The Gross Goods (Life Over Revenue)

[January 29, 2018]

Years ago, Jeanette and I attended a marriage conference together. The weekend’s theme was “family vision,” and Jeanette came home asking me why we didn’t have any.

That’s not the way she asked it (but it is how I took it).

Regardless, a vision wasn’t absent from our family, or parenting, or marriage. However, she was correct in that it wasn’t clear. Although we had been intentional about working toward the hopes we have, our goals were relatively arbitrary. We had a general idea of what progress felt like, but nothing concrete about what we wanted, or why.

Enter: The Gross Goods.

The idea came to me as a manifestation of one of my favorite quotes: “Live by design, rather than default.”

If we — as a family — were able to articulate our vision clearly, so would we be better able to understand what defines us? Our values would act as boundaries, filters determining what is essential, and what is not. They would act as motivators, spurring each of us into action and providing specificity on our journey together.

We would be able to make decisions based upon parameters that express what we hold dear, as opposed to a vague shrug of the shoulders, hoping that whatever we might do on any given day would somehow — magically — work itself out in our favor.

So, we put pen to paper and wrote out a list of eight categories that summarize what our family holds dear. Then we wrote subcategories beneath each, defining the whole of what we mean when we say we want to be — for example — “good with God.” What does it mean to be good with God? Moreover, how do we put that into practice? How do we accomplish that goal?

Here, based upon our name, are The Gross Goods, along with a brief explanation about what each means to us, and for us, is what we came up with:

1. GOD.

Church. We want to be committed to a local congregation and attend regularly. Additionally, Jeanette participates in a mid-week Bible study, and it’s important for our kids to say yes and make room for youth events and retreats.

Accountability. Vulnerability, transparency, and honesty are crucial when it comes to growth in our faith, and we want to surround ourselves with other believers who can ask us hard questions, and point us to Christ.

Reading, studying and memorizing God’s Word. Jeanette is on a three-year reading plan. I leave my Bible out, which reminds me to read each day. We write verses we want to memorize on our refrigerator chalkboard and encourage our kids to be in the word themselves.

Meditation and prayer. The word “meditation” gets a bad rap but is deeply biblical. We all took meditation classes in an attempt to understand better how we can relax, focus and contemplate in God’s presence. Physiologically, meditation helps with stress, our mental state, and overall health. That, combined with planned-and-spontaneous prayer time, should be a regular part of life.

Let others lead our kids. This one’s for us, as parents. We’re not spiritual gurus, and we’re not the only ones who have value to offer our children. Often, others are much better at discipleship than us, and we have to be humble about it, and let them lead.

2. MARRIAGE.

Be intentional. Don’t drift into auto-pilot. Always work on bettering our marriage. Don’t neglect date night. Invest in one another’s interests. Read marriage books. Go to marriage conferences. Listen to marriage podcasts and sermons. Talk more than we watch TV.

Keep growing (individually and together). Spiritually. Mentally. Emotionally. Read. Study. We have to surround ourselves with others who challenge and cheer us on. We shouldn’t hide our emotions, and we should talk to the kids about who they are, and how to grow into emotional maturity as well.

Create marriage and family goals early on (even while dating). Oh, how I wish that we would have done this before now! It’s never too late, but perhaps our kids — and others — can approach relationships with this in mind.`

No secrets. Full transparency. We will always tell the truth, and we all have access to one another’s texts, emails, and internet search history.

Date for longer than you think you need to. Our kids should feel comfortable asking us what we believe. They know Jeanette, and I dated for close to four years before we were married. Dating is serious, and it’s an opportunity to begin learning what marriage might entail. All of us know couples who ignored warnings, and it blew up in their faces; we will heed one another’s advice.

Like one another (and what one another likes). Sometimes, loving one another is more natural than liking one another. Also, sometimes, we don’t like what the other person likes. Try. That goes both ways, and every couple in every marriage has to figure it out. Most “big deals” are little things. Let them go, and remember what you do like about one another.

3. FAMILY

The four of us are all we have. We want to be close and like one another now and forever. We want to cultivate a family that our children and grandchildren will want to return to. Be kind, avoid infighting, look for and focus on what is positive in one another.

Find things that others in the family like, or are interested in learning more about. Find things that others in the family like, or are interested in learning more about. Every month, one member of the family gets to choose an activity or idea that the rest of us have to participate in. For example one time, someone decided that we weren’t allowed to buy anything online. On top of that, we had to purge one item per week from our toy chest or closet and give it away to a person or charity. We encouraged one another to make the purge something that felt sacrificial (as opposed to a throw-away item). We want to remember that we already have everything that we could ever need, and generosity is important, even when it hurts. Another month, we had to learn to play poker. Another, we had to watch football each Sunday (you can guess who chose that activity).

Support one another in the activities we are involved in. We go to Elise’s dance performances and recitals. We go to sporting events and cheer for each other. We ask about and show an interest in the things that others care about (whether or not we do ourselves).

Intentionality. A great family doesn’t just happen. We stay on our kids about speaking kindly and positively to one another, assuming the best about the other, and considering activities that will help them bond, as opposed to drifting into their private worlds.

Experiences over gifts. For Christmas and birthdays, we’re opting for experiences instead of gifts. As our kids get older, the connection gets harder, and considering what they love to do allows us to create opportunities to do it together. A great memory lives on for far longer than a great gift (which, inevitably, finds its way to Goodwill).

Circle time. This is related to intentionality. We want to sit down and ask one another questions — whatever the depth of interest is. This exercise teaches us how to ask good questions, creates incredible conversations, and helps the asker to understand the responder’s heart.

Steal stuff from other great parents. This point explains itself, but to reiterate: we will not be shy about learning what we don’t know from others who have helped to give, and wisdom to offer.

4. FRIENDS

Accountability. People need people. Our relationships will only grow and deepen through vulnerability, openness, and the creation of opportunities to receive and extend constructive criticism, prayer, and support.

Intentionality. Again, purposefulness is key. If you want better friends, be a better friend. Call people. Schedule them in. Hangouts don’t happen by magic, and friendship takes work.

Talk > Text. How’s about a real life friendship? Pick up the phone, or meet in person.

Serve. We want to use our time and resources to be generous with our friends.

You are who your friends are, and vice versa. You are who your friends are, and vice versa. Positivity begets positivity, and the same goes for the negative. It is said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Be aware of who those people are.

Run with people who run faster than you. Our family wants to surround ourselves with people who are pushing us further, encouraging us to pick up the pace and challenging our stride.

We will always have people at our house. We will always have people at our house. We want ours to be a home that welcomes all people, whether it’s for a half hour or a whole night.

No selfie sticks. This one is hyperbolic because I think we have owned a selfie stick, but the point is that — usually — everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. We want to learn about, ask questions and listen to others. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason!

Knowing people (and knowing yourself) is more important than knowing stuff. Period.

5. HEALTH

Be Active. Whatever that looks like do it four to five times per week. Our family likes Orange Theory Fitness, Hot Yoga and Egoscue. There’s a great, free gym twenty feet away from our apartment and included in our living plan, so use it!

Eat well and moderately. Need we say more?

Go to the doctor for yearly or bi-yearly checkups. Keep notes about your medical health history, so when you are asked at the doctor, you know what you are allergic to, when your last period was, that you are anemic, what kind of vitamins you take, etc.

Go to the doctor when you are sick. Don’t wait it out or put it off. You have nothing if you don’t have your health, and we’ve been privileged to be able to go-so, go.

Know how to cook healthy, balanced meals. We try to teach cooking lessons to our kids in the summer when time allows.

Know how to order at a restaurant. Practice asking the server questions about the menu items, how things are prepared, and what your healthiest choices are. Just because we’re eating out doesn’t mean we’re eating sloppily.

Practice moderation and self-control when it comes to eating sugary or unhealthy foods. And — for that matter — in every area of life.

Take care of our home. Learn to clean it properly; do the dishes, laundry, etc. Taking care of your living space will fall on you someday, you have to know how to take care of it because mom isn’t going to be around forever to do it for you!

6. WORK

Find what you’re gifted in and do it over and over. Maybe someday, you’ll get paid to do it! Maybe someday, you’ll get paid to do it! As a family, we took the KOLBE test, which is designed to reveal how one works best. We want to push one another to keep chipping away at the things that we thrive in, especially when it comes to our kids. Too many young people have no clue about what they want to do, let alone how to make a living doing it.

Never stop learning, and keep curiosity alive. Read. Watch YouTube videos. Seek the advice of others who are gifted in your skill set, and NEVER be afraid of asking questions. Asking questions is not a sign of weakness, but rather someone who is smart!

If you can, do what you love for work. If you can’t, then work to afford yourself the time for what you love.

Find good people around your work/team. God is all about relationships. If you don’t have good people around you — no matter what we’re talking about in life — you will fail.

7. MONEY

Know how to save and spend.

Learn to make a budget. Practice discipline, and keep at it.

Understand the value of investment. Risk VS. Reward. We want our kids to learn what a 401(k) is, what age they should start putting money into it, what the rules of are for the money in it and why they need to understand the long game (like penalties for early withdrawals, or the ramifications of divorce) and the benefits of having money set aside for the future.

Your time is money. It’s worth every cent.

Be a learner. You’re not the smartest person on the planet. Find someone who understand finances more than you do and be their student. Someday, you can be the teacher.

Be a generous giver. Cultivate a generous spirit. If there is a cause that you have a heart for, give to it. If a friend is having a slow month financially and you can buy them gas, do it. We pick up the tab when we go out with friends; we take cousins to concerts and Vegas without asking for a dime. Don’t hold this over friends heads or think you need anything in return. Your generosity will spark generosity in them. God gave you all that you have, so share it, don’t hoard it. At Christmas, we want to bless other families by providing gifts for them, and we’ve been doing it since our kids were old enough to understand why. They put their own money into it and lend suggestions for what our gifts should be. Our memories — one of the best: giving a single mom a car — is priceless, and will never be regretted.

Live on less than you make.

Married couples are one, and so should their bank account be. We will be unified in everything, including our financial lives.

Tithe (to church or a para-ministry) immediately. Don’t wait and don’t stop. If you do, it’ll be exponentially harder to start again.

What do you want your life to look like? Make proactive decisions with your money to make whatever you want to happen — whether it’s for your wife to stay home with the kids, or saving money for a vacation, etc. — happen.

8. FUN

Work hard, play hard.

“If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.”

Write out your bucket list. Fulfill it.

Travel. Visit people that live far away.

It’s okay to have and spend money on things without feeling bad about it. Fantasy football, Disneyland passes, etc.

Have hobbies and engage them frequently.

Have to have something to look forward to. Otherwise, life becomes mundane.

Value people over things, and use things for people. Use stuff strategically. When I travel for work, I want to bring one or all of my family members with me, and I want to add an extra day to the trip so that I can treat them to something fun. My work has allowed for almost every single one of our family’s travel experiences — throughout the United States and beyond — but each of them has been about far more than work.

It took our family a while to develop these categories, but now that we’ve completed this “organizational process,” we have points of reference from which to function, and these Gross Goods have been very good for us (to say the least).

What about you?

Do any of our new, family “pillars” inspire what yours could look like with a bit of thought and intentionality given to the values you hold, and the dreams you have?

Feel free to steal them.

That’s what we did for plenty of these ideas, and it’s not a bad time to be a thief (primarily when the door is held open in invitation).

A friend of mine, Donald Miller, once wrote a book titled A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. In it, he talks about our lives as a story, and says that the only way we’re going to be able to write a better one is to be intentional about creating it.

In his narrative, Miller articulates his desire to ride a bike across America. While desire is all well and good, that trek would have never happened unless he planned for it, trained for it, and began to pedal his way across one state, and then another, and then another.

Life — a great life, a life worth living — doesn’t just fall in the laps of most people (and frankly, the people who’s grass we envy on “the other side of the fence” are likely seeing more massive shades of brown on their lawn than we are, anyway).

It’s not enough to wish and want — we have to turn those wants into goals — parameters, essentials — and work toward them. Work on them. Work within them. It’s like the old saying goes, “Don’t just wish for it, work for it.

All that to say, it’s your turn, and our family already created a resource to help you get started. In addition to this chapter, if you visit www.thegrossgoods.com, you’ll find a video of our whole family explaining The Gross Goods in greater detail, an audio download filled with more of the how and why behind our process, and PDF document recapping what I’ve written about here. Including a step-by-step guide on how to create a mission and vision for your family, what questions to ask one another, and how to get the ball rolling.

Do you want to live a great story? Start writing it out.

Watch the Video

Listen to the Podcast