Helen and Ellen

This morning, I allowed myself a leisurely start to the new day in celebration of my birthday. On my way to the kitchen for breakfast, I heard familiar voices resounding from our television set. When I turned to see who had stirred my memory, I saw double. I really did. The elder good deacon had been listening to Oprah as he sorted through some paperwork. I asked if this was a rerun because I recognized the two women who sat opposite Oprah from a past show. Mike reminded me that Oprah is bringing back her favorite guests for this final season, and Helen and Ellen are among them.

Though I’ve occasionally enjoyed watching Oprah over the years, I can’t claim to be a regular viewer or an avid fan. Apparently, Oprah doesn’t mind my lack of consistency because she provided me a wonderful birthday gift in the persons of Helen and Ellen. I’d already read today’s scripture passages several times, and I’d made my weekly plea for inspiration from above. I’d also secretly hoped that the Spirit would be especially generous this time around because this birthday is a BIG one and I felt the need for a bit more encouragement than usual. As it happened, I received much more than I’d hoped for.

Helen and Ellen are eighty-two year old twin sisters who run Love’s Kitchen, a special place in Knoxville, Tennessee, which they founded in 1986 to feed the hungry. Though they are of modest means themselves, these sisters undertook this venture because they truly wanted to live in keeping with what they’d learned about God. They shared their most important lessons with Oprah: “There is one father, Our Heavenly Father; there is one race, the Human Race; and never take the last piece of bread from the table because someone hungrier than you might come in.” As the interview continued, these two lovable women shared more of their simple, yet profound wisdom. Finally, Helen explained the reason they continue to cook for the hungry, the homeless, the homebound and the hopeless who depend upon Love’s Kitchen for a meal each week. “Everybody is God’s Somebody,” Helen said. What more reason do Helen and Ellen need to love and care for those around them?

Indeed, everybody is God’s Somebody! If you don’t believe this, consider today’s scripture passages. When the people complain about God’s seeming lack of concern for them, the prophet Isaiah (49:14-15) speaks for God when he says, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” St. Paul’s faith in God’s attention to his ministry simply cannot be shaken. Paul, convinced that God is aware of what is in his heart, dismisses everything others have to say about him and everyone else who serves in God’s name. Paul (1 Corinthians 4:1-5) tells us that in the end “…everyone will receive praise from God.” In Matthew’s gospel (6:24-34), Jesus underscores what Isaiah and Paul have to say. Jesus insists that the God who feeds the birds of the air and who clothes wild flowers in splendor will do far more for us. In his words today and though everything he said and did, Jesus repeated this lesson regarding God’s love for us. Each of us is God’s beloved. Each of us is God’s Somebody whose presence in this world cannot be overvalued and must not be overlooked.

Helen and Ellen were discovered by a woman, now a millionaire, who suffered homelessness and despair several years earlier. When she heard about Love’s Kitchen, this woman assumed the role of the homeless woman she once was and visited Helen and Ellen for a meal. These amazing ladies embraced this guest as they do everyone who comes to their table. This woman was so moved by Helen’s and Ellen’s ministry that she rewarded their kindness with an amazing donation that insures their work for some time. It seems to me that Helen and Ellen and their millionaire friend speak God’s message to us today quite eloquently: You and I are God’s Somebody. This brings God’s absolute guarantee that we are loved simply because we are who we are. This also brings God’s expectation that we will look upon and honor one another just as God looks upon and honors us. What more reason do we need to love God and to love and care for those we’ve been given to love? Everybody is God’s somebody!

©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


We Have Survived

As I write, I offer thanks that we’ve survived Blizzard 2011. Like most of the inhabitants of the Midwest, you likely prepared for this unmerciful onslaught of wind and snow as best you could. The elder good deacon and I did the same. I admit that he is the one who braved a trek to the Jewel to pick up the few bits of foodstuff that we needed. I tackled as many online tasks as possible in the event that we lost power. I interrupted my work every half hour or so to check the storm’s progress. The brazen flakes that assaulted my window pane didn’t offer the peaceful inspiration that their counterparts provided a few weeks ago. With each menacing gust of wind, snowflakes billowed about more powerfully. Though I usually enjoy the winter weather, this particular encounter sent a chill up my spine. Before going to sleep that Tuesday night, I prayed fervently for our collective safety.

When we woke early Wednesday morning to find that the blizzard continued, I took an accounting of my family. As Mike and I waited for the snow to stop so we could tackle our driveway, I checked in with our kids to be certain that all was well. Our granddaughters spent a pajama day with Mommy, while Daddy hibernated in the ice storms that played havoc with his business trip in Dallas. Our son Tim worked from his home in Chicago, while Kim worked out of town in a more pleasant climate. Assured that all was well enough, I returned to the computer to write.

One would think that this perfect storm of sorts inspired the nature lover in me. Unfortunately, the only images that came to mind were disconcerting at best. I couldn’t escape the reality that the day wouldn’t be easy for most, especially those forced to brave the weather because their jobs, their poverty or other circumstances demanded it. The more the snow fell, the more my concern grew. Once again, I turned my eyes upward in prayer for the ones who needed special protection that particular day. Afterward, I reread today’s readings and found the inspiration that had escaped me earlier on.

I wondered why I’d missed the significance of the passage from Sirach (Sirach 15:15-20) because it reflects my understanding of this life quite well. The author writes that if we trust in God, we shall live. He goes on to say that we are free to choose the course of our lives and that we will be given the lives that we choose. This writer is convinced that God pays attention to each of us and that God understands our every deed and our every need. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t think God was aware of my circumstances. Though I may have groaned heavenward for Divine Intervention, I never doubted God’s awareness or God’s concern. It was when I had my own children that I realized why that Divine Intervention didn’t always take the form I’d hoped for. Our sons learned to trust us early on because they experienced our love in our care for them. We offered them choices to develop their independence and to teach them that the things we do have consequences. Though Mike and Tim have moved on to their adult lives, we haven’t stopped loving them. We’re always only a phone call -or a text- away.

When Blizzard 2011 became a viable threat, my first inclination was to do what needed to be done to prepare. When the blizzard made its presence known, I fretted for us all. It was then that I turned to the One who understood exactly what I was feeling. God didn’t plow the drive for me, but God watched as the men folk on the block helped one another to get the job done. God didn’t melt the four-foot drift that blocked our front door, but God watched when the sun suddenly appeared as I shoveled away. God didn’t get groceries for the elderly couple down the block, but God knew a thoughtful neighbor would deliver just what they needed. This God of ours has blessed each of us with the freedom to choose. And, as Sirach writes, when we choose to do good, we attract goodness. When we choose to show concern, we receive the concern of others. When we welcome God into our sorrow and our worry, our joy and our celebration, it is then that we realize God’s presence in our lives.

©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Jack Frost is our hero.

Our granddaughters spent a few days with us this past week. We built towers, drew pictures, read books and watched the squirrels running in the snow outside our window. We pushed cars along the floor and played the piano. I watched as Lauren danced and I listened as Ellie sang her special words to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Grandpa played pool with Ellie and Lauren, which means he sat them on top of the pool table and allowed them to roll the balls into the pockets. Eventually, Grandpa and I gave in to our fatigue and watched Jack Frost with the girls –the same animated program we viewed with their daddy almost thirty years ago.

As we watched, Ellie gave a running commentary on the action. She observed that though we could see Jack Frost flitting about as he blew an icy film across January Junction, the people could not see him. “But they know he’s there, Grandma, because he’s making icicles and snow.” Ellie complimented Jack’s amazing winter work. When Jack became human temporarily, Ellie told us that Elisa loved Jack because of all of the nice things he did. “I love Jack Frost, too!” Ellie said. When Elisa was kidnapped by the evil Kubla Kraus, Ellie proclaimed, “Jack Frost will go up in the castle and get Elisa away from that bad guy!” The following morning, I pointed out the snow on our deck and told Ellie that I thought Jack Frost had been there overnight. Ellie looked at the old paw prints the squirrels had left the day before and said, “No, Grandma. Jack Frost wasn’t here last night. Jack Frost made that snow a long time ago.”

This morning, as I put the toys away and placed Jack Frost back into the video cabinet, I considered Ellie’s assessment of her winter hero. Neither Jack’s appearance nor his words made much of an impression upon Ellie. It was what Jack did that took her in. Jack exhibited great passion for his work as he transformed January Junction into a beautiful wonderland in the cold of winter. When Jack became human for a little while, his smile grew as did his willingness to do what he could to help the local people. When Jack realized that the village was being terrorized by Kubla Kraus, he decided at once to lead a revolt against the evil tyrant. When Kubla Kraus kidnapped Elisa to make her his bride, Jack attempted to save her. When Jack was captured, he overheard Kubla Kraus’s plan to send a thousand mechanical knights to destroy January Junction. Of course, Jack found a way to stop the attack and to save the people whom he loved. Though our world is a bit more complicated than January Junction, Ellie’s ability to recognize Jack Frost’s goodness will serve her well. Ellie unknowingly grasped the message in today’s gospel (Matthew 5:13-15).

Matthew’s gospel continues today just after Jesus has offered his disciples the Beatitudes. Each of these promises that they are indeed blessed was meant to reassure them. Because they are God’s blessed ones, the disciples would endure and overcome whatever they might encounter in this world. Today, Jesus goes on to say, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” Because they are God’s blessed ones, they must now be the salt that enriches those around them in everything they do. Because they are God’s blessed ones, they must now light the way for those who don’t yet know the road back home to God. Jesus leaves no room for uncertainty regarding how this will be accomplished when he says, “…your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” This is the only way those around them will take God’s message of peace and reconciliation, mercy and love to heart.

Ellie’s capacity to recognize a person’s goodness in his or her actions mirrors what I found in my own sons and in the hundreds of children I taught over the years. Children simply aren’t fooled by empty promises. Today, Jesus tells us that God’s children aren’t fooled by false pretenses either. The only way to draw those around us closer to God is to earn their attention like Jack Frost did –by simply doing the good that needs to be done.

©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved