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!
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