Loved Just As We Are!

When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband entrusts his heart to her. She is an unfailing prize. She brings good and not evil all the days of her life. She obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with loving hands. She puts her hands to the distaff and her fingers ply the spindle. She reaches out to the poor and extends her arms to the needy. Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who loves the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31.

I can’t resist repeating today’s reading from The Book of Proverbs for you. My family and I have found great comfort in these words every time we mourned the loss of one of the special women who graced our lives: my mom and my husband’s mom, our aunts and cousins, my sister and my sister-in-law and our dear friends. Each one used her hands in her own unique way to live and to love as the ideal woman described here. I believe these words characterize each one of us, women and men alike, when we use the gifts we’re given as best we can.

For the past few weeks, the scripture passages featured at our weekend Masses have focused upon the end times. After Jesus’ resurrection, those who followed Peter, Paul and the rest were quite certain that Jesus would soon return to lead them and all of the righteous to join him in heaven. As good people died and Jesus failed to come back in his glory, those waiting began to lose heart. I understand their concern as none of us want to think of our loved ones suspended in some sort of limbo for any length of time. We also hope that their good deeds will not go unnoticed in the grand scheme of things. When these scripture passages take a harsh turn regarding our failures and our unworthiness for the things to come, we find ourselves sharing the worries of Matthew’s audience. We question God’s intent and perhaps God’s love for us. This is the reason I cannot turn my thoughts from today’s passage from Proverbs. As I consider the losses of those close to me, I acknowledge that I couldn’t help focusing upon their best characteristics at the time. When their faults and frailties come to mind, I conclude that each one did his or her best in the face of circumstances none of the rest of us can fully understand. When poor choices plagued a loved one, I had no choice but to turn him or her over to God’s loving care. In the end, I know that God sees my loved ones realistically and that God loves each one without reserve. This passage from Proverbs is precious to me because I believe it echoes God’s sentiments toward us all.

My assessment of God’s mercy is the result of my own experiences as both child and parent. I was a far-from-perfect daughter. Still, I never doubted my parents’ love. My dad bore the worry of an unexpectedly abbreviated lifespan. Still, he gave my siblings and me all of the attention he could muster until the end. When my mom became our sole source of income and of everything else, she met these overwhelming responsibilities with persistence and love. When I became a mother, I finally understood my parents’ ability to love so freely. They couldn’t help themselves, just as I can’t help loving my sons more than anything. When our grandchildren came along, the unconditional love which I thought had found its limits exploded exponentially with each of their births. I’m quite certain that this is a mere hint of God’s love for you and me. Indeed, God is far too loving to dismiss any one of us.

I share all of this because, while today’s passage from Proverbs echoes God’s appreciation of our efforts, we’re occasionally given a different impression by the scriptures. These impression sometimes portray God in a less loving light. When the author of Proverbs praises a worthy wife, he assures us that the seemingly mundane things this woman does actually make all of the difference to those she has been given to love. These verses make it clear that, regardless of our stature in this life, every woman and man, teen and child is capable of living meaningfully in God’s eyes. When other passages warn of the consequences of our misdeeds, their tones respond to the mindsets of their followers, not to God’s love. Just as I occasionally adjusted the tone of my voice in response to my sons’ behavior, these scripture writers adjusted the tone of their messages to nudge their audiences to carry on more appropriately. At the same time, I never stopped loving my sons and God never stops loving us.

In the end, God doesn’t need us to do anything in particular with our lives. It is because God loves us that God gives us the opportunity to live meaningfully. Regardless of our own assessments of our talents and resources, God considers them to be of great value. They are all that we need to make a difference in this world. Like that woman from Proverbs, God invites us to bring our unique variety of goodness to everyone we meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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I Fear No Evil…

Though I walk through the valley of darkness,
I fear no evil; for you are with me…

From Psalm 23:4

When I was a little girl, I feared a visit from the doctor more than much else. (Yes, there was a time when doctors made house calls!) Our family physician was pleasant enough. However, he visited our home only when one of us was seriously ill and in need of immediate intervention. That intervention usually came in the form of an injection.

Much to my dismay, I was the designated patient on one such occasion. Though only a kindergartener, I recognized those dreaded letters as my mom spelled “D-o-c-t-o-r” to inform my dad that she was making the call. I’m quite certain that my tears began to flow by the time my mom said “c”. An hour or so later, the doctor arrived with the necessary inoculation. After assessing my symptoms, he opened his black bag as my dad lifted me over his shoulder. I carried on so that I didn’t feel pain of the injection. When my dad told me that it was over, I cried even harder. I was angry as ever that the doctor had accomplished his dastardly deed.

I spent the next thirty minutes or so on my dad’s lap. He wrapped his arms around me as my sobs faded into a whimper. When that whimper disappeared, my dad pulled me close to whisper in my ear. “Tomorrow, you’re going to be all better,” he promised. I believed his every word. Though he wouldn’t be able to keep me from all of the evils of this world, my dad loved me through them.

Dear God, thank you for my parents and all of the amazing souls who reveal your love, one hug at a time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Faithful Guardian

He leads me in right paths…
From Psalm 23:3

When I consider the state of the world around me and of my own heart, I sometimes wonder why God bothers. Though God gifts humankind in ways more numerous than the grains of sand which cover this earth’s beaches, we manage to misuse our gifts in equally bountiful ways.

Fortunately for me, God takes note of my discouragement long before it morphs into something unmanageable. In the midst of my laments, images of kindnesses great and small distract my thinking. Moments in nature, in the company of those I love, at prayer and at peace with the tasks at hand compel me to utter words of thanks without much thought. While I remain baffled at this transition from discouragement to contentment, God leans back and admires this bit of Divine Handiwork.

As I consider Psalm 23 once again, I understand. God will never cease to lead us in right paths because it is in God’s nature to do so. When one loves as completely as God does, one never EVER gives up on the objects of that love!

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing encouragement in things great and small. Remind me never to give up on this world because you will never give up on a single one of us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Generously Restored!

…he leads me beside still waters
and restores my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3

I ran from the moment I woke that morning. Before thinking about a little volunteer pitch which I’d deliver at Mass that evening, I forced myself to complete my morning exercises. Afterward, I did two loads of laundry while working on a few more of these daily reflections. Completing this little to-do list put me in the perfect frame of mind to ask others who are able to step up and occasionally help out with some fairly easy tasks at church.

After practicing my one-minute and fifteen-second speech, I noticed that the November rain had let up. Though the red line on my thermometer had not edged beyond forty-five that day, I couldn’t resist the oddly peaceful setting which lay beneath the cloudy sky. Though the beautiful fall colors which adorned my neighborhood were muted on that seemingly dismal day, the scene before me nudged me back to Psalm 23.

Though I had a bit more to do inside, I headed outdoors to walk. Every step of the way, God restored my soul. Even on that gray-hued day, God refreshed me.

Loving God, thank you for the many gifts with which you refresh us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts Everywhere…

The Lord’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.

Psalm 24:1

The four seasons captivate me with their shows of nature’s grandeur. Spring arrives with only the slightest hint of renewed life-in-the-making. Summer brings hope-fulfilled in lush green carpets of grass and blossoms of every color. Though autumn’s sometimes gloomy days replace summer’s vibrancy too quickly, its own colors captivate as well. Yet, in spite of this beauty, I find myself most taken by the coldest season of the year.

The blustering winds outdoors hint at winter’s impending arrival. That frigid season will soon draw me in with its onslaught of snow and cold. I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree or an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow beneath my feet and I’m in outdoor heaven!

My revelry over our ever-changing seasons doesn’t dispel the twinge of frustration I experience as I peek out the window at the leaves I raked an hour ago. They’ve deserted their piles to flit and crackle in the wind. Are they laughing at my wasted effort? Mounds of snow will soon do the same. Still, I look forward to winter. Living things lying dormant beneath the snowy surface symbolize the potential to be found in so many unexpected people and places. These wonderful discoveries rekindle my hope just as winter does. You see, though they may be hidden for a while, the gifts of this life are everywhere!

Creator God, help me always to appreciate the gifts to be found in others whatever the season.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Worry Not!

He makes me lie down in green pastures…
Psalm 23:2

I’ve shared often that my husband is the travel aficionado of our family. He takes great pleasure in exploring new places and getting to know the people who inhabit them. Each adventure leaves him refreshed and ready to tackle our daily routine once we return home. As for me, I used to waste away the days of anticipation leading to these treks with unnecessary worry. While my husband looked forward to our vacations with almost as much joy as he experienced while we’re away, I worried about the things I was leaving behind and the potential travel issues which rarely materialized. Today, I acknowledge that the dear man has patiently guided me along long enough to convince me that all will be well in the end.

As I reflect further on Psalm 23, I can’t help thinking that our persistent God has cooperated in my husband’s travel efforts with good reason. I’ve overcome my travel worries and learned to lie down in green pastures, traipse through them and even climb over them as a result. Every time, like my husband, I return ready to embrace life here at home once again. I’ve even begun to suggest destinations for next time!

Loving God, thank you for caring for us even when we are reluctant to care for ourselves. Thank you also for the dear souls who make your care for us tangible.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved