Less Terrible and Much Better!

There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,and bring the proceeds…
and they were distributed to each according to need.

From Acts 4:34-35

Every year, my husband coordinates an effort which is generously embraced by our parish family, especially the children. The support offered by our religious education students and their families touches our hearts. During Lent, Mike provides the children and anyone interested with a “rice bowl”. These little cardboard banks are displayed in our homes during Lent as a reminder to set aside something for those in need. Perhaps a family gives up pizza night or a child shares his or her allowance to meet this goal. After Easter, we all return our rice bowls to church. I should never be surprised by the outcome because our parish family has proven to be an extremely generous bunch. It’s no wonder that one particular child imitated this generosity so compassionately.

I happened to be near one of the baskets we provide for rice bowl returns. When a girl who looked to be nine years old set her rice bowl into the basket, I thanked her. Unexpectedly, she replied, “You’re welcome. I just wish I had more to give. I put in my allowance and some money I got for my birthday, but I wish I had more to give.” She went on to explain that her dad had told her about hungry children around the world. “My dad says that so many adults are fighting that they don’t have time to worry about feeding the kids. It’s terrible.” I looked down at this sweet little angel and reminded her, “But today, it’s less terrible because of you!” When she left with her broad smile, she also left her mark on me.

Compassionate God, thank you for your many generous children. Open all of our hearts to today’s homeless and hungry.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God’s With Me

The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear
the sound it makes, but you do not know
where it comes from or where it goes…

John 3:8

You’re probably tired of reading that I enjoy walking outdoors more than any other physical exercise. Please forgive my repetition. It helps me to renew my resolve and to walk as often as possible. You see, regardless of my mood, walking lifts my spirit. If a soft breeze caresses me along the way, I relish nature’s attention. If a blustery wind pushes me onward or threatens to push me back from where I’ve come, I welcome nature’s challenge to continue on my way. Whatever the conditions, except perhaps pouring rain or below-zero temperatures, the outdoors never cease to speak to me. Even then, they cause me to reflect from the comfort of home.

I think I enjoy these treks outdoors because I do my best praying when I walk, especially on breezy days. Though the trees and the pond that I pass are beautiful, it’s the wind that nudges me out the door every time. There’s something about the wind that assures me that God is attending to my praise, my gratitude, my remorse and my requests as I amble along. At the same time, I also feel most listened to when I walk in the midst of Creation. I imagine God swirling down, sometimes in a whirlwind and sometimes in the gentlest breeze, simply to let me know that I’m never alone. I always return home convinced that I’ve been heard and that I’m in very good company!

Dear God, I thank you for the creative ways in which you make your presence known.
I thank you even more for the inspiration which lets me know you are with me.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Promise to Us All

This morning, I reluctantly disposed of a drooping Easter bouquet. As I pulled the stems from their vase, I remarked, “I wish you’d lasted as long as the Easter grass. I’ll be picking up that stuff for at least another month.” Apparently, the flowers had no life left in them because they failed to respond to my remark. As I washed the vase, a tiny green flicker caught my eye. Once again, I spoke. “Where did you come from?” The lone strand of Easter grass lying on the kitchen counter said nothing. I decided to end this conversation before my dear husband came in to see to whom I was speaking. Rather, I explored the rest of the kitchen and family room in search of more Easter grass. Since I’d prepared our grandchildren’s Easter Baskets in those rooms, I thought I’d confined the green stuff to the first floor of our house. After vacuuming, I determined that I’d finally seen the end of those green cellophane strands.

On my way up to the study to begin this writing, a strand of green greeted me at the top of the stairs. “How did you get all the way up here?” I asked. Still, no answer. While changing loads of laundry between paragraphs, I encountered green strands next to the dryer. When I went to my closet to hang some of the clean laundry, green strands near the shoe rack greeted me. Though I’ve been up and down the stairs a hundred times since Easter, I never carried an Easter Basket along for the ride. It occurs to me as I sit here that I’ll be vacuuming up Easter grass for some time. Even the needles from our Christmas Trees never make it upstairs to the bedrooms, so why is it that Easter grass ends up all over the house? I looked upward as I posed that question…

Dear, dear God, what a sense of humor you have! Thank you for speaking to me so simply. As I discover another bit of Easter grass –this one lying under my chair– I realize what a gift I have in these pesky green strands. Though we celebrated just days ago, Easter seems distant from the busyness and worries of this particular day. So it is that you speak to me through the trail of Easter grass in my path. Each strand I find brings me back to that remarkable day. Yes, it is in Jesus’ life among us, his death and his rising that I find the promise of new and everlasting life for the rest of us. These strands of green cellophane aren’t annoyances after all, are they? You’ve given them to me as gentle reminders that the joy and promise of Easter are with me today and always just as you are!

There you have it! For the gazillionth time in human history, God reveals the joy of Easter and the promise of eternal life in a common human experience. God is using these lovely green cellophane strands to remind me that the joy and promise of Easter remain with me every single day. I assume the timing of this realization is God’s insistence that I share this news with you. As I continue to write, I wonder further. With these wonderful reminders at my fingertips, why do I lose sight of God’s promises and God’s love when the going gets tough?

Today, John’s gospel (20:19-31) references Thomas who also seemed to have been searching to discover what Jesus’ life and death meant for him. Thomas missed Jesus’ first post resurrection visit. Though John didn’t explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder. Was it Thomas’s search for meaning in all that had happened which coaxed him from the safety of their hideout to see firsthand the aftermath of Jesus’ death? Perhaps Thomas needed to separate fact from rumor on his own. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of his friend without the distraction of the others who mourned in fear. You know, John’s is the only gospel which reports Thomas’ absence and doubt regarding Jesus’ appearance. Did the other gospel writers see something different in this disciple? As for me, I have great affection for the Apostle Thomas because I often walk in his shoes.

The truth is that I understand Thomas’s need to leave that upper room and to sort things out for himself because I often have need to do the same. I also understand Thomas’s elation when he finally saw the resurrected Jesus for himself. Though I continue to fret about things which I need to let go, like Thomas, I’ve also found the courage to turn my eyes upward and to recognize what Thomas did when he saw Jesus. It is at those discouraging times that I echo Thomas: My Lord and my God, you love me! My Lord and my God, you’re with me! My Lord and my God, everything will be as it should because of you!

Today, as we continue to celebrate Easter, let’s all take notice of God who is always present among us and within us. Trust me. Whether through the amazing people who love us, the wonders of Creation, a bit of written inspiration, a great song, a hopeful bit of worship alone or with this community, or a strand of green cellophane Easter grass, our Lord and our God insists, “I am with you!”

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share The Word

He said to them, “Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

Mark 16:15

Before we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I purchased a puppy. We’d both grown up with dogs so this seemed a wise choice at the time. After inadvertently spoiling Ernie and failing “doggie kindergarten”, we were about to give up. Much to our good fortune, a wise friend stepped in to help. Judy had an extremely well-behaved dog of her own. When she told us that her four-legged friend sat up on a chair so she could wash the kitchen floor, we laughed. We also realized just how miserably we’d done with our poor dog. After Judy spent a few sessions with Ernie, our embarrassed laughter morphed into pure admiration. Ernie never quite measured up to Judy’s dog because he lived with us. Still, he behaved far better than he might have thanks to Judy’s intervention.

A few year’s later, another friend counseled us as we awaited the birth of our first child. As it happened, we applied both our mistakes with Ernie, Judy’s advice and Peggy’s good counsel to our adventures as first-time parents. How grateful we are that we learned our lessons well! Our son did, too. Raising his little brother was a piece of cake as well thanks to Mike’s endurance. Both have grown into amazing men.

It seems to me that preaching the gospel is much like sharing our wisdom with a friend, a spouse, a child and even a pet!

Generous God, thank you for the good people who share their wisdom with the rest of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Beloved Greenery

God’s are the earth and its fullness;
God cares for the world and those who dwell in it.

Psalm 24:1

This is Arbor Day, a very special day for my husband who sports a truly capable green thumb. He takes an immediate liking to all plants great and small. If there is such a person as a “plant whisperer”, Mike is indeed that person. This is evidenced in his decades-long relationships with two plants. The first is a colorful, purplish-green Tradescantia Zebrina. His parents gave it to us as a housewarming gift when we purchased our first home. The plant is older than our sons! The second is a Philodendron which my husband’s teachers gave to him in 1987 when he was named a “candidate” for the diaconate. This designation indicated that he would indeed be ordained the following year. Mike’s staff realized that it had taken a good deal of effort for their principal to get to this point and they wanted to cheer him on. So it is that both plants are very precious to him.

These plants have survived outdoor transitions from spring through summer to fall when frost came unexpectedly early on more than one occasion. They have also survived floods and dry spells when we were away and our designated plant-caregivers were either overly zealous or stingy with their task. After each incident, my husband painstakingly nursed his beloved greenery back to health for another season.

My husband’s adventures with plants are a living parable regarding God’s ongoing and loving care of each one of us. Like my husband’s plants, we could not be in better hands!

Gracious God, thank you for caring for us and for all of creation with such love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Carry On… God’s Counting On You!

…be converted …that the Lord
may grant you times of refreshment…

From Acts 3:19

It’s only a week since Lent ended and four days since Easter. Still, I find myself falling into some old habits that I thought I’d left behind. When I choose something to do for Lent, my intent is to work diligently at my cause for the forty days we’re given and then to carry this through long after Easter. This was especially important to me this year as I truly hoped to bring healing to this world of ours through my efforts on behalf of loved ones both near and far, loved ones both known and unknown to me. Unfortunately, though my intent was on my mind day in and day out, I don’t feel that I was particularly productive. I spent two weeks of Lent fighting a cold which derailed my efforts a bit. This isn’t an excuse. It’s just an explanation of what happened.

The good news is that, though Lent 2019 is behind me, I can renew my efforts. Whenever I truly intend to do something that is important to me, I need to commit myself for the long haul and to make this commitment a priority. My efforts shouldn’t be limited to forty days. When it comes to improving this world or myself, my circumstances or the situations around me, it’s up to me to see to it every chance I get. So it is that I’m renewing my Lenten commitment today. I’m beginning by turning my eyes upward to ask the Lord God to be with me all the while. In the process, I find that I am indeed loved and that my efforts are much appreciated. I’ve also been assured that the same is true for every single one of us!

Dear God, thank you for your ample gifts of love and encouragement. Open my eyes just a bit more, that I may recognize these gifts whenever I need them.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved