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

Reflecting on Touch….

Icy Evergreen by Kira SkalaIt seems an eternity since the snow and ice coated the foliage and fields. The last snow was just a week ago, foreboding in the early morning, yet gone before noon. Today I took a leisurely walk with my dog Hobbes, enjoying the new life that refuses to be ignored. Yet despite the balmy weather, I find myself drawn to a photo by my dear friend Kira. I love how each pine needle is separately encase in a thin coat of ice, so thin you can see through to the vibrant life that endures the storm. The green of the pine pops out against the dried leaves caught in the branches. How much of what we see here is reflected in our everyday lives? We get stuck into familiar and comfortable patterns, repeating what worked before without thinking. Life goes on yet we persist in a pattern that once worked, but obviously is old and worn. In time life loses its color, its zest, its wonder. Then a friend stops by to tell us about a new beginning. Our hearts swell with contagious excitement, perhaps tainted with a little envy. That excitement fades as they wander off and we wonder why life is passing us by, why not me, why not now? Just when we seem lost in the dried leaves of our own lives, that friend reaches out, touches our arm, ask how we are. We hear and feel their concern, know their apology for going on and on about themselves comes from the heart. They take time out of their new adventure to really listen and our hearts melt. What seemed so stuck, so frozen, so lost, is suddenly found. It seems we need one another to find ourselves, to thaw the ice than individually encases us and isolates us from one another. Make time today to ponder what thrills your heart. Go back to what drives your passion, rather than simply going through the motions. Consider which routines serve you best and which routines drain your energy and your time. Reform or relinquish the old routines, the dried leaves, to make room for vibrant new life. And always remember, all it takes is touch to melt the thickest ice and join us together in new life. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Icy Evergreens’ by Kira Skala©2016, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Frozen….

Ice Bubbles By Sarah GulickLife is full of twists and turns. Sometimes I wonder how things got so mixed up and other times I am simply grateful to have survived. Yet as I ponder my younger days it seems to me I rarely knew the difference at the time. My friend Sarah caught that sentiment in her photo of ice bubbles under the ice. Sarah is out of on the water regardless of the season. She takes amazing photos of the scenery she finds, but most often these close ups are what really inspire me. She pauses to capture the beauty in the details that so many others simply pass by. Her photos often take me back to my youth. I recall deep resentment and frustration at the smallest offenses that led to moody days and restless nights. I recall plunging headlong into the deep end, then wondering how I had gotten in over my head. The only consistent theme I can name is an unwillingness to give up. I forged ahead, certain I could make it all right, certain there had to be a brighter future just around the bend. Yet that stubbornness came at a great cost, not only to me but often to others around me. I would push ahead, push others aside, push myself beyond my own limits. Then I would end up flat on my back in bed, sick in body and spirit. Perhaps God got my attention by making me stop and look up, instead of rushing ahead. It took more time than I care to admit to understand God was there all the time. I simply was too busy to stop and listen. Over the years I learned how to pace myself better, to listen more than I talked, to be more considerate of others. But most of all, I learned that I can only escape repeating my mistakes through prayer ad reflection. I can only gain hindsight if I look back with a heart seeking transformation and redemption. Make time today to consider how your past informs your future. Allow the Holy Comforter to crack through the frozen parts of your heart and soul, to heal you and equip you for the path ahead. Trust the Holy of Holies to set the pace and to guide you along the way. Pray for God’s answer rather than your own, for a way ahead that works for everyone, not just for you. Trust that God works in all things, even the worst things, for the good of those who love Him. And always remember, when we step back to see more than just the ‘I’ in the picture, we allow God to make us better instead of bitter. Text by Connie Chintall©2015, photo entitled ‘Ice Bubbles’ by Sarah Gulick©2016, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Sarah’s creative work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/

Reflecting on Discomfort….

Doodle NosesWalks with our dog Hobbes are shorter and shorter these days. We used to take walks of at least an hour but now he has become old and weary. I must say I walk less without him, if at all. Pets are good at reminding you what is really important, making sure you don’t take yourself too seriously. My friend Jen caught a moment in her regular walks with her dog Oliver in Georgetown. Oliver has a doggie friend I’ll call Simon who makes sure to greet him on their daily walks. Oliver responds by straining against the lease, eager to connect with his less fortunate friend. Oliver in relentless is his greetings, seeking out his friend even though all he knows of Simon is a nose and a paw. Tonight we recall the arrival of our Lord as a tiny baby in a manger. Christ was born in a stable, greeted first by animals. The shepherds, his first human visitors, were people who cared for animals. We also welcome family and friends into our homes, joining together to celebrate and renew our bonds. Yet these gatherings are not always comfortable or relaxed. Old resentments and unresolved arguments can sabotage the most joyous occasions. Our lovely dinner can become dinner theater. When we chose resentment over discomfort, we build a wall that isolates us from those we love. Rather than work through the pain, we convince ourselves it’s just not worth it, why bother, what difference will it make anyway? We think we have hidden the problem, and the person who caused it, behind a nice, tall wall. We think we can just walk by without bothering to acknowledge their existence. Yet that person may not even understand the offense. Perhaps there was no intent to harm, only miscommunication. Make time today to choose discomfort over resentment. Consider how your dog would act in your place. Let go of your grip on the lease and follow. Explain what rubbed you the wrong way and open the gate, rather than simply poking your nose through the gap. And always remember, while discomfort quickly passes, resentment can last a lifetime. Text by Connie Chintall©2015, photo entitled ‘Doodle Noses’ by Jen Ayers©2015, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Jen’s creative work, go to http://kingdomofazuria.com/

Reflecting on Evolution….

Evolve by Claire BishopWe live in a small town. The Main Street is filled with interesting shops and restaurants. The buildings are old and in some sections little more than a shell. You can stand with the sky above you and an old tile floor below you, facing what was once the wall of a shop or restaurant. My young friend Claire captured a commentary on one of these walls. What does it mean to evolve? I’m not talking about whether we descended from monkeys or how long ago dinosaurs walked the earth. I’m talking about you and me, about how we learn and grow over a lifetime. The verb evolve is defined as ‘develop gradually, especially from a simple to a more complex form’. Our opinions change. Over time we view the world in more nuanced or more absolute terms. We listen more often than we speak, seeking to understand a world that changes moment to moment. Each morning I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and guard me, to teach me to understand God’s plan for all of us, not just for me and my little corner of the world. I pray God will abide with me, gently opening my mind and heart each day, only as much as I can handle. Growth and healing go hand in hand. Healing requires vulnerability, a desire to turn over the rocks in our path to look at the worms underneath. Some are boulders that block the way. Others are smooth stones we could just as easily step over. We can only handle a one at a time, if that. There are days, even weeks and months, when we can’t bear to even glimpse at what is under a single rock. Yet if we trust that God has prepared a healing, that God is with us in the journey, we will turn over each rock in His time, not ours. When I think back to the really difficult times in my life, I was turning over way too many stones at one time, rushing forward when I simply needed to be present. During the worst times, I insisted those close to me, those who share my path, rush ahead rather than heal and growth in their own time, in their own way. Make time today to listen to others. Ask questions to open up a dialogue, rather than shut down the conversation. Seek to learn their viewpoint to better inform your own. Look for shades of grey where you once only saw black and white. Let God lead you, step by step, stone by stone, conversation by conversation. And always remember, when we turn over one stone at a time, we can trust God to slowly but surely mold us into the image of Christ. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, photo entitled ‘Evolve’ by Claire Bishop ©2015, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Transformation….

Rain by Kira SkalaLife 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

Reflecting on Jeanne Mischo

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…

by Jeanne Mischo

Jeanne ended with this art…
Ma in the Community Garden by Jeanne Mischo
Reflecting on Lost, originally posted 14 March 2014

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/

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

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