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Monday, May 30, 2016

No Big Thing

Her name is Maria. She’s a young woman who works at a Mexican Restaurant in Laguna Niguel. I was having dinner there with my wife last week and really enjoyed it because Maria gave us great service. She smiled a lot, took our order quickly, and made sure everything was just perfect for us. When we were leaving I stopped and walked back to tell her how much I appreciated her great service. No big thing…I just felt compelled to tell her. She smiled and said, “Thank you.” And then she was quiet for a moment before she said softly, “I’m going through a really difficult time right now with my little girl, and sometimes it is so hard to smile.”

His name is Mario. He works all week at a restaurant in San Juan Capistrano and then on weekends he tries to get extra work as a day-laborer. Last weekend I picked up Mario and a friend of his to help me fill sand bags in front of my house. It’s hard work in the hot sun but Mario and Pablo worked steady, filling and stacking over 300 sand bags. I took time to tell them what a great job they were doing and since my wife also noticed how hard they were working, she decided to cook them some homemade carnitas tacos. No big thing…. She just felt compelled to do it. They both really loved the food and Mario mentioned that his Mom and sisters were good cooks too. I asked him how many brothers and sisters he had and he said he had 12 brothers and 2 sisters, most of them still in Mexico, and then he said, “I miss them so much.”

Today is Memorial Day. To me, this is a big thing! It’s a really important Holiday because we need to remember all the soldiers, policemen, firemen and first responders who risk their lives, and especially those who have lost their lives, so we can keep ours. I believe we should honor these people on a daily basis whenever we cross paths with them. My Dad was a Captain the Marine Corps and his Dad was a Major, so I grew up understanding what discipline and sacrifice truly mean. Therefore, whenever I see a person in uniform, I take the time to thank them for their service. It’s no big thing on my part, but what they do sure is!

So it’s important to remember and honor the brave people in uniform that keep us safe. But I also think it’s important to remember that there are people all around us who are going through tough times that we don’t even know about. If we can also pay attention to the everyday people who cross our path, speak kindly to them, or even simply smile at them, it might just seem like no big thing… or maybe it really is!

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, 
love leaves a memory no one can steal.
~ From a headstone in the Arlington National Cemetery 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Selflessness (by Ken James)

I woke up several weeks ago thinking about a eulogy that I might be called upon to deliver.  I had talked to the wife of my friend Bob the night before.  Bob had gone into the hospital for a knee replacement two weeks earlier and some complications unassociated with the knee surgery were dogging him.  His wife had sounded discouraged on the phone and seemed to be saying that things did not look good and that Bob would never come home, at least to his earthly home.

I have eulogized my wife, father, mother, and a friend in past years.  In doing so I had started by thinking deeply about who they really were, what they meant to me, how they contributed to others, and how to be sure that all who attended their memorial service would go away knowing them better.

Bob spent his life as a Methodist minister.  Just like his dad and this grandfather.  He was the third, same name, same faith.  Bob and I reconnected eleven years ago after only seeing each other just a few times over the last fifty years.  I counted that reconnection as one of the greatest blessings of my life.  Bob had become my faith counselor. So, as I thought about what I would say about him, if this really was the end of his earthly journey, one word kept coming back to me, “selflessness”.  Bob’s number one priority was others.  He would drop everything if he was needed regardless of his plans or needs.  To the point that it had contributed to the break-up of his marriage after 30 years.  If he had a parishioner in need, he was there for them.

My wife Debbie and I made a trip to NYC recently.  We wanted to go to the 9/11 Museum and Memorial Pools, “Reflection of Absence”, now that they were finished and open.  It was an extremely moving experience.  Put it on your “bucket list”.  The organizers could not have done a more thorough job of holistically capturing every aspect of the tragedy and heroes that came from it.  One of the stories that you might remember was about an office worker in the South Tower named Remy. Remy worked below the impact in the South Tower and was able to escape quickly.  But despite his escape to life, when the North Tower was hit, he put a bandana over his mouth and charged in to North Tower to assist first responders to save workers in that building.  He did not survive the collapse of the North Tower soon after.

Part of the 9/11 museum is audio comments by survivors.  One lady hurrying down a stairwell in one of the towers spoke of a fireman coming up the stairs “who looked like he was 18.  I yelled at him to go back and save himself but he said it was his job.  I thought to myself, he was running up to die, I was running down to live”. I have never been in the military.  Never been in a situation where I could be harmed or killed “just doing my job”.  Never had to walk a road where an IED could be one step away.  Never had to live with the realization that today could be my last.

President Bush wrote a note to Morgan Kay Beamer, the new born daughter of Lisa Beamer, who was born four months after her dad, Todd Beamer, died on United Flight 93.  In that note The President wrote “His selfless efforts prevented additional loss of life on that tragic day”.  Todd is a hero.  Few would have done what he and others did.  But then Todd didn’t have much choice.

In thinking about my buddy Bob’s selflessness, what separates him and Remy, and our soldiers is they have a choice and they choose service to others.  They aren’t thinking about their own wellbeing and in some cases safety, they are thinking about the needs of others. And this got me to thinking.  I do things for others and feel good about it. But how often are my actions convenient to my life at the time. Do I really make any sacrifice?  Or do I weigh my options first and see how service to someone else will fit in?  Isn’t the essence of selflessness putting others first and above my wants and needs?

I am enough of an evolutionist to know that we are all “hard-wired” to protect ourselves first.  Self-preservation.  That is what makes it all the more amazing that some can put “self” aside.  Mothers are like that.  Their children and their wellbeing are the most important things in the world to them. Isn’t it true that if you are a Christian, Jesus Christ represented the highest form of selflessness to the point he gave his life. To all those who are able to disregard what is important to them at the moment and choose serving the needs of others over “self”, you are the real heroes and my inspiration to live a better life.

My buddy Bob is almost fully recovered now and back to serving the needs of others.  This is what has defined his life.  I am proud to know him and I will keep on taking notes, hopefully for a long time to come.

If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, 
shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to keep your life for yourself, 
you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life.
~ Luke 9:23-25

Monday, May 16, 2016

Reset Your Thinking (by Tony Sclafani)

We all spend a lot of time and energy at work. In fact, most of us spend more time at work than we do at home with our loved ones. So if you are like me, it is easy to get lost in all of the paperwork, hours of productive (and not so productive meetings) and endless hours of technical difficulties with computers and IT issues.  

In the apartment management business our job is to provide a quality living experience for our residents and guests. If we are doing our jobs well, we leave positive memories and experiences that will stick with our residents for a long time. Whether your business is sales, manufacturing, construction, or service it is good to step back from time to time and “Reset” our actions and think about what we do and how it affects those that we come in contact with us either directly or indirectly.

Recently one of our apartments vacated without anything unusual occurring, except that is until our maintenance team went into the vacant apartment and found two flowers and a hand written letter on the counter. The letter was written to the apartment home itself, not to any of the staff or management, but to the home that we provided to them. Please take a minute to read it. It was a unique and very strong reminder that everything that we do in our business could have a strong, long lasting and very deep effect on others.  

Our senior leaders in our company recently shared this letter with all of us as a reminder of why we are here.  It helped me reset my thinking. I'm sure that I will slip back into the routine of the day to day soon, but I will keep this letter close by to read and remember to reset once again.

It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home.
~ Anonymous

Focus on the Majors (by John Woodman)

This one is for all the golfers out there!  This past weekend was the first Major tournament of the year on the PGA Tour.  In my opinion, it is held at the most beautiful golf course in the world at Augusta National.  The way the azaleas colors of pink and yellow pop out on your TV screen, how green the fairways and greens are, how white the well-groomed sand traps catch your eyes, all surrounded by a variety of huge trees outlining the fairways that have been there longer than most of us reading this Monday Message.

It got me thinking how much a golf course like Augusta National is like the life we live every day.  Every hole is different and has its challenges and rewards, just like how every day we spend on this earth is different has its challenges and rewards.  There are also things on a golf course that are out of our control, like the weather, the hop your ball takes when it lands, and most of the time inches are the difference between a great shot or a horrible one.  Life is the same way, as many things that happen in our lives are out of our control too.

