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Monday, July 16, 2018

Ardent and Fervent

Sometimes I wonder if what I am doing is right or wrong. Maybe for some people life is always black and white and things are always either right or wrong. But for me (and maybe it’s because I’m not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed) sometimes I have to think about those… you know… gray areas.

About a month ago I was feeling really strong for the first time in a long time. My back had been hurt, but now it felt strong, so I decided to get some serious projects done around my house. I bought a huge load of redwood and built a new seawall, tore out both planter areas and planted a dozen new trees, 10 colorful hybrid rosebushes, and assorted other plants, finishing off both areas with nice redwood edging boards. By the time I was done, everything looked great, but unfortunately, my back paid the price. As I limped around the house my wife warned me to take it easy, but I reminded her that I had signed up for a golf tournament that weekend. She told me not to go, but of course I didn’t listen and on the very first swing, it felt like I tore something in my spine. It hurt so bad I couldn’t even pick up a club to try a second shot. I went straight home and iced it, but by 10:00pm that evening, my wife had to call 911 to get an ambulance to take me to the hospital… and of course she threw in a couple of “I told you so’s”, which of course I totally deserved!

When the paramedics arrived, they injected me with pain medication twice on the way to the hospital, but it didn’t help. It felt like somebody was twisting a knife in my spine, and it started to really scare me. At that point I knew I was in trouble and decided to pray for help. I asked God to please take the pain away and I have to admit that prayer was one of the most ardent and fervent prayers I have ever offered up. It reminded me of the emotional prayers I spoke when my wife was in the hospital and most recently when my Mom was terminally ill. But in both those cases, I was praying for a loved one. In this case, I was praying for myself, for my own well-being, and for some reason it felt weird, like maybe it was wrong.

And that got me thinking… Obviously it’s good to pray for others, but when is it okay to pray for yourself? Is it okay to pray for a bigger home, a better car, more money, or in my case less pain? What about praying for your team to win a game? Or what about the reverse, praying for something bad to happen to your competition, or your enemies? When is prayer right and when is it wrong? Those are tough questions that I think each individual person needs to answer for themselves. As for me, it’s been two weeks now since I was in the hospital and the pain in my back is surprisingly almost gone. But then again, maybe it’s not surprising since that is what I prayed for! I’m still pondering the question of right and wrong prayers, but before I ponder another minute, I’m going to get down on my knees right now and make sure my “prayer of thanks” for the pain in my back being gone… is even more ardent and fervent than my prayer for help!

Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.
~ Satchel Paige 

Monday, July 9, 2018

A Box of Chocolates

July 1st marks the start of our 7th year of living on the sand in Capo Beach. We originally rented a small beach house because we sold our home and needed a place to stay while we searched for a smaller home to buy. But we fell in love with the beauty of the blue water, the never-ending sound of the waves caressing the shore, and the sunsets that look like Monet paintings. Six years later we still haven’t started our search for a new home… and hopefully we never will!

The surf and sand make for a stunning view and the whales and dolphins are exciting to watch, but there is also something else that’s interesting about living at the beach… the people you meet! There happens to be a “weekly rental home” right next door, so we have brand new neighbors almost every week, especially during the summer. They come in all different shapes, sizes, races and languages, which can get pretty interesting at times. Some are quiet and reflective, others are loud and boisterous. So it’s like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re going to get!

Speaking of chocolates, my wife loves to cook, so sometimes when a new group arrives we will greet them with some of her home-made chocolate chip cookies. Most of the vacationers that show up next door are excited to be on vacation, so they appreciate our hospitality, but sometimes we get an overly enthusiastic batch of party people who keep us up all night while they litter the beach with trash and beer bottles. It can be fun to meet and greet new people, but it also requires putting out extra effort. So even though I know Christians are supposed to “serve others”, sometimes I just don’t feel like it. Last week, which was 4th of July week was no exception, but there was something exceptional about it.

When they pulled up they looked like the all-American family of four. They said they knew the hot weather was coming, so they booked a week to relax at the beach and get a break from the normal stresses of everyday life. The night before they arrived we hosted a large beach party and ended up with a lot of leftover food and drinks, so we decided to share it with our new neighbors. Normally that’s the end of it. But not with this family! All throughout the week, they returned the “favor”. One night they brought over some delicious barbequed tri-tip. Another night they invited us to join them for a Mexican Fajita Fiesta at their house. And the father was always offering up a glass of fine wine to go with the great food. We really enjoyed meeting this wonderful family and when they left we promised to stay in touch.

And that got me thinking… This was the first time ever that a vacationing family put out extra effort to make us locals feel welcome. It really blew us away! And more importantly, being on the receiving end of someone else’s hospitality felt so good that it re-energized our desire to serve others. I guess you could say that this box of chocolates was pretty gosh-darn good!

July 4th, 2018 at Capistrano Beach
Momma always said life is like a box of chocolates. 
You never know what you’re gonna get.
~ Forrest Gump 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Community Spirit

Two weeks ago, there were extremely high tides forcing the ocean waves over our seawall and flooding our patio. This is not the first time that Mother Nature has messed with us and it won’t be the last. So I decided to get serious and rebuild our sea wall, higher, wider and stronger. More importantly I decided to build it right this time, with sturdy top-quality redwood.

The first thing I did was purchase a DeWalt Chop Saw so that I could make smooth and straight cuts. The second thing I did was go down to Ganahl’s lumber yard and seek out a knowledgeable lumber expert to help me pick out the right kind of redwood. After explaining the different types of redwood available, and which stains and sealers would work best to protect it, he also shared some interesting trivia with me.

I found out that according to scientists, redwood trees have been around for over 240 million years. They are also the tallest trees in the world. In fact, there are approximately 50 redwood trees along the Pacific Coast that are now over 360’ tall. They are also crucial for maintaining a stable, human-friendly climate because studies show that coastal redwoods capture more carbon dioxide (CO2) from our vehicles than any other tree on Earth. So obviously we should try to protect our local redwood forests, but what isn’t obvious is how they protect themselves… in order to insure a long life.

You might know that redwood trees get their strength and long life from their roots. But what you might not know is that none of their roots are more than 1” in diameter. Those are tiny roots! So how do giant redwood trees stand so tall and strong with such tiny roots. Well, those tiny roots reach out underground and seek out other redwood tree roots. Once they find them they grab onto them and hold on tight forming a well-rooted, tight-knit community, that provides strength and the chance for a longer life.

And that got me thinking… What if people acted like redwood trees and spread out loving roots to their neighbors, friends and family. How much stronger could we be and how much happier would our entire community be, if we spread our roots and held on tight to each other instead of our material possessions. Who knows…. We might even live longer!
While the spirit of community was important on 
the frontier because neighbors were so few, 
it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many.
~ Lady Bird Johnson 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Until Now (By Dennis Kuhl)

A while back I was asked if I would be interested in writing a Monday Message. I have thought about this many times but never took the time to do it… until now!

I recently gave a commencement speech to the 2018 graduating class of Mihaylo College of Business and Economics at California State University Fullerton. I agonized over what inspirational thing I could say. I was honored, but kind of scared. I then thought of something Alexander the Great once said, which I think about all the time.

Before dying, Alexander the Great said to his generals, I have 3 wishes. Please carry them out without fail. The generals all agreed to abide by the King’s wishes.

  • My first wish. I want only the best physicians alone to carry my coffin.
  • My second wish. That the path leading to my grave be covered with gold, silver and precious stones.
  • The third and last wish. That both my hands be kept dangling out of my coffin.
The generals said they would carry out his wishes, but he must enlighten them as to why. Alexander the Great replied as follows: 1. I want the best physicians to carry my coffin because people should realize they are powerless, because even the best physicians cannot save a person from the clutches of death. 2. That gold, silver and precious stones on the path to the grave yard is to let people know that I spent my life accumulating riches yet not even one grain of gold will accompany me. I want people to understand that it is a sheer waste of time, energy and peace of mind to yearn to be rich. 3. That my hands dangling out of the coffin are because I want people to know that I came into the world empty handed and likewise, will go out empty handed.

Time is the most precious of all treasures because it is limited. We can produce more wealth, but we cannot produce more time. When we give someone our time, we actually give away a portion of our life that we will never get back. May you have plenty of time and more importantly, may you have the wisdom to give it away!

I said I did not have time. 
But to what did I give my time… 
and was it a fair exchange?
~ Muriel Strode

Monday, June 4, 2018

Expressions of Love

There is an old saying that goes “things happen in threes”. I’m not sure where that saying comes from, but it popped into my head while I was relaxing on the beach this weekend, reading a book called, “The Shack”.

The Shack is a story about a man trying to come overcome feelings of guilt when his young daughter is brutally murdered. But in reality, it’s more of an inspirational story about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and how all three members of this holy trinity interact with us.  I hate to admit it, but I don’t completely understand how the holy trinity works because how can God be three different beings? But then again, there are a lot of things in this world I don’t understand, like politics, taxes, and women for example.

But as I pondered the idea of things happening in threes, I realized something. There is a common thread that runs through the holy trinity. That common thread of course is… love! God created love, Jesus taught us how to love, and the Holy Spirit is the essence of love. So love should obviously be the guiding force in our lives. But that realization brought another question to mind. If love is supposed to be our guiding force, what’s the best way for us to express our love?  

Well, sometimes when I’m struggling with a question, I go for a walk to clear my head. In less than 15 minutes, my journey yesterday quickly turned up three awesome but very different examples of expressions of love. Hey, maybe things really do happen in threes!

A caring woman takes time to converse with a homeless man.

A father takes his daily walk along Beach Road with his crippled son.
A man carries his very old and very sick, but very good friend for a final walk along the beach.

A man is not where he lives, but where he loves.
~ Ancient Latin Proverb

Monday, May 28, 2018

Military Spirit

On Sunday my wife asked me to help clean up around our house. She reminded me that we were going to have family over on Monday for a Memorial Day BBQ and asked me to straighten up the spare bedroom. Being a good husband, I immediately went in there and kicked some stuff under the bed, threw some stuff in the closet, shut the dresser drawers, and fluffed up the pillows. Then I clapped my hands together and said, “Yep, looks pretty good!” (Although, that might not have been exactly what my wife had in mind!)

But as I started to leave the room feeling pretty good about myself, I noticed something shiny hiding behind the dresser. I took a closer look and it turned out to be my Dad’s military sword. I had forgotten about it for years but there it was, a long, sharp, shiny, impressive reminder of what I call “Military Spirit”. This sword was awarded to my father, by his father (a USMC Major), when my Dad was first promoted to the rank of Officer in the United States Marines Corp.

Holding that sword in my hand gave me chills and totally got my adrenalin going. However, it also made me a little sad that I hadn’t followed in my father’s footsteps. Having grown up in a military family I know the sacrifice, strength and courage it takes to commit to the military life, so I have the utmost respect for everyone who serves. But my Dad discouraged me from joining the military because he wanted me to go to college. I wonder how my life would have changed if I had enlisted at the tender age of 18 like my Dad?

As I pictured myself standing on the field of battle, sword drawn, facing the enemy head on, outnumbered but not outwitted, I realized something about myself. My Dad didn’t just give me his military sword, he passed down to me his “Military Spirit”. Maybe part of it is genetic and part of it is learned, but there’s definitely something military in my nature that has served me well throughout my life. And I see these same six traits in all of the men and women that I admire. For example -

  1. Courage -    If they see someone in trouble, they don’t hesitate to put themselves in harm’s way.

  1. Sacrifice -    If they see a weaker person needing help, they immediately jump in to assist.

  1. Honesty -    If they find something that doesn’t belong to them, they seek out the rightful owner.

  1. Integrity -   If they witness a wrong, they do what it takes to make it right.

  1. Character - If they hear someone gossiping, they don’t listen.

  1. Loyalty -     If they hear someone bad mouthing a friend, they speak up in their defense.
 After dwelling on the idea of “Military Spirit” I realized that if I want to be part of this elite group, I better fix something immediately… It was then that I grabbed a vacuum cleaner and immediately headed back to the spare bedroom!  

I am proud to be an American, 
where at least I know I’m free.
I won’t forget the men who died,
Whose spirit gave that right to me.
~ Lee Greenwood 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Making A Difference

It was on January 8th of 2007 that I wrote my very first Monday Message. I wrote 52 Monday Messages that year but didn’t write any in 2008. I wrote 52 more in 2009 but skipped 2010. I wrote 52 more in 2011 but skipped 2012. However, in 2013 I began writing approximately 50 Monday Messages every year until today, at which point… I have reached a mile stone… Monday Message #400.

Every Monday Message has to be unique. Yet that is only one of the many difficult things it takes to create an inspirational weekly message. It takes time to carve out the theme, to edit it so that it can be less than one page of writing, to come up with an appropriate photo, and to then finish it off with a quote that will bring the whole story together, while highlighting the theme of it.

It takes hours of time and torrents of emotional energy to create just one Monday Message. So sometimes I get tired and frustrated and think about quitting. I start thinking that nobody reads these stupid stories anyway, so why should I waste my time. I’m never going to make a difference in this world, so perhaps I should quit trying. But then something happens that reminds me that I am not alone in my efforts. There are plenty of other people out there who are working hard and trying hard to make a difference in this world. My Monday Message last week proved it.

Last week I wrote a story about my 93-year-old friend, Pao Chi Chen. She is about to have her 94th birthday, but there will be no party because she is very lonely having outlived most of her friends and family. I asked people to write her a simple birthday card, hoping that a few extra birthday wishes might brighten her day.

As of today, I have received dozens of birthday cards that I plan to deliver to her on her birthday! I was shocked by the swift and solid response, but I should not have been amazed that there are so many good people out there willing to do something nice for a stranger. Even though the news reports bombard us daily with stories of murder, rape, and hate crimes, in the background there are plenty of people reaching out to help a stranger in need. To those people I say, “Thank you for giving help to a stranger and inspiration to me!”

Expose me to hate so it be not a stranger; 
yet fill my cup with love to turn strangers into friends.
~ Og Mandino