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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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Make A Difference

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I am one who definitely believes that Moms deserve a special day! What they go through and what they put up with is nuts… and they don’t even get paid for all that work. Being a Mom has to be both the worst job in the world and yet it can be the best job in the world too, if we simply make a difference by showing them our love. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to do that this year because my Mom passed away. So I have decided to focus on the other “Moms” in my life, such as my wife, daughters, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, and my “special friend” named Pao Chi.

Pao Chi Chen will be 94 years old next month.  She lives alone in a tiny apartment and although she is nearly a century old, her health is still good. In fact, her eyesight is so good and her hands so steady that she still creates beautiful paintings of birds, landscapes, and people every single week. Pao Chi’s story is quite amazing. She was born in a small village in China, escaped the communist invasion at age 16, took a boat to France, became a world-renowned artist who trained in Paris, exhibited in 5 countries, and speaks 4 languages. Although we could not be more different (she is a 4’ tall Chinese Buddhist woman who paints and I am a 5’11” American Christian man who sells light bulbs) we are still best of friends.

If you have been reading my Monday Messages over the years, then you might recall the way I met this wonderful, yet very tiny little lady. The truth is, six years ago, almost to the day, is when I ran her over in a parking lot and nearly killed her. She was hospitalized for many months and nearly died, but through the grace of God and His answering of my fervent daily prayers, she lived… and we became best friends.

When I visited Pao Chi this week to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, she was glad to see me, but sad. When I asked her why she was sad she explained that her last remaining friend from her childhood days passed away. And since she has only one son (who suffered a stroke recently and can’t do much) she is suddenly feeling very alone. All the people she knew and loved in her life are gone and there is no one to visit her, no one for her to call, no one to really talk to. It dawned on me that while it’s great to live a long life, it can also be lonely for those without a family.

I was feeling bad for Pao Chi, so before I left her apartment I decided to try to cheer her up. I said, “Can I ask you a favor? Since my Mom passed away a couple months ago, would it be okay if I adopted you as my Mom?” Pao Chi’s eyes began to water but she also started to smile, and she gave me the biggest, longest, best hug ever. I imagine there are millions of elderly people like Pao Chi who are lonely, and of course there is no way that I can make a difference to all of them, but I can definitely make a difference to one of them!

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, 
promptly announces she never did care for pie.
~ Tenneva Jordon

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Coming of Age

My nephew turned 18 yesterday and is planning on joining the military when he graduates High School.  That is a very difficult decision to make when you are only 18 years old, but it is only the first of many difficult decisions that we will have face once we become adults.

When I was a young man, I lived on my own from the time I was 16 ½ years old. Being on my own gave me both the freedom to make my own decisions and also forced me to be careful about the decisions I made. There was nobody to pay my debts and nobody to bail me out if I got in control. Unfortunately, despite being a good person at heart, I did make some bad decisions along the way that were very painful.

I remember it like it happened yesterday. I had made a string of bad decisions over a period of a few years that threatened my health and my career. And despite being a normally positive and cheery fellow, I had fallen into a full-blown depression. So I decided to hike to my favorite spot near the top of Black Mountain in San Diego and try to sort things out. I sat down on a rock and as I thought about my life and my future, I began to cry. How did I get so far off track? How could I be so stupid? But I didn’t just sit there, I prayed, and I prayed hard. I prayed for forgiveness, and I prayed for strength, and I prayed for wisdom. And then I prayed for forgiveness some more. When I finished, I opened my eyes and noticed that a hang-glider was soaring slowly over head. Black Mountain was a favorite spot for the early daredevils of the gliding sport and something about the beauty and the freedom of the man flying effortlessly through the sky touched me inside. To me it was a sign… a sign that if man could fly… maybe anything was possible!

I made a decision that very moment to write down all the things that a man should strive to be. It would represent my character and become my personal code of honor. It would be my own personal rules for living life, that I would honor for the rest of my life. I am happy to say that it instantly changed my life and put me on the path to become the man God planned for me to be when he planted me on this earth. In honor of my nephew’s birthday, I would like to share some of these simple rules for being a good man (or woman) that I wrote down nearly 40 years ago. They won’t keep you from making bad decisions, but they will help you find the path in your life that leads to hope, happiness and good health. (By the way, I still carry it with me… that faded yellow piece of paper with the simple words written on it so many years ago.)

Be true to your God, and true to yourself.            

Be honest at all times and fair to everyone you know.

Stand by your friends and family regardless of potential harm to yourself.

Never use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol.
Never steal or take anything that does not belong to you.

Never lie or hold back the truth when it could harm another person.

                    Commit to a healthy lifestyle, stay fit.                         

Give as much as possible to those less fortunate.

Sometimes the questions are complicated, but the answers are simple.
~ Dr. Seuss

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Laying Tracks

The beach house my wife and I rent is unique in several ways. For one thing, it sits right on the sand, so the ocean is only 70’ away on the west side. About 70’ away on the east side, are a set of Metro Link train tracks. Therefore, we are smack dab in the middle of two extremely noisy activities that would keep most people awake at night. However, a month after we moved in it didn’t matter. The noise of the ocean may be loud, but it’s calming and wonderful. The noise of the trains going by, however, is totally obnoxious. But after a while your brain checks out and you just stop hearing it. That is until last Thursday night.

Let me clarify, it wasn’t a train going by that woke us up at 1:00am. It was the sound of loud banging and clanging. I went outside to see what was going on and spotted temporary spotlights set up on the tracks and several men working feverishly underneath them. I couldn’t tell what they were doing and I sure as heck couldn’t sleep either. The loud banging, clanging and beep, beep, beep of a machine moving on the tracks made sleeping impossible.

The next morning, in the bright sunlight, I could see they were replacing sections of the tracks. There was a man in an orange vest operating a huge machine that beeped as it moved back and forth along the tracks. The machine appeared to be “smashing” something into the ground, but I couldn’t tell for sure what it was. Behind him was another man in an orange vest swinging a 10lb sledge hammer, driving stakes into the ground. It reminded me of a picture in a book, way back in my junior high history class, that depicted men laying railroad tracks in the early 1800’s. In fact, if you take the machine out of the scene, it was exactly the same picture… a strong burly man with Popeye sized forearms swinging a 4’ long 10lb sledgehammer over and over again. The difference was that there was also another man, sitting in a comfy chair inside a glass enclosed air-conditioned compartment, smoking a cigarette while he slowly pushed buttons. When he stepped out of the machine I could see he was overweight and out of shape in sharp contrast to his partner.

And that got me thinking… As much as things change, in a lot of ways, they also stay the same. Today we might have a lot more machines that can do fantastic things, but we are still human beings made from flesh and blood. And if we don’t get off our butts and away from our computers, I-phones and TV sets, and start doing more physical activity, someday machines might just smash us!



If it weren’t for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart,
some of us wouldn’t get any exercise at all.
~ Joey Adams

Monday, April 16, 2018

Allowance (By Debby Thrailkill)

Recently, I was listening to a radio talk show and the topic of children receiving allowance came up. This got me thinking back to the days when I received an allowance from my parents. I recalled receiving this money for good behavior, completing my chores, and doing my school work. I started receiving an allowance at age 10 and it was small ($5-$10) but it was quite a treat. I remember hopping on my bike and rolling downhill to the shopping center about a mile away, buying a triple scoop ice cream at the Savon counter for 75 cents, and then cruising the center for anything else that caught my eye, like tiny frogs and turtles from the pet store, a stick of perfume for my mom from the drug store, or maybe a McDonalds Big Mac. Having purchasing power was exciting but having earned the money was an even better feeling of accomplishment, which bolstered my self-confidence. I was proud and happy, and I always eager to share my allowance with others.

The talk show host spoke about how the allowance system gives parents a tool to teach their children about responsibility, hard work, and saving money, while instilling self-worth. It enables parents to teach their children to follow rules, contribute to the family, and receive rewards. I would wash and dry dishes, vacuum around the house, rake leaves and help with yardwork on the weekends. Of course, all of this should be expected in a family, but motivation to please and succeed were important to me as well, so I am thankful for the valuable lessons I learned.

As I matured in my life and faith, and with help from my husband and wonderful friends, it became important to me to please God and succeed in receiving His allowance. So, what does God offer, and what does He expect of me in return? I've learned that He wants me to be faithful to Him, to follow His commandments and rules, and communicate with Him through prayer. I know He wants me to help others and always contribute in a positive way and I am confident that the reward He offers us is far greater than any reward we could ever imagine.

I like to talk to God, so I pray, most of the time silently, but sometimes out loud. I praise His Name and His will be done. I thank Him for my family and friends, for the food on my table, and for those who risk their lives to provide freedom for us all. I ask forgiveness of my sins, and for the courage, strength and smarts not to keep sinning! And I pledge myself to Him. In return, He offers me eternal life with Him in Heaven and I fall to my knees knowing I am not worthy. But I am constantly trying and that’s what counts. I guess what I have learned is that an allowance is much more than a payoff, it is an opportunity for accomplishment upon faithful and loyal service… and that motivates me more than anything else!

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, 
and no mind can imagine the things 
that God has prepared for those who love Him.
~ 1 Corinthians 2:5

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Middle

Last week, in the early morning hours, I found myself driving down Antonio Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita. Antonio Parkway is a major three-lane thoroughfare that is almost always crowded with cars. But on this particular morning, there wasn’t a single car in site. Not one car in front of me nor one car behind me. It was really weird and for just a moment I felt like I was on a different planet.

Then I realized something kind of cool. I have the whole road to myself! I can drive fast in the slow lane, or I can drive slow in the fast lane, or I could even make lane changes as often as I want without a care. Today must be my special day because I totally own this road! I know what you’re thinking, but it was early, and my mind was wandering, so yeah, I guess I do sound kind of crazy. But I’m not crazy because guess what I did. I drove at a safe speed right down the middle of the center lane. Man, am I boring or what!

So why did I choose the middle lane? I could have driven in the slow lane, but I like to move at a pretty quick pace, so slow people really bug me. So maybe I should have chosen the fast lane? But the fast lane is full of people who are in way too much of a hurry and they’re usually distracted as well. So, I definitely don’t want to be part of that crowd either. But as soon as those thoughts crossed my mind, I realized I was doing something I shouldn’t be doing… and I’m not talking about my driving.

I’m talking about being judgmental. I don’t mean to do it, and you probably don’t mean to do it either, but if I’m being honest, I bet I do it ten times a day. Most of the time It’s just a bunch of unconscious thoughts flopping around in my head that dissipate as fast as they arrive. Yet, I know those thoughts are still wrong. I know I should always do my best to be open minded and accepting because people deserve the benefit of the doubt. Not long ago, I remember I was “the old guy driving super slow” in the slow lane because I bought my Mom some flowers and I was having a hard time holding on to the vase without spilling the water. A month before that I was “the crazy guy speeding down the fast lane” after getting a phone call from paramedics who were transporting my wife to Mission Hospital. Maybe it would help me to be less judgmental if I simply remember that there is only one planet that matters, and that we’re all on that same planet, made by the same Creator, for the same reason… and let Him take care of judgment!

It is only the long and patient road that leads to anywhere.
~ Muriel Strode

Monday, April 2, 2018

No Small Thing

Easter is a special time, a chance to be with family, share a meal, and hopefully spend some one on one time with the people you love. But if you’re a Christian, it’s also the most important holiday of the year where we should probably take time to reflect on the sacrifices made on our behalf.

It’s obvious that the sacrifice Jesus made to suffer and die for us was absolutely amazing. I will forever consider Jesus to be the kindest and yet bravest example of a loving being there has ever been. But I think it’s important to remember that God also made a huge sacrifice. He not only gave up His only son to be beaten, scourged, pierced and spit on, He actually allowed him to die. He did it out of love but what a huge sacrifice that was. I have four children, and I know there is no way I would be able to let any of my children suffer like that, no matter what the cause. But God did it out of love and Jesus taught us what true sacrifice is all about. But as I thought about that concept, and all that Jesus did while he was on earth, I realized that sacrifice can come in many different forms.

Over Easter Weekend, my wife and I rented a house in Lake Arrowhead and invited some of our family members. Unfortunately, my wife came down with a severe cold the day before we left (on top of her ongoing pulmonary issues) so she was really feeling weak and sick. But there she was anyway, cooking, cleaning, and showing everyone a good time. As impressive as that was, there was one small thing that she did that really highlighted her self-sacrificing nature. Despite being super sick, she made time to wash and style her Mom’s hair, which made her Mom super happy. I should probably mention that my wife’s Mom is suffering from a severe illness herself and has been for over a year, so she hasn’t had a lot to smile about. Anyway, it touched my heart to see my wife, as sick as she was, making the time and expending the love and energy to make someone else feel special. It may sound like a small thing, but it’s not. Every time we take some of our own time and energy to help someone else, even in the smallest way, we mimic Jesus… and that’s no small thing!

The world is made better not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, 
but also by the millions of tiny pushes of each and every faithful person.
~ Helen Keller