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 Fractured….

Underneath it All by Buck 20181004Crisp, clear mornings make for perfect football weather and a welcome relief from the endless rain and oppressive heat of this past summer. Yet I find myself stuck in a funk, grieving for my father who passed away ten years ago this month. He led a full life and died at ninety in our home, so it isn’t about him at all. I can’t say he was cheated or taken too soon. It’s me that feels the loss so keenly this month. It’s when life brings burdens that I cannot relieve that I miss my father the most. Two of those I love dearly are facing health crises, dealing with pain and uncertainty. I feel helpless to make a difference, except to sit and pray. Before you ask, both of these friends would jump to say those prayers make a difference. I firmly believe in the power of prayer yet the suffering in the interim is sometimes more than I can begin to fathom. Yet I persevere, knowing that God has provided a healing for them both. I believe because I have experienced such healing myself, again and again. I may seem put together and wise, but underneath it all, there are fractures that run deep. I say I am fractured not broken, the word more often used in hymns and sermons. The bones all remain in place. They still hold me up and carry me around, but there are days when I can feel each and every crack. Yet God shines through my words and actions most when I reach out in my own weakness. I surrender to the wideness in God’s mercy, letting go of my own limited understanding and trusting this is not the end of the story. I pray and wait, ponder and mull, choosing my words carefully. Sometimes I pray for God’s words rather than my own, because I have no words at all. Often I pray with my breath, reaching out to God as I breathe out, receiving blessing and protection for those in need of prayer as I breathe in. So where does my father enter into all this? His silly laugh would cut through all this serious nonsense and break the tension, or he would tell a story that would make a memory so vivid you would think you were there all over again. He would lift me out of the moment so I could gain more perspective and carry on. Make time today to lift another up in prayer. Ask how you can help make a difference. Trust God to make up the difference when you fall short. Tell a story that brings back a happy memory or make a new memory. Most of all, offer up your fractures, allowing God’s light to shine through the cracks in your heart and soul. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, art entitled ‘Underneath It All’ by David Buckwalter©2018, incorporating art by Leigh Hooper, used with their permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of David’s work, go to https://www.buckwalterphotographyva.com/

Reflecting on Memorial Day

Mr Coty's Grave by Renee Coty
For many of us, Memorial Day is a tough holiday. We may have lost loved ones in conflict, or experienced combat firsthand. While we are called to remember those who served, some of us may prefer to forget painful experiences. Unfortunately, for those that survive, forgetting is not always an option. Something small can key a long buried memory, something simple. Perhaps a news item about someone that looks like a person long gone, or a place or situation that seems ordinary to everyone else, yet menacing beyond belief to a combat veteran. So I was touched by this photo of Mr. Coty’s grave. He served in Viet Nam and the effects of that experience haunted him and affected his family. Not every day, or all the time. Yet perhaps the randomness was the toughest part. His daughter and grandson visited the grave this weekend, and left flowers. So today we remember, because for those who serve, it may be too painful to remember. With humble hearts we thank you for your service, not knowing the price that was paid. With faithful hearts, we pray for healing and wholeness that is only possible through the grace and mercy of God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2011, Photo by Renee Coty.

Reflecting on Fragile….

Collapsed Japanese House by FlorianLife is such a fragile commodity. We hear folks say this all the time, especially in the face of inconceivable tragedy. We speak of the lives cut short as fragile, but I wonder if we really are speaking of the lives of those left behind to cope with the aftermath. Friends and family gather round, in hopes of offering a comforting word or gesture, looking to pick up the pieces. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Florian. He has captured the ruins of a once strong and sturdy shelter on a mountain road in Japan. It seems just when we think we have it all figured out, life takes a sharp turn. We find that what we thought was solid is shifting under our feet. When we cling to what we thought was certain, we find it sifting through our fingers like grains of sand. All I do know for sure right now is that while life may end, love never dies. No amount of time, or distance, or change can diminish or wipe away love. Love is the only way to respond to such earth shattering events. Alone we can never hope to put this home back together, or make way for a new home. Together we can make short work of it. Most of all, we must be both present to the pain and present to the love of the Almighty. The only way I know how to walk that razor’s edge is through prayer. Without prayer, we can ruin ourselves and be of no help to anyone. I walked for a long time this morning, walked and prayed because I simply could not sit still and pray. Although I could find no words of my own, I keep hearing the Prayer of St Francis:

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness only light,
And where there’s sadness ever joy.

Oh Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life

Make time today to open your heart and soul to the never ending love and mercy of the Almighty. Breathe out the pain and sorrow. Breathe in comfort and peace. Let go of the overwhelming and leave it at the feet of the Alpha and Omega. If you have no words for such sorrow, trust God will offer you the right words, or perhaps no words at all. And always remember, when you open your heart and become vulnerable, you can rely on the steadfast love of God, pouring into you and through you. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015. Hymn ‘Prayer of St Francis’ by Sebastian Temple ©2009. Photo entitled ‘Collapsed Japanese House’ by Florian Seidel ©2013, to see more of his work, go to his blog http://abandonedkansai.com

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