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Monday, September 18, 2017

Lift Your Head (by Debby Thrailkill)

Sometimes I feel as if I am riding on top of Jesus’s shoulders as he carries me along the trail of life. Sure, that is a bold statement (and I’m tempted to knock on wood), but I know He is with me and my life is good. However, it’s not as if I don’t have struggles, we all do. I suffer with ongoing migraines and back pain, many of my loved ones have health concerns, and too many have passed away recently. Plus, the stress of surviving in the chaos that is OC is ever present. Yet I strive to be as positive and happy as I can be because blessings abound everywhere I go.

Many times, I will rush through my day, deep in my own thoughts while out in public. I hurriedly keep my head down, anxious to get everything done and head back home while avoiding interaction with others. And it occurred to me that in those moments, I can have a profound effect on others. In fact, our daily interactions with people can make a difference and sometimes we can be a blessing to others without even realizing it. Being aware of that is the first step!

For example, when our kids were growing up, we attended church quite often. But I was always busy with our four kids, getting them situated and finding a seat next to my husband. I hoped to blend in, listen to the sermon, and get on with our day. But then one day a lovely lady, dressed very elegantly and with a soft voice, pulled me aside and welcomed me. She inquired if we were new and introduced herself warmly. On further visits, she always smiled and took time to visit with me. Even though we never knew each other outside of church, she made me feel welcome… and that truly made a lasting impact on me! I started making it a point that when I was out in a similar situation, I would be welcoming to someone else. I’ve always remembered her grace, and I was saddened to learn recently that she is suffering with ALS. I have her in my prayers now, just as she always included me in hers.

I have a friend who recounts a similarly impactful story. She recently volunteered to lead Vacation Bible School for Foothills Church in RSM and she shared with me how she would be nervous when she was up on the stage, acting and telling a story to the children who were intently watching and listening below. She would smile as she found herself becoming larger than life (out of her comfort zone) in order to entertain and inspire the kids. Afterwards, at a women’s retreat, ladies were encouraged to write anonymous notes to one another. When my friend opened a note left for her it read, “You are the reason I am here.”. It went on to say, “You’ve been a blessing to my family and our son was so touched by you at the VBS he attended, that he encouraged our family to start attending church together.”

As the summer turns to fall and the busy holiday season comes upon us, I encourage you to reach out of your comfort zone. All you have to do is lift your head to realize that your interactions with strangers are just as important to Jesus as your interactions with your loved ones. You can change the lives of others with a simple act of kindness, a friendly smile, or even a simple word of encouragement. Our lives are larger than we think. Just as we are carried when we need it, our thoughtful interactions might just help us carry someone else on our shoulders when they need it.

Even the most routine part of your day can be a 
spiritual act of worship, holy and pleasing to Me.
~ Romans 12:1-2

Monday, September 4, 2017

Appetizer Moments

We have a huge family that’s very close, so we get together a lot to celebrate. It might be a birthday, a wedding, or a holiday, but whatever the occasion there’s always good food to be had. That’s because there are a lot of “foodies” in our family, but unfortunately, I am not one of them. The only thing I can cook is scrambled eggs and it took me several years to learn how not to burn them into oblivion. So I’m often selected to help with the appetizers, instead of the entrĂ©e, and I kind of like that role.

Last week we celebrated my oldest son’s 34th birthday at our Beach House and the whole family turned out. To make it extra fun (and because my son is a huge fan of the show) we set up 3 tents on the beach with a super long table and decorated everywhere with “Game of Thrones” paraphernalia. A lot of people came in costume true to the show and of course we needed food that would be true to the show as well. My job was to barbecue a combination of mini-meats as appetizers, so I cooked up some of those awesome little smoky sausages and miniature veal wieners and used wooden skewers so you could easily munch “meat on a stick” and not even need a plate. I think they were a big hit, but to be honest, they were just a small sampling of the awesome food to come. The main course included Kibbeh, which is a classic Middle Eastern dish made of bulgur wheat, pine nuts, minced onions, and Levantine spices mixed into finely ground lamb (or you can use camel meat if you really want to go uber classic). Kibbeh is something we only make for special occasions (because it’s so labor intensive) but it is absolutely delicious beyond description.

Creating appetizers as a taste of something awesome to come… got me thinking. We experience a lot of “appetizers” during our lifetime. Small moments of joy when time stops and heaven blooms right in front of us. I’m not sure I’ve noticed all of the appetizer moments in my life, but looking back I can see them now.
·         I remember the smile on my Dad’s face when I was 6 years old and I peddled my bicycle in front of our tiny little house in Memphis for the very first time.
·         I remember the pounding of my heart as my dog and I slid together on a big piece of cardboard down a very steep dew-covered grassy hill in the avocado groves of Southern California when I was 10.
·         I don’t remember the first time I ever kissed a girl, but I do remember being about 14 when a girl kissed me for the very first time… and I thought I was going to pass out.
·         And I remember how stunningly beautiful my wife looked as she came down the aisle at our wedding, truly a foretaste of what angels must look like.

Appetizer moments happen all the time and they don’t always come from the kitchen. Sometimes they come from heaven!

I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. 
There was such a glory over everything. 
The sun came up like gold through the trees, 
and I felt like I was in heaven.
~ Harriet Tubman

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