Peace Be With Us All

“The works that God gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify that God has sent me.”

John 5:36

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I wrote about the peace with which I begin each day? Though I’m grateful that God’s peace stays with me much of the time, this is sometimes not the case. Today, I’m more than impatient with a few of my fellow humans. Though I believe God loves us just as we are, I’m having a little trouble following God’s good example. I just watched a news report which I wish I’d missed. Those featured seem to have forgotten that we’re all God’s people. I shouldn’t have allowed these few to distract me from the remarkable good that is being accomplished by so many these days. Yet, I did!

Determined to change my attitude, I ran upstairs to take another peek out of the window which inspires my morning talks with God. Before I said a word, childhood memories regarding some of Jesus’ contemporaries filled me up. Before I could ask the point of all of this, the eleven-year-old I used to be came to mind. She was extremely impatient with the Pharisees who had no use for Jesus. This younger me was convinced that Jesus’ words and works had come from a loving God and she wondered why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to see this.

As I consider my current frustration, I acknowledge that times haven’t changed much. I’d revived my eleven-year-old frustration. I’d also lost the peace that resides not only beyond that window, but also deep within me. With that, I’m renewing my resolve to find that peace once again. I’ll pray for those who’d frustrated me so. I’ll also do what I can to bring peace to my little corner of this world.

Good and Patient God, help me to do just that!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be There For Him

“You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”

John 12:8

An unexpected “invitation” to babysit for our granddaughters urged me to organize and to prioritize in short order. After adjusting my schedule and completing another of the tasks at hand, I sat to relax at our kitchen table. Though this isn’t our home’s most comfortable place to sit, its position next to a large patio door makes it very special. The views of our backyard and side yard that day included the greening lawn and budding bushes. Nature’s miraculous resurrection hinted at all that Jesus accomplished that first Holy Week so long ago. “There’s a story here,” I told myself.

I didn’t continue my musing because a gentle tap distracted me. A lovely dove sat staring at me from the large barren flowerpot outside that patio door. Though such visitors usually fly off when I draw closer, the dove remained, content to stare back at me. A ray of sunshine caused her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. As I wondered what this dove was up to, it occurred to me that she likely wondered the same about me. This is Holy Week, the week I’d promised to walk with Jesus.

I’d promised to recall all that happened to Jesus and to be there for him. My beautiful feathered friend encouraged me to do just that. I returned to the story which had come to mind a minute earlier. I put myself in Jesus’ shadow as it unfolded. Though I wasn’t able to change the outcome, I changed everything simply by being there.

This week, it’s our turn to love and to comfort and to be there for this Jesus who changed everything for us.

Dear God, thank you for that sweet dove’s reminder to express my appreciation tangibly by keeping watch with Jesus.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Spread The Word!

Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.

John 20:18

Recent good news keeps me in “alleluia mode” these days. Good news is hard to keep to oneself. I admit to offering continued updates regarding my grandchildren to anyone who will listen. I’m just as eager when my news might be helpful to others. We’re all willing to spread the word when that word is worth spreading. We share a good book and diet tips that work. We tell our colleagues about inroads we’ve made with the new payroll technology and the new boss. We can’t keep the news of a long-awaited pregnancy or a cancer remission to ourselves for longer than it takes to scroll down to a number on our cell phones. Indeed, good news is a limited commodity in this Twenty-first Century world of ours. So it is that we celebrate it at every opportunity!

The truth is that since the beginning of time, good news has been in short supply on this earth. No wonder we share glad tidings when they come our way. When our circumstances surround us with sorrow and pain, we perk up to listen when words of hope are offered. It occurs to me that though life can be tough, good news is always ours. When we acknowledge God’s presence around us and within us, good news takes on a whole new meaning which endures for the long haul!

Loving God, thank you for breathing hope into every minute of every day.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Weeds or Blossoms, We’re Loved!

As I wrote, tiny bits of hail tapped the windows. I wondered if they were intentionally distracting me or if it was I who needed to intentionally concentrate more fully on the task at hand. I’d been out in the misty weather earlier that morning before the hail made its way to my window and then onto the pavement where it danced wildly. Yes, I did get up from my desk to watch that performance. Because it wasn’t enough of a distraction, I walked downstairs to the kitchen for a glass of water. Afterward, I stopped at the patio door to peer out at the hail a while longer. As those tiny balls of ice melted into nothingness, I noticed a green sprout growing between two bricks in the patio. Before I could say a word, my husband observed, “You know that’s a dandelion, don’t you?” After looking more closely for myself, I responded. “Huh! The first sign of spring and it’s a dandelion. I hope this isn’t an omen of the things to come!” With that, I returned to this writing and today’s gospel (John 15:1-8) where Jesus compares himself to a vine. I looked upward and prayed, “I much prefer vines to weeds, Lord. Thank you!”

Decades ago, this preference for non-weeds caused me some trouble. I was in second grade and it was the first week of May. Our teacher, my classmates and I busied ourselves preparing an altar to honor Mary. Sister provided blue satin fabric for the background, flowers fashioned into a crown and a statue of the Mother of Jesus. To me, the altar would be complete when we added a vase of flowers. Another second grader had brought in a handful of weeds which he thought were spring flowers. Though I didn’t know much about such things, I knew that those particular sprouts weren’t flowers. They looked just like the pesky dandelion buds which plagued our backyard.

As I walked home after school that day, the scent of lilacs overwhelmed me. There were so many flowers growing on the hedge beside me that I was certain no one would mind if I “borrowed” a few. They would complete our May Altar perfectly. So it was that during the hour of daylight which remained after dinner, I set out to gather lilacs. There wasn’t a soul around which didn’t actually matter to me. I was on a mission. I headed to that hedge with my mother’s pinking sheers, the only scissors I could find, and a large paper bag. I immediately began my search for perfect lilacs. Some were too short-stemmed to stand in a vase. Others had buds that hadn’t yet opened. Still others had begun to brown. After several minutes of snipping, I stood in the dusk with a bag and a sidewalk full of lilacs. I had single-handedly cut every bloom that I could reach. In my earnest effort to replace my classmate’s budding weeds with flowers, I’d made a terrible mess and an even more terrible mistake.

My lack of appreciation for this misdeed disappeared quickly. All of the houses on our block rested just a few feet from the sidewalk except one. This house was set back so far that its rear entrance opened just steps from the alley. A huge overgrown front yard protected the house from neighborhood eyes. The unkempt trees, shrubs, wild grasses and weeds gave the place a ghostly aura. The bravest of our neighborhood teens refused to scale the fence which protected what we called The Big Yard even if this meant losing a prized softball. The Big Yard scared every one of us except in the springtime. This was when that eerie hedge which bordered the sidewalk transformed The Big Yard into Lilac Heaven. As I prepared to take my leave from that precious hedge, the sound of shuffling steps caused me to freeze in place. As The Big Yard’s gate creaked open, I drenched myself in tears. The shuffling resumed until a bent figure stopped before me. The tiniest and oldest woman I’d ever seen turned her eyes to the mounds of lilacs strewn across the walk. Without a word, she knelt in the blossoms and scooped them up close to herself as if in an attempt to revive them. When she realized I’d robbed each branch of its life, she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. Her tears fell as profusely as my own. After what seemed an eternity, she turned to say, “Of all the things that grow in this yard, I love the lilacs most. My yard is nothing but weeds except for these flowers, you know. Waiting for them to bloom is what gets me through our terrible winters.”

In the end, my newly discovered neighbor forgave my thievery. She allowed me to think that the plaster statue which adorned my second grade classroom would benefit far more from the flowers than she. Somehow, I knew better. I should have appreciated my classmate’s weeds as Mary would have. I should have known that my neighbor appreciated her lilacs even more than I did. It is this childhood misadventure which inspires my appreciation for the Vine which sustains us all. Jesus remains in our company whether we present ourselves as flowers or weeds. Just as my neighbor’s lilacs eased her through a lifetime of tough winters, Jesus stays to sustain us through everything which threatens us along the way. All we’re asked in return is to sustain one another whether we’re blooming beautifully like those lilacs or being pesky like my backyard’s weeds.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Find Joy and Share It!

As we begin our worship today, the pink candle which flickers among the purple calls us to rejoice. The Advent Season is half over and our anticipation of Christmas will soon be satisfied. As I consider the lessons of the past week, I find that I relied quite heavily upon the inspiration I drew from Isaiah. The First Sunday of Advent, Isaiah called us clay formed into goodness by God’s own hand and we prayed that God would make it so. Last Sunday, Isaiah moved us from God’s hands to God’s heart. The prophet called us lambs held in God’s bosom and soothed by the rhythm of God’s heartbeat. We prayed that our hearts might be synchronized with God’s so we might respond to this world as God does. Indeed, this prayer was answered for me…

This past Saturday, my sister Rita hosted a gathering of our cousins. This annual reunion rouses the Christmas Spirit in even the most harried of us. Cheerful conversation and bread broken together made for a most enjoyable afternoon. Though my cousins and I have raised our own children and added several grandchildren to the mix, as we sat around Rita’s table, I quickly returned to my childhood. Though we’ve all evolved into vintage versions of our former selves, I found great joy in envisioning my cousins, my sisters and me as children.

As is always the case, after sharing each of our families’ current events, our conversation drifted to the many family members who are no longer with us. Only our dear Uncle Gerard remains of all of our parents. We’ve also lost cousins who were far too young to take their leave. Still, the spirits of these loved ones lingered about us as we laughed over the decades of great times we shared with them. As I considered my family members in the hereafter, I could almost hear my mom and dad assuring me, “You know, Mary, if you really believe what you say you believe, you know that this is what we lived for. We are in a very good place!” I was tempted to respond aloud, “Yes, but I still miss you!” Of course, I thought better of this as I didn’t want to leave my extended family with the impression that I’d gone over the deep end with no life-preserver! Rather, I reminded them of our parents’ great faith and how they comforted us each and every time we had to say good-bye. Though our collective childhood was punctuated too often by these events, my most vivid memory of our family gatherings continues to be the joy we found in the midst of them.

As I prepared for this writing, it occurred to me that my faith-filled upbringing has much in common with our Advent 2017 journey. Both have much to teach us. The past year has been a sobering experience on many levels. Worldwide unrest, unyielding natural disasters and ever-worsening violence have given us all reason to step back to find some perspective. At the same time, our hearts nudge us forward to do something to improve things. My parents’ faith gave me some sense of God’s ongoing concern and our Advent journeys do the same. As we focus upon the joy of Christmas 2017, we must become the clay in God’s hands and the lambs in God’s arms. We must do what we can to transform every day with the joy God infused into the first Christmas.

This is where we find Isaiah in today’s first reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11). This prophet who allowed himself to be molded by God’s hands and who aligned his own heart with God’s heart announced, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord…” As Isaiah came to understand God’s intent more fully, he preached tirelessly to encourage those around him to do the same. Centuries later, John’s gospel (1:6-8, 19-28) echoed Isaiah’s message through The Baptizer. When asked his role in the grand scheme of things, John the Baptist responded, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.” He continued Isaiah’s attempt to bring understanding to the people regarding all that God has in store. As was the case with Isaiah, John’s work was difficult. As for you and me, we can choose to be hard-hearted people completely distracted by this life’s troubles or we can allow God to mold us into joyful lambs who can’t help sharing the good news of what lies beyond our journeys here!

The joy we find in this church today invites us to look beyond the windows into a world of opportunity to spread the promise of Christmas. However we choose to do so, we can bring joy to the moments at hand. However we choose to do so, we can make every day Christmas Day for ourselves and for those we’ve been given to love both nearby and far away.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Lovingly Persistent

“The works that God gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that God has sent me.”

John 5:36

Sometimes, I’m impatient with our humanity. I become frustrated with others, especially at church, when they forget that we’re actually God’s family. I become frustrated with myself when I allow their antics to distract me from the work at hand. So it is that I must return to my childhood musing regarding the behaviors of Jesus’ contemporaries. If it was obvious to me at age eleven that Jesus’ lessons, parables and works had to have come from a loving God, I wondered why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to accept this. They knew that Israel awaited the Messiah. Foreign astrologers had recognized the sign in the night and traveled a long distance to find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. It seemed to me that the Pharisees and many others should have known better than to reject Jesus.

As I consider my current frustration, I acknowledge that times haven’t changed much. We see all that Jesus accomplished from his humble state. We see that Jesus needed no worldly authority to serve us. We see that Jesus sought the company of outcasts and that he set aside his own concerns whenever he was needed. Still, we do as I have done and become angry when others who don’t conform to our hopes and desires.

Jesus persisted in spite of and because of the humanity of those he’d come to this earth to love. Times haven’t changed much and it’s up to me to persist as Jesus did with patient love.

Good and Patient God, help me to do just that!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved