Reflecting on Surprises….

We were surprised by over 24 hours of wintery mix this weekend, leaving behind a cold, wet mess. Snow before Thanksgiving is unusual here in Virginia, let alone prior to Halloween. So I was drawn to this photo of Knoebel’s Amusement Park in Elysburg, PA, taken by my cousin Diane. Everything is covered with ice and snow, even the rides in the background. Imagine how cold those metal rides would be and you’ll know why the place is deserted. Everyone is holed up at home, curled up in a blanket with a book, unless they need to battle the hordes for the last loaf of bread or roll of toilet paper. I don’t know about you, but I am not the biggest fan of surprises. Sometimes not knowing what will happen is fun, but more often, it turns out like this freak snowstorm. What we thought would be fun ends up being a sloppy mess. No matter how much planning we do in advance, a detail is forgotten, or the secret is inadvertently revealed. Worst yet, the surprise may remain a secret through extraordinary methods, causing hard feelings and unintentional consequences. What was meant to be a treat turns into a mean spirited trick. Yet there are also times when we are surprised despite the best efforts to be prepared. Throughout the ages, the scripture abounds with prophecies about the Messiah. Again and again, Christ explained his impending death to the disciples, those closest to him. Yet none were prepared for the crucifixion. Perhaps they simply chose not to listen, preferring to believe things would stay the same if they ignored what Jesus was saying. By disregarding the bad news, they also missed the Good News. In the end, the disciples were surprised by Christ’s death, and unprepared for the Resurrection. Take time today to really listen to what others are saying. Resist the temptation to cut the conversation short, or to disregard news you would rather not hear. Look for the good news buried beneath the bad, or a way to make a difference in your life or the lives of those close to you. And remember, even if your pumpkins are covered in snow, there’s a lot of pumpkin and only a little snow. Photo by Diane Brooks Myers

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Reflecting on Silhouettes….

It’s a crisp, clear autumn day. The slanting sun casts long shadows on the tree trunks, accenting the brilliant leaves. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole, in Shenandoah National Park. Carole captured what I saw this morning, the stark contrast between light and shadow. In fact, the photo is entitled ‘Colored Silhouettes’. I recall making silhouettes as an art project in grade school. We worked with a partner, standing in profile in front of a projector, while our features were traced on a piece of paper tacked to the wall. We carefully cut along the outline of our faces and mounted the profile on old fashioned paper doilies. I was surprised at my grandmother’s reaction to this project, which frankly I found rather silly at the time. She was so happy to have a ‘silhouette cameo’ of me. What I saw as simply a featureless outline, she saw as a way to capture what was unique about me, without the distractions of a particular expression. Perhaps what makes the silhouette appealing is how an image is transformed by backlighting. We all know how annoying bright light is to our eyes, when viewed head on. Yet how often do we consider how light from other directions informs us and affects how we view our surroundings? Take time today to seek out light all around you. Step outside at lunch time, rather than waiting until after work, when the sun has already set. Focus on what you can see, rather than what you cannot see. Allow the silhouettes created by autumn’s long shadows to open your eyes to the essence of what is before you. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011, used with her permission

Reflecting on New Birth….

It turned cold over the weekend, with frost on the fields as we drove to church on Sunday. The leaves are falling furiously, reminding us the truly cold weather is just around the corner. So I was drawn to this amazing photo of our newest friend Miles, taken by his grandfather Terry. I love how the baby’s feet are gently cupped in Mom’s hands. Just like the marching band at football games, her hands form a heart. The students say hello to their friends using this gesture, as a way to acknowledge them while still maintaining the required discipline. So it goes with parenting, from the very beginning. There is a gentle balance between love and discipline, between indulgence and obedience. Our hearts soar with the birth of a baby, overwhelmed that the Author of Creation has deigned to work through us to create new life. Yet our heart is also heavy with the weight of responsibility this new life brings. We begin a delicate dance, establishing routines and learning ways to soothe and comfort the child. It’s sort of like playing an instrument in marching band, combining music with the military precision of drill. Take time today to consider what appears to be a contradiction. Look past the simple solution, requiring you to choose either one way or another. Invite the Author of Creation into your apparent dilemma, allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire you to create a new beginning, a new birth. Photo by Terry Wayne Jones

Reflecting on Shelter….

It’s another grey, rainy day, after a brief and sunny respite. The dripping, falling leaves are brilliant against the cloudy sky, struggling to hang on, but more often spiraling to the ground. So I was drawn to this photo of the Virginia Tech campus taken by my friend Colin. Look at the trees, some still green, others changing colors, still others already losing their leaves. One tree is red at the top, and still green at the bottom. Like most college campuses, the trees are planted between the buildings. While some trees are exposed to harsh weather, others are sheltered from the cold and wind. I don’t know about you, but I feel most like the two toned tree. I manage to find only partial shelter, often leaving my most vulnerable side the most exposed. I dwell on one aspect too much, often a simple problem that cries for attention, while neglecting another more glaring issue or underlying cause. Before I know it, I’m caught out, at a loss for what to do next. Perhaps I am looking for a human way out, when only a divine answer will do. Take time today to let go of your expectations and seek the shelter and refuge of the Almighty. Look beyond your human perspective, asking to see through God’s eyes and to hear with God’s ears. Let go of your way out to make room for God’s way out. And remember, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” Psalm 91:1. Photo by Colin Shea-Blymyer

Reflecting on Haste….

The air is cool and the sun is warm, showing off the glorious autumn colors. Our leaves are finally turning, brilliant against the green dogwoods. So I was drawn to this photo entitled ‘Tree Hugging’ by a follow blogger, Lynda. I love the contrast between the single tree in the sun and the surrounding trees in the shade. The colors almost seem translucent, as though you can see through the vivid leaves to the trees beyond. But more than anything, this tree reminded me of the tree of life, the one tree in the Garden of Eden that none of us has eaten from. Yet instead of flaming swords keeping us at bay, this tree invites us in, asking for a hug. Its singular beauty inspires us to pause, to linger long enough to soak in the miracle of nature. Long ago, just after I left military service, I met an inspired priest named Jasper Pennington. He often preached on haste and its effect on modern life. Jasper was a historian by education and avocation, and saw our lives through a long lens. What others saw as isolated events, he saw as the culmination of 10, or 20, or 50 years of history. Jasper lovingly, persistently, insistently reminded us to be thoughtful in our actions, to take time for those we loved. He wanted us to understand that our actions today affected the arrow of time, often in ways we may not understand for years to come. What we said or did in haste we often regretted, and could not always take back or easily correct. Take time today to truly listen, to be there for one another, to hug a loved one, or even a tree. Soak in the beauty that surrounds you and give thanks for the blessings of this life. We offer so much to God in prayer, so why not offer up our time? Photo by Lynda Jeffers © 2011, used with her permission. See more of her photos at http://lyndajeffersphotography.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Storms….

This weekend the weather was sunny and cool, perfect football weather. The sun was particularly welcome after a long series of storms, culminating in 6 inches of rain in one hour. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole. She is an amazing photographer, often capturing something the rest of us fail to notice. It’s still raining, pouring in fact, yet the sun is shining. Most of us would be looking up into the sky for a rainbow, while Carole is looking straight ahead, at glistening raindrops cascading downward like tiny crystals. I love the contrast between the bright sky and the tree trunk, soaked to a dark black by the rain. Sometimes we simply get used to storms. We come to expect storms, even create a storm where none exists. We stop looking for the sun, because we seem to forget the sun is always there, hidden behind the clouds. Perhaps we even lose hope, or just run out of gas. Yet we may simply be looking for answers in the wrong places, or seeking to change what we humanly cannot change. We want the answer to be our solution, tied up neatly in a bow. More often, the way out slowly unfolds and evolves, changing us and changing our life in the process. Take time today to look at what is right in front of you, and ponder what answers lie within your current situation. Let go of your storm, trusting the Son is always there for you. And remember the rainbow, God’s covenant of steadfast love, may take the form of hundreds of tiny raindrops, glistening in the sun. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

Reflecting on Risk….

The rain seems to be moving on, leaving behind heavy fog. This morning you could only see what was right in front of your face. So I was drawn to this photo of the Shenandoah River taken by Robert, a friend of a friend. The rocks and leaves jump out at you, in sharp focus, while the trees in the background are shrouded in mist and fog. I was particularly struck by the foliage growing on top of the rocks. These plants must be some tough stuff. I would imagine growing on a rock in the middle of a river is not easy, or particularly safe. Yet these plants seem to be thriving. Risk can be synonymous with peril, danger, jeopardy, or adventure, chance, challenge. When we assume risk, we take a chance on losing, but often a chance on gaining as well. We leave behind the familiar and assured to become vulnerable to the unknown. The most prudent risks involve the heart as well as the mind. We feel a need to step out, to give it a try, because we feel compelled to take a chance. My father was a good listener and wise counsel. I sorely miss him when facing big decisions. He asked questions, to understand where you were coming from and the choices you were facing. We would comb through what we did know, and talk through the possibilities. The questions varied according to the decision, but there was one question he always asked. Will you regret it if you don’t take the chance? I would picture myself as an old woman in a rocking chair, and ask if I would have regrets if I played it safe. When my heart and mind agreed, I would assume the risk, hoping to gain while being willing to lose. Take time today to consider taking a risk, becoming vulnerable to the unknown. Examine the possibilities with your heart, and mind, and soul. And remember what seem to be misty, far off possibilities will be in sharp focus when you take a chance. Photo by Robert H Clark © 2011 – Check out his photo blog at http://networkedblogs.com/olJt6

