Reflecting on Urgent


I love to walk and one of my favorite places to walk is along the water. There is always a distant view and just the sound of water is relaxing. Walking along in the breeze to the rhythm of crashing waves seems to drown out any worries or concerns. The natural ebb and flow of life unfolds before me and all the urgent matters that were screaming for my attention fade into the background. Yet even on such a pleasant walk sooner or later I happen upon something that demands my attention.

This amazing photo by my cousin Patty is one of those arresting images that has consumed my morning devotions for almost three months. The waves have taken over this stump, all that is left of a once mighty tree. The sturdy rings developed over decades have split and opened out. Shells and feathers are caught in the opening folds, wedging themselves further and further into the grain of the wood.

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I feel like the urgent has chopped down my tree trunk and left me as a stump. I feel battered by ceaseless waves of who knows how many interruptions and over reactions, until like this stump, it seems I have lost the integrity of my purpose and strength. Worse yet, I find my requests met with the question – is this urgent? Honestly I answer it can wait, but that means the matter is neither urgent or important to them. I find myself having to ask again to even get the matter taken care of. It seems unless the matter is urgent, it cannot be important.

I harken back to the Eisenhower decision matrix, made more famous by Stephen Covey in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, shown below:


Eisenhower said we are to spend the most time in Quadrant 2 – Focus. Proper planning eliminates most emergencies or prepares us so well that even the worst scenarios are easily and calmly handed.

So what is the problem? Do I lack a good understanding of what is important to me? Do I allow distractions to overwhelm me and subsume my days? And how does all this have anything to do with the sacred? At least for me making time for prayer and devotion, the most important way to spend my time, only happens if I start my day that way. That quiet time grounds me in what is the most important matter for me – am I aligned with God’s will for me and those I love? Am I walking as a child of the light, or am I blotting out God’s will in favor of my own?

Let’s face it – that tree was in trouble long before the trunk was cut down. That once mighty tree has shrunken into a rotting stump, without roots to provide nutrition or branches to reach out to the sun. How easily do we focus on our own branches, reaching out to others, at the expenses of the strength in our roots? Even good works can starve our prayer time, just becoming another urgent item to react to.

Make time today to shore up your strength. Sit quietly or take a walk, letting nature seep into your soul. Listen more than you speak; respond before you react; love more than you judge. And always remember, we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Let us root ourselves in that divine love that has no beginning or end. May we lean on God’s strength to fortify our trunks and offer sturdy branches to others.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, Eisenhower decision matrix in common use, photo entitled ’Washing Out with the Tide’ by Patty Steiner ©2019, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved

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Reflecting on Grace….

Elegance and Grace by Patty SteinerI’m grateful for a cool, breezy morning after a long and stifling hot spell. For over a month, one sticky, wet day has followed another. It has been too hot to even go to the pool. As a child, we would often choose to boat on the river rather than to swim in the pool, trolling along the shoreline to linger in the shade of the overhanging trees. So I was drawn to this unusual photo by my cousin Patty, of a crane wading in the shallows. I love the abstract quality of this image, making it difficult to nail down. I see layers upon layers, many cranes and many rivers, rather than just one. I grew up on the Delaware River in New Jersey, and spent time on the water as a child. We never owned a large motor boat, only a canoe, then later a Jon boat with a five horsepower motor. Both boats were small and light enough to strap onto the top of the car. We frequently filled the motor with fuel from the change kept for toll roads. Instead of boating being a major expedition, it was a simple as going to the movies. On the river and the many creeks in New Jersey, I often saw these majestic birds, sometimes so still they looked like a statue, other times slowly and deliberating raising and lifting their large feet. Then as a young woman, I worked as a surveyor for Federal flood insurance. The best days were spent in hip waders or small boats. The sense of awe inspired by these birds never diminished. I often felt like a clumsy, ugly duckling next to such elegance. Yet what I remember most forty years later was a sense of hospitality and grace. While I may have been startled by their presence, the cranes happily shared their space. Perhaps we have lost this simple sense of hospitality, making a visit into an ordeal for all concerned. We worry about the stack of magazines in the corner, or what we can offer to eat or drink. We expect each social encounter to be a Martha Stewart moment, instead of a meeting of old friends, friends who could care less about the housekeeping or provisions. A friend stops by to see a friend, to sit and talk, to pause from the busy-ness of life and make time and space for one another. A graceful host opens their heart, not just their home, setting aside their concerns to listen to the concerns of guests. Make time today to offer grace to those you encounter, your family, your friends and those who cross paths with you. Let go of your expectations, and allow the Holy Spirit to open time and space for you to truly be present to one another. Pray for wisdom and discernment, to see others with God’s eyes, to hear others with God’s ears. Move over to make room for easy conversation, conversation that deepens to the core of our souls and the bottom of our hearts. And always remember – ubi caritas, et amor, ibi Deus est – where love and caring are, there is God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Elegance and Grace’ by Patty Steiner ©2012, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Defeat….

Hurricane Sandy has left terrible devastation in its wake. I hardly feel right complaining about what we have experienced in Virginia. Lack of power and downed trees pale in comparison to the flooding and fires in New Jersey and New York. The Jersey shore of my childhood has literally washed away. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo by my cousin Patty in New Jersey. At first glance, the sky seems ominous, then you notice the sun peeking through. The storm is giving way to blue skies. There is hope in the midst of despair. Perhaps defeat feels like this storm, a storm within. Instead of looming clouds and howling winds, thoughts and feelings swirl within. We strive to do well, then stumble, perhaps even take a big fall. Yet that misstep is not what defeats us. Success means continuing on past failure, learning from what we did wrong. Thomas Edison is revered for inventing the incandescent light bulb, yet he was one of over twenty inventors working on this same quest. He recognized the need for an efficient and affordable device, inventing multiple components we now take for granted. Thomas Edison was not the first to ‘discover’ the light bulb, yet he succeeded because he was the most persistent, most flexible, and possibly most cunning of all. He saw the sun peeking through when everyone else focused on the storm. He kept trying when others gave up. Make time today to realize your dreams. Accept disappointments and setbacks as part of the journey of this life, as a way for you to learn. Understand that each attempt is another step toward your goal. Trust the Holy of Holies to illuminate the path ahead, to guide you through the storm, to give you hope when it is all too easy to despair. And always remember to look for the Son, shining through even the bleakest of storms. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by Patty Steiner

Reflecting on the Path Ahead….

It’s a cool, breezy spring morning, perfect for a walk. The trees are swaying in the wind and the birds flit from branch to branch. Even when you can’t see the birds, you’ll surely hear their singing. So I was drawn to this lovely photo by my cousin Patty, of Estelle Manor in New Jersey. I love how the sunlight softly filters through the trees. The path is very well traveled and maintained, with a neat border holding back the undergrowth. I don’t know about you, but this time of year I often pray for discernment. In a few weeks, I will attend my niece’s graduation. She is the first person in my immediate family to earn a doctoral degree. We will also celebrate with friends who are graduating from high school and undergraduate programs. Some have definite plans, and know the path ahead. Others are still searching, uncertain of the best way to proceed. So as the trees sway and the sun filters through the branches, I sit and pray for each one by name, bidding the Holy Spirit to pour down into their hearts, to comfort their souls, to illuminate their minds. I pray using Isaiah 40:27-31:

27Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Most of you know this scripture, or the hymn it’s based on. We often skip over verses 27 and 30, yet we do so at our own peril. All of us, even Christ on the cross, have times when we despair, when we believe God has forsaken us. Yet even when we doubt, God abides, God remains faithful, God loves us without beginning and end. Take time today to pray for discernment and wisdom, for those in transition or in doubt. Forgive those who complain, or fear, or lose faith. Lift one another up in prayer to the everlasting God, the Creator of heaven and earth. And remember, the Son is still there, even when we can’t see Him, shining through the clouds, and filtering through the branches. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by Patty Steiner

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