WY 2014 Andy Fall colorsAndy asked if I wanted to join him on an ATV ride through Vedauwoo National Forest.  “Sure!” was my initial and only response.  It was October and the promise of a sensational vision for a Houstonian was all of the motivation that I needed.

God created our world with an annual weather warning.  Before the harsh winds of winter, the brutal blizzards of the mountains and the frigid temperatures of the stormy season He gave us the Autumn.  This is the time of the year to count our blessings of the past Spring and the enjoyable invigorating days of the Summer.

The deciduous trees can feel the cold coming long before any mammals can detect anything.  Slowly but steadily they turn-off the sap that feeds the life from roots to leaves.  The chlorophyll disappears.

Green leaves now turn red, orange or yellow.  The forest is rich with the bright colors that entertain but also signal the coming of winter.  It is time to hibernate, hunker down by a warm wood fire for the next handful of months.

A cold snap had already visited this 7,000 foot elevation several times.  The trees do not fight it. They submit to forces greater than themselves so that in the Spring they can revive and awaken to a new year.

Andy was leading the way.  I stopped.  He kept riding.

That is when I gratefully snapped a picture of his entering into the wonder of Autumn.  There were no freeways filled with vehicles or throngs of crowds rushing to work or air controllers trying to schedule massive airliners on to a crowded runway.  Instead, the sound of a smoothly running ATV carrying a good friend through the spectacular woods was a vision exclusively laid out for my eyes.

The Creator was displaying His masterpiece in motion.  Add texture and depth to this rainbow of colors and I could feel my soul breathing in deeply the refreshment of life.  Every human being should be so blessed.

When I reached for the key to start my ATV, I found myself smiling.  Life is busy.  It is full of heavy responsibility.

Decisions of major proportions no doubt were piling up on my desk back at the office.  People were wondering when they could discuss the next major issue that they were wanting some direction before they pulled the trigger and committed resources.  For now they had to wait while I recharged my batteries with the One who called me into His service.

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRender-1No one likes drab.  Color makes a splash that gives zest to life.  But, overuse opens the way to appreciate a moment when color is gone.

The landscape in Wyoming is stunning.  Vast open spaces capture the imagination of any human being who pays attention to life on the prairie.  There is so much expanse to take in.

Erase the color when those grand moments come and something eye-catching emerges.  Shapes, shades and proportions take front stage when the photoreceptors of our retina do not have the stimuli of our cones and rods picking up colors.  We are left with the wonder of a different kind of emphasis.

Memories of ancient books and stories come to mind.  People who had their voices draw a picture and fill in the breadth and depth of yarns told to the imagination of hearers.  Images without color beckon hearers to join in the drama and fill-in the palate with their own choices of color.

Or the story keeps its focus on the life lived without the aesthetic wash of wonder.  Movement, ease and linear lines keep a picture simple.  Depth is very much a part of this kind of rendering.

Patterns of a tree that is denuded could be a frozen path of lightning across the sky.  Gnarled bark lets texture shine.  You FullSizeRender-2can feel the rough exterior of the skin of a tree just by gazing at a picture that depends on shading and shape.

The tree has lived for years giving each bend, every twist and all branches a moment to tell a story.  Wind storms, drought and snow have each left scars and tears on this living mass.  History cannot be revised by modern observers.

Instead, for the initiated and observant a map leaves sign posts to trace the past development.  Like a freeway through the portal of time moments of terror and times of plenty are all a part of a life of a tree.  It blends into the grassy ground and reaches unashamed into the sky.

Then, God blazons the sky with the constant burning of the sun.  Powerful rays rain down light, warmth and splendor on the Wyoming grasslands.  Whatever for a moment seems ugly in a tree that no longer boasts life, its skeleton still calls for attention.

Color is not always necessary.  At least the option of this world in moments without it gives us pause to think different thoughts.  Still there is beauty just as the Almighty does everything beautifully.

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRender-5Busy men always discover the elixir of a momentary break from the heavy responsibilities of their work.  Getting away into the country, the woods or the lake can do wonders to rejuvenate the male soul.  Hardworking men also learn that joining other men to find that relief is very effective.

It has been three years since I have been able to pal around with a special group of Michigan friends.  My life took a surprising turn when I was recruited to my present position of higher education.  The newness of the position and the long list of responsibilities were great so I stayed close to my job for two years.  Finally, it was time to reconnect with great guys.

Describing the men that I shared a few days of adventures on the plains, in the mountains and through the woods is simple.  They are a collection of different kinds of bucks.  A men’s retreat described like a herd of wild animals is saying that they are just a bunch of guys.

There are the young bucks who hurried into the cabin.  They are a lot of fun, full of energy, always moving, taking on new challenges no matter what the risks.  When it is time to eat they have a voracious appetite that defies the possible space of a normal human stomach.

FullSizeRender-6Then, there  are the seasoned bucks.  Their greying hair or loss of it identify them.  They move slower.  But, their deliberate speed is not to be confused with weakness.  There is an ancient Chinese proverb: “Age and treachery will always win over youth and inexperience.”

The dominant buck is the one who speaks and everyone stops to listen, both young and seasoned alike.  He gives direction, outlines the rules and cheers on the accomplishments of the recent activities.  While dominant he is the hardest working, doing whatever it takes to insure that all of the other bucks enjoy their time away from busy lives.

Then, there is the most favorite buck of all. All of the bucks know him. He gives fodder for years of stories to be retold and redacted.  He is the “little buck”.

From him comes the lesson for all men going to retreat with other men: Don’t make a mistake or the other bucks will never let you live it down.  It is all in good fun.  God has given each of us His amazing grace and the joy of being eternally forgiven so we in turn give that gift of forgiveness to our brothers from different mothers.

photo credit: brucefong friend photography

FullSizeRender-3For a little time the big city is hundreds of miles away.  Instead of horrific traffic, jam-packed calendar and unexpected problems that needed solving I could relax and rest.  The venue for this renewal of my spirit is Wyoming.  People are fewer and further between than the bustling metropolis that I call home and make an honest living.

Here the airport closes at 8:10PM. Wild animals graze right on the city limits. People smile and nod a greeting to you in the local variety store even though you have never met.

The sounds of a small town are different than the city. Here you can hear yourself think. The conversations that you have with other people are carried on with mouth and ears.

In the morning I got up early. I wanted to see the sun rise. It was splendid. Colors and hues modified by the minute.

Rays from the rising sun chased away shadows and promised warmth for every living creature. Like a spotlight that was caressing the landscape of the vast Wyoming plains, the sun pulled back the curtains of the night showed off what the Creator had done here in this gorgeous state.

Off in the distance are the Rocky Mountains. They are majestic even at this great distance. Snow caps all of the ridges and peaks that stand like a great wall daring anyone who really wants to go West but at their own peril.

High plains desert unfold in front of me. This vast land invites all sorts of wild creatures call this cave a home or that valley a place to forage for food.   The racing sunlight pours over the plains making shadows dance, leap and finally disappear.

The sky turns bright blue. A multitude of cloud variations scamper across the heavens. The wind kicks up and shows us why Katharine Lee Bates penned the words, “For amber waves of grain.” It literally looks like the grasses are like a seas of moving waves.

Breath deeply for a moment, hold that breathe of fresh air and then release it. A smile invariably follows after you exhale. God did something special when He made the expanse of the earth.

The Creator must have spent extra time here in Wyoming during Creation. It is a splendid place to remember how big He is and how small we are. If life is weighing you down, take time to look up and see what He has so incredibly made.

Photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRenderThree years ago I made this same flight. It was exciting then and exciting now to anticipate hanging out with great friends. There is something extraordinarily special about friendships that defy the test of time.

The last time we gathered to tell stories, laugh heartily, eat voraciously and tease mercilessly I was taking a break from a fabulous but rigorous work in San Francisco. This time I was snatching a respite from the fast-paced quickly-growing ministry in Houston.

As miles passed behind me, I could feel my spirit unplugging while the turbo prop plane flew over the night light lit skies of Laramie, Wyoming. Not even a dozen travelers disembarked the aircraft to be greeted by family and friends. One other couple waited with me outside of the airport terminal, laughing that this was the first time any of us had closed an airport.

My buddy drove up in the official Western rig of the outdoor world, a pick-up truck. We were all smiles and in constant conversation on the drve back to his cabin. I had experienced amazing Wilson hospitality many times in the past and knew that I was in for a treat.

Those who cheerfully serve others are less and less common. To make friends feel at home and enjoy a time away from busy responsibilities is a gift. Ron and Roxanne are very gifted at it.

When I walked into their cabin the conversation that filled the room with laughter and cheer paused with a welcome that warmed my heart. An addition was coming. Friendship among the guys is not real unless it is peppered with merciless teasing and revisions made on our past historical exploits and mistakes in the most exaggerated style.

Years had separated us. There were very rare telephone calls, occasional text messages, sparse e-mail and a Christmas card may have been exchanged. Nevertheless, real friendship picks up where it left off.

Friendships would deepen during the next several days of our reunion. We caught up on old news. Most news we laughed through but some we listened with soberness when life was at risk and trouble was lurking.

Good friends enjoy life better because of whom they have a chance to share it. When the atmosphere of joy is created through the wonderful mechanism of hospitality, something supernatural happens. Joy expresses itself with fellowship that can withstand the test of another set of years apart.

Thanks, Ron and Roxanne. You used the wonder of hospitality just as God showers blessing on those whom He loves. We who have received your expressions of love are grateful and call you, “Blessed!”

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_3094The airlines moves tens of thousands of people every day.  They must have allowances for hiccups in the schedule.  If I can I like to slip through the system before a hiccup swallows me up.

Rats! Hiccup!  My connecting flight got me to Denver EARLY!  We were so early we had to wait on the tarmac for our gate to open up.

During our wait my phone vibrated quietly.  There was no human being on the other end of the line.  Instead, a text message announced that my last flight had been delayed.

There is a hollow feeling that comes with this kind of notification.  Admittedly, I frowned like a kindergartener who hears that recess has been delayed due to the weather.  That is where most of us learn to deal with disappointment, eh?

Adding an hour and a half to my travels was not too bad.  A casual lunch in the airport would take care of that unplanned stretch of time.  My sauntering through the airport was aimless and clearly without any hurry.

God never hurries, right?  He is never surprised, correct?  If my theology serves me correctly He is always right where He needs to be when He wants to be there.

If I am to be godly, then I guess I can roll with some of the punches of life’s little annoyances too.  Too bad life is not as simple as that.  One piece of unexpected news is too often the beginning of several more pieces.

My phone vibrated again.  Another delay was posted for my plane.  Then, another adjustment came.

By the time four changes had been announced, the host at the airport came on live.  There was something nice about that.  A real human being announced that my flight had been cancelled.

At the customer service desk, no one was smiling.  All of the agents wore a stoic face.  They looked like veterans of many wars.

My agent booked me on the last flight of the day to my destination.  I asked, “What happened to my plane?”  “It had mechanical problems.”  “Well, I don’t want to get on that plane at any time.”  She stared at me and laughed!

She gave me a dinner voucher.  That was nice.  I will get to where I am going eventually.

Worrying does not help.  Anger does not work either.  Patience can serve others just at the right moment with the right kind of elixir.

 

IMG_4436It is my greatest pleasure to work every day with a team that is dedicated to their task of Seminary higher education.  Everyone knows their job and they do it with excellence.  They know that I know that we are still asking a lot of our people because any special events call for extra effort on all of us.

Once every two years we add our Fund-raising luncheon to our calendar.  It is an enormous effort to rally friends of DTS-Houston to gather for a meal and program.  Of course they all know that they are coming to respond to an ask for donations.

The planning for this gala event calls for site selection, menu choice, program keynote speaker, student testimonies, audio-visual technical staff, equipment and the list goes on and on.  At the heart of the event are our donors.  These very busy and often-asked-to-donate-to-worthy-causes are the stars of the event.

When the day of our latest gathering finally came we were feeling that deep inside wonder, “Will it go well?”  That is when prayer keeps on working while the planning is all done.  We trust in the LORD our God for His amazing favor on all that we do.

I stepped into the banquet room that was totally decked out.  It was gorgeous.  The design team and service staff at the venue were superb.

Our Advancement team executed their professional skills with great precision.  They are so organized that even the threat of a problem disappears like a mist on hot Houston summer’s day.  The guests arrive and the excitement begins.

Timing is critical.  Everyone on the program is briefed about the clock.  A designated staff person is given authority to keep the schedule as priority one.

We call everyone together and dedicate the event to God in prayer.  When the “Amen!” is spoken, silverware clinks on delicate porcelain China.  Conversations around the table pick up temp and volume.

After five bites of food, I step on to the stage and direct the program.  It is electrifying to report the good news of God’s favor on DTS-Houston.  Record enrollment, new faculty hires, new staff hires, impressive library growth and the potential for world-impact ministry bring rousing applause.  Our speakers knock it out of the park.  People are spell-bound, tearful and deeply moved to respond to the ask.

Everyone who planned and prepared were spent.  The joy of that event was at a special zenith.  There is no place on earth I would rather be than here at DTS-Houston.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4396It is illegal to be in possession of a moon rock.  There is an international regulation on these remarkable minerals from our moon. Certainly, it keeps the criminal element from crowding in on these very limited items.

But, NASA has a remarkable display for us average citizens.  Any guests to Houston can travel to the Johnson Space Center and take a tour of the grounds.  Inside the main tourist center is a display of the journey to the moon.

A special section is set apart for the moon rocks.  Everything is tightly secure.  Even the entrance vault door is impressive.

Inside the safe room is a laboratory-like area.  Thick glass separates the viewing area from actuallyIMG_4395 quarantined space for the minerals brought back from space.  Displays show how the rocks are examined and the findings of the experiments are presented for easy reading.

I was alive when the American astronauts went to the moon.  Like the rest of America and for much of the world, I was glued to the TV.  We each followed the space engineering lessons, hung on every report and prayed for the safety of these brave men.

IMG_4398Then, there was that moment of truth.  The lunar module had landed.   Neil Armstrong stepped on to the surface of the moon.

Americans wept.  They were tears of pride and elation.  Everyone was talking about this historic moment.

The scientists and engineers did not rest.  Meticulously they oversaw the experiments and collection of samples.  They brought back to earth 48.5 pounds of moon rocks.

Each of the fifty United States received a sample.  The presentation included a commemorative state flag that went to the moon.  A small sample of rock pieces were attached to the display.

These rocks were encased in a marble-sized acrylic ball.  They were tiny but their unique origin madeIMG_4401 the presentation special.  Most states have their presentation safely secured in a museum for the public to see.

In Houston at the NASA center a special display has a moon rock for the public to touch.  It is about an inch and a half long.  The display has the rock glued to a large acrylic display stand.  Visitors can reach through the display and literally touch the stone.

My first two visits to the center were crowded with masses of people.  This time I not only saw the rock I  also got near the stone.  I touched it.  The moon rock had been christened with a Fongster touch.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4424Fourth grade was a time for changes that would follow me for my entire life.  My mom told me that I was going to be out of school for a half day.  Like the steady obedient child that I was my response was melodramatic, “Sure.”

The next thing I knew I was in an examination chair following the orders of a man in a white lab coat.  We were surrounded by odd looking instruments.  It was dark.

He told me to look through the eyepieces of a weird looking machine.  It was like a pair of binoculars but there was nothing streamlined about it.  The chin piece was uncomfortable and the headpiece dug into my forehead.

“Tell me which row of letters is more clear, A or B,” he rapidly directed.
“A,” I said confidently.
“Which is clearer now, A or B?” he continued.
“B, I guess,” my uncertainty was honest.
“Now?”
“I…I…can’t tell,” my uncomfortableness at failing a test was becoming frustrating.

Before I knew what was happening I was fitted for my first pair of glasses.  My mom dropped me off at school.  All of the kids stared at me when I walked back into the classroom.

Ever since that day I tried many clip-on sunglasses, goggles, and over-glasses to shield my peepers from the bright rays of the sun.  None were comfortable and certainly “cool” was never a part of them.  Time has passed and it was time for a change.

A local eye wear company had a sale.  I picked up my new prescription glasses.  Along with them I received my first pair of prescription sunglasses.  Wow, it was fun to wear my “shades”.

They were light-weight.  My regular glasses could take a break.  Several compliments from my bride brought back the delight of feeling “cool” on a major scale.

Once the novelty had worn off, I noticed something about these prescription sunglasses.  They are so light-weight that I was not habitually pushing them up on my face at regular intervals.  That is such an annoying habit for all of us who wear glasses.

I tried contacts but my vision condition makes it difficult to fit for them.  My outdoor activities caused major discomfort then dust got in them.  It was precarious to be blinded by tears when I was in a dangerous situation.

Now, with corrective lenses built into my sun glasses, life is a step up.  Yay, for prescription shades!  I am pleased so many years after the fourth grade.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4418We have had our pellet burning smoker for over a year.  I can finally grill chicken, steaks, pizza and pork tenderloin without burning or magically transforming them into jerky.  But, the adventure continues.

Smoking a brisket is one of the high points of a grill master.  Just kidding.  I would never assume that I deserve that title.  If I deserve any title for my outdoor cooking it is burn master or shoe leather maker.

My smoker success has rekindled the possibility of cooking a brisket.  So, I pulled out the cookbook that came with our smoker.  It had a page on smoking a brisket so I read it once, twice, thrice and then again two more times.

Have you ever bolstered your courage with the repetition of preparation?  That is exactly what I was doing.  I was prepared to take my bride out to dinner if this experiment failed.

The preparation for the meat was not hard.  I used a mixture of both a dry rub and wet BBQ sauce.  Then, I prepared a water spray to keep the meat moist.

I set my grill to smoke.  Once it was ready I laid the meat right on the grill and let it smoke for two hours.  Then, I increased the temperature to 275, put the meat in an aluminum tray with some water in the tray and let the low heat have its way for another three hours.

Every 45 minutes or so I would peek and spray.  It was looking good.  The aroma was fabulous.

At the total of 5 hour mark I donned my BBQ gloves and lifted the final product out of the grill on to a platter.  When I set it on the table I snapped a picture.  Then, I had no idea how it tasted or if it was a dry as jerky.

The brisket looked great and smelled even better.  It was worth a picture.  Then, the moment of truth came.

With the table set for two, I sliced several pieces off the finished product.  It is the cook’s prerogative to taste it in advance, right?  So I popped a piece in my mouth and was stunned!

It was delicious!  The flavor was amazing.  A deep satisfaction of seeing the red halo and watching the juices run over the carving knife blade only vie for attention from the popping of buttons.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

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