Sunday, December 27, 2015

Pep Talk: "Get In The Mix!"

We’re getting ready to close the books on another year. How did we do?

Television screens and radio airwaves bombard us with presidential hopefuls bellowing and trumpeting, among other things, “Making America great again.” But for whatever reason, the voice resonating loudest comes from legendary humanitarian Mahatma Ghandi. His wise words from long ago: “We must be the change we wish to see in this world.”

First, some background to the famous statement. Legend has it that a woman brought her son to visit the father of nonviolent civil disobedience to talk to the young man about eating too much sugar. After waiting long hours to meet Ghandi, the woman was surprised when the leader of India’s independence from Britain quickly dismissed her and son with, “Come back in two weeks and we’ll talk.”

What the woman later discovered was Ghandi needed the time to wean himself of sugar before feeling comfortable discussing the subject with the young man. Thus was born, “We must be the change we wish to see in this world.”

Another wise man, my father, pops into mind while writing this in the quiet of early morning hours while visiting Chicago-based family as a dryer tumbles in the background. Before he passed almost a decade ago, I’ll never forget sitting next to his critical care hospital bed after the tough Marine endured 10 hours of quadruple bypass surgery.

He squeezed my hand. A sign to place ice cubes in his mouth. Anesthesia from the long procedure had left the 76-year-old quite thirsty. It was my pleasure, when requested, to rise from bedside chair and place soothing ice on tongue. I recall it like yesterday: I was immersed in a book, the only early-morning sound being the constant beeps of monitors chronicling his recovery and then, a summons for more ice.

The book’s author was talking about a simple but sometimes challenging aspect of life: doing little things that cost us little but sure mean a lot to the wellness of ourselves and others. A similar refrain to Ghandi’s, “We must be the change...”

Then the squeeze of the hand, the rising from the chair, the placement of the ice and then an unforgettable moment from my father. After carefully avoiding the tube thrust down his throat and placing the ice cubes on his tongue, the adored man swished the cherished moisture around his mouth and muttered, “Ah, thank you.”

Three short but incredibly powerful words. The experience sure cost me little but meant a helluva lot to him. A tiny fragment of life I’ll take to my grave.

Here we go folks, a new year is upon us. 2016. Where can we be the change we wish to see? Where can we devote time that costs little but means a lot?  Maybe it’s the A Stronger Cord wellness movement, maybe not.

Regardless, get in the mix in two thousand one six. That’s how we’ll make America great again. With us!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Pep Talk: "Into A Parking Lot For Kids"

As your scribe pulled into what is normally a fairly deserted parking lot, it was shocking to find it full of cars. “What the heck is going on around here?” crashed into cranium.

About 15 minutes early and dressed for the usual Thursday night A Stronger Cord wellness movement workout, my mind started clicking off possible scenarios: Union Baptist Church was having a Christmas event in its sanctuary? It was dark. Was it Victory at Hillcrest’s annual Christmas celebration? The HOPE charter learning center, led by the amazing Amener Williams, leases space on Union’s three-acre campus. It’s above a gym the ASC Knuckleheads use for our “sweat, bond and grow” exercise in community development.


While carefully traversing steps that normally provide passage into the subterranean gym, I peered through windows. What to wandering eyes did appear? A large crowd of parents, grandparents and others thoroughly enjoying children acting, singing and dancing their way through the school’s holiday event. A heartwarming moment on a chilly Mile High City night where residents were still digging out from a recent massive snow storm.

I quickly started making phone calls to alert others that ASC’s gathering would be canceled while positioning my vehicle in a spot where arrivals could be intercepted and informed. With hazard lights blinking, engine running and mind racing, I sat there in the dark and thought, “This is it!”

One of the real challenges we have today in our society, and the MAJOR platform for the RISE UP candidacy for Colorado House District 6, is providing a more well-rounded educational experience for children growing up in poverty. 40% of the kids who attend school at Victory are homeless, almost all on free or reduced lunch. Resources are limited and kids are isolated with few extracurricular activities like music, art and sports.

This moment in time showed the societal value of providing children healthy and productive outlets to express themselves. We give the gangs some competition. It’s not just a Denver problem, but a problem we face nationwide: school children growing up in poverty are quite susceptible to the influence of gangs. They give them a sense of identity, protection and put money into their pockets.  The cash is usually turned over to a single-parent mother to help buy food, clothing and other necessities. The gangs are family.

What I was, surprisingly, witnessing was an example of what is sorely needed. Adults of all  colors, addresses and faiths coming together in support of kids letting their creative light shine.

Let’s give the gangs some friendly competition for children’s attention. Can you imagine? That on a nightly basis this normally semi-vacant parking lot is packed with cars as loving supporters are encouraging kids with their attendance at plays, concerts, basketball, volleyball or baseball games?

It costs little and means a lot. Pull into a parking lot for kids. We all benefit when coming together for such a critical and healthy exercise.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Pep Talk: "Won't Have To Look Far"

“I admire you. I’m proud of you. I love you,” the caller offered the recent college graduate who, for sure, is a knucklehead. In fact, at the first A Stronger Cord workout at the Denver Rescue Mission’s Crossing, if memory serves correctly, he barfed.

