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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 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Window to the World

I’ve been writing Monday Messages for over 10 years now and I always try to relate them to current events. So when Father’s Day rolls around, it’s been my habit to try to write something related to my Dad. It’s been easy so far to come up with stories because my Dad was such a huge part of my life. He was always teaching me and inspiring me to be and to do my best. But after 10 years and of stories, I struggled to think of something new this year that I haven’t written about before. And then it hit me… right between the eyes!

It has been said that our eyes are the window to our soul. But my Dad also taught me that, “Looking out, your eyes are your window to the world.” The way we see the world has a tremendous effect on how we feel, think and act. If we see the world and the people in it as harsh and cruel, it’s easy to become bitter and discouraged. But if we look with our eyes and see the beauty and compassion that constantly surrounds us, we can instantly feel happy and encouraged.

Here’s an example. Yesterday (for Father’s Day) a friend of mine took his wife and three young boys to Angel Stadium to catch a baseball game together. Halfway through the game his wife went for pizza and on the way back she tripped and fell down the steep concrete steps. She tore up her shins and scraped her knees and sent the pizza flying. She was bleeding and needed first aid, so immediately several people jumped up to help her. One person even went to the food court and brought her and her family back a replacement pizza. It would be easy to look at the crowd in the baseball stadium and see a loud, obnoxious, beer drinking, bunch of hooligans. But if we were to really look close, through our “window to the world”, we would see compassionate, caring souls who are quick to offer help and generous beyond measure.

I know the world is filled with problems and that there are plenty of bad people out there. But thanks to my Dad and his awesome advice, I choose to use my eyes to focus on the good that I can see. And although I have to break out the Windex and clean my “window” once in a while, I can always find something good to focus on. Thanks Dad, for teaching me to use my senses… to make some sense out of this world!
Father's Day crowd at Angel Stadium
See everything, overlook a great deal.
~ Pope John XXIII 

Chain Reaction

In the mid 80’s my life was a huge mess, but fortunately I was able to turn things around. I realized what I was doing wrong and that I didn’t have my priorities straight. My priorities needed to be faith, family and friends being first. So I made the necessary changes and by early 1989 my life was going really well. I was operating a successful new business in Orange County, had a new place to live, and lots of new friends. I remember waking up one day and saying to myself, “I need to thank God for all the blessings He has given me.” But thanking Him just didn’t seem like enough, so I decided to show my gratitude by giving back.

When I got to work that morning, I grabbed the yellow pages (remember those days) and started looking for charities located near my office. As I ran my finger down the page, I came across the “Saddleback Community Outreach”. Since I had this beautiful view of Saddleback Mountain right outside my office window, it inspired me to pick that charity, which I visited that very same day. I discovered it was a brand new organization started by a man in his 70’s who had recently sold his insurance business so that he could spend all of his time helping others. Talk about having your priorities straight!

I started volunteering a few hours every Wednesday afternoon and found it to be both fun and satisfying. I continued working every week for several years and then I received an unusual “reward” for my efforts in 1991… my future wife came into my life! After Debby and I got married, she decided to get involved with the Outreach as well, except in a much larger way. By 2006 it had become one of the largest charities in South Orange County and Debby was elected President of the Board of Directors. I can’t even begin to add up the hours Debby has put in working for free at SCO (which is now called South County Outreach), or the sleepless nights she has spent worrying about coming up with enough money and donations to buy food each month. Her dedication to the organization has been incredible and it has also been extremely inspiring to me, as well as to many others.

Looking back at my life, I can see that the decision I made to “give back” started a chain reaction. I was simply trying to give back in some small way, but somehow it led to meeting my wife, which led to her being inspired to do charity work as well, which has led to her inspiring many, many others to join her at the Outreach, which is an organization that now hands out over 2 tons of food a day to needy people. We never know when some small act of faith, or some small gesture of gratitude may spawn a huge result. But we do know that somebody has to start the chain. Why not let it be you!
Debby, 4th from the left, hiding in the background
All men should strive to learn before they die, 
what they are running from, and to, and why.
~ James Thurber 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Straight Priorities

In the mid 80’s my life was a huge mess, but fortunately I was able to turn things around. I realized what I was doing wrong and where my priorities needed to be… faith, family and friends come first, and made the necessary changes. By early 1989 my life was going really well. I was operating a successful business in Orange County, had a new place to live, and lots of new friends. I remember waking up one day and saying to myself, “I need to thank God for all the blessings He has given me.” But thanking Him just didn’t seem like enough, so I decided to show my gratitude by “giving back”.

When I got to work that morning, I grabbed the yellow pages (remember those days) and started looking for charities located near my office. As I ran my finger down the page, I came across the “Saddleback Community Outreach”. Since I had this beautiful view of Saddleback Mountain right outside my window, it inspired me to pick that charity. I went down to their office that same day and discovered it was a brand new charity just starting up. The owner was 70 years old and had recently sold his insurance business so that he could spend all of his time helping others. Talk about having your priorities straight!

I started volunteering every Wednesday afternoon and found it to be both fun and satisfying. I was shocked at how many homeless and hungry people there were in such an affluent area, and the ones that really touched my heart were the single Moms who didn’t have enough food for their children. I continued working every Wednesday for several years and then I received an unusual “reward” for my efforts in 1991… when I met my future wife!

After Debby and I were married in 1995, she decided to get involved with the Outreach as well, except in a much larger way. By 2006 it had become one of the largest charities in South Orange County and at that time they decided to elect Debby as President of the Board of Directors. I can’t even begin to add up the number of hours Debby has put in working for free for SCO (which is now called South County Outreach), or the sleepless nights she has spent worrying about coming up with enough money and donations to buy food each month. Her dedication to the organization has been incredible and it has also been extremely inspiring to me, as well as to many others. I only spent a few hours a week for two years doing charity work, while Debby has spent over 11 years doing all she could to make it super successful. She obviously also has her priorities straight, which reminds me and inspires me… to keep my priorities straight as well.

Today, Monday June 12th, 2017, Debby sent a letter to the Board of Directors of the South County Outreach announcing her retirement. When she copied me on the letter, I felt a flood of emotions. I was surprised by her letter, but I was also happy for her because the stress related to her position at SCO was really overwhelming at times. For a businessman like me to carry the stress of running an organization is not so unusual because I am paid extremely well for my efforts. But for a volunteer to run an organization the size of SCO, and to do it for free for 11 years, is extraordinary. Debby, thank you for all you have done to help so many needy people and thank you for showing all of us how important it is to keep our priorities straight. I realize now that the real reward I received when I met and fell in love with you… was the inspiration you have given me to become the best man I can possibly be.
Debby, 4th from the left, hiding in the background
All men should strive to learn before they die, 
what they are running from, and to, and why.
~ James Thurber

Monday, June 5, 2017

Purpose in the Pain

My oldest grandson is home from college for the summer and needs to earn some money. He applied at several local restaurants for summer work but before he takes one of those jobs, I asked him to work for me for a week.

The job I gave him to do was to install over 400 exit signs at an apartment complex in San Diego. That’s a lot of exit signs and a lot of work. It’s not a complicated job but the hard part is that each sign is located at the base of a fire door, so you have to get down on your knees on the concrete floor to install each one. I worked with him the first morning and together we installed 20 signs. I told him I would pay him by the hour, but that I would also consider paying him “per sign” to give him a chance to make more money. Before I left I mentioned that installing 100 signs in one day would be a good goal. I knew it would be tough to get that many done, but I also wanted to test him and see if he had good character and a strong work ethic.

He called me around 5:30 that first evening to tell me he had just finished his 100th exit sign and was heading home. I was really pleased and really proud of him for getting so much work done completely on his own. I asked him how it went and he said, “Good, but I am really sore, especially my knees.” I laughed and told him, “That’s why I hired you to do it instead of doing it myself!” I also told him I was very proud of him and that I would pay him “per sign” for the whole project, which will definitely enable him to make twice as much money. What I didn’t tell him ahead of time, and maybe what I was trying to teach him, is that nothing good comes easy in life. They call it hard work for a reason, but the good news is that there is always “purpose in the pain”.

This morning, as I sat down to write this story, something occurred to me. We were given the ultimate example of “purpose in the pain” about 2000 years ago when Jesus attempted to reach his goal. He demonstrated extraordinary work ethic and suffered an enormous amount of pain, yet never lost sight of His purpose. The next time I get down on my knees to install a sign, or for any reason, I’m going to remember that I have more than one reason to be on my knees.
My Grandson, Jared, all grown up!

Whatever you do in life, echoes in eternity.
~ Anonymous

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sacrifice

I am very fortunate to be able to live such a great life. I live at the beach in a small but beautiful home. I can afford nice clothes, drive a new truck and have plenty to eat (in fact I probably eat too much). I’m warm, comfortable and secure, and best of all I have a wonderful family that includes four children and six grandchildren. My friend Bill has a life that is pretty much the same. He is a Senior Vice President at a major bank, lives in a beautiful home in a nice neighborhood, drives a nice car, and has a wonderful family that includes two sons.

Except there is one difference between Bill and I. I have two daughters and two sons, but one of my sons moved to Florida and probably won’t be moving back for another year or two. Bill has two sons, but his oldest son, Justin, joined the Army at age 21 and was immediately deployed to Iraq. Justin is never coming back, ever.

The good news (if there is such a thing) is that Bill has another son, Cameron. Cameron is an awesome young man but he hasn’t been the same since his brother Justin died. Cameron always looked up to his big brother, loved his big brother, and admired his big brother. So it was a profound loss. I gave Cameron a job working for me thinking it might take his mind off things. He worked hard, but his heart wasn’t in it and he ended up quitting. Bill shocked me when he told me that Cameron had decided to enlist and had already completed basic training. He will be shipping out to Iraq shortly. I couldn’t believe it at first. I saw the pain in Bill’s eyes, heard the crack in his voice when he first told me he had lost Justin. His suffering was so severe and so transparent I could taste it. And now he’s sending his baby, his only other child, off to war again. I didn’t ask why, I just offered my love and support.

My father served in the Marine Corps for over twenty years, so I understand the need for our military as well as first responders. And I support all that they stand for. I understand the need to defend our country and to defend the world from terrorism. But the one thing I don’t understand and may never understand is what it feels like to lose a loved one in a war, which is the ultimate sacrifice, and I hope I never do.

And that got me thinking… If everyone single person on earth understood what it’s like to have a loved one killed in war, then perhaps there wouldn’t be ever be any more wars.
Peace is a daily, weekly, monthly process, gradually changing opinions, 
slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures... 
and however undramatic the pursuit of peace, the pursuit must go on.
~ John F. Kennedy

Monday, May 22, 2017

Till They're Gone

There is a line in an old Joni Mitchell song that goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. That saying is probably true about a lot of things, but especially true when it comes to friends.

I miss Bob already and yet he just left a week ago.  Bob and I met for the first time when he joined the Halo Baseball Club about 6 years ago. He hadn’t played baseball in many, many years, and was a little out of shape. But he had a certain excitement and determination within him that you couldn’t help but notice. I liked him right away and kind of took him under my wing. I told him I would help him get familiar with our club, introduce him to all the guys, and that I would also work out with him. We both wanted to become better ballplayers, and we both had a real passion for the game, so we began working out together on a regular basis. It was fun and it made us better ballplayers... and it made us brothers.

Sometimes there would be a big group of guys at our practices and sometimes in the early days it was just me and Bob. I would hit him grounders, then he would hit me grounders. Then we would work on fly balls and then we would throw batting practice to each other. I’ll never forget the time I smoked a line drive right back at him. He got his glove up in time to just barely tip it away from his face, but it hit his glove so hard it fractured the end of his finger. I felt terrible, but Bob never complained and with his finger taped up, he played in a baseball game the very next week. Bob is tough and loves the game of baseball, so nothing is going to keep him out of a game. He worked extremely hard at getting better and he did get better, good enough to become both the most improved player in our club… and the most inspirational player …all rolled into one. And oh yeah, did I mention that Bob is 68 years old. You would never know it watching him play.

Bob is gone now, he moved to Idaho to be closer to his children. I texted him yesterday to make sure he got there okay and he texted back, “I love you, bro”. Now, I know that may sound weird but sometimes guys have a way of forming a bond with each other that is pretty special. Bob and I had that, or should I say still have that. It won’t matter how long it is before we see each other again, we will always have a special bond, sharing a passion for the game of baseball, as well as a passion for making the most of life at any age.

Getting that text from Bob reminded me that friendship is more valuable than gold and that we should definitely never take our friends for granted. So I decided right then and there to text a few friends that I hadn’t seen lately, ask them how they’re doing, and let them know I’m thinking about them. Every single one of them answered back in right away, in best friend kind of way, and it made me feel good that I had taken a few seconds to show my love to my bro’s. Life truly is short, so if you have a few close friends, don’t neglect them. You don’t know when they might be gone. And oh yeah, I think I forgot to mention something, Bob’s been battling a serious brain tumor for over a year now. Bob, if you’re reading this… I love you Bro!

Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is a truly a friend.
~ Tim Cahill

Monday, May 15, 2017

To Be A Blessing

I don’t know why crazy (but yet wonderful) things always seem to be happening in my life, but they do. Last week was no exception.

My wife started reading her Bible again and something she read gave her an interesting idea. She suggested we get baptized. We were both baptized as babies but neither one of us had been baptized as adults. It sounded like a good idea to me because adult baptism is an affirmation of faith already established, and if you do it as a couple, it can also be an affirmation of your love and faith in each other as well.

So we decided to go to the 4pm Saturday service at Saddleback Church and get baptized directly afterwards. The associate Pastor started out the service focusing on Mother’s Day and how important Moms are, how much love they give, and how much they sacrifice for the rest of us. It was a beautiful and moving message. The main sermon came next and Rick Warren focused on a message that tied in nicely with the Mother’s Day message. We should never give to others to “get a blessing”. We should give to others to “be a blessing”. (If you ask me, most Mom’s do that regularly anyway without even thinking about it.)

After the service, we changed into shorts and T-shirts and got ready to be baptized. We had some special friends there who joined us, but there were also dozens of other people watching which made us a little nervous. The pastor baptized me first and then together we baptized my beloved wife. When we raised her from the water, the wetness under my eyes wasn’t just water, and the goosebumps I got were definitely not just from the wind or my wet clothes, they were simply signs that something truly special had happened.

After the baptism, we decided to celebrate by having dinner at our favorite Mexican Restaurant. Unfortunately, it was really crowded and we were told the wait would be 1 ½ hours. However, we got lucky and found three open chairs at the bar and decided to grab two of them and eat at the bar. A few minutes later we noticed another couple waiting for a table so we motioned them over, scooted our chairs down, and tried to make room for them at the end of the bar, which they appreciated. As we started in on appetizers, the hostess came over and said that a table for two had unexpectedly opened up. I started to get up and my wife motioned me to sit back down. (She’s a Mom, remember!) Then she turned to the couple next to us and said why don’t you guys take our table. They were really happy about that and thanked us for our kindness. Likewise, we were in such a good mood after our baptism experience that we decided to live it up with appetizers, drinks, expensive entrees, and even Butter-Cake for dessert! I knew the bill would be huge but like I said, we were celebrating. When we finally asked for the bill, the bartender surprised us and said, “It’s already been taken care of!” Apparently, when you “give to others to be a blessing”– it can rub off on others!
If you listed all the reasons for your faith, 
and all the things that make you cry, it would essentially be the same list.
~ Robert Brault

Monday, May 8, 2017

Sunshine (Or... My World - Part 2)

Last week’s Monday Message was about setting a good example so that you can make a positive difference in “your world” no matter how small that world may be. Normally, I receive comments about each MM I write, which I really appreciate, but a strange thing happened in that for the first time ever, I did not receive a single comment. That’s fine, because I know everyone is super busy, so I don’t expect people to necessarily have time to read my stories or comment on them. My main goal is simply to write something interesting that will inspire people to think about… and focus on… the important things in life. Well, I spent time with someone last week who hadn’t yet read my most recent Monday Message - and didn’t need to!

His name is Antony and he is a “Personal Trainer”, but that is not his true profession. Let me explain. I injured my right shoulder playing baseball (and moving furniture on the same day) about a month ago. It has been so sore that I’ve had to miss the last 4 games. Two years ago, when I was training to go to the baseball World Series, I saw Antony on a regular basis and he got me in the best shape of my life. So, with my shoulder being injured, I decided it was time to see Antony once again.

