Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pep Talk: "Two Rams Butting Heads And Loving It"

Life is just weird sometimes, ain’t it?

Moments that begin less than ideal, somehow, someway, end up wonderful blessings. Ever had one of those? I sure hope, “Sure,” was muttered by many in response to that question.

Had one just the other day. Roaming the halls of the Denver Rescue Mission encouraging the guys there to join the “A Stronger Cord” workout up the road at Phoenix Multi Sport.

One guy, fit and strong-lookin’, walks up and says, “I’m willing to go, but I ain’t doing no team workout.” The ASC program starts with the workout. A team workout. No head phones, no slinking off on your own to work on biceps or whatever. We’re together. To steal a phrase from a great team, the 1989 football Colorado Buffaloes, “One Heart Beat.”

So I’m barking “Come on, let’s go sweat” with another dude barking into my ear “I’m going, but doing my own thing.” It was two stubborn knuckleheads digging in. It was getting a little tense. One of the Mission employees, a reasonable man who had seen it all unfold, popped out of a nearby chair with a warning: “Easy, guys.”

Quickly thereafter, the ASC Platoon headed out the door and jogged the three short blocks to Phoenix, a wonderful gym in downtown Denver. It’s dedicated to serving those in recovery. Great spot. Great people. Great purpose.

Anyway, we have our usual workout with the one confrontational guy not among us. The folks at Phoenix share ASC’s commitment to group workouts. NOBODY comes in that gym and works out alone. It would violate the spirit of the place. It’s kinda like life, folks; to thrive we must work well together. Unity with others is a good thing. Trying to do it alone is what usually gets us into knucklehead moments that are later regretted. So, considering fit and strong-lookin' dude’s attitude, he was on the outside looking in.

An hour later the workout is over. The ASC team is jogging back to the Mission. In the corner of my eye appears the perceived nemesis. He maneuvers next to me, keeping pace. He begins to apologize for being obstinate earlier in the day. I responded, “Hey, no problem, buddy. I can be as stubborn as the best of them. No harm, brother.”

We continue to chat as we jogged the final steps to the Mission. He offers, “I’ve been sober for 48 hours, coming down off meth, and have anger issues I gotta work on. I’m an Aries and stubborn as hell.”

My eyes widened with curiosity. “You’re an Aries? What day?” Fit and strong-lookin’ dude says, “April 14.” A great big grin spreads across my face. We’re now back at the Mission. There are tons of homeless guys hanging outside the facility waiting for the doors to fly open for the evening meal. Fit and strong-lookin’ dude and I are engaged in an animated conversation. Disturbing their peace perhaps. Anyway, I share that my birthday is April 13.

Both of us born an Aries, in April, one day a part.

“Give me a head butt,” shouts my newfound friend. “That’s what Rams do!”

I didn’t hesitate a bit. It was a solid bump, but nothing drastic. We then hugged like long-lost pals. The next day at chapel service, I forgot my reading glasses. Fit and strong-lookin’ dude offered his to help this aging jock read some stuff from Proverbs about wisdom.

A few minutes later, while driving home through Denver’s afternoon rush-hour traffic, I was reflecting on what had transpired. Life and its weirdness.

A moment in time had started quite combatively, but in this case had transformed fairly quickly into a bond that I hope is never broken. I hope that fit and strong-lookin’ dude trusts that I have his best interests at heart and expect the same in return.

That’s how we build relationships. I don’t care if we’re talking homes, businesses, churches, non-profits, sports teams or whatever’s been forgotten, building winning teams starts with relationships built upon mutual respect for one another.

Easy to talk about, far harder to achieve. I get it. People will disappoint us. We will disappoint people. Life is a roller coaster with plenty of dips. But let’s keep talking to one another. Relationships don’t always get off to a great start, right? But, what’s that ol’ saying? “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish!”

Perhaps this is the lesson: Seek to understand.

A fit and strong-lookin’ dude and a simple dude from Missouri are living examples of that truth. Two rams. Butting heads and lovin’ it. We kept at it - seeking to understand.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Pep Talk: "Dare To Be Different!"

While exiting the parking lot of the Denver Rescue Mission recently, a car pulls alongside mine. The friendly-looking man rolls down the window and shares something with this knucklehead from Missouri that just warms my marrow: “Mark, when those guys come back from working out at the gym, they’re different.”

The beta test of Victory Production’s “A Stronger Cord” (ASC) program, in partnership with the Mission and Phoenix Multi Sport, is off to a promising start. At least according to a guy who works in a leadership role within the shelter that sits on the corner of Park Avenue West and Lawrence Street in downtown Denver.

“What do you mean? They’re different?” It didn’t take him long to respond. “They have a better attitude about things.” We have a long way to go for sure, but it seems we’ve struck a cord with our emphasis on fitness. It starts with the workout. A group workout. A team. No headphones. No “just doing my own thing” mentality. One Heart Beat.

Men in recovery, surrounded by fitness-minded, dependable and hard-working men, and we’re working out together. We’re strengthening minds, bodies and spirits. Our mission is to deliver this type of men to America - at home, work and elsewhere.

The focus of Victory's ASC and its work with the homeless men is to get them to the point where they’re ready to be re-engaged with family, jobs and communities. It starts with the workout and the rebuilding of their social network through engaging with a platoon of other like-minded men involved as volunteers.

The power of coming together with folks of similar intention in the pursuit of a noble goal. Rarely a bad thing, right?

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about trying to bring an emphasis on fitness into the “How do we fix homelessness”” issue, the achievement gap issue in education, the fraying infrastructure issue or other social challenges that affect our turbulent and crazy world.

We need some new ideas. We need folks to unite. A Stronger Cord is a direct call to the men of America. Time to rally and grow stronger. Mind. Body. Spirit. Home. Work. Elsewhere. Fit. Dependable. Hard-working. There are nine of them there. Pick any three and embrace the concept, as Solomon suggests in Ecclesiastes, “a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

For those involved with A Stronger Cord, it starts with the workout. Men in the gym, sweating, grunting, and uniting.

A young woman recently moved to town in pursuit of a master’s degree in public health. The Ohio native is also a fitness-minded person. I was recently introducing her to the leaders of two wonderful gyms: Kinetics Fitness Studio and Green Door. After wrapping up the tours, we were discussing what she had discovered about her chances of landing an internship, or even a job at one of the two places.

The young woman said to me, “Mark, I really enjoy being around folks at the gym. Most have such a positive attitude. It’s contagious.”

Amen, sister.

It all starts with connecting with others. In this case, through a workout. But the key is connecting with others who share a passion for what floats our boats. For Victory and me, it’s delivering transformed men to society. For you, it might be education, the environment, social justice, health care or whatever stirs your soul.

What are you passionate about? In all likelihood, you’re not alone. Go find some like-minded folks and connect with them. That’s where the magic happens! Rarely does it work solo. We all need a team.

Be like the Redwood tree. You’re heard that story before, right? The California Redwood is North America’s tallest tree. Grows to 400 feet along the Golden State’s northern coastline. A real key to its survival? Redwood roots grow horizontally, not vertically. The roots intertwine with nearby similar trees. When powerful storms blow in off the coast of California, folks, the Redwoods stand tall because they’re connected.

I’ve been called a lot of things in life through 56 years, smart rarely one of them but, in my personal opinion, I don’t give a hoot what we’re talking about. Yep. Wherever we’re trying like heck to achieve goals and overcome challenges, if we’re out there like the Lone Ranger, we’re screwed. The chances for success drop dramatically.

We gotta rally around one another. We have to check individual egos and agendas at the door and, as Billy Mac from Hackensack would say, “Charge from the fox hole together.”

For ASC, our focus is getting guys off the street and back into homes, jobs and communities. For you, it may be something different. What we definitely have in common is the process. It’s the same. We unite determined to change the status quo. To no longer accept, “that’s just the way it is.”

It will not be easy. There will be bumps along the way. We must be relentless in pursuit of our goal. This week, dare to be different!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pep Talk: "Working To Figure It Out"

“Hey buddy, I think you’ve finally figured it out.”

Ever heard those words uttered? To you? I’ve had them recently centered around a program, with the assistance of many others, Victory has created. It’s called “A Stronger Cord.” ASC for short. 

It’s pointed directly at the men of America. The mission? Encourage men to grow stronger - mind, body and spirit. In my work with the homeless in Denver for the past few years, it’s become crystal clear, at least in this simple dude from Missouri’s cranium that the men of America could do better.

Too many are walking away from responsibilities of leadership - home, work and elsewhere - and living on the streets. I spend considerable time with these guys these days. Want to do more. I call them knuckleheads. They call me a knucklehead. Each is correct. For whatever reason, life has not gone exactly as planned. For any of us.

Why? There are many reasons. But what is stressed with each and every engagement is that we have a choice. Correct. It’s really quite simple. Given that life is a roller coaster, when we hit the dips, what are we going to do? That’s been a fundamental question Victory’s been asking for a decade. Stuff happens.  A few might be lucky enough to avoid life’s disasters. They are the exception.

We have lots of guys who need to be re-connected with their families, a meaningful job and a variety of social groups. Win. Win. Win. ASC takes direct aim at these guys. 

For instance, David. A program candidate at the Denver Rescue Mission. Young and handsome. Movie star looks. He’s also had a problem with saying no to drugs. Meth. He knows it. As I think all of us can relate, old habits - drugs, alcohol, bad relationships, lack of purpose, too much work, to name a few - are sometimes hard to break, right?

Well about three months ago, this dude, who I pray keeps moving forward in such a positive way said, “Hey Mark, we need to start exercising around here!” He was talking about life at the shelter. Lots of bodies crammed in there. No viable space for working out as a group. I’m a huge proponent of a “sweat a day keeps the doctor away.”

From life as an athlete to life as a sports guy, I have marinated too many years in locker rooms. There’s (this is a dude thing) just something about being in the gym and collectively toiling with a bunch of other goofballs in the pursuit of a common goal. The goal might be success in athletics, business or non-profit. I don’t give a donkey’s butt. What matters is men are bonding in healthy and production fashion. Sweating. Grunting. Verbally joisting. United. It glues men together. Especially when this “man time” gives rise to success. The fruits of the effort are bountiful and permeating.

Benefits a man’s mind, body and spirit. When I say spirit, I mean their attitude. Their spirit. It has nothing to do with religious, or lack thereof, beliefs. Anyway, back to the point. A Stronger Cord.

Men isolated from their responsibilities need a comprehensive program with a mission to strengthen their minds, bodies and spirits, rebuild social networks and reconnect with loved ones, work opportunities and community ties.

Victory’s Platoon network is the key to rebuilding social networks and important personal relationships. We’re actively seeking fitness-minded men with positive attitudes to join us in workouts and relationship building. Platoon members encourage men in recovery to achieve goals and overcome challenges. Challenged men often  have talents hidden beneath the struggles. ASC is trying like heck to unearth them. 

King Solomon once said long ago: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. But a cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Good things come in threes, right?  Stronger mind, body and spirit. Better attitude, social network and relationships across board - family, job and community. There’s tons of three-stranded cords within ASC.

In addition, Victory, as its been doing for a decade, will continue to produce content like live presentations, the Daily Dose, weekly Pep Talk, books, JOCK products, videos, blogs, podcasts and other stuff. All available to support ASC.

Denver has a homeless problem. Most of that population is male. A Stronger Cord is going to engage those guys. We need your support. Time. Talents and Treasures. We could use it all at this early stage. I hope something in this ramble inspires you to reach out and say, “Mac, count me in!” If not you, somebody you know.

It’s time for a team meeting. It’s time for a stronger cord. One that’s not easily broken despite life’s challenges. Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s work together to figure this out. Teamwork. The key to success. Join us!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pep Talk: "Five Steps When Our World Seems Wrecked"

The email read, “It’s nice to know that things can come out all right in the end.”

My heart ached while reading it. It came from a guy in the middle of an incredible personal storm. A long and troubled marriage unraveling. Several young, wonderful and growing children to be effected from the fallout. Fear of the unknown. Can an incredibly patient and forgiving man accept that a treasured union is littered with land mines and too dangerous to traverse? Letting go. Easier said than done.

We spent time together recently. It was quite apparent that love for family and the welfare of children were top priorities. Those admirable traits can be a double-edged sword. It was one of the typical, “Trying to keep it together for the kids’ sake.” The man has endured for so long. He was seeking assurance the future held promise.
I tried my best to encourage him, based upon experiences with divorce, to believe that yes, despite the current pain and uncertainty, there is hope to prevail against what ails.

The conversation stirred up memories. Starting with my parents’ marriage. It was a classic “staying together for the kids” toward its end. As a high-school senior, I was relieved when they finally decided to part. Bless my parents for trying but the tension inside the home was palpable. You could see the unhappiness etched in their faces, oozing from their tone of voice and emanating from their avoidance of one another.

We’ve all been in these types of situations before. The present is not pretty. It might be from the breakdown of a marriage, the loss of a job, the presence of an illness or whatever. These trials arrive like an uninvited house guest. We see the future but few possibilities of relief. We want assurances that “everything will be all right in the end.”

There are no guarantees of course. Things might not get better. The timeframe we have for things to get better is unpredictable. LIfe rarely goes as planned.

A buddy’s smack dab in the middle of crazy time. If he were a contestant on the game show “Let’s Make a Deal” he wouldn’t pick what’s behind any of the three doors. The game plan for marriage and family, blown to pieces.

This roller coaster we call life sends us on unexpected twists and turns doesn’t it? Usually when we can least afford it mentally, physically and financially. What’s the key to somehow, someway, mustering the courage and strength to pick ourselves up, wipe the dust from our clothes and march forward with hope for a better tomorrow?

I think it starts with understanding we’re not alone. This good buddy knew I had traveled a similar path of divorce with children involved. He was seeking comfort from another who has journeyed down that rocky road.

There are truly few experiences that are unique. It sure feels that way when we’re in the middle of the muck, but rarely are we alone in suffering. I think it’s important to realize this and to try and connect with like-minded people. We can draw strength for the task required. Regardless of the origin, strategies for bouncing back from adversity are the same starting with three critical steps: a determination to learn from, not become a victim of, the experience; understanding we’re not alone and mustering the energy to connect with others of like-mind.

Once we connect with others of shared experiences it’s also important to encourage one another and not let the gatherings turn into complaining sessions. Nobody will benefit. Instead of complaining, let’s try and give hope and confidence to one another that, with a lot of courage and wonderment as our guide, there’s a plan for us. Light at the end of the tunnel that’s not an oncoming train. Yep. There is a plan to prosper and not harm us, to give us hope and a future. We gotta believe!

Real easy to talk and write about. Far more difficult to execute when the poop hits the fan. I get it. Been there. You have too. What advice would you offer to those in distress? Please share. Many can learn from them.

As we parted ways, I shared one final thought. A wise psychologist once said to me and a former bride when it became apparent that our union was over: “If you’re going to get divorced, make it a good divorce.”

This week, if your world seems wrecked, scour the rubble and find what’s salvageable. Five steps: Dig for forgiveness. Search for acceptance. Believe in hope. Grieve for what has been lost but rebuild. Dare to dream again.
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