Reflecting on Generosity of Spirit….

nothing but flowers by RabiriusThe younger generation amazes and baffles me. I love the time I spend with my daughter and younger friends and relatives. Intense memories of my younger days awaken to delight and disturb me. Like this amazing digital art by my friend Rabirius, I recall running full speed ahead, missing more flowers than I paused to stop and smell. The twenties are a difficult time, a time when we all seek identity and purpose. Most of all, we set the trajectory for the rest of our lives. Small course corrections can make huge differences later on, so it can be difficult to understand how much to help and how much to just listen. I must admit I am not good at this sort of thing on my own. It is so easy to swoop in and take charge, to flatten out all obstacles, to impose my version of right and wrong. Yet if I open myself up, if I truly listen, I soon learn how different the world is now than the world of my youth. Opportunities abound that I could not even begin to imagine, opportunities to soar and opportunities to crash and burn. Yes, the stakes are high, but the highest stakes lie in the decision making itself. My daughter and her contemporaries must live with their decisions, walk their own paths, discover their own ways of making a difference in the world. So I hold open a space to allow the excitement and pain and confusion to flow. I wait then wait again before I ask a question. I open more than my mind. I open my heart and soul. That monumental effort takes a generosity of spirit than I am unable to offer on my own. That openness is the fruit of consistent and faithful prayer, lifting up their concerns on a regular basis, praying for understanding and enlightenment for their path ahead. Sometimes than generosity means stepping aside because I am not the right person for this junction in the road. I can be generous because opening the circle does not diminish me, it enlarges me. The circle grows as their path, not mine, takes us all to amazing places and allows dreams to become reality. Most of all, that generosity overflows in unexpected ways, opening up new beginnings in people and places thought long past healing or renewal. Make time to pray for those you love, even if your relationship is strained or difficult. Pray for their concerns, their path ahead, their way to make a difference. Let go of expectations to open up your heart and mind and soul. Most of all, let God weave our paths together, enfolding us in the greatest circle of all. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Nothing but Flowers’ by Rabirius©2016-2017, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of his work, go to https://rabirius.me/

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Reflecting on the Way Out….

Way Out by Rick Martin Sep17
Life is never as neat and tidy as I would like it. My attention shifts from one aspect to the next, usually resulting in total neglect of at least one part of my life. I start to eat healthy, but can’t manage to exercise. I take time for morning prayer, but neglect to keep in touch with friends. It seems I am much better at focusing on one part of my life than I am at balancing the many parts of my life. So I was drawn to this incredible photograph by my friend Rick. He seeks out abandoned and deserted places and turns what others see as a lost cause into beautiful art. I look at his work and wonder about who might have lived there and what their lives must have been like. Most of all, I am intrigued by how light affects how I see the image. I have been turning my attention to long neglected areas of my life, cleaning out clutter and dealing with ancient memories that clutter brings up. Perhaps I hang onto things because I dread thinking about what those things remind me of. It is easier to box up the stuff and the past that goes with it than to the time to sift through it. Somehow I have wound myself into the darkest corner of that house of memories, with not enough light to discern what I am looking at, let alone what I need to address. And of course, I expect the way out to be simple, a single step, a single turning, a single change of heart. Yet how can that be when it took me forever and a day to get here? Why do I expect the way out to be any less complicated than the way in? A part of me has been dealing with the monsters in the closet, whether I chose to turn my conscious thoughts toward them or not. Unpacking the way out will take time and more than a little space for grace. Take time today to peek around the corner and take a look at what you hide in the shadows. Tomorrow or next week, clear out the cobwebs and clutter that gets in the way. When you are ready, wipe away the dust and look at that old memory calmly and clearly. Most of all, be gentle with yourself and let go of what happens next. Hold open space for something new and unexpected. Open your heart to a future beyond what you can imagine or hope for, a future that embraces the past rather than remaining trapped by that past. And always remember, it starts with just one step out of the darkness, one day at a time. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Way Out’ by Rick Martin©2017, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Rick’s work, go to http://www.rickmartin.com or http://www.abandonedanddesertedinvirginia.com

Reflecting on Notice…

Look Up by Jen AyersEaster has come and gone and our yard is full of blooms. I find myself noticing familiar bulbs and volunteers transplanted by the wind as I walk the dog in the early morning. Yet I discover the unexpected under my feet more often than above my head. I wonder if I would have noticed this extravagant flower arrangement over the entrance to Christ’s Church in Georgetown on Easter Sunday. Fortunately my good friend took this photo, most likely while carrying her new baby Lily. How often do we find ourselves in a rush, charging forward with our heads down, focused only on our destination? How much beauty escapes our gaze as we strain to look ahead? Even my grocery shopping can be fraught with folks in a hurry. Every time I shop at the grocery store on the DC side of town, someone runs into the back of my heels with their cart. Now I know I am a very slow shopper, stopping to read labels and check prices. Yet I still amazed at how often folks are shocked to have run into me, only noticing I am there when we collide. What does it take for us to notice where we are going? To notice if someone is ahead of us or in the way? Notice is something we can give or take. To take notice means ‘to immerse oneself into the experience’. Do we take only what serves our purposes at the time, or do we soak in the context offered by the whole scene? Then there is the notice we give when we quit a job or leave a position. I wonder if we quit when we are no longer noticed, no longer particular. Do we leave when we become lost in the sea of sameness? Do we look for something new when we lose our sense of being unique? Last but not least, there are things we do and do not notice in our personal lives. All too often arguments arise when I fail to notice something that is important to a loved one, focusing on only what is important to me. If I cannot see past my own nose, I surely cannot open my heart beyond my own interests. Make time today to look up and around. Take notice of what crosses your path and touches your heart. Enjoy the beauty along the way, rather than simply focusing on your destination. Slow down enough to soak in the entire situation, allowing God to draw your eyes and ears to the wonder and awe of His creation. Most of all, be present to those you love, taking the time to look and listen with your heart in the only and eternal now. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Lilies Above’ by Jen Ayers©2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Jen’s creative work, go to http://kingdomofazuria.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 Between….

pooh-corner-by-david-buckwalterI am spending a lot of time in between. I find myself caught between anger and reconciliation, thought and action, solitude and togetherness. The world baffles and confuses me, and I find myself at odds with what I thought I knew for certain and the inconceivable. Over the years I have sought out time to pause and reflect, at first in concentrated blocks at retreats, now in my daily routine. I start my day in quiet reflection, listening rather than talking to God. There are days when I can simply drop into silence and peace. Other days I struggle, emptying my mind of one worry after another only to find two crop up in their place. At times like these, my little prayer corner is simply not enough. I cannot quiet my mind while my body remains still. So I walk and pray, looking for God to speak to me through creation. At first I mumble and even curse, railing at God to sweep away what plagues me. I may not even lift my head to look around. My pace is fast and my mind remains frenzied. Then I come upon a bend in the road that forces me to look up. Standing in the rough, my eyes behold the glory of our world. My mind grows still, my heart softens and my soul is revived. If I pause long enough, God’s grace sweeps through me. There may not be any insights or solutions, but there is a renewed sense of hope and all encompassing love. The between time may be holding open space for God’s grace, allowing the Holy Spirit to craft a better solution than any human mind can conceive. Make time today to walk with God, listening for your place in the kingdom rather than simply listing your wants and needs in this broken world. Breathe out your burdens, breathe in God’s grace. Let God work through you in His time, not yours. Most of all, trust that the Holy Spirit fills the hearts of each and every one of us, regardless of our frailty, or perhaps because of it. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Photo entitled ‘Pooh Corner’ by David Buckwalter©2016, All Rights Reserved. To see more of David’s work, go to http://www.buckwalterphotographyva.com/

Reflecting on Turning….

old-auburn-road-by-cecilia

This early autumn rain washes summer’s green paint from the sugar maple leaves.
It brings brisk gusts of October’s breath to September’s dying days.
Familiar streaks of rain run down unfamiliar windows, and I feel at ease, protected from, and by, the storm.
The thunder, a cold front’s lion roar, frightens off the last lambs of August’s summer flock,
And there, the hapless journey-goers, caught in the downpour, run, or walk with umbrella in hand, striding through rain’s dry shadow.
Sounds are muted by the distant drum-roll of raindrops on roofs, and the noise of traffic – stifled more by torrential curtains, now brought low from nimbus heights.
But soon, the amber rays of sun pierce the smoke-gray clouds and
Reflect
off now more orange leaves.

Poetry by Colin Shea Blymyer©2016, Photo entitled ‘Old Auburn Road’ by Cecilia Carr©2016, to see more of her work, go to http://www.redbubble.com/people/ceciliacarr/portfolio

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 Birth….

Blooming Beauty by Nicole Mischo
Our visit with my niece and her brand new baby is coming to a close. For the past week my daughter and I have been helping out with the new baby and her toddler big sister. The miracle of new life is awe inspiring. So I was drawn to this amazing art by my friend Nicole. Our fragile bodies are made of the same stuff as the stars. We begin as a hope and a prayer, because two people love one another. Through that love, God allows us to participate in his creation and a new soul is born. Nicole captured this miracle in her art. The Divine Feminine breathes in stardust and breathes out the beauty of creation. The mystery of birth plays out in the dance of mixed genes, creating one beautiful combination after another. This baby is very different from her older sister. She favors her father’s looks while her sister favors my niece. The shape of their faces and their coloring is different. Yet just when you think you have figured it out, another feature catches your eye. I see my daughter’s feet, and perhaps our family’s ears. Yet in the end, this child, along with all our children, belong to the Creator. Just as we are all called to be stewards of creation, parents are called to be stewards of God’s children. As parents, our job is to guide our children into the path God has prepared for them. Children are not meant to follow our dreams or complete our unfinished business. As I hold this beautiful baby, I pray for blessing and protection over her while I pray for wisdom and discernment as the days and years ahead unfold. May God give me the grace to be present to her growth, opening my heart and mind to see her through God’s eyes, rather than my own. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Art entitled ‘Blooming Beauty’ by Nicole Mischo©2016, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Depth….

Tree of Life by Jeanne
The soil is tough to work in this part of Virginia. The clay and the rocks form a natural concrete, only softened by slow and steady rains. You garden on nature’s schedule rather than your own, outdoors in the damp and cool rather than on warm and sunny days. Add the century old oaks in our yard, and you find the soil a maze of roots and surprises. Yet there are days when my soul needs to be outside, too weary to bear another day behind a desk. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Jeanne, a friend who passed from this life last summer. A number of people have asked me why these posts have become more infrequent. In pondering Jeanne’s photo, I have found at least part of the answer. Jeanne’s work always challenges me to go deeper, to look beyond the obvious, to ponder the true meaning of her work. When does photography become art? For me, the answer lies in the emotions evoked by the work. Jeanne sent me this image in January 2013, and I am still uncertain I can find words that do justice to what this image means to me. I do know Jeanne has always tapped into the most vivid memories of my childhood, not memories of birthday parties or trips to the beach, but rather solitary memories of me exploring and attempting to understand the world around me. Trees have always fascinated me. Even as a child I can recall digging in the dirt, fascinated by the complexity and length of the roots. I have always had poor eyesight, so the tree most of you see eluded me. Until I got glasses, I thought we drew trees like a cloud because that is how we all saw trees until we got up close. Downed branches were the other way I ‘saw’ a tree. I loved to look at the way the branches divided, then divided again. Yet the branches had nothing on the roots. A mature tree has thousands of leaves, kilometers of roots and hundreds of thousands of root tips. So for every leaf there are a hundred root tips. What we see is only a small fraction of reality. Get up from your desk or sofa to take a walk today. Stop to count the leaves on a single branch. Consider how a hundred roots feed that single leaf. Give thanks for the roots that feed your soul, even the roots for the branches that have fallen away. And always remember, a leap of faith can be reduced to a baby step when we ponder the depth and breadth of nature. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Tree of Life’ by Jeanne Mischo©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Jeanne’s work, go to https://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Notice….

Prim Hook National Wildlife Refuge by Timmy Miller
Nature is a tonic to my soul. Almost twenty five years ago, we moved to Warrenton, VA, hoping to escape the urban sprawl of Fairfax County. I frequently commuted to work through Manassas Battlefield, a beautiful park that preserves nature in commemoration of a Civil War battle. I figured I would have something to look at if I got stuck in traffic. So I was drawn to this photo of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, taken by my friend Timothy on his way to work. Timothy turned aside to take notice, to take in the scene, rather than rushing into his day. As for me, I can’t say I always took the time. In the early days the traffic on my commute would often come to a standstill. I must admit I was rarely as present to my surroundings as I would have hoped. On the way into work, I would run my to-do list over in my head. On the way home, I would worry about picking up my daughter from daycare on time. Yet every so often, there was a glimpse of beauty that penetrated the fog of my daily grind. Usually I had turned off the engine after sitting too long, then lowered the window to get in a bit of fresh air. I would hear a bird, or spot a deer, or notice the redbud has just begun to bloom. In short, I would turn and take notice of what had been waiting for me all along, day in, day out. My heart would ache with awe as the wonder and beauty of nature stripped away the busy-ness of my life. Yes, I know ‘take notice’ is an old fashioned way of speaking, an old fashioned way of being. We can’t be bothered with focusing on one thing at a time. We definitely can’t be bothered with letting down our defenses long enough to allow creation to melt our hearts and seep into our souls. Notice is something we ‘give’ rather than ‘take’. Notice is how we quit a job, once we have stopped being treated as an individual, as someone of worth, as truly unique. We give notice when it is time to move on, rather than simply fade into the sea of sameness and allow our souls to shrink a bit more each day. What if we each took just few minutes each day to ’take notice’? What if we stilled our minds long enough to listen to the beat of our hearts? What if we traced each breath, each gift of life, as it passed through our bodies? It’s time to take notice, here and now. It’s time to turn aside and soak in the everyday miracles rather than rushing on into another busy day. It’s time to take notice before you find this precious life giving you notice and ebbing away one day at a time. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Morning Light’ by Timothy Miller©2016, All Rights Reserved.

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