Called To Be Shepherds

I truly enjoy the scripture passages we share throughout the Easter Season. They celebrate Jesus’ life among us by echoing his most important lessons. While Jesus’ message regarding God’s love for us is best taught by his example, his parables and discourses run a very close second in illustrating God’s affection for you and me. This is especially true this Mother’s Day. Today’s passage from John’s gospel (John 10:27-30) is a mere sixty-two words in length. It’s among the shortest gospels we read throughout the church year. Still, in spite of its brevity, these few lines offer a powerful account of God’s love for us. This passage portrays Jesus in his preferred role, that of a shepherd. The shepherd-mom in me understands completely. When Jesus said, “I know you,” he confirmed that his love reaches to our very cores and that nothing will ever change this. His followers understood completely as well. Just as I understand the relationship between mother and child, they knew the significance of the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep.

Still, some of Jesus’ contemporaries resented shepherds. These hired hands had little education and even less money than their needy neighbors. The temple authorities looked down upon shepherds because their work made it impossible for them to fulfill The Law’s demands. Shepherds often failed to keep the Sabbath and to eat within the dietary constraints of their faith because they remained with their sheep most of the time. At the same time, wealthy sheep owners found dedicated shepherds to be indispensable. In spite of their meager wages, shepherds dutifully and lovingly guarded the sheep in their care day in and day out. The sheep knew their keepers’ voices. There was never any confusion when it came time to be led in or out of the pasture. Sheep spent their days in the peace that came with their shepherd’s diligent protection. Whether a flock numbered in the hundreds or could be counted on the fingers of one hand, their shepherds persisted in protecting them. Sheep in the company of a good shepherd lived their entire lifetimes contentedly and completely unaware of the danger which lurked beyond their pasture.

I find this Mother’s Day reading of John’s gospel to be well-timed. It encourages us to acknowledge the relationship between Jesus’ work of caring for us and our own work of caring for one another. What a comfort it is to be nurtured with selfless love! As for me, I find great consolation in God’s presence. Jesus’ words and works have convinced me that God walks with me everywhere regardless of the danger which lies ahead. Being cared for so completely has empowered me to try to do the same for those I meet along the way. The same is true for us all. Whenever we recognize that we’re cared for, we can’t help moving beyond our roles as sheep to the challenge of shepherding one another. We can’t resist sharing what we’ve been given. Fortunately for you and me, we needn’t look far to see how Twenty-first Century shepherds care for those they’ve been given to love. Role models of every sort surround us.

For most of us, these lessons begin with our mothers. From the moment we make our homes in their wombs, we change our mothers’ lives forever. In spite of the physical symptoms of pregnancy, these courageous women reorganize their homes and their lives to make places for us. Their persistent fatigue is no match for the persistence of their love. They love us and nurture us for as long as it is necessary and for a long time thereafter. God’s incapacity to forget us is mirrored splendidly in the shepherd-mothers among us. And what of our shepherd-dads who stand with our moms to offer us their love? We’re also blessed with shepherd-friends who consistently respond with just what we need. Consider the friend whom we see far too infrequently, yet who always picks up the conversation as though it began just minutes earlier. Whether it’s a bad hair day or a bad weight phase makes no difference because our friends love us. They attend to the needs of our hearts. Shepherd-coworkers support us in kind. When the tedium or the insanity of our jobs threaten to drive us to the unemployment line, these even-tempered and dedicated colleagues urge us on. Their smiles in the midst of trauma, their steady hands upon our drooped shoulders and their willingness to try just one more thing before giving up make all of the difference to us. Their company on the road to Friday makes our work week tolerable and even enjoyable. We accomplish much more than we might have because they are with us. Yes, this life offers endless opportunities for us to share our shepherding skills.

Shepherd-spouses, shepherd-children, shepherd-siblings and shepherd-significant others, shepherd-neighbors, shepherd-priests, shepherd-deacons and shepherd-friends bless us. Shepherd-coworkers and shepherd-grandparents, shepherd-moms, shepherd-dads and shepherd-volunteers nurture us. With them, we muddle through the unhappiness of life and we bask in life’s joy. Again and again, we find ourselves hoisted upon the shoulders of the our Shepherd-God who is present in the good shepherds around us. Afterward, we climb down, fortified with peace and a joy which simply must be shared. We straighten our own shoulders and stand tall, ready to shepherd when we’re called. Today, let’s echo God’s message to us all: I love you! Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Shepherding!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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I Love Timothy!

“…to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God…”

2 Timothy 1:2

On this Feast of St. Timothy, I share once again my affiliation with the good saint’s name. It began when I convinced my husband that the entire family did NOT have to share the first letter of their names. Though Mike, our older son Mike and I all begin our names with M, I wasn’t going to select an “M-name” for our second child which I didn’t like. The results of that conversation came to fruition during dinner one night…

Our younger son was in first grade. The meal had progressed with our typical conversation regarding the day except that Tim seemed especially quiet. In the midst of the conversation, our red-faced seven-year-old suddenly howled, “Why am I the only one in this family whose name doesn’t start with M?” My husband and I were taken aback because we had no idea that this so bothered our younger son. Before we could respond, Tim tearfully added, “Mike, Mary and Michael. Why is my name Timothy?” It occurred to me that this was a good question from our little apparent outcast and I responded.

I explained that his dad and I didn’t choose each other because our names began with M. I added that when our first baby was a boy, his Dad wanted to keep the name Michael in the family. When our second baby was on the way, I felt certain that he was a boy. We talked at length about his name because my husband was committed to another M-name. I told Tim that I didn’t like any of the M-names his dad suggested. Why pick a name just because of the M? I loved “Timothy” and that’s why I selected that name. Tim’s is the only name in the family which we really had to think about. With that, our smiling Timothy finished his dinner.

Dear God, regardless of what we are called, you know us and love us. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Special, Indeed!

“…to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God…”

2 Timothy 1:2

This past weekend, we gathered to celebrate our newest grandchild’s baptism. I admit that this gave me reason to pause. It wasn’t all that long ago that I had held his dad in my arms. How is it that my baby is blessed with a wonderful wife and two sons of his own these days? Of course, this musing filled me with joy. I completely overlooked the fact that my son’s evolution into a father was proof positive of my own evolution into a grandma!

Throughout our gathering, I kept myself in close proximity to our newest grandchild as often as possible. Eventually, after my husband, his other grandparents and aunts and uncles stopped doting over him, I held Benjamin for a while. I took this opportunity to ask that tiny baby, “Do you know how loved you are? Are you happy with your name?” Though he closed his eyes to nap, I continued. “Your dad wasn’t at all happy with his name. He felt very badly that his was the only name in our family which didn’t begin with an M. It was only when I explained just how special Timothy was to me that your dad realized that he is special to me, too. Never forget that you’re special, Benjamin.”

With that, I relinquished that squirming little boy to his mom. As she nursed her content little son, I smiled. What better evidence of our being loved is there then our mom’s embrace? With that, I looked upward and prayed that Ben and all of my family will remember just how loved and special they are.

Loving God, each of us is special in your eyes. Help us to remind one another of this in all we say and do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Still God’s Beloved…

You are no longer strangers and sojourners;
you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God…

From Ephesians 2:19

One of my favorite experiences in Israel was being amidst the hustle and bustle of people in the streets of Jerusalem. It was there that I tasted the urgency of Jesus’ contemporaries. Life was tough in Jesus’ day. The Jewish people lived under 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 infatuation with rules and control. It was Jesus’ failure to adhere to ritual cleanliness and his association with outcasts which infuriated these adversaries most.

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 aren’t often ostracized quite as dramatically as these, 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 assures us of the Divine Presence at our sides. The hustle and bustle of our human existence hasn’t changed much over the two millenniums since Jesus walked among us. God’s love for us also hasn’t changed!

Dear God, thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peacemakers All…

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples.

Psalm 117:1

I recently ran into an Iraqi Christian who now makes his home in the United States. A few years ago, he shared his story with me. My heart ached over the suffering he’d endured in his homeland because of his faith. I was also deeply touched by his appreciation for his life in this country. It did my heart good to see that his joy continues.

I admit that I struggle with the knowledge that our world is filled with countries and people in distress. In places where there is no war, there is endless poverty or civil unrest or an absolute absence of freedom. Some of those who govern seem less inclined than ever to care for their citizenry. Some who would do more dare not to because of the delicate balance of power around them. I struggle because it seems that misguided motives drive conditions for too many of this world’s people.

The unrest in our world urges me to do something about the unrest around me. Though I cannot fix everything everywhere, I can at least attempt to fix things here. I can respond peacefully when turmoil arises around me and I can pray. Turning to the One who understands our troubles better than we do bolsters our efforts in amazing and unexpected ways.

Patient God, be with as we strive to love one another. Transform our small efforts into effective instruments of peace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do You Know How Much…?

“…to you, my dear child whom I love,
grace, mercy, and peace…”

From 2 Timothy 1:2

Our kids recently visited to celebrate our middle granddaughter’s birthday. Our granddaughters are now ten, nine and six years of age. Our little grandson is two. How did this happen? I admit that this question gives me reason to pause. It wasn’t all that long ago that I had held my older son in my arms. It wasn’t all that long ago that I held my younger son in my arms. How is it that they appeared at our home with wives and their own children in tow? Of course, this musing fills me with joy. I’m completely overlooking the fact that my sons’ evolution into dads is proof positive of my own evolution into a grandma four times over!

Throughout our gathering, I circulated just enough to enjoy quality time with each of my sons, their wonderful wives and my grandchildren. Throughout these encounters, I wondered if any of them realize just how special they are to me. Though I try to express these sentiments in numerous ways, I wondered if I’ve been successful. The best job I’ve ever had is my job as a mom. The next best job is being a grandma. I hope that I’m a good mother-in-law. I work hard at this. Still, I wonder. Do they know how special they are and how much I love them?

Just in case… I love you, dear family of mine. (That includes you, dear husband!) I love you all very much!

Dear and generous God, thank you for my family and for the joy they bring to me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved