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 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.
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.
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 🙂
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)