Tag Archives: suffering

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 Loss of a Light

 

High school can be brutal. We all likely have memories of the constant weight of peer pressure, the desire to conform so you don’t stick out from the crowd and get mocked, the fear in your belly as you try to engage socially without looking like a fool.

And most of us probably remember those who, for whatever reason, did not quite fit in, and how they suffered for that. One of those in my high school was a girl named Marni.

Marni was one of the first kids to show me kindness when I moved from Idaho to Oregon as an awkward and terrified seventh-grader. We were neighbors and rode the same bus. In high school my evolving friendships took me into different social circles than Marni, and I regret to this day that we did not develop a stronger friendship back then.

There really was no good reason Marni should have suffered as an outcast in school, for she was adorable and had a sweet temperament. But she was extremely shy, and that was enough for the harsh conformist system of high school to discard her. She had almost no friends in our school, no sense of being valued for who she was, certainly no sense of belonging. Sadly, I was among those who let her slip under the radar.

 

Poppies explode with color on a hillside in the Merced River Canyon, California

Poppies explode with color on a hillside in the Merced River Canyon, California

 

Now more than thirty years have passed. I finally joined the Facebook world this summer and learned of my high school class reunion event in August, and on the reunion page I saw the profile for Marni. Memories of my childhood neighbor flooded my mind and I felt an unexplainable sense of her suffering, both back then in school as well as in her adulthood since. I felt compelled to connect with her at the reunion, like a brother who cares for a sister, and before the gathering I began praying over our time together, and praying for all of my other classmates as well.

The high school reunion was indeed an incredible time, I think for everyone who attended. It felt like almost no years had passed as classmates hugged and fellowshipped and related to one another as caring adults, without the immature social class structure of our youth. And among those many wonderful connections there that I am so grateful for was a unique bonding with Marni.

We were able to be vulnerable and share our respective stories of brokenness. I felt deep compassion as she talked with me about how brutal high school was for her, and as she also told me of much more pain she experienced later on in life. And she patiently entered my world also and allowed me to be transparent about my failings over the years.

I had the pleasure of meeting her husband Michael and enjoying conversation with him, and I was so happy she found a quality man to love and value her. I was already looking forward to next summer when my wife could join me for an informal classmate picnic so she could get to know Marni and Michael as well.

In the past several weeks since the high school reunion I have kept in touch with Marni. I wanted to be a brotherly encourager to her, and she ended up being a strong encourager to me. She regularly read my blog and told how it blessed her, and one day she sketched a beautiful graphic to illustrate the phrase ‘all creation sings’ as a logo idea for my website.

I kept her in frequent prayer and thanked God for the blessing of this reconnection.

 

A beautiful sketch created by my friend Marni to illustrate 'All Creation Sings'

A beautiful sketch created by my friend Marni to illustrate ‘All Creation Sings’

 

Then suddenly without warning, this friendship came to a halt when I learned this Saturday that Marni had passed away in her sleep.

This is where I have no adequate words as a writer.

I am still raw. The pain of tragic and unexpected loss is haunting me. I cannot wrap my mind around it. Marni was too young at only 48. Her departure was too abrupt.

And if my grief as a recent friend hurts this much, I cannot imagine what her husband and all of her daughters must be going through. My heart goes out to each of them. I feel broken for them. I cry out to our Heavenly Father on their behalf.

Today, two things about Marni’s life are beginning to bring some hopefulness to my heart: first, that her gentle spirit of acceptance and love touched so many lives (as evidenced by the outpouring on Facebook). I do not think she realized just how much of a light she was, blessing so many people. Second, Marni confessed faith and trust in Christ as Savior, so I know that today she is with Him for all eternity, enjoying His amazing glory and pure love in a way that we only get mere glimpses of now in our fallen world.

I pray the Father would continue pouring out abundant mercy and comfort on all who are grieving the loss of gentle Marni. And I pray that somehow through the pain, there will be people who follow Marni’s example of turning to Jesus as their hope for this life and eternity to come. May God be glorified in our suffering.

I close with words of Jesus that my heart needs to hear and experience over and over again:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

 

Shafts of sunlight break through storm clouds in rural Wyoming

Shafts of sunlight break through storm clouds in rural Wyoming


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