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… 

Tough Love & Mercy

Many times in workplaces people are treated as interchangeable & disposable.  This is an unhealthy practice.  Maybe the employees you’ve chosen don’t exactly meet the standards you expect.  The resulting frustration is understandable.  After all, this is your business, your livelihood, & it’s how you provide for your family & others.
If you can remember when you were younger, you probably weren’t the most desirable employee either.  In fact, in my case, I would’ve fired myself many times over & in some cases, even pressed charges against myself.  I was that bad!  This wasn’t always true.  When I started in the work force at 14 years old as a busboy I was the best!  I’m not making this up.  I was really good.  I worked harder than anyone else in the room.  It was my goal to be the best.  I wouldn’t let anyone out work me.  If they stepped up their game, I did more.  I always had the desire to make myself invaluable & impress my superiors.  As the years went by & I took on various jobs, I applied the same work ethic at every occupation.  Amazingly, it created the same favorable results of praise, promotions, & sometimes jealousy among my peers who hadn’t figured out my methods of sheer hard work & focus.
Something happened to me along the way.  I began to allow myself to be influenced by negative influencers & temptations.  It was no ones fault but my own.  Something changed inside of me where I desired to do wrong things & I began to act on them.  Over the course of one particular year, I slowly became someone completely different.  Undesirable, untrustworthy, foolish, & dangerous were some good words to describe me.  I did a lot of stupid things that hurt a lot of good people.  I especially hurt those closest to me.  My family.
I could’ve been arrested for several things but miraculously I wasn’t.  Again, if I was my employer at the time I would’ve no doubt pressed charges on myself.  I’m embarrassed to even admit this as I write.  What saved me & turned my life around was tough love & mercy.  One day my Dad was praying for me.  God spoke to him & told him to go look in my room.  He found the drugs I had been hiding.  He came looking for me in a popular sports bar in our hometown where me & my friends would go for wings.  I lied about where I was going.  I told my parents I was going to a friend’s house to study.  I got high instead & ended up at Sharky’s.  My friends saw him & said, “David, your Dad’s here.”  I thought they were kidding, but the look on their faces said otherwise.  I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach & all of a sudden I sobered up real fast!  The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as he spoke & said, “Let’s go.”  My Dad has a voice somewhere between Darth Vader & that guy from the Allstate commercials.  That kind of deep voice penetrates the soul.  Not to mention, why would he be here?  How did he find me?!  I explained, “Dad I need to pay for my wings!” as he grabbed me up out of the chair.  His response, “Your friends can pay for your food.”  I asked him, “What’s happening?!”  He didn’t answer, but somehow I knew.  We drove the whole way home in complete silence.  
We walked into the living room of our home where my family was waiting & my Mom was crying.  There they were.  Right on the coffee table were my drugs.  To make a long story short, my Dad sent me to my sister’s room which was right next to theirs & told me to pray.  He said, “Pray to God for mercy because I am taking you to the police station tomorrow morning.”  That night I knew I was guilty, but I prayed & pleaded for mercy.  I hadn’t prayed in a really long time.  The next day, he turned me in.  That night I truly believe my life was spared because two days later I had plans to try heroine for the first time.  This moment was a turning point.  This was a pivotal moment that turned my life toward a course of salvation & the pursuit of more than what I had been living & settling for.  Not only did I do drugs.  I stole to support my habit.  I lied to everyone including myself.  I played the hypocrite at church.  I acted out a lot of other destructive sinful behaviors.  That night it all stopped.  I knew I should’ve been arrested & tried.  I had enough possession to put me away for 5 years.  Instead, I walked out of the station without any paperwork to my name!  The only consequence was that the officer trusted my Dad to do the right thing & make sure I stayed out of trouble.
I had been given a great gift that day.  Mercy.  I had been shown mercy.  My life had been ransomed by tough love by my earthy father, one really scary police officer, & an answered prayer for mercy on my life from my Heavenly Father.  Had that day never happened, I wouldn’t be a Chick-fil-A owner-operator today.  The rule states that you can have no federal criminal charges in order to be a franchisee of a Chick-fil-A.  I should’ve gone to jail.  I didn’t.  I had been given a gift that changed the course of my life & my own families’ life forever. 
Remember back.  Maybe once you weren’t so great either.  No one deserves mercy that’s committed an offense, but it’s the greatest gift you could give someone.  By mercy, many lives that are mediocre or worse have been ransomed & transformed into something greater than what they could ever be otherwise.  We practice this daily in our business.  Many people have never had anyone care enough to show them or explain to them that they have flaws & that they need to change.   Instead they are written off & let go.  Don’t get me wrong.  Some offenses need to be dealt with swiftly & letting the team member go is mercy in that instant.  But many times, there’s no warnings, no teaching moments, & no coaching.  It’s just expectations without being shown how to get there & do better.
In my business, we practice patience & show mercy when needed.  We give opportunity to do better & grow.  No one is disposable.  Tough love & mercy is the refiners fire that purifies the gold.  Some of our best leaders have emerged from being mediocre team members because of tough love & mercy.  I want to challenge you to be the kind of person like my Dad.  Be willing to tell someone what no one else has the guts to tell them.  I discovered that many have never received this kind of love because no one cares for them enough to tell them they need to change.  They won’t like it when they hear it & they definitely won’t like it if you have to show them discipline to bring about a positive change in their behavior, but they will thank you for the rest of their lives if they stick around long enough to reap the rewards of the change.  Maybe you’re frustrated & disappointed with your team.  I want to challenge you to see that you may have the right candidates & the best employees right in front of you!  It’s easy to write them off & it’s easy to move on & look for their replacements.  Many employers are always complaining that there’s a shortage of good people in the work force.  Maybe it’s not true.  Maybe there are hidden gems waiting to be cleaned off & polished up right in our midst.  
Are we willing to get ourselves dirty?  Are we willing to have the grit to show tough love just like my Dad did for me?  It hurts.  It’s painful & it’s beyond our selfish nature to go above & beyond for someone else.  But I’m thankful someone did it for me.  Mercy, applied at the proper time can ransom a lost soul & create the exact someone you’ve been looking for all along.  Not only will you set someone free to live their fullest potential but you will also discover mercy & freedom yourself.
“Blessed are the merciful, 
For they shall obtain mercy.”
-Matthew 5:7 (NKJV)
“By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.”
-Proverbs 16:6 (KJV)

Don’t despise small beginnings Part II- The danger of hiding yourself in the dark

The trip began in darkness in the middle of the night.  It also ended in darkness in the wee hours of the morning.  This fact is a good representation of the subpar choice to take the trip in the first place.  It was a dark time in my life that could’ve ended very badly.  When you walk in ignorance, making decisions based upon how you feel & refuse to seek wise counsel from people in your life who have wisdom & experience, your journey is bound to be shrouded in darkness & danger.  It’s the danger of hiding yourself in the dark, and not sharing with someone what’s going on internally.  Despite what so called “experts” may tell you, you are not your own best teacher!  Can you learn from decisions you make?  Absolutely!  But this posits the thought that you made a bad decision/ not so good one in order to have learned from the decision in the first place.  This is what happened in my case.  My pastor used to tell me all the time, “It’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes rather than your own.”  After this wayward trip to Franklin, TN, I learned this loud & clear.  Oh, how I wish I would’ve learned from someone else’s mistake in this instance!
I might’ve found a better route had GPS been readily available at the time.  Remember, cell phones still weren’t widespread either.  Most people did not have them.  My charted trip consisted of me drawing a straight line from Latrobe, PA, to Franklin, TN.  That had to be the quickest way right?  Everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  In the dark I was off for a destination that was bound to have all the answers once I got there.
How did I decide Franklin, TN, of all places?  It may sound funny but I had this desire since I was 12 years old up until that particular time.  I’d like to think I had become the original aficionado of a popular band at the time named “DC Talk”.  When I heard their music for the first time, the music engaged my soul in a way that opened up creative parts of my imagination that I had never experienced up until that moment in my life at 12 years old.  In fact, their’s was the first CD I had ever purchased.  I just got a portable CD player for Christmas that year that replaced my worn out walkman.  The album “NU Thang” was just released shortly after.  Back in the day, when people still bought CDs as new albums were released, I was one of the first in line to purchase their album.  I had their album on repeat for the entire year.  No joke.  I didn’t know you could wear out CDs.  Turns out you can & the reflective silver stuff that’s on the plastic disc actually comes off.  These guys were it!  I wanted to meet them in the worst way & I determined that I would find a way to work with them somehow in my life.  Remember how I was an artist?  I thought, “That’s it!  I could create artwork for them to be used in their promotions, CD covers, T-shirt designs, you name it!”  I started drawing furiously.  A couple years later, I would be old enough to join the youth group at our church & we took a lot of fun adventures together.  One of those trips was called “Creation Festival”.  It was located in Mt. Union, PA, a few hours away from where we attended church when I was younger. The venue was called “Agape Farms”.  DC Talk was playing the festival that year.  I was going to meet these guys & give them my pitch!  What was going to be my “in”?  I had been creating a sketch all year long that I was going to present in order to ask them if I could be hired as an artist working for them!  The week of the festival was upon us.  We pitched our tents & each night we lined up after the headliners show in order to get their autographs.  The night of DC Talk’s performance came.  I was in line to meet Kevin, Michael & everyone’s favorite, Toby McKeehan.  The only thing though, is I chickened out.  I left my artwork at home because I was too afraid they wouldn’t like it. Instead, I got to the front of the line, got their autographs, & in my squeaky 14 year old half-man voice asked Michael, “Do you ever consider hiring artists to do artwork for your promotions & stuff?”  He actually engaged me & said, “Ya man! Why are you an artist?”  I said “YES!”  He said, “Come here a second.”   He pulled me aside & wrote down on a paper his number to the office at Forefront records.  He graciously said, “Call me & send me something so we can look at your work & consider it.”  My feet didn’t touch the ground the whole way back to our campsite & no one in our group actually believed what I had just done!  Which was really nothing yet, but to me felt like my whole life just changed!
Shortly after “Creation Festival” that summer at 14 years old, I called the number Michael gave me a dozen times but chickened out every time someone answered.  I made up stories of why I was calling Forefront records.  Wrong number, asked about hiring, & sometimes just hung up.  This desire to accomplish the dream I had set out to do came back in the late hours of the night years later when I couldn’t find a new dream.  I resorted to an old one because I didn’t know where I was headed or where I should be headed.  I felt desperate.   “Let’s do this once & for all”, I thought.  I was in the hills of Kentucky when the light began to dawn.  I had already been up for 24 hours at this point.  I was tired but undaunted in my excitement for what I had just done.  I was running on pure adrenaline.  That adrenaline would soon morph into a 2 liter of Mt. Dew.  I had my trusty wood paneled station wagon, a Toyota Cressida, which was affectionately called the “shaggin’ wagon” by all my friends.  When you’ re sleep deprived to begin with, with having bad habits as a college student does, & then you decide to take a 600 plus mile trip through the hills of West Virginia, Kentucky & Tennessee, things are bound to get a little weird.  Like how I began to see dinosaurs in the rock faces I was driving past.  Thankfully I had the “guts” (stupidity) to keep going & shake it off.  Less brave (stubborn) people would’ve pulled off the road & taken a nap.  But I had a destination & nothing was going to stop me.  I took a few stops along the way to fill up on gas & the Dew in some scary towns through Kentucky that you only see in horror movies or thrillers.  Yes they really do exist, but I didn’t let it slow me down for long and for obvious reasons.  A trip that should’ve ended up only taking about 10 hours ended up taking at least 13.  Maybe because I had never navigated anything by myself before this.  I was using the ruler method on the map. I quickly learned how you have to travel slower on smaller roads- ones I’m not sure why they are even considered roads.  The kind that travel on steep drop offs, with no guard rails, & literally have signs that say “danger explosives being used”.  Ya that’s real!  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.  Especially after driving through miles of shacks that were considered homes, built under bridges.  Can we say “Deliverance” anyone?
Nashville.  I was close!  I decided maybe it would be a good idea if I called someone to let them know where I was.  I pulled off at the first payphone I saw.  Thankfully I had the whole Coke bottle change bank full of coins (well, half full).  I knew the friend I was talking to the night before would be in school, knowing it was their lunch time.  They answered & with great excitement I let them know what I had done & what I was in the process of doing!  For some reason they didn’t seem quite as excited as I was.  I let them know the plan & that I would contact them later once I figured things out.  Once I hung up the phone I had no idea the firestorm that was about to ensue.  My friend thought it would be a good idea to let some people know what was happening.  I can’t imagine why.  By people, I mean everyone we knew including my parents & youth pastor & his wife.
Franklin.  Only about 30 more minutes to go.  Specifically, I had looked up Forefront records in the phone book & got my next destination.  I had arrived.  I pulled up to a very underwhelming building.  It was obvious that this was a rented out space for an operation that was a lot smaller in size than I had ever imagined.  In fact, Forefront was just a fraction of the conglomerate that was EMI Records (Now Capitol CMG).  I had always pictured a colossal building to house the colossal names in music artists that this label represented.  My eyes were surely opened to how things work in the music industry that day.  I talked to the receptionist & told her why I was there.  Someone from the offices above came down to meet me.  I told them my pitch & my desire to design covers for albums, artist promotions etc.  He asked if I had a resume.   Missed opportunity #1.  I did not prepare for that question to be asked.  He still excitedly took me on a 30 minute tour of the entire building.  I got to see where the design room was.  This consisted of one graphic designer on a computer surrounded by cool covers & original designs on the walls.  “Yikes, it doesn’t seem like they hire a lot of graphic artists,” I thought to myself.  Missed opportunity #2.  I probably could’ve asked ahead of time if they were hiring & what they were looking for?  Nah.  We continued the tour.  I got to see a lot of neat things they were working on & my guide was super friendly & hospitable.  I think he saw a 18 year old kid that was lost & searching.  I ended up with a lot of swag & free CDs. He even offered me to have lunch.  I declined because I realized at the end of the tour that this wasn’t a job interview but a courtesy to a kid someone felt really bad for.  I was heartbroken & just wanted to get out of there & get back home.  I felt so dumb.  My host quickly followed me out to the car after I had thanked him for his time.  He saw my artwork laying in the back seat along with lots of clothes & he deduced what was happening.  He said my work looked really cool but unfortunately they weren’t hiring graphic artists right now.  He actually almost pleaded with me to stay the night on the couch.  Out of more foolishness & emotion, I turned him down & started driving immediately back to Pennsylvania.
Someone once told me that if you go 3 days without sleeping you are considered legally insane.  I’m sure they didn’t have their facts straight, but if by chance that were true, it would explain a lot of things in my life after this point.  I definitely wasn’t thinking rationally in the least.  I’m not sure I was thinking at all.  Somewhere on the journey back through West Virginia I finally thought maybe I should call someone else.  I called my mom who was obviously very upset & concerned (but surprisingly not mad).  I called my youth pastor & his wife & discovered that a lot of people were praying for me.  They prayed for my safety especially.  I discovered I was loved by a lot of people that day.  Somehow I made it into my driveway at about 4am.  I know God was answering prayers & watching over me because I don’t remember the last 30 minutes of the trip.  My brain had shut down from sheer exhaustion from being awake almost 3 days straight.   
My mom wanted to talk to me immediately but I was out.  After awhile I came to consciousness again.  I had already begun to mentally prepare for the punishment that was coming.  My Dad came home from a business trip.  I heard him walking down the stairs.  There was only about 12 steps but it felt like an eternity for him to get to the bottom.  What I experienced that day was far different than what I expected.  I experienced love, grace, forgiveness & great mercy.  
I learned one lesson that stood out far above all the many truths & principles I discovered in this wayward trip.  My Dad wrote me a letter that day that I read.  It was a way we were able to communicate a lot easier in those turbulent times of my young adulthood.  One sentence seemed to jump off the page.  “David, you could’ve just asked for help & your mom & I would’ve helped you get there.”  “What?!  Someone could’ve helped me?” This was the most foreign concept to hit my underdeveloped brain up to this point!  Why had I not thought of this before?!  It was making a lot of sense that someone who has lived life, someone that was older that had made mistakes too, someone that also was a young man that had dreams & desires to fulfill might actually have something to offer that could help me.  I also discovered in life that sense isn’t common.  There are people that surround us but we are so closed off to our emotions, our thoughts, our inward selves that we never dare ask for help or even think that someone could help.  It’s ok & in fact the best thing we can ever do.  Ask for help!  
“Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisors bring success.” Proverbs 15:22
This is a big truth I learned that day & every day since.  You can’t, nor should you ever do things on your own.  We all need someone, and more than someones!  Many advisors is where the success comes.  Seek counsel, seek wisdom, & seek those in whom you can trust that have been there before.  Just like this dark trip that began in darkness & ended in darkness, I learned that it wouldn’t stay this way forever.  I got the help I needed by those around me that cared for me.  Many of us as individuals are experiencing these dark times we all find ourselves in just like in my story.  You may feel like there’s no way into the light.  The darkness just won’t let up.  It’s not true.  Dawn always comes after the darkest night.  There’s hope.  There are people around you who care for you & if you just let them into the secrets that are going on in your mind & heart you’ll see how much they care for you.  Know who you can trust.  Go to them & let them into your insider plans.  If you do, you’ll find you never could do it yourself in the first place & that success is waiting when you bring others into the equation.

Don’t despise small beginnings – Part I

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

I was 18 years old.  I had jumped jobs several times.  I was in the middle of my 1st move of many degree pursuits in college.  I remember feeling so frustrated not knowing where to unleash the dreams that were welling up inside me to do something more!  I remember having a very pointed conversation with my youth pastor’s wife Norma that would stick with me for the rest of my adult life.
Every day that I was coming home after my morning classes or work I would stop in at our church on the way to say hi to everyone which included my senior pastor, his wife, & our church secretary Norma.  The real reason I would stop in is because if I stayed long enough & volunteered to help out with things at the church, they would feed me lunch.  To a 19 year old always “starving” young man, that was like Christmas every day!  Being 19 & involved in college sports made a dangerous grocery budget situation for my parents!  Needless to say, they were thankful I was stopping in at the church to help out with projects that needed done.  One of those days we were having one of my favorite lunches over Ginos pizza with banana peppers.  Ginos is my second favorite pizza in the world!  Norma was a little Mexican lady from Brownsville, TX, that introduced me to all kinds of new flavor combinations, like banana peppers on pizza, & helped me develop my love for Mexican food.  If you are what you eat, I am Mexican.  Thanks to Norma!
One of those days of taking a break from the work that needed done, she looked at me & realized for some time the situation I was in.  She saw a young man with passion that needed to take helm of the ship that blew every direction with the wind.  She said to me, “David, don’t despise small beginnings.”  Here’s what I heard in my mind.  “Stop running all over the place trying to figure it out.  Buckle down where you find yourself & do the best with what you’ve been given.”  She elaborated, “Work hard right where you’re at & God will bless you with more when He sees you can be trusted with the little you have now.  Work hard & do your best, & when the time is right, the doors will open for you.”
Man, it was fresh life to my weary & wandering heart.  But oh how I wished I would have listened to her!  I heard what she said, but I didn’t really listen.  I knew what I should’ve done.  I knew God spoke to my heart & said “stay one more semester.”  I should’ve stayed.  I should’ve finished strong.  I should’ve stayed on my college soccer team.  I should’ve stayed at my job at the “Baby Gap”.  Yes I said the “Baby Gap”.  Don’t judge, they were hiring at the mall nearby & I needed money.  I should’ve finished working there through the next semester.  What did I do?
Typically, my routine was that I’d take the 1hr & 20 minute drive home from my dorm room at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh to stay at my parent’s house over the weekend.  I came home late one night while I was stewing.  I was thinking about how I needed to start my future.  I couldn’t wait for it & be patient anymore.  The whole 2 weeks that I had decided I was going to push through was over.  What did Norma know anyway?  If you were going to do something, you couldn’t wait for it.  You had to make it happen!  The semester was about over & it was about to be summer break.  If I was going to do something it had to be now!  I was talking with a friend late that night & told them, “I’m ready.  I need to get out of here.”  After I hung up the phone, that night at 11pm I began driving trying to figure out just what it was I should do.  I stopped at a gas station to fill my car.  I saw a US map in a rack of AAA atlases.  This was back in the day when cell phones were just gaining traction & GPS wasn’t even really a thing yet.  I bought the map & filled up my car.  While the car was filling I began leafing through & landed on Franklin, Tennessee. I decided I knew exactly what I should do.  I went back home.  When I started attending college I had moved to the basement where I essentially had my own apartment so my Dad could take over my bedroom as his office.  I had my own entrance to come & go as I please.   While my parents & sister were sleeping, I began packing my car with clothes (no suitcase), artwork that I had in my portfolio, & a giant plastic Coke bottle piggy bank full of money.   At midnight, I quietly pulled out of the driveway to begin my new adventure.  And boy was it an adventure…  Franklin, TN, right next to Nashville.  The place I thought my dreams were made of.

You can’t steer a stagnant ship

Do you know what it is you are supposed to do with your life?  Do you know what degree you’re supposed to pursue right out of high school in order to become who you were destined to become?  If you do, that’s great & I’m glad you have it figured out!  It’s freeing to know your sense of purpose & which direction you’re supposed to take with the many choices that lay before you.  For the other 99.9% of the population, purpose isn’t always that clear.  In fact, purpose has been fleeting in every generation.  I could list a bunch of stats right here from various educational studies, but I won’t.  Just do a quick search on the state of higher education.  You’ll be encouraged by the enrollment rates and then just as quickly be stunned by the lack of completion rates year after year.    Better yet, do an internal investigation & ask yourself, “Do I feel satisfied with where I am in life?  Do I have purpose that drives me each day?”  Most people have no idea what to do with their lives.  I know I sure didn’t for many years.
Since graduating from high school, I could have a doctorate with the amount of credits I have.  I’ve switched my major 5 different times.  I had a gifting or a leaning toward each of my studies I pursued, but as those semesters rolled by I realized, “This is not what I want to do with the rest of my life.”  I couldn’t picture myself stuck as a graphic designer and only being a graphic designer for the rest of my life.  I couldn’t picture being a nurse or a sports physical therapist the rest of my life.  Ya, I realize those are pretty diverse subjects.  When it boiled down, I didn’t know what I wanted.  Then I’d quit.  I’d quit school & I’d quit pursuing a degree.  I know I wanted more in life.  I was so frustrated not knowing what to do & what to pursue. I was spinning my wheels & wasting time & money.  Or so I thought.
I needed advice.  I needed direction.  Thank God He leads you to the right people in your life when you need it the most.  I was a freshman at LaRoche College on the North Side of Pittsburgh, PA.  I began my first semester as a Graphic Design student.  I was an artist.  I was good at art.  I won many art awards, inducted into the National Art Honor Society, & was named “Best in Show” in my graduating class. My mother, Barbara Grimm, was a freelance artist.  You can still see her artwork on display in many galleries.

Painting for Mother-in-laws bday
Mountain landscape by David Grimm

Example of Mom's paintings
Falls at Linn Run State Park by Barbara Grimm

So naturally I thought, “Well I guess I should pursue art.  It’s what I’m good at.”  I hated every minute of it.  I dreaded classes & I dreaded the thought that this is what I would have to do for a living.  “I already know how to do this?!  What am I doing here?”, were recurring thoughts.  After that first semester I came home & didn’t look back.  Frustrated, I decided to take a gap year.  I ended up in Garden Valley, TX, at an internship for missionaries wanting to make a positive impact on this world.  That’s what I wanted to do.  That’s what I felt passionate about.  I wanted to have a positive impact!  I discovered my motivation.  But I sure didn’t want to be a missionary.  I just thought I did.  What I was attracted to was this idea that there is a greater purpose beyond me.  I wanted to leave a positive lasting impact on people’s lives for eternity.  This is what I was drawn to.  Needless to say, I didn’t stay more than 8 months.  I left & moved back home, but I carried back with me a sense of a greater calling in my life that would influence others for good.
Many things happened here in this journey home that shaped me for the rest of my life & led me to where I am today running a successful, multi-million dollar business.  We’ll glean from telling these stories in the future.  (Like the time I ran away to Nashville, Tennessee.)  But for now, I reconnected with my most recent youth pastor at the time, Carl, & his wife, Norma.  They poured wisdom into me time & again over late night meals at Denny’s or even at their home when I’m sure they’d rather be in bed.  Sometimes I listened & other times I acted on my impulses only to wind up in the same position.  Frustrated.  They realized I needed direction.  The best thing they did for me was guide the ship that wouldn’t stop moving.  Sometimes you don’t know the direction you’re headed in life & that’s ok.  You don’t always have to have it all figured out.  The worst thing you can do is give up & stop moving.  You can’t steer a stagnant ship.  What good is a vessel if it doesn’t take you anywhere.  But I also learned quickly that all of life cannot be an unplanned adventure.  It’s careless, dangerous, wasteful, & hurts the ones you love the most.  I had to quickly learn how to take control of the helm instead of driving aimlessly.  I may not have had it all together.  I may not have had a 5 year plan.  But one thing I had was a passion for more in life.  I was willing to follow that desire to discover more.  I was born for something more & I was going to find it!
Every single one of us have that innate desire & longing for the possibilities of what could be in life.  Each one of us are born with a desire for something more that will leave a lasting legacy.  We want to know that our lives counted for something.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT) says, “…He has planted eternity in the human heart…” Sometimes we just have to get the ship moving.  Make a decision.  Take the first step.  Do something, even if you can’t picture yourself doing that thing for the rest of your life.  Once you’ve got forward motion it’s time to steer the ship & chart the course to your next destination.  But how do we get there, & where is the next destination?  We’ll discover that together in our next pursuit…