Time To Be Creative!

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

Ecclesiastes 3:5

My need for order in my life makes it unlikely that I’ll ever embrace the opportunity to scatter stones. I’m far more likely to arrange them in neat piles or rows. I’m even less likely to choose to be far from embraces. The human touch is extremely important and I cannot imagine ever situating myself far enough from my fellow humans to preclude hugging. Little did I know that COVID-19 would completely undermine this resolve. I don’t know how those who’ve had to leave their loved ones at a hospital’s door have managed to find the courage. I know from experience that I could not…

As I wrote that last sentence, the image of my mom an hour before her death came to mind. When she drifted into a coma, we knew that her time left could be counted in hours. Though my sisters and I had agreed to leave our mom for the night, I couldn’t bring myself to comply. I’d stayed another forty minutes after my sisters left when I finally realized the error of my ways.

You see, when our mom received her diagnosis, she was quite specific regarding where she would spend her last days. She had no intention of breathing her last in any of our homes. She couldn’t bear to leave us with that memory. My presence at her bedside had obviously interfered with my mom’s intent. After kissing her one last time, I drove the thirty-minute ride home. About ten minutes after I arrived, the phone rang. My mom had taken her leave of this earth shortly after I left her.

Our experience with this pandemic has provide a review of this important lesson. Sometimes, we need to leave the proximity of those all-important embraces in order to deal with our most important work. In the end, there are some things which we must attend to alone.

Patient God, be with us as we learn to be creative about loving one another without those all-important embraces.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time For New Life

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

Memories of the loss of my dad have stirred memories of another loss I experienced in July. This time, the year was 1999.

My friend battled cancer and, after long bouts with chemotherapy, John’s future seemed secure. He was a good man and a good priest. His life made all of the difference in the world all who knew him. Eventually, word spread that John had beaten the cancer and a collective sigh of relief rose to the heavens.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to write my next article and to get a letter off to John. My poor friend was a captive fan to whom I mailed my reflections each week. I always included a letter to let him know that my husband and I were thinking about him. Because we would observe July 4th a few days later, the holiday set my tone. I wished John a generous measure of freedom with which to get on with his life. My litany began with “…freedom from illness, freedom to breathe in as deeply as you want to and with no pain! I wish you freedom from chemotherapy and I wish you hair! I wish you the freedom to get back to the people and the work you love and the freedom to come and go as you please.” I mailed that letter with a smile. I could hardly wait until John would once again be well enough to come over for dinner.

Sadly, John never read this particular letter. He returned to the hospital the day after its writing. Pneumonia had set in and John lacked the stamina to fight it. When John’s life among us ended, he embraced ultimate freedom.

While John enjoys life in the hereafter, I admit to a bit of melancholy. I still miss my friend.

Loving God, I think the most difficult part of this life is saying good-bye. Today, please touch the hearts of all who mourn with your peace.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Grateful, Even Today

I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:7

It’s Mother’s Day Eve and I’m counting my blessings. In spite of our current stay-at-home status and the distance between me and those I love most, I am grateful for so much…

As I assemble my list, I write “Being a mom”. This is the best job I’ve ever had! Next, I write “Mom” with a flourish. I learned a lot from my mom. Even her imperfections taught me important life lessons. As it happened, it was the grace with which my mom lived her last days which touched me and taught me most.

Three days before my mom passed away, fatigue confined her to bed. Her daytime attire changed from street clothes to a nightgown to a hospital gown within seventy-two hours. This day, I arrived just as Ruth, her nurse, was spooning tiny dollops of ice cream into my mom’s mouth. After giving me a “Hi, Mary” smile, my mom turned to Ruth to whisper, “Thank you for the ice cream.” Afterward, Ruth helped her to the washroom. As Ruth nestled my mom into the wheelchair, my mom whispered again, “Thank you for your help.” Mom held on tightly when Ruth wrapped her arms around her to ease her back into bed. As she left, my mom’s eyes followed Ruth to the door. Ruth turned to wave and my mom smiled in gratitude. Later, when the activity director came to see how she was doing, Mom met her with another of her grateful smiles.

In spite of her impending passing, my mother concerned herself with the people around her. She never complained and was ever grateful for even the smallest kindness. Whether or not it was part of ones job or part her children’s duty to care for their dying parent, my mom always whispered, “Thank you!” Yes, even in the midst of our pandemic woes, I have much to say “Thank you” for. We all do!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of my mom. She revealed your generosity, grace and love until the end. Give me the courage to offer the same to those I meet along the way, especially now.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved, Both Near and Far

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

Ecclesiastes 3:5

As a proponent of order, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever embrace the opportunity to scatter stones. I’m more likely to arrange them into neat piles or rows. I’m even less likely to choose to be far from embraces. The human touch is extremely important to me and I can’t imagine ever situating myself far enough from my fellow humans to preclude hugging. Oops! What was that? Today, like you, I’m situated so far from my fellow humans that it’s impossible to see them, much less hug them!

As is my custom, when I’m uncertain of what to write next, I peek out of my window and then upward. After looking at the sunshine outdoors, I turned my eyes upward. In the process, I caught a glimpse of my mom’s picture. Before I had the chance to ask her how she would deal with COVID-19, memories of her last hour filled me up…

My mom had drifted into a coma. We knew the remainder of her time among us could be counted in hours. That night, I couldn’t bring myself to leave her. It was forty minutes after my sisters left when I realized the error of my ways. When our mom received her terminal diagnosis, she was quite specific regarding where she would breathe her last. She had no intention of passing on to eternity from any of our homes. Our mom couldn’t bear to leave us with that memory. My presence at her bedside had obviously interfered with my mom’s intent. After kissing her one last time, I drove home. Ten minutes after I arrived, the phone rang. My mom had taken her leave of this life shortly after I’d left her.

Sometimes, we need to leave the proximity of those all-important embraces in order to deal with our most important work. My mom needed the space to embrace eternal life on her own terms. Today, you and I need the space to keep one another healthy and safe. So it is that we love one another from afar as best we can.

Patient God, nudge me when it’s time to embrace those you have given me to love. Nudge me a bit harder when it’s time for me to step back and allow you to take care.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Look and See!

As I read today’s gospel about Jesus’ encounter with the man who was born blind, I couldn’t help thinking about our visits to the Holy Land, especially this past year’s adventure. Because it is unlikely that I’ll travel there again, I was careful to listen to our guide’s every word and to take in everything within view as completely as possible. I didn’t want to miss even the tiniest detail of the sites before me. I was pleasantly surprised by both my clear recollections of the things I’d seen before and my appreciation of the new sites added to this year’s itinerary. Each one elicited heartfelt gratitude as images of Jesus’ place in all of this filled me up. I thanked God often for gifting me with perceptive eyes and a perceptive heart which served me well for the duration of this trip.

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, when we revisit the story of Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind, my thoughts turn to a contemporary who was deprived of his vision from birth much like the man whom Jesus met that day so long ago. This person was our tour guide Yossi. As I’ve mentioned before, Yossi never ceased to surprise us with his wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life. While he provided amazing commentary throughout our tour, Yossi also left us to our own thoughts as we absorbed the people and sites around us. Yossi always smiled as he revealed Israel’s treasures to us one by one. Eventually, we discovered that Yossi’s vision of life in Jesus’ homeland wasn’t always as clear and acute as it was when we met him…

Yossi was raised in a Kibbutz and, as Yossi described it, “God was ripped from my heart as a young child.” Within that communist setting, there was neither time nor place for talk of God. Though Yossi’s family eventually left to live and work independently, they also remained independent from God. With his blindness toward his Creator intact, Yossi grew into a successful hardworking and community-minded Israeli. He continues to be keenly aware of the plight of Israel, its people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. In spite of his secular status, Yossi told us often, “You must pray for the people of Israel; for peace here.” I found this to be a curious request in light of Yossi’s alleged lack of faith. Yossi seemed to read my thoughts because he added, “You must do this. I don’t know how to pray, but you do.” I eventually discovered that nothing is farther from the truth.

Whenever we visited a site associated with Jesus, Yossi pulled out his tablet and directed us to open our “books” to a given gospel. It didn’t matter that we had no bibles. Yossi reverently read passages which featured this teacher who had changed everything for many of us, perhaps even Yossi. I began to wonder if our guide considered himself to be secular because he didn’t want to be confused with the religious Hasidic Jewish people. In Yossi’s mind, they were the blind ones who saw nothing beyond the rules and regulations dictated by their faith. They seemed to have lost sight of the needs of others because stringent rules took precedence over everything and everyone else. In contrast, Yossi lead us to the home of a couple who have dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel among the Jewish people. Jacob and Elisheva found a great treasure in Jesus and they do all they can to open the eyes of others to Jesus’ message. Though they suffer both subtle and overt persecution, the couple persists in revealing the gifts they’ve found in Jesus to all who will listen. “We can only open their eyes,” Elisheva said. “It is up to them to look and see.” As she spoke, I wondered, “Had Yossi opened his eyes and seen?”

It seems that his neighbors and the temple authorities were the blind ones when it came to the plight of the unseeing man in today’s gospel. These misguided souls saw the man’s parents as sinners who prompted God to impose this affliction upon him. In their eyes, this man deserved to suffer. It was Jesus who looked beyond the man’s opaque eyes into a heart broken by a lifetime of misjudgment and isolation. Jesus saw precisely what God sees whenever God peers into an aching heart. Jesus saw a suffering soul whose only need was God’s healing love and Jesus went on to share that love with him. The man’s cure was an unexpected bonus.

While listening to Yossi, it occurred to me that an encounter with Jesus along the way had likely done the same for him. Though he was deprived of seeing God until he was freed from that Kibbutz and grew into adulthood, something urged Yossi to open his eyes. When he did, Yossi saw the gifts God offers to us all. Like the man born blind, Yossi was changed forever in the process. Even without eyes to see, the blind man recognized Jesus as an emissary of God’s love. In spite of his Godless upbringing, Yossi recognizes the same. How fortunate you and I are to be blessed with that same vision of God’s healing love!

It seems to me that it is more important than ever for us to keep our visions of God’s healing love in the forefront for ourselves and for those who share this difficult time with us. While we do our best to keep our loved ones and ourselves healthy and safe, we also pray that those infected with the virus and the brave souls who care for them also find consolation in God who remains at their sides.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Knows and God Cares

They laid them at his feet and he cured them…
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd.”

From Matthew 15:30

My joyful Advent journey took a turn earlier today. It’s difficult to read about the miracles of Jesus when so many suffer in the here and now. Oddly, I deal with my own illnesses reasonably well. I tell myself that these inconveniences are mere reminders that I’m not yet in heaven. Unfortunately, I dismiss this wisdom when others are ill or in dire straights. I admit to turning my eyes upward more often than I should and daring to ask, “Why not this time, Lord? If you could cure the sick back then, why not now?”

I eventually calm down by considering Jesus’ behavior when he faced his own demise. Do you remember? Jesus left his friends behind and ventured further into the Garden of Gethsemane alone. In desperation, Jesus threw himself to the ground as droplets of red perspiration fell from his face. “Can you take this cup from me?” Heartsick as Jesus was, he realized that God, who is Loving Parent to us all, would be with him through everything. In the end, Jesus was certain that he would more than survive whatever the next few days held for him.

With that, I placed all of those who suffer in any way into God’s hands. Though I continue to pray in full earnest, I’ve stopped worrying. In the end, God remains with them and all of us through everything as well.

Loving God, my worries disperse and my hope becomes joy as I journey in your company toward Christmas and toward my home with you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved