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 Second Chances….

red door by Betsey Karl 20200305
So much of what we see and do today is over in an instant. The idea of working hard toward a long term goal seems out of step with our fast paced lifestyle and the technology that fuels our every interaction. My new friend Betsey has captured just the opposite of the frantic pace of our lives. She has wandered in the wilderness of the Pine Barrens to discover a long deserted home, a home that would have fallen apart if not made from stone. Yet what draws me into this amazing photo is the door, if you could still call it a door. Perhaps all we see is old wood pieced together to close up the place. I am puzzled by the leaning lumber, half in and half out. Most of all, I wonder why anyone bothered to paint this ‘door’ red. It seems like a lot of trouble for a place that is just boarded up. Who knows what we would find inside? I can hear my father calling to me as a small child, telling me to leave it alone, worried there might be a raccoon inside. All we really know for sure is nature is more at home here now than whoever lived here long ago.

Then my memory shifts to my first trip to London with my husband not long after we married. After wandering the markets and taking in the sights, we ended up at St. Paul’s Cathedral for Evensong. The choir boys filed in in various states of dress, some so proper they hardly seemed like children, others barely in their vestments with hair still ruffled from hastily pulling them on over their heads. Then the service began and their voices transported us to heaven. I don’t recall what scriptures were read or the Psalm appointed for that day. I simply recall how bright and beautiful the world felt at that moment. After the service, we were invited to have a look around. In the north transept, we came upon Hunt’s life size painting ‘Jesus the Light of the World’ behind the altar in the Middlesex Chapel.

Light of the World postcard1479481232.png

Revelations 3:20 is inscribed along the bottom of the altar piece.

‘Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come into him and will sup with him and him with me.’

Like Betsey’s door, this door has no handle. It can only be opened from within. Christ knocks and waits, but for how long? His foot is already turned away from the door. How long will He remain? How many times has He knocked? How many chances does the man within deserve?

The world’s answer is short and sweet. Better hurry up – make up your mind. Who knows if you will ever get a second chance? Grab what you can, while you can before it’s too late. God’s answer offers more than just a second chance. God remains while we wander, get lost, or simply can’t be bothered. God waits for us to pry open the door, to cut loose the overgrowth, to turn again to our Creator. Perhaps the artist says it best.

“I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be by Divine command, and not simply as a good Subject. The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing “the obstinately shut mind” – William Holman Hunt

Make time today to consider what you are worth, in the eyes of the Divine rather than the eyes of the world. Allow yourself to soak in the beauty that abounds with every step you take. Let go of the need to decide right this moment, to judge rather than be present, to turn away rather than face the facts. Trust that whatever this day brings, you will always have a second chance, then a third, then a fourth, as many chances as it takes, until then end of time.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Photo entitled ‘Red Door’ by Betsey Karl©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of her work and The Pines, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

‘Jesus the Light of the World’, by William Holman Hunt, Middlesex Chapel Altarpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, England, not used for commercial purposes. To see more of St. Paul’s, go to their virtual tour:

https://www.explore-stpauls.net/oct03/textMM/LightWorldN.htm

 

 

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