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

Abba’s Children

I laughed half-heartedly as I looked over our June calendar. I’d already drawn a large X through a previously scheduled hair appointment and a meeting, a friend’s wedding day and our departure date for my niece’s wedding in Italy. Each of these events was cancelled several weeks ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I considered what we would do to celebrate Father’s Day in some manner, I looked upward. How I wanted to fill that calendar with an extended family dinner or a trip to the zoo or a cookout! I admit that I looked upward with every intention of complaining. And so I began, “I get staying-in-place. I understand that we don’t want to spread the virus. I just want to see our kids and grandkids and I’d like to actually hug them! Seeing a friend or two would also be nice!” As soon as I reached that exclamation point, I turned away from the calendar and looked downward. I put on my shoes and went outdoors to our patio.

My husband-the-deacon should also be called my husband-the-gardener. He truly has a green thumb which allows him to select just the right combinations of flowers and greenery to bring our yard to life each year. Mike’s plants are his babies and he carefully nurtures each one until it reaches its most beautiful potential. We usually wait several weeks into summer for his pots and flowerbeds to grow into their lush best. This year, however, is different. A week after he’d completed his planting, everything he’d nestled into the soil began to blossom beyond expectation. Within another few weeks, every leaf and flower had grown into what seemed to be its seasonal best. When I told Mike how amazed I was at all of this, he simply shook his head. “I don’t know what’s happening,” he said, “but the flowers have never looked this good before July. Whatever the reason, I’m glad!” Mike’s handiwork is what beckoned me out to the patio to continue my conversation with God.

As I took in the beauty around me, I looked upward once again, this time with my apology. “I’m sorry. I know I have nothing to complain about. So many people are suffering. If it’s not the virus, it’s the worry. A lot of people haven’t been called back to work. Some never will be. Then there are the poor who are always poor. Nothing ever seems to get better for them. Then there are the nurses, the doctors and the EMTs. Have they actually had the chance to rest yet? Then there is George Floyd. The poor man had no idea that he’d lose his life while changing all of our lives that day. I’m so sorry, dear God. I have nothing to complain about…” With that, I walked around our entire front and back yards. I looked at every annual and perennial. My husband-the-gardener had planted each one precisely where he wanted it to be and he pruned those that needed it with care. Though Mike often asks me what I think about his planting choices, I defer to his judgment. As I said, he’s the one who knows his flowers…

By the time I walked back to the patio, tears were streaming down my face. I finally understood. Just as Mike had done with every one of his plants, God has done with me. Mike’s plants are his babies. We are God’s babies. Mike planted each one where it would flourish and bloom. God planted me where I will flourish and bloom. God has planted us all in the precise place where we will flourish and bloom. My husband-the-gardener has achieved amazing results with his plantings. Imagine what God-the-Gardener hopes to achieve in you and me!

With that, I turned my thoughts from my worry and disappointment to Father’s Day and to this reflection. My kids and I organized a worthy celebration for Mike after all. I made him a Father’s Day card to avoid an extra trip to the store. Then, I turned my attention to God-the-Gardener. As I type, I realize I should have written God-the-Daddy because this is the name Jesus gave us to address his Abba and ours. We are much more than flowers and greenery to God. The scriptures remind us that we are indeed Abba’s children.

In the first reading (Jeremiah 20:10-13), Jeremiah ends a fearful lament with this joyful realization: “The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion… who has rescued the life of the poor!” In the second reading (Romans 5:12-15), Paul tells us “…the grace of God… overflows for the many.” That many includes you and me. If we continue to doubt that we are God’s children, Jesus settles the matter in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 10:26-33): “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without Abba’s knowledge… So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” There you have it! Though we fail one another and fail ourselves more often than we care to admit, our Abba remains steadfast in loving us. In the midst of our troubles, our Abba never leaves us alone. It seems that, in spite of everything, Father’s Day is well-timed this year. What better time is there to acknowledge our dads who love us through everything and our Abba who does the same?

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Memorial Day

For God loves the people,
and God rewards the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

This morning, my thoughts turn to our service men and women, present and past. These brave souls accepted an obligation which had or has the potential to take them to the point of death. Though some battled doubt along the way, wondering if anything is worth dying for, each one responded to duty’s call. Today, their present-day comrades in so many essential jobs carry on for us. Today, I honor each one with my gratitude and with my prayers.

More than ever today, we include all of our loved ones who’ve passed from this life to the next in our Memorial Day remembrances. Whether our parent, our spouse, our child, or family member or friend, those whom we mourn accepted their obligations as well. At times, they succeeded and their impacts upon our lives were sources of joy. At times, they failed and their impacts upon us were precisely the opposite. Still, we mourn our lost loved ones, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

This Memorial Day, let’s celebrate life after this life in the names of those who know it firsthand. Let’s also celebrate the everlasting and unconditional love which prompted our beloved Creator to embrace them in spite of their frailties and perhaps because of them. This Memorial Day, let’s celebrate because, when our time comes, God will offer the same welcome to you and me.

Thank you, Dear God, for the promise of new life with you and for the loved ones with whom we will share it!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Worth It!

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
From John 15:20

A few weeks ago, my husband received a call from a friend with whom he served as a hospice chaplain. Afterward, Mike smiled as he recalled some of the remarkable people who shared their last days with him. Whenever he talks about these experiences, one of his favorite patients always comes to mind. Though a day of hospice visits often proved to be taxing, Mike returned home with a smile whenever he saw Marie. This elderly woman was filled with the most amazing bits of wisdom and she generously shared one or another of them during Mike’s visits.

My husband will never forget his favorite morsel which came in these words: “They can say life is a bowl of cherries, but I say it’s a bowl of pits!” Throughout the remainder of his visits with Marie, this comment stood out. He and Marie laughed often at the truth of her observation!

As life unfolds around us and we behave ourselves and try to do the right thing, we sometimes feel entitled to carefree days and smooth sailing. Unfortunately, as the current pandemic unceasingly reminds us, this isn’t the case for any of us. As the passage above from John’s gospel reminds us, even Jesus didn’t have it easy on this earth. Why, then, would things be any different for you and me? The best we can do is what Jesus did: Love and care for one another in the same way we hope to be loved and cared for in spite of what is going on around us.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. In spite of everything, he convinces us that this life is worth all of our effort.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Delivered From Our Fears

I sought God and God answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34:5

Loss is tough. For several weeks now, all of us have experienced the loss of our ability to come and go as we please. We choose to cooperate in all of this out of concern for our fellow humans, our loved ones and our own well-being. Still, this loss stings more than we’d like. Sadly, all of the losses which accompany simply being human remain with us as well.

Relationships have been cut short by misunderstandings or by being separated. Loved ones have been lost to illnesses that were already in place and to COVID-19. For many, familiar workplaces and parks and neighborhoods are beyond reach. It’s no wonder that so many of us suffer with feelings of abandonment, loneliness and hopelessness. We wonder if we will ever fill the emptiness around us and within us.

When I begin to sense that emptiness, I do what comes most naturally. I turn my eyes upward. However, before I can form the words to complain to God above, God reminds me of the goodness around me: The smile of a knowing friend; the song of a mother who will love her child forever; an artist’s rendition of sinful son embraced by his dad’s all-loving arms; the encouragement of a fellow writer; the faces of parents and grandparents, spouses and significant others, sisters, brother, sons, daughters and friends who stick with us in the best and worst of times. Add to this today’s news which is filled with images of healthcare and other essential workers who put their lives at risk every day for you and me.

You know, in spite of the clouds that threaten outside my window as I write, I’m sunny as can be inside. Indeed, God has delivered from all of my fears through the goodness of the extraordinary people who grace my life.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everyone and everything around us!

©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