Jul 18 2015

Thank God for Parks!

_DSC6560I have had the chance the past couple of days to spend time wandering around and photographing Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This amazing park is located just south of Cleveland, Ohio. I visited here a couple of years ago and jumped at the opportunity to come back when I had to come up this way for our denominational meeting. This national park started out as a National Recreation Area in 1974.  It was made a national park in 2000. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a gorgeous natural area. It has a river that runs through it, marshlands, forests, waterfalls, lakes and lots of wildlife. The area also has a rich cultural history.

_DSC6674One of the things that I’ve been impressed with on this trip is the many ways people make use of the park. Lots of people make use of the Towpath Trail. This wide path follows the historic Ohio and Erie Canal route. On it you’ll find people of all ages running, riding a bike, or just taking a leisurely stroll. There is also a train you can ride through the park. In some of the park’s lakes I saw people fishing. I’ve also noticed a number of horse trails. And then, of course, there are folks like me who find the park a great place to capture images of God’s beautiful and awesome Creation.

_DSC6695As I’ve traveled around the park the last couple of days I have found myself giving thanks that we have places like this in our country. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a huge fan of our national park system. I have spent the last twenty-three years visiting and photographing as many of them as I can. A lot of our national parks are located in isolated areas and people have to travel a good bit to get to them. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique in that it is located in an urban area. This park is easily accessible to a large number of people. From what I can see, lots of people from this part of the country take advantage of this treasure. Good for them!

On the official park map/brochure there is a quote by James Snowden Jackson that says, “I have admired the rugged fiords of Norway and the bald peaks of Yosemite. But I gain strength each day at home from the beauty of our own Cuyahoga Valley.”  For some reason this reminds me of my favorite John Muir passage: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”  I’m sure there are some that would have preferred to see the Cuyahoga Valley developed instead of preserved as a national park but this area and our country is richer because it has been set aside and protected.

_DSC6838Obviously not every community can have a national park nearby but thankfully most cities and towns do have local parks, or perhaps even a state park close by. I feel very blessed to have John James Audubon State Park just a mile from my home. The city of Henderson, Kentucky, where I live has a number of delightful parks and Henderson County does as well. These parks are not just places for recreational activities, they are as Muir indicated, places where we can spend time with God and experience nature’s healing powers.  More and more studies are revealing the health benefits of just being outdoors. I believe there are spiritual benefits as well.

If you have a park close to where you live I hope that you will take advantage of it and visit it frequently. If you don’t I hope you get one someday. Wherever we live, regardless of whether there is a park nearby, we can all find ways to enjoy the outdoors. We can even create our own mini-parks right at home. The important thing is to find a way to reconnect with nature and with the One who has so graciously provided it for us.


(The pictures shown here are ones I’ve taken the past few days at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)

May 1 2013

Practice What You Preach

“This is what I seek…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” Psalm 27:4

CV3993It is not uncommon for those of us who are ministers to hear people say we should “practice what we preach.” After my trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park last weekend I feel the need for someone to remind me to “practice what I blog.” I have often encouraged people at this site to slow down when they are outdoors and to be aware of their surroundings. I’ve even offered warnings about being so preoccupied with finding certain things that you fail to see a number of other treasures at hand. Since I write these kind of things you might expect me to practice what I preach. Why, even I expect that of myself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.

CV3979When my friend and I entered the park on Friday I was anxious to photograph. Our first stop was Blue Hen Falls. It is only a short walk down to the falls and I was eager to get to the falls and begin photographing. I took scores of pictures right away of the waterfall, none of which were very good. The light was not ideal, nor were my creative juices flowing.  I knew I would have another chance to come back to this particular waterfall but still began the journey back to the car disappointed. I’d come to photograph a waterfall and didn’t have much to show for it.  Then, all at once, we began to see wildflowers all around us. There were beautiful white trilliums, bloodroot, lousewort, and a host of other species. I also noticed a number of fiddlehead ferns unfurling. None of these things were obvious; the forest floor was covered for the most part with leaves. But for those who truly had eyes to see there was much to enjoy and photograph. We ended up spending far more time in that area photographing flowers and ferns than we had taking pictures of Blue Hen Falls.

CV4333It bothers me that I failed to practice what I preach. I should have known better and I should have done better. What I fear even more, however, is that I may not be doing any better in the spiritual realm when it comes to seeing God. I’ve written numerous times that we must be careful about presupposing that God can only be found in certain places. Those who think God can be found only in a church or perhaps in the Bible are likely missing a lot of opportunities to experience God’s presence and glory.  I am not one of those who believe God is found only in a church or in the Bible but that does not mean that I still do not miss the divine presence on numerous occasions. I have a feeling that just as I must do a better job of being aware of my surroundings when enjoying nature or photographing, I must also do a better job of opening my eyes to the plethora of ways God is capable of Himself known.  There simply is no person, place or thing that God cannot use to reveal Himself.  I preach that sort of thing all the time. May God help me now to practice what I preach and really pay attention.  May God help you too…


(The trillium and fern image were taken the day written about above.  The picture of Blue Hen Falls was taken the next day.)

Apr 28 2013

Writing Straight With Crooked Lines

CV4316I love America’s national parks! They truly are one of our country’s “best ideas.” This weekend I had the chance to visit one that I had not been to before, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It is located between Akron and Cleveland, Ohio, and has only been a national park for thirteen years. It has the reputation of being a wonderful autumn location for photographers but I found early spring to also be a great time to visit.

CV4352The word “cuyahoga” means “crooked river.” A river that bears this name does, indeed, run through the park and lives up to its name. This unique name got me thinking about a sermon John Claypool preached many years ago about the biblical character, Jacob. Claypool makes the point that despite Jacob’s devious ways God still used him to further His plans for Israel. The primary point I remember from reading this sermon was Claypool’s insistence that God can “write straight with crooked lines.”

CV4228I believe that this is an important point and that any number of biblical characters could be pointed to as examples–Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, etc. Certainly a lot of non-biblical examples could also be cited. It’s just true; God has this amazing way of using imperfect people to accomplish His will for the world. I find that incredibly comforting because I am quite imperfect myself. I often wonder how God can use someone like me, someone with more faults than I could begin to count. At the same time, I know He does use me and that is both humbling and exciting.  It is also indicative of just how awesome God is.

None of us are perfect; we all make mistakes. Bad decisions or sinful actions can lead to apparent disaster. But the Bible declares, “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28) I’ve seen this happen in my own life and join John Claypool in assuring you that God can, indeed, write straight with crooked lines. Your life may seem to you as crooked as the Cuyahoga River in Ohio but God has the ability to bless and use you nonetheless. This seems to be His speciality and I, for one, am thankful it is.


(I took the three pictures shown here this weekend at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)