Reflecting on Expectations….

rileyatdoor by Phil Stone
Not much has been going as you would expect this summer. Even the simplest tasks seem to devolve into costly and time consuming efforts. Yet I keep hearing again and again that I am fortunate and blessed. Somehow our truck engine has not fallen into the street although the engine mount has rusted through. Somehow the garage spring broke into pieces, but only when the door was safely closed. So I was drawn to this photo of Riley at the door, taken by my friend Phil. This photo is humorous and frustrating at the same time. I can imagine Phil attempting to remove the precious stick from Riley’s mouth. Of course the dog would be less than thrilled with that solution. Then he might try to rotate the stick, allowing the dog to hang on but still managing to get him through the door. When that approach didn’t work, Phil just went and got his camera. In June I promised a lifelong friend to pray for her every morning. Once again I began the discipline of reading morning prayer aloud. It may sound weird to read prayers aloud when you are alone, but I find it slows me down and I hear as well as see the scripture appointed for each morning. Once rooted in the Word, I offer specific prayers for others and myself, then gather them together with a prayer for the greatest good and highest healing. There are mornings when these prayers weigh heavily on me, and I cannot see how or when God will answer my prayers. I have been in this place before and allowed that heaviness to dissuade me from my morning discipline. This time there is no turning back. So perhaps these ceaseless iterations to sort out household matters are not what they seem. Perhaps God is looking at me like Phil looked at his silly dog Riley. Perhaps I need that daily discipline to let go of my expectation on how and when God will answer my prayers. I need to let go of the wrong end of the stick, trusting that God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts and God’s ways are higher than my ways. Most of all, I need to be reminded that even when I get it wrong again and again, God abides with me and you and all of us. Make time today to quiet your mind and open your heart to God. Offer earnest and heartfelt prayer in a way that works for you. Draw or write or run or walk. Sit quietly and ponder the wonder of creation. Walk deliberately and with attention, grateful for the miracle of your body in motion. Most of all, pray with the confidence that God abides with us through it all, answering our prayers in spite of our expectations. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Photo entitled Riley at the Door’ by Phil Stone©2016, All Rights Reserved.

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 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/

Reflecting on the Wild….

Beyond the Path by Connie ChintallFor too long I believed the sacred only existed in far away places. I sought out mountain top experiences, ways to feed my soul with the beauty of nature or through structured retreats that quieted my mind and my soul. So I am drawn to this photo from a recent trip to Chile. I found myself at the end of the world, in Puerto Arenas. I could show you photos of the penguins or the surf, but this is the photo that pulls at my heartstrings. The tiniest of flowers burst forth from this luxurious carpet of vegetation. I knelt down to take this photo, to touch the tiny plants, to embrace the peace in the midst of this wild and wonderful place. At another time, I would have walked by without noticing this tiny scene. Life was about efficiency and accomplishments. Perhaps it was easier to think the sacred eluded me in my every day life than to admit the hectic pace left no room for the divine. How many appointments could I pack into one day? How many tasks could I juggle at one time? It never occurred to me that the fabric of my own life, so tightly woven and intricately controlled, left no room for mystery or awe. I needed to get ahead, to keep my head down, to soldier on the path in front of me. There was no time to look around, let alone drop to my knees. But something had to change. At first I took time to pray in the car before I went into work. Slowly I set aside moments here and there, or took advantage of a gap in my day for prayer and reflection, instead of crossing off another item on my list. My life shifted gears and I looked beyond the path ahead. I stopped to soak in the now, to fall to my knees in gratitude for the simple things in life. As I held open a space for the divine, I seemed to find the sacred everywhere, in my backyard, in the stew I was cooking for dinner, in the faces of people I met on the street. That divine spark is within each of us, simply waiting for our attention. Yet unless we let go of our expectations and illusion of control, we cannot see or hear or understand. The divine defies our definitions and limitations, refuses to work to our schedules, shocks us out of our complacency. Make time today to rest in the grace and mercy of Creation. Embrace the wild beauty that surrounds you, holding open space without any preconceived notions. Allow the unexpected fuel your imagination, to expand your sense of the possible, to lend color and depth to your dreams. And always remember, when you look beyond what is straight ahead, you might find what you were really looking for. Text and photo entitled ‘Beyond the Path’ by Connie Chintall ©2014

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 Vines….

I am the Vine, You are The Branches by Connie

It’s a balmy afternoon for August, the sort of perfect football weather you would expect in September or October. I am staying with my niece and her husband in Philadelphia after the birth of their first child. Rosalyn is a healthy, beautiful baby girl who has stolen our hearts. Our days and nights are as mixed up as the baby’s and I find frequent opportunities for prayer and reflection. I keep coming back to this photo of a vineyard, a photo that has nourished my prayers for almost a year. I have visited many vineyards, especially when we lived in California. Yet I do not recall vines like these. Perhaps the wine held more attraction than the vines in younger days. This vineyard in Put-in-Bay, OH has a long history, tended across generations. The rows were widely spaced and meticulously tended. I was struck by how twisted and old the vines looked, while the bright leaves and grapes vied for my attention. A single grape held more flavor than entire jar of grape jelly. Soon the branches would fall away and leave only the vines to winter over. I could imagine just the vines covered in snow and wondered how lifeless they would look. It would be easy to simply clear them away rather than trust that new life would return in the spring. Did the disciples only see the vine in the days after the crucifixion? Did they remember Christ’s words ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ (John 15:5)? If they did remember, did they believe? I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that we hang on to the old and familiar, rather than simply letting go and making room for the new. It’s easier to hunker down and stay comfortable. Things may be old and musty but we know what to expect. Yet until we let go, there is no room for new growth. There is no resurrection without the cross. Make time today to consider how new branches can grow from old vines. Give the twisted, gnarly parts of your life over to the same Lord that conquered sin and death on the cross. Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with hope and trust in new beginnings. And always remember, letting go is a lot less scary when we trust we will be caught and cradled in the arms of a loving God. Text and photo by Connie Chintall ©2014, inspired by Father Ryan Whitley sermon on 10 August 2014 at St George’s Ardmore, PA. To learn more about St George’s go to http://www.stgeorgeschurch.org/

 

After pondering this photo I created this stole using cotton batik fabrics.

P1040977 cropped flop

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 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 Anchors….

How Did the Anchor Become so Rusty by RabiriusIt’s a mild autumn morning with a hint of rain in the air. Showers may be on the way, but for now I can enjoy my second cup of coffee on a deck covered in leaves. It seems this time of year is more about endings than beginnings, about loss instead of gain. So I was drawn to this intriguing photo of a rusted anchor by my friend Rabirius. I love the stark contrast between the layers upon layers of rust and the smooth blues in the background. I can almost see the flakes about to fall, to feel the disintegration of the heavy iron. I don’t know about you, but it is easy for me to feel rusty this time of year. I recall the loss of beloved family and friends, people who prayed over me and made sure I found my way back when life tempted me from the straight and narrow. Sometimes it seems so many have gone before me that every falling leave is another soul in heaven. At times like these, my morning prayers become more important than food and water. My burdens are more than this frail human frame can bear, but light work for the same Lord who conquered sin and death on the cross. So I empty myself to make room for God, to look beyond the corroded surface of this life to see the rock solid promise of the Eternal. I drop my rusty anchor into the depths of my soul, letting go of the good, and the bad and the ugly. I pray in front of an open window on the second floor, looking out over the century old oaks in my backyard. By the end of my morning devotions, I can see more than the falling leaves. I take a closer look at the empty branches, where the buds of new life are already formed. The resurrection is present in the midst of death, new beginnings in the midst of loss, abundant love in the midst of grief. Make time today to leave your burdens at the foot of the cross. Let go of your ways and your thoughts, trusting instead in the ways and thoughts of the Alpha and Omega. Pray without words, offering an uplifted eye, a heartfelt sigh, a single tear. Open your heart and mind to the Holy Spirit, depending on the mystery of God to make up where we all fall short. And always remember, no matter how rusty you get, you can trust in the solid, steadfast love of God, who remains patiently waiting for your return. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘How Did the Anchor Become So Rusty?’ by Rabirius ©2012, to see more of his work, go to his blog http://rabirius.wordpress.com

Reflecting on Separation….

Alamanos Sunset by Tomasz HuczekIt’s a cool, rainy morning, more like autumn than summer. Today is the day my daughter moves into her dorm at college, and we all begin the next chapter of our lives as a family together. I know of no other relationship where the goal is independence rather than increasing intimacy. So I was drawn to this haunting photo by my friend Tomasz, of a beautiful sunset beyond the cove. I love how the water and sky seem to be parts of the same whole, smooth and silky against the rocky shore. I can picture myself in his place, looking into the distance, at first seeing only the glory of the sunset, then glimpsing the tiny figure on the point. Up until today, we have talked and dreamed and reveled in the wonderful opportunities that await our precious daughter at university. Now all I can see is the distance this change will create, a change we have yet to fully comprehend. So I must remind myself that she is God’s child first, given to usas our daughter, to shepherd and help find the path the Holy of Holies has prepared for her. I must remember the Almighty, the God of angel armies, will send legions of warrior angels to guide and guard her, to bless and protect her. Most of all, I must remember to look beyond today, to the little that I can now see, to trust that rocky shore offers a long way home when she needs it. Yet that vision may be too small – more likely she will dive in and swim home, or even sprout wings and fly. Perhaps as a military family we meet today with more experience of separation, yet that experience does not prepare us for this separation. Today is a day to lean on the heart’s knowledge that prayer binds souls together in ways that time and distance cannot sever. The eye may perceive her from afar, but she will always be as close as my beating heart. Make time to savor the here and now, to store up a treasure trove of memories. Honor the children in your life for who they are, leaning on God’s strength and all encompassing power to grow into men and women with a passion for life and serving others. And always remember to hold them close, but not too close, making room for their path, rather than an extension of your own. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Alamanos Sunset’ by Tomasz Huczek ©2012, to see more of his photos, go to http://tomasz.cc/

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