Blessed Umbrellas

When the afflicted man called out, God heard,
and from all his distress God saved him.

Psalm 34:7

It’s raining again. I’ve decided to head out in spite of the downpour. I’ve donned my hooded jacket and embarked upon my familiar trek through the neighborhood. As I walk, I enjoy the blurry perspective which persistent drops force upon me. As I walk farther, I wish that the emotional rains which fall too often in our lives were as enjoyable as these.

A friend is enduring some tough times. Though the storm brewing overhead is partially a personal choice, those who care are doing their best to provide the right umbrella to keep her dry. In the mean time, I find myself discouraged. Just as I can’t do a thing about today’s rainy forecast, I feel at a loss in this case. What can I do to help?

As I consider the lifetime of storms I’ve endured, I acknowledge that those who loved me through these things proved to be great blessings simply by holding my umbrella with me. Perhaps I can be of help by doing the same. Rain falls in all of our lives far too often, especially these days. When it does, we find just the right umbrella to keep our loved ones dry. Then we hold onto it together until the rain stops falling and the sun shines again.

Compassionate God, my friend and all of us remain together in your care. We will endure because your umbrella of love is large enough to shelter us us every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Identity Crisis?

Don’t be afraid! I will save you.
I have called you by name and you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1b9

With all that has occurred as of late, especially with regard to the differences in our observable identities, I find myself most at peace when I return to the basics. The grandma and mom and teacher in me wishes this process was as easy as reciting the ABCs with my grandchildren. The spirit within me understands that this isn’t at all easy. Truly returning to the basics when it comes to our humanity means returning to our shared common denominator…

When we set aside our religious denominations, our political affiliations, our occupations, our ages, our gender, our color, our ethnicity and any of the other physical and communal attributes by which we’re identified, we’re left with our humanity. More precisely, we’re left with our humanity and our membership in God’s family. Whether or not we acknowledge God, God acknowledges each one of us as a beloved child. When I have the sense to appreciate this reality, I can almost hear God say, “You are my beloved…”

Wow! Oh, no! Now what shall I do? What about…? This is when the things I yelled at my television set during those tense pre-election days echo in my mind. This is when I see the faces of people who’ve hurt me over the years. This is when tears form because I also see the faces of those I’ve hurt. “You are my beloved…” God says, not only to me, but to every other human being God has created.

Apparently, our physical attributes, our personal preferences and our chosen and accidental affiliations don’t mean a thing to God. What matters to our dear Creator is what we do about who we are. God identifies each one of us as God’s beloved and as God’s child. It seems to me that it’s time for me to recognize and to behave as though we’re God’s family because we are!

Ever-patient God, help me to work with all of my sisters and brothers to make our human family the happy family you created us to be.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Bless You and Keep You Safe

Upon their hands, the angels shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Psalm 91:12

This is Veteran’s Day. Today, I cannot help thinking about those who serve and protect us both nearby and far away. It seems that every passing day gives us reason to pray a bit more fervently for their safety. Whether they serve us overseas or here at home, these dedicated personnel have set aside their personal lives to do so. Ones political stance doesn’t matter in their regard. They serve us and protect us regardless.

Though I know God remains with each one in spite of what may come his or her way, it is a worthy endeavor to keep our service people in our prayers just the same. All the while, let’s add a prayer of thanks for the hundreds of thousands of veterans among us. Though it is only recently that we’ve acknowledged the toll taken by active military service, all of our veterans have suffered in one way or another simply because they have served this country of ours. We owe each one of them a great deal.

Happy Veterans Day, Dear Veterans and Veterans-in-the making! Thank you for all you have sacrificed for us!

Dear God, bless each one of our veterans generously and remain with them all.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Shepherded With Love

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In God’s own house shall I dwell
forever and ever.

Psalm 23:6

A friend emailed to ask how I was doing. She wasn’t being polite. She really wanted to know. Soon after, another friend received an email from someone I haven’t seen in some time. This man had belonged to our church before he relocated. He asked how I was doing because he really wanted to know. Both read these posts and both have the impression that something is bothering me. What astute readers I’m blessed with! More importantly, how wonderful it is that they took the time to express their concern.

I consider myself to be a generously blessed soul. At the same time, I’m a painfully sensitive soul. I take the suffering around me to heart and I find it difficult to accept that I can’t remedy it. While my family and loved ones nearby are fine, others in the vicinity and throughout this world suffer greatly. Every time I hear of another incidence of injustice or of another devastating natural disaster or of another COVID-19 case or more political bickering my heartbreak increases.

Fortunately, these reflections allow me to encourage others and myself along the way. This is the reason I find such consolation in Psalm 23. The Shepherd who inspired this prayer watches over us every step of the way. This Shepherd cares for each of us as only our Shepherd-God can. I find great comfort in this realization.

Today, more people than ever have troubles which seem insurmountable. Like my friends who expressed concern for me, I must express my concern. If there is something tangible I can do to help, I will do it. If not, I must pray and I must rely on God to inspire others to do the rest.

Dear God, be with us as we do our best to shepherd one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed Are We!

When I woke that morning, I was quite relieved to see the rainy weather. The conditions outdoors absolved me of running the few errands I allow myself these days. With that, I decided to take care of a few phone calls, catch up on email, finish the laundry and attend to this writing. I’d convinced myself that this was the most productive and satisfying way to spend the day until I looked out the patio doors on my way to the kitchen for breakfast. Raindrops pelted the blanket of leaves which covered our lawn. A gentle breeze nudged tree branches just enough to shake another layer of fall color to the ground.

“If I could do exactly what I want to do,” I told myself, “I’d go out and rake the leaves in the rain.” I smiled as I imagined my poor husband’s face when he’d drive up to the mounds of wet leaves that would greet him in the parkway. I smiled more broadly when I recalled raking leaves with our sons not so long ago. What fun it was to watch them flit about the yard, happily dismantling our leaf hills. Indeed, though rainy-day raking would have left me soaked to the bone, that autumn adventure would have been worth the trouble. Afterward, those efforts would have given me very good reason to huddle at the kitchen table with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book.

I looked longingly out the window as I finished my oatmeal. Much to my dismay, the eagerness with which I’d begun that day had disappeared in short order. I had a long to-do list which didn’t allow me the luxury of raking those leaves. So it was that I started the laundry and then clicked my way through email. The phone rang three times during the first hour and a new email popped up every time I tried to get offline. Though those loads of laundry began to disappear, each cycle ended at the most inopportune moment. By the time I finished folding the clothes I’d retrieved from the dryer, I’d forgotten the brilliant ideas which would have made that day’s writing much easier. Though I’d started my chores by 8:30 that morning, I didn’t give a thought to this reflection until 3:15. It was then that I retreated to my favorite chair to treat myself to another view of our leaf-blanketed yard before perusing today’s scripture passages.

I admit that I smiled when I realized that the rain had continued to fall and that the breeze had continued to shake leaves from our trees as I read. I laughed aloud over my desire to rake leaves that day. Had I actually done so, it would have mattered little because our trees held on to countless more leaves which will find their way to earth over the next few weeks. Images of my sons and me traipsing through those leaves filled me up once again. This time, Grandpa and our granddaughters and grandsons joined us.

Finally, the resentment with which I’d approached most of that day’s tasks subsided. When I finally turned to those scripture passages, I smiled again, this time more broadly than before because I remembered that I was preparing to write for All Saints Day. Since childhood, I’ve loved this feast day because it acknowledges God’s greatest gift to us. All Saints Day is a celebration of God’s promise of eternal life, eternal life that is fulfilled in those who have already joined God’s good company and promised to the rest of us who continue to struggle along our way. After reading today’s gospel, I realized that a day full of demands was a small, but important step that I took in God’s direction.

Matthew’s gospel (5:1-12a) tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds, his compassion penetrated their sadness. Jesus understood too well the burdens we carry as we make our way on this earth. On that day, Jesus saw everything that weighed upon the hearts of the people. So it was that he offered them peace. When Jesus taught the beatitudes, he spoke to the things that rob us of our joy just now and to the reward that awaits us because we endure: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy… Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Once again, I find myself humbled by God’s concern for us. I find myself a bit embarrassed, too. After all, that busy day pales in the shadow of the trials and tribulations that touch so many of God’s people. When I consider all that the saints, both canonized and those I’ve known in my lifetime, have endured on their journeys back to God, I wonder what it was that I thought I had to complain about. So it is that I celebrate All Saints Day with deep gratitude. After all, you and I have been promised a home in eternity with God. When we acknowledge all that awaits us, how much easier it is to plod along in the midst of Year 2020 and always!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s All About Love

Our granddaughter recently mailed a thank-you note to Grandpa and me. In celebration of her twelfth birthday, we’d shipped our gifts via online shopping in an effort to avoid going out. When we visited on her birthday, we brought Laruen our card, our birthday wishes and lots of love. We normally celebrate our grandchildren’s birthdays with a family party, a sleepover and a special outing. Much to our dismay, Year 2020 is quite different. Nonetheless, in spite of this subdued celebration, Lauren bubbled with excitement over the things we’d given her. Afterward, she texted us pictures of each one in use. There was no hint of disappointment in Lauren’s response to her special day. Apparently, she understands that we did the best we could. After reading Lauren’s thank-you note, it occurred to me that I shouldn’t have been surprised by her gracious response to her meager celebration. She’d responded the same for her sixth birthday too many years ago…

When we began planning her sixth birthday outing, Grandpa and I asked Lauren what she’d like to do. She quickly asked if we could visit a dinosaur museum. Mike investigated online and found a child-friendly venue. When Grandpa arrived to pick up Lauren for her birthday adventure, she was standing at the door with her suitcase. Lauren could hardly wait to begin this special time away from her younger and older sisters. Grandpa offered to carry her bag to the car, but Lauren insisted upon pulling it along herself. During the drive, Lauren confirmed our plans with great anticipation. When she arrived at our house, Lauren carried her little suitcase up to her dad’s old room. “I’m going to sleep in Daddy’s bed, right Grandma?” When bedtime arrived, Lauren announced, “It’s strange to be here without Ellie and Claire.” We immediately picked up the phone so Lauren could wish a good night to her parents and sisters. With that, she slept soundly. The next day, we drove to that dinosaur museum. Though Lauren didn’t say a word, I was terribly disappointed. It was much smaller and less adventurous than we had hoped. Still, Lauren reassured Grandpa and me. “It wasn’t what I expected,” she told us, “but it was still fun.” We filled the rest of the afternoon with a stroll by Lake Michigan and a visit to the pumpkin patch which we’d frequented decades earlier with our sons. These unexpected detours delighted Lauren beyond words.

That evening, when Lauren climbed into bed, she said her nighttime prayers. Afterward, she shared what she thought of our weekend together. “Grandma, I love being here with you and Grandpa. It’s fun to have you all to myself, but do you know what would be even better?” Before I could reply, Lauren went on. “It would be the most fun of all if Ellie and Claire and Mommy and Daddy could be here, and Uncle Tim and Aunt Kim, too. Then, we could all have fun together. Wouldn’t that be great?” I had no choice but to agree with this wise little child who’d learned and shared an extremely important lesson regarding love. When I turned to today’s gospel, I couldn’t help thinking of Lauren who seems to have taken to heart all that Jesus shared that day…

Matthew (22:34-40) tells us that, once again, the Pharisees tested Jesus. That time, they asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Without hesitation, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself…” On her sixth and twelfth birthdays, and many times in between, our wise granddaughter demonstrated her understanding of both commandments. As a little and not-so-little girl, Lauren has consistently offered her prayers for those she loves. God definitely has a place in her life. It is Lauren’s understanding of that second commandment which is more remarkable. Lauren continues to enjoy special times with Grandpa and me. These adventures provide all of the attention Lauren can ever hope for. Still, when all is said and done, she realizes that this special time is even more wonderful when she shares it with those God has given her to love. Lauren has discovered what Jesus hoped to teach the Pharisees and all who would listen so long ago: God’s love blossoms into absolute joy when we share that love with others.

You know, Jesus didn’t ask us to love God in an effort to burden us with guilt or unreasonable demands. Jesus knew that it does our hearts good to express gratitude to the One who loves us unconditionally, who responds to all of our needs and who walks with us through every bit of our joy and our sorrow. Just the same, Jesus didn’t ask us to love our neighbor to complicate our lives. Jesus knew firsthand the joy that comes when we share our lives with one another. Jesus designated the Two Greatest Commandments for good reason. These two simple requests are the means to our happiness today and forever. Just ask Lauren…

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved