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We live in SE Texas. Images of cowboys rounding up cattle, oil donkeys pumping crude, and Bluebonnets decorating miles of rolling hills may be the images that dance in your mind’s eye. For others they have a personal experience and a vivid memory: HOT HUMID summer days of August may come to mind.

This unrelenting summer weather hits visitors in the face when they come out of hiding due to obligations of work, meetings, or life necessities. Texans joke about this weather, “It’s great for your complexion.” “But, look at the other 10 months of the year…PERFECTION!”

It is the wrong time of year for our refrigerator ice maker to go out of commission. We had come home from a West Coast vacation where the cool Pacific Ocean allowed us to bask in its daily refreshment. Then, the Texas heat and humidity welcomed us home.

Inside our air-conditioned home, we dropped our bags and went straight into the kitchen. Our 1.5 year old refrigerator would give us the relief of ice-cold water, right? Wrong! The slowly grinding gears of the ice machine delivered nothing. We tried over and over to coax just a few ice cubes from the relief maker. Nothing.

Laying hands on the unit, prayers, and promises did nothing.

Finally, it was time to read the owner’s manual. Nothing. Even when I found the English version of the instructions. Nothing.

For days we purchased bags of ice from the market. We would make the journey into the garage freezer to collect the ice and have our refreshing beverages. Multiple times during the day, I would think and think more about my options. Warranty? Repair? Purchase?

Finally, one night I stumbled on to several YouTube.com entries. Multiple videos of fixing this problem were listed. Victory! Success! ICE!

The sweet celebration of fixing a problem shared by others online was satisfying indeed. Now, the Texas heat and humidity are at bay once again. It was a close call but refreshing ice is again waiting to be collected in our glasses for a refreshing beverage at our convenience. Voila! ICE!

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26788125528_645c2d09b1_n-1It’s another “Christian movie.” Uh, oh…is that the “kiss of death”? Descent story with horrible acting, confusing complicated  back-stories, odd-ball mini-sermons, low-budget directing, even budget-driven minimal talent on the camera-work unfortunately have been common features of the Christian movie scene for generations. This movie, “I Can Only Imagine,” was very different from those previous religious offerings.

The song has captivated a massive audience since its debut. That fan base was primed for a successful run on the silver screen. Many Christians are cheering on the effort to produce quality movies for this entertainment industry and with this submission were hopeful for something much better.

The true story of Bart Millard’s composition is the backbone of this dramatic presentation. His life story with an abusive father is the riveting narrative that makes this movie so appealing. This movie delivers.

In a memorable dialogue, Bart reveals that it took on ten minutes to write the lyrics and another ten to write the music. Yet, those around him correct him saying that it didn’t take a matter of minutes, it took a lifetime.

Excellent theatrical performance was turned in by Dennis Quaid. He played Bart’s father. Those moments of anger, domination, and abuse were realistic, believable, and heart-wrenching at the same time.

How Bart managed to live through those dark days and discover a passion in life was marked by special people in his life. Some friends, some teachers, and some pastors all had a part in weaving a tapestry that paved the way for the composition of music that would touch millions around the world.

The world of music and the dream to make a living at it is not kind to those who attempt to make that climb into rarefied air. This film makes you feel the details of that “Mercy Me” discouraging journey. Yet, God’s amazing grace through special people is an astounding story to behold.

Forgiveness and the love that paves the way for it to germinate and grow is the message of this film. Through this powerful story you open your memories of your own father, your past struggles through forgiveness, seeing the faces of those who hurt you, and the wonder of God’s grace through it all.

If you go, remember and bring some tissue with you. There must be a lot of dust in the theater that makes your eyes water. That’s so annoying when you are experiencing a solid movie.

 

 

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I was not interested in anything extra at our Big Box store. My resolve, however, was not resilient enough. My head snapped to the left, both of my feet came to a halt, and I moved our shopping cart out of the busy aisle.

Whoa! It was a 60″ one piece bathroom vanity. The price was very attractive. A display piece had smooth running drawers, well-thought-out storage, granite counter top, quality craftsmanship, sharp-looking colors, and dimensions that would fit in our Master bathroom.

Our house is a fixer upper. Six years ago we knew that we would have to inject large doses of love in order to make this house a winner. Each year we pick a major project and transform this dwelling into our personal home little by little.

Upgrading our Master Bathroom was clearly on the upgrade list. A twin vanity came with the house. The counters were plastic. Counter space was very limited. My bride’s faucet leaked. Craftsmanship on the wood cabinet was non-existent.

We made the leap. This year we would buy that new vanity and have it installed. Professional installers were contracted to do the work.

Yes, I could have done the work myself. In my youthful past plumbing projects were always something that I personally tackled. They did not turn out well.

More than once I surrendered and called a pro to fix the problems. This time I started with the pro. Wow! What a smart choice.

His van was filled with all of the extras. I would have made five trips to the local hardware store to pick up what I did not know that I needed the first several trips. My jobs ended up taking over a week since small challenges would crop up and I would have to read and ask questions to get it right.

These pros are aware of the possible issues in advance. New unseen problems were not an issue. They had the parts and the expertise to keep on working.

On top of that I am getting a lot of my ministry work done while two experts are getting all of the plumbing work done. Most importantly, the job is getting done right. I like it when the professionals come in and together we all do our own thing.

IMG_0823He used to be so strong. When the clan gathered, he was at the center of the family photo. His smile was broad enough to claim six children, six in-laws, a passel of grandkids, and a growing number of great grand children.

Now, life was catching up with him. Age was held at bay for decades. Once he was resilient for the crazy, noisy family reunions.

The world races by outside. It is oblivious to the inevitable march dominating the building that was home for an ever-expanding brood. 93 years have passed under his bridge.

Lines on his smile carried stories that filled those years. Busy activity around him showed the care of his children who handled business, studied medical options, listened to his waning memories of stories from years ago and far off places around the world. Sadness crept in for us all.

The light of life was growing dimmer. Energy from his perpetual youth was slipping away. Once a proud man, now we would help him to do the very basics of life, ignoring the cry for personal dignity.

With humility needed for the many of life necessities his head dipped and the functions were performed without fanfare. Old is a merciless shadow that drains even the strongest from the pedestal of zest. Aging bodies cannot do what it was designed by the great Creator to do.

Now, younger lives, children return the favor of a parent. The child is now the one who gives what once was lavishly given. Life roles have now changed.

Processing the dramatic reversal of energy, independence, and animation made sense in my mind. Sensing it and reacting to it was very different. Getting old is not kind.

Aging is brutal. Life should not be so painful, agonizing, and difficult. Inconsolably sad was how I was feeling.

Reaching out my hand and lifting a once proud man up from his cushioned chair just to make a move to the dining room table required a conscientious effort. The loss of mobility rang a hollow call from the emptying spirit of the head of this home. The sadness grabbed me deeper in my soul.

May God’s mercy sustain all who feel the constant creep of aging stealing so much from their lives. Keep looking up, dear ones. The God of the Ages is watching over you and promises to give back so much for all eternity for those who know his son, Jesus the Christ.

IMG_1547Landing in Quad-cities Moline, Illinois seemed like ages ago. In truth it was a mere two nights ago. Iron Sharpens Iron, a men’s ministry had targeted the region for an inspirational and learning gathering of local men who are followers of Christ. It was my pleasure to be invited to be one of two keynote speakers.

 

It is March. For Texans like me, that means it is Spring time. Temperatures are moderate, sunshine is dependably warm, and flowers are blooming to add amazing color to the landscapes.

The forecast for Davenport was 8″ of snow for the Saturday of the conference. SNOW in March! Skepticism of the weather Springtime warning was rather high for a man of faith. I dismissed the odd report as if it were some kind of oddball joke.

Saturday morning my ride was on time. We drove to the gathering where 900 men greeted us with enthusiastic expectation.  These men from 83 different churches jumped into worship with gusto even though it was snowing relentlessly outside.

After the events were concluded the men bundled up against the snow and streamed out of the auditorium and headed home. I patiently waited for my ride to the airport. Once we arrived at the terminal and said our good-byes, my eager feet to go home took over.

At the counter the bad news hit like a freezing cold snowball smacking me on the side of my head filled with forecast skepticism. The agent was apologetic. Weather induced delays would not allow me to make my connecting flight.

The best she could do was book me on the same flight 24 hours later. My! Smile and accept the inevitable.

My hosts were great. They covered the extra night at the Iowa hotel.  The invitation to attend church the next day was delivered with enthusiasm.

It was all great fun.  Unexpected fellowship breeds celebratory fun. Meeting others and worshipping with a new body of believers was an elixir.

Now, I am at the airport and have a six-hour wait for my flight. What to do? Easy!

My computer booted up easily.  Next to it was my recharging I-pad.  Of course I had a wonderful conversation with my bride.

Every hour, I took a walk down the concourse.  Maybe a few extra steps will make the day flow smoothly. Now, it’s up to the airlines to have a do-over.  I hope they have a great day of flying me home very soon.

fullsizeoutput_1ad3Stepping off the carousel of life is risky. Who knew it was spinning fast? The stationary ground grabbed my feet. The abrupt change was startling.  Left knee smashed my right knee. Yeow! That hurt.  I stumbled but with cat-like reflexes, my landing was like sticking an Olympic gymnastics landing.

The spinning world of work, obligations, deadlines, and meetings faded away.  Family and friends came into view.  Our plane landed with a little bounce on the Oakland International Airport tarmac.  My bride and I gathered our belongs and stepped into a busting metropolis that many would find hectic, chaotic, and even unfriendly.  But, we grew up here.  It was familiar.  This was home.

A chance to catch our breaths came at the curb.  Our shuttle to the car rental pickup area was running slowly.  We cashed in on our first chance to run through the schedule.  It was like looking at our work planners.  There was tons to do just like our careers back in Houston.  The activities were just different.

Old friends from decades long ago were part of our Christmas season.  Relatives on the other side of the family were on our calendar.  Each evening we rehearsed where we would be the next day.  Soon we couldn’t remember where we had been or who we had seen.  Now, it was just about who we would see the next day and where we would meet them.

It was sheer fun!  Old friends had eyes that had not changed over the decades past.  Their smiles were filled with eagerness to share.  After all we had tons of moments to relive together.  Our miles apart had stolen those times to share together.  Introductions needed to be made.  Children and old friends needed their lives filled in and colorized.  There was an occasional pause when we told of sad news, deaths, or abandonment.  Why does life always have to include pain?

We talked on and on.  Time was no friend to these interchanges.  My watch reminded me that we had to be off to the next gathering.  We smiled. We frowned. We hugged and shook hands.  Promises to keep in touch flowed freely.  Hope made us optimistic.  Maybe this time we would keep those promises.

Old friendships never die. They never stay the same.  Over time life keeps on getting richer and richer.  Miles separate us but friendship keeps us together.

24129915_10154330375522614_4886734873588727424_nThe detour from our normal carpool route home was not much trouble at all.  It gave us a respite from the stressful torrential traffic escaping downtown Houston and flowing like an endless flood to our home in Katy.  My momentary duty was simply to serve my wonderful bride of 40+ years.

A second grade teacher is always on the look out for “stuff” to enhance the learning experience of these little tykes.  Colleagues are constantly sharing discoveries that bring vivaciousness into the classroom. Then it’s off to discover where to acquire the props, visuals, and inter-actives for my lifelong educator soul-mate.

We found the store.  It was still open.  The Texas cool breeze was kicking up.  I zipped up. Then, I opened the car door for my wife.  He arm slipped around mine. We huddled against the cooler temperatures and trotted into the store.

She as on casual exploration.  Like many teachers, she was into browsing not only for her objective but also ready to pounce on any other curiosity along the way.  I was content.  That night I was just the chauffeur.

Wandering the aisles was just a time-filler.  When I fancied a longer look at something, I did. Often I would just stroll the aisles.  The SALE sign, however, drew me close.  I didn’t make it that far.

A smile arrested my attention. Automatically, I stopped and turned my head.  It wasn’t a mistake.  I smiled back.

With gentle hands, I lifted that creature up close to my face. It was the most adorable puppy in the world.  Carefully, I turned him around and around.  Soft, cuddly, and pleasurable.

Of course, the price tag was missing.  I carried my new friend to a salesperson. How much? Let’s check.  He was no help. I went back to the display counter and found his twin.  The price is the price. Sold!

At the register, the fast-moving clerk paused to hold the puppy and express her feelings, “Awww…” Snapping back into reality, she smiled, complemented our choice, and went back to ringing up our total.

The walk back to the car was my chance. “Here, this little guy is for you.”  I passed the cutest puppy in the world to my bride.  Her look was delight with wonder. “Just-because” I grinned, “Just because.”

That’s what love its.

14390852_10153329810707614_4178438488173353845_nOur flight to see our loved ones took the whole day with a stop along the way.  But, the anticipation was just too exciting to worry about the weariness of travel.  We talked about some of our great memories from past visits.  Now, we looked forward to making more.

When our plane touched down, we caught each other beaming with delight.  Soon we would cuddle little lives in big grandparent hugs, shower these little ones with love and drink in endless moments of laughter.  The rendezvous with our kids vehicle went smoothly but our warm hugs were limited to our son-in-law.  Grandchild #1 was sound asleep in his car seat.

Grandparents are not easily disappointed.  Instead of raucous hugs, laughs and presents we just gazed at the face of a sleeping angel all the way home.  When peepers finally popped open, smiles erupted and the long anticipated hugs flooded the afternoon.

Gifts of toys, new clothes, treats and fun little knickknacks filled our day.  Unbounded gratitude from these little lives warmed our hearts.  Isn’t it amazing how so much love is generated and shared when so little grown up conversations have been exchanged?

Hugs from these little ones are fabulous.  The warmth and unconditional affection melt the well protected hearts of adults who have shielded so much after so much of life has been hard and tough.  God has a way of rewarding the perseverance of lives lived in complete devotion to Him.

Soon we were taken by our hands and followed running little feet and our granddaughter was engulfed into the reunion.  Celebration took another half step higher. Oh, yeah, our daughter was there too!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and ALL!

The drive from the South area of Bangkok to the North area where our hotel is situated is a long drive.  That lengthy commute is extended when it is rush hour traffic.  But, the views are sensational and leave an indelible impression on my soul.

Mid-rise dwellings abound in Bangkok.  These small uniform apartments collect human beings in family units throughout the landscape of this beautiful country.  I will meet very few of these people face to face.

When our commute took us off of the tollways system and plunged us into the streets of the city, faces attached themselves to the masses of this countries millions.  The Thai people are famous world-wide for their cheerful smiles and clasped hands and bowed head.  There were countless people sharing that interchange along our route.

Yet, I would know very few of their names.  I would know less about their lives.  Even less would ever cross my path as a friend.

Millions of people scurried about, shopping, eating, commuting, conversing and laughing. Some were making a living selling, cooking, driving, delivering, guarding, guiding and an endless list of other activities of a city.   How many human brains would it take to know each one and follow each of their lives?

Yes, that’s definitely an impossible human task.  Yet, it gave me a chance to realize how BIG God is.  He knows all of their names.

Not only does God know each of their names, He knows each of their lives.  There are no overlooked issues.  Even the smallest of details of all of our lives are known by God.

He doesn’t stress over an overload of information.  He is never threatened by a limit of His knowledge.  Nor does He become so busy that He doesn’t have time for us.

The God of the Bible is the God who is not just attentive to our needs, He is fully engaged in inviting us to be in His family.  He makes that possible through His Son’s sacrifice on the cross.  Jesus died for everyone without exception.

Do you feel left out?  Are you overwhelmed with matters of life?  Has life become so troubled that you feel forgotten and ready to give up?

God loves you.  He knows every detail about your life and circumstances.  Not only is He aware of your situation, He controls all of them as well.  Turn to Him in faith; it will be the best decision you have ever made.

 

 

FullSizeRender-2This was going to be a particularly difficult day.  Pressures at work, a long line of demands had been queuing up for months, responsibilities were pushing the limits of our sanity.  My bride and I were comparing notes and it was going to be a tough day to start the work week.

On top of our regular routine we have a major trip coming up in a matter of weeks.  Details of overseas travel are horrendous!  We had to find time to invest in that preparation.

Departure times and dates are already getting tangled in our scheduling.  Today we would have to make sure we made those adjustments.  Double booking ourselves is an inconvenience for everyone and could easily undermine our efforts to be effective at all of our responsibilities.

We both heaved a deep sigh of dismay, loaded up our car with our bags for our day and drove off into the dark morning for our long commute.  My thoughts were lost in our need to get over the financial hump of needed changes, travel expenses and time investments.  If I could I needed to think about relieving my bride of the pressure she was feeling.

Now, we discussed possible drastic changes in our circumstances.  What dramatic changes could we live with if that meant the relief of life pressures?  There were no easy answers.

Then, we rounded the arching on ramp to the Interstate freeway.  The Houston eastern skies were waiting to cut short the threatening discouragement.  In front of us the Creator was putting on a show.

Clouds burst out of the east, pointing to the west.  Behind those finger shaped clouds were the indescribable colors of the divine palate, splashing reds, oranges and yellows in balanced effect.  Blue skies in the background were pushing the loud colors , pressing the daylight splendor.

We both smiled at the interruption to our concerns.  The God of all gods was breaking into our worrisome souls.  It was sensational sunrise.

He was starting the day off with a splendid artistic masterpiece.  In massive swathes of colorful strokes that were changing by the minute, we could only watch as He finished up the waking of a new day.  No words but just splendor.

We got the message.  What did we really have to worry about if He was in charge?  Now, we had a day to look forward to instead of dreading.

photo credit: yvonne fong photography

 

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