I’ve got IT going on… I guess

Just the other day I was recounting the story of how I was being hit on by another man in, no, not San Francisco, but Denver. I couldn’t remember many of the details of the story, but today I happened to stumble upon something I had written about the event back in January, 2007. I thought I would post it here for the entertainment of my readers.


This would be a fantastic people watching story… unfortunately, in this tale, I was the one being watched. This takes place at the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver, CO on December 28, 2006. I was in Denver visiting my dad just after Christmas and I happened to receive a wine opener kit from him. As luck would have it, though, I already had one, so I decided to return it to Sur La Table, from whence it had come.

So, my sister, dad, dad’s wife and I piled into the car and headed to the mall to make the return. When we arrived at the store, I walked up to the counter, placed the Rabbit Wine Kit on the counter and told the clerk that I wanted to return the item which I had received as a gift. When the clerk started speaking to me, it was quite obvious that he was gay. Now, I don’t much care for stereotypes, but the plain and simple fact of the matter is that some are true, and the mannerisms, speach patterns and demeanor of this particular sales clerk fit the classic mold of the gay man. In the past, I’ve never felt uncomfortable talking with gay men. In fact, I’ve had many gay friends… but this guy was different… this guy was hitting on me.

It all started innocently enough. He asked to see my ID for the return. No problem, I handed it over. He looked at it.

“California, I see,” he said, noticing, I imagine, that my ID says “CALIFORNIA” across the top.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Oh! San Francisco,” he exclaimed, “that’s a great city.”
“Yes, it is,” I answered.
He smiled, gave what I perceived to be a wink and then asked, “Can you take me home with you?”

OK, seriously, what am I supposed to say to that? I can’t say “NO” without seeming really rude and I can’t very well say “SURE WHY NOT” or “WISH I COULD” without making him think that his flirtations are welcome. Instead, I just opted to give a light chuckle and say nothing in response. Apparently this wasn’t enough of a cue to get him to stop trying to pick me up. He continued to talk about how much he loved San Francisco, and how much he wished he could live there, and how he often thought about how he could transfer from the Sur La Table in Denver to one in San Francisco. All the while he kept asking me questions about where I lived, where I worked, what I liked to do, how long I had been in San Francisco, where I like to go out, and so on. At one point my sister, seeing what was going on, came over and stood next to me, but after about 30 seconds she had to leave because she found it too difficult to keep a straight face. This guy was obviously & unabashedly flirting with me. Slightly annoyed with the whole affair, and really just wanting to get my gift card and get out of there, I glanced around and noticed that I was being spied on from several vantage points within the store – my dad from near the front of the store, my dad’s wife, Betty, from behind me, and my sister through a product display case off to the side. They were all in hysterics over this situation.

I’m not sure if I should have flattered, but I was mostly annoyed. After the whole thing was over, Betty kept on for the entire day about how I “still had it,” whatever “it” is. I opined that it wasn’t terribly great to have “it” when “it” was only useful with other men, but that apparently I was just in high demand.

Oh well, maybe someday “it” will be truly useful again.

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I was in the United States Submarines!

Living in the SF Bay Area, I see a lot of interesting people – pretty much everybody in San Francisco has something interesting about them. I could probably make a living writing blog entries with all the great content people in this geographic region provide for me.

As is my usual custom while walking to work, I stopped for a cup of coffee and a muffin near the office. In the few minutes that I was in the ING Direct Cafe, a homeless man that I see frequently around the city showed up on the sidewalk. Not a big deal – he’s always been very friendly and has frequently commented on how well I dress (especially when I’m wearing a tie, which I’m not today). But today, he was a little different.

Now, it isn’t unusual to see homeless people acting a little, how can I be delicate… strange (?) in this city, so it doesn’t shock me when I see odd-ball behavior; however, I have never seen this particular homeless man talk to himself or yell at (seemingly) nothing. Not so today. As I was walking up the sidewalk towards him – his back toward me – I heard him start to yell. What was this about, I wondered? As I came closer, I could see that he wasn’t yelling completely randomly. He was standing only inches away from a parking meter and was yelling at it furiously, as if it were a human being.

“Are you listening to me?? I was in the United States Submarines, do you hear me? Answer me!!”

Clearly to his dismay, the parking meter did not answer and the homeless man became even more enraged by this defiance. He saluted (I’m not making this up) the parking meter. The parking meter did not return his salute.

“Is that all you have? I was a Submarine! We played a huge role in the United State Defense Attorneys!”

The parking meter was unimpressed. At this, the homeless man huffed and puffed, storming around in circles on the sidewalk, devastated that this parking meter was refusing to recognize the significant contribution that he had made to the US Defense Attorneys as a Submarine. The last thing I saw (and heard) as I turned the corner to head to my building was the man now yelling at a wall. I guess he’d heard that the walls have ears.

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The Lenten Journey: Reflection on Personal Finance

Research conducted by the Gallup organization shows that financial security has nearly three times the impact of income alone on employees’ overall wellbeing. Essentially, this means that it isn’t just the amount of money that a person has that influences their wellbeing; rather, it is the perception of how secure they are that has the larger impact on wellbeing and quality of life.

What $10 million gets in San Francisco

The concept of security is an interesting one. There was a time in my life when I thought I needed to own a home worth at least $10 million, have a chauffeured limousine, and fly first class everywhere I went with no regard for the cost. In fact, I even made a deal with one of my best friends from Notre Dame that, as soon as I made my first million in cash, I would fly him first class to visit me from wherever he was at the time. He made a reciprocal offer. Now, while I was fortunate to have successful parents who could provide for all of my needs growing up, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth by any means. As such, by establishing goals of this nature, I was really just setting myself up to feel consistently unsuccessful. I’m certainly “wealthier” now than I was when I graduated from college 8 years ago, but I’m far from that dream. If I were still so focused on security as having magnificent material possessions, I would wake up each morning and be constantly disappointed that I wasn’t in my mansion yet. (Though, $10 million doesn’t go quite as far in San Francisco as it does in Utah where I was still living when i started telling people about my goal.)

My family gave me everything I needed

I can’t pinpoint a specific time that it happened, but at some point in the last 5-10 years, I considerably shifted my focus. No longer does financial security look to me to simply be the accumulation of wealth; rather, financial security for me is knowing that I am simply making enough money to not have to worry about money. I hope one day to have a family, and I would like to be able to raise my children similar to the way my parents raised me – providing all of those things that they need to be happy, healthy, and successful, but also providing them with opportunities to learn the value of money and showing them how to make good, informed decisions about the things they buy.

They say that money is one of the most common points of contention in the married life. Having a low sense of financial wellbeing is linked not only with tension in the married life, but also with a host of other issues, including stress, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and depression. It is sad to think that many of these issues could be avoided if people spent more time being thankful for what they had than focusing on the things that they wanted but didn’t or couldn’t have. Granted, if you’re not able to put food on the table or keep a roof over your head you have a real, serious grievance; however, for those people that have all of their basic needs met, I would strongly encourage you to spend more time being grateful for the good things in your life.

Running my own business and being self-employed, I’m in a unique position. Unlike most people who have jobs, in the good times, I have a greater degree of control over how much I get paid, but there are also bad times where I’m at much higher risk for not getting paid anything at all if we have a slow month or a slow year. Despite this added risk, I still do my best to maintain a sense of financial security. Part of this is accomplished by closely examining how I spend the money I do have. There are so many businesses and opportunities competing for our hard-earned money, and it is important to be very conscious of the choices we are making in where we spend those dollars. When I worked for UC Berkeley, my boss there, Michael, was fond of saying, “people vote with their feet.” And Fr. Xavier, the Pastor at St. Dominic’s, often says, “you can tell what is important to a person by looking at two books – their checkbook and their datebook.” I’ll examine the Lenten discipline of Almsgiving in greater detail in my post on Fiduciary Duty, but during this Lent, I would encourage to take a close look at the “vote” that you’re casting and then making sure you have your priorities in order. Controlling spending is one of the most important things people can do to improve their financial wellbeing, but it is even more important for those people who have seriously a limited income.

Again, I’ll address this in greater detail in the next post, but the Gallup organization also found that people can improve their wellbeing by spending on others or giving to charities instead of spending only on themselves! This may seem strange at first, but I have seen this in action time and time again. Those people who are the most giving and the most generous tend to be the happiest with their lives. Even those who seem to have very little, but who nonetheless give from what they do have, can be extremely happy because they aren’t placing all of their value on the amount of money they have; rather, they are looking to make sure that they have some level of security, and they make every effort to see to it that others can also enjoy the same or a similar level of security.

This is the third in a series of Lenten essays exploring different areas of the human experience. For more information, see the introduction.

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The Lenten Journey: Reflections on Relationships

The original theme of this post was going to be “Friends and Family,” but over the past two weeks, I decided that that phrase didn’t really do justice to the human person. Certainly friends and family present the most obvious relationships in our lives, but the human experience goes well beyond interactions with such people. We are often – maybe even daily – confronted with any number of other relationships. We are “in relationship” with each person we come into contact with every day. A cashier at the local grocery store, a bus driver, co-workers, the random person you pass as you’re running down the Great Highway, other drivers on the road, the thief that breaks into your car, members of an opposing team, the person next to you on an airplane, etc. Some of these relationships are fleeting, true, but the human experience would be vastly different without them. Since it is my goal to explore the human experience during Lent, then, and since Lent is a time to grow in our own relationship with God, it made sense to me to take a different approach.

At my parish here in San Francisco we are using a program developed, in part, by the Gallup Organization called Strengths Finder. For those of you not familiar with the program, it is an online inventory that you take and upon completion your answers are used to rank 34 broad themes. You get the top five for the cost of the book, and the rest are locked away on Gallup’s servers. Number three on my list is Relator. The Relator theme is described as follows, “You derive a great deal of pleasure and strength from being around your close friends. You are comfortable with intimacy. Once the initial connection has been made, you deliberately encourage a deepening of the relationship. You want to understand their feelings, their goals, their fears, and their dreams; and you want them to understand yours. You know that this kind of closeness implies a certain amount of risk — you might be taken advantage of — but you are willing to accept that risk. For you a relationship has value only if it is genuine. And the only way to know that is to entrust yourself to the other person. The more you share with each other, the more you risk together. The more you risk together, the more each of you proves your caring is genuine. These are your steps toward real friendship, and you take them willingly.”

This description seems to fit me perfectly. I am, in general, a very trusting person. In fact, some people have told me that I am too trusting in some areas of my life. The idea of being “too trusting” is foreign to me, though. I understand the need to be cautious when someone has a history of bad behavior, or when there is evidence of ill intent, but I tend to believe that the vast majority of the people I encounter day to day are good people trying to live their lives in the best way they know how. Consequently, I have a number of very important relationships with people with whom I may have very little in common. By taking the time to understand why people are the way they are, and helping them see the same about me, I am able to connect with them on a much deeper level, and that is important to me. In my life, I see several different categories of relationships. Since I was born into a particular set of relationships, I will first consider family.

Lance and his dad

My dad & me

You don’t get to choose your family is something that you’ve probably heard before. Individually, we have no control over whether or not we’re even born*, let alone control over who our biological parents are. I didn’t choose Roger and Kathy as my parents, and they, likewise, didn’t choose their parents. I didn’t choose Amber as my sister and she likewise didn’t choose me as her brother. I was fortunate to grow up in a loving home where I was well provided for, and where there was never any threat to my welfare. And it’s a good thing that my family loved me as much as they did – I was an absolutely awful child. I was diagnosed at a young age with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Read the list of symptoms at the National Library of Medicine. You could put a tick mark next to virtually every one of those for me as a young child. I could write an entire book describing my misdeeds, but I’ll spare you the details for the time being. But despite my consistently bad behavior, my family still loved and supported me. Someone should really get the cause for canonization of my parents started. I know they’re not eligible, given that they’re still living, but there is not other explanation for how they managed to deal with me than a grace which enabled them to love in even the most trying circumstances. Looking back, I can see what a challenge I was a child, and it is something for which I have great remorse. But more than remorse, I am thankful – thankful for my family and thankful that I have been able to share my story with others, most of whom don’t believe it when I start a story with, “I was an absolutely awful child.”

But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from you mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
- Colossians 3:8-10

Respect my authoritaaahSo how do we grow in our family relationships this Lent? I would suggest, first and foremost, that we can grow through the practice of humility. Isn’t it pride that causes so much strife between family members? When I was growing up, I was always right. To be clear, I was probably wrong much of the time, but I was convinced that I was always right, and I would fight tooth and nail against anyone who challenged my “authoritaaah.” When we strive for humility, we will start to shed with those things that St. Paul calls us to put away. Why? Humility and truth are cousins, and it is the truth that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, and that even when we are in conflict, our family members deserve to be treated like kings (because they are kings). And so, in our humility, we put away malice, we put away foul talk, we put away slander. Instead of these, I encourage you to enter into an open dialogue with your family. Come to understand why they feel the way they feel. Bear with them in love, and rather than try to win the argument, ask yourself, “how can I help this person that I love, how can I lift their burdens, how can I help lighten their load?” Can you imagine if everyone began to act this way in their family? Divorce rates would plummet, abuse would decline, families would eat dinner together again!

Limo ride with friends

Limo ride with Daniel, Adam, Keith, and Amber

But relationships don’t start and end at the family. In fact, we probably have more relationships outside the family. Think back to your earliest memories of school. How many lessons can you remember from pre-school or Kindergarten? If you’re like me, your mom kept everything you ever created as a child and you might be able to look back and see what you did, but do you actually remember the class? More likely, you remember people. There are some people from my childhood that I have very fond memories of – Daniel Winfield, Heather Japlit, Carrie Pace, Keith Gardner, Adam Acosta, Dan Owens, Lesli Mozaffari, Raeanin Simpson, Travis Leaf. These are all people that I met before I was even a teenager, and while some of them I knew through high school and beyond, a number of them I haven’t seen since I was 10 or 11 years old, but I still remember them because those relationships were important to me. Friendships are important. They teach us how to love other people that we don’t “have to love.” Sometimes, friendships blossom into romances, and romances into marriages, and marriages into new families, but more often, friendships are just those special relationships in which we encounter others with whom we share at least some mutual interests. Friendship is the main reason that I left the film industry to move back to San Francisco. While working on the film version of RENT, I made so many wonderful friends at St. Dominic’s that it was hard to leave. I did, though, and I moved to New York to work on another film, Across the Universe. When that ended, I went back to Los Angeles, and I found myself missing my friends and the community at St. Dominic’s so much that, without a job or a permanent home, I up and moved back to the Bay Area. And I haven’t regretted it for a moment. My life wouldn’t be the same had I stayed in New York or Los Angeles.

So, in this Lenten season, how do we grow in our friendships? One thing that I would recommend is to let your friends know how important they are to you. Take some time to affirm your friends, to tell them how much you appreciate their friendship. In his homily on New Year’s Day, Fr. Garry Cappleman offered this advice, “We can, with love, mirror back God’s love for others in our acts of affirmation. Do you realize how much people are starving today for one simple kind word. One word of encouragement. One compliment. We ration that out, like we’re in the desert, we have only one drop of water. Acts of affirmation, acts of encouragement, and sometimes, yes, even a simple smile, but a smile that comes deep within, that says you’re accepted, you’re valued, I love you.” Read those words again and ask yourself if it isn’t true. How many times have we been so caught up in our world, in our own lives, in our own problems, that we have failed to affirm even those who are closest to us? I know I’ve missed those opportunities before. During this Lenten season, then, I am trying to focus in a very particular way on the affirmation of my friends. I encourage you to consider some way that you can affirm your friends, as well. You could call a friend each day and tell them a way they’ve touched you, host a dinner party for your friends to say thanks, or offer a friend each day at daily Mass and send them a Mass card to let them know.

What about those people with whom we have very contentious or even negative relationships? I’m fortunate that I don’t have many of these, though there have been a few. For instance, each on a separate occasion, I have had two people e-mail me telling me that we couldn’t be friends for various reasons. While I understand where both of these people were coming from, I do feel that their reactions were a bit over the top, and I believe that there are deeper issues at play in both cases. The easiest way I have found to deal with people like this is to simply act with extreme kindness towards them and to pray for them.

Of course, we’re also in relationship with many other people, on a day to day basis, even if those relationships are only fleeting. Fleeting or not, though, all people that we encounter have equal dignity which deserves our utmost respect. I think that then-Fr. Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) said it well when he wrote:

Being a Christian means essentially changing over from being for oneself to being for one another… Accordingly, the basic Christian decision signifies the assent to being a Christian, the abandonment of self-centeredness and accession to Jesus Christ’s existence with its concentration on the whole.
- From Introduction to Christianity

This concept of being “for” others is crucial when we think of relationships. In fact, isn’t this really what I’ve recommended above, already? Thinking about how we can bear the burdens of our family, acknowledging and affirming our friends, greeting those who hate us with a smile – these are all things that are done “for” the other. Fr. Ratzinger also wrote, “Christ’s existence, as exemplary existence, is fulfilled and perfected in being opened on the Cross.” If Christ opened and gave himself to us on the cross, and if we are called to follow Christ and to love one another, are we not also called, then, to open ourselves, to live lives “for” the other?

Today the Church commemorate St. Frances of Rome. In the optional Office of Readings for the day, we read this:

God had not chosen her to be holy merely for her own advantage. Rather, the gifts he conferred upon her were to be for the spiritual and physical advantage of her neighbour. For this reason he made her so lovable that anyone with whom she spoke would immediately feel captivated by love for her and ready to help her in everything she wanted. Divine power was present and working in her words, so that in a few sentences she could bring consolation to the afflicted and the anxious, calm the restless, pacify the angry, reconcile enemies and extinguish long-standing hatreds and animosities. Again and again she would prevent a planned revenge from being carried out. She seemed able to subdue the passions of every type of person with a single word and lead them to do whatever she asked.
- From the Life of Saint Frances of Rome by Mary Magdalene Anguillaria, superior of the Oblates of Tor di Specchi

St. Frances truly lived a life for others, and I think that there is something that each of us an learn from her example. Recall the story of the rich man and Lazarus from Chapter 16 of the Gospel according to Luke. Read the story carefully and notice that Luke never actually writes that the rich man did anything specifically wrong; rather, it seems that the rich man’s sin was primarily in what he did not do for Lazarus. Let us not be like the rich man, then. Let us always act for others, that, at the end of time, we may find ourselves enjoying the beatific vision together with our family, our friends, and all other people with whom we are in relationship.

This is the second in a series of Lenten essays exploring different areas of the human experience. For more information, see the introduction.

* The idea that God sends us into the world without our consent has been a topic of many discussions that I’ve had with one of my friends, but that deserves its own article.

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The Lenten Journey: Reflections on Faith

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home –
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene — one step enough for me.
- John Henry Newman

Today we explore the concept of faith. What do you think of when you hear this word? For many Catholics, I suspect that the Creed, or Profession of Faith, comes to mind relatively quickly, if not right away. But is this faith – a series of statements about the things I believe?

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty
I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ
I believe in the Holy Spirit
I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church

Certainly these are components of faith, but during this Lent I want to look even deeper than this. It is not enough to simply “believe” to say that I have faith. I believe in gravity. I believe that I need to drink water to survive. I believe that friends are important. These are things that I believe, but I wouldn’t say that these are things in which I have faith. Why? Because faith goes beyond mere belief. Faith is defined by St. Thomas Aquinas as, “the act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God” (II-II, Q. iv, a. 2). Look closely at this definition. Faith is actually an act, something we do. It is the willful act by which we say “yes” to the truth of God. To assent to this truth, though, is beyond our natural capacity; we rely on the gift of God’s grace to move us and enable us to give this response. So, I believe in gravity, water, and the merits of friendship because these are things I can observe, test, and understand through solely natural means. Faith, though, is supernatural, and is, ultimately, an act of total trust.

Faith requires such complete trust that sometimes it might mean placing our trust in something that we aren’t even certain we truly believe. Do you recall the story of the boy possessed by a demon that the the disciples of Jesus were not able to cast out? When Jesus asks the boys father about the child the father says, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And what is Jesus’ response to this? “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Here the man’s father is not certain of the power of Jesus – he doesn’t necessarily believe that Jesus has the power to heal his son, but then he cries out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24, emphasis mine) These are truly words of faith – words of trust!

When we trust, though, we do make ourselves vulnerable. We leave ourselves open to being hurt, taken advantage of, or even just disappointed. Trust can be a scary thing, even when we place that trust in God. While we know that God wills only the best for us – his adopted sons and daughters – we also know that God’s will is not always the same as our own. It would be easy to trust God fully if we knew that God wanted for us the things we want for ourselves, wouldn’t it? Maybe we want a better job, a nicer car, a bigger house, more money, a husband or a wife, children, a vacation to Hawaii, or another hour of sleep. But that’s where the trust of faith becomes risky – while these things might be what we want as humans, they might not be what God knows we need. By placing trust in God, we may not actually get the things that we ask for. The result, of course, is that so many people decide to place their trust – their faith – in themselves and in worldly things. They might think to themselves, “if God won’t do this for me, I’ll do it on my own.”

I have known many smart, religious people who do not have a firm grasp on this issue of faith, of trust. They get so caught up on the things that they think they need to do or to provide for themselves that they forget to trust in God. These people often start sentences with something like, “As soon as I…” Don’t get me wrong, planning for the future is prudent, but as soon as that planning gets in the way of letting God’s will be done we have a problem. Jesus tells us, “do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides” (Luke 12:29-31, emphasis mine). This is hard, though! It is natural for us to want to be in control. This desire for control is not unique to the modern age – we see it all through salvation history. Adam and Even grasped the forbidden fruit to “become like God,” King David sent Uriah to the front-line of battle so he would be killed, King Zedekiah refused to heed the words of the prophets and ended up in exile in Babylon, Peter wouldn’t believe that Jesus had to suffer, St. Paul persecuted the early Christians…

All of these people wanted something that seemed good to them. They had plans for the future. They had hope and dreams. But they forgot (or just ignored) God and the message of love that he had for them. They were so busy looking ahead that they forgot to focus on taking that next single step. This post starts with the first stanza of the poem “The Pillar of Cloud” by John Henry Newman and I think it provides a very powerful image of faith and trust. We are a people often wandering in the dark, but we know that God provides us with light so that we might see where we are going. God may not show us the whole future, but he will always provide us with the light we need to see the next step.

This coming Sunday, the second Sunday of Lent, we will hear Mark’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. In this story, we hear how Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray when suddenly Jesus is transfigured before them, becoming dazzling white, as Moses and Elijah appear and speak to him. This story appears in the three synoptic Gospels, but Luke adds this, “Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him” (Luke 9:32). This concept of being “overcome” is important, and it is not the first time we see good things happening when total control is in the hands of the Lord. Adam falls into a deep sleep, and when he awakens God has given him Eve (Genesis 2:21-23); Abram falls into a deep sleep and is covered by a cloud at the time the Lord establishes the covenant (Genesis 15:12-21); Samuel was sleeping in the Temple of the Lord when he was called by name and appointed a prophet (1 Samuel 3:1-18); Mary submits herself fully at the words of the Angel Gabriel and Jesus, the Messiah, is born into the world for our salvation (Luke 1:26-38). Giving up control is not bad – it’s a good thing!

This Lent, I would encourage you to look at your own faith. How much do you trust God? Are you so busy worrying and thinking about “what you are to eat and what you are to drink” that you are missing that kindly light which is showing you the next step in God’s divine plan for you? What are the things that you are grasping for? Where are some areas of your life that you are trying to plan, to control, to become totally self-reliant? Think about these areas – pray about them. Visit the Lord in the blessed Sacrament, and cry out to the Him like the possessed boy’s father saying, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Remember, God loves you, and when you trust in God you will find only love. It may not always be easy – God the Father loved Jesus, God the Son, who suffered – but it will always be full of grace. Turn yourself over to God this Lent. Trust in His divine plan for you. Listen to His voice and answer His call. Look for His kindly light and take that next step.

This is the first in a series of Lenten essays exploring different areas of the human experience. For more information, see the introduction.

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Shrimp & Tofu Red Curry

Shrimp and Tofu Red CurryAs part of my ongoing effort to enjoy healthier, tastier foods while reducing the amount of red meat I eat, I concocted this delicious curry dish for lunch today. It’s fast, easy, and had under 300 calories per serving (without rice). Because I used a pre-made simmer sauce for this dish, the sodium content is a little high. You can reduce the sodium by making your own sauce, but it will take much longer.


  • 14 oz extra firm organic tofu, cubed
  • 1 Tbsp Safflower oil
  • 1 bottle (11 oz) thai red curry sauce
  • 1-2 Cups water (to your preferred consistency)
  • 1 large green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 can (5 oz) bamboo shoots
  • 3/4 lb shrimp, shelled

Preheat the safflower oil in a large saute pan. Pat cubed tofu dry with a paper towel and then saute undisturbed for 2-3 minutes. Turn the cubes gently and allow to cook an additional 2-3 minutes, again undisturbed. Remove tofu from pan and set aside.

Add red curry sauce and water to the saute pan and bring to a boil. Add peppers, onion, and bamboo shoots. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook until the peppers are tender and liquid is partially reduced. Add the reserved tofu and stir gently. Allow to simmer an addition 3 minutes. Add uncooked shrimp and stir in. Allow to cook, covered, 2-3 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and tender. Remove from heat and serve over rice (Hinode Brown rice pictured).

Serves 4.

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Introduction to the Lenten Journey

Lance on Ash WednesdayHappy Ash Wednesday! Today marks the first day of Lent, 2012, a season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that will last until Easter Sunday, April 8. This post is the first in a Lenten series that will invite my readers to explore various aspects of their daily lives with an eye towards improving themselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

So often we think of Lent as simply that time before Easter where we give up the things that we enjoy, like candy, television, coffee, or even Facebook. What is this season really about, though? Certainly sacrifice is a significant part of good Lenten discipline, but if we stop there, I think we miss out of the much deeper, richer treasures that Lent has to offer us.

Sometimes we might find that there are certain luxuries to which we have formed attachments and that these attachments are impeding our relationship with God or are preventing us from living up to our full potential. I know this has been the case for me – more than once I have found myself wasting away time watching Netflix, time that could be better spent on a myriad of more productive endeavors. If you find yourself in a similar situation, giving up Netflix for Lent might be a great idea… as long as you don’t just replace Netflix with Hulu, that is. But what about other things that aren’t necessarily preventing you from living up to your full potential? I have several good friends that love chocolate, but I wouldn’t say that any of them are controlled by it or that it is in the way of their success, yet there may still be great value in giving it up for Lent. Why? It all comes down to intent.

As one of the priests at St. Dominic’s, Fr. Stephen Maria, said in his homily today, “Why do people seem to be repulsed by the idea of giving something up during Lent? We are never repulsed when we see sacrifices being made for children, parents, friends, and the people we love. So we should make our sacrifices during Lent out of love for God.” I found this to be a particularly powerful idea. I’ve heard people say, “you can’t give up something you really love – you’ll just be miserable.” Perhaps this is true if you’re giving it up because you feel there is some social obligation. After all, how many times do you hear the question, “what are giving up for Lent?” But if we see our sacrifice as something we do out of love, it takes on a whole new meaning – we are uniting ourselves more closely to the sufferings of Christ, yes, but we are also preparing ourselves to share more fully in the new life of His resurrection.

But this series is not going to be solely about sacrifice. At its core, Lent is a time for spiritual renewal, a true springtime for all people. While there are many ways that we can approach Lent, over the next 40 days, I want to focus primarily on two very important questions:

  • What is getting in the way of my relationship with God?
  • What is preventing me from being the person I am called to be?

In addressing these questions throughout the series, we will definitely see sacrifice come up several times, but more so we will see that Lent really offers us a chance to become new people, to transform our lives in a meaningful way. I hope to show one way that this is possible through an exploration of eight key areas of our lives that we can develop during Lent.

  1. Faith
  2. Relationships
  3. Personal Finance
  4. Fiduciary Duty
  5. Maintenance
  6. Fitness
  7. Hobbies
  8. Vocation

In the coming weeks, I will explore each of these eight areas separately, beginning with a reflection on the role I see each playing in my own life, and then exploring ways in which we can work to improve these areas during the Lenten season. At the end of the series, I will look at four overarching themes:

  1. Spiritual
  2. Emotional
  3. Physical
  4. Intellectual

Taken together, these four overarching themes contain the eight key areas and make up the picture of a complete human being. And since Lent really is a time to transform ourselves, what better way to end the series than to wrap it all up with a look at the whole person?

I am excited to embark on this Lenten journey with you, and I hope that these topics that I will be exploring can help your own experience of Lent be much more positive.

NB: I would be remiss if I failed to thank M.M. for inspiring me to write this series of articles. Over breakfast this past Sunday we got to talking about Lenten disciplines, and he suggested that there was a lot of potential in these eight areas and four overarching themes. I decided to write this series, then, as part of my Lenten discipline so that I could not only explore these topics myself, but also maybe help others on their own journey. For what it’s worth, I made a suggestion of my own to M.M. for something I thought he might consider incorporating as part of his Lenten discipline and I really hope he decides to take on the challenge.

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Where are they now?

Friends from Notre Dame

Dinner & A Movie Night

This is actually rather embarrassing, but today, quite by accident, I discovered that I had a scanner at home. Apparently a printer that I got for free with the purchase of a computer a couple years ago was an all-in-one unit, something I had apparently been entirely oblivious to until today. I can’t tell you the number of times that I wished I had a scanner in my house. I’ve been carting the most important things that I want scanned to my office and doing it there.

Other things that aren’t so urgent, though, have been put on hold. For instance, I have a huge box of photos in my closet that’s just been sitting there for the past five years. I’ve often thought about how I would like to scan at least some of them so that I could preserve them digitally, but the obstacle – however small – of getting the photos and a scanner together in the same place at the same time has prevented me from doing anything about it. Until today.

Immediately upon discovering the (well concealed) scanner on my Canon printer, I grabbed a small envelope of old photos from the box in the closet and looked through them. How this particular assortment of photos ended up together I’m not entirely certain, but among them were several photos from a dinner and a movie night that one of my friends hosted, with full permission, while house sitting for someone while we were all students at Notre Dame in March, 2002. As I was looking at these photos, I realized just how different life was ten years ago. I had just turned 20 years old and I had still never had a serious girlfriend. Sure I’d been on dates, but I wasn’t really much for dating in high school, and pretty much only had a date for things like Prom. I was studying finance and film and I planned to pursue a career as a film Producer. I hadn’t yet traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Thailand, Japan, China, India, Kenya, Spain, Ireland, or Scotland. I hadn’t yet met Adam Fairholm, so it certainly hadn’t entered my mind that I would one day be running a San Francisco-based tech business with him. Imagine how little each of us knew about the future of our lives that night. As we gathered to eat dinner (tacos) and watch a movie (Annie Hall, if memory serves) on that March evening, I doubt any of us was thinking about what we would be doing on February 21, 2012. I certainly wouldn’t have said that I’d be sitting in a Palo Alto Starbucks writing about that night.

So what did all of these people get up to, and where are they now? With the exception of two people in this photograph, I’ve actually seen everyone pictured at least twice since we graduated in May, 2004, and some of them I’ve actually kept in touch with pretty regularly. So, here’s what I know.

DongHyup - Dong was one of my closest friends at Notre Dame, and we’ve traveled somewhat extensively together. Domestically, we’ve been in New York, California, Nevada, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Utah. Internationally, we’ve traveled to Korea, Thailand, Japan, and Australia. Not quite three years ago, Dong returned to his native Korea to fulfill his obligatory military service. He had a strong fashion sense, so I always pictured Dong completing his military service in Prada boots with a custom tailored Burberry uniform. I don’t think it was quite like that. In fact, early in his military service he was a tank driver – a mental image that I still think of with a smile. After that, though, word of his skill in the kitchen had apparently gotten out and he was assigned as the private breakfast chef to the General. He recently completed his military service and is now living in Seoul working for a major Korean technology manufacturer – the company that manufactured my cell phone, actually. We have stayed in touch regularly during the 8 years since graduation and the next time I’m in Korea, I will almost certainly see him.

Matt – Matt is one of the two people in this photo that I’ve neither seen nor heard from since graduation. Matt was roommates with Johnny (see below) during our senior year, but I more or less lost track of him after that. I heard that he went to medical school, but that’s where my knowledge ends. It seems that even Facebook and LinkedIn can’t answer the question of “Where is Matt now?”

Suzanne – Suzanne, Karrie, and Laura were all roommates when this photo was taken. Of the three of them, Suzanne is the one with whom I’ve had the most interaction since graduation. During a particularly stormy winter in Denver, Suzanne came and stayed at my dad’s house for a night while I was visiting for the New Year since the roads were closed to her home in Vale. Several years after graduation, Suzanne got married to another Notre Dame grad, Mike. I attended their wedding in Omaha, NE. Mike and Suz have been to visit me in San Francisco twice, and I’ve also been to visit them in Denver, CO several times. Mike and Suz spent nearly a year traveling through South America in 2010-2011, and I had hoped to visit them there, but it never materialized. They are now back living in the Denver area and Suzanne is working at an elementary school. I actually just had them over to dinner at my dad’s house while I was there in January of this year.

Johnny – Johnny and I were roommates at the time time this photo was taken, and of everyone in this photo, Johnny is the person with whom I have most recently spoken on the phone. Our last conversation was just yesterday, in fact. Immediately after graduation, Johnny, Dong, and I all traveled to Korea together to celebrate. It was Johnny’s first, but certainly not last, trip to the Asian peninsula. After graduating from Notre Dame, Johnny went to Harvard Law School, where I had the chance to visit him one time during a trip to New York. It was my first visit to Cambridge, MA, and a very memorable one for several reasons. First, I discovered that Cambridge Commons has an amazing selection of beers on tap and also fries up a mean batch of Tater Tots. I also had the chance to attend a student Mass, a story which Johnny can relate to you if you’re ever fortunate enough to meet him. After graduating from Harvard, Johnny went on to work for a prestigious law firm in New York City, and I was able to visit him there during his tenure, as well. At that time, he was living near the East Village, in close proximity to one of the intersections where we shot scenes for Across the Universe during my stint in the Hollywood film industry. In 2009, after a couple years of corporate law, Johnny received an offer to teach law at Seoul National University, an opportunity that he jumped on. It’s not difficult to convince me to travel (have you learned that about me yet?) and within the first few months of his time in Korea I was already back over there to visit him for a week. We discovered an amazing bar – TV Bar – which, sadly, has since closed. When I last spoke to him yesterday, I learned that Johnny is now married. He told me in December that this was a likely development, but it was a surprise to learn that it had already happened – it was done without pomp and circumstance in New Haven, CT, a few weeks ago. I hear rumor that there may be a larger ceremony in the works in Korea (he met his bride there), and, surprise, surprise, I’ll make every effort to attend should that happen. He is still technically employed by SNU, though it sounds as if he’ll be returning to the United States this year and return to the legal practice in New York.

Karrie - I last saw Karrie at Mike and Suzanne’s wedding, but prior to that I had actually seen her in San Francisco when she stayed one night on my futon during a drive up to the Seattle area. She came with her dog, Jacc (named for the building at ND’s campus), and it was nice to catch up with her. Karrie was a pilot with the Navy and spent a good deal of her time on air craft carriers around the world. Apparently she is now living in Texas and, like I just did, she is preparing to celebrate her 30th birthday in March.

Laura – Laura and I met through a mutual friend, Nicole, and it was actually because of Laura that I ended up meeting both Karrie and Suzanne. We were both studying film and would end up working together at the student television station that I started with a small group, NDtv. Laura and I would also later date, an experience that was, if nothing else, transformational for both of us. After graduation, Laura joined the ACE program and went to teach in Pensacola, FL. After that ended, she began to work as a Campus Minister in New York, a job that she had the last time I saw her at Mike and Suzanne’s wedding. That was the first time I had seen her since graduation and it was a perfectly sociable reunion. I would end up seeing her one more time in New York during a visit out there – the same one where I visited Johnny in the East Village – but I haven’t been in touch with her since. The last I heard, she was no longer working in Campus Ministry, but was now working at her high school Alma Mater.

Lance - Read all the entries of this blog to learn what happened to this guy.

Diana – Diana is the only other person, apart from Matt, that I’ve completely lost track of. Since Johnny and Matt had been roommates, I at least had the Johnny connection to keep me somewhat more informed about his whereabouts, but Diana has, sadly, slipped away entirely, it seems. If the Alumni directory is to be trusted, at least as of 2009, she was living on the East Coast, but more than that I don’t know.

Eight people in this photo, and eight vastly different stories. Some of us have flown planes, others have flown tens-of-thousands of miles in planes. Some have worked on movies & TV sets, others have watched movies & TV. We’ve turned into doctors, teachers, architects, entrepreneurs, business executives, husbands, and wives. I feel so lucky to have had such good friends 10 years ago, and even luckier that I’ve managed to stay in touch with at least some of them to the present day. I wonder which picture from this year I’ll look at in in 2022 and think, “wow, life was so different back then.”

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Chilkoot Trail Here I Come!

Manor Avenue House

Our House on Manor Avenue

It’s funny how quickly things can change over the course of only ten days. Ten days ago I posted a list of things that I wanted to accomplish in my thirties. On that list was to return to Alaska for the first time since the fifth grade. My family lived in Alaska for one year when I was in the fifth grade and I really loved living there. I remember the address of the house we lived in: 4366 Manor Avenue, Juneau, AK 99801. I even remember the phone number we had: (907) 789-1235. (This phone number is now assigned to the Association for the Education of Young Children – Southeast Alaska, apparently.) I have a lot of fond memories of my time in Alaska: Bullwinkle’s Pizza, getting picked up from school by a limo on my birthday, family outings to Fred Meyer, wandering in the woods, visits to Mendenhall Glacier, accidentally bringing down the computer system of a global mining company, my first experience of a BBS, and having a huge crush on my fifth grade teacher.

Mendenhall Glacier

A few weeks ago my friend Mike Liliedahl asked if I wanted to hike the Chilkoot Trail with him from Alaska into Canada over the summer and I was really looking forward to it. We were going to start in Juneau with his brother’s wedding and then head up to Skagway to begin the journey. By the time I posted my list, though, it sounded as if that wasn’t going to be able to happen, after all. But, a few days later I got word that Chilkoot was back on, and now here I am only 10 days into my 30s and I’ve already booked the plane ticket to Juneau, we’ve purchased the passes, and we’re scheduled to summit the Chilkoot Pass on July 26, 2012. Now that the trip has gone from the conceptual stage to the “this is actually going to happen” stage, I find myself both excited and a little nervous. I love hiking – I grew up hiking in the Rockies and I’ve done plenty of hiking in California, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and elsewhere. That said, though, this will be my longest hike – 33 miles – and the first time that I’m hiking with camping gear.

Elevation Profile for the Chilkoot TrailAdd to that this slightly daunting elevation profile and you’ve got the makings of a truly challenging journey. On the first day we’ll be hiking to Sheep Camp. We’ll overnight there and then undertake the bulk of the vertical climb on Day 2 as we cross the border into Canada and end up at Happy Camp. On that Day we’ll climb over 2,000 vertical feet into a high alpine ecosystem. Despite the long days, I’ve heard that even experienced hikers have been known not to make Happy Camp. Day 3 will take us to Bare Loon and Day 4 should be a breeze, landing us in Bennett, BC.

It looks like I’ve got some training to do! Thankfully, I’m currently training for a 10K trail run in Napa that will include 700 feet of vertical climb in the first 2-miles, so I’ve already started a portion of the training for an ascent. The elevation, itself, should also be manageable. After all, I grew up in the high desert, so 3,500 feet should pose no problem. So, it seems that I’m already starting the check things off my list. So far, the 30s are treating me pretty well.

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Learn Korean

Learn Korean at IICLast night I was out at a Karaoke Lounge call Do Re Mi for a friend’s birthday party. It seems that, for some reason, karaoke lounges are a huge deal in east Asian culture and this particular one, despite being in Japantown, is actually a Korean music studio. Ever since college, I’ve had a fascination with all things Korean, primarily due to the fact that I had some very good Korean friends while studying at Notre Dame. I’ve already visited Korea three times, and I’m considering another trip later this year. As I noted in my post on Entering the Fourth Decade, I want to learn a new language and Korean is one of the languages I’m really interested. So when I walked out of our karaoke room after four sweet hours of karaoke goodness and saw this sign for “Korean Classes at IIC,” I was very excited.

San Francisco is a city with many things, but one thing that I had never really seen before was a good Korean class. I’ve actually looked for them before, and I have found several language programs that claim to offer Korean classes, but they are four or six week courses that meet only once a week and offer only introductory lessons. I already know a tiny amount of Korean, enough to say hello, order food, and generally confuse Koreans, so a single four week class where you would learn to say hello, order food, and generally confuse Koreans wasn’t what I was looking for. It turns out, though, that IIC offers seven different levels of Korean which meet for an entire semester. Unfortunately, I’ve missed the chance to register for the Spring, 2012, semester, but now that I know this opportunity exists, I might finally be able to learn the language. Now if only I could find an actual use for speaking Korean.

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