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Monday, March 25, 2013

A Test of Faith

You will never know how strong your faith is… until you are tested. I know this is true because I was tested last summer and it absolutely changed my life forever. Let me start from the beginning.
I have read my Max Lucado Study Bible every morning for the past three years. I only read for 10 or 15 minutes and I certainly don’t understand everything I read, but it helps me to start my day out right and keep my focus on God. On that particular Friday morning in June, I didn’t read my Bible. I’m not sure why, but that act (or lack of action) turned out to be extremely prophetic.
Around noon that day I was at a busy retail center in Irvine trying to park near a bank. The parking lot was extremely crowded with cars coming and going so I had to wait a while for a spot to open up. When one did, I could see that the car coming towards me wanted that spot so I waived him in. But he politely waived back for me to take it instead. I said thanks, turned my wheel and hit the gas. In less than a single second I smashed into something and saw a small body going down hard under the front of my truck. When I got out, my left front tire was completely on top of her tiny little legs, so I had to jump back in and back off of her. My heart was racing out of control and my mind was unable to comprehend or believe what had just happened.
The man in the other car called 911 and I placed a blanket over her and told her not to move. I asked her if she had any family I could call, but she was so frightened and hurt she couldn’t speak. I held on to her and told her I was so sorry that I didn’t see her. An ambulance was there within minutes and so was a motorcycle officer. As the ambulance drove away I broke down, traumatized out of mind. The police officer put his arm around me and kept telling me to remember that it was just an accident, and that accidents sometimes happen even when we are being careful.
When I arrived at the hospital I found out her name was Pao Chi Chen. She was tiny, less than four feet tall and 85 years old, so I knew this accident would be life threatening. But as incredible as it seems, neither one of her legs were broken. She had fractures in one foot and the skin was torn from both legs, so they had to move her to the UCI Burn Center where she could receive skin grafts. But wherever they took her, I followed and I continued to visit her constantly. Every few days I would go to the hospital to see how she was doing. The potential for infection and other problems was huge so I prayed hard every day for her to live, to recover fully, and to be able to walk again.

UCI Irvine Medical Center

During all the visits I made to the hospital, Mrs. Chen never once had a harsh word for me. And neither did her family. They were unbelievably gracious and understanding. Over time we began to grow very close. I took her flowers, books and magazines and often read to her. In return she would tell me about her amazing life. She was born in 1928 in Shang Hai China, lost her parents when she was young, fled on foot over 2,000 miles to escape communism, traveled by boat to Paris, France where she became an extremely accomplished artist, exhibited her paintings in seven countries and learned to speak four languages. This is one amazing woman! She is a Buddhist and I am a Christian, so we often have the most incredible philosophical conversations about faith, family, God and love.

It has been 9 months since the accident and I still visit Mrs. Chen every single week. She is 86 now and fully recovered but she is scared to go for walks on her own. So I take her for walks myself around Woodbridge Lake in Irvine and I stay close to her so no crazy drivers will run her over again. (I joke about it but the truth is…I don’t want anything bad to ever happen to her ever again!) In case you’re wondering about the reason I continue to visit Mrs. Chen, it is not because I feel guilty, it is because I care about her very much and enjoy her company. We might seem like an odd couple, but we are truly best friends.

Looking back on this incident, I can see that God was involved every step of the way. Maybe He was testing my faith, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I made a huge mistake and needed God’s help… and because I kept my faith in Him and trusted Him, He came through for me. He made sure Mrs. Chen’s legs were not broken, He answered my prayers that she would be fully healed and He also answered my prayers that I be forgiven.

He also made sure I got His message. Remember how I mentioned I didn’t read my Bible the day of the accident. Well I did read it when I got home that later that evening and here is what it said,

“With God there are no accidents.
There are only incidents which are designed to draw us closer to Him.”
                                               ~ Max Lucado Study Bible, 2 Samuel 12:19, Page 408

  Pao Chi Chen at Woodbridge Lake - March 22, 2013


Monday, March 18, 2013

The Smell of Rain

Last week was an absolutely crazy week for me. My business is booming, which I am extremely grateful for, but we’re short on employees and long on work that needs to get done. I don’t think I slept more than 5 hours a night and often laid awake worrying about making sure we always give our customers great service. On top of that I had a ton of personal commitments I had to honor as well. So….by Sunday I still hadn’t written a Monday Message for this week.
But when I arrived at the hospital on Sunday afternoon my outlook totally changed. I got to see our brand new baby Granddaughter, Penelope Grace, born just hours before. There is something about a beautiful brand new infant child that just touches your heart in a special way. It reminded of what I have always known to be true… babies are God’s best idea!
So....I’m sorry I don’t have a Monday Message this week, but I can tell you a very cool story about a baby girl that will perhaps touch your heart the way Penelope Grace touched mine. It’s called “The Smell of Rain”. Check it out below……
Penelope Grace....4 Hours Old!
With every new child the world begins again.  
                                                                                          ~ Henry David Thoreau

A cold March wind danced around the dead of night in Dallas as David Blessing walked into the small hospital room where his wife, Diana Blessing, was still groggy from surgery. He held her hand as they braced for the bad news. Due to complications, Diana only 24 weeks pregnant had just given birth to a tiny premature baby girl, only 12 inches long and weighing less than two pounds.

The doctor's soft words dropped like bombs. “I don't think she's going to make it”, he said. "There's only a 10% percent chance she will live through the night, and even if she does make it, her future could be a very cruel one." Numb with disbelief, David and Diana listened as the doctor described the probably future for their precious child, Danae. She would never walk, never talk, and probably be blind and prone to cerebral palsy as well. "No! No!" was all Diana could say. She and David had long dreamed of the day they would have a daughter but within a matter of hours, that dream was slipping away.
Through the dark morning hours as Danae held onto life by the thinnest thread, Diana grew more and more determined that their tiny daughter would live and be a healthy, happy young girl. But David, fully awake and listening to additional dire details of their daughter's chances of survival, knew he must confront his wife with the inevitable. David walked in and said that we needed to talk about making funeral arrangements. Diana remembers, “I felt so bad for him because he was doing everything, trying to include me in what was going on, but I just wouldn't listen, I couldn't listen. I said, "No. That is not going to happen.”
Willed to live by Diana's determination, Danae clung to life with the help of every medical machine and marvel her miniature body could endure. But as those first days passed, a new agony set in for her parents. Because Danae's under-developed nervous system was essentially raw, the lightest kiss or caress only intensified her discomfort, so they couldn't even cradle their tiny baby girl against their chests to offer the strength of their love. All they could do, as Danae struggled alone beneath the ultraviolet light in the tangle of tubes and wires, was to pray that God would stay ever so close to their precious little girl.
As the weeks went by, she slowly and miraculously gained an ounce of weight here and an ounce of strength there. At last, when Danae turned two months old, her parents were able to hold her in their arms for the very first time. Two months later, though doctors continued to warn that her chances of surviving and living any kind of normal life were next to zero, Danae went home from the hospital, just as Diana had predicted.

Today, five years later, Danae is a petite but feisty young girl with glittering eyes and an unquenchable zest for life. She shows no signs, what so ever, of any mental or physical impairment. Simply put, she is everything a little girl can be and more, but that happy ending is far from the end of her story.

One hot afternoon in the summer of 1996, Danae was sitting in her mother's lap in the bleachers where her brother's baseball team was practicing. As always, Danae was chattering non-stop with her mother when she suddenly fell silent. Hugging her arms across her chest, Danae asked, "Do you smell that?" Smelling the air and detecting the approach of a thunderstorm, Diana replied, "Yes, it smells like rain." Danae closed her eyes and again asked, "Do you smell that?" Once again, her mother replied, "Yes, I think we're about to get wet. It smells like rain.” Still caught in the moment, Danae shook her head, patted her thin chest with her small hands and loudly announced, "No, it smells like Him. It smells like God when you lay your head on His chest." Tears blurred Diana's eyes as Danae then hopped down to go play with the other children.

Before the rains came, her daughter's words confirmed what Diana and all the members of the extended Blessing family had known, at least in their hearts, all along. During those long days and nights of her first two months of her life, when her nerves were too sensitive for them to touch her, God was holding Danae on His chest and it is His loving scent that she remembers so well!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Focus On The Family

We don’t get to choose our families, but remember, they don’t get to choose us either. We can however…. choose how we treat them!

