Posted on 3 Comments

Brea’s encouraging epiphanies: Repainting a wall.

On the go? Listen to the audio version of “Brea’s encouraging epiphanies from repainting a wall.

My wife, Brea, called me to share encouraging epiphanies she had while repainting my son’s bedroom. It was so encouraging, that I felt sharing was the “write” thing to do. Brea took on this project to really bring my son’s room to life! There’s only one problem; although she is painting the walls green, one part of this project is giving her “the blues.” We removed a rock wall that has (unfortunately) left a few small damages. These blemishes have made the project as a “hole” impossible to finish! I guess you could say, she’s been running into a wall.

This is actual footage she sent me before the epiphany 😂

Ok she didn’t give me permission to write these terrible puns. So let’s get to the point!

Brea made her experience a parabolic teaching. Here are the main points she conveyed.

Encouraging Epiphany #1: Use the proper tools.

After recognizing the holes left by the rock wall, Brea grabbed a butter knife, some spackling, and a small square of sandpaper left over from previous projects. This was definitely the economic solution which is usually my favorite because I’m cheap! In this case, there were better tools available.  In fact, the wall repair patch kit came with a tub of spackling, a putty knife, a sanding block, and a self-adhesive mesh patch.  She chose these tools because they were more easily accessible (i.e. she had to search for the rest of the wall repair kit.)

How does this apply to life?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever used a tool or resource not because it was the best for the job, but because it was convenient? *I just raised both of my hands!* For example, when Brea and I clash, the convenient tool is Facebook. I can vent my frustrations and get everyone to empathize with me. I’m sure that would (at least temporarily) make me feel better, but it would likely damage my relationship. The proper tool is a one-on-one communication session with Brea or even a guided session with a marriage counselor. This may not give me the immediate results I crave, but it gives me the best long-term results that I need.

The convenient tool may not always be the best option. Choose the tools that will give you the best long-term results.

Encouraging Epiphany #2: Follow the proper steps. Don’t Rush!

Patch, spackle, sand, prime, and paint. That is the order Brea knew to follow if she wanted to complete this project. She also knew that skipping or rushing through any of those steps could slow or impede progress. Of course like many of us who are eager to see the end result of our projects, she rushed anyway. She patched the hole and used her butter knife to cover it with spackling. Then, she waited until the next day, sanded with her tiny sanding square, primed, and painted. She definitely did all of the steps in the proper order, but there were a couple of problems. You could still easily see some of the holes, and for those you couldn’t see, you could see the glob of (now painted) dry spackling. “I guess I thought I could just paint over it and it would be smooth,” Brea said. Definitely not the desired end state.

How does this apply to life?

Whether we are working to improve a relationship, forming a new habit, battling an addiction, or doing anything in life, we know there are several steps we have to take to be successful. Failing to take these steps in the proper order may initially appear successful but may cause long-term damage. Similar to what Brea described, we rush and skip steps and try to cover up our faults. Doing so only creates recognizable “blobs.” These “blobs” reveal themselves as angry outbursts, unmanageable emotions, bad habits, obsession with your physical appearance, and more.

The key point is we have to be willing to patiently complete the required steps and address the root of the problem if we want long-term success.

Epiphany #3: Some damages are larger than others.

This is a rather obvious observation when you’re staring at a wall with a little over a dozen holes in it. You don’t need a ruler or measuring tape to know that some holes are bigger, some holes aren’t a perfect circle, and some holes will require a greater repair. Brea looked at the wall and made the obvious conclusion that though the holes were similar, each hole required a unique patch job.

How does this apply to life?

Observing the differences in the holes on a physical wall is easy. Recognizing our internal mental, emotional, and spiritual damages is much more complex. There is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to dealing with our internal hurts and pains. That’s why I encourage things like journaling and talking to a counselor. These are ways to capture our thoughts and emotions in a visual manner so we can address them accordingly. That initial observation is imperative before we can begin taking the proper steps towards living a better life!

Conclusion

I could do nothing but smile as I listened to Brea on the opposite end of the phone. It was amazing to hear what could’ve been a simple venting session transform into an encouraging interaction! I hope that these encouraging epiphanies caused you to reflect on your own emotional, mental, and spiritual “projects” or journeys. You can and will make it to a better you!

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful week!

Posted on Leave a comment

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

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

My story!

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

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

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

Proverbs 19:21 ESV

The Sales Pitch

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

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

My plan failed, but God’s plan prevailed.

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

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

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

Proverbs 16:9 ESV

Ready for anything!

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

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

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

Da Nang Hill

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

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

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

The lesson

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

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

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

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

The Eternal Perspective

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

Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV

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

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

Real-time application

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 12:1 NLT

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

Posted on Leave a comment

How do you discuss race with your children using current events?

On the go? I felt this conversation about race was so important, I created an audio version just for you! Check it out:

“How do you discuss race with your children using current events?” (Audio version)

“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Olaolu Ogunyemi

Thanks for joining me today! Have a great weekend!

Posted on Leave a comment

Who is Olaolu Ogunyemi?: Author Interview with Kidlio Mag + An encouraging Message—Don’t lose that smile!

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!

Click here for the audio version of this encouraging message! Stay tuned for a special message at the end!
A childhood photo of (front to back) my oldest nephew, my youngest brother, and me. (Jan 25, 1998)

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!

Have a great week!

Enjoy this song by Kirk Franklin!
Posted on 4 Comments

Divided We Fall: A Call to Unite the [un]United States

Author’s note: This call to unite is not:

  • An attempt to bash the United States of America. Contrarily, I proudly serve as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. My service has afforded me many opportunities that have allowed me to open my aperture and further develop my perspective.
  • An expression of some form of political affiliation. I will remain apolitical throughout the entire post.

Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.

Matthew 12:25 NLT

Where we are now

I do not enjoy watching or reading the news. Instead of reporting to inform, many stories are developed to simply highlight our differences in a way that polarizes our opinions, beliefs, characteristics, and values. Recent history informs us that our country has fought to eradicate racial segregation. Even so, a more dangerous and complex form of segregation has emerged. We find ourselves segregated by race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, marital status, and more. The danger in this form of segregation lies in its covertness. It is shielded by our conscious and unconscious biases and driven by our inability or unwillingness to unite. It is time that we expose all forms of submersible segregation and work together towards achieving common goals. I envision that the road to unity requires a three-phased approach that each of us can implement into our daily affairs.

Phase 1: Community.

I believe to develop “community,” we must assemble people with diverse thoughts, behaviors, and experiences into the same physical (or virtual) area. This requires each member of the newly-assembled team to be open-minded and willing to actively listen to understand–forgoing any preconceived notions. Everyone must be willing to apply the timeless advice that transcends generations: you have two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as you talk.

Phase 2: Togetherness.

Togetherness begins with establishing commonalities. This requires all parties to listen to understand vice listen to respond. Additionally, everyone should respect others’ opinions and feelings while maintaining an unwavering determination to collaboratively work towards shared goals. This does not mean we should agree on everything. Contrarily, I believe respectful disagreements based upon our varying perspectives creates a more well-rounded and thoroughly discussed solution. The differences each person brings to the team strengthens the collaborative effort unless those differences are highlighted for personal gain. Ultimately, togetherness is all about respect and ensuring that regardless of everyone’s background or beliefs, we are all working towards a common goal.

Phase 3: Unity.

Unity is the intangible bond that is developed over time from consistent collaborative efforts. It is an agreement that no matter the circumstance, our community will consistently work together towards a solution. Though some sources may attempt to persuade you otherwise and though some exist simply to cause division, unity is achievable. It requires and indestructible will and relentless focus on progression and collaboration. It requires each member of the community to think less of themselves and more about the betterment of the team as a whole.

If unity is the ultimate goal then we must uproot all forms of segregation and bias. We must not shy away from discussing the topics that divide us; for if we do, hatred, division, and segregation will continue to spread like weeds and strangle all hopes of collaboration and unity.

This weekend, we celebrate independence as a country; however, the people must become unified to maintain that independence. So as we celebrate our fight for independence, I urge you to join a new fight–the fight to unite. Remember this: it’s hard to win a battle when you view the battlefield from only your perspective, and it’s impossible to win a battle when you misidentify the enemy. The enemy is segregation, and we are better together. Let’s fight!

Take Action: Spark a conversation with someone who shares a different opinion or perspective. Learn about them and seek to understand what forms their opinion. Listen intently and ask open-ended questions only to get a better understanding. The fight to unite begins with you!

Feel free to like, share, comment, debate with me, etc. Most importantly, let’s continue the conversation!

Zeek Burse – One People
Posted on 3 Comments

Speak Out by Aubrie Owens

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

Kyle and Aubrie Owens

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

How it started: 

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

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

The journey continues: 

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

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

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

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

Posted on 2 Comments

What I learned from my recent appendectomy

Happy Saturday my friends! I hope you had an amazing week thus far and your weekend is even greater! My weekend? Let’s just say it has had a unique start. I underwent an appendectomy!

I was chuckling during this pre-operation selfie. I told the surgical team, “thanks for protecting my beautiful head full of hair.” (I’m nearly bald for those who didn’t know.)

No matter how big or small, I always try to find a lesson in each of life’s circumstances. So what could I have possibly learned from an appendectomy? Well, the first thing I learned is that seeing a medical professional early on can make a huge difference. This was the first time in my life that I did not attempt to “tough it out.” The medical professionals were able to fix the issue in the early stages (before the infection in my appendix worsened and rupturing became a threat). But there was a larger life lesson.

The life lesson: We must quickly address life’s hurts and pains.

Let’s backtrack for a second: I woke up this past Thursday feeling normal. I went through my morning routine and showed up at the gym at 6 am for my one hour Yoga session. Such a relaxing start to the day ☺️. As the morning progressed, I began to feel a small pain/discomfort in my stomach. I initially thought it was nothing more than gas (sorry if that is TMI 😬), but I wasn’t so sure anymore by the time I arrived at work. It was getting worse throughout the day, but I was reluctant to express this feeling to my peers. After all, they probably already assumed it was COVID, so I did not want to cause alarm. There was no hiding it, because I am always jovial; striving to be the one to bring brightness to the room. Contrarily, I was quiet, withdrawn, and exhausted. One of my colleagues even said, “Are you ok?…You look like you are really hurting.”

Luckily, I was responsible for picking my son up from school that day, so I had an excuse to leave early. When I made it home, I laid on the couch and slept. I tossed. I turned. I tried lying upside down. I took Tums… Anything to relieve what I thought was simply “trapped gas.” That evening, I told my wife the words that let her know I was actually in pain, “I am going to the doctor in the morning to see what is wrong.” She knows I HATE hospitals, so she knew it must have been serious.

I arrived at the hospital Friday morning, still playing the tough guy role. I imagined they would hand me something to quickly relieve the pressure in my stomach and allow me to go home. At this point, I just wanted to “rule out appendicitis.” I mean seriously, my phone was on 40%, and I left my charger in my vehicle; I just knew this visit would be short! I was wrong.

After reviewing the Computed tomography (CT) scan, the surgical team came into the room to confirm I had appendicitis (a condition in which the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with pus, causing pain. Source: Mayo Clinic). Thankfully, I sought help early enough to avoid a rupture. The surgical team presented me with two options:

1. Take antibiotics to “hopefully” reduce the inflammation.

2. Remove the appendix to eliminate the chance of reinfection.

I chose the latter, and the rest is history.

Why did I share that entire story?

I was able to identify several parallels between my life and my recent experience.

1. Pain is an indication of something more serious. Sometimes we become so accustomed to emotional hurt and pain that we ignore it. We consider ourselves “lone wolves.” We “tough it out” because we do not want to look weak. We mask our pain. We pretend we are ok. We attempt to become numb to the pain. We ignore it in hopes that it will go away. The downside is it does not go away; it just intensifies. Then, we find ourselves attempting to treat the symptoms with things that may cause the pain to temporarily subside only to find that the pain only increases–requiring more temporary treatment measures. We focus more on covering/treating the pain than identifying the root cause.

2. Though they can see straight through our ruse, we attempt to hide our pain from others. I knew I needed to bounce back after the first time my colleague asked, “are you ok?” So I ran to the store and grabbed tums and ginger ale. After about 30 minutes I said, “I feel much better after my Tums, ginger ale, and [lightly salted] veggie chips!” I said it in such a way that I even started to believe it. I told an occasional joke or two to throw him off. Meanwhile, the pain was worsening, and he wasn’t fooled. How often do we do this? Instead of admitting we are in pain and seeking help (or allowing others to help), we attempt to hide it. “I’ll be ok.” “I was built for this!” “Pain is weakness leaving the body, right?” Those are just a few of my go-to quotes. What are yours? Regardless, no one is falling for it anyway, so why not just get the help we need?

Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.

J.K. Rowling

3. I got the help I needed. I like to think of myself as a pretty tough guy, but I challenged myself to do something different this time. I decided I would get help instead of self-medicating. I am so glad I did. The surgical team informed me that my case was worse than they originally assessed via CT scan. Meaning, had I not gotten it taken care of, I risked rupturing my appendix (potentially fatal). We should normalize seeking professional help. Attempting to self-medicate our problems tend to make things worse. I learned this from previous injuries, and I am encouraging you to do the same. Do not try to do this on your own. Stop trying to hide or mask the pain and get the help you need to remove the root cause. Which moves to my last point:

4. You must address the root cause. When the surgical team presented me with options, I felt the answer was obvious. To me, Option A was: The surgical team would immediately treat the symptoms in hopes that the problem would not resurface. Option B was: The surgical team would remove the root cause which will immediately hurt more but has a greater chance of preventing future pain (reinfection). I chose the latter because that option addressed the root cause–my infected appendix. Simply reducing inflammation would have led to temporary relief. Chances are I would have returned to the hospital with the same pain in the future. So yes, I exposed myself to risks and pain associated with surgical removal, but in the long term, I do not have to worry about my appendix becoming reinfected… Because it is gone. Addressing the root of the pain was the right answer for me, and I believe it is the right answer for all of us. Healing and recovery may hurt and take time, but I will confidently endure knowing I made the best long-term decision for my health.

I know facing hurt and pain is a challenge for all of us. It can be scary and make feel vulnerable and weak. However, we must address the root cause of our pains if we want to live a healthy physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual life. Today is your day. This is your sign. Allow me to be your friend today who is pointing you towards seeking help. We can do this together. I believe in you!

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

Did you enjoy this post? Check out my blog for more!

Also, check out my FREE RESOURCES to help you along your personal journey!