There are days when I wonder who I am. How do I define myself? How do I hold on to who I am in the face of daily personal challenges and bewildering news stories? I keep going back to this intriguing image of an old, rusted Ford Fairlane. The sedan is long past its prime and even the vine attached to it seems to lack life. I joined the military almost forty years ago after a series of poor decisions. I walked away from a full scholarship at the University of Virginia, or perhaps it is better to say I ran away with a truck driver. I chose my heart over my head, for a relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. Instead, I found myself back home with my parents, without that relationship, without my education, without a job. I took a few jobs that paid well and was promoted quickly, only to find I had topped out since I lacked a college education. So I enlisted in the Air Force and headed off to basic training. Fifty women were housed in an open bay barracks. Each of us had a bed, a chair, a narrow closet and two dresser drawers. A corner of the bottom drawer was allotted for ‘personal effects’. Everything else I had brought with me was stored away under lock and key. I kept a box of stationery with family pictures tucked inside. I kept my prayer book. And I kept a favorite cotton shirt I had sewn and embroidered. Over the next six weeks, every waking hour was spent in training. We learned how to dress, how to march, how to fold our clothes. On Sunday morning we could go to church or stay in the barracks and clean. Most gals went to the generic Protestant service. I chose to walk across the post to the Episcopal service, risky business since new recruits were subject to spot inspections and dreaded demerits. By the time I sunk into the pew, soaked with sweat, I wondered what I had been thinking. The first half of that service was a blur. Then they played the communion hymn, ‘Humbly I Adore Thee’. This hymn was the summer favorite at St. Mary’s in Burlington, NJ. My bones know the words to this hymn and I felt an immediate sense of God’s love. I walked back to the barracks humming it. Over the next few days I found myself again, the me I traded away when leaving college. As I became more myself, I found it easier to connect with the fifty women in my unit. We scrubbed the floors singing that hymn, then a country western tune, then a Motown hit. We stopped being fifty separate women and became a single unit. We shared who we were and became more than the sum of our parts. As individuals we were like this rusted out car. Even the vines they tried to lay over us failed to offer connection. It was singing as we worked that brought us together. There are two pieces to the cross. The upright connects us to God. The horizontal connects us to one another. The essence of our humanity is the divine spark in each of us. Yet without connection we simply sputter out and fade away. Make time today to connect with the Holy of Holies. Lay the weariness of the world at God’s feet, then crawl into God’s lap and rest in unending love. Share what feeds your soul with a friend over a cup of coffee or simple lunch. Let go of canned expectations and sensational news. Look beyond the surface and listen to the hearts of those you meet, even when what you hear is uncomfortable. God does not expect us to all be the same yet God loves us all the same. May God grant us the courage to open our hearts and be vulnerable to one another so that we may we love one other just as God loves us. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Photo entitled ’55 & Vine’ by Rick Martin©2016, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Rick’s work, go to http://www.abandonedanddesertedinvirginia.com/.
11 Jul 2016 Leave a comment
in Reflecting on...... Tags: 55 Ford Fairlane Club Sedan, Abandoned and Deserted in Virginia, basic training, beauty, community, Connie Chintall, discernment, discipline, faith, growth, Humbly I Adore Thee, love, Love one another as I have loved you, Rick Martin, spirituality, vines
31 May 2016 2 Comments
Our visit with my niece and her brand new baby is coming to a close. For the past week my daughter and I have been helping out with the new baby and her toddler big sister. The miracle of new life is awe inspiring. So I was drawn to this amazing art by my friend Nicole. Our fragile bodies are made of the same stuff as the stars. We begin as a hope and a prayer, because two people love one another. Through that love, God allows us to participate in his creation and a new soul is born. Nicole captured this miracle in her art. The Divine Feminine breathes in stardust and breathes out the beauty of creation. The mystery of birth plays out in the dance of mixed genes, creating one beautiful combination after another. This baby is very different from her older sister. She favors her father’s looks while her sister favors my niece. The shape of their faces and their coloring is different. Yet just when you think you have figured it out, another feature catches your eye. I see my daughter’s feet, and perhaps our family’s ears. Yet in the end, this child, along with all our children, belong to the Creator. Just as we are all called to be stewards of creation, parents are called to be stewards of God’s children. As parents, our job is to guide our children into the path God has prepared for them. Children are not meant to follow our dreams or complete our unfinished business. As I hold this beautiful baby, I pray for blessing and protection over her while I pray for wisdom and discernment as the days and years ahead unfold. May God give me the grace to be present to her growth, opening my heart and mind to see her through God’s eyes, rather than my own. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Art entitled ‘Blooming Beauty’ by Nicole Mischo©2016, All Rights Reserved.
04 Feb 2016 Leave a comment
Life is full of twists and turns. Sometimes I wonder how things got so mixed up and other times I am simply grateful to have survived. Yet as I ponder my younger days it seems to me I rarely knew the difference at the time. My friend Sarah caught that sentiment in her photo of ice bubbles under the ice. Sarah is out of on the water regardless of the season. She takes amazing photos of the scenery she finds, but most often these close ups are what really inspire me. She pauses to capture the beauty in the details that so many others simply pass by. Her photos often take me back to my youth. I recall deep resentment and frustration at the smallest offenses that led to moody days and restless nights. I recall plunging headlong into the deep end, then wondering how I had gotten in over my head. The only consistent theme I can name is an unwillingness to give up. I forged ahead, certain I could make it all right, certain there had to be a brighter future just around the bend. Yet that stubbornness came at a great cost, not only to me but often to others around me. I would push ahead, push others aside, push myself beyond my own limits. Then I would end up flat on my back in bed, sick in body and spirit. Perhaps God got my attention by making me stop and look up, instead of rushing ahead. It took more time than I care to admit to understand God was there all the time. I simply was too busy to stop and listen. Over the years I learned how to pace myself better, to listen more than I talked, to be more considerate of others. But most of all, I learned that I can only escape repeating my mistakes through prayer ad reflection. I can only gain hindsight if I look back with a heart seeking transformation and redemption. Make time today to consider how your past informs your future. Allow the Holy Comforter to crack through the frozen parts of your heart and soul, to heal you and equip you for the path ahead. Trust the Holy of Holies to set the pace and to guide you along the way. Pray for God’s answer rather than your own, for a way ahead that works for everyone, not just for you. Trust that God works in all things, even the worst things, for the good of those who love Him. And always remember, when we step back to see more than just the ‘I’ in the picture, we allow God to make us better instead of bitter. Text by Connie Chintall©2015, photo entitled ‘Ice Bubbles’ by Sarah Gulick©2016, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Sarah’s creative work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/
24 Dec 2015 Leave a comment
Walks 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/
17 Oct 2015 Leave a comment
We live in a small town. The Main Street is filled with interesting shops and restaurants. The buildings are old and in some sections little more than a shell. You can stand with the sky above you and an old tile floor below you, facing what was once the wall of a shop or restaurant. My young friend Claire captured a commentary on one of these walls. What does it mean to evolve? I’m not talking about whether we descended from monkeys or how long ago dinosaurs walked the earth. I’m talking about you and me, about how we learn and grow over a lifetime. The verb evolve is defined as ‘develop gradually, especially from a simple to a more complex form’. Our opinions change. Over time we view the world in more nuanced or more absolute terms. We listen more often than we speak, seeking to understand a world that changes moment to moment. Each morning I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and guard me, to teach me to understand God’s plan for all of us, not just for me and my little corner of the world. I pray God will abide with me, gently opening my mind and heart each day, only as much as I can handle. Growth and healing go hand in hand. Healing requires vulnerability, a desire to turn over the rocks in our path to look at the worms underneath. Some are boulders that block the way. Others are smooth stones we could just as easily step over. We can only handle a one at a time, if that. There are days, even weeks and months, when we can’t bear to even glimpse at what is under a single rock. Yet if we trust that God has prepared a healing, that God is with us in the journey, we will turn over each rock in His time, not ours. When I think back to the really difficult times in my life, I was turning over way too many stones at one time, rushing forward when I simply needed to be present. During the worst times, I insisted those close to me, those who share my path, rush ahead rather than heal and growth in their own time, in their own way. Make time today to listen to others. Ask questions to open up a dialogue, rather than shut down the conversation. Seek to learn their viewpoint to better inform your own. Look for shades of grey where you once only saw black and white. Let God lead you, step by step, stone by stone, conversation by conversation. And always remember, when we turn over one stone at a time, we can trust God to slowly but surely mold us into the image of Christ. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, photo entitled ‘Evolve’ by Claire Bishop ©2015, All Rights Reserved
19 Jul 2015 2 Comments
It’s a beautiful summer morning, yet I am drawn to this amazing drawing by y friend Jeanne. Her art is often featured in this blog, art that challenges me and enhances my personal devotions. It’s difficult to say if the drawing is set in the distant past or distant future, if the storm is made of snow or sand, if the scene is a remote village or a planet from another galaxy. It may seem odd to focus on storms when the weather is just the opposite. Yet how often do we carry around a storm inside, despite the apparent calm that surrounds us? Inner turmoil has a timeless quality, persistent beyond all reason. You aren’t sure if it’s day or night, or even what is going on around you. The gloom can blot out everything, leading to self absorption and social isolation. We may turtle in, hoping to wait out the storm, not realizing we take the storm into the shell with us. Others may choose to place themselves in difficult situations, to mirror their souls in their surroundings. Some even convince themselves they deserve to suffer. Yet all the while, the answer lies within, a healing has been prepared, abundant life awaits. We must simply open our hearts and souls to the Holy of Holies, to lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross, to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Most High. Make time today to look beyond the storm within. Allow yourself to rest in God’s love, to accept the peace of God that passes all understanding. Let go of what you have come to expect and allow the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and ears. And always remember, the path to healing is never what we expect, yet we must trust in healing for that path to be revealed. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015 Art entitled ‘Yurt – Girl Faces the Storm’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2011
11 Jun 2015 Leave a comment
We 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
21 Apr 2015 Leave a comment
There 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
16 Mar 2015 1 Comment
There 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/
25 Feb 2015 2 Comments
Cold 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/