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Monday, December 11, 2017

It Was Me!

Have you ever had one of those days where everything goes wrong and people seem to be always in your way? Well, I had me one of those days last week… Friday was truly a doozy.

Problem number one. I had a lot going on and the first thing I had to do was to drive out to Murrieta to see my Mom who is terminally ill. But before I could even leave the house I noticed that the “Lilac Fire” in North San Diego County had closed Highway 76 and the 15 freeway, which was the route I planned to take.

Problem number two. I decided to take Ortega Highway instead, but 15 miles in I came to screeching halt due to construction. Turns out a section of the highway was collapsing and needed repair, so the delay lasted over 20 minutes. Of course, it seems like a lot longer when you’re in a hurry.

Problem number three. I stopped at my Mom’s old apartment in Murrieta to collect her mail and pick up her cable boxes so that I could return them to the cable company (she won’t be returning to that apartment). But I forgot the keys. I figured the Manager could help, but he was out of the office. Eventually, I tracked down the Maintenance Manager who helped me out, but it took a really long time to track him down.

Problem number four. When I arrived at the Time Warner Cable office, they informed me that my Mom also had a modem that needed to be returned. I didn’t think about that and now I’ll have to make a return trip.

Problem number five. My Mom wanted me to pick up some boxes of See’s Candies, so she could give them out as gifts to people who come to visit her. After standing in a long line, I realized as I went to pay that I had left my wallet in my car. By the time I got my wallet and got back, there were 5 more people ahead of me.

Problem number six. After finally getting back to Orange County, I was running late to pick up my wife at the Nordstrom’s Rack, and of course the parking lot was totally full. After making four laps around the entire lot I finally spotted an elderly man getting into his car. Never in my life have I seen anybody move so slow! This guy took at least a full 5 minutes to back up, going super slow, two feet at a time, constantly checking his mirrors. In fact, he was so slow, and so annoying, that I was tempted to get out of my truck and go back up his car for him. But then again, he wasn’t the one in a hurry, I was.

And that got me thinking… All day long I kept finding myself annoyed at the people and problems in my way. But I realize now the problems were not caused by the people around me. It was me that chose to go Ortega. It was me that left the keys at home. It was me that forgot my wallet, and it was me that was in too big a hurry when other people were taking time to enjoy their day. Realizing “It Was Me” all along made me laugh all the way home, despite the fact that the 5 freeway was of course packed full on a Friday afternoon.

Patience is something you admire in the driver 
behind you and scorn in the one ahead.
~ Mac McCleary

Monday, November 27, 2017

In Consideration

Several years ago, my oldest son sent me a card that I have always cherished. In fact, I use it as a bookmark in my Bible because in the card he wrote, “Your constant attempt to be a good person every day is a real inspiration to me.” That statement means a great deal to me for two reasons. First, it felt good to hear that I am setting a good example for my children and second, it serves as strong motivation for me to keep trying to be a good person every single day. Well…please don’t tell my son, but last week I blew it, big time!

I hate to say it, but I was totally and irreversibly inconsiderate to another human being. Let me explain. On Tuesday morning at 6am, I loaded my truck with two heavy pallets of steel base covers and then noticed my two back tires looked like they were half way flat. I decided to stop at the first gas station along my route to San Bernardino and it’s a good thing I did because they were both really low. However, as long as I was stopped, I thought I would go inside and get some snacks for the long road trip. When I got to the counter, I remembered I didn’t have any cash, but they had an ATM machine. So I got out of line and went to go get some quick cash. Then I got back in line which was now 5 people deep. It took forever but I finally paid and went back out to my truck. Then I thought I might as well check my front tires while I’m here. As soon as I bent down to start filling up a front tire a man came around the front of my truck and said, “Really! Are you serious! I’ve been waiting ever since you pulled in to get air for my fricking’ tires. How the hell much longer are you going to be?” I immediately realized my mistake and apologized over and over again, and then jumped in my truck and left feeling like dirt. That guy must have been waiting for at least 15 minutes or more, so I’m surprised he didn’t punch me in the nose!

Obviously, I didn’t do it on purpose. When I first pulled in I didn’t notice that another car had pulled in right next to me and was waiting for the machine. But the reason I didn’t notice is because I wasn’t paying attention to other people and the world around me like I should have been. Instead, I was totally wrapped up in my own self and my own needs. I felt really bad about what happened, because I constantly see other people being inconsiderate and acting unaware of their surroundings…and now I was truly one of them.

And that got me thinking… Being human, it’s hard for me not to mess up once in a while. So I came up with three things I can do when it happens. First, I can offer a sincere apology. Second, I can do my best to make it right. (Like instead of speeding away I could have given the guy an “In-N-Out” Card to make up for wasting his time.) Or if that’s not possible, then third, I could give extra consideration to a random stranger. So- in consideration of being stupidly inconsiderate - I went golfing the next day and gave out $20 tips to three different attendants with a note card that said, “Your constant attempt to give me good service every time I come here, is a real inspiration to me!” Maybe those note cards will make good bookmarks some day!

