Reflecting on Release….

There are things we learn all at once, so obvious we wonder why we didn’t figure it out sooner. Then there are things we have to learn in stages, sort of like peeling an onion. We think we have it figured out, only to learn there is yet another layer to work through.

The sunrise in Colorado is like that lengthy form of learning. The mountains keep you from seeing the sun until long after first light. Then there are the dense stands of trees that filter the light rather than obscure it. My friend Mike Wiederhold caught that Colorado sunrise perfectly in this wonderful photo.

This early morning light illuminates some things while casting others in deeper shadows. We see a great beauty that had been hidden. We also see things we would rather leave in the dark.

For me, those things are often old wounds, wounds I thought were long healed but tend to come back and bite me when I have little or no time to sort them out. Perhaps it is an offense I thought I had forgiven, or a time when listening was more important than too much talk. Either way, the old wound surfaces. At that point, I have two choices. I can stuff it further into the darkness or I can let go, releasing it to the Ultimate Healer.

Release is only possible with hope. Unless we are confident a healing has been prepared, it is tough to let go. While the timing may seem wrong to me, I must trust that God has opened me up to heal me now for a reason I cannot currently perceive.

More importantly, healing requires beauty. When I release the old wound, beauty pours out. I find myself remembering things long forgotten, things that helped me when I was first hurt, precious memories that guide me still. I can face the dark forest in awe and confidence that God is bigger and more powerful that the current challenges compounded by the ghosts of the past. If I open myself up and rely on the strength of the Holy of Holies rather than my own, more is possible than I can begin to imagine.

Make time today to consider how current challenges may be resolved in ways you least expect.  Learn to let go of the present more completely because once again you have let go of the past. And even if you cannot let go, perhaps it is enough to loosen your grip. Even a tiny space is room enough for God’s grace.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2022, All Rights Reserved

Photo of ‘Mountain Sunrise’ in Conifer, CO by Mike Weiderhold©2021, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Vulnerable….

What does the word vulnerable mean to you? It seems like a word that has gone out of fashion. Instead of being vulnerable, we are stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious. In the past two years, we probably have been all three at once. Or perhaps we were all just vulnerable.

For months I have spent my morning meditations contemplating this lovely photo by my friend Betsey of a hydrangea, a mix of near perfect periwinkle blossoms and mottled lilac petals. Difficult memories kept creeping in and I kept batting them away. The most persistent memory was of my mother’s last days almost thirty years ago. Perhaps it takes that long to make any sense of it at all. Perhaps it never will make sense in the way the world understands sense.

My mother passed away in a burn unit due to a severe allergic reaction to experimental chemotherapy. She had been diagnosed with lymphoma three years earlier. The first round of chemo had provided us with a year of good life. Then the cancer returned again, this time with a vengeance. Each tumor seemed to react differently, with the latest chemo shrinking one tumor while barely phasing the others. Soon we were on to chemo cocktails, but mixing what worked for each tumor alone did little when combined. Before long she ended up without any FDA approved options. The doctors offered her an experimental chemo and she took it. I recall the huge argument my parents had over this treatment. My mother wanted to try it. My father felt it wasn’t worth the risk. In the end, she told him it was her body and he respected her wishes.

Up until then, I truly thought I knew what it meant to be vulnerable. I had no clue. My mother had the courage to open herself up to a huge risk in hopes of a huge reward. She took that risk knowing full well it might just kill her. That brand of vulnerability is only possible with great strength of will and courage, day in, day out. You have to live with the path you have chosen.

Here’s the toughest part. We all became vulnerable. My father, my sisters, my aunt, my cousin, her friends. My husband and I were newly married and living in California while my mother was in New Jersey. On chemo days I would startle when the phone rang, often letting voicemail pick up the call. Then as the days and weeks went on, it seemed the gamble might be working and I began to relax. The call I did take was my father telling me to come home because my mother was dying in the burn unit.

What I see in this flower is all of us during that time. By the grace of God, each of us had near perfect, beautiful moments, times where we were able to carry the weight of our own struggles along with those of others. Then in the blink of an eye, it would switch. Whoever had been strong would crumble and was in turn carried, held, comforted. We got through it together by accepting each other for who we really were. You can only be that strong if you open your heart, warts and all, trusting that you will be safe and whole. Those few weeks were both horrible and wonderful, simultaneously the most  terrifying and the safest I have ever been. It was the making of my new marriage.

Make time today to be open to those you love. Listen with the ears of your heart. Look with the eyes of your soul. Refrain from complicated responses or plans. Offer simple comforts like a cup of tea or favorite snack. You don’t need to be perfect to help another. You just need to be willing to try. Be vulnerable to be safe. Allow them to hear and see the genuine you, as only then can others know how to truly comfort and heal you. And always remember, on those days when it all seems too much, something as simple as a flower can offer a window into the whole world of comfort and care.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2022, All Rights Reserved

Photo of ‘Nifty Fifty Hydrangea’ in Hammonton, NJ by Betsey Karl©2021, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Intercession….


Sometimes the simplest things take the longest to figure out. We look and look, yet fail to see what is right in front of us. For the past month, I have been pondering this enigmatic photo by my talented friend Mel Orpen. She entitled it ‘Ripples in the Water’, yet it is so much more than that. I see the shadows bleeding into the light, and light piercing the darkness. What formed the shadows in the light that we can see, unless there is light before the darkness we cannot see?
 
This time of year is always tough for me. I do not like the short days and early nights. A friend calls this time of the year ‘The Dark Ages”. The building he works in has few windows, so he goes into work in the dark and leaves in the dark. Then there is the darkness of Covid, no longer an abbreviation but a word in its own right. Our prayer lists at church grow, covering both those suffering from the virus and other health challenges that will not wait for the virus to pass. There are days I simply lay my hands on the list rather than read the names aloud one by one. I have no audible response to even the names.
 
Then there is a faint whisper, a small, still voice. Go back to what you know, go back to the old Quaker ways of ‘holding them in the light’. When the list is long, how can I hope to know how to pray for them? Then I pull myself up short, asking if I need to know? After all, we are asked to pray to the Holy of Holies, the Author of Creation, the Savior of the World. God knows each of their wants and needs, their hopes and dreams. We do not seek to bend God’s will to theirs, but more to open our hearts and minds to what is possible with God. Rather than limit ourselves to what we are capable of, we need to stretch ourselves beyond the hard facts and cold realities into the realm of the possible. Otherwise all we see is the current darkness and we lose sight of the light that came before and the light that lies ahead.
 
We are called to pray for others, focusing on the outcome rather than the current dilemma. We pray for healing, wholeness, hope, comfort, understanding. Prayers can ramble on and on, especially prayers for those who hold most dear. Sometimes we pray for ourselves as much as we pray for them. How can we help? What is needed right now? How do I keep from getting ahead of myself? How do I hold onto hope?
 
At the end of the day, I must accept I do not know how to pray for others, at least not with words or simple sentiments. These prayers offered for others are best left at the foot of the throne, as described in Isaiah. I let go because I know I am lost in the folds of the hem of the Lord God Almighty’s robe. My view is small – His is all encompassing. My love has limits – His love is without beginning or end. Most important of all, my ways are surely not His ways.
 
Make time today to let go of what you expect, to allow your prayer to become very simple. Stand in the darkness with those in need of intercession. Lift them into the light ahead. Trust in the light that has come before. Know that no matter how meager your offering may be, you can trust God will make up the gap. Then end by collecting those prayers with God’s words, rather than your own.
 
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely
more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from
generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus
for ever and ever. Amen.   Ephesians 3:20,21
 
Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved
 
Photo entitled ‘Ripples in the Water’ by Mel Orpen©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To see her film work, go to https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2146410/

Reflecting on Storms….

Yurt - Girl Faces the Storm by Jeanne Mischo

It’s a beautiful summer morning, yet I am drawn to this amazing drawing by y friend Jeanne. Her art is often featured in this blog, art that challenges me and enhances my personal devotions. It’s difficult to say if the drawing is set in the distant past or distant future, if the storm is made of snow or sand, if the scene is a remote village or a planet from another galaxy.  It may seem odd to focus on storms when the weather is just the opposite.  Yet how often do we carry around a storm inside, despite the apparent calm that surrounds us? Inner turmoil has a timeless quality, persistent beyond all reason. You aren’t sure if it’s day or night, or even what is going on around you. The gloom can blot out everything, leading to self absorption and social isolation.  We may turtle in, hoping to wait out the storm, not realizing we take the storm into the shell with us. Others may choose to place themselves in difficult situations, to mirror their souls in their surroundings. Some even convince themselves they deserve to suffer. Yet all the while, the answer lies within, a healing has been prepared, abundant life awaits.  We must simply open our hearts and souls to the Holy of Holies, to lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross, to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Most High. Make time today to look beyond the storm within.  Allow yourself to rest in God’s love, to accept the peace of God that passes all understanding. Let go of what you have come to expect and allow the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and ears.  And always remember, the path to healing is never what we expect, yet we must trust in healing for that path to be revealed. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015 Art entitled ‘Yurt – Girl Faces the Storm’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2011

Reflecting on Trust….

On Her Back in the Tub Cropped

Trust is easy to come by when things are going well. We build on good experiences and come to expect the same. Then life throws us a curve ball and we get hit in the face. What we thought we understood, what we had become used to, vanishes in an instant. It’s as if one bad experience erases the good that came before. We forget the good when overwhelmed by the bad. Yet in such difficult times trust may be exactly what we need. If we turtle in, we close ourselves off to both the bad and the good. We must open our hearts to receive the healing balm of the Holy Spirit. Like this small child in a tub, we must trust the water is no deeper than is safe. She lies back and enjoys her bath, looking up at the adult she relies on to make sure all is well. Her Mona Lisa smile says so much more than a toothy grin. Even her eyes are smiling up at us. She knows she is loved and all is right with the world. Perhaps as adults we lose sight of the true meaning of trust. Trust is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability of strength of something or someone. When we focus on the vagaries of this life, we obscure our view of God. We seek pat answers to complex questions. We go back to asking ‘why’, that why of a child, the why used in place of every question. If we can’t trust life, how can we rely on this mysterious, inexplicable God? Make time today to lie back and look up. Open the eyes and ears of your heart to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who grants us faith to hold open a space for grace. Look for a reality greater than your surroundings. Seek out and cultivate beauty to strengthen your soul for the challenges ahead. And always remember, when we claim the promise of living water, we are never in over our heads.

Photo by an anonymous friend, Text by Connie Chintall ©2015

Reflecting on Relentless….

Heading Home by Jeanne MischoI often find myself caught in my own little world. I miss the obvious because all I can see is what I already know. My mind fills in the answer before the question is asked. This photo really brings home that message. For a long time, all I saw was the veins of the eye. I worked on lasers in the military, so part of my annual physical was a photo of my eyes. Each year the powers that be had to determine if my eyes were still intact. The doctor would shine an awful light into my eyes then take the photo. My medical records contained writing on the right, and a photo of my eyes on the left. It seemed part and parcel of every doctor visit. Fortunately for me, my friend Jeanne took this amazing photo of a tree with the moon in the sky above. I can imagine her lying on the ground to get the proper perspective. I wonder if she used a flash, or if a street light has lent its glow. I love the depth and intricacy of the branches, the way the tree divides and then divides itself again. It seems the tree is inviting us into another world, a world of our imagination, a world separate from our earthbound reality. On this Maundy Thursday, we celebrate the humility of our Lord. Christ washes the feet of the disciples, despite the protests of Peter, despite everything we are and were and will be. God draws us in, again and again, relentlessly seeking communion. After countless rejections of his prophets and angels, God sends his own Son to reconcile us to him. God becomes man to be one with us, to experience all that this life offers. Make time today to step out of the comfortable. Let go of the familiar and let in the annoying, the perplexing, yes, even the startling. Hold open a space that makes room for growth and greater understanding. Lie down when you would rather stand up. Step aside when you would rather rush ahead. Look up and around rather than keeping your head down. And always remember, when we open our minds before we open our eyes, we embrace the relentless intimacy and endless possibility of our all loving God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015. Photo entitled ‘Heading Home’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013, to see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Certainty….

