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iPad-2013.09.19-12.42.07.804 (1)This past year has been full of adventure, challenges and God’s blessings.  But, it is past.  Now, it was time to gather my leadership team, go out for a good meal and reflect on what we did well and what we can do better.

Four of us share in the leadership of our institution of graduate higher education.  Each one on this team is extremely capable and humble in carrying out their duties.  Loyalty is huge among us.

I chose the restaurant.  It was a surprise to everyone.  No one else had ever been to this snazzy place to dine except me.

It was a Brazilian steakhouse.  Lunch was the perfect time to come.  It was not as crowded as the evening and the price was like getting the meal on sale.

The salad bar is exquisite.  There are not many presentations of vegetables and unique offerings that compare.  Everything is fresh, bountiful and succulent.

But, for the four of us men, a visit to the salad bar was a mere courtesy.  The main event was waiting to converge on us.  All it took was to turn over a 3×3 card from red to green.

Setting the example with my veteran experience, I flipped my card to green.  Extremely attentive servers were at my side like flies to honey.  A long three prong skewer was loaded with three sirloin steaks, still sizzling from the grill.

The fragrance was enough to make my mouth drool.  He deftly sliced a generous portion and I grabbed it with my tongs and laid it on my plate.  But, I did not have a chance to taste since another server was quickly at my side.

On his serving skewer was a perfectly aromatic lamb roast.  I had to say yes.  When he sliced the tender portion and I laid it on my plate, I could not wipe the smile off of my face.

Another server sliced me a heavenly portion of prime rib.  It was succulent and overflowing with juices.  Quickly I turned my card over to red to stop the flood of food.

It was time to enjoy the moment.  Each slice erupted on my palate with the perfect balance of flavor, heat and tenderness.  This was an ideal spot for us to celebrate a fabulous year together.

Eagerly the four of us rehearsed the last academic year, discussed our hard lessons and reminded ourselves of what we could do better.  Each of us spoke specifically of our great strength, our faculty and staff team.  Others make the success possible, of that we assured ourselves, while downing another slice of roasted perfection.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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It is a new lunar year for a fourth of the world’s population.  January 31, 2014 is Chinese New Year!  It is the year of the horse.

This holiday is the most important celebration of the Chinese calendar.  Traditionally, it begins on the darkest day of the month.  Then, fifteen days after, when the moon is at its brightest, the celebration finally comes to a close.

Legend has it that twelve animals gathered to celebrate the beginning of these lunar based events.  These animals each has their unique characteristics.  Those who are born in the year that corresponds with that particular animals are thought to share characteristics.  Here are the animals and some of the highlights of their characteristics:

  • Horse: energetic, independent, impatient, and enjoy traveling
  • Sheep: mild-mannered, shy, kind, and peace-loving
  • Monkey: fun, energetic, and active
  • Rooster: independent, practical, hard-working, and observant
  • Dog: patient, diligent, generous, faithful, and kind
  • Pig: loving, tolerant, honest, and appreciative of luxury
  • Rat: quick-witted, smart, charming, and persuasive
  • Ox: patient, kind, stubborn, and conservative
  • Tiger: authoritative, emotional, courageous, and intense
  • Rabbit: popular, compassionate, and sincere
  • Dragon: energetic, fearless, warm-hearted, and charismatic
  • Snake: charming, gregarious, introverted, generous, and smart

During the New Year’s festivities, red is the dominant color.  It represents fire.  Fire was believed to frighten away evil spirits.  People wear red, decorate in red and keep red throughout the architectural designs.

Adults give “lucky money” to the children as part of the celebration.  It is also encased in a red envelope.  Of course in our modern times, the children just take advantage of the haul with a polite nod and courteous smile to the generous adults.

New Year’s Eve is the beginning of the celebration with large family gatherings.  It is a feast of all the delicious foods, laughter and sensing the bounty of the past year while anticipating the year to come.  Just as bountiful are all of the exploding fireworks designed to frighten away everything that is bad and flood your life with everything good.

Since many early immigrants came to the USA without family, Chinese community associations filled in during this festive time of the year.  To this day the community centers are still the hub of celebration as people welcome the new year.

Finally, on the fifteenth day of the month lanterns, red of course, are central to the celebration.   They match the light of the bright moon.  Parades ensue and climax a celebration of the highest order.  Happy New Year, everyone!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2015Slowly but excitedly, guests began to arrive.  This was a very special day for our graduates.  Today was the day of their Graduation Chapel.  Something in my chest felt odd; it was a bit of pressure.

Their official commencement takes place in Dallas.  But, here in Houston is where families reside, their friends are here and their church family is here. Most of their support team will not be able to make the trek to the main campus.  This is our purpose: to give families and friends a reason to celebrate together.

