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IMG_4855.jpegThe turn into the memorial called up old feelings. We observed the modest speed limit. Clearly we were entering a solemn site.

There was a tower of chimes off to the left. It was the architect’s remembrance of the voices of the 40 heroic lives lost. Our time only allowed for the main visitor’s center.

A park ranger was looking for welcoming ears. I asked her a question. That’s all it took.

She pointed out the expanse of the memorial. Acres and acres of land had captured the vast area to capture our hearts.

Up on a hill, some what far away, we overlooked a slope that led our eyes to a distant pair of white parallel walls. Their placement kept our eyes peering for meaning. A green strip of carefully mowed grass ended at a boulder.

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Our park ranger paused. That’s it, the point of impact. Flight 93 crashed right there.

The tree line was burnt from the explosive jet fuel. Every life on the plane was immediately extinguished. The passengers were heroes.

We are not sure what great disaster their sacrifice averted, but it must have been big.

It was a reflective moment to part ways. Many of us stopped at the visitor center. President George W. Bush words played on a loop, synchronized with slides of the disaster of that day.

His presidential resolve spoke for Americans then; it was clearly resonating with all of us still. A variety of us, very diverse visitors, quietly listened. Few words were spoken among us.

There were nods shared among total strangers. Whispered words from a Vietnam veteran Staff Sgt. broke our silence. We thanked him for his service.

Yes, I recall my promise to never forget. I have kept that promise. It is not possible to forget.

IMG_4872.jpegExperiencing this memorial, feeling the solemnity, hearing Bush 43, and sharing with fellow Americans what words could not capture, remind me not just to remember but realizing what cannot be forgotten. Heroes were among us. Today many still surround us.

A flag flies in front of our home to commemorate this American change from so many years ago. Many of my neighbors have placed a flag to wave along our street so that we can all remember what none of us can ever forget. May God bless America.

photos by brucefong photography 

fullsizeoutput_2f09My grandkids stopped in for a long visit. They are little tykes, just 6,4, and 2. Anything that Grandpa does that is just a wee bit funny, starts them giggling.

When they arrived, they ran into my arms for a long hug. Of course they took to their age and all talked at once. My Grandfatherly skills kicked in and I agreed to everything they were all saying.

If I had to I could deny everything and blame my bad memory or horrible hearing. Don’t worry, I would fulfill all my promises as they reminded me of each guarantee that we had discussed. In the meantime, their memory was worse than mine.

They each scampered around the house. This was their first time to our home. It was an endless array of new rooms, fascinating decorations, new toys, tons of niches waiting for the imagination of children.

I warned them that I had a helper upstairs. He was a friendly plumber making sure everything with water was functioning well for our very loved guests. “Be on your best behavior,” I urged them, “You don’t want to scare him.”

“Where is he?” they forced a calm on their faces and into their voices.”
“Oh, he’s upstairs. I believe I hear him in the bathroom that y’all are using during your visit. If you want, go on upstairs and say ‘Hello.'”

They scurried upstairs and I waited for the discovery. “Oh, Goong Goong! You’re funny!”

That’s the best reaction to a simple welcome for three lives that I love beyond words. Giving them a moment of levity after days of driving half way across the country to visit was special. Hearing these little lives laugh is more than a sound. It is the reverberation of the soul.

photograph by brucefong photography

IMG_3104The number 42 made me smile today. Today is the anniversary of my wife and my wedding day. We have been married for 42 years.

In all of that time, decades of years and nearly countless days, she never once considered divorce. Now, temper that with the unsurprising reality that murder was on the table many times. With chagrin I will admit that she was justifiably and understandably well within her rights to make that choice! We had tons of adventures that makes us smile more broadly today than we did when we began our journey together.

Just weeks after our wedding ceremony we packed up our pickup truck and drove to Dallas, Texas. Good ol’ Herman, our pickup truck, didn’t even have air conditioning. My wonderful wife melted in the Texas heat but stuck with me.

Then, we packed up our possessions and moved to our first ministry post in Portland, OR. God blessed us with our three wonderful children. Many lifelong friendships began in the city of Roses.

