December 24, 2010

Pay it Forward - Part IV

This represents the final installment of "paying it forward", a list of acts of kindness my true love requested of me as her gift for Christmas. Although I say its "final", at least in the meaning of her gift, after experiencing the joy of this endeavor, it is something I will strive to continue in the future. She told me one of her life goals is to do at least ONE act of kindness every day. I believe that is a worthy cause and one we should all at least try to do every day. The world we live in can be so full of cynicism, fear, anger, and confusion, that bringing a small piece of joy to our fellow man each day is certainly worth our time! Before I begin with this final chapter, I would like to say to each one of you during this Christmas season to not allow yourselves to lose that "spirit" of giving every day for the rest of your lives. Whatever acts you may choose, whether they involve monetary gifts or simply the gift of your time, I can assure you from personal experience, the emotional and spiritual lift you receive in return far exceeds whatever it may cost you. It is truly the Holy Spirit moving within and around you! So, here we go, the "12 Acts of Kindness" to give to my true love, that turned into 17!

15.)    After paying for the woman behind us at Taco Bell's drive-up, handed $2 to the cashier and said, "Merry Christmas!" The smile and look on her face? Priceless.

16.)    Delivered a gift to my Aunt Rosamond Sleigh when she wasn't home, a bag of doggie treats for her beloved dog Emma, along with a note that simply read, "Merry Christmas Emma! Santa."

17.)    When the cashier at the extremely busy Trader Joe's was about to ring up my groceries, I looked at her name tag and said, "Hi Dianne, how are you?" This is the sort of thing I've been doing for over 2 years now and the reaction I got this time was totally different. She gave me this surprised look and said, "You caught me off-guard, that was so PERSONABLE." I said, "Yes it is but it's more than that. It's RESPECTFUL." 

That last gift, the one that didn't involve any money at all was perhaps the greatest of all. Being "personable" and "respectful" is something that's missing in our world these days. This lady experienced something unusual, something she normally doesn't experience with waiting on probably dozens of customers every day. Perhaps by being kind and merely saying her name made her feel special. The point is, she IS special and so are YOU! Keep kindness alive my friends, do something nice for someone every day of your life, and it doesn't have to involve money. Opening a door, calling out someone's name, letting the guy in front of you in busy traffic "cut in", help the elderly or disabled with their grocery cart, it can by anything! Use your imagination. The possibilities are endless and REMEMBER, opening a door for someone else opens doors for yourself! The benefits you receive in return for your kindness will astound you! Merry Christmas!


December 23, 2010

Pay it Forward - Part III – 12-23-10

I've discovered something since starting this project of Paying it Forward on December 17th, 2010 as my Christmas gift to the woman I love. Now and then, the benefit comes back! For example, yesterday I got a call from a gentleman who works in the legal department with the California Department of Insurance. He had sent me a letter in early December, in which the department had denied my insurance license application. This letter came after literally months of efforts in completing 52 hours of on-line courses, passing the state exam in mid-September, on the job training, and then only to wait until the department reviewed "background issues." In spite of all the progress made over the past nearly 3 years, I was denied a license in late November. At that point, most people might have given up. Not me. Never say never. So, I appealed their decision with a long letter, asking them to reconsider this decision, which included 4 sterling letters of recommendation from various individuals. Then, on December 6th, I received another notice denying the appeal. Again, I didn't give up. So I called the gentleman who signed this letter on December 9th, the same one with whom I spoke with yesterday, and did everything I could to convince him I felt their decision was unjust. All he said then was he might, but that I was likely out of options. Then suddenly, on December 16th, another letter. Apparently, the power of persuasion and never-say-die attitude works! The department granted me a license! So, yesterday he calls me and says, "You've gotten an early Christmas gift. I took your concerns to the Assistant Chief Counsel of the California Insurance Department and he reversed the earlier decision." Amazing how God works, isn't it?

Now, to the task at hand. Here are the latest additions to the "12 Things of Christmas" to give to my love. As I wrote in an earlier post, once I got started, I felt like the list might grow bigger!

11.)    Took my daughter and niece to Ice World to skate, then out to dinner and a movie. The cost? Pretty big but oh, the memories!

12.)    Left a $10 tip on a $23 breakfast tab for my daughter and I yesterday morning with only a note that read, "Keep kindness alive, pay it forward."

13.)    Asked the drive-up cashier at Wendy's what the tab was for the car behind me. Handing him their $3.33 amount due, I left a card that read, "Merry Christmas!" My daughter Christy was with me and said, "How sweet!" As we pulled away, the people in the car behind us honked and waved at us frantically. Ahhhhhh……

14.)    Bought and delivered dinner to my girlfriend since she had been cleaning and mopping her basement all day. It had been completely flooded from the deluge of rain San Diego County had received over the previous 5 days.

Granted, all of these acts of kindness involved money but the emotional and spiritual benefit, not to mention the example set for my daughter was, in a word, PRICELESS. So, that makes 14 and there's still ONE day left until Christmas. I pray God gives me more chances to Pay It Forward!


December 19, 2010

Pay it Forward - Part II

In the last post about paying it forward, I listed “Acts of Kindness” I was doing as my gift to the woman I love for Christmas. By way of background, you may review that post of December 17th, 2010 to give you a sense of this simple concept.

So, here are the additions to the 12 things of Christmas to give to her, but as I mentioned previously, at the rate they’re piling up, it looks like the list will grow much bigger! Hope you can find it in your heart to do something similar. It takes more effort than you might think and you have to keep an eye out for signs of what it means to touch someone’s heart with “paying it forward!”

6.)      Bought a large poinsettia for my girlfriend.

7.)      Vacuumed my sister’s house.

8.)      While shopping at Ralph’s market, left a $5 tip with a gentleman giving out promotional free coffee who worked there. Told him ½ of the tip was from the lady standing behind me who was also getting coffee. He looked at her and said, “Nice guy, huh?” She said with a big smile, “Yes, he is!” Ahhhhh…..:)

9.)      After purchasing a newspaper from a newspaper stand, left 50 cents sitting there for the “next guy.”

10.)    Washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen after a lovely meal prepared by my true love.

Ten down, two to go, and there’s still 5 days left until Christmas!

And REMEMBER this line from the young boy in the movie Pay It Forward: “It’s hard. You can’t plan it. You have to watch people more. To protect them. Because they can’t always see what they need. It’s like your big chance to fix something, it’s not like your bike. You can….FIX a person.”

That’s YOUR chance. Help someone in need, keep kindness alive!


December 17, 2010

Keep Kindness Alive…Pay it Forward

Two days ago, I had the good fortune of "paying it forward." The woman I love has been telling me she does this sort of thing quite often and had recently told me an inspiring story and experience of her own, so I thought I'd try it myself. I was at Starbucks waiting on my vehicle to be fixed at the repair shop next door and decided to pay for a stranger's coffee. When I handed my card to the cashier I said, "Use this to pay for whoever is behind me." She looked at me kind of funny but said, "Okay." Minutes later, a man approached me and said, "I guess I owe you for this, huh?" I said, "No, all I ask is that you pay it forward." Ironically, and without him even knowing it was already paid for, he got not only coffee, but also orange juice and fruit. When he left, he gave me a big wave and smiled. Made that $8.50 tab easy to swallow with the huge smile it put on my face and the feeling it gave me inside. As I was preparing to leave, the cashier approached me and said, "That was AWESOME. You do this all the time?" I said, "No, my girlfriend told me about it and it can be done randomly. It doesn't have to cost you anything, it can be something as simple as opening a door for someone or merely giving a stranger a warm smile." She replied as I walked out, "That is so sweet! My co-workers and I were talking about what you did and we're going to do something similar today!" What happened next surprised and astounded me.

I said earlier that I was waiting on my vehicle to be repaired. Turns out I had put over $900 in brake work less than 3 months ago at PepBoys and the brake pads had already worn out. I thought they would just put new ones on, the same kind as I had before, since it was covered with their 90 day warranty. When I got there, I asked what they did. They didn't put just the pads on, but the highest quality ceramic style available AND new brake rotors. Keep in mind, all that they were REQUIRED to do under the warranty was install the same style cheapo pads that had already worn out. When I asked what the bill was, thinking I would have to pay the difference between the new style and the old, as well as for the rotors, the clerk said, "Nothing, we just decided to cover ALL of it." $200+ worth of parts and labor and it didn't cost me a DIME. I left thinking, "Wow, so THIS is how it works!"

Later, as I recounted the story to my girlfriend, she asked me to do this for her for Christmas: "Do 12 acts of kindness between now and Christmas. That will be my gift from you." And that's what I began doing yesterday. So, without further ado, here's the start of my list and, at the rate I've already started, it may go well BEYOND 12!

1.)    Bought new ink cartridges for my sister's printer.

2.)    Adjusted her computer settings so her printer will work wirelessly.

3.)    Gave $5 to a homeless man standing by a freeway exit near Solana Beach, CA. He was holding a sign that read, "Ran on hard times. Will do any type of labor. Proverbs 19:17" As I handed him the 5 dollar bill, he said, "God bless you sir."

4.)    Driving along a busy section of Hwy. 101 in Encinitas, allowed a man in an old Chevrolet pickup to back away from the curb and proceed on his way even though I had the "green light." Thought he might have lost his hand from waving it so hard in thanks!

5.)    Sent an email of condolences to a dear Facebook friend whose father passed away last night.

As you can see, two of these "Acts of Kindness" involved money yet three didn't. That's the beauty of "Paying it Forward", being kind to others is simple, it can be free, and one we should do EVERY day, not just because its Christmas season. So, I challenge you who are reading this, perform ONE act of kindness (or more, if the mood hits you) EVERY day between now and Christmas and keep it going EVERY day after that! Being kind to others is what Jesus did and what is sorely needed in today's often confusing, complicated, and cynical world. Together, we CAN make a difference so, "Keep Kindness Alive"!


December 6, 2010

Rehabilitation? Or Retribution?

Every now and then something occurs that stirs our passion so much that it takes on an identity by itself. This particular topic brings that passion forth within me with a vengeance and though I will do my best to remain objective and avoid appearing self-serving, it remains a difficult task. I would therefore ask for your patience and indulgence in that regard because of my own very personal and life-altering experience with a subject that is naturally controversial by its very existence in our world. Please also keep in mind that one of the goals with this blog is to give it a "personal touch", so that its readers can make some sort of connection between the subject matter and their daily lives.

Recently, a 17 year old north San Diego County youth was sentenced to 480 days within the juvenile justice system for felony drunk driving. At 9:00 in the morning earlier this year, driving without a license and with a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit, he struck an 18 month old child who was with his grandfather, leaving the child in a comatose state. As of today, the child is alive but appears to have suffered permanent brain damage. He was struck so hard in the accident that his skull was literally separated from his spine. This is the sort of tragedy that, in spite of our best efforts as human beings, we have a difficult time in deciding what is the "right" thing to do when it comes to consequences: Rehabilitation or Retribution?

Under present California law, a person under the age of 18 can be tried as an adult for certain crimes like murder or rape. However, in this case, felony drunk driving doesn't fall into that category. Therefore, the 17 year old has been convicted and sentenced under the juvenile justice system. Under that system, he was sentenced to a maximum of 480 days in local custody as opposed to state prison, and was placed in an intensive program of rehabilitation. One paragraph of a recent article in the North County Times sums up where my focus will be with this blog chapter, and I quote, "Adult and juvenile court systems have different goals. The criminal justice system for adults can center on PUNISHMENT. In the juvenile justice system, the focus is on REHABILITATION." The article goes on to state that "Unless a person goes to prison, there is a higher chance they will be rehabilitated in the juvenile system than if they were in the adult side."

Those sentences I've highlighted in blue will serve to illustrate my points. Let me stress at this juncture, I am not writing to debate the merits of whether this 17 year old should be tried as an adult or even whether justice has been properly served with his sentence. It's apparent that what he did in plowing into an 18 month old child with a vehicle, while driving without a license and legally drunk, is a major crime against humanity. That's a matter for the courts to decide and society to determine on how they want the laws created to fit the punishment to the crime. MY focus is on the DIFFERENCES in the two systems, juvenile with its emphasis on rehabilitation and adult with the emphasis on punishment.

So, a question for you. Do you think it plausible that, merely because a person reaches the magical age of 18 and is therefore an "adult", that they no longer become candidates for "rehabilitation?" Let's assume for a moment this juvenile is NOT 17, but only recently turned 18. Should he be tried as an adult and not be afforded the opportunity at rehabilitation, thereby becoming "institutionalized?" For that matter, WHO is to say that ANYONE, regardless of age, shouldn't be afforded the opportunity of rehabilitation FIRST rather than society imposing punishment in the form of state imprisonment as a "deterrent?" In other words, where should our priorities be? Seeking solutions to the person's problems, which in the case of this chapter has to do with the use, or rather the abuse of alcohol, or do we seek negative consequences like prison?

The point is, we have our priorities backwards. We should be thinking and seeking humanitarian reasons to HELP one another rather than simply locking someone up and throwing away the key, as it were. Admittedly, the position I'm taking stems from my personal experience with the legal system. Maybe I'm even being too lenient in my views. But if a 17 year old is deemed worthy of "rehabilitation", why SHOULDN'T someone of any other age? Granted, there are certainly cases where there is no other choice BUT to place some one behind bars. I've seen many people, of all ages, who for whatever reason, simply didn't "get it." They were either unwilling to seek help through rehabilitation or counseling, or they simply lost HOPE and fell victim to the system. Those people truly meet the definition of "institutionalized." And it didn't matter WHAT age they were, I saw men as young as the age of 19 who viewed jail as "home." I also recall a man in his late 40's in Liberal, Kansas who, by all appearances, seemed to be one of those who would be successful in turning his life around. He was intelligent, a good conversationalist, and had a successful career as an electrical journeyman. Sadly, he had also spent the better part of three calendar years behind bars for previous DUI convictions in Texas and had become so accustomed to the criminal life-style, it had become a way of life for him. One day he and I were having a discussion over the television and remote in the lounge room at the house arrest facility where we were staying. The remote had become a bone of contention, with everyone vying to have control over what programs to watch. I remember he grabbed it one day, looked over at me with a smile and said ever so calmly, "If I was back in jail, I hope I get my own private cell with a TV and remote. I'd be as happy as a bear with a jar of honey in hibernation." I'll never forget that moment. It was if he was subconsciously PLANNING on that life. I found out later after he got out he went right back to drinking. Heavily. Lost his job and shortly thereafter, he dropped out of sight. I never found out what happened to Steve. My guess is he got his wish. He may even be lying in that private cell at this very moment, snoozing away, remote in hand, happy as a bear in hibernation.

The bottom line is this. We, as a society, tend to shun those who have committed heinous crimes like the 17 year old north San Diego County young man who nearly killed an 18 month old child while driving drunk at 9 o'clock in the morning. We view that as a crime so severe that a long jail sentence is the FIRST thing we think of. Likewise, we have the same attitude towards a person of ANY age who commits a similar crime. However, because of the way the "system" is set up in California, this young man has a much better chance at rehabilitating himself than someone who is 47. The question remains, however, WHO is to say that he is any more worthy at rehabilitation than the other guy?

Both were born equal; innocent, dependent upon others, a beautiful creation of God with no past, no "record", and no labels placed upon them by their fellow man. Somewhere along the way, something happens. One guy may turn out okay and the other may turn out to be a criminal, plowing head-on into an 18 month old child while drinking and driving. Shall we lock the other guy up and say, "He's a menace to society?" Or do we have the awareness that maybe, just MAYBE, he's worthy of our compassion as a fellow human being. Do we say, "Hey, it could have happened to anyone. Let's HELP him."

Rehabilitation or Retribution? A sociological and legal dilemma, one that's controversial, driven with emotion, and a tough choice to make. As for me, the choice is easy. "There's a little bit of good in the worst of us and a little bit of bad in the best of us. We are all children of God and we each have a right to be here." Let's HELP one another. Isn't that what God intended for us to be?



November 27, 2010

Change Starts From Within – YOU Have the Power!

Starting well over a year ago, people, both friends and casual acquaintances alike, began saying things such as, "The way you speak and write…it sounds like you're a preacher or something." Funny thing about that statement. I've heard it so many times I began to ask myself the same question. "Who am I and why do I come off like this?"

It all started innocently enough. I began sharing some of my thoughts and what I've learned through this process of recovery and self-improvement in the form of "notes" on Facebook. Slowly, people began to respond beginning in the summer and fall of 2009. I want to emphasize this point, however; I am neither a preacher nor do I wish to be. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not one to quote scripture and far be it from me of all people, to give advice to others or judge their character or manner of living. I set a poor example because of my own actions for years. Still, there is some truth to these statements people have said about me. I DO have a tendency to "preach", but that's not my intent. I'm merely sharing some of my own personal experiences that I've found helpful in this life journey. And, Lord knows, I have moments like everyone else. Moments of self-doubt and a tendency in not "practicing what I preach." I'm human, just like you, and we all make mistakes. Isn't that what life is about? It's a never-ending journey of self-discovery and self-improvement.

One of the ways I've discovered that has been very helpful during this time is the notion of staying POSITIVE. What many people don't know, that I wish to share with you now, is my "little black book" entitled very simply, "Twenty-Four Hours a Day." It was given to me over 4 years ago and it's been with me ever since. This book has "seen" a lot during that time and there's a reason for that. You might say God made sure!

Basically, this 3" x 6" book, published by Hazelden, contains Thoughts, Meditations, and Prayers of the Day for every day of the year. I have roughly 20 or so pages dog-eared that stand out, many of which I've shared on my Facebook page, but one stands out the most. It's October 16th and here is the Meditation for that Day:

    "If your heart is right, your world will be right. The beginning of all reform must be in yourself. It's not what happens to you, it's how you take it. However restricted your circumstances, however little you may be able to remedy personal issues, career matters, or financial affairs, you can always turn to your inward self and, seeing something not in order there, seek to right it. And as all reform is from within outward, you will always find that the outward is improved as the inward is improved. As you improve yourself, your outward circumstances will change for the better. The power released from within yourself will change your outward life."

If you read that short paragraph a few times, you will see it carries a very powerful message. It's more than just words though. When I first read it myself, I wasn't really sure how I could APPLY this message in a PRACTICAL sense in day-to-day life. Since then, however, it has morphed into something that carries a HUGE impact on my life today and in the way I interact with others.

For example, I've encountered, and CONTINUE to encounter people every day who seem to see nothing but negative in their life. Call it law of attraction, self-fulfilling prophecy, or whatever term you wish to use, it all means the same. You think and act negatively, then you will get negative results. Of course, it CAN work the other way and that's what I WANT in my life. I WANT solutions, I WANT positive people in my life, people with energy to move forward in a positive way, both with their own lives and with others. Many times though, I've discovered God puts people in my life that run counter to this desire and the reason is to test my character and strength. More importantly, I believe He's using me in those situations as a channel to help others. Here's what I mean.

When I first read that meditation, I was struck by the thought that it was written on October 16th, the day my daughter was born. I shared that meditation in the form of one of my very first Facebook "notes" in the fall of 2009. And it's one that many people have responded to in a POSITIVE way. They find it inspiring. Though my daughter hasn't responded directly to me about it, I know for a fact this way of living has had a positive impact on her life. There are others I know, particularly within my own family, who don't seem to "cotton" to this concept quite yet. It's these people I will continue to reach out to, including people I hardly know. Why? Because people NEED it. In a world so full of negative news, lack of trust, lack of truth, lack of security, and lack of hope, people are thirsting for something, ANYTHING, that can give them cause to burst out of bed in the morning with a surge of positive energy about their lives.

People are hurting. The economy is bad, people are tired of dirty politics, dead-end jobs, financial problems, substance abuse, family issues, the list goes on and on. I call it the "Negative Vortex." Once you're in it, and believe me, I was DEEP in it, its darned tough to get out of that cycle. But, I found hope and that started within myself. People can say well, "You have to have a relationship with God" during trying times. I don't discount that and I do have one, in my own way. But, the bottom line is it still comes down to YOU. No ONE person and no ONE thing can MAKE you happy, not even God. People can complain all they want about their lives, that their job would be better if they had a different supervisor, if they only had money they would be happy, if they had this or had that, it all doesn't matter in the end. At the end of the day, it's gut-check time. What am I going to do about it? What are YOU going to do about it? It starts with me and it starts with each one of us. If something isn't "right" in our lives, we need to look "inside" first, rather than expecting our world to change for us. Once we do that, and start changing from within, our outward circumstances will change for the better. The power released from within ourselves will change our world.

When I hear people complain or speak negatively about their lives in whatever fashion, these questions pop into my head, questions I sometimes ask, "Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have a job? Are you healthy for the most part? Do you have a car? Money in the bank? Food?" These are the basic necessities of life and that's the whole point. If you are ALIVE and live in a country that allows you the FREEDOM to choose the way you want to live, what ELSE could you ask for? Those other things are icing on the cake! So, be grateful for them! Don't complain that it's not enough or not just EXACTLY what you what. Be thankful for what you DO have and most of all, speak, act, and live POSITIVELY if you want something better for yourself and your family. YOU have that power. And YOU have the choice to use it. Question is, are you going to use it positively or negatively? I know what I want. Do YOU?


November 24, 2010

Giving “Thanks”

There's something different this year about "Thanksgiving." Today, as I reflect back on past Thanksgiving days, I realize I can't recall a year when I spent this day with family. And when I say "family", I mean ANY of my own family. Last year, I spent it alone in Elkhart, Kansas. Literally. I had planned on seeing my children in Tribune but, for reasons not worth mentioning, that didn't happen. The year before I was in Liberal, Kansas and spent the day with strangers in a place I never dreamed I would be in. The year before that, as well as the one prior, well….I honestly don't recall the last time it was a "Happy Thanksgiving." This year, that's changed.

So today, I'm thankful in many ways and for many people. I'm thankful for my mother, who gave me the gift of life. I'm thankful for my father, who gave me the opportunity to grow into the man I am today. I'm thankful for my sisters; Stephanie, Lissa, Casey, WenDee and Mona. I'm especially thankful for Casey and WenDee, who were there for me at one of the darkest moments in my life nearly three years ago. I'm thankful for my children, Christy and Jess, and though we are apart now and separated by thousands of miles, I'm thankful for all the "moments" they've given me. There are many fond memories of my children and I choose to take only those with me as I move forward today. I'm thankful to now be reunited with my little sister Mona and her family as we spend this day together. I'm thankful for my friends and former colleagues I was honored to be associated with in my banking career, especially those that stood by me, who believed in me when I was at my worst, and who I can still call a "friend" today. Finally and most importantly, I'm thankful for the most incredible woman in my life, the woman with whom I share my love and spirit with, the woman who loves ME for WHO I am and not for WHAT I have or don't have. She will be reading this and I have only three words to say to her; I love YOU!

But, there's something else different about this year and perhaps the biggest reasons of all to be thankful. I'm ALIVE and I'm FREE. Less than three years ago, I almost lost the first and, for a time, I DID lose the second. And to whom or to what am I thankful for those gifts? GOD. Pure and simple, He brought me back from the brink of near death and today, I choose to return that gift to YOU. Today, I resolve to live my life according to those values we all hold dear; truth, honor, dignity, humility, sacrifice, and love. I'm sure you might think of others but really, it's quite simple. "Treat others the way you want to be treated." Yes, the Golden Rule. And there are many other simple concepts, basic core values that are or should have been instilled in ALL of us by our parents when we were born and raised by.

You hear it all the time, "Life is complicated, life is tough." Sure it is, God didn't intend for this journey to be easy, He's more interested in our character and what we become. That's why we are called "human beings" and not "human doings." BE the change you want from your world. Don't ask what someone else can DO for you. Don't expect the world to be what you want it to be. It starts with YOU. Life is NOT that complicated, it's really quite simple when you think about it. Be THANKFUL for the gifts you have, the simple gifts. If you are ALIVE and you are FREE, you're reading this. Everything else in your life; your house, your car, your job, whatever material things you have mean NOTHING. They're just "stuff." I'm reminded of something one of my former bank colleagues once said about that topic and the materialistic world we live in. He said, "I've never seen a U-Haul show up at a funeral." Yep, the phrase "You can't take it with you." We came into the world with NOTHING and we leave the same way. Make SURE in between you make a POSITIVE impact on your world and everyone in it.

So, at those "moments" when you're having a bad day for whatever reason, be THANKFUL for two things: LIFE and FREEDOM. Make your world a better place for those two gifts God gave you! Take it from me, I appreciate as much as anyone what those words mean and trust me when I say this, they mean a lot!


November 18, 2010

Instant Gratification & The Simple Things

Of the many things I've written to date in the first 7 months of existence of this blog and website, one that seems to keep coming to mind is this phenomenon ingrained in our culture known as "instant gratification." One of the reasons why it resonates deeply in my soul is a result of the recent elections held in our country. It was only two short years ago that our current Commander-in-Chief was hailed as our savior but, because he and his party didn't deliver NOW, it's time for a change. And already, after only two short weeks since the election, I'm already hearing and reading its back to business as usual amongst our leaders of every party. It's really quite sad when you think about it and a poor reflection on us as individuals and our world. Beyond that however, it is a phenomenon that's deeply rooted in our society, which affects nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives. With the explosion of the information age, the ease with which we can stay "connected" with mediums like facebook, cell phones, etc., it has attained an identity of its own. One that can never be changed and one that causes a lot of concern for me. Our lives have become so deeply intertwined that it leads to confusion, fear, and frustration. Recently, I had a conversation about this subject with my 86 year old Aunt, a woman who served as a public school teacher for several decades. She described it perfectly and succinctly; "We have to learn to be comfortable with confusion." I liked that!

Everyone knows what the term means and how it affects their lives. I'm sure we all have stories we can share, especially about how our children have grown up with this way of life and the impact it has on ourselves and our society. For example, recently a couple of my facebook friends noted that they felt a sense of loss when their computers and/or internet went "down." I myself recall a similar time when I was in banking. One day, about 4 years ago, our computers were completely "off-line." We had no internet connection at all for the entire day. I remember our customers were calling for balances on their accounts and, since we had become completely automated by that time, we literally had no way to tell them. It was humbling and frankly, a little embarrassing. After all, if it had been only 10 years prior, we still had all of their information we could look up on microfiche or in that most novel content of all, PAPER.

Instant gratification though manifests itself in ways less subtle. For example, when I moved back to California from Kansas this past March, I remarked to my sister one day about the traffic conditions. I told her, "Why is everyone is such a big hurry?" I remember describing the freeway and side street traffic this way, "I gotta shoot the gap so I can hurry up and wait with everyone else." San Diego County especially is well known nation-wide as being an area of notorious tailgaters. So, what did I do? Simple, when the traffic was bumper-to-bumper I slowed, rolled the window down, hung my arm out, turned up the radio, and RELAXED. I did that for a long time and the funny thing I discovered was I got to my destination about the same time as all those other "gap-shooters" and tailgaters. HOWEVER, I've recently discovered something about myself and it's not one I like at all. I've started doing the VERY SAME thing everyone else is; darting in and out of lanes, crowding the guy in front of me, and so forth. The result? I've forgotten what I first observed when I came here. I'm not getting to my destination any sooner than I was before but my stress level and aggravation has increased. Not a healthy way to live.

Instant gratification robs us; or rather we ALLOW it to rob us, of the simple and important things in life. For those of you who have ever experienced a complete loss of power in your home or business, you'll know what it feels like to experience that "disconnect." And I'm not talking about a few minutes; try a whole DAY or, better yet, SEVERAL days! It's moments like those when we come to appreciate what life is truly about; slowing down, smelling the flowers, listening to the sounds of nature, talking with your neighbor, enjoying a sunrise or sunset, feeling the warmth of a loved one nestled in your arms. THOSE are the moments to remember. In the simplest terms, instant gratification robs us of our senses; the ability to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.

As I write this, the thought also occurs to me about my "senses" and the appreciation I have for them. Part of it was where I was born and raised. As a boy growing up on a farm in a small town in Kansas, I came to know and understand the importance of staying in tune with nature. The unique smell of the air in front of an approaching storm, the taste and feel of grain when it is ripe for harvesting, and of course there was something else. The loss of life. Even though it's been over 38 years, I remember vividly the sight and sound of when that truck rolled slowly out of sight behind that hill. Only days later, she was gone. Gone as the result of a horrific and tragic auto accident. Lost to me and my family in a physical "sense" forever, but she remains embedded in my soul. I miss her at times but I take great comfort and strength in knowing she, my Mom, is with me now in spirit. The other part, of course, is what my own actions robbed me of as an adult nearly 2 ½ years ago. Waking up every day for 158 straight days KNOWING that your ENTIRE world consists of 270 square feet of concrete and steel you're occupying with strangers changes a person. LIFE is precious friends. Don't let the "instant gratification" today's world offers you rob you of that simple concept.

So a resolution is in order. I challenge each one of you who has read this, to take the time each day and every day to turn off your television, your computer, your cell phone, your stereo, your iPod, your whatever that gives you "instant gratification", and RELAX quietly. Go outside, look up into the sky, listen to the sounds of nature, smell the grass or the flowers or simply the air around you, feel the warmth of the one you love next to you, and breathe in deeply the beauty and the taste of LIFE. The one God intended for us to have.


November 16, 2010

The Blind Side ending song

Chances are only what we make of them....

Integrity, Vulnerability, & Perfection

The essence of integrity isn't just speaking of moral and ethical principles. It's putting those principles on the table for the entire world to see by virtue of your actions. A microcosm of yourself that others look at. Being brutally honest with yourself, God, and those you love and hold dearest to your heart is one thing. Doing the very same thing with everyone you know and come into contact with is entirely another matter. In the first instance, the truth you see in yourself, what you admit to God, and what you share with people you love the most, affords a level of comfort, safety, and security you simply don't have in the latter instance.

People want the truth. It's our nature as human beings. We want it from those we love. More importantly, we want it in our entire world. No one likes dishonest politicians, shady people, and people with hidden agendas. We see that every day. No one's perfect though, right?

That's why I've encountered many people in this life journey who choose to share their deepest and darkest secrets about themselves and their past only with the ones they love the most. The ones they trust. Why? Because it's safe, it's like being in a cocoon, because we screw up. And when we do, which we all do because we're human, we have the comfort of knowing we will always be forgiven. Put simply, it's called unconditional love. We are protected, we feel safe, and loved. On the other hand, what happens when we put ourselves "out there" for the whole world to see? And not just what makes us comfortable, picking and choosing, and putting ourselves in the best light possible. By putting ourselves out there, it makes us vulnerable to criticism, judgment, and ridicule. The thought occurs to me at this very moment as I wrote that last sentence. Isn't that what Jesus did?

By now, you may have surmised where I'm going with this latest chapter. Anyone who has read my blog knows I'm putting myself "out there." And not just to a select few. I made the conscious decision a long time ago to take such a risky step. I've laid it out for the whole WORLD to see. I've intentionally placed myself in a vulnerable position. Question is, why? Because by doing so, by letting everyone know all my successes, all my failures, and all of what I want for myself in this life, I've set a standard that if I don't meet, I have much more than myself to be accountable to. If I'm truly a person of integrity, following through with my intentions with actions therefore becomes much more important and puts a huge weight upon my shoulders. Because I did it. I come through, I win and win big. I don't, I lose a heck of a lot more than if I didn't. Think about that statement. If you tell someone privately that you're going to do something and you don't, what happens? You have only the person you told to answer to. Sure, you have yourself as well but where's the risk in that? For that matter, where's the reward? You mess up, only you and the person you told know. You mess up and the whole WORLD knows; wow, now there's a problem. Your safety net is gone.

The point of this is the level of your integrity shouldn't be measured by just the ones you love. A better measure is all of your fellow man. Life is all about taking chances and taking risks. Taking chances with only a select few is cheating yourself from the glory of what you can truly achieve as a human being. If your fellow man knows you are a person who not only puts everything on the table, but also follows through with your promises, your level of integrity goes through the roof. Because you've made yourself vulnerable.

Okay, enough preaching, it's time to put it to the test. Recently, I wrote a piece called "A Change Will Do You Good." For those of you who haven't read it, I stated my intention to quit smoking. I did so in a very public way. Now I ask you this question. If I don't follow through and prove myself with acting on that intent, how does my integrity measure up as opposed to if I had stated this intention only to myself or just a few people? In other words, my comfort zone and cocoon where I'm all safe and secure? Do you see the difference?

Now here's another question. Think of something in your past or something in your life at the moment, something you're not particularly proud of or perhaps embarrassed by. If you keep this to yourself, where is your integrity? The easy way out is to say, "Well, that's personal Gus. I don't think it's anybody else's business but my own and maybe some of those really close to me." Could be, but if you're striving for perfection in life and want others to be the same way, why shouldn't you put yourself "out there?"

I've discovered through very personal and sometimes tragic experience that the rewards of making my-self vulnerable far exceed the risks. Being a person of integrity isn't just about how those we hold closest to our hearts view us. It's everyone. It's like keeping the shades drawn or opening them so the light can shine in. Final question then: Are you going to play it safe? Or are you going to take chances? Something to think about as you go about your way in this world.


November 11, 2010

Why Are People Afraid to Speak About God?

Normally, I don't have an agenda when I write. I go with instincts, writing whatever comes to mind, letting my thoughts flow freely. However, on occasion a topic surfaces that deserves more than that. This one falls into that category. Recently, one of my friends and a follower on my Gusto page on facebook, where I share some of my thoughts and experiences, had this to say when I asked for a topic that people wanted to hear more about: "Why are so many people afraid to speak about GOD? Why are so many people selfish, greedy and full of gluttony?"

I believe there are many reasons, but some obvious ones come to mind immediately. Before I jump into this, allow me to expand a little about this blog. When I created the website on April 9th, 2010, I had no conscious idea of what I was doing or where Ramblings was taking me. However, after 7 months, I believe the answer is becoming clearer with each passing day. For anyone who has read some of my blog or, for that matter, ALL of it, I believe it's apparent that the Holy Spirit has a hand in what my fingers come up with when I set my thoughts down in writing. In fact, nearly everything I've experienced, both in day-to-day life over the past few years and what ends up here on paper contains that Spirit.

In response to my friend's question, there are two words that pop into my head as possible answers: Fear and Pride. I've written about those human characteristics frequently and I've done my very best to live life fearlessly and with less concern for my-self over the past few years, because of my tragic experience with an insidious disease. Steps three and eleven symbolize that relationship and experience best, at least for me: "Made a conscious decision to turn my life over to the care of God." "……Sought through prayer and meditation my conscious contact with God, praying only for the knowledge of His will and the power to carry that out." There are other reasons that come to mind that prevent us from talking about God besides fear and pride. Things that distract us and turn us away from God. Our instant gratification culture we live in these days is a prime example. We have so many other things to occupy our time and minds; computers, cell phones, iPods, television, not to mention those things that occupy our daily existence; our jobs and our families. But all of those things are masks for the real reasons I've already mentioned.

What I just wrote in the previous paragraph contains ONE key word; "relationship." Our relationship with God, if we have one, is VERY personal. However, I believe many people use that as an excuse to NOT talk about God. Rather than expressing themselves openly as human beings, they instead say, "It's PERSONAL." While I don't deny that and respect that answer, I think that reasoning is simply a way of hiding behind what the real ones are for WHY people don't talk about God more. It's because of FEAR and PRIDE.

I'm an empirical person, meaning I believe in things I can measure by what I can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. When someone says they're afraid of something, it's usually because of the unknown. "I'm afraid of the dark. I'm afraid she won't like me. I'm afraid to ask for that raise at work because I may not get it." Fear is a constant presence in our lives, restricting us from saying or doing things because we don't know what the outcome might be. Taken a step further then, fear prevents us from speaking openly about God, if only because we can't SEE Him. In order to overcome those fears, we have to rely on ONE thing and that's faith. Faith that what's there or not there in the dark can't hurt us. Faith that if we say we love that girl, she'll say she loves us. Faith that if we ask for that raise, that our actions will merit it. So it goes with God. We have to rely on our faith that what we can't measure with our conscious senses will instead be felt within our soul.

But what keeps us from having that faith? Some of it of course is fear, but the real reason why is pride. We are taught from an early age that we CAN do something; we can be good students, we can be good role models, we can be good citizens, we can be good employees, etc. Of course, if we're parents of faith, we also teach our children to honor God. At some point though, the idea of I can do things myself and faith get distorted. Many of us end up thinking we can do everything on our own and it's only when we find ourselves in trouble, a tragic health issue for instance, that we turn to God and ask for healing. The point is we have to rely on basic fundamental core values, of which one is something we can't measure, at least with our sense of sight, touch, hearing, taste, or smell. We all know when we sense something or someone that exhibits truth, respect, honor, and dignity. Faith on the other hand, is something we must simply believe in our heart and soul, not what our mind tells us we can measure with our human senses. For many of us, it's only AFTER something happens positive in our lives that we are able to quantify it in human terms with our senses.

Let me pose a question at this point and I'll also try to give you my own example. Think of something that's happened in your life, something that was so incredibly inspirational or uplifting to you emotionally or physically, that you could not explain at first. Most of us have experienced "moments" like this in our lives and it's at that "moment" when we realize there could be no other explanation than an outside force that caused it. It wasn't us. It had to be something. A force greater than our own power of will that caused it. I choose to call that power GOD. The first time something like this happened to me, I was standing with a group of others at a church in Norton, Kansas in September 2006. I remember clearly what happened. The pastor had asked if anyone wanted Jesus to come into their life and by that, I mean physically. Something I could FEEL. He went from one to another, placed a hand on them, and asked if they felt the Spirit. I remember no one reacted as if they did, at least from what I could SEE. Then he came to me and without even touching me, he simply began speaking in "tongue." I'd heard of this before but hadn't given it much credence. Then something incredible happened. My eyes were closed and I felt this incredible surge of energy. Suddenly my arms started coming up at my sides, my spine started tingling, I felt wobbly, yet I continued to stand. My arms slowly reached above my head until I thought they would pull out of my shoulder sockets because they were pulling so hard on my body. I was shaking and tingling all over. I sensed two people behind me that were ready to catch me in case I fell. I didn't. I simply stood there with my eyes closed, and just relished at this electric sensation surging throughout my body. Then it was over. I looked around and nearly everyone was looking back at me in shock. Except for the pastor of course! It was at THAT MOMENT that I realized what had happened. Later, I remember thinking as I left Norton to return to Elkhart, Kansas how badly I wanted that experience again. Why? Because I FELT it. It was REAL. It was something I could measure. For the first time, over 4 years ago on that day, that I discovered what FAITH really meant.

There have been other times faith has brought me through some difficult times. Unfortunately, after my experience in Norton, Kansas over 4 years ago, it took more loss before I awakened. It was only until I nearly lost my life and landed behind bars for 158 days, did the realization really start to kick in. Today, I can think back on many other occasions when something positive, something great has "happened" in my life, which I can't attribute to anything I did, it was only because I had an inner "sense" of faith. That's what I mean by what I said earlier about when we experience something "in the moment" that has no explanation with our physical senses. When I reflect back on my life, it was faith that enabled me to survive the tragic loss of my mother when I was a young boy, it was faith that first brought me to California to finish high school and college in the mid-70's, it was faith that got my first job with the bank in Kansas in the 80's, it was faith that gave me children in the 90's, it was faith that enabled me to kick the alcohol habit in 2008, it was faith that brought me back to California in 2010 to start a new life and new career, and it was faith that brought the incredible woman I love dearly today into my life.

So again, ask yourself this question. "Is there something that's happened in my life that I can give no explanation why it happened and not because of something I did or didn't do?" That's the critical part. It has to be something that you experienced, not what you hear from someone else, including me. There are so many stories out there, especially on the internet, stories where you see and hear of miracles in other people's lives. Those things are certainly inspirational, and I'm sure most of them are true, but unless you have ownership in something tangible that's happened in YOUR life, then it won't have full value for you. You won't be able to identify with it in your soul. If you're honest with yourself, if you drop your wall of pride, you will see that it can be only one thing. Faith. Faith that a higher power greater than your own caused it. Call it whatever you want, a tree, a doorknob, whatever. But whatever you choose, remember, and this is a guarantee, it has NOTHING to do with YOU. That's your choice. I choose GOD.

I'll end this latest "rambling" post with this. I think Einstein said it best:

Let me explain the problem science has with religion.' The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.

'You're a Christian, aren't you, son?' 'Yes sir,' the student says. 'So you believe in God?' 'Absolutely. ' 'Is God good?' 'Sure! God's good.' 'Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?' 'Yes' 'Are you good or evil?' 'The Bible says I'm evil.' The professor grins knowingly. 'Aha! The Bible!' He considers for a moment. 'Here's one for you. Let's say there's a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?' 'Yes sir, I would.' 'So you're good!' 'I wouldn't say that.' 'But why not say that? You'd help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn't.'

The student does not answer, so the professor continues. 'He doesn't, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?' The student remains silent. 'No, you can't, can you?' the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.

'Let's start again, young fella. Is God good?' 'Er..yes,' the student says. 'Is Satan good?' The student doesn't hesitate on this one.. 'No.' 'Then where does Satan come from?' The student falters. 'From God' 'That's right. God made Satan, didn't he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?' 'Yes, sir.' 'Evil's everywhere, isn't it? And God did make everything, correct?' 'Yes' 'So who created evil?' The professor continued, 'If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.'

Again, the student has no answer. 'Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?' The student squirms on his feet. 'Yes.' 'So who created them?' The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. 'Who created them?' There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. 'Tell me,' he continues onto another student. 'Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?' The student's voice betrays him and cracks. 'Yes, professor, I do.' The old man stops pacing. 'Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus? 'No sir. I've never seen Him.' 'Then tell us if you've ever heard your Jesus?' 'No, sir, I have not.' 'Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?' 'No, sir, I'm afraid I haven't.''Yet you still believe in him?' 'Yes' 'According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn't exist. What do you say to that, son?' 'Nothing,' the student replies. 'I only have my faith.' 'Yes, faith,' the professor repeats. 'And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.' The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of his own.

'Professor, is there such thing as heat?' ' Yes. 'And is there such a thing as cold?' 'Yes, son, there's cold too.' 'No sir, there isn't.'

The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. 'You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don't have anything called 'cold'. We can hit down to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that..There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees.' 'Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.' Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.

'What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?' 'Yes,' the professor replies without hesitation. 'What is night if it isn't darkness?' 'You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? That's the meaning we use to define the word.' 'In reality, darkness isn't. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn't you?'

The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. 'So what point are you making, young man?' 'Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.' The professor's face cannot hide his surprise this time. 'Flawed? Can you explain how?' 'You are working on the premise of duality,' the student explains.. 'You argue that there is life and then there's death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought.' 'It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it.' 'Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?' 'If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.' 'Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?' The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.

'Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?' The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.'To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.' The student looks around the room. 'Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor's brain?' The class breaks out into laughter. 'Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor's brain , felt the professor's brain, touched or smelt the professor's brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.'

'So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?' Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable. Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. 'I guess you'll have to take them on faith.' 'Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,' the student continues. 'Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?' Now uncertain, the professor responds, 'Of course, there is. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.' To this the student replied, 'Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart.

It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.'

The professor sat down.

PS: the student was Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein wrote a book titled God vs Science in 1921....



November 5, 2010

“The Big Guy”

I'm doing this one in honor of my son, Jess David Rowe, who's known by several names in our family; Jess the Mess, Jessie, Bam Bam, and the one only he and I know of, "The Big Guy". Why? Because from the moment he was born, everything about him was BIG, not that he was overly large at birth, he just simply packed a lot of punch in that little body when I held him for the first time. I didn't call him that at first, it was only until he was older that this name sort of popped out of my mouth one day.

Jess was born November 6th, 1994, my second and last child. For awhile that day, we weren't sure if he would ever come out! Seems he liked the comfort of where he had been for nine months and eventually had to be "induced" to come and greet us in person. Once he arrived though, our lives were changed forever. Jess does things in a big way.

Rather than simply write an ode like I did recently for his sister, Christy, who turned 18 this past month, I'd like to tell you a little about Jess. But first, let me stress when I describe him as big, I'm not suggesting he's overweight, though there is no doubt he is a large man. He's simply, well, just BIG! His name has a rich family heritage. I like to tell people of how I came up with it, which, thanks to his mother, she allowed me to choose. His great-great-great grandfather was an immigrant from Berlin, Germany, whose name was George Rowe. George had a son named Gus, his great-great grandfather, whose given name was August Rowe. August (Gus) had a son named Jess, my son's great-grandfather and Jess had a son named Dave (my Dad), and my son's grandfather. George-Gus-Jess-Dave-Gus-Jess. I used to joke around with my son, telling him about this lineage and asked that if he ever had a son and thought of following this pattern, to not name him George! His middle name, David, was one of my Mom's brothers, David Bare, Jess' great-uncle. Everyone who knew David also knew he was a big man, roughly 6' 3" and well over 200 pounds. Everyone used to call him "Cub Bare" when he was young, because he was not only a "bear" of a man, but cuddly just like my son!

I remember when I found out I was going to have a son. I'd gone to the hospital to see the latest sonogram results when his mother was pregnant with him and found her crying. I asked, "What's the matter!?" I was late because of banking business and had come in on the tail-end of the exam. She said, "Congratulations Dad, you're going to have a son." I'll never forget that moment. My only son, and the only male left on the Rowe side of my family to carry on that name. But, that's another story, one yet to be written and will only be written by God's hands.

As I mentioned earlier, Jess does things in a big way. He was always moving, and not just physically but mentally as well. When he was just 2 or so, he had solved the riddle of the infamous "child gate" that I had installed leading to the stairs to the basement in our home in Tribune. His sister was already 4 and she STILL hadn't figured it out! I knew early on I had a very intelligent child on my hands. One day, as I was taking him to school for 1st grade, he asked me for a dollar to buy pencils. I knew he already had some so I said, "Do you think money grows on trees or something?" As we drove, he pointed to one and said, "Dad, see that tree?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Money's made out of paper, paper is made from trees, so yes, money grows on trees." I was speechless. Another time, I was picking him up from daycare when he was only 4 and I recall his sitter saying this; "With Jess, his mind is SO active and he's SO smart, you have to keep him busy." Later, I had another lady who watched him after school when he was in 2nd or 3rd grade and she'd had a particularly rough day with him. All she said was when I picked him up was "Jess has his own agenda." That's Jess. He had his mind made up before he was even born that HE was going to control the situation. After all, he didn't want to "come out" in the first place!

In 3rd grade, I recall going to pick him up one day after school. Some days I'd wait outside and other days, if I had time, I'd go straight to his classroom. As all these little 3rd grade boys were filing out the door with their little backpacks, chatting and laughing about their day, one turned to Jess just as I met him at the door and asked where he got the little toy ranger he had in his hands. I'll never forget what happened next. Jess turned to him, shook his finger up and down pointedly as if he was a teacher and said firmly, "You go to
www dot power rangers dot com!" A teacher's aide was standing there, Mrs. Gibson. She looked at me, I looked at her and just sighed. I knew for sure I'd never stay a step ahead of this boy!

When he was 6 or 7, during the fall, I was in the middle of harvesting grain sorghum and asked my kids if they'd like to take a ride on the combine with one of the local farmers I'd hired. They both climbed up the ladder and rode one round. When the combine stopped, the farmer opened the cab door, and Jess' sister climbed slowly down. It was a good 5 or 6 foot climb. Next was Jess. He just stood there at the top of the ladder platform, looked at me with that sheepish grin of his, and literally HURLED himself off the platform. Of course, he knew I'd catch him. The farmer looked down at me from high atop the combine and simply said, "You got your hands full with THAT one Gus!" That's Jess. He's a handful. He's big.

I could go on and on but I'm about to run out of time for now. However, I'd like to end this birthday tribute to my son with some observations about his heart. Like everything else about Jess; his physical stature, his mind, his heart is as big as the Kansas prairie where he was born. He's kind to animals and little children alike. I remember how my sister's cat, Kiwi, took to him so readily when he was here in California for a couple of days this past March. Kiwi is known as the "cuddle kitters" and Jess loved to have her in his lap, fondly stroking her fur. For several years, even now as a teenager, he has helped out at the youth center in Tribune, KS., a place where children and teenagers alike can come to play pool, video games, or whatever else they can do on weekends rather than roaming the streets. And his heart is reflected in his spirit, his soul, his intestinal fortitude. The man has a gargantuan-sized pain threshold, something I've always admired. And he's endured a lot of pain over the years, both physically and emotionally, the latter the result of some of my own actions, or the lack thereof.

With these God-given attributes, a sharp and intelligent mind and a gigantic heart and soul, I have no doubt Jess David Rowe is destined for BIG things in his life here on earth. So I say then to him on this day, the anniversary of his 16th year of life, "Happy Birthday Big Guy!" I love you and I'm so proud of you!


November 1, 2010

Giving All You Have

"Gus, you always hear it spoken, relationships are 50/50.....I don't believe my eyes they are 100% / 100%....without that commitment you have nothing......think you can run with that????"

That was a private message I received recently from one of the followers of Gusto on Facebook, in response to a question I posed of its readers for a topic to write about. I replied by saying that was a great one since it's something that hits home for me. At first glance, most people would assume that topic to mean the dynamics of a relationship between two people who are intimately involved. Of course, marriage comes instantly to mind. But my mind wanders and it quickly took me to many other areas of life.

When you stop and think about it, "relationships" run the gamut. You have relationships not only with your spouse or intimate partner, but also in many other areas; your relationship with your parents, children, other family members, co-workers, supervisors, God, even your pets!

I believe you get out of life only what you put into it. If all you're doing day-to-day is going around constantly trying to get people to meet you halfway, because all you're willing to give is part of yourself to begin with, and not everything you have in your heart and soul, none of your relationships will have full value. Here are some examples of what I mean by that statement.

Many times in our lives, we find ourselves in positions where there's give and take. Sometimes, we have to give up something in order to get something we want. For instance, when you go to get a loan from the bank, usually you're mentally prepared that you'll have to fill out a loan application. But then you find out the bank wants more information from you, sometimes very personal information. I can recall several incidents in my career as a banker when I had to ask my clients for information that they weren't prepared to give or even saw it coming when I did ask. It was at those times I found myself in the position of "meeting halfway" since some of them balked at what I was asking of them. That was when both my-self and my client were placed in an awkward position, because of this "meeting halfway" notion. Mostly because the element of trust came into play. For example, I remember several times, when I'd asked for all of a farmer's equipment assets as collateral for a loan, the value far exceeded what was needed for the loan, and far over what was required to meet the bank's loan-to-policy guidelines. The farmer might say, "Why do you need $100,000 in collateral? All I'm asking you to lend me is $20,000?" My favorite and common response to that was, "What difference does it make if I ask you for $100,000 or $1,000,000? You're going to pay the loan in good faith anyway, right?" No one could counter that. Point is, a lending relationship is much the same as life relationships in general. It's entirely about CHARACTER and TRUST. The following example illustrates this point even further.

When I was placed in the Liberal, KS. in-patient treatment program for substance abuse in November, 2008 for six months, there was a laundry list of "house rules." One that quickly became a constant source of discussion and irritation was the "sign-in" sheet. Whenever I left the house, even to go a couple of blocks away to get a candy bar or newspaper and immediately come back, I was required to write my name down on the sheet, the EXACT time I left, and the time I came back. On the THIRD day I was there, I forgot this little rule. When I came back later that day, the house manager had given me dish duty for the entire week as "punishment." Remember, I was only one out of 20 or so others who were housed there during that time and all of us had various duties every day; sometimes we had to vacuum, other days it was cleaning the bathrooms, the next week clean the kitchen, and of course, the one no one liked. Washing dishes. When I found out I'd gotten dish duty for something that was an honest mistake, I was pissed. But rather than trying to negotiate, I did what I always do, I gave it my all. I decided if I was going to have to do dishes every day for a week, then those dishes were going to be spotless.

I didn't give it another thought until the following week, when suddenly the house manager came up to me one day and told me what a great job I did. From that MOMENT forward for the next 5 ½ months, I was given a LOT of latitude in many areas. I was GIVEN the freedom to go places and do things many of my fellow residents weren't. Why? I hadn't even asked for those freedoms! I had developed a level of TRUST far exceeding that of the others because of my CHARACTER. Because I decided to give it my all to something as simple as making sure the dishes were spotless.

For those of you who have a religious bent, here's another example. Do you ever find yourself negotiating with God? Have you ever asked God to do something for you and, in exchange, you'll give something back? I remember asking Him once a long time ago, "God, IF you get me out of this jam, I'll do whatever you ask." We all know it doesn't work that way with Him. Why should we treat each other as human beings any differently? Don't be one of those that always goes around negotiating. Give it all you got. Life isn't a series of "ifs" and "buts." One of my favorite sayings from a former co-worker in my career as a banker was this: "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd ALL have a very Merry Christmas!" Think about it.

I'm sure you can think of similar stories in your own life, times when you were faced with meeting someone "half-way." Likewise, think of times in your life when you went into a "relationship" with no pre-conceptions, no thought given to "what's in it for me?" What were the results? Was there a difference? Sure, there's no doubt that there are times when you have to meet someone half-way and yes, giving it your all is risky. After all, life doesn't come with any guarantees and you're bound to get burned now and then. But, unless you are willing to give ANY relationship everything you have in your being from the get go, with NO conditions, you will never receive full value for it. You only get out of life what you put into it. Think about that the next time you go to your banker to get a loan or someone asks you to do the dishes. I guarantee you from personal experience, the benefit of your actions will many times far exceed whatever you had to put into it.


October 28, 2010

“A Change Will Do You Good”

I remember the first time as if it were yesterday. I was sitting at my desk in Grand Junction, CO. It was sometime in 1984 and I'd been with ITT Financial Services for a little over a year, working as a consumer loan officer. I was hired straight out of college in January, 1983, spending 10 months as a manager trainee in Great Falls, MT. before being promoted to my first manager position in Craig, CO. By 1984, the economy had gotten really bad on the " western slope " , as it's known in Colorado, due to the collapse of oil production and the after-effects of the nation-wide recession. By then, ITT had closed the Craig office, transferred all the accounts, including me, to the Grand Junction office, the epicenter of the oil shale economy that had been nearly destroyed. As manager, I was in charge of the 2nd largest location in the entire state of CO., with only Englewood, CO. being larger. My office's loan delinquency was nearly 20%, charge-offs were approaching 10%, our loan customers were being laid off left and right, unemployment had run out for some, and my patience was wearing thin. Needless to say, I was stressed to the max.

My regional manager from Minnesota was making her rounds around the state during that time and was in my office that particular day, and boy was it " one of those days. " My staff and I had been busy all morning making collection calls, people we talked with were mad at us, I was pissed because of it, and so was my regional manager. That's when she sat right across my desk and " lit up. " I remember asking her, "What is it about those things that make you smoke them?" I'll never forget what she said, "They help me relax." BAM. I said, "Give me that, I want to see for myself!" The rest, as they say, is history.

As I sit here typing today, over 26 years later after that day, I remember what my sisters said when they found out I smoked. They couldn't believe it, after all, I was the one who used to snatch those butts out of their mouths when one of them lit up and instantly crushing it. And here I was guilty of the very thing I so despised at one time! I mean seriously, here was a guy who was very athletic in high school, playing football and basketball and, had I not tore up my knee my senior year, would have gone on to play Division II football for Northern Arizona University since they'd offered me a scholarship.

For years, I never gave this nasty habit a second thought. In fact, it's become literally a part of my life, an extension of my daily activities. It's really quite sad when I think about it. But now, nearly 2 ½ years after giving up alcohol completely, and I mean complete, not even a drop, I'm about to make a similar decision with cigarettes. Frankly, this decision is long overdue.

At this point, you may be wondering. Why now? Why haven't I done this before? Everyone knows it's bad for your health, why have you taken so long? Frankly, I've never given it really serious thought until just the past few months. Oh sure, when I moved to SoCal this past March, I had every intention of quitting, knowing (or at least deluding myself into thinking) that a change of scenery and environment would be a huge plus. In fact, shortly after I arrived here in March I did make an attempt at quitting, even getting a prescription for Chantix, the latest and greatest cure for this nasty habit. Alas, Chantix didn't "take", in fact I hate that stuff, the side effects are a drag (no pun intended!) And perhaps I just wasn't mentally prepared for that drastic of a change, especially since I'd already made a HUGE one in coming here to begin with!

The obvious reason of course, is for my own good. I'd rather die from natural causes than something self-inflicted like booze or cigs. There are other reasons, but one stands out the most. To preserve and perpetuate the beautiful relationship I've developed over the past few months with the woman I love. Allow me to emphasize this though, irrespective of where this relationship is headed, I know that this is something I have to do for my health, first and foremost.

So, after reflecting on a course of action and after visiting with the counselor yesterday, the one I met this past July, I'm going to take the same "steps" with this addiction as I did with alcohol. One day at a time. Like alcohol, it comes down to a choice. Unlike that addiction though, where I put myself in a corner in which the only way out to freedom was abstinence, the goal here is somewhat different. In this case, abstinence means more than just freedom. This one, I'm attacking more than just because I HAVE to, though obviously that wasn't the only reason, my life was at stake, too. It's because I WANT to. Either way, "change" of any kind, especially big ones we make in our lives like the one I'm facing, comes with no guarantees. I have to keep in mind always that although my goal is set, expecting it to happen without fail is a recipe for disappointment. Still, I remain steadfast, strong, and positive. And for you readers, those who know me well, when I set my mind on something, I go all in and I play for keeps. Nothing in life worth striving for, including our health, our families, and the people we love the most, deserve any less.



October 24, 2010

Inspiring Others…The Wright Brothers

I know a lot has been said about my writing. And not only how I write, but also what I write about. Starting well over a year ago, people from all walks of life began telling me, "Gus, what you write about is inspiring. But it's more than that. It's the WAY you write about it. You write like many of us feel but we can't express it in written form the way you do. And what you have to say does inspire people, more than you probably know."

Recently, I was talking with an old childhood friend of mine from back home in Kansas, a woman I grew up with and went to school with starting when we were in kindergarten. She works at the local Farm Service Agency in the town where I grew up in Tribune. I'd called there since I still have some farming interests back home and we got to talking about our lives. I was asking her about her health since she had told me this past August that she'd been having some issues. At one point she said, "I see on Facebook you might be coming out with a book some day." I told her it was something I was thinking of but wasn't sure, still not knowing where Ramblings was taking me. I remember her distinctly saying, "If it inspires ONE person, then it would be successful." I think that nails it on the head.

If you think about people in this world who inspire others, most of the time we think of people who are famous. People who get on television for instance. I remember over a year ago, well before the thought of starting this blog came to mind, I was talking with one of my sisters one day as we were travelling to visit family in Tribune. We were talking of my journey over the years in terms of dealing with my disease now that I was on the mend and I mentioned to her about all the people I had encountered over the years, but especially since the middle of 2008, and how many people had been telling me that I had a way of inspiring them with my story, both with the written word and in speaking. I went on to say many had been suggesting I write a book and I was thinking about it. I'll never forget the look on her face and what she said. She sort of glanced at me funny with this look of skepticism and said, "Well, it's not like what you have gone through hasn't been done before or like no one else has already written about it."

While I understood that what she said wasn't meant to diminish my feelings and I respected her opinion, I remember my reaction internally. And though I did my best not to show it to her, it made me feel I was unworthy. More importantly, those words laid a small seed of doubt in my heart and mind. Later, I dismissed those feelings. Here's why.

If everyone who ever had an inspiration that came to mind, something they felt very passionate about, something that others told them couldn't be done, and then didn't follow through with it because someone told them so, where would our world be? Did the Wright brothers give up on flying just because people scoffed at the idea of man actually flying? An extreme example, yes. But really, stop and think about it. Much of what I write about is heart and spirit. About not giving up and not giving in. Staying positive in the face of defeat. Here's another example and this one may be even more extreme, comparatively speaking, to my situation. Was Jesus accepted at first? Didn't everyone question him? I mean come on, who could believe all that he came up with? Of course, we know what happened with his life, don't we?

Please don't misunderstand; I'm neither comparing myself to the Wright brothers and certainly not to Jesus. The point I'm trying to make is that ANY OF US are capable of truly great and inspiring things. The reason why we don't or, more importantly, choose NOT TO, is because of what others tell us we CAN'T do, and also what our minds tell us we CAN'T do.

Those of you who read this and who know me, also know my story, especially over the past few years. I came close to death, not once, but twice. Worse, it came because of choices I made, not ones others made for me. But, for whatever reason, God spared me. Once that fog lifted and I could see clearly, I haven't taken a look back since. No one can tell me I can't do something because I've proven, with God's help, that I CAN. And the same thing goes for anyone else! Just because someone says, "Ah, don't kid yourself. You can't do that. Someone else has already done it, anyway." That's hogwash.

So, I'm plowing forward and moving ahead. My advice to anyone else with something they are passionate about, especially something that is socially redeemable or inspiring to others, is to do the same. Like my friend said, "If you inspire ONE person, it will be worth it." Isn't ONE person enough? You have to start somewhere, right? After all, we were all born of the same cloth so to speak. NONE of us were born famous. The only reason why we do great things with our lives is because we don't accept defeat. We never say NEVER. The Wright brothers didn't, why should you?