Last night, I joined millions of other football fans as we excitedly prepared for one of the most exciting games of the week. Both teams were already giving fans a show in the first few minutes of the game until Damar Hamlin was injured in the most horrific way. CNN has the backstory and is providing updates.
Why this injury and other serious injuries hit home for me.
Serious injuries like Damar Hamlin’s or Tua Tagovailoa’s concussion a few months ago always make me pause to pray for these human beings who are so talented that they have earned the right to exercise their gifts at the highest level. I also pause to pray for the parents, families, and friends who have to sometimes helplessly see their child in his or her most vulnerable state. Although I would never claim to know exactly how they feel, I relate to the latter group because of my own son.
My son–who is otherwise healthy–was diagnosed with complex-partial epilepsy in 2017. Although he has had episodes in various locations like home, a hotel near Disneyland, and the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, I remember his first seizure like it was yesterday. I had uncharacteristically left work extremely early that day and received a call from my wife within five minutes of arriving home. She was distraught, and I could tell something was wrong. I initially thought she had a vehicle accident, so I said, “Take a deep breath baby. Where are you? I’m on the way.” Then she said, “they said he won’t wake up.”
My tone changed.
“Who won’t wake up?” I asked. Her next words caused my world to stop, “your son.” It’s almost like my mind couldn’t comprehend the words she was saying for a moment. Then, I finally responded as calmly as I could, “I just walked in the door. I’ll be at the school in less than five minutes… I’ll keep you updated.” The preschool he attended was less than half a mile away, so I arrived fairly quickly and a teacher waved me in. Not knowing what to expect, I rushed in trying to be as calm and levelheaded as possible. One teacher was already beside him taking notes, recording for the EMT, and back briefing me on what had already happened. It’s important to note that the teachers and staff at East County Christian Pre-School in Santee, CA had recently completed training for this exact scenario, so they were professional and well-prepared.
I knelt beside him as he remained unresponsive; his eyes were rolled back and he had what I can only describe as an uncontrolable twitch on one side of his body. For a moment, I just knelt there watching–unsure what to do. The director came behind me and calmly said, “Talk to him. He may be able to hear you even if he’s unresponsive.” She explained this is something she does with her mother when she has a seizure. I obliged until the ambulance arrived soon after. For whatever reason I was unable to ride in the back with my son, so I rode in the passenger seat beside the driver.
A silent ride was the beginning of a stressful few months.
The ride was silent at first as I seared anytime someone was slow to move out of our way. Finally, the driver–a U.S. Army veteran– broke the silence and talked to me until I calmed down. After arriving and processing through the emergency room, the emergency room staff determined this was a febrile seizure. This was the beginning of a years-long journey as my son was officially diagnosed with complex-partial epilepsy a few months later.
With this diagnosis came numerous sleepless nights. My wife and I stared at the baby monitor in his room in hopes that we would hear or see any early signs of a seizure for months. Our visits with neurologists were and have been fairly fruitless as they have been unable to identify a neurological cause. This uncertainty has oftentimes made us feel helpless as we’ve witness a breakthrough seizure.
We have felt helpless but not hopeless.
Similar to what we’ve witnessed with Damar Hamlin, our inability to change the circumstance can make us feel helpless. However, we join millions of parents, family members, and friends who remain hopeful that everything will turn out just fine. Our hope is based upon our faith that God, because we believe He can and will heal. Although my son continues to take anticonvulsant medication daily, he hasn’t had a major breakout seizure in over two years. We continue to pray for his healing!
We pray for Damar Hamlin, his parents, his family, and his friends with that same faith that God will heal. Ultimately, we remain hopeful for great news!
I’ve been meaning to come back around to this. I have continued to write daily; not necessarily in the form of journaling per se, but in the form of calculated and random to do’s, thoughts, or memories needing someplace else to live rather than just my brain. They tend to find new residences in my notes folder on my phone or the little black notebook I keep close. I do this because I realized that if I am to become the writer I aspire to be, I must demonstrate consistency and discipline.
Consistency and Discipline
Consistency and discipline are two very interesting concepts that take on their own identity depending on the task at hand. The human mind subconsciously prioritizes actions according to importance, interest, and the situation. That is why actively reminding ourselves of the following is the utmost necessity.:
What is important to you?
Our interests are ever evolving. What are you currently interested in?
What is your current situation or life circumstance?
Keeping these things at the top of your mind help deflect the inevitable woes of procrastination that come naturally in moments of busyness, transition, and perfectionism. Here is yet another reason why understanding a wide array of perspectives can be beneficial to how you approach daily obstacles.
Perspective is key.
On one hand, you can accept that you’re not being as productive as you intended to be, which can result in frustration. On the other hand, you can examine why you’re operating the way you are based upon your current season, which can result in a better understanding. I try to focus on the latter, and honestly, it’s what gives me the most peace.
I’m reminded of Paul in 2 Corinthians pleading with God to remove the thorn from his flesh, and God replying with:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
That “thorn” can be in the form of anything.
Transparently, my “thorn” often shows itself in my time management, overextension, and focus. However, it’s a refreshing feeling to know that based on my intentions and faith, even my weaknesses can serve as a reminder of how strong my God is. On the days I feel like I lacked consistency and discipline, I remember His grace. That empowers me to give myself grace and to continue to pursue my purpose. God’s grace enables my consistency and discipline, and it makes my “thorn” or weakness my greatest asset.
