Sunday, December 24, 2017

Pep Talk: "The Key Is Curiosity"

With the holiday and flu season in full swing your knucklehead scribe was shuffling through the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. It was an attempt at exercise while battling a nasty bug drastically reducing my energy level.

While making two laps the ol’ cranium wandered to a holiday moment long ago. Beautiful daughter, 21 years old next month, had gathered many gift cards and was eager to cash in. However, there was a problem. This was during sportscasting days at CBS4 and it was a Denver Broncos’ Sunday afternoon. Duty called. I had to keep track of the Broncos. Hah, how silly of me.

“Daddy, let’s go to the mall today!” squealed the young lass about five or six at the time. “Sweetie, the Broncos play today. Dad has to watch the game.” It was a rather forceful denial. The blue-eyed princess won that battle. Off we went to shop. I’ve run three marathons, played multiple sports through the years but nothing is more painful than shopping. About two hours into the ordeal, with many gifts being acquired, I thought the journey was complete. Once again, shame on me.

“One more stop and we’re done,” commanded this precious and athletic soul. I staggered into the store, collapsed into a chair and complained to another father seemingly stuck in the same predicament. A short while later, Rachel returned and pronounced it was time to depart. With a mixture of elation and frustration we waited in line to finish the transaction. My mood shifted dramatically when I noticed the employee folding a shirt for my daughter. Across the front, in big and bold letters, it declared, “Daddy’s Little Girl.”

I share that story often when speaking to groups about the importance of keeping a curious and not callous attitude about life. Had this ol’ jock gotten his way, I would have missed a wonderful expression of love. Fast forward about 15 years later, that memory warmed my heart while making laps and trying to rid the body of aches and pains associated with the crud.

Keeping a curious and not callous attitude about life? Easier said than done. Often it requires just showing up and ya know, “Seeing what happens.” That was certainly the case recently when sitting in a  Jefferson (CO.) County courtroom for “Vet Court.” I have written before about this wonderful problem-solving program. A Stronger Cord is proud to serve veterans trying to comeback from brushes with addiction and incarceration while adjusting to life after active duty.

A man making progress in the program was speaking to the judge about goals for the coming week. What he said applies to all of us. “I am going to take the bull by the horns and, instead of counting the days, I’m going to make the days count!”

When least expected, life offers reminders to great lessons. From checkout lines to seats in a courtroom. The key is curiosity. This week, take the bull by the horns and make the days count. The results might be the greatest gift received this holiday season!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Pep Talk: "Brandon and the Buffs"

A dapperly dressed man was recently standing before a judge in the La Plata (CO.) County courthouse. It had been nine months since the same woman had ordered the father of two darling girls to the Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program. Considering the serious drug and weapon charges, it was that or jail. A once, self proclaimed, “Strung out meth addict”  had transformed into a healthy and handsome dude. Everybody, especially the judge took notice. “Brandon. Things sure have changed.”

Sitting in the back of the courtroom with the 29-year-old’s family and another A Stronger Cord volunteer (“Mama Knucklehead” Marie Coleman) it was tough to hold back tears. The journey is far from complete but early returns are promising. While basking in the warmth of the celebration of probation and no jail time, the ol’ cranium kept recalling the judge’s words, “Things have changed.”

It was 1989. Your knucklehead scribe was a sports “TV guy” for CBS4 in Denver, Colorado. A primary beat was covering the University of Colorado athletic program. In particular, the football team then led by Hall of Fame football coach Bill McCartney. The young Buffs were rising in national prominence and, undefeated, heading for Norman, Oklahoma for a battle with the scandal-ridden but talented Sooners under first-year coach Gary Gibbs.

The Buffaloes had not won in Norman since 1965. Many national media pundits believed this test against Oklahoma, especially on the road where CU had not won in 25 years, would be a bubble-busting game. Because CBS4 was “Home of the Buffs” at the time, this ol’ jock was blessed to travel on the team plane. I’ll take to the grave the memory of boarding a charter for that much anticipated trip into enemy territory. As the Buffs’ players, coaches and staff boarded, it was impossible to miss. Each was wearing a shirt making a big and bold statement: “THINGS HAVE CHANGED.” They certainly had. A day later, the Buffs on the way to a “One Heart Beat” season and national title game, whipped OU 20-3. It wasn’t that close.

Things change, always do. What’s the ol’ saying, “The only thing constant is change?” Well, if we believe that’s true, when life’s unwanted and unexpected experiences create chaos? Will things become better or worse? Students or victims of life’s crap? Our choice, choose wisely.

A once troubled young man is blossoming with a new spirit and moving swiftly through the Mission’s excellent program. The athletic Durango native is also becoming a leader within this band of ASC Knuckleheads trying to unite communities with wellness. Things have changed. Same with the Buffs that magical year. They believed.

What about us? We know, there are challenges present. We all have our stuff. Where is it time to believe things can change in admirable ways? Home? Work? Elsewhere? Maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with the locale. Instead, perhaps, it’s the spirit we’re bringing to the party?

Learning and benefitting from life’s journey. It’s worked for Brandon and the Buffs. Why not us?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Pep Talk: "Open Our Souls"

Suzanne Wolf’s a friend, educator and author. The empathetic soul recently posted something inspiring on Facebook. It was a quote from peace activist Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find ourselves is to lose ourselves in service to others.” Amen brother.

Folks, this is no great revelation but it’s what our country needs in large doses these days. It’s also an A Stronger Cord foundational principle in encouraging the downtrodden while uniting communities with wellness. Could it be? For those on the comeback trail from life’s derailing moments that, the quest to “find” oneself must include losing ourselves in service to others? Four years into this community wellness program, one thing has become crystal clear: those receiving lots of services need an equal opportunity to perform good works. Constantly receiving dampens a person’s sense of value while consistently giving operates in reverse. It confirms the truth of, “It’s better to give than receive.”

“Uncle Jordan is a big strong guy isn’t he?” this ol’ jock joked with a darling four-year-old boy living in a public housing community in Denver’s northeast Park Hill neighborhood. The handsome young man was riding on the shoulders of a great dude who recently graduated from the Denver Rescue Mission's "New Life Program" and is very active in ASC. Each Saturday, the non profit YEP (Youth Enrichment Program) serves kids living with little sense of normalcy.  A big problem is the lack of positive adult, especially male, role models. Guys like Jordan are positive influences and get a big boost emotionally because they’re serving others. We’re losing these kids to the gangs. We must give them another team to play on! Why not utilize men and women on the comeback trail from their own isolation, like guys in recovery programs? Marginalized and displaced kids and adults, joining others, and building a stronger cord to one another with relationship building and community service? It’s a blessing to observe and good for all.

Playing off that realization, why not connect displaced adults with our nation’s isolated seniors? It’s the driving force behind the Knuckleheads’ passionate support of Bessie’s Hope. For more than 20 years its been building bridges between generations while serving elderly residing in assisted-living facilities. 60% of our nation’s seniors living in such environments NEVER have visitors. Kids and adults from all walks of life spending time singing, dancing and visiting those in the twilight of their journey? Wow, it’s rewarding.

These are uncertain times for non profit and governmental agencies serving the less fortunate. Social programs are vulnerable amid the craziness. The numbers are growing and the dollars are shrinking. What to do? Why not heed the wise words of one of the world’s most respected figures?

Gandhi led India to independence from Great Britain. Before his 1948 death at the age of 78, the acclaimed “Father of a Nation” inspired freedom movements worldwide. The former lawyer encouraged anybody willing to listen to find themselves in service to others.

This week, let’s open our souls to those wise words.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Pep Talk: "The Next Right Thing"

“Your honor,” stated the military veteran in humble fashion, “I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”

The truthful comment came from a handsome young man enrolled in Jefferson County Colorado’s “Vet Court.” He was standing before a compassionate judge and explaining the good, bad and ugly of an attempted comeback from chronic issues plaguing his life since military discharge. America has lots of vets struggling with PTSD, depression, substance abuse and mental illness. 

A Stronger Cord is building relationships with soldiers who served our nation. My late father (Marine) and three uncles served. The Knuckleheads embrace the call to offer veterans a wellness movement encouraging exercise, relationship building and community service. The more fit, connected and giving vets become, the healthier, more willing and able they also become to building a stronger cord to families, purpose and communities. Everybody wins.

Anyway, as your scribe sat nearby with others dedicated to these warriors’ well being, the ol’ cranium wandered to a memory. “Mark!” bellowed a good-looking dude. “I really enjoyed your message, thanks for sharing.” The two of us were in a Denver parking lot. This ol’ jock had just delivered a Pep Talk at an early-morning men’s fellowship gathering. I was startled while walking toward my car and lost in thought. Suddenly a dude with a neatly-trimmed beard was front and center. “I’d like to share my life’s mission statement since getting sober long ago.” I enthusiastically nodded and muttered, “Lay it on me, buddy.”

What this well-tanned man offered has stuck like glue. Apparently, most attribute First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with its origin. Regardless, what this beautiful soul muttered was awesome: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow’s but a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Wow. Sure, we can deny it. However, truth is, all we have is RIGHT NOW. On this roller coaster somebody coined life, there are no guarantees. 

Back to the moment of being present in a Jefferson County courtroom, squirming, while quietly cheering on this veteran. After his comment to the judge, a long-ago charge, from a parking-lot stranger, reverberated the aging skeleton. Life is tough. Success is not a given. Odds of victory improve if we let go of the past, think about the future but focus on the present. Yep. Real simple to talk about, far harder to execute. For struggling veterans and us. The trials and tribulations often come from unexpected and unwanted origins. They are physical, emotional, spiritual or financial in nature. Whatever IT is, we must address it. One day at a time. As well as possible.

How? Well, before this uncertain veteran completed a ten-minute conversation with a supportive judge, another advocate muttered something quite wise. Peer mentor coordinator Joseph Ellis, a veteran in recovery himself, offered, “Focus on doing the next right thing.”

Amen, brother. Whattaya say we give it a shot this week? Right now is a gift. Unwrap it with gusto and focus on the next right thing!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Pep Talk: "Limit Lament"

The beautiful woman looked your scribe straight in the eyes. “I was born 97 years ago in Havana, Cuba, moved to New York City when I was about six and ventured to Colorado....God knows when.” We laughed heartily at the craziness of reaching almost a century of living and having memory issues. Sista, it happens to dudes four decades younger, too.

This fabulous conversation was toward the end of A Stronger Cord's visit with elderly residents at Forest Street Compassionate Center in Denver’s northeast Park Hill neighborhood. On the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, the Knuckleheads support Bessie's Hope and its service to our nation’s seniors living largely isolated lives. Sixty percent of our nation’s elderly residing away from home NEVER have visitors. This community wellness program, in partnering with nonprofits like Bessie’s Hope, is determined to reduce that dismal number. It’s unacceptable. America’s seniors deserve better.

As we continued the conversation, this vibrant nonagenarian learned of a story in that morning’s Denver Post. A fellow 97-year-old, Robert McAdam, had set a world record in his age group at the recent Highlands Ranch Turkey Day 5K. “Wow, that’s pretty cool. We are blessed.”

Admiration for this amazing soul and other residents who ventured from their rooms to sing, dance and visit was off the charts. The room was buzzing with similar conversations focused on humans with much to give but few opportunities, because of their isolation, to engage in the process.

For whatever reason, the ol’ cranium wandered back to something Father Greg Boyle, founder and leader of Home Boy Industries, had to say about life. It’s up and downs. The good, bad and ugly. The Los Angeles-based Jesuit priest is a mentor. He recently fired off an email that concluded with, “Lament can’t get a foothold if gratitude gets there first.” Amen, buddy.

Living 97 years like this fabulous new friend? The brown-eyed beauty has seen it all. From further conversation, it was learned she moved to Denver on a whim. “I can’t remember how long ago.” We laughed again before she turned serious, “I count my blessings everyday.”

Lament can’t get a foothold on this incredible woman who has no family in Denver. The 30 or so ASC volunteers present dubbed her “The Dancing Queen” upon her arrival in the Forest Street community room. “I heard all the commotion out here and wanted to join the party!” Carol proclaimed while, steadily handling a walker, prancing into the room. It was awesome.

Lament or gratitude? Which to choose? Lament’s defined as “To feel or express great sorrow or regret.” Meanwhile, gratitude’s definition is, “Feeling or showing one values a kindness or benefit received.”

Whether living to almost 100, or wherever we’re positioned chronologically on this roller coaster called life, many experiences force us into sorrow and regret. Stuff happens. The big question becomes, how long does lament linger? Be determined to not let it get a foothold. 

With time, allow gratitude to grow, limit lament and pray we never forget the value of such belief.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pep Talk: "Love Is The Root"

Your knucklehead scribe usually has several passengers on Friday mornings but not this time. “I feel like a father whose son has his own car and no longer wants a ride.” I was sharing these feelings with my octogenarian mother who usually enjoys, each Friday, a long-distance phone chat with guys on the comeback trail from addiction and incarceration. They’re active in A Stronger Cord and regulars for the weekly men’s faith-fortifying fellowship. Yours truly is their Uber driver.

Not anymore. One of the fellow Knucks is working full time, serving others and recently purchased a gently used car and wanted to show it off. All the usual passengers had blown me off to ride with their buddy. Mom was laughing hysterically.  “Now you know how I felt when you kids (three siblings) started maturing and no longer needed so much of my attention. It’s hard to let go.” A short time later, after checking out the clean Camry and kidding, “Nobody wanted to ride with the old man,” we truly learned a lesson about, faithfully, letting go.

Platoon had a special guest, Rod Davis. Raised on the tough streets of Oakland, California those experiences, others and natural gifts have sparked an amazing ministry. Straight from the TEARS (True Evangelism Always Requires Sacrifice) website: “In 1995, Roderick (Rod) Davis sold all he owned.  He went with his wife, Twila, and two toddler children and moved to the slums of the Dominican Republic and subjected themselves to the same conditions in which the Dominicans live, including poverty and sickness.  As they began to haul water each day, deal with infrequent electrical power, and wash clothes by hand, their suburban lifestyle in Portland seemed far away. This was the beginning of TEARS, a ministry to some of the poorest people in the Caribbean.”  

The family was constantly sick because of contaminated water used to drink, bathe, wash clothes and cook. The couple was also constantly questioning their decision. “Why would someone give up a comfortable life in the United States to live a life of poverty in a third-world country?  Although we were involved in Portland inner-city ministry,” Rod says, “We got the sense God was leading us to make a dramatic change.”

More than two decades later, the Davis’ perseverance has paid off handsomely. The barrio they call home has clean water and a school with more than 400 students. Many graduates earn college degrees and return as teachers. TEARS is now raising money to build a second school in the Caribbean nation. Rod’s mission is to “live with the marginalized, understand their plight and serve them better.” Awesome!

Listening, I was mesmerized about those seasons of life when we must let go, put fear aside and allow wonderment to win. It probably won’t be as radical as Rod’s, but where is it time to take a leap into the great unknown? A better question might be, “How?”

The engaging man has the answer: “Love is the root and sacrifice is the fruit.” Amen, dude!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Pep Talk: "Vessels Of Hope"

It was a real joy to recently host the third Denver Dream Center gala showcasing the loving and important work this community outreach church provides in underserved parts of the Mile High City.

Throughout a spectacular gathering (one social worker called it, “Life changing”) there were many videos and testimonies to the value DDC delivers in trying address Denver’s growing need for services to rescue people, rebuild lives and restore dreams. Good stuff.

During the event your knucklehead scribe had the pleasure to comment about the DDC’s “Sports” program. It offers a variety of sports camps for underserved kids and is an effort to use athletics as a magnet to spark dreams and unite communities. Sports. What an awesome equalizer and connector.

The guy running the blossoming program is Rodney White. The Pennsylvania native was the ninth-overall selection in the 2001 NBA Draft. The engaging man played briefly with Detroit, the team that drafted him, before joining the Denver Nuggets for a good stint, then Golden State for less than a season and finally, finishing his professional career with several seasons overseas. That was then and this is now.

Today the father of three has devoted his life in faithful service to others. The articulate man always talks about being a “vessel” of love, kindness and encouragement. Right on dude. Can you imagine? What would this world look like if we all focused on being vessels of love, kindness and encouragement to others? Holy smokes. Be still my heart.

It’s certainly the mission of A Stronger Cord through all its activities, especially Service Saturdays. Whether supporting the Denver Dream Center and its “Adopt A Block” program or Bessie's Hope and its wonderful efforts with elderly residing in assisted-living (60% NEVER have visitors), the Knuckleheads are devoted vessels. People from all walks of life, whether black, white or brown, living in a mission, mansion or on Main Street encouraging others to become more fit, connected and giving. All the while offering love, kindness and encouragement to our communities’ isolated, vulnerable and displaced citizens. Join us. The effort is fun and rewarding.

The mind wanders to a young man standing before a Jefferson County, (CO.) magistrate judge. He’s a U.S. military veteran, a participant in Jeffco’s "problem solving" courts (ASC is involved too) and, admittedly, has struggled since leaving active duty. The handsome young man is not alone. As he conversed with the judge, several volunteers from the Vietnam Veterans of America were present in the courtroom in support a fellow soldier. Older men in their late 60’s to early 70’s, with personal stories of dealing with war’s lousy aftermath, present in providing love, kindness and encouragement.

Each of us has a chance to be a vessel of hope. Look around. In all likelihood, you will not have to look far to see opportunities. Like many points White scored in his long pro basketball career before turning to ministry? Investing time, talents and treasures in others is a slam dunk. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Pep Talk: "We Believe In Us!"

“This much I know,” was stated to a young man on the comeback trail from addiction and incarceration. “I believe in you.” We had just completed, at least for a dude almost 60 years old, a rigorous hour of Denver Dream Center-sponsored three-on-three half court hoops.

The gifted athlete is doing well as he works two minimum-wage jobs while living in a Denver area halfway house. Work demands and transportation challenges have the 23-year-old awake nearly 20 hours a day. Not much time for sleep. While we cooled down, he talked about the effects. “I don’t have a lot of energy.”

That exhaustive statement is what sparked your knucklehead scribe to utter, what Hall of Fame coach Bill McCartney calls, “The four most powerful words in the English language.” For the tired and weary needing a healthy does of hope and confidence: “I believe in you.” This buddy needed an encouragement booster shot.

Having others supporting our efforts to become better? Wow. It’s powerful. Less than two days later proof to the power of “I believe in you” played out when around 30 folks showed up to watch another young man on the comeback trail. He’s become active in A Stronger Cord while participating in the Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program. The, also, athletically-gifted 29-year-old was returning to boxing after a prolonged absence. The Knuckleheads showed up in force to send a clear call to a promising young man. “We believe in you.”

Folks from all walks of life were gathered ringside to encourage Brandon Hughes. A powerfully visual “We believe in you!” demonstration. We all need support on this roller coaster journey with its unexpected twists, turns and loops of frustration, misfortune and unfairness. Caution. Do not ride alone.

Recently this ol’ jock was sitting in a Jefferson County, (CO.), courtroom for “Vet Court.” Full disclosure, I sit on the board of Court Support Jeffco. It’s a nonprofit supporting the county’s four “Problem-solving” courts. They’re designed to help veterans and others trying to bounce back from adversity. ASC is passionately involved in this space. One of the vets was standing before an inspiring judge who does a great job. The young and handsome vet, when questioned about goals and challenges, kept mentioning his need to “Amend relationships” with others effected by his past behavior.

Those words keep ringing in my ears. “Amend the relationship.” Quite often the first relationship in need of adjustment? The complex and sometimes confusing one with the one in the mirror. All the support and encouragement in the world will not matter if we can’t muster the ability to believe it ourselves. I know, when the physical, emotional, spiritual and financial crap is calling, far easier to talk about than to execute.

Amending relationships, believing in a brighter future and building a stronger cord with others trying to do the same. Heck, in these challenging times, maybe we could change the rallying cry from “I believe in you” to “We believe in us!”

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Pep Talk: "Trash Talking Buddy"

“I tried to kill myself when I was 16,” said the young man now barely of legal drinking age. He continued, “My dad’s first reaction? Too bad it didn’t work.” Wow. Are you kidding me?

Your knucklehead scribe’s heart ached in hearing, from a smart but vulnerable soul now in a Denver-area recovery program, the most powerful of many horrible childhood memories. This good dude is active in A Stronger Cord. A buddy. Personally, there’s a sobering statement used too often these days upon learning the tragic stories of those on the comeback trail from whatever ails. This ol’ jock mutters frequently, “I admire you’re still trying.”

This sports fanatic was helping me pick up trash on the Union Baptist Church campus in northeast Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. Each Monday night, ASC uses the basement gym sitting below a two-story school on the three-acre campus. In return, we keep the grounds clean. Two dudes were trash talking. One of the topics? America has too many marginalized and displaced folks. A major reason? The absence of nurturing families and mentors. We are products of our environments. If neglect, abuse and disdain dominate, the outcome should shock no one. It is rarely good. This bundle of human potential had been dealt a very bad hand. However, he’s making progress in becoming a student of the heinous experience and re-entering society with hope. 

“My counselor is amazed at my survival skills.” Amen, dude, I’ll certainly second that! As we continued the trash talk, my mind wandered to an earlier conversation about enduring life’s “thorns and thistles.” We all have them, although rarely as egregious. Regardless of the craziness defining our past, the question always becomes, “Are we going to learn from tribulations or allow a lousy past to constantly prick at the future?

What can we, as a society, do to encourage the growing number of folks who have had few, or no, guiding principles? Here comes the education received while earning a master’s degree in journalism from Mizzou: Keep it simple stupid.

What can we do? Spend time with those less fortunate. This Missouri native can’t resist: Show them a different way. In this super busy world in which we live, slow down and invest time in someone who deserves better. If struggling for ideas, please sample a free and inclusive wellness program emphasizing fitness, relationship building and community service in building a stronger cord to one another. For the past four years, ASC volunteers have been providing a sense of family that many lack in their valiant attempts to overcome terrible physical and emotional experiences. The Knuckleheads welcome you. We have a variety of fun, engaging and rewarding opportunities to serve others.

Just an ol’ fart’s opinion, but now would be a good time to heed King Solomon’s wise words muttered 3,000 years ago: “One will be overpowered, two can defend themselves but a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

Together, for others like a trash-talking buddy, let’s replace hopelessness with hope and cherish killing any notion we don’t care.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Pep Talk: "A Great Personal Gift"

Your scribe was hanging out with fellow knuckleheads the other day when somebody asked, “Anybody got a praise report?” My hand shot up immediately. “Darling wife and I just celebrated our three-year anniversary. Guys, it’s a perfect example. If at first you don’t succeed? Try....try....again!”

The dudes present are in the Denver Rescue Mission's "New Life Program." I love these guys and cherish time with them. Through A Stronger Cord, they have become brothers and know my marital history well. I certainly didn’t plan on being married three times; didn’t plan on making life challenging for two beautiful kids (one from each previous marriage) but holy smokes, what a blessing the journey has become. Why? It opened the door for an amazing woman (together 15 years now) to enter. Stealing lines from the Little River Band’s 1976 hit, this blessed man posted on Facebook to the beautiful, smart and generous heart-stealer, “Happy anniversary baby. I got you on my mind!”

Life. A roller coaster of unexpected twists and turns. Often, leaving us wondering, “What? Why? Me?” Let’s hope, it also begs another critical question: “How to move forward?” Which leads to an even more important consideration: How to become a student, not victim, of the experience and prevail against what, currently, ails  body, mind and/or spirit? 

On the comeback trail, what to do in achieving goals and overcoming challenges? Here’s an idea. It was sparked from, a few days after announcing our wedding anniversary, listening to Denver Dream Center's  CB Barthlow encourage men living in a Denver-area halfway house. The dynamic speaker presented three ideas that warmed my marrow. I hope, yours too.

First, the pastor implored incarcerated men nearing re-entry to society (ASC works with them too) to, “Know who you are!” Amen. All of us are uniquely created with God-given gifts and talents. At least that’s what I believe. For many, those gifts have been buried beneath unproductive “stuff.” Still, with a little digging, those talents, can be unearthed. The wise man continued, “If money, time and circumstances were not an issue, what would you do? What’s your purpose?” Be honest. That’s a tough one to answer truthfully. Whether living in a mission, mansion or on Main Street.

Then Barthlow mentioned something so powerful in a second point: “Who needs to shut up?” Brother, double amen! Negative self talk? Association with other negative contributors? We need boundaries for voices, ours and others, offering lousy words in detrimental tones. Negatoids. They’re quite damaging.

After discovering purpose and building boundaries, Barthlow’s third point implored using “Any healthy and productive means necessary” to achieve goals and overcome challenges. Sometimes, you gotta get creative and think outside the box. Right on man.

How about remembering this moment as an anniversary of new thought? Of living life with purpose, boundaries and creativity? That terrific trio is a cord of three strands not easily broken and could be a great personal gift to use daily, not just once a year.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pep Talk: "A Fire of Moo-mentous Proportions"

It was the usual Friday morning gathering of men trying to sharpen faith through fellowship, study and introspection when one of the dudes belted out, “Those are the moments that set things on fire.”

My mind immediately zipped to the tragic wild fires burning in California’s wine country and then jumped to a recent conversation that had stuck like glue. It was a chat centered around the origins of lighthouses. According to the storyteller, in ancient times long ago any voyage was fraught with danger and many, if not most, ended in shipwreck.

Ships crashing into rocks, debris everywhere and many lives lost. Ultimately, brave mariners came upon the idea to collect the shattered pieces, stack them in a tower-like formation and set it on fire to illuminate the coast for others ships seeking safe passage.

The storyteller, a Denver Dream Center staff member, was sharing this message to men currently living in a Mile High City halfway house. These are guys on the comeback trail and, soon, re-entering our communities. A Stronger Cord works closely with these men in encouraging them to use the wellness program to build a stronger cord to their families, purpose and communities. Also? The more fit, connected and giving they become? The better off all will be.

Anyway, the point of sharing the story about collecting broken pieces of ship wreckage, stacking them and setting them afire for future good works, was to encourage the men to look at their lives in similar fashion. It would be a good exercise for all of us. The past certainly has moments where it seems we crashed on the rocks. Illness. Divorce. Job loss, to name just three. Stuff happens. Debris is everywhere. It appears to be a total loss. Don’t let it be. Get busy collecting broken pieces, stacking and setting them ablaze for a better future! We must become students of life’s experiences, sift through the wreckage of obliterated plans and have the courage to put fear aside and allow wonderment to win. I know, simple not easy.

An example of that truth appeared recently as your knucklehead scribe was talking with a buddy who works as a Denver Rescue Mission chaplain. The energetic man was sharing the story of a woman gifted in spirit but nervous about speaking in front of others. What to do? How to overcome a fear of public speaking and pursue a calling to serve others in ministry?

Well, sometimes you just have to get real creative. The woman began speaking to a herd of cows on a nearby property! Who knows how much feedback was received from the feed lot friends but the practice did empower an aspiring pastor to rise above pubic speaking anxiety and become an accomplished orator from the pulpit.

This week, let’s be limited only by imagination, not fear, in creating productive choices to the challenges we face. It can spark a fire of moo-mentous proportions benefitting us and those around us: two-legged and beyond.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Pep Talk: "If Not Us, Who?"

Three times a week your knucklehead scribe attends devotions with guys in the Denver Rescue Mission's "New Life Program." It happens, except Sundays, each morning at 7:15. Roll call is taken, announcements made and then a presenter, usually a Mission employee/chaplain, delivers a short Biblical message designed to inspire dudes trying to comeback from homelessness, addictions or other challenges.

“The circumstances of our lives will do one of two things,” bellowed a veteran and respected chaplain with a personal story of successfully overcoming detrimental afflictions. “They will make us bitter or they will make us better.” Amen dude.

While marinating in that statement, the ol’ cranium immediately went to the Las Vegas tragedy and its senselessness. Really? Everyone has an opinion on how to lessen America’s seemingly endless string of mass shootings. Will the massacre of 58 and the wounding of hundreds innocently enjoying a concert energize our nation? Will we become better or bitter concerning gun control, ammunition limits and more effective mental health policies?

For the record, I’m a Second Amendment advocate but believe we can become better at developing more sensibility in the gun-control debate. However, just personal opinion, what America desperately needs to embrace in equal, if not greater amounts, is the importance for a new spirit as much as new legislation.

A recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll says only 24% of Americans feel the country is headed in the right direction. Mass shootings. Too many people on the streets. Growing income inequality. Failing educational policies. Decaying infrastructure. Our country has big-time issues. How can we unite in addressing them? Become better, not bitter?

Since starting A Stronger Cord four years ago the mantra of the community outreach program has always been, “Why can’t we unify communities with wellness?” Who doesn’t benefit from being more fit, connected and giving? It’s a free and easy (it does take time) pathway to better health, relationships and communities. Whether we’re black, white or brown; live in a mission, mansion or on Main Street, we need to spend more time together. It will make us healthier. Body, mind and spirit. Individually and collectively. 

Do we have the will? Some numbers make you wonder. For example, The Denver Foundation recently conducted a CLOSE TO HOME homelessness public awareness campaign in communities across the Denver seven-county metro area. Responders acknowledged far too many cannot meet basic needs. The report added Coloradans need to increase understanding, compassion and get more engaged to solve, or at least reduce, the growing problem. But here’s what jumped out, at least for me, from the study. Only 7% of those polled believe they have a major responsibility to play in helping to address homelessness. Wow. Really? If not us, who?

The great struggles of our time. Will they make us bitter or better? Investing more money, alone, will not solve our problems. We need to build a stronger cord to one another and tackle them together!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pep Talk: "We'll Be Rewarded Too!"

Eager to return home to Denver and darling wife, your knucklehead scribe was hustling through Kansas City’s airport. After dropping off a vehicle, while passing the Enterprise counter, three young male employees are observed. They appear bored. It’s Sunday morning and kinda slow. “Go Chiefs!” I snort while cruising past. The young men earnestly agreed. Then, this Mile High City resident couldn’t resist. “Go Broncos!” Their witty response? In a slow and firm tone, “Nooooooooo.”

A few moments later, while on the transit bus toward the terminal, thy cranium focuses on an email received earlier. It came from a spectacular young man known since his birth. Now a freshman at Santa Clara University the basketball junkie, as a walk on, was trying out for the college team. In talking with his mother (she’s a long-time friend and A Stronger Cord stalwart) the proud momma shared about the hoopster's tryout. “He left it on the floor, is proud of the effort and waiting to see what happens.” Scotty Wiese didn’t make the team. Bummer. However, in the referenced email, the incredibly gifted magician (yep, that too) optimistically wrote of the excitement in helping the program as a practice player. Leaving it on the line, proud of the effort and okay with the outcome? What a great spirit.

We’re getting closer to the terminal when the brain zips to Liz Kelly-Hansen. She was one of five folks recently inducted in the Raytown, MO., school district's Alumni Hall of Fame. I was lucky to be honored a few years ago. Anyway, the wonderful woman shared an acceptance story of a young toddler with aching feet. “They hurt so bad I learned to walk on my ankles. I thought my mom would take me to the doctor. Nope. She took me to dance classes.” A star was born. “It turned a weakness into a strength.”

After graduating from Raytown schools in 1969, the dynamo went west. “I chose Los Angeles because of the way the sun set on the Pacific.” She earned a spot with the dance ensemble, the Golddiggers. Soon after, comedian Dean Martin showcased them on his hit 1970‘s television show. Then, Martin’s buddy, Bob Hope adopted the Golddiggers and included them on USO shows in Vietnam to entertain the troops. Almost a half century later, the studio owner volunteers considerable time serving isolated and displaced Vietnam veterans. From achy feet to an achy heart for wounded warriors. A wonderful example to the value of leaving it on the floor and turning weakness into strength.

One more admiring thought blasted the brain before departing the bus. Its source? A beloved husband and wife, the Bullard's. Regardless of the challenge, this faithful duet always seems to respond by leaving it on the floor for others whether family, students or community. I sure hope they’re proud of their efforts. It’s Hall of Fame caliber too. Thanks for letting me crash in your basement.

Back to the point. For us? This week? Lay it on the line, be proud of the effort and turn weaknesses into strengths. We’ll be rewarded too!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Pep Talk: "When It Comes To Teamwork"

For long-suffering Rocky Mountain baseball fans, this year’s edition of the Colorado Rockies has been a blessing. With a week left in the regular season, a strong finish earns the Nolan Arenado-led squad its first post-season appearance in almost a decade. I wear my purple Rockies’ golf shirt often. Darling wife cracks, “When was the last time you washed that thing?” Haha.

Come on Rockies, hang on! Teamwork. The key to success wherever we roam. The venues certainly vary but the vision cannot. Whether it’s baseball, family, business, church, school, non-profit or whatever endeavor brings a group of individuals together, a belief in something more important than self is critical.

That was the conversation topic recently as your knucklehead scribe visited with dudes currently living in a Denver halfway house. Incarcerated men on the comeback trail and re-entering society. Like all of us, in need of a team around them for any chance of success. Self-reliance is important but, life is too difficult to navigate on our own.

Those were the wise words from King Solomon about 3,000 years ago. From what I understand, at the time of writing the Old Testament’s Ecclesiastes, Solomon was a grumpy old man venting about life, especially traveling through it. Times were barbaric then with lots of wild people and animals. Danger lurked everywhere. About roaming too far from home, Solomon offered in the fourth chapter, “One will be overpowered; two can defend themselves, but a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

Name your team. It might be an elderly-care facility like where my mom lives; a community outreach wellness movement like A Stronger Cord or any collection of humans offering a collective spirit for a common cause. When it works? The sense of accomplishment is magical. It was more than 40 years ago but it seems like yesterday. The Ray-South Cardinals won every regular season game and advanced to the Missouri state playoffs for the first time in school history. This ol’ jock was the southpaw quarterback of that selfless group. That season of football and life forever burrowed within us the power of believing in something bigger than self. One heartbeat.

A desire to surrender ourselves for the greater good? Does that exist? Sure. In these times, does America need more? Maybe. I must admit to having many halfway house buddies look at me kinda crazy-like when it was offered, “Practice random acts of kindness toward one another.” It’s not how most are wired. These days, sadly, it’s not how most of America is wired. We need to build a stronger cord to one another.

Time with the dudes ended with us bellowing in unison, “Good, better, best; never let it rest. Till our good is better and our better is our best!” That’s how, I hope, the Rockies’ season ends and your future goes. This week, when it comes to teamwork, let’s make our good better and our better our best!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pep Talk: "Be Somebody's Coincidence"

A dear friend grew up religiously roughed up. At nearly 60, that experience sours the Colorado native’s belief in a higher power. We have interesting conversations about what he considers “coincidences” versus what your scribe would call, “God things.” I look forward to our next debate and sharing the latest example that, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

Here goes. It was a Sunday. I was driving back from the mountains and looking forward to coordinating a moving crew for a beloved couple downsizing to a smaller place. I needed to make two stops to fetch three A Stronger Cord dudes. Also on the calendar, attending an early evening meeting for blood cancer research funding. The schedule was tight with no margin for unexpected detours.
First a whine, then a wobble and finally, the smell of burning rubber. My car’s right-rear tire had shredded. For a weekend day on Denver’s west side, traffic was busy on east-bound Sixth Avenue between Wadsworth and Sheridan. It took a while to steer the disabled vehicle from the far left-hand lane to the narrow and litter-strewn shoulder on the right side.

This was not in the plans. Changing a tire along the shoulder of a busy highway is a pain. Especially when unable to remove lug nuts from the blown tire. Greasy, sweaty and angry, after 45 minutes of trying, I gave up. What next? I called a buddy who owns a repair shop, Elder Auto. He was out of town visiting family but advised, “Call Dick's Towing. But considering it’s a Sunday, don’t expect them to get there too quickly.”

He was right, sorta. The dispatcher said, “It’s gonna be at least 90 minutes.” After a good round of cursing fate and making calls to secure someone else to transport the other movers, I settled in to wait for the tow truck. With the noon-time sun warming considerably, vehicles whizzed by at high speed, kicking up dust and grime. I slumped against the tall sound barrier separating a nearby neighborhood from the noisy arterial into the Mile High City from western suburbs. I was stuck and, seemingly, out of luck.

What to do? I had time to kill. I grabbed a Bible from the car. I’m a big fan of the 29th chapter of Jeremiah and, paraphrasing, “God having a plan for us; to prosper and not harm us; if we seek him wholeheartedly.” Here’s where it got interesting. Not two or three minutes into reading those passages, the loud blare of a horn startled me. The tow truck had arrived!

“I live right around the corner,” said driver Robert, when asked, “How’d you get here so fast?” The day had no more glitches. Thanks to the help of many, duties and responsibilities were kept. Was it luck? Or something else? This knucklehead would call it a “God Thing.” For anybody, even my skeptical buddy, it’s a good thing.

This week, let’s eagerly serve others and be somebody’s coincidence. The benefits are out of this world.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pep Talk: "Storm Surge of Compassion"

“Mother Nature is trying to wake us up,” stated a buddy as we departed a morning workout at Kinetics Fitness. It's hard to argue considering the hurricanes, fires and earthquakes dominating headlines and wreaking havoc around the globe.

Often we are helpless against powerful forces changing landscape, claiming lives and forever altering the status quo. Pondering this, the ol’ noggin marinates on pressing societal issues of our times. Unlike Mother Nature, things WE have some control over. Are we waking up?

Bessie's Hope is sure sounding an alarm about the growing number of isolated and neglected American seniors dwelling in assisted-living facilities. For more than two decades the Denver-based non profit has encouraged others to realize the importance of lovingly engaging and interacting with those unable to care for themselves. 60% of our nation’s assisted-living elderly NEVER have visitors. Each month, on the second and fourth Saturdays, A Stronger Cord's Knuckleheads volunteer. We listen, laugh, sing, dance and play games with wonderful seniors starving, not for food, but for attention. Bessie’s Hope is a powerful force changing the landscape.

The same for the Denver Dream Center. One of America’s big challenges in major metropolitan areas? The absence of a healthy family atmosphere for kids/moms living in public housing. Gangs and their destructive forces lure children into a culture providing a sense of identity, protection and financial reward. It’s a charade. The Denver Dream Center, with its “Adopt A Block” program pours love and attention toward the problem. On the first and third Saturdays of each month, ASC loves to support DDC’s infectious “Show up, smile and serve” spirit. We must wake up to the fact we’re losing too many kids to the gangs. We have to give them competition for the kids’ attention!

How can we, collectively, become a powerful force changing the societal landscape of too many marginalized and disconnected folks? How can we re-claim lives and forever alter the status quo? Just one man’s opinion but the answer lies, not in more money, but something more finite: Our time.

“The government needs help from the faith-based community in mentoring those in need,” was the clarion call at a recent meeting focused on lessening the impact of too many isolated, vulnerable and displaced humans in our midst. The smart woman is correct. It’s interesting to watch the generosity offered in relief of natural disasters. Houston Texans’ standout defensive lineman J.J. Watt has personally led a charge of raising millions of dollars for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. Awesome stuff.

How can we wake up American communities, regardless of race, religion or socio-economic status, to the importance of building a stronger cord to one another and offering relief from our societal disasters? How to create a storm surge of compassion? To become a powerful force forever altering the landscape through, Denver Dream Center words, “Rescuing people, rebuilding lives and restoring dreams?”

Money is not the answer. We are. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Pep Talk: "Three Options"

Those following these weekly ramblings with regularity know your knucklehead scribe is immersed to the eyeballs in an outreach program trying to unite communities with wellness.

A Stronger Cord enters its fourth year trying to accomplish that important task. I know because Facebook keeps reminding me of moments from “three years ago.” A good argument could be made, given the nation’s tumultuous state, we urgently need fresh ideas concerning building a stronger cord to one another. Why not wellness? Why not encourage others to embrace the value, individually and collectively, in becoming more fit, connected and giving? Healthier in body, mind and spirt? Win. Win. Win.

It’s a simple concept. It just ain’t easy.

Without question, the societal issues are complex. Could it be that progress in successfully addressing challenges of, to name only three, racial strife, dysfunctional families and an addiction epidemic, might have simple solutions? Maybe three options are embracing a spirit of fitness, relationship building and community service? Keep it simple stupid. Three decades after earning a master’s degree in journalism from the best darn J-school ever, Mizzou, it has stuck like glue. Too often, we overcomplicate matters.

Denver Dream Center and Bessie's Hope sure keep it simple. It’s why ASC’s Knuckleheads, through “Service Saturdays,” love working with each. We keep it real simple. Denver, all of America, has too many marginalized and disconnected kids, moms and elders. I’m a big fan of a Jewish carpenter who encouraged us to “Care for the orphans, widows and strangers.” Well, just one dude’s opinion, but the kids and moms living in public housing and the elderly dwelling in assisted living are the modern-day orphans, widows and strangers.

As a society, we need to care for them. We’re losing too many beautiful and talented kids to the gangs. We need to give the gangs competition for kids’ attention! Our nation’s elderly? My goodness, far too many rarely have visitors.

Denver Dream Center with its “Show up, smile and serve” spirit simplifies engaging the marginalized living in Denver’s public-housing communities. Volunteers have a blast playing games with the kids and assisting moms however possible. Show up, smile and serve. Simple, loving and effective.

Inspired, more than 20 years ago, by visiting her grandmother housed in a west-Texas assisted living facility, an amazing woman founded Bessie’s Hope. Linda Holloway saw the lack of a loving touch. The professional singer/musician recruited a dear friend and they started entertaining Holloway’s grandma and others. Bingo. A wonderful nonprofit was born in simplicity: Engage the elderly by saying hi, stating our names, asking theirs and giving a sincere compliment. Then converse, dance a little jig and sing. Have fun. It’s magical and good for the giver as much as the receiver.

Folks, this week let’s keep it simple. Say hi, introduce yourself and give a compliment. If that doesn’t enthuse you? Show up, smile and serve. Or commit to becoming more fit, connected and giving.

Three options wonderfully benefiting you, us and others. A cord of three strands not easily broken!

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