On Saturday my wife and I traveled to San Diego to have some fun and visit a few relatives. Our first stop was to see my wife’s Aunt Clara who is 95 years old. She lives in the same beautiful little house in Point Loma that she has lived in for over 50 years. Her husband died many years ago and sadly, both her children have passed away as well. Clara is sweet and kind and still sharp as a tack. You might say that the only problem with Clara is that she has lost most of her sight….except that I am pretty sure that she was still really happy to “see” us.
Later that evening we met more relatives at an Italian Restaurant in San Diego for dinner. These were relatives from my side of the family and they are all people that I love, especially my Uncle Earl who is 85 years old. Earl was a salesman most of his life, yet he was also so much more. He traveled all over the world, hunting, fishing and exploring, meeting interesting people and leading a most interesting life. You could always count on Earl for a great story and a great laugh. You might say that the only problem with Earl is that he has begun to lose his memory…except that I am pretty sure that he “remembered” who I am because he managed to tell some pretty funny stories about my cousins, Gordon, Tommy and I, getting into trouble when we were kids.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that God never intended for us to struggle through life alone. He gave us family for a reason and we have to take care of each other. It’s kind of like taking care of plants. If we treat them right, talk nicely to them, sprinkle a few tears on them once in a while to water them and maybe add in a little manure for laughter, they will grow and flourish. Granted some family members can be a real pain, but the ones that truly love us….need to know that we love them back!

Joe, Tommy, Gordon & Earl

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.  
                                                                                                  ~ Desmond Tutu

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lemonade Lessons

I had two surprising interactions with people last week. Both of those interactions left me realizing once again how important it is to develop the right perspective in life…even when life gives you lemons.
On Thursday our company had the opportunity to attend an extremely important function. After six months of preparation, this was our chance to speak at a huge corporate gathering in front of hundreds of potential customers. Our time slot was 2:45pm and beforehand we polished our presentation until we made sure we were totally prepared. However, upon arrival people were leaving the banquet room because the event had already ended. The corporation had accidentally told us 2:45pm when they really meant 1:45pm.
We were too late to make our presentation and missed out on a great opportunity. So when I heard the news I was really upset and disappointed…that is until I met up with my Sales Manager. He had a different perspective. He said, “Don’t worry, it was awesome! The Director of Maintenance told everyone in attendance how great we were and that recommendation, coming from one of their top management people, was even better than if we had spoken ourselves.” Bad situation, great attitude, awesome perspective!
On Friday a longtime friend and customer called our office to place an order. We found out at the same time that he is very sick. Before I explain, let me first tell you a little bit about him. Charlie is a very special man, one who epitomizes humility and benevolence; a single Dad who has been raising his autistic son for over 20 years, working two jobs, days at an aerospace firm and nights at Home Depot. Charlie is sweet, kind and always looking for ways to help others. He even volunteers on weekends to host a “Kids Workshop” at Home Depot. Charlie is so good at it that years ago only 6-10 kids would show up, but last Saturday there were over 500 kids in attendance. The kids just love him, and so do we.  
But Charlie has stage four lung cancer. He has lost a lot of weight and all of his hair and the prognosis isn’t good. I prayed for Charlie on Friday night and called him on Saturday morning. And guess where he was… at Home Depot hosting the Kids Workshop! He said he hasn’t missed any time at work yet and he definitely doesn’t want to disappoint the children by not hosting the Kids Workshop. I asked him how he was handling such a difficult situation and the first thing he said was, “I guess I am really surprised because I never smoked a day in my life, so I never expected to get lung cancer. And I guess I am a little sad to know that this is how my life is probably going to end. But at the same time, I’m happy because I still get to spend a little more time with my son and the kids at Home Depot and let them know I love them before I’m gone.”  Really bad situation, great attitude, awesome perspective!

I will never understand why bad things happen to good people. But a part of me believes that maybe it's because it teaches the rest of us to truly appreciate what we have...and turn lemons into lemonade!
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
                              ~ Anais Nin
Charlie's Kids at the Home Depot Kid's Workshop
(Maybe they're making a Lemonade Stand!)