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DC 2 110That day thirty-seven years ago was a massive blessing that would grow into enormous proportions.  Over three decades later and closing in on four our wedding vows launched us on an amazing adventure together as husband and wife.  Together we committed ourselves not only to each other but to our Lord and His calling of ministry.

We packed up all of our earthly belongings and loaded it all into my 1973 Toyota pickup truck.  It was the basic model.  The transmission was four on the floor with no radio or A/C.

It would be 18 hours of driving from Hayward, CA to Dallas, TX.  Without air conditioning the trip would seem to be much longer, much much longer.  We melted together in that searing Texas heat and humidity.

Nevertheless, our last year at Dallas Theological Seminary was one of our best.  We grew spiritually as individuals and blended together as a couple.  Memories and friendships became foundational for us.

Over the next three decades we lived the adventure of being shepherds of God’s people, training those whom He called into ministry, traveling overseas for the rigors of theological postgraduate education and reveling in the joy of ministry on a personal scale with people from all over the world.  Three amazing children joined us on the adventure.  Together we laughed, cried and rejoiced through Oregon, Scotland, Michigan, California and back to Texas.

Two of our children found spouses who loved the Lord, our last child finished his graduate school, Yvonne completed her Masters degree, a grandchild was born and we loved and wept our way through several family pets.  Our legacy in five children are scattered throughout the West.  My bride and I are honored to be in Houston.

The seminary that trained me for ministry brought me back to be a part of its leadership team.  Team Houston is the second campus of Dallas Seminary.  I serve here as the Dean.

My bride and I live in Katy.  Together we soak in the Texas mystique.  We have downsized our lifestyle as couple to match living on the other side of the hill.

Whatever God wants we are pleased to do.  Wherever He has sent us we have gladly gone.  Whatever burden or trial we were called to bear, we trusted Him without balking.

37 years of blessing is a long time but it promises me that He will give us more years to come as we keep on walking in total obedience and immediate obedience to His leading.  Happy Anniversary, Yvonne!  I love you!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_2977Long memories of wheel barrels, shovels, hoes, tillers and rakes come to mind.  Back breaking work moving loads of gravel, sand, top soil and bark dust still make me grimace.  Tons of reading on how grow a lawn.  Weary moments of organizing and reorganizing the growing supplies, tools and library to do gardening right.

I drew and redrew master plans for our yard.  Endless trips to the DIY store filled up my one precious day-off a week.  Experiments with clever borders, creative materials to make the yard look customized, fencing to help contain everything occupied my mind.

Spending time in the earth was spiritual. It reminded me that for a man to toil in the ground is part of the consequences of original sin.  Labor for man is part of our existence, we cannot escape it, we must align ourselves with this as inevitable for us all.  Rats!

There is some redemption if I may so selectively use this term in the results of gardening.  When soil is freshly tilled, it has a fragrance that is spirit-stirring.  After hours and days of preparation, to plant a lawn by seed and to watch it germinate is deeply satisfying.

Organizing flowering bushes and mixing in annuals to accent color, height and depth is very rewarding when God does His creative work with the palate of colors and textures popping out just as each plant is genetically responding to water and sun.  A full garden with amazing colors that form a wall of a living lush display pulls a smile from my spirit.  But, I am older now.

I still appreciate the orchestration of a Master Gardener who plants, waters and nurtures the flora to make their planned appearances.  When my bride and I take a stroll through a city park and the flower gardens are in full bloom, I appreciate the effort and artistry that is there.  Not infrequently we will enter a large greenhouse with plants from around the world and our cameras are snapping away, logging scores of pictures.

The biggest difference is that I do not like the work any more.  I have given away most of my garden tools in the various moves from one state the next.  Our vagabond days have drained my dreams of sitting among my plants with a pleasant ice-cold glass of tea.  These days, I keep my values of a beautiful garden but cast my ovation to others who do the work and earn the praise.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2900Of course I am talking about learning to smoke on our new grill.  What other smoking could there be?  This is a good kind of learning.

I read the instructions that came with our grill.  Clearly the instructions matched what the salesman promised me.  I could smoke as well as grill on this versatile unit.  

