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This thought stemmed from some recent thinking and studying I have been doing. Karma, “what goes around comes around,” and ideas like “generational curses” have always persisted in my mind and have likely influenced the way I lead my children. It was a daunting feeling that no matter what good I did or how apologetic I was, my children could suffer from my past mistakes. Ultimately, by educating myself, I encouraged and freed myself from my past mistakes. Now, I want to provide that same freeing philosophy to you!
These ideas impact our culture.
This philosophy is pervasive as it extends beyond our individual sins to something called “generational curses.” Many pastors will quickly quote scriptures like Exodus 20:5 NLT that reads, “…I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.” They conclude that no matter what we do, we will pay for our prior generation’s sins. Some even take it further and say things like, “your child is sick because of sins you committed.” In other words, for example, we accept that if we grew up in a broken home, we ourselves will have broken homes. If our fathers were not around, we will never learn how to be great fathers. If our mothers never said, “I love you,” we will never be able to show our children affection. You see how this theology can impact an entire culture?
KARMA and Christianity
When considering this culture-impacting theology, we commonly use another word: KARMA. According to www.merriam-webster.com, KARMA is:
The force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.
Many Christians have adopted Karma and transformed it by saying, “you reap what you sow.” This quote is a paraphrased version of Galatians 6:7 KJV that reads: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
My clear position: the Bible does not teach Karma or “generational curses.”
This may ruffle a few feathers, but I’ll be the first to tell you that the Bible doesn’t teach Karma or “generational curses”; the Bible teaches grace. To believe that each generation must pay for the previous generation’s sins is to accept generational curses and “punishments” for our sins as inevitable. If we view something as inevitable, we spend our lives preparing for the inevitable instead of leading well and living fulfilling lives. So why do these things continue to happen from generation to generation? Because we will them to happen in our lives!
Christianity is about grace.
The story of Jesus is about grace, not tick for tack or holding sins over your head to get you back through your children. Usually, people quote Exodus 20:5 as proof. However, I have three thoughts on that.:
1. Let’s bust a myth.
Ezekiel 18:20 NLT completely debunks the myth that our children will suffer consequences for our sins. It reads, “The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.”
Jesus also had a prolific example of this in John 9 when He healed the blind man. The disciples wondered if the man was blind from birth because of his sins or his parents sins (a reference to the old testament belief.) Jesus responded, “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins…This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”
2. The Exodus 20 counterargument.
I acknowledge that scriptures like Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; and Deuteronomy 5:9 seemingly hurt my argument, but let’s hone in on this and examine it from a practical and scientific perspective. A child receives both positive and negative traits from his or her parents. Some of these traits are genetic and others are behaviors children learn over time.
For example, if both of my parents are athletic, I will likely be athletic. Similarly, if my parents are alcoholics, I am more likely to be an alcoholic. In both cases, the child can implement behaviors to impact these likely events. If the child chooses to consume a diet of honey buns and Dr. Pepper while refusing to exercise, he or she is less likely to be an athlete. A child has a better chance of not becoming dependent upon alcohol if he or she is treated for alcoholism before his or her brain’s biochemistry is altered. So it’s not the punishment for sin that transcends generations, it is effects of sin that transcend generations.
With that in mind, the above scriptures are a forewarning that we must be aware of the affect and influence we have on those we lead. However, the message of grace says that God still loves us and wants us to reconcile with Him no matter what we do. So if you choose to follow Him, there is no condemnation or looming punishments for your mistakes. (Romans 8:38-39; Romans 8:1) Does that mean we can live a life devoid of consequences? Absolutely not! For example, if you mistakenly fall asleep while driving, you will likely still have negative consequences. My point is God is not waiting to punish you and your children for your mistakes once you have repented. Through His sacrifice, Jesus accepted that punishment for us.
3. What about reaping what you sow?
I challenge you to go back and read each time the Bible mentions sowing and reaping in context. For example, in Galatians 6, the Bible continued to explain in verses 9-10:
My prayer for you.
My prayer is that my countercultural philosophy gives you hope. Your parents’ mistakes do not predetermine your fate. Your child’s fate is not predetermined by your mistakes. I wholeheartedly denounce unbiblical teachings of Karma and generational curses. I reject the attitude of defeatism that says, “my children will fail since I made so many mistakes.” Will your children sin and make mistakes? Yes, as we all do. Our job is to teach them the right way with our example. We will break the “generational curses” with a decision to use the many available resources out there to live more healthy and fulfilling lives. Live free from guilt and fear. Lead well!
Welcome to the fourth and final day of “Distractions Causing Distance [From God]!” So far, we have learned about God’s free and freeing love, eliminated worry, and disconnected from the things that take away all of our time (See the other three days by clicking here!). Now we are going to tackle our third and final distraction–you are what you eat!
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 we’re referring 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.
My moment of self-reflection
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 instructs us to do in Mark 9:29 when He healed the boy that was possessed. That is fast, pray, and meditate on Christ. 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.” In other words, choosing to enjoy healthy physical and mental food increases energy and brain function, and it improves your overall mood.
But what happens when you feast on negativity? It leads to the following in the spiritual realm:
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 but 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 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 that can be described like this: “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?
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.
Welcome to day three of “Distractions Causing Distance [From God]!” In yesterday’s devotion, we discussed how to defeat worry! Today, we will introduce our second distraction–the need to disconnect.
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 this 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?
Watch your words. Words matter because words mean things. Proverbs 15:1 NLT “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”
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.
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:
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 rigmarole of life. Disconnect from distractions so you can reconnect and build a healthy relationship with God.
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.
Welcome to day two of “Distractions Causing Distance [From God]!” In yesterday’s devotion, we discussed how God’s love causes us to be free! Today, we will introduce our first distraction–worry.
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 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 Timon and Pumbaa’s slogan and lifestyle? You know, Hakuna Matata!
Well, I will start by sharing how I [falsely] justified my worry:
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!
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 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!
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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!
5. 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!
6. 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!
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
I wrote this devotion early last year, and now I want to share it with you! Be blessed! 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!
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 lovefree 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 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. You know what’s amazing? Christ gave us this free gift because He loves us and this undeserved gift frees us from the oppression (control) 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!
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.
On the go? Learn about your purpose on the go with the below audio version!
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
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.
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.
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:
I pray to ensure my decision is in line with my personal relationship with and belief in God.
I examine how this decision–no matter how small–aligns with my eternal purpose and reason for being on this earth.
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.
In December 2020, I was working out with my oldest brother when the congratulatory messages came rolling in; I had been selected to attend resident United States Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare School. Normally, junior officers celebrate this news because it means you were board-selected to continue your education at Marine Corps University which is accredited to award Master’s Degrees. Instead, I was annoyed (to say the least) because I could only think of all the late nights/early mornings I spent to complete the distant education variant of the school I was selected to attend. I was even more annoyed by the fact that I was leaving behind a great team of people just as we were starting to work together and make significant progress.
After I finished what I can only describe as a private adult tantrum, I remembered one of my favorite verses that I learned as a child:
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Romans 8:28 NLT
That is when I decided to take my own advice and shift my perspective on the opportunity I was about to pursue.
*Author’s note on spiritual fitness*
It is easy to talk about physical fitness because anyone can track and observe tangible results. Mental fitness is fun to talk about because I am enamored by the brain, so I nerd out on things like the cognitive process and neuroplasticity. However, though it is equally as important, I admittedly do not discuss spiritual fitness enough. Too often we associate spirituality with a religious affiliation. I teach that our spirituality is customized to each individual person. Our spirituality guides our moral compass and gives us a reason to live and “do” that exceeds personal gain. Many people call the latter our “purpose” or “higher calling.”
Our spirituality allows us to realize that our situations are all temporary; however, we remain hopeful because we firmly believe each of those situations–whether bleak or lush–are interconnected and will work together to create a favorable outcome. This gives us the courage to search for the growth opportunities in each circumstance. Therefore, when approaching any circumstance, I challenge you to ask two questions: 1. “How can I accomplish my purpose while here? (Extrospection)” 2. “What can I personally and professionally learn from this? (Introspection)”*
I shifted my perspective
Once I shifted my perspective, I was able to develop personal and professional goals. I will share a few of them with you in hopes that I can help you establish and pursue your own goals. Use these as an example vice a threshold, because quite honestly, I did much better in some categories than others.
Just a few of the personal and professional goals I set last summer
Improve cardiovascular endurance
How did I do? I decreased my run time by forty-nine seconds.
Make better dietary choices to improve physical appearance
How did I do? I cut several food items to include dairy milk. As a result, I lost nine pounds and reduced my body fat percentage by approximately 2-3%
Help train others to prepare them for their upcoming promotion board.
How did I do? I offered to train anyone who was willing to train first thing in the morning. One person accepted the challenge, and we began training in September 2021. She was able to achieve a 300/300 Combat Fitness Test score and a 295/300 Physical Fitness Test score. Additionally, she had noticeable changes in her physique and established a workout regimen that she plans to continue.
Become more studious and a more avid reader
How did I do? In conjunction with my school studies, I read and studied several additional books on diverse topics and a plethora of scholarly articles. These books ranged from The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy to We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah by Patrick K. O’Donnell to The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge
Become a more clear and succinct writer and write a scholarly article to publish
How did I do? I am sure my Faculty Advisor (he reviewed all of my papers) may argue that the “succinct” portion of that goal is subjective, but I believe I did well :D. More importantly, I was awarded the Marine Corps University Foundation Academic Year 2021-2022 “Mutter Marines Command and Control Writing Award” for my argumentative research paper entitled, “Adapt or Perish: A call to revise the Marine Corps Command, Control, Communications, and Computer (C4) Architecture.” At the time of this post, none of my articles have been published, but I am still working with a few editors for future publication.
Collaborate with organizations and media outlets to inspire our future generation to pursue their dreams
How did I do? I was featured in several articles, podcasts, and elementary school visits. Check out this link to see a couple of the articles!
Dedicate time to spend with family
How did I do? I made it a point to attend every extracurricular activity and practice that I could attend for my children. My children’s extracurricular activities included music lessons, football (in season), basketball (in season), and baseball (in season). Additionally, I did my best to always study and build my personal brand when my family was sleep (either early in the morning or late at night). I knew that I had to take advantage of this opportunity while in school, because work requirements sometimes hamper my ability to give my wife and children the time they deserve.
My hope for you
I hope you are able to use my experience and examples to prepare for your next challenge! All the obstacles you have encountered (to include what you are working to overcome right now) will work together for your benefit. Be encouraged and inspired to keep progressing, keep setting and pursuing your goals, and go win. I believe in you!
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.