Surviving the Storm of Difficulty

“What in the world are we going to do?”

I am sure you’ve experienced one of those moments or some of those days when you sat with your face in your hands wondering, “What in the world are we going to do?” All of us have been to one of those “wits-end” moments when it felt like the walls of our personal world were falling down. When was the last time circumstances prompted you to ask that question to someone in your family? 

It always encourages me to discover that similar questions were raised by Biblical characters. They found themselves in situations that brought them to the end of their rope. An example can be found in the life of the Old Testament character Elisha. Elisha was so successful in predicting the military maneuvers of the king of Syria, that he shifted the focus of his wrath and the force of his army against Elisha personally. He sent horses and chariots and a large army, and they surrounded the city where Elisha was during the middle of the night. Elisha’s servant woke up early the next morning, only to discover they were overrun by the Syrian army. 

15 Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”  2 Kings 6:15

The Problem That Confronts Us

How is it Elisha was so successful in predicting the previous locations of the Syrian army? Why did God allow this particular predicament? But the key concern of Elisha’s servant was, “What shall we do?”

That question, should you find yourself asking it, always relates to some problem that confronts us or some difficulty that besets us. In this case, it was significant, it was overwhelming, and it left Elisha’s servant at a mental and spiritual loss in the face of his circumstances.  Is there a problem like that in your life? You don’t know what to do. You find yourself overcome with anxiety and foreboding in the face of the problem that confronts you.

The Challenge It Presents Us 

The problem itself is only one part of the difficulty. The other side of that difficulty is the challenge it presents us. How will you handle it? What decisions will you make in the face of it? What steps do you need to take, and how will you know when to walk forward and when to stand still?

Whenever we face difficulty, one of our first reactions is to panic. What shall we do?  Shall we melt with fear, or shall we exercise our faith in God. Shall we seek our own solution, or shall we seek God and His wisdom? This challenge will always confront us in the face of difficulty. We will respond in fear or in faith—in self reliance or in dependence upon God?

The Promise Laid Before Us

The servant delivered the bad news to Elisha. There was a significant contrast between the reaction of the two to the same set of circumstances. One was at His wits end, the other was ready to lay claim to the promise of God.He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”   (2 Kings 6:16 ESV)

This was the promise laid out before Elisha’s servant. That promise is also ours in the face of our difficulty. Whatever resources our enemy has—God has more. However great our problem is; God is greater. This is true in every set of circumstances.

The Deficiency Within Us

Our greatest problem is not the difficulty that surrounds us but the deficiency within us. Elisha had something his servant did not have. He had spiritual vision.

I was preaching in an African-American church in 1997. The community was racially divided. No white preacher had been asked to preach there in many decades, and rightfully so. Not everyone at my church was happy I had been invited. Not everyone at the church where I was preaching was happy that I was there. I was more than a little nervous. 

One of the families in my church accompanied me to the church that Sunday along with their little six year old son.  Just before the service started, he sat down on the front pew beside me and said, “God has bookmarked my Bible for me.  It opens up to Two Kings six.”

I was amused by his voice and the way he gave the reference.  So I asked, “What did God say to you from ‘Two Kings six?’ He replied, “I don’t know. God hasn’t bookmarked the verse yet.”

His little words began to haunt me while I sat up on the platform before that sea of black faces. So for  a few moments, I blocked out all the activity around me, and the Lord and I went on a journey to Two Kings six.

My eyes immediately fell on verse 17. Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17 ESV)

God got his word across to me that morning by bookmarking a little boy’s Bible.  As a result, I had no problem preaching. I was in the center of God’s will. My life journey was under God’s protection from animosity that might arise from any direction.

There are going to be times in all of our lives when we are faced with circumstances that cause us to ask:  What Shall We Do?  Elisha’s response to the circumstances give us the five keys that will enable any of us to survive some storm of difficulty. 

First, He Prayed for Restored Spiritual Vision for His Servant.

I suggest you do the same. Simply pray that God would restore your spiritual vision as you stand in the midst of your circumstances. Ask Him to give you the perspective of heaven and guide you through the present difficulty. 

I have a problem with cloudy vision. The doctor tells me I will have it from now on. I am supposed to put ointment in my eyes every night before I go to bed. It helps my vision to be clearer. In Revelation 3:18, Jesus encouraged us to acquire eye salve from Him so that we can see. He will give clarity to our spiritual vision so that we can better understand ourselves and our circumstances.

