The Toolbox of Problem Solving

set of tool wrench
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Christmas 2000 my mom and dad bought me a large red Craftsman toolbox, complete with sets of wrenches, ratchets, hex wrenches, and sockets. (I’m doing my Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor grunt from Home Improvement as I think about it). At the time my wife and I lived in our second floor apartment, where I kept the toolbox in the living room (which is a great conversation starter if you have company). Soon we bought a house and moved out of the apartment where the tool box till this day sits in my disorganized garage.

I still have and use all of those original tools, along with others that have been added over the years. My parents gave me those tool knowing that I would need them and they equipped me for any job that may arise. I have confidence that I have “the right tool for the job,” which started with a generous gift.

Tools are great when you have to change your car’s oil, replace a garbage disposal, or put a new heating element in the dryer, but not all of life’s problems can be fixed with a 7/16 wrench. Relationship issues, health problems, finances, school, spirituality, and whatever else life throws at you require a different set of tools. There are times though, when I wanted to take a metaphorical sledgehammer to life and do a demolition and rebuild.

When it comes to life’s problems, all of us have the tools to get the job done. I believe we are equipped by God and through our own experiences to work on the problem at hand. What if we realized how empowered we truly are to face our problems? We have to take the initiative to open the toolbox. Grabbed the wrong socket? Just get the next size larger or smaller. Maybe the bolt takes a metric socket instead of a standard, you just have to see what works and what doesn’t. If the problem comes up again, you’ll remember the exact tool you need.

Have you ever prayed and prayed, and prayed some more, but nothing happened? We all have. Have you ever sat by passively waiting on God or someone else to fix a problem? Meanwhile days, weeks, months, or even years may go by with no results and we are left wondering what is wrong. We’ll shrug our shoulders and say, “It wasn’t meant to be.” or “I guess it wasn’t God’s will.” But, what if our unanswered prayers are God’s way of telling us that we have the tools and we can take care of the problem ourselves? For example, I have three hammers, it would be silly of me to call my dad and ask to borrow a hammer because I have what I need.

Tools and resources are available and we must seek them out. Miracles just don’t fall out of the sky, as we have to live in the real world. The real world is a messy place, where we will get greasy and sweaty doing the hard work. We live in a time if great resources and information, thus there is no excuse for us to wallow in ignorance or portray a helpless victim.  Open up your toolbox and start with what you have, where you’re at. You have the tools you need for now and you’ll keep adding to them as you go. Work on being the master craftsman of your life.

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The Importance of Resolve

As 2017 comes to a close, many people await the new year with hope and optimism for a fresh start. Being the realist that I am, I know that 2018 will present its challenges the same as 2017 and every year before it. There’s a popular adage that goes, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish,” which I find to be a proper mindset for how we should approach life.

All of us at some point have probably undertaken something new- a relationship, a project, a goal, a job, or any other endeavor with enthusiasm and eagerness, only to find them replaced with frustration and weariness.

“I didn’t sign up for this.”

“What did I get myself into?”

“I’m in way over my head.”

“This is not what I was expecting.”

“This sucks. I quit.”

I’ll admit those very same thoughts entered my mind and overstayed their welcome like an unwanted house guest. However, I served an eviction notice as I regained a modicum of control over what I could control- my responses and my resolve. As I write this, I am forty years old, soon to be forty-one, and I am still learning about life and myself. I’ve learned that you’re never too old to take on a challenge because life will present you with plenty.

Not speaking in a prideful or boastful manner, what 2017 has taught me is the importance of resolve and believing in myself. There will be times when you face the test alone. Someone else may not be in the position to help you out and God may be silent on the subject, so what do you do? Open your own tool box and get to building a better life for yourself. Realize that you have what it takes. What you have will be different than everybody else, but that is what makes you you. Drop the comparisons to others, because you will be discouraged and talk yourself into quitting. Keep your goals and expectations realistic. Strengthen your resolve in this upcoming year. Stay determined. Stay focused. See it through because the struggle will be worth it.

Examining Our Foundations

For anything, whether it be a house, building, relationship, belief system, or a civilization, a solid and structurally sound foundation must be in place. If a foundation is broken or weak at any point, further stress and strain will create more damage in the future if the foundation is not fixed. If the foundation goes, then the entire building, relationship, belief system, or society is in danger of collapse.

Throughout the course of human history, our response to faulty foundations has been to simply build something new on top of the previous structure. One civilization falls, simply build another one.  The house falling apart? One option compared to costly repairs is to simply move. Instead of constantly rebuilding or moving, what if we were to exercise due diligence and from time to time examine the foundation before it becomes a problem?

I believe in the importance of having a firm set of beliefs. I believe it is important for everyone to have guiding principles and truths in their life, as these truths and principles will serve as a foundation in everything we do, say, and think.  However, life is about continuous growth, which can come via circumstances or exploring new information. Once we are presented with information, we have the choice to accept it or reject it. We must also understand the importance of self-examination concerning our beliefs. It is perfectly fine for a seven-year-old child to spend Christmas Eve eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. However, if that same child grows up to the age of fifty-seven expecting Santa Claus, then that would be an issue.

If we could travel back in time and listen to ourselves five, ten, twenty, maybe thirty years ago, we would probably ask our past selves, “What were you thinking? That’s not how any of this works.” From time to time, we must do a foundational audit of what we believe because what we believed as children or in our youth may not make much sense as an adult.

There is one great obstacle that holds us back from challenging our beliefs and rebuilding the foundations: fear. We fear change. We fear being wrong. We don’t like it when others challenge our core beliefs. When faced with an opposing viewpoint, we often retreat into our mental bunkers or we demonize the opposition as a threat to our way of life. This type of discourse is evident in politics and religion.  Why not simply listen to what someone else says?  Maybe we will learn something new, maybe it will affirm or enhance what we believe. Why not agree to disagree? If we are basing our lives on certain beliefs, don’t you want to be sure you have the right foundation? Think for yourself. Challenge yourself. Stretch yourself beyond the comfort zone. Don’t simply go along with the crowd, but have the courage to ask, Where are we going and Why? 

 

 

Confidence Outside the Comfort Zone

“You have to get out of your comfort zone” is an expression we’ve heard from motivational speakers, pastors, business leaders, celebrities, and probably the people in our lives. In order to live the life we’re supposed to live, conventional wisdom says, we must break free of the monotony and hum-drum of simply existing and push ourselves beyond what we know. Easier said than done. The moment we dare stick a toe outside of the comfort zone, we can be greeted by fear, anxiety, depression, others telling us to turn back, failure, frustration, among other issues. It appears that our trip outside of the comfort zone has turned into an episode of The Twilight Zone.

I don’t tell these stories to be boastful or proud, I just want to help others in a similar situation. Three years ago I created this blog, which was a step outside of the comfort zone. I’ve always wanted to write but I was too shy to share my writing outside of my inner circle. I thought, “Do I have anything to say?” “What would I say?” “Would anyone read it?”

One Saturday morning in October 2014, I on a lark, did a search for free blogs and came across WordPress. I followed the setup process and published my first blog, which was on “The Sacrifice of Praise.” Three years and as of this post, 156 articles later, I am still humbled by every view, every follower, everyone who has commented, thank you all so much for helping me find my voice as a writer.

Nine-and-a-half months ago I took another journey, this one farther out of the comfort zone than I’ve ever been. I found myself laid off at the end of 2015 and was unemployed for three months. I took a job which paid a lot less money, but I was back to work. I later left that job for another one, which eventually paid more money.  I was thankful for the work, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I found myself nearing forty in a mid-career and a seemingly in the start of a mid-life crisis. I was also dealing with the compounded stress of my health, my wife’s health, a family tragedy, and crisis of faith. Perfect time to step out of the comfort zone, right? So after months of going back and forth, I decided to go back to school- this time for Information Technology, something for which I had no previous background.

I wish I could say it had a Hollywood ending, but it didn’t. Going to school and working six days a week presented a monumental struggle. There were times that I wanted to quit both school and the job. Living as a hermit in the woods appealed to me. I stuck with it and was able to earn several certifications and I have the opportunity to go back and retest for the ones I missed.

As of posting this, I graduated yesterday, and breathed a sigh of relief. As I received my certificate, I shook hands with school administrators and instructors. I don’t think that I will forget the words of my instructor, who said, “Way to keep working.”  I am now an Information Technology Systems Administrator. By God’s grace and the support of family and friends, I completed my journey out of the comfort zone, which involved a lot of  hard work and sacrifice, but I am thankful for the journey. I believe the most important thing I have gained during these last nine-and-a-half months is self-confidence. Self-confidence should not be confused with arrogance or pride, for we must have confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we can sail into the contrary winds. There’s always the possibility of failure, but we can’t let that stop us. We must persist. God has gifted everyone with a toolbox of talents, but we must use the tools. I proved to myself that I am able to take on new challenges and not allow age or circumstances affect my goal.

