problem solving and benchmarking.
facing a problem? search for what's been done before.

I’m not that special.

I feel like I’ve written about this before, but when I’m facing a problem, I tend to believe that someone, somewhere, sometime has faced either my exact same problem or one very similar to it. And that at least one person who has faced and solved this problem – or at least figured out a workaround or a compromise – has written about it (or posted a video about it on youtube).

My first instinct is to search for what they wrote to benchmark best possible solutions.

More often than not, I find some information that helps me. Sometimes in a book, in an article, buried in a comment thread or even on a pinterest board or youtube, I’ve found solutions – or at least ideas – that have helped me in countless situations, from how to change my specific computer’s laptop screen to how to interact with a narcissist to how to have a crucial conversation to…I did say countless situations.

Most of the time, when I research, I get one of four results:

1. I find the exact best solution to my problem.

2. I find a solution that doesn’t quite work for me, but I can modify it a bit to solve my problem.

3. I find a solution that doesn’t work for me at all, but it sparks an idea for something I hadn’t considered before.

4. I find out what DOESN’T or won’t work.

By being patient, doing my research, putting forth extra effort and not giving up easily, I’ve saved money, time and even relationships. Often, after learning how someone else approached a problem, I’ve gotten what I needed, gotten what I wanted and again, even gotten confirmation that a particular approach would NOT be a good idea.

I love learning from other people’s successes – and mistakes.


The lying tempter would persuade.

Maybe it’s the chaos in my house.

or the chaos of the last year and a half.

or the abundance of time I’ve had to think about the chaos of the last year and a half while I’m attending to the mindless task of shoveling the chaos in my house…

maybe I’m just tired.

or hormonal. I’ve had a hysterectomy, so for all I know I’m on my period and don’t even know it.

But, today is one of those days where I’m haunted and grieved by voices.

Condescending voices of marginalization and mediocrity.

The voices that told me I don’t have to work as hard as I do, because less is “just fine.” As if the voices didn’t realize that the unnecessary extra time I took and the unneeded effort I expended led to a result they just described as “fine.” As if it didn’t occur to them that less effort and time would knock “fine” down to…less than fine. And worst of all, by continuing to tell me I don’t have to work so hard the voices continued to let me know time and time again how little they know me or how little respect they have for my determination to give my best.

And now, “fine” saturates the air I breathe.

The voices that told me I shouldn’t work as hard as I do, because it makes other people look bad.

And now I’m gone. And it turns out I wasn’t the reason someone else wasn’t succeeding. I actually wasn’t hogging their opportunities and stealing their affirmation. They are still contributing the minimum and spewing bitterness because they think they are entitled to more opportunities even though they continue to prove they can’t be depended upon.

The voices that politely asked me to step back. Say less. Do less. Give less. and be less. And “respect” the leadership of someone I thought I was collaborating with. Because my unfettered contribution made other people jealous. and angry. and sarcastically hateful.

And now, I’m mired in the mindset that everything I have to offer is too much. Unwanted. The constant monitoring for those boundaries holds me back from offering anything outside of one-on-one conversations. The fear of overloading someone with too much of me keeps my head out of the clouds, my feet planted firmly on the ground and my eyes focused on the 1st mile responsibility of caring for my family. And re-flooring and painting my house, all the while secretly hoping it really IS #thehomeprojectthatneverends.

The voices that flippantly dismissed my interest in returning to school because I don’t “need” any more education. As if ANYone, ever “NEEDS” a formal education. As if the desire to learn isn’t enough reason to seek knowledge and understanding.

And then there’s little voice that can’t help but wonder if pursing another degree might be an excellent two year distraction…

Even so I continue to learn. But share less of the lessons, gauging who actually might LIKE to engage in a discussion about the things that get me thinking by tentatively testing and retreating in conversation, facebook and the rare blog post. Confirmed in my square-pegness again and again by the facebook stats that indicate people view one of my amusing family dialogs or a home project progress report 3 to 4 times more than they ever view anything I post about something I’m learning.

The voices that let me know I read too much (and am out of touch because I don’t watch enough TV). As if someone else’s desire to only read fiction – or not read at all – and quote platitudes or pinterest eCards means that my desire to read non-fiction and quote scripture is evidence that I just need to chill out and “enjoy life” more. Because reading non-fiction couldn’t possibly be enjoyable.

Even so, I continue to read. and learn. and think. Because I love it.

The voices that assure me it’s not necessary to share the hope of Christ at every opportunity because a more acceptable and more comfortable alternative is to “rub off on people.” Because evangelism is a process. of passive osmosis. Because too many people think evangelism is telling someone ELSE how you think they should live instead of telling someone how God is working in the life YOU live.

And yet people are DYING every day. DYING. And we may not get that second or subsequent opportunity to allow our autopilot passing presence or casual words in someone’s life to be the kind of intentional witness for Christ that the most important relationship of our life deserves. We share posts about kids, dogs, kittens and pinterest exponentially more than we ever share something Christ has taught us or how He’s moving in our lives every day, no matter how small.

The voices that explain my writing is too “intellectual,” that I use too many rarely used words like “unfettered” and “mired” or that I tend to “drone on.” (The owners of those voices have already clicked away. If they even started reading at all.)

And now, more often than not, I have the attention span of a gnat when I sit down in front of my brand new computer. With the rare exception of this post – which at this point exceeds the recommended maximum attention keeping word count – I have no inclination to write anything longer than a facebook update or anything that takes more than 30 or 60 seconds to digest. When I think about anything I might have to say, the only word that consistently comes to mind is “meh.”

The voices that suggest I consider the possibility my dream was bigger than God’s will for me. I should be grateful. Compared to all the problems and suffering in the world, the loss of my dream is not a tragedy. There are plenty of other things I could do with my time. “There’s nothing wrong with living a simpler life, you know.” Because dreams devalue anyone living this “simpler life?”

And now I find myself searching for that unselfish place of devotion and delight in Christ that fuels me with passion and a determination to be a good steward of the gifts I’ve been blessed with while at the same time, being held back by the relentless thought that as long as I continue to grieve whenever I think of never leading worship again or of not writing a book or never again speaking about my faith while holding a microphone, it’s evidence that I love the dream more than the dream-giver and I need to climb out of my big britches until a “ministry” of one-on-one every day relational evangelism doesn’t feel like less.

And then there’s the voice that belongs to the person who sifted through every nuance of every other voice, meticulously looking for truth, no matter how hard to face. The voice that wields the sharpest sword and cuts the deepest.


Most days, the Voice of Truth is louder than all of these voices.

The Voice of Truth tells me that these words are meant to oppress me. To feed me the lie that the words spoken by these voices are more powerful than the blood of Christ and the strength available to me through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Ace Ventura Recognizing the Voice of TruthThe Voice of Truth tells me that Satan is far more effective in derailing me through the casual words of Christians than he ever would be through a direct attack from an anti-theist who thoughtfully planned out a full frontal assault.

The Voice of Truth tells me that these are the voices of flawed humans, not a perfect God. Careless knee-jerk reaction words, spoken without a pause for thoughts of the message they are sending or of long term consequences or – more importantly – especially when it comes to instruction and advice – spoken without a pause for prayer.

Voices of those searching for something or someone to blame, not words of personal responsibility.

If you’re wondering if one of these voices was yours, ask yourself why you’re wondering that, and regardless of whether the answer is yes or no, I pray that you click away from this post with an awareness of the powerful impact of the words you speak, the decisions you make and the reasons behind them.

I don’t blame any of the voices. Not anymore. I’ve come to realize that any influence they had on me, I allowed. Any limitations that were placed on me, I accepted.

Any words spoken, I listened.

Besides, these voices are secondary. I’m still working through much deeper spiritual pruning and growth.

My constant prayer these days is to know God MORE.

and today, I’m praying for wisdom and discernment to recognize and block out any voice opposed to the Voice of Truth.

especially mine.

therefore I quote: “violently face to face”

CS Lewis Quote Reading Violently face to face Letters to Malcolm

“C.S. Lewis (on reading another author):

“He brought me violently face to face with…”

from Yours, Jack by C.S. Lewis


I LOVE it when that happens! It’s why I read dead guys and footnotes when I don’t have to. I love it when a writer makes me think. I love it when my beliefs are challenged, when my complacency is given a swift kick in the pants, when my arrogant assumptions are blindsided by something I never considered before.

Why do I love it when a writer brings me “violently face to face” with a new perspective I hadn’t considered or a truth I hadn’t realized?

Long story short? Complicated and detailed reasoning summarized? I have an extreme aversion to uninformed myopic opinions being spouted as declarations of objective truth.

I like to learn. To think. And I learn a LOT from books. I like to plow into what other people have written. Reading and learning fuel me and fuel the conversations I have, the words I write and the decisions I make.

You don’t have to be a reader to be informed. In the age of Google and Wikipedia, you can find out whether what you believe is hooey in a matter of seconds.

I’m allergic to hooey. The last thing I want to do is spread it around.

family book banter

PinkGirl: “Mom, did you pre-order that book for me?”

Me: “no. is there some incentive for PRE-ordering?

PinkGirl: “no, I’m just DYING to find out what happened.”

Me: “I have no sympathy. You have broken the family fiction series rule.”

PinkGirl: “What rule? (as if she didn’t know)

FavoriteDad: “You don’t start reading a fiction series until they’ve all been written.”

PinkGirl: “aahhharrrrgggg”

caps lock equals shoutingI checked my laptop later. In MS Word, I see:

“I DON’T CARE!!!!!!!!

Me, to FavoriteDad: “Are you going to let her talk to me in all caps like that?”

therefore I quote: Steve Chandler

AlphabetDarkI read, therefore I quote:

“People who habitually access their imaginations are often hailed by their colleagues as “geniuses” – as if “genius” was a genetic characteristic. They would be better understood as people who are practiced at accessing their genius.”

“Einstein used to say, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” When I first heard he’d said that, I didn’t know what he meant. I always thought additional knowledge was the answer to every difficult problem. I thought if I could just learn a few more important things, then I’d be happy. What I didn’t realize was that the very thing I needed to learn was not knowledge, but a skill.”

“What I needed to learn was the proactive use of my imagination. And once I’d learned that skill, the first task was to begin imagining the vision of who I wanted to be.”

Steve Chandler
100 Ways To Motivate Yourself: Change Your Life Forever

I, like Mr. Chandler have always believed, for years, subconsciously and more recently, consciously that additional knowledge was the key to problem solving. A relentless optimist, I’ve always held the belief that there’s a solution to every problem. Just because I haven’t figured it out yet doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Put me in a room with a pessimist, or even with a realist, and I can exasperate the best of them.

I realized, as I was reading this quote and drafting this post, that the exasperation of others often comes from the fact that, in a problem solving discussion, I always want to start at the beginning. It’s not uncommon for me to ask WHY something is being done a certain way in the first place. Everyone else wants to focus on the malfunction of step 138 and I want to go back to step one and make sure we should be killing ourselves to solve the problems at step 138 in the first place.

In my experience, sometimes a process gains momentum and morphs into an entity that is cared for in the place of the original goal. Maintaining the process becomes the goal and the original goal, the one the process was intended to facilitate, becomes secondary. Sometimes changes take place over time which aren’t accounted for and because the process isn’t modified to incorporate those changes, the process begins to move in a counter-productive direction.

Let’s go for a very simple example. Let’s say the goal is to get to a destination 1000 miles away. You decide to drive. Circumstances change and you need to bring a small load of stuff with you. You load the stuff into your trunk, start your car and are on your way. Then the load of stuff increases. You buy a trailer to hitch on the back of the car to haul the stuff. Then the car starts having problems. All kinds of problems. Which you attend to, each and every time. Slowly, the goal becomes “keep the car running” instead of “get to my destination.” I’m the one who comes along and interrupts everyone as they are covered with grease, leaning over the engine of the car. Clean and fresh, with no investment in the car, I ask:

“Why are you fixing this thing anyway?”

And then I start asking, “Is there a direct flight?” “Can we ship the load separately?” “Do we even need to ship this stuff at all?” “Can we buy the stuff at our destination instead of buying it here and hauling it 1000 miles?”

I realize that kind of questioning, my willingness to look stupid by asking the “stupid questions” comes not necessarily from knowledge, but from imagination. I may know how to fix the car too, but I don’t want to waste time and effort if there’s a better solution. Especially a more effective, simpler solution I don’t have to work so hard to maintain.


put the book down. it’s okay. really.

I started a book recently. And decided not to finish it. And I’m okay with that.


It was “Running with Scissors.” Great reviews. “So funny!”

I hated it.

HATED IT.  (it’s VERY different from the movie)

H A T E D I T! (did I mention I hated it?)