The Second Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Recognize the Reality of God’s Presence.

Once God opened the servant’s eyes, his new spiritual vision enabled him to recognize the reality of God’s presence.  In my personal experience with difficulty, what I need most is just to know God is with me. I need an assurance of His presence.  If God is with me, I can cross any bridge of fear in my path. That will also be true for you. 

Elisha prayed for spiritual vision for his servant. His servant’s eyes were opened, and he came to a new awareness of God’s presence. Knowing God’s presence, enables us to exercise our faith, putting our hope, not in ourselves, but in God.

The Third Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Rely on God’s Mighty Power.

Consider the servant’s initial question in the face of difficulty. It was, “What shall we do.” Once God restores our spiritual vision, enabling us to recognize the nearness of God’s presence, we are able to place our confidence in God’s mighty power. The question is no longer, “what shall we do?” The question becomes, “What will God do.” We learn to rely on God’s mighty power to calm the storm of our circumstances and bring us safely through. We may not always be able to answer that question with specifics. But because we have placed our faith in God, we know what He will do something. We know that He is at work behind the scenes to help us in our difficulty.

The Fourth Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Remember God’s Promise.

In verse 16, Elisha offered his servant a very simple promise as the both of them faced difficulty. That promise simply stated that God’s presence and power was more than sufficient in the face of their present difficulty. Is there ever a time when that is not true? No. That will be true in the face of any difficulty, even the one you are facing today.

The Fifth Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Rest in God’s Peace. 

You will not always see horses and chariots surrounding you in the storm of difficulty. But you do have this promise. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5b-7

The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The word guard originally meant to protect by a military guard. The picture we are intended to see is not that our hearts are surrounded by horses and chariots of fire, but by the impenetrable wall of God’s peace. We know that He is in control of our present circumstances and any future peril that may befall our lives. 

Photo by lee junda

Recognizing Moments of Spiritual Significance

Maybe you’ve never seen a bright, blinding light shining from the heavens. I don’t know that you should expect to. Allow me to explain why. Moments of spiritual significance are not the same for every person.

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3As he was traveling, it happened… 9:1-3a

What happened was a moment of tremendous spiritual significance. This was a remarkable man, but up until this day his life bore no record of a significant encounter with God. Unfortunately, there are some of you here today who are just like Saul. 

First, I want you to think about who Saul was and what he was before he was converted.  Saul was a Pharisee.  That means he was very religious.  It means he attended worship services in the synagogue and in the temple.  It means he read from the Scriptures. It means he prayed. It also means that he was one of the most educated and articulate men of his day.  

3As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said,“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” 7The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:3-9

 “Though his eyes were open he could see nothing.”  To me, that says as much about his previous spiritual condition as much as it did his present physical condition. All of Saul’s religion only blinded him to the truth about Jesus. 

I have to pause here and ask you a personal question. Could the same thing be true about you? Saul was very familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, but in his life, there was never a record of an encounter with the God who authored those Scriptures. Like many, who call themselves Christians today, he was familiar with the structure of the Scriptures and the standards of Scripture, making every outward effort to bend his life to fit that mold. No doubt, he believed some of the great doctrines of Scripture. He even believed in the existence of angels and spirits. Nevertheless, this man who was zealous for his religion, was lost. What does it mean to be lost? It means he was lost from God. It means he was lost in terms of his own life purpose. It also means he was on his way to being lost for all eternity, in spite of all his apparent religiosity. Why was Saul lost? He was lost because there had never been a moment of spiritual significance in his life!

What do I mean by a moment of spiritual significance? What was it that happened to him? Read a few of those verses again.

3As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said,“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” Acts 9:3-5

Here was a man known for instructing others about God, who didn’t know God himself, until he met Him that day on that road to Damascus. Have you had such a spiritually significant moment in your life? Using Saul’s story as an example, I would like to give you some characteristics of a moment of spiritual significance.

  1.  Any spiritually significant moment will have a date attached to it

It will be connected to a date on the calendar. It will also be connected to some event or activity, which may or not be memorable in itself, but becomes so because it is forever attached to that significant moment.

It will happen at a point in time. The day on the calendar may be fuzzy. The hour on the clock may be ambiguous. However, you will never forget where you were and what happened. Saul’s encounter has no date and time stamp, but he remembered the event associated with the encounter. It was as he was travelling from Jerusalem to Damascus that IT happened.

2. Any moment of true spiritual significance will be transformational. 

There will be a night and day difference in your life. Allow me to illustrate that by referring to the man born blind who encountered Jesus in John chapter nine. Blind from birth, he never had the experience of sight until the day he encountered Jesus. The  religious officials,  attempting to downplay the significance of his experience as well as the reputation of Jesus, questioned him about how it could be that Jesus, who they considered sinful, could give him sight. It was then that the man they were questioning testified to the transformational nature of his encounter with Jesus. He said,“Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”John 9:25 The difference in his life was so great, even those who knew him weren’t sure it was the same man.

Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus was also transformational. Something happened that left him physically blind. His newly acquired physical blindness was an illustration of the deep spiritual blindness the pervaded his life. That blindness was illustrated in his hatred for those who were followers of Jesus.

This moment of spiritual significance on the road to Damascus resulted in the spiritual transformation of this man called Saul of Tarsus. He became the mighty apostle Paul. It happened on a certain day, at a certain time, and it had a transformational impact on his life.  

Have you had such a moment of spiritual significance in your life? Maybe you’ve never seen a bright, blinding light shining from the heavens. I don’t know that you should expect to. Allow me to explain why. Moment’s of spiritual significance are not the same for every person.

3. Any moment of spiritual significance will be unique to you.

The only man whose life has ever been changed at a burning bush was the life of Moses. That was his moment of spiritual significance, and it was unique to him and unique in Scripture.  To my knowledge, Saul’s life is the only life changed by an encounter with a blinding light from heaven. We could consider character after character in Scripture, and you would observe that each person’s encounter with God was unique to them. While their experience was unique, they clearly knew God had spoken. 

Isaiah had such an encounter with God in the temple. He said, “In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” That is just another illustrated of an encounter that could be associated with a date on the calendar. It was something each individual never forgot and something that changed their lives from that moment forward? 

Have you experienced such a moment of spiritual significance in your life? It might not have been a burning bush or a blinding light or a vision of God seated on a throne, but something happened to you that you’ve never forgotten, and that encounter continues to shape your life.

4. Any moment of true spiritual significance will be preceded by the activity of the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus spoke to Saul in his physical blindness. He not only saw a blinding light, he heard a voice. Reflecting on that experience, Paul later took an opportunity to share what Jesus said to him. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ Acts 26:14

Goads were sharp sticks that herdsmen used to prod specific their animals in a specific direction. Apparently, God had been at work in Saul’s life, pricking his heart with the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, any moment of spiritual significance will be preceded by a trail of  other moments God uses to alert you of your need to change and to move you to that spiritually significant moment. That trail might be the trail of your own resistance to what God wanted to do in your life, until the point in time comes for your surrender.

Moments of spiritual significance are orchestrated by God. Such moments are planned onto the calendar of our lives and often involve other people who God uses to move us on to His agenda. In the case of Saul, God used a specific disciple whose name was Ananias.

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized. Acts 9:17b-18

As Saul was travelling, it happened! But it was not a happenstance. It was a moment of spiritual significance, carefully calendared onto his life journey. It was a divine appointment. 

Ananias was used of God to help Saul understand God’s new purpose for his life. Across the pages of Scripture, we meet men and women whose lives were transformed in some moment of spiritual significance. From that moment forward, God called them for some specific mission or purpose. That brings me to the next characteristic of these moments of spiritual significance.

5. A moment of true spiritual significance will require radical adjustments to your life purpose.

Abraham was required to leave to leave his father’s house. Moses was required to leave the wilderness and return to Egypt. Peter and Andrew left their nets. Saul abandoned his hatred for Christians and became one because of God’s activity in His life. No encounter with God scheduled onto the calendar of our life will come like a lightning bolt out of the blue. God will be at work in ways you don’t see or understand to prepare you for that moment. That single moment of spiritual significance was peppered with many previous pricks from the Holy Spirit. 

Yesterday, I sat in the sanctuary of the church where I served for nine years. I adjusted my life to go there at God’s leading. I spent nine years there. Those years seemed so lonely to me. But yesterday, as I sat there, I recognized that is where God befriended me. He shaped my heart. He taught me many things about myself and Himself. A moment of spiritual significance will not require a single adjustment to your life purpose. It will prepare you for a string of adjustments, all of which God will use to bring you closer to Him.

That leads me to my final observation about moments of spiritual significance. 

