Reflecting on Questions….

Toy Train by Jeanne Mischo

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is never easy for me. Each year there are less and less people who have known me my whole life, and it seems most of them passed on during this Advent season. I feel like the family is shrinking until I take a good look around. My nieces have their own children now, some old enough to be in high school. Others remind me it is my turn to be the older generation, to be the one who has known them and prayed for them since before they were born. Yet despite the wrinkles and grey hair that welcome me in the mirror each morning, I don’t feel that much different inside. I wonder if I am up to the task of being an elder. I wonder why I don’t know or understand more than I do. Then I think back to a conversation with my father years ago, a conversation I dreaded and put off for way too long. I called home hoping to get my mother, only to find him working from home. I was calling to say I was getting divorced. I was ashamed, disappointed in myself, and terrified of disappointing my father. Of course once he answered the phone it all came tumbling out, all of the raw emotions I had bottled up in my heart. When I stopped crying and had calmed down a bit, my thirty year old self said I thought I would have figured out more answers by now. My father’s reply remains with me thirty years later. He said ‘I don’t have more answers. I simply have learned to ask better questions’. If better questions define wisdom, then I may make the grade after all. If I am required to listen more and talk less, then I still have a challenge ahead of me. Perhaps the greatest comfort is knowing we are all a work in progress, waiting and watching for a bit of divine inspiration to take human form. Christ told us the Kingdom of God is realized through each and every one of us. What if that Kingdom of God is a lens, a way of seeing and hearing that is first and foremost about relationship, about listening deeply to one another with our whole hearts and minds and souls? What if the questions are more important than our own answers? What if the questions are about each of us finding our own path, not in the sense of anything goes, but rather by walking in the path God has prepared uniquely for us? Make time today to be vulnerable to a different answer than you expect. Continue a difficult conversation, trusting in the relationship more than the uncomfortable message that might be easy to avoid. Allow the divine spark to bring forth a physical reality in a different than what you envisioned. Watch and wait, asking the questions buried in your own heart as you listen to the eternal and never ending heartbeat of the Almighty and ever living God. Art entitled ‘Toy Train’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013-2016, used with her permission, text by Connie Chintall ©2016

Reflecting on Discomfort….

Doodle NosesWalks with our dog Hobbes are shorter and shorter these days. We used to take walks of at least an hour but now he has become old and weary. I must say I walk less without him, if at all. Pets are good at reminding you what is really important, making sure you don’t take yourself too seriously. My friend Jen caught a moment in her regular walks with her dog Oliver in Georgetown. Oliver has a doggie friend I’ll call Simon who makes sure to greet him on their daily walks. Oliver responds by straining against the lease, eager to connect with his less fortunate friend. Oliver in relentless is his greetings, seeking out his friend even though all he knows of Simon is a nose and a paw. Tonight we recall the arrival of our Lord as a tiny baby in a manger. Christ was born in a stable, greeted first by animals. The shepherds, his first human visitors, were people who cared for animals. We also welcome family and friends into our homes, joining together to celebrate and renew our bonds. Yet these gatherings are not always comfortable or relaxed. Old resentments and unresolved arguments can sabotage the most joyous occasions. Our lovely dinner can become dinner theater. When we chose resentment over discomfort, we build a wall that isolates us from those we love. Rather than work through the pain, we convince ourselves it’s just not worth it, why bother, what difference will it make anyway? We think we have hidden the problem, and the person who caused it, behind a nice, tall wall. We think we can just walk by without bothering to acknowledge their existence. Yet that person may not even understand the offense. Perhaps there was no intent to harm, only miscommunication. Make time today to choose discomfort over resentment. Consider how your dog would act in your place. Let go of your grip on the lease and follow. Explain what rubbed you the wrong way and open the gate, rather than simply poking your nose through the gap. And always remember, while discomfort quickly passes, resentment can last a lifetime. Text by Connie Chintall©2015, photo entitled ‘Doodle Noses’ by Jen Ayers©2015, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Jen’s creative work, go to http://kingdomofazuria.com/

Reflecting on Separation….

Alamanos Sunset by Tomasz HuczekIt’s a cool, rainy morning, more like autumn than summer. Today is the day my daughter moves into her dorm at college, and we all begin the next chapter of our lives as a family together. I know of no other relationship where the goal is independence rather than increasing intimacy. So I was drawn to this haunting photo by my friend Tomasz, of a beautiful sunset beyond the cove. I love how the water and sky seem to be parts of the same whole, smooth and silky against the rocky shore. I can picture myself in his place, looking into the distance, at first seeing only the glory of the sunset, then glimpsing the tiny figure on the point. Up until today, we have talked and dreamed and reveled in the wonderful opportunities that await our precious daughter at university. Now all I can see is the distance this change will create, a change we have yet to fully comprehend. So I must remind myself that she is God’s child first, given to usas our daughter, to shepherd and help find the path the Holy of Holies has prepared for her. I must remember the Almighty, the God of angel armies, will send legions of warrior angels to guide and guard her, to bless and protect her. Most of all, I must remember to look beyond today, to the little that I can now see, to trust that rocky shore offers a long way home when she needs it. Yet that vision may be too small – more likely she will dive in and swim home, or even sprout wings and fly. Perhaps as a military family we meet today with more experience of separation, yet that experience does not prepare us for this separation. Today is a day to lean on the heart’s knowledge that prayer binds souls together in ways that time and distance cannot sever. The eye may perceive her from afar, but she will always be as close as my beating heart. Make time to savor the here and now, to store up a treasure trove of memories. Honor the children in your life for who they are, leaning on God’s strength and all encompassing power to grow into men and women with a passion for life and serving others. And always remember to hold them close, but not too close, making room for their path, rather than an extension of your own. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Alamanos Sunset’ by Tomasz Huczek ©2012, to see more of his photos, go to http://tomasz.cc/

Reflecting on Burdens….

Bowed Over by Connie ChintallI awoke early this morning to a loud thud, fearing my daughter had fallen out of bed. The heavy spring snow was no match for the wind, so large chunks of snow were landing on our roof. I was wide awake while she was snug under the covers, so I ventured out with our dog and my camera to see the storm. I felt as if I had entered a huge snow globe. Large, lazy flakes were swirling to the ground. Then the wind would pick up, and more snow would drop from the branches. Our large oaks can manage the clinging, wet snow, but the dogwoods in the front yard were bent over by the weight. This photo captures what I saw the best, and the range of emotions the scene evoked. I love how the flash is reflected by the falling snowflakes, while the newly bare branches are quickly accumulating another layer. The dogwoods are there in the middle of the massive oaks. You can see my neighbor’s house in the background, with warm and inviting lights at the front door. What makes us cling to our burdens, when we are invited to leave them at the foot of the cross? Why do we take on a new burden so quickly, even after letting go of a burden that nearly folded us in two? How do we become sturdy like the oaks, instead of weak like the dogwoods? In the hush of a snow filled morning, it seems there are more questions than answers. Perhaps that thud is still with me, that motherly concern for a child that is no longer small, a child that turns eighteen tomorrow. My conscious mind sees the young woman, but my sleeping brain still hears a child who needs me. It’s a time of good and positive change, but change nonetheless. I must let go of what I have been, to learn who I need to become. Again, still, I must recall she is God’s child, given into our care as our daughter. We are stewards and guides to help her find the path God has prepared for her, rather than to complete our path, or fulfill our shattered dreams. It will soon be time for her to shake off her the last of her little girl ways and find her place in the world. And time for me to learn what it means to be the mother of an amazing young woman, standing ready, but not standing in the way. Make time today to let go of an outdated role, a part you’ve played long past its usefulness. Shed what was once a source of great happiness, but has now become a heavy burden. Trust God to guide you on the path ahead, to show you this change is simply the end of a chapter, not the end of the story. Allow the Holy Spirit to transform what seems like only loss into a glorious new beginning. And always remember, we cannot have Easter, we cannot experience the resurrection, without the pain and death of the cross. Text and photo by Connie Chintall ©2013

Reflecting on Love….

The Cloud of Hearts by The Sofi's WorldWe awoke to find a light dusting of snow, just enough to be pretty, not enough to be a nuisance. By my second cup of coffee, the snow had begun to melt. Now it feels like spring, although I’m sure it will be as cold as winter by nightfall. This time of year it’s hard to know what to expect. So I was drawn to this creative artwork by my new friend Sofi. Hearts are an obvious choice for Valentine’s Day, but the arrangement of the hearts is what caught my eye. I love how the hearts are piled onto one another, forming a cloud of love. Consider those you hold most dear in this life. How did you meet each other? Did a mutual friend or family member introduce you? Or were you drawn together by a common interest or activity? Perhaps you both attended the same church, or worked together. As you learned more about one another, you found you had more in common and the relationship grew. Then life brought along its inevitable changes. We grow closer when our circumstances are the same, and often drift apart when our circumstances differ. Like the weather, the time we spend with one another can blow hot and cold. Yet we all know a loved one who is always there for us, no matter how long it’s been since we spoke, or how many miles may separate us. We can always pick up where we left off, and continue as if it was just yesterday. That bond is like a favorite book, or our most comfortable article of clothing, familiar and soothing no matter how long it’s been. It seems to me such a strong bond is built on the hearts of many, hearts that taught us to care for ourselves and one another, hearts that live through us even when the physical heart has long since departed. Like Sofi’s art, our lives are built on a cloud of love. Make time today to reach out to those who taught you the meaning of love. Open your heart, and your mind and your soul. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, trusting in God to fill in the gaps when your words and efforts fall short. Truly and deeply listen, especially when what you hear is uncomfortable or annoying. Accept what you hear with gratitude, for only the deepest trust allows such openness. And always remember, no matter what this life brings, the Holy Comforter is only a heartbeat away, waiting to ‘heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds’ with the balm of abiding and steadfast love. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Quote from Psalm 147:3, Art entitled ‘The Cloud of Hearts’ by The Sofi’s World ©2012, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Sofi’s work, go to http://thesofisworld.com/

Reflecting on Treasure….

It’s a cool, clear morning on the last day of summer. The slanting sun casts long shadows across the lawn. The air is still and all the earth seems to pause. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Alexz, of Lake Brittle. This lake is the centerpiece of one of our county parks. When my daughter was a toddler, we would often stop at Lake Brittle on the way home, after I picked her up from daycare. I especially liked this time of year. The summer visitors were gone, and there was seldom a boat on the lake. We would wander along the shore looking for treasures, and listening to the insects sing as the evening approached. Then we would head home to make a simple supper, grilled cheese sandwiches or perhaps scrambled eggs. Her collected treasures would sit in a bowl as our centerpiece. Now my daughter is a senior in high school. Life is very hectic, full of class work and college applications. Our calendar seems more crowded than ever. So I am even more grateful for those quiet evenings by the lake, when sunlight softened as the summer ended and the leaves began to fall. Another small child recently reminded me of those simple treasures. A new family visited our church last Sunday, and the youngest son Gabriel sat on the aisle, smiling and happy to be in church. When the offering plate was passed, everyone noticed four acorns in with the checks and cash. Gabriel had placed those acorns in the plate before the service began. I don’t know about you, but I believe those acorns meant more to the Author of Creation than all the money combined. With a grateful heart, a small child offered his all his treasure to the Holy of Holies. We see today what was written in Isaiah long ago. ‘The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them’ (Isaiah 11:6) .Take time today to see the world through a child’s eyes, to hear with a child’s ears. Stop at a local park on the way home and wander, rather than walking or hiking. Allow your heart to guide you, to open your eyes to the wonders of creation. And remember, no matter how hectic life becomes, there is always a simple treasure waiting to be found. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Lake Brittle’ by Alexz Jade ©2012, used with her permission. To see more of her work, go to http://azjcphotography.tumblr.com/

Reflecting on Solitude….

Our home feels particularly empty after the weekend. I enjoy time with my family, yet in recent years I have also learned to enjoy having the house to myself. So I was drawn to this dramatic photo by my new friend Luis. I love the single tree on the horizon, reaching for the sky in the early morning light. The branches look so delicate and graceful. I’m waiting for this slender tree to begin to dance. For many years, I equated solitude with loneliness. I actively sought out the company of others, filling my calendar with social engagements to be sure I was never alone. When my father lived with us, I was seldom by myself. As his health declined toward the end of his life, we seemed to have an endless stream of visitors and hospice support. We needed that help to allow Daddy to die at home, and are immensely grateful for our loving and supporting community. Yet there were days when I would soak in the tub, turning on the fan to drown out all evidence of existence other than my own. I simply needed to stop, to just be, to enjoy the solitude. After Daddy passed away, our home became curiously quiet. Now, three years later, there are days when I eat all three meals alone, my husband and daughter busy with work and school. I find time for prayer, creative pursuits and exercise. I am present to what life brings me, enjoying both my time alone and with others. Take time today to consider the difference between loneliness and being alone. Consider ways to make time and space for yourself in a busy household, to enjoy solitude in the midst of family concerns. Explore the balance between time alone and time with others, learning how to respect the need for time apart in your family and friends. And remember, if you sink into the solitude, you may find yourself poised to dance on a new horizon. Photo entitled ‘The End’ by Luis Gonzalez, used with his permission

Reflecting on New Birth….

It turned cold over the weekend, with frost on the fields as we drove to church on Sunday. The leaves are falling furiously, reminding us the truly cold weather is just around the corner. So I was drawn to this amazing photo of our newest friend Miles, taken by his grandfather Terry. I love how the baby’s feet are gently cupped in Mom’s hands. Just like the marching band at football games, her hands form a heart. The students say hello to their friends using this gesture, as a way to acknowledge them while still maintaining the required discipline. So it goes with parenting, from the very beginning. There is a gentle balance between love and discipline, between indulgence and obedience. Our hearts soar with the birth of a baby, overwhelmed that the Author of Creation has deigned to work through us to create new life. Yet our heart is also heavy with the weight of responsibility this new life brings. We begin a delicate dance, establishing routines and learning ways to soothe and comfort the child. It’s sort of like playing an instrument in marching band, combining music with the military precision of drill. Take time today to consider what appears to be a contradiction. Look past the simple solution, requiring you to choose either one way or another. Invite the Author of Creation into your apparent dilemma, allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire you to create a new beginning, a new birth. Photo by Terry Wayne Jones

Reflecting on Hugs….

It’s been a quiet week here at home, with both my husband and daughter off in different directions. It seems a bit lonely, and a lot short on hugs. So I was drawn to this photo of my friend Seth and his family, taken by his wife Chris. Seth is hugging his brother and his son George, making his brother into a hug sandwich. When my daughter Tori was younger, my husband and I would hug each other with her in the middle, making her into the salami in the hug sandwich. So I was struck by this photo, with father and son surrounding brother and uncle. How often do we yearn for such all encompassing love? We look in all the wrong places, thinking only the mighty and strong can provide sheltering protection and security. We hide our emotions from our children, saying it is better to spare them the hurt and pain. Yet even a young child can make a world of difference. A child doesn’t try to fix the problem, or talk you out of it. A child simply climbs into your lap and snuggles into your neck, or haphazardly dries your tears. Who can remember what was so earth shattering when you see a child’s eyes light up? Perhaps Seth’s most important role is taking young George to visit his uncle, to bring the wonder of a young boy into his life. Take time today for the little children in your life. Let go of your worldly concerns and adult responsibilities, and just allow yourself to be a child once again. Chances are there will be a hug or two waiting for you. Photo by Christine Correll Guanu

Reflecting on Food….

The temperatures dropped into the 50’s last night, making for good sleeping weather. The frogs and insects are serenading us in the early evening, their last songs before the cold weather sets in. Summer is not all that is ending here in Fauquier County. So I was drawn to this photo of chickens at a family owned farm taken by my friend Sarah. These chickens don’t have much in common with the Dolly Parton variety often sold in the supermarkets. No growth hormones or strange chemical cocktails for these chickens, just their feed and some scraps of vegetables. I like knowing the farmers that grow our food. Our family eats locally grown food as much as possible. We believe that buying local and eating local is one of the best ways to be good stewards of creation. We support our neighbors and friends, and reduce the distance from the farm to our dinner plates. Folks talk about conservation, and neglect to consider how much fuel goes into their food. Local produce in the grocery stores sometimes means grown in the US, not grown in your county or state. Even the farmer’s markets include trucked in produce to meet the expectation that any and all fruits and vegetables should be available year round. So I am sad to say that a farmer’s cooperative that greatly aided in our quest to eat locally is closing. Farmergirls.net offered a way to easily purchase food from a variety of local farms and kitchens. This service was web based, with vendors posting what was available each week and customers using an online shopping cart to choose their purchases. Our local food was then sorted and bagged for pick up. Farmergirls.net sought to connect people with local farms, and they have succeeded in doing just that. Many customers now deal with the farms directly, rather than going through the cooperative. Many families now purchase more than their produce locally, buying meat, eggs and dairy from local farms. But not all of us have time to stop at half a dozen locations, and Farmergirls.net will be sorely missed. Take time today to consider where your food was produced, and what went into it. Learn more about buying local and eating local. Start small, perhaps with apples this autumn, or some local honey. If you prefer to eat out, learn more about your favorite restaurant. Support your local farms and learn what a difference it makes to your dinner table. Photo by Sarah Gulick

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