Case Study: The Genius of Decision Making

Renee is busy assisting customers so I pretend to shop until her line clears. She is efficient, so this shouldn’t take long. Meanwhile, a different clerk stands ready to help but I don’t trust him. These extra clerks cycle in and out as often as the temperature changes the first week of Spring. Renee is dependable. Renee is professional. I’ve made mistakes that left my eyes bleeding, but Renee can fix the problem in less than five minutes. Renee can turn purple to beige, blue to gray. Renee knows paint.

I’m waiting for Renee because I have once again chosen a poor choice of paint color. Why can’t I select the proper paint the first time? I’ve spent ridiculous hours in front of those three useless bulbs, which supposedly mimic different lighting. I’ve walked miles back and forth to the store window because I don’t trust the useless bulbs. I’ve even google pictures of rooms using the paint colors for a better feel of the tiny differences between shades. Inevitably, I’m back at home that evening with a frown, my bubble burst and excitement evaporated.

I’ve been thinking about my paint choices lately as I’ve pondered my overall ability to make decisions. I guess I’m your classic over-thinker as any decision has to go through rigorous channels of thought before a conclusion is delivered. You’d think I’d be satisfied with a decision resulting from such mental preparation, but then I begin to doubt the conclusion. Perhaps I should have ran the question through different channels? Maybe there was more information I should have inferred?

I hate making decisions. I would rather go to the dentist than decide what to include in my five year plan. The world is my oyster but I’d rather someone tell me what to do. Decision making is painful. Aware that this issue had risen above self-destruction (and that choosing the right self-help book would take too long) I sought the wisdom of a friend.

Enter Cristin.

Cristin is to an indecisive person what a magician is to a child. She can walk in and out of a paint store in ten minutes having set in motion a color pallet for an entire house. She can choose where to eat lunch without raising her anxiety level one degree. She can change careers or houses as though she knows she has always made the right choice. People like me want to follow people like Cristin because it feels as though she can see the whole puzzle while we hold only a tiny piece. I’ve known Cristin for fifteen years and have never witnessed her struggle when a choice needs to be made. Cristin is a minor genius in decision making.

In the foreward to What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell explains bits of his writing style, mentioning how he likes to interview “minor geniuses.” To him, educated, typically middle-class folks, having a piece of specialized knowledge, but who are not incredibly popular are the source of a wealth of information. These people don’t have a lot to lose and generally know a great deal about specific subject matters.

Think diaper creams.

Would you rather talk about diaper creams from the CEO of P&G or from the stay-at-home mom of four? The CEO has a lot at stake during the conversation. The mom could care less what you think of her. She can eliminate redness in less than an hour and that baby will sleep well through the night. Take her advice or leave it, but she knows a thing or two about a baby’s bum. She could be considered a minor genius in curing diaper rash.

I loved Gladwell’s idea of minor geniuses. But with the idea came a frenzy of questions, “Could this be something that’s is lacking in our churches? Could this by why there are so many Christian bloggers and authors today? Perhaps we want to offer the specified knowledge we feel we possess but no one is asking. If a brother or sister in Christ has become a minor genius in suffering well, wouldn’t it be wise for me to learn from them?”

I decided to apply Gladwell’s wisdom to my own life. If I want to figure out how to have confidence in my decision making, I need to interview the person I know who has done it the best. I need to ask a fellow believer who has become an expert in the field.

You can’t help but notice Cristin when she walks into the room. She is 5’10” and unafraid to wear heels. She’s also incredibly beautiful and dresses in a trendy way that seems effortless. We haven’t seen each other in several months, but she’s the type of friend in which this makes no difference. I have my notebook open and ready to soak up all the wisdom I can glean in a short hour of conversation.

“You think I’m a minor genius at being a jerk, right?” Cristin begins. I hadn’t disclosed all of my intentions in interviewing her, only that I saw her as a genius in a certain area. I wanted her answers to be as authentic as possible so I intentionally left her unprepared.

I jump right in, hitting her with the big stuff. I ask her how she is able to be so confident in each decision she makes, from paint colors to career choices. How does she seem so sure that she is making the correct choice? I prepare myself for a response that is ground-breaking. And in her own way, Cristin doesn’t disappoint.

“I guess I don’t see any decision as permanent. Paint can be changed, clothes can be changed, etc. No one really cares about the color on my wall except me or my husband. If we don’t like it, I’ll just change it.” She continues her response while I try to keep my mind moving forward. In truth, I needed an hour to dissect this one piece of information. I tend to see every decision as permanent, or at least that type of weight is present in every question. I want perfection the first time around. The thought that a every choice doesn’t need to be perfect was liberating.

She continued with a few strategies that most people utilize: Consulting with the wise, learning from other’s mistakes, and prayer. She talked about dropping societal norms/dreams/goals and replacing them with what matters to an individual. “As long as you’re growing, who cares what you’re doing. I learned as much from being a waitress as I did in college.” Her life goal was personal growth; not a dollar figure, a home, occupation, etc. She didn’t even mention a rate of growth — Just growth. Liberating.

Then, like a butterfly not noticing its own beauty, Cristin gracefully reveals her hand, “There’s this thing in psychology called black and white thinking. It’s where people see things, or people, as all good or all bad. If a person does something wrong, they’re bad. If they do something right, they’re good. But in truth, most things and people are a little of both. The world is more gray, and that’s how we should think of things. We need to accept the good with the bad. I may make a wrong decision but it doesn’t mean that I am bad. I try to keep my mind operating in the gray.”

Cristin called it gray, but I instantly knew it’s true name—Grace.

Since I met Cristin, I have watched her repeatedly welcome the oddballs or, as some may term, the unlovable. I’ve watched her visit establishments that would seem dodgy to most folks. I’ve watched her live in homes where beer bottles are regularly smashed on her sidewalk. I’ve watched her persevere through years of frustrating situations when the majority would have walked away after a few weeks. Cristin doesn’t operate out of a gray mindset, Cristin operates out of grace.

My friend is able to make decisions with apparent ease because she extends this grace to herself. She knows that she, too, is human. But, Cristin takes the good with the bad. She sets her mind to keep growing as a person and continues to love herself along the way. She confessed that sometimes condemnation or doubt creeps in and decision making becomes so hard she, “can’t even get dressed in the morning.” But an occasion such as this is rare. Being so conditioned in exuding grace, she can push past this fleeting condemnation.

Being more like Cristin in this sense simply means being more like Christ. There may be a few tricks the world could offer an indecisive person, but pursuing a heart of grace seems like a wise place to begin. Increasing the grace of one’s heart would not only lighten a personal burden but ignite a fire of grace and love extending to those surrounding them.

Based on how the world typically deals with issues, I had expected Cristin to give me some three-step, logical outline on how to become a great decision maker. I guess I equally assumed she may deny her talent and beat around the bush, offering some typical Christian suggestions. Thankfully my friend is one who loves others and desires true healing.

What did I learn from my minor genius interview on how to have confidence in my decision making? Always choose grace.



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Courageous Writers Use the Force

I don’t think writing takes courage. Putting words on paper isn’t brave. I do think there are courageous writers, however, and those who are not. There are those who are willing to approach their own Pandora’s box with enough bravery to crack open the lid. To willingly expose oneself to the original ideas and emotions that have been kept locked inside requires courage. It is a sacrifice not all writers are willing to make.

Upon completion of publishing my first book, several people commented on how brave they thought I had been. Ironically, this statement always left me feeling terrified. These readers saw something in the text that they personally may not have shared and I felt like I should hide. Like the adrenaline felt during a game, my courage was high while writing, but it has ebbed ever since.

I’ve thrown a lot of excuses under the bus as to the cause for all the blank sheets of paper before me. In the beginning, I thought my lack of confidence and an equal lack of experience was to blame. Later, I thought if I were able to get an author I respected to be in my corner I’d have the courage to continue. But these annoying thoughts were not the major problem. I have been unwilling to return to the heavy lid holding back my thoughts and emotions.

So, I’ve basically behaved like Rey when she holds Luke’s lightsaber for the first time. The power and depth of the unknown are terrifying. There is a force that calls to me but I know there will be pain involved. Keep that box shut, goggle-lady, I don’t want any part of it.

But I believe a writer who hides from courage is of no more use than a builder who refuses to consult the blueprints. The end product of either person isn’t going to be worth the time and effort.

I know I’ve used a thousand metaphors just to say that I’ve been a wuss. Today, I spent time thinking about the artists I admire. I go back to these same artists and authors because I can identify with them. I can identify with them because they were courageous enough to publicly work through unfiltered thoughts. They sacrificed themselves to the unknown for the sake of others.

If I possessed courage while writing the first book, it’s because a lion showed up at my door and I had no other choice. I hope that any future work I produce is a little less haphazard. I’m setting out to willingly face whatever this internal “box” contains-hopefully using a steady hand. I want to reciprocate the courage that has blessed my life. I’ve become more aware of where I fit in the Body of Christ and I won’t allow fear to hold me captive.

Letter to the Lonely Middle Schooler

For the first time in our twelve years of marriage, I finally felt known.

My husband works at a middle school. A group of teachers sat in my husband’s classroom when a female student entered. She began a small rant on how her classmates constantly acted happy, though they were not, and how desperately alone and frustrated she felt.

“It was like I was sitting there talking to you as a middle schooler.” My husband told me. “It was kind of crazy how similar her words were to ones you’ve said.”

Naturally, I felt a surge of compassion for this discouraged kid. I wanted to talk with her and offer any encouragement I could find. I also had a small urge to start throwing dodgeballs, as I found a little satisfaction in that method during those formative years. But, I’ve grown more mature since then (that’s probably up for debate).

Here’s my advice for the lonely middle schooler.

  1. You may always feel alone and this can be one of the biggest blessings God can give. The times I have felt most alone are often the times I’ve grown closest to God. It’s true that I’m seeking him out of a more selfish need rather than adoration, but he has warmly welcomed me. I learn more about who I have been created to be and am encouraged rather than frustrated at his design. I learn more about him, increasing my love, sanctification, and willingness to serve. Loneliness is a type of suffering. We were not meant to be alone. But like all suffering, we can count it as joy (James 1:2). No person can fill the deepest desires of our hearts, so by beginning with God, you are getting a head start on what many people require years to learn.
  2. Don’t pigeonhole your perfect friend. I used to loathe the idea that I would be most suited to a person opposite of myself. The idea that you should spend time with people unlike you seems like a ludicrous notion when it comes to solving loneliness. But with a few common interests shared, a differing personality is actually a beautiful thing. The next time you roll your eyes for another assigned group project (35-year-old me speaking to 13-year-old me), see it as an opportunity to get to know someone you may not have otherwise considered a potential friend.
  3. Don’t use loneliness as an excuse for sin. Solitary confinement is used as punishment in some prisons. I imagine the confinement is enacted to cause such distress that the person no longer misbehaves. In other words, feeling alone can be so painful it can change your behavior. A natural reaction for any person in pain is to make the pain cease. Seeking a cure for the pain of loneliness outside of God’s will and commands for our lives is not the answer. God has promised to continue his good work in us (Philippians 1:6). Sometimes this can mean that he is developing patience within you. His refinement is a blessing. A father who disciplines his children is one who loves them. Allow him the opportunity to prune you. Allow yourself to be blessed. (Maybe ask Jesus what he thinks about loneliness-I’d say he’d know a thing or two).
  4. Books and music have their place. If you are looking for depth of thought and ideas, consider a friend who isn’t flesh and blood. Often in these forms of media, you’ll find someone you can relate to, momentarily alleviating the idea that you are the only oddball in this world. Enjoy this time of growth. Experiment with your own creative gifts. Contrary to popular opinion, many great things are developed when a person is alone. Perhaps in his wisdom, God is developing a skill within you that can later be used to bless others.

 

I would venture to say that Jesus knows more than anyone about the feeling of loneliness. Being able to turn to him during these young years, before you have all that nasty pride of adulthood, can set you on paths of joy you couldn’t imagine. Do not allow Satan and his lies to discourage you. You are being blessed and you are not alone.

 

Mindless Travel

Have you ever mindlessly cruised through a construction zone letting your subconscious control the accelerator? The flashing lights on the opposite side of the highway jolt you back to reality and you check in on the subconscious, looking at the speedometer. You’ve been doing 15 mph over the speed limit…in a construction zone. You’ve been moving with the flow of traffic, but that excuse won’t hold up when questioned.

Every once in a while, you’re blessed with the slow driver-The one person who is attending to the speed limit. Their conduct is so unlike others you’re forced to notice your actions. They have grounded you in what’s important-The speed limit must be your standard, not those surrounding you.

For some years now, I’ve let my subconscious decide the standard of my spiritual walk. I’ve allowed my mind to be consumed with everyday tasks, “What should I make for dinner? What time is the event tonight? Who is screaming?” Mindlessly, I’ve set my spiritual standard based on the believers surrounding me. Just stay with the flow of traffic, you’ll be fine. But then Jen Wilkin drives beside you, adhering to the actual standard.

In her book In His Image, Jen Wilkin lovingly reminds us of our calling, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).” God’s holiness is our standard, the “speed limit” we obey. When contemplating the mind-blowing concept of sanctification, it dawned on me…who have I allowed to be my model of holiness? And, why?

I’d like to say I’ve been humble-that I fear the Lord so greatly I could never imagine myself being holy, or perfect, like the Father. However, when does humility become distrust? It is through Christ I am sanctified. Do I not believe in His power to transform even the most wicked of hearts?

I highly respect many of the believers in my life-some I know personally, some I hope to meet in heaven. I know their standard of holiness is God’s holiness. But, out of doubt, I’ve set my brothers and sisters in Christ as my standard. I’ve tried to model my life after theirs, not Christ. This seems more attainable. Worse, I’ll often take an off-ramp that provides the opportunity to appease whatever standard fits my agenda. Since many believers travel at varying speeds, I can choose how devoted I’d like to be on any given day.

What’s the big deal? Many are obvious, but Wilkin again reminded me of the truth, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).”

A bit of honesty, this barely scratches the surface of Wilkin’s book. “God Most Holy” is chapter one. But I had to stop here, allowing iron to sharpen iron. Why in the world would God call us to a standard that could never be reached? Sanctification is a process, one I trust the Lord to complete.

Let us strive toward the moral excellence God has exemplified, so that others may see the Lord.

 

 

 

 

People-Watching Books

I’m not a reader who needs to know the exact flakiness of the bread crust a main character consumes. There seems to be an audience for these descriptive authors, but count me out.

I value character development. A book that makes you feel as if you’re people-watching in a totally acceptable manner. These books encourage introspection, which I highly value.

Here’s a list of books I’ve really enjoyed:

“A Man Called Ove” by Fedrik Backman

“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan

“Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier

“Herbert Rowbarge” by Natalie Babbitt

“Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbitt

“Britt-Marie Was Here” by Fredrik Backman

“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett

“The Great Divorce” by C. S. Lewis

Though these titles are quite popular, I hope you’ll find one you haven’t yet encountered. Happy reading!

 

I Can Patch Your Wall

My friend just castrated a bull calf for the first time. She’s an amazing inspiration of ambition and confidence. She posted a G-rated picture that made me laugh (mostly because her husband happens to be looking away). Then, the strangest thought ran through the back of my mind, “I should learn how to castrate a bull.”

What?! Ideas like this have often surfaced in my thoughts. We have friends who make their own deodorant, those who raise chickens, those who garden, lay tile, can food, etc. I respect the skills they have mastered. I typically don’t question myself as to why I feel inclined to pursue the same knowledge because the fruit of the labor is obvious. But, castrate a bull? I don’t plan on raising cattle, so unless it all “hits the fan,” why do I want to learn this?

Because I don’t trust those in the body of Christ to share their knowledge and the fruit of their labor. 

Ouch. Let me say quickly, this has nothing to do with my talented friends. If I had a bull that needed castrating or my armpits were smelly, I’d have friends here tomorrow to help solve the issues. I think the thought simply put a mirror in front of my own face. Am I willing to share the skills I possess with the body of Christ? Do I serve anyone but myself?

I can refinish a hardwood floor. I can lay carpet. I can repair plaster walls (or knock one down). I can grow a tomato and lay tile. But when’s the last time I’ve done one of these tasks for another believer? Never.

There’s the typical excuse of not having enough time, but I’m not sure how well that defense will hold up if Christ ever questions me on it. Then there’s the schooling I completed that instilled this incredibly independent attitude. Then, there’s selfishness and pride mixed with this weird feeling that the knowledge should be protected and yours alone-every man for himself.

Then there’s scripture. We know the example set by the church in the book of Acts. “Independent” would be the last words I would use to describe one of these believers. Why do I feel greedy with my knowledge? How ludicrous is this idea when it’s actually dissected? What picture am I painting of Christ as a result?

Many of us make a living based on the skills we have attained. That’s great, but what about the sharing part? Ephesians 4:28, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.”

Sharing your finances is easy-a blessing to many, necessary, but rather simple. Sharing your life is much harder.

 

 

This isn’t Easy

I’ve been asked to write a blog. I don’t have an editor for this, so here goes nothing.

Are your struggles worth the fight? Have you contemplated what might occur if your goal were not reached? Is the inconvenience of the process worth the dedication?

I’ve become quite the fan of Natalie Babbitt. I find it so gracious of an author to pen a great deal of deep thinking for the reader. Perhaps my favorite work of Babbitt’s is the collection of stories in The Devil’s Storybooks. The book is similar in style to C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, but with a bit more sarcasm. In one story, the devil is fed up with opening his own walnuts. He decides to hide a pearl in nut, disguise himself as an old man, go to earth and bank on the greed of man to solve his horrible problem. He hands the nut containing the pearl to an old farmer woman walking down the road. Convinced she will find the pearl and quickly open all the other nuts for him, the devil is confused when she puts the meat in her mouth, chucks the shell, and continues on her way. Thinking he may have given her the wrong walnut, the devil opens every nut in the bag searching for the pearl. Meanwhile, the farmer woman is in town, removing the pearl from under her tongue and purchasing a butter churn and some turnips. Babbitt concludes the story with the beautiful conclusion that all of us are not greedy.

Perhaps that was easy for her to write. I guess we all have our own struggles and one of mine is greed. I published a book in April, concluding the chapter “You’re a Failure” with these words, “I may never own a company or be able to retire, but I’m finished being a slave to Satan’s standards of achievement. I have an inheritance that will never spoil. I will spend my days praising the Lord. I have been clothed in righteousness. The world can keep its rags and its riches.”

That wasn’t easy to write. I pray daily that I won’t be found someday as a fraud, fully following whatever my selfishness desires. I want to focus on the Lord so strongly that I will have to run head on into a blessing because he has put it in the way of my following of him. It is a struggle for me to not shift my focus on the stuff I want now. It is a struggle for me to not make this life all about building my best heaven on earth. I struggle with following his will instead of my own.

But the struggle is worth the fight. Living in the center of the Lord’s will for your life has more joy and peace than any pearl stuffed walnut can offer. Blessings delivered straight from heaven are yours to dwell in. You have been given perfect love, hope, and a place to rest your trust. Struggling to remain focused on Him amidst the distractions is worth the effort. Let us fight the good fight though it is not always easy.