In the past I have failed and succeeded with efforts to smoke a delicious meal.  Once I did a turkey and it was an instant family hit.  That memorable meal was a great event because it was never to be repeated.

Part of the problem was the smoker.  It was constructed out of aluminum skin walls.  During my subsequent smoking attempts, the cold outside weather made it impossible to control the temperatures.  I threw the bird away after hours of smoking.

Friends have used insulated walled smokers with consistent and amazing results. I did not just envy their culinary skills, I salivated as I indulged on their pork ribs, brisket and chicken.  How was it possible for average guys to prepare food good enough of a classy restaurant?

Common among these grill masters is the same advice.  Temperature control is key.  If you can get a grill or smoker that can finesse the heat, then smoking successfully will be a fulfilling promise.

Then, after turning my back on charcoal grills and propane options and expensive dedicated smokers, I was introduced to wood pellet grills.  This was my entrance into great outdoor cooking for foods that I wanted to serve to my family.

Admittedly, I swallowed hard when I was about to smoke my first batch of wild Texas pork.  A lot of effort went into harvesting these BBQ delights.  Now, with a strong desire to smoke the meat but with a track record of horrible failures, I was reluctant.

I prepared the meat with the mental note that “butchering” may well characterize my lack of ability in trimming the roasts and ribs.  Oh well, my forgiving wife would appreciate my good intentions.  That was my hope anyway.

For nine hours I smoked these large chunks of meat.  I followed the instructions. Afterall, I read them over and over again.  

Finally, at 6pm I served the fare.  My bride and I both smiled, expressed amazement at the delectable results and looked forward to many more repeats of a system that made a smoking BBQ novice like me a success on the culinary path of outdoor cooking.  Miracles do still happen!

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_2808We have been living in Texas now for over a year.  Before we moved to our newly adopted state we divested ourselves of as much stuff as possible.  So many of those items were a part of our lives and we miss them.

One item that we gave away was our BBQ grill.  Sigh.  Cooking over a grill is a thrilling part of a daily chore that puts a lot of fun into one of life’s inevitable chores.  Cooking is a necessity so we might as well do it over an outside grill.

When we grill up a stack of burgers for our guests, the football game is better.  Franks or sausages on the grill make church gatherings in the home especially fun.  A quiet meal for the family with thick steaks sizzling on the barbecue will put a photo in the album.

It was time for us to pick out our next grill.  To make it the best choice possible, I read, shopped and asked a lot of questions.

One of the features that I was hoping to find was a way to do some smoking.  Smoked meats have been given to me by great BBQ chefs and I was hooked.  Whether it was ribs, brisket, sausage or chicken I loved the taste.

When the entrees are served with mouth-watering aromas and the juices are seeping out of whatever you are served, who could not be moved to want to put that kind of culinary skill into a loving meal?  Good smokers with insulated walls are not secured with pocket change.  My budget did not give me that freedom.

There were a few other important ideas floating around in my decision-making tree as well.  I toyed with a return to the briquets in a spherical grill.  Yet, the health benefits of avoiding fuels that send not-so-tasty particles into the food made me hesitate.

Gas grills are common, inexpensive and filled with every imaginable option that you could want. Nevertheless, propane gas fires do not add much to the flavor of the food.  I was looking for an alternative.

I was introduced to wood pellet grills.  Simple, fast, flavorful and smoking meats was a huge option.  Clean burning hardwood pellets left clean up a breeze and the healthy option a reality.

It was Labor Day.  Grilling is a featured part of this holiday.  Sales were all over the internet.  We made our choice.  Our first BBQ meal as Texans was a resounding success! Yum!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

July 13.2012 005Moving is an adventure.  There are few words that describe this transition in life better than this one term.  In three syllables it encompasses joy, newness, glitches, concerns, shock and awe.

Timing is everything.  Trying to plan a home purchase, utilities sign-up, insurance costs, bank accounts, automobile registration, licensing and smog inspection along with church shopping, store shopping and post office shopping, the list is long for setting up our home in a different state, culture and neighborhood.

Yet, it is invigorating to start-up a new life.  New friends abound, new sights fill up our eyes, new road trips lead us in all directions of the compass.  Of course our palate is looking for different ways to cook beef, chicken, pork and fish.  Here in Texas there are distinct flavors of food that make the locals very proud.

The Texas heat made us get creative quickly.  We found places to go where the inside A/C was so refreshing.  Sometimes it was a shopping mall, other times it was a movie theater.  Still at other times we let the air conditioning of a friend’s home welcome us inside from the heat.

High on our memories of our move to Texas one year ago was juggling the timing of purchasing a home and moving our “priceless stuff” from the West Coast.  Our home in Texas had not yet closed.  The moving company was ready to pick up our possessions in California.

Movers charge according the time that personal goods are in their possession.  Keeping that time to a minimum was important.  Stewardship means a lot to us.

Juggling our California departure, my Texas work start date and the closing of the house all had to be coordinated.  If you take it too seriously, you could lose your mind.  We were determined to roll with the punches, adjust and flex.

To do so meant that we ended up being in our new home before our furniture arrived.  Trying to be prepared, we threw a folding table into the back of my pickup truck along with two folding chairs.  Then, we added a box of pots, pans, dishes and flatware.

Once the real estate agents handed us the house keys, we ceremoniously walked into our new home.  It was very spartan, almost “collegesque”.  To us it was part of the adventure.  It was like a picnic in our newly adopted state.  God gives us blessings no matter how odd they may seem.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2501From Oscar’s point of view, life was getting weird.  For years he had the undivided attention of his master and madam.  He ruled the roost for attention, affection and routine intrusions.

The ooh’s, coo’s and cute comments were exclusively directed toward him.  After all, he was a handsome Lhasa Apso, with a winning personality to boot.  He is my daughter and son-in-laws family pet.  For years he was the focal point of family affection.  Now, however, that was going to change forever.

My daughter and son-in-law brought home their first child.  He is a baby, cute, cuddly and adorable.  It was an instant change in the spreading around of the love.

Lhasas have stubborn diva-like disposition.  If they sense an advantage they will ignore humans just to ratchet up the efforts for attracting more attention.  They are experts at milking the stroke and coaxing opportunities.  This was new territory, however.

A human baby requires the time and attention of both new parents.  They prepare to feed, cleanse and love on the new human addition.  Oscar feels the change.  It is a radical cataclysmic restructuring of time allocation.  None of it feels very good.

There is a lot of pouting that goes on.  The old tricks to vie for attention fall flat.  His attempts to be subtle in his urgency for needed attention are ignored.

If he is honest, he is included in everything.  Now, however, he is part of something rather than the center of something.  Will he embrace this and learn to give to the new star of the show?  Can he share what he has received for so many years?  Can his exclusive status now be broadened to include the notion of an expanding family?

Being just as important but now a player in a larger production is the reality of the day.  His great good looks are still there.  His charming personality still brings scratches, tickles and treats.

Hey wait a minute.  Here comes Pau Pau (Grandmother) and Goong Goong (Grandfather).  They rush in greet everyone, scratch Oscar but swoon over the baby.

It is one arm at a time though.  They cannot fight over the baby.  So, while Pau Pau is cuddling her first grandchild, Goong Goong holds Oscar.  Both are enjoying sharing the attention, while the new star is being showered with special attention.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

DSC_0150My mornings usually start in time to welcome the rising of the sun.  When the rays of the new day dawn, it is time for my first break.  In the past I had been accused of laying skid marks by the side of the bed.  I smile and do not feel like denying the truth.

Now, however, I am on vacation.  We have structured our time so that we spend a week just to decompress, knock off neglected errands and put ourselves in a mode to relax.  For example, we let the sun wake us up.  The alarm clocks remain silent.  We chat before we even climb out of bed.  It is an amazing experience.

Then we continue chatting in our breakfast nook.  We take in the view of our backyard and agree that we are blessed to enjoy the scenery.  Birds are soaring overhead and squirrels are dancing through the trees.

That is when our attention drawn in closer.  Just outside of our window, on the leaves of our garden plants we notice thatDSC_0174 we are locked into the vision of another life form.  It is a lizard.

At first he is just keeping a wary eye on us.  Afterall, it is Spring.  He is pumping up his colorful throat sack.  It is reddish in color and makes his head look twice a big.  He must be out courting his hopeful bride.  We humans distracting him from his Springtime Twitterpation.

We both grabbed our cameras and carefully approached our subject.  He was curious but not afraid.  Slowly we raised our instruments of digital recording and snapped away.  Like a world-class model, he would occasionally shift his head, DSC_0184alter his posture and change his position.  It was a fun photo shoot.

No nuptials took place.  He had lost his concentration.  The calls for a female reptile turned to silence.  Our little buddy even climbed over a few large leaves to get closer to us.

While neither my bride nor I are reptilian aficionados, we were so relaxed on our vacation that we took the time to enjoy this episode.  This little critter is also in our yard helping keep the insect population under control.  If he is helping keep the roach population down, he is more than welcomed to make our yard his home.   Should he successfully woo a mate and have many babies, they too are welcome to make their home in our yard.  We are cool with that.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Lucas BaileyThere will never be another Father’s Day for me like this one.  Yes, I am blessed with five children.  Do not faint.  God blessed my bride and I with three of our own children.  Then, our two oldest are now married.  We love our two in-law children so much that we count them as our own.  Three plus two equals five.

Having these five with us is a blessing.  We laugh, discuss, make memories and serve in the building of God’s Kingdom together.  On top of all of these joys we have a new blessing to enjoy for the rest of our lives.   This Father’s Day, I have the added celebratory credential as a Grandfather.  Baby Lucas was born one day before Father’s Day and launched me into the world of grandparenting.  What an amazing treat in life.

For years we have been preparing ourselves for this wonderful phase in life.  There would be snatches of wisdom left by others in this field of human satisfaction.  Someone once declared, “Grandparenting is God’s reward for parents who did not murder their teenagers.”  It was said only once to me.  I have not forgotten.

Then, Moses made a huge point in inspired Scripture teaching that legacy was more than horizontal impact.  The privilege of influencing others is not just among our peers.  Instead, we must also pour into our vertical legacy through our children and our children’s children.

On this special day when I have the thrill of being included among this special group of men known as fathers, I also can invest in the third generation behind me.  Our nuclear group has now added this stunning dimension to our family tree.  This little guy is the first of hopefully many.

Our gathering times will be fun but also edifying in our faith endeavor.  Together we will live our lives for the glory of  the King.  We will encourage each other in our spiritual pursuits, cheer each other on with achievement, learning and challenges.

We will make a difference in our lifetime.  Automatically, we will celebrate what we can all do together.  Certainly, we will do far more together than we will ever do on our own.  It is a miracle known as family.  It is the best.  God has blessed me with this wonderful strength.  I delight in putting it into efficacious practice.

Happy Father’s Day!

photo credit: proud parents

 

IMG_2116Owning a home has some very quiet but powerful forces that strengthen the human spirit.  Imbedded in our soul is a personal healthy pride when something is cared for well and beams with value and satisfaction to the entire neighborhood.  No, it is not being braggadocious or selfishly prideful.  Rather, it is the great sense of satisfaction that the Creator instilled in us long ago.

Just as in the creation account, God created and then Moses writes repeatedly, “God saw that it was good.”  This sense of of the divine may be similar to us standing back and admiring our well trimmed yards, well-maintained homes and washed and waxed vehicles.  It is not even close to being comparative with the neighbors.  It is the joy of home ownership.

I like it when we can have our front trees pruned and six months later they are healthy and vibrant.  Now, they have a IMG_2115beauty that adds to the property aesthetics.  The shade that they provide is light and airy.

When the lawn is managed, it is like a natural carpet.  It is inviting to walk on and gives brilliant color to the house.  The eye is drawn to the even and healthy color.

Here in Texas the humidity wreaks havoc on man-made buildings.  Spores of various vegetation cling to the brick and discolor the house.  We had the house power washed and treated to counter the natural course of mold and mildew.  Now, our home glistens.

Plants have become hearty.  They are blooming with the season.  It cheers my spirit watching fruit appear and testify to health and vigor.

Without even knowing that I was doing it, I found myself smiling.  This is our home.  It is our retreat.  We love being here.  Our house has become our home.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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