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?