Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pep Talk: "What Is Versus What Should Be"

A new year is approaching. 2014. Two. Zero. One. Four. What are the goals for the calendar flip? How can we, “Soar in one four?”

How can we muster the courage to stand between what is versus what should be? Here are three goals a simple dude from Missouri has for the near future. In advance, I ask for your encouragement, prayers and questions in holding me accountable.

First, on the home front, I need to lose ten pounds. Easier said than done. I have a sweet tooth that needs to be controlled. Also, I need to remember that I’m 55 years old, not 25. The metabolism is not what it used to be. Do I really need “thirds” of darling fiancee’s fabulous cooking? Probably not.

Second, when it comes to work, Seek Victory is launching a program designed to connect others willing to stand between what is versus what could be. It’s called TSVN, for The Seek Victory Network. Through videos, blogs, podcasts and live events, along with Associates of Seek Victory, it’s my mission to produce entertaining, inspiring and informative content designed to provoke conversation about faith, life and sports. Americans need to talk about faith, need to talk about life and love to talk about sports. We hope you find value in what’s offered in the coming year from this premium channel.

Third, when it comes to community, there are going to be many projects including one in my hometown of Raytown, Missouri. The town founded by William Ray back in the 1800’s, along what was then the Santa Fe trail, neighbors Kansas City to the west and Independence - home of former President Harry S. Truman - to the north. Seek Victory is working with the Raytown School District on an endeavor to re-ignite a community’s passion for youth sports.

Growing up there I benefited tremendously from a community’s commitment to caring for its kids, especially through a vibrant youth sports program. Behind Superintendent Dr. Allan Markley’s inspiring vision, and a growing list of supporters from all walks of life, Seek Victory will serve the superintendent in rallying the troops in trying to build a greater sense of community through organized youth sports. We ask for your encouragement as we stand between what is versus what should be.

What about you? Where can Seek Victory help you stand between what is versus what should be in becoming superior to your former self in 2014?

Like fingerprints, our individual goals in three critical venues - home, work and community - will vary. What doesn’t vary much, if at all, is how we go about achieving the goals.

Soar in One Four live presentations, in the usual humorous storytelling style of past Pep Talks, will focus on three strategies to achieve goals and overcome challenges in the new year. First, continue to push yourself to stretch beyond your perceived limits. To, as good buddy Dr. Jerry Gibson would suggest, “Stick your neck out!”

Second, understand the road toward success is not easy. Few worthwhile objectives are attained without pain and sacrifice. There will be bumps along the way. It will be a roller coaster. We must have a mindset that we’ll stay focused on problem solving. We’ll never lose the desire to turn lemons - the heck with lemonade - into sweet and savory margaritas!

Third, in the face of unwanted and unexpected obstacles we cannot surrender. We must fight to the finish. Easier said than done. There will be times, in our quest to stand between what is versus what should be to wanna shout to the heavens, “The hell with this!” Make that feeling quite temporary. Through strategic networking a team of supporters for the difficult moments. Those, “What the heck is going on around here?” moments will appear. Expect them. Prepare for them. Overcome them.

Remember, you’re not alone. You’re not the only one trying to quit smoking, lose weight, chase a professional dream, make a difference in your community, overcome cancer, alleviate stress, recover from relationship breakdown or whatever challenge lies before you. We must rally around each other. Encourage one another. Give others, as they give us in return, hope and confidence we can prevail against what ails.

Are you ready to soar in one four? Leap into the great unknown, keep the faith in the challenges times and fight to the finish?

Here comes 2014. Let’s join one another, Seek Victory is here to support all along the way, in connecting with others willing to stand between what is versus what should be - at home, work and community!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pep Talk: "The Spirit of Christmas"

“Hey guys,” announced a man with a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon. “You’re off the hook!” So begins a wonderful Christmas story.

Like many compelling stories, this one springs from heinous tragedy.

About two years ago, in Parker, Colorado a husband and father made a terrible decision that ended in a murder-suicide in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Upset about a pending divorce, the man shot and killed his wife and then himself. The couple’s two daughters witnessed the horror.

The traumatized young girls were placed into Colorado’s foster care system, where they received adequate care. However, their plight began to stir the hearts of a family that had connections to the girls. The husband and father in this family is the guy who was beaming while announcing to your Pep Talk scribe and other knuckleheads gathered for our weekly Platoon meeting “We were off the hook.”

One of our buddy’s daughters had befriended one of the girls who had been orphaned from the tragic moment. The two young souls who lost their parents began spending lots of time at our buddy’s home.

Thus began a journey of prayer and lots of encouragement from many loved ones, including our group of men, for the couple to adopt the young girls - now budding teenagers - and bring them, permanently, into their loving and close-knit home.

Many challenges were present. How would adding two teenage girls potentially disrupt family harmony? What about the expense of going from five family members to seven? What about the house? It’s not the biggest place in the world, and expanding or remodeling would be costly and seemingly impossible considering the already stretched family budget.

There were many reasons to dismiss the adoption option, most of all, “It’s just not realistic.”

Well, what’s the ol’ saying, “God works in mysterious ways?” To me, what follows is the true meaning of Christmas. First, a little background information. 

Joy To The World has always been one of my favorite Christmas carols. In particular, early in the song when we sing, “Let every heart prepare him room…” It has always spoken to me that it’s our responsibility to prepare room in our hearts for others, and to care for them. For if we have that type of spirit, we will reap the harvest if we don’t give up.

A devoted wife and husband with three children of their own decide to adopt two grieving sisters -  prepare them room in home and heart. The family dynamics had certainly changed, but weekly in our gathering, this terrific man would report, “Things are going pretty well.”

Still, there were obstacles. The family had absorbed the newcomers with love and patience, but with four teenage girls now under roof, an additional bathroom and bedroom were desperately needed.

It’s a diverse group of men who meet each Friday morning to challenge one another to grow stronger in our faith. Many fancy ourselves as handymen with hammer, tool belt and saw. We offered to labor in working to transform a basement area into the much-needed addition.

We were poised to respond like a Navy SEAL team called to swing into action for a fellow warrior. Then came the pronouncement, “Guys, you’re off the hook!”

On a trip to Home Depot to get material cost estimates, the endearing story warmed the marrow of the sales associate. Word spread to a supervisor, and then to store management.

Then the gift arrived. Home Depot, without any prompting, decided to donate all necessary labor and materials to complete the project. “We like to give back to the community in this way,” said a company spokesperson. Admirable.

This week, let’s allow our hearts to prepare room for such miracles. It begins with us having love and compassion for one another. Those wonderful traits are gifts that will keep giving in healthy and productive ways wherever we roam - at home, work and elsewhere.

In this case, love and compassion for others resulted in a buddy receiving a professionally finished basement, free of charge. It also kept a bunch of amateur construction knuckleheads from probably screwing things up, despite their best intentions. Love and compassion led to reaping a great harvest that will help a wonderful couple care for their expanded family.

Let’s keep the spirit of Christmas alive too. Let’s prepare room in our hearts for others. Joy to the world!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pep Talk: "Destroy Thy Enemies"

“Those guys outside are gonna f@*k me up!” the man shouted, his eyes ablaze.

We were locked in a tight embrace in the corner of a west Denver home. It wasn’t his, or mine. We were just inside the front door, in a corner. Just seconds before, along with a woman, I had escorted four beautiful kids from a weekly tutoring session at a neighborhood church to this humble two-story abode across the street.

We had just stepped inside the home to greet the parents and say goodnight to the kids when the mad man, high on some hallucinating drug and quite paranoid, burst in through the door. I just happened to be the last person to walk in and the first to encounter a young man convinced there were hostile men just outside the home.

He was troubled. “Lock all the doors!” he shouted. The parents quickly rushed their children upstairs and away from what had become an unexpected standoff inside their peaceful home on a busy Mile High City street at the peak of the afternoon rush hour.

The intruder, who looked to be in his mid 20s, was quite agitated as our unexpected encounter continued. I held tightly to his arms, pinned him in the corner and asked, “Who are you running from?”

“Those guys out there! Those guys out there!” No one was outside. The foes were all inside this young man’s head. I wondered if he possessed a knife or gun. Just in case, I kept him pinned in the corner with a firm grip on each arm.

We were like two wrestlers when they first exit their respective corners and meet in the middle of the ring. We clutched one another desperately.

And then, for some weird reason, I thought of Abraham Lincoln. Yep, a calming influence fell over me in thinking of some wise words muttered by America’s 16th president during the height of our nation’s Civil War, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

I tried to reassure the man that nobody present wanted to harm him, that he had scared the living daylights out of a family and its children, that people cared for him and that he had to leave. Most important, in trying to communicate in a calm manner and not get overly confrontational, I hoped the frightening moment would not escalate into something violent with children in the home.

I kept thinking of Lincoln’s words, which I had just read the night before. The book’s author was describing great leadership in trying times. During the battle between Union and Confederate troops, Lincoln had been heavily criticized for being too lenient with his enemies.

The police had been called but hadn’t arrived yet. A pastor from the church across the street had entered the home through a back door. He knew the instigator and also began to reason with him in a calm and reassuring voice. It helped lessen the fight in the man’s body and soul.

Finally, after about a ten-minute struggle, we were able to remove the man from the home. He was still freaking out and sprinted, against traffic, down the middle of the busy thoroughfare jammed with cars of folks exiting downtown Denver after a day at work. Police were in pursuit.

The family, the other tutor, the pastor and I stood outside the home and collectively offered thanks that the children, while certainly spooked, were safe. We could still see the man weaving through traffic with police officers hot on his trail.

While driving home I muttered another prayer of thanks that the man did not have a weapon and that our confrontation did not turn violent. I also prayed a troubled soul might find help and encouragement to prevail against what ails him.

I wish no type of similar standoff for anybody, but if there is strife in your life, with family, friend or foe, perhaps remembering Lincoln’s wise words might lead to a peaceful resolution: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

This week, I hope that type of mindset helps defuse a tense situation wherever you roam - at home, work or elsewhere.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pep Talk: "Cease the Abuse and Cynicism"

“There are a lot of dishonest people in this country,” muttered a woman who appeared to loathe her job.

When describing her mood, grumpy would be kind.

She appeared to have many years of experience on the job. The diminutive human being rarely, if ever, made eye contact with me during our five minutes of engagement recently at a post office near my home.

I was in there mailing books to those who have purchased my latest tome, Life Is A Roller Coaster: Tips For The Dips. Being curious by nature, I had inquired with the postal employee why the automated system, in the facility’s foyer, would not allow “Media Mail” transactions.

“It’s not programmed to allow that.” Okay. Well, one thing among many that has stuck with me since my graduate-school years at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, was this: “Don’t state the obvious.”

This woman was stating the obvious. I already knew from personal experience that the automatic system does not allow “Media Mail” purchases. I was curious. “Why?” I asked.

“There’s a ton of people who abuse the system,” she offered without looking up from calculating what I owed for postage. “It’s the cheapest way to send mail.”

Well, since the beginning of mankind, we’ve had folks trying to milk the system, haven’t we? Authors and others who send books and other educational stuff, well, you’re just gonna have to stand in line at the post office and not use the automatic system. Life sucks sometimes, doesn’t it? While standing there contemplating her comment, I queried, “Why did they come up with the ‘Media Mail’ category anyway?” It was apparent my inquiry was an irritant. She reminded me of my teenage daughter and her disdain for my probing questions. I know better but couldn’t resist.

What the woman said next bore deep into my marrow on a chilly morning a few days before Thanksgiving in the Mile High City. “We’ve offered it for a long time. I guess it’s to encourage people to read and learn.”

Amen to that, sister.

The exchange of ideas, a foundation to learning, is rarely a bad thing, right?

The abuse of a system - home, work and elsewhere - is rarely a good thing, right?

The woman’s “There are a lot of dishonest people in this country,” kept ringing in my ears. She had also added, “And they come in here.”

The US Postal Service is a financial disaster right now. It’s tough to find folks with an upbeat spirit behind those counters. Most are probably wondering, “Will I have a job in the future?” This employee should consider pondering retirement if financially reasonable. It appears she’s stayed too long.

But the point is this: It’s another once-proud American institution (“Rain, sleet or snow, nothing stops the US Mail”) that has fallen on hard times. For the record, I love my neighborhood postman. We always talk sports when our paths cross.

Contact with a disgruntled employee led to me discovering her distrust of people, a system being abused, and customers like the scribe of this Pep Talk walking away from the encounter believing, “There has to be a better way.”

It ain’t gonna happen unless people quit abusing the system, and others quit being so cynical about the nature of mankind. Which comes first? It’s the ol’ “chicken and the egg” scenario. Which needs to be the initial spark to prevail against what ails us?

Do we need to cease being so cynical or quit being so abusive in dealing with whatever challenges lie before us? The challenge might be bringing the nation’s postal service out of its billion-dollar yearly losses, stopping the stench bellowing from school district board elections being overpowered and swayed by outside money, and/or the myriad of other calamities we face in our communities around the nation.

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages, it is time to become superior to our former selves. Anybody else out there tired of America underachieving on our watch?

I know the answer is a resounding YES! Let’s not lose hope. As it states often within the pages of Life Is A Roller Coaster, let’s become students, not victims, of life’s experiences. Let’s stay united and willing to prevail against what ails – at home, work and elsewhere.

It’s time to cease the abuse and cynicism. It’s terribly ineffective and leads to unpleasant interactions at the post office and wherever else we roam.

Admittedly, it was in a sarcastic manner, but I offered to the lady, “Have a nice day.” She never looked up and didn’t reply. On the bright side, her blue hair was styled nicely.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Pep Talk: "Persistently Show Up"

A real blessing this time of year in 2013 is hanging with those dealing with addiction. I love encouraging them to achieve goals and overcome challenges when it comes to prevailing against what ails. It’s a tough fight against a tough foe

It makes me think of the guys at Denver Rescue Mission. Each Thursday morning we gather and the men, most with alcohol and drug dependencies, are encouraged. “Hey, if we’re gonna be addicted to anything, how about being addicted to faith?”

Some laugh, some squirm, some ignore, and some (you can see it in their eyes) sparkle a bit.

A spark. That’s what I saw, and heard, on Thanksgiving morning while listening to men and women who were on the good side of becoming students and not victims of their experiences with addiction.

“Do it right the first time,” declared a handsome man. He looked to be in his mid to late 30s. The humble man was reflecting upon an initial attempt, then setback, then second attempt and now success in breaking free from addiction to drugs and alcohol.

I sat there in the crowd of supporters and wanted to shout “Amen, buddy” to his “Do it right the first time” comment. Instead, I just moaned with empathy. Those six words burrowed deep.

Here was a guy who had admitted a weakness, sought treatment, stumbled, rose to battle again and now, gratefully, proclaimed the shackles had been removed. He was encouraging others in the crowd, in the midst of their own addiction challenges, to learn from his experience and “Get it right the first time.”

It’s a good reminder to all of us. What’s the old saying? “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” I know something similar to that was always drilled into my noggin while growing up in Raytown, Missouri. Yep. Wherever this freckled-faced, buck-toothed knucklehead roamed in youth, folks were always saying something of similar refrain. 

As an aging jock with a creaky right knee - tweaked it walking the golf course on a beautiful late November day in the Centennial State - I’m grateful, today, for having that good-character marinade to soak in long ago. If it’s worth doing, do it well. Simple, but not easy, right? Whether it’s an addict in recovery, a member of a team, an employee of a company or a partner in a relationship, getting it right the first time is, or should be, the goal.

But life rarely goes as planned, right? Get it right the first time, Mac? How can you write about that when you’re twice divorced?

Perhaps the answer to that lies in what a later speaker told the gathered throng about his thankfulness for a program that he believes saved his life. This guy looked like he just walked away from a photo shoot for GQ Magazine. Handsome, well-dressed dude. He told the crowd, “I’m grateful for the chance to just show up!”

I leaned in closer, drawn by the man’s passion. “I’m grateful that I’m finally showing up for my family. I’m grateful that I’m finally showing up in my profession. I’m grateful that I’m finally showing up for my higher power.” 

Enthusiastic applause erupted throughout the venue as the man returned to his seat. As another rose to share his story, a thought, call it a reminder, crashed into my cranium: Try like heck to get it right the first time. That’s the goal. However, what’s the other old saying? “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”

Amen to that. We gotta keep showing up! Most likely, life’s gonna knock us around a bit. It’s gonna be a roller coaster ride. Frequently, unless we’re really lucky, we’re gonna have to turn life’s lemons - heck with lemonade - into sweet and savory margaritas. The challenges will come from a variety of sources, quite often from the least expected and most unwanted - relationships, jobs and illnesses, to name a few.

What to do? Try like heck to get it right the first time, but have a backup plan.

It’s really easy to write about, far more arduous to achieve. All kinds of calamities - self-inflicted included - wreck our plans concerning getting it right the first time. We know that.

After the initial setback, self-doubt and fear might begin to creep into the psyche and discourage us. We’ll consider surrendering. This week, don’t allow those thoughts any room to roam - at home, work or elsewhere.

To prevail against what ails, persistently show up. If not the first time, we just gotta have faith that eventually we’ll reap the harvest if we just don’t give up.

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