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Thanksgiving is a fabulous time of the year. The fast break-neck speed of our jobs, responsibilities and challenges can be put on pause for a few days. We take in a dozen deep cleansing breaths.

The mind clears. Our soul warms. Then, our spirit testifies that God has indeed not only watched over us but blessed us with almost overlooked blessings that formulate our spirit of Thanksgiving.

My bride and I were thrilled to take the long journey to visit family for this time of the year. It has been four years since we have been back to our home state and took the time to celebrate “Family” with our relatives from sides. Family roots bring an astounding depth of meaning into our lives.

With a break in the many meals, house visits, telephone calls and hugs we drove out to Land’s End in San Francisco. We had been there many times in our past. This place gave us a moment of repose that set life back into balance.

Our little rental care was safely parked and locked. We stepped out into the powerful winds that regularly pummel the coast. Birds played with the swirling gusts and thermals.

The mighty Pacific lapped the rocky shores of the shoreline. As far as the eye could see echelons of waves marched to throw their power against the rocks below. Clouds raced by overhead driven by the same winds pushing the waves.

In the middle of the sheer power of the West Coast environment we stood together locked arm in arm. Our jackets were zipped up tightly. Each of us pulled our caps snuggly over our heads.

Lost in thought we remembered fondly wonderful years in this amazing city. Outstanding friends and past blessings ushered in by the goodness of God mesmerized our nostalgic respite. He has been very good to us.

Like the bulwark of the rocky coasts standing strong against the pounding surf, the Almighty has stood beside us in ministry and the challenges of life where calling has marked our days. Whether facing joys or trials, He has proven Himself faithful.

For all we have lived and faced together, we are thankful. One this tremendous day of celebration we have counted our blessings, named them one by one and concluded with hearts full of praise. He is very good.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

photo credit: brucefong photography

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IMG_3108This is a special season of the year.  We laugh when a turkey is gobbling up a storm.  Children dress up in costumes made from brown paper grocery bags always wins a smile.

There are images of a perfectly aromatic turkey with all of the trimmings highlighting its presentation.  The horn of plenty is seen in advertisements, grocery story decorations and even on an occasional greeting card.

My fellow Americans are planning gatherings with loved ones.  Family is a big deal during this holiday season.  Invitations have been sent out. Menus have been divided up and everyone is planning their favorite recipes.

At work Human Resources has announced the hours for this special week.  Paid day’s off for salaried workers is deeply appreciated. Some have tacked on personal time in order to make a long drive or a flight during off-peak days.

Our Thanksgiving will be quiet this year.  We are going over to the new home of some very good friends.  All of us are separated from our families this year.  They are too far away.  However, I am thankful for friends.

My work requires me to be here on Saturday as well.  It would not be worth the expense to make the long trip to family.  Nevertheless, I am thankful for a job that I love.

This Thanksgiving we will communicate with our family via email, texting and maybe even Skype.  It will not be that same as being there in person but I am thankful for amazing technological communication options.

My checklist for the home is very small now.  Most of the major home improvement necessities have been completed.  I am thankful for a house that we have been able to transform into a home.

Soon we will be able to travel to see family for the Christmas season.  The tickets have been reserved and paid for by now.  We are very thankful for hope, expectation and anticipation to be with family soon.

I walked around our yard and took care of a few minor problems.  My walk paused and I scanned over our abode.  This has been my favorite house that we have ever lived in since we married.

We have lived in four apartments and five houses while answering His call in our lives.  For a brief moment I thanked God for His blessings in our life. He has been wonderful to us and I am very thankful.  Nevertheless, I will sorely miss our family this Thanksgiving.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

The air is cool and the wind is brisk.  We bundle up tightly and sort out the errands to run before we meet up at the home for the family meal.  It’s Thanksgiving and it’s all about food.

Times are tough for our country.  People have been out of work for a long time.  Others have resorted to lessor jobs or unpleasant ones just to make ends meet or to get by until happy times come again.

It might be years before our economy improves but until then, we press on and make the best of the situation that is at hand.  When you decide to play the hand you are dealt or choose to fold and wait for another deal, we keep on going.  We cut corners, do with a little less here or there, we dip again into savings and share a little more with those that we love.

But, when it comes to family we manage to collect all who share our blood and a few more.  Then, we hug, smile, wipe away a tear and tease each other mercilessly so that our memory-making skills never cease.  Decorations will be more modest, food delicious  but with a missing dish or two and then we will pause to pray.

Like every Thanksgiving we turn our hearts to our Creator, our generous Almighty God  and thank Him for what we do have.  Gratitude in the tough times wins favor for the future blessings to come. 

For a respite we pause.  We drink in the sight of family gathered around the table.  The loud roar of people talking, details of life episodes fill the air and of course the reliving of goofy moments blend into a single cacophony that makes family a special time, a precious possession and our unforgettable blessing.

Somehow when some have less, others fill in the gap.  Tough moments don’t crush families.  Instead, we support each other, cheer each other on, gladly give to help. 

In the body of  Christ, Christians are called upon to do the same.  When others in the family of God are hurting, we help.  We gladly reach out and encourage those facing tough times.

Once in a while people mess up, betray, ignore, judge or resent but those are only occasional oddities uncharacteristic of what Christ asks us to do.  Instead, the beauty of the LORD in all who are born again is commonly a beautiful expression of grace and mercy.  That’s a reason for families giving THANKS.

photo credit: brucefong photography

The Autumn months are a favorite.  It is the time of year when everything gets started with new and fresh beginning.  Everything gets thrown into the Fall frenzy of action.

School begins, sports start-up, hunting season is on the calendar, Fall festivals abound, elections demand time, not-for-profit organizations have their banquets, Christmas programs are in full rehearsal mode and end-of-the-year events ramp up.  But, a favorite family time of the year is tucked away more and more during this crowded season.  It has historically been the busiest travel time of the year.

This holiday is big for families.  Traditional pilgrimages for relatives gathering around a feast happens many times over in this great nation.  Food is the focus but it is really an excuse to enjoy each others company.

Warm crackling fires welcome laughter, nostalgia and dreaming.  Catching up with busy relatives is the main course.  We marvel at those around us who are so talented and successful.

But, there are tearful times too.  We remember those who are no longer with us.  There is a void in those clan festivities that need to be filled up with new life, fresh memories and a special place for honor of those who have passed-on.

I will travel further for this holiday than for any other event in the year.  While my calendar is full, I will endeavor to keep these days free in order to make this trek.  Family is worth it.

Thanksgiving is this very special holiday.

There were years when we could not make that journey home.  Instead, due to distance and expense we turned our attention to gather others who were similarly displaced.  Most were students.

We collected them into our home.  There were no limitations.  In all of the years that we opened our doors we never turned anyone away.

God blessed those times too.  Many of those moments were miraculous since we often did not have the funds to put on a meal.  But, He was generous in many mysterious ways.

Sometimes a turkey would be provided.  Other times money was given anonymously.  Still other times amazing food additions were piled on to our feast for students.  Always it was with a lot of love.

This year we almost didn’t make plans to go home. Our schedules were crazy with my new position.  Flight schedules were expensive and complicated. 

But, like so many miraculous times before, details fell into place.  Our reservations are confirmed.  We are going to be with family for Thanksgiving and it is coming very soon!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Our staff gathered for a typical weekly meeting.  We had a free flow of ideas as we anticipated the end of the year coming quickly.

The pattern in recent years was for our three largest ministry areas to have their own appreciation events.  Volunteers would gather with others in their field of service.  But, it was time for a change-up.

We would pool our resources and plan one large gathering for everyone who volunteers to celebrate our commitment with each other.  Our collective perception was to encourage everyone with a synergistic event energized with our entire volunteer team.

The restaurant was secured.  A planning team made the details happen.  The night of our banquet to honor our volunteers arrived.

Scores of people crowded into the banquet hall.  The atmosphere was celebratory.  We laughed, teased and talked up a storm. 

There was a program of sorts but not really.  The evening was about the people.  Those who serve to make Sunset Church hum were the stars.

We enjoyed a ten course meal.  Early on the cold meat appetizer plate disappeared when hungry eyes saw the delivery.  Prawns and deep-fried milk followed and met the same welcoming disappearing act.

Who doesn’t like Peking duck?  The tender morsels of roast duck are deftly de-boned and presented with an unmistakable aroma along with steamed white bread for a sandwich to water the mouth akin to Sylvester the cat’s “sufferin’ suckatash”.  A dash of hoisin sauce and a sprig of scallions adds to the traditional celebratory mood.

Minced duck, steamed crab and deep-fried flounder follow in quick succession.  The flavors erupt like a night of fireworks on the fourth of July.  Truly this is a banquet, a feast.

There were a few words spoken.  They were not many but they carried the same theme, “Thank you.”  We wanted all of the volunteers to know how much they are appreciated.

Hours of labor are devoted to make this church function smoothly during the year.  The doing by the people involved is part of our identity as a church family.  In the name of our Savior Jesus Christ we work side by side to serve the lives of others.

The total number of our volunteers rivals the attendance of our church.  It is a high percentage of our people who can name a ministry in church that they have.  Thank you, SC volunteers for your labor of love!  You are appreciated!

photo credit: brucefong photography

Our Thanksgiving dinner was scrumptous. Everyone had plenty to eat. The leftovers told us that we had made plenty of food.

It wasn’t long before a couple of the men in our family were sound asleep.  In the background was the roar of a football game on television.  But, even the battle on the gridiron could not keep full tummies from wooing the male species from getting some reading done on the back of their eyelids.

One of our family women enthusiastically suggested that we do our family picture.  That’s when we thought that a sunset at Fort Fulton would be a great idea.  But, that meant that everyone had to wake up and all of our cameras had to be retrieved.

By the time we loaded up the vehicles and got to the spot the sun had already set.  Rats!  The best laid plans seem to go awry; but at least the family is having fun teasing and goofing off.  Besides there was still enough light for some fun pictures.

Of course the pictures don’t tell the story in full.  It was cold out there!  The coastal winds were blowing in and drowning all of us with brisk temperatures.  Down jackets and warm hats made for the perfect attire.

With a few outdoor shots we all jogged back to the vehicles just to get warm.  We laughed as we gasped for air and warmed up with the heater turned up to high.  Back at home we weren’t done with our entertainment in front of the camera lens.

Now, we would use the house stairs.  Our family of five kids took up their positions and peered over the rail.  Mother and Father proudly let the cameras snap freely.

We laughed, cajoled, teased, pushed, shoved and poked.  All of those family gathering antics were a part of our portrait time.  What isn’t seen is more entertaining than what is seen.

The day of Thanksgiving is just about over.  It has been a target day on all of our calendars.  We talk over the blessings of the year, reflect over our careers and update each other on the great stuff of life.

Then, it’s time for more football. Yeah, the guys take up their positions on the sofa, recliner, love seat and the images of warriors on the grass field struggle to dominate the pig skin.  We cheer and shout along with our commentary on each key play.  It’s family and it will always be fun with food and fun.

photo credit: brucefong photography

The door bell rang.  I bounded to the front door with enthusiasm.  My hand wrapped around the door knob, tightened with a firm grip and twisted with a pull to reveal our guests who had come for our first Thanksgiving dinner of the year.

Smiles, squeals and salutations erupted when our eyes met.  People crowded into our home and the sound of people celebrating did not end.  Coats, scarves and shoes were left at the entry while hungry appetites and expectations for fun populated our little home.

All were family.  These relatives were eager to lend a hand in the kitchen.  Food was filling up every empty space on our counter.

A vegetable dish of young tender gailon caught my eye.  Next to it was a huge pot of black mushrooms.  Mash potatoes, sweet yams and meatballs were added to the growing feast.

Soup was simmering on the back burner.  The dessert of apple crunch cobbler was being basted.  Beverages of every kind both cold and hot were ready at the corner of the counter.

Bread was adding its aroma to the delectable of the table fare.  The cranberry sauce was lost in the shuffle.  Literally, it was sliced, place on a serving dish and forgotten in the refrigerator for the umpteenth year. 

But, the star of the show was making its regular appearance.  The centerpiece of the celebration was slowly roasting in the oven.  Periodically, it had to be taken out and turned.  That manly muscle job was mine.

When our star cook, my wonderful wife, gave me the signal, I approached the oven with hot pads in each hand.  Opening the oven the door was like a signal to all of the ravenous carnivores to begin salivating.  Heads turned, eyes dilated and smiles erupted.

I hauled that bird out of the oven and transported it safely to the stove.  Yvonne deftly turned the turkey over, basted it appropriately and recovered it with foil.  My role repeated itself in reverse order.

Back into the oven ol’ Tom went.  The door was shut for more roasting time.  But, the aroma was now a part of the kitchen promise of a feast for the year.

Roughly on time, our family crowded into the kitchen.  We bowed our heads to our father in heaven, gave thanks for His blessings and bounty then in semi-orderly fashion we filled our plates and feasted.  I thank God for yummy family!

photo credit: google image

Jesus had left Galilee for the last time.  He was resolute to travel to Jerusalem.  While most in this northern region would go out of their way to avoid travelling through Samaria, our Lord chose just the opposite. 

When He entered a Samaritan village, the local population did not welcome Him.  That is astonishing.  He disciples were miffed and asked Him if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy them.  Jesus rebuked them and changed his travel to follow the border to the Jordan River.

On this detour ten lepers met Jesus and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  While Jesus had performed healing on lepers before with a touch, a word of healing or forgiveness, He responded differently this time.  Instead, He told the lepers to go and show themselves to a priest.

This is odd for such an action would only be done to verify a healing not to obtain one.  Yet, the ten without debate, reluctance or argument obeyed.  This simple response of obedience is key.

As a result of their following the Lord’s instructions they were healed on their way to the priest.  One of the ten who was healed immediately turned around and went back to Jesus to thank Him and praise God for this miracle.  We don’t know much about the other nine and what they did.

The single healed leper who returned to thank Jesus was a Samaritan.  He was from a people of mixed blood, ostracized by the Jews and rebellious against the laws of the Old Testament.  This man had two historical community strikes against him: no hope as a leper and no hope as a half-breed.

But, Jesus was pleased with his return.  While the Lord was clearly disappointed that the others did not return to say thanks, this one did.  He was the most unlikely to “get it” yet, he was the only one of the ten who did. 

Some may be tempted to assess this Samaritan as the only one who had real faith.  But, that may be too harsh from what the Scripture allows.  Certainly, this grateful man’s faith was highlighted,  commendation from Jesus is clear. 

However, perhaps the best lesson that we can take away from this passage is what the expression of thankfulness means to a born again believer.  Christians who are the recipients of God’s grace can deepen their fellowship with God through thanksgiving.  They capture the heart of God with their gifts of praise.

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Ancient wise men coined the phrase “A picture is worth ten thousand words.” The human mind can process far faster than words alone. A picture communicates so much so quickly.

On this Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have given their lives so that the rest of us can bask in the blessing of freedom, I share with you the pictures of the season that have moved me.  Linger over each one. 

Let the lives of those involved and the sacrifices given by these lives touch your spirit.  If you’re like me, then, a deep appreciation of gratitude will develop and permanently find a place in your identity.  This is an amazing country with astounding military personnel who courageously have stood and fallen for freedom.

   

These images grabbed my attention.  They put other thoughts for this weekend on hold for a moment.  Our family activities are a huge priority, but for a moment it was important to remember those who gave everything so that I could be with my family.

This Memorial Day I am thinking of those who lost someone close in the fight and defense of freedom.  The last picture touched me deeply.  Feelings emerge from that picture like few others can.

This woman lost someone dear to her heart.  There is a pain that the rest of us do not know.  But, to sense what she is feeling through this photograph makes the rest of us pause. 

We are thankful in our enjoyment of freedom.  The liberty that marks our lives we celebrate this day because of the courage and sacrifice of our service men and women.  Our great country is built not only on what the current events of today may mean but on the history of what has already been spent. 

Thank you to all who lost a loved one fighting for the privileges that the rest of us so thoroughly enjoy.  Blessings on you from our God whose grace also knows such personal sacrifice for many.  God bless America.

photo credit: google images

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