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Thirty-five years ago my bride and I drove away from Texas. I had finished my seminary education and had accepted a call to pastor a small church in Oregon. Texas had won many memories for us after four years of grueling graduate studies.
Now, the beginning of a life in professional ministry lay ahead of us. Our vision was vague and our hopes were naive but we were eager to get started. It seemed like our whole life was ahead of us.
Before we drove away and left Dallas in our rearview mirror, we said our goodbyes to very good friends. We had shared both joys and tears with some amazing people. Tears of joy separated us as we parted company from each other for what would become decades ahead of us.
Two great friends were Danny and Becky. Our friendship was forged in the crucible of youth ministry. Together we had been a part of a volunteer staff to build into the lives of the Jr. High population of Grace Bible Church in Inwood Road.
Some would laugh and agree that any volunteers in a church Jr. High ministry would discover a bond of fellowship. Not only is it a bond of fellowship it may be a something similar to the Stockholm syndrome. Pressure from the threat of bodily danger forms a desperation connection between the innocent and the terrorists.
Actually, the age of a Jr. Higher is ripe for a strong connection with any adult who would venture to begin a mentor relationship with a young person in this season of life. They love a hero. A hero to them is just about any adult who would demonstrate to them the love of Christ to them and their peers.
We on the staff had a ball working with these promising lives. Just as special were our times of building our friendships with each other. These friendships were born out of love for others and devotion to the mission that we all embraced.
The four of us connected. We laughed, cried, hoped, dreamed, teased and made memories that have lasted for a lifetime. Then, after years of Christmas cards and an occasional word from mutual friends we ended up at the same camp ground on the same day 35 years later.
Our smiles and embrace from immediate recognition were joyous. Laughter turned into conversation as we caught up with life. Reunions can never be oversold.
We exchanged emails. Our schedules in our active travels were going to cross in California. We first started our friendship in San Francisco and that’s where our paths would cross again during the Thanksgiving season.
He and she would be travelling in from New York. It’s an adventure for them in their new life in the Big Apple. I was eager to hear about their new discoveries.
She would be coming in from Hong Kong. That bustling city is still on my “must visit” list. I hear so many intriguing stories of that ancient Asian destination that I have got to go and bring my camera with me.
Providentially, we all had a free lunch and exclaimed with glee. Of course we saw each other at worship on the Lord’s Day. There we had our hugs and reunion, albeit briefly. We knew that we would catch up the next day.
Our destination was downtown. In the congested streets of San Francisco, my bride and I jumped off the interstate after negotiating the Bay Bridge traffic and then fighting the downtown traffic in the city. There were as many people, bicyclists, motor scooters, buses and taxis to dodge than “regular” cars.
Tight quarters, massive construction, emergency vehicles, double-parked vehicles and delivery trucks filled the streets and impeded progress. Aggressive moves by drivers cutting in front of me, crowing intersections after the light turned red and stopping to let out passengers all add up to anxieties that only a big city can create. But, hanging out with friends who live thousands of miles away is worth the effort.
We were surrounded by the posh decorations of well designed building. Water features, exotic flowers, polished metal trim and aromas of eateries getting ready for the lunch crowd filled the air. Then, our friend showed up and smiles washed away all distractions.
Together we had an endless conversation about our new life adventures in new cities. It was fascinating, nearly enough information for a channel travel station to do an entire episode. The hunger to travel was ignited again.
We exchanged invitations to visit our respective cities. They were real expressions of hopeful reunions again where life and friendship could be renewed. We laughed, we learned and we deepened a devotion that friendship affords.
Yes, we are Facebook friends. We will keep in touch via the world-wide web when miles can’t draw us any closer. Oh, yeah, we ate some good food while we visited too.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
For a long time I have hoped to visit a Presidential library. History gets muddled in the spin from the media and pundits. Citizens of our great nations are almost afraid to expression appreciation for any public figure, dreading the ire that will pour forth from the gaping mouths of throats dredging up junk.
Now, away from the limelight and living the quiet life of a private citizen, George H. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, is passing his final days with his family. Volunteers at the library speak so warmly of this first couple. A number of them called them “real” people. They are touted as full of warmth and joy.
I asked the President where he turned for guidance during troubled times. He told me that he turned to his faith where he never failed to find solace, courage and encouragement to keep on leading. Personally, he added that it was family that counted the most.
Then, he also wrote clearly that he wanted to add friends to that short list. He repeated the trio with confidence. When times were tough he found that his faith, family and friends gave him all that he needed to keep encouraged to do his duty. It was succinct and potent.
As the life of this remarkable man unfolded in his museum, I wondered how he would portray his failed attempt for reelection. He had a great deal of success during his first term. But, the odd third-party intrusion tipped the scale toward another winner.
Even in disappointment he said that he never looked on the Presidency as an entitlement. He did his best, he was not successful at his reelection but he was not bitter. Simply, he said they went back their house in Texas and kept on living and making a difference in the lives of people where they could.
Does humility count? Can an effective leader be honorable both in service and retirement? Once the political rhetoric dies down and people can return to their humanity, can good people still be good once again?
I have looked into the eyes of the critical, the wicked and the self-absorbed self-righteous who believe that their opinion has value and defines the truth. But, once their worst is done, good people keep on making a difference. They who are good keep on helping others.
photo credit: brucefong photography
Soon one of our California friends was coming into town for a business trip. We had excitedly made arrangements to take him to dinner. But, we are still new to Houston and I wasn’t sure where we should take him.
Puzzling over that dilemma, I had it on the back burner of my mind. A new local friend wanted to introduce me to his pastor. I agreed to meet them both at a restaurant that he assured me would be a repeated location for my meals.
The eatery is not far from my office. In 15 minutes I pulled into the parking lot never having to use the tollways. Tokyo One is the restaurant located off Beltway 8 and Westheimer.
Three hungry men still couldn’t put a dent in the generous fare. Japanese and Fusion food was amazingly presented, unforgettably delicious and served by a wait staff that was cheerful and eager to serve. I wanted to bring our California friend to this place.
When we picked up our guest at his hotel, it was a mere five minutes away from Tokyo One. We arrived at 5.15PM and had no problem being seated without a reservation. Smiling broadly, I ushered my wife and guest to the buffet bar.
Their eyes were wild with the amazing fare. Each one piled their dishes high was fresh and tasty treats. We were enjoying the meal along with great fellowship.
If the delicious options on the buffet table were not enough, the staff asked if we would like to have our individual lobsters. Yes, they were included in the buffet. Surprised but looking for a good time, we heartily agreed.
Soon, he returned with three lobsters for us to enjoy. These seafood delicacies added to the our table celebration and made us laugh with anticipation. They were delicious!
Again our staff returned and asked if we would like a bowl of their specialty soup. Wow! Of course we would love to have that served to us. It was amazing.
The owner of the restaurant stopped in for a visit. He asked if there was anything else he could do for us. Before we could say no, he offered to personally make a specialty sushi roll for us. Sure!
He returned with a wonderful looking roll that was fabulous. We thanked him, complimented him and assured him that we would return. What a delicious Houston discovery.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
The three of us entered Papadeaux’s for a night of commemorating Rick’s birthday. Our cheerful greeter asked with a beaming smile, “How many?” In responsive cadence, “Three.”
That’s when the fun began. Pointing to Rick with my thumb, “Do you do anything special for birthday boys?” A simple innocent inquiry had him aghast.
“Bruce, don’t. Don’t. Don’t,” he was gasping for words. Too late, she smiled with equal mischievousness, “Oh, it’s his birthday.” I liked the sound of her brain cells purring.
Once seated we presented our birthday boy with his gift. It was funny how he carefully pulled out each part of the gift bag like it was a bomb. He unwrapped a corner and peaked inside, chuckled and put it back in the bag.
We had fun putting it together. Now he can eat ethnically, practice his dexterity at every meal and sip his evening beverage. Of course he can have dessert and push around a wild animal all at the same time.
Our evening had so much laughter. We reminisced over friends, tracked our spiritual pilgrimage, rehearsed the blessings from the lives of our children and detailed our journey in our local church worship experiences. It was just three great friends out for a great evening.
The food was spectacular. It looked great but tasted even better. To top off the evening we enjoyed an amazing array of desserts.
That splendid part of the evening fare was accompanied with a gathering of the restaurant staff. They presented Rick with a candle-lit dessert. Then with the enthusiasm that attracted the attention of then entire gathering of guests, they sang.
It was a fun song about something to do with birthdays. My bride and I laughed. Rick blushed as red as the Cajun food peppers that we had eaten.
Happy Birthday, Rick! You are a true friend and an amazing blessing even though you are a Baylor alum.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photo
You don’t have to look alike to be family. Blood isn’t even necessary to a common link in order to claim family ties. But, there is something about what we share that makes relationships uniquely family.
Of course blood does distinguish a certain kind of family connection. These certainly are special ones. Nothing separates us and nothing can negate what we share in common.
Then, there are family members linked by law. Marriage ceremonies add members to our family. We have been blessed with two wonderful in-law children that are so dearly loved that they are family.
A third category makes up a special kind of family member. These members are family by choice. Well, then again it really isn’t choice as much as it is something that we fall into, happen chance, a connection, chemistry beyond human understanding.
These are family members by fun. Blood and law relatives aren’t our choices. They are sovereignly assigned.
Friends who become so close that we start to gather memories that knit our lives together are amazingly fun. You can tell when these friends start to become family. Spontaneous gatherings happen without calendar planning.
There is a spirit of eagerness to get together. Fellowship is quick, easy and always fun. Time is a test for these collections of special people.
I am blessed to have great family by blood, super family by law and amazing lives of friends that I love as family. Whenever any of us connect it is easy to slip back into talking, teasing, reflecting just like we have never been separated for any length of time. We lap up those moments of connection like they are newly discovered treasures.
Our daughter by blood is visiting from many miles away. One of our family through friendship joined us for a great meal. The food was amazing but the time together easily bested what we ate.
Vietnamese food was our fare for the evening. Delicate morsels of fish, chicken, pork and a myriad of vegetables filled our plates. Then, creme brulee topped off the meal to perfection.
But, boy did we laugh. So much of what we laughed about is simple stuff. Love pumps up the decibels so that we find it natural to laugh through a story.
The evening was growing late. Our dishes had long been cleared. It was time for us to depart. But, as family the joy expressed was priceless. Until we meet again, these memories would be a teaser for the next time around.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
We locked arms through ministry. But, our lives clicked much deeper. Friendships are like that; deeply connecting with camaraderie.
Over the years we shared many laughs. We took in a movie and joked about it throughout the entire flick. Meals were a big part of our adventures together. Buddies eat and make it a manly experience.
Our adventures grew and became moments worth reliving over and over again. His expertise became great lessons for me. Over time, I don’t know when it occurred but it happened.
A bond formed between us. Loyalty was born. We have stood side by side through tough times.
When life became more than what any one man could bear on his own, we were there for each other. As David had Jonathan we added each other to our small collection of devoted comrades that would go through thick and thin, shoulder to shoulder.
Life has put miles between us. Careers have taken us to different parts of the nation. The test of the kind of friendship that we share is how distance and time make little impact on our devotion to each other.
We had some time to travel. The bright idea and a plane flight was all that was needed to make a reunion of friendship a reality. After hours on the plane we connected at a place with delicious BBQ.
The food was fabulous. But, the friendship was even more amazing. We picked up where we left off, as if we had never followed different roads that led to different states of the lower 48.
Almost every moment of our lives we laughed through them one more time. Those who shared those events were part of our reminiscing. It felt so good to hang out together again.
There were at least four but more likely five times when we tried to say good-bye but just kept on talking. There were many more memories to relive again. Each attempt at a farewell fell victim to memories relived.
The last conversation that gave us a reason to say a real “till we meet again” was our hopes to repeat what we enjoyed this vacation time. Strong handshake and manly hug and one final laugh was all we needed to look forward to the next time around.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
Together they would race each other home after school. Those foot races were part of the day children could still safely make the journey home without adult supervision. These two girl friends took full advantage of that freedom.
Laughter, sharing and memories changed over the decades. But, they kept in touch. Weddings took place and the man in each of their lives began to share in those rich early days of grade school adventures. Friends since they were eleven, the depth of life that bonded them is as fun as it is a precious memory.
It was time for their 40th wedding anniversary. Sacramento is a two-hour drive away. The gala event was scheduled for a Saturday, my toughest day of the week.
But, for special occasions some like this event was worth making the journey. Together, Yvonne and I drove those long hot miles. She reminisced over the events that marked both of their lives.
A story of their wedding would pop up. Then, the events of their two children became part of the long talks on this distant drive. Challenges in life were also a part of the adventure of life for them.
