Reflecting on Wildflowers….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

P1020886Every so often my husband and I make a list of places we want to visit. We learned while living overseas that if we only travel to places we both want to go then we will travel much less often. I have always wanted to go to the Himalayas, the roof of the world. I wasn’t interested in conquering a mountain or pushing myself to the limit physically. I wanted to visit a place where faith is woven into everyday life. Since I was traveling on my own, I joined a tour by Road Scholar to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. This photo best captures what Tibet felt like to me. For the past 60 years, Tibet has been part of China. I expected to see and feel deep faith in this part of the world, but I also felt a great sorrow. We left the city of Lhasa to visit a family with a small farm and a nunnery in the hills. This photo is taken on a bathroom stop on the side of the road. We had driven past groups of tall buildings that looked like they were made out of Legos. While we were staying in the old part of Lhasa on one side of the river, these high rises centered around the new train station on the other side of the river. Han Chinese are settling there, creating their own city and culture. Yet despite the relentless influx of new settlers, the wildflower of faith will not be contained. It seems as if the sturdy fence is the old city, helping to prop up the wildflowers, while the Lego buildings are the chicken wire fence, hoping to keep out the wildflowers. Yet no matter what fence you add to the landscape, their ancient faith will not be contained. Like the wildflowers, faith finds its own way, stopping you in your tracks. Not long after we left this spot we arrived at a small nunnery. We found the nuns chanting to celebrate Buddha Descending, a holy day commemorating when Buddha appeared to his mother after his death. She is revered as the mother of all Buddhas, the shining example of wisdom married to compassion. As I listened to the nuns chant, my heart burst open until it seemed as though the whole world fit inside it. All at once my heart knew that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. Me as an individual is just as much of an illusion as borders on a map or faiths by different names. We are all one in the eyes of the Divine. Make time today to break down the fences that seek to contain the wildflowers of faith. Step out of your comfort zone and reach out to someone different from you on the outside, while so much the same on the inside. Stop to look and listen with your heart rather than your mind. And don’t be surprised if the one image that sticks with you afterward also happens to be the most mundane.

Text and photo by Connie Chintall ©2019, used with permission, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Urgent


I love to walk and one of my favorite places to walk is along the water. There is always a distant view and just the sound of water is relaxing. Walking along in the breeze to the rhythm of crashing waves seems to drown out any worries or concerns. The natural ebb and flow of life unfolds before me and all the urgent matters that were screaming for my attention fade into the background. Yet even on such a pleasant walk sooner or later I happen upon something that demands my attention.

This amazing photo by my cousin Patty is one of those arresting images that has consumed my morning devotions for almost three months. The waves have taken over this stump, all that is left of a once mighty tree. The sturdy rings developed over decades have split and opened out. Shells and feathers are caught in the opening folds, wedging themselves further and further into the grain of the wood.

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I feel like the urgent has chopped down my tree trunk and left me as a stump. I feel battered by ceaseless waves of who knows how many interruptions and over reactions, until like this stump, it seems I have lost the integrity of my purpose and strength. Worse yet, I find my requests met with the question – is this urgent? Honestly I answer it can wait, but that means the matter is neither urgent or important to them. I find myself having to ask again to even get the matter taken care of. It seems unless the matter is urgent, it cannot be important.

I harken back to the Eisenhower decision matrix, made more famous by Stephen Covey in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, shown below:


Eisenhower said we are to spend the most time in Quadrant 2 – Focus. Proper planning eliminates most emergencies or prepares us so well that even the worst scenarios are easily and calmly handed.

So what is the problem? Do I lack a good understanding of what is important to me? Do I allow distractions to overwhelm me and subsume my days? And how does all this have anything to do with the sacred? At least for me making time for prayer and devotion, the most important way to spend my time, only happens if I start my day that way. That quiet time grounds me in what is the most important matter for me – am I aligned with God’s will for me and those I love? Am I walking as a child of the light, or am I blotting out God’s will in favor of my own?

