Is Your Life Remarkable?

“I don’t know why, still I try to wrap my mind around You, Your thoughts are higher, Your ways are better and I’m in awe, So bring me up to where You are.” – “Lofty” by Propaganda

As Easter approaches, I like to study the life of Jesus, so I’ve been diving into the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Gospel is a Is Your Life Remarkablebit more concise than the other accounts of the Savior’s life, but still quite telling and profound.

In Mark 6, Jesus performs the miracle of the five loaves and two fish, multiplying the portion in order to feed about 5,000 people. Immediately after that, He sends His disciples across the sea ahead of Him. Later, as they’re struggling to row in windy conditions, Jesus comes walking on the water — totally freaking them out — gets in the boat and the wind and waves calm down. The disciples’ response was interesting:

And they were astonished exceedingly [beyond measure], For they failed to consider [or understand the meaning of the miracle of] the loaves; their hearts had grown callous [had become dull]. Mark 6:51-52

 

There aren’t many times when we see the disciples being “astonished” or in awe of what they see. At this point they had been hanging with Jesus a while and had seen Him heal plenty of people, and even they had went out and healed the sick and cast out demons themselves, so not too much came as a surprise to them. But seeing Jesus walk on water blew them away. It was a different level of miracle for them. But the Bible says it shouldn’t have been because hours before they saw 5,000 fed with just five loaves of bread and two fish. That miracle was just as incredible as Jesus walking on water. But Mark writes that “they failed to consider” the miracle of the loaves because their hearts had become dull or callous.

I wonder if our hearts have become dull to the things God has done and is doing in our lives because they aren’t as “grand” as we expect. Because we haven’t miraculously received a huge pay raise, a surprise check in the mail, a debt canceled, the man/woman of our dreams dropped at our doorstep, or a family member instantly saved, we feel nothing spectacular is happening in our lives.

But maybe something spectacular is happening. Maybe, just like the disciples, we experience supernatural things daily but we never consider or value them. To consider means to “think carefully about, regard, believe, take into account, or remember.”

I’m not sure what things God is doing in your life that are awe-inspiring, but I know they are happening. That’s how God operates. Think about it: Does the most renowned chef in the world ever cook an average meal? Does the world’s best artist ever make a mundane piece of art? So if we are God’s workmanship, crafted in His image and in whom He continues to work, how is He not doing something spectacular in our lives regularly?

He is. Our hearts have just become dull.

I challenge you to take time during your busy day, to interrupt your routine to consider (recall the definition) what God is doing in your life. It may be something spiritual or it may involve your career or family, whatever it is, recognize God’s fingerprint in your life and regard it.

In meditating on that scripture, I consider how far God has brought me in my career and the doors He’s opened for me. I’m also in awe that, through His Spirit, I hear from Him every day. And even each week, when I sit in front of this computer with absolutely nothing to say, He deposits inspiration, ideas, and thoughts in my mind to share with you. I’m in awe.

Take a few minutes to listen to this song “Lofty” by Propaganda, it expresses why we need to be in awe of our Creator:

 

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5 Lessons From My 80-year-old Self

On the heels of writing some tips to my 18-year-old self, I was thinking of what advice I could use now. If my older self,

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

say the 80-year-old Kevin, could give me some guidance on navigating life from here on out, I wonder what he would say? I wonder what lessons, tips, and words of wisdom he’d share.

He’d probably start by saying I know less than I think I know right now. Then he’d say my future is bright and I become filthy rich (OK, wishful thinking there).  Most of all, he’d probably focus on regrets he has and how I can change my life to avoid them. So here are five things my 80-year-old self would tell me to live a fuller life:

SPEAK YOUR MIND

You tend to be cautious, young Kevin (yes, you’re still very young). You speak up when needed, but you’re guarded with your words. You’re diplomatic by nature, which has been helpful in gaining friends, bridging gaps, and defusing conflicts. Yet, your opinion needs to be heard more — unfiltered and direct. It will catch people off-guard, and it may hurt some feelings, but as long as it’s done in truth and love, it’s worth it.

BE SILLY

There’s nothing more beautiful in life than being able to laugh at yourself. It’s more natural for the youngest and oldest among us, but it’s something you need to rediscover and embrace. Laughing is one thing, but being able to make a complete fool of yourself — and awaken the silliness in others — is a moment you’ll never forget, trust me.

TAKE RISKS

You’ll never regret taking a risk. Do they all pay off? No. Is there embarrassment or discomfort in the moment? Yes. But looking back, taking a risk was always the right decision. Risks always result in either the outcome you desire or a lesson learned. The only thing that holds you back is fear. And you’ll find out what you fear most about risks never happens. The greatest risk of all is the risk not taken.

SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE

You’ve been telling yourself to do this for years, and you’ve gotten better at it, but remember this: You can never spend too much time with the people you love. No one ever reached 80 years old and said, “You know what, I think I spent too much time with loved ones.” Take every second and every minute that they give you. Too many people let work, school, church, chores, sports, Scandal, and social media get in the way of real relationships. By the way, Facebook, Instagram, and Olivia Pope won’t last that much longer anyway. If your loved ones are really loved, prioritize time with them.

SAY ‘I LOVE YOU’ OFTEN

Those three words mean the world to people, Kevin. They don’t part your lips enough. The people you love — which include pretty much everyone — need to hear it. You’ll regret not saying it enough. Your words are sincere. You only say what you mean. If there’s anything people should remember about you, it’s that you loved them.

Enjoy the journey, young Kevin. You’ll be OK. Oh, and get off Facebook!

What do you think you’d regret most at an older age? What are some changes you can make to avoid those regrets?

 

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5 Lessons for My 18-year-old Self

I read a Facebook post from a friend a few weeks ago that asked: What would your 18-year-old self think of you?

It’s an intriguing question, and as expected, the answers were comical and varied. I think for most of us, life hasn’t life lessonsturned out exactly how we thought it would be when we were 18. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your perspective. I know I don’t have nearly half of what my 18-year-old self wanted, and that’s OK. That kid didn’t know anything anyway. If I could write him an email — to his AOL address — about how he turned out, these are the five key things I’d point out to him:

1. YOUR DREAMS AND AMBITIONS CHANGE

I know you’re driven, and somewhat stubborn, Kevin. You have big goals and dreams. That’s great. But guess what? A lot of that stuff isn’t going to happen. It’s not because you don’t have a good work ethic, or won’t acquire the skills you need, it’s just that most of that stuff won’t matter after a while. The stuff you thought you couldn’t live without? Well, you’re living without it, and you’re doing fine. Your goals and values have changed — for the better.

2. YOU’RE SECURE

This may be the greatest relief to you, and one of the greatest things to happen to you. You don’t care what people think of you. You realize your imperfections, and you don’t sweat them. You’re comfortable in your own skin. Unfortunately, this took a while — years! The awkwardness you sometimes felt in high school, the desire to fit in with certain crowds, and the worry of what other people think of you continues well into adulthood. But it gets better. It’s a process, but you get to the point where you don’t give a damn. That’s a very good thing.

3. YOU’RE NEITHER MARRIED, NOR RICH…AND IT’S AWESOME

Sorry to break it to you, but you’re in your 30s and you’re single. You don’t drive a Benz either. You done crying? OK, now listen. Here’s the weird thing: You’re happier than ever. Don’t worry, you still have plenty of time to get married and acquire wealth — because contrary to what you think, 30something ain’t old — but you’ve reached a status much greater than married or wealthy. It’s called contentment.

4. YOU’RE SUCCESSFUL

Yup, you are a success. But not because of your career or accomplishments. That’s not how you measure success any more. You’re successful because of the people you impact. That’s right, you’re more concerned with people than promotion. You help others. You listen. You love. That means more to them, and you, than anything you ever dreamed of accomplishing.

5.  YOU HAVEN’T CHANGED

I know that sounds weird since Nos. 1-4 don’t mesh with who you are yet, but, at your core, you’re still the same guy. You know why? Because all this stuff is already in you. The wisdom, maturity, confidence, peace, contentment, and character, it’s deep in your soul. You’re a diamond in the rough. You still have a lot of rough edges now. But in the pressure cooker of life, the pretense, the fear, the insecurity, the doubt and dirt are chipped away, and who you really are is revealed.

Enjoy the journey, young Kevin, you’ll be OK. Oh, and pull up your pants!

What would you tell your 18-year-old self? What are the key things you’ve learned over the years?

 

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Is Instagram Ruining Your Life?

On the way home from work the other day, I was walking to my car and overheard two teenagers talking. It was a guy and a girl, and as they parted ways the guy said, “I’ll see you on Instagram.”Is Instagram ruing your life

I thought that was the funniest and, at the same time, dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Because, you know, you actually don’t see anyone on Instagram. I mean you see their image and the food porn they post, but that’s just the virtual them. Are we at the point in our social evolution where Instagram counts as personal interaction? Like, could I ever tell my mom, “Hey, I know I haven’t stopped by to see you in a while, but just get on Instagram because it’s just as good as me being there.”

I’m not going to bash social media because I use it regularly — it’s probably the reason why you got to this page — and it is a great way to stay in touch with people, stay in the know, and stalk others. And you’ve probably already read an article or 20 about how social networks are killing the art of face-to-face conversation. We get it. We need to put our phones down. I agree.

Yet, let’s be honest, the tide has turned. This is the new social norm. You primarily interact through social media. And teenagers? Forget it. That’s all they know. So my dilemma is finding balance. I’m not shutting down my Facebook or Twitter accounts. That’s equivalent to living in a cave.

So how do we keep up with the latest social technology and at the same time not surrender the richness and purity of old school interaction? There are no hard and fast rules, but this is what I intend to do:

PERSONALLY (NOT VIRTUALLY) INTERACT WITH A FRIEND EACH WEEK

This means either a phone (not text) or face-to-face conversation with a friend each week. It’s easy just to drop a line or personal message on a social network, but taking the effort to call or sit down with someone shows him/her is worth your time and attention, and they’re not just part of your social network.

DON’T OPEN A SINGLE APP WHEN IN SOMEONE’S PRESENCE

How many times have you been with friends or family and everyone’s face is buried in the blue screen of his/her phone while having conversation? I know, all the time. My goal is to be present. If I’m with people, they should have my attention, not Kevin Hart’s Twitter feed.

NO FACEBOOK BIRTHDAY WISHES, A PHONE CALL/TEXT IS REQUIRED

If I have your number, that means we’re more than Facebook friends. You deserve more than a wall post on your born day. 

DON’T SURF SOCIAL MEDIA WHILE WAITING ON LINE

OK, this is a hard one because we are so freaking impatient. If we’re in line at a store, and the line’s not moving swiftly, we reach for our phones immediately. Surely Twitter can make this agonizing experience go faster. No, it doesn’t. And honestly, you look stupid. Just stand there and wait. Talk with a fellow waiting customer. Just don’t go to the phone. This can be as hard as holding your pee after drinking a quart of water, but damn it, it’s for the best.

These are just a few things I’ll try this year. Hopefully it will bring balance to my addiction, keeping me from getting totally swept away in the culture’s new form of communication. I challenge you to give them a try too, or your own variation. Whatever helps you unplug and interact as a human. If it doesn’t work, no big deal. I’ll just see you on Instagram.

 

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5 Questions to Ask Before 2013 is Over

By Kevin Howell

photo by losmininos via compfight creative commons

photo by losmininos via compfight creative commons

It’s December, so it’s the perfect time to reflect on the past year. Since I have a December birthday, I like to reflect around that time, reviewing the ups and downs and accomplishments and setbacks of the year, as well as get a head-start on New Year’s goals.

I was journaling on my commute to work and asked myself five simple yet honest questions in order to give account of my year:

What have you learned?

How have you grown?

Are you stronger in God?

Did you value family and friends?

Did you live a meaningful life?

These aren’t just “yes or no” questions. These are questions that caused me to probe how I spent the past year. Notice, I didn’t ask what I accomplished, if I met my goals, how much time I spent in the Word, or what my net worth is. The questions that matter most aren’t quite measurable. They’re less black-and-white, more gray. But the answers often tell you more about yourself, and whether the year hardened you or developed you.

There was good and bad in my responses (which I’m keeping confidential). And I tell myself to build on the good, and forget the bad. No time to harbor guilt or regrets, they’re quite unproductive (and destructive, too).

So with roughly three weeks left in the year, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions (or whatever variation you choose). Take time in answering them. You may have done better or worse than you thought. Either way, build on the positive, move on from the negative, and let it all move you forward into the new year.

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How to Live the Good Life

By Kevin Howell

Take two minutes to watch this video before you start reading:

A friend of mine shared hilarious video on Facebook. It’s a group of fathers rapping about the “Dad Life”: going to work, cutting the grass, doing yard work on weekends, taking their kids to different functions, driving minivans, and watching Disney movies. It’s comical and pretty much true.

I’m not a father, but having been around my brother and friends with children, that’s exactly what fatherhood is like today.

Obviously the video is a parody of materialistic hip-hop videos where rappers boast about luxury cars, mansions, money, hot chicks, jewelry and other stuff they really don’t own. Unfortunately, hip-hop culture causes the young people it influences to yearn for the “finer” things in life over practical things, like not spending your savings or refund check on $350 belts or $2,500 purses at Barneys (racial profiling aside, what the hell were they thinking?).

Though it would be cool to “ball so hard” like Jay and Ye, I desire the dad life more than the flashy life. And if they’re honest, I bet Jay and Ye are enjoying being new fathers more than entertaining millions (on second thought, it’s impossible to ever know what’s going through Kanye’s mind, so…).

I guess I’ve always been one to appreciate and desire the simple things. Desiring to be a husband and father is a noble goal. And whether you’ve achieved it yet or not, it’s likely the most important thing you’ll ever do. We tend to be fascinated with people who live celebrity-like lifestyles or do extraordinary things. Most of us want to do something extraordinary in our lifetime. It’s good to have big goals for your career, business, organization, etc., yet the simple things in life are often more fulfilling.

The Apostle Paul writes in 1Timothy 6:6 that being godly and content is a life of wealth. Whatever in life makes you content, treasure it. We’re all tempted to covet what others have or a particular lifestyle glamorized in the media. But for me, sitting at home on Saturday morning watching cartoons with the kids is the “good life.” I guess I’m more “Dads in the Suburbs” than “Niggas in Paris.”

You determine what the good life is for you. It may not involve kids, a spouse, and yard work. Just make sure you’re choosing what it is, not the Kardashians or Carters.

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The Beauty of Being Unique

By Kevin Howellunique

God is a creative being. He made us creative. Even from the beginning, when God commissioned Adam to name the animals, God was empowering man to be creative and use his imagination.

In being creative, we display a characteristic of God. It’s not something the church champions as much as love, peace, forgiveness, mercy, and patience, but it is an essential part of who God is and who He made us to be — unique, creative individuals.

The Message Bible uses the word “creative” interestingly. In the context of living a life led by the Spirit and bearing the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, the translation tells us to live creatively. Back when Paul wrote his letter to the church of Galatia, human nature was no different than it is now: We compare ourselves to each other. We get jealous, we envy, we have pride, we ego trip.

No matter the area of life — career, family, spiritually, financially, intellectually — we tend to measure ourselves against others or popular society. We determine our progress and success by where we are in relation to others:

I’m still single at 28 while most of my friends are engaged or married.

I’m not working in the career field I want to be while everyone else appears to be established.

I don’t study the Bible or know scripture as much as others in church.

I struggle with sins while everyone else is living free.

I should be making as much money as this person.

And on the flip side, we can think more highly of ourselves because we are so-called “ahead” of our peers because we were the first to own a home, get a promotion, or have a title at church.

Paul says that we have “far more interesting things to do with our lives” than compare ourselves with others. He says, “Each of us is an original” (Gal. 5:26)

He then challenges us to “live creatively” (Gal. 6:1). I’m pretty sure he isn’t calling us to be artists or designers, in that creative sense. But he is saying, as individuals–uniquely gifted and crafted and anointed by God — to live in a manner free from the standards of others, and the standards of society.

It’s not by happenstance that we’re warned against comparisons after Paul teaches on the fruit of the Spirit. It’s easy to look at those traits and determine our proficiency based on how we compare to others. But comparison chokes the life of the Spirit within us. Creativity allows the character of the Spirit to uniquely flourish within us.

So what does it mean to be creative?

It means to be ourselves. It means to love like no one else can. Serve like no one else can. Be kind like no one else can. Be compassionate like no one else can. Not because you can do those things better than anyone else, but because no one else can do them the way you do.

Embrace your uniqueness. Live creatively, in the Spirit.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. (Galatians 6:4-5)

 

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4 Keys to Finding Passion and Purpose

We all desire to do what we love for a living. We want to be passionate and purposeful about our lives, both professionally and personally. But getting to that point isn’t easy, partly because we aren’t always sure of our passion and purpose.

photo courtesy of employed by my vision

photo courtesy of employed by my vision

Darius Brown discovered his purpose and now spends his time helping others navigate through life to find their purpose. Three years ago he started Employed By My Vision, a business that helps young people discover their passion and make a career out of it.

His road there wasn’t easy though, nor was his path to discovering purpose always positive. At age 19, living in a three-bedroom apartment with eight other people, Darius was frustrated with seeing his family struggling. So he started selling drugs and embezzling money. Fortunately, he was able to remove himself from that lifestyle and use creative gifts and abilities to start businesses and live a “purpose-filled and passionate life.” Here are some tips he provides for living your purpose passionately.

Don’t look for something your passionate about, find passion in what you’re already doing.

Darius said he didn’t know his passion until it became his passion. Even in a mundane job working at a bowling alley, he realized he was bringing in a lot of money to his employer but not seeing the financial benefits. This dissatisfaction helped birth an entrepreneurial spirit in him. Which eventually led to him discovering his purpose.

“There’s a thin line between passion and purpose,” Darius explains. “Passion is something that grips your heart. But what is the purpose of it? It’s a reason why you do it. Purpose comes with assurance. What’s the reason behind it? Why do you want it? When you marry those two, you have purpose.”

Know your identity, your ability, and your “why” in life.

Darius says: “Purpose starts with identity. A shattered identity can’t handle the weight of purpose. You have to know who you are in God. When you figure that out, you’ll have that confidence to say ‘this is my purpose.’ It takes a level of confidence and identity to discover a purpose.”

“Purpose is a ‘why’ and an ability. Without a ‘why,’ nothing makes sense, nothing is valuable, nothing matters. There’s no fulfillment without a why, but there’s no movement without an ability to make this ‘why’ come to life.

“Jesus could’ve had the greatest heart, but without the gift to heal, preach, empower people, He wouldn’t be as effective. He had that gift to bring the ‘why’ to fruition.”

Darius explained that understanding the “why” in your life empowers you. When he was selling drugs and embezzling money, he was driven by the desire to improve his financial situation. “My whys weren’t good, but I had to grab a why,” he said. “Jay-Z had a song back then that said: ‘We ain’t doing crime for the sake of doing crime. We doing crime because we ain’t doing fine.’ That was why. I ain’t doing fine, so I got to do this. You have to find a righteous why to be empowered. Then you can find a gift to bring that why to pass. As believers, we don’t use our gifts and abilities just to do them; we use them because we love God.”

Your identity, the “why” in your life, and your abilities are the keys to discovering your purpose.

It’s never too late to live your purpose and passion.

Sometimes we feel as we get older, we’ve missed out on opportunities to pursue our dreams and purpose has passed us by. But Darius explains that it’s never too late to pursue purpose.

“God redeems time,” he says. “The time you lost, you messed up on, God can redeem time and He awakens it. As long as you’re living, you have a chance to live out purpose.”

He describes a time when he was speaking in Pittsburgh in 2011, and a 72-year-old man came to the altar to get prayed for. In tears, he told Darius he wanted to know his purpose. Next to him was a 9-year-old boy who wanted to get prayed for to know his purpose. God doesn’t discriminate based on age. He continues to use those willing to be used, no matter how much time has passed.

Know who God’s calling you to be and what He’s calling you to do, and have confidence in that.

“Purpose is so far from arrogant,” Darius says. “God gave us purpose to do something for His people. Purpose is telling God: ‘I’m going to join you in what you already doing for your people.’”

 

Darius Brown is the founder and president of Employed By My Vision, Inc., certified life coach, and author of Forgive Me, Success: Life Guide 101. For more information visit www.employedbymyvision.com

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Finding Healthy Balance

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

By Coach P.

As believers, we often battle with balance. But this doesn’t have to be an ongoing cycle. I believe God intended for us to flourish in all areas of being: body, mind, and spirit.

A healthy spirit should be a positive guide and a reflection of physicality.

When we first make the life-changing decision to better ourselves spiritually, it is a journey. Changing the spirit man is a process. The same can be said when proceeding to exercise more or eating healthy.

Realistically speaking, it takes time, prayer, faith, perseverance, and a whole lot of discipline to stay on the path towards a healthy life. We live in such an anxious generation where everything must be done instantly. We don’t allow things to happen organically as God intended. But rushing the process only brings more panic. Making lifestyle decisions and changes can subconsciously welcome anxiety. With so many questions and many answers, opinions, and theories, I can literally feel someone somewhere screaming, “help!”

Here’s my advice: Breathe. With scientific research constantly evolving, things are becoming more obscure. One minute something is deemed healthy but in a split second you may read a post that says it is unhealthy. A large sum of the information floating around is loosely based on scientific evidence. In fact, most of it is hearsay and opinion. Do your own research from accredited and reputable sources. Consult with your physician and/or nutritionist before making drastic dietary changes, and most importantly, use your God-inspired discernment.

Second piece of advice: Do not over indulge. Modify your portions. If the meat portion of your dinner cannot fit in the palm of your hand then it’s probably way more than the recommended serving size. Making wise food choices daily and engaging in physical activity at least three times a week can improve your health significantly. These smart choices will become second nature when you let the spirit of God lead you.

Last piece of advice: Don’t stress, just pray, eat, and live.

“Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do for the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31

 

Coach P. is a Wellness Coach and Nutrition Expert from New Jersey. She is WEGO Health, Health Activist and a member of the American Nutrition Association. Connect with her on Twitter @coachpcare and www.coachpcares.info.

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You Got All You Need

On Make It Happen Monday, we aim to bring meaning to the usually mundane, universally unloved first day of the week. Instead of just trying to get through the day, we look to make Monday matter — a day we do something that impacts our lives and those around us in positive way. What a way to start the week, right?

Today, we’re not going to focus so much on what to do, but rather on how we think. One of the most crucial values in my life is contentment. I find when I’m discontent, life is stressful, off kilter, and pretty much sucks.

I’ve also found that they key to discontentment is focusing on what I don’t have instead of what I have. So today, make sure your mind-set is right. Don’t focus on what you lack, what others have, or wishing it wasn’t Monday. Focus on the blessings you have, today.

And, in Make It Happen Monday fashion, chances are there is someone around you today who is a bit discontent. Encourage them by reminding them of what they have, and how it is enough.

Public Enemy, one of the greatest hip-hop groups ever, has always been revolutionary. Though they aren’t as popular nowadays (outside of Flava Flav’s reality show stints), they’re still making great music, going against the grain. Watch the above video, which reminds us that even though we don’t have everything, we got all we need. Enjoy.

By the way, look out for my article later this week on the Keys to Contentment, it’s a must-read. I would know, I was the first to read it.

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Kevin is the founder and editor of Transparency Magazine. Connect with him on twitter @kevbhowell or email him at kevin(at)transparencymag.com

 

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