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TX Christmas 2012 001My email inbox was full.  Sorting out the correspondence that could be easily resolved was like using a sharp paring knife on a ripe Bartlett pear.  But, some of those items call for more attention and care.  Those time-invested items were a mixture of business items and surprises, good surprises. 

One surprise grabbed my attention.  It was an email from a longtime friend.  We have shared musings in theological education for years. 

He let me know that he was going to be in San Francisco for an Association gathering and wanted to know if we could grab breakfast.  That was common for us to hook up for some great fellowship when we found that our paths crossed.  I agreed and put the date down in my calendar.

He picked a restaurant not far from his hotel.  When I showed up, I was surprised that he had someone with him that I did not know.  Mark introduced his Academic Dean to me.  We enjoyed a great meal and fabulous fellowship. 

Then, I was asked to pray about an opportunity.  They wanted me to consider joining the leadership team of Dallas Seminary.  One of their extension sites was growing and was designated as their first campus extension.  

After some time and prayers were completed as well as long conversations, it was clear that God was leading this connection.  It was time to comply, say our farewells, give out our hugs and move to our new ministry and home in Houston, Texas.  This major transition in our lives was formed in this historic eatery in the city of San Francisco, the Sears Fine Food, a city institution since 1938. 

This meal changed our lives forever.  It has been a very good change.  No one likes to move.  Saying “Goodbye” to very good friends, family and people is heartbreaking.  Yet, the Lord’s grace and mercy go before us and we are adding to our friendship community some amazing people.

Change can happen over a simple meeting with an old friend.  Opportunity is worth a good long look.  If it transpires, then, step out in faith and treasure all the moments for God to bless your obedience to His leading no matter how outlandish the change might be.

Nothing in life is more satisfying than being right where God wants you to be.  He will take care of all the details.  He mercy endures forever.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

There is no doubt about it, San Francisco is a beautiful city.  The hustle and bustle of the nearly 800,000 residents pour into the streets, heading for work.  Another massive movement from around Bay Area crowd the already busy streets with their cars, trucks and public commute on BART, city buses and ferries.

The crowds give personality to this megalopolis.  They build the buildings, post the marketing ads and erect the monuments to art.  An excitement is here every day of the week.

But, there is view that only a few have the privilege to enjoy.  It is the view of the city from the water.  Some times it is the tourist on a boat ride who can get this unique perspective.

For me I took it all in from a party boat heading out into the Pacific Ocean for a day of fishing and crabbing.  Most on the boat were napping, conversing with friends or getting the gear ready for the deep-sea harvest.

I stood on the aft deck leaning against the rail and taking in the sights.  The San Francisco skyline at the dawn of a new day is spectacular.  No, I don’t marvel at the architects, instead, for me I wonder at the many friends that I have who work in the city.  They are very special people to me.

From a distance I can spot certain areas of town that employ a number of my friends.  They were just waking up as our fishing boat motored past the city by the  Bay.  Nevertheless, I whispered a prayer to the Almighty to bless them.  Drive-by prayer really does work.

A large shadow overtook our vessel en route to the Farallon Islands.  I looked up and it was the Golden Gate Bridge.  We were fast approaching this gateway to the West.  The twin towers stood rock solid against the load bearing weight of commuters. 

Engineers had built in extra strength not only against the physics of expanse but the sheer force of Creation’s power in the weather: wind, salt water, rain and the occasional earthquake.  Triangles are all over the design of this bridge.  It is a modern wonder and stands as a testimony of God’s image inside of all who built this fabulous structure.

From the underside the design was aesthetically limited but sound.  My geometry classes helped me see why it was constructed this way.  It simply added to wonder of this amazing city.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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

Unofficially, Houston is the most air-conditioned city in our nation.  At least I have heard a number of locals make that pronouncement.  Frankly, whether it is true or not, I for one am pleased that AC is common to wherever my local travels take me.

When I venture out-of-doors, a number of amazing phenomena occur.  First, my glasses fog up.  The cool lens in the humid hot weather immediately puts in a nostalgic mood for my San Francisco days. 

It is a problem that doesn’t go away on its own.  I have to remove my spectacles and wipe them dry.  Without an exception it always makes me laugh.

The second phenomenon is my breathing.  I catch my breath.  The contrast of emerging from an air-conditioned building is a shock.

Our solar system’s only star blasts me with bright rays.  Heat not only surrounds us but it is also radiated up from the asphalt or even more intensely from light-colored cement sidewalks.  It is time to take off the jacket that is sometimes a necessity indoors.

When I arrive at home, the sun has already set.  Evening temperatures are moderating some but then another phenomenon greets me in our neighborhood.  It is stunning.

This time it is not the sense of touch or dry lips seek a taste of a refreshing beverage.  Nor is it the sight of the bright sun.  Instead, it is the wonder of sound.

The trees are the home of a large insect called locusts.  They are critters with huge heads and large wings.  In the summer this colony of bugs respond to the temperatures and buzz their way through the night. 

Hearing the locusts is almost deafening.  Yet, at the same time it is so common to locals that they don’t even hear the nocturnal percussive symphony.  Newbies like me pause and listen in wonder.

The sound is powerful.  You feel engulfed from every angle.  God certainly added an amazing variety to this creation of His.

The Cicada are not like crickets or grasshoppers that rub their wings and legs together.  Instead, they have been created with an air sack in their abdomen.  This is the resonance chamber  that vibrates a membrane structure called tymbals.

It is noisy.  Yet, it is remarkable.   Furthermore, each of the five varieties make their own unique sound.  Fascinating!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

We now live in the South.  There is no changing that.  In this region of the country, the cuisine is very different from what we are used to eating.

That’s not bad, not in the least.  Make no mistake about it.  The adventure of life, faith and travel, I love the newness of anything. 

Once in a while, however, there is comfort in what is familiar.  While we are surrounded by BBQ, which I love, and the presence of Cajun, which I find spicy and sizzlin’, I get a hankerin’ for something that I can identify with my youth.  Growing up with a certain kind of food gives comfort for the soul and stimulates nostalgia of years gone by.

We of course headed for Chinese food.  But, even that is different.  The Chinese food here in Houston is heavily influenced by Taiwanese tastes.  My bride and I are used to Cantonese flavors, spices and nuances.

Dim Sum, for example was always a treat for us when we were growing up as children.  In San Francisco this unique dumpling fare is seemingly on every corner in the restaurant districts.  Choosing which one to patronize was the challenge not whether you could find that food choice.

Here in the Southwest, that option isn’t so common.  We scanned Yelp.com, listened to advice from others and did Google searches to remind us of good times with family and friends from long ago.  The options were not many.

Then, while exploring a grocery store that specialized in Chinese staples and produce, we saw a fast food eatery off to the side.  The telltale signs of steam bamboo round baskets stacked up with the matching aromas was easy to pull us away from our original task.  The words Dim Sum were emblazoned on the sign above the food market.

We found ourselves in a long line.  The labels were familiar to us: pork buns, shrimp sui mai, chicken feet, turnip cakes, chicken rolls and other delectable choices.  Our tray was filled with options to share and reminisce.

Our grace over the food was sincere.  To God we were very grateful for food that reminded us of our past.  Food that was very comforting to our soul as well as our tummy wooed us to taste and enjoy.

My “Amen” came quickly and we wasted little time putting the first bit-sized dumpling into our salivating mouths.  It was delectable.  Something so familiar was comforting.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Family time is fun time.  Three of my kids and I got a chance to squeeze in a San Francisco adventure.  Treasured moments don’t have to elaborate or lengthy, just fun.

It’s not about what you do but with whom you share the moment.  Simplicity and spontaneity with those you love are all of the ingredients needed to make a memory.  Love, yup, that’s the ticket!

There was a shop that we visited, then we stumbled across this historic intersection in the streets on the East side of town.  It is a vague memory from my past.  I was too busy studying to figure out why so many were protesting this or that.

We laughed at the moment as a family.  None of us were tie-dye types.  Laws are part of what we do not what we seek to bend, break or bash.

The Fong’s are into diligence, joy and faith.  That sums us up nicely.  But, we can take in some history, marvel at the quaint shops and tease each other with the styles of the day and yesteryear.

A hat shop was our objective.  Can you imagine the four of us trying on the wildest lids ever created?  Once we got serious one of us even gave the business real business.

Next, we strolled down the Haight and did a lot of window shopping.  Early on we dodged pigeons looking for targets to bomb.  The hat salesman warned us that his best hat suffered a direct hit.

I took a picture of the actual intersection street sign of the famed Haight Ashbury.  But, the traffic didn’t give me a chance to get the right angle.  However, someone figured out that problem.

At a more reasonable height, just right for photo ops is a replica of the intersection street markers.  Don’t our kids to fabulous next to it?  The smiles are real, the fun we shared was memorable and even though this place is in our town it is the first time for me to visit the landmark.

The best excuses to explore our own village is when family comes to visit.  A simple stroll, lots of laughter, easy teasing and goofy behavior make for the spice in life that gives memories longevity in our souls.  Family is the soul of life.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

We drove into the area South of Market, SOMA.  Some of it I recognized.  We talked about new areas, sites and favorite stops.

In the middle of the conversation, our friend shouts out, “There it is!”  I looked quickly but I missed it.  While I strained and stretched I didn’t see our destination.

“Hey, let’s look for a parking spot.”  The favorite San Francisco hobby now lay before us.  We had to find a legal place to leave the car.

At the stop light we all shouted our sightings.  Right across the intersection a space sat empty.  Not only was it empty, it was a free space with no meters.

We strolled a half of a block to Bar Agricole.  It is a trendy restaurant that invited those with a discriminating palate.  Our goal was to enjoy a Sunday brunch after a long day in the service of the King.

The custom booths are chic.  They are a noticeably signature furniture for this first time experience for Yvonne and me.  Our waitress quickly came to serve us.

After we placed our orders, the conversation was endless.  We caught up on vacations, share observations of improving the ministry, told funny stories and paused only to give a wow look at our food.

Yvonne had crab and egg salad sandwiches.  They looked amazing.  The presentation at this special place was as spectacular as the taste.

My meal came.  I had ordered two eggs with pork.  It was amazing!

First, the yolk of the two eggs was a rich deep yellow.  I had not seen that kind of color in a long time.  They were free ranging chicken produced eggs. 

Their color was lost when I tasted the fare.  Yeow!  It was so good!

Vegetables, garnishes and perfectly fried pork added amazing flavors to the meal.  Not was my appetite satisfied, so was my memory of amazing food.  The company was pretty good too!

Satisfied and stuffed we rolled on home.  It was a satisfying celebration with very good friends.  What a better way to finish the Good LORD’s Day.

The day has arrived for my bride and me to make our long journey to our next divinely appointed assignment.  While we are excited to start God’s new venture, we are also feeling that we “left our hearts in San Francisco.”  There are precious lives that we love so much that are left behind.

The church family gathered for a celebration of God’s blessings.  It was a BBQ with everything Texas.  Even the rice krispy treats were shaped into the Lone Star State.  Several testified of past blessings that were touching.

All of the gifts were very special.  One remarkable gift is an artist’s characature that had us all laughing and marvelling at the same time.  Yvonne and I are travelling to Houston on my motorcycle surrounded by special momentos of God’s rich San Francisco blessings.  That is a very special gift.

My final Sunday was full of smiles, memories relived, special words and lots of hugs.  One brother whispered a word that I will always treasure.  Another, choked up when our eyes met.  Those who have intently studied the Word with us spoke of God’s providence, sovereign hand, divine will and expressions of joy and heavenly reunion.

The next day, Bekins sent their packers to finish what we did not do and to apply their professional care to our fragile items.  They turned a house full of stuff into neatly stacked uniform boxes cradling our prescious worldly possessions.  I was amazed that two men could do so much so fast and so carefully.

Then, there is family.  After all the packing was done we rendezvoused with the Fongs.  We shared a last meal together.  It was more like a feast.  Wow, “delicious” is not sufficient to describe this meal.

The Winter melon soup was superb.  It was served a classy way: the melon itself was the pot.  All of the ingredients were not only in the soup but laid on the edge of the melon while it was served.  Presentation was spectacular and the aroma was surpassed only by the flavor.

The celebration is a memory now.  It has slipped into the recesses of our soul just like the view of San Fran shrank in my rearview mirror.  But, the lives of real people with real episodes of faith adventures are still vivid in my soul.  I love these special people.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

My phone vibrated.   Jeremy, our son, sent me a message asking for a small favor.  Of course we Dads give priority to any requests by our children. 

He had just moved into a new apartment across the street from the campus where he is doing his graduate studies.  Now, he has the delight of populating his new digs with furniture.  Craig’s list has come through for him.

He found someone who was selling their dinette set.  It includes an expanding table and four chairs.  The description and pictures looked good and the price was right.

There was a small glitch that kept him from closing the deal.  He lives in Oakland but the dinette set was in San Francisco, not far from where we live.  Also, he has a sporty little subcompact that has enough storage in it for a grasshopper or two.  I have a pick-up truck.  Do you see a solution in this picture?

So he asked if I could go to the home look over the furniture and make sure that it was accurately portrayed by the picture, pay the owners and deliver the furniture to his new home.  No problem for a Dad to do that.  I heartily agreed and set off on this little adventure.

We met the young couple who were selling the furniture.  They we delightful.  A fun introduction and visit ensued.

They welcomed us into their home and showed us the dinette set.  It looked great.  The price was very fair.  So, we loaded up the five-piece set and set off on our drive across the Bay Bridge.

It took us a while to make the journey to Oakland.  The traffic out of San Francisco was its typical stop and go.  But, this time even the Bay Bridge traffic was very slow.

Finally, we arrived at our son’s new home.  We carried the furniture, food items, soft goods, kitchen utensils up to his pad.  It was fun to see his new home and warm up the atmosphere there with Mom and Dad’s celebratory spirit. 

Now, we were off to dinner.  We had a great meal, laughed a bit, dreamed, reminisced and caught up on all of our plans.  That’s family stuff.  But, then the bill for the dinner came.

It had already been paid.  Our son had taken care of the check.  Afterall, it was Father’s Day.  Yum!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Good friends invited us out to dinner.  They picked a restaurant that is in a popular area of San Francisco where a number of busy eateries have found a loyal following.  This is one of the attractions of this amazing city, great restaurants.

The meal was great.  Our conversation was also encouraging.  Ambiance is complicated, often defies explanation but is easily recognized when it is present.  It was there that night.

Hours flew by and soon it was time to say “Farewell!”  Our parting was sweet after such a good memory.  Smiles were exchanged as we went our separate ways.

Since this popular location was buzzing when we arrived, it was a challenge to find parking.  That is a San Francisco phenomenon as well.  I started circling the block in ever-increasing concentric circles.

There were precious few spots.  Someone else was better positioned than me to snap those spaces up.  Others wrangled, honked and waved off competitors. 

Like vultures fighting over road kill, someone would win.  Only one would gain the opening spot.  Usually, the first one to stake a claim was given quarter.  Even when doing a three-point turn on a narrow and busy street would be enough of a strategy to gain the upper hand.

I wasn’t in a fighting mood.  Easily I slipped on by and people would duel over a precious parking spot.  Instead, I drove into Golden Gate Park.  There I found several parking spaces. 

It was a three block walk to the restaurant, but it was a beautiful walk.  The park-like setting of this focus of city pride made the walk very pleasant.  I liked the stroll.

What waited for Yvonne and me was an extra special surprise.  As dusk settled over the city, the sunset was a treat.  Amazing cloud formations added to the spectacular scene in the sky.

Light was the show.  Shades of radiant oranges and yellows mixed into an aerial pallet that was breath-taking.  No one could just keep on walking. 

When God shows off His artistic skills in the heavens it is worth a pause.  We stopped just where I had parked.  Looking up we took in the splendor of the Creator’s amazing touch. 

This picture changed as the minutes slipped by.  Shades and hues of color shifted as the sunlight began to disappear.  Beautiful!

We have been blessed to have lived in this wonderful city.  The joys of being here and serving some amazing people will always be with us.  We smiled from deep inside.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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