Tuesday, December 23, 2014

TRUTH CAME DOWN AT CHRISTMASTIME


Magi, Internet Domain

Searching after truth is one of our most important pursuits in life. But where to start and what to do with it if it is found? We learn many things as we go along in life—some that ring true and others that may seem true at the time, or so we’d like to think, but that later turn on us. The babe born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago is the foundation of all truth. Our Creator and Sustainer of all things was delivered by a young teenager and walked among us as a man so that he could deliver us. He taught us great truths, making certain that we were paying attention by prefacing many of his sayings with the phrase, “I tell you the truth”. He even specifically told us that “I am the way, the truth and the life”. The wise men that sought out the young child by studying the heavens were among the first to recognize that a special being had arrived in the world to light the way to truth and life.

The Biblical book of Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings primarily shared by Solomon, a man after God’s heart, so that we can apply truth in our lives. The little child of Bethlehem significantly added to our understanding of eternal truth as he transitioned into a wise teacher. Job’s “friend” Elihu recognized that God is the source of real wisdom and truth, but he didn’t use it to help Job. Acquiring truth is a life-long pursuit, but not the ultimate goal. Truth must take root in mankind’s heart and bear the fruit of a life well lived in order to reap the full harvest of the search.

And as Isaiah prophesied over 700 years before the child was born, “he will be called Wonderful Counselor”!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

LOVE CAME DOWN AT CHRISTMASTIME


Christmas Eve Silent Night, Jamestown, NC

Jesus had already spent a tiring day preaching to the people and he had sailed across the Sea of Galilee with his disciples to rest. But a large crowd hungered for more and it became necessary to also feed them late in the day. William Barkley in his book, Insights: Miracles, posits three explanations for how Jesus was able to feed the multitude of five thousand with five barley loaves and two sardine-size fishes. This poor man’s bread and the small preserved pickled fish of Galilee were known throughout the Roman Empire. The story is one of seven miracles that the apostle John relates in his Gospel to show that Jesus is the Messiah. Barkley notes that we’ll never know exactly what happened on that grassy plain near the Sea of Galilee, but it was miraculous. One possible explanation is that Jesus simply multiplies the loaves and fishes. Or, it may have literally been a sacramental meal and it was just a morsel that the people received which nourished their hearts and souls like our communion does today.

Or, there may actually be a very inspiring third explanation. Many people in the great crowd wanting to hear Jesus may have been pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. Jewish people carried their own food in bottle-shaped baskets so they could observe their rules of cleanness and uncleanness. They had probably packed just enough food for the journey without consideration for sharing it. But they listened to Jesus’ message and witnessed the young boy’s gift to him. God is constantly using ordinary people like you, me and the boy to accomplish extraordinary things! “Little is much when God is in it!” Philip didn’t think they could feed the multitude, but Andrew brought the boy with his small lunch to Jesus. If you don’t think God can handle a large problem, your God isn’t big enough!

Then Jesus turned, blessed the loaves and fishes as the father of a family and gave them to his disciples to distribute. In this way they had to trust that the peoples’ needs would be fulfilled and they could only share what they had received. That’s still how it works today. This modeled behavior in the presence of the Son of God must have assuredly moved the crowd to willingly share with others around them and it became a spontaneous, miraculous lovefeast in the spirit of goodwill and love for God and others. The resurrected Jesus later appeared to his disciples on these same shores of the Sea of Galilee where he assured them of an abundant life everlasting and challenged them to feed his sheep and make a difference in their lives, while he prepared a breakfast of bread and fish.

The “lessons learned” from this “miracle of the sharing of five loaves and two fish” were that Andrew trusted that Jesus could make something happen if he just made the effort to help by bringing the small boy to him. And although the boy didn’t have a lot to offer, it was enough to complete a miracle. Barkley notes that “it may well be that the world is denied miracle after miracle and triumph after triumph because we will not bring to Jesus what we have and what we are. If we would lay ourselves on the altar of his service, there is no saying what he could do with us and through us.” It may just be that it was not the loaves and fish that were miraculously changed that day on the Shores of Galilee, but the hearts and souls of all who gathered there that received the Bread of Life! Love changes everything. And the greatest gift of love known to mankind came down at Christmastime, shared the love, fed his flock and changed the world, which may also explain why this miracle left such an impression that it is the only one that appears in all four Gospels.

And as Isaiah prophesied over 700 years before the child was born, “he will be called Prince of Peace”!

P.S.
I'll be standing there next year!

Friday, December 19, 2014

A DAMAGED-GOODS WORLD


Fallen, Jamestown, NC

We’ve become very good these days at skirting the grim reality of the world around us by using creative words to describe it. Those words increasingly turn up in the news. Some words are simply satiric if we don’t take them too seriously, like the recent peaceful protests that devolved into rioting and looting in cities around the country that were described as “undocumented shopping”. But innocent civilians caught up in the never ending wars around the world are referred to as “collateral damage”. And then there’s the growing issue of mental illness and those individuals that are living among us on the streets that don’t quite qualify for institutionalization until they snap and commit a horrendous crime against society. The examples are legion.

Australia generally just languishes down under and minds its own business. But within the past week it was the center of a hostage crisis where two innocent hostages were ultimately killed. And then a mother of eight innocent children was found with stab wounds while all of her children were discovered with fatal knife wounds. The police are not actively looking for a suspect.

A lawyer of the gunman who seized the hostages described him as a man of “ideology …so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness”. He went on to state that the lone-wolf radical who considered himself persecuted by the government for his political views was “a damaged-goods individual” who had numerous issues.

That first Christmas Eve was anything but a “silent night” and a multitude of people around the world still do not experience one. At this hopeful time of the year, it’s time to pause and unite in action and prayer for a peace on earth and goodwill towards all mankind here and now, as we individually work to make a difference into the New Year in a broken “damaged-goods world”.

P.S.
And now we must deal with the assassination of two New York City policemen by an unstable man who was quite likely influenced by all the recent rioting and cop-hate rhetoric, who then committed suicide.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

WE CALL IT CHRISTMAS


Star of Bethlehem, Internet Domain

When man reaches for God we call it religion.

When God reaches for man we call it Christmas.


--Washington Fellowship

Saturday, December 13, 2014

SILENT SENTINAL OF CHRISTMAS PAST


Silent Sentinal, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA

I enjoy photographing old weathered barns with their distinctive character lines exposing the inner wood grains. And I seldom photograph an old deserted house because they just generally seem to lack the interest through the camera lens. But this deserted and weathered house nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains definitely caught my attention. The natural stone foundation and the outside stone fireplace dated the structure. I had to trek off the highway to capture the angle exposing the stripped roof and of course, the brightly painted flag with the text petitioning God to bless America was eye-catching.

At this holiday time of the year, it’s thought provoking to wonder how many Christmas’s were celebrated within the warmth of that old house around the brick fireplace. The house was quite probably erected by the homesteaders with help from neighbors, although I didn’t see any other structures standing in the vicinity. There may have been a small Christmas tree near the fireplace rendering a soft pine scent throughout the rooms as the woman of the house prepared a simple dinner. The tree would not have been purchased from an asphalt tree lot, but harvested by the family from the nearby hillside. Any packages under the tree for the children were very possibly hand made by the parents. Perhaps there were small hand carved “action figures” for the boys and matching hand sewn dresses for the girls and their dolls. There may have even been a small paper sack full of fruit and nuts under the tree for Christmas morning.

More than one successive family could have lived under the now crumbling roof. The home protected them from many storms and cold winter winds as they spent their life hours in this harsh country. Many new babies were probably delivered in the home by a visiting doctor or the family. Undoubtedly, family members breathed their last in the bedrooms as well. And now the house sits alone in decay as nature reclaims the land. But the Christmas memories surely live on in the telling of a Christmas past by the progeny of those who were born and raised in this silent sentinel of the mountains.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CHRISTMAS HOPE


Larry and Rosemary, Chicago, IL

One of the many highlights of this year was the two weeks I stayed with my granddog Rosemary in Chicago while my daughter and son-in-law traveled Italy. We shared many hours exploring the urban neighborhood on our daily June walks which I summarized in one of my more popular postings titled “Walking with Rosemary”. I concluded the adventure by writing that “Our wanderings are full of curiosity. A large black ant abandons caution and aimlessly wanders across our path along the shaded sidewalk. Rosemary investigates and unceremoniously eats it.”

I fully expected a warm, belly rubbing welcome from Rosemary when I returned to Chicago for Thanksgiving. But after I rang in with the loud buzzer, she barked and nipped at my ankle. Reflecting back, I think she initially didn’t recognize me and certainly wasn’t aware that I was arriving that day. She may have even been a bit irritated that I had left for so long. I understand that at this stage of life we begin to miss a lot of those friends and loved ones who have gone before us. But that’s the beauty of celebrating the birth of the Christ child that the young teenager bore. We all now have the Christmas hope of being reunited once again after we’ve been separated for a while.

And Rosemary and I were able to enjoy another walk together!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

UNSEEN BREATH OF HEAVEN


Mary and Child, Old Saint Patrick's, Chicago, IL

The lyrics from Mary’s Song, Breath of Heaven, give us a sense of what the anxious teenager was feeling as she carried the Son of God inside her womb:

I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I've done
Holy Father you have come
And chosen me now
To carry your son

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone
Be with me now
Be with me now

Breath of heaven
Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong

Mary was a young, poor female in a backwater town far removed from the influential and powerful, but she found favor with God. When God’s messenger Gabriel announced to her that she would be a single pregnant teenager she submitted to God’s will. Countless generations have now praised her for willingly delivering a child that delivered both her and all mankind and clearing the way for an eternal spiritual life after we finish this mortal one. Mary is considered to be the blessed one, full of grace.

God has communicated to humankind over the centuries verbally, with angels, in dreams, and through His Son. Today He is more to be felt than seen, and His grace is mostly poured out to others by way of you and me. And once grace is received, it is expected that it will be shared.

It’s interesting to note that both the Hebrew and Greek words for wind, breath and spirit are the same. God breathed life into the first human beings. I’ve sensed our creator’s presence in the winds and soothing summer breezes that is His healing breath. The air around us has been described as the kingdom of the heavens. We certainly can’t survive without it. Is it merely composed of natural elements like oxygen and carbon dioxide, or is there something more transparent and spiritual at work in this rarefied air?

Friday, December 5, 2014

CONFIDENCE


Moores Creek Egret, Yorktown, VA

There are many things in life over which we have no control—with the one exception of our response to them. I believe part of our response should include trusting in our Heavenly Father to see us through to the other side of any circumstance. If we have been nurturing a relationship with our creator, we know that there are two sets of footprints in the sand along the beach of life. But there may be times when only one set of footprints can be seen. That could be when He is carrying us or it may just be those times when He has the confidence in watching from a distance and letting us walk strong on our own to gain self-confidence.

Birds have the confidence to light upon an untested branch because they have successfully tested their wings. We too have tested our wings in so many ways such as all the battles we have won, fears we have overcome and the knowledge and experiences we’ve acquired. We have the wings to soar with eagles if only we remind ourselves that we have prepared for this moment and we are not alone!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

CLOUD GATE SKY SCRAPERS


Sky Clouds, Chicago, IL

Cloud Gate is a marvelous polished stainless steel sculpture located in the heart of Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. The reflecting Chicago skies and surrounding sky scrapers provide an infinite possibility of images. This image reflects the sky but retains the reality of both modern and traditional sky scrapers in the distance that tower over the sculpture.

BLUE MAN DRIVING


Blue Chicago, Chicago, IL

My favorite definition of luck that I fortunately stumbled across years ago is that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity”. And its corollary is “the harder I work, the luckier I get”.

In spite of all this country’s warts and troubles, I was among the lucky five percent or so of the world’s population to be born in America, which I’ve read qualifies me among the worlds richest. I have never known extended hunger and I have always had a warm bed to sleep in at night, with the exception of those dubious adventures in the great outdoors. I arrived here strictly by the grace of God and the sacrifice of my great grandparents who immigrated here from Germany, Russia, and the British Isles. My daughter and I have recently spent some time on Ancestry.com to better understand their story and ours. I have no doubt that those folks who share much of my DNA did not have nearly the good life I’ve been blessed with so far. Their hard lives were probably the exact antithesis of mine. But I believe they had faith and a dream for a better life for their children and their children’s children. That would be me and now I’m living that dream.

I’m living their dream because of a little bit of luck, God’s providence, and applying myself to add essential tools to my tool kit. That included spending time in classes and study while others were out having a good time or idly watching sports on television, etc. There were many times when I thought that if I died tomorrow, I would have squandered those hours of self-sacrifice for naught, as I had still not attained any tangible benefit from the effort. It was a trial of short term pain for long term gain. I did realize early on from working minimum wage jobs that supporting yourself in life is all about trading your valuable and limited life hours for money. And the more someone needs the tools in your tool kit, the more money they will pay for your life hours. When I entered college, I really had no passion to focus on one particular career, especially when you realize most folks these days will have multiple careers due to the rapid revolution of technology. For instance, I realized that I would have more longevity as an information worker than the invaluable minimum wage jobs I had been working. So I focused on the post Sputnik engineering needs of the country at the time. I also learned to migrate to the areas that needed my tools. There’s no opportunity in a skill that has no demand. With a few exceptions, you can find a job you love and starve while never working another day in your life. Or you can learn to love the job you have and use the money to find fulfillment in other places.

That background brings me to conversations I had with two Uber taxi drivers in Chicago last Thanksgiving weekend. One of the young men informed me that he was from Eastern Europe and had received a degree in engineering. The other young man was from India and had a degree in pharmaceuticals. I’m certain that both of these young men had sacrificed and worked hard to acquire these degrees, but now they were driving a taxi in Chicago and not practicing their skills where they were born. The basic problem? No opportunity. But they had not given up. They were still in the race to attain a better life and exchange their life hours for a better income. In the brief time we interfaced with one another, I attempted to give them words of encouragement and share my story. We are all vessels of grace that can be placed in a friend or stranger’s path at a critical time in their life when the blues are pulling them down. Of course, that works in reverse as well. I’ll never know how their story ends, but now it’s part of my story as well.

Prisoners have a term for a man being led to his execution as a “dead man walking”. The accompanying photo gave me the inspiration for this blog title of “blue man driving”, to visually illustrate that everyone we encounter in life as ships (or taxis) passing in the night has a story. Some are stories of the downtrodden fighting the blues and possibly accepting their fate. Others have circumstances that offer little hope, which is where those who have opportunities need to provide hope. And some are stories of resilient and determined people who are in the trenches and streets fighting for an opportunity. Many folks don’t always have the time or inclination to share their story, but occasionally we do have those chance encounters--such as a brief exchange with a migrant taxi driver in a distant city. And during this holiday time of the year, we’re reminded that some people have unknowingly shown hospitality and compassion to angels.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

CANDLE IN THE WIND


Spirit Flame, Jamestown, NC

Taking, Giving

Blowing out someone's candle doesn't make yours any brighter.

In fact, lighting a thousand other candles doesn't diminish it either.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

BEAUTY


Aura, Greensboro, NC

It's been observed that once we cross through the thin veil to the other side our perception of beauty will radically change because we will see folks' spiritual souls instead of their mortal bodies.

But we may be even more surprised by someone's presence than their appearance!

Friday, November 21, 2014

GIVING THANKS FOR A GOOD LIFE


Thanksgiving Sale, Greensboro, NC

I just returned from a brief shopping trip where I once again had to drive around the mall parking lot to find a space, searched in vain to find someone who could assist me, listened to old familiar holiday tunes on the ubiquitous speaker systems that followed me on my quest, passed innumerable sale signs announcing the season, stood in line just to give the retailer my money, drove home in four times the normal passage of time as the traffic dodged all around me, and finally arrived home only to discover that I forgot to stop at the service station to refill my gas tank. All of these familiar signs of the season including the markedly colder temperatures were subliminally and not so subtly heralding the arrival of Thanksgiving Day! Retailers continued to jostle for any leg up on their competition which lately has included who will be open on Thanksgiving Day and how soon they will unlock their doors. It seems they’ve outdone themselves in the rush to capture our consumer-driven culture’s almighty dollar by stretching the revered Black Friday sales day well beyond the space-time continuum for multiple days this year. Hopefully, no one will be crushed to death once the doors are opened as happened last year.

In spite of all the hustle and bustle, this is a good time to pause life and focus on giving thanks. I’ve always liked a short story with an O. Henry twist like his famous Christmas story, The Gift of the Magi, about a young couple and sacrificial giving out of unconditional love. Our senior pastor relayed a story this week about perfection and thanks giving. Long ago there was a king with a devoted and very positive advisor. Whenever any situation arose, the advisor always remarked that “It was for good and worthy of thanks giving”. One day the king suffered a painful accident that severed his thumb. When his devoted advisor again said “It was for good and worthy of thanks giving”, the enraged king had him thrown into prison. Months later, the king was with a hunting party deep within the kingdom when they were captured by savages. As the natives began boiling water and preparing their captives for a slow death, they noticed the king’s missing thumb. Since they worshiped their perception of perfection and were suspicious of imperfection, they released him. Whereupon he returned to his castle and immediately released his old advisor. He fervently asked for forgiveness in treating his friend so grievously, but the advisor once again stated “It was all for good and worthy of thanks giving”. When the king incredulously asked “How this could be?” the old sage replied “If I hadn’t been in prison, I would have been with you”.

I became acquainted with Francois-Marie Arouet who wrote under the pen name of Voltaire when I took a philosophy class years ago in college. One of Voltaire’s more famous quotes that caught my attention is that “Perfect is the enemy of good”. As one who was schooled in engineering and spent my entire professional career in operations, I learned early on about the law of diminishing returns. Folks can spend an inordinate amount of time and effort striving along that final stretch to perfection when “good” will get things off dead center and actually accomplish something in short order. Someone obsessed with perfection may never accomplish anything. A college professor related the story of a mathematician and an engineer who were both vying for the hand of a beautiful young woman. Since she couldn’t choose between them, she proposed a challenge that each should stand apart from her and then begin moving in successive steps half way towards her. The first to reach her would get her hand. The mathematician immediately threw up his hands and forfeited, complaining that it couldn’t be done as there would always be a minute distance to travel. The engineer immediately started walking, stating that he knew he would never arrive, but he would get close enough for all practical purposes! Should we constantly seek perfection in life or will “good enough” see us through? I’d argue that perfection is a nice goal, as long as we understand that falling short will be the norm and only one person ever walked this planet in perfection. Accepting imperfection as long as we can attain a level of “good” can immensely improve our productivity and peace of mind for the good life. Don't lose the joy of life waiting on perfection. Life is neither perfect nor fair, but life is good.

As we journey through life, we can serenely look back on a good life well lived and say “It was all for good and worthy of thanks giving”. And besides, there are many times when perfection can get us into hot water!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

VANISHING AMERICANA


Carolina Countryside, Summerfield, NC

The fusion of a rusting old truck and the greying character lines of weathered barn wood merges into the ultimate image of a vanishing Americana countryside.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

IMPRESSIONIST MAPLE


Monet Maple, Jamestown, NC

I was introduced to Impressionist paintings at the Nelson Art Museum in Kansas City and I've had the pleasure of viewing them in many other major museums like the fantastic collection at Chicago's Art Institute on Michigan Avenue. This Cross Process photo edit of autumn Japanese Maple leaves in my backyard this morning immediately brought this technique to mind.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

RECLAMATION


Ghost House, Gibsonville, NC

Nature reclaims the land from mans' intrusion, beginning the slow,
relentless process of restoring the environment back to it's natural state.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

VIVA LA VIDA!



Leaf Run, Jamestown, NC
Running with Cars, Jamestown, NC

A million revelers gather every year in Pamplona, Spain in the Pyrenees foothills to celebrate the Running of the Bulls through the streets of town. It’s called The Fiestas of San Fermin, after the martyred patron saint of Navarra. The original saints feast day now runs for nine days of partying, bull running and bull fighting. Every morning at 8:00 there are six bulls released from holding corrals into the main street bordered by barricaded side streets. A small minority of adventurous folks called mozos dress in traditional white clothing with red bandanas (representing the saint and his martyrdom) and get an immediate infusion of adrenalin as they run ahead of the bulls. The unwritten law if you fall in this flight for your life is to stay down and get trampled instead of getting back up and being gored. The short course ends at the town’s bull ring as runners shout “Viva San Fermin”! Ernest Hemingway first experienced the spectacle in 1923 and wrote about the celebration of energy and life that was apparent in both the two and four legged participants.

As I was driving along a bypass today, the newly fallen leaves were once more gathering along the banked curbs after the first hard freeze of the fall season. The leaf spirits had been bound to the trees all during the spring and summer as fast moving cars and trucks freely sped under them. But now their job was completed as the trees withdrew their life giving sap back deep within their trunks in preparation for the impending winter. The leaves had received the satisfaction of a good and faithful servant that had served their symbiotic masters well. And all of the minions had worn the standard issue drab green uniforms of their rulers. Now they were released from the bondage of the tree branches and their true colors were revealed as the green chlorophyll retreated from their veins. The human creatures scurrying about below suddenly began to take notice as each tree temporarily exploded into the bright colors of fall. The free spirits were left with one last surge of energy as the autumn winds gathered them up in spontaneous bursts that sent them sailing over the landscape.

The new found freedom of the autumn leaves was beyond imagination! The early morning commuter cars were flashing by as they gathered in traditional colors of orange, yellow and scarlet. They really had no interest in soaring with eagles in the skies, but running with the cars in the streets was quite another proposition. They waited in anxious anticipation for each wind gust that propelled them into the streets and freeways ahead of the oncoming cars. As the rapidly moving cars overtook the courageous bands, they lay low as the aerodynamics of the cars’ front wind dams redirected them. When the speeding cars passed over the adventurous spirits, they rose up in the updraft, celebrating their survival. The wind currents created a vortex behind the passing cars that sent every leaf spiraling up and out of harm’s way. The excitement generated by each passing car pumped the last vestiges of chlorophyll throughout the leaves’ veins and imbued each of them with an extra shot of energy to continue the death-defying spiral dance.

When the rollicking festival in Pamplona is over at the stroke of midnight on the ninth day, the people gather to light candles and sing “Pobre de Mi, poor me, the festival has ended”. Withering leaves are caught up on the gusting winds around them and gently settle at their feet. And both the mozos and the free spirits of fall will rest assured that their legacy will not lie with those timid souls that stayed on the sidelines, but with those who ran with the bulls shouting “Viva Life!” at the end of the dance.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

BREAKING BAD


Atlantic Wave, Wrightsville Beach, NC

Thursday, October 30, 2014

FOGGY FALL SUNRISE


Jamestown Lake, Jamestown, NC

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NEON SEA FOAM


Blue Foam, Wrightsville Beach, NC

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

INHALE EXHALE


Reading to Children, Jamestown, NC

All life exists from breath to breath. God breathed the breath of life into the first human being. Our soul departs on our last. The simple discipline of focusing or concentrating on our in-and-out breath enables us to develop mindfulness, the faculty of alert and sensitive awareness. This calming effect on the mind allows us to relax and be open to enlightenment. Meditation techniques incorporate mindfulness breathing to harmonize the body, breath and mind.

The apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament left us with a very enlightened teaching in Galatians 5:14 when he wrote that “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’". All scripture is said to be inspired or “God breathed” (but not necessarily dictated). I recently ran across a play on words related to mindfulness breathing that simply encourages us to “Inhale love, exhale gratitude”. When we focus on bringing the Golden Rule of loving others as ourselves into our lives and returning our gratitude back into the world, we experience the true joy of life.

When we become less self-centered and more God-centered, it’s amazing how stress, anxiety and restlessness are replaced by a calmness in both our physical and mental state. When we inhale love and exhale gratitude, we can make a profound difference in not only someone else’s life but ours as well. And sometimes those moments can take our breath away!

To quote an ol’ country philosopher, George Strait:

“Life’s not the breaths you take,
the breathing in and out,
that gets you through the day,
ain’t what it’s all about.

You just might miss the point,
to try and win the race.
Life’s not the breaths you take,
but the moments that take your breath away.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

NEW LIFE MESSENGER



Row Cloud Messenger, Burlington, NC
Butterfly, Burlington, NC


I was recently driving back through the Carolinas from my final beach trip of the year. As the wind began to increase I noticed the growing formation of billowing row clouds stretching from horizon to horizon, signaling the changing seasons. Since I still hadn’t completely disengaged myself from unstructured beach time, I pulled off the interstate and grabbed my camera to quickly capture a few sky images.

As I was editing the five hundred photos that I had taken during the trip today, I stumbled onto the final images on file. The row clouds were interesting as I scrolled through them. And then my eye caught the anomaly in one of the images I had taken as I panned the sky from east to west. A quick cropping of the image revealed the fleeting image of a colorful butterfly riding the wind that had totally escaped my attention as I took the photograph.

Humankind has pondered the influence of the butterfly for centuries. Many cultures believe these winged spirits personify angels and loved ones who have gone before us. Their short life span and physical transformation from a slowly crawling caterpillar to a beautiful spirit animal taking flight always captures our imagination. Their resurrection to an ethereal winged spirit serves as a sobering reminder for us to live in the present moment, for life is fleeting. But their serendipitous and unannounced appearance in our lives also reminds us that as we complete our mortal journey, we simply transform into a spiritual dimension freed of gravity and time. They represent joy, freedom, creativity and change. Their transformative influence symbolizes the shaping of our own life and soul evolution.

When a butterfly crosses our path we should pause life and consider the message of new life that it brings to us. And only we alone can discern the spiritual meaning for our life at that milestone of the journey.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

DAYBREAK SURFER


Daybreak Surfer, Wrightsville Beach, NC

Thursday, October 23, 2014

LINEAR GRAFFITI SKIES


Graffiti Sunrise, Wrightsville Beach, NC

It’s always a magical experience to be present for a morning’s sunrise and seeing that sunrise over the ocean simply adds to the experience. The ideal condition for me is to have a scattering of low level clouds on the eastern horizon to refract the long rays of the morning sunbeams.

This morning’s sunrise began like many others with one major exception. As I stood on the edge of the beach, my eye caught the beginning contrail of a jet plane sweeping directly over my sunrise canvas. The atmospheric conditions must have been just perfect to diffuse the vaporous exhaust into perfectly drawn graffiti lines expanding across my line of sight. And unlike the previous windy morning where I saw no contrails, the winds were perfectly still on this new chilly day.

I’ve since learned that a condensation trail will form behind a jet as the exhaust gases cool and mix with the surrounding air if the humidity is high and the temperature is below minus forty degrees Fahrenheit. Under those conditions, water vapor from the jet’s engines and the atmosphere condenses into water droplets which then freeze into snowy particles that morph into a contrail. If the air is supersaturated, the ice particles remain for a much longer time before returning to water vapor and will actually feed off the surrounding water vapor to emulate those high flying wispy cirrus clouds. That was the phenomenon I was observing.