If we are going to step out of the comfort zone, we must do the work and put in the time, because we can’t be passive-minded and hope for things to work out. There will be resistance, but you must keep going forward. There will be bumps and bruises, there may even be a scar or two, but the journey will be worth it. No one can take it away from you. No one will be able to say that you couldn’t do it. God bless you all.

Enduring Hardships with Strength

bruce lee 2

https://motivationgrid.com/11-powerful-bruce-lee-quotes-need-know/

A common literary device rooted in human existence is the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey has been part of mythology, fairy tales, epic poems, plays, legends, even to our modern day equivalent of novels and movies. All of these stories follow an similar three act structure. Act 1-Introduce the hero. Act 2- Put the hero in the most adverse/perilous situation. Act 3- the hero overcomes the situation, gets the girl, fulfills his destiny and lives happily ever after.

If our lives were only that simple.

If you have lived for any length of time, you know that “happily ever after” is often reserved for stories and not our lives. Life is a constant struggle, an ebb and flow, the highest of highs and the lowest of the heart-breaking lows.

Just when we think we have slayed the dragon, turned Darth Vader back to the light side of the Force, found our purpose, peace, or forgiveness from God, we find ourselves facing a new or recurring difficulty. After years of struggle and sacrifice to get a hold on the family finances, a lay off, a forced retirement, or sickness occurs. You believe that you have overcome depression and anxiety, only for circumstances to throw you back down to the pit. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you do the best you can to be compliant with your care plan, only to suffer a flare-up or relapse. It feels as if all progress is lost.

We say and think such things as It isn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t fair. I’ve already been through this. Why is God allowing this?

One of the things we must change when we go through difficulties is our perceptions, or judgments. We work under the assumption that life is fair. Do good, get rewarded. Do bad, get punished. We expect instant blessing for ourselves because we all perceive ourselves as good, while we expect the perceived evildoers to receive instant punishment.  Unfortunately, the innocent suffer and the wicked are rewarded. We live in an imperfect world that doesn’t always make sense.

Neither Jesus nor anyone else said it was going to be easy. Jesus told us that we have to “take up our cross.” That cross at times will get heavy as we walk through this life.

Numerous times throughout his epistles, the Apostle Paul compares being a follower of Christ to the life of a soldier. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3). A casual reading of the New Testament and its emphasis on suffering and persecution certainly deals a resounding defeat to the claims of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” where God grants all of our desires like a genie freed from a lamp, and life will be free from difficulty. Faith doesn’t free you from difficult times, it helps you get through them by creating within you a resilience, a persistence, the strength to fight no matter the circumstances.

Difficulties serve as a mirror as to our true reflection, our true strength, and whether we get tough when the tough gets going.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus parallels the Apostle Paul’s statement to Timothy, but uses the analogy of being a wrestler.

“The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material. But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition.”1

In another discouse, Epictetus discusses an how to develop an acceptance of what God brings our way, a way to develop a sort of indifference to circumstances, or “going with the flow.”

“Lift up your head, like a person finally released from slavery. Dare to face God and say, ‘From now on, use me as you like. I am of one mind with you, I am your peer.’ Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it. You may put me where you like, in any role regardless: officer or citizen, rich man or pauper, here or overseas. They are all just so many opportunities to justify your ways to man,by showing just how little circumstances amount to.”

Though it does seem counter-intuitive, the Apostle Paul, Epictetus, and Bruce Lee all concur- don’t  pray for difficult circumstances to flee, but ask God for the strength to get through the hard times. You will be a stronger and better person for it. God bless you all.

 

1Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings, Translated and edited by Robert Dobbin. London: Penguin Books (2008):56.

2Ibid, 116.

 

The Pursuit of Progress

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes is credited with the statement, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” While Archimedes’ statement applies to the world of math, getting from point A to point B in life is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

One step forward, two steps back. Previous generations pave the way only for the next generation to fight their own battles. The rules change, but no one communicates that to you; well-deserved and earned freedoms and rights can be hindered on the whims of those in power. That is why you must keep going. Wake up every day and put on your battle armor because you will be in for a fight.

In our pursuit of personal progress, whatever that may be, we must manage our perceptions and our perspectives. “There is nothing new under the sun,” as the Bible tells us. Life is cyclical. The trials and tribulations we face have been faced by previous generations. When problems arise, remember that flowing through your veins is the blood and DNA of survivors. Your ancestors lived through threats to their survival, poverty, heartache, disaster, war, famine, and disease- they passed those survival genes onto you.

