Tag Archives: Utah fall color

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 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)

 

 


The Sweetness of Solitude

 

Traffic. I detest it.

The cars were at a standstill, two lanes thick. Hope was doled out sparingly a few feet at a time every minute or two. After what seemed an endless wait the bottleneck was released, but then immediately the two lanes merged into one. Plodding along at 25 miles per hour, crankiness was brooding under the surface as I wondered why I should be stuck in a jam of cars and people in this place.

This was not a weekday commute on the interstate of a crowded metropolis; it was a beautiful October weekend at one of America’s most spectacular national parks in southwest Utah.

I can’t blame the hoards of tourists and photographers from all over the world for swarming to Zion in autumn, as it is one of the great spectacles of the American Southwest. But I was in no mood for congestion. I craved quiet and solitude where I could create in peace.

 

Climbing the switchbacks toward Zion's east side grants a stunning view of the main canyon

Climbing the switchbacks toward Zion’s east side grants a stunning view of the main canyon

 

The vast majority of Zion National Park’s visitors congregate along the main canyon road, where the beauty slaps you in the face with its utter grandeur. But I knew on this day I had no patience for these crowds, so I drove past the renowned Zion Canyon Drive and wound my way up the switchbacks, through the long dark tunnel, and out into the light of Zion’s east side.

Here, the number of cars and people are a tiny fraction of those crammed into the valley on the west side. Immediately I began to feel tension starting to release. Though the landscape on this side of the tunnel was less famous and more subtle, I knew it would suit me photographically. And most importantly, I knew I would find the delicious solitude I craved.

I navigated the curves of this much quieter road and found a promising pullout at the entrance to a small side canyon. From the road I caught glimpses of glorious autumn color lining parts of the canyon, and with much anticipation I hoisted my photo pack and tripod on my back and began climbing down a rough path leading to the canyon floor. I prayed for God’s grace to give me eyes to see his glory, and for the ability to make inspiring art in his world.

This little canyon proved a very blessed choice indeed. Right away I was treated to intense reds and oranges of lovely late-October maples, and further along in my wandering I came across a captivating mini slot canyon. There was more to explore and photograph than would fit in one day so I was happy to return to this and other nearby side canyons on Zion’s eastside for several more days of exploring and photographing sandstone patterns, autumn leaves, mountain goats, and sunsets.

 

Showy maples bring jaw-dropping color to the autumn party on Zion's east side canyons

Showy maples bring jaw-dropping color to the autumn party on Zion’s east side canyons

 

Characterful sandstone walls in glowing reflected light bring a mini slot canyon to life in Zion N.P.

Characterful sandstone walls in glowing reflected light bring a mini slot canyon to life in Zion N.P.

 

As much as I loved making images here, it was the sublime solitude that I most cherished. Not another soul interrupted my free-flowing thinking down in these canyons. While the crowds filled the main tourist sites and visitor centers ten minutes away, I basked in the deliciousness of being utterly alone. When God assigned my personality he made me an introvert, and it is in sweet solitude that I am strengthened and refreshed. It is in solitude where I best process my thoughts, ponder decisions, do my most inspired creating, and work my hardest. Solitude prepares me to love and serve people; without enough quiet alone time I quickly become no good to anyone.

 

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“There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech.” – Charles H. Spurgeon
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And it is in solitude where I most naturally commune with my Creator and think on his amazing glory. During these quiet canyon hikes my mind was occupied with the Good News of God revealed in Scripture – that fallen rebels like me have been outrageously loved and forever forgiven by trusting in the perfect once-for-all performance of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, very God himself. A free gift! No earning required, nor even possible. All of mystifying grace, none of me. There are depths to this spectacular salvation found in the pages of the New Testament that I am only just now beginning to comprehend, and what I’m seeing is creating a profound paradigm shifting in how I relate to my Father in Heaven and live out of his love. I hope to write about these things in the coming new year.

 

A solitary fallen maple leaf complements the textured lines of sandstone during autumn at Zion

A solitary fallen maple leaf complements the textured lines of sandstone during autumn at Zion

 

If any readers are in the mood to share, I would love to hear your comments about the idea of solitude. Is it something you crave? In the hustle of work and family and holiday chores, do you find you don’t get enough restful silence? When you are able to carve out time alone, what do you do with that time? What occupies your mind? Does solitude renew your spirit? Or like one of my good friends, do you find being utterly alone more draining than it is rebuilding? I would love to know my readers better if you are so moved to share your thoughts.

 

“In solitude, at last, we’re able to let God define us the way we are always supposed to be defined—by relationship: the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself. Not performance but presence.” – Richard Rohr

 


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)


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