Creating a Culture of Thankfulness

My last blog post highlighted my appreciation for Thanksgiving as a pure holiday that is quickly forgotten. Today I want to showcase three habits that we can all adopt in order to create an environment where gratitude is center stage to our life. These are simple actions that I’ve taken with family, friends and co-workers. Simple gestures with great power.

Building Thankfulness at Home

Recently my youngest, Ava, brought home a rock she was given at pre-school. It is just a rock but with great meaning. She can hold it in the palm of her hand and she makes it a point to bring it to our dinner table every night. She calls it “The Thankful Rock”.

A month has passed since she brought this rock home but every night, during dinner time, she pulls up “The Thankful Rock” and shares about what she is thankful for today. She will then pass the rock around the table and we all share what we are thankful for.

Courtney and I have always tried to engage with our children during dinner. We use our meal time as an opportunity to engage with each other as we all express the good and the bad that went on during our day. But this rock has now brought a new dynamic to our meal time that provides clarity on the blessings we are given daily.

What do you do with your family that fosters a sense of gratitude?

Sharing Thankfulness with Friends

One of my best memories of Portugal was in 2003 when my wife and I, along with another couple, planned a retreat for our church’s youth group. I can still remember the excitement we had in renting a big house away from the city and packing over 20 people for a weekend of relaxation with messages of hope, love and thankfulness.

During our stay everyone was given a small lunch bag that we were to identify as our own and place it in a visible area of the house. Throughout the weekend we were encouraged to use index cards and write a message of thankfulness for each person.

The goal was for everyone to have a source of encouragement to help us during life’s hardest times. I still have my own lunch bag. And while it’s been some time since I last read my messages, I still remember the times I spent writing a card during that weekend. Being thankful became easy as I recognized natural kindness in my friends.

How do you show gratitude with friends?

Fostering Thankfulness at Work

In a time where the busier we are the more important we feel, it is hard to slow down and recognize meaningful ways to communicate. While everyone uses email and IM to share thoughts and decisions, I believe the best way to share a feeling of thankfulness is by simply wiring a note. I do this often and for the most common tasks.

It is easy to write a note for someone’s birthday or during the holidays. But what about recognizing someone for that regular task they do, day in and day out. Every now and then I get an interoffice package with documents that need to be signed. I have made a conscious decision to often place a post-it note by my signature simply thanking my co-worker for fulfilling this task.

Recognizing employees for what they do, no matter the task, fosters thankfulness and creates a sense of pride in someone’s work that raises the bar on excellence.

How do you let your co-workers know you are thankful for what they do?

These are just some of the ways I’ve embraced gratitude and thankfulness. Join the conversation and share some of the ways you say Thank You to people in your life.

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Turkey leftovers – remaining thankful

It’s December already and another Thanksgiving has come and gone. And as I think of Thanksgiving, again, I’m reminded of all the reasons I have to be thankful. The beauty of Thanksgiving is in its pure and simple meaning: Giving thanks. I love the opportunity to spend time with family and focus on all the blessings around me. Unfortunately consumerism has highjacked the peace we establish on Thursday just to twist the meaning of the season on Friday.

Isn’t ironic that the day after Thanksgiving people are encouraged to wake up early for the opportunity to shop for a bargain? Where is all that thanksgiving spirit anyway? As the busyness of life resumes, I’m reminded that thankfulness is a medicine for the soul. My friend Matt reminded me of that in his recent blog post.

As I look at my long list of to-do’s and get back to work, I will acknowledge my blessings as a form of worship as established in Psalm 69:30:

I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify Him with Thanksgiving.

Some of my blessings might be big while others might be small; still, I will choose to be thankful. Like those turkey leftovers, I will consume thankfulness again.

In the first years of Thanksgiving it is said that the pilgrims kept five kernels of corn as a reminder of what they didn’t have before so they could appreciate their meal with the right attitude. In today’s Thanksgiving we have plenty of “leftovers” but we should also remember the challenges we’ve faced so we can have the right attitude. Here are my 5 kernels of corn:

Blessed with a beautiful, smart and God-filled wife. Courtney, you are my best friend and every day I’m reminded of the blessing it is to do life with you.

Blessed by healthy children that are both smart and funny. Caden, Blake and Ava, you all make my days brighter.

Blessed with an amazing family who welcomed me as their own son. Thank you Jim and Cheryl Holt for always making me feel like your son. You are truly my Dad and Mother.

Blessed with an amazing group of friends who become like family. To my Small Group and the folks at the Marketplace Matters Ministry, you have made me feel loved and cared for.

Blessed by a great God who loves me beyond compare. Thankful for Jesus and His sacrifice on my behalf. His blood washed me clean.

What are your kernels of corn?

Balancing life through priorities

The following blog post was first published on the Hope Community Church website as part of the Marketplace Matters Ministry. I’m honored to serve along side other Christ-followers who find purpose in their work. If you live in Raleigh-Durham, I encourage you to visit us and attend one of our monthly networking and leadership events.

It happens every year. As we get closer to Thanksgiving, all I want is some rest. Managing expectations at home and work can be an everyday challenge and by the end of the year you can be both physically and mentally exhausted. Have you ever felt that way? You most likely have but if you are not sure, ask the people closest to you. Your spouse can normally tell.

A few years ago I read a wonderful book titled Ordering Your Private World by Gordon McDonald. He shares how his life changed after the day he “hit the wall.” That reference was filled by details of a drained life, pulled in so many directions that he felt helpless in the midst of all his responsibilities at home and work. Throughout the book he provides memos to his readers as reminders of how we should live our lives “organized.” None spoke as much to me as this one:

“If my private world is in order, it will be because I am convinced that the inner world of the spiritual must govern the outer world of activity.”

This message opened my eyes as it provided perspective. While an organized life needs discipline, it must first have priorities. This is an inside-out approach. The bible makes it clear in Matthew 6:31-33:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying. ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Still, the world around us tells us a different story. One where we must seek our own glory. One where the busier we are the more important we should feel. This has been the biggest lie told throughout Corporate America. And the worse part about it is that our families suffer the most – spouses having dinners alone and children wondering when daddy/mommy will be home. I know this because I too have made these mistakes. Prioritizing is not just an option for balancing life, it is a responsibility. But there is hope.

We must reassess the meaning of our lives through eternal lenses. When we do that priorities become clearer and we can find balance between home and work. It’s a paradigm shift but one we need to make if we are to have an intentional impact in both places. Paul reminds us of this mentality in Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore, I urge, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Remember these truths as you embrace a Thanksgiving through eternal lenses.

The Gift of Community

I had a great weekend! This past Saturday morning I helped a friend move to his new home. It was great to see a whole group of guys coming together for a family who lived in the neighborhood for so many years. While we will miss them, the memories we built together were cemented by the opportunity to help and make their transition an easy one. All of this happened on my birthday, which truly allowed me to look introspectively at one of the biggest gifts I have: community.

The word community is a great construction of thoughts: common + unity. When you think about the people that live around you, do you think of the common aspects that bring unity? I don’t think many cultures foster these thoughts. We are more focused on being independent and showing everyone else, sometimes even the ones closest to us, that we can live our life on our own without anyone’s help. A 2010 a Pew Research Study shows that only 19% of Americans claim to know all of their neighbors. In contrast, my wife and I make every effort to welcome new families and help others to feel part of a community that stands by each other; ready to step in and be the helping hand needed for any moment.

Saturday’s experience was amazing example of community: a group of people united with a goal of serving selflessly. Some moved boxes, others moved gardening tools and I helped pack the U-Haul. Common unity at it’s best. That wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t know each other. If we didn’t spend time at the park, attended the seasonal neighborhood events or hung out by the pool.

When you give love, love comes back to you

I truly believe that God called us to live in community as a catalyst for love as shown in the bible verse of 1 John 4:11:

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Ultimately, when we do life together it allows people to stand in the “gap” and cover for your needs. They help you when you least expect it and often when you need it the most. I’ve been reminded of that again this month as my wife travelled to serve in Uganda for two-weeks and friends cooked for me, picked up my kids and generally checked-in to see if I needed any help. All of this without me even asking. Fast-forward to last week and my car died. Once again, a friend was ready to step in and offered me to use his second car while I look for one to buy. Community doesn’t happen unless you invest in people. I believe that when you love people they are more eager to love you back. It becomes organic and contagious. It grows and it spreads.

Community is a gift wrapped in love. One that is shared with others around you.

Your Personal Brand

As a marketing aficionado I am passionate for story telling. I recall from a young age creating my very own magazines and story books with cut out pictures of soccer heroes (from Sporting Clube de Portugal) and drawings of wrestling foes (WWE was one of the first American exports I consumed). I knew early on I would be involved with communicating stories and so my future became clear to me. My youth influenced my definition of marketing:

“The ability to share a message that compels others to act; to embrace what is being witnessed and experienced; to join in.”

Simple and objective. That is what a marketing message should be like.

I often see my own life through the lens of the marketer inside of me. And this is where it gets messy.

Marketing yourself – truth vs. deception

In today’s world everyone has a Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter profile. We post to our advantage, smiling bright on our never-ending selfies, and commenting eloquently as we share highlights from our own little world. With every Like our brand impact increases. But the reality is that we are all image managers trying our hardest not to fall apart and adjusting to our audiences. Eager to satisfy the cravings of a hungry mob we adjust our thinking and our attitudes for attention.

Some succeed. Some don’t. In some cases, the lies take over and pure souls are swallowed. If we are brutally honest, inside, we are broken. In secret we try to mend our broken hearts and glue pieces of our shattered lives so we can look perfect. No one posts the fights they had with their spouse on Facebook. Professionals don’t shine the spotlight on the mistakes they made at work on LinkedIn. But when I look in the mirror that is what I see. The reality is that I’m not perfect. I make mistakes often and fail terribly in my role as husband, father, son, friend and co-worker. I’m a broken leader but that’s okay.

Branding for a purpose

Creating a personal brand should be aimed at more than a career. Instead we need to look for a purpose. Defining and focusing on a purpose allows your brand to be real, alive and… imperfect. You learn the most when you are vulnerable and accept your mistakes. It also provides perspective. You see, perspective doesn’t shape reality. Instead, reality shapes the perspective of your brand. The world may  tell me that the image I need to portray is one of confidence and ease; but my purpose reminds me that through my daily struggles my leadership is being shaped to better understand those around me and just lead. And there is no better way to lead than selflessly.

Made for something bigger than me

True purpose gives room to real selflessness. When you aim for something bigger than yourself your storyline becomes simple and clear; even through the brokenness. I want to be a leader at home and at work. This is why I serve with Hope Community Church and the Marketplace Matters Ministry. Through the years I’ve been able to pour into people’s lives and grow in the process. I’ve shared my struggles and my deepest pains. Still, I’ve grown to lead well by knowing that it is not about me. It is about serving my family, my neighbors, my co-workers, my friends. This was clear in Jesus’ teachings and exemplified by His ultimate sacrifice.

So how would your personal brand look if your value proposition and culture statement reflected brokenness and selflessness? God provided Paul an image that exemplifies it perfectly in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 9:

“But he (the Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”

Paul went on to boast of his weaknesses knowing that God’s power would rest on him. That was his purpose and it was aimed at connecting others with God not him. His brand was shaped in a way that to this day people look at Paul as an example to follow.

Are you building your brand with a purpose?

Remembering your mid-year review (Infographic)

Mid-Year Review Infographic

 

After completing my 3-part series on the importance of a mid-year review, I decided to create an infographic that embraced creativity in a visual reminder of the key focus points.

The symbolism of technology is based on how we live our lives connected and how we should do the same with our goals, direction and mission. I chose the idea of an app in a tablet as reference to how important these concepts are and how they should be “applied” in our lives.

Great leaders use visual reminders as a way to remain focused.

Have you completed your mid-year review? (Part 3 – Legacy)

In my last post on a mid-year review I want to come full circle and dive in to the investments we make towards achieving our goals. Knowing where and how we use our time and resources is important. Our mission creates a platform for priorities. Staying with my yearly beach vacation as a backdrop, there is joy and peace when you know you’re creating the right legacy for you and your family.

Waking up early to a beautiful sunrise

One of the reasons I love vacation is the ability to throw away your schedule and just relax. Still, every summer I wake up early just in time to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. While many people enjoy the time off to sleep in, I make it a priority to witness this beautiful display at least once while I’m at the beach. I use these moments of serenity to reflect on God’s creation and the blessings in my life. I normally journal and take pictures that provide memories. I consider this an investment as I recalibrate myself. In life it is important to remember our mission ahead of our goals and direction.

Investing in your Mission and Building a Legacy

With goals in place and plans in motion, we need to be disciplined in the journey yet brave enough to look into the future. How we spend our time and resources matters as all of our actions lead to a legacy. Recognizing your mission and using it as a filter is key when reviewing the path already traveled and looking to the road ahead. Our mission provides perspective.

Earlier this year I blogged about the challenge of balancing ambition and contentment, and while it is a struggle, our mission helps us assess our priorities and the decisions we make. Basically, every investment of my time and resources is a building block in mine and my family’s legacy. Our actions impact others and there should be joy in this. Our mission should be bigger than ourselves. This thought process makes life clearer. If not, ask yourself these questions:

What is the legacy you want for your life?

How would you like to be remembered?

Are you making a difference?

King David remains one of my spiritual heroes. He wrote beautiful songs that provided insight to a life fully devoted to God. I love the simplicity of Psalm 37:37, as there is great return when we invest on integrity and priorities:

“…there is a future for the man of peace.”

The future is bright when we set goals and assess plans that are in line with our mission. Investing in our legacy provides peace, knowing that we are on the right path.

Great leaders recognize their mission first and invest their time to build a legacy bigger than themselves.

Have you completed your mid-year review? (Part 2 – Plans)

In my second installment on the subject of a personal mid-year review I want to focus on the steps taken towards achieving our goals. My yearly beach vacation provides pure moments of introspection which lead to a clear sense of direction.

Why walks on the beach are easy

Each time I go to the beach there is nothing more relaxing than walking along side the water’s edge, feeling the coolness as your feet embrace the sand. Sounds peaceful because it is. I can walk for miles only to turn back and do it all over again. This is much different however if I was to walk on the dunes, where the loose sand slows me down and where my feet dig deeper. Additionally, a storm can change my initial thoughts on the distance. When assessing your plans and directions it is important to understand the path you have taken and the surrounding factors.

Assessing Plans and Direction

Once our goals are reviewed we need to make sure our plans are aligned with our objectives and that we are walking on the right path. Are you on track to achieve your goals? Are you making decisions and creating habits that get you closer to your goals? These questions are not meant to intimidate but rather calibrate your compass. It might not always be easy – waves can rise up the shore line unexpectedly or a storm might be on the horizon – and you might need to make some adjustments. Knowing your direction will allow you to keep pushing forward.

I admire King David for his raw sensibility to life. While the bible describes him as a “man after God’s own heart,” King David experienced many ups and downs. He made mistakes, errors in judgement, but kept his compass towards God. I think that is why he continued Psalm chapter 37 with verse 23:

“If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”

As God plants seeds of desire for His people, He also provides clarity and strength for the road ahead.

Great leaders continually assess the path they are on and are not afraid to make adjustments when needed.

Have you completed your mid-year review? (Part 1 – Goals)

I start this post with a question that becomes relevant every summer. A mid-year review is supposed to provide an assessment of the year at the same time we consider the road ahead. While most will recognize this question in a corporate setting I apply it to my personal life as well.

Every year, around June and July, my family and I take a much needed vacation to the beach and unplug from the busyness of life. Over the years I’ve come to enjoy the simplest of moments as hidden blessings. Through all the running around that is my regularly scheduled life, these moments allow me to slow down and find true perspective. This is where a personal, mid-year, self-assessment starts.

For me this is a natural exercise in which I have identified three simple actions. In this first installment of a three-part series I will focus on goals and meaning.

Reviewing your Personal Goals and their Meaning

Just like setting goals is important so is reviewing the meaning of them. In the corporate setting these are easily identifiable through the lens of profitability, growth and sustainability. On the personal side it is much deeper than that. Reviewing personal goals cuts through the heart. While goals need to be realistic and feasible, personal objectives should also align with your mission in life. This is why one should ask the question: What is the true reason for my goals? For me, no one provides better perspective to this question than my better half.

The reason I enjoy a 6-hour road trip

During our yearly trip one of my wife and I’s favorite activity is the actual 6-hour road trip down to the beach. During this time our kids enjoy a movie (or two… or three) while we drive and talk about what is on our hearts and on our minds. Those moments have provided some of our most sincere and thought provoking conversations. My wife cares enough for me to cut through the selfishness and assess my goals’ true motives. There is no better way to review your personal objectives than by looking at their meaning.

Setting goals helps you stay focus through your daily journey, but doing it with a healthy heart allows for true fulfillment.

I’m inspired by the scriptures and how they help me keep my path straight. King David wrote one of my favorite chapters in Psalm 37. I believe the topic of goals and their meanings are reflected in verses 4 and 5:

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this…” 

The context of this scripture evokes righteousness and victory as a result of our commitment to the Lord. The beautiful thing about this relationship is that God is the one changing our hearts and molding our desires to His. And His desires are greater than our own life. Seeking Him allows us to better understand our place and our goals. Delighting in Him provides us perspective in setting goals that matter beyond ourselves.

Great leaders aim for meaningful and selfless goals.

Marriage will kill you

Twelve years ago a beautiful woman dressed in white walked down the aisle in my direction. She was amazing and all I could think about was the life ahead of us: enjoying our youth, building a family and growing old together. April 18, 2003 was the day I died. Well, sort of; that was the day I was supposed to die.

You see, I didn’t know much about marriage. In fact, I didn’t know much about life. But as a recent Christ follower I knew Jesus’ biblical teachings instructed me to care, protect and provide for my wife. It seemed simple. After all, I was a kid in love – an expression so often (mis)used as an unbreakable feeling. Perpetual. Dying in this context was in my mind a noble image of me taking a bullet for her; getting in front of a car for her; doing anything just to keep her alive. To me that was the essence of a God-inspired marriage as shown in Ephesians 5:25.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

But, by the second week of our marriage (yes, it didn’t take long) I was faced with my biggest weakness: selfishness.

I remember it like it was yesterday. We returned from our honeymoon and I was invited to go out with the guys. I promptly accepted and my bride stayed home.  What seemed like a small incident quickly became a larger pattern of my self-centeredness. I was choosing me instead of my wife. I was slow to recognize it or understand it. I thought I had good intentions to back me up but my actions proved me wrong. Miscommunications quickly became frustrations, which slowly led to complete disconnections. Over the first few years of our marriage the joke that “marriage can kill you” wasn’t so funny at all.

That was until mercy and grace spoke to me.

As I’ve sought God through the years, He’s provided me with older and more mature men to give me perspective. These relationships have shown me that selfishness has haunted men since the fall in the Garden of Eden. I was not the only one going through this. This wisdom woke me up to the fact that my marriage is in a constant battle for attention. And I will only be able to overcome it if I’m to recognize the full dimension of my role as a husband through the eyes of Christ.

I think this is why the apostle Paul spent so much time addressing men in his letter to the church in Ephesus. The onus is on the husband to love like Christ so to make our wives holy, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish (Ephesians 5:27). I finally realized that to love my wife like Christ is to die die to myself and my desires in order to create an environment where she is recognized and treated for the jewel that she is. And the beautiful thing is that this commitment is mutual (Ephesians 5:24). This attitude has been a blessing in my marriage because not only have I died to put my focus on my spouse, she too has died and her interest is on me.

So marriage is supposed to kill you. It’s not easy. It requires intentionality. And I often fail at it. Putting work first, rating the interest of other family members higher, making the satisfaction of my needs a priority. There are so many other things trying to kill me. I simply choose to die for something better: my marriage.

I still have much to learn but recognizing it allows me to be the husband that Christ prepared for me to be. One that reflects the sacrifice of Christ. That is the true essence of a God-inspired marriage.

Has your marriage killed you yet?