All God’s Chosen Ones

Bless the Lord. You are God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

During our stay-in-place days, I reread a favorite book which always lifts my spirits. THE SIMPLE FAITH OF FRED ROGERS by Amy Hollingsworth ushered me back several decades to when I watched Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with our sons. The author met Fred Rogers when she interviewed him for a story. The result was a lifelong friendship and this book. She captured the essence of Mr. Rogers which captivated our sons for the duration of his shows and me for my lifetime since.

The hallmark of Fred Rogers’ work was his ability to make his audience feel special and important, wanted and cherished. When current events threatened to instill fear in children, Fred Rogers created a script which addressed these things. He spoke to his youth-filled audience about divorce and death, serious illnesses and the things which make us seem different from one another. He also addressed 9/11. As I reread page after page, I wondered how Mr. Rogers might have explained the pandemic to children. Though I’m not certain of the words he would have used, I know Mr. Rogers would have assured every child who heard him that he and she truly are loved, cared for and safe.

You know, as was the case with 9/11, the trauma of this pandemic has touched us adults as deeply as it has our children, perhaps even more so. It seems to me that we adults can also use a reminder that we are loved and cared for and safe. The good news is that this reminder comes on an ongoing basis from the one who inspired Mr. Rogers. You and I are are loved and cared for and we’ll always be safe in God’s company. For me, this will make all of the difference today and every day which lies ahead.

Loving God, it’s not always easy to feel loved. Thank you for loving us, especially when doubt and fear threaten.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

One Step At A Time

Blessed are the steadfast…
From Matthew 5:8

Our seventy-plus stay-in-place days have given me plenty of time to reflect. In spite of this ample in-house opportunity, my favorite place to think continues to be outdoors. So it was that I went for a much-needed walk through the neighborhood. As I plodded along, I enjoyed my neighbors’ yard work. Every step along the way, flowers of numerous varieties and colors gave me reason to smile.

Unfortunately, my joy was short-lived. I allowed my mind to wander back to the newscast I’d turned off before leaving home. The report offered another example of humanity’s persistent inability to get along. I find this realization particularly upsetting. I grew up with visions of grandeur regarding what I’d do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to do so much. On that particular day, I wanted to do something to make a difference somewhere and somehow. Actually, I want to do this every day.

Fortunately, I walked long enough to allow myself time to find a solution on the way home. It was during my trek back home that these things occurred to me: A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we’ve been given to love is the most important work we can do. Just as I completed that walk one step at a time, I can change this world one step at a time.

O Lord, thank you for reminding me that my effort matters.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Treasure

How shall I make a return to God
for all God has done for me?

Psalm 116:12

My husband and I have replaced three white pine trees. These once majestic trees had overrun our yard and our neighbor’s yard while also dangling precariously over our roofs. We’d delayed the inevitable until this spring because Mike and I have a difficult time parting with trees. Finally, we called in our friend Daniel-the-Gardener and his crew to take them down.

After a nerve-racking morning with menfolk perched far higher in trees than they should ever venture, the work was done. A few days later, Daniel planted three much smaller arbor vitae and one spruce in their place. A day after that, my husband filled in the empty spaces around those new little trees with grass seed and soil. While Mike planted, I raked the displaced landscape stones into place. In the process, I’d gathered lots of twigs and leaves as well. I knelt next to the piles I’d formed and separated the rocks from the dirt, twigs and leaves in which they were hiding.

Since I was on my knees, it seemed appropriate to offer a word or two to God as I worked. I could have finished this task in half the time, but I didn’t. Rather, I studied each stone, even the ones which were covered with mud. I brushed the mud away and added each rocky bit of treasure to my collection. As I worked, I shared, “Dear God, I’ll use every one of these rocks just as you use every one of us to share your love. Thank you for considering each of us a treasure.”

After acknowledging God’s graciousness in looking upon us as treasure, it occurred to me that I must do the same. I know that these are tough times. Still, as we learn to embrace our new normal, we must also embrace one another. Though our opinions may differ regarding how to proceed, our status as God’s treasure remains the same.

Dear God, inspire us to love as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Option A or B or…?

When they heard the sound of God moving about in the garden,
the man and his wife hid themselves…

From Genesis 3:8

When I was a child, we had two family bibles. One was a nicely bound family edition and the other was intentionally kid-friendly. This large book consisted of cardboard front and back covers which held together several booklets. The covers and booklets were held in place by extremely long fabric laces. The seventy-two booklets which eventually completed this bible arrived by mail every month. With each delivery, my mom carefully undid the laces, removed the bible’s covers, inserted the new booklet, replaced the covers and retied the laces. Afterward, I poured over the new arrival.

Every page included colorful illustrations and reasonably understandable text. When I finished perusing each new edition, I habitually returned to the first book’s story of Adam and Eve, the snake and that forbidden tree. The Garden of Eden amazed me almost as much as heaven did. “Why,” I often wondered, “did Adam and Eve eat that stupid apple when God had given them so much else?”

In the years that passed since I posed that question, I accumulated a measure of maturity and wisdom. I found that life in this world poses similar questions every day. I also discovered that it’s up to us to answer as best we can in the moment at hand. Is Option A really my best choice or is it as foolhardy as eating that apple? It’s up to me to figure it out. In the mean time, God watches with great love and with great faith in my and all of our ability to do what’s best.

Dear God, the second and third and twenty-ninth chances you give us seem more important than ever these days. Please be with us as we do our best to choose wisely.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

With Us Always

I’ve tried to use my stay-in-place time productively. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to begin each of these seventy-plus days in a leisurely fashion. Before the pandemic, I woke each morning, turned my eyes upward and offered a quick “Thank you for the sleep!” to our benevolent Creator. Each time, I promised to have a lengthier conversation when time permitted later in the day. Then, I’d turn toward my husband to offer or receive a good morning kiss. Afterward, I did the mandated exercises which maintain my back’s flexibility. Finally, I’d quickly read through the day’s pages from two favorite devotionals. By that time, Mike had finished his morning allotment of coffee. We’d have breakfast together and then get on to the given day’s agenda.

Since the pandemic’s onset, leisurely mornings have allowed me to insert more than a single-sentence prayer into my morning routine. While that morning kiss and my exercise continue, I take more time reading my devotionals. On occasion, I read a selection twice or more because the writer’s insight merits a second or third look. Best of all, that one-line prayer has evolved into a conversation which I hope will be a part of every new day I’m given. I exercise on the floor in our room near a large window. These days, I take the time to stand at that window to absorb the beauty beyond the glass. Even on rainy days, I can’t help appreciating God’s goodness in it all. As upset as I’ve been by the loss and suffering caused by our world’s bout with COVID-19, I cannot miss God’s presence in it all. The view beyond my window renews that awareness every day.

I share all of this as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus because our situation these days is quite similar to that of Jesus’ friends two millenniums ago. Though Jesus and his companions shared many good and happy times together, they also suffered uncertainty and much worse. Some of the temple hierarchy were puzzled by Jesus’ teachings while others resented everything Jesus stood for. A few Romans listened with some interest to what Jesus had to say. Remember the centurion who sought a cure for his dying child? However, most had no use for anyone who might cause unrest among the people. Jesus received a good deal of attention from those who had no one else to turn to. At the same time, he upset the keepers of The Law whenever he associated with anyone they considered to be unworthy or unclean. The closer Jesus and his followers came to their last trip to Jerusalem, the closer they were to Jesus’ demise. The disciples were uncertain of what was to come and they wrung their hands with worry. We’ve spent more than seventy days battling this pandemic and we continue to worry as well.

It occurs to me that this is the reason Jesus closed his time with his disciples with reassurance regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them. Jesus reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a God-filled day for them. Though we hear a different Ascension gospel each year, the essence of Jesus’ message remains the same. Luke (Luke 24:46-53) shares that Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Jesus assured his friends that God would be with them in everything. Mark (Mark 16:15-20) tells us that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” They were to go out to assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” None of us would be left to carry on alone. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper is cited: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Jesus’ prayer included his companions who walked with him and all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts.

When news of the gradual reopening of our state and of our local churches surfaced, my emotions fluctuated between relief and worry. I was thrilled with the possibility of returning to a bit of normalcy and I worried about the consequences if we fail to ease into these efforts safely. Like Jesus’ disciples, I am more than ambivalent regarding the things to come. And, like Jesus’ disciples, I am reassured. God patiently and lovingly remains with me throughout these trying days. It is God who draws me to that window every morning and to the loving exchanges which follow. Whether I speak of goodness or the evil which threatens, my accomplishments or failures, my relief or worry, God listens attentively to every word. You see, on that Ascension Day when Jesus assured his disciples that he would be with them always, he assured us of the same. God is indeed with us and there God will remain!
©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Forgiven and Always Loved

God says, “From the least to the greatest, you know me.
I forgive your evildoing and remember your sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:34

My husband spent the afternoon searching for flowers to plant around our yard. Armed with mask, gloves, hand sanitizer and the resolve to social distance, he enjoyed a safe and productive afternoon. I took advantage of the quiet house by sitting at my keyboard to write. Sadly, I wasn’t as productive as Mike. Before beginning, I glanced at photos from my childhood which rest inches above my keyboard. Rather than offering my usual reminiscent smile and then getting to work, a recent bit of self-doubt turned my thoughts to a painful aspect of that childhood.

When I was little, I was a bit too sensitive. I was no less innocent than most children, yet I took even the smallest reprimand to heart. Though the adult involved quickly forgot whatever I’d done, my guilt remained with me. All of this was my own doing. My parents never belittled my siblings or me. Though a teacher may have given me reason to question my ability to be forgiven on occasion, this wasn’t the norm. I eventually came to understand, at least mentally, that those who love us don’t hold grudges. It was my own propensity to retain guilt which caused my angst. These decades later, this tendency remains to some extent. So it was that my self-doubt prevailed until I remembered the words from Jeremiah which I cite today.

This and numerous other passages reference God’s forgiveness. Each one assures us of God’s absolute love and God’s absolute inability to be separated from any one of us. Though we try to run away, God remains with us and within us. Neither we nor anyone else can impose enough guilt upon us to repel God. For this, I’m most grateful!

Loving God, help us to let go of our guilt as quickly as you do. Only then will we be free to embrace your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved