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Monday, March 28, 2016

The Smallest Cross

I have been writing Monday Messages since January of 2007. They currently go out directly to over 400 people and indirectly via my MM Blog to hundreds more and almost every week I hear back from a dozen or more people with words of encouragement or even better yet, a story of their own. It means a lot to me to hear back from people and be reminded that even though we all have our own problems and struggles; life can be so much better and more meaningful when we have friends and loved ones to share it with.

So I keep on writing. But whenever someone asks me why I write my Monday Messages I try to keep the answer simple, but really…it’s not. First, it’s my way of thanking God for all the blessings he has given me in my life. Second, my hope is that I will be able to draw people nearer to God. And third, it helps me to personally stay focused on doing what is right so I can become the best person I can possibly be. But there is actually a fourth reason as well…which I didn’t even realize until yesterday morning!

Yesterday, Easter Sunday morning, my wife surprised me with the gift an awesome silver cross. That cross was perfect for me because the symbolism has such deep meaning and at the same time it sparked a memory… About two weeks ago I received a very heartwarming email from a former customer of mine who retired two years ago. Mike was a carpenter by trade and a construction superintendent for many years, but he now lives on a ranch in Texas and spends all his spare time making small wooden crosses to hand out for free as part of his “Street Ministry” program. I always enjoyed working for him because he was so down to earth, friendly and honest. I truly miss him, but he is obviously really happy with his new found purpose in life. He told me he has carved out thousands of small wooden crosses over the past two years and has sent them for free to hundreds of “street ministers” all over the world, including sending one to me. His recent gracious email message to me truly touched me and made me realize there is a fourth reason I write Monday Messages, although it’s a somewhat selfish reason. Quite often… I get something back.

I have to say that I haven’t ever thought of myself as a “street minister” before, but I think I kind of like that term. In fact, I bet there are a lot of people out there who find their own unique ways to help others who could easily be referred to as “street ministers” as well. And I bet they don’t consider it as work or a sacrifice either because they too feel like they get back more than they give. So let me just say, I’m not qualified to preach and I’m not a pastor, I’m not even a good writer yet. I’m just an average Joe. But the one thing that will never fail to inspire me to reach higher and do more for others, especially at this time of year, is best symbolized by a cross, even one small enough to fit into the palm of my hand! 
They gave him a manger for a cradle, 
a carpenter’s bench for a pulpit, 
thorns for a crown and a cross for a throne. 
He took them all and made them the very glory of his career.
~ W. E. Orchard      

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Choose Your Battles

Conflict is never a good thing but it’s obviously an inevitable thing for every human being and every animal on this earth at some point. I guess you could say it’s the “nature of the beast” but when it comes to beasts, I think we could learn something from animals if we simply pay attention to their nature.

I read an eye-opening article last week written by a local OC business woman who traveled to Africa on a safari trip. It all started with a leopard, a hyena and a dearly departed Impala. She wrote, “As we approached a beautiful leopard resting in the tall grass, a scruffy hyena fed on the carcass of an Impala nearby. Our guide explained that the leopard had taken down the Impala but the hyena had run her off. I was confused as I assumed that leopard beats hyena hands down in the rock, paper, scissors world of nature. But our guide explained that while the leopard could have succeeded in defending her kill, the hyena’s strong jaws would have likely wounded her in the battle. This leopard has two cubs so if she were to sustain even a minor injury she could lose weeks of hunting ability, potentially threatening her cubs’ survival. This risk/reward strategy was automatically programmed into the leopard’s genetic code so perfectly that the analysis occurred instantaneously, resulting in her decision to let the hyena win – for the moment. Her strategy paid off, as the hyena eventually lost interest and the leopard was able to reclaim her prize and feed her cubs.” The leopard seemingly lost the battle…but ultimately won the war!

Reading that article reminded me of the provision of nature for such wise decision making. And it also reminded me that as a long term business leader, father of four and grandfather of six, that I do not always practice such wise decision making. Many times, especially in my professional role, when I am faced with conflict I don’t always stop to ask myself, “Is this the Impala to die on?”

One part of my problem is that I am a man (a man with too much pride at times). The other part is that society does not celebrate men who surrender. We prefer to applaud bravery and bold action believing that the battle goes to the quick and the strong. Well, the battle is not important, the war is…and that’s the lesson of the leopard.

Perhaps we are too many generations removed from the inherent capacity for instinctive risk/reward analysis, but we can learn to reclaim that lost art if we work at it. I grant you that today’s world is far more complicated and far more crowded and that everyone and everything is constantly clawing for our attention. But that doesn’t mean we have to respond to conflict with instant action. I am learning that if I take a moment to think things through and envision the results of my actions before I act…there might not even be a need to go to war! 
You do not lead by hitting people over the head. 
That’s assault, not leadership.
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Monday, March 7, 2016

Turning Point

Easter is coming so a lot of people will soon be thinking about Easter Bunnies and Easter Egg hunts. But Easter is special to me for a different reason. It reminds me of a cross I helped to install on top of a mountain many years ago that became a huge turning point in my life.

In 1988 I was living and working in San Diego and everything seemed to be going in the wrong direction. My personal life was in a shambles and I had nobody to blame but myself. I kept getting more depressed. And the more depressed I got, the more sins I committed. At one point I considered taking down the copy of the 10 Commandments that hung on my wall, or at least crossing off five of them, so I wouldn’t have to think about what a wretched mess I had become.

I knew I had to make some difficult changes in my life, beginning with my marriage. But change is scary and in my case I had a ton of changes to make. I remember praying one night for the courage to change the things I knew I could, and waking up the next day feeling eerily calm and yet somehow very strong. I vowed to change my job, marriage and some of my friendships…and I did so that very same day.

Life became super hard for me at first and really lonely. But later that same week as I was driving up to Orange County to find a new place to live, I heard an interesting announcement on the radio. A small group of volunteers were looking for help to install a cross on top of an historic mountain and specifically needed help with the electrical wiring and lighting. It was right up my alley and would give me something to do that would make me feel good about myself for a change. It would also help me honor God for answering my prayers for strength and courage. I spent the next 6 months climbing that mountain hundreds of times and its kind of funny… but as I carried the equipment on my back up and down that mountain, it felt like a ton of weight had actually been lifted off my shoulders.

I still help to maintain the “Battle Mountain Cross” and will continue to do so for as long as I live. But unfortunately both the Cross and I are looking a little tired and worn out these days. I know I can’t afford plastic surgery for myself, but since the cross is in dire need of a new paint job, our small group of volunteers hired a painting contractor last week to give it a much needed face lift. This was no easy project because there are no roads going up the mountain but the determined crew got the job done beautifully.

Looking back on my life I can see what a huge turning point that was and how much happier I have been ever since. At that time in my life I thought I knew what path I was on and where I was going, but in reality I was lost. I think sometimes God says “Yes” to the path we choose and sometimes God says, “No, this isn’t the journey I have planned for you. I have routed you temporarily through the City of Struggle.” And while the road through the City of Struggle might be tough, at least with God’s help, there is a road!

Things do not change. We change.
~ Henry David Thoreau