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 Jeanne Mischo

Jeanne Mischo has been featured in this blog for a number of years. Her art always challenged me to up my game, to be sure my words did justice to her amazing and multi-layered creations. Jeanne passed from this life last week. I kept thinking I would know what to say, but perhaps the best tribute is this post from March of 2014. Sometimes there is nothing we can say because words fail us. Only art can convey the complexities of our hearts. Jeanne began with this photo…

by Jeanne Mischo

Jeanne ended with this art…
Ma in the Community Garden by Jeanne Mischo
Reflecting on Lost, originally posted 14 March 2014

The cold, harsh morning is giving way to a warm, mild afternoon. March is alternating between the lion and the lamb, often in the same day. So I was drawn to this exquisite work of art by my friend Jeanne, entitled ‘Ma in the Community Garden’. I love her choice of colors, the brilliant blue sky, the vivid orange of the blossoms in the foreground, the muted colors of the foliage and the tiny mother. I can see myself drawn in by the flowers, especially this time of year. It would be so easy to pluck a bloom for my table and drift along without taking in the rest of the scene. This winter has been harsh in more ways than one. The relentless cold has been only one unpleasant aspect. Families have experienced death, sometimes after a long decline, sometimes too quickly to comprehend. Like most of us, I never know what to say to the grieving. I heard again and again, ‘I am sorry for your loss’, but am not sure what that means. I feel like a small child once again, hearing the neighbor across the alley ask ‘Have you lost her again?’ After moving into town from the farm, my grandmother took up an allotment in the community garden. Often when my sisters and I returned from school or playing with friends, we would find the house empty. I would reassure my sisters that we were just fine. Nana was simply off working the allotment. Perhaps grief is a lot like that childhood conversation. After all, we know the soul lives on beyond the frailty of the flesh. We know our loved ones are with the Holy of Holies, perhaps in a lush, vibrant, garden we can only see dimly now. Yet we also yearn for the physical, the touch, the smell, the warm embrace. It can take time to absorb the shock, to comprehend the reality, to accept the finality of death. It takes time to let go of those we love, even if we are to giving them over to God. Make time today for those who grieve, to lend an ear, to offer a prayer, to just talk about everyday life. Give them permission to celebrate the joys this life brings in the midst of sadness by giving them space to mourn. Pray for the Holy Spirit to soothe their souls, guard their hearts and guide their minds. Most of all, pray for God’s words rather than your own. And always remember, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, Art entitled ‘Ma in the Community Garden’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013, to see more of her work, go to All Rights Reserved. To see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

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 Endings….

Blue Day at White Sands by Robert H Clark
Fog and rain have filled our days, the sort of cold autumn rain that chills you to the bone. Vivid leaves are plastered to the ground, a welcome relief from the grey skies and incessant downpour. It seems as though the rain began three weeks ago when my friend Ray passed from this life to the next. Our friendship spanned almost fifty years. I don’t know how to begin to describe a relationship like that. I don’t know how to begin to grieve. I do know I find myself laughing as much as crying. So I’m drawn to this masterpiece of a photo by my friend Robert of White Sands, a photo of a desert instead of drenched soil. The overwhelming blue mirrors my sadness, while the blending of the sand and the sky somehow captures the essence of my loss. There is a single point in the distance where it’s difficult to tell where the sand ends and the sky begins. I remember Ray and I riding our bikes to the bookmobile. I remember how we would read the same books and talk about them. No, not like we were in English class. Instead, Ray would make up new endings for a book he didn’t like, or extend the story for characters he couldn’t let go of. I suppose I was one of those characters, and the foundation we built so long ago sustained us both through the vagaries of this life. Ray was one of the few friends who knew of the miscarriages I had before my daughter Tori was born. My husband and I simply stopped telling others I was pregnant, for fear that we would have to tell them I had lost another baby. But I had to tell Ray. I couldn’t keep from telling Ray. He never said things like ‘It will all work out this time’. He simply told me he truly believed God would bring children into my life. He believed in a different ending and when I could not believe on my own I leaned on his belief. Ray was always challenging me, and all those he loved, to create our own endings. He saw no use for a script in this wild, wonderful life. If you don’t like it, make up a new ending. Make time today to open your heart and mind to the possible. Write your own story. Create your own ending. Let go of what is expected, or easy, or just plain comfortable. Build on what brings you joy, rather than allowing the essence of this life to slip through your fingers. Reserve time for your loved ones into your daily schedule, because we do not know what tomorrow may bring. And always remember, while this life may end, love such as this will never die. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘Blue Day at White Sands’ by Robert H Clark, ©2014, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Robert’s work, go to http://www.roberthclarkphotography.com/

Reflecting on Lost….

Ma in Community Garden by Jeanne MischoThe cold, harsh morning is giving way to a warm, mild afternoon. March is alternating between the lion and the lamb, often in the same day. So I was drawn to this exquisite work of art by my friend Jeanne, entitled ‘Ma in the Community Garden’. I love her choice of colors, the brilliant blue sky, the vivid orange of the blossoms in the foreground, the muted colors of the foliage and the tiny mother. I can see myself drawn in by the flowers, especially this time of year. It would be so easy to pluck a bloom for my table and drift along without taking in the rest of the scene. This winter has been harsh in more ways than one. The relentless cold has been only one unpleasant aspect. Families have experienced death, sometimes after a long decline, sometimes too quickly to comprehend. Like most of us, I never know what to say to the grieving. I heard again and again, ‘I am sorry for your loss’, but am not sure what that means. I feel like a small child once again, hearing the neighbor across the alley ask ‘Have you lost her again?’ After moving into town from the farm, my grandmother took up an allotment in the community garden. Often when my sisters and I returned from school or playing with friends, we would find the house empty. I would reassure my sisters that we were just fine. Nana was simply off working the allotment. Perhaps grief is a lot like our childhood conversation. After all, we know the soul lives on beyond the frailty of the flesh. We know our loved ones are with the Holy of Holies, perhaps in a lush, vibrant, garden we can only see dimly now. Yet we also yearn for the physical, the touch, the smell, the warm embrace. It can take time to absorb the shock, to comprehend the reality, to accept the finality of death. It takes time to let go of those we love, even if we are to giving them over to God. Make time today for those who grieve, to lend an ear, to offer a prayer, to just talk about everyday life. Give them permission to celebrate the joys this life brings in the midst of sadness by giving them space to mourn. Pray for the Holy Spirit to soothe their souls, guard their hearts and guide their minds. Most of all, pray for God’s words rather than your own. And always remember, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, Art entitled ‘Ma in the Community Garden’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

 

Reflecting on Gold….

Autumn can be a tough time for me. Most of our family members have passed on in this season, as if the waning summer corresponded to their waning life energies. I’m tempted to wallow in old grief, to feel a bit sorry for myself, to jump when the phone rings late at night. Then I’ll catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye, or hear an odd phrase that reminds me of a loved one. The happy memories come flooding back and I smile in spite of myself. So I was drawn to this amazing image by my friend Gemma, entitled ‘Living with Gold in the Heart’. She started with a photograph, then worked with the image, adding texture and adjusting the colors and contrast. Some would argue the result is not art. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really care what it’s called, except to say it’s beautiful. Perhaps grief is a lot like this artwork. We start with a stark reality, a deep wound, a searing loss. Perhaps the end of life was far from pretty or noble, even full of pain and suffering. Perhaps death was a relief, both for the person who passed away and their loved ones. We simply need to sleep, to heal, to process what we have endured, and what it means to begin again. We need time to find out who we are now, without someone who was so integral to our identities. Time goes by and we believe we are past the sorrow, until a birthday or anniversary arrives. Worse yet, we creep up on the year after the death, or the year after that. Yet in the midst of all this, there are moments of pure joy, reminders of the happy times. For me, it was a television commercial about Publisher’s Clearinghouse. My father must have returned every sweepstakes entry he ever received in the mail. He meticulously sifted through the envelope, making sure all the stickers were applied just so. Then he would watch out the window to be sure the envelope made it into the mailbox, certain the flag was up to notify the postman his important mail was inside. So as the anniversary of his death approaches, I am given a gentle reminder of who he was, and how he affected our lives. Take time today to give thanks for those who love you, not for what you have or how much you make, but because of who you are, warts and all. Cling to the true treasure of this life, opening your heart to others, accepting them for who they are, here and now. Cultivate joy in your life, even in the midst of grief and sorrow. Spend time with the happy memories, until you see those last, fleeting moments of a long life as simply an afterthought. And always remember, there only one treasure we can take with us, the gold that lives in our hearts. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Beautiful art by Gemma Costa, entitled ‘Live with Gold in the Heart’ ©2012, used with her permission.

Reflecting on Companions….

It’s a cold, grey day filled with steady rain. I rarely get much accomplished on days like this, preferring to curl up with a book or let my mind wander to other times and places. So I was drawn to this photo of a father and daughter by my friend Luis. I love the beautiful clouds and setting sun, and how this pair has stopped to soak in the scenery. They are together, but separate, not needing to say anything at all. They chose to simply share the same experience, basking in the glory of God’s creation. I recall a walk on the beach with my father, long, long ago. Sometimes Daddy would take me with him to work on Saturday mornings. I would occupy myself with a coloring book while the engineers puzzled over a particular problem. If I managed to be quiet and patient, I was rewarded with an adventure. One warm spring day, I asked Daddy to take me to the beach. We headed for Sandy Hook, a barrier peninsula at the northern tip of the New Jersey shore. Not long after we arrived, the weather turned windy and cold. Now most parents would have simply turned around and gone home. Instead, Daddy wrapped me in a blanket and we headed down to the beach, spotting birds and watching the sea turn wild. Just when we thought it was too cold to bear, the clouds parted, softly reflecting the setting sun. How often are we tempted to turn back, to let a little wind or rain stop us in our tracks? Yet when we persevere, holding fast to our promises, we may find ourselves basking in God’s glory. Take time today to recall what it means to be loved, a time when you stopped to enjoy another’s company, a time without words. Make an out of the way place your own, a place of companionship and joy, a place to be with God. And remember, neither time nor distance can diminish such memories, or destroy such love. Photo entitled ‘Companions’ by Luis Gonzalez, ©2012, used with his permission

Reflecting on Shadows….

The sun is a welcome sight after the cold and wet days this weekend. I enjoyed a nice walk with a visiting friend, happy to be outdoors in the cold, crisp air. So I was drawn to this photo of an unsuspecting subject taken by my friend Mary in Put-in-Bay, Ohio. I love the warm colors and sharply outlined shadows. If you look closely, you can see the brim of a hat. On the table, there are plenty of drinks waiting for friends who haven’t yet arrived or are out of the picture. Today is All Saint’s Day, the day we remember those who have passed from this life to the next. In some cultures, the Christian tradition of All Saint’s has been combined with the ancient remembrances of the dead in a celebration called Dios de los Muertos, or Days of the Dead. There is a carnival atmosphere, as communities celebrate for three days, eating ghoulish sweets, resembling skulls and bones. It’s as if Halloween and All Saint’s run together, making fun of our own mortality while accepting the reality of death by grieving loved ones. There are three days each year when all laugh and cry together. Perhaps we need a holiday like that, rather than grieving haphazardly, on our own. Like this shadow, our memories swirl around us. The strangest things can bring fresh grief, like an old sweepstakes entry or a sugar packet tucked in a shirt pocket. We look around for the source of the shadow, then realize that only the shadow remains. Yet the more we resist grief, the more it persists. We can’t get around it; we simply must get through it. Take time today to remember a loved one that has passed on, or to comfort another lost in grief. Give thanks for those who passed before you, shaped your life, and made you who you are today. Let laughter and tears blend together, like the celebration of Dios de los Muertos. And remember you can’t feel the joy without accepting the pain. We are promised abundant life, not a bowl of cherries. Photo by Mary Staley

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