O… Original!

For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be and favored.

Psalm 128:2

O is for Original. After much reflection, I continue to have difficulty settling on today’s theme. I’m torn between “original” and “opus” because both words describe an extremely important aspect of who we are. You see, each one of us is an original. Even identical twins who are extremely difficult to tell apart physically are very different people in every other way. Still, I cannot dismiss the word “opus” because each of our lives is precisely that. You and I are unique and important works which God has contributed to our human family. Our part in all of this is to contribute our own unique and important work to the mix. Whether we compose or construct or cause things to happen, our opus is vital to the rest of humankind. Whether this work is a lifelong process, a singular effort at a particular moment in time or a combination of the two, our original opus will make an impact upon others in a way that no one else’s work can.

My first reaction to all of this is to feel the weight of the world upon me. Then, I consider my interactions with those I’ve met along the way. I realize that the grandeur or smallness of their actions means little to me. It is their presence and their delivery which changes everything. Each person’s original opus impacts me in some way. The same is true of my own work and yours!

God invites each of us to contribute to this world in some way. God’s hope is that we seize the opportunities before us and make the most of them as only we can. Hmmm… Opportunities… O is for the Opportunities which we embrace to complete our own Original Opus. How about that!

Loving God, be with us as we use our unique talents to love as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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U is for Unity

These are my mother and brothers and sisters.
Whoever lives as God asks is family to me.

From Mark 3:34-35

U is for Unity. A few week’s ago, we gathered at my nephew’s home. His sister lives in California and was home for a visit. Ralph invited us over to see her. Our family is quite large. These days, it’s difficult to gather us in one place at any one time. Still, almost thirty of us came out to visit with Cece and one another that day. What fun! My own siblings and I have grown into very different people, yet we each manage to bring our own variety of joy to these gatherings. The same is true of my nieces and nephews and my own sons. Though they all set out to form friendships and families of their own, they find their way back to their roots to reconnect with the family which gave them their start. For me, the best part of these gatherings is watching familial interactions unfold. How nice it is that we still manage to get along!

It seems to me that this should also be true of our human family. God breathed life into every one of us with the hope that we’d live these lives to the fullest. We needn’t congregate in the same worship places or in any worship place at all to express our appreciation. It seems to me that we do need to respect one another and to see one another as God’s children. We need to love one another as we love ourselves. We need to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to better understand perspectives which sometimes differ from our own. Understanding our differences doesn’t mean that we have to embrace them. It does mean that we must learn to coexist amidst our varying points of view. I do this best when I set aside the non-essential details of these things and focus upon the most essential needs of this world.

God has breathed life into billions of unique children since time began and God loves each and every one. God’s only request is the same as that of any loving parent. God asks only that we learn to get along.

Loving God, you love each one of us. Help us to work together to transform the world we share into a fitting home for us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make Every Day Christmas

Bear much fruit,
showing yourselves to be my disciples.

From John 15:8

The blanket of snow left on our patio by yesterday’s storm slowly melts away. Though it will be a mere memory by noon, it sparkles quite beautifully just now. I recall the sound of sleet tapping my window. How generously it supplied inspiration as I worried and wrote about this very new year! As is always the case, when I stopped to listen, I heard what I needed to hear…

Tomorrow is January 6, the traditional date of the Epiphany when wise men of long ago followed the star which led them to the Christ Child. These masters of the night sky carried news of their discovery to what were then the ends of the earth. When I was a child, we always left our Christmas Tree standing until The Epiphany when we moved tiny figures of this trio to the stable where Jesus lay. It was on this day that we considered our celebration of Christmas to be complete…

As I look back at the fading blanket of white on our patio, I find that yesterday’s sleet inspires once again. Though our Christmas Tree has been transformed into mulch and our patio will soon be snow-free, I cannot allow myself to be Christmas-free. The Magi carried news of their Christmas encounter wherever they went. That snow transformed our patio into a mini-winter wonderland. Our Christmas Tree filled our home with the beautiful fragrance which still lingers. What am I to do? I’m to share my Christmas Treasure of peace, love and hope in everything I say and do during this new year and always.

Loving God, help us all to keep your Christmas Spirit alive in our little corners of your world.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Are God’s Poor

God hears the poor,
and those who are in bonds God spurns not.

Psalm 69:34

Sometimes, when we hear or read about the poor in the scriptures or via the media, we assume that the term references those with dire material needs. Though this is certainly often the case, God’s definition of “the poor” is all-inclusive. God attends to each one of us whether our needs are material or otherwise.

Sometimes, when we find ourselves doing well in the world’s eyes, we also find ourselves in need deep within us where it matters most. Just as the materially poor climb a slippery slope when it comes to establishing a secure life for themselves and their loved ones, the materially rich sometimes expend so much energy holding on to what they have that they lose their grip on the things that matter most to them.

We all take turns being counted among God’s poor. This much-loved group includes you and me and all of our brothers and sisters whenever this life robs us of the things we need to continue on. Whether we’re lacking money enough for a loaf of bread or love enough to care for our aging parent, God knows our suffering. Whether we are besought by the enemy before us or by the demons within us, God stands at our sides. All the while, God offers us enough love to get by.

Loving God, you recognize our poverty in all of its forms. Be persistent with your generous love, that we may share that love with one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do What You Can Do

Though I walk in the valley of darkness,
I fear no evil because you are at my side.
You give me courage.

