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Sam Collier didn’t have his first white friend until he was 21 years old.

“It wasn’t until I had this friend that I realized how different our worlds were. He didn’t understand my world and I didn’t really understand his,” says Collier.

It might be helpful to know that Sam is one of five children. However, when he and his twin sister were born, his dad was not in the picture. His mother gave them up for adoption, and a couple eventually adopted Sam and his sister. 

Sam grew up surrounded by people who looked just like him in Decatur, Georgia. His dad owned a barbershop and his mother quit a corporate position at FedEx to focus on raising both of them. 

Today, Sam is a communicator at Northpoint Ministries as well as the Director of City Strategy for The reThink Group. He is also a nationally-syndicated tv and radio host (A Greater Story Podcast; reaches 100 Million Homes weekly), a top 20 Gospel Billboard producer and the founder of No Losing, Inc. In these roles, he has empowered over 80 thousand young people to have a winning mindset in life to achieve their goals by creatively making education relevant to youth.

At this point in his life, Sam has many white and black friends. Sickened and sad over the events surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, he believes he is in a unique position to help both black and white people come together and learn so we can all do better with race relations.

Relationships Are Key to Understanding and Change

“Black people have been screaming for many years that something isn’t right, thinking that white people were hearing them and beginning to understand their plight,” Collier says. “In reality, that’s probably not the case. In many instances, I think white people don’t understand Black culture. Honestly, a lot of us don’t really understand white culture. Even though we have been trying to communicate, it’s as though we are on different radio frequencies and both white people and black people have missed each other.

Collier believes that relationships are the bedrock of change for race relations. They are an essential piece of the strategy when it comes to antiracism. After protesting and marching shook the nation in the 60s, MLK built a relationship with a “white” President. Together, they worked to fight evil.

“The first step that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught during the Civil Rights Movement was information gathering,” Collier says. “Before you try and solve a problem, you need to get all the information. Seek to see it from every side. We have to get people coming together, listening to each other and coming up with collective solutions for better outcomes for everyone. This is how you shift a nation. Enough voices saying the same thing, running after the same problem, fighting for the same solutions, refusing to quit until the battle is won. Relationships lead to conversations, conversations lead to strategy, strategy leads to action and strategic action leads to change. There is power in conversations birthed out of personal relationships. We have probably never been more postured for this to be able to happen.

Relationships Can Lead to Lasting Change

Additionally, Collier encourages anyone who is a person of influence in any sector in life to talk with those who are feeling the impact. Lean into the pain of why we are where we are and then seek solutions.

If you are white and don’t know anyone in the black community, reach out. If you are black and see an opportunity to influence a white person seeking to learn through friendship, don’t be afraid to enter in, if they are genuine. This relationship may also help you understand where black and white communities are missing each other. This is a huge step in the right direction. Put yourself in new circles. Collier believes one of the best ways to gain perspective and learn how to take action is by being brave enough to friend someone who is different than you. When you get close you start to debunk a lot of myths you’ve learned in the community.

“We also should be looking at policy changes that need to be made,” Collier says. “This will take some time and strategic thinking.”

Collier believes that there is value in both communities being willing to fight injustice in a Kingian Nonviolent way. He also believes that the injustice we see in our country will change quicker as we come together. Let’s work hard to unify our country so that together we can defeat racism and help America live up to its truest ideals.


“So first let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself… nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address

So there I was… hanging off the edge, behind-first, staring down into a hole in the ground about as wide as my house. My heels dug into the earthen ledge as I felt the tension of the rope pulling at my waist and holding me in place. We were on a spelunking (caving) adventure. Ropes were strategically fastened to trees, harnesses fastened to ropes, and my body strapped in a harness. I had been rappelling since my high school years, but never into a 150-foot vertical cave in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness. 

All facts pointed to the assurance of safety, security and success: the friends I was with were trained to do this in the military; all knots, harnesses and other gear were checked and rechecked; and my buddy was at the bottom of the cave below me hanging on to my rope, ready to cinch it down and “catch” me should I slip. (And besides—he made it down safely; certainly I would, too… right?)

And yet, there were still the nagging what ifs in my mind. What if that rope snaps? What if a knot comes undone? And even, what if a squirrel leapt from out of nowhere, landed on my harness and chewed the straps away, causing me to fall into nothingness? 

And it was the what ifs that kept me stuck, paralyzed, on the edge of that cave for what seemed like hours (really, it was a few minutes), petrified to take that first step to descend into the cave. 

