Home, Sweet Home

I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the Lord helped me.

Psalm 118:13

An unexpected April snow drew my eyes to the kitchen window. When I looked through those dancing flakes, I noticed a little bird perched near a hole in our bird house. My feathered friend peered into that hole several times, but didn’t enter. I wondered if he was debating whether or not to move in. I didn’t understand his hesitation because it was quite cold outside. Still, that little bird seemed reluctant to jump into what might be a questionable living situation.

A while later, I returned to the window to see if that bird persisted in his indecision. I sighed a sigh of relief for my feathered friend as he was sitting in the bird house peeking out. I watched for several minutes as his head disappeared and reappeared over and over again. Apparently, he had found his new digs to be suitable shelter from that snow after all.

As I walked away from the window, I considered my own shelter. Actually, it’s my husband’s and mine. Like that little bird, I wondered how this shelter would serve Mike and me for the duration of our stay-at-home response to COVID-19. Fortunately for us, someone has kept an eye on us just as I kept an eye on that little bird. Though I walked away from the window and that bird to tend to this writing and then dinner, God never walks away from watching me. God doesn’t walk away from watching -and loving- any of us. Just as that little bird gave me reason to smile, I’m going to do my best to give God reason to do the same. Will you join me?

Generous God, our lives are an amazing gift. Give me the courage to embrace every opportunity to make the most of my shelter here until I occupy my perfect home with you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Loved…

Jesus said, “Peace be with you! Why are you disturbed?”
From Luke 24:16-17

Twelve sturdy blossoms beckon me. While dodging other masked and gloved shoppers, my dear husband couldn’t resist the single bouquet of yellow tulips which seemed to be calling his name. When he arrived home, he placed them in a vase. He checked their water every day. Though he’d purchased them eight days before Easter, the flowers were as beautiful as ever on Easter morning. “You’re strong and amazing,” I observed, fully expecting a satisfied nod in return. Though the blossoms stood motionless, I hoped they somehow realized my gratitude for their beautiful and enduring presence.

Though my reflections regarding our trips to Israel are coming to a close, the impact of these wonderful experiences remain with me. Just as my husband’s care preserved his precious flowers for more than a week, God has nurtured me though my experiences in Israel and through every moment with which I’m blessed. God has also nurtured me through these difficult days. The truth is that God nurtures us all through everything!

You and I are much like my husband’s tulips in God’s eyes. Though they will likely last only another day, their remarkable stamina will remain with me. Their presence these days after Easter is a lingering reminder of God’s presence in all of our my lives. Just as my husband singled out that bouquet to bring a bit of Easter joy into our house, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love and especially during times such as these…

Dear God, thank you for the many surprising ways you remind us that we are loved, even in the midst of this pandemic!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s HOW TO Manual

Though we settled our Christmas Tree into its stand four weeks ago, I haven’t tired of its fragrance. We spent uncountable hours decorating our home and selecting what we hoped were perfect gifts. Still, my dear husband and I haven’t tired of embracing Christmas as best we can. Most importantly, we haven’t tired of taking every opportunity to express our affection for those we’ve been given to love. Happily, we’ve learned to do all of this from The Expert. Today, God reiterates these lessons through the scriptures. On this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, God seems to have left us a manual on the topic: HOW TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER THE WAY I LOVE YOU.

The first reading from Sirach (3:2-6, 12-14) defines our roles. God sets family members in particular positions with particular responsibilities. Fathers hold places of honor over their children and mothers’ authority over their offspring is without question. When children are respectful of their parents, a household is most blessed! For a moment, I want to set aside that HOW TO LOVE manual because family life seldom meets this level of perfection. Sometimes, a father or mother or daughter or son does everything God expects. Still, relationships break down, loved ones disappoint and family life becomes unrecognizable. It is during these times that God nudges that manual closer to us, not to prod us to follow its rules, but to remind us that the Author loves us very much. Regardless of how the rest of the family feels at any moment in time, God loves us.

The second reading from Colossians (3:12-21) makes it quite clear that family-like behavior isn’t limited to the family members with whom we take up residence until we establish our own homes. Whether one is surrounded by endless family or is the sole survivor of his or her bloodline, each of us is titled “brother” or “sister”. Each of us is counted among God’s family. When we keep our identities as God’s beloved in the forefront it seems only natural to behave as God’s family. We need only to consider the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and mercy Jesus extended to those around him to know how we are to treat one another. Because are looked upon with compassion, we feel compassion toward one another. We glow in the warmth of God’s kindness and so we are kind to others. We are never lorded-over by our humble brother Jesus. So it is that we uplift those around us with our respect for them. Because we appreciate gentle encouragement, we quietly help one another along. We develop confidence because our Teacher is patient with us and so we are patient with one another. Because we experience the joy of forgiveness, we forgive. Each one of us is a parent and a child at one time or another and it is up to us to embrace these roles as best we can.

Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23) draws us from the ideal to reality when he chronicles the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. This wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last of the troubling events Jesus, Mary and Joseph endured. The circumstances of Mary’s prenuptial pregnancy would have placed her in great danger had she been found out. Just as Joseph reconciled himself to this, he learned that he and Mary were required to travel to Bethlehem for a census. Poor Mary was just days from giving birth. The weary pair arrived in Bethlehem only to find that there was no place for them to stay. They’d just settled themselves among the animals in dark stable-cave when Jesus was born. Jesus’ family life begin in the midst of the noise and odor of livestock and among strangers. Herod’s merciless assault upon infant boys born in the area compelled Joseph to usher his family to Egypt. Only after the danger subsided did they return home to Nazareth.

It seems that Jesus’ family became expert at following God’s HOW TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER manual very early on. As for me, I can’t help being inspired by their efforts. Jesus’ first few years among us included far more trauma than most of us will ever experience. We know that Jesus’ life ended with no less difficulty. We turn to this holy family for inspiration because they have been where we are. They flourished in midst of their troubles because they did their best to love one another as God loved them.

Today, the fragrance of pine fades from our living room, our wreath loses a few more needles and some of those perfect gifts need to be returned. Still, I smile because the Author of that HOW TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER THE WAY I LOVE YOU manual remains with me and all of us in good times and in bad to guide us every step of the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re Always Learning!

“What will this child be?
Was not the hand of the Lord upon him?”

Luke 1:66

When I arrived home after running errands, I paused in the driveway to take in our Christmas decorations. Though we’ll never win a contest for most lights used, my husband and I do our best to acknowledge the season with our efforts. Six years ago, Mike stopped climbing onto the roof above the garage to string lights on our second floor eaves. We both agreed that it is more important for him to make in to Christmas Day unscathed. This year, a young painter who spends his days on roofs offered to assist us. Today, I admired the lights he’s strung across the top of our house.

As I drove into the garage, I shuddered as I recalled the year I slipped on a patch of snow and received twelve staples in my head as a result. No ladder involved! I admit that this fall caused me to feel uncharacteristically vulnerable. At the time, I wondered if I’d reached the age when this type of thing might occur more frequently. That possibility unnerved me as I plan to be a capable and independent Mom and Grandma for many more years.

As I retrieved my packages from the car, I did what I always do when I’m concerned. I turned my eyes upward, not to share my worry, but to express my gratitude. I thanked God that nothing particularly threatening has happened in recent history. I thanked God for our young friend who gifted us with lights above. In the mean time, Mike and I have stayed clear of the roof and I’ve watched more carefully for ice patches and other obstacles. Perhaps that slip prevented far worse because I did learn to be more careful that day.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the wisdom to learn something new and helpful every day! Please get us all to Christmas safely.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Trilogy of Hope!

When I examined the opened bag of Halloween candy on the kitchen counter, I found that the good deacon had been trick-or-treating early. Apparently, he favors Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because they were noticeably outnumbered by the other offerings left in our mini assortment bag of candy. As I contemplated where to hide the remainder of our Halloween cache, I realized that I hadn’t yet settled on a topic for this week’s writing. I’d read the scripture passages several times with the hope of being treated with a bit of inspiration. After I secured our Halloween treats in what I hoped was a deacon-proof hiding place, I returned to my computer. As I began to write, I admitted that the good deacon’s candy assault reminded me of how much I enjoy our annual Halloween Trilogy. Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have always been sources of great hope for me. With that, I turned my thoughts to the two men at prayer in today’s gospel. Each had exhibited hope as well.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14) shares Jesus’ observations of these two at prayer. The Pharisee was a devout man who followed the letter of the law to the nth degree. He offered his prayer at the front of the temple. With his eyes turned upward to heaven, he prayed, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…” The Pharisee listed his virtues and good works, contrasting his situation with that of the lowly tax collector who bowed down at the back of the temple. That tax collector knelt on the floor with his head bent low. He dared not raise his eyes as he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” As I reflected upon this scene, it occurred to me that the reason for both men’s prayer was hope. Though they displayed their hope with very different attitudes and words, each man came to the temple with hope in God’s promises. After giving those present a moment to consider the scene, Jesus assured them that the tax collector’s hope was fulfilled by the Lord. This poor man had asked for forgiveness and he received it. The Pharisee, on the other hand, had asked for nothing. What did he receive in return? Both men prayed with hope, one daring to hope for God’s mercy and one quite hopeful that he already stood in God’s favor.

As I prepared to write, I smiled with the hope that I’d saved our Halloween candy from totally disappearing before this year’s trick-or-treaters came to the door. Afterward, I directed my hope toward Halloween Trilogy 2019. The costumed urchins who roam our neighborhoods on Halloween don’t realize that they’re echoing the efforts of long ago pagans who dressed in eerie garb to detract from the church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day. I’m glad that the children among us are unaware of the roots of their annual quest for candy. On this day, ignorance is bliss! They’re free to be children filled with the hope that they’re bags will hold as much candy as possible by the time trick-or-treat hours end.

While sorting through that Halloween candy, we adults turn our thoughts to November 1 which is All Saints Day. On this special day, we honor the souls who’ve gone before us to make their homes in heaven. They include all who enjoy God’s company in eternity, but who may not have been formally declared saints by the church. When we celebrate All Saints Day, we acknowledge that even at our worst, we hold the potential for sainthood within us. This is a bit of hope which I contemplate every Halloween as I dole out candy to the princesses, super heroes, hobos and vampires who make their way to my door. As my amused eyes soak them in, I wonder if God looked with equal amusement upon the Pharisee and tax collector who portrayed their hope so differently that day in the temple. As for me, I hope that God looks with amusement upon each of us as we journey home to heaven. I also hope that God is as generous with the blessings we need as we are with our Halloween candy. Actually, considering the number of Reese’s that went missing from the Penich candy supply, I hope God is more generous than we are!

The third day of our trilogy is November 2, All Souls Day (The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed). On this day, we remember all of our loved ones who’ve passed away. None of us is certain of how God handles our imperfections when we take them with us from this life to the next. Nonetheless, we are certain that these imperfections are met with mercy. This is the reason both the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed in the temple that day. Each came with the hope that God would listen because God loved him. It is our hope in the same loving and merciful God which urges our prayer for our loved ones who’ve passed away. Indeed, the potential for sainthood remains within them and within us all.

Hope-in-waiting and hope-fulfilled are the driving forces behind this week of goblins and witches, saints and souls. As I enjoy this trilogy of hope, I’ll pray that both the Pharisee and the tax collector within each of us will also walk among the saints one day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Beloved Greenery

God’s are the earth and its fullness;
God cares for the world and those who dwell in it.

Psalm 24:1

This is Arbor Day, a very special day for my husband who sports a truly capable green thumb. He takes an immediate liking to all plants great and small. If there is such a person as a “plant whisperer”, Mike is indeed that person. This is evidenced in his 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. The plant is older than our sons! The second is a Philodendron which my husband’s teachers gave to him in 1987 when he was named a “candidate” for the diaconate. This designation indicated that he would indeed be ordained the following year. Mike’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. So it is that both plants are very precious to him.

These plants have survived outdoor transitions from spring through summer to fall when frost came unexpectedly early on more than one occasion. They have also survived floods and dry spells when we were away and our designated plant-caregivers were either overly zealous or stingy with their task. After each incident, my husband painstakingly nursed his beloved greenery back to health for another season.

My husband’s adventures with plants are a living parable regarding God’s ongoing and loving care of each one of us. Like my husband’s plants, we could not be in better hands!

Gracious God, thank you for caring for us and for all of creation with such love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved