Reflecting on Relentless….

Turning Time Upside Down by Michael Gerke May 2018
This year seems to be a never-ending series of health issues for me. I find it hard to complain about my concerns when others are facing heart conditions or cancer. Yet it feels like three bouts of bronchitis, a root canal and now a UTI are a bit more than I can handle in six months. It seems these minor health concerns have rolled in one after another, in a relentless wave of annoyances. So, I find myself drawn into this amazing art by my nephew Mike. Relentless is a word that can cut both ways, depending on what we apply it to. After the birth of a child, it is the only word to describe the care an infant requires. No matter what you have been told or how closely you tried to listen and understand, nothing prepares you for the constant care a single tiny human requires. At the same time, nothing prepares you for the overwhelming, all encompassing love you feel for that child. It is confusing, perplexing and difficult. At the same time, it is amazing, enchanting and miraculous. The only response you can offer is to be equally relentless. You quickly learn how to ask for help and trust when it seems impossible to trust, because this is a job you must get right, and you can’t do that alone. Before long, yet after forever, you seem to find a new normal, then the child grows and changes. If you are listening to that child and those who love and help you, you change and grow too. If you understand this child does not belong to you but is simply given into your care by the Holy of Holies, you soon find yourself in situations and circumstances that confound and delight you. Your world expands and becomes more than you could ever imagine. Time relentlessly marches on and before you know it, that tiny baby is an independent adult. And that is the stage of parenting I find myself in now, available rather than productive, advising rather than correcting, listening rather than speaking. Most of the time my heart swells with pride, but now and again, what seems like a tiny thing trips me up. Yesterday I removed our daughter from our car insurance, a simple administrative task, or is it? I find myself adrift in time, recalling a busy toddler, then a dancing five-year-old, then a curious ten-year-old. Time is tumbling through happy memories of the small child I miss while cherishing the young woman she has become. Make time today to soak in the wonders life bring to you. Stop to play with blocks, catch fireflies or cook with your child. Reach out to new parents and ask how you can make a difference. Listen rather than speaking. Follow rather than lead. Allow that child to draw you into their world, letting go of the relentless nonsense of being an adult. Be relentless about finding time for that child, and in the process for yourself, because it is time that is the most relentless. Text by Connie Chintall©2018, art entitled ‘Turning Time Upside Down’ by Mike Gerke©2018, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

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Reflecting on Demand….

Humble Offering by Leigh Hooper
Different times and places bleed into one another as time goes by. Perhaps childhood memories are so vivid because they are pure, unadulterated by previous experiences. Everything is new and we approach each experience without apprehension or expectation. I still seek that purity of life but find it takes effort to remain in the moment, to push back parts of the past I would rather leave behind. It is as if the past demands a reckoning, whether I like it or not. And these memories focus on what it means to demand rather than to offer. That is what I see in this amazing and inspiring art by my good friend Leigh. My first marriage was very briefly happy, even then punctuated by inexplicable pain. My first husband was a brilliant yet broken man, haunted by a horrific past. Those memories left him feeling worthless. He demanded love without giving it, never truly believing I could love him because he did not feel worthy of love. When we demand, what we request becomes a matter of who we are and what we are worth. By insisting we get what we want, we put our self worth into the equation. If our demands are not met, it is an indictment on our dignity and very humanity. In the face of such demands, nothing I could offer was ever good enough. But offer I did, again and again, until at some point I had no more to give. Yet offering was in a way my own salvation. By contrast, when we offer rather than demand, we let go of the outcome. The other person is free to accept or reject what we offer, and who we are remains intact. By opening ourselves up to possible rejection, we actually preserve ourselves. Now I will be the first to say rejection is not easy. Yet how do we truly connect if we simply demand what we want from others? How do we grow and expand our view of the world and humanity if we only accept what comes on our own terms, in our own time? What about when we are on the other side of the equation? How often have you found yourself in an amazing and wonderful situation when you accepted an offer to step out of your comfort zone? Granted there are times when we walk into a mess, yet if we let go of our false sense of perfection, we learn from those situations as well. We learn about who we are and who we can be. We stop limiting our horizons to the next small hill that seemed like a mountain when we started out. Make time today to open yourself up to new experiences. Accept an offer to explore a loved one’s interest you may not share. Try something new simply to learn more about them. Offer to share what you love with others, perhaps making new friends or deepening an existing relationship. Let go of what might happen and accept what does, enjoying the experience rather than judging its merit. Most of all, trust that the Holy of Holies has forged the path ahead, working for our greatest good and highest healing, now and forever more. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, art entitled ‘Humble Offering’ by Leigh Hooper ©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on the Veil….

Flags and Flowers by Heidi Ann MorrisIt’s a cold, blustery day and I am hoping the dogwoods in my front yard will bloom before long. I love all the flowering trees in Virginia, like the one in this photo by my friend Heidi Anne. It has taken considerable contemplation to unearth the significance of such a tree to me. Memories seem to surface when we are ready to take hold of them. I contracted the old fashioned measles when I was five years old. The fever spiked at 105 degrees and my grandmother packed me in ice in her clawfoot tub. She refused to let them take me to the hospital because she was convinced I would die there. She felt the nurses were overworked and I needed more constant care. In her words, I was ‘too close to piercing the veil’. After the fever broke I spent three weeks in a darkened room with a radio turned down to a whisper. The volume knob had been removed to keep it at that level. Old fashioned measles was notorious for blinding and deafening children that survived. Any loud noise or bright light could compromise my senses for the rest of my life. I did end up with a weak left eye, the side that faced the bathroom door while I was in the tub full of ice. My hearing is actually more acute, an effect experienced by those who were meticulously cared for. I do not remember much about those three weeks, except an overwhelming sense that I was not alone. I knew my grandmother and her friends were desperately praying for me. She fed me that fact with each and every meal of jello and each time she checked to be sure I was drinking water. It was more of an abiding sense and a knowledge that a healing waiting me. I made up stories in my head and listened to all sorts of strange radio stations. Perhaps part of what gave me hope was that untamed imagination that is the prevue of every five year old. My most vivid memory is sitting on the porch for the first time after those three long weeks. Being outdoors seemed like a fairyland, and every color, every sight was over the top. It was early spring and there was a blooming tree in front of the porch, a tree a lot like the one in photo. Even my perspective mimics the photo, since I was in a reclined position. There were even flags of a sort that glorious day, at least flags in my imagination. The veil my grandmother feared I would pierce had become a direct line to the heavens. Life of any form was beyond precious, something miraculous and awe inspiring in its own right. My life since has been full of ups and downs, uncanny victories but also devastating disappointments. Yet regardless of what life brings, I begin each day with pray, with hope against hope in what may seem to others to be beyond hope. You see I have no choice but to believe in prayer, because without it you would not be reading this blog. I have been living on borrowed time for all but five years of my life, and God willing, will continue to live on borrowed time for as long as God needs me here. Make time today to thank God for your precious life, given to you breath by breath. Let the wonders of nature speak to you. Pause to contemplate the beginnings of new life on the trees, the nodules that began to grow last autumn as soon as the leaves fell. And most of all, trust in the healing that has been prepared for you, and deeply and slowly breathe it in, one breath at a time. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Direct Line to Heaven’ by Heidi Anne Morris ©2015-2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Courage….

Acrylic Courage by Leigh Hooper
Courage is a common topic with my family and friends. I don’t recall a single meeting as a Girl Scout leader that did not involve a discussion about courage. So, to those who know me well it is not surprising when I say I see courage in this amazing art by my friend Leigh. I see the daily struggle to live a good life, a struggle that seems too much to bear some days, and as smooth as glass on others. Courage is a blend of backbone and imagination, woven together to navigate all the grey areas of life. Like the acrylic paints that are poured onto the canvas and allowed to blend together, courage looks different from day to day. Yet I am not certain courage is something folks understand well. You hear about it when someone confronts a catastrophic disease more often than when someone is rescued from a burning building. Most frequently I hear that courage is the opposite of cowardice. I disagree with that assessment. Recklessness is the opposite of cowardice. When you are reckless, you act without fear, without considering the consequences of your actions. A reckless person may get what they want, yet their gain is often at the expense of others or even themselves. Meanwhile, a coward fails to act because of fear. Fear paralyzes the coward, and can lead someone to neglect moral values they hold dear. Their fear overrules their conscience. Both ends of the spectrum lead to sins of commission or omission. Courage is the balance beam in the center of these two extremes.

Recklessness —————- Courage —————– Cowardice

When we succeed in being courageous, we do not act without fear, rather we act despite our fear. Courage requires us to decide something is more important than our very real and palpable fears. So, this is the point where you expect me to start talking about soldiers or fire fighters or policemen. But that sort of courage gives us an out. The most important acts of courage happen day to day. So, make time to do the right thing, whether anyone notices or not. Think through all aspects of a problem, rather than simply looking at your own. Look for a win-win answer, rather than a win for you that means a lose for someone else. Ask for that raise, explaining your contribution to the greater good, rather than harboring resentment and further compromising the quality of your work. Most of all, forgive yourself when your courage flags. Learn from your mistakes to grow through your own challenges. Inconceivable courage does not happen overnight. Such courage is built over a lifetime, beginning with simple, day to day acts. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, art entitled ‘Acrylic Courage’ by Leigh Hooper ©2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

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 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 Fog….

As one rainy day follows another, our morning fog rivals the fog we met in the English countryside. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Sarah in the Amazon. I love how the tree in the foreground stands out, so distinct in contrast to the misty scenery in the background. I can imagine certain sounds being muffled, while other sounds are amplified or distorted. The boat seems so inviting, offering a chance to float aimlessly on calm waters. Fog offers an invitation to turn inward, to let go of the long view and soak in the here and now. My grandmother used to say that fog was a blanket God used to cover a corner of the world. It’s almost as if God is inviting you to pull up the covers and hit the snooze button one more time. Yet there is such temptation to rush out of the house and through our day. We speed up only to be caught at the next red light along with everyone else, or cut off someone to get a parking space a few feet closer to the door. We want everything to add up just so, for all the facts to line up and make perfect sense. The true essence of life defies such simple bookkeeping. Our hearts are regulated by a more subtle and complex arithmetic. The greater truth lies in embracing the mystery, and accepting that our view is limited, and often obscured. Only the Most High sees all and understands all. Take time today to turn inward, to lead with your heart rather than with your mind. Allow the mystery of life to enfold you, and thank God for your blessings, for those who fill your life with love. Feel free to pour out your heart in prayer, knowing that the fog that surrounds you is simply a wonderful, mysterious blanket of God’s love. Photo by Sarah Gulick

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