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It is a new lunar year for a fourth of the world’s population.  January 31, 2014 is Chinese New Year!  It is the year of the horse.

This holiday is the most important celebration of the Chinese calendar.  Traditionally, it begins on the darkest day of the month.  Then, fifteen days after, when the moon is at its brightest, the celebration finally comes to a close.

Legend has it that twelve animals gathered to celebrate the beginning of these lunar based events.  These animals each has their unique characteristics.  Those who are born in the year that corresponds with that particular animals are thought to share characteristics.  Here are the animals and some of the highlights of their characteristics:

  • Horse: energetic, independent, impatient, and enjoy traveling
  • Sheep: mild-mannered, shy, kind, and peace-loving
  • Monkey: fun, energetic, and active
  • Rooster: independent, practical, hard-working, and observant
  • Dog: patient, diligent, generous, faithful, and kind
  • Pig: loving, tolerant, honest, and appreciative of luxury
  • Rat: quick-witted, smart, charming, and persuasive
  • Ox: patient, kind, stubborn, and conservative
  • Tiger: authoritative, emotional, courageous, and intense
  • Rabbit: popular, compassionate, and sincere
  • Dragon: energetic, fearless, warm-hearted, and charismatic
  • Snake: charming, gregarious, introverted, generous, and smart

During the New Year’s festivities, red is the dominant color.  It represents fire.  Fire was believed to frighten away evil spirits.  People wear red, decorate in red and keep red throughout the architectural designs.

Adults give “lucky money” to the children as part of the celebration.  It is also encased in a red envelope.  Of course in our modern times, the children just take advantage of the haul with a polite nod and courteous smile to the generous adults.

New Year’s Eve is the beginning of the celebration with large family gatherings.  It is a feast of all the delicious foods, laughter and sensing the bounty of the past year while anticipating the year to come.  Just as bountiful are all of the exploding fireworks designed to frighten away everything that is bad and flood your life with everything good.

Since many early immigrants came to the USA without family, Chinese community associations filled in during this festive time of the year.  To this day the community centers are still the hub of celebration as people welcome the new year.

Finally, on the fifteenth day of the month lanterns, red of course, are central to the celebration.   They match the light of the bright moon.  Parades ensue and climax a celebration of the highest order.  Happy New Year, everyone!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3319On the road, when the tummy is calling for a refill, it’s easy to look for a familiar sign and pull in and grab something satisfying.  Naturally, eating healthy is also a big draw.  When it tastes good, it is even better.

One of our choices has been a sandwich chain.  It has a national presence and our far and wide travels makes it a common choice.  No matter where we have been it seems as if one shows up when the hungries make their call.

They had ads for a month-long sale. Every sandwich was marked down.  “Hey,” I exclaimed, “let’s pick up a couple of their sandwiches for dinner tonight.”  “Sure,” my bride smiled back, “I can grab them on my way home.”

With honest expectations of a delicious meal my day went along with its normal brutal pace.  But, I had the anticipation of a fun dinner with my bride over bargain priced sandwiches.  It was a satisfying drive home.

My phone rang.  It was my bride, “I’m at the shop. What kind of sandwich would you like?” “Get one of the deluxe ones since they are all included on the sale.” “Does cheddar bread sound good?” “Sure!  At this price we can go all out!” I exclaimed and garnered a laugh from her.

Not only could I taste the dinner but I could smell it as well.  Naturally a smile broke out on my countenance.  It was going to be a pleasant evening.

There is something very gratifying about earning a good day’s wage from hard work and then relaxing at home with the love of my life over a shared meal.  My home was in sight.  I parked my rig and entered our retreat with an appetite ready to be satisfied.

Together we sat at our dining table.  Each of us had our sandwiches still wrapped and sitting in front of our seats.  We gave thanks for our meal.

We rehearsed our day to each other.  The blessings of people and circumstances were shared with delight.  Together we sliced our sandwiches in half and ate while we talked.

Then, as if on cue we both slowed our munching.  We looked at each other and then at our meal.  Each of us set our sandwiches on the table and opened up the bread.  The same quizzical look came over both of us, “Where’s the meat?”

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3282Pennsylvania was the venue for a major ministry in the cool winter climate.  In my computer were five messages and one workshop ready to be delivered in the course of two and a half days.  That is a load of work.

When I consider that each time a speaker delivers a word from God, the responsibility is massive.  Representing Him accurately each time and then fending off spiritual challenges and physical challenges at the same time is a daunting task.  All of us who preach and teach love to respond to God’s call yet we know that the preparation and delivery of our calling is weighty.

After the first presentation, I was feeling the task in front of me.  It is a lot like the first lap on a long foot race.  Or it is similar to the first leg of a long bicycle ride.  Your mind wonders if your body is already spent.

It was time for a walk.  So, I went outside.  My coat and cap were tightly worn to insulate me against the cold winds of the NE.

There on a hill I could enjoy the scene of the valley below.  Grass cushioned my feet.  Trees that had long since shut down into winter mode stood like bare sentinels waiting for warmer temperatures in the distant Spring.

Clouds heavily laden with moisture fly overhead looking for comrades to share their moisture loads and find an excuse to drop it on the earth.  Birds flitted about scarfing up stray seeds.  Squirrels had escaped their nests and foraged for food and chased each other relentlessly as if their energy levels would burst if they stayed docile for too long.

Caught up in the middle of God’s great creation, I realized that my load had disappeared.  The weight of representing Him was now a distant memory, swallowed up in the greatness of who He is and the certainty of His presence.  Standing as part of His creative hand with life teaming around me reminded me that ministry is all about Him.

I breathed in deeply.  The air was fresh and clean.  My lungs relished the moment.

He would be faithful and I surrendered myself to His assurances.  Faithful friends from around the nation and the world would be praying for this ministry.  Studied up, prayed up and rested up I was ready to keep going through the weekend of service.  God would do His amazing work and I was privileged to be a part of it.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

It was time to head to the airport for a reserved flight to Newark, NJ.  As I drove the 38 miles, I was pleased with my strategy.  The traffic flowed smoothly and I arrived at the airport with two hours and twenty-five minutes before my plane would take off.

Then, I got to the airport for the shock of my life.  I walked into a building that was buzzing with people, luggage being dragged and people sounding off with short tempers.  My briefcase was in tow along with my single wheeled baggage.

IMG_3278The line of people that was to my left was enormous.  I thought to myself, “I sure am glad that I am not in that long line.  That’s ridiculous.

Reality set in when I approached the check-in area for my airline.  The line that I had been walking past for the last 1/8 of a mile was the line that I needed to enter!  Argh!

Hurriedly, I walked back.  Many people who I were passing me were going to be in for the same rude awakening that I just experienced.  Finally, I arrived at the end of the line and took my place.

Scores of people flooded past me and formed into the even longer line.  People stopped and asked if I was in the line for the airlines that advertises cheap prices.  “Yes, I am.  Sorry!  The end of the line is way behind me.”

People were trying to cut in line.  Then, Houston police officers starting showing up.  They were not working for the Transit Authority or the Airlines.  The only reason that they were there was to keep order in the line.

The group that was arguing and complaining to one of the airline agents who happened to be trying to sort out the lines never did realize that if they had just stood in line with me that they would have passed their spot where they were arguing and be making some real progress.

Check-in only took one hour and thirty-three minutes.  TSA gave me pre-screening clearance.  That allowed me to sail through security without even having to take off my shoes.

I was waiting at my gate for fifteen minutes when the group of complainers showed up exhausted and still complaining and announcing that they would never fly this carrier again.  I just put on my noise-cancelling headset and turned on the switch to listen to some great praise music until the boarding announcement was called.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3284My morning walk was through the cold windswept countryside of the Pennsylvania farmlands.  Clearly it was winter.  Grass was now a light brown with so much of the frigid months weighing heavily on the foliage and outside near-unfriendliness.

Dressed right for this climate and time of year, I enjoyed being outside for a moment of contemplation.  Breathing in the freshness of air that had blown clear and struggling rare rays of sunlight sneaking through a heavy layer of low hanging clouds was invigorating.  Often I would pause and look over the valley below.

A farm was quiet on the other side of the highway.  There were a few hardy animals slowly meandering in the pastures.  They would graze contentedly.  God gave them a natural coat that grew thicker in this time of year.   Each one was comfortable, unconcerned about any inclement weather.

Then a gust of wind moved me.  Quickly, I pulled my cap down a little tighter and pulled on my gloves a little tighter.  My down coat was doing its superb job of keeping me well insulated against the dropping temperatures.

I looked up and found a reason to gaze.  The trees that surrounded me were mostly sporting naked limbs.  All of the deciduous trees had gone into winter mode, hibernating for months until the temperatures rose again in Spring.

My stare above continued.  A smile followed.  The scene captured my mind for a long moment.

While the whole valley had tightened down to survive another winter, there was lingering presence of perseverance.  Above in the limbs of a tree, several leaves had stubbornly refused to “let go”.  They were still hanging on.

The wind was swirling about trying to bat them off of their perch.  But, tenaciously, their grip kept them locked into place.  They would occasionally flutter but they would not be moved.

A large blowing wind moved the tree trunk, swayed the branches and even shook the cluster of leaves.  However, they remained rigid at their connection.  Several hold out leaves from a neighboring tree surrendered.

The sky was dotted with the last of the Autumn leaves that were driven out of their high perches and laid out as another piece of the natural carpet on the ground.  Millions of leaves already gave the ground an insulated coverage.  This cluster was still holding on.

I smiled.  With a wink of my eye, I left them to stay their course.  The picture of perseverance is a power vision to behold.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3259As a not-infrequent-traveler, I often rent a car.  In a new city with appointments to keep and people to meet, that challenge is most conveniently met through scheduling a vehicle for my use in advance of a trip.  My growing user stack of identification card, usually identified as “preferred customer” status, has a handful of these automobile rental companies represented.

From past experience my office staff has even signed me up for a standing account with a few of these companies.  The competitive nature of this business is obvious.  Friendliness is all over the staff at these various venues.

Smiles and low-pressure are the watchwords at the pick-up desks.  Friendly conversation banter only follows when efficiency and swift service need a moment for the computers to catch-up with the necessities of registration.  Then, it is off to the car.

My favorite companies are the ones that send you to a line of cars which are all prepared and ready to drive.  They are grouped in categories of your rental agreement.  Normally, that refers to the size of the vehicle or the specialty of the car.

The last trip I wandered among the full-sized vehicles.  It was the best rental rate that was available.  All of the sub-compact and compact vehicles were already rented.

It was as if the vehicle winked at me.  Perhaps it was a twilight zone call in a stratosphere that only I could hear.  Yet, my choice was confirmed by my smile.  If possible I try not to rush the introduction.   My driving position have to be customized.  Wipers, mirrors and horn have to be identified.

My generation has to pause when the audio system lights up.  The days of having a simple on and off switch went the way of the Goonie bird.  Now, an entire panel colorfully offers complete entertainment.

Now, there is a small icon that makes me smile.  It is the feature that has become an all-time favorite accessory.  This simple switch adjusts the heated seat.

I turn it on.  Then, as the gradual heat emits it’s comforting and soothing waves of warmth, I feel good.  It calls for a moment when my eyes shut and I take in the welcome, relaxation and comfort that comes from the simple touch of a button.

I am ready for my duties.  Life has found its balance.  This is my favorite vehicle option of all time.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3300The film Saving Mr. Banks is a movie about making a movie.  This literary technique helps tell the story’s lengthy intricacies in a movie-span of time. The choice of this double-layer of literary art also reveals the story of a story writer reliving her own past through the creation of a highly imaginary character, Mary Poppins.  The complicated life of the fictional character is being lived out in the star of the movie, Emma Thompson, whose performance is magnificent.

Walt Disney, Tom Hanks, has been pursuing the film rights of Pamela Travers’ stories for twenty years.  Travers, however, is stoic, staid, and stubborn.  She view the overly friendly Americans and the whole Disneyland style as unrealistic and highly improper.  Yet, her own financial woes force her to journey to Los Angeles to meet Disney and explore the possibility of a screening of her character, Mary Poppins.

Travers is at odds with every person she meets.  Her snobbery and unpleasantness rub people the wrong way as they cater to her every whim in hopes of securing the rights to make Mary Poppins into a film.  Slowly, the creative team realizes that Travers’ stubborn spirit is a protective attitude toward characters that are real people in her life, including her.

Trust is gained through creative efforts by Disney and his team.  She begins to see the happiness that can be realized in life.  Cautiously and surprisingly she is being won over to believe.

A deep offense, however, erupts when Travers hears of an animated sequence that is planned in the film.  She angrily departs back to England with her screen rights papers in hand.  Disney follows her across the Atlantic.

In one of the most powerful sequences of the movie, Disney talks candidly to Travers.  He tells her that she can trust him to handle her stories well but she needs to let go of her own past.  Then, he reveals his own disappointments as a child but how his art has set him free.

She releases the rights to her Mary Poppins to Disney.  It is a release that continues.  While watching the premier, Travers repeats her sequence of life, written on her face.  Offense by the jocularity of the film moves into emotional release as she witnesses the redemption of Mr. Banks, the personification of her own alcoholic father.

This was an amazing film.  I highly recommend it.  It was a deeply thoughtful and entertaining experience.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

 

IMG_32202012 was a year that many remembered for a brief moment.  Destined to be a forgettable moment of temporary horror, we languished in the feeling of helplessness.  The emotion drove us all to ask what we could have done to prevent the loss, but we were impotent.

None of us had the power to stand against the apparent tide of the inevitable. Had the time for this step into the future a resignation of a necessary loss? Who was to blame for this iconic devastation of Americana?

Yes, the “Twinkies” was going the way of the Gooney bird.  News of this demise blanketed the news broadcasts.  Sadly, parodies of this passing gave the comedic voices plenty of material in the month of November.

There was no outcry from the health industry spokes persons.  Quietly, their march toward an organic-only society was swallowing up every mom and pops operation in the nation.  This was a major swipe at forced health bias in recent current events.

Memorial services played out in every region of the nation.  The farewells were sincere.  Many adults recalled fond memories of their childhood lunch bucket having the golden snack prominently placed on top of the PB&J sandwich.

Then, like the passing of familiar friend, life returns to normal.  Presence turns into memories.  Memories fade into living with adjustments.

However, the world was awakened to entrepreneurs who captured the meaning behind the memories.  Within the next year there was a major move to buy the brand.  Clearly the brand had demonstrated its universal impact on this nation and the world.

No other competitive product rose to fill the void.  How strong can a brand actually be?  This was historic!

Details of the sweeping acquisition brought back nostalgic smiles.  Eyes sparkled at the news.  Conversations shifted and talked up the change in events.

Comedians found more material for their late night sets.  People laughed.  Yet, with so much “good” humor, everyone knows that there is truth behind the punch line.

It is back.  The Twinkies, not unlike the animated Minions on the despicable silver screen, is back on grocery shelves.  In my duties as the motor behind the grocery cart, I paused and gazed at the golden sponge cakes with the creamy fillings and paid a moment of cheer at their return.

In a respectful gesture, I picked up a package.  Then, I turned it over, read the ingredients, put it back on the shelf and kept on moving.  I felt good that the Twinkie had returned.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3292My ministry duties were completed.  It was a busy time.  Over three days I spoke six times.  Even for the most enthusiastic speakers, that is a lot of effort on top of managing a full-time ministry.

