Reflecting on Release….

There are things we learn all at once, so obvious we wonder why we didn’t figure it out sooner. Then there are things we have to learn in stages, sort of like peeling an onion. We think we have it figured out, only to learn there is yet another layer to work through.

The sunrise in Colorado is like that lengthy form of learning. The mountains keep you from seeing the sun until long after first light. Then there are the dense stands of trees that filter the light rather than obscure it. My friend Mike Wiederhold caught that Colorado sunrise perfectly in this wonderful photo.

This early morning light illuminates some things while casting others in deeper shadows. We see a great beauty that had been hidden. We also see things we would rather leave in the dark.

For me, those things are often old wounds, wounds I thought were long healed but tend to come back and bite me when I have little or no time to sort them out. Perhaps it is an offense I thought I had forgiven, or a time when listening was more important than too much talk. Either way, the old wound surfaces. At that point, I have two choices. I can stuff it further into the darkness or I can let go, releasing it to the Ultimate Healer.

Release is only possible with hope. Unless we are confident a healing has been prepared, it is tough to let go. While the timing may seem wrong to me, I must trust that God has opened me up to heal me now for a reason I cannot currently perceive.

More importantly, healing requires beauty. When I release the old wound, beauty pours out. I find myself remembering things long forgotten, things that helped me when I was first hurt, precious memories that guide me still. I can face the dark forest in awe and confidence that God is bigger and more powerful that the current challenges compounded by the ghosts of the past. If I open myself up and rely on the strength of the Holy of Holies rather than my own, more is possible than I can begin to imagine.

Make time today to consider how current challenges may be resolved in ways you least expect.  Learn to let go of the present more completely because once again you have let go of the past. And even if you cannot let go, perhaps it is enough to loosen your grip. Even a tiny space is room enough for God’s grace.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2022, All Rights Reserved

Photo of ‘Mountain Sunrise’ in Conifer, CO by Mike Weiderhold©2021, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Vulnerable….

What does the word vulnerable mean to you? It seems like a word that has gone out of fashion. Instead of being vulnerable, we are stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious. In the past two years, we probably have been all three at once. Or perhaps we were all just vulnerable.

For months I have spent my morning meditations contemplating this lovely photo by my friend Betsey of a hydrangea, a mix of near perfect periwinkle blossoms and mottled lilac petals. Difficult memories kept creeping in and I kept batting them away. The most persistent memory was of my mother’s last days almost thirty years ago. Perhaps it takes that long to make any sense of it at all. Perhaps it never will make sense in the way the world understands sense.

My mother passed away in a burn unit due to a severe allergic reaction to experimental chemotherapy. She had been diagnosed with lymphoma three years earlier. The first round of chemo had provided us with a year of good life. Then the cancer returned again, this time with a vengeance. Each tumor seemed to react differently, with the latest chemo shrinking one tumor while barely phasing the others. Soon we were on to chemo cocktails, but mixing what worked for each tumor alone did little when combined. Before long she ended up without any FDA approved options. The doctors offered her an experimental chemo and she took it. I recall the huge argument my parents had over this treatment. My mother wanted to try it. My father felt it wasn’t worth the risk. In the end, she told him it was her body and he respected her wishes.

Up until then, I truly thought I knew what it meant to be vulnerable. I had no clue. My mother had the courage to open herself up to a huge risk in hopes of a huge reward. She took that risk knowing full well it might just kill her. That brand of vulnerability is only possible with great strength of will and courage, day in, day out. You have to live with the path you have chosen.

Here’s the toughest part. We all became vulnerable. My father, my sisters, my aunt, my cousin, her friends. My husband and I were newly married and living in California while my mother was in New Jersey. On chemo days I would startle when the phone rang, often letting voicemail pick up the call. Then as the days and weeks went on, it seemed the gamble might be working and I began to relax. The call I did take was my father telling me to come home because my mother was dying in the burn unit.

