Category Archives: Washington

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…


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]


In the Presence of Old Friends

 

Places are some of my very best friends.

When I return to a beautiful location that I’ve connected with in the past, it feels like showing up at a dear friend’s front porch who swings open wide the door of warm hospitality, eagerly welcoming me in with genuine laughter, refreshing food and drink, palpable love.

One of these treasured friends is Mount Rainier.

 

 

I first met The Mountain as a five-year-old boy, glimpsing its snowy white broad-shouldered girth from a distance as my mom held me up to see out the kitchen window of our rental house in Washington state.

It would be decades later that I finally encountered 14,409-ft Rainier face to face, in all its shocking glory. It did not take but a single visit to form a bond, and this friendship resulted in years of wide-eyed wonder and the making of many cherished photographic portraits.

 

A summer sunset casts spectacular light on clouds above Mount Rainier at Reflection Lake

A summer sunset casts spectacular light on clouds above Mount Rainier at Reflection Lake

 

Pink and yellow monkeyflowers decorate a tributary of the Paradise River

Pink and yellow monkeyflowers decorate a tributary of the Paradise River

 

In the presence of this majestic mountain 15 years ago I met another friend. I was exploring a forest service road just west of the National Park boundary and somehow managed to navigate a Ford Taurus sedan up a sketchy dirt road and onto a platform overlooking Mount Rainier. As I set up the tripod and camera for a sunset shot, a 4WD truck clambered up this hill and pulled in next to me. The blue-eyed, blonde-haired young man with a slight Polish accent exclaimed, “How did you make it up here in that car!?”

And so began a most amazing connection with a guy who became one of my best friends ever, fellow landscape photographer Slavomir Dzieciatkowski. For a decade and a half we have journeyed together in this life, through many joys and a fair share of sorrows. We’ve grown close in the way I always imagined real brothers would.

When I moved clear across the country two years ago our friendship remained strong thanks to regular emailing, but hanging out in person has become a rare once-a-year treat. This summer we coordinated a camping and photography retreat for the two of us, joined by our very special companion, Rainier.

Driving toward our rendezvous this week, my first glimpse of The Mountain elicited a loud gasp as my heart leaped for joy to be back in the presence of this old friend. And so too when I arrived at camp, my heart leaped for joy as I embraced my old friend Slavomir.

 

 

Summer glacial melt creates a lush grotto in a rugged boulder-strewn ravine on Rainier's slopes

Summer glacial melt creates a lush grotto in a rugged boulder-strewn ravine on Rainier’s slopes

 

I spent three grand days getting reacquainted with my comrade Rainier, hiking high up on his flanks above treeline, discovering sublime compositions along the glacier-fed Paradise River he births, witnessing the spectacle of pink sunset clouds highlighting his noble presence at Reflection Lakes. All the while soaking up great conversation and photographic craft with my sidekick Slav.

One is a very special place. The other a beloved man. Both, I’m quite certain, will remain loyal companions the rest of my days on earth.

 

Swirling water and granite rock are nature's art on the Paradise River

Swirling water and granite rock are nature’s art on the Paradise River


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 – leaving 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 – not 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 – inexpressible 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


Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary

 

Leisurely I began spinning the pedals and brought dormant muscles to life as I hit the local bike trail this afternoon. The pavement felt smooth under the skinny road bike tires and I was glad to be moving my body.

As I began the ride I glanced to the left. I noticed nothing new or strange, nothing majestic or arresting. It was a simple view of everyday elements I’d passed by dozens of times before – a small grass-covered hill with a handful of puffy clouds floating above in a soft blue sky. But at this mundane scene I was instantly filled with joy and I laughed out loud in sheer delight of the glory I sensed.

This bike trail actually winds around a landfill. Overhead circle numerous vultures. On most days the direction of the wind lets you know full well that refuse lies just beyond the hill. But in this moment, the simple elements of creation cried out to be admired and savored and rejoiced in, and so I did.

I was reminded once again, that the extraordinary is everywhere in the ordinary.

 

A flowering tree set against a blue sky is a common yet glorious sight

A flowering tree set against a blue sky is a common yet glorious sight

 

But I had not noticed much I would call extraordinary the past few weeks. As I fought a couple rounds of illness since late December, my world became small and bleak, focused on my own misery. Finally feeling close to normal after two weeks with the flu, I slowly began to appreciate once again the blessings woven into each day. And on Sunday at Tampa Covenant Church one of our dear pastors, Lou Kaloger, spoke the words that fully awoke my senses again to this precious truth – that because of God’s glory filling the whole earth, there truly is extraordinary to be found all throughout ordinary life.

 

Shuffling along a creek in late fall, a glance down at my feet revealed extraordinary beauty

Shuffling along a creek in late fall, a glance down at my feet revealed extraordinary beauty

 

This is a philosophy I strongly believe in – that all around us are incredible things to behold and savor, infused into this world by the Creator, if we will but truly see and hear and feel. But oh how often I forget, and focus binocular vision on all I perceive to be wrong, on all I deem imperfect or annoying or discouraging, on all I don’t have.

I’m thankful that a change in mindset is sufficient to reinvigorate a life of looking beyond the mundane and into the deep amazement that lies behind the surface – the exquisite beauty of simple things we may so easily take for granted like trees in all their variety, fresh air, rays of warming sunshine, magical floating clouds, the helicoptering hummingbird in our backyard, the two feline brothers chasing and wrestling across the living room, the moments of sweet laughter or tender compassion in conversation with a loved one, the first bite of succulent ribeye steak fresh off your grill, a tall glass of cold clean water after exercise.

Pastor Lou’s words resonated deeply with me, because this is the life I yearn to live with my wife – intentionally seeking to truly see, and then savor, all the moments of glory our Creator has lavishly adorned each day with. Yes, it’s a troubled world in many ways. The news is filled with stories of agony and destruction and misery. Our lives are often difficult. Suffering can be a constant companion. But within the fabric of this reality are undeniable threads of extraordinary beauty waiting to be appreciated. And when I focus on this seeing, and my heart wells up with delight followed by thankfulness to my God, it is medicine for my soul that spills over and spreads joy and contentment in a world that needs as much healing as it can get.

 

Common everyday clouds become an extraordinary painting in the sky in fiery sunset light

Common everyday clouds become an extraordinary painting in the sky in fiery sunset light


First Things First

 

How to begin?

The idea for this blog has been percolating for some years now. Finally sitting down to attempt writing the first post, I am overwhelmed by a hundred questions banging around in my head, the nagging noise of fear, confusion, doubt, and much resistance. Then the words of a dear friend in email bring me back to what the focus is all about, and I know now how to begin…

It’s all about the glory of God.

 

Mesa Arch glows from reflected light at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park, UT

On the short hike in the dark of early morning to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, it’s difficult to imagine the glory that awaits.  Arriving at the expansive span before sunrise, with the view of the Washer Woman formation,  the pulse quickens.  But it’s about 15 minutes after the sun has risen, when bright sunlight hitting the red rock below bounces up to set Mesa Arch’s belly glowing in fiery reflected light, that your jaw drops in awe of the spectacle you are witnessing.

 

To place myself in the path of God’s glory, have my eyes opened to it, and drink deeply of it, has become my passion and life pursuit as a Christian and photographer of the landscape. But it was not always so. Most of my years have been spent desperate to find some small glory for myself, clinging to the approval of people, striving for performance-based acceptance, and distracted by far lesser passions. In recent years my sovereign Father has been gracious to lead me into brokenness, exposing pride and idolatry within, and tearing down the facade. And then in love he has begun rebuilding the foundations of identity based on who he is and what he has done to rescue inept rebels like me through his Son Jesus Christ, and through that is stirring up an appetite for his amazing glory.

By God’s grace I hope to use the medium of this blog to share glimpses of the Creator’s handiwork that he has allowed me to capture through the art and craft of landscape photography. As the prophet Isaiah declares, “the whole earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3b, ESV), and my cameras can testify to this. Scriptures, writing, and other resources may be used with the photography to help magnify the greatness of our God.

Clearly a Christian audience is in mind here, with the hope of bringing encouragement to people who trust in the triune God of the Bible, but all are welcome.

 

Yellow and pink monkeyflowers decorate the Paradise River in Mount Rainier National Park, WA

High up on the flank of towering Mount Rainier in Washington state, the Paradise glacier is the source of a river bearing its name.  For a few summer days one particular August, which is more akin to springtime in this high country, the conditions combined to create a rare spectacular yellow and pink monkey flower bloom decorating the Paradise River and falls just below the glacier.

 

Each week I will endeavor to prepare a table with delicacies of the Creator’s magnificence and invite you to pull up a chair and eat and be satisfied. But any fruitfulness from these efforts will be solely up to God’s moving and working. My foundational role is simply to glorify the Lord by seeing and savoring the awesomeness of his works, then responding with gratitude and worship through the creative process of image making and writing. This is his call for me, by his enablement.

If you choose to journey along, may our souls resonate with the psalmist:

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”  (Psalm 34:8a, ESV)


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