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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spring Cleaning - Part II

In my Monday Message last week I mentioned how this might be a good time of year to do some spring cleaning of your emotional attic…your heart. My message focused on how important it is to forgive yourself but there is also another type of forgiveness…learning to forgive others…which is really hard to do at times, but equally just as important.

The reason I think forgiveness of others is so hard is because it goes against human nature. Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do, but instead, if we forgive, we demonstrate the power of love to break nature’s rule. In fact, forgiveness and sacrifice are two of the best examples of love that we can offer up - and they go hand in hand because being willing to forgive means having the strength to make a personal sacrifice. Let me give you an example…

For many years I owned a large Lighting Maintenance Company and there was one particular Purchasing Manager in San Diego who made my life miserable. She was an older lady and tough, which would have been okay, but unfortunately she was not fair. She took advantage of my willingness to work hard and asked for nearly impossible results on a routine basis. On one job she had us remove hundreds of brand new expensive light fixtures because “she changed her mind”. It cost me thousands of dollars and there were dozens of projects like that, but it was the verbal abuse she handed out on a regular basis, calling my employees and me “stupid” that was even worse. One time she called me while I was at the Naval Hospital in San Diego. My father was dying from cancer and when I tried to explain I was in the intensive care ward, she told me she didn’t care about my personal problems, that I needed to solve a problem for her immediately…or else!  Her company was an important client of ours and the rest of the people were extremely professional and absolutely great to deal with, so I labored on the best I could. But I admit I harbored a lot of resentment for a very long time.
Then one day something changed. I was walking by her building when I spotted her sitting outside on a bench eating lunch alone. She didn’t see me or seem to notice the crowds of other people enjoying a mid-day break in the sunshine. But I saw her and what I saw was a lonely person, filled with anger and self doubt, eating all by herself despite being surrounded by fellow employees. At that moment I realized that she was a human being just like me and I guess I felt sorry for her. I realized that harboring resentment towards her was wrong. It was like being petty because so much of my life was going great in so many other ways. Right then and there I decided to forgive her and it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Harboring resentment was a sign of weakness on my part and as soon as I realized I had the strength to let it go, I felt like a new man. When you are strong enough to forgive, you set a prisoner free - and quite often you discover that prisoner was you!

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Cleaning

I woke up this morning to the sound of birds singing, letting me know that spring time is finally here. I love hearing those little sparrows singing because it means that the sun is going to be shining and the weather is going to be great; the air a little crisper, the grass a little greener and the sky a more brilliant blue. Spring is here so maybe it’s a great time to do a little spring cleaning!  

There are two types of “spring cleaning”. The first one is where you clear out all the stuff in your attic, pack up all the stuff you don’t need for charity and throw away all the stuff that is worthless. Those are worthy chores for sure and this is a good time to do them, but there is also a different type of spring cleaning you can do, the kind where you clear out all the stuff in your “emotional attic”…meaning your heart.

I guess you could say our hearts are like an emotional attic where we store both love and pain. Those two things shouldn’t go together but quite often they do and I think it’s because when we were created we were given the awesome ability to love, but at the same time we were also given the ability to make choices, and sometimes when we make bad choices…we cause ourselves pain.

But that pain doesn’t have to last.  We have to learn how to ask for forgiveness, believe that we are forgiven and then (and this is the hard part)….forgive ourselves. I’ll give you a real life example.

When I was 16 years old I was living on my own in a small country town, working part-time after school at a gas station out by the highway. I made less than minimum wage and was barely scraping by. One Friday night I was working alone and the head mechanic was supposed to relieve me at 6:00pm. But he called and said he wasn’t coming in and that I had to stay and close the place by myself at midnight. I was tired from a long week, hungry and cold and just wanted to go home. Plus the mechanic was a horrible man, an alcoholic who was downright mean, always getting into bar fights and always yelling at me to do the dirty work. The later it got, the angrier I got, and when midnight finally arrived, I helped myself to a $20.00 bill out of the cash register to buy myself dinner on the way home. I justified it to myself as “overtime pay” but there was no justification. It was wrong on every level and as soon as I got home I regretted it. I have regretted it ever since and feel that it was one of the worst things I have ever done in my life. Obviously if I am relating this story to you, it means I still remember it, but fortunately a few years back I did some “spring cleaning” and decided to forgive myself. I forgave myself because I realized that making that mistake at such a young age taught me a valuable lesson that has guided my life ever since, making me a better man. I have not and will not make that mistake again!

If you’re carrying around some pain from mistakes made in the past, now would be a good time to listen to those little birds singing. They’re singing to remind us that if God can care about something as insignificant as a sparrow, then he certainly cares enough about us to forgive our mistakes…and if He is willing to forgive us, then who are we to argue with Him!
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care,
and even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  
So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
~ Matthew 10: 29-31

Monday, March 16, 2015

Life Support System

My wife and I went shopping at Costco last week to find a set of table and chairs that we could put in the kitchen area of our office. As we were leaving my wife noticed that the large box we purchased said “1 of 2 boxes”. So I had to run back and get the second box and not being very brilliant, I failed to take the cart with me. So I had to carry the second box all the way back by hand. The box was heavy and as I tried to hurry…it slipped out of my hand and a sharp staple sliced three of my fingers. By the time I returned to the exit area my back was hurting, my hand was bleeding and my attitude was going downhill fast.

But…as I stood there like a jerk complaining about my aching back, a young father walked by us. He was pushing a small red wagon in front of him while towing a Costco cart behind him and he was doing pretty good navigating both vehicles through the crowd. But it was the little red wagon that really caught our attention. Inside was a tiny baby girl, probably only 2 years old, lying on her back. She had the sweetest little face and never made a sound, but several times she looked like she was cringing in pain. Inside the wagon she was propped in place with several soft blankets but surrounded by hard metal machines with tubes and electrical cords going everywhere. All that apparatus surrounding her made it look like she was in a rolling red wagon “life support system”. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her and in my heart I immediately started wishing she would smile…and be okay.

The funny thing is - her Dad was smiling! He obviously takes her and her little red wagon out into the world all the time and is used to the difficult situation life has handed them. He knew she was fine, or at least as fine as possible considering the circumstances, and I could see that he was her rock, her provider, her protector, her loving father…and in fact…her real “life support system”.

Let’s face it, the world can be a cruel place, but obviously a sore back is nothing compared to what that little girl and her family are going through. Seeing her and her father go by instantly changed my perspective and softened my attitude. My heart went out to them and it reminded me that all of us need to have people in our lives that “have our backs” (whether they are aching or not), and love us despite our faults and mistakes. It might be a spouse, a family member or a best friend, but they are the ones who are always there for us when we are hurting, lifting us up when we are down, patiently smiling when we are frowning and truly filling the role of being our “life support system”. If you have someone in your life like that…make sure to take a moment today to let them know they are appreciated…and then pay it forward by filling that role for someone you care about.

Let us be grateful for people who care about us,
the ones who tow our wagon so we can ride.
 ~ Anonymous

Monday, March 2, 2015

Soul Food

On Wednesday of last week “Survivor” started up again and it’s one of the most successful reality shows on television because the conditions are so extremely harsh. People not only have to battle with each other physically and emotionally, they also have to subsist on minimal food, which messes with their minds. Being hungry not only makes them weak, it causes them to lose their mental focus. It’s a fun show to watch and actually, I have often thought about trying out to see if I could succeed under such difficult conditions.

On Friday of last week I was scheduled for a medical procedure that requires fasting beforehand. In fact you can’t even drink water for 4 hours prior to the procedure. Then after the procedure was over my throat was so sore I could barely swallow. So for about a 48 hour period I felt what it was like to be extremely hungry and it definitely messed with my mental focus. Friday evening for example, as we prepared to go to bed, my wife asked me to turn off the lights and check the front door to make sure it was locked. I told her I took care of everything. She then went out into the living room, turned out the lights and locked the front door. When she came back to the bedroom she just stared at me and said, “Really?” I guess I messed up…I also guess I wouldn’t be a very good candidate for “Survivor” after all.

Obviously being hungry is no fun. Let’s face it, there’s no way you can enjoy life and be your best when your body aches for food. But what about when your soul aches for sustenance? Being hungry made me realize that faith is a lot like food for the soul. If we have faith in God, or at least believe in a higher power of some sort, we can relax knowing that we are loved and that there is a purpose to our life. Faith fills the stomach of our soul, which then gives us the strength to focus on any challenge that comes our way. But if we don’t have faith, it’s like drifting aimlessly while slowly starving, our minds unable to find focus in any direction.

Looking back on my life it’s easy to recall the times when I was spiritually starved. Those were the low points in my life, when I made bad decisions and felt lost and alone. Things are different for me now and I recognize how my faith sustains me on a daily basis. I wish I could bake a “faith cake” and serve it to everyone I meet so they could feel as nourished as I feel inside… but I don’t know how to bake and I doubt that faith is an ingredient I can buy at the store. I can however, speak and write and sing and worship and let my faith explode like a bubbly bottle of champagne, spraying all over my family and friends until they are so soaked in spirituality that they can’t help but absorb it!
Cast of Survivor "Worlds Apart" 2015

Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.