Sunday, November 28, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "Reliable & Trustworthy"

At this time of year we pause and, collectively as a nation, give thanks. One that comes immediately to mind for me are wonderful neighbors who reside in my Congress Park neighborhood of Denver. For instance, my alley neighbors will frequently call and say, “Hey Mac, you left your garage door open.” This wonderful couple and their two children have lived directly across the alley since I moved in 16 years ago. I’ll never forget the first time we met.

I had pulled into the garage, jumped from the car and rushed into the house to retrieve – can’t remember what - something important. Well, I forgot to put the car in park. In the brief moment I was inside, it rolled out of my garage, across the alley and blasted into their garage door, destroying it. I had to knock on their front door, introduce myself and pronounce, “I just demolished your garage door.” The father, an attorney, with a wide grin on his face, cracked, “Thanks, I’ve wanted a new door for quite some time.”

Over the years we have shared many visits. They’re usually on weekends as we clean out those garages or happen to, simultaneously, arrive or depart via them. We occasionally have dinner and it’s been a joy to watch their two children mature.

I recently attended their son’s Bar Mitzvah. First, let me say, I love attending this Jewish tradition of welcoming a young man, or in the case of a Bat Mitzvah, young woman, into adulthood and its possibilities and responsibilities. The music, energy and love present – very cool. My alley neighbors’ son did a magnificent job of reading the Torah and then, during what’s called the “D’var Torah”, giving his interpretation of the reading– a life lesson to share with those gathered.

The middle-school student talked about trust. In reading the Torah, he told the story of Isaac, wife Rebekah and their two sons Esau and Jacob. At one point in their family history, betrayal changed their lives forever. The 13-year-old was reminding everyone the importance of trust, defined as, “firm belief in the reliability or truth of a person or thing.”

I sat there in admiration of this handsome soccer enthusiast; once a baby, then a cute little kid with the longest eye lashes you’ve ever seen and now, on his big day, a young man accepting responsibilities for his actions and encouraging us to do the same!

Ladies and gentlemen, without trust in one another we have nothing. This week, wherever we roam – home, work and elsewhere – let’s be reliable in ways that honor, nurture and add value to the communities we serve, okay?

Later, at a beautiful celebratory luncheon, I shook this young man’s hand and said “Thanks” for the reminder about the value of being reliable and trustworthy. Kids, they teach the darndest things don’t they? Shalom.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "Deeds and Words"

It was a recent Sunday morning in the Mile High City: a good workout behind me, reading the Denver Post and watching the Broncos host the Kansas City Chiefs in front of me on this chilly mid-November day. I go to Facebook to see what the heck’s happening in the world.

I notice my former wife has posted pictures of our precious daughter. They’re pictures from a while back, before the teen years. Looking at the pictures, my mind wanders to an earlier time, the time of these pictures, when that same daughter arrived home from school, threw her backpack on the kitchen counter and headed off toward her bedroom.

I began to sift through the pack for the school’s “Wednesday Envelope.” Back in the days before mass email communication, this envelope was the school’s weekly link with parents. As I pulled the packet from the pack, I notice another crumpled slip of paper toward the bottom of the backpack. I straightened it out. It was obviously from the weekly children’s Mass held Wednesdays during school hours. It was a poem apparently meant for the kids during the service, it read:

“We are writing our gospel a chapter a day, by the deeds that we do, words that we say; others will read what we write, determine whether it’s faithful and true; what’s the gospel according to you.”

I was impressed and read it again, and again. It then dawned on me that really, we all are writing our gospel - our story - a chapter a day by the deeds that we do, words that we say. Others – home, work and elsewhere – will read what we write, determine whether it’s faithful and true; what’s the gospel, what’s the story, according to us?

Let’s take some inventory. What does our story look like right now? Is it one that honors us, nurtures those dependent upon us and adds value to the communities we serve? If the answer is yes, great; if not, what are we doing to make sure the next chapter embraces that honor, nurture and add value script?

Life is full of unexpected and unwanted twists and turns. We all know that, right? What is the great unknown is how will we react when the storms of life threaten to batter our bodies, brains or bank accounts.

A Sunday morning glance at Facebook and seeing pictures of my daughter takes me back to a backpack story that inspired my first book Kids Teach the Darndest Things: Life Lessons from Our Little Ones.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are writing our gospel – our story – a chapter a day. It boils down to a few basic things. Life is simple, not easy. The deeds we do and the words we say, let’s make sure they’re good ones, okay?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "Digest and Pass It On"

I recently attended a farewell party for a special guy. We used to have breakfast together consistently before schedules, illnesses and life’s other stuff interrupted our routine. This wonderful gentleman, Jerry, and his darling bride Normadeene, are in their advancing years. They are moving south to Arizona. I’ll miss them a lot.

I’ll never forget many of our moments, but one especially stands out. We were having breakfast and sharing thoughts when the former University of Illinois Fighting Illini team chaplain kicked his oratory skills into high gear.

When Dr. Jerry Gibson gets fired up about something over breakfast, it’s time to be on high alert. His enthusiasm for God and the topic of discussion whips him into frenzy. The wonderful soul often projects whatever’s being consumed - eggs, sausage and biscuits usually - toward his eating companion. Despite having to dodge food occasionally, I love his passion.

Anyway, on this day we were talking about the importance of, as I like to say in Pep Talks, “putting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win” when the octogenarian proclaims: “Mark, when it comes to having the courage to put fear aside and allow wonderment to win, we could learn from turtles!” The long-time pastor’s eyes were ablaze. I smiled back and said, “Come on man, what the heck are you talking about, we could learn from turtles?”

His response knocked me back in the booth: “Think about it, a turtle doesn’t make any progress until it STICKS ITS NECK OUT!” Ain’t that the truth? Quite often, when life has tossed lemons our way and we’re sitting there wondering, “What the heck is going on here?” we begin to withdraw into our respective shells. We allow fears and self-doubts to hijack dreams and goals.

Please remember to not allow fear to get in the way of your dreams. No, instead remember courage is the soul of your dreams. Where’s it time for you to stick your neck out? At home, work or elsewhere? Where is it time to be limited only by imagination, not fear, in creating productive choices to the challenges you face?

This week, let’s display a picture of a turtle in a prominent place where it’s seen constantly. It will remind us of a simple, but not easy, truth: most often in life, to get where we want to go, we gotta stick our necks out and, in pursuit of dreams and goals, risk failure, ridicule and scorn.

Jerry’s advice, unlike the projected food, hit its mark. I hope you digest and pass it on.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "Sound the Alarm"

It’s one of those Saturdays a middle-aged dude enjoys: awaken next to beautiful significant other who, during a pre-dawn gentle goodbye kiss, sarcastically mutters, “It’s the weekend, you can sleep.”

Later, as dawn awakens, connect with wonderful friends at the gym; complete errands, including mailing a copy of Lemons into Margaritas to a buddy who wants his son to read it; haircut with Jackie, who has sheared my locks for about 15 years and finally back home.

By now, afternoon has arrived and I’m parked on the couch, cold beer in hand and watching alma mater Missouri getting blown out early against Nebraska on the road. My brother from another mother, neighbor Lou Lazo, is keeping me company.

While watching the game, Mr. Lazo and I are talking about the current state of our nation. He offers, “We have become a nation that values ideology more than intellect.”

It’s one of those “knock my socks off” kinda statements. Obviously there will be many who will say, “That’s crazy.” But for a few moments, let’s consider that statement, “valuing ideology more than intellect”, is true.

Would it be wise - home, work or elsewhere – for us to ever believe ideology is more important than intellect? Let’s take a look at the definitions of each, okay?

Ideology is defined, according to the Oxford American dictionary, as “the principle ideas and beliefs characterizing a particular group.” Meanwhile, intellect is defined as “the mind’s power of reasoning and acquiring knowledge.”

It seems to me, but I’m just a simple dude from Missouri, it would be more productive to be of person of reason and dedicated to acquiring knowledge, than a person professing unshakable belief in a group’s ideas and beliefs.

Why? Because, for me, the question becomes, “What if the ideas and beliefs of the group you pledge allegiance to – ideology – are ineffective and the smart thing – intellect - to do is exercise reason, acquire knowledge and improve?

Become, as I like to say in each and every Pep Talk, “superior to our former selves in ways that honor us, nurture those dependent upon us and add value to the communities – home, work and elsewhere – we serve?”

Which leads to the final question: Why would we ever adhere to old beliefs our collective souls tell us no longer work instead of embracing a new frontier? I think, just my opinion, it’s because we’ve accepted, as okay, a complacent attitude toward the value of learning.

When we lose a passion for learning, it’s time to sound the alarm. When the desire to learn is lost, nobody wins.
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