Precious Time With God’s Gifts

You fill us at daybreak with your kindness
and we shout for joy and gladness at what we see.

Psalm 90:14

I’ve recently shared memories from some recent travel. Though I’m always pleased with the sites we see, it’s my husband who keeps a bucket list of sorts of all of the places he hopes to visit. Oddly, in spite of our recent trek to Italy, I feel the need to get away these days.

Just as I expected, my husband read my lamentations. He seems to be waiting for me to hint at where I might like to go. When he reads this, he’ll discover that I’d like to get away with as little trouble as possible. This means that I prefer not to involve planes or trains or buses in our travel. Today, I’ll ask him to join me in selecting a destination we can drive to and enjoy for a few days. Regardless of our choice, I am certain I’ll find precisely what I need along the way.

This is the case every time my husband convinces me to venture away with him. In each new place and new person I meet, I discover an uplifting morsel of Creation and of the God who gifted us with this world and with one another. With each new encounter, I find good reason to shout for joy over what I see.

Generous God, thank you for giving me the sense to enjoy your gifts on occasion.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Always Welcome

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
to sit at God’s table.

Luke 13:29

I was raised in a welcoming household. Looking back, I see that this was actually quite an accomplishment on my parents’ part. Our ten-person family filled our modest second-floor flat which threatened to burst at the seams. Still, my parents opened the door to friends and family who happened by. This included my playmates who sometimes timed their stays to overlap with dinnertime. Perhaps this is the reason I enjoy large gatherings of people. Perhaps this is the reason that I responded quickly when I heard about the new parish planned for our community.

My husband and I immediately contacted the pastor-to-be to offer our assistance. Father Farrell welcomed us with open arms. After asking my husband what he hoped to bring to the mix, Father Farrell asked me the same. I responded immediately, “I want to be welcoming. I want anyone and everyone to feel that there’s a place for them among us regardless of their story. I just want them to know that this church is their home.” Apparently, our new pastor agreed. He made “welcoming” a top priority and he empowered the rest of us to do the same, just as my parents had so long ago.

These days, many who once found solace in their parish churches find themselves put off by the terrible sexual abuse scandal. It’s difficult to understand how these things occurred in the very place which should serve as an oasis of peace in our troubled world. In light of this tragedy, it seems to me that welcoming has become more important than ever. All of us have been hurt by these terrible events. All of us need an oasis of peace in which to deal with them. Today, I welcome you into whatever place God provides you for this purpose… your parish church, the company of an equally upset or angry friend, the quiet of your room where you tell God exactly what you think about all of this. Wherever you go, God welcomes you with love.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everything.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transform the Negative into Love

Caiaphas said to them, “…it is better for you that one man should die
instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”

John 11:50

This isn’t my favorite scripture passage. Caiaphas sends a chill down my spine. His words threatened the Good Shepherd who would leave his entire flock to find one lost sheep. He sought the death of the one who inspired the father of the prodigal son. Remember that dad who gave that young man half of his wealth, watched him squander it, forgave him and welcomed him home? Caiaphas mustn’t have heard the parable about the pearl of great price for which a man sold everything. He must have missed the tale of the woman who swept up and dusted her house again and again until she found a single coin which was precious to her. Poor Caiaphas seems to have missed everything of importance which Jesus said because he was blinded and deafened by his desire for stature and power.

You know, there are many people near and far who are distracted by their clouded vision and deaf ears. Some have lost their perspective through selfishness much like Caiaphas. Some suffer distractions wielded upon them by the injustices of our human existence. Caiaphas’ callousness serves as a reminder to me that many people have little about which to rejoice. Today, Caiaphas’ hatred and selfishness encourages me to love as he could not love. Today, Caiaphas, your influence takes a positive turn as you inspire me to make things better for someone who needs to experience God’s love.

Dear God, thank you for using even our weaknesses to teach us to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Feeds Us Well!

My husband is a far more adventurous cook than I. Mike has a knack for determining whether or not a dish will please the palate by simply reading its recipe. I can count the errors he’s made over the decades in this regard on one hand and I don’t need all five fingers to do so! Before we retired, Mike and I found cooking together to be relaxing. We enjoyed shopping for and preparing these mystery meals which distracted us from the headaches we left at work. Even today, Mike continues to assess the offerings in the food section of the newspaper and those he encounters online. As for me, I’ve outgrown these culinary adventures. Since I’ve left those work worries behind, I no longer need the distraction. The truth is that I grew up with enough mystery meals to last a lifetime…

The family menus of my childhood resembled those of most of my generation. We appreciated the nutritional values of fruits and vegetables and we didn’t consider the consequences of frying. Fortunately, my mom had naturally healthy preferences and we ate fairly well. Still, our large family complicated meal planning. In addition to my parents and the six of us children, my uncle and grandfather shared our flat. (Yes, it was a circus at times!) My dad and Uncle Gee ate everything without complaint. Any negativity from Grandpa related more to his frustration with his poor health than to my mom’s cooking. We children were another matter. I was more willing than the others to try the “something new” my mom so often tested on us. I was honestly no more adventurous than they were. I just felt sorry for the poor woman when it came to cooking for us all.

Our greatest challenges were the meals which least resembled something fit for human consumption. (Sorry, Mom!) There were casseroles and hashes which included unrecognizable ingredients. We tasted them on the basis of smell alone. Often, my mom avoided naming a meal. She simply assured us that it was just like something we’d previously enjoyed. If we liked her secret concoction, my mom identified it. If we rejected the mystery meal of the hour, it’s true identity remained her secret. My mom probably hoped to pass it off in another form at another time. Looking back, I think my mom’s ability to feed all of us on a very limited budget deserves applause. Her success in distracting us from the actual content of her offerings is impressive. In the end, my mom saw to it that each one of us had all that we needed to grow and to flourish. Though we didn’t always appreciate her efforts, my mom never stopped caring for us. I share all of this because God has been doing the same since the first of us feasted upon the fruits of Creation ages ago.

Today’s scriptures chronicle some of God’s efforts in this regard. The excerpt from Exodus (16:2-4, 20-24) offers an example of the Israelites’ complaints throughout their flight from Egypt. Tired and hungry, they’d exhausted their patience. The people moaned to Moses that they were better off as Pharaoh’s slaves than starving in the barren desert. Though God knew all of this, Moses prayed on their behalf and, as always, God provided. Every night, quail filled their camp to provide plenty for supper. Every morning, manna appeared. When the people failed to recognize their breakfast, Moses showed them the flakes lying beneath the dew. In the end, all were nourished with what they needed to embrace each new day. The passage from Ephesians (4:17, 20-14) tells us that Paul experienced frustration with his people as well. When the Ephesians also failed to appreciate what lay before them, Paul pointed out that they’d been nourished as well. God’s very presence graced their lives and it was up to them to live accordingly. In the gospel (John 6:24-35), John shares one of Jesus’ lessons in nutrition. Hungry crowds had followed him because they wanted yet another free meal. Jesus responded by explaining that God offered them far more than a no-cost lunch or dinner. Through Jesus, God’s presence had taken tangible form. God dwelled among them and within them and it was up to them to let go of their worry and to embrace this lasting sustenance.

My mother often said that food didn’t have to look like meat and potatoes to taste good. When Mike tries a new recipe, he encourages me not to allow the ingredients to discourage me from tasting it. Every day, God does much the same. God offers each of us a feast of opportunities throughout this life. Though we may not like the looks of everything on our plates, God assures us that tasting what lies ahead will be worth the effort. When we set aside our fear and worry to embrace what God provides, we take in all that we need to grow and to flourish. Today, we’re invited to join the Israelites, the Ephesians and that hungry crowd who followed Jesus in taking in God’s nourishment wherever it lies: In our work and in our leisure, in those we know and in the strangers we met along the way; in our own prayer and in our worship together; in everything!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Precious Are We

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.

Psalm 118:22

While my husband went off to run and errand, I took advantage of the 60 degree temperatures by weeding our patio. Though the pavers are beautiful, they do allow an occasional weed to crop up between them. While I was on my knees, I noticed that the nearby flowerbeds also needed a bit of care. We had spread volcanic rock between the plants. Still, weeds had poked their way through. I weeded there as well. In the process, I saw that some of those rocks had made their way onto the lawn. After weeding, I retrieved our rake and gathered those wayward stones as best I could. When I finished raking, I realized that I’d collected twigs and leaves as well. I knelt down once again to pick through the rubble and retrieve every bit of volcanic rock.

Since I was on my knees, it seemed appropriate to offer a word or two to God above as I worked. You know, I could have finished in half the time. Rather, I took the time to look at each stone, even the ones which were covered with mud and other unmentionables. I got the hose and rinsed them all. Then I put each rock wherever it seemed to belong. When Mike returned home, he asked why I was smiling so contentedly…

Dear God, you place us wherever we belong as well. Thank you for your faith in our ability to improve our surroundings and ourselves.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

U is for…

“Which of these was neighbor to the man who fell in with the robbers?”
They answered, “The one who treated him with compassion.”.

From Luke 10:36-37

U is for Unity. I recently attended my cousin’s 80th birthday party. Yvette is the eldest cousin on my dad’s side of the family. She’s also one of the nicest people I know. It was truly my pleasure to gather with our extended family to honor her. I’ve always been particularly touched by my dear cousin’s devotion to her loved ones. While her husband and their five children top this list, Yvette has been a loving and supportive presence for her own parents, siblings and the rest of us as well. During all of the years since I came along, I’ve observed Yvette’s positive presence among us. Her own family’s relationships indicate that Yvette’s children have picked up on this as well.

You know, the unity within Yvette’s family is tangible. It seems to me that this should be true of God’s family as well. We need not congregate in the same worship spaces or in any places of worship at all. We do need to respect one another and to see each other as God’s children. We need to love one another as we love ourselves and our own families. We need to set aside the non-essential details of our differences and to focus upon the most essential needs of all of humankind.

My cousin raised five children who in turn are raising children of their own. Unique as each one is, I know Yvette loves them all. God has breathed life into billions of children and God loves each of us even more so. God’s only request is the same as that of any loving parent: That we love another and learn to get along. Yes, U is for Unity. You and I are meant to be for Unity, too!

Loving God, help us to love one another and to work together to transform this world into a fitting home for us all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved