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

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

Forgiveness is Crucial!

One of the most difficult things in life is to be faced with monumental unfairness.

One of the most difficult things in life is to be faced with monumental unfairness. There are basic reactions that we naturally have when we determine that an event is unfair. Examples include being cheated, being punished for another’s crime, and even something as mundane as someone else’s car pulling into a parking spot you had signaled to be waiting on.

Consider this scenario: Bank robbers brutalize a pregnant teller, pistol-whipping her in anger and frustration when they notice she has pressed an emergency switch notifying the police of a robbery in process. A police car happens to be just down the street and they get the call to proceed to the bank. As they pull up to the front entrance, the robbers flee the bank, running to their left to get to their waiting vehicle. The policeman riding in the passenger seat leaps from the slowing police car, yelling “Stop, police!” One robber pulls a gun and shoots back blindly at the police car, the bullet striking an older man on the other side of the street. The policeman on foot pulls his gun and shoots back at the robbers. But a six-year-old boy was cowering beside a freestanding mailbox, unseen by the policeman. The bullet strikes him instead of the robber. The robbers flee to safety with the cash, leaving behind a wake of carnage. The boy’s mother, shocked and in tears, kneels over her young son. The policeman frantically searches for a pulse on the wrist of the older pedestrian and finds none. Inside the bank, the patrons are trying to give aid to the injured teller and her unborn child.

All the injured or killed in this scenario were innocent. It is so incredibly unfair! That’s what makes it so difficult to accept. The guilty party, the robbers, are unscathed, leaving behind a wake of death and grief. Unfairness can be a huge mountain for us to scale when we try to come to grips with a scene like this.

So the question that I would pose to you is this: “How on earth does forgiveness occur in such a scenario? Who would be able to forgive? Could the husband of the teller, the mother of the young boy, the wife and children of the older man? What about the policeman who accidentally shot the boy, could he forgive himself?

The answer is yes. Please read on.

You may be unable to fathom how that could be. But let me point you to an incident that occurred in Prescott Valley, Arizona. The date was July 9th of 2010. Two neighbors in an apartment complex were talking and having a few drinks. One lived above the other. The discussion turned into an argument. The neighbor from downstairs went back to his apartment and grabbed a knife. He charged back upstairs and in a drunken rage attacked the other by stabbing him repeatedly. The victim tried to fend off and flee his attacker. Yet he was unable to do so and was killed by multiple knife wounds, collapsing near his front door.

Let’s now advance in time to the murder trial in a courthouse in Prescott, Arizona. I was there. So was my wife, Cindy. It had been her brother, Steven Ogle, who had been killed by his neighbor. Think on this a second: If it had been your brother who had been killed, what would you have said to the murderer, assuming you would have had the chance?

The trial was conducted. After sentencing, if you had been there with us in court, you would have seen my wife arrange with the Victim’s Advocate to say a word to the man who had brutally stabbed her brother multiple times. He had just been found guilty and had been told by the judge that he was sentenced to the maximum 29 years in prison for his crime. You would have seen the murderer turned around by the Deputy to face my wife. You would have then easily heard my wife say to him “I forgive you’ [pausing then repeating again] ‘I forgive you.” You would have seen tears flow down the murderer’s face as my wife and I walked away.

When we were driving from Prescott back to Scottsdale, I told Cindy that I was so very proud of her having the courage and the grace to forgive. It had impressed me so much. It was as if I had seen the hand of God upon her at that moment. By forgiving the man who murdered her brother, she had lifted any burden of bitterness, hate, anger or resentment from her own shoulders. She was free of such consequences. Forever. It truly was God giving her the ability to forgive in such circumstances.

Cindy had experienced the healing power of forgiveness in the loss of our son in 2003. She believes that a key part of her healing was the forgiveness we both had for the driver who had pulled out in front of our son Brian that year. We both knew it had been an accident, and we were able to forgive completely. We believe God had blessed us with the ability to immediately forgive. It wasn’t any merit on our part. We both heard several years later that our forgiveness (given to us by God) had been spoken of for several years afterward. A dear Pastor had shared with us how the story had been a blessing to others.

Cindy feels that the forgiveness in the death of our son led to her being able to turn to God for forgiveness for the murderer of her brother seven years later.

If we are unwilling to forgive, it may be because we equate forgiveness with condoning an action. That isn’t the case. Cindy believed the conviction (and lengthy prison sentence) was just. Forgiving the murderer was simply saying that she would never hold on to all the negative feelings and stress that come along with unforgiveness.

If we don’t forgive, we are unwilling to let God work in our life. We have all probably heard the expression “Holding a grudge.” That is an accurate statement. If you hold on to it, instead of letting it go, you aren’t hurting the guilty party, you are just hurting yourself.

Reading this, you may understand the concept and see the benefits to you and others, but just can’t find a way to actually forgive. Might I suggest prayer? God is the source of all good things. Forgiveness, or the ability to forgive, is a gift that you can ask God for.

Here is an example of a prayer that you might consider and personalize:

“Lord, you have forgiven me for all the wrong things I have done. I seek to follow your example. Grant me the ability to forgive those who have wronged me, those who have hurt the ones I love, and help me to also forgive myself for the things I have done wrong. Free me from the burden of unforgiveness, and let me see the blessings that can occur when forgiveness is in my heart rather than bitterness. In Jesus name, I pray, Amen!”

A few scriptures on forgiveness from the Bible:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
~ Ephesians 4:32

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
~ Romans 12:19

But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
~ Matthew 6:15

But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.
~ Luke 23:34

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.
~ Psalms 86:5

Photograph by John J O’Leary