After my finally presentation, I was feeling the joy and ease of a major task being completed.  Now, I could relax and feel the lightness of anticipating a trip home.  Maybe it was this weight being lifted that my spirits soared.

When I walked outside I was bundled up well.  For many years I lived in the cold climates of the United Kingdom and Michigan.  Those forays into the upper regions of the earth taught me how to dress for cold weather.

I was dressed in several layers of warm clothes.  My accessories kept my hands and head protected too.  Stepping out into the cold air was not a fearful act.

In fact when the cold air welcomed me, I was greeted by some special Texas rarities.  Snowflakes were swirling about in the air.  Large clumps of flakes drifted down and were collecting on the cold ground.

Meteorologists call these snow flurries.  They have a soft beauty about them.  In some way they are able to make the whole outside seem very quiet.

The child inside of me was awakened.  There was not enough snow to make a snowman.  Nor was there enough to make a snowball.  However, there was enough falling through the skies to try to catch a snowflake on my tongue.

It is a funny experience.  Chasing these gently falling crystals of water is entertaining.  Walking to the car of my host, I was darting after these drifting winter wonders.  My hosts smiled and commented about my behavior.

When a snow flake hits your tongue.  There is no taste.  However, you feel the cold speck on your taste buds.  It is fun.

I remembered a funny cartoon about catching snowflakes on your tongue.  It showed a boy gagging in a snow flurry picture.  The caption simply said, “When catching snowflakes on your tongue, make sure that there are no migrating birds flying overhead.”  I checked.  Before I began snagging the drifting flakes, I looked overhead and made sure that the skies were bird-less.

Have you enjoyed the delight of something simple today?  Do not let those easily missed opportunities get stifled from our busy lives.  Catch a snow flake on your tongue today.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Dec 2013 031Grand parenting is a special treat.  My wife is totally absorbed into being a grandmother.  She looked forward this role with great anticipation.  Nothing about this season of life has disappointed or surprised her.

The biggest surprise has been my role.  I was not expecting any of it.  Sure, when I saw little children and heard their laughter, I enjoyed it.  Yet, when your own flesh and blood introduces the next generation, it is remarkable.

When my daughter placed her firstborn son in my arms I was hooked.  The warmth of the touch, the sound of the breathing, the movement of a little life finding a comfortable place and the eyes searching for satisfaction for its curiosities is hypnotic.

It surprised me how such a little life could feel so good.  Maybe I forgot how special it felt from the years of our own children cuddling next to me.  Yet, even when I search for long ago memories, this is still very different. Maybe it is the years of dealing with adults contrasts remarkably with a little infant snuggling comfortably in my arms.

At six months he has started smiling with his eyes. There is exuberant life in his infancy that displays itself with bounty.  An old Chinese proverb explains it: “The eyes are the window to the soul.”

Life sparkles in his eyes.  Curiosities are forming an endless appetite for exploring, touching, tasting, feeling and living.  I am looking forward to being a part of that learning.

We have not had a conversation yet.  My grandson and I just sit or walk together.  There are very few understandable words that are exchanged between us.

Nevertheless, a bond is forming.  He is secure in my grasp.  I hug him closely and it feels very good.

Maybe in the way that God creates us as humans, we naturally can feel that connection of love, devotion and protection.  From the warmth of that touch comes the sensation of trust, security and hope.  Those are magnanimous words that I look forward to explaining to him some day.

While he is cradled in my arms, he is safe.  I look forward to teaching him about the joys and dangers of the world.  Hopefully, I can pass on to him insights about people, smart ways to navigate through rough circumstances and how to invest in good choices.

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I look forward to having a part in nurturing his spiritual journey.  His pilgrimage with Jesus will be the greatest delight.  Our future holds countless conversations about the Savior.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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