Intersections of Grace

Enjoy a captivating chapter from Intersections of Grace


"Snapshots of the Savior from the back porch of Ridge Run Road"

Photo albums chronicle the significant times in our lives: a newborn baby swaddled in pink or blue, a seven-year-old missing a front tooth, a high school senior in cap and gown. Pictures of friends and family, weddings and vacations.

Among my numerous photo albums is one devoted to pictures taken at our summer home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. All the significant phases of my life have taken place on Ridge Run Road. When I was five years old, my parents rented a house up the street. My brothers and I slid down the mountainside in cardboard boxes on the few days it didn’t rain. We worried about passing the swimming test at the nearby lake. We blew dandelions on the way to the inn for bingo night. Chatham blankets from a nearby textile mill were the prizes. Years later, I returned as a college student for a weekend party. My inattentive date played thirty-six holes of golf in one day. A decade later, I returned as a young mother with our ten-month-old son, who has now spent thirty-three summers at this mountain retreat.

In the summer, we walk our dogs on Ridge Run Road or drive in our orange VW convertible, admiring the style of houses, distinctive to this small community: shingles of chestnut bark, brightly painted front doors and shutters, cheerful window boxes, flower gardens, lawn swings, and purple martin birdhouses.

When we were in North Carolina one October, the summer cottages were vacant, everyone having gone down the mountain for the fall and winter months, which gave me an opportunity to admire the familiar houses from a different vantage point. With my camera, I walked up the ridge through the backyards of my neighbors, taking photographs from each back porch. I was struck by the uniqueness of the view from each house. Each view is created by several factors: how the house is positioned on the lot, how high or low it is on the ridge, where the boundary lines were drawn, and whether trees obscure the view. Some back porches have a mountain view, while others see only the valley.

Changing the lenses on my camera helped me focus on different aspects of the view. With the telephoto lens, I was able to identify that little red spot on a distant ridge—a dilapidated barn. The wide-angle lens captured the sweeping panorama from Fisher’s Peak in Virginia to Pilot Mountain near Winston-Salem. With a close-up lens, I photographed a ladybug on a rhododendron leaf and a fat, fuzzy bumblebee on a pink geranium.

In a similar way, we are each creating an album that chronicles our life with God. Our snapshots of the Savior remind us of his presence in all the significant phases of our lives. As we continue to photograph God, perhaps we need to experiment with different lenses so that our image of him is broader, more detailed, and more focused. With a telephoto lens, something distant seems closer—like the red barn I could not distinguish with the naked eye. Why would we need such a lens for a God who is not far from any one of us? “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27–28). Although God is always as near as the air we breathe, in times of doubt or despair we might feel that he has “hidden his face” (Ps. 22:24). This is when we need the telephoto lens of prayer and devotion to bring him back into focus and to remind us that he is never distant. Just past our house, Ridge Run Road veers to the left and goes steeply downhill, the name changing to Devotion Road. Not many people take the challenge of walking down this road because of the steep return climb. If God ever seems distant to you, it is important that you spend some time on devotion road every day.

Just as a wide-angle lens is necessary to photograph the view from Virginia to Winston-Salem, we need a special lens to capture the width, breadth, depth, and length of the nature of God. The wide-angle lens of our faith is memory. The responsibilities and worries of today can keep us from reflecting on our history with God. HIS-STORY as part of our story, his love and grace intersecting our story. Throughout Scripture, God repeatedly tells his people to remember. A close-up lens magnifies the details of something that is near. It can reveal that a bluebonnet has some red petals, or that a lantana is shaped like a perfect bridal bouquet. We magnify the details of God with gratitude and thanksgiving. We magnify him when we approach his Word with a “slow and steady reverence.”16 Spend a week meditating on one of the attributes of God—his love, faithfulness, goodness, power, or holiness. Absorb the significance of one of the names of Jesus—Shepherd, Physician, Light, Bread, and Living Water. Memorize Scripture. Meditate. Keep a journal. As I meditated on “How lovely is your dwelling place” (Ps. 84:1), I thought about my eternal dwelling and more carefully observed the beauty of the natural world, which was Jesus’ dwelling place. I wondered how often I am a lovely dwelling place for God. I paid more attention to the people I encounter every day—they are also God’s dwelling place. These are details that are not noticed without the close-up lens of meditation, journaling, and prayer.

So far, we have only composed our photos, enhancing the view with the use of different lenses. We still don’t have a print to frame and put on the piano in the living room, a snapshot for our wallet, something to add to the album. What is the next step? Before the digital age film had to be processed or developed in a darkroom, the photographer usually working in solitude. The key component was the negative, exposed to a special light. Submerging a blank piece of paper into a chemical vat, one waited with expectation, hope, and curiosity for the image to appear. The image began as hazy, but in moments it was a focused and clear picture. We are continually developing and processing our image of God as we grow in knowledge of him. Like the photographer, we need darkroom times of silence and solitude. We need to offer God the blank spaces of prayer, study, and meditation so his image can become imprinted in our souls and “traces of God become visible.”17 To bring him into focus, we must bring into the darkroom our mountain and valley views. There is no photograph without the negative. The spiritual life is about making “prints out of your own negatives.”

Just as each back porch on Ridge Run Road has a unique view of the landscape, so the view of God is probably different on each back porch. Our snapshot of God is determined by our lot in life, whether we are high or low on the road of circumstance, whether something obscures the view, whether we are in the midst of a mountain top experience or walking in the valley of shadows. The people who sit on the back porches of every community have different dreams, hopes, fears, and challenges that shape their image of God. One may need a picture of him as faithful husband, another as Father or friend. One may need to picture him as the great physician, another as daily bread, or light. And, when tragedy comes, the goal may simply be to keep God in focus.

We take comfort from the knowledge that God is the “same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), consistent and never changing. God wants us to grasp the big picture of him: “the God who made the world and everything in it . . . the Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24). But he will reveal himself according to the particular circumstances on our own back porch, giving us each a wallet-sized photo of himself to carry with us everyplace we go—to meet us in our daily need.

PRAYER

We may not like what is happening on our back porch right now. But we must come to terms with the sovereignty of God and find peace within the boundaries that define our life. Help us, Lord, to see you present on our back porch; help us to find peace there. Help us to experience your nearness within those boundaries and to find in them the reason to seek you.