Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pep Talk: "Ray-Roll's Heading West!"

“He still calls me Ray-Roll except when his buddies are around.” That comment came from a beautiful young woman sitting across from me recently over dinner at The Cherry Cricket. Along with darling wife, it’s one of our favorite spots to hang out with my daughter. Now a high school graduate.

My goodness, how time flies. Where did the last 18 years go? I can remember encouraging the little diaper-clad tyke to “scooch” her way backwards down the steps of our Congress Park home on Denver’s near east side. Then ballet. Volleyball. More volleyball. Boys. More volleyball. Boys. More volleyball. Oh, and a cool community service project “Clicks For A Cause”, that brought humanness to the growing homeless problem in Denver.

When she was little, “Rachel, angelito mio” (Spanish for “my little angel”) was a frequent favorite saying of mine for this blue-eyed cutie. Whenever I mutter it these days, or any other goofy stuff just to bug the honor roll student, those big eyes just roll. OMG.

The “Ray-Roll” comment mentioned earlier comes from her younger brother. He’s now nine years old. As a little dude he struggled to pronounce “Rachel” and just landed on “Ray-Roll.” It has stuck, except as the years progress, as does the peer pressure, it has with his buddies within earshot, become “Rachel.”

Watching the standout volleyball player walk across the stage and accept a diploma from Denver East High School created a blitzkrieg of memories. I know there are many of you out there experiencing the same. Whew. They have achieved a milestone. We have too many kids these days not getting that far. That’s sad and a topic for another day. As the University of Oregon-bound photography buff exited the stage clad in cap, gown and tassel, a quick prayer of thanks for her health, good choices and work ethic floated from my heart.

If we’re really lucky, the future will hold many more magical moments. The law of averages suggests that the longer we live, misfortune may join magic for the journey. Stuff happens. We all know it does. That’s when we must shift to having faith our children, moving on to new frontiers, can navigate the storms life will most likely bring their way. Or, darn it, the storms they venture into despite warnings to seek shelter. Especially when it comes to relationships.

It’s a favorite topic on Thursday mornings at the Denver Rescue Mission. I cherish spending time with the guys on the comeback trail. Encouraging them to become more fitness-minded, dependable and productive men who seek a stronger cord to families, work and community. So much of success or failure in that quest begins and ends with whom we associate with. Social networks.

Beloved flesh and blood disappeared into a sea of fellow graduates. Another prayer, universal and available to all, crashed from cranium: “Keep making healthy choices. Have fun. Be a student, not victim, of life’s experiences.” 

Ray-Roll’s heading west. Go Ducks!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pep Talk: "Eye on the Prize!"

Mother Nature’s rumble of thunder and crack of lightning reminded this knucklehead, if anybody cares, to share what’s been banging around in this noggin’ for a bit.

The critical importance of having the guts to stand for our beliefs. Whatever they are. It might be taking a new job. Stopping a bad habit. Asking someone to marry you. Asking someone to forgive you. Disciplining our children. Whatever. You know what I mean. To sprint off the high dive at the pool and leap into the great unknown? It’s easy to talk about, far more difficult to execute. Simple. Far from easy.

I recently had three wonderful examples delivered within one day. Bam! Two came from sitting in a luncheon crowd supporting the building of additional affordable housing units. A good day for Denver. This growing city needs them.

Anyway, back to the point. One of the speakers told two stories that bored into my marrow about the truth of “going for it.” The belief in self or something beyond us.

Each was from long ago. The first, from the early years following Jesus’ death. Roman tax collectors had showed up for the rent check and told the gathered, “You have three days to collect your treasures.” The tax men were a bit surprised to discover what the folks collected. People. The engaging speaker took me and others in the crowd back 2,000 years concerning the response: “These - pointing to blind, sick, disabled and handicapped humans -  are our treasures’” That took some guts.

The second story focused on New York City during our nation’s Civil War. Blacks were being hunted. A church in Manhattan started an underground shelter. A mob caught wind and marched toward the church. The priest calmly walked into the street with just himself, a symbol of faith and fearlessness. The mob halted and eventually retreated.

The third example came from a buddy, Carl Medearis.  I bumped into him the morning after the powerful lunch. He’s invited all the time to speak internationally to Muslims and Jews about Jesus. Many years ago, the author/speaker moved family to the Middle East, came back to Denver suburbia for a bit and is now moving back to that tumultuous region of the world. He told a story about a time two hooded strangers dropped a box on his Beirut, Lebanon front stoop. No bomb but a threat. If husband and father spoke at a nearby mosque? The note stated, “We will kill you, your wife and kids.” He spoke and, obviously, lived. Today Medearis writes about this experience in his latest book, Adventures In Saying Yes.

Three powerful reminders within 24 hours. Often? Always? We gotta be fearless. Is danger lurking? No logical solution to what ails, home, work or elsewhere? Sure, danger lurks in life but also lurking is the possibility of great triumph. Cast fear aside and allow wonderment to win.

Whether inspired by faith or whatever floats your fearless boat, keep your eye on the prize!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pep Talk: "Don't Surrender!"

Interviewing professional athletes was my job for almost 25 years as a Denver television and radio sports guy. Hanging out in odorous locker rooms covering the events, engaging the newsmakers and finding the story of the Broncos, Nuggets, Rockies, Avalanche and the teams they faced. I loved it.

Many of the guys involved in Victory's A Stronger Cord project, and on the comeback trail from addiction, incarceration or military fatigue, enjoy hearing the "inside" stories. Most men dig talking about sports. Much like ASC's group workouts, it's a great connector and equalizer.

Anyway, the guys seem to enjoy hearing yarns from this knucklehead's many years traveling near and far covering the local sports scene. The winners and losers. The triumphs and tragedies. The moments that make you say "Wow." The moments that make you say "Ow."

Without question, there are many memories I'll take to my grave. But in reality, there's a ton of down time when covering sports. A lot of sitting and waiting for an interview. Honestly, most of them are pretty mundane. Sports celebrities tend to speak in cliches. Those who have something unique to say are cherished. I can recall many times asking Broncos' tight end and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe one question and walking away with ten minutes of excellent material that would last a week on our nightly KCNC-TV sports segments.

But most interviews are uneventful. That's what made something I read recently in the Denver Post quite interesting. It came from former NFL running back Ricky Williams, in town to speak at a fundraising event. During his college and pro career there had been a few times where I engaged Williams in conversation. Rarely did he make eye contact and rarely did the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner have much to say.

Things have changed, for the better. The San Diego, California native has much to say these days. The married father of five offers hope to those trying to let go of a painful past and focus on a promising future.

Williams was sexually abused by his father as a child, and suffered from social anxiety and depression. It now makes sense why he wasn't real talkative. It now makes sense why his pro career is known more for drug-related suspensions and odd behavior than memorable touchdowns and victories. Williams' goal was never to play professional football and become wealthy. He wanted a college degree and a chance to give back to his community. "I gave up my vision for the vision of everyone around me to become rich and famous."

Wisdom now reigns in Ricky's world of transformation from success to significance. The 37-year-old shares his story and helps vulnerable young men and women with theirs. "Our greatest contribution to ourselves, to our communities, to our families, is to know ourselves and be ourselves," Williams told the Post.

It starts with a vision. This week let's learn from Ricky's roller coaster ride. Don't surrender it to anybody!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pep Talk: "Nothing Like Eye Candy"

“It’s a burden having to be eye candy for the weekend. Wish me luck!”

With those parting words your scribe bid adios to the man transporting this aging jock for a pre-dawn flight. It eventually landed a knucklehead in Miami for a rendezvous with darling wife who happens to be a business dynamo. Each year my boss is part of the host team for her company’s “All Star” weekend that honors and rewards high-achieving underlings.

I always show up for the weekend, thus the “eye candy” joke.

Anyway, the conversation with the friendly driver on the way to DIA in the darkness of night centered around the darkness of what transpired in a movie theatre in nearby Aurora, Colorado in 2012. Unimaginable and heinous actions led to tragic death, debilitating injury and devastating emotional damage.

A friend, Marcus Weaver, was present that night. Lost a dear friend to a mad man’s carnage, was shot twice himself and testified on the third day of the trial to determine one thing: Was the perpetrator sane or insane?

It was weird to sit so close to someone so docile and expressionless and fathom that within, buried from sight, resides a troubled spirit. I personally think he was sane but that’s a topic for another day.

What struck me powerfully in court and triggered the conversation in the ride to the airport, was a somber reminder about human beings. Me. You. Everybody. Within us lies tremendous power for good and evil.

Person after person testified. Victims and first responders. The stories of heroism, as badly wounded folks worked alongside firefighters, police and paramedics to save the gravely injured, tore at my heart. I wept in admiration. Then eyes would wander to the accused. Nothing suggested the heartbreaking and powerful testimony stirred any emotion. Spooky.

A few days later I led a group discussion during an A Stronger Cord “Hang Out” session centered around the truth that within us lies a broad range of capabilities, from insane to humane.

The conversation focused on how to stay rooted in the latter, not the former. We all have our stuff. We are products of environments providing good and bad. We talked about nurturing the positive and starving the negative.

Two rivals, battling for our souls. Who is gonna win? This simple dude from Raytown, Missouri was blessed to grow up in a community that encouraged hard work, healthy choices and respect for others. Beneficial. I also grew up in a family environment that fostered all that but tolerated enabling and co-dependency. Damaging.

Insanity and Humanity. Products of our environments. Each, certainly, a part of my DNA. Perhaps, yours too? Which will we feed? This week, feast on the good. Cherish life, knowing it can change in an instant. Seek a stronger cord to humanity and run like heck from insanity.

It is ugly and, from my vantage point inside a courtroom, looks nothing like eye candy.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pep Talk: "Free, Available and Embraced!"

Friday mornings hanging out with a bunch of knuckleheads challenging one another to grow stronger in faith is rarely boring, if ever. I hope to do it until this simple dude from Missouri croaks. It energizes my spirit.

To sit in a room with, usually, 12-16 other dudes from all walks of life, with all types of stories of praise and predicament is inspiring. It’s like a football team. It’s fascinating, and gives an aging jock who loves to write plenty of material.

The weekly Platoon meeting is a blessing.

Anyway, I’m sitting there recently, settling into my chair, in possession of one doughnut snatched from the passing box, when one of the dudes starts talking about a story that would have made a hilarious skit on Saturday Night Live.

In a nutshell, this man, who is beaming about the recent birth of a baby daughter, apparently was trying to retrieve a dog before it ran onto a heavily traveled road. Somebody else (if I got the facts straight, a nephew about ten years old) was also in hot pursuit and determined to capture the canine from harm’s way.

In the fervent dash, somehow story-telling dude slipped. Quickly, but awkwardly, the gentle soul jumped to his feet and hurt an ankle. But there was a dog to save. Press on. Somehow, someway, despite the pain, the buddy sharing the story soldiered on. Dog is rescued. Ankle is broken.

The kind-of-guy you’d want your daughter to marry has been away from the group, at home bonding with wife and baby girl. He wraps up the hilarious - I didn’t do it much justice - story about rescue and rehabilitation with this gem, concerning a rapid recovery from injury: “I don’t know if it was prayer or Percocet. But it was quick.”

Bam. The final line hit me like a linebacker from the blind side. Prayer or Percocet? We all have pain in life, right? Things rarely go as planned? The big ol’ question that must always be answered?  “How we gonna deal with this roller coaster we call life?”

Just my opinion, but how about, “Are we gonna mask the pain with Percocet, or endure it with prayer?” Or, as in buddy’s case, apparently a mixture of the two? The mind wonders about definitions while the hand reaches for the dictionary.

Oxford says that “mask” means “anything that disguises or conceals.” Same source says endure means “patiently bear hardship or pain.” It sure seems we’d be better off dealing with life’s challenges by choosing endure over mask.

This week, let’s patiently bear hardship or pain and not disguise or conceal it. Let’s be real. “Percocet or prayer?” Mask or endure? A buddy’s humorous statement was a powerful reminder. Sometimes each is necessary. However, the latter choices, prayer and endure, seem better. 

They’re free, abundantly available and widely embraced as being good for us!

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