Shepherded With Love

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

Psalm 23:1

Our phone had rung for the same reason far too often. On this occasion, a gentleman whom we saw at church just a few days earlier had unexpectedly passed away. When I spoke with the man’s wife, my heart ached for her. Her life had changed with a single passing breath. Still, her concern was for her husband. He’d suffered a good deal as of late and she felt he had a right for that suffering to stop.

Though I knew this couple and had grown to love them through our encounters at church, I had no idea of just how loved they are by their family and numerous friends. I was deeply touched by the comments of those who came to mourn and to reminisce at this dear man’s services. The eulogies offered in my friend’s honor revealed so much more of the character and love which lay beneath the surface of the man whom I’d respected so. Because my friend’s wife is of the same ilk, I understood how she was able to send off her husband to enjoy the eternity he so much deserved.

It is at times such as these that Psalm 23 comes to mind. This new widow seemed to realize that she wasn’t alone in any of this. Beside her loving children and her many friends, she was accompanied by God. So it was that there truly was nothing more for her to want.

It seems to me that God knows our losses more intimately than we know them ourselves. Good Shepherd that God is, God remains with us through them all. Good Shepherd that God is, God will see to it that we and our loved ones will indeed be together once again.

Loving God, please touch all of those who mourn today with your presence and your peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hold On To Peace

We’d just returned from a few days up north. While carrying in some leftover groceries, I slipped off my shoes in an effort to protect the carpet on the way to the kitchen. I set down my parcel and then returned to those shoes. While putting them on, I noticed a strand of Easter grass on my sock. Honestly, I thought I’d freed the house of this green stuff weeks ago! I couldn’t help laughing as I walked back to the garage to help my dear husband carry in the rest of our things. “What’s so funny?” Mike asked. I responded by voicing my surprise at having found that pesky cellophane. We’d celebrated Easter almost six weeks earlier. First Communion Day had come and gone. Our parish’s new deacons have been functioning for two whole weeks since their May 11 ordination and we’re on the verge of celebrating Memorial Day. Let me add that I’d vacuumed several times in the midst of these events and I’d washed the floor twice. “How can that stuff still be here?” I moaned.

Before my poor husband could respond, I reminded him that I’d written about this dilemma a few weeks ago. “I think I ended with something about Easter’s lingering joy. The grass I found back then was a reminder. You know, there’s another story here…” With that, Mike and I carried in the rest of our gear. He went on to get the mail our neighbor had collected for us while I emptied our bags and sorted the dirty laundry. While Mike tended to that pile of mail, I considered this reflection. I wondered what else that Easter grass had to tell me. Finally, I realized that this pest had attached itself to my sock with good reason. You see, in the busyness which has filled my days since Easter, I’ve managed to lose sight of Easter’s joy on more than one occasion. That grass reminded me to get back on task, not to get more work done, but to get to the things I have to do with a renewed attitude. When I turned to the scriptures, I realized that I’d failed to allow Easter’s joy to morph into peace. Sadly, this was my loss as this peace is no ordinary commodity. Jesus himself offered this very peace again and again before and after his resurrection.

Fortunately for us, our friends who were the early church paid better attention than I to the peace of which Jesus spoke. Acts (15:1-2, 22-29) describes a great dilemma within the early church. Jesus’ teachings had taken hold and were spreading quickly throughout the community. Those who embraced the faith were no longer limited to the Jewish community. Gentiles had also been drawn to Jesus’ teachings. Because these newcomers hadn’t been raised in the Jewish faith, they weren’t familiar with the numerous laws which the Jewish people had taken for granted. As a result, questions arose regarding what would be required of these perceived outsiders who wished to join the church. Because some of the laws required serious sacrifice, Paul and Barnabas appealed to the apostles for guidance. Perhaps because they were immersed in the peace Jesus had offered them, his closest friends responded with great love. The apostles sent representatives to the Gentiles with this response: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…” In the end, compassion and acceptance renewed peace among and within Jesus’ earliest followers and the Gentiles found their places within the church. In the second reading (Revelations 21:10-14, 22-23), John underscores the early church’s efforts to welcome all who embrace Jesus’ ways. John described a vision he was given of the holy city Jerusalem coming out of heaven. Though the temple had been the center of Jewish worship in Jerusalem, John saw no temple building in this heavenly Jerusalem. John concluded that God cannot be confined in any building. God alone is the temple who provides light and life to the people. It is God who provides everlasting peace to us all.

Peace was such a tremendous gift that Jesus spoke of its value and its availability at every opportunity. John’s gospel (14:23-29) tells us some of what Jesus told the disciples in this regard: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of what I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” I wonder how often the apostles retrieved these words of consolation and promise while seeking comfort after Jesus ascended in heaven. How often since Easter had I forgotten these invitations to embrace God’s peace? Too often!

When I pealed that bit of Easter grass from my sock, I didn’t throw it away. Because it served as a better herald of God’s peace than I have as of late, it deserved a place of recognition. In an effort to keep God’s peace in the forefront of my thinking, I taped that straggly green reminder to my desk right beside my keyboard. There it reminds me to look outside of myself when I’m troubled. When I do so, I see evidence of God’s peace everywhere.

Whenever unrest threatens, peacemakers and peace-sharers rise and respond to the suffering around us all. They reside within our own households, down the block, at work and half-a-world away. These heralds of God’s peace make all of the difference in the world to those they meet along the way. When even their heroic efforts fail to move us, we must recall Jesus’ promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” What more do we need to know?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Another Curve Ball?

“I have told you this so that you might have peace
in me. In the world you will have trouble,
but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

John 16:33

He said it again. When life throws my husband a curve ball, Mike usually responds by observing, “God certainly has a sense of humor!” I admit that my response differs a bit when I am the recipient of that curve ball. I tend to keep my initial reactions to trauma to myself. If I didn’t, who knows what I might say? There’s usually too much to do to allow myself the luxury of complaining aloud. So it is that I converse with myself and the Lord God in silence. Eventually, I reconcile myself to the situation at hand. When I’ve calmed myself down (or God has stepped in to do this for me), I finally respond with my own observation: “This is just a small reminder that I’m not in heaven yet.”

I’m not certain of what’s happening in your ballpark, but the curve balls have been flying fast and furiously here as of late. As a result, I find myself most grateful that God’s keeps the promise to be with us always. Though havoc reigns around me, a gentle peace calms me from within. This occurs in spite of my failure to acknowledge that peace for far too long.

Consoling God, knowing that your care is a constant makes all of the difference in my little ballpark. I mean world. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make The Most of The Moment

“Little ones, let no one deceive you;
the one who acts in holiness is holy indeed….”

From 1 John 3:7

When I hang my new calendar each January, I’m usually ready to return to what I consider to be “normal”. This year, however, is different. As I planned my “de-decorating” strategy, I wondered just how long I might dare to keep up our Christmas Tree and houseful of decorations. After long days of planning and celebrating, I found great comfort in the colored lights strewn about the railings and tree. My affection for the peaceful company nestled in and around the crèche under our tree compelled me to hold on tightly to Christmas. I longed to postpone my return to “normal” for as long as possible…

As I considered how to proceed, I sat near our Christmas Tree one more time. I gazed at the tiny baby in the crib and realized that there was no returning to “normal” after Jesus arrived. Because of him, everything changed for us all. With that, I mentioned to my husband that we could take down the decorations whenever he was ready. Though these visuals would be packed away in our basement until next Christmas, the transformation which began in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago will continue through me and through us all.

So it is that I’ve turned to my January 2019 Calendar to renew my commitment to make this better this year. I’ll do my best to bring my best to every moment I’m given. Every time I succeed, someones life may be changed by that encounter with God’s goodness.

God of Love, this world needs you more than ever. Help me to bring your presence into every moment of the coming year.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

One Moment At A Time…

“I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…”

1 John 5:13

I’m trying hard to hold on to Christmas and to bring a bit of peace to this world of ours. I wonder aloud what I might add to my agenda to accomplish this. Though the first full week of the new year usually provides a bit of breathing room before my routines fully return to normal, this hasn’t been the case this year. I ask myself how I can add another item to my already full schedule. Still, my commitment gnaws at me…

After some reflection, I realize that I must learn to practice what I preach and write! How often have I used this space to insist that we do our best by simply making the most of all that we say and do? How often have I written that God has placed each one of us precisely where we are meant to be? With that, I see that there is nothing to add to my agenda. All that is needed is to polish up and refine my delivery. When I acknowledge that God has assigned me a very specific mission every moment of every day, everything becomes worth my best effort.

So it is that I’ll continue to fill this space by relating my experiences of God in my life as well as my other life experiences to you. At the same time, I’ll also make good use of the moments which lie ahead to make the world around me a little bit better.

Loving God, please continue to nudge us along with your good company as we do our best for you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Still God’s Beloved…

You are no longer strangers and sojourners;
you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God…

From Ephesians 2:19

One of my favorite experiences in Israel was being amidst the hustle and bustle of people in the streets of Jerusalem. It was there that I tasted the urgency of Jesus’ contemporaries. Life was tough in Jesus’ day. The Jewish people lived under Roman rule which had little appreciation for the plight of the poor. The people also suffered under the temple hierarchy who valued The Law more than the people for whom The Law had been given. Jesus himself endured the Pharisees’ criticism because they couldn’t see past their infatuation with rules and control. It was Jesus’ failure to adhere to ritual cleanliness and his association with outcasts which infuriated these adversaries most.

The good news is that Jesus ignored the criticism and made room for whoever desired his company. He associated with perceived sinners of every sort. He touched lepers and the blind. He even saved a woman caught in adultery. He would have done the same for the man involved had he been threatened with stoning as well.

Though you and I aren’t often ostracized quite as dramatically as these, we suffer our own varieties of exclusion, loneliness and despair just the same. The good news for us is that God responds in like manner to you and me. When the rest of the world pushes us away, God embraces us. When no one lifts a finger to help, God assures us of the Divine Presence at our sides. The hustle and bustle of our human existence hasn’t changed much over the two millenniums since Jesus walked among us. God’s love for us also hasn’t changed!

Dear God, thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved