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Overboard Blog

Living the extraordinary life of faith!

Filtering by Tag: distractions

What Are You Staring At?

Joseph Castaneda



Focus seems like a lost art in the crazy world of information that we live in today. In fact, even as I write this blog post I realize how unfocused I am as I'm carrying on a conversation on Facebook Messenger with one friend on my iPad, using my phone to text with another, and responding to emails every time my laptop chimes. Apparently this was a timely word for me, too...

I recently read an article about how important focus is for the human mind, especially for young children. The author of the article stated that we are witnessing a new generation of social and psychological problems in children, that he believes, are directly related to the inability of kids to focus because of the constant need to be entertained by some sort of handheld device.

According to this researcher, it seems that we were designed (I would say, created!) for needing times of "white space." White space is a term usually used in design work, describing the space where no words or colors have invaded a page. White space is necessary in design work as it allows the human eye to focus on what's important.

Mentally, white space carries the same concept: it's the opportunity to have nothing calling for our attention (the phone is off, the door is closed, the office is quiet....whatever it takes!) so that we can focus on what's important. So we can, as Paul says, "fix our eyes on what is unseen."

And while it's easy to point to the kids, I'm not fooling anyone, because I'm just as guilty of filling my life to capacity with noise, and not leaving enough white space to stay fixed on God, who He is, and what He is doing in my life and in the world around me.

Do you need some white space today? In our house, we are beginning a new white space campaign, maybe you should join us! Most of our distractions come from screens, so here's a list of our family's plan for creating more white space:

1 hour a day with ZERO screen interaction (phones, laptops, iPads, TVs, watches...)
1 day a week with ZERO screen interaction (we are presently toying with Sundays, but also considering Mondays)
1 week every year with ZERO screen interaction (My daughter almost threw up when she heard that one. Ha!)

We're not sure how the time will be used, except that it's meant to be screen-distraction, free, for all of us, all at the same time. That time might be used for games together, might be used for rest, conversation, exercise, reading, praying, is just meant to be white space. For sure, it's a work in progress and we will keep you updated on how our family goal actually works out!

Do you need more white space in your life? If you're distracted by technology (my computer literally chimed as I wrote those words!) or by heartache, loss, or the worries of this world, than I encourage you to create some white space so that you can focus on what matters most.

I'm glad I'm narrow minded.


Have you ever been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Even as a youth pastor, people would ask me what my plans were when I finally got a real job. Pushaw. As if playing dodgeball with students while eating pizza and chugging Mt. Dew isn’t a real job! Puhleeease.  

I have nothing but admiration for the men who guard the Tomb of the Unknowns Soldiers, regardless of the weather!

I remember being asked that question as a child. The answer would change frequently. At first I wanted to be in the military, that seemed so courageous to me and today I still have such esteem for those that serve our nation in the armed forces. (Thank you for your service!) After that I moved to less heroic and more glamorous pursuits usually involving pro sports. For a while it was football and then it was definitely basketball. I was pretty sure an L.A. Laker’s talent scout would see me shooting hoops on my home playground, his jaw would hit the black top when he saw me drain a dozen threes in a row and he’d offer me a contract on the spot.


For a while I had a pretty well-documented movie career. Let’s just say that the Ram Joe movie collection represents some of the most compelling movies ever made (at least in my house). They had drama, action, romance, and lots of awesome (terrible) special effects and creative (red neck) editing techniques. Truly these masterpieces should have launched my acting career but alas, they never made it into the right hands.


As a child, my focus was all over the place. What seemed so good one day, was discarded for the next great thing the next day. If I saw something really cool on TV or a friend was totally into something, I suddenly found my vision being redirected.


With my 40th just a few days away, what I’m dubiously calling the “half-way point of my life,” I’m realizing how much more I want my vision to become narrow. I truly want to be more and more narrow minded as I enter phase two of my life.


Ok, not narrow-minded like it’s often defined in our culture (although sometimes I’d be happy for that label, too!). I’m talking about spending my energy and focus on fewer and fewer tasks; expanding the time and attention I give a few goals and dreams.


