A Time To…

A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

A time to be born… I enjoy the outdoors because of the constant change evidenced there. The entire world seems to engage in rebirth during springtime. This growth continues throughout summer when flowerbeds and gardens flourish. Leafy trees respond to September’s mix early on with subtle changes in color. October brings those changes to fruition only to give way to November winds. Leaves crunching beneath my feet remind me that winter is near. Even then, barren trees hold the promise of new life. It seems to me that there is always time to be born.

A time to die… The lesson in all of this is that as Nature engages in rebirth around me, it also engages in dying all the while. Something old continually gives way to something new. Seeds fall from trees and dance in the wind until they find rest on the ground below. Though no longer part of a living tree, they hold the potential for life anew. Though everything has changed for them, these seeds nestle into the ground with great hope in the things to come.

A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant… If those seeds are lucky, a watchful gardener will see that they’re covered with enough soil to survive. If they sprout too closely to one another, that gardener will gently relocate them so each will have room to take root and to receive its share of sunlight and water. That gardener will see to it that they have the time to flourish.

What a joy it is to know that God is even more attentive to you and me than that gardener is to his plants…

Compassionate God, you are the watchful gardener who places each of us precisely where we are meant to be.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Nestle In God’s Embrace

Every morning, I set the tone for the day by reading from a daily devotional. My favorite features dozens of writers. Each contributes six or seven of the reflections which appear throughout the book. Regardless of the author of the day, I’m consistently touched by the morsels of wisdom nestled among his or her words. Whether or not the story which unfolds appeals to me, the author’s intent always manages to touch my heart. Some mornings, I add favorite passages from Henri Nouwen and Max Lucado. I’m most grateful for their generosity in sharing their deeply personal relationships with God with the rest of us. As I struggle to do the same through my own book, my admiration for these writers continues to grow exponentially.

After I opened my devotional this morning, I returned to this writing. Because I completed my research yesterday, I planned to write all of this fairly quickly. That was until the pile of notes resting next to me spilled over onto my keyboard. I had to re-stack them before I could type another word. In the process, I found a small sticky note which read, “Nestle, Don’t Wrestle”. I laughed as I recalled this old phrase. Long ago, I’d read about someone who’d hoped to write a book about our struggles throughout this life and our propensity to ignore the precise solution to all of our problems. This woman intended to title the book, Nestle, Don’t Wrestle. She’d hoped that her text would convince all of the world that we must stop wrestling with God and insisting that God solve our problems our way. I laughed again as I admitted to myself that I’m guilty of just that.

Of course, I couldn’t let go of this concept of nestling in God’s care rather than wrestling alone with life’s challenges. I wondered if the person I’d read about had actually written her book. After searching online for some time, I realized that this potential author had likely not realized her dream. I found no books of that title anywhere. What I did find was Corrie ten Boom’s DON’T WRESTLE, JUST NESTLE* which was published long before the person I’d read about had voiced her dream. Still, the titles were so similar that I had to learn more. I discovered that Corrie ten Boom’s book is still available and that it can also be downloaded for free. I also found several short reviews which indicated that this book had indeed offered the same advice which that potential author had hoped to share years later. That advice? To take God at God’s word and to place our troubles into God’s capable hands. This frees us to embrace the moments at hand with hope. Corrie ten Boom and her family lived in The Netherlands. When the German Army invaded her country, she turned her home into a hideout where she protected many Jewish people. As a result, she and her family were arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp where her sister died. In spite of this heart-wrenching experience, Corrie’s absolute hope in God’s care remained. As I read on, I discovered that Corrie’s relationship with God was steadfast throughout this suffering and her lifelong efforts to speak out about God’s love and forgiveness and our need to forgive.

So many scripture passages echo God’s invitation to us all to nestle and not to wrestle our way through this life alone! Isaiah (Isaiah 66:10-14c) tells us. “…you shall be carried in her arms, …as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” God promises to carry each one of us through everything. We mustn’t waste our energy wrestling with our problems alone. We mustn’t wrestle with God to convince God to do things our way. Rather, we must ease into God’s arms with all of our problems in tow. When we hand the things which trouble us over to God, we free ourselves to enjoy the peace that only God’s embrace can offer. In his letter to the Galatians (6:14-18), Paul expounds upon the peace he found when he opened himself up to Jesus. Paul had persecuted and killed hundreds of Jesus’ followers because they’d moved beyond The Law. The Law was part and parcel of their Jewish identity, yet many of the people had embraced the teachings of Jesus as well. After meeting Jesus himself in an astonishing post-resurrection encounter, Paul realized that our acknowledgement of God’s love for us and our need to love one another were what truly mattered. With that, Paul took in all that Jesus had taught and he made Jesus’ mission his own. Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20) tells us that Jesus had spread his teaching by sending out seventy-two disciples two-by-two. He asked them to set aside their own concerns and their own lives in order to share God’s hope and enduring love with those who hadn’t yet heard of these things. Jesus sent them on their way to offer God’s message with the hope that it would take root within others who would go on to share his word and to live accordingly.

As I consider my “on paper” acquaintance with both my would-be author friend and Corrie ten Boom, I wonder if they realize just how far-reaching their sharing of their relationships with God has been. Though that would-be author may never have written a word beyond her title, she certainly added a spark to my relationship with God. Corrie ten Boom endured far more suffering than most of us ever will, yet she insisted that we nestle in God’s loving care. Corrie added to that spark between God and me as well! It seems to me that we’re all called to spread the good news of God’s love for us. Whether we travel two-by-two or go it alone, each of us is invited to believe for ourselves and to share with all who will hear us that there is a place in God’s arms for every one of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Corrie ten Boom. Don’t Wrestle, Just Nestle. Published January 1, 1979 by Fleming H Revell Co (first published 1978)

Sent Forth With Love

My husband and I babysit for our little grandson a day or two each week. When we arrived this past Tuesday, Danny smiled broadly as he opened his arms to greet us. When his dad handed him over to me, he explained that Danny’s smile surprised him because his dear child had woken up every two hours the previous night. Danny continued to sport his infectious grin as I informed him that he would need to nap well that day. Amazingly enough, Danny continued to smile for an hour after his daddy left for work. Eventually in the midst of our play, Danny rubbed his eyes and whimpered a bit. When I scooped him off the floor, he quickly nuzzled into me. When I retrieved a bottle of milk from the refrigerator, I fully expected Danny to sit up and offer the elated coos which normally accompany this rite. This time, however, little Danny nuzzled more closely and waited peacefully as the bottle warmed. The tired little imp managed to keep his eyes open about an ounce into that bottle. He finished the rest in a sleepy daze. After Danny drew in the last drop, I held him for a few minutes and then laid him in his crib for the first nap of the new day.

As I tiptoed down the hall, I wondered if Danny will remember anything from his seemingly carefree infancy. I actually stopped in my tracks with that thought as there hasn’t been much that has been carefree regarding Danny’s life to date. From the early onset of labor which confined his mommy to bed to his early arrival which frightened us all, this child’s well-being has been the main focus of his parents and the rest of us who love him. The good news is that residual issues have been addressed. The better news is that Danny now behaves as a typical ten-month-old –if there is such a thing!

I admit that I took advantage of Danny’s nap-time that morning to prepare this reflection. The images of our peacefully sleeping grandson and his daddy’s tired eyes inspired some insight regarding the scriptures. Isaiah (66:10-14c) likens the prosperity of God’s people to a newborn baby who is lovingly cared for. This child’s mother has been blessed as well because the babe in her arms arrived without benefit of grueling labor and a painful delivery. The mothers among us can attest to the uniqueness of this situation! All of us can attest to the fact that the care we received as infants has had a lifelong impact upon who we are today. This is the reason Isaiah assured the people of God’s initial and ongoing love for each one of them.

In his letter to the Galatians (6:14-18), Paul references a birth of sorts as well. Paul expounds upon the miracle of his rebirth at the hands of Jesus. Paul had persecuted and killed hundreds of Jesus’ followers because they had moved beyond The Law which had been part and parcel of their Jewish identity to the teachings of Jesus. After meeting Jesus himself in an astonishing post-resurrection encounter, Paul realized the one’s acknowledgement of God’s love for us and our need to love one another were what truly mattered. So it was that Paul took on all that Jesus had to say and he made Jesus’ mission his own.

Luke’s gospel (10:1-12, 17-20) relates another rebirth. After having sent The Twelve to teach in his name, Jesus sent out seventy-two others to do the same. Jesus cautioned them not to worry about money, meals or even the sandals on their feet. Jesus sent them off with all they needed to bring God’s peace wherever they made their way. Though they left Jesus’ side with a measure of trepidation, all seventy-two returned with ecstatic hearts. It was impossible for them to contain their awe over all they had accomplished in Jesus’ name.

When Danny began to stir from his nap that afternoon, I set aside my pen and thanked God for easing his parents through those traumatic early days with him. For another few decades, they’ll continue to nurture and guide their little boy. When the time comes for Danny to set out on his own, he’ll be as ready as any of us can be. As I headed down the hall to rescue my grandson from his crib, I realized that I have experienced the love that Isaiah, Paul and Jesus insist is ours. While Danny’s parents will deal with the nitty-gritty of minute-to-minute parenting, Grandpa and I get to watch over it all. Like our ever-benevolent God, we will stand by to help out in a pinch. Like our ever-faithful God, we will watch with expectant love knowing that Danny will fulfill it as best he can. From the moment God created you and me, that same love has poured down upon us. From our very beginnings God has known that we will all fulfill every expectation of us as best we can –just like Danny!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All Mighty Cedars

While waiting in line at the grocery store the other day, I watched as the young man at the opposite end of the counter bagged groceries. Having done that job myself throughout high school and college, I appreciated his careful approach. Before I realized what had happened, my thoughts returned to a similar scene from a few decades earlier. At the time, I had focused upon the young man bagging groceries because he looked familiar. When I made my way through the line, I realized that he was a former student. I had taught him at least ten years earlier in third grade. My heart leapt as I observed his precision while doing his job. I smiled at his professional appearance and demeanor. When he looked up from the task at hand, he greeted me without hesitation. “Mrs. Penich, hi! Do you remember me? I’m…” Before he could finish, I announced, “Of course I remember you, Joshua!” With that, this one-time nine-year-old went on to explain that he was working to save for college which would begin the following fall. He also thanked me for being such a great teacher– one whom he would never forget.

I left the grocery store with mixed emotions. You see, Joshua had been one of the students about whom I worried a great deal. He rarely obeyed our classroom rules and was one of the few students whom I sent to the principal’s office. On one such occasion, Joshua actually sassed the principal. I was shocked at the time because he was never disrespectful toward me. He simply didn’t listen. By the end of the year, I had elicited just enough work from Joshua to promote him to fourth grade. Still, when I handed Joshua his final report card, I wasn’t proud of his or my accomplishments. I felt that he was one of those students whom I simply couldn’t reach. When Joshua remarked that I was a great teacher, I felt extremely undeserving of this judgment. I was proud of who Joshua had become, but I also felt that I had done little to help in the process. I asked myself what Joshua could possibly have remembered from our year together…

As I read through today’s first reading, I realized that I had missed a very important element of my relationship with Joshua. It was certainly my responsibility to create an orderly classroom which supported my students’ learning. However, I could not control my students’ responses. Still, I tried. My charges’ parents had sent me the best child they had to offer that year. I taught, disciplined and interacted on many levels with this in mind. This is the reason that I hoped never to give up on any of my students. Though Joshua had challenged my resolve, he apparently didn’t prevent my efforts from taking root. Something else was at work within us both. Ezekiel (17:22-24) tells us, “Thus says the Lord God: I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it. It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar.” For some reason, the Lord God had planted Joshua in my classroom that year. For some reason, in spite of my seemingly ineffective efforts, God saw to it that Joshua became a majestic cedar in his own right, just as God had done for me. Though neither of us was aware at the time, Joshua and I had actually spent quite a productive year together.

It seems to me that God intends to make a majestic cedar of each of one of us. Just as God takes that tender shoot from the crest of the cedar tree and plants it on the mountaintop to flourish, God plants you and me precisely where we are meant to be. God knows well that our circumstances and those with whom we share them will sometimes test God’s loving resolve. Still, God persists just the same. God provides all of the sunshine, rain and nutrients we need to grow into mighty trees and God trusts that you and I will thrive as a result. It seems appropriate to return God’s generosity by offering the same care to one another.

If you question the value of your life, take it from this teacher who is also a daughter, sister, wife, mom, aunt, grandma and friend, that the time we share with others means the world to them and to us. Whether we have an hour, a day, a year or a lifetime with those we have been given to love, it is just enough time to do for one another what God intends. Just ask Joshua and his third grade teacher!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved