Nestle In God’s Embrace

Every morning, I set the tone for the day by reading from a daily devotional. My favorite features dozens of writers. Each contributes six or seven of the reflections which appear throughout the book. Regardless of the author of the day, I’m consistently touched by the morsels of wisdom nestled among his or her words. Whether or not the story which unfolds appeals to me, the author’s intent always manages to touch my heart. Some mornings, I add favorite passages from Henri Nouwen and Max Lucado. I’m most grateful for their generosity in sharing their deeply personal relationships with God with the rest of us. As I struggle to do the same through my own book, my admiration for these writers continues to grow exponentially.

After I opened my devotional this morning, I returned to this writing. Because I completed my research yesterday, I planned to write all of this fairly quickly. That was until the pile of notes resting next to me spilled over onto my keyboard. I had to re-stack them before I could type another word. In the process, I found a small sticky note which read, “Nestle, Don’t Wrestle”. I laughed as I recalled this old phrase. Long ago, I’d read about someone who’d hoped to write a book about our struggles throughout this life and our propensity to ignore the precise solution to all of our problems. This woman intended to title the book, Nestle, Don’t Wrestle. She’d hoped that her text would convince all of the world that we must stop wrestling with God and insisting that God solve our problems our way. I laughed again as I admitted to myself that I’m guilty of just that.

Of course, I couldn’t let go of this concept of nestling in God’s care rather than wrestling alone with life’s challenges. I wondered if the person I’d read about had actually written her book. After searching online for some time, I realized that this potential author had likely not realized her dream. I found no books of that title anywhere. What I did find was Corrie ten Boom’s DON’T WRESTLE, JUST NESTLE* which was published long before the person I’d read about had voiced her dream. Still, the titles were so similar that I had to learn more. I discovered that Corrie ten Boom’s book is still available and that it can also be downloaded for free. I also found several short reviews which indicated that this book had indeed offered the same advice which that potential author had hoped to share years later. That advice? To take God at God’s word and to place our troubles into God’s capable hands. This frees us to embrace the moments at hand with hope. Corrie ten Boom and her family lived in The Netherlands. When the German Army invaded her country, she turned her home into a hideout where she protected many Jewish people. As a result, she and her family were arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp where her sister died. In spite of this heart-wrenching experience, Corrie’s absolute hope in God’s care remained. As I read on, I discovered that Corrie’s relationship with God was steadfast throughout this suffering and her lifelong efforts to speak out about God’s love and forgiveness and our need to forgive.

So many scripture passages echo God’s invitation to us all to nestle and not to wrestle our way through this life alone! Isaiah (Isaiah 66:10-14c) tells us. “…you shall be carried in her arms, …as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” God promises to carry each one of us through everything. We mustn’t waste our energy wrestling with our problems alone. We mustn’t wrestle with God to convince God to do things our way. Rather, we must ease into God’s arms with all of our problems in tow. When we hand the things which trouble us over to God, we free ourselves to enjoy the peace that only God’s embrace can offer. In his letter to the Galatians (6:14-18), Paul expounds upon the peace he found when he opened himself up to Jesus. Paul had persecuted and killed hundreds of Jesus’ followers because they’d moved beyond The Law. The Law was part and parcel of their Jewish identity, yet many of the people had embraced the teachings of Jesus as well. After meeting Jesus himself in an astonishing post-resurrection encounter, Paul realized that our acknowledgement of God’s love for us and our need to love one another were what truly mattered. With that, Paul took in all that Jesus had taught and he made Jesus’ mission his own. Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20) tells us that Jesus had spread his teaching by sending out seventy-two disciples two-by-two. He asked them to set aside their own concerns and their own lives in order to share God’s hope and enduring love with those who hadn’t yet heard of these things. Jesus sent them on their way to offer God’s message with the hope that it would take root within others who would go on to share his word and to live accordingly.

As I consider my “on paper” acquaintance with both my would-be author friend and Corrie ten Boom, I wonder if they realize just how far-reaching their sharing of their relationships with God has been. Though that would-be author may never have written a word beyond her title, she certainly added a spark to my relationship with God. Corrie ten Boom endured far more suffering than most of us ever will, yet she insisted that we nestle in God’s loving care. Corrie added to that spark between God and me as well! It seems to me that we’re all called to spread the good news of God’s love for us. Whether we travel two-by-two or go it alone, each of us is invited to believe for ourselves and to share with all who will hear us that there is a place in God’s arms for every one of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Corrie ten Boom. Don’t Wrestle, Just Nestle. Published January 1, 1979 by Fleming H Revell Co (first published 1978)

Home Really Is Where Our Hearts Are

My granddaughters recently spent a weekend with Grandpa and me. All the while, the girls kept us running. In an effort to sap a bit of their endless energy, we walked to a nearby playground. It was the perfect haven for the girls to climb, run, slide and swing with abandon. Grandpa and I watched from the swings until we were drafted into their play. This merry-making continued throughout the afternoon, our walk home and the remainder of their stay with us. When I wondered aloud how I kept up with classrooms filled with equally energetic children, my dear husband reminded me that I was a few years younger when I did so. I reluctantly admitted, “I suppose so…”

The week after the girls left, a bout with nostalgia beckoned me back to that playground in spite of the rain that threatened. Since no one else was silly enough to risk being soaked, I reclaimed the swing I’d occupied a few days earlier. When I taught, I occasionally took a turn swinging with the children just to assure them that I enjoyed playing, too. When I was a little girl, I did the same on the well-worn swings in my backyard. Those swings also served as my favorite place to contemplate life. As I sat on that swing, I found myself in need of doing just that.

I gave in to my mood as I slowly eased myself back and forth. The seemingly endless misery which had punctuated the news from both nearby and afar had filled me with melancholy. I wondered if the approach of Independence Day 2018 had contributed to those feelings. My Dad passed away the morning of July 4, 1959; it is my late uncle’s birthday and we attended my Aunt Rita’s wake on this date some years later. Perhaps it was my anticipation of the fireworks which would soon brighten the night sky. This family connection inspires fireworks anytime and anywhere to shout “resurrection” to me. I secretly wished that someone nearby would engage in a preemptive launch to test his or her Independence Day contraband. When no one obliged, I closed my eyes to visualize fireworks from my past, from childhood, from the bicentennial celebration in Washington D. C, and those that touched us all ten months after September 11, 2001. I’ll never forget the Statue of Liberty standing in all of her glory as fireworks of every color formed a sparkling halo around her head.

Unfortunately, that mental image of Lady Liberty intensified my unrest. When I was in high school chorus, we sang an inspiring selection drawn from the inscription at Lady Liberty’s feet: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the restless refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, your homeless tempest-tossed to me… I lift my lamp beside the golden shore. Patriotism meant many different things when I sang those words in the sixties. Still, I couldn’t deny the fullness which swelled up in my heart every time these words passed my lips. Those feelings emerged again as I sat on that swing. This nation’s willingness to display these mighty words at our shore has demanded quite a commitment from all who call this country our home. As I continued to swing back and forth, I wondered how we will fulfill this commitment in the days ahead. Before I could begin my list of suggestions, a drop of rain hit my forehead and trickled down my nose. When several additional drops quickly followed, I abandoned that swing and ran home.

Having a place to call home is a basic need which we all share. The one who first penned “Home Sweet Home” wrote much more than a cliché to be immortalized by crafters. Indeed, this author’s wisdom explains Jesus’ pain in Mark’s gospel (Mark 6:1-6). It was early in his ministry and Jesus had done well. He’d cured the sick and worked other wonders which attracted quite a following. In the passage cited, Jesus had returned home to the place he’d grown up among his loving parents and neighbors. There, Jesus would be himself. There, Jesus would relax and share his message without restraint. Sadly, as it happened, it was there that Jesus experienced unexpected and painful rejection. Jesus’ community believed he was simply too good to be true. They chose to dismiss Jesus rather than to recognize that God had been at work in and through their neighbor. That lack of acceptance pushed Jesus away to continue his mission elsewhere.

Every new day brings us opportunities to welcome, to support and to comfort one another. Each of us knows the rejection Jesus felt far too intimately to allow it to touch others. God calls us to be the torches which light the way home for all of our sisters and brothers. Whether here at home in Lake County, in a city across the country or on another continent, we are each called to care for those we meet along the way. You know, Jesus was most at home in the places where he was accepted and where he was free to lovingly serve God’s people. We are most at home when we experience and when we do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Sent Forth With Love