Over the past few weeks as I’ve been writing these 40 essays over a period of 40 days, I’ve had to be hyper focused on my daily writing goals. Each morning my iPhone alarm has called me out of sweet slumber at 5:55 so that I have time to meet with God through prayer and Bible reading, wake the older kids for school, and begin, or finish up, a blog post. Each evening I go to bed putting my daily thoughts on paper (literally, writing them in a journal) and lining up my next day’s writing projects.


During this time I’ve also been working on several other Overboard projects. Not only am I writing each day, but I’ve been working with editors, artists, web designers, authors and other people with skills related to these ongoing tasks. Much of my free time has been spent expanding the potential for Overboard Ministries to challenge people in how they are living in response to God.


What haven’t I done much of? I haven’t spent a lot time on social media stalking (a habit that’s easy for me to fall into). I have spent less than ten minutes, over the past 40 days, playing iPhone/iPad games. I haven’t wasted much time scanning news channels for the latest political scandals and opinions, and I have all but removed myself from major sports events like the NFL draft, the NHL playoffs and the NBA finals (three activities that I normally follow with some interest). My narrow mindedness has forced me to make some choices.


And you know what? I’m good with that; because my focus has been more refined, my time has been better spent. Traci and I are as connected as we’ve ever been, even as we navigate some tough times for our family. I’ve been able to engage my children more deliberately, pour myself effectively into projects at work (my “real” job!) and experience the lessons I need to learn while figuring out how to run my first half marathon. I’m enjoying picking up a new hobby, reading some challenging books and finding fun, creative and inexpensive ways to build awesome memories in our NW Michigan home. Narrow vision has been very good for me.


CrossI notice that Paul got very narrow in his vision as he aged. In Philippians he wrote, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...” Paul’s vision became super narrow -- he was willing to discard everything that distracted his vision from living a Christ-centered life.


In the same way, the writer of Hebrews issues us the same admonition in regards to being narrow minded. My theme verses for 2014 are located in Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...” Ditching sin is not optional for those trying to please God, but the writer of Hebrews takes it a step further when he writes about “anything that hinders.”


When we remove the things that hinder our vision, when we become more focused, we can then more easily accomplish the second part of that passage, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...” In other words, when we remove sin and hinderances from our lives, we become more narrow minded!


I’m looking at “Life, part 2” and wondering what it will take to make it the best it can be. I don’t want to be at the end wishing I had been less distracted and I don’t want to realize that I invested a lot of time caring about things that didn’t really matter. This life is the only one we have to give as an act of worship to our Savior, and I for one, want to make it count.


And you know what’s most interesting? The more narrow my vision becomes, the more time I spend enjoying the people and things of life that I love most. My narrow focus has increased my family time, my writing time, my exercising time, my wife time, my church time and even my work time. I imagine that if I continue to refine my focus, those things will become even bigger parts of my daily routine.


How’s your vision today? How narrow minded are you? Let’s clear out some of the distractions so that our lives can be spent on the people and activities that matter most. A focused life on the water, is truly a great life!


38 down, 2 to go!


Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

I used to wear a cowboy hat...don't judge me!



At some point in my early childhood, I took to wearing a dark red, felt cowboy hat. It was large even for my over-sized melon, but I wore it often and wore it with pride. Even after the day it had a fateful encounter with a ditch full of water.  

My brother Dan and his friend, Danny (another one of my "older brothers"), were using me as a participant in an experiment they were conducting on human aerodynamics. Danny (I think) had grabbed one of my arms and one of my legs and was spinning in a circle temporarily providing me with the gift of flight, all the while, I was proudly wearing my beloved cowboy hat.


As I neared the sound barrier in my circular flight pattern, the G-forces on my cranium exceeded it’s capacity to grip my hat and suddenly, my beloved felt head covering was also floating through the air. In a moment seared into my memory, I still see the wide-brimmed beauty returning to earth and landing in the neighbors ditch, that just happened to be full of water. In my first book, Project Joseph, I described the scene like this: “She (my daughter BJ) produced an ocean of big, hot tears like I did at her age when my favorite cowboy hat was carelessly launched from head into a mud puddle...oh the agony!”


There are some who say the scream produced from my lungs that day actually registered on the richter scale. Windows at my neighbors’ houses shattered. Dogs started barking from miles away and the world mourned the permanently disfigured, dark red, felt cowboy hat that came forth from that dark pond.


And you better believe I still wore it with pride.


It’s funny how attached we can get to things in this life. Why an 8-year-old boy fell in love with a red felt cowboy hat is beyond me. (As I write this I glanced up to my closet and see a collection of a dozen baseball caps -- I’m beginning to think I have a hat-issue.) But all of us have those things we cling to -- that stuff that just means the world to us. My sister had a bear that she still keeps close by her bed. The thing has leprosy and yet she loves her “Tenny” to this day.


Cowboy hats and Teddy Bears might seem childish to you, but that’s just because we haven’t exposed what you’re clinging to. Maybe it’s a nice set of golf clubs, a new car, the clothes in your closet, the phone in your pocket or the ring on your finger. It could be something a little less tangible but still consuming. You know, like your job, or the current relationship you are in or even the money in your wallet or bank account. As we get older, we’re still just as possessive and clingy as ever, it’s just that the expense of those items is higher; the value of them runs deeper into our psyche.


Joe in a hat

I can look back now and see how silly it was to love that cowboy hat like I did. In 20 more years, I wonder if I’ll look back to today and see the same silliness directed toward another "Cowboy Hat?"


In 2014 I’m “running my race” in every sense of the word. Physically I’m joining my wife in a 1/2 marathon in October, so I’m working hard to reclaim some healthy habits and lifestyle changes to get me there. Mentally I’m working on my third book, preparing to re-launch Overboard Ministries with a new logo, new web site and some big God-sized goals. Spiritually I’m trying to reclaim some important habits, working on leading my family to connect passionately and regularly with God and eager to build a deeper life of prayer and devotion.


Throughout this year’s race, Hebrews 12:1-2 is serving as my daily mantra: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...” There are so many “things that hinder” my race every day, and the writer of Hebrews urges me to throw them off! He challenges me to get rid of anything that would come between me and keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus.


Now that I’m a closet runner, I’m making choices about food and exercise in order to make sure I’m ready for race day in October. In making some of these changes I’ve begun to realize how much some of these choices have a hold on my life. I’m realizing how deep some of my bad eating habits are, and how much I use junk-food like a drug to get me through the day. It’s not that eating a Big Mac is wrong, it’s just that it’s not helping me get where I want to be.


In the Overboard Life, God calls us to sacrifice much of what we can see and feel in order to step out in faith and focus on the One who walks on water! I know this -- I’ve spent too many days in the boat clinging to stuff that seemed so important to me, instead of trusting God for the next step. I’ve wept over many “Cowboy Hats” in my life, only to realize later how little those things really meant to me.


What are you clinging to? Are you holding so tightly on to something that you are still at the starting line? What you think is a treasure, is really an anchor, and instead of holding it close-fisted, you need to release it to God in order to run your race. It’s not that God wants to take everything away from us, it’s that He wants us to keep Him #1, to keep Him as the greatest object of our affections.


Over the past 40-years I can see a lot of stuff that has come between me and God. If God grants me another 40 years, I want to make sure I have fewer and fewer “Cowboy Hats,” and with His help, I want to have a more precise vision of the things that really matter. I know a life with God allows me to experience deeper joy, greater satisfaction and a peaceful contentment that only comes from Him, and only comes when I keep Him front and center in my life.


Is it time to get rid of a few Cowboy Hats in your life? I know I’m ready for God to grab me by the arms and legs, spin me in a crazy and wild adventure for Him, all the while letting my Cowboy Hats fly off into the sunset.


7 down, 33 to go.


Go ahead and take the plunge (your Cowboy Hats need to be cleaned, anyway!), life is always better on the water!

Check mate!


By Joe Castaneda Check mateHave you every played four games of chess at once? I’m not a great chess player by any stretch, although I enjoy the game from time-to-time. Over the years, however, I have taught each of my children how to play and they love to take me on. Occasionally, like a few days back, all four of them will challenge me at the same time.

Despite my youngest being only 8, when playing against four opponents at one time, the challenge of each board is multiplied. During out last set of matches, I came away with a perfect 4-0 record, but I should have faced defeat on at least one board, and probably two. Afterward, while talking with my son AJ, I thought of some valuable life lessons learned while playing against my kids. Here they are, listed according to the order that each child fell to my less-than-clever chess strategies:

Don’t get cocky:

Tati Chess“Pride comes before a fall” Solomon wrote, “and a haughty spirit before destruction.” Tatiana, our oldest child, and the one who is the most competitive of the batch, often plays chess very aggressively. On about the 5th move of the game, I made a costly mistake due to the chess board we were using. (It’s from South Africa, and I confused the role of the Zebra with the role of the Water Buffalo. Makes perfect sense, now, right?) That  mistake ended up costing me a Zebra (knight) and a Water Buffalo (bishop). I also lost a key position that left my king exposed.

Tati was very excited by her conquest, and while laughing at my mistake, she charged without caution into what she thought was a sure victory. The problem was, in her pride over one victory, she left her king without an escape route, and what should have been a smooth win for her, turned into a bitter defeat because she overestimated her position of control.

As a pastor for over 16 years, I saw so many people, adults and students, have significant spiritual falls after experiencing great victories. I see the same problem in my own life, too. Have you ever gone on a diet, lost a bunch of weight, and experienced the joy of health victories? Then, you convince yourself you can get off the wagon for a week-long vacation or a short season of celebration or a [insert reason here] and suddenly find yourself back at the same place you were when you started the diet originally. Statistically, you’ve probably even put on more weight than you lost!

That one minor victory gave you too much confidence, and you came to believe that the possibility of defeat was off the table. The problem is your own nature is working against you. Change is hard. Good habits don’t come easy. Because of the sin nature, your flesh is fighting against you and every time you have a victory in one area of your life the stakes get higher in the other areas. The enemy of your souls wants nothing more than for you to believe you’ve got it figured out and that victory is certain.

We definitely need to celebrate the victories in life, but we need to be careful that we don’t get so caught up in the victories that we lose sight of the upcoming challenges. Pride is a powerful tool in the hands of our enemy.

Don’t get distracted by the small stuff:

My daughter Celina, the 8-year-old, has actually learned the game pretty well. She can CJ Chessimplement a little strategy and she can think a move or two ahead. It’s fun to watch her play.

However, when it comes to winning, she gets really hung up on the small stuff. Celian has an obsession with taking pawns. First, she starts the game with the goal to capture my king, but usually ends up losing her’s because of being distracted by the little pawns. My rook will be reeking havoc on her side of the board, and she’s gloating over the capture of a Trojan-Horse like pawn. Secondly, she is constantly comparing the number of captured opponents she has, with the number of captured opponents I have. She feels like she is winning when she has more pieces, regardless of the situation on the board.

I think a lot of the distractions you and I face come from the small stuff we encounter in life. Our daily disciplines and our movement toward key goals and dreams get derailed because of something the glitters, problems that we allow to redirect us or the proverbial “Squirrel” mentality that makes for a fun chase, but an exhausting and unproductive day.

2014 is the year for me to “run my race”, and Hebrews 12:1-2 talks about this very issue of distraction. The author writes, “Throwing off everything that hinders…” and “fix[ing] our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” In order to stay on course, I have to remove distractions and be willing to keep Jesus at the center of what I do. If I want to “win” at life, if I want to step out of the comfort of the boat and get on the water where Jesus is building His Kingdom (Matthew 14), then I have to stay on track. Goals and dreams become reality when I don’t allow the daily small stuff to get in the way of what God has put on my heart to do!

Don’t wait when it’s time to move:

AJ ChessMy son AJ had me over a barrel after a dozen moves. He laid a trap and as I was moving quickly between boards I foolishly fell right into it. I lost my queen, my knight and a bishop and he gave up a rook and a pawn.

At least, I should have. Honestly, it was one of the best moves I’ve seen him make in all the games we’ve played together. The problem was, AJ didn’t move on it. He sat there and tried to keep me pinned down while he set up another series of moves. I actually left my queen in her situation for 4 or 5 more moves before I realized his caution was perfect for my survival. I flipped the momentum with a calculated sacrifice, saved my queen and then trapped his king with a queen/rook combo.

