Thursday, May 26, 2016

God’s DSLR

Not even two years ago, I went through a devastating divorce. I made a decision at the outset that I didn’t want this life-changing event forever to define me in a negative way. I knew I wanted to live a whole-hearted life of joy and peace, but how to get there in the midst of my grief was a road I didn’t quite know how to travel. There is a saying in ancient Chinese philosophy which wisely instructs, “Only he who knows his destination finds the way.” I knew the destination I wanted for my life after divorce, but the challenge was navigating the journey and how to get there.

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. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Checking In

My family and I are on vacation this week in Key West, Florida. This is a really magical place. There are pristine white beaches and turquoise waters, enough history to make it educational, and enough island vibe to make it relaxing. There are hundreds of wild chickens and roosters strutting around and many six-toed cats that are the descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s beloved pets.

We got here on a Saturday after a long day of travel. A 4-year-old and a 1-year-old do not make the best of traveling companions after two flights and a 10-hour day. We were still on “go” mode, just leaving work, thinking about emails to write and the getting the dog to the kennel and remembering to pack strollers and car seats and snacks and sunscreen and swimsuits.

A traveler settling into island life. 

On day two, we went to church at the Key West United Methodist Church. During the greeting and welcome portion of the service, anyone in the congregation that was not a Key West native was invited to stand and introduce ourselves, say where we were from and our home churches. Only six families stood (It was a very small church), everyone declared they were from a United Methodist Church from somewhere in the country. We all sat back down and the service continued.

Everyone in the congregation was in Hawaiian shirts and as it was Sunday, I assume many people were just at the start of their vacations. A week of sun and fun, boating, fishing, sightseeing and lazy days stretching out in front of us. A week of island life, slowing down and enjoying a new and less hurried pace.

The pastor discussed the extended family that is the United Methodist Church and I felt like she was talking directly to me. I thought about how rooted my little family has become in the routine of church on Sundays. How if we ever moved to a new place, the first thing that we will do is to find the local church and meet new people in our new home town. The church has really cared for us through some difficult times and we’ve celebrated with our church family during happy times and that relationship has become a core part of who we are.

Starting off a vacation with this church service gave us a small feeling of being a part of the local community. We were greeted with warm welcome and we felt right at home more than 2,000 miles from “our” church. There was sand on the floor and we could see the ocean through the windows but the similarities in the service were a comfort and as much a part of our weekly routine as the service at BUMC. As the Pastor did the readings and we listened to the message for the week, I thought about how thankful I was to have this way of rooting myself to a place and a time.

Now, back to the beach and a pina colada.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. -Psalm 118:24

Cristen Underwood has been a member of BUMC for five years.   She lives in Westminster with her husband, four-year old son, one-year old son, a very old Siberian Husky and a really fat cat. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

I Love This Place!

It was one of those rare occasions when I was running ahead of schedule for a fundraiser on behalf of Global Hope held in downtown Denver on a Friday night. There is no better way for me to kill time than journaling my day while sitting at Starbucks!

Conveniently, 16th Street Mall is a bustling mecca for afternoon coffee. The restaurant is jumping and I commit a suburban sin – I sit with a complete stranger at a two-seater table.

"Hi!” with a sparkle in her thinly parted eyes, “I’m Noona.”

Oh great, I thought, of all the people in downtown Denver I’m stuck with a talker. It gets worse- fast. Her first question is, “what do you do?” I’m leery to reveal what I do too soon in a conversation because too often my job is a conversation stopper. People are strangely tight-lipped and reserved once I go on record with my occupation. It’s really entertaining when my job is undisclosed and people are simply being themselves with me instead of being guarded. Too tired to play my usual guessing game regarding my work I profess, “I’m a pastor.” Her reply, “How do you make a difference in the world?”

This follow-up question is either very profound or stupid I thought. Sarcastically my mind went there. Is this lady pulling my leg? Surely, at what appears to be seventy-plus years of living she has heard of a pastor. I played it straight. “I’m glad you asked (not really). Here’s what I do”:

I lead an organization that allows people to collectively change the world- an opportunity and sometimes a person, at a time! The event I’m headed to in a moment was founded at my church twenty years ago and it cares for over 450 abandoned children in places as far away as Kenya, India and Romania. We serve more than 15,000 hot meals to the homeless in Denver with food prepared by our volunteers at our church’s kitchen. We teach people Jesus loves them and people believe us. And yes, I know my leadership of this adventure is making a difference.

Her reply, “that’s impressive! Here’s my phone number, maybe I can help you. I like making a difference too and often I’m sent to random places and meet interesting people to do so.”

By scoring her digits I’m convinced that Noona, at the very least, considers us interesting. For me, this pop quiz was a gut check on the question we’ve all asked ourselves “does what I do matter?” Broomfield United Methodist Church lives its mission to worship God, grow with God and share God with others because of readers like you. I’m eternally grateful for your trust in me as a leader and privileged beyond words to have spent the past dozen years serving Jesus with you. Together our vision to make community in the image of Jesus is not lip service nor a pity slogan. You’re real. We’re real. And we are making a difference in real lives. Thank you for serving Christ with me!

We always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers. 3 This is because we remember your work that comes from faith, your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father. 4 Brothers and sisters, you are loved by God, and we know that he has chosen you -1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 (CEB)

Ken Brown is the senior pastor at BUMC. You can contact him at