10 Creative Ways to Say Thank You

I have lately found myself having to thank people a great deal. I am blessed to be blessed by so many people, and I want them to know they are appreciated. Expressing thanks is becoming a lost art. Let’s revive it.

Here are 10 ways to say “thank you”:

  1. The Old Fashioned Way: Keep a stack of Thank You Notes handy. A hand-written thank you note that comes delivered by the mail man/woman is a delight.
  2. The Generous Way: Purchase a few gift cards and stash them in your desk. When you “catch” someone doing something for you, whip one out and surprise your benefactor’s day.
  3. The Spousal Way: Too often we take our spouses for granted. A little bit of thanks goes a long, long way in a marriage. Show your thanks by cooking a special meal, taking her or him shopping, or delivering a “thank you” text message during the middle of the day.
  4. The Sneaky Way: You’ve heard of “Secret Santas” that many offices play during the holidays. How about being someone’s Secret Santa in March or May. Over the course of several days anonymously deliver small gifts to someone who deserves your thanks.
  5. The Oral Way: Don’t be afraid to actually sit someone down and say out loud just how much you appreciate what they have done, are doing, and will do for you. Wouldn’t you love to hear with your own ears what someone appreciates about you?
  6. The Pay-It-Forward Way: Tell someone that you have been inspired by their generosity toward you, and that you’d like to pay it forward. Tell them that in their honor you are going to specifically help or serve someone else. And tell them exactly how you plan to do that.
  7. The Social-Media-Shout-Out Way: Make your thanks public by tweeting or placing a status on Facebook, thanking someone for what they have done for you. Everyone loves a little fame every now and then.
  8. The Superior Way: When a service employee helps you in an extraordinary way, don’t just tell them; tell their boss.
  9. The Say-It-With-Flowers Way: Fresh flowers brighten any space. And they do an excellent job of saying “thanks.” This even works for (most) men.
  10. The Culinary Way: Take someone to lunch or dinner. Pick up the tab. Everyone loves a free meal at a nice place (and make it an independent restaurant…not a chain!).

What ways of saying “thank you” can you add to the list? I need your ideas!

Everyone Loves to Be Cheered Like a Hockey Player

The first time I watched this I felt chills running down my spine. My eyes welled up just a little bit. I had to watch it a couple more times.

I posted it to my Twitter account and my Facebook page with the question: Why does this give me the chills? I had to think about that. What was it about two rec league hockey teams being cheered like they were playing for an olympic gold medal?

Did you see the looks on their faces? Go back and look at the guy sitting on the ice toward the end of the video. He sits there in disbelief. Is he almost in tears?

Why is this ad so effective? It is a Budweiser beer commercial, you know.

It’s because everyone likes to be (needs to be?) cheered. We all need a little affirmation. We appreciate it when people pat us on the back for a job well done. We are vicariously experiencing that feeling as we watch this video. We are the hockey players. We know how they must feel.

And we all dream that one day we will be cheered like we are olympic gold medal winners. 

You can fulfill a dream (big or small) today by:

  • cheering someone on
  • patting a back
  • writing a note
  • expressing appreciation
  • delivering a surprise
  • placing a phone call
  • sharing an affirming text message
  • making a big deal
  • speaking a compliment

I can remember just a few times in my life feeling like the hockey players in that video: A couple of times when I was on tour with Joy, Inc. (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away); receiving applause and compliments when I was a graduation speaker; seeing the audience on their feet during the curtain call of The Sound of Music when I played Captain von Trapp.

I’d love to share that feeling with others. How about you?

Share in the comment section below a story of a time that you felt like the hockey players in this video. Then pass that feeling along today to someone who really needs it.

Recovering the Lost Art of Conversation

This past weekend our church celebrated All Saints’ Day. It gave me the opportunity to think about some of the people in my life who now enjoy the full glory of sainthood. For the first time in a long time I thought about my maternal grandfather.

He had a profound influence on my young life. As it usually is when one is young, I didn’t realize it until after he was gone. He died when I was in high school, and I even sang at his funeral. My grandmother selected the beloved hymn, Children of the Heavenly Father. Though my grandfather had lived an entire life here on earth, He was still a child. Of the Heavenly Father.

But while he was still living, my grandfather taught me some great lessons. He and my grandmother lived 50 miles north of us in the small town of Fond du Lac, so we didn’t often see them. When we did, it was usually for a holiday or some other special occasion.

My grandfather was a self-made man. He was a traveling salesman who sold sewing supplies. He faithfully read Time magazine. He loved listening to the Chicago Cubs on his transistor radio. He always wore a freshly pressed white dress shirt, and looked incredibly dapper in a hat. He once discovered that I didn’t have a winter dress coat, so he told me to go out and buy one…on him. It was the first one I ever owned.

But the greatest lesson I learned from my grandfather was the lost art of table conversation. My grandmother was a fabulous cook. We ate meals at the dining room table, always covered with a table cloth. We used the fine china. We ate breadsticks from a local bakery, the likes of which I have not tasted since.

Once dinner was over, even as children, we were expected to remain at the table. It was then that we “returned thanks” and spent significant time chatting and listening to my grandfather hold forth about politics, the economy, sports, and even religion. Topics like those, avoided at other dinner tables, were encouraged around my grandfather’s table.

It was during those cherished conversations that my young mind was shaped by one much wiser than I. I remember sitting enthralled…sometimes even interjecting my own thoughts and opinions. At times they were welcomed. Other times I had to be corrected. But it was always a joy as a child to participate in adult conversation around my grandfather’s dinner table.

In a world filled with screens, cell phones, and other distractions, maybe we’ve lost the art of good conversation. Maybe our children are missing out. Maybe we’re missing an opportunity to pass on the wisdom of our own years with the next generation.

How can we recover the lost art of conversation?

One Simple Way to Be Just a Bit More Kind

Recently I have been thinking a great deal of the phrase: “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Apparently the phrase is sometimes attributed to Plato, although that is disputed. No matter. Whomever said it, the phrase carries the gravitas of truth.

I’ve been noticing the looks of concern that follow smiles. I’ve seen the blank stares in meetings. I’ve observed the contemplative postures.

Some battles are known to me. Others I can only imagine.

But there’s one simple way anyone can deliver more kindness. It happens when we are aware of the way people treat us in the midst of our own battles.

Some have empathized and understood. I want to imitate them in my dealings with others.

Some have run rough-shod, completely unaware of the battles I fight. I don’t want to imitate that kind of treatment.

Self-awareness fosters empathy for others. 

The One who is kindest of all fought His own, epic battle. He fought it for you. Even when others don’t understand or treat you in the way you ought to be treated, He understands. He treats you with forgiveness, kindness, and compassion.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Or, to put it another way, “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” But, in Christ, the victory has been won.

Who needs your kindness today?

20 Surprising Things You Probably Never Knew About Me

One of the keys to being a blogger is a certain degree of transparency. I want to build relationships with you, my readers. I want you to know me better. And I want to know you, too.

Toward that end, I want to tell you twenty things that you may have never known about me. But you have to promise: no laughing; no making fun; no mockery. OK? OK.

  1. I once had permed hair, down to my shoulders.
  2. I was the lead singer of a Christian, heavy metal band called Messenger.
  3. I shook President George H.W. Bush’s hand.
  4. I played Jesus in Godspell, Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.
  5. I was a starting half back on my high school football team.
  6. I swam the butterfly on my high school swim team.
  7. I met my wife, Tammy, in a Christian band called Joy, Inc. We traveled the entire country for nine months.
  8. While in Joy, Inc. I sang in a maximum security prison in Texas.
  9. When I was a boy scout I got a badge for doing a mile swim in a lake.
  10. Along with my daughter, I stood on a Broadway stage.
  11. I held Bono’s hand, supporting him on the edge of the stage as he sang during a U2 concert.
  12. I coached baseball for twelve years.
  13. I flew to Israel on Y2K (remember that?)
  14. My first car was a Chevy Vega.
  15. The first band I saw live in concert was ELO.
  16. My first job was as a caddy. I later became a bus boy at the same country club.
  17. The first album I ever bought was Queen’s A Night at the Opera.
  18. Mice scare me to death.
  19. I have lived in Wisconsin, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia.
  20. I once went surfing in the Pacific Ocean.

Now that you know more about me, I’d like to know more about you. It’s your turn.

Tell me one surprising thing about yourself.

Three Friends and a Pencil

A true, romantic story:

Once upon a time there was a girl who had three friends. The four of them went everywhere and did everything together. They were the best of friends and the closest of confidants. None of them had a boyfriend, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

In fact, one evening the four of them went to the local V.F.W. Hall for a night of dancing. The girl who had the three friends figured that she’d spend the evening as a wallflower while the others danced the night away.

There they sat listening to music waiting for someone to ask them to dance. Before long a nice looking gentleman wandered his way toward the four girls. They sat up straight in their chairs, each of them hoping against hope to be the first to find her way to the dance floor.

The gentleman passed one, then two, then three of the girls. He made a bee line directly toward the would-be wallflower. They danced a few dances and had a wonderful time while the other three simply sat. The girl eventually went back to her friends and discovered that they were not at all having a good time. They wanted to leave.

It was a pencil that made the difference of a lifetime. You see, the girl never carried a pencil in her purse. But on this night, for some reason, she had one. She excused herself to go to the bathroom, ripped off a piece of toilet paper, used the pencil to jot down her phone number, and handed it to her dance partner.

“Call me,” she said. And the next day he did.

That same day her friends called and asked her to go bowling. When she told them she couldn’t they wondered why. She told them she had a date with the dancer from the V.F.W. Hall.

It was the start of a relationship that led to a marriage of more than fifty years. In terms of possessions they never had much, but they were always content. He worked hard outside of the home. She worked hard inside the home. They had two children. Those children gave them grandchildren.

Many years later he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. She stood by him and nursed him for more than twelve years. It was truly “in sickness and in health” until death did them part.

The wallflower still misses her man. She still loves him. She remembers with great fondness all the good times spent together, his easy-going personality, and his unconditional love for her.

But since the center of their marriage was Christ, they will one day see each other again.

Thankfully she had a pencil in her purse.

What item, object, or person brought about a significant change in your life?

What Churches and Non-Profits Can Learn from “The Thank You Economy”

“…(I)t is utter insanity for any company not to have a Facebook and Twitter presence in 2011” (p.113, The Thank You Economy). Those are the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, an entrepreneur and social media guru who built his family’s local liquor store into a national wine-seller at winelibrary.com . He wrote the national bestseller Crush It. He has now created Wine Library TV and an app for smart phones called The Daily Grape.

As I read The Thank You Economy it occurred to me over and over again just how much of what is presented in the book applies so well to churches and non-profit organizations. At one point in the book Vaynerchuk says, “It’s not about the budget. It’s about the creativity and caring” (p.124). Many a pastor, church leader, or non-profit executive would love to hear those words spoken in a board meeting (in the church’s case, of course, adding the words “the Gospel”).

What Vaynerchuk calls The Thank You Economy is about caring, responding, interacting, and having conversations with your customers. The Thank You Economy means engaging your customers on an emotional basis by being genuine and caring. That is, of course, what the church is called to be and to do, but far too often the church has lost, or overlooked, or just plain forgotten to be genuine and caring. Sadly, the church is often focused more inwardly than outwardly.

New tools have been given to the church and non-profits to engage on a genuine and caring basis. They are the same tools that are used in The Thank You Economy. They are the tools of Social Media. Vaynerchuk reminds us that Social Media is exponential. Have you recently looked at all of your “friend suggestions” on Facebook. You are one or two degrees of separation from literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Just think how many you could reach simply through Facebook and/or Twitter. After all, online conversation easily leads to in-person conversation.

Here are just some of the ways The Thank You Economy can be applied in the church:

  • Gary Vaynerchuk says people buy things recommended by their friends. Where have people recently been speaking with friends? Social Media! More than “buy things,” what about people recommending their church or non-profit as they “talk” on Social Media?
  • The longer it takes to build a presence with Social Media, the more effort it will take to make it work for you. Can the church afford to be lagging behind? There are souls to be saved and people to be helped and served.
  • No matter what someone else chooses to say about you, you can publicly put forth the facts. When there is rumor or controversy, churches and non-profits can’t afford to let them fester. Being up front on Social Media is one way to get the facts straight so that the message is not hindered or blurred.
  • The Thank You Economy includes being part of the conversation. According to Vaynerchuk, it isn’t good enough to simply put your message out there on a web site. You’ve got to engage people and be part of the conversation. How awesome that conversation is when you share the greatest Message ever known to humanity.
  • How about this: “If you’re not passionate enough about what your company does to find fuel for conversation every day, for hours on end, with as many people as possible, maybe you’re in the wrong business” (p.83). I don’t really have to tell you how that applies to churches and non-profits, do I?
  • Social Media is a “long-term play,” a “marathon.” Stick with it! It takes time to develop relationships, provide care and concern, and create in-person opportunities for interaction. Don’t give up. It’s about finding any and every opportunity to share the Gospel or provide service.

Watch for my next post where I’ll share more ways The Thank You Economy applies to churches and non-profits.

How do you think Social Media can be leveraged for use in the church or in non-profits?

How to Raise a Daughter

The other day I was at a meeting and mentioned that our daughter is graduating from college this weekend. Someone at the meeting, only half in jest, said, “Can you please tell us how to raise a daughter?” It got a big laugh. But I also saw the seriousness in the eyes of the one who made the request.

I got to thinking that the job has, indeed, been done. My wife, Tammy, and I have raised (past tense) a daughter. I believe that college graduation is the marking of that event.

While I will readily admit I made plenty of mistakes along the way, I am very happy to say that both Tammy and I are very proud of the woman our daughter, Ashlyn, has become. Many of the things we dreamed for, hoped for, and planned for have come to fruition: she has a college degree; she avoided the pitfalls of the teenage and college years; and, more than anything, she is a strong, church-going Christian.

I’m not presumptuous enough to say that I have all the answers, or that I could prescribe the perfect way to raise a daughter. But following are ten things that could very well contribute to successfully raising a daughter:

  1. When she is young, read to her. I have fond memories of reading picture books, short novels, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and a children’s Bible every night before bed. To this day Ashlyn is an avid reader.
  2. Express your love to her as frequently and often as you possibly can. We had a little ritual every night where I would kiss her on the cheek and say: “You’re the best…little girl…in the world.” She was loved and affirmed.
  3. Strongly encourage, support, and reward good study habits. In our case this definitely took two parents. I have no clue about math. Tammy defers to me in the areas of writing and English. We made sure that we were there to help with homework, prod when necessary, and celebrate good grades (sometimes even monetarily).
  4. Provide extra-curricular creative outlets. From early on Ashlyn had a flair for the dramatic and a desire to be on stage. We sacrificed so that she could spend as much time as she could doing things related to theatre. We took her to auditions. We enrolled her in First Stage Summer Academy. We gave her dance lessons and voice lessons.
  5. Encourage her to pursue what she loves. For some kids theatre is a passing fancy. For Ashlyn it was something she wanted to pursue as a career. We never told her she couldn’t, or put a road block in the way. It was always our philosophy to  encourage her to “do what you love and love what you do.”
  6. Love your spouse. There is no better way for a daughter to see and know what love is than to be assured that her parents love each other.
  7. Compliment her looks, her style, her brain, and her talent. There are enough things in this world that can beat a girl down. Make sure that she feels good about herself by going out of your way to provide compliments and kudos.
  8. Balance firm discipline with age-appropriate latitude. As children are growing up they need boundaries. They will test those boundaries. Those boundaries need to remain firm. When those boundaries are crossed there must be consequences. On the other hand, with age comes more freedom and responsibility. Let out an appropriate amount of slack.
  9. Communicate with her. Tammy and I made it our business to always stay in contact with Ashlyn…know what she was doing and where she was going. We were careful not to be overbearing about it, but just made it a regular part of living together in our family. Once she went to college our good communications continued. I am not ashamed to say that she and I or she and Tammy still speak on the phone nearly every day. We communicate. That’s what parents and daughters do.
  10. Take her to church, bring her up in the church, make church a regular part of every week. When she is a child take her to church and Sunday School every Sunday. When she is in high school make church attendance an expectation, not an option. When she is in college, personally help her find a church home that is suitable to her. This includes praying for her and with her all along the way. Bar none, this is the most important of these ten items.

What items would you add to this list?

The Confidence of a Confidant

I’m certain you’ve never had a difficult week, but this one has been particularly so for me. There have been any number of personal and professional frustrations, difficulties, disappointments, and failures. The easiest thing would be to throw up my hands, crawl into a hole, and raise the white flag.

Unfortunately, that’s just not possible. Life has to go on. There is work to be done. There are mountains to be climbed and enemies to be overtaken. Frustration may try to win the day, but surrender is not an option.

I would have been lost this week without the perfect confidant: the person that calms, supports, listens, and even fiercely defends against any and all enemies. For me it is my wife. I have the confidence of knowing that my spousal confidant will be the resting place for words that need go no further than her ears.

Since I am a pastor, I have taken a vow to never divulge the sins confessed to me. And I never have. But as a human being there are plenty of other things that ought not remain bottled up inside. They need to be released, given wings, and shared with another. Burdens are never meant to be borne alone. Bearing burdens alone is to be buried under darkness with nary a ray of light to be seen. It’s quicksand, a whirlpool, a cyclone that floods that floods and drowns the soul.

Jesus Himself recognized the importance of sharing the bearing of burdens, of finding confidence in a confidant. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30). There is no One greater with whom to share one’s burden.

But He also provides flesh and blood people to be His ears, His shoulders, and His defense from the quicksand, whirlpools, and cyclones of life. I don’t know what I would have done this week had I not had the listening ears and support of someone who loves and cares for me. The Navy seals, who raided Osama bin Laden’s compound, took two helicopters on the mission because, they say, “Two is one. One is none.”

If you don’t have a confidant with whom to share confidences, please do whatever you can to make sure that you do. It will be good for your psyche. She will lift the burden. He will be the rope that brings you out of the quicksand, the lifesaver tossed into the whirlpool, and the high ground protecting you from the floods of frustrations.

Who has been the confidant with whom you share confidences?

In Their Corner

Have you ever felt as though you really needed someone in your corner? The world was against you (or at least your corner of the world) and you just needed someone who would cheer you on, show support, pat you on the back. You just wanted to know someone was on your side.

I encounter heartbreaking stories in my work everyday. I’m a pastor in an urban setting where I see kids in our school and neighborhood who are neglected, kids who are abused, kids who are born with disabilities because mom was on drugs while she was pregnant, kids who just need someone in their corner.

Whenever I see a piece on 60 Minutes, or Dateline, or the evening news about adversity being overcome, I can’t help but cry. I become an instant sap. I’m not sure from where those tears come. Are they joy for those who have beaten the odds? Are they empathetic tears for those in my own setting who may never know triumph? Are they sorrow over the feelings of helplessness I sometimes have?

You’ve seen those pieces, haven’t you? The kids from Harlem who audition for a show that becomes nationally known; the teacher on the south side of Chicago who spends time after school teaching children how to play musical instruments; the student with a learning disability who suddenly comes alive through an art program. Those all make me cry. They tug at my heartstrings and give me reason to carry on my work in a very difficult setting.

I suppose that’s why the video below hit me so hard the first time I saw it. It’s about a high school football team consisting of incarcerated players: winless, fanless, nameless. But someone gets in their corner and, at least for one night, changes all that.

Those who were treated like aliens now hear people they don’t even know shouting their names. They begin to see the world in a different way. They hear people cheering them on, showing support, patting them on the back. Someone is on their side. Someone is in their corner.

Watch this video. Then ask yourself: Whose corner can I get into today.

In Their Corner