All life is a matter of perspective

All life is a matter of perspective

Edited from a letter originally written to a friend on Tuesday, 1 May through Thursday, 3 May, 2012

Montano de Oro State Park, San Lius Obispo County, CA.  22 JAN 2012.  Copyright V.K. Starkgraf, All Rights Reserved.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA. 22 JAN 2012. Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

January 22, 2012 was a stormy day in winter, the last day of a passing winter storm.  It was the last day of a retreat conference event in Pismo Beach. I had barely had a moment for pause all weekend, save a few hours on Saturday afternoon. It was not a restful weekend for various reasons, and by the time it was over I was so done with a retreat without quietness or rest.  I wasn’t sure about my decision or whether it would be “worth it,” but I took the suggestion of a friend to drive further up the coast to Montano de Oro State Park.

It’s quite the sloooow drive through shopping districts and rural areas.  It seemed far, I’m not much a fan of the beach, would I regret this?

What I do regret is not getting any photographs of the grove of eucalyptus trees on the drive in.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Lius Obispo County, CA.  22 JAN 2012.  Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA. 22 JAN 2012. Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

I have some pretty epic seascapes from that day — God really came through for dramatic and perfect lighting!  I didn’t have a proper camera and lens to capture the eagles (!!!) soaring overhead and resting on the side wall of a nearby cliff, but they were there too.  Crazy as I am, I spent a couple hours lying down in the edges of various cliffs to capture certain shots.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA.  22 JAN 2012.  Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA. 22 JAN 2012. Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

Please remember it was January — very resolutely “winter.”  My mother or sister might’ve frowned at the view, as every growing thing was brown or dead.  But to do so would’ve been indicative of complete lack of imagination or perspective. As I walked out to the cliffs, I noticed how fantastic the light was, and I wondered…

This shot?

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA.  22 JAN 2012.  Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA. 22 JAN 2012. Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

This shot was a risk, I had no idea what I might get (and no way to know either, as I was shooting with a 35mm camera).  This was taken while lying down on a wet and sandy trail, looking up through a lot of dead brush, shot directly at the light source.

For so many reasons, I could’ve gotten nothing.

And yet — look!!!

On a cold, windy, stormy day with dodgy weather, staring directly at a view of nothing but death and stormy skies, and all from the vantage point of a spiritual and emotional low…while lying on a wet, sandy hiking trail?  In all aspects of this scenario, there promised no aspect of goodness.  And yet?  With the right perspective – low enough to see all that God had on-view that day — there was great beauty to be found (even among storms, death, discomfort, and austerity).  How many people would have merely walked by and missed this?  Glory to God alone for the great and inspiring beauty that day, but what was required to obtain this shot was someone with the imagination to see the (literally!) humble perspective to find it.

All life really is a matter of perspective, and it’s what we do with that idea that really matters.

I come from dark places.  My soul is beyond the reach of darkness, but my day-to-day life is not beyond the reach of its effects.  What I choose to do with those two truths is, however, what can make all the difference in the world with respect to the direction and the character of my life.  Suffice it to say that I am adept at drinking poison from the wellspring of my own despair.  I won’t say I’m immune from the temptation to revert to this, but watching so many I love fall by this?  It’s just not productive.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t still feel it.

Perspective can change much, but one thing perspective cannot change is reality.  The plant life along that trail was dead, the weather was still stormy, the trail was still wet and sandy.  What was variable?  My response.

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Trying to “be still”

Trying to “be still”

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One early memory verse in my Christian life was: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

I cannot underscore enough how much I am totally dismal at “be still.”  And yet?  I have been sick four times in the past three-and-a-half months, plus I was stuck in bed being very quiet for a full month with a broken shoulder that is still mending.  One dear friend once said something to the effect that I live life to the fullest better than anyone else she knows.  I love life, and I love life from having faced death so often for so long.  I love God, and I live to serve him with gratitude, love, compassion, creativity, imagination…and dynamic (fiercely dynamic) energy.  Soli Deo Gloria are great words to live by and to build life on.  Sometimes I serve quietly, but I’m nothing if not a force of nature (even if that force of nature manifests as a presence of peace).

All of which — for good or for ill (probably ill) — leads me to draw lines and equate my utility with my worth.  Thus, because I’ve spent better than two-thirds of 2013 stuck in bed?  I’m going nuts.

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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, taken 12 MAR 2013, Los Angeles, California

I was actually supposed to begin my upper-division requirements for a degree in Theological Studies (to finish undergrad to prep for seminary) at an amazing (and prestigious) university in Los Angeles a couple of months ago — but, of course, the accident messed up everything, and unless I can find a cosigner for the private loans to cover living expenses (almost everything else is covered) I’ll be stuck out of school (but perpetually knocking on that door) for years until I can build enough credit to qualify for loans myself.  This is the most frustrating thing that has ever happened to me, and feels like absolute failure given how many doors I watched God swing wide to bring me to that place.  I’m not giving up, but I can’t fix this.

I read, I write, I try to keep in-touch.  I pray, I encourage.  I do what I can from afar.  It is really hard to feel “useful” or “needed” with one arm, or when helping me requires so much from those I love.

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

Cold weather, poor health, limited funds for “fun” transportation has kept me off the Metro and home more than out in the world, but I can’t help but think that every day I don’t get out of bed or don’t walk out my door is a day wasted for the Lord’s service, that somehow I am missing divine appointments by cutting myself off from humanity.  There is so much need and so many broken people in the city…surely  even the smallest kindness to acknowledge the forgotten and marginalized makes a difference in the balance of eternity for all involved — what can I say about the days I keep my bright smile indoors?

All I have is my words, are my words enough?

So this week it is the flu…and I’ve cleared my schedule and quarantined myself from friends, relatives, church family until at least next Wednesday.  My immunity at this point is shot to hell, and all I can do is “be”…and be quiet…and pray…and read.  In lucid moments I write.  I barely sleep.  I’ve been drowning myself in juice and Vitamin C in a desperate attempt to flush my ravaged system and clear my head.  I honestly don’t remember the last time an illness hit me so hard instantaneously.  I joke that when I am sick I’m a “germ factory,” but this is “germ factory” on the level of a germ warfare machine (impressive, but to no good end!).

Enough is enough.

I was blessed for a season to be called as a hospice volunteer to visit hospice patients (as I have faced death I do not fear it, so hospice is actually a very good fit for me in a lot of ways).  My longest-lived patient had severe dementia and congestive heart failure — he was dying by inches, and he was dying by inches nearly alone.  I remember one of his more lucid afternoons he commented how hard it was to be a blob.

I’m not a blob, but I definitely have days when I feel like one.

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

I have a window, a window that overlooks an alley and the street.  There is an auto body shop across the street.  People pass, children pass, dogs pass, cars and trucks pass.  I’ve memorized the trees and rejoice when pigeons fly close.  I have the guinea pigs.  Most days this is my world, confined to a 7’×9′ store room with no TV, no radio, no movies…just books and the internet…and God…and my thoughts.

The husband of someone I know from church asked me last Sunday how in the world I know so much [about the Bible and theology], did I study it at university?  I blurted out what is — basically — the truth: that I’ve spent much of my life in solitary confinement reading and writing too much.

I’m there again.  If St. Val wasn’t eccentric enough to begin with, she’s certainly moreso now.

So much is swirling about what to do with myself, with my life, how to manage, how to get by, what’s next…

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

I only wish I knew…but for now the only thing in the world I can do?

Be…still…