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

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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!

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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?

 

 

Marvin’s Market’s Marvelous Thanksgiving

thanksgiving turkey

You can feel it. There’s an extra-early push of retailers’ holiday marketing this year. Everyone is working for higher numbers. And why not—it’s smart business! ‘Seems stores everywhere are scrambling to declare an extension of Black Friday, stretching your can’t-miss deals to include the entire month. One of my favorite radio stations just launched their Christmas music, and it’s only mid-November. Now, I love Jingle Bells with the best of ‘em, but I find myself rolling my eyes and uttering a sarcastic pleeeez under my breath, as I change the station. Could we at least get to Thanksgiving week?

As the pulse of purchasing, the trappings of tinsel, and the wanna-be sensational sales season all crank up, it could be tempting for all of us to go crazy over the almighty push of the product. In fact, during this year—when everyone is longing for a further surge in economic recovery—it would be easier than ever to believe the only bottom line is the number of units sold and how deep the stacks of greenbacks grow.

I find myself asking, as we push into the season of big sales and the hopes that Santa’s sleigh will be overflowing: Does service-oriented, responsive business still matter? And if so, what difference might it really make?

Mom and I sat at Panera together one evening in October, indulging in scrumptious salads and delectable sandwiches. Amid the warm chatter, our conversation morphed into reminiscing about Thanksgivings of yesteryear. One tale she shared from her childhood serves as a poignant reminder of the power—yea, even the all-out necessity—of responsive, service-oriented business.

In step with many classic homes of the 1950s, Mom’s family typically procured their turkey for the big feast from the local grocer. Marvin’s Market was known throughout the region of Lebanon, Ohio for supplying fresh, quality meats at fair prices—and with exceptional service. So naturally, the Thanksgiving of 1956 would be no exception. There was simply no question where Everett Hall’s family would purchase the bird for their Thanksgiving Day spread.

On his way home from work on Thanksgiving Eve, Everett, Mom’s dad (and my granddad), would pick up the immense turkey, weighing in at nearly twenty pounds. It was fresh—never frozen—and carefully wrapped in crisp, white butcher paper. By this point in the day, my grandmother, Mom’s mom, would be working feverishly with Aunt Grace and other relatives, baking pies, chopping bread, and mixing the seasonings for stuffing.

It was my mother’s dubious task (at the ripe old age of seven) to meticulously pull any tiny, black pinfeathers that might still be remaining in the turkey’s body. On this particular Thanksgiving Eve, immediately after dinner and dishwashing, Grandma landed Tom Turkey in the middle of their big oval, oak kitchen table. Gram began to pull back the white paper as Mom huddled close to begin her pinfeather-pulling task.

To their horror and disgust, as the paper was pulled back, they were quickly greeted by a repulsive odor emanating from the great bird. Grandma and Mom grabbed for their noses and called for Grandpa. Everett came quickly, and with one whiff of the carcass, he declared their bird to be spoiled and not fit for consumption—not even for the canines of the house. It was a tremendously foul smell, indeed!

By now it was nearly 8 p.m. Grandpa promptly picked up the phone and dialed Marvin. He placed the call to his home phone. Within three rings, Marvin answered. Grandpa kindly explained. “So sorry to bother you, Marvin, but we’ve got a glitch in our feast. It seems that somehow, a bad bird landed on our table. You won’t believe the horrific smell.”

‘Just fifteen minutes, and Marvin himself was rapping on their front door and delivering a fresh, twenty-five pound gobbler. It would be the biggest feast the Hall house had ever experienced. Marvin apologized profusely for the mishap, and just as quickly as he came, he whisked away the stinking tom. In the moments that followed Marvin’s departure, Grandma and Mom made a stunning discovery. They quickly concluded that Marvin had brought them his own family’s turkey. Removing the classic paper, they discovered this bird was already meticulously cleaned. Not a single black pinfeather could be found.

Even in 1956, while such behavior was more expected and deemed noble, this was still astonishingly impressive business—especially after-hours on the eve of a holiday. Indeed, it spoke a passionate focus for serving people.

While we like to say we value a personalized people-focus, we must collectively confess, such attitudes and actions are rare in our day. So, I’m wondering: Are our teams primed and ready, in this holiday season 2013, not only to deliver a stack of product, sell a bunch, and make a bunch, but to also deliver exceptional service, to truly serve others in ways that bless and add real value?

Author Ken Eldred, in his insightful book The Integrated Life, draws from Jesus’ greatest command, loving God and loving neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). Eldred concludes that the real goal of business is to serve others to the glory of God, and he cites J.C. Penney, founder of the successful retail chain, who espoused this overarching objective in business. In an early store ad, Penney critiqued the dichotomized thinking so prevalent in business, with this clarification:

The assumption was that business is secular, and service is religious. I have never been able to accept that line of arbitrary demarcation . . . . Is not service part and parcel of business? It seems to me so; business is therefore as much religious as it is secular. If we follow the admonition to love God, and our neighbors as ourselves, it will lead us to understand that, first of all, success is a matter of the spirit.[1]

Thus, Penney’s foundational goal in business was serving others to the glory of God. I wonder what could happen, in our collective spirit and the bigger bottom line, if we would dare to broaden our thinking.

Consider a quick handful of ideas as we roll full-steam into the season:

First, check your own attitude as a leader. “Is my heart focusing on truly serving others? Am I daily cultivating a people-focused mindset?”

Second, take the time to gather your team(s) and talk about the importance of going above and beyond this season. Perhaps reading them this dusty old tale from my mom’s childhood would help orient them to a renewed service mindset. Let them discuss what they believe was Marvin’s motivation as well as what the outcomes would have been had he not demonstrated such service for the Hall family.

Third, raise the bar. Challenge your teams, at every level, to intentionally plan for slowing down, talking and sharing with customers, and finding ways to actually care and serve their clients and contacts each day and each week. Such intentionality will be an important cure for the all-too-often crushing, rushing push of the frantic season!

Mom and I chuckled as she wrapped up her recounting of Marvin’s most marvelous moment for the Hall family’s Thanksgiving. We shook our heads together with big smiles. Mom reflected, “Do you realize that Marvin’s one act of service, such personalized customer-concern was so powerful, we are still talking about it over five decades later?”

Who will be reminiscing about your team’s exceptional care and service in 2063?


[1]Eldred, The Integrated Life, 43-44.