Reflecting on the Nativity….

Nativity 2013The afternoon ground is still coated with frost while the air is mild and the sky is clear. The brilliant sunshine takes me back to the first Christmas my husband and I spent together as a married couple, living in Los Angeles. We received a nativity set from my sister Lana, a fitting gift for our new life together. So I was drawn to this photo of that same nativity set, almost twenty five years later. I can’t tell you how many moves we made since then. The nativity set has traveled with us, and hasn’t always fared well with the moves. If you look closely, you’ll see the shepherd has lost one foot, and must lean against the stable to stand upright. The thatched roof is worse for wear, certainly not offering much shelter from the elements. We found part of the missing lamb, just the head, now relegated to peeping out from amongst the hay in the stall. This year the elephant my daughter crafted in art class has joined the manger scene. Sometimes I’ll notice a shiny new nativity set when we are shopping, but this one suits us just fine. I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded it’s okay for things to be less than perfect. It’s time to en joy one another instead of rushing around for one last gift, making yet another dessert, or fussing over a missed Christmas card or decoration. After all, that first Christmas was far from perfect. Our worst Christmas travel stories pale in comparison to traveling by donkey, about to birth a child. How often are we impatient when waiting to check into a hotel? How would we react to being offered a stable for the night? What mother would want to lay their baby in a lowly manger, wrapped in bands of cloth, perhaps tore from her own garments? It seems to me that Christmas is more about our brokenness than anything else. In the midst of this chaos, this messy, tangled, confusing existence, our Lord takes human form and lives amongst us. Make time today to remember that very first Christmas, when the King of Kings deigned to become one of us, born in a lowly stable. Consider his first followers were shepherds, the lowest of the low, despised by the priestly elite. Remember the wise men who must have seemed foolish to follow a star, across deserts and in defiance of authority, to seek out an infant child. And remember, that same King of Kings still seeks after us all, not matter how battered, or how lost.

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

Verses 3 & 4 of Angels We Have Heard on High

Text and photo entitled ‘Nativity Made Whole’ by Connie Chintall ©2013

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Reflecting on Messengers….

Faithful Goat by Henny McCollochThe skies are clear and the air is cold. The way my old dog is hopping and skipping around, you’d think he was a goat. Perhaps he’s invigorated by the cold, but more likely he’s limiting contact with the icy ground. Our routine seems the same every day, out in the morning and at night, but on days like today there is a twist. So I was drawn to this photo of a faithful goat by my friend Henny. She is a letter carrier with a rural route. Each day when she approaches this farm, the goat scurries over and perches on the stone steps in front of this door. So the other day she took a picture of this strange phenomenon. I am intrigued by the sturdy stone steps and cinder block frame, all to protect an old and weathered door. This door appears to enter a barn that has seen better days. I doubt the animals inside receive much protection from the elements. Wind must whip right through the spaces between the slats. So what is the goat protecting? What does the goat seek to guard? Goats get a short shrift in the Bible. We hear how the sheep and the goats are separated, as if one is good and the other bad. Yet perhaps we simply considering two alternatives, both good, both valid, like left and right. Sheep follow their shepherd, are more docile and compliant. Goats skip and run, looking for mischief and adventure. And in the midst of all this nonsense, goats remain sure footed, even on steep or treacherous terrain. Unlike sheep, goats eat practically anything. What if this goat is not a guard, but rather a guide to a more adventurous path? Perhaps he is inviting us to knock on the door, to try the knob, to see what is on the other side. I imagine this goat is not unlike John the Baptist, a messenger preparing the way for Christ. He points beyond the doorway to the manger, where our Lord enters this life as do we all, a helpless infant. Make time today for the goats and the sheep in your life, and in your soul. Consider the path not taken, the adventure you yearn to begin, the risk you fear to take. Pray for the All Merciful to go before you, to bless and protect you, to stretch and soothe your soul. And always remember, no matter how far you wander, the Alpha and Omega will lift you up lest you dash your foot against a stone. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘Steadfast’ by Henny McColloch ©2013, all rights reserved

Reflecting on Redemption….

Junco2 by Karen RussoIt’s a cold, wet day here in Virginia, with snow and ice clinging to the trees. On days like today, the slate colored juncos gather in the evergreen just outside our front window. So I was drawn to this amazing photo, patiently taken by my friend Karen at her bird feeder. Karen captures the beauty of our area, offering glimpses of the small creatures we so easily overlook. When my daughter Tori was little, she called these juncos ‘ink birds’, saying they looked like someone held them upside down and dipped them in ink. The junco has a black back and is white on the under belly, where he is most vulnerable. We must look closely to see that white belly. We must be face to face, vulnerable to one another, willing to be seen as well as to see. The guarded stance reveals little of our inner workings, only offering the dark cloak on our backs. How often do we yearn for redemption, yearn to let go of regrets or sorrows that weigh us down? We want to let go, to move on, if only we could avoid that difficult first step. God knows everything, so why bother airing out dirty laundry? Why not fast forward to the best part, safely entrenched in our respectability? It’s a great temptation to remain as we are, yet when we risk nothing we gain nothing. Make time today to allow yourself to be vulnerable, to make room for grace, to be open to the goodness of life. Like these little birds, let your spirit shine through, despite the frustrations and setbacks that seek to soil the soul. Cast off the heavy burdens that hold you back to make room for the lightness of redemption. And always remember, when we let go of our weakness to God, His strength and power fills our hearts and soothes our souls. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘Alert and Aware’ by Karen Russo ©2013, all rights reserved

Reflecting on Heritage….

A Child's View of Fauquier by Michael WebertIt’s bitterly cold and damp, one of those days where curling up by the fire seems in order. After a soaking rain, we have had a brief glimpse of the sun before the next wave of storms rolls in. So I was drawn to this photo of our beautiful county side by my friend Michael. We are blessed to live in the rolling hills of Virginia, in a county where 70% of the land remains in conservation or agricultural use. Michael took this picture from the second floor of his grandmother’s farmhouse, looking out over the farm that has been in the family for three generations. His family’s roots run deep in this land, roots that understand we are simply stewards of the bounty of God’s creation. When families farm the land across generations, there is no room for quick fixes at the expense of future gains. These fields and the work ethic they instill are the heritage of the next generation, and the generation after that. Some of us may remain to farm or raise cattle, while others often wander far from the farm. We leave to attend college, seek employment far from home, serve in the military or foreign service. Yet when we see with the eyes of our hearts, we are never far from the land of our fathers and mothers. We are drawn back again and again, sometimes physically, sometimes in our souls alone. We feel the simplicity and perseverance of our ancestors. We cling to the steadfast love and confidence of those who have gone before us. And some of us return to our roots this time of year, return to the same bed we slept in as children, return to the bounty and beauty of the view outside that bedroom window. Make time today to honor the past as you seek to build a better future. Take inventory of what matters most to you, of the values you hold dear. Consider how you spend your time and energy, seeking to align your efforts with your heart’s greatest desires. And always remember when we are battered by life’s storms, we do not reach for the stars alone. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘A Child’s View of Fauquier’ by Michael Webert ©2012

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