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Christmas 2014 077

My life has been embroiled with leadership roles for most of my adult life.  The challenge to unite people, square off with great threats, achieve great gains for the organization and to resolve to press against the ever-present vehemently vicious critic are all a test of the metal that a leader is made.  Reading and watching great leaders in action inspires me to keep leading with determination.

One of the great leaders in my life time has a Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.  Visiting this museum and library of this leader was on my life list.  I was able to check it off with great satisfaction.

After entering the gorgeous grounds with breathtaking views, I remember pausing long at a portrait of President Ronald Reagan as he walked down one of the halls of the White House.  There is something special about leadership that can never be taught and this President possessed it in generous quantity.  It is called “leadership presence.”

There is very little about “leadership presence” that is external.  Instead, it is what exists in the soul of the man or woman who drives their choices, directs their initiatives and most of all manages the values the define their leadership commitments.  Reagan’s beliefs marked his life and leadership.

When a leader faces pressures and attacks, he or she must be able to draw from their own convictions to make choices and decisions to protect and advance the best interests of the organization that they lead.  That is what leadership is.  Anticipation and reaction based upon a consistent set of values that others can follow and embrace.

The influence of this President was also balanced with a whimsical ability to engage the lives of international leaders from around the globe.  His control of power was never carelessly dismissed but blended with discernment, resolve and vision.  He thought the best of this nation and devoted himself to lead it to become better and more positively influential in the world.

If blessing is accompanied with responsibility, then this great leader acted well in light of the extraordinary blessings given to the nation by Almighty God.  He could win the respect and cooperation of the opposing party, sooth the angry critic or stand stalwart against the belligerent opponent.  President Ronald Reagan was a uniquely effective leader and one of the most remarkably gifted Presidents in our nation’s history.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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Every news media outlet was buzzing over the release of the movie “American Sniper”.  Some touted it as a fantastic portrayal of patriotism, liberty and American pride.  Others vehemently condemned it as an exploitation of war or a misrepresentation of snipers as heroes when in the warped opinion of the critic they were in fact cowards. A few even claimed it was of such poor cinema quality that it did not deserve any attention at all.

Admittedly, I was shocked by the animated negative opinions.  Now, I believe that in a nation that protects the freedom of speech, these critics have a right to their opinion.  What was stunning to me was that these vicious views would be directed to oppose such self-sacrificial lives.

I was reading the book when the movie debuted.  Through each chapter I was tracking with Chris Kyle’s life, moments of maturing, struggles with family and horrific episodes in the battlefield.  War was not glorified but devotion, commitment, family and country were.

Clint Eastwood directed the film.  I thought that he captured so many moments of fear, frustration, courage, conflict, joy, encouragement and family.  In a matter of seconds Eastwood told the story of many pages with a single take in the film.

Despite the critics I learned about a man whose sacrifice and skill keeps my liberty safe.  My life has been protected by Kyle’s service.  I for one am very grateful to him and to his family.

I am left wondering how a movie theater in the second week of its release is so full.  If there are pundits out there who insist that we believe and adopt their negative and critical spirit, then why are so many turning away from their stinging words and going to see the movie?  In my mind there are many Americans who love this country and lift up the military with respect and appreciation.

It was not just  the courageous deeds of Chris Kyle on the battlefield.  His wife Taya sacrificed too.  Her steady care for their family during Chris’ deployments were a testament to the family courage.

She was there to help Chris find a way to let go of the war.  It had so captured him that the commitment to let it go and really return home was a much a part of the message of the book and film as was his faithful service.

I heard Taya’s moving words at Chris’ memorial service.  They touched  me as did the movie.  Thank you to the Kyle family for your service and sacrifice.  God bless you and God bless the USA.

IMG_5065Texas BBQ has a common menu.  Chicken is always on the menu.  It is usually served as a half of bird, grilled golden brown and offered with a drenching of BBQ sauce.

There is always some beef option.  Rarely is the an option of beef ribs.  While it is Texas and beef is common here, beef ribs are still uncommon.

However, there is always brisket.  When brisket is offered it comes with options of lean or wet.  Go with the latter.  It is tender, moist, flavorful and you won’t gag on it because lean brisket is so dry.

Pork of course is the meat of choice.  It is tender and full of flavor as well as tender.  My taste buds salivate just thinking about delicious ribs, chops or ham.

There is another choice of pork that is as versatile as any BBQ menu selection.  It is pulled pork.  Flavor is always amazing.  Moisture and tenderness are rarely a disappointment.

Last week I decided that pulled pork was so good that I was going to make it myself.  Yes, I watched a video or two.  Also, I read up on it in my BBQ cook book.

For five hours I smoked a whole piglet on my grill.  On low heat, 200 degrees, I let the steady heat cure the pork with a perfect red band.  Now, the work would  begin.

Inside of our kitchen I laid the pieces of pork out on a chopping board.  Carefully I separated the main parts of the pork.  The aroma was killing me!

To quench the craving I ripped off a piece of hot juicy pork and popped it into my mouth.  It was delicious.  Before I could go on I closed my eyes and slowly chewed on the product produced in my own backyard.

I let the pork cool a bit so that my fingers would not burn.  Then, with methodical care I pulled pieces of pork off the bones.  Once hunks of meat were removed, I shredded the pork chunks into strips.

Our kitchen was filled with great aroma.  Mounds of freshly smoked pork were pile high in different bowls.  I would make sandwiches, tacos, breakfast sides, lunch entrees and dinner main courses from this store of prepared food.

Each time the tender bits and flavorful mouthfuls made me smile.  My bride and I marveled at the fun it was to have a week’s plan of meals all scheduled out after a weekend of preparation by a labor of love.  I sure am glad that God gave us tastebuds!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5066It was not that long ago that I would cringe whenever it was time to head to the gas station.  My full-sized pick-up truck only went 17 miles for every gallon of gasoline that it consumed.  The ride was amazingly comfortable but it required 31 gallons of fuel which added up when prices were hovering around $4.00/gallon.

On a long road trip a gasoline stop was a major financial decision.  Who wants to take out a second mortgage just fill up your tank?  Fifty bucks is a lot of money but that is only half a tank of gas.

When the tank is run down to the blinking warning light, my wallet screamed for mercy.  The numbers on the gasoline pump kept rolling and turning.  Some gas stations had to install new pumps to accommodate a three digit purchase.

After years of struggling through the necessary inevitable decision I traded in that favorite rig for another.  It was hard to let it go.  Like most guys who own a truck, we love our faithful stead.

It did not take long, however, to enjoy the downsized version of my new compact truck.  Now, my pickup truck is delivering 23 MPG.  That is a huge difference.

When I roll into the gasoline station, my financial advisor is no longer rendezvous with me to check for inadvertent gasoline drips lost on the pavement.  No longer does the gasoline attendant dress in a tuxedo.  Charitable organizations are no longer holding out gas cans to be filled in lieu donations.

Recently, I was shocked to see gasoline prices drop below $3.00 a gallon.  That brought some immediate relief.  I could actually pay cash again!

Then, the prices caught popular attention on social media when it dropped below $2.00 a gallon.  We were all filling up and wondering what in the world was happening.  When something makes the “trending” list of social media, we all pay attention.

The latest prices are still capturing out attention.  At $1.77 how can we possibly go any lower?  It sure feels good in the pocket-book.

For all of us who scrimp and save and spend frugally, this is a little windfall that makes our busy lives find a little respite.    It is sometimes the little blessings that bring amazing relief.  We have lived so long under gasoline prices that have turned us into grumpy people.

God is watching over all things.  Even the simple things like the cost of fuel.  Counting our blessings includes the smallest things in life.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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