And I don’t have to read stuff I hate. I’m a grown up and I get to choose. There was a time I wouldn’t have been comfortable with the idea of abandoning a book mid-read. I was taught to finish what I start. That not finishing was . . . failure.

So what changed my mind? A book, what else?

I read the book, “So Many Books, So Little Time” by Sara Nelson. In it, Sara chronicled her reading for an entire year. She had a reading list and a plan. A plan she didn’t stick to. She had books on her reading list she never got around to, books she hadn’t planned on reading, but devoured and (this is the revelation for me) a book or two she didn’t finish.

She didn’t finish a book.

And she was okay with that. She didn’t feel like she failed, was too ignorant or uncultured to understand or appreciate something or that she left something incomplete. She gave herself permission to put the book down and never look back.

Ahhhhh. My to do list just got so much lighter. Guilt is heavy. What I never realized before was that I actually did feel guilty when I didn’t finish reading a book. (If you think “Atlas Shrugged” is a heavy book, you can imagine how heavy the “still haven’t finished it” guilt is.)

Maybe it’s a book I’m not into. Why should I keep reading something I don’t like? Why? My discretionary time is so limited! Why should I spend it doing things I don’t like?

Maybe I do like a book, but it doesn’t reach in and touch me at this time in my life. I may LOVE it later. But not now. I can always read it later. If I want to. There have been spans of time in my life where I find great meaning and am edified by reading “My Utmost from His Highest” by Oswald Chambers and other times in my life where the book gathers dust on the shelf. Maybe I will finish Atlas Shrugged, but it’s not meaningful for me at this time in my life. Right now, I just don’t give a flip about John Gault.

So I’ll keep my leather bound copy of My Utmost for His Highest and my big, giant 40 pound copy of Atlas Shrugged and as I return Running with Scissors to the library, I’ll be thankful that I didn’t actually pay money for it.

read from the outside in.

I used to read all books chronologically. Start on page one and move forward from there. It worked. It was . . . fine.

But last summer, I enrolled my son in a $300 speed reading course and the instructor was kind enough to let me sit in the back of the room and “wait” instead of dropping off and picking up my son. So essentially, I got to audit the course for free.

Wow. What a difference.

I still read fiction chronologically, but now I read non-fiction very differently. There are two goals:

The first is most important to me: To improve reading comprehension and retention. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve remembered something I’ve read and thought to myself, “WHERE did I read this?” Worse yet, how many times I’ve remember only part of something I’ve read, but can’t seem to recall the context or the information completely or accurately.

The second goal is to increase my reading speed. For me, that’s an on again off again thing because sometimes I do just want the information in my head already. But often, I just want to sit down with a cup of coffee, breathe and . . . really savor a book and that stolen quiet time).

To condense hours of class instruction and numerous examples, here’s how I read non-fiction now:

Step 1: I read the Table of Contents and the Prologue of a book.

Step 2:
Let’s say I’m reading a chapter at a time. I go straight for the last page of the chapter to see if the author summarized it for me. Are there any questions for thought back there? See, if I have an preliminary idea of the main points of the chapter before I even begin, the explanations and supporting stories within the chapter are that much easier to understand as I go. I also peruse the chapter for bold words and section headings. This allows me to have an overview of the order the information will be presented while calling to attention the prominent terminology and/or concepts.

Step 3: NOW I read the chapter. If I want to actually read faster, I use my hand to sweep under the words from left to right and increase my reading speed. I don’t reread. I trust that I got it the first time. Most of the time I’m right. Rarely do I really need to read something again. It’s the rhythm of the sweeping motion of your hand that propels you forward. Time yourself. It’s amazing.

Step 4: Tell backs. You review what you’ve just read. Tell backs can be in whatever format you want them to be. The instructor of the speed reading course used his voice mail for tell backs. He calls himself and summarizes what he just read. This helps solidify the information in two ways. First, by verbally repeating the information and then by listening to it later. I use giant index cards as bookmarks and record page numbers and a few words to remind myself of interesting points. Later, I pull out the index card and the book and type quotes or concepts into a word processing document. That way, I can search the document content of an entire folder to find what I’m trying to remember. I’ve also begun typing keywords at the top of the first page to help the search process.

A book I found that supported these concepts and really helped as well is “The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program” by Stanley D. Frank.

My son’s speed reading class and this book have changed the way I read, improved my comprehension and understanding, and allowed me to find and recall much more easily.

Go for it.