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. 

Peaceful Does Not Mean Permissive

The “offensive” picture 

Spankings. Whoopins. Corporal punishment. All of these terms describe physical forms of discipline. But are these the only forms of acceptable or effective discipline? 

This post wasn’t going to be posted for awhile, but there has been a picture floating around social media which has prompted me to fast track it. 

Since adopting the NAP we have tried to move away from coercive and aggressive forms of discipline for our children. We have adopted a philosophy commonly known as “Peaceful Parenting”. 

Among many Reformed folks and among many in the general public, peaceful parenting gets a pretty bad rap. Some mistake it for permissive parenting. Some insist that the Bible requires physically coercive discipline. 

The recent photo of a toddler throwing a tantrum in Whole Foods while her father and grandfather stood passively over her prompted quite a bit of backlash in the conservative world. One post struck me in particular, that of Matt Walsh. I typically agree with Matt on most subjects, but this is one where I find myself in the minority among his followers. 

Many of the comments on his post were along the lines of “I would never let my child do that without harsh physical consequences!” or “If my toddler acted like that I would have drug him out of that store and taken him right home!” Perhaps worst of all, they accused the father in question of raising a snot-nosed liberal who will forever throw tantrums to get everything she wants. 

As a father of five I can say with conviction that if we followed either of the suggested courses above our shopping would never get done. 

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” is an oft quoted verse when Reformed folks debate discipline methods. One would think Reformed people would be more meticulous, as this is in fact a misquote. 

The actual verse says:

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24 ESV. 

No mention there of “spoiling”.  The Proverb actually describes it as something worse. You aren’t “spoiling” your children if you fail to discipline them, you are hating them. 

Some would say that parenting without aggression or physical coercion is parenting without discipline at all. They believe that we are hating our kids by not using a physical rod to discipline them. In the minds of many of these people every infraction (such as a grocery store meltdown) is to be met with a swift swat. Either the hand is to be used or an object like a gluestick or “something that doesn’t leave a lasting mark” (so as not to draw the attention of the Child Protective Services). Their thinking is that physical pain is the only way to reinforce instruction. They insist that discipline cannot happen without this pain. 

A few years ago we went through a Sunday school class on Paul Tripp’s “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”. The process for discipline outlined in this book goes something like this: Child does something wrong, child is sat down and told what they did wrong, child is spanked, child calms down, parent and child reconcile with a hug, child learns. 

The stated intent of the book was to teach parents to to train a child’s heart and not just change their behavior. While I agree with the premise that a child needs heart change more than simple behavior modification, I disagree that spanking is always necessary. In fact this book tries to make the case that spanking is the only Biblical method of discipline. Honestly I don’t believe that this method ends up being much more than behavior modification. 

Physical pain as reinforcement for instruction is less a matter of heart change and more a matter of instinct. When a child (or adult) performs an action and is met with a painful consequence, it is usually natural for them to respond by ceasing that action (I say usually because often we are inclined so strongly towards sins that even physical pain won’t drive us away). It makes sense that we can change a child’s behavior with spankings or other physical punishment. 

But discipline requires far more than just changing behavior. We must not only turn our kids from the wrongs and towards the rights, we must also ensure that they know why actions are right or wrong and encourage them to want to do the right. This depth of discipline cannot be accomplished by spanking alone, if at all.

So how do we ensure our kids aren’t railroading us or everyone else they come in contact with? Permissive parenting differs from peaceful parenting. Where peaceful parenting creates and enforces boundaries (just without coercion or aggression), permissive parenting allows kids to do whatever they want. This is, by definition, parenting without discipline and in fact, hating the child. 

To keep our kids from becoming little hellions we establish firm boundaries and teach them to respect everyone, regardless of that person’s status or position. We teach them to live by the Golden Rule and the Non-Aggression Principle. We teach them to treat others with kindness, even in excess of how they would want to be treated. We also teach them about property rights and to respect what others own or possess. 

Next time I will discuss both my wife’s philosophy on spanking and mine and talk about a few other methods of discipline which we prefer.   

Doubt and the Clouds of Doom

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:4-8

Doubt is destructive. It makes a person unstable and indecisive. It can lock you into a cycle of depression and feelings of inability. Doubt is anti-faith. Just like it’s ugly cousin anxiety, doubt can keep you chained up and numb to the good things you have been blessed with. 

On a recent trip to the “big city” (everything is big compared to Cloudcroft) my sinful tendency to doubt was thrown right in my face. The transmission on our truck began to act up and lights on the dash began flashing. Immediately my mind went to the worst possible scenarios. To my mind, there was no way the situation was going to work out well. What had been a fine day quickly became grumpiness and gloom. 

Indecisiveness is deadly. A few weeks back a rabbit darted in the road in front of us, made it across our lane, and changed its mind halfway through the other. It turned just in time to catch our rear dual. If that bunny had just committed to its choice to cross the road, rather than doubting its chances, we would not have been checking the dual for bunny that afternoon. 

We can all find ourselves like that bunny. If you find yourself running around indecisive and wishy-washy, you might want to ask yourself if you are doubting God’s Providence. 

God will not leave us lacking in anything, if we ask in faith. He won’t give us all of our wants but He promises to provide His child with all of their needs. Doubting this promise can lead us to stop asking Him for our needs altogether. And when we stop asking, we tend to go adrift. 

Don’t be a dead bunny, kill the doubt in your life before it kills you. 

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. 

New Adventures Begin 

Out of my driveway and into the world

Some things are laughable, like planning to leave at 6 AM. After driving for Uber late into the night I woke up way beyond my alarm and left at 9. 

My singular goal on day one was to get lunch at Lee’s Diner in Hammond, LA. My mom used to eat here during her younger years and she has always raved about it. I tried to eat there last year on my way through, but a fire had gutted the kitchen and they were renovating. My personal memories of it are sparse, I know we went a few times when I was a kid, but what I ate besides a chocolate malt escapes me. I hit the road salivating. 

Someone’s having fun…

Before I even got out of Florida I was reminded why I was heading west.  A prescribed fire was going just on the other side of the highway. I hope it was successful, given the smoke column I’m pretty sure it was. 

The panhandle of Florida takes what seems like an eternity to cross. My lunch plans settled into dinner plans as I ate some roller “food” from a gas station. I know people who won’t touch those things. I figure if I am going to be sick I may as well do it right! 

There wasn’t much excitement between home and the Louisiana border. Then came the Obligatory Community Coffee Stop at the welcome center. 

My favorite part of the coffee setup they have there is the “Children Need Assistance” sign. Everyone should know all Cajun kids start coffee at a very young age, the younger the better. That’s why we tend to be shorter than average. 

Mmmmm

I kid of course. But really,  I started coffee at five, and my growth stopped at 5’7″. There has to be a connection. 

Around 5 PM I finally reached my goal. The place was packed, so I grabbed a spot at the counter. I’m not used to traveling solo so I am not used to lunch counters. I actually tried to pull my stool closer to the counter at one point. My embarrassment was quickly stifled by this:

Double Mmmm. 

I was persuaded that I could probably make a decent po boy at home but that ettouffe was a bit more difficult to perfect. I’m so glad I made that decision. 

I topped it off with a chocolate malt and headed out full but determined that boudin balls were necessary to make my drive through LA complete. After discovering that most places were closing soon I found Hebert’s down the road was open until 7 and if I hurried I might just get me some awesome. 

I assume it’s Cajun lasagna… 

When I saw they had lasagna I was a little worried. After a short discussion with the girl at the counter I decided on links instead of the usual balls. 

Insert obligatory sausage joke…

While they may look a little strange, they were amazing. 

I trucked on and crossed the Mississippi at sunset. 

Old Man River #NoFilter #WowMyPhoneCameraIsGood

My second goal of the day was to make it to Houston. I selected a Pilot Travel Center just outside of town thinking “this will work”. Normally this would be reasonable thinking, but when I arrived around Midnight I was met with one hour parking signs and a panhandler telling me about his seven felonies. “Nah man, I won’t snatch your wallet, I ain’t dumb.” Then he asked if I smoked “hydro”. Soooo it was on to the other side of town where thankfully I was able to find a Walmart with rvs parked out front. Rvs are always a good sign that no Walmart manager is going to scoot you along at 4 AM. 

After six uncomfortable hours across the front seats of the van, I decided to trek onward. 

Day two was even less eventful than day one. About the time I hit west Texas the AC stopped working well and I was forced to switch from long pants to shorts. That was quite an event! Sarcasm.

Roasting and getting blinded, TX hates me. Oh, and so many bugs.

Finally I hit NM and after getting through Carlsbad and Hope I was finally climbing into the mountains. 

More like “hills” really…

My plan was to park somewhere on the forest and set up a tent. There was snow rumored on my aunt and uncle’s property where we plan to stay for the summer. About ten minutes from town I find out that they are actually in town and the property is pretty much snow free! 

After eating decent Mexican (i.e. NOT Utah “Mexican”) we settled down to sleep in their trailer. 

My hidey-hole…
First view of Cloudcroft in the daylight.

Now to get the rest of the family out here. 

I can get used to this…