Reflecting on Frost….

Sometimes life floats along, and all seems well with the world. We chase our dreams, get married, have babies, buy our first home. We feel as if life will last forever, that nothing can touch us, let alone hurt us. We win because it never occurs to us we could lose. Then one day, the phone rings, or a doctor calls us into the office, and cold grips our hearts. We find there is a mountain we can’t climb, an obstacle we can’t avoid. Frost clings to us and we learn we are no more resilient than a delicate flower. Leaves lose their shape and drape over our petals, rather than reaching for the sun. In this amazing photo, my friend Gailen caught the first frost, when the leaves fold but the blossoms remain steadfast. Yet there is a double meaning here. Asters are also known as frost flowers, and have long been considered enchanted. English myths tell us fairies slept under their petals after they closed at sunset. Asters are traditionally placed upon the graves of French soldiers as a symbol to represent a reversal of the outcome of their battles. In Victorian times, the aster became a symbol of patience or anticipation. This delicate, wild looking flower is a symbol of persistence. True strength is born out of tribulation, when we pick ourselves up and continue to believe when all else tells us to despair. We learn to truly enjoy each messy, frustrating moment, understanding all we can count on is our next breath. We accept the gift of abundant life, not perfect or neat, but messy, heartbreaking, amazing, hilarious, all at the same time. We allow ourselves to grief, to rejoice, to let go, to begin again. We trust that the sun will chase away the cold, and that this too shall pass. Make time today to enjoy what life brings your way. Stop to consider the miracles of creation that surround us all, the flowers, the birds, even the clouds in the sky. Thank God for these amazing bodies we walk around in, for the health that we so often take for granted. And remember to remain patient like the asters, even when the leaves around you droop. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Good Morning Asters’ by Gailen Mapes ©2012, used with his permission

Reflecting on Bounty….

Fall colors always bring me up short. It seems backward that the brightest colors appear just before the frost, a last hurrah before the grey and brown of winter. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo by my friend Kay, full of pumpkins and gourds, cabbages and mums. The shopkeeper has included all of the sturdy fall offerings, flowers that hold up in spite of the cold, pumpkins that last until you tire of them or decide to bake a pie or make soup. Yet most of all, I am struck by the bounty, the overflowing plenty we often take for granted day by day. We are beyond blessed in this nation of wealth and privilege. Yet across the globe, many struggle to just get by, working long hours at difficult and dangerous jobs for low wages. Their food for the day would barely satisfy us for one meal. Clean water means carrying a heavy burden, if available at all. Many households may share a single latrine, often little more than a crude outhouse. My first parish was St Mary’s in Burlington, New Jersey. Our priest, Father Greene, would challenge us all to donate the amount of money we would spend on food in one day to alleviate world hunger. He would fast on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, leading by example, depriving himself for one day to gain empathy for those who hungered day in, day out. Some of us high school students tried to fast as well. I only made it to lunchtime, yet that effort was not wasted. I began to understand how all consuming hunger can be, if only for a few classes one morning at school. Make time today to help those less fortunate in your community and around the world. Pray to see others as God sees them, to hear with God’s ears, to hold them with God’s arms, close to God’s heart. Look for a way to feed the hungry, not just for the holidays, but year round. Start a food drive, volunteer at a soup kitchen, make meals for the homeless. Give out of gratitude for what you have been given. And remember, when you’re tempted not to bother, “for everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required’ (Luke 12:48). Text by Connie Chintall, Photo by Kay Brickey

Reflecting on Health….

Good health is something we all take for granted, until there’s a problem. Perhaps our health deteriorates over time, part of the inevitable decline of old age. Some of us may experience chronic health concerns, issues we may have dealt with since childhood. Yet what we struggle with most is a sudden, unexpected illness or injury, leaving us or those we love grappling with debilitating consequences. So I was drawn to this mesmerizing drawing by my friend Jeanne. I love how the bird is perched at an odd angle, deftly clinging to the branch against all odds. The compass rose is the centerpiece of a roulette wheel, with the needle missing. Instead of indicating true north, our direction is determined by sheer luck. I find myself wondering if the bird plucked out the compass needle, or if the bird holds the roulette ball in its beak. Then of course there is the background. This capricious scene plays out against solid wood, a firm and strong foundation. I’m reminded of a quilted wall hanging I made for my sister years ago, using fabric from garments I had sewn for the family. Each square contains a different birdhouse, but there were no birds in the original pattern. So I added them to the quilt, using the smallest of scraps, mostly from ties I had made for my father as a young girl. Somehow the bird pattern was reversed, and the birds in her wall hanging are upside down. I began to tear out my work to start over, then thought better of it and left the birds as they were. There was a playful quality to their odd orientation, a suggestion of motion that would be missing otherwise. It seemed the birds were swooping down, frolicking on the wind. It can be difficult to see the wonder of creation when ill health comes your way. Your body becomes the birdhouse without a bird, a burden instead of a joy. We become lost in the details of caring for ourselves or others, struggling to get from one place to another, to perform simple daily functions, to bathe and to eat. It takes someone from outside our encapsulated world to set us straight. Make time today to call a friend or family member who is recovering from ill health. Offer to bring them a meal, to run an errand, to just stop by and break up the day. Share your own story of healing and redemption, and how others helped you in your hour of need. Lift them up in prayer, helping them to hold fast to the healing that has been prepared for them. Most of all, recall we are all anchored to a firm foundation, entrusted to a God that offers healing and mercy without beginning or end. And always remember, when true north seems all but lost, and we know not where to turn, that same God eternally draws us ever closer to him, until we are one with His heart. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Art entitled ‘A Little Disoriented All of the Time’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2012, to see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Shadows….

The weather has turned suddenly cold, and in many ways, so has my heart. Friends contacted us with such sad news I hardly know what to pray. At times like these, words seem inadequate. I can only offer the beat of a mother’s heart, the blessed assurance of each breath, committing my every movement to prayer. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend David. I love seeing the sturdy trees from this perspective. I can imagine David lying in the cool grass, soaking in the serenity of his surroundings. He captured that moment perfectly with his camera for all of us to see. On days like today, I am tempted to feel as if the trees with bury me, rather than shelter me. I look for light and see only darkness. I question what normally seems so clear. Then almost as an afterthought, I see the sapling in the shade of the grand old oak. What I thought was darkness is simply the shadow of a God more vast than I can begin to imagine, a God with ways above my ways, with thoughts beyond my thoughts. I cling to the wideness in God’s mercy, to steadfast love without beginning or end, to eternal hope that goes beyond reason, to God’s peace that passes all understanding. I pray for healing claiming the promise of abundant life, imploring the same God that conquered sin and death on the cross to intervene where mortals stumble and fall. Pause to join your voice with mine, to pray for a new beginning, to nurture the slender sapling that reaches for the sun above. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by David Buckwalter, entitled ‘In the Father’s Shadow’ ©2011, used with his permission. To see more of David’s work, go to http://www.buckwalterphotography.com/

Reflecting on Defeat….

Hurricane Sandy has left terrible devastation in its wake. I hardly feel right complaining about what we have experienced in Virginia. Lack of power and downed trees pale in comparison to the flooding and fires in New Jersey and New York. The Jersey shore of my childhood has literally washed away. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo by my cousin Patty in New Jersey. At first glance, the sky seems ominous, then you notice the sun peeking through. The storm is giving way to blue skies. There is hope in the midst of despair. Perhaps defeat feels like this storm, a storm within. Instead of looming clouds and howling winds, thoughts and feelings swirl within. We strive to do well, then stumble, perhaps even take a big fall. Yet that misstep is not what defeats us. Success means continuing on past failure, learning from what we did wrong. Thomas Edison is revered for inventing the incandescent light bulb, yet he was one of over twenty inventors working on this same quest. He recognized the need for an efficient and affordable device, inventing multiple components we now take for granted. Thomas Edison was not the first to ‘discover’ the light bulb, yet he succeeded because he was the most persistent, most flexible, and possibly most cunning of all. He saw the sun peeking through when everyone else focused on the storm. He kept trying when others gave up. Make time today to realize your dreams. Accept disappointments and setbacks as part of the journey of this life, as a way for you to learn. Understand that each attempt is another step toward your goal. Trust the Holy of Holies to illuminate the path ahead, to guide you through the storm, to give you hope when it is all too easy to despair. And always remember to look for the Son, shining through even the bleakest of storms. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by Patty Steiner

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