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Monday, February 25, 2013

Our Own Personal Economy

Last week I offered one of my employees a promotion to a new position. This new job will enable him to potentially make a lot more money, which is a good thing because he is engaged and just now starting his own family. It felt good to reward his hard work and in a lot of ways he reminded me of myself when I was young. But it also got me thinking about how different things are now for young people who are just starting out and families in general.
This is a time when our nation’s poor economy is causing major problems for everyone. Businesses all over the country are failing and it’s the same for millions of households as well. Short sales, foreclosures and bankruptcies are commonplace and families struggle to afford the bare necessities. It’s been going on for years and has truly taken a toll on the backbone of our country, which is small business, and therefore it’s tearing at the basic fabric of the American family.
Our business has struggled at times as well, but fortunately our employees are awesome. Bonding together during tough times we have put in so much extra effort that our company grew 15% last year despite a flat economy. However, our typical employee (myself included) starts before 7:00am and doesn’t leave until long after the sun sets. The results have been excellent, but is that due to hard work or simply God’s blessings? Honestly, I believe it’s both because I don’t believe we were put on this earth to sit on our hands. We have to get up, get out there and honor God daily with hard work and honest effort. If we do, we will reap great rewards over time!
But there’s something else I think we need to do. We need to pay attention to our own “Personal Economy”.  I didn’t understand this concept when I was younger. I wanted to own a big house, fancy cars and all kinds of material things but I paid a price for those shallow desires, I went into major debt. That personal debt was like a huge barbell sitting squarely on my shoulders and believe me, it was a huge pain in the neck! Fortunately I worked hard and made all the payments on time, but at what cost? Sleepless nights, an overbearing work load and acid indigestion were the norm.
Last year however, with our four kids grown and doing well, we decided to make a radical life style change. We sold our big house, gave away most of our possessions, scaled down to one vehicle and rented a very small beach house. We got rid of the material things that had weighed us down for so long and discovered something wonderful, freedom from debt! With the lightening of our load, we enlightened our outlook and discovered a new level of happiness we had never known before, one where money was not the focus and stress was not the norm!

After a visit to the beach, it's hard to believe
  that we live in a material world. ~Pam Shaw
Obviously, everyone wants to have nice things and to be able to provide the best possible life for their children. And there’s definitely nothing wrong with that. But one thing I hope I can provide for my children (and my employees) before I’m gone… is the lesson that you don’t need material things to be happy. A poor national economy doesn’t mean you have to have a poor “personal economy”.  To live well… all you have to do is live within your means!
It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook
often groans more loudly than an empty stomach.
                     ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Monday, February 18, 2013

Love Light

Last Thursday was Valentine’s Day and things didn’t exactly go as planned. Instead of showing my wife I loved her with flowers and gifts, I showed her what an idiot I can be at times. But fortunately, I learned a very important lesson…Love is, above all else, the gift of oneself!
The day started out great. We ate breakfast and then drove to work together as we always do. We even stopped along the way and bought flowers for the girls at our office. But sometimes things don’t always go right at work and a phone call from a customer with a “concern about billing” really upset my wife. It wasn’t their request for her to do a lot of extra work that upset her. What upset her was that she had already been doing all of that extra work for many months, and they didn’t realize it nor appreciate it. In fact they implied she wasn’t doing a good job and nothing could have been further from the truth. I have rarely seen her so upset and frustrated.
Of course, being the genius that I am, I showed a complete lack of understanding and made things a whole lot worse by telling her she was wrong to get upset about it. She wasn’t wrong to be upset about it, she just needed someone to talk to who would listen… and I failed. I failed to give her what she needed when she needed it most. She got mad at me and I don’t blame her. But I got mad back at her and that was really wrong. What an idiot I can be!
After a really difficult work day we skipped going out to dinner and drove straight home. We were both tired so we decided to take a shower to wash away the problems of the day. I got done first and put on my best looking jeans, a fancy shirt and a dab of cologne thinking maybe if I look and smell my best she will forgive me. She was taking a really long time to get ready so I decided to go for a short walk on the beach. I grabbed a cold beer and a cigar and headed down by the water. (I rarely smoke cigars or drink beer during the week, but since I made so many other mistakes already that day, what was a couple more!)
It was a beautiful night and as I neared our home I looked up to see a huge crescent moon and what seemed like a million stars. It reminded me that I needed to ask God to forgive me as well as my wife. Just then I smacked into a brick fire ring and my drink went flying all over me, my cigar went flying, and I fell face first onto the ground. When I stood up, my face was covered with wet sand, my shirt was ruined and my cigar was missing completely. Now, I not only felt like an idiot….I looked like an idiot!
I glanced once again towards the heavens and began to laugh out loud. God, you’re trying to tell me something aren’t you. You’re trying to tell me I can’t show my wife my love for her by how I look….I need to show it by how I act!
Candle Light, Moon Light, Star Light.
The brightest glow is from Love Light.
                                                                                  ~ Grey Livingston                                                             

Monday, February 11, 2013

Every Person Tells A Story

There’s a line in a Rod Stewart song, “Every picture tells a story”. Well, there’s a line in this story too….”Every person tells a story”….if we just care enough to listen.
My wife and I have been working together in the same business for many years. Operating a small business is never easy, so one of our long term traditions is to go to lunch together as often as possible. It’s our quiet time together to talk, laugh, share problems or plan our next adventure.
We go to all the usual Mexican restaurants and pizza parlors, but we also look for places that have something special about them besides just good food. Last Thursday we were really busy and didn’t have much time for lunch, so we went to one of our favorite places close to our office called Schlotzky’s Deli. The owner, Ali Neaimi-Pour, greeted us with a smile as he always does. We ordered our food and asked the usual, “How’s it going?” But his response caught me off guard, “Not so good, but I keep praying!” I answered back with, “Well, that’s good, because prayer works.” We didn’t have a lot of time, so we ate our lunch and hurried back to work.
Schlotzky's Deli on Lake Forest Drive
For the rest of the day I couldn’t get Ali’s comment off my mind. On Saturday I had to drive down to my office for some paperwork, so I made it a point to stop by Schlotzkys. I walked in and ordered one of their great sandwiches and then paused to ask Ali a question. “The other day, you mentioned you were praying. Is everything okay?” Ali didn’t complain or go into detail. He just mentioned that his business was struggling because so many other businesses in his retail center have failed due to the poor economy. Fewer stores and fewer restaurants mean fewer overall customers. I’ve noticed that problem with a lot of retail centers and I can only imagine how much harder it makes it on the businesses that stay put, trying to survive. I’ve also noticed how hard Ali and his wife, Mina, work every single day to make their business successful and how positive Ali always is…. constantly smiling…. and apparently constantly praying.
I couldn’t help it I just had to ask Ali what faith he was. Ali told me he was Muslim all his life. However, he said he converted to Christianity after moving to the United States and opening his restaurant about 10 years ago. He told me in a very matter of fact way, “I met Jesus when I moved here”. (That has to be a good story in and of itself!) His wife Mina has also converted to Christianity and they are raising three wonderful children together, Amir who is 27, Ayda who is 21 and attending college and little Nicholas who is only 9. So here we have a foreign born couple who immigrated to the United States to be able to start own business and raise a family. And oh yeah, along the way they “met Jesus”.
That’s such a great story…. and I know for a fact that there is a great story in every single person we meet…. if we just care enough to listen.
Ali's smile!
If we could all hear one another's prayers, God might be relieved of some of his burdens.
                                                                                                      ~Ashleigh Brilliant


Monday, February 4, 2013

The Value of Friendship

Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday and since I’m a huge sports fan and my wife loves to cook, we usually invite lots of people over and have a party. But this year, because our beach house is so small, we could only invite a small group. We also join in with our friends and put money in a Super Bowl Pool every year, in the hope that one of us will win the “Grand Prize”.
One of the people we invited is a very close friend named Chris, who has been a good friend of mine for over 35 years. Chris is one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back. Every time we get together he is always helping me fix something and it doesn’t hurt that he’s really good at it, one of those MacGyver types. He is kind and considerate and backs it up with action. I think a big part of our friendship is that I know I can trust him and he knows he can trust me. The fact that we have been doing business together all these years, as well as being friends, just emphasizes the trust factor.

Another long term friend, who is also a business associate of mine, is named Gary. Last week Gary and I met for lunch and he handed me a check for $600.00. That’s pretty nice because I always like getting unexpected money. But what’s really great is that he was returning an overpayment that our company had mistakenly sent him. He didn’t have to return the money because I doubt we would have ever caught the mistake, but he did. Gary is one of the good guys, a hard worker, a solid businessman and a truly honest person. And I am proud to say that we have been loyal friends for more than 38 years.

Someone once said, “It takes a long time to grow a real friend”. I definitely agree with that. Real friendships don’t happen overnight. Fortunately I realize that, so I try hard to never take them for granted. I make it a point to stay in touch and reach out to them so they know I care about them. Many times in my life I have been disappointed by people who I thought were my friends, so when I know I have a true friend, I make sure to treat them right.  

So let me ask you a question. What value do you place on friendship? I’m not talking about the “Facebook Friends” you might have, not that there is anything wrong with Facebook. It can be another great way to stay in touch. Just make sure it’s not the only way you stay in touch. What I’m really talking about is the value of a true friend, someone you have known for many years, someone you know you can totally count on when you need them. If you think about the value of that friendship, maybe you have already won….. “The Grand Prize”!


Friendship isn't a big thing - it's a million little things.  ~Anonymous