Monthly Archives: April 2015

Basking in Backyard Beauty

 

A profusion of springtime flowers attract a butterfly to the greenspace behind our backyard

A profusion of springtime flowers attract a butterfly to the greenspace behind our backyard

 

My father-in-law Bob is not a big fan of change. Nor technology. So when he recently visited¬†our Florida home with a new Samsung smart phone in his hand, I figured we were all in trouble ūüôā

His wife Sheila had ‘strongly encouraged’ him to replace his decade-old flip phone and join the 2015 tech party. He had reluctantly given in, but after two weeks with the new ‘smart’ device he was ready to chuck it into the nearest lake. For the first few days of his visit we’d try not to start laughing in front of him as the cascade of cursewords would flow when the device rebelled against his every intention.

But eventually I noticed a change beginning.

Bob had taken to sitting outside in the early mornings on our small backyard patio, and one day when I joined him with my much-later-morning mug of coffee in hand, I witnessed something remarkable: he had outsmarted his smartphone all on his own with no input from any of us, and learned to use his new hi-tech device to call in a variety of birds within feet of our back door.

He needed no help in navigating the phone’s web browser, googling for Florida bird calls, and playing those audio clips to get the attention of a gorgeous red Northern Cardinal. Not only that, he had bird identification pictures pulled up on the phone’s sizable¬†screen and was showing us¬†what species of birds were¬†flitting around the brush and trees in the greenspace just beyond our tiny yard.¬†And there was no more cursing!

 

A stunning red male Northern Cardinal comes within feet of our back door

A stunning red male Northern Cardinal comes within feet of our back door

 

Soon this spunky 75-year-old was even texting like a pro (something he vowed never to do in this life). And I thought, wow, an old dog actually can¬†learn new tricks ūüėČ

But after some days had passed with me joining my father-in-law on our back patio each late morning for peaceful sessions of listening to the songs and calls of the birds, I suddenly realized that this old dog Bob was actually teaching me, a rapidly aging dog, a new trick. For I had not fully realized until then that my own humble backyard was a view to some amazing beauty and glory waiting to be photographed.

During Bob’s visit I began bringing the Nikon out with big telephoto attached, and experienced great¬†delight in making images of some of the little birds he had called out. Then¬†my wife Wendy joined the fun with her nice photographic capture of a turtle passing by. And after my father-in-law returned home to Oregon I continued spending time in the morning sitting on the patio with camera nearby, waiting for more opportunities to see, enjoy, and¬†capture the majesty of birds in flight and any other critter that might happen across the backyard, including butterflies and lizards.

 

A turtle takes its sweet time   crawling across the grass of our backyard (photo by Wendy Martin)

A turtle takes its sweet time crawling across the grass of our backyard (photo by Wendy Martin)

 

An anole lizard lounging on our patio displays its eye-catching dewlap

An anole lizard lounging on our patio displays its eye-catching dewlap

 

Bob, if you’re reading this, I thank you for your persistence¬†in pushing through the learning curve and finding a use for your new phone that brought us all a lot of pleasure, and¬†for helping awaken me to backyard beauty I had¬†taken for granted.

Sometimes I need to be reminded: slow down, look around, truly see, and savor the everyday glory of our¬†Creator in everyday places…

 

A Limpkin takes flight off of a dead snag behind our backyard

A Limpkin takes flight off of a dead snag behind our backyard

 

[all photos in today’s post were taken with a Nikon D7100 DSLR and a Tamron 150-600mm lens]

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I Feel You Through The Pain

 

[Note: today I share with you more images from my troubled season of 2013]

Last week I wrote about the extreme anxiety and panic that enveloped me beginning in the summer of 2013 (you can read that first part here РWhen Joy Breaks Into Your Suffering). Today I would like to take you a little deeper into a remarkable moment of that stressful time.

It was mid-July in Tampa, Florida. Daily torrential thunderstorms amid near-100% humidity and 90-degree temps kept me imprisoned inside. A little over a week had passed since my wife had rushed me to the emergency room late at night for sheer panic from the fear of not being able to breathe properly. The worst of that panic had subsided but I was left with a constant attack of anxious thoughts banging around somewhere in a place so deep I could not access it to tell it it quiet down.

Day after day, it was the same: all variety of fears assaulting me, a sense of impending doom, nameless dread.

One night in this harried state of mind, just before bedtime, I slid a pair of headphones over my ears and dialed up an album of worship music on my iPhone, while I paced nervously back and forth through the house. I was desperate for even a sliver of mental and emotional solace.

And then the unexpected happened. Another life moment that I had absolutely no control over. The Divine broke through.

As the music and lyrics coursed through my brain, I suddenly realized the anxious thoughts were gone – completely. In the place of those haunting voices was One voice, with a much different message than I’d been hearing lately.

It was my Maker.

And he flooded my mind with the affirmation that he has me, I am his, he isn’t going anywhere, and he loves and cares for me more deeply than I will ever be able to comprehend.

I was struck down now, not by fears, but by a pure unexplainable joy of being truly loved. I collapsed to my knees, and wept countless tears of shear joy and thankfulness.

 

Latourell Falls plunges down a lichen-covered basalt cliff in the Columbia River Gorge, OR

Latourell Falls plunges down a lichen-covered basalt cliff in the Columbia River Gorge, OR

 

I so wish this was the Happily Ever After ending. But alas, anxieties were pounding away the next morning, and in fact it would take many more months, with some very difficult times ahead, before I would be restored to sanity, peace, and solidity. But there was something significant in that moment of my God breaking through my nightmare and reminding me of his gentle love. I knew then that he would bring victory in the proper time. And that he would not forsake me no matter how long this trial would last.

It¬†was with this heart-knowledge of God’s stunning love that I departed Florida for the trek back West that I wrote of¬†last week. And in that journey he would remind me again and again of his love as I experienced the disarming beauty of his creation, camera in hand. Today I share with you more images made during¬†that 2013 season of brokenness punctuated with joy.

 

I vibrant lily pad blossom brightens the banks of the Yellowstone River, Wyoming

I vibrant lily pad blossom brightens the banks of the Yellowstone River, Wyoming

 

As I sat down to write today, I reclined in a chaise lounge outside, queued up a worship song on my iPhone, and leaned back to gaze up at the sky. There were hundreds of small puffy clouds against a canvas of late-afternoon blue sky, looking like pieces of a puzzle I so wanted to put together. The music and lyrics kicked in as I admired the mysterious beauty of God’s workmanship.

And again I knew in my heart the glory of his bottomless love.

This is the song that today has me in tears of ecstatic joy. I hope something in these lyrics, or these pictures, might resonate with your own heart, wherever you may be on your journey:

 

I see you in the sunrise
I see you in the rain
I see you in the laughter
I feel you through the pain

Everything that you have made is beautiful
Oh, my God, I can’t believe my eyes
But in all of this to think that you would think of me
Makes my heart come alive

Your love is like a mighty fire deep inside my bones
I feel like I could climb a thousand mountains all at once
And I never have to wonder if somebody cares for me
I love the Maker
And the Maker loves me

I see you, you are creation
I see the grandness of your majesty
The universe is singing all your glory
I can’t believe you live inside of me

Everything that you have made is beautiful
Oh, my God, I can’t believe my eyes
But in all of this to think that you would think of me
Makes my heart come alive

Your love is like a mighty fire deep inside my bones
I feel like I could climb a thousand mountains all at once
And I never have to wonder if somebody cares for me
I love the Maker
And the Maker loves me

More than just some words upon a page
You’ve shown me in a million ways
But there is one that stands above them all
Hands of creation on a cross

Your love is like a mighty fire deep inside my bones
I feel like I could climb a thousand mountains all at once
And I never have to wonder if somebody cares for me
I love the Maker
And the Maker loves me

You can view the official music video here: The Maker by Chris August

A grove of aspen glow in the soft light of dusk along American Fork Canyon, Utah

A grove of aspen glow in the soft light of dusk along American Fork Canyon, Utah


When Joy Breaks Into Your Suffering

 

[Today I share images I was blessed to make during a difficult season of suffering]

As I write this, it’s a wonderfully lazy Sunday¬†afternoon in Ohio. My belly is full of lunchtime delishishness whipped up¬†by my sweet sister-in-law whose home we are visiting. Relaxing on the patio in a Tommy Bahama beach chair, I’m aware of little else besides the warming sunshine on my skin, trees filled with eagerly chirping birds, an aimless spring breeze rustling the bottom of my cargo shorts¬†on this sublime 60-degree day.

