Rest and Rejoice

Sing joyfully to the Lord;
break into song and sing praise.

Psalm 98:4

A few weeks ago, my husband and I drove up north to our favorite getaway, a little log cabin in the woods. In spite of the fact that we would stay-in-place just as we have here at home, we gave in to this much-needed opportunity to enjoy a change of scenery. Mike doesn’t enjoy driving. However, he is always thrilled to be at the wheel when we’re headed north. Though I always volunteer to share the driving, he rarely takes me up on my offer. This time around, I was grateful. I happily lay back and enjoyed the view beyond the car windows. Nature didn’t disappoint as summer’s splendor generously revealed itself. As much as I love walking outdoors at home, I love the ever-changing view as we drove along even more. As it happened, we made excellent time and were surprisingly refreshed when we arrived.

Though we intended to relax, as soon as we settled in, we found small projects to tend to. The first was Mike’s fourth stay-in-place haircut. Though I haven’t cut anyone’s hair since our sons were babies, Mike observed that I’ve done a respectable job for him so far! Afterward, we replaced bulbs in our outdoor lights and wiped down the screened porch. Before we knew it, it was dinner time. Fortunately, we had food as we’d brought along enough for our stay.

When Mike and I finally sat at the table, we laughed at how little we had relaxed that day. Still, we felt much better than we had when we decided we needed this get-away. Mike wisely observed, “Maybe we don’t mind working at the cabin because we don’t have to do it. We do it because we want to.” How right he was…

Gracious God, thank you for this opportunity to revive our spirits. Now we’re ready to get back to the work at hand in full earnest.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Easier When…

Each one speaks from his or her heart’s abundance.
From Luke 6:45

While vacuuming the other day, I rediscovered a storage bin I’d stowed away a while ago. I’d left it untouched because I thought it held my son’s memorabilia. When I looked more closely, I saw that the label on top read “Mary’s Childhood and Teens”. After vacuuming, I returned to that container and the treasures inside…

In my high school yearbook, I discovered handwritten messages from friends and teachers. Familiar faces filled my memory. The message written near Sister Imelda’s picture took me back to freshman year religion class. Sister had observed that we can get a good picture of ourselves by looking at our friends. I took this to mean that our friends mirror who we are. Years later when I taught, I observed that well-behaved kids often gravitated toward one another, while their less cooperative peers did the same. Still, those habitually behaving students were sometimes conned by the allure of unsavory acquaintances. At the same time, placing a troubled child in good company often resulted in unexpected liaisons. These amazing friendships changed everything for the children involved.

Perhaps I missed the meaning of Sister Imelda’s observation. It isn’t that our friends mirror us, but that their company is witness to our openness to one another regardless of our similarities and differences. As I consider the variety of people whose messages fill my yearbook, I turn my thoughts to the variety of people who make up this country of ours and the world at large. Now more than ever, it seems that our openness to one another is key to so many things…

It’s easier to love people whom we get to know. It’s easier to respond to our differences when we realize just how alike we actually are. It’s easier to change things for the better when we work together. It’s easiest to accomplish anything when we give one another a chance.

Dear God, help us to appreciate one another just as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich–All Rights Reserved

God’s Constant Care

He drove out evil with a word and he cured all the sick.
From Matthew 8:16

I sat mindlessly tapping my fingers on the table. As I considered the realities of this life, I realized that there is often little I can do to alleviate the troubles which unfold around me. I know, I wrote similar words yesterday…

Just beyond the window, a large robin plopped himself into our bird bath. I was pleased with the robin’s arrival as my husband and I had cleaned and refilled both of our bird baths the night before. My feathered friend seemed most appreciative as he fluttered his wings for several seconds splashing water every which way. Though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I remarked, “It certainly doesn’t take much to make you happy!” Even before I finished that sentence, I realized that the same is true for all of us. Just as that water waited, available for my robin friend when he chose to enjoy it, all that we need awaits us.

Being loved and cared for is the best any of us can hope for. Being loved and cared for makes everything we encounter do-able. Though branches and boulders clutter the road which lies ahead, we manage to climb over them or to plod around them because we aren’t alone. God remains every step of the way. Though we may only occasionally choose to bathe in the waters of God’s love and care, God remains to offer them just the same.

I’m compelled to write the obvious… God is with us as we navigate life with COVID-19. God is with us as we work toward freedom and justice for all. God is with us as we do what we can to improve our little corners of this world.

Loving God, thank you for your ever-present love and concern. Today, I place myself and all who need you into your loving hands.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Sows and We Grow

At the moment, I’m perched on the screened porch of our little log cabin in Wisconsin. The dense pine trees suggest that the woodsy expanse before me goes on for miles. Actually, there are farm fields less than a mile away. It occurs to me that local farmers must be extremely happy with their crops this year. Most of the corn stalks anticipated to be “knee high by the 4th of July” surpassed that expectation by a foot. The fields we passed as we drove north from Madison and beyond boasted lush greenery which will hopefully yield abundantly as well. I’m taking a moment in the midst of my musing to offer a prayer for our farmer friends. In spite of the misery that the COVID-19 pandemic sowed around us, farmers persisted in their work.

As I continue to gaze into the trees that flourish around me, my thoughts turn to another instance of amazing and unexpected growth. I could never have predicted what would become of the “seedlings” placed in our care when my husband and I became parents. Though, to me, our sons were the most beautiful babies I’d ever seen, I had no idea of what would become of them when Mike and I brought them home from the hospital. Our older son provided the greater challenge because his parents had never before cared for an infant twenty-four/seven. Somehow we managed by relying upon our instincts, others with parenting experience, our copy of Dr. Spock’s childcare manual and lots of prayer. When our older son was about three years old, doctors told us that he would be our only child. Five years later, they were as surprised as we when we discovered that our younger son was on the way. Though Mike and I had learned enough to welcome Tim into our lives without too much trepidation, we had forgotten enough about infant care to remain humble in this endeavor.

While raising our sons, Mike and I were continually amazed by their growth. Like those thriving fields lying beyond the pine trees at the cabin, our sons grew and thrived in unexpected ways. At the same time, there were occasions when Mike and I worried just as our farmers friends do during droughts or floods. Sometimes, we questioned our methods. Sometimes, we questioned our sons responses to our efforts. Always, we did the best we could and then reminded ourselves that Mike and Tim were always in God’s capable hands. As I gaze into those pine trees which have grown far taller than Mike and I ever expected, I picture our sons. I smile at the thought of these two young men who mean the world to me and I say, “So far, so good.” This is the reason that I look to today’s gospel where Jesus offers the parable of the sower and the seed with much gratitude and with great hope in the things that lie ahead.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 13:1-23), Matthew shares Jesus’ story: A farmer went out to sow. As he did, some seed fell on the path and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. When the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it. Some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirty fold. Dedicated farmers like the one Jesus spoke of are responsible for the lush fields I saw during our drive to the cabin. After assessing elevations and hydration patterns, they planted uniform rows. They planted to achieve the highest yield on the least amount of land. I wonder what a farmer within earshot might think of the sower in Jesus’ story. Who would haphazardly scatter seed as Jesus describes? Who would waste the time and the resources to plant in places where seed seemingly has no chance to grow? I can also ask, “Who would place two precious children in the hands of incompetents like my husband and me?”

It seems to me that the great faith which our indiscriminate Sower-God has in each one of us is the reason. Rather than to predict where fertile ground might lie, Jesus spread his message to everyone: on heavily trodden paths, on rocky ground, in the midst of thorny shrubs as well as on obviously fertile patches. Jesus persisted with every confidence in the quality of the seeds he sowed and with every confidence in his imperfect followers upon whom those seeds fell. God would see to the rest. As I continue to savor the abundant growth around me, joy fills me up. I thank God for our sons and the wonderful wives and grandchildren they’ve added to our family. I thank God for the amazing accomplishments of people everywhere as we work together toward a healthy, just and all-inclusive world. In all of these things, I see that God’s faith in us is as well-placed as our faith in God. It doesn’t matter whether God’s word falls upon the fertile ground of our goodness or the thorny shrubs of our imperfections. The seeds God plants within us have the potential to grow wherever they fall from God’s hand.

©2020 Mary Penich–All Rights Reserved

God Understands Completely

“…But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.”

From Matthew 6:6

Like most of humanity, I’ve found myself frustrated as of late. Though I manage my own troubles reasonably well, I have difficult with my inability to “fix” the troubles of those I love. I don’t like to see anyone suffering. Even the woes of those who might not list me among their friends give me reason to pity them and to help them as best I can.

So it is that I do what I can do as I wonder why things have to be “this way” or “that way”. When I’m in the midst of my best fretting and hand-wringing, it occurs to me that I’m relying on the wrong one to solve the problems and to soothe the suffering around me. It is then that I sheepishly retreat to the quiet of prayer.

Wherever this might be at the moment, I turn over my thoughts and all that troubles me to the One who makes all of the difference in everything. Though the results may not be immediate or of my design, simply knowing that God “gets it” brings me immeasurable consolation. This is all that I need. This is all that any of us need to pull ourselves together and to carry on.

Compassionate God, thank you for listening to my troubles large and small. Just knowing that you understand is a huge help.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do What Only You Can Do

Should someone press you into service for one mile, go along for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you and do not turn your back…

From Matthew 5:41-42

Sometimes, the people or circumstances around us seem determined to push us to the nth degree. Though we feel compassion for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the demands on our time and resources. Though we support a cause passionately, we sometimes don’t know where to begin to help. It’s when I’m overwhelmed in this way that someone always manages to come along to minister to me. This was the case the other day. Though we couldn’t see one another face-to-face, two quite generous “someones” reached out to me via the U.S. Mail.

A note and card came from a parishioner who doesn’t access the internet. Her only source of information regarding our church is our Sunday bulletin. When she told me this, I offered to mail her a copy each week until she feels safe enough to return to Mass. Her note offered a sweet “thank you” for my efforts. The second letter was from a nun in Ohio. Every week, I mailed a copy of my Sunday reflection to a fellow nun whom I’ve know for many years. Sadly, my nun-friend passed away. Her friend wrote to tell me how much my friend had enjoyed receiving my notes each week.

I have to tell you that these messages made all of the difference in the world to me. I think I’ve managed my weariness over COVID-19 and my heartbreak over injustice in this country fairly well. Still, when I retrieved the mail that day, I had a headache and a heartache over all of this. Those letters reminded me that the little I can do to improve the human condition these days actually is important to someone.

Loving God, help us all to continue doing what we can.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved