Beloved By God

Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God…

Ephesians 2:19

Life was tough for the contemporaries of Jesus. The Jewish people endured Roman rule which had little appreciation for the plight of the poor. The people also suffered under the temple hierarchy who valued The Law more than the people for whom The Law had been given. Jesus himself endured the Pharisees’ criticism because they couldn’t see past their own infatuation with rules, regulations and control. It was Jesus’ failure to adhere to ritual cleanliness and his association with outcasts which infuriated these adversaries most of all. The good news is that Jesus ignored the criticism and made room for whoever desired his company. He associated with perceived sinners of every sort. He touched lepers and the blind. He even saved a woman caught in adultery. He would have done the same for the man involved had he been threatened with stoning as well.

Though you and I are not always ostracized quite as dramatically as the people of Jesus’ day, we suffer our own varieties of exclusion, loneliness and despair just the same. The good news for us is that God responds in like manner to you and me. When the rest of the world pushes us away, God embraces us. When no one lifts a finger to help, God lays hands upon us and heals us.

Gracious God, thank you for calling each one of us your beloved.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Look At The “God” Side

With me at your right hand,
you will not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

My husband lifted his foot and rested it on the ottoman in front of him. “This really hurts. It’s a bad foot day,” he said. Then he quickly added, “But if this is the worst that happens today, I’m a lucky man.”

Our life together hasn’t been trauma free. Still, my husband and I try to look at the bright side of things when tragedy touches us. I was blessed with this mindset early on. My husband wasn’t. It took years of nurturing his own faith as best he could for him to develop his positive stance toward life’s negatives. Though this transformation occasionally reverts to a work in progress, I admire his persistence. Even in the midst of our pandemic woes, the dear man has continued to smile.

You know, God has encouraged us from the beginning to look at the bright side of things. From the very beginning, humankind failed to do this. Still, God persisted. God sent Abraham and Moses and the prophets and then Jesus of Nazareth to get our attention. Who but one from God could have conceived of the prodigal son’s forgiving father and the good shepherd who would lay down his life for even one of his sheep? Who but one from God could have lived love and compassion, mercy and forgiveness with such perfection? Yet, in spite of his goodness, tragedy touched Jesus’ life as well.

It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: Because we aren’t yet in heaven, this life will not be perfect. Still, God loves us and remains with us through it all. Hopefully, this is enough to get us all to look at the bright side of things.

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing presence which urges us on.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hospitality… Our Way of Life

While checking email this morning, I came across a reminder from my niece. Angela is going to be married in November. She and her fiancé have planned a very special day for all concerned and they want to make everyone’s participation in this event as enjoyable as possible. While Angela, Dave and some of the family live nearby, many others will travel to celebrate with them. This is the reason Angela sent her note. It includes hotel contact and check-in procedures and information about the area so those interested can plan accordingly. Since Mike and I live only thirty minutes from the location, we won’t need accommodations. Still, I sent Angela my thanks as this information will be very helpful to many of her and Dave’s guests. After clicking “Send”, I looked upward as I’ve done so often during the past three months. “Dear God,” I begged, “please help us to get this pandemic under control so Angela and Dave can enjoy their wedding day with everyone they love around them.”

After adding my “Amen” to that plea, I read today’s scripture passages. I laughed aloud when I saw that hospitality is the underlying theme. I admit that I looked upward once again. This time, I asked, “You are kidding, right? Dear God, we’ve been ordered to be anything but hospitable for the past three months! What am I supposed to…” Determined as I was to complain further to our patient God, thoughts of Angela and Dave interrupted my effort. These two have every intention of being more than hospitable to their guests. In spite of the possible adjustments which may be required by the pandemic, they are doing everything in their power to see to their guests comfort and enjoyment. In the midst of all of this, Angela and Dave aren’t pacing and wringing their hands. They’re simply doing what needs to be done with the hope that all concerned will be able to celebrate with them. As I considered this dear couple’s efforts, I revisited those scripture passages…

It occurs to me that extending and receiving hospitality are basic humans needs and Angela and Dave aren’t alone in their efforts to be hospitable these days. While I’ve done my best to stay-in-place for the past three months, first responders have welcomed the seriously ill into their company. Media images of ambulance drivers and police officers escorting patients into hospitals and clinics replay in my memory. Many restaurant owners who closed their doors in response to the pandemic have kept their kitchens open to feed those doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who’ve had no time to worry about meals. Others who were sequestered in their homes ventured out to deliver parcels to food pantries. Those whose jobs weren’t essential enough to keep them working were welcomed to take home a week’s groceries. Children suddenly banned from school by a virus they didn’t understand were welcomed into virtual classrooms by teachers who did understand. Essential workers placed themselves in jeopardy day after day to welcome the rest of us into their stores and gas stations and pharmacies. When I ventured out on an essential errand, I rediscovered the value of a welcoming smile. Though social distancing was painfully necessary, doing without the smiles of those around me was worse. How I wished I had a cellophane mask so the clerks and cart cleaners and stock persons would know that I was smiling in their directions with deep gratitude.

We might view Angela’s and Dave’s hospitality as a family obligation. We might view the welcome extended to the rest of us by all of these essential workers to be nothing more than what their jobs require of them. The recipients of these kindnesses, however, hold a different opinion. The hospitality of others –their welcoming of us into the moments of their lives– makes our lives livable. In the seemingly ordinary things done for others during these extraordinary times, we’ve helped one another to survive. Though Angela and Dave weren’t necessarily heroic in sending that wedding reminder, they’ve certainly renewed their guests’ hope in better things to come.

Angela’s and Dave’s hospitality and that of all of those I’ve witnessed these past three months mirror God’s intent for each one of us. Today’s scriptures seem to agree. In the first reading (2 Kings 8-11, 14-16a), a woman of influence welcomed Elisha the prophet into her home because he visited the area often and needed a place to stay. She also saw Elisha as God’s beloved. In the second reading (Romans 6:3-4, 8-11), Paul assured us that hospitality offered during this life will be repaid generously in the next. In the gospel (Matthew 10:37-42), Jesus asked his disciples to look upon the neediest among us just as that woman looked upon Elisha. Jesus promised that even the smallest efforts to welcome the least of us will be rewarded. Though we don’t need to socialize with every person we meet along our way, we do need to welcome one another into the moments at hand as best we can, masks and all! Today, God invites us to make offering hospitality to one another our way of life.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Worry Less and Enjoy More

“Martha, Martha, you worry about many things, but only
one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it
will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10:41-42

It’s taken me a lifetime to appreciate my need to prioritize. One would think that the past 100+ days of staying-in-place have given the opportunity to become an expert at this. I’m embarrassed to say that this isn’t the case. Though I’ve spent few of those days away from home, I still find myself with too little time to accomplish all that I hope to on any given day.

As I contemplate my need to better manage my time, I look up from my keyboard to respond to the tree outside my window. It seems to be waving to me. It could be the wind, but nothing else is moving beside a small cluster of that tree’s branches. Is that tree waving or is Someone else trying to get my attention?

Jesus once told his friend Martha that she worried too much. Martha needed to be more like her sister Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet, drawing in his every word and all of the love that came with them. Never mind that Martha was seeing to Jesus’ next meal! It occurs to me that the things we consider to be most important are sometimes of little importance in the grand scheme of things. Though Martha, Mary and Jesus certainly needed to eat that day, that meal could wait until after they’d had the opportunity to enjoy one another’s company.

Perhaps it’s time for me to ask Mary and Martha to move over a bit so I can sit with them. Perhaps they’ll teach me to stop worrying, to enjoy the moment at hand and then to get back to my work -in organized fashion, of course!

Generous God, as I set aside my worries, help me to enjoy the gift of every moment and to use each one well.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Stroll With God

Teach me your paths, my God,
guide me in your truth.

Psalm 25:4

I’ve probably written more often than you care to read that my favorite solo leisure activity is walking outdoors. The weather usually matters very little as I find these treks enjoyable regardless of the temperature. Odd as it may seem, a breeze of any velocity enhances these excursions exponentially for me. The truth is that I never return from a walk without at least a tidbit inspiration.

Much to my dismay, my walks were irregular this past week. The excessive heat made my attempted treks outdoors far more taxing than I’d like them to be. That heat also distracted me from any inspiration that was sent my way. So it was that I tried to move around indoors just enough to convince myself that I’d gotten in 10,000 steps each of those days. Much to my dismay, those indoor steps were not at all inspiring!

Fortunately, the temperatures eventually dropped and I headed outdoors once again. I don’t think I was out of the house for two minutes when a gentle breeze enveloped me. Two blocks later, the breeze’s strength increased and nudged me along the way. This was quite a feat as I was already walking briskly. Halfway into this adventure, our good and gracious God took residence in my uninspired psyche and the inspiration returned.

It seems to me that God enjoys my walks as much as I do because God seems to be with me every time I step out the door.

Dear God, thank you for being with us on whatever paths we’ll cross today.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gift Them With Love

For the Lord loves the people…
From Psalm 149:4

We’ll celebrate four of our grandchildren’s birthdays this summer. Some years ago, Grandpa and I came up with a creative plan for these special occasions. Rather than purchasing numerous gifts which sometimes go by the wayside in short order, we decided to share the gift of our time with them. We typically plan an overnight stay, a special dinner and an outing for each one. Our hope is that these efforts will underscore the love that we feel for them twenty-four/seven. To date, our plans have met the expectations of all concerned. So it is that the tradition continues in spite of the pandemic’s challenge to be particularly creative and safe this year!

You know, I recall very few of the gifts I received on my own childhood birthdays. What I do remember are the celebrations with my mom, dad and siblings who sang “Happy Birthday” to me. On those special days, though gifts weren’t always plentiful, the cake for dessert was. I remember the story books and picnics shared, the reassurances at 3:00 AM when I couldn’t sleep and the “I love you!” that accompanied good-night kisses. I especially remember the forgiveness offered after a much-deserved scolding.

In the end, perhaps Grandpa and I will succeed in giving our grandchildren the best gift of all -the affection of a couple of grandparents who truly loves them.

Dearest God, we would not know how to gift one another with love if you had not shown us the way. Thank you! I love you, too!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved