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Monday, August 29, 2016

True Courage

I made a big mistake this weekend by over focusing on my own needs and thereby demonstrating a lack of courage.  Thinking about it is embarrassing enough, so writing about it to hundreds of readers is super humiliating for sure. However, I learned something from it, so maybe if I share it, you can learn from it too.

But before I tell you what I did wrong, let me “back up” a bit and give you the “back story”. If you’ve been reading my Monday Messages over the past few months you know that I have been struggling with a tough back pain issue for the last 7 weeks. I finally got an MRI and the doctor determined that I need to have a special procedure done. But when I went in last Monday morning to have the procedure done, I found out the doctor injured his hand over the weekend and can’t do any procedures for a month. So I spent most of last week trying to find another doctor who could perform the procedure, but struck out at every turn, which is really frustrating because the pain never goes away. I can’t walk any distance, stand for any length of time or lift anything without pain. For a guy who is fairly athletic, life has really come to a crawl! (Literally!)

Fast forward to this past Saturday. I’m trying to put my pants on but the pain is pretty bad at that moment, so I have to sit down to do it. As I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, I slip and fall and hit my head on the nightstand. Here’s the picture… I’m lying on the floor with my pants halfway on, my back is hurting, my head is hurting and I’m totally pissed off. So I lose it and get real upset. I was so frustrated and so tired of the pain that I started feeling sorry for myself and that’s normally a big “No-No” in my book. To make things worse my wife came in the room and I let her see how upset I was. So I made a second mistake by pouring out all my sadness and feelings of frustration onto her. (Fortunately for me, I have an awesome wife who is always there to support me.)

Let’s face it, everyone has a problem of some kind and there a lot of people out there who are way worse off than me. So first, for me to “lose it” was a big mistake because there are a thousand things going right in my life. God has blessed me in so many ways, that I should absolutely never complain about anything. Second, my Dad taught me all about true courage in the face of pain. Before passing away, he suffered with esophageal cancer for six months and never, ever complained even once about the pain or about being terminally ill. He was truly a man of character and courage and never wanted to burden my Mom or us kids with his pain or problems.

After I regained my composure, I immediately regretted my moment of weakness. I thought about my Dad and all that he taught me. I thought about my wife and how she depends on me to be strong and always have a good attitude. And I thought about the legacy I want to leave for my children. So I came to a conclusion. A moment of weakness will not define me, but it will remind me… True courage is all about putting yourself and your own needs second… to the needs of others!

Don’t let a bad day make you feel like you have a bad life.
 ~ Anonymous

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Listening is Loving

In a few days my oldest Grandson will be leaving for college in Arizona. It’s hard enough to believe I have six grandchildren let alone one that is old enough for college, but I do. His name is Jared and he’s a very special young man, so I would love to give him some advice before he leaves home.

Jared was my very first grandchild but that’s not the reason he’s so special to me. I love him because he is so unassuming and so loving to his Mom and two younger siblings. He doesn’t have an arrogant bone in his body even though he is smart, athletic, and surprisingly gifted in the theatrical arts. There was a time four years ago when his 13-year-old Little League Team needed a coach and he asked me if I would volunteer to manage his team. Although I was older than any other coach out there, by a lot, it was one of the best experiences of my life. It gave me a chance to see how he interacts with his peers and it gave us a unique chance to bond over sports, teamwork and challenges. We didn’t win very many games but I believe Jared and all 12 of his teammates had a fun season…and that was truly my only goal. So Jared, I love you buddy. And if I could give you any advice as you head out to start life on your own it would be these three things…

First off, life is tough enough as it is, but it’s a lot tougher if you start off headed in the wrong direction. So before you get started with your college life, sit down and write out a description of who you are, meaning the rules that you decide are best for you to live by.  There’s something about putting it down on paper that makes it so much more real. If you believe in honesty, write it down. If you believe you should always have your friends back, write it down. If you believe in staying away from drugs, write it down and stick to it.

Second, set up some goals for yourself and put those in writing. Make them reasonable goals and keep them short term. Then when you achieve them, feel good about it and set new, even higher goals.

Third, get used to fear by realizing that “courage comes from character”. Trust me, you will be tested. There will be a lot of scary situations that come up and a lot of scary people that will tempt you to do wrong. Just remember, courage is not the absence of fear, it’s doing what’s right… despite being afraid.

One last piece of advice that I wish I had heard before I headed off to college. If you want to succeed in life and be happy, make it a point to listen. Listen to what others are trying to teach you. Listen to other people’s points of view and listen to the people you love. In fact, you might even consider listening to an old man like me because I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes. And then if you ever need me… call me and I will listen to you.…because Listening is Loving!

Jared at 13 with the Blackhawks (bottom row, 2nd from left)

Jared at 17 heading off to College
The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.
~ Sydney J. Harris

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


For the past two weeks I have been going on an early morning bike ride to warm up my back before I do stretches. I really enjoy riding my bike because it’s about the only time my back doesn’t hurt. But I also enjoy it because sometimes I see things in the early dawn that both amaze and inspire me!

Even though I was pumping the pedals pretty hard this past Friday morning, a reflection caught my eye. I was riding north on Beach Road where I live and close by it, about 30’ to the east, is a set of train tracks. Just beyond that is busy Pacific Coast Highway. Surprisingly, halfway in between the train tracks and PCH, was a bicycle on the ground with a reflector in its rear wheel bouncing sunlight directly into my eyes.

I wondered what a bicycle was doing in such a precarious location, but the bicycle wasn’t alone. All around it were small plastic bags filled with mystery items, and next to the bike was a blanket with what appeared to be a man sleeping on it. I cannot think of a more dangerous place to “camp” for the evening. How could anyone sleep with trains 15’ to your left roaring by and cars whizzing by only 15’ away to the right? And did I mention the area is nothing but rocks and gravel?

At first I thought maybe the man had gotten off course in the dark and crashed his bike, landing in between the tracks and the highway. But as I surveyed the situation, it was obvious that this person had selected his “campsite” and was cozy in this crazy location. When I yelled out, “Hey are you okay?”, the man sat straight up and then turned around and looked at me like I was crazy for asking. He then proceeded to open up what looked like a can of food and began his normal breakfast routine.

As I pedaled back home I found myself going slow and thinking about what I had just witnessed. It reminded me how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head and a brain that works well enough (most of the time) to allow me to be able to provide for my family. It also got me thinking about how each and everyone one of us is… in one way or another… assigned a role by God. And how we perform that role is a reflection of God. Maybe the bicycle man was simply fulfilling his role?

I remember reading in the Bible the story of Jesus healing a blind man. Back then people thought when a person was blind it was because he did something wrong. But the truth is it was simply the role he was assigned. I doubt he would have picked being blind, in fact I can picture it this way. God says, “Einstein, you’re going to be a genius who shares his insight. David Robinson, you’re going to be a great NBA player who boldly shares his faith. Joe, you’re going to be a light bulb salesman who likes to share stories. And then God turns to Bob and says, “Bob, you’re going to be blind for my glory.”  Bob says, “I’ll be blind?” God says, “Yes.” Bob says, “For your glory?” God says, “Yes.” Bob says, “But, I don’t understand.” God says… “You’ll see!”

It may not seem like the role we are given is important, but if we can reflect God’s glory even just a little bit, at some point we may hear six very cool words. “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

With God in your world, you aren’t an accident or an incident. 
You are a gift to the world, a divine work of art, signed by God. 
~ Max Lucado 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Assuming Wisdom

If you keep an open mind and enjoy learning, you might be surprised by how much you can learn on any given day. When my wife and I went to church yesterday we were hoping to learn something from the Pastor’s sermon, but I actually learned an important lesson before I ever even made it across the parking lot!

The Pastor’s message yesterday focused on how important it is to never stop learning. He reminded us that we need to stop talking and listen because we can’t hear or learn, if we are talking. He also taught us something that I personally didn’t know, the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Actually it’s pretty simple. Knowledge comes from experience and education. Wisdom only comes from God and understanding God’s word. I had never looked at it that way before but looking back on my life, I can see that most of the stupid mistakes I made were because I lacked wisdom.

I admit I’m definitely not as wise as I would like to be, especially at the age of 61. But with four children and six grandchildren I have a lot of family members who could use a wise old man to turn to for advice. So I better pay attention and start seeking more wisdom, which brings me back to the lesson I learned yesterday in the parking lot of a church.

My wife and I tend to visit a variety of churches so we had only been to this church in Dana Point once before on Easter Sunday. On that day it was so crowded we had to park a half mile away, but yesterday the main parking lot was wide open. I saw several cars turning and parking only on the south side of the lot, but there were six open spaces on the north side and since I didn’t see any special signs, I parked in a space on the north side. My back is still really messed up so I had a noticeable limp as I walked towards the church. As we got close, a man with an orange vest standing next to some coned off parking spots stopped me. I assumed he was a parking attendant and I was positive he was going to yell at me for parking in the wrong spot. My back’s hurting and the last thing I want to do is walk back and move my truck, but my assumption could not have been more wrong. The man in the orange vest said, “Next time you come, if you’re still limping, just pull up near me and I'll move a cone so you can park real close.”

You know what they say about assumptions. Well, that’s exactly how I felt, like a horse’s rear end. But I did learn a lesson. It’s better to assume wisdom than it is to make assumptions!

It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.
~ Harry S. Truman 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Open The Eyes of My Heart

Are you experiencing the tint of a colorless world? Lately, I sure have and it’s my own fault.

About six weeks ago I injured my back and I’ve had sciatica nerve pain ever since. I saw a doctor who recommended prescription Ibuprofen along with physical therapy, so I have been doing that very diligently. But after all this time I haven’t gotten any better and still feel quite a bit of pain all day long. I can’t stand up for any length of time, so even though it’s the heart of summer, I can’t jog, I can’t play golf or baseball, I can’t even paddle-board or swim for more than a few minutes. As a very active guy, I am not very happy right now.

This past week it really started to get me down and affect my attitude, which is normally so positive. Even my wife commented, “you look 20 years older than normal”, which I’m sure was meant to somehow cheer me up, but it didn’t exactly have the desired effect. However, last Friday just as depression was really starting to rear its ugly head, I got a phone call from a close friend who wanted to know if I was okay. Later that same day, I had one of my customers (who is also a friend) take me aside to show his concern. That same evening, I received three separate text messages from three friends asking about me, saying they missed me… and the message became very clear… How can I complain about anything when I have such great friends!

I woke up really early the next morning and as I thought about how lucky I am to have such great friends, I suddenly had an idea. I can’t walk and I can’t run, but maybe (because it allows me to sit down) I can ride my bike? Sure enough I took off on my old black beach Cruiser and it didn’t hurt a bit. It was a beautiful morning as I peddled down Beach Road by my house and even though the sun was barely up, there were groups of people already spreading their gear out along the warm sand by the water. The longer I rode the better I felt, and the better I felt the more I noticed what a beautiful world we live in.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been stuck inside too much lately. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been focusing on my own problems too much lately, but whatever the reason the ocean looked bluer than I have ever seen it, the flowers were blooming brighter than ever and displaying every color imaginable, the birds were singing, the seagulls were clacking and people all around me were laughing and smiling. I stopped for a moment, took in a deep breath to smell the crisp ocean air and realized that I hadn’t felt any pain for the last 30 minutes. No, I wasn’t experiencing a sudden miraculous cure, I was simply experiencing the miracle that is this beautiful world that God created for us. When I stopped focusing on my own problems and opened my eyes wide enough to see all the beauty that exists around me, I experienced a joy that superseded everything else. I guess you could say that when I stopped looking only at myself and my own problems, I could see through the eyes of my heart, that this world is filled with wonder and beauty, including the love of good friends!

Open the eyes of my heart Lord, open the eyes of my heart. 
I want to see You. I want to see You.
~ Michael W. Smith