What I see in this flower is all of us during that time. By the grace of God, each of us had near perfect, beautiful moments, times where we were able to carry the weight of our own struggles along with those of others. Then in the blink of an eye, it would switch. Whoever had been strong would crumble and was in turn carried, held, comforted. We got through it together by accepting each other for who we really were. You can only be that strong if you open your heart, warts and all, trusting that you will be safe and whole. Those few weeks were both horrible and wonderful, simultaneously the most  terrifying and the safest I have ever been. It was the making of my new marriage.

Make time today to be open to those you love. Listen with the ears of your heart. Look with the eyes of your soul. Refrain from complicated responses or plans. Offer simple comforts like a cup of tea or favorite snack. You don’t need to be perfect to help another. You just need to be willing to try. Be vulnerable to be safe. Allow them to hear and see the genuine you, as only then can others know how to truly comfort and heal you. And always remember, on those days when it all seems too much, something as simple as a flower can offer a window into the whole world of comfort and care.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2022, All Rights Reserved

Photo of ‘Nifty Fifty Hydrangea’ in Hammonton, NJ by Betsey Karl©2021, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Unfinished….

Images that evoke strong memories always seem to be the toughest to contemplate. This memory is a very happy one, a memory of days long past when my daughter was young. We would often stop at Lake Brittle on the way home and even enjoy a picnic dinner if my husband was traveling. I would walk along the shore while my daughter ran, stopping when something caught her eye. The evening I am remembering now was quiet and still. The lake was a perfect mirror of the sky. My daughter knelt down to touch the water and created ripples in the perfect reflection. As only a toddler can, she burst into tears. As I caught up with her, she said, “Momma, I broke the sky”. As I drew her gaze upward, the crying turned into inconsolable sobs. “Momma, I wanted to touch the sky.” All I could do was sit down next to her and hold her. There were no words that I could offer as a new mother. Yet in my morning prayer time, often in my car in the parking lot before heading into work, that evening kept taking hold of me. At first I thought it was new mom guilt, the kind that makes you sure you will burn in hell forever. Then I realized that if I cared about burning in hell that meant I was a good mom. Bad moms could care less. And still that evening kept invading my in between time, time when I was no longer at home and not yet at work. Time I really wanted to just be silent and listen to God.

Okay, I know you are already ahead of me. I was listening and God was speaking to me. I don’t know about you, but for me, getting the message seems to take a lot of repetition. Frequently it also takes a kick in the head. Yet isn’t that the most important reason to set aside quiet time? In life, we are told success consists of 90% effort and 10% just showing up. With prayer, it is more like 90% just showing up and 10% attitude. Oh, and God will fix that attitude for you if you will let Him.

Over time I came to understand that sometimes words simply make things worse. Sometimes you just need to offer a hug. Sometimes all you can do is cry with your loved one. After all, even Christ cried with the sisters of Lazarus as they grieved. Then he brought Lazarus back from the dead. He consoled them before he sought to heal. He was present to them before he performed a miracle.

Fast forward to today. My daughter will soon be 26 years old. My hair is more grey than brown and I have more than my fair share of wrinkles. That is what the world sees. What God sees is my heart and soul, more vibrant yet more restrained, more willing to listen than to speak, more willing to learn than to teach.

As I look back on that memory, I realize words would have diminished that experience for my daughter. I probably would have tried to convince her the sky was not broken. Letting the experience just be allowed her to figure it out for herself and allowed me to learn as well. That evening wasn’t about the sky or the reflection. It was about how many times we start over to reach our goals. It takes practice to master the best of this life.

The Benedictines start their morning prayers with, ‘Today we begin again’. Each day we get another chance. We can learn from our mistakes and let go of them. We can continue to fall short until we can reach the sky.

All this came together listening to the young poet Amanda Gorman at the inauguration. She distilled the entire Gospel into one simple phrase. We are ‘a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished’. Make time today to listen to the Lord. Walk in the woods; take care of your animals, listen to your heartbeat as you breathe in and out. Allow the Holy Spirit to drench you with new beginnings, to rest and recover, to lean on God’s strength, to continue to run the good race. Let tears and touch speak what is in your heart and soul, trusting that we each are simply unfinished, not broken.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2021, All Rights Reserved

Photo entitled ‘Sunset over Whitesbog’ by Monica Cahill©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of her work and the bogs of the New Jersey Pines,  go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

Reflecting on Generosity of Spirit….

There is nothing more spectacular than watching the stars near the water. Time seems to stand still as your eyes adjust to the darkness. Sounds drift across the waves and offer soothing background music to the sights of night sky. This photo was taken by a new friend Audrey Geddes. She look a long exposure photo to sharpen and brighten the stars, with the goal of capturing the Big Dipper over Batso Lake. Later when she took a second look at the photo, she found the comet Neowise along the horizon. I have spent most mornings the past two months contemplating this photo, mostly lost in wonder, awed by the majesty of creation. While my prayer time greatly benefited, I found it difficult to put into words what I saw. Then a few weeks ago, my husband and I were able to attend an outdoor church service. It is the first time we have been able to worship in person in almost six months.

The Gospel for that Sunday (Matthew 16:21-28) is frankly a reading I have struggled with for years. It’s yet another story about how the disciples just don’t get it. This time around the stakes are higher than ever. Jesus is explaining he must go to Jerusalem and suffer. When Peter objects, Christ rebukes him, saying ‘Get behind me, Satan!’. This is the same Peter who denies Christ after the crucifixion, yet that is not the end of the story. He later becomes the rock on which the church is built. What really struck home for me this time was a simple line from the sermon: ‘God is the only one who sees the entire truth’. The whole story is turned on its head when you start with that in mind!

How often do we congratulate ourselves on widening our perspectives, being open minded, giving others the benefit of the doubt? The bottom line is no matter how hard we try, we cannot expand our perspective to even a tiny fraction of what God can perceive in a split second. Like Audrey, we think we are going out to look at the Big Dipper. We may even wait and wait while the camera collects all the light it can. Then when we take a second look there is this amazing comet on the horizon.

God offers us much more than we are capable of taking in. We can look, then look again, perhaps ask others to look with us. Yet we are no better than the blind men each describing an elephant by the just the part they can touch. There is a generosity in God’s provision that overflows any cup, spilling out into unexpected places, adding surprises and delights beyond our imagining.

We offer up what we can to the Lord in response. Generosity is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. I have entitled this post generosity of the spirit, because just the word generosity is so often associated with money. We give something because we expect something in return, perhaps just a thank you or tax deduction, but usually at least something.

Generosity of spirit is much more than that. When we are filled with the spirit, we openly and willingly offer our gifts without expecting  anything in return. We recognize that we do not own what we have; we are simply stewards of what God has given us. We give solely for the joy of giving.

Make time today to look beyond the central focus. Consider what God has given you and offer thanks for the blessings of this life. Let go of the need to know the whole truth, trusting God is showing you what you need to know right now and is taking care of the rest. Be alert for the fleeting beauty in the midst of the eternal, the little gifts of being present to the Now. Most of all, open up your prayers, knowing God has prepared more for us than we can begin to imagine or know to ask for.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Quote from sermon by Dr. Peter Gustin, 14th Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Photo entitled ‘Big Dipper, Little Comet’ by Audrey Geddes©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more photos of the Pines,  go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

Reflecting on the View….

Swaying Aspens by Adrienne O'Hara
Watercolor has always fascinated me. It requires patience and talent, or perhaps a cultivation of both. I love to linger over a beautiful view, yet my talents do not allow me to capture that scene through art. My dear friend Adrienne recently took up watercolor, and this is the result of one of her initial efforts. You can see she casually took a photo of her work, not worrying if the piece was exactly square. Perhaps that is really what art is all about – letting go of the need to be ever so tidy and neat. She abandoned her notion of what she saw and let the scene flow into her eyes and out through her hands onto the paper. I can almost see the aspens swaying in the wind. This watercolor reminds me of our time in England. My daughter started school there and I was fortunate to spend many lovely days on field trips with her class. Sometimes we would visit a small museum or a business, the sort of field trip we are used to here in the United States. Then one beautiful spring morning we took a walk in the woods with a picnic lunch. We walked for a long time until we came upon a bend in the creek. The forest floor was carpeted in wildflowers and the leaves and grass were that amazing bright green of new growth. The teacher asked the children to find a view they liked and to take out their sketchbooks. She had made similar requests at the museums we visited. Pick something you really like and sketch it. She believed we captured the essence of what we saw by lingering over it, by using our hands to secure it in our minds. There was serious learning in museum sketches but what was today about? Leave it to the English to fold serious learning into a walk in the woods. The other chaperone was an avid gardener, no, more than that, an amateur botanist. Soon I could see not only sketches, but also the Latin names for each plant at the bottom. Later the children were given the opportunity to watercolor their sketches. Quite an impressive request of second graders, with equally impressive results. My now 25 year old daughter has a degree in architecture and works with a construction company. She models the parts of the building design where there can be conflicts, such as plumbing and electrical. Her work literally helps the team see inside of the walls. I wonder if her career began with those field trips and her sketches. She may not paint, but every day she uses an eye trained to keenly observe the scene at hand. She can see details that elude the rest of us, but perhaps we all can learn to linger a little longer to breathe in the essence of now. Make time today to slow down and soak in your surroundings. Hold open space for the beauty around you, whether it is the whole scene or just a single blade of grass. Allow your prayers to be joined with the prayers of creation, as it is written:

“Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and everything that moves in it” – Psalm 69:34

Most of all, let the same Creator who formed each of us in the womb guide us through the gift of His bountiful creation.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Watercolor entitled ’Swaying Aspens’ by Adrienne O’Hara©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Mystery….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

Mystery in the Pines
I have had the great good fortune to live in many locations where words do not do justice to the surroundings. The first was southern New Jersey, in particular,The Pines. Before you get ahead of me, this is not the New Jersey you see from the turnpike, or in the congested areas along the Delaware River or the Atlantic Ocean. This is a wild and mysterious place where the scenery seems to shift from day to day. The area is a large bowl, with most of the land 10 to 12 feet below sea level. Water is everywhere – if not within sight then just a foot or two under the soil. As seasons change and weather does its worst, water forms and reforms the same scenery again and again. Small patches of vegetation crest the wetlands, and on good days the water mirrors the sky above. My new friend Julius caught an especially mysterious scene, one where the rushes have adapted to the flowing water while this tree appears to be struggling. I love this photo because I am not sure where the water ends and the sky begins. I am not even sure if the sun is rising or setting. All I know for sure is that Julius has captured that in between time, when it is not quite bright but definitely not dark. How often does this mortal life or ours feel like the moment caught in this image? We want to live in the light, yet never seem to make it beyond that in between place, not dark, not quite light. We begin the day facing the light, perhaps even taking time to pray, hoping those morning devotions last at least until our second cup of coffee. Then something annoys us, disrupts our routine, disappoints our meager expectations. We rush to react, turning a little each time from the light and peering back into the darkness. I don’t know about you, but the hardest part of my faith journey is simply allowing mystery to exist at all. I like simple answers, yes or no, black or white, good or bad. Yet once I take hold of that simple, straight forward view of life, I lose track of the divine source of that life, the mystery of creation. I fail to hold open a space for grace, to make room for the water of creation to flow through my life and into my veins. Rather than lean on the strength of the Almighty, I wear myself out insisting on the more defined, yet infinitely more difficult path. Then as if God knew I needed the reminder, this Sunday the New Testament reading included this passage:

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9

Make time today to embrace the uncertainty of this life, trusting in the power of the Holy of Holies to forge a path ahead much better than the one you can create alone. Embrace the unexpected twists and turns, trusting that each step has its own part in the final outcome. Start your day with a simple prayer, seeking to see the Creator in the everyday things of this life, to notice signs of hope and awe rather than doubt and doom. Slow down when you are tempted to speed up, respond rather than react. Most of all, let those sacred moments dwell in your heart and soul. Hold that majesty closer than the temptations of this life, and allow wonder to guide your thoughts, words and actions.

Text by Connie Chintall©2020

Photo entitled ’Majesty and Mystery in The Pines’ by Julius Akras©2020, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

To see more of his work and The pines, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

Reflecting on Notice…

Look Up by Jen AyersEaster has come and gone and our yard is full of blooms. I find myself noticing familiar bulbs and volunteers transplanted by the wind as I walk the dog in the early morning. Yet I discover the unexpected under my feet more often than above my head. I wonder if I would have noticed this extravagant flower arrangement over the entrance to Christ’s Church in Georgetown on Easter Sunday. Fortunately my good friend took this photo, most likely while carrying her new baby Lily. How often do we find ourselves in a rush, charging forward with our heads down, focused only on our destination? How much beauty escapes our gaze as we strain to look ahead? Even my grocery shopping can be fraught with folks in a hurry. Every time I shop at the grocery store on the DC side of town, someone runs into the back of my heels with their cart. Now I know I am a very slow shopper, stopping to read labels and check prices. Yet I still amazed at how often folks are shocked to have run into me, only noticing I am there when we collide. What does it take for us to notice where we are going? To notice if someone is ahead of us or in the way? Notice is something we can give or take. To take notice means ‘to immerse oneself into the experience’. Do we take only what serves our purposes at the time, or do we soak in the context offered by the whole scene? Then there is the notice we give when we quit a job or leave a position. I wonder if we quit when we are no longer noticed, no longer particular. Do we leave when we become lost in the sea of sameness? Do we look for something new when we lose our sense of being unique? Last but not least, there are things we do and do not notice in our personal lives. All too often arguments arise when I fail to notice something that is important to a loved one, focusing on only what is important to me. If I cannot see past my own nose, I surely cannot open my heart beyond my own interests. Make time today to look up and around. Take notice of what crosses your path and touches your heart. Enjoy the beauty along the way, rather than simply focusing on your destination. Slow down enough to soak in the entire situation, allowing God to draw your eyes and ears to the wonder and awe of His creation. Most of all, be present to those you love, taking the time to look and listen with your heart in the only and eternal now. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Lilies Above’ by Jen Ayers©2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Jen’s creative work, go to http://kingdomofazuria.com/

Reflecting on Turning….

old-auburn-road-by-cecilia

This early autumn rain washes summer’s green paint from the sugar maple leaves.
It brings brisk gusts of October’s breath to September’s dying days.
Familiar streaks of rain run down unfamiliar windows, and I feel at ease, protected from, and by, the storm.
The thunder, a cold front’s lion roar, frightens off the last lambs of August’s summer flock,
And there, the hapless journey-goers, caught in the downpour, run, or walk with umbrella in hand, striding through rain’s dry shadow.
Sounds are muted by the distant drum-roll of raindrops on roofs, and the noise of traffic – stifled more by torrential curtains, now brought low from nimbus heights.
But soon, the amber rays of sun pierce the smoke-gray clouds and
Reflect
off now more orange leaves.

Poetry by Colin Shea Blymyer©2016, Photo entitled ‘Old Auburn Road’ by Cecilia Carr©2016, to see more of her work, go to http://www.redbubble.com/people/ceciliacarr/portfolio

Reflecting on Identity….

55 & Vine by Rick MartinThere are days when I wonder who I am. How do I define myself? How do I hold on to who I am in the face of daily personal challenges and bewildering news stories? I keep going back to this intriguing image of an old, rusted Ford Fairlane. The sedan is long past its prime and even the vine attached to it seems to lack life. I joined the military almost forty years ago after a series of poor decisions. I walked away from a full scholarship at the University of Virginia, or perhaps it is better to say I ran away with a truck driver. I chose my heart over my head, for a relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. Instead, I found myself back home with my parents, without that relationship, without my education, without a job. I took a few jobs that paid well and was promoted quickly, only to find I had topped out since I lacked a college education. So I enlisted in the Air Force and headed off to basic training. Fifty women were housed in an open bay barracks. Each of us had a bed, a chair, a narrow closet and two dresser drawers. A corner of the bottom drawer was allotted for ‘personal effects’. Everything else I had brought with me was stored away under lock and key. I kept a box of stationery with family pictures tucked inside. I kept my prayer book. And I kept a favorite cotton shirt I had sewn and embroidered. Over the next six weeks, every waking hour was spent in training. We learned how to dress, how to march, how to fold our clothes. On Sunday morning we could go to church or stay in the barracks and clean. Most gals went to the generic Protestant service. I chose to walk across the post to the Episcopal service, risky business since new recruits were subject to spot inspections and dreaded demerits. By the time I sunk into the pew, soaked with sweat, I wondered what I had been thinking. The first half of that service was a blur. Then they played the communion hymn, ‘Humbly I Adore Thee’. This hymn was the summer favorite at St. Mary’s in Burlington, NJ. My bones know the words to this hymn and I felt an immediate sense of God’s love. I walked back to the barracks humming it. Over the next few days I found myself again, the me I traded away when leaving college. As I became more myself, I found it easier to connect with the fifty women in my unit. We scrubbed the floors singing that hymn, then a country western tune, then a Motown hit. We stopped being fifty separate women and became a single unit. We shared who we were and became more than the sum of our parts. As individuals we were like this rusted out car. Even the vines they tried to lay over us failed to offer connection. It was singing as we worked that brought us together. There are two pieces to the cross. The upright connects us to God. The horizontal connects us to one another. The essence of our humanity is the divine spark in each of us. Yet without connection we simply sputter out and fade away. Make time today to connect with the Holy of Holies. Lay the weariness of the world at God’s feet, then crawl into God’s lap and rest in unending love. Share what feeds your soul with a friend over a cup of coffee or simple lunch. Let go of canned expectations and sensational news. Look beyond the surface and listen to the hearts of those you meet, even when what you hear is uncomfortable. God does not expect us to all be the same yet God loves us all the same. May God grant us the courage to open our hearts and be vulnerable to one another so that we may we love one other just as God loves us. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Photo entitled ’55 & Vine’ by Rick Martin©2016, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Rick’s work, go to http://www.abandonedanddesertedinvirginia.com/.

Reflecting on Birth….

Blooming Beauty by Nicole Mischo
Our visit with my niece and her brand new baby is coming to a close. For the past week my daughter and I have been helping out with the new baby and her toddler big sister. The miracle of new life is awe inspiring. So I was drawn to this amazing art by my friend Nicole. Our fragile bodies are made of the same stuff as the stars. We begin as a hope and a prayer, because two people love one another. Through that love, God allows us to participate in his creation and a new soul is born. Nicole captured this miracle in her art. The Divine Feminine breathes in stardust and breathes out the beauty of creation. The mystery of birth plays out in the dance of mixed genes, creating one beautiful combination after another. This baby is very different from her older sister. She favors her father’s looks while her sister favors my niece. The shape of their faces and their coloring is different. Yet just when you think you have figured it out, another feature catches your eye. I see my daughter’s feet, and perhaps our family’s ears. Yet in the end, this child, along with all our children, belong to the Creator. Just as we are all called to be stewards of creation, parents are called to be stewards of God’s children. As parents, our job is to guide our children into the path God has prepared for them. Children are not meant to follow our dreams or complete our unfinished business. As I hold this beautiful baby, I pray for blessing and protection over her while I pray for wisdom and discernment as the days and years ahead unfold. May God give me the grace to be present to her growth, opening my heart and mind to see her through God’s eyes, rather than my own. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Art entitled ‘Blooming Beauty’ by Nicole Mischo©2016, All Rights Reserved.

Previous Older Entries

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 975 other followers