K is for…

People who are well do not need a doctor;
sick people do. I did not come to heal the righteous,
but the lowly.

Mark 2:17

K is for Kindness. Unexpected kindness is the greatest variety of this virtue. When I’m not at my best, a bit of TLC can salvage a given moment for all concerned. I became a recipient of random kindnesses early on in my life. Whenever I woke my mom in the middle of the night with a childhood woe, she responded with patience. She consoled me, walked me to my room and tucked me into my bed with a second good-night kiss. Thoughtful teachers responded to my occasional transgressions with understanding rather than anger. Their mercy encouraged me to be my best. When life became more complicated through my teens and into adulthood, I responded far more positively to a kind word than to a less-than-civil reprimand. The good news in all of this is that I took these lessons in kindness to heart. When I became a teacher and a parent, I found that my students and my own children responded best when kindness set the tone of our interactions.

You know, it’s easy to extend kindness to the people we like and to those who offer us the same courtesy. Unfortunately, those whose names aren’t on our “A List” likely need our kindness more than anyone else. Kindness offered indiscriminately changes lives and this world in amazing ways.

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the capacity to respond to one another with kindness. Inspire us to do so, especially when it is most difficult and most needed.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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How Can I Help?

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”
but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:15-17

Perhaps it’s the mid-May wonder in nature which energizes me and urges me into action. As recent posts indicate, I seem to be in “do something” mode. The amazing people God has given me to love add to the mix as they are constant reminders that each of us possesses unique talents. I’m a constant reminder to myself and others that we’re all also burdened with our own variety of frailties. Still, God places this world in our hands. This is no empty gesture on God’s part. God created us in God’s own image and likeness. God knows better than we do just how capable we are.

So it is that I offer a challenge to myself and to anyone else who attends to this space. I encourage you to join me in setting aside your worry regarding the woes which trouble humankind these days. After praying with great fervor for world peace, look a bit closer to home. Is there something in your community, your neighborhood, your temple, your church, your workplace, your organization or in your own home which needs attention? Then, join me in asking, “What can I do to help?”

Let’s not discount even the smallest opportunity to do good. I’m convinced -and so is God- that our efforts will make a difference somewhere to someone every time.

Caring God, be with us as we do our best to love and care for one another as you care for us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do Likewise…

What now is has already been;
what is to be, already is;
and God restores
what would otherwise be displaced.

Ecclesiastes 3:15

Though an abundance of sunshine had already lifted my spirits, a stop at the gas station on my way to the grocery store gifted me with a glimpse of heaven…

While I selected my gasoline and eased the nozzle into place, two college-aged girls pulled up to the pump next to mine. They both got out of the car because the passenger insisted that she was going to pay for her friend’s gas in appreciation of her chauffeur services over the prior week. The other replied, “I helped you because you needed it. That’s what friends do. If you want to do something, just pay it forward.” I hadn’t heard those words in years, but they immediately conjured images from a very special movie which I’d seen a decade earlier.

As I drove home from the grocery store, I found myself on a mission. I put away the groceries in record time and then ran to the computer. I did a search for Pay It Forward and spent the next several minutes enjoying clips from this movie which continues to touch my heart. As I watched, it occurred to me that it is indeed God’s intent that we “pay it forward”. Like those wonderful friends from gas station who have no idea that their generosity in paying it forward inspired this writing, we cannot predict the extent of the goodness our kindness toward others will reap.

Creative God, you make the most of all that we do, regardless of how inept we may be. Inspire our generosity and make us whole-hearted sharers of your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Words Matter

She opens her mouth in wisdom
and on her tongue is kindly counsel.

Proverbs 31:26

I’m returning to our visit to Mount Carmel in Israel today. A recent verbal fumble on my part brings me back to an incident which occurred while we visited the chapel at the top of the mountain that day.

When we arrived at the chapel, another group had already assembled there to read scripture, preach and pray. Our guide Yossi asked permission for us to join them which they readily allowed. While the group offered their final prayer, a priest came in. Without any introductions, he announced, “This is a Catholic Church. Remove your hats!” When he saw that some of the women were about to obey, he added, “The men. Only the men must do this.” With that, he abruptly left.

Though I wasn’t certain, I was somewhat sure that this group was of a Christian denomination other than Catholic Still, they had entered this holy space with the certainty that God would hear their prayers there. They were also dressed for the windy and rainy cool weather as were the rest of us. Because they were so thrilled to be there and because the tiny chapel’s door was wide open to the outdoor elements, I surmised that these pilgrims had given little thought to the locations of their hats. In the end, I was very annoyed with that priest for not extending the welcome Jesus would have.

Now fast forward to my return home and my bout with jet-lag. On my first full day back, I had an important conversation with someone whom I consider to be a friend. Somehow, in the midst of our verbal exchange, I exhibited the unwelcoming attitude of that priest. Ugh… Though I apologized immediately and explained that my fatigue had gotten the best of me, the damage was done.

Perhaps that priest was having a bad day, too.

Merciful God, I acknowledge my thoughtlessness, my judgmental attitude and my own need for forgiveness. Please help me to do better and help me to inspire others to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Leper Within

Our return trip to Israel stirred memories of our first adventure there. As was the case last time, it rained a bit for a few days. Still, I appreciated the weather. The fifty and sixty-degree temperatures provided welcomed relief from the cold we’d left behind in Gurnee. Our guide Yossi shared our gratitude for the weather. However, it was the rainfall which pleased him. Israel currently suffers with a drought and Yossi viewed every raindrop as a precious commodity. While driving between sites, I marveled once again at the stark contrasts in Israel’s geography. Because Yossi’s commentary was familiar this time around, I concentrated more fully on the view beyond my window. A short bus trip often carried us through both rocky stretches of desert and lush greenery. While the bulk of Israel’s population fills its flourishing cities, a persistent remnant of its citizenry abides in the desert. Those who make their homes in these arid conditions are particularly attentive to any decrease in rainfall. Their struggles multiply when this occurs. So it was that this rainfall was a much appreciated blessing.

Community takes on great importance for desert-dwellers. Their survival depends upon their supportive interactions with one another. One of our fellow tourists is a seasoned traveler who has learned a great deal along the way. She was familiar with a sort of “desert code of hospitality” which compels those who dwell there to welcome travelers. Offering shelter to one who happens by is simply the humane thing to do. Yossi pointed out that though some who inhabit these tiny hamlets voiced displeasure with government supported settlements which abutted their property, they eventually welcomed these newcomers as well. Their new neighbors’ efforts have provided improved irrigation, fresh crops and work opportunities for them. In spite of the difficult conditions, these cooperative efforts have transformed vast lifeless parcels into productive green oases. I smiled each time I passed one of these Bedouin settlements. “What amazing things God’s people can do,” I thought, “when we work together,”

Today’s scripture passages drew my thoughts back to those unlikely desert communities. Both today and in ancient times, relationships with ones neighbors made the difference between survival and extinction. This is the reason a leper’s plight was so completely devastating. Leprosy was one of the most dreaded afflictions encountered by our Old Testament counterparts. Today’s passage from Leviticus (13:1-2, 44-46) tells us that isolation was the indisputable remedy for the disease. Though being plucked away from ones life and loved ones did nothing for the leper, isolating him or her from others protected the community from the same fate. The people felt no sympathy for lepers because they considered sin to be the cause of their disease. They believed that those afflicted were simply living out the consequences of evildoing on the parts of their parents or themselves. Centuries later, Jesus’ contemporaries treated lepers with equal contempt. In today’s gospel (Mark 1:40-45), Mark tells us of a leper who ignored the law’s mandates to remain isolated and who boldly approached Jesus. This man had lost everything and he had nothing more to lose. Jesus welcomed the poor man in spite of the sores which betrayed his disease. Then, somehow through his ravaged skin, this leper felt the warmth of Jesus’ love. Somehow, in spite of the hatred and disdain in the eyes of his neighbors, this man saw acceptance in Jesus’ eyes. Somehow, this leper found the courage to kneel before his Lord. Moved with compassion for this suffering soul, Jesus cured him with a single touch.

I think each of us can recall moments when we’ve felt the misery of the lepers chronicled by Leviticus and Mark. Painful circumstances chip away at our spirits. They wound us both psychologically and physically. Sometimes, they isolate us from those whom we need most. Fortunately for us all, Jesus recognizes our pain. Jesus separates the appearances of things from the reality of our suffering and Jesus heals us. Though our recoveries may not be as visually dramatic as that of the leper, we do recover.

The desert communities I observed in Israel will continue to flourish because of their unlikely liaisons. Those involved have set aside their religious, political and cultural differences in order to dwell with one another on common ground. Today and every day, you and I are invited to do the same. Though each of us has a bit of that loathsome leper within us, we also carry a bit of Jesus everywhere we go. Like the leper who couldn’t keep his healing a secret, we share our good news with those whom we meet along the way. Through one act of kindness after another, we bring life to the deserts of suffering which afflict us all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Like Mary…

Mary said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord.
Let it be done to me as you say.”

Luke 1:38

I once again found a few minutes of quiet. I retraced my steps to the living room where our Christmas Tree reigns. Though it is the tree’s fragrance which invariably beckons me in to appreciate its splendor, it is the village at its feet which keeps my attention. Every year, my husband lies on the floor under our tree for hours to fashion his current vision of Bethlehem. Though Mike’s placement of the houses and trees, cars, figures and skating pond vary from year to year, they always sit in humble deference to the crèche.

With only five days left of Advent, my Christmas Spirit got the best of me. This wonderful phenomenon drew me to the place where Mary’s “yes” to the Angel Gabriel came to fruition. As I gazed at the images of Mary and her baby, I considered the difficulties that turned this poor teenager’s world upside-down. I realized the insignificance of my own troubles and even those of our world in the grand scheme of things. I thanked God for loving us so much that God never loses confidence in our ability to make things right, one loving act at a time.

With that, I considered the practicalities of the next five days which need my attention. Somehow, I look to dealing with each one with a mixture of Mary’s love and my own. I look to dealing with them with joy!

Generous God, today I honor Jesus’ mother with my own loving response to whatever lies on the path before me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved