So Simple…a Knock

Wood crackled and hissed as the fireplace radiated its soothing warmth throughout the living room inviting toes, once frozen, to bath in the toasty warmth only a hearth fire can bring. Earl Grey set steeping on the side table as I sat mesmerized, gazing into the fire lazily relaxing from a morning jaunt outside, ignoring the book that lay on the sofa next to me waiting for its opening letting me dive into today’s reading. Sleepily I opened the pages and began to read…when suddenly I was interrupted by a knock at the door. Curious, I made my way to the front hall wondering who might be standing at the door of my warm sanctuary.

Our lives can get hectic, moving this way or that, never really stopping or slowing down. Phone calls, text messages and social media have taken the place of interpersonal one on one conversations, so that when we finally do come face to face with someone we fidget with our cell phones dying to crawl back into our digital world. Friendly visits, Potlucks and Game Night have given way to the glow of our devices displaying Facebook, Instagram and online gaming acting as the means that we communicate with our friends and family. All the while we disconnect and throw away lost the art of fellowship.

Take for example the door knock, itself giving way to push buttoned intercoms, security guards and video monitoring. Long before the advent of any of this the proper way to announce yourself at someone’s dwelling was to walk up to the door and knock. It took commitment. It took planning and… it took…. but a second. One second to let the party behind the door know that you were waiting for them to acknowledge your presence and open their lives to yours and you too theirs. It all began with one simple gesture…a knock on a piece of wood.

Conversely, for the person inside all they had to do was open the door and receive whatever awaited them. Be it good news or bad they also had a choice to make, either open the door or ignore its beckoned call. Sometimes theirs was the harder choice, as with our sleepy friend in the opening paragraph, we also must stop what we are doing and receive those waiting for the door to be answered and this is the part of fellowship that our phones, computers and video screens can’t provide. In our quest to be immersed in the world and striving to not miss anything, we lose the possible surprises or disappointments that may be on the other side of the door depriving ourselves of what we really need…interpersonal relationship one with another.

I remember a game that several of my friends had put together one summer evening, where we would divide into teams and starting at one person’s home eat finger foods and share a few stories from our day. At the appointed time, we would all pile into a couple of vehicles and make our way to another friend’s home for a sit-down meal, all the while competing in teams to answer questions about some random subject all culminating at a dessert filled living room of yet another compatriot that relished in our company. Throughout the entire evening everyone got to share in the lives of folks that otherwise might not have been shared without that game. It took planning, commitment and a willingness to be vulnerable. It was the best!

As I write this, Christmas Season is upon us. Our days are filled with anticipation for Christmas Day festivities that will hopefully include spending quality time with long forgotten family and friends, attending Worship Services and spend some time disconnected from the electronic tether that controls our lives. The Bible’s Book of Revelation, Chapter 3, verse 20 states, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with Me.” Now is the time to not only open our lives to our friends but also to the God that created us all. For He is the One knocking at the door of our hearts beckoning us to Him and drawing us to understand His Son Jesus’ sacrifice so that we can once again have fellowship with Him.

Why did I come into this room again?

ContemplationHave you ever wondered if you might have missed something? We have all experienced the stray thought that flashes into our consciousness that questions what we are doing at that very moment. We question why we might have walked into a room, bought a certain type of snack or simply forgot to turn off the “coffee pot”. In most cases we quickly regain our train of thought and continue on to the task at hand but, there are other times when the wonderment causes you to take another look and evaluate the choices that you have made or are in the process of making.

Our lives become an open book as we systematically break down our every decision, comparing the playbook of our minds and assigning weight to each outcome that our choices produced. All of a sudden that choice to change jobs 20 years ago or the type of home you purchased comes into full view and you pick apart each critical junction of that path you chose. Problem is, hindsight is not always 20/20! We tend to forget that our lives are not always our own. Spouses, kids, family and friends all have a part to play in our decision making. Usually the one person we tend to forget is the One that knows us better than anyone previously considered….God.

