Sunday, April 16, 2017

Pep Talk: "Why's To Wow's"

Spring has sprung. Easter is upon us. We marinate in natural and spiritual renewal. Personally, another birthday arrived this past week. Fellow gym rats didn’t hesitate to lovingly observe the occasion while placing “safety” materials around the spin bike your knucklehead scribe climbs on every Thursday to lead a Kinetics Fitness Studio workout. For some reason the wise guys believe a 59-year-old dude has suddenly become fragile. Ah well.

Back to the point. Older for sure, but the question becomes, any wiser? Physically, mentally and/or spiritually? Where to improve? Transform? Many areas immediately come to mind including caging an appetite fit for a 20-year-old, not an ol’ fart. Blame lies with darling wife’s savory cooking and a penchant to enjoy, not only seconds, but sometimes thirds and fourths. Yikes. “Control your appetite!” bellows the sensible inner self. I don’t listen enough. Why?

My mind wanders to a young man met in raising money for blood cancer research. Logan is six years old. He’s a leukemia survivor. The other night at a Leukemia & Lymphoma Rocky Mountain Chapter event, the handsome young man asked the presenter, a blood cancer researcher, “Why do people get cancer?” 

The respected cancer crusader offered facts about DNA breakdowns and other technical stuff. But the woman knew, considering the questionnaire, there is no logical explanation available to soothe a young warrior’s soul. Kudos to the researcher for making a great save in informing the crowd that “Kids are more resilient than adults during cancer treatments.” Kids, they teach the darndest things: “They might feel bad, throw up (chemo reactions) and then get back to doing what they do.”

Life rarely goes as planned, right? It’s a fundamental principle of A Stronger Cord. Participants in this community outreach wellness movement, regardless of their origin, know life rarely follows our planned route. We are forced to take detours. What’s the old saying? “We make plans and God laughs?” This roller coaster called life takes unwanted twists and turns. They arrive at the most inopportune times. We all have stories of, “Why?” It’s futile to worrying about it. But, hey, we’re human and do. Good, bad and ugly experiences define our earthly dash. The one question always is, “Are we gonna become students, or victims, of Why?”

All we control is effort and attitude. How do we face each day? What kind of spirit do we bring to Why? Not too long ago, after speaking to a men’s fellowship group, a man approached me and belched, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s but a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.” Amen brother.

Thoughts turn to Logan. Why did this incredible kid get cancer? I give thanks to the advances in blood cancer treatments helping the handsome Iron Man fan, and other kiddos, beat it. Unexpectedly, an idea crashes into cranium:  In this renewal season, let’s encourage one another to take worrisome Why’s and overcome them with wonderful Wow’s. Why’s into Wow’s. Way cool!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pep Talk: "It's The Capstone"

There’s a new gym buddy who really fires up your knucklehead scribe. I don’t know that much about him. However, from initial, brief and feisty encounters at Kinetics Fitness Studio, we’re kindred spirits.

The other day our paths crossed. I was walking toward the drinking fountain. The cancer doctor was squatting a bunch of weight. For whatever reason spirit moved the fit dynamo, after an impressive rep, to stare me straight in the face and bellow, “Hey man, do you know the name of the bridge that spans goals and success?” Your startled and sweaty correspondent was huffing and puffing through a 35-minute routine and, not surprisingly, somewhat oxygen deprived. I didn’t even have a chance to respond before learning from fellow gym rat that the bridge between goals and success is known as “DISCIPLINE!”

Received and accepted.

Before getting back to exercise, we laughed, slapped hands and did stuff dudes do when receiving hits off ourselves. But, the ol’ cranium had captured, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and success.”

For whatever reason, the brain zipped to Bobby Pesavento. University of Colorado Buffaloes’ football fans remember the name from the 2001 season. That year the Indiana native came off the bench, after injury sidelined starter Craig Ochs, and led CU to the Big 12 Championship. It was the last conference title for the school’s football program which won many throughout the late 80‘s and 90‘s. Expertly coached by Gary Barnett, this squad routed Nebraska 62-36 and then beat Texas in the Big 12 championship game. The contest was in Dallas and basically a home game for the ‘Horns. It was a magical season for the Buffs and Pesavento was the signal caller. Good stuff.

At the time, this CBS4Denver sports guy was host of Barnett’s television show, traveled with the team and is now blessed to be buddies with many members of that winning squad. In fact, Pesavento was a recent guest for a Bad Daddy's Bad Ass Tuesdays where we’re raising money for Leukemia & Lymphoma’s efforts in blood cancer research. In preparing for the event, the journalist within emerged and revelations surfaced. One really stood out. I recalled the tall and athletic quarterback arrived in Boulder via a junior college, but buried and missed in that story was something quite admirable. It also references this rambling’s “bridge between goals and success is discipline” theme. Here it is. The present-day risk management executive took 30 HOURS OF COLLEGE CREDIT IN ONE SEMESTER in order to transfer to CU a semester early. Pesavento was determined to enroll as soon as possible to compete and achieve his goal.

Impressive. It also beautifully validates the “Bridge between goals and success is discipline” philosophy. Pesavento arrived at CU with that spirit, earned playing time and guided the Buffs to their last conference title 16 seasons ago.

What’s your goal? This week, take a cue from a doctor and quarterback. Labor in building the discipline bridge. It’s the capstone uniting goals and success!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Pep Talk: "These Precarious Times"

At almost 59, with a younger brother and older sister already grandparents, there’s an ever-increasing amount of queries like, “Hey ol’ man, you got any grandkids?”

Negative. However, through A Stronger Cord’s work with the Denver Dream Center, your knucklehead scribe has “Grandpa” chances. Denver has too many kids (it’s not alone) without positive adult male mentors. Conversely, kiddos have gangs showing them a lot of attention. Denver Dream Center believes the same. It’s a blessing to work together on Adopt A Block Saturdays. Just my opinion, but kids living in vulnerable areas? Give them more music, sports and arts! Let’s give gangs more competition for the kids’ attention. 

I know, easy to talk about, far more difficult to execute. Here’s an idea, with a little history to substantiate, to reach kids in healthy and productive fashion by investing more time and less money. Could it be that time, not cash, is the true treasure?

Long ago a fiery volunteer coach always found time for this aspiring jock and other sports-loving kids in Raytown, Missouri. Today, he’s still going strong and likes to email. In a recent one, Al Maddox shared the last wishes of Alexander the Great, esteemed warrior and king. They focused on time. Here ya go:

On his death bed, Alexander summoned his generals and shared three wishes:
  • The best doctors carry his coffin ...
  • Accumulated wealth (money, gold, precious stones) be scattered
  • Hands be loose and hang outside the coffin for all to see
These unusual requests surprised a military subordinate who asked for clarity. The dude who learned from Aristotle, responded: 
  • "I want the best doctors to carry my coffin to demonstrate that in the face of death, even the best doctors in the world have no power to heal .."
  • "I want the road to be covered with my treasure so that everybody sees that material wealth acquired on earth, will stay on earth.."
  • “I want my hands to swing in the wind, so that people understand that we arrive empty-handed and depart the same after the most precious treasure is exhausted: TIME.
We do not take to our grave any material wealth. TIME is our most precious treasure because it is LIMITED. We can produce more wealth, but we cannot produce more time. When we give someone our time, we actually give a portion of our life that we will never take back. Our time is our life!”

Thanks to Al’s email, I know Alexander closed with: “The best present to family and friends is TIME. May God grant you plenty of it to share with all.” Amen, buddy. From Wikipedia, it’s discovered Alexander never lost a battle and is considered one of history’s greatest military commanders. 

Could it be, when it comes to seizing our kids’ attention or other societal challenges, America’s underachieving against a formidable foe? Our wayward thinking? Let’s correct it by heeding advice from a man considered one of the most influential humans ever. Alexander says our most precious resource is time. In these precarious times, let’s share more of it. Volunteer!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pep Talk: "Somebody's Gotta Serve"

A buddy is an avid tennis player. The other day in a meeting of government and faith leaders, while discussing ways to improve collaboration, the mentor to many blurted out something that knocked my socks off: “In tennis, and life, the game always starts with somebody serving.”

Amen to that!

The Vietnam veteran’s profound comment immediately zipped the cranium to the work of the Denver Dream Center, This wonderful community of spiritual warrior’s mission is to “Rescue People, Rebuild Lives and Restore Dreams.” It reaches out tirelessly to Denver’s most vulnerable populations with a real simple motto: “Show up. Smile. Serve.”

There’s that “serve” word again. In this crazy world in which we live these days, have we perhaps overcomplicated matters? Could it be that IF we just decided to “show up, smile and serve” we could make a difference in reducing the amount of, current,  societal suffering? We’ve got issues, folks. Anybody happy with the status quo?

A leader from Jefferson County (CO) social programs said something very powerful when stating, “The government needs to get out of the mentoring business. That’s where we need the faith-based community to really step up.”

Amen again.

On a challenge, A Stronger Cord,, was born more than three years ago. The community outreach wellness movement would love to invite all faith-based organizations, of any religious affiliation, to join the Knuckleheads in using fitness, relationship building and community service to build a stronger cord to one another. Exercise reduces stress and is a wonderful connector and equalizer. Faith-based groups reach out to communities with worship (Join us for services!), with works (Food, clothing, book drives!), right? Why not reach out with wellness? It’s easy and fruitful community outreach.

Long ago, while earning a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, many lessons were learned. None has resonated more deeply than a simple edict from professor after professor at the nation’s first, and best, journalism school: “Keep it simple, stupid.” KISS.

Service requires time. It’s something few seem to have in abundance these days. In this age of instant global communication and connection, just my opinion, our communications skills are dysfunctional and we’ve, at least in my 58 years of living, never been more divided. There’s too much discourse.

At the national and state level, expected budget cuts to social services ain’t gonna make things any better. Let’s get government out of the mentoring business and turn it over to the faith-based world. It’s encouraging to hear government leaders, like from Jeffco,  speak less about more money and more about more time. As a society, if we truly want to lessen the suffering of the less fortunate we need to SHOW THEM a different path. It’s tough to crawl out of the isolated, vulnerable and displaced crab pot if all I’m doing is hanging out with others in that same predicament. We are products of our environments, correct? 

“Somebody’s gotta serve.” Why not us? Invite your faith-based friends too.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pep Talk: "Bedrock of Contentment"

While waiting at Denver’s airport to depart for Chicago and a much-anticipated Illinois’ prep hockey championship (niece Shannon Schmitt’s team won!) thoughts drifted to another Windy City-related matter. The Northwestern University men’s basketball team’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament.

A few days prior, during the first Bad Daddy’s “Bad Ass” Tuesday, which raises money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s efforts in blood cancer research, Broncos’ quarterback Trevor Siemian, a Northwestern grad and fan, quipped, “It took 78 years.”


Anyway, the point of this Pep Talk is the lingering effect of watching the Northwestern basketball team explode in joy when it was announced the Wildcats were in the tourney. It gave your knucklehead scribe a “Thrill of victory” moment and made this aging jock feel warm and fuzzy.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins was being interviewed. Reflecting on days as a television sports journalist it triggered this fact: These are real easy interviews. Coaxing an euphoric human being to open up? You just stick the mic in front of them and enjoy the result. When hired to lead the program the fourth-year coach let everybody know playing championship-caliber hoops was THE goal. A beaming Collins, when asked to summarize feelings at the moment muttered, “We are thrilled. We are honored. We are grateful.”

Wow. Amen dude.

Since hearing the Chicago native’s thoughts the ol’ cranium has not been the same. Think about it. Can you imagine a life dominated by feelings of being thrilled, honored and grateful? Bartender, another round for everybody! However, we know that’s foolish. Life RARELY brings moments like Northwestern basketball’s emotional high at that particular time. Enjoy them. They are precious gems.

For most of us, mundaneness and mishap are the norm. Stuff happens leaving us anything but thrilled, honored and grateful. But as Pastor Bryan Sederwall of the Denver Dream Center said the other night at one of their fantastic “Third Thursday” events, “If we always shift the blame, we will always stay the same.”

In other words, to experience euphoric “thrilled, honored and grateful” snapshot, in all probability, we MUST, initially, get kicked around a bit? Could it be that basking in utter joy would not be possible without a journey that had moments of, “WTF?”

It’s constantly talked about at A Stronger Cord. This community outreach movement that’s trying like crazy to unite America with wellness,  encourages participants to embrace the importance of realizing we all have stuff. What’s critical? Let’s be students, not victims, of it!

I know, easy to talk about, far more difficult to accomplish. This week, let’s remember a basketball coach who turned around a moribund program. The 42-year-old exudes, despite challenges life throws our way, a wonderful “If we see it and believe it, we can achieve it” spirit.

For a basketball team, a high school hockey team and us, it opens the door for moments where we’re gonna be thrilled, honored and grateful. What a terrific trio with the latter, gratefulness, a bedrock of contentment.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Pep Talk: "A Melodious Chord"

A childhood value has stuck like glue: Give credit where credit is due. Given that, kudos to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and the Centennial State’s professional musical community for devising the Colorado Music Coalition. It’s “Take Note Initiative” holds promise in providing every child in this fast-growing state, kindergarten through 12th grade, access to musical instruments and professional instruction. Bravo!

Watching video of a two-year-old child enthusiastically air-drumming at a Red Rocks Amphitheatre concert inspired the two-term Colorado governor. From a  Denver Post article, Hickenlooper said, “Watch the ending! I’ve deleted like 80,000 things from my phone, but not this,” said the music lover. “When I’m depressed I just want to watch Judah (Slade’s son)  drumming.”

The beautiful state of Colorado has many attributes. One is not our educational performance. There is room for improvement. Just a long-time observer’s opinion but today’s policies have resulted in too much administrative stuff and too little extracurricular activities for kids, especially those living in neglected areas. 

Personally, I have experienced the value easy access to extracurricular activities had on my educational experience. It was recognized early that a freckle-faced southpaw had considerable athletic talent. What a blessing to have, in abundance, youth, junior high and high-school sports and coaching. It shaped my life. Marinating in that culture played a huge role in this ol’ jock earning a college athletic scholarship.

More important. For a young man with big athletic dreams, the educational journey in the Raytown (MO.) School District carried a caveat:  “You want to participate? Keep your grades up and your nose out of trouble.”

A primary goal of A Stronger Cord is to provide more music, sports and arts for kids growing up in Denver’s gang-infested neighborhoods. The outreach wellness movement’s efforts in northeast Denver has verified Denver (it’s not alone) has too many quite-deserved children with little, if any, access to extracurricular activities. The recruiting pitch of the ever-present gangs is tempting. It gives kids a sense of identity, protection and puts a little money in their pockets. We need to give these kids another team to play on!

Innovative ideas like the Take Note Initiative are desperately needed. When it comes to developing children’s gifts and talents (all have them) America is off key. Who ever thought it was a good idea to cut funding for music, arts and sports? Of course, children need to be tested for learning progress but we’ve gone too far. As a society, we’re paying the price. I’m not the only dreamer who grew up aspiring to express creative talents in healthy and productive ways. I was lucky the resources were present and available.

Obviously few kids will end up being professional musicians, artists or athletes. That’s not the point. The point is abundant access to extracurricular activities encourages kids to learn discipline, study, avoid trouble and develop positive relationships. 

Guv, thanks for leading the extracurricular activities charge. May it strike a melodious chord for our kids, parents, schools and communities! We could use an uplifting tune!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Pep Talk: "Legacy over Length"

The unexpected question was certainly thought-provoking. “If you could pick five deceased people to have dinner with,” queried a buddy over a beer in a northeast Denver establishment, “Who would they be, and why?” Four folks came immediately to mind, starting with Jesus.

The Jewish carpenter’s earthly life fascinates me. He was curious and cool under fire, always asking questions and would have made a great journalist. Obviously many felt threatened by the master teacher’s message of living by the spirit and not by rules and laws. The Nazarene didn’t asked anybody to start a religion. The out-of-this world ambassador encouraged others to follow a spirit starting with love and ending with self-control and believing, as noted in Galatians, “Against such things there is no law.” 

Abraham Lincoln would get an invitation. Our nation’s 16th president saw injustice and tried to address its destruction. America today? We live in challenging times. What a thrill it would be to hear the Kentucky native’s thoughts on how to handle the current strife. I can’t imagine the sleepless nights endured during America’s Civil War and the tragic backlash received after freeing the oppressed and upsetting the status quo.

I would hope Martin Luther King, Jr. had time to join us. In 1968, I was old enough to remember his assassination. Five decades later, America faces similar civil unrest. The social activist had a dream that resonates deeply within the A Stronger Cord community outreach wellness movement. It does not matter the color of skin, location of dwelling or statement of assets, Americans need to build a stronger cord to one another. Why not with wellness? The preacher was also an amazing orator and great writer. 

The dude at the bar was bobbing his head in agreement as the fourth invitee was unveiled: Mother Teresa. Officially known these days as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. How did a petite woman become a giant for the forgotten? I love how she described herself: “"By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world.” She reached out to the isolated, vulnerable and displaced. Admirable indeed. 

Back to reality. With a good song playing in the background the bar conversation paused a bit, before my buddy offered, “What about the fifth? Who would it be?” It didn’t take long to suggest, “My dad.” The father of four passed almost a decade ago. He’s missed daily. My buddy grinned, raised a glass and asked, “Where you gonna make a reservation?” Humm. Given the nature of the guests, it would not have been fancy and probably would have been inexpensive considering one invitee’s reputation of turning water to wine.

These days, I have trouble staying up late but believe the dinner conversation would have gone deep into the night. Five incredible human beings. Only one (Saint Teresa) lived into their 80‘s. It’s a reminder, the length of our journey is uncertain but the legacy is not. Work diligently on it this week, at dinner and elsewhere!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Pep Talk: "A New Lobbyist In Heaven"

A beautiful and faithful wife delivered a moving testimony for an incredible and beloved husband. Your knucklehead scribe was among the hundreds gathered to celebrate the wonderful, but far too short, life of Douglas William Wittenberg.

A great dude, fellow fellowship warrior and fighter against cancer, the Illinois native was just 50 years old. Thyroid cancer showed up about a year ago and was relentless. A nasty disease robbed six great kids of a father, but nothing could rob this father of his faith. Nothing. “His favorite t-shirt to wear during radiation treatments?” offered wife Jennifer during heartwarming remarks. “I’ve got this. Love, God.”

This lover of Jesus, people, nature and life would drag a weary soul into our weekly gathering of goofs. Jacked up men trying to sharpen one another spiritually. For a while, in addition to Friday mornings, this crazy group tried 1-1 meetings. That strategy didn’t last long; everybody’s busy. But during that short time frame, Doug and I were partners. 

What a good man who LOVED Starbucks coffee and conversations. Anyway, once cancer grabbed him, literally, by the throat/neck and then spread throughout, Doug would still show up. Yep. In the final stages with a voice box to aid speaking. It was clear, barring a miracle, that the end was near. Wittenberg remained unwavering: “I know this suffering is only temporary.” Awesome.

What a teacher. Certainly for me, but I suspect from the huge crowd saying goodbye, quite a few others. I really don’t know where to begin in describing the love and devotion felt for this buddy, so I’m not gonna even try. Instead, here are snippets from other memories shared at Wittenberg’s service:

From lone sibling and older sister Cindy Lieb came a wonderful eulogy offering glimpses of a childhood playmate who loved to camp, hunt and fish. Also loved going to the zoo, caring for pets, Boy Scouts and Indian Guides (I was one, too). Plus, from the sports world, as a young shoeshine boy, a hard-working lad once buffed the shoes of legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes. He had a mischievous streak too, Cindy shared. “He was supposed to be painting a wall but turned the brush on me and then dad’s car. We ended up painted head to toe.” Hey, we’re all human. Years later, the Family Life minister was painted head to toe in faith. Whitewashed.

Jennifer shared in their final days intimate spousal conversations sometimes would land on, “why?” But not for long. “Doug would have none of it and was determined to suffer with grace. He felt it was an important lesson for the kids.” It’s an important lesson for us, too. We all have sufferings. The question becomes, “How do we deal with them?” Doug showed us the way. The corny guy did not fear death and didn’t blame God. He did admit to being disappointed the journey ended prematurely. One buddy cracked, “We have a new lobbyist in heaven!”

Amen to that. Doug, thanks for your wonderful spirit. It will never be forgotten.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pep Talk: "No Mind Games"

What is the most vulnerable area of our lives? That question popped into your knucklehead scribe’s mind while listening to a buddy pour out emotions concerning a new job. For the first time in a long career, a Friday morning fellowship mate was in a commission sales job with no guarantee of income. “Man, I had two sure-fire deals fall apart at the last minute. I’m worried about making my numbers.”

The most vulnerable area of our lives? Might it be the six inches between our ears and a constant challenge: Putting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win?

A recent Pep Talk to the wonderful team at Solar USA was a chance to share a story addressing the power of not allowing fear to dash dreams and, instead, inviting courage to be the soul of dreams. Long ago, my now 20-year-old daughter was in second grade. I was driving the precious princess and two friends to their very first basketball practice. One of the other girls blurted out, “When’s our first game?” My daughter and the other passenger quickly responded, “Our first game? It’s tomorrow.” I’ll never forget observing through the rear-view mirror a look of horror on the questioner’s face while shrieking, “Tomorrow? I don’t even know how to play basketball!”

Then something magical happened as daughter and other friend responded to the freaked-out child: “That’s okay. When we have the ball, put it in the basket. When the other team has the ball, steal it from them. Our coaches will teach us the rest.” Priceless. That season the once-frightened second-grader proceeded to become the best player on the team. I love to remind audiences of that tale and the importance of proclaiming fear as foolish and calling its bluff. It’s critical to success in all areas of life.

We’ve long known the acronym of fear as “False Evidence Appearing Real.” I heard another the other day describing what Oxford American Dictionary defines as “as unsettling emotion caused by an expectation of pain.” In a random conversation somebody blurted out, “Fear is like a fictional movie drama playing out endlessly in our minds.” Amen to that.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of the future. What does it hold for us? Will the new job work out? The new relationship? New diet? New, whatever? I’m just a simple dude from Missouri dealing with my own stuff but this much I’ll go to the grave believing: Whatever we’re striving to attain? It ain’t gonna happen unless we let go of the past. We can’t move to the new without packing boxes on the past. Where is it time to grab a Sharpie, label the fear, box it up and ship it out?

We all long for purpose. To find work produced by faith, labor prompted by love and endurance inspired by hope. That terrific trio starts with the wellness of our mind. This week, allow no mind games. Focus on wonderment, not fear!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Pep Talk: "Masterpiece not Miscreant?"

Life is full of surprises. The latest happened recently on a trip to Colorado Springs. What was a journey of support for a beloved friend, turned into an art history lesson that transformed into a powerful life reminder.

With three other dudes your knucklehead scribe headed south from Denver in solidarity of another buddy on the comeback trail. For quite some time on his journey of attempted sobriety from addictions to self doubt, drugs and other less-than-productive habits and behaviors, the handsome young man had shared a vision. The Louisiana native wanted to have a “Ted Talk” type event where invited speakers would share thoughts about God. He had come up with the catchy title of “God Talk.”

I was honored to share thoughts about A Stronger Cord. More than three years ago, on a Thursday morning at the Denver Rescue Mission, I was leading a 30-minute devotional service where, as a volunteer, it’s my job to encourage men in the agency’s New Life Program to achieve goals and overcome challenges in reaching and sustaining peak performance. This particular day I was speaking about the value of fitness to recovery. David Danielson was sitting in the front row and forcefully bellowed, “When in the f#*k are we gonna start working out?” A community outreach wellness movement was born. Personally, it has become apparent that God was using David to speak to me, commanding: “McIntosh, we have too many isolated, vulnerable and displaced folks in our world. You’re 58-years-old, I’ve given you certain gifts and experiences. Go use them to engage and encourage the downtrodden.” I’m just trying to be obedient.

The other speaker knocked it out of the park. He has a background in art history and, like all of us, moments in life where self doubt has wounded the soul. At 16, he considered suicide. The absence of hope reached the point of writing a note saying goodbye. His mother found it, interceded and miraculously, the young man slowly but surely chose a different path. Now 51, the husband and father has faithfully transformed into a success as a teacher, trainer, speaker and author.

He shared the history of the statue of David in Florence, Italy. I have stood before the massive 17-foot masterpiece honoring the Biblical hero. Michelangelo finished his incredible work in the early 1500’s but the project began almost a century earlier. Many sculptors were hired but gave up in frustration, proclaiming the huge block of marble, which had languished outside in the elements, “useless.”

The message was clear and powerful. America in these tumultuous times has too many isolated, vulnerable and displaced folks. Some judge them as useless. The speaker shared this comment, “Michelangelo saw the angel in this weathered and neglected block of marble and set it free.”

This week, let’s invest time in the less fortunate. Chisel into their current weathered and hardened exteriors. God knows, we need more modern-day Michelangelo’s. Is that you? One who sees masterpiece not miscreant?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Pep Talk: "Don't Lose Faith"

Considering the craziness of our times, this question might seem trivial, but here goes: Do you believe in miracles? I do. Blame faith and experiences. For the latter there have been three recent examples reminding your knucklehead scribe that miracles exist. Here’s why.

Less than two months ago a beloved octogenarian was rushed to the hospital. It seems the feisty female’s lifestyle had finally taken its definitive toll. Severe breathing issues the most pressing of an assortment of health challenges associated with more than six decades of smoking, insufficient exercise and nutritional deficiencies. I’m referring to Patsy Sue Perry, my mom.

“Mark, you’re mom’s gonna have to be on oxygen 24/7 the rest of her life,” was doctors’ constant refrain in the early days of hospitalization and subsequent rehabilitation. It was almost a month for the two stops outside her normal residence. Well, the mother of four, grandma to eight and great granny for two dug deep into a reservoir of resolve and/or looked to a higher power before walking out into the free world with no oxygen canister in sight. Miracle? It merits consideration.

It gets better. Nobody loved a cigarette more than the self-proclaimed “Wyoming Farm Girl.” I would often joke with her, “Mom, you smoke like a chimney.” We’d laugh. After this recent medical scare, doctors STRONGLY encouraged her to stop. I didn’t think she would do it. It seemed a favorite activity. A way to socialize. I wish to have a dollar for each time I drove up for a visit and found her sitting around the smoke pit, wherever dwelling at the time, and keeping audience members on their toes with that sharp-as-a-tack personality. Ma, give up smoking? I had little faith. Shame on me. “Haven’t touched one since I went to the hospital,” she proclaims. Employees from a home health care company providing followup services marvel at mom’s progress. She quit cold turkey. Miraculous!

But the greatest miracle concerning “Sudi Puff” (recent nickname) is still evolving. Sure, with smoking cessation, more exercise and better eating habits, an 81-year-old woman is healthier. But the body has taken a beating. It’s obvious. She knows it. The doctors know it too. But here’s the cool part: The woman “Born on the same day as John Elway” (June 28) still has an active mind. The synapses still fire rapidly. She’s trying to finish well by transforming it.

“It’s time to stop emotionally berating myself and lashing out at others,” she mentioned recently. Who knows how much time is left. She’s okay with whatever and professes a desire to live the remaining chapters with a renewed spirit. An attitude that starts with love and ends with self control because, as she likes to report, “Against such things there is no law.”

Changes are unfolding in a woman’s mind, body and spirit. Who knows their duration but it sure has been fun to witness their manifestation. May you be blessed with some this week too. Don’t lose faith. Miracles. They happen!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pep Talk: "Our Snapshot Influence"

There are life snapshots forever burned into our memories. The occasions are good and bad: The birth of children, acceptance of a marriage proposal, horrible news of an illness diagnosis or receiving word a loved one has passed. These snapshots define our dash between birth and death.

For your knucklehead scribe there are many snapshots including long ago as a clueless 25-year-old lying on an apartment couch in a one-bedroom pad. It was winter, football season. I was living in Denver, hated my job and wondering, “What the hell am I going to do with my life?” You see, I had it all planned out from an early age. I was going to be a professional athlete. It was the one and only dream of a southpaw who grew up and prospered in football, basketball and baseball. Because of my size and talents, the best route to fulfilling the dream was through the latter. But an accidental poke in the eye during a high school basketball game led to a series of debilitating injuries.

As a 17-year-old high school senior labeled a “five-tool” baseball player (run, throw, field, hit and hit with power) life was good until a life-altering poke led to fainting, crashing to the floor, bashing my head, fracturing my skull, shattering bones in my middle ear, tearing up rotator cuff muscles in my throwing shoulder and losing hearing in my left ear. In seizure and bleeding from the ear, officials had to stop the game, summon an ambulance and rush an injured youth to the hospital. Athletic dreams were dashed from the crash.

Eight years after that defining snapshot, in December 1983, I lounged in a spartan Denver apartment on a Sunday afternoon. Lonely, depressed and wondering, what next? I was watching television and was moved by, at the time, KCNC-TV’s stellar main sports anchor Ron Zappolo. The magnetic talent was flawlessly executing a live shot from the Denver Broncos’ locker room after a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Baltimore Colts. It was quarterback John Elway’s rookie season. Broncos fans might remember, the Stanford star had told the Colts, “Don’t draft me because I don’t want to play for you.” A trade had been engineered to bring the rifle-armed #1 overall pick to Denver. This was the first of many legendary comebacks for the future Hall of Famer and franchise’s current general manager. 

Zappolo’s live report was an epiphany for a young man searching for purpose. It inspired a lost soul to return to school and earn a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and enter the television sportscasting world. A few years later, in 1988, KCNC-TV hired an eager sports guy whose primary responsibility was covering the CU Buffs football and basketball programs.

Ron Zappolo opened a door in my mind to possibility. His example infused hope in a dude who had little. This week, don’t underestimate your snapshot influence on others. It could change a life!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Pep Talk: "It Sounds Crazy"

Our nation has its 45th president but we’re not united. Far from it. Many respected pundits suggest this might be the most fractured our country has been since the Civil War. The day after President Trump took charge, led by America’s women, millions marched in protection of human rights, protest of the billionaire’s controversial victory and the potential of a better future.

How to build a stronger cord? Easy to talk about, far more difficult to figure out. It’s just one opinion, but many social policies designed to lessen suffering and encourage self reliance are ineffective. Whether we’re black, white or brown; live in a mission, mansion or on Main Street; profess belief in a higher power or not; have different sexual orientations, it doesn’t matter. America is too divided. We can do better.

Let’s start with a more concentrated effort to care for one another. For example, like Bessie’s Hope does for elderly folks residing in assisted-living facilities. So many are warehoused. Our aging loved ones are isolated, vulnerable and displaced. Recently A Stronger Cord joined Bessie’s Hope and had a blast singing, dancing and visiting with wonderful men and women who, sadly, rarely have visitors. One female resident came to life and was found to be standup-comedy hilarious. A male resident, 91 years young, while shooting the bull wondered, “Anybody got a joint?” LOL. Caring for others, holding their hands, rubbing their shoulders, hugging and exalting them. Listening. The room was electric with positive energy flowing everywhere.

“Thanks for the care you’re giving mom,” was a message your knucklehead scribe left for one of my mother’s caregivers in the Kansas City area. The 81-year-old is also isolated. God, how I wished this community outreach wellness movement had already expanded to my hometown. This feisty woman and others would benefit. Our elderly have much to offer but we have to engage them.

“We met in jail. I invited him,” said a grinning dude about a recent conversation with another resident at the Gray Bar motel. The invitation was to join the Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program. ASC works closely with guys in this program. It warmed my marrow to hear of a detained man caring for another and extending an offer to a life-changing opportunity. It was accepted and the guy is attending many ASC gatherings. 

Caring. Defined many ways, including, “To feel willing.”

And then there’s Doug Wittenberg, the amazing spiritual warrior bravely battling cancer but always thinking of others. The latest? The father of six videotaped an inspirational message his church showed at a recent service. A man in a life-and-death struggle with a nasty foe but still focused on encouraging others? Off the charts.

What’s the ol’ saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way?” Sure, we have many problems in this country. Trust me on this, folks, money alone will not solve them. We need to feel willing to care. Let’s get millions to march about that. I know it sounds crazy, but maybe such a spirit would make America great again.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pep Talk: "Winning More Important Games"

The Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons were kicking things off for the weekend’s NFL playoff games. Your knucklehead scribe was settling in for, hopefully, some good games.

But my mind was reflecting on a phone conversation just minutes before action commenced from Atlanta at the raucous Georgia Dome. I had been talking with a good buddy from The Rock Church in northeast Denver. A Stronger Cord loves working with faith-based organizations. Churches, mosques and synagogues, all reach out to the community with worship and works. Why not wellness? Invite folks to participate in community outreach while becoming more fit, connected and giving? Healthier.

TRC and ASC had teamed up earlier this day for a men’s breakfast gathering. The theme focused on men assuming a more responsible position in today’s world. To, ASC’s words, “Become more fitness-minded, dependable and productive dudes who seek a stronger cord to family, purpose and community.” Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Anyway, my feeble cranium was mulling over its list of guys who demonstrate the kind of character, resolve, strength and other important stuff that, well, make a man a man. In America today we’re paying a dear price for too many kids growing up without good male role models.

Like a former neighbor and devout A Stronger Cord participate. The devoted husband and father of two great kids is a lawyer who works in downtown Denver. Each Wednesday he faithfully shows up for ASC’s 4pm workout at Phoenix Multi Sport. When asked why, the friendly fellow offered, “A Stronger Cord connects me to people who have traveled a different road than I, and who face different challenges. We all gain from making these connections.” Amen. This man clearly understands another problem in Denver and America today: We have too many isolated, vulnerable and displaced adults. They live in missions, mansions and on Main Street. Alan Greenberg gets it and helps make a difference. Way to go.

With the pre-game hype still blaring, a long-time spiritual warrior bursts into brain. Folks who consistently read this weekly musing know Doug Wittenberg. He’s a fellow knucklehead from a Friday morning men’s fellowship group. I love this guy so much. His faith while caught in a cancer storm of epic proportions has been inspirational to observe and write about. Cancer’s still furious. With a throat and larynx ravaged by treatment, speaking is tough. Also, he’s very ill. Nevertheless, the Family Life ministry representative texts and emails buddies encouraging them to not take anything for granted and cherish time with family and friends. Amazing.

A passionate and smart environmental lawyer talks about the value of connecting with others who have traveled different paths. A marriage and family outreach dynamo talks about the value of spending more time with family and friends. Each describes the importance of engagement. To those we have little in common and those we have a lot. Engaging with others in healthy and productive fashion. For men and women? Rarely bad.

In fact, embracing such a philosophy helps us win games far more important than an NFC playoff battle.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Pep Talk: "Go Make Cookies"

It was billed as a celebration of life. Event organizers, in remembering Ruth Perry, gave the audience quite a show.

The Nebraska native’s roots sprouted in Wyoming but are burrowed deep in rural Baldwin City, Kansas, just south of Lawrence. She was being laid to rest. As your knucklehead scribe shared in last week’s blog, “An Unsinkable Spirit,” the mentor to many (including me) passed just a few weeks shy of 105. An incredible life.

Pastor Don Scott officiated. In describing Ruth’s childhood years on a Wyoming ranch near Devil’s Thumb, he wondered, “Who lives out here and what do they do?” Well, Ruth Hahn Perry began teaching school at 18 years old in a one-room schoolhouse. To and fro, she rode eight miles on horseback. Really.

My sister Debbie was greatly influenced by our step grandma and the Perry clan. It was cool to witness an older sibling deliver a terrific eulogy and declare afterward, “I didn’t realize how respected she was in the teaching community.” Yep. A career educator didn’t receive a bachelor’s degree until 50 but was a Hall of Fame influencer of children’s lives. A former principal and superior (Ruth taught sixth grade) told a hilarious story. Long ago, the mother of three and stepmom to two, refused to teach a district-mandated “Youth and Sexual Development” class. The principal was in a pinch. An outstanding faculty member was drawing a line in the sand. “We came up with a deal. I taught the class and she played principal. We did that for ten years.”

Grandkids saluted their “Mar Mar” and the influence the Scrabble-lover had on them and her children, their parents. We cried, laughed and applauded. A construction owner told the story of building Ruth her final home. “Many people thought, why in the world is a 96-year-old woman building a new home?” cracked the bespectacled fan. “Ruth would always say, Why not?” The loving testimonies went on an hour for a woman who defined her dash with an infectious zest for learning, loving and living.

Love was abundant. One disciple who spoke bore a striking resemblance to my darling wife. After the celebration officially ended, everybody spilled into the chapel foray. Little did I know, this woman had ended up right beside me. After ending greetings with someone else, I turned in her direction. From behind, she looked just like my beautiful bride. I was reaching to give the kind of embrace a man might offer an adored spouse at such a loving moment when it was realized, “That’s not my wife!” She wasn’t offended by the offense. We chuckled. The women’s boyfriend said, “You must have a good-looking wife.” I do.

The best line - there were many - came from Pastor Don. After hearing all the praise he offered: “Go make some cookies.” Ruth always made chocolate chips cookies for others. As a child, I ate a ton of them, the cookie dough too. Pastor Don was spot on with, “It was Ruth’s way of saying ‘I’m thinking of you.’” 

This week, figuratively, go make cookies. Trust me, it will wonderfully impact others and inspire them to speak highly of you in the future!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Pep Talk: "An Unsinkable Spirit"

“I’m bummed about next weekend,” was truth stated to fellow A Stronger Cord stalwarts. We’re excited to begin a partnership with Bessie’s Hope and love on the elderly. Too many are isolated in our land today.

Anyway, your knucklehead scribe and other ASC folks were talking about our first gathering with the wonderful non profit that has been loving on the elderly, and at-risk kids, for more than two decades. We’re jacked up to help. But, this old jock was gonna miss it while attending a celebration to the life of Ruth Perry. As we chatted, more than one said, “Tell us about Ruth.” I eagerly obliged.

Here’s what they heard about a wonderful mentor, born in 1912. The year the Titanic sank. The dynamo navigated sometimes turbulent waters with gusto till, a few weeks shy, of 105. Yep. She sailed long with distinguished service. I know for certain the school teacher inspired my love for words, writing and sports. I spent a lot of early childhood visiting the Charles (my grandpa on mom side) Perry family farm just outside of Baldwin City, Kansas. Home to Baker University, the Kansas rural community is about 15 miles south of bigger Lawrence and the well-known University of Kansas, its collegiate basketball prowess, fun vibe and decent county jail. The latter, a story for another time. She’d always called me, “Mark David.” We made tons of chocolate chip batter and cookies in her kitchen. I ate a lot of each.

Along with daughters (my aunts) Sally and MaryLou, we had many evening Scrabble games. Usually after catching “Lightning Bees” with uncle Charlie in the yard at sundown. During formative childhood years, I was lucky to marinate there. It positively impacted life. I know devotion to writing stuff like this weekly rambling was nurtured there. Through playing endless hours of Scrabble with loved ones, I fell in love with words and writing. Ruth, thanks.

Long ago during summers, Ruth, as an educator would travel the short distance north to KU for continuing-education classes. Sometimes with a young freckled-faced lad who loved sports. While busy learning, stepgrandmom (McIntosh kids called her “Aunt Ruth”) would drop a buck-toothed kid at the university’s football stadium. A southpaw would run, throw, catch and kick while visualizing touchdowns and pick sixes. Just a kid with blossoming athletic dreams fostered on the turf inside Memorial Stadium. Ruth, thanks again.

Facebook is great when it comes to connecting. There, a beloved fellow Mizzou School of Journalism graduate beautifully responded to something I had written about Ruth: “Sorry for your loss, Mark, but what a lovely tribute. How awesome that you can trace your love of words to her influence. That's a wonderful legacy.”

What kind of legacy are we gonna leave? Whether we sail past a century like Ruth or sink tomorrow? I think of this special spirit - still played Scrabble and Crib to the end! - and think of three things. She was amazing at learning, loving and living. Ruth, job well done. We would be wise to sail with a similar spirit. It’s unsinkable.

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