IMG_4213Getting a chance to slip out of Texas during July is a respite from the searing heat and sticky humidity.  Taking a week to see family made sense.  Yet, it did not take long for the soul to be missing the tug from the Lone Star state.

Texas has a pride that grows on you.  I was not born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could.  That is a standard line for all of us transplants.

It usually gets a knowing laugh from native Texans.  This phrase also brings a warm welcome from the locals.  Soon the mystique grows on everyone who emigrates here.

It is not usually the scenery in Houston that conjures up  the spirit.  Houston is flat with no landscape sensations worth mentioning.

Natural beauty takes place in June when the wildflowers burst into bloom.  Blue skies and puffy cumulus clouds add to the flavor of the state.  Green grasses set off the blues, reds and yellow flowers.

Another natural wonder that we see often are the cloud formations.  Since the land is so flat we watch the spectacular thunderclouds roll in and see jagged flashes of lightning across the skies.  Jacob’s ladders form in the clouds as the sun fights to send its rays on to the earth.

People are a strength in Texas.  The people here have a kindness and hospitality about them that is refreshing.  Texans are likable and they like others in return.  God seems to have added a larger dose of cheer in the average Texan.

While I enjoy a variety of cuisine, Texas BBQ is special.  When the smoker is pumping out the white billows of hickory mixed with the aroma of pork ribs, beef brisket, chicken halves or sausage links the mouth waters up cheeks full of saliva that only knows eating as a solution.  This is the Texas spirit.

While away in Oregon, I saw an opportunity to take my family to some BBQ.  An eatery was recommended.  They served BBQ beef ribs.  I did not have to think about that choice; it was off my lips as soon as the waiter greeted us.

The aromas of the grill wafted through the restaurant.  I was looking forward to my treat.  The plate was mounded with ribs and the sides were just like home.

I sank my teeth into the fare.  At first I was happy.  Then, I knew that I was just encouraging my own spirit.  I missed Texas and BBQ was one of the reason I did.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4178A few hundred gathered for an outdoor wedding.  It has been on my calendar for months and we booked our flights early.  It was a nephew who was going to exchange his vows.  Family is important enough to fly half way across the nation to be a part of the festivities.

The temperatures hovered in the eighties.  As a Houstonian the 80’s in July is like a cool breeze.  My friends and relatives laughed about the weather.

We had left Houston and her 90’s temperatures for our flight to the Northwest.  When we stopped in Albuquerque for a transfer the temperatures had reached the 100’s.  Stepping off the plane in Oregon was like a refreshing breather with her 80’s temperatures.

Of course we cannot forget the humidity.  Houston is famous for the trapped water vapors that make the sticky environment test the patience of the most humans.  Oregon was relief.

Ushers seated us on the groom’s side, stage left.  Tall trees cast a broad canopy of shade over half of that side of the seating.  Those who had claimed those seats were parked and did not give any indication of budging.

IMG_4184The rest of the guests left something in their chairs and were crowding in the aisle under the shade.  It made for fun and exuberant reunions.  All of us who had not seen each other for years caught up.

Most were eager to hear about Texas.  We drawled on and on about the weather, the state pride, the Western garb and of course the BBQ.  Some chimed in on outdoors and the wide open spaces.

Finally, the ushers invited us to our seats.  The wedding was about to begin.  I settled into my seat and drank in the beauty of the Northwest.

Tall Douglas fir trees surrounded the patio. Overhead the sun was doing its daily dance through the sky. Its rays felt wonderful, invigorating and comforting.

There was no need for artificial lights or candles.  One bright light shone overhead.  It was sufficient and complete.

God’s creation of the sun was all that this wedding needed to give the perfect ambiance for memories and photographs.  Videographers were  happy with the natural light as well.  The shadows added texture to the images captured in digital form.

The bridal party stepped into view.  Oohs and ahs were abundant.  The creator’s sun came in handy for that gathering.  It was as perfect a setting as perfect can get.

photography credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_4235My culture is marked by its cuisine.  It is no doubt a favorite take-out choice of many busy Americans and people the world-over.  Many of the menu selections of a Chinese restaurant are comfort food for the billions of us who grew up eating that style of food.

Mom’s devotion to her task of feeding the family marked our palates for life. Grandma double-downed on the family recipes.  Daughters and daughters-in-law copied, observed, tasted and tested the ingredients for that familiar family smile and reservoir of compliments.

Now, when we celebrate we go out to a local restaurant.  On a menu that seemingly needs a magnifying glass to read it, we pick out what we know.  Something familiar leaps out from the pages and we wait with expectation to enjoy all the memories of family, youth and legacy.

Once in a while something new happens.  It is not a completely new dish but there is a certain twist that captures our creative adventuresome spirits.  That happened at a Portland restaurant with my best buddy.

We have joined him there only once before.  It was so long ago no one could quite fix their finger on the occasion or date.  Finally, we set that thought aside when it was time to give the waitress our order.

Bob asked about our favorites.  We told him our short list.  He filled in a few gaps.

“You guys like tofu, right?”

“Oh, yeah!” it was a chorus in unison.  Comfort food was written all over that interchange.

“Then this will be a real treat,” he smiled broadly.  “I have this dish a couple of times a week.  You’re gonna love it.”

We have been friends for decades.  Our paths in life have covered many adventures.  Some have been sad but most were marked with great joy.

When the dish showed up we all took a modest helping.  The expectation was reserved.  After each one in our family tasted the dish we were stunned.

It was very familiar to all of us.  Nevertheless, it was very new.  Everyone was eager for a second helping only with a bigger portion this time.

The texture was buttery smooth. It nearly had the similarity with custard. Everyone complimented this dish.

Bob was right. We loved the dish.  There was some leftovers that he graciously allowed us to take home.

Excellent leftovers make it to breakfast. After that they are just a memory.  Something so familiar with a new twist gave us another great memory to tuck away with a fabulous friend.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4126A funny definition of grandchildren is that they are God’s blessing to parents who did not murder their teenage children.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Then, marvel at the wonder of words that time the unexpected with the fully understood message accomplished with a very few words.

What is nearly as marvelous as a well timed joke is the wonder of how a grandchild can capture your heart as a grandparent and never let it go.  Before there is even a single cogent conversation love is permanently established.

How is it possible to be so in love with a young life when we have never had the briefest of conversations?  Yet, devotion to this little one is permanently established.  There will be no compromise on that family bond of loyalty.

When he smiles, I smile.  Of course when he laughs it is infectious and I laugh heartily.  Even when he cries I do not panic, there is no discomfort I just love on him.

Bringing comfort to this little soul is a sheer delight.  We cuddle together and his little life quiets down.  I sink deep into my easy chair as his crying slows and transforms into a quiet whimper.

He snuggles into my arms and breaths like he is relieved.  Tears soak into my shirt and little brown eyes stare up into mine.  A gentle smile breaks out on his countenance and I melt in a deeper sense of commitment.

Yes, I will teach him many ways to enter into mischief.  Together we will laugh through adventures and make fabulous memories together.  We will learn about fun, humor, the outdoors, the Bible, faith, hope and love.

Honestly, I will love passing on the lessons of life and the joys of daily living to this precious little one.  Who knows but God what the potential of this one life will be.  He will bring great blessing into the lives of many.

In the mean time I will laugh when he goes through his antics.  Each time he achieves a new landmark in his progress I will smile.  Eagerly I will look forward to the many firsts of his life and chuckle while he finds his way through the maze of growing up.

Pictures will remind me of those times since thousands of miles will separate us for most of the year.  Videos will allow me the joy of reliving those life stages especially when I cannot be physically present.  Grandchildren are a miraculous bundle without a doubt.  They are treasured gift from the Lord.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

The news of a family came in the mail.  Beautiful wedding invitations stand out from the pile of ads, flyers and assorted junk mail.  We looked at the return address and recognized the relatives that would soon be enjoying a gathering of the whole family.

It was a long distance away.   The miles and years have made the relative faces less and less familiar. Nevertheless, it is about family.

My memories have dulled over the decades.  Now, youngsters have matured into adults.  They have met special people and fallen in love.

They have announced the day that they would say “I do.”  In front of God and witnesses they exchange vows for life.  According to God’s Word two would begin their lives together as one.

As family we would gather from many miles and join in the celebration.  Our travels would take half way across the country.  Thousands of miles lay between us and the site for the nuptials.

Going to a wedding many states away requires a lot of planning and the costs are nothing to sneeze at either.  Yet, it is about family.

My checklist was long.  Slowly but surely one item after the next was checked off.  It took time, scheduling and effort.  But, after all, it is about family.

Many weddings just happen at impossible intervals when work and travel are just impossible.  Hopefully, family members understand.  Maybe people understand that the great distance only allows us occasional appearances.  Surely, they will understand.  After all, we are family.

The two legs of our flight took up a good portion of the day.  Traveling is tiresome but it is worth the journey.  After all, it is about family.

Soon the day arrived.  We dressed up, drove across town and saw the gathering of people.  The mood was celebratory.

It was an outside wedding.  The sun was shining and cumulus clouds gave us occasional respite of shade.  Reunions with good friends and distant relatives happened on every turn.

Catching up with news, exciting changes and life moments filled up the day.  The ceremony was delightful and the reception program was very entertaining.  There were loads of smiles and laughter.

Conversations and introductions followed the meal.  Names and connections were clarified.  Newly discovered relatives sunk roots together.

Family is special.  There are never guarantees like choosing friends because we do not choose our relatives.  We inherit them by genetics.  Love them by choice.  It adds to our family value.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

Laurentian 2008 060Our flights were booked. We have done this a lot in our lives. The airport is a part of our lives.

This trip was routine.  The airline industry has it down to a science.  They herd us in an orderly fashion to our seats.

Federal regulations crowd into the public announcement system before we take off.  An army of mechanics have worked over the aircraft, specialized air traffic controllers monitor our safe fight path and engineers are always working on improvements for the next generation of aircraft design.  In the mean time a highly trained cockpit crew run the controls and we are soon airborne.

It is odd to think about the phenomenon of flying.  Some passengers are fussing about luggage space.  They grouse to the attendants about extra charges and the inconvenience of being separated from their possessions.  Amazing!

“Hey, knucklehead, we are flying at 30,000 feet.  You do not have a parachute.  Your derrière is in a comfortable chair.”

Of course a baby screams.  People physiologically react by wincing, donning noise canceling headsets or leaning as far away from the sound as they can.  The poor parents are embarrassed and struggling, yet they flying through rarefied air and bringing their infant on board without hesitation. Amazing!

There is no other means that I personally have that hurtled my body at 500 mph in complete comfort than in an airliner.  It is difficult to imagine racing at that kind of velocity without strain or pain.  Yet, we do it every time we step into an aircraft with those familiar words, “Welcome aboard.”  Amazing!

Occasionally, I get a glimpse out the window.  The clouds are below us!  We are actually living above the clouds and looking at mountain peaks that stop or frustrate ground transportation.  Amazing!

Thirty minutes to our destination the pilot announces that we are entering into our initial descent.  We 100 miles away yet we are beginning our final approach.  Everyone is instructed to put away their carry-on items, shut down electronics and fasten our seat belts in preparation for landing.

That is 100 miles away from completing our journey.  Some people never even travel that far from home let alone get ready to finish their trip in 100 miles.  The expanse of this mode of transportation is amazing!

Flying is a stunning accomplishment.  God set up the laws of physics.  Men were bright enough to match adventure with observation and make something amazing now a part of our casual living.  It is amazing!

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_2047It has been months since I was able to move into the swimming pool without discomfort.  Getting old is no fun.  Doing it gracefully is a daily challenge.

Gingerly I held on to the hand rail and descended into the warm waters of our club lap pool.  Of course in my mind I was bound and determined to look “cool” while doing it.  I stubbornly refused to surrender to any image of “old man coming in!”

Yet, I could only cover so much.  Turning my head too much wrenched my back.  Twisting my hips too much nearly paralyzed me with pain.

OK, I’ll admit it!  I am turning into an OLDer man.  It is worth fighting to remain young in mind and give the appearance of youthful-like mobility and foster the illusion as long as possible.  Age is mostly a mental state, right?  I do not think that last composition of words came out right.

Water buoyancy is a friend to our aching bodies.  God gave us water to show us how gravity can be modulated for a brief moment.  Lifting the weight momentarily relieves the pain.

Deftly I set myself for my first voyage since the diagnosis of four herniated disks.  “Slowly” was my operative term.  Pushing off the wall gently, my gliding moves propelled me through the water.

Just like riding a bike, you never forget how to swim.  The strokes were pain free.  While it was tempting to push my rhythm, experience and terror kept the cadence deliberate and intentionally relaxed.

Lap after lap my mind was beginning to sense progress.  Treatment for my pain-riddled body had brought me back to functionality.  Now, I could fill my lungs with air, grow back some stamina and feel invigorated again.

Still I would go easy.  After several more trips to the pool I would still move deliberately and slowly.  Each time I added more laps.  Finally, I upped my time in the waters of recuperation and knocked off 48 laps.

I did that much just because getting out of the pool is so hard.  After a good swim I use the hand rail to pull me out of the waters and feel the stinging reminder of a back that can no longer to do spinning Karate kicks or double front Kung Fu snap kicks or oblique wrestling leg sweeps.

In my early youthful days I promised myself that I would not whine about aches and pains when I inevitably grew older.  So, the sounds of shrieking that you might be hearing are simply the exhaling of breath practicing a newly discovered soprano vocal range.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4082My motorcycle is now 7 years old.  It still looks great and gleams brightly when I polish to a brilliant luster.  Detailing the paint and finish until all grime, dust, bugs and dirt are gone takes a long day if not more than one.

Over time there are a few dings and chips in the paint.  It is part of the character of many miles on the open road.  Showroom glitter does not have much compatibility when the miles roll under the tires of a thunder machine like my Silver Dragon.

One of the critical parts of my steed that wore out was my battery.  It is vital for holding a charge that can faithful be ready when it is time to crank up the motor.  Last week the get up and go got up and went.

This would be my first battery replacement for this motorcycle.  It was time to consult my MOM, Motorcycle Owners Manuel.  Then, I checked out the internet for videos on the procedures.

I laid out my tools on a work table.  Both seats had to be removed.  That was simple enough; one bolt for each seat and the cushions slipped out with a simple pull.

Now, came the difficult piece.  Wires and connectors were all over the battery bay.  I had to identify each one of the harnesses and disconnect them in order.

The challenge would be to remember the order so that I could repeat the connections in reverse order once I installed a new battery.  Neither the MOM nor the internet gave details on disconnecting the harnesses.  That was a task that I had to figure our on my own without breaking any of the brackets, connectors or wires.

Experienced good mechanics snooze through this kind of task.  I am inexperienced and just a do-what-is-necessary kind of mechanic.  It was time to do what was necessary and whisper a prayer in the process.

Thankfully, the Kawasaki engineers designed a very good system.  Even after years of silence, the connectors separated, bolts came apart, screws unfastened easily and every diagram in the MOM matched what was on my bike.

The service attendant at our local Motorcycle dealer was very helpful.  He sold me a new battery, showed me how to set it up, charge it up and gave me just a few necessary precautions.  After several hours of priming and charging the battery I installed the new juice source, said another prayer and fired up my machine.  It roared to life and I smiled at the Lord as he enjoyed the sound of power under throttle.

photo credit: brucefong photography

lockwood_header_finalDan Lockwood and I met in Dallas, Texas in the mid 1970’s.  He was embroiled in his doctoral studies and I was immersed in my masters studies.  We had a mutual friend that gave Dan an excuse to invite me to his apartment for a meal.  It was a new beginning that would blossom into a professional connection for decades.  That’s the way Dan was.  Splendidly welcoming and hospitable.

That first meeting set the mood for every conversation that followed.  Dan always had a reason to smile and chuckle over something that was germane to our bantering or not.  It brought a kind of cheer when others might just erode into a dour melancholy.  I liked that about him.  That’s the way Dan was.

Years later he contacted me in Aberdeen, Scotland.  He was the new Dean at Multnomah Biblical Seminary.  We talked about life, chuckled about studies and then he offered me a teaching post at the seminary.  He was willing to take a risk on me!  That’s the way Dan was.  He saw the best in others.

For a decade I thrived under his leadership.  First, he was my Dean.  Second, he became my president. Both were honored positions for me under his direction and vision.

His cheer never left.  Thoughtfully and Biblically he measured his decisions.  I marveled at his skillful leadership and ability to move among the generations and personalities that funneled through the Multnomah campus.  That’s the way Dan was.  He liked people and people liked him.

He let me teach, shepherd and engage our students with great freedom.  Building into their lives with creativity and adding extended ministry beyond campus were always smiled upon by Dr. Dan.  I loved my stint at Multnomah under Dan’s leadership.

Then, for a decade he and I were colleagues as fellow presidents in theological education.  We laughed together, spoke somberly together with understanding and had a quiet moment or two that only presidents can understand.  It was fun cheering each other on in His goodness and grace.  That’s the way Dan was.  Generous in encouragement.

During his last years in his leadership role we happened to find a moment together in San Francisco.  We had our normal cheery banter and reflection over God’s blessings.  Then, he spoke about his hardest year ever while in the Lord’s service.  That was the closest he got to complaining.  No one would have ever heard a tone of regret, fussing or grumpiness in his voice.  There were no names or actions of others that were maligned.  That is the way Dan was.  Superior in graciousness.

Dan is now with the Savior forever.  He left this earth with an impact on so many lives.  Each of us will spread the cheer and joy that he deposited into us.  That’s the way Dan was.

photo credit: Multnomah University photo

IMG_3884Do you like hoards and hoards of people trying to do what you are trying to do?  When the sun is hot, the temperatures are soaring and the lines form like a funnel each time you want to take in a special moment on a vacation that you have saved to enjoy after years.  Fuses are short even at the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  Grouchy people come with the program bursting with people on a mission.

A snarly husband with irritation dripping from his steely voice, “What did you lose?”
Desperately slapping her pockets, checking her purse, searching her bag a woman exclaimed, “Hold on.  I’m looking.”
With an escalating volume out of control, the man shouted with a growl, “Tell me!  What did you lose?”
Desperate and trying to find whatever she had misplaced, she blurted out, “My wallet.  I lost my wallet!”

By now everyone around that small patch of shade were looking up.  We were all looking on the ground, checking the bench and even slapping our own pockets.  Clearly there was sympathy for her and a frantic effort to stay the pending eruption written in red on that man’s face.

Just in time she announced, “I found it!”

A wind of crowd relief exhaled.  That man just turned on his heels and stalked away.  The family gathered their personal items, huddled together and followed after the heated furor of the family.

Quickly all of us in the crowd stepped back into our world of ease.  Everyone loses it some time under certain circumstances.  Most of us have the dignity not to hang our laundry in public, however.

We loved our visit to Disney World.  Yet, we encountered a few who were grouchy, a small number who were rude and very few who were pushy.  Humans get a little testy when their circumstances are not  ideal.

When the temperatures soar, so do the frayed tempers.  During the crowded spaces and slow-moving lines people do snap at others.  No matter how broadly Mickey smiles and cheers, someone is going to be unhappy.

Humorously, grumpy people want others to know how unpleasant they are feeling. Broadcasting their ill will seems to be a necessity for them.  Blaming others or making others feel badly is like a calling in life  for them.

Sometimes we are best just to keep quiet.  Other times we can smile back or send a cheerful way.  We cannot change the whole world but maybe we can infect a few with wonderful happiness.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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