Let’s face it – that tree was in trouble long before the trunk was cut down. That once mighty tree has shrunken into a rotting stump, without roots to provide nutrition or branches to reach out to the sun. How easily do we focus on our own branches, reaching out to others, at the expenses of the strength in our roots? Even good works can starve our prayer time, just becoming another urgent item to react to.

Make time today to shore up your strength. Sit quietly or take a walk, letting nature seep into your soul. Listen more than you speak; respond before you react; love more than you judge. And always remember, we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Let us root ourselves in that divine love that has no beginning or end. May we lean on God’s strength to fortify our trunks and offer sturdy branches to others.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, Eisenhower decision matrix in common use, photo entitled ’Washing Out with the Tide’ by Patty Steiner ©2019, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Doubt….

Stairway to Heaven by Rick MartinEaster has come and gone and we are working our way through the Gospels concerning Christ’s appearances after the resurrection. I have always had trouble with the scripture in John 20. We find the disciples huddled together in an upper room with the door bolted out of fear. I wonder how far out of the way they went to find a place to hide. Was the staircase to that room like the one in this photo? Were they in an old, abandoned home? Did they seek out the last place anyone would look? Did they dare to climb up old and rickety stairs rather than risk being found out? And where was Thomas that day? Out for a pack of smokes? What if Thomas was the only one who was not afraid, not hiding away? What if Thomas was continuing the ministry? After all, Christ wasn’t there anymore and someone had to do it. He was a hands-on sort of guy. He needed to be in the middle of things, so see and hear what was going on for himself. We all know that Thomas, the one who either doesn’t show up for the committee meeting or can’t sit still while the rest of the folks try to work through the details. The Thomas who says ‘We need to get going, we can figure it out as we go along, why bother planning when everything will change anyway?’. Then one week, something truly eye opening happens at the meeting. The rest of us are excited and try to explain it, but all we hear is doubt. Are you sure it was really that spectacular? Thomas voices his doubts and asks the burning questions that no one wants to hear but must be shouted out. Without that lone voice, the rest of us remain closed off and nothing changes. Thomas spoke out, Thomas got it. That next week he remained with his friends. He saw the risen Lord. Is the end of that Gospel a rebuke or simply a reminder of how Thomas was created? Christ meets Thomas, just as he is, gently reaching out to say your service is great, may your worship be just as great. None of us can root that service in the Risen Lord in isolation. We must root ourselves in community to deepen our faith and fuel our work. Thomas was the man God called him to be. He was the hands and feet of the kingdom. He needed to see and touch to know the Risen Lord. Christ sends him out to be present to those who do not need to see and feel, because those of great faith and less action are no less Christ’s own. Make time today to live into who God made you to be. Spend time with those like you and those least like you, meeting each one where they are. Embrace each and every soul for who God made them to be. And always remember to refrain from judging those who rub you the wrong way, trusting God is teaching you both where you fit into His Kingdom. Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo entitled ’Stairway to Heaven’ by Rick Martin ©2018-2019, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Rick’s work, go to http://www.abandonedanddesertedinvirginia.com/

Reflecting on Fret….

without a care by june loving oct 2018It’s a windy Sunday afternoon and I am looking forward to doing little or nothing. I know I am safe from the wind, curled up on the sofa next to a nice, warm fire. Yet as a child I feared that wild sound of the wind. I would wake in the night from strange dreams, nightmares about yelling for help that no one could hear. Fret describes my old reaction to the wind. I worried myself into a state over that wind, not grasping the notion that the wind was outside and I was safe inside. The word fret means more than just worry. To fret means to remain in a constant state of worry, gnawing away at something. A harness can fret the skin of a horse, wearing away the hair and even tearing open a wound. Fret can constrict us, making small problems seem insurmountable. Even victories can slip from our grasp as we fret over the minor details that were less than ideal. In time we may not even venture out of our comfort zone, and even that may shrink in time. I love this amazing photo by my good friend June Loving of the view from her home on the Chesapeake Bay. Before we lived in England, a view like this would lead me to cancel plans. I would fret over the possibility of rain or the choppy surf. In England, that would mean we never left the house. We learned that there really wasn’t bad weather; there was only inappropriate clothing. You simply dressed for the weather and hoped for the best. The weather certainly did not keep you from showing up. Since then, we do not cancel plans based on the weather. Often a day that starts out with ominous clouds ends with blue skies. Either way we had a good day. What if fret is like these clouds or that choppy surf? What if fret is a call to forge ahead, a call to prayer, an invitation into the presence of the holy? If it is, then that fret will remain until we answer the Holy of Holies. God will persist as long as we resist, drawing us again and again into communion. To let go and let God is an invitation into a greater good we cannot even begin to enter under our own power. Make time today to step out of your comfort zone. Consider that uncomfortable emotion a call to prayer rather than a call to retreat. Allow God to show you a new and better way ahead. Most of all, look for beauty and grace in this less than perfect world as you hold open space for God’s grace. Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo entitled ‘Without a Care’ by June Loving ©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Grace….

Frosty View by Kira Skala Dec 18
Grace is a struggle for me. I am not talking about being clumsy, although I am that. I am talking about making room for something I rarely comprehend let alone allow in. Some folks talk about feeling unworthy. Others are uncomfortable giving up control. I probably fall into the second group, but honestly, the real issue is I am simply too caught up in my own little world to make room for God’s grace. I am content in my own little bubble, and it is quite lovely there if I do say so myself. I think I can see clearly, but then I begin to miss things. Like this lovely photo by my friend Kira, my view has frosted over. I can’t really see beyond the glass. At times like these, the world seems cold, even dangerous, and God feels far away. Without room for God’s grace, hope is illusive and fleeting.

Things began to shift for me during a two-year spiritual direction program at Richmond Hill. I spent a weekend a month in retreat with a group of twenty fellow seekers. We learned about all sorts of things, but the most enduring lesson I learned was about holding open a space for God’s grace. So wait – I not only had to make room, I had to hold the space open? At first it seemed silly and frustrating. I was going to end up at the same place anyway so why bother? Then with practice I found things fell into place in a way I never thought possible, as if divinely ordered. Rather than insisting and arguing, I simply asked and waited, often much longer than I felt comfortable waiting. Instead of one of us losing so the other could win, options presented themselves where we both won. I still cannot say I am comfortable – I like to have an answer now if not sooner. Yet with practice I am finding my answer falls far short of the answer God has waiting for me. In engineering terms, my best is a local maximum; God’s best is a global maximum. Make time to let go of a struggle that is wearing you down. Refrain from judging the actions of others or yourself. Climb out of that safe little bubble and open your eyes and ears to the vastness of creation. Let go of what you thought the answer would be or what it would look like and let God pour down His grace to create an answer for all of us. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, photo entitled ‘Winter Glass’ by Kira Skala©2018, 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 Relentless….

Turning Time Upside Down by Michael Gerke May 2018
This year seems to be a never-ending series of health issues for me. I find it hard to complain about my concerns when others are facing heart conditions or cancer. Yet it feels like three bouts of bronchitis, a root canal and now a UTI are a bit more than I can handle in six months. It seems these minor health concerns have rolled in one after another, in a relentless wave of annoyances. So, I find myself drawn into this amazing art by my nephew Mike. Relentless is a word that can cut both ways, depending on what we apply it to. After the birth of a child, it is the only word to describe the care an infant requires. No matter what you have been told or how closely you tried to listen and understand, nothing prepares you for the constant care a single tiny human requires. At the same time, nothing prepares you for the overwhelming, all encompassing love you feel for that child. It is confusing, perplexing and difficult. At the same time, it is amazing, enchanting and miraculous. The only response you can offer is to be equally relentless. You quickly learn how to ask for help and trust when it seems impossible to trust, because this is a job you must get right, and you can’t do that alone. Before long, yet after forever, you seem to find a new normal, then the child grows and changes. If you are listening to that child and those who love and help you, you change and grow too. If you understand this child does not belong to you but is simply given into your care by the Holy of Holies, you soon find yourself in situations and circumstances that confound and delight you. Your world expands and becomes more than you could ever imagine. Time relentlessly marches on and before you know it, that tiny baby is an independent adult. And that is the stage of parenting I find myself in now, available rather than productive, advising rather than correcting, listening rather than speaking. Most of the time my heart swells with pride, but now and again, what seems like a tiny thing trips me up. Yesterday I removed our daughter from our car insurance, a simple administrative task, or is it? I find myself adrift in time, recalling a busy toddler, then a dancing five-year-old, then a curious ten-year-old. Time is tumbling through happy memories of the small child I miss while cherishing the young woman she has become. Make time today to soak in the wonders life bring to you. Stop to play with blocks, catch fireflies or cook with your child. Reach out to new parents and ask how you can make a difference. Listen rather than speaking. Follow rather than lead. Allow that child to draw you into their world, letting go of the relentless nonsense of being an adult. Be relentless about finding time for that child, and in the process for yourself, because it is time that is the most relentless. Text by Connie Chintall©2018, art entitled ‘Turning Time Upside Down’ by Mike Gerke©2018, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Demand….