My initial reaction was disappointment in having such a perfect sunrise defaced right in front of my eyes. Then as more morning redeyes ascended into the heavens, a rather extraordinary image began to form with half a dozen brush strokes painted across the skies. Although every sunrise is a unique creation, this one developed into an image that I had never witnessed before this day. The origin of the wispy linear lines may have been man-made, but the final canvas was truly God breathed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

THE TREASURE HUNTER



Sunrise Treasure Hunter, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Sunrise Treasure, Wrightsville Beach, NC


I awoke before sunrise this cool October day, pulled on my jeans and hoodie and made my way down to the lobby for a warm cup of complementary coffee. Sitting on a rocking chair on the main balcony with coffee firmly in hand, I watched the first light of dawn slowly radiate the early morning sky. The ocean’s relentless waves were crashing on shore as a distant hurricane overran the island of Bermuda, creating prime surfing waves and cautionary rip currents just offshore. As the sun’s light began to permeate the darkness, I caught sight of a lone figure slowly wandering down the shoreline. Focusing my telephoto lens, I observed that the man was operating a metal detector in search of valuable treasure buried just under the eroding sand.

Finishing my coffee, I made my way down to the beach. Fortunately the prime time to collect seashells is also the best time to photograph magical sunrises over the ocean. The early bird does indeed get the best seashells and photos. And the timing is even better at low tide and after a major storm, like the present offshore hurricane. I like to stroll near the water’s edge at the shoreline where exposed shells are deposited near the ocean wash. As the eastern skyline begins to glow with pink and blue pastels, the breaking day tests my patience while I await the arrival of the main attraction. That becomes an opportune time for shelling as the back wash recedes amid the bubbling sea foam. Small shore birds scurry along the foam lines efficiently harvesting the miniscule tidbits that were ordered for breakfast delivery.

Of course, it helps to be at the right place at the right time. As I glanced down at the beach drift at my feet, the golden glow of a sea shell that had just arrived on the last wave made its appearance. The marine mollusk had long ago succumbed to the starfish that had bored a fatal hole into its hard protective exoskeleton. The mollusk had secreted calcium carbonate in periodic layers as he aged, creating an expanding, protective outer shell. The mantel surface secreted the building materials both outward and on the edges over the inner surface leaving it sculpted by irregular folds and tubercles. The mollusk’s unique diet determined the varying pigments that created the one-of-a-kind color in the shell.

There’s no guarantee that a shell will still be there after the next advance of the final burst of energy from the onslaught of salt water. And the stranger with the treasure hunter’s metal detector had just passed this way ahead of me, but he was defining treasure differently than I this morning. So I bent over and gently scooped up the island treasure and placed it safely in my hoodie pocket.

It’s difficult to place a value on most things for individuals. Some folks consider an object worthless while others call it priceless. The value can be all about what fits your eye and what you individually treasure. The money cowry shell was widely used worldwide in trade networks and traders could realize gains of 500% when obtaining them from the source. Australian tribes each had their own shell money and considered the other tribe’s shells worthless. Jesus taught us to store our treasures in heaven and not place a lot of value on fleeting earthly stuff because where our treasure resides, there our heart will be also.

And you can always return from a good walk along the beach with the treasure of a revitalized spirit and a good suntan.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

APPRECIATING ENDINGS


Beginnings & Endings, Wrightsville Beach, NC

I’ve observed that the timing for many endings in life is quite predictable. For instance, movies will generally end within two hours. Most timed sporting events will end within the specified time period unless there is a short overtime period which resolves the outcome. Elections are generally decided within hours after the polls close with the exception of those races that are too close to call. Weather forecasters are now very accurate in predicting the exact time that the sun goes down to end the day. The weekend will end on Sunday night most weeks with the exception of Monday holidays that extend our personal time off from two to three days. Photography is all about defining the beginning and ending of an image through the view finder.

But the timing for the ending of other events can be very unpredictable. Major events like a world war or our very lives do not have predictable endings. They may be short lived or go on for decades. Some activities can be an integral part of our normal lives such as driving our child to school or saying good bye to friends and loved ones as we part for the day. The three thousand souls who left for work on September 11, 2001 did not have a clue that all their lives would end that day. Neither did the people who wished them a good day. The thousands of people who arrive at work each day generally do not suspect that it may be their last day on the job where they have been working for decades. Parents who kiss their children good night or drop them off at school are one day confronted with the realization that they don’t do this anymore. The day may come when your spouse looks up and no longer smiles to acknowledge you after years of togetherness.

We can’t stop the earth from spinning or freeze time in place. We can’t put an end to endings. The destiny of all beginnings in this life is inextricably connected to endings. Actually, that’s not all bad, e.g., a trip to the dentist can’t end too soon. We just need to pause life occasionally and recognize that although an event has become a routine part of our existence, there will be an ending. And we need to appreciate and savor each experience as if it may be the ending this time, because we don’t always recognize that an event was the last one of its kind until much later when there are no more.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

MASKED YOUNG WARRIOR


Lagoon Sunrise, Kiawah, SC
Osprey Nest, Kiawah, SC


I was returning from photographing the mystical moments of a colorful sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. As I crossed the beach access bridge, two women walking to the beach noticed the Nikon strapped around my neck. As they passed, one of them asked if I was going to photograph the singing Osprey across the way. That hadn’t been my original intent, but then, I was on beach time. I could faintly hear an unfamiliar bird song in the distance but didn’t recognize it. The call sounded like a frenzied “cheereek” and became more urgent as I followed the call over to another backwater lagoon.

Fortunately I found a wooden access bridge over the lagoon and was able to position myself so that I could focus my telephoto lens high overhead to the top of a dead tree. The forked branches were embracing a variety of driftwood, sticks and seaweed coated with a green algae. The immature osprey may have seemed to be singing to the women, but as I watched the young raptor, three black crows approached the nest and landed in the overarching bare branches. These same crows may have possibly taken the lives of the young osprey’s nest mates before they could defend themselves.

But now this masked sea hawk of the low country skies had outgrown the ominous, threatening crows that hovered overhead. The young sea hawk was making his presence known and finally putting these scavengers on notice that the tables were turned at last. The osprey had inherited the keen gift of a precision hunter. He was now able to spot fish from up to 100 feet with his golden eyes and dive headlong to the water’s surface. Only he and his cousin the owl have an outer toe that is reversible, allowing ospreys to grasp prey with two toes in front and behind. This is particularly helpful when they grab slippery fish which they will turn headfirst to reduce wind resistance in flight.

The osprey is considered the king of birds in Buddhism. A king in Greek mythology became an osprey so that he could harass his daughter when she fell in love with the king of Crete. And medieval folks believed that the masked osprey could so mesmerize fish that they would turn belly up in surrender when the winged hunter approached. Shakespeare noted this observation in Coriolanus when he wrote; “I think he’ll be to Rome as the osprey to the fish, who takes it by sovereignty of nature”.

I intently watched the drama of the black crows and the immature osprey play out as the sun began its daily march across the heavens. But then, much to my surprise, the gallant young warrior suddenly took wing and sailed out of sight, leaving the crows to ponder the role reversal and their new destiny.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

THE DINER


Fifties Diner, Leawood, KS

The young professional couple sitting across from one another in the diner’s back booth had risen every day before sunrise that week. Their work lives were on a fast track containing employee management, deadlines, performance reviews, presentations to executives and customers at all levels, travel around the country, endless late afternoon meetings, meals on the run, technical computer analysis and research, etc. They had both worked late today and had coordinated via their smart phones to meet for a quick dinner before separately driving home to remotely wrap up their work week. Their order had just arrived at their table and they were silently consuming it so that they could move on to other more pressing priorities.

The nicely dressed older couple across the aisle at the diner was sitting together in their booth and moving in quite the opposite direction and at a far less frenetic pace. In fact they had arrived thirty minutes ago and were still far from finished with their meal. The husband liked to bring his wife to this fifties diner in hopes that the brightly lit juke box and black and white floor tiles would resurrect old memories of another time far, far away. He had been a successful businessman in the area for decades. But now he devoted his entire life to caring for his wife that had stood beside him for all those years before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis months earlier. Yes, he had the means to pay for full time care and he did have a housekeeper assist with their home maintenance. His one indulgence was a weekly tee time to play golf with his nephew and a couple of his friends who made certain that this break would be cathartic. They didn’t usually play from the senior tees, but that was understood when he joined their foursome.

The young couple happened to notice the patient, caring and loving way the older gentleman was assisting his wife with her dinner. Few words were spoken by them as well, but the “language of their lives” spoke volumes. It opened the eyes of their hearts to the reality of their relationship and the model they were observing. They paused their life and quietly discussed what they wanted for themselves as well. Then they exited the booth, settled up with the cashier and left the diner.

The senior couple also slowly exited their booth twenty minutes later and the husband asked their waitress for a check. The waitress then told him that a young couple had already paid it. When he incredulously asked why, the cashier said that they had observed the two of them having dinner together. They just wanted to pay it forward and let them know that their "sincere wish was to be blessed to have attained a similar relationship when they hopefully reached their age".

Post Script: A true story related in an e-mail by an old golfing friend who had invited me to join him and his uncle a few years ago for a friendly game of golf played from the senior tees. I filled in the blanks.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

AFTER THE RAIN


After the Rain, Jamestown, NC

An early fall overnight rain renews the land that has been in full production throughout the summer. New life that has been struggling to gather strength is suddenly given a rush of energy and life giving fluids. Wilted leaves suddenly regain their vigor and form as all of nature rejoices in the reinforcement for one final act before withdrawing as the season transitions.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I AM


I Am Sunrise, Kiawah Island, SC

In the third chapter of the book of Exodus, God captures Moses’ attention by speaking to him from a non-consuming burning bush. When he directs Moses to free the Israelites from their captors in Egypt, Moses wants to know the name of the god who is sending him, as the Egyptians had many gods by many names in those days. He responds by telling Moses that “I am who I am”, meaning that he is the one powerful, eternal and unchanging God.

It’s been stated that “I am” are two of the most powerful words in the human language. Our Creator used them to describe himself and whatever we choose to add after these two words becomes our reality. The first thing we usually ask when meeting someone is what’s your name and where do you live? Work in our society is central to our status, economic well-being and our identity. Consequently, we often respond to who we are by telling someone what we do for a living. That becomes problematic once we retire.

When I began contemplating retirement, I was given some good advice up front. I was reminded that many of us who have spent our entire careers in a particular profession and possibly a limited number of companies need to be aware of losing our identity. If we haven’t prepared to transition from a life of success into a life of significance and have already began the process to other volunteer and meaningful activities, we are flying headlong into an identity crisis. Today’s future professionals should have no problem with this as it’s been predicted that many of the jobs waiting for them haven’t even been created yet. And they will have multiple careers in their lifetime as the pace of change continues to accelerate.

God has never encountered such a crisis as He is timeless and unchanging. He is the great I Am. And His work to redeem the human race would seem to be secure.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

ISLAND BUTTERFLY


Kiawah Spirit, Kiawah Island, SC


What if a woman dreams she is a butterfly?

What if a butterfly dreams she is a woman?

Are you the dream or the dreamer?

Are butterflies real or imagined?

Mortals or spirits?

If an angel can assume the appearance of a human being,

Why not that of a butterfly?


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

GROUND ZERO 2004


Ground Zero, New York, NY

I took this photo ten years ago at ground zero in New York City. Three years after radical terrorists flew into the twin World Trade Towers the area had been reduced to a gigantic hole in the ground with a lone cross fashioned out of twisted structural steel rising out of the ashes. The cab driver that took us there solemnly mentioned that she will forever hear the pings of the perished first responders’ locators that were hopelessly sounding for days afterwards. May the 3,000 innocent souls that perished on that September day in 2001 rest in peace. God must be continually asking, “When will they ever learn”?

CARRY ON


Southern Sunrise, Kiawah Island, SC

Loved ones who go before us are forever woven into the fabric of our being and forever influence who we are and how we carry on.

Of course we never forget and we are forever changed. We rebuild and are whole again but never the same. We wouldn’t expect nor want to be the same.

When life turns surreal, it's one foot ahead of the other, one day at a time, trusting in the providence of a greater power.

Monday, September 8, 2014

MILESTONES


Spartan Name Tag, Emporia, KS

Four years ago a friend suggested that I begin a blog based on e-mails that I had been sending to a short mailing list. So I decided to begin one using both photo images and short texts to describe select observations that crossed my path. This posting marks the five hundredth which I consider to be a milestone on a journey that has led me in all sorts of directions and tens of thousands of page views from all over the world.

The accompanying photo actually marks two milestones in my life. The image is a copy from my senior high yearbook. It’s fixed on a silhouette of our Spartan mascot which our class has used as name tags at all of our milestone reunions. Each of these subsequent gatherings has given us all pause to mark yet another milestone as our lives continue to unfold.

Milestones literally had their origins as stone markers that were placed along ancient roads such as the Roman Appian Way. They provided an important reference point along the road and some still exist to this day. We use milepost markers on our interstate highways to help travelers mark their progress to points of interest or to direct emergency workers to areas that need their attention.

As children, we achieved numerous developmental milestones in our growth towards adulthood. These individual successes such as understanding the word “no” and pointing to your toes, eyes and nose were celebrated by parents and tolerated by disinterested friends. One of my graduate studies involved learning techniques to develop project plans and identifying milestones along a critical path that were essential to managing resources and completion of activities. These key project milestones not only provided dates for compensation of deliverables but also trigger points to make critical decisions on the future direction of the project.

Research has shown that folks complete many of life’s major milestones before turning thirty such as graduations, marriage, children, military, launching careers, etc. But a well lived life is never finished with milestones and we should never be satisfied with making the last one the final one on the road less traveled.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

GOOD MORNING, GLORY


Morning Glory, Kiawah Island, SC

Sunrise over the Carolina sand dunes is greeted by the unfurling petals of a new born Morning Glory vine winding down towards the beach, reflecting the eternal beauty that sustains it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER


Bridge over Troubled Water, Kiawah Island, SC

I recently read a column written by Regina Brett with forty five life lessons she had penned on the occasion of her “odometer turning 90”. None of us has enough time in a lifetime to learn everything we need to know, but we can learn from the lessons learned by others that have gone before us. So I enjoy gleaning what insights and truths I can find in these musings, because they’re like pebbles in the good road of life that help us keep our footing. And really, many problems are simply well disguised opportunities! To paraphrase Kipling, if we can keep our head while all about us are losing theirs, we’ll succeed in life and be able to press onward. Our attitude in approaching any problem is golden and even large issues can be broken down into their inevitable components to make them more manageable.

Dealing with life in general and the storms of life in particular are common realities for everyone. The column contained a handful of insights that I especially liked beginning with the observation that “Life isn’t fair, but it’s good”. Once we come to terms with this reality, life can definitely become more enjoyable. No one is being singled out for challenging problems. We all get our fair share, but I’ve learned that although we can’t always control these bumps in the road, we can control our response to them.

I’ve also considered many times that some folks simply seem to have a much easier path to travel in life than others. And I’ve learned that when someone attacks my credibility or cuts me off on an Interstate highway, my response should be measured. No one can take our self-confidence or self-control without our permission. Ms. Brett counsels that we shouldn’t compare our life to others or be too quick to judge because “You have no idea what their journey is all about”. When some erratic driver gives me grief out on the open road, I now give them all the room they need to drive ahead of me. You never know what’s going on in their head at the time. I’d rather have them in a position where they can be monitored versus in my rear view mirror. Which leads to one of my favorites, “If we threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back”! That’s probably more correct than we’d ever like to admit!

I’ve also used one of her reflective thoughts every so often that we should “Frame every so called disaster with these words, ‘In five years, will this matter’? And even more to the point, in fifty years who will really care? And every time we think that we’re being rejected, we may just be being redirected to something better!

Finally, one of my all-time favorite truths is that we can never cross the same river twice, for by then both the river and we have changed. Ms. Brett observes that “However good or bad a situation is, it will change”. The only constant in this world is change, so we might as well pull on our big boy or big girl pants and embrace it! She leaves us with the encouraging thought that “Everything can change in the blink of an eye, but don’t worry, God never blinks”! And like a bridge over troubled waters, trusting in the ultimate love of our eternal Father will enable us to lie down in green pastures and give us peace.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

TROPICAL JEWEL


Tropical Jewel, Kiawah Island, SC

Who says that a precious jewel has to be an inert rock anyway? I noticed this small tropical flower blossom on a vine tucked away in the undergrowth surrounding a beach access bridge. It was unassuming and almost shy in its demeanor. But closer inspection with the help of a zoom lens revealed a beauty that most assuredly had been overlooked by almost everyone that had passed this way.

The reward for being alert to anything unusual or unique is generally a photo or experience that would have otherwise been missed. Some folks might define this as serendipity. It reinforced a wise saying that I learned years ago that “we see in life what we look for in life”. And we must be doubly careful that we do our best to see around the biases and filters that we’ve acquired as we’ve experienced life. I’m certain that if I hadn’t been making a conscious effort to look for the potential beauty hidden in the unexceptional vegetation along my path, I would have missed one of our Creator’s most beautiful jewels.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

WALKING THE BEACH


A Man and His Dog, Kiawah Island, SC

The game of golf has been characterized as a good walk spoiled. And those of us who have played the game can certainly relate, even though there are still many days when all the past grief can be instantaneously forgotten. For instance, when you approach a blind shot into the eighteenth green to discover your ball innocently lying within a foot of the hole. But I can never recall a spoiled walk along the beach.

I have a theory about what mysterious urge draws us to the relentless breaking waves along the shoreline of a sandy beach. After all, our initial nine months of life within our mother’s womb were filled with the comforting rhythm of her beating heart as the embryonic fluid transmitted every sound wave to our developing senses. The sound of the sea instinctively calms our spirit as we come into range of the beach. There’s no violent crashing of driven waves on rocky outcroppings along a serene sandy beach, only the bewitching Siren song that draws us into its spell.

Any time is a good time to walk the beach, but letting the cool ocean breezes at sunrise invigorate your early morning walk seems to be ideal. There are no obstructions like trees, mountains and skyscrapers to impede the new day’s brightening rays of light over the ocean. Morning’s first light arrives well before the big combustible globe makes its daily entrance on the eastern horizon. Ancient cultures like the Egyptians and Mayans literally worshiped the sun, as they were well aware that its light sustained all living organisms on the planet. Most of us humans experience mild bouts of depression if deprived of the sun’s rays for too many successive days. Then as the shining orb nears the horizon, the eastern sky begins to glow with pastels of gold and citron and crimson. If there are low level scattered clouds of vapor droplets on the horizon, they will serve to magnify and reflect and refract the new day’s sunbeams across the sky. Only after the support players have adequately prepared us for the main attraction will the star of the show begin to rise into our view and within minutes the grand entrance is complete. Once again we’ve unconsciously managed to adhere to our planet’s surface as Earth completes another daily spin around on its axis.

As I strolled the beach this Labor Day weekend, the experience once more doesn't disappoint. Walking the beach cleanses the soul and brightens the outlook. Renewed optimism arrives on every breaking wave. Small Morning Glory blooms open their petals on the surrounding sand dunes. Shell treasures that have been deposited by the receding tides are left as one-of-a-kind rewards for the early risers. The empty shell of a large sea crab lies motionless near the water’s edge. Sea birds launch into their daily migrations along the shoreline. A young man arrives with his faithful Labrador and best friend to splash in the water. Joggers and bicyclists enjoy the pristine air sans the pollution of their routine routes through busy urban streets. An elderly couple once more walks hand-in-hand, reliving an experience they’ve enjoyed together for over half a century. A young couple arrives with a baby stroller to begin a new day and a new life as a family. And all of us are connected by a common bond as we are drawn back to our beginnings in God’s eternal presence.

Monday, August 25, 2014

BURNING BUSH MOMENTS


Radiant Sunrise, Wrightsville Beach, NC

The third chapter of Exodus tells about the first encounter Moses has with God in the desert. Moses is tending sheep after killing an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew and he is now a fugitive. God has selected Moses to rescue his people from Egyptian bondage. It was not uncommon to see fires in the desert due to lightning strikes and all of the dried vegetation. But Moses encountered a burning bush that was not being consumed by the fire. God wanted to capture his attention and he certainly did so.

Many of us have wrestled with a troubling problem when we suddenly had one of those sudden “Ah Ha” moments where the solution appears to us with brilliant clarity. And I bet many of us have also experienced one of those “burning bush” moments when God has sought our attention for the solution to a problem or to discern a meaningful insight. There’s an old saying that sometimes you have to smack someone with an ax handle to get their attention. But fortunately, God has other less painful methods to employ.

One of our Creator’s most common attention getters that we frequently overlook is the sun’s seemingly never consuming flames. Sunrises and sunsets are generated by an enormous ball of gaseous flames every day of our lives. Many of these “burning bush” moments grab our attention and give us pause to reflect. We need to regard them as daily reminders of new opportunities to make a difference in our individual lives, our family, our community and our world. And its beautiful brilliance sure beats a whack on the backside by an ax handle!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

SUMMER HIBISCUS


Summer Hibiscus, Jamestown, NC

A summer hibiscus bloom has very little time in the sun.
And yet, it is time enough.

CHOOSING YOUR PATH


Water Power, Nantahala National Forest, NC

Water is one of the most powerful forces on the planet, yet it has no power to choose the high ground or the path less traveled. It is a slave to gravity and the easy path.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

TWILIGHT ROSE OF SHARON


Twilight Rose of Sharon, Jamestown, NC

Beauty can easily be a matter of perspective. I learned long ago that viewing creation from an out-of-the-ordinary position can be extraordinary!

Bright sunshine would wash out this image, but the vanishing filtered light of the setting sun adds just the right amount of back lighting to reveal the intricate veins of the flowering petals. And these veins are not unlike the extraordinary life-giving blood veins and sensitive nerve branches that permeate every square millimeter of our extraordinary bodies that God created to sustain our own lives.

And if you view all the rivers and streams on the surface of the earth from high above in the skies, the same patterns that sustain our planet are readily apparent.

Monday, August 18, 2014

SUMMER ROSE


Summer Rose, Jamestown, NC

Don't overlook the beauty that exists just outside your back door.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

COMMON ROOTS


Roots by the Stream, Valley Forge, PA

The very first Psalm tells us that those who place their faith in God are likened to a tree whose roots are firmly established beside flowing, cool streams of water that never run dry. The Psalmist relates that your fruit ripens in its time and your leaves never fade or curl in the summer sun. No matter what you do, you prosper, i.e., when we apply God’s wisdom the fruit or results we bear will be good and receive God’s approval. This doesn’t imply an easy life, but a worthwhile life of significance and true value.

Jesus offered the woman at Jacob’s Well living water so that she would never be thirsty again. She wanted to be free of physical thirst, but Jesus was offering spiritual nourishment; streams of living water that flow from within. He empowers us to deal with our problems from God’s perspective. Jacob, Isaac’s son, actually purchased this land outside Shechem, north of Jerusalem, for a hundred pieces of silver (Genesis 33:19). After wrestling with God, his name was changed to Israel, meaning “he struggles with God”, and he became the third link in God’s plan to start a nation from Abraham (Genesis 35:10-11). Jesus was in the lineage of Isaac and Mohammad was in the lineage of Ishmael, Abraham’s other son. An angel of God called out to Hagar and Ishmael in the desert and told Hagar to “lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation (Genesis 21:17-18). Perhaps the one common thread of hope for peace in the Holy Land is knowing that the roots of the world’s three major monotheistic religions of Judiasm, Islam and Christianity all commence from one man, Abraham.

And the well of God’s living water still flows today as a reminder of His love for all nations and the promise of a restored Kingdom of God.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

MATCHLESS



High Country Aspens, Vail, CO
Rose Quartz Bloom, Jamestown, NC


About forty five years ago, my bride and I were spending our honeymoon vacation high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It was a carefree time to be alive in the midst of one of God’s most beautiful creations in this high country. We fell in love together with this glorious country and the experience became the first of many summer excursions through every corner of the Ute Indian territory.

The cold snow melt rushing headlong down rocky mountain streams was a tranquilizer for the senses along with the Mariah wind song slicing through the pine needles and rustling aspen leaves on cool breezes. Late afternoon showers wafted through the valleys as fire spears pierced the air and thunderous waves of war drums echoed off the ancient cliff dwellings. As the storms moved on to the east, the western skies cleared to reveal the low rays of the setting sun over the high peaks. The bright rays reflected and refracted against the trailing rain drops, revealing the Navajo Yeii rainbow spirit that is said to bring beauty to those in harmony.

We drifted high into the old mining town of Leadville and toured the Tabor opera house where silver mining barons once cheered some of the best entertainment of the time. Then our government switched to the gold standard and bankrupted them faster than their fortunes were made. The "Unsinkable Molly Brown" who survived the Titanic disaster met her husband in Leadville where they became rich through the Little Johnny Mine. Horace “Haw” Tabor made his fortune in the Little Pittsburg silver mine and then bought the Matchless Mine. He later legalized his relationship with Baby Doe McCourt after he divorced his first wife. We listened to an elderly woman who said her father used to carry her into the opera house on his shoulders to watch the shows. As fate many times has its way, she related that Baby Doe was found penniless and frozen on the floor of the Matchless Mine’s wooden tool shed one blustery winter's day. She had spent her last thirty years there after living the high life, silver had lost its luster and Haw had died of pneumonia.

Later, we ventured outside the Leadville area and stood at the site of the Matchless Mine, pondering Baby Doe’s life. At the very least, it was a sobering life lesson and a testament to how quickly earthly treasures can vanish. Especially compared to the investment one can make between your ears and spiritual treasures stored in heaven. As we departed from the mine along a winding mountain road, we happened upon one of the many serendipitous life events that we experienced during forty years of traveling together. We followed a crude sign to a partially abandoned mine that had a few rusting ore cars sitting on rails outside another small weathered building. The small cars were piled full of large chunks of glistening rose quartz rocks. When looking for a souvenir of some earthly location I’ve passed in the night, I like to acquire something germane to the country. So, we bargained for one of the largest pieces of rose quartz we could comfortably fit into our loaded car and took it home. It has remained a beautiful fixture in every flower garden that I’ve planted ever since that first Colorado adventure. And today, as I was photographing fresh blooms in the garden, I looked down to behold the perfect fusion of new life and old memories under the warm Carolina sunshine.

I’m certain that most folks regard that chunk of rose crystal as just a colorful rock. But to me, those magical crystals encapsulate beautiful memories of the Colorado high life that we also shared for a moment in time. For us human beings, a wide variety of things like words, songs, places, sounds, objects, etc. trigger the remembrance of those special times. These can be precious memories that we hold close to our heart. Perhaps that helps to explain why Baby Doe stayed so close to the desolate mine which others considered to be worthless, but she still treasured as “matchless”.