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!

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