Gift Them With Love

For the Lord loves the people…
From Psalm 149:4

We’ll celebrate four of our grandchildren’s birthdays this summer. Some years ago, Grandpa and I came up with a creative plan for these special occasions. Rather than purchasing numerous gifts which sometimes go by the wayside in short order, we decided to share the gift of our time with them. We typically plan an overnight stay, a special dinner and an outing for each one. Our hope is that these efforts will underscore the love that we feel for them twenty-four/seven. To date, our plans have met the expectations of all concerned. So it is that the tradition continues in spite of the pandemic’s challenge to be particularly creative and safe this year!

You know, I recall very few of the gifts I received on my own childhood birthdays. What I do remember are the celebrations with my mom, dad and siblings who sang “Happy Birthday” to me. On those special days, though gifts weren’t always plentiful, the cake for dessert was. I remember the story books and picnics shared, the reassurances at 3:00 AM when I couldn’t sleep and the “I love you!” that accompanied good-night kisses. I especially remember the forgiveness offered after a much-deserved scolding.

In the end, perhaps Grandpa and I will succeed in giving our grandchildren the best gift of all -the affection of a couple of grandparents who truly loves them.

Dearest God, we would not know how to gift one another with love if you had not shown us the way. Thank you! I love you, too!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Act Like Children… Really!

For the one who is least among all of you
is the one who is greatest.

From Luke 9:48

A recent walk around a nearby lake reminded me of just how small I am. This particular lake is tiny itself and offers a very limited beach area. The remainder of its circumference is lined with trees and foliage. The greenery is interrupted only by a narrow path just wide enough for two or three people. Still, as I walked along, I felt like a little ant in the grand scheme of things.

There are other times when I feel very small as well. In spite of my best efforts, it seems that I cannot do much to solve the problems of this world. Though I try very hard to live up to the spirit of these daily reflections, I don’t seem to accomplish much. Our war with COVID-19 rages on, poverty in so many places ravages too many of us, and special interests continue to argue more and accomplish less. I wonder too often if there actually is anything I can do to make an important difference.

It’s in the midst of this lament that I recall Jesus’ words regarding our need to become like children. Little girls and boys don’t over-think things. They simply observe the situation at hand and respond accordingly. It occurs to me that I do my best work when I follow this lead. I do actually have the capacity to change the world. Through seemingly insignificant efforts, I bring something which is needed to one soul at a time. You know, so do you! Never underestimate the power of simply doing what needs to be done in the moment at hand.

Dear God, thank you for acknowledging that the small things we do for one another make a world of difference after all.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Chosen Ones

Bless the Lord. You are God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

During our stay-in-place days, I reread a favorite book which always lifts my spirits. THE SIMPLE FAITH OF FRED ROGERS by Amy Hollingsworth ushered me back several decades to when I watched Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with our sons. The author met Fred Rogers when she interviewed him for a story. The result was a lifelong friendship and this book. She captured the essence of Mr. Rogers which captivated our sons for the duration of his shows and me for my lifetime since.

The hallmark of Fred Rogers’ work was his ability to make his audience feel special and important, wanted and cherished. When current events threatened to instill fear in children, Fred Rogers created a script which addressed these things. He spoke to his youth-filled audience about divorce and death, serious illnesses and the things which make us seem different from one another. He also addressed 9/11. As I reread page after page, I wondered how Mr. Rogers might have explained the pandemic to children. Though I’m not certain of the words he would have used, I know Mr. Rogers would have assured every child who heard him that he and she truly are loved, cared for and safe.

You know, as was the case with 9/11, the trauma of this pandemic has touched us adults as deeply as it has our children, perhaps even more so. It seems to me that we adults can also use a reminder that we are loved and cared for and safe. The good news is that this reminder comes on an ongoing basis from the one who inspired Mr. Rogers. You and I are are loved and cared for and we’ll always be safe in God’s company. For me, this will make all of the difference today and every day which lies ahead.

Loving God, it’s not always easy to feel loved. Thank you for loving us, especially when doubt and fear threaten.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Examples of Love

Set an example…
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and honesty.

From 1 Timothy 4:12

While walking outdoors the other day, fellow walkers and I carefully navigated around each other to maintain social distancing. Though some of us had masks dangling below our chins, none were needed as we allowed one another our space. Actually, this was the case until a family of four approached in the distance. We were nearing a narrow stretch which made social distancing difficult. When I realized the predicament, I pulled up my mask and then retraced my steps until I found a spot wide enough to allow us all to pass safely.

As that family walked by, the dad thanked me for the extra effort. He added, “I didn’t think we’d run into anyone so we left our masks at home. So sorry!” As we parted ways, one of the children commented, “So stupid, Dad. I hate wearing a mask.” I admit that I stopped to tie my shoe because I wanted to hear how Dad responded. How sweet it was to hear his reply. ” I don’t like wearing a mask either,” he said, “but I don’t like seeing anyone get sick, especially you guys. I wear my mask for you and Mom.”

I smiled as I stood to continue that walk. It occurred to me that parents everywhere are offering their children lessons which none of us ever imagined would be necessary. You know, the weeks and months ahead are going to be tough as we adjust to some type of normalcy. As for me, I’m going to try not to worry about this too much because of selfless people like that dad who are in this with me. When we care about one another, we have a chance.

Loving God, you are goodness and you are love. Be with us as we bring both to our efforts to heal this world by caring for one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Gets It!

Trust in God at all times, O my people!
Poor out your hearts before God;
God is our refuge!

Psalm 62:9

During a FaceTime call with our granddaughters, I experienced a bit of deja vu. Our eldest granddaughter happily shared a recap of the time she and her family had spent outdoors on a perfectly beautiful day. Though the girls continue to social distance from their friends, they’ve done a great job of enjoying playtime with one another. When Ellie described navigating her scooter around their cul-de-sac, I asked her to explain the process. With that, Ellie shared the finer aspects of scooter navigation. As Ellie continued, I couldn’t help recalling our sons at her age exhibiting the same exhilaration over new bits of knowledge or new talents they’d acquired. Like my Ellie, Mike and Tim soaked up all things new like a sponge. As I did with Ellie, I listened when they shared their accomplishments with me.

When such treasures are shared, especially by the children in my life, I give my full attention to the speaker. There is nothing more encouraging and comforting than being listened to and understood. As I write, it occurs to me that God does the same for you and me. Whether or not we are gifted with the attention and understanding of those around us, God listens and understands our meaning even better than we understand it ourselves. In my joy and in my sorrow, in my puzzlement and in my certainty, I find that there is nothing more encouraging and comforting than being heard and understood by God.

Dear God, thank you for always understanding my meaning. Help me to do the same as best I can for those you have given me to love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved