Tag Archives: aspen

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


Giving Thanks for Aspens, Alligators and All Things

 

The region surrounding Moab, Utah is a red rock playground. Two national parks – Arches and Canyonlands – provide endless views and explorations of magnificent canyons, arches, and all variety of fantastic rock formations. This is as good as it gets for many visitors to the famous American Southwest. But for me, what most calls my name in this area is the La Sal Mountains, a range of high peaks reaching 12,721 feet above sea level and towering over the red rock country of Moab.

 

The 12,721 ft. La Sal Mountains rise above the Colorado Plateau near Moab, UT

The 12,721 ft. La Sal Mountains rise above the Colorado Plateau near Moab, UT

 

The La Sal range is host to wonderful groves of aspens, perhaps my favorite of all trees. Last fall I explored for my first time the La Sal Loop Road that runs up and down these peaks and was delighted with the autumn color I encountered in 2013, but this October arriving quite late in the season I fully expected all the color to be long gone. But just as I mentioned in my last post about another mountain range in Utah providing surprise color a few days before reaching Moab, so again here in the La Sals I was treated to a late-season display of gorgeous golden aspen and hillsides of brush turned shades of yellow, orange, and red.

 

Slopes in the La Sale Mountains are a wash of autumn color in early October

Slopes in the La Sale Mountains are a wash of autumn color in early October

 

I was overflowing with thankfulness to God for the gift of being among these special trees in Utah. I love the earthy aroma of autumn aspens, the soothing sound of the little leaves fluttering in the breeze, the quiet intimacy of strolling through a grove, the contrast of white trunks against yellow fall color, the smooth solid feel of the trunk as I pat them like a cherished old friend. In such an inspiring location, thankfulness flows without effort.

 

A quiet aspen grove makes for a serene location in the La Sal range near Moab

A quiet aspen grove makes for a serene location in the La Sal range near Moab

 

But in all honesty, I must admit that being thankful has often not been my usual response to my world. I’ve been ‘blessed’ with the ability to find a flaw in most everything and everyone, to see the glass half empty, to wallow in discontent and voice endless complaints to the few people in my life who would tolerate my negativity. I don’t know at what age this kicked in, but I do know most of my adult life has not been consistently lived out in a state of thankfulness.

When I departed southern Utah – a place I have cherished deeply for many years as a landscape photographer – and arrived back home in Florida a couple weeks ago to end five grand months on the road creating images, I knew my tendency would be to focus on the sense of loss at leaving behind sublime autumn aspens and many other spectacular areas, and to sit in discontent over returning to a relatively mundane normal life in the flatlands and being cooped up in a home office. Intellectually I knew I had much to be thankful for that was awaiting me in Florida – a most amazing wife, a wonderful new church with new relationships ready to be cultivated, a comfortable home made more lively by our two cuddly cats, and lots of winter sunshine and warmth. But being bountifully blessed has historically never prevented the complainer from showing his ugly face around these parts 🙂

 

A grove of aspens explodes in bright yellow on a hillside covered in scrub oaks

A grove of aspens explodes in bright yellow on a hillside covered in scrub oaks

 

Now I am happy to report that the transition back to Florida has been much more positive than what I had feared. Much prayer, including from dear friends, paved the way, and the old grouchy critic in me has been kept at bay. During the first few days back home I took notice of the incredible lushness of the Florida landscape, from swaying palms to all manner of flowering shrubs and trees. My senses came alive when I dipped my toes in the Gulf coast again. Time reconnecting with my wife has been precious. And I experienced a renewed sense of awe at God’s creative artistry when I gawked at an extremely large alligator lounging in shallow water. Somehow, someway, an attitude of thankfulness had carried over from the aspens of Utah to the alligators of Florida.

The powerful grace of God at work in me despite my many flaws and weaknesses is the only explanation I have for a heart that continues to give thanks to him. And what a difference it makes to my soul, and to those around me! To find the beauty and blessing in all circumstances each day is powerful medicine, lifting the spirit and bringing joy both to self and to relationships. I’m humbled to know my natural tendency to grumble, and I pray by God’s continued grace I can cultivate consistency in living a life of intentionally “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20, English Standard Version)


Eating Bacon to the Glory of God

 

The full moon on this night was huge, and crazy-bright. It lit up the rugged mountains bordering a lonely highway through the Nevada desert. I blasted along the quiet road with the accompaniment of classic 80’s Dire Straits on the truck stereo, and thinking about my wife. We were in the middle of a 5-month separation necessitated by my photographic work and I was eager to pick her up in Salt Lake City the following day so she could join my adventures in Utah for ten days.

 

A full moon rises above Nevada desert mountains at dusk

A full moon rises above Nevada desert mountains at dusk

 

It was a joy to be reunited with Wendy, and after a quick stop for fresh supplies we were ready to head that afternoon to our planned destination of Moab for exploration of Arches and Canyonlands national parks. But as we began the drive I couldn’t stop thinking about a nearby detour, one of the most sublime drives I’ve ever been on – the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. This spot is known for excellent fall color and I had photographed there in previous autumns. But my travels this October had been delayed and by now I was certain that any remaining color would be well past peak and not worth changing our plans for.

Still, I couldn’t quit thinking about this Scenic Byway, and as we neared the exit for the Alpine Loop I was pulled in like a magnet and decided to delay Moab so Wendy could experience this wonderful mountain drive, even if there were no beautiful leaves to decorate it.

As it turned out, our only regret in this last-minute route change was pulling our 24-foot trailer up the narrow winding road, which had my wife clinging for dear life to the grab handles and me doing my best strong-man-in-control-unafraid impression 🙂 But to my startled delight the Loop colors came on late this year and our eyes joined a visual party of aspens and maples displaying full autumn glory!

 

Layers of steep mountain ridges glow with a riot of autumn color in American Fork Canyon, UT

Layers of steep mountain ridges glow with a riot of autumn color in American Fork Canyon, UT

 

For the next two days we drove up and down the roads in this spectacular little piece of Utah, admiring views of 11,752-foot Mount Timpanogos clothed in yellow aspens, strolling through quiet groves of trees, searching out pleasing photographic compositions among the overwhelming fall splendor that was everywhere before us. A special treat was waking up in our trailer one morning to a couple of moose just outside our window, a cow and her calf leisurely grazing only ten feet away. It was a moment of majesty that Wendy captured well, pointing her camera through the small window of our kitchen.

 

A cow moose and her calf graze right outside our camp trailer (photo by Wendy Martin)

A cow moose and her calf graze right outside our camp trailer (photo by Wendy Martin)

 

Clouds reflect warm light at sunset over Mount Timpanogos draped in golden aspens

Clouds reflect warm light at sunset over Mount Timpanogos draped in golden aspens

 

Earlier in my trip I had texted Wendy about my delicious camp breakfasts and she was looking forward to me whipping up that grub for her too. So after our moose gazing it was my pleasure to fry up the natural uncured bacon, scramble the organic free-range eggs with chunks of melty Tillamook cheddar goodness, and make toast by pan frying hearty sprouted grain bread in butter (and then topped with tasty Oregon huckleberry jam).

The aroma of the bacon frying that morning got me to thinking about how God can get glory through our food and drink.

Several years ago I read an article by pastor/writer John Piper titled How to Drink Orange Juice to the Glory of God. At the time it did not seem to have much impact on me. And then one day in my kitchen cooking up a late breakfast with Applegate Farms Organic Sunday Bacon, the flavor explosion from that tasty meat literally caused me to worship God right on the spot. The previous reading about how to glorify God with how we eat & drink likely helped set the stage in my thinking, but it was only through experiencing for myself God’s good and gracious gift in that spectacular bacon that I finally understood how a person could eat bacon to the glory of God, or drink orange juice for his glory, or whatever your food and drink may be in that moment.

Here’s how it looks for me to magnify God’s glory as the unique succulent flavor of bacon hits my taste buds:

– I acknowledge that the bacon comes from God. He is the source of everything.

– I overflow with thankfulness to God for the bacon. I thank him for designing and creating pigs. I thank him for the financial ability to buy bacon. I thank him for the stores that sell it, the distributors that get it to market, the butchers who prepare it, and the farmers who raise the pigs.

– I enjoy it! With all of my senses. God is most glorified when we thoroughly enjoy his good gifts to us.

– I allow the incredible flavor of bacon to point me again and again to just how amazing our God is, his creative genius in the making of such a treat and his graciousness in blessing anyone with $4.99 and a frying pan with this rich pleasure.

 

A quiet grove of aspens nestled in the Wasatch mountain range along Alpine Loop Scenic Byway

A quiet grove of aspens nestled in the Wasatch mountain range along Alpine Loop Scenic Byway

 

This is the life I desire to live out with my wife more and more, in the ordinary circumstances of daily life as well as in the more glorious moments, whether traveling and photographing in eye-popping autumn wilderness or just sitting down to eat our simple breakfast: to see the hand of God’s provision in all his good gifts, to receive them with joy, to be ever thankful, and to worship God’s gracious and loving character.

“So, whether you eat or drink,

or whatever you do,

do everything to the glory of God.” 

(1 Corinthians 10:31, GOD’S WORD® Translation)

 

 

 


The Case for Creativity: Man as Image Bearer

 

Wandering along the creek with camera in hand, there were no other sounds to intrude on the melody of water playing across boulders. The scent of earth and forest was intoxicating to me. I found endless visual fascination with wet rocks, moss growing on stumps, fallen leaves strewn about the creek, and I responded in childlike wonder by making images with the camera. I was twelve years old.

On another day I found myself wandering along a different creek near an aspen grove. The tranquil sound of gently flowing water was the only voice in the woods. I scampered across fallen logs and large rocks, the kid in me feeling the wonder and awe of creation’s glory along this simple creek, and I responded in unsullied joy by forming compositions with my camera. I was forty-eight years old.

 

Lee Vining Creek cascades over rocks in California's magnificent Eastern Sierra

Lee Vining Creek cascades over rocks in California’s Eastern Sierra [click photo to enlarge]

 

Wide-eyed childlike wonder overflowed from within recently as I traveled to the amazing Eastern Sierra region of California. I shared images last week of that diverse glory, and today share more compositions made while wandering along the creeks and through groves of trees in the Eastern Sierra as autumn draped majestic color over the region.

I am blessed beyond measure by my Creator to have been allotted a life of creativity stretching from my pre-teen photographic explorations to my current vocation as a landscape photographer. There have been many bumps and detours along the way, and seasons where I questioned the worthiness of being creative. I began forming for myself a case for creativity and wrote last week that the first reason artistry matters is because God himself is a great artist. Now I’d like to share thoughts on the implications of that truth, which is the second reason I believe it’s meaningful to create – because people are made in the image of God.

Imago Dei is the term theologians like to use. It simply means ‘image of God’ in Latin. The book of beginnings, Genesis, tells us that ‘God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (1:27, New Living Translation). Theologians unpack many profound truths that flow from this doctrine, but for my limited scope in considering a case for creativity I see that creativity matters for humans because God the joyful Artist created us in his image – we are his image bearers.

 

A big beautiful ponderosa pine artfully decorates Lee Vining Canyon

A big beautiful ponderosa pine artfully decorates Lee Vining Canyon  [click photo to enlarge]

 

In Scripture I see image bearers being unleashed to create from the start of the human race. After God had fashioned his jaw-droppingly gorgeous earth brimming full of life, the Original Artist allots to the first man and woman a vocation and life lived out as artists themselves – freedom to sculpt and care for the most beautiful garden ever to be found on the planet, and the linguistic delight of thinking up names for all the creatures. If you have ever walked through a truly lovely garden then you know how much creative work goes into it. And if you have ever use words to express and communicate and found it challenging, you can imagine how much artistic effort goes into forming names for each animal.

I find this incredibly freeing and exciting! After years of self-doubt, I’ve learned to embrace the creative life because I see in Scripture that God loves being an artist himself, and as his image bearers he’s delighted when we engage in creating also.

Now some readers may be thinking the way my wife used to – that you are not an artistic type, that your personality or your work are not suited to creativity. I hope to encourage you by saying that 1) to create is a far broader definition then making art like a potter, a painter, or a photographer, and 2) being creative is not limited to what we do at work – it can encompass all of life. I believe all of us can engage in creating in ways that align perfectly with our individuality.

For example, my wife is an excellent high-level tax accountant with the world’s largest accounting firm. As such she always considered herself good with numbers, but assumed she had not a single creative bone in her. First, I’ve encouraged her to see that she actually does engage in a creative process every time she thinks through problems at work and proposes solutions to solve them, or thinks of ways to effectively communicate with difficult coworkers. Second, she has discovered that you don’t have to be a ‘professional’ artist to try your hand at photography, scrapbooking, and other crafts, and in experimenting with traditional artistic pursuits she has found a great outlet for stress and much fun.

 

Aspens reveal their visually graphic skeletons as golden autumn leaves drop

Aspens reveal visually graphic skeletons as golden autumn leaves drop [click photo to enlarge]

 

Whatever your job, I believe there is almost always some creativity you are engaging in to effectively and efficiently do your work, from remodeling homes, teaching, maintaining computer systems, homeschooling your children, developing successful strategies for corporations, debugging software, fundraising for a nonprofit, helping fit a department store customer for clothes, to running a home-based business. Your work may involve creating a product, or creating value. A janitor starts with dirty chaos and creates a fresh clean environment, which then allows workers coming into a clean workplace to more effectively do their work.

And apart from our vocations, consider how we can be creative throughout all of life – thinking of fun ideas for your family to engage in together on weekends, creating a delicious and eye-appealing meal, being artful in your choice of words to a friend so you can encourage them, dreaming up a vision for the future of your marriage, singing even if you have no audience, learning to play a guitar, sculpting and maintaining the landscape around your house, writing out your thoughts in a journal or blog, or diving into a traditional ‘artistic’ hobby with a camera or clay or whatever strikes your fancy.

I believe God has designed and enabled us to make our very lives art. I love how The Message version of the Bible emphasizes this theme in Galations chapter 6:

“Live creatively, friends.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” (vs. 1, 4-5)

 

Focusing close on an autumn aspen leaf reveals the intricate veins and intense color

Aspen leaf closeup reveals intricate veins and intense autumn color [click photo to enlarge]


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