Reflecting on Transformation….

Rain by Kira SkalaLife has been full of surprises in the past few months. I always enjoy a pleasant surprise, but I must admit I do not do well with unexpected losses. When we seem to be drowning in bad news, I struggle to celebrate the good news. At times like these I look for answers. I wonder why life is so difficult and challenging for some, while others sail along, often obvious to the suffering that goes on around them. Perhaps I could manage to wrap my head around one or two of these shocking revelations, but not one after the other. As a Christian I look for redemption in the midst of suffering because I believe God offers more than answers. God offers transformation. God takes life that must end in death and transforms it into eternal life. I believe that eternal life starts now, not after we physically die and pass on. This life offers us inexplicable moments of joy at times when suffering seems bound to crush our hearts and souls. We hit the end of our rope, loosen our grip and expect to fall into the abyss. At that point we let go of what we expect the answer to be, of when that answer will arrive, of who will provide solace, of how grace will open up a path where we see only the Pit. Grace pours through the pain and we find ourselves safely in God’s embrace. Time seems to lose its meaning as we become lost in the wonder and awe. In all this darkness we have been searching for the Holy Spirit in light, only to find the God we seek has been drenching our hearts in Spirit filled water. We no longer need that worn out image of the Spirit as light. We need a Spirit of baptism to wash away the anguish and pain and fill us with joy. Make time today to open your heart to the Almighty, letting go of any and all expectations. Pray for the Holy Spirit to soothe your soul and fill your heart with the peace of God that passes all understanding. Look at what God brings into your life, suspending judgment and holding open space for God’s grace and mercy. And always remember, when we let go of our answer to prayer, God transforms our lives in ways beyond our understanding. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, photo entitled ‘Rain’ by Kira Skala ©2015, All Rights Reserved

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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 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 Grace….

Elegance and Grace by Patty SteinerI’m grateful for a cool, breezy morning after a long and stifling hot spell. For over a month, one sticky, wet day has followed another. It has been too hot to even go to the pool. As a child, we would often choose to boat on the river rather than to swim in the pool, trolling along the shoreline to linger in the shade of the overhanging trees. So I was drawn to this unusual photo by my cousin Patty, of a crane wading in the shallows. I love the abstract quality of this image, making it difficult to nail down. I see layers upon layers, many cranes and many rivers, rather than just one. I grew up on the Delaware River in New Jersey, and spent time on the water as a child. We never owned a large motor boat, only a canoe, then later a Jon boat with a five horsepower motor. Both boats were small and light enough to strap onto the top of the car. We frequently filled the motor with fuel from the change kept for toll roads. Instead of boating being a major expedition, it was a simple as going to the movies. On the river and the many creeks in New Jersey, I often saw these majestic birds, sometimes so still they looked like a statue, other times slowly and deliberating raising and lifting their large feet. Then as a young woman, I worked as a surveyor for Federal flood insurance. The best days were spent in hip waders or small boats. The sense of awe inspired by these birds never diminished. I often felt like a clumsy, ugly duckling next to such elegance. Yet what I remember most forty years later was a sense of hospitality and grace. While I may have been startled by their presence, the cranes happily shared their space. Perhaps we have lost this simple sense of hospitality, making a visit into an ordeal for all concerned. We worry about the stack of magazines in the corner, or what we can offer to eat or drink. We expect each social encounter to be a Martha Stewart moment, instead of a meeting of old friends, friends who could care less about the housekeeping or provisions. A friend stops by to see a friend, to sit and talk, to pause from the busy-ness of life and make time and space for one another. A graceful host opens their heart, not just their home, setting aside their concerns to listen to the concerns of guests. Make time today to offer grace to those you encounter, your family, your friends and those who cross paths with you. Let go of your expectations, and allow the Holy Spirit to open time and space for you to truly be present to one another. Pray for wisdom and discernment, to see others with God’s eyes, to hear others with God’s ears. Move over to make room for easy conversation, conversation that deepens to the core of our souls and the bottom of our hearts. And always remember – ubi caritas, et amor, ibi Deus est – where love and caring are, there is God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Elegance and Grace’ by Patty Steiner ©2012, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Appearances….

The morning has been calm and quiet, with grey skies and dampness in the air. I suspect there is a storm on the way, but it hasn’t arrived yet.  So I was drawn to this amazing photo of an old blue tractor taken by my friend Carole.  I love the contrast between the bright blue paint, the brown rust and red primer. We live in a rural county where old farm equipment like this tractor is a common sight.  You would think this tractor is on its last legs, yet more often than you might think, the engine is still good.  Perhaps the farmers are hoping the tractor will give up the ghost and pass away, to make room for a shiny new model. The tractor seems to defy them, year after year, persisting beyond all reason. We take so much stock in outward appearances, passing judgment on others based on how they look.  If we don’t like what we see, we don’t bother to look any further. Who knows what we might find if we stopped and looked beyond the obvious? One of the extended care facilities in our area displays photographs of the residents from their youth. While the nurses check to see if it is a good time to visit, you are left to ponder these pictures. If the person’s eyes are clearly visible, you can quickly tell who you are looking at. The nurses find visitors and residents both enjoy their time together because of these photos. Visitors see the residents in a new light, and often ask questions about the photos, only to hear stories of days gone by. Take time today to look beyond the obvious, to suspend judgment until you get to know the person inside. Pray to see through God’s eyes and hear through God’s ears, to be fully present to those you encounter.  And remember the surface may be rusted, but inside, the engine is still going strong. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011, used with her permission


Reflecting on Power….

It’s raining and raining. While our home has remained dry and secure, those living near creeks and rivers have plenty to worry about. Flooding plagues the Northeast and Tennessee Valley areas, while Texas is battling fires due to drought conditions. So I was drawn to this deceptively simple photo taken by my friend Carole. Her friend holds a single, dew drenched leaf in his strong hand. To place that leaf securely in his grasp took patience and a gentle touch. You can’t shake or tip the leaf, or the dew is gone. He holds the leaf in a cupped hand, adjusting the shape of his palm to natural curve of the leaf. In the midst of all this mayhem, this photo reminded me that God is sovereign and all powerful. Our entire world, throughout the ages, is like a single dew drenched leaf in God’s hand. This divine power is gentle, loving, caressing. God’s power conquers with grace and mercy, convincing rather than coercing. In the Old Testament, we see God patiently, persistently pouring out His love, regardless of the human response. In the New Testament, we see God deign to take our human form to pay the price for our sins. Christ lived and died among us, then rose again, conquering sin and death on the cross. The Most High, the Omnipotent, offers love, no matter what the cost. Let this unending love be our response to those suffering from these natural disasters. Take time today to learn how to help someone affected by floods or fires. Perhaps a neighbor that lost power can take a hot shower at your home. Cook extra, and share a home cooked meal. Simply listen to another’s story, be present to their pain. Let us be like Christ, like a cupped hand gently caressing a dew drenched leaf. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

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