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.
You are breathing heavily, your heart is racing, your nose is flared, your body is tense, and you continue to replay what happened over and over. You’re disappointed, embarrassed, and most of all, angry. You know forgiveness is the answer, you have to demonstrate grace, and you must return to your jovial demeanor, but your continued rush of emotions seem to make it impossible to move on. You want to participate/contribute to the world continuing around you, but you do not know how to return. Your smile is broad but forced, and your words are few and shallow. You feel old instincts or habits returning that would satisfy your primal desires to express your anger but leave you hollow when you finish. You want to isolate yourself and not be bothered because you are mentally exhausted from giving everything you’ve got and receiving little in return.
Yeah, I’ve been there plenty of times. In fact, I wrote the above paragraph when I was angry. Those were my actual feelings and emotions at the time. The “old instincts or habits” I was referring to involved me lashing out on people, throwing stuff around, yelling into my pillow, or hitting or kicking an inanimate object (like a wall) which, in turn, caused me bodily harm. I used to tell people I had “anger issues,” which means that was the identity I assumed. It was a harmful stereotype that I willingly accepted. Anger and my subsequent response became addicting, so I knew I had to change.
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. However, many of us give up control of our response to anger. So that’s where we will focus today.
The anger stimulus-response model.
Frank Esser published an insightful article at the University of Zurich entitled, “Stimulus-Response Model.” Therein, he states, “Similar to higher animals, human beings are endowed at birth with a uniform set of instincts that guide their ways of responding to the world around them.” He continues to explain how mass media manipulates this instinctual behavior–which he describes as the stimulus-response model–to produce enticing content. Today, I want to offer a way that we can manipulate this same instinctual behavior to change our response to anger.
How humans differ from other animals.
Stimuli are events in the environment that influence behavior. Today we refer to these as “cues” and “triggers.” Unlike other animals, the beauty of human beings (or homo sapiens) is that we can influence this stimulus-response model through the application of free will or choice. In other words, where other animals instinctually respond to the stimuli around them, our brains are able to critically think about the various stimuli and develop a response based upon the environment we are in.
For example, when we feel hungry but we are on a diet, we are able to suppress those hunger pangs. Similarly, when we feel sleepy but we are driving, we choose to stay awake because it is not the appropriate time to sleep. Dr. M. Scott Peck has a funnier (but true) way to describe this phenomenon in his book, Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Towards Spiritual Growth.
People sometimes ask me the most impossible – for example. “Dr. Peck, what is human nature?” And because my parents raised me to be an obliging child, I try to come up with answers to such impossible questions, and first answer I give is: “Human nature is to go to the bathroom in your pants.”
It really is. That is exactly the way each one us started out, doing what came naturally and letting go whenever we felt like.
Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Towards Spiritual Growth by Dr. M. Scott Peck
As proven by millions of potty training toddlers each day, we have the ability to influence our personal stimulus-response cycle. Because of the brain’s plasticity (ability to change and adapt), we are able to develop “neural pathways.” According to https://www.merriam-webster.com/, a neural pathway is “a series of connected nerves along which electrical impulses travel in the body.” This is an important concept in psychology because these neural pathways are our brains’ way of automatically responding to stimuli (which is received by one or more of our five senses).
For example, when I smell food (cue) after I have gone a few hours without any (cause), the response is usually a growling stomach (reaction). So, I decide to turn into a restaurant parking lot in response to my hunger pangs. As I prepare to turn, I observe a car speeding up (cue) to prevent me from turning first (cause). My automatic response is to become irritated, shake my fist, and yell, “you idiot!”(reaction) Get this, the only intentional or “conscious” decision I made in this process was to go to the restaurant. The rest was predetermined by the neural pathways I developed over time. This is one of our brain’s many efficient ways to save energy.
How to develop neural pathways to change our response to anger.
1. Take inventory. Identify cues (events that signal the brain to react), causes (reasons why the cues exist and trigger certain reactions), and reactions (the actions you take as a result of the cues).
For about a week, I want you to do the same thing I did in the above scenarios. Don’t cheat, justify, judge yourself, or change anything. Just record your cues, causes, and reactions to as many automatic processes as you can–especially those that ended with you being angry. If you happen to be driving at the time, turn on your voice recorder and do a voice log. Whatever you do, it is important that you capture as much data as possible.
2. Limit or eliminate the cues.
Of course this is easier said than done in some cases. In my above scenario, I cannot remove the people who will cut me off in traffic. It would be absurd for me to think or suggest otherwise. However, there are many other examples of cues we can either limit or eliminate. For example, I already know there are certain times of day where I will be hungry. If my goal is to avoid eating out to save money, perhaps I can avoid driving down “restaurant boulevard” during the times I’m likely to be hungry. This simple rerout will avoid the luring smells, giant pictures of food everywhere, and the entertaining guy with the sign advertising my favorite happy hour sale.
The book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear describes a similar concept to remove negative habits. Since we naturally gravitate towards the more convenient option, make it harder to encounter your negative cues.
3. Identify the cause.
This is the psychological step, and it feeds your cues. This step is extremely important because there are many cues you cannot limit or eliminate. Even if you could, I have always advocated for running towards something, not simply avoiding things. The cause is what gives your cue relevance. That’s why this step is arguably the most critical.
We can start with the most rudimentary example. I felt the urge to go use the bathroom (cue). Why? I am doing the gallon-a-day water challenge to ensure I get an adequate amount of water each day (cause). Of course, we know the reaction is to actually go to the bathroom.
Let’s look at the other scenario. I observed a car speeding up to cut me off (cue). Earlier I identified, “to prevent me from turning first” as the cause. Some of you probably scratched your head wondering how that caused the cue. Allow me to explain.
In my mind, this fella personally attacked me! Although it was my turn to go, he intentionally sped up to prevent me from turning. In doing so, he delayed my day. What an idiot!
I know I’m not the only one who has thought this before. Seeing some of the drivers’ reactions in Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. earlier this year proves me right!
4. Address the cause.
Regardless of how many of you agree that the above driver is idiotic, our assumption that the driver personally attacked us is irrational. But to strengthen our argument, let’s say he did personally attack us. My mom used to tell me, “if you let people know which buttons to press to make you angry, they will press them every time.” In other words, some people get a thrill out of seeing you angry. I believe they crave the ability to control you.
Whoa, so these external factors (including people) want to control you?! That’s right!
5. Regain control.
If you haven’t noticed by now, a cue with no cause produces no reaction. In other words, the way you perceive your cue is what causes the reaction.
Capture your thoughts. This means we have to be active in our approach. Don’t just allow your thoughts to run wildly because those thoughts feed our emotions and those emotions feed our actions and those actions feed our identity. This is why we started by taking inventory. SEE what you think. That means we are creating a new cue to gain control of our reactions.
Ask the 5 Whys. In “How do you Respond to Rejection and Failure?” I introduced a concept called the “5 Whys.” Simply put, this is how we get to the root of our perspective. This time, instead of using the Stone Cold Steve Austin fan approach of asking “why,” I want you to ask, “why does this matter to me?” I’ll use my “cause” from above, but I challenge you to use your own “cause” list.
That guy cut me off!
Why does this matter to me?
Because it was my turn!
Why does this matter to me?
Because it isn’t fair.
Why does this matter to me?
Because he’s taking advantage of me.
Why does this matter to me?
Because I’m tired of being taken advantage of.
Why does this matter to me?
Because I know my worth, and I don’t like when people make me feel like I’m less than I’m worth.
Reframe your thoughts
I believe we’ve made it to the root, and from that root spawns many thoughts, emotions, and causes. Take that root to your counselor and work with him or her to develop new neural pathways. For me, I’ve worked to reprogram that cue. So instead of yelling and shaking my fist at the guy who cut me off, I use that cue as a reminder that I am worth a lot, and no one (including the random people I encounter in traffic) can take that away from me. In doing so, I have intentionally changed my response from anger to calmness and happiness.
This isn’t magic or just some feel good mumbo jumbo. Trust me, developing new neural pathways doesn’t happen over night. Just keep practicing and give yourself some time.
Change = Steady progress over time
I want to end with this analogous encouragement. When hiking a mountainenous trail, you may be confident and sure of your next step, until that next step causes you to slip and fall. Stand up, brush yourself off, and keep hiking. Regain the momentum that you started building before the slip. When you start again, your legs may feel a little stiff, you may feel embarrassed, and you may be a little bruised from the fall, but keep hiking. This is especially important to remember in the beginning when you fall multiple times. Remember this, you may have lost a little momentum, but you didn’t lose progress. In other words, the only time you lose progress is when you intentionally turn around and hike back downhill (relapse).
You are reading this because you want to change and/or improve. Stay focused and keep progressing towards a better you!
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!
Happy Father’s Day to all my Dads out there! We celebrate your accomplishments, sacrifices, and love today!
Let’s dive straight into today’s encouraging Quick Parent Tip for this Father’s Day weekend:
Fight for your family.
You are your family’s physical, mental, and spiritual protector. Embrace it. Fight for peace in your home and for your family’s unity and mental stability. Never stop fighting! You got this because you are not alone. I believe in you!
You are responsible for everything that happens and fails to happen in your home. Let me be the first to tell you that this is both an honor and a burden. Regardless, keep pressing! Accept your responsibility willingly and take pride in being the leader of your home. Keep making decisions with your family’s best interest in mind.
Teach your family.
You are a great teacher and mentor for your family. You have the wisdom, knowledge, and experience to do it; just believe in yourself! Remember, more is caught than taught, so continue to set the example with your words and actions.
Hearing vs listening.
We all do it. We look up, see someone’s lips moving, and realize they have been talking to us the entire time. It’s ok. Next time, engage in active communication. Hearing is passive (i.e. your ears recognize a sound); however, listening is active. So be actively engaged in conversations today. Ask questions, nod along, mirror body language, and share the moment!
Elevate your perception of your contributions.
I know you are working your butt off, and oftentimes, it feels like it goes unnoticed. I want to encourage you to keep doing it. Your hard work, decisions, love, protection, and care are definitely making a difference. Even if no one else celebrates you this weekend, I am celebrating you right now! Great job brother! You are doing exactly what you need to be doing!
Relax and recover.
Take some time to focus on the positives–the great things you have done for your family! You have done (and continue to do) what many have turned away from. Rest well knowing that your impact is felt by more than those in your household. Society is indebted to you.
Thank you for your hard work, commitment, and sacrifices! Happy Father’s Day!
For those reading this who are not fathers, please take some time to thank a father this weekend. I promise you it means a lot!
We are going to talk about “impact” soon, but first… it’s story time! Last Friday, I hopped in my car to go grab my son from school. This is always an exciting surprise for him; namely because my wife typically picks him up from school due to my work schedule.
Instinctively, I started the car, adjusted my seat, buckled my seatbelt, and began checking/adjusting my mirrors… rearview first, then side view, then one last check in the rearview. That’s my routine. On my latter rearview check, my eyes widened–there was something exciting heading in my direction… The FedEx truck!
Note: This is not a paid advertisement for FedEx… Although I would gladly collaborate with them lol.
As the FedEx truck approached, my anticipation and excitement continued to grow! It was finally time!!
What’s the point??
I’m sure by now you are just waiting for me to reveal what I got in the mail right? What heartfelt gift (or hilarious prop for my silly antics) had I ordered this time??
Welp, I hate to disappoint you, but I was neither expecting nor receiving a package that day.
So why was I so excited? What was I anxiously waiting for? What is the point of this blog??
Ok, I’ll tell you! I was waiting for the FedEx driver to say, “hello!” Seems weird huh? Let me explain. There is this one FedEx driver who delivers in our neighborhood that ALWAYS greets us with a warm smile and wave. It’s like I have known him for years! He even tacks on a “see you tomorrow!”
He used his platform to leave an impact!
As the excitement grew, I realized how impactful his simple “hello” is on my day… My life. I realized how his smile, wave, and “see you tomorrow” actually makes me look forward to greeting him and having a brief yet impactful conversation the next day.
I neither know his name, where he’s from, nor his background. However, I do know he is using his platform (FedEx driver) to positively impact others’ lives–with a simple smile and wave!
So I encourage you; you do not have to be the strongest, the smartest, the wealthiest, or the most famous to impact others’ lives. YOU [we] have the power to positively impact others regardless of how big or small our platform is.
Remember this: The size of the audience doesn’t matter. The size of the impact does!
This week, let’s make a conscious effort to positively impact EVERYONE we encounter. Here are just a few examples of ways you can use your platform:
Donate to charity or someone in need.
Help a friend create a midterm exam study guide.
Help someone refine their resumé.
Visit a friend in prison or visit one of our elderly in the nursing home.
Purchase someone’s groceries or meal.
Allow someone to merge in front of you during busy traffic.
Support a small business or an indie author (I know a guy that writes children’s books… Me…. I’m the guy😁) either by spreading the word or making a purchase.
Smile, wave, and say, “have a great day!”
We have the power to positively impact others’ lives! Let’s do it!