I wonder how often we miss opportunity because we “keep waiting for things to line up” when God has practically paved the path with giant arrows that say “Go this way now!” We keep waiting for more wisdom and information to come our way, when God has already given us all we need.

When Traci and I were considering moving from Salem, Oregon to Lake Ann, Michigan, I found myself in a situation where God had paved the path with those giant arrows. Then, after the Lord answered all my requests and satisfied all my concerns, I decided I needed more confirmation. I started a 3-day fast with my friend Danny Ray. Mid-afternoon on the first day of the fast, I realized that my fast was pointless. God had answered my prayers, had provided information and details to specific requests and used key people in my life to confirm His working. I was waiting when it was time to move.

I can’t even begin to explain the relief I felt when I finally called Ken (my new boss) and gave in to God’s clear leading. I didn’t need any more time or data or faith, I just needed to follow what He had already provided. AJ had a better strategy, he had played a smarter game and he had set up the perfect scenario for victory. Then, when he should have moved he waited for even better timing, which never came. His delay cost him the game. I’m thankful Traci and I didn’t sit back and wait any longer, we would have missed out on a great work of God in our lives, at our church and at the camp.

Don’t forget why you’re playing:

BJ is my eleven year old who plays a pretty crazy game, with little strategy and lots of BJ Chessimpulse. Sometimes her lack of strategy makes it difficult to beat her, and tonight she was the last to fall. She got crazy obsessed with going after my queen, and sacrificed a lot to get her. The end result was she didn’t have anything left to protect her king, or enough strength to go after mine. She forgot that capturing my queen wasn’t the object of the game.

Too many of us are chasing after the wrong goals. We’ve forgotten why we’re playing, or what we’re playing for. We’re living life impulsively, chasing after secondary dreams, settling for lesser victories and content to not have what God really wants for us.

A few years ago I remember reading a story of a young girl who received a present from her dad, a gift of beautiful, but fake pearls. The young girl was thrilled and she held on to those pearls like a highly valued treasured. A year later, her dad approached her and asked for the gift back, saying he wanted her to trust him with the gift. He didn’t force her to give them back, but instead just patiently waited. Once a week, her dad asked for the fake pearls and the daughter constantly said no. Finally, after a year of asking, when the dad came into the room to tuck her in, the daughter sat on her bed with tears in her eyes, and the fake pearls in her open palm. “Here daddy” she said, “I want to give them back to you.”

With a smile her dad took the pearls, and gave his daughter a hug. Then he pulled out a little felt box and opened it up. Inside was a string of real pearls, a string he had been eager to give to his daughter in exchange for the plastic pearls that had come to mean so much. He was just waiting for her to trust him and to cling to what was really important. Trusting her dad was more important than holding on to the beautiful, but worthless pearls.

What’s holding you back on your journey today? Are you arrogant about the small victories, forgetting that more challenges are coming? Have you been distracted by the small stuff? Are you waiting for “the perfect timing” even though God has already cleared the path for you? Have you forgotten why you’re playing or what you’re playing for?

Living the Overboard Life requires a commitment to humility, a focus on the important details, a mentality toward action and an unrelenting commitment to an eternal purpose. Who knew chess could show us so much about living the Overboard Life?

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

A Little Perspective, Please.


A week before we moved to Michigan, we began the process of getting internet connected at our camp house. Three and a half weeks later, we’re still without internet, although the promise of digital goodness is just a day or two away (so they tell us for the fourth time!). It’s amazing how much our family has missed our internet connection. Every day Celina asks us something that requires the answer, “No honey, that app needs internet.” Each of us has had a moment on an iPad or on the laptop trying to open something before we realized…oh yeah, that requires internet!


Over the past two years we’ve been without conventional television, choosing instead to be a Netflix family. So being without internet has been a double whammy, because our entertainment via Netflix has also been disabled. Life is rough here in Northern Michigan!

Alas, God gave us some much needed perspective when we got an update from our friends Andy and Jodie, who are serving God half way around the world. Andy was the feature of my 100th blog (a few blogs early due to his departure from America; you can read it here). He and his family are an inspiration to anyone living the Overboard Life, and he has been one of my dearest and best friends over the past 12+ years.

Andy and Jodie are adjusting to a brand new culture. They are experiencing things I’ve never come close to: things like real hunger. I’m not talking about the kind of hungry when I just can’t decide which of the fast food restaurants I’m going to eat at, or which thing in my overflowing fridge I’m going to devour. I’m talking about the kind of hunger where you’ve eaten your “food” for the day, and your bowl of rice just isn’t cutting it at 9pm. The type of hunger where the nearest real store is 2 hours by car, and that’s if you only get one flat tire, and aren’t stopped by authorities to pay a “tax” (a tax that isn’t written anywhere and is required if you wish to proceed). A kind of hunger where you really are wondering where your next meal is going to come from, and where you have no answers for your kids when they ask about food. There is no electricity, and therefore little-to-no cold storage. Meal gathering and preparation is a full-time task, taking up over 1/2 of the hours he and Jodie are awake.

As I was lamenting my loss of internet, Andy was a million miles away, lamenting a lack of safety. Each night before they go to bed, he and his wife spend 90 minutes securing the mosquito nets for their kids’ beds to keep them free from malaria-carrying insects. He kills giant spiders and scorpions by the twos and has already had several encounters with deadly snakes. He spends the afternoons taking a machete to the tall grass; a way to keep the snakes from getting comfortable near their home.

Andy does have internet however. If he’s willing to take a 90 minute hike (one way), up a hilltop outside of his village, where he can use a regional cell phone to tether a signal and send a few emails. Not enough signal to do any web browsing, but just enough to download his current batch of emails, and send the ones he worked on back in the village. Then he walks 90 minutes home, all the while keeping a watchful eye for dangerous creatures.

Yeah…but I have to walk five minutes to my office to get internet!

Sometimes, a little perspective can go a long way. There’s no doubt that not having internet has been an inconvenience. But that’s all it is. I have access to it elsewhere, I can plan better for my time, and I still have an iPhone (with the old school unlimited data plan!) that gives me all the access I want. In the big picture, my life is still pretty good even without internet.

This unintended internet fast has been good for me, and good for my family. Is there something in your life you should take a break from in order to gain a little perspective? My friend Aaron is a 20-something young married who gave up video gaming for the month of January. That was like cutting off an arm for him, but half way through the month he told me, “I can’t believe how much time I have now!” Indeed. What about you? Is there a “necessity” in life that you could go without to gain a little perspective? Spare me the excuses (I’ve heard and used them all), and get down to the nitty gritty: how much do you really need that thing in your life? Heck, my friend Cal still doesn’t have a cell phone and he somehow manages to still stay pretty connected to his friends and family. (Although really, Cal, ditch the rotary phone and go with the touch pad!)

Living Overboard requires us to identify what’s really important, and to make sure we never compromise the important and essential for the convenient and fun. Yes, it’s ok to enjoy conveniences and to seek out pleasure and fun; it’s just not ok to think either of those things is essential in our lives! What starts out as ok, can easily become a driving force, and a real distraction from living Overboard.

One time, a rich young man came to Jesus and boasted in his diligence to obey every law (613 of them, give or take). Yet he knew, inherently, something was still missing. So he asked Jesus, “What must I do to be saved?” Jesus’ response was shocking: “Give all that you have to the poor, then come and follow me.” The man was rich, and he couldn’t imagine parting with his wealth. He left rejecting Jesus and embracing his wealth.

Jesus wasn’t telling us that having things (ie. conveniences or money) was evil. He was pointing out that it’s far too easy for those things to drive us, instead of us driving them. The rich man who came to Jesus was boasting in his actions, and Jesus was revealing where the man’s real treasure was. In much the same way, Andy’s situation has helped me identify some troubled areas in my life.

What convenience or possession or piece of entertainment has a strong hold in your life? If you’re brave, post it in the comments for others to see. Then, find a creative way to take a break. See how you can gain a little perspective and make sure your Overboard Life isn’t being limited because of poor stewardship on your part.

Go ahead and take the plunge…life is always better on the water!