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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

 

IMG_3884Do you like hoards and hoards of people trying to do what you are trying to do?  When the sun is hot, the temperatures are soaring and the lines form like a funnel each time you want to take in a special moment on a vacation that you have saved to enjoy after years.  Fuses are short even at the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  Grouchy people come with the program bursting with people on a mission.

A snarly husband with irritation dripping from his steely voice, “What did you lose?”
Desperately slapping her pockets, checking her purse, searching her bag a woman exclaimed, “Hold on.  I’m looking.”
With an escalating volume out of control, the man shouted with a growl, “Tell me!  What did you lose?”
Desperate and trying to find whatever she had misplaced, she blurted out, “My wallet.  I lost my wallet!”

By now everyone around that small patch of shade were looking up.  We were all looking on the ground, checking the bench and even slapping our own pockets.  Clearly there was sympathy for her and a frantic effort to stay the pending eruption written in red on that man’s face.

Just in time she announced, “I found it!”

A wind of crowd relief exhaled.  That man just turned on his heels and stalked away.  The family gathered their personal items, huddled together and followed after the heated furor of the family.

Quickly all of us in the crowd stepped back into our world of ease.  Everyone loses it some time under certain circumstances.  Most of us have the dignity not to hang our laundry in public, however.

We loved our visit to Disney World.  Yet, we encountered a few who were grouchy, a small number who were rude and very few who were pushy.  Humans get a little testy when their circumstances are not  ideal.

When the temperatures soar, so do the frayed tempers.  During the crowded spaces and slow-moving lines people do snap at others.  No matter how broadly Mickey smiles and cheers, someone is going to be unhappy.

Humorously, grumpy people want others to know how unpleasant they are feeling. Broadcasting their ill will seems to be a necessity for them.  Blaming others or making others feel badly is like a calling in life  for them.

Sometimes we are best just to keep quiet.  Other times we can smile back or send a cheerful way.  We cannot change the whole world but maybe we can infect a few with wonderful happiness.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Our drive up north is becoming a familiar journey.  Every other month I schedule a trip from Houston to Dallas.  A face to face with key personnel is a small price to invest in our ongoing communication with the mother ship.

Dallas Seminary is branching out.  It has several locations around the nation and overseas.  I have the privilege to serve in the Houston Campus.

Part of my long list of responsibilities is to give oversight to the educational endeavors of our fine institution in the fastest growing city in the USA.  Emails, text messages, Skyping and phone calls are countless.  But, nothing beats 30 minutes of smiles, conversation, immediate feedback and details of initiatives with instant approvals.

Most of the time I drive up from our megalopolis to this gem in the heart of Texas. It is a four-hour drive compared to the 3.5 hours of commuting, checking in and flying via commercial airlines.  That comparison does not even include getting from the airport to the campus once I arrive in Big D.

When I arrive my credentials and permits get me to a safe parking spot and on to the campus without any delay.  A list of people are on my mind and I head for my first location.  Invariably, I see someone and we stop and talk.

It is the unplanned spontaneous serendipitous meeting in the parking lot, in the foyer, in a walkway or along a stairwell that makes for strategic initiatives.  Ideas are born.  Personalities meld into operational plans.

During the day I am taking notes.  When I end my day, I am at my computer rehearsing ideas, making notes, recording thoughts and linking those thoughts with people.  The future is born out of those providential gatherings.

The sun is now setting.  As I scan the changing hues and marvel at the city lights, the long trip has been worthwhile.  Questions are answered and relationships with key people are deepened.

On my long drive home I will rehearse every one of those discussions.  In my spirit certain thoughts will seal into further plans.  Others will keep the back burners simmering until the time is ripe.

Sixty days will pass before I make my journey north again.  But, by then several initiatives that were discussed today will be in the history books.  I intend to make good ideas into real results in the near future.  Tomorrow is all about today’s conversations.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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For those who are followers of Jesus Christ, it is not a matter of what we know.  Rather it is more important that we know what we believe.  What we believe is not a matter of what we say.  Rather, we live what we believe.

This book series “Real Life” is about our daily living.  When we embrace and express our faith in our Savior, we live differently.  The Holy Spirit makes it possible to live each day differently because of what we believe to be true.

This volume Always Hope is about living each day after the bottom falls out from underneath us.  No one like tough times.  Trials are not our choice.  But, they happen in all of our lives.

When they come, each day keeps on coming, one after the next. They do not slow down or stop or disappear.  How we live those days when trouble has slammed into our lives is what this volume relives.

I was hurt by others and difficult circumstances.  Each day I got up and struggled through the subsequent days.  By God’s wonderful grace and the love of His finest, I kept getting up, day after day.

If you read this book and the words inside cause you to smile, laugh, hope or reflect on good things, then it was worth the effort it took to write it.  May your hope forever be a part of your new days to come.

It is available on Kindle for all e-book readers.  Or you may order a hard copy from http://www.createspace.com/4190780. Thank you and enjoy your reading!

IMG_3300The film Saving Mr. Banks is a movie about making a movie.  This literary technique helps tell the story’s lengthy intricacies in a movie-span of time. The choice of this double-layer of literary art also reveals the story of a story writer reliving her own past through the creation of a highly imaginary character, Mary Poppins.  The complicated life of the fictional character is being lived out in the star of the movie, Emma Thompson, whose performance is magnificent.

Walt Disney, Tom Hanks, has been pursuing the film rights of Pamela Travers’ stories for twenty years.  Travers, however, is stoic, staid, and stubborn.  She view the overly friendly Americans and the whole Disneyland style as unrealistic and highly improper.  Yet, her own financial woes force her to journey to Los Angeles to meet Disney and explore the possibility of a screening of her character, Mary Poppins.

Travers is at odds with every person she meets.  Her snobbery and unpleasantness rub people the wrong way as they cater to her every whim in hopes of securing the rights to make Mary Poppins into a film.  Slowly, the creative team realizes that Travers’ stubborn spirit is a protective attitude toward characters that are real people in her life, including her.

Trust is gained through creative efforts by Disney and his team.  She begins to see the happiness that can be realized in life.  Cautiously and surprisingly she is being won over to believe.

A deep offense, however, erupts when Travers hears of an animated sequence that is planned in the film.  She angrily departs back to England with her screen rights papers in hand.  Disney follows her across the Atlantic.

In one of the most powerful sequences of the movie, Disney talks candidly to Travers.  He tells her that she can trust him to handle her stories well but she needs to let go of her own past.  Then, he reveals his own disappointments as a child but how his art has set him free.

She releases the rights to her Mary Poppins to Disney.  It is a release that continues.  While watching the premier, Travers repeats her sequence of life, written on her face.  Offense by the jocularity of the film moves into emotional release as she witnesses the redemption of Mr. Banks, the personification of her own alcoholic father.

This was an amazing film.  I highly recommend it.  It was a deeply thoughtful and entertaining experience.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

 

Dec 2013 031Grand parenting is a special treat.  My wife is totally absorbed into being a grandmother.  She looked forward this role with great anticipation.  Nothing about this season of life has disappointed or surprised her.

The biggest surprise has been my role.  I was not expecting any of it.  Sure, when I saw little children and heard their laughter, I enjoyed it.  Yet, when your own flesh and blood introduces the next generation, it is remarkable.

When my daughter placed her firstborn son in my arms I was hooked.  The warmth of the touch, the sound of the breathing, the movement of a little life finding a comfortable place and the eyes searching for satisfaction for its curiosities is hypnotic.

It surprised me how such a little life could feel so good.  Maybe I forgot how special it felt from the years of our own children cuddling next to me.  Yet, even when I search for long ago memories, this is still very different. Maybe it is the years of dealing with adults contrasts remarkably with a little infant snuggling comfortably in my arms.

At six months he has started smiling with his eyes. There is exuberant life in his infancy that displays itself with bounty.  An old Chinese proverb explains it: “The eyes are the window to the soul.”

Life sparkles in his eyes.  Curiosities are forming an endless appetite for exploring, touching, tasting, feeling and living.  I am looking forward to being a part of that learning.

We have not had a conversation yet.  My grandson and I just sit or walk together.  There are very few understandable words that are exchanged between us.

Nevertheless, a bond is forming.  He is secure in my grasp.  I hug him closely and it feels very good.

Maybe in the way that God creates us as humans, we naturally can feel that connection of love, devotion and protection.  From the warmth of that touch comes the sensation of trust, security and hope.  Those are magnanimous words that I look forward to explaining to him some day.

While he is cradled in my arms, he is safe.  I look forward to teaching him about the joys and dangers of the world.  Hopefully, I can pass on to him insights about people, smart ways to navigate through rough circumstances and how to invest in good choices.

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I look forward to having a part in nurturing his spiritual journey.  His pilgrimage with Jesus will be the greatest delight.  Our future holds countless conversations about the Savior.

photo credit: brucefong photography

HFBC Men's Retreat 2013The first time that I played a “Where’s Waldo?” picture puzzle was in the United Kingdom.  Our children were all in grade school.  We did not have a TV due to the high British tax.  Instead, we found creative ways to spend our family time.

One of the ways that we spent time together was solving “Where’s Waldo?” picture puzzles together.  Of course I had to referee the children when began pulling the book into their lap while trying to scour the flood of cartoon characters in hopes of spotting the elusive Waldo.

If was fun holding the book in my lap.  Each of the children crawled all over me trying peer on to the page at hand.  Some times it was a big scene from a historic period.

Once we looked at a picture of ancient Egypt.  Another time it was from the exotic continent of Africa.  Yet another time it was a picture from the splendid continent of Asia.

Each picture was flooded with countless people.  Some were dressed in work clothes, others in show costumes and still others in every day garments of people from that period in history.  But, there were so many that it required deliberate concentration to pick out the needle in the haystack.

On more than one occasion someone would shout out that they had found Waldo in the crowd.  They would grab the book and promptly lose the place where the saw the cartoon celebrity.  Of course accusations would fly in the middle of shoving and pushing.  Naturally, my head was often the innocent bystander of those flying little slaps, pushes and punches.  You gotta love family time!

Once I restored peace we were all back staring and blinking through the myriad of people.  We were trying to spot that famous striped shirt, the googly black glasses, distinctive knit cap and silly grin.  After a successful location, I would memorize the spot, set it in context so that I could easily find him again.

Quietly but assuredly I would announce that I had found him.  Faces of my little  family would press their cheeks against mine.  They would try to see right where I was looking.

Little fingers pointed.  I gave them clues.  Slowly they would make their way to the spot.  Eureka!  They each found Waldo!

Can you find me? This is our Men’s Retreat at Houston’s First Baptist.  I am the one who is  pointing pointing directly at you!

photo credit: HFBC archive photo

IMG_2708Buying tickets for a live performance are ALWAYS more expensive.  They are never competitive with a movie or renting a DVD.  Making an online purchase trumps live performance tickets every time.

Choosing a live performance is not about the price of the ticket.  Certainly, the high ticket price makes it impossible for us to go often to something live.  Infrequency makes these times special.

We arrived early to the playhouse.  Parking is tight so we were thrilled to find a convenient spot to the theater and to the IMG_2705exit. We sat in the car for a while.  It was our date night so we enjoyed each other’s  pleasant company in anticipation of the program.

Dinner was delicious.  Mia’s in downtown Houston was meal choice.  I chose the rib dinner.  My bride selected the glazed salmon over Asian salad.

We do not know who chose the best.  Both us shared our choices.  The food was amazing!
IMG_2704The theater opened at 7:30PM.  We wandered in to the Grace Theater in downtown Houston.  The AD Players (After Dinner) were performing Anne of Avonlea.

Yes, this was clearly a date for the joy of my bride who loves this story.  I have seen the movie once.  It was very good.  I would enjoy the story a second time through this wonderful means of live actors on stage.

Anne Shirley entered the stage and fluidly talked through summaries, broke into episodes from that story and threaded the entire performance into a well designed stage performance.  It was splendidly entertaining with many humorous moments along the way.  My bride filled me on some of the story features when I looked a little lost.

One child actor made me laugh many times.  He had an impishness about him that reminded me of another young lad fromIMG_2707 many years ago.   Mischief seemed to follow him.

The stage was simple.  A few minor changes along the way with the storytelling distracting us from the movement made the compact event flow well.  There was joy, sadness, drama and romance all mixed up at once.

For the incurable romantic this play strikes familiar chords, especially among those who are avid followers of Avonlea.  Then, there are the rest of us who just love a good story told well.  If it is acted out in the process, then all the better.  Live performances are special; they are great!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Cannon Beach & Portland 2013 003It was a very special day.  Providentially, I was on my way for a rigorous speaking engagement on the Oregon Coast.  It was scheduled during the previous year.  The location and timing were amazingly wonderfully place.  I could never have orchestrated the events myself.  This is one of those wonderful gifts from our Loving and Wonderful Heavenly Father set in place before we mere mortals knew what was going to happen.

Our first grandchild was to be born during the very speaking trip that I had committed to last year.  I was to land in Portland on July 19 and our grand baby was due on July 18.  It was perfect!

My daughter and wife picked me up at the airport.  I was looking forward to my first meeting with the little guy.  My bride had flown out two weeks earlier and had already spent tons of quality time bonding with our newest family member.  I may have been the last relative to visit his new life.

I loaded my luggage into the SUV.  Then, I took my seat in the back next to the car seat.  These modern safety-rich infant seats are amazing.  They look very comfortable and secure.

Lucas was asleep.  His handsome head was protruding from a multiple layer of blankets.  His tiny body was pulsating to the rhythm of his breathing and steady hum of the vehicle on the freeway.

I could not take my eyes off of him.  Each feature I studied with care.  No, I was not memorizing them, I was being totally enthralled by them and him.  

Seeing was not good enough.  I had to touch him.  A gentle stroke on this head felt amazing.  He was warm and soft.  His cheek was bouncy and made him jostle around a bit.

He grabbed my finger and I let him squeeze it.  The warm embrace was a special touch.  Our first touch will never be supplanted by any other.  This was special.

Now, I gazed out the window to remember a town where I had invested two decades of my life, still enjoyed some of the closest friends in my life and now, this was home to my first grandchild.  He squeezed my finger a little tighter.  It struck me deeply that I had fallen in love with a new life with whom I have not yet had a conversation.  Nevertheless, I gladly welcomed the new love-addition in my life.

photo credit: brucefong photography

There is an old adage that many of us applied during a painful moment with someone that we once trusted. Do you remember enjoying a familiar relationship with someone and then they turned on you? You were blindsided. It was a surprise. You did not see it coming and you were left speechless.

Not only did they abandon you but they hurt you for their advantage. Information that was confidential, they used it in order to better posture their position, satisfy a craving of theirs or got you out of their way for a promotion, advancement for a relative or friend of theirs.

A last minute farewell gathering was thrown together. Your betrayer was there. With a phony choking in their voice, “I love you. I will miss you.” It was hard for you to hear good words used to cover up very bad motives. Others heard and thought good thoughts of them, but you knew the truth. Graciously, you were polite.

You learned an important lesson in life. Watch out for those who are busybodies, those who are nosey and think that they are doing something good by intruding into your life. They may have even quickly justified their hurtful actions dismissively, “I didn’t want to hurt you but I did what I thought was right.”

Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers about brotherly love. While he announces the subject, he admits that he does not need to teach them about it. The reason is that God has taught them about love.

The love that God taught these Christians is agape love while it was brotherly love that Paul identified as the love that he did need to write to them. Some may suggest that the great love was learned therefore the lesser love was unnecessary. Or it may be suggested that brotherly love is included in agape love. Advanced love learned from God directly will naturally demonstrate itself in loyalty, devotion and goodness.

This is one of those fascinating passages where the two kinds of love are really from the same source. They are not to be made so distinct that one is better or higher than the other. Here they are clearly related, one bigger and included in itself.

Anyone in the region of Macedonia knew of the reputation of the Thessalonian believers. They loved others in the name of Jesus. When people were in need this body of Christians did not just talk, they acted. They showed the love of Christ and Paul commended them for it.

This is an occasion where what was being done was very good and the only direction for the apostle to take was to encourage them to keep it up and to do it more and more. These Christians had learned their lesson; it was proven in their performance. They did not just brag about credentials on the wall, rather they demonstrated what they had learned.

When love is displayed it encourages others. The best way to improve it is not just to do the same but do more of the same. More love is all about living a quiet life.

The life that can give true love is a quiet life, meaning a life that is restful. This is not an admonition against talkativeness. The sense of the instruction is undisturbed, settle or not noisy.

Celebration or joyous exaltation was not what the apostle was trying to curtail. Rather it was anxiety, a frantic spirit and certainly the panic that accompanies worrisome concerns.

If there is to be peace in the life of someone who is captivated by true love, then, they will also mind their own business. Nosey busy bodies are the antithesis of true love. Meddling in the lives of others is not love.

Do you remember the person who was anxious about the life of someone else? They were convinced that they had the prerogative to reach in and tell someone else how to parent their child, run their business, and manage their family, how to behave in church, what music all Christians should sing and even who their friends should be.

True love is measured by its reputation. What are people saying? Do others find our life of love attractive, desirable or appealing?

Love is the hallmark of the Christian faith. Help others. Do not hurt them.

When others are blessed by your love, then you are on the right track. Keep doing that and do it more and more. God will impress in your spirit what is beneficial for others.

You will know it when your life is at rest. Any curiosity that you have about the lives of others is something that you keep in check. Mind you own business. Walk properly in front of others and live reliant only upon the Lord and what He has given you to live responsibly.

LAPP (Life Application): Help someone this week. Do it in the name of Jesus out of the love that He has already given to you. Have you hurt someone by being a busybody? Seek God’s forgiveness and do something to right your wrong.

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