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Monday, August 21, 2017

Pure Joy

I would like to start this Monday Message by asking a question and then end it with a question as well. Here’s my first question, “Can you say that you are truly alive?”
                                                                                                                             
Last week two of my grandkids came to visit me at the beach. Jack is 10 and Andie Rose is only 9, so they have more energy than a squadron of storm troopers. In fact, that’s kind of what they do, storm through their daily lives, full speed ahead.

Jack likes to build things but he also enjoys tearing things down. So, we spent a fun hour together demolishing the old shed behind my house so that we can build a new one in its place next week. What young boy wouldn’t love swinging a five-pound sledge hammer at a wooden structure!

Andie Rose on the other hand, loves gymnastics and is on a Championship Cheerleading Team. Because of those two loves, she is always moving. When we went down by the water she immediately started doing cartwheels and back handsprings in the sand like they were nothing. It was pretty amazing. She can bend like a noodle and then explode with surprising strength. When I told her she was awesome, she said, “Why don’t you try it, Grandpa?” I reminded her that I’m 62 years old and she fired right back, “Well, so what, you’re not dead yet!?” How could I refuse that logic! My first cartwheel resembled a drunken sailor falling down a flight of stairs and my second one was even worse. So Andie Rose suggested I start out by learning to do hand stands. That didn’t seem like it would be so hard, but my first attempt was an epic fail. But with Andie’s encouragement and her beautiful smiling face beaming away at me, I kept trying and by about the tenth try, I did it. You know what, it was fun and it made me feel young… and alive!

And that got me thinking. We only get one shot at life but the good news is that we actually get to make the choice as to how we are going to live it. If we choose to wake up each day glad to be alive and willing to show it, we just might have a little fun. More importantly (and what I think I forget a lot of times) is that how I live my life has an effect on others. Andie Rose had a profound effect on my life that day. She taught me I can go around with my head in the sand or I can go around doing cartwheels in the sand. It’s my choice!

So here’s my second question… When was the last time you expressed pure joy at being alive?
Today was good.
Today was fun.
Tomorrow will be another one!
~ Dr. Seuss

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Great Expectations

Ever since I’ve known my wife, she’s been in love with Mexican food. She says it came over her when she was pregnant with our youngest daughter and ever since then she’s had to have Mexican food at least 5 or 6 times a week. She makes great tacos at home but when we’re on the road, I try to take her to the nicer Mexican restaurants. However, she absolutely loves Del Taco almost any time, so since I absolutely love my wife, you know what they say, “Happy Wife, Happy Life” and off we go for more Del Taco!

Yesterday, we were running chores all over town and when I started getting hungry for lunch, I asked her where she wanted to eat.  Actually, I asked, “Which Mexican Restaurant do you want to go to for lunch?” She laughed and said, “Is there a Del Taco nearby?”. (I don’t even know why I ask.) I remembered that there are a couple of fast food places, off Marguerite and Avery in Mission Viejo, so we headed that way. We were deep into a conversation when we pulled into the drive through, but I stopped talking to ask her, “The usual?”. She said yes, so I leaned out the window and started my order by saying, “Hi, can I get two Del Tacos and a Quesadilla?”. The lady in the restaurant said, “You’re in the wrong place.” I looked again at the menu board and there was a speaker with a sign right next to it that said, “Order Here”. So I’m thinking, what does she mean, this has to be the right spot to place an order? Then she clarified things for me. “Sir, this is not Del Taco. This is Jack in the Box.” Whoops! First time I’ve even done that and boy did I feel stupid! Fortunately, there was nobody behind me so I crawled slowly out of the drive thru with my head hanging low, and headed for the real Del Taco next door, my wife laughing equally at the both of us. Our expectations were definitely not going to be met by going to the wrong place.

And that got me thinking… Having expectations is a big factor when it comes to being happy in life. We often expect a lot out of others, but are our expectations realistic? If we expect a child to get A’s when they’re really a C student, it’s going to crush them. If we expect our neighbor to cut their grass when our yard is full of weeds, then the neighborhood is always going to look bad. Or if we expect our boss to understand that our workload is too heavy, but we don’t explain it to him, then frustration and depression are definitely going to set in. So I think it’s really important to have expectations in life, especially of ourselves and what we want to achieve. But when it comes to our expectations of others, the important thing is to keep them real. If we expect a lot from ourselves and only a little from others, we will rarely be disappointed. 
The very first Del Taco in 1964
The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations.
Eli Khamarov

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Huh?

When I was in High School I raced motorcycles every weekend at the local race tracks throughout Southern California. I was small at the time, probably weighing no more than a buck fifty, but I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt and I absolutely loved to go fast. So the combination of being light weight and loving speed made me fairly successful. My favorite track was a dirt scrambles course in Lake Elsinore where I could slide my Yamaha sideways through sweeping turns at excessive speed and then fly off a huge jump. My buddies and I were all ranked in the “Open Expert Class” and took turns winning the shiny steel trophies that were our only reward for risking our young and exuberant lives. I loved every minute of it.

Well, almost every minute of it. The motorcycles back then were mostly two-stroke bikes with extremely loud exhaust pipes. After racing on a Saturday night, my ears would ring and keep ringing all the way until school started again on Monday. I didn’t think much about the damage to my hearing at the time. Heck, I pretty much felt invincible in those days. Plus, winning trophies really impressed the girls and got me a lot of dates, so who cares if your ears suffer a little bit. But that was 40+ years ago and things are different now.

Last week, my wife and I met six other family members at a Mexican Restaurant for “Taco Tuesday”. We were the last to arrive so we had to sit at the far end of the table, but it was great to spend time with our family, two of whom had just flown in from Seattle. The only problem was I couldn’t hear any of the conversation. I’ve started to struggle with hearing lately and a loud restaurant environment is the worst for me. I just sat there nodding my head, pretending like I could hear, but being bummed out at missing the connection that fun conversation creates. At one point, I looked across the table at my wife and I think she could tell I was struggling because she put her hand out for me to hold and said out of the blue, “I love you”. It was a small gesture of love at the perfect point in time.

And that got me thinking… Most of us lead crazy chaotic lives, filled with stress and struggles that create a constant cacophony of sound in our heads. We often feel like we can’t get away from the never-ending noise that fills our world, but actually I think we can. And if you don’t mind, I would like to tell you two ways that work for me. • First, I start every single morning with a simple prayer of thanks. Usually, in the darkness of the early morning I am all by myself and the world is still quiet. I haven’t yet started worrying about the duties of the day, so I can focus on conversing with my Creator. I truly believe He speaks to me and the funny thing is, it’s never a struggle to hear Him. Plus, it feels good! • Second, I try to find quiet time to converse with someone I love. When I truly focus on another person, listening to every single word, spoken or unspoken, being mindful of their needs and desires, it definitely drowns out the societal stress around me. I can’t always fix things or have the perfect advice, but I can be there for them in the moment, fully engaged, and that feels good too! I guess what I am saying is that you don’t have to have perfect hearing… to listen!
Two of my dirt track racing bikes, circa 1973
Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of 
listening when you would have preferred to talk.
~ Doug Larson 


Monday, July 31, 2017

Reshaping

I hate to admit it but I messed up last week. To begin with, I lost my patience when a crazy driver started honking at me for going too slow down Coast Highway despite the fact that there was heavy summer traffic forcing all of us to go slow, and then I lost my cool.

She wasn’t just honking at me, she was flipping me off as well. And then she changed lanes and nearly took off my front bumper as she swerved in front of my truck and began tailgating other cars. (Yes, I said she.) So I laid on my horn for at least 20 seconds to let her have it. In my head, I’m thinking this crazy person needs to know that she is driving like a crazy person and I’m just the guy to let her know it. What I was basically saying to myself was that she needs a taste of her own medicine and unfortunately, that’s exactly what I did… I acted just like her. 

At first it felt good to lay on that horn and let out my frustration. But then I turned and looked at my wife in the passenger seat and the look on her face wasn’t exactly one of extreme pride in her husband. She just sat there shaking her head. She didn’t have to say anything because at that moment, I knew I blew it. The funny thing is, I have probably averaged 40,000 miles a year on So Cal roads for over 40 years, so I know what to expect and I usually take it all in stride. So what was different this time?

I thought about that question on my way home and I thought about how important it is to be tolerant. For all I know, that lady could have had a sick child in the back seat and was hurrying to the hospital. Or maybe she just had a huge fight on the phone with her husband and was hurrying home to make things right. Or maybe, she has a really tough boss and was late for work and worried about getting fired. I don’t know what her situation was, but obviously she was really upset about something long before I came into view. Instead of honking at her, I probably should have been praying for her.

When I got home, I realized that the speeding lady driver made a mistake… and so did I. We are all human beings and therefore we all make mistakes, but it only makes it worse when we get mad at others or mad at ourselves. I read somewhere that when we make mistakes it’s like being on an anvil. It’s like we are supposed to be God’s tools here on earth but sometimes we get a little rusty, or a little dull, or a little bent. Every good blacksmith keeps his tools in shape and I think God probably does too. So when that happens we shouldn’t get down, we should simply realize that the good news is, God thinks we are still worth reshaping!

You will not be punished for your anger.
You will be punished by your anger.
~ Anonymous

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Triumverate

One of the fun things about living at the beach is that we see a lot of wildlife every single day. Yes, there are a lot of rental homes here on Beach Road typically filled with summer vacationers who party late into the night, but that’s not really what I am referring to when I say “wildlife”. I’m talking about the animals and the sea life that abound both above and below the water.

We moved here five years ago and so far this summer we have seen more wildlife than ever. Such as…
·         Two huge 50’ Gray Whales breaching their full length up into the air
·         Majestic Pelicans that dive bomb out of the sky to catch fish near the surface
·         A steady stream of Dolphins that travel in groups and love to play together in the waves
·         Cormorant Ducks that dive under the surface of the sea and stay there for long periods of time
·         Sea Lions with puppy-like faces that float on their backs and appear to be waving to you
·         And Dogs, lots of Dogs every single day that get super excited about the ocean

Why are there so many people always walking their dogs up and down the beach? I mean, I love dogs and I’ve had plenty of dogs over the years, but this area of Capistrano Beach where we live doesn’t allow dogs on the beach. But I guess that doesn’t matter because I see dozens of people walking their dogs every single day. It’s kind of fun to watch them get excited, chase a stick into the water, and bark at fish they spot swimming near the shore. (Sometimes the dogs even get excited too!) But the question is, why do those three elements – people, dogs, and the ocean - go together so well?

First, they say taking long walks outdoors is good for you because it combines exercise with fresh air. Second, having a dog and caring for a dog is good for you because it lowers your stress and blood pressure. Third, there is something about being at the beach that feels really good to most people. Maybe it’s the sound of never-ending waves pounding the shore, or the smell of the ocean with its ever-present fishiness, or maybe it’s just so darn beautiful that we can’t help but feel closer to God when we are there. Whatever it is, the combination of those three elements is special. Hey, that reminds me of a picture I took this week of a lady, her dog, and a Monk fishk hanging out of her dog’s mouth, a very unique triumvirate. Which reminds me of another triumvirate that will help lower your blood pressure, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost! 


Man is dog’s idea of what God should be.

~ Holbrook Jackson



Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Narrow Path

There are a lot of fun things to do when you live at the beach, especially during the summer. One of the things I enjoy most is when my wife and I go for a long bike ride. We always start out on Beach Road, which is a private community, so it’s not crowded at all. But then we hit the public beach area and continue on towards Doheny Beach before heading back home. There are always lots of people around in the summer time, enjoying the weather, so it’s kind of fun to take it all in while getting some exercise at the same time.

Bicycle riding also gives my wife and I chance to talk and share ideas together. She is a constant source of inspiration to me and will often help me come up with ideas for Monday Messages, which is exactly what happened yesterday. At the end of the public beach sidewalk, as you transition into the parking area, there are several short wooden poles. They’re there to prevent cars from driving onto the sidewalk, which seems crazy, but then again I’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff going on at the beach. So every time we ride our bikes along this path we have the choice of going between the two poles that are spaced far apart or the two poles that are spaced close together.

I would say that 95% of the people who ride bikes on this path choose to go between the poles that are spaced farther apart. It’s easier and more natural. But for some reason, I always choose the narrow path. Even if I’m alone and riding really fast to get a good workout, I always choose the narrow path. It’s more difficult and a bit dangerous because if you clip one of those stout wooden poles you’re going to slap the pavement pretty hard, but I always choose the narrow path. And yesterday, my wife asked me… Why?

I had to think about that question before I answered. “I choose the narrow path because it’s more difficult and it feels good.” The more I thought about that question, the more I realized that I’ve been choosing the “narrow path” most of my life. When I was a teenager I chose to go to Church on Sunday mornings instead of sleeping in, and it helped me begin my own personal relationship with God. When I was a young man I chose to start my own company instead of working for someone else, and although it was really tough at times, it helped me achieve financial success at an early age. When I chose to adopt a new born child, I knew that it might be stressful, but instead it turned out to be wonderful. When I was a divorced single Dad looking for love, I chose to marry a woman with three young children and while that might be scary for most men, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. And when I decided to start writing Monday Messages back in 2007, I knew it would be hard to come up with a new idea each week, but I also knew that if I could do it, I would feel good about it. Hey, maybe my answer was right! Doing something easy doesn’t feel like anything. But doing something difficult… that feels really good!
The Narrow Path
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
You know what you know.
And you’re the only guy who’ll decide where you go!
~ Dr. Seuss

Monday, June 26, 2017

Kneeling & Healing

My wife accidentally dislocated her right knee cap last week. She was in such tremendous pain, she started sweating profusely and became acutely nauseous, but fortunately, she was able to pop it back in place. I have never personally dislocated a knee cap but I have dislocated my shoulder and I’m pretty sure that any time you dislocate a joint it’s going to be extremely painful and impossible to ignore. Or is it?

She went to the doctor and is doing better but her knee is still sore and she’s really worried about dislocating it again. So I got some advice from several friends who are athletes and then went on line to do some research where I came across a story that was hard to believe, but true. A group of Finnish Doctors did a controlled study on the power of “fake” surgery. They solicited a group of 146 volunteer patients who had knee injuries such as a torn meniscus and enrolled them in a trial study. Half of the patients had real surgery, while the other half received only minor incisions on their knee to make it look like they had surgery. The amazing results were that in terms of healing, there was no significant difference between the two groups. Does that prove that surgery is a waste of time? Absolutely not. But it does prove that the human mind has tremendous power and if we can learn how to tap into it better, we just might end up in a lot less pain.

So how do we tap into the power of our minds? I keep hearing the term “mindfulness” a lot these days and I think I am beginning to understand the concept. “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” So how does mindfulness relate to the results of the clinical trials performed by the Finnish Doctors? Perhaps practicing “mindfulness” is the first step towards being truly able to tap into the immense power locked under our lids. You can call it the ability to focus, or you can call it extreme concentration, but the bottom line is having the ability to be fully focused and not bothered by people or events around you.

So where can we find a good example of someone using the power of their mind to be fully focused? Look no further than the Bible. Jesus was the most focused person to ever walk the earth. Once He began his journey, He never wavered, never sinned, never got distracted, never veered to the left or to the right, never once. He simply stayed on course until his goal was accomplished. Furthermore, like the Finnish Doctors recently discovered, He had the ability to heal hundreds of people without the aid of a single scalpel. I can find a lot of interesting stories and ideas on the internet, but I’m starting to think that I can learn a lot more by surfing the New Testament than I can by paddling across the internet… and it’s absolutely painless!

Some minds seem to create themselves, springing up 
under every disadvantage and working their solitary but 
irresistible way through a thousand obstacles.
~ Washington Irving