Two Sides of Giving Thanks

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy

Last week in the US we recognized and remembered the man who was Kennedy, struck down before his time.  His words spoken many years ago still ring true for us alive today.  As we gather around tables with family and friends and considering the bounty of blessings before us, it’s a chance for us to express our thanks; something we don’t always take the time to do.  Lately I’ve been reading about good ways to show gratitude and recognition to employees, and one of the most obvious and simplest things that can be done is to just say “thank you” and let them know their dedication and hard work has been seen and appreciated.

The thing about gratitude, as well as other areas of our lives, is that there are two important parts: the verbal and the physical.  If you think about a marriage ceremony, there’s the physical sharing of rings and the exchange of words.  If you think about a business arrangement, there’s verbal discussion and agreement, and a written contract.   Words reinforce your actions and actions reinforce your words, and when they don’t match up people lose trust. Just like if you tell your partner or a family member that you’ll do something and don’t.

While we are talking about giving thanks today, the same is true for other areas of our lives.  We can dream and share about our dreams and goals all we want, but unless we actually get up and take action, even little ones, towards the accomplishment of that goal or dream, there’s no way it can come to pass.

This Thanksgiving, take time to appreciate people with both your words and your actions.  Who do you appreciate?

Time to be Thankful

As we look to Thanksgiving here in America there’s a lot of talk about what we’re thankful for.  The good news is that lots of us can relate to being thankful for heat and a roof over our heads or a delicious cup of tea/coffee to start our morning.  Not as many of us remember to be thankful for the moments God touched over the past year in our lives.  Nor do we associate that roof over our heads or the tea/coffee to get us out of bed to God either.  And if we’re having a particularly hard time it can be more difficult to think thankful thoughts.  Several people I know have passed away over the past month and other people are ill or not doing well.  Yet here we are entering into the most joyful time for most people.  So what can we do to enjoy the season, and maybe even remember the reason for the season?

Two things come to mind and they really go hand in hand: to not linger on the negative (the crowds, the traffic, the parties, the people we’ve lost), and to focus on the heart of the season (the magic, the generosity, the gatherings).  Psalm 100:4-5 shares one way that we can focus on the good and not on the negative:

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” 

While there are a few exceptions, most holiday songs are joy-filled, happy, tales of love, family and happiness.  It’s the one season each year that we’re allowed to be kind and loving and enjoy the world around us rather than griping about what has or could go wrong.

This holiday season I invite you to open your heart, your mind and your life to all that is bright and cheerful.  I don’t go around in a Mrs. Claus costume and I wouldn’t expect you to dress up as either of the Claus’ (or an elf), but there’s nothing wrong with having a bounce in your step, a song in your heart and a smile on your face.

Whether or not you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this week, take time to be thankful, and let other people know you appreciate them.  And take time to let God know you appreciate all He has done in your life too.

Laughing through Challenges

This month as we’ve talked alternatively about being thankful and strength, what inevitably comes up are challenges.  Usually we’re thankful when we get through a tough meeting with our boss, avoid the bad drivers, or have an extra-special great day, and usually when we talk about being strong it connects with getting through relationship challenges, tough days at work or sicknesses. Challenges are a part of our daily lives, and without them we wouldn’t have the strength of character or wisdom that we do.  Those mountains we climb make us into the people we are.

You’ve seen what the climb has done to some people though: they’re nasty, to put it bluntly.  Yes, they’ve taken the challenges life presented them, grabbed them, and thrown them back at the rest of us at every chance they get.  That’s not the case for everyone of course.  Most people deal with challenges one of three ways: some of us take them in stride and deal with them as they come, others of us get beaten down by them, and the last group of people face and go through their challenges with flying colors.  It’s these people who the rest of us alternatively are jealous of and annoyed by.  How can they be so cheerful in the face of so much?!  Charles M. Schulz has an answer to that:

“If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself.”

Humor isn’t just something for funny movies, cute puppies or crazy antics.  It’s therapy, a way of dealing, and scientifically proven to be good for us.  It’s about much more than it may seem on the surface.  One lesson we can learn from it is to not take everything in life deathly seriously.  Yes, life has serious moments.  It would be hard to forget that.  But when we see life as that hard serious thing, we end up like the grumps I mentioned earlier.  But when we allow ourselves to see life as separate from the hardships, that hardships aren’t synonymous with life, we’re able to get some perspective.

If you’re dealing with something serious in your life, don’t go through it alone, and don’t let the problems take over your life.  You’re more than any problems you face.  No matter how you’ve faced your problems in the past, today is a new day and you can choose to do something different.  What will you do to make today a better day?

Strength to Overcome

Thanksgiving brings up a lot of things for people: the rush to Christmas, the crush of family, the pressure of parties and seasons greetings.  One of the challenges of the season we’re entering is the challenge of being sincere in our expression of emotions.  I’m sure that you’ve uttered “if I hear another Christmas song I’m gonna scream!” or some similar sentiment about the number of cheerful “elves” who have wished you a happy holidays.  For some this season is just a chance to watch football, party and eat a lot, and most of us do have some holiday spirit if we try enough.  But for some of us, the holidays are truly magical.  They’re a gift of joy, thankfulness, peace and togetherness, something we can’t always celebrate or recognize throughout the rest of the year.  It’s an opportunity for us to slow down a little and appreciate all we have.  It’s a celebration of all we’ve done in the year ending and all we hope is coming in the new year.  It’s a chance to celebrate the things we’ve faced and overcome in this year and in our lives.  Jeremiah 1:19 says:

“People will fight against you, but they will not defeat you, because I am with you.”

One of the reasons I write my Personal Victories newsletter each week is because we don’t always take the time to celebrate our lives and the things we work through each day.  We don’t always make the time to thank God for the victories He helps us have and the challenges we’ve defeated.  We don’t always recognize that God is that little bit of strength that helps us get through that day, that the little miracle of a parking space, perfect gift, coincidental meeting with a friend, or special bonus at work.  Yet throughout the Bible God claimed that He would indeed give us the strength we needed to get through those times.

As we think about Thanksgiving next week, I encourage you to take time each day to stop and recognize the moments that God helped you through.  Maybe you’ve been chalking it up to luck lately, but it’s more than that.  They’re the moments God sends a little blessing your way.  What are you thankful for today?

Universal Kindness

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Mark Twain

In a world with so many different people, cultures and likes and dislikes, while you usually can find at least one point in common with someone, there’s one way to always connect with them: be kind.  Even if you don’t really like kids, getting down to their level and asking about the stuffed animal held tightly in their hands will usually make them smile at you and tell you about them.  A word of kindness can also cool an argument, pacify a disgruntled customer or make someone’s day.  A door held open with a smile is something that can be appreciated in any language or culture.

One thing I struggle with on a regular basis is understanding why people choose to be nasty, lie, cheat and steal. What makes people choose those actions and words instead of kindness and honesty?  I’ve lied and spoken some things later I regretted in the past, most of us have.  When I decided to build a business I was adamant that it would be one of honesty, integrity and openness.  I refused to work with or for someone any longer who chose to destroy rather than build up any longer.  I know that not every business or job in the world, or even relationship, is unhealthy, but I have met many and was tired of seeing people hurt and struggle.

The choice I’ve made, and the choice I hope you’ve made, is one of kindness and integrity.  I make partnerships both in business and life with others who are conscious about their impact on the world, who believe that every day is a new opportunity, and that any situation can be overcome.  Blindness, deafness, financial loss, physical location, these are not what truly makes us who we are.  Rather, our ethics, attitude and actions do.  What kindnesses can you do today?

Remembering to be Thankful

Each of our days is filled with many obligations, opportunities and even some obstacles.  It’s really a blessing to have days that are so full, hopefully full of good company and good times.  We’re truly living in a blessed time and are fortunate to have so many resources at our disposal.  Even those of us around the world with very little have more than people did hundreds of years ago.  I’m thankful to be living now because more people are becoming conscience of the world in which we live and in caring for it and ourselves more carefully.  And yet we can get wrapped up in everything and forget.  Micah 6:3-4 says:

“[God says,] “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.””

Sometimes we can forget the good stuff we have, even when things are going well.  I’m sure you’ve heard it said that when things are going wrong you should count your blessings.  But the same holds true for the times that things are going well too.  Each and every day should be a day of thanksgiving.  The celebration of Thanksgiving Day every November in the USA, and in other months around the world, is a day for us all to come together and share our thanks.  But each day is a day to be thankful in our own personal lives. The challenge for some of us is remembering to be thankful.

In Micah 6:3-4 God reminds the people of Israel that they do have much to be thankful for.  We always have things that come up in our lives and fill our days. But busy, full days often mean we forget things, like taking time to be thankful.  Which is why we need to have gratitude practices like journaling, meditation or prayer in our lives on a daily basis.  I’d love to hear what you’re thankful for, share your thoughts in the comments.

Stick Around

“I think I’ve discovered the secret of life – you just hang around until you get used to it.”  Charles M. Schulz

Life has been compared to a rat race before, and there’s some truth in that.  It’s not a speed race, but we do go from the starting point of our births to the finish line of our deaths.  What we do in between the start and the finish determines not only how we feel as we finish, but how others feel about us as we finish.  No, I’m not suggesting you should live your life to be pleasing to others, but in the same breath I’m definitely not suggesting you should live your life only for your pleasure with no thought towards the impact your actions have on others.

Charles Shultz’s wisdom is in encouraging us to go out there and try different things.  There’s no reason to have bologna on white bread or pb&j every day for lunch, unless you really like it, because there’s a world of possibilities out there.  If we don’t try new things or meet new people our lives can become tedious, not to mention boring.  I was reminded recently that our bodies are meant to move, not be stationary, and if we don’t move bad things can happen.  The same is true for other areas of our lives: without movement, without new perspectives and options there’s no possibility of growth and little possibility of health.

While there is wisdom and even a little humor in Charles Schultz’ perspective, it also reveals one of our most vulnerable points throughout most of our lives: fitting in.  It’s much easier today to find where you fit in thanks to the internet and actually fit in with the more open culture.  But if you can’t find where you fit in or you’re too concerned with the societal and familial implications of where you think you fit in, you’ll be miserable trying to fake it.

This week I encourage you to take a look at your life.  Are you trying to fake it or are you being true to yourself?  Get used to being yourself, no one else can do it like you.