RLL 54: How Gratitude Changes Our Hearts

RLL 54: How Gratitude Changes Our Hearts

My best friend, David, and me—just doing what we do at his wedding rehearsal dinner back in October.

My best friend, David, and me—just doing what we do at his wedding rehearsal dinner back in October.

I’ll get this out right up front: I am a short, short human being. I am 5’3” inches tall (that’s 160.02 cm for my metric-minded friends, according to Google), roughly the same height as Napoleon Bonaparte (at least according to British propaganda from the era) and much shorter than many notable celebrities that are considered ‘short.’ Also according to Google, the average American male is 5’9” tall…which puts the average American man as a full 6 inches taller than I am. Half a foot. Shorter than average.

I get hobbit jokes all the time from my students, elf jokes every Christmas season from the whole world, and short jokes from my best friend (who is 6’4”) and his family pretty much always.

As a result of my short stature, I’ve always felt frustrated at many aspects of life that average height men take for granted: getting things off of high shelves, washing my hands in public restrooms (which for me results in getting water from the counter top on my shirt right at belly-button level), etc. But here’s the thing: it could be worse.

When my daughters put heels on, they really are almost my height!

When my daughters put heels on, they really are almost my height!

Over the past year, though, I’ve realized just how much I have to be thankful for, despite the fact that I’m roughly the size of a middle school student. And the more I focused on reasons to be thankful, the more thankful I’ve become. C.S. Lewis talks about a similar phenomenon in ‘Mere Christianity’ regarding how we treat others, and I believe the principle holds true for how we think of ourselves. Here’s what he wrote:

“When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less…[W]henever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less.”

I believe this same idea also applies to how we think about our situations in life: if we constantly focus on the negative, then the negatives only seem to grow. If, however, we choose to focus on the positives, then the negatives seem to fade into the background.

They don’t go away entirely (after all, I still need help getting things off of high shelves), but they’re not as big of a deal as they used to be. And they can even turn into moments of light-heartedness and fun, such as when my children get to laugh as I jump up to knock something off of a store shelf and then catch it before it hits the tiled floor.

I’m thankful that I’m short, because it means I get more opportunities to jump than most adults get on a regular day.

When my wife and I visited Cameron Indoor Stadium this summer, It was fun to see just how much smaller our feet are than those of former Duke basketball players.

When my wife and I visited Cameron Indoor Stadium this summer, It was fun to see just how much smaller our feet are than those of former Duke basketball players.

I’m thankful that I’m short because not once in my life have I hit my head on a pull-up bar, a ceiling fan blade, or the top of a door frame (all of which my best friend has done).

I’m thankful that I’m short because the old “Jump, knock it off a shelf then catch it” trick made for a lot of laughs (and extra tips) when I was a bartender in college.

I’m thankful I’m short because when I played soccer in high school and college, I almost never got called for fouls because referees thought, “Surely that little guy didn’t actually knock that big dude over. He must have been diving.”

I’m thankful I’m short because it’s obviously how God intended me to be.

Action Step: This Thanksgiving week, in addition to just listing things we’re thankful for, I would challenge you to ask yourself how you might reframe your situation mentally (to learn more about ‘reframing,’ check out podcasts from both Bob Burg and Jordan Harbinger). In other words, think of something that normally bothers you or drags you down; then, examine how can you think differently about it so that it becomes an opportunity for gratitude.

(Bonus: For more info on how to do this, also go check out my friend Dr. William Findley over at to learn how to #thinkbetter and #livebetter)

RLL 47: Mel's Mustang

Real Life Leading #47: Mel’s Mustang

This past week my wife made a surprise trip to Pensacola, Florida, to go see a couple of friends of our who were there. Because it was a short-notice thing, our friends paid for Mel to rent a car, and the only car available at this particular rental place (after the first place had no cars available) was a beautiful, almost brand-new 2018 Ford Mustang convertible…and MAN, was I jealous! Time for a little backstory…

Twenty years ago, my first car was a 1968 Ford Mustang. I’m not a ‘car guy’, familiar with all different makes and models and engine types; but I love Mustangs, and I always have. I also haven’t driven one since I sold mine right after my older daughter was born fourteen years ago. So when Mel got the opportunity to drive one to Florida, I will fully admit I was mostly just jealous.

Mel wasn’t at all sorry about getting to drive this car! Unfortunately, it looked like the weather might not cooperate with the convertible.

Mel wasn’t at all sorry about getting to drive this car! Unfortunately, it looked like the weather might not cooperate with the convertible.

Thankfully, that only lasted for a few minutes, because of something that happened in my brain and something Mel said: first, God reminded me that because I love Mustangs, I should be happy that my wife also gets to experience the awesomeness of driving one. And second, almost as if on cue, my wife smiled and me and said, “Would you like to drive it to the interstate to see me off before I go?” Would I?!? So I got to drive the Mustang. And it.was.glorious!

What’s the point of all of this? The point is twofold: first, that our mindset makes a tremendous difference in our reaction to things in life; and second, that the stories we tell ourselves shape what we believe about our circumstances.

If we constantly choose to focus on the negatives, we will quickly become overwhelmingly negative people. The truth is, if you’re reading this blog on a phone or computer or other device, you live in a place that has better technology than most of earth, and you have access to that technology, as do I. We have more access to food, healthcare, and shelter than most people who have ever existed. And, unfortunately, we too often forget that and need to be reminded of it.

I’m glad she even got to put the top down after the weather cleared up!

I’m glad she even got to put the top down after the weather cleared up!