Being considerate of others will take your children 
farther in life than any college degree. 
~ Marian Wright Edelman

Monday, November 20, 2017

GG's Thanksgiving

In October, my wife and I went to Kauai for a long awaited two-week vacation. We’ve never been more relaxed, happy or thankful as we were during that time. As we laid out in the warm tropical sun with the beautiful blue ocean right in front of us, we talked about how good life was at that moment. Our family was healthy, and our relationship was stronger than ever. So, we had a lot to be thankful for… until we got home.
As soon as we got back, bad news struck. My 83-year old Mom was rushed to the hospital due to multiple health issues. She was diagnosed with severe COPD, congestive heart failure, pneumonia and failing kidneys. The doctor gave her only days to live, so I have been driving out to Murrieta every day to be at the hospital by her side. She is so frail she can’t even move her arms to hug me, so I make sure I hug her… a lot. But there’s one thing about my Mom, she’s always been really strong, and she became even stronger when my Dad passed away in 2001. For the past 16 years her strength has helped her to make a good life on her own, while she has helped her family and her many close friends have a good life as well.

My Mom’s favorite thing in life has always been celebrating holidays. I have never met anyone who has more Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations than my Mom. Even now, she has a huge mini-storage unit packed with decorations, which she refers to as “treasures”. It was always so much fun to visit her because she would totally deck out her house with those beautiful decorations and treat her guests to great home style southern cooking as well. Therefore, the house would always be packed with loving family members who affectionately refer to her as “GG”, greatest grandma ever! So I will truly miss those times, especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner.

And that got me thinking… Looking back on our Kauai vacation, I can see how easy it was to be thankful when everything was going right. Being thankful is easy when you have a lot to be thankful for. The hard thing to do, is to be thankful when things are not going so well. For example, it’s really hard to be thankful when you’re holding the hand of someone you love, and you know you might be holding it for the very last time. As strong as she is, I don’t know if GG will be here for this coming Thanksgiving celebration. But one thing I do know… because of all she gave to others throughout her life, she will always be a treasure to me!  
Joan "GG" Thrailkill, circa 1952
We can only be said to be alive…  
in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
~ Thorton Wilder

Monday, November 6, 2017

Give Me A Break

I’ve been living in a small beach house right on the sand for over 5 years now and I absolutely love it. It’s such a beautiful place to live, but there is one strange thing that happens here that probably doesn’t happen as often at other beaches along our coast line. The sand will be smooth and shining and totally inviting one day and then the next day millions of rocks show up out of nowhere, completely covering the warm soft sand, making it super difficult and painful to get to the water. A day or two later, they are gone.

Some people have told me that the rocks don’t just “show up”. They say that the ocean occasionally churns up a ton of sand, washing it onto the beach, which then covers up the rocks, and then the sand washes back out. Well, that’s not true because I’ve seen the rocks washing in and heard them clanking up onto the shore many times. The rocks come and they go and yet there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it.

On Friday evening I witnessed a perfect beach scene. The sand along the shore was totally pristine white and the ocean was so blue and calm that I figured I would get up early and take my paddleboard out for a ride. However, when I woke up the next morning, the sand was once again completely covered by rocks and all I could do was mutter under my breath, “Oh, give me a break!” I was really looking forward to paddle-boarding, but walking over the rocks and then getting slammed by the smaller stones as I waded out in the water made me turn around and hang my board back up.

As I went back into the house, I thought about what I had just asked for, “Give me a break.” Then I paused to ponder, who was I talking to? Was I asking the ocean to give me a break? The ocean doesn’t have ears. Was I talking to the plucky pelicans who were resting nearby on the top of the water? They have ears but I doubt they can understand me. Or was I asking God to give me a break? He has ears to hear and He understands, but I hope He wasn’t listening to me because I wouldn’t want Him to think I was complaining, especially since most of the time the beach, the water, the sand, and my life are pretty darn perfect.

So why was I angry and complaining and asking for a break when I shouldn’t be? I’ll tell you why. Because I’m a stupid, selfish human being who gets frustrated when things aren’t exactly the way I want them to be. I don’t just get frustrated with the ocean, I get frustrated with my fellow man as well. But yet how many times in my life have I asked other people to give me a break because I messed up and didn’t do something the way they wanted it done? Lots of times, for sure!

And that got me thinking… What would the world be like, if everyone gave everyone else the break they hope to receive?

Sometimes life can be pretty smooth...

And sometimes life can be a little rocky!

If a small thing has the power to make you angry, does that not indicate something about your size?
~ Sydney J. Harris

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Black Beanie

In October of 1990 I owned a small lighting maintenance company called “Sundown Lighting”. The company was starting to grow and we picked up some commercial shopping center contracts, but the contracts required us to service tall parking lot light poles. The only problem was that we didn’t own a Boom Truck that could reach tall poles. So I made the decision to take out a loan and buy one and I actually got lucky because I found out that Carmenita Ford had a great deal on a new Ford F450 Dura-Lift Boom Truck. They had been using it as a demonstrator and it only had 10,000 miles on it, but unfortunately at that time it was parked in Denver at a truck show. If I wanted it, I would have to fly there and drive it back. However, the Ford Sales Rep told me to hurry because winter was on its way!

When I got to Denver the truck was perfect and just what we needed. I filled it up with Diesel fuel and headed out, but within an hour the snow began to fall. Within two hours I was stuck in a blinding snowstorm at the top of Vail Pass. I waited a long time and eventually a snowplow showed up and I was able to follow slowly behind it. When we reached the summit, I glanced over and through the heavy white mist I saw a large 18-wheel truck stopped on the side of the highway. About 50 yards in front of the truck was a man dressed in a dark coat with a black beanie pulled tightly over his head. I figured his truck must have broken down so I pulled over and asked him if he needed help. He said “Yeah” and jumped in I asked him, “What happened to your truck?” His answer caught me off guard when he replied, “That’s not my truck.”

As we rode along together I was kind of spooked. I kept thinking, what is this guy doing in a snowstorm with no car, no food, and no water, just a black coat and a beanie? I tried to start a conversation several times but he didn’t say much, just that he was an out of work carpenter headed for Salt Lake City. He said he heard that there might be work there, but other than that he barely spoke at all. When I asked him if he had family in Utah, he said, “No family.” I began to have some crazy thoughts. How did this guy get to the top of Vail Pass in a heavy snowstorm on foot? Why was he traveling with no backpack or supplies? And what happened to the driver of that 18-wheeler on the side of the road?

After traveling for about four more hours along a section of Hwy 70, I spotted a gas station and a Wendy’s Restaurant. As we pulled up I asked the stranger if he wanted something to eat. He grunted, “No,” but I knew he had to be hungry, so I went inside and ordered two double cheeseburger meals and brought them back to the truck. As we pulled back out on the highway, I think he said, “Thanks,” but it was only a faint whisper that I could barely hear.

Soon we came to the intersection of Hwy 70 and 15, where my journey would take me south. All of a sudden he said, “Stop here!” It was late in the day and the sun was going down, plus it was cold out and we were in the middle of the desert, so I asked him, “Are you sure you want to get out here? If you want to keep riding along for a while, I’d be willing to get you a motel room.” The stranger just kept his head down and never responded, so I pulled over. As he started to get out of the truck I grabbed his arm and stuck a fifty-dollar bill in his hand and with a slight nod of his head, he turned away and jumped out of my truck, slamming the door. I kept thinking he’s going freeze to death out there, but I didn’t know what else to do. So I put the truck in gear, made a quick U-turn, and looked out the window to wave goodbye.

That’s when it got really spooky. The stranger was nowhere to be seen! Even though we were in the middle of the desert, with no trees and not even a cactus to hide behind, the stranger was gone! He vanished in less than 20 seconds and it totally freaked me out. “Where’d he go? What happened to him?” I even began to think maybe he climbed onto the back of my truck and was hiding out, waiting to jump me and rob me when I stopped again. I guess I was just being paranoid but I also began to wonder, “Did I really did just spend 6 hours with a mysterious stranger in a black beanie, who barely spoke, and then disappeared into thin air? What was that all about?”

When I finally did pull over at a Motel 6 about an hour later, I was still freaked out. So I climbed slowly out of the truck, walked around the back, and peered in to see if the stranger was hiding in the back of my truck or something. Fortunately, he wasn’t, so I guess I felt relief, but I also couldn’t stop wondering what happened to him. It was then that I decided to call my office and let them know that I had picked up the truck and was safely down the mountain. Boy did I get a funny surprise! My Office Manager told me she had finally decided on the perfect gift we should get our customers as a promotional item for the upcoming Christmas Season… Black Beanies with our Sundown Logo on them!

There are so many lessons I can learn from that experience. But maybe the most important lesson is that wherever I go and whatever I do, I am always operating for an audience of One. No matter if I’m at home or at work, or in a snowstorm in Colorado, or even on a remote highway in the desert, I need to remember that God is always watching me. So I should always do my best to serve others…. even if it’s a scary ghost in a black beanie!
Sundown Lighting's Promotional Black Beanie

One of the most beautiful compensations of this life is 
that you cannot sincerely try to help another…  
without helping yourself.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Walk The Walk

I’m pretty sure that most of us have experienced a bad neighbor at some time in our life. We’ve certainly had our share and unfortunately, we currently have a bad neighbor where we live now. For the past five years she has consistently caused us problems, so we refer to her as the “crazy lady” next door. By the way, that’s the same description the sheriff uses every time he has to deal with her.

And when I say crazy, I’m not exaggerating. She has an extremely loud voice and loves to drink and party all night on the beach. But mostly she loves to be the center of attention. My wife and I try our best to ignore her, so maybe that’s why she doesn’t like us and keeps trying to make us want to move. Whatever the reason, here is just a short list of some of the “crazy lady” things we have had to deal with.

·         She tore down our mailbox and our neighbor’s mailbox in a drunken rage one evening.
·         She knocked over a temporary fence we had installed, but managed somehow not to spill her drink.
·         She likes to party late into the evening and sing along with loud Hispanic music, which wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t singing so off key.
·         She doesn’t like me to park in front of my own house because it makes it slightly harder for her to turn into her driveway, so earlier this year she took her electric golf cart and creased the whole side of my truck with it.
·         Two months ago, we brought home some giant pink balloons from our daughter’s wedding shower and tied them out on our beach area. They were gently swaying in the breeze when we went inside to eat lunch. When we came back out, they had both been mysteriously popped.
·         And most recently, she broke off all the branches on the single beautiful Jade Tree we have in our front yard. I’m not sure what the Jade Tree did wrong, but maybe it simply forgot to applaud as she walked by.

So… If you’re wondering why we don’t just move away, there are several reasons. For example, we love living at the beach, we love our landlord, and we love all of our other awesome neighbors who help offset the single bad one. But you may also be wondering why we don’t retaliate. Well, the truth is we have thought about it and come up with a lot of clever ideas, but we can’t act on any of them because we’re trying to be good Christians. So, what can we do? We can be thankful! I know, now you think I’m the crazy one! But think about it. This “crazy lady” is giving us a chance every month to show God that we can pass His test, that we can actually walk the walk (just so long as we don’t walk into her yard), and that we understand what it means to turn the other cheek. We won’t stoop to her level (although I did stand on a ladder yesterday to install security cameras) and we won’t complain about it anymore (mainly because it doesn’t change anything anyway), but we will do something from now on every time we see her. We will walk the walk… and we might even applaud!

Prayer is when you talk to God. 
Faith is when you walk with God.
~ Anonymous

Monday, October 2, 2017

Give and Take

My wife and I are currently vacationing in Kauai and enjoying all that the island has to offer. The house we rented is perched out on a bluff with a gorgeous 280-degree view of the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean. As I sit here at the kitchen table typing this new Monday Message, I can see giant sea turtles swimming down below in the cove, gecko’s crawling outside on the deck, white tailed Tropicbirds flying overhead and lizards and frogs jumping around out by the rocks surrounding the pool. This place must be close to the center of Mother Nature’s universe because besides all the wonderful wildlife, we are also surrounded by lush green trees, beautifully colored plants and brilliant rainbows.

Having grown up on a ranch in Fallbrook, I’ve always had a love for nature, especially animals. But when I heard my wife scream as she stepped into the pool, I knew there must be some kind of deadly critter in the water. She screamed again and I said, “What is it?” She didn’t answer at first, she just pointed at the tiniest, cutest little frog I have ever seen and then shouted, “I think it’s dead!” I had to laugh because a miniature frog is not exactly a deadly creature, but apparently my wife doesn’t like frogs, especially dead ones floating in the pool.

The funny thing is, the frog wasn’t dead. Granted, he was floating upside down on the surface of the water, so he looked like he had drowned. But when I went to scoop him up he popped himself right side up on my hand and started moving around. He looked straight up at me and crawled out to the end of my finger. The little guy was smaller than my fingernail, but big on personality. I think he liked hanging out with me because he appeared to be smiling as I took him in the house with me to get my phone. And when I took him back outside to take his picture, he never once tried to jump away.

That tiny little toad and I had a good time hanging out together for at least 10 minutes. But then I wanted to return him to the wild, so I took him to the back side of the pool and set him on a lava rock. In less time than it took for me to stand back up, a large alligator lizard leaped onto the rock and chomped straight down on my new best friend. Now I was the one that felt like screaming. It was horrible to watch as that lousy lizard slowly munched my little buddy down his big fat throat. I swear that stupid lizard was smiling at me and I could just imagine what he was thinking, “Dude, thanks for lunch!”

I know that God designed our world in His infinite wisdom, and that this earth is designed “to give” and “to take”, and I appreciate the beauty and the wonder of it all. But sometimes… the “take” part is just kind of hard to take! 

Goodbyes are not forever.
Goodbyes are not the end.
They simply mean I’ll miss you.
Until we meet again!