Seeds of Hope

A man scatters seed on the ground.
He goes to bed and gets up day after day.
Through it all, the seed sprouts and
grows without his knowing how it happens.

From Mark 4:26-27

It was a month ago when we had three trees removed. Though this was done quite carefully, three gaping hols remained in their places. When our dedicated landscaper planted three much smaller trees in the area, those holes remained. He filled each small abyss with soil. After packing it into place, he seeded and watered. Daniel advised us not to worry about the grass. “Worry about everything else you have to do. The grass will take care if itself,” he said. Though we had plenty of time on our hands due to our stay-in-place status, we heeded Daniel’s advice. We actually accomplished a lot indoors and outdoors while we ignored that grass seed. A few weeks later, while my husband and I checked on the flowers he’d planted, we were pleasantly surprised. Amazingly lush growth had sprung from those one-time holes in our lawn. My husband smiled as he noted that Daniel’s and our faith in that grass seed was well placed.

You know, God places faith in the seeds you and I plant every day. Sometimes, our endeavors are long-term. Sometimes, we must do what we can in a given moment and move on. In either case, we do our best and hope for the best. In either case, God is pleased with the our efforts.

Trusting God, you have great faith in our ability to sow seeds of goodness wherever we are. Help us to do this as best we can as we return our world and one another to health.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love In Action

Suppose someone is without clothes and daily food.
If you say, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”
but do nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

From James 2:15-17

My recent commitment to exchange my worry for action has urged me into “do something” mode. The amazing people God has given me to love add to the mix as they are constant reminders that each of us is gifted in unique ways. As for me, I’m also a constant reminder to myself and to others that we’re also burdened with our personal varieties of frailties. Still, God has placed this world in our hands. It seems to me that this is no empty gesture on God’s part. God created us in God’s own image and likeness. God knows better than we do just how capable we are.

So it is that I’m challenging myself (and anyone who cares to join me) in setting aside our worry regarding the woes which trouble humankind these days, in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic. After praying with great fervor for our entire world, let’s look a bit closer to home. Is there something in our communities, our neighborhoods, our schools, our temples, our churches, our workplaces, our organizations or in our own homes which needs attention? If there is, please join me in asking, “Is there something I can do to help?” Don’t discount even the smallest opportunity to do good. I’m convinced that your efforts and mine will make a difference somewhere to someone every time.

Caring God, help us to love and to care for one another as you care for us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re Never Alone

Last weekend, we celebrated my great-niece’s college graduation. This was quite a feat since all concerned were and still are confined to our various homes. Violet worked very hard to complete her degree in stellar fashion. This effort included an internship in her chosen field of public health. Who knew that the COVID-19 pandemic would be a part of Violet’s hands-on experience? Needless to say, the timeliness of Violet’s graduation wasn’t lost on those of us who love her. With all of this in mind, Violet’s dad organized an alternative tribute to his daughter. Ralph is a consummate techie and his sister Cece is a successful art director. These two combined their talents to create a virtual celebration for Violet. This began with a request of family and friends to submit short congratulatory videos for Violet. It ended with an amazing video collage of quality moments with the most important people in Violet’s life.

On what would have been Violet’s graduation day, Ralph organized a drive-by of local family and friends. After much horn-tooting and window-waving, Violet and her immediate family went inside to view the university’s virtual graduation ceremony. It was after this that Ralph presented Violet with her video. We who contributed to this effort received a link so we could also enjoy the final product. Afterward, Ralph shared that Violet cried tears of joy throughout the entire viewing. As I watched, I understood Violet’s heartfelt response. She had received a priceless graduation gift which will remain with her forever. Actually, the relationships which made that video possible are what will remain with Violet forever.

During this stay-in-place era, our relationships with those we’ve been given to love sustain us. We can all name high school and college seniors who have been deprived of their long-awaited graduation ceremonies. My husband-the-deacon has worked with several disappointed couples who must reschedule upcoming weddings. Confirmation and First Communion liturgies for hundreds of children have also been delayed. Then there are the more difficult events which have had to unfold without benefit of the communities of loved ones we’ve come to rely upon. Those who regularly visit loved ones in nursing homes are no longer admitted. The seriously ill endure hospital stays without loved ones at their sides. Even grandparents who often stop by to give Mom and Dad a break must remain at a distance. Those whose loved ones have moved on to the next life have had to bid their farewells with only a handful of family at their sides. Yes, our relationships with those we’ve been given to love are extremely important these days, just as they’ve been since the beginning of time.

When I turned to today’s scripture passages, I found that the followers of Jesus experienced much of the fear, loneliness and uncertainty which we experience today. The first reading (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17) celebrates the happiness and contentment of those who embrace the opportunity to live with one another in loving community. The second reading (1 Peter 3:15-18) assures all concerned that, even when our lives take devastating turns, God provides more of what we need than we might ever have expected. Though this is very good news, I found the most consolation regarding life in this COVID-19 assailed world in the gospel. Jesus addressed the worst of our despair when he promised, “I will not leave you orphans…” John’s gospel (John 14:15-21) is arranged a bit differently than those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John gathered what he felt were Jesus’ most important teachings and placed them where no one could miss them, at the Last Supper. It was then that Jesus assured his friends that he would never leave them alone in spite of their abandoning him during the worst of his suffering.

You know, Violet’s unconventional graduation celebration underscores the significance of Jesus’ promise never to leave us orphans. In everything he said and did, Jesus illustrated God’s love for us. Every one of his interactions demonstrated just how important our loved ones are to us and how important we are to them. Even in the midst of this pandemic, there is no doubt in Violet’s mind that she is loved. Her dad, Aunt Cece and the rest of us saw to that. A typical graduation party wouldn’t have provided the opportunity for so many of us to share our feelings with Violet on such an intimate level. Because of this pandemic, she knows! The same is true regarding all of our hardships these days. We wouldn’t know the depths of our capacities to love and to care for one another if we hadn’t been challenged as we are. Our greatest consolation is that we truly are in this together -with those we’ve been given to love, with those who love us, and with God! God never leaves a single one of us an orphan.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Walk With Jesus

I use the calendar on my desk to track my writing efforts. When I complete my Sunday reflections or a daily post, I make a notation on the date it will be published. A calendar page filled with such notations from the first to the last day of the month elicits my best smile and a sigh of relief. I truly enjoy writing, but time crunches often bring more challenges than inspiration. This is the reason my calendar gave me reason to gasp last week. Without warning, the dates changed from green to purple. When I looked more closely, I read Ash Wednesday. I was very much aware of the onset of Lent. I’d helped to plan our Lent activities with our pastor and our liturgy team. I’d also helped to finalize Lent schedule cards we distributed last weekend. Yes, I was very much aware of the onset of Lent. Still, Ash Wednesday? So soon?

I habitually give a good deal of thought to Lent. This year, I began thinking about Lent in mid-January when my husband and I returned to the Holy Land. Our trip preparations had immersed me in Lent. When I studied our itinerary, Jesus’ life unfolded before me. When we disembarked from our plane at the airport in Tel Aviv, the wonders which lay beyond the terminal had already captivated me. While Mike hurried to luggage claim with our tour group, I began a mental journey through Jesus’ homeland. We began this tour in Jerusalem and I was immediately immersed in Lent’s imagery. Though I looked forward to revisiting Nazareth, Capernaum and Magdala, it was the hustle and bustle in Jerusalem which occupied my thoughts. When Jesus rode into that city on what we call Palm Sunday, crowds surrounded him from every direction. By the following Friday, many of those hurrying to get home before Sabbath began likely didn’t take notice. They were too busy to attend to the bleeding man who carried that crossbeam. Crucifixions were frequent in Jesus’ day. Wise citizens who wanted to avoid trouble kept their distance when those less fortunate dragged themselves toward Calvary and certain death.

Though scripture scholars and archaeologists aren’t absolutely certain of Jesus’ birthplace, they can tell us where he grew up and where he began his ministry. We can name the towns where Jesus made friends, preached and touched the suffering. In Jerusalem, I wondered how Jesus was able to hold the people’s attention in the midst of the bustling crowds. In Capernaum, I wondered what it was that drew Peter and Andrew from their fishing boats. In Magdala, what was it that inspired Mary Magdalene to trust this itinerant preacher with her friendship? Everywhere Jesus walked, something drew the suffering from their pain just long enough for them to catch a glimpse of him. All of my life, I’ve asked, “What was it, Jesus, that caused so many to turn to you?” Every Lent, I revisit Jesus’ journey among us to find his response. Never have I been disappointed in what I’ve learned…

Lent 2020 provides us an opportunity to walk with Jesus and to find our own reasons for turning to him. I’ll begin by telling Jesus what I’m up to. “You’ve changed everything for me,” I’ll say, “and I’m going to use these forty days to thank you. In the process, I’ll get to know you even better.” How can I not be drawn to this one who revealed God’s love for us through the parables and lessons he offered? How can I not be drawn to this one whose message found its power in the way he lived? Jesus’ generosity, acceptance, forgiveness, patience, compassion and self-sacrifice left no doubt about God’s love for us and the joy to be found in sharing that love with others. Over the course of my life, I’ve discovered that the intensity of my joy and the depth of my sorrow are the direct results of my proximity to Jesus’ message and to God’s love. When I live with Jesus’ words and example in mind, I live my best. When I live with the knowledge that God loves me, I live with joy. I’m certain the same is true for you.

Let’s walk together on this Lenten journey. We can begin each day by inviting Jesus to walk with us just as we do our best to walk with him. Think about all that happened in Nazareth, Capernaum and on the Sea of Galilee. Think about Jesus’ suffering in Jerusalem. With all of this in mind, let’s do our best to love as Jesus loved at every opportunity. Maybe my husband and I can fill the Rice Bowl we took home to support the needy. Maybe we can join in supporting our recent mission appeal. Check your schedule. Do you have the time to pray and to do a bit of of good over the coming weeks? I’ll use that calendar on my desk to keep myself focused, not on my writing progress, but on my loving progress. My husband and I will look for Jesus in our photos from the Holy Land. Let’s all look for Jesus in those God has given us to love. This Lent, I really will get to know Jesus better and so will you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come, Find Me…

Let whoever is simple turn in here…
Come eat of my food and
drink of the wine I have made.

From Proverbs 9:4-5

Three days before we left for Israel, I surprised myself with my packed suitcase and my unexpected calm. Before flying anywhere, I normally fret for days regarding what to bring and how to keep my bag under 50 pounds. This time, I managed to stow everything I needed in a 32-pound mid-size bag. A day later, my husband had done the same. The morning of our departure, we were ready long before our friend arrived to drive us to the airport. All was well.

As we drove along, I enjoyed the view while absentmindedly listening to the news. When the report turned to continuing unrest in the Middle East, my thoughts turned to those earlier trips to Israel. Both times, security in and out was very tight. Yet, both times, I also felt welcomed in this country which is surrounded by its enemies. Though I’d heard that Israel’s own people were often at odds with one another, I’d found that unexpected friendships had been forged among them. As we drove on, I felt an unexplained calm as I looked forward to the next eight days…

In the terminal, my husband and I checked in with our tour leader. Nancy thanked us for joining the group and she made us feel as though our presence made all of the difference in the world to her. When the sunshine pouring into the terminal rested its warm hand on me, I realized that our presence always makes a difference. Wherever I found myself for the next eight days, it was up to me to determine what that difference would be.

Dear God, you infuse every moment you give us with opportunities to find you in one another. Help me to make the most of each of these encounters.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Change The World, One Act at a Time

“Go home to your family and tell them
how much God has done for you.”

From Mark 5:19

While growing up, I had visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to work with special needs children. I wanted to teach. I wanted to become a nun. I wanted to become a nurse…

When things began to fall into place, the path before me became a little straighter. I learned to value the seemingly mundane vocations that in reality make all of the difference in the world. I learned to value the seemingly small acts which touch others in profound ways. A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we have been given to love is the most important work we can do. Whether that caring involves small gestures and great sacrifice, it truly changes the world.

Dear God, sometimes I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good. Thank You for the precious moments with them which dispel my doubt.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved