Reflecting on Situation Awareness….

Forrest Within by Lindsay McDowallEach of us believes our childhood is normal until we leave home. We really do not understand the gifts and curses of our upbringing until we learn how our family situation is different from what others have experienced. I grew up with plenty of family around. My grandparents lived with us. The evening news was filled with images of Vietnam rather than child abductions. We spent our days outside, wandering the neighborhood and the ‘Dead End’, on our own. Or were we? Perhaps we were safe because all of the parents had an eye on us. All of our parents watched over us and corrected us. We learned to pay attention to what was going on around us by example. We saw the adults looking out for us and we learned to do the same. When I joined the military, that ability was called ‘situation awareness’. We did all sorts of exercises to learn how to see what was going on around us. We learned to rely not just on what we could see and hear, but what others could see and hear. The only way to stay safe was to rely on one another, to take in everyone’s perspective. Now if that perspective was the same for each of us, there would be no benefit to collecting multiple viewpoints. We each see through our own eyes, filtered through our own collection of memories and concerns. What I say is green you may say is blue. What I say is safe you may consider too risky. What I say isn’t there you say is just a little further, a little longer. Together we can forge a way ahead that works for all of us. We may not agree on everything, but we can agree on the path ahead. That path may require more than what our senses can take in. In the words of Hebrews 11:1, ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ Perhaps I cannot see it, but must rely on others who can. Make time today to look and listen, to soak in your current situation. Consider the curve of a loved one’s face, a leaf blowing in the wind, a conversation that could be more than communication. Suspend judgment and seek out perspectives other than your own. Ask questions that open up a dialogue, rather than point to a preconceived conclusion. And always remember, there will be times when we can only move ahead in hope with the faith of others to sustain us.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2015

Art entitled ‘Forrest Within’ by Lindsay McDowall ©2014

Reflecting on Sisters….

SONY DSCFor the first time in many years, I have had occasion to spend time with all three of my sisters. We do not live close by, and rarely have much time to visit. Recently we have gathered to celebrate a graduation, then a bridal shower and a wedding. As we worked together, I was pleasantly surprised by how the years melted away, and we fell into familiar patterns and roles. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo of two sisters, taken by their father Ryan. I am reminded of my own father when I see Ryan with his daughters at church, but even more so when I see photos of their camping and kayaking trips. Each day we build memories, and our actions determine if those memories will be good or bad. So on this rainy winter morning I am blessed to recall family boating trips to Burlington Island, when we would swim and picnic. My youngest sister always seemed to go missing, but the island was small enough that we could easily find her. My sister that is now a civil engineer would pull plugs of clay out of the shallows, to bring home and use for her projects. My sister that is the mother of the bride would play in the sand, and gather up insects and tiny creatures to examine. I mostly swam and played in the water, talking to each in turn, and watching what was going on around me. Some would say these trips were a waste of time, that we would have been better off reading a book or honing a skill. Yet we were learning something you can’t find in a book on those sunny afternoons. We learned about each other, learned how to work as a team, learned how to be together yet give each other room. We are a group of independent, opinionated women, and often disagree. Yet when we all are pointed in the same direction, motivated by love and devotion, God help anyone who stands in the way. What I find even more amazing are the women we each call friends, often friends to more than one of us, who have also become our sisters. Make time today to create a lasting memory. Take a walk with a friend or family member, or play a game together. Pay attention to how you each react, respecting individual perspectives and methods. Accept one another as God made us, each different, each unique, each made especially for God’s purpose. Allow the Holy Spirit to bind you together in God’s will, rather than your own. Learn to work together, to understand the whole is more than the sum of the parts. And always remember, we are children of the Most High, sealed together by Christ’s blood, rather than our own. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Sisters on High’ by Ryan Wick

Reflecting on Fluff….

It’s a bright, clear morning, much colder than yesterday. We seem to be oscillating between winter and spring, uncertain how to dress from day to day. We may need a heavy coat this morning, only to find that same coat a burden by early afternoon. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my new friend Gailen, capturing cattails as a strange mixture of the whimsical and the sturdy. Cattails stood watch over many of my childhood adventures, lazy days spent messing about in the creek. I loved to see the birds take shelter in the stands of cattails, sometimes growing over ten feet tall. In the early spring, birds would pluck the fluff to line their nests, spreading seeds that closely resemble their own feathers. It can be difficult to distinguish between the whimsical and the sturdy, between wants and needs. What appears to be excess may be truly necessary, something my grandmother called ‘holy waste’. Time spent in what others consider frivolous pursuits may be healing to the soul, allowing an old wound to transform into a new creation. One person’s fluff may be another’s substance, bringing beauty and joy into an otherwise drab existence. Take time today for your fluff, to sing instead of speaking, to dance instead of walking. Let healing light shine in your heart, opening your soul to new beginnings, claiming the promise of abundant life. And remember, if we can let go of the burdens that weigh us down, we can float like a feather in the wind, spreading seeds of new creation. Photo entitled ‘Cattails with Flying Fluff’ ©2012 by Gailen Mapes All Rights Reserved, used by permission

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

Reflecting on Love….

The mornings and evenings are feeling cooler, and the humidity has dropped as well. We are enjoying a break from the heat, and looking forward to the mild days of autumn in Virginia. The cooler weather turns my thoughts to those who have passed on. It seems most deaths in my life have occurred in the fall, including both of my parents. So I was drawn to this photo of little girls at princess camp. My friend Jen conducts the camp and hosts princess themed parties, where little girls dress up and learn about what it means to be a princess. The girls are eagerly rushing down the stairs for the crowning ceremony. I like the whimsical feel of the photo, as if we are part of a dream or fantasy world. Yet is it really a fantasy? We all yearn to be special, to be called out as the hero of an adventure or the beautiful ruler of a magical kingdom. We love best the adults who allowed us to dream as children, to dare to reach for what we could not see or hear at the time, to hope for more than others believed possible. We learned to have faith in ourselves, because others had faith in us. Yet that gift starts with faith in God. If we seek a perfect love from imperfect humans, we are always disappointed. With God, we know we are all co-heirs of the Kingdom, all princes and princesses. Once we accept the unconditional love offered by the King of the Universe, we are capable of offering that love to others, inspiring each one to follow the path that God has prepared for them. Take time today to truly listen to those you love, to inspire them to follow the desire of their hearts. Call upon the Holy Spirit to give you His words, not your words, if any words at all are required. Crown them with your acceptance and unconditional love, eagerly awaiting the part of God’s kingdom that they will create. Photo by Jen Faulconer, camps by The Kingdom of Azuria
http://kingdomofazuria.com/

 

Reflecting on Simple Pleasures….

We stopped at the grocery store this morning after running errands. All we really needed was bread, but we went home with two bags of groceries. Sometimes you just don’t know what you need until you see it. So when I saw these beautiful blueberries from Hammonton, NJ, I knew we needed them. I grew up in Southern New Jersey, where my mother’s family grew blueberries and cranberries. In that area, the soil is very sandy, and packed full of nutrients. Blueberries love this soil, and grow in abundance there. I remember going to our cousin’s farm to pick berries, then packing them up in the back of the station wagon. My Mom and Aunt Audrey, along with my sisters and cousins and I, would all pile into our old station wagon. On one trip, I ended up in the back with the berries. I must have fallen asleep. I woke up as we drove home, looking up at the sunlight filtering through the trees and smelling the berries all around me. Part of me wanted to sit up and eat the berries, but part of me didn’t want to move. There was something magical about that moment, and I wanted it to last. The car was quiet and the radio was playing very low. No one was talking. I suppose I wasn’t the only one that had fallen asleep. It seems all the simple pleasures of my childhood are wrapped up in that one memory. I was surrounded by those I loved and the beauty of living in that particular corner of the world, all together and at peace. Take time today to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, to resist the temptation to make life more complicated than it already is. Enjoy the sights and sounds and smells of your surroundings, and the company of those you love. God blesses us with such bounty, and God is pleased when this bounty pleases us. Photo of blueberries at Emery’s Farm in New Egypt, NJ by my cousin and fellow childhood blueberry picker, Diane Brooks Myers

Reflecting on Memory….

 Those fireflies have led me down memory lane.  What began as a single memory of fireflies led me to make beef vegetable soup this weekend, complete with broth made from soup bones.  So I was drawn to this photo of my Aunt Audrey, holding her great grandson Andrew as a baby.  I’m not sure, but I believe she is sitting in my cousin Diane’s kitchen.  It seems we have a lot of photos of Aunt Audrey in the kitchen. My Aunt Audrey was a wonderful and creative cook, and she shared this gift with us all. We often gathered in the kitchen, helping her to cook and learning to cook at the same time.  She loved cookbooks but rarely used the recipes exactly as provided.  Fortunately for us all, she frequently wrote in her cookbooks, recording these changes and variations. So her cooking, and her memory, is preserved and handed down to the next generation, and the next. At first, I didn’t connect making this soup with those fireflies. Then on Sunday, I saw so many butterflies in our backyard. The day my aunt died, the backyard was full of butterflies, as if tiny angels had arrived to call her home.  Another wonder of nature tied these memories together, and led me again to consciously remember my dear aunt.  Take time today to make a memory come alive, to honor pastimes or skills lovingly taught to you as a child. You’ll preserve the memories of those that have gone before us, and make memories for those who will remain when we are called home.

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