Reflecting on Help….

Barely Hanging On by Mike Victorino

The weather has been all over the place lately. This morning is bright and clear, yet cold enough for a frost warning. We can’t seem to catch a break. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Mike, of a tree that is barely hanging on. It’s been a wet spring and we have all sorts of erosion in our area. It’s tough to undercut a large oak, especially one rooted in Virginia clay. It takes more than one storm, and standing water. So I would wager this grand old tree has weathered way too many storms. I don’t know about you, but there are days, even weeks, when I feel like this tree. I find myself doubting what I’ve always been certain about, no longer confident of what I do know and what I don’t know. Nothing I say or do seems quite right. I’m lost and alone in a foreign land. Yet I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m still in my own home, with my family and friends. It’s easy to lash out at times like these, to blame it on everyone else. You just don’t understand, you don’t get it, leave me alone. But of course, being alone is the last thing I want. Perhaps I have watched too many Hollywood movies, and I expect to be chased down and dramatically snapped out of it. At least in my life, that is usually not the case. I end up alone and feeling worse than ever. I have distanced myself from those who care for me the most, those who can best help and support me in this blue funk. I cannot bear up under my burdens, real or perceived, on my own. When life undercuts my roots, my very core, I can only remain standing if I cling to those I love best. I can only make it through with the help and encouragement of those who know me best. Make time today to ask others to abide with you, to accept comfort in the midst of your pain. Open your heart when it seems easier to clamp it shut, listen when you would rather talk, pray when you would rather turn your back on God. Trust the same Lord that created our entire universe in an instant to abide with you in your time of need, to guide your footsteps and guard your heart. And always remember, no matter how much life undercuts your roots, the Alpha and Omega remains with you, your strong and sure foundation. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Barely Hanging On’ by Mike Victorino ©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of his work, go to http://mikevictorinophotography.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Solitude….

Our home feels particularly empty after the weekend. I enjoy time with my family, yet in recent years I have also learned to enjoy having the house to myself. So I was drawn to this dramatic photo by my new friend Luis. I love the single tree on the horizon, reaching for the sky in the early morning light. The branches look so delicate and graceful. I’m waiting for this slender tree to begin to dance. For many years, I equated solitude with loneliness. I actively sought out the company of others, filling my calendar with social engagements to be sure I was never alone. When my father lived with us, I was seldom by myself. As his health declined toward the end of his life, we seemed to have an endless stream of visitors and hospice support. We needed that help to allow Daddy to die at home, and are immensely grateful for our loving and supporting community. Yet there were days when I would soak in the tub, turning on the fan to drown out all evidence of existence other than my own. I simply needed to stop, to just be, to enjoy the solitude. After Daddy passed away, our home became curiously quiet. Now, three years later, there are days when I eat all three meals alone, my husband and daughter busy with work and school. I find time for prayer, creative pursuits and exercise. I am present to what life brings me, enjoying both my time alone and with others. Take time today to consider the difference between loneliness and being alone. Consider ways to make time and space for yourself in a busy household, to enjoy solitude in the midst of family concerns. Explore the balance between time alone and time with others, learning how to respect the need for time apart in your family and friends. And remember, if you sink into the solitude, you may find yourself poised to dance on a new horizon. Photo entitled ‘The End’ by Luis Gonzalez, used with his permission

Reflecting on Balance….

Calm winter mornings bring back old memories, of good times and bad. Yet what endures is the arch of our lives, how we live, rather than the particular circumstances. We may feel on top of the world, as if no one and nothing can touch our high spirits. Then perhaps we receive sad news about a dear friend, carefully laid plans are torn apart by unseen circumstances, or a long desired opportunity is laid waste. We soldier on, certain we can handle the big challenges of life, only to crumble in the face of a silly detail. So I was drawn to this haunting photo entitled ‘Unbalanced’ by my new friend Michael. I love how the path works its way around the tree, with branches all to one side. I imagine strong winds bending the tree into its present form, with roots deeply anchoring the trunk. And I especially like how the snow clings to the furrows of the fields in the distance, waiting for the warmth of spring to begin again. At first glance, this lopsided tree may seem unbalanced, but closer consideration reveals a greater stability. Rather than struggle against the prevailing winds, this tree grows in a more favorable direction, swaying to keep from breaking. Perhaps we lose our sense of balance when we work too hard to remain firm, to stand strong. Our hearts can break if they become too brittle, or simply bend if we allow ourselves to remain vulnerable, to lean on those who love us and care for us. Take time today to soften your heart, to allow the Holy Spirit to flow through your life. Lay your burdens at the foot of the cross, trusting whatever you ask is but a little thing to the same Lord who conquered sin and death. And remember if you remain deeply rooted in your faith, swaying with those you love, the good times will be defined by what you bring to life, not what life brings you. Photo by Michael Ebbrecht, used with his permission

Reflecting on Gifts….

The dog was in and out in a flash this morning. The frost is thick and the air is cold. So I was drawn to this photo of our courthouse taken by my friend Jen. I love how the courthouse is lit up, with a Christmas tree at the top of the steps. Weekends in December, our downtown is transformed into a walking mall. The old library building becomes Gum Drop Square, where children can visit Santa. My friend Jen is one of the volunteers that participate in this community event. The children happily snuggle together after waiting outside in the cold, to listen to Jen, as Princess Genevieve, tell stories we all know and love, like ‘The Night Before Christmas’. This scene is a far cry from my Walmart trip yesterday. As Christmas draws near, the frantic search for the perfect gift becomes heated. More stock littered the floors than could be found on the shelves. Yet perhaps the best gift we can offer is something simple, like quiet time together, or creating a precious memory for years to come. I love cooking with my daughter for the holidays. When she was very young, she was in charge of smashing and stirring. Now, as a young adult, she chooses new recipes and adds her spin to our family tradition. Take time today to consider a way to share your gifts with others. Make up a batch of cookies, using an old family recipe. Take time to read a favorite book to a small child or to someone who is feeling poorly. Sit down together to watch ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. And remember, when you give of yourself, it’s hard to say who receives the greater gift. Photo by Jen Faulconer, Princess Genevieve by The Kingdom of Azuria

Reflecting on Resurrection….

It’s a dreary fall day, so I am glad we took the opportunity to go hiking last week. School was out for election day, and the weather was remarkable. We headed up to Shenandoah National Park, a short drive from our home. While my daughter and her boyfriend were scurrying over rocks, I encountered this unusual tree on the path. I was surprised to see how the branches had recovered from so severe of a pruning, growing straight up instead of continuing along their natural curve. Perhaps the branch had be removed to clear the path. Then I noticed the matching branch on the opposite side, and finally saw how these branches formed a cross. Yet there was more than just a cross. I was looking at resurrection, renewal, continuing life. This tree chose to grow upward, to respond to the struggles of life through rebirth. Rather than continue on the same old path, this tree had changed direction and flourished. I don’t know about you, but I believe the greatest good news of the Gospel is this – we don’t get what we deserve. The wages of sin are death, and we all sin. I know sin is not a popular topic these days, so bear with me. We sin when we fall short, when what we attempt to accomplish is less than perfect. We sin when we hurt others, intentionally, and yes, even unintentionally. We hurt those closest to us; we compromise our relationships with one another and with God. We are comfortable with ‘to err is human’, but are unwilling to accept that to err is to sin. So I take comfort in knowing I do not get what I deserve, in knowing that our Savior conquered sin and death on the cross. Take time today to confess your sins, to repent and grow in a new direction. Accept God’s endless forgiveness and learn to forgive yourself through the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Claim the promise of resurrected life, today and every day. And remember to start your prayer as the Benedictines taught us, ‘today, we begin again’. Photo by Connie Chintall

Reflecting on Silhouettes….

It’s a crisp, clear autumn day. The slanting sun casts long shadows on the tree trunks, accenting the brilliant leaves. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole, in Shenandoah National Park. Carole captured what I saw this morning, the stark contrast between light and shadow. In fact, the photo is entitled ‘Colored Silhouettes’. I recall making silhouettes as an art project in grade school. We worked with a partner, standing in profile in front of a projector, while our features were traced on a piece of paper tacked to the wall. We carefully cut along the outline of our faces and mounted the profile on old fashioned paper doilies. I was surprised at my grandmother’s reaction to this project, which frankly I found rather silly at the time. She was so happy to have a ‘silhouette cameo’ of me. What I saw as simply a featureless outline, she saw as a way to capture what was unique about me, without the distractions of a particular expression. Perhaps what makes the silhouette appealing is how an image is transformed by backlighting. We all know how annoying bright light is to our eyes, when viewed head on. Yet how often do we consider how light from other directions informs us and affects how we view our surroundings? Take time today to seek out light all around you. Step outside at lunch time, rather than waiting until after work, when the sun has already set. Focus on what you can see, rather than what you cannot see. Allow the silhouettes created by autumn’s long shadows to open your eyes to the essence of what is before you. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011, used with her permission

Reflecting on Shelter….

It’s another grey, rainy day, after a brief and sunny respite. The dripping, falling leaves are brilliant against the cloudy sky, struggling to hang on, but more often spiraling to the ground. So I was drawn to this photo of the Virginia Tech campus taken by my friend Colin. Look at the trees, some still green, others changing colors, still others already losing their leaves. One tree is red at the top, and still green at the bottom. Like most college campuses, the trees are planted between the buildings. While some trees are exposed to harsh weather, others are sheltered from the cold and wind. I don’t know about you, but I feel most like the two toned tree. I manage to find only partial shelter, often leaving my most vulnerable side the most exposed. I dwell on one aspect too much, often a simple problem that cries for attention, while neglecting another more glaring issue or underlying cause. Before I know it, I’m caught out, at a loss for what to do next. Perhaps I am looking for a human way out, when only a divine answer will do. Take time today to let go of your expectations and seek the shelter and refuge of the Almighty. Look beyond your human perspective, asking to see through God’s eyes and to hear with God’s ears. Let go of your way out to make room for God’s way out. And remember, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” Psalm 91:1. Photo by Colin Shea-Blymyer

Reflecting on Haste….

The air is cool and the sun is warm, showing off the glorious autumn colors. Our leaves are finally turning, brilliant against the green dogwoods. So I was drawn to this photo entitled ‘Tree Hugging’ by a follow blogger, Lynda. I love the contrast between the single tree in the sun and the surrounding trees in the shade. The colors almost seem translucent, as though you can see through the vivid leaves to the trees beyond. But more than anything, this tree reminded me of the tree of life, the one tree in the Garden of Eden that none of us has eaten from. Yet instead of flaming swords keeping us at bay, this tree invites us in, asking for a hug. Its singular beauty inspires us to pause, to linger long enough to soak in the miracle of nature. Long ago, just after I left military service, I met an inspired priest named Jasper Pennington. He often preached on haste and its effect on modern life. Jasper was a historian by education and avocation, and saw our lives through a long lens. What others saw as isolated events, he saw as the culmination of 10, or 20, or 50 years of history. Jasper lovingly, persistently, insistently reminded us to be thoughtful in our actions, to take time for those we loved. He wanted us to understand that our actions today affected the arrow of time, often in ways we may not understand for years to come. What we said or did in haste we often regretted, and could not always take back or easily correct. Take time today to truly listen, to be there for one another, to hug a loved one, or even a tree. Soak in the beauty that surrounds you and give thanks for the blessings of this life. We offer so much to God in prayer, so why not offer up our time? Photo by Lynda Jeffers © 2011, used with her permission. See more of her photos at http://lyndajeffersphotography.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Storms….

This weekend the weather was sunny and cool, perfect football weather. The sun was particularly welcome after a long series of storms, culminating in 6 inches of rain in one hour. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole. She is an amazing photographer, often capturing something the rest of us fail to notice. It’s still raining, pouring in fact, yet the sun is shining. Most of us would be looking up into the sky for a rainbow, while Carole is looking straight ahead, at glistening raindrops cascading downward like tiny crystals. I love the contrast between the bright sky and the tree trunk, soaked to a dark black by the rain. Sometimes we simply get used to storms. We come to expect storms, even create a storm where none exists. We stop looking for the sun, because we seem to forget the sun is always there, hidden behind the clouds. Perhaps we even lose hope, or just run out of gas. Yet we may simply be looking for answers in the wrong places, or seeking to change what we humanly cannot change. We want the answer to be our solution, tied up neatly in a bow. More often, the way out slowly unfolds and evolves, changing us and changing our life in the process. Take time today to look at what is right in front of you, and ponder what answers lie within your current situation. Let go of your storm, trusting the Son is always there for you. And remember the rainbow, God’s covenant of steadfast love, may take the form of hundreds of tiny raindrops, glistening in the sun. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

Reflecting on Growth….

I spent most of last morning walking around our yard. We have an acre of oaks, and six of our ancient trees need to be felled. Yet what we see above the ground represents far less of the tree than what exists below the ground. So I was drawn to this photo of tree roots, taken by my friend Cecilia on one of their family hikes. I was struck by how the roots branch out so quickly and in such straight lines. This system of roots creates an extremely strong foundation for the trunk. The weight of the tree is distributed, so each of the roots shares the load. While the tree’s branches gently curve to offer the leaves the most sun, these roots go straight for the water and nutrients found in the soil. Even when the leaves fall, the roots silently continue their work. We often talk about times in our lives when we were challenged and stretched beyond our limits. These stressful intervals are described as periods of growth and learning. Yet I wonder if the true growth happens afterward. When we are overwhelmed, it is often difficult to understand what we are going through, let alone what it means to us. We simply put one foot in front of the other, and do what we need to do. What appears to be heroic or honorable behavior to others is simply a response to a heartfelt need, an almost instinctive action born out of love and firm commitment. Only afterwards do we understand how that time has changed us, molded us. During periods of quiet reflection and rest, we come to understand who we are now, and what really happened to us. As we integrate that experience into our current situation, a new normal emerges, stronger and wiser than our lives before the crisis. Take time today to reflect on past challenges, and understand how that experience is woven into the fabric of your daily life. Offer to help a loved one weathering a storm, to make their current situation a little less overwhelming. And remember, like those ancient oaks, that the roots are always there, continuing their work, no matter how barren the tree may appear. Photo by Cecilia Carr

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