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!

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