Fear has a funny way of making a person think the most irrational thoughts. And as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused life to slam on its brakes, fear has certainly done a real number for many people. What happens when the pandemic has you so afraid that you can’t seem to leave the house? 

Good Fear and Bad Fear

Fear isn’t always bad. There is a good kind of fear. Good fear protects us; it’s rational, valuable, and tells us how to accurately assess a risk. Good fear says, “Hey, that’s a deep hole in the ground. Better be sure your rope is tied correctly, your gear is checked, and your buddy down there has your back (er… rather, your rope).” 

Bad fear does not help us. It jumps straight to the worse-case scenario based on irrational conclusions. Bad fear says, “Hey, that’s a deep hole in the ground. Your rope will probably snap and your buddy below has probably taken off to grab a burger. It’s best if you go home, lock the door, hide in your room and never ever think about caves again…

Bad fear started out as good fear, but quickly turned irrational, dysfunctional, petrifying and therefore valueless. It’s junk fear—good fear gone bad, like a mild-mannered comic book scientist turned supervillain. 

And just like any true villain, bad fear doesn’t help us at all. It hinders us from a more fulfilling life. And at its worst, fear can be so irrational that it can cause us to react in ways that are actually harmful to us. 

Irrational Is the Key Word

★ The difference between good fear and bad fear is the weight of the information each is based on. ★

Good fear is based on good, solid facts from credible sources. It seeks the right amount of precautions to take while still being able to function. And so you have to know who you’re listening to. Health and safety precautions taken from the CDC are much weightier than from fake-news outlets or crazy Uncle Joe who’s stockpiled ammo and canned beans in his backyard bunker. 

Bad fear is based on the irrational, the sensational and the worst-case scenario (refer to Uncle Joe above). Bad fear makes us believe we have all the information we need in order to anticipate a future full of dread and terror. 

What Bad Fear Does to Us

Fear works in a way that, when we sense a threat, our body releases hormones that shut down the functions not needed for survival. It sharpens the functions that might help us survive, such as increased heart rate and more blood flow to the muscles (so that we can, for example, heighten our awareness or run faster). 

This is great for single, isolated incidents of threat, such as seeing a snake or standing on a high ledge. However, prolonged, chronic fear wreaks havoc on our body and brain.  

Research has shown us that it weakens our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to sickness. (Think about the irony here: Irrational anxiety and fear of the COVID-19 virus could actually increase our chances of catching it.) Bad fear can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems, and can lead to accelerated aging and even premature death. 

Bad fear also hijacks our brain processes that help us regulate our emotions, read non-verbal cues and think before we act. Therefore, it can have a very negative impact on our relationships. 

When fear is based on irrational assumptions, it tends to keep churning out the dread. It can also have some nasty consequences for our health. 

Fear Gone Bad Back to Good 

Knowing the dangers of bad fear is a good start to turning bad fear around. Here are some other tips: 

  • Listen to credible sources for information. Be picky about who you listen to. There is a lot of sensationalism, and armchair COVID-19 experts abound out there. Ignore these voices and pay attention to the advice of experts such as the CDC, physicians and scientists. Be careful how much time you spend immersing yourself in information-digging. An unhealthy preoccupation in fact-finding can feed fear rather than alleviate it. 
  • Carefully assess what you see, experience and feel. Irrational fear can make us question every little sniffle, sneeze or cough we notice in ourselves and others, sending us down a spiral of unneeded worry. Pay attention to the symptoms and warning signs given by the experts, as well as the level of risk for your age group. And if you have a logical concern, refer to your physician
  • Practice self-care. Be sure you are doing intentional things to keep your mind and body healthy. Being physically active, practicing mindfulness and getting enough rest helps alleviate anxiety and boost the feel-good hormones in our brains. This helps us to think more clearly when weighing reason against irrationality. 
  • Know that this is a process. Overcoming any kind of fear takes time, and it’s often done in small steps. Give yourself patience and grace. Over time, reason will trump the irrational.
  • If you find that your fear is causing you to move toward harmful behaviors such as drinking or using drugs, or that it’s moving you away from basic necessary functions such as eating, personal hygiene or getting basic work done, consider seeking help. There are many professionals who are offering remote counseling services. 

