Sunday, July 31, 2016
Toiling around Target recently your knucklehead scribe asked a simple question of my shopping partner, “What did you think about today?” The question was posed to nephew Nolan Schmitt. Preparing for his first year of middle school the Glenview, Illinois native was visiting with sister and parents. The athletic boy, along with his father and many others, was part of A Stronger Cord’s “Help Out” contingent serving others in northwest Denver on a Saturday morning.
“I thought it was cool” was the response as the baseball and hockey fanatic pushed a noisy cart around the store. The blue-eyed dude plays well with others. He dove right in the fun of the Denver Dream Center’s “Adopt A Block” program designed to build relationships to our community’s most isolated and vulnerable populations. We have too many.
I love watching this wiry kid play sports. His older sister too. They are athletes, competitors and team players. I watch them display gifts and talents on the fields of athletic competition and see the value it brings to their lives. Youth sports teaches kids about life and the importance of setting goals, working hard and dealing with adversity. This much I know, youth sports taught me a ton, long ago.
A few hours after our shopping spree had ended and the party of family and friends was in full swing, Nolan lost a tough match on the ping pong table. Disappointment reigned within and an 11-year-old sulked for a spell on the stairs.
His plan had hit a snag and it sucked. We can all relate, right? Life rarely goes the way WE plan. The question is, and always will be, how do we handle life’s roller coaster? Going back and forth from the basement ping pong action to other party activities on the main floor, more than once this ol’ jock passed a disappointed young man mourning the dashing of dreams to win the friendly, but darn competitive, table tennis test.
For whatever reason my mind wandered to the men ASC encourages to become more fitness-minded, dependable and productive dudes seeking a stronger cord to families, purpose and community. Guess what? They’ve had plenty of disappointment too. A lot of them self inflicted. Now, they’re trying to come back from poor decisions, lousy childhoods and tough luck.
We all have our tale of woe. How to press on, learn from the setbacks and become superior to our former selves? Whether losing in sports, fighting addiction, bouncing back from divorce, illness, incarceration or whatever challenge, it really boils down to this: Student or victim? Our choice, choose wisely.
The other day I heard a Denver Rescue Mission chaplain mutter this gem: “God is not interested in our condition, he’s interested in our position!” Amen. We all have our conditions, this week, let’s make sure we take a productive learning position toward them!
At the very least, just like Nolan, we’ll be winners for the effort.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
“I came to Denver two years ago a lost man,” said the Arkansas native who moved to the Centennial State from California. Isolation and addiction had almost suffocated dreams and desires from the veteran’s life. They had definitely drained his wallet. “When your money is spent, so are you” was one of many powerful truths spilling from his heart this evening.
The past two years have been a blessing getting to know Darwin Ben. The 48-year-old is a graduate of the Denver Rescue Mission’s “New Life Program.” The intelligent man has been active in the A Stronger Cord wellness outreach movement too. I’m also a mentor. My apologies if journalistic objectivity might be tainted just a tad.
This much your knucklehead scribe knows to be true. It was a thrill to be in attendance at The Rock church in northeast Denver to hear Ben’s first sermon as an ordained minister. The book of Luke was emphasized, especially the story of the prodigal son who wandered far before returning to a loving welcome from his father.
“We sometimes get things before we’re ready for them” was another point that reverberated deeply within me, and from the crowd’s reaction, several others in the audience. For Ben, it was reference to fathering a child when one himself and the resolve to become the father all children deserve. Better late than never, right?
25 years ago while serving America in the first Gulf War, the Navy ship Ben was serving on struck a mine in the Persian Gulf. The blast threw him against a wall and severely injured the back of his head. Surgeons took skin from his leg to patch up the noggin. Where the patch resides, there is no hair. I’ve joked with him the back of his scalp looks like, “A map of the United States.”
All kidding aside, this man has a plan, purpose and road map for the remainder of life. He clearly understands a calling to serve God and people with his exceptional preaching skills. The journey to reach this destination has been anything but easy. The unfortunate military injury aside, many wounds have been self-inflicted.
Transformation knows no color, gender or tax bracket. It begins and ends with a person realizing there’s a better way. For many, like Ben - me too - there is a spiritual foundation to a renewing of mind, body and spirit. An internal compass always ready and available to guide our path if we ever misplace the map.
More than once during his inspiring message, I shouted “Razorback” in admiration and pride for the University of Arkansas fan. The minister’s journey is a half century old. The future holds much promise. The prodigal son has returned and is rejoiced. You know what? It’s true for all of us. We all have gifts and talents. Perhaps we’re utilizing them productively, perhaps not.
The good news is, it’s never too late to commence considering the benefits transformation brings to our souls and to those we touch with its spirit.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
“Stop, stop right here” was the declarative statement of the 26-year-old photographer leading the charge up Vail Mountain. Like a dutiful soldier, your scribe froze in his tracks. I looked around expecting to see wildlife. None was present. Instead, my New York City-based son was snapping pictures of the exposed roots of Aspen trees along our path.
“Aspen roots grow horizontally and connect with each other,” said the writing team member of NBC’s Late Night With Seth Myers. He was capturing on film the complex entanglement of tree roots that resembled beehive honeycombs.
While a father watched a son express a passion and talent through photography, the old man’s mind wandered to the state of our world today in the wake of Dallas, Minneapolis and Baton Rouge. A nation in turmoil because we have lost our way when it comes to connecting with one another.
We need to be like Aspens, and reach out to one another for support or we will topple.
A few days later during Kyle’s week-long visit to Colorado, many of us attended a Colorado Rockies' baseball game at Coors Field. While we sat in the stands on a beautiful Centennial State summer evening, the quick-witted offspring began telling stories to his girlfriend about the Rockies’ improbable 2007 run to the World Series. “I can remember Matt Holiday’s slide into home plate, the Rockies refusing to lose in September in making the playoffs and their long layoff before playing the (Boston) Red Sox in the World Series.” He has a good memory.
For the record that year, down the stretch the Rockies won 21 of 22 games to earn a playoff berth and spot in the World Series where they were swept by the boys from Beantown. It was an amazing example of the possibilities present when a group comes together, sets personal egos aside and works for the greater good.
We need to be like the 2007 Rockies and embrace the value of teamwork in resolving our social issues that have a nation on edge.
The importance of teamwork was emphasized 3,000 years ago from one of the world’s most recognized philosophers. King Solomon, considered one of the wisest person’s in recorded history, sounded a clarion call when he wrote about venturing too far from our native villages, offering: “One will be overpowered, two can defend themselves, but a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”
It’s the spiritual foundation of the wellness outreach movement A Stronger Cord. Folks, it doesn’t matter if we’re black, white or brown; live in a mission, mansion or on Main Street, we need to realize societal challenges of homelessness, poverty, income inequality or racism will only be solved collectively by investing time in one another.
The reminders, snapshots, come from nature, sports teams and historical figures. The venues change but the strategy is the same. Success in life is a team effort that recognizes race, religion and socio-economic differences as opportunities not obstacles to build a stronger cord to one another.