Our Good Shepherd

In spite of the unseasonably cold weather and the snow which had fallen north of the Illinois border, my dear husband and I made a trek in that direction for a few days. Though our transition into Spring 2018 has been an extremely slow process and patches of green were few and far between, the scenery along the way is always a welcome diversion from our daily routines. We sometimes take what Mike calls “the scenic route” in spite of the additional twenty or thirty minutes it adds to our drive. Mike enjoys navigating the county and small-town roads with their leisurely pace and quaint structures all along the way. When we make it to the winding byways nearest the cabin, Mike is in heaven. As for me, I enjoy gazing out the window for the duration. Oddly, though we’ve alternated between our two routes for a quarter century, I’m always fascinated by the things I see along the way. Regardless of numerous previous sightings, every farm and hillside reveals something new to me as we meander by. This time, it was a large herd of sheep which surprised me. The snowfall hadn’t yet melted away and this woolly mass stood firm on what should have been grassy green ground by then.

As I considered the determined band before me, I was certain that I’d never seen this particular pasture before. I refrained from pointing it out to my dear husband because I knew he’d tell me that we’d passed that particular pasture hundreds of times. Rather, I tended to my own musing regarding the amazing gathering which had caught my eye. From my vantage point in the car, each sheep seemed to be a perfectly coiffed specimen. Their woolen coats boasted every shade of beige. Though usually a nondescript color, the beige hues of these sheep accentuated their fluffy appearances. Their color also made them clearly visible against the backdrop of white snow beneath them. I wondered why anyone would send sheep out in the midst of this year’s stubbornly lingering winter. I quickly reminded myself that Wisconsin farmers know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to their animals and their crops. So it was that I dismissed my worry and returned to admiring these wooly wonders. “You have to love sheep!” I said to myself. “They’re just so adorable!”

As we drove on, I recalled the sheep with whom I’ve come into close contact over the years. When we visited Mike’s cousins in Croatia, they housed a few sheep on their property. When we visited Brookfield Zoo with our granddaughters, the petting area which includes sheep was a mandatory stop. Last summer, we walked among the sheep at Lambs Farm with our grandson. As I considered these close encounters with my woolly friends, I couldn’t deny the realities of their habitats. In Croatia, at the zoo and at Lambs Farm, certain “aromas” and other “realities” accompanied these seemingly cute and fluffy mammals. We had to watch where we stepped whenever we were near them. When we were close enough to check, we found that these critters’ “fluff” is actually wiry and rough at best. As I reconsidered the sheep we’d past a few miles back, I admitted that if we’d stopped the car long enough to take a walk among them, I might not have found them to be so lovable after all. Still, in spite of this honest observation, I quickly told myself, “But someone I know would do anything for a sheep!” Your and my greatest blessing is the love of our Good Shepherd.

In today’s gospel (John 10:11-18), John shares Jesus’ description of a good shepherd. Jesus respected the shepherds of his day because he knew that a dedicated shepherd was a treasured commodity. Shepherds dutifully guarded their sheep day-in and day-out. As for the sheep, they knew their keepers’ voices and they followed them closely when being led in and out of their pastures. A good shepherd’s diligence allowed his sheep to spend their days in safety. In truth, the shepherd’s uninterrupted presence was essential to each sheep’s survival. In Jesus’ day, no caring shepherd ever allowed his sheep to wander beyond his watchful eyes. Like the shepherds he respected so, Jesus also promised never to allow one of God’s sheep to wander our of his sight or out of his heart.

It occurs to me that in spite of the snow and cold, the Wisconsin farmer who allowed his flock to graze that day wasn’t far from his herd. Perhaps he sensed that they were as stir-crazy as we because of the lingering winter weather and he allowed them the fresh air they craved. Happily for us, Jesus the Good Shepherd senses our every need as well. While we enjoy or endure the moment at hand, Jesus remains to shepherd us with his comforting and healing presence. Though Jesus doesn’t remove the obstacles which are part of our human landscape, Jesus remains. It seems to me that our best response is to welcome Jesus’ company with a word or a “baa” of gratitude.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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OOPS! Earth Day… Almost!

God looked at everything God made and found it to be very good…
From Genesis 1:31

Though I usually post one daily reflection, I’m compelled to add another today to correct myself…

This is the Eve of Earth Day, not Arbor Day. While these observances are equally important reminders to care for the wonders of creation, Earth Day has had special importance for me and my family since its inception in 1970 because it falls on my sister’s birthday. “All the more reason,” I tell myself, “that I shouldn’t have made this error!”

Like my husband who has great affection for everything green, my sister Cecele loved nature and the many creatures who make their homes in its midst. Though Cecele enjoys these things from the hereafter these days, I’m certain that she continues to find great joy in it all, especially in her favorites, deer and birds. Every time I see either, I know that Cecele is nearby smiling with me.

With that, I invite you to join me in celebrating the natural wonders of this amazing world of ours on this Earth Day Eve! I also invite you to continue your revelry through next Friday, April 27, when we celebrate Arbor Day 2018!

Generous God, thank you for the natural beauty which surrounds us in nature and in one another. Help us to nurture and to care deeply for both!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Arbor Day… Almost!

Then let the earth bring forth vegetation:
every kind of plant that bears seed and
every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit…

From Genesis 1:11

On this Arbor Day Eve, I celebrate my husband’s decades-long relationships with two plants. The first is a colorful, purplish-green Tradescantia Zebrina. His parents gave it to us as a housewarming gift when we purchased our first home. This plant is older than our sons! The second is a philodendron which Mike’s teachers gave him when he was named a “candidate” for the diaconate. This designation meant that he would indeed be ordained the following year. My husband’s staff realized that it had taken a good deal of effort for their principal to get to this point and they wanted to cheer him on. Needless to say, both plants are precious to him.

The amazing part of all of this is that these plants have survived decades of indoor-to-outdoor transitions from spring through summer to fall when frost came unexpectedly early on more than one occasion. They’ve also survived floods and dry spells when we were away and our kindly plant-caretakers were either overly-zealous or a bit too sparing with their watering. After each incident, Mike painstakingly nursed his beloved greenery back to health.

I think I’ll tell Mike that his plant-care adventures would make a great homily regarding God’s ongoing and merciful care of each one of us. Better yet, I’m taking the lead and sharing this lesson with you. Like Mike’s plants, we couldn’t be in better hands!

Gracious God, thank you for caring for us with such love and mercy. Thank you, also, for the generous many souls who imitate your caring ways in all that they do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time Again…

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 walking outdoors because of Nature’s ongoing evolution. My entire world engages in rebirth during springtime. This growth continues through 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. Yes, it seems to me that there is always a time to be born.

A time to die… Just 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 all of the potential they need for life anew. 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 are 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.

Loving God, you are the watchful gardener who places each of us precisely where we are meant to be. Help me to embrace my place with the certainly of those seeds who entrust their futures to your loving hands.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Matter of Time

There is an appointed time for everything
and a time for every affair under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’ve been troubled by time management as of late. The truth is that I’m actually troubled by a lack of time management. Fortunately, one of my favorite scripture passages offers guidance in this regard.

The words I cite from Ecclesiastes indicate that there is time for everything. Still, in my entire life to date, I’ve never had time for everything. For me, time allotment has always involved difficult choices. At age sixteen, I determined that I would not be a “straight A” student because I had to devote time to the part-time job which would fund my college education. In the end, I juggled school and work as best I could. The resulting grades were just fine and I enrolled in college with a scholarship and savings enough to keep me there.

Today, timely decisions plague me once again. What can I continue to do and what must I let go? If I’m going to finish the book stored partially in that computer file, partially in my head and partially in my heart, I must take the time to write it. Is this the appointed time to get the job done?

God of Love, you know better than we how to proceed with everything. Still, you place our lives in our hands with absolute trust in us. While I thank you for this vote of confidence, I also beg you for guidance. Help me to find the appointed time for all that I am called to do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pray With Certainty

Then Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry,
but let me speak just once more…”

Genesis 18:32

The promise of springtime has also brought the promise of eternity with the end of some lengthy illnesses and other unexpected departures from this life. Recent wakes and funerals bring to mind a springtime loss of my own…

Thirty years ago, I stood at my step-father’s bedside with an aching heart. Emphysema had transformed the muscular carpenter I once knew into a shadow of his former self. I prayed and asked the God of Abraham to watch with me for a while. Like Abraham, as soon as I had God’s attention, I began negotiating.

First, I asked for relief for my dad’s difficult breathing. When I felt assured of that much, I went on. I requested strength for my mom and for the rest of us to remain present to him for as long as needed. I knew God was listening as always and so I continued. In the end, I dared to set limits on the “as long as needed” part. Indeed, I challenged God to hear and to respond to my prayer as Jesus promised God would do.

Just a week later, we walked with my step-dad through his passing. When all was said and done, I apologized to our patient God for my insolent and demanding prayer. I also thanked God for taking this second dad of mine home. In spite of my tears, I smiled and promised to pray with the conviction of Abraham many more times before God and I meet face to face.

Loving and Patient God, thank you for listening and for responding with more than I could ever hope for.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved