Look At The “God” Side

With me at your right hand,
you will not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

My husband lifted his foot and rested it on the ottoman in front of him. “This really hurts. It’s a bad foot day,” he said. Then he quickly added, “But if this is the worst that happens today, I’m a lucky man.”

Our life together hasn’t been trauma free. Still, my husband and I try to look at the bright side of things when tragedy touches us. I was blessed with this mindset early on. My husband wasn’t. It took years of nurturing his own faith as best he could for him to develop his positive stance toward life’s negatives. Though this transformation occasionally reverts to a work in progress, I admire his persistence. Even in the midst of our pandemic woes, the dear man has continued to smile.

You know, God has encouraged us from the beginning to look at the bright side of things. From the very beginning, humankind failed to do this. Still, God persisted. God sent Abraham and Moses and the prophets and then Jesus of Nazareth to get our attention. Who but one from God could have conceived of the prodigal son’s forgiving father and the good shepherd who would lay down his life for even one of his sheep? Who but one from God could have lived love and compassion, mercy and forgiveness with such perfection? Yet, in spite of his goodness, tragedy touched Jesus’ life as well.

It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: Because we aren’t yet in heaven, this life will not be perfect. Still, God loves us and remains with us through it all. Hopefully, this is enough to get us all to look at the bright side of things.

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing presence which urges us on.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re Shepherds All!

When I heard familiar voices outside, I grabbed my hoodie and headed to the front door. Neighbors had been marooned out of town since the onset of our stay-at-home attempts to control the Corona Virus. They’d finally made it home and were wearily, but happily unpacking their car. I yelled from across the lawn to welcome them back to the neighborhood. My neighbor Kathy had come out to do the same. In the midst of it all, she looked in my direction to say, “You know, I don’t know what day it is any more. Since we can’t go to church, I’ve lost my bearings. Sunday used to be my anchor day. Now, I don’t know. It’s tough.” At first, I was surprised by Kathy’s comment. Because I’ve continued to post on my blog every day, I’ve adhered to a schedule of sorts. The writing, the online liturgies streamed from so many of our churches, as well as my ongoing conversation with our patient God have apparently kept me more grounded than I realized.

After bidding my neighbors farewell, I returned to my keyboard to begin this writing. When I reread today’s passage from John’s gospel (John 10:1-10), I recalled that Jesus’ contemporaries had lost their bearings as well. They had also lost access to the anchor which should have kept them grounded. This passage tells us that Jesus was angry as he spoke on that particular day because his troubled neighbors had no one to turn to in their suffering. They should have been able to go to the temple to pray for consolation and to seek counsel from the priests and scribes there. The people should have found comfort simply by being in that holy place. Rather, the Pharisees had manipulated The Law to own their benefit. They had imposed rules of every sort which limited the people’s access to their worship space, to the temple staff and to God. The virus which threatened in Jesus’ day had replaced compassion with control and had denied God’s comfort to those who needed it most.

Jesus responded to the situation by calling those who truly wished to serve the people to emulate shepherds. Though the temple authorities looked down upon shepherds because their jobs prevented them from adhering to the letter of The Law, Jesus held up shepherds as ideal examples of leadership, caring and love. The shepherds of Jesus’ day spent long hours in fields with their herds. Though they lacked education and power of any sort, they were key to the prosperity of wealthy sheep owners. Jesus reminded the people that shepherds dutifully guarded and nurtured the sheep in their charge. Every sheep knew its keeper’s voice, keenly aware of the special call only he could produce to beckon it to his side. When it came time to be led in or out of the pasture, each sheep followed the voice it had come to know and to trust. Whether a flock numbered in the hundreds or could be counted on the fingers of one hand, the shepherd’s guidance was essential to each animal’s survival. Jesus expected no less of those entrusted with God’s people. Jesus lost his patience in the temple that day because the Pharisees and their company had lost sight of their mission to anchor God’s people by lovingly shepherding them.

I think my neighbor felt that she’d lost her bearings because she thought she had lost access to the anchor she’d found at her parish church. It occurs to me that, without realizing it, Kathy has become the anchor she longed for. She listened compassionately as our friends described their lengthy isolation in cramped quarters. In the midst of admirable social distancing, Kathy and her husband provided refreshments since the returning couple was greeted by both an empty house and an empty refrigerator. Kathy had certainly provided the welcome which Jesus expected the temple staff to provide two millenniums ago. What a great example of shepherding Kathy was!

It seems that Easter Season 2020 will continue to be filled with moments of uncertainty and solitude for us all. The good news is that we will endure these difficult times in very good company. Our Good Shepherd reassures us all that none of us suffer alone. Kathy felt that she’d lost her anchor because it has come to her in a different form these days. Rather than finding solace and peace in the church building and the people whom she’s come to love there, Kathy has become the anchor where those things abide for others. In the rare event that she falters in her new role, Jesus will lift her up onto his shoulders and carry her through. You and I are invited to be anchors for one another as well. If you’re wondering how you might proceed, think of Kathy’s kindness and respond as she did to those you’ve been given to love. However we support our loved ones though this COVID-19 ordeal, as he does for my dear neighbor, Jesus will be with us to shepherd us every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Shepherds All

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

An unexpected conversation with an unexpected friend left my heart heavy with compassion for this suffering person. A loved one is critically ill 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 them 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 person’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 on… “Where would I be today, Lord, if I had not been in your care through the trauma of my own life? Sometimes, you came out of nowhere to assure me of your presence. You came in the kindness of your servant-shepherds who kept hope alive for me. Please, do the same for my friend and that family today.”

Truly, no one would be where he or she is today if not for God’s relentless love and care. Sometimes, this comes in our own awareness of God’s presence. Sometimes, that care comes in the efforts of the shepherds God has asked to care for us. Each instance of nurturing feeds our hope and empowers us to carry on. What an awesome responsibility and privilege it is for us to do the same for one another!

Good Shepherd, be with us as we share your nurturing ways through our loving care for one another .

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Ask…

“For the one who asks, receives. The one who seeks, finds.
The one who knocks, enters.”

Matthew 7:8

The other day, after a productive morning of writing, I ran out of steam. When this occurs, I usually take a break outdoors or turn to a favorite book. If the weather isn’t cooperating or that book doesn’t help, I look back to my own writing for a bit of help. That day, though my own inspiration had run out, something -or someone- inspired that walk back through my own words. This is what I found…

I’ve been working hard not to do so. Still, I admit to giving in to a bit of discouragement… Many people with greater concerns suffer far more than I. Still, I cannot seem to shake the feeling that I’m getting nowhere fast and that no one seems to care one way or the other. When this occurs, I look beyond my circle of family and friends for support.

Since the Source of my hope resides above, I look upward for encouragement. When I do this, I discover that my discouragement has come from within… It occurs to me that my family and friends do not often hear me say a thing about my heartfelt concerns. For the most part, they are unaware of the things which trouble me most. If this is the case, how can I expect them to respond with the encouragement I long for? It seems to me that I must not only listen well. I must also learn to speak up as needed.

I couldn’t believe what I read! Those of you who read these posts regularly are likely aware that I recently muddled through some tough times. It occurred to me that if I’d followed my own advice and shared more freely with those who love me, I would have emerged far more quickly from my misery.

Loving God, help us all to speak from our hearts to those who love us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always In Our Shepherd’s Care

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
forever and ever.

Psalm 23:6

I recently shared that my annual check-ups resulted in the news that I’m in very good health. This news was accompanied by the urging that I tweak my exercise regimen and diet a bit. I’m happy to report that I’ve worked somewhat diligently to do both. In the process, I’ve enjoyed longer treks outdoors and an uncharacteristically varied diet. Creature of habit that I am in all things, this is quite an accomplishment.

I admit that I can’t take full credit for this effort. The truth is that I reference Psalm 23 frequently as I plod along. The Good Shepherd who inspired the psalm watches over me every step of the way. The same shepherd cares for each one of us with the due diligence of the shepherds of old. Though God’s care is powerful whether we recognize it or not, there is great comfort to be found in acknowledging this Watchful One who cares for us so deeply.

Many people have troubles far more pressing than mine. With that in mind, I pray for all of my fellow sheep who face their troubles with far more courage than I. After all, we’re in this together. When one of us finds the way, we all get a bit closer to where God wants us to be.

Loving God, help me to take your example to heart and to lovingly shepherd those you have given me to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Never Give Up!

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

When I consider the state of this world, I wonder why God bothers. At times, when I consider the state of my own heart, I wonder the same. Why do you bother, Dear God? Your gifts are more numerous than the grains of sand which cover this earth’s beaches. Still, we ignore them or misuse them in equally bountiful ways.

Fortunately for me, God takes note of my despair 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 moment compel me to utter words of thanks without much thought. While I remain baffled at this transition from hopelessness to contentment, God leans back and admires this bit of Divine Handiwork.

The discouragement which I find is this world of ours is a far more perplexing matter. When I find it so difficult to reel in my own frustrations, how am I to repair the far larger messes which surround us all? Did I write, “How am I to repair…?

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! It’s up to us never to give up on the objects of God’s love either. Like God, we need to have faith in ourselves and in those we’ve been given to love. Only God knows the good we can do.

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.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved