Abba’s Children

I laughed half-heartedly as I looked over our June calendar. I’d already drawn a large X through a previously scheduled hair appointment and a meeting, a friend’s wedding day and our departure date for my niece’s wedding in Italy. Each of these events was cancelled several weeks ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I considered what we would do to celebrate Father’s Day in some manner, I looked upward. How I wanted to fill that calendar with an extended family dinner or a trip to the zoo or a cookout! I admit that I looked upward with every intention of complaining. And so I began, “I get staying-in-place. I understand that we don’t want to spread the virus. I just want to see our kids and grandkids and I’d like to actually hug them! Seeing a friend or two would also be nice!” As soon as I reached that exclamation point, I turned away from the calendar and looked downward. I put on my shoes and went outdoors to our patio.

My husband-the-deacon should also be called my husband-the-gardener. He truly has a green thumb which allows him to select just the right combinations of flowers and greenery to bring our yard to life each year. Mike’s plants are his babies and he carefully nurtures each one until it reaches its most beautiful potential. We usually wait several weeks into summer for his pots and flowerbeds to grow into their lush best. This year, however, is different. A week after he’d completed his planting, everything he’d nestled into the soil began to blossom beyond expectation. Within another few weeks, every leaf and flower had grown into what seemed to be its seasonal best. When I told Mike how amazed I was at all of this, he simply shook his head. “I don’t know what’s happening,” he said, “but the flowers have never looked this good before July. Whatever the reason, I’m glad!” Mike’s handiwork is what beckoned me out to the patio to continue my conversation with God.

As I took in the beauty around me, I looked upward once again, this time with my apology. “I’m sorry. I know I have nothing to complain about. So many people are suffering. If it’s not the virus, it’s the worry. A lot of people haven’t been called back to work. Some never will be. Then there are the poor who are always poor. Nothing ever seems to get better for them. Then there are the nurses, the doctors and the EMTs. Have they actually had the chance to rest yet? Then there is George Floyd. The poor man had no idea that he’d lose his life while changing all of our lives that day. I’m so sorry, dear God. I have nothing to complain about…” With that, I walked around our entire front and back yards. I looked at every annual and perennial. My husband-the-gardener had planted each one precisely where he wanted it to be and he pruned those that needed it with care. Though Mike often asks me what I think about his planting choices, I defer to his judgment. As I said, he’s the one who knows his flowers…

By the time I walked back to the patio, tears were streaming down my face. I finally understood. Just as Mike had done with every one of his plants, God has done with me. Mike’s plants are his babies. We are God’s babies. Mike planted each one where it would flourish and bloom. God planted me where I will flourish and bloom. God has planted us all in the precise place where we will flourish and bloom. My husband-the-gardener has achieved amazing results with his plantings. Imagine what God-the-Gardener hopes to achieve in you and me!

With that, I turned my thoughts from my worry and disappointment to Father’s Day and to this reflection. My kids and I organized a worthy celebration for Mike after all. I made him a Father’s Day card to avoid an extra trip to the store. Then, I turned my attention to God-the-Gardener. As I type, I realize I should have written God-the-Daddy because this is the name Jesus gave us to address his Abba and ours. We are much more than flowers and greenery to God. The scriptures remind us that we are indeed Abba’s children.

In the first reading (Jeremiah 20:10-13), Jeremiah ends a fearful lament with this joyful realization: “The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion… who has rescued the life of the poor!” In the second reading (Romans 5:12-15), Paul tells us “…the grace of God… overflows for the many.” That many includes you and me. If we continue to doubt that we are God’s children, Jesus settles the matter in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 10:26-33): “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without Abba’s knowledge… So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” There you have it! Though we fail one another and fail ourselves more often than we care to admit, our Abba remains steadfast in loving us. In the midst of our troubles, our Abba never leaves us alone. It seems that, in spite of everything, Father’s Day is well-timed this year. What better time is there to acknowledge our dads who love us through everything and our Abba who does the same?

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Forgives It All…

All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:34

A friend recently shared some regret which has remained with her since childhood. I understood her pain because I was a fairly sensitive child when it came to wrong-doing. Though I was no more or less guilty or innocent than most little children, I took even the smallest reprimand to heart. Every time, though the adult who corrected me had quickly forgotten whatever I’d done, the guilt remained with me. All of this was my own doing. Neither of my parents nagged or belittled my siblings and me. Though a teacher may have given me reason to question my ability to be forgiven on rare occasion, this wasn’t the norm. Fortunately, I eventually came to understand -mentally, anyway- that those who love us don’t hold grudges against us. Still, my own propensity to hold on to my guilt remains with me to some extent even today.

This is the reason that I find consolation in the passage above from Jeremiah and in Jesus’ numerous parables which address forgiveness. Every word assures us of God’s absolute love and God’s absolute inability to be separated from any one of us. Though we may run away and bury our heads in the sand, God remains at our sides. We can never impose enough guilt upon ourselves to repel God’s love.

Loving God, help us to forgive ourselves just as you do. Only then will we be free to enjoy the comfort of your embrace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Abba Days

Our summer calendar seems to be filled beyond capacity! As a result, my husband, our children and I have juggled several family celebrations in an effort to allow all concerned to attend weddings, pool parties, swim meets and the many other events which have come with this busy summer. Part of this jockeying of dates included Father’s Day. To ease the pressure on all concerned, my patient husband suggested that we celebrate his Father’s Day this weekend. The rest of us breathed a grateful sigh of relief as we quickly agreed to this arrangement. With that, I turned my thoughts to the tasks at hand until I sat to begin this writing. I’d given little thought to Father’s Day until I selected Mike’s card and then turned to today’s scripture passages. Both ignited vivid images of three dads who’ve touched my life.

“Daddy” references my biological father. Time spent in his company was a precious commodity because the six of us children filled our flat and our parents’ days. My dad also worked nights which meant that moments alone with him were rare. When he passed away at age thirty-nine, I was eight years old. At the time, I knew Daddy had taken up residence in heaven with my grandfathers and uncle who had passed on not long before. My dad knelt with us often to assist us in praying these loved ones into heaven. He also assured us that these special people would be very happy. In the days before my dad’s passing, my family prayed him into heaven as well. In the end, I determined that he would also be just fine. Case closed.

Some years later, my mom married my step-father. He became “Daddy” as well. Twenty-five good years later, it became evident that he would leave us as well. Oddly, I found myself less comfortable with the circumstances than I had been when my dad died. I knew my step-dad was ready to move on. He’d became too tired and too weak to continue and my mom could no longer care for him at home. Both of their hearts broke over his potential move to a nursing home. When this seemed imminent, my second Daddy closed his eyes and stopped eating. I prayed diligently for his peaceful passing and a few weeks later, he was gone. Though alleluias echoed throughout my step-dad’s Mass of Resurrection, peace escaped me. While I had no doubt regarding my step-dad’s fate, I fretted about what might have been and the things which were not quite perfect. I also fretted about my mom. This time, there were no children for her to care for. This time, she would return to an empty apartment to go it alone. While my mom seemed to have assumed the faithful acceptance I had exhibited at age eight, I found myself quite anxious and afraid over what lay ahead for her.

Fortunately, I finally turned over my worry to third “Daddy” who graces my life. Jesus always chose his words carefully and when he taught us to pray, he invited us to call upon God as “Abba”. The little children of Jesus’ day and their present-day counterparts lovingly address their daddies as “Abba”. Jesus intentionally invited us to do the same. My certainty that our Abba cares for us allowed me the calm which enveloped me when my first daddy passed away. When I lost my second daddy, the worries of adulthood caused me to forget that, no matter what, I am always in Abba’s care. When I finally remembered this, I realized that my mom and the rest of us were in God’s hands after all. This is the reason I can’t resist revisiting my Father’s Day sentiments for this writing. Jesus made every day Abba’s Day and today’s scriptures invite us to do the same.

In the first reading (Jeremiah 20:10-13), Jeremiah ends a lengthy and fearful lament with this realization: “The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion… he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” In the second reading (Romans 5:12-15), Paul assures us that “…the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” If we continue to doubt that we bask is God’s loving care, Jesus settles the matter in today’s gospel (Matthew 10:26-33): “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” There you have it! Though we may fail one another and fail ourselves in caring for those we’ve been given to love, our Abba remains steadfast in loving us through everything. Perhaps my family’s belated Father’s Day is well-timed after all. Every day really is Abba’s Day and it’s up to us to live accordingly with joy.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved