Loved Just As We Are

Though I’ve shared my fascination with bubbles before, a recent encounter and today’s scripture passages urge me to revisit this favorite topic. For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept a supply of bubbles in the cabinet under our kitchen sink. This began decades ago when our older son was a little boy. I introduced Little Mike to the joy of bubble-watching as soon as he was able to notice the bubbles I created around him. There is something magically mesmerizing about these delicately colored spheres. Whether they sail slowly in the still air or flit about in a brisk breeze, bubbles hold our attention until they literally pop out of sight. I’m convinced that our son shared my enthusiasm because he happily chased the bubbles I created. He was particularly pleased when a bubble rested nearby on the lawn, a leaf and sometimes on his own hand. Eventually, our firstborn learned to blow bubbles himself. He was in heaven and so was I! When little brother Tim came along and grew old enough to appreciate bubbles as well, his big brother happily joined his dad and me in our creative efforts. We blew bubbles for Timmy until he also became competent at this amazing art.

Throughout the years since, I’ve replenished my bubble inventory often. I’ve even made room on a shelf in the garage for those larger cylinder-shaped bottles with foot-long wands. When the wind cooperates, they allow me to create the largest and most plentiful bubbles ever. One never knows when bubbles will be needed to add a bit of joy to the moment at hand. As for me, in every instance of bubble-blowing I find myself incapable of suppressing a smile. Last weekend was no exception. Our granddaughters stayed with Grandpa and me while their parents attended a wedding. This trio consists of a seventh grader, a fifth grader and a third grader who usually present themselves as independent and mature preteens -yes, even that third grader! At least this is usually the case until they arrive at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s home. As soon as they walk through the door, they morph into little girls who enjoy playing with blocks and years-old toys. They also share their grandma’s love for blowing bubbles.

So it was that shortly after they arrived that day each of my granddaughters selected a bottle of bubbles from under the kitchen sink. After also taking some bubbles for me, the girls suggested that we head to the playground across the street. There they could run and blow bubbles to their hearts’ content. Since Grandpa would be busy with a wedding rehearsal until dinner, we had plenty of time for this outing. For an amazing hour, we blew bubbles in every direction. When the girls moved on to the playground equipment, I climbed atop a slide just high enough not to threaten by safety. From my above-ground perch, I blew bubbles wherever the girls ran. Those bubbles interrupted their play often. Sometimes, they chased my creations and sometimes they simply watched them float in the air. Perhaps my granddaughters appreciate the miracle of these delightful orbs as much as I.

As I rejoiced in my “bubble blessings” that afternoon, it occurred to me that this phenomenon hints at the delight God finds in each one of us. Though the film on my bubble wand looked the same every time I replenished it, every bubble I created took on its own coloring, shape and size. If I find such joy in breathing life into a bubble of soap film, imagine the elated expectation God feels when another of us emerges to embrace life on this earth! If I relish every moment with a bubble, whether it pops in three seconds or dances in the air for three minutes, imagine how precious each of our lives is to our beloved Creator! Whether we live for decades, an entire century or just a few days, there is never disappointment in the direction or length of our paths. God’s only hope in sending us on our way is that we do the best we can to delight in one another with as much love as we can muster all the while. The best part is that, just as I watch my bubbles for their entire life spans, God watches over every one of us!

I acknowledge that today’s scripture passages suggest some inconsistencies in the way God expresses this love for us. In the first reading, Isaiah (22:19-23) chastised the Hebrews who felt they were the only ones whom God would welcome into the Holy City. Isaiah insisted there was room for many others as well. This realization that God appreciates our differences is good news for us all. In his letter to the Hebrews (12:5-7, 11-13), Paul noted that much suffering would come to those who lived as God’s children. Though Paul described these hard times as God’s discipline, it seems to me that it is we humans who create much of this world’s misery. In the gospel (Luke 13:22-30), Luke tells us that the disciples asked Jesus if only a few would be saved. After offering a bit of caution regarding the propensity of some to think that self-proclaimed good deeds would get them into heaven, Jesus continued: “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” While scripture scholars and preachers explain these passages further, I’m taking a lesson from the miracle of bubbles: In spite of our color, size, shape and path, God delights in our existence. In spite of and because of our uniqueness, God’s affection and good will toward each of us remain intact. God breathes life into us with great hope, far more hope than I breathe into my bubbles. Indeed, God breathes life into each one of us with the full expectation that we will evolve into the amazingly unique souls whom God will welcome home one day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Rich In God’s Eyes

Some months after Marie passed away, her daughters sorted through her things. They’d allowed their mourning to ease a bit before dealing with this daunting task. The day they gathered, they lovingly and practically decided what to keep, what to pass on to Marie’s grandchildren and what to give away. All the while, these sisters shared many laughs and shed lots of tears over the memories which surfaced as they worked. An item that drew their attention spoke to one of Marie’s lifelong interests. It was a framed needlepoint rendering of a gray-haired woman sitting next to a mound of assorted fabric. Next to the woman, someone had meticulously stitched, “She who dies with the most fabric wins.” One of Marie’s daughters had gifted her mom with this artwork because Marie purchased fabric whenever it was offered at a good price. Marie’s walk-in closet was literally filled with the stuff when she left her condo for the last time.

Now Marie wasn’t a compulsive buyer. She always purchased fabric with a project in mind. When her daughters were growing up, Marie fashioned most of their clothes and her own. She also upholstered furniture, sewed drapes and did alterations for various family members. Among Marie’s favorite projects were the bridesmaids dresses she fashioned for her daughters’ weddings and the items she sewed for veterans confined to area VA Hospitals. Marie made lap blankets to warm the vets who spent their days in wheelchairs. She made neck pillows for those who were bedridden. She made ditty bags in which all of them could store their personal items for safekeeping. Marie never let anything go to waste. Years after her daughters’ weddings, Marie recycled those old bridesmaid dresses by using their fabric for these same items for women vets. Marie made good use of everything fabric-related. A few years before she passed away, Marie’s hands began to ache with arthritis. When she found that she could clothe herself with purchased items as inexpensively as with what she made for herself, Marie limited her sewing to items for the veterans. Marie determined that she’d use her stockpile in service of those most in need. Though she left her condo with that full closet, she’d actually used most of the fabric she’d collected over the years. Her daughters were quite certain that she had a plan in mind for every leftover bit of it.

Interestingly enough, though sewing was a huge part of Marie’s life, she moved on to other things after she left her condo. Marie concentrated on the new business at hand. She’d taken up residence with one of her daughters and her focus became being a good house-guest. It was Marie’s goal to cause as little disruption as possible in the lives of all concerned. Her sons-in-law agreed that Marie was easy to have around. When Marie was diagnosed with cancer, her life’s work changed once again. Marie’s new goal became to live the life she had left to the fullest just as she always had. All the while, her generosity continued to be evident. Marie enjoyed daily activities in her hospice setting, was a good patient when she needed care, provided upbeat company to her fellow residents, held onto her dignity at all costs and assured her daughters that she was absolutely fine. After four months, Marie left this world peacefully.

In his gospel (Luke 12:13-21), Luke shares Jesus’ parable of the rich man. This fellow seemed to believe, “Whoever dies with the most stuff wins.” Jesus told his friends, “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.’” The poor rich man didn’t understand the blessing that wealth of any sort is meant to be. He busied himself with building up storehouses of his own treasure rather than using what he had to enrich those God had given him to love. Poor rich man that he was, he didn’t enjoy loving others as much as he enjoyed loving himself. Poor rich man that he was, he didn’t understand at all the things that truly matter and the things that should have mattered to him.

Through everything that she said and did, Marie gave new meaning to her daughter’s needlepoint gift. Marie’s efforts echoed the message Jesus shared with his disciples that day. She who dies with the most fabric does win when she does as Marie did. Whether sticking to her meager budget by sewing for herself, clothing her children or making things for her vets, Marie used her wealth of talent well. Even that leftover stockpile served others after Marie’s passing because her daughters saw to it. It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: Whether we’ve been blessed with the ability to sew or to listen, with a kind heart, a healthy stock portfolio, patience or… you get the idea. God asks only that we take as good care of others as we do of ourselves with what we have. The truth is that I learned this firsthand. I’m the one who purchased that little needlepoint artwork. Marie is my mom.

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

See What God Sees

God looked at everything God made, and God found it very good.
Genesis 3:31

One of the treasures I recall from my childhood is our family bible. Actually, we had two. The first was a single tome, beautifully decorated and meant to serve as a family heirloom. The second was a massive binder made up of separate booklets which came in the mail every month. With each new arrival, my mom carefully removed the bible’s cardboard cover, inserted the new booklet and replaced the cover. Afterward, I poured over this newest edition’s colorful pictures and passages. My favorite was the Book of Genesis. The Creation Story conjured up wonderful images of our amazing God. Only when our first grandchild was born did I truly appreciate that image of God, the most loving Grandparent ever.

I cite the passage above with good reason. When I look at my own grandchildren, I’m certain that I see what God sees. I say this because no matter what they do, I love them. The truth is that I feel this way about my grown sons as well. I wouldn’t trade any one of them for anything else in all of creation. As God observed, they are very good indeed!

Every week or so, we spend an afternoon visiting our granddaughters. A few weeks ago, I resumed my one-day-a-week commitment to babysit for our grandsons while Mommy and Daddy are at work. Oddly, my thoughts return to that childhood bible and my awe over God’s creation. Today, I realize that a special part of that creation has been entrusted to me and I find it (Them all!) to be very good!

Loving God, thank you for this glimpse of what you see when you look upon each one of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transformed By Love

All this is the work of the kindness of our God.
Luke 1:18

As I continue to prepare for Christmas, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that everything will be perfect for the ones I love. Though I’ve done my best to prepare, one never knows what lies ahead. I consider the mother of Jesus and her plans. When Gabriel appeared to announce an alternative, the news must have startled Mary at best. “God’s Son? My Son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager listened and opened herself to the challenges which lay ahead. Like every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Within a week, we will celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we’ll adjust, refocus and embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our loved ones, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our own children grow and leave home to make their own way as we did, Jesus never leaves. He grew and prospered, died and rose only to remain around us and within us every moment of our lives. So it is that Jesus asks that we do whatever we do with him in mind. Like our own children, that cute little babe in the manger makes unimaginably unexpected demands upon us. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world with your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Miracle Revisited…

From the depths of my despair, I wept before you.
You heard my voice, dried my tears and responded.

Inspired by God’s Absolute Love

We’ve just celebrated my grandson’s birthday. Danny is 3 years old! He’s also Big Brother to sweet Little Brother and all is well. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to revisit the journey from despair through hope to absolute joy which accompanied Danny’s arrival…

Because his mom’s contractions began during Week 26 of this pregnancy, reaching Week 32 proved to be a major milestone. Another two weeks would bring Baby close to typical newborn size and development. A day into that week, the telephone rang at 1:00 AM. I heard my husband repeat, “So your water broke?” Tears flowed as they spoke further. My prayers began.

That morning, we learned Baby could remain in place for two weeks while his mom remained in the hospital. Precautions would slow progress and assist the baby’s development. Later, my husband and I headed to church and our usual Sunday morning routine. I admit to complete distraction from everything except my prayers for Baby and his mom. My husband-the-deacon remained to perform baptisms and I returned home. On the way, I called my son. I heard the concern in his voice as he reported that his wife was experiencing a lot of pain. Because my daughter-in-law is healthy, athletic and incapable of complaining, I took this news to heart. It was then that my prayer changed…

I wept as I drove home and when I arrived. I wept as I changed my clothes. I wept until I found the courage to look heavenward. I wept bitterly as I spoke… “Dear God, I can feed the hungry and be there for the lonely. I can listen to those who need me and I can mourn with those in pain. But this? There’s nothing I can do about this. I can’t stop the contractions. I can’t keep that baby in place until the time is right. Only you can fix this. So I beg you for a miracle. I beg you not to allow this baby to be born until he is ready enough. Please give them a miracle because I can’t. This is all up to you.” And on I wept.

Our son called an hour later to report that things had settled down. Three hours after that, he called again: “He’s here! Daniel is here!” All tests indicated that Daniel was behaving like a mini-full-term newborn. His color, weight and reflexes amazed all concerned. Though he would remain in the hospital for a few weeks, there were no indications that Daniel was anything but “ready enough.”

Loving God, I humbly thank you for allowing me the courage to pray as I did and for responding with nothing less than that miracle which continues to bear the sweetest fruit!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

As God Sees Us…

God looked at everything God made,
and God found it very good.

Genesis 3:31

As I walked through Nazareth and Capernaum and Magdala, images from my childhood bible filled me up. Though we had a lovely family bible, we also had a children’s bible. It was stored in a massive binder made up of separate booklets which came in the mail every month. With each new arrival, my mom carefully removed the bible’s cardboard cover, inserted the additional booklet and replaced the cover. Afterward, I poured over the newest edition’s colorful pictures and passages. While in Israel, I saw many of the places featured in that precious tome. While taking in each one, I came to realize the reason that my childhood favorite was the Book of Genesis. It takes us back to our roots!

While walking the streets and byways of the Holy Land, I glimpsed a bit of God’s handiwork. Every face drew me in. I wondered how many of these might trace their family trees back to the families of Joseph or Mary. Whether or not this was possible, I know that we can all trace our roots back to God. Whether it happened in seven days or as a result of The Big Bang, God started it all. God started us all. Seeing ancient ruins which date back to Jesus’ day and beforehand, I couldn’t help being awestruck. What amazed me even more is that God continues to look carefully enough upon us and to find even more which is very good.

Loving God, help me to realize how much you value each one of us and to respond with a grateful heart.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved