December 31, 2011

Happy NEW Year!

As another year rolls to a close during this journey called “life”, most of us take time to look back and reflect on what happened in our lives over the previous 12 months; our triumphs, failures, the glories of success, the beginnings of something “new”, whether it was a job, a relationship, new surroundings, marriage, divorce, birth, and even death. And most of us look forward to the “New Year” full of promise and hope, thankful that we even made it this far. I’m no exception.

What you’re about to read is REAL. It’s also going to be somewhat graphic, dark, but I’m convinced by the end, you’ll be more inspired than ever that whatever your circumstances are, there’s always hope, there’s always light, there’s always a better way to propel yourself to new ways of living and thinking. I’m also aware that there’s a fair amount of personal risk in what I’m about to share, and which I’ve been cautioned about by those closest to me. But this is bound to come out sooner or later. It’s inevitable. It’s also practicing my own principles. It’s living out loud at both its least complimentary AND it’s finest. This story, however, goes back further than 2011. It starts on December 31st, 2007, a “moment in time” when life was about to transition into a period that could only be described as the worst train wreck you’ve ever seen and the most awesome and inspiring fireworks show you’ve ever witnessed, all rolled up into a 48 month time span. Up until that point, the previous 25 years were marked by a series of events not un-like anybody else’s life. There was success and there was failure of all types; marriage, children, unparalleled personal and professional glory, yet heartache, doubt, despair. But what was about to happen over the next few months once the calendar rolled over to 1-1-2008 all the way to TODAY, December 31st, 2011, four years later, would make anything else prior mild in comparison.

As you read, let your imagination take you “there”, to a time and place where there is no hope, no inspiration, nothing meaningful and worthwhile that wakes you up in the morning which brings you happiness, enthusiasm, and joy. As mentioned, it’s late December 2007. You’re alone. Completely and utterly alone. You have no one. By now, you’ve immersed yourself in your own self-pity and self-medication so deeply, even your own family can’t “reach” you. Falling further and further into the depths of despair, you awake each day, look in the mirror, and say “this can’t keep going on like this.” You go through the motions of everyday life. You shower, dress, go to work, come home, and the cycle repeats itself. Day after day after day.

And then one day, you wake up and, for whatever reason, maybe it was the shakes from the previous night’s binge, maybe you thought “I’ll just not call”, everything, all the pain, would just go away and somehow the next day, this nightmare you’ve been living in for so long will magically disappear. You’ll wake up and it’s over. Or maybe you just simply gave up. So you don’t call. You don’t call your employer to say, “I’m sick today”, as you’ve done so many times before, and you’re certain it sounds like a broken record to the person on the other end. The next thing you know, the job you’ve known for the previous 20+ years with the same employer, the one where you reached the pinnacle of success, has gone up in smoke. And then, one day in mid-February 2008, still alone and trying to drown the pain, you hear a knock at your door. There, stands two of your sisters, one of home had driven hundreds of miles across two states, along with a local “peace officer”, all of whom had arrived to take you somewhere to get help. You refuse. And yet you agree to go with one of your sisters for a month, just to see if you can pull yourself together. But you don’t get it together. In fact, the first night with your sister, you suffer a seizure and nearly die. Still, even that didn’t “awaken” you from the pit you’re in. But soon, a rapid series of radical and life-changing events would.

And it would do so in a BIG way. And by the time it’s over, you find yourself as if you’re born anew. Colors seem brighter. You can “hear” birds sing again. You watch children in awe and admiration. You begin to discover a NEW way of living and thinking that totally turns your world around, bathed in a light you never dreamed possible. You begin reconnecting and building relationships with people from your past, people whom you knew 30 years prior in high school. People that you met on Facebook. For the first time, you discover there’s something called “texting”, even though you’re 50 years old, it’s early 2009, and that technology has already been around awhile. Don’t laugh. That’s how rudimentary your life was. Before, it was nothing but work. Your life is about to take off like a flaming rocket ship and you’re still not aware of it. But, as mentioned, you’re still not awake. There’s still more branches and leaves the Master wants to prune from the tree before He decides you’re ready to form new blossoms and LIVE again.

And that’s what happens. He strips you of nearly everything, all of your possessions, your freedom, and you nearly lose your life two more times. All in the not so pleasant confines of a 270 square foot concrete and steel cage you’ve come to know as “home” for 158 days beginning in mid-2008, after you’ve finally tested the legal limits of what society will allow. And it’s there where life begins to flicker again inside of your heart and soul. So, by the time you emerge into the light in early November 2008, the Master has prepared you for the world to discover, and for you to discover a NEW world.

Everything, every single “moment” since those two fateful days in 2008, one in mid-June, and the other in early November, continues to astound you on a daily basis. People have come into your life whom you never expected, two of whom you came to love, and although the first was there for just a very brief period in the big scheme of things, the second was one who you were certain was meant to be with you forever. She arrived in May 2010, a gift from above, a soul that illuminated the banquet room of dozens and dozens of people where you first met. 18 months later, it was over. The light of the flame you once knew together, snuffed out for reasons you’re still trying to piece together, but really, you’re just thankful you were alive to love at all.

Most of all, you’re thankful for all that’s happened since December 31st, 2007, all the NEW people who’ve come into your life that gives it purpose and meaning, all the NEW places you’ve seen that have lifted your spirit, and all the NEW accomplishments you’ve achieved. A previous client of yours, the biggest one you had while you were in banking, a man of great wealth, character, and more importantly, a great man of faith, becomes one of your biggest fans, giving you a job while you’re still searching for a NEW path. You went back to school at the ripe age of 51 in March 2010 and completed two year’s worth of studies in 12 weeks, and you survived. You’re now an important and key ingredient in the birth and success of a nonprofit organization that’s designed to help widowed parents with surviving dependent children, acting in the role as its Chief Financial Officer. You’ve embarked on a NEW adventure with a private coaching and mentoring career. You’ve begun the process of publishing your first book; “Inspiration at the END…Discovering NEW Beginnings.” 

And then there’s all of YOU who have read this tonight, all the NEW people, over 6,000 of you on my Facebook page called “Gusto”, the one that has grown from just over 100 on December 31st, 2010, all the NEW followers of my website and blog, which has been viewed nearly 15,000 times by people representing over 50 countries around the globe.

Finally, and most importantly, you remain humbled and grateful for those who have reached out to you for your wisdom, support, and advice, some of whom have reached their own personal bottom and look to you now to help them find the “new” NEW in their life. These are the people who inspire you the most, who keep you going, who, when they send you messages, make you realize that your life has meaning and purpose now. That you’re here for a reason. That you’re here to help. That you’re here to give your world HOPE. And you wish them all a Happy NEW Year!


December 26, 2011

The Homeless

The first two I met were “Keith” and “Donna.” They were camped out on a sidewalk in downtown San Diego, with nothing more than a few blankets, some books to read, and a few personal possessions. As I kneeled in front of them, introduced myself, and gazed into their eyes, I saw “fear.” But then as I told them a little more about who I was and what my purpose was in stopping by to offer them food on Christmas day 2011, they began to warm up. Before long, Donna asked me if I had a business card to leave with her, and Keith informed me they were originally from the East coast. They’d been living on the streets for more than a year.

Before I go any further with this story, allow me to give you some background on how it all started, and how I found myself waking up Christmas morning with this thought in mind; to go to downtown San Diego in honor of His birthday and see what He had in mind I could do. The day before, on Christmas Eve, I received a phone call. It was one of the members of my Facebook page, one who I’d become friends with, and who is a vocal and loyal supporter. But it’s not like this call came from next door. This individual was calling from Athens, Greece of all places. We talked for nearly 45 minutes and we shared with one another our plans for Christmas. I informed her that, since my children were far away in Kansas, and that one of my sisters was the only family I had nearby, I would probably just be spending a quiet day by myself; perhaps even take a walk along the beach. She said, “Oh? I thought maybe you might volunteer or something.” I’m assuming she meant that by the way I’m always speaking of “Keeping Kindness Alive” or “Paying it Forward”, that sort of thing.

So, the next morning, bright and early, I awoke with a plan. It had been only a few weeks prior when, in a strange twist of fate, I’d gone to downtown San Diego for a meeting and mistakenly parked 10 blocks from my destination, whereupon I simply walked the rest of the way. And it was then when I saw so many of them. They were everywhere. Some were like Keith and Donna, a little spot set up on the sidewalk where they lived. Others were walking around and talking to….NO ONE. I found myself avoiding eye contact with those. In retrospect, I was wrong. I should have followed my own advice. I should have “stopped, looked, and listened.” These were human beings. Who knows what hardship befell them? Who was I to say whether their plight was self-inflicted or not? So, with those thoughts and images in my mind, I decided right then and there to go back. The timing was perfect. What better day than the birthday of our Lord and Savior? The one who died on the cross for MY sins so I could live, to honor Him in gratitude and respect by reaching out in some small way and help a fellow brother or sister?

It wasn’t long before He’d already begun formulating His plan. A block from my home, still 30 minutes from my destination, I stopped at a 7-Eleven for coffee. When I went to the counter, they were handing out free cookies for Christmas. I remarked to the clerk, “Candy” was her name (How appropriate is THAT! “Candy Cane!”), that I should probably take a couple with me and proceeded to tell her why. She looked at me and said without hesitation, “Hold on a second.” Next thing I know, she’s rummaging through the shelves, searching for sandwiches and cookies. Ten minutes later, I walk out lugging two HUGE plastic bags filled with goodies. Ah, if I only had a big red sack and a matching hat to boot, I’d have fit the part to a “T.” So off I went.
Back to the story. After Keith and Donna came “Wanda.” Now here was a lady who you’d never guess was homeless. She was dressed in holiday cheer, a red cap that said “Naughty” on it, matching red slippers, a radio tuned in to KYXY radio, 96.5 FM San Diego, which had been playing Christmas music all day, every day, since Thanksgiving. And in another ironic twist of fate, THE very same station from which I’d been obtaining ideas for tunes to share on my Facebook page since Thanksgiving myself! Ah, serendipity and the synchronicity of life. Don’t you love when that “happens?” Wanda was gracious, well-groomed, and told me her brief story. How she survived a double mastectomy years prior when she was 33 and here she was, at age 62, living on the streets, refusing to seek shelter inside, and really wasn’t looking for any handouts. She was simply making do the best she could. Totally admirable lady from Louisiana, grateful for the food given her that day.

Next up came Tonya, originally from Vermont. She had a nice place in the shade, a little umbrella propped up on the ground to protect her head, and was half-asleep when I stopped and said “hello.” For the next 15 minutes, she enthralled with me with her grasp for current events, her intellect, and her deep convictions that it wasn’t the big companies that were the problems our country is facing, but rather corruption at all levels of government. Of course, I surmised her view as slightly tainted since she’d been denied for an extension of her unemployment benefits, benefits that came after she was laid off working for a design company. All in all, a memorable encounter. Tonya got not only a sandwich, but cookies as well!
And then came “Sky.” A young lady, originally from Orange County, just up the coast north of San Diego, who was sitting in a chair on the sidewalk next to her boyfriend, “Nico” from Texas, who was laying down asleep on the sidewalk, suffering the after-effects of last night’s libations. Turns out Nico was the only one of NINE people I met that day who showed any signs of substance abuse. Thankfully, he never woke up. When he did, I’m sure he enjoyed the foot-long Italian sub-sandwich I left with Sky.

It was Sky’s story that nearly brought me to tears. She re-counted how she’d lost her children, who were now age 10 and 7, and who were living with her sister in Orange County. When she told me the last time she’d seen them was on Christmas Day in 2009, she broke down sobbing, awash in tears. I couldn’t help it. I got up from where I was sitting on the sidewalk nearby, walked around to where she was sitting in her chair, knelt down, put one arm around her and one hand on her face and head, gently offering words of encouragement. We talked and talked. By the time I left, she had stood up, smiling, and gave me the biggest hug. Of course, I returned it in kind, along with the address to my website and email, the same I gave everyone that day. She assured me she would try to write and share her story in more detail. I hope she does. Because I know what I’ll do with it! You got it, it’ll be right here, for all to see, read, and hopefully, be inspired by. That if you think you’ve got it bad, it’s a virtual guarantee, someone else has got it worse. 

Moving across the street from Sky and Nico, I met “Tom.” Tom is 58 years old, an Army veteran trained as a medic, who was THIS close being sent to Vietnam before the war ended. He was from Bonita, CA. originally, and had bounced around from job to job for years before finally ending up on the street. I wasn’t able to obtain much more information from him than that but, after I asked if I could take his picture for my website, he perked right up, quickly adjusted his hair and baseball cap, and posed with a gleam in his eye.

The final two I met before I ran out of food were Curtis, who was originally from Baltimore, and I’m guessing in his mid-30’s. His compatriot and friend, Terry, was African-American who is originally from Buffalo. Terry was quite the character, full of energy, enthusiasm, quite religious actually, and who also firmly believed his current plight was merely a temporary roadblock before moving on to the next chapter in his life.

And that, right there, was a common undercurrent for those I met on that fateful Christmas Day, ALL of these people left me the impression that they had HOPE for their lives. And in spite of their individual stories, all of them appeared prepared to face whatever life had in store for them, with courage and dignity.

The reason why I shared this story in such detail isn’t to render an opinion, nor to illicit one, on the “whys” or the circumstances surrounding Keith, Donna, Wanda, Tonya, Sky, Nico, Tom, Curtis, or Terry’s lot in life. It’s merely to point out that this could happen to any of us. Some of these people, in particular Wanda and Tonya, if you met them in person in any other venue, you’d never know they were “Homeless.” To drive this point home even further, it was fitting that, at the end, Curtis and Terry shared with me the story of two men they met who had befell the same fate as they, both ending up on the street. One was a licensed attorney, who had lost everything in a bitter and protracted divorce. The other was a licensed psychologist who also found himself living on the street.

So, when you wake up tomorrow morning, look around you. Do you have a roof over your head? Clothing to shelter you from the elements? Food in your refrigerator? Some means of transportation to get you to and from work? Enough change in your pocket for a few incidental needs? Access to basic and affordable health care? These are the necessities of life. Everything else, all your material possessions, pettiness issues with your spouse, family, or co-workers, the age of your car, whether you have all the “finer things” in life, ALL of that and more, they’re meaningless.

The only thing that matters is what you have inside. What you have in your heart, soul, and mind. We came into this world with nothing and we leave it the same way. It’s how we make each other FEEL in between that matters. Be grateful for that. Be grateful for LIFE. And remember this as well, together we stand, so stand up and help one another. 


December 11, 2011

Keep Going...You're Not Finished Yet!

He comes in the middle of the night, when the mind and heart are clear, emptied of yesterday’s memory. I’m not a “bible-beater” as I always say, but that’s my theory anyway. Because every time this has happened over the past few years, which isn’t often, a moment of clarity appears that heightens my senses, as if He’s sending me a message, and it happened again this morning (Dec. 7th, 2011) around 2:30 a.m, in much the same way as when this page and my website were created on April 9th, 2010. And so, after a nightly foray for “relief”, as it were, I decided to check my website email account. By way of background, this is the account I use only for my Facebook page and business purposes, an address I’ve given out freely to others, offering my support, guidance, or advice. And recently, after an individual made a comment about one of my Facebook posts on how we sometimes find ourselves at the edge of a “cliff” in our lives, I did just that.

So, here is this individual’s message, in abridged format for privacy reasons: “I think I’m broken. My daughter is all I live for. I have no life. I can’t seem to find or keep any friends who are interested in what my interests are. I cry a lot over the separation from my current husband, even though he’s a bad person.” (*author’s note: he’s an alcoholic, as were two previous marriages) “I know I’m (sic) an enabler, and read A LOT about these kinds of things. I work full time, and am a pleasant person. But I’m lonely. Alone, I can deal with because that’s the way it is, but lonely is another thing. I’m 52 years old and seriously don’t want to die a lonely old woman, but since being apart from my husband (2 ½ years), I have met not one single guy that I would spend any amount of time with. I read all the positive things on Facebook, but yours is seriously the best. Very real. I thank you for that. But I need help and don’t know what to do, I read a lot of Wayne Dyer and Melodie Beatty. Dr. Dyer is really good and opened my eyes to keep the faith, but I’m so used to being abused and treated like crap, it’s hard. Really hard. So that’s it for now. Thank you again for replying. I’m sure you’re a very busy man.” ~ Happy Holidays

As I closed my computer after reading that, I attempted sleep once more. And then it dawned on me. This is what I’m HERE for. This is what a friend told me back in late 2009, long before I moved back to California, and long before this website and Facebook page were created, a lady I’ve known for over 30 years and who was also given a gift of foreseeing the future about people’s lives, a gift she discovered about herself when she was a young girl. We met for coffee one day while I was visiting in California, checking the area out, and after 4 hours of animated discussion, it seemed like 4 minutes; “Gus, people need to hear what you have to say. People in this world today are hurting. You’ve got so much in your heart, such wisdom and knowledge. I know you want to move back here to get in the legal field but that’s just a steppingstone. The gift I have doesn’t allow me to tell you what that is. All I can say is your place is here. Don’t waste time, this is your chance, and remember, people are watching.” I still get chills when I think about that moment.

But back to this lady’s message. It’s not unlike countless others that I’ve received from so many over the past 20 months, or what I “sense” is out there in this world; pain, heartache, despair, hardship, insecurity, loneliness, anger, bitterness, and more. I had a discussion just the other day with an individual I’d just met, she too is about the same age as I and the individual described in the story above, and once she found out what I was doing with my life, reaching out to help people in various ways, including foremost with the written word, all she said was; “I find it fascinating that there’s SO many of us in this age group who are going through many of the same things in life.” That age group she was referring to of course, at least in my estimation, are the “baby-boomers”, but particularly those in the 45-55 age bracket. It’s no coincidence that nearly ONE-THIRD of the 5,600+ who follow my facebook page fall into that age category.

What’s the answer? How do I help the lady who sent me the email, the one that just “happened” to arrive in the middle of the night? How do I help all the others who’ve reached out to me? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I have no set of rigid rules, steps, or programs that fit everyone. It’s impossible. But it’s not rocket science either. Everyone’s different. Each of us has a unique set of circumstances or issues that demands a unique set of solutions. My only job is to take all the experiences I’ve had in life, both good and bad, utilize the gifts I’ve been Blessed with, and help others navigate through the obstacles in their life. It’s really that simple.

For most of us, CHANGE is difficult, especially as we get older. But I’m here to tell you, I know all there is to know about change. I’ve seen and experienced things, places, situations, and circumstances in life that would bring most of us to our knees, and in fact, a few of them did just that to yours truly. But somehow, some way, I’ve been plucked from the pits of darkness, despair, depression, sadness, and bitterness time and time again by a hand that keeps telling me; “Keep going. Don’t stop. You’re not finished yet. There’s much to be done, and don’t worry, I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

So that’s the reply to my newfound friend, the one whose message I received in the middle of the night, a message sent over cyberspace, but what was really a message from much higher than that; “Keep going. Don’t stop. You’re not finished yet. There’s much to be done, and don’t worry, I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

And it’s also a message for all of you reading this. "Don’t Give Up."


December 3, 2011


“Read this 5 times a day for 5 days. It will CHANGE your life.” Those words from her lips I can still hear as if it were just a moment ago. It was September, 2006. She was my substitute counselor that day, for just ONE day. Because, as fate would have it, my regular counselor, the one I’d been seeing every day for 3 weeks just “happened” to be gone that day. I was in a volunteer rehabilitation program, my first stint at trying to overcome a “cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.”

Life hasn’t been the same since. After that day, I noticed she was the LIFE of the program, a counselor who zipped from one meeting to another, always full of energy, sometimes running across the courtyard in her bare feet. Everyone looked up to her, including the other counselors, even though she was the youngest and least experienced by far. But the effect, the impact, the everlasting impression she made on me that day, I’ll never forget, nor will I ever be able to repay her kindness. Her name I only knew her by was “Montica.” The vibrant, youthful woman in her mid-30’s or so, who had suffered cardiac arrest and nearly died just a few years earlier after several years of oxycontin and alcohol abuse, was on the rise. And fast.

I remember the day clearly. I walked into the building that housed all the counselor's offices, to visit Rhonda, who was my regular therapist, and to my surprise they said she was gone that day. So they sent me to Montica. When I walked in, still feeling unsure and uneasy about the whole experience of rehab, I was immediately struck by her presence; youthful, slender, blond, seemingly care-free, but oh so intuitive. Determined too. She had the look of someone who’d seen enough of the bad side of life and wasn’t about to waste one second of the new life she’d been given.

As we talked, I remember asking her this question; “What is it exactly? I don’t “get” this whole one day at a time and living in the moment business.” She looked at me, paused, and said, “Where are you?” “Sitting right here in front of you”, I replied. “Okay, where’s your legs?” she said in return. I thought wow, this chick is WEIRD. Nevertheless, I went along. I looked at her firmly, and said with a stern voice while pointing to my legs, “Here!”

“Where’s your feet?” Now I was getting more than a little exasperated. “What the hell is she talking about?” I wondered aloud to myself. I hadn’t known her more than 5 minutes and yet I was already getting more than a little peeved that Rhonda wasn’t there. Still, I soldiered on with this tete-a-tete, after all, I never did back down from anyone or anything in my life.

Gamely, I replied, “My right foot is on the floor, and my left foot is resting just above my right kneecap.”


My left foot dropped to the floor, barely beating my jaw on the way down. Silence. From there, it was all uphill. Conversation followed, most of it quite animated and emotional from both sides. We laughed. I cried. I always do. Doesn’t take much for a sentimental teddy bear like me to shed a tear, especially when she told me her story. After I shared some of mine, she could tell I had a LOT to learn about patience and acceptance of my fate in what I thought was a facility from hell.

As we wrapped up our ONE and ONLY private meeting, she pulled out a 3x5 pad of paper, wrote those infamous, life-changing words, pulled the sheet off the pad, and handed it to me.

Over 5 years later, a time during which I made yet another stab back at the same facility, fell deeper and deeper into disarray, confusion, chaos, violence, depression, and despair, the loss of my job, a temporary loss of freedom, leaving my home for nearly a year, then moved back to that same home for almost a year more, a new job, recovery, release, only to pack up just the necessities of what was needed to start over, selling everything else, my furniture, a vehicle, moving 1400 miles west to California, graduating from a rigorous accelerated paralegal program, finding solace and comfort with my little sister, and finally starting to get those same two feet firmly planted, establishing roots once more, that tiny slip of paper, somewhat faded now, but intact, is STILL with me.

Why? It’s a gift from above, a message of HOPE that I’ve been divinely led to give back to humanity. I’ve said it so many times to so many people, in so many different situations or forums, both privately and publicly, including THIS one, as well as my facebook page called “Gusto”, those words have meaning, value, and far more reaching impact than just for those who are “in the program.” THESE words apply to a program called LIFE. They apply to every single one of you reading this. I don’t care who you are, whether you’re considered a success or otherwise, regardless of race, color, religion, gender, or social status, these words, these simple words, can and WILL have more of a lasting and positive impact on your life, as well as everyone around you, than you could imagine:

            “And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
            When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place,
            thing, or situation…some fact of my life…unacceptable to me,
            and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place,
            thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to
            be at this MOMENT. Nothing, absolutely nothing, “happens”
            in God’s world by mistake. Unless I accept life completely,
            on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not
            so much as on what needs to be changed in the world as on
            what needs changed in me and in my attitudes.” ~ P. 417

Something to consider and think about, yes? Life is simple. There’s a little bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us. We each have a right to be here, and with this knowledge, it makes it easier to accept others without judgment. It’s wiser instead for each of us to judge ourselves by our actions rather than our intentions. After all, that’s how others will judge us, and in the end, by the One who created us to begin with.

Thank you Montica! :)