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


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


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 😉 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


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


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


The Power of an Encouraging Word

 

I have not yet ceased to be amazed how transforming it is to spend time in creation.

The landscape of America is my favorite ‘office’. Here I work outdoors with my hands and my head, a combination of creative inspiration and technical execution that exercises my brain fully. Immersed in the beauty of our world, focused intently on seeing and composing, I slip into the flow of the moment, that deep level of engagement in the work you were specifically designed and gifted to carry out.

 

It was not difficult to get lost in my work as I photographed layers of sandstone walls in a small slot canyon in southwest Utah

It was not difficult to get lost in my work as I photographed layers of sandstone walls in a small slot canyon in southwest Utah

 

Working in these conditions, I am naturally fulfilled, whole, at peace. Fellowship with my Creator is seamless. I have no sense of need. All the encouragement my soul could desire is there in the seeing and savoring of God’s beauty, and interacting with it to make photographic art.

Inevitably, this glorious life working out in the field must come to an end for a time as I return to ‘regular’ life – living indoors, maintaining a house, finding again that synchronization with my wife, re-engaging with friends and neighbors, running errands, doing chores, spending long days in front of a computer at a desk.

After returning to ‘civilization,’ I find a sense of neediness gradually growing week after week. Old fears and accusations beg for attention. Doubts creep in. My work is solitary and has little positive feedback on a daily basis. I end up in a place where a little encouragement would go a long way, where a few positive words from a friend would do wonders to remind me that pursing the quiet life of an artist and writer for God’s glory is not a life wasted.

This is where my heart was on Sunday as we worshiped at Tampa Covenant Church. And it was here that God so unexpectedly and lovingly met my need: in a short conversation after the service, a mere ten seconds of encouraging words spoken into me by our dear pastor Eric Meyer were the exact words of affirmation I needed to hear in that moment concerning the validity of my work. It was a tender and sweet means of grace from my Father in heaven, a direct and immediate injection of peaceful confidence in God and untethered joy in his love for me.

This is the power of an encouraging word!

 

The pallet of Christmas colors decorates a small winding side canyon on the east side of Zion National Park in autumn

The palette of Christmas colors decorates a small winding side canyon on the east side of Zion National Park in autumn

 

Pastor Eric could not have known I needed it, but he was the vessel God used to speak life. Now I ask myself, who in my circle of family, friends, and acquaintances may be in a place of desperate need for a kind word? What if some who have been placed in my path are today feeling discouraged, soul-parched, perhaps disillusioned, or just weary from this world, their heart silently pleading for just a few life-giving words from a friend to bring fresh light to their journey?

How will I know, without intentionally seeking to live a life of being an encourager to others?

 

Fallen leaves filling in a cleft in the sandstone of a canyon wall in Zion signals the end of autumn

Fallen leaves filling in a cleft in the sandstone of a canyon wall in Zion signals the end of autumn

 

I so want to pass on these incredible spirit-soaring moments of being encouraged by a friend. I don’t want to be selfish and silent. I want to embrace the vulnerability it requires for me to reach out to others in hopes of brightening their day with some affirming word. I pray I can be that vessel.

Because I am convinced, in virtually all our lives, the need is great for simple encouragement.

 

“Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs him down, but an encouraging word brings him joy.”

(Proverbs 12:25, NET Bible)

 

 


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