Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pep Talk: "Enough!"

The handsome 29-year-old man plunked down across from me at a Denver-area coffee shop, smiled, and announced, “It has been a blessing to have been shot three times.”

How’s that for an opening line?

For the next hour I listened in amazement to Pierce O’Farrill’s story. “We were sitting near the front of the theatre when I saw him enter through the emergency exit and fire off a tear gas canister.”

That was the beginning of a horrific night in Aurora, Colorado. A disillusioned madman, hiding inside a gas mask, riddled a movie theatre with bullets. Twelve perished, dozens more  were wounded, several critically. Physical and emotional scars remain, and probably always will.

“I was hit once in the upper left arm, shattering my humerus. Twice in my left foot. The healing has been miraculous. I’m back to playing basketball again.”

The journey forward from the nightmarish moment has been a roller coaster. Grateful to have survived, remorseful in wondering why he was spared while others perished and fighting the battle between anger and forgiveness toward the perpetrator. The fit-looking young man focuses on the latter: Forgiveness fostered by his faith.

“I am asked to speak around the country often these days and share how my Christian faith, especially believing in forgiveness and empathy toward others, has been the foundation to moving forward.” 

I smiled broadly at O’Farrill’s mention of forgiveness and empathy being a cornerstone toward effectively moving beyond life’s disappointing and tragic experiences. We all have had them, right? Those moments in life where we’re wondering, “What the heck is going on around here?”

The defining occurrences arrive in our lives unexpected and unwanted. Rarely are they as tragic as what O’Farrill and others experienced on a warm summer evening. “I tried to escape but collapsed in the walkway near the front of the theatre. At one point, toward the end of the rampage, the gunman stood above me. I thought it was over.”

SWAT team members would eventually evacuate the sports enthusiast. A police officer checked his wounds in the parking lot and assured, “You’re gonna be okay.” Later at the hospital while waiting for surgery, O’Farrill asked for a Bible, his constant source of inspiration for the many challenges that had entered his life of late, including a relationship breakup, the sudden death of his mother and now this.

The greatest selling book in the world says something in Colossians that has been a powerful guide for the writer of this Pep Talk for quite some time. Yep. In the third chapter, 13th verse, it states, “Be gentle and forgiving, never hold a grudge...”

Now engaged - a love affair blossomed with a family friend turned caretaker turned soul mate - this wonderful spirit has refused to become a victim of circumstances. Nope. He has chosen to use this insane moment to become a student of the experience.

“It has given me better clarity to what my purpose in life should be. It has given me the opportunity to speak to others and encourage them to use life’s setbacks as a springboard, powered by faith, for a better future,” he says.

Whether others choose to embrace the faith aspect of moving beyond life’s challenging moments is a deeply personal decision. But one thing is crystal clear: The ability to muster the courage and strength to somehow, someway, allow empathy and forgiveness to win the battle against anger and bitterness, seems a necessary step in achieving goals and overcoming challenges. Faith or no faith.

Where might it be time to really just let it go? To just admit that clinging to bitterness and anger toward someone or something has been an anchor to the past that’s kept us mired in the muck too long? It’s a question I ask each week of the men I mentor at the Denver Rescue Mission. It’s a question directed toward you right now.

As a good way to achieve goals and overcome challenges, when is it time to just say, “Enough!”?

The goal may be dealing with a heartbreaking divorce, relationship meltdown, loss of a job,  or whatever.

Our time together ended. We agreed to meet again. As I watched him walk outdoors into the brilliant Centennial State day, that ol’ saying, “You’re future’s so bright you gotta wear shades” bore into my brain.

It’s the same for us. To venture into the brightness of a better future, we must let go to the darkness of the past. A good place to start is with forgiveness. Of others and of self.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pep Talk: "Setbacks as Springboards"

“Halo, halo!” exalted the aging, chunky  and chalky white dude who had leapt from a sitting position in exuberance over another fantastic play from the Denver East High School volleyball team.

Two women seated nearby looked at this guy like he was crazy. One was the man’s darling fiancee, the other, a former wife and mother to this simple dude from Missouri’s precious daughter, a setter for the improving Angels. By the way, daughter, who was on the court had the usual, “Dad you’re SO WEIRD!” look on her beautiful face.

Guilty as charged.

What struck most from observing coach Tarah Sponenberg’s team on another rainy Saturday during the Centennial State’s terrible floods of 2013, was this: The great plays were coming in games that the team eventually lost. But the defeats were coming at the hands of two outstanding squads ranked among Colorado’s best in girls’ volleyball: Grandview and Mountain Vista.

In losing, the Angels were gaining greatly. You could see their confidence growing throughout the day. They stood toe-to-toe with the best and held their own. Vast improvement from a year ago. The only teams that beat Denver East in this tournament were the tournament’s top two of of 12. Impressive. The victories were decisive in winning the consolation championship

Sitting there with other parents and encouraging daughters to “keep fighting” against the powerful teams reminded me about our respective journeys on this roller coaster known as life. We have the opportunity to learn greatly from setbacks. To become students of the experiences of our lives and not victims of the circumstances. It’s something we discuss in every live Pep Talk presentation.

In this case, despite getting beat, the Angels were beginning to realize that with a little more practice and discipline, they can play with the big girls. They were using the experience to learn and become superior to their former selves. They did have a choice between using the setbacks as a booster shot or allowing the setback to spread a pessimistic, “We’re never going to be able to beat those teams” type of spirit. Good for them that they appear to be choosing the former. Good for the girls, they have a coach who would never allow the former to happen under her watch. East is on the rise in volleyball.

What about our lives? Could there be situations perceived as setbacks right now that with a different perspective, could actually be transformed into a springboard to future success? Home, work or elsewhere?

To steal some lines from fellow motivational speaker/writer Andy Peeke, for this young volleyball team it’s about “Believing in yourself, having a superior attitude and figuring it out.” Amen, buddy.

It makes me think of the guys at the Denver Rescue Mission. I hang with them every Thursday morning and encourage them to achieve goals and overcome challenges. One of my favorite moments in our time together takes place at the beginning of each chapel service, when I ask the following question, “Did anybody expect to be living at the Denver Rescue Mission on - fill in the date?” The answer is usually demonstrated, not verbalized, with a solemn shaking of their heads.

But then I query, “Okay, none of us expected to be here, but here we are. Let’s make the most of it!” It’s about believing in ourselves, maintaining a superior attitude and figuring it out. Yep. The venues may change, but the strategies, at least in my opinion, remain the same. Will the setbacks of life - physical, emotional or financial - become springboards to the future or anchors to the past?

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages, it’s our choice. Choose wisely.

We can do it, too. It ain’t gonna be easy. Wherever you roam this week, try like heck to use setbacks as springboards. Believe in yourself, your team, your business, your church, your non-profit, your school, your family and all the rest. Maintain a superior attitude and figure it out.

After winning the consolation championship, the East Angels, as a team, watched the tournament championship battle. It was played in a jam-packed main gymnasium. The battle pitted the only two teams to have conquered this young and maturing unit. They now realize they can dwell in that arena. Winners.

The old man was not invited to join but on his way to the car, in celebration of a great day of volleyball, did bellow one more time, “Halo, halo!”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pep Talk: "No Double Trouble"

Confession time. I suck when it comes to losing sunglasses. By which I mean I’m really good at losing them.

Pursuing the whereabouts of the latest pair took me into a nearby watering hole, World of Beer. Love the place. Anyway, it’s opening Sunday of the NFL season, so there’s a zillion games on a zillion televisions. No sunglasses. Bartender offers empathy.

“Might as well stay, watch some games and have a beer.” It took about a nanosecond to agree.

So while sitting there watching the Bengals lead the Bears in Chicago, Titans topping the Steelers in Pittsburgh, Chiefs dominating the Jags in Jacksonville and all the other games, my mind wandered to what coaches say so often after a devastating defeat.

“We can’t let this beat us twice.”

Yep. It’s what coaches talk about all the time. After losing a game in disappointing circumstances - the Denver Broncos loss to Baltimore in last year’s AFC playoffs - it’s imperative for the jolted team to not allow the hangover to deeply affect future performance. Despite recognition of the challenge, it happens often, despite best efforts to avoid it.

I think what sparked the “We can’t let this beat us twice” thought process was a couple of personal issues banging around in my noggin’ on a warm mid-September Centennial State Sunday.

Life throws curveballs. The journey’s a roller coaster for sure, ain’t it? I find it fascinating to be in public places, look around at others and wonder, “What’s their story? What’s going on in their life?” We all have challenges. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and volume but are usually in one of three areas: physical, emotional or financial.

For me, the two above-referenced brain cramps centered on the emotional side of dealing with a tragic family illness and a teenage child’s growing maturation.

The stuff life brings our way, at the most inopportune times. Quite often, whatever ails us can spread its emotional toll to other important areas of our world - home, work and elsewhere.

We must try like heck to not let that happen. That gets us back to the “We can’t let this beat us twice.”

As much as possible, avoid the domino effect. You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all stacked up dominos and then pushed just one. What happens next rarely fails to marvel all experiencing the avalanche of fallen tiles.

Could it be true about life as well? Whether the challenge before us is physical, emotional or financial, if we allow it to spill into other meaningful and important areas and relationships, could that only make it worse?

Collateral Damage?

When military strategists meet and ponder attacking someone, the topic of collateral damage, we would hope, is always discussed. For instance, the discussion around bombing Syria as punishment for the deplorable act of using chemical weapons to kill innocent civilians. In all accounts I’ve read, one of the challenges is that the bad guys America wants to eradicate have hunkered down in Syrian areas of folks just minding their business and trying to survive.

The collateral damage to destroy the bad guys would be enormous considering their location.

The one beer was complete. No game had changed dramatically, except in Buffalo where the Patriots had rallied to win. I walked into the bright Colorado sunshine, squinting mightily without those darn sunglasses, to head for home with a powerful reminder about collateral damage.

Stuff’s gonna happen in life. It will rattle us to the core. Obviously, we have to deal with it. In doing so, we also need to shelter surrounding areas from the storm.

Don’t let it beat you twice. Limit the collateral damage. Avoid the domino effect. Call it what you like. Very simple to say and affirm. Very challenging to embrace when the challenges hit and threaten our world.

Look around and realize you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and ask for encouragement. We’re here to give each other hope and confidence.

To prevail against what ails, we can’t let it beat us twice. No double trouble.

Nobody needs to heed that advice more than the simple dude from Missouri offering it.

Good luck!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pep Talk: "The Possibility Pool"

Meeting with a bunch of knuckleheads has once again rattled my brain. Here goes.

First, a little background. Each Friday, when not traveling, I attend what I would call a team meeting inside an office just across the street from a nice golf course in Aurora, Colorado. We call it the Platoon. It’s a bunch of dudes from all walks of life coming together to challenge one another to grow in faith.

We gather for a little more than an hour, bust each other’s chops constantly, while still cajoling, comforting and challenging one another to let it be.

Recently the topic was courage. We were studying the Bible, where in Genesis, Abraham is being tested by God. History says the father of the Jewish faith was 100 years old when siring a kid. Impressive. But now God’s telling the surprised but elated father to sacrifice this son, Isaac. Abraham, with great struggle, obeyed God. Is that courage, or stupidity? 

That leap of faith paid off handsomely, as God spared Abraham’s son and bestowed many wonderful things upon him and his descendants down the road. The point for us to think about was this: when is it time to leap into the great unknown with that kind of faith? In a room full of guys, it’s real easy to discuss and affirm. But outside the sanctuary of that room, realities of life smack us in the face. Life often takes great courage.

Before the meeting began I had met a visitor. First time he had ever attended our weekly Platoon gathering. “What brought you here?” I inquired over the din of about five separate conversations pulsating through the room. It’s the usual routine as we warm up in anticipation of challenging one another to become superior to our former selves, when it comes to our faith.

“I’m with him,” stated the bespectacled man, nodding and grinning toward a good buddy sitting on my other side. “Dang,” I countered. “You need some new friends.” We laughed about that and then dove into his history a little. A Colorado native, the man’s descendants settled in northeastern Colorado almost 150 years ago.

Those were crazy times in the history of the Centennial State. More and more white settlers were journeying west into the lands of America’s Native Americans. Battles were frequent.

“My great-great Grandpa headed west when he was 14-years-old.” He then sealed the deal with, “I can’t imagine that.”

Courage. Defined as, “the ability to have bravery conquer fear when facing uncertainty.” It seems we’re constantly playing that game, aren’t we? Courage versus fear? Go for it, or not? What are the pros and cons? It’s a constant dialogue we have with ourselves and others.

Sitting there my brain zips to the men I’m blessed to lead Thursday mornings at the Denver Rescue Mission. We joke at the beginning of our 30 minutes together, “Who planned on being at the Denver Rescue Mission on  - fill in the blank - this date?” Nobody raises his hand. We then agree that, “Hey, here we are. Let’s make the best of it and try like heck to achieve goals and overcome challenges to prevail against what ails us, emotionally, physically and spiritually.”

We talk for 30 minutes about how it will take great courage to change. We encourage one another that, “Yes, we can!” Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Later I recall - my mind wanders occasionally - a hand-written letter from Bud Lathrop, my high school basketball coach. One of my great mentors had sent a congratulatory note about an upcoming event and mentioned in the message, another fellow honoree, “Coach Craddock and I came to Raytown South in 1961. We were the first two coaches hired. The school didn’t even have a gym.”

Courage. It’s required to take that big leap of faith into the great unknown with wonderment as our guiding light. Whether it’s one of the great figures of faith, a teenager heading toward our nation’s developing and dangerous western frontier, two great coaches leaving others job to start a new school, men trying to get off the streets, or you and me. 

The players on stage differ greatly, but all share one thing in common: the necessity to muster the strength to leap off the high dive and into the possibilities pool when we’re called.

One of the long-time members of the group has that challenge before him. Along with his wonderful wife, he’s pondering expanding the family by welcoming two girls, sisters, into their home. The girls have been in foster care after losing their parents in a murder/suicide a few years back.

Courage. It’s required to win the battle over fear about finances, family dynamics and room for two more active kids.

What about you? Me? As I like to ask in live Pep Talk presentations, when is it time to “Run to Daylight?”

Whenever it might be, good luck. Go ahead. Jump into the possibility pool!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pep Talk: "Life's Turbulence"

“In recent months I’ve lost my father, my 11-year-old daughter and a marriage.”

The news delivered at Denver’s Avenue Theatre during intermission of an event focused on dealing effectively with loss and adversity made my heart sink to my toes.


I placed a hand on each shoulder to try to comfort a grieving human. “My father committed suicide. My daughter suffered a fatal stroke. A struggling marriage ran out of gas.”


Many had gathered on this evening to hear testimonials from others dealing with tragedy. An incredibly brave and vulnerable Doug Vincent, accompanied by musician Sam Llanas, delivered the powerful A Day for Grace performance. Before a sellout crowd, it headlined an emotional program I was honored to host.

The weekly thoughts offered in this space often attempt to address life’s unpredictable nature. Those moments in time that leave us perplexed at its sometimes cruelty.

Why? Why did - fill in the blank - happen to me? Or to a loved one?

Just hours after this random encounter with a grieving man, I had gone to Facebook crying out for prayers for a woman near and dear to my heart who was critically ill. A mother, wife, sister, friend and vibrant spirit. On the precipice between life and death far too early. Far too young.


The fragility of life. The reminder that all we really have, despite our exhaustive, exhilarating and extensive planning, is right here, right now.

It reminds me of what another man told me many years ago. Something I’ll never forget.   “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow’s but a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”

Don’t waste a nanosecond on the past and its pain. Forgiveness of self and others must enrich the soil of our futures if we desire to grow and prosper. It’s real easy to write such stuff and to speak of it. Reality warns us that it’s far more difficult to execute. Simple, not easy.

For each and everyone of you dealing with life threatening, life taking, life changing moments in time, please know there are many folks in this world who want to comfort you. Wrap you in their arms. Pray you muster strength for a pending rollercoaster journey and its unknown, unwanted twists and dips.

Turbulence. It’s defined as “violent disorder or commotion.” It arrives via airplane travel, physical ailments, emotional heartache and financial setbacks. Rarely does the first have a lasting effect. It’s temporary and usually requires us to simply tighten the lap belt and remain seated. This too shall pass.

But then the haymakers suddenly appear. The powerful left hook that threatens to knock us out. Violent disorder and commotion. It rocks our world. Pierces our souls with daggers of despair. 

Forgive. Address. Unite.

Cherish each day. Each moment. Each breath.

Don’t put off until tomorrow what should be done today.

Never has a Pep Talk been of such rambling thoughts. It was produced from a grieving heart. We all have been there, are there, will be there.

Let’s try like heck to shelter one another as best we can from the storm. Life’s turbulence. It can get real bumpy. It can be very sad. It can be very tragic. It can threaten to overwhelm us.

It is at these times we need each other the most.

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