Reflecting on Migration….

Bad Year to Skip Migration by Sarah GulickThere 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/

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Reflecting on Certainty….

Kayak on Slush by Sarah GulickCold 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/

 

 

Reflecting on Tatters….

Growth by Stella
Resolutions and radical changes rarely arrive with the New Year. I am more likely to troll through old memories, looking for an arc or easy narrative that makes sense out of the jumble of my experiences. Perhaps our lives only make sense backwards. So I was drawn to this wonderful art by Stella. Her use of color, or lack of color, says it all. Our colorful dreams are born in a black and white world. Notice the pieces of her dream drifting away. Those tatters have lost their color. Like most folks, my life includes high points and low points. There are joyous times when life seems full of vibrant color, new beginnings overflowing with hope and joy. There are days, even weeks and months, when life seems drained of all color. It is everything I can do to hang on despite the despair. These bleak times can be brought on by radical change, or by allowing the drudgery of life to slowly drain my soul. Yet if we believe there is no waste in God’s economy, then every experience has a purpose. Every twist and turn bears fruit later on. Granted, at the time, it sure does not feel that way. Was my life in tatters, whirling apart, out of control? Or were the remnants of the past building a dream for the future? Of course I now realize both were often happening at the same time. My hope or despair was born out of what I turned toward. Yet I seem unable to turn toward hope on my own. Without prayer it is all too easy to embrace despair. Make time today to lay your life before the Alpha and Omega, to find a greater perspective, a longer view. See life less in the current condition and more in the journey. Resist the temptation to shunt aside prayer for a pressing emergency or dated routine. Judge less and accept more, opening up to new possibilities rather than focusing solely on what is passing away. Dare to dream a new dream in living color, reaching ahead rather than turning back. And always remember, the tatters of our black and white lives are pieced together into stained glass dreams, in God’s time rather than our own.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2014
Art entitled ‘Growth’ by Stella Pereira ©2013, to see more of her work, go to her blog http://pangaweka.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 Embrace….

Open Embrace by Karen PalmerThis week we are called to pray for Christian unity, to pray for Holy Spirit to mend the divisions in God’s community of believers. Such healing is only possible through the Divine, for alone we seem to find differences much more easily than common ground. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo of my friend Karen’s grandchild Mateo. I love the bright colors of sidewalk chalk, the simple drawing on the pavement. We see Mateo reaching out to this two dimensional chalk figure that the next rain will surely wash away. I don’t know about you, but what I see is an embrace. He is reaching out in love to hug the chalk child, regardless of how that child looks to the world. When do we lose this simplicity of heart? When do we begin to retrench into what we know and who we are, surrounding ourselves with others that look and think the same? When do we begin to lead with the head instead of the heart? I recall discussions about unity in my teenage years when we were taught to ‘tolerate’ those different from ourselves. It seems to me that tolerance is the first brick in the wall of hate, teaching us to keep our distance and mind our tongues. Then in the military I hear the word ‘respect’. I was offer the same respect on the views of others that I would expect my views to receive. Respect is better but still a matter of the head, not the heart. The healing the world needs begins with each of us, opening our hearts to one another. Make time today to reach out to others who differ from you. Look past outer appearances, past opinions, past beliefs. Look and listen with the eyes and ears of your heart. Pray for words and gestures that will communicate and create common ground. And always remember, when we embrace the other, the dissimilar, we can always count on finding God. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where love and caring are, there is God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘Open Embrace’ by Karen Palmer ©2013, all rights reserved.

Reflecting on Epiphany….

What is Hidden Behind this Door by RabiriusEpiphany Sunday has come and gone. The wise men have long since paid homage, left their precious gifts with the Christ child, and headed back to the East. I am just now arriving, just now approaching the manger, just how beginning to comprehend the Lord made flesh. So I was drawn to this amazing image by my friend Rabirius. I am uncertain if his work is photography, or art, or both. There is a mysterious, multilayered quality that draws me in, fires my imagination, makes me dig deeper for meaning and insight. I don’t know about you, but my ‘aha’ moments are more lie ‘aha’ seasons. There may be a sharp flash of light, an opening, a new direction. But the meaning is not something I come to quickly, or at least not as quickly as others. Like Mary, I must ‘ponder these things in my heart’. I must pray over them. I must look from more than one angle, in more than one light, with more than one perspective. What catches your eye first in this image? For me, it was the wall. How often do we walk away or take another path because we are sure the way ahead appears to be a dead end, blocked off and impenetrable? We simply dismiss the possibility, and go off on another tangent. What if we allowed ourselves to look further, to mull over the scene, to be sure we haven’t missed anything? Perhaps we might encounter the brightly colored door of this scene, illuminated by mysterious light. Or an eye meeting our steady gaze, beckoning us to a new and better place that what we leave behind. So what if it takes more time, or if we arrive after the others have departed? Such soul work is worth the time and the effort and the healing we find along the way. Make time today to ponder the walls in your life. Consider how long it took to build those walls, and what it might take to tear them down. Allow the Holy Spirit to show you the path ahead, a path that may wind and turn, but path you can be assured will get you there. Open your heart and mind and soul to the gift of grace, whether an epiphany or a gloaming, whether in an instant or over a lifetime. And always remember, our ‘work’ is simply to be present to transforming grace and mercy of our Lord, the same Lord that was born as a baby and walked among us in the flesh. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘What is Hidden Behind This Door?’ by Rabirius ©2013, all rights reserved. To see more of his work, go to http://rabirius.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on the Nativity….

Nativity 2013The afternoon ground is still coated with frost while the air is mild and the sky is clear. The brilliant sunshine takes me back to the first Christmas my husband and I spent together as a married couple, living in Los Angeles. We received a nativity set from my sister Lana, a fitting gift for our new life together. So I was drawn to this photo of that same nativity set, almost twenty five years later. I can’t tell you how many moves we made since then. The nativity set has traveled with us, and hasn’t always fared well with the moves. If you look closely, you’ll see the shepherd has lost one foot, and must lean against the stable to stand upright. The thatched roof is worse for wear, certainly not offering much shelter from the elements. We found part of the missing lamb, just the head, now relegated to peeping out from amongst the hay in the stall. This year the elephant my daughter crafted in art class has joined the manger scene. Sometimes I’ll notice a shiny new nativity set when we are shopping, but this one suits us just fine. I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded it’s okay for things to be less than perfect. It’s time to en joy one another instead of rushing around for one last gift, making yet another dessert, or fussing over a missed Christmas card or decoration. After all, that first Christmas was far from perfect. Our worst Christmas travel stories pale in comparison to traveling by donkey, about to birth a child. How often are we impatient when waiting to check into a hotel? How would we react to being offered a stable for the night? What mother would want to lay their baby in a lowly manger, wrapped in bands of cloth, perhaps tore from her own garments? It seems to me that Christmas is more about our brokenness than anything else. In the midst of this chaos, this messy, tangled, confusing existence, our Lord takes human form and lives amongst us. Make time today to remember that very first Christmas, when the King of Kings deigned to become one of us, born in a lowly stable. Consider his first followers were shepherds, the lowest of the low, despised by the priestly elite. Remember the wise men who must have seemed foolish to follow a star, across deserts and in defiance of authority, to seek out an infant child. And remember, that same King of Kings still seeks after us all, not matter how battered, or how lost.

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

Verses 3 & 4 of Angels We Have Heard on High

Text and photo entitled ‘Nativity Made Whole’ by Connie Chintall ©2013

Reflecting on Messengers….

Faithful Goat by Henny McCollochThe skies are clear and the air is cold. The way my old dog is hopping and skipping around, you’d think he was a goat. Perhaps he’s invigorated by the cold, but more likely he’s limiting contact with the icy ground. Our routine seems the same every day, out in the morning and at night, but on days like today there is a twist. So I was drawn to this photo of a faithful goat by my friend Henny. She is a letter carrier with a rural route. Each day when she approaches this farm, the goat scurries over and perches on the stone steps in front of this door. So the other day she took a picture of this strange phenomenon. I am intrigued by the sturdy stone steps and cinder block frame, all to protect an old and weathered door. This door appears to enter a barn that has seen better days. I doubt the animals inside receive much protection from the elements. Wind must whip right through the spaces between the slats. So what is the goat protecting? What does the goat seek to guard? Goats get a short shrift in the Bible. We hear how the sheep and the goats are separated, as if one is good and the other bad. Yet perhaps we simply considering two alternatives, both good, both valid, like left and right. Sheep follow their shepherd, are more docile and compliant. Goats skip and run, looking for mischief and adventure. And in the midst of all this nonsense, goats remain sure footed, even on steep or treacherous terrain. Unlike sheep, goats eat practically anything. What if this goat is not a guard, but rather a guide to a more adventurous path? Perhaps he is inviting us to knock on the door, to try the knob, to see what is on the other side. I imagine this goat is not unlike John the Baptist, a messenger preparing the way for Christ. He points beyond the doorway to the manger, where our Lord enters this life as do we all, a helpless infant. Make time today for the goats and the sheep in your life, and in your soul. Consider the path not taken, the adventure you yearn to begin, the risk you fear to take. Pray for the All Merciful to go before you, to bless and protect you, to stretch and soothe your soul. And always remember, no matter how far you wander, the Alpha and Omega will lift you up lest you dash your foot against a stone. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘Steadfast’ by Henny McColloch ©2013, all rights reserved

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 Devotions….

Dirty Pool by Deb LoveIt’s a mild, breezy morning, and I just returned from walking the dog. Sometimes these walks offer an opportunity for prayer than eludes me otherwise. I struggle with sitting still, and staying silent. It seems easier to quiet my soul when my body in is motion, easier to grasp the vastness of the Creator when nature surrounds me. It’s the time of year when the trees have shed the last of their leaves. So I was drawn to this photo of a pool with newly fallen leaves by my friend Deb. Each leaf is still distinct, intact. Some of the leaves still float on the surface, yet to fall to the bottom. No one likes the chore of clearing the leaves. I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of good and not so good reasons to procrastinate. It’s too cold, I’m too tired, I would rather play than work. And unfortunately, the leaves do not wait. More and more leaves fall, and before long begin to rot. It seems to me that my morning devotions are a lot like clearing leaves from the pool. Note I said morning devotions, not daily devotions. I manage to carve out prayer time most days, but I cannot claim to reserve time each day to pray. Yet my aspiration to pray each day drives my discipline of devotions. Perhaps devotion is a word that has gone out of fashion, more often applied to love affairs than to prayer. We speak of parents or spouses being devoted to their loved ones. I find it difficult to remain present to those I love, to those who share my home and heart, without devotion, first and foremost, to the Holy of Holies. This practice has evolved over many years, and across many seasons of life. At first I waded in, lucky to carve out a few minutes of intentional prayer. When my daughter was little, I would pray in the parking lot, when I arrived at work. Isn’t my spontaneous prayer enough? It is, and isn’t. My spontaneous prayers were demands more than devotions. Instead of being with my Lord, I was simply asking for what I wanted. My morning devotions orient my actions, ease my burdens, and lighten my spirit. When I am diligent with prayer, the leaves of my life are swept away before they fall into the depths. My soul is stirred up, and cleared out. I see life less as a series of fragmented events and more as a seamless journey. I am more likely to respond, less likely to react, most likely to accept rather than judge. Make time today to stir the depths, to cleanse your heart and renew your soul. Pause to pray for clarity, with or without words. Allow the Holy Spirit to clear away discouragement, doubt, and despair. And always remember, when we sweep away our own fallen and rotting leaves, we stop judging and begin to see ourselves and one another more clearly through the eyes of the heart. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘Dirty Pool’ by Deb Love ©2013

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