Category Archives: Oregon

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]


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 – When 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


The Most Excellent Way

 

Today as I depart a summer spent in the Northwest for six more weeks of photographic work in the Southwest, I would like to share another set of images I was blessed to make recently along the truly incredible Oregon coast. I hope through these photographs you can sense the power of the Creator, his unparalleled artistic hand, and a glimpse of his love. It is on that topic of love I am now compelled to write more about.

 

The Haceta Head Lighthouse watches over the Pacific Ocean on the central Oregon coast

The Haceta Head Lighthouse watches over the Pacific Ocean on the central Oregon coast

 

Bumper stickers can be irritating. Sure, a few resonate with me when they align with my own opinions and biases, but often times bumper stickers have provided an opportunity for me to criticize and rant about why the particular phrase is messed up, and so must be the driver of that car. One sticker in particular used to elicit from me loud groanings about how oversimplified and naive it was, that there was much more important and profound truth the vehicle owner clearly did not grasp if this was all he had to say. The bumper sticker simply read, “Love God and People.”

I’m sad to say that much of my Christian life has not been about loving, but about rule-keeping, and splitting fine hairs of doctrine. I grew up obsessed with trying to follow the law as laid down by my Christian parents, in hopes of earning their approval and love. And I became obsessed about doctrine, believing that I need to be ‘right’ about every fine point and nuance of Christian belief. This became the way I related to God for many years. My faith was focused on trying to live by rules, harshly judging myself and others when rules were broken. And an arrogance that grew in proportion to my attempt at absolute theological ‘correctness.’

What I failed to see in God’s law, in all of the scriptures, in the living out of daily faith, was the beautiful heart of God behind it, and how he summed it all up.

 

A sliver of moon highlights a coastal composition made in the waning light of dusk

A sliver of moon highlights a coastal composition made in the waning light of dusk

 

My first glimpse of light came from reading the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 22. When one of the professional rule-keepers and theological perfectionists of the day (called a Pharisee) asked Jesus which of the hundreds of Jewish laws were most important, Jesus created the basis for a future bumper sticker with his reply:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. 

And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

These simple but profound words of Christ should have been enough to clear up any confusion and wrong-headedness, but at the time it was just a hint, a seed planted, and it would be years later that my eyes were further opened to the primacy of love. It was through the teaching and guidance of a wonderful counselor that my heart looked deeper into the truth. In Romans chapter 13 the apostle Paul writes:

“The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal, ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command:

‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

A lot of things clicked when these verses were unpacked for me. I saw God’s heart behind his commands. He wasn’t being harsh. He wasn’t trying to limit our freedom or fun. Rather, he was creating the most loving environment possible for me and my neighbor. He was seeking to protect us all from harm and help us thrive in peace and joy. I suddenly realized that all of the laws of the Bible were ultimately about loving God and people, because they were an outpouring of the heart of God, who is in himself the very definition of perfect love.

I don’t discard the importance of essential doctrines. I am grateful that God has provided foundational truths that enable us to know who Jesus is and to be able to rest our faith in him alone as sovereign savior and king. But the newfound focus on love is keeping me from returning to the days of lording assumed theological precision over others. The growing focus of life for me is spelled out eloquently by Paul in a section from the famous ‘love chapter,’ 1 Corinthians 13:

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

The next time I spot a “Love God and People” bumper sticker I will smile warmly and give the driver a big thumbs up.

 

A telephoto lens gives a magnified view of the setting sun north of Florence, Oregon

A telephoto lens gives a magnified view of the setting sun north of Florence, Oregon


Filling the Void

 

The ten-year-old girl stood in front of the congregation and sang with a purity of tone that pierced through heart-walls and commanded attention to the lyrics. I paused at the back of the auditorium doorway, unable to move. Normally I’d already be in my car heading home after the worship team I served on had finished up for the second service, but on this Sunday I could not get myself to leave until this child had fully delivered her message. I will never forget how I felt as she sang simply but profoundly of the great love of God the Father for her. I welled up with tears. Not tears of joy, but sorrowful tears of deep longing. For this personal love from God that she sang of, that she seemed to rest so confidently in, was a love I did not yet know for myself.

 

The setting sun disappears between seastacks at the Haceta Head lighthouse beach

The setting sun disappears between seastacks at the Haceta Head lighthouse beach

 

I wish I could report that I experienced dramatic life-change at that moment and went on to bask joyfully in the love of God the remainder of my years. But it would not be so easy. The days following continued a long battle with feelings of shame, inadequacy, fears of not performing well enough, a desperation to be approved and accepted, an unspoken void that remained unfilled. As a result I was immature, often foolish, full of defensive pride as a protective mechanism, slinging my pain around wildly and hurting many people in the process.

It’s been two decades since that girl sang her sweet song of grace, and it has taken me all of those twenty years to grow into a true knowing of that precious love of my Creator for me, his child.  I mean the kind of knowing that comes from an interior place where you don’t have to think about it before answering, where you just know it in the way you know the most foundational facts about life itself. An experiential knowing, rather than mere head knowledge of the doctrine of that love.

Coming to know God’s love has been a process for me, gradual baby steps, along with a few moments where new clarity came to my heart abruptly in a crashing wave of grace. Though there has been growth, I also know that I still do not fully comprehend this most amazing love, that there is so much more of this glory to gaze upon and get deep into my bones. I remain desperate for God’s love, unable to live apart from it. I must remind my fretful heart constantly just how forgiven and loved I am in Christ. I must preach this good news to myself daily.

 

A high angle view of wave patterns along the northern Oregon coast

A high angle view of wave patterns along the northern Oregon coast

 

Now I have come to believe with all my heart that knowing deep down the personal love of God for me is the foundation for all change in me. If I am not resting in this incredible love, then everything I do will be endless striving. Without the constant reveling in the amazing gracious love of the Heavenly Father, there will be no true joy, no ability to risk, no living in freedom, no giving of myself to serve others. There is no doctrine, no commandment, no teaching that will ever be as fundamentally important for me, as absolutely necessary each and every day of my life, as the truth of God’s powerful never-ceasing love.

Perhaps others do not see it this way. But I suspect many of my readers get it. I think some of you know firsthand how coming to experience the love of God has changed you like nothing else could. And I wonder if perhaps some who read this are still not sure of God’s love and may be yearning to know that, through trusting him, he’s got you, that his love is overflowing to you through all that Jesus did for you, that he’ll never take it back and he’ll never let you go.

I’ve been marinating on these thoughts about the love of God filling the emptiness inside me as I prepared to post images of the glory of the Creator’s handiwork displayed on the rugged coastline of Oregon. It has been an unexpected joy to return this summer to the forgotten beauty of this coast, and my heart has soared with the sheer bliss of making compositions of seastacks at sunset, wave patterns, trees in fog, beach stones on sand, and more. But one spot in particular seems to represent that void I described. Along a particularly rugged section of headland near Cape Perpetua, there is a twelve foot wide round hole in the jagged rocks that fills with water when high tide brings a large wave, but just as soon as the water has washed over the rocks it flows rapidly down through the hole which becomes empty once again, looking like a bottomless pit leading down into the depths.

 

Waves at high tide are swallowed up into a large hole on the rocks near Cape Perpetua

Waves at high tide are swallowed up into a large hole in the rocks near Cape Perpetua

 

But God has not left me empty. Nor will he leave anyone empty who calls on his name. He came to fill the void in broken rebels like me. His words of assurance I can bet my very life on:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8, NIV)

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, NIV)


The Risk of Vulnerability

 

Vulnerability.

How does that word make you feel? Do you yearn to be more vulnerable in relationships? Or does the mere mention of vulnerability cause a part of you to wince and pull back?

For me, the idea of being vulnerable is fraught with emotional peril, for by its very definition the word means I am open to being harmed.

I grew up thinking the goal of life as a man was to become strong, capable of handling anything, an impenetrable human fortress. Now after many years I’ve started to learn just how imprisoning this pursuit is. And how unrealistic. It has become blindingly clear that I am weak, incapable of handling much of life on my own, and subject to the pain of human attacks, whether real or imagined. And to avoid this truth of my vulnerable humanity by attempting a show of exterior strength is like being confined to a prison cell with no freedom to embrace and live out of the fullness of who I am.

Learning to be vulnerable with others in relationship has only recently become part of my journey. And I see an ebb-and-flow pattern to it. Much of the time my deep desire is to be truly known by others, and have the honor of truly knowing them. And some days I just want to retreat to fortress-building.

 

Sunset light plays off wet sand in an abstract interpretation of Oregon coastal glory

Sunset light plays off wet sand in an abstract interpretation of Oregon coastal glory

 

Vulnerability became the primary topic in my mind a few days ago when I attended my 30th high school reunion (class of 1984 at North Valley High School in Grants Pass, OR – I love you guys!). I sensed the temptation to put on the old, worn, tired exterior lie of having it all together, but by grace was led to embrace vulnerability and seek authentic interaction with my classmates. The result was several beautiful moments of allowing others to see me, brokenness and all, helped greatly by their invitation to be real as they also embraced vulnerability in themselves. Further lessons on the topic came just yesterday, as my wife and I grappled with the emotional challenges of being a continent apart this summer while we each are necessarily engaged in our respective work in different locations. A breakthrough in the conversation came when she took the risk of being truly vulnerable with me, and suddenly my heart opened with a flood of compassion and we both experienced the comfort and healing of authentic human connection, despite the many miles physically between us.

To be vulnerable requires risk. It is willingly opening yourself up to the possibility of being misunderstood, rejected, humiliated, hurt. As a photographic artist and blog writer I step into what is for me a risky world each week as I express my inward ponderings, my passion for God’s glory, and as I reveal creations made with my camera that express the real me. But today I want to risk a little more, move one steep further into artistic vulnerability as I share images from my heart that are more abstract. These are not the pretty grand scenics that are easily accessible, so they may not resonate with many readers. But these compositions represent for me the exhilirating feeling of having created art, with the excitement of a child showing his crayon scrawling to mom. You probably won’t want to put these images on your fridge :-), but I am thankful if you partake in this moment of me being a little more vulnerable with my photographer’s heart.

 

A lone warm-toned rock contrasts with a pattern of blue beach stones

A lone warm-toned rock contrasts with a pattern of blue-toned beach stones

 

All of this brings me to thinking on the ultimate vulnerability, modeled by God himself, when the infinite eternal perfect all-powerful Creator became like his frail creatures, scandalously setting aside his glory and making himself completely vulnerable to being hurt, entering our world of suffering and pain in his earthly life and taking on the consequences of our brokenness and rebellion in his sacrificial death:

 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death – 
even death on a cross!

(Philippians 2:5-8, NIV)

If the glory of God shines brightest through the vulnerability of Jesus Christ, what does this mean for living out our lives? Can we take the risks of being vulnerable with each other, day after day, entering each other’s broken stories? Can this be a door we walk through to grace, compassion, and love for one another? Is this reward worth the risk?

 

Warm sunlit cliffs and cool blue sky reflect in beach water and sand at low tide

Warm sunlit cliffs and cool blue sky reflect in beach water and sand at low tide


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