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Somewhere On This Coast or the Other

The words that you are about to read were penned seven years ago, during a pilgrimage to Portland. I was gratuitously plagiarizing Donald Miller’s search for God; God was kind enough to meet me on the West Coast despite my lack of originality.

Today I am back in Portland for the first time since that pilgrimage. As I drove along the river last night, faintly familiar from seven years ago, I was filled with gratitude at the way God finds me over and over again no matter where my path may wind.


January 21, 2007

I’m writing from a coffee shop on the first floor of Powell’s Books.

Harmon is probably off on the second floor somewhere, or maybe the fourth; browsing new and used volumes on theology or poetry or web comics. Abram is sitting next to me, typing words onto his laptop.

It’s raining here in Portland, as I suppose it always is. Soon we will be in the car again, headed always north. Tonight we will sleep in Seattle. With our arrival here, the pilgrimage is very nearly complete.

Portland was the last final necessary stop, the place I had to see – though I’m not sure what exactly I was looking for. I knew coffee had something to do with it, coffee seemed like the right thing to do in Portland. So last night just after sunset I found myself sitting in Portland Coffee House watching life through a giant widescreen window and asking Harmon “Why are we here?”

Yesterday as we drove from Bend to Portland, we experienced all that I had ever hoped for since I had first read Don Miller’s words about “green lumpy places.” The view through the windshield left me speechless but still mumbling a lot of words as we drove from desert canyons to snowy mountain passes to bright green forests. I kept saying something about how in the Midwest you can drive across four states and nothing changes, but in an hour here we went from the wild west to Mt. Hood (snow chains required beyond this point).

The desert was beautiful. As Harmon drove a winding road, a canyon just appeared at our left, with a river far below us. We passed the fields of gold, with a small wooden building leaning lonely from years of solitude.

But the mountains in the distance drew closer, and soon pine trees bordered the road. They grew taller and taller, then snow appeared and the road narrowed. A few more miles and the snow was falling. Higher we drove, the trees towering above us covered in perfect white. “Like Narnia,” I said, though I knew no words or pictures could describe the pristine snowy landscape, the mountains rising high to our left and shadowed in thick mist. And soon we were on the other side, stopping to remove the snow chains again. Only twenty miles to Portland.


We took a detour on a highway that runs along the border of Washington State, a river between us and the top left corner of America. To Multnomah Falls, a fountain of water falling down an icy rock face into a river running through dense ferny woods and more fog. An enchanted forest, except this one wasn’t animated. It was real. I took pictures and stood on the rock bridge and felt the spray of the waterfall and it was good. Then we turned around and drove toward the sinking sun to the city where anarchists and artists drink coffee in peace.

I came to see mountains and trees and wide open spaces, and they are more than I had ever dreamed they could be. But even on the other side of the country, I am still the same person. You can’t go very far away from who you are.

I want change so much. As I climb mountain paths and stand in awe of waterfalls and run to the ocean, I want the metaphors to be real in my life. I lift up my eyes to the hills, and want so badly to truly know the Creator of all this.

I’ve been a Christian all my life, but I want more. I want my faith to be so real to me that every day I see God and stand in awe of Him just like I do when I see Mt. Hood towering on the horizon. I want it to consume me, until He is the only thing that matters. I want the beauty that I see through my lens to become deeply imbedded in my heart, so that it goes with me no matter what world I’m living in.

I’m not a tourist. I’m a pilgrim. And somewhere, on this coast or the other, I will find Him.

This post was originally published in January of 2007 on a now-abandoned blog. It is featured in “Leave: Stories from a Restless Heart”, along with several other stories from that same year. To download your free copy of “Leave”, click here.

All photography from the 2007 pilgrimage. To see more from my camera, visit Lightstock.

published March 7, 2014

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