The first thing Antony did was greet me with a great big smile and a huge hug. It was like I was his prodigal son returning from a long-lost adventure in a foreign land. He definitely knows how to make you feel welcome in his establishment. In fact, my nickname for him is “Sunshine”. Then he started with the questions, none of which were about my shoulder. He wanted to know how things were going with me personally, with my family, my kids, my business. He wanted to know if I was happy, if my wife was healthy, how often I was working out, what I ate, if my faith was still my focus, etc. All the while offering up encouragement and praise. We talked for a long time before Antony ever touched my shoulder and the entire time he worked on my shoulder he continued with his positive attitude and encouraging comments. Near the end of our session Antony was literally pounding on my shoulder with his fist, 40 to 50 times, trying to break up the internal constrictions. The whole time he was inflicting great physical pain on me, he still kept talking to me and encouraging me, reminding me of what a great baseball player I was and what a great player I could still be. Mr. Sunshine sure knows how to multi-task!

Despite the pain of the physical therapy, I loved my time with Antony. His never-ending positivity and overflowing love for people inspired me, lifted me up, and healed me in a way I didn’t even know I needed. I went in for a sore shoulder and came out with a happy heart. Antony reminded me that sometimes we don’t recognize that the stress in our lives can easily lead to physical health problems. Antony also reminded me that if we focus on the important things in life, such as being happy and enjoying the blessings we have been given, our bodies will respond in the most t positive manner. Wait…I just realized Antony should be the one getting credit for writing this week’s Monday Message, so let me make a comment. Way to go Sunshine!

Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, 
always bring a little of your own sunshine.
~ A. J. D’Angelo 

Monday, May 1, 2017

My World

My wife and I attended a memorial service last week for a friend who passed away unexpectedly. It was a beautiful ceremony and more of a celebration of his life than anything else. But as his lovely wife talked through her tears about his life and all that he accomplished, I couldn’t help thinking about my own life. Have I really accomplished anything of value during all the years of my life? Have I made a difference in this world? Can I make a difference in this world?

Somewhere, I remember reading a very haunting question. Do you want to make a difference in this world? The author’s answer was short, direct, and to the point. “Live a holy life.”

Whoa! That’s a lot easier said than done. And even if I could do that, could I really make a positive difference in this world? Here’s my answer… No! First off, I can’t live a completely holy life no matter how hard I try because I am simply a flawed human being, full of faults and far from grace. Second, I am only one person, living in one small town, in one small part of a country, that is part of a huge planet teeming with billions of people. I can’t possibly make a difference in this world.

But I can make a difference in my world! My world consists of my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my extended family, my friends, my coworkers and the people I meet on the street. My world is small compared to the entire population of the planet, but it’s still my world, where everything I do can have an effect on the people around me.
If am faithful to my spouse…
If I am honest at work…
If I treat my neighbors with respect and strangers with generosity…
If I pay my bills (and even my taxes) ...
If I lead a peace-filled life of love for others…
If I don’t speak one message and lead another…
If I set a good example…
Maybe I can make a difference in my world!

Actions do speak louder than words and most of the time, you would be surprised at how many people are watching. I know the list above is not easy, but if I am trying to honor God with how I live my life, and if my actions match my words, then people will know I am a Christian, not because of my words, but because of the example I set... in my world!

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. 
It is the only thing.
~ Albert Schweitzer


Monday, April 24, 2017

Absolution - Absolutely!

I am going to do something really hard right now… which is to make a confession. I confess that sometimes I get angry and lose my temper. That’s a hard thing to admit because I’m normally a very positive person with a great outlook on life who wakes up happy every day. So I don’t lose my temper very often. But the fact that I do get angry sometimes and raise my voice towards someone, is totally unacceptable. I know we are all human and make mistakes and everyone needs to vent once in a while, but I don’t want to keep making the mistake of getting angry at another person, especially a loved one. So what can I do about it?

As I read that last sentence above, a thought occurred to me. We are all human - so therefore we all make mistakes – so maybe that’s an important point to consider! About two weeks ago someone got angry at me in a parking lot when I made a simple mistake. I didn’t do anything wrong on purpose, I simply got distracted and caused the other person a minor problem. I felt bad when I got yelled at, but the truth is there’s a huge difference between making an honest mistake and purposely doing something wrong.

Looking back, I can see that I myself have also gotten angry at someone when quite often it was probably just an honest mistake on their part. At the time, I let my emotions get the better of me. If I would have taken time to step back and given them a chance to explain, I would have seen that there was no reason for anger. Mistakes are just that, mistakes, and not an indication of bad intent. However, if someone does try to hurt you on purpose, that’s a whole different story. I remember teaching my children as they were growing up, don’t judge others unless you want to be judged and never throw the first punch. But if someone throws a punch at you or your friend, you better stand up to them and do something about it because we have an obligation to protect ourselves and the other innocent people around us.

Wait! As I re-read that last sentence, another thought came to me. If I truly am a man of faith then I have an obligation to protect the innocent… even if it means protecting them from my own anger when they make an honest mistake. Now that’s two awesome ideas! I need to remember that people are human and I need to remember that they need our protection. Hey…. Maybe an old dog can still learn something new!

Footnote: Easter Sunday, April 16th, happened to be my 62nd birthday. Surrounded by my crazy, fun-loving, wonderful family as we vacationed at a mountain-top home in Lake Arrowhead, I was reminded how they are so very, very precious to me. So, on Monday, April 17th, I got down on my knees and made a vow to God to never raise my voice in anger again. Will it be a hard vow to keep? Yes. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely!

Easter Bunnies spotted at Lake Arrowhead 
Before you give someone a piece of your mind, 
make sure you can get by with what you have left.
~ Anonymous

Monday, April 10, 2017

Level C

I saw a something last week that sparked my imagination. On Friday afternoon as I left work, the freeway was totally backed up (what a surprise), so I decided to take side streets through Laguna Niguel. As I traveled down Alicia Parkway I noticed small groups of runners. One group included two girls who were wearing frilly purple skirts over their running shorts, and in fact, a lot of the runners were wearing strange costumes.

It was decent weather when I got home, so my wife and I decided to go for a bike ride. As we neared the public beach parking lot, we noticed a large section coned off that was jammed with people, including a dozen white “Ragnar Vans” decorated on the outside with words of encouragement. One Ragnar Van even had a frilly purple skirt attached to its rear bumper. This was apparently a checkpoint because we could see runners pouring in and tons of people stationed there to cheer them on. Sure enough, as we took in the sites, I noticed the frilly purple skirt group cruising in covered in sweat but also covered with huge smiles.

When we got home we did some research and found out this was a “Ragnar Relay Race”. Ragnar events are long distance, team, overnight running relays that take place in some of the most beautiful places in the world. According to their website, teams come together to conquer a course over a 24-hour non-stop period where they push their limits, on little amounts of sleep, with friends, and a community of runners by their side. Most teams are raising money for their own particular charity of choice so that provides the extra motivation needed to push through the pain. This particular race was nearly 200 miles long, stretching from Huntington Beach to San Diego, which is why it passed through our little piece of paradise.

Seeing all those people putting themselves through torture for the good of others got me thinking.
  • When we are children everything we need is given to us free of charge. If we need food, shelter or clothing, Mom and Dad pretty much take care of it. Let’s call that Level A.
  • Then when we become adults we realize that we, ourselves, have to work hard for everything we want and need because nobody is going to do it for us. Let’s call that Level B.
  • But some people take their lives to Level C. (Maybe C stands for Charity.) Level C is where a person is willing to struggle and sacrifice for the good of others. Not everyone can get to Level C or even wants to get there because it’s so painful and draining. But it’s a great concept that’s based on sacrifice, service and sharing. In fact, I think it’s probably a concept that goes back over thousands of years. Hey, maybe C stands for Christ!
The "Sparkles" Team in the Ragnar Relay So Cal Event 4-7-17

Down in their hearts, wise men know this truth: 
the only way to help yourself is to help others.
~ Elbert Hubbard

Monday, April 3, 2017

Criticism and Commitment

Seven years ago, I made a commitment to try to write an inspirational message every week. My goal was to remind people about the important things in life like faith, family, honesty, and integrity, but I also hoped I would be able use my faith and life experiences to draw people nearer to God. I look at it as one small way of giving back for all the blessings I’ve received in my life. However, it can be very difficult to come up with a good story every week and sometimes I struggle. Even worse, sometimes I’ll receive harsh criticism about my messages that makes me want to quit. But when I make a commitment, it’s like giving my word, so I do my best to stick to it.

Speaking of commitments, on Wednesday my wife and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary. I took the day off from work to spend it with her (because I know how important spending time together is to her) and she surprised me in a very special way. She asked me to go for a walk up to the top of Palisades Hill, which has a towering view of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island. It’s a pretty long walk but I wasn’t about to object. As we approached the top of Palisades Hill we came to a gazebo on a small look-out point where tourists can view the ocean. I stopped before we got there because a man was already standing there enjoying the view. She laughed and said that’s not just some man, that’s our friend Don (who is a pastor) and if it’s okay with you I would like to renew our vows today with this beautiful view that overlooks our little beach house by the ocean.

It was a wonderful surprise that I will never forget. Don even brought champagne and we toasted our friendship as well as our marriage. Since Don knows us so well and knows how committed we are to each other, he brought some special vows that he wrote for us that were perfect. Some commitments are hard to keep but I have to say my commitment to love, honor and cherish my wife is the easiest commitment I have ever made.

So this message is about making commitments and sticking to them. Whether it’s your marriage vows, your responsibilities at work, or writing a Monday Message, a commitment is a promise, a promise do your best each and every day. If you stick to it, you will become a towering example to all those around you… that no amount of harsh criticism can ever tear down!
View of the Ocean from the top of Palisades Hill

Commitment is a big part of what I am and what I believe. 
How committed are you to winning? 
How committed are you to being a good friend? 
To being trustworthy? To being successful? 
How committed are you to being a good father, teammate, role model? 
There's that moment every morning when you look in the 
mirror and ask, “Are you committed, or are you not? 
 ~ Lebron James 

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Way of Life

Do you ever get the feeling that somebody is trying to tell you something? Like somebody up above is sending you a message? Sometimes I get that feeling, but unfortunately it can take me a while to catch on.

I recently played in a golf tournament to raise money for the Fullerton College Baseball Team. My Halo Baseball Club shares the same field, so a lot of us ballplayers sign up to support this cause. I had the privilege of playing with one of my teammates, Danny, who has been a close friend of mine for 10 years. I have always admired Danny because he is such a great baseball player, but more importantly because he is such a great Christian guy. Humble and kind are the best words I can use to describe him. He never brings up the fact that he has won an MSBL World Series Ring, but instead focuses on finding ways to praise his teammates. Me, on the other hand, I almost always find some way to bring up the story of how I won a World Series Ring, even if the people listening don’t even like baseball. Sure, I mention how practice and prayer were the keys to my success, but humility is obviously not my strong point.

Last week I was searching for some corporate books at my office when I came across something unusual, a military sword and picture. I had forgotten that I those items were at my office and I’m not even sure why I brought them there. But the picture of my Dad in his USMC dress white uniform and his beautiful military sword brought back a flood of memories. My Dad was the humblest, kindest person I have ever known. Even though he won the Navy/Marine Corps Medal of Valor, he never once talked about it, preferring to listen to others and/or give them the shirt off his back if they needed it.

On Friday I received Sports Illustrated in the mail with a picture of Mike Trout on the cover. Mike is the best player on the LA Angels and the best player in all of baseball. In his first five years, he has finished 1st or 2nd in the MVP voting every single year. Nobody else has ever even come close. But Mike doesn’t talk about that fact, instead he takes the time to sign hundreds of autographs before and after every game. He doesn’t seek the spotlight and in fact, he declined to talk about himself in the Sports Illustrated article, so the writers had to get most of their information for the story from scouts and coaches. In 2015 Mike heard about a family that had a fire in their house at Christmastime. On his own he purchased gifts for them and dropped them by their house, even though they were strangers. Had the family not said anything about it, nobody would have ever known. Mike low-keyed it like he always does.  

After thinking about these three events, it began to dawn on me that somebody was sending me a message about humility and kindness. So I looked up the meaning of those words in the original Hebrew language and discovered that those words carried an added idea that the English words don’t. They both refer to an act of grace and a person who is “useful”. Apparently, humility and kindness are much more than adjectives. For some people, they are a way of life!
Humility doesn’t mean you think less of yourself, but that you think of yourself less.
 ~ Max Lucado