My husband and I babysit for our little grandson a day or two each week. When we arrived this past Tuesday, Danny smiled broadly as he opened his arms to greet us. When his dad handed him over to me, he explained that Danny’s smile surprised him because his dear child had woken up every two hours the previous night. Danny continued to sport his infectious grin as I informed him that he would need to nap well that day. Amazingly enough, Danny continued to smile for an hour after his daddy left for work. Eventually in the midst of our play, Danny rubbed his eyes and whimpered a bit. When I scooped him off the floor, he quickly nuzzled into me. When I retrieved a bottle of milk from the refrigerator, I fully expected Danny to sit up and offer the elated coos which normally accompany this rite. This time, however, little Danny nuzzled more closely and waited peacefully as the bottle warmed. The tired little imp managed to keep his eyes open about an ounce into that bottle. He finished the rest in a sleepy daze. After Danny drew in the last drop, I held him for a few minutes and then laid him in his crib for the first nap of the new day.

As I tiptoed down the hall, I wondered if Danny will remember anything from his seemingly carefree infancy. I actually stopped in my tracks with that thought as there hasn’t been much that has been carefree regarding Danny’s life to date. From the early onset of labor which confined his mommy to bed to his early arrival which frightened us all, this child’s well-being has been the main focus of his parents and the rest of us who love him. The good news is that residual issues have been addressed. The better news is that Danny now behaves as a typical ten-month-old –if there is such a thing!

I admit that I took advantage of Danny’s nap-time that morning to prepare this reflection. The images of our peacefully sleeping grandson and his daddy’s tired eyes inspired some insight regarding the scriptures. Isaiah (66:10-14c) likens the prosperity of God’s people to a newborn baby who is lovingly cared for. This child’s mother has been blessed as well because the babe in her arms arrived without benefit of grueling labor and a painful delivery. The mothers among us can attest to the uniqueness of this situation! All of us can attest to the fact that the care we received as infants has had a lifelong impact upon who we are today. This is the reason Isaiah assured the people of God’s initial and ongoing love for each one of them.

In his letter to the Galatians (6:14-18), Paul references a birth of sorts as well. Paul expounds upon the miracle of his rebirth at the hands of Jesus. Paul had persecuted and killed hundreds of Jesus’ followers because they had moved beyond The Law which had been part and parcel of their Jewish identity to the teachings of Jesus. After meeting Jesus himself in an astonishing post-resurrection encounter, Paul realized the one’s acknowledgement of God’s love for us and our need to love one another were what truly mattered. So it was that Paul took on all that Jesus had to say and he made Jesus’ mission his own.

Luke’s gospel (10:1-12, 17-20) relates another rebirth. After having sent The Twelve to teach in his name, Jesus sent out seventy-two others to do the same. Jesus cautioned them not to worry about money, meals or even the sandals on their feet. Jesus sent them off with all they needed to bring God’s peace wherever they made their way. Though they left Jesus’ side with a measure of trepidation, all seventy-two returned with ecstatic hearts. It was impossible for them to contain their awe over all they had accomplished in Jesus’ name.

When Danny began to stir from his nap that afternoon, I set aside my pen and thanked God for easing his parents through those traumatic early days with him. For another few decades, they’ll continue to nurture and guide their little boy. When the time comes for Danny to set out on his own, he’ll be as ready as any of us can be. As I headed down the hall to rescue my grandson from his crib, I realized that I have experienced the love that Isaiah, Paul and Jesus insist is ours. While Danny’s parents will deal with the nitty-gritty of minute-to-minute parenting, Grandpa and I get to watch over it all. Like our ever-benevolent God, we will stand by to help out in a pinch. Like our ever-faithful God, we will watch with expectant love knowing that Danny will fulfill it as best he can. From the moment God created you and me, that same love has poured down upon us. From our very beginnings God has known that we will all fulfill every expectation of us as best we can –just like Danny!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always At Home

Last Saturday afternoon, my husband and I hosted a family gathering. The unusually amazing weather coaxed us outdoors for a bit. Our granddaughters and their cousin Gabriel took full advantage of this opportunity. They played a kids’ version of Bags and then moved on to running and climbing wherever possible. Not long into their play, our granddaughters shed their sandals and flip-flops to accommodate all of that movement.