We crated what belongings we could and moved to Aberdeen, Scotland. Our little family had a ball in the United Kingdom. Each of the children picked up a lilting Scottish Brogue. Wonderful blessings and amazing International friends packed in Highland memories for life.

Then, it was back to Portland for season. That was followed by over a decade of sacrificial ministry in Michigan. God then led us to San Francisco, CA for more amazing service. His perfect and divinely ordered journey returned us to Texas, this time in the amazing city of Houston.

My bride has been by my side through it all: blizzards, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and humidity. We have clung on to the best Christians in the world. Together we weathered human storms with His grace. I never would have survived without her.

She is my love, my confidant, my greatest fan, and most patient advisor. Happy Anniversary, My Love! May our Mighty and Merciful God generously grant us many more years of being in His service together. Joy!

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Have you ever wondered who the crazy guy is who set the alarm clock at 3:20AM with an ETD for 3:55AM? Yeah, it was me. It would take an hour to hit my rendezvous point and then to head to Galveston Island for a day of fishing with a buddy.

Once the two of us adventurers hooked up we loaded up our gear into his car. Then, it was another long drive to our next stop, bait camp. This time our long stretch was filled with great conversation.

A pint of live shrimp would do. Yes, we stood in line behind a dozen other hearty souls. Everyone was ready to chase their evening meal and fill their freezers with great food for the next several months.

We drove our vehicle on to the automobile ferry. The day began to wake up while we leaned over the rail and enjoyed the cool breezes and sounds of calling seagulls. Today the rising sun captured the silhouette of a shrimp boat trying to make a living for its captain and crew.

Hard work and daily work and very early work is the life of a shrimper. They were smart men, experienced men, and persistent men. Yet, they were at the mercy of how God orders the cycle of life of the decapod crustaceans. Some call them the broader category of these creatures: Caridea.

Fish like to eat them, so they just serve a particular purpose for me. We have often joked that we could quit fishing on a lousy weather or bite day and just cook and eat our own bait. No matter how many times we joke about it, we still laugh.

Now, it was time for us to cast our lines. Our first efforts paid off. Fish tugged and pulled. They tried to get away but when they took our bait, their destiny was sealed.

The few hours that we invested in the morning were filled with fun moments of fighting fish, marveling at the variety of species, and taking in the sunrise when we had a moment to reflect on the Creator’s provision both for food and for serenity. It was going to be a good day, a very good day. Any day starting with fishing made the day excellent and filled up the beginning week with only more good served up by the generous hand of the Almighty.

photo by brucefong photography

mrB4PXHJQn2p3WjskrVNyAThe weather could not have been more perfect. In the Northwest, when it is not raining, you hold your breath and wonder what the weather is about to do. That day, however, it was an ideal balance of sun, warmth, and breeze; yes, perfect.

Business took me back to my alma mater. I showed up early. It was the perfect scenario for a stroll down memory lane. New buildings stood in places where I only knew woods in the past. But, the old structures that housed my early days as a collegiate were still standing, sporting fresh paint, and reorganized walls.

PV101 is the corner classroom where I was trained in my theology. My systematics were formed right here. This is where it had its genesis. OPPdv4mKTB6u51N+TKkKYQ

Then, there was life in the dormitory. Great friendships that lasted a lifetime found adventure, conversation, laughter, wonderment, and fellowship in those halls. Now, the building houses the offices of a growing faculty and modern classrooms.

Naturally, I headed to the overlook that takes in the Vistas of the Willamette Valley. Many nights on a bench afforded me an audience of One. I prayed and asked God to use me, give me the discernment to see that path qaLKMNtaQcOBJqlWyxBwYAhe wanted me to walk, be stirred with courage to face the troubles with faith, and help as many along the way to find their peace with God, embrace the joy of sharing his love, and satisfaction of serving the body of Christ in the church.

Decades later, the iron rail is rusty, the overlook is crumbling, CLOSED signs surround this overlook, keeping visitors from enjoying the stunning landscape.  It evokes memories of many prayers, hopes, and dreams. God has been very good to me through these years and I have been honored to still be in his service.

SoGmUXUCSFWTJk0k3vkucgOne last memory was on my checklist. It is a hallway. In the main administration building, my classmates would find ourselves gathering for the favorite meal of the week. It was Sunday afternoon.

After church we would line the hall waiting for the cafeteria to open. Many of my friends were amazing singers. Someone would start a song and our voices and hearts would fill that hall with sounds of praise. I loved those spontaneous concerts. Memories like that are special when they imprint themselves in my mind. Come to think of it, I can still hear the singing.

photos by brucefong photography

Unknown-1Walking up on an unsuspecting magnificent beast in the woods is not new in my experience. This has happened for me in many places and many times. But, the moment is never ordinary.

The Texas morning sun welcomed me to a new day. I was up and washed up before the sunrise. This way I could be walking in the woods and feel the splendor of a new day awakening.

It wasn’t long before the vestiges of the human settlement disappeared behind me. A few more steps and the trees and brush swallowed me up. Now, I was alone in the woods.

Something was running through the grass. There was more than one. I stopped and smiled.

The sounds confirmed that the scurrying was a pair of squirrels. They were doing their Spring thing. Yes, Thumper had it right. These little energetic rodents were “twitterpated”. Up a tree they raced. Dodging limbs and knots they disappeared in a thick clump of leaves.

My walk continued. Maybe I was lulled into carelessness. Frankly, even if I were ready, the explosion of a herd of pigs makes most humans quick to jump.

A 90 pound sow raced out of a brush pile. She was slicing through the grass, mowing everything down in front of her. A passel of cute piglets squealed, snorted, and grunted trying to keep up with momma. It made me laugh on many levels.

As that brood of pork disappeared into the tall grass, I froze. Maybe it was experience, maybe providence, or maybe hope made me do it. But, movement to my right directed me peer through the wall of flora.

It wasn’t the wind moving branches. Instead, several brown mounds in the grass a mere 50 yards away came into focus. The movement that started this visual moment was a massive set of antlers on the King keeping a steady eye on his harem. That gigantic crown  swayed gently but powerfully in the shadows cast by the trees.

The wind was in my favor. Plenty of trees gave me good cover. I moved silently to cut our distance in half.

Our creator masterfully designed this great bull, powerful, massive, and courageous. He rolled his head enough to rest his right antler on his back. It gave him a steady rest for his head and powerful neck. He was resting. I had enjoyed him enough. It was my cue to disappear and leave this herd undisturbed.

photo by brucefong photography

 

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When Christianity does something right, there is not a lot of coverage. Do something wrong and it is all over the place. There is no shortage of slams and “there they go again” opinions.

This picture is one of the right things done. These are seminary leaders who are higher education leaders in Houston. Several different seminaries are represented. Their doctrinal beliefs have distinctive differences.

Nevertheless, we meet annually to build our friendships and cheer each other on in the name of our common Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We don’t argue theology, we don’t water down our beliefs or convictions. Instead, we eat Texas BBQ and deepen our friendships. That’s allowed.

Advancing our conversation and camaraderie, precludes what is too easily done. We have dispensed with throwing critical stones. It is tough to slander a friend.

Perhaps our quiet and enjoyable fellowship will help our churches and future leaders to engage in the most important of Christian virtues: love. That option is certainly much more invigorating and edifying than other options. Antagonism is left behind. Judgmental attitudes do not get any fuel out of our time together.

Maybe this kind of seminary engagement will not only bring our participants personal satisfaction but also stir the pot of Christians showing the way to be civil, edifying, and compassionate toward one another.

Who knew that Texas BBQ could be the emissary of the Gospel of Jesus. This is good news. Again the Savior shows us how powerful his redeeming work is.

fullsizeoutput_2b80The darkness is on the way. You can feel it creeping in. There is no way that it can be thwarted.

These woods are familiar. A handful of times I have walked these grounds and emerged safely each time. But, there are beasts nearby.

Humans who make a mistake when four-footed creatures lurk nearby, will regret a bad choice, a fear induced flight, or an all-out terrified panic. An outdoor spirit and personal confidence are your best friends. Never let fear loom bigger than it really deserves.

Never turn your back on creature. They have instincts to attack when prey runs away. That’s the way God created them. Besides it is not possible to outrun an animal which has twice as many legs to help it race.

This is their habitat. Each animal can duck branches that will take down a clumsy human. They can deftly leap over fallen logs, dodge tree limbs, and scurry around impenetrable bushes.

When a human panics, the sounds of a charging nocturnal creature are hideous. Thunderous snarls, earth-shattering growls, or spine-tingling screams have an affect on people that melt the bravest into a puddle of helplessness. If a prowling beast puts a human on the ground, it is game over; the predator wins.

Confidence comes with keeping a clear head. I know where I am on the property. The direction for my safe exit is fixed in my mind. Carefully, I scan the woods for my escape route. Darkening woods change with the shifting shadows of the looming night.

My carefully selected gear solidify my surface bravery. I know my equipment. It makes me dangerous to the animals in the woods. They are on notice that this human is the ruler of these woods.

Courage comes from certainty. Bravery wins the night because of experience. Dependable equipment gives layers of protection not just for survival but for domination.

I emerge from the woods where the night has claimed those grounds. Yes, I am safe and sound. For me it is a matter of faith in the darkness. I am delighted that trust in what is dependable has pushed aside what fear tries to claim.

photo by brucefong photography

Green BookCuriosity drew me to see this film. The trailer caught my attention several times. It was odd that no one in my circles had been talking about it.

Nevertheless, my far-from-perfect instincts would prove worthwhile on this occasion. I saw the movie on an outbound business flight. It moved me.

During a typical working weekend, I found myself reminiscing over episodes from the story between Dr. Shirley and Tony. Some of those thoughts were reflective. Others were humorous. Yet, others found me marveling.

I deliberately chose to watch the movie a second time, just a day later, on my homeward bound flight. Certain that my initial reflections were reenforced, I recommended it to my wife. We watched it together. That was my third viewing in a week’s time.

When the key characters lived through many life moments, tension ratcheted up. Each individual, except Dolores, had glaring shortcomings. Bigotry was layered in both men. Insecurity leaked out in triggered scenarios. Scarred personal identities became more apparent over time.

Comic relief eased the natural uncomfortable crescendo in this racially charged story. Repeated moments similar to these took a quiet but powerful tone. Relief emerged as transformation. Personal prejudices genuinely eased as friendship emerged. Acceptance was easier than could be imagined. Courage was shared, winning respect. Long suffering grew stronger.

We could only wish for this story line to be repeated as a national or international phenomenon. At least it was true for these two men. It was after all a true story.

Maybe the truth in story on film will touch others to wonder about the possibilities. Perhaps more friendships will stir because of it. Friendship is a powerful human link. There are subtle movements of love, Christmas, letters, and romance that add dynamic texture to the narrative.

I for one could applaud this film and highly recommend it. The story is sure to touch the souls of many. Quite possibly could it shrink the ugly tide of racism to a noticeable degree?

Obviously a film cannot do much to transform the landscape of wicked human behavior. But, people might be attracted to the hope of such change and join in it themselves. Who knows what miraculous moments can happen when genuine friendship discovers true love and righteous people mix it up with a true story.

photo credit: Google image

SarasotaIt is the day before I step on to a stage in a church where I have never been. Most likely I will never return to this church in the years to come. Such is the pattern of this unique speaking circuit.

I am a preacher. There was a calling in my life when I was in college. God moved in my soul to step out in faith to be a teacher of his Word.

Yes, I have always had a day job. More accurately it was a regular job.  Many times it was related to the church or supportive of the church.

Then, the invitations came. Churches needed a retreat speaker. Pastors needed a Sunday pulpit supply. Conferences needed a keynote speaker. Organizations need someone to speak at their annual convention. Every request was an honor.

By far the most were one-off invitations. The friendships that were begun ended with an email exchange, an occasional Christmas card, and once in a while a renewal gathering in some city far away from home.

This weekend is another one of those special honors. Hundreds of men are gathering at a church tomorrow. They are hungry for a word that will stir their souls. Many will come searching but will not have the words to express that longing. It will be up to me with the help of the Holy Spirit to put words to those feelings.

I am looking forward to that task. It is the greatest privilege to be a part of the eternal work of the Spirit of God and to realize that it is happening at the moment that it is. Nervous? Eager is more like it.

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