Take Care Wherever You Are…

How lovely is our dwelling place, O God!
Psalm 84:1

As I drove south of our neighborhood, I passed Mary’s Greenhouse for the umpteenth time. I smile every time I pass that building-ful of flowers and greenery. You see, for years, I’ve told my husband that he should have been a florist or tended a greenhouse because he has an amazing way with vegetation of every sort. Though I’m a worthy assistant when it comes to digging up flowerbeds, trimming roses and weeding here and there, I have minimal knowledge of annuals, perennials and the many other aspects of gardening. The good news is that my husband loves these things. As a result, the land which flanks our home is beautifully picturesque. I appreciate his efforts more than words can express because a world of loveliness and inspiration lies just beyond each of our windows and doors.

As I write, it occurs to me that Mary’s Greenhouse provides the perfect reminder of how generously God has blessed me. God has given me both my own gardener-in-residence and the sense to recognize the wonder present in his handiwork. In those flowers and plants, I see not only the fruits of my husband’s talent, but also the fruits of God’s love. How God much must care to have created a world for us which is capable of producing such beauty? How God much must care to have given us the capacity to make the most of Mother Earth’s gifts?

Generous God, though we aren’t all blessed with green thumbs, we are all blessed with unique talents. Help us to use them as aptly as my dear husband does to make our little patches of this earth inspiring and beautiful.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God, Our Caretaker

Thus God prepared the land:
drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.

Psalm 65:11

The other morning, I looked at our calendar to find that neither my husband nor I had anything scheduled for the day. Shocked, I quickly called to him and asked, “Do you have anything going today?” He replied, “Miraculously, not a thing!” Having said that, he appeared in his most threadbare shorts and t-shirt. Before I could ask what he was up to, he recited a laundry list of outdoor chores which he planned to accomplish by noon. I laughed as he headed out the back door to the yard.

After taking care of a thing or two myself, I checked on my husband. He had weeded around all of our perennials and checked all of the planters and pots. He had also fertilized every flower he’d planted around the yard. When I found him, he was assessing our bird house to be certain that is was still standing firm in the rain-soaked soil. When I asked why he was devoting this uncommon free-day to so much manual labor, Mike replied, “Are you kidding? I love doing this stuff!”

As I headed back to my own chores, I looked upward and smiled. “You love doing this stuff, too. Taking care of us and watching us flourish makes your day. Nice! Thank you, Dear God!”

Loving God, you never take a free day from caring for us. Whether our troubles are great or small, you tend to them and to us with great love. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Powerful Words

I turned our calendar to March to confirm the date of Ash Wednesday. I also noted that we won’t celebrate Easter until April 21. I used my words to offer a prayer of gratitude. Easter’s relatively late arrival allows me the time to catch my breath before tackling my abundant to-do list. In an effort to shorten that list, I read the scripture passages we hear today to prepare for this writing. As I read, I found that Sirach and Jesus (Sirach 27:4-7; Luke 6:39-45) had a good deal to say about the power of our words. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:54-58) chimed in to address the disbelief of some who questioned Jesus’ words. As I read, it occurred to me that I’ve put my own words to use in surprising ways over the decades. Though I hope my words have been positive for the most part, there have been times when their tone has been just the opposite. It was Lent 1987 when I expressed my dismay to God regarding Easter’s late arrival that year…

My stepdad had battled emphysema for some time and the disease finally threatened to get the best of him. Bill had become bedridden and my mom was heartsick. Caring for Bill at home would be impossible if he couldn’t walk. Though she was both a sturdy woman and a great nurse, my mom still couldn’t manage Bill’s six-foot frame without some assistance from him. Bill was heartsick as well. If he couldn’t go home with my mom, he wanted to go home to God. Bill didn’t use his words to express this. He simply stopped eating. He also kept his eyes closed except to glance lovingly at my mom when he thought no one was looking. I was heartsick, too. So it was that I repeated the same insistent prayer: Bill’s had a tough time. He’s suffered enough. Dear God, please take him home. My mom took great care of my own dad, and now she’s doing the same for my step-dad. You’re asking too much of her. Dear God, please take him home. Jesus cured the suffering who came to him. I don’t even want a cure. Just take him home! When my desperation hit its peak, I shamelessly added: You claim to be our loving parent. If Bill was my son, I’d take him home for Easter!

Lent 1987 seemed to drag on and on. Time always passes at a snail’s pace when our loved ones are suffering. I admit that I used the words of my mournful prayer over and over again throughout the majority of those forty days. As it happened, we celebrated my stepdad’s funeral the Tuesday before Easter. Later that week, I completed Lent 1987 by attending the Holy Week liturgies at our parish church. I missed most of what unfolded because I’d morphed from a weary and worried daughter into a weary and numb mourner. I didn’t use my words for much of anything after Bill’s funeral. It was during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday that I realized I’d been operating on autopilot. I felt exhausted and empty and I wasn’t sure of where to turn. As the deacon sang the Exultet to announce Jesus’ resurrection, something drew my eyes to the large crucifix over the altar. It had been covered with a purple cloth during Lent and I wondered why that purple remained. Suddenly, in the midst of an alleluia, the servers pulled some invisible wires which hung from the cloth. When that cloth fell, it revealed the most beautiful lilies I’d ever seen. Those lovely flowers covered the crucifix from top to bottom and from left to right. Their ivory blossoms glowed in the brightly lit sanctuary, leaving no hint of the suffering corpus hidden behind them. This amazing image took my breath away. Though I thought I couldn’t shed another tear that week, my eyes filled up. I felt alive again! Then it hit me. God had welcomed my stepdad home for Easter. Bill had been gone an entire week and I’d failed to use my words to say “Thank you!” Still, God welcomed me home as well. In spite of my ingratitude and my insolent tone beforehand, God gave me new life in the form of some well-placed Easter lilies. Those flowers spoke of renewed life to me and I couldn’t have asked for more!

Lent 2019 begins this week on Ash Wednesday. This year, we’re invited to use our words to help ourselves and those we’ve been given to love throughout our Lenten Mission. The words I chose to address our loving God on my stepdad’s behalf were clumsy at best. Still, they expressed my genuine effort to walk through my stepdad’s illness and passing in God’s good company. My words were also heard. God hears everything we say or think or feel or write. This is the reason our parish is providing us a little blue booklet entitled MY LENTEN MISSION. It is meant to guide all of us who’d like to use our words to find healing for ourselves, for one another and for our suffering world. We each approach Lent 2019 with a unique variety of burdens. As we deal with these things, we also search for ways to be productive family members, friends, coworkers, caretakers and to fulfill a multitude of other roles. Our mission booklets provide daily excerpts from the Lenten gospels and one or two related reflection questions. There is space to use our words to respond. Afterward, healing activities are suggested. The best part is that this booklet isn’t a homework assignment which will be graded on Easter Sunday. Rather, it is one small, but mighty tool which will hopefully guide each one of us on our mission toward a truly peace-filled Easter and a truly healed heart.

Though Lent 1987 remains etched in my memory, the words those Easter Lilies spoke to me are etched into my heart. My prayers have never again been quite so desperate because I’ve allowed God’s words to draw me closer, just as those lilies did. Perhaps Lent 2019 will reveal the healing we’re all searching for. Perhaps the lilies of Easter 2019 will speak words of new life to us all. Can any of us ask for more?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

For those of you who don’t attend my church and won’t receive MY LENTEN MISSION, I encourage you take some time every day to communicate with God as only you can. The words exchanged between you and God are far more powerful than you’ll ever know in this life! Have lots of good talks with God!

Grateful? Oh, Yes!

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

Psalm 145:10

I usually wake with a “thank you” on my lips. Today, however, I woke with a mumble. In an effort to improve my mood, I took the time to peek out every window as I opened the blinds around the house. Thanks to my husband’s handiwork, colorful blossoms of every sort met my glance no matter where I looked. I whispered my thanks for Mike and his flowers. Still, that dull ache in my heart remained. We’ve been struggling a bit with a situation of importance to both of us. We and our kids and grandkids are fine. This is something outside of our family circle which needs to be remedied. The problem is that there isn’t much more we can do.

As I pondered this dilemma, I decided to distract myself with email. The first message was a lengthy update from a friend’s ailing husband. After a short greeting from my friend, her husband’s amazing litany of thanksgiving followed. This was unexpected and remarkable as the poor man has battled terrible illness for a very long time. Though hope in his case has been elusive at best, this grateful man wrote paragraph after paragraph to express his gratitude regarding his journey to date and the dear ones who’ve walked it with him. When he expressed his gratefulness for his faith in God, he touched my heart. By the time I reached the end of his remarks, I wondered why I’d allowed myself to forget all that I have to be grateful for.

After replying with gratitude to my friends, I looked upward and offered that “thank you” which I’d forgotten this morning. I also gave more thought to my own troubling situation. If my friend can see God at his side in the midst of months and months of suffering, I can certainly follow God’s lead as I work through the discomfort at hand.

Dear Sweet God, thank you for your good company!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Humble Servant

Whoever wishes to be first among you shall serve.
Matthew 20:27

The memories which filled me up at the cemetery the other day remain with me. My loved ones in the hereafter certainly taught me a lot before they took their leave. One of those lessons came at the hands of my dear Aunt Lucille…

Aunt Lucille cared for elderly people throughout her own post-retirement years. She had a way with her “ladies” as she would call them. Her work was truly a pleasure for all concerned. Over time, one of Aunt Lucille’s clients had become rather difficult. The poor woman’s memory no longer served her. This exacerbated her demanding personality. This lady was unkind and demanding, at best (my words, not Aunt Lucille’s). Because Aunt Lucille was always one to find the upside in a situation, she devised a plan. Aunt Lucille made a point of discovering this woman’s favorite things and her pet peeves. My aunt-the-caretaker said and did just the right things to focus her patient on the positive. During the year Aunt Lucille cared for her, this woman became one of my aunt’s most beloved clients.

When the woman passed away, Aunt Lucille went to her funeral. The woman’s family was quite renowned and many notable people attended the service. Aunt Lucille arrived early to insure herself a seat. She chose the last row to leave room for more important attendees. Just before the service began, the woman’s son noticed Aunt Lucille in the back of the church. He immediately walked back to her and escorted her to the family’s pew. “My mother loved you, Lucille. You’ve been a blessing to her and to us. Your place is here!”

We love you, too, Aunt Lucille! Thank you for showing us how it’s done.

Loving God, help me to love with Aunt Lucille’s humility and compassion.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Random Acts of Peace

Be compassionate, as God is compassionate.
From Luke 6:36

My words fail me as I attempt to express the life-changing and life-giving nature of our trip to Israel. Every day, the people we encountered and the sites we visited touched me deeply in indescribable ways. Even the seemingly simplest interactions etched unforgettable lessons into my heart.

Our day in Akko was no longer than any other, yet it remains with me as though I was there yesterday. A member of our tour wasn’t feeling well. Nancy, our tour-organizer, immediately attended to our friend. (I call her “friend” as we couldn’t possibly have shared so much on so many levels without also developing affection for one another!) Though “facilities” were usually conveniently available, there was nothing nearby at the time. After visually scanning our locale, Nancy decided to approach a shop for assistance. Though we were obviously tourists visiting Christian sites with our Jewish guide, this Muslim shop-owner and staff immediately responded when Nancy explained the situation. Our friend was invited to rest and to take care of her needs for as long as necessary. When she and Nancy returned, they couldn’t hide their gratitude for the warm and welcoming assistance they’d received.

Our friend enjoyed the rest of that day for good reason. Nancy had responded to her with compassionate action and that wonderful shop-owner and cohort did more than she dared to hope for. Of course she felt much better!

Loving God, thank you for the instruments of your peace who grace our paths every day.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved