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

The Way…

A FaceTime call from our grandson interrupted this writing. Danny wanted to share that his mom and dad had ordered a slide for their backyard! This was a significant development as local playgrounds are off-limits during these stay-at-home days. Though Danny and his little brother make good use of their backyard, their new slide will add immeasurable fun to their play. Of course, Grandpa and I also voiced our enthusiasm over all of this. With that, we offered our good-byes. Grandpa headed outdoors to check the grass seed we’d recently planted. Though I intended to return to my keyboard, I stood at the window and watched as my husband crossed the yard. Perhaps it was Mother’s Day’s approach that elicited memories of two little boys who’d made good use of that yard…

Our sons loved their slide as much as Danny will. They also loved their sandbox. Every summer, our sons rediscovered the joy of sand. Older son Mikie instructed little brother Timmy regarding the intricacies of road building. Mikie guided his little brother’s hand as he pulled a small shovel through the sand. The trench they created formed a road which accommodated Matchbox cars perfectly. Timmy caught on quickly because, in no time, he and his big brother were pushing trucks and cars along that sandy highway. I prayed that my sons would always work well together. Though I’d said, “Amen,” I didn’t walk away from the window. I’d caught a glimpse of the garden hose my husband uses to water that sprouting grass. Suddenly, fifteen-year-old Mike appeared as he used that hose to water flowers for his dad. Determined to distract his big brother, seven-year-old Timmy ran his hand through the stream of water and splashed Mike. It didn’t occur to Timmy that his brother controlled far more water than he did. Within seconds, Timmy was soaked from head to toe and he and Mike were laughing uncontrollably. I prayed that my sons would always find reason to laugh together.

When I checked my watch, I realized that my window of writing time was closing quickly. Still, I peeked out the window once more. Images of our sons appeared once again. This time, it was Mike’s wedding day. He and his groomsmen had just finished lunch on the patio. I watched as Mike and Tim compared cuff-links and vests. My son-the-groom noted that his brother looked “cool”. My son-the-best-man noted that his brother’s vest and tie were perfect choices for the day. Because they weren’t nearby for me to hug, I offered another prayer on their behalf. I prayed that my sons will always be there for one another through good times and tough times.

Finally, I returned to this writing. Though inspiration from above never fails to urge me on, I wondered what my sons’ relationship had to with this. When I returned to today’s scriptures, I understood. The first reading (Acts 6:1-7) reminds us that the early church grew rapidly to include people from both the Jewish and the Gentile communities. Those who shared the Jewish faith had much in common. Those who did not had little knowledge of The Law and traditions taught in local synagogues. Early on, some noticed that widows and other needy people within the Gentile community were neglected, while those from the Jewish community were cared for. Something needed to be done! It occurs to me that less-than-loving moments arose between my sons as well. Early on, when differences of opinion fueled harshness between them, their dad and I intervened. Eventually, they learned to work out these things on their own. My prayers in this regard were generously answered just as were the prayers of the early church. The disciples implemented a united effort to care for and to comfort all of their community.

In the second reading (1 Peter 2:4-9), Peter offered a pep talk of sorts. When the others became discouraged, Peter urged them to look within for their best selves and to do for others what only they could do. Just as my sons grew to value one another’s gifts and to use their gifts as best they could, we are called, today more than ever, to bring our gifts to the suffering. Peter insisted then just as he does today that we humans are creative enough to help those who need us most while maintaining social distancing and whatever else is required.

It is today’s gospel (John 14:1-12) which offers undeniable encouragement regarding all that we need to do in the moments at hand. At their last supper, Jesus’ friends fearfully complained that they had no idea of what would become of them when Jesus left. Jesus responded by insisting, “I am the way…” If the disciples followed Jesus’ example and if they loved their fellow humans as Jesus loved them, all would be well in the end for every single one. Today, God makes a similar request of us. God gifts each of us with unique talents. God asks only what their dad and I asked of our sons: That we love and encourage those we meet along the way just as Jesus would and as only we can.

Happy Mother’s Day! Happy Be the Best You Can Be Day!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Look and See!

As I read today’s gospel about Jesus’ encounter with the man who was born blind, I couldn’t help thinking about our visits to the Holy Land, especially this past year’s adventure. Because it is unlikely that I’ll travel there again, I was careful to listen to our guide’s every word and to take in everything within view as completely as possible. I didn’t want to miss even the tiniest detail of the sites before me. I was pleasantly surprised by both my clear recollections of the things I’d seen before and my appreciation of the new sites added to this year’s itinerary. Each one elicited heartfelt gratitude as images of Jesus’ place in all of this filled me up. I thanked God often for gifting me with perceptive eyes and a perceptive heart which served me well for the duration of this trip.

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, when we revisit the story of Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind, my thoughts turn to a contemporary who was deprived of his vision from birth much like the man whom Jesus met that day so long ago. This person was our tour guide Yossi. As I’ve mentioned before, Yossi never ceased to surprise us with his wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life. While he provided amazing commentary throughout our tour, Yossi also left us to our own thoughts as we absorbed the people and sites around us. Yossi always smiled as he revealed Israel’s treasures to us one by one. Eventually, we discovered that Yossi’s vision of life in Jesus’ homeland wasn’t always as clear and acute as it was when we met him…

Yossi was raised in a Kibbutz and, as Yossi described it, “God was ripped from my heart as a young child.” Within that communist setting, there was neither time nor place for talk of God. Though Yossi’s family eventually left to live and work independently, they also remained independent from God. With his blindness toward his Creator intact, Yossi grew into a successful hardworking and community-minded Israeli. He continues to be keenly aware of the plight of Israel, its people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. In spite of his secular status, Yossi told us often, “You must pray for the people of Israel; for peace here.” I found this to be a curious request in light of Yossi’s alleged lack of faith. Yossi seemed to read my thoughts because he added, “You must do this. I don’t know how to pray, but you do.” I eventually discovered that nothing is farther from the truth.

Whenever we visited a site associated with Jesus, Yossi pulled out his tablet and directed us to open our “books” to a given gospel. It didn’t matter that we had no bibles. Yossi reverently read passages which featured this teacher who had changed everything for many of us, perhaps even Yossi. I began to wonder if our guide considered himself to be secular because he didn’t want to be confused with the religious Hasidic Jewish people. In Yossi’s mind, they were the blind ones who saw nothing beyond the rules and regulations dictated by their faith. They seemed to have lost sight of the needs of others because stringent rules took precedence over everything and everyone else. In contrast, Yossi lead us to the home of a couple who have dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel among the Jewish people. Jacob and Elisheva found a great treasure in Jesus and they do all they can to open the eyes of others to Jesus’ message. Though they suffer both subtle and overt persecution, the couple persists in revealing the gifts they’ve found in Jesus to all who will listen. “We can only open their eyes,” Elisheva said. “It is up to them to look and see.” As she spoke, I wondered, “Had Yossi opened his eyes and seen?”

It seems that his neighbors and the temple authorities were the blind ones when it came to the plight of the unseeing man in today’s gospel. These misguided souls saw the man’s parents as sinners who prompted God to impose this affliction upon him. In their eyes, this man deserved to suffer. It was Jesus who looked beyond the man’s opaque eyes into a heart broken by a lifetime of misjudgment and isolation. Jesus saw precisely what God sees whenever God peers into an aching heart. Jesus saw a suffering soul whose only need was God’s healing love and Jesus went on to share that love with him. The man’s cure was an unexpected bonus.

While listening to Yossi, it occurred to me that an encounter with Jesus along the way had likely done the same for him. Though he was deprived of seeing God until he was freed from that Kibbutz and grew into adulthood, something urged Yossi to open his eyes. When he did, Yossi saw the gifts God offers to us all. Like the man born blind, Yossi was changed forever in the process. Even without eyes to see, the blind man recognized Jesus as an emissary of God’s love. In spite of his Godless upbringing, Yossi recognizes the same. How fortunate you and I are to be blessed with that same vision of God’s healing love!

It seems to me that it is more important than ever for us to keep our visions of God’s healing love in the forefront for ourselves and for those who share this difficult time with us. While we do our best to keep our loved ones and ourselves healthy and safe, we also pray that those infected with the virus and the brave souls who care for them also find consolation in God who remains at their sides.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z… Zenith

Great is God and wholly
to be praised in the city.
God’s holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

Psalm 48:2-3ab

Z is for Zenith. Zenith… the high point, the point directly overhead, the peak, the pinnacle, the summit. As the psalmist wrote, the fairest of heights. When good things happen to us we say that our spirits are high or that we are uplifted. Though I don’t think there is actually a direction toward heaven, I turn my eyes upward to pray. I reference my loved ones “up there” and I visualize God and the heavenly cohort looking down from above upon me.

God’s “above-ness” does not imply in any way that God is unwilling to dirty those Divine Hands with the troubles of this world. Oddly, God’s assigned position “above” never stops me from pulling God down into the worst of messes. More importantly, this position “above” never stops God from responding. No, our God who loves us from the fairest of heights also loves us from the deepest of trenches. No wonder God is the joy of all the earth!

Today, I thank you for making your way through this alphabet of reflections with me. Though I fretted a bit about actually taking us from A to Z, God intervened often. The good people around me, the wonders of creation and the scriptures never ceased to inspire. Indeed, God is the joy of all the earth and the source of joy for me!

Loving God, thank you for lighting the way as we journey through this life and home to you. Your presence throughout this ABC side-trip has been most tangible. It is also most appreciated. Thank you for using me to spread your love. Use us all to light the way to your holy mountain.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

C… Creation

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the Lord.

Psalm 96:11-12

C is for Creation. When life is going well, I’m drawn outdoors to share my good fortune with Nature. When I am troubled in great ways or small, Nature’s order and beauty beckon me with a promise of peace and better things to come. I cannot take in the tiniest of this earth’s treasures without also taking in the treasure of God’s loving care for me.

In my neck of the woods, we endured a December which was completely devoid of snow. That January morning, when I discovered the slushy white stuff clinging to the evergreens in our backyard, I felt as though I’d witnessed a miracle. Perhaps I had. The beauty I find outdoors is always miracle enough to nourish my spirit. It transforms the sorrow of the moment into joy. It enhances the joy of the moment a hundredfold.

As I continue my New Year trek toward becoming a better me, I rely heavily upon the gift of Creation. It is there that I find God’s wonder in its purest form. If Nature is so wonderfully fashioned, how much more so are you and I?

Dear God, help me to discover your creative beauty within those you have given me to love and within myself.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

B… Blessed Are We!

May his name be blessed forever;
as long as the sun his name shall remain.
In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed;
all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.

Psalm 72:17

B is for Blessed. You are blessed and so am I. We wouldn’t walk this earth if we weren’t intentionally breathed into existence by our creatively loving God. I use the adverb “creatively” intentionally. You see, God’s blessings often befuddle me. Most of the time, I don’t recognize them until long after a given person or circumstance has moved on. A lifetime of chance meetings, one-liners which lodge in my memory, unexpected friendships, opportunities and seeming setbacks prove this over and over again. Though I don’t realize it much of the time, I am indeed blessed.

As I consider and offer thanks for the blessings in my life, I must acknowledge that these blessings include everyone around me. This is the challenging part because “everyone” includes those who occasionally give me a headache, a heartache, a soul-ache or worse. How can I look upon these people as blessings?

B is for Blessed. You are blessed and so I am. So it is that you and I must gently remove the wrapping which conceals the blessedness within ourselves and within others from the world. Only then will we discover the fullness of God’s precious gifts.

O Creatively Loving God, help us to see our own blessings and those of others with your perceptive eyes. Give us grateful hearts that we may appreciate both fully.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved