It’s All About Loving and Caring

Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

Matthew 5:41-42

Sometimes, it seems that those around us have read Matthew’s gospel and have decided to push us to fulfill Jesus’ words to the letter. Though we often feel great sympathy for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the numerous demands on our time and resources. Still, we press on to respond as best we can.

It is when I’m on the verge of being overwhelmed in this regard that someone comes along to minister to me. Though my busyness and limited resources are the result of my own choices, this makes no difference to the kind soul who offers comfort. He or she simply says just the right things or spends just enough time listening to ease me through this rough spot. Often, this generous individual rolls up his or her sleeves to help with whatever it is I am trying to do. I walk away from these compassion-filled encounters feeling replenished and revived. So it is that I respond to the next person who needs me in kind.

It seems to me that we’re meant to care for one another and to be cared for by one another until we make it home. Then, God will take over the loving and caring for us all.

Creator God, thank you for giving us hearts to love as you do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God Feeds Us Well!

My husband is a far more adventurous cook than I. Mike has a knack for determining whether or not a dish will please the palate by simply reading its recipe. I can count the errors he’s made over the decades in this regard on one hand and I don’t need all five fingers to do so! Before we retired, Mike and I found cooking together to be relaxing. We enjoyed shopping for and preparing these mystery meals which distracted us from the headaches we left at work. Even today, Mike continues to assess the offerings in the food section of the newspaper and those he encounters online. As for me, I’ve outgrown these culinary adventures. Since I’ve left those work worries behind, I no longer need the distraction. The truth is that I grew up with enough mystery meals to last a lifetime…

The family menus of my childhood resembled those of most of my generation. We appreciated the nutritional values of fruits and vegetables and we didn’t consider the consequences of frying. Fortunately, my mom had naturally healthy preferences and we ate fairly well. Still, our large family complicated meal planning. In addition to my parents and the six of us children, my uncle and grandfather shared our flat. (Yes, it was a circus at times!) My dad and Uncle Gee ate everything without complaint. Any negativity from Grandpa related more to his frustration with his poor health than to my mom’s cooking. We children were another matter. I was more willing than the others to try the “something new” my mom so often tested on us. I was honestly no more adventurous than they were. I just felt sorry for the poor woman when it came to cooking for us all.

Our greatest challenges were the meals which least resembled something fit for human consumption. (Sorry, Mom!) There were casseroles and hashes which included unrecognizable ingredients. We tasted them on the basis of smell alone. Often, my mom avoided naming a meal. She simply assured us that it was just like something we’d previously enjoyed. If we liked her secret concoction, my mom identified it. If we rejected the mystery meal of the hour, it’s true identity remained her secret. My mom probably hoped to pass it off in another form at another time. Looking back, I think my mom’s ability to feed all of us on a very limited budget deserves applause. Her success in distracting us from the actual content of her offerings is impressive. In the end, my mom saw to it that each one of us had all that we needed to grow and to flourish. Though we didn’t always appreciate her efforts, my mom never stopped caring for us. I share all of this because God has been doing the same since the first of us feasted upon the fruits of Creation ages ago.

Today’s scriptures chronicle some of God’s efforts in this regard. The excerpt from Exodus (16:2-4, 20-24) offers an example of the Israelites’ complaints throughout their flight from Egypt. Tired and hungry, they’d exhausted their patience. The people moaned to Moses that they were better off as Pharaoh’s slaves than starving in the barren desert. Though God knew all of this, Moses prayed on their behalf and, as always, God provided. Every night, quail filled their camp to provide plenty for supper. Every morning, manna appeared. When the people failed to recognize their breakfast, Moses showed them the flakes lying beneath the dew. In the end, all were nourished with what they needed to embrace each new day. The passage from Ephesians (4:17, 20-14) tells us that Paul experienced frustration with his people as well. When the Ephesians also failed to appreciate what lay before them, Paul pointed out that they’d been nourished as well. God’s very presence graced their lives and it was up to them to live accordingly. In the gospel (John 6:24-35), John shares one of Jesus’ lessons in nutrition. Hungry crowds had followed him because they wanted yet another free meal. Jesus responded by explaining that God offered them far more than a no-cost lunch or dinner. Through Jesus, God’s presence had taken tangible form. God dwelled among them and within them and it was up to them to let go of their worry and to embrace this lasting sustenance.

My mother often said that food didn’t have to look like meat and potatoes to taste good. When Mike tries a new recipe, he encourages me not to allow the ingredients to discourage me from tasting it. Every day, God does much the same. God offers each of us a feast of opportunities throughout this life. Though we may not like the looks of everything on our plates, God assures us that tasting what lies ahead will be worth the effort. When we set aside our fear and worry to embrace what God provides, we take in all that we need to grow and to flourish. Today, we’re invited to join the Israelites, the Ephesians and that hungry crowd who followed Jesus in taking in God’s nourishment wherever it lies: In our work and in our leisure, in those we know and in the strangers we met along the way; in our own prayer and in our worship together; in everything!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Step Up With Love

Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

Matthew 5:41-42

Though I’ve turned my calendar to September, I can’t shake the pain so many suffered both near and far over the past month. Add to this the ongoing injustices of poverty and bigotry as well as our own uncertainties and it is easy to see why we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed. There is so much to be done in this world of ours and we wonder where to begin. It seems to me that the best place to start is the path just ahead. Take that step, press on and respond to what we find as best we can.

When I’m on the verge of being overwhelmed by this life’s messes, someone always comes along to minister to me. He or she simply says just the right thing or spends just enough time listening to ease me through this rough spot. Often, this generous individual rolls up his or her sleeves to help with whatever it is I am trying to do. I walk away from these compassion-filled encounters feeling replenished and revived. This kindness is what enables me to respond in kind to the next person who needs me.

It seems to me that we are meant to care for one another and to be cared for by one another until we complete our journeys on this earth. The better we do this, the better our world will become for us all.

Dear God, help us to be generous and loving as we care for one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Somebody!

Several years ago, an awesome and astute observation caught my attention and it has remained with me ever since. As soon as I heard those special words, I jotted them down on a Post-it Note. I stuck that bit of paper to the bottom of my desktop monitor screen because I wanted to be reminded of that morsel of wisdom every day. When this reminder lost its ability to stick, I printed the words on a sheet of cardstock, trimmed it down to the size of a business card and laminated the final product. As I write, I can glance at my glossy little sign whenever the Spirit moves me. I smile every time I read, “Everybody is God’s Somebody!”

I first heard those words from the lips of an eighty-two-year-old twin who ran a soup kitchen with her sister. The two were guests on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I’d wandered by while my husband was watching. Though I normally teased Mike for his intermittent Oprah fandom, that morning I stopped in my tracks and joined him. How could I pass up an opportunity to learn more about the marvelous woman who made such a profound observation regarding God’s love?

As I watched, I discovered that Helen and Ellen ran The Love Kitchen, in Knoxville, Tennessee. They founded this facility in 1986 to feed the hungry. Though of very modest means themselves, these sisters undertook this venture because they wanted to live in accordance with what they’d learned about God. As Mike and I listened, Helen and Ellen shared their most important convictions: “There is one father, Our Heavenly Father; there is one race, the Human Race; and never take the last piece of bread from the table because someone hungrier than you might come in.” It was Helen who went on to explain why they’d continued to cook for the hungry, the homeless, the homebound and the hopeless for decades. “Everybody is God’s Somebody,” Helen said. Apparently, Helen and Ellen had determined that everybody is their somebody, too.

As I considered today’s scripture passages, I wondered if they contributed to Helen’s and Ellen’s perspective. In the first passage from Isaiah (49:14-15), the prophet speaks for God when he proclaims, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” The mom in me shivers at the intensity of God’s love. I can still remember the first time I held my son Mike and then his little brother Tim. Though we’d just met, I loved them more than I thought I could love. I would have done anything for these two. The truth is, I still would. If I in my frail humanity I can be so devoted, imagine God’s devotion to you and to me!

St. Paul carries Isaiah’s message a bit further. He insists that his attention to his ministry will never be shaken because God supports him in this work. Because Paul is convinced that God knows what is in his heart, he dismisses the things others say about him. In today’s passage (1 Corinthians 4:1-5), Paul assures us that in the end “…everyone will receive praise from God.” So it seems that God loves us and the work in which we invest ourselves. If you or I have doubt about God’s ongoing interest in all things human, we must listen further. In Matthew’s gospel (6:24-34), Jesus underscores all that Isaiah and Paul have to say on this topic. Jesus insists that the God who feeds the birds of the air and who clothes wild flowers in splendor will do far more for you and me. In his words today and though everything he said and did, Jesus insisted that each of us is God’s beloved and each of us is God’s Somebody. Our presence in this world cannot be overvalued and mustn’t be overlooked.

I went online for a progress report regarding The Love Kitchen. I found that Ellen passed two years ago. I imagine that her loss was a source of serious sorrow for Helen. After all, the two had shared their lives from conception! At the same time, I imagine that Helen found great consolation in those words she spoke so long ago and that she and Ellen lived by every day. Her sister now knows first hand that, indeed, you and I are God’s Somebody. God’s only expectation is that we follow in Jesus’ and Helen’s and Ellen’s footsteps. It is up to us to make everybody our somebody, just as they did and just as God does.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Taking Care

Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

Matthew 5:41-42

Sometimes, it seems that those around us have read Matthew’s gospel and have decided to push us to fulfill Jesus’ words to the letter. Though we often feel great sympathy for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the numerous demands on our time and resources. Still, we press on to respond as best we can.

It is when I am on the verge of being overwhelmed in this regard that someone always comes along to minister to me.  Though my busyness and limited resources are the result of my own choices, this makes no difference to the kind soul who comforts me.  He or she simply says just the right things or spends just enough time listening to ease me through this rough spot. Often, this generous individual rolls up his or her sleeves to help with whatever it is I am trying to do. I walk away from these compassion-filled encounters feeling replenished and revived. So it is that I respond to the next person who needs me in kind. 

I wonder. Could it be that we are meant to care for one another and to be cared for by one another until we make it home? Then, God will take over the loving and caring for us.

Creator God, thank you for giving us hearts to love as you do.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Wonderfully Selective Memory

Though our granddaughters spent the night with us two weeks ago, I finally tended to their bedding this morning. They are always quite helpful in this regard. Unfortunately, our tight schedule forced us to deviate from our routine which left the straightening-up to me. Life has been busy and worrisome as of late, so I excused my tardiness and then took my time with the tasks before me. I hoped that memories of this sleepover would replace my fretting for a little while. A forgotten stuffed rabbit and toothpaste drippings in the bathroom sink did just that. Suddenly, time spent with these loved ones was all that mattered.

I never cease to be amazed by my memories. Though my husband and I have spent decades together, each of us has stored images and events from the past that the other was not privy to or has forgotten. Whichever the case, the memories we treasure and the memories that haunt us are part and parcel of who we are. Over the years, my husband has come to the conclusion that I have a selective memory. He claims that I remember what I want to remember in the way that I want to remember it regardless of actual events. Though I will never admit this to him, I must acknowledge that there is some truth to his assessment of my recall skills. Very early on in my life, I opted to hold onto the experiences and information which were helpful to me and to dismiss those which were not. This is the reason that some things remain in the treasure chest that is my memory, while others were discarded long ago. When my recollections disagree with those of others who shared given experiences with me, I can only surmise that I attended to different details of these events or that remembering certain details is simply too painful for me. Regardless of the reason for these discrepancies, the things I remember remain with me for good reason.

In his gospel (John 6:24-35), John tells us that Jesus had something important to say about the things we attend to and remember in this life. This particular passage chronicles events not long after Jesus fed the hungry crowd with those five barley loaves and two fish. Apparently, all concerned were satisfied with this meal because they traveled by boat to Capernaum to find Jesus once again. When the people arrived, Jesus pointed out that they sought him out, not because of the signs he had worked, but because they wanted Jesus to fill their stomachs once again. They came to Jesus because they remembered that meal above all else. So much for Jesus’ marvelous message of God’s enduring mercy and love for them! In the end, Jesus told the crowd, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

It seems to me that Jesus understood the people’s troubles far better than they understood them themselves. He understood their poverty and their lack of freedom under Roman rule. Jesus understood The Law and the unnecessary restrictions imposed upon the people by the temple hierarchy. Jesus understood the frustrations that sometimes paralyzed their productivity. Jesus understood their physical hunger and the gnawing hunger that troubled their souls. Jesus also understood that his people would find peace and joy in their lives in spite of these things if only they would attend to what truly matters. For Jesus’ followers of long ago and for us, Jesus offers the message that nourishes and sustains us for the long haul. It is this message that we must take in and store in our memories and in our hearts.

As I consider the reasons for my fretting over the past few weeks, I realize that my focus needs to be adjusted a bit. I must turn my attention away from the minutia cluttering my mind at the moment and turn toward the people and circumstances which are of genuine importance. Those I have been given to love must be a high priority, with the important tasks before me close behind. The rest can be discarded, much like those troublesome details I let go of long ago. While I hold tightly to the memories that bring me peace and relinquish those that are unhelpful, it becomes clear that having a selective memory isn’t the worst thing while in this world after all. It is a soul’s selective memory that keeps her focused on the food that does not perish, but endures for eternal life. For this soul, it is my selective memory which gives me peace as I focus upon God, my loved ones and the tasks at hand. Yes, our selective memories lead us all to the amazing gifts to be found in one another and in the lifetimes of memories-to-be-made which lie ahead.

Generous God, I’m not sure of how my selective memory has evolved. Thank you for transforming this quirk into a means for me to become closer to you.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved