One Step At A Time

Blessed are the steadfast…
From Matthew 5:8

Our seventy-plus stay-in-place days have given me plenty of time to reflect. In spite of this ample in-house opportunity, my favorite place to think continues to be outdoors. So it was that I went for a much-needed walk through the neighborhood. As I plodded along, I enjoyed my neighbors’ yard work. Every step along the way, flowers of numerous varieties and colors gave me reason to smile.

Unfortunately, my joy was short-lived. I allowed my mind to wander back to the newscast I’d turned off before leaving home. The report offered another example of humanity’s persistent inability to get along. I find this realization particularly upsetting. I grew up with visions of grandeur regarding what I’d do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to do so much. On that particular day, I wanted to do something to make a difference somewhere and somehow. Actually, I want to do this every day.

Fortunately, I walked long enough to allow myself time to find a solution on the way home. It was during my trek back home that these things occurred to me: A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we’ve been given to love is the most important work we can do. Just as I completed that walk one step at a time, I can change this world one step at a time.

O Lord, thank you for reminding me that my effort matters.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be A Peacemaker

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

The other day, my husband and I tended to some gardening. While Mike fertilized, I swept piles of displaced soil into the appropriate flowerbeds. In the process, I noticed sprinkles of soil next to two planters on the patio. As I swept up that soil so I could replace it, I noticed a squirrel watching me from afar. “You little stinker!” I whispered. After all, I didn’t want to scare the poor thing. Still, as I swept, it occurred to me that I should have scared away my furry friend.

That squirrel was likely the culprit who’d displaced that dirt while digging around the begonias in our planters. After coming to this realization, I decided to engage Mr. Squirrel in conversation. “You know,” I said loudly enough to scare him, “You can dig up the entire yard if you want to. Just leave the flowers alone!” When I finally went into the house, that squirrel (or his twin brother) scampered up to the planters. I knocked on the patio door glass to remind him of my offer. I couldn’t help laughing as he ran off full speed ahead.

My husband and I will figure out a way to keep our squirrel friends out of our planters. In the mean time, we’ll continue to welcome them into the rest of the yard because they really are fun to watch. If only it was as easy to get along with our fellow humans!

God of Love, help us humans to find better ways to coexist with one another as well. When we do, I’m certain we’ll also be much more fun to watch.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is With Us… ALWAYS!

Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days, I’ve been on a bit of a roll. Last week, I shared that leisurely mornings have allowed me to organize my thoughts and my heart each day with our benevolent Creator in mind. Almost every day, my husband-the-deacon and I have also made time for a walk outdoors. Even on the cloudiest bad-news days, I’ve managed to find reason to appreciate God’s goodness in it all. I began this paragraph by saying, “Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days…” because the other day was quite different. For perhaps obvious reasons, I vacillated between anger and despair over the suffering and loss caused by our bout with COVID-19 and our inability to work together as one people to fight it. In an effort not to give in to these feelings, I gave Mike a peck on his cheek, grabbed my hoodie and headed outdoors. I fully intended to clear my head and my heart in the process.

That day, the temperature struggled to reach fifty degrees in spite of the sunshine. I stuffed my hands into my pockets as I made my way down our cul-de-sac. I went on toward village hall and into the subdivision to the north. As I walked along the winding streets, a chilling breeze blew open my jacket. I zipped up and pulled my hood over my head. I looked toward the cloudless sky and declared, “Not funny!” Afterward, I picked up my pace just enough to create my own heat as I continued on my way. Eventually, I warmed up and inadvertently began to do what I most often do during my walks. I lost myself in Nature. I looked at the branches of every tree I passed to check on its leaves. Not many months ago, green leaves turned yellow and brown and then fell to the ground to be trampled or blown away. This cycle has continued in the buds and young leaves which now burst forth from charcoal branches overhead. Though the wind continued its brisk assault, I no longer minded.

As I walked on, I looked skyward again. This time, I whispered an apology. I acknowledged that the cold breeze which pushed me along earlier had accomplished much more. Though that breeze gave me a chill, it also gave me the peace and comfort which I’d longed for. I’d fretted so about that virus’s attack on life as we once knew it that I’d forgotten the Source of that life. I’d worried so about our inability to work together in dealing with all of this that I’d forgotten all of the good people who have and continue to do just that. It finally occurred to me that perhaps God has something far more valuable for me to experience during this pandemic than anger and despair. God didn’t cause that virus which wreaks havoc on our lives. However, God did create us with the ability to respond to it. It is God’s faith in us and love for us which breathes life into our efforts. With that, I looked up once again. That time, I said, “Thank you, dear God, for remaining with me and with all of us. Just help us to take notice of your presence more often!” Before I could add an “amen” to my prayer, the wind blew my hood off of my head and pressed my sleeves against my arms. I took that as God’s assurance that I never walk alone. None of us do.

I share all of this as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday with good reason. This is the last day of Easter Season 2020 and what an unusual season this has been! Our lives changed drastically in mid-March when staying-in-place became the norm. Without warning, we lost access to life as we once knew it. The same was true for Jesus’ friends two thousand years ago. The poor disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus and, as their final trip to Jerusalem drew closer, they were in a far worse frame of mind than I was when I set out for my walk the other day. While I had lost my focus for a bit, the disciples were on the verge of losing Jesus. Though we can see light at the end of the tunnel today, Jesus’ followers could not. They watched him taken prisoner, deserted him when he needed them most and then watched him die on that cross from afar. What worse could have happened?

John’s gospel offers a different Pentecost account than the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three speak of Jesus’ resurrection, subsequent appearances and his ascension into heaven. It was after Jesus’ ascension that the Holy Spirit set the disciples on fire and spurred them into action. Today’s gospel from John (20:19-23) ushers us back to the first Easter. It was on that day, when the disciples heard of the empty tomb, yet still hid in absolute fear, that Jesus appeared. It was on that evening, when the circumstances of Jesus suffering and death were fresh in their minds, that Jesus appeared. The first words Jesus spoke were, “Peace be with you!” Like that quiet presence which walked with me the other day, Jesus slipped into that room to walk with his friends through their grief and fear. Jesus added, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” With those words, Jesus promised his friends that they would never ever be alone.

You know, God’s presence isn’t always tangible. Though God used that breezy day to renew my peace, I still sometimes walk in the fearful disciples’ sandals just as we all do. It is during times such as these that we must let go of our worry and embrace Jesus’ Pentecost promise: God’s Spirit is with us when we need God most, now as our new normal unfolds, and always!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Treasure

How shall I make a return to God
for all God has done for me?

Psalm 116:12

My husband and I have replaced three white pine trees. These once majestic trees had overrun our yard and our neighbor’s yard while also dangling precariously over our roofs. We’d delayed the inevitable until this spring because Mike and I have a difficult time parting with trees. Finally, we called in our friend Daniel-the-Gardener and his crew to take them down.

After a nerve-racking morning with menfolk perched far higher in trees than they should ever venture, the work was done. A few days later, Daniel planted three much smaller arbor vitae and one spruce in their place. A day after that, my husband filled in the empty spaces around those new little trees with grass seed and soil. While Mike planted, I raked the displaced landscape stones into place. In the process, I’d gathered lots of twigs and leaves as well. I knelt next to the piles I’d formed and separated the rocks from the dirt, twigs and leaves in which they were hiding.

Since I was on my knees, it seemed appropriate to offer a word or two to God as I worked. I could have finished this task in half the time, but I didn’t. Rather, I studied each stone, even the ones which were covered with mud. I brushed the mud away and added each rocky bit of treasure to my collection. As I worked, I shared, “Dear God, I’ll use every one of these rocks just as you use every one of us to share your love. Thank you for considering each of us a treasure.”

After acknowledging God’s graciousness in looking upon us as treasure, it occurred to me that I must do the same. I know that these are tough times. Still, as we learn to embrace our new normal, we must also embrace one another. Though our opinions may differ regarding how to proceed, our status as God’s treasure remains the same.

Dear God, inspire us to love as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Option A or B or…?

When they heard the sound of God moving about in the garden,
the man and his wife hid themselves…

From Genesis 3:8

When I was a child, we had two family bibles. One was a nicely bound family edition and the other was intentionally kid-friendly. This large book consisted of cardboard front and back covers which held together several booklets. The covers and booklets were held in place by extremely long fabric laces. The seventy-two booklets which eventually completed this bible arrived by mail every month. With each delivery, my mom carefully undid the laces, removed the bible’s covers, inserted the new booklet, replaced the covers and retied the laces. Afterward, I poured over the new arrival.

Every page included colorful illustrations and reasonably understandable text. When I finished perusing each new edition, I habitually returned to the first book’s story of Adam and Eve, the snake and that forbidden tree. The Garden of Eden amazed me almost as much as heaven did. “Why,” I often wondered, “did Adam and Eve eat that stupid apple when God had given them so much else?”

In the years that passed since I posed that question, I accumulated a measure of maturity and wisdom. I found that life in this world poses similar questions every day. I also discovered that it’s up to us to answer as best we can in the moment at hand. Is Option A really my best choice or is it as foolhardy as eating that apple? It’s up to me to figure it out. In the mean time, God watches with great love and with great faith in my and all of our ability to do what’s best.

Dear God, the second and third and twenty-ninth chances you give us seem more important than ever these days. Please be with us as we do our best to choose wisely.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Smile!

Love kindness and walk humbly with God.
From Micah 6:8

I smile. When I pass anyone anywhere, I smile. I smile even when I’m outdoors walking. Neither drizzle nor cloudy skies dampen my fascination with the beauty around me. These days, I smile throughout our daily walks. After all, they offer a precious opportunity not to stay-in-place for an hour.

My husband and I begin our walks with a discussion regarding the day’s route. Afterward, we go on to more interesting topics such as our children and grandchildren. We plan the rest of our meals for the day and discuss the possibility of tackling a project in the house or the yard when we return home. I usually end the conversation by moaning about my lack of progress on my book and the posts I need to complete for the coming week.

Throughout this conversation, Mike and I often pass two or three people along the way. As soon as we spot each other, we begin planning our social distancing strategy. If the person approaching doesn’t move, we reroute enough to leave at least twelve feet between us. Far apart as we are, Mike says “Hello” and I smile and add, “Stay safe!” When we began these walks several weeks ago, those we passed rarely responded. In time, however, these fellow walkers began to respond in kind.

You know, all of our lives have been rerouted by the COVID-19 pandemic. So it seems the perfect time to smile at every opportunity. If our efforts catch on, we might find ourselves in a far better place sooner ever!

Loving God, smile on us and be with us as we do the same for one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved