Called To Do Something…

Happy are they who observe what is right
and who do what is just.

Psalm 106:3

Events in reaction to George Floyd’s death inspired a friend to adjust her career path in an attempt to bring about meaningful change. She wrestled with the notion because she will travel into seemingly unknown territory in the process. In the end, she embraced this opportunity because it will allow her to serve others in a hopefully significant way.

I can certainly relate to my friend’s initial ambivalence. I think we all can. I also share the notion that we’re meant to serve others in this life as best we can. God’s generous gift of free will and God’s absolute faith in our choices allow us to choose just how to go about these things. Nonetheless, we sometimes delay because we aren’t sure that we will make a difference after all…

When we spoke again, my friend bubbled with enthusiasm regarding her new position. The potential for her to contribute to meaningful change is far greater than she dared to hope. Her work with children will allow her to plant seeds which will grow into something much stronger than the ills which contributed to George Floyd’s death. With that, I prayed, Dear God, help those seeds to blossom into something amazing! After offering my silent prayer for my friend, I wondered what I will do to bring about meaningful change…

Loving God, be with all of those who are working to make this world a better place. Give each of us the courage to follow our hearts’ call to do good.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Nature… God’s Precious Gift

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

When I walk 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 yard around our home is beautifully picturesque. I appreciate his efforts more than words can express. I also find a world of inspiration in the loveliness of his handiwork especially during our stay-in-place stint.

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. Inspire us to be good custodians of this precious gift.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

World Environment Day

God looked at everything that God made
and found it to be very good.

Genesis 1:31

In 1973, the United Nations designated June 5 as World Environment Day. The intent of was to unite the world in an effort to literally save this planet. Each year’s observance calls attention to the human transgressions which cause climate change, deforestation, air pollution and pollution of the oceans. Add to this the disruption COVID-19 has brought to life as we know it and you can see that there is reason for concern. More importantly, the day’s designation is also intended to be a hopeful call to action.

Oddly, it is COVID-19 which brings some hope to the situation. The world’s adherence to stay-in-place mandates has decreased our use of airplanes and automobiles, factories and other polluting entities. This has also decreased air pollution. Some weeks ago, atmospheric maps indicated notably cleaner air in some places. New York City’s pollution decreased 50%. In Wuhan, China, pollution was down 25%. News stories indicated that those residing in Northern India saw the Himalayan Mountains for the first time in 30 years. In addition to these atmospheric changes, wild life on both land and in the sea has thrived. Though pollution has concerned me since my college days, I suddenly find hope that it’s not too late for us to join hands to do something about it.

Two great spiritual leaders came forward to support this effort on Earth Day, April 22, 2020. The Dalai Lama and Pope Francis offered a call to action to us all. An old Spanish saying offered by Pope Francis seems to summarize their concern best: “God Always forgives; we humans sometimes forgive and sometimes not; the earth never forgives.” Pope Francis underscored the urgency of the situation by adding, “The earth does not forgive; if we have despoiled the earth, its response will be very ugly.”

In the wake of COVID-19, while we adjust to our new normal, perhaps we can adjust our efforts to care for this earth as well. How great it would be for our new normal to bring renewed health to our global home.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of Mother Earth. Be with us in our efforts to care for her lovingly.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is With Us… ALWAYS!

Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days, I’ve been on a bit of a roll. Last week, I shared that leisurely mornings have allowed me to organize my thoughts and my heart each day with our benevolent Creator in mind. Almost every day, my husband-the-deacon and I have also made time for a walk outdoors. Even on the cloudiest bad-news days, I’ve managed to find reason to appreciate God’s goodness in it all. I began this paragraph by saying, “Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days…” because the other day was quite different. For perhaps obvious reasons, I vacillated between anger and despair over the suffering and loss caused by our bout with COVID-19 and our inability to work together as one people to fight it. In an effort not to give in to these feelings, I gave Mike a peck on his cheek, grabbed my hoodie and headed outdoors. I fully intended to clear my head and my heart in the process.

That day, the temperature struggled to reach fifty degrees in spite of the sunshine. I stuffed my hands into my pockets as I made my way down our cul-de-sac. I went on toward village hall and into the subdivision to the north. As I walked along the winding streets, a chilling breeze blew open my jacket. I zipped up and pulled my hood over my head. I looked toward the cloudless sky and declared, “Not funny!” Afterward, I picked up my pace just enough to create my own heat as I continued on my way. Eventually, I warmed up and inadvertently began to do what I most often do during my walks. I lost myself in Nature. I looked at the branches of every tree I passed to check on its leaves. Not many months ago, green leaves turned yellow and brown and then fell to the ground to be trampled or blown away. This cycle has continued in the buds and young leaves which now burst forth from charcoal branches overhead. Though the wind continued its brisk assault, I no longer minded.

As I walked on, I looked skyward again. This time, I whispered an apology. I acknowledged that the cold breeze which pushed me along earlier had accomplished much more. Though that breeze gave me a chill, it also gave me the peace and comfort which I’d longed for. I’d fretted so about that virus’s attack on life as we once knew it that I’d forgotten the Source of that life. I’d worried so about our inability to work together in dealing with all of this that I’d forgotten all of the good people who have and continue to do just that. It finally occurred to me that perhaps God has something far more valuable for me to experience during this pandemic than anger and despair. God didn’t cause that virus which wreaks havoc on our lives. However, God did create us with the ability to respond to it. It is God’s faith in us and love for us which breathes life into our efforts. With that, I looked up once again. That time, I said, “Thank you, dear God, for remaining with me and with all of us. Just help us to take notice of your presence more often!” Before I could add an “amen” to my prayer, the wind blew my hood off of my head and pressed my sleeves against my arms. I took that as God’s assurance that I never walk alone. None of us do.

I share all of this as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday with good reason. This is the last day of Easter Season 2020 and what an unusual season this has been! Our lives changed drastically in mid-March when staying-in-place became the norm. Without warning, we lost access to life as we once knew it. The same was true for Jesus’ friends two thousand years ago. The poor disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus and, as their final trip to Jerusalem drew closer, they were in a far worse frame of mind than I was when I set out for my walk the other day. While I had lost my focus for a bit, the disciples were on the verge of losing Jesus. Though we can see light at the end of the tunnel today, Jesus’ followers could not. They watched him taken prisoner, deserted him when he needed them most and then watched him die on that cross from afar. What worse could have happened?

John’s gospel offers a different Pentecost account than the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three speak of Jesus’ resurrection, subsequent appearances and his ascension into heaven. It was after Jesus’ ascension that the Holy Spirit set the disciples on fire and spurred them into action. Today’s gospel from John (20:19-23) ushers us back to the first Easter. It was on that day, when the disciples heard of the empty tomb, yet still hid in absolute fear, that Jesus appeared. It was on that evening, when the circumstances of Jesus suffering and death were fresh in their minds, that Jesus appeared. The first words Jesus spoke were, “Peace be with you!” Like that quiet presence which walked with me the other day, Jesus slipped into that room to walk with his friends through their grief and fear. Jesus added, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” With those words, Jesus promised his friends that they would never ever be alone.

You know, God’s presence isn’t always tangible. Though God used that breezy day to renew my peace, I still sometimes walk in the fearful disciples’ sandals just as we all do. It is during times such as these that we must let go of our worry and embrace Jesus’ Pentecost promise: God’s Spirit is with us when we need God most, now as our new normal unfolds, and always!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Grateful, Even Today

I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:7

It’s Mother’s Day Eve and I’m counting my blessings. In spite of our current stay-at-home status and the distance between me and those I love most, I am grateful for so much…

As I assemble my list, I write “Being a mom”. This is the best job I’ve ever had! Next, I write “Mom” with a flourish. I learned a lot from my mom. Even her imperfections taught me important life lessons. As it happened, it was the grace with which my mom lived her last days which touched me and taught me most.

Three days before my mom passed away, fatigue confined her to bed. Her daytime attire changed from street clothes to a nightgown to a hospital gown within seventy-two hours. This day, I arrived just as Ruth, her nurse, was spooning tiny dollops of ice cream into my mom’s mouth. After giving me a “Hi, Mary” smile, my mom turned to Ruth to whisper, “Thank you for the ice cream.” Afterward, Ruth helped her to the washroom. As Ruth nestled my mom into the wheelchair, my mom whispered again, “Thank you for your help.” Mom held on tightly when Ruth wrapped her arms around her to ease her back into bed. As she left, my mom’s eyes followed Ruth to the door. Ruth turned to wave and my mom smiled in gratitude. Later, when the activity director came to see how she was doing, Mom met her with another of her grateful smiles.

In spite of her impending passing, my mother concerned herself with the people around her. She never complained and was ever grateful for even the smallest kindness. Whether or not it was part of ones job or part her children’s duty to care for their dying parent, my mom always whispered, “Thank you!” Yes, even in the midst of our pandemic woes, I have much to say “Thank you” for. We all do!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of my mom. She revealed your generosity, grace and love until the end. Give me the courage to offer the same to those I meet along the way, especially now.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make Your Difference Now

Yes, it is coming and shall be fulfilled,
says the Lord God. This is the day I have decreed.

Ezekiel 39:8

During our prior visits to Israel, we visited Megiddo-Armageddon. This time, other sites were added to our itinerary. As a result, we did a slow drive-by of this location. This didn’t disappoint me. You see, that beautiful park is said to be the eventual setting of the final battle at the end of the world. Biblical references to the end times have never drawn me in. This world is a difficult place. I can’t imagine that this world’s “last days” can bring any worse than the atrocities so many have suffered throughout human history. So it is that I look beyond these references to more hopeful passages. It is my hope for better things to come which sustains me.

The optimist in me is convinced that, if I am present for this final unraveling of human history, it will end in God’s favor. Though more fundamental believers will cringe at my next sentence, I would be dishonest if I didn’t write it. I cannot concern myself with the end times because the most important times in my life are the series of moments I’m given today and every day. It’s up to me to use every one of those moments to love and to appreciate God’s gifts to me and to love and care for my neighbor as myself.

Of course, what happens in the end is important. However, what we do before the end is just as important. We really can make all of the difference in the world!

Compassionate God, only you know where we are headed. Be with us every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved