How you made a difference today, and didn’t even realize it

Photo by Kampus Production on Pexels.com

Everyone knows how badly teenagers want to go to work, how they crave entry-level hourly jobs, and how they long to work in the food service industry. Yep, you’ve picked up on my sarcasm.

American teens are dreamers, and weren’t we all at that age? We wanted to create something, start a trend, build the next big thing, have friends and find adventure.

Depending on your generation, you either worked to build the fastest car, start the biggest rock band, conquer Super Mario Bros., or create the next internet sensation. Flipping burgers? You only did that because you had to.

So, when I dropped my teenage son off at his fast food job, I told him, “You are doing meaningful work today.”

He looked at me a little funny.

“Seriously, you are going to be the bright spot in someone’s day.”

His look became more inquisitive.

“Look, there are people that will soon begin their drive home after a long day. Others will be looking to spend time with family, and others will be eating to find comfort after hearing bad news,” I said. “And they will be coming into your restaurant to find what they are looking for. Feed them well, and be that bright spot.”

“Thank you, Dad,” he replied.

“It takes a special person to undertake the work of feeding people. I’m proud of you.”

He shut the door, entered the restaurant, and I drove off.

Okay, now that I read my own words, it looks a little sappy. Either that, or I just penned the latest “Family, isn’t it about Time” commercial. Nevertheless, I meant every word.

I have recently documented my recent health struggles, so I’m not endorsing emotional eating. However, I will tell you that on more than one occasion, the right fast food clerk, and the right kitchen crew have offered me relief on some dark days. Furthermore, they have fed me on a quick schedule when my time was short. And I appreciated their efforts every time.

Our kids are taught to aim for the stars, to seek careers where they can make a difference, to find meaning, purpose, and significance. They are taught not to settle for menial jobs, but to aim for greatness. Indeed, we want to encourage our kids to reach their full potential, and for most, that’s probably not in the kitchen of a fast food franchise.

But, if everyone is an astronaut, president, physicist, technology pioneer, and entrepreneur, then who will serve our food? If everyone is leading the next great social movement, who is caring for the patients in the nursing home? If everyone is discovering the cure for cancer, who is stocking the grocery stores?

If everyone is a teacher, who is cleaning the restrooms? If everyone’s a doctor, who’s filling the prescriptions?

You see, for our society to function, we need people in every role of our workforce, and our society will become great when every member of our workforce, from the service sector, to retail, to medical, to manufacturing, see their value and the importance of their work.

And the greatest companies in our society realize their role, and communicate their value to their workforce, who then reflect that conviction to their customers. That is why companies like ChickFilA and In-N-Out hold such high esteem in the fast food market, despite McDonalds having more locations. That’s why Whole Foods is such a revered brand, even though their prices are routinely higher than other grocery chains. That’s why Southwest Airlines is successful, despite having none of the frills of the other airlines.

These companies understand the role they play in our society, their inherent value, and they confer that value on their staff, who then internalizes it and represents it before the customers.

So, if you’re reading this, and you work in a fast food restaurant, you made a difference today, and you didn’t even realize it. You either did your job well, and were a bright spot in someone’s day (if so, congratulate yourself), or you did your job poorly and added to someone’s frustration. Either way, you made a difference.

If you’re reading this and you’re a CNA, then please know that you are probably the most important person in a patient’s care. Remember that, and bring them comfort.

If you work in a grocery store, you can greatly encourage someone who may be struggling emotionally, or may be feeling lonely.

If you are a doctor, you can save lives. If you are a lawyer, you can save freedoms. You get the point.

The point is, no matter what you do, you matter. And no matter what role you fill, you are needed, and you are valuable. And no matter what kind of day you’ve had, you’ve made a difference.

Therefore, as we perform our job duties today, let’s employ the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:23, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” Because when you work, you’re not working for your manager, the shareholders, or even the customers. You are working for God, and His will for you is to do good to others.

May God bless you and encourage you in your work today.

Who through Faith…

Why do we think of faith as an abstract? And why do we doubt the power of faith?

It makes no sense to downplay the importance of faith, nor does it make sense to doubt its power, not with so many tangible examples of how faith has changed our nation.

Today, our nation honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who through his faith forever transformed our nation from a society of systemic racism and segregation to a nation that aspires to live up to its founding principles.

It would be naive to say that we live in a post-racial America, and I believe that there is still much to be done to achieve the racial healing and reconciliation of which Dr. King dreamed.

However, it would be self-defeating to fail to recognize the progress that has been made, and the cause of that progress.

Dr. King was motivated by a dream, a dream built on the foundations of his core convictions, which were born of his faith.

That faith was in the God almighty, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To deny this is to deny the sermons Dr. King preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, or his belief in the power of Agape love to not only bring about racial equality, but reconciliation as well.

To deny Dr. King’s faith as his motivation is to deny an entire paragraph of his “I Have A Dream” speech, which states, “This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with.

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

“With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

To deny the faith of Dr. King and to deny the scriptures as the source of that faith is to deny the Biblical imagery that defined his speeches, whether the carving of the stone of hope from the mountain of despair, to the mountaintop Dr. King said the Lord took him to, allowing him to see the promised land.

To deny the faith of Dr. King is to deny his optimism, fully communicated in his speeches, which came from his belief that God would bring his dream to fruition, even if not fully realized until the coming of the Lord.

Dr. King’s legacy of racial equality, national repentance, and racial reconciliation cannot be denied. Neither can the faith be denied which moved him to lead this national transformation. Faith in the Lord brings amazingly great things.

Hebrews 11:33 says, “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, and stopped the mouths of lions.” Hebrews 2:20 says that faith without works is dead. In other words, faith motivates action, and when faith motivates action, great changes happen.

As we remember and celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. King, and the transformation he led America through, let us not forget the faith that birthed it all.

Furthermore, let’s remember that the next great advancement in our society, whatever it may be, will not be born from a desire for significance, a desire for change, or a change at the ballot box. The next great advancement will come when the people of God act on their faith and carry God’s amazing message to the people.

With this faith… we advance.

Stay or Hit, The Risk Remains

Few people realize that the success of the Houston Astros was birthed at the Blackjack tables of a Lake Tahoe casino before Billy Beane employed Moneyball to save the Oakland As.

Working as a dealer at the table, an engineering student majoring in statistical analytics noticed a pattern. Whenever blackjack players “hit” when they already had a score of 17 or more, they almost always busted (exceeded 21, thus losing). However, if they hit on 16 or less, they often got close to 21, sometimes winning, sometimes losing.

This student watched as players lost hundreds, if not thousands, by making emotional decisions, hitting on 18, or staying at 16. To consistently perform well, this student concluded that 17 was the magic number. Stay if more than 17, hit if 16 or less.

From this experience, the student learned the value of rational decisions that are data driven. That same student went on to develop the analytics program of the Houston Astros, which was instrumental in the development of the roster that won the 2017 World Series.

That program analyzed prospective players not only by their stats, but also by their experiences and physical characteristics, using patterns identified by analyzing the prior 30 years of MLB draft picks.

The book, Astroball, by Ben Reiter, outlines how the Astros built a perennial winner out of a team that was built and developed, not bought.

Despite the success of the Astros, their trek was not without failures. The Stros often released players who went on to brilliant careers, and retained players who flamed out.

Despite all the data and direction offered by a sound analytics program, the Astros were unable to eliminate risk from the equation when it came to analyzing prospective players.

Which takes us back to the blackjack table. Even if you religiously follow the data-driven wisdom of when to hit, and when to stay, sometimes you bust, sometimes you win, and sometimes the House wins.

Obviously, as The Chaplain’s Corner, this blog is not about how to win at the card table, and I’ve never been successful as a sports writer. Seeing the intersection of cards and baseball, however, I do see some life lessons.

In either of those situations, there is risk. There’s risk in action, and there’s risk in inaction. There are consequences for taking the leap, and there are consequences for staying put.

The Astros took a risk in spending millions to pioneer a new form of analytics for player evaluation. Had it not worked, the team would have wasted a fortune to stay in last place. But it worked, and the evidence is right there on the field.

Had they stayed put, they may have still built a winning team, but they’d likely have overpaid, the way they did in 2005.

In blackjack, taking the hit can win the hand, or it can bust you. Staying will keep you from busting, but it may or may not win the hand.

And in life, you have choices. To change careers. To relocate to accept a promotion. To start a business, invest in the stock market, or to buy bonds.

Maybe the business succeeds, maybe it fails, or if you don’t start the business, maybe you miss an opportunity. The stocks rise, the stocks fall, or maybe you don’t buy and you miss an opportunity. You buy the bonds with a guaranteed yield, but inflation negates your gain.

Risk is inherent in every decision, every opportunity, and every moment in life. Stay or hit, the risk remains.

Fear and avoidance of risk is futile. The reasonable thing to do is to evaluate risk, choose the risk with the maximum upside and minimum downside, and hedge against losses.

But losses will happen. So will successes. The key is to live life, to move forward (even if that means staying) and to glorify God in the process.

So the choice is yours. Stay, or hit?

I’ll Buy Gas Tomorrow, and other Lies We Tell Ourselves

Finish my coffee, grab my bag, climb in the Tahoe with just enough time to make my 30-minute commute, turn the key, before checking my dash to see that, while I have enough time to get to work, I don’t have the gas.

Foiled again!

Foiled again by my fine art of procrastination. Foiled again by my fatigue, pulling into the driveway after a long day to see that I’ve only a quarter of a tank of gas left. Foiled again by my self-delusions of waking up early in order to refuel on my way to work.

Foiled again by my snooze button, by checking my Facebook account before getting ready for work, foiled again by the extra few minutes under the hot water of the shower.

Foiled again!

It’s almost as bad as running into the mall at 3 p.m. on Dec. 24 to complete my shopping list. Foiled by the lie I told myself repeatedly about doing my Christmas shopping after work, or tomorrow afternoon. The store is out of what I need.

Foiled again.

I was going to start the diet and fitness program after the holidays, next Monday, or tomorrow. Yet, there I sat in the doctor’s office with a new diagnosis.

Foiled again.

My former employer Matthew Williams used to say, “The bill always comes due.”

Procrastination doesn’t kick the can down the road, it makes it bigger. And the more you kick the can, the more it compounds with interest.

So if there’s a change you need to make, don’t lie to yourself. You won’t change tomorrow. Change today!