Reflecting on Touch….

Icy Evergreen by Kira SkalaIt seems an eternity since the snow and ice coated the foliage and fields. The last snow was just a week ago, foreboding in the early morning, yet gone before noon. Today I took a leisurely walk with my dog Hobbes, enjoying the new life that refuses to be ignored. Yet despite the balmy weather, I find myself drawn to a photo by my dear friend Kira. I love how each pine needle is separately encase in a thin coat of ice, so thin you can see through to the vibrant life that endures the storm. The green of the pine pops out against the dried leaves caught in the branches. How much of what we see here is reflected in our everyday lives? We get stuck into familiar and comfortable patterns, repeating what worked before without thinking. Life goes on yet we persist in a pattern that once worked, but obviously is old and worn. In time life loses its color, its zest, its wonder. Then a friend stops by to tell us about a new beginning. Our hearts swell with contagious excitement, perhaps tainted with a little envy. That excitement fades as they wander off and we wonder why life is passing us by, why not me, why not now? Just when we seem lost in the dried leaves of our own lives, that friend reaches out, touches our arm, ask how we are. We hear and feel their concern, know their apology for going on and on about themselves comes from the heart. They take time out of their new adventure to really listen and our hearts melt. What seemed so stuck, so frozen, so lost, is suddenly found. It seems we need one another to find ourselves, to thaw the ice than individually encases us and isolates us from one another. Make time today to ponder what thrills your heart. Go back to what drives your passion, rather than simply going through the motions. Consider which routines serve you best and which routines drain your energy and your time. Reform or relinquish the old routines, the dried leaves, to make room for vibrant new life. And always remember, all it takes is touch to melt the thickest ice and join us together in new life. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Icy Evergreens’ by Kira Skala©2016, All Rights Reserved.

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Reflecting on Evolution….

Evolve by Claire BishopWe live in a small town. The Main Street is filled with interesting shops and restaurants. The buildings are old and in some sections little more than a shell. You can stand with the sky above you and an old tile floor below you, facing what was once the wall of a shop or restaurant. My young friend Claire captured a commentary on one of these walls. What does it mean to evolve? I’m not talking about whether we descended from monkeys or how long ago dinosaurs walked the earth. I’m talking about you and me, about how we learn and grow over a lifetime. The verb evolve is defined as ‘develop gradually, especially from a simple to a more complex form’. Our opinions change. Over time we view the world in more nuanced or more absolute terms. We listen more often than we speak, seeking to understand a world that changes moment to moment. Each morning I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and guard me, to teach me to understand God’s plan for all of us, not just for me and my little corner of the world. I pray God will abide with me, gently opening my mind and heart each day, only as much as I can handle. Growth and healing go hand in hand. Healing requires vulnerability, a desire to turn over the rocks in our path to look at the worms underneath. Some are boulders that block the way. Others are smooth stones we could just as easily step over. We can only handle a one at a time, if that. There are days, even weeks and months, when we can’t bear to even glimpse at what is under a single rock. Yet if we trust that God has prepared a healing, that God is with us in the journey, we will turn over each rock in His time, not ours. When I think back to the really difficult times in my life, I was turning over way too many stones at one time, rushing forward when I simply needed to be present. During the worst times, I insisted those close to me, those who share my path, rush ahead rather than heal and growth in their own time, in their own way. Make time today to listen to others. Ask questions to open up a dialogue, rather than shut down the conversation. Seek to learn their viewpoint to better inform your own. Look for shades of grey where you once only saw black and white. Let God lead you, step by step, stone by stone, conversation by conversation. And always remember, when we turn over one stone at a time, we can trust God to slowly but surely mold us into the image of Christ. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, photo entitled ‘Evolve’ by Claire Bishop ©2015, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Easter….

Tux Bunny by Cassie RichardsSpring leaves adorn our trees, all the brighter green against an overcast sky. It seems that spring is late while Easter Sunday came early this year. So I was drawn to this whimsical photo taken by my new friend Cassie, of an unexpected Easter bunny. I know bunnies normally hop, but it seems to me the Easter Bunny should defy gravity, just as Christ defied death and the grave. I even like the tuxedo, a much better choice than those silly plaid vests that the Easter bunny is usually pictured wearing. I’m sure many of you might say I missed Easter, that it’s too late for the Easter bunny. At least in the Episcopal Church, Easter is a season, lasting from Easter Sunday until Pentecost. The resurrection isn’t just about the day Christ walked away from the tomb – it’s much more than that. We celebrate his resurrection, his time among us in his risen form, his ascension to heaven, then on Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the twelve Apostles and followers of Jesus. A lot happens during the fifty days from Easter to Pentecost. The apostles go from huddling in a locked room to publicly proclaiming the good news of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit that rested on them in the form of flames. While Christ may have been resurrected in three days, it took fifty days for the apostles to be transformed. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like change, even when the change is a good change. Initially I resist, hoping whatever is upsetting the status quo will simply go away. Then comes the temptation to dwell on the negatives, and by God, I’ll make up a few if necessary. In time, I come around, although I may not always admit it. So I’m not surprised it takes a leaping bunny, dressed to the nines, to catch my attention, to bring me good news, good news I might actually hear. I need to hear that good news again and again, to resist the temptation to stay where I’m at, to simply remain the same. I need the ridiculous or fantastic to make me smile, to jar me out of complacency. Make time today to focus on good news. Listen closely to others around you, even when their viewpoint may be less than welcome. Remain open to new ideas, accept surprises with a smile. Refrain from labels of good and bad, us and them, comfortable and uncomfortable. And always remember, we must die a little to claim new life, to accept transformation wrought in God’s time rather than our own. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Tux Bunny’ by Cassie Richards ©2013, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Burdens….

Bowed Over by Connie ChintallI awoke early this morning to a loud thud, fearing my daughter had fallen out of bed. The heavy spring snow was no match for the wind, so large chunks of snow were landing on our roof. I was wide awake while she was snug under the covers, so I ventured out with our dog and my camera to see the storm. I felt as if I had entered a huge snow globe. Large, lazy flakes were swirling to the ground. Then the wind would pick up, and more snow would drop from the branches. Our large oaks can manage the clinging, wet snow, but the dogwoods in the front yard were bent over by the weight. This photo captures what I saw the best, and the range of emotions the scene evoked. I love how the flash is reflected by the falling snowflakes, while the newly bare branches are quickly accumulating another layer. The dogwoods are there in the middle of the massive oaks. You can see my neighbor’s house in the background, with warm and inviting lights at the front door. What makes us cling to our burdens, when we are invited to leave them at the foot of the cross? Why do we take on a new burden so quickly, even after letting go of a burden that nearly folded us in two? How do we become sturdy like the oaks, instead of weak like the dogwoods? In the hush of a snow filled morning, it seems there are more questions than answers. Perhaps that thud is still with me, that motherly concern for a child that is no longer small, a child that turns eighteen tomorrow. My conscious mind sees the young woman, but my sleeping brain still hears a child who needs me. It’s a time of good and positive change, but change nonetheless. I must let go of what I have been, to learn who I need to become. Again, still, I must recall she is God’s child, given into our care as our daughter. We are stewards and guides to help her find the path God has prepared for her, rather than to complete our path, or fulfill our shattered dreams. It will soon be time for her to shake off her the last of her little girl ways and find her place in the world. And time for me to learn what it means to be the mother of an amazing young woman, standing ready, but not standing in the way. Make time today to let go of an outdated role, a part you’ve played long past its usefulness. Shed what was once a source of great happiness, but has now become a heavy burden. Trust God to guide you on the path ahead, to show you this change is simply the end of a chapter, not the end of the story. Allow the Holy Spirit to transform what seems like only loss into a glorious new beginning. And always remember, we cannot have Easter, we cannot experience the resurrection, without the pain and death of the cross. Text and photo by Connie Chintall ©2013

Reflecting on Sway….

It’s a bright, blustery morning, and this is the view out of my office window. Our home is surrounded by hundred year old oaks, swaying and dancing in the wind. On days like today, I am always surprised at how much motion is possible for such thick and mighty trees. Toward the end of my father’s life, he was frightened by the trees moving like this, and would sometimes ask us to draw the blinds. We would have to reassure him like you would a small child, letting him know he was safe and sound. We are careful to fell dangerous trees before the winter sets in, so we are as safe as possible. Yet we never really know what life may bring. Times change, our health may fail, we may even lose loved ones in the flash of an eye. Simply the stresses of day to day living may be enough to grind us down. We must take time to stretch toward the light and drive our roots deep into the ground. Then when the swift winds of change seek to topple us over, we can remain strong. Take time today to dance with the wind, to pull yourself up into the light. Root your feet firmly on the ground, drawing from the core of your being, your beliefs and values. And remember to sway with the wind, because to weather the worst storms, we must be flexible to be strong. Photo by Connie Chintall, with video of swaying trees at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4FEcpsoH24&feature=youtu.be

Reflecting on Resolution….

A wet, heavy snow fell most of the afternoon yesterday. Our yard looks like a fairy land, with snow coating the shrubs and trees. Temperatures are already climbing, so I doubt it will last long. I am always amazed at how much snow our shrubs can hold. I love how the branches form a gentle arch to carry the heavy load. The new year is a time when many make resolutions, vowing to improve themselves by exercising, or eating better, or improving their minds. Yoga must be one of the popular choices, as my regular Monday morning class was packed. Students arrived early to be sure to get a good spot. It seemed odd to find folks anxious about a yoga class. I don’t know about you, but right after Christmas is the worst time to make a change. When the holiday festivities are through, I tend to be a bit blue, remembering those who are no longer with us. The weather makes me wish I were a bear, and could spend the winter hibernating. It also seems like a year is more than I can manage all at once. So I wait until Lent to make a single change, committing to just 40 days. By then, the first of the bulbs are sprouting, and spring is on the way. Some years I barely make it through the first week. Other years, a change becomes part of my daily routine and may even take on a life of its own. Last year, I started writing these reflections. What started as something personal and private, to recharge my prayer time, has evolved into this blog. Take time today to consider the best way to make a lasting positive change. Ask yourself if now is the best time, or if Lent might be a better option. Start small and slowly find your way, accepting that there will be false starts and setbacks. Commit to a week or month at first, and see how it goes. And remember, even the tiniest branch can carry more than you could ever imagine, gracefully bending under the heavy load. Photo by Connie Chintall

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 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 New Beginnings….

What an eventful week! Earthquakes, after shocks, and now a hurricane. Yet for many, the weather may not be the main event. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Lindsey. Her husband is walking her sons down to the end of the drive to catch the bus. On Thursday, Jared started kindergarten. Notice how intent he is compared with his little brother. He’s clutching his backpack and walking straight ahead, while his little brother hops or skips, or a little bit of both. Dad is taking the lead, knowing that Mom may not share Jared’s enthusiasm. She has a chance to let go in private, to honor her son’s desire for independence while also honoring her own feelings. Other friends are dropping off their sons and daughters at college, some for the first time. Some are visiting their grown children in their own homes, their first place after graduation, or visiting to help with a new grandchild. Each of these changes stirs up a mix of emotions. We are happy, elated, expectant, amazed. We are also sad, mournful, confused and a little lost. We can be tempted to gloss over our mixed emotions, to hide the feelings we would rather not admit. Yet so often in life, what we seek to view as either or is truly both and. We are not promised a perfect life, we are promised abundant life. When our hearts are full, when we let all those emotions flow, we claim that promise of abundant life. Take time today to fully understand the impact of a change in your life. Allow yourself to freely experience the emotions that this change has wrought. Let go of what was to make room for what will be, trusting that our Lord works for good in all things for those that love Him. Photo by Lindsey Wangsgard

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