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My Observations...

An Angel Returns Home: The Story of my Great Grandmother, Isabel

My great-grandmother, Isabel Axum, whom we affectionately called "Memaw," would have celebrated her 104th birthday this November had the Lord not called her back home last Thursday, June 20, 2019. Her extraordinary life touched so many others, and everyone who came across her path has their own wonderful and unique story about her kindness and sense of humor, but here's mine:

 

She was born in East Texas in 1915. The Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians had called that wooded area Tiyuk Hekia ("Standing Pine"), but it became known as Overton and the first post office was instituted in 1873. Soon after her birth, her family loaded the covered wagon and made their way to Palestine, where she had lived ever since.

 

Years ago, I made a video recording of me interviewing Memaw as she sat in her favorite chair in her living room. She was never one to run the air conditioning. She said: "the AC makes people sick."

 

She heartily laughed as she recalled her earliest childhood memory. She was four years old. "I climbed up on my mother's safe to find me some paper sacks to roll me up a cigarette. But instead of getting paper bags, I pulled the safe over and the dining table caught it, but it didn't keep it from breaking all the dishes and me getting a good whipping by my mother."

 

She told me the story of her first job, which was at Knox Glass Company in 1943. "I made about thirty-five cents an hour. You had to work two weeks before you got a check. So, I went to work at the wrong time for the check date. I worked three weeks before I could get my first check. My first check was for ninety-six hours, and two days of that was time and a half and my check was forty-three dollars and a few cents. I still have the stub."

 

After her husband, Tucker Axum, passed away in 1965, Isabel began working in the lunchroom in the high school for the Westwood Independent School District. For 18 years she could be seen walking across Hwy 79 and the school's campus because she had never gotten her driver's license. She had never even learned how to drive. She retired from Westwood at the age of 68.

 

Isabel was no stranger to fame--having been nationally published in Plane and Pilot Magazine when she, at the age of 95, courageously wanted to fly around Angelina County (Lufkin, TX) with her great-grandson in a Cessna 172 aircraft. I took her and my Aunt Mary flying. While we were cruising around East Texas, I pulled out a digital camera and took a selfie of us. But it wasn't very clear because of the turbulence, and I was having difficulty getting all three of us in the picture. I took two more pictures, and Memaw calmly said: "It's probably best you quit taking photos and get back to flying." I smiled and replied, "Nothing to worry about, Memaw. There's nothing to hit up here. It's all air."

 

She also provided important information and was recognized for her contributions in the adventure novel about her brother-in-law, Mage Axum, who was killed-in-action in Germany while serving in World War II. She remarked how happy she was when the war was over because it meant her husband would not have to fight overseas.

 

I called her often as I traveled the world, and she always had the best memory. She knew where Heidi and I were, and what we were up to. During one of my calls with her, I was complaining about my job. She listened for about five seconds before she interrupted me and said: "Son, you better just be glad you got a job!" Her tone quickly reminded me of her experience growing up in the Great Depression and through World War II.

 

When I asked how the world is different today than when she was growing up, she laughed. She said, "When I was a child, we didn't have no electricity, no natural gas, no washing machines, no electric appliances. We had no indoor plumbing. When I was growing up, we had our own milk, butter, chicken, and eggs, and we killed hogs in the wintertime. Nowadays you go to the store and buy all that."

 

She told me the story of how she was bitten by a snake and a neighbor warned her that she had to get the poison out of her blood. He instructed her to chew some tobacco and swallow it. She said she threw up over and over, and to this day couldn't stomach the thought of chewing tobacco.

 

She took great pride in performing her civic duties and even received a summons to be a juror when she was 99 years old! She enjoyed Bingo and casually mentioned that she won $500.00 at a game not too long ago. But her true joy came from playing games of Domino 42 on her electronic tablet.

 

As she looked back over a century of living in East Texas at her 100th birthday party, she told me: "I'm thankful for my life. And I'm happy I was raised like I was. I think I learned a lot growing up like I was."

 

Memaw outlived her husband by 54 years, and never remarried. She buried three of her four children, and two of her grand children. Her simple yet remarkable life was a testament to hard work, persistence, and making this great-grandson feel special when he'd visit and there would be freshly-baked peanut butter cookies on the stove.

 

You may read her obituary here.

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Thrive 2019 Leadership Conference

I just finished up a three-day leadership conference at Southwest Church in Southern California called THRIVE. It's a Christian conference designed to educate and energize people of faith. This was my first year to attend, and I'm glad I did. It was like drinking from a firehose, and it'll take me the rest of the year to digest everything. But here are some of my notes: Read More 

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My All-Time Favorite Movies

I love watching movies and discussing them. So, when my friend challenged me to jot down my list of favorites based on genre, I accepted the challenge. I'm sure I forgot to mention a few, but this will suffice for now: Read More 

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Movie Review: "Signs"

"Signs" is NOT a movie about special effects. So, you won't experience the cool flying scenes and dramatic explosions you saw in the popular UFO movie, "Independence Day," starring Will Smith. Rather, "Signs" is another engrossing psychological thriller by the talented director, M. Night Shyamalans. Scenes will have you on the edge of your seat, and constantly guessing what comes next. The dialogue and acting are simple, but they hit their mark! Are there aliens? Of course, there are, according to this movie. But that's not the focus. The real question is: "Is there such a thing as a coincidence?"

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Financial Peace University: A life-changing course

I became a follower of Dave Ramsey's financial advice after I read his book, Total Money Makeover, during the Christmas season of 2011. His recommendation to start an emergency savings account saved our family dog. You can read about that by clicking here. But for this blog, I'm going to share with you the tips I learned from taking Dave's nine-week Financial Peace University (FPU). If you wanna skip the reason I highly recommend the course, and go straight to enrolling, then click here to find FPU near youRead More 

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Dave Ramsey Saved my Dog

I first learned about Dave Ramsey, the financial guru who cuts up credit cards, when I was working in Italy. My colleague said Financial Peace University, which they attended through their local church, helped him and his wife finally gain freedom from their debt. I was debt free at the time, but I was intrigued by this Christian man from Tennessee who could teach finances in a way that I had never heard it taught before. This no-nonsense, wise man used Biblical principles to help people win with money. So, that Christmas of 2011, I was working in Mons, Belgium on behalf of NCIS. It seemed like the small town rolled the sidewalks up at about 6:00 PM every night because of the holiday season. There was nothing for me to do after work, so I spent my nights back in my hotel room reading and highlighting Ramsey's best-selling book, "The Total Money Makeover." The lessons I learned started a chain reaction that would save my dog's life years later...  Read More 

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Movie Review: "Can you ever Forgive Me?"

I'm a fan of Melissa McCarthy's work. She's a talented actress and possesses great comedic timing. Her performance was fantastic in this film--perhaps her best. However, this drama is based on the true story of Lee Israel, an American author who started forging letters from prominent people and selling them to make ends meet while living in NYC in the 1990s. For someone (Israel) who had such respect for literature, it was appaling that she would do what she did, and do it repeatedly! She showed no remorse for her crimes, and seemed to be an ungrateful, mean spirited, and joyless human being. I found no redeeming qualities in her, except she cared for her cat. But even then, she described her 12 year old cat as being the only soul that loved her unconditionally. Lee Israel never spent a day in prison for her crimes, and ultimately wrote a memoir about this scandal. Writing a book about this just seemed to further her own ego and self-absorption. Click here for trailer.

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Courage: The Most Important Virtue

I've often heard courage and confidence used interchangeable, but there is a YUGE difference. Courage is action; confidence is emotion. In other words, courage is what you do to make yourself more confident. Read More 

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Movie Review: "Unbroken: Path to Redemption"

"Unbroken: Path to Redemption" is a really good movie based on the true-life story of Louis Zamperini. The film highlighted his struggle to find peace once he returned to the USA after having suffered in a Japanese POW camp for years during World War II. His wife tried to get Louis to find redemption through religion, but because of what he had been through, his reply was: "God is my enemy!" It reminded me of something I heard the motivational speaker Tony Robbins ask once: (1) Is God punishing you? (2) Is God rewarding you? (3) Or is God challenging you?

 

Have you ever felt that God was punishing you?

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Is my job more important than yours?

Every year I pick a word to serve as my annum's guiding theme. 2018 was "gratitude," and 2019 is "service." Hence, this blog about service. My cousin had once asked me: "Is the janitor or the plumber more important or less important than the manager or CEO?" Read More 

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Death & Wills

I was listening to Dave Ramsey's podcast during my commute to work. The famous financial guru described the results from studying 10,000 millionaires. The research revealed that people who have wealth and keep wealth, think about the future. "I've noticed that rich people have wills, and poor people have fights when they die—over nothing because they don't have nothing!" sayeth Dave Ramsey. Read More 

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My Philosophy on Time

"I believe that one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself is time—taking time to be more fully present." Oprah

 

What are the most valuable things in life? Health? Relationships? Money? Yup, they're all important. They enrichen your life and give you options. But consider this for a moment: I've gotten ill, but I regained my health. Read More 

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Dreamcatcher: "Shamrocks or Bullets"

Time: Present Time

 

Background: Mr. Gerald McMillan is my best friend's dad. He was a pharmacist at a local hospital, and the McMillan family lived down the street from me in Lafayette, Louisiana. The 1980s suburban was a real vehicle that the McMillan family owned, and Jacob and I used to drive it back and forth to martial arts classes. It was like a tank, but instead of green, it was blue. Instead of tracks, it had rubber tires. Read More 

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Movie Review: "No Country for Old Men"

This crime thriller was even better the second time I watched it! It's directed by the Coen Brothers, and based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy.

 

In summary: Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is out hunting deer when he comes upon the grisly aftermath of a drug deal gone bad. His greed takes over, and he steals a briefcase of cash. Well, of course, the owner of that money is not going to stop looking for it.  Read More 

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Movie Review: "Alamar" ("To The Sea")

Was going through a list of movies on my Amazon watchlist, when I came across Alamar, a 2010 semi-documentary about a 4 year-old Italian boy who was the beautiful product of an Italian woman's tryst with a Yucatan tour guide. The young boy, Natan, spends a summer on the remote Mexican island with his father, and a kind-hearted grandfather figure who likes to joke and drink coffee with lots of sugar. Read More 

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Movie Review: "Won't You be my Neighbor?"

My childhood shows were Thundercats, GI Joe, and He-Man. So, my only recollection of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was from what other people would say, and also from satire clips. But the buzz about this new documentary, Won't You be my Neighbor, peaked my interest and I sat down to watch it. Boy, I'm glad I did. This film showcases an ordained ministry who was heading one direction when Fate re-calibrated his compass--and steered him toward television, and ultimately inside the homes of millions of Americans. Read More 

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Movie Review: "Operation Finale"

Operation Finale was about the Israeli clandestine operation to capture Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. The purpose of the operation was for Eichmann to stand trial in Israel for war crimes during World War II. I'm disheartened that more people went to watch "Crazy Rich Asians " over the Labor Day weekend instead of seeing a film about the endless pursuit to bring justice to evildoers, but I digress... Read More 

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My Philosophy on Money

Not too long ago I saw the film, "All the Money in the World." The Rome scenes and interactions with the Carabinieri brought back fond memories of when I lived and worked in Italy. My favorite line from the film was: "Priceless? I deplore that word. Everything has a price. The great struggle in life is finding out that price." When asked how much money it would take for Mr. Getty to feel secure, he replied, "More."

 

My wife and I both attended public schools in Louisiana. Although we grew up in different parts of the State, we observed that none of our teachers taught us about money.  Read More 

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Movie Review: "Alpha"

Saw the movie "Alpha," today. Takes place 20,000 years ago in Europe. Entertaining and intense flick about a teenage boy who must survive alone in the wilderness after he's left for dead during his first hunt with his tribe. My favorite quote was from this young man's mother: "He leads with his heart, not with his spear." A lot of themes play out in this film: coming of age, enemies becoming friends, earning your father's pride, being stronger than you think, man vs nature, etc. There was too much CGI for my liking, but I did enjoy how the movie showed the evolution of how the wolf would eventually become man's best friend. After the show, I went home and loved on my five-year old Chocolate Labrador.

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Movie Review: "Get on Up"

The movie about James Brown's life, "Get on Up," was satisfying! The director (Tate Taylor) and main actor (Chadwick Boseman) captured the essence of the "Godfather of Soul" within the time constraints of a Hollywood movie. The film was entertaining, the story was fascinating, and the music was energizing! I couldn't help but wonder if James Brown would have become James Brown had it not been for his really sad childhood. His struggles reminded me of the metamorphosis that must take place for the caterpillar to become the butterfly. I think we shy away from struggles and let them handicap us, when in reality, they help us grow into the person we're destined to become.

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Opportunity Knocks. Will you Hear it and Answer?

Naples, Italy

The word, "opportunity," is an old nautical term that means "toward a port." Ship captains couldn't just sail their boats filled with crew, cargo, and passengers into the harbor. They had to be skilled mariners. They had to measure the wind, current, and tide. They had to be on the lookout for other ships, too. To safely port, they had to see their opening, and then take advantage of the situation.

 

Recognizing the history of this beautiful word helps us understand the secret to seizing opportunities. Read More 

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"We're Out of Gas"

Here is a story from my newest coauthor, the lovely Ms. Heidi Axum:

 

You would think with all the talking pilots do, that they'd be better at communicating. I'm not a pilot, but I am a frequent flyer with my husband at the controls. In fact, our first date was 16 years ago when he flew me over Louisiana's bayous at sunset. I've been flying with him ever since. 99% of those hours in the air have been uneventful—just pleasurable sightseeing over our vast country. However, our flight on June 28, 2018 made the hair on my arms stand up! Read More 

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How to Grieve

How to Grieve, SSI Community Church

"Suffering doesn't choose the weak or the strong, the faithful or the faithless. It chooses the human," by Ann Voskamp.

 

I recently attended service at St. Simon's Community Church, and the pastor's message on grief was very insightful. It may be helpful to you:

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The Day I Lied to the President

The G20 summit in the Fall of 2011 was held in Cannes, France. President Obama and French President Sarkozy were scheduled to deliver a joint press-conference highlighting the NATO alliance and the recent success of the military operation in Libya.

 

I supported the Allied Joint Force Commander's mission, so I traveled to France with him. Our flight on the military jet was quick—only 50 minutes from the American naval base in Italy to Southern France. Once we arrived at the airport, I saw Air Force One towering on the tarmac. The sky was overcast with grey skies and light rain. We wasted no time jumping into our motorcade, and getting escorted by two French motorcycle cops weaving in and out of traffic with their sirens and flashing lights.

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Hebrews 13:2

I spent the weekend in Washington D.C. visiting my good buddy, Cale Johnson. Cale is a decorated naval officer, talented mechanic and engineer, dedicated family man, and a very generous human being. He knew I was training in Southeast Georgia for 16 weeks, and he offered me a loaner car. So, I flew to D.C. to hang out with him and to pick up the keys to his extra car. Read More 

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Conquer Writer's Block

I recently connected with an old colleague I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Listening to him on the telephone reminded me of how poetic his Southern vernacular and cadence were. He was a natural storyteller, and his knowledge of the English language coupled with his life of service as a police officer made for engaging conversation. I complimented him, and asked if writing ever interested him. He sighed before replying, “At one time, but life gets in the way.” Read More 
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Book Review: "The Alchemist"

I enjoyed Paulo Coelho's interview with Oprah on her Soul Sunday podcast, and I really enjoyed his novel, "The Alchemist." He wrote it in about two weeks! There were so many great quotations. Here was one I really enjoyed: "No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it."

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Sometimes Age Comes Alone

Graphic by Hugh MacLeod

I really like this graphic by Hugh MacLeod, which shows the relationship between knowledge and experience. The old saying "with age comes wisdom" is not necessarily true. Sometimes age comes alone.

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Movie Review: "Hearts in Atlantis"

Just watched "Hearts in Atlantis," for the first time. It came out in 2001, but that was an intense time for me--being a full time college student and police officer. This film, based on a Stephen King novel, brought back a special childhood nostalgia, and so many sayings were priceless. As someone who travels back home to Louisiana once or twice a year, this line resonated with me: "Why do we always expect home to stay the same? Nothing else does."

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Book Review: "I will Find You"

Finished Lt. Joe Kenda's audiobook today ("I Will Find You"), which was narrated by the dry-humored, sarcastic homicide detective. King Solomon once asked: "Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes getting burned." If you want to go inside the mind of a true law enforcement professional and walk a beat in his bloody shoes, I highly recommend this book. Check out the television series as well. He discusses many of the same crimes, just in more detail in his memoir.

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Book Review: "Gifted Hands"

I just finished listening to the audiobook, "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story." The surgeon's first-hand account was filled with emotional stories of struggle, loss, and triumph--both inside and outside the operating room. His mother grew up in various foster homes and married at 13 years young to escape her living situation. With only a third-grade education, she battled clinical depression as she reared Ben and his brother. One important change she made in Ben's childhood that altered the course of his life was limiting the amount of TV he could watch, and requiring him to read two books a week. His rise to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon and presidential candidate are reflective of the American spirit. If you haven't seen the Hollywood movie played by Cuba Gooding Jr., I recommend it. It is closely aligned to Dr. Ben's book.

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Book Review: "Laws of Lifetime Growth"

I first learned about this insightful book while walking the streets of Hong Kong. With headphones in my ears, I was listening to a John Maxwell Maximim Impact Membership call. He referenced "The Laws of Lifetime Growth" by Dan Sullivan and Catherine Nomura, and so I ordered it and was excited to start reading it. Tony Robbins said: "Change is inevitable; progress is optional." And this great little book provided me the tools to refocus my efforts on growing to my potential. Here were my takeaway lessons from the authors: Read More 

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Movie Review: "Waiting for Superman"

I watched the documentary, "Waiting for Superman," which highlighted the [broken] education system in the United States. I was fortunate growing up, even to the point of taking it for granted, that all my schools in Lafayette, Louisiana were great public schools. But this documentary shows how so many American children are yearning for an education, but not given access to one. It reminded me of the year and a half when I worked in Kenya. Read More 

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The Best Advice I've Received

Here is a Top 10 List of the best advice I've received this year:

1. If you say no other prayer, say "thank you."
2. Indecision is a decision.
3. Never fight a man with paint on his pants. Read More 
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Movie Review: "The Shining"

In keeping with our "Stephen King Saturday" tradition, Heidi & I watched "The Shining." I had never seen it before, nor read the book. Jack Nicholson can sure play a crazy man! The movie was scary, but the plot left me asking a ton of questions. I learned that a lot of sections from the book were omitted from the movie, which made the film a little choppy and confusing at times. However, the overall arching theme of the film is that there are supernatural forces at work. Have you ever stayed at a place where you felt this supernatural energy? I can think of two places where I felt energy from "the other side": The Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana, and the Winchester Mystery House in California.

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My Q&A for the James Patterson MasterClass Journey

1) How did you hear about the James Patterson MasterClass?
I kept seeing MasterClass ads on my Facebook wall. I forwarded the advertisement to several friends who like writing, and I decided to enroll on January 29, 2017.

2) Have you taken any other MasterClass courses?
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Japan vs USA

I had been surviving in Japan for one year when I was asked to return to the States to testify as a witness in an old case stemming from my adventure in the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea. I was excited to visit the States for five days, and many of my American friends wanted to know how I found the Land of the Rising Sun.  Read More 
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Friendship

“Without friendship, life is not worth living,” exclaimed the Roman Statesman Marcus Cicero.

How much different would our society be if we could “buy” our deceased friends back to Earth? Think about this for a minute. You have lost a very close friend, but God says to you: “You can have (insert name here) back on Earth for another 5 years, but you have to donate $50,000 to charity.” Would you do it? Read More 
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Make This Year Your Masterpiece

For this year to be your masterpiece, your focus should be on growth. But you cannot have growth without change, and the first step toward change is self-awareness. Know yourself. Read More 
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Scuba Diving in Papua New Guinea: Japanese Zero Wreck Dive

I received my PADI scuba certification while attending the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. My instructor, Mr. Terry Crownover, was an awesome divemaster who helped me advance from my open-water certification, to advanced, and then onto rescue diver. I had no idea at that time that my scuba training would take me across the globe to explore the distant oceanfloors, but I'm grateful it did.

 

While deployed in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea (PNG) to assist the USNS MERCY for its Pacific Partnership mission, I went scuba diving and was in awe to see this Japanese Zero warfighter plane that had been shot down during WW2 and crashed into the ocean. PNG was a wealth of WW2 history on land and in the sea.

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