I love graduation events.  There is such a celebration of the human effort and the counting of blessings from the Lord.  When graduates gather to commemorate their achievements there is everlasting relief.  But, besides relief there is an unmistakable note of rejoicing.  Those two features are joined by an intense resolve to enter into their new life of ministry and discover all that God wants them to do.  That chest feeling was still there and seemingly growing.

There were times when students thought it was too hard.  They were demoralized.  It would have been easy to quit and they almost signed the papers to end their enrollment.  However, their presence at the graduation chapel proved that they stuck it out.  Now, there is a huge smile on their faces.  It was genuine.

This was an informal chapel.  We had cheering.  Laughter was encouraged.  No spontaneous eruption for a loved ones was frowned upon. In fact it was encouraged.  A spike inside of my chest reminded me that it was there.

The music was angelic. Each spoken word was challenging.  The awards were stimulating.  People were enjoying themselves.

IMG_2018Applause was common.  Agreement from special people reverberated throughout the auditorium.  Prayers went beyond the rafters and reached the throne of God.

After the program was over the fun was about ready to commence.  People followed the wonderful fragrance.  Caters were putting the final touches on the table fare.  The barbeque meatballs were smelling very good and making us all very hungry.

Now, the real party let everyone be a part of the celebration.  Old and young, locals and relatives from afar joined in the rousing sounds of a room filled with people all talking at once.  It was electrifying.  Kudos to Dr. Bailey, Willie, Evetta, Leonetta, Sherry and a host of student volunteers!

This was a joyous exultation of sheer happiness.  We were all glad to be here.  We were especially glad for our graduates who deserved the occasion to honor their years of faithful work.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Jeremy's PA White Coat Celebration 2013 091My camera has an athletic events setting.  Just in case I am in a situation requiring frequent shots it is there.  I never really thought much of the option.

Now, I was at our youngest son’s White Coat ceremony.  It is the portal that these young health professionals pass through with great delight.  Now, they have finished a grueling period of rigorous classroom work.

In a matter of weeks they will begin their “rotations”.  They will be assigned to real hospitals with real illnesses and injuries.  There they will work alongside physicians and put their knowledge into

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practice.

This is a major milestone for these students.  It is worth the pause to celebrate.  A ceremony when they put on their white coats is the symbol of that achievement.

Knowing that our son’s passage across the stage would happen quickly, I remembered the athletic action setting.  Once it was clicked into place, I just snapped away.  Each motion moment was captured on digital slides.

Jeremy's PA White Coat Celebration 2013 093A faculty member introduced Jeremy by name.  Cheerfully he sauntered across the stage.  Another faculty member held out his white coat.

Jeremy put in one arm.  People were applauding.  I know that our family was cheering.

Then, the final arm slipped into place. He adjusted his shoulders like a man donning a new suit.  It looked good.  It seemed to fit him just right.

His faculty member smoothed out the creases.  A pat on his shoulders with a beaming pride came Jeremy's PA White Coat Celebration 2013 095from teacher to student.  I was smiling while snapping away.

Then, there was a hug.  That’s not usual.  At least in my experience I did not commonly see such affection in a commencement ceremony.

Words were whispered that we in the crowd were not privy to.  It was one professional speaking encouragement into the next generation of professionals.  If that is what bedside manner is all about then these people did something very good in the educational process.

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One more faculty member was on stage.  She was not about to be short-changed from a congratulatory hug and special words whispered to her student.  It was all happening so quickly.

Every family member and friend who came to the ceremony waited for their special member to walk the stage and be gowned in their professional white coat.  We all got into the mood and cheered every graduate whose name was called.  The athletic setting worked just right.

photo credit: brucefong photography

“Any reason for a party” is a good motto for life.  It is human to celebrate, isn’t it?  There is something about anthropology that suggests that our very existence calls for jubilation.

The three of us entered Papadeaux’s for a night of commemorating Rick’s birthday.  Our cheerful greeter asked with a beaming smile, “How many?”  In responsive cadence, “Three.”

That’s when the fun began.  Pointing to Rick with my thumb, “Do you do anything special for birthday boys?”   A simple innocent inquiry had him aghast.

“Bruce, don’t. Don’t. Don’t,” he was gasping for words.  Too late, she smiled with equal mischievousness, “Oh, it’s his birthday.”  I liked the sound of her brain cells purring.

Once seated we presented our birthday boy with his gift.  It was funny how he carefully pulled out each part of the gift bag like it was a bomb.  He unwrapped a corner and peaked inside, chuckled and put it back in the bag.

We had fun putting it together.  Now he can eat ethnically, practice his dexterity at every meal and sip his evening beverage.  Of course he can have dessert and push around a wild animal all at the same time.

