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!”
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