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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_4178A few hundred gathered for an outdoor wedding.  It has been on my calendar for months and we booked our flights early.  It was a nephew who was going to exchange his vows.  Family is important enough to fly half way across the nation to be a part of the festivities.

The temperatures hovered in the eighties.  As a Houstonian the 80’s in July is like a cool breeze.  My friends and relatives laughed about the weather.

We had left Houston and her 90’s temperatures for our flight to the Northwest.  When we stopped in Albuquerque for a transfer the temperatures had reached the 100’s.  Stepping off the plane in Oregon was like a refreshing breather with her 80’s temperatures.

Of course we cannot forget the humidity.  Houston is famous for the trapped water vapors that make the sticky environment test the patience of the most humans.  Oregon was relief.

Ushers seated us on the groom’s side, stage left.  Tall trees cast a broad canopy of shade over half of that side of the seating.  Those who had claimed those seats were parked and did not give any indication of budging.

IMG_4184The rest of the guests left something in their chairs and were crowding in the aisle under the shade.  It made for fun and exuberant reunions.  All of us who had not seen each other for years caught up.

Most were eager to hear about Texas.  We drawled on and on about the weather, the state pride, the Western garb and of course the BBQ.  Some chimed in on outdoors and the wide open spaces.

Finally, the ushers invited us to our seats.  The wedding was about to begin.  I settled into my seat and drank in the beauty of the Northwest.

Tall Douglas fir trees surrounded the patio. Overhead the sun was doing its daily dance through the sky. Its rays felt wonderful, invigorating and comforting.

There was no need for artificial lights or candles.  One bright light shone overhead.  It was sufficient and complete.

God’s creation of the sun was all that this wedding needed to give the perfect ambiance for memories and photographs.  Videographers were  happy with the natural light as well.  The shadows added texture to the images captured in digital form.

The bridal party stepped into view.  Oohs and ahs were abundant.  The creator’s sun came in handy for that gathering.  It was as perfect a setting as perfect can get.

photography credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_3365When I checked the weather forecast, the temperatures would start out in the low 50’s and climb to the mid 60’s.  No precipitation was coming our way all week.  The winds were mild.  It was a perfect day for my first motorcycle ride of the year.

Early in the morning I pulled my bike out of its parking spot in my garage.  With a can of cleaning and polishing spray in one hand and a clean rag in the other I set about bringing a gleaming shine to my faithful riding stead.  It take long before the pride of ownership made me smile over my Kawasaki Nomad.

All of the fluids were topped off.  My air pressure in the tires were spot on.  All of the lights and signals worked.

Next I pulled up my chair and positioned myself at the back of the bike.  It was time to update the plates and tags.  After tightening a few bolts and nuts, I was ready with a legally registered motorcycle.

Finally, I gathered my riding clothes.  My jacket was ready to go.  Boots were shined and very comfortable.  Gloves fit like they should.

My helmet went on and cinched up perfectly.  Of course my sunglasses added to the safety of riding into the sun.  Then, the all important ignition.  My Silver Dragon roared to life.

Bikers feel the eagerness of their machines.  It is like they have a life of their own.  Pulling, growling and pushing forward, they are ready to ride.

My garage door closed behind me.  I put the machine into gear and rolled on the throttle.  Power under control with the lean into the curve ushered me out of our neighborhood and on to the interstate.

An 18 wheeler rumbled by.  I did not feel any danger next to such a menacing brute.  Instead, I throttled up and roared past the road hauler.

A BMW scooted on to the freeway at the next interchange.  He was in a hurry.  Dodging cars he was merely glancing at slower cars around him.

My thumb was on the button of my air horn.  I was ready to press it if that driver swerved into my lane.  It must have been the first time he actually used his rear view mirror.

His RPM’s dropped dramatically.  That Beemer fell behind quickly.  I was glad that I had my fluorescent green safety belt on for this early season ride.

The road opened up in front of me.  24 miles later I pulled into the parking lot of our DTS-Houston campus.  It was an exhilarating ride.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3292My ministry duties were completed.  It was a busy time.  Over three days I spoke six times.  Even for the most enthusiastic speakers, that is a lot of effort on top of managing a full-time ministry.

After my finally presentation, I was feeling the joy and ease of a major task being completed.  Now, I could relax and feel the lightness of anticipating a trip home.  Maybe it was this weight being lifted that my spirits soared.

When I walked outside I was bundled up well.  For many years I lived in the cold climates of the United Kingdom and Michigan.  Those forays into the upper regions of the earth taught me how to dress for cold weather.

I was dressed in several layers of warm clothes.  My accessories kept my hands and head protected too.  Stepping out into the cold air was not a fearful act.

In fact when the cold air welcomed me, I was greeted by some special Texas rarities.  Snowflakes were swirling about in the air.  Large clumps of flakes drifted down and were collecting on the cold ground.

Meteorologists call these snow flurries.  They have a soft beauty about them.  In some way they are able to make the whole outside seem very quiet.

The child inside of me was awakened.  There was not enough snow to make a snowman.  Nor was there enough to make a snowball.  However, there was enough falling through the skies to try to catch a snowflake on my tongue.

It is a funny experience.  Chasing these gently falling crystals of water is entertaining.  Walking to the car of my host, I was darting after these drifting winter wonders.  My hosts smiled and commented about my behavior.

When a snow flake hits your tongue.  There is no taste.  However, you feel the cold speck on your taste buds.  It is fun.

I remembered a funny cartoon about catching snowflakes on your tongue.  It showed a boy gagging in a snow flurry picture.  The caption simply said, “When catching snowflakes on your tongue, make sure that there are no migrating birds flying overhead.”  I checked.  Before I began snagging the drifting flakes, I looked overhead and made sure that the skies were bird-less.

Have you enjoyed the delight of something simple today?  Do not let those easily missed opportunities get stifled from our busy lives.  Catch a snow flake on your tongue today.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3034The temperatures were cool.  My morning weather check made several decisions for me.  I would wear my riding jacket.  My fingered gloves were the choice of the day.

It was not cold enough for me to wear long pants.  My riding shorts would do fine.  Once I was out on the road and pumping my legs up to my cruising speed, enough body heat would keep me comfortable.

The rains from the last two days soaked up the ground.  Scattered puddles on the road made an agility ride essential.  Dodging pockets of water was a lot better on bicycle than splashing through them, causing a rooster tail behind me and giving myself a muddy shower and a skunk stripe down my back.

Yep, past experience can be seen all over my previous description.  It takes a longIMG_3038 time to wipe down my bicycle after a wet ride.  If I can avoid it I will.

Down our artery thoroughfare I peddled.  My destination was our Buffalo Bayou culvert.  After the large amount of rain in this past week, I was curious to see what kind of water run-off was represented in our flood control outlets.

Forward thinking engineers made sure that the flooding from thunder bursts in our Texas region would be channeled away from the homes of its residents.  The weather reports noted a warning for flash floods.  A lot of water had fallen over our city of Houston.

IMG_3040The bridge over the Buffalo Bayou spans a creek that is usually 8 or 10 feet across.  However, the expanse is very large.  This visit over the flood plain surprised me.

Now, a muddy river taking up nearly the entire width of the Bayou was steadily pushing tons of water to the East.  It was clear that the rains that fell did leave a massive impact in our region.  Our drought in Texas needed this turn around.  We were getting used to the “moderate drought” conditions signs.  Most likely someone will start taking those advisory signs down.

I watched as the massive amounts of water moved undeterred to the lowest point on the temporary river banks.  Fish, snakes, alligators and turtles were no doubt exploring new territory lazily allowing the flood waters take them on a new journey.

The parched land was getting a good long drink.  Our Creator was taking care of the land.  His personal touch was amazing to watch.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2130The morning was heating up.  I got too wrapped up in other stuff, so my workout started later than I wanted.  That is a tactical blunder in a Houston summer.

When I pushed off to begin my bicycle ride, I could already feel the temperatures heating up.  If I had left and hour earlier, it would have been perfect. Now, I wondered if I should even go at all.

Pressing on, I pedaled down the road to my turnaround destination.  It was 4.5 miles away.  That is far enough to give me a rigorous workout and get me back home in time for our Saturday activities.

At the farthest point on my journey I turned around and headed for home. The morning sun had climbed high in the Eastern sky just like the Creator had designed the heaven’s to function.  It was pouring down heat rays on anyone who was trying to finish off their morning workout.

Two miles from home I approached a red light.  While I was coasting to a stop another cyclist across the street was nearing the same intersection from my right.  Yes, he was eyeing me.  I could feel it.

Quickly he turned right on the sidewalk, heading in the same direction as me.  I was still waiting for the light to turn green.  He turned back to look and see how much separation he could get between us.  Competitive guys are so simple and telegraph their intentions.

The gap between evaporated just because the technology in my ride was superior to his.  He was riding a mountain bike, big tires, heavy frame and rugged components.  The sidewalk was his path. That is where slower riders should be.

I marked his speed by matching his progress: 12 mph.  He turned his head half way to see where I was behind him.  Next, he shifted his gears, trying to find a way to pick up speed.  There was nothing left to pour into his engine.

That is when I shifted.  From 12 mph my carbon fiber Fuji accelerated to 14 mph. Again I shifted and like the wind I passed the would-be challenger.

My fingers deftly shifted once more.  The onboard bicycle computer now leaped to 16 mph.  My engine was pouring in the energy and sailing down the road.  One final shift and my faithful steed and I were cruising away at 18.5 mph.  No, I did not bother to look and see where my competitor was.  My victory shower was refreshing, invigorating and satisfying.

IMG_2726Before my alarm clock had a chance to chime, I reached over with plenty of time leftover and shut it off.  I was well rested.  My obligations and responsibilities were hours away.  It was time to take in a morning walk through the woods.

Dressed and washed up I stepped into the warmth of a new day.  The birds filled the dawn with active chirping.  They flitted about from bush to tree to sky.

Gravel crunched under my feet.  A welcome breeze mussed my hair and made the boughs of tall evergreens been, shift and rustle in the air.  A colorful pink bloom decorated the path.

The trail wound down the imaginary topographic lines.  A body of water lay ahead.  Trees made up a forest that I had to walk through to get to the lake.  Everything about the great out-of-doors was surrounding my morning stroll.

The woods began to thin.  Between tree trunks I could see the reflection on the water.  The sun was putting on a morning show.

As the sole star of our solar system made its new appearance for this day, it sparkled on the water.  Powerful rays shot IMG_2712through spaces in the trees. It cast shadows on the ground.  Great black lines all pointed to the blaze in the sky.

I paused on my stroll.  The sun gave me good warmth.  It rose in the Texas sky and promised to scorch our day with temperatures in the high 90’s.  But, for now, it was very pleasant, strikingly showy and blinding off of the water with brightness.

Our sun rose higher into the morning sky.  It began to feel warm.  This was going to be a day that the best time to outside was now and coming to a close.  The summer heat was ratcheting up and promised to make this day like every other August day in the South, hot.

For now I would enjoy the relief that came from the shadows that covered me from the touch of the sun.  Cooler temperatures made the woods a very pleasant place to be.  A gentle breeze came off the lake.  It too brought minor relief from the building heat.

Our sun is a blessing.  At times it can also be a challenge.  Nevertheless, it is what God has assigned to keep track of our days, give us light to see the tasks that assigned to us to do and cast shadows so we can find even in its presence a respite in the shadows of the trees.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2058The Twin Creeks Ranch has not seen rain for many months.  Even the down pours in Houston have skirted these woods of the Crockett forest.  This day would be different.

Two special colleagues and I have planned a retreat.  We serve together as the Executive Team of the Dallas Theological Seminary, Houston Campus.  Willie is our Executive Director of Church Relations & Chaplain.  Ben is our Associate Dean.   I have the honor of filling the role as Dean.  Together we run the institution.

It has been a fast and furious year.  This has also been our first year together. Now, after the commencement season we are going to take a deep collective breath, count our blessings, shore up our mistakes and plan for the future.

A wonderful couple who great friends of the seminary have welcomed us to their ranch.  We will stay their in a pristine environment and talk, pray, evaluate and plan.  There will be fun times for play too.

We drove to the ranch in the rain.  Yes, after a long drought God decided to have us remember our first retreat with the first day of rain for this parched land.  We would not be going fishing after all.  The firing range would have to wait for another day too.  All outdoor activities would be curtailed.

Every item on our program would be ticked off.  It made for some outstanding discussion.  I could feel our team growing tighter as time passed.

One thing that we did not scrimp on was food.  We went out to Denny’s for breakfast before launching our venture.  Together we shared what we were currently studying in our personal devotions from the Scriptures.  It was a rich time of sharing.

We hit the road and Willie prayed for God’s blessing on our retreat while I drove the route.  God was hearing our united souls while on the road.  He is the best co-pilot.

Once we arrived at the ranch, our hosts greeted us with warm smiles.  They also had laid out a wonderful fare of snacks and beverages that kept us well fed until it was time to head out for dinner.

We are getting very tight as brothers-in-Christ.  Our analysis of the past year held nothing back.  We rejoiced and puzzled.  Our spirits were lifted and burdened as well.  Together we experienced something remarkable.  This is what team is all about.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

IMG_2047The weather in Texas has now passed the winter season.  The low temperatures no longer visit the 30’s.  Instead, they hover in the 70’s for a low.  It is a sign that swimming in the neighborhood outdoor pool is a welcomed activity.

When I drove into the parking lot, all was quiet.  No one else was swimming.  That has been the pattern during my visits last year.

That beats the washing machine pool environment at the YMCA in Michigan that I so often laughed about in the past.  There were regularly shared lanes with other aqua lovers.  Collisions were common.

Here the only sounds are the birds starting their morning flight.  Occasionally, I hear a vehicle drive by the activity center.  It was time to slip into the water for my season’s first swim.

Like all swimmers, I dipped my foot in to test the temperatures.  It was surprisingly pleasant.  Nothing like cold waters to wake you up in the morning.

The outdoor shower was a different story.  Rules dictate that all swimmers must shower before entering the water.  I am a respecter of rules.

No one will ever convince me that the hot water indicator on the shower faucet is actually connected to any hot water source.  It is cold!  I jump in, holler, shiver and shake.  Once I am layered I jump out and chatter my teeth.

Climbing down the steps into the pool is a welcome warm-up exercise.  Then, I fall in just to take the immersion all at once.  My goggles fit into place and the world becomes clear again.  Prescription lenses make swimming much more enjoyable.

I push-off the wall.  My aging body loves the sensation of floating without the pain aggravated by gravity.  It has been months since I have swum.  Now, like riding a bike, the motions of each stroke come alive as if they had never been dormant for a long winter.

Oddly, I feel strong.  The water is parting easily in front of me.  Each stroke comes with neither pain nor fatigue.  I am liking this sensation.

Slowly, my heart rate is increasing.  It will be sustained shortly.  My breathing is timed with each of my strokes.  The coordination between kicking and stroking does not need any concentration.  It is a habit from years of being a water dog.

The laps peel away as the sun rises in the East.  Warm rays fill the pool and the temperatures rise noticeably.  Finally, it is time to hit the shower.  It is a very good beginning to another season in the pool of Cinco Ranch.

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