Monday, December 26, 2016

Pep Talk: "Finish Well"

‘Twas the day before Christmas and your knucklehead scribe was sprawled on the couch. A combination of necessary rest from a wonderful European vacation and late-season NFL football making lounging quite easy.

But the cranium was troubled. Life sometimes bring real challenges. A big one these days in America is care of its elderly. Whether at home, hospital, assisted-living facility or somewhere else. There is much debate about the quality and expense associated with elderly care. A lot of negative talk about a broken system.

A Stronger Cord is thrilled to be moving into this area after the first of the year. The three-year-old community outreach wellness movement will be teaming with Bessie’s Hope to love on isolated elderly in assisted-living facilities. Bessie’s Hope has been doing this quite well for more than 20 years, ASC can’t wait to help.

But back to why the brain was a bit scrambled. It came from a horizontal position and watching/listening to pre-game chatter before the important Christmas Eve NFL games. All the talking heads were, accurately, proclaiming, “It’s do or die time.” All the teams fighting for their playoff lives looking for winning efforts the final two weeks of the regular season.

The finish line is near. Those times in life, whether from football, caring for the elderly, work, marriage or other critical and difficult endeavors, where it’s crunch time. Moments where character is truly revealed. I can remember vividly from childhood, my parents and others, in describing times like this, encouraging me with, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I believed it then and now.

It’s that time for this ol’ jock. Sudie Puff is quite ill. In this weekly blog, I have written often about a feisty 81-year-old mother of four who is still sharp as a tack. But the ol’ body is wearing out. During recent hospitalization and now rehab, concern for her well-being has sparked, between family members, passionate conversations about her care and cost, physically, emotionally and financially. It ain’t easy.

It’s the fourth quarter of mom’s life and the question becomes, how will it finish? That’s our family story. We all have such stories, right? It might not be elderly end-of-life stuff but, usually, there’s something stressful grinding the gears. As my buddy Billy Mac from Hackensack would suggest about these seasons of life, “It’s tough sledding time.”

Just my opinion, but I don’t think there’s any definitive way to address such moments. Whether fighting for NFL  survival or another breath, each challenge will require participants to perform well. Caring for our elderly is a group effort, bigger than ourselves. It’s about team and whether these challenges bring unity or division to it, whether football or family.

Watching NFL gridiron action but thinking about mom and caring for the elderly. A big challenge for my family and our nation. This week let’s do our part to help those we dearly love finish well.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pep Talk: "Our Nation, Our Time?"

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean flying toward Europe for a rendezvous with darling wife, your knucklehead scribe’s brain percolated. It’s a blessing and curse.

The cranium was gurgling with truth revealed three years into a community outreach wellness movement, A Stronger Cord. ASC’s philosophy purposively engages agencies serving the isolated, vulnerable and displaced. We have too many in our world today. In missions, mansions or on Main Street. All colors, shapes and sizes. Diverse. Quite often, in serving the afflicted (aren’t we all?), it’s apparent an overactive brain and ill-advised ways to effectively deal with it, lead to destructive addictions: Drugs, booze, power, crime, sex/pornography or whatever counterproductive outlet we choose.

ASC uses exercise to calm down that overactive noggin. A devotion to fitness sure has helped this ol’ jock deal with stress over the years. However, the workout is the warmup, first step, in a three-pronged wellness program reducing anxiety, building healthy relationships and encouraging community service. As ASC devotees say, “Work out, hang out and help out. More fit, connected and giving. Healthier, mind, body and spirit.” Ah, a beautiful cord of three strands not easily broken.

Just personal opinion, but these days America’s policy toward an overactive brain seems dominated by the prescription drug faction. Big Pharma. The first thing seems to be, “Get them on medicine!” There is little conversation about “Get them in a wellness program!” We know exercise reduces stress. All science supports such a statement. For a frayed nation needing fresh ideas concerning building a stronger cord to one another, why not wellness?

As the flight continued its trans-Atlantic trek from Houston to Amsterdam, I was reading an article in the Denver Post about the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  The well-written story described the evolution of a Japanese-American family detained in one of our nation’s World War II internment camps. After the 1941 surprise attack, Japanese-descent families were ordered to surrender homes, jobs and possessions and report to prison-like facilities. One was Camp Amache, in Granada, Colorado.

The other day I heard a fabulous pastor, Denver Dream Center’s Bryan Sederwall say, “We have to embrace life’s interruptions as an invitation.” Japanese-American lives were certainly interrupted by a fearful nation after a savage assault on its western flank. But a vast majority of Japanese-Americans soldiered on. They used the interruption as an invitation. One internment youth later served in the Korean War. Now in his 80‘s, a young student asked the man, “Considering how you were treated, why did you later serve?” According to the writer, apparently, the man did not hesitate. “It was my country. It was my time.”

A hyperactive brain dump on a long flight to Europe leads to this: Folks, our nation is underachieving. There are societal warning sirens blaring. American ideals have been interrupted. It’s an invitation. When it comes to utilizing talents and experiences to serve and lessen societal stress, where might it be our nation? Our time? Look around your community. Opportunity is knocking!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pep Talk: "Blocking Regret's Rush"

A while back, “Check the tape! Check the tape! Check the tape!” was the battle cry as two men drove south from Denver to Pueblo. It was your knucklehead scribe and the late University of Colorado football star Rashaan Salaam. Two dudes on the road to visit former CU Buffs now associated with the CSU-Pueblo football team. 

Friends for more than 20 years, we had lots of windshield time to talk about life, including laughing hysterically about the infamous (I was the “Buffs Guy” for Denver’s KCNC-TV back then) 1994 “Miracle at Michigan” play. The future Heisman Trophy winner (CU’s only) played a huge role in the successful Hail Mary pass. The talented running back made a critical block giving quarterback Kordell Stewart ample time to set his feet and lean into launching a football about 65 yards into the Michigan end zone for a miraculous finish.  History remembers Stewart, the tipper Blake Anderson and the catcher Michael Westbrook, but few mention Salaam’s key contribution thwarting a Michigan pass rusher. Over time, when seeing each other, it had become a running moment to joke and cherish, “Check the tape!” 

Rashaan was unique. Gifted athletically, intellectually and socially, to name just a few. When Salaam walked into a room, the energy changed. He was magnetic and tender hearted. But like us, the former NFL first-round pick had challenges. One was regret. We all have those moments, right? When expectations of self fall short? Salaam had regret for blowing, literally, a promising, and lucrative, professional career because of a pot passion. Injuries and fumbling hurt his NFL chances, but an addiction to marijuana led to poor work habits and an early departure from the game.

We talked a lot about letting go of regret on that drive to and from Pueblo. Simple, not easy. Ever been there? Sure you have. All of us have. We also talked about future dreams. The San Diego native had returned to Colorado from California looking for a fresh start. He wanted to mentor at-risk kids and promote CU athletics. He joined A Stronger Cord’s wellness outreach program and spoke to men enrolled in the Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program. They loved Rashaan. Everybody did.

But Rashaan didn’t love himself, at least not consistently enough. Many tried to encourage the 21st overall selection in the 1995 NFL draft. The past few years, mirroring his running back prowess, Salaam was hard to tackle, elusive. He would engage with that fabulous personality, then withdraw and isolate. About this tragedy, my mother posted on Facebook: “The saddest words of tongue or pen, these four words: It might have been.” Self-condemnation, for Heisman winners and us mere mortals, is damaging. Sometimes fatally. 

A 42-year-old beloved but troubled dynamo kept checking the tape. For us, it’s the latest reminder. Life rarely goes as planned. Somehow, someway, in a healthy and productive way, we have to accept the past, learn from it and halt self-condemnation. Rashaan’s tragic passing is a powerful example. If we don’t block regret’s rush on our soul, it can be a terminal sack on body, mind and spirit.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pep Talk: "Al's Random Email"

In this electronics-dominated world, we possess them. Yep. Those loved ones who, usually late at night, fire off emails. To many, including us. The content usually with a humorous intent, obvious or not.

One of those friends is an incredible guy who, as a youth sports coach, devoted much time to your knucklehead scribe and other young men during our formative years. Spry and active in his 80s, “Alle B” is the nickname for a respected dude who still mentors young kids and plays a huge role in organizing a yearly golf tournament to raise money for Raytown, Missouri’s “Youth Sports Initiative.” It’s an effort to give kids in the school district more access to sports and less temptation to gangs. It’s a big problem we face in America today. We have too many kids growing up in neighborhoods with little access to music, sports and arts. Tragically, deprived of healthy and productive activities. Guess what? It opens the door for gangs to recruit the kids. Most of whom are from single-parent (mom) families. Isolated and vulnerable.

Anyway, I’ll get off the soapbox and back to the story. A recent email from Al Maddox was priceless. The subject line read: “God’s Wife.” The content was from Leo Buscaglia. The renowned author and lecturer once judged a contest looking for the most caring child. “God’s Wife” was one of the winning entries. It tickled Al’s fancy and he passed it along. Enjoy.

An eyewitness account from New York City, on a cold day in December, 
Some years ago: A little boy,
About 10-years-old, was standing before a shoe store on the
Roadway, barefooted, peering through the window, and shivering
With cold.

A lady approached the young boy and said,
'My, but you're in such deep thought staring in that window!'

'I was asking God to give me a pair of
Shoes,' was the boy's reply.

The lady took him by the hand, went into
The store, and asked the clerk to get half a dozen pairs of socks
For the boy. She then asked if he could give her a basin of water
And a towel. He quickly brought them to her.

She took the little fellow to the back
Part of the store and, removing her gloves, knelt down, washed
His little feet, and dried them with the towel.

By this time, the clerk had returned with
The socks. Placing a pair upon the boy's feet, she purchased him
A pair of shoes.

She tied up the remaining pairs of socks
And gave them to him. She patted him on the head and said, 'No
Doubt, you will be more comfortable now.'

As she turned to go, the astonished kid
Caught her by the hand, and looking up into her face, with tears
In his eyes, asked her: “Are you God’s wife?”

Way cool. Al’s random email (I’m lucky and blessed to have opened it) speaks to the power of never growing weary of doing good for others. Nobody reaps the harvest more than us. This week, live that truth!

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