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

Reflecting on Heart….

An unseasonably warm day is more than welcome, less than a week after snow flurries. While we may be baffled by the weather, the birds are beyond thrilled. This morning a chorus of birds greeted me, singing their hearts out. So I was drawn to this amazing artwork by my friend Jeanne. I love how she combined an accurate anatomical image of the heart with images of nature. The two toned background emphasizes the left and right sides of the heart, which seems like a vase on top of a table. Our hearts are often taken for granted, despite giving us life one beat at a time, despite holding the longings and desires of this life. We go about our days without giving it a second thought. We expect our heart to work for us, day in day out, both in a physical and emotional sense. Yet without taking time to fill our hearts and nourish our souls, we find our lives, and our hearts, like an empty vase. We can become so overwhelmed by the busy-ness of life, relying on logic and reason to sort out our days, that we can allow haste to run roughshod over our own feelings and the feelings of others. Perhaps that hectic pace hurts us more than we know, damaging us in ways that only surface years later. Take time today to fill your heart with love and compassion. Allow the Holy Spirit to drench your soul, to slow your steps, to bind you together with those you love. Invite the Author of Life to sanctify all of your efforts, creating a chorus of both reason and emotion. And remember, ‘My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever’ ~ Psalm 73:26. Art entitled ‘Sacred Heart’ ©2012, by Jeanne Mischo, used with her permission

Reflecting on Uncertainty….

It’s turned cold again this morning, reminding us winter is far from over. No one seems sure how to dress for this weather, winter in the morning, perhaps like spring by the afternoon. So I was drawn to this photo of our back yard, taken by my husband Mark. Fog obscures the background, drawing your eyes to what my daughter calls the secret garden. In spring and summer, the overgrown shrubbery completely obscures the view. As a small child, she loved playing there, creating fanciful stories and imaginary worlds. My father brought us the bench from the Columbus Sale in New Jersey, almost twenty years ago. Yet what seems like a lovely place to sit is not now what it appears. The bench is broken, beyond repair. We struggle to keep poison ivy from crowding out the bulbs and other plantings. And my daughter is now a junior in high school, driving from here to there, rather than playing in our back garden. Life is far from certain, and often far from what it appears to be. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with uncertainty. In engineering school, I studied ways to model the world around us, to mathematically reduce the chaos into some semblance of certainty. Yet what really matters, the reasons we get out of bed each morning, the people and places we love most, defy all reason and calculations. To truly love one another we must accept uncertainty, throwing caution to the wind, opening our hearts to both the joy and the pain. Take time today to be truly present to those you love, accepting whatever life brings. Let go of your expectations and desire for control, let go of yesterday and tomorrow and cling to today. Empty yourself to make room for the Alpha and the Omega, the God of steadfast love that was, and is and always will be. And remember, ubi caritas et amor, where love and caring are, there is God. Photo by Mark Lindsey

Reflecting on Shadows….

The sun is a welcome sight after the cold and wet days this weekend. I enjoyed a nice walk with a visiting friend, happy to be outdoors in the cold, crisp air. So I was drawn to this photo of an unsuspecting subject taken by my friend Mary in Put-in-Bay, Ohio. I love the warm colors and sharply outlined shadows. If you look closely, you can see the brim of a hat. On the table, there are plenty of drinks waiting for friends who haven’t yet arrived or are out of the picture. Today is All Saint’s Day, the day we remember those who have passed from this life to the next. In some cultures, the Christian tradition of All Saint’s has been combined with the ancient remembrances of the dead in a celebration called Dios de los Muertos, or Days of the Dead. There is a carnival atmosphere, as communities celebrate for three days, eating ghoulish sweets, resembling skulls and bones. It’s as if Halloween and All Saint’s run together, making fun of our own mortality while accepting the reality of death by grieving loved ones. There are three days each year when all laugh and cry together. Perhaps we need a holiday like that, rather than grieving haphazardly, on our own. Like this shadow, our memories swirl around us. The strangest things can bring fresh grief, like an old sweepstakes entry or a sugar packet tucked in a shirt pocket. We look around for the source of the shadow, then realize that only the shadow remains. Yet the more we resist grief, the more it persists. We can’t get around it; we simply must get through it. Take time today to remember a loved one that has passed on, or to comfort another lost in grief. Give thanks for those who passed before you, shaped your life, and made you who you are today. Let laughter and tears blend together, like the celebration of Dios de los Muertos. And remember you can’t feel the joy without accepting the pain. We are promised abundant life, not a bowl of cherries. Photo by Mary Staley

Reflecting on New Birth….

It turned cold over the weekend, with frost on the fields as we drove to church on Sunday. The leaves are falling furiously, reminding us the truly cold weather is just around the corner. So I was drawn to this amazing photo of our newest friend Miles, taken by his grandfather Terry. I love how the baby’s feet are gently cupped in Mom’s hands. Just like the marching band at football games, her hands form a heart. The students say hello to their friends using this gesture, as a way to acknowledge them while still maintaining the required discipline. So it goes with parenting, from the very beginning. There is a gentle balance between love and discipline, between indulgence and obedience. Our hearts soar with the birth of a baby, overwhelmed that the Author of Creation has deigned to work through us to create new life. Yet our heart is also heavy with the weight of responsibility this new life brings. We begin a delicate dance, establishing routines and learning ways to soothe and comfort the child. It’s sort of like playing an instrument in marching band, combining music with the military precision of drill. Take time today to consider what appears to be a contradiction. Look past the simple solution, requiring you to choose either one way or another. Invite the Author of Creation into your apparent dilemma, allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire you to create a new beginning, a new birth. Photo by Terry Wayne Jones

Reflecting on Hugs….

It’s been a quiet week here at home, with both my husband and daughter off in different directions. It seems a bit lonely, and a lot short on hugs. So I was drawn to this photo of my friend Seth and his family, taken by his wife Chris. Seth is hugging his brother and his son George, making his brother into a hug sandwich. When my daughter Tori was younger, my husband and I would hug each other with her in the middle, making her into the salami in the hug sandwich. So I was struck by this photo, with father and son surrounding brother and uncle. How often do we yearn for such all encompassing love? We look in all the wrong places, thinking only the mighty and strong can provide sheltering protection and security. We hide our emotions from our children, saying it is better to spare them the hurt and pain. Yet even a young child can make a world of difference. A child doesn’t try to fix the problem, or talk you out of it. A child simply climbs into your lap and snuggles into your neck, or haphazardly dries your tears. Who can remember what was so earth shattering when you see a child’s eyes light up? Perhaps Seth’s most important role is taking young George to visit his uncle, to bring the wonder of a young boy into his life. Take time today for the little children in your life. Let go of your worldly concerns and adult responsibilities, and just allow yourself to be a child once again. Chances are there will be a hug or two waiting for you. Photo by Christine Correll Guanu

Reflecting on Caregiving….

It’s steadily raining this morning, making today the start of a third wet week. Puddles are everywhere, and the raindrops make perfect circles as they land. The weather has turned cold, and the rain is even colder. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Michael of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Michael rose early to take this photo, of the new dawn over calm water. The perfect blue sky seems a distant memory, like warm, summer days. So much can change so quickly. Yesterday my father would have celebrated his 93rd birthday. He passed away almost three years ago, in our home. In the days after Daddy passed away, I found it difficult to adjust. As his primary caregiver, I had become accustomed to listening for the slightest sound, to reacting without thinking. Sometimes I wonder if I simply sorted things out without really waking up. The only experience comparable to those last days would be caring for a newborn, with exuberant joy replaced by aching sorrow. Yet there were many mornings when my chaotic schedule allowed me to see the early dawn. Perhaps the seeds of these reflections were sown in that quiet, in between time. My heart was nourished by awe inspiring beauty in the midst of pain and sorrow. Every day, even the saddest of days, is full of possibilities and promises. Take time today to look beyond what is right in front of you, to allow a simple wonder to draw you in. If the scene is too dreary or depressing, consider looking through photos of a recent trip or call and chat with a close friend. And remember to drink in whatever this day offers, because so much can change so quickly. Photo by Michael Granche

Reflecting on Connection….

It’s another misty morning here in Virginia. On days like this, it’s easy to understand why our mountains are called the Blue Ridge. So I was drawn to this amazing photo taken by my friend David. While the sky clears and the sun sets, fog still clings to the rolling hills. Our area is bisected by tall towers that carry power to Pennsylvania and beyond. The towers raise more than a little controversy, and most folks mention their presence with disdain. Yet David entitled this photo ‘Electric Angels’. In what others find a nuisance, he finds reassurance. He is not alone. Another friend, Bryan Jacobs, sings ‘Jesus on the Mainline’, as the last track of his blues album ‘Remington Steel’. Both men express our deep seated need to connect. Our hearts crave connections to one another, and to God. When we lack that connection, we don’t just lose God, we lose ourselves. The tiniest frustration becomes devastating, and we are paralyzed by the smallest setback. Yet all it takes is a single sigh, an upturned look, a muffled cry. Christ is always there, whether we know it or not, waiting for us to plug back in. We may feel as though we have been sidetracked, but Christ calls us back onto the mainline, the central artery of life. Take time today to tap into God’s power line. Call out to Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to fill your heart and feed your soul. Join Jesus on the mainline, and leave your blues behind. Photo by David Buckwalter © 2011

Reflecting on Fog….

As one rainy day follows another, our morning fog rivals the fog we met in the English countryside. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Sarah in the Amazon. I love how the tree in the foreground stands out, so distinct in contrast to the misty scenery in the background. I can imagine certain sounds being muffled, while other sounds are amplified or distorted. The boat seems so inviting, offering a chance to float aimlessly on calm waters. Fog offers an invitation to turn inward, to let go of the long view and soak in the here and now. My grandmother used to say that fog was a blanket God used to cover a corner of the world. It’s almost as if God is inviting you to pull up the covers and hit the snooze button one more time. Yet there is such temptation to rush out of the house and through our day. We speed up only to be caught at the next red light along with everyone else, or cut off someone to get a parking space a few feet closer to the door. We want everything to add up just so, for all the facts to line up and make perfect sense. The true essence of life defies such simple bookkeeping. Our hearts are regulated by a more subtle and complex arithmetic. The greater truth lies in embracing the mystery, and accepting that our view is limited, and often obscured. Only the Most High sees all and understands all. Take time today to turn inward, to lead with your heart rather than with your mind. Allow the mystery of life to enfold you, and thank God for your blessings, for those who fill your life with love. Feel free to pour out your heart in prayer, knowing that the fog that surrounds you is simply a wonderful, mysterious blanket of God’s love. Photo by Sarah Gulick

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