Monthly Archives: March 2015

Falling For Florida

 

There was a time when I was sort of a ‘mountain snob’. More specifically, a Northwest mountain snob.

I’ve been in love with mountains since I was kid, from the age of five living in Renton, WA where my mom would lift me up so I could glimpse distant Mount Rainier out the kitchen window, continuing through years of growing up near the Idaho Sawtooths, then the Oregon Cascades, and eventually back to Rainier and other snow-capped beauties in Washington State.

I thought our Northwest mountains were the best, and I often wondered what kind of people could tolerate living in a ‘bleak’ landscape devoid of stunning peaks launching vertically into the sky. In my limited thinking back then, people who chose to live in the dull landscape of the midwest were likely, well, dull people, lacking any aesthetic appreciation. I even recall stirring up the wrath of my sister-in-law Lori, an Ohio resident, when I arrogantly made disparaging comments about folks who lived in the ‘flatlands.’

And now, as of spring 2013, I am a resident of the great (and very flat) state of Florida.

 

A grove of trees in swampland captured during a heavy downpour at Myakka River State Park

A grove of trees in swampland captured during a heavy downpour at Myakka River State Park

 

The move away from the rugged topography of Washington to the vastly different views of Florida came about because of a great job transfer opportunity for my wife. And fortunately I was onboard with the move. Multiple vacations to Florida had given me a taste of what year-round sunshine would be like, and after too many dark dreary winters I was ready to see the light. And I was overjoyed for my wife to have a better work situation and to know the joy she felt going back to the state she was born in.

I figured our new home in Florida would be a great base of operations for my office work and for enjoying beach and Disney playtime on weekends with my bride, and when I was ready for ‘real’ photographic opportunities I could travel back to the west for my serious field work with a camera, back to the beloved mountains I so adore.

But a surprise was in store: slowly and softly, Florida began wooing me, calling me to engage her with camera in hand, and after a year filled with intense struggle adapting to this new home and landscape, a day came when I realized I had fallen head-over-heels in love with this mountainless place.

 

Dusk falls over the Gulf of Mexico at low tide near the coastal town of Dunedin, FL

Dusk falls over the Gulf of Mexico at low tide near the coastal town of Dunedin, FL

 

Looking through the biased lenses I arrived wearing, I was blind to the full beauty of this land. But as scales fell off my eyes I grew to see how utterly beguiling Florida can be – huge open skies dotted with fluffy white clouds, surf lapping at your toes along two coastlines, glorious little seashells that have turned me into an obsessive collector, ridiculously stunning sunsets, lush palms, tropical plants bursting with flowers even in winter, an incredible variety of bird life that makes you frequently reach for the Audubon guide, tranquil bays, crystal-clear rivers, beach towns that beg to be strolled through, historic places that take you back to a time when the West was yet to be settled.

 

An architectural gem in the historic town of St. Augustine is Memorial Presbyterian Church

An architectural gem in the historic town of St. Augustine is Memorial Presbyterian Church

 

I cannot fully express how thankful I am to now be bonding with this new-to-me land on the level of professional photographer, a kind of bonding that is vital to my deep-down happiness. And I am so thankful that the mountain snob, the frequently critical and judgmental man of small mind, is diminishing in negative influence more and more. I’m grateful that God has changed things up in a big way, and worked in me a heart that is learning to be grateful for whatever comes, to be thankful for the blessings and beauty that can be seen and savored no matter where I am, if I will but humble myself and open my eyes…


Every good present
and every perfect gift
comes from above,
from the Father
who made the sun, moon, and stars.  

(James 1:17a, GOD’S WORD® translation)

 

A sandhill crane chick takes refuge underneath momma's big wing

A sandhill crane chick takes refuge underneath momma’s big wing

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Finding The Freedom To Fly

 

It was a magical evening at Clearwater Beach. The sound of gentle surf breaking on the Gulf of Mexico shore was musical accompaniment to a big sky smiling down in pastel sunset hues. Sea birds of all variety soared gracefully in the ocean breeze as golden light danced on the water.

As I stood in that place soaking up the majesty of it all, my senses alive to the smells and sounds and sights of a Florida beach in late October, something in me resonated with those birds gliding effortlessly through this grand piece of creation. I yearned to capture some semblance of the glory of the moment. Raising my camera with telephoto lens toward the sky, I focused on one gull as its flight path criss-crossed in front of clouds awash in the tones of last light.

Later at home as I processed the images, one particular frame grabbed me. My excitement grew as I massaged the digital file into an inkjet print. Holding the finished photograph in my hand, I knew I had been blessed with a special moment – that grace itself had somehow been captured in this simple image.

 

A seagull soars against a dreamy backdrop of sunset-painted clouds at Clearwater Beach, FL

A seagull soars against a dreamy backdrop of sunset-painted clouds at Clearwater Beach, FL

 

This picture has been etched in my mind since that fall day in 2013, and has come to hold a sweet symbolism for me…

For many years I felt trapped in a life of seeking to please others, striving to be something I was not in order to be accepted, while abandoning who I really was. Languishing in a stifling prison of my own making, I was not a free man.

But at the time I made this composition of the beautiful bird in flight, the light of God’s grace had been shining into those hard-to-reach dark places of mind and emotions, propelling me more and more toward a new understanding. A fresh foundation was laid thanks to the blessed work of an understanding counselor, Bent Meyer, followed by lots of processing, journaling, and preaching truth to myself.

 

The dark graphic skeleton of a coastal pine provides rest for an egret on Honeymoon Island, FL

The dark graphic skeleton of a coastal pine provides rest for an egret on Honeymoon Island, FL

 

So on that October day meandering along Clearwater Beach, watching the soaring seagull excelling at being himself, simply doing what he was designed to do, the internal bonds that had tied me up for so long were being cut. Not all at once. But it had begun. I was beginning to get free. I was starting to taste the precious freedom God intended for me all along. The prison doors were flung wide open and my spirit began to fly.

Sixteen months later, I look back with a grateful heart on the years of hard transformation. Today I really am a free man! I walk daily in the newness of being eternally loved and forgiven through the work of Christ, and fully embrace the person He made me and the work He allotted to me. And as I think on these things, I wonder if any readers can relate, if any of you have struggled with a prison of your own, if some right now are yearning deeply for a freedom you’ve yet to experience. If so, I pray that Grace will find you also, that you might take flight and soar in the freedom that our Creator is eager to lavish on you.

Christ has freed us so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom.

Therefore, be firm in this freedom,

and don’t become slaves again.

(Galations 5:1)

A golden sunset reflects in the gentle waves of Florida's Gulf of Mexico coastline

A golden sunset reflects in the gentle waves of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coastline


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