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Excellence: A Shirt Tale

I've been thinking about excellence recently and how I would describe it. In the past, I defined it as perfection Screen Shot 2023-06-11 at 7.45.19 AMand consequently found myself frustrated most of the time, because perfection is seldom achieved. But I have come a long way in my thinking on this subject and I no longer equate excellence with perfection.

So how do I define excellence now? To answer that, I think it best if I tell you a true story, something amazing that happened to me that still shapes my life and thinking. Our family was on vacation many years ago in the San Francisco area. One New Year’s Eve, we went shopping in a mall at a department store famous for its service. I bought four dress shirts there and then my family split up to do some more shopping; my wife and daughter went one way, my son and I the other.

When we met again, the first thing my wife asked me was, "Where are your shirts?" I realized then that I had put the bag down somewhere in the mall and had forgotten to pick it up. We quickly retraced my steps, which eventually led us back to the counter where I had purchased the shirts. I explained my dilemma to the sales people and they were very empathetic. One of them said, "Why don’t you pick out four more shirts?" I explained that I couldn't afford four more shirts, but she insisted that I show her the shirts I had lost. Two other sales assistants joined us as we found the four shirts in my size.

Then the sales person put those shirts in a bag and said, "Happy New Year! There’s no charge!" I was astounded! They had replaced my shirts at no additional cost. I went on to write an article about that experience for a magazine and I entitled the article, "A Shirt Tale." In that article, I explained that what happened to me was a good summary of what the mission of the church should be: to replace what was lost and stolen without assigning blame or guilt.

That story is the best definition of excellence I've experienced. It taught me that excellence is an attitude that goes beyond the call of duty. It also taught me that excellence isn't defined by the doer, but by the receiver. I doubt if the sales people who gave me my shirts remember what they did, but I'll never forget it. It literally took my breath away.

Are you a person pursuing excellence in life, work, or ministry? If so, when was the last time you took someone’s breath away when they encountered your commitment to go beyond the ordinary? This kind of excellence can’t be learned; it can only come from doing what you love while serving others. I hope that this week you can impact someone’s life as they encounter your purposeful excellence. Have a great week!


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