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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 

IMG_2894.jpegWhen a sight makes my eyes bulge, it’s worth a long look.

My friend’s ranch is a great place to relax and let the anxious feelings that build from perpetual responsibilities drain into the soil of Texas. Burdens concerning the lives of people, choices determining the future of our organization, and little foxes nipping at the grapes in the vineyard reach a critical point early each Spring. My calendar reminds to schedule vital down time in the woods.

The cool of the evening promised a good night’s sleep coming in a few hours. Quiet sounds of the country replaced the constant buzz of people, machines, and city noises. Birds chirping, the breeze soothing, and orange sun settling down on the horizon, performed their excellent massaging of my soul.

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Near the border of the ranch property, I found a perch that was elevated off of the ground about 8 feet. I climbed the ladder and settled into a comfortable folding chair. Now, I could enjoy the theater performance of the creator’s sunset. It was going to be beautiful.

That’s when the heavy hooves trotted in a growing crescendo behind me. Whatever it was, it was big. Slowly, I turned my head toward the thudding sound.

At a lilting quick trot a Watusi cow came into view around a low growing tree. It emerged from the guise of the boughs uninterested in a puny human. Instead, it had caught the fragrance of corn feed laid out for its evening snack.

She was followed by three other cows of lesser stature. They were huge animals with a powerful gait. The earlier decision to ascend to my perch was a very good decision in hind sight.

IMG_2899But, there was more. These four cows were merely the vanguard. The real beast made his way to the corn feed. He was massive.

My guess is that he would weigh in at 1400 pounds. His body mass clearly made him the dominant bovine. He was the bull.

As impressive as his bulk was, I was lost in the size of his massive horns. They were so large that the word “hoax” did enter my mind. When it strolled down the two track, it kept a cadence to the rhythm of his swaying horns.

I had no words. What a sight. I gazed in wonder at these Ankole-Watusi of unusual size. The Creator makes so things really big.

photos 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

 

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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UnknownThis movie, Unplanned, was one that I anticipated. Trailers popped up periodically for months. The story was very compelling.

I will admit that I have a strong attraction to movies based on a true story. Real lives, real drama, and real transformation win my attention. Weave in a message that is important to life and I am ready to buy my tickets.

A good person enters into the world of Planned Parenthood. Her personal saga is uncovered and adds to the intricacies of the story. Family and friends and faith all play a part in this narrative.

The movie portrayed the presence of extreme protesters and terse rants on the part of the right to life crowd. The obnoxious ones were a small minority but they were clearly identified in the story. At the same the majority of the life side were depicted as kind, gracious, and helpful.

Thankfully, the side of Choice were also depicted well. They were portrayed largely as good people albeit surrounded in a volatile atmosphere. Desperate young women with few apparent alternatives come to the clinic seeking a solution.

The chief adversary was left unexplained. Thoughts of greed, power, bitterness, and the like were introduced as possibilities. But, more questions than speculation were presented.

The one antagonist was cast well. She displayed and portrayed the intent of the Choice side. It was unlikable.

I liked the movie. Prayer works. Christians need to persevere. Unborn babies need to be protected.

When abortion happens, it is ugly. An innocent life that ends because of human intent, it is heartbreaking. The movie wrencheed my soul.

Reflecting over this film, I have good thoughts that sometimes justice prevails in the courtroom. Family is a genuine support group. Husbands can do well. Forgiveness from a merciful God is wonderful.

brucefong photography

Unknown-10The season has begun. It happens this same time every year. People look forward to it. Businesses gear up for it. Celebrations are planned around it.

You can even dress up for this kick off. It seems like every where you turn people are getting into the spirit of this annual spectacle. Of course the sight, smell, and taste buds join in the chorus.

No, it’s NOT baseball. Nor is it March Madness. Churches get involved but it is not a religious holiday.

It is crawfish season! Yes, MUDBUGS. You can do it yourself if you have a pot big enough for these morsels. Helpings are measured by the pound.

Make no mistake about it. This is not fine dining. You can’t worry about the splatter or the residual that is leftover. A serving of crawfish is as much about the experience of eating. It takes some effort to enjoy this meal.

Some of my West Coast friends shake their head as a refusal to choose this cuisine. TheirUnknown-11 brief curt rejection is punctuated, “Too much work!” It takes some effort but if you are enjoying the company of good friends and the conversation is extraordinary, then this is the perfect meal to enhance the talking around the table.

Just do it outside. It is an expressive kind of dining. Spilling, splattering, popping pieces around the area is a part of it. Make that a part of the sharing. Lay out a drop cloth on a picnic table and dump the entire pot of mudbugs, corn on the cob, red potatoes, and garlic sauce on top of it.

Pull up a chair. Tuck in a napkin in your neck. Laugh, tease, tell stories, and love on your family and friends. This kind of crawfish feast will be the memories that makes life worth reliving.

God likes it when we seal the deal with each other by breaking bread. In this case it is cracking shells. But, the satisfaction on every level is at its very best. Try 2 pounds and soon you’ll be up to 3 and loving everyone and every bite.

photos by brucefong photography

 

31531388_2135635573119502_1994887011911073792_nEducation has fallen on hard times. Enrollment is one of the non negotiable items in the world of higher education. Administrators lose sleep over declining numbers with each passing academic year.

Private institutions of higher education are feeling the tightening belt even more. That magic number attached to enrollment makes heads spin, competent employees to panic, and media sites to attack the topic in a feeding frenzy. Education finds its identity in the numbers census of bodies in desks.

This is my world too. Education is my field of specialization. There have been hours and days and weeks and months that I have discussed, studied, and pursued students to enroll into our institution.

Here is a lesson that has helped me: Work hard to do all you can. Then, trust the final results to God.

In 2 Kings 6 Israel and Aram were at war with each other. The Arameans were making a killing by robbing Hebrew caravans of rich cargo. Their king secretly plotted ambush and ambush and absconded with great wealth.

Finally, the man of God, Elisha intervened and told the King of Israel all of the Aramean plans. His prophetic foresight thwarted further Aramean raids. Irritated, the King of Aram first tried to blame one of his own officers for leaking their top-secret plans.

A quick thinking officer plays his “get out of jail card” and informs the king that Elisha the prophet tells all of Aram plans to his king in Israel. The Arameans send an army to surround Elisha. His servant sees the enemy threat, panics with desperate fear, and exclaims, “What shall we do?”

Elisha is the portrait of calm. He simply prays that God will open the eyes of his servant and allow him to see what God has done to protect them. In answer to Elisha’s prayer, the servant sees that there are angels and fiery chariots from heaven surrounding Elisha. The words of this amazing prophet are worth remembering: “Those who are with us are greater than those who with them.”

Remember: God will often have a solution ready before we even realize that we have a problem. Use eyes of faith to see what God has already done. Fear not, even with huge problems like enrollment.

 

 

We live in SE Texas. Images of cowboys rounding up cattle, oil donkeys pumping crude, and Bluebonnets decorating miles of rolling hills may be the images that dance in your mind’s eye. For others they have a personal experience and a vivid memory: HOT HUMID summer days of August may come to mind.

This unrelenting summer weather hits visitors in the face when they come out of hiding due to obligations of work, meetings, or life necessities. Texans joke about this weather, “It’s great for your complexion.” “But, look at the other 10 months of the year…PERFECTION!”

It is the wrong time of year for our refrigerator ice maker to go out of commission. We had come home from a West Coast vacation where the cool Pacific Ocean allowed us to bask in its daily refreshment. Then, the Texas heat and humidity welcomed us home.

Inside our air-conditioned home, we dropped our bags and went straight into the kitchen. Our 1.5 year old refrigerator would give us the relief of ice-cold water, right? Wrong! The slowly grinding gears of the ice machine delivered nothing. We tried over and over to coax just a few ice cubes from the relief maker. Nothing.

Laying hands on the unit, prayers, and promises did nothing.

Finally, it was time to read the owner’s manual. Nothing. Even when I found the English version of the instructions. Nothing.

For days we purchased bags of ice from the market. We would make the journey into the garage freezer to collect the ice and have our refreshing beverages. Multiple times during the day, I would think and think more about my options. Warranty? Repair? Purchase?

Finally, one night I stumbled on to several YouTube.com entries. Multiple videos of fixing this problem were listed. Victory! Success! ICE!

The sweet celebration of fixing a problem shared by others online was satisfying indeed. Now, the Texas heat and humidity are at bay once again. It was a close call but refreshing ice is again waiting to be collected in our glasses for a refreshing beverage at our convenience. Voila! ICE!

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