I’m reading John Ortberg’s book The Places to Go…How Will You Know, and in it he says, “God’s primary will for me is the person I become and not the circumstances I inhabit.” He also states that “Jesus’ offer is ease of spirit on the inside, the presence of peace and joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. If I aim at easy on the inside, I can withstand hard on the outside.” Reflecting back on the last two years, I am in awe at how those words so accurately describe my journey of how God helped me on the road of recovery to that destination of peace and joy I knew I wanted.
I don’t remember who said “Pursue what God put in your heart” and I don’t know where I first heard it, but two years ago that’s exactly what I did. I started taking pictures. I found it provided a way for me to check out from my life I no longer recognized and, paradoxically, become acutely re-engaged with the world around me at the same time. So, I have spent the last 23 months taking pictures. The truth of it is, I don’t have a great camera; I don’t really know what I am doing; and I take more bad shots than good shots, but I don’t really care because it’s about the path I have been traveling with God. It’s been about the person I am becoming, the journey I am on and, through God’s grace, the transformative evolution of my innermost self from a place of utter destruction to a place of peace and joy.
At first, taking pictures provided a means of escape to forget my troubles and all the changes which come with divorce. I immersed myself in whatever I was shooting with such an intensity of focus that all the inner chatter of grief, fear and doubt just vanished, and my overactive brain blissfully shut off. God’s presence – that ease of spirit on the inside to which Ortberg refers - seeped into the cracks of my shattered core. I think it’s because in capturing the pictures I liked to take, I felt most connected to God. I gravitated towards nature: flowers, sunrises and sunsets, mountains, landscapes. Viewing and framing the elements of color, texture, structure, pattern and light in the natural environment compelled me to stop and be mindful. I tuned-in and became wholly and fully present to my surroundings: God’s creation. Turns out, I wasn’t simply out taking some pretty pictures. In reality, I was actually becoming more whole-heartedly invested with the world and more connected to God and aware of His presence in my life.
Job 12:7-10 says, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Basically, this scripture is saying everything created knows God created it. God made the world, and God is in the world, so my studying His works through a viewfinder connected me with God. I could not have taken the kind of pictures I took and stayed rooted in my suffering – not when I constantly, with true gratitude, exclaimed little joyous cries of those two prayers “Wow” and “Thanks” at each graceful curve of a flower petal or each symmetrical pattern of the underbelly of a wild mushroom.
On some elemental level, I think I was living and breathing that Bible verse. I spoke to the earth; I asked the skies; I talked to the mountains; I listened to the flowers all in an effort to heal. There is a scene in Joseph Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” when the angel Gabriel describes God’s creation of the 3rd day. Gabriel sings, “Now verdure fills the meadow to delight the eye, and flowers enhance the vista with their gentle, jeweled charm. Herbs waft their balm upon the air. Here, nascent, lies the power to heal.” What imagery! I love that last line and the idea that through God’s creation the power to heal is ready and waiting and available to all of us right here on Earth. I marvel at the use of the word nascent because it means coming into existence from the root nasci to be born. God put a desire to take pictures into my heart, and he used that interest as the mechanism for me to be born out of my grief and come into existence as a healed, whole person.
One of the first photos I took was just 10 days after the divorce was finalized. I was up at my parents’ house in the mountains for July 4th and heartbroken at the turn my life had taken. Gloomy, overcast, and befitting my mood, it stormed and showered all day. Just as the sun was about to drop behind the mountains, the clouds parted. The trees, wet with rain, caught that sunlight and seemed lit from within. They just glowed, bathing the valley with golden, shimmering light.
My experience that day is reminiscent of a quote from the famed naturalist John Muir who stated, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”
The opportunity to capture this scene in a photo absolutely was and is a gift from God. I pressed the shutter that day, but this picture came from God’s DSLR because His Divine Shining Light Revealed. It fills me with gratitude and wonder to realize God sent a message with this very first photo. He wanted me to know that even in the darkest times, there is always light. God will always grant illumination. He will either shine it on us or put it in us so that we can find our way.
How has God been present in your life to help you to a destination and transform, as John Ortberg says, “your little broken story…[into]…a larger story that ends well”?
Nicole Stegink is a Colorado native and currently lives in Arvada. She is active in the music ministry of BUMC, singing for both the traditional & 505 services and has been a member of the church since 2010. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Creative Writing but currently works in the legal field and doesn’t get to exercise her writing skills as often as she would like which is why she is excited to be contributing to the church’s blog.