That leads me to believe that we shouldn’t focus on what we can’t control.  Easier said than done but I’m a firm believer that the most successful people put their focus on the Majors in their lives and don’t worry about what is out of their control.  What Major is most important to a golfer may change at times; sometimes it will be the U.S. Open, sometimes the British Open, and at other times it may be Augusta. Likewise, there are also times in your life when what you consider to be your most important Major will change.  Some may consider this falls into the “out of control” arena when this happens but if you take a step back and prioritize what you really consider to be your Majors and stay consistent with them… I believe everything in the long run will work out just fine.  The best golfers are considered to be consistent week in and week out, but even the best may falter from time to time.   Just watching four-time Major winner Ernie Els 6-putt the first hole at Augusta and 5th ranked World Golf player Rickie Fowler shoot 80 in his first round, proves that.

We each have our own Majors in life but I try to keep mine very simple with just three, FAITH, FAMILY, and FORGIVENESS.  Just like each hole at Augusta has its own name, your Majors may differ.  I do find that it interesting that each hole at Augusta National is named after a flower or a tree that is God’s creation.  Even the three hardest holes (#11, #12, and #13) have been given the name “AMEN” corner.  Being an avid golfer and a Believer in Christ for the last 35 years, the one thing I have learned is that unfortunately, there is way more praying out on a golf course than there is inside of a church! Make it a great week!

The only time my prayers are not answered is on the golf course.
~ Reverend Billy Graham 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Unpacking God's Love (By Doug Stark)

About a year ago, my wife and I were having dinner with our daughter and son-in-law when they casually mentioned that they had made the decision to take a bold leap of faith. Kaila and Taylor had made the decision to quit their jobs, give up their wonderful (and very affordable) apartment, put their stuff in storage and take off to travel the world for an entire year.

The look on my face must have been quite a sight. My head was swimming with the classic parental discourse… Quit your jobs? Travel the world? Put all your belongings in my garage? Anyway, once my wife and I thought about it, we realized that this was indeed the perfect opportunity for them to journey like this before kids, mortgages and normal adult routine would make a trip like this an unlikely event. Now, I must admit that I am a softy and very protective when it comes to my daughter. I have never been out of touch with her for more than 3-4 days at a time since the day she was born so this was going to be a huge adjustment for me. This coupled with the nagging threat of terrorism had me very worried and praying constantly for God’s mercy to be upon her. Since He is the God of miracles, I knew that He could pull this one off.

The first miracle occurred when we discovered that they would be joined by their best friends in Thailand to begin their journey. They would be traveling together as a unit for the first six months of their walkabout. Yes… Safety in numbers! The second miracle occurred when my son-in-law called me. He told me that his employer had decided to hold his position open for him until he got back. I don’t know who these particular people are, but I want to thank them for seeing that Taylor is a more than worthy asset and well worth the wait!

Over the past year we watched the two of them scrimp and save and plan out their intended route. The discussion also included the perils and pitfalls of jamming their entire world into a smallish backpack to last an entire year. This time included an abundance of prayer for God to reveal Himself in a very real and powerful way in their lives. Also, for God to show them exactly what He had in store for them and lead them to witness and share with others the incredible peace and joy that exists in the love of Jesus Christ. With that said, here is a recent excerpt from their blog written in Thailand…

 “Despite the craziness of travel that our trip has introduced us to, the good we have already experienced outshines any of that and is exactly the reason why we chose this lifestyle. First off, being reunited with our best friends and being able to do this journey together has been one of the highlights of my life so far. I think we all just feel so grateful to experience this with each other and the memories we get to create and lessons we will learn will last us a lifetime. I know times will get tough and combining four personalities can make things tougher, but honestly I believe God has us here together for a reason and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but right here with these three people right now. I have loved every second of this journey so far and I cannot wait to see where it takes us. Bangkok gave us a nice warm welcome to our journey but we are already feeling the nomad spirit and ready to move on. Up next, the jungles of Chiang Mai!”.

The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page.
Saint Augustine