We Are Heard

“Lord, if you will do so, you can cure me.”
Jesus stretched out his hand to touch him
and said, “I will do it. Be cured.”

Luke 5:12-13

When I was a little girl, my parents assured me that it is always appropriate to bring our troubles to God. We often did so en masse. When my uncle suffered a bout with pneumonia, our family prayed together for his recovery every night. When it became clear that this was not in the offing, we prayed for his happy death.

Those prayerful gatherings and my parents’ seemingly familiar stance toward the Lord God encouraged me to speak plainly and directly in my prayer. Though I would like to think that I have refined my approach a bit, I still find myself speaking with the Almighty as I would with my best friend. I never wonder if God is listening. Why question the obvious?

I admit that I have turned my tearful eyes upward often over the past several weeks. Worry over something which I cannot control has gotten the best of me. My only consolation is that I don’t question God’s attentiveness to my prayer. I know God always listens. Oddly, simply acknowledging this truth lifts my spirit and solidifies my hope. Let me rephrase that. Acknowledging God’s attention solidifies my certainty of the perfect outcome, perhaps not in my humble opinion, but certainly in God’s.

Dear God, you attend to each one of us every moment of every day. Thank you for hearing me today and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Living Gratefully

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

Psalm 145:10

This occurs occasionally and without explanation. Unexpected feelings of gratitude overwhelm me. I’m a creature of habit who walks the same route every single time I venture outdoors. Still, the blue of the sky or changes in the trees which I’ve seen a hundred times before fill me with awe. The familiar green branches looming overhead reveal new knots and gnarly twists every time I pass under them. Chirping birds provide the frosting on the cake. Even drizzling rain gives me reason to be grateful.

Perhaps I’ve been an unwitting student of Creation’s wisdom during these treks outdoors. Perhaps the gently clouded sky that beckons my eyes toward heaven and the trees which continuously raise their arms upward are reminding me to do the same. Their very existence points to God’s glory. And then there are those people I’ve been given to love…

Perhaps my existence on this earth is meant to point others in heaven’s direction as well. Like Nature around me, perhaps I’m meant to do everything I do with a spirit of gratitude. After all, being a part of God’s creation is a privilege and honor and something for which to be extremely grateful.

Generous God, when I appreciate what I have, it’s easy to share my gifts with others. Help me to do so generously.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Amazing Seeds

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

When our younger son and his wife left their condo in the city for a home in the burbs, their new front lawn suffered a major blemish. The former owners had lost an old tree to a storm. Though the tree was carefully removed, it left a gaping hole in its place. My husband and son filled this small abyss with twice the soil they originally thought they needed. After packing it into place, they seeded and watered. My husband advised my son not to worry about the grass. “Worry about everything else you have to do. The grass will take care if itself,” he said. My son heeded this advice. With so much to do, he had no choice. A few weeks later, when my husband and I arrived for a cookout, we were pleasantly surprised. Amazingly, new lush growth had sprung from that one-time hole. My husband smiled as he noted that his faith in that grass seed was well placed.

You know, God places the same faith in the seeds you and I plant every day. Sometimes, our efforts 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. God will see to the rest.

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.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed!

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 103:2

It was a dreary Monday. As my husband backed the car out of the garage, large drops of rain assaulted our windshield. “I thought it wasn’t going to rain any more,” I grumbled. “It’s not supposed to,” Mike added, “but it is.” When we arrived at our destination, the rain had stopped. I looked upward and whispered, “Thank you!” Much to my surprise, this errand took only ten minutes. When we returned to the outdoors, I discovered that the dark gray clouds above were keeping their rain to themselves. “Wow!” I said aloud. Once again, I looked up and whispered, “Thank you!”

Later, I decided to run another errand. I headed to the bank with change which our parish children had collected for the poor. The gray sky continued to offer no further precipitation as I carted in containers filled with change. All was well until the coin machine sputtered and then stopped. After twenty-minutes of cleaning and adjusting, the teller decided they’d need a service call. He redeemed my receipt for the change taken, I thanked him for his effort and headed to a second bank. Much to my surprise, the same thing happened. When the teller assured me that this coin machine simply needed servicing, I laughed aloud. When I explained what had happened earlier, the young man couldn’t resist chuckling with me. With that, I carried those heavy containers back to my car for another day. Once again, there was no rain and I repeated my thanks.

When I sat to begin this writing, gentle tapping drew my eyes to the window. Those gray clouds had given way and rain began to fall. How could I not thank God for this oddly satisfying morning?

Creator God, thank you for giving us hearts which recognize your blessings in all their forms.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Glad You’re You!

When I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, I checked the calendar on my desk. I’d come fully prepared to develop an idea I’d had for a few days regarding today’s scripture readings. Much to my dismay, I’d forgotten that this is not only the Fifth Sunday of Easter, but also Mother’s Day. I didn’t have the time to return to Square 1. Still, the mom in me refused to ignore the obvious. As is my custom, I avoided the pain of starting over for as long as possible. I headed to the kitchen for some iced tea. It was such a beautiful day that I lingered at the kitchen window for a few minutes. My poor husband had just planted three tiny arbor vitae to replace a large tree we’d lost. As I considered how long it will take for these little guys to cover the open space at the corner of our yard, my mind wandered to the two little guys who used to play in that yard…

Our sons loved their sandbox. Every year, after Mike cleaned and refilled it, our sons rediscovered the joys of sand. Our less little son, Mike, instructed his more little brother, Tim, regarding the intricacies of road building. Mike carefully guided Tim’s hand as Tim pulled a small shovel through the sand just deep enough to fashion a road which would accommodate Matchbox cars. Tim caught on quickly because in no time he and his big brother were pushing trucks and cars down a sandy highway. Before I returned my thoughts to this writing, I prayed that my sons will always work this well together.

I couldn’t walk away from the kitchen window because the garden hose Mike had used to water his new little trees lay across the sidewalk. Suddenly, our fifteen-year-old Mike stood watering flowers for his dad. Intrigued by his brother’s discipline and determined to distract him, seven-year-old Tim ran his hand through the stream of water and splashed his older brother as best he could. It didn’t occur to Tim that his brother controlled a good deal more water than he. Within seconds, Tim was soaked from head to toe and he and Mike laughed uncontrollably. Before getting to this writing, I prayed that my sons will always be able to laugh together.

I’d almost finished my tea when I allowed myself another peek out the window. Though I thought the sun-drenched greenery across the back of the yard would offer some inspiration, that lush hedge only conjured additional images of our sons. This time, it was older brother Mike’s wedding day. They’d just finished lunch with the groomsmen. Mike and younger brother Tim were comparing cuff-links and vests. My son-the-groom noted that his younger brother looked “cool.” My son-the-best-man noted that his older brother’s gray vest and tie were good choices for the day. Because they weren’t here 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.

As I made my way back to the study to begin this writing, I recalled our family gathering a few weeks ago. In what seemed to be a nanosecond, another wedding and four births added to Mike’s and Tim’s company in the backyard. As I sat at my keyboard for the second time in an hour, it occurred to me that my original idea was quite appropriate for both this Fifth Sunday of Easter and Mother’s Day.

Today’s scriptures are very clear about the importance of each of our efforts in this life. All three scripture passages (Acts 6:1-7, 1 Peter 2:4-9 and John 14:1-12) point to the things we can accomplish when we embrace the moment at hand. These invitations to action can be as subtle as a chance encounter at the grocery store or as obvious as a screaming baby who’s just emerged in the delivery room. In either case, our response has the potential to make all of the difference in the world to someone. The frightening and beautiful part of all of this is that, in God’s loving opinion, this work has been placed in most capable hands.

This Mother’s Day, I admit that embracing my role as Mom and Grandma came with far more perks than most jobs offer. At the same time, the investment required more than I thought I had to give. This Fifth Sunday of Easter, I admit that embracing my role as a member of our human family also offers far more perks than I ever expected. God has gifted each one of us with a unique presence which somehow enriches this world and all whom we meet along the way. God’s only expectation is that we try. If this humble mom can find such joy in her sons and daughters-in-law, her grandchildren and Grandpa Mike who shares all of this with me, imagine the joy God finds in you and me! Happy Mother’s Day and Happy God’s Glad You’re You Day!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Can You See Me Now?

As I read today’s gospel about Jesus’ encounter with the man who was born blind, I couldn’t help thinking about someone we met in Israel. Though he could see as well as the rest of us, our new friend was deprived of his vision from birth just like the man born blind. Still, he had much to add to the memorable adventure my dear husband and I enjoyed there. We know our tour director Nancy well as she is a parishioner here at St. Paul’s. As a result, we were certain this trip would be everything we expected. Our tour guide was another matter. Yossi never ceased to surprise us with his wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life in general. While he provided amazing commentary throughout, Yossi also left us to our own thoughts as we absorbed the people and sites around us. Yossi smiled all the while as he revealed Israel’s treasures one by one.

We eventually discovered that Yossi didn’t always have access to those treasures. He was raised in a Kibbutz and, as Yossi described it, “God was ripped from my heart as a young child.” Within that socialist community, everyone worked to supply everyone with what they needed. In his case, Yossi observed people who were inclined to take all they needed, but who chose not to work. These “lazy ones” soured Yossi’s view of this lifestyle and unwittingly inspired his dedicated work ethic. Yossi celebrated the day his family was able to leave that place to fend for themselves with some autonomy. At the same time, Yossi remained community-minded. He’s keenly aware of the plight of Israel, its people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. Yossi also considers himself to be a secular Jew. Still, 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 his “secular” status. Yossi seemed to read my thoughts as 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.

Yossi carried his backpack everywhere. Among the items he needed for the day, Yossi carried musical instruments. Some days, Yossi sported his flute. Other days, he carried a tiny guitar-like instrument, perhaps a balalaika. At our first stop in Caesarea, we visited the complex constructed by King Herod more than two thousand years ago. It includes a hippodrome, the ideal setting for the first of many concerts with which Yossi gifted us. Yossi did this throughout our tour whenever the Spirit moved him –and I mean that literally! Yossi offered his most precious concert in Emmaus in the Crusader church there. He surprised me for my birthday with Schubert’s Ave Maria. I tried to sing along, but was so taken with this gesture that I could only listen. Yossi played with his eyes tightly closed as his music drifted heavenward. I knew then that Yossi prays, though perhaps he doesn’t see this.

Whenever we visited a site associated with Jesus, Yossi pulled out his iPad and directed us to open our “books” to a given gospel. It didn’t matter that we had no bibles. Yossi read passages he’d chosen to bring us back to the Teacher who had changed everything for many of us, perhaps even Yossi. I began to wonder if our guide called himself a “secular” Jew because he didn’t want to be confused with “religious” Hasidic Jews. Yossi found them overbearing. In Yossi’s mind, they seem to have “blinded” themselves with rules and regulations. They’ve lost sight of their concern for all of God’s people because these rules have taken precedence over everything and everyone else. In Jerusalem, Yossi lead us to a Christian church where a small community of Messianic Jews worship. When he introduced the woman who would tell us about her fellow Jews who believe in Jesus, she turned to Yossi to insist that he could offer the same explanation effortlessly. Yossi only smiled as he urged her on.

John’s gospel (John 9:1-41) tells us that the man born blind was completely misunderstood by his neighbors and the temple authorities. They saw his parents as sinners who prompted God to impose this affliction on their son. In their eyes, this man deserved to suffer. Only Jesus looked through the man’s opaque eyes into a heart broken by a lifetime of misjudgment and isolation. It occurs to me that Jesus is doing the same for Yossi. Though he was robbed of seeing God until he was freed from that Kibbutz, something -or Someone- impels Yossi to open his eyes to the gifts God offers him today. Yossi read those scripture passages with the passion of a true believer. The things Yossi shared came from deep within his heart. Yossi inspired me as much as the places we visited in Israel, perhaps more so. In the end, it seems to me that Yossi is far closer to God than he lets on, so close that it’s impossible for him to hide this. In spite of Yossi’s once-impaired vision, God is hard at work within him, just as God is working within you and me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved