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Monday, November 23, 2020

Thanksgiving Peanuts

"What's this? A piece of toast, pretzel sticks, popcorn!" she says. "Where's the turkey?!” And so goes the conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Charlie Brown with the gang of Peanuts fame. The question comes from a very disappointed Peppermint Patty in the television special, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving that first aired in 1973. (This year you can watch it on PBS or on Apple+ TV)

In this animated story, Charlie Brown and Sally were intending to go to their grandmother's house for Thanksgiving dinner. The plan gets interrupted when Charlie Brown gets a phone call from the aforementioned Ms. Patty. She ungraciously invites herself to Charlie Brown's house for the annual feast.

This actually leads to TWO Thanksgiving dinners. The first was Charlie Brown’s unworthy offering to his companions—served up by the always helpful Snoopy. That’s the one our Peppermint friend dissed in her role as the designated complainer. However, Grandma comes to the rescue! All are invited to her place for the real meal deal. Thanks abound!

In 2020, we are likely to hear many conversations around the Thanksgiving table that reveal far less than gratitude. It may all start with a complaint over the limits placed on the size of our holiday gatherings. Here in Illinois, the strong suggestion has been made to feast only with your nuclear family.

Next, we may hear a round of grumbling about what it took to get the fixings! Stores are expected to be crowded with lines, perhaps, strung out in waiting queues. Just like the olden days of March of 2020! Fine, I suppose, if you're in Florida or other warm climate locations. But standing outside in Chicago??

Then let’s hear it from those most impacted by the COVID Holiday Catastrophe. Hospital workers, angry with no room in their inns for patients. High school athletes forbidden from playing winter and maybe spring sports, based on our Governor’s edict. Business owners sweating bullets over another undetermined length of closures, which may kill them in the not-so-long run. It’s enough to make Peppermint Patty lose all her flavor.

But back to Charlie Brown. Indeed, his feelings were hurt by the ungrateful Ms. Patty. But now Marcie assumes responsibility for turning the conversation in the right direction and explains to all what the day is really about. In her words: "Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that's what they mean by ‘Thanksgiving,' Charlie Brown.”

In our hard times, can we truly be thankful? Of course. Leaders should help inspire us to do that.

George Washington offered us these opening words in his Proclamation of 1789:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God…"

This tradition of proclamations advocating a national day of Thanksgiving have continued over the years. Even in our nation’s hardest times. If our leaders can find a way to do it, so can we.

Colossians 3:15-16 tells us, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (NIV)

And thank you, Marcie, for reminding us what this day is about.

Happy Thanksgiving.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Monday, November 16, 2020

Kiss of Death

Slowly it turns. Step by step. Inch by inch.

I’m speaking of the progression of including LGBTQ characters into television programming and movies. It goes well beyond cable programs now. We see same sex actors and actresses in full embrace and kissing on network television shows. The pressure must be intense.

So intense, in fact, that even the Hallmark Movie Channel has succumbed to that pressure. In August, the “family friendly network” debuted a film featuring a same sex wedding ceremony. Earlier movies have created same sex attraction scenes but never a wedding. Ironic that Hallmark has a ton of Christmas themed programs. So now, in a sense, “Christ” gets in the middle of this.

Yet I find something about this purported trend quite interesting. Despite all this pressure and the unsubstantiated claim that the LGBTQ lifestyle is everywhere, it really isn’t visible on most media. Overwhelmingly, romantic relationships portrayed on television are between male and female. This includes network and cable programming and commercials. Same for magazine ads. And billboards.

There are exceptions, of course. But a question looms for the “bold ones” who decide to pursue forcing the “gay agenda” on the marketplace. That question is one of "turn off." It’s one thing for the public to become more accepting of the lifestyle—as long as it’s done privately. My well-educated guess is that for most Americans, they want PDA among the “gay world” to be done out of their sight.

The Pew Research Center gives us an annual or bi-annual look at attitudes in their Global Attitudes Survey. In what I personally consider to be a disturbing trend, the findings released this year, “show the opinions on homosexuality from religious believers of all faiths and the religiously unaffiliated—defined as identifying as atheists, agnostics, or saying their religion is ‘nothing in particular’—having little variance.” The study included 18 countries.

Depending on the religious types or groupings, you will find more dedicated views aligning with Scripture on this issue. The Pew research revealed that in all countries with data on the LGBTQ issue, except Mexico, people holding religious views were less likely to think homosexuality should be accepted by society than nonbelievers did. Not something to be real cheery about.

Apparently in Finland, they are so prone to show their openness to alternative lifestyles that even Burger King has jumped on board. With Ronald McDonald! Newsweek reported the story of an ad that is titled, "Love Conquers All.” It was part of a September campaign for Helsinki Pride. Burger King Finland was an official brand partner for the Finnish Pride promotion. The two burger icons were portrayed as a single heart.

Kaisa Kasila is Burger King Finland's brand manager. According to Adweek, Kasila said, ”Burger King has always stood for equality, love, and everyone's right to be just the way they are. We thought, what a better way to convey our values than by portraying an all-encompassing kiss between Burger King and Ronald McDonald. We wanted to show that, in the end, love always wins. And we know McDonald's stands for the values we stand for, too.”

Well, McDonalds didn’t exactly grab on to partnering in this promotion. Then-CEO Steve Easterbrook posted, "We love the intention but think our two brands could do something bigger to make a difference.” A polite way out.

And a wise decision. Most people on the planet still understand how God designed us—male and female. They know that sweet and special children aren’t created in the pretend world of LGBTQ “equality.” Yes, a large percentage of folk are more willing to “live and let live” with those of different lifestyles. But don’t be confused. That is far different than endorsement.

Jesus clearly explained the right view saying, “‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” Matthew 19:4-5 (NIV)

Male and female. Male and female. Quite simple, really.

Apparently, Burger King doesn’t get it. And going down that advertising road, might well lead them to the kiss of death.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Articles of interest: 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Veterans and Heroes

Wednesday is Veterans Day. It is on this day we find tributes to all who have served faithfully in our U.S. military. This differs, of course, from Memorial Day when we honor those who have given their lives in service to our nation.

This annual recognition of service men and women is often marked by parades in communities of all sizes. COVID-19 has changed that. In Indianapolis, they’ve declared, “The Veterans Day Council’s decision to cancel its in-person events was taken out of a great abundance of caution for safeguarding the health and well-being of spectators, participants, and volunteers.”

No doubt similar decisions have been made around the nation. Instead, veterans will have to accept virtual tributes. For example, the American Legion Mall in Downtown Indianapolis will feature a “Veterans Day virtual service and awards ceremony to honor veterans.”

Speaking of the American Legion, a long standing chapter in Wilmette, Illinois, has decided to call it quits. Again, blame it—at least in part—on COVID-19. The Legion does. The building will be demolished and the post is planning a farewell, 21-gun salute on Veterans Day.

And here’s the ironic twist. The Wilmette American Legion location is named after Peter J. Huerter. This 22-year-old U.S. Army soldier from the Chicago area died during the influenza pandemic of 1918! Peter had hoped to serve in World War I but he passed away on board a ship headed to Europe and was buried at sea.

Reporting on this story, the Chicago Tribune explained that spokesmen from the American Legion and VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) claim that falling membership numbers have hurt them for a while. But COVID-19 shutdowns have been crippling to their revenue streams. The typical moneymakers including BINGO games, spaghetti dinners, and banquet space rentals all faced cancellations with concerns over the virus.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus is no respecter of persons and, often, refuses to take prisoners. The House Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee got an earful on this in July. Rep. Neal Dunn, MD, from Florida said that "due to multiple inherent risk factors such as age, health, and difficulty physically distancing, veterans in state homes are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.” Several states had reported numerous cases and deaths by mid-summer at veterans homes.

On September 28th of this year, CBS News laid claim that military suicides have increased by as much as 20% this year over 2019. Additionally, incidents of violent behavior “spiked as service members struggle under COVID-19, war-zone deployments, national disasters, and civil unrest…Army and Air Force officials say they believe the pandemic is adding stress to an already strained force.”

Early on in the pandemic, those who have already served were ready and willing to engage in the new battle against COVID-19. In March, the Army sent a notification to more than 800,000 retired soldiers to determine their willingness in returning to service in a volunteer capacity.” Initial response was very positive.

More than 9,000 retired soldiers re-upped to the Army’s call for retired medical personnel to assist in response to the pandemic. Additionally, hundreds of active duty soldiers were deployed to support field hospitals. In Chicago, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois National Guard refurbished McCormick Place to treat victims. It turned out to be unnecessary. But thank you, vets!

For those veterans alive and well, they might feel particularly blessed this year by the restaurants and other businesses who continue to offer gifting tributes on November 11th. It appears this is not about to be curtailed as much as one would have thought—although access to these places may vary across the country. Everything from meals to car washes to haircuts and more were listed as available as recently as October 12th. (link below)

Yes, Veterans Day 2020 joins the list of celebrations gone awry. But for those who’ve served our country with honor, a simple word of thanks goes a long way.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Articles of interest:

Monday, November 2, 2020

Conscientious Protector

Tomorrow is election day. For millions of Americans, the ballot has already been cast. Early voting and mail-in voting means you do not have to go to actual polling places tomorrow.

It seems to upset a lot of people that we have something called the “electoral college” that is the final determining factor of who becomes our president. It doesn’t offend me. In fact, the concept was another piece of brilliant thinking from our “founding fathers.”

It parallels the wisdom of creating a legislature that has two separate and distinct political power centers: the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The two have different responsibilities and limit the rule of one over the other. This system also helps to keep some balance in governing by tipping the scales away from states with huge population numbers.

Actually, I should have no need to explain this to any American who has taken basic civics classes. In their lessons, students should have found a clear explanation of the purpose and value of the electoral college system. Alas, I find that the main opponents of this system are those whose preferred candidate may win the popular vote, but find the final decision honoring more marginalized states to be offensive.

I get the frustration of electoral college opponents. They are simply…wrong. Fairness should prevail. Representative government is how our republic works. The winner is not chosen by a popularity contest of individual votes. Enough said on that point.

The next big disagreement of the 2020 election is what to do with Donald Trump. Admittedly, the man acts in a more bizarre fashion than any president I have witnessed in my lifetime. I doubt I could ever report directly to him, though obviously he has his devoted fans.

In many cases, his values are not my values. I was never fond of his television series, “The Apprentice.” My heart goes out to any hard working and dedicated employee who gets belittled in the process of hearing, “You’re fired!” The American people may well decide to slap Mr. Trump with that message in this election.

On the other hand, many of his stated values…ARE my values. I’ve totally lost confidence that elected officials really understand the term “public servants.” And the way candidates portray their opponents in elections is pathetic. Thus, one of my main values related to government is that it be limited. Smaller is better than bigger.

I’m also keen on what has been given to us as freedoms in the First Amendment. It reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” I’ve figured out which political party truly supports religious freedom.

I’m also quite fond of our Declaration of Independence. It opens this way, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

High taxation and stealing great sums from the wealthy wickedly defeats the pursuit of happiness. As for liberty, I found it almost humorous as I searched to find how many federal laws are currently on the books that one site said, “No one knows.” We have often regulated away liberty.

As for life, this is a clincher. Nothing, I repeat nothing, offends me more from the political voices than a defense of killing babies and calling it “choice.” The horrific description of partial birth abortion should, at minimum, repulse us sufficiently to reject those who support it. In this election, that choice is clear.

Jesus was always an advocate for the disenfranchised. (Matthew 25:31-46) A strong America would be one that creates opportunity for everyone. Its leaders would inspire us to work together and look after each other while not creating dependence on government. And tender-hearted politicians would protect babies.

Those are my values. Tomorrow I make my vote. May God guide my conscience.

And yours.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Articles of interest:

Monday, October 26, 2020

9 Lessons on Teamwork

Last week, I chose to offer up some “pearls of wisdom” that have blessed by life. Today, I’m sharing a blog originally posted by Rick Ezell on September 7th. (I’m on vacation this week.) Rick is a workplace chaplain with Employee Care of America. (link below) Perhaps these pearls that he values will give you some extraordinary insights.

From Rick: 

We were not built to function well alone. We work best in teams.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”—Helen Keller

“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”—The Harvard Business School

Some lessons on teamwork:

1. A compelling direction is needed.
Everyone needs a compelling direction that energizes, orients, and engages its members. Goal, purpose, cause, passion.
Everything begins with a vision. Ideas become reality, but first there must be the idea. Begin with the end in mind.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”—Henry Ford 

“The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison.”—James Cash Penney

2. Planning is required.
“Make time for planning: Wars are won in the general’s tent.”—Steven R. Covey

Planning is the process of creating your organizational future before it happens. 

Planning is creating your actions in advance so that life will respond to you. It is writing history in advance.  
Proper planning prevents poor performance.

3. Focus on systems instead of goals.
Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.

Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”—James Clear, Atomic Habits

“Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.”—Stephen Covey

“The score takes care of itself.”—Bill Walsh, Super Bowl winning coach

4. Make good use of people’s time.
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”—Paul J. Meyer

5. More is accomplished together than alone.
TEAM: Together Everyone Accomplishes More.

6. Fun is necessary for fruitful work.
“If work isn’t fun, you’re not playing on the right team.”—Frank Sonnenberg

7. Rest and socialization must be taken regularly.
“Take a rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”–Ovid

8. A high level of trust is demonstrated.
“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – Patrick Lencioni

9. Common people can attain uncommon results.
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”—Andrew Carnegie

The 1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team was a group of common men who produced uncommon results by defeating the Russian team and the Finnish team to win the gold medal.

Thanks once again for your refreshing insights, Rick! 

If this resonates with you as something from which your company might benefit, check out Rick’s website for more information. Contact him at: or phone him at 864-770-3560.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

For more information:

Monday, October 19, 2020

Pearls of Wisdom

Thursday, Lord willing, will be my 69th birthday. There are ample sources of quotations to inspire us as we journey in life. Obviously, some resonate more than others on a personal level. It is with that in mind that I’ve decided to share of few of my favorites that give me pause to reflect and, in several cases, act upon.

I’ll begin with a treasure from William Gladstone, who was a British statesman and politician. During his 60 year career, he served for 12 years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His four terms began in 1868 and ended in 1894. Here was an example of his wisdom:

"To comprehend a man’s life, it is necessary to know not merely what he does, but also what he purposely leaves undone. There is a limit to the work that can be got out of a human body or a human brain, and he is a wise man who wastes no energy on pursuits for which he is not fitted; and he is still wiser who, from among the things that he can do well, chooses and resolutely follows the best.”

Next is a powerful reminder from John Newton. Having had early religious instruction from his mother, who passed when John was a child, his religious convictions had faded. His father was fond of sailing the seas, and young John followed in his footsteps—eventually becoming captain of his own ship profiting from the slave trade.

On a particular voyage, while attempting to navigate through a violent storm, Newton would experience what he termed as his “great deliverance.” At one critical moment all seemed lost. Confident that the ship would surely sink, he cried out, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” His journal tells us that later reflection about his mercy plea led him to believe that God had reached out to him through the storm and that grace had been bestowed to him. Newton’s conversion was dramatic, calling him out of the slave trade. He is known for penning the words to the song, Amazing Grace. I love this quote from John Newton:

"If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, his arm is over us, His ear open to our prayer, His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.”

Les Brown is given credit for this next gem. Leslie Calvin (“Les”) Brown was born in 1945 and held a variety of jobs. He’s a former Ohio politician having served in their House of Representatives, also an author, a radio DJ, and former host of The Les Brown Show. Brown is also a motivational speaker, often using the catch phrase, "It's possible,” as he encourages people to follow their dreams, as he had learned to do. This quote reveals the way he sees life…

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry our their dream.” Love it.

I’ve been unable to trace the source of this next maxim—but I’ve pondered the significance of it on many mornings.

"All men are created equal. At birth and at death all men are the same, all are equal. It is life that is not equal. Life is the time given each one of us from our first breath to the last. To live life all we have to do is to decide what to do with the time given us. Will you live life or let life live you?”

I will end with this one. It is, in essence, something of a life verse I recite almost every day. It gives me hope: "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” Psalm 138:8 (ESV)

Perhaps you will agree with my assessment of the quality of these quotes. Pearls of wisdom can take us a long way.

May you be blessed.


That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Articles of interest:

Monday, October 12, 2020

Watch Out! You’ve Got Mail

“Oh look, honey, somebody is sending free money!” And indeed! Sometimes it happens. For example, I recently received a check from Melania Trump. Unfortunately, it wasn’t made out to me. The $45 was to be endorsed by the political party of her husband. Dang it.

Occasionally, we get an envelope with a crisp, new $1 bill tucked inside. This is an “incentive” gift encouraging us to multiply it many times over and support some charity. The smaller version of this comes from the March of Dimes which sends us—you guessed it—a dime.

We’re thankful for this free money. And we graciously keep it. Helps to pay for our coffee habit at Starbucks.

And then there are the address labels. I think at last count I have 8,327. Unfortunately, some company got my middle initial wrong so I now have 1,641 of those with an “R” instead of a “J.” But I save them. You can never have enough return address labels. Or note pads. Gobs of note pads.

’Tis also the season for free Christmas cards to arrive. Just received a package the other day. Useless. They’re from a respected charity—one to which I have previously contributed. Three of the cards say “Seasons Greetings.” One says, “Let it snow.” (Please, no.) Another has a quote, “The ornament of a house is the people who frequent it.” None of them said… “Merry Christmas!!” Watch my lips, “No moolah for you!”

The most extravagant freebie mailing came a week ago. It was from a national organization whose mission is “saving children and healing families.” I like that. To my recollection, I’ve never given them a dime. (Not even the one we got free in another mailing!)

Inside the 1 1/4 inch mailer was a treasure trove of un-requested items. There were eight cellophane wrapped Christmas cards. All but one offered true Christmas greetings. There were multiple calendars of various sizes. A crossword puzzle booklet was enclosed. More mailing labels. And…a partridge in a pear tree. (Okay, slight exaggeration.) I have never received so much free stuff to tempt me to give. But I resisted.

Why? Is it because I am a heartless penny-pinching heathen? I hope not.

No, it’s because all of these gimmicks—and that’s what they are—are intended to create an implied obligation. Since the organization has blessed me freely, perhaps I should pony up a return cash gift to say thank you. Plus, my name is now added to the Mailing Lists From Hell which are sold or traded among these groups. That’s why I keep getting offers to Mark “R.” Elfstrand!

Another mail manipulation is the so-called free shipping. It’s explained in the article, “The Email Strategy that Made $47K+ by Giving Away Free Stuff.” Here’s an excerpt. “There’s no denying the power of the free shipping campaign when it comes to getting new new customers…People love free stuff. It’s why so many companies have simply priced shipping into their items and then claimed ‘free shipping.’"

Here’s a twist. A small item is offered to a client’s email list for free. The customer just needs to pay shipping. Say it’s a $5 “free” item. You charge $10 for shipping and handling—$3 more than the cost. You get the profit on the item AND $2 bonus on the shipping. As the writer explains, “the psychological desire for free stuff fuels incredibly successful sales campaigns.” A mind game in which you lose.

Even that “free test drive” invitation from your local car dealer is a quasi-obligation incentive. The dealer and salesman know they’ve not only increased the temptation to buy, but you’ve taken up their precious time and used their vehicle to drive around. Don’t ya kind of feel like you owe them? Most likely, they do!

Not all incentives are evil. But all “great offers” are designed to move your mind toward something you may or may not have been thinking you need or want.

Manipulation. Watch out! The wicked witch is calling. “Come here, children. I have some free candy for you!” Riiiiiiight.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Articles of interest: