Godspeed to a friend and mentor

My friend Rich, standing in the back center in the blue shirt, passed away last night. He was a friend to many and a mentor to me during my time in Missouri.

A friend and mentor from my time in Missouri passed away last night, and the news hit me hard this morning.

Tonight I was searching for some photos of my friend Rich and found this gem from 2008 when I just started getting into flag football back in Missouri. Rich, in the back middle wearing the blue shirt, joined us one Sunday after church just because he wanted to have some fun.

His straight-arm technique would put someone flat on their back. I would know. And I also know he didn’t mean it intentionally.

Those were some fun days, and I’m grateful to have this reminder of what a good guy Rich Schultz was. A great spiritual mentor during my first stint in Missouri and a tremendous blessing to my family.

I remember one time that I was even more critical of faith-related matters than I am now. I was at a true spiritual crossroads, and shared this with Rich over coffee as we waited for our church service to start. He simply told me, “Follow the Lord and everything else will fall into place.”

When my friends Brandon and Robin were married in Florida in August 2014, it happened to be in the same town in which Rich and Anita were living. I had the chance to meet up with them for lunch, and it was a tremendous blessing. They both told me they were proud of the person I was becoming and that they loved and treasured my parents’ friendship. That last part was special to me, and now especially so because it was the last words I ever heard Rich say in person.

When I received word this morning that Rich passed away, I couldn’t help but remember his words: “Follow the Lord and everything else will fall into place.” I wish he could see that they are starting to, even if it is seven years after he said it. The Lord spoke a word through him that now resonates even stronger today.

I miss you, my friend, and I am thankful for the chance to have crossed paths and shared in life for a time. The promise of meeting back up with you in heaven someday is further incentive to continue serving Jesus Christ and sharing His Gospel with others.

On January 3, it snowed in Centralia

Seminary Hill Natural Area in Centralia was a grateful recipient of Sunday's snowstorm.

Seminary Hill Natural Area in Centralia was a grateful recipient of Sunday’s snowstorm.

I’ve loved snow ever since I was a kid.

Imagine how I felt today at church when our pastor looked outside and announced it was snowing. Most people sitting in the audience cheered and I probably said the loudest “amen.”

After church I had to take a trek around town as the snow fell furiously, coating the city of Centralia in a blanket of white. Within an hour there was easily an inch of snow on the ground, and the weather brought with it a quiet to the downtown area I had not heard during daytime in awhile.

It doesn’t snow often in Centralia, and when it does it doesn’t usually stick. Today we all got to see both, and it brought a tremendous amount of joy to people I saw.

Here are some of the photos I shot today and tonight, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the time I spent in my favorite weather.

The snow clouds continue to move over Centralia, as seen from Staebler Point.

The snow clouds continue to move over Centralia, as seen from Staebler Point.

Snow flocks fir trees at Staebler Point in the Seminary Hill Natural Area.

Snow flocks fir trees at Staebler Point in the Seminary Hill Natural Area.

Diffused light from snowfall is seen through trees along the Rufus Kiser Trail at the Seminary Hill Natural Area.

Diffused light from snowfall is seen through trees along the Rufus Kiser Trail at the Seminary Hill Natural Area.

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My Favorite Photos of 2015: October Sunset at Mount St. Helens

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Mount St. Helens appears to glow amid the landscape as the sunset casts an orange and pink hue on the mountain and clouds in late October.

It’s time to look back on my favorite photos that I shot this past calendar year, and there’s no better place to start than one of my favorite landscapes: that of the Mount St. Helens area.

I am privileged to live about an hour’s drive from the mountain which makes it easy to take a quick trip to a spot where fewer and fewer people converge this time of year. One October Sunday, I grabbed my camera and took off for the mountain, not knowing what lay in store for me that evening.

After spending some time at the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater, I headed back down State Route 504 toward Castle Rock but stopped just a mile west of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s boundary.

That’s where I saw this, off in the distance:

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Looking directly west from about one mile west of the Elk Rock Viewpoint on State Route 504, I captured this at a focal length of about 100mm.

I decided to sit and wait for awhile, and it’s a good thing I did because I was then treated to a wonderful scene in which the sun peeked underneath the clouds.

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I moved a bit southwest and captured this, with the Toutle River flowing beneath the viewpoint on which I sat.

I realized that if the sunset was doing that to the clouds here, it must be illuminating the mountain pretty well. But my viewpoint didn’t have a mountain view, so I had to run to my car and jet up about a mile eastward back to the Elk Rock viewpoint.

I’m so glad I did.

With only minutes to spare, I arrived at the Elk Rock Viewpoint and stepped to the railing, where I shot a series of photos of the mountain with my zoom lens. But seeing the clouds boil over the mountain and the way the sun was illuminating them, I had to capture a wider shot.

Here it is.

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Mount St. Helens is seen to the right, with Mount Adams faintly visible in the distance off to the left as a vibrant sunset illuminates the National Volcanic Monument.

I’ve seen a few sunsets at the mountain, but I don’t think the scenery of this one —¬†especially in person — could be topped anytime soon. There were a few people with me, pointing and clicking away, getting similar shots of the mountain and valley below.

It was calm and quiet, and the burst of color and light only lasted about a total of four minutes after I arrived at Elk Rock, but I was so thankful to capture these images that convey the beauty of a landscape that was devastated by an eruption just 35 years ago, and is rapidly coming to life.

I don’t think life in that little corner of the globe has been more evident in my lifetime than that October night, and I am thankful to God that I had the opportunity to experience it in person and capture just a few glimpses of what I saw.

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The sunset fades over Mount St. Helens.

A momentous day for Lewis County’s evolving rail-to-trail

Leaves completely cover the Willapa Hills Trail west of Adna on a Saturday morning in autumn 2015.

Leaves completely cover the Willapa Hills Trail west of Adna on a Saturday morning in autumn 2015.

If you want to see economic development in west Lewis County over the next few years, all you have to do is follow the progress of the Willapa Hills Trail.

The WHiT, as I’ve previously referenced it here on the blog, is a 56-mile rails-to-trails corridor that is being rehabilitated for recreational use. Bicyclists, horseback riders, runners and walkers all have partaken in the joys of the trail, but most of it is still relatively untamed and untouched by many.

Very few partake in the sections of the trail in far west Lewis County for two major reasons, one of which is a direct result of the other: (1) some places along the trail require extensive work to repair major problems, thus rendering some sections largely inaccessible; and (2) the trail’s existence isn’t well-known because it’s not signed in most areas.

But things are changing, and today signaled a major milestone in building the WHiT up to a bona fide true recreational excursion. Two of the old railroad bridges that spanned the Chehalis River between Adna and Doty had washed out in a flood in 2007, creating major gaps along the trail that was still in a largely unimproved state. Today, nearly eight years to the day that flood hit — and numerous projects to improve the trail in other areas have been completed — two bridges built to replace those structures opened to the public, linking about 15 miles of trail from an area just west of Adna to Pe Ell.

This bridge, informally called the Spooner Bridge because of its proximity to Spooner Road near Adna, is one of two new bridges linking major sections of the Willapa Hills Trail.

This bridge, informally called the Spooner Bridge because of its proximity to Spooner Road near Adna, is one of two new bridges linking major sections of the Willapa Hills Trail.

I believe this is the biggest development the Willapa Hills Trail has seen in recent years, and it will draw people to parts of the trail they had never visited before to explore. It’s a lovely stretch, as the trail is crushed gravel and bikeable even on a road bike with wider tires. The scenery, especially in the autumn, is great.

It bears mentioning that Washington State Parks staff and administration have done a tremendous job administering the trail, patrolling it and ensuring rehabilitation on the trail is being done well.

The Willapa Hills Trail west of Adna hugs the Chehalis River and provides a beautiful backdrop for people using the trail.

The Willapa Hills Trail west of Adna hugs the Chehalis River and provides a beautiful backdrop for people using the trail.

It’s notable that this stretch is open because it connects very closely with Rainbow Falls State Park near Doty and Dryad. This park is a beautiful wooded area that contains several miles of trails, the biggest campground in west Lewis County and a view of the always-wonderful Rainbow Falls along the Chehalis River. It’s not a big waterfall but it looks fascinating from up close.

Rainbow Falls looks especially interesting when the Chehalis River is running low. Don't venture too closely, though.

Rainbow Falls looks especially interesting when the Chehalis River is running low. Don’t venture too closely, though.

Even if you’re not an outdoors lover or trail fanatic, you will be able to see from afar the economic development that will take place as a result of the work on the trail that continues to be done. Early next year, an unplanked trestle west of Adna (about a mile east of the Spooner bridge) will be redecked and opened for use, essentially connecting the trail from Chehalis to Pe Ell with only a crossing on State Route 6 three miles west of Chehalis to figure out.

More use of the WHiT can only mean more people finding out the beauty of our area. As I mentioned in a previous post, check out what the Banks-Vernonia Trail has done for those two towns in Oregon. The same can and will happen for Doty, Adna and especially Pe Ell — giving an economic shot in the arm to a region that will open those arms to welcome any and all comers.

Hope deferred? Place your hope in God

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” That’s probably one of the biggest understatements in the Bible.

Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen. When someone is hoping for good to occur in their lives — the “right one” to come along, a job, and in more dire cases that we see all too often, a reason to live — and what is hoped for does not occur, it produces devastating results.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, and I’d bet good money it makes the body sick too. Ever seen someone pining for an unrequited love? Worse yet, ever looked in the eyes of someone who barely subsists on the streets? In examples like these that I’ve seen, I can literally feel and see a physical sickness or extreme physical fatigue because of the loss of hope.

It is good to hope for a life partner, employment, place to live, hope to carry on, and in fact the Bible instructs us in many instances to let these desires be known to God.

Which carries me to my next point: What do we put our hope in? Who do we put our hope in? Do we trust the universe to let things fall into place? Do we put hope in people for the same reason?

We are ultimately instructed to cast all our cares upon God (1 Peter 5:7) and to put our hope solely in God (Psalm 39:7, Isaiah 40:31, Lamentations 3:25 among others). It is then and only then that we will see our situations permanently improve, as God is truly the only one that can change our situations.

Tonight I am praying for all my friends who are reading this who may be going through trials in which you feel your hope is deferred. The afore-mentioned verses came as a great comfort to me in a recent difficult time and I hope and pray that they bless you as well.

Saturday morning at the Hub City Mission

The Hub City Mission routinely hands out dozens of food boxes during a Saturday morning distribution session once per month.

The Hub City Mission routinely hands out dozens of food boxes during a Saturday morning distribution session once per month.

Knowing that there is a poverty issue in Lewis County is one thing, but the ability to see it in a whole new light through interacting with the very people who are in its grip puts an urgency to the need to solve it.

Bethel Church’s Hub City Mission brings people from several churches together once a month to help distribute food to the hungry in the Centralia community, and this morning the ministry served dozens upon dozens of people with food boxes to last a few weeks. People of all ages and walks of life from Bethel Church, Life Center and more all put their heads and hands together to volunteer, doing everything from carrying boxes and making connections with folks to back-of-house work such as bringing more food out and cleaning up.

Generally the last Saturday of every month, people start lining up outside Bethel’s Downtown Centralia church at 8 a.m. — a full hour before the mission begins handing out the food. Delivery teams bring the food to people who generally can’t make it out of their apartments or homes, bringing a completely different aspect to the ministry and reaching people where they are at.

Volunteers at the mission helped serve people who came through the line, handing out a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Volunteers at the mission helped serve people who came through the line, handing out a variety of fruits and vegetables.

I have had the opportunity to get to know some of the volunteers, but even more importantly while helping with food boxes I’ve been blessed to get to know those we are helping. I sadly admit that I generally wouldn’t otherwise get to know them, and that’s largely because our lives don’t intersect otherwise. I admit that I need to change that and be more intentional about creating connections and community with those who don’t have much.

There’s one interesting component to the ministry that my friend Dave and I started a few months back, and it’s been a tremendous blessing because it meshes in with an activity that I have grown to love over the past few years.

We noticed several people were riding bicycles to the mission to haul their food boxes home, but their bicycles were in very poor condition and needed tune-ups at the very least. So we decided to start a bicycle repair stand at the mission to coincide with the food box handouts. Dave has the equipment and expertise and I had the willingness to learn, and the combo has worked well.

One month during the summer, we serviced about a dozen bicycles with issues ranging from wheels that needed to be trued to a bicycle that needed a new set of pedals. We’ve even had more people help, including Dave at Willie’s Sport Shop who has joined in on occasion.

Andy joined in today's bicycle workshop and got right into it, helping to true a badly wobbly wheel.

Andy joined in today’s bicycle workshop and got right into it, helping to true a badly wobbly wheel.

Today we had two new guys come out to lend a hand, and although we only serviced three bicycles this morning (it was a frigid 28 degrees, and bare hands working with metal isn’t the best), we were still able to interact with several people. One man stopped through to talk for a few about his BMX bike and show us his rather handy way of creating a bicycle trailer out of cobbled-together components including crutches and refrigerator racks.

It was pretty inventive, and I appreciated it simply because this man needed a trailer and did what he had to do to make it happen.

One visitor to the bicycle repair area shows off his bicycle's trailer, made from a combination of crutches, refrigerator racks and hose clamps.

One visitor to the bicycle repair area shows off his bicycle’s trailer, made from a combination of crutches, refrigerator racks and hose clamps.

All of this brings me to a point: There are ways for us to serve our communities by doing things we enjoy. I like working on bicycles because of the challenge it brings and because I love to ride. If I can channel that into something that benefits others such as this, then I pray that the Lord uses it.

The need is going to be very great in the Twin Cities as the weather gets colder. There are a variety of groups helping out with food and other needs, and I can think of a few right off the bat including the Salvation Army, United Way of Lewis County, Rotary and more. Contact any service organization or church in Lewis County to get involved.

If and when you do, you’ll make a connection with the people in need. Putting faces, names and personalities on the poverty issue here in Lewis County brings a greater urgency in quashing it, so let’s all do join in and do our part.

“He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” –Luke 3:11

Snapshot: Angel Falls near Randle, Washington

Angel Falls is one of two waterfalls accessed on a three-mile loop hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Randle, Washington.

Angel Falls is one of two waterfalls accessed on a three-mile loop hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Randle, Washington.

We have a pretty vast collection of waterfalls in Lewis County. One of my personal favorites is one that isn’t dramatic or even really spectacular, but rather it kind of hides behind some of the canopy of the forest and falls from rock to rock until it reaches the creek below.

I shot this photo on a hike last Saturday with a couple friends. It was raining as it usually does in the Northwest this time of year, but a pair of water-resistant pants, a raincoat and a hat provided enough cover to stay relatively dry during the hike. The cooler temperatures made for a great trip too.

To get to Angel Falls, take the Covel Creek Trail across the road from the Cispus Learning Center and follow the signage. It’s about a mile and a half back in the forest, and there is a bit of elevation involved in the hike.

Tremendous growth after devastating tragedy

Who knew that some fiery-colored leaves could be an object lesson for this guy?

Who knew that some fiery-colored leaves could be an object lesson for this guy?

If you know me, you know I like to take and share a lot of photos. There’s a major reason for this: I believe this world is a beautiful place, and I want to share that sentiment with others.

I believe the world was intelligently designed by God, and He has left fingerprints of that design everywhere. In fact, I think he still has a pulse on things that happen in the world today.

That leads me to the difficulties of this past week. On Sunday, a family friend passed away after having been sick. Three days later, a friend and mentor died from a method of his own choice. Add in a couple other unspoken situations and some stress of work and a major volunteer effort, and I’ve encountered the toughest time I’ve had since I deployed to Iraq ten years ago. I don’t say that lightly.

The past 36 hours especially have been a time of introspection and prayer. I’ll be honest when I flat out told God that I believed he could directly intervene when he was needed most, and he didn’t. I later apologized for saying that, but I felt quite angry while still maintaining my lifelong faith in Him.

My mind turns back to the original point I made here: God designed the world, and still has a pulse on things that happen here today. But with that, we as humans have to realize that things happen for reasons we may never understand or, worse yet, even remotely be able to control.

And we have to somehow be okay with that. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.

The photo I’m sharing was one I took yesterday just outside my house in Chehalis. The leaves on the maple tree are a beautiful shade of orange, and the colors are so beautiful that one doesn’t really stop to think those leaves are dying. Instead, we focus on the color and the beauty of the moment.

Which leads me to another point: There can be incredible beauty in tragedy. Instead of being overcome with grief over a family friend’s death a week ago, I committed to try my hardest to minister to others like he did. And instead of being angry about a mentor’s suicide a few days ago, I choose to channel that into a motivation to reach out to others who are going through situations that might otherwise be undetectable.

A friend at church pulled me aside after church today. “I’m worried about you because you’ve posted some things over the past few days that are incredibly dark, and I wanted to make sure you’re okay, especially spiritually,” he said.

I thought for a minute, and I told him that I was because while I don’t understand in my mind why God has let some recent events transpire that have affected me deeply, in my heart I know that I lean on His enduring salvation and constant peace.

If those are all I can cling to, those are still all I need. Anything else is truly just a bonus, and if I take a good personal inventory, those bonuses are many even when I don’t realize them.

To quote from the book of Psalms: the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and those who are crushed in spirit. To quote from Jesus himself, many years later: the world will give you trouble, but I give you peace. Both are tremendously great reassurances and serve as a reminder that God is there, and we ultimately need to rely on Him and submit to Him even though doing so is difficult in our never-ending human quest to understand everything around us.

When all is said and done and I work through all my thought processes and endless analyzing of things I can’t understand, I go back to the photo of the maple leaves outside my house.

There is tremendous beauty in something’s end, even if it takes awhile to happen. That serves to assure me that through everything that’s going on, I’m definitely okay — and maybe even more than I was before.