Reflecting on Contrast….

Rain is relentlessly falling, plastering leaves to the soaking wet ground. These storms may drop our leaves before we get much color. So I was drawn to this photo of the Colorado mountains taken by my friend Adrienne. We lived in Colorado Springs for three years, but I never got used to the sharp contrast between the yellow aspens and the evergreens. Fall leaves are one color in Colorado – a brilliant, eye popping yellow, made all the more impressive against the dark green pines and cloudy grey sky. Contrast helps us focus on what is distinct from the rest of our surroundings. We may become accustomed to a certain way of doing things, or fail to notice subtle changes. A day away to visit a friend or a walk in the woods clears our minds and sharpens our perceptions. We return refreshed, renewed, rested. We see the familiar with a new eye, recognizing the need for change and more importantly, possessing the energy to begin to change. There is a lot of talk about green technology and sustainable initiatives, even sustainable economies. Everyone wants to make a big splash, a dramatic difference. Yet true change, real and permanent good, relies on changes we can sustain. We start small, then build on our successes and learn from our mistakes, stepping back now and again to be sure we stay on track. Take time today to clear your mind and sharpen your senses. Pick up a single leaf, and marvel at the miracle of life. Consider new ways to look at your daily routines, building on your successes and learning from your mistakes. And remember, sometimes it takes contrast to see what needs fixing. Mistakes only become failures when we cease to learn. Photo by Adrienne O’Hara

Reflecting on Perspective….

Today is the third day of a long, glorious weekend. We are experiencing the warm, crisp fall weather that draws folks out of the city and into the mountains. The leaves are just beginning to change, and we’re past the hot, humid days of summer. So I was drawn to this interesting photo of a spider, taken by my sister Lana. At first glance, you may be reminded of an old science fiction movie, where giant alien spiders are attacking the earth. Instead, the spider is crawling on the screen in her front window, overlooking her neighbor’s house across the street. What you see depends on your perspective. While some are thankful for this lovely weather, others are complaining that winter is almost here, or lamenting that summer is already over. The wonder of the present moment is drowned out by concerns about the future or regrets about the past. Something tiny can loom over you, casting a shadow over all your experiences. Yet tackling a problem head on is not always the best method. We may need to allow a situation to unfold, or create distance from the immediate concern. Yet that takes patience, discipline and time. While stories of incredible leaps of faith may raise our spirits, what we most often require is baby steps of faith, one day at a time. Take time today to create perspective on your current situation, and to enjoy the gift of the present moment. Let go of regrets about the past and concerns about the future. Trust that all shall be well in God’s time, not our time, one baby step at a time. Photo by Lana Sarchiapone

Reflecting on Hugs….

It’s been a quiet week here at home, with both my husband and daughter off in different directions. It seems a bit lonely, and a lot short on hugs. So I was drawn to this photo of my friend Seth and his family, taken by his wife Chris. Seth is hugging his brother and his son George, making his brother into a hug sandwich. When my daughter Tori was younger, my husband and I would hug each other with her in the middle, making her into the salami in the hug sandwich. So I was struck by this photo, with father and son surrounding brother and uncle. How often do we yearn for such all encompassing love? We look in all the wrong places, thinking only the mighty and strong can provide sheltering protection and security. We hide our emotions from our children, saying it is better to spare them the hurt and pain. Yet even a young child can make a world of difference. A child doesn’t try to fix the problem, or talk you out of it. A child simply climbs into your lap and snuggles into your neck, or haphazardly dries your tears. Who can remember what was so earth shattering when you see a child’s eyes light up? Perhaps Seth’s most important role is taking young George to visit his uncle, to bring the wonder of a young boy into his life. Take time today for the little children in your life. Let go of your worldly concerns and adult responsibilities, and just allow yourself to be a child once again. Chances are there will be a hug or two waiting for you. Photo by Christine Correll Guanu

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