Reflecting on Situation Awareness….

Forrest Within by Lindsay McDowallEach of us believes our childhood is normal until we leave home. We really do not understand the gifts and curses of our upbringing until we learn how our family situation is different from what others have experienced. I grew up with plenty of family around. My grandparents lived with us. The evening news was filled with images of Vietnam rather than child abductions. We spent our days outside, wandering the neighborhood and the ‘Dead End’, on our own. Or were we? Perhaps we were safe because all of the parents had an eye on us. All of our parents watched over us and corrected us. We learned to pay attention to what was going on around us by example. We saw the adults looking out for us and we learned to do the same. When I joined the military, that ability was called ‘situation awareness’. We did all sorts of exercises to learn how to see what was going on around us. We learned to rely not just on what we could see and hear, but what others could see and hear. The only way to stay safe was to rely on one another, to take in everyone’s perspective. Now if that perspective was the same for each of us, there would be no benefit to collecting multiple viewpoints. We each see through our own eyes, filtered through our own collection of memories and concerns. What I say is green you may say is blue. What I say is safe you may consider too risky. What I say isn’t there you say is just a little further, a little longer. Together we can forge a way ahead that works for all of us. We may not agree on everything, but we can agree on the path ahead. That path may require more than what our senses can take in. In the words of Hebrews 11:1, ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ Perhaps I cannot see it, but must rely on others who can. Make time today to look and listen, to soak in your current situation. Consider the curve of a loved one’s face, a leaf blowing in the wind, a conversation that could be more than communication. Suspend judgment and seek out perspectives other than your own. Ask questions that open up a dialogue, rather than point to a preconceived conclusion. And always remember, there will be times when we can only move ahead in hope with the faith of others to sustain us.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2015

Art entitled ‘Forrest Within’ by Lindsay McDowall ©2014

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Reflecting on Roots….

Growing in the Dark by Kitty BuckwalterWe have spent too many weekends away from home. I have lost track of the groceries and onions are ending up in the trash rather than in my favorite recipe. It seems we forget that the things we tuck away, the things we prefer to forget, things that still grow in the dark. All of us have parts of ourselves we wish did not exist. We hide them away from others, and ourselves. It seems so much easier to push aside our less perfect parts and show a smiling face to the world. Yet whether we like it or not, whether we pay attention or not, the hidden side of us continues to grow in the shadows. Our prim and proper exterior is penetrated by roots that continue to grow and seek out the light. In younger years, I thought I had the lid locked down tight. I was convinced I could be whole by simply picking and choosing the parts of my personality that suited me best. Over the years, I have learned the rejected side of me lashes out when locked away. If I choose to ignore all of who I am, the shadow simply bites me in the butt at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected places. What do we do with the onions of our souls? I have learned to take out one onion at a time. I cut it up and shed a few tears. I take what could harm me and fold it into a new and exotic dish. That part of me needs love and caring more than the parts I parade around for others to see. I need to take time to care for myself, to stretch and grow, by allowing the Holy Spirit to bring those old hurts into the light. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it hurts. But at least in the light that suffering leads to new growth and greater understanding. Matthew 5:48 tell us to ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect’, yet the word for perfect is better translated as whole or complete. Make time today to nurture old wounds and long forgotten memories. Allow silence to sink into your soul and anchor your heart in the safe and abiding love of God. Invite the light of Christ into even the darkest corners, trusting a healing has been prepared for you. And always remember, if we take out just one onion at a time, in God’s time not ours, God will slowly and surely perfect us and make us whole.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2015

Photo entitled ‘Growing in the Dark’ by Kitty Buckwalter ©2015

Reflecting on Trust….

On Her Back in the Tub Cropped

Trust is easy to come by when things are going well. We build on good experiences and come to expect the same. Then life throws us a curve ball and we get hit in the face. What we thought we understood, what we had become used to, vanishes in an instant. It’s as if one bad experience erases the good that came before. We forget the good when overwhelmed by the bad. Yet in such difficult times trust may be exactly what we need. If we turtle in, we close ourselves off to both the bad and the good. We must open our hearts to receive the healing balm of the Holy Spirit. Like this small child in a tub, we must trust the water is no deeper than is safe. She lies back and enjoys her bath, looking up at the adult she relies on to make sure all is well. Her Mona Lisa smile says so much more than a toothy grin. Even her eyes are smiling up at us. She knows she is loved and all is right with the world. Perhaps as adults we lose sight of the true meaning of trust. Trust is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability of strength of something or someone. When we focus on the vagaries of this life, we obscure our view of God. We seek pat answers to complex questions. We go back to asking ‘why’, that why of a child, the why used in place of every question. If we can’t trust life, how can we rely on this mysterious, inexplicable God? Make time today to lie back and look up. Open the eyes and ears of your heart to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who grants us faith to hold open a space for grace. Look for a reality greater than your surroundings. Seek out and cultivate beauty to strengthen your soul for the challenges ahead. And always remember, when we claim the promise of living water, we are never in over our heads.

Photo by an anonymous friend, Text by Connie Chintall ©2015

Reflecting on Memorial Day

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

Reflecting on Fairytales….

Megan in Wonderland by Dawn DuffieldThere are times in our lives when we all need stories. We recall fairytales from our childhood, favorite stories we could not grasp or fully embrace at the time. Then our adult lives are torn asunder. Tragedy strikes, painstaking plans run amuck, or we slowly grind to a halt. When life turns topsy turvy, we truly comprehend the transformative power of the story. So I was drawn to this amazing image by my friend Dawn. I love how relaxed Megan looks in the midst of a fantastic, over the top scene. The only concession to the fantasy of her surroundings might be her tutu. Perhaps Megan is a modern day princess, resting before she goes off to slay the dragon on her own. This surreal garden may simply be a detour on her long and arduous journey. Tomorrow we will attend the funeral of a friend who passed from this world very suddenly and unexpectedly. She was away on business at the time, so the funeral was delayed for about a week. In the midst of this tragedy, my husband and I bought a lake home, the culmination of a lifelong dream. Our lake home feels a lot like this garden, an oasis in the desert. I ended up at the lake for the business side of buying a house. I spent the morning waiting on technicians to sort out the phone and utilities. I found myself lost in the view, lost in my emotions, lost to the world as we know it. I was transported out of the nightmare into a safe corner where the dreams are still sweet, where kings and queens still slay dragons, where wood violets still bring a smile to my sad face. Make time today to nurture the sweet dreams of your soul. Water and till the garden of good memories. Weed out the nightmares that seek to creep in and choke out the brave and the innocent and the compassionate. Let the tiniest of flowers stand guard at the gate of your heart.  And always remember, all it takes is one story, a story that reaches across time, to quiet your mind before bedtime.  Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, photo by Dawn Duffield©2011, entitled ‘Megan in Wonderland’, to see more of her work, go to http://www.projectdawnphotography.com

Reflecting on Fragile….

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting on Migration….

Bad Year to Skip Migration by Sarah GulickThere have been many times in my life when I chose the less traveled path because I equated different with better. And sometimes it was, but not always. Snow is piled upon snow after the latest winter storm. I spent more time than I care to admit clearing the driveway, even with help from a neighbor. About a block away, a flock of plastic flamingos is stuck in a snowdrift. The birthday party is over, but the weather has delayed their retrieval. So how could I help but be drawn to this photo by my friend Sarah? I wonder who placed this flamingo near her snowed in car. Perhaps her friends had left for warmer weather, leaving her behind. Right now I feel more like a penguin than this lone flamingo. My husband is enjoying warm weather in California; friends are off for the season, or at least a vacation, to Florida. They send pictures by the pool, or of the beach. Somehow it seems I missed the cue to migrate. We really don’t understand what causes birds and animals to migrate. At the appointed time, they head to warmer weather. Without maps or an endless string of arrangements, whole flocks of birds find their way. Yet we find it difficult to meet up for a quick cup of coffee without endless text messages or reply-all e-mails. There are times when we need to make the effort to connect, and times when we need to separate ourselves from others. It can be difficult to listen to our inner voice when it seems drowned out by the voices of others. We need to withdraw, just as Christ withdrew into the desert before his triumphant arrival in Jerusalem. He fasted and prayed, faced his demons, and gained strength for the challenges ahead. Make time today to migrate toward the true warmth of God. Lift up solitary prayer from the depths of your soul. Trust in the new growth of spring beyond the relentless winter. Lay your deepest fears and heaviest concerns at the foot of the cross, relying on God’s strength rather than your own. Open your heart to new possibilities, take more time with uncertainty than is comfortable, allow God to surprise you. And always remember, when we listen with the ears of our hearts even the deepest snow melts away. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, written during the snow storm last week. Photo entitled ‘Bad Year to Skip Migration’ by Sarah Gulick ©2013, to see more of her work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/

Reflecting on Certainty….

