Inspiration Report

One of my favorite parts about writing this blog is that it’s been like holding a mirror up to myself. I mean, how can I tell you not to worry if I worry all the time? It’s caused a lot of introspection in why I see, think and react the way I do. I consider this lovely experiment a chance for all of us to grow together.

Lately, I’ve been confronted with what some call my “inner critic”. I think all of us have one;  it’s just that some voice their opinions louder than others. It’s the thought that comes to your mind that reminds you of how you messed up today or how much weight that you’ve gained. It never lets your rest or enjoy a moment, but instead, it’s nagging you to get more and more accomplished. Mine loves to go a few rounds with the old technique of “not good enough”. Thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, blah, blah, blah. It’s the same old tired move. But yet, I still take my lumps, and some days, I even let it take me down.

I say, it’s time to fight back.

Letting your inner critic bully you is completely counter-productive. Have you ever gotten anything done faster or more efficiently when someone was nagging, berating and hovering over you? Of course not. Same goes for how you treat yourself. Beating yourself up over where you think you should be won’t get you there any faster. If anything, the negativity slows you down. It robs you of your peace and makes you far too self-conscious to be of use to anyone else.

When your brain wants to go on a rant on why you’re not measuring up, just say no. After all, you’re in control. It’s your life, and you were endowed by your Creator with everything you need to be everything necessary for this moment. No matter where you are or what you’re doing (or you’ve done), you’re enough. In fact, you’re pretty fantastic.

So, put your fists down and pick yourself up. With a cheerleader in your heart rather than a critic, you’ll be more inclined to believe (and celebrate) the truth of who you really are.


Today’s guest blogger is Sam Bracken, co-author of My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change (Crown Archetype; June 2012) with Echo Garrett, spokesperson for the Orange Duffel Bag Foundation, and general manager of new media for Franklin Covey.

When I was 13-years old, I collapsed during track practice after a drug binge with my older stepbrother. I grew up in a family that could be described as a whacked out version of The Brady Bunch on an episode of Cops in Las Vegas. Mobsters and motorcycle gang members were my role models. I’d started drinking and doing drugs at age 9. That day on the track I decided I didn’t want to be like the rest of my family. But I had no idea how to change.

An eighth grade teacher discovered I just needed glasses and got me out of special education classes. My stepfather hated religion, but I’d sometimes risk his wrath and the inevitable beatings that would occur if he discovered I’d attended a church service. Once in the locker room after football practice, my best friend Brent wept when he saw the bruises on my back. He was familiar with my home environment and the crazy things that happened on a daily basis.  I was searching, trying to figure out what a normal family looked like – especially a dad.

Then my stepdad was accused of molesting my younger sister. She was taken away by the state, and my folks split up. My mom suffered a mental breakdown and abandoned me when I was 15. Her parting shot was to tell me that the man I’d thought was my biological father wasn’t and that I was the product of a date rape. “I wish you’d never been born,” she screamed at me.

I ran in the desert for what seemed like hours until I collapsed in the dirt. I cried and tried to pray. A voice popped in my head: Call Brent. His family took me in. I noticed that they had a strange habit of gathering together at night. They called it dinner. They asked each other about the day’s events and prayed before the meal.

Over the next few years of high school, I couch-surfed at different friends’ houses. I kept my homelessness secret from my high school, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be allowed to play football or run track. I worked to support myself, studied and made all my practices. When my stepdad got cancer, I moved in with him and gave him most of my tips from my busboy job on the Strip. He was the only dad I’d ever known.

My senior year was momentous. My promised football scholarship at my dream school was given to someone else. My stepdad died. I got baptized after learning more and more about my heavenly Father. I graduated #11 out of 700 kids. And then a miracle happened: I earned a football scholarship to the Georgia Institute of Technology. When I left Las Vegas, everything I owned fit into an orange duffel bag I’d gotten at a football camp.

I arrived in Atlanta in February with no coat – just a t-shirt and pair of jeans. That first Sunday at church, I met Joan and Don Conkey, who invited me to brunch. “You’ve got a home with us, Sam,” Don said. I was amazed they loved me for no good reason.

My future looked bright. After my freshman year, Coach Bill Curry told me he thought I’d wind up achieving my dream of playing professional football. Then I hurt my shoulders in spring practice. I was told I’d never play football again. When I awakened from surgery, Joan and Coach Curry were at my bedside. “Son, your scholarship is safe,” he said. “I don’t care if you play football again. I just care about you.”

Alone in my hospital room later that night, I wept. I was starting to understand a father’s unconditional love. I went on to re-earn my starting position on the Georgia Tech team, and my senior year was a contributor to one of Tech’s teams with the best record in the school’s history.

Today, I’m married and a father to three sons and a daughter. Our children call the Conkeys their grandparents and Coach Curry has a place of honor in our family. The way I chose to give back to all the people who stepped up to serve as surrogate fathers and mothers to me was to tell my story in My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change. I was never adopted, but I learned to feel a father’s love through my mentors and my faith. Two years ago, I co-founded the Orange Duffel Bag Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, that does life plan coaching based on the transformational change process in the second half of the book. We work with at-risk kids ages 12-24, focusing on kids in foster care and those aging out of the system (age 18 in most states).

I know what a difference one person can make in the life of a teenager. I was that kid. Be that one to help just one.

(photo credit: Kevin Garrett)

My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change




I took this picture Tuesday evening as I was leaving work from the top of our garage at work. It over looks the Elizabeth River into the neighboring city of Portsmouth. I just like the view but when I looked at the picture later, I realized that I caught some beautiful light!


In March, I proudly started a series on people who go the extra mile to inspire and enrich the community around them. First, we met Shari Grimes and the work she does for the Hope House, then we met a few lovely young ladies at the Focus Institute who challenged each other to go without make-up for nearly a month. This month, meet Jordan Crawford and his wife Tiffany.

Jordan Crawford is hard to miss. At 6’7″, he towers over the students as he walks down the hallways of Granby High School in Norfolk, Virginia. He is a special ed teacher and track coach for this urban public school. In what some consider a challenging educational environment, Crawford stands out for his kindness and his belief that nobody gets left behind.

Considering that teaching wasn’t Jordan’s first choice (his degree is in Accounting), he’s been at the school for six years, developing a rapport with his students and his athletes. When asked why he’s stuck with it for so long, he answers, “I guess I’m just an underdog fan. Unfortunately, the special ed kids sometimes get brushed aside. I don’t know that I’m a great teacher, but I try to forge relationships with the kids. They know I’m there looking out for them.”

One of the reasons Jordan enjoys working with the youth is because he understands that in urban schools, positive male influences are in high demand. “A lot of the kids come from single-parent homes. Moms are working to make things happen and trying to keep their heads above water. So they’re involved, but not as influential as they’d like to be. Especially for the guys’ side, they’re lacking for quality role models. [They need] somebody who has honest conversations with them.”

His track team boasts 90 students, far larger than most; however, Jordan doesn’t believe in cutting kids. “It’s such a cool thing to belong,” he says. “I don’t care if it takes you a half an hour to run a mile. Get out there and be a part of it.

“You have the same thing in the special ed department,” he continues. “They’re going to get picked on and made fun of. I do whatever I can, even if it’s just me talking to them in the hallway because someone else thinks I’m a cool teacher. It’s the little stuff that makes that kid’s day. If I can play that part, I’m all for it.”

Jordan and his wife Tiffany have an open door policy at their home that’s just a few minutes from the school. Students and athletes in troubled situations have found the Crawford house to be a refuge during rough times. Tiffany adds, “We tell the kids if they’re not safe, they’re more than welcomed to come here.”

He has many stories of students that he’s offered help to, even when they are no longer in his care at school. For example, Jordan keeps up with former students whose lives took a wrong turn and they’ve wound up in jail. Of the success stories, Jordan and Tiffany have taken students to college preview weekends to give them a fighting chance at a better life.

“My role is bigger than teaching and track,” Jordan says. “[It’s about] making an impact on their next step and for them to see what a husband’s supposed to be, what a father’s supposed to be or just a contributing member of society.”

So, what drives the Crawfords to go above and beyond the call?

“It’s spreading Christ’s love and letting the kids see that,” Jordan says. “It’s real application. It’s not just, ‘Let me show you the Roman Road,’ and then walk away. The kids ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ It’s not about the money. We’re fine. You get to share Christ with the kids in a real way… in a way that they’re seeing it and not just hearing it. We’ve had kids comes to church with us. We have kids that are Christians on the team, and we have a lot of conversations about how that’s supposed to look.”

Tiffany adds, “We believe we’re called to a life of service. We’re here to love people and serve them, and that’s what we’ve chosen to do. We don’t believe in having a spiritual life and a secular life. It’s one life. You live your Christianity through that. We want to show our children that this is what it’s about.”

When asked what life lesson he carries with him through all of his teaching and coaching experiences, Jordan says readily, “Don’t give up on anybody. Don’t give up on any one kid because they don’t do well in class or don’t show up to practice. My goal in the classroom and on the track is: don’t let anyone fall through the cracks.”

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