When the rest of the family left, our younger granddaughters remained to spend the night. Mommy and Daddy were attending a send-off party for a Marine friend, while their older sister was invited to a birthday sleepover. Of course, Grandpa and I were thrilled with the opportunity to spend more time with Lauren and Claire. After allowing the girls some additional playtime while I finished the dishes, we ushered them upstairs to dress for bed. In the process, I noted the hour and the dirt on my granddaughters’ feet. Because it was too late to engage in bath time, I decided to wash their feet. When Claire began to balk, I reminded her of my favorite foot-washer. “You know, Claire, Jesus was a foot-washer, too. When he had his last supper with his friends, he washed their feet.” I went on to explain that Jesus did this to teach the disciples that they should do the same thing. I told Claire this means that when someone needs us to take care of them, we need to take care of them. “You needed your feet washed, so I’m washing your feet. I’m going to wash your face and hands because they’re dirty, too.”

Poor Lauren had watched long enough. Before allowing me to go on, she added, “Grandma, Jesus washed their feet; then they went to the garden; then they came and took him away and they killed him. Then, three days later, Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus didn’t just wash their feet, Grandma. He did everything for them!” With that, our feet-, face- and hand-washing proceeded with the full cooperation of both granddaughters. In the process, I couldn’t help noticing that our bathroom and bedrooms had been transformed into holy places.

Sunday morning, Lauren and Claire joined Grandpa and me for Mass. Because Grandpa is still recovering from his foot surgery, we sat together. During Father Bernie’ homily, Claire eased her way onto my lap. She nuzzled into me as she listened. At the same time, Lauren cuddled with Grandpa. Though she may not have processed the entirety of Father Bernie’s comments, Lauren listened just the same. As we sat, it occurred to me that the holy aura which had transformed our home the night before was doing the same here in our church. What a blessing it was to feel so fully at peace in both places.

When I read Mark’s gospel (Mark 6:1-6), I found Jesus in the midst of a visit to his home town. Unfortunately, Jesus’ neighbors and friends weren’t as willing to accept him as my granddaughters had been the night before. Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes would not acknowledge that one of their own was so closely aligned with the Almighty. They refused to believe that Jesus was capable of sharing the best of God’s gifts with them. Their powerful rejection devastated Jesus so much so that he could not perform the wonders which so easily flowed from him elsewhere. Though Jesus was physically home, he no longer felt welcomed there. So it happened that Jesus moved on to those places where his presence was appreciated and he truly felt at home.

You know, my granddaughters aren’t fond of hand- or face- or foot-washing. Still, they endured these inconveniences because they are fond of Jesus and their grandma who welcomed Jesus into what could have been a difficult moment. At one time or another, we all find ourselves in the midst of people or circumstances which test our endurance. These are the times when we must remember that we are at home with Jesus wherever we find ourselves. Unlike the Nazarenes of his day, we recognize the wisdom of welcoming Jesus into the situation and the company at hand. When do so, the space in which we find ourselves takes on the same holy aura which transformed my home and our parish church. When we do so, we ensure that we and Jesus are at home regardless of where we find ourselves.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Plants Everywhere

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, 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, and 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. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirty fold.”
From Matthew 13:1-23

At the moment, I am perched on the screened porch of a little log cabin in Wisconsin. The dense pine trees suggest that the woodsy expanse before me goes on for miles. Actually, within a mile, there are corn fields everywhere. 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. Fields we passed from Madison and beyond boasted lush greenery which will hopefully yield abundantly as well. I took a moment in the midst of my musing to offer a prayer for our farmer friends.

As I gazed further, I reflected upon 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 had ever seen, I had no idea of what would become of them when my husband 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 prayer. Doctors told us Mike would be our only child when he was about three years old. They were as surprised as we when our younger son made his appearance five years later. Though my husband 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, my husband and I rejoiced in their growth. Like those thriving fields lying beyond the pine trees, our sons grew and thrived in amazing ways. There were other times, though, when my husband and I worried just as our farmers friends do during draughts or floods. Sometimes, we questioned our own methods. Sometimes, we questioned our sons responses to our efforts. Always, we did the best we could and then placed Mike and Tim in God’s hands. As I gaze into the piney forest before me, I picture my sons. I consider these young men who mean the world to me and I say, “So far, so good.” This is the reason that I look to Matthew’s gospel where Jesus offers the parable of the sower and the seed with much gratitude and great hope in the things that lie ahead.

Dedicated farmers are responsible for the lush fields I saw during our drive to the cabin. When they planted those uniform rows, they assessed elevations and hydration patterns. They prepared the soil and rotated crops to replenish nutrients. 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 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 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 the seeds fell. God would see to the rest.

As I consider the abundant fields around me, the joy we find in our sons, and the amazing accomplishments of God’s people everywhere, I realize 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 God plants them.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved