Birthday Resolutions

Today is my 32nd birthday. When your birthday falls this close to Christmas and new years it tends to get lost in the stress of one and the excitement of the other. Because it is so close to the new year anyway, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Instead I try to make some resolutions for my own next trip around the sun.

Before I start on the resolutions for this year, let me count this past year’s blessings. This year I finally got my full time fire job. I was blessed to travel through 15 states and live in 4.i gained incredible experience in firefighting and friendship. I gained at least five new friends. I got to watch my children frolic and explore nature in the mountains and the deserts and the ocean. I grew closer to my wife and watched her grow in incredible ways. I learned to pace myself and trust in the Lord’s Providence. I saw many beautiful parts of creation. There are probably many more that I will remember after writing this.

This year was also a painful year. With blessings come the crucible fires of sanctification. We started off the year treating the depression that has plagued Nicole for as long as I have known her. This meant the trials of antidepressants and the struggles of adjusting to a wife that I had never known. Follow this up with a job offer in February almost all the way across the country. After accepting the job I made perhaps one of the worst decisions that I have ever made by buying an old rv from a squirrely redneck in western Florida. This choice led to thousands of dollars of debt and two months of beating my head against the wall trying to get the thing to run, not knowing if I should just turn down the job to stay with my family.

Given the stagnation of our lives and my career for the previous five or more years we decided to take the job and trust the Lord to reunite us when He saw fit. This meant driving alone to Utahzona and leaving Nicole and the five kids back in Florida. She worked on the RV as much as she could before one of her worst nightmares came true.

A report was made to the session of our church and they were bound by law to call the Department of Children and Families (CPS) to investigate. I got the call from Nicole while in training, followed by a call from our now pastor explaining how it had all come to that. They had tried to ensure they would be with her when the agent came but the CPS lady knocked on the door before they could get there. In five minutes the focus shifted from reunion to preservation.

Nicole spent the hardest week of her life cleaning and disposing all of the clutter that had filled our home and our lives for the past ten years. Our church family sprung to action and acted with the most love and generosity that we have ever known. By the time the investigator returned our home was the best it had ever been. But the pain was deep and it left me feeling like I had abandoned my family and Nicole feeling much bitterness towards me and my hoarding habits.

I spent six weeks living as a bachelor in AZ before she finally gave up on the RV and bought a trailer. Ten days after that purchase and one very long trip with five kids, two cats, one dog, and one bearded dragon (who sadly did not survive the trip) we were searching for a place to park in Kanab, Utah at around midnight. We spent our first night together in a dirt pull off north of town.

The following day we moved to the Kaibab and began dealing with the problems of trailer life, namely lack of water supply, dump sites, or steady electricity. In time all of these problems were solved, and new ones came to light.
I dealt with difficult people at work and probably made my first enemy in life. She dealt with loneliness and fear that someone might attack her in the woods. There were some hairy moments in our marriage out there on that mountain.

Then came the unexpected death of Nicole’s granddad and the unsuccessful attempt to get her to VA for the funeral.I have never had to help her mourn for any family member and I am still not sure I did the best I could have.

Six and a half months of work and life on the Kaibab ended in October and for the first time since graduating college I found myself unemployed. Driving to VA with practically no money was a trip in itself. We made it in ten days.

Now I find myself a full-time stay at home dad while Nicole is (happily) working two jobs. This has been the most trying two months of this year as I learn a completely new job managing five hooligans while living in two houses and a trailer.

Money is tight and the mortgage is late, but for the first time this year we feel somewhat hopeful for what the next few months will bring.

My biggest resolution this year is to learn contentment. For as long as I can remember my focus has been on the negatives of life. I have always seen all of the wrongs and never the rights. I apologize for enjoying anything and feel like I should be ashamed of good feelings. I push down all the good and instead focus on all of the “shoulds” of life. Far too often my response to a blessing is “This should be____” or “I wish this was more____”.

This year I want to learn how to enjoy my blessings and be content with all that God has given me. I resolve to play with my children more. I resolve to love my wife more passionately and with more abandon. I resolve to take every day as a gift and work to glorify God in each one. I resolve to live life according to what is, and not according to what I wish it was. I resolve not to take for granted my work, my talents, my family, my friends, or my days here on Earth. I intend to stop saying “I’m sorry” when I enjoy my blessings and instead say “thank you.”

By the Grace of God I will do all of these things and whatever else He intends to teach me to do this year.

My Chief End

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Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

That is the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This, I believe, is the Bible’s answer to the commonly asked question “What is the meaning of life?” If I was asked about the meaning of life, that would be my answer. How that answer is applied is a bit more nuanced.

As seen on my definitions page I define truth as “that which corresponds to reality” and economy as “household management”. If I had to apply the first catechism question to my life I would say my chief way of glorifying God is to learn true truth and apply it the best I can to my personal economy.

“True” truth is objective. In our post-postmodern world, most would say there is no truth. To most in our world truth is as subjective as one’s feelings about a subject. As feelings change, so also does truth. This has led to a myriad of confusion on a number of topics, gender and sexuality being two of the more recent hot buttons. Confusion about reality used to be called “psychosis” where now it is often labeled as just another version of reality. Raised in a world where truth is subjective, we are quickly becoming a generation of psychotics.

My biggest earthly goal is to gain the proper perspective of the truth and not rely on my subjective viewpoint of it. This can be tricky of course, as my mind is finite, flawed, and my perceptions are skewed my own sinful nature. As a created being, I will never know the full extent of all truth in the universe, only God can know that. But it doesn’t mean I should stop trying.

Where does one find truth? This is a hotly debated question among Christians. Some insist that truth can only be found in the Bible while others feel truth can be observed in other places. I tend to be of the latter camp.

The Bible contains the only necessary truth for saving the human soul from damnation, but it does not contain every truth or the only truth that man can know. There are some in the Reformed camp who believe that man can know nothing outside of scripture, but I think a basic reading of Romans 18-22 makes this argument mute.

“18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”

Man observes nature and self and understands the existence of God, as well as His attributes and nature. He knows God and understands Gods attributes just by virtue of being created in the image of God and in being able to observe creation itself. Man knows before he suppresses, he is perfectly able to discern, he just chooses out of his depravity to suppress the knowledge (this is normally where I point out to Presuppositional apologists that man is “without excuse”, but that’s another topic for another day).

It’s not just the nature and attributes of God that man can observe and understand in nature, it’s anything which God chooses in His sovereignty to allow man to know. For instance: we can know truths about nature, about economics, about physics, about math, and about our physical bodies, all without consulting the Bible. Sinful man may never get a full view of every subject, and our imperfect views may lead us to false beliefs about a topic, but with enough observation it is possible for us to get a workable grasp on reality.

Some would say that our finite minds and flawed thinking prevent us from having real knowledge, but I think it’s close enough that we shouldn’t squabble with semantics. We can know well enough to put our knowledge to good use.  We can understand our physical reality enough to manipulate it for our needs, otherwise we would have never survived life outside the Garden.

Should we rely solely on our observations to comprehend reality? No! Scripture contains enough truth about other matters (besides Salvation) that we can make comparative analysis. When we make an observation about the physical universe Christians can and should consult scripture to see if our observation matches with scripture. If it does not match scripture, either our interpretation of scripture is wrong or our interpretation of what we observe is wrong. In many matters it is impossible to discern which is which (thankfully those matters have little to nothing to do with our salvation, it is quite clear in scripture what man must do to be saved).

For example: the question of creation. Folks will argue endlessly about young earth vs old earth creationism, one side finding irrefutable evidence in the Bible, the other finding irrefutable evidence in nature. While the Bible states that God created everything, it is not specific on the actual process by which creation took its shape. This is a topic for another day, but let’s just leave it with this: either the young earth interpretation of Genesis is incorrect or the old earth observations of nature are incorrect.

My chief desire in life is to find the truth about as many things as I can and live my life as consistently with the truth as I can. This means all matters of my personal economy must be consistent with reality, even if that reality is not observed by the world at large. This has created some conflict in my life. This should create conflict in all Christian’s lives. All Christians are going to live a life that is in conflict with the fallen world.

But what if the conflict comes within the church? What if what I think is the “truth” about a topic is disliked or even condemned in the church? Obviously as a Reformed Christian I have only the Bible to turn to. On many topics it seems the church at large is hasty to adopt the larger cultural perspective. Whatever the prevailing attitude of the world is, so too is the prevailing attitude of the church. In other topics, the church often seeks to distance itself so far from the world that it misses whatever truth the world may actually be promoting.

The truth about any subject will only be found when the church bases its moral attitudes in scripture. I often stop Christians who are railing about a certain topic to cite me chapter and verse. It is truly depressing the number of believers who simply can’t come up with anything more than quotes from church patriarchs. No disrespect to the patriarchs, but they may have been wrong. And until one has at least a tentative grasp of what scripture actually says, he should probably avoid quoting flawed men. If there is a question about a matter, one should first consult scripture, then consult a multitude of sources to explain what he does not understand.

What is my point in all of this?

Seek truth, seek it in the Bible, seek it in nature, and seek it in the wisdom of church patriarchs. Then seek to live your life in accordance with your findings.