Anyway, back to the story.

Musically gifted, “Scratch Man”, has earned a Metro State University sheepskin. He’s on the comeback trail from addiction and working hard to become a fitness-minded, dependable and productive man building a stronger cord to family, purpose and community. Two desirous cords of three strands not easily broken. We’re celebrating. Upon completion of the fun chat, the ol’ cranium wandered to other recent memories of this wellness movement’s impact. 

Time after time this week I was blessed to hear stories of dreams realized and obstacles overcome by fellow riders on this roller coaster we call life. For whatever reason, it convicted me with four words: “I believe in you!” Hall of Fame football coach Bill McCartney calls the quartet, when strung together, “The four most important words ever!” Billy Mac from Hackensack? Amen, buddy. Can you imagine what our world might look like if EACH of us awakened consistently searching for opportunities to encourage others with, “I believe in you?” 

I just know what those encouraging words, over the years, have meant to your knucklehead scribe. Everything. One powerful example honors a coach who believed in a southpaw quarterback when the sophomore’s self-talk was, “How could you have been such an idiot!”

It was September of 1973. As recalled, a beautiful night for football as the Raytown South Cardinals hosted North Kansas City in the season opener. Yours truly was starting his first game as the Cardinals’ signal caller. It was not without controversy that the head coach had chosen the youngster over a popular, respected and capable senior. 

First series, and the offense is clicking. Perhaps skeptics were thinking, “Maybe this kid can play.” As the drive progresses, things bogged down near the opponents goal line. We ran a frequently practiced play. It gave your storyteller a few pass/run options. HOWEVER, all pass options with a caveat: “Don’t throw the ball into the flat unless you can assure, if the darn thing’s picked off, you make the tackle.”

Well, I tossed that pigskin into the flat, was knocked down doing it and was not available as the last line of defense. The guy returned it 100 yards for a pick-six. A big-time rookie mistake. I can only imagine what teammates felt, but know I felt lower than whale dung while trotting off the field, head down and defeated. 

Suddenly somebody grabbed me. It was veteran head coach and forever spiritual mentor Vance Morris. Now in his 54th year of coaching football, the cherished man queried, “You know what you did wrong, don’t you?” Through tears rolling down cheeks inside a 15-year-old’s helmet, came, “I didn’t roll out.” A big smile came to “Oskie’s” handsome face while muttering words never to be forgotten, “I know it will never happen again. I believe in you.”

Look around this week. Given the current climate, we don’t have to look far to find someone whose spirit might be lifted from that fabulous foursome of words. Use them often!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Pep Talk: "Rain, Sleet or Snow Can't Stop Them!"

Your knucklehead scribe was minding his own business and on the way to a neighborhood pub to meet a friend. It was a Saturday afternoon with beers and football on the menu when a chance encounter with the mailman occurred.

The conversation quickly turned to a recent NFL game. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers heaved a ball about 70 yards into the end zone where it was miraculously caught by a teammate. It was the game’s final play, a desperate and successful attempt lifting the Packers to victory over Detroit. It’s being called the “Motor City Miracle.”

Our neighborhood mailman whips out his wallet to display a Packer decal. “I’m from Wisconsin and a Green Bay fan my whole life.” We shared laughs about the game as I offered memories of another miraculous football finish in Michigan. In 1994 as a television sports guy, I was standing at the goal line when CU’s Kordell Stewart heaved a ball about 70 yards into the Michigan Wolverine end zone and into the arms of a Buffaloes’ teammate. That crazy play will forever, for Buff faithful, be known as the “Miracle in Michigan.” Our unexpected conversation wrapped up with the postal worker offering, “It’s just goes to show what can happen when you least expect it.” Amen buddy.

His final comment took me back to the day before. In the usual Friday morning Platoon gathering of goofs challenging each other to grow stronger spiritually, the assembled, self included, were talking about the craziness of Paris, Colorado Springs and most recent, San Bernardino.

The conversation turned to a dude named Saul who would become Paul. A man who, in modern-day terms, would be characterized as a terrorist executing people for no other reason than their faith. Crazy. Sadly, we’re seeing it far too often these days all over the world.

Could it be though, that order might come from chaos? It’s encouraging to see a growing and more vocal Muslim community strongly condemn the acts of extremists waging jihad against innocent men and women.

Victory’s A Stronger Cord wellness movement stresses the importance of unity. That whether we’re “Black, white or brown; live in a mission, mansion or on Main Street, we gotta come together.” How do we make sense of the senseless? How do we seek order from this chaotic world in which we live? Some suggest, it’s hard to argue against, we need a miracle.

We see them frequently. A buddy is suddenly cancer free, quarterbacks successfully heave Hail Mary’s, a murderer is forever changed after seeing a blinding light on the road to Syria. Life a tad chaotic right now? Don’t lose hope it can change in an instant!

The friendly mailman delivered more than the mail on this day. The silver-haired gentleman’s sudden appearance brought a wonderful reminder that chaos is often the prelude to transformational and wondrous miracles - home, work and elsewhere.

And like the US Mail, rain, sleet or snow cannot stop them!

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