On the go? I felt this conversation about race was so important, I created an audio version just for you! Check it out:
“The Marines are set to have the first Black 4-star general in their 246-year history!” That was the title of an article posted on July 20, 2022 by NPR that I saw on LinkedIn. People typically have varying responses to articles like this: pride, celebration, skepticism, disgust, hope, anticipation, confusion, and inspiration are just a few. Nonetheless, it is a historical moment–one of which our children are witnessing and learning how to digest. The reoccurring question that we have to face as a society is, “does his race matter?” Well, today I am going to discuss this in a way that anyone can comprehend. This discussion will examine how we can use current events (like the article I mentioned above) to spark a conversation about race with our children.
My household rules about race discussions
Before discussing race in my house, I always lay some ground rules for my children:
Discussing and learning to appreciate who you are while embracing your heritage and culture does not make you superior to anyone else. We are all created equal.
Since we are all created equal, everybody deserves dignity and respect. I usually break it down for them. “Every” means “without exemption,” and it does not matter how the body is wrapped. That human being standing before you, whether physically or virtually, deserves dignity and respect.
Let’s dive in!
Color blindness is a myth
I know what some of you are thinking, “but I was medically diagnosed with color blindness!” Trust me, I am not being insensitive to your disability. In fact, my father is color blind, but in the context of discussions about race, color blindness is usually an argument that one only sees a person for what they have on the inside. At first glance, that sounds awesome! We should all have racial colorblindness, right? Well…it’s not that easy. I will use my own household as an example.
If you would’ve asked me a few years ago, I would have proudly proclaimed that we were raising my daughter to have racial colorblindness! “I don’t want her to say, ‘white folks this’ and ‘black folks that,’ I just want her to say ‘folks!'” It worked!… Until my oldest daughter made it to Transitional Kindergarten (about 4 years old). When she came home from school, she was excited to talk about all of her new friends. “There is one girl that is brown like me, but everyone else is yellow,” she said proudly.
I was shocked but didn’t say anything.
I simply let her continue to tell me about her new friends. She continued to come home and discuss how excited she was to have new “yellow” friends–one had the same name! That’s when it hit me: this young child got it right. She recognized a difference but still searched for a common ground. She naturally gravitated towards children with similar backgrounds but made a point to play with others who brought different interests to the classroom. For example, she absolutely hated water getting on her face, but she slowly began to explore swimming when she saw me and some of her “yellow” friends having fun in the pool.
In other words, my daughter recognized a difference but didn’t care! She didn’t need to pretend to be color blind to show genuine interest in others. She learned–and quite honestly taught me–how to embrace the things that made her different from her “yellow” friends. Now that she is in junior high, she obviously knows the difference between the many races, but her friend group remains diverse. She didn’t need color blindness; she needed her parents to avoid teaching her polarizing lessons about race.
It’s ok to celebrate
When discussing historical events (like the one I mentioned above) with our children, one of the most polarizing lessons we can teach is, “the general’s race doesn’t matter.” Some argue that highlighting the general’s race suggests that he was promoted because of his race. Some even argue that highlighting his race is ironically racism or “reverse racism.” In reality, the article described the general’s many accolades and credentials. It then discussed how senior military leaders have continued to focus on decades-old efforts to increase diversity and equality by eliminating systemic barriers. The barriers are eliminated so that the most qualified person and “best fit” gets the job/promotion.
Highlighting the general’s race is not to discriminate or claim ones race is more superior than the other. It is a celebration of progress! is progress that our parents and grandparents did not see when they were my age. It brings hope and encouragement that no matter how recently we were segregated, we are healing and making headway.
Need more to celebrate?
If that’s not enough to celebrate, then how about we celebrate how inspiring the general’s story is. He came from Shreveport, Louisiana. That means there are young people in Shreveport (and surrounding areas) who can/will see someone succeed who looks just like them. It inspires them to pursue their own dreams because those young people relate to the general’s experience. “If he can do it, so can I!” I have seen and heard this numerous times. We cannot discount the effect headlines and historical events like this have on our future generation. Each of us can influence a unique group of people, and General Langley is no exception to this rule.
Systemic racism still exists
This is the final topic and probably the most taboo when discussing race. Some of you may be ready to jump ship, but don’t worry; I’ll keep the ship steady, so stay with me. I have discussed my thoughts on systemic racism with a couple of people, but now it is time to share it with the world. Sometimes, we solely identify written rules, policies, and regulations as the “system,” but we fail to discuss the most integral part of any system–the human being.