Kayak on Slush by Sarah GulickCold winter days offer time to contemplate what perplexes me the most. Over the years I have struggled against a desire for certainty, a desire to fix whatever is wrong. Sometimes that includes fixing other people, which rarely works well for them or for me. Before long, I find even my best laid plans falling apart. So I was drawn to this photo of a kayak on the edge of Lake Anne in Reston, VA by my friend Sarah. The crack is off to one side, a crack that could be easily missed depending on which way you are looking. You could slip into the boat thinking the ice would hold, only to find fractures all around you. Of course, it’s a boat, and boats float on water much better than ice. Yet like our desire for certainty, that fact gets lost in the shuffle. We may fear tipping over and falling into the cold lake, or worse yet, getting caught under the ice. How many awful outcomes do we imagine that keep us on the shore? How often do we delay a decision because we don’t know enough? Perhaps we fear getting it wrong, so we avoid the decision all together. Our need for certainty imprisons us, restricts our choices, prohibits us from taking risks. We lock down the answer to feel safe, only to find life passing us by. We did in fact make a decision when we failed to decide – we simply remained frozen in time and space. In her book ‘Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith’, Anne Lamott says “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty”. Faith is a place of mystery, a place where we let go of our fear of uncertainty. Faith takes courage, because courage is not the absence of fear; courage is deciding something is more important than what you fear. Faith calls us to grow, to venture into the unknown, to hope for what we cannot yet see. Faith holds open a space for more than human effort, trusting God to fill in the cracks of our lives and the lives of those we love in ways we cannot begin to imagine. Make time today to venture into the unknown, trying something new and different to feed your heart and soothe your soul. Let go of the need for certainty; embrace your faith in the midst of doubt. Ask others to pray for you and with you, as you pray for them. And always remember to look beyond the surface, thankful for the cracks in this life that lead us to beyond the ice to deep living waters. Text by Connie Chintall Connie Chintall ©2015, Photo entitled ‘Kayak on Slush’ by Sarah Gulick ©2014, to see more of her work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/

 

 

Reflecting on the Wild….

Beyond the Path by Connie ChintallFor too long I believed the sacred only existed in far away places. I sought out mountain top experiences, ways to feed my soul with the beauty of nature or through structured retreats that quieted my mind and my soul. So I am drawn to this photo from a recent trip to Chile. I found myself at the end of the world, in Puerto Arenas. I could show you photos of the penguins or the surf, but this is the photo that pulls at my heartstrings. The tiniest of flowers burst forth from this luxurious carpet of vegetation. I knelt down to take this photo, to touch the tiny plants, to embrace the peace in the midst of this wild and wonderful place. At another time, I would have walked by without noticing this tiny scene. Life was about efficiency and accomplishments. Perhaps it was easier to think the sacred eluded me in my every day life than to admit the hectic pace left no room for the divine. How many appointments could I pack into one day? How many tasks could I juggle at one time? It never occurred to me that the fabric of my own life, so tightly woven and intricately controlled, left no room for mystery or awe. I needed to get ahead, to keep my head down, to soldier on the path in front of me. There was no time to look around, let alone drop to my knees. But something had to change. At first I took time to pray in the car before I went into work. Slowly I set aside moments here and there, or took advantage of a gap in my day for prayer and reflection, instead of crossing off another item on my list. My life shifted gears and I looked beyond the path ahead. I stopped to soak in the now, to fall to my knees in gratitude for the simple things in life. As I held open a space for the divine, I seemed to find the sacred everywhere, in my backyard, in the stew I was cooking for dinner, in the faces of people I met on the street. That divine spark is within each of us, simply waiting for our attention. Yet unless we let go of our expectations and illusion of control, we cannot see or hear or understand. The divine defies our definitions and limitations, refuses to work to our schedules, shocks us out of our complacency. Make time today to rest in the grace and mercy of Creation. Embrace the wild beauty that surrounds you, holding open space without any preconceived notions. Allow the unexpected fuel your imagination, to expand your sense of the possible, to lend color and depth to your dreams. And always remember, when you look beyond what is straight ahead, you might find what you were really looking for. Text and photo entitled ‘Beyond the Path’ by Connie Chintall ©2014

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.

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