Surprised by Gratitude


The root of joy is gratefulness… it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

Brother David Steindl-Rast

As some of you might know, in March of 2022, Grace Community Church gave me a spectacular gift in the form of a month-long sabbatical. You can read about lessons learned, HERE. But basically, it was an opportunity to let the fly-wheel of ministry slow down so that I could rest, and look objectively at life, ministry, and my calling. Just as a car cannot be examined and the oil changed while it’s in gear running, so must a person stop, examine, replenish, and rest, so that potential energy for the future may be stored up.

It was a remarkable time of self-discovery, prayer, enrichment, repentance, and reconnection with Brenda as we also discovered what life was going to be like with just the two of us. It’s been a long time!

Now, here’s where it gets interesting: Thanks to Brenda’s scrimping, scraping, travel-hacking and financial tetris, we spent nearly three weeks in Hawaii - that fabled land of exotic and beautiful locations. (All true, except that - even at the end of the pandemic, it was mostly crowded with tourists and feral chickens and goats.)

Even still, it was the trip of a life-time for a junior-grade pastor from New Mexico. I wrote in my journal: “We’ll never come back - but we will always have our beautiful memories.”

Ready for a shock? We’re going back to Hawaii.

I’ll pause for a moment and let you read that, again.

Something very special happened, and it’s a wonderful mix of Sean + Brenda. You see, she wanted to go to experience the luxury hotel, The Four Seasons, Forbes’ number one rated luxury hotel on Oahu.

“We can’t afford that,” I balked.

“I know, I’ll use my own funds from what I make as a realtor,” she reasoned.


Okay. How do you argue with that? But, truth be told, I was not interested. I’d feel like a fish out of water, a monk out of his cell, a sloth in the jungle sprint. No - that was not my vibe. But my wife … the one who cried for me when I got my cancer diagnosis, who doted on me while I was going through chemotherapy, was patient with me when I struggled with “chemobrain”, cared for me when I got sick with Covid, and cried when she laid next to me and said “good-bye” because she honestly thought I might die … this woman deserved that kind of pampering, that kind of luxury, and that kind of experience. She was radiant as an example of unconditional love and faithfulness. And it actually fit: to be on sabbatical is to delight in the things of the Lord, considering his blessings and celebrating his kindness. So we did it (actually, she had to pay for it) for five days. We had a ball because the surprise was on me! Even though we parked a humble Kia next to costly European and American luxury vehicles, the best and friendliest valets would enthusiastically greet us and care for us, and call us by name. And it didn’t stop there: the check-in process, the wait staff, the room service, the accommodations - even the gift shop staff - they were sweet, kind, helpful and … dare I say it: loving. In Hawaii, they use this expression to visitors: “We want you to be our Ohana - our family.” Watch Lilo and Stitch. But would you believe: at the Four Seasons, I came to believe it. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Toward the end of our stay, I sat down and quickly jotted a quick note (okay, it was six pages long - but they were medium sized pages!) to the manager and told him how special it was for him to make my Brenda feel like “ohana” to them and why. And then we flew home.

Aloha, Four Seasons. Thanks for the memories!

The E-Mail from Jason

About two weeks later, Brenda gets an email from Jason, the Four Seasons manager. He appreciated the note and wanted to know if we could chat with him. “Here’s what we’d like to do,” he said, “Your note touched us so deeply, we want to bring you back and - if it's okay - we’d like to video record a conversation so that others might know about this incredible event.”

So, you’re going to fly us back, and put us up for a few days on your beautiful one-of-a-kind resort and just talk to us on camera?

That’s right.

Well, there was no need to pray about it. Of course we’re going! Believe me, I’m under no illusion that they’re bringing us back because of our outward marketability. Honestly, I’m still wondering why this is happening. So many people with so many wonderful stories … and better looking!

Perhaps, a wonderful intersection has happened? Their example of joyful service - which is the character and culture of their organization, specifically, the Four Seasons at Ko Olina, inspired a word of gratitude by us, which in-turn produced the fruit of even more gratitude.

Now, back to the quote.

I think that this whole set-up is a lesson for me to remember that to be grateful is a gift unto itself. I agree with Brother David: It is not joyfulness that makes us grateful; it is gratefulness that makes us joyful. Gratitude is a choice. It is not dependent on circumstances or context. It is really an attitude of the heart that must work itself out. In fact, you can do things for people that make they happy, but you can’t make a person be grateful. You can go to the lowliest, “unluckiest” person in the world - but yet they are full of gratitude - and you can’t steal that from them. They are so full, it bubbles over.

Ko Olina means “Fullness of Joy”

Call it luck, call it divine planning, call it whatever you want, but as I was writing my note, I thought, “What does Ko Olina mean?” Finding a small Hawaiian article online, I found out that the namesake of the property was suggested and became what it is today because of Rev. Abraham Akaka. Ko Olina means “Fullness of Joy”, taken from Psalm 16:11 “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Rev. Akaka was a hugely influential pastor in Hawaii, a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, and said this about the meaning of “aloha”: “Aloha is the unconditional desire to promote the true good of other people in a friendly spirit out of a sense of kinship.” So, it occurred to me: our friends at the Four Seasons weren’t simply friendly and giving just because they were paid to do it, but because they wanted to. They lived out the gratitude in their hearts, and gave it away to us.

They inspire us to do the same. That’s the power of gratitude: it’s contagious, sustainable, and dynamic. You can give it away all day - and be just as full when you go to bed.

So what’s next? I have no idea what they’ll ask or what they’ll record. I’ll share it as soon as I’m able. But I know this: I am grateful that it was a pastor who named it Ko Olina so that a pastor could enjoy what he found delightful. I carry with me the gratitude that I have from Grace Community Church. Grace is my Ohana, my Forever Ohana. It is with you that I want to live out what our Lord gave us - what Rev. Akaka knew - out of Psalm 16:

  • “You make known to me the path of life;” - we know that life is in Christ, alone. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)
  • “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” - it is the joy of the Lord that is our strength (Neh. 8:10)
Dallas Willard talked about the disciple’s joy. What kind is it?

It is a robust joy, with no small amount of outright hilarity in it. For nothing less than Joy can sustain us in the kingdom rightness that possesses us, which truly is a weighty and powerful thing to bear. It was not for nothing that mother Theresa of Calcutta required her sisters of charity to be people who smile.

Divine Conspiracy, 291

Grace: let us be the people of gratitude; for then, we shall be the people of joy, too! I love you all! Aloha! See you soon!