Though you may not be at the finish line, have you started running? What steps are you taking to make progress? Are you passively waiting for the right circumstances? Are you swimming against the tide of the conventional wisdom of the naysayers? As children, we do not allow dozens of falls deter us from learning how to walk, we go forward despite circumstances. So why as able-bodied and able-minded adults do we shirk back in defeat when we stumble?

If you are progressing closer to your goal, no matter how small, keep going. You must build energy and momentum to overtake your current circumstances and to prepare you for the next circumstances. There will be struggle, rejection, struggle, pain, it will seem as if the universe has conspired against you, but keep moving. If you have to conquer your mountain inch by inch, continue to do so. God bless you all.

Confronting Our Self-Doubt

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt as far as possible all things.” -Rene Descartes

Doubt- fear’s annoying little brother. “Do you really think you can do this?” “Are you sure?” “What if your gut feeling is wrong?” “How do you know what you believe is true?”

Everyone has doubts- which can be useful at times, as we may avoid potentially painful episodes in our lives. Doubt also allows us to seek after the truth in a world where we cannot believe everything we see, hear, or read.

However, doubt becomes a problem when it brings us to a place of anxiety and inaction. Doubt will make us question long-held beliefs about ourselves, our abilities, or even the nature of our relationship to God. Doubt in its most crippling form brings uncertainty and a lack of conviction. Doubt also causes us to waver and hesitate with our actions. We try to save face and justify not going forward with a statement such as, “It just wasn’t the right time.”

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4, NIV).

There is no condemnation here for anyone who has ever doubted or maybe you are going through a time of doubt. Jude 22 tells us to “Be merciful to those who doubt.” (NIV). Show love, mercy, and compassion to those who are going through such a difficult time.

To make use of a cliché, doubt is literally “the oldest trick in the book.” Consider the serpent’s (Satan’s) encounter with Eve in the Garden of Eden.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1, NIV).

Satan planted the first seeds of doubt concerning God’s word. However, Eve responded with the truth of what God said.

“The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden,and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”(Genesis 3:2-3, NIV).

Eve 1, Satan 0. Satan then digs deeper into his bag of tricks, where he questions the truth of God’s word and God’s motives for His commandment. In essence, Satan responds with an attack of God’s goodness and nature.

“’You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”(Genesis 3:4-5, NIV).

Eve 1, Satan 1. Eve then eats the forbidden fruit and gives some to Adam. Sin infects all of creation and humanity is cursed through the fall. Eve 1, Satan 2. Game, set, match.

Thousands of years later, Satan tries the same tactics on Jesus as outlined in both Matthew 4 and Luke 4, but is unsuccessful. With his temptation of Jesus, Satan tries to make Jesus doubt His identity by uttering “If you be the Son of God.”

We can believe in the Bible, we can know our salvation is secure, we can know that we are loved, but we can still be riddled by self-doubt. This self-doubt will keep us in a lowly place and continue to feed the negative thoughts and emotions which poison our streams of Living Water. If we are so hindered by doubt, the temptation is always there to quit. Just give up. However, if we reach down and reach outside of ourselves, we can conquer our doubts.

I spent the last two months struggling with doubt and perceived looming failure. I have mentioned this in previous posts, but I decided at the age of 40 to go back to school to start a new career. I was doing great on the homework and keeping up with classwork despite working six days a week. However, I was not unable to pass the certification tests, which are essential to the career field I have chosen. I have always been a pretty good student, but these consecutive failures wore on my confidence. I had placed too much pressure on myself concerning this next test I was scheduled to take. This was going to be my last stand. Failed it. The next morning I wrote an email to my instructor, a school administrator, and the assistant campus director, informing them I was withdrawing. I was fully aware of the financial ramifications of my actions. I placed my failure solely on me, it was not the school’s or the instructor’s fault, it was me.

I received a reply back from the assistant campus director who wanted to discuss the matter further. My wife and my parents were encouraging, and so was the school. I decided to stick it out and the school placed me with a tutor, who worked with me on a previous test, and I passed. I have one certification under my belt. This boosted my confidence and changed the whole dynamic of me believing in myself. I know that abilities come solely from God, yet we must make use of the resources He provides.

If you are struggling in your self-confidence, here are some practical steps you can take to help you reach your goals:

  1. Realize that it’s going to be difficult.

  2. Realize that everyone goes through this.

  3. Focus on what you can control.

  4. Don’t worry about what you can’t control.

  5. Stop comparing yourself to others

  6. Realize your talents are unique to you.

  7. Progress, no matter how small, is progress nonetheless.

  8. Don’t allow your age to hinder you.

  9. Swallow your pride- make use of your resources.

God bless you all.