MAKE A LIST

I keep a list.  It’s a “for-real,” pen-on-paper list.  For as much as I love gadgets and technology, there is still something about putting ink on a sheet of paper.  There’s something about the mechanics of moving your hand across a piece of paper, leaving behind a trail of letters that form words, and words that form - in this case - a list.  A list of things that I’m thankful for.  

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I started keeping a list because being thankful isn’t always something that comes naturally for me, and they say that the best way to become better at something is to practice.  This pen-on-paper list is a way for me to practice.  In this area, I need a lot of practice.

To be honest, it’s not just that being thankful doesn’t come naturally to me.  It’s really more that I’m terrible at it. I find that often, thankfulness is not the default orientation of my heart - even though it should be. I have a hard time focusing on being thankful for the things I have - the people, relationships, opportunities, and even the stuff.  I often have a hard time seeing how incredibly blessed I really am. 

I think that thankfulness, or gratitude, is a hard thing for a lot of us. I’ve tried to figure out why, but I keep coming back to this realization that the more we have, the more we notice what we don’t have, and the less we notice what we have.

Sometimes I think it’s a problem with the math.  We sort of keep a running tally in our head of the things that we experience on a regular basis, and let’s face it - there are days when the math doesn’t work in our favor.  There are definitely days when it feels like the count leans far in the direction of “life is a mess.”   

We’ve all had those days.  The kids won’t get up in the morning, and getting them out the door and on the school bus is a nightmare.  The dishwasher and the washing machine break - in the same week.  Or, it’s the middle of May and the refrigerator dies, and then the air conditioner goes out. 

Sometimes work is miserable, or more accurately - someone at work is making things miserable.  Your neighbor got a brand new truck, and you’re taking your 10 year old Volkswagen to the mechanic for the 4th time this year.  Your co-worker is headed out on a 2 week cruise to Alaska while you’re stuck here on dry land, spending the next 14 days chained to your cubicle because the boss asked you to pick up the extra work.

You have a fight with your spouse, or your kids, or you have a fight with your spouse about the fight you just had with your kids.  There’s never enough money, or time, to do the things you want to do, and it can be easy to be whatever the opposite of thankful is. Ungrateful. Angry. Bitter. Depressed.  

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That list can tally up pretty quickly, without even trying to keep track.  It fills our minds, and our hearts, with a reminder that sometimes life is a mess - and sometimes it is. But if we could figure out a way to clear away some of the mess we could see that life is also beautiful. We don’t always see it, because we aren’t always looking, but it is.  Instead, we're looking at the list of messes, and they add up fast. But if the problem is with the math, than that’s actually good news, because we can do something about the math. We just have to balance out the equation a little. That’s why I keep a list.

For me, I’ve found that the best way to be thankful for what God has done for me, is to, well, remind myself about what He has done. It might just be me, but when I look at a list of all of the things that God has given me, and all that He has done for me, I can’t help but find myself thankful.  By the way, this is Biblical.  Psalm 77 says: 

"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:11-12)

And David writes in Psalm 103:2-5 (MSG) 

O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing! 

He forgives your sins—every one.

He heals your diseases—every one.

He redeems you from hell—saves your life!

He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.

He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.

He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.

I don't know about you, but that looks a lot like a list. David went through a lot, and he had plenty of reasons to be bitter, and angry, and depressed, and ungrateful, but he wasn't.  He wasn't because he made lists, and he remembered what God had done, and he was thankful.  And when I start to add up the list of reasons to be thankful, it changes the orientation of my heart towards gratitude. 

When I look back at where I’ve been, and how far He has brought me…

When I watch my wife interact with our children, or appreciate how she makes our house a home...

When I think about how fortunate I am to get to raise my 4 children...

When I look around at the people who love us, and have our back…

When my kids hug me before they leave the house to get on the bus...

When I look at the veggies growing in our little garden…

When I mow the lawn and think about how God has given us a beautiful place to live and grow as a family…

When I wake up our children in the morning and they are healthy and happy and whole… (okay, they're not always happy in the morning, but they wake up)!

When I stand on the sidelines at 4 soccer games a weekend and cheer…

When I see how God is shaping each of us according to His plan, and leading us through every adventure and every challenge... 

I am not only thankful, I’m hopeful.

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By the way, the fruit of gratitude is joy. That means, the more gratitude, or thankfulness, you have, the more joy you end up having. Joy is the result of choosing to be thankful.  It's what happens when you orient your heart towards gratitude.  Want more joy in your life? Be thankful. Want to be more thankful? Remind yourself what you have to be thankful for.  

Start a list. Today.

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Fixing The Lean

A few years ago, I was in a strategy meeting for a project I was working on, and the question was asked - which of these two buildings are we building?  I barely remember what the project was about, but I remember the question. It stuck in my mind because it made me think about the way we put together the lives we build.  

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The other day I was reminded of this as I was thinking about how grateful I am that, despite our best efforts to mess things up, God so often holds us up even when we are ready to collapse under the weight of our own brokenness.

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The difference is pretty clear. On the left - the leaning tower of Pisa. It is a beautiful work of art, sure enough, but it's famous for one reason alone - it’s leaning. Or more precisely, it’s falling over. If it wasn't, it would just be some unknown, pretty tower. Sure, through technology, we're slowing down the inevitable, but because of it's poor foundation, it's falling over after just a few hundred years.

On the right, the Pyramid of Giza. For most of modern history, this was the tallest man-made structure on earth.  It has lasted THOUSANDS of years, and has withstood earthquakes. We don't know know exactly who built it, or how, but yet it stands firm. It's foundation is solid - even as it rests in the sand of the desert. 

The Pyramids aren't nearly as sexy as the tower. They are boring. Italian architecture is far more appealing, and "artistic" than the granite monument — which were built mostly as tombs. The tower was built as a work of art.  It is made of marble and took over 177 years to construct. Yes, the tower took 177 years. 

There were several reasons the tower took so long, including even a few wars, but one of them is because from the time they started construction, it began to sink. It was a painstaking labor, yet all that work is in jeopardy because it's foundation is too shallow, and too soft. Today, over 800 tons of lead counterweights are used to stabilize the tower, and the best estimate is that it “should” be stable for about 200 years. 

The Pyramid, in comparison, was built in 20 years. It's foundation goes deep into the desert floor.  It's base is wide, and it's purpose clear - to stand the test of time. To stand against whatever might come against it. It has stood for some 3,000 years, and will likely be there long after any of us are around.

The pyramid was build to last.  Forever.

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Sometimes I think our lives are a lot like a leaning tower. We focus on building something that looks good on the outside, yet our foundation is too shallow. I guess the question is - what are you really trying to build? 

There's a passage of scripture, where Jesus is talking to His followers about people who know what they're supposed to be doing, but don't do. He tells them, "why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?" 

He goes on to describe two different types of people. Both have heard what Jesus has said, but it's their response that matters. It's what they do with it in their life that is really the point here. In Jesus' words:

"As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”     

(Luke 6:47-49)

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So, again, what kind of foundation are you building on? Are you building something that will last?  Is my foundation deep and wide, or is it shallow and soft? As a result, will my life be a blessing to my family for generations to come? What about to those around me? To my church? To the kingdom of God?

For a long time, I had been building a life a lot like that tower. On the outside, at least, things looked good. I had a great facade, and I worked hard to keep it propped up. At the same time, my foundation was shallow, and built on too many things of this world - like pride, fear, selfishness, and shame. I spent a lot of time trying to “prop” up this life, and the results were devastating. I literally spent years of my life trying to “fix the lean,” but I never focused on the foundation.

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If the builders of the Tower of Pisa had paid a few meters attention to the foundation during construction, they could have saved 1,000 years of propping the tower up. Amazingly, the same thing is true for us. A little more attention paid to where we plant the foundation of our lives could save a lot of repair work later - a lot of fixing the lean.  

I speak from personal experience here, and if I can help anyone avoid the pain of trying to rebuild a life on the edge of falling over, then let me encourage you to think about the life you’re building. 

It's easy to deceive ourselves, because just a little lean is barely noticeable at the foundation. The tower of Pisa leans roughly 4 degrees. You wouldn't even know at ground level - but by the time it reaches the top, it's off center by 5 meters.

But let's get real for a minute. Every time we find ourselves absorbed in how many likes or retweets or social media followers we have, we're leaning just a little more. When we base our decisions on what our neighbors or co-workers or people we don't even really know, or like, might think about us, we're leaning.

Every time we trade in our values or our integrity for the thing that makes us "look good" now, we're leaning. When we shade the truth, or leave things out, we're leaning. When we fail to model the type of people we want our children to become, we're leaning. When we lash out in anger, instead of grace, we're leaning. Eventually, we end up leaning so far, we fall over.

As a general rule, when things fall over, they often break.  And when things break, someone often gets hurt. I don’t want my life to be the reason someone gets hurt. Not me, not my kids, not my wife, not anyone.

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I used to be pretty focused on constantly trying to fix the lean, to prop up the facade.  Now, I’m much more interested in building life on a deep and wide foundation.  At times, it may not look as exciting, but there are too many people counting on me to build a life that lasts. 

What do you think? Leave a comment below and let me know what you’re doing to build a life on a foundation that lasts.


This was first posted back in 2010, but I think it's just as relevant today.  I've updated it, and adjusted the focus, but the idea is the same.  It's also been shared in a few other places, but sometimes a reminder is just as helpful as hearing something for the first time!