Reflecting on Identity….

55 & Vine by Rick MartinThere are days when I wonder who I am. How do I define myself? How do I hold on to who I am in the face of daily personal challenges and bewildering news stories? I keep going back to this intriguing image of an old, rusted Ford Fairlane. The sedan is long past its prime and even the vine attached to it seems to lack life. I joined the military almost forty years ago after a series of poor decisions. I walked away from a full scholarship at the University of Virginia, or perhaps it is better to say I ran away with a truck driver. I chose my heart over my head, for a relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. Instead, I found myself back home with my parents, without that relationship, without my education, without a job. I took a few jobs that paid well and was promoted quickly, only to find I had topped out since I lacked a college education. So I enlisted in the Air Force and headed off to basic training. Fifty women were housed in an open bay barracks. Each of us had a bed, a chair, a narrow closet and two dresser drawers. A corner of the bottom drawer was allotted for ‘personal effects’. Everything else I had brought with me was stored away under lock and key. I kept a box of stationery with family pictures tucked inside. I kept my prayer book. And I kept a favorite cotton shirt I had sewn and embroidered. Over the next six weeks, every waking hour was spent in training. We learned how to dress, how to march, how to fold our clothes. On Sunday morning we could go to church or stay in the barracks and clean. Most gals went to the generic Protestant service. I chose to walk across the post to the Episcopal service, risky business since new recruits were subject to spot inspections and dreaded demerits. By the time I sunk into the pew, soaked with sweat, I wondered what I had been thinking. The first half of that service was a blur. Then they played the communion hymn, ‘Humbly I Adore Thee’. This hymn was the summer favorite at St. Mary’s in Burlington, NJ. My bones know the words to this hymn and I felt an immediate sense of God’s love. I walked back to the barracks humming it. Over the next few days I found myself again, the me I traded away when leaving college. As I became more myself, I found it easier to connect with the fifty women in my unit. We scrubbed the floors singing that hymn, then a country western tune, then a Motown hit. We stopped being fifty separate women and became a single unit. We shared who we were and became more than the sum of our parts. As individuals we were like this rusted out car. Even the vines they tried to lay over us failed to offer connection. It was singing as we worked that brought us together. There are two pieces to the cross. The upright connects us to God. The horizontal connects us to one another. The essence of our humanity is the divine spark in each of us. Yet without connection we simply sputter out and fade away. Make time today to connect with the Holy of Holies. Lay the weariness of the world at God’s feet, then crawl into God’s lap and rest in unending love. Share what feeds your soul with a friend over a cup of coffee or simple lunch. Let go of canned expectations and sensational news. Look beyond the surface and listen to the hearts of those you meet, even when what you hear is uncomfortable. God does not expect us to all be the same yet God loves us all the same. May God grant us the courage to open our hearts and be vulnerable to one another so that we may we love one other just as God loves us. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Photo entitled ’55 & Vine’ by Rick Martin©2016, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Rick’s work, go to http://www.abandonedanddesertedinvirginia.com/.

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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.

Reflecting on Color….

Alaska Range by Bill WildBright winter sunshine can be deceiving. I long for warmer days and am easily tricked into believing spring has already arrived. Instead it is as cold as ever, with more storms on the way. So I was drawn to this photo entitled ‘Alaskan Range’, brought to my attention by my cousin Bill. Bill and I both joined the Air Force at the same time, thirty five years ago. I was posted to Nevada while he was sent to Alaska, a place that has been his home ever since. Vibrant color is not how I picture Alaska. I expect to see ice and snow everywhere, instead of just on the mountain range. Perhaps the distant snow makes the colors jump out, refusing to be ignored. This morning I am enjoying the bright, over the top, colors. I am well rested and relaxed. Yet there are days when these same bright colors seem to exhaust me, offering more than I can take in. Rather than feeling included, part of the scene, I feel intruded upon, almost assaulted. I can feel the same way about social situations. There are times when I thrive on social interaction, and others when I would prefer to be alone, curled up in front of the fire with a good book. Where is the tipping point between inclusion and intrusion? When does reaching out becomes trespassing? Perhaps the answer varies from person to person, and day to day. Difficult circumstances can lead one person to seek the company of others, while another prefers to be alone. We must listen with all of our being, with our hearts, and souls and minds, to know what to say, or whether to say anything at all. We want to do something, to fix the problem, to get past the awkwardness. Yet often all we need is someone to sit with us, to simply be with us. Make time today to practice holy listening, to let go of your need to be in the foreground. Pray for the Holy Comforter to guide your words, your actions and, most of all, your timing. Simply be there for another, and let go of everything but the here and now. And always remember, when we respond to the true needs of others, less becomes more than enough. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, Photo entitled ‘Alaskan Range’,  All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Help….

Barely Hanging On by Mike Victorino

The weather has been all over the place lately. This morning is bright and clear, yet cold enough for a frost warning. We can’t seem to catch a break. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Mike, of a tree that is barely hanging on. It’s been a wet spring and we have all sorts of erosion in our area. It’s tough to undercut a large oak, especially one rooted in Virginia clay. It takes more than one storm, and standing water. So I would wager this grand old tree has weathered way too many storms. I don’t know about you, but there are days, even weeks, when I feel like this tree. I find myself doubting what I’ve always been certain about, no longer confident of what I do know and what I don’t know. Nothing I say or do seems quite right. I’m lost and alone in a foreign land. Yet I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m still in my own home, with my family and friends. It’s easy to lash out at times like these, to blame it on everyone else. You just don’t understand, you don’t get it, leave me alone. But of course, being alone is the last thing I want. Perhaps I have watched too many Hollywood movies, and I expect to be chased down and dramatically snapped out of it. At least in my life, that is usually not the case. I end up alone and feeling worse than ever. I have distanced myself from those who care for me the most, those who can best help and support me in this blue funk. I cannot bear up under my burdens, real or perceived, on my own. When life undercuts my roots, my very core, I can only remain standing if I cling to those I love best. I can only make it through with the help and encouragement of those who know me best. Make time today to ask others to abide with you, to accept comfort in the midst of your pain. Open your heart when it seems easier to clamp it shut, listen when you would rather talk, pray when you would rather turn your back on God. Trust the same Lord that created our entire universe in an instant to abide with you in your time of need, to guide your footsteps and guard your heart. And always remember, no matter how much life undercuts your roots, the Alpha and Omega remains with you, your strong and sure foundation. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Barely Hanging On’ by Mike Victorino ©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of his work, go to http://mikevictorinophotography.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Resilience….

Spiral Migration by Jeanne MischoWe had a warm spell recently that even fooled my garden. Bulbs began to burst forth, flowering shrubs began to bud, and then the weather turned bitterly cold. Today the skies are a brilliant blue, with just a few wispy clouds. Looking out the window from my desk, it’s hard to conceive how cold it is. I’m captivated by the strong sunlight, rather than dwelling on the obvious signs of winter. So I was drawn to this beautiful art by my friend Jeanne, of birds migrating in a spiral. I love how Jeanne combines math and science with images of nature. A tree grows out of the center of the spiral, a tree that reminds me of the Shaker tree of life. The birds swirl around the tree, moving ever upward, ever closer to the Architect of All Creation. Life is messy by definition, and seldom what we expect or plan for. The happily ever after of fairy tales doesn’t describe most of the paths we follow. Perhaps we are too married to the idea of a straight line path, the idea that we can always see the way ahead. We call the unexpected in life sharp corners, or say we have been blindsided, or simply feel lost and alone. Some of us even allow the vagaries of this life to bury us under a succession of small sadnesses, accumulating into an existence of gloom and despair. Others are like the birds in this image, or the scene out my window. All is well, even when it’s freezing cold. What fuels this ability to persevere? What allows some to bounce back, to recover readily, to seem to defy gravity? I don’t know about you, but I cannot manage such strength alone. It takes more than just personal prayers, more than time in scripture. I must be part of a community that draws me to the center, that reminds me of the Source of All Life. I need someone to pray for me when I cannot find the words or motivation to pray for myself. I need someone to remind me that all will be well, to ease the burden, to keep me on the path ahead. Make time today to pray for those you love and cherish in this life. Ask what to pray for, and let them know you pray for them. Reach out to others and seek their prayers, trusting that God has prepared a way out of the corner you feel painted into. Let the Almighty mold your sharp corners in to gentle curves, to turn darkness into light, to show you the good in even the most dire of situations. Trust the promise of Matthew 7:7-8

            Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

And always remember, when we trust in the Lord our God, we become like the tree whose branches bend and sway in a storm, remaining flexible and strong amid the challenges of this life. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Art entitled ‘Spiral Migration’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2012, to see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on the Day After….

Thunderstorms rolled through the area last night, moving on and leaving us with a picture perfect September day. Many churches, including ours, offered special services in remembrance of September 11th. So I was drawn to this photo of the twin towers taken by my husband Mark over twenty years ago. On a day trip to New York City, we went to the top of one of the towers. The view of the city skyline was amazing. As we left, Mark lay down on the ground and took this photo looking up. He said it was the only way to take it all in. So today, the day after the anniversary, I wonder if looking up is the only way to take it all in. There is no human answer to what happened, or why it happened. We were living in the north of England on September 11, 2001. It was surreal to be so far away when something so frightening was happening here at home. Yet perhaps God provided us another view of what it means to live beyond terrorism. The English have long dealt with this fact of life. Our family was surrounded by love, with folks we barely knew asking after us and making sure we were comforted so far from home. Flowers were left at the gate of the post, or tucked into the fencing. What I heard most, or perhaps remember most, was the firm resolve that only love could conquer such fear. I used to think that hate was the opposite of love. Now I believe that fear is the opposite, or perhaps the absence of love. Love is like a light that blots out the darkness of fear. Yet such love is only possible through faith in God. Take time today to choose love over fear, to shine light on someone in darkness. Open your heart to their story and allow yourself to be vulnerable. And remember to look up, it’s the only way to take it all in. Photo by Mark Lindsey

Reflecting on Discernment….

Temperatures are dropping and we are expecting rain all this week. The rain has turned cold, and the ground stays wet even between showers. The leaves are starting to drop, helped along by the storms. So I was drawn to this photo of a turtle making his way across the damp ground. My photos of turtles usually look like a picture of a rock. Perhaps I am in too much of a rush, or too clumsy. I startle the poor thing into drawing back into its shell. Box turtles can completely close their shells to protect themselves from enemies. Without looking closely, the shell blends in, almost disappearing from sight. Perhaps that is why box turtles can live to be 100 years old. In this amazing photo, the turtle is looking straight at us, as curious about us as we are about him. It seems to me that discernment is a lot like being a turtle. We look all around for answers, chasing one clue after another. Or perhaps we stew over the difficult questions of life in solitude, losing sight of everything else. We are tempted to settle for an either/or solution, when the real way out means both/and. True discernment takes time, both time apart and in community. Just as our faith includes both public worship and private prayer time, discernment involves both public and private moments. When we seek God’s will, what we seek is the still, small voice, not loud, clamoring chaos. God is eternally consistent – we are never directed to violate God’s laws. God is persistent – forget second chances, God will give you more chances that you can ever imagine. God is community – His will for you is confirmed through other believers. True discernment requires us to slow down, to tread carefully, to listen to our own hearts and to others. Take time today to discern God’s will for you. Slow down and move deliberately, carefully listening for that still, small voice. Heed the words of others, even though the conversation may seem unrelated or trivial. And trust that in time, the answer will be looking straight at you, just like this turtle. Photo by LadyBugCrossing

Reflecting on Hospitality….

We seem to have a bit of a break from the heat, so I am motivated to get things done today. Sometimes the smallest irritations can become obstacles, an ache here, a pain there. So I was drawn to this photo of a woman in the Amazon, taken by my friend Sarah. These toes belong to the woman that prepared lunch for Sarah and her group at they traveled along the river. The woman made everything from scratch on a low platform. She worked in a crouched position that reminded me of one of the yoga poses I strive to attain. Yet it was this photo that caught my eye. Look at her feet. No two toes seem to face the same direction. Her feet may ache, but those aches and pains don’t prevent her from making meals. She continues to offer herself to others, making delicious and nutritious food for travelers that come her way. What she offers is as much about hospitality as about food. The Bible is full of restrictions for other parts of our bodies, warning us against speaking out when we should be silent, or curbing our various physical appetites. Not so for our feet. Our feet are meant to be free. Perhaps her bare feet are a reflection of her heart. She doesn’t dress up, or wait for the perfect moment or occasion. She is simply present to those she meets. Take time today to consider what hospitality means to you. Open your home and your heart to others, for a cup of tea, or time to share. Simply be present to those you meet, and free your heart, and your feet. Photo by Sarah Gulick

Reflecting on Community….

It’s summer and folks are heading out of town. Some of us are visiting family, or going on long journeys. Others simply head out for a day trip or long weekend. There are so many awesome photos that it has been difficult to choose just one to reflect upon. So what caught my eye today was the number of photos of old bridges. My cousin Diane took this photo of a masonry bridge while driving along the back roads in Bucks County, PA. These arches remind me of the ruins at Fountains Abbey, a World Heritage site in England. Originally built in 1132, the abbey is amazingly well preserved. While living in England, we attended a service in the cellarium celebrating 2000 years of Christianity. The monks built a beautiful and incredibly strong cellarium, entirely made of arches, simply to store food. An arch is strong because it distributes the weight above it. Masons have been building arches since ancient times. It has been said that if you understand how to build an arch, you can build anything. So is it any wonder we are drawn to these old bridges with arches? It seems to me that Christian community is a lot like an arch. Each member, each brick, takes on a little of the load. The burdens that can be shared by many together far exceed the burdens that can be carried by each one alone. Brick upon brick, burden upon burden, can be piled on top, without compromising the community. Yet the community, like the arch, must maintain a delicate balance. If the arch is pulled in too close, or stretched out too far, it fails. A healthy community also must learn to find that delicate balancing point. We need to be connected, but not too close. Sometimes the person with the most insight is part of your community, but not your immediate circle.  The distance allows a more balanced perspective, a different view of the situation from those closest to us. Take time today to reach out to those in your Christian community. Offer to be there for someone else, to just listen. Be respectful of one another, accepting that now may not be the time to open up. And remember that like the arch, we must remain connected to be strong, not too close, but also not too far away. Photo by Diane Brooks Myers
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountains_Abbey

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