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Monday, December 11, 2017

It Was Me!

Have you ever had one of those days where everything goes wrong and people seem to be always in your way? Well, I had me one of those days last week… Friday was truly a doozy.

Problem number one. I had a lot going on and the first thing I had to do was to drive out to Murrieta to see my Mom who is terminally ill. But before I could even leave the house I noticed that the “Lilac Fire” in North San Diego County had closed Highway 76 and the 15 freeway, which was the route I planned to take.

Problem number two. I decided to take Ortega Highway instead, but 15 miles in I came to screeching halt due to construction. Turns out a section of the highway was collapsing and needed repair, so the delay lasted over 20 minutes. Of course, it seems like a lot longer when you’re in a hurry.

Problem number three. I stopped at my Mom’s old apartment in Murrieta to collect her mail and pick up her cable boxes so that I could return them to the cable company (she won’t be returning to that apartment). But I forgot the keys. I figured the Manager could help, but he was out of the office. Eventually, I tracked down the Maintenance Manager who helped me out, but it took a really long time to track him down.

Problem number four. When I arrived at the Time Warner Cable office, they informed me that my Mom also had a modem that needed to be returned. I didn’t think about that and now I’ll have to make a return trip.

Problem number five. My Mom wanted me to pick up some boxes of See’s Candies, so she could give them out as gifts to people who come to visit her. After standing in a long line, I realized as I went to pay that I had left my wallet in my car. By the time I got my wallet and got back, there were 5 more people ahead of me.

Problem number six. After finally getting back to Orange County, I was running late to pick up my wife at the Nordstrom’s Rack, and of course the parking lot was totally full. After making four laps around the entire lot I finally spotted an elderly man getting into his car. Never in my life have I seen anybody move so slow! This guy took at least a full 5 minutes to back up, going super slow, two feet at a time, constantly checking his mirrors. In fact, he was so slow, and so annoying, that I was tempted to get out of my truck and go back up his car for him. But then again, he wasn’t the one in a hurry, I was.

And that got me thinking… All day long I kept finding myself annoyed at the people and problems in my way. But I realize now the problems were not caused by the people around me. It was me that chose to go Ortega. It was me that left the keys at home. It was me that forgot my wallet, and it was me that was in too big a hurry when other people were taking time to enjoy their day. Realizing “It Was Me” all along made me laugh all the way home, despite the fact that the 5 freeway was of course packed full on a Friday afternoon.


Patience is something you admire in the driver 
behind you and scorn in the one ahead.
~ Mac McCleary

Monday, November 27, 2017

In Consideration

Several years ago, my oldest son sent me a card that I have always cherished. In fact, I use it as a bookmark in my Bible because in the card he wrote, “Your constant attempt to be a good person every day is a real inspiration to me.” That statement means a great deal to me for two reasons. First, it felt good to hear that I am setting a good example for my children and second, it serves as strong motivation for me to keep trying to be a good person every single day. Well…please don’t tell my son, but last week I blew it, big time!

I hate to say it, but I was totally and irreversibly inconsiderate to another human being. Let me explain. On Tuesday morning at 6am, I loaded my truck with two heavy pallets of steel base covers and then noticed my two back tires looked like they were half way flat. I decided to stop at the first gas station along my route to San Bernardino and it’s a good thing I did because they were both really low. However, as long as I was stopped, I thought I would go inside and get some snacks for the long road trip. When I got to the counter, I remembered I didn’t have any cash, but they had an ATM machine. So I got out of line and went to go get some quick cash. Then I got back in line which was now 5 people deep. It took forever but I finally paid and went back out to my truck. Then I thought I might as well check my front tires while I’m here. As soon as I bent down to start filling up a front tire a man came around the front of my truck and said, “Really! Are you serious! I’ve been waiting ever since you pulled in to get air for my fricking’ tires. How the hell much longer are you going to be?” I immediately realized my mistake and apologized over and over again, and then jumped in my truck and left feeling like dirt. That guy must have been waiting for at least 15 minutes or more, so I’m surprised he didn’t punch me in the nose!

Obviously, I didn’t do it on purpose. When I first pulled in I didn’t notice that another car had pulled in right next to me and was waiting for the machine. But the reason I didn’t notice is because I wasn’t paying attention to other people and the world around me like I should have been. Instead, I was totally wrapped up in my own self and my own needs. I felt really bad about what happened, because I constantly see other people being inconsiderate and acting unaware of their surroundings…and now I was truly one of them.

And that got me thinking… Being human, it’s hard for me not to mess up once in a while. So I came up with three things I can do when it happens. First, I can offer a sincere apology. Second, I can do my best to make it right. (Like instead of speeding away I could have given the guy an “In-N-Out” Card to make up for wasting his time.) Or if that’s not possible, then third, I could give extra consideration to a random stranger. So- in consideration of being stupidly inconsiderate - I went golfing the next day and gave out $20 tips to three different attendants with a note card that said, “Your constant attempt to give me good service every time I come here, is a real inspiration to me!” Maybe those note cards will make good bookmarks some day!


Being considerate of others will take your children 
farther in life than any college degree. 
~ Marian Wright Edelman

Monday, November 20, 2017

GG's Thanksgiving

In October, my wife and I went to Kauai for a long awaited two-week vacation. We’ve never been more relaxed, happy or thankful as we were during that time. As we laid out in the warm tropical sun with the beautiful blue ocean right in front of us, we talked about how good life was at that moment. Our family was healthy, and our relationship was stronger than ever. So, we had a lot to be thankful for… until we got home.
.                                                                                                
As soon as we got back, bad news struck. My 83-year old Mom was rushed to the hospital due to multiple health issues. She was diagnosed with severe COPD, congestive heart failure, pneumonia and failing kidneys. The doctor gave her only days to live, so I have been driving out to Murrieta every day to be at the hospital by her side. She is so frail she can’t even move her arms to hug me, so I make sure I hug her… a lot. But there’s one thing about my Mom, she’s always been really strong, and she became even stronger when my Dad passed away in 2001. For the past 16 years her strength has helped her to make a good life on her own, while she has helped her family and her many close friends have a good life as well.

My Mom’s favorite thing in life has always been celebrating holidays. I have never met anyone who has more Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations than my Mom. Even now, she has a huge mini-storage unit packed with decorations, which she refers to as “treasures”. It was always so much fun to visit her because she would totally deck out her house with those beautiful decorations and treat her guests to great home style southern cooking as well. Therefore, the house would always be packed with loving family members who affectionately refer to her as “GG”, greatest grandma ever! So I will truly miss those times, especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner.

And that got me thinking… Looking back on our Kauai vacation, I can see how easy it was to be thankful when everything was going right. Being thankful is easy when you have a lot to be thankful for. The hard thing to do, is to be thankful when things are not going so well. For example, it’s really hard to be thankful when you’re holding the hand of someone you love, and you know you might be holding it for the very last time. As strong as she is, I don’t know if GG will be here for this coming Thanksgiving celebration. But one thing I do know… because of all she gave to others throughout her life, she will always be a treasure to me!  
Joan "GG" Thrailkill, circa 1952
We can only be said to be alive…  
in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
~ Thorton Wilder

Monday, November 6, 2017

Give Me A Break

I’ve been living in a small beach house right on the sand for over 5 years now and I absolutely love it. It’s such a beautiful place to live, but there is one strange thing that happens here that probably doesn’t happen as often at other beaches along our coast line. The sand will be smooth and shining and totally inviting one day and then the next day millions of rocks show up out of nowhere, completely covering the warm soft sand, making it super difficult and painful to get to the water. A day or two later, they are gone.

Some people have told me that the rocks don’t just “show up”. They say that the ocean occasionally churns up a ton of sand, washing it onto the beach, which then covers up the rocks, and then the sand washes back out. Well, that’s not true because I’ve seen the rocks washing in and heard them clanking up onto the shore many times. The rocks come and they go and yet there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it.

On Friday evening I witnessed a perfect beach scene. The sand along the shore was totally pristine white and the ocean was so blue and calm that I figured I would get up early and take my paddleboard out for a ride. However, when I woke up the next morning, the sand was once again completely covered by rocks and all I could do was mutter under my breath, “Oh, give me a break!” I was really looking forward to paddle-boarding, but walking over the rocks and then getting slammed by the smaller stones as I waded out in the water made me turn around and hang my board back up.

As I went back into the house, I thought about what I had just asked for, “Give me a break.” Then I paused to ponder, who was I talking to? Was I asking the ocean to give me a break? The ocean doesn’t have ears. Was I talking to the plucky pelicans who were resting nearby on the top of the water? They have ears but I doubt they can understand me. Or was I asking God to give me a break? He has ears to hear and He understands, but I hope He wasn’t listening to me because I wouldn’t want Him to think I was complaining, especially since most of the time the beach, the water, the sand, and my life are pretty darn perfect.

So why was I angry and complaining and asking for a break when I shouldn’t be? I’ll tell you why. Because I’m a stupid, selfish human being who gets frustrated when things aren’t exactly the way I want them to be. I don’t just get frustrated with the ocean, I get frustrated with my fellow man as well. But yet how many times in my life have I asked other people to give me a break because I messed up and didn’t do something the way they wanted it done? Lots of times, for sure!

And that got me thinking… What would the world be like, if everyone gave everyone else the break they hope to receive?

Sometimes life can be pretty smooth...


And sometimes life can be a little rocky!

If a small thing has the power to make you angry, does that not indicate something about your size?
~ Sydney J. Harris

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Black Beanie

In October of 1990 I owned a small lighting maintenance company called “Sundown Lighting”. The company was starting to grow and we picked up some commercial shopping center contracts, but the contracts required us to service tall parking lot light poles. The only problem was that we didn’t own a Boom Truck that could reach tall poles. So I made the decision to take out a loan and buy one and I actually got lucky because I found out that Carmenita Ford had a great deal on a new Ford F450 Dura-Lift Boom Truck. They had been using it as a demonstrator and it only had 10,000 miles on it, but unfortunately at that time it was parked in Denver at a truck show. If I wanted it, I would have to fly there and drive it back. However, the Ford Sales Rep told me to hurry because winter was on its way!

When I got to Denver the truck was perfect and just what we needed. I filled it up with Diesel fuel and headed out, but within an hour the snow began to fall. Within two hours I was stuck in a blinding snowstorm at the top of Vail Pass. I waited a long time and eventually a snowplow showed up and I was able to follow slowly behind it. When we reached the summit, I glanced over and through the heavy white mist I saw a large 18-wheel truck stopped on the side of the highway. About 50 yards in front of the truck was a man dressed in a dark coat with a black beanie pulled tightly over his head. I figured his truck must have broken down so I pulled over and asked him if he needed help. He said “Yeah” and jumped in I asked him, “What happened to your truck?” His answer caught me off guard when he replied, “That’s not my truck.”


As we rode along together I was kind of spooked. I kept thinking, what is this guy doing in a snowstorm with no car, no food, and no water, just a black coat and a beanie? I tried to start a conversation several times but he didn’t say much, just that he was an out of work carpenter headed for Salt Lake City. He said he heard that there might be work there, but other than that he barely spoke at all. When I asked him if he had family in Utah, he said, “No family.” I began to have some crazy thoughts. How did this guy get to the top of Vail Pass in a heavy snowstorm on foot? Why was he traveling with no backpack or supplies? And what happened to the driver of that 18-wheeler on the side of the road?

After traveling for about four more hours along a section of Hwy 70, I spotted a gas station and a Wendy’s Restaurant. As we pulled up I asked the stranger if he wanted something to eat. He grunted, “No,” but I knew he had to be hungry, so I went inside and ordered two double cheeseburger meals and brought them back to the truck. As we pulled back out on the highway, I think he said, “Thanks,” but it was only a faint whisper that I could barely hear.


Soon we came to the intersection of Hwy 70 and 15, where my journey would take me south. All of a sudden he said, “Stop here!” It was late in the day and the sun was going down, plus it was cold out and we were in the middle of the desert, so I asked him, “Are you sure you want to get out here? If you want to keep riding along for a while, I’d be willing to get you a motel room.” The stranger just kept his head down and never responded, so I pulled over. As he started to get out of the truck I grabbed his arm and stuck a fifty-dollar bill in his hand and with a slight nod of his head, he turned away and jumped out of my truck, slamming the door. I kept thinking he’s going freeze to death out there, but I didn’t know what else to do. So I put the truck in gear, made a quick U-turn, and looked out the window to wave goodbye.

That’s when it got really spooky. The stranger was nowhere to be seen! Even though we were in the middle of the desert, with no trees and not even a cactus to hide behind, the stranger was gone! He vanished in less than 20 seconds and it totally freaked me out. “Where’d he go? What happened to him?” I even began to think maybe he climbed onto the back of my truck and was hiding out, waiting to jump me and rob me when I stopped again. I guess I was just being paranoid but I also began to wonder, “Did I really did just spend 6 hours with a mysterious stranger in a black beanie, who barely spoke, and then disappeared into thin air? What was that all about?”

When I finally did pull over at a Motel 6 about an hour later, I was still freaked out. So I climbed slowly out of the truck, walked around the back, and peered in to see if the stranger was hiding in the back of my truck or something. Fortunately, he wasn’t, so I guess I felt relief, but I also couldn’t stop wondering what happened to him. It was then that I decided to call my office and let them know that I had picked up the truck and was safely down the mountain. Boy did I get a funny surprise! My Office Manager told me she had finally decided on the perfect gift we should get our customers as a promotional item for the upcoming Christmas Season… Black Beanies with our Sundown Logo on them!

There are so many lessons I can learn from that experience. But maybe the most important lesson is that wherever I go and whatever I do, I am always operating for an audience of One. No matter if I’m at home or at work, or in a snowstorm in Colorado, or even on a remote highway in the desert, I need to remember that God is always watching me. So I should always do my best to serve others…. even if it’s a scary ghost in a black beanie!
Sundown Lighting's Promotional Black Beanie


One of the most beautiful compensations of this life is 
that you cannot sincerely try to help another…  
without helping yourself.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Walk The Walk

I’m pretty sure that most of us have experienced a bad neighbor at some time in our life. We’ve certainly had our share and unfortunately, we currently have a bad neighbor where we live now. For the past five years she has consistently caused us problems, so we refer to her as the “crazy lady” next door. By the way, that’s the same description the sheriff uses every time he has to deal with her.

And when I say crazy, I’m not exaggerating. She has an extremely loud voice and loves to drink and party all night on the beach. But mostly she loves to be the center of attention. My wife and I try our best to ignore her, so maybe that’s why she doesn’t like us and keeps trying to make us want to move. Whatever the reason, here is just a short list of some of the “crazy lady” things we have had to deal with.

·         She tore down our mailbox and our neighbor’s mailbox in a drunken rage one evening.
·         She knocked over a temporary fence we had installed, but managed somehow not to spill her drink.
·         She likes to party late into the evening and sing along with loud Hispanic music, which wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t singing so off key.
·         She doesn’t like me to park in front of my own house because it makes it slightly harder for her to turn into her driveway, so earlier this year she took her electric golf cart and creased the whole side of my truck with it.
·         Two months ago, we brought home some giant pink balloons from our daughter’s wedding shower and tied them out on our beach area. They were gently swaying in the breeze when we went inside to eat lunch. When we came back out, they had both been mysteriously popped.
·         And most recently, she broke off all the branches on the single beautiful Jade Tree we have in our front yard. I’m not sure what the Jade Tree did wrong, but maybe it simply forgot to applaud as she walked by.

So… If you’re wondering why we don’t just move away, there are several reasons. For example, we love living at the beach, we love our landlord, and we love all of our other awesome neighbors who help offset the single bad one. But you may also be wondering why we don’t retaliate. Well, the truth is we have thought about it and come up with a lot of clever ideas, but we can’t act on any of them because we’re trying to be good Christians. So, what can we do? We can be thankful! I know, now you think I’m the crazy one! But think about it. This “crazy lady” is giving us a chance every month to show God that we can pass His test, that we can actually walk the walk (just so long as we don’t walk into her yard), and that we understand what it means to turn the other cheek. We won’t stoop to her level (although I did stand on a ladder yesterday to install security cameras) and we won’t complain about it anymore (mainly because it doesn’t change anything anyway), but we will do something from now on every time we see her. We will walk the walk… and we might even applaud!

Prayer is when you talk to God. 
Faith is when you walk with God.
~ Anonymous


Monday, October 2, 2017

Give and Take

My wife and I are currently vacationing in Kauai and enjoying all that the island has to offer. The house we rented is perched out on a bluff with a gorgeous 280-degree view of the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean. As I sit here at the kitchen table typing this new Monday Message, I can see giant sea turtles swimming down below in the cove, gecko’s crawling outside on the deck, white tailed Tropicbirds flying overhead and lizards and frogs jumping around out by the rocks surrounding the pool. This place must be close to the center of Mother Nature’s universe because besides all the wonderful wildlife, we are also surrounded by lush green trees, beautifully colored plants and brilliant rainbows.

Having grown up on a ranch in Fallbrook, I’ve always had a love for nature, especially animals. But when I heard my wife scream as she stepped into the pool, I knew there must be some kind of deadly critter in the water. She screamed again and I said, “What is it?” She didn’t answer at first, she just pointed at the tiniest, cutest little frog I have ever seen and then shouted, “I think it’s dead!” I had to laugh because a miniature frog is not exactly a deadly creature, but apparently my wife doesn’t like frogs, especially dead ones floating in the pool.

The funny thing is, the frog wasn’t dead. Granted, he was floating upside down on the surface of the water, so he looked like he had drowned. But when I went to scoop him up he popped himself right side up on my hand and started moving around. He looked straight up at me and crawled out to the end of my finger. The little guy was smaller than my fingernail, but big on personality. I think he liked hanging out with me because he appeared to be smiling as I took him in the house with me to get my phone. And when I took him back outside to take his picture, he never once tried to jump away.

That tiny little toad and I had a good time hanging out together for at least 10 minutes. But then I wanted to return him to the wild, so I took him to the back side of the pool and set him on a lava rock. In less time than it took for me to stand back up, a large alligator lizard leaped onto the rock and chomped straight down on my new best friend. Now I was the one that felt like screaming. It was horrible to watch as that lousy lizard slowly munched my little buddy down his big fat throat. I swear that stupid lizard was smiling at me and I could just imagine what he was thinking, “Dude, thanks for lunch!”

I know that God designed our world in His infinite wisdom, and that this earth is designed “to give” and “to take”, and I appreciate the beauty and the wonder of it all. But sometimes… the “take” part is just kind of hard to take! 

Goodbyes are not forever.
Goodbyes are not the end.
They simply mean I’ll miss you.
Until we meet again!
Anonymous

Monday, September 25, 2017

Best Friends

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017, was one of the happiest days of my life. I got to walk my 27-year-old daughter, Brooke, down the aisle and give her away to a man I have come to truly love and trust. I never thought any man would be good enough for either one of my daughters, but Zac treats my daughter Brooke like gold, has tons of friends (which says a lot about his character), works hard every day, and is humble in all aspects of his life. It’s obvious they are “best friends” and madly in love. What more could a father want!

The wedding was at a small vineyard Arroyo Grande, and was attended by over 100 friends and family members. The ceremony was short and sweet and absolutely beautiful. They even gave me the honor of reading from the Bible to get the ceremony started and somehow I managed not to mess it up, (trust me I practiced a lot beforehand), and the reception afterwards was every bit as fun and beautiful as the wedding.

Receptions always include a toast by the “Best Man” and the “Maid of Honor”. At this wedding, the best man was Zac’s brother, Ben, and his speech was hilarious and at times extremely heartwarming as well. He spoke about how close he and Zac were growing up, how much he looked up to Zac, and how Zac always had his back. Ben’s love for his brother flowed effortlessly with every word of his toast. The bride’s maid of honor was a sibling as well, her sister. Nikki’s speech was very different as she spoke about how her and Brooke were not able to bond as children because of a seven-year age difference. But she went on to tell how she and her sister have totally bonded now as adults, living close to each other, spending countless evenings together, sharing problems and solving problems, as only “besties” can. Nikki fought back tears as she expressed her love for Brooke and how much they mean to each other.

Ben’s toast made us laugh, and Nikki’s toast made us cry, both speeches showering us with love. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house and yes, I shed a few tears myself. But I also couldn’t stop thinking how wonderful it must be to have a loving brother or sister that you can always count on. I have a sister but we haven’t spoken in years and it’s been a source of pain all my life. But Saturday, the day of my daughter’s wedding, was also the day of my sister’s birthday. So, I decided to send her a brief note wishing her a happy birthday. I haven’t heard back from her and probably won’t, but at least I feel good about reaching out to her. Who knows, maybe if she realizes that I took time to think about her, even though I was totally immersed in my daughter’s wedding day, it will spark some small flame inside of her. If not, then I will simply appreciate all the great people in my life and be accepting of the rest.

And that got me thinking… If you have a loving sister or brother or close relative of any kind, you are blessed beyond measure. So don’t wait for their birthday to reach out to them. Tell them today that you love them. Who knows, in some small way, it just might make today the happiest day of their life!
Mr. and Mrs. Baysinger - September 23rd, 2017
Yesterday brought the beginning, tomorrow brings the end, 
and somewhere in the middle we became the best of friends.
~Anonymous

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lift Your Head (by Debby Thrailkill)

Sometimes I feel as if I am riding on top of Jesus’s shoulders as he carries me along the trail of life. Sure, that is a bold statement (and I’m tempted to knock on wood), but I know He is with me and my life is good. However, it’s not as if I don’t have struggles, we all do. I suffer with ongoing migraines and back pain, many of my loved ones have health concerns, and too many have passed away recently. Plus, the stress of surviving in the chaos that is OC is ever present. Yet I strive to be as positive and happy as I can be because blessings abound everywhere I go.

Many times, I will rush through my day, deep in my own thoughts while out in public. I hurriedly keep my head down, anxious to get everything done and head back home while avoiding interaction with others. And it occurred to me that in those moments, I can have a profound effect on others. In fact, our daily interactions with people can make a difference and sometimes we can be a blessing to others without even realizing it. Being aware of that is the first step!

For example, when our kids were growing up, we attended church quite often. But I was always busy with our four kids, getting them situated and finding a seat next to my husband. I hoped to blend in, listen to the sermon, and get on with our day. But then one day a lovely lady, dressed very elegantly and with a soft voice, pulled me aside and welcomed me. She inquired if we were new and introduced herself warmly. On further visits, she always smiled and took time to visit with me. Even though we never knew each other outside of church, she made me feel welcome… and that truly made a lasting impact on me! I started making it a point that when I was out in a similar situation, I would be welcoming to someone else. I’ve always remembered her grace, and I was saddened to learn recently that she is suffering with ALS. I have her in my prayers now, just as she always included me in hers.

I have a friend who recounts a similarly impactful story. She recently volunteered to lead Vacation Bible School for Foothills Church in RSM and she shared with me how she would be nervous when she was up on the stage, acting and telling a story to the children who were intently watching and listening below. She would smile as she found herself becoming larger than life (out of her comfort zone) in order to entertain and inspire the kids. Afterwards, at a women’s retreat, ladies were encouraged to write anonymous notes to one another. When my friend opened a note left for her it read, “You are the reason I am here.”. It went on to say, “You’ve been a blessing to my family and our son was so touched by you at the VBS he attended, that he encouraged our family to start attending church together.”

As the summer turns to fall and the busy holiday season comes upon us, I encourage you to reach out of your comfort zone. All you have to do is lift your head to realize that your interactions with strangers are just as important to Jesus as your interactions with your loved ones. You can change the lives of others with a simple act of kindness, a friendly smile, or even a simple word of encouragement. Our lives are larger than we think. Just as we are carried when we need it, our thoughtful interactions might just help us carry someone else on our shoulders when they need it.

Even the most routine part of your day can be a 
spiritual act of worship, holy and pleasing to Me.
~ Romans 12:1-2

Monday, September 4, 2017

Appetizer Moments

We have a huge family that’s very close, so we get together a lot to celebrate. It might be a birthday, a wedding, or a holiday, but whatever the occasion there’s always good food to be had. That’s because there are a lot of “foodies” in our family, but unfortunately, I am not one of them. The only thing I can cook is scrambled eggs and it took me several years to learn how not to burn them into oblivion. So I’m often selected to help with the appetizers, instead of the entrĂ©e, and I kind of like that role.

Last week we celebrated my oldest son’s 34th birthday at our Beach House and the whole family turned out. To make it extra fun (and because my son is a huge fan of the show) we set up 3 tents on the beach with a super long table and decorated everywhere with “Game of Thrones” paraphernalia. A lot of people came in costume true to the show and of course we needed food that would be true to the show as well. My job was to barbecue a combination of mini-meats as appetizers, so I cooked up some of those awesome little smoky sausages and miniature veal wieners and used wooden skewers so you could easily munch “meat on a stick” and not even need a plate. I think they were a big hit, but to be honest, they were just a small sampling of the awesome food to come. The main course included Kibbeh, which is a classic Middle Eastern dish made of bulgur wheat, pine nuts, minced onions, and Levantine spices mixed into finely ground lamb (or you can use camel meat if you really want to go uber classic). Kibbeh is something we only make for special occasions (because it’s so labor intensive) but it is absolutely delicious beyond description.

Creating appetizers as a taste of something awesome to come… got me thinking. We experience a lot of “appetizers” during our lifetime. Small moments of joy when time stops and heaven blooms right in front of us. I’m not sure I’ve noticed all of the appetizer moments in my life, but looking back I can see them now.
·         I remember the smile on my Dad’s face when I was 6 years old and I peddled my bicycle in front of our tiny little house in Memphis for the very first time.
·         I remember the pounding of my heart as my dog and I slid together on a big piece of cardboard down a very steep dew-covered grassy hill in the avocado groves of Southern California when I was 10.
·         I don’t remember the first time I ever kissed a girl, but I do remember being about 14 when a girl kissed me for the very first time… and I thought I was going to pass out.
·         And I remember how stunningly beautiful my wife looked as she came down the aisle at our wedding, truly a foretaste of what angels must look like.

Appetizer moments happen all the time and they don’t always come from the kitchen. Sometimes they come from heaven!

I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. 
There was such a glory over everything. 
The sun came up like gold through the trees, 
and I felt like I was in heaven.
~ Harriet Tubman

Monday, August 21, 2017

Pure Joy

I would like to start this Monday Message by asking a question and then end it with a question as well. Here’s my first question, “Can you say that you are truly alive?”
                                                                                                                             
Last week two of my grandkids came to visit me at the beach. Jack is 10 and Andie Rose is only 9, so they have more energy than a squadron of storm troopers. In fact, that’s kind of what they do, storm through their daily lives, full speed ahead.

Jack likes to build things but he also enjoys tearing things down. So, we spent a fun hour together demolishing the old shed behind my house so that we can build a new one in its place next week. What young boy wouldn’t love swinging a five-pound sledge hammer at a wooden structure!

Andie Rose on the other hand, loves gymnastics and is on a Championship Cheerleading Team. Because of those two loves, she is always moving. When we went down by the water she immediately started doing cartwheels and back handsprings in the sand like they were nothing. It was pretty amazing. She can bend like a noodle and then explode with surprising strength. When I told her she was awesome, she said, “Why don’t you try it, Grandpa?” I reminded her that I’m 62 years old and she fired right back, “Well, so what, you’re not dead yet!?” How could I refuse that logic! My first cartwheel resembled a drunken sailor falling down a flight of stairs and my second one was even worse. So Andie Rose suggested I start out by learning to do hand stands. That didn’t seem like it would be so hard, but my first attempt was an epic fail. But with Andie’s encouragement and her beautiful smiling face beaming away at me, I kept trying and by about the tenth try, I did it. You know what, it was fun and it made me feel young… and alive!

And that got me thinking. We only get one shot at life but the good news is that we actually get to make the choice as to how we are going to live it. If we choose to wake up each day glad to be alive and willing to show it, we just might have a little fun. More importantly (and what I think I forget a lot of times) is that how I live my life has an effect on others. Andie Rose had a profound effect on my life that day. She taught me I can go around with my head in the sand or I can go around doing cartwheels in the sand. It’s my choice!

So here’s my second question… When was the last time you expressed pure joy at being alive?
Today was good.
Today was fun.
Tomorrow will be another one!
~ Dr. Seuss

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Great Expectations

Ever since I’ve known my wife, she’s been in love with Mexican food. She says it came over her when she was pregnant with our youngest daughter and ever since then she’s had to have Mexican food at least 5 or 6 times a week. She makes great tacos at home but when we’re on the road, I try to take her to the nicer Mexican restaurants. However, she absolutely loves Del Taco almost any time, so since I absolutely love my wife, you know what they say, “Happy Wife, Happy Life” and off we go for more Del Taco!

Yesterday, we were running chores all over town and when I started getting hungry for lunch, I asked her where she wanted to eat.  Actually, I asked, “Which Mexican Restaurant do you want to go to for lunch?” She laughed and said, “Is there a Del Taco nearby?”. (I don’t even know why I ask.) I remembered that there are a couple of fast food places, off Marguerite and Avery in Mission Viejo, so we headed that way. We were deep into a conversation when we pulled into the drive through, but I stopped talking to ask her, “The usual?”. She said yes, so I leaned out the window and started my order by saying, “Hi, can I get two Del Tacos and a Quesadilla?”. The lady in the restaurant said, “You’re in the wrong place.” I looked again at the menu board and there was a speaker with a sign right next to it that said, “Order Here”. So I’m thinking, what does she mean, this has to be the right spot to place an order? Then she clarified things for me. “Sir, this is not Del Taco. This is Jack in the Box.” Whoops! First time I’ve even done that and boy did I feel stupid! Fortunately, there was nobody behind me so I crawled slowly out of the drive thru with my head hanging low, and headed for the real Del Taco next door, my wife laughing equally at the both of us. Our expectations were definitely not going to be met by going to the wrong place.

And that got me thinking… Having expectations is a big factor when it comes to being happy in life. We often expect a lot out of others, but are our expectations realistic? If we expect a child to get A’s when they’re really a C student, it’s going to crush them. If we expect our neighbor to cut their grass when our yard is full of weeds, then the neighborhood is always going to look bad. Or if we expect our boss to understand that our workload is too heavy, but we don’t explain it to him, then frustration and depression are definitely going to set in. So I think it’s really important to have expectations in life, especially of ourselves and what we want to achieve. But when it comes to our expectations of others, the important thing is to keep them real. If we expect a lot from ourselves and only a little from others, we will rarely be disappointed. 
The very first Del Taco in 1964
The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations.
Eli Khamarov

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Huh?

When I was in High School I raced motorcycles every weekend at the local race tracks throughout Southern California. I was small at the time, probably weighing no more than a buck fifty, but I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt and I absolutely loved to go fast. So the combination of being light weight and loving speed made me fairly successful. My favorite track was a dirt scrambles course in Lake Elsinore where I could slide my Yamaha sideways through sweeping turns at excessive speed and then fly off a huge jump. My buddies and I were all ranked in the “Open Expert Class” and took turns winning the shiny steel trophies that were our only reward for risking our young and exuberant lives. I loved every minute of it.

Well, almost every minute of it. The motorcycles back then were mostly two-stroke bikes with extremely loud exhaust pipes. After racing on a Saturday night, my ears would ring and keep ringing all the way until school started again on Monday. I didn’t think much about the damage to my hearing at the time. Heck, I pretty much felt invincible in those days. Plus, winning trophies really impressed the girls and got me a lot of dates, so who cares if your ears suffer a little bit. But that was 40+ years ago and things are different now.

Last week, my wife and I met six other family members at a Mexican Restaurant for “Taco Tuesday”. We were the last to arrive so we had to sit at the far end of the table, but it was great to spend time with our family, two of whom had just flown in from Seattle. The only problem was I couldn’t hear any of the conversation. I’ve started to struggle with hearing lately and a loud restaurant environment is the worst for me. I just sat there nodding my head, pretending like I could hear, but being bummed out at missing the connection that fun conversation creates. At one point, I looked across the table at my wife and I think she could tell I was struggling because she put her hand out for me to hold and said out of the blue, “I love you”. It was a small gesture of love at the perfect point in time.

And that got me thinking… Most of us lead crazy chaotic lives, filled with stress and struggles that create a constant cacophony of sound in our heads. We often feel like we can’t get away from the never-ending noise that fills our world, but actually I think we can. And if you don’t mind, I would like to tell you two ways that work for me. • First, I start every single morning with a simple prayer of thanks. Usually, in the darkness of the early morning I am all by myself and the world is still quiet. I haven’t yet started worrying about the duties of the day, so I can focus on conversing with my Creator. I truly believe He speaks to me and the funny thing is, it’s never a struggle to hear Him. Plus, it feels good! • Second, I try to find quiet time to converse with someone I love. When I truly focus on another person, listening to every single word, spoken or unspoken, being mindful of their needs and desires, it definitely drowns out the societal stress around me. I can’t always fix things or have the perfect advice, but I can be there for them in the moment, fully engaged, and that feels good too! I guess what I am saying is that you don’t have to have perfect hearing… to listen!
Two of my dirt track racing bikes, circa 1973
Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of 
listening when you would have preferred to talk.
~ Doug Larson 


Monday, July 31, 2017

Reshaping

I hate to admit it but I messed up last week. To begin with, I lost my patience when a crazy driver started honking at me for going too slow down Coast Highway despite the fact that there was heavy summer traffic forcing all of us to go slow, and then I lost my cool.

She wasn’t just honking at me, she was flipping me off as well. And then she changed lanes and nearly took off my front bumper as she swerved in front of my truck and began tailgating other cars. (Yes, I said she.) So I laid on my horn for at least 20 seconds to let her have it. In my head, I’m thinking this crazy person needs to know that she is driving like a crazy person and I’m just the guy to let her know it. What I was basically saying to myself was that she needs a taste of her own medicine and unfortunately, that’s exactly what I did… I acted just like her. 

At first it felt good to lay on that horn and let out my frustration. But then I turned and looked at my wife in the passenger seat and the look on her face wasn’t exactly one of extreme pride in her husband. She just sat there shaking her head. She didn’t have to say anything because at that moment, I knew I blew it. The funny thing is, I have probably averaged 40,000 miles a year on So Cal roads for over 40 years, so I know what to expect and I usually take it all in stride. So what was different this time?

I thought about that question on my way home and I thought about how important it is to be tolerant. For all I know, that lady could have had a sick child in the back seat and was hurrying to the hospital. Or maybe she just had a huge fight on the phone with her husband and was hurrying home to make things right. Or maybe, she has a really tough boss and was late for work and worried about getting fired. I don’t know what her situation was, but obviously she was really upset about something long before I came into view. Instead of honking at her, I probably should have been praying for her.

When I got home, I realized that the speeding lady driver made a mistake… and so did I. We are all human beings and therefore we all make mistakes, but it only makes it worse when we get mad at others or mad at ourselves. I read somewhere that when we make mistakes it’s like being on an anvil. It’s like we are supposed to be God’s tools here on earth but sometimes we get a little rusty, or a little dull, or a little bent. Every good blacksmith keeps his tools in shape and I think God probably does too. So when that happens we shouldn’t get down, we should simply realize that the good news is, God thinks we are still worth reshaping!

You will not be punished for your anger.
You will be punished by your anger.
~ Anonymous

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Triumverate

One of the fun things about living at the beach is that we see a lot of wildlife every single day. Yes, there are a lot of rental homes here on Beach Road typically filled with summer vacationers who party late into the night, but that’s not really what I am referring to when I say “wildlife”. I’m talking about the animals and the sea life that abound both above and below the water.

We moved here five years ago and so far this summer we have seen more wildlife than ever. Such as…
·         Two huge 50’ Gray Whales breaching their full length up into the air
·         Majestic Pelicans that dive bomb out of the sky to catch fish near the surface
·         A steady stream of Dolphins that travel in groups and love to play together in the waves
·         Cormorant Ducks that dive under the surface of the sea and stay there for long periods of time
·         Sea Lions with puppy-like faces that float on their backs and appear to be waving to you
·         And Dogs, lots of Dogs every single day that get super excited about the ocean

Why are there so many people always walking their dogs up and down the beach? I mean, I love dogs and I’ve had plenty of dogs over the years, but this area of Capistrano Beach where we live doesn’t allow dogs on the beach. But I guess that doesn’t matter because I see dozens of people walking their dogs every single day. It’s kind of fun to watch them get excited, chase a stick into the water, and bark at fish they spot swimming near the shore. (Sometimes the dogs even get excited too!) But the question is, why do those three elements – people, dogs, and the ocean - go together so well?

First, they say taking long walks outdoors is good for you because it combines exercise with fresh air. Second, having a dog and caring for a dog is good for you because it lowers your stress and blood pressure. Third, there is something about being at the beach that feels really good to most people. Maybe it’s the sound of never-ending waves pounding the shore, or the smell of the ocean with its ever-present fishiness, or maybe it’s just so darn beautiful that we can’t help but feel closer to God when we are there. Whatever it is, the combination of those three elements is special. Hey, that reminds me of a picture I took this week of a lady, her dog, and a Monk fishk hanging out of her dog’s mouth, a very unique triumvirate. Which reminds me of another triumvirate that will help lower your blood pressure, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost! 


Man is dog’s idea of what God should be.

~ Holbrook Jackson



Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Narrow Path

There are a lot of fun things to do when you live at the beach, especially during the summer. One of the things I enjoy most is when my wife and I go for a long bike ride. We always start out on Beach Road, which is a private community, so it’s not crowded at all. But then we hit the public beach area and continue on towards Doheny Beach before heading back home. There are always lots of people around in the summer time, enjoying the weather, so it’s kind of fun to take it all in while getting some exercise at the same time.

Bicycle riding also gives my wife and I chance to talk and share ideas together. She is a constant source of inspiration to me and will often help me come up with ideas for Monday Messages, which is exactly what happened yesterday. At the end of the public beach sidewalk, as you transition into the parking area, there are several short wooden poles. They’re there to prevent cars from driving onto the sidewalk, which seems crazy, but then again I’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff going on at the beach. So every time we ride our bikes along this path we have the choice of going between the two poles that are spaced far apart or the two poles that are spaced close together.

I would say that 95% of the people who ride bikes on this path choose to go between the poles that are spaced farther apart. It’s easier and more natural. But for some reason, I always choose the narrow path. Even if I’m alone and riding really fast to get a good workout, I always choose the narrow path. It’s more difficult and a bit dangerous because if you clip one of those stout wooden poles you’re going to slap the pavement pretty hard, but I always choose the narrow path. And yesterday, my wife asked me… Why?

I had to think about that question before I answered. “I choose the narrow path because it’s more difficult and it feels good.” The more I thought about that question, the more I realized that I’ve been choosing the “narrow path” most of my life. When I was a teenager I chose to go to Church on Sunday mornings instead of sleeping in, and it helped me begin my own personal relationship with God. When I was a young man I chose to start my own company instead of working for someone else, and although it was really tough at times, it helped me achieve financial success at an early age. When I chose to adopt a new born child, I knew that it might be stressful, but instead it turned out to be wonderful. When I was a divorced single Dad looking for love, I chose to marry a woman with three young children and while that might be scary for most men, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. And when I decided to start writing Monday Messages back in 2007, I knew it would be hard to come up with a new idea each week, but I also knew that if I could do it, I would feel good about it. Hey, maybe my answer was right! Doing something easy doesn’t feel like anything. But doing something difficult… that feels really good!
The Narrow Path
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
You know what you know.
And you’re the only guy who’ll decide where you go!
~ Dr. Seuss

Monday, June 26, 2017

Kneeling & Healing

My wife accidentally dislocated her right knee cap last week. She was in such tremendous pain, she started sweating profusely and became acutely nauseous, but fortunately, she was able to pop it back in place. I have never personally dislocated a knee cap but I have dislocated my shoulder and I’m pretty sure that any time you dislocate a joint it’s going to be extremely painful and impossible to ignore. Or is it?

She went to the doctor and is doing better but her knee is still sore and she’s really worried about dislocating it again. So I got some advice from several friends who are athletes and then went on line to do some research where I came across a story that was hard to believe, but true. A group of Finnish Doctors did a controlled study on the power of “fake” surgery. They solicited a group of 146 volunteer patients who had knee injuries such as a torn meniscus and enrolled them in a trial study. Half of the patients had real surgery, while the other half received only minor incisions on their knee to make it look like they had surgery. The amazing results were that in terms of healing, there was no significant difference between the two groups. Does that prove that surgery is a waste of time? Absolutely not. But it does prove that the human mind has tremendous power and if we can learn how to tap into it better, we just might end up in a lot less pain.

So how do we tap into the power of our minds? I keep hearing the term “mindfulness” a lot these days and I think I am beginning to understand the concept. “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” So how does mindfulness relate to the results of the clinical trials performed by the Finnish Doctors? Perhaps practicing “mindfulness” is the first step towards being truly able to tap into the immense power locked under our lids. You can call it the ability to focus, or you can call it extreme concentration, but the bottom line is having the ability to be fully focused and not bothered by people or events around you.

So where can we find a good example of someone using the power of their mind to be fully focused? Look no further than the Bible. Jesus was the most focused person to ever walk the earth. Once He began his journey, He never wavered, never sinned, never got distracted, never veered to the left or to the right, never once. He simply stayed on course until his goal was accomplished. Furthermore, like the Finnish Doctors recently discovered, He had the ability to heal hundreds of people without the aid of a single scalpel. I can find a lot of interesting stories and ideas on the internet, but I’m starting to think that I can learn a lot more by surfing the New Testament than I can by paddling across the internet… and it’s absolutely painless!

Some minds seem to create themselves, springing up 
under every disadvantage and working their solitary but 
irresistible way through a thousand obstacles.
~ Washington Irving