During the summer of 2001, I spent three weeks on a mission trip to Honduras, most of it in a village with no electricity or running water. The people I met there were the most generous people I’ve ever met in my life, even though they were also the poorest in terms of material goods and ease-of-life. As a result of that trip, when I came home, I was more aware of the tremendous blessings we have. For example, after three weeks of using barrel-caught rainwater and a hollow gourd for bathing, I was thankful for hot, running water and access to a variety of food. These sound like simple things, but they shouldn’t be taken for granted.

By the way, the friends that Mel went to Florida to see? The reason they were there is because they had twins born twelve weeks early, and those babies had been in the NICU since the summer. Mel was meeting our friends in Florida so that the parents could both ride home together in the van with their kids (they also have a toddler), while Mel drove their other car back to Birmingham. After over three months in the NICU, the babies were on their first trip home. Their parents were filled with joy, and we’re glad Mel was able to help them out. As for me, you better believe that whenever I think of what they’ve been through, I hug my daughters a little tighter. I hope you all will do the same today.

Action Step: Today, make a brief list, mental or on paper, of things that you have to be thankful for. Then encourage someone around you to do the same, and see how it lifts your spirits and your hearts.

RLL 26: The Power of Partnerships--Two C's to Working Better Together

RLL 26

The Power of Partnerships: Two C’s of Working Better Together

I’m very excited to be working on the final editing and revisions for my book that’s due out this summer! Since I’m planning to self-publish, I’ve been learning as much about that process as I can, and this week I stumbled across a hidden jewel that applies not just in book writing but in all of leadership. Here it is (paraphrased from Chandler Bolt, best-selling author of six books, including Publish and Book Launch): ‘When writing a book, the purpose of working with an editor is to produce something that is better than you would have been able to create on your own.’

As my wife and I were walking our dogs yesterday, I told her about how I came across that piece of wisdom and how much it struck a chord with me. She agreed, and we discussed it at further length as we continued to walk, and the more we discussed it, the more examples I came across in my world. I want to share with you two key insights today that I gathered from Chandler’s wisdom: collaboration and compromise are necessary to the creation of great things, and that requires the humility to engage in both.

Key #1: The Necessity of COLLABORATION

All of us gathered together to celebrate our daughter's baptism at her grandfather's church.

All of us gathered together to celebrate our daughter's baptism at her grandfather's church.

The first key to understanding why partnerships are so powerful is in that sentence above, because (within reason) working with other people toward a common goal is going to produce better results than you would have achieved alone. We see this in education, where many classrooms today use the word collaboration to describe ways in which students work together on projects, in study groups, or to complete complex assignments. In these situations, students use their particular skill sets in combination with other students, and the results are of a higher quality than any individual student would have produced alone. Collaboration has become a bit of an education buzzword actually, both for students and for teachers, and the goal is always the same: raise the quality of work being done by combining the strengths (and thus also shoring up the weaknesses) of multiple people.

The same is true in family life, when both parents are working together for the good of the family. Now, please, don’t misunderstand me: I’m NOT bashing single parents. I know there are many, many single parents who do more and work harder and longer hours than they should have to, just for the sake of their children. I also know (and am thankful for) the many loving friends and family members who help single parents with logistical things, like picking kids up from school or running errands from time to time. And I believe all of these things further drive home my point: when there are two parents, a mother and father working together, that is when the family functions best. That’s why God designed it that way.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me give a little background into my own world: my parents divorced when I was in middle school, and we lived with my mom afterward. However, because of my parents’ love for us and their willingness to compromise, we also saw my father almost every day and we even still celebrated many holidays together. That is, my mom and dad continued to work together for the sake of their three children even though it was sometimes difficult and unusual. As an adult, I also am divorced and was a single parent for a time, as was my ex-wife. I am now remarried, as is my ex-wife, and the four adults involved all work together for the sake of our children. This is the type of collaboration that is necessary in our current divorce-heavy culture. And this leads to the second key here: having enough humility to compromise.

KEY #2: COMPROMISE requires humility

Butterscotch (on the left) and Bruiser (on the right) don't look too happy about being kept out of the garden!

Butterscotch (on the left) and Bruiser (on the right) don't look too happy about being kept out of the garden!

Any time you work in close contact with another adult, there will have to be compromise. In working on the final revisions of my book, I’ve asked my wife and a few other people to go through and make editing suggestions. One of the people who did, a lady I call my second mom, emailed me with a list of over fifty different edits that needed to be made. And in her email, she made a joke about how I’ll probably never ask for her help again because of the number of mistakes. I was sure to email her back and let her know that I was actually very grateful to her for the suggestions that she made and that I took no offense at how many mistakes she found.

We saw this idea in my house again this weekend when my wife and I were rebuilding a garden in our backyard. We built a garden last weekend, but the quality was not very high, and it became obvious that we needed to rethink our plan. So she went and talked with her parents, and they came up with a much better design. As we built the garden beds, moved the dirt, and built a better fence, multiple small changes were necessary in order to accommodate the reality of our situation: our backyard was not as flat as we’d thought, and we have two large dogs who needed to be kept out of the beds. In the end, thanks to suggestions and hard work from my wife, her mom, and her dad, the final product is somewhat different and also much better than what we had originally done last week and what was intended to be done yesterday. This wouldn’t have been possible if we had stubbornly stuck to the plan drawn up on paper, instead of being willing to make a few changes.

Conclusion: working together (within reason) always produces better results than we would be able to achieve on our own! So, let us have the humility to compromise and collaborate with others so that, together, we can produce things of better quality and lasting value.

Action Step: ask someone for help with a project you’re working on, and be willing to implement at least one of their suggestions even if they’re radically different than what you had originally intended.

Don’t forget to be looking out for my upcoming book on leadership! In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed the first chapter that I emailed out to everyone last week. If you’d like to partner with me in sharing buzz about the book ahead of time, please let me know. Thanks, and God bless!