My mind is at ease. I’m relaxed in the deepest interior places. I feel solidly grounded and centered. There exists not even a hint¬†of anxiety.

But this was decidedly not my state of mind in the summer of 2013.

After the upheaval of a major cross-country move Рleaving the Pacific Northwest where I lived my whole life to face the unfamiliarity of Florida, with the death of my mother a month before the move still haunting my emotions, you could say my plate was full of adjustment challenges. And then my body revolted against the high heat and extreme humidity of stormy subtropical summer weather, and that was the last straw.

Something snapped that July evening: suddenly I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my anxiety levels skyrocketed, and I wound up in the local emergency room. A seemingly endless battery of tests were performed by the doctors, with nothing conclusive found, so I was sent home with a prescription for Adavan.

 

Early winter makes its presence felt in October with snow in the La Sal Mountains of Utah

Early winter makes its presence felt in October with snow in the La Sal Mountains of Utah

 

More doctors and more tests followed, as I was absolutely convinced something had gone awry physically. The days were filled with misery in a way I nor my precious wife have ever known before, with a strange anxiety almost constantly barraging my nervous system, fears running amok, a vague sense of dread, the threat of a panic breakdown always lying just under the surface.

One of the blood tests had revealed something concerning so I made a follow-up appointment with a medical specialist Рnot in Florida but in Washington state where I still had my primary care physician, as we realized I would be better off returning to family and friends in the West for the remainder of the summer. In late July I set out in my truck camper alone on the long road trip back to the PNW.

It was a summer of mental and physical suffering. Really, the worst suffering I have experienced so far in this life. And brutally difficult for my wife as well.

But that trek back West, and the ensuing months spent¬†in my home region surrounded by caring friends, would begin a healing process.¬†It wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t over when I eventually returned to Florida in October, as it would take the rest of 2013 and part of 2014 to fully solidify my mind, emotions, and body.

 

The blue cast of shaded light on river rocks contrasts with the green reflections of trees in Washington

The blue cast of shade on river rocks contrasts with reflections of green trees in Washington

 

True to how God has often worked in my life, photography of his creation became a means of much grace during that anxious summer. Connecting with the beauty of the landscape in the West, engaging in the contemplative process of forming compositions with my camera, proved once again to be medicinal.

I cannot explain how, in the middle of uncontrollable and painful anxiety pressing down on me, I was able to enter the flow of creating and produce memorable photographic work. First in Yellowstone during my solitary drive back to the West, then along a river with friends in Washington, and finally in October along my route back to Florida through Utah and Colorado Рinexpressible joy would pierce through my darkness over and over as I beheld the majesty and beauty of the One who formed me, displayed in the works of His hands.

Grace was at work.

As I share with you today some of the images made during that troubled season, my heart soars with thankfulness to my God for how he never ceased to be at work throughout my suffering, with humble amazement for where he has brought me now to a place of rest, and with grattitude for these images that are tokens of his merciful care even during the worst times this life has thrown at me.

 

An atmosphere of mystery swirls around a thermal hot springs at Yellowstone National Park

An atmosphere of mystery swirls around a thermal hot springs at Yellowstone National Park

 

I’m also thankful for that time of suffering because it has given me new compassion and understanding for folks who are enduring their own difficult times, which perhaps is¬†some of you reading now. Suffering seems to find all of us¬†in this life. If you are in the midst of personal crisis and pain, I would be honored to support you by listening to your story, and lifting you up in prayer. If you wish to share with me privately, I’m ready to hear with a gentle heart. You may use the confidential Contact tab at the top of the page.

 

God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.
When they are troubled,
we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

(2 Corinthians 1:3b-4, NLT)

 

The San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado come alive with mesmerizing color in early October

The San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado come alive with mesmerizing color in October


The God of Facebook

 

[Today I feature images that have been shared only on my Facebook page]

One year ago I began to consider leaving the dark ages and joining the modern world of social media.

For the longest time¬†I had been mystified at the apparent love folks had for Facebook. I didn’t understand the point – after all, we already had email ūüėČ As an introverted personality, the thought of being more connected with potentially large numbers of people on the internet had about as much appeal as scheduling a root canal with my dentist.

But things were changing in me at a fundamental level. I was planning a major 5-month work trip across America to reignite my vocation as a photographer of the landscape, returning to a calling I had tried to walk away from due to many years of negative baggage in my head. And a desire was welling up to find a medium where I could share with others images of the beauty and glory I would be blessed to photograph in those approaching months. So the idea of joining Facebook entered my radar screen.

As I began researching tutorials targeted to photographers using social media,¬†I happened to come across a particular blog where the author was highly critical of Facebook, having apparently decided for everyone that it was only used to make oneself look good in front of others, that it did not present the real person, that it should be called “fakebook.” What startled me was that the author was a pastor. I wondered to myself why he would choose only a negative set of goggles from which to view this¬†social media tool, why he would be only¬†critical and judgemental while simultaneously missing the potential graces God could be bringing through relational interaction on Facebook. I felt sad for the people he was supposed to be shepherding, that he would automatically assume the worst in them, as if he could discern all heart motives.

And I wondered, isn’t this pastor’s god big enough to be the God of Facebook too, just as He is God of all creation, always¬†at work to magnify His glory¬†through¬†an endless variety of means of grace?

 

An October sunrise brings glorious life to the Towers of the Virgin in Zion National Park

An October sunrise brings glorious life to the Towers of the Virgin in Zion National Park

 

A few months would pass with social media simmering on my mind’s¬†back burner. The final catalyst needed to launch me into online interaction was learning at the last moment of my 30-year high school reunion being held just a couple hours from where I was currently photographing in Oregon in early summer of 2014.

And so with some trepidation I created a Facebook account. And what followed amazed me.

Within a few weeks this quiet, often reclusive introvert was on his way to a couple hundred friends. Right from the outset there were very meaningful conversations happening via Facebook’s messaging. Old friendships that had died off years ago were beautifully reborn even better than before, such as reuniting with my best friend from high school, David Carson, whose love and loyalty I will never again take for granted.

I unexpectedly reconnected with a middle school neighbor on a deeply profound level and was privileged to share hearts, stories of our brokenness, and spiritual encouragement before she was suddenly taken from this life a month later. Marni is missed by all who knew her.

A new¬†friend I’ve never met in person (hi Kelly!) has come into my life and became a partner in the daily walk of faith. I was¬†moved to tears when she¬†messaged a powerful and beautifully written prayer for me to help me through¬†a difficult struggle.

Friends have shared the joys of becoming parents, of celebrating an anniversary with a cherished spouse, of rejoicing in the growth and accomplishments of their children, or simply shared fun pics of their much-needed weekend getaway or family vacation.

There have been posts from friends about moments of feeling depressed, or asking for needed financial support, or requesting prayer for their fight against cancer, or prayer for their friends experiencing tragedy and suffering.

I’ve seen the heart of a friend who champions the cause of the poor and disenfranchised and has thus helped me become more aware and compassionate (thank you Angel!). I have acquired friends from all walks of life, many who are very different from me – some who are Christian and some who are atheist or agnostic, some who are straight and some who are gay, some who are staunchly conservative and some who are liberal and progressive – and¬†all of them¬†help me stretch and grow in some way.

 

Mount Rushmore inspires the huge variety of folks that compose our American melting pot

Mount Rushmore inspires the huge variety of folks that compose our American melting pot

 

As I examine this fruit that has come from Facebook engagement, I have two thoughts: first, I sincerely thank all of my FB friends for opening your lives up to me, for your grace in reconnecting even after you may have heard nothing from me the past 30 or more years. Thank you for letting me express who I am, and for all your encouragement from the photography and writing I have shared.

Second, I cannot help recalling the discouraging words of that pastor’s blog, and to see just how much he may have missed in his negative perspective – that our sovereign God is indeed the God of Facebook, just as he is God over all of life. And He clearly delights in using social media as a means for the expression of much beauty and joy and encouragement among¬†people, if that is indeed what a person¬†chooses to seek in it.

Thank you God that your glory and grace can shine wherever you please, including in our relationships via the internet!

 

Clouds at sunset create a compelling reflection in a pond at Yellowstone National Park

Clouds at sunset create a compelling reflection in a pond at Yellowstone National Park


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