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 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 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 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/.

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.

Reflecting on Eternal Life….

Drops-001 by Amin Baher
I wrote this post three years ago, after fervent prayer for healing and wholeness. Today is Easter, the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead. So it seems fitting to harken back to answered prayers. Many of you joined me in those prayers, and the young friend we prayed for continues to do well. His physical challenges are many, yet his spirit is bouyant. Such joy in the midst of struggle is what we all seek in this life. Thank you for your prayers for him and his family.

May 9, 2013 – After 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

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