Reflecting on Fractured….

Underneath it All by Buck 20181004Crisp, clear mornings make for perfect football weather and a welcome relief from the endless rain and oppressive heat of this past summer. Yet I find myself stuck in a funk, grieving for my father who passed away ten years ago this month. He led a full life and died at ninety in our home, so it isn’t about him at all. I can’t say he was cheated or taken too soon. It’s me that feels the loss so keenly this month. It’s when life brings burdens that I cannot relieve that I miss my father the most. Two of those I love dearly are facing health crises, dealing with pain and uncertainty. I feel helpless to make a difference, except to sit and pray. Before you ask, both of these friends would jump to say those prayers make a difference. I firmly believe in the power of prayer yet the suffering in the interim is sometimes more than I can begin to fathom. Yet I persevere, knowing that God has provided a healing for them both. I believe because I have experienced such healing myself, again and again. I may seem put together and wise, but underneath it all, there are fractures that run deep. I say I am fractured not broken, the word more often used in hymns and sermons. The bones all remain in place. They still hold me up and carry me around, but there are days when I can feel each and every crack. Yet God shines through my words and actions most when I reach out in my own weakness. I surrender to the wideness in God’s mercy, letting go of my own limited understanding and trusting this is not the end of the story. I pray and wait, ponder and mull, choosing my words carefully. Sometimes I pray for God’s words rather than my own, because I have no words at all. Often I pray with my breath, reaching out to God as I breathe out, receiving blessing and protection for those in need of prayer as I breathe in. So where does my father enter into all this? His silly laugh would cut through all this serious nonsense and break the tension, or he would tell a story that would make a memory so vivid you would think you were there all over again. He would lift me out of the moment so I could gain more perspective and carry on. Make time today to lift another up in prayer. Ask how you can help make a difference. Trust God to make up the difference when you fall short. Tell a story that brings back a happy memory or make a new memory. Most of all, offer up your fractures, allowing God’s light to shine through the cracks in your heart and soul. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, art entitled ‘Underneath It All’ by David Buckwalter©2018, incorporating art by Leigh Hooper, used with their permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of David’s work, go to https://www.buckwalterphotographyva.com/

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Reflecting on Relentless….

Turning Time Upside Down by Michael Gerke May 2018
This year seems to be a never-ending series of health issues for me. I find it hard to complain about my concerns when others are facing heart conditions or cancer. Yet it feels like three bouts of bronchitis, a root canal and now a UTI are a bit more than I can handle in six months. It seems these minor health concerns have rolled in one after another, in a relentless wave of annoyances. So, I find myself drawn into this amazing art by my nephew Mike. Relentless is a word that can cut both ways, depending on what we apply it to. After the birth of a child, it is the only word to describe the care an infant requires. No matter what you have been told or how closely you tried to listen and understand, nothing prepares you for the constant care a single tiny human requires. At the same time, nothing prepares you for the overwhelming, all encompassing love you feel for that child. It is confusing, perplexing and difficult. At the same time, it is amazing, enchanting and miraculous. The only response you can offer is to be equally relentless. You quickly learn how to ask for help and trust when it seems impossible to trust, because this is a job you must get right, and you can’t do that alone. Before long, yet after forever, you seem to find a new normal, then the child grows and changes. If you are listening to that child and those who love and help you, you change and grow too. If you understand this child does not belong to you but is simply given into your care by the Holy of Holies, you soon find yourself in situations and circumstances that confound and delight you. Your world expands and becomes more than you could ever imagine. Time relentlessly marches on and before you know it, that tiny baby is an independent adult. And that is the stage of parenting I find myself in now, available rather than productive, advising rather than correcting, listening rather than speaking. Most of the time my heart swells with pride, but now and again, what seems like a tiny thing trips me up. Yesterday I removed our daughter from our car insurance, a simple administrative task, or is it? I find myself adrift in time, recalling a busy toddler, then a dancing five-year-old, then a curious ten-year-old. Time is tumbling through happy memories of the small child I miss while cherishing the young woman she has become. Make time today to soak in the wonders life bring to you. Stop to play with blocks, catch fireflies or cook with your child. Reach out to new parents and ask how you can make a difference. Listen rather than speaking. Follow rather than lead. Allow that child to draw you into their world, letting go of the relentless nonsense of being an adult. Be relentless about finding time for that child, and in the process for yourself, because it is time that is the most relentless. Text by Connie Chintall©2018, art entitled ‘Turning Time Upside Down’ by Mike Gerke©2018, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Regrets….

Whistelstop by BuckFor far too long I have been pondering what it means to have regrets. Perhaps I should begin with my regrets over taking so long between posts. That may seem like a silly place to start, until you take a hard look at the definition of the word regret. The word regret originates in the French word ‘regreter’, meaning bewail the dead. Regret focused on our feelings toward the dead, or more likely our actions or words to those now deceased. In more recent times, we tend to talk about our own past when we use the word regret. We bewail the lost opportunities of our youth, the paths not taken, the words we ought to have left unsaid. Yet it seems to me regret is not all that simple. I keep going over the words of the general confession.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

For a very long time, I treated those words like a checklist. Okay, what did I think this week? What did I say? And of course, what did I do? What had I left undone? Each one of these questions was considered separately, in isolation from the others. Each week there are things I said that hurt others, things I thought and didn’t say, things I did or didn’t do. I just never considered them together, especially not the last two. I thought regret was more about what I didn’t do that what I did, but now I am not so sure. The two go together. If there are things I wish I had done, why didn’t I do them? At least for me it ends up I didn’t take the time or make the commitment. I was too busy doing other things that seemed important, but were they really? Too often I allow my hours and days to be filled with soul sucking nonsense, rather than setting aside time for the small joys that make life worth living. I rush past a crying child to answer the phone. I cut off a friend who just needs to talk because I want to speak more than listen. I pass up an opportunity to take a chance because I prefer the comfort of my routine. Then something small reaches out and touches my heart and soul. This photo of the train station in Louisa, VA by my friend David caught me up short. I walk past this station every time I go to the farmer’s market but until this photo, I never really saw it. Make time today to look and listen to what God places in your path. Slow down and soak in the miracle of this life, breath by breath, moment by moment. Create intentional time for the small comforts of this life. Breathe in joy and breathe out busy-ness. Most of all, let the unending mercy of God enfold you and work through you. Let go of your own agenda and let the wisdom of God determine what needs to be done and left undone. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Whistlestop’ by David Buckwalter©2016, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of David’s work, go to http://www.buckphotographyva.com/

Reflecting on Questions….

Toy Train by Jeanne Mischo

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is never easy for me. Each year there are less and less people who have known me my whole life, and it seems most of them passed on during this Advent season. I feel like the family is shrinking until I take a good look around. My nieces have their own children now, some old enough to be in high school. Others remind me it is my turn to be the older generation, to be the one who has known them and prayed for them since before they were born. Yet despite the wrinkles and grey hair that welcome me in the mirror each morning, I don’t feel that much different inside. I wonder if I am up to the task of being an elder. I wonder why I don’t know or understand more than I do. Then I think back to a conversation with my father years ago, a conversation I dreaded and put off for way too long. I called home hoping to get my mother, only to find him working from home. I was calling to say I was getting divorced. I was ashamed, disappointed in myself, and terrified of disappointing my father. Of course once he answered the phone it all came tumbling out, all of the raw emotions I had bottled up in my heart. When I stopped crying and had calmed down a bit, my thirty year old self said I thought I would have figured out more answers by now. My father’s reply remains with me thirty years later. He said ‘I don’t have more answers. I simply have learned to ask better questions’. If better questions define wisdom, then I may make the grade after all. If I am required to listen more and talk less, then I still have a challenge ahead of me. Perhaps the greatest comfort is knowing we are all a work in progress, waiting and watching for a bit of divine inspiration to take human form. Christ told us the Kingdom of God is realized through each and every one of us. What if that Kingdom of God is a lens, a way of seeing and hearing that is first and foremost about relationship, about listening deeply to one another with our whole hearts and minds and souls? What if the questions are more important than our own answers? What if the questions are about each of us finding our own path, not in the sense of anything goes, but rather by walking in the path God has prepared uniquely for us? Make time today to be vulnerable to a different answer than you expect. Continue a difficult conversation, trusting in the relationship more than the uncomfortable message that might be easy to avoid. Allow the divine spark to bring forth a physical reality in a different than what you envisioned. Watch and wait, asking the questions buried in your own heart as you listen to the eternal and never ending heartbeat of the Almighty and ever living God. Art entitled ‘Toy Train’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013-2016, used with her permission, text by Connie Chintall ©2016

Reflecting on the Path Ahead….

Autumn has definitely arrived, with rainy evenings and cool, clear mornings. The ground is soaked and almost spongy. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole of a path at Montpelier. There is nothing like rain to make the orange soil of Virginia look even more orange, and the bark on the trees look almost black. The equestrian fence that lines this path has been blackened with ash, echoing the color of the bark. The leaves and grass are so bright you could almost mistake this picture for a spring scene. Yet we must remember this stark contrast was created by a storm. As Christians, we are promised abundant life, a life full of not only contentment and satisfaction but also of frustrations and disappointments. We are called to live that life to the fullest, to open our hearts to what the path ahead brings. There will be days of joy and days of sadness. We cannot close our hearts to one without losing the other. Yet how often do we succumb to this temptation, or know others that do? We can even fall into the Pit called depression, shutting down and withdrawing from emotional engagement. Depression is not sadness, depression is overarching, long standing, seemingly impossible to shake. Sometimes depression is brought on by life events, or a series of stressful circumstances. It’s almost as if the path is lost, and life is played out on the sidelines. Some believe the apostle Paul suffered from depression, that depression is the ‘thorn in his side’, not physical illness. Yet this is the same Paul who established the early church and wrote or contributed to a large portion of the New Testament. Take time today to listen to your heart, to claim the promise of abundant life. Pay attention to how you feel inside, and consider the path ahead. And remember that sometimes that path is best informed by the storms we experience in life. To quote the famous author Willa Cather, ‘There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm’. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

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