Called To Be Shepherds

I truly enjoy the scripture passages we share throughout the Easter Season. They celebrate Jesus’ life among us by echoing his most important lessons. While Jesus’ message regarding God’s love for us is best taught by his example, his parables and discourses run a very close second in illustrating God’s affection for you and me. This is especially true this Mother’s Day. Today’s passage from John’s gospel (John 10:27-30) is a mere sixty-two words in length. It’s among the shortest gospels we read throughout the church year. Still, in spite of its brevity, these few lines offer a powerful account of God’s love for us. This passage portrays Jesus in his preferred role, that of a shepherd. The shepherd-mom in me understands completely. When Jesus said, “I know you,” he confirmed that his love reaches to our very cores and that nothing will ever change this. His followers understood completely as well. Just as I understand the relationship between mother and child, they knew the significance of the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep.

Still, some of Jesus’ contemporaries resented shepherds. These hired hands had little education and even less money than their needy neighbors. The temple authorities looked down upon shepherds because their work made it impossible for them to fulfill The Law’s demands. Shepherds often failed to keep the Sabbath and to eat within the dietary constraints of their faith because they remained with their sheep most of the time. At the same time, wealthy sheep owners found dedicated shepherds to be indispensable. In spite of their meager wages, shepherds dutifully and lovingly guarded the sheep in their care day in and day out. The sheep knew their keepers’ voices. There was never any confusion when it came time to be led in or out of the pasture. Sheep spent their days in the peace that came with their shepherd’s diligent protection. Whether a flock numbered in the hundreds or could be counted on the fingers of one hand, their shepherds persisted in protecting them. Sheep in the company of a good shepherd lived their entire lifetimes contentedly and completely unaware of the danger which lurked beyond their pasture.

I find this Mother’s Day reading of John’s gospel to be well-timed. It encourages us to acknowledge the relationship between Jesus’ work of caring for us and our own work of caring for one another. What a comfort it is to be nurtured with selfless love! As for me, I find great consolation in God’s presence. Jesus’ words and works have convinced me that God walks with me everywhere regardless of the danger which lies ahead. Being cared for so completely has empowered me to try to do the same for those I meet along the way. The same is true for us all. Whenever we recognize that we’re cared for, we can’t help moving beyond our roles as sheep to the challenge of shepherding one another. We can’t resist sharing what we’ve been given. Fortunately for you and me, we needn’t look far to see how Twenty-first Century shepherds care for those they’ve been given to love. Role models of every sort surround us.

For most of us, these lessons begin with our mothers. From the moment we make our homes in their wombs, we change our mothers’ lives forever. In spite of the physical symptoms of pregnancy, these courageous women reorganize their homes and their lives to make places for us. Their persistent fatigue is no match for the persistence of their love. They love us and nurture us for as long as it is necessary and for a long time thereafter. God’s incapacity to forget us is mirrored splendidly in the shepherd-mothers among us. And what of our shepherd-dads who stand with our moms to offer us their love? We’re also blessed with shepherd-friends who consistently respond with just what we need. Consider the friend whom we see far too infrequently, yet who always picks up the conversation as though it began just minutes earlier. Whether it’s a bad hair day or a bad weight phase makes no difference because our friends love us. They attend to the needs of our hearts. Shepherd-coworkers support us in kind. When the tedium or the insanity of our jobs threaten to drive us to the unemployment line, these even-tempered and dedicated colleagues urge us on. Their smiles in the midst of trauma, their steady hands upon our drooped shoulders and their willingness to try just one more thing before giving up make all of the difference to us. Their company on the road to Friday makes our work week tolerable and even enjoyable. We accomplish much more than we might have because they are with us. Yes, this life offers endless opportunities for us to share our shepherding skills.

Shepherd-spouses, shepherd-children, shepherd-siblings and shepherd-significant others, shepherd-neighbors, shepherd-priests, shepherd-deacons and shepherd-friends bless us. Shepherd-coworkers and shepherd-grandparents, shepherd-moms, shepherd-dads and shepherd-volunteers nurture us. With them, we muddle through the unhappiness of life and we bask in life’s joy. Again and again, we find ourselves hoisted upon the shoulders of the our Shepherd-God who is present in the good shepherds around us. Afterward, we climb down, fortified with peace and a joy which simply must be shared. We straighten our own shoulders and stand tall, ready to shepherd when we’re called. Today, let’s echo God’s message to us all: I love you! Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Shepherding!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Lambs

The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want.
Psalm 23:1

I’ve shared earlier that I spent the much of October tending to my physical well-being. This effort included eye exams, annual physical, a mammogram… You get the idea. In the end, I discovered that I’m in very good health in spite of some minor adjustments I needed to make to my exercise regimen and my diet. My orders were to change these things for the better and so I have.

I admit that I was slightly disconcerted by my need to tweak my lifestyle. When I recognized this bit of angst, I chided myself. You see, I’ve walked with many loved ones through serious illnesses. I sat at their sides as they processed the scenarios that lay before them. In every case, I was deeply moved by their bravery through their transitions from anger to fear to sadness to practical concern for those left behind to joyful anticipation of the things to come. All the while, I offered frequent prayers of thanksgiving for the grace which allowed these amazing people to manage their illnesses and to embrace their journeys home to God.

The results of my physical exams indicate that my journey home to heaven most likely lies in the distant future. Why then did I bemoan the minimal changes required of me? I admit that I turned to the Psalms where I always find the right words for the moment. Without hesitation, I went to Psalm 23. The image of a happy little lamb elicited a smile as this sweet creature danced through the tall grass in the beautiful pasture that materialized in my imagination. Within seconds, this lamb’s revelry became my own. “The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want…”

With that, I continued to smile as I scheduled my walks for the week and tweaked my menu.

Loving God, thank you for shepherding me so lovingly.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Caregivers

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.

Psalm 23:1

An unexpected conversation left my heart heavy with compassion for a friend. A friend is dealing with some health complications within his family and the only consolation I could offer was my promise to pray for him. As I walked away, I began my prayer. “Dear God, give him strength,” I begged. Though my own sons, their wives and our grandchildren are happy and well these days, I’ve experienced enough health scares in their regard for me to understand this my friend’s pain too well. So it was that I reached for the image of our loving God which consoles me most when I am in asking mode: The Good Shepherd.

I prayed, “Where would I be today, Lord, if I had not been in your loving care? Sometimes, you seemed to come out of nowhere to assure me of your presence. Sometimes, you have come in your servant-shepherds who managed to keep hope alive for me. Please, do the same for my friend and his family.”

I believe that none of us would be where we are today if not for God’s relentless love and concern. Sometimes, they come in our own awareness of God’s presence. Mostly, they come in the successes and failures of the shepherds God has placed in our lives. Every instance of nurturing feeds our hope and empowers us to carry on. What an awesome responsibility and privilege we have to do the same for one another!

Good Shepherd, your loving care fills our hearts with hope. Be with us as we care for one another as you would.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Faithful Guardian

He leads me in right paths…
From Psalm 23:3

When I consider the state of the world around me and of my own heart, I sometimes wonder why God bothers. Though God gifts humankind in ways more numerous than the grains of sand which cover this earth’s beaches, we manage to misuse our gifts in equally bountiful ways.

Fortunately for me, God takes note of my discouragement long before it morphs into something unmanageable. In the midst of my laments, images of kindnesses great and small distract my thinking. Moments in nature, in the company of those I love, at prayer and at peace with the tasks at hand compel me to utter words of thanks without much thought. While I remain baffled at this transition from discouragement to contentment, God leans back and admires this bit of Divine Handiwork.

As I consider Psalm 23 once again, I understand. God will never cease to lead us in right paths because it is in God’s nature to do so. When one loves as completely as God does, one never EVER gives up on the objects of that love!

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing encouragement in things great and small. Remind me never to give up on this world because you will never give up on a single one of us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Worry Not!

He makes me lie down in green pastures…
Psalm 23:2

I’ve shared often that my husband is the travel aficionado of our family. He takes great pleasure in exploring new places and getting to know the people who inhabit them. Each adventure leaves him refreshed and ready to tackle our daily routine once we return home. As for me, I used to waste away the days of anticipation leading to these treks with unnecessary worry. While my husband looked forward to our vacations with almost as much joy as he experienced while we’re away, I worried about the things I was leaving behind and the potential travel issues which rarely materialized. Today, I acknowledge that the dear man has patiently guided me along long enough to convince me that all will be well in the end.

As I reflect further on Psalm 23, I can’t help thinking that our persistent God has cooperated in my husband’s travel efforts with good reason. I’ve overcome my travel worries and learned to lie down in green pastures, traipse through them and even climb over them as a result. Every time, like my husband, I return ready to embrace life here at home once again. I’ve even begun to suggest destinations for next time!

Loving God, thank you for caring for us even when we are reluctant to care for ourselves. Thank you also for the dear souls who make your care for us tangible.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Lambs

The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want.
Psalm 23:1

The month of October proved to be challenging. Two amazing women completed their battles with cancer and moved on to the hereafter. A very young man in the neighborhood endured a tragic accident and moved on as well. The rainy weather mirrors my sentiments as I continue my prayers for those left behind.

I’ve walked with many loved ones through serious illnesses. I watched helplessly as they processed the scenario which lay before them. In every case, I was deeply moved by their bravery through transitions from anger to fear to sadness to practical concern for those left behind to joyful anticipation of the things to come. It was then that I offered frequent prayers of thanksgiving for the grace which allowed these amazing souls to manage their illnesses and to embrace their journeys home to God.

As is the case with most of us, my journey home to heaven lies ahead sometime beyond my knowing. In the mean time, I turn to a favorite Psalm where I find encouragement for the journey ahead. Psalm 23 elicits the image of a happy little lamb dancing through tall grass in a beautiful pasture. Within seconds, this lamb’s revelry becomes my own. “The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want…”

With that, I resolve to do my best today regardless of all this day will bring. I do so with a smile because God is my shepherd and there really is nothing more for me to want.

Loving God, help us all to remember that you are always walking at our sides.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved