Peace Be With Us All

“The works that God gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify that God has sent me.”

John 5:36

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I wrote about the peace with which I begin each day? Though I’m grateful that God’s peace stays with me much of the time, this is sometimes not the case. Today, I’m more than impatient with a few of my fellow humans. Though I believe God loves us just as we are, I’m having a little trouble following God’s good example. I just watched a news report which I wish I’d missed. Those featured seem to have forgotten that we’re all God’s people. I shouldn’t have allowed these few to distract me from the remarkable good that is being accomplished by so many these days. Yet, I did!

Determined to change my attitude, I ran upstairs to take another peek out of the window which inspires my morning talks with God. Before I said a word, childhood memories regarding some of Jesus’ contemporaries filled me up. Before I could ask the point of all of this, the eleven-year-old I used to be came to mind. She was extremely impatient with the Pharisees who had no use for Jesus. This younger me was convinced that Jesus’ words and works had come from a loving God and she wondered why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to see this.

As I consider my current frustration, I acknowledge that times haven’t changed much. I’d revived my eleven-year-old frustration. I’d also lost the peace that resides not only beyond that window, but also deep within me. With that, I’m renewing my resolve to find that peace once again. I’ll pray for those who’d frustrated me so. I’ll also do what I can to bring peace to my little corner of this world.

Good and Patient God, help me to do just that!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Alone With God

But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.

Matthew 6:6

My grandson recently celebrated his third birthday. Quite a lot has happened since he made his early appearance three years ago. He’s now a happy and healthy big brother who’s just begun preschool. Three years ago, when I was too frightened to predict any of this, I learned a great deal about prayer…

My elder grandson arrived long before his projected due date. There seemed to be little I could do to help his mommy and daddy through this trauma. Grandpa and I assisted here and there while Mom-to-be remained on bed-rest and Dad continued to prep their home for Baby. Still, I could do nothing about the very real possibility that this baby would arrive early, too early. Finally, I heeded Jesus’ suggestion in Matthew’s gospel. Though the house was empty, I retreated to my room to talk to the only One who could make a difference in all of this. In the quiet, I lay my troubles in God’s lap. Oddly, even before I knew the outcome, I felt reassured. In the end, God responded with more than I dared to hope for. Yes, that little boy is just fine!

You know, that trip to the quiet of my room made all of the difference that day so long ago. It reminds me that sometimes I need to steal away from the distractions around me to be alone with God. Though those worries about my grandson are old news today, other concerns require my attention. This time, I’m not wasting my time on worry. This time, I’m spending some precious private moments opening my heart to God.

Loving God, we pray in quiet and in the midst of this life’s chaos, always certain that you are listening.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Weeds or Blossoms, We’re Loved!

As I wrote, tiny bits of hail tapped the windows. I wondered if they were intentionally distracting me or if it was I who needed to intentionally concentrate more fully on the task at hand. I’d been out in the misty weather earlier that morning before the hail made its way to my window and then onto the pavement where it danced wildly. Yes, I did get up from my desk to watch that performance. Because it wasn’t enough of a distraction, I walked downstairs to the kitchen for a glass of water. Afterward, I stopped at the patio door to peer out at the hail a while longer. As those tiny balls of ice melted into nothingness, I noticed a green sprout growing between two bricks in the patio. Before I could say a word, my husband observed, “You know that’s a dandelion, don’t you?” After looking more closely for myself, I responded. “Huh! The first sign of spring and it’s a dandelion. I hope this isn’t an omen of the things to come!” With that, I returned to this writing and today’s gospel (John 15:1-8) where Jesus compares himself to a vine. I looked upward and prayed, “I much prefer vines to weeds, Lord. Thank you!”

Decades ago, this preference for non-weeds caused me some trouble. I was in second grade and it was the first week of May. Our teacher, my classmates and I busied ourselves preparing an altar to honor Mary. Sister provided blue satin fabric for the background, flowers fashioned into a crown and a statue of the Mother of Jesus. To me, the altar would be complete when we added a vase of flowers. Another second grader had brought in a handful of weeds which he thought were spring flowers. Though I didn’t know much about such things, I knew that those particular sprouts weren’t flowers. They looked just like the pesky dandelion buds which plagued our backyard.

As I walked home after school that day, the scent of lilacs overwhelmed me. There were so many flowers growing on the hedge beside me that I was certain no one would mind if I “borrowed” a few. They would complete our May Altar perfectly. So it was that during the hour of daylight which remained after dinner, I set out to gather lilacs. There wasn’t a soul around which didn’t actually matter to me. I was on a mission. I headed to that hedge with my mother’s pinking sheers, the only scissors I could find, and a large paper bag. I immediately began my search for perfect lilacs. Some were too short-stemmed to stand in a vase. Others had buds that hadn’t yet opened. Still others had begun to brown. After several minutes of snipping, I stood in the dusk with a bag and a sidewalk full of lilacs. I had single-handedly cut every bloom that I could reach. In my earnest effort to replace my classmate’s budding weeds with flowers, I’d made a terrible mess and an even more terrible mistake.

My lack of appreciation for this misdeed disappeared quickly. All of the houses on our block rested just a few feet from the sidewalk except one. This house was set back so far that its rear entrance opened just steps from the alley. A huge overgrown front yard protected the house from neighborhood eyes. The unkempt trees, shrubs, wild grasses and weeds gave the place a ghostly aura. The bravest of our neighborhood teens refused to scale the fence which protected what we called The Big Yard even if this meant losing a prized softball. The Big Yard scared every one of us except in the springtime. This was when that eerie hedge which bordered the sidewalk transformed The Big Yard into Lilac Heaven. As I prepared to take my leave from that precious hedge, the sound of shuffling steps caused me to freeze in place. As The Big Yard’s gate creaked open, I drenched myself in tears. The shuffling resumed until a bent figure stopped before me. The tiniest and oldest woman I’d ever seen turned her eyes to the mounds of lilacs strewn across the walk. Without a word, she knelt in the blossoms and scooped them up close to herself as if in an attempt to revive them. When she realized I’d robbed each branch of its life, she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. Her tears fell as profusely as my own. After what seemed an eternity, she turned to say, “Of all the things that grow in this yard, I love the lilacs most. My yard is nothing but weeds except for these flowers, you know. Waiting for them to bloom is what gets me through our terrible winters.”

In the end, my newly discovered neighbor forgave my thievery. She allowed me to think that the plaster statue which adorned my second grade classroom would benefit far more from the flowers than she. Somehow, I knew better. I should have appreciated my classmate’s weeds as Mary would have. I should have known that my neighbor appreciated her lilacs even more than I did. It is this childhood misadventure which inspires my appreciation for the Vine which sustains us all. Jesus remains in our company whether we present ourselves as flowers or weeds. Just as my neighbor’s lilacs eased her through a lifetime of tough winters, Jesus stays to sustain us through everything which threatens us along the way. All we’re asked in return is to sustain one another whether we’re blooming beautifully like those lilacs or being pesky like my backyard’s weeds.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good Enough in God’s Eyes

The other day, I turned our house upside-down because I’d lost my widow’s mite. When my dear husband and I traveled to Israel last February, this was the only souvenir I purchased. My two thousand-year-old coin is preserved in a simple locket which I wear often. Though it was worth less than a penny in its day, it is very precious to me. The scriptures tell us that while visiting the temple one day Jesus observed a widow making an offering. Though others gave riches far beyond her means, Jesus considered this poor woman’s offering to be far more generous because it was all that she had. In spite of her coin’s minimal value in the grand scheme of things, Jesus found it to be most precious. This woman had given from her want, not from her surplus. In Jesus’ eyes, her offering was far more than good enough.

This woman’s story spoke to me because I often wonder if my efforts are good enough. My little coin has been a constant reminder that, if I’ve done my best, it is absolutely good enough in God’s eyes. This is the reason I was completely crestfallen when I realized the locket was missing. This is the reason I searched for over an hour until I finally located the necklace. It was lying on the clothing in my top dresser drawer. I must have knocked it in there while grabbing my watch and wedding ring that morning. I admit that the prospect of having lost this coin elicited some tears. I also admit to doing a bit of a happy dance when I found it.

In his gospel (Matthew 22:15-21), Matthew tells us that the Pharisees attempted to test Jesus with a coin of the same era as my widow’s mite. Their hope was to trick Jesus into saying something which would make him appear to be a trouble-making insurgent. The Pharisees were prepared to do whatever was necessary to discredit Jesus before the people and before the governing Romans. They wanted to be rid of Jesus once and for all. On this occasion, they posed a question regarding taxes: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus advised them not to pay what the Romans demanded, he would place himself in political jeopardy. If Jesus told the people that they must pay their taxes, he counseled them to offer homage to the Roman emperor who considered himself a god. Once again, the not-so-crafty Pharisees underestimated Jesus. Jesus requested a Roman coin of them and then asked: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” When the Pharisees answered, “Caesar’s!” Jesus told them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God…”

You and I “repay to Caesar” every day. We go to work and tend to the tasks at hand. We file our taxes, vote and serve as jurors. We obey traffic laws and adhere to the tenets of common courtesy. We buy groceries, gasoline, clothing and homes. We manage the nitty-gritty of life as required by the order of things. At the same time, we pursue the things which matter to us: our significant others, our families and the things we love to do. In the process, we tend to the task of repaying “…to God what belongs to God.”

As crazy-busy as life can be at times, our circumstances sometimes force us into reflection. There are times when we must stop long enough to make sense of the world around us and the world within us. The loss of a loved one is a prime example of such an opportunity. Those left behind wonder how they’ll function without these special people at their sides. The same occurs at varying levels whenever unforeseen tragedy, violence or change touches us. I can only imagine what those who’ve been affected by the hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires continue to endure. Those touched by the shooting in Las Vegas mirror what so many victims of violence must overcome. Even Jesus stole away when he was overly pained. Jesus reflected in order to reconnect with who he was and we must do the same. The good news for us all is that these moments of reflection often morph into prayer.

As I consider the events of today’s gospel, I wonder when the Pharisees lost sight of rendering to God. When was it that they sacrificed their efforts to be good for the assurance that they would keep their wealth and their power over the people? When did they decide that being good simply wasn’t enough for them? At the same time, I wonder about my own efforts. When I was a little girl, my parents, teachers and favorite adults smiled in response to my doing my best. As we mature, these reassurances seem to lessen with each passing year and we learn quickly to question our efforts. This is the reason my widow’s mite is precious to me. Every time I look at it I hear, “It’s good enough, Mary. You’re good enough!” You know, God offers the same message to each one of us. Though we or those around us sometimes question are efforts, God smiles and urges us on. Perhaps rendering to God isn’t as difficult as we sometimes think. After all, whenever we do our best, God says, “It’s good enough!”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Gets It

But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.

Matthew 6:6

I’ve learned something about prayer these days. I know I’ve used this space, perhaps too often, to bemoan my sense that there seems to be little I can do to dispel the trauma which unfolds around me both near and far. Though I try to do my part to fix things, many troubling situations remain intact. In the face of my helplessness, I’ve heeded Jesus’ suggestion in Matthew’s gospel. Though the house has been empty, I’ve retreated to my room. In the solitude, I talk to the only one who truly understands the things which weigh so heavily upon my heart. In the quiet, though I know that God is fully aware of my misery, I list my troubles one by one. Just telling God and knowing that God understands brings reassurance.

In the end, these trips to my room remind me that sometimes I need to steal away from the distractions of this life, whether they bring me peace or worry, to be alone with God. Though our world’s troubles persist, I face them far more peacefully, practically and productively when I acknowledge that God faces them with me.

Loving God, we offer our prayers in quiet and in the midst of this life’s chaos, always certain that you are with us in it all.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prioritize and Write! Right?

Hear, O Lord,the sound of my call;
hear, O Lord, and answer me.

Psalm 27:7

July proved to be a crazy month which ended with our family vacation. This adventure included our sons’ daughters-in-law and our four grandchildren. We had a wonderful time and, needless to say, my husband and I returned home exhausted, happily exhausted. Between loads of laundry, I peeked at our August calendar to confirm that this promises to be a far less frenetic month. After confirming that most dates are free of commitments, I noticed a word I’d written in large block letters at the top of this new calendar page: BOOK! With that, the free-time I’d anticipated for the month ahead seemed to have morphed into a writing frenzy.

I’ve alluded to my frustration over not completing my book multiple times. When I printed BOOK! next to AUGUST on my calendar, I made a mental note to make this the month I return to that manuscript. This time, however, I’ve also made a mental NOT to engage in a writing frenzy. In the past, I’ve spent every available minute at my keyboard. I kept phone calls brief and leisure reading became nonexistent. I exercised less and gave up solving an occasional Sudoku and daily crossword puzzles. Television became a non-entity as well. Though spending time with family and friends brings my greatest joy, I actually felt “bothered” by invitations to socialize.

My skewed priorities added nothing to the quality of my manuscript and the quality of my life. On this August 1, I’m happy to share that I will adhere to my new writing schedule which allows time for the other priorities in my life, especially the people I love.

Patient God, remind me often to make love my main priority.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved