Surviving or Thriving

We all know what it takes to survive. We need the basics: food, water, air, & shelter. But what do you need to thrive? It’s a difficult question to answer if you’ve never thought about it. It’s especially hard when we find ourselves in survival mode. When we’re in this mode we are just doing the bare minimum to get by in life because that’s all the strength or energy we can muster up. Routine becomes a numbing agent to mask the pain. Don’t get me wrong, routine is healthy when it’s the right routines that fuel you to be the best version of who you were created to be. But if routine only remains rooted in survival we will only find ourselves surviving. And soon surviving will stop too if we don’t ever do more to help ourselves thrive.
It’s kind of like playing Monopoly with my son back when he was 7 years old. The writing is on the wall. I’ve purchased just about every property on the board. I own hotels everywhere. He’s barely making it to “Go” each time around. Why? He’s in survival mode. It’s only a matter of time before the foreclosures start on the properties in order to just pay the rent. It gets real ugly with a stop on Park Place & two hotels on the property. If only he could make it to “Go”. Sadly even if he did, what’s another $200 going to buy you? It will be spent on rent in the next roll. All the opportunities are bought up because he waited. All because he was saving & surviving by not wanting to take risks. (To be fair he’s gained much wisdom since then & kicks butt now.)

Do we want more? More goodness? More inner strength?? More peace??? More something!??? If we don’t figure out how to break the mold we get so easily trapped in, we’re going to suffocate & wither away. Even if our needs are met in survival mode. Soon it won’t be enough if we don’t do something about it..

What do we do? Sometime the answer comes in a Divine appointment. I remember back to moments in my life that were intersections with individuals who were meant to walk into my life, or me into their lives. It seemed like any other random day with my routine on schedule but that day I ran into someone different who would drastically alter my way of thinking, my life habits & routines, & challenge me in ways I didn’t even know I could be challenged. They became mentors for different seasons of my life. A “chance” encounter turned out to be a weighty moment of Divine appointment that I could’ve missed if I didn’t accept the call to more. It meant stepping out of my comfort zone. It meant leaving my old ways behind. Many times I regretted the decision because of the difficulties that were being asked of me. Looking back I am thankful for every growing pain even if I didn’t know that’s what I was experiencing. Sometimes it’s a meeting with someone you know that can help you & having enough humility to accept it. It is getting out of bed on a Sunday morning to start feeding your soul at church. Let’s face it, it’s the best alternative if you aren’t able, but watching it at home isn’t quite doing the trick. Sometimes it’s getting up early to pray, to spend time with your Creator before the busyness of the day takes hold of your attention. This is ultimate Divine appointment that many of us pass by every day & yet wonder why we’re stuck in this slow decay.

What is it you need to enter into your routine to begin thriving & break the hold of the gradual imprisonment? Whatever it is, do it now. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow might be too late & you have way too much to live for! The time we’re living in will suck you dry & leave you devoid of hope & life if you allow it. It’s time to kick down the door of fear, anxiety & depression & embrace the things that are going to feed your spirit, your mind, & your soul! It’s time to shut off the mind poisoning of social media & open a book that delivers on a promise of purpose & more life if you follow it’s principles. It’s time to pray a prayer of faith that moves mountains because you know a God who is the mountain mover! What is it you need to do? Do it now. Don’t delay.

Challenge: it’s time to thrive!
Warning: At first response you will begin making excuses & tell you to feel sorry for yourself because of your circumstances. Don’t let it happen. Punch those lies in the throat & tell them to “shut your face!” And while you’re at it “don’t come back!” They will. Just be ready to do the things you know that will cause you to thrive when you feel like you just want to survive.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a man who knew adversity. A fictional man, but in the hardest times of my life became one of my go to movies (originally a book) as I learned to overcome & thrive in horrible circumstances. It was a charge to his estranged son on his birthday…

“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout as you did in Rome. Do your worst, for I will do mine! Then the fates will know you as we know you: as Albert Mondego, the man!”
-Edmond Dantes- The Count of Monte Cristo

And my favorite verse in times of mere survival:
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
‭‭Galatians‬ ‭6:9‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Maybe it’s an opportunity before you that you’re unsure of. Maybe it’s finally changing your routine to feed your soul. Maybe it’s cutting off toxic relationships. Maybe it’s taking a hiatus from social media. Are you ready to do what it takes to thrive?

Measuring UP

What standard do you measure by?  It seems the entire world uses the metric system.  Then you have the United States.  We use the Imperial system.  We could argue that one system is better than the other.  But it would be pointless because millions of people use both & it works.  The point is they have a standard to which the entire group of people subscribe to for their measurements.  Imagine the utter chaos if every contractor picked which system they’d use in the USA to build our buildings.  It would be very frustrating to say the least.  Most likely it would be perilous.  It’s hard to build something you set out to build without society as a whole agreeing upon a set standard. 
Let’s take that concept a step further.  What if every member in the US came up with their own standard.  Everyone decided that they knew what was best for their own measurements.  I am going to set a basic measurement from my heel to the top of my big toe & I called that my “foot”.  What if I used my elbow to my fingertip for another measurement.  I call this system the “Grimm Dimension System”.  Now what if I wanted to build a house & I went to my local hardware store & tried to order all my lumber using my “Grimm Dimension System”?  Can you think of all the problems I might run into?  This among many other reasons is why we all subscribe to a standard above us all to which we can appeal.  It creates order, gives us a frame of reference we can understand the world around us by, allows us to create in unity with a team of individuals (in this case skilled builders), & allows us to build things like our dream homes etc.  We can all agree this is a good thing.  Having a standard to which we can all appeal to is a good thing.  
Why can we agree that a standard higher than us all is better than us all having our own standards when it comes to measurements & building things but we can’t agree upon a standard when it comes to how we rule our lives & society?  
At our restaurant, we have a very high set of brand standards that we all have to follow.  Some of us choose to follow those standards & others don’t.  The ones who choose to follow the standards excel. In turn the restaurant excels too.  The ones who don’t follow our standards do not excel.  They are corrected & encouraged to follow our standards because we know they work. They are based on a proven system of excellence & safety.  If they continue to not follow our standards they will not excel & sometime even be asked to leave.  Why?  Am I being heartless?  No!  As a matter of fact I am showing great care by giving them a chance to get our standards right!  If they don’t the restaurant as a whole will suffer.  It doesn’t just affect them!
This same principle is true in every facet of life.  This is why we see so much chaos, heartache, division, destruction, & death in our present world today.  We all have our own standards to which we appeal but none of us want to relinquish our own standards & appeal to the one that’s above us all.  It’s a standard of excellence, mercy, love & forgiveness.  It’s the standard of Jesus Christ.  He showed us a way apart from our selfishness & showed us how to love one another, serve one another, & even love & pray for our enemies.
This is a standard that requires we leave our own “measurements” behind & agree to be unified by the standard of love.  “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
‭‭John‬ ‭15:13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
“Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭9:23‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
He showed us what this looks like by example.  He calls each of us to give up what we want, what we desire, in order to pursue something greater beyond our present circumstances that can bring true change, healing, restoration & answers.  In a time of uncertainty it can bring certainty.  Hope that does NOT disappoint.  We’ve tried to do it our own way & convince others its the “right” way.  This is why social media is so filled with hate & hurtful rhetoric.  We’re all trying to do it our own way & convince others its the right way.  How’s it working?  I’ve been taught that our opinions are like armpits.  We all have them… & they all stink.
If you’re tired, if you’re hurting & you want to see change, if you want to see our country & ultimately our world full of love & care once again, I want to challenge you to appeal to a higher standard that transcends us all.  Forsake your own “measurements”.  Appeal to the Way that’s above us all…  Its the only way we will ever be able to “measure UP”.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
‭‭John‬ ‭14:6‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

What Can I Do?

“We Listen”.  This is one of our “Grow U.” employer promises to each one of our team members who come on board.  We don’t admit that we have all the answers for everyone who comes to us with a problem, but one thing we can offer is a hope & a listening ear.
Life is hard.  No one who has ever lived will ever argue that.  Life can be messy.  We live in a broken world and people now more than ever need hope.  Hope that whatever struggle you are facing will and can get better.  We will come alongside each one of our team members, not claiming to know all the answers, but to help them carry their burden until they can see the path illuminated by the light at the end of the tunnel.
We believe that it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, your culture, your faith, your upbringing, your country, your socioeconomic status etc., our priority is people first.  I believe every human being is created in the image of God.  The value that every person has is intrinsic by design.  No one should ever have to live in fear for the uncertainty of their future.
Let me be real for a moment.  I don’t understand racism.  I didn’t grow up ever realizing that racism was even real.  If it ever existed in our family through generations past I would never know it because I witnessed first hand my family and extended family caring for all people.  To them every one was a human being.  When I was a young boy my parents, Barbara & Dennis, would bring people into our home regularly who needed a home.  One such young man who came to the states was named Melessa.  It’s a different name than I was used to hearing but that’s the only thing I ever noticed that was different about him.  He was attending school at St. Vincent College which was just down the walking path from my childhood home.  He was a young black man from Ethiopia who needed a place to stay.  Melessa became a family member who we loved dearly.  My parents taught me by their actions that when someone is in need and it’s in your ability to do so, help them.  That value has been engrained in me since I was little to care for people.  It’s so important that it’s been engrained in the team culture of our business today!  
“What can I do?”  This is a common recurring question I see many asking today.  In this time we’ve been given the privilege to live in, we have been given the opportunity to come alongside those who are hurting, help to carry their burden, and offer hope.  
Romans 5:1-5 (NKJV) says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Hope does NOT disappoint, when our hope is placed in the One who can bring your hopes to reality!  So many of us want to provide answers right now.  We want to know how we can help.  We want to know what we can do.  I say, #1 is prayer first because prayer changes things.  But once you pray, there’s still a call to action.  James 2:26 (NKJV) says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  Sometimes we want to do something, but we don’t know the right thing to do.  In instances like these, I discovered it’s ok to just ask.  This morning I had an incredible conversation with my business consultant who is also an incredible man.  He always offers support to me in my business needs, to me personally as an individual, and to my team for anything he can help with in their time of need.  He is a great friend that cares for human beings just like we do.  He also happens to be a black man.
I asked him this morning, “What can I do? How can I be a part of the solution?”  He had an incredible answer that applies to our current need at hand in our society & to any walk of life where someone has need.
#1 Listen
#2 Learn
#3 Lament- have compassion with those who are hurting.  Compassion means to bear or suffer with.
#4 Leverage- whatever platforms or opportunities you have been given in order to help.
I discovered today a quote our founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy, made a number of years ago.  He said, “Black people need white people, and white people need black people.”  The truth that’s underlying in this statement is we all need each other!  This separation during the Covid crisis just accentuates that fact.
Galatians 6:2 (NKJV) states, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  To our team members.  Our door is always open to talk if you need to be heard.  “We Listen.”  It’s our promise that we WILL listen.  
In the midst of crisis there’s always great opportunity.  In the darkest night, light always shines the brightest.  Light always pierces the darkness.  Darkness cannot overcome unless we allow it.  Remember hope does NOT disappoint.  Are you facing a crisis right now?  Is the darkness creeping in and threatening to overcome you?  Don’t give up.  Reach out for help.  Offer help in whatever way you can.  And most importantly again, don’t ever give up because good things are coming!
James 1:2-4 (NKJV) “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have it’s perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

Comeback after Crisis

For the longest time I used to loathe difficult times.  I still don’t like them (something I’m working on), but my attitude has completely changed toward moments of crisis or difficulty.  I have learned this lesson throughout my entire life and each time it becomes clearer.  One particular period began about 11 years ago & lasted for several years.  It began roughly 8 years into my occupation as a youth pastor.  My Dad contracted an illness.  It started with him having difficulty breathing.  The diagnosis was pneumonia but he kept getting worse until he was life flighted to Pittsburgh from Latrobe, PA.  It was a diagnosis none of us expected.  All cancer is bad, but acute myeloid leukemia is one of the worst types of cancer anyone could have.  It typically takes the life of an individual in one month’s time from the moment it becomes active in the body.  It was a long battle but my Dad survived & is alive & well today by nothing less than cutting edge treatment, wise doctors, his brave sister (my aunt) who donated her stem cells, & a miracle from God through countless prayers for healing.
Within this time frame my mother contracted breast cancer two times.  The first bout we thought it was over.  Not long after my Dad became well, the breast cancer came back with a vengeance & metastasized throughout her entire body.  Just 1 week after my mom & dad’s 30th wedding anniversary, my mom went home to be with the Lord at the age of 60.  Before my mom went home to Jesus, we were expecting & were able to tell her the name of our 4th child that she was never able to meet.  Sadie Ann.  Her middle name after my mom’s middle name.
We had all 4 of our kids under 4 years with twins in the middle.  During this season of children & trying to help my parents by taking care of them in whatever way we could, we opened a build-your-own Mexican restaurant called Madres Mexican.  The church where I held a youth pastor position came to me the month we opened our restaurant & told me they could no longer pay me.  Understandably this decision was made because the church finances took a turn for the worse.  I hold nothing against them for this decision.  It was the right thing to do.  Good thing we planned to open a business because our restaurant began with a great start & we even had plans in the making to open a second location.  Then a mall shooting took place.  Plans changed.  About a year later mall traffic was starting to return and things were starting to look up.  Our sales were growing again & we were figuring out a new routine without my mom just two months after her going home.  It was December, the day after Christmas.  Our family has a yearly tradition of everyone going to a movie the day after Christmas.  This is something we all look forward to!  Everyone that travels to Pennsylvania to reunite over the holiday always makes it a priority to attend.  We always have an average of 20 people.  
As soon as the movie let out we walked out into the mall only to find a ghost town with caution tape & police blocking every entrance into the mall!  What happened?!  Our mall made national news, again.  There was a flash mob of 100 teenagers that organized a plan to terrorize the mall that night.  They ransacked mall retail stores, went on a theft spree, overturned kiosks, attacked patrons, & destroyed property.  People were afraid & traffic was gone once again.  3 months later, another shooting just outside the mall in the parking lot.  Things became really difficult very quickly.  Sales plummeted and so did my income.  I was paying my employees but not able to pay myself.  I was working 80 hours a week with no income.  Shortly after, over the holiday season, our grinder pump that rids our house of sewage & waste water broke.  We had no way to get the money to fix it.  We were barely able to afford groceries.  We were no longer able to take showers or use any water.  We had to start brushing our teeth outside with a hose.  It was the straw that broke me.  I was lost.  I couldn’t understand.  I’m just giving the highlights here.  These aren’t even half the details of the struggles we faced during this time.  Why am I listing all these horrible things?  To make you feel pity for us?  No.  I have to tell you the struggle, the crisis, we found ourselves in so you can understand the comeback.  What happens next was nothing short of miraculous! 
My wife was working full time,  as a contracted abstracter.  With her income, my lack of income, combined with our piling business expenses, we could barely pay our bills.  There were days where we had to decide to buy groceries or pay bills.  One day it all came to a head & my wife & I didn’t know our next move.  We went to church Wednesday night & asked for prayer.  We were humiliated.  We were both broken.  That Saturday morning, a friend of ours showed up to our front doorstep in her Suburban.  She told us she was woken up the night before & God spoke to her to write down a comprehensive grocery list.  Her Suburban was loaded down!  Her grocery list was down to the very details.  The brand shaving gel I used, the special formula my youngest daughter was on, a case of Keurig cups & we didn’t have a Keurig but my Dad comes over the next instant with a surprise gift, a Keurig, new Egyptian cotton queen sheets for our queen bed & the list goes on…  To help you understand the gravity, she didn’t know any of these things because we never shared these details.  How did she know what we needed & what we used down to the very brands or that my Dad was about to give us a Keurig?!  The amount of food & necessities brought into our home that day were enough to sustain us for over 3 months!  
Our Mexican restaurant was behind over $20,000 on rent payments & other bills.  One day I get a call from our food supplier at Gordon Food Service.  Somehow there was a credit of overpayment that gave us almost a month worth of free food for the restaurant.  This happened several times!  Another restaurant outside the mall came to our food court.  They took a look around & came over to us.  They proceeded to tell us they were switching over from Coke products to Pepsi products & noticed we were the only ones who sold Coke & asked if we wanted all their unused products.  I didn’t have to purchase beverage products for 3 months!  That December we were behind happened to be the craziest, busiest mall traffic December!  We had lines at our restaurant every day.  We paid up on our bills in less than a one month period!  One day I was out on my rounds picking up product for our restaurant.  I had just enough gas to do the job.  I had no idea how I would make it home that night after close.  I had no money & we lived 45 minutes away.  I contemplated asking my in-laws, who lived in the same town where our restaurant was located, if I could spend the night so I’d be able to open the restaurant the next morning.  I opened the freight elevator to load in our product.  There was a $10 bill laying there & it was what I needed to get enough gas to make it that week.  
When my mom passed away, we had no idea her boss had organized a fund raiser in her honor to raise money for breast cancer research.  They distributed leftover finances to our family.  The amount was just enough for us to get our grinder pump replaced so we could use the water in our own home again!
Time & time again when we had no other options the miraculous happened & all our needs were provided!  Though we felt like giving up, we never gave up hope & trusted that God would come through.  I share an abbreviated version of this story at every orientation for all our new team members.  Why?  So we can encourage every team member & let them know there’s hope.  Just like we needed someone to come alongside us in crisis & hardship, we are there for them.  I know how hard life is & how in one moment you can be basking in the sunlight & the next be dashed upon the rocks in the midst of a storm.  I’ve lived it.  Life is not easy.  Storms come out of nowhere & sometimes nobody is to be blamed.
When the storm comes, I want to encourage you today to know where to place your hope, to persevere, don’t give up, & then expect a comeback!  If you give up now, you’ll never know the victory on the other side.  Miracles still happen.  I’m living proof.  
One of my favorite verses is from Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (NKLV)
Are you going through a crisis?  Then get ready for your comeback!  You may not learn to like trials, but you will soon begin to see your hardships in a different light.  
James 1:2-4 “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (NLT)

People not Chicken

I recite to every new team member that joins our team our “Ultra-purpose”.  What is an Ultra-Purpose you ask?  It’s pretty basic.  For our team, It’s going above & beyond in intentionality.  It’s a focus that gives us meaning behind our mission.  It’s the gasoline that fuels the engine.  Our Ultra-purpose states, “We’re not only here to sell chicken, we’re here to make a difference in the life of everyone who walks through our doors.  When people become our focus, we’ll sell more chicken than we could ever imagine.”  I always conclude to clarify.  “This doesn’t mean we don’t have to sell really good chicken or take anything else just as serious.  In fact, it means just the opposite!  It means we step up our game because we care for people.
People mistake all the time that I’m in the chicken business.  I’m not.  I’m in the people business & we happen to sell really good chicken!  If we run our business without a people focus, we missed the whole point of being in business.  Our guests & our team members are everything.  Without them, we have no business.  In other words, It’s people not chicken.
Let’s break this down:
    No good people = no good chicken
    No quality people = no quality operation
    No guests = no business
We can flip this & state it in the positive.
   Good people = good chicken
   Quality people = quality business
   Guests = business
A good chicken business begins & ends with people no matter how you dice it!  Any business for that matter begins & ends with people.  Without people we have nothing.  And without good, quality people we have nothing exciting!  Good systems, good projects, good marketing strategies, etc are all needed to run a good business.  But these things in & of themselves don’t run the business.  Just take a look around during this crisis we’re in. People run the businesses we all love.  Without people we all have nothing.  We need people.  And we especially need good people now more than ever to be able to get back to the business of doing what they were born to do.  Meaningful work.
When we do get back to our business at hand & running at normal capacity, a great portion of our time is spent on whirlwind activities & tasks in our businesses that take us away from the truly meaningful investments of our businesses.  Why do we waste our time on all these time sucking activities?  #1 they need to get done, but wouldn’t our time be more well spent investing in the people creating & executing these vital systems in our businesses?  Let me answer that.  YES.  We need to find a way to get out of the whirlwind & get to the heart of our business which is the heart of our people.  This is true for any successful business.  Not just the chicken business.  This season we all find ourselves in is a good moment to get re-focused & prepare a new purpose for when the economy relaunches.   
How do I know this is true?  Here’s the litmus test.  Take people out of the equation.  What do you have?  Nothing.  You just have “stuff” without the people & it’s no longer a viable business.  It’s so sad to drive down the road & see so many empty buildings of once thriving businesses.  They need people back inside of them to bring them life again!  
Challenge for the day.  When we get the opportunity to get back to meaningful work, let’s make it about the people you’ve been blessed with in your life.  Your guests & your team.  It all begins & ends with them.
“I tell you, use the riches of this world to help others.  In that way, you will make friends for yourselves.  Then when your riches are gone, you will be welcomed into your eternal home in heaven.” -Luke 16:9 NIRV
We are living in this unique time where all of us are experiencing the same ramifications of removing people from the equation.  We all know riches can be taken away in an instant.  If & when it does what will we have left?  Time, money, & resources invested in people is time, money, & resources well spent.  The dividends are eternal…