Reflecting on Identity….

55 & Vine by Rick MartinThere 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/.

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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 Fragile….

Collapsed Japanese House by FlorianLife is such a fragile commodity. We hear folks say this all the time, especially in the face of inconceivable tragedy. We speak of the lives cut short as fragile, but I wonder if we really are speaking of the lives of those left behind to cope with the aftermath. Friends and family gather round, in hopes of offering a comforting word or gesture, looking to pick up the pieces. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Florian. He has captured the ruins of a once strong and sturdy shelter on a mountain road in Japan. It seems just when we think we have it all figured out, life takes a sharp turn. We find that what we thought was solid is shifting under our feet. When we cling to what we thought was certain, we find it sifting through our fingers like grains of sand. All I do know for sure right now is that while life may end, love never dies. No amount of time, or distance, or change can diminish or wipe away love. Love is the only way to respond to such earth shattering events. Alone we can never hope to put this home back together, or make way for a new home. Together we can make short work of it. Most of all, we must be both present to the pain and present to the love of the Almighty. The only way I know how to walk that razor’s edge is through prayer. Without prayer, we can ruin ourselves and be of no help to anyone. I walked for a long time this morning, walked and prayed because I simply could not sit still and pray. Although I could find no words of my own, I keep hearing the Prayer of St Francis:

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness only light,
And where there’s sadness ever joy.

Oh Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life

Make time today to open your heart and soul to the never ending love and mercy of the Almighty. Breathe out the pain and sorrow. Breathe in comfort and peace. Let go of the overwhelming and leave it at the feet of the Alpha and Omega. If you have no words for such sorrow, trust God will offer you the right words, or perhaps no words at all. And always remember, when you open your heart and become vulnerable, you can rely on the steadfast love of God, pouring into you and through you. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015. Hymn ‘Prayer of St Francis’ by Sebastian Temple ©2009. Photo entitled ‘Collapsed Japanese House’ by Florian Seidel ©2013, to see more of his work, go to his blog http://abandonedkansai.com

Reflecting on Color….

Alaska Range by Bill WildBright winter sunshine can be deceiving. I long for warmer days and am easily tricked into believing spring has already arrived. Instead it is as cold as ever, with more storms on the way. So I was drawn to this photo entitled ‘Alaskan Range’, brought to my attention by my cousin Bill. Bill and I both joined the Air Force at the same time, thirty five years ago. I was posted to Nevada while he was sent to Alaska, a place that has been his home ever since. Vibrant color is not how I picture Alaska. I expect to see ice and snow everywhere, instead of just on the mountain range. Perhaps the distant snow makes the colors jump out, refusing to be ignored. This morning I am enjoying the bright, over the top, colors. I am well rested and relaxed. Yet there are days when these same bright colors seem to exhaust me, offering more than I can take in. Rather than feeling included, part of the scene, I feel intruded upon, almost assaulted. I can feel the same way about social situations. There are times when I thrive on social interaction, and others when I would prefer to be alone, curled up in front of the fire with a good book. Where is the tipping point between inclusion and intrusion? When does reaching out becomes trespassing? Perhaps the answer varies from person to person, and day to day. Difficult circumstances can lead one person to seek the company of others, while another prefers to be alone. We must listen with all of our being, with our hearts, and souls and minds, to know what to say, or whether to say anything at all. We want to do something, to fix the problem, to get past the awkwardness. Yet often all we need is someone to sit with us, to simply be with us. Make time today to practice holy listening, to let go of your need to be in the foreground. Pray for the Holy Comforter to guide your words, your actions and, most of all, your timing. Simply be there for another, and let go of everything but the here and now. And always remember, when we respond to the true needs of others, less becomes more than enough. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, Photo entitled ‘Alaskan Range’,  All Rights Reserved

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 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 Trust….

Rainy Ride by Bonnie Hamlett

The rain is pouring down, then drenching in waves. As I said my morning prayers, the rain was louder than the music at times, calling out to be noticed. So I was drawn to this photo by my friend Bonnie, of a rainy ride to work in Oregon. In some ways I miss the long view of the Western states, how you can see past the storm to the sun beyond. In Virginia, the rain is often accompanied by fog and mist. Fog is mysterious, something my grandmother called God’s blanket of love. You turn inward, rather than look to the horizon. Sometimes we need to tune out the world, to ground ourselves in the here and now. We can become lost if we only listen to the voices of this world, and neglect to listen to the voices of all Creation. It’s a question of trust, of what we believe, of which voices we chose to listen to. The portal from this world to the next is the heart. When we listen to the voice of our heart, we are connected to the eternal, we perceive a wideness in God’s mercy, we feel a love without beginning or end. What seemed improbable if not impossible becomes more real to us that our own breath. We know beyond knowing. We believe without seeing. Our hearts that were so burdened by concerns of the flesh are renewed by eternal hope and joy. I don’t know about you, but my prayers often devolve into just talking at God. There is no conversation, no time for listening, just time enough to rattle off my shopping list of concerns. I tell God what I want instead of listening for what I need. Then life stirs up a storm beyond belief, and I am brought to my knees. Those wants seem like dust in the wind. My concerns seem like so much puff and vanity. I know no way out through human means. I must rely on the Almighty to show me the way. The world says forge ahead, push harder, try with all your might. God says pull over, just breathe, listen with your heart. Make time today to listen to the rain. Allow the Holy Spirit to drench you in love, to drive out all fear and uncertainty. Let go of what you think you need, of how you expect things to be, of the why and the when and the where. Trust the Author of Creation to create new life, one breath at a time. And always remember, when the path seems the most bleak, every leap of faith begins with simply putting one foot in front of the other. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo by Bonnie Hamlett ©2012, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Love….

The Cloud of Hearts by The Sofi's WorldWe awoke to find a light dusting of snow, just enough to be pretty, not enough to be a nuisance. By my second cup of coffee, the snow had begun to melt. Now it feels like spring, although I’m sure it will be as cold as winter by nightfall. This time of year it’s hard to know what to expect. So I was drawn to this creative artwork by my new friend Sofi. Hearts are an obvious choice for Valentine’s Day, but the arrangement of the hearts is what caught my eye. I love how the hearts are piled onto one another, forming a cloud of love. Consider those you hold most dear in this life. How did you meet each other? Did a mutual friend or family member introduce you? Or were you drawn together by a common interest or activity? Perhaps you both attended the same church, or worked together. As you learned more about one another, you found you had more in common and the relationship grew. Then life brought along its inevitable changes. We grow closer when our circumstances are the same, and often drift apart when our circumstances differ. Like the weather, the time we spend with one another can blow hot and cold. Yet we all know a loved one who is always there for us, no matter how long it’s been since we spoke, or how many miles may separate us. We can always pick up where we left off, and continue as if it was just yesterday. That bond is like a favorite book, or our most comfortable article of clothing, familiar and soothing no matter how long it’s been. It seems to me such a strong bond is built on the hearts of many, hearts that taught us to care for ourselves and one another, hearts that live through us even when the physical heart has long since departed. Like Sofi’s art, our lives are built on a cloud of love. Make time today to reach out to those who taught you the meaning of love. Open your heart, and your mind and your soul. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, trusting in God to fill in the gaps when your words and efforts fall short. Truly and deeply listen, especially when what you hear is uncomfortable or annoying. Accept what you hear with gratitude, for only the deepest trust allows such openness. And always remember, no matter what this life brings, the Holy Comforter is only a heartbeat away, waiting to ‘heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds’ with the balm of abiding and steadfast love. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Quote from Psalm 147:3, Art entitled ‘The Cloud of Hearts’ by The Sofi’s World ©2012, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Sofi’s work, go to http://thesofisworld.com/

Reflecting on Companions….

It’s a cold, grey day filled with steady rain. I rarely get much accomplished on days like this, preferring to curl up with a book or let my mind wander to other times and places. So I was drawn to this photo of a father and daughter by my friend Luis. I love the beautiful clouds and setting sun, and how this pair has stopped to soak in the scenery. They are together, but separate, not needing to say anything at all. They chose to simply share the same experience, basking in the glory of God’s creation. I recall a walk on the beach with my father, long, long ago. Sometimes Daddy would take me with him to work on Saturday mornings. I would occupy myself with a coloring book while the engineers puzzled over a particular problem. If I managed to be quiet and patient, I was rewarded with an adventure. One warm spring day, I asked Daddy to take me to the beach. We headed for Sandy Hook, a barrier peninsula at the northern tip of the New Jersey shore. Not long after we arrived, the weather turned windy and cold. Now most parents would have simply turned around and gone home. Instead, Daddy wrapped me in a blanket and we headed down to the beach, spotting birds and watching the sea turn wild. Just when we thought it was too cold to bear, the clouds parted, softly reflecting the setting sun. How often are we tempted to turn back, to let a little wind or rain stop us in our tracks? Yet when we persevere, holding fast to our promises, we may find ourselves basking in God’s glory. Take time today to recall what it means to be loved, a time when you stopped to enjoy another’s company, a time without words. Make an out of the way place your own, a place of companionship and joy, a place to be with God. And remember, neither time nor distance can diminish such memories, or destroy such love. Photo entitled ‘Companions’ by Luis Gonzalez, ©2012, used with his permission

Reflecting on the Resurrection….

The Eastern Redbud outside my kitchen window has seen better days. Ice from the winter before last lobed off the main trunk, leaving behind a lopsided tree that looks more like a bonsai than a redbud. Last summer we decided to give it another chance, and this spring we are reaping the rewards of that decision. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Cecilia. Rather than focus on the blooms, Cecilia captured the beauty of the first few leaves. I love how this single heart shaped leaf is in sharp focus, while the brightly colored blooms blur into the background. It’s easy to be tempted by the radiant beauty of flowers, a beauty that quickly fades away. We fuss over the bright display, happy for a new beginning, and soon tire of looking when the blooms fall and leaves unfold. Yet look at what we are missing. Each and every one of these newly formed leaves is shaped like a tiny heart. The new life that has replaced the old comes from a deeper place, a steadfast love, emerging after experiencing the adversity of winter. Perhaps we are blessed with flowering trees to help us understand the resurrection of our Lord. The disciples did not recognize the Risen Christ, until He called them by name. New life had emerged from the tomb, yet this life did not resemble the Christ who died on the cross. Take time today to look for new life all around you, in unexpected shapes and forms. Consider the miracle of an unfolding leaf that began growing during the cold of winter. Let go of the flashy blooms and dig more deeply into the heart of life, seeking a sustained growth, a greater miracle. And remember, no matter how lopsided life may become, the Author of Creation is waiting to give us not just a second chance, but chance after chance, until we live into the Resurrection. Photo entitled ‘The Heart of the Redbud’ by Cecilia Carr

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