His plan is the one that is set in stone and He knew our inward parts even before the breath was in our brand new lungs. Psalm 139:13-16, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depth’s of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”  Even though we think that we are in control we really aren’t. Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  Call it what you want, divine guidance, karma, intuition or dumb luck, each of us has been guided along according to His plans.

Now, I know that some of you may quickly dismiss that suggestion as pure nonsense but that still doesn’t change the fact that it is true. We were created for fellowship with God but mankind decided that not obeying God was a better choice, yet, even that was in God’s plan. He knew that we could not live apart from our sin and no matter how hard we tried we could never live up to His perfect standard. You see, God is Love but He is also Just and our sins cannot go unpunished. Every action has consequences. You can’t pick and choose which attribute you want to accept from God. It is all or nothing. Ephesians 1:3-10, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”  

So the next time you stop to consider your life’s many paths and roadways consider this, God really does have an amazing plan for your life. You just have to stop and let Him tell you what it is; like a roadmap the Bible is a good place to start.

Feel free to comment…

 

…Cry Baby

This morning I had an unusual experience, one that doesn’t happen to me often….scratch that…never happens to me. I was flying on a packed airplane out to a training program in Memphis. Busy with weary and hurried travelers our focused flight attendants slammed packed us in like sardines, making me wonder if the training they received started off in Maine packing house. As I made my way to my seat I realized that in the seat right behind me was a screaming child. I nervously glanced at my boarding pass and back to the seat number hoping that this wasn’t for me. Nope! Lucky Me!

Now if you have ever sat in the same space as a screaming child you know what I mean. Sobs, wails and screams continuously filled the cabin with decibels that only a Foley board operator would like. Earbuds and head phones alike were produced and plugged into whatever electronic devise that you might have had with you, drowning out the last vestige of earths end and giving the wearer the muffled bliss that those, who had not, longed for. Our distraught child’s beleaguered Mom was simply over powered to help.

What do you do?! I looked through my carry-on bag multiple times swearing up and down that I packed “those things” but, in the end I was left to endure the onslaught that my ears were powerless to avoid. It took everything I had to ignore it, all to no avail. I tried to read….and ended up reading the same line 5 times. I looked through the seat pocket hoping that a ‘complimentary’ headphone was there…no luck there. I was still trying to be the mature one and tolerate it but I was envisioning two more hour of this and wondering if my maturity would hold. What next? I know…Ill pray.

It’s a funny thing when you go to God with that type of petition. How all at once you realize that it’s not about you. God had allowed me to be in this situation so I can understand that He is in control. Psalm 139 tells me that He is right there with me and that He knows all my ways. If so, then this was not a surprise to Him. But, that was not the only thing He wanted me to understand. I was so involved in feeling bad for myself that I completely lost sight of the fact that the child’s Mom must have felt absolutely terrible. She had to know that all eyes were on her and her child. Twice the Flight Attendant had to come to the seat and admonish the child to sit down and buckle his seat belt; Mom herself told the child to please stop crying and I am not sure but I thought I heard the sound of a muffle ‘smack’ as a last ditch effort to subdue the little guy.

I am quite convinced that everyone on the plane, at least those within 10 rows of the ruckus, wanted that mother to “shut that kid up!” Of course, we as a civilized society would never, or should never, say those things out loud. What undoubtedly made matters worse was that this family was clearly Muslim and given the happening’s around the world these days many of us on this plane had no compassion toward this small family. Including me. Yet, God quicken to my mind the plight of this Mom and her kids and used it as an object lesson.

Now, as it turned out the child fell asleep as the flight progressed and was quiet for the bulk of the flight. However my questions remained. So much so that I wrote this blog during the flight. Why did I not think of them first? Where was my compassion? Unfortunately, we as a fallen people tend to think of ourselves first and put others second most of the time. Even as Christians our needs become predominantly the most important things to us and that needs to change. Who knows, perhaps I could have helped if I had thought of their needs instead of mine. In this case who was the biggest “Cry-Baby”? Hopefully, if this situation presents itself again I will look past my discomfort and take the upper hand. I do thank God for His grace and His reminder that I am saved by Grace and not infallible. Now, on a final note I did help this young Mom with her bags when were disembarking the plane…..yes…baby steps.

When Hope is Sometimes Forgotten

Sometimes God speaks to me in the most unusual ways. I don’t expect it and I don’t plan for it, I just get it. For me, at least, those are the best times and usually the ones I always refer to later on when I need to.

A few weeks ago I decided to spend the morning at Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and explore some of the areas that I haven’t been to before. Not that my usual hiking spots were not still great, they are; but Tosohatchee is huge and begs to be studied and this day at least I am eager to oblige.

Sandhill Colt copyHiking for me is an event that keeps me in touch with nature and with this amazing creation that God has entrusted us. Perhaps that is why I am a nature photographer enthusiast. It gives me the opportunity to reflect and think about the many different things going on with my life, both outwardly and inwardly. Whether it be related to work, family, photography or spiritual matters, spending time “out there” on a hiking trail is a wonderful way to relax.

I made my way toward the St. Johns River and decided on one of the adjacent paths to begin my hike. I am not even sure of the trail name, I just know that I had to cross a wooden bridge to get to it. Like any hiking trail in Florida it offered much of the same. Brilliant green mosses shown on the trucks of trees, birds chattered and insects flitted to and fro. Thick Hammocks aligned the trail path often causing me to wonder how the Native Indians and early settlers cut through the thick underbrush back in their day.  Ignoring the intense humidity I focused on my trek being careful to follow the trail markers remembering the one time I lost track of them and got very lost, but that is a whole different story.

Since I always have my camera with me I stopped occasionally to make a picture or two. Today’s menu included Orb Weaver Spiders and what I like to call, “Mini-Scapes”. Now you are probably wondering just what a Mini-Scape is. It is a small collection of subjects meant to give the viewer a rough Idea of what I am looking at. It can be moss on a palm stump or a patch of ferns…anything really. It was during this hike that I poured my heart out to God asking for help in my everyday walk.

Usually I pray and I generally wait quietly before He answers me; but this day He brought to mind my favorite Bible passage and it was like He was standing right in front of me, in the flesh as it were. I knew, immediately, that He had answered. My favorite verse? Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” I knew right then that I was too busy trying to figure out my own way and that I had taken my eyes off of Him and in doing so I found myself looking at everything other than God. Once I put my focus back on Him I know that everything will fall into place. Needless to say tears started to well up and I got that lump in my throat kind of feeling and I knew that He had answered my cry.

PloversJesus says that He will never leave not forsake me…how long before I let go and let Him guide and Shepherd me? It seems that this lesson is one that I always have to repeat. I imagine that He and I will have this conversation again sometime down the road…at least until I get to Heaven. Perhaps you are going through something in your life that you need God to handle. I would suggest that you simply tell Him. You will be surprised on His response.

Decompress….

Today I started vacation and trust me it is very much needed! But the question I have to answer myself is what to do with myself for the next 10 days? Sure I plan on making photographs and spending time with the family but what am I gonna do to decompress?

Too often in this Helter Skelter world we forget that we need down time and we need it more than we think. Our daily lives are bombarded with so many different tasks and requests that we do not allow ourselves time to remember that we are only as good as our ability to process. If we get so bogged down we will shut down and we will be no good to anyone including ourselves.

In the Gospel of Matthew 6:25-33 He tells us, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

I know this, when i take my eyes off of Him I generally fall flat on my face. So the bottom line is this….relax and spend time with God. That is my plan for this week.Sandhill Colt copy

Why We Do what We Do

An interesting thing happen this morning at my usual photographic hang-out. I came to the realization that a 2 ounce little bird can control the actions and hold in its tiny little wings the lives of 12 grown adults. Not only does it control our busy lives but we PLAN to be taken over by this Cantankerous little feathered nemesis! (or would it be nemesis’es since she is a female Kingfisher??.. is there such a word?). Hypnotic LadyHot, cold, rainy, foggy, and perhaps even snow (if we could get snow down here in Central Florida) won’t stop us in our pursuit of this little hypnotist and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Welcome to our world.

As I prepare for another year of, hopefully, exciting images I have to ask my self why I do what I do. It is an interesting question and one that I have asked myself several times over the last several years. For me, waking up before the crack of dawn every Saturday when I am not working at my regular job, and lugging around 20 pounds of camera gear every day whether I am working or not,  just so I can capture the perfect image is a thing of passion. Passion not for the sake of photography but passion about the wonder of Gods creation and a desire to share it with an over worked, highly stressed world that doesn’t take the time to “see” what I and many of my friend photographers see on a regular basis. Hopefully bringing with my images the thought of a single question, “Who made this world around us?”

In answering that question we have to look to Gods Word, The Bible, to find an answer. In the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul, led by the Spirit writes, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Rom. 1:20 By viewing creation and its wonders we are forced to ask the question of who made it knowing deep down that “something or someone” bigger than us is at work here.

Ice CreamBy viewing creation we see the intricate patterns of leaves, we are amazed at the butterflies wing patterns and we can observe the mating of birds and other creatures than happen the same time each and every year. We smell the saltiness of the oceans and hear the crash of the waves as they perform their lunar dance. We are marveled by the stars in the sky and are heart broken at the loss of a beloved pet hoping that we will see them again in a better place. In most cases we are unaware of the creative force behind all of these wonders and this brings me back to my opening.Morning Love Call

I do what I do so that I can hopefully cause the viewer of my images to see a loving, just, and forgiving God who provided His Son as a way of escape for those who believe in Him. By understanding creation and taking in its wonder we can see that God planned for and plans His creation, including us, so that we can see His great love.

Beulah, Peel me a Grape

Kingfisher (202 of 7)The sunlight was at the perfect color this morning as the Belted Kingfisher was making her rounds trying to snag a fish for breakfast. When I arrived at my shooting location in Viera there were several other photographers already focused on the Kingfishers perch. As greetings were past around we bantered about gear, dreams of new gear, recent shoots,  image conquests which were achieved and of many missed opportunities. As with any morning outside of an office this Saturday morning reminded us that life was good.

Now as birds go Kingfishers are considered by many photographers to be a nemesis bird. Quick fliers, they are a constant tease as they lure us into a shooting position only to fly away just as the shutter is ready to be pressed, laughing at you with their incessant chatter as they do so. They do not sit still for very long, as they are always on the hunt looking for the catch of the day as it were, constantly diving head long into the murky water hoping for a delicious fish that makes up most of their diet. Indeed, they are fun to watch and more fun to capture on “film”.

I setup my camera near the other “photogs” and prefocused on the landing perch that was determined to be the perfect spot. Back and forth, up and down she went relentless in her pursuit of breakfast. When she did manage to grab a small fish she flew away from the little paparazzi gathering to the safety of the furthermost tree. Yup, for her, life was great but that was about to change.

Kingfisher (207 of 7)Apparently a Mockingbird decided that our little heroine was having too much fun. It buzzed the perch relentlessly causing the Kingfisher to be on the defensive. Right, Left, up, down the nagging persisted until the mockingbird decided it was bored with this game and moved on. Frazzled and ruffled our Kingfisher collected herself and went back to hunting. She eyed a new target and what looked like a perfect catch turned into a game of tag that didn’t go well for the pint-sized fisher…um..bird. After what seemed like an eternity in bird time (do birds actually sense time?) she finally caught a huge fish that could serve as breakfast, lunch and dinner! It seemed to be bigger than her entire head! She went on to tenderize her catch, much to the delight of our band of photographers. Kingfisher (201 of 7)She banged it on a tree limb, flipped it in the air and smashed it with her long beak all in an attempt to get it ready for consumption finally gulping it down in one bite! Shutters clicked off in rapid fire as she settled down to enjoy her conquest.

The Gospel of Matthew Chapter 6 states…Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? It is amazing that my Loving God uses all things to remind me to trust in Him. He promises to provide for all my needs but He doesn’t promise that it will always be easy and unlike the Mae West Line in the 1930 Movie, I’m No Angel in which she proclaimed, “Beulah, Peel me a Grape”, life is going to have its share of struggles. We can learn from this resilient little Kingfisher, who persevered in adversity, that our Heavenly Father has our back.