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FullSizeRender-2This was going to be a particularly difficult day.  Pressures at work, a long line of demands had been queuing up for months, responsibilities were pushing the limits of our sanity.  My bride and I were comparing notes and it was going to be a tough day to start the work week.

On top of our regular routine we have a major trip coming up in a matter of weeks.  Details of overseas travel are horrendous!  We had to find time to invest in that preparation.

Departure times and dates are already getting tangled in our scheduling.  Today we would have to make sure we made those adjustments.  Double booking ourselves is an inconvenience for everyone and could easily undermine our efforts to be effective at all of our responsibilities.

We both heaved a deep sigh of dismay, loaded up our car with our bags for our day and drove off into the dark morning for our long commute.  My thoughts were lost in our need to get over the financial hump of needed changes, travel expenses and time investments.  If I could I needed to think about relieving my bride of the pressure she was feeling.

Now, we discussed possible drastic changes in our circumstances.  What dramatic changes could we live with if that meant the relief of life pressures?  There were no easy answers.

Then, we rounded the arching on ramp to the Interstate freeway.  The Houston eastern skies were waiting to cut short the threatening discouragement.  In front of us the Creator was putting on a show.

Clouds burst out of the east, pointing to the west.  Behind those finger shaped clouds were the indescribable colors of the divine palate, splashing reds, oranges and yellows in balanced effect.  Blue skies in the background were pushing the loud colors , pressing the daylight splendor.

We both smiled at the interruption to our concerns.  The God of all gods was breaking into our worrisome souls.  It was sensational sunrise.

He was starting the day off with a splendid artistic masterpiece.  In massive swathes of colorful strokes that were changing by the minute, we could only watch as He finished up the waking of a new day.  No words but just splendor.

We got the message.  What did we really have to worry about if He was in charge?  Now, we had a day to look forward to instead of dreading.

photo credit: yvonne fong photography

 

IMG_1390Our realtor was our guide to our newly adopted megacity of Houston, TX.  We had no idea where to live or what to look for in local construction.  A vague budget was in our minds.

She showed us a house with all of the basic room necessities and good curb appeal.  Some of our wants were also on the list.  Most importantly the price was within our target range.

Yet, a price range for a couple like us that was devastated in the housing market crash didn’t have much to put down for a new home.  I looked at the construction issues with the very used home and figured out that the next decade of our life would be saving up to make major repairs on this fixer-upper.

Houston is famous for its heat.  Good windows are a must to fight the blistering temperatures in the summer months.  Keeping our air conditioning system happy was important.

IMG_1396The windows would eventually have to be replaced.  We had that in mind when we made on offer for the house.  Now, it was time to sign a contract and replace the windows with new ones.

Old windows are being torn out.  New well-insulated and excellent guaranteed windows are going in.  The installers are doing a superb job.

Half the windows are now done.  I can see clearly now!  The old broken seals and fogged up windows are going away.

The new glass is clean, clear and firmly mounted with strong heat resistant materials and block out unbearable temperatures. When the fogged up windows of our home make it impossible to enjoy the views it is sad.  The whole house feels ugly.

FullSizeRender-1Now, the improvement has given us a lift.  Looking outside is fun again.  Watching clouds float by and the daylight turn into night is enjoyable.

When we open the windows to let the cool winter breezes flow inside, the windows slide easily.  We don’t have to grunt and tug to get old corroded windows to scrape painfully across worn out tracks.  Figure tip control of well-made locks and well-lubricated tracks bring a great enjoyment to our home like few other purchases could.

Cost? Yes, it must be one of the most expensive home repair options that an owner must face.  We counted the cost, prayed over the options and even took on additional income jobs just for this very reason.  Then, God gave us His favor in an unexpected way.  He is good, all of the time!

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

 

FullSizeRender-4NASA is a bright spot in Americana pride and joy.  It never ceases to make me marvel when I walk on to the campus of this collection of very bright and dedicated scientists, engineers and astronauts.  Something precious about life and exploration meet on these grounds and stir the soul of every visitor.

There in the parking lot, far too massive for an inside display is a Boeing 747 carry the Space Shuttle on its back.  Before you ever buy your entry ticket, you are drawn to this scene-stealing display.  Everyone stops by for a look, pictures and a moment of awe.

Inside the Visitor Center NASA has made a spectacular display of their historic achievements.  Every American is a  part of it.  The spirit of the USA pervades every part of the exploration of space.

One of the permanent displays shows off the Gemini program.  Tiny capsules that crammed two astronauts into tight quarters and orbited them around the earth hang from the ceiling.  But, the display is set in the stars of our galaxy.

Countless stars twinkle and serve as an amazing backdrop for this space flight.  It is full scale and the dark hall makes you feel like you are orbiting with these heroes of old.  How clever were these scientists, how skillful were these engineers and how courageous were these astronauts.

Our space exploration seems out-of-this-world to us.  Yet, it is only touching the edge of the vastness of space.  Can human technology thrust us even further?

When the Creator made the heavens He did a spectacular job.  Its vastness speaks of His amazing power and greatness.  We can only marvel and worship.

When Orion launches, maybe I will still be among the millions on earth that will marvel at what America can do.  The greatness of our nation may consume me like all who will be riveted to their televisions, computer monitors and live stream radios to cheer on each inch of movement toward the next great objective in space.

America’s best is exemplified with these achievements.  Putting a man or woman on Mars is next.  Maybe the Orion module will hang from the ceiling in another part of this great exhibit some day.

Perhaps my grandchildren will bring their children and friends to this special place, gaze and marvel together.  Space is the last frontier.  It calls all who have adventure in their souls.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRender-1Yes, I was thinking about work when my friend was driving me around for a tour of his longhorn cattle.  When he pointed out a feature of his beasts, I could tell that he was proud of them.  Moving in and out of his conversation was something I do all of the time.  Some call it multi-tasking.

The bright sun made me squint.  Turning my head away and raising an open hand to block the almost painful splashes of light gave me pause.  These massive animals suddenly captured all of my attention.

One of them stood up.  It was huge!  We drove our ATV right next to it and she turned her head to take in what she already sensed was near.  The massive horns deftly avoided hitting anything or hurting anyone.

She shifted her position, unfazed by the presence of human beings.  For now she looked around for some other position to take and then laid down again.  Her cud was keeping her casual and completely relaxed.

That was what arrested my busy mind.  She was totally and completely relaxed.  There did not seem to be a care in the world that would make her alert, nervous, anxious or concerned.

She had a calf that was exploring the world.  It was only days old.  Maybe Mama was recuperating from giving birth or maybe she took the down time that she was due.

Who knows what cows are thinking?

I was surprised by the conversation going on in my head.  But it dawned on me that I had not been thinking about work for the last several moments.  Her relaxation was having an impact on me.  I liked it.

Several other cattle were taking her lead.  They too had found a comfortable place in the pasture to lie down.  Their blood pressure levels seemed to be as casual as hers.

I was enjoying the warmth of the sun.  Easy moods seemed to multiply for me.  In that pleasant Texas morning it was easy to “chill” and take in the ease of being alive and stress-free for the moment.

A slow pace, relaxed atmosphere, simple style and basic comforts of the area were all that I needed.  Some how the busy face paced life back in the city melted away.  Who knows what cows are thinking?  I do.  They are thinking about nothing at all.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5676Houston is my office space.  It is one of the fastest growing city in America and it is the place where God has called me to serve Him.  Falling in love with a city is easy when the love of the Lord for that city has preceded me.

Yet, my professional occupation requires that I keep a direct channel open to Dallas.  That is where our headquarters is situated.  They make the major decisions and determine the course that I follow while serving here.

Periodically I need to be at meetings in Big D.  Getting to the city in the North is a puzzle.  That bewildering choice is due to the nature of flying compared to driving.

I could fly to Dallas.  The actually flying time is only an hour.  However, you know and every commuter knows that air travel is much more than actual flying time.

Houston is so big that it takes and hour to drive to either one of our two airports.  Of course when we all fly we have to arrive at the airport two hours early.  We need to entertain the security folks.

A little arithmetic makes the choice of the journey a puzzle.  To fly takes one hour to commute to the airport plus two hours early arrival for check-in and security and buffer plus the one hour actual flying time.  The total is four hours.

The drive time to Dallas and our headquarters is four hours.  When I fly I have to arrange for transportation once I arrive in Dallas.  If someone picks me up then I do not have transportation around the city once I arrive.

If I drive to Dallas, then I can also leave when I want, makes stops along the way and return when I want.  My seat is always comfortable and frequently my wife joins me so the company is exquisite.  Rest stops on the journey are also up to me.

One of the discoveries on this journey is the meal service en route to our destination.  Remember this is Texas.  In this part of the world BBQ reigns.

Half way between Dallas and Houston is a tasty BBQ location.  It has the unique traveling grill that often marks its location.  The designers shaped it like a giant single action revolver with the BBQ smoke coming out of the barrel.  You can’t see this when you are flying on a plane.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRender-4Water, we need it to live.  Too little and our lives are in serious jeopardy.  Too much and the threat to lives is unbearable.

Texas is my adopted home state.  We came when a drought plagued this great land.  There was not enough water to transform the brown grass and cause the landscape to bloom.

People told us stories of the Spring when wildflowers and Blue Bells decked the hills and blanketed the meadows.  Now, with too many years of too little rain brown dirt was all that the great state had to show off.  Ranchers rationed water to their livestock and farmers judiciously grew crops based on what water they could secure for a meager harvest.

Now, the rains won’t stop.  The deluge from the heavens keep coming.  Our streets are flooded and the homes of too many are now soaked.

The tragedy of an Austin family that rendezvoused for a family gathering over the Memorial Day weekend threw me intoIMG_5781 a moment of quiet reflection.  A number of them were gathered in a house.  The swollen river rose and swept the house away.

How does life go on as usual after such a story breaks?  Many of those precious lives are still missing.  What of those who survived?  How do they ever pick up and keep going?

The faith of that particular family is their center.  They have turned to God for comfort and strength.  Prayer for them is not just a perfunctory euphemism, it is an expression of life, real life.

I am inconvenienced with the rain.  It reroutes my driving and it slows down my commute, but I do not have the grief of lost loved ones that weigh down my soul.  In my busyness I paused and prayed for them.

Many other stories of people whose homes were taken over by water make my inconveniences pale into insignificance. Flood waters did not invade my home.  They did not ruin the floors or furniture in my home.

FullSizeRender-3The filth in the flood waters did not litter my garage.  Muddy silt is not all over the floors of our home.  My vehicles are not ruined by water filling up my transmission or begin the rust process of a slow death to my car.

My fellow Houstonians and Texans have been devastated by the abundance of water.  But, I have been spared and for that I am grateful.  Together many of us will clean up, encourage and restore others who have been hit the hardest.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5785Stormy weather has been inundating our state.  Torrential rains doused our lands with cloud bursts, accompanied with lightening and thunder.  In an instant, our three lane streets turn into one middle lane bordered by swift streams of water looking for a place to go.

Not everyone is blessed to live on high ground and in a planned community that installed public utilities to direct massive amounts of water away from homes.  Our drainage system and open culverts keep our community safe from flash floods.  Yet, our hearts go out to those living near the swollen parts of the San Jacinto River and Trinity River.

Thousands have been evacuated from their homes.  They have been given shelter by family, friends, neighbors and churches.  Muddy currents have swept away property, soil and vehicles.

Gratefully, public servants have been on high alert.  They have responded to cries for help.  Alert and courageous, they have ventured boldly into rising waters to rescue lives of people, pets and livestock.

South of Austin, our state capital, hundreds of homes have been washed away.  Whole streets have been wiped out and only slabs remain where houses once stood.  Lives have been lost and many are missing.

On a busy travel day for the gathering of families for Memorial Day, we all fear for those whose loved ones are unaccounted.  Flash floods and water over roads catch the most alert drivers by surprise.  Six inches deep is all the water that is necessary to carry away a small car.

My telephone sprang to life on Sunday morning.  It was not a text, email or phone call.  An emergency alert came through loud and clear.

Tornado Warning: flashed on my screen.  This was not a watch but a warning.  Added to the alert was an order to seek safe shelter immediately.

Thankfully, the warning was only for the next 4 minutes.  I could hold my breath, pray, rest in the LORD and stay safe in our home.  No tornado appeared; we were grateful.

Even as I write this another severe thunderstorm is blowing over our home.  We can feel our home shake when the thunder claps overhead.  The rain pounds against our house like a machine gun spitting out rapid fire rounds.

Yet, the God who created our world is protecting all whom He blesses with favor.  His power is far greater and His mercy is even more generous than a flash flood.  I will put my faith in Him.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5341The 2015 Houston Rodeo was in full swing.  Saturday was all about the Finals.  Champions were being crowned in all of the classic Rodeo events.

Not only did the champions perform at their highest level, they were rewarded with the grand prize of $50,000!  Thanks some great prize money for these cowboys and cowgirls.  Lives were being changed with a single check that came because these winners were two tenths a of a second faster than their nearest competitor.

Friends and family were huddled together in the stands cheering on their loved ones until they were hoarse.  Tears and hugs were shared all around when the final scores were displayed on the jumbotron.  This was the climax of a yearlong season for many of these cowpokes.

Yet, everything paused for a special introduction.  In a spontaneous moment of an unplanned introduction, the announcer informed the audience that he had just been informed that a special guest had arrived among them.  The cameras trained in on the special couple.

Nothing in the program gave a hint that he would be a special guest.  No script had his name on its list.  Camera crews were acting serendipitously.

President and Mrs. George H. Bush were in section 110 in the first row, closest to the field.  The camera broadcasted their smiles as they pointed at each other and their cheer were sincere and full of joy.  The entire stadium was on their feet and applauding with enthusiasm.

I was surrounded by people of all ages.  Young adults and retired folks as well were all sharing in a special moment of honoring a man who had led them as their President.  Guys were whistling and girls were screaming.

This unplanned moment of tribute was memorable.  No one demanded a counter, an explanation or another  view.  Instead, the announcer chimed in, “Now, there is an honorable man.”

41 was smiling and waving to the appreciative crowd.  There was no false humility or arrogance in his countenance.  I saw a man who loved the people he once led and an appreciative leader who just enjoyed the moment of being admired and loved by the people of Texas.

That is a rodeo for you.  The people here not only love God, they love their country and the people who serve it.  If you miss the love of country and the joy of the God who has blessed our country with extraordinary favor, then go to a rodeo and enjoy it all over again.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5337Spring Break should be a special time of adventure and relaxation for two hard-working teachers. But, this year my bride is burdened with the preparation of her state certification exam and I was in middle of preparing our federal tax returns.  At least I had an ace in the whole.

For the first time since moving to Houston we were going to the Rodeo.  It is billed as the Largest Rodeo in the world.  This claim is one that I have means or interest in validating.

I just reserved our tickets and looked forward to attending.  My time on the internet got us ready with transportation plans via the shuttle system, free parking and discounts on food.  What I could not plan was the weather.

Rain was the forecast for the day we had tickets to the Rodeo.  The precision of this forecast was amazingly accurate.  It poured on this gathering of folks.

Getting into the stadium was a relief just to get out of the rain and dry off.  We were soaked to the bone and thought that a repeated venture was not too favorably received.  But, the show began and our interest was piqued.

The announcer was in fine form.  He was clearly connecting with people who knew about rodeo.  At the same time, he also formed a bond with all of us newbies.

He introduced a rodeo tradition.  It was the Grand Entry.  All of the participants rode out into the stadium and received a rousing ovation from the crowd.  70,000 people were beginning to fill the seats.

Leading the way into the stadium was a trio of riders.  One queen carried the American flag.  Another the flag of Texas.  Yet a third the Houston Rodeo flag.

Once the great cast of riders reached their spots amid great music and fanfare, the announcer introduced the Invocation.  One of the participants prayed for God’s blessing, His protection and presence and with gratitude thanked God for His wonderful blessings.  He prayed this all in Jesus’ name.

There was no apology, no hesitation, no explanation, no equal time for false religions or any protests.  It was all done in stride.  Faith in the Almighty God was a part of the lives of people at a rodeo.

Then the National Anthem was sung.  Everyone stood.  All of the men removed their hats and caps.  People sang with their hands over their hearts.  There were no protests, complaints or apologies.

God, Country and Family.  These three values are embraced and proudly promoted by the Rodeo constituency.  I like Rodeo!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone 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

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