By the way… I made it down into the cave safe and sound. Knots stayed tied and no strap-gnawing squirrels appeared. Why? Because that was just unreasonable. Bad fear does not have to prevent you from diving into a fulfilling life, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that your marriage is doing just fine under “Shelter-In-Place” laws. You’ve managed to weather the storm of COVID-19 and quarantine without any relationship issues or problems. Awesome! But just because you are under the same roof and you aren’t fighting doesn’t mean you are connecting. Our goal is for our relationships to come out on the other side of this chaos even stronger and for us to be even more deeply connected.

If this whole thing has been a struggle for you and your spouse—you are taking stress out on each other, you are driving each other crazy, or you are just plain bored of each other—this is for you too.

Remember

You may be talking, but that doesn’t mean you’re sharing.

You may be hearing, but that doesn’t mean you’re listening.

What follows are some conversation starters to keep you both talking and diving deeper into new levels of intimacy during this… this. Why waste this unique time? Connect!

A Few Ground Rules:

  • Make sure BOTH of you get to answer the question. One person talking at a time.
  • Practice “active listening” skills. Body language-—look like you are listening. Turn off the television and put the phones and game controllers down. Ask good follow up questions to probe deeper. Ask “Why?” Listen between the lines. If need be, see if you can put your spouse’s answer in your own accurate words to avoid miscommunication.
  • Go where the conversation leads. Let conversations evolve organically.
  • Take the questions a couple at a time. Don’t try to blow through the list in one night.
  • Find a time that is conducive to conversation. It might be when you first get up. It might be right before bed. It might work best somewhere in between.
  • Cultivate some relational space where you and your spouse feel safe to be honest, transparent, and vulnerable. (If one or both of you don’t feel that, here’s your first question: “Why not?” Get talking!)

Questions About This Specific COVID-19/Quarantine Time:

For Couples:

  • Is there anything you’re struggling with? How can I help?
  • What do you want to do first when we get out of here?
  • How is your (extended) family doing right now?
  • Are there any ways we’ve been neglecting our relationship during this time? 
  • Do we have a plan in place if one of us gets sick? If not, what kind of arrangements should we be thinking about?
  • What do you miss the most about normalcy?
  • What have you enjoyed during this time when we are limited in what we can do? And how can we make that a priority down the road?
  • How do you think the world will be different when this is all done?
  • How do you think WE will be different when this is all done? Individually/Couple?
  • What is one project we have been putting off that you would like to tackle?
  • What is a fun “in-house” date we could pull off?

For Parents:

  • How do you think the kids are processing all this? How do we “tune in to them?”
  • Are there ways we have been too strict? Too lenient?
  • Do our kids have talents, passions, or interests we could be encouraging? How?
  • How can we encourage our kids to help others during this time?
  • What are some creative, crazy, fun things we can do to relieve some stress?
  • Should we have family meetings, talk to kids one on one, or both? How do we make sure communication is happening?
  • What has been the hardest/easiest part of the quarantine for our children?

Questions About The Fun Stuff (And Some Serious Stuff, Too.)

  • Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a dinner guest?
  • Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  • Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why?
  • What would constitute a perfect day for you?
  • When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  • Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
  • Name three things we appear to have in common.
  • For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  • If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  • Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  • If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
  • What do you remember thinking to yourself the first time you saw me?
  • When did you know you were in love with me?
  • What are three qualities about me that you were first attracted to?
  • What are three of your happiest memories of our early days together?
  • If our love story was a movie, what movie does it most closely resemble?
  • What was your favorite date that we ever had? What made it so special for you?
  • How and when did you know we’d make it as a couple?
  • What are three strengths you see between us that we possess as a team?
  • What’s your very favorite memory of me?
  • How did you know you wanted to be with me? Did it happen in a moment or overtime?
  • How do I make you feel especially loved in our relationship?
  • What are some of the little things I do that kind of drive you nuts but also that you secretly like about me?
  • What’s your favorite sexual memory of us?
  • Make three true “we” statements. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling…”

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Some questions have their answer firmly embedded in them. It’s kinda like, Well, if you even have to ask… This can be super convenient if we don’t stumble over the simplicity of it, but sometimes the most obvious things in life are the ones we miss.

Am I happy? Well, if I even have to ask… When I’ve been happy, I don’t ask myself if I’m happy- I’m busy just enjoying being happy. If I’ve had to pause and ask myself if I’m happy, if that question has somehow bubbled up to the surface, if it continually pops up in my quieter moments, well, if you even have to ask…

I don’t even know how to define “happy.” You’ve never wondered if you were happy and reached for a dictionary. You’ve got your own lived definition. I think the best I can do is that, for me, it typically is the absence of other negative feelings- it’s when I don’t feel anxious, stressed, sad, angry, lonely, bitter, or jealous.

That’s actually a huge disservice to happiness. (Sorry, but as I said, when I’m happy, I don’t think about being happy.) How do you define it? Like most people, I kinda know it when I feel it. But I really know it when I don’t.

Oddly enough, we’ve formally studied depression, anger, loneliness – basically, the absence of happiness – for centuries. Plot twist! It has been relatively recently, only in the past couple of decades, that we have turned a scientific eye toward studying happiness itself. Turns out that happiness isn’t just the absence of other, negative feelings, but happiness actually is a thing in and of itself! Best of all – happiness is a HABIT!

If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit, you know the power that habits can have over us. But that power can also be used for GOOD! Below are some research-tested ways to make a habit out of happiness.

Cultivate the habits of…

  • Sleeping Well. Most adults need between 7-8 hours. (I know, I laughed, too.) We are so busy, we believe we can’t afford to get 7-8 hours of sleep. The reality is that sleeping is when our brain does important stuff and we can’t afford to NOT get good sleep.
  • Eating Right. This can be a tough one because eating is one of many people’s Unhappy Coping Mechanisms. Remember, we are a walking chemistry set. Our brains need GOOD food to help it make Happy Chemicals. Junk food makes us feel good for a bit but then we crash. Go with complex carbs like veggies, beans, and whole grains. Foods high in protein boost our dopamine and norepinephrine levels and give us energy, help us concentrate, and help us feel happy. Highly-processed foods, deep-fried foods, and especially skipping meals, make us feel blue.
  • Being Grateful. A two-part study showed that taking time to quiet yourself each day and rehearse just five things you are grateful for will boost the Happy Chemicals in your brain.
  • Helping Others. Another study of happiness showed that helping someone else feels good! More Happy Chemicals! (And it helps us from fixating on our own problems for a bit.)
  • Exercising. Don’t let this one intimidate you! According to research, it can be as simple as a walk around the block during your lunch break or after dinner. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and many symptoms of depression.
  • Getting Outside. You can combine this with exercise or literally just sit outside a while. Fresh air, sunlight, and getting into nature have all been shown to boost our Happy Chemicals.
  • Acknowledging Unhappiness. Nobody expects you to plaster a big fake stupid grin on your face when you find out that you didn’t get the promotion you wanted. There is a big difference between acknowledging an unhappy feeling and choosing to camp out thereChoose to lean into Life’s setbacks and turn them into motivation for something positive.
  • Calling in the Professionals. You’ve just read a lot about Happy Chemicals in your brain. One happiness researcher claims that happiness can be up to 50% genetic. If you are cultivating happy habits but still not feeling it, that might be a signal to call in the pros. Talk to your doctor about your overall health and don’t be afraid to set up a counseling appointment to explore other approaches.

Happiness isn’t just something that happens to some people and it is way more than just the absence of negative feelings. Happiness is a habit, one you can start TODAY! Am I happy? Glad you asked!

Chattanooga is home to a ton of fun events, activities, and experiences for kids of all ages!! Explore the rich history of the city, enjoy all the animals (from penguins to the average house cat), get your creative juices flowing, and more with these unique mother-daughter date ideas!

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Let’s be honest—boundaries can be hard to talk about for everyone. “Can we talk about boundaries with opposite-sex friends?” or “We need to talk about boundaries with social media. Both of those topics can easily be construed as passive-aggressive suspicion or even a flat-out accusation. 

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“If only I had a better job.” 

“If I could just find Mr./Mrs. Right.” 

“If I just had a higher-paying job.” 

While happiness and contentment may seem to be elusive sometimes, many people believe it will come to them through some external means like finding the right job, the right spouse or making a certain amount of money, research indicates this is not true.

Sonja Lyubomirsky and her team at the University of California-Riverside reviewed 225 studies involving 275,000 people, and they found that people aren’t happy because they are successful. Instead:

  • They are successful because they are happy.
  • Happy people are easier to work with, more highly motivated and more willing to tackle a difficult project. As a result, they are more likely to be successful.
  • Happy people appear to be more successful than their less-happy peers in three primary areas of life – work, relationships, and health.

While many people seek happiness through people, things, work, etc., the research suggests that happiness does not come from someplace or someone else. Those things or people might contribute to a person’s happiness, but true happiness comes from within.

“Happiness is a choice,” said Dr. Patrick Williams, clinical psychologist and master certified life coach. “In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl said that what kept him alive in the prison camp was knowing there was one freedom no one could take from him – his thoughts. He chose to make the best of a terrible circumstance.

As you think about the year ahead, perhaps you are considering some changes in order to be a happier person. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Love and accept yourself for who you are. This does not mean change isn’t necessary. Recognize that we all have our strengths and opportunities for growth. Beating yourself up over your weaknesses does not contribute to being happy. All of us are gifted at something. Treat yourself kindly and acknowledge that you are a work in progress.
  • Be accountable for your actions. Instead of blaming others for all that happens to you, accept responsibility for your choices. It has been said that you cannot change the past, but you can impact the future. Make an intentional decision to do things differently.
  • Stop trying to change others. The only person you can change is yourself.
  • Determine your priorities and live by them. Living out someone else’s dream for your life can be a major source of unhappiness. For example, a young man who had been swimming since he was small started having headaches every time he prepared to swim in a meet. He was an exceptionally good swimmer and there seemed to be no good explanation as to why he kept getting the horrible headaches. One day, his mom commented that she just didn’t understand these headaches because he loved to swim. He responded, “No mom. I don’t love swimming. I am good at it, but I don’t enjoy it at all.” Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.
  • Start with abundance in your life. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, look at what you do have – a roof over your head, clothing, food, etc. Someone once said, instead of looking at whether your glass is half-empty or half-full, just be thankful you have a glass.
  • Define happiness. In his article, Why Happiness Isn’t a Feeling, J.P. Moreland says a classical understanding of happiness is virtue and character, a settled tone, depends on internal state, springs from within, is fixed and stable, empowering and liberating, integrated with one’s identity, colors the rest of life and creates true/fulfilled self. What is your definition of happiness?

“The reality is this, if you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back and a roof over your head you are richer than 75 percent of the world and if you have money in the bank, in your wallet and some spare change, you are in the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy,”  Williams said. “Happiness is a matter of perspective, it has nothing to do with the trappings.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 18, 2020.

I remember when I was in the awkward teen stage of life. It was so difficult to navigate my way through high school. Unfortunately, the internal criticism didn’t stop when I turned 18; it followed me into adulthood.

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The YMCAs and Planet Fitnesses in town and all the other gyms are packed full this week with all those that made New Year’s resolutions to lose some pounds, to better their physiques, and to get more healthy. Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Did you set some goals for 2020? I hope they weren’t all about diet and exercise! Did you make some Relationship Resolutions for 2020?

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It’s here – that season when you throw sanity out the window and with wild abandon throw yourself full throttle into the holidays. I mean, there are things to do, people to see, places to go and only a certain amount of time to make things happen. Right?

For the most part, we’ve gotten really good at our to-do lists. We get the coveted gifts for our family, hopefully at the prices we want to pay. We plan holiday gatherings and assign tasks to our guests. We ferociously clean and shop and wrap and eat and, if we are honest, we often complain either inwardly or outwardly about how we try to make the season merry and bright for the ones we love. When that is the case, we look a lot less like Santa and a lot more like the Grinch.

Maybe you gave up aiming for the “perfect” holiday, but still find yourself stressed about all that you want to pack into the month. Even if you’ve opted for simpler moments of peace and quiet, you may find yourself wrestling with everybody else’s expectations.

In reality, the holiday season is full of opportunities for us to really be there for our friends, family and even strangers. Though it may be tempting to rush through it all and complete our to-do list with as little financial and emotional damage as possible, this season has the unique potential to create a mindshift, not only for this month, but on into the new year.

A couple of years ago, a holiday to-do list went viral, probably for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that in spite of how “connected” we say we are, people are longing for the presence of people in their lives. The list is a great reminder of ways we can be present in the lives of those we know and those we have the opportunity to get to know.

Keeping this list in mind can set the tone for how you give what you give during the holidays and beyond. It’s kind of amazing that the gift we can give to people that means the most doesn’t actually require us to spend money, but in our minds it may be the most costly present because we can’t be completely present with someone while focusing on something else at the same time. Perhaps the best present is to be present. Time is the one thing that once it’s spent, you can’t get it back.

Dr. Suess said, “Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” There will always be things to buy, but the moments when we give our best selves to people are what make lasting memories.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 7, 2019.