Kayak on Slush by Sarah GulickCold winter days offer time to contemplate what perplexes me the most. Over the years I have struggled against a desire for certainty, a desire to fix whatever is wrong. Sometimes that includes fixing other people, which rarely works well for them or for me. Before long, I find even my best laid plans falling apart. So I was drawn to this photo of a kayak on the edge of Lake Anne in Reston, VA by my friend Sarah. The crack is off to one side, a crack that could be easily missed depending on which way you are looking. You could slip into the boat thinking the ice would hold, only to find fractures all around you. Of course, it’s a boat, and boats float on water much better than ice. Yet like our desire for certainty, that fact gets lost in the shuffle. We may fear tipping over and falling into the cold lake, or worse yet, getting caught under the ice. How many awful outcomes do we imagine that keep us on the shore? How often do we delay a decision because we don’t know enough? Perhaps we fear getting it wrong, so we avoid the decision all together. Our need for certainty imprisons us, restricts our choices, prohibits us from taking risks. We lock down the answer to feel safe, only to find life passing us by. We did in fact make a decision when we failed to decide – we simply remained frozen in time and space. In her book ‘Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith’, Anne Lamott says “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty”. Faith is a place of mystery, a place where we let go of our fear of uncertainty. Faith takes courage, because courage is not the absence of fear; courage is deciding something is more important than what you fear. Faith calls us to grow, to venture into the unknown, to hope for what we cannot yet see. Faith holds open a space for more than human effort, trusting God to fill in the cracks of our lives and the lives of those we love in ways we cannot begin to imagine. Make time today to venture into the unknown, trying something new and different to feed your heart and soothe your soul. Let go of the need for certainty; embrace your faith in the midst of doubt. Ask others to pray for you and with you, as you pray for them. And always remember to look beyond the surface, thankful for the cracks in this life that lead us to beyond the ice to deep living waters. Text by Connie Chintall Connie Chintall ©2015, Photo entitled ‘Kayak on Slush’ by Sarah Gulick ©2014, to see more of her work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/

 

 

Reflecting on Tatters….

Growth by Stella
Resolutions and radical changes rarely arrive with the New Year. I am more likely to troll through old memories, looking for an arc or easy narrative that makes sense out of the jumble of my experiences. Perhaps our lives only make sense backwards. So I was drawn to this wonderful art by Stella. Her use of color, or lack of color, says it all. Our colorful dreams are born in a black and white world. Notice the pieces of her dream drifting away. Those tatters have lost their color. Like most folks, my life includes high points and low points. There are joyous times when life seems full of vibrant color, new beginnings overflowing with hope and joy. There are days, even weeks and months, when life seems drained of all color. It is everything I can do to hang on despite the despair. These bleak times can be brought on by radical change, or by allowing the drudgery of life to slowly drain my soul. Yet if we believe there is no waste in God’s economy, then every experience has a purpose. Every twist and turn bears fruit later on. Granted, at the time, it sure does not feel that way. Was my life in tatters, whirling apart, out of control? Or were the remnants of the past building a dream for the future? Of course I now realize both were often happening at the same time. My hope or despair was born out of what I turned toward. Yet I seem unable to turn toward hope on my own. Without prayer it is all too easy to embrace despair. Make time today to lay your life before the Alpha and Omega, to find a greater perspective, a longer view. See life less in the current condition and more in the journey. Resist the temptation to shunt aside prayer for a pressing emergency or dated routine. Judge less and accept more, opening up to new possibilities rather than focusing solely on what is passing away. Dare to dream a new dream in living color, reaching ahead rather than turning back. And always remember, the tatters of our black and white lives are pieced together into stained glass dreams, in God’s time rather than our own.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2014
Art entitled ‘Growth’ by Stella Pereira ©2013, to see more of her work, go to her blog http://pangaweka.com/

 

Reflecting on Nature….

Pierce by Heart by Rob Sarch Oct 2014This time of year always gets so busy. From now until after Christmas our time and attention become more and more divided. We lose the ability to enjoy the here and now. Before we know it we have become numb to the core. So I was drawn to this photo of my sister Lana on a recent trip to Sedona. Her husband Rob caught the awe and wonder of the place. That’s Cathedral Rock in the background, but perhaps the true sacred space is where they are standing. Such beauty stops us cold and demands our attention. Our hearts burst open with joy, warmed and nourished by the wonder of creation. God could have made a world out of black and white squares, yet instead, choose to create beauty, stunning, awe inspiring beauty. When our daughter Tori was a toddler, she started the Lord’s Prayer like this, “Our Father, who does art in heaven, Howard is thy name”. We started to correct her, only to realize her mistake reflected a greater truth. Perhaps this wild, wonderful beauty is a reflection of the divine nature of God and the eternal light of our souls. Grace abounds when we hold open a space, make room for mystery, cling fast to hope. That grace is often unpredictable, arresting, surprising, and yes, transforming. We need time apart in wild places to be reminded of who we really are, children of the Most High. John Muir says it best.

‘Keep close to nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.’

Make time today to look beyond those lists and appointments, and allow yourself to become lost in wonder at God’s creation. Take a walk in a local park or a paddle on a local creek. Keep a photo of a recent trip on your desk or as the wallpaper on your computer. Open your heart to that experience today when the rush and routine becomes more than you can bear. And always remember to look at nature through the eyes of a child and give thanks to Howard for the art. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘Pierce the Heart’ by Rob Sarchiapone ©2014

Reflecting on Music….

By Kira Skala

Living Waters by Kira Skala

It’s a cool, quiet fall morning, cool enough for a sweater. The windows are open to let in the autumn air. The cool air is soothing, like the cool water of a rippling stream. So I was drawn to a video taken by my friend Kira. I love the sound of the water, unimpeded by the fallen branches and litter. Yet it seems easier to focus on the living water with my eyes closed, simply listening to the sounds. With my eyes open, it is all too easy to focus on the quagmire and lose sight of the stream. The more I watched and listened to this video, the more frustrated I became about my morning routine. My favorite time of day is the early morning. More often than not, I sit in the living room and have a second cup of coffee. There is a large evergreen outside the window, where birds often perch and sing. I love to see and hear the birds. It seems as if God has written a special song just for me. Yet recently I find myself avoiding that quiet time in the mornings. Instead of joy I was nagged by faint annoyance. So this morning I made myself sit down and really listen. Instead of birds, I heard traffic and heavy equipment. My symphony has turned into cacophony. There is a farm on the corner that sat vacant for many years. The well kept pastures became covered in small shrubs and vines. Recently the farm was sold to a developer who is now clearing the land. So the trees and undergrowth that absorbed the traffic noise are no more. I hear both the construction vehicles and the commuter traffic on the highway, a road at least half a mile from my home. Yet the birds remain with me. The music remains with me. The rough noises can only drown out the joy of the bird’s song if I give it my attention. My young friend Colin says it best.

I walked out to the pylons at midnight, just to be alone with my music for a bit. The wind was blowing and the clouds moved so rapidly, it seemed that they must be dragging me with them to the chapel. The clouds reminded me of this week, it seemed to move by so quickly, though now I’m very tired, so it feels, physically, very long. I’ve met many new friends and I’ve gotten to know old acquaintances much better. I am, as usual, very happy: if you want to share in my happiness then all you need to do is ask. – Colin Shea-Blymyer

Make time today to listen closely, to look beyond the litter of everyday life. Seek out the living waters of creation and give thanks for the gift of life, offered and received one breath at a time. Let go of sorrows and losses and hold fast to the blessings of this life. Hold fast to the music and miracles that surround you, just waiting to feed your soul and swell your heart. And always remember, when you want to share in the happiness of creation, all you need to do is ask. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo and video of Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park by Kira Skala ©2014, to view video go to https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10204163766204493
Quote by Colin Shea-Blymyer ©2014, All Rights Reserved.

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