Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Valley of the Sun

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me ~ Psalm 23:4

Winston Churchill says "mountaintops inspire leaders but valleys mature them."  I agree.  I know a great deal about living in the valleys.  I was born in Phoenix, nicknamed the "Valley of the Sun."  When my wife and I got married, we moved to a small town in California, also named the "Valley of the Sun."  I climbed to the top of the snow-covered mountain you see in the photo above.  It was an exhilarating experience, like navigating the peaks and valleys of my own life.

Everything you need to know about valleys is summarized in King David's 23rd Psalm.  Winston Churchill reminds us of our need to spend time in the valley in order to gain wisdom.  It's in the valleys where I'm learning how to get closer to Jesus.  The mail carrier in my new hometown doesn't deliver mail to my address.  I have no mailbox.  But I do have a nickname for the place I call home – the Valley of the Son.  All that matters is Jesus is with me, especially when I find myself in the valleys.  No mail boxes are necessary.

Mountaintops inspire leaders but valleys mature them.
- Winston Churchill - See more at: http://www.verybestquotes.com/best-discipline-quotes-self-discipline-quotes-and-sayings/#sthash.Ioy8C32W.dpuf

Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Fight a Wildfire Threatening Your Goals

Wildfires are common in Southern California.  They arrive without advance warning.  I know what it's like firsthand to watch burning embers blasting through the sky, shooting hand grenades at you while you're trying to escape with your family.  Some situations in life are like wildfires.  You are checking off the goals on your to do list and suddenly trouble looms.  The situation may appear hopeless.

I discovered a solution while helping deliver food and water to the firefighters in my community during our crisis.    The firefighters fought fire with fire using blow torches.  They communicated with radios and relied on shifting winds to get the job done.  I watched them set backfires with blow torches.  With teamwork, these brave men and woman eventually got control and eliminated the threat.

My wife and I have our own blow torches for fighting our debt.  We're setting backfires.  We're communicating.  We know the wildfire won't be eliminated right away.  We are doing our best to minimize the damage and re-direct the flames.  When the economic winds shift, we make adjustments in order to reach our retirement goals.  The key is to never give up, just like the firefighters who saved our home in Southern California.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Roadside Assistance

Photography is my number three interest behind writing and playing tennis.  I especially enjoy pictures of sunrises and sunsets.  Last year I got a rare opportunity to capture perhaps my favorite shot of all times.  It wasn't easy.  I felt my heart pounding as I approached mile marker 231 along the icy Interstate 80.  The sun was peeking out from its furthest point south during my December morning commute.  Outside temperatures were steady at 1º and the road conditions were dangerous.  I checked my rear view mirror to make sure no one was directly behind me and slowed down before pulling over.  My model was patiently waiting for me at the top of the hill.  I grabbed my cell phone camera and stepped into the snow.  Each step felt like I was dipping into an ice bucket.  My fingers were instantly frozen.  I didn't care.  The sun had a peculiar ring around it that looked like a rainbow. Everything was in the perfect position for my photo shoot.  I snapped several pictures and returned to my car.

People ask me, "who's in the picture?"  Others tell me they see a woman who looks like she's praying.  They seem surprised when I tell them it's a tree stump.  For me, it's more than the remains of a fallen tree.  It's my roadside assistance.  Every morning when I drive by the tree stump, I get the urge to pray.  I thank God for all the symbols He uses to draw me closer to Jesus.  I will always treasure that special 12th day of December, 2013, when Mother Nature fully cooperated.  I named the tree stump Mary, in honor of the Jesus' Mother.  The photo is captioned, "There's something about Mary."  She's my daily reminder that Her Son will forever be my roadside assistance, no matter how far away from home I may be.  If you like the photo, please forward it to a friend.  Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share today's story with you.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Keep Your Cool

It's not easy sometimes.  Maybe you've got a lot on your plate today.  Perhaps the angry people around you are trying to disturb your peace.  Keep the picture you see above in your mind and let the cool breeze comfort you.  Don't let 'em see you sweat.  Just close your eyes and go to your happy place.  Stay cool. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

What Happens When You Feel What Others Feel?

90% of the world doesn't care what you think or feel.  I happen to be in the group that does care.  It's like being left-handed.  I'm in a minority.  I can't really describe what it's like to be a leftie in a right-handed world but I can identify with all the other lefties and know how they feel.  You can call me a "people whisperer."  My specialty is problem people.  Here are my thoughts about living with empathy...

There's a reason I avoid negative people.  I don't want to feel their negativity.  It's like biting into a bad apple or a sour grape.  Empathy is both a blessing and a curse.  There are levels of empathy.  Empathy 101 can be learned by observing pets and babies.  When a pet scratches at you while you're watching TV, he's telling you without words he needs to go relieve himself.  A crying baby is asking for some food or a clean diaper, also without using words.  Advanced empathy is feeling what others feel even when they don't want you to know something's up or down in their lives.  The clues are microscopic.  They may be covered up.  Once you discover the gift of empathy, it's impossible to turn it off.  If you're suffering from empathy overload, here are some ideas to help you maintain balance:
  1. Minimize your time with negative people.  You do this naturally when you stay out of the sun to avoid getting burned.
  2. Detach.  If you're living or working with someone who is headed for a train wreck, uncouple yourself.  If they come to you for help, point them in the direction of the professionals who can help and stay out of the way.
  3. Spend time with nature.  This is one of my personal favorites.  It's like recharging your cell phone.  Don't let your batteries get weak.
How do you rate yourself in the empathy department on a one to ten scale?  Are in the right-handed group, the left-handed group or maybe somewhere in the middle in the ambidextrous group?  Is empathy a gift or a curse for you?  Please share your thoughts below.  Yes, I want to know how you feel about today's post.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Difference Between a Quitter and Someone Persistent

The dream persists.  Five years ago it was more of a nightmare.  My retirement savings account bottomed out.  My cash reserves tanked.  And the creditors were relentless in their pursuit of debt collections.  My road to financial freedom looked like a dusty path with nothing but a mirage teasing me to keep going.  The easy way out would have been bankruptcy.  The irony of my situation is that I'm not the one who gave up.  Many of my creditors got tired of me saying, "I can't pay you yet.  Hold on.  I'm going to try just a little bit longer.  I might be able to figure this out."  They sold out their interests and moved on.  They quit.

Others questioned my tactics.  "Why are you choosing to pay some but not me?"  They could see from my credit report that I was trying but not hard enough in their eyes.  I found hope in fair debt collection laws.  My adventures dealing with unsavory debt buyers may turn into a future book once I fully recover and get back on my feet.  I know the feeling of those thousands of tiny moments when I say, "I'm going to try just a little bit longer."  They really do add up to a dream fulfilled.  Persistence is worth it.  Dreams deserve it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

99 Days on the Wall

Autumn is here.  The fall colors are arriving on cue.  There are only ninety-nine days left on this year's wall calendar.  It's nearly synchronized with our youngest son's departure date, five days into the New Year.  He is preparing himself for military service.  My hands-on parenting days are dwindling, like the leaves on the trees.  Many use the term empty nest to describe this time period.  I believe that label focuses on a loss rather than a healthy changing of the seasons.

The greatest joy of parenting is seeing your adult children soar to new heights.  They were born with wings.  They are meant to fly.  The nest is only a temporary place.  I'm ready for the next chapter in my life.  I'm not counting the days on the wall.  I prefer to just be in the one I have today and live it to its fullest.  Have a great day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Practice, Practice, Practice

 Life is not fair.  There are no entitlements.  You will get kicked.  And if you're doing anything worthwhile, you will get kicked over and over to the point where you wonder if you can get back on your feet again. 

I'm the guy Bruce Lee refers to in the quote above.  Bruce is right.  Anyone willing to stay in the arena and take 10,000 mulligans in order to master one move is a dangerous opponent.  There are times in my life when I feel like a bullfighter.  My opponent sees me standing alone in the courtroom.  He scoffs, thinking to himself, here's another pro se amateur – I'm going to kick him until he's black and blue.  He has no idea how committed I am to practice, practice, practice.

Do you want to know my secret?  I'm not afraid.  I know Jesus is with me.  I don't care how many bulls are in the arena or how many times they strike at me.  At the end of the day the judge bangs his gavel and tells me, "you're free to go."  All the bull can do is stick his tongue out at me.  A voice from the crowd shouts, "Don't be so glum, bull, this isn't his first rodeo.  We've been watching this guy's moves for a long time and he never loses.  He practices like no other."

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Lord is My Helper

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”  ~ Hebrews 13:6

Jesus began his public ministry by reading these words from Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me.
He has anointed me
to tell the good news to poor people.
He has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners.
He has sent me so that the blind will see again.
He wants me to free those who are beaten down.
And he has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free.

The year was 27 A.D., possibly the year of jubilee.  This occurs every fifty years.  Is it a coincidence Jesus opened with this message about freedom at the same time the world was celebrating jubilee?  I think not.  He is the anointed one.  His timing is perfect.  And his message is timeless.  He is my helper.  He is your helper.  And with Jesus, every year is a jubilee year.

No matter what struggles you are facing today, fear not.  Be bold.  Don't worry about anything.  Jesus is with you.  Take a look in the mirror.  You have the heart of lion.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Find Peace in Ten Minutes or Less

Are you feeling stressed?  I'm sending you happy thoughts from my quiet place.   My bedroom window is open and a cool breeze is drifting through the blinds.  The morning sun is rising.  The birds are accompanying Michael W. Smith's Agnus Dei YouTube video playing in the background as I pen this message.  Peace be with your spirit.  I have something for you to help you find peace in ten minutes or less.  Click on the video below and close your eyes...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Do the Small Things Well

I spent 75% of this morning's writing time thinking about today's big topic.  It hit me in the waning minutes.  Life is not about big things – it's a series of small things.  It's all about the tiny moments.  Details.  Pauses.  It's the dot above the i in your life.  Most people overlook the small things.  My goal for today is to pay attention to the little things.  I'm going to make minor adjustments moment by moment.  I'm going to do the small things well.  Have a great day.

Friday, September 19, 2014

You Can't Choose Your Situation But You Can Choose Your Happiness

Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be ~ Abraham Lincoln

There's an Old Testament character named Nehemiah who fought off evildoers with a sword in one hand while using the other hand to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, one brick at a time.  The place was in shambles.  The workers were few.  And the enemy was strong.  That's how I feel about my life.  I'm in the process of rebuilding from the ground up.  I have a sword in one hand to fend off my attackers and one free hand to rebuild a safe haven for my family, brick by brick.

I do one thing every morning that helps me get to my happy place – I count my blessings. I can't choose my situation but I can choose my happiness.  I choose to be happy.  How about you?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What is Emotional Detachment?

Tommy Shaw from Styx released a song during my high school senior year that resonates with me.  I remember locking myself in my bedroom and playing the song over and over.  Here are the lyrics from the first stanza:

You see the world through your cynical eyes
You're a troubled young man I can tell
You've got it all in the palm of your hand
But your hand's wet with sweat and your head needs a rest
And you're fooling yourself if you don't believe it
You're killing yourself if you don't believe it

Tommy Shaw is still singing that song three and a half decades later.  The words are deeply philosophical.  Perhaps the only word that no longer applies in my life is young.  My high school classmates never saw my cynical eyes.  They never knew I was a troubled young man.  And I never gave my head a rest.  Instead, I buckled my seat belt and boarded the roller coaster.  I found my relief by smacking tennis balls for countless hours.  The more sweat the better.  I didn't know about something called emotional detachment.  It's a new tool in my arsenal for dealing with things beyond my control.  It's neither a good tool nor a bad tool.  Detachment is neutral.  I can ride the roller coaster without anger, frustration or the need to barf.  My head rests even when the world around me is spinning.

With respect to Tommy Shaw, I don't have anything in the palm of my hand.  I decided to let go of all the things that make me angry.  Here are the rest of the lyrics:

Why must you be such an angry young man
When your future looks quite bright to me
And how can there be such a sinister plan
That could hide such a lamb, such a caring young man
And you're fooling yourself if you don't believe it
You're killing yourself if you don't believe it
Get up, get back on your feet
You're the one they can't beat and you know it
Come on, let's see what you've got
Just take your best shot and don't blow it

I admire Tommy's optimism about the future.  Emotional detachment means separating myself from both the past and the future.  I do agree with the part about being the one they can't beat.  I promise to take my best shot every day, although sometimes I might blow it.  That's okay.  I'm not the one in charge.  I can't change anyone else.  I'm just going to spend today working on changing myself.  There's an open seat next to me on the back of the ride if you care to join me.  I promise, no vomiting.  Those days are behind me.  Today is a new day.  I'm going to enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Walls are Shaking

The walls are shaking.  The ground feels like quicksand.  It's another pop quiz.  There's only one question on the test –  Are your eyes focused on me?  I wonder, is another two by four going to fall from the roof and strike me in the head?  My family watches, waiting for my answer.  Will I flinch?

Joshua had the same struggle when he was preparing to take the promised land.  He believed that with God's help he could lead his people to victory.  In order to accomplish the mission, he needed to get his own house in order first.  It starts with the man in the mirror.  Then the family.  A strong foundation is required.  The clock is ticking.  It's time to answer the question.  I choose a bold font for my response...

As for me and my house we will serve the Lord ~ Joshua 24:15

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why God Orders a Wrecking Ball

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver ~ Malachi 3:3

God works in mysterious ways.  I know this because I'm a first-hand witness.  My wife too.  Last night we reminisced about a prayer we said together.  The year was 2005.  The prayer we recited went something like this... "We put our lives in your hands, Dear God.  We're not afraid.  You may use us any way you want for your purposes."  A wrecking ball showed up within twenty-four hours.  God decided to go big.  No facelifts.  No cosmetic changes.  He decided our lives needed rebuilding from the ground up.  I can't count how many times I threw my hands up in the air and asked, "Really?"

I'm choosing not to share the painful details of the demolition process because it involves other family members and their lives are private.  Let's just say it was a scary moment when I got the wake-up call at 4:00 AM.  The wrecking ball smashed through the master bedroom window while we were quietly sleeping.

It's a strange feeling to look in the mirror and not recognize the person in the reflection.  That's part of the remodeling process.  The best way to describe it is with a picture.  Here it is...

Do you know when the silversmith is satisfied?  It's when he sees himself in the reflection.  God couldn't see himself in the reflection.  He sent in the wrecking ball.  He began the refinement process.  He's still not done.  The process is painful.  I've learned one important lesson about construction projects.  I'm not in charge.  I can't change anyone else.  I can only change my own attitude.  Everything else is in God's hands.  Everything.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Spiritual Solar Panels

Living off the grid is no easy task.  Some of the spiritual solar panels in my household are broken.  I don't really know how to make the repairs on my own but I have faith God will send me all the assistance I need.  God promises, "ask and you shall receive."  Today I'm taking the first step.  In order for the spiritual solar panels to work properly, I need to surround myself with others who are in similar circumstances.  The power of the Son is infinite.  And the Holy Spirit will send instructions.  If you are struggling today, call out to Jesus.  He is the light of the world. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Can You Appear at Two Places at Once?

Albert Einstein said it's possible to be at two places at once but it's complicated.  I'm using a little blog magic to pull a rabbit out of my hat.  It looks like I'm here but the truth is I prepared this story in advance so I could be somewhere else at the same time.  Poof!  My family and I are gone.  We're invisible.  Last night we had a close encounter of the Mulligan kind.  Mark Mulligan.  He's like Santa Claus without the suit or the boots, traveling around the country bringing gifts of his music to opera houses and Tiki barns.   If you get a chance, check him out when he comes to your town.  Click here for his calendar.  He pulled off an amazing disappearing act long ago and became a first world refugee.  He's been spotted as far north as Canada and makes regular appearances south of the border.

For those of you wanting to know how to appear like you're at two places at once, here are some suggestions...
  1. Delegate.  This is how you multiply yourself.  Let others share the workload so you can expand your presence.
  2. Cut out the time wasters.  You will feel like you did the work of two people by the end of the day when you stop doing the things that make you unproductive.
  3. Use technology to your advantage.  I love being able to post my stories automatically while I'm somewhere else.  I schedule my Twitter feeds in advance so they post throughout the day.  The tool I use is Hootsuite.  Give it a try.  If you have trouble figuring it out, check out YouTube for a tutorial.  
Have a great day.  Don't forget to leave a comment about your ideas for making it look like you're at two places at once.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Never Say Can't

Jennifer Bricker, the youngest in the family with three older brothers, played softball, volleyball and basketball.  Her favorite sport is tumbling.  She was adopted at birth.  Her parents taught her to never say can't.  If you want to feel inspired today, check out her video below...

Friday, September 12, 2014

How Long Will Your Farewell Tour Be?

Losing a loved one is painful.  I remember dancing with my mother-in-law on my wedding day.  She wore a turban to hide the effects of chemo.  It was her last dance.  Her farewell tour ended five short months later, near Christmas.  My father-in-law was next.  Then my dad.  Dad crammed a whole lot of living into his last tour of duty, a mere thirty-five days.  Relatives were live-streaming through my sister's home like a Macy's homecoming parade.  Someone I love dearly is now in Hospice.  My Aunt Mary is in Heaven calling, "red rover, red rover, send Larry right over."  Uncle Larry's three precious children are holding on tight.  They know how the game ends.  It's gut wrenching on this side of the line separating Heaven and earth.

Uncle Larry's mother-in-law is already staging the after-party.  St. Peter checked her luggage at the gate long ago.  "Two suitcases?"  he questioned.

"One for my clothes and one for the booze," Grammy Alice replied with a wink.

"The master turns water in wine," an exasperated St. Peter reminded, opening the gate for the new arrival.

"You might as well keep it open and come inside, Peter," she whispered.  "When my son-in-law gets here, you're not going to be able to stop him.  He can't wait to be re-united with my daughter, Mary."

"It's going to be a while, Mrs. Mulligan.  Those grandchildren and great-grandchildren of yours don't want Larry's farewell tour to end yet.  Geez!  They're so strong-willed."

My favorite singer, Phil Collins, announced his retirement in 2011.  Although he may be taking a mulligan on his decision to say good-bye, his words echo the final thoughts on our minds when it's our time to let go – Take me home.  I dedicate this to the McElroy family.  ¡Vaya con Dios, Uncle Larry!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dark Clouds of 9/11

It's been thirteen years.  I remember that day like it was yesterday.  Morning commuters were clueless about the dark clouds spawned from overseas.  World-wide panic struck.  Loved ones inside burning buildings left good-bye messages.  The stock market shut down four days.  A country seeking refuge from the storm found it the following Monday when Major League Baseball resumed.  The Padres and the Dodgers joined police officers and firefighters to pay tribute to the fallen.  Yes, our flag was still there – an oversized banner blanketing nearly the entire field.  James Bond would describe us like his famous martinis – we were shaken, not stirred.  We responded by unfurling our flags in stadiums all across America.  It was a resounding "in your face" message to the evil-doers trying to destroy our way of life.  We survived the storm.

The dark clouds are back today on 9/11.  They remind me of all the storms from past years, like the man-made event from 2001.  Or the Winter day last year when outside temperatures in the Midwest plummeted to -48º with the windchill factor.  Some predict this year may be even worse.  I only know one way to face the dark clouds: head-on.  My hope is knowing what comes after every storm.  Francis Scott Key described it best 200 years ago...

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Shot of Confidence

Every time I read God's words I gain confidence.  Every time.  Every day.  Without fail.  No exceptions.  God is all powerful.  He is all loving.  He knows every hair on my head.  He knows my thoughts before I know them.  He knows my destiny.  He knows my troubles.  When I ask God, "What then shall we say to these things (our troubles, our fears, our tormentors)?  He answers... "I sent my only Son for you."  Capeesh?  It's funny how my things diminish when I think about Jesus.  Not ha ha funny.  But uncanny funny.  It's like Popeye eating some spinach.  It's a shot of confidence.  I say to myself, if God is for us, who can be against us?  Wow!  Jesus died for you and me.  Let's go.  It's time to take care of some things.  Eat your spinach first.  It has Romans 8:31 on the label.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

After Midnight

The full moon reached out to me last night after midnight.  Our bedroom window was wide open to let the cool breeze enter.  I don't normally stay up so late but my favorite football team, the San Diego Chargers, was playing on Monday Night Football and I enjoyed some quality time with our youngest son while we cheered for them.  This season has special meaning for me.  The sixteen week season is like a countdown clock.  Once the final game is played in December it will be time to say good-bye to our youngest son when he leaves for boot camp the first week in January.

I could have been really mad last night when I watched our team squander their fourth quarter lead in the final minutes.  I wasn't.  This may be shocking to those who know my competitive side.  Something else was going on inside my head.  I wasn't focused on the loss – I was thinking about all I had, like some great friends and a bunch of really incredible cousins.  When I challenged one of them to a beer bet I was confident the Chargers would stun the hometown team.  My cousin teased me with a FB message letting me know it wasn't in the "Cards" for me tonight.  He was right.  I sent him a late night message congratulating him and letting him know I'm looking forward to serving him his beer the next time I see him.  As the clock struck midnight, another cousin was getting ready for his birthday two time zones away.  The full moon peering through the clouds reminded me how my cousin is a bright light shining in my life no matter how far apart we may be geographically.

I thought about all the people I'm connected to who were probably watching the game on national TV.  Some are saying good-bye to their dad, an avid Chargers fan.  The final outcome of the game wasn't as important as the time they were spending with their dad, now in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter of his earthly life.  I thought about a good friend who was sending photos from the game.  We spent twenty-three seasons watching the Padres when he visited San Diego every July.

Yes.  The full moon was working its magic.  It was doing what it does best when it's in the right location – reflecting the light of the sun.  Without the sun, there would only be darkness.  When my time on this earth is over, the first thing I'm going to do when I meet Jesus is thank him for being the light of this world and for giving me so many awesome people who reflect his light, especially on my dark days, like the one who is celebrating his birthday today.  He's the only person I know who has read all 1,840 of my stories.  Happy birthday, cousin.  Today's blog is dedicated to you.  Have a great day.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What's Your Reliability Rating?

 How many times do you hit the bulls eye when you make a promise or a commitment?  Are you the person others call on when the sky is falling?  If you're not satisfied with your reliability rating, maybe it's time to make some changes.  My greatest shortcoming is my tendency to promise too much.  This is not good when others are depending on you.  Here are some lessons I learned about reliability...
  1. Say No.  What a relief it is to be honest about your abilities and time constraints.  If you're overburdened because you said yes to every request, your reliability rating will drop off the scale.  You may lose a promotion.  It's not worth it to over-promise.
  2. Offer alternatives when you face unreasonable requests.  When someone comes to you for help and you know you can't get the job done, ask this, "Would you be able to allocate more resources so that I can accommodate you?"  Or, "Would you mind if we extend the deadline so that I can give your request enough time to handle it properly without cutting corners?"
  3. Check your reliability rating at the end of each day.  Ask yourself, what can I do better tomorrow to better fulfill my obligations?  Your goal is continuous improvement.
One area of my life that needs more reliability is vacation time.  This means saying no to other projects or assignments that are getting in the way.  It means finding alternatives that are within my budget so I can stay true to my debt reduction goals.  It also means reviewing what I'm doing now to plan my vacations and treating these plans as high priority items, not broken promises.

What area of your life are you planning to focus on so you can increase your reliability rating?  I look forward to reading your comments below.  Have a great day.  Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Don't Tiptoe on Your Big Goals

I never would have left California if all I did was tiptoe on our exit strategy.  Big goals require bold moves.  Burn the bridges.  Don't look back.  Bulldoze your new trail.  My apologies to the tulips.

Are you ready for a monumental change in your life?  If the answer is, "I don't think I'm ready," ask yourself a follow up question.  "When is the right time to be ready?"  I believe stalling is a technique we use to avoid confronting our fears.  My wife posted this note on our refrigerator... Fear is not from God.  That stirring feeling you have inside your stomach is your calling.  It's calling you.  It won't go away until you take action.  If you don't answer the call, you will be left with one thing at the end of your life – regret.  These people tiptoe through the tulips, but they never experience the mountain tops.  Go climb a mountain.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Do You Have What it Takes to Get Out of Debt?

I'm not there yet.  It's been a long journey.  Debt elimination is a serious challenge.  It requires a lifestyle change.  If your debt has become a permanent member of your family, this post may help you.  Are you ready?

Sit down with your loved ones at the dining room table.  Imagine the cookie monster at an empty seat.  He's your debt monster.  Sure, he looks loveable and he's been with you for a long time.  The cookies he's eating represent your retirement income.  The longer he's in your life, the harder it will be for you to get out of debt.  Why do you and your family love him so much?  Doesn't he look adorable?  If you're going to defeat him, you need to change your attitude.  You need to see him as a monster.  He's your enemy.  Those cookies he's eating belong to you.  He's a thief.  Every member of your household needs to agree that the cookie monster has to go.

If you're like me, you have more than one cookie thief in your household.  They may try to team up and shackle you to your over-sized mortgage, forcing you to give them all your hard earned dough.  If this is what your household looks like, there's hope.  Make a plan.  You don't need to eliminate all the debt monsters at once.  Go after 'em one at a time.  Start with the scrawny one.  Stop feeding him.  Once you take away his cookies, he has no reason to stick around.  Don't feel guilty.  Someone will feed him.  They live in mansions and drive new cars.  There's always room in their budget for a new pet because these people love to borrow money.

What will your home look like when you become an empty nester and all the cookie monsters have moved out?  If you can visualize what your life will look like when you're out of debt, this may help you stay motivated until your last debt has been eliminated.  The pay-off is huge.  No auto loans.  No credit card bills.  No mortgage.  Freedom to travel.  And lots of cookies in the cookie jar to enjoy on rainy days.  I'm not there yet but every month another cookie monster moves out of our home.  Let me know if this story is helpful.  Your comments are appreciated.  Maybe you can forward it to someone you know who is too fond of cookie monsters?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Why the Truth is Distorted

Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them ~ Acts 20:30

We live in a fallen world.  The power seekers will do anything to gain fame and fortune.  Lurking in the shadows is the greatest truth distorter of all times.  He was created to reflect light, God's light.  It went to his head.  He thought he was the light.  Now he spends eternity turning people away from the source of the light.  If he can tell 99% of the truth to get you to buy a 1% lie, he will.  People of all faiths have been duped.  The chosen ones recognized Jesus as someone who could disrupt their own power and they crucified him.  Christians battle Christians over who is right and who is wrong.  Muslims believe Mary conceived a son without an earthly husband but don't recognize Jesus as God.

There is only one way all the distortions will be uncovered.  Jesus will return to set the record straight.  The Evil One will lose his power.  If anyone tells you that you are not worthy, agree with them.  It's impossible to earn your way into Heaven.  Tell them that when you knock on the door to Heaven, Jesus will open it for you – not because your light shines like no other, but because you are willing to reflect God's light shining upon you and follow Jesus.  Go to the source of the light.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sharing a Private Mulligan Moment

 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends ~ John 15:13

Today's story wouldn't have been possible without two things – permission from our youngest son to share a private Mulligan moment and his willingness to step forward and defend our country during troubled times.  Shane begins his future soldier training today.  He enlisted in the army and chose to serve in the infantry.  Behind every soldier is a family, a network of friends, a community and a country.  He leaves for boot camp the first week in January.

Shane revealed his predisposition for the military by age two.  He wore pajamas that looked like fatigues, carried a camouflage backpack to school and always asked for toy guns and paint ball equipment for birthday gifts.  The first time we introduced him to the monkey bars at the park, he wouldn't come down.  He played on the offensive and defensive lines in high school football and wrestled.  His recruiter got excited when Shane talked about his desire to learn mixed martial arts.  His favorite spectator sport is MMA.

Our enemies fight for the wrong reasons.  They believe if they blow themselves up to kill us they will be rewarded in the afterlife with a multitude of virgins.  They kidnap and rape because they believe they are entitled.  They force others to believe as they believe or be murdered.  I feel sorry for these people.  They are not allowed to read the Bible.  They are blinded from the truth.  They are misinformed.  Their god did not send his only son to die for our sins.  Our God gives us a choice to follow or not follow.  Our country gives us the freedom to worship or not worship.  And our son, soon to be private Mulligan, chooses to defend all our country stands for.  He is not afraid.  I'm thankful for his willingness to defend our freedom no matter what his sacrifices may cost him.  One of Jesus' closest followers said it best in John 15:13,  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.

You have our 100% support Shane.  I promise you will be in our daily prayers.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to Get Through Intimidating Situations

30% of the population has at least one debt collector in their life.  Schoolyard bullies dominate the playgrounds.  And every workplace has one or two people who thrive when they're intimidating others.

I will never forget what someone close to me said after he visited the bully in detention.  "Something bad must be going on in your personal life for you to want to pick on me,"  he said.

The bully replied, "you're right.  My home life sucks.  I pick on you because I'm trying to feel better.  I'm sorry for hurting you."

"I came here to forgive you and to tell you if you ever need anyone to talk to, you can talk to me."  The two shook hands and became friends.

The story could have ended differently.  Who wants to confront difficult situations?

In my case, when a creditor tried to harass me, I remained calm.  I learned everything I could about debt collection laws.  And I stood up to the attorneys who overstepped their authority.  They backed off when the judge threatened to sanction them for their violations.

The world will always be full of bullies.  Don't allow them to take away your peace.  Breathe.  Confront them.  Do your best to understand why they are attacking you.  Pray for them.  Forgive them.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How Do You Arrange Your Priorities?

 Here's a puzzle for you.  Please arrange the pyramid showing how you spend your time.  There are five categories... Work, Family, Hobbies, God, and Social Media.  The area of your life where you spend the most time earns five stars and goes on top of the pyramid.  Be honest with your rankings.  Don't worry.  You won't be asked to share your answers with anyone.  This test is confidential.

One more question – how do you feel about your life?  Are you in balance?  Are you satisfied?  If not, read on...

There was a time in my life when I focused most of my time and energy on my work.  It was at the top of my pyramid.  God was at the bottom.  He got squeezed out by all the other areas of my life.  I was out of balance.  I needed help re-arranging my priorities.  I did something drastic.  I flipped my pyramid upside down and put God up on top, followed by family and then work.  My hobbies and social media are no longer at the top of the list.  I have balance in my life.  I'm happy.  And I feel fulfilled.  My challenge for you today is to turn your life upside down.  Put God at the top.  Do this for thirty days and see what happens in your life. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jeremiah Inspires a Labor of Love

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot. ~ Jeremiah 20:9

Jeremiah spoke to his people for forty years.  He didn't just say the words, he felt them.  What an amazing gift.  He loved his people.  He felt their pain.  He's known as the "weeping prophet" because he wanted a "fountain of tears" to weep for the fallen ones.  What I like most about Jeremiah is his optimism.  He understood God's grace.  He felt God's promise of a new covenant in his heart.

What happens when you know God in your heart?  Jeremiah shares how impossible it is to hold it in.  Imagine a woman in her final stages of pregnancy.  That kid is coming and nothing can stop him or her.  God's word is not meant to be locked up inside.  It's magma pushing through to the surface of a volcano.  When it erupts, everyone sees its power.

I urge you to go directly to the source.  Experience what Jeremiah experienced when he felt God's love inside his own heart.  Find the connection.  It's like drilling for oil.  You will discover your own labor of love.  Time itself will stop.  You will say to yourself, "I can do this for forty years."  And in your heart you will know one thing – it's impossible to not do it.  That's what I feel every morning when I wake up.  My labor of love may produce 12,775 additional stories provided my connection remains intact for the next thirty-five years.  That's only one drop of water in God's ocean of grace.  God's love is enough to give you a whole new attitude.  He will inspire your own labor of love.  Today is a great day to get started.  Happy Labor Day.