Gratitude – It’s What’s for Dinner

I’m writing this during lunch the day before Thanksgiving (2015).

And I’m typing with greasy rotisserie chicken eating fingers, in training for tomorrow’s big turkey bird.

My wife prefers the rotisserie chicken breast, so I’m gnoshing on the wings, legs, and thighs. Yes. That’s six pieces of chicken. Like I said, I’m in training.

Sitting at my desk drinking a Coke Zero, eating chicken and Wavy Lays potato chips, and thinking about gratitude (given that it’s the day before Thanksgiving).

That one sentence includes plenty to be thankful for:

  • Coke Zero is the best carbonated non-alcoholic beverage easily purchased anywhere.
  • Rotisserie chicken from Costco. Cheap. Delicious.
  • Wavy Lays. You can’t eat just one.
  • Also, I’m on lunch break at a job. So I have the opportunity to work to support my family. Thankful for that.

Technically, I’m off already because we’re closing early for Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that I can surprise the family a few minutes earlier than expected.

To be frank, if ever there was a moment in my lifetime to be thankful, it is right now.

I’m grateful for my relative safety at this very moment (knocking on wood as I type). I’m thankful for my family’s relative safety and good health.

Right now, there are millions of people who are not living in the comfort and safety that I enjoy. I’m not sure if I appreciate the depth of the blessing I’m swimming in.

I do not need survival skills. I don’t need to beg. I am in good stead with the governments that control my town, state, and country.

I look at my kids and my wife and consider what it would be like to be one of the many varieties of refugee that are running from corrupt governments and violent terrorist groups. I’m so safe that even typing that sentence feels weird and melodramatic.

One thing is for sure: There’s nothing I’ve done personally that has made me worthy of the blessings I experience. There’s nothing I’ve done that makes me worthy of any of the second chances and opportunities and good friends and family that I have enjoyed.

I’ve seen people much more deserving of blessing than I draw the short straw time and time again.

My point is this: I have no choice but to be grateful.  For good and bad and everywhere in between, I’m thankful.

It can all be taken in a flash. My health. A family member. My job. My freedom.

There are no guarantees. And there is nothing I’m entitled to.

But there is a responsibility.

Gratitude itself requires something of us.

See, if we have the awareness of thankfulness and gratitude, then we should be growing in humility and a heart toward service.

Gratitude doesn’t produce a ‘Thank God I’m not in their shoes…. good luck suckers!’ type of attitude.

Gratitude should land us in a place that says, “If I’ve been given something I don’t deserve, then how can I help others get something that they may or may not deserve?”

And if we practice gratitude with enough regularity, we might discover ourselves thankful for circumstances that we never would have thanked anybody for.  And that, my friends, is a key to giving back even more…to take the crap hands we’ve been dealt and leverage them somehow, someway for the good of others.

So… Happy Thanksgiving!

You deserve a good one! And you owe it to yourself and to those around you to be thankful and have a little gratitude.  It might be the key out of whatever mess you are in (or think you’re in).

Enjoy your turkey. I’m gonna go throw these chicken bones away and go buy my wife’s favorite Thanksgiving dinner rolls at a beautiful, clean grocery store. See… another blessing.  A Publix. I’m thankful for the dang Publix.

What are you thankful for?


To see and/or hear an incredible story of gratitude amid very trying circumstances, check out this podcast, The Transformative Power of Suffering, with Michelle Cushatt (read her blog’s about page for even more high-quality gratitude action) and Michael Hyatt. Powerful, powerful story about perspective in the face of cancer – a potentially career debilitating and life-threatening form.

Thanks, Michele, for sharing your story!

What Simply in the Suburbs Is All About

I created Simply in the Suburbs a few years ago because I loved minimalist blogs. When I started following blogs, I gravitated toward minimalist and simplicity blogs – especially the work of Leo Babauta at Zen Habits.

I fell in love with the idea of shedding things that were unnecessary: physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and otherwise.  Usually, the lessons were about decluttering shelves, having fewer things, decreasing debt, and simplifying eating and exercise habits.

As a result of my infatuation, I bought and started blogging inconsistently (as you know if you’re on my email list – you’ll get a month’s worth of content within a month and then won’t hear from me for 4 or 5 months).

My first post went live on December 8, 2012. I’ve posted 77 times. I practiced for a while on (which died due to some tech/code/malware stuff that I don’t understand).

Enough history. I just wanted to give some context for what motivated this side project.

Where Things Are Now

I’ve not mastered the art of simple living or minimalism.

And I’m not sure if I care. I do want less clutter and less wasted mental, emotional, and spiritual energy, but I’m not obsessed with how many things I have or how much white space is on my walls. No Zen rock gardens or only living off enough items that might fit into a backpack.

BUT what I do care about – and what still fits into this idea of living simply in the suburbs – is simplifying priorities and focusing in on areas where I need to improve.

I’ve discovered that simple is very, very seldom easy. It’s much easier to take on more and more, to say yes to everyone, and to accumulate all kinds of junk.

In my unscientific observations, most of us don’t naturally gravitate toward living intentionally and with clarity.

What might come naturally to some, does not come naturally to me, and I hope that what I’m writing about will be helpful to others for whom it doesn’t come naturally.

It has taken 3 years, but I’m finally settling on some ideas that help keep my journey toward living more simply… simple.

Easy, no. Simple, yes.

Here are the Principles of Simply in the Suburbs:

  1. Clarity:
    1. Be clear on key relationships
    2. Be clear on key life areas that need improvement
    3. Be clear on key activities and hobbies that you love
  2. Habit Creation: Implement disciplines and create space to support…
    1. The relationships
    2. The key life change areas, and
    3. The key activities and hobbies.
  3. Saying “No”:
    1. Battle the temptation to say yes to competing priorities, unimportant standards, hectic-ness, debt, and general confusion.
    2. Be brutally honest about any and all obstacles hindering items 1 and 2

These things might be easy for some of you. I’m amazed at how easily some folks live intentional lives.

For many of us, we need to nip and tuck, improve certain area and keep a good maintenance program.

Others of us…. well, we need to take a long hard look at the trajectory of our lives and do a deep, hard reset.

Where are you? Is this stuff easy? Are you a mess? Do you need to be more intentional about certain relationships or certain areas like your spiritual or physical health?

A decent question to ask; if you keep doing exactly what you’re doing now, what will things look like in 20, 30, or 40 years?

The Power of Choice

One of the most difficult things in the world to do is to accept responsibility for our own results.

It’s so tempting to blame genetics, upbringing, circumstances, him, her, them, the President, teachers, or any number of animate or inanimate objects for our personal situations – whatever those situations might be.

But have you ever thought about how imprisoning that is?

If someone else is the key to your bad situation, is that person, then, the key to helping you to a good situation? Or since someone else got you into the circumstance you find yourself, is some other someone the only hope to get you to a situation that is better?

The key to figuring out how to improve your own situation is to take full responsibility for the decisions you’ve made your current reality what it is… even if your partially responsible, take full responsibility for that part.

Often, when you sit down and identify the choices and decisions that led you to where you are, the solutions – the sets of choices and decisions you can make to get you out of that situation – become more and more clear.

Identifying poor choices offer clues to what the better decisions might be.

The most empowering thing about taking responsibility is that it provides hope.

No longer are you the victim or at the mercy of some other person or thing.  You can start discovering solutions and choosing your way out of the hole you’re in.

Now, some of you might say, “You don’t know my story. You don’t know how I grew up or who has taken advantage of me or the horrible hand I’ve been dealt.”

True… I do not know these things and there’s a good chance I’d cry if I heard you tell your tale (I’m a crier). God knows people have suffered greatly – of no fault of their own.

At the same time, if you and I were to have that heart to heart, we could probably, with little research, find others who have gone through similar or worse experiences and have chosen their way to better futures.

It’s a cliche, but they decided that the people or circumstances that tried to take their mental, emotional, or physical lives would simply not win.

While you might be a victim of someone else’s poor choices, it’s now your decisions that will start you on the road (no matter how long and slow) toward your preferred future.

The best stories in the world are from those who have overcome ridiculous odds. They did this by realizing they had choices, regardless of whose choices put them in their difficult situation.

Others of you might say, “You don’t know my story. I’ve made some of the stupidest choices already. There’s no way I can ever regain what I’ve lost – financially, relationship-wise, physically, emotionally. I’ve ruined my own chances. I was the victimizer. I was the one who caused hurt and pain. I lied, cheated, stole, neglected, gave into addiction.”

You might be the person who caused the pain and suffering of someone else.

You do have the choice to wallow in guilt and shame. True. Again – this is a choice and a decision you are making.

Or… and I pray you take the ‘or’… you can identify clearly who you wished you had been when you made the choices that caused pain and hurt.

Get clarity around that and start making choices in keeping with that guy or gal – the one who would have acted in love, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness.

A tough part in all of this is sitting down and taking responsibility and acknowledging our own missteps and wasted time and opportunity. Even if you were the victim of others or circumstances, you might still hold guilt and shame for letting life get by before deciding to pick yourself up and start moving forward.

And by the way, I do realize that some of you are bearing ridiculously heavy loads. The loss of a child. The loss of a relationship. Major betrayal. Years of abuse. An insurmountable medical situation.

I still believe choice is a key factor, even if it’s the choice to start getting around the right people and asking for the help you need.

But many are dealing with less intense situations.  A friendship that needs reconciliation. A bad habit that needs course-correcting. Debt. Weight issues. Work-related circumstances.

The choices around these everyday struggles might be more obvious and more easily made.

Just give it a shot. It won’t let anybody else off the hook or it won’t discount the part genetics, geography, or family of origin played in putting you in the situation you are in.

Here’s an exercise:

  1. Identify the situation you want to get out of, improve upon, or change somehow.
  2. Acknowledge your own responsibility for that situation – however small.
  3. Gain clarity on what ‘better’ looks like.
  4. Decide on one or two choices you can make now that will start you on the path toward ‘better.’

Just try it. It definitely can’t hurt (although #2 can sting a little bit when you finally admit your own responsibility and take your share of the blame).


By the way, I believe in a God who can bring forgiveness and life change (sometimes in one huge leap, but most often incrementally).  If you’re a praying person, I recommend praying through the exercise above.

Who Can I Serve?

When I think about trying to get over a certain hump or push through a particular problem, I normally ask myself questions like these…

  • What can I do differently to move things along?
  • How can I do this better?
  • How can I change processes?
  • What’s my dang problem?
  • What disciplines do I need to put in place to bring some kind of success in this situation?

Those questions are fine. They can help get at some new ideas and bust me out of my rut, but they also can lead to navel-gazing and mere guesses at solutions. Who can I serve?

The two questions that are more effective in removing logjams (and yes, I know that the first question contains bad grammar, but who really says, “Whom can I serve?”):

  1. Who can I serve?
  2. How can I serve them? 

That’s it. Very seldom are our problems solely about ourselves. Nearly everything we deal with has a relational component.

If you’re struggling at work to move a project along, then ask those two questions, “Who am I trying to serve with this project? How can I best serve them?”

Those questions clarify the purpose and cleanse motivations. If you pinpoint who you are serving, then the answers become less about yourself and more about solving someone’s problem or serving someone. You see things through her or his eyes instead of your own. You become empowered.

These two questions can even help us out with our health and finances.

If we are trying to become better stewards of our bodies and our money, then asking who we’re serving and how we can serve them provides some level of motivation.

I want to be healthy for my active elementary aged kids. I want more energy; therefore, I exercise and try… try… to eat better.

I want to serve my children by taking care of myself. The connection is not a leap at all. If I solely focus on my need to be more disciplined, then I can burn out more easily.

So today, when you’re considering some moment of ‘stuckness’, as yourself, “Who am I serving with this thing I’m trying to do? How can I best serve them?”

Maybe it will help.

By the way, how can I serve you with these occasional posts? If there’s been a topic you’ve read that you’d like to see more, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll ask myself who I’m serving and how I can do it and make my best guesses….

21 Ideas for Your Family’s Code of Ethics

In truth, these are 21 ideas for my family’s code of ethics. Feel free to give them a look and steal a couple if you’re like me and think about things like family code of ethics. I’d rather call them something more whimsical, but I’m struggling at the moment, so I’ll stick with code of ethics.

Anyway, steal a few because I sure as heck didn’t come up with these all by myself. A few are directly from sermons I’ve heard or books I’ve read or random ideas from podcasts. All of them originated from those sources at least indirectly as people and experiences have shaped my thinking.

Family code of ethics


Why Have a Family Code of Ethics (or Rules to Live By or How We Do Things ‘Round Here Principles)

This is one of those ideas that had never occurred to me until the last couple years. And it hasn’t grabbed hold of me and my wife enough to make us sit down and work through it and clarify which 10, 12, or 13 (or 7 maybe?) items we’d like to include quite yet.

But the older my children get, the more I feel the need to be clear on what I hope we value as a family.

Most families, I’m sure of it, haven’t codified this type of thing. Families do reflect the general values that they hold. Sometimes there is intentionality behind this. often there is not.

If part of my life’s work is my family, then it would make sense to be intentional about how our family operates. A code of ethics frames the character and practices we’d like to build into our family over time.

Another reason why I think this is important is because I would love to give my children short phrases that might (hopefully) come to mind when they find themselves up against difficult situations and decisions. Frankly, I could use some reminders, too.

I know this exercise isn’t mandatory for a family to function and love well, but I’m thinking it can’t hurt, either.

My Initial Code of Ethics Brainstorm Session

We’re in the process of selecting what to include in ours. Here are 21 ideas from a recent personal brainstorming session. Some might not make sense to you. You can ask about any of them in the comments. I’ll expand on them in the future (and give credit where credit is due).

  1. Complete the job
  2. Boys go down, girls go free (The guy takes the bullet, takes a protective stance, puts the women and children in the lifeboat first. For a much more eloquent explanation, check out minutes 35:00-40:00 from this video).
  3. What does love require of you?
  4. Smile when you talk
  5. Take responsibility
  6. Be generous
  7. Have fun
  8. Be honest
  9. Share the load
  10. Communicate with kindness
  11. Bring the temperature down
  12. You’ll get better – Nobody is awesome the first time they try something
  13. Just ship it
  14. What is healthy?
  15. Explore everything
  16. Try something new
  17. What is the wise thing to do?
  18. One extra step
  19. Do difficult things
  20. Danger can be good
  21. Seek God

We hope to settle on no less than 7 and no more than 13.

What would be in your family’s code of ethics?

Do you think this kind of thing is helpful or important?