For example, I talked to a Human Resources (HR) specialist who said her company has several non-discriminatory hiring policies in place; however, if she sees a “Shequita” (or any unique name for that matter) on the application, she will place the document on the bottom of the stack. That means Shequita never even had a fair chance at the job! Why? Because the HR specialist assumed Shequita was black, she used her authority to deny Shequita’s application. Is it unethical? Yes. Does the company have policies in place that condemn this type of behavior? Yes. Does the company have monitoring and accountability measures to prevent this from happening? Let’s just say the HR specialist had been doing this for at least two years when she told me this story. This is just one of many examples of how a human being can commit discriminatory acts on behalf of a company and inevitably create/maintain systemic barriers.
Let’s move forward!
So when we discuss this topic with our children, it is important that they understand that we celebrate progress while pushing for more. We celebrate the removal of barriers–both people and policy alike! This is an all-hands effort that requires us to embrace our differences, isolate detractors, and celebrate the many steps forward! The ongoing race war will only end in victory if all races fight together for unity and equality.
The ongoing race war will only end in victory if all races fight together for unity and equality.
Thanks for joining me today! Have a great weekend!
Happy Sunday! I have been blogging for a little over a year now (time flies when you’re having fun), so I realize I have made several new connections who may not know who I am. Well, I was honored to share a little bit about who I am with Kidlio Mag (embedded at the end of this post) and of course you can always find out a little more at https://parent-child-connect.com/about. There is one more thing that I like to do at my initial introductions; I like to tell people something about me that they may not have otherwise known. So today’s fact about me is, I love to smile!
My smile means a lot to me.
For me, my smile is not simply an indication of my current emotion because as those emotions flee, so would my smile. Instead, my smile is an expression of who I am–a guy who is a joy to be around and genuinely excited to be alive. It is an open invitation to anyone I meet to engage in conversation with me because I am truly interested in what you have to offer the world. My smile is a gentle reminder that no matter what is happening, I can communicate peace and calmness to those around me with a simple gesture. It is an encouragement to others who may feel unwelcomed, unseen, unheard, or unwanted; I see you and appreciate your existence. It is a show of pure, unadulterated gratitude for your service whether you are a janitor cleaning the airport restroom, a police officer checking IDs at a military gate, a cashier servicing hundreds of customers a day at a busy grocery store, or anything in between.
There were times when I hid my smile.
There were times that I forgot how important my smile was, specifically during my preteen and early teenage years. I lacked so much confidence in myself and my smile because of all the negative things some of my peers (and even adults) were saying about my weight (I gained a lot of weight), my name, the size of my head, the size of the gap in my teeth, and more. After absorbing these insults, I found myself wanting to hide in the back corner of any room I entered. When I laughed, I quickly covered my mouth to hide my gap in hopes that no one would notice. Someone did notice.
Someone encouraged me.
One morning, my Sunday School teacher at church noticed me doing this and she told me, “Don’t hide your smile. You have a beautiful smile!” She probably does not remember saying that to me. Also, she likely had no idea how much those words meant to me. Regardless, I held those words tightly! When people would say harmful things, I would tell myself, “you have a beautiful smile” until I internalized it. Over time, my confidence returned and my smile was restored. Now when you meet me, you meet a giant, confident smile! So much so that many strangers have looked at me, turned their head slightly, and said, “Don’t lose that smile.”
Now I’m encouraging you!
So I want to encourage you today, don’t lose that smile! People will say harmful things, but they are wrong. Don’t listen to them! Your smile is beautiful because the person giving it has something beautiful inside of them!
Happy Father’s Day to all my Dads out there! We celebrate your accomplishments, sacrifices, and love today!
Let’s dive straight into today’s encouraging Quick Parent Tip for this Father’s Day weekend:
Fight for your family.
You are your family’s physical, mental, and spiritual protector. Embrace it. Fight for peace in your home and for your family’s unity and mental stability. Never stop fighting! You got this because you are not alone. I believe in you!
You are responsible for everything that happens and fails to happen in your home. Let me be the first to tell you that this is both an honor and a burden. Regardless, keep pressing! Accept your responsibility willingly and take pride in being the leader of your home. Keep making decisions with your family’s best interest in mind.
Teach your family.
You are a great teacher and mentor for your family. You have the wisdom, knowledge, and experience to do it; just believe in yourself! Remember, more is caught than taught, so continue to set the example with your words and actions.
Hearing vs listening.
We all do it. We look up, see someone’s lips moving, and realize they have been talking to us the entire time. It’s ok. Next time, engage in active communication. Hearing is passive (i.e. your ears recognize a sound); however, listening is active. So be actively engaged in conversations today. Ask questions, nod along, mirror body language, and share the moment!
Elevate your perception of your contributions.
I know you are working your butt off, and oftentimes, it feels like it goes unnoticed. I want to encourage you to keep doing it. Your hard work, decisions, love, protection, and care are definitely making a difference. Even if no one else celebrates you this weekend, I am celebrating you right now! Great job brother! You are doing exactly what you need to be doing!
Relax and recover.
Take some time to focus on the positives–the great things you have done for your family! You have done (and continue to do) what many have turned away from. Rest well knowing that your impact is felt by more than those in your household. Society is indebted to you.
Thank you for your hard work, commitment, and sacrifices! Happy Father’s Day!
For those reading this who are not fathers, please take some time to thank a father this weekend. I promise you it means a lot!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
I will never forget the cycle of emotions I had before I published my first book: excitement, nervousness, fear, self-doubt, repeat. The rejection messages and my own “what ifs” seemed to validate my repetitive emotion cycle. My family continued to encourage me to publish–especially my brother Joshua (the illustrator). However, I broke the cycle by asking myself two questions:
Why do you want to do this? What inspires you?
My answer was, as it has been in other areas of my life, “this will be a success if I can just reach one person.” That was all I needed to make my final decision to publish! Now that I have published multiple books, I have adopted a new slogan, “just one more!” In other words, I strive to reach and encourage at least one person each day. That is what drives me to relentlessly pursue my personal and professional goals.
Isn’t his Facebook post wonderful? This is exactly what I had in mind when I created the parent-child-connect (P2C) book series (and my website); I wanted to provide resources for parents, teachers, and mentors to create fun and memorable experiences with their children. So first, I would like to celebrate David and his wife Kristen, because along with their other wonderful endeavors (find out more here), they are doing an exceptional job with King and his siblings!
I am also honored and inspired to be a small part of King’s journey to overcome the challenges associated with autism. I have had the pleasure of knowing King since he was born, and he has always impressed me! King would come sit beside me at church to studythe drums during service when we lived in San Diego. His dedication was impressive, but the skills he developed by the age of four wowed me! That is a testament to his work ethic, and it is obvious his parents are investing time and creating memorable moments with him and his siblings!
It’s the first day of World Autism Month!
King and the entire Dredden family are truly amazing, and their story is just one example of what inspires me. This is a perfect way to kick off World Autism Month where we “pledge to help create a world where all people with autism can reach their full potential.” https://www.autismspeaks.org/world-autism-month
Click the link above to learn more about World Autism Month, and connect with David Dredden to learn more about the great things he is doing!
Now it’s your turn, and I want to hear from you! What inspires 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.
I wasn’t originally planning on releasing a part two, but after receiving feedback from you beautiful people, I decided to continue the conversation and introduce “a winning strategy to conquer adversity!”
As you already know, life is a journey. In Part 1 (Click here for Part 1), we discussed a quote by award-winning poet, Theodore Roethke: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” As I continued to read and think about this topic, it reminded me of a challenging hike I completed when I was doing the Mission Trails Regional Park 5-peak challenge. It was not the most physically demanding thing I have done (U.S. Marine Corps training will push you to your limits), but there were definitely a few extremely challenging portions.
There was one particular portion of the North Fortuna Mountain that gets fairly steep; especially after inclement weather. The natural competitor in me forced me to complete this trail numerous times…but the first time was not a pretty sight! When I first approached this portion of the trail, I heard a loud, Drill Instructor-esque voice in my head yell, “attack the hill!” So I looked down and began charging up the steep incline that led to the summit–pumping my arms and power breathing as I went. I kept my head down in hopes that this would somehow help me magically arrive at the plateau quicker. Unfortunately, this was not reality. The further I hiked, the steeper the incline became. After about two minutes, my legs were burning, I was panting, and I was raining sweat.
I finally glanced up… I was definitely not as close as I thought I’d be. In fact, I hadn’t made much progress at all! So I had a choice to make. You see, I had already determined I was going to finish the hike. (Once I put my mind to it, it is going to happen!) So turning back wasn’t an option, but I had another decision to make: how should I motivate myself to complete this hike? Should I focus solely on the plateau? How long will I dwell on my progress (or lack thereof)? Should I closely monitor my progress as I continue to go forward?
I chose the latter and restarted my journey. After a couple more minutes, I checked my progress. When I looked back I initially thought, “I haven’t gone anywhere!” Then I noticed some people who were close to where I started. “Those people look small,” I thought. “I am farther than I thought!” That’s all I needed to continue pushing! So I started to hike again; looking back every 5-10 steps or so to see if the people behind me were getting even smaller. After another couple minutes passed, I decided to look up to see how far I made it. “You haven’t gone anywhere!” I exclaimed to myself. The tree I marked during my last break was still relatively close. I made less progress this time than I did before my first stop.
This is where I started to feel sorry for myself. “I am doing my best to get in better shape, and I cannot even motivate myself to get past this hill!” That’s when it hit me. I could not efficiently move forward while gazing at the things behind me. While I was glancing back, I found myself slipping on loose sand, stumbling over rocks, and falling off the path. In hindsight, this made my journey even more rigorous!
I could not efficiently move forward while gazing at the things behind me.
The Winning Strategy!
With that in mind, I developed a new winning strategy that would eventually help me overcome this challenge and subsequently make it to the summit. Before I restarted, I established what I called “checkpoints” or “mini-goals” along the path where I would rest and reflect (i.e. celebrate my progress). While hiking, I paid close attention to where I stepped; ensuring I constantly progressed as each step was on solid or compacted soil. Lastly, I kept my overall goal in mind: reach the North Fortuna summit, take a picture, and enjoy sunrise and the peaceful nature around me. It is important to note, this portion of the trail did not get any less steep or challenging; however, I knew I had the winning strategy to conquer this adverse situation and achieve my goal.
There are a few things I learned from that hike that I believe are helpful…
Rest and reflect. One of the biggest contributors to successfully completing this hike was implementing my mini-goals. I set my sights on several large rocks, trees, or recognizable features along the trail and said, “do not stop until you reach that mini-goal.” Once I reached my mini-goal, I did a small celebration to commemorate my progress. In essence, I broke my journey into manageable chunks that I could physically achieve and implemented preplanned opportunities to refresh my mental resiliency. The stops were not long; just quick enough to catch my breath and celebrate my progress. As goes life. Schedule quick moments to rest and reflect on progress, then keep pushing towards your ultimate goal!
Live in the moment. While grappling with today’s challenges, we cannot allow ourselves to be burdened by yesterdays news or overwhelmed with tomorrow’s issues. Focus on traversing the path ahead of you and achieving your mini-goals instead of gazing at the things behind you or worrying about tomorrow’s uncertainties.
Be aware and selective of what (or whom) you allow to validate your efforts. I was gauging my success on the trail off of someone else. In retrospect, those people were taking pictures, enjoying nature, strolling, and most importantly, they didn’t even take the same trail. We currently live in a society where it is easy to allow likes, shares, comments, money, and praise to validate us. The issue is those things are temporary. We should only find validation in things that are permanent (e.g. your purpose in life). For me, it is inspiring others. My efforts are validated when my children’s books, blog posts, speaking engagements, and my platform in general inspires someone else to pursue their own goals and dreams!
Don’t lose sight of your goal. My overall goal was to reach the summit, and I did! No matter how challenging the journey, never forget where you are going. Your “why” is what drives you day to day. Your “where” is what makes the journey worth it! You can and will achieve all of your goals! Believe in yourself!
Have a fantastic day, and know that you CAN and WILL make it through these dark times!
Want a little help making it through these dark times?
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I am one of the featured speakers, and I am excited for you to join! I’ll be sharing my own methods on how you can conquer anxiety and toxicity! Anxiety and toxicity are just another way that sneaky “shadow” tries to creep into our life and our children’s lives. As my Amazon best-seller Crow From the Shadow says, “The Shadow is a person… or maybe a thing… or a place. The Shadow tells me who to be, how to go, and where to stay.” Not anymore! We are going to expose that sneaky shadow and kick ’em to the curb! Join us for FREE as we #defeattheshadow to conquer anxiety and toxicity!
It is no secret: we are living in dark times. It seems like every time there is light at the end of the tunnel, a dark shadow is cast to make the sunshine look more like a small flickering candle. The darkness of that shadowy tunnel seems to surround and embrace us until the small flickering light becomes nothing more than an irrelevant annoyance. I use this symbolism because for many of us, the darkness in the world parallels the hardships (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) in our own lives. The flickering light (hope/anticipation that it is going to get better) is more annoying than helpful. It just seems so much easier to give up. Right?
