She Lost Her Ring, And The Most Beutiful Thing Happened…

The other night My good friend Derald and I decided to sneak out for a beer and a couple rib tips at Mission Pizza. Saturday is the best evening to go because the place is filled with warm music being enjoyed by warm people. I like the way Phil (owner) keeps the volume of the bluegrass bands low enough that people can actually hear each other talk as they enjoy the sweet sounds moving off the strings on stage. When we arrived, I immediately saw my friend Mr. Durbin who happened to grow up in Sunfish Kentucky, just an hour or so from the “holler” that my family is from. Several months ago, I approached Mr. Durbin to thank him for sharing his musical gift with us and we got to talking. The rest is history, I’m 34 and he’s like 80, but we’re friends. Seeing him this particular night was fortunate because I had a vhs tape he lent me so I could watch it with Rebecca. As it turns out, we don’t have a vhs player anymore so I needed to get it back to him. It was a documentary done by Diane Sawyer about the people of Eastern Kentucky. I watched it with him at his house one day and he insisted I share it with Rebecca…he really is a beautiful man.

Anyhow, Derald and I were doing our usual thing, discussing business and talking about life when all of the sudden, a hand reaches in between us and picks up a diamond ring that was sitting next to our rib tips. I looked up puzzled and found a very stressed looking woman sliding the ring back on her finger but continuing to stare a hole in our left overs. I asked her what happened and she calmly explained that she was massaging her hand and her rings popped off and flew in our direction. It was her wedding band that she found quickly but the engagement band was nowhere in sight. Turns out her husband was one of the guitar players in the band and they’ve been married for over 50 years. Derald and I joined her the search, moving our chairs  out and crouching down to get a better look at the ground in the dim lighting. Before long the four or five other people at our long table were up and searching all the while encouraging the woman to stay calm and assuring her everything would be ok. The good will began taking flight and within a minute or two, the tables around us were up and on mission with us to find this precious ring. It was at this point I began noticing what was happening. The tables started getting moved out of the area and some woman started running a fork through our rib tips. Every person (about 50) in the place was now determined to find the ring. Suddenly, the house lights come on and the music stops and the staff as well as the band join the hunt. Although the scene was chaotic and stressful, in a much more important way, it was romantic and American, in a Mark Twain sort of way. People began chatting with each other and anonymity was nowhere to be found. “This one time I lost my…” stories were breaking out among clusters of strangers as they shuffled around their areas, hoping beyond hope that they would spot the lost ring.

“I FOUND IT!!!” cried a woman just behind us as she lifted the shiny ring in the air. It had flown into her purse.

Within seconds, the lights were turned down low and the band resumed playing an old Doc Watson tune as if they’d never stopped.

I approached the woman who was just reunited with her ring and gave her a big squeeze, while quietly telling her what a remarkable job she did of maintaining composure, confessing that I surely would have been freaking out. She breathed deep looked up at me and wiped her watery eyes as she explained that she just doesn’t know what she would have done had the ring not turned up.

What a remarkable testament to the fact that people have an intrinsic desire to help, love and know one another. It teaches me that we are all really just waiting for a reason to love the people around us, and it doesn’t even need to be life or death but simply human and authentic. We’ve all lost something, so adopting this sweet ladies burden proved to be natural to everyone in the room.

Derald and I were fortunate to have met a couple about our age during the hunt and we all hit it off immediately. Something about the situation enabled us to loosen up and actually share with and hear from and learn about one another. The four of us closed the place down and our conversation continued out into the parking lot. It was pleasure to have met them and we look forward to breaking bread with them again soon.

NOTE ABOUT THE PIZZA: Growing up in Chicagoland demands that I react dramatically to any pie not loaded with pure deliciousness and then cut up into squares. Good bad or indifferent, I love this heavy, doughy, expensive pizza as much as I love a Rosati’s special well done with extra sauce. It really is remarkable food. The sauce is so acidic it hurts your tongue, yet it’s still sweet enough to keep you eating till your belly hurts and sweat starts to bead on the temples. The mozzarella is mixed with about 20% Monterrey Jack, creating an actual cheese flavor rather than purely the smooth texture delivered by straight Mozzarella.

NOTE ABOUT THE BEER: Phil (owner) is a true beer aficionado. His 32 taps pour nothing but fine craft beer. There are no domestic lagers, no ciders, no Miller, Bud, Coors, PBR, no absolutely NO NON DELICIOUS BEER. Half of the taps are dedicated to California brewed IPA’s and the rest is a tasteful compilation of imports and other beers of various styles from CA and also neighboring states. Most pubs have handles all over the place and the temperature of the beer in your hand depends on which refrigeration unit it came from. Phil has all 32 handles in a single line on a wall, and on the other side of the wall is a walk in cooler that brings each brew to near freezing at all times. All beer is in frosted pint glasses.

BTW: Doc Watson passed away on Tuesday…RIP

Doc Watson, the blind Grammy-award winning folk musician whose music was embraced by generations and whose lightning-fast style of flatpicking influenced guitarists around the world, died Tuesday at a North Carolina hospital, according to a hospital spokeswoman and his manager.

He was 89.

Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where he was hospitalized recently after falling at his home in Deep Gap, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

He underwent abdominal surgery while in the hospital and had been in critical condition for several days. 

Gone: Doc Watson, the blind Grammy-award winning folk musician, died Tuesday at a North Carolina hospitalGone: Doc Watson, the blind Grammy-award winning folk musician, died Tuesday at a North Carolina hospital

Arthel ‘Doc’ Watson’s mastery of flatpicking helped make the case for the guitar as a lead instrument in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was often considered a backup for the mandolin, fiddle or banjo.

His fast playing could intimidate other musicians, even his own grandson, who performed with him.

Richard Watson said in a 2000 interview with The Associated Press that his grandfather’s playing had a humbling effect on other musicians. The ever-humble Doc Watson found it hard to believe. 

‘Everybody that’s picked with you says you intimidate them, and that includes some of the best,’ Richard Watson told him.
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NOLA misses you, and so does everyone else Keith Mason…

Rebecca is away at a women’s retreat this weekend and it had me thinking about the time she went to New Orleans with about 60 students and volunteers to help out with the rebuilding effort that was still going on 4 years after Katrina. It was just me and Eli for a week and he was less than a year old…good times.


That thought moved into a daydream about the trips to NOLA and the people we met… and that caused me to try and facebook my friend Keith Mason.


As it turns out, Keith has been one of the most influential people in my life.


There were 15 or so Campus Life volunteers (that happened to be best friends) and about 50 kids that we broke out of suburbia for spring break each year, in an effort to help the hurting in NOLA and ultimately point students towards Jesus Christ. We did this for four years starting just after the storm.


My team of students, along with my good friend Tracy Weirda piled into an 11 passenger van and headed towards 4828 Nottingham Drive. At this point the students were mostly still consumed by the reality that they were together and a million miles from home without their parents and cell phones. Their chatter created a loud blurry noise that haunts me still. As we approached the 4800 block, I noticed a house a ways off, that had helium balloons hovering over the mail box. As we came closer, I realized that it was the house to which we were assigned… Just as we came upon the front of the house, a man trotted out into the middle of the street and began waving his arms like he had been waiting for us for a year. He literally walked right out in front of the van and and caused me to hit the brakes sort of hard. I put it in park and got out to greet him. He came up to me and wrapped his arms around me and squeezed like I was the Scottish guy in Braveheart ready to take on the British with him. The kids poured out and Keith started hollering and greeting and hugging, but ultimately assembling us in a circle so he could speak….”It blesses my soul…FOR REAL, FOR REAL to see you children today. This is my house and the LORD HIMSELF has delivered you folks…to deliver me!” He then took time to chit chat with students and begin learning names, then he bellowed…”Ok friends, let’s before we get going, take a moment to call on God and ask his blessing on our time together.” Keith asked us to form a circle and join hands, and then launched into one of the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever heard uttered. “AMEN” he says, and I look around at all these kids who mostly don’t have a relationship with the God we had just prayed to. To my surprise, they were riveted by Keith and his passion for his Jesus.


We went to work, and the kids worked twice as hard as I expected, and they were twice as nice to each other. At lunch time, Keith appeared out of thin air with 2 po boys totaling 10 feet in length. One was filled with fried oysters and the other shrimp. These ingredients are like Italian Beef in Chicago to the people of NOLA. I felt bad as he set them down on the table and all the kids just sort of stood there staring at them trying to think of how they might figure a way to be polite without touching these wretched sandwiches. Keith wasn’t having any of it. 1st he circled us us and did a 10 minute mini sermon talking about Gods goodness and saving grace, then he lead a prayer of thanksgiving. After that, he began tearing 10 inch lengths of po boy and handing them to each and every kid. They all accepted and then he spent the lunch hour hounding them to eat the sandwich as he asked them questions about their lives and shared stories with them.


For the next few days, it was much of the same, Keith was on the job site and praising God, and stirring the hearts of students. Every time I turned around, it seemed that he had a kid off to the side, sharing important things with them having to do with the good news of Christ.


Each evening, we would retreat to the church we were staying at and gather as a large group for dinner, games, a “talk”, and discussion time. On day four, the kids on my team couldn’t help but begin sharing the things that Keith had been sharing with them throughout the week while we were in small group. Each and every one of them was trying to reconcile the notion they had about what a “Christian” looked like, with the one they had been connecting with all week in Keith. They couldn’t believe his passion for Jesus in light of the seeming devastation that had taken place in his life resulting from Katrina. On this particular night, all the kids were emotional as they shared how meeting Keith had changed them, and their perception of Jesus…and his people. Just as things are at a plateau and kids are just waiting for someone to ask them if they would like to choose this day to put God 1st, THE DOORS OF THE SANCTUARY SWING OPEN AND KEITH WALKS IN SMILING EAR TO EAR. The kids rose and ran over to him and started huggin him and telling him how great it has been to get to know him. He immediately senses what’s happening and plops is 330 pound butt down on the ground and circled the kids up. He shared and heard…and then prayed with and for the group, then he left. What he left behind though, was a group of kids that were officially wrecked by the reality of the Gospel. I can speak from experience that it’s not rocket science to get a bunch of students worked up at an emotional level, only to see them behave as if it never happened just hours later. This was different than that. I know these kids today, they are all moving through or have completed college by now and they were all changed for life that week. These men and women, are living lives in light of Jesus Christ and his beautiful Gospel. There is a pastor, a missionary and a brilliant creative among this small group of students that include Keith in their testimony.


I stayed in touch with Keith for years, the way old friends do…from time to time.


Two years after we had all last seen him, I reached out to see if he would consider flying out to Chicago to share with the people that support Campus Life about the blessing the kids were to him and also about the truth that he shared with them. He accepted and Rebecca and I along with our friends kicked in and paid for his flight and he stayed at our home while he was in town. We had just gotten a Wii when he visited, and He and Rebecca and I stayed up late playing Wii tennis. I remember the belly laughing as we “designed” our characters. My sons play the game now and every time I see the “Keith” character pop up on the screen I think of him and his impact. Keith came to the annual Campus Life banquet and did what he does…and it was simply beautiful.


When I went to Facebook today to try and find Keith I had no luck, so I Googled him…and found his obituary

Keith Joseph Mason

MASON Keith Joseph Mason entered into rest on Saturday, September 18, 2010. Son of the late Rev. Harold D. Mason, Sr. and Mrs. Malinda Hall Mason. Devoted father of Kristian Deshae Mason and Devoted friend of DeShannon Quiett. Brother of the late Mary Dianne Mason and Harold D. Mason Jr. Uncle of Harold D. Mason III and nephew of Mrs. Daisy Mason and Mrs. Geraldine Mason of Los Angeles, Ca. and Ms. Gloria Hall and Mrs. Dorothy Butler of Baton Rouge, La. Also survived by a host of cousins and his church families at Franklin Avenue B.C. and First Baptist Church New Orleans. Relatives and friends are invited to attend the visitation on Saturday, October 2, 2010 at First Baptist Church of New Orleans, 5290 Canal Blvd., from 9:00 a. m. until 11:00 a.m. Followed by a Funeral Service at 11:00 a.m. Interment will be in Port Hudson National Cemetery, Port Hudson, La. on Monday October 4, 2010.

At first, I wept because he was gone…now I weep because this obituary doesn’t tell the story. Keith impacted soo many people in his short life that an amphitheater wouldn’t have held them, and his death delivers nothing more than a succession list and service info.

“Keith, here is your amended obituary my dear brother.”

Keith Joseph Mason

MASON Keith Joseph Mason entered into rest on Saturday, September 18, 2010. Son of the late Rev. Harold D. Mason, Sr. and Mrs. Malinda Hall Mason. Devoted father of Kristian Deshae Mason and Devoted friend of DeShannon Quiett. Brother of the late Mary Dianne Mason and Harold D. Mason Jr.

Mr. Mason had a full understanding of the reality that all things good come from God, moreover he made it the very mission of his life to help the people around him understand this wonderful truth. Keith found his true calling the day after Hurricane Katrina. He woke up that morning, knowing he was born to encourage those called to rebuilding his beloved city. He worked tirelessly to make sure the thousands of volunteers knew that the people of NOLA were thankful for their efforts. He also made sure to articulate the source of his Joy…Jesus Christ. Loving Christ, Loving Others, and Living Life on Purpose represent the cornerstones of this beautiful man’s legacy. May we all engage with, and learn from your passion and your pursuit of God.

IMPORTANT: Please share this post on your fb wall if you are a campus lifer so we can make sure to get the word out to all students that may have known Keith. In fact, please share it anyhow because his life mattered…

ALSO: Please share comments and stories so I can send them to Keith’s friends and family to encourage them regarding his impact far and wide.

I miss you my dear brother…



Newest Recipe: Corned Beef & Cabbage Pot Pie (St. Paddy’s Delight)

We’ve been living in the Bay Area again for about 15 months now. Many things are are moving into place nicely, but there are things, little things that trigger a hunger for “Sweet Home Chicago”. St. Patrick’s Day, for whatever reason is one of those triggers. I think it’s because Chicago straightforwardly rules the universe in celebrating this holiday. Corned Beef flies off the shelf faster than a snow blower in a blizzard for the next couple weeks and people gather to eat, drink and be merry like no other place on earth. One would think Ireland would rival the festivities but I went and checked for myself back in 2002 with my brother Truman and good friend Tedro. We got to the bar in Dublin early to be sure we got a seat…there were plenty of seats. We waited excitedly for some Irish music and limerick recital…none found. Eventually, a couple guys with guitars approached the stage and got ready to play. 1st song….”SWEET HOME ALABAMA”. 2nd song…..”BYE BYE MISS AMERICAN PIE”. I’m just sayin, Chicago OWNS St. Patrick’s Day.

All that said, my coping mechanism (of coarse) was to elevate corned beef and cabbage to a higher place on the culinary scale for my Nor Cal friends. Rebecca and I get together on Sunday afternoons with about a dozen other adults and their kids at our house for a pot luck style dinner and then a time of discussion surrounding the idea of living life on purpose in light of Jesus Christ. I’ve been thinking a lot about savory pies, so when St. Patrick came knocking, I knew just how to respond.

I present this recipe as my St. Patrick’s Day gift to you and yours…may it fill your belly, warm your heart, and stir your soul:)

Corned Beef & Cabbage Pot Pie (St. Paddy’s Delight)


1 1/2:      Pounds of Shredded (cooked)  Corned Beef. Place corned beef in a large pot with all the juices then cover the roast with water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours or until fork tender. Remove from pot and shred the roast with a fork, set aside. I used one from Trader Joe’s that was swimming in juices and spices.

1/2:         Onion (Diced)

2:            Cloves of Garlic (Minced)

1 1/2:      Pounds of Boiled diced potatoes (a bit smaller than craps dice)

6:            Whole leafs of cabbage boiled.

1:            Cup of Heavy Cream

3:             Tablespoons of Butter

1:             Teaspoon of ground mustard

2:             Pie crusts (I used Pillsbury and they come 2 in a package in the canned biscuit area at store)

Cooking Instructions:

* Dice onion and mince garlic then saute in large sauce pan for about 5 minutes.

* Add heavy cream and butter then bring to a boil.

* Reduce heat to low and fold in Potatoes and ground mustard. Once combined, turn off heat.

* Salt and Pepper to taste.

* Place pie crust # 1 in dish and begin layering.

* Spread Corned Beef evenly to cover crust.

* Place 2 leaves of Cabbage over meat.

* Spread Potatoe Mixture to cover cabbage.

* Repeat corned beef, cabbage and potato mixture.

* Apply remaining 2 leaves of cabbage as final layer

* Apply top pie crust.

* Bake at 3:50 till top crust is golden brown (about 20 minutes).

* Let rest for 20 minutes before cutting so it holds together nicely.

* Enjoy!



“So…I went to a Storage Auction a few weeks ago…”

A few months ago, while flipping through the dial, I decided to stop and check out a show called “Storage Wars”. It’s a reality show that gives the viewer the supposed scoop regarding the world of earning a living by way of the storage auction circuit. They high lite six characters in the show and basically follow them around as they buy, and then figure out how to sell the contents of the storage lockers they have purchased. I watched one episode and was immediately convinced I had a new hobby.

Anyhow, from that day on I was quietly observing the bay area auction scene through a website that sends out a daily list, and hoping for a day that involved me having a business appointment in close proximity to an auction. After about three weeks of comparing my whereabouts to the daily auction schedule, bingo! I had a meeting about ten minutes from an auction in Oakland. My meeting was at 9:30 am and the auction started at 11:00. The meeting went great and even better, it only lasted about 45 minutes so I was able to get to the auction site early to scope out the situation and identify the regulars I needed to make friends with. It was in a rough neighborhood, so there was awesome looking food everywhere. Greasy spoons, BBQ shacks, Soul food kitchens etc. I almost pulled in a little place that touted collard greens and turkey necks on the window sign but thought better of it in favor of starving myself for the sake of some intel.

I pulled onto the street and immediately saw my guy.


Sitting on the back of his 1995 Buick La Saber was a guy in a blaze orange t-shirt adorned with suspenders holding up his pants. He was happily kicked back, eating on an orange and tossing the peels on the street, waiting for the games to begin. I got out of my car and gingerly walked towards him like I knew him. From 30 feet away I said, “I’m another dork that saw the show and got curious, am I in the right place?” He gave me the affirmative and turned back to his lunch. ” So have you been to an auction here before?” I said. “Bout a hundred times, but it’s all gone to hell now that those dam shows have taken off”, he grunted. I promised that I wasn’t one of “them”, and that I was just along for the ride. I asked him a bunch of questions about the level of his involvement and learned that buying and selling lockers had been his primary occupation for over twenty years. I also learned that under his tough guy exterior, he was a super nice guy. By the time we finished chatting, the auctioneer walked outside the storage facility and made a motion with his hands in the air that let everyone (but me) know that it was show time. My friend reached in his car to grab a step ladder and his ten million candle power light and was about to head off without even a goodbye. “Do you mind if I roll with you today?” I said. He whipped around like he knew what was coming and said ” you gonna bid?” I quickly examined my “actual” stomach for the scene…”not if you let me tag along with you” I blurted. He smiled…long pause…”Let’s go to work!” he finally said.

From that point on, it was like I was his personal biographer. He never stopped talking. He explained the nuance, the nooks and crannies…the REAL. He educated me about why he buys the lockers he buys, why he doesn’t buy the lockers he doesn’t buy,how he sells…and most importantly, how he gets rid of the JUNK for FREE. “Mike” explained why his circuit is a modest 20 mile radius of his Oakland home. He gave me some example locker purchase scenarios that included old computers, or tires, saying that all the profit in a locker can quickly go out the window if one isn’t able to “move” things for free. See, Mike knows the guy in Oakland that takes decent tires for free and he also knows the guy that actually pays a couple bucks for old computers and other electronics. He swears that the difference between him and all the other jerks that loose money in the locker racket is that his disposal cost is virtually zero.

Enough with the technical, the good stuff really has to do with Mike’s approach…

Mike and I, along with about 50 other people responded to the auctioneers gesture and swarmed around him as a “sign in” clip board circulated. During the sign in, I was able to understand that of the 50 people, only about 15 of them actually did this for a living. This reality helped me relax a bit, which was much needed since my heart seemed to be pounding since the moment I spotted mike sucking down his orange. It all happened so fast…I was the last person to sign the sheet and then suddenly the auctioneer rattled off some info about paying in cash and moving the stuff within 24 hours and then BAM “CanIGet2020202030 now i got 303050!50505050who’s got 100?..100!ok here we go 100, whos got 150…150? anyone 150…150! 150 to the lady in red, who’s got 200?….200?….150 once…twice…SOLD TO THE LADY IN RED!

A look inside the locker purchased by "The Lady In Red"

As the bidding was happening, Mike was in my ear about how the unit contained too much stuff that may cost money to dispose of and also about how it was generally junky, containing too many boxes of used clothing and cheap housewares. Mike was confident there was no money to be made on the locker….I smiled and nodded.

Three other lockers went in a similar fashion, too much dough for not enough stuff…as per Mike.

The fifth locker was unique in that it was a small cabinet that was up above the regular lockers. Like the cupboard above your fridge, it required a step ladder to see inside. When the locker was announced, Mike and I nudged our way through to the front of the line and Mike positioned his portable folding ladder in front of the locker. He quickly ascended the steps and shined his light inside, shaking his head as if he’d seen a lady smack her kid at the grocery store. He came down and gestured for me to go up and get a look. I scooted up and peered into the dark crawl space that looked like it may have been the single piece of real estate held by a homeless man. Sleeping bag, magazines, canned food, black garbage bag full of clothes, pillow etc… I immediately realized why Mike was unimpressed with the investment opportunity and I quickly came back down from the ladder. The instant my feet hit the ground, Mike grabbed the ladder and folded it up and swung it around his shoulder. People started hollering and jeering saying…”c’mon man, leave the ladder so we can all see!” Mike ignored the crowd and we made our way to the back of the pack. Once we got to the back wall, Mike looked over to me and simply said “competitive advantage John…competitive advantage”.

"Competitive Advantage"

The locker went to a guy wearing sweatpants and a mickey mouse hoodie for 20 bucks, Mike chuckled and shook his head as we made our way to locker # 6.

This locker immediately caught Mike’s attention. It was small, like 5×5 but it was absolutely jam packed with stuff. We could see a samurai sword, an antique scale for measuring things like gold or pharmaceuticals, a banjo case and about 30 boxes of the same size, packed thoughtfully and not touched for at least a couple years based on the dust. This locker really flushed out the rookies because they all knew their wives would kill them if they came home with a mess of this proportion. There were only three bidders and one of them dropped out at a hundred bucks. The bidding moved up in ten dollar increments to Mike’s $190 gesture. Mike knew the other guy bidding and it was clear to me that the other guy sensed that Mike was serious and bowed out because he had been in this same situation with my new friend before. “SOLD!!! for $190 to Mike!” the auctioneer shouted. Mike v-lined for the locker taking the pad lock off the rope around his neck and opening it as he nudged his way through the crowd. He slammed the doors shut and slapped his lock on it in one motion and then turned and walked briskly to the back of the pack. I was following along and watching Mike closely. It was clear that he got GREAT satisfaction out of winning the locker. His heart was pounding and that was evidenced by the tremble in his voice as he began rattling off the many reasons this was a great locker. Honestly, it was invigorating for me as well!

At this point, Mike was pumped up and ready for another locker. He bought the very next one in similar style and then quit. We snuck away and circled back around to the banjo locker to get a better look. It was a gold mine. Most of the boxes were full of books from the 20’s in mint condition and the scale was worth over 600.00 based on a quick google search from my phone. He was elated. He explained that it’s always good to load your arms up with the most valuable stuff you find right away and take it home the day of the auction because you never know who saw the stuff and how badly they might want it. I perceived his mini rant as paranoid but I appreciated his passion all the same. We carried the scale and a few other things out to his car and loaded them up as we chatted excitedly about the other things we thought we saw during the initial scan of the locker. The next order of business was to go to the office and pay one months rent on both of the lockers. Mike insisted that it’s foolish to try and get all the stuff out of a locker in the allotted 24 hours because when a locker is dealt with hastily, lots of money goes out the window. He buys 2 lockers a week on average and always rents them for a month. It gives him time to sort the contents into “valuable”, “semi-valuable”, “junk he can find a home for” and finally “junk that will cost $$ to dispose of”. He insists that by renting the unit for thirty days and taking a thoughtful approach to the sorting process, the $$junk pile shrinks considerably. I totally understand. I know myself and if I had 24 hours to clear out a locker, I would be throwing things like used golf balls into the junk pile when in fact they are worth 50 cents a piece at the flea market. Mike moves his valuable stuff mostly online and then has a permanent booth at a local flea market where he sells the things worth less than $20.00 or so. The hope with the flea-market is to make a couple hundred bucks a day and mitigate the expense that would have gone along with disposing of the stuff. He says that this is the nitty gritty part of the business that separates the winners from the losers. The guys that throws everything away but the good stuff ends up loosing money in the end because the valuables usually aren’t that valuable and the disposal costs add up quickly. Turn the junk into a few hundred bucks and the bottom line shapes up nicely. He also moves small valuables like old pocket watches and good baseball cards through the flea market, but he does a monthly booth at a more up scale (lots of antiques) place for that.

I’m realizing now that I could say quite a bit more about my storage auction adventure with Mike, but I trust you get a sense for how interesting it was by now:)

I didn’t end up having any turkey necks or collard greens on my way back to the office because I ended up joining mike for some Chinese take out…

What a cool day!

BTW: The rest of this story is about my 1st (and last) locker purchase and how I moved the contents. I’ll be sure to share the experience before the new year:)

Hanging in the back of the pack with Mike as we make our way to locker number 3...
"The Venue"
Trying to get a peek inside before the action begins...

BeyBlades are for REAL…

A couple months ago, my parents came out to CA for a visit. There was a lot of anticipation because it was going to be their first time meeting our newest foster child Hunter. They got along splendidly! My parents are amazing people and they quickly invited Hunter into their hearts, just as if he were a Pack.

One day, they decided to take Hunter to Toys R Us to pick out an early birthday present since they wouldn’t be here for his actual celebration. That afternoon, I came home from work and found myself immediately sucked into the world of BeyBlades.

BeyBlades are little spinning tops made of plastic and metal. They are about the size of a silver dollar in diameter and are comprised of 5 separate parts that are completely interchangeable with other blades. Each blade comes with a “ripper” which is a hand held devise that the blade attaches to and is used to spin the blade at extremely high speed.

This is a "ripper"....

There are probably 50 or 60 different blades available and each one is unique, depending on the parts they are made from.

The most relevant part is the “performance tip”. It’s the bottom piece and is the piece that actually comes in contact with the surface on which the blade is spinning. The size and shape of the tip has everything to do with the speed, movement pattern, stamina, and balance of the blade when in battle. Certainly the other parts play minor roles but the tip is by far paramount.

TThis is the famed "Earth Virgo" tip and seems to be a nice mix of attack and defense...
Another flat tip but this one has a hollow center, making for a fierce attack but very little stamina...
Wide base that comes to a point lends to superiour balance...
Flat tip with jagged edge causes it to go crazy in battle...


Hunter had chosen 2 blades and a battle stadium as his gift.

Battle Stadium

He explained the concept to me and showed me how to launch the blade into the stadium and we jumped into a fierce battle. Victory was generally spread pretty evenly between the two of us during our first night of battle, but when I came home the next evening, things had changed. Hunter had decided to take his blades apart and with the compilation of parts, build a single, exceptional blade, leaving me with a blade made from the “other” parts. With this inferior blade, it was virtually impossible to beat him. Needless to say, this little arrangement only lasted a couple days before I decided to take action. I decided to head over to the Toys R Us on my lunch break to see about getting a respectable blade for myself. At this point I had no idea that there were so many to choose from and I certainly didn’t realize how strategic a purchase it would need to be if I planned on thwarting Hunters Earth Virgo / Pisces hybrid blade. I scanned the choices for a long while, reading the back of the packages and trying to find a blade that included a nice mix of characteristics such as attack, stamina, defense, and balance. Each blade is rated from 1-5 in each of these categories so it’s good to go with something that’s well rounded. After about ten minutes of research, I was joined in the isle by a young man about the same age as Hunter, along with his mother. He was talking a million miles a minute about some blade that had just came out and spouting off fairly technical information about it’s battle prowess. I began eavesdropping intently but really couldn’t make heads or tails of his rambling. Finally I interrupted and politely introduced myself and explained my situation. As he heard about the Virgo / Pisces hybrid blade that I was up against, I could see him doing calculations in his head. He was starting to come to some conclusions but first asked me to clarify if the hybrid was a “metal fusion” blade. I reported that it was a metal fusion blade as I recalled it from the packaging. His eyes lit up and he walked directly to “Gravity Destroyer”. He handed it to me and simply said, “he won’t stand a chance against this, good luck.”

I went back to my car and took the blade out of the packaging and assembled it with the tool provided. I then placed it on the dashboard and took a close up picture of it.

I sent the picture to Hunter, via Rebecca’s cell phone with the following message…

Gravity Destroyer

By the time I got home from work that day, Hunter was so worked up about our pending battle that he could hardly keep his blade in the stadium.

Earth Virgo VS Gravity Destroyer...

My young toy consultant was quite right indeed. Gravity Destroyer is the finest blade available and even though Hunter now has over 15 blades, none are able to beat my destroyer with any consistency. Needless to say, there is more to a battle than the characteristics of the blade. Human power and strength play a large role, as well as the humans relationship with his or her blade. These subtitles have become more clear over time (and by watching the cartoon).

A few weeks ago, in preparation for our trip to Chicago to celebrate two of our best friends getting married, I decided to add a secondary item to our agenda. I spoke with Hunter about what it might look like for he and I to officially join forces and make a play on Chicago with our blades. I explained that Uncle Adam Truman and Uncle Joe were both fierce competitors and that they would probably be waiting to kick our rear ends in the battle stadium when we arrived. Hunter took the threat VERY seriously and thought well of us forming an alliance. He also thought well of calling and emailing Adam and Joe on a regular basis to talk trash! MAN I LOVE THIS KID!

Here are a couple examples of our taunts…








From Hunter…
“Get ready to fight these “kickyobooty” hands…and your worst nightmare, and these hands will smack yo blade down to the ground!”

Your nightmare!

Uncle Adam Truman even went as far as to skype with Hunter so he could establish his WWF Wrestling style demeanor and to promise that Hunter would do well to cancel his trip if he wanted to maintain his dignity. Adam flexed his biceps and did some example ripper pulls for Hunter so he could get a full sense of what we were up against. Hunter took it extremely seriously and I’ve personally never seen a more excited 8 year old than him, related to the circus we had created around these fantastic little toys.

In the end, I hope it’s understood that I’ve overstated my affinity for blades, for the sake of helping you understand the passion of some. On the other hand, it also needs to be noted that I do enjoy having something soo tangible to connect with Hunter around. In the past few weeks, our 3 year old Eli has even jumped into the mix and blades with us most each evening. I’m sure girlsare fun, but this is AWESOME!

Here are some other pics of our blade forces…

Weight Watching again, with a different perspective…I hope

About 12 years ago, I had finally come to the point where I couldn’t see my shoelaces anymore and decided it was time to actually get off my enormous butt and do something about it. I signed up for Weight Watchers…

A true thing about me is that I tend to get over-excited about things in the 1st inning, only to move on to something else quickly after striking out a few times early in the game. As always, I came out of the gate at a wind sprint and lost like 10 pounds in the 1st week, telling everyone it was awesome to be finally eating healthy. I was full of it, the reality was, it was like holding my breath the entire time. After 2 weeks of counting points, I decided to go to a meeting and it all ended as quickly as it had started. I was the only male in the room and it was clear right away that this ww thing was a way of life, not a diet. I hadn’t singed up for a new way of life, I signed up for the fastest shedding of pounds the world has ever seen so I could get back into my double x Harley Davidson vest in a quick!

Additionally, the lady that was leading the thing wasn’t that skinny! Actually she wasn’t even sort of not fat…she was actually sort of fat. That blew my mind and gave me all the ammunition I needed to stop at In N Out burger for a little double cheeseburger action on my way home. Looking back, I was just done refraining from eating anything that I wanted to eat when I wanted to eat it, in what ever quantity I desired, and I used a superficial half truth for self justification for making much needed changes in my life. The truth is, the lady probably used to weigh 500 pounds and was a walking talking phenomenon but I didn’t give her a chance to explain because I’m a dork like that more than I care to admit.

Anyhow, here we are 12 years later and while I can still see my shoes, I’m about 50 pounds heavier than I should be and it’s time to face the issues behind the issue. Like I said earlier, self-discipline isn’t something I’ll be teaching workshops on anytime soon but it is something I very much want to get better at. All the holes I fill with food should be filled with faith in a God that is far more capable of meeting my needs than a bag of Funyuns. The moment I learn to delight in the Lord rather than food, I’ll be on to something. I’ve never really processed my weight problem as a spiritual issue before but more and more I’m convinced that it is for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe it’s sin to be a foodie and I have no intention of ceasing to lie awake thinking about how best to braise a pork shoulder…what I’m saying is that in my own Journey, I’m feeling more and more convicted about how I display such gluttony and self indulgence in the context of food. I don’t run because I get out of breath and who wants to be out of breath? I don’t lift weights because they are heavy! I don’t eat healthy food because it doesn’t taste as good as good as bone-in ribeye…see the trend.

I joined Weight Watchers again last week and I’m currently a point counting machine. I’ve lost a few pounds so far, but more than anything, it’s enabling me to actually face some of the tough realities that often stand in the way of me connecting with God the way that I desire. I’m starting to call on God more when I’m anxious rather than burritos, and that’s a good thing:)

Some practical thoughts related to Weight Watchers….

The new system allows you to eat as many fruits and vegitables as you like with no points deduction, barring a few starches like potatoes and corn. I read a letter from the CEO and he basically said that it occured to him that something was wrong with a system when it treated a 100 Calory Snack Pack of Oreo Cookies the same way it treated a fresh apple in terms of points. He decided to take a stand for natural foods that are unprocessed with the new system. The result is that fresh fruits and vegitables are encouraged by having a zero points value, while processed snack foods and pastas have higher points values than the old system. For me it’s nice because I at least know that if I’m hungry I can eat something and not blow the entire day by going way over my limit. Staying within my points has really, mostly been skipping the fast food and gas stations stops, and skipping the 800 calory grazing sessions that tend to take place between 8:00 pm and midnight. For instance today, I kicked but on points and still had a good bowl of soup and a piece of cheese pizza from Fresh Choice, accompanied by a killer salad, then for dinner I had Chicken stir fry with white rice. This evening I enjoyed a glass of red wine and some cheese with crackers. Believe it or not I only used 75% of the points I’m allowed with all of that!

On Monday I made a zero points Mexican Vegitable Soup and it was really really good. I adapted the recipe from one I found on the Weight Watchers site, I hope you like it.

Time to table: 1 hour
Makes 12 cups
6 cups vegetable broth (I used 6 cups water and Better Than Bouillon)
28 ounces canned diced tomato, Mexican-style preferred

3 diced fresh medium tomatoes

2 cups fresh green beans (start with 8 ounces, then trim and snap into bite-size pieces)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small zucchini (about 8 ounces before trimming)

1/2 head of cabbage, chopped

1 cup tomatillo, cubed (start with about 4 ounces or 2 medium tomatillos)
1/2 medium poblano chili pepper, chopped
3 pickled Serrano peppers (they come in a can in the mexican food isle) The original recipe called for a jalapeno diced with seeds removed
1 medium red or yellow (Spanish) onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon fresh oregano (I used 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
2 roasted red peppers packed in water (I used these jarred peppers from Zergut)
1 tablespoon chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (these are found in small cans in the ‘Mexican’ section and boy, and be careful, they are hot!!!! I used only a scant teaspoon)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons lime juice (from 2 limes)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven on MEDIUM HIGH. Add the vegetables and spices (canned tomatoes through as oregano) as they’re prepped. Add the broth when it’s ready.  Make sure to mash the chipotle pepper to distribute as finely as possible throughout the soup.) Cover and bring to a boil. (Because I used boiling water, the soup was just starting to boil when I added the last ingredients.) Once at a boil, partly uncover the soup, reduce the heat to maintain a slow simmer and simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in salt, lime juice and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Weight Watchers 0 points
The Raw Materials....
Mexican Style Vegitable Soup...

“Sorry KID, I’m busy…”

Last week, I was on my way home after spending some time with a client. It was super hot so when I saw the 7/11 sign, I started tasting a super big gulp in my head. I pulled in and hopped out of the car. Just before I got to the door, I heard, “Hey man, you got a couple bucks I could borrow?”.  My mood was hurried and self consumed as I now realize, and in accordance with that I snap my head around to see where the barking is coming from. I spot a tall handsome teenager leaning against the building, wearing designer clothes and 100$ shoes. I don’t know what came over me but it boiled my blood that this suburban kid would dare ask me for “a couple bucks” when it was apparent that he had a roof over his head and food to eat. I turned and v-lined over to him and got within 6 inches of his face. I said, “what!” He repeated the request without making eye contact. I seethed inside and decided I needed to understand what in the world would compel a kid to sink to asking a stranger for money so he could buy a Red Bull. I said, “What are you doing here asking people for money?” He replied, “I’m waiting for my mom to pick me up and I was hungry”. I said, “What would your mom think if she knew you were out here begging for change!” He said, “Whatever man, just forget it”.

At that moment sanity set in and I got a strong sense that there was more to his situation than met the eye.

What he meant was….”You have no freakin idea what I’m going through Mr. Better-than-me”

“I’m not mad, just tell me the truth, what’s going on?”, I said.

He proceeded to explain that he attended the High School across the street from the 7/11 last year as a Freshman, but he had gotten in some trouble at the end of the year and was now supposed to be attending a different school. He told me that he had been staying with one of his friends but it was time to go home.

There is much more to the story, but my great hope is that this kid ends up reading this one day so I’ll leave it alone.

The real reason this story is worth telling has to do with the profound lesson I’m in the process of learning, not in my friends trouble.

Once he and I are calmed down and it’s clear that a connection has been made between us, I reached in pocket and pulled out my card. I explained that I had “someplace” to be but if he was still stuck here at 8:15, he should call me and I’ll come pick him up and drive him the ten miles to his home. All at once, the tension in his face broke as he was realizing he was being loved for the 1st time in a while.

On my way home, my heart was racing as I contemplated what it might look like to come alongside this kid and help him get over this hump.

“Lord, thanks for putting this young person in my path, please unfold what you would have me do next.” I prayed.

I raced home because I was now running late…for church.

On the 1st Wednesday of each month, we get together in the evening. This was a particularly exciting Wednesday because we were kicking the night off with a huge potluck! Those of you that know me, also know that I would probably rather attend a potluck than find a 100 dollar bill in the street. That being said, I got home, rallied the troops and zoomed back out the door. I called Rebecca about what had happened as I was pulling out of the 7/11 parking lot and talked to her all the home and then I was going on at a million miles a minute until we pulled in the church parking lot. I was truly encouraged by the fact that this kid might reach out for help, and hopeful that I could speak some truth into his life.

We filed into the church and immediately started filling our plates. I ate like a freak, resulting in a combination of “sugar belly” and the “meat sweats”. There’s nothing like singing and clapping in a crowded room while tuna casserole is coming out of your ears.

Seriously, once the meal time was over and I wiped my brow, we launched into an encouraging time where the pastors came forward to share about all the great things that were going on in…and through our church and it’s people. I was caught up in the simple joy of hearing the good news of how we were reaching the people around us with…The Good News. I sat there clapping like a penguin and grinning like a gameshow host as my phone began to vibrate in my pocket. I felt it and instantaneously slipped my hand in to shut it off. Even though nobody heard it as it vibrated against my leg, I still responded in my head with, “I don’t answer calls while I’m in church.” It’s a simple rule that I made years ago and by now it’s simply the auto-response in my brain when I feel it in my pocket during church service.

Anyhow, I gazed and listened and clapped and smiled for another 25 minutes or so. At 8:40 ish, church was over and we all started heading for the door like cattle. I get about 5 feet from the exit and my stomach literally does a backflip as I realize the fullness of what had just happened.

I had sent my new friend into voice mail because I was busy hearing about all the wonderful ways me and my church family were reaching the people around us with the Gospel!

I can count on one hand, the number of times I’ve felt such a visceral sort of instant regret in a single moment. My mouth opened…”oh my God!”



“Hey man, you still need a ride?”

“Are you talking about the kid in the red hat?”


“He just borrowed my phone man, he said he needed to call his ride and then he just left.”

“How long ago?”

“He waited around for a few minutes but he’s been gone for at least 20 minutes.”

“Ok, thanks…bye.”

I was overtaken by the sad reality that was staring me in the face.

No different than the Guy with the fish bumper sticker speeding by flicking you off for driving too slow, I FORGOT that God had brought a kid into my path JUST 2 HOURS EARLIER because I was too busy applauding myself for getting straight A’s on my Christian report card!

We got home and I scooted in behind my computer so I could begin the work of erasing the day with media. My beautiful, remarkable, thoughtful wife scooted in next to me and looked at me square in the eyes without saying a word. A tear popped out of my face and dropped onto the kitchen table. I began unpacking all that was going on inside me at light speed and as soon as there was a gap to shoot she interjected with…

“You want to go look for him?”


Long kiss….”I love you John Pack”

I trot to my car and jump in like I’m Jimmy Smitts just getting the call on NYPD Blue.

Off I go, to the 7/11 and all the other places in the area, asking cashiers and clerks if they’ve seen a good looking kid in a red hat named…?????.

For over an hour I drove around looking for him, no dice.

I’ve been looking before and after work everyday.

I share this because I hope it well reminds you of how easy it is to get lost in good things, to the point that the BEST things get forgotten.

I met with the vice principle today at the school he attended last year. He was awesome and was also concerned for him. I’m meeting with his old football coach on Friday.

If you pray, please pray that God would give me another at-bat with this young man. It’s my hope that I’m able to connect with him and love him in a way that convinces him once and for all that He has a God that loves him and wants a relationship with him.

I didn’t mention it, but But my new friends name is Eli….go figure:)

The Story of God…Insight provided by Apollo Creed…Part 2 of 2

It was a few weeks ago now that Rebecca and I attended the “Story of God” session that I began writing about. There were two points I was trying to make but ran out of gas.

1. The importance of the “Tree of the knowledge of good and evil”:

In the first “story” in the bible, Adam and Eve are enjoying this blissful situation in the Garden where they have everything they need and enjoy a literally personal relationship with God. It’s all well and good but the thing that stood out to me for the first time in a profound way was how very important the “tree” was. Smarter people than me could and do go on for ever about this concept but I’ll just say it like I see it…

God designed a perfect environment for Adam and Eve but they didn’t understand the concept of “perfect”. He gave them everything they needed and MOST of what they wanted. In the garden he installed a single tree and instructed them not to mess with it. What he was really installing was the element of choice, without which, the rest of it is really just bla bla bla. Think about it…without the ability to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, paper or plastic etc..we just live in an automatic world and we never understand the difference between Gods love and provision….and the opposite. The tree had to exist or none of this makes any sense. The fact that they end up choosing the tree over God speaks to our inability as humans to relish and cherish the rest of the garden. Why do we constantly choose the road we know God is not on? Why do we overlook the countless ways God is blessing us and caring for us? For me, understanding that even Adam and Eve were foolish enough to choose the wrong path helps me understand that I too am unable to fully adopt the truth. The truth is that God loves me and cares for me in unimaginable ways. The truth is that he wants what is best for me….The truth ALSO is that I choose death over LIFE on a pretty regular basis.

The Great News is that even though I don’t recognize God in all things as I should, he recognizes me in all things, and he has rescued me and restored me completely. Without the tree (choice), none of this would be relevant because we would merely be living in a world that didn’t require that we choose God. The problem with that world is that we can’t really love him without 1st choosing him, or at least not choosing him and then realizing that it was stupid.


2. “Once again Rocky helps me unpack some good stuff…”

I love Rocky. I love every one of them and I don’t love one more than the other. Most Rocky fans scoff at certain of the movies and praise others but I don’t. That said, Rocky III came to mind as we were contemplating the “hope” that God has for us at the conference a few weeks ago. I’ve watched Rocky III 500 times and each time, I know what’s going to happen…The Russian guy is going to kill Apollo Creed in the ring. The thing is, I always watch it and HOPE that Apollo kicks his rear end and saves the day! I know it’s elementary but I liken my hope to the way God hopes for us. He knows the end game but he engages all the same, and sincerely wants what is best for us. Apollo didn’t have to make the foolish decision to get in the ring with that monster and nobody is forcing me to go down paths that God is not on. I choose these paths, but all along whether I realize it or not, I have a God that is hoping that I would choose him. Apollo could’ve chosen any number of paths that would’ve saved his life and if he would have, he would have been with us for Tommy Gun!…but that’s another story:)








In all seriousness…

About 10 weeks ago we were asked to care for a new born that tested positive for drugs while here mom got treatment for her addiction. We picked baby Sunrise up at the hospital on day four of her life and have been loving her like our own each day since. Sunrise went to live with her aunt on Wednesday. Rebecca and I are experiencing the fullness of “bitter” and “sweet” right now. I’m trying to let the whole thing breath for a moment so that I can understand all that we are supposed to have learned.


I look forward to sharing the “Sunrise” journey with you soon:)



The Story of God…insight provided by Apollo Creed (Rocky)

Tonight, Rebecca and I along with our good friends Jackson and Janelle attended a “Story of God” teaching session. “Story of God” is a particular method of teaching about God where the bible, from start to finish is covered in “story” form. The teacher starts in the “beginning” with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and tells the story all the way through to the very end of the biblical account. The teacher reads for about 5 minutes at a time, and then stops to ask questions about how the group is perceiving what is going on. The people in the room provide feedback and the teacher simply guides the group through the questions and then moves back into the story smoothly once the commentary has subsided. The discussion portions tend to go on for about twice as long as the previous reading. The actual full length “Story of God” experience takes many weeks to complete and is often done in small group environments. We went tonight to get a sense of how it works and to learn about how to teach it in our small group. It was absolutely remarkable. It’s amazing how hearing the “Story” of how God made us, loves us and cares for us in a narrative format, enables an entirely different and more profound depth of understanding to take place. To be honest, I’ve never really been able to engage with the early books of the bible in a way that activated a truly deeper understanding of God. Genesis has been like the health club in my life. In late December I decide I’m going to read the entire bible in a year and then January 2nd I open to page one and begin tearing through Genesis. Kind of like a spiritual health club. By January 9th, I’ve gotten into Leviticus and start believing that I don’t need to read “every” day in order to get through the bible in a year….then I take 11 months off, reducing my bible consumption to semi-daily cherry picking of the Christian top 40 chunks of the bible, mostly in the part that includes the life of Jesus (new testament).

Anyhow, tonight as we worked through the” beginning”, myself along with much of the group seemed to be confronted with an awkward reality about how very morbid…and futile…and nessesarry the exsistence of the “Tree of the knowledge of good and evil”really is.

Ya know what…It’s almost 1:00 AM and I need to feed a precious little six week old, evidenced by her grunting in my ear:)

I’ve posted just this portion of my very incomplete thought so that I would be forced to come back to the keyboard in short order. Trust me when I tell you that Rocky III has once again assisted me in understanding a very complex spiritual concept in very simple terms:)

I’ll finish in the next couple days…I have to now, since I said I would in front of several hundred people:)

Here is a teaser pic…

Apollo Creed after a life ending blow by the bad guy...
Apollo Creed after a life ending blow by the bad guy...