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Talk is Cheap: 8 ways healthy couples set the example for their children

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“Talk is Cheap: 8 ways healthy couples set the example for their children” audio

I remember my dad used to tell us, “Talk is cheap, but it costs money to buy land.” I’m sure I was too young to initially comprehend what my dad meant, but as I got older, I responded, “well duh. That’s obvious.” Of course that response was under my breath… ten minutes after he walked away, but it was my response nonetheless.

So why did he feel the need to regurgitate such an obvious analogy? It’s simple. Regardless of how pure our intentions were, our actions did not align with what we said we were going to do. Furthermore, our actions did not align with what we knew we should do. Yep, we talked a good game, but we did not set the example with our actions.

What’s even more interesting is though our parents repetitively reminded us to set the example through our actions, I still often find myself selling some of that “cheap talk” without applying any action. If you’re honest, you probably do it too. If that’s you, just keep reading and we’ll dive into some practical advice I have to help you set the example for your children.

Here’s what triggered my thoughts.

I posted this on Twitter a few days ago:

"😘 'I love you.': what my wife feels/hears daily before I leave. Sometimes, a little infiltrator peeks in and yells at me if she doesn't feel/hear the same. 🥴 Reminder: our children are learning from our actions and inaction. Take heed and use that to your advantage."
Originally posted on my Twitter account on August 12, 2022

I was so proud of myself! “You’re setting a great example brotha,” I told myself. That’s when my own reminder smacked me. I asked myself, “do you truly ‘take heed’ and set the example daily?” Well, the obvious answer was, “no.” There I was selling that cheap talk again. Only this time, I decided to make a list of ways I could set the example. Here’s that list of eight ways healthy couples can set the example daily for their children:

Eight ways healthy couples can set the example.

1. Affection.

“I don’t want my children–especially my daughters–trying to copy us with their friends!” That was my fear when it came to being affectionate in front of my children. Seems rational right? Maybe not. Either way, that was my excuse. I know I’m not the only one.

Trust me, I understand. However, this is one of the best examples we can set for our children. Showing affection to your significant other is demonstrating that you care. You are creating a physical and emotional safe place for him or her. Affection is the outward expression of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual connection, and it gives the receiver a feeling of adoration. To deprive your children of this example is to allow them to inaccurately develop their own understanding of how love is outwardly expressed based upon societal norms. This is the first and arguably the most important example of all.

2. Respect.

What you want, baby, I got it
What you need, do you know I got it?
All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you get home

Man, Aretha Franklin rocked that song! Of course this song came out loooong before I was born, but it has always been one of my favorites. I mean, really… who doesn’t like a little respect?!

Respect is easy to define but hard to demonstrate because it often has a negative connotation. Somehow, we have managed to create the illusion that to respect someone is to become inferior to them. Instead, to respect someone is to value their words, opinions, and contributions regardless of the circumstance. It is to admire them for who they are and how much they mean to you.

So lay it on thick! Look your significant other in the eyes and tell them, “I want to know what you think before I make this decision.” Tell them, “Thank you so much for what you do for our home.” Speak very highly of your significant other… especially in front of others. Public praise goes a long way! Give genuine compliments without expecting anything in return. Say things we learned in elementary like, “please” and “thank you.” Last but not least, find out how your significant other wants to be respected and do that!

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me

3. Organization skills.

I am a huge advocate for being organized. My wife and I try to do simple things like keep our room clean and orderly to teach the children how to take pride in and ownership of their belongings. However, my favorite thing we do is keep a joint scheduler. We try to put everything on the schedule from birthdays to bill dates to girls’ night out. Why? Because it allows us to plan ahead. It is a simple way to demonstrate a life lesson that our children can use throughout their personal and professional endeavors.

Some will argue that this kind of organization will hamper their relationship because their relationship thrives on spontaneousness. On one hand, I agree that if your schedule is so rigid that it doesn’t allow fun or spontaneous activities or chance encounters, your relationship will likely become stale and mundane. On the other hand, I submit that you should use your scheduler to plan for these opportunities. Many times, we aren’t as spontaneous as we think anyway because our disorganization causes us to lack the focus we need to make the best out of the moment.

I recommend you read the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. You’ll be surprised how much distractions caused by disorganization keep us from accomplishing individual and couple goals.

4. Patience.

This one gets me every time. I believe that patience is like any other muscle; if you don’t intentionally build it, it will fail when it’s tested. Like most parents, my children taught me a lesson about patience with the old “are we there yet” question. They challenged me to ask myself, “why are you getting mad over something so simple?” I admit that my ego didn’t allow me to answer the question maturely the first few times. “Because it’s a stupid question to ask every five minutes!” I would say to myself.

But I eventually stopped acting like a pouty child and decided to answer the question honestly, “I have no reason to be mad.” So if I can handle such a frustrating question without becoming frustrated, there is no reason I should become impatient with my wife. At least that’s my theory and nobody can tell me otherwise! Ok, I’m kidding (kinda). The point is that we have to intentionally build our patience to ensure we set the example for our children.

5. Forgiveness.

Forgiveness and patience go hand-in-hand. In fact, I believe that forgiveness enables patience. True forgiveness requires us to release all traces of bitterness, negative emotions, and desire to get revenge. Sounds pretty easy right? Not even close. Just like patience, we have to practice forgiveness if we want to set a consistent example. This requires us to do a few things:

  1. Acknowledge your emotions. You won’t be able to move on if you pretend everything is ok.
  2. Take some time to gather your thoughts. Don’t sulk and dwell on the negative. Just take some time to journal about how you feel and why you feel this way. Try not to even mention your significant other.
  3. Avoid saying things like, “he (or she) should’ve known better!” Though it may be true, this is inflammatory and will only cause your emotions to spiral.
  4. Understand your emotions and refrain from blaming yourself or your significant other for your emotions. I know, that’s easier said than done!
  5. Confront to restore and strengthen your relationship, not to point out deficiencies or “hold accountable.” I know; you caught him or her red-handed, and this is your proverbial slam dunk! You’ll call them out, they’ll feel convicted, and you will feel a lot better!… Except that rarely happens. Shift your perspective from appeasing your own feelings and emotions to restorating and further developing a healthy relationship.
  6. Now for the hard part–time to have the conversation (you knew you couldn’t avoid it forever). Prepare for every response. In a perfect world, your significant other will just say, “I am so sorry, and I will do anything to make it up.” We don’t live in a perfect world though! Be patient and continue to focus on resolution and forgiveness.
  7. Regardless of how your significant other responded, let it go. It’ll be hard and may take a little time, but it is important for your relationship. Continue to be kind and work together towards a solution. Forgiveness may take time, but you both can do it and continue to grow together!

6. Confidence and Trust.

“Pull over and ask for directions.” “Nah, I got it.” I think this is one of the most common conversations couples have had over the years. I know we have the GPS now, but that doesn’t matter to me because I can figure it out for myself! It’s so bad that I even find myself looking for ways to prove the GLOBAL Positioning System (GPS) wrong. I put “global” in all caps because I wanted to point out that this handheld computer has a perspective that spans far beyond my own; yet, I am only using it as a reference instead of a guide.

We often do the same thing to our significant other, and in turn, our children do the same to us and others. Be confident in your significant other’s perspective and trust in their integrity and abilities.

7. Kindness.

When we demonstrate kindness in front of our children, we are teaching them an extremely valuable lesson. Kindness is all about being generous, friendly, and considerate. Ironically, the longer we are in a relationship, the more we tend to lose sight of this category. It’s easy to become comfortable in a relationship and assume our kindness is implied. Guess what? It’s not!

Put down the phone and offer to cook for the evening. Place the book on your night stand and rub your partner’s back. Add a little money in the budget to send your significant other to the barber shop. Whatever you do, make a daily practice out of putting your significant other’s needs and desires above your own. Strive to make them smile and feel good. Kindness is a key component to a healthy relationship.

8. Harmony and complementary strength.

As a musician, there is nothing more pleasing than a harmonious sound. That means every musical instrument or voice is fulfilling its role by hitting the perfect tone and note to create a melodious chord. In relationships, this kind of euphony can only be replicated when both parties intentionally work towards complementing the other. This is why it is important to connect with someone who complements your strengths and improves your weaknesses.

We tend to naturally attract to those who have those characteristics we lack. That’s why we have to be comfortable enough around our significant other to be vulnerable. This is the only way to truly demonstrate our need for and dependency on our significant other.

It’s time to buy the land

Setting an example for your children requires focus and intentionality. In other words, it won’t happen without a little work. So let’s put some action behind our words and set the example!

Thanks for reading!

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Establishing Winning Habits

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I had the pleasure of working in General Austin Miller’s (U.S. Army) command for a few months, and there is one thing that I heard him say over 100 times (that’s no exaggeration): establish repeatable processes. Sometimes, when you hear something so often, you become numb to it; however, that would’ve been a bad idea for me for a couple of reasons: 1. He was a commanding officer, so becoming numb to his orders is a sure way to get you fired. 2. More importantly, every time he said it, he caused me to reflect on my own “repeatable processes” or as most of us call them, habits.

Since then, this idea of habit creation and sustainment has become a critical part of my personal and professional philosophy. Why? Well, I can summarize why with this quote:

If your habits don’t support your goals, your goals are just a wish list.

Olaolu Ogunyemi

What are habits?

Most times when we talk about habits, we are either confronting about or being confronted about bad habits. Don’t get me wrong, I believe this “confrontation” or accountability is a crucial part of habit creation, but it is only part of the equation. We will dive into my principles soon, but first, let’s define “habits.”

Oxford Languages says that a habit is, “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” My love for food was the first thing that came to mind when I read this definition. Like most people, I’m still working towards that beach body six pack, but there’s a cliche that closely relates to my eating practices and delays my results: “you are what you eat.” I want to slightly modify this cliche to give you my own simplified definition of the word “habit”:

You are what you repeat.

Olaolu Ogunyemi

My winning habits principles

1. Winning habits begin with math.

Oh no… I’m becoming my parents! When I was young, I was one of those in class telling my math teachers, “I will never use this again!” Now, aside from the fact that i refuse to use a calculator to determine my tips and I solve two math problems every morning to shut off my alarm, I am telling you that winning habits begin with math. It’s actually pretty simple math.

There are twenty-four hours each day. Most of us spend 6-8 of those hours sleeping and another 8-12 of those hours “working.” (You’ll find out why I put “working” in quotes a little later). That means that about 14-20 hours of our day are usually accounted for. What are you doing with the other 4-10 hours each day? Are you intentionally investing every minute?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions to make a point; I truly want you to reflect on what you do during those hours. Although many won’t admit it, a lot of us have formed habits that simply drain our time. So much so that we can seldom recall what we did the day before. If you’re anything like me, you went back to double check that math. That can’t be right! Well, it is.

I reflected on this in one of my very first blog posts where I outlined how many habits I had formed that completely drained my time, and get this: a majority of them were somehow related to the device I carry around in my pocket every day. I challenge you to do your own reflection and record your daily habits.

2. Focus your habits.

Were you shocked by your daily habits list? That’s ok. Let’s do something about it! How do your daily habits align with your goals? Don’t lie or try to use some kind of “butterfly effect” justification. Don’t worry about how much effort or energy you put into each habit. Just have an objective review of what results your daily habits produce. Results are all that matter; there is no “A” for effort–make sure your habits support this fact.

3. “It’s called work for a reason!” -Larry Winget

I recently read and enjoyed this book by Larry Winget. Some may not like his style, because he refers to himself as an “irritational” speaker. In other words, he strives to make you so uncomfortable where you are that you desire to change.

I think my favorite part of this book is the fact that it was aptly named. One would assume that once you get a job, you would show up to perform that job; however, many of us have formed extremely bad habits in the workplace from doing personal chores to not doing anything at all. Of course this causes a ripple effect throughout any given organization and severely impedes processes. Your habits in the workplace are a reflection of your character, values, and professionalism. In other words, if your habits aren’t contributing towards the company’s desired results, you are part of the problem. Let’s focus on making our companies better!

4. Sleep is a must!

I actually don’t know where I got it from, but I remember saying, “sleep is for the rich, so I can’t afford it.” I don’t know; it just sounded cool to me. Nowadays, I don’t know if it’s maturity, a realignment of priorities, or a little bit of both, but I absolutely love sleep! There’s nothing like racing to my bed after a long day. (I’m yawning just thinking about it.)

Listen, numerous studies have shown that our sleep habits impact our mood, performance, attitude, and brain function. Temporarily reducing sleep to accomplish a specific goal is ok, but the key word is “temporarily.” Create a set time, routine, and location for your rest. This is one of the most important habits you can form.

5. Accountability is continuous, but give yourself grace.

Earlier I mentioned that confrontation and accountability are a huge part of habit creation. Let’s use my dietary habits as an example. I can claim that I want to eat better all I want, but without external feedback mechanisms like my wife or the MyFitnessPal food tracker, my goal is a well-intended wish.

However, the other part is grace. We spend decades forming habits, but then we expect to immediately break those habits and form new ones over night. Listen, that is highly unlikely, so give yourself a little grace. Implement a “clean slate” policy meaning you get to mess up every once in a while. Just reflect and implement a couple more accountability mechanisms to prevent repeating the same mistake.

Notice I used the word “repeating” here. You remember where I used that word before? That’s right. “You are what you repeat.” So don’t form a new habit of making more mistakes than progress. This is where a lot of us get stuck. Then we disguise this “one step forward, two steps back” approach as progress as we celebrate the one step forward and apply the “clean slate” policy to our two steps backwards. Let’s break that habit, because it will never work. Accountability and grace go hand-in-hand–you can’t have one without the other.

My winning habits

Now that I’ve outlined my principles, here is a quick list of habits I consider important in no particular order:

  1. Read and learn to experience the world from a different perspective.
  2. Take care of yourself: dedicate time each day to building your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pillars. At least 30 minutes per pillar per day.
  3. Work hard when it’s time to work. Play hard when it’s time to play. Rest well when it’s time to rest.
  4. Spend uninterrupted time loving on friends and family. I cannot stress this one enough. Forgive if you need to forgive. Life is too short.
  5. Schedule time for the “time drainers” like social media, TV, window shopping, etc. These will likely always exist, but you need to manage them.
  6. Prioritize your day. Like Dr. Covey said, “keep the main thing, the main thing.” Or maybe I’ll add a little spin to the famous TLC line, “don’t go chasing waterfalls” (my spin) when you are supposed to be swimming at the lake. Yeah I know that was cheesy, but you get the point. Establish and align your habits to your priorities!
  7. Allocate time to reflect on the day. What did you do well? What are some opportunities for improvement?
  8. Smile, have fun, and remind yourself that you are valuable and have a purpose. Your daily habits support that purpose!

Thanks for reading! Have a great week!

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Happy Birthday Brea!

I’m celebrating my wife’s birthday this entire week! Why? Because she deserves that and more.

I plan to discuss our origin story a little bit more on our ten-year anniversary later this year, but I believe this is an appropriate time to pause and publicly let Brea know how much I appreciate her support, love, and sacrifices! It’s been amazing to grow with her over the last ~11 years (that’s how long we’ve been an official couple).

Thank you for your sacrifices! (Even on your birthday)

In that short period, we have moved eight times across several different states to support my career. Though tearful because she has had to leave behind some great friends, she has continued to support and encourage me along the way. On top of all that, when I decided to finally pursue my dream of becoming an author, she did not skip a beat with her support!

Every single one of my adult accomplishments are because of Brea. Whether it’s keeping the children quiet so I can podcast or write, keeping the house running smoothly while I’m away, listening to my countless ideas, or any other daily thing she does, it has made me a better man.

This is YOUR week!

I could go on and on but I’ll summarize by saying, happy birthday my love! Cheers to many, many, maaaaaaany more years! 🥂

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Chasing purpose is better than chasing success (Part 2): The “Da Nang Hill” experience

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So there you are; you just implemented an amazing idea! You finally conquered that initial mountain of “what ifs” and persevered through the shadowy valley of self-doubt and second guessing. Even so, you find yourself thinking, “where do I go from here?” You climbed to a new height only to be met by a second wave of doubt. You begin to question yourself, your purpose, and sometimes, your God. Haven’t we all been there? I know I have. I finally pushed past the nervousness of “what will people think” to be met head on by what seems to be another mountain! If that’s you, let me first start off with a quick encouraging word:

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessings if we don’t give up.

Galatians 6:9 NLT

My story!

This topic reminds me of a slightly younger Olaolu in 2010-2011. Although several of my mentors were U.S. Army veterans, I decided to join the United States Marine Corps! I literally had no clue what that meant. In fact, I often tell people that the only two Marines I knew before I joined were Major Payne and Gunny Ermey! After I met my recruiter, I watched a couple more movies like “Jarhead” so I can learn and understand the jargon. Clearly, I had no idea what I was actually signing up for or why I was signing up, but I felt the urge to serve specifically in the Marine Corps.

Although I was already an adult (at least legally) and in college, I knew my first obstacle would be to convince my parents and siblings that this was a great idea for me. The military was considered a “last resort” for many in my hometown. That is probably because it really was the “last resort” for several veterans in my area as a judge was willing to place them in prison as an alternative. This was going to be a tough sale.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

Proverbs 19:21 ESV

The Sales Pitch

“Alright Olaolu, just go to them and tell them, ‘I’m joining the Marine Corps. I’m not asking for your opinion or approval. It’s happening.” I was psyching myself up knowing I wouldn’t take that tone with my parents in a million years. “Just tell them you’re grown and this is what’s best for your life,” I continued.

Of course when the day arrived, my tone was completely unaggressive. I explained to both of my parents that I felt called to serve in this way and reassured them that I would finish college. I was already a Sophomore preparing to head into my Junior year of college, so I felt I could easily afford to take a semester off to attend boot camp and still graduate within four years. Surprisingly, this was pretty uneventful. My parents listened to my idea and calmly asked a few questions to which I responded with very generic answers I previously found on the internet. I later found out they were just putting on a front, but that’s a story for another day. I overcame obstacle number one: convincing my parents this was actually a good idea.

My plan failed, but God’s plan prevailed.

Fast forward a few months, my secretive and ridiculous plan to become an infantryman, serve in combat, train recruits as a drill instructor, graduate college, and commission as an officer within 4 years all came to a screeching halt; something was wrong with my package which prevented me from going to boot camp week after week. Soon, I received a call from an Officer Selection Officer who eventually convinced me to go directly to Officer Candidates School (OCS) through the Platoon Leaders Course-combined program.

After constant preparation like training in some old Army boots one of my mentors let me borrow, cleaning up my diet, and waking up before 5 A.M., I felt I was ready!

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9 ESV

Ready for anything!

When I arrived at OCS, I knew I was not the strongest or the fastest, but boy was I confident. I ran a fairly average initial physical fitness test but came in well under the maximum twenty-four minute three mile time. As a person who absolutely abhorred any running beyond the 400 meter dash, I felt like I could conquer the world. There as even a cameraman snapping a picture as I sprinted towards the finish line. I later found out they posted that picture on the OCS website. I found out in a letter from my dad who was congratulating me on finishing ahead of my peers. Little did he know, I was actually “leading” the back third. Regardless, nobody could tell me I wasn’t the greatest runner of all time.

I took this same confidence to one of the first physical training events. The platoon commander led us on a familiarization run where he would show us the trails we’d be training on–a perfect opportunity to show off my impeccable, newly found running skills.

The run started off at a brisk pace, but not too fast or unbearable. After about ten minutes, I started to think, “man you are really prepared! This can’t be what all those people were whining about on YouTube.” Soon after, we started to encounter a few hills–nothing extreme but enough to fire up the quadriceps, calf muscles, and glutes. Then we approached what appeared to be a mountain. Uh oh, I didn’t see that coming. The platoon commander paused at the bottom and said, “this is Da Nang Hill. Let’s go.”

Da Nang Hill

We started a slower pace up this “hill.” I put my head down to watch only the feet of the person in front of me. If they slowed down, I would run around them. Pretty soon I found myself looking at my platoon commander’s heels. I kept pushing; although, I was winded and my legs were on fire. “Don’t look weak in front of these folks. This is what you trained for,” I thought. After running for what felt like forever, I felt it was time to look up to check progress. I immediately got excited after a quick glance. “We’re almost there! Keep pushing yourself!” I whispered to myself. At least I think it was a whisper.

“A few more steps, and we are at the t…” My thoughts were interrupted. I learned my first lesson about running mountainous trails–or “hilly trails” as these new psychos called it–false peaks are real! The trail turned and continued to elevate at what I thought was the summit! I felt like someone hopped out of the brush and smacked me in the chest with a fifty pound sandbag. Then I noticed the platoon commander’s heels were getting further and further away from me. A few seconds later, a couple more heels pass by. Then a couple more. That’s when it hit me, “you’re walking!”

My embarrassment engulfed me. I couldn’t believe that I broke my one rule: don’t walk. I wanted to start running again, but my legs were sending a clear message back to my brain that sounded like, “pssh. Yeah right!” When we made it to the top, I was once again leading the back third. This time, I learned the name of the motley crew I was leading–the stragglers. I was embarrassed, physically tired, and deflated. Although I had made it to the top of Da Nang Hill, I was in an emotional valley.

The lesson

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

As I reflect on that story, I realize there are so many parallels to life. We prepare, affirm ourselves, set boundaries, and chase after our eternal purpose only to be met by what appears to be a repetitive cycle of rolling hills and false peaks. Regardless of what we have accomplished and our acceptance that God has great plans for our future, we find ourselves discouraged and doubtful of our worth and purpose.

First of all, it’s ok to feel doubt. There are numerous examples of great leaders in the Bible who felt doubt–from Moses to Ruth to the Son of God himself. Each of those moments were profound, and you can easily find countless sermons about their most prolific moments of doubt. However, each of those biblical leaders had one thing in common; they realized that God exists in the past, present, and future outside of our natural timeline…and so should we.

The Eternal Perspective

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV

I admit, this sounds a bit Star Trek-ish or like something you’d hear from the infamous villain Thanos. This is where our natural understanding falls short and our faith begins. This is why we accept many scientific discoveries as theories instead of fact. Even one of the most notorious scientists ever–Albert Einstein–believed the universe is infinite and that there is an indefinitely superior God. Where we differ is in our belief that the infinite (past, present, and future) God created each of us and placed an eternal purpose in our hearts.

I believe the more we grow our relationship with God, the more we grow beyond our natural limitations so we can see the world from His point of view. I was able to overcome my Da Nang Hill experience–and several other emotional valleys–by realizing that though the setbacks hurt in the moment, they had very little to do with my immediate purpose which was to graduate OCS and they gave credence to my eternal purpose which is to inspire others to overcome their own emotional valleys and pursue their purpose.

Real-time application

As I was writing this, I received a call from a young lady who was distraught. She was conflicted about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and after her religious exemption request and subsequent appeal were both denied, she was faced with being separated from the military. She was having her own proverbial Da Nang Hill experience–she felt she was being punished for standing up for what she believed to be right. What’s worse is she would have to face her colleagues who watched her “lose” her fight.

For privacy, I will not discuss any more of her details, but I will share the advice I gave her. I started by reaffirming that I believe we follow orders unless they are unethical, immoral, or illegal, something she already knew. But then, I shared my personal belief and explained how I make decisions:

  1. I pray to ensure my decision is in line with my personal relationship with and belief in God.
  2. I examine how this decision–no matter how small–aligns with my eternal purpose and reason for being on this earth.
  3. I replay numbers 1 and 2 in my mind when facing people who mock or disagree with my decision. I realize that a vast majority of the people we encounter are an extremely small part of our lives. We will never see some people again. So I choose to remain focused on the things that matter and the people who help push me towards my purpose.

In the end, I love to leave people like this young lady with one of my favorite scriptures:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

Hebrews 12:1 NLT

Stay focused my friends! You will make it through your “Da Nang Hill” experience and come out more refined than before as you live out your God-given purpose.

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Embrace where you are!

One of the best parts about visiting my hometown is stopping by some of the places that brought me wonderful memories. I guess you could say I am often overcome with acute nostalgia. One place I always like to visit is my old job that I worked during my college days. This time around, I reflected not only on the fun times I had and the great people I met but on the lessons I learned that I still apply today. The best way to describe my time there is to borrow a quote from Charles Dickens: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Regardless, the biggest lesson I learned was to embrace where you are because there is a lesson in everything. I learned some lifelong lessons:

My old job in Ruston, LA; Wearing my “I determine my own destiny” t-shirt!

Embrace Servitude.

Although my name tag introduced me as a “server,” I absolutely hated that label. I preferred to be called a “waiter” because “server” felt degrading, demeaning, and humiliating. I often quipped, “I work and study hard, so I am no one’s servant!” It wasn’t until later that I truly understood and began to appreciate how important servitude is. In fact, I learned that servitude is one of every successful organization’s core values, and it is one of each inspirational leader’s foundational principles. Servitude is not about degrading the servant’s self-esteem as I previously believed; instead, it is about putting another’s needs before your own to create an environment where everyone can grow, develop, and thrive. Serving others is an honor.

Servitude is not about degrading the servant’s self-esteem as I previously believed; instead, it is about putting another’s needs before your own to create an environment where everyone can grow, develop, and thrive.

Embrace Humility.

I always considered myself a hard-working guy who does not mind getting dirty. Like seriously, I worked on a chicken farm in high school. I always envisioned I would use that blue-collar mentality to become the leader known for rolling up his sleeves and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his constituents to get the job done.

Even so, there was a part of my job as a server that completely humbled me–“crab leg night.” On “crab leg night,” we added crab legs and other seafood items to the buffet. Aside from holidays like Mother’s Day, these were by far the busiest shifts. Of course there was nothing wrong with “crab leg night” in general; however, some customers really tested how far my attitude of servitude would stretch!

They tested my humility!

Customers complained about prices, questioned me about the quality of the food, threw crab legs on the floor, left a $0.27 tip, and truly tested my humility. Even so, I had to question why I was getting frustrated with these type of customers who made up a very small percentage of the customers I served. My conclusion was that I was frustrated because I felt this kind of work was “beneath me.” That was a red flag because it was contradictory to my can do, blue-collar philosophy. That day I took an oath to never allow myself to become so consumed by my own self-worth that I am unable to willingly and cheerfully serve others.

Embrace Forgiveness.

Remember those busy “crab leg nights” I mentioned? Funny story: I actually made a pretty big mistake during one of the busiest crab leg nights I’ve ever worked. I remember it like it was yesterday: the team and I were working hard to keep customers satisfied–refilling drinks, busing tables, serving orders etc.

Well, it was my turn to make some more sweet tea. As I had done numerous times before, I grabbed two buckets and headed to grab sugar. The first container I opened was completely empty, so I quickly moved on to the second container. Once I opened the second container, I observed the white granular content within and proceeded to scoop it into my buckets. About five minutes later, one customer stopped me to tell me her tea did not taste right… Then another… Then another.

I made a huge mistake.

Before long, everyone in the restaurant who previously had a taste for sweet tea was now waving their glass in the air while making a disgusted face. I am sure it was only about four or five customers, but to me, it seemed like the entire restaurant was about to start a riot. That is when one of the customers yelled, “this is salty, and I’m a diabetic!” If you haven’t figured it out by now, I put about two giant scoops of salt in the “sweet tea.” I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t tasted it myself. It reminded me of my first time wrestling with my brothers in the Atlantic Ocean.

My face when I realized what I did 😂

Several customers requested free meals and other accomodations to make up for their salty surprise. As expected, the manager on duty (and owner) was not very happy with me. I later walked in her office fully expecting to be written up and charged for several meals for this mistake. Instead, she asked me what happened, then told me to be more careful in the future.

She forgave me for what should have been an easily-avoidable mistake and inadvertently taught me a lesson about forgiveness. You can win more people over by forgiving them than administering the punishment they know they deserve. I was bought in from that day, and I did my best to represent myself and the company well throughout each interaction. Her forgiveness earned my loyalty and respect.

You can win more people over by forgiving them than administering the punishment they know they deserve.

Embrace Hard work.

Gordon B. Hinckley has a quote that has resonated with me: “without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.” I believe I relate to this quote because I have literally spent countless hours pulling weeds while doing yard work. I also metaphorically understand how much we grow and develop from each of our experiences. When I was working as a server, I learned that my work ethic had a direct correlation with my success. There was nothing like walking around for a few hours while ensuring each of my customers had a pleasant experience. My customers’ smiles, words of encouragement, tips, and appreciation gave me a sense of accomplishment each. Pretty soon, I began to crave that feeling of accomplishment and it became one of my driving forces each day. Work hard and grow!

Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.

Gordon B. Hinckley

Embrace Sacrifice.

One of my least favorite parts about working at Peking was missing my little brother’s and oldest nephew’s basketball games. It annoyed me so much that I considered just not showing up to work a couple of times. These thoughts were usually short-lived when I remembered I had bills to pay, but more importantly, I accepted that life often presents us opportunities to accept temporary discomfort for long-term results.

I accepted that life often presents us opportunities to accept temporary discomfort for long-term results.

I knew my time at Peking would be short-lived, but I had to remain focused on why I was working there in the first place and how much I was growing in the process. Though I sacrificed quite a bit of my social life, I gained the financial stability I needed to prepare me for life after college which included marriage, children, and starting a career. All of the lessons I learned and the sacrifices I made during this time in my life came to head and made me the man I am today. Although I remain a work in progress, I am grateful that I chose to embrace my time as a server, and I implore you to embrace where you are today. You can and will grow from this!

That was my experience, but what have you learned from your past experiences? What can you learn as you embrace where you are now?

Olaolu Ogunyemi: U.S. Marine Officer | Mentor | Best-selling Author

Check out my blog at https://parent-child-connect.com/blog for more great posts like this!

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A Message For the Fathers and/or Male Role Models: Thank You!

On the go? Listen to and share the audio version of “A Message For the Fathers and/or Male Role Models: Thank You!”

Happy Tuesday! I had a couple of heartening moments yesterday that I want to share as encouragement to the fathers and male role models out there. It started with my oldest daughter who told me how excited she was to share my website with her friends when given the opportunity in her Middle School class. Additionally, she received a perfect score on a writing assignment. When questioned about it, she said, “I must’ve gotten my writing skills from my dad.” It really warms my heart to see how much pride she takes in my work and accomplishments!

Later yesterday evening…

Later yesterday evening, my son had his first basketball playoff game. This is his first year playing basketball, but he has worked tirelessly to learn more and improve. His most significant improvement over the past few weeks has been his jump shot. To aide in this improvement, I showed him a hand placement trick to become more consistent and accurate. He immediately latched on to this advice and even taught a couple of his friends. So it made me proud to see him use this technique last night to score the most points he’s ever scored in a game. He made me more proud when said (after a loss), “I’m not really that sad because I scored. I can’t believe I scored all those points!”

Fathers and male role models, your actions may sometimes seem small, but your impact is eternal.

These occurrences may seem small, but they mean the world to me! Fathers and role models, it does not matter how “small” your similar stories may seem to others, it is huge for those you lead! So whether you are feeling like the best father/role model ever or you are feeling pretty down right now, you are doing an awesome job! Thank you for the sacrifices you make and for doing the “small” things that leave a lasting impact. You are awesome!

Even if you’re not a father/role model, do me a favor: find at least father and/or male role model and tell him, “you are doing a great job! Thank you!” Shake his hand, pound it, or give him a hug if you can. It will mean the world to him.

Have a great week!

https://www.parent-child-connect.com

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Speak Out by Aubrie Owens

*Quick commentary from Olaolu: I created Parent-Child-Connect to provide resources for parents, teachers, and mentors to connect with their children. I believe a large part of that mission is to use my platform to encourage and spread hope! With that in mind, I am excited to share the virtual stage with a great friend who has been like family to us since we started active duty service in 2013! Meet, Aubrie Owens aka my wife’s bestie. She is excited to speak out and share small portion of her story to encourage, educate, and empower you! Like, share, comment, enjoy!*

Kyle and Aubrie Owens

I have been contemplating writing this, and I have finally decided to speak out. Social media tends to highlight happy moments, but in truth, it’s not all happiness. I have been struggling with endometriosis for many years now. For those who don’t know, endometriosis (en-doe-me-tree-O-sis) is “a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus” (source: mayoclinic.org).  They say one in every ten women struggle with this condition. It has caused me infertility and pain for many years, and I have had countless miscarriages and heartbreak because of it. It hasn’t all been heartbreak though. My husband Kyle and I have also had many joys giving birth to a beautiful daughter named Yuri and watching Ava be a wonderful big sister. I have also been fortunate to have amazing doctors and family/friend support. 

How it started: 

Around 2013, I went to the ER with abdominal pain. The doctors discovered a cyst the size of a softball near my ovary, and they determined surgery was the best option. During the surgery, they identified that I had severe endometriosis. They advised me to immediately start consulting a fertility doctor if I would like to have children in the future. This led us to visit multiple doctors which, in turn, led them to prescribe me multiple medications. Numerous Intrauterine insemination (IUI) and In vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments resulted in many miscarriages. Finally, in 2016 (our last IVF attempt), I became pregnant with Yuri. 

After months of heartbreak and disappointment, we finally conceived a child! However, I wasn’t out of the woods yet. In 2017 I almost lost my life, and we almost lost Yuri. I had appendicitis that resulted in sepsis, and Yuri and I would spend months in the hospital trying to recover. 

The journey continues: 

I have accepted the hard truth; it is time for a full hysterectomy. Though I am extremely grateful that I was able to conceive my two children, I do not want to continue to live with the pain. I do not write this for sympathy but in hopes I can reach another woman who is going through a struggling time. Whether you have had to endure a chronic illness or disorder, a miscarriage, or pain that led to infertility, I am here. We as women must choose what is best for us and never let others dictate how we feel. 

Today, I ask for good vibes and prayers as I go in for surgery. I’m going to be straight with all of you, I am scared. The last time I went in for surgery I almost lost my life and my child. But I am thankful for the support of my family, friends, and wonderful doctors. I am appreciative of my husband who has supported me throughout many trying times. He held me as I cried over the children we lost. He spent countless hours with me in the hospital when I was ill, and stayed most nights with Yuri in the NICU.  

As silly as it sounds, part of me feels like I am losing my ability to be a woman. I will never be able to carry another child. It is especially painful because people often ask, “are you going to try again for a boy?” I’ve decided my health and my body means more to me than bringing another life into this world. Getting to spend time with my family pain free will be the most rewarding joy. 

I write this today as an encouragement to you all. Speak out! Do what you feel is best for YOU. In a world of uncertainty, your happiness and your health is the number one priority.

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Here’s an encouraging message to POWER you through the rest of your week: Don’t give up!

Don't give up! Olaolu uses one of his high school photos to tell a short story of how his father's persistence paid off in the long run.
High School photo of Olaolu!

Don’t give up!

This is me in high school. Aside from the fact that I was about to dribble through a double team instead of passing the ball to the big man who had the clear size advantage; if you look closely, you will see the beginning stages of my mohawk!

My dad and Coach Johnson (assistant principal) HATED it, and their hate for my mohawk peaked when I spiked it! 😂 They were right. It was hideous and definitely outside of our high school uniform regulations. They talked to me for MONTHS before my dad finally got through to me. He taught me to look, dress, behave, and groom myself to be the person I want to be in the future vice whoever (or whatever 🥴) I was trying to look like at the time.

Moral of the story: Keep trying. Keep pushing. Keep teaching. Keep investing time. Don’t give up! It’ll pay off in the long run.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Galatians 6:9 NLT
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Quick Parent Tip: Build Your [Child’s] Life in Reverse

Hello great people! Recently, I was watching a movie called “Arrival” on Hulu. Here is a brief description I found on Google:

“Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind.”

I will not give my opinion on the movie (because it is irrelevant for today’s topic). However, there was one quote at the end that got my wheels turning. 🤔

“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”

-Actor Amy Adams playing as Louise Banks (Arrival)

I started to pontificate on this slightly modified thought, “What if I could see ‘the end?’ Would I change what I am presently doing?” The easy answer is YES! But how?

1. Start Imagining

In “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind.” This requires foresight, imagination, and vision.

Our [your] ability to imagine in high definition is our [your] super power!

Try this: Close your eyes and see your children in the future. What kind of personality do they have? Do you know what brings them joy and fulfillment? What opportunities exist for them? Keep imagining! This is a high definition imagination moment (e.g. if you cannot taste the coffee that future you is sharing with your child[ren], just keep letting your mind wander!)

I’ll give an example. Brea and I imagine that our children will create healthy relationships, maintain a positive mental attitude, and be financially stable/free. That’s “the end,” but how do we get there??

2. Start Building (in reverse)!

Ok, so now that you have a clear picture of “the end” what do you do? You start building… in reverse!

Let’s take financial stability/freedom for example. We asked ourselves, “what does financial stability look like for our children later in life?” We imagined our children comfortably traversing through three key areas of finance: giving, saving/investing, and enjoying.

1. Giving: We truly believe Acts 20:35 that says, “…it is more blessed to give than to receive.” So not only are we extremely transparent with our giving, we encourage our children to do for others! Give their time and their talents. Give [donate] a percentage (at least 10%) of the money they earn. We want them to feel and understand the value of promoting the welfare of others.

2. Saving/Investing: I admit, this is a tough skill that requires discipline and practice, but if mastered at a young age, our children can ensure their future financial stability while building a legacy for future generations.

Currently, we are teaching our children to save using a couple of different “baskets.”

Basket (A) is call “short term savings.” The short term savings basket is used to get things that require them to save for less than ~30 days. For example, my 7 year old would work for a couple of weeks to earn enough money to purchase a $15 toy.

Basket (B) is called “long term savings.” The long term savings basket is used for things that take longer than ~30 days to save for. This is a little harder for the younger ones, but my 11 year old would work hard for a few weeks to purchase some brand new shoes…… Yea, she’s at that phase in her life. Bring back the little cute puzzles from Dollar Tree!! 😬🙄🥴… I digress.

You get the point, right? We are teaching them to consistently put money aside vice constantly working the “instant gratification” muscle (we will get to that in a second).

Lastly, we introduced my oldest to the concept of investing in mutual funds, and thanks to the Financial Literacy Flashcards by the Finance Doctor (shameless plug 🔌⚡), we have been able to teach her some valuable financial literacy terms! In the future, we will likely open a custodial Roth IRA, show her how we consistently invest for her college expenses, etc. But for now, we are slowly exposing her to the concept of long-term investing at a pace that we feel is appropriate.

3. Enjoying: This one came natural for our children–nobody had to teach them how to spend/enjoy money. And guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that! By mastering the other two key areas, our children will be able to reap the benefits of their hard work. We are not flashy people, but there are a few luxuries that we indulge in as a family so our children understand that there is nothing wrong with treating yourself! In fact, it is a must for a healthy lifestyle. Work hard, play hard!

And that’s it! That is just one of many examples of how we are building our lives in reverse. See how easy that was?!

Now it’s your turn. Give me an example of how you are (or will start) living your life in reverse!

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Distractions Causing Distance [From God]

Introduction: 

There is no greater oxymoron for people-loving extroverts (like me) than “social distancing!” Society has adopted this methodology to keep us safe, but I—like most—miss sharing the love of God through a warm embrace. 

What if I told you that there is a type of “distancing” that [ironically] can actually cause us harm? That is a distant relationship with our heavenly Father. 

There is hope! Join us in this four-day devotion as we discuss how to defeat three daily distractions that distance us from Christ!

Devotion: 

Be Free from Condemnation!

We are currently living in unprecedented times! We have wildfires, a pandemic, social unrest, and the list goes on and on. During these times we may feel a bit distant from Christ—I know I have felt that way plenty of times. In fact, there were times that I felt I really wandered away from Christ! Is that you right now? Do you feel like you are too far gone to pray? Are you so overwhelmed with your guilt and shame that you cannot feel the love of God? Are you having a hard time connecting through God’s Word because of mistakes you have made? I understand; I have been there.

The last time I was in that moment—sulking in embarrassment and guilt—God freed me through His Word by reminding me of His grace, love, and compassion. So I have a quick opening message for you even if you are feeling distant right now—our heavenly Father loves you unconditionally, and He still wants a relationship with you! 

Before we can learn to defeat distractions, we must be free from our own condemnation (very strong disapproval; punishment) and truly understand and embrace God’s love for us. Let’s talk about God’s love for a bit.

God’s love is free(ing):

Ephesians 2:8 AMP tells us, “For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God.”

I absolutely love free stuff! I know most people call me cheap, but don’t judge me. For example, one day while I was in college, I ordered food at a drive-thru restaurant. I was very excited to get my go-to budgeting college student value meal. When I approached the window to pay, the young lady said, “Your meal has already been paid for.” I would’ve done a flip in excitement if I were skilled enough to do so without injuring myself. “Wow!” I thought, “Why would a stranger give me a free gift?” 

When I reminisce on that day, I realize how happy that free meal made me (I saved about $3), but when I think about the free gift that Christ gave us (He saved my life) exuberant joy begins to overwhelm me. What’s amazing is Christ gave us this free gift because He loves us and this undeserved gift frees us from the oppression (control) of and judgment associated with sin. Now that’s a double-double to get excited about! So don’t beat yourself up when you mess up. Ask God for forgiveness, brush yourself off, and be free! 

God’s love is unexplainable:

John 10:11-18 reminds us that our heavenly Father has given us an unexplainable (and seemingly illogical) love. Imagine this, you are sitting in an open field watching sheep. The weather is beautiful, and you are basking in the sun while enjoying an ice-cold cup of lemonade. Out of nowhere, a wolf comes to take one of the one hundred sheep you are watching! I know what you are thinking, “well, 99% isn’t bad!”  I mean really, who wants to fight a wolf for that one sheep? The Good Shepherd does. 

He is always willing to lay down his life for us and will even leave the ninety-nine to save the one [wandering] sheep (Matthew 18:12)! My human mind cannot comprehend that kind of love, but I am extremely grateful that Christ is willing to sacrifice for you and me!

God’s love is unconditional:

Now this aspect of God’s love is truly amazing! We humans tend to have a limit when dealing with others. “You better not cross my [proverbial] line or it is over…dead…finito. You will henceforth and forever be excommunicated from my life!” Yep, God is definitely not like us, and here comes the amazing part: in God’s eyes nothing can separate us from His love! 

Paul asks in Romans 8:35 NLT, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” Then he answers in verse 39, “No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Read it again! No matter where you are from or what you have done, nothing can separate you from the love of God! 

Walk confidently today as you embrace God’s amazing grace and love! Never again condemn yourself for your mistakes—instead embrace the free, unexplainable, and unconditional love of our heavenly Father!

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for the free, unconditional love that you have given us. Though we can never truly comprehend it, we know that your love and grace is what allows us to be free from the crushing oppression of sin. Father, please forgive me for the things I have done that were not pleasing to you, and help me to overcome the temptations that arise today. Father, thank you for removing the guilt, shame, and condemnation from my life and preparing me to grow closer to you. Amen. 

Image: Distractions Causing Distance From God

Distraction #1: Worry!

“Will my family get sick? Am I doing all I can? What will we eat? What do others think about me?…” If we are honest, some of our minds continuously reverberate with these kinds of questions daily! The second our feet touch the cold or carpeted floor in our bedrooms, our minds begin to race. Usually this race persists until we finally return to bed at the end of the day. The unfortunate truth is our minds naturally dwell on difficulty and troubles which distract us from the important things in life like developing our relationship with God, family, and friends! So let’s take down our first distraction–worry.

When I began meditating on this topic, three scriptures immediately came to mind. First it was Matthew 6:27 NLT that asked, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” Then, Proverbs 12:25 NLT reminded me that “worry weighs a person down.” Lastly, Jesus told us in Matthew 6:34 NLT “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The Word is abundantly clear about worry, and we all know that increased worry causes increased anxiety which causes increased mental and physical health concerns…So why do we worry? Why don’t we simply adopt the infamous meerkat and warthog duo’s slogan and lifestyle? (You’ll catch the reference at some point throughout the day.) 

Well, I will start by sharing how I [falsely] justified my worry: 

  1. A little worry combined with fear is my instinctual way of emotionally preparing for the worst outcome. I am like a gazelle on a Safari! My worry and fear keeps me from being consumed by the lion (life). Right? WRONG. Along with the increased physical and mental health risks, worry was increasing my paranoia. Simply put, my physical presence was not a “gift” to my heavenly Father, family, friends, and work colleagues because I was so busy worrying about being consumed by life that I was not building healthy relationships and enjoying life! 
  2. My worry allowed me to thoroughly analyze a situation to develop a well-rounded solution. Solid logic right? WRONG. Worry primarily focuses on the “difficulties and troubles” (negatives) associated with a situation; thus, my perception and analysis is skewed to focus solely on the negative outcomes. 

Those are my [busted] myths associated with my worry. Take some time to examine your own myths… then bust them! 

Now that the jig is up and we have eliminated our excuses to worry, let’s answer the million dollar question: “How do we combat worry?”

The million dollar answer is that we must fully understand and appreciate this fact: You are what you THINK!

A fairly recent study following tens of thousands of people from 2004 to 2012  found that those who were optimistic had a significantly lower risk of dying from several major causes of death, including: heart disease, stroke, cancer (including breast, ovarian, lung, and colorectal cancers), infection, and respiratory diseases.

Sounds like a pretty clear answer to Matthew 6:27!

The study concluded that several proven benefits of thinking positively include:

  • Better quality of life
  • Higher energy levels
  • Better psychological and physical health
  • Faster recovery from injury or illness
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Better stress management and coping skills
  • Longer life span

I’ll take the benefits please!

Now that we understand the importance of positive thinking, how do we put it into practice?

  1. Make a concerted effort to focus on positive things. This is a tough one for us because sometimes you just want to sulk. In my personal life, I found a way to justify sulking. I felt that I deserved to be frustrated and disappointed! “Coincidentally” my Pastor emailed me to remind me that though the overall circumstance may appear to be negative, I can choose to dwell on the negative aspects of the circumstance or fix my thoughts on the positives. Yep, it is a choice! 

Try this!  Write down three positive things about your current circumstance! Even if the list starts with “I am breathing,” celebrate the fact that you are still alive with an opportunity to make it through this circumstance with an amazing story to tell! 

  1. Practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude has been proven to reduce stress, increase your self-esteem and the self-esteem of those around you, and foster resilience amongst you and your inner-circle. Every day, find no less than three things to thank God for (and thank Him) and find no less than three things to thank others for (and thank them). When offered an opportunity to complain and criticize, thank! When you think of the positives, thank for the positives. 
  1. Now that you have recognized and shown gratitude for the positives, create and maintain a gratitude log. Label it, “People and Things I am grateful for.” I know. I know. It sounds corny, but it works! Maintain your log in a place you visit often, and keep focusing on that growing list.
  2. Open yourself up to humor. Laugh a little! I heard someone once say,  “if you’re happy and you know it, tell your face.” We cannot allow life to beat us down so much that we walk around like a bulldog eating lemonheads (just picture that for a second–maybe that was your laugh for today). Take out time to enjoy the pleasures of life. God has always intended for us to enjoy the pleasures of life. I mean, think about how beautiful the Garden of Eden was! We were designed to be happy. So take a second, look in a mirror (or prepare for a selfie with your electronic device), and make the biggest smile you can! Now let the brightness of that smile, your positive thoughts, and your attitude of gratitude melt the negativity away! 
  3. Check your inner-circle! You are who you hang with. In the country, the old folks would say “if you hang with stray dogs, you may catch fleas!” Spend time with Positive Paulas versus Debbie downers. Think back to my story about my Pastor. Had he begun to sulk with me and feed my negative thoughts and emotions, I may not have survived that circumstance. Remember this, Debbie Downers wallow in defeat, while Positive Paulas bask in triumph!
  4. Start off on a positive note by practicing positive self-talk! Instead of beginning with worry, begin with a prayer, devotion, meditation, and affirmation or declaration that you will have a positive day. Then carry that declaration with you throughout the day. As you walk into a situation that appears negative, say to yourself (or aloud if you’d like) I will see the positive in this! Still have that mirror or selfie handy? Let’s try this right now! Smile, say something positive about yourself, and make the declaration that, “I will see the positive in every situation!”

I believe that these steps will not only eliminate worry, but these steps will also foster a more healthy relationship with God and everyone you come in contact with! 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for allowing us the opportunity to see another day and meditate on your Word. You are truly our source of happiness and strength. We pray for your forgiveness for failing to see your beauty in every circumstance, and we ask you to help us to fix our thoughts on you! In Jesus’ name. Amen 

Image: Distractions Causing Distance From God

Distraction #2: Need to Disconnect

Now that we are free from condemnation and we have kicked worry to the curb, let’s talk about another distraction that becomes more complicated everyday. A lot of us are Distracted by the need to Disconnect. 

So I had to do some self-reflection to prepare for this one, and I ask you to join me. Take out your phone, tablet, or whatever device you use, and list out all the applications that take time from your day. My list went like this: Instagram, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, XBox Live, Zoom, Marco Polo, GroupMe, LinkedIn, news app, weather bug app, and Gmail. Wow! 

That was alarming to me because there are still only 24 hours in a day (and I spend about 16 of them either sleeping or working)! With that in mind, I felt a little better because my research told me that I am not alone. In fact, a recent study showed that the average American checks their phone 96 times a day or once every ten minutes. To compound the issue, social distancing and quarantines have given us an even more insatiable desire to remain connected and socialize.

It is very apparent how this distraction has caused distance, because, as I said before, there are still 24 hours in a day!  

So how do we disconnect so that we can focus on God? Well, I will start by saying, we talk/socialize too much and oftentimes, it is done in the wrong way. 

The right to speak is important; saying things at the right time in the right manner is even more important. Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.” 

So how do we defeat this distraction? 

  1. Watch your words. Words matter because words mean things. Proverbs 15:1 NLT “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” 
  2. Say less. Connect less. Be Wise. (Proverbs 17:27 NLT) “A truly wise person uses few words…” 
    • Words are like dollar bills. They should be spent wisely because we cannot take them back. Yep, that means even on social media…especially on social media! I am not saying we should not socialize/connect, but when done in excess, it drives a wedge between us and God. Simply put, we just don’t have time for God.
  3. Don’t look like a fool. Mark Twain said it best, “Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” Because we are so connected, we often find ourselves caught in constant debate (most times publicly). Which leads me to the last tip to fight this distraction:
  4. Three T’s to check before you speak: Time… Type… Tone
  • Time: Is it the right time to speak or should you just be quiet?
    • Take inventory. How much of your time have you spent socializing in comparison to growing your relationship with God?
  • Type: Ephesians 4:29 NLT says, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
    • What kind of Conversations are you having? Are you giving encouraging words to everyone you encounter? 
  • Tone: Are you addressing the situation in the best manner possible? Are you using the “gentle answer” described in Proverbs 15:1

Think about these things and challenge yourself to disconnect from the rush, rat race, and rigamaroo of life. Disconnect from distractions so you can reconnect and build a healthy relationship with God.

Prayer:

Father, thank you for your grace, mercy, and kindness towards us. We realize that busyness, drama, and life circumstances constantly pull us away from you, and for that, we apologize. Father, give us the strength, wisdom, and wherewithal to disconnect from the many daily distractions we encounter so we can connect to you. Thank you for continuing to love us! In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Image: Distractions Causing Distance From God

Distraction #3: You are what you eat!

Don’t worry, this isn’t health 101 where I judge you for your vice in the kitchen. Quite honestly, I don’t do as well as I should when it comes to eating right–whether in reference to physical food or mental food. 

While I was meditating on this topic, I John 2:15-16 NLT became the focal point of my devotion. It says, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.”

So what is the Bible telling us? Does this mean we cannot enjoy the pleasures of this world? Of course we can! In fact, God desires that we laugh, eat, and enjoy life! So what is the Bible saying? The Bible is telling us to avoid becoming enamored with the physical pleasures of this world. In other words, we should pursue our purpose in God and the upbuilding of His kingdom. Though enticing, pursuing physical pleasures distracts us from achieving what God wants us to achieve and drives a wedge between our relationship with Him. 

In my moment of self-reflection, I realized while I am distracted by my continuous craving for/pursuit of the physical pleasures of this world (like great food, accolades, keeping up with the Joneses, and being the “first to know”) I could be praying in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Staying alert and being persistent in my prayers for all believers everywhere. (Ephesians 6:18 NLT). While I am constantly seeking to obtain my oral fixation, I could be doing what Jesus instructed us to do in Mark 9:29 KJV when He healed the boy that was possessed. Fasting, praying, and meditating on Christ is critical to building a close relationship with God! While I am constantly feasting on the negativity of the media, I could be “Fixing [my] thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think[ing] about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8 NLT

What we eat, becomes who we are. The “old folks” used to say “you are what you eat.” Meaning, choosing to enjoy healthy physical and mental food increases energy, increases brain function, and increases your better overall mood. 

But what happens when you feast on negativity? It leads to spiritual:

  • Indigestion: We reject wise advice and biblical teachings and turn to “strange doctrines” for hope and guidance.
  • Heartburn: Our hearts are burning with anger, rage, and hatred for others instead of burning with compassion for the poor, widowed, and sick.
  • Diarrhea of the mouth: Instead of being silent and patient, we are quick to vent our anger/frustration and our disdain for others. While slow to talk to God.

I Corinthians 6:12 NLT does an excellent job of summarizing this last point by saying “You say, I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything.” We must choose to avoid becoming a slave to our appetites! Let’s pledge to make sound choices with the physical and spiritual food that we enjoy. 

I am confident that if we apply the basic principles that we have discussed the last few days to our lives and avoid these distractions, we will begin to live more healthy and whole lives, build better relationships, and most importantly, draw closer to God. I am excited and proud that we serve a God as described in one of my favorite songs, “there’s no shadow He won’t light up, no mountain He won’t climb up coming after me. There’s no wall He won’t kick down, no lie He won’t tear down coming after me!” I said all of that to say, with all of our daily distractions, our loving Father is still there, waiting on us to reconnect with Him. So my question to you is, will you defeat these distractions and reconnect with God?

Prayer

Father, we honor you, we praise you, and we thank you for your Word. Thank you for being a great God! Now Father we pray that over the next few days, weeks, and months we become less distracted with our daily lives, and more focused on you. And ultimately Father, we pray that everyone reading these words can feel your unfailing, unwavering, and never ending love. We magnify your Holy and Righteous name. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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