But, there was an uncanny connection between these two women. I enjoyed every visit that we have had with them over the years. Have you ever met people like that where you only have good things to say about lives that have intersected with yours?
We talked about a common faith as well. When God graciously gives us the momentous treasure of friendship, it is especially precious when we know that our connection goes way beyond this life as well. Eternity will greet us all and the friendship will continue.
Once at the church, we heard Yvonne’s name called. A warm and long embrace was so appropriate. We were escorted to the head table to dine with the guests of honor.
The talking started. Food encouraged it to continue. Memories through songs, pictures and testimonials filled in a picture full of life and love.
That’s the kind of friendship to enjoy. It is a friendship that lasts forever. Congratulations, Tom and Debbie. Thanks for the years of memories.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
I am a dragon. It was the animal sign designated to everyone born in the season when I first drew breath. According to my cultural tradition I was born with the traits of the most magnificent of the Chinese animals.
Unlike the dragons of Europe, the Asian dragon is good. It is full of promise, hope and productivity. More than the strength that is physical, a dragon also connects the world with the spiritual strength from heaven.
The dragon is a symbol of a free spirit. He does not conform to rules; those are arbitrary limits for others. Creativity is his priority and restrictions cramp his style to be innovative and uninhibited.
As a dragon I feel what is descriptive of us. Energy is constantly racing through my veins. When I wake up, my mind is racing with things to do, ideas to test, thoughts to write down and options to weigh.
We think big. As a follower of Christ, it is never acceptable to accept modest results. Instead, we are always looking to see what God will do in His indescribable massive style.
Utterly irrepressible, the dragon doesn’t worry about details. Whatever is the big picture is his bread and butter. Ambition is key, not for show but a match of his faith in what God can do, what possible challenges are available and the progress that comes from success.
Dragons are independent creatures. They will help others generously but are very reluctant to accept help from others. Their friends benefit from their bountiful help and assistance.
Those who have a dragon as a friend, know that their loyalty is premier. But, dragons err when they expect that same loyalty from others. When they are betrayed it is a painful wound.
Several characteristics mark the dragon. They are flexible, courageous and passionate. Each dragon embraces honor, loyalty and optimism as their life values.
Dragons experience disappointment when betrayal touches their lives. But, they grow in wisdom from those violations. These grand creatures do not desire the spotlight.
If you have a friend who is a dragon, then you have a friend indeed. Watch as time grows that friendship more deeply. Then, you will be family.
Keep up with your lifetime of loyalty. He will keep you looking up, trusting in the spiritual strength from the Almighty. A dragon knows that what counts is from God alone.
Happy Chinese New Year!
photo credit: google image
When Yvonne and I get a moment we compare our notes and make our lists. We start our shopping with the goal in mind to get what we can give to those lives that mean so much to us. These are family and friends who have had a special part in making our lives rich with the joy of living.
First, of course is family. We set our budget, do our shopping and buy the right gifts for those who are in the selection lottery. Yeah, one side of my family draws names.
Our family on that side is close enough that we do the transparent bold Santa asking, “What would you like for Christmas?” The surprise isn’t quite there but neither is the disappointment. Delight is almost always certain.
Buying for Mom and Dad is a divide and conquer. Yvonne buys for her mom. Then, I give Yvonne a list of options for her dad. As a team, we knock the list in systematic fashion and celebrate when our “mission is accomplished.”
But, there is a final task to this gift giving season. We love the giving of gifts. It is normal for us to live out “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Our list for simple gifts as a token of our appreciation is a highlight. Here we don’t spend much but the gifts are always fun, tasty and numerous. Special candy and unique candles always seem to work well for this time of year.
luxury candies are suitable to most tastes. People like the colorful sparkle that decks the packages. The fabulous stuff inside is wonderful, but the seasonal wrapping adds to the festive season.
Just for a change-up we enjoy giving out candles too. Lighting candles around the house not only gives off a great fragrance but gives superb mood lighting as well. Just like the candy it is a disposable gift and people appreciate that.
We don’t give gifts in this expression of gratitude that have to be kept for years on end. Instead, pop the top or strike a match and gift is enjoy, appreciated and then it is gone. The message that we send with each gift is what lingers, “We appreciate you!”
photo credit: google image