Psalm 23:4

I know. I’m repeating myself. I’ve written about blessings, miracles and happy times, desperate prayers graciously answered and persistent worry dispelled. I’ve also chronicled this world’s troubles which I was once at a loss to imagine. I see no end to much of the pain and trauma around us. In the midst of this suffering, many of our sisters and brothers feel very much alone. Often, so do we.

It is in the face of all of this that I take God at God’s word. Because God looks upon us as family, I behave as God’s child. I look upward and raise my voice in an admittedly disrespectful manner. I accuse God of watching this suffering and doing nothing about it. I go on and on until I’ve exhausted myself. With that, I turn away to pout.

When I come to my senses, thoughts of free will and the hereafter fill me up. Existence on this earth is no picnic. Jesus himself suffered far more than most of us ever will. When my own kids or grandkids have gotten into a self-made predicament, I’ve had to step back and watch as they worked through it as best they could. All the while, God also watched and waited and loved. Finally, I realize that God is allowing us the freedom to grow into our best selves as well. With that, I look upward to offer an embarrassed apology.

I can’t explain away human suffering. What I can explain is that it’s up to me to do what I can to make things better. I know that God is with us in our joy and our sorrow. I also know that God has trusted us with this world and with one another and God hopes that we’ll make the most of the opportunities at hand to do good. It’s all up to us.

Dear God, I know you’re with me as I try to do what I can today.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Do Something!

It was July 10 when the world received the news. The last of those twelve young soccer players and their coach had been rescued from that flooded maze of caves in Thailand. I’ll never forget my relief and absolute joy over this miracle. Though those who cooperated in this rescue did their very best to help, they knew from the onset that their success was unlikely. Still, with their hope intact all the while, Thailand’s best combined forces with experts from several other nations and together they accomplished the impossible. When news of the rescue spread, we were no longer Thai or American, Chinese, Australian, Israeli or English or anything else. We were one people who rejoiced together because thirteen of our brothers had been saved.

During the days and weeks since, I admit that I’ve been fixated upon this rescue and the good which we can accomplish when we work together. Worldwide support of those twelve boys and their young coach renewed my conviction that we are indeed capable of reaching beyond the barriers which seem to separate us. We really can work together when we have something truly important to accomplish! As I write, I realize that I’ll likely share this story with whoever will listen to me or read my work for quite some time. Much to my relief, John’s gospel assures me that this is a good thing. John offers a retelling of one of the most beloved stories in the scriptures. The featured event is recounted at least six times in the New Testament. This is quite remarkable because the Christmas story is reported only once in Luke’s gospel. Jesus’ death and resurrection are chronicled only four times, once by each of the evangelists. What was it that compelled early scripture writers to place such emphasis upon Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes?

In his gospel (John 6:1-15), John wrote that Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee to seek some much-needed rest for his disciples and for himself. A crowd followed along because they’d witnessed Jesus’ numerous healings. The people couldn’t get enough of the hope that Jesus so generously offered. When Jesus looked upon the fatigued and famished multitude before him, he was moved with compassion. Jesus asked the disciples where they might find food for them. Stunned by Jesus’ incredulous request, poor Philip responded that two hundred days’ wages couldn’t purchase enough food for the crowd. Though he knew this would be of little help, Andrew pointed out that a boy among them had five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus somehow acquired the boy’s basket of food and he transformed it into the meal for thousands which has been remembered ever since.

As I considered this miracle, it occurred to me that I’ve never given much thought to the boy with that basket of bread and fish. Why did he give them up? He’d held his basket in the midst of a hungry horde who had no prospects for their next meal. He was probably hungry himself after his trek to the mountainside and the long afternoon he’d spent listening. Did anyone else attempt to cajole the boy into sharing his meager provisions? How did he get close enough to Jesus to be noticed? More importantly, why did the boy part with what might have been his own last meal for some time? Did he like Jesus? Did Andrew urge the boy to give it up? Did the boy’s parents insist that he part with his food? Did Jesus himself approach and say, “Will you share your food with me?”

I also don’t know why those experts and divers in Thailand left everything to try to save the thirteen captives in those flooded caves. While Jesus’ poor disciples were faced with providing an impossibly huge meal, these poor rescuers battled impossible circumstances. As Jesus’ plan unfolded, we know that the boy gave up his basket of food and that the disciples did their parts to distribute the food as Jesus asked. We also know that these Twenty-First Century rescuers literally dove in to assess what lay ahead and to do everything within their power to succeed. Throughout that rescue operation, I asked, “How is it that they find the courage to persist? How is it that, even when they’ve lost one of their own, they continue on?” Perhaps the boy in the gospel parted with his bread and fish because it was the thing to do. Perhaps those rescuers and their supporters simply did the same.

Perhaps this is the reason the scripture writers focused upon this story. Every day of this life, we’re all challenged to do something as well. Most of the time, these are small opportunities which we can take on alone or with the help of a friend or two. Sometimes, the outcome will be as unlikely as that mountainside banquet. Perhaps once in our lifetimes we’ll be challenged by an adventure as frightening as that flooded cave rescue. Whatever our circumstances, we’re asked again and again, “Will you do something?” Like that boy with the basket of food and those brave rescuers, let’s try to answer, “Yes!”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved