Poker Stories (Vol. 1)

It’s June, which means Vegas is being overrun by douchey poker players and the World Series of Poker.

There is one big positive and one big negative about being in Vegas for the WSOP. The positive is that you can find a poker game any hour of the day, any day of the week.

The negative is everything else. Vegas sucks because it costs $15 for a smoothie, the traffic is terrible and its 110 degrees. Poker tournaments suck because the skill factor illogically decreases as the monetary stakes become higher. Poker players suck because they’re all douche-robots who take 20 minutes to fold, never talk and look like this guy.

This was the first image that came up when I Googled “poker douche.” No idea who this guy is.

Over the past 10 years I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to Vegas and the WSOP. Three times I’ve loaded up the whole family, rented a house for the month and made an extended vacation out of it. Some years (like last year) I didn’t bother going at all. Other years I do what I’m doing this year, flying out for just a few days.

Seems like a good time to tell a few of my favorite Vegas poker stories, as well as the reason I quit playing hold em tournaments pretty much immediately after actually doing good in a hold em tournament.

The first time Missy and I ever went to Vegas, when I still worked at the paper and before we had any kids, we stayed at the Mirage. My “Welcome to Vegas” moment happened on about our second night there, when I couldn’t sleep and went downstairs around midnight to play poker. I played until 3 a.m. and then as I was heading back to the room I was stopped by two ladies of the evening who asked if I would like them to “tuck me into bed” (That’s exactly what they said lol). I told them my wife was already in the bed and she probably would not appreciate the disruption. They said “we can be really quiet,” so I said, “Um, I guess you don’t understand, I’m just saying no.”

There was a time many years ago when the Mirage had the premier poker room in Vegas. But that was when limit poker was king, so by the time I arrived the Mirage was somewhat fading into obscurity as a poker room. That means there weren’t very many poker games there, but the ones they had were pretty good.

One summer when I brought the whole family out, Eric Wolf stayed with us and we played quite a bit at the Mirage. One night we were playing and a middle aged guy sat down on my right and started bragging about how good he was and how he had mastered the game by recently attending a World Poker Tour boot camp. Back in those days a good way to make money off of me was to get on my nerves, because I would go out of my way to try to beat players like that.

So this guy was being annoying and also seemed to be playing too cautiously. On one hand he made a raise and I figured I’d just take his money real quick so I re-raised. I don’t even remember what I had but it wasn’t very good. But he didn’t fold like I expected him to and I could tell he actually had a good hand. The flop came KQ4. No flush draw or anything. I didn’t have anything at all. This guy tenses up and thinks for a long time and then checks. I thought he probably had a hand like AK and wasn’t going to fold so I didn’t want to blow any more money on this hand so I checked. The turn was a 7 or something like it, a completely inconsequential card. This guy pauses for awhile and then checks again. Back in those days a good way to make money off of me was to check it to me twice. I couldn’t help myself, I’d take a stab at the pot. So I made a normal-sized bet. This guy thinks for a minute and then starts his speech.

He says, “I used to go broke on hands like this all the time. But not anymore. Not after the WPT boot camp. But I don’t know if I can fold this hand.” I thought he might have AQ or a pair of jacks or something. He stopped to think for a long time.

Then he turns up his hand. He has pocket queens — a set of queens! — the second-best possible hand at that moment. This guy didn’t even have that much money left, there’s no way he should ever even consider folding that hand. I was getting annoyed again. First at him for wasting so much time when he was clearly going to go all in. Then at myself for betting after already deciding I wasn’t going to bluff on the flop. I was basically just lighting money on fire. I figured since he had already shown me and the whole table his hand, he might just call instead of going all in. I decided I was going to just muck my hand as soon as he called so I wouldn’t be tempted to bluff again on the river. I was drawing completely dead, there was no card I could win with.

Then he says, “Nope, I’m not giving you my money. I know you have the set of kings. You wouldn’t have bet if you didn’t have it. I’m the only one in here who’s good enough to fold this hand.” And then he folded. I glanced over at Eric, who was incredibly and understandably annoyed that I had gotten away with this terrible play. I couldn’t look at him without bursting out laughing. That was probably seven years ago and Eric is still mad about it.

Another time we were playing at the Mirage when some typical cocky frat boy sat down. He started bragging about how much money he had and how much he could bench press and how many women he picked up in a typical week. I’m sure he and Eric shared a wink and a frat brother fist-pound. Back in those days a good way to make money off of me was to get on my nerves, because I would go out of my way to try to beat players like that.

I don’t remember how the hand started but I know I had 23, which is technically the worst starting hand in hold em. He had pocket aces, which is the best starting hand in poker. And I either raised or called his raise or called his re-raise with that hand. I also don’t remember exactly what happened on the flop but it was something like 962. All I know is that I was betting the whole hand, whether I raised him or he was just calling me I don’t remember. The turn didn’t change anything, I still just had a pair of deuces. I bet again and he called. Then the river was another 2, which gave me the best hand. I went all in and he called and was not happy to see my hand.

But remember he’s the cool frat boy with all the money and all the girls so he had to act like it was no big deal to him. He wasn’t going to rebuy so he got up from the table, walked over to me, said “Nice hand bro” and slapped me on the back as hard as I’ve ever been slapped on the back. I think it left his handprint there. I was worried that he was trying to fight me but he ambled off into the night to do some more pushups and meet some more girls.

About seven years ago we went to Vegas and I was in the middle of the worst poker slump of my life. I’ve never liked hold em tournaments but I decided to play one just to try something different. Today just about every casino runs a tournament series concurrent to the World Series, but at this time the Venetian was the only competition to the WSOP. This was also before the WSOP started having $500 buy-in tournaments. Because of those things, the fields at the Venetian were way bigger than they are now. I entered a $300 tournament and there were more than 900 people in it.

I think we played 14 hours of poker on the first day, until the field was down to the last 10% who would make the money. I wasn’t getting very many good hands but when I did get a good hand I won every pot it seemed like. So I didn’t have a big chip stack but I was never in danger of missing the money either. I believe the field was 915 players so the top 92 would make the money. When it was down to 93 they did hand-for-hand play so players with short stacks couldn’t take an excessive amount of time just to try to sneak into the money.

By this time it was like 3 a.m. and I was exhausted. A guy at my table got all in with Ace-Ten and he was up against pocket tens. It was down to the last card and unless he hit an ace he would be eliminated and we could all go home for the night. Sure enough, the ace came on the river. A few minutes later someone else got busted.

The next day I think we started at noon, so I didn’t get much sleep at all (especially since it took about 30 minutes to drive to and from the house we had rented that summer). Day 2 was about like Day 1 for me. I wasn’t getting a lot of good hands but I won enough to keep my head above water while other people got eliminated. When we got down to the final table I couldn’t believe who had the biggest chip stack — it was the guy who had caught the ace on the last card the night before! (They re-draw for table assignments to start Day 2 and I hadn’t played with this guy the whole day. He was a terrible player and I never dreamed he would make the final table, much less have a huge chip lead).

At the final table I was one of the shortest chip stacks, but I was never short enough to have to panic or go all in with a bad hand. At one point I flopped a set and one of the bigger stacks kept bluffing and eventually went all in with no pair and no draw, so that was good for me.

The final table was being played on a portable table just outside the main Venetian poker room, in the middle of the slot machines basically. They had the table roped off but the slots were all around it. My friends Travis Brassfield and Jason Garder were staying at our house that summer and they were trying to watch and root for me at the final table. They were sitting on slot machine chairs but had the chairs facing away from the slots and toward the poker table. Casino security came over and told them they had to be actively playing the slots to sit in the chairs. So Travis put $20 in the machine just so it would be “active” but never played it. While he was watching poker somebody walked by and cashed out his $20 lol.

The tournament was supposed to last three days but the guy with all the chips was from Portugal and had a flight out the next morning. The supervisor decided we would just play the tournament out that night.

Eventually it got down to three of us. The other two guys had $5 million each in tournament chips and I had only $1 million. First place in the tournament paid $42,000, second place was $35k and third was $30k. So logic would dictate that the other two would wait for me to get eliminated before they locked horns in a big pot. Instead, they got all in against each other, and each only had one pair. The Portuguese dude who had caught the ace the night before was behind but he caught a second pair to eliminate the other player. This made me an extra $5k just for sitting there but also meant I was at a 10:1 chip disadvantage going into heads-up play.

I got back to nearly even with him at one point but he had about twice as many chips as me on the final hand, when I missed a straight flush draw and his buddies draped him in a Portuguese flag and sang the anthem about 20 times in a row while we waited to get paid. This was maybe 3 or 4 a.m., and I was so tired that I literally forgot I was in Las Vegas. I thought I was at Riverwind.

The $35k was by far my biggest score ever, although oddly that year still ended up being my worst overall year so far. It definitely came at a good time, yet I’ve hardly played any tournaments since then. I really did not like how delusionally tired I was at the end of it, and it also seemed stupid that after two whole days of play that one lucky or unlucky card could change your net worth that significantly. If this had been a more expensive tournament like the main event of the WSOP, one jump in the pay scale could be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

I did play one or two more tournaments that summer, but I haven’t played a hold em tournament in about five years. I usually end up playing one Omaha tournament per year, like the $1500 WSOP tournament I’m planning to play in about 10 days when I’m out there. Hopefully I can get heads up against the same Portuguese guy. Surely he can’t beat me twice in a row 😉

This was taken at the house we rented in Vegas the last time I took the whole family out there, in 2016.

Softball

Thursday was a weird evening for me in several ways.

First, I was staying the night at my mom’s house. Thanks to everyone who prayed for her hip replacement surgery Tuesday. After a rough first night she rebounded fantastically on Wednesday and was able to go home Thursday. She’s already getting around as well as she was before the procedure and I’m very hopeful that this will greatly increase her quality of life. But I didn’t want her staying home alone on that first night.

Which leads to Weird Thing #2. Mom went to bed early as usual and I had a kid-free evening of relaxation, but with no DVR on the TV. I don’t watch anything live on TV. Even sports, which is the one thing everyone watches live. I still DVR it, wait until the kids go to bed and then fire it up in peace and zip through the games quickly. I can watch a Cubs or Thunder game in about 45 minutes and a football game quicker than that. If it means I have to stay off my phone for a few hours in the evening to avoid spoilers then I consider that an added bonus. So I’m just chilling on her couch, flipping between the NBA Finals and the Women’s College World Series.

Which leads to Weird Thing #3. I watched a lot more of the softball game than I expected to. I’d still say the TV was on the basketball game more than 50% of the time, but it was close.

It was a great back-and-forth game, with OU beating Alabama 3-2. The next night while playing poker I watched the winner’s bracket game between OU and OSU. It’s pretty cool that both schools made it and the atmosphere at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City seemed really electric. The top-ranked Sooners pulled away late for a 6-1 victory.

Why is it that I enjoyed watching softball two nights in a row when I never watch women’s basketball? Why did I watch more softball the past two nights than I’ve watched college baseball over the past two years? I think it comes down to the product. Women’s basketball is (in my opinion) an inferior product to men’s college basketball, which itself has become barely watchable ever since we got an NBA team. But they are essentially the same game. College baseball is an inferior product to minor league baseball, which is an inferior product to Major League Baseball. But they are essentially the same game. Softball is a different sport entirely, and the differences are what make it fun.

Start with the underhanded pitching motion. For one thing, it allows pitchers to throw multiple games in a row, as opposed to major league games where starters get pulled after four innings and it takes 6 guys to complete a game. It also allows for some different spin and manipulation of the ball. It doesn’t take long to figure out how hard it is to make solid contact off of these elite softball pitchers.

Softball games are full of chants and songs that don’t really make sense to an outsider like myself but they make for a festive environment. The whole field and base paths are smaller and shorter than a traditional baseball diamond, which makes the whole game move quicker. The shortstop doesn’t have time to play patty cake with the ball before throwing to first; any hesitation will cost her the out. My great friend and former OU softball beat reporter Josh Ward compares it to Arena League football, and it’s a perfect comparison. The quirks are what make it fun to watch. Yet it’s still very similar to baseball, and the players can easily display their athleticism in the field and on the basepaths.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when your alma mater has the best program in the country. In 1995, OU hired the coach at Long Beach City College. All Patty Gasso has done since then is win 78% of her games and four national titles. And this year’s squad may be her best yet. OU is 54-4 and didn’t lose a game in Big 12 Conference play. Statistically, this would be their best team ever if they can win three more games and capture another title.

Patty Gasso

I came to OU three years after Gasso did, and in 2000 I was the sports editor of the school paper. The aforementioned Josh Ward covered the softball team, which looked like it might be a special one.

If you know Josh, you know he can be a tough critic (especially the Y2k version of Dub). But he never had a negative word to say about Gasso or the way she ran her program. He said she was great to work with and always “had her shit together.” Not that anyone could have predicted this level of success, but Josh says he never had a doubt that OU would be a big winner under Gasso.

One of the coolest experiences I ever had at OU came on the softball field while I was sports editor. Gasso let me, Josh, and our sports photographer Paul Dryden take batting practice against OU’s pitchers that spring. It was really a testament to both Josh and Coach Gasso. Most reporters wouldn’t have developed the kind of relationship with the team to make that a possibility, and most coaches wouldn’t be cool enough to go along with it.

I remember going to the old (and now defunct) Perfect Swing off Highway 9 to get some practice cuts in. I didn’t plan on hitting a home run but I was darn sure going to get the bat on the ball. OU’s pitchers that year were Jennifer Stewart and Lana Moran. Stewart was the ace and she had a changeup that made Josh and Paul look silly. Like any good pitcher she threw it with the same motion as her fastball and you only had about half a millisecond to react to that if you wanted to hit it, so when she threw the change you looked like Bugs Bunny swinging three times at the same pitch and striking out. I don’t know how anyone hits that pitch unless they just guess right that it’s coming.

Gasso only allowed us 5 or 10 pitches each. Neither Josh nor Paul made contact with any of Stewart’s pitches and the entire team was sitting on the outfield grass laughing up a storm and talking trash. So the pressure was on yours truly. Luckily I didn’t have to face Stewart. Moran was also a good pitcher but she didn’t have that nasty changeup and I was able to send her first pitch over the fence and into the parking lot, where it shattered Gasso’s car window. OK maybe that’s not quite how it happened. Actually, I just fouled it straight back, which was already a pretty big win for me. I also managed to hit one fair, although it would have been a routine ground out.

But it was a blast, and it made me appreciate how hard the sport is. As the sports editor of the paper, it stinks that the school year ends before the Women’s College World Series. Josh had some great coverage of the team during the season but by the time the WCWS rolled around it was summer and I had a regular job.

I’ll never forget the day OU won the national championship that year. It was Memorial Day and our family tradition at that time was to split into two groups. Mom took Andrew and Allison to her hometown of Enid to decorate the graves there, and I went with dad to the small town of Jones where his family was from. In the world before smartphones, I had no idea what was going on in the game against UCLA. As soon as we got home I turned on ESPN and the first batter I saw was the last batter of the game. It was really exciting to see this team we had been covering all year celebrating a national championship. The football championship wouldn’t come for another 7 months so this was the first time OU won anything during my tenure there.

Josh covered the WCWS and says he remembers some kind of special edition of the paper after it was over. It just stinks that the majority of the students wouldn’t have been on campus to read his great work and that I didn’t get to be part of the coverage or design of that paper. He said he gathered his notes and mementos from that WCWS and later gave them to Gasso, although he doesn’t know if she kept them or what she did with them. She’s won three championships since then (with a fourth hopefully on the way in the next week), but that first one is always special.

I was never the beat reporter for the softball team; I covered the baseball team. I covered several high school state tournament games at the Constitution but only one OU game. It was a Bedlam game in Norman, and I wasn’t actually sent to write about the game itself.

I was there to do a feature on Courtney Totte, who was a catcher for Oklahoma State. She was a great player and as far as I can remember she was the only Lawton kid during my time there to go on to play for OU or OSU. The stadium was packed and the crowd was really into it. I remember the weather being absolutely perfect that night, the game moved along at a good pace and OU won (sorry Courtney). Afterward I got a good interview which turned into a pretty good story, if I do say so myself. I remember it being one of those nights that make sportswriting the best job in the world. (The nights when the game takes four hours, the coaches are grumpy and the computer quits working, not so much).

This summer my daughter Addison is playing softball for the first time. We watched some of OSU’s win over Florida the other night together. We’ve gone to the park a few times to practice, just her and I, and it’s those kind of moments that you live for as a parent. She’s got some natural talent but she’s also good at volleyball, basketball, and a lot of non-sports stuff like music, acting, cooking and science so it will be interesting to see what piques her interest the most in the upcoming years.

I’m not pushing her toward softball by any means, but I’ll enjoy whatever time we end up getting on the diamond. And I’ll be watching the Women’s College World Series, at least as long as Gasso and the Sooners are in it.

Boomer.

Church

What kind of feelings does that word evoke?

Probably a fair number of people who normally read my blog won’t even click on this because the title elicits strong negative memories or assumptions. Many others will have the exact opposite reaction, people who can’t imagine a life outside of the faith or whose lives were drastically changed for the better after finding Jesus. Some of those people will be mad about some of the things I’m about to say.

Church has been a part of my life since I was born. It’s been an overwhelmingly positive part of it the majority of the time, with some bumps along the way. Many times those bumps were self-inflicted and occasionally they were caused by the human beings that make up “The Church”. But I can’t write my life story without talking about it, so even though it’s not a popular topic I’m going to put my experiences and beliefs out there.

I was raised in the church. Some of my earliest church memories involve Vacation Bible Study and church camp at Camp Sooner. We went to Draper Park Christian Church, which is still located at 8500 S Walker in Oklahoma City.

Draper Park Christian Church

We weren’t just a Christmas and Easter family, or even just a Sunday church family for that matter. Mom and Dad were both fully committed to Jesus Christ, not just on church days but every day. We prayed before every meal and at bedtime and I saw my parents living their faith in everything they did. I saw them reading their Bibles and Bible study books every day and they lived a life of serving God and others in everything they did.

Biblical Christian values were part of our family rules and expectations. Lying, cheating and stealing were things that never even entered my mind. I remember cursing under my breath once while playing basketball my freshman year and being so overcome with guilt, I probably prayed 100 times for forgiveness from that singular dirty word.

I started reading the Bible on my own when I was in second grade. I would read two chapters every day. Even at such a young age I remember being mesmerized by Jesus’ teachings and the Old Testament prophecies about him that would be fulfilled centuries after they were written.

At summer church camp in about third grade, they showed us a movie where four teenagers died in a car crash and went to hell because they hadn’t accepted Jesus. Of course, one of them was the regular church attendee who just hadn’t gotten around to “being saved.” This movie shows these kids burning in hell, in pain and emotional agony forever. And this movie is being shown to a couple hundred third graders who are in the middle of nowhere, away from their families and now scared out of their minds. I know it scared the crap out of me. Dozens if not hundreds of kids accepted the “altar call” at the end of this movie and got baptized right there at the camp. I have no idea if there was any pushback or negative consequences from the camp for showing that movie to a bunch of 9-year-olds, but there should have been. It was a ridiculous and terrible thing to do. (Told you I’m not sugarcoating anything in this blog. The church is made up of human beings, and human beings make mistakes all the time, regardless of their intentions. I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t have a problem with showing this movie to kids that age — whatever it takes to “save them.” I strongly disagree.)

I had been wanting to get baptized for a couple of years already but mom and dad thought I needed to learn a little more before I could truly make that decision. I don’t remember talking to them specifically about this movie but in any event it would be another year before I got baptized, at Draper Park by my dad on the same day as my sister Allison.

It was at Draper Park where I became friends with Kevin Ash, and through Kevin and Camp Sooner I became friends with Chad Anderson. Those have been two of my best friends ever since then. From that fact alone, church would have been a huge net positive on my life. I’ve always been a people-pleaser so if I had had different friends in high school it could have gotten me into some real trouble.

Draper Park Christian Church is a part of the Independent Christian church denomination, which is on the conservative end of the spectrum. But we had instruments playing during worship and didn’t preach that dancing sent you straight to hell so I guess it wasn’t that bad. Jim Avery was the head preacher at that time, and his messages were always practical and filled with lots of scripture. He didn’t yell about hell and he didn’t tell you you could do whatever you wanted and be fine. And that mindset is what defined DPCC to me. I was surrounded by great people and great role models.

Our youth group was very close. I still keep up with several families from the DPCC days (don’t want to start naming them or I’ll accidentally leave some out) and it’s cool to see what everyone is up to.

A very high percentage of our youth group committed to going into ministry full-time, and a very high percentage of those people did exactly that (including my brother and sister). For whatever reason, I never thought that was in my future. I’ll always be grateful to Jim for the message he delivered to us on graduation Sunday my senior year. There were about 7 of us graduating and I may have been the only one not heading to bible college and planning on entering the ministry. Without calling me out by name, Jim spent a few minutes talking about how important it was to have Christians living good lives in every job and that they were just as important as those entering the ministry.

During college I kept attending DPCC and occasionally floated in and out of the Christ on Campus house at OU (the collegiate ministry of the Independent Christian Church). I wasn’t really involved much by my junior year but through that ministry and my brother I met Missy. So that was a pretty big win for me.

After moving to Lawton I quickly found Carriage Hills Christian Church, another Independent Christian Church. I made a lot of great friends, including another one of my best friends to this day, Mike Carroll. That church wasn’t big but there were a lot of really neat people there. I volunteered with the youth group and played guitar on Sunday mornings.

Meanwhile, back in Oklahoma City, DPCC and other churches of that ilk began seeing a decline in attendance. For some reason they responded by being legalistic and divisive. They tried to make my parents sign a paper saying, among other things, that they believed baptism was essential for salvation. This would essentially send all the Catholics to hell permanently and put quite a dent into the general concept of salvation by faith alone. My parents refused to sign it and switched churches. This made me sad but was the right thing to do.

Around 2007 or 2008, Carriage Hills adopted the same rule. I couldn’t believe it, and it really hurt my heart. One of the most Christ-like families in the whole church, who treated me personally like a son, hadn’t all been baptized and were naturally offended. Missy and I left the church.

In 2009 we moved back to Oklahoma City and we jumped right back to DPCC for several reasons. One, we wanted to be part of a church family again and we still had many friends at DPCC. Two, my brother was going there and we wanted more opportunities to connect with him. Three, I really missed working with the youth group at Carriage Hills and Draper’s youth minister was Clay Atchley, who I had gone to high school with and is a great guy. They didn’t make me sign a “dunk or burn” letter so we hopped back in, and things were great for awhile.

I helped with the youth group on Wednesday nights and led the worship when the full-time music minister was gone. After a couple of years, somebody nominated me to be a deacon, which had no particular significance to me but sure, whatever. Then they told me I had to go to an elder’s meeting to discuss it.

I show up at the meeting and was pretty surprised to find out that the topic was my profession. Evidently this room full of older men I had known for literally almost my entire life was split 50/50 on whether I could be a deacon because I play poker. Never mind the fact that this new title added zero new duties to what I was already doing, and they didn’t mind me playing guitar or working with the youth group while having this job. And they certainly had no qualms about accepting my financial donations which came from this nefarious practice.

To be fair, several people in that room were strongly behind me, although 10 minutes into it I was sure I didn’t want the position anyway. It didn’t matter because the top elder was convinced I was living a life of sin and he got his way. (Trust me, I struggle with about a million sins but playing poker isn’t one of them. Jesus must’ve told this dude directly how bad it is since it’s not mentioned in the Bible).

The whole thing hurt me a lot more than I expected it to. Ultimately, we decided to leave because I felt attitudes like that kept the church from growing and adding new members.

We went from Draper to Journey Church in Norman, where we quickly found some great friends that we still have to this day. But after two or three years there, the church got into financial trouble and sold out to a different denomination with vastly different beliefs.

So now we go to Life Church. Let me tell you what I love about Life Church. It’s very welcoming to newcomers. People dress casually and there’s honestly not a hint of judgment on anyone from what I’ve seen. The kids programs are great.

I really gain a lot from the messages. What I like about Pastor Craig Groeschel’s style is that he blends plenty of scriptural background in with spiritual lessons that also contain simple, practical things that improve your life. If you didn’t believe in God at all and listened to a message it could still help you with your diet, money management, relationship with your spouse, etc. If any of you are interested in attending or have any questions about it, don’t hesitate to reach out.

It’s not a perfect church. No church is. Because churches are made up of people and people make mistakes. My experiences have made me quite cynical when it comes to church politics and church finances. But this is nothing new, it’s not much different at all from what Jesus called out in the church of His day. Pharisees gonna Pharisee.

I’ve probably read the Bible front to back about 10 times in my life. In some ways, the more I learn, the less I feel like I know. But now I feel like the things I’m uncertain about are the things that don’t matter, so I don’t waste my time worrying about them.

I really try to follow the golden rule, to treat others with love, respect and honesty. Much of the other stuff actually gets in the way of the overarching theme of the Bible, that God is love. We don’t need to argue about legalistic things or unknown aspects of what exactly happens when you die. Following Jesus and his teachings will give us and those in our circle better lives right here and right now. And that’s something we can control.

I’ve written some negative things about the church, so let me just fill out a scorecard regarding it. Actually, I’ll let an atheist fill it out. Taking away everything spiritual about it, the church in my life has been a huge positive.

I already mentioned the relationships I’ve gained through it. The church has also been an avenue through which I’ve been able to serve less fortunate people. I’m not much help on a construction crew but I helped build a couple of houses through Habitat for Humanity. I’ve stocked shelves at the Regional Food Bank. I’ve scooped potatoes onto plates at City Rescue Mission. Those last two things I’ve taken my daughter to do with me, hopefully passing on the value of service. I’m not saying these things to brag about myself. I’m better than you at poker but I’m not a better person. I mess up all the time.

I want to tie up the loose ends about Draper Park Christian Church. I have nothing but love for that place. Clay is now the lead preaching minister there and I’m still good friends with him. I listen to every single one of his sermons via podcast and definitely support the vision he has for a place that played such a huge role in my life. I visited there a few months back and it was great to see all of the familiar faces.

Nowadays, I hate even talking about “spiritual” things like baptism. I’m trying to focus on tangible things that clearly benefit people living in the world right now. That’s where I’m at with my faith in 2019, trying to be less selfish and be a net positive on the world.

God is good.

Spring Training Trip

I’m not one of those baseball fans who is determined to make it to all 30 major league ballparks before I die, although that would be cool. But recently I have been able to visit a lot of new cities and ballparks, thanks to Missy Franklin and Aften Anderson.

Our lovely ladies have permitted Chad and I to sneak away one weekend a year for the past few years, where we are able to nerd out on baseball, beer and poker. Most guys go camping, hunting, fishing or golfing; this is our version.

Two years ago we went to Minneapolis, which was a blast. Here is a pic of Target Field.

Last year we went to Denver. Even though both of us had been to games there before, it was a unique opportunity because the third member of our once-inseparable high school nerd trio, Kevin Ash, lived in Boulder at the time so we were able to team up with him.

For this year we decided to do something a little different and go to Arizona for Spring Training. Our favorite teams, the Cubs and Rockies, both train in Arizona and have two of the nicest spring facilities in Major League Baseball. And I’d heard the poker at Talking Stick Casino was good. So off we went.

This marked the third year in a row we got amazing weather for our baseball trip. We arrived Thursday evening, ate dinner at a cool Mexican place in old downtown Scottsdale, and played some poker. I won a decent sized pot with king high but other than that we both broke even.

Friday was an epic day. It’s going to be hard top that one for Best Day of 2019. We were still kind of in Central Time Zone mode so we woke up early and headed to Mesa, where the Cubs play. We got there at 10 a.m., which is when OU’s basketball team was playing in the NCAA Tournament. There’s a nice sports bar right across the street from the stadium that serves breakfast and had the game on TV. Somehow, OU played its best game of the year and won easily, so that was fun to watch.

Then it was on to the stadium, which was much nicer than I expected it to be. The Cubs played the Rangers at 1 p.m.

Any time I go to a new stadium, I like to take a lap around the entire park right away. We did that, and just as we settled into our seats before the game started we heard an announcement: “Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins is signing autographs for charity today. Come meet him now!”

I actually wasn’t paying any mind to the PA announcer but luckily Chad heard it so we made our way to where he was. For only $30 we got an autographed baseball and a picture with Fergie. This was especially cool for Chad because some 30 years ago Jenkins was coaching at an Oklahoma City 89ers baseball camp and he taught Chad how to bunt. Jenkins was super nice and was happy to learn we were fellow Okies.

Hall of Fame Cubs pitcher Ferguson Jenkins

The game itself was great too. My favorite Cub, Ben Zobrist, hit a home run, as did Javier Baez. Jose Quintana pitched six great innings and the Cubs won in a rout.

After the game we went to a burger and beer joint appropriately named Cheeseburgers and Cold Beer. There I ordered a ribeye sandwich described on the menu as “ribeye with melted cheese and carmelized onions.” It was indeed all of those items, ON TOP OF A WHOLE HAMBURGER. I was so disgusted that I discarded the whole meal.

Just kidding, I ate it all.

Then it was on to our second baseball game of the day, Padres vs. Rockies at the Spring Training home shared by the Rockies and Diamondbacks. Another great ballpark with the feel of a great minor league stadium, similar to the one we have in downtown Oklahoma City. The weather was still amazing and we had great seats behind home plate.

We had great seats for Padres vs Rockies

This game featured one of the more impressive plays I’ve ever seen in person. The Padres have one of baseball’s top prospects in shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and he lived up to the hype in this game. I knew he was supposed to be a great hitter and fielder but I didn’t know he was also fast with great baserunning instincts.

We saw him score from first base on a single with no errors. He was stealing on the play and had such a great jump that he would have coasted into second standing up. But the batter hit a line drive up the middle, and Tatis read it and turned the corner to third without slowing down. Most runners would have coasted into third but Tatis was thinking about scoring the whole play and he never slowed down, despite the third base coach giving him the stop sign. The centerfielder threw the ball into second base, not considering the possibility that Tatis would try to score. The second baseman hesitated for just a fraction of a second before throwing home. The throw beat Tatis to the plate but he slid underneath the tag.

The game was a blowout and the Rockies had benched all of their top players so we left after eight innings, which was one inning too soon as it turned out. As a Rockies fan, Chad was excited to see Colorado’s stars as well as infield prospect Garrett Hampson. Hampson had played the whole game but hadn’t done anything special. In a twist unique to Spring Training, the Rockies moved him from 7th in the batting order to the leadoff spot after removing All-Star outfielder Charlie Blackmon from the game. (You can’t do that in a real game). The Rockies ended up rallying for five runs in the bottom of the ninth, capped by a walk-off home run from their new leadoff hitter Garrett Hampson to win the game. Alas, we didn’t see that.

(We also noticed that teams were liberal with the DH rules in these games. Normally, games played in National League parks have no DH. But in the Cubs-Rangers game the Rangers used a DH while the Cubs didn’t. And in the Padres-Rockies game the Padres used a DH while the Rockies didn’t, even though both are NL teams.)

After the game, we headed back to our airbnb in Tempe. Chad had downloaded a bunch of old video games onto his computer, so we partied like it was 1995 and fired up the classics.

Late night booze, snacks and 1990s video games

Our favorite game back then was Hardball 5 (with Al Michaels announcing), so we played a game of that featuring the 1961 Yankees against the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. Then we played some WCW/NWO pro wrestling, followed by a 1990 World Series rematch between the Reds and A’s on RBI 3. It was a good ending to a long but fun day.

On Saturday we drove back into Phoenix and did a tour of Chase Field, where the Arizona Diamondbacks play. Neither of us had been to a game there. Probably the most interesting item in the stadium was a bar hanging from the ceiling just before you enter the dugout. Supposedly, it was installed for Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson, who would use it to stretch out his back in between innings.

The famous pool at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. You can also see the new fake turf the team has installed for this season. It looks pretty sharp.
Home dugout at Chase Field

After the game we walked over to the renowned Pizzeria Bianco, which was excellent. We decided to split up for the evening, as I wanted to play more poker and Chad wanted to see another baseball game. The Rockies were hosting the Cubs at the same park we had been to the night before, so Chad went back there and saw Colorado whip the Cubs. The only people luckier than the Rockies that night were the poker players at Talking Stick, who obviously didn’t know they were playing with a living legend of the game. They beat my a$$ pretty good.

The benefit of this is that it enabled me to find the cigar lounge at the casino, which was amazing. Because the weather is so nice there, it was mostly open air. Nothing like the smell of pure air mixed with 200 cigars to go with the sound of a good solo guitarist.

Great pizza at Pizzeria Bianco in downtown Phoenix

On our last day in town we were able to meet up with Jason Ramos, one of my good friends from my Lawton days. Ironically, Ramos had joined Chad and I exactly 10 years ago when we drove to Oklahoma City to watch Bryce Harper play for Westmoore High School’s summer team. I got to interview Harper that day, and the story was one of the last things I wrote for the Constitution as a full-time employee.

It was another great day for baseball and we went to the Spring Training complex shared by the Dodgers and White Sox. The White Sox were playing Cleveland, and while we didn’t get to see Bryce Harper we did get to watch another of the game’s top prospects in White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez. We also saw Cleveland’s All-Star infielder Jose Ramirez foul a ball off his leg that may keep him out of the lineup for awhile.

Final game of the trip, Cleveland vs White Sox at Camelback

This stadium wasn’t quite as nice as the other two we visited but the weather was once again ideal. It was a great way to cap another great trip. Again, I can’t thank Missy and Aften enough for letting us get out and do these trips. It really is both fun and therapeutic. I tried to get Missy a souvenir but TSA confiscated it at the airport. It was a small jar of strawberry watermelon jam made at this brunch spot we visited in Tempe. It looked really good.

Depression

This is going to be a bummer of a post, and I don’t blame you if you decide to move on down the road. I wish I could say I had some kind of deep insight or a way to make this issue funny.

I am choosing to write this — and show you a side of myself I’d rather nobody see — because in general I think the taboo nature of mental issues only serves to make them a bigger problem than they need to be. Also, specifically for me and my family, I just want to lay bare what depression looks like for me so that it’s recorded in case any of my kids or grandkids might go through something that looks similar. And maybe this can serve as a reminder or a marker to my future self, to compare whatever I’m going through then to where I was at in 2019.

Three important things. First, I have never at any point felt suicidal. This isn’t some kind of final manifesto. Second, my father did commit suicide in 2004, when I was 25 years old and he was 56. I was very close to dad and did not see it coming, although in hindsight there were warning signs. Third, I have never taken any kind of medication for this. I am scared of the side effects, I partially blame them for what happened with dad, and I don’t feel like my episodes are severe or frequent enough to warrant it at this point.

The first time I ever experienced anything I would describe as depression was in 2006, on my wedding night. The bachelor party the night before the wedding was great, the wedding itself was awesome, and I had no idea what the heck was going on.

I have still never experienced anything nearly as severe as that first depression. I didn’t want to get out of bed and I couldn’t stop crying. I knew I wanted to be married to Missy and there was no regret with that decision whatsoever, which was comforting because other than that I had no idea what was going on. This lasted for about five days, partially ruining the first half of our Costa Rican honeymoon. I can’t begin to thank Missy enough for being totally understanding and not freaking out like I would have if the roles were reversed. Thankfully I felt better as the trip went on and by the second half of it I was able to do everything we had planned and feel more or less normal.

In hindsight I would pin the episode on two factors. First, exhaustion from the bachelor party/wedding prep/wedding. Over the years I’ve realized that lack of sleep is far and away the #1 trigger for me with depression.

Second, there were two things about the wedding that I had not prepared for. One was the overwhelming feeling of love from all of my friends and family who were at our ceremony. It was really awesome but I felt unworthy of such love and attention. The other was a feeling that I was now my dad. Now that I was married I was the man of a household just like he was. I never got any counseling after he died and did a poor job of processing all of my emotions about it. It all came flooding back after the wedding, probably exacerbated by the fact that he was one of the few people I loved who wasn’t at the wedding.

I would place the honeymoon blues incident in a whole separate category from anything I’ve dealt with since then. Here’s what a depression episode since then looks like.

Two factors are present 100% of the time. I’m very tired and it’s night. The honeymoon deal was the one and only time I’ve been depressed during the day. Most of the time it’s after a poker session, where my mind is exhausted from thinking all day. I can’t remember a single depression episode where I was not very tired.

Two other factors are present almost all of the time. Alcohol and losing at poker. It’s very rare that I’m completely sober when this happens. Some would say that it’s stupid not to just quit drinking entirely and eliminate this as a factor. They’re probably right, and that may happen. So far I don’t feel like it’s a frequent enough occurrence to warrant that action.

The poker thing was more of a factor a few years ago. Over the years I’ve gotten better and better at emotionally handling even longer-term downswings. Still, my episodes almost always occur after a losing poker session.

So here’s how it always happens. I’m laying in bed. About half the time I am trying to get to sleep and the other half of the time I wake up in the middle of the night after about 3 hours of sleep. I can’t shut my mind off. I am reliving my personal failures (usually not related to poker, but rather being impatient with the kids, not supportive enough of Missy, drinking too much that night, etc.). Then the poker thing kicks in on top of that, and I’m thinking about how I’m a piece of crap human AND I wasted 10 hours or whatever that day and can’t even support my family financially. I understand there is no logic to this whatsoever. My most recent episode came after the one losing session I’ve had during the best hot streak of my entire 10 year tenure in this job. And everyone falls short of their own personal standards at times.

Even when it’s happening, I understand mentally that it is illogical. I just can’t turn it off. I start crying and I can’t stop. Then Missy wakes up and it only makes it worse for me because now I feel guilty that I woke her up. A couple of times it’s turned into a full on panic attack where my heart rate gets super high and I can’t breathe. I start thinking about the things I need to do the next day but I won’t be able to do them because I’m exhausted and will have been up all night. How I’m going to be even less patient with the kids or lose even more at poker because of the lack of sleep. It really is a vicious cycle. Eventually by 7 or 8 in the morning I’ve usually passed out again, and when I wake up the kids make me happy and I’m fine if somewhat tired the rest of that day. But it’s over.

Episodes like this don’t happen very often, but they sure do suck when they come around. I can’t really put a number on them because I have gone months or maybe even close to a year in between them, but also had two in the same month. Except for the honeymoon incident, I’ve never had one that lasted more than one night. Frequently I’m a little down the next day or maybe two but nothing near the level of the all-nighter. And I’d say that is just from being tired.

Again, I want to emphasize the illogical nature of these events. I completely understand how blessed I am to have everything I need to survive, plus an amazing wife, four awesome kids and scores of friends and family who would and do support me in every way. It’s never a matter of wanting something more or wishing I was in a different place in life.

Anyway, I think that’s a pretty apt description of what depression actually means in my personal case in the year 2019. This weekend I’m going to watch some baseball and play some poker with Chad Anderson, so next week’s blog should be much lighter fare 🙂

Card Games

When I was 14 years old, my birthday present was a subscription to Sports Illustrated. It was a big reason I pursued a career in sports journalism. A quarter-century later, I still have that subscription.

In the most recent issue, there is a photo montage of scenes from Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. One picture shows members of the Boston Red Sox playing a card game called “casino” in the clubhouse.

I was shocked. This was a game our family had played for years, but I’d never heard of single person outside of our family who had ever heard of it or played it. I thought there was a 50% chance my dad had just made it up.

It’s a great game for 2-4 players, and I’ve shown a few of my friends how to play over the years. (If you’re interested, check out the link I posted to the origins and rules of the game. I’ll include that for most of the games I discuss here).

Seeing that picture got me thinking about all of the different types of card games we played in the Franklin house growing up. I never played poker or gambled in any way while I lived at home. One time in college I remember having a poker night with my roommate and couple other buddies, but we were so broke that we were literally playing with pennies, nickles and dimes. I don’t think anyone won or lost more than $1. I didn’t risk more than $5 until I was 23 years old and working at the newspaper in Lawton.

There’s no doubt in my mind that learning and getting good at a dozen or so other card games while growing up laid the foundation for what I do now. Just like that Sports Illustrated subscription (and reading The Daily Oklahoman every day) launched my first career.

I decided to rank all the card games we played at least semi-regularly growing up. Keep in mind, we played board games, dice games, basically any kind of game you can think of. We played a ton of games, and I loved it. But for purposes of this post I’m only discussing the card games.

The Boston Red Sox play casino in the clubhouse

10. 10-point pitch (aka Partner Pitch) — I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t watch this whole video about the game, just enough to see that it was basically the same version we played. But it was my least favorite of the games we played because there was just a massive amount of luck involved. I think spades is the most overrated card game ever, but I’d rather play spades than 10-point pitch.

9. Kent — This is a perfect game to play if you have 8 or 10 people and want to do something fun. It requires no card skills at all and is a lot of fun. (In the version I found today online, it’s called Kemps, but we always called it Kent. Anyway, same game/concept). We would never play this game with just our family of five, but we would frequently have friends or the church youth group over to the house and this was a favorite. Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure Kevin Ash and I have the best record at Kent of anyone in the history of the universe.

8. Spades — It seems like everyone who only knows how to play one card game knows how to play spades. Personally I don’t think it’s that great a game, but I’ve probably spent more time playing it than any of these other games.

Here are my problems with the game of spades. First, everyone has slightly different rules so you spend 10 minutes negotiating them anytime you play with someone new. Does the high bidder lead first or left of the dealer or the deuce of clubs? Are we playing sandbags? Do you get to pass a card on a blind nil? Etc. Second, if you’re playing with halfway competent opponents it’s almost all luck. Adding sandbags into the mix raises the skill level but it feels communistic to not just want to win every single trick you can. Third, nil bids are worth too much. They should probably be worth about 72 points.

Moving on from that, spades are a great way to witness fights between siblings, spouses or friends. My sister Allison and her husband Matt love to play spades so we still play with them when they are in town. There’s nothing better than seeing the looks on their faces when they realize they’ve been set, followed by one of them saying, “Well, I got my bid.” Allison pays less attention to the game than anyone I’ve ever played with but she still knows she got her bid 90% of the time. If mom is playing, you can just mark her down for a 2 bid every time no matter what. Another staple of Franklin family spades games is that after every hand, 3 of the 4 players will get up from the table for various unspecified reasons, doubling the length of the game. (I love you all!)

At Westmoore High School, I was involved in many a game of spades with my fellow members of the Class of 1998. In Mrs. Liston’s algebra class, Matt Fallwell and I came up with the “Matt Theorem,” which stated that we would win every game of spades. We were pretty successful until Mrs. Liston confiscated my deck of cards for playing during class. She gave it back to me on the last day of school. In Mr. Chance’s class, Chris Myers and I dug our way out of a hopeless blind nil situation by sliding cards down the chalkboard rail to each other, behind our opponents’ heads.

7. Cribbage — This is the only game on the list that I didn’t play with my dad. My mom and her dad (my Papa) taught me cribbage, and it’s a pretty fun game to play if there’s only two of you. I’d still rank it just below the other two-handed games on this list.

6. Four-point pitch — This is a really fast game with quite a bit of luck but also some skill. If we were waiting for dinner or about to go to bed, either dad or I would just deal six cards and we’d play a quick game without even discussing it beforehand.

5. Gin rummy — This is the only card game Missy will play with me, unless you count Skip-Bo or Uno. My favorite aspect of our trip to Paris several years back involved gin. After a full day of sight seeing, we’d return to our airbnb and Missy would put Addie to sleep while I walked to different small businesses in the neighborhood and bought a baguette, wine and cheese. Then we’d eat, drink and play gin at a low enough volume not to wake up the baby.

After I moved away for college, I always enjoyed coming home and playing card games with dad. Mom might play a game or two but she always went to bed early and dad and I would play for another hour. Our rotation (in no particular order) was gin, four-point pitch and casino.

Because it’s a game that can be gambled on, I’ve played gin with several of my poker friends (though never for more than a few bucks). I can remember playing with Randy Clark, Noah Nodine and Jake Steele at different times, and I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting.

4. Moron — Surely this game goes by another name, but this is what my family always called it. I couldn’t find it anywhere online, so let me describe it and maybe someone can help me out with the name.

This is the best 5-handed game in the bunch, and we played it a lot growing up when all five of us were able to play. It’s a bidding and trick-taking game like spades, but there are no teams. It’s every man for himself. You start by dealing 10 cards to each player, then flipping up the next card which determines the trump suit. The player to the left of the dealer bids on how many tricks he thinks he will take, then everyone else bids. The catch is that when it gets back to the dealer, they must make a bid that doesn’t add all the bids up to 10. So if the players bid 3, 1, 2, and 3, the dealer can’t bid 1. And you have to get your bid exactly to get any points.

The next hand only 9 cards are dealt but the rules remain the same. Dealer can’t make a bid that adds the total up to 9, so somebody has to go set. If you make your bid you get 10 points, plus one for each trick you bid (a successful 3 bid nets 13 points). If you don’t make your bid you get 0. This continues until on the final hand only one card is dealt. This can be pretty annoying if you happen to be the dealer and the bids are 0, 0, 1, and 0 and you are forced to bid 1 holding a crappy card. But such is life. It’s a fun game.

3. Casino — Casino is a great 3-handed game, and I played it a lot with both mom and dad, or with dad and my brother Andrew. I also taught it to Kevin Ash and Chad Anderson and we’ve played it several times over the years. I remember playing it a lot during our 2002 college graduation baseball road trip to Kansas City, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Chicago even though I was sick with mono the whole time. It’s cool that the game is popular in the clubhouse of the defending world champs.

2. Hearts — Some of you probably haven’t played hearts since the year 2000, or whenever it was that hearts stopped becoming a feature of the home computer. (Remember the sound of breaking glass whenever hearts were broken or the sound it made when the queen of spades was dumped on someone?)

Anyway, I can’t even begin to add up how many hours of my employers’ time has been wasted by me playing hearts online. One summer in college, I got a full-time job at OU with the office of telecommunications. It was a complete joke. There was literally about one hour of work to be done, not just in a given day but over the course of the entire week. I found a site called Pogo where you could play different games online against real people, which was a lot more fun than those dumb computers. Hearts was my game of choice and I ran up a really good rating on there.

When I graduated and started working in Lawton, there were many slow nights when we had everything done but needed to wait for MLB or NBA games to finish so we could run the recaps and box scores to fill out the rest of the sports section. I would frequently play hearts or bridge (spoiler alert) on Pogo.

I think hearts is a great and underrated game and I wish I got to play it more. Really have hardly played at all in the 10 years since leaving the newspaper.

#1 Bridge — I’ll rank bridge ahead of any form of poker all day every day. It’s the best card game in the world.

I learned the game by watching my parents play against my grandparents. Mom would always get on to dad for bidding too aggressively, which he was definitely guilty of at times. But they were a good bridge team because his aggression canceled out her conservative nature. I usually sat with Papa and watched him play.

Bridge is the only card game on this list that I still play semi-regularly. I’ve gotten a ton better since I started but there’s still so much I can learn and so much room for improvement. I’ll do a full post about bridge at a later time, but for now I just want to thank Francine, Will and Bev for being great and supportive partners and for teaching me a lot. Those are really the only people I get to play with these days.

I’m sure I forgot about a card game or two that I once played regularly. Please comment and remind me of those! Also, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite card games. Missy’s family used to love to play rummy (not gin rummy; this kind can be played with up to six people) and some friends taught us canasta (shout out to the Hicks’!). I didn’t include them on this list because I didn’t play them growing up but those are both fun games too.

In 1960, Sports Illustrated put a bridge player on the cover. 59 years later casino made it into the magazine. I wonder which game from this list is next?

Serve abroad, it’s guaranteed to change at least one life

This post isn’t about Christiantity, or any religion.

Just want to clear that up from the start. The Bible promotes both spreading the gospel and feeding/clothing/sheltering the needy. Both of the international mission trips I went on were with church groups, and we tried to meet both the spiritual and physical needs of the people we went to help.

I would support and encourage anyone who is considering going on such a trip with a church group. I just don’t want to discourage anyone from serving abroad because they might be turned off by the religious association with these trips. I would like for the focus of this post to be about meeting the immediate physical needs of less fortunate people around the world, and in the process giving yourself more perspective and appreciation of the world directly in front of you. We can all get behind that.

I know many people who have served overseas for varying amounts of time. Both my mother and my sister lived in Asia for years. My story pales in comparison, but it’s mine so I’m going to share it.

The first trip I took was to Juarez, Mexico when I was a junior in high school. There were about 15 of us who went over Spring Break, and we built a house for a family there. Honestly I don’t remember much about the house-building, but I vividly remember playing soccer with the local kids in the street during lunch break and at the end of the day. There was a simple joy in playing a simple game that we in America miss out on because of our endless distractions. These kids were playing on dirt roads, in front of cardboard or tin houses, with an obvious shortage of food and water. But they acted like they had everything in world that they needed.

The second trip I took was to the Philippines in the summer of 2000, when I was in college. I have a lot of great memories of that trip, especially since I got to go with both my brother and one of my best friends (Kevin Ash).

The most impactful memories, by far, are from when we brought food to the site of a garbage dump that collapsed in Manila shortly before we arrived, killing more than 200 people. The smell was so terrible that it was hard to breathe even wearing masks. We brought a lot of food but it was a mere drop in the bucket compared to what was needed.

In another part of Manila I remember seeing dozens of cardboard homes lined up in a narrow alley with active train tracks. Supposedly, when a train came through the people would fold up their homes and stand up against the wall, allowing just enough room for the train to get by before you set your box up again. But if you happened to be asleep or away from home, either you or your home or both would get blasted by the train. Seeing that kind of poverty and despair at age 20 no doubt changed my life.

A humanitarian aid trip changed Missy’s life to a much greater degree. She was finishing up her bachelor’s in education when she spent a summer in Tanzania with Cross Cultural Solutions. She taught third grade and also helped at the orphanage and the hospital.

Countries like the United States had donated lots of much-needed supplies to the town where Missy’s group was staying, but sadly the supplies either weren’t being used or weren’t being used properly. Her group found two full rommfuls of supplies just sitting in boxes because nobody knew how to use them. And when they did use things like the AIDS testing kids, they re-used the testing slides because they couldn’t fathom throwing them away after one use. Obviously, this only made the problem worse.

Missy’s group helped open boxes of rubber gloves, which nobody was using at the time. Then they had to tell them to throw the gloves away after using them because the locals would hang them on a clothesline after each use and pick them up again the next day.

This experience got Missy passionate about several things. International aid, nursing, and nursing education. Upon returning home she immediately enrolled to get her bachelor’s in nursing, and has since gotten her master’s in nursing education. She has no doubt that she will someday go on another trip to a third-world country where she can put all of her skills to use.

Life can make that a complicated thing to do. It was a lot easier when we were young and single (which is a big reason why I would strongly encourage anyone who is young and single to make a trip like this a priority now.) Between work and the four kids, Missy and I are pretty busy these days.

But we aren’t just completely setting aside our dreams to do our small part in making the world a better place. We are happy to financially support others who are in a position to go.

One example of this is our friend Katie Woodard, who has been on several trips but recently spent two years with Mercy Ships.

Here is a link to her blog about those two years. I’ll also let her make a pitch in her own words as to why going and supporting others on trips like these is so important.

“I won the jackpot. I was born in the U.S. Even if you are in poverty here you’re a million times more well off in material ways than so many people in developing countries. As a kid I always knew there were really poor people in the world, but I didn’t understand the magnitude of that and figured that they all had Food Stamps or some organization helping them. This is usually the case if you are poor in the U.S., but in developing countries, there are so many people who don’t have the basic necessities we all take for granted: food, access to healthcare, education, shelter….air conditioning, toilets, pizza.

One of the many valuable things I have gained from my experiences serving overseas is perspective. I have done short and long term missions in 6 countries, and while it is debatable whether short term mission trips are actually helpful to the people we intend to serve, I think it is something everyone should do once if they can’t afford to go longer, and not because it helps the people. Because it helps us personally. It is impossible otherwise to truly grasp how incredibly lucky we are. It is increasingly easy for us to just turn away and not want to help others if we never see firsthand the suffering that happens in the world. We want to live our comfortable life and not think about it or deal with it. We needlessly spend money on all of these things we do not need while there are babies starving to death or people suffering with completely treatable diseases. Maybe we don’t think about it because we feel guilty, but you don’t need to feel guilty about what you have. It is a God given gift entrusted to you, and you have the right to enjoy it, but you also have the responsibility to give back and help those in need. Whether you donate, or go overseas, or serve locally, or foster kids, or a combination of these things, we should all do as much as we can. If more of us helped, there could be a lot less suffering.

One incredible thing I have learned in my adventures that pertains to perspective as well is that many of us are way more impoverished in our spirit and attitude than many of the people I have served. They might have such a hard life yet they are still so joyful. While we complain about so much dumb stuff, they are grateful.

Now, I have so much joy and because of my relationship with God and because of my new perspective on life and the world. Also while I was serving overseas, I have never felt so purposeful and happy, and I hope one day I have the opportunity to do it again. While helping others may be a sacrifice in some ways, it does not have to be a sacrifice to your personal wellbeing or happiness, and it could be one of the most meaningful things you ever do.”

Katie Woodard
Katie Woodard

Recently our family visited Missy’s sister in Texas. Our niece Grace is in high school and has begun fundraising for another international trip this summer. It’s awesome to hear the excitement in her voice as she talked about her previous trips and the one coming up this year.

The world’s problems are far too great for one person to solve, or for the whole world to solve them in one day. But each of us can do a little something, and even if that little something just gives us a slightly better attitude and perspective about our lives here, it can really add up to something.