Our evening had so much laughter.  We reminisced over friends, tracked our spiritual pilgrimage, rehearsed the blessings from the lives of our children and detailed our journey in our local church worship experiences.  It was just three great friends out for a great evening.

The food was spectacular.  It looked great but tasted even better.  To top off the evening we enjoyed an amazing array of desserts.

That splendid part of the evening fare was accompanied with a gathering of the restaurant staff.  They presented Rick with a candle-lit dessert.  Then with the enthusiasm that attracted the attention of then entire gathering of guests, they sang. 

It was a fun song about something to do with birthdays.  My bride and I laughed.  Rick blushed as red as the Cajun food peppers that we had eaten. 

Happy Birthday, Rick!  You are a true friend and an amazing blessing even though you are a Baylor alum.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photo

Our family faces adversity just like anyone else.  We panic.  Then, we fuss a bit.

Once our first reactions are out of our system we tackle whatever stands in front of us with determination.  We do not quit.  There is always a way to overcome.

Our son is in Physician Assistant Graduate School.  He gives me a clue once in a while about how tough it is and I just fill in the blanks.  Afterall, I have been through graduate school too and the academic challenge pressed my soul like a relentless vise.

But, I did not whine.  Neither has my son.  Instead, we acknowledge the hardship and look for the positives.  Honestly, we love learning.

Every week we would get a bit of a report.  Months slowly passed.  Then, just before Christmas good news flashed on my text message reader.

Our son announced with enthusiasm: “I finished my first semester!”

Yvonne called me on the phone.  We joyously chattered about the good news.  “Should we go across the bay and celebrate and take him out to dinner?”

Quickly, I glanced at the clock.  It was 3:30PM.  The traffic would be horrendous, but “Oh well…”

I shut my office down and headed home.  Yvonne had already called our son and made arrangements.  We would have to negotiate the San Francisco rush hour traffic, pick up our son by 5:45 PM, do dinner and get him home in time for his party with his friends. 

The journey across the bay is normally a 45 minute drive.  During traffic it would be at least twice that long.  We mentally set our minds on our goal and did as little fussing as possible.

Can angels give flight through the worst of San Francisco traffic?  You betcha!  We arrived with smiles and the party began.

We headed over to a well-known eatery in Berkeley.  They serve some very good BBQ.  Yelp gives it a four star rating.  We would heartily agree!

Yvonne and Jeremy ordered BBQ prawns wrapped in bacon.  When it was presented, the aroma alone made our mouths water.  All of us followed the plates that were set on the table.

I went for their signature dish: T-Rex Beef Short Rib.  When that was brought to me my eyes were wide open.  It was perfectly roasted, ideally presented and colored with mouth-watering meat that had been smoked to perfection.

Our family motto was our clear directive that night: any reason for a party!

photo credit: brucefong photography

My philosophy in life is simple: “Any reason for a party!”  There is a serendipitous joy in celebrating, especially with people you love.  When we ratchet up the happiness, there is something about the depth of life that we experience.

Today is my birthday and I am celebrating.  It’s more than a one day phenomenon.  This kind of reason to go berserk lasts around a week.

Yvonne and I had a quiet celebration last night.  Together the two of us went to a restaurant of my choice.  It is a place in Pacifica, by the ocean.

The parking lot rests on the raised rock wall.  It is located near Rockaway Beach.  When you park along the seawall, get ready to meet the Pacific Ocean up close and personal. 

Strong waves wash into the wall and send up tall plumes of salt water spraying over your vehicle.  squealing children race back into the arms of their laughing parents who knew to stand 20 feet back.  First-time tourists stand in shock, soaked and dripping with a baptism by the sea.

Yvonne and I timed our exit.  “Are you ready?” I chuckled.  “Ok, ready!” Yvonne responded like a pilot ready for an airplane take-off.

We both raced across the lot and to the safety of the restaurant.  An empty table by the window awaited us.  The sun was still high off of the horizon.

These are times when reminiscing is fabulous.  The stories we rehearsed are familiar to us.  But, like warm fuzzies, our memories gave us a chance to relive wonderful moments.

The food came.  It was delectable.  Yvonne had scallops.  I was suffering through prime rib with the bone in.  The bone was all that I needed.  Do you understand that?

Our dessert was not eatable.  Instead, we sat inside of Bubba, my trusty pick-up truck and watched the sunset.  Periodically, I turned on the windshield wipers so that we could have the drops of sea water removed from the windshield and enjoy God’s creative brushstrokes of color painted on the canvas of the darkening sky.

Colors brightened on the clouds that huddled at the horizon.  They captured the fading sun rays and enhanced their final hues for human eyes to enjoy.  Then, the sky grew dark. 

It was time to start the engine and head home. This was a great way to spend the beginning of a lengthy celebration.  I love a good party!

photo credit: brucefong photography

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