God’s Constant Care

He drove out evil with a word and he cured all the sick.
From Matthew 8:16

I sat mindlessly tapping my fingers on the table. As I considered the realities of this life, I realized that there is often little I can do to alleviate the troubles which unfold around me. I know, I wrote similar words yesterday…

Just beyond the window, a large robin plopped himself into our bird bath. I was pleased with the robin’s arrival as my husband and I had cleaned and refilled both of our bird baths the night before. My feathered friend seemed most appreciative as he fluttered his wings for several seconds splashing water every which way. Though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I remarked, “It certainly doesn’t take much to make you happy!” Even before I finished that sentence, I realized that the same is true for all of us. Just as that water waited, available for my robin friend when he chose to enjoy it, all that we need awaits us.

Being loved and cared for is the best any of us can hope for. Being loved and cared for makes everything we encounter do-able. Though branches and boulders clutter the road which lies ahead, we manage to climb over them or to plod around them because we aren’t alone. God remains every step of the way. Though we may only occasionally choose to bathe in the waters of God’s love and care, God remains to offer them just the same.

I’m compelled to write the obvious… God is with us as we navigate life with COVID-19. God is with us as we work toward freedom and justice for all. God is with us as we do what we can to improve our little corners of this world.

Loving God, thank you for your ever-present love and concern. Today, I place myself and all who need you into your loving hands.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Sows and We Grow

At the moment, I’m perched on the screened porch of our little log cabin in Wisconsin. The dense pine trees suggest that the woodsy expanse before me goes on for miles. Actually, there are farm fields less than a mile away. It occurs to me that local farmers must be extremely happy with their crops this year. Most of the corn stalks anticipated to be “knee high by the 4th of July” surpassed that expectation by a foot. The fields we passed as we drove north from Madison and beyond boasted lush greenery which will hopefully yield abundantly as well. I’m taking a moment in the midst of my musing to offer a prayer for our farmer friends. In spite of the misery that the COVID-19 pandemic sowed around us, farmers persisted in their work.

As I continue to gaze into the trees that flourish around me, my thoughts turn to another instance of amazing and unexpected growth. I could never have predicted what would become of the “seedlings” placed in our care when my husband and I became parents. Though, to me, our sons were the most beautiful babies I’d ever seen, I had no idea of what would become of them when Mike and I brought them home from the hospital. Our older son provided the greater challenge because his parents had never before cared for an infant twenty-four/seven. Somehow we managed by relying upon our instincts, others with parenting experience, our copy of Dr. Spock’s childcare manual and lots of prayer. When our older son was about three years old, doctors told us that he would be our only child. Five years later, they were as surprised as we when we discovered that our younger son was on the way. Though Mike and I had learned enough to welcome Tim into our lives without too much trepidation, we had forgotten enough about infant care to remain humble in this endeavor.

While raising our sons, Mike and I were continually amazed by their growth. Like those thriving fields lying beyond the pine trees at the cabin, our sons grew and thrived in unexpected ways. At the same time, there were occasions when Mike and I worried just as our farmers friends do during droughts or floods. Sometimes, we questioned our methods. Sometimes, we questioned our sons responses to our efforts. Always, we did the best we could and then reminded ourselves that Mike and Tim were always in God’s capable hands. As I gaze into those pine trees which have grown far taller than Mike and I ever expected, I picture our sons. I smile at the thought of these two young men who mean the world to me and I say, “So far, so good.” This is the reason that I look to today’s gospel where Jesus offers the parable of the sower and the seed with much gratitude and with great hope in the things that lie ahead.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 13:1-23), Matthew shares Jesus’ story: A farmer went out to sow. As he did, some seed fell on the path and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. When the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it. Some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirty fold. Dedicated farmers like the one Jesus spoke of are responsible for the lush fields I saw during our drive to the cabin. After assessing elevations and hydration patterns, they planted uniform rows. They planted to achieve the highest yield on the least amount of land. I wonder what a farmer within earshot might think of the sower in Jesus’ story. Who would haphazardly scatter seed as Jesus describes? Who would waste the time and the resources to plant in places where seed seemingly has no chance to grow? I can also ask, “Who would place two precious children in the hands of incompetents like my husband and me?”

It seems to me that the great faith which our indiscriminate Sower-God has in each one of us is the reason. Rather than to predict where fertile ground might lie, Jesus spread his message to everyone: on heavily trodden paths, on rocky ground, in the midst of thorny shrubs as well as on obviously fertile patches. Jesus persisted with every confidence in the quality of the seeds he sowed and with every confidence in his imperfect followers upon whom those seeds fell. God would see to the rest. As I continue to savor the abundant growth around me, joy fills me up. I thank God for our sons and the wonderful wives and grandchildren they’ve added to our family. I thank God for the amazing accomplishments of people everywhere as we work together toward a healthy, just and all-inclusive world. In all of these things, I see that God’s faith in us is as well-placed as our faith in God. It doesn’t matter whether God’s word falls upon the fertile ground of our goodness or the thorny shrubs of our imperfections. The seeds God plants within us have the potential to grow wherever they fall from God’s hand.

©2020 Mary Penich–All Rights Reserved

God Understands Completely

“…But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.”

From Matthew 6:6

Like most of humanity, I’ve found myself frustrated as of late. Though I manage my own troubles reasonably well, I have difficult with my inability to “fix” the troubles of those I love. I don’t like to see anyone suffering. Even the woes of those who might not list me among their friends give me reason to pity them and to help them as best I can.

So it is that I do what I can do as I wonder why things have to be “this way” or “that way”. When I’m in the midst of my best fretting and hand-wringing, it occurs to me that I’m relying on the wrong one to solve the problems and to soothe the suffering around me. It is then that I sheepishly retreat to the quiet of prayer.

Wherever this might be at the moment, I turn over my thoughts and all that troubles me to the One who makes all of the difference in everything. Though the results may not be immediate or of my design, simply knowing that God “gets it” brings me immeasurable consolation. This is all that I need. This is all that any of us need to pull ourselves together and to carry on.

Compassionate God, thank you for listening to my troubles large and small. Just knowing that you understand is a huge help.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do What Only You Can Do

Should someone press you into service for one mile, go along for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you and do not turn your back…

From Matthew 5:41-42

Sometimes, the people or circumstances around us seem determined to push us to the nth degree. Though we feel compassion for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the demands on our time and resources. Though we support a cause passionately, we sometimes don’t know where to begin to help. It’s when I’m overwhelmed in this way that someone always manages to come along to minister to me. This was the case the other day. Though we couldn’t see one another face-to-face, two quite generous “someones” reached out to me via the U.S. Mail.

A note and card came from a parishioner who doesn’t access the internet. Her only source of information regarding our church is our Sunday bulletin. When she told me this, I offered to mail her a copy each week until she feels safe enough to return to Mass. Her note offered a sweet “thank you” for my efforts. The second letter was from a nun in Ohio. Every week, I mailed a copy of my Sunday reflection to a fellow nun whom I’ve know for many years. Sadly, my nun-friend passed away. Her friend wrote to tell me how much my friend had enjoyed receiving my notes each week.

I have to tell you that these messages made all of the difference in the world to me. I think I’ve managed my weariness over COVID-19 and my heartbreak over injustice in this country fairly well. Still, when I retrieved the mail that day, I had a headache and a heartache over all of this. Those letters reminded me that the little I can do to improve the human condition these days actually is important to someone.

Loving God, help us all to continue doing what we can.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Walk Your Walk

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in God’s Kingdom.

Luke 13:29

We recently enjoyed our first family gathering since our stay-in-place regimen began. Our sons, their wives and their children joined us that day. As we sat in the breezy outdoors, I smiled as I acknowledged that our sons draw the best from our gene pool. My husband is of average height and I’m short. Still, our sons are six feet tall. They have far healthier lifestyles than we had at their ages. Our sons and daughters-in-law adhere to their exercise routines while instilling the same passion in our grandchildren. When it comes to healthy eating, they’re all experts.

These observations and a few extra stay-in-place pounds nudged me outdoors the following day. I pushed myself to walk more briskly and a bit farther. Once I established my pace, I attended to the beauty around me. The sky boasted an amazingly deep blue and the trees sported vibrant greens. The spraying fountain I passed along the way sparkled like an array of diamonds. I looked up and gratefully whispered, “Thank you, for all of this!”

As I walked on, it occurred to me that our younger family members and I each embark upon a unique journey when we exercise. They attend quite astutely to what their bodies tell them, while I turn to life outside of me to distract me from the same. In the end, we each do what we must to accomplish our goals and we all feel very good in the end. It also occurred to me that all of our journeys through this life bring unique demands. God asks only that we tend to these things as best we can and as only we can.

Gracious God, help each one of us to be a blessing to those we meet along the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Already Knows

I call upon you because you will answer me, O God.
You turn your ear to me and you hear my every word.

Psalm 17:6

When a friend requested prayers for an ailing family member, I promised to storm heaven on their loved ones behalf. Though I believe we always have God’s attention, I also think that adding our own positive energy to the mix is helpful. Much to my dismay, I’m sometimes lacking in that positive energy as of late. I’m as tired as everyone else of our current uncertainty regarding COVID-19 and my heart aches over the injustices which plague our nation. Most of all, I’m frustrated over my inability to change any of this. As I struggled to voice the prayer my friend requested and my own regarding these other issues, my words failed me. After several uncomfortable minutes, it occurred to me that I need to heed my own advice.

Whenever I’m asked about prayer, I encourage those interested to speak to God in their own words. If the words don’t come, I suggest that they sit quietly and simply accept the fact that God understands. If they feel that they must say something, I add, “When in doubt, go to the psalms. There’s a psalm for anything and everything we can’t seem to put into words for ourselves.”

After taking a few minutes to laugh at myself over my inability to practice what I preach, I turned to the Book of Psalms and found the words I cite above. I happily rediscovered that there is a psalm for every occasion under heaven. I also happily reminded myself that God knows every detail of my reasons for praying in the first place. With that, I sat in God’s company quite peacefully. You see, I finally acknowledged that God already knew what I was trying to say.

Dear God, thank you for your understanding. It means everything to me!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved