Reflecting on Trust….

Rainy Ride by Bonnie Hamlett

The rain is pouring down, then drenching in waves. As I said my morning prayers, the rain was louder than the music at times, calling out to be noticed. So I was drawn to this photo by my friend Bonnie, of a rainy ride to work in Oregon. In some ways I miss the long view of the Western states, how you can see past the storm to the sun beyond. In Virginia, the rain is often accompanied by fog and mist. Fog is mysterious, something my grandmother called God’s blanket of love. You turn inward, rather than look to the horizon. Sometimes we need to tune out the world, to ground ourselves in the here and now. We can become lost if we only listen to the voices of this world, and neglect to listen to the voices of all Creation. It’s a question of trust, of what we believe, of which voices we chose to listen to. The portal from this world to the next is the heart. When we listen to the voice of our heart, we are connected to the eternal, we perceive a wideness in God’s mercy, we feel a love without beginning or end. What seemed improbable if not impossible becomes more real to us that our own breath. We know beyond knowing. We believe without seeing. Our hearts that were so burdened by concerns of the flesh are renewed by eternal hope and joy. I don’t know about you, but my prayers often devolve into just talking at God. There is no conversation, no time for listening, just time enough to rattle off my shopping list of concerns. I tell God what I want instead of listening for what I need. Then life stirs up a storm beyond belief, and I am brought to my knees. Those wants seem like dust in the wind. My concerns seem like so much puff and vanity. I know no way out through human means. I must rely on the Almighty to show me the way. The world says forge ahead, push harder, try with all your might. God says pull over, just breathe, listen with your heart. Make time today to listen to the rain. Allow the Holy Spirit to drench you in love, to drive out all fear and uncertainty. Let go of what you think you need, of how you expect things to be, of the why and the when and the where. Trust the Author of Creation to create new life, one breath at a time. And always remember, when the path seems the most bleak, every leap of faith begins with simply putting one foot in front of the other. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo by Bonnie Hamlett ©2012, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Enough….

Tiniest Snowman by Rocky Ridge Refuge2012 was an eventful year for us, like a daring roller coaster ride. There were a few too many ups and downs, with steep climbs and deep drops, unexpected turns and blind corners. Despite the challenges, we trusted all would be well, and took time to celebrate the joys life brought us. So I was drawn to this unusual photo by my friend Janice, of a snowman perched on a pappadom chair. I love the tiny carrot nose, the little stick arms, the eyes and buttons embedded in the snow. On a day when most of us would have given up on the idea of a snowman, Janice chose to make this little guy instead. Where others did not see enough, Janice saw what was sufficient. Like my grandmother, she made due with what was at hand. I recall a worn out sampler that hung is her kitchen ‘Use it up, Wear it up, Make due, Do without’. We may have had a grocery store nearby, but almost all of our ‘big’ shopping meant a train ride into Philadelphia. Her shopping list hung on the cork board until we had the money and time to make the trip. Even then, at least a few items would be crossed off the list because we found a way around what we thought was so necessary to replace a few days or weeks earlier. Yet it was my grandmother who paid for my dance lessons, because grace was as necessary as the air we breathe. When Nana saw what really mattered, what nourished our bodies and souls, she ruthlessly assured we had the resources we needed. I did not grow up with designer clothes, or gourmet meals, or fancy vacations. I was offered something more precious – the knowledge that following a dream may mean sacrifice, that every decision has a cost and consequence, that there is a huge difference between what we want and what we need. Make time today to ponder the blessings of this life, the healings that have been prepared, the love of family and friends, the prayers of others when you have lost the will to pray. Stop doing and begin to just be. Let go of worldly expectations, resist the temptation of scarcity, trust you have what you need. And always remember, when we each live into who we are, there will always be more than enough to nourish our bodies, our hearts, and our souls. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by Janice of Rocky Ridge Refuge. To learn more about Janice and her dream, visit http://rockyridgerefuge.com/

Reflecting on the Road Home….

Road Home by Steve UlleniusScience and technology are often portrayed in opposition to faith, something to be avoided, a temptation we could do without. Yet every aspect of life offers us an opportunity for good or evil. We love legends and myths because these stories endure across time, illuminating a greater truth about our human condition, showing us that each day we are facing a battle between good and evil. So I was intrigued by this amazing photo by my friend Steve. He took five frames of the same scene and combined them, to obtain a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image. I love the rich colors against dark clouds. The barn, the trees, the fields plowed under for winter, glow against the looming sky. Yet what first drew me to this image is the pothole in the drive. How often do we let something small impede our progress? We look down, instead of ahead, and lose our way home. We look for a well kept cottage when our true destination may be a weathered barn. Like Steve, perhaps we need to slow down and take more than one quick look. We need to persist in our quest, endure and overcome the obstacles, look beyond outward appearances. Make time today to choose a random act of kindness over a hasty and impatient response. Slow down and breathe in the love of God, thankful for what life brings, focusing on just this moment. Take one thing at a time, stay on the right path, do good even when no one else notices or bothers to say thank you. And always remember, it’s when we look beyond the rust and peeled paint that we find the Christ child, laid in a manger, the tiny miracle that brought salvation to the world. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Framed’ by Steve Ullenius, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on the Center….

Being with Trees by Heidi Anne MorrisI sit in a chair that faces the window for my morning devotions. Our home is surrounded by trees, and I can view a large stand from that window. When there are no words for my prayers, I often feel the trees pray for me. Their roots penetrate into the strength of the earth, while their limbs reach for the heavens. So I was drawn to this haunting photo by my friend Heidi Anne, part of her ‘Being with Trees’ series. I love the muted colors and the delicate branches, enfolded in dense fog. All we can see is the trees – whatever lies beyond is shrouded in mystery. Lately my view has been a lot like this photo. Our morning fog has persisted throughout the day, making me wonder if we are living in England again, instead of Virginia. Yet perhaps I need to see that fog right now, to focus solely on what is in front of me, letting go of what lies beyond, trusting the God has hold of the rest. We are sorting through the mess left by the problems of a few weeks back, another medical test, another doctor appointment, another call to the insurance company. It’s easy to get lost in the details of life, to allow a totaled car or a nagging physical condition to steal your joy. So even when I’m overwhelmed, even when I’m so angry I can spit, I sit in that chair and look out on the trees. I pray the daily office of Morning Prayer aloud, until a word or phrase touches my heart and I fall silent. Then it’s just me and the trees. There are mornings when my feet feel rooted to the center of the earth, and my heart soars to the heavens. Other mornings are filled with silent tears, an aching heart, an angry groan. Then I notice that trees stand strong, swaying in the wind, reaching out to one another and to God. I recall others lift me in prayer, as I lift them in prayer. No matter what life brings, I am praying with all those who believe, united in the center, our roots inexplicably intertwined. Make time and space today for God. Seek out your center, letting go of what weighs down your heart. Pray for your own concerns and lift up the concerns of those you love, even those who annoy and trouble you. Believe in the prayer of others when you have no prayers of your own. And remember, no matter what life brings, when we make room for God, when we unite with all those who seek the Center, we find ourselves enfolded in go’o’d. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Being with Trees’, Heidi Anne Morris ©2012, used with her permission, voted one of Google’s Top Ten. To see more of her work, go to http://www.heidiannemorris.com/

Reflecting on Rain….

It’s been raining for almost two weeks, with thunderstorms rolling through our area. We badly need the rain since last winter was so warm. Yet it’s easy to allow the rain get you down. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo by my friend Lynda. I love how she captured the raindrop bouncing back off of the deck, with a hint of her lovely garden in the background. The few flower petals scattered across the deck remain steadfast, defying the rain. It’s easy to lose sight of the beauty beyond the pain, to focus on the negative at the expense of the positive. How often have you heard someone saying, ‘How could you spoil such a perfect day’? Yet it’s the person asking the question that is spoiling the day. As a young executive, I soon learned each day would be a mixed bag, some good, some bad. The only way to remain motivated was to focus on the positive. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s easier said than done. So I began to pray for an image, or a Bible verse, to hang onto to. I began to see the frightened disciples in the boat, in the midst of a storm. At first, I was disappointed. Really, God, really, things are not as bad as all that! Yet I stuck with it and claimed that image. So much of bad behavior results from fear, or our reactions to another’s fear. We were all stuck in the same boat, yet we were all safe in that same boat, with Christ asleep in the stern. Even when the heavens open and our boat may be tossed about, our Lord and God is with us, knowing that all we fear can be quelled in an instant. Take time today to embrace God’s love, without beginning or end, a love that drives out all fear. Pray for an image or word to encourage you, for a love letter from God. Allow the Holy Spirit to shine through you, to shine for those that travel with you in this life. Respond in love to their fears, rather than reacting with your own fear. And remember, even the worst storm is but a little thing to the same God that conquered sin and death on the cross. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Water, Water Everywhere’ by Lynda Jeffers ©2012, used with her permission.

Reflecting on Uncertainty….

It’s turned cold again this morning, reminding us winter is far from over. No one seems sure how to dress for this weather, winter in the morning, perhaps like spring by the afternoon. So I was drawn to this photo of our back yard, taken by my husband Mark. Fog obscures the background, drawing your eyes to what my daughter calls the secret garden. In spring and summer, the overgrown shrubbery completely obscures the view. As a small child, she loved playing there, creating fanciful stories and imaginary worlds. My father brought us the bench from the Columbus Sale in New Jersey, almost twenty years ago. Yet what seems like a lovely place to sit is not now what it appears. The bench is broken, beyond repair. We struggle to keep poison ivy from crowding out the bulbs and other plantings. And my daughter is now a junior in high school, driving from here to there, rather than playing in our back garden. Life is far from certain, and often far from what it appears to be. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with uncertainty. In engineering school, I studied ways to model the world around us, to mathematically reduce the chaos into some semblance of certainty. Yet what really matters, the reasons we get out of bed each morning, the people and places we love most, defy all reason and calculations. To truly love one another we must accept uncertainty, throwing caution to the wind, opening our hearts to both the joy and the pain. Take time today to be truly present to those you love, accepting whatever life brings. Let go of your expectations and desire for control, let go of yesterday and tomorrow and cling to today. Empty yourself to make room for the Alpha and the Omega, the God of steadfast love that was, and is and always will be. And remember, ubi caritas et amor, where love and caring are, there is God. Photo by Mark Lindsey

Reflecting on Military Service….

Four years ago my daughter’s middle school class offered a touching and memorable ceremony to honor our veterans. We live near Washington, DC, so many active duty military were present. A letter was sent home asking if family members would like to be included in the ceremony. That day I did not ask to be remembered, although I served 11 years on active duty and another 6 in the reserves. Instead, I asked my father to be remembered for his time in the Navy during World War II. My father’s health was declining and he had limited energy on the best of days. Yet he chose to stand through most of the ceremony, to honor the children who chose to honor him. The band played patriotic songs and a medley of service marches spurred a friendly rivalry. Then a number of students took the stage one by one. Each student briefly offered their particular hope or dream, to become a doctor, or a fire fighter, or ballet dancer. Then they thanked the veterans for giving them the chance to live out their dreams. My father had admired a number of quilts that lined the walls, each block made by the students to reflect an American value. Much to his surprise, he went home with one of those quilts, deeply touched by the personal nature of this tribute. We did not know it at the time, but that was Dad’s last Veteran’s Day. Take time today to thank a veteran for serving our country, for wounds seen and unseen. Consider the impact of their service and sacrifices on your life, each and every day. And remember to pass on the stories of those who have gone before us, for we stand on the shoulder of giants. Photo by David 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 Caregiving….

It’s steadily raining this morning, making today the start of a third wet week. Puddles are everywhere, and the raindrops make perfect circles as they land. The weather has turned cold, and the rain is even colder. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Michael of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Michael rose early to take this photo, of the new dawn over calm water. The perfect blue sky seems a distant memory, like warm, summer days. So much can change so quickly. Yesterday my father would have celebrated his 93rd birthday. He passed away almost three years ago, in our home. In the days after Daddy passed away, I found it difficult to adjust. As his primary caregiver, I had become accustomed to listening for the slightest sound, to reacting without thinking. Sometimes I wonder if I simply sorted things out without really waking up. The only experience comparable to those last days would be caring for a newborn, with exuberant joy replaced by aching sorrow. Yet there were many mornings when my chaotic schedule allowed me to see the early dawn. Perhaps the seeds of these reflections were sown in that quiet, in between time. My heart was nourished by awe inspiring beauty in the midst of pain and sorrow. Every day, even the saddest of days, is full of possibilities and promises. Take time today to look beyond what is right in front of you, to allow a simple wonder to draw you in. If the scene is too dreary or depressing, consider looking through photos of a recent trip or call and chat with a close friend. And remember to drink in whatever this day offers, because so much can change so quickly. Photo by Michael Granche

Reflecting on Discipline…..

It’s another grey day, and I am so tempted to stay in bed. Even our dog isn’t sure about getting up and going out. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my sister Lana of my niece Natalie playing water polo. She looks so strong, with her upper torso above the water, intently aiming the ball before releasing it. Her opponent is rushing toward her, to foil the play. I don’t know how good of a swimmer you are, or if you have ever tread water for an extended period of time. It’s harder than it looks, and these students are playing a game while managing to remain afloat. Yet they didn’t simply show up at the pool the day of the game. They practiced and built up skills over time, learning ways to conserve energy and maintain balance, working together toward a common goal. At the same time, they are learning the value of discipline, commitment, persistence. It seems to me that prayer is a lot like water polo. There is a strength and sense of balance that comes with daily practice. The commitment to prayer, day in, day out, prepares us to pray in times when life seems impossible. As we pray for others, we become part of a team, an impenetrable fortress filled with prayer warriors. We see how God answers the prayers of others, and our faith is renewed and strengthened by others that pray for us. When difficult times descend upon us, we not only remain afloat, we rise above temptation and persevere. Take time today to offer a simple prayer for those you know and love, and for those you encounter. Let go of your idea of what prayer should be, and allow your prayers to take their own form. Take on the discipline of prayer today, and every day, and you’ll be amazed at how it will strengthen your heart and soul. Photo by Lana Sarchiapone

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