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Every Thursday morning at 6:30AM I need to be at church for a gathering called Warrior’s Heart.  Several men volunteer to do the parking signs, breakfast food, coffee, table setup, name tags, registration and greeting.  My part is to teach the Bible lesson.

Since I live a good distance away, I have to leave for our gathering point by 5:25AM.  That means I need to wake up by 4:45AM.  If I do not go to bed early the night before I am going to suffer.

Many times I go to bed at the proper time but I experience a restless sleep.  My mind is going a mile a minute thinking about the lesson and making sure that I have all of my thoughts clearly sorted out.  Of course my computer for projecting the lesson on the two huge screens is essential.

When I choose to use my computer, I have to remember my power cord, my projection adapter, my remote control. Of course I need to bring my reading glasses along as well.  I wake up periodically in a fitful fog wondering if I have forgotten something or worse, if I have overslept.

Finally, I am wide awake at 4:40am waiting for my alarm clock to start its early morning chiming.  Impatient, I just reach over and shut it off.  The next thing that I realize is that I am in the shower and do not remember getting into it.

Glancing at the clock I smile.  At least my routine has me on schedule and ready to fend off the anxiety from running late.  My wonderful bride is ready to go.  We enjoy the commute together.

We carry on a great conversation on the way to work.  It is a 23 mile drive.  Neither of us remember what we talked about but it was fun while we drove into town.

I am the first to stumble walking across the street.  No, neither of us have ever been drunk but this is what it must feel like.  That is when I tell myself to pick up my feet, point my body in the direction of choice and then I can begin putting one foot in front of the other.

No one in my situation even bats an eye at this sleep walking.  We catch up on at least three extra winks before engaging people for the day. God helps me to forbid myself from signing any important papers until the weekend.  Are my eyes open or closed?

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

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Sharing time with my bride is a blessing.  During our busy days I eagerly look for opportunities for us to merge our schedules into fun times together.  Some times I even take her shopping.

Yes, that is a perfectly allowable choice.  It is in the fine print on my “Man Card”.  The explanation is under point 27, subsection 12, footnote 75.

We entered a specialty store.  The exclusive product was women’s accessories.  There might even be a subset of specialty stores that describes this venue better, but I frankly do not know what it is.

My bride made her rounds.  Women have a peculiar shopping technique.  The must bond with the products by tactile interaction.

When a woman touches a product she is sensing something about a possible purchase.  Some just use glancing tips of their fingers.  Others grab and others hug the items.

Then, there are those who hold the product up in the air.  Maybe they are attempting to get different lighting angles to help them make their decision.  Yet, others pat the product as if to assure it that their decision NOT to purchase is not personal.

My eyes widened suddenly.  She was coming to me with several products in hand.  “Yipes! She is going to ask me my opinion.”  I force myself to remain calm and act confident.

She assumes the role of a TV Show Hostess Spokesperson.  In turn she displays one choice, shows me the features, talks about the pros and cons.  I listen, acting as if I am tracking with her.

While uttering a timely “Um” or thoughtful “Ah” I miss the transition to a question.  My “Uh huh” is obviously misplaced. “What?  Oh, I’m sorry.  I was thinking about this one here.”

It is a clumsy recovery.  I have been discovered.  Yes, I am a dolt.  I do not understand colors.

In fact I was getting dizzy staring at the wild patterns and countless colors.  How does anyone know how to describe these items?  For me to give an opinion is like throwing dice and calling out whatever numbers happen to land on top.

Knowing what the numbers mean is the trick.  But, I can’t get past my panic attack that feels like being asked a question by a professor in front of my learned classmates and I haven’t a clue as to the answer.  Now, the sweat starts to pour off of my head.  Help!  I feel nauseous! Really!

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRender-5Busy men always discover the elixir of a momentary break from the heavy responsibilities of their work.  Getting away into the country, the woods or the lake can do wonders to rejuvenate the male soul.  Hardworking men also learn that joining other men to find that relief is very effective.

It has been three years since I have been able to pal around with a special group of Michigan friends.  My life took a surprising turn when I was recruited to my present position of higher education.  The newness of the position and the long list of responsibilities were great so I stayed close to my job for two years.  Finally, it was time to reconnect with great guys.

Describing the men that I shared a few days of adventures on the plains, in the mountains and through the woods is simple.  They are a collection of different kinds of bucks.  A men’s retreat described like a herd of wild animals is saying that they are just a bunch of guys.

There are the young bucks who hurried into the cabin.  They are a lot of fun, full of energy, always moving, taking on new challenges no matter what the risks.  When it is time to eat they have a voracious appetite that defies the possible space of a normal human stomach.

FullSizeRender-6Then, there  are the seasoned bucks.  Their greying hair or loss of it identify them.  They move slower.  But, their deliberate speed is not to be confused with weakness.  There is an ancient Chinese proverb: “Age and treachery will always win over youth and inexperience.”

The dominant buck is the one who speaks and everyone stops to listen, both young and seasoned alike.  He gives direction, outlines the rules and cheers on the accomplishments of the recent activities.  While dominant he is the hardest working, doing whatever it takes to insure that all of the other bucks enjoy their time away from busy lives.

Then, there is the most favorite buck of all. All of the bucks know him. He gives fodder for years of stories to be retold and redacted.  He is the “little buck”.

From him comes the lesson for all men going to retreat with other men: Don’t make a mistake or the other bucks will never let you live it down.  It is all in good fun.  God has given each of us His amazing grace and the joy of being eternally forgiven so we in turn give that gift of forgiveness to our brothers from different mothers.

photo credit: brucefong friend photography

IMG_4382Tuesday night there was more than thunder rumbling through my adopted city of Houston, Texas.  Michigan buddies rode their motorcycles into town for a visit.  That is over 1,000 miles of road warrior travel just for the sake of the ride and good memories.

These residents of the Motor City were introduced to a metroplex with a penchant for individual vehicle transportation.  Everyone drives in Houston.  You cannot live here very easily without a vehicle, preferably a pickup truck.

Some have even assessed our city culture and suggest that a vehicle equals or in many cases surpasses the choice of a place to live.  Is that extreme?  Most of us who live here would at least suggest that there is some merit to that assumption.

My motorcycle buddies at least have that thought planted in their minds.  They were introduced to Houston traffic after a long day of riding.  Add to the stop and go traffic of I-610 a major thunder-storm and it really gets dodgy.

IMG_4380Not only was the rush hour traffic horrendous and the thunderstorm unpleasant but construction with narrow lanes and debris added to the tricky negotiations of motorcycle riding.  Of course those occasional out-of-state transplants who speed and cut annoy everyone.  Too many in traffic jams are on their phones texting and drift over their lane lines and squeeze a motorcyclist.

Aside from the hazards of riding our fellowship was amazingly fun!  The rain kept pouring down so we parked the bikes under the hotel eave and piled into my pickup truck for a tour of the NASA Johnson Space Center.  It was a perfect day to visit.

Schools were not bringing in bus loads of children and the tourist season had already ended.  Without the crowds we could see everything and did not wait in lines.  The displays  and historic moments were easy to enjoy and take in for our easy riders.

IMG_4407Standing next to the massive 747 and Shuttle we felt our diminutive size but also sensed our enormous pride in what our nation has able to do.  Our smart phones have capacities that old computers in the past could not do.  Yet, our nation launched men into space, landed them on the moon and brought them safely home.

Our little band of bikers took in the size and sights of NASA’s greatest accomplishments.  Mostly, our time was about our journey through life, friendship, past rides and fun adventures.   Ron, Richard and Scott are great friends and even greater buddies with shared memories.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4275What is a man to do when he takes his beloved shopping and there is a long stay in Cosmetics?  It is time of masculine analysis and testosterone boosted creativity.  Do not panic, do nothing that is rash, speak little and remember these pointers.

First, put yourself in “hunt” mode.  This means that a you must have a fixation on your prey.  God created all men with this capacity.

This means that you must always hunt the wind.  Just as you puff your talc bottle to keep your scent from becoming adversarial you must also steel yourself against the overwhelming fragrances that cloud the Cosmetic Department atmosphere.

If you hold your breath you will pass out.  Concentrate on a distraction.  It is possible to overcome with the right desperate focus.

Second, think of your objective.  It begins with knowing your prey.  What is your intended target.  Fixate on that and never let it go.

Your first priority is to find a chair.  Do not worry.  There are always plenty of seats in the Cosmetic Department.

You have to exert great confidence and certainty.  If the feeling surges that you should not be here, arrest that thought.  Own the place and exude your strength as “unchallengeable.”

I sat in a chair that I selected.  It was in an out-of-the-way part of the foo foo displays.  Few of the fairer sex were in that area.

Once I staked my claim, I felt safe.  Using highly tuned and skillfully trained observation skills, I scanned the area for curiosities.  That is when I felt that unmistakable feeling of being watched.

Every hunter knows the feeling of being hunted.  The hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  Your eyes race back and forth, looking for anything suspicious.

That is when I locked on to the source of my feelings.  Two men in bright red T-shirts were looking me over from 10 yards away.  Their shirts announced that they were in-store security.

The game was afoot.  Never show fear.  Do not move unexpectedly.

My eyes locked on them.  They looked away.  With determination I knew that eye contact was aggression in the woods where wildlife thrives. Here in the domesticated section of the population, this same technique operates on the same plane.

There was nothing else to look at so I bore down on my observers.  Caught, they were uncomfortable.  They melted away in the crowd.  I remained in hunt mode until my bride smiled and had finished her priority business.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_2047It has been months since I was able to move into the swimming pool without discomfort.  Getting old is no fun.  Doing it gracefully is a daily challenge.

Gingerly I held on to the hand rail and descended into the warm waters of our club lap pool.  Of course in my mind I was bound and determined to look “cool” while doing it.  I stubbornly refused to surrender to any image of “old man coming in!”

Yet, I could only cover so much.  Turning my head too much wrenched my back.  Twisting my hips too much nearly paralyzed me with pain.

OK, I’ll admit it!  I am turning into an OLDer man.  It is worth fighting to remain young in mind and give the appearance of youthful-like mobility and foster the illusion as long as possible.  Age is mostly a mental state, right?  I do not think that last composition of words came out right.

Water buoyancy is a friend to our aching bodies.  God gave us water to show us how gravity can be modulated for a brief moment.  Lifting the weight momentarily relieves the pain.

Deftly I set myself for my first voyage since the diagnosis of four herniated disks.  “Slowly” was my operative term.  Pushing off the wall gently, my gliding moves propelled me through the water.

Just like riding a bike, you never forget how to swim.  The strokes were pain free.  While it was tempting to push my rhythm, experience and terror kept the cadence deliberate and intentionally relaxed.

Lap after lap my mind was beginning to sense progress.  Treatment for my pain-riddled body had brought me back to functionality.  Now, I could fill my lungs with air, grow back some stamina and feel invigorated again.

Still I would go easy.  After several more trips to the pool I would still move deliberately and slowly.  Each time I added more laps.  Finally, I upped my time in the waters of recuperation and knocked off 48 laps.

I did that much just because getting out of the pool is so hard.  After a good swim I use the hand rail to pull me out of the waters and feel the stinging reminder of a back that can no longer to do spinning Karate kicks or double front Kung Fu snap kicks or oblique wrestling leg sweeps.

In my early youthful days I promised myself that I would not whine about aches and pains when I inevitably grew older.  So, the sounds of shrieking that you might be hearing are simply the exhaling of breath practicing a newly discovered soprano vocal range.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_3408Some time in my past a revolution took place.  I was completely unaware of this swirling massive historical moment in my culture.  It made me feel out-of-touch.

My awakening took place in a moment in time.  There was a need for me to shop for a new pair of kick-around shoes.  They would be for times when the weather was hot and shorts were in order.

Color was a feature that did not particularly enthrall me.  I just wanted these new shoes to match the colors of Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall.  What surprised me was how much my expectations were to be stunned and shocked.

Normally, aesthetics are not a forte of mine.  I leave color choices to those who have a knack at design and color coordination.  These people never cease to amaze me.

They explain why they chose certain colors to match with others and it perfectly makes sense.  Or least I am so confused I nod in agreement just to expedite the conversation.  After all, grey and black are colors too are they not?  Even fancy color names can handle the never ending conversations around design.  Names like gunmetal, battleship grey or raven black make a lot of sense to me.

My hunt for a new pair of kick-around shoes began at the local sporting goods store.  When I arrived at the Men’s shoe department, what filled up my senses almost took my breath away.  Colors of the rainbow stunned my visual senses.

Frankly, I looked for a sign to verify that these were in fact men’s shoes.  Every color especially bright and pastel selections dominated one shoe or another.  Florescent colors were very evident too.

Maybe the bright colors were to shield your eyes from the prices.  I wanted a new pair of shoes not a second car.  Who on earth can budget for shoe money like these?

Dominant colors were not the only surprises.  Pastels were all over the selection grid as well.  Pink was even a highlight for some shoes.

It took a while for me to find some options.  Two sales personnel asked if they could be of assistance.  They were young kids asking out of obligation.

“Point me to the MEN’S black shoes with silver highlights,” I requested.  They both looked dazed as if I had asked them to solve the problem of world hunger.  Oh well, after poking around I found my new shoes in basic silver with black highlights and in my size off in a lonely section of the store.  They were not on sale.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3403Hey, where are all of the men?  There are no masculine types in the photo. After a quick scan of the store, there were no men in the store.

Did you notice the product line?  Yep, they are purses, bags, handbags and of course matching accessories.  Nearly all of the designs are flowery, bright colors and other difficult to describe patterns.

It is close to camouflage but also not close at all.  Urban camo does not fit the description either.  Some of the items are monochrome but they are rare.

Yes, this is a store designed for the fairer of the human race.  Women flock into this boutique shop.  They enter the store with enthusiasm, touch every item on sale, try them over their shoulders, in their hands or clasp a clutch purse.

I am hiding in a corner near the exit.  Oh, yeah, it has a bench that gives me a place to relax.  It is also a haven for two other men who are waiting.

There are no mannequins in the store but the three of us could serve that purpose.  We are still.  No sounds emit from any of us.

A moment of truth stares at me.  My bride comes up to me with arms loaded down and both hands filled with accessories.  She asks me for my opinion.

I gaze into her eyes and attempt to discern a clue, any clue.  “Which ones do you like?”

Inside my soul I bolstered up the enthusiasm and pointed to one of the items that she held.  “How about that one?” I managed to blurt out.  “Hmmm, but that would mean that I would have to find another purse to match it.” Guessing again, “Maybe that one?”  Again she thoughtfully commented with clear aesthetic skills that were foreign to me, “Oh, I don’t know if anything matches that bag,” she responded, obviously puzzled by my suggestion.

Of course if those two random choices of mine did not match anything else, I wondered why she showed them to me in the first place.  That is a dangerous question to contemplate for very long.  At least I was bright enough not to verbalize that inquiry.

It is enough that did my manly duty and offered a suggestion.  She put those bags back on their respective shelves.  I had successfully contributed to the shopping experience and moved us closer to the check-out line. Yay!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2819For years I took it as a challenge.  Every man does.  There is something about being the backyard BBQ meister that is a part of the man-card validation.

With an open flame, smoke, danger around burning hot metal and of course the constant presence of plenty of  sauce every man dons his apron and grabs his tools.  A turning fork with long tines is a must.  The bigger the basting brush, the better.

It helps to have a football game on in the background.  Baseball will do.  Here down in the south when there is plenty of comfortable weather in the winter, ice hockey will do too.

In the early days I would get the briquettes ready.  Lighting up the charcoal was a matter of timing.  Firing up these morsels needed time to prepare.  Nothing happened quickly.

Once the briquettes were covered with white ash, they were ready to cook up the dinner.  The challenge was chicken.  They always dripped grease while cooking that caused flare ups and inevitably the chicken was served totally black, burned to a crisped.  I have dumped more than one meal in the garbage.

Gas grills were not much better for me.  The grease from cooking chicken pieces always caught fire.  Again, the crispy burned and totally blackened chicken was not uncommon.  It was always frustrating.

If I took the chicken out too early, it wasn’t always cooked thoroughly.  Trying to get them back on the grill or surrendering to the microwave just added to the annoyance.  I really wanted a solution.

Enter the Traeger grill.  These are the smokers designed to burn wood pellets.  The same inventor who came up with the wood pellet stove for heating homes transferred the same concepts of temperature control to a smoker/grill.

I thought through the years of frustration when it came to grilling chicken.  It was time to test our new grill with chicken.  We had already enjoyed beef and lamb.  Now, it was time for my main grilling nemesis.

We had well seasoned chicken legs with lemon and herbs.  They looked great, smelled even better.  Once on the pre-heated grill, I closed the lid.  It was time to trust the indirect heat.

After the time rang, I headed out the backyard with eager anticipation.  The smoke was pumping out of the grill vents.   Wonderful aroma was increasing my anticipation.

Deftly I opened the lid.  When the smoke cleared, I was ecstatic!  The chicken was cooked perfectly!  Yay!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1985The weather was beautiful in Michigan.  Temperatures were a perfect mid-60’s with sunny skies broken up with an occasional collection of cumulus clouds floating from horizon to horizon.  A gentle breeze caused the leaves in the trees to rustle.

My host, a sharp, creative, wise and devoted young pastor picked me up at the Detroit Wayne Airport.  Together we laughed, discussed, reported and caught up after years of being apart.  There was a lot of shop talk between ministers.

Interspersed in our conversations about our professional comings and goings were reports on our wives, children and common friends.  Periodically, I would glance out of the windows to take in the countryside of a state where I had invested over a decade of my life.  It is April and the hillsides were covered with lush green grass, foliage on the trees and crystal clear water babbling through the brooks and streams.

Great dialogue made the miles slip by quickly.  Soon we rolled up to Gull Lake Ministries near Battle Creek, Michigan.  Nestled among the winding roads lined with private homes, a Christian Conference center had its home.  This would be the site of the gathering of men that I would be privileged to address.

A few hours passed.  Slowly, steadily and surely men arrived.  Some traveled alone.  Others jammed into cars and then burst out with loud guffaws much to the entertainment of others.

Those in charge of the retreat directed the men to the first venue.  Fifty men, all from one  church, gathered in the meeting hall.  Their pastor led the first session, making the men laugh, tease and almost deliver the kinds of sounds that you only hear at a gathering of men.

Worship was strong.  Prayer was intense.  The introduction that was given to me was my signal to preach.  I did.

There is a phenomenon that we speakers experience in moments like these.  It is a sensation that something much bigger than what the eye can see, the ear hear or the body sense.  Instead, it was a spiritual amazement.

The men were attentive.  After a long week at work and a long drive to camp, these men gave me their undivided attention.  God was customizing the presentation of the Scripture to each of these men where they were, based on what they needed and what our heavenly Father knew was coming in their lives.  We all wanted to see our lives in Him make a difference and He is going to make that happen.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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