Humble Offering by Leigh Hooper
Different times and places bleed into one another as time goes by. Perhaps childhood memories are so vivid because they are pure, unadulterated by previous experiences. Everything is new and we approach each experience without apprehension or expectation. I still seek that purity of life but find it takes effort to remain in the moment, to push back parts of the past I would rather leave behind. It is as if the past demands a reckoning, whether I like it or not. And these memories focus on what it means to demand rather than to offer. That is what I see in this amazing and inspiring art by my good friend Leigh. My first marriage was very briefly happy, even then punctuated by inexplicable pain. My first husband was a brilliant yet broken man, haunted by a horrific past. Those memories left him feeling worthless. He demanded love without giving it, never truly believing I could love him because he did not feel worthy of love. When we demand, what we request becomes a matter of who we are and what we are worth. By insisting we get what we want, we put our self worth into the equation. If our demands are not met, it is an indictment on our dignity and very humanity. In the face of such demands, nothing I could offer was ever good enough. But offer I did, again and again, until at some point I had no more to give. Yet offering was in a way my own salvation. By contrast, when we offer rather than demand, we let go of the outcome. The other person is free to accept or reject what we offer, and who we are remains intact. By opening ourselves up to possible rejection, we actually preserve ourselves. Now I will be the first to say rejection is not easy. Yet how do we truly connect if we simply demand what we want from others? How do we grow and expand our view of the world and humanity if we only accept what comes on our own terms, in our own time? What about when we are on the other side of the equation? How often have you found yourself in an amazing and wonderful situation when you accepted an offer to step out of your comfort zone? Granted there are times when we walk into a mess, yet if we let go of our false sense of perfection, we learn from those situations as well. We learn about who we are and who we can be. We stop limiting our horizons to the next small hill that seemed like a mountain when we started out. Make time today to open yourself up to new experiences. Accept an offer to explore a loved one’s interest you may not share. Try something new simply to learn more about them. Offer to share what you love with others, perhaps making new friends or deepening an existing relationship. Let go of what might happen and accept what does, enjoying the experience rather than judging its merit. Most of all, trust that the Holy of Holies has forged the path ahead, working for our greatest good and highest healing, now and forever more. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, art entitled ‘Humble Offering’ by Leigh Hooper ©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on the Veil….

Flags and Flowers by Heidi Ann MorrisIt’s a cold, blustery day and I am hoping the dogwoods in my front yard will bloom before long. I love all the flowering trees in Virginia, like the one in this photo by my friend Heidi Anne. It has taken considerable contemplation to unearth the significance of such a tree to me. Memories seem to surface when we are ready to take hold of them. I contracted the old fashioned measles when I was five years old. The fever spiked at 105 degrees and my grandmother packed me in ice in her clawfoot tub. She refused to let them take me to the hospital because she was convinced I would die there. She felt the nurses were overworked and I needed more constant care. In her words, I was ‘too close to piercing the veil’. After the fever broke I spent three weeks in a darkened room with a radio turned down to a whisper. The volume knob had been removed to keep it at that level. Old fashioned measles was notorious for blinding and deafening children that survived. Any loud noise or bright light could compromise my senses for the rest of my life. I did end up with a weak left eye, the side that faced the bathroom door while I was in the tub full of ice. My hearing is actually more acute, an effect experienced by those who were meticulously cared for. I do not remember much about those three weeks, except an overwhelming sense that I was not alone. I knew my grandmother and her friends were desperately praying for me. She fed me that fact with each and every meal of jello and each time she checked to be sure I was drinking water. It was more of an abiding sense and a knowledge that a healing waiting me. I made up stories in my head and listened to all sorts of strange radio stations. Perhaps part of what gave me hope was that untamed imagination that is the prevue of every five year old. My most vivid memory is sitting on the porch for the first time after those three long weeks. Being outdoors seemed like a fairyland, and every color, every sight was over the top. It was early spring and there was a blooming tree in front of the porch, a tree a lot like the one in photo. Even my perspective mimics the photo, since I was in a reclined position. There were even flags of a sort that glorious day, at least flags in my imagination. The veil my grandmother feared I would pierce had become a direct line to the heavens. Life of any form was beyond precious, something miraculous and awe inspiring in its own right. My life since has been full of ups and downs, uncanny victories but also devastating disappointments. Yet regardless of what life brings, I begin each day with pray, with hope against hope in what may seem to others to be beyond hope. You see I have no choice but to believe in prayer, because without it you would not be reading this blog. I have been living on borrowed time for all but five years of my life, and God willing, will continue to live on borrowed time for as long as God needs me here. Make time today to thank God for your precious life, given to you breath by breath. Let the wonders of nature speak to you. Pause to contemplate the beginnings of new life on the trees, the nodules that began to grow last autumn as soon as the leaves fell. And most of all, trust in the healing that has been prepared for you, and deeply and slowly breathe it in, one breath at a time. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Direct Line to Heaven’ by Heidi Anne Morris ©2015-2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Courage….

Acrylic Courage by Leigh Hooper
Courage is a common topic with my family and friends. I don’t recall a single meeting as a Girl Scout leader that did not involve a discussion about courage. So, to those who know me well it is not surprising when I say I see courage in this amazing art by my friend Leigh. I see the daily struggle to live a good life, a struggle that seems too much to bear some days, and as smooth as glass on others. Courage is a blend of backbone and imagination, woven together to navigate all the grey areas of life. Like the acrylic paints that are poured onto the canvas and allowed to blend together, courage looks different from day to day. Yet I am not certain courage is something folks understand well. You hear about it when someone confronts a catastrophic disease more often than when someone is rescued from a burning building. Most frequently I hear that courage is the opposite of cowardice. I disagree with that assessment. Recklessness is the opposite of cowardice. When you are reckless, you act without fear, without considering the consequences of your actions. A reckless person may get what they want, yet their gain is often at the expense of others or even themselves. Meanwhile, a coward fails to act because of fear. Fear paralyzes the coward, and can lead someone to neglect moral values they hold dear. Their fear overrules their conscience. Both ends of the spectrum lead to sins of commission or omission. Courage is the balance beam in the center of these two extremes.

Recklessness —————- Courage —————– Cowardice

When we succeed in being courageous, we do not act without fear, rather we act despite our fear. Courage requires us to decide something is more important than our very real and palpable fears. So, this is the point where you expect me to start talking about soldiers or fire fighters or policemen. But that sort of courage gives us an out. The most important acts of courage happen day to day. So, make time to do the right thing, whether anyone notices or not. Think through all aspects of a problem, rather than simply looking at your own. Look for a win-win answer, rather than a win for you that means a lose for someone else. Ask for that raise, explaining your contribution to the greater good, rather than harboring resentment and further compromising the quality of your work. Most of all, forgive yourself when your courage flags. Learn from your mistakes to grow through your own challenges. Inconceivable courage does not happen overnight. Such courage is built over a lifetime, beginning with simple, day to day acts. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, art entitled ‘Acrylic Courage’ by Leigh Hooper ©2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

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