Believe!

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.

John 4:50

I have spent my entire life worrying about sick loved ones and I admit that it has taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote. I must also admit that I have succeeded only some of the time…

The man who approached Jesus on behalf of his dying son was a royal official. He was likely quite used to having his every need met without question. When his child lay dying, he tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. In spite of his powerful position, when all else failed he went to Jesus for help. Something he had heard or seen encouraged him to do this. When Jesus simply instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed and he went home. John tells us this man was not disappointed.

I’m not sure of what this royal official learned about Jesus before he approached him for help. I am quite certain that this man knew only a tiny fraction of what we have come to know about Jesus in the two millenniums since. Still, in the face of two thousand plus years of study, contemplation and proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, we doubt.

Loving God, I know that you love me. Please strengthen my faith in your constant companionship and care. Let me simply believe and be on my way.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Patient and Nurturing Love

While baby-sitting for our little grandson, Grandpa and I noticed the lovely flower resting on a table in the living room. After putting Danny to bed for a nap and bidding Grandpa farewell as he headed out to run errands, I decided to enjoy a bit of respite. Though I normally retreat to the family room with a book in hand, I felt the need to spend time in the presence of that beautiful plant. Some years ago, it was an equally compelling blossom which taught me an unforgettable lesson about God’s persistent care and God’s faith in our potential to accomplish the spectacular…

It was a few weeks before Christmas when I made my annual purchase of a Christmas Amaryllis potting kit. Each year, after my husband planted and watered the bulb, I kept watch until the bulb produced an amazing blossom. These blooms always appeared just in time to add a flourish to our Yuletide decor. One year, after I made this purchase, I left the boxed bulb and pot in the garage because we were in the midst of decorating for Christmas. I planned to retrieve the kit when we were ready to plant. Unfortunately, in our decorating frenzy, several items in the garage were rearranged and the kit was inadvertently buried. I rediscovered it two months later while looking for something else. Because Mike knows far more about plants and their care than I do, I brought the kit into the house and asked if we should bother planting it. Mike reminded me of the year we were given an Easter Amaryllis and went on to say, “Maybe it was just a Christmas Amaryllis that someone re-gifted. Let’s see what happens.”

Because Mike was too busy to deal with the plant for a few days, I decided to help in this effort. I remember convincing myself that I could take on this minimal gardening task as I opened the box. When I found the pot, a very large bulb and a little mud-like disk about the size of a hockey puck, I was disappointed. Whoever had put this kit together had forgotten the potting soil. The list of enclosed items included potting medium and I had none. Determined, I headed to the garage to look for potting soil. After a fruitless search, I was tempted to abandon this project. However, I was on a mission. I looked at the box to see if the type of soil was noted so I could purchase it. As I reread, I discovered that the disk I mistakenly called fertilizer was actually freeze-dried soil which would expand to fill the pot. I hit my forehead and murmured “Duh!” as I returned to planting. I placed the “soil” in the pot and added water. I set the bulb in the expanding soil and held it in place as I added more water. The soil covered it by half as it made its way to the rim. I placed the pot by the kitchen window and cleaned up my mess. That night, after I checked the bulb to be certain it hadn’t fallen over, I went to bed with a contented smile.

Though Mike is the resident gardener, I dutifully checked that Amaryllis bulb every morning and after work each day. I also informed him that I would keep the soil moist to the touch. Within a few days, a bit of green stem rewarded my effort. Every day afterward, I encouraged that stem to grow upright. One day, I noticed the bud at the top of the stem. I’ll never forget catching my first glimpse of the red and white blossom which give this particular Amaryllis its name. While sitting with that inspiring flower in my grandson’s living room, it occurred to me that my planting adventure had actually brought one of Jesus’ most beloved parables to life.

My persistent care of that once-troublesome bulb mirrors God’s care for us in spite of the troubles we cause one another and ourselves. When God asks us to acknowledge our missteps and our sins, God also promises to nurture us through our attempts to set things right again and to grow from our mistakes. In today’s gospel (Luke 13:1-9), Jesus illustrates God’s persistent care for and faith in us with the parable of the unproductive fig tree. After chastising the people for once again missing the point of his words, Jesus offered his story. He told the crowd that an orchard owner grew impatient with a fig tree which had not yielded fruit for three years. The man ordered his gardener to cut down the tree so it wouldn’t drain the soil of nutrients. The gardener pleaded with his employer to allow him just one more year to cultivate the tree. If after a year of careful attention the tree failed to bear fruit, the gardener promised to cut it down. The orchard owner placed his faith in that gardener and spared the tree.

Just the same, God leaves us in Jesus’ hands to be pruned and nourished. Much to our good fortune, Jesus spent what remained of his life among us transforming us through his love and his example. With complete faith in our ability to respond, God patiently waits for the spectacular blossoms which will come to life in you and in me.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Begin At Home

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

From Mark 12:30-31

“You’ve got to have charity in your heart!” My mom spoke these words often to me, not so much to nag as to teach me an important lesson. Apparently, I was more interested in demonstrating my love for God than I was in demonstrating my love for my own family. Usually, my mom’s remark referenced my tardy arrival home because I had stopped at church to pray or rose early to attend morning Mass while leaving my chores undone. Mom was correct in her assessment at the time. I hadn’t yet realized that chores done with love are at least as honorable as time spent in church.

If you are a person who is involved, you have stepped up to the plate once too often, just as I have. Worse yet, you are probably quite good at the things you do. It’s difficult to walk away from something we enjoy doing or that we feel will be left undone if we fail to take it on. To help remedy this situation, read today’s scripture again. If you love God with your whole heart, you will care for the things God loves. If you love your neighbors as yourself, you will take care of them as only you can. No one else can be the spouse, parent, child, sister, brother, grandparent or friend that you can be. So feel no guilt in opting to care for them before you step up to the plate to do anything else.

Loving God, just as you love each of your children, help me to love those you have given me to love as only I can.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Habitual Goodness

Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Luke 11:23

This third week of Lent, it occurs to me that I’ve probably thought more about the words and works of Jesus during the past seventeen days than I have in a very long time. Today’s scripture passage would have thrown me for a loop not so long ago because I would have questioned Jesus’ exclusivity. “What are you thinking?” I might have asked. Today, I realize that this is not the case. Jesus included everyone in this remark. He simply asked that we live as we should consistently, rather than when it is convenient or “in season.” When we are not living as we should, we are living as we shouldn’t. Consistency is definitely the way to go!

Though Christmas seems eons away, can you recall the numerous charitable efforts in progress during the Christmas Season? It seems that everyone tried to do something to help those in need. My parish family provided five thousand gifts for two thousand people who would otherwise have not received any gifts. Giving is always in season at Christmastime. Unfortunately, poverty and abuse and need don’t adhere to a calendar. Jobs are lost every day and medical bills mount up regardless of the season. Food pantries have long since distributed their Christmas donations and the economy has taken its toll on social agencies. Perhaps it’s time to extend our Christmas generosity to Lent. Today, I’m going to eliminate something from my budget and I’m going to give what I save to someone who needs it more than I do. If consistency is the name of the game, it’s time for me to make a habit of this.

Loving God, help us all to live as we should rather than as we should not. In the process, help us to make our generosity a lifelong habit.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Okay… Let Go…

“…until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part
of a letter will pass until
all things have taken place.”

Matthew 5:18

A recent gathering with my sisters included the usual reminiscing. This time, we traveled back to that childhood summer when we stayed at a rented lake cottage. On this particular day, my younger sisters and I romped in the water with our dad. We climbed all over him as he attempted to swim. Suddenly, he sank into the water and called, “Rita, get the kids off of me.” This out-of-character request prompted us back to the sandy beach where my older sister watched over us as my mom tended to our dad. Subsequent tests and doctor’s visits revealed a heart condition which would allow my dad only one more year of life. My mom’s vigilant care and my dad’s vigilant obedience to his doctors earned him that precious year.

The following summer, my dad lay in the hospital. He told my mom about the “scare” he had experienced. “I shook hands with St. Peter last night,” he remarked. Mom knew as the doctor had already spoken to her. It was then that she offered my dad the medicine he needed most. “God has taken good care of us and the kids, too. Do you think he’s going to stop because you’re not here? It’s okay to let go, Honey. We’ll make it…” My dad passed away that night.

I failed to appreciate the depth of my mom’s sacrifice until I had a family of my own. Could I ever do what this mother of six children had done? I’ll never know because life has unfolded differently for me. As for my mom, her faith never wavered. She acknowledged often that God had not left her or her children alone.

Loving God, help me to trust in your plans for me.
They are so much better than my own.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Give Them A Break

“Should you not have had pity
on your fellow servant
as I had pity on you?”

Matthew 18:33

A few years ago, I shared that I accidentally lost a few pounds due to a bout with the flu. The truth is that I gave thanks for this illness because I had struggled to lose just ten pounds for what seemed like forever. When I recovered, half of that ten pounds was gone. I immediately adjusted my diet to take care of the rest. In the end, I lost four times my original goal and I felt wonderful. Our three granddaughters had arrived by then and I was thrilled to be able to play on the floor with them and to run after them without effort.

This small miracle prompted me to finish the job by toning up a bit. When the weather cooperated, I walked outdoors. Otherwise, I made good use of the mall. During one early morning mall walk, two totally “in shape” women stopped at a nearby water fountain for a drink. When I did the same, they struck up a conversation. They seemed surprised by my status as a grandma as we chatted. Suddenly, one interrupted me to point out two other early morning walkers. “Get a load of them. Have you ever seen anyone so fat?” I quickly responded, “Yes. That’s what I saw every time I looked in the mirror until I started to do what they’re doing today. Give them a break!” With that, I walked away.

Loving God, I responded harshly to those women because their remarks opened up old wounds. Help me not to judge others by the packages they come in or by the words they unthinkingly utter. Bless me and those fellow walkers with a greater ability to love as you do.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved