Time To Choose Wisely

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

Ecclesiastes 3:7

Though I cannot recall a time when my mom tore anything apart, she always made the time to sew. She was a talented seamstress who sewed her own clothing from her high school days throughout most of her life. She clothed my sisters and me beautifully because she could transform the plainest fabric into the cutest outfits for us. She often fashioned our winter coats from adult coats which others had cast aside. Our mom sewed some of our wedding dressings and the bridesmaid gowns which accompanied them.

Late in her life, my mom found sewing to be more tedious than creative. Her eyesight had diminished just enough to make threading a needle a daunting challenge. The arthritis in her hands added to the difficulty. So it was that she set aside her sewing machine and purchased the clothing she needed.

As I move on to the next line of that passage from Ecclesiastes, thoughts of myself resurface… There was a time when I always found the time to speak. This prompted my dad to ask, “Who put the nickel in you?” This also prompted my husband to note more than once, “What others can say in a sentence, you say in two paragraphs.” I admit that, on occasion, I’ve found my words to be tedious as well. Though I haven’t set aside every word that comes to me, I am more selective regarding which words to use and when. Though I know perhaps too well that there is a time to speak, I’ve also learned that there are also many times when being silent is the better choice.

Dear God, being good stewards of our gifts requires that we make the best use of them. Once again, I ask for guidance, especially when it comes to my words.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Keep and Time To Let Go

A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.

Ecclesiastes 3:6

A few days ago, my sister happily texted that she’s made notable progress purging her home of the unneeded items she’d held onto for too long. She began this process early into our stay-at-home mandate. Though I started to do the same weeks ago, I lost my resolve about three days into my effort. I really did begin with good intentions. As I sat at my desk, I determined that my calendar would stay and the yellowed brochures from last year’s vacation would go. Greeting cards from our sons, their wives and our grandchildren would stay. Old inspirational calendars which I’ve never revisited had to go.

You get the idea, but not all of it. I also needed to go through the same sort of checklist when it came to the things I do. Though, like you, I have lots of stay-at-home time on my hands these days, I hadn’t been using that time particularly well. Maintaining communication with our family and friends is a priority. Cooking, laundry, cleaning house and exercising a bit are also musts. Watching TV and doing crossword puzzles aren’t. As I pondered my schedule, I remembered the not-quite-half-written book on my flash drive.

I recently texted my sister to let her know that I’ve resumed work on my book. Now I fully understand her satisfaction over keeping just what she wants and casting away the rest. I really, really, really want to finish my book and my newly disciplined schedule proves it!

Generous God, help us all to make the most of our stay-at-home opportunities.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved, Both Near and Far

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

Ecclesiastes 3:5

As a proponent of order, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever embrace the opportunity to scatter stones. I’m more likely to arrange them into neat piles or rows. I’m even less likely to choose to be far from embraces. The human touch is extremely important to me and I can’t imagine ever situating myself far enough from my fellow humans to preclude hugging. Oops! What was that? Today, like you, I’m situated so far from my fellow humans that it’s impossible to see them, much less hug them!

As is my custom, when I’m uncertain of what to write next, I peek out of my window and then upward. After looking at the sunshine outdoors, I turned my eyes upward. In the process, I caught a glimpse of my mom’s picture. Before I had the chance to ask her how she would deal with COVID-19, memories of her last hour filled me up…

My mom had drifted into a coma. We knew the remainder of her time among us could be counted in hours. That night, I couldn’t bring myself to leave her. It was forty minutes after my sisters left when I realized the error of my ways. When our mom received her terminal diagnosis, she was quite specific regarding where she would breathe her last. She had no intention of passing on to eternity from any of our homes. Our mom couldn’t bear to leave us with that memory. My presence at her bedside had obviously interfered with my mom’s intent. After kissing her one last time, I drove home. Ten minutes after I arrived, the phone rang. My mom had taken her leave of this life shortly after I’d left her.

Sometimes, we need to leave the proximity of those all-important embraces in order to deal with our most important work. My mom needed the space to embrace eternal life on her own terms. Today, you and I need the space to keep one another healthy and safe. So it is that we love one another from afar as best we can.

Patient God, nudge me when it’s time to embrace those you have given me to love. Nudge me a bit harder when it’s time for me to step back and allow you to take care.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Dance?

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Ecclesiastes 3:4

My husband and I planned to attend three weddings this summer. At the moment, the two earlier weddings have been cancelled while the third dangles in uncertainty on our calendar. We looked forward to celebrating with each couple. I would have found it encouraging and, yes, a bit romantic, to wish these hopeful spouses all of the best for their futures together.

I admit that I also looked forward to dancing at their receptions. I usually begin with a slow dance in my husband’s arms. Afterward, he retreats to join anyone else who isn’t dancing while I continue on with a friend or family member whose spouse has also retreated from the dance floor. In the end, the dancer within me takes over for as long as I can move. Though she sometimes has a difficult time guiding my feet into the prescribed steps for a given dance, she always succeeds in freeing me to abandon my inhibitions and to rejoice in the music at hand.

Needless to say, there will be no such dancing for us in the foreseeable future. Still, the words I cited above from Ecclesiastes nudge me to try. I truly believe that God intentionally created us with the ability to party. This is one of God’s most creative ways of reminding us to take the time to relax and not to take ourselves or this life too seriously. Like you, I know we’re immersed in one of the most serious times of our lives. Still…

…Our grandchildren amuse us with three-way FaceTime calls. Friends resend emails and Facebook posts which force us to laugh aloud. We walk outdoors and shout cheerful greetings to those we see while social distancing at twice the prescribed footage. We telephone those we love, but cannot see and we pray for everyone. Yes, we are in this together and we are called to turn our mourning into dancing whenever we can!

Gracious God, thank you for our ability to transform our tears into laughter and our mourning into at least an attempt to dance.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

In This Together With Jesus!

Sometimes, our worries overwhelm us so completely that we miss the joy that lingers within reach. We wonder where God can possibly be in all of this. Today, Luke, the masterful narrator, reminds us of how amazingly nearby God actually is…

In his gospel (Luke 24:13-35), Luke tells us that Cleopas and a friend left Jerusalem for Emmaus a few days after Jesus’ death. The two men were still reeling over the events of the past week. They shook their heads and fretted over what might have been and what had actually occurred. Jesus had offered such hope to the people! They rallied to welcome him when he arrived in Jerusalem. No one suspected that he would be crucified five days later. Then, as they mourned Jesus, some of the women reported seeing a vision of angels at his empty tomb. The disciples who ran to the tomb afterward found the scene just as the women had described it. When Cleopas and his companion embarked upon that seven mile walk to Emmaus, they puzzled over whether to mourn or to celebrate.

Just a short distance into their walk, the two encountered a stranger who confused them further. When this man acknowledged that he knew nothing of what had happened at Calvary, the two disciples wondered how anyone near Jerusalem could have missed the news of Jesus’ death. Little did these two realize that they knew far less of what had occurred than their new acquaintance did. After listening to Cleopas explain, the stranger responded with a few lessons of his own. He spoke of Moses and the prophets who followed Moses. He explained the references the prophets had made to the Christ. This stranger made it quite clear that what had happened should have been no surprise to those who studied the scriptures. This suffering was predicted as was the messiah’s glory. When the stranger completed his lesson, he prepared to leave Cleopas and his friend until they pressed him to stay and to share their evening meal. It was when they gathered at the table that the stranger broke bread just as Jesus had. How excited the two were when they recognized that Jesus had been with them all the while!

You and I have walked with Cleopas and his companion on occasion throughout our lives. Over the past forty or so days, we’ve had plenty of opportunity to shake our heads and to fret over developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Simply staying at home has been challenging for many of us, especially since there is so much to be done elsewhere. Troubles within our workplaces and the lack of jobs weigh heavily upon us. Illnesses that once seemed manageable have been exacerbated by our inability to keep up with once easy-to-access care. Those who battle emotional and spiritual illnesses too often have only themselves to rely upon. Healthcare workers and first responders on the front-line in this battle find themselves exhausted all of the time. Others who provide vital necessities such as food and gasoline and furnace repairs never signed up for such hazardous duty, yet they serve the rest of us bravely. The list of those called to serve above and beyond is very, very long.

During the Easter Season, we normally put our hearts and souls into living the joy that comes with knowing that life after this life is a reality for us. When the worst of our earthly woes threaten, we habitually return to God’s promise of better things to come for consolation. After all, Jesus gave us living proof that everything he endured was worth the new life he embraced afterward. Jesus went on to assure us that the same is true for us. No matter what this life entails, what comes afterward is worth it all. Still, this Easter Season, we find ourselves worrying and wondering. Like Cleopas and his friend, we reel with sadness as we puzzle over all of this. “Why? Why? Why?” we ask. Yet, like Cleopas and his companion, we don’t completely succumb to our fear. We could ignore those who need us, but we don’t. Like Cleopas, we look beyond our own needs to care for one another. It is in this caring that we celebrate Easter Joy after all.

When they realized that it was Jesus who had walked with them, Cleopas and his friend returned to Jerusalem to tell the others. How could they keep this good news to themselves? You know, our encounters with Jesus aren’t usually as dramatic as Cleopas’ experience, but today they are. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, news and other special programs continuously report the heroic efforts of people just like you and I. Like Cleopas and his friend, they hurry to individuals and families, to the ill and the needy to do what they can. Though the magnitude of need threatens to overwhelm, they persist. Like Cleopas and his friend, we really are in this together. And, as he was for Cleopas and his friend, Jesus is with us all the while.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Change…

A time to tear down, and a time to build.
From Ecclesiastes 3:3

Up to now, change has been difficult for me. My established routines are usually helpful to me and to those concerned, so it is that I stick with them. Was it five weeks ago or six that all of our routines changed drastically? I used to ask myself, “Why change what is working?” Over the past month, I’ve learned to transform change into something that is also working. I’ve adjusted and revamped, altered and replaced what was once the status quo. I’m grateful that the changes I’ve made have become the new and somewhat improved status quo.

In the process, I’ve discovered that it’s also the right time to tear down my resistance to change and to build upon the opportunities which change brings my way. While embracing these opportunities, I may just heal the restlessness in me. I may also heal those around me in new and unexpected ways. These difficult times have taught me that it’s always time to respond to the moments at hand as best we can and as only we can. We really do make all of the difference in our little corners of the world.

Loving God, help me to see change as the means to find joy and opportunity for myself and for those you have given me to love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved