This Year’s Resolutions

The Track of Time?

I’m a little late this year in getting some resolutions out there. Last year I did “Birthday Resolutions” instead of New Years. This year I guess I am too late for Birthday Resolutions, so they will have to be New Years instead!

But first, I want to examine how well I did on last years:

“My biggest resolution this year is to learn contentment.” 

To be honest, I am probably about as content as I have ever been. I am exactly where God has me, and that is never a bad place to be. I have learned to accept every day as it comes for the most part. Anxiety still keeps me from doing this perfectly, but it is a bit easier every day

“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 pretty much sums up the definition of anxiety for me. I always assumed that I was just cursed to be a pessimist, but it was so much more serious than that. Thankfully this past year I was able to truly identify the problem and have been working towards fixing it. 

“This year I want to learn how to enjoy my blessings and be content with all that God has given me.” 

See above. 

“I resolve to play with my children more.” Still nowhere near as much as I would like. Exhaustion and busyness tend to get in the way of this. 

“I resolve to love my wife more passionately and with more abandon.” Again, improving but definitely not where I want to be.

“I resolve to take every day as a gift and work to glorify God in each one.” 

There have been whole weeks this past year where I blinked and it seemed the week was gone. This definitely demonstrates that I am not taking my days one at a time and making the best of them. 

“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.”” 

I think all of those are good forever resolutions. I would be lying to say that I have vastly improved on any of them, though I feel all have been improved. Sanctification is a slow process. I do say Thank You quite a bit more than I used to. 

So how about 2018? What do I want to work on this year?

Well, in addition to continuing work on all of the above, this year is the year of focus and discipline. 

Focus because anxiety has wracked my brain to the point that it no longer stays on target very well. I get very distracted from simple things like cleaning up a mess or writing a blog post (seriously, I just spent ten minutes looking at the proper use of “wrack” VS “rack” even though I was confident in my usage. Then I went and check my Steemit blog to see if I got any upvotes. It’s bad…)

Discipline because it is very closely tied to focus. Focus is part biology, part discipline. One can have discipline without focus, but one definitely cannot have focus without discipline. I want to be more clear about my purpose. I want to determine priorities and stick to them. There are things in my life that should be givens but are not. I intend to make these things absolutely critical and shape my life around them, not let my life dictate whether or not I get to them. These types of wants take discipline to achieve.

This year will also be the year of listening before I speak. No. Actually listening. Not just thinking about my response the whole time the person blabbers on. No matter how much they blabber on. It’s hard, but I know I can do it. 

Likewise, I want to work on responding instead of reacting. Too often I get triggered and blow up. Or I sweep the feelings of others under a rug before they can fully express them. This is largely because I don’t want to have have feelings myself. It’s another offshoot of anxiety.

Seems like I blame anxiety a lot eh? Anxiety doesn’t make me do anything. I am still responsible for my actions stemming from it. But identifying the weakness and the sin spurring my actions has been immeasurably helpful in getting those sins killed in my life. So if you think you may have genuine anxiety, get help, you’ll be glad you did! 

Anywho. I’ll keep it simple with those. We’ll just assume that I intend to eat right and exercise (isn’t that the normal resolution?).

What are some of your resolutions? Comment below if you have any interesting ones. 

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Take Your Compliments and Shove ‘Em

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Just an average picture of an average guy.

Compliments, what do we do with them? How constructively do we take criticism? What do we do when faced with cricket chirps at our hard work?

As I mentioned last time, I’m slowly learning to like, indeed, love myself. Part of this process is learning to accept compliments, second is learning to accept criticism without magnifying it out of proportion. Third and probably the most difficult is learning how to properly interpret silence.

A few months back I talked about how my anxiety has robbed me of contentment for many years. It has also given me a large sentiment of cynicism. I don’t trust people when they compliment me. I assume that they can’t really mean it. I’m not that great, am I? I’m certainly not worthy of the love of others.

I am though.

If an infinite and holy God can love me, then certainly other, not-so-holy, created beings can love me too. By virtue of being an image-bearer I am lovable. And I can accept compliments about my person, my actions, and my creations, without cynicism or disbelief. Sometimes, I really do good work. I should accept that, and love it about myself.

Also by virtue of being an image bearer can I accept criticism without believing that I am a worthless piece of rubbish. Yes, I am a sinner, and I am fallible, and nothing I can do is perfect, but that doesn’t make me worthless. By the Grace of God, I am not a piece of garbage. Critique should drive me towards better work, and make me strive after perfection, not run from it.

But what about silence? What about the times when no one seems to notice?

I put in effort, I strove for perfection, I did my best.

*Crickets*

That one is a bit more difficult for me. I think silence drives most creators mad. They want recognition, even bad attention is better than no attention.

I have to tell myself that sometimes silence is merely a sign that I am doing just fine. There is no need for critique, but I am not to the level of deserving a compliment. Average-ness is properly met with silence. And average is perfectly acceptable, if one is progressing smoothly within their level of experience. If I paint an average painting, or write an average prose, or take an average picture, or sing an average song, are they not still acceptable?

If I want accolades I should strive for better than average. I should work on jumping out of my level and into the next. And I shouldn’t take silence as critique.

If I am below average I should expect to be corrected; average, an approving silence; above average, resounding praise.

All should be equally acceptable to me.

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. 

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.