Reflecting on Regrets….

Whistelstop by BuckFor far too long I have been pondering what it means to have regrets. Perhaps I should begin with my regrets over taking so long between posts. That may seem like a silly place to start, until you take a hard look at the definition of the word regret. The word regret originates in the French word ‘regreter’, meaning bewail the dead. Regret focused on our feelings toward the dead, or more likely our actions or words to those now deceased. In more recent times, we tend to talk about our own past when we use the word regret. We bewail the lost opportunities of our youth, the paths not taken, the words we ought to have left unsaid. Yet it seems to me regret is not all that simple. I keep going over the words of the general confession.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

For a very long time, I treated those words like a checklist. Okay, what did I think this week? What did I say? And of course, what did I do? What had I left undone? Each one of these questions was considered separately, in isolation from the others. Each week there are things I said that hurt others, things I thought and didn’t say, things I did or didn’t do. I just never considered them together, especially not the last two. I thought regret was more about what I didn’t do that what I did, but now I am not so sure. The two go together. If there are things I wish I had done, why didn’t I do them? At least for me it ends up I didn’t take the time or make the commitment. I was too busy doing other things that seemed important, but were they really? Too often I allow my hours and days to be filled with soul sucking nonsense, rather than setting aside time for the small joys that make life worth living. I rush past a crying child to answer the phone. I cut off a friend who just needs to talk because I want to speak more than listen. I pass up an opportunity to take a chance because I prefer the comfort of my routine. Then something small reaches out and touches my heart and soul. This photo of the train station in Louisa, VA by my friend David caught me up short. I walk past this station every time I go to the farmer’s market but until this photo, I never really saw it. Make time today to look and listen to what God places in your path. Slow down and soak in the miracle of this life, breath by breath, moment by moment. Create intentional time for the small comforts of this life. Breathe in joy and breathe out busy-ness. Most of all, let the unending mercy of God enfold you and work through you. Let go of your own agenda and let the wisdom of God determine what needs to be done and left undone. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Whistlestop’ by David Buckwalter©2016, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of David’s work, go to http://www.buckphotographyva.com/

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/.

Reflecting on Music….

By Kira Skala

Living Waters by Kira Skala

It’s a cool, quiet fall morning, cool enough for a sweater. The windows are open to let in the autumn air. The cool air is soothing, like the cool water of a rippling stream. So I was drawn to a video taken by my friend Kira. I love the sound of the water, unimpeded by the fallen branches and litter. Yet it seems easier to focus on the living water with my eyes closed, simply listening to the sounds. With my eyes open, it is all too easy to focus on the quagmire and lose sight of the stream. The more I watched and listened to this video, the more frustrated I became about my morning routine. My favorite time of day is the early morning. More often than not, I sit in the living room and have a second cup of coffee. There is a large evergreen outside the window, where birds often perch and sing. I love to see and hear the birds. It seems as if God has written a special song just for me. Yet recently I find myself avoiding that quiet time in the mornings. Instead of joy I was nagged by faint annoyance. So this morning I made myself sit down and really listen. Instead of birds, I heard traffic and heavy equipment. My symphony has turned into cacophony. There is a farm on the corner that sat vacant for many years. The well kept pastures became covered in small shrubs and vines. Recently the farm was sold to a developer who is now clearing the land. So the trees and undergrowth that absorbed the traffic noise are no more. I hear both the construction vehicles and the commuter traffic on the highway, a road at least half a mile from my home. Yet the birds remain with me. The music remains with me. The rough noises can only drown out the joy of the bird’s song if I give it my attention. My young friend Colin says it best.

I walked out to the pylons at midnight, just to be alone with my music for a bit. The wind was blowing and the clouds moved so rapidly, it seemed that they must be dragging me with them to the chapel. The clouds reminded me of this week, it seemed to move by so quickly, though now I’m very tired, so it feels, physically, very long. I’ve met many new friends and I’ve gotten to know old acquaintances much better. I am, as usual, very happy: if you want to share in my happiness then all you need to do is ask. – Colin Shea-Blymyer

Make time today to listen closely, to look beyond the litter of everyday life. Seek out the living waters of creation and give thanks for the gift of life, offered and received one breath at a time. Let go of sorrows and losses and hold fast to the blessings of this life. Hold fast to the music and miracles that surround you, just waiting to feed your soul and swell your heart. And always remember, when you want to share in the happiness of creation, all you need to do is ask. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo and video of Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park by Kira Skala ©2014, to view video go to https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10204163766204493
Quote by Colin Shea-Blymyer ©2014, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Health ….

The Fire Within by Mili MiIt’s a glorious fall day, cool and calm and clear. I would love to sit out on the deck and enjoy the fine weather, but instead I am stuck inside with bronchitis. It’s been many years since I have succumbed to this mysterious malady, a serious concern each and every time I catch a cold. Such is life with asthma. So I was drawn to this dramatic photo by my friend Mili Mi, a far cry from what you would see with the naked eye. Folks are always surprised to hear I suffer from asthma. I am not sure what they think asthma looks like, or how people with asthma act. Perhaps they think I should be sickly and pale, forever out of breath and on the verge of collapsing. Instead I am the one at the gym most mornings, or walking the dog in the neighborhood for an hour. I appear healthy and hardy, yet just below the surface, there lurks a fire that seeks to snatch away my breath. As a child, my father argued to keep me in gym class, while other children were often excused. He felt I needed to develop my lung capacity to compensate for my breathing issues. When I went for my military physical, I passed the breath capacity test because I was active, a test given to all recruits. That was years before I was properly diagnosed with asthma. It took running on the beach in Los Angeles before the doctors recognized what was wrong. Once I was on proper medications and learned how to manage my symptoms, life was so much better. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that few of us are without the ‘thorn in the flesh’ that Paul speaks of in his letters of the New Testament. This mortal frame is fragile, and not without its petty foibles. Some of us are blessed with hearty constitutions in our younger years, only to succumb to ailments as we age. Others suffer early on, then learn to live with their concerns, sometimes developing healthier habits that ease the effects of aging. Then a difficult transition takes its toll, or we end up encountering someone who thinks they just have allergies instead of something contagious. We fall ill and our coping mechanisms fall short. Make time today to give thanks for the gift of health. Praise the Creator for the miracle of life, given to us breath by breath. Resist the temptation to take that breath for granted, for many of us struggle with breathing. And always remember, your health may be as wide as a highway, or as thin as a ribbon. Pray for those that walk the tightrope of health, that their balance and yours may be protected and restored. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo by Mili Mi ©2012, to see more of her work, go to http://tri-nity.deviantart.com/gallery/.

Reflecting on Protection….

Cedar Run in Fauquier County, VA

Cedar Run in Fauquier County, VA

It’s a cool, rainy day and the leaves have already begun to fall. Before long we will have misty mornings and bare branches, grey days and cold nights. So I was drawn to this lovely photo of Cedar Run by my friend Cecilia. I love how the branches shelter the water, leaning in toward one another, reaching across the breach. Our county is full of unexpected places like this one, places that jump out and demand your attention. The sense of awe overwhelms, the serenity seeps into your bones, the peace pervades your very soul. It seems to me that prayer is a lot like this beautiful scene. Perhaps we set aside a particular time or place, hoping consistency will chase away the worries of the world. Or we steal a few moments in the parking lot, no longer at home, not yet at work. Yet even in the most disciplined practice, there are times when prayer runs dry, times when the monkey chatter drowns out that still, small voice. Then when we least expect it, we turn a corner and God stops us short, reminding us to pause and reflect, to give thanks for this very moment of life, this precious gift of the here and now. We plead for blessings, forgetting what we really need is protection, from ourselves, from distractions, from the busy-ness of life. Yet through it all, the Holy Comforter remains steadfast, ever present, ever ready for us to turn again toward the light. Make time today to seek consolation rather than comprehension, leading with your heart instead of your head. Focus on the gift of life, offered to you one breath at a time, or the soles of your feet, firmly planted and secure. Give thanks for the simple things in this life, good food, clean water, a warm, dry place to sleep. And always remember, when we pray for blessings and protection, we find a peace that always consoles, a peace beyond comprehension. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Calm, Cool Place’ by Cecilia Carr ©2013

Reflecting on Blind Corners….

Blind Corner by Liv SchoffstallI live in Warrenton, VA, the first town to be designated as a ‘Main Street USA’ town. Even after living here for almost twenty years, there are views of Old Town that elude me. So I was drawn to this intriguing photo by my young friend Liv, of the space between the shops on Main Street. I’m always surprised at how few folks know about Old Town, how they simply shop the chain stores and eat at the chain restaurants on the business highway. I love the little shops on Main Street that carry unusual and interesting items and the restaurant that uses local produce and meat. You park behind the shops, just once, then walk from one stop to the next to run your errands. I often meet folks I know on the street, or when I stop for coffee. As you can imagine, most days I end up far from my car, and either need to take the long way around or find a less obvious route to where I parked. I must admit I have walked past this place again and again and did not begin to imagine there was a way through. From the street, you’ll never see the path that snakes between the shops, and ends up in the lovely parking lot beyond. It seems to me that the walk of faith is a lot like this blind corner. There are times when we must walk into tight places to find a better way forward. We must take that first step, even if we are unsure there is a way out. Perhaps the first time we take a false turn or back up. Perhaps we are not ready to enter that tight squeeze, to stretch or grow beyond where we are right now. Yet the good news is that while second chances are rare in this life, God offers us an infinite number of second chances. Make time today to trust our All Powerful Lord to see beyond what our limited mortal view can offer. Let go of the burdens of this life, of problems that seem to have no solutions, of situations that seem hopeless, of paths that seem to go nowhere. Let God breathe new life into the dreary corners of your life, and show you the Way ahead. And always remembers, even when we chose the longer way around, we still end up where God is taking us, one way or the other. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Blind Corner’ by Liv Schoffstall ©2013, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Water….

Yellow Floating Heart by Stanislav ShinkarenkoMarch has arrived like a lion, with each day choosing a different season. In the past few days, we have gone from a foot of snow to torrential downpour. Even the dog wanted to stay inside this morning rather than getting drenched. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my far flung friend Stanislav. I love how this single yellow flower remains upright despite the surrounding flood. I can imagine the flower bobbing up and down, emerging after being submerged, patiently waiting for the rushing waters recede. It seems as though such a delicate bloom should be washed away, rather than stretching toward the sunlight after the storm. Like us, the flower would surely prefer a gentle shower, yet life seldom offers such an option. Drought is followed by deluge, followed by drought. So we seek ways to mitigate the extremes, to be sure we have the water we need when we need it. We become stewards of one of life’s most precious resources. It seems to me that prayer is a lot like water. We can wait to pray when life turns sour, only offering our heartfelt petitions when all else fails. Or prayer can be part and parcel of our daily existence, the first place we turn, as close as the breath we breathe and the water we drink. Our God does not impose upon us, or compel us to obey. It’s up to us. We can turn to the Lord as the last resort, or as the first. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with the discipline of daily prayer. It’s easy to put off, easier yet to cut short. Perhaps I make it too complicated, thinking I need a prayer book or certain amount of time to get it right. Yet all we need to pray is our breath. We can pray ‘let go’ as we breathe out, and ‘let God’ as we breathe in. Make time today to pray simply for yourself and others. Choose your own refrain for praying with your breath – perhaps breathing out ‘sorrow’ and in ‘joy’. Open your heart to the steadfast love of the Almighty, trusting God to salvage what humans consider beyond lost. Begin to water your faith with a gentle shower of earnest prayer, even if it’s only an upturned eye, or a heartfelt sigh. And always remember, all it takes is a few seconds of our time for our all merciful God to drench us with grace. Text and by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Yellow Floating Heart’ by Stanislav Shinkarenko ©2013, All Rights Reserved, to see more of his work, go to
https://plus.google.com/u/0/113920886778498557572/posts

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/

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