Life has been full of surprises in the past few months. I always enjoy a pleasant surprise, but I must admit I do not do well with unexpected losses. When we seem to be drowning in bad news, I struggle to celebrate the good news. At times like these I look for answers. I wonder why life is so difficult and challenging for some, while others sail along, often obvious to the suffering that goes on around them. Perhaps I could manage to wrap my head around one or two of these shocking revelations, but not one after the other. As a Christian I look for redemption in the midst of suffering because I believe God offers more than answers. God offers transformation. God takes life that must end in death and transforms it into eternal life. I believe that eternal life starts now, not after we physically die and pass on. This life offers us inexplicable moments of joy at times when suffering seems bound to crush our hearts and souls. We hit the end of our rope, loosen our grip and expect to fall into the abyss. At that point we let go of what we expect the answer to be, of when that answer will arrive, of who will provide solace, of how grace will open up a path where we see only the Pit. Grace pours through the pain and we find ourselves safely in God’s embrace. Time seems to lose its meaning as we become lost in the wonder and awe. In all this darkness we have been searching for the Holy Spirit in light, only to find the God we seek has been drenching our hearts in Spirit filled water. We no longer need that worn out image of the Spirit as light. We need a Spirit of baptism to wash away the anguish and pain and fill us with joy. Make time today to open your heart to the Almighty, letting go of any and all expectations. Pray for the Holy Spirit to soothe your soul and fill your heart with the peace of God that passes all understanding. Look at what God brings into your life, suspending judgment and holding open space for God’s grace and mercy. And always remember, when we let go of our answer to prayer, God transforms our lives in ways beyond our understanding. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, photo entitled ‘Rain’ by Kira Skala ©2015, All Rights Reserved
20 Sep 2015 Leave a comment
04 Aug 2015 2 Comments
Jeanne Mischo has been featured in this blog for a number of years. Her art always challenged me to up my game, to be sure my words did justice to her amazing and multi-layered creations. Jeanne passed from this life last week. I kept thinking I would know what to say, but perhaps the best tribute is this post from March of 2014. Sometimes there is nothing we can say because words fail us. Only art can convey the complexities of our hearts. Jeanne began with this photo…
The cold, harsh morning is giving way to a warm, mild afternoon. March is alternating between the lion and the lamb, often in the same day. So I was drawn to this exquisite work of art by my friend Jeanne, entitled ‘Ma in the Community Garden’. I love her choice of colors, the brilliant blue sky, the vivid orange of the blossoms in the foreground, the muted colors of the foliage and the tiny mother. I can see myself drawn in by the flowers, especially this time of year. It would be so easy to pluck a bloom for my table and drift along without taking in the rest of the scene. This winter has been harsh in more ways than one. The relentless cold has been only one unpleasant aspect. Families have experienced death, sometimes after a long decline, sometimes too quickly to comprehend. Like most of us, I never know what to say to the grieving. I heard again and again, ‘I am sorry for your loss’, but am not sure what that means. I feel like a small child once again, hearing the neighbor across the alley ask ‘Have you lost her again?’ After moving into town from the farm, my grandmother took up an allotment in the community garden. Often when my sisters and I returned from school or playing with friends, we would find the house empty. I would reassure my sisters that we were just fine. Nana was simply off working the allotment. Perhaps grief is a lot like that childhood conversation. After all, we know the soul lives on beyond the frailty of the flesh. We know our loved ones are with the Holy of Holies, perhaps in a lush, vibrant, garden we can only see dimly now. Yet we also yearn for the physical, the touch, the smell, the warm embrace. It can take time to absorb the shock, to comprehend the reality, to accept the finality of death. It takes time to let go of those we love, even if we are to giving them over to God. Make time today for those who grieve, to lend an ear, to offer a prayer, to just talk about everyday life. Give them permission to celebrate the joys this life brings in the midst of sadness by giving them space to mourn. Pray for the Holy Spirit to soothe their souls, guard their hearts and guide their minds. Most of all, pray for God’s words rather than your own. And always remember, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, Art entitled ‘Ma in the Community Garden’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013, to see more of her work, go to All Rights Reserved. To see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/
19 Jul 2015 2 Comments
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
11 Jul 2015 Leave a comment
Each of us believes our childhood is normal until we leave home. We really do not understand the gifts and curses of our upbringing until we learn how our family situation is different from what others have experienced. I grew up with plenty of family around. My grandparents lived with us. The evening news was filled with images of Vietnam rather than child abductions. We spent our days outside, wandering the neighborhood and the ‘Dead End’, on our own. Or were we? Perhaps we were safe because all of the parents had an eye on us. All of our parents watched over us and corrected us. We learned to pay attention to what was going on around us by example. We saw the adults looking out for us and we learned to do the same. When I joined the military, that ability was called ‘situation awareness’. We did all sorts of exercises to learn how to see what was going on around us. We learned to rely not just on what we could see and hear, but what others could see and hear. The only way to stay safe was to rely on one another, to take in everyone’s perspective. Now if that perspective was the same for each of us, there would be no benefit to collecting multiple viewpoints. We each see through our own eyes, filtered through our own collection of memories and concerns. What I say is green you may say is blue. What I say is safe you may consider too risky. What I say isn’t there you say is just a little further, a little longer. Together we can forge a way ahead that works for all of us. We may not agree on everything, but we can agree on the path ahead. That path may require more than what our senses can take in. In the words of Hebrews 11:1, ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ Perhaps I cannot see it, but must rely on others who can. Make time today to look and listen, to soak in your current situation. Consider the curve of a loved one’s face, a leaf blowing in the wind, a conversation that could be more than communication. Suspend judgment and seek out perspectives other than your own. Ask questions that open up a dialogue, rather than point to a preconceived conclusion. And always remember, there will be times when we can only move ahead in hope with the faith of others to sustain us.
Text by Connie Chintall ©2015
Art entitled ‘Forrest Within’ by Lindsay McDowall ©2014
01 Jul 2015 Leave a comment
My energy level is not what it used to be. I think back to my younger years and wonder how I managed to get all that done. Then I remember how terrible I felt all the time. It seemed even my bones were tired. We only have a certain amount of time and energy. If we push ourselves in one area of life, another area of life pays the price. We can be successful at work while sacrificing our health. We slowly give up things that matter to us as our lives become consumed by a single goal. Over time we forego a good night’s sleep, we stop exercising, we fail to set aside time for family and friends. Such single minded pursuits become a self fulfilling prophecy. We love and hate our work, loving it because it has become the only thing we are good at, hating it because the cost has been too great. Perhaps someone we love tries to talk to us about it, but we do not have the time or inclination to listen. After my daughter was born, it felt like I had two babies. My work was very important to me and I had hired practically everyone I worked with. Every day was Groundhog Day. I put on my makeup while my daughter ate her breakfast. I answered calls on the way into work after dropping her off at daycare. I worked on personnel reports after putting her to bed at night. When she was about two years old, I doubled over at work in intense pain. It still took six months to figure out what was wrong because, yes, you guessed it, I was too busy working. I had complications from her birth and required surgery to correct the problem. Yet the pain was more than physical. I was just too tired to be able to tell anything was wrong. There was a big red flag in front of my face, and I was too tired to even notice it. Make time today to look up from the endless list of things that have to be done. Sit outside to eat your lunch, take a walk with a coworker, call a friend or family member to catch up. Invest your time and energy into matters of the heart, focusing on what brings you joy. And always remember, we do not live to work, we work in order to live life to its fullest. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, Art entitled ‘Study of an Energy Field’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2015. To see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/
11 Jun 2015 Leave a comment
We have spent too many weekends away from home. I have lost track of the groceries and onions are ending up in the trash rather than in my favorite recipe. It seems we forget that the things we tuck away, the things we prefer to forget, things that still grow in the dark. All of us have parts of ourselves we wish did not exist. We hide them away from others, and ourselves. It seems so much easier to push aside our less perfect parts and show a smiling face to the world. Yet whether we like it or not, whether we pay attention or not, the hidden side of us continues to grow in the shadows. Our prim and proper exterior is penetrated by roots that continue to grow and seek out the light. In younger years, I thought I had the lid locked down tight. I was convinced I could be whole by simply picking and choosing the parts of my personality that suited me best. Over the years, I have learned the rejected side of me lashes out when locked away. If I choose to ignore all of who I am, the shadow simply bites me in the butt at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected places. What do we do with the onions of our souls? I have learned to take out one onion at a time. I cut it up and shed a few tears. I take what could harm me and fold it into a new and exotic dish. That part of me needs love and caring more than the parts I parade around for others to see. I need to take time to care for myself, to stretch and grow, by allowing the Holy Spirit to bring those old hurts into the light. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it hurts. But at least in the light that suffering leads to new growth and greater understanding. Matthew 5:48 tell us to ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect’, yet the word for perfect is better translated as whole or complete. Make time today to nurture old wounds and long forgotten memories. Allow silence to sink into your soul and anchor your heart in the safe and abiding love of God. Invite the light of Christ into even the darkest corners, trusting a healing has been prepared for you. And always remember, if we take out just one onion at a time, in God’s time not ours, God will slowly and surely perfect us and make us whole.
Text by Connie Chintall ©2015
Photo entitled ‘Growing in the Dark’ by Kitty Buckwalter ©2015
28 May 2015 Leave a comment
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
25 May 2015 2 Comments
For many of us, Memorial Day is a tough holiday. We may have lost loved ones in conflict, or experienced combat firsthand. While we are called to remember those who served, some of us may prefer to forget painful experiences. Unfortunately, for those that survive, forgetting is not always an option. Something small can key a long buried memory, something simple. Perhaps a news item about someone that looks like a person long gone, or a place or situation that seems ordinary to everyone else, yet menacing beyond belief to a combat veteran. So I was touched by this photo of Mr. Coty’s grave. He served in Viet Nam and the effects of that experience haunted him and affected his family. Not every day, or all the time. Yet perhaps the randomness was the toughest part. His daughter and grandson visited the grave this weekend, and left flowers. So today we remember, because for those who serve, it may be too painful to remember. With humble hearts we thank you for your service, not knowing the price that was paid. With faithful hearts, we pray for healing and wholeness that is only possible through the grace and mercy of God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2011, Photo by Renee Coty.
21 Apr 2015 Leave a comment
There are times in our lives when we all need stories. We recall fairytales from our childhood, favorite stories we could not grasp or fully embrace at the time. Then our adult lives are torn asunder. Tragedy strikes, painstaking plans run amuck, or we slowly grind to a halt. When life turns topsy turvy, we truly comprehend the transformative power of the story. So I was drawn to this amazing image by my friend Dawn. I love how relaxed Megan looks in the midst of a fantastic, over the top scene. The only concession to the fantasy of her surroundings might be her tutu. Perhaps Megan is a modern day princess, resting before she goes off to slay the dragon on her own. This surreal garden may simply be a detour on her long and arduous journey. Tomorrow we will attend the funeral of a friend who passed from this world very suddenly and unexpectedly. She was away on business at the time, so the funeral was delayed for about a week. In the midst of this tragedy, my husband and I bought a lake home, the culmination of a lifelong dream. Our lake home feels a lot like this garden, an oasis in the desert. I ended up at the lake for the business side of buying a house. I spent the morning waiting on technicians to sort out the phone and utilities. I found myself lost in the view, lost in my emotions, lost to the world as we know it. I was transported out of the nightmare into a safe corner where the dreams are still sweet, where kings and queens still slay dragons, where wood violets still bring a smile to my sad face. Make time today to nurture the sweet dreams of your soul. Water and till the garden of good memories. Weed out the nightmares that seek to creep in and choke out the brave and the innocent and the compassionate. Let the tiniest of flowers stand guard at the gate of your heart. And always remember, all it takes is one story, a story that reaches across time, to quiet your mind before bedtime. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, photo by Dawn Duffield©2011, entitled ‘Megan in Wonderland’, to see more of her work, go to http://www.projectdawnphotography.com
13 Apr 2015 Leave a comment
Life is such a fragile commodity. We hear folks say this all the time, especially in the face of inconceivable tragedy. We speak of the lives cut short as fragile, but I wonder if we really are speaking of the lives of those left behind to cope with the aftermath. Friends and family gather round, in hopes of offering a comforting word or gesture, looking to pick up the pieces. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Florian. He has captured the ruins of a once strong and sturdy shelter on a mountain road in Japan. It seems just when we think we have it all figured out, life takes a sharp turn. We find that what we thought was solid is shifting under our feet. When we cling to what we thought was certain, we find it sifting through our fingers like grains of sand. All I do know for sure right now is that while life may end, love never dies. No amount of time, or distance, or change can diminish or wipe away love. Love is the only way to respond to such earth shattering events. Alone we can never hope to put this home back together, or make way for a new home. Together we can make short work of it. Most of all, we must be both present to the pain and present to the love of the Almighty. The only way I know how to walk that razor’s edge is through prayer. Without prayer, we can ruin ourselves and be of no help to anyone. I walked for a long time this morning, walked and prayed because I simply could not sit still and pray. Although I could find no words of my own, I keep hearing the Prayer of St Francis:
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness only light,
And where there’s sadness ever joy.
Oh Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life
Make time today to open your heart and soul to the never ending love and mercy of the Almighty. Breathe out the pain and sorrow. Breathe in comfort and peace. Let go of the overwhelming and leave it at the feet of the Alpha and Omega. If you have no words for such sorrow, trust God will offer you the right words, or perhaps no words at all. And always remember, when you open your heart and become vulnerable, you can rely on the steadfast love of God, pouring into you and through you. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015. Hymn ‘Prayer of St Francis’ by Sebastian Temple ©2009. Photo entitled ‘Collapsed Japanese House’ by Florian Seidel ©2013, to see more of his work, go to his blog http://abandonedkansai.com