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/

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Reflecting on Redemption….

Junco2 by Karen RussoIt’s a cold, wet day here in Virginia, with snow and ice clinging to the trees. On days like today, the slate colored juncos gather in the evergreen just outside our front window. So I was drawn to this amazing photo, patiently taken by my friend Karen at her bird feeder. Karen captures the beauty of our area, offering glimpses of the small creatures we so easily overlook. When my daughter Tori was little, she called these juncos ‘ink birds’, saying they looked like someone held them upside down and dipped them in ink. The junco has a black back and is white on the under belly, where he is most vulnerable. We must look closely to see that white belly. We must be face to face, vulnerable to one another, willing to be seen as well as to see. The guarded stance reveals little of our inner workings, only offering the dark cloak on our backs. How often do we yearn for redemption, yearn to let go of regrets or sorrows that weigh us down? We want to let go, to move on, if only we could avoid that difficult first step. God knows everything, so why bother airing out dirty laundry? Why not fast forward to the best part, safely entrenched in our respectability? It’s a great temptation to remain as we are, yet when we risk nothing we gain nothing. Make time today to allow yourself to be vulnerable, to make room for grace, to be open to the goodness of life. Like these little birds, let your spirit shine through, despite the frustrations and setbacks that seek to soil the soul. Cast off the heavy burdens that hold you back to make room for the lightness of redemption. And always remember, when we let go of our weakness to God, His strength and power fills our hearts and soothes our souls. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘Alert and Aware’ by Karen Russo ©2013, all rights reserved

Reflecting on Patience….

First Sign of Spring by Andi WolfeThe skies are grey and foreboding, ushering in a wet spring. Yet the nights are still below freezing. So I often see light frost in the early morning. Our poor bulbs are forcing their way through the last of the leaves from the autumn, much like the bulbs in this photo by my friend Andi. I love the frost on the dried leaves, the tiny cave formed by the emerging bulbs, the new life seeking light out of darkness. This rich image has been part of my wallpaper for almost a year. I ponder the photos over time, until the words that do justice to the photos are revealed to me. Sometimes I write in a flurry, afraid my typing will not keep up. Other times the photo has to sink in, to teach me something, to mold me over time. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with patience. In fact, I would say patience is my main obstacle to sustained faith. I pray and wait, then pray some more and wait some more. God always answers my prayers, but seldom as soon as I would like. But is it God that makes me wait? There are times when I cling to the wintery parts of my soul, to old memories and regrets that dry up the heart and steal hope. Perhaps it’s easier to stay safe, to turtle in, to pull the covers over my head. If new life is waiting to break through, what makes us cling to the old, fearful of change, reluctant to be vulnerable? Perhaps we forget there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday, no beginnings without endings, no room without clutter. In the end, I must admit, at least for me, I am the one in the way. I am the reason the answer to prayer takes so long. God remains steadfast and merciful, ever ready to answer my heart’s desire. I simply need to open the eyes of my heart, to allow myself to be molded, to make room for the Holy Spirit to show me the way. Make time today to clear away the dried and wintery parts of your nature, to water your spirit, to nurture new life from the depths of your soul. Let go of your expectations, and make room for God to work in His time, not yours. Allow the Holy Spirit to create a new heart within you, to show you a new way, a way beyond your imagining. And always remember, when we trust in the Author of Creation, our pleas for help are transformed from mere anxiety into earnest prayer. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘First Sign of Spring’ by Andi Wolfe ©2012, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Andi ‘s work, go to http://andiwolfe.blogspot.com/

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 Rain….

It’s been raining for almost two weeks, with thunderstorms rolling through our area. We badly need the rain since last winter was so warm. Yet it’s easy to allow the rain get you down. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo by my friend Lynda. I love how she captured the raindrop bouncing back off of the deck, with a hint of her lovely garden in the background. The few flower petals scattered across the deck remain steadfast, defying the rain. It’s easy to lose sight of the beauty beyond the pain, to focus on the negative at the expense of the positive. How often have you heard someone saying, ‘How could you spoil such a perfect day’? Yet it’s the person asking the question that is spoiling the day. As a young executive, I soon learned each day would be a mixed bag, some good, some bad. The only way to remain motivated was to focus on the positive. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s easier said than done. So I began to pray for an image, or a Bible verse, to hang onto to. I began to see the frightened disciples in the boat, in the midst of a storm. At first, I was disappointed. Really, God, really, things are not as bad as all that! Yet I stuck with it and claimed that image. So much of bad behavior results from fear, or our reactions to another’s fear. We were all stuck in the same boat, yet we were all safe in that same boat, with Christ asleep in the stern. Even when the heavens open and our boat may be tossed about, our Lord and God is with us, knowing that all we fear can be quelled in an instant. Take time today to embrace God’s love, without beginning or end, a love that drives out all fear. Pray for an image or word to encourage you, for a love letter from God. Allow the Holy Spirit to shine through you, to shine for those that travel with you in this life. Respond in love to their fears, rather than reacting with your own fear. And remember, even the worst storm is but a little thing to the same God that conquered sin and death on the cross. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Water, Water Everywhere’ by Lynda Jeffers ©2012, used with her permission.

Reflecting on Resurrection….

It’s a dreary fall day, so I am glad we took the opportunity to go hiking last week. School was out for election day, and the weather was remarkable. We headed up to Shenandoah National Park, a short drive from our home. While my daughter and her boyfriend were scurrying over rocks, I encountered this unusual tree on the path. I was surprised to see how the branches had recovered from so severe of a pruning, growing straight up instead of continuing along their natural curve. Perhaps the branch had be removed to clear the path. Then I noticed the matching branch on the opposite side, and finally saw how these branches formed a cross. Yet there was more than just a cross. I was looking at resurrection, renewal, continuing life. This tree chose to grow upward, to respond to the struggles of life through rebirth. Rather than continue on the same old path, this tree had changed direction and flourished. I don’t know about you, but I believe the greatest good news of the Gospel is this – we don’t get what we deserve. The wages of sin are death, and we all sin. I know sin is not a popular topic these days, so bear with me. We sin when we fall short, when what we attempt to accomplish is less than perfect. We sin when we hurt others, intentionally, and yes, even unintentionally. We hurt those closest to us; we compromise our relationships with one another and with God. We are comfortable with ‘to err is human’, but are unwilling to accept that to err is to sin. So I take comfort in knowing I do not get what I deserve, in knowing that our Savior conquered sin and death on the cross. Take time today to confess your sins, to repent and grow in a new direction. Accept God’s endless forgiveness and learn to forgive yourself through the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Claim the promise of resurrected life, today and every day. And remember to start your prayer as the Benedictines taught us, ‘today, we begin again’. Photo by Connie Chintall

Reflecting on the Day After….

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

Reflecting on Forgiveness….

There is a cool breeze this morning and a few leaves have already changed colors. As I walked the dog this morning, I could smell autumn arriving. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my cousin Diane. She is busy canning pickles, proudly displayed on tea towels in her country kitchen. As children, we would help with the canning. Our mothers would can all sorts of produce, tomatoes, green beans, apples, pears and of course, pickles. The kitchen would look like something out of a dream, with our mothers lost in the steam. Both have passed on, so perhaps it is that image that remains, a misty memory of days gone by. To preserve food, we must boil it or soak it in salt water. We subject the fragile vegetables to intense heat or overly salty water to prevent rot and prolong the fruits of our harvest. It seems that strong relationships are a lot like these pickles and canned vegetables. We must pluck out the offenses to preserve the relationship. We must trust that relationship to bear the burden of truth, to speak to one another in love. It takes time and patience to learn how to get along. We may not be aware of how our behavior affects those we love. Yet we may hurt one another just the same. To cling to resentment is to build a wall between us and those we love. Better to explain what is wrong and draw closer together. Take time today to understand how you affect those closest to you. If someone you love reveals an uncomfortable truth, thank them for trusting in your relationship, then seek to understand how to get along. Admit you are wrong and ask for forgiveness for your offense, and forgive when others offend you. Perhaps there will be a few boiling points, or things will get saltier than you like, but you will enjoy the fruits of your harvest all winter long. Photo by Diane Brooks Myers

Reflecting on Guilt….

The summer is almost over and it seems like I have accomplished little or nothing. When school ends, we plan to do so many things, both chores and fun excursions. Yet somehow by the end of the summer, the heat grinds us to a halt, and we simply slow down or just stop. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole of Harkness State Park in Connecticut. Ivy covers the cut stone arch, even the urns are overflowing with ivy. The beautiful patterns on the iron gate echo the curves of the vines. The gate is left open, leading to a lovely garden and we are invited to simply walk through. Yet how often do we just turn away, not even noticing what we are missing? Perhaps guilt is a lot like this gate. We are offered forgiveness, yet do not accept it. We insist on remembering our shortcomings, on clinging to our mistakes. Or we seek to deny anything is wrong, and are doomed to repeat those mistakes again and again. Both paths represent guilt that can paralyze, preventing us from claiming the promise of abundant life. We become prisoners of the past, haunted by regrets of mistakes we cannot take back. Confession is an important part of the Christian tradition, a recognition that we are all human and therefore, all fall short. Yet confession seems out of favor in recent times, requiring us to acknowledge our sins, rather than keeping up a façade of perfection. Turning away from confession is like turning away from this gate, and foregoing the path that lies beyond. We remain in the shadow of guilt on this side of the gate, rather than walking through to the light of forgiveness on the other side. Yet guilt does serve an important purpose. Healthy guilt leads to repentance and growth, to a better and more fulfilling life. Peter, who denied Christ three times, became the rock of the church. Paul, the most zealous persecutor of Christians, became a powerful voice of the faith, spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles. Take time today to consider the ways you have fallen short, either by what you have done, or left undone. Leave your sins at the foot of the cross, accepting the forgiveness of Christ. Let go of what you have done, and let God show you what lies ahead. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you to a better life on the other side of the gate. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

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