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/

 

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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 Empathy ….

Alone on a Rainy Evening taken on May 8th, 2012 by Kira SkalaIt’s a beautiful, bright autumn morning here in Virginia. Even in November, we are blessed with mild days, when the sun warms the air and tempts you to do without an overcoat. On days like today, I wish my garden included more fall flowers. All that remains is a single rose. So I was drawn to this lovely photo taken by my friend Kira one spring evening from her front porch. We can see a single wild columbine in the foreground, in sharp focus, with others very close by but also very blurry. I love how the blossoms bow down under the weight of the rain, bending but not breaking. Perched on springy branches, these gentle flowers seem poised to take flight. Yet this bloom has separated from the rest, perhaps carrying a heavier burden, or too proud to ask for help. How do we reach out to others in pain, often suffering more than we can begin to imagine? Do we wait until they ask for help? Do we call and leave it at that? Perhaps we look to insert ourselves into the situation, to feel their pain, to walk a mile in their shoes. There was a time when I thought such empathy was the highest calling, when my pride and ego insisted I knew what another was feeling, and worst yet, what they needed. Now I wonder if any of us truly knows another’s pain. When we place ourselves in another’s shoes, it becomes about us instead of about them. What if empathy feeds the ego, rather than helping the other? What if empathy is an obstacle to true compassion, a way to stay in control when life seems to spiral out of control? A lifeguard begins to help by throwing in a red and white ring, then offering a pole from poolside. Only when all else fails does the lifeguard jump into the water. It takes a respectful distance to help others, working from a place of strength and stability. Once we jump in, we may be asking too much of ourselves to be able to help another. Our desire for empathy may crowd out our compassion and sympathy. Make time today to reach out to others in pain or distress. Resist the temptation to take charge, to assume you know what is going on, or how the other person feels. Simply offer to walk with them on their journey, doing as much or as little as required. Humbly complete the tasks you are given, trusting in God’s economy to provide the rest. And always remember, when we lean on God’s strength and compassion, rather than relying on our own, each of us is capable of offering a ray of sunshine in the midst of a storm. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘All Alone on a Rainy Evening’ by Kira Skala ©2013

Reflecting on Health ….

The Fire Within by Mili MiIt’s a glorious fall day, cool and calm and clear. I would love to sit out on the deck and enjoy the fine weather, but instead I am stuck inside with bronchitis. It’s been many years since I have succumbed to this mysterious malady, a serious concern each and every time I catch a cold. Such is life with asthma. So I was drawn to this dramatic photo by my friend Mili Mi, a far cry from what you would see with the naked eye. Folks are always surprised to hear I suffer from asthma. I am not sure what they think asthma looks like, or how people with asthma act. Perhaps they think I should be sickly and pale, forever out of breath and on the verge of collapsing. Instead I am the one at the gym most mornings, or walking the dog in the neighborhood for an hour. I appear healthy and hardy, yet just below the surface, there lurks a fire that seeks to snatch away my breath. As a child, my father argued to keep me in gym class, while other children were often excused. He felt I needed to develop my lung capacity to compensate for my breathing issues. When I went for my military physical, I passed the breath capacity test because I was active, a test given to all recruits. That was years before I was properly diagnosed with asthma. It took running on the beach in Los Angeles before the doctors recognized what was wrong. Once I was on proper medications and learned how to manage my symptoms, life was so much better. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that few of us are without the ‘thorn in the flesh’ that Paul speaks of in his letters of the New Testament. This mortal frame is fragile, and not without its petty foibles. Some of us are blessed with hearty constitutions in our younger years, only to succumb to ailments as we age. Others suffer early on, then learn to live with their concerns, sometimes developing healthier habits that ease the effects of aging. Then a difficult transition takes its toll, or we end up encountering someone who thinks they just have allergies instead of something contagious. We fall ill and our coping mechanisms fall short. Make time today to give thanks for the gift of health. Praise the Creator for the miracle of life, given to us breath by breath. Resist the temptation to take that breath for granted, for many of us struggle with breathing. And always remember, your health may be as wide as a highway, or as thin as a ribbon. Pray for those that walk the tightrope of health, that their balance and yours may be protected and restored. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo by Mili Mi ©2012, to see more of her work, go to http://tri-nity.deviantart.com/gallery/.

Reflecting on Eternal Life….

A Single Drop by Amin BaherAfter rain and more rain, the sun is shining this morning. The yard and deck are coated with tree pollen and oak litter. Today the world seems yellow from top to bottom. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Amin, of a single drop suspended in the curl of a withered plant. I love how water takes so many different forms, and forgive the engineer in me, different optical properties. This single drop acts as a lens, capturing the world around it in a perfect, circular reflection. Even when withered, this tendril can support the gift of life, clean, clear water. As the rain drenched the earth this week, many have drenched a dear friend in earnest prayers for healing. When the world seemed withered and bare, and all earthly hope seemed in vain, the Holy of Holies brought back my young friend from the abyss. No, there was more to it than that. A great healing has taken place, a loosing of his soul from a disease even the best and brightest do not understand. Such illness can do far worse than ravage the body. Such illness can cripple the soul. This healing of the soul is what we pray for, first and foremost, the healing that we all need to weather the vagaries of this life, the blessed assurance our mortal span is but a single drop in the ocean of eternal life. At times our lives may be as hard as ice, or as evasive as steam, but we are all still flowing through the river of Creation. Make time today to loosen your soul from the moorings of this life, to turn your heart and your eyes and your ears to the Divine in each and every one of us. Let go of the idea that prayer needs a special place or time, or flowery words. Breathe out ‘Almighty’, breathe in your name. Let your breath, your very being become your prayer. And always remember to give thanks for the abundant life we are offered, moment by moment, one drop at a time. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘A Single Drop’ by Amin Baher ©2012, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Air….

Out of Air by Steve UlleniusIt’s another cold, grey morning here in Virginia. Even the old adage ‘March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb’ doesn’t seem to apply. With a week to go, the lamb is nowhere in sight. The air outside is cold and raw, and the wind is stirring up all sorts of dust and pollen. So I was drawn to this photo by my friend Steve, of a disused gas station. I’m not sure if some of the windows are boarded up, or covered with a soapy film. The air pump is long gone and even the exhaust ports are tightly sealed. The only way for air to escape is through the tiny hole beneath the word ‘AIR’. I have lived with asthma for most of my life, and it’s been an ongoing concern for my daughter. Asthma prevents the sufferer from breathing out. Air becomes trapped inside and it feels as if your lungs could burst. An inhaler opens the throat so you can breathe out once again. Asthma is something I would not wish on my worst enemy, let alone someone I love. We all want the best for our children, hoping they inherit our strengths but not our weaknesses. Yet all too often we end up with both, seemingly amplified beyond what we can bear. Perhaps we empathize because we know all too well what they are going through. We recall our own triumphs and failures, joys and sorrows. We wish to spare our children what we endured, but know we cannot. Growth requires vulnerability and exposure. We cannot learn without stretching ourselves, without moving out of our comfort zone. We cannot take without giving, gain new life without dying, start again without ending. When we turtle in, our world becomes filled with stale air. Make time today to take a chance, to lean into the wind, to breathe in deeply and breathe out freely. Open your heart and mind to another’s viewpoint, listening without reservation, seeking to understand, reserving judgment. Let go of what you expected and give thanks for what you have received. Forgive yourself and others for the shortcomings of this life, and allow The Almighty to complete what overwhelms you alone. And always remember to give thanks here and now, no matter what life may bring, for this gift of life is given to us one breath at a time. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Out of Air’ by Steve Ullenius, 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 Snails….

Snail #2 by Gemma CostaThe grey skies and bleak mornings sap my energy this time of year. I even stop bothering with a ‘to do’ list, since I can’t seem to work off more than I add each day. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo by my friend Gemma of a curious snail. I love how the eye stalks are in focus, while the rest of the snail and the background are a bit blurred. The snail finds its way mostly with the shorter tentacles, reaching out to test the way ahead before proceeding, while the eyes offer a view from higher up. I first really looked at snails when I was a young officer stationed in Los Angeles. I was living in a small duplex, with sorely neglected roses all along the house. As I began to trim them back, I found more and more snails. I disturbed their habitat so they invaded mine. I couldn’t park in the driveway without running over snails, or walk across the porch without stepping on snails. The neighbors told me to put down snail bait to get rid of them, but somehow that just seemed all wrong. In fact, a lot was wrong with my life then, as my first marriage was falling apart at the seams. Sometimes I would sit on the porch praying for a way out, a way to heal what was broken, or I would be simply lost in sorrow and dismay. Then I would look up and see the snail that seemed to be going nowhere had actually made progress. It may sound weird, but those snails gave me hope, that no matter what happened, God had a plan. That plan might take a lot longer than I hoped it would, but there was a plan for me, a plan created by an Almighty and All Merciful God. Make time today to really look at what God places in your path. Let go of your usual expectations, resist the temptation to judge, and simply soak in the reminder that God is in charge. Become lost in the beauty of nature, or find the beauty in what others find a nuisance. Trust the Author of Creation who was, and is, and always will be. And remember, you can get there if a snail can, as long as you look up to find the way ahead. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by Gemma Costa ©2012

Reflecting on Wholeness….

Amathus ay Sunset by Tomasz HuczekThis life is full of twists and turns, unexpected joy and crushing sadness. We never know what awaits us, from day to day. A morning that begins with soaring promise can end in disaster; another morning that seems bleak beyond despair can end on top of the world. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Tomasz. His photos have been featured in previous posts, most often pictures of Kourion Beach. So I was intrigued by this photo of Amathus, one of the most ancient royal cities of Cyprus. In the midst of widespread devastation, we find a single, intact earthen jar, somehow enduring across all time. I have been struggling with an age old dilemma, why bad things happen to good people, to those who love and trust in the Lord God, and live upright and ethical lives. My prayers have been peppered with outright rage, bone crushing sadness and endless intercessions for a miracle. In many ways, these prayers resemble heated conversations with my family and closest friends. I lash out in anger, only to realize I’m not mad at them, but rather beyond frustrated with a situation I cannot control. I can vent my anger safely with those I love most, those who know me best, those who love me because of my faults, rather than in spite of them. So the psalms that begin in anger and end in praise and trust in God don’t seem so farfetched these days. I wrestle with how life has dealt such a cruel blow, as I cling to God’s mercy without beginning or end. Again and again, I turn away from the affliction that causes such anger, and give thanks for the healing that has been prepared. I question how this all can happen, while trusting that God has provided in ways I cannot begin to understand. Most of all, I cling to the blessed assurance that wholeness remains in this broken world, a wholeness born of steadfast love that was, and is, and always will be. Make time today to pour out your heart to the Almighty, the Architect of the Universe. You don’t need to hold back your anger – the Alpha and Omega is vast enough to bear it all. Leave your worldly concerns, the heaviest burdens of this broken life, in the palm of the Most High, and ask the All Merciful to draw you close to the Heart of All Hearts. And always remember, even when we are lost in great darkness, surrounded by brokenness we believe is beyond repair, our everlasting God remains in our midst, ready to bring us into the light and make us whole. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by Tomasz Huczek ©2012, to see more of his photos, go to http://tomasz.cc/

Reflecting on Health….

Good health is something we all take for granted, until there’s a problem. Perhaps our health deteriorates over time, part of the inevitable decline of old age. Some of us may experience chronic health concerns, issues we may have dealt with since childhood. Yet what we struggle with most is a sudden, unexpected illness or injury, leaving us or those we love grappling with debilitating consequences. So I was drawn to this mesmerizing drawing by my friend Jeanne. I love how the bird is perched at an odd angle, deftly clinging to the branch against all odds. The compass rose is the centerpiece of a roulette wheel, with the needle missing. Instead of indicating true north, our direction is determined by sheer luck. I find myself wondering if the bird plucked out the compass needle, or if the bird holds the roulette ball in its beak. Then of course there is the background. This capricious scene plays out against solid wood, a firm and strong foundation. I’m reminded of a quilted wall hanging I made for my sister years ago, using fabric from garments I had sewn for the family. Each square contains a different birdhouse, but there were no birds in the original pattern. So I added them to the quilt, using the smallest of scraps, mostly from ties I had made for my father as a young girl. Somehow the bird pattern was reversed, and the birds in her wall hanging are upside down. I began to tear out my work to start over, then thought better of it and left the birds as they were. There was a playful quality to their odd orientation, a suggestion of motion that would be missing otherwise. It seemed the birds were swooping down, frolicking on the wind. It can be difficult to see the wonder of creation when ill health comes your way. Your body becomes the birdhouse without a bird, a burden instead of a joy. We become lost in the details of caring for ourselves or others, struggling to get from one place to another, to perform simple daily functions, to bathe and to eat. It takes someone from outside our encapsulated world to set us straight. Make time today to call a friend or family member who is recovering from ill health. Offer to bring them a meal, to run an errand, to just stop by and break up the day. Share your own story of healing and redemption, and how others helped you in your hour of need. Lift them up in prayer, helping them to hold fast to the healing that has been prepared for them. Most of all, recall we are all anchored to a firm foundation, entrusted to a God that offers healing and mercy without beginning or end. And always remember, when true north seems all but lost, and we know not where to turn, that same God eternally draws us ever closer to him, until we are one with His heart. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Art entitled ‘A Little Disoriented All of the Time’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2012, to see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

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