God’s Spirit Ushers Us Into Springtime

When I turned my calendar to May a few days ago, I lamented the delayed arrival of Spring 2018. Winter boldly lingered far too long into April. Late snows covered the tulip and daffodil sprouts which normally join us in welcoming Easter. My winter-weary soul settled for the floral department displays at the supermarket and the bouquet we purchased there for our Easter table. By the time Easter arrives most years, my dear husband has begun to mentally sketch his spring planting ideas for the flowerbeds and planters around our house. A persistent cold had robbed Mike of even a hint of enthusiasm. I began to worry until he headed off to Ace Hardware for some birdseed and thistle. When he ventured out again that day with our son Tim and our friend Dave to take advantage of an arbor vitae sale, I determined that Mike was indeed ready to embrace spring. At any moment, his annual soliloquy regarding which flowers to plant where would begin. At the same time, I found myself stuck in winter-mode with little relief in sight.

As soon as Mike returned from these errands, he filled the bird-feeders. He hadn’t yet come in from the garage when our feathered friends gathered to partake of their feast. When Mike finally saw them, he smiled at the numerous birds who were making the most of his generosity. He went on to share his amazement over the great quality and price of those arbor vitae. With that, he vacuumed the residual birdseed and dirt from his car while turning his thoughts to this year’s planting strategy. Though Mike normally drives me a little crazy with his commentary and questions regarding our annual flower choices, I found myself genuinely anxious to hear what he had to say in this regard. You see, Mike had finally embraced Spring 2018. As for me, I remained in winter-mode.

When I find myself “stuck” in a less-than-optimum mindset, I seek out good company. Sometimes, I turn to a fellow soul. Sometimes, I turn to a favorite book. Sometimes, I look deep within because I’m convinced that God never leaves us alone. Since my fellow souls were all rejoicing in the spring’s arrival, I picked up a favorite author’s newest book. This writer has unshakable faith in the things to come and every word I read gave me reason to agree. The truth is that I have always agreed. Still, I couldn’t shake the winter cold which remained within me. Though I toyed with setting the book aside to sulk a bit, my inability to leave anything unfinished forced me to read the remaining two pages of the chapter. It was in those few paragraphs that my fellow writer insisted, as he often has, that our mistakes and trials in this life are wonderful opportunities to learn lessons and to become even more ready for life after this life. “Huh!” I said within earshot of the Lord God. “Why am I surprised at not being happy-go-lucky every minute of every day?” With that, I finally realized the point of this reflection.

Today’s scripture passages are all about love. In the first reading from Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10:25-48), Peter celebrates God’s affection for us all with great humility and great love. When a fellow follower falls at his feet, Peter invites the man to stand, saying, “I myself am also a human being.” Peter goes on to share that there are no distinctions among the massive family of God’s children as every single one is loved dearly. The second reading (1 John 4:7-10) underscores Peter’s assertion by leaving no doubt regarding God’s love for us. Finally, in John’s gospel (15:9-17), Jesus himself invites us to “ …love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus has chosen each of us and he trusts each of us to behave as his beloved by loving one another. The truth is that, when I read these passages in the midst of my dark mood, I found myself more discouraged then ever. It was only when I returned to the realities of the first Easter that I realized I was not alone in my misery.

Though Jesus had risen from the dead, his disciples found little reason to sing alleluia. In spite of his resurrection, Jesus’ followers were frightened and confused. Though they had seen their Lord literally in the flesh, they remained in hiding for days afterward. It wasn’t until after Jesus’ repeated visits, his ascension into heaven and the arrival of God’s Holy Spirit that they finally understood what had occurred. Finally, when they opened themselves to God’s Spirit, they couldn’t help sharing the good news which Jesus had entrusted to them. When I finally acknowledged that, like Peter, I myself am also a human being, I realized that my wintry mood is only one part of our amazing human experience. Rather than being thrown by the seemingly carefree tone of today’s scripture passages, I needed to commiserate with those who had endured so much beforehand. It was only after their suffering that the disciples came to a place of peace. It was only after opening themselves to God’s Spirit that they felt genuine joy. With that realization, my wintry mood blossomed into springtime…

©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

All God’s Flowers

In their panic and fright
they thought they were seeing a ghost.

Luke 24:37

While decorating our church for Easter, my husband realized he’d forgetting to buy flowers for our Easter table. As soon as he left church, he went off to purchase those forgotten flowers. He returned home with what he thought was a disappointing handful of yellow tulips. Because he loves plants of every sort, Mike lovingly nestled the small bouquet into a little glass vase. I found them to be just right for our small family gathering though I wondered why Mike thought they were yellow tulips. To me, they looked sweetly and delicately white. By Easter Sunday morning, those delicate buds had blossomed beautifully. In spite of their lack of color (They were white!), they filled that vase and gave unexpected life to our Easter table.

Though my reflections regarding our trip to Israel are coming to a close, the impact of that wonderful experience remains with me. Just as those precious tulips graced our home for a full week, God has graced me through my experience in Israel and through every moment with which I’m blessed.

You and I are much like my husband’s tulips in God’s eyes. God sees us just as we are -yellow, white, brown, black or red. The color of our skin or of our mood is part of what God loves about us. Just as my husband chose that seemingly unwanted bouquet to bring a bit of Easter joy into our home, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love.

Dear God, thank you for the many surprising ways you remind me that I am loved. Help me to love all of your children as you do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Precious World

Truth shall spring out of the earth…
From Psalm 85:12

When I drive just south of our neighborhood, I pass a greenhouse, Mary’s Greenhouse to be precise. I chuckle when I read the sign on that building full of flowers and greenery. For years, I’ve told my husband that he should have been a florist or tended a greenhouse because he has an amazing green thumb. Though I’m a worthy assistant when it comes to digging up flowerbeds, trimming roses and weeding here and there, my knowledge of annuals, perennials and most other aspects of gardening is minimal. The good news is that my husband loves these things. As a result, the land which flanks our home is beautifully picturesque. I appreciate his efforts more than words can express and I find a world of inspiration in the loveliness of his handiwork.

As I write, it occurs to me that “Mary’s Greenhouse” provides the perfect reminder of how generously God has blessed me. God has given me both my own gardener-in-residence and the sense to recognize the wonder present in his flowerbeds. In each one, I enjoy both the fruits of my husband’s talent and the fruits of God’s love for us. How much God must care to have created a world capable of producing such beauty! How much God must care to have given us those who make the most of this gift!

Generous God, we can all find joy in the beauty which springs from this earth. Make us good custodians of this precious gift.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved