Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pep Talk: "A Terrific Tardiness"

Ever miss a deadline? It’s embarrassing for sure. Although, sometimes being tardy turns into something terrific.

I had that experience recently while straggling into the Denver Rescue Mission about ten minutes late for Thursday morning chapel. It’s my job to lead the service for the men (we call each other knuckleheads) living at DRM’s Lawrence Street facility. A larger than expected snowstorm had hit the Mile High City, snarling traffic. I sheepishly slid into a chair to listen to a man who had stepped forward in my absence.

He talked about his life. Exile was the dominant word as he described the struggles within his marriage, the struggles to have a child, the struggles with his faith. I think it’s fair to say many of us, for a variety of reasons, occasionally feel in exile, don’t we?

I wrote last week of such feelings when it comes to a teenage daughter. I know from talking with other men, I’m not alone there. The thoughts of exile might come from a longing for a new career, might have roots in a relationship gone sour, might have roots in God knows where.

Exile. Defined in Oxford as “being sent away as punishment.” Often being sent away as punishment seems unjust doesn’t it? Being laid off from a job, served divorce papers or no longer receiving invitations to cherished endeavors and events, to name just a few. Life in exile ain’t easy.

I leaned in closer as this man continued to speak. He was referencing the book of Jeremiah, when Jewish faithful were in exile long ago and how the wise words stated there had inspired him.

“When my wife and I were separated from one another, that was exile,” he admitted. “But we made a decision to use that time of exile to work on ourselves.” Admirable.

What do we do when thrown into exile? It would be smart to follow this handsome man’s example and look inward. Reflect. Ask oneself a question like, “What am I bringing to the party that’s producing this exile?”

That was certainly a question I asked of myself after two marriages unraveled in similar fashion. It was certainly a question when another television job ended with a layoff. It was certainly a question when seemingly perfect partnerships in business don’t materialize as envisioned. Exile. A tough place to dwell.

The question becomes, “How will we handle being sent away?”

Admiration for a super sub, like the backup quarterback coming off the bench and leading the team to victory, continued to grow as he described how the exile from his wife ended with them reuniting and deciding after years of trying to conceive, to consider other options.

They became foster parents to two lovely young girls and quickly realized a desire to adopt. Things were progressing as planned. Optimism and joy, after so much time in exile, were overflowing. The couple’s hearts bursting with anticipation of, finally, parenthood!

Then came a scheduled custody appearance, where the biological parents have the right to appear and make a case why it might be wise to allow the children to return from where they fled. This was the third and final hurdle to clear. The woman who brought these children into this world had decided not to appear at the first two opportunities.

But she did this time.

“We were in shock. We were fearful again. It felt like exile all over again” said this man, with tears flowing abundantly, to the attentive gathering. “We had to leave the kids alone for three hours. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Once again, the latest exile bore great fruit. “The mother was just meeting with the kids to say goodbye and wish them the best.”

Exile is tough. We often want to give up and throw in the towel. Surrender.

Learn from a guy who stepped in for a simple dude from Missouri who was running late on a snowy Centennial State morning, keep the faith. Persevere in that exile. Return stronger than before.

Thank God I was late because nobody needed to hear this dude’s message, I later learned he’s an employee of DRM, more than the guy writing this Pep Talk. What a terrific tardiness that was.

Have a good week!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Pep Talk: "The Greatest Gift"

Anybody else out there raising a teenager? Please pardon the pun, but considering this Pep Talk is being written while zooming across the Atlantic at 35,000 feet after visiting the sights of Rome, including the Vatican, holy smokes.

It ain’t easy. A precious princess turns 17 years old. Beautiful. Mysterious. Athletic. Smart. Often irritated with her old man - me. It seems like yesterday when, as her father,  little fault was found in my performance. Not so anymore. “Dad, you are so weird!” is the common refrain heard these days when she even bothers to utter a word, let alone a phrase, in my direction.

“Things will get better,” I’m told by friends. “In about six or seven years.” Wow. I guess it’s important to remember, patience is a virtue. Despite her apparent disdain for my existence, I vow to continue to show up. “Be present and keep your mouth shut. Let her do the talking.” Two pearls of wisdom offered from men who have ventured down this path before me.

It seems like just yesterday, although it is now more than a decade, when a little ballerina was sitting in a comfy chair in my bedroom, reading a nighttime story before bedtime. I’ll never forget the moment for its cuteness and its reminder to a great lesson of life.

I can’t remember exactly how old the blue-eyed beauty was but it was a time when reading before bedtime was a mandate from school. It must have been kindergarten, first or second grade. Early in the educational process.

For many years, on the vanity in my master bath, there was a framed copy of Life’s Little Instructions. 55 reminders to mastering simplicities and their potential to have positive effects on this journey we call life. It can be a roller coaster for sure.

So as we each prepared, long ago, for evening slumber, darling daughter was sitting in comfy chair and rattling off things like, “Sing in the shower. Wave to kids on school buses. Call your mom. Never go to bed angry.” Short. Simple. Truthful.

While I was brushing my teeth and listening, she began to struggle with a phrase that included two words that began with “e” and “x”. Those can be confusing at that tender stage of reading development. “Live your life as an ex.........” not an “Ex.....”

She was stuck. I took the reading source and read it aloud: “Live your life as an exclamation, not an explanation.” A bewildered look fell upon her face as she asked, “Dad, what does that mean?”

The question caught me off guard. I paused to ponder before offering, “Rach, I think this is reminding us that our actions will speak far louder than our words. I think this is reminding us to spend more time ‘doing’ rather than ‘saying’.”

As a jetliner races across the North Atlantic’s Labrador Sea and nears the northeast edge of North America, I reflect on a maturing daughter’s pending birthday. I hope and pray that she’ll never forget the truth, uttered in years past, of living life as an exclamation, not an explanation.

She couldn’t say it and didn’t understand it years ago. I hope she embraces it today.

At a time in life when things seem so complicated, I hope and pray she will find clarity. Being a kid these days is not easy. Tougher, at least in my opinion, by far than the days of my generation. God only knows what kind of trouble I might have found myself in the formative years with access to computers and mobile devices that allow instantaneous venting. We used to have to deal with issues and others face-to-face, write a letter or call another person’s home. Usually with a parent answering. Filters. Rarely a bad thing.

To all the other dads out there who feel distant from their teenage daughters, hang in there. We are being tested for sure. Let’s live our lives as an exclamation not an explanation. Despite the cold shoulder, let’s keep showing up. Let’s keep the faith that the grimaces we often see on our daughter’s faces upon our presence in the room someday turn to tolerance. Heck, someday even joy. You gotta dream, right?

Maturing kids, sprouting wings of independence and pushing our patience while stretching their limits.

Dads, keep showing up. Keep loving. Keep the faith and trust that former University of Colorado basketball coach Ricardo Patton was correct. Yep. Back in my sportscasting days I hosted the coach’s television show. Life as a college athletics’ coach is crazy. The pressure to win, keep kids out of trouble away from their sport and keep them focused on studies and staying eligible. There’s a lot going on.

When things would get dicey Patton would frequently pause, smile and suggest, “This too shall pass.”

When it comes to raising a teenage daughter and the feeling of watching from afar, I sure hope Patton’s words ring true. Let’s exclaim our existence by being present and always available to listen. At this stage in a young woman’s life, it might be the greatest gift we could offer.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pep Talk: "No Donkeys Please"

“The Chinese New Year begins January 31st,” mentioned the messenger. “It’s the year of the Horse.”

That factoid was recently dropped into this simple dude from Missouri’s lap inside the small studio at KCNC-TV, CBS4 in Denver. A bunch of fun folks from Public Service Credit Union were gathered for what’s called Help Team 4. I host businesses’ segments on this show. The PSCU folks are a joy to work with, friendly.

Anyway, as we were waiting to tape a segment, one of the employees mentioned the equine fact. I asked the woman, “Who is your favorite horse?”

She smiled, pondered, then offered: “I don’t know.” 

I countered, “Well, you know, how about the great thoroughbred champion Secretariat? Or, maybe, the one and only talking horse, Mr. Ed?” That question drew another big grin. “I like the Budweiser horses. The Clydesdales.”

There ya go. This bud’s for you. We’re getting ready for the Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival. The history’s pretty interesting. Apparently a long time ago, a mythical beast would show up on the first day of the new year and devour everything in sight: vegetables, animals and human beings. The Chinese would put food on their porches in hopes the creature would spare them. Then one day, a small girl in a red coat scared the daylights out of the hideous monster. It ran. That’s why you see tons of red in what’s become a huge and important two-week celebration. Spook away the evil spirits.

Each year has a different animal name. There’s twelve. Can you name them? This year, it’s the horse’s turn. Wikipedia says the chosen animal has influence on everyone born during that year and exerts powerful influence upon unsuspecting infants.

Here they are: Rat. Ox. Tiger. Rabbit. Dragon. Snake. Horse. Goat. Monkey. Rooster. Dog. Pig.

This would be a decent year to be born. There’s about eight very unappealing one’s on that list. I’ll take the horse and be grateful. It could be worse. What do we admire in horses?

Plenty. Dang, we’ve learned in the last decades of their great value in working with children dealing with certain challenges on the autism spectrum. Horses have a wonderful calming effect on some kids. I’ve seen firsthand the magical connection that sometimes happens between a horse and a child. It’s cool and sometimes life changing. As a society, we would do well to emulate that spirit – a calming effect - on our frazzled kiddos. 

More kids stuff. A visitor to our Friday Platoon meeting of knuckleheads was talking about his ministry’s work in serving fatherless boys. There are tons of them out there these days. No dad in sight. Fathers of the Field stands in the gap for these kids. Men take boys hunting, fishing and other stuff - like fixing cars. “I’ll never forget the look on a kid’s face when he jumped into the cab of my truck,” said our guest. “He smiled and said, ‘Thanks for showing up!’” I have no idea, and don’t care, whether any of these guys volunteering for this agency are the next Secretariat, a Clydesdale or Mr. Ed. They’re all studs. Thanks for caring for kids.

The Victory Productions’ theme for this year is “Soar in One Four.” It’s 2014. Two. Zero. One. Four. Thus, the “SIOF” mantra. How about this as a rallying cry for each of us - man and woman? When it comes to caring for our kids, how about us, in trying to soar in one four, rallying around each other, committed to being studs and damn fine mares? Who’s in?

The taping at CBS4 was the greatest ever. Despite being just a few weeks from delivering a baby, PSCU spokeswoman Sarah Collins was flawless. I always joke with her that she’ll be in the guest Hall of Fame some day. She’s smart and gets it. We knocked out the taping in record time.

I don’t know if that was a good thing or not. It sure gave me lots of time to think about horses. I’ll quit boring you with this: No horsing around when it comes to coaching up the kids. Studs. Fine Mares. Take your pick. No donkeys. Please.

Have a great week!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pep Talk: "Let 'Em Go!"

“Oh my gosh, what are you doing?”

Those were the simple, direct and, probably, bewildered words Claire Davis asked an 18-year-old male just seconds before the popular Arapahoe High School student was shot point-blank in the forehead inside the school. Critically wounded the senior, bound for Colorado State University, would cling to life for eight days before passing.

It’s what her father Michael said during an emotional memorial service before a capacity crowd that burrowed deep in my soul for its truth: “We can all realize Claire’s last words in our own lives, by asking ourselves, in those times when we are less than loving, ‘Gosh, what am I doing?’”

A grieving father, with tears streaming down his cheeks, continued to encourage those gathered at the Denver Coliseum to honor and remember a life senselessly ended, by forgiving the perpetrator.

“Unchecked anger and rage can lead to hatred, and unchecked hatred can lead to tragedy, blindness and loss of humanity. The last thing Desiree (mother) and I would want is to perpetuate this anger, rage and hatred in connection with Claire. Claire would also not want this.”


It speaks powerfully about forgiveness. I know, simple, not easy. It does not mean a couple, family, friends and community will not always have a hole in their collective hearts for a beautiful young woman who loved life, others and riding horses to name just a few of Claire Davis’ wonderful qualities.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It means understanding that, as Mr. Davis so accurately described, allowing “anger, rage and hatred” to fester within us is not going to change the circumstances.

There are exceptions to every rule, but when has “anger, rage or hatred” ever worked, in healthy and productive fashion, for us? A good friend, long ago, unexpectedly lost his fiancee in tragic fashion. The former professional football player admits that he clung to anger and rage for a bit but finally realized, “It was eating away at my soul.”

I dunno, I’m just a simple dude from Missouri, take this for what it’s worth, but it seems like it takes far more energy to hold anger, rage and hatred within our minds, bodies and souls than just letting it go.

Every Thursday morning, in leading the chapel service for men living at the Denver Rescue Mission, we always talk about “being gentle, forgiving and never holding a grudge, especially against self. The guys will share a moment in life where another human being, or themselves, has committed an atrocious act that has, understandably, forever changed life and left them emotionally scarred. In unison, the group will encourage whomever has shared to, “Let it go!”

Where might it be time for you to just, finally, “Let it go?” Devoted readers of the weekly Pep Talk know I’ve been through two painful divorces and have a child from each marriage. While in the throes on dealing with divorce number two, during my days as a sportscaster at KCNC-TV in Denver, frequently the last commercial before I began telling the viewing audience what the heck was going on in the sports world would be promoting the company of the man who my former wife was dating and eventually married.

While settling into my chair, adjusting the microphone on my tie and placing the earpiece into the one good ear I possess, to block out the pain of hearing the commercial I would recite quietly in my mind, “Be gentle and forgiving, never hold a grudge......”

Let it go!

When the tough times hit, we’re going to have enough pain from sorrow, grief and self-doubt, why pile on with anger, rage and hatred? Nobody wins. More important, we suffer.

The road ahead for the Davis family is going to be quite challenging. I admire greatly the spirit a father and mother are displaying. It’s a wonderful way to honor their daughter and a great example for us. In all likelihood, few of us will ever experience such a traumatic and heinous moment in our lives.

Yes, we’ll have the “What the heck is going on around here?” moments. We know, life is a roller coaster. The Davis’ have given us wonderful tips for the dips.

To honor their daughter, what are we going to do? How about being gentle, forgiving and not holding a grudge? Refuse to allow anger, rage and hatred any chance to claim permanent residence in our lives.

Let ‘em go!

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