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.

Active Recovery Weekend

Active recovery as a practice has really gained traction in the sports science world. The idea is that during a typical weekly training/exercise cycle, rest days consist of engaging in light movement, low impact exercise, or play. Muscle groups are used but not “worked”. With increased blood flow and natural flushing of the lymphatic system, light activity speeds up the body’s recovery from intense training and workouts. For us desk athletes the brain needs recovery too.

These principles should be applied to any weekend. There is a set time to work, exercise, or get things done. There should also be time to play.

Schedule it, plan it, look forward to it, and keep it. View it as important as any other event or meeting in the diary. Emails, phone calls and busy work can wait till Monday.

Get out, get the blood flowing, and actively recover from this week and get ready to get after it next week.

We are getting out of town, going for a walk and having an epic BBQ with friends. What are you planning?

Feeling Lost?

“Be Prepared” 

Boy Scouts of America Moto

As a Boy Scout, orienting a map and compass was an essential skill, and one of the first Merit Badges earned. Being only a few degrees off on the compass over a long distance can mean missing your destination by miles. If you get lost tramping around in the unknown wilds of Northwest Arkansas or in the Rocky Mountains of Philmont Scout Ranch, STOP, don’t keep going forward. Go back to where you knew where you were and reset your bearings, re-orient, set a new course.

For those of us that go to church, pray, have our quiet times, we can still often feel lost, alone, and distant from God. It’s pretty understandable the year we are all having in 2020. It’s OK, go back to when you knew where you were, where your vision was clear, or you felt close to God.  Remember, read old journal entries, blog posts, encouraging letters from grandma, ask a mentor. Get your bearings, re-orient yourself, then re-plot the next waypoint. Don’t out run your compass.  

Do you know where you are?  Which way are you heading? What is your next waypoint? It’s OK to Stop, it might be time to take a step back before heading into new territory.

Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned on the river.

A conversation overheard while stacking rafts.

Guide 1: “What do you think of the new guy?”

Ol’ Timer: “I don’t know, I’ve never seen him in trouble.”

For the first several years of guiding, I would head up to the Northeast after the University year ended. But come the end of August, I would have to pack up the Jeep and head back to Arkansas to start yet another year of my long college education.

Summer of 2000, the feeling…for the first time I didn’t have to go home… I was free!

I also didn’t have to stay in Maine. For the first time I got to take the pilgrimage to the whitewater mecca of North America. The Gauley River in West Virginia. Widely considered one of the top 5 rivers in the world, guides flood the region in hopes of picking up some work on the Upper Gauley during the short 6 week season in September and October.

This was my first journey and of course I followed my amigo Brendan to the craziest company on the river, Songer Whitewater. Days are early, long, and intense. The whitewater is epic, and the beer was cold on the bus after the trip and the first of several years did not disappoint.

Companies in the area raft other rivers during the summer months, and like elsewhere new guides come and train and earn their chops. Some make it, some don’t, some work hard and put in the work and others just seem to be naturals. I remember one such kid that was new to the company that year. It’s been 20 years now and I have long forgotten the names of these six week friends so we will just call him Jimmy.

I was helping stack rafts after a trip one day, I don’t think I even worked the trip but as we lived on site and you can only play so much frisbee golf, so you pitched in and helped out when it was needed. As we shifted and stacked heavy deflated rafts an intense discussion broke out about the importance of keeping the rafts turned facing the correct way on the trailer in order to insure good Karma from the ‘river gods’… this resulted in pulling deflated rafts off, turning, and re-stacking… Uhhh?

Coming from a company that prioritized “after-work” activities, and personally having zero patience with superstition when it involved the handling of flacid rafts, to this day this is still one of the most ridiculous arguments ever witnessed, but I digress. The conversation did turn to one of the young men that was there. One of the guides turned to an ol timer and asked his thoughts about Jimmy. Jimmy was a young, strong, West Virginian local who just seemed to have a knack for guiding rafts. He had some great trips and in his first year had already amassed some good stories and epic customer photos.

But after being asked how good the new kid was, the Ol timer paused and looked at the kid, he said, “I don’t know, I have never seen him in trouble.”

There seemed to be a long pause before I am sure someone broke the silence with a sharp quip. In that moment what we all knew deep down, no matter how good you are, your time is coming when something goes wrong. What makes the greats great is not their performance when things go well, when you win, when you make it look easy. The greats are set apart by how they handle adversity. When the back is against the wall. How they respond to failure. This is true for raft guides and is true for nearly every walk of life. The reality was the young man was good, but what was left to be seen was what he would do when everything seemed to crumble around him. It might take a while, but if you stayed in business long enough it happened to all of us.

Raft guide, firefighter, police officer, pastor, builder… It’s not just the success that makes us, but how you overcome opposition, bounce back from failure and learn from mistakes. It’s the difference between good and great.

Many can let failure, handicap, opposition or struggle become what defines them. The greats rise above, learn, adapt and overcome. They view failure not as a stumbling block but as an opportunity to get better, and go further. The greats seem to have an identity that is placed elsewhere, somewhere other than the day’s performance.

If you are still young enough to not have yet had your moment. Now is the time to prepare. Trouble is coming, it always does. How will you respond?

Us ol’ timers are waiting to see.

Revitalising Churches in Transition or Crisis.

Just days before the lockdown, I was in Orlando, Florida, at our VitalChurch Ministry Intentional Interim Pastor Training event.  On the first morning when I went down to the lobby of the hotel for my breakfast, on the front page of the USA Today newspaper was the headline.  The Tongue is Fire – Southern Baptist church fractures over secrets and spiritual abuse.  With all that is going on in the world, a story of a small church and the pain and emotional distress caused by conflict, misuse of power and idolatry made the headlines. 

Unfortunately in the United Kingdom this story is far too familiar, although it might not make the headlines anymore, this is an experience that impacts too many lives here in our own country.   

Not all is doom and gloom, there is a resurgence in gospel centred church planting, and new expressions of church are popping up everywhere. During this time of Covid – 19 Pandemic bible sales are up, online church attendance is increasing, people are looking for comfort, truth, and answers to life’s big questions . So now, more than ever, there is a real need not only for new churches, but for the revitalisation of existing churches in the UK. With a rich history and resources, long serving churches have real potential to have some of the greatest positive impacts on people and the communities they live in.  This is not a season to wait, it’s a season of opportunity and action.

How can the Church best serve your community today?

Time is finite.

Sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, and twenty four hours in a day. That’s what we get. no more, no less. We can’t make more of it, speed it up, slow it down. We got all we’re going to get.

If something needs to get done we cannot “make time” to do it.

If something on your list isn’t getting done; family, work, or fun, it might not be a product of time but of priority.

Re-evaluate what is most important and start allocating your finite time there. If something doesn’t get done make sure it is of low value, not the thing you value most.

Save the good stuff

Woke up Monday morning feeling pretty good about the church services on Sunday. Things went smoothly, the team was working well together, and it felt nice to get a few compliments and positive feedback on the sermon after the service.

The next day I can feel a little drained so the morning ritual takes a little longer with that extra cup of joe helping shake the fog.  Open the email and there it is, pages and pages of “feedback” and it’s filled with smiley face emojis that just don’t seem to cover the cantankerous tone.   

Of the two, which type of feedback keeps you up at night? Encouragement or criticism? 

Leaders are always getting unsolicited feedback.  Some positive and some less so.  Process the negative for any lesson to be learned, acknowledge receipt, respond with grace, but move on. 

Save the good stuff!

Create a folder for the encouraging emails. Shoebox for nice cards. Take a picture of a gift and make a note.

Leadership and feedback go hand in hand, and it can help to have a place to go to help reorient during those times when the bad outweighs the good.

Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned from the river. (PG 13)

“Grab the shoulders and pull.”


Most whitewater guides don’t take themselves very seriously, and certainly don’t take life too seriously. However, a good guide strikes a balance between, life of the party and taking the job dead seriously. Few people in my life lived at those two extremes better than my dear friend Brendan. I learned many things from my friend, …most of which I will never share on this blog… but what I can share, is if I needed help hanging a door there is the right way, wrong way, and the Brendan way, which is the wrong way only slower, but the cooler is full. But when it comes to being on the river, whether it’s a sun soaked day on a lazy float, or an IBS-inducing trip down a class V with folk that have no business being there, (and I’m talking about the other guides) Brendan you are at the top of the list.

Somehow he showed how a calm, collected, seeley-eyed determination that prioritised safety for self and crew could coexist with a hyperactive giddiness for the imminent chaos and doom that awaits unsuspecting patrons and slack jawed yokels.

Amidst the shear mayhem and disorganisation that can often befall a given trip, there’s a line… it takes years of experience to see it, its faint presence is there at all times, on all rivers. On one side of that line, fun, peace, excitement, thrills, stories, and adrenaline all mingle in the tall tales told around campfires and on porches across the world. On the other side of that line lurk stories of a different kind. Buzz killers, stories that haunt dreams, perpetuate sleepless nights and cause guides to queues at port-a-johns at put-in. That line exists on any river, at any level, with any crew. And you are only one bad decision away from crossing it at any given time. I think Brendan could see the line clearer than most and was adept at communicating the levity of a situation and the dangerous proximity to the line with a simple verbal phrase, “Grab the shoulders and pull.” Inevitably the problem is usually with the proximity of one’s head to a place in which the sun seldom shines.

There are times when verbal communication is unrealistic or uncouth. Maybe it’s the roar of the river drowning out all other sounds or simply the boat full of adolescent giggling Girl Scouts that are inhibiting the ability to communicate in an appropriate way.

In these situations an international sign was developed.

To be repeated until situation changes

With hands held high above the head, forcefully extract the fist of one hand from the firm grasp of the other. Repeat as necessary.

This sign is universal and can be utilised in most situations and professions. This form of communication has served me well through the years. Sadly, I will admit I use this and other forms of clear hand communication much less in my profession as a church pastor, but oh how much need there is… so much need!

To my longtime mucker, thank you for all the wisdom and memories, and for being the guy to grab my shoulders and pull, all those times. You certainly are ‘not worthless’ my friend.

Hot tips for productivity: Spelling

I am on a journey, battling my tendencies of procrastination and abhorrence to administration. The fastest way to improve leadership is to work on self leadership. Understanding weaknesses and blind spots is the first step. Second, is leveraging strategies and resources to bolster the weaker links.

Personal insight: I am the most very worst at spelling and grammering.

Spell checkers are a gift from heaven. However, half the time my spelling is so bad I get “no recommendation” in response to clicking on the little red line under the word in question. After 13 years my wife is well tired of me asking all the time.

So here is a quick tip that I recently discovered. If you have no idea how to spell the word _____________, then on a Mac press “fn” button twice and just say it, boom there it is. MS Word now also has a dictation function as well.

“dyslexia” “Serendipity”  or “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”   (actual results)

Not as convenient, but you can also ask ‘Siri’, or ‘Hey Google’

Your welcome.

Make Biscuits Great Again

A few have asked for my biscuit recipe, here it is. (Think buttermilk scones without the sugar for the UK folk.)

Place cast iron skillet or pie dish in oven and preheat oven to 180 C / 355 F

Start with a fresh cup of coffee. I like Colombian beans


  • 315 g/ 11 oz      Plain / All Purpose  Flour
  • Wholemeal flour for dusting
  • 4 tsp                    Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp                    Salt
  • 58g / 2 oz total  Lard and/ or Unsalted Butter (I like 1oz of each)
  • 1cup / 250ml     Sour Cream + 2 tbs milk  /  or use Buttermilk

Sift dry ingredients.

Cut the lard and or butter into small cubes.

Cut into flour mix until crumbly. You can use a food processor but don’t over mix.

Get in there with your hands and quickly squeeze and rub to make some flakes.

Flakey goodness!

Thin down 250ml of sour cream, or use buttermilk or 1tbsp of vinegar in 1 cup whole milk.

Dump the wet into the dry and fold it in.

Fold until just incorporated. Don’t over mix.

Dust counter with wholemeal flour. This will add a nice nutty flavour, plus some fibre, aka gut lube.

Crumbly mess is good, your hands are going to get messy! That’s ok.

Gently yet confidently, gather and fold 5-7 times and form a nice round.

Shape to desired thickness. I like thick for tall biscuits, but if your cutter has a top you don’t want your cutter to compact the dough when cutting.

Cut straight down then turn. Don’t turn while cutting down it seals the edge and you don’t get as much oven spring.

Let’em rest 5 minutes. They start to puff a little.

Place them in the hot pan. I like cast iron, but use what you got. And for all the cast iron fanatics who say you should never use soap, if you made garlic, chilli, salmon the night before, please use some soap. Life will not end, your cast iron will be fine and your biscuits won’t taste like low tide.

If you cut them this thick you don’t get very many, I might have gone overboard. Should get 5-7 depending on the size of your cutter.

Place in oven and turn it up to 220 C / 425 F Bake in rising oven.

Bake until golden. 12-15 min for me in a fan oven. Keep an eye on em’.

Use an obscene amount of butter and your favourite jam, jelly, honey, sorghum, or clotted cream.

If you ever wondered what an Angel would taste like baked to a golden brown…

Humility Vs Pride

“Pride leads to destruction, while humility is the path to redemption.”

I said this recently, and probably stole it from somewhere.

One of the hardest things to do as a leader is to fess up to when we blow it.  Recently, the most successful and fastest growing movement in the health and fitness sector began to collapse because the leadership couldn’t admit its failure. During the height of the pandemic, and escalating social and political unrest, a global fitness community was feeling disjointed and confused. Looking for empathy and leadership, this community was met with contempt and pride. 

As leaders it is ok to not have all the answers, and hopefully it is still ok to make mistakes. However, leaders build trust by modelling what it looks like to take ownership when we blow it. 

-Respond, don’t react.

-Be a non-anxious presence.

-Communicate quickly and often, even if only to inform that a more formal response is coming.

-If appropriate, confess without defending. Own your side without qualifying or pointing fingers. Even if others have a bigger part to own. Start with you.

-Do whatever is in your power to make it right.

-Listen well, as leaders sometimes we may have to let others beat on our chests a little, remain a non-anxious presence and reflect back on what you are hearing, gain understanding and perspective. Even if you disagree, we all value being heard.

Admitting wrongdoing has become a Purple Unicorn in public leadership amidst our newly woke cancel culture. But leaders who are game changers know admitting mistakes breeds unity and strength.

Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned on the river.

“Always volunteer to scrub the toilets, it’s the worst and easiest job.”


There are few jobs I truly hate in this life, painting and scrubbing toilets are at the top of the list.  I am very good at both.  I have been polishing porcelain honey buckets for most of my life. We’re not talking about weekly chores around the house. I’m talking about the last bastion of legal child labour, workin’ for the family. Back when dad was part owner of a regional theme park, I spent a summer in yellow Marigolds pushing a trolley loaded with supplies to all the public toilets…every day… for almost as much money as you could find in change at the bottom of some of the rides at the end of the year. Along with other terrible jobs I did for dad, he would always tell me “now you know what you don’t want to do with the rest of your life.” more on that in a later post.

Years later, as a first-year raft guide, being a rookie in the company meant we got just enough work to buy the essentials of life to stay alive: egg salad sandwiches and cold Bush beer.  And when you did get work, the time spent on the river was just a fraction of the tasks that needed to be done, handing out wetsuits, prepping snacks, taking the chicken out of the fridge and putting it in the same Mr. Yoshida’s sauce…every day, sorting wetsuits, building fires, cooking, dunking wetsuits, taking out the trash, sell t-shirts, drying wetsuits, paint the deck, sort the recyclables mow the lawn, on and on and on, these jobs got divvied out at the beginning of the day.  The last one to be volunteered for… Cleaning customer toilets. 

There are two types of raft trash, those that choose to do it full time, and the weekend warrior. The weekend warrior has a real job, they’ve been around for a while and they just show up to the party when it’s busy and there’s enough work to go around. One of the legends… Lee

Lee showed up from Boston from time to time. Lee was an avid kayaker, and what he may have lacked in kayaking mastery he more than made up for in chutzpah. Lee was one of my favourites…”Ok”. For Lee, guiding rafts was a necessary evil to help pay for the kayaking habit.

Somehow Lee was always done with work and back on the river before everyone else, and no one cared, because Lee always volunteered to clean the toilets. I took notice.

So I started to volunteer to clean the toilets every time I was picked to work for the day. I had been training for years.

            -It was the job everyone hated.

            “Everyone was thankful someone else had to do it.

            -River managers took notice.

             -It was the easiest job and took the least amount of time.

Sure, every once in a while you had that “special day,” where you weren’t sure how shhhh…tuff ended up where it did, but because those days existed, no one batted an eye that I was chillin’ in the sun sippin’ a frosty cold adult beverage, long before everyone else.  This even worked when farmed out to other companies, They were grateful and called you back,

After a few years of climbing the raft guide ladder, I found myself at the helm of the operation, doling out the tasks for the first-year minions. First you take volunteers and then you just start dispersing tasks like a Read-Option Quarterback on game day. I saved the toilets for myself.

I still volunteer to polish privy when I can, and all these years later have learned some valuable leadership lessons amidst the fumes of bleach and last night’s curry.

-Leaders have to be willing to know what the worst job feels like.

-Leaders who scrub toilets remain humble, and grounded.

-Way easier to ask others to do tasks when you are willing to do the worst one.

-People respect and follow leaders willing to muck in and do the tough stuff.

-Folk will do other terrible tasks knowing you haven’t assigned anything you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.

– Those in leadership above you will notice.

Oh, I still hate cleaning another man’s throne, but I have been scrubbing toilets now for over 35 years. And in the delineation of tasks in my marriage, guess who scrubs the toilets…that’s me, already on the couch, with a cold one in hand. And no one’s complaining.

P.S.A. In case you are wondering, the women’s public toilets are by far THE WORST to clean! Please stop “hovering”, it’s not working!

Leadership in the The Last Dance

“Phil, [Jackson]  you let this dude [Dennis Rodman] go on vacation, we not gonna see him. You let him go to Vegas! we definitely not gonna see him. 

Michael Jordon – Chicago Bulls

“When you see your leader working extremely hard in practice, you feel like, “Man, if I don’t give it my all, I shouldn’t be here.” 

Horace Grant – Chicago Bulls

Like coke addicts on spring break in Colombia, Lockdown 2020 has provided many challenges to prolific procrastinators like me. Few things have the power to cause a spiral into a time wasting vortex like the warm glow of the devil box. I have succumbed to its enticing embrace more often than I would like to admit, and few programs during this time have gripped me like the docuseries The Last Dance.  I entered this dance to watch the greatest team to ever play the game of basketball. The leader of that team is not only the greatest basketball player of all time but is a cultural icon. What I wasn’t expecting was a personal flashback to the 90’s. It was the 1990’s when I managed to squeeze a full four years of University into seven, I crisscrossed the country in my Jeep with my sidekick Tess chasing whitewater, and found my fashion sense, Carhartt and flannel. It’s finally coming back around.

Along with the trip down memory lane, I didn’t expect The Last Dance to be a masterclass in the contrasting leadership styles of Michael Jordan, the GOAT, and Phil Jackson, arguably the greatest coach of a generation.

Michael Jordan knew what he was about, what his goal was, and he was willing to sacrifice just about anything in order to achieve that goal; become the best, and win the most.  You wouldn’t out work him, and Jordan expected from his teammates what he expected out of himself, everything.  He also treated everyone the same, rode them hard and pushed them with crippling intensity.  If you survive a practice on a given Wednesday then you will survive the toughest of opponents on the biggest stage. Some rose to the challenge, while for others his style pushed them away. Those that thrived under his leadership dominated the game like no other team.

Phil Jackson wasn’t the greatest basketball talent during his basketball career, however as a coach he was able to draw the best out of his players including harnessing the biggest egos on the planet. Phil also knew what he was about, and knew his role, to win championships. The role of an NBA coach isn’t the personal development of young men, that role is much more for high school and college coaches. Phil didn’t coach all of his players the same, to get the best out of his team, some he encouraged,  others he challenged, and at a critical part of one particular season, one player just needed 72 hours in Vegas….  

Two very different leaders achieving greatness in two very different ways. Two leadership styles you would think should clash, harmonised to create a dynasty that may never be matched.

What kind of leader are you?  What kind of leadership do you respond to? Do you know your role?

Even the greatest players need a great coach. Who is coaching you?