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DC 2 110On this day not many years ago, a special life was born.  She was the object of great joy to many who were blessed to have her in their lives.  Those lives are countless by now.

There was family of course.  Lives of siblings who share memories of laughter, growth, changes, joys, thrills, additions and wonderful adventures.  Multi-generations emerged and those who enjoyed an aunt and now great aunt added to the memories of a special life giving joy to so many others.

Then there were friends.  Loyalty, devotion, service, consistency and commitment are gifts given and shared with this special life.  Amazing discernment, wisdom and faithfulness were capstones of what many treasure from their days of friendship with her.

image (2)I was blessed to enjoy many days of falling in love with her.  Together we saw God bless us with many adventures in learning, travel, ministry and amazing blessings to both see and experience.  We did those together and they never would have come into my life without her as my bride for decades of joy together.

We were exuberant when God gave us our own brood of little ones.  Every day was filled with the superlatives of growing, laughing, cheering and loving on each other.  Tough times saw us tenaciously persevering together.  Joyous times found us laughing together.  Painful times saw us draw tight together in mutual defense.  That repeated word “together” has been following through years and years of trusting God together.

Over the years she has had students in Sunday School, private Christian school and public schools enjoy her skill to teach, unending passion to love and constant protection as she prepared them for life.  There were many hugs, treats, attention for anyone in need and persistent wisdom on how to live life better.  Colleagues in the hall of learning were also the mutual beneficiaries of a comrade in teaching, cheers for those difficult moments and always a listening ear for a little compassion.

This season of life has us in a sweet spot of service.  So much is beyond anything that we would have ever described or hoped to have dreamed.  Yet, it is wonderful because we are still sharing it together.

Happy Birthday, Yvonne!  I love you.  Enjoying life and HIs goodness together with you is an honor and an unending joy.

photo credit: brucefong photography

It was a good day for a hike in the desert.  Southern Texas in October is now bearable.  Temperatures never climbed beyond double-digits.

I had good boots on my feet.  My compass was precise.  The path for my early evening hunt was clearly marked.

There were predators about the desert that day.  Add to that the restless border with our neighbors to the south and a quiet massive expanse could become adventuresome.  Border patrol agents were out on the road, but a friendly wave and their vast experience did not even solicit much more than a friendly wave.  I must look like am legal.

Soon I was alone on my hike again.  The sound of my boots crunching gravel on the two-track sounded like I was munching on trail mix.  I smiled at the percussive sounds.

Noise on the ground gave way to the incessant cooing of mourning doves.  They were everywhere.  The miniature trees had at least three pair of doves in them each.  Bushes seemed to be decked with these graceful birds as well.

They all grew quiet when the shadow of a great horned owl swooped overhead.  The evening sounds stopped suddenly and it seemed as if I could even hear the wind sweeping over the wings of this nocturnal predator.  A lonely branch, highest perch in the area became the landing spot for this hooter.

But, the sun was not settle yet.  There was plenty of light.  Shadows were growing long and the light from the solar source was changing.

A cactus captured my attention.  I stopped from my walking and paused to observe it.  There had been an unusual amount of rain in the recent months.  The moisture had caused the desert to bloom.

The cactus was full and healthy.  Its paddles were well-shaped and there was no sign of any trauma from predatory animals risky the prickly plant to suck up some moisture.  Left alone to slowly grow, this cactus was happy that enough water had fallen to give every living creature other easy options to quench their thirst.

Around the cactus other signs of a desert in bloom were clear.  Various grasses and weeds were popping up from the ground.  Several even had colorful blooms.  The dry ground had awakened with the grace of God sending showers to let the ground live again.  LIfe was all around me.  It was refreshing to take it all in even though I was strolling through the deserts of South Texas.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

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We are in the class of people who still finds it difficult to hand our car keys over to a total stranger, a valet.  Ingrained in us is the value of our vehicles and the undercurrent of fear of ever losing one of these special parts of our existence.  Yet, tonight would be a gathering at a special place with very special people making it possible to let someone drive off with our chariot.

The short walk to a special elevator put us in an intersection with people heading in toward the same destination as us.  We smiled, joked together and bid each other a pleasant evening.  Texas hospitality and culture is delightful.

We arrived at the destination floor.  The Express elevator speedily brought us to the gathering that had us eager with anticipation.  Our hosts welcomed us with greetings, photographs and cheerful words.

This was an evening about Missions.  We were capturing God’s heart for the lost. IMG_2999Together we prayed, were inspired and deepened our commitment to be a part of what God was doing with His Gospel in the world, our nation and in our city.

Perhaps the most moving part of our evening was turning around, away from the stage and joining hands.  The house lights were dimmed and we gazed at the city lights that fought off the night.  We prayed for our city.

The prayer that night was more than a religious rite.  It was a genuine expression to the Father to impact the city for eternity, for Jesus’ sake.  We asked God to save many, make Houston known for where Jesus was doing a special work and to show each of us how to be a part of His great love for the millions who called this place their home.

IMG_2997In the panoramic view of Houston, skyscrapers were lit up like tall Christmas trees.  Sprawling sites of historic relevance were spread out as far as the eye could see.  The curvature of the earth showed the limitations of our view.

Dark spots of the poorer and more desperate areas of the city were easily set apart in the vista.  We prayed especially for those areas.  The vision of the city has carved a unique spot in all of hearts.  It is a city that we loved on that night because we all love our city in Jesus’ name.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Our list of errands was not overly long.  It was about normal for a Saturday, our one shared day-off.  Running down those necessities in life is fun, especially when we can do them together.

Shopping for the basics in life takes up a number of those slots on our “to-do” list.  A man learns to pace himself through those seemingly endless walks down aisles filled with unnecessary items in order to discover the important ones. The floors of those buildings are saturated with Kryptonite and suck the superpowers right out of us “real men.”

None of us would really attempt to measure the cost of shopping if we measured that investment by the dollar/hour of our expended time.  We men are highly-trained, multi-skilled talented professionals.  Any products that we secured with the value that we bring to the adventure would make a package of something or other nearly a priceless purchase.

Our list was complete.  The last stop on our way home would be the gas station.  After our running around town the car needed a fill-up for the next week of activities.

Weary from knocking off the morning chores, I pulled up to the gasoline pump.  I exited the car and went through the routine motions of filling up our tank.  Once I started the pump and saw the numbers both of gallons and cost rolling up, I paused and looked up.

Like most people, once the pump is doing its work, we just stand around and wait.  Some people look down.   Others look around.  This time for some unknown reason, I looked up.

It was a splendid masterpiece painted by the hand of the Creator.  An ordinary day of errands gave me a picture perfect moment of awe.  There was nothing special about the portrait.  Yet, there was everything amazing about it.

The blue above was stunning.  It was mixed in with clouds of cotton candy, white puffs of moisture that served as a canopy over the busy lives of people scurrying about below.  Texture and density added to the variety and grace of the arrangements of the heavens.

The endless skies met the earth at the horizon.  Tall trees reached up to touch the world of birds and Celestials.  It was a ragged line but reminded me that His world and His touch are a part of our days.  It was just an ordinary Texas day with a spectacular view of His amazing creation.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2989The Big Box Store was our destination.  We were on a mission.  It was time to get a replacement watch.  When we arrived, there was nothing too interesting to capture our attention.

We had allowed an hour to shop but we were done in 9 minutes.  That was the perfect time to laugh with each other.  “Now what do we do?”

Our evening church service did not start for an hour and a half.  There was no place else that we wanted to go.  Being opportunists, we decided to walk around the store where we were and see if something inspired us or jogged our memory of something that we needed to pick up for our home.

My bride checked out the books.  I wandered around to see what new things IMG_2986there were to see.  It was the middle of October and the displays set up in the store made me smile.

Is it really time for Christmas?  Could we be nearing that most special time of the year, already?  It seems that we just entered into the Autumn season.

According to my calendar, Halloween is not even here yet.  That Harvest Festival time is still weeks away.  Still the brightly colored light, theme colors of red and green are generously on display.

Toys and decorations, special candies, splendid ornaments and seasonal beverages are stacked for the shoppers’ delight.  At first the hurried season was a bit shocking.  Then, I stared at a Christmas moose and smile.  He made me chuckle.

Hmmm…maybe it is never too early for Christmas.

This is the favorite time of year after all.  God made a promise of a Messiah and He kept it by giving us His Son.  That is the heart and soul of the meaning and beginning of Christmas.

IMG_2987Life has been tough for wonderful friends.  There have been painful disappointments for them.  Hardships have brought trouble into their lives.  Hope and mercy from God are great comforts during the Christmas season for them and all of us who have been praying and cheering them on until the  Father chooses to grant them better days.

Christmas and the real meaning of this season peak back into our lives with the simplest of brightly colored ornaments.  These shiny globes push a smile back into our hearts.  We remember better days and restore the hope in the days of His promises still to come.  It is never too early for Christmas.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

IMG_2983We were headed toward our shopping destination.  The large parking lot gave us a ton of options for finding the perfect slip for our car.  A car actually pulled out from the closest spot just as we turned into that aisle.

Once we stopped and I shut down the car, we both noticed an oddity.  Actually, it is  not so odd.  We have noticed the phenomenon many times.

First, we could hear the sounds.  It was loud.  In fact some would call it deafening.

Birds, hundreds of birds were saturating the space around us. The trees were filled with these feathered animals.  They were not afraid of us or any of the other humans around us.

IMG_2984Instead, these birds also felt comfortable enough to roost on the cars around us.  There was no fear even when people approached their cars.  They did not fly until the doors unlocked and opened up.

Even after the humans were climbing into their machines, the birds cawed as if annoyed.  They simply fluttered to the next car and turned their noisy irritation at the disturbance.  It was an Alfred Hitchcock moment for sure. Do you remember The Birds?

The feathered animals did not show the common fear of humans in the movie.  They almost had the opposite disposition.  As the story unfolded, these critters even took a hostile stance.

The feeling of being surrounded was apparent to us.  These birds were all calling at once.  Have you ever noticed how sound nullifies the effort to be at peace?

We humans like our tranquility.  There was none here in the parking lot.  Something had drawn hundreds of birds to flock together here.

Moving vehicles and people did not disturb them.  If anything we wondered if we were in their way.  They moved out of our way eventually but only after we closed the distance of comfort and safety.

I stomped my foot a couple of times at some especially bold birds.  They only cocked their head and stared at me.  I accepted the challenged and walked directly at them.  Only then did they move with the reluctance of school-ground ruffian.

We were spared any birds on our car.  It was one of the very few that did not serve as a perch for this feathery convention.  Still I kept wondering what was this phenomenon?  It was not unusual here in Houston to experience it.  Another mystery that the Creator has put in His world for us to ponder.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Copy of IMG_2946A wonderful season has swept over the land.  It is a change from the blistering hot temperatures of the summer.  Now, the coolness of the new days settles us in for the long commute into work, the bustle of getting ready for school and the remarkable days of beginning everything new.

Fall is a favorite time of year.  It is the season for planning, anticipating and enjoying.  Our calendar rules the day during this time of year.

Emails fly with relatives who are hundreds of miles away.  Our fun conversations map out on the schedule when our times-off can correlate with the holidays.  We have to get on to the airplane schedule and set up arrangements for family time.

Special meals are the topic of so much conversation.  Favorite dishes, sumptuous recipes, unique sweets and by-popular-demand main courses are highlighted.  I get hungry just reliving the conversations.

The grocery stores are decorated with seasonal produce changes.  Often I first notice the price changes.  Favorites that were so common in the summer are becoming scarce and much higher for a lot less.

These delectable choices like asparagus, peaches, nectarines, artichoke, cherries, blueberries and plumes are disappearing.  Now, the few that are still available are smaller and the servings are in noticeably smaller quantities.  A short season of fresh corn on the cob signals this seasonal transition.

Now, the Autumn options began to make their appearance.  Wonderful winter squash appear.  Washed, sliced and sautéed with onions and special seasoning makes eating healthy very attractive.

Pumpkins come into the markets.  They are comical gourds that signal the football season and the coming family favorite of Thanksgiving.  Jack-o-lanterns blink from pictures, candy shelves and Halloween costumes.

Family recipes of pumpkin pie invariably bring a smiles to people looking forward to seeing grandpa, grandma, siblings and distant cousins.  Variations of the old recipe make their way into the gatherings.  A simple occasionally new entry can expand family traditions when everyone gets a taste of something new.

Jackets become a garment of necessity.  Rain, wind and cool temperatures call for the storage of shorts and flip-flops.  Our favorite T-shirts go into storage bags.

God reminds us that as the season change so do we.  Our days are being spent.  Only He knows when those days have reached their limit.  In the meantime He allows us to enjoy the whole process of growing older with fun shifts in the seasons.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2900Of course I am talking about learning to smoke on our new grill.  What other smoking could there be?  This is a good kind of learning.

I read the instructions that came with our grill.  Clearly the instructions matched what the salesman promised me.  I could smoke as well as grill on this versatile unit.  

In the past I have failed and succeeded with efforts to smoke a delicious meal.  Once I did a turkey and it was an instant family hit.  That memorable meal was a great event because it was never to be repeated.

Part of the problem was the smoker.  It was constructed out of aluminum skin walls.  During my subsequent smoking attempts, the cold outside weather made it impossible to control the temperatures.  I threw the bird away after hours of smoking.

Friends have used insulated walled smokers with consistent and amazing results. I did not just envy their culinary skills, I salivated as I indulged on their pork ribs, brisket and chicken.  How was it possible for average guys to prepare food good enough of a classy restaurant?

Common among these grill masters is the same advice.  Temperature control is key.  If you can get a grill or smoker that can finesse the heat, then smoking successfully will be a fulfilling promise.

Then, after turning my back on charcoal grills and propane options and expensive dedicated smokers, I was introduced to wood pellet grills.  This was my entrance into great outdoor cooking for foods that I wanted to serve to my family.

Admittedly, I swallowed hard when I was about to smoke my first batch of wild Texas pork.  A lot of effort went into harvesting these BBQ delights.  Now, with a strong desire to smoke the meat but with a track record of horrible failures, I was reluctant.

I prepared the meat with the mental note that “butchering” may well characterize my lack of ability in trimming the roasts and ribs.  Oh well, my forgiving wife would appreciate my good intentions.  That was my hope anyway.

For nine hours I smoked these large chunks of meat.  I followed the instructions. Afterall, I read them over and over again.  

Finally, at 6pm I served the fare.  My bride and I both smiled, expressed amazement at the delectable results and looked forward to many more repeats of a system that made a smoking BBQ novice like me a success on the culinary path of outdoor cooking.  Miracles do still happen!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2931I am not usually a flower kind of guy.  Like most men I love the reaction that flowers automatically cause in my wife.  Women stop life to adore flowers that are presented to them.

Therefore, fortuitously, I join real men who are thinking of the woman in their life and then buy flowers.  We thrive as foragers, gatherers and hunters.  In our busy days providing for our family, giving flowers is a selfless act done solely for the benefit of another.

Yet, there is something about a special flower that appeals to me.  Orchids are unique.  They attract my attention.

When I am off on a photography excursion, these special blooms make my lens pause, snap several frames in rapid and thoughtful exposure and honestly make me marvel when the images recall our intersections in time.  In a world of big, powerful and fast-moving things, the delicate orchid defies the dangers of life.  It radiates a remarkable beauty amid the threats of our daily duties.

There is something about the shape of these flowers.  Horticulturists have carefully categorized these magnificent plants, distinguishing them from other flowers.   While the Creator has magnificently composed an endless variety in these special lines in these shapes, there is something similar to them all.  These glamorous flowers are stunning.

Of course there is the color.  Orchids come in all sorts of shades and combinations of the rainbow.  Some are delicate, like pastels.  Others are strong and dominant.

Fragrance is a big part of the orchid family.  When I have strolled into a greenhouse full of orchids, the fragrance is very pleasing.

They scream exotic!  Maybe there in lies much of the mystic of these highlights of beauty.  Each variety hints of origins from tropical islands in the paradise of our imagination.

There are places in our mind that we would love to visit, endure a lingering vacation if we could just afford the time or expense.  For a moment in our imagination, we hear a thundering waterfall filling up a splendid swimming hole.  The pond is surrounded by lush vegetation, ripe fruit hanging on low branches and ocean beaches within eyesight.

In our modest homes, living exceptionally busy lives we finish our excursion in our fantasy world.  Our love in this life smiles while she cradles the new gift.  Together we sigh, thinking of far off places that gave us a brief breather together.  This was a journey shared in our minds just because of a simple exotic orchid.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2928Church was over.  It was a powerful moment in our week when spiritually we were refreshed and charged up for the next six days.  We travel 21.6 miles each way from our home.  Yet, it is well worth the effort.

Worship is stunning.  The sets that the team puts together along with the excellent vocal and instrumental support is outstanding.  Visual accents just make it better.

Updates on all that is happening in our church is encouraging.  So many are plugged in and believe that church is a place to serve to get the most out of our Christian experience.  People around us are friendly, unusually friendly for a church that is so big.

Of course our pastor is fabulous.  His preaching is inspiring, educational and riveting.  His sincere care for those of us in the church family encourages us all.

My bride and I walked out of the evening service feeling refreshed and revived.  After we climbed into our truck, we pointed the nose of our ride toward home.  That is when we were both shocked.

The sky had turned bright orange.  A massive cloud was passing over our part of town while the sun was setting in the West.  From our perspective it looked as if there was just a ribbon of empty sky banded by the thick impenetrable cloud layer above us.

The underbelly of the cloud looked as if it were on fire.  Plumes of smoke capturing the shadows of the setting sun rays created a spectacular image.  This was not just a photo opportunity, this was living color as only the Creator could do it.

The signal light turned red.  I had to stop.  Quickly I pulled out my cellphone, switched on the camera just as the light turned green.  There was on a second to hold up my phone.  I did not have time to frame the shot.  By faith I touched the shutter and hoped to capture a sensational photo.

For the next several minutes we drove into the sunset.  But, the living scene was starting to fade.  As fast as the sunk sank in the West, the colors overhead drained away with it.

The Almighty is so big.  He is huge.  It makes you feel like all of your troubles and challenges are very small by comparison.  That is comforting.  I know Him who made it all and He holds me in the palm of His hands.  It is a very good place to be.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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