Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership and other stuff I learned on the river.

I have too much stuff.

We moved last week. A team of five dudes over two days to move us one mile down the road and seven days later we are still unpacking boxes.

For six or seven years while I was chasing whitewater I could fit everything I owned in a Jeep Cherokee. I eventually upgraded, as we always do, to a Chevy Silverado. Even then there was still room for me and the only girl in my life at the time to sleep in the back. Except for the time she fetched a dead possum’s head at a truck stop in Ohio, she slept in the cab that night.

There is a beautiful simplicity carrying only what you need. The day before our wedding I carried all my worldly possessions to my bride to be’s flat in two duffle bags and left them in the hall. They say you will always fill the bag you choose to travel with. Silverados and duffle bags became a flat and now a house. Each one we fill with more stuff, Much of it is still not more valuable than that old drysuit.

Although this couch I’m sitting on is way more comfortable than a tailgate, I sometimes miss the freedom of simplicity.

Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned on the river.

“I prefer to learn the hard way.”

Wade

I rarely learn from other people’s mistakes, and as a leader learning from mistakes is key to education and leadership development. One leadership lesson all good leaders must learn is knowing when to make the correct decision, even when it’s not a popular decision.

I am not sure of the statute of limitations on offences committed in the state of Maine so all the names of this theoretical example have been changed to protect…..everyone.

Fireworks are illegal in the State of Maine.

The State of Maine is unmatched in beauty and wilderness. Nearly 80% of the land is owned by the State or logging companies, so there is little development and much of the state is covered in lush dense forests. To protect the land and wildlife from what would otherwise be devastating fires, understandably Maine has outlawed the use of a great bastion of celebration, fireworks. At least that was the case in the mid 90’s.

So when one of our weekend warrior guides, whom we will simply call “Gary”, drives up from out of state on the 4th of July weekend and arrives with a trunk full of firework contraband, the correct decision would be to inform “Gary” of the dangers and legality of setting off fireworks in the State of Maine and instruct him to leave them in the trunk of the car. This would not have been the popular decision, but it was the correct decision. Mistake #1.

So as we “a group of guides” headed down to the chosen secret spot, the last left just before the The Forks bridge, down to the end of the ballfield and the last camp spot amongst the trees along the river. Chosen cause the leafy trees provided adequate cover from pesky park rangers and game wardens, while the banks of the river at low flow was the perfect spot to allegedly launch a few modest fire balls into the night sky. Just before heading to this unknowable location, an idea was floated to the van full excited participants. Because safety is always a priority for Registered Maine Guides, in July proper hydration should be maintained, So I suggested a cooler we’ll refer to as “Barndance” to protect the brand name, should be filled with Sport Drinks and bottled water. However, there was a strong group of dissenters, led by of course “Gary”, “David”, “Jeffery” and probably a trouble maker we will refer to as “Christopher.” They felt that “Barndance” should be filled with an inexpensive fermented drink known in some cultures as cerveza or birra. The correct decision would be to inform this unruly mob that, although it was quite chilly out and pouring with rain, a beverage of that nature would not quench the insatiable thirst that setting off fireworks conjures. This would not have been a popular decision but it would have been the correct decision. Mistake #2.

Out voted, your truly, was told to pick up a few bags of ice to keep the macro brews cold. As predicted, these wee 12oz beverages couldn’t keep up with the water loss that shivering in the freezing rain while swatting black flies and no-see-ums induced. So as “barndance” quickly began to run dry, the evening’s fireworks of bottle rockets and black cats crescendoed and the biggest set were saved for last. Interestingly, “Gary” didn’t want to have any part of the grand finale, possibly due to plausible deniability, but more likely due to his humble disposition and not wanting to draw attention to himself for a light show that was about to be seen by the entire community…. probably.

So allegedly myself and someone else, whom I cannot remember for reasons that will become apparent, were voluntold to light the large mortar boxes that had been saved for last. With the fuses adequately frayed and placement perfect, my accomplices and I approached with cheap Bic lighters in hand. “OK, On three…”

Timing, synchronicity, and a steely resolve are elements required to pull off a finale that adequately honors America’s freedom and independence. ….two…three…just as we were set to release the fiery Bald Eagles, disaster struck, a malfunction. Sure it was raining, sure the fuse on my box of mortars was racing to its thunderous termination. But there were literally 10’s of people counting on us. Coward might be too strong a word, but when my accomplice’s fuse didn’t light he dashed for cover. Was that the correct decision?

Leaders often fall into the trap of trying to please the crowd, rather than making correct decisions based on current information, and is overall better for the people whom you lead but also takes into account the safety of the leader him or herself.

In that moment a decision was needed: retreat to safety or stay and finish the job so many Americans and possibly a French-Canadian were counting on. The split second decision was made, I stayed…

With the liquidized courage of the Red, White, and Blue coursing through my veins, as if in slow motion, the sparks flew from the 25¢ lighter piercing the cold, wet, dark of night. Stretching and leaning over an eminent 21 canon salute, the flame but kissing the tip of the fuse on the second box…. Then, just as in the beginning of time, there was a tremendous light…

As the Chinese-made American tribute left the first tube destined for a patriotic report of awe and wonder, it was met with inpenratabla resistance. To this day what followed is fuzzy and unclear. The air was filled with the smell of America; sulfur, charcoal, potassium nitrate, and burning hair. As the sound of freedom bounced off the valley walls, for a brief moment I wondered if my sight would ever return. Around me were triumphant cheers of glory and success but at what cost. I seemed to no longer have eyebrows and was supporting a new fringe I didn’t start the evening with. As witnessed by spectators, the first mortar launched with violent velocity at what appeared to be a worrying ninety degree angle after ricocheting off the face of a sacrificial lamb.

As sight slowly returned and I began to realise that my eyes were indeed still on the inside of my head and the ringing in my ears started to subside, I began to register the roar of the apathetic applause. It was in that moment that a life long valuable leadership lesson was learned.

Bones heal, chicks dig scars, pain is temporary, but glory is forever.

Leading Change

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

– Niccolo Machiavelli

Resistance to change is often rooted in fear. It’s the uncertainty of how the new future will affect our lives. Leaders who are effective change agents realise that it is not good enough to simply administrate change, but to avoid standing alone atop a charged hill, people need to envision a better future day for themselves or be able to attribute a worthwhile value for their sacrifice.

When unwanted change is thrust upon us from uncontrollable forces, then authenticity, clarity, and transparency in communication win the day to unite people behind the sacrifices needed to navigate the futures uncertainty.

lasting changes aren’t made, they are are led.

The Tyranny of the Urgent

“I can only do that for you today…”, “That has to be done by Monday”, “I know you started this but I need your focus on that”, “Things have changed since yesterday, we are now going in this new direction” “Honey, I booked the movers for next week” “We will deliver your package that you have been waiting for between 10am and 3pm”

We have created a culture of, “your way, right away” leading many of us we feel like we live under the tyranny of the urgent. Living for the weekend and wobbling through a vacation like leg day at the gym.

“Then on the seventh day He rested from all His work.” For crying out loud even God took a day to chill.

Rest, life is not a race, it’s a journey. Rest heals, rest re-fuels, rest prepares, rest rebuilds. The body, mind, and spirit need rest in the same way as it needs exercise, stimulation and fuel.

Avoid the tyranny of the urgent by scheduling in your rest and holding fast. Rest days are not wasted days, they make work days more productive.

Sleep in and then eat pancakes.

300 ml sour cream

3/4 cups plain/ all purpose flour / or gluten free flour is awesome.

1tsp baking soda / bicarbonate soda

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbls sugar

2 eggs.

Mix the dry and fold into the wet. Don’t over mix lumpy is ok. Add blueberries if you wish. Cook Then serve with warm maple syrup, bacon or sausage. This make about 9 pancakes.

Rest up for tomorrow, cause butts don’t kick themselves.

Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned from the river.

First rule of rafting, always have T.P.!

Wade Thompson

There is a sound…. IF you have experienced it, you only have to close your eyes to hear it…. the thunderous roar of water cascading over boulders in a dance of hydraulics and eddies… a symphony of violence and chaos…. churning and boiling as it flows to its final tranquil, calm resting place.

The sounds of whitewater have a frequency unheard by the human hear, but like a weapon of bio mass destruction, the resonances can have a profound impact on the lower GI track of the lowly raft guide. The guide must be prepared when this frequency is encountered. Its effects can strike at any given time… even sometimes in early spring just thinking about…. it ….. excuse me a minuet….

Every river, stream, creek, brook, and burn, in the world, apart from the Grand Canyon, is graded on a class system from I-VI. It is the dumbest system in the world. The aforementioned Grand Canyon uses a 1-10 system which, because it is exclusive to the Colorado river, is somewhat better.

Class I – Think lazy river at your local waterpark, Water Craft of choice 2 truck inner tubes. One for you and one to tow the cooler.

Class VI- Think Niagara Falls. Unrunnable in a water craft. And if some idiot tries it and lives. Well, now it’s Class V+. The idiocy of this system will be reserved for a rant at a different time. (Feel free to feed the fodder in the comments)

All commercially run rivers have to fall somewhere between II-V. With an inflation of “+” by commercial outfits and douchebags beginner kayakers and idiots who fling themselves off waterfalls.

Class II and III is just a great day on the river. Regardless of the experience of whoever is in the boat, mostly, good times will be had by all.

Class IV and V is a different matter altogether, and you know it when you hear it… Oh that sound… Penobscott, Gaully, some obscure river in the middle of Sasquatch country Washington….Just the thou… excuse me….

Whether a groover, Port o john, a park service loo, or popping a skwaat behind a parked put-in vehicle. NEVER LEAVE THE BASE WITHOUT THE BOG ROLL.

And this is advice for life. Even if you left the guide game long ago, in this crazy world we live in now, security is only a roll away.

I love my job.

For the past eight years I have had the privilege to be a part of VitalChurch Ministry team. VitalChurch exists to serve those churches that find themselves in transition or crisis.

• Transition: A church that is stuck and needs redirection. Often a healthy church. • Crisis: A church that has experienced trauma and needs intervention. Often an unhealthy church.

We believe the gospel changes things, so our goal is to invite people to return to a place of intimacy with God through Christ and community with each other so that there is overall outcomes.

• A church healthy enough for people to come, meet God, grow, serve others, and offer the gospel to the greater geographic community.

• A church safe enough for a new pastor to come/stay, meet God, grow, and equip the church to serve and offer the gospel to the greater geographic community.

• Churches large and small operating in unity and effectiveness through a movement of the gospel that creates pockets of blessing, and that change the spiritual landscape for good.

I love the church….and I love my job.

Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned from the river.

Today is an early start, and it reminds me of the many early starts during my time in the Forks.

But not one of the good ones. Today reminds me of the days when you knew you weren’t going to the river.

For me the good days started with the low rumble of a tired Suburban and the sound of its tires rolling over the gravel up to the door of my pop-up camper. That was usually enough, but if I delayed, a honk from the horn soon followed. Jon always seemed to be up before anyone else and ready to go.

The good days started with a trip to Berry’s General Store. Large coffee, and egg salad sandwich with the biggest “blue” flavour Poweraid on the shelf. That sport drink didn’t last till the register. Pay for an empty bottle and recycle on the way out.

The good days started with a slow drive to Moxie Pond just to turn around and drive back. Jon believed in commuting to work, even if you literally live where you work. So we drove, sippin’ coffee, laughin’, sometimes we just sat in silence enjoying the cool fresh air though the windows.

The good days meant heading to the river. It never mattered which one, or who you were with. On a good day the river was the destination and those days I cherished and miss.

But there were other days.

We often joked that we were a professional painting company, that happened to raft a bit on the weekends.

The other days started out similarly. There was always a trip to Berry’s but instead of river gear or that old pair of favourite Carhartts, you put on whatever you didn’t mind being covered in forest green paint, or spar varnish, and added to the list of coffee and egg salad a jug of paint thinner. I hate paint thinner.

In eight years as a professional whitewater raft guide I learned that you spend a lot of time doing things you really don’t like doing, in order to live for the good days. I miss the good days, and I will always miss my friend Jon, but I don’t miss the painting at all.

Now that I’m older the “bad days” of life can be much worse than a day of painting. A good hot coffee, friends, laughs, and some good tunes remind me that when you are with those you love you can survive the bad days and it makes the good ones that much sweeter.

I still really hate painting….

Dear Hipster Coffee shop

Help me understand why you serve me lukewarm coffee. Coffee roasted at 180 – 250c can’t burn with boiling water (100 c). Dishwater coffee is bad.

Help me understand why you turn your nose up at a Mr Coffee drip coffee maker and then serve me pourover like it’s a different thing.

Help me understand why you have a tip jar on the counter for take away coffee.

Help me understand why you look baffled when I finally have enough stamps on my “loyalty” card and all I want is a cup of hot black coffee.

Oh what’s that? I should just go to McDonalds…. Well, they serve black coffee just the way I ask for it, and it’s so hot they have been sued. At more than half the price, and I only need 6 stamps to get a free one? That is not a bad Idea….I think I will.

5 steps to perfect smoked brisket every time.

“60% of the time, it works every time”

Brian Fantana

Step One: Choose the meat.

Finding a reputable supplier with quality meat is the first and most essential step in the process. Buy the best meat you can afford, well marbled with a good layer of fat. If you live in the UK, beef from the US, Australia, or Argentina provide the fat levels that can withstand the low and slow smoking that brisket needs.

Step Two: Ship that brisket to someone with a smoker and knows how to use it.

Like a form of OCD, a Pit Master can’t help but clear their schedule and cook any quality free meat that happens to show up at their door. “sorry honey, I can’t go to your dance recital, daddy has to sit and watch this meat cook for the next 16 hours.”

Step Three: Invitation and info gathering.

Drop hints, bribes, or “I was just in the neighbourhood…” Whatever it takes for you to be there when the brisket is ready to be eaten. Ask leading questions. The Backyard BBQ Boss, when asked how the family holiday was will simply say “fine”, but if you ask, how did you get that brisket so juicy and moist? Prepare to take notes, class is in session. In this case, an overnight 15 hour smoke with about a 3 hour rest.

Step Four: Enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Just as tender as a mother’s love. Few things bring joy and soul peace like a perfectly smoked brisket. The flat, fatty point, burnt ends, whatever your favourite cut a smoked brisket is an explosion of flavour and warmth that reminds you everything is going to be ok in the world.

Step Five: Acquisition

Once the meat sweats have subsided and energy has been restored following a nap, find a way to distract the pit master and load the smoking apparatus into your own vehicle. Then, make your escape with your newly acquired knowledge and tools. Wave, smile and shower your host with praise and accolades. Blinded with praise and pride, it will be hours before the master of mouth-watering meat will realise the depth of your dastardly deed.

To the masters of Butts, Racks, Briskets and Breasts we salute you.

Thanks @TOON.bbq we had a fantastic weekend.

Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned on the river.

“Everyone out of the boat…”

Pete

It was late winter, I was sitting at the bar with my new friend Chris at the Brew Pub on Dickson St. in Fayetteville, USA. I am quite sure we should have been studying for an upcoming exam in the class we shared, but our conversation turned to what our plans were for the summer. Chris knew someone who knew someone who had done some rafting in Maine and learned they were always looking for new guides. Training started in early May and Chris was going. My plans for the summer had fallen through and being on the river every day for a summer sounded pretty good. So we loaded up the trucks and drove to Maine.

To have whitewater you need three things: water volume, gradient, and structure. To have commercial viable whitewater rivers you have to add consistency. In Northwest Arkansas we have varying degrees to the first three, however we don’t have consistency. For that you need a snowpack in the mountains or a huge fauset, in the form of a hydroelectric dam. Maine has both.

I have spent many a day in an open canoe on the Buffalo National River, which was only a few miles from my house. Cut-off jeans and tube-tops were the uniform of choice and on a good day things could get exciting at Gray Rock, a class 2 riffle that would tip a few canoes creating a redneck yard sale of folding chairs, fishing rods, and beer koozies. Unattended coolers full of cold beer floating down a river in a dry county was the hillbilly equivalent of winning the lottery. As far as real whitewater, up to this point I had never seen a whitewater raft in person, much less ride one down something that would require a helmet and life jacket. These things were totally against my rules of life, #1 Always look good for the camera, #2 Don’t spill your beer, and of course Safety 3rd.

The First day of training to be a Registered Maine Guide

After a 36 hour road trip I remember emerging early from my tent to see my breath and large patches of snow still visible in the forest behind our campsite. As we gathered and met all the new victim…I mean trainees, the staff kindly led us over to the room where all the wetsuits were kept. We walked right by all the customer suits, neatly hung up smelling all fresh, to the back where the “vintage” suits were kept. I’m convinced these suits were part of a slow fermentation experiment, only to be disturbed once a year during training week. Otherwise stuffed in mesh bags with holes only big enough to let the spiders make their homes for the winter, we fished around to find suits that would fit… sorta. After getting our tired looking lifejackets and helmets, we grabbed a paddle and loaded up in an old faded white Chevy van that for some reason had one green bench seat that wasn’t attached to the floor.

I don’t remember much of the chat from the first day. We sat in the back of the van on the floor like sheep to slaughter, couldn’t really see out as the windows began to steam up during the 20 minute journey up to the dam. There seemed to be a nervous energy amongst the owners and the guides that were training us. Like an butcher not wanting to frighten the sheep, the guides spoke in some form of code the unsuspecting couldn’t understand. “It should be pretty exciting out there today, the river is running at over 13,000+ CFS.*” “Sweet 13,000C..f.. s”, I said while nodding in false confidence with the others, like a bunch of bobble heads. “What the hell is 13,000 cfs?” someone whispered.

*CFS = Cubic Feet per Second. It is the measure of the volume and flow of a river. For reference one CFS = about one basketball. The Kennebec river is considered a high flow river and on any given day the release from the hydro power dam was 4800 or sometimes 6000 cfs. On a couple of special scheduled days a year a max flow of 8000 cfs would be released. 13,000 basketballs per second was flood stage and a different ballgame altogether.

As we arrived at put-in we heard a thunderous roar of water as the flood gates were fully open and what seemed to be enough water to douse the fires of hell launched over the top of the dam. “What the heck have we got ourselves into?”

What outwardly seemed like mercy, we ended our first run at the halfway point. Wet, cold and out of breath after climbing the endless stairs at Carry Brook take out, we loaded up in the back of that ol’ white van to discover what seemed like mercy was actually S&M of the darkest kind. We had 5 more runs…

Most of that first day is fuzzy, If there was instruction, I don’t remember them. If they told us the names of rapids, it was a week before I could distinguish where one foamy cauldron from Sheol ended and a new one began. I am not even sure if everyone that started the day made it home. Nearly 25 years have passed and a few of the details have escaped me, however, the second trip down the river left an indelible mark that will never be forgotten. That trip began with owner Pete saying “All the trainees are with me.”

Pete was a tall, fit, middle aged man with a full head of black unkept curly hair, and a mustache that made Tom Selleck look like a boy in the throws of puberty. So when Pete said “get in,” we all got in. I didn’t remember any of the names of the rapids after the first trip, except one, Maytag. At the top of the rapid Pete told a boat full of cold, nervous, rookies that as soon as we hit the towering mountain of a wave known as Maytag we were to all jump out of the boat. We all responded with nervous laughter, cause NO WAY he could have been serious. We couldn’t have been more wrong. As the raft crested the powerful hydrolac he yelled “everyone out of the boat…” For possible legal reasons I can’t comment to the degree of willingness we all found ourselves out of the boat. But I would say fellow newbie “Skinny Ray,” recalls the life-saving grip he had on the line around the outside of the boat was mysteriously loosened by a sharp strike from a lone paddle from within the raft, and so began a violent, airless, dance with the sickle wielding creacher that tows the line that separates this life from the next.

If you want to know what “swimming” Maytag at 13000 cfs is like, imagine being flushed down a toilet. No, not your eco-friendly, low volume, home jobber. I’m talking about one of those airport types that are hooked up to some explosive air tank that with one false move misfires while you are still on it. Heaven forbid you are making a complete seal when it goes off. It’s the type that kept my niece from using public toilets until she was a teenager. Now imagine your one inch tall….that’s Maytag

I didn’t die, I didn’t die, I didn’t die… As our limp bodies were all pulled back into the boat with water and snot seemingly pouring out of every orifice, some heady questions began running though my mind.

1. Is our new boss legit, bat $!*t crazy? 2. Does he hate people from Arkansas? 3. How could that possibly be training?

As we coughed and sputtered and began to compose ourselves, Pete giggled at the pathetic sight of his fresh crop of new guides in training. Then, with a serious tone, he said, “Don’t ever forget what that felt like.”

What Pete knew then and would take me some time to learn is, The Kennebec River would not always feel like a place of darkness where dead people go, but in time would soon be a joy filled playground where we would regularly and voluntarily swim these same rapids for the pure enjoyment.

For the guide, remembering that feeling cautions us when working with guests who might be nervous or those rowdy ones who only think they want to flip the boat in the biggest rapids. Having that memory allows us to be a non-anxious presence when things don’t go to plan or fear is striking the heart of a crew member.

In life, it is the tough and sometimes painful experiences that help us become who and what we are. With time and with perspective, some of the worst experiences can become tales we tell others with humour around the campfire, or become opportunities to help guide others through similar experiences we now no longer fear in the same way.

There has never been a time in our generation that has been crazier than now. Mental and physical health, job loss, financial security, those around you might need an experienced “guide” that has walked through some of these things in the past, and through snot and tears said “I didn’t die, I didn’t die. You might be the help they are looking for.

* The details of this story, as with all Whitewater Wednesday stories, may not be factually accurate – it’s just how I remember it. No guides were… physically harmed in the events of this tale.

Increase productivity and lower stress and anxiety.

Schedule the work not just the due date.

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings… Due dates and timelines. I have at times felt like I was drowning in meetings, and the pressure of projects. I would wake up on a given day and just react to whatever was next. Anxiety, stress, sleepless nights plagued my week.

I have been on a journey from being a “reactor” to responding to the time needs in my life. One of the key ways I have increased productivity while lowering stress while being more prepared for meetings and on time for projects has been one simple trick. Schedule when you plan on doing the work.

The due date is too late.

If you know you have a staff meeting on Monday morning, how much time do you need to be adequately prepared for it? Are you leading the meeting? are you presenting? Do you want to be stressing all weekend about it?

Schedule a “staff meeting prep” block days before the meeting. If it’s a reoccurring meeting then have a reoccurring prep time block to do the work. Show up ready, prepared, and able to respond rather than react.

Scheduling the “work time” rather than simply the due dates will reveal how much time you have to add new work or say no to other requests. It also prioritises your time to be more efficient with your week, resulting in higher productivity on things that matter most, while lowering stress.

Win the week.

Gratitude during the difficult

Last Summer I started a long-overdue 3-month sabbatical. A new discipline I wanted to incorporate into my morning routine during that time was the discipline of gratitude. As my sabbatical started to draw to an end, my wife and I were devistated by the lost our 17 month old nephew, I failed a major project at work, and what seemed to be only moments later, the world was thrust into a lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week we said goodbye to my cousin after a short devastating battle with cancer, way before his time. We can’t travel, visit family, work has all but dried up, and finding things to be grateful for seems like pulling oil from a stone. How do we recognise and foster a heart of gratitude during the difficult seasons?


Gratitude as a daily ritual is growing as a pop culture phenomenon. Scientific research has even shone positive effects of gratitude on our physical and mental healthsleep, and overall wellbeing

As a follower of Jesus, this shouldn’t have been a new revelation, because nearly 2000 years ago Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica closed his letter with…   

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

One of the imperatives of Christian life, “Rejoice and give thanks always” is a theme we see over and over in the Bible.  But always? Gratitude is easy when we win, but when is the last time you heard an athlete say “I would just like to thank God for this devastating and embarrassing loss tonight…”  or someone in the spotlight says “I want to thank my Saviour and Lord for losing this award I have worked my whole life for…”  How do we express gratitude amid pain, loss or missed expectations? When we experience the loss of a job just when the world is tossed into chaos, or the death of loved ones,  the experience of a health crisis, like many other experiences often the last emotion we are feeling is gratitude. We can often slip into being overly critical, cynical, even depressed.

What Paul was teaching is to give thanks IN all circumstances, not thanks FOR all circumstances. True, God uses all circumstances for our good, (Hey Christians, please don’t say that to anyone that is in pain!! it doesn’t help) but the reality is, the pain and tragedy of life can be overwhelming. Cultivating a heart of gratitude, therefore, is not simply looking at the bright side, and it’s not acknowledging that “things could be worse.” It is a refocusing and reorienting of our minds.

Gratitude is an expression of joy, and joy based on circumstance will fail. Therefore, joy must be rooted in a foundation much deeper than our personal and current circumstances. This is distinct from the emotions of happiness and sadness.

The answer to having joy in the midst of our pain and suffering isn’t new circumstances, but God Himself.

The bible says Jesus came, not only to suffer for us, but also to suffer with us. Isaiah describes Jesus as being:

“Despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (53:3).

Jesus, God in the flesh, not only understands our pain but sympathises with our pain and loss. Joy that rests soundly on the assuredness that God will ultimately redeem every horrible situation, in this life or the next, releases us from the shackles of current realities.

I’m not talking about living life like a crazy person that sings “zippity do da” in a hurricane. It’s not leaving reality, but living in our current reality with a knowledge that, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

This promise allows us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Cultivating a heart of gratitude is deeper than a #feelingblessed social media post. It’s a commitment to begin your day with a reflection of gratitude, and let each day be a treasure hunt of undiscovered blessing that is reflected in prayer and meditation to the God who deserves our gratitude.  

Start reaping the rewards of a gracious heart that even science now affirms.  Today I am thankful for you, for reading this far. Lord knows you deserve it.