THE secret sauce for your best Thanksgiving (not available in stores or on Pinterest)

Every family has that one deliciously aggravating relative who comes to the big feast. “Aunt Eleanor” brings along her oh-so-scrumptious side dish of tantalizing green beans or extra-creamy, zesty-cheesy potato bake. Family members start to rave after their first forkfuls. “Wow, this is SO good! Yum!” But when she’s asked, “Can we please have this recipe?” her response is simply a quirky smirk and a shrug. You might hear, “Oh, I just whipped this up.” Or, “Hmm, this has been in the family for years. I think it’s in our cookbook from 1957.” (It’s then you recall that your own last mimeographed copy of the family cookbook was doused in thick, dark gravy back in 1987.) And in that moment you conclude: “Yea, fat chance we’re getting this recipe! It’s super secret.” And everyone knows that Aunt Eleanor likes it that way. (All eyes roll ‘round the table.)

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”

~William Arthur Ward

Similarly, a heart of genuine gratitude—the very core of thanksgiving—can seem like a “secret sauce.” We know we’re supposed to be thankful for both our blessings and life’s rascally challenges. We acknowledge that this season of thanks presents a poignant motivation to ramp up our intentional declarations. We truly long to be more grateful people. Nevertheless, the motivation, that spark and fresh taste of thankfulness still remain oh so elusive.

Fact is there’s a wonderful ingredient you can add to your life’s mix this year. It’s a secret sauce that will significantly spice up your ability to both feel and be more grateful. Tucked into the classic Thanksgiving psalm for God’s people, we read:

Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.  ~Psalm 100:3-4 (NKJV)

This text scoops scrumptious thanksgiving ingredients into the gratitude bowls of our souls. In context, the ingredients include noisy joy, echoes of mission, passionate service, giddy gladness, anticipatory presence, songs of praise, and all-out recognition of both God’s immense goodness and His forever faithfulness.

But there’s one dominant ingredient I’ve often overlooked. It’s tucked deep in the center, yes something of a secret sauce. A symphony of sensory images (sheep, gates, courts) blend with the insistent possessives. “His” is repeated again and again, emphasizing the LORD as our Kingly Creator. And the secret sauce smacks of this:

. . . not we ourselves; we are his . . . (vs. 3)

If we pause and contemplate, this ingredient is a powerful perspective changer! He created us. Not we ourselves. He placed us in our precious families. Not we ourselves. He supplied us with daily work. Not we ourselves. He gave us intellect, energy, ambition, and each strategic asset. Not we ourselves. The Lord’s gracious work—His teaching, miracles, the cross, the empty grave, the ascension, and His Spirit—all are stunning gifts. Such glorious salvation and character-transforming work. I cannot take an ounce of credit. Neither can you. We are His!

Can we say it together? Not we ourselves.

No wonder the Apostle Paul said: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)

Thanksgiving’s secret sauce involves this raw recognition: “It’s not about me, who I can be or what I’ve accomplished. It’s all about God’s great grace.” Such realization realigns my perspective and provokes greater levels of gratitude and ever-growing trust.

Of course, this is something we all wish Aunt Eleanor would recognize. Perhaps then, she’d be open to share that secret recipe. (Okay, I realize that’s highly unlikely. And we certainly shouldn’t count on her pinning it on Pinterest!)

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

 

Oscar Gaffes and Extra Grace for the Workplace

oscars

Monday morning workspace—AKA Starbucks—was abuzz with incredulity. My laptop open plus notepad and pen, I was attempting to gain some early traction for the week’s tasks. Typically, I block out background chatter quite easily, but this morning’s customer interaction was unique and humorously redundant. Recurring commentary went something like this. “Can you believe what happened at the Oscars? How in the world did they screw that up? It’s astounding!” The statements were being made with more than an edge of glee—such a marvelous public debacle by the twin titans of movie industry and academy.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty presented “La La Land” as the winner of the best picture award. Applause and celebration began on stage. However, jubilation quickly ended when one of the “La La Land” winners pointed out that “Moonlight” had won the Oscar instead. Amid the confusion, Beatty attempted to explain that he opened the envelope and read a card that said “Emma Stone and La La Land.” He had indeed paused because of it. “I wasn’t trying to be funny,” Beatty explained. “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins ascended the stage in stunned amazement and received the award.

Banter among my fellow coffee drinkers was ripe with shock and a cloud of judgmental amazement. Really?! How could a group of highly skilled, overpaid, and oh-so-talented people actually commit such a blunder? And of course, there were chuckles over oh-so-easy, knee-jerk comparisons to Steve Harvey’s botched announcement of the wrong Miss Universe 2015. Even the Starbucks baristas joined the jeers at such apparent incompetence.

On the one hand, it’s human nature to be stunned and have a good laugh over such incredible mistakes. Who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh at another’s expense? But I am readily reminded of two healthy lessons that can come our way when processing the missteps, mistakes, and all-out flops that often happen in our own workplaces.

Burst Your Bubble

There are times when having our collective bubble burst is actually helpful in recalibrating our over-inflated hubris. R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung have observed:

“Pride permeates the modern workplace. Like the air we breathe, pride is absorbed into our celebrity culture, corporations, and self-image. This workplace sin often masquerades as ambition, confidence, and chutzpah. It makes us unwilling to listen to or acknowledge any painful truths about ourselves.” Stevens and Ung further explain that workplace pride is frequently “killing us but we don’t know it.”

But what can we do in the face of such deadly pride? They prescribe humility as the cure, a character trait best developed by cultivating a serve-others approach.[1]

Christ Jesus’ attitudes and actions supply exemplary patterns for our workplace interactions (Philippians 2:1-11). There’s something healthy about re-sizing of ego, the sudden reminder: “Let’s not take ourselves TOO seriously.” And we can benefit from the gift of remembering, “We ARE here to look out for others’ interests, not just our own agenda. We are here to serve.”

EGR

A mildly sarcastic, simple, secret statement—at least until right now—has been part of our office culture for several years. We have learned there are times it’s helpful to hear someone remind you when facing a fellow employee’s sudden blunder or experiencing an especially frustrating moment, or perhaps encountering an extra-trying individual. We simply say three letters to one another, with a quirky grin. “EGR.” If one of my colleagues says it to me, I automatically know she or he is reminding me. “Careful how you respond, Pletch. EXTRA GRACE REQUIRED.”

Stephen Graves queries: “Is grace really something that can live in a fierce business-like culture or is it only part of the DNA of soft-side not-for-profits? What happens in an organization when someone fails to live up to expectations? . . . A company with a cutthroat attitude and low tolerance for failure will likely threaten poor work reviews, disciplinary action, or firing. A company with a culture of grace, on the other hand, will more likely try to understand what’s going on in a person’s life. It will recognize that it’s okay to fail sometimes. It will try to help people through rough patches so that they can return to a higher level of productivity and contribution to the company.”[2]

EGR. Extra Grace Required.

When someone “reads the wrong winner” in your workplace today, let laughter, judgment, and frustration more quickly step aside.

Let humility and grace take the stage.

 

[1] Taking Your Soul To Work, by R. Paul Stevens & Alvin Ung. pp. 17-20.

[2]The Gospel Goes to Work, by Dr. Stephen R. Graves. p. 114.

Your Must-Do Work in the Snowstorm

blizzard

Wintry weather pounded our classic two-story, antique-Iowan home during January 1998. Nancy and I did not yet have kids, but we had a houseful of “kids” that weekend. Our church regularly hosted worship team interns, all late-teen and early-twenty-something students. This crew of courageous collegians regularly traveled two hours from Ankeny to serve on weekends. Typical accommodations involved guys bunking at our place, and the girls staying at another leader’s house nearby.

In typical fashion, the car full of friends made their trek on Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, a surprise snowstorm was brewing. By evening, Old Man Winter was blasting our vintage house with all-out-blizzard gusto. Sunday church was cancelled as wind and whiteouts piled on a foot of fresh powder. The “kids”—including a gaggle of other local young adults from our church—ALL piled into our place for the long weekend.

Our house was abuzz for three days. We watched movies (Harrison Ford’s high-energy, action flick Air Force One had just come out. “GET OFF MY PLANE!”). We gobbled homemade pizza, toppings-piled-high nachos, and thick pans of lasagna. We laughed. We teased (two of our interns were in their early stages of flirtation and dating). Feeling some compulsion to add a dash of productivity, we held a worship arts planning meeting (well, sort of). We philosophized. We fought and made up. (After all, who doesn’t squabble after being cooped up that long with that many friends?) We sang outrageously goofy songs, made breakfast together both Sunday and Monday mornings, and otherwise created some of the most marvelous memories.

Eighteen years later, there is a snowpocalypse forecast for a large swath of the US east coast. Pictures of empty bread aisles and abandoned milk coolers are posted across social media. While I cannot recreate that one-of-a-kind, blizzard ’98 experience, I can envision a handful of must-dos we can each carry into the forthcoming labor of these snowy days.

First, there will be surprises. So, let’s roll with joy. Looking back, it would have been easy to tell those young adults a polite “no, you can’t stay,” or even “GET OFF MY PLANE.” I do recall that Nanc’ and I had already experienced a jam-packed week. No doubt it would have felt good to have our own space and breathing room. But we have never regretted those three hilarious days, and we are so glad we rolled with the opportunity.

Second, work will emerge, accompanied by opportunities to lovingly serve others. While we thoroughly enjoyed the cabin full of friends, it was some serious labor to host and navigate that flight. During this year’s blustering storm, will you find neighbors to assist with shoveling or nearby friends to serendipitously invite for a meal? While making bread, stacking wood, or washing dishes—tasks that certainly seem mundane—we must choose Christ’s joy and servant-hearts.

Finally, make the most of the space, the sweet grace of extra time. With that crew of young adults, we made delicious food, played hysterical practical jokes, planned for upcoming Sunday services, and unearthed a treasure trove of marvelous memories. Whatever you do during this storm, you must make something. If you have a woodworking shop, use the time to build that table or refinish an antique chair that’s been gathering dust. If you’re married, home alone, just the two of you, make the most of your time together. Wink-wink. (Need I really encourage this? All studies show there will be a significant spike in hospitals’ maternity traffic approximately nine months from this weekend.) So, why not make something? You get the idea.

Perhaps such gracious time carved out by snowstorms might, after all, be more like what God intends for our normal Sabbath rhythms (Genesis 2:1-3). I too often forget that intentional holy disruptions are commanded and encouraged, integral to practicing our workplace theology. We are too typically too busy. Snowstorms and accompanying Sabbath are indeed for our good. When Jesus and his disciples walked through the fields and plucked grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees’ critique and Christ’s summative teaching proved unique and mildly puzzling (Mark 2:23-28). At least one of Christ’s intentions was to help us embrace the empowering tension of Sabbath. Yes, it’s commanded. Yes, we’re to be spontaneous. Yes, it’s God-like. And yes, it’s VERY good for us.

Every one of those characters who camped at our house for snowzilla ’98 is now all grown up, working hard, and serving strong in God’s kingdom. Nanc’ and I would never dream of taking credit for such marvelous adults—they had exceptional upbringings with brilliant parents. But we can relish the reality that we were privileged to play a brief role, including those seventy-two hours. And oh, what a fun plane ride it was!

Stephen Cottrell, describing more sensitive Sabbath principles, urges us: “So never speak of wasting time or spending time. Rather, say you are enjoying it or giving it away freely. Never say you have an hour to kill. Rather, say you have an hour to revive, to bring to life, to ravish.”[1]

Let’s ravish our way through the upcoming snowy hours, fully embracing both the joyous work and wonderful people God brings onto our planes.

[1]Stephen Cottrell. Do Nothing to Change Your Life: Discovering What Happens When You Stop. (New York: Seabury Books), 2008, p. 69.