6. A moment of true spiritual significance will be a spiritual marker you share with others in an effort to explain who you are and why it is you do what you do. 

If you read the book of Acts, you will hear Paul repeat this story of that day on the road to Damascus when he had that encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a spiritual marker. Every time he shared it, it refocused his life on the purpose to which God had called him.

Many of you who read these posts are spiritual people. You are religious people. You may read your Scriptures or mine. But let me ask you, for all your connection with religion and religiosity, have you had such a moment of spiritual significance in your life? Has this God of the Bible, who reveals Himself in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, scheduled such an encounter onto the calendar of your life? If not, would you be willing to ask Him to reveal Himself to you. I remind you, it is not your life mission to find God. God’s passion is to find you and reveal Himself to you. Jesus said, “I am come to seek and to save that which is lost.” Please consider praying this simple prayer: 

“Jesus, I have read about You. I have heard about You. But I have never encountered You. Would you reveal Yourself to me in a way of Your own choosing? Allow me to know that it is You. Please prepare my heart for that moment of spiritual significance. Amen”

Photo by JOHN TOWNER

How God Guides

What is it like to hear the voice of God’s Spirit? Is it audible?

How does a person go about discerning guidance from God? God doesn’t send out emails or text messages or newsletters offering His guidance. (I don’t get them. I don’t know about you.) So, how am I to recognize His guidance for my life.

I want to share an example from the life of Peter. In Acts chapter 11, Peter reported to the church in Jerusalem concerning his mission into Gentile territory. Christianity was in its infancy. The first believers were still wrestling with personal prejudices.  Initially, Peter’s mission created quite a controversy in the church in Jerusalem. They wanted to know who authorized such a trip. That is when Peter went into great detail concerning how God guided his journey. When we put together his explanation with the details of the story, we get a very clear picture of how God guides. 

Peter shares how it all began.  5“I was in the city of Joppa praying…Acts 11:5a

While there is no indication that Peter was specifically praying for guidance from God, that is when His guidance came. In prayer, we share our hearts with God, and He shares His heart with us. All the great men of the Bible, including Jesus, took time every day to pray.  If you will take time to pray, as you share the concerns of your heart with God, He will share the concerns of His heart with you.

In the previous chapter, where more details of the account are given, we discover Peter went up on the roof. He did this so he could be out of the hustle and bustle below where meal preparation was taking place.

Peter was just like us. He had no idea of what God was doing somewhere else in the world. Yet, what God was doing in Peter’s life had a direct connection to what God was already doing in another person’s heart. That man, Cornelius, was prompted by God to send to Joppa for a man he had never met. The man’s name was Simon Peter. Peter didn’t know that the men were already on their way. God set events in motion in two men’s hearts so that His purpose could be accomplished. That lets us know that God knew where Peter would be in advance. I have no doubt, the prompting to pray came from God. Peter went on to describe what happened while he was praying.

4But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision… Acts 11:4-5

I don’t know about you, but I wanted to know what that meant? Some translations describe it as a visionary state. However the Greek word used to describe Peter’s experience is a word that refers to a mind so fixed and focused on the things of God that all else fades away.In that moment alone with God, his spiritual perception became exceptionally clear, and God communicated through signs or symbols that appeared very real.God used that opportunity as a teaching moment to prepare Peter for what was ahead. This happened in the context of prayer, and I think we can safely say that without prayer, Peter would have missed this guidance from God.

First, Peter’s guidance was received in the context of prayer.

Second, in the context of prayer, Peter received a witness in his spirit.

While Peter was praying, something happened, but it happened inside Peter. He describes that moment, and it must have been just a moment. You understand the process of dreams. Peter’s experience involved a question and answer session about this sheet that he saw that was filled with animals.  Why did God have to use such a symbol to get Peter’s attention?  It was because Peter had a major hindrance to receiving God’s guidance. Do you have any idea what that might have been? It was his own prejudice. Likewise, one of our greatest hindrances to receiving guidance from God is our own personal prejudice.  We already have our own mind made up before we go to God to ask.  Therefore, one of our biggest challenges is being willing to allow God to mold our mindset to his.  If I come to prayer with my mind made up about the guidance I want from God, that is the guidance I will probably get.  I will not allow God to move my mind from my will to His.  Watch this struggle take place in the life of Peter.

I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7“I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8“But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9“But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10“This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky.  Acts 11:5-10

The first part of God’s dealing with Peter was to prompt him to give up his own personal prejudices in favor of the will of God for his life.  As God guides you away from your own will toward His will for your life, He may use lessons from life just like He used with Peter.  

God may have something for you to do that is different from what you have in mind.  You may want to serve Him but not as a missionary.  You may want to be a missionary but not with a specific people group whose race or customs you find repulsive.  So God may lead you through a process of discovery to teach you to give up your will in favor of His own. That also has to happen in the life of a church. Each person must give up his or her own will for the church in favor of the will of Christ, who is the Head. When He reveals it, we must follow without question just as Peter did.

Obviously, this didn’t happen immediately for Peter. Peter’s initial response was to tell the Lord, “No.” But the process continued, until after the third time, God had Peter’s attention.  

When you pray, stay alert to see what happens next. You will notice that what happened next in Peter’s life was essential to him discerning the guidance of God.

Third, the witness in Peter’s spirit was confirmed by the witness of circumstances.  

11And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Acts 12:11

Can you put two and two together?  If you pray, and ask God for guidance, what is it when the phone rings and someone who had no idea you were seeking God calls to give you information that fits right into how you had prayed.  That is guidance, and it is likely guidance from God.  

Suppose you are seeking God’s guidance about surrendering to be a missionary.  When you pray, you inform God that if He wants you to go to the mission field, you first need to sell your home.  You struggle with that issue because you love your home and you don’t want to give it up. So, you continue to pray and ask God for guidance.  Then one day someone calls you and tells you they were looking for a house in your neighborhood and were wondering if you ever thought about selling your home. What is that?  That is guidance.  It is the witness of circumstances confirming the witness in your spirit—and it all grew out of the context of prayer.

Fourth, the witness of circumstances was confirmed by the witness of the Spirit.

The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings.  Acts 11:12

These three events came for Peter in rapid succession.  First was the vision—this witness in his spirit. Then came the obvious providential circumstances.  And then like a bolt out of the blue came the witness of the Holy Spirit.

The time will come when God will make it very clear to you what He wants you to do.  He will show you the direction you should take.  The answer will come in the context of prayer.  It will come when you are willing to surrender your personal prejudices in favor of the will of God.  There will be a witness in your spirit.  There will be circumstances that take place that seem to confirm that witness.  But the ultimate authority is the witness of God’s Spirit who will say to you, “This is the way!  Walk in it!”

What is it like to hear the voice of God’s Spirit?  Is it audible?  For me it has never been.  But I can tell you this, although that voice has always come in a different way, I always knew it when it when it came. When God speaks to verify His leading, you will know that it is God.  

How can you be sure? There is only one way to verify God’s guidance. When God shows you the way—walk in it.

Finally, Peter’s guidance was verified in the context of obedience.  

12“The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13“And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.  Acts 11:4-15

When Peter began to take steps of obedience, each one was verified by God.  He saw God’s activity.  He saw how God had been working to prepare the way for his visit to that home.  He saw God’s work in the lives of those to whom he preached.  But how would the guidance of God have ever been validated if Peter had not been obedient. There are some things that you will never know until you make the journey of obedience.  

Pray for God’s guidance.  As you listen for a witness in your spirit be sure that you are willing to give up your own personal prejudices in favor of the will of God. Watch for providential circumstances that God will use like signposts pointing the way.  Make sure that you have that vital witness of the Holy Spirit before you go.  Then when God shows you the way, walk in it and watch God work.

In the fall of 1988, I found myself in the small community of Camden, Alabama, being considered as the pastor of the church there. I didn’t know a soul. In many ways, it was like a foreign country to me. I was so apprehensive for myself and for my family. I needed some word from God about what to do.

I was alone in the back hallway waiting to enter the sanctuary. The instrumentalists inside began playing the prelude music. I recognized the tune. It was the familiar hymn, Trust and Obey. As they played, one of the verses of that hymn came clearly to my mind. “But you never can prove the delights of His love, until all on the altar you lay. For the favor He shows and the joy He bestows are for those who will trust and obey.” In that moment, I knew clearly what God wanted me to do. He wanted me to surrender my family and my future into His hands. The only way to confirm God’s guidance up to that moment was to obey. I did, and never once have I regretted the years I spent there. 

God’s guidance in one decision will not be a blueprint for another. However, these basic principles have helped me get a sense of God’s will for my life.  

Photo by Robin Noguier