I remember the first time I bought a Dymo.  Remember those?  It made great labels.  I had one of those early ones before the electronic digitized screens and keyboard.  On mine, the dial on the little “squirt-gun” shaped gizmo had to be rotated to the correct letter or number and then you squeezed the trigger and then the next, and the next, and the next.  The backing peeled off and you put the label on the light switch, the cupboard, the toolbox, the storage container or whatever.  It was addictive.  Couldn’t quit labeling.  Wasn’t going to stop until the roll was out!

Then labels moved from being nouns to verbs.  Now we barely remember the organizational benefits of labeling everything.  Labeling, as we know it now, is often hurtful, it’s sometimes dehumanizing and usually polarizing.  We label the positions, philosophies, politics, and personalities of people.  We like to organize people in to their proper “place” in life.  We are more comfortable when we know where people “fit.”  Cataloguing data is not all bad.  It helps us to better understand its relationship to everything else around it.  So we categorize to better understand things.  In the best-case scenario, we label people like we do things.  For the sake of understanding them.  But not always.

Our love of labels has become very detrimental to our well-being as a nation.  We live in a culture where we are hard-wired to fit people in to neat, perfect little boxes.  We have left or right.  Blue states or red states. Conservative or Liberal.  Fit or fat.  Black or white. Religious or non-religious. Smart or slow. Rich or poor. But rarely do any of us really love being squeezed into the pre-made boxes that have been provided for us.  I bristle inside when anyone wants to put any of the above labels on my forehead.  For example. Believe it or not, even as a pastor and chaplain, I hate being called religious.  I would much rather talk about the finer nuances of my faith journey, my spiritual beliefs, and my relationship to God.  I don’t want to be put in a box of being religious. That has plenty of negative connotations to me.

Here’s my point.  We are human. We are complex beings with individual ideas, beliefs, preferences, and ideals. The day when society drops the labels and starts seeing people as unique individuals, will be the day when we will no longer be divided. In all reality, this is much easier said than done. But in the time being, the only label you should be given is your name (and maybe your rank or title in some organizations). 

This is not a 21st century problem.  They struggled with this in the 1st century.  A casual reading of the scriptures written for the newly-formed Christian churches in the Middle East and Europe reveal that they had challenges caused by labeling others by their ethnicity, religious heritage, economic status and belief systems.  When prominent Judeo-Christian leader and author, Apostle Paul, wrote to the church in Galatia, he reminded them, “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:28 MSG).  Without getting into a detailed explanation of this scripture, the call was to focus on their one common link—their relationship to Jesus. The broader and practical application in America is to stop the labeling.  Highlight the fact that we are all humans.  We live on the same spinning globe.  And, many of us reading this, happen to be located in the United States of America.  

I mailed in my ballot this week.  But I don’t intend to talk about my political affiliations and preferences on social media.  In the tense culture we have right now, I would surely be categorized or pigeon-holed by someone somewhere as either a “bleeding heart” or a “raging conservative.”  Can we adults try to set an example for our kids and refuse to assign names to others based on their skin tone, political leanings, or whatever?  Just maybe we could reduce the “bullying” that is so common in school and on social media?  That problem starts with labeling.  And our kids learn it from us adults. 

Names and labels have power.  Take a look at the boxes you have ready for people—whether political, religious, lifestyle, skin color, driving style, gender, age, personality or because of their communication approach.  This week, instead of automatically putting people into their box, see if you can deliberately refrain from making a default summary statement and boxing them in.  Open your mind.  See if it doesn’t open the boxes you have for others.  Labels take on an “all-or-nothing” meaning.  That brings more stress and tension in your life and in our world.  Relax.  Let’s enjoy life as God intended it to be.    

QUESTION: What are the most helpful ways you have found to resist labeling others and pigeon-holing them? Please share in the comment section below. Thank you!

Every year there are new words and new phrases added to our vocabulary and dictionary.  Here’s a new one I learned recently: “Cancel Culture.”  We now live in a cancel culture.  Although it was first coined in 2016, Google Trends data indicates there was almost no search interest in the phrase “cancel culture” until the second half of 2018 and early 2019.  The most search interest came in July of 2020. Cancel culture is rampant right now. 

So what is “cancel culture”?  It is the phenomenon of frequent public piles-ons criticizing a person, business, movement or idea.  For example, a cultural boycott of a certain celebrity, brand, company, or concept.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary uses the #MeToo movement as an example where new allegations seemed to come out daily, and attitudes quickly shifted against the accused.  The trend of calling someone out for their bad behavior led to full-on cancellations and even convictions.  It happens at various levels in social media with videos going viral and more.  It’s also the idea behind defunding the police.  A few departments exhibit bad police behavior so let’s cancel all law enforcement.

And, I’ve noticed it is more than a social trend that is impacting celebrities, sport figures, business leaders, politicians or where one shops or eats.  It has infiltrated our culture’s relational fabric.  Friendships are severed or at least severely damaged.  Family members refuse to talk to each other.   People change churches due to the cancel culture.  Workers quit jobs or are fired because of it.  People make statements on social media about unfriending, unfollowing or blocking others if they don’t agree with their posted viewpoint.  The infection of the cancel culture virus sounds like a pandemic.  

Here are three phrases that I seek to live by as a human and spiritual leader in our community:

  • Mature people can disagree without being disagreeable.  (see recent post)
  • Mature people can learn to have unity without uniformity.
  • Mature people can walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  Social pressure can be a valid way to influence change and bring justice to wrongful situations.  A lot of good things have happened in our world because a large group of people stood up to wrong, called leaders to accountability, educated the public and held people, companies or governments to a higher standard.  But why are the above three concepts so difficult these days? 

Bottom line.  Most people place a higher value on being right than they do on being in right relationship with others.  Humility doesn’t come natural for any of us.  I must fight fiercely for humility in my life.  And humility is the only thing that keeps me from choosing a right relationship over being right.  Humility is the only thing that allows me to be agreeable when I disagree.  Humility is the only thing that allows me to learn to have unity when I am very different than another person.  Humility is the only way I can walk hand in hand with someone I don’t see eye to eye with.  

As a long-time follower of One who has impacted the world for over 2,000 years, I love this story that one of his followers, Dr. Luke, tells:

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests.11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 14 (NLT)

When I intentionally choose the seat of humility at the relationship table, it changes everything. I don’t cancel out the person who has a different political persuasion. I don’t cancel out the person who has an opposite opinion about the best approach to parenting.  I don’t cancel out the person with a different skin tone who offers an alternative option for correcting injustice.  I don’t cancel out the person who doesn’t understand or believe in God the way I do.  Instead, I listen.  I try to walk in their shoes.  I try to look at life from their angle.  I try to learn more about their story.  The relationship is much more important than being right.  And it’s really not a conundrum at all.  It’s not confusing.  It actually feels right, and good.  Like, that’s the way it was intended from the start. 

QUESTION: What is the best way you have found to fight for humility in your life? (share it in the comment section below)

The four hardest words for me to speak as a man are, “You hurt my feelings.”   In the first place, it’s not even manly to talk about my feelings.  Who wants to hear a man whine about wounded feelings?  It’s much more manly to pout. That’s what I do.

But here’s the real truth.  It’s our ego that’s been hurt, not our feelings. “Feelings” are emotions. They come upon us unannounced, unfiltered, real and sometimes very raw.  We feel what we feel. We don’t control what comes up in our ‘feeler’; we only control how we interpret and respond to what we feel.

I love Regi Campbell’s definition of ego.  Campbell says, ego is “the combination of the person I think I am, the person I want to be, and the person I want others to think I am”.  The borders between those three are blurry. I don’t know which one is running the show in my life at any given moment until I run into someone and get hurt.  Retrospectively, I can probably figure it out.

When my ego gets hurt and I find myself frustrated, feeling angry, hurt, and having my personal pity party, it’s usually because one of 3 things happened…

  • someone didn’t respond the way I wanted them to respond
  • someone didn’t do what I wanted them to do
  • someone didn’t say what I wanted them to say

Get the picture? I’ve set myself up as god, deciding what other people should think, do and say. When they let me down, I’m upset. I’m hurt…by whomever failed to meet my expectations.  Plain and simple. Pure pride.

The reality is, the word ‘ego’ isn’t even in the Bible, but the word ‘pride’ is. 49 times. Pride is jacked up ego. Pride is what caused Satan to end up in hell. Pride has a role in every single misstep or sin. And pride is at the root of my “hurt feelings”.

It’s hard to see pride. Regi Campbell says “It’s like something dark hidden in the dark.”  What’s the best way to find something dark hidden in the dark?  Turn on a light.  In this case, the light of humility. The contrast is stunning…the humble heart vs. the prideful one. When I’m courageous enough to ask myself these honest questions, “If I truly humbled myself, what would this situation look like?” “Would I feel the same way about what she said?” “Would I take what he said personally, or would I let it go?” “Do I really have the right to expect her to react the way I want her to in every situation?” “So, maybe her feelings come rushing out before she could control them. Should that make me mad?”

An authentic truthful answer is simply, “No.”  If I can learn to ‘swallow my pride’, I’ll always respond differently. In humility, I can understand rather than bow up and fight back.  There’s a lot of things God seems to be neutral about. But pride isn’t one of them. James 4:6 says God opposes the proud bufavors the humble.”  Out of everyone I’ve met in the world, the top of the list of those I don’t want “opposing” me, is God!  And of all that I’ve met who I desire his favor, it’s God.  Man, do I ever want his favor!  Another translation of this same scripture says He “gives grace to the humble”. Grace. Undeserved blessing. To the humble.  Wow.

Let me share a suggestion.  Next time you get your feelings hurt, recognize it was your ego, not your feelings. Humble yourself. Instead of rehearsing the conversation you’re going to have where you express your hurt feelings, turn to your Heavenly Father and tell Him how much you love Him.  How grateful you are for all He’s done for you. Notice how insignificant your ‘feelings’ become when you let His amazing love wash over you.   And you will see…it wasn’t your feelings at all.  It can be healed in a moment of humility and gratitude.

The issues are many! And it’s going to be even more challenging as we move toward another election cycle in November.  Everywhere we look, there is disagreement.  Require masks, don’t require masks.  Stay out of the public, go back to a more normal life.  Send the kids back to school, keep our kids home for online school.  Vote Democrat, vote Republican.  Repost Black Lives Matter statements, repost Blue Lives Matter messages.  Return to gathering as a church, stay with online church.  Stop sports to make a statement on racism, keep the race issue out of sports.  The issues are too many to list. 

I watch people rant on social media about all of the above and more and then make statements like, “if you disagree with me, unfriend me.”  I have a hard time grasping how we have moved from  the “let’s agree to disagree” mindset I grew up with.  Since when is friendship based on looking, acting and thinking alike?  I didn’t agree with all my elementary, middle, high school or college friends.  I don’t agree with the political leanings of my best friend.  We vote different.  I don’t fully agree with his theological leanings.  But we are never disagreeable. 

People have always disagreed. On many issues.  That is not the problem.  Disagreeableness is the problem.  Our dictionaries define disagreeable as “not pleasant or enjoyable, unfriendly and bad-tempered.”  Similar words to disagreeable are listed with the definition: unpleasant, displeasing, nasty, horrible, dreadful, ill-tempered, ill-natured, horrid or curmudgeonly.  Since when did it become normal to have an unpleasant, nasty, ill-tempered approach to our relationships?  Therein lies the issue.  It’s fine to disagree.  That’s normal.  It’s not okay to be disagreeable. 

Being disagreeable is just plain bad-mannered and rude, according to the definitions.  So, help me to understand, is there ever a time and place where it is okay to be nasty, ill-tempered and horrible? While we are at the grocery store and someone forgets the directional arrows on the aisle floor?  While driving?  On Facebook?  At work?  With my spouse or kids at home?  When is it an appropriate time for us to be dreadful, horrible, and displeasing?  In reality, this kind of behavior is simply an indication of emotional and relational immaturity. 

As a chaplain and pastor for the past four decades, I look at this problem through the lens of the Bible.  Here is a poignant scripture that pictures a self-centered life and the transformation that begins when we choose a God-focused life.   

“You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him… 12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”     Colossians 3:7-14 (NLT). 

God will always give us His strength and His power to live out His calling.  But it only happens when we intentionally exhale our self-centered nature and gratefully inhale His new nature, day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute, one circumstance or situation at a time.  It’s the only way that I’ve found to live a life that disagrees with many but rarely is disagreeable with any.  May God also give you such grace for your journey. 

Dennis

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Remember Chinese drywall from about a decade ago?  It was hard to detect for a while.  Air conditioning units that corroded and were replaced a few times, coughing and congestion, smells that were hard to nail down, copper wiring that turned black and other indicators persisted for a while before the dots were connected. The same thing has happened to others with black mold in their walls. 

The experience of stress and trauma comes disguised in so many packages, all of which can be accompanied by a pervading sense of helplessness and being powerless to change it. While the term “post traumatic stress” is often synonymous with military combat, police work, fire or paramedic work, it can also come into our lives through a car accident, a relational betrayal, abuse, a hurricane or even a pandemic. The symptoms can start gradually or they can hit all of a sudden like a ton of bricks.

Captured this photo of a window/wall in Katmandu, Nepal. When I returned home, I noticed the man behind the lattice who was watching me. I never saw him when I took the image. ~ Dennis

So what do we do?  Often our natural tendency and reaction is to avoid. As people, we spend a lot of time, energy and money avoiding pain. And sometimes the things we avoid will eventually stop bothering us. But, more often than not, the things we do our best to avoid just grow. When Chinese drywall was actually determined to be present, most of the homes had to be taken down to the studs. The insidious toxin hiding inside the walls was too great. Wiring, duct work and more were torn out and replaced.  In my neighborhood, sometimes the only clue on the outside was the dumpster in the driveway or the debris sitting at the curb.

Our emotional house is not all that different. We call post-traumatic stress an invisible illness because from the outside, the house may look in-tact but inside may be a very different story. I wonder what kind of pandemic trauma we will see soon, or a year or two from now.  As with any injury or illness, we are all in different phases of trauma and recovery. Some things have started to feel a bit more normal.  But there are tons of challenges yet. Most everything in our lives have been in survival mode for months now.  COVID 19 has brought our whole world experiences of shared trauma.  So my question is, how’s your house?

No matter the stage of your recovery there is hope. Maybe you’ve adjusted enough to the new normal that you feel mostly safe again on the outside.  But do not neglect to turn your attention to the emotional house. The repair and remodeling of the emotional house is just as important as the repair of the physical house touched by Chinese drywall. Left unattended the neglect of the emotional house after a trauma is akin to letting mold and toxins grow inside the walls. It might be invisible but the effects can be deadly.

The truth is that it’s OK not to be OK…but it’s not OK to stay that way. Coming to acceptance that trauma-whatever the source-has changed us is both sobering and hopeful. The good news is that there’s more to all of this than just a label of post traumatic stress and the debilitating symptoms that go with it. We have the hope of post traumatic growth. The idea that even in the midst of destruction and devastation the human spirit can arise stronger, more connected and forever better gives us the motivation to rebuild our emotional houses too. It’s hard work but worth every bead of sweat it takes.

Are we the same after trauma? No and we never will be but maybe that’s OK.  Friends of mine used the opportunity of renovation after Chinese drywall to change the colors and flooring in their home. They loved the new look! We can use times of stress and difficulty to lean in to the new and making changes in our lives.  Get counseling.  Talk to clergy for spiritual guidance.  Explore your relationship with God and allow Him to work in you in areas where you may have been previously resistant. Remember this, any experience, any event, or any difficulty is not a dead end if the road took you somewhere you needed to go.

We are born with a desire to want more power than we have.  Every healthy child fights for more power and control from little on.  So, loving power less just isn’t a part of our nature.  All of us have seen the abuse of power.  It spans a wide spectrum from CEO’s, celebrities, pastors, political leaders, police officers, coaches, university presidents to convenience store managers.  We all lean toward gaining more power in situations.  Pride and ego are more common than we admit.  

One of my most favorite leadership books is by Jim Collins, Good to Great.  The book reveals commonalities of companies that have moved from good to great.  Collin’s research revealed five ingredients.  One of those five is having a Level 5 leader who has a strong blend of humility with intense professional will. In contrast, Collins followed up with a sequel, How the Mighty Fall.  His book revealed that decline always started from “Hubris born of success.”  Arrogant neglect.  Nothing more to learn.  Entitlement.  Pride. 

Pride is jacked up ego.  But pride is hard to see.  It is like something dark, hidden in the dark.  The best way to see pride is to turn on the light of humility.  The contrast is stunning…the humble heart vs. the prideful heart.  Dr. Tim Irwin echoes Jim Collins when he wrote the book, Derailed.  Extreme arrogance moves one toward derailment.  Humility keeps us on the tracks toward long-term success.  

Copyright – Gingerich PhotoArt

A first century writer and catalyst leader across the Middle East and Europe was known as Apostle Paul.  He wrote these God-inspired words:   

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name… 
Philippians 2:3-9 (NIV).

This description of what Jesus modeled is why Jesus could authentically challenge his followers to “take up their cross daily.”  He portrayed dying to self-aggrandizement, pride and ego as difficult as a physical death on a cross.  Not a goal for wimps.  But a challenge for the courageous.  The path to your greatest future is paved by service and humility. 

Take some time for self-reflection.  What area of your life do you find it hardest to be humble?  At home?  At work?  What is one thing you could do today to demonstrate more humility?  What most often stands in the way of you showing unpretentiousness?  What is one step you could take today to love power less and align your life closer to what Jesus modeled? 

The definition is simple, “the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.”  It shouldn’t be that hard. But somehow, this one seems in short supply.  It’s often missing in the grocery store, neighborhoods, on the road, at work, and even in churches.  I just got a community-wide letter from the board president of our home-owners association asking for this one small thing in our community.  She had to write these words to a bunch of adults, “Road rage, abusive language, disrespect, and discourteous conduct are examples of unacceptable behavior by residents recently reported by both employees and residents.” Sad. Real. Sad. 

Kindness is the missing ingredient.  Sometimes we call it civility.  Affection, gentleness, warmth, concern and care are other words associated with kindness.  I called it simple.  But Dr. Karyn Hall wrote in a Psychology Today article, “Being kind often requires courage and strength.  Kindness is an interpersonal skill.”  She also stated in the same article that researchers have found kindness to be the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. 

At the church I started, our Lead Pastor, Cory Demmel, did a multi-part message series built around the topic of kindness.  We even sell the shirts that he wore when he spoke, “Dude. Be Kind.”  They’ve become popular around Southwest Florida.  You can even order one for yourself or a friend.  The proceeds go back into acts of kindness for our community.

A close up of a sign

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How are you doing on the kindness scale?  Are you more on the end of frequently impatient, grumpy, rude and disrespectful or are you closer to friendly, warm, gentle, generous and considerate?  Just remember, how you measure yourself might be different than what your spouse, your kids or your co-workers say.  Ask them if you are brave enough to seek the truth. 

There are different ways to practice kindness.  One way is simply to open your eyes and notice others who are in need of a kind word, a smile, opening a door, or helping carry a heavy load. Celebrating someone else’s success, giving honest compliments, sending a thank you, telling someone how grateful you are for them, paying for someone else’s coffee, refusing to gossip are all small ways to practice kindness.  Kindness is even about telling the truth in a gentle way so it is helpful to the other person. 

Do you treat yourself kindly?  Do you value you, and take care of yourself?  Do you speak and think kindly of yourself or are you harsh and hard on yourself?  Starting with yourself puts you in a better position and attitude to treat someone else kindly.  

Apostle Paul wrote much of the part of the Bible known as the New Testament.  In a book to Jesus-followers who lived in the town of Galatia, he wrote these contrasting words, “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear…hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division…But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:19-23 NLT).  In other words, what is inside oozes out under pressure.  A God-focused life displays radically different fruit than a self-centered life.  God is always willing to come in and replace the junk with his best stuff if you just invite Him. 

Kindness is so much about being aware and intentional.  Ask God every day to build a speed bump between your brain and mouth.  Ask God to start replacing self-centeredness with other-focused characteristics described as the “Fruit of the Spirit” above.  Ask God daily for His help and His strength to respond to each person and situation with kindness.  Ask Him to fill you with His best.  He loves to answer those kind of prayers.  Your world will start changing.  Dude.  Be kind.

QUESTION: In which setting is kindness easiest for you? Hardest for you? I’d love for you drop a comment below. Thanks!

You thought it was supposed to be “Christmas in July,” right?  You’ve heard it for years.  Retailers promote buying in July with discounts, Christmas decorations and even Christmas music playing, trying to spark a mid-year surge of profits. I propose we change it to Thanksgiving in July.  Not that I’m a marketing expert.

I’m really talking about taking time in the middle of summer to be grateful.  In the middle of a stressful season filled with boatloads of griping and complaining about messed up vacation plans, required masks, lack of masks, quarantines, and other pandemic fallout, we should celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s the one day we try hard to complain less and think about all the things we are thankful for.   You know, sit at a table full of hot steaming food, and watch it get cold as everyone around the circle gives their obligatory list of things, they are grateful for.

We all want a happy life.  But did you know that a happy life doesn’t bring more gratitude?  Actually, it’s the other way around.  A life of gratitude brings a happy life.  Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions.  Gratefulness neutralizes envy, hostility, anxiety, worry and irritation.  There is actually science to back it up.

In psychology, gratitude is the human way of acknowledging the good things of life.  Psychologists have defined gratitude as “a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone” (Emmons & McCullough, 2004).  Thanking others, thanking ourselves, or thanking God will make us feel happier and have a healing effect on us.  Research data shows that positive emotions and thoughts bring enhanced moods, increased self-satisfaction, stronger immune systems, less body aches and pains, optimum blood pressure and cardiac functioning and better sleep-wake cycles.  Ultimately, the above benefits of gratitude also extend to social benefits of better communication, more empathy, stronger interpersonal relationships, more likeability by our peers and better teamwork with others.  

From a neuroscience perspective, when we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us “feel good.”  They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.  A “Counting Blessings vs Burdens” study conducted showed that keeping a gratitude journal reduced pain symptoms, improved sleep quality, and lowered stress compared to those who were keeping track of all the burdens they had to face each day. 

So let me suggest four things for Thanksgiving in July:

APPRECIATE YOURSELF.  It might be uncomfortable, but try standing in front of a mirror and speak out five good things to yourself.  It can be about your past achievements, your present efforts, your talents or your virtues.  Compliment yourself.  I’m betting you will actually feel better… once you get past the awkwardness.

KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL.  Write down all the little and big things in life that you are thankful for.  There is power in words, so don’t overlook even the small things, no matter how unimportant they may seem.  You might want to choose these four categories:  1) Compliments that I would like to give myself today;  2) People I am grateful for;  3) Current challenges and what I’m learning from them; and 4) Significant assets of my life at present.

GRATITUDE VISITS.  We all have someone, whose unconditional support and help meant a lot to us.  We feel as if we “owe” our success to them.  I’m planning such a visit in a couple months in a northeastern state.  I’ve told him before, but he is close to 80 now, and I want to tell him again.  I know how wonderful it makes him feel and how it makes me feel.  If you can’t make a visit, make a phone call, send a text, or write a thank you note.

DEVELOP GRATITUDE HABITS.  We tend to have uphill hopes and dreams but downhill habits.  If you aren’t intentional, you will most likely gravitate toward complaining and negativity.  There are a lot of things that are negative about our world, especially right now.  If we focus on them, we will spiral downward and only see plenty to gripe about.  It will help to find a gratitude buddy for daily practice.  It can be God, your spouse, a child, a friend at work.  Set aside a few minutes every day to discuss the things you are thankful for.  I try to do that with God on my daily 2-mile sunrise walk.  Sharing thoughts of gratefulness with someone is a great way to strengthen this positive emotional habit in your life.  

“Grateful Brain” author, Alex Korb, writes about how we can wire our brains toward negativity or we can re-wire our brains toward positivity by consciously and intentionally practicing gratitude.  When we train our brains to tend toward positive emotions, we reduce anxiety and feelings of apprehension.  Other studies confirm that gratitude practices are effective for treating phobias like death anxiety, PTSD, social phobia, etc. This is why I’m promoting Thanksgiving in July.  

We need a whole lot more positivity in our community and world right now.  Choosing gratitude fosters adaptive coping mechanisms.  We are more resilient when we experience satisfaction, happiness and pleasure, thereby building inner strength to combat stress.  Will you join me in choosing gratitude so we together can make our workplaces, our homes and community a better place to live?  There are still a few days left in July.  Let’s start a new tradition of Thanksgiving in July, and…every day after!

QUESTION: Which one of the above four suggestions do you find easiest? Hardest? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

You’ve been completely off the grid for the last 4-5 months if you haven’t heard the words COVID-19.  Every newscast, newspaper, nearly every government official and medical leader has been talking about it. Non-stop. It has changed the way we do nearly every part of our jobs, our shopping, our recreation and our life. The abbreviation, COVID-19, is based on this: ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ stand for virus, ‘D’ stands for disease and the 19 stands for the year it was internationally identified.  On my wife’s lab test the other day, it showed up as SARS CORONAVIRUS 2 with a “Negative” result. 

Why the title COVID—20/20?  Because we have been blind-sided in 2020.  We often associate 2020 with vision.  20/20 vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet.  For example, if you have 20/40 vision, it means that the test subject sees at 20 feet what a person with “normal” vision sees at 40 feet.  20/20 is sometimes called “perfect vision” because no aids are required to see better.  But people can have better than 20/20 vision.  I used to see letters smaller than the general “20/20” size. Now, it takes my progressive prescription lenses to get me to 20/20.

Another popular phrase is, “Hindsight is 20/20.”  We see imperfectly looking forward, but we see perfectly when we look back after an event or a decision.  That phrase has made me look at our experiences through COVID-19 and wonder about what we are seeing as we look back.  I have five observations as I look back over my shoulder at the past several months. 

LEADERSHIP IS DIFFICULT.  Four decades of leadership has taught me a lot.  But the COVID crisis has reminded me that leadership isn’t for the faint of heart.  I knew it before.  But now I’m beyond sure of it.  It is difficult to lead a business, a department, a church, a nation, a platoon, a team, a city or even a family.  There will always be opposition, naysayers, resisters and slow adopters.  Every leadership decision today has pitfalls.  People will disagree.  Some will tell everyone else about why you made the wrong decision.  Some will refuse to follow.  Leadership is always hard but, leading through a crisis in these days, makes it downright difficult.  I learned this truth from Winston Churchill, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”  Keep on leading.

FEAR IS CONTAGIOUS.  From empty toilet paper shelves, every flush of a warm forehead, each tickle in the throat, conspiracy theories about the government implanting micro-chips in your brain through a virus test to several religious leaders proclaiming the end of the world is upon us.  Fear and anxiety are a virus of its own kind.  Panic and stress rise and fall with every news chart showing the rising or falling trends of new COVID cases.  We have seen this play out in cities, stock markets, workplaces, families, churches, among friends, and in families.  Fear has invaded nearly every crevice of our world over the last months.  Great leaders in countries, organizations and families, reduce fear through clarity and good communication.  We’ve seen some leaders at their best and some at their worst.

FLEXIBILITY WINS EVERY TIME.  I love the ways I’ve seen flexibility demonstrated.  Car manufacturers who switched to making respirators.  An Ohio Amish-owned home goods manufacturer converting to construct surgical masks.  Innovative parents who quickly adapted to home-school teachers.  Churches transitioning from in-person worship to online worship.  Restaurants moving from table service to curbside pick-up.  Flexibility is the key characteristic needed to avoid breaking.  Those who are flexible can usually survive and even thrive during crisis.  The inflexible will always struggle to just survive.

STRESS REVEALS WHAT IS INSIDE.  It is often thought that stress makes a person stronger or develops more character.  I disagree.  I really believe that what is already on the inside is actually squeezed out or brought to the surface when we are under pressure.  Author Robert McKee writes, “True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation.”Jesus put it this way, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).  My point is, the stress and pressure of today’s challenge is revealing a lot of astounding acts of kindness, generosity, compassion and… just the opposite.

EMOTIONAL MATURITY IS IN SHORT SUPPLY.  I have to admit that I’ve been deeply disappointed by the lack of emotionally healthy responses to our world situation.  I’m saddened the current COVID crisis has too often turned into a politicized mud-slinging free-for-all.  I’ve watched the personal preferences of a few elevated to life-anchoring principles that everyone should be adopting.  I’ll be so bold to just call it emotional and spiritual immaturity when I watch people repeatedly drawing battle lines about sometimes trivial matters and proclaiming, they are offended by everyone on the other side of the line they’ve put in the sand.  Whatever happened to calm healthy conversations about the pros and cons of a particular view, a political position or a personal belief? Most everyone wants an either/or position and aren’t willing to come up with a both/and solution (previous blog).  I love the fact that one of my long-time pastor friends recently said, “As a follower of Jesus, I don’t look through either red or blue glasses, I see through purple glasses.”  He didn’t bash one political party or the other.  He can see both and. He wasn’t out to prove one was right and the other wrong.  Both have positives and negatives.  That is emotional maturity.  

So, how is your vision? Looking back over the last months, have you had an “I” exam?  Are there any of these 5 that you might need to give some attention to in your life? What would the people closest to you say?  Have any of these five made an appearance?  Occasionally?  Frequently?  Honest assessment is important. There is no change or growth without self-awareness.  And remember, there is no growth in comfort and no comfort in growth.  Blessings on the journey!

Love to have your comments for more conversation below…

My daily sunrise routine includes walking 2 miles in my neighborhood while listening to podcasts or book summaries, enjoying the beauty of God’s sky-painting, reflecting on my life and my relationships and praying for others. A recent podcast got my attention.  It was titled “2 Questions to Grow Your Business.”  One of my mentors from afar, Andy Stanley, was interviewing Jeff Henderson about a recent book he authored.  As I listened, I was struck by the fact that these two questions were applicable in pretty much every area of life: personal success, marriage, parenting, leadership in business, non-profits, or churches.  In every area we want to grow and win in, we need to know the answers to these two important questions. 

1.    What Do You Want to be Known For?

2.    What Are You Known For?

A sunrise on a recent morning walk.

The first question is really about your purpose and mission in life. What legacy do you want to leave?  What do you want people to say about you at your memorial service?  How do you want to be remembered?  My written tag line/mission statement is: “To Inspire TransforMissional Living in Others.”  Basically, I want to be known as a person who encourages and inspires people to live a God-transformed life that is intentional and on purpose.

The second question is the harder one of the two.  What am I really known for?  Honestly, how big is the gap between my wish and reality?  If I want to be known as a loving and caring person but many people know me as hateful and harsh, there is a problem.  A huge gap.  If I want to be known as a level-headed emotionally healthy parent, there is a big discrepancy if all my kids and others see is a “fly-off-the-handle” reactionary and explosive dad. In the business world, Henderson says, “When what you want to be known for is what you are actually known for, you create a free sales force through word-of-mouth advertising, which creates the healthiest form of growth.”  In other words, there is a very small gap between what your mission is and how customers see your company.  You don’t have to just talk about how great your product or service is, everyone is already telling others about your superior product or service.

It is necessary to answer the first question before you can accurately answer the second.  Have you slowed down from the fast pace of life to adequately contemplate what you really do want to be known for?  Or are you just so busy doing that you haven’t thought about being?  Don’t forget, we are human beings and not human doings. It is critical to keep the end in mind.  What outcome do you want from your parenting, your career, your marriage, your business, your non-profit, etc.?  If you have no clear picture of what the ending should look like, then you will have no idea what to do to get there.  There’s an old Columbian Proverb that says, “If you don’t know where you are coming from, and you don’t know where you are going, then any bus will do.”  Have you spent time crafting a mission statement for your life?  Have you written down the key characteristics that you want your children to embody when they become adults?  Have you thought about the things you want people to say about you at your retirement party?  Even more sobering, your funeral?  Here’s a link to some further exploration on this topic.

To get good answers to the second question, a couple things come to mind.  Self-Awareness. Fearless Feedback.  Without those two, the answer to “What are you known for?” will be based on wishful thinking.  Most of us go to online to Google, Yelp, Amazon, etc. for reviews before we buy a product or do business with a company.  We won’t buy a 2-star rated product. What if someone could pull up a quick list of personal reviews for me or you?  What would be the tone of those reviews?  While it’s tempting, I really don’t even want to know the first impressions of others.  The best feedback to give me the helpful answers I need for this second question will come from those who’ve known me well for decades.  The coveted answers that will help me measure the gap between what I want to be and what I actually am will come from my spouse, my kids, my co-workers and closest friends.  Most of us are pretty good at impressing people from a distance.  But it’s those who live with us or are around us nearly 24-7 who should be invited to give fearless feedback to raise our level of self-awareness.  It’s not always comfortable to hear from that adjacent group, but they can help us close the gap between the dreams of what we want to be and the reality of who we are. Then real growth and progress is made.  

All of us want to win!  We want to be successful in our careers, our homes and communities.  Start with these two strategic questions above.  Then, seek to discover the answers.  You will be astonished at how this intentionality will pay off in your life now, and in the future.

QUESTION:  If you know the answer to Question #1, do you mind sharing it in the Comment section below?  If not, I would love to hear what your next step is toward getting the answer to questions 1 & 2. 

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