Yesterday morning as I was meditating (as I do every morning), I received a quote from inspiringquotes.com:
“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”
I found that quote to be a bit oxymoronic. Darkness is the absence of light. Scientifically speaking, without illumination human vision is unable to distinguish anything. So what is Mr. Roethke talking about?!
I was intrigued, so I did a little research. That quote is actually the first line in the poem “In a Dark Time” by Theodore Roethke. Click here to read the full poem if you are interested. If you do not know who Theodore Roethke is, he is an award-winning American poet who “helped to produce a remarkable body of work that would influence future generations of American poets to pursue the mysteries of one’s inner self.” When he was only 14, his uncle committed suicide and his dad died of cancer. This had a significant impact on his life and influenced his work. (That brief bio does not do his life’s work justice! Read more here.)
I gave that quick background to highlight that his quote has credence, but that still left me wondering, “how does the eye begin to see in darkness?” That question led me to my own philosophy, we can create our own light in times of darkness. How? Allow me to introduce an easy to remember acronym: L.I.G.H.T.
Light at the end of the tunnel.
The first thing I will challenge you to do is shift your perspective of the “light at the end of the tunnel.” It is easy to view the light as simply an escape or exit from dark times. We exclaim, “if I can only make it to that light, I will be out of here!” The issue with that simplistic view is it does not allow room for “life.” Some days we feel like we make significant progress, but most days we trip, stumble, and sometimes fall as we focus on the exit and not the things around us. That makes the light seem like a distant dream or “hope deferred” as the great Maya Angelou called it.
Take another look. Don’t just view the light as a means to the end; instead, view the light as a tool that reveals the things around you. At times, that light may seem distant, but in times of darkness, even the smallest light will expose the stumbling blocks that lurk in the shadow. When you view the light as a resource, you begin to learn and grow from the dark environment. You begin to recognize and quickly step over stumbling blocks in your path that you previously would have missed! So yes, the light is the means to the end but it is also the tool that illuminates your path.
What inspires you? What is your “why?” We get tired sometimes as we traverse through the dark tunnel. We ask ourselves, “what’s the point?” That’s when our inspiration kicks in! It pushes us to limits we did not know we had. It drives us along our illuminated path.
So how do you find what inspires you?
Surround yourself with positive people who are headed in the same direction.
Think about the issues you are passionate about changing.
Find people you can help lead through dark times.
Our inspiration is usually centered around the value we bring to others. We all have a calling or purpose that is bigger than just us. Allow that calling or purpose to be your inspiration.
My good friend and popular Artist, Aha Gazelle, said it best, “the hardest thing about growing is you can’t feel the movement.” (Song: Invitation by Aha Gazelle) That is such a profound message and fundamental truth. I remember how it felt when I started playing basketball as a young child. I knew you didn’t have to be tall to play basketball, but it was a huge help! So everyday I would stand against the wall and record my height with a pencil. It was very discouraging because I could not see or feel the growth. Eventually, I started to measure my height out of habit instead of anticipation. It wasn’t until I looked back after a few months and noticed my pencil mark moved a little higher. I was thrilled! “I grew overnight!” I thought.
That’s a fairly humourous comparison, but we do this as adults. No matter how far we have actually progressed, we feel like we have not made significant progress. Stop doing that to yourself! Every step forward is progress you should be proud of! Even when you do not feel or see the growth, it is happening. Celebrate your growth!
If you read “In a Dark Time” in its entirety, you noticed Theodore Roethke was making the same point I am making right now, hardships exist to make us better. That hurts to even think about. We have spent so many years looking at darkness and hardships as a negative when in reality, they are necessary for our growth. As I shared before, I will compare hardships to the weights in the gym. The gym is full of things that can either crush you or make you stronger. It all depends on your perspective. Just like hardships, gym equipment is designed to create micro tears in your muscles. Sounds scary and counterintuitive right? Maybe. Until we realize that our body heals those micro tears to make our muscles stronger and more resilient than they were before!
So shift your perspective! Those hardships may cause pain or “micro tears,” but you will become stronger because of it! I know it is hard to fathom, and it may seem impossible that you will become stronger as a result of the hardship(s) you are experiencing right now. But like Nelson Mandela once said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Why is it important to see, learn, grow, and develop while in darkness? Because it takes time to make it through. I have always been a fan of taking action and making the most out of every second we have here on Earth. As I said before, time is one of our most precious nonrenewable resources, so don’t waste it. Embrace where you are, and invest time learning more about yourself and growing those around you!
*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!*
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.
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 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!
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.
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:
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 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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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?
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 rigamaroo 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.
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?
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.