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!

 

 

Gobbling Leaves and the Work of Gratitude

Thanksgiving—Leaves

Our Golden Retriever, Brody, does the goofiest dance while outside walking on blustery fall days. Gusts of wind toss leaves up the road, and my crazy canine chases them—as if they are squirrels—snapping at them, as if to eat them up. Brody is a leaf gobbler. He has munched leaves since he was a puppy. People told us he would grow out of it. He’s now six years old, and he still chases and chomps on fall foliage. When not gobbling, Brody loves to leap in large leaf piles that line our street. (Did I mention he also chases and chews on his own tail? Yes, we’ve affectionately dubbed him the dingbat dog.) Whether it’s gobbling or leaf pile jumping, Brody delights in the leaves.

While the dog is totally thrilled with the leaves, it’s a different story for the humans. The neighborhood is abuzz these days with a cacophony of blowers, rakes, and mowers. We’re handling the leaves with backbreaking labor, often necessitating a hearty dose of Advil at evening’s end.

Honestly, if I’m not careful, all of the fall cleanup can easily leave me grumpy, leaning way more in the direction of a grumbling heart instead of a grateful-as-a-Golden, joy-filled soul. Under the burden of such tedious tasks, I can allow my attitude to downward-spiral into disgust, discontent, and overall disgruntled feelings. Instead of glowing with Brody-like delight and gratitude, I can wallow in deplorable grumbling.

Deep down inside, you probably realize it. These attitudinal issues are not unique to the fall season’s yard work. They creep into our everyday workplaces, meetings, and projects. Our offices, corporate road trips, and bustling stock rooms can become the breeding grounds of sour moods, discontent, whining, and griping. We can slide into self-talk that is utterly dismal:

“So much to do, so little time.”

“Why do I have to work with these Debbie Downers?—what a negative environment!”

“If only I had a better team . . .”

“If only I made a bigger paycheck . . .”

“Why can’t I work different hours?”

“If only I could land my dream job . . .”

“If only the boss really knew how much I’m worth . . .”

“If only I received a surprise inheritance or won the lottery . . .”

We seldom set out to deliberately adopt such pervasive and debilitating outlooks, but they soak into our psyches, take deep-reaching root, and end up holding a pervasive sway that keeps us from flourishing in attitudes and actions.

‘Top of this decade, Charles Shelton of Regis University wrote The Gratitude Factor[1], winsomely encouraging people to give thanks for their work, recreation, relationships, and other everyday experiences—recognizing that all our daily events actually flow from God’s grace. Shelton encourages a disciplined exercise of thankfulness, including a “daily gratitude inventory.” Great progress can be made in our perspective when we orient our thankfulness toward others, their gifts, and their unique contributions within our community.

“Gratitude is the antidote to the ‘grumpies’, the ‘gimmes’, and the ‘gotta-haves’!”

What might happen if we each more strategically applied the gratitude factor in our daily work? What if we chose to say, “Immense thanks, Lord, for this current job. Right now, it’s very challenging, but I’m trusting you to grow my tenacity and character.” Or if we honestly reflect, “I’m often easily frustrated, Lord, by my quirky coworkers and ferociously feisty clients, but upon further reflection, my life might be rather boring without them. Seriously, I am choosing to thank you for them! AND I thank you for opportunities to bless them and help them encounter your grace.” Or perhaps you’d say, “Father, I’ll admit, I wish I made more money, but there are thousands of people ‘round the globe who would love to earn what I do. I am so grateful I have work and an income!”

The Apostle Paul urges us: “Be joyful always . . . give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

So, this evening as I’m raking, I’m going to intentionally switch it up. I’ll aim to be invigorated in the gusts of wind and to joyfully dive into my leafy labors. As I do, I’ll be joining God’s will—what he so deeply wants—my more intentional movement toward a grateful heart!

With a Brody-like outlook, gratitude can work greater joy and more confident faith in each of us. Let’s go gobble and dance in the leaves!
Brody and Leaves

[1]Charles Shelton, The Gratitude Factor: Enhancing Your Life through Grateful Living. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2010.

Gratitude Pie @ Work

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Just say “thanksgiving.” What’s your knee-jerk picture? Perhaps you envision a turkey or maybe family gathered around the table. For me, it’s PIE! Several of my most precious holiday memories include Grandma’s oh-so-creative concoctions. She would work relentlessly for two days prior to the great feast, hand-rolling crusts and baking a scrumptious assortment of pies. Classic pumpkin, deep-dish apple, dark chocolate pudding, and the delectable pecan. The lineup was placed atop the garage chest freezer, remaining nicely chilled in the crisp November air.

Two legendary family members had a special way of expressing their gratitude for Grandma’s hard work in the kitchen. Following our family’s indulgent dining on the grand bird and sundry side dishes ‘round the oak table, Uncle Bob and Uncle Buzz would each pick a pie from the garage freezer top. Yes, each of them, a WHOLE pie. With great care, they would lavishly layer their selection with whipped topping. Once the white fluff was complete, my uncles would give Grandma a grateful kiss, exit the kitchen, and promptly plunk down in a living room recliner. With fork and whole pie in hand, Uncle Buzz and Uncle Bob would watch football and devour an entire pie. To this day, I have no clue how they stuffed it in. For a young boy like me, this was indeed an impressive scene to behold. Gram would chuckle and beam from ear to ear with her own grateful grin. She reveled in their gratitude. With amazement, I aspired to such capacity in consumption. Alas, to this day, I am lucky if I can down two pieces of pie across Thanksgiving Day. My uncles still hold the family record!

How might our daily work evoke greater gratitude? Chesterton said, “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

Psalm 145:10-11 declares: All of your works will thank you, Lord, and your faithful followers will praise you. They will speak of the glory of your kingdom; they will give examples of your power.

I am struck by this reality. Both God’s works—what he has created and what he is accomplishing—and his faithful people are capable of expressing praise and thanks. Both the outcomes of God’s intentional efforts as well as the people who serve him—BOTH have the capacity to bring him gratitude and make him famous. In fact, such spotlighting of God’s impressive kingdom work has distinct missional results. Psalm 145:12 says, “So that all people may know of your mighty acts . . .” And verse 21 echoes similar motivation behind such thanks and praise: May everyone on earth bless his holy name forever and ever.” More people in more places recognize and experience his glorious kingdom through such gratitude!

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I put out the challenge to our gathering of friends this past Sunday to “come ready to share next Sunday” where they see God at work in their workplaces, their families, their neighborhoods, and across all of their lives. We’re planning for open microphones in our Sunday services so people can share a feast of thanks together! As I am preparing my own heart, I’ve come up with my starter list, where I see God at work. These include: My amazing family, Nancy and our boys, as well as my incredible mother! I am also grateful to God for a tremendous church family, Manor Church, and the privilege I have to serve with a fabulous team of leaders. I am oh-so grateful for God’s provision of “daily bread”—the stuff of physical food, creative clothing, running vehicles, and a fine roof over our heads. I’m also grateful for some serious “whipped cream” in my life that added to the pie this year. Over the top stuff has included extra-gracious opportunities like Henry’s Glory being published and read by people. What a joy to see how God is working to change my life and others’ lives. I give him great praise!

How about giving thanks for the way Christ works through the tough stuff? Along with you, I’ve had my share of disappointments, heartaches, and stresses this year. Eugene Peterson says, “God works patiently and deeply, but often in hidden ways in the mess of our humanity and history.” In that light, we must certainly thank him for the messy stuff as well. Even there, Christ is working!

How about you? What’s your “gratitude pie” taste like?