Why? Because it turns my errors into educational moments. It allows me to understand who I am and where I am in life, and it allows me to refocus and grow into a better me. Thereby, I become stronger through my weaknesses.
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 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.
I’ve often felt like an outsider in multiple areas and at various times in my life. For example, although my siblings were born in vicinity of New Orleans, I was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. We started off in the East of New Orleans then moved to the Westbank in Algiers, and even then, we attended school in St. Bernard Parish because that’s where my father taught.
My parents uprooted us from our home 17 years ago as Hurricane Katrina ravaged through my hometown. I assumed we were just evacuating for the weekend until my family enrolled us in school the following Friday in rural North Louisiana. Once again, I found myself feeling like an outsider as I settled in and remained there throughout my adolescent years.
That’s one reason I’ve come to realize that adapting to any given situation is second nature to me. It’s all I’ve known for a very long time. I continue to search for who I am in spite of who I’ve become as a result of the continual changes. Was I designed to be the perpetual outsider?
To answer that question, I turn to Proverbs 18:16
Just as height, coordination, and athleticism are advantageous to those who are gifted in sports; perspective, comprehension, and communication cultivate the various gifts inside of you. With that in mind, Proverbs 18:16 takes on a different meaning for me. Your gifts may open the door for you, but the environment you enter helps produce the skills you need to grow the gifts within you.
Your gifts may open the door for you, but the environment you enter helps produce the skills you need to grow the gifts within you.
Full circle: The Outsider’s Advantage
On the anniversary of the biggest adjustment of my life, I choose to ignore hypotheticals. Instead, I will focus on my growth, the growth of the city I love, and the growth of everyone else affected by the hurricane. Though we are still putting pieces back together in a multitude of ways 17 years later, the strength, endurance, and resiliency that came as a result cannot be ignored.
One of my favorite sayings is “Perspective is everything, and everything is relative.” Meaning, your outlook on any given thing or situation is all based upon your experience and opinion. That outlook could be very difficult to garner if you’ve maintained an unvarying viewpoint for an extended period of time… So maybe being an outsider in multiple areas and at different times of my life isn’t so bad after all.
Note from Olaolu: Today’s guest blogger may be new to the parent-child-connect platform, but he is family! Benjamin C. Fields is a great speaker, a mentor, a finance professional, a former college basketball standout, and a very positive image for our young black youth. I have had the pleasure of knowing Benjamin for almost fifteen years, and it has been amazing to see him grow… I mean that both figuratively and literally (he’s 6’7″).
When I reached out to Benjamin, he told me that he has been keeping a journal. I was immediately intrigued because I’ve come to admire and appreciate his intellect and wisdom. After a brief conversation, we quickly realized that the encouraging content he was recording is edifying for everyone who has the opportunity to read. So with that in mind, I am excited to introduce a new series to the parent-child-connect brand: the Benjamin’s Journal Series! Enjoy Benjamin’s first entry, “All I need!”*
Journal entry–5:00 a.m. 06/08/2022
For a long time, I wanted a friend like me. I’m not sure why I decided to start today’s entry like that, but it seemed right. A lot has changed since my last entry, and a lot is continuing to change right before my very eyes. Moving out of our house in New Orleans was bittersweet for sure, but it was such a blessing to be in that location for the last 2 years. I feel as though I definitely used that situation to the best of my abilities.
Going from a 5 bedroom, 3 full bathroom house in uptown New Orleans to a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment in New York City sounds like it would be a bigger adjustment. I’ve been here a week and a day now, and in all honesty, I’m recalibrating pretty smoothly. I guess that truly does speak to how well I can adapt to my circumstances. But to me, adapting is one thing, excelling is another.
But to me, adapting is one thing, excelling is another.
I’ve had to adapt several times in my life; that’s how I know I’m truly blessed! I literally cannot thank God enough for every little thing he has done for me. I’m not sure I ever anticipated living in Harlem, NYC at any moment of my life after living in New Orleans until I was nine then moving to North Louisiana for the remainder of my childhood. To go from Bernice, Louisiana (a town with no traffic lights) to New York City is to experience life on two opposite ends of the spectrum.
All I can do is step back and acknowledge the work God is doing in and through my life. I also acknowledge that he’s just getting started! I feel like I’m figuring out how I’m supposed to operate on this earth and why I’m supposed to operate on this earth. I’m far from content, and I want my actions to align to that truth. I’ve been blessed to think this way, feel this way, and operate in such a manner. Recently, I’ve received every indication that I am favored in a different way or destined to be blessed, known, etc. My perspective has shifted drastically!
I just want to remind everyone I encounter that God is the only way. He is enough! I would not be here without prayer and discernment, and my comfort and peace did not come from this world. My job on this earth is to chase God with all of my being and serve his kingdom however I can along the way. That has looked like so many things along my journey and unique opportunities will continue to present themselves.
Full circle: He is all I need
Now, to return to my opening statement. I used to think I needed other people–especially those close to me–to get to where I’m meant to be. I’ve now realized that all I’ve ever needed was my Lord and Savior. What is mine is already mine. What is meant to be will happen regardless of how things look now. If I want something, I need to put action behind my faith and let God do the rest. He is all I need!
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.
*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.