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Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Cheers To Buster

I was sitting at one end of the arena watching a Bronco hockey game two or three years ago when a tall skinny student came over and sat next to me.  He had been over in the student section but apparently he wanted to get a different view.  We started talking, first in general about the hockey game and then it got more personal.  Surprisingly he told me that he was one of the students that year who was Buster Bronco.  Buster is our school mascot.  He is a big brown horse with a huge head, giant tennis shoes, and attired in a bronco jersey.  The fact that the student moved to another seat made sense because when he is in Buster’s uniform he is constantly moving around.

Since 1988 Buster has been our official mascot.  Before Buster we had a tan horse with a holster and gun strapped around his waist.  His character must have been formed from the Quick Draw McGraw sheriff of the old west image.  One time in the mid eighties we were at a hockey game.  Before the game it is customary for players to skate around to warm up.  The old tan mascot skated around with them equipped with a hockey stick.  My eyes centered on the mascot as he took his stick and turned it around and was playfully pretending to shoot a rifle.  To everyone’s surprise he stumbled and lost his balance.  As he tried to recover from the violent movement, much like slamming on the car brakes, his head flew off and was sliding down the ice.  The beheaded mascot was left to scramble from his knee, catch up and grab his sliding head and strap it back on as quickly as possible.  The humor we saw at the time had to be a disaster for the student playing the mascot and the cheer team as the mascot’s secret identity was unexpectedly embarrassingly revealed.

I didn’t ask my new friend that night about any embarrassing moments he might have had while in the suit.  I also didn’t ask him the question that George Plimpton wondered about in his book “Paper Lion.”  That question was, Where does the Chicago Bear mascot change into his uniform?  Does he have a locker he goes to with the uniform hanging in including the head?  In Buster’s case it would be hard to imagine a locker wide enough to fit that massive head.  What I did ask was something I always wondered.  How well can you see in that uniform?  The answer was somewhat surprising.  I found out that Buster has two big openings from his nostrils and an opening around his mouth to see through.  Usually seeing is not that much of a problem although it was revealed that at sunny football games it can be very difficult.  If Buster is stumbling around at a sunny football game it may not be an act.

As I was sitting there asking this student questions about his other character, in the back of my mind I’m still sizing him up.  I could hardly believe that this was someone who acted out the magic of Buster.  Apparently that year and probably every year there are three or four individuals who play Buster at different games and events.  Not only is Buster at sporting events, he is also at many other events where his presence is needed throughout  the year.  One student could not possibly meet all of the obligations that Buster has.  In my mind there must be a secret vow to never disclose who is in the uniform.  I suppose even if you knew one of the performers you couldn’t be sure he was working that event.  When you see Buster you never see anything but Buster.  There is not a character shift depending on who is playing the part. Buster never talks in an audible voice.  If you talk to him he will shake his huge head, pat you on the back,  give you five or shake your hand with his huge paw.

Buster Magic
Buster Magic!

One time I was participating in a university golf event.  Our foursome team stopped at one of the tee’s and there was Buster to greet us.  Of course where Buster is there is usually a photographer close by.  Buster’s interaction with people brings smiles to faces and people always want to have their picture made with him!  As we were standing around before teeing off enjoying the refreshments provided I looked around as I heard the golf cart taking off.  Sure enough it was Buster with his big head just barely fitting under the roof driving away with our clubs!  I shouldn’t have been surprised because that is typical of Buster.  Always looking to make people laugh and enjoy themselves.

Buster bringing a smile!

Buster bringing a smile!

Although Buster is great with students and us older ones alike, his real specialty is relating to kids!  Many times when well meaning parents bring their kids to games the kids get bored.  Let’s face it, having a kid sit still for over a few minutes can be a chore.  That is where Buster helps the situation!  He has such a unique appearance they can’t keep their eyes off of him.  Buster is very rarely sitting still at a game so chances are the kids will get an up close view of him!  They may also get a high five or a hug!  They may receive a hand shake as their hand disappears in his huge paw!  Their startled looks turn to amazement and laughter as Buster interacts with them.  I’m sure that a big part of their game experience isn’t about the game at all.  With Buster in the house all is right with the world!

Seeing the enormous physical presence of Buster is very intimidating at first.  A friend of mine told a story about his young son and Buster that happened years ago.  Although his son loved Buster from a distance the physical appearance of Buster from up close would literally scare him out of his mind.  Getting within a hundred feet of Buster was so frightening that he would start crying uncontrollably.  Being the good parent that he was my friend had the solution.  He got permission to take his son down to Buster’s locker where his uniform was ready for use.  His idea was to show his son that there was a person inside of Buster that made Buster who he was.  By conveying that truth he thought he could solve the problem! They went down to the locker and my friend put the Buster head on.  Right away his son started crying uncontrollably.  He must have been experiencing his worst nightmare as it seemed the big horse had taken over his fathers body.  Finally dad had to take the head off and the crying stopped.  After several tries it was decided that the well meaning lesson was a complete failure as whenever he put the Buster head on tears would flow.

Although Buster’s mere size can be very scary and intimidating, most of the young kids that I have seen have conquered their initial fear of him.  They have found that although Buster is big he is also gentle.  They have learned that he loves them and they in turn learn to love him back!

I don’t remember if we won or lost the hockey game that night.  After the game I shook hands with a student who has brought joy to many!  Of course this was a normal handshake not to be confused with when my hand gets lost in the big paw of Buster.  It left me with kind of a strange and amazing feeling.  Here I sat through a whole period of a hockey game discussing what it was like to be Buster Bronco!

I understand why schools want to have a winning team.  Winning teams attract fans, sparks school spirit, lifts the recognition of the school, and makes all associated with it proud!  The cheer team wants to be a winning team too!  Doing their best to pick up the spirit of the fans and make them excited about their school and the game!  Buster is a big part of the cheer team!  Speaking of a cheer team there is no better example as to how Buster can cheer kids up as his past visits with team members to hospitals.  He brings joy to kids who really need their spirits lifted!

Thinking about Buster and what he does brings a smile to my face.  When I go to a game the first thing I invariably do is look for Buster.  Usually he is pretty easy to spot.  He is almost always in plain sight trying to bring a smile to our faces!  In the end the games are merely entertainment.  While we want the Broncos to win, winning or losing does not help or hurt our personal situations. The games are a diversion for us to not think about our problems for a couple of hours.  As time passes we might forget about who won or lost or who scored and who didn’t.  More vivid in our memory might be some antic that Buster did that made us laugh!

Buster on the dance floor!

Buster on the dance floor!

Many current and former students have played the role of Buster Bronco through the years.  Each one deserves a special cheer in our hearts.  To make the sacrifice that they made and make for our pleasure is very much appreciated!  I can’t conceive of going to a Bronco game without Busters presence.  It would be like eggs without bacon or chips without the dip.   For many kids he is the game and the actual game is the background noise.  I realize that Buster is not real.  I understand that he is just a character formed in someones imagination and brought to life by hard working students season after season.  Yet, I have seen the amazement, joy, smiles, laughter and love on the faces of kids and adults alike that he produces.  To me those happy, amazing, fun filled moments are about as real as it gets!

As real as it gets!

As real as it gets!

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Branded

Sometimes I think it”s funny how we fall in love with name brand products.  Comparing say the name brand Contact for colds with the generic head cold medicine we find they are exactly the same.  Yet there are many who will only buy the name brand.  There is something to be said about reputations and the power of advertising.  The name brand always costs more because in reality the company has to pay more in advertising fees to make us believe their product is better.  It doesn’t seem to matter what the truth is in advertising.  It is about if the companies can get their products out there in the public eye in a good way.  Can they make the public believe that their product is better whether it is or not?  Public opinion controls if the product and the company will be successful.  Putting a brand out in the market that people like will lead to sales and more sales.  At the same time if a brand falls out of favor it invariably will die.

When watching recent presidential elections I am struck by one thing.  Instead of the candidates making statements of their strong points that would be of benefit for the position,  they seem to use all of their energies cutting down the other candidate.  It gets to be more of a scare tactic that they are selling to the general public.  If they can brand that candidate in the public mind as a person who would be a “scary” president they have succeeded.

Chuck Connors in Branded

Chuck Connors in Branded

I think it was when I was eight or nine years old that a popular western was playing every week called Branded.  Maybe if you are old enough you will remember the show too.  It starred Chuck Connors as Jason McCord, a civil war officer who was accused of being a coward and running away from a massacre at Bitter Creek, where he was the lone survivor.   In the opening each week we see McCord stripped of all of his stripes.  The General actually rips them right off of his uniform.  Then he rips the buttons off McCord’s  uniform one by one.  Finally he breaks Mccord’s sword over his knee and throws half of it out through the gate.  McCord is left with a torn up uniform to walk out of the gate in disgrace.  As he leaves the gate is shut behind him and he picks up the half of the sword and examines it.  It’s almost like he is examining broken dreams and his broken reputation at the same time.  The song that is played tells us that the charges were not true.  The episodes are about McCord being a wanderer and using his engineering and army skills in many situations to help the people he comes into contact with.  His reputation always seemed to precede him as someone always recognizes him as the coward.  However heads are usually turned as McCord demonstrates courage that suggests that he was branded wrong.

Another show with the same theme of someone being branded wrong was “The Fugitive”.  The show was about Dr. Richard Kimble who was wrongly convicted of killing his wife.  He escapes and is running from the law while at the same time trying to find the real killer.  Along the way he comes in contact with many people he is able to help.  He has to stay one step ahead of the law as they are on a nationwide manhunt.  In their eyes he is just an escaped killer.  The similarities of Branded and The Fugitive are that both of the men were innocent.  Yet in the public eye they were guilty.Fugitive

I think the thing that caught my eye and made me remember “Branded”  through the years was the beginning.  It was so stunning watching that man week after week getting stripped of all of his dignity.  Week after week I watched the same scene as his stripes were ripped off and his buttons torn off one by one.  To a young kid it was alarming and I really couldn’t comprehend why they were doing such an unjust thing to someone.

Now as I am much older I realize that we all are branded one way or the other.  Whether it is true or not everyone has some kind of opinion of us.  We may be branded as a good person or a bad person.  We may be branded for things that happened in our past. However we are branded with the public, the brand  may in reality be totally untrue.  When someone comes to Christ they are changed.  The Bible says in II Corinthians 5:17 “If any man is in Christ he is a new creature, old things are passed away, behold all things have become new.”  Maybe you were branded years ago as a different person than you are today.  Maybe Christ has changed you and the old brand doesn’t fit anymore.  By seeing some of the same people who branded you there may be a change of opinion and a different brand applied!   The very fact that your old brand doesn’t fit anymore is the reason you can become a vibrant testimony for the Lord! Think about the apostle Paul and how when his life was changed people were amazed!  “Isn’t this the same guy who was killing the Christians in times past?”, they wondered.  With such an amazing turnaround questions are asked and the source of such a change can be revealed! I have found that the most dynamic testimonies of God’s love and grace are from people who were changed the most!  People that were going rapidly in the wrong direction until a sudden turn around.  People who were branded one way but now are being re-branded by their new actions and testimonies!

The thought occurred to me while thinking about this branded theme that Jesus Christ was branded too.  He was branded as God Almighty, a prophet, or a trouble maker who was a threat to the government.  These were the three major brands people saw in Christ.  Because the people in power believed the third opinion,  Christ was stripped of all of his dignity just like Jason McCord was.  McCord was left to walk away a disgraced man while Christ was beaten and killed.  Christ died for the very same people who killed him.  In both cases a man was charged for something he was innocent of.  Yet even as he was dying Christ was forgiving. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  As a kid I was shocked by the injustice of the opening segment of Branded every week.  As an adult I see a parallel of how Christ was stripped of his dignity because of the untrue brand that was given to him.  In the end the devil’s lie resulted in God’s compassion for all of us!

Click below to see the opening of Branded.  Because of it’s harshness it is in my mind all these years later!

Missing the School Bus

I shared a story earlier called “Lost and Alone” https://lightenload.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/lost-and-alone/where as an eight year old kid I missed the bus.  Obviously it was a frightening situation as I was so young and stranded.  Coincidentally a school bus was part of my life again the other morning but for a different reason.

I think it is routine for us to say “see you later” as we head out the door.  We say it so frequently it is almost out of habit.  We never really think about the fact that we cannot predict the future.  It was an ordinary morning as I scrambled out of the house and into my car.  I’m driving a different car these days as you may know if you have been reading along.  My 1991 Olds Cierra died a couple of months ago.  I’m now driving a 2002 Chrysler Concorde.  Compared to the Olds this is a modern high tech car!  Anyway as I was looking to make the merge onto Parkview which is the main road from my street I noticed that traffic was heavy. Having to make a left turn it took an extra long time.  Finally  there was an opening and I was able to get out.  My normal way to work is to take the back roads.  It’s a short cut that is a couple of minutes faster.  I noticed as I turned on to the back roads that they were slick.  I made sure I was extra careful navigating.  I take a left on a road named Wellington and follow that road all the way around to Broadway.   Wellington kind of winds around to Broadway which is a little busier but most of the time has very little traffic.  At the end of Wellington there is a short drop.  It is not a steep drop but just enough so you could take your foot off of the accelerator and coast down.  I was driving very carefully yet when I applied the brakes going down the small slope I went into a skid.  The only thing I could do was to try to pump the brakes which was ineffective.  Since I was coming up on the intersection I pushed the horn and kept it on.

My luck seemed to be getting worse as I went.  As I was skidding and pumping my brakes frantically a bus was heading down Broadway seemingly right into my path.  I started yelling at the bus as I was still pumping my brakes, “GO GO GO”.   I saw the big yellow bus that at that point seemed thirty feet long slowly moving in front of me like a slow train on a track.

"Go Go Go"

“Go Go Go!”

I don’t know if there were kids on the bus but if there were I wonder what they thought as they looked up the slope and saw and heard a car out of control with it’s horn sounding.  I wonder if their everyday routine turned to fear like mine did.  Maybe they were busy talking to their friend on the seat next to them and the sound seemed like normal everyday traffic.  Maybe they didn’t realize the danger they were in.  I have my doubts as to if the bus driver realized what was happening.  She seemed to be driving the same slow pace.  Her mind was probably on navigating the bus in less than ideal conditions.

As I reflect on the situation the only thing I could have done different that would have made my ride safer was to have taken a different route to work.  The main roads usually get the attention of the road workers far faster than the side roads.  The other reflection that I have is how fast things can change.  One minute I’m routinely going to work and the next minute I’m in the midst of a major accident.

If things were not bad enough another car was winding around Broadway maybe thirty yards behind the bus.  Winding around Broadway it is hard to see traffic from the side road until you are almost on it.  I wonder if they heard the sounds of my stressful horn?  Everything happened so fast and yet it all seemed to be in slow motion.

As I’m skidding down the slope yelling at the bus to go and my horn blaring the bus makes it past the intersection just as I entered it!  I missed the bus by maybe five feet!  The other person must have realized the danger I was in as they stopped their car!  It was fortunate that they were alert and that they were able to stop!  As you can imagine my heart was in my throat and I was still shaking as I told the story at work.

Looking back I think about what could have happened.  My car could have been seriously mangled.  Worse yet I could have been seriously hurt or killed.   Remember when I said that traffic was unusually heavy as I was getting onto the main street?  How different it might have been if I had been able to turn only a few seconds earlier.  Maybe I would have skidded directly in front of the bus.  Having a bus hit the side of my car with the force and weight a bus brings probably means the end of me in this life.  Isn’t it strange when you think about it?  Our lives are literally on a string.  Sometimes a few seconds either way makes a big difference.  Not only was my life effected but how about the lives of the people on that bus?  I can almost hear the driver telling an officer “I couldn’t do anything”.  “That car was out of control sliding down that slope and slid right out in front of me”.  Ironic about the two incidences involving me and buses so many years apart.  The first one saw me very sad because I had missed the bus, while this time I was very glad I did.  Although this experience is behind me it is now a part of me.  I don’t think I’ll be saying “see you later” so casually anymore.

Surrounded by Love

I was talking to a friend the other day and he was telling me he was going into 2013 with a new attitude.  The statement kind of caught me off guard as this is a person I always felt was confident and upbeat all of the time!  He told me he had been depressed lately which was another surprise since he never shows it in our conversations.  It reminds me that all of us get down sometimes.  It’s easy to feel down due to circumstances and situations.  The people who overcome don’t stay in that mental framework.  They find a way to start climbing out of that cellar that they find themselves in.  It’s so much easier when we are surrounded by love.  People who care about us and our circumstances.  People who will stick by us til the end!  People who believe in us and whose love goes through the tough times with us.

With Jerome Harrison we find a story of the will to live against incredible odds.  When I hear of a story like this I wonder “Why am I letting the little bump in the road happening in my life depress me?”

Jerome as a Lion

Jerome as a Lion

Jerome and his loving wife MichelleJerome and his loving wife Michelle

Jerome Harrison was a running back for the Detroit Lions.  He is originally one of our own as he went to high school at Kalamazoo Central.  He would play for the Cleveland Browns for five years where in 2009 he broke the single game rushing record with 286 yards!  The Browns eventually traded him to the Eagles and the next year the Eagles traded him to the Lions.  Maybe the Eagles had regrets about the trade as they agreed to terms with the Lions to get him back.  The trade couldn’t be finalized until physicals were taken.  Jerome was having his routine physical with the Eagles doctors when something unexpected was found.  He was told that he would need surgery.  It was supposed to be a simple surgery but complications occurred.  It was only through the grace of God and the surrounding love of his wife Michelle, who Jerome calls “Diamond”, and his family and friends that Jerome is still living.  This story brings out the fact as to how fragile life is.  One day Jerome is feeling good as it looks like he had a lot more football to play.  The next day he is in a battle for his life.  His story is an inspiration to all of us to keep fighting even when things look bleak.  Trust in God and if you are lucky enough to have people who love and care about you, use their love to instill the will to keep going as you start your journey out of the cellar!

click below and click on the youtube link for the inspiring story!

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