Chronicles of a Chronic Complainer

 

Evening sun highlights ridges and clouds at the Grand Canyon

Evening sun highlights ridges and clouds at the Grand Canyon

 

Yes, I’m a card-carying member of The Chronic Complainers Club.

Oh sure, I have had stretches of success in recent years at being mostly thankful, seeing my world for the blessings contained in it, growing in daily gratitude. And I’ve written much about these good things.

But I cannot deny that lately my inner curmudgeon has found me again. My focus has turned toward a few unpleasant circumstances that have been bringing me down. As I’ve fallen into the old trap of dwelling on these negative thoughts, I’ve lost a positive perspective and have become miserable and cranky.

Today I’ve been reminded that being a critic of daily circumstances profits nothing. It initiates a downward spiral of mood and energy, dragging with it not only my own soul but also the heart of anyone within reach of the poisonous negativity.

My dear wife has tried to warn me that Chronic Complainer had moved back in, but of course the Curmudgeon was in no mood to concede.

It took a few texts with a dear friend over the topic of local weather to fully open my eyes to the reality of the attitude I have been cultivating. My friend lives in a region of bountiful lush green forests and rivers…that exist because of bountiful fall, winter, and spring rains. While my friend craves sunshine, she maintains a patient and hopeful vigil for it, and when the clouds break for even a few minutes to reveal temporary rays of sun, or a delicious orange-creamsicle sunrise before a return to plodding rain, she celebrates those brief moments – tasting, savoring, joyfully thanking God for his goodness in creation.

 

Sunrise and sunset can be equally glorious in Everglades National Park

Sunrise and sunset can be equally glorious in Everglades National Park

 

What a stark contrast to the texts I had been writing her lately. I’d been focusing narrowly on my discomfort with humidity and heat, and my world had shrunk to consist of nothing but my own misery and an obsessive desperation to fix the problem.

But her refusal to play victim during her long dark rainy season suddenly shone like a beacon of light into my own discouragement. I felt hope awaken as I realized that complaining is a choice. I don’t have to be a slave to discouragement. I’ve been granted the power to choose what I focus on. My mindset is up to me.

Hmm, mindset.
Mind. Set.
To set the mind.

Suddenly I’m reminded of the wisdom of an ancient man, a follower of Jesus named Paul, who wanted to encourage a group of new Jesus followers in their attitudes and actions, and so he said,

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2)

Paul wanted these young Christians to overflow with joy at the excellence and beauty that is their savior Jesus, and to be filled with thankfulness at all the incredible spiritual blessings that were now theirs because of the powerful grace and love of Christ. And he understood that it came about by setting their minds.

Set your mind. Be intentional. Take control of what’s coming into your brain, and focus it on the good.

 

The simple goodness of a flowering cherry tree branch against blue sky backdrop

The simple goodness of a flowering cherry tree branch against blue sky backdrop

 

In my next blog I’ll delve into a practical everyday way that I hope can effectively set my mind – a tool for enabling the hope-filled, joyful, positive life outlook that pushes the curmudgeon out the door.

In the meantime, I’m keeping my Chronic Complainers Club membership card tucked away in my wallet as a reminder, because I know full well that I’ll be needing to have this talk with myself again…


Considering Christ in Creation

 

Another year of traveling America searching for photographic art in creation has begun.

First stop on this road trip is the southernmost section of Everglades National Park, a place made visually famous by the work of a few gifted photographers who have spent an entire lifetime working the area to capture a handful of spectacular moments. But the problem for me is their portfolio images set a high bar of expectation for my eyeballs, so when I drove through the park for my first time last week and saw very ordinary views of flat grasslands and scrubby stunted trees, with precious little wildlife to be found, it was quite a letdown.

The first temptation was to ditch the place early, well before my week of campground reservations was up. Especially since the ‘greeting’ I received the first night at camp was twenty mosquito bites in five minutes and thirty of the bloodsuckers following me inside my trailer. But the strong inner drive to find and create compelling imagery thankfully surfaced as it usually does, and I determined to stick it out and see what work could be done here in this vast river of grass.

 

The pastel colors of dusk wash over a dwarf cypress forest

The pastel colors of dusk wash over a dwarf cypress forest

 

As I pushed through creative challenges of seeing beyond the seemingly ordinary surface of the place, and found some level of endurance for the accumulating mosquito bites now covering my entire body after several long days of scouting, some visual rewards were granted and I’m thankful to have a few pleasing compositions of flora & fauna to share in this blog space today.

 

A beautiful barred owl sitting quietly in a cypress tree was a great reward at day's end

A beautiful barred owl sitting quietly in a cypress tree was a great reward at day’s end

 

The flower of a lily pad opens up to the afternoon sun along the Anhinga Trail

The flower of a lily pad opens up to the afternoon sun along the Anhinga Trail

 

When my photographic work feels difficult like it has here in the ‘Glades, it can be easy for me to forget that my foundational purpose for being out in creation is to see & savor the glory of God, to effortlessly worship him as I take delight in the works of his hands. I realized today that amid the mosquitos and the mundane I needed to rely on not just the inspiration of the moment to lead my heart to a worshipful state, but I also needed to cultivate that heart of worship. To be intentional about making much of God no matter the conditions.

And so today as I sit down at my campsite in the Everglades to share photos and writing, I want to take a moment to intentionally exalt God’s work in creation, to point to his glory, but from a perspective that has not always been obvious to me – that is, the work of Christ in creation.

Most of us who are Christian refer to God the Father as creator, a fact that we easily understand and acknowledge in our faith. But there is a deeper level to this basic truth that drops the jaw of my heart in awe, and it is this: the Jesus I know as God’s Son, the gentle Lamb of God born as a baby in the Middle East, who walked this earth and laid down his life so that rebels like me could be forgiven and granted new spiritual life, this Savior who is my King and my Comforter and my Friend –  is also the Creator of all the beauty I behold in the natural world.

Christ is the Maker of it all!

The first chapter of John reveals this glory for us:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him,
and without him was not any thing made that was made. 
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

So much spectacular mystery and majesty here! The God who became man so he could rescue fallen creatures, this Jesus who has granted me freedom by his astounding grace and love, the one I worship as Savior and who gently shepherds my life, is the powerful and creative force behind these sublime landscapes and occasional wildlife I chase across the country.

Another layer of the onion is peeled as I peer more deeply into the person of Christ. And my worship is deepened.

 

Cypress trees silhouetted against a rich sunset sky in Everglades NP

Cypress trees silhouetted against a rich sunset sky in Everglades NP


The Nature of Grace and the Grace of Nature

 

It is that time of year when a vague discouragement has set in.

The holidays have ended, along with much fun, food, and family visits. No more carefree vacation weeks. It’s back to solitary days in the home office with piles of mundane work staring at me mockingly. A few weeks into a brand new year there is the familiar annual internal pressure to do more, be better, push further.

So if I am to move out of this funk, I need to recast the vision for my life. I need to be reminded what it’s all about. What I’m doing, and why.

What is the driving force at the foundation of my existence? The one thing that captures my passion like nothing else can?

First and foremost, it’s all about the nature of grace.

This is not a grace that originates with finite fallen humans. It is a grace outside myself, coming from the Divine. A grace that flows from the Creator-God, who stooped low into the morass of rebellious creatures like me, humbling himself by becoming a man. This God-Man we know as Jesus lived perfectly, died horifically, and arose triumphantly over the curse of death, earning the grace that is freely poured out on all who who desire His full forgiveness, to any who yearn for His healing eternal love.

This grace is not deserved.
It cannot be earned.
And it’s all free.
By faith.

 

The light of sunrise sets snow-covered hoodoos to glowing at Bryce Canyon

The light of sunrise sets snow-covered hoodoos to glowing at Bryce Canyon

 

Second, being rooted in this amazing grace, I live a life of immersing myself in the grace of nature.

Nature overflows with grace. Infused by the Great Artist. The beauty and excellence of the landscape is illumined by the Creator’s grace. It can be quiet and small, found in a secluded aspen grove as the breeze sets leaves to fluttering. It can be loud and grand, dropping jaw at enormous canyon views. And my greatest joy in this life comes from chasing these moments of sublime grace, when God’s character of beauty and excellence shine forth and impressions of it are captured in photographic compositions.

 

Soft light filters through a sublime aspen grove in southwest Utah mountains

Soft light filters through a sublime aspen grove in southwest Utah mountains

 

When I am immersed in the Grace of nature, it is then that my heart is most happy and free, because there the nature of Grace is palpable, tangible, and delicious to the taste. There I find effortless fellowship with the One who formed me.

This is my life.
This is why I am here.
Thank you Father for reminding me.

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Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
– 2 Thessalonians 2:16, ESV
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The Paradise River tumbles town a multi-tiered falls at Mount Rainier NP

The Paradise River tumbles town a multi-tiered falls at Mount Rainier NP


Mystery is Spoiled by a Word

 

On this last day of 2015 I am reflecting on the images created since I began this blog. I’m filled with gratitude for the majesty of God I’ve been blessed to experience, and for the photographic work that resulted.

I leave you now with a gallery of my favorites from the first 18 months of blogging, trusting that the pictures will speak for themselves and reveal the fingerprint of the Divine…

 

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“Mystery is spoiled by a word.”

– Brennan Manning
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[PLEASE CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO BRING UP CAROUSEL VIEW]


Hurts So Good

 

On more than one occasion I’ve heard my friend and fellow photographer Slavomir remark, “It was so beautiful it made my heart hurt!”

I’ve never needed him to explain what he meant, because I’ve felt that strange mix of emotion before when confronted with the beauty of creation. But it’s not a predictable experience. It does not always happen at the expected times nor in the most obvious scenic locations. Sometimes this heartache of beauty sneeks up on me.

Such was the case earlier this month as I scouted for photographic compositions in late autumn in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Seeking a respite from crowds and cars clogging the main viewpoints, I found myself in a quieter section of the park tooling around on backroads.

As I navigated the narrow winding road in my truck, ascending higher and higher into the hills, solitude soon overtook me as no other humans or vehicles were in sight. It became just me and the hardwood forest, the trees surrendering their leaves to the swirling breeze, low-angle sunlight filtering into the canopy, a cloud-dotted blue sky watching over it all.

 

Autumn Backroad

 

In this moment my heart started to feel the tug of beauty all around me. Thoughts of making photographs disappeared as I was immersed in the experience of just being there. Then my eyes welled up with tears as I felt the swelling of an ache in my heart. Amid the splendor of this autumn forest, all alone, there was a kind of hurting in the deep places of my soul.

“What am I feeling?” I asked myself. “What is this emotion that my intellect cannot decipher?” Continuing to drive slowly through the curves with my windows down, intoxicated with autumn aromas, I realized there was a bittersweet yearning in my innermost being. A yearning for this moment to never end. A yearning to be at one with this place, with this simple beauty before me, to somehow meld with the creation. And the tears started flowing.

I believe this was my soul crying out for more of God. A longing to be free from the fallenness of our world. A craving to be perfectly at one with his glory. To be for all eternity in a place of neverending joy, my field of vision filled with only beauty, being carried by the power of his divine love.

 

An autumn forest cathedral invited me to worship in the Great Smoky Mountains

An autumn forest cathedral invited me to worship in the Great Smoky Mountains

 

I’m grateful for the glimpses of grace I see in those moments of beauty. And I’m also grateful for the heartache that sometimes settles over me at those times. The one reminds me that the glory of the creator is my one true joy, my very sustenance. The other reminds me that broken earth is not my true home, that I am merely journeying toward the hope of eternity, a day when the One who formed me will remove all the heartaches forever.

“while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day

when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.”

(Titus 2:13 NLT)

 

Sunset highlights late fall ridges in the Smokies

Sunset highlights late fall ridges in the Smokies


The Significance of Feeling Insignificant

 

Canyon Layers After Storm

 

As far back as I can remember, I have longed to feel that I mattered. To believe that I am somebody. To somehow find, in this crowded world of billions, even a small significance to my existence on planet earth.

To put it more accurately, I’ve been driven by the fear of being insignificant.

This fear propelled my performance in school, in work, and in relationships. And the motivation to matter did not always end well. It took more than four decades of life to begin understanding the complexities behind the drive to be accepted and acknowledged, and thankfully recent years have seen an end to this fear dominating the deep places of my being. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I still desire to live a useful life, to have some value – but it’s not the debilitating desperate pursuit it once was.

Last night as I walked up to the edge of the south rim of the Grand Canyon, I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of this spectacular natural wonder of our world. The dimensions of this canyon opening up before my eyes my brain could not calculate. Big beyond belief. Swallowed up in these overwhelming visuals, I felt an emotion recognizable, yet also different:

I felt insignificant.

 

I've visited the Grand Canyon many times but the views still make me gasp in awe

I’ve visited the Grand Canyon many times but still gasp in awe at the views

 

But this was not the old familiar fear. It was not an emotion of tortuous longing to be somebody. It was instead a wonderfully peaceful feeling overtaking all of me. It was gratitude for being a lowly insignificant human creature, in the face of significant grandeur created by a significant God. It was the freedom and joy of knowing I no longer have to be significant in the measure of the old way, because I have found a significant rest in the One who loves me without condition.

You see, there is another canyon. Its vastness is infinite. Its depth is immeasurable. To walk up to its edge and peer over makes the heart stop in sheer awe. The Grand Canyon is a dried-up creek bed in comparison.

It is the breathtaking canyon of God’s love.

Its mind-boggling swath was carved through the rocky rebellious soil of the human heart by the unstoppable onrushing waters of the grace of Christ. The One who lived and bled and died and conquered and ascended for me, and for all weary earth travelers who simply trust in his kindness.

 

For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers, 
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:38-39)

An autumn thunderstorm passes over the grandiosity of the Grand Canyon

An autumn thunderstorm passes over the grandiosity of the Grand Canyon


The Craftsmanship of the Creator

 

What is the most foundational thing I know about God?

That he is Creator.

All else flows from this knowledge. And I know it, because it’s being proclaimed with great fanfare, nonstop, all over this planet and beyond:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.

(from Psalm 19)

 

The Watchman peak glows under a starry sky in Zion National Park

The Watchman peak glows under a starry sky in Zion National Park

 

What should be my reaction to this essential and basic truth? Awe and reverence, my soul welling up with deep satisfying joy, which cannot help but overflow in praise:

Praise him, sun and moon! Praise him, all you twinkling stars!
Praise him, skies above! Praise him, vapors high above the clouds!

Let every created thing give praise to the LORD, for he issued his command, and they came into being.
He set them in place forever and ever. His decree will never be revoked.

Praise the LORD from the earth, you creatures of the ocean depths,
fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind and weather that obey him,

mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all livestock, small scurrying animals and birds,

kings of the earth and all people, rulers and judges of the earth,
young men and young women,old men and children.

Let them all praise the name of the LORD.
For his name is very great; his glory towers over the earth and heaven!

(from Psalm 148)

 

Rocks and trees in Zion Canyon during fall testify to the Creator's glory

Rocks and trees in Zion Canyon during fall testify to the Creator’s glory

 

Now sometimes my emotions forget the fundamental truth that God is Creator. I start fretting over my life, looking for more worries to add to an already long list of ‘problems’. Or I become consumed by the issues in the world, especially lately the unkind political battles we wage with one another.

And not only do I forget that God is the Creator in charge of it all, I also forget that I am merely a creature. And when I forget my creatureliness, I’m prone to arrogance, to thinking I have all the answers.

Today I needed the Creator to remind me, and humble me:

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me, if you know so much.

Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line?
What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone
as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

(from Job 38)

 

The glory of wildflowers against a backdrop of rolling hills in California

The glory of wildflowers against a backdrop of rolling hills in California

 

I’m grateful to return once again to embracing the simplicity of being a creature before an astounding Creator God, whose handiwork inspires me at the deepest soul level and tells me of his power, and his goodness:

You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.

(from Revelation 4)

 

The majesty of the Milky Way in the skies above Death Valley National Park

The majesty of the Milky Way in the skies above Death Valley National Park


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