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IMG_1402We have guests coming to our home soon.  All of us are getting into the Christmas spirit.  Our fault and staff along with their families are converging on our home to celebrate this very precious season commemorating our Savior’s birth.

My wife and I are incredibly busy so neither of us can wait until the last minute to decorate and set up to entertain our nearly 40 guests.  Days in advance I have mapped out the errands that need attention.  Each day I knock off a chunk of that list.

High on that to-do schedule is setting up the Christmas tree.  It is a long-process.  Yet, without the tree everyone would know that something is missing.

Over a week ago I was in the closet pulling out from storage our decorations.  The tree was in a box.  That tree has been set up and taken down in three different states of the Union.

Each time it has been surrounded by joy and cheer.  It is a part of this favorite time of year.  So many symbols and memories and reminders of the reason for the season is represented on this central decoration.

I fluffed up each of the branches.  Once the tree was presentable I decked it with a multi-colored string of lights.  The lights were tested and approved.

The garland added color and sparkle.  Ornaments made us reminisce over the years of happiness and great memories that have passed by.  Special people, amazing moments and deepening love are all a part of what those ornaments point to.

Of course the tree topper is a climax.  Over the years we have had different tops to finish off our tree.  But, we often favor the Precious Moments angel.  She smiles down on all of our guests as they fill our home with more laughter, cheer and memories.

Love is a big deal this time of year.  Sure, it takes a lot of planning and effort.  But, that is all lost when I stand back, turn off the lights in the house and turn on the lights of the Christmas tree.

A moment of pause fills my spirit.  Smiles linked with special people ooze into the night.  Our musical clock chimes out a Christmas carol.

Love dominates the moment.  Family and the devotion of treasured ones rises to the surface of life.  Warm embraces will soon come.  It is all about love from family and friends so close they are family.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

FullSizeRenderWhen my alarm clock starts its gentle marimba tune, our bedroom is very dark.  Our human activity kicks in and we share our bathroom to get ready for the day.  Like preprogrammed robots we move about the house with a well-planned and well-rehearsed routine.

While it is still dark outside we load our vehicle and start our 40 minute commute.  We travel down I-10 and join 100,000 other vehicles who are also starting their day.  Our journey is so much easier than so many since the two of us qualify for the High Occupancy Vehicle lane.

All of the vehicles have their headlights on.  At this early hour it is like driving at night.  There are plenty of street lights but having lights on is a safety measure so that others can see us.

But, the night never lasts forever.  Instead, as certain as we are about life’s most important standards and guarantees, a sunrise is going to happen.  When it shows up, it will chase away the darkness as if it was melting butter on a hot pan.

The sky first becomes lighter.  Shades of grey appear as if the sky is being diluted from its pitch black domination. Then, on the horizon there is a beacon of orange light.

Our commute is progressing well while the show on the horizon stage is unfolding.  There is no stopping it now.  Day is on its way.

Grey skies burst into an orange pallet of brilliant color.  Fiery red blazons the horizon.  Rays of yellow blast out from where the sun is moving with deliberate unhurried speed.

When darkness shrouds a spirit to hang with gloom and doom, the light is overpowering.  Hope is restored.  Smiles have a reason to emerge with determination.

Headlights from so many vehicles no longer dominate the scene.  Instead, every driver, even the grumpy ones, have to gaze to the horizon and at least appreciate it if not mentally breaking out into a happy dance.  The Creator who repeats this performance with grand elegance never charges a fee.

Can you imagine?  The most splendid show is absolutely complementary.  Seating is never a problem.

When life gets tough and circumstances get rough, remember how you began your day.  Love the promises and the truths that are wrapped up in the grandeur of that stunning light show.  God did that to remind you that He is real, He is here and His love for us is unending.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Christmas 2014 053Someone decided to add color to the garden where guests would first walk on to the property.  Whoever chose these lilies did a splendid job.  They caught my eye.

This was not at the entry to a green house.  The environment was not controlled except by the Creator Himself.  He directs the sunshine, the temperatures, the winds and the insects.

Possibly this flower was delicate and vulnerable.  Lilies at least appear fragile. Horticulturalists smile and shake their heads.

The amazing appearance of these radiant blooms belies their durability.  They exist in hostile climates.  With rambunctious critters all around them and harsh weather pounding on them they display their brilliant colors and deck the environment with variety and cheer.

A nameless Master Gardener planned this display.  He or she saw in their mind’s eye and then created the flower garden.  Just as they had envisioned it, the plants grew and sprouted their flowers.

Like a composer writing a masterpiece, the gardener watched the colors burst out in their planned order.  Texture, shades and expanse detailed the arrangement of plants reward the eyes of visitors to a symphony for a season.  Waving a trowel signals the preplanned display.

God made the order.  Man observes the pattern.  Master gardeners note the matrix and reproduce it with a personal touch.

Whoever this gardener is, captured my attention.  I paused.  I admired.

Then, I took a picture to forever remember the radiance of this moment.  This flower was simple.  There were not a myriad of colors in it, just a few.

Nevertheless, I like the simplicity.  Symmetry was present like all lilies.  It mirrored one side to the other.

All of the stamen had the little variation of color.  The pistil was ready to receive the pollen.  Each of the colored pedals waited to attract the insects that would assist in making the pollination a reality for future plants and blooms.

And the cycle would go on and on.  As the seasons marched by the flowers of these gorgeous lilies would reappear, multiply and spread the beauty for passing eyes to see.  There is no touching allowed, just gazing and letting the fragrance remind us what God has planned for those who take the time to relax and enjoy His creation.

Are you in too much of a hurry to smell the flowers?  Then, you might be living life too fast.  Pause when you see the colors of the Creator and drink in His creation.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4761The beginning of every new semester is packed with familiar routines.  Alarms go off early in the morning.  Lesson plans fill each of our rolling bags.

As two teachers our minds are racing through the highlights for the day.  Particular students are on our prayer lists. Specific skills dominate our intention as we think about the teaching process for the day.

A full day of teaching and engaging the lives of our students drains us both of our energy.  Each of us glances up at the clock several times, looking forward to the end of the day.  Our second wind for the semester has not yet kicked in.

I picked her up at her school.  Gratefully, we merged into the High Occupancy Vehicle lane.  The sluggish rush hour traffic for tens of thousands of Houstonians were standing still to our right while we whizzed along at a very comfortable pace.

The routine commute home was relaxing and welcomed.  But, the remarkable display that lifted our spirits was stunning.  We drive west, so the sunset is a part of our journey home.

The long tiring day was now forgotten due to an emblazoned sun splashing massive sunbeams through the clouds.  Like a torn curtain unleashing light across the shadow of the ending day, the sun’s beacons reminded everyone that the One who made the earth could dazzle us all with a free display.  Was it a divine wink?

Maybe instead of a wink it was a flash of His smile.  Perhaps He wanted to remind us all that our tiring busy day was in fact a purposeful blessing where He wanted to touch the lives of others through us.  Can you imagine that our lives can be the answer to someone else’s prayers?

God smiles when we serve and obey Him.  Our defining moments of a productive day may in fact be touch points of eternity for someone else.  Now, that thought can make me gaze at a sunset and smile back in return.

If life is not about us but instead being a blessing to others, then our days have been lived well.  With the end of each day maybe instead of breathing a sigh of relief, we can smile as we review the lives of people that we had the chance to touch. Today when you end your day, lift up your eyes and take in a sunset of day lived well.

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRender-1No one likes drab.  Color makes a splash that gives zest to life.  But, overuse opens the way to appreciate a moment when color is gone.

The landscape in Wyoming is stunning.  Vast open spaces capture the imagination of any human being who pays attention to life on the prairie.  There is so much expanse to take in.

Erase the color when those grand moments come and something eye-catching emerges.  Shapes, shades and proportions take front stage when the photoreceptors of our retina do not have the stimuli of our cones and rods picking up colors.  We are left with the wonder of a different kind of emphasis.

Memories of ancient books and stories come to mind.  People who had their voices draw a picture and fill in the breadth and depth of yarns told to the imagination of hearers.  Images without color beckon hearers to join in the drama and fill-in the palate with their own choices of color.

Or the story keeps its focus on the life lived without the aesthetic wash of wonder.  Movement, ease and linear lines keep a picture simple.  Depth is very much a part of this kind of rendering.

Patterns of a tree that is denuded could be a frozen path of lightning across the sky.  Gnarled bark lets texture shine.  You FullSizeRender-2can feel the rough exterior of the skin of a tree just by gazing at a picture that depends on shading and shape.

The tree has lived for years giving each bend, every twist and all branches a moment to tell a story.  Wind storms, drought and snow have each left scars and tears on this living mass.  History cannot be revised by modern observers.

Instead, for the initiated and observant a map leaves sign posts to trace the past development.  Like a freeway through the portal of time moments of terror and times of plenty are all a part of a life of a tree.  It blends into the grassy ground and reaches unashamed into the sky.

Then, God blazons the sky with the constant burning of the sun.  Powerful rays rain down light, warmth and splendor on the Wyoming grasslands.  Whatever for a moment seems ugly in a tree that no longer boasts life, its skeleton still calls for attention.

Color is not always necessary.  At least the option of this world in moments without it gives us pause to think different thoughts.  Still there is beauty just as the Almighty does everything beautifully.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Disney World 2014 084Some people imagine Disney World with animation.  Characters that have made Disney famous dance in the minds of those who try to capture the breadth of this theme park.  No doubt everyone has their favorite character or two.

Others zero in on the radiant castle that Tinkerbell flies around as the Disney Marquee.  It is certainly stunning in appearance.  Walking among its many rooms and photographing its majestic towers is unforgettable.

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Colorful buildings of cultural vintage and ethnic flair mark the grounds that envelope us for our dream vacation.  Epcot is unforgettable and the geodesic globe stands out as a hallmark feature of the park.  Everyone is included in this magical world.

Flowers are stunning.  Landscapers must be full-time and constantly planning the next season’s combination of colors, textures, heights and dimensions.  Trees, shrubs, lawns and blooms make up this critical piece of the Disney motif.

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Nevertheless, do not forget the water.  As blue as the canopy of skies overhead, the water ways, lakes, ponds and waterfalls are front and center of Disney World.  No matter where we turned or planned our day, water had to be crossed by bridges, boats or overhead trams.

Bodies of water are picturesque.  They reflect the beauty of vast blues and sparkling lights.  Inside of key exhibits there are massive tanks of water that are the homes of magnificent sea creatures, both large and small.

The reflection off of the surface of these waters adds to the wonder of this magical kingdom.  A steady wake from our water taxi makes our hotel begin to shimmer in the morning daylight.  When the sun sets, the reflection turns into something spectacular.Disney World 2014 128

Those who plan these water features must have a lot of fun dreaming about what could be done.  Ideas must rush from their planning and dreaming sessions like a geyser on overload.   Water must be placed in its location first or at least steer the conversation of how these parks are organized, planned and laid out.

Guests are guided along trails that submit to the restrictions of these planned walkways.  Bridges are engineered to make the 100,000 walkers connect with the water.  They pass over waterways without getting wet or slowing down.

Posing together for unforgettable memories are mighty trees, splendid buildings and resplendent colors.  Together they bond together for happy moments for countless people.  Yet, the water is almost always there.  Add water and there is life, beauty and splendor.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

Israel 2014 IFL 354The pace that our trip to the Holy Land was maintaining pushed the limits of our human ability to retain the overload of information.  It is a challenging task to decipher what our pilgrims can receive and how much we can push them to give full value to their once-in-a-lifetime tour.  While it might seem strange, giving them a respite helped increase their capacity to take in more.

Along the journey a momentary glimpse of something unique could seal the faith of a pilgrim with a visual reminder.  Constantly we were looking at this or seeing that.  Yet, a moment of beauty from a single window bringing in the sunlight from the outside into the dark dingy cavernous stone cathedral was captivating.

God’s created sunlight lit up the ceiling of an ancient architectural wonder like only a postcard could do.  It happened between moments of our guide giving one of his many lectures.  The crowd of people were being directed to another location.

As we waited for our turn to file out, I glanced up.  The arches of the ceiling and roof were reflecting the physics of structure and the aesthetics of design.  God lit up the shades of stone and the strength of engineering to give one of those beautiful moments when faith not just felt but also seen.

Israel 2014 IFL 360Stepping out into the sun was a reward.  Inside the building sunlight was relegated to a single portal.  Now, it was the dominate attraction in the sky.

Floods of sunlight showered on the foliage around me.  A tree burst out in yellow blossoms.  Each was reflecting the radiant light of the stellar ball of fire.

The pedals captured the rays of light.  Brilliant puffs of color decorated our canopy of shade.  God was reminding us that this was the Land that He promised His people.

If we would live by faith, we too would enjoy His fulfilled promises.  There was nothing that the God of creation could not do.  With faith everything was possible.

Israel 2014 IFL 364The powerful light was too much.  I looked down.  There my eyes rested but found another amazing delight.

The symbol of our faith was there.  Representing the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave grew up by my feet.  Easter Lilies blossomed just at the right spot on our tour.

My mind was contemplating the reality of my faith.  The beauty of my faith was there for my eyes to stroke.  Faith is a saving reality and beauty to behold.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Motorcycle to Banff 2008 144This is a special day.  We stop whatever we are doing and pause to remember. It is an honorable recollection.

For some of us the BBQ grill is fired up.  Guests are making their way over to our home.  Food is brought out from the pantry and lining the counters.

Games are scattered throughout the backyard.  Little ones will fill the inflatables, pool or field the badminton court.  Space will be occupied by special lives.

Sounds will overwhelm the space.  Laughter and talking will test our sensory overload limits.  Smiles and hugs will dominate our day.

Others will have a traditional journey in their day.  They will drive to the family plot at the community cemetery.  There fresh flowers will decorate the headstone of a dear loved one.

Next to the flowers an American flag will be inserted into the ground.  This was not just a family member that is remembered.  Here lies one who died for his or her country.

Yes, Memorial Day is about family and friends.  Yes, it is about a day off to relax from the rigors of our labor.  Yes, it is about celebrating with food and fun.

Nevertheless, at the heart of this day is why all of these moments for fun and partying were made possible.  Those in our armed forces who fought and died for our freedoms is the meaning behind this day.  Liberty is a costly privilege.

Some time during this special day, we can deepen the meaning behind our gatherings when we take a moment to look at our American flag and be grateful.  Our thankfulness for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us would give meaning to our day.  It would inject great value into the remembrance of those who died on our behalf.

Then, our gratitude would be a treasured moment.  Suddenly, it is not just a day-off but a day of meaning. Life is much more than a time about doing what we want instead of what we have to do.
Listen to a patriotic song and feel your spirit leap.  Consider the lyrics of our national anthem and be grateful.  Treasure the sight of Old Glory waving in the skies above.

When the red, white and blue come into view, be a thankful citizen.  Smile at the thought of those who courageously squared off with the enemy and beat them in battle.  Remember the warm tears of loved ones who buried those brave soldiers in the soil that they won for our liberty.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Israel 2014 IFL 244

Touring the Holy Land is a lot like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hydrant.  More is gushing by than you really have a chance to drink to quench your thirst.  But, we do what we can at the moment.

On tour number 4 a helpful injection of occasional pauses in the fast-paced tour were very helpful.  On our first day to the Holy City we stepped back from the Jerusalem Museum and the helpful model of the Ancient City.  We went up to a hill just opposite the City of David.

When our pilgrims disembarked and a few sites were pointed out to orient everyone to the view before us, we let everyone take some time.  It was deliberately planned for them to have personal time and reflect over what they were seeing and about to see.  This was no longer a model but the modern-day city with its storied past.

I sat on a large stone and scanned the view in front of me.  It was David’s City.  This outcropping reminds me of a bulge.

Some where in this landscape twelve disciples followed the Savior.  They knew that the foreboding of His death was the purpose of His journey, yet, they did not know how to respond to that knowledge.  Each day they tried to stay close to Him, weigh their hopes against the exposure to the fearful thought of Him being taken away from them.

Here Jesus was accosted by the legalisms of the religious leaders, the power of the Roman Empire and the sinful greed and pride of men.  The Savior loved them all.  In return He was insulted, victimized by slander, brutalized by gossip, conspired against by wicked men and eventually tortured and crucified.

But, God and only God can take the worst that man can offer and turn it into something that is eternally good.  Not only can the God of creation grow roses out of manure He can make eternal salvation for all men possible through the ignominy of His one and only Son’s death.  That all happened here in the scope of this portrait of the City.

I was here when it happened.  Represented by the mysterious seed of Adam and a beneficiary of the Sovereign plan of the Almighty my eternity was altered dramatically because of an act of God so long ago.  Sitting on an ancient stone and viewing this magnificent city those are the valuable moments in my mind.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

Israel 2014 IFL 076Sure, it’s the water.  People are always drawn to the water.  Like a glistening jewel it sparkles, refreshes, quenches and promises life.

The history of man’s activities is marked by events by the water.  On the shore, on its waves and through its weather, great bodies of water have marked the permanent etchings in human history.

Now, the Sea of Galilee certainly qualifies for this special status.  It has been the place of miracles, prayers and turning points in Christianity.  Here was where Jesus touched lives in history and keeps on touching lives today.

When we disembarked our bus in Tiberias, I could hear the water lapping on the shore.  Catching a glimpse of the water is a necessary hunger when visiting the Holy Land.  Our Savior spent many moments on these waters teaching, exhorting and demonstrating the faith that is at the heart of my life.

Early in the morning I stepped out on our balcony.  My camera came alive when the morning sun glistened on the surface of the Lake.  Seagulls swooped through the air and gave a special blessing of life to the expanse.

Israel 2014 IFL 072No pilgrim can come to the Land and not breath in deeply and treasure the anticipation of walking on grounds surround this remarkable location.  Our buses stopped at a vantage point high on the Eastern cliffs of the Lake.  It was here at this elevation, thousands of feet above the surface of those waters that temperature inversions play havoc on the waters.

With very little warning the warm air inverts with the cool air strata and send vicious winds tumbling through the ravines and valleys.  The acceleration of the gusts rip over the waters and turn a docile lake into a tempestuous storm.  Even those who make their living on the lake are at the mercy of those gales that have taken uncounted lives.

Jesus slept through such a storm.  When He was aroused by his terrified experienced seaman disciples, He merely spoke a word to silence the winds and to still the waves.  That action alone made it into inspired Scripture and it occurred right here on this Lake in front of us.

Is our faith that certain in what God the Creator can do?  When we are caught in a fearful storm of natural or human proportions, are we more afraid of our circumstances or are we resting in His great strength to protect us?

photo credit: brucefong photography

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