Our Hope Soars Above Our Fears

We all have the ability to hope. But do we have the ability to persevere in hope during the darkest days of our lives?

The Ability To Hope

We all have the ability to hope. But do we have the ability to persevere in hope during the darkest days of our lives?

No matter how hopeless a situation appears, no matter what the world throws at us or how often we have failed, our ability to hope is always within us.

Like A Whirlpool

Have you ever felt that a situation was hopeless? At the time, did you feel that there was simply no way out, no chance for rescue or relief from the pain and suffering or impending doom? Such feelings seem to feed on themselves, to grow even stronger. We liken it to a downward spiral as if we are caught in a whirlpool.

A Rock and a Hard Place

Perhaps, instead of a whirlpool, you felt you were caught between a rock and a hard place, as Aron Ralston was in 2003. You may have heard the story, or seen the movie made about the incredible incident. It was called “127 Hours”.

Colors of purple and orange grace the sandstone walls of a slot canyon.

The date was April 26th of 2003. Aron was “canyoneering” alone in Utah in Blue John Canyon, a “slot canyon” which is a narrow, winding chasm eroded over many years. He was 8 miles from his vehicle. A cardinal rule in such adventures is to let others know of one’s plans. Then, should you get into trouble, should you not check in at an expected date and time, help will be sent.

Aron had not told a soul of his plans. That oversight would cost him dearly.

As Aron was climbing down into the canyon, an 800-pound boulder became dislodged and his right hand was tragically crushed and pinned against the canyon wall. It would lead to what he would later say was “six days of terror and horror.”

Aaron had little food (two burritos) and little water. He tried for several days to free his trapped arm, all to no avail. Temperatures dropped at night and his strength wained. His hope of rescue was gone. He decided he would have to do the unthinkable: he would need to amputate his arm at the mid-forearm.

Antelope Canyon with light filtering down from above.

I’m not going to relate the details as they are truly ghastly to contemplate. You can read the story in his own words in his autobiography called “A Rock and a Hard Place.” But he did eventually climb out of that canyon, leaving his right hand and part of his arm behind. He also lost 40 pounds and nearly his life.

But Aron didn’t lose his life due to not having lost the most important thing he needed to keep going – hope.  He would later tell his mother that he felt all the prayers that she and others were praying.  In a video called “Desperate Days in Blue John Canyon” (search on YouTube for that title) he would tell Tom Brokaw:

“I prayed about seeking guidance, what I was supposed to do, finding an option that was going to get me out of there.”

Don’t Believe a Lie!

Sometimes troubles come in waves. One thing happens to us, and then another, and another. Read the Book of Job in the Bible. We may fortunately not have the scope of losses that Job had or get trapped in a slot canyon.  But life is full of challenges, and when dark threads are woven into our lives we can get to a point, like Job, in which we also wish we had never been born.  We can believe it is hopeless.

There is a key word in that last sentence. Belief. Hopelessness is not a fact, it is a belief. But such a belief may be based on a lie we are either being told by others or are telling ourselves. How many of us, should we have been Aron struggling against that boulder for six days, would have given up all hope? Yet clearly, we would have been wrong to do so.  We must never believe we are hopeless.

Our Prayer For You

We pray that you might come to know the One in whom we put our hope. We pray that your heart might soar with the eagle each day at the rising and the setting of the sun.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
~ Ephesians 1:18-19

Photography by John J O’Leary

Waiting on God

There is a story about a man who was driving around a conference center in a large city trying to find a parking spot.

Getting Back Home Was The Problem

Waiting, especially waiting in line, may be one of the most frustrating situations we encounter. This week Cindy and I went to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, for a four-day mini-vacation. Also known as Rocky Point, the city sits at the northern point of the Sea of Cortez and is only 62 miles south of the U.S./Mexico border. We try to schedule our trips so that we avoid long waits at the border coming back into the United States.

Negative-Edge Pool in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.
Negative-Edge Pool in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

What was our travel experience this week? Great going down. Not so great coming back.

Many people travel to Puerto Peñasco from Arizona, especially college kids during Spring Break in early March. We avoided the early part of March as a result, preferring to take the four-hour drive on Monday the 18th with a return date scheduled for Thursday the 21st. Yet when we approached the border on our return trip there was a very long line of cars, longer than we had ever seen.  The weather had been wonderful and many other people had also gone on their own mini-vacations.

After about 45 minutes of snail-pace movement, a Mexican police car passed us on the right side of the road. Following him, surprisingly, were dozens of cars that had originally been behind us. Most had United States license plates on them. They streamed by for many minutes until there were now two lines approaching the border. We realized our wait time had just doubled from that point forward. After about 2 hours of sitting in our car, we finally made it to the border.

Waiting is no fun! Especially if you have an appointment to get to. We did, as Thursday evening is when we facilitate our GriefShare group, a support group for those who have lost a loved one.  We made it on-time, thankful to God for that.

The Miraculous Parking Spot

There is a story about a man who was driving around a conference center in a large city trying to find a parking spot. He was scheduled to speak to a large audience and feared he would now be late. So he prayed to God saying “Dear God, if you help me find a spot quickly, I promise You I’ll read the Bible every morning and do my very best to attend church regularly!” Right after finishing his prayer, he noticed a car miraculously pulling out of a spot just ahead. “Never mind, God,’ he quickly said, ‘I found one…”

Even though God knows that waiting is not our favorite activity, and knows that patience is often not our key strength, He asks us to wait. But more specifically, He asks us to wait for Him, to experience His presence in our lives, to watch how He will work in situations that we find difficult.

One of our favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 46:10:

“Be still and know that I am God.” It is also translated as “cease striving”.

A Difficult Decision

One year ago, Cindy and I were in a very difficult position. We didn’t know which way to go. Our thirty-year-old son had gotten himself into a situation that was potentially life-threatening to him or others. We prayed and sought advice from the most respected sources we knew of. Yet everyone we spoke with gave us remarkably different courses of action to take. It was as bewildering as a winding road.

Winding Road in Colorado

There are three criteria that we look at when making a major decision:

  1. Is it biblical? Does it violate God’s commandments or conform to them?
  2. Do we feel a certain peace from God’s Holy Spirit within us that the specific choice is correct?
  3. What are the circumstances surrounding the decision? Do they tend to point to one decision being right, or in contrast does a door seem to close on any particular choice?

We heard many choices that fit the first criteria. But there was only one choice which fit all three criteria. That choice was to place our trust fully in God to work out the situation in His way and in His time. It was specifically for us to wait on God. In looking back, I can imagine God smiling at that point and saying “Now that you have stopped your anxious worrying, now that you have decided that I have the power and that I love you, please sit back and watch what I can do.”

Within days of our making the active choice to wait on the Lord, He moved in ways that were astounding to us! The situation was diffused, our son was safe and our faith in God was further strengthened. Thank you Lord!

Choosing To Wait Can Be Rewarding

The key point here is that waiting on God is an active choice. It isn’t at all like throwing up our hands in despair and doing nothing. It is intentionally placing our trust in the One who is able to do all things. It is faith in action. We learned a very important lesson that we will seek to always remember.

Yes, there are times that we are to take action with His leading and prompting. But also, there are times in which acting in desperation, without His guidance, will only serve to make matters worse. Sometimes, we just need to get out of God’s way and allow Him to act.

Your comments and thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Photography by John J O’Leary

The Light of a Small Candle

No amount of darkness can overcome light, not even the tiny, flickering light of a small candle glowing in the hand of a child.

In northern Arizona, there is a famous slot canyon called Antelope Canyon. It sits in Navajo land and has both an Upper and a Lower Canyon, both of which can be toured and photographed by permit. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is “Tse’ bighanilini,” which means “the place where water runs through rocks.” The natural, sandstone walls have been carved into incredible, rippled waves over many years by erosion.  They have an orange coloring that glows as light enters in bright rays during specific times.  Shades of pinks and blues also grace the upper surfaces of rock.  It is, to say the least, impressive!

Some years ago I photographed both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons.  I timed the visit so that the sunlight would be coming down through the vertical walls which can be as high as 120 feet above the canyon floor.  The featured image in this post is one of many that I took, and it is perhaps my favorite.  The verse from the Gospel of John came to mind immediately once I was able to look at the image on my computer.

In comparison to the exquisite light of Antelope Canyon, Cindy and I took our children into a lava tube near Mount St Helens in the State of Washington in the 1990s.  There, we walked through an ancient tunnel in which lava once flowed through, leaving a massive, hardened exterior of lava rock.  Once inside, you are confronted with total darkness.  It is absolutely pitch black and you can’t see your hand in front of your face or anything else for that matter.  You take headlamps and/or flashlights to navigate your way through the hardened, undulating floor of the tube which runs for over 2 miles.

The contrast between the two locales is striking.  Antelope Canyon’s brilliant light and colors are spectacular and exciting.  The lava tube, in contrast, was dark and oppressive, yet still quite interesting to see – although once was enough for me.

Light is an amazing thing, and how thankful we are for it. As a photographer, my goal is to capture images in which the light is at its best for the subject at hand. For landscapes, that is in the early morning or late evening. So I think about light a lot.

There are creatures on this earth that God has placed in areas of total darkness. Whether it be at the bottom of the ocean or deep inside caves, such creatures often develop unique characteristics over time where they might lose their natural pigmentation and eyesight or develop the ability to create their own light source. God obviously loves to create and I love all that He has given to us to enjoy with our eyesight.

How marvelous the blessings that we all can be thankful for, that we live in an age when we can see the wonders of the world through television or computer monitor, without the requirement to travel to remote corners of the world.

As the title of this post states, no amount of darkness can overcome light, not even the tiny, flickering light of a small candle glowing in the hand of a child. We pray that you will always be thankful for light. As a believer, remember that the light of God shines within you.

Consider the words of Jesus:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Encouraging Our Adult Children in Their Faith

One of the most difficult issues that we as Christian parents face is the transition of our children into adulthood.

At a recent Christian conference, I asked a friend what topic he might wish me to address in “The Weaver’s Hand” blog. After thinking on it, he told me he would like to know more about how parents could encourage their adult children to stay strong in their faith and live Godly lives. It always amazes me how God works. You see, that is a topic that is of major concern to my wife and me as well.

Note: This is a long article, but we pray it blesses you and your children.

The Challenges For Our Adult Children

One of the most difficult issues that we as Christian parents face is the transition of our children into adulthood. We look out at the landscape of salacious entertainment, one night stands, secularism, sexual identity crises, abortion, drugs, pornography, racism, violence, terrorism, political divisiveness, etc. and every bit of it is a worry. We are to be anxious for nothing, according to the word of God. Yet how will our children be able to navigate through such a terrain littered with such dangers? What can we do to encourage our children to make healthy, moral decisions, and maintain their faith?

In the now distant past, parents were concerned about their children finding a wonderful spouse or entering a career path that would allow them the financial means to buy a home and raise a family. Those are obviously still concerns but are now overshadowed by the sinister elements that can leave children not just single or poor but living on the streets or spending years in prison. Pornography and drugs are just two of many vices that are addictive. They can and do wreck marriages and careers, causing our adult children to struggle for years.

Pastor hugging a young man in the love of Christ.
Pastor hugging a young man in the love of Christ.

We see young adults walking away from belief in God, from the church. As such, their eternal lives are now at risk also. Religious pluralism and the rampant prosperity gospel threaten to lead them away from holding on to truth and from a life devoted to Jesus Christ. Cultural views of Christians as intolerant for our belief in the word of God in regards to sexuality and as the way to salvation through Jesus are putting intense pressures on us. How do parents help our adult children with these issues? What can we do?

The Power of Prayer

One obvious answer is prayer. It is only a part of the answer, but a key part. If we, as parents, let our fears cause us to try to seek solutions on our own, without turning to the One who is able to accomplish all things, we risk much. Placing trust in God through a strong, personal relationship with Him is always the best starting point.

Let’s look at just one of many examples in the Bible and then relate that to the plight of parents in today’s culture. In the Book of Acts, Chapter 12, there is an incredible story which illustrates not only the power of prayer but our view of God, which is often much too small. Let’s look at verse 5 –

“So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.”

Peter at the Gate

Peter, a beloved Apostle, a leader in the early Christian church, had been arrested by Herod who had previously ordered James executed. Peter was to be put through a public trial and then would be executed after Passover. We see from Acts Chapter 12 – verse 5 and following verses – that fervent prayers were being made by a small group of believers. If you had been there, in a modest house with candles burning and concerned voices all around you, what prayers might you have offered? Perhaps you would have asked God to give Peter strength to hold onto his faith even unto the moment of his execution. You might have asked that others at the trial would see Peter’s faith and come to believe in Christ as a result. You might have been thanking God for the impact that Peter had in building up your own faith. You might have prayed that Peter would suffer little and that his dignity would remain intact. Poor Peter!

Gated Entry Area to a Home in Arizona
Gated Entry Area to a Home in Arizona

Suddenly, you hear a knock on the door of the gate to the house. All around you stop praying and look up curiously. A house servant, Rhoda, gets up and goes to the door as you and others exchange looks. You close your eyes once more in prayer. You are startled out of prayer once again, hearing Rhoda’s excited voice as she comes hurriedly back into the room. We read what happened in verse 14:

When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate.

Peter was at the gate! Rhoda was so excited to hear and recognize Peter’s voice that she failed to let him in. You and the others had all been praying for him, and he was here!

If you have never read this portion of Scripture you might think the following would happen: All those in the house excitedly raised their voices and encouraged Rhoda to go let Peter in at once, as they gave amazed thanks to God for answering their prayers in such a wondrous way!

Yet, that’s not what happened. Not at all. Verse 15 tells us:

They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.”

You Are Out of Your Mind!

I’m uncertain that God wants us to see the humor in this example but I can’t help but laugh every time I read this passage. The believers had gathered to pray for Peter. Yet when Rhoda was standing there telling them that Peter was at the gate, they said she was crazy. How much faith did they really have in God? Did they believe that God might strengthen Peter in some way, but could not ever imagine Him actually freeing Peter from prison supernaturally? For that is exactly what God had done. Read the entire chapter which details an angel of the Lord appearing in Peter’s cell as he was surrounded with guards and about the chains which fell off his arms.

Worship Leader at Church
Worship Leader at Church

When we pray for our adult child, how big are our prayers? Do we really expect that God will allow our child to steer clear of the influence of a society gone mad with sexual perversions and the addiction of drugs? Will He do that if we fervently pray, as the small group of believers did for Peter? When our sons or daughters make wise decisions and raise healthy families, will we believe that God answered our prayers with thanksgiving in our hearts?

May Your Will Be Done

It would be a disservice to not state here that God’s will is always done. Our will cannot be placed as an expectation upon God. That’s a hard thing for us to accept. When we pray it must be as Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane.

“Not my will but yours be done!” ~ Luke 22:42

We must always leave room for God’s will, His solutions. It is quite safe to say that His wisdom and His plans are far above anything we can devise. If we pray for our child who is seriously ill or injured in an accident, we must be willing to accept that God may call them home. When we pray for our child who is addicted to drugs, it may be the Lord’s will that they remain so for an extended season in their life. It is hard. Very hard. Yet God’s grace is sufficient.

There is certainty that God desires to hear the prayers of His people. Philippians 4:6 tells us:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Yet He is the Master Weaver, and dark threads are often needed in the plans He has for us and others. We know from the experience of our own lives how tragedy and sadness often lead us to a deeper belief in Him. We realize at such times that we are not in control of our own destiny, let alone our child’s. Yet we are to pray fervently, believing that “With God, all things are possible.” ~ Matthew 19:26

They Look At Our Example

Yet prayer, as powerful as it can be, is just one answer to what we as parents can do. Another is our own actions, our own lifestyle, and decisions. Our children’s eyes are always upon us, especially as we tell them we believe in a God that they cannot see. They see a world full of many different beliefs and many who believe that we are all alone in a very big universe. We cannot underestimate how important our example is for them.

A Mourning Dove rests on the flowers of a Saguaro Cactus.

We see this play out in nature.  Although God has given many of His creations “instinct”, many look to their parents for insight and encouragement.

“Church” is not a building, it is a community.

We, as a community of believers, are the Church. We each have a role to play in that community, in the same way that our ears, our hands, our feet have roles to play. We are members of the household of God, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. See Ephesians 2:19-22

Do our children see us in that way?  Do our children see us “going to church” on Sundays and yet they see no evidence of God in our lives for the balance of the week? Do they see our excitement for a football team far exceeding any excitement we have for God? When they see us spending our time watching Hollywood movies and no time at all reading the Bible, what message are they learning from us? When our daily verse is what the President last tweeted or what the Democrats said in mock reply, as opposed to what God’s word says, do we help set their priorities on all the wrong things? When they see us get high on drugs, how can we expect them to “set their mind on things above”? – Colossians 3:2

We Are Forgiven

If you are feeling a bit convicted reading these questions, let me assure you I am also. There are many ways to miss the mark, to sin, in this world. Yet Christ died for us, while we were yet sinners. ~ see Romans 5:8 This is not a time to beat ourselves up, but a time to repent, to turn from our sin and devote our attention less to this world and more to the building up of the kingdom of God.

Is it possible for us to be so callous toward God and our faith that we are the ones driving our children to other “gods” such as money, drugs, fame…? On our deathbed, will we say to our children, “I wish I had spent more time at the office”? If one day we stand over the gravestone of our child, will we say “I should have spent more time talking with you about the things of this world like sports, science, mathematics, politics, and how to slay that final dragon in a video game”? How do our children and the salvation of others become our priority, and not our own entertainment and pleasure? Lord forgive us, we know not what we do.

Love. The best of the four letter words. We can love our children unconditionally. That doesn’t mean to enable them to live a lifestyle that is destructive. That will just allow them to destroy themselves more quickly and damage our lives in the process. If we truly love our children, we will raise them up to know and to trust in God, even when we as their parents cannot always be trusted to do the right thing. Be honest with them. Teach them the truth. We have been entrusted with the word of God. Share it with them. Let them see our joy in knowing God and our trust in Him. Let our love for God and our love for our neighbors be what they see when they watch us.

And He (Jesus) said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” ~ Matthew 22:37-40

“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ Romans 15:5-6

Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated as always.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Selfless Love

There are four primary words in the Ancient Greek language that have been translated into our English word “Love” in the New Testament of the Bible. One of them is quite important to a person who calls himself or herself a “Christian”.

When Americans use the word “love” they might use it in multiple contexts, sometimes with a wry smile. In our house, if one of our children would have said “I just love this spaghetti!”, another might have responded with “Well, why don’t you marry it?” Corny but cute.

In 1995, the phrase “I love you man!” was used in a comical Bud-Light beer commercial. The son wanted a beer from his father, so he professed his love for him in what was an obvious-to-all ploy. But the commercial was funny with an endearing “Hallmark Card-like” tone. As a result, it became a huge hit in pop culture at the time.  Perhaps it hit home with some about how we profess love while actually seeking something for ourselves.

Of the words translated to “love” from the Ancient Greek language, the first three are not the subject of this article:

  • The Greek word “Eros” we translate as love, but it has sexual tones of passion.  Our word “erotic” comes from this.
  • The Greek word “Philia” means love, but it is the love of friendship.  The city we know as Philadelphia was named by William Penn, and the name means “brotherly love”.  As an aside, among the many historically signficant accomplishments of that city, it was the birthplace of the United States Marines, to whom I have the greatest respect.
  • The Greek word “Storge” also means love, but it is the type of love that parents have for their children.

Yet the Greeks used one other word for love that signifies an even greater love, a “selfless love”. The word is “Agape”. What is agape love or selfless love? It is a love in which one intentionally puts the good of others ahead of oneself. Such love was demonstrated in its ultimate form by Jesus Christ. It was His intentional willingness to suffer, to be crucified and to die for the good of mankind.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
~ John 15:13

To be a Christian, one believes that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and that He bore the sins of man on His shoulders on a cross at Calvary.  Also, that He rose again on the third day and sits at the right hand of the Father.  Such faith is a saving faith. But a Christian is to not just believe, but also to follow the example of Jesus by loving God and loving others selflessly.  That is the difficult part.  It requires work, diligence, and agape love for others.

And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
~ Matthew 22:37-39

You might respond “Love my neighbor as myself!? How is that possible? You clearly haven’t met my neighbors!”

Yet when we look at the love that Jesus brought into the world, we see such love. It was the poor and downtrodden that He came to save. He didn’t reach out to the rich, the beautiful or the powerful of that time in history, but to the destitute, the leper, the tax-collector that most people shunned or despised. He led by example. We are to follow His example, to follow Him.

One of the most quoted verses in the New Testament is this one –
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
~ John 3:16

This verse describes God’s action of “giving” His Son, Jesus, for all who would believe in Him. That takes “selfless” to a new level. We would almost certainly be more willing to die for someone than to sacrifice one of our children for them. Can we even begin to understand the love of God?

It frankly isn’t possible for a man to achieve such perfect, selfless love, but Jesus promised His followers that He would send a “Helper” in the person of “The Holy Spirit” to them. Through the study of His word in the Bible, through prayer and through the power of the Holy Spirit within us, we can follow the example of Jesus.

There is much darkness in this world.  We only need to do a quick scan of the latest news to see the terror and cruelty that men inflict on each other.  Yet love prevails.  Christians are to be “set apart” for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We pray that you will believe, trust and follow Him.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
~ 1st Corinthians 13:4-7

Photograph by John J O’Leary

We See In A Mirror Dimly

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. – 1st Corinthians 13:12

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
~ 1st Corinthians 13:12

Man thirsts for knowledge and understanding. God is the source of all knowledge and all understanding. Man seeks God.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

The Work of God’s Hand

How can someone look upon their daughter laughing on a spring day with flowers blooming and sunlight dappling the yard and think that this is just some sort of random chance?

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.
~ Romans 1:20

When I was a boy, my father would often take me fishing and hunting. Those were wonderful times! I’m so grateful to my Dad for taking me on weekend excursions or even longer vacations into the forests of Pennsylvania, the lakes of Canada, the fields of the Midwest and the mountains in Wyoming. Through those experiences, I came to have a deep love for my Dad and for the beauty of the work of God’s hand. He passed away at the age of 100 two years ago. I thank God for him.

The Bible tells us that God actually spoke things into existence through His Word, but I like to imagine Him fashioning mountains, forests, and waterfalls by hand. It is so hard for me to understand how anyone can see the intricate beauty of creation and not believe in a Creator.

How can someone look upon their daughter laughing on a spring day with flowers blooming and sunlight dappling the yard and think that this is just some sort of random chance? As she chases a butterfly that dances through the air, can we actually look upon the scene and say “All is meaningless”?

In a dry voice, I can still hear the professor droning on about how a mix of chemical soup and lightning in a primordial world over billions of years allowed carbon, nitrogen and other matter to coalesce into life. That through eons of time, even pond scum can evolve into Mozart or Leonardo da Vinci. That this world will one day be consumed by our expanding sun and every memory of it will be wiped from existence. How utterly depressing! Could the professor be wrong?

Man in all his wisdom and technology can fly to Pluto and take color photographs. He can send those images through empty space to a distant earth where we can all see them on our computer monitors or TVs. But he can’t create a mechanical camera anywhere close to matching the ability of the human eye. And every baby is born with not one but two of them! And we can see in 3D and record and understand the images through a brain that mystifies the scientist. Without the need for memory cards…

Think again on the girl chasing a butterfly. A simple, delicate butterfly. Would you believe a butterfly could fly 3,000 miles in about two months? Would it be possible for that butterfly to fly to the same location in a distant country that one of its predecessors had flown from 5 or 6 generations ago? Yet not just one but millions of monarch butterflies do so, turning the trees in Mexico from green to orange as they migrate from the fields in Texas or Louisiana. How is that possible? I think the young girl would say “Daddy, God made butterflies!” Could the professor be wrong and the little girl right?

Watch a short video on the monarch butterfly migration, which ABC News calls “a mysterious miracle”, at https://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/millions-monarch-butterflies-flutter-mountains-mexico-october-52954011

Photograph by John J O’Leary

 

I Hope You Know What You Are Doing!

Hope is an expression of an outcome desired, but not yet attained…

We hear the word hope in many contexts. We have no doubt heard the following expressed:

  • “Well, I would certainly hope so!”
  • “I hope you know what you are doing!”
  • “He is hopeless!”
  • “That was my last hope.”

Hope is an expression of an outcome desired, but not yet attained. It is used to express a belief, one in which we have a reasonable expectation that it is true. As an example, we hope that our friends will be there for us in a time of need. We believe they will, but we aren’t certain.

In the language of a Christian, hope is one of three aspects of a believer’s character.

“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1st Corinthians 13:13

Hope can also represent the very person of Jesus Christ to us. “He is our hope.” “Put your hope in the Lord.”

One thing is certain.  If you have hope you will act much differently than if you have no hope.

We are all faced with challenges, both large and small. Misplacing our car keys is small. Realizing someone has stolen our car is large. Some challenges are common (I often misplace my car keys). Some are uncommon such as losing your car.

While in San Diego on a photography trip a few years ago, I parked my car and walked a number of blocks to see the galleries of a couple of famous photographers in La Joya. The streets aren’t laid out in a nice north/south grid. There are some winding streets and others at angles. In returning much later to where I had parked, I found it gone. Had it been stolen? It took me a considerable time to realize that I had simply failed to recall the exact location I had parked it. In my time of searching, you can imagine the thoughts that went through my head. Initially, I had hope. However, that started to fade as my fruitless searching dragged on and on. Once I found it I was extremely relieved.

We know that the word of God says to “be anxious for nothing”, but we tend to be anxious for many things. Even as I write this, I think about the potential to be unclear or to use poor grammar. Yet there are truly monumental challenges that await us in life that will require a hope that cannot be easily lost.

What if you get a call from your child letting you know they have been arrested for possession of illegal drugs? What if you get a call from a hospital telling you that your child has been in a traffic accident, and the caller is dodging your key question about how your child is doing?

As believers, whether we are looking for our car keys or our car, how do we remain hopeful and not turn to anxiety and despair? Whether we receive a call from the jail or the hospital, how do we put our hope in Jesus Christ and hold on to the hope we have in Him?

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe…
~ Ephesians 1:18-19

These words of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians tells us that our heart can actually be enlightened – so that we will understand the hope we have in Christ. Paul says that this enlightenment can be obtained through prayer.

My understanding of this is that we can ask God for the ability to hope, through a greater understanding of how trustworthy He is. We have “a living hope” in the person of Jesus Christ, one that is not frail or perishable. Thus through prayer and through reading the word of God, we can strengthen our ability to more clearly understand the basis for our hope in Him.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. ~ 1 Peter 1:3-5

Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Holding the Umbrella for Someone Else

When the sun is shining on our face and a gentle breeze is causing the leaves in the trees to rustle all around us, life is so very good.

When the sun is shining on our face and a gentle breeze is causing the leaves in the trees to rustle all around us, life is so very good. We hear the sound of children playing in the park. We smile and chuckle as a young pup chases a squirrel around a tree trunk. The squirrel seems to be enjoying the game of staying just out of the dog’s reach. It chatters back at the pup which starts jumping up at it repeatedly. We can’t help but laugh as we try to capture a video with our phone camera.

Times such as these are just one of a myriad of reasons to be thankful to God for our lives. We love to share such moments with friends and family. We treasure them. Clouds and storms may be in the forecast later today, but these sunny times of laughter and beauty will be treasured.

Yet in due time the clouds do roll in and the storm darkens the sky. We hear thunder rolling in the distance. The breeze is suddenly moist. We realize we may get caught in the rain before we can pack up our things and get to the safety of our car. And we realize we failed to bring an umbrella!

Sometimes storms in our lives are much more serious. At such times we don’t want to try to weather the storm alone. We need shelter.  We need protection.

This evening, my wife and I will be speaking at an Umbrella Ministries event. The organization provides much needed “comfort, hope, and encouragement to mothers who have suffered the loss of a child.” Their slogan is “We may not be able to make the sun shine for you…but we can hold the umbrella”.

We only see life through one set of eyes, our own. We have many things to do, taking care of our own life. We have to eat right, exercise, study, learn, dress, work, etc. I find it is just way too easy to focus all our attention on one person – me, myself and I. In contrast, a mother focuses her attention much of the day on her children. She makes sure they eat right, exercise, study… It can be too easy for her to forget about her own needs in the midst of it all.

This is why we treasure our Moms. They have sacrificed so much out of love for us. The relationship between a mother and her children is precious. That’s the way God planned it in His wisdom.

Umbrella Ministries focuses on helping mothers who are deeply hurting for a very special reason. They have lost one or more of their children. Such a loss is hard to imagine. Frankly, we don’t want to. It is one of life’s most tragic events and one of the most difficult. I tried to be there for my wife to help her make it through the loss of one of our children in December of 2003. It was hard for me to see her pain, her anguish, her tears. But I watched her turn to God in the midst of that storm. Then I watched Him provide comfort, healing and even joy for her when she needed it most.

This afternoon and evening, we will share our story. Cindy will be there for the other moms in the room. Although each person grieves differently, she knows something about what the moms in that room are going through. She cares, and God has equipped her with a heart for them.

Tomorrow, Cindy will be among the mothers for a full day conference. I’ve volunteered to photograph the event, and hopefully put together a short video for the Umbrella Ministries. We both know that God will be there too. The Holy Spirit of God will be ministering His comfort. Yes, there will be some tears. The word of God tells us that He holds our tears in His hands. But there will also be laughter and encouragement, the sharing of photographs and of special times the mothers shared with their children. Precious memories. Gifts from God.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” ~ Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

You can learn more about Umbrella Ministries at their website: http://www.umbrellaministries.com They currently offer events in a very limited number of cities. The event in Arizona starts this afternoon with dinner and speeches for both the moms and dads. It continues tomorrow with a full day conference solely for the moms. Should you know a mother who has lost a child, or should you be one, we encourage you to seek out and attend such an event if you live within a reasonable distance.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

God’s Love In The Storm

There are physical storms of rain, snow, and wind. And there are storms that are emotional or spiritual.

In April of 2013, I had traveled to Sedona, Arizona, to photograph the amazing red rock canyons which are world famous. Sedona is one of the most picturesque locations in the state, and I was anxious to use my new Canon DSLR camera.

The average temperature in Sedona during April is 73 degrees for a high and 43 degrees for a low, so I was expecting to have a great day. I had failed to check the forecast in my enthusiasm to get there, envisioning all the locations I wanted to photograph. On the way, a snowstorm struck, a mix of wet snow and sleet. Although that was an unpleasant surprise to me and initially felt like a major setback to my photography plans, it turned into a blessing in disguise.

There are two songs that come to my mind immediately when I think about God and storms. The first is “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, written and sung by Gordon Lightfoot. If you don’t know the song, it is about an event that occurred in November of 1975 on Lake Superior. The largest ship on the Great Lakes at the time, a freighter nicknamed the “Pride of the American Side”, encountered hurricane force winds and was lost, as were all 29 crew members. The following year, Gordon Lightfoot would release his song to commemorate the disaster.

There is one line from that song that is as follows: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

It is a difficult line to hear, as you can’t help but imagine the men struggling for their lives in the waters that were several hundred feet deep and storm-ravaged. Were the men crying out to God in their final moments? I know I would have.

The second song that comes to my mind is by a Christian group called “Casting Crowns”. The song is titled “Praise You In This Storm” and was released in 2005 on their album “Lifesong”. As in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, it was inspired by a real-life tale of tragedy. In this case, it was an encounter between the band and a young girl named Erin Browning. Near the time that the band met her and her family, she was diagnosed with cancer. Erin’s mother was faced with the storm of her daughter’s illness. The girl would pass away on November 1st of 2004.

Written by band members Mark Hall and Bernie Herms, “Praise You In The Storm” was inspired by Erin and her mother. It is about someone crying out to God in their distress, with a torn heart and tears in their eyes. They are looking to the hills, to the maker of heaven and earth, for mercy as their strength fails.

Storms come in many forms. There are physical storms of rain, snow, and wind. And there are storms that are emotional or spiritual. Both can cause us to look to God for help.

We all face storms as we go through life, and we see others facing them. In Sedona, that April day, I was facing a relatively mild snowstorm. One of the locations I chose to go to was beneath the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It was completed in 1956 and required a special permit in order to be built on land in the Coconino National Forest.

As the storm continued, I set up my camera on a tripod below the church, shielding the lens from the wind-driven sleet and snow. The image of the cross above me, nestled into the rugged rock and standing firm in the face of the storm, lifted my spirits. I wanted to capture the scene, to share the experience of it, not just the image of it. Fortunately, I found camera settings that allowed the diagonal lines of the sleet and snow to be seen and captured.  You probably can’t see it if you are reading this on your phone, as the image is too small in that case.

My hope is that you will look to the hills, to the cross of Christ, when storms enter your life. The love of God is ever present and the Holy Spirit is with believers in Christ. Although we may not be literally standing in front of a cross during such times, do not wonder where His love goes. It was a blessing for me to see and capture this scene during an April snowstorm in Sedona. Yet I have seen His hand in the midst of far worse storms in my life, and I know He can be counted on when we need Him the most.

Did you know that the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked? You can read the story about an angel of God appearing to him in the Book of Acts, Chapter 27. https://www.bible.com/bible/100/ACT.27.NASB

Photograph by John J O’Leary