Where Are My Keys?

I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
From Matthew 16:19

I’m sure it was quite a surprise to Peter that he was chosen to lead the first Christian community. Peter had no idea of what being given the keys to the kingdom entailed. Still, Jesus entrusted him with this responsibility. Though Peter was thick-headed and cowardly at times, in the end, Peter allowed his heart to direct him. He is the one who first said aloud what the other disciples feared to whisper even to themselves. In the end, after Jesus was crucified and risen, it is Peter who led the disciples to share the good news of God’s love for us with the world.

As a child, I told myself that I would have been much different from the disciples if I had walked with Jesus. I couldn’t understand how anyone could question a thing Jesus said or did. Today, I know better. In spite of the numerous and generous ways in which God has been revealed to me, I question and worry and despair with the best of them. For us humans, I guess seeing is believing.

The problem is that we fail to see. The treasure lying before our eyes and within our hearts is invaluable. Nonetheless. we fail to see what God has given us. Still, God entrusts us with the keys of the kingdom as well. Like Peter, we’re invited to follow our hearts and to reveal God’s love in all that we say and do. Like Peter, our imperfections aren’t meant to keep us from the good we can do. Today, this seems more important than ever.

Trusting God, you have made us the caretakers of your word and works. You’ve given us the keys to your kingdom. Help us never to misplace them and to always use them well.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Part in God’s Mission

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country,
to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene.

Mark 15:21

The Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus

I can’t be sure if Simon helped Jesus out of compassion for him or because he was forced to do so by the guards. I think the Roman soldiers frightened away many people of good will who might otherwise have stepped in to assist their beloved teacher. However it happened, Jesus willingly gave up his burden to Simon. Jesus willingly allowed him to help him to complete his mission.

There was a time when I didn’t think twice about rising in the face of “the establishment” to right the wrongs around me. I protested what I saw as an unjust war. Afterward, I supported veterans whom others spat upon. I marched in support of migrant workers whose employment conditions were deplorable. I even stepped in when a very large man threatened violence to a woman of my own size. Though it might have effected my own job security, I stood with a young teacher who suffered harassment. Then, times changed. The antics of “the establishment” lost my attention as the minutia of busy days drew more and more of my attention. Then, I began to think twice or three times before taking action… until today.

Whether Simon took that cross willingly or not, I will step up and I won’t think twice about it! After all, I have a part in accomplishing a mission as well. God calls each one of us to respond with love every time we encounter a soul who needs us.

Loving God, give me the courage and the love to step up in the face of injustices both large and small. Help me to do my part to transform this world of ours.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

On A Mission To Heal

Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a perfect storm? I’m not certain of how this evolves meteorologically. However, I can tell you that life’s circumstances sometimes collide just creatively enough to turn everything in their path topsy-turvy. Though it’s been some months since I experienced this phenomenon, I assure you that I’m annoyingly aware of the details of this encounter. At the time, I felt that I’d been wounded irreparably both spiritually and mentally. These circumstances took a physical toll as well as I actually lost my appetite! Though storms had threatened my peace of mind numerous times in the past, this was the first time they paralyzed me. I floated in limbo and functioned on autopilot. I didn’t hear people talking to me and I misplaced things I never lose. I forgot an important appointment and I almost ran out of gas. I held so tightly to my misery that I had no energy left to reach our for the healing opportunities which lingered around me.

Before you start to pray on my behalf (Though your prayers are always welcome!), please know that my perfect storm wasn’t strong enough to cause significant damage. It also failed to wash away the Persistent Presence which remained deep within me. Every time I let go of my misery to take a deep breath, that Presence whispered a thought or offered a nudge just strong enough to get my attention. Eventually, I heeded these overtures and took the hint to look beyond my pain. I turned to my favorite prayer (The Prayer of St. Francis, to be precise) for consolation. After repeating it for several days, I changed the first line from, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” to “Lord, I am an instrument of your peace.” I went on to assure God and myself that: Where there is hatred, I will sow love; where there is injury, I will pardon; when in doubt, I will have faith.” You get the idea. After making the most of my new prayer, I moved on to a musical favorite. Matt Wessel’s arrangement of Be With Me* never fails to inspire. For several days, I sang the lyrics as Matt wrote them: Be with me when I am in trouble. Be with me when I am afraid. Be with me when I am alone. Be with me Lord, I pray. Apparently, my persistence was well-placed because I eventually felt creative and energetic enough to take liberties with Matt’s lyrics as well. I sang my revised version often and loudly: You’re with me when I am in trouble. You’re with me when I am afraid. You’re with me when I am alone. You’re with me, Lord. You always stay! Finally, I embraced God’s loving presence within me and the healing which had patiently lingered around me took root.

I share all of this on the First Sunday of Lent because perfect storms threaten too often throughout each of our lives. For me, Lent 2019 provides an opportunity to reassess, regroup and refocus my efforts. This year in particular, I’m on a mission to dispel the storms around me and to bring healing to those effected as best I can. Each one of us is invited to do the same. God’s enduring presence within us will nudge us along and ignite that store of energy which we may have forgotten is there. With renewed spirits, we can look outside of ourselves to those who need healing most. We can turn to whatever resource we find inspiring to fuel us along the way. As for me, Jesus’ life among us does the trick. Before Jesus began his public ministry, he retreated to the desert for forty days. When he emerged from that time of intimacy with God, Jesus was ready to embrace whatever lay ahead. During the three years which followed, Jesus revealed God’s love and God’s concern though his healing efforts at every opportunity. Jesus invited all who would hear him, just as he invites you and me, to do the same. Don’t underestimate your healing abilities in this regard. My poor husband was certainty discouraged as he tried to help me to navigate that perfect storm a few months ago. Still, he hung in there all the while. When Mike let go of his uncertainty, he freed his arms to embrace me when I needed him most.

As Lent 2019 begins, my perfect storm has subsided and healing has taken root. Sadly, at the same time, loved ones near and far continue to cry out for God’s healing touch. Lonely hearts flirt with despair, while families endure economic uncertainty and unrest at their dinner tables. Addiction and intolerance overwhelm, while our political system succumbs to a desire for power rather than to its civic responsibilities. We who are God’s family continue to suffer the effects of abuse and cover-ups by a church hierarchy which was charged with healing this world as Jesus did. This is the reason it is so important that you and I bring healing wherever we find ourselves. The smallest effort in seemingly insignificant circumstances will make an important difference to someone. As I wrote above, don’t underestimate your healing abilities in this regard. You do make a difference to those around you as only you can. Just ask Mike! Don’t underestimate God’s healing abilities either. Whatever storms are brewing within you and around you, God remains to dispel the clouds, to still the waters and to comfort you. Trust me. When you let go of the pain and embrace God’s presence, healing will come!

*Copyright 2003 MWM; cited with Matt Wessel’s permission

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share The News

Let’s move on to the neighboring villages
so I can proclaim the good news there also.

From Mark 1:38

When I gave our sons their childhood photo albums, I thumbed through them in search of a picture of our next-door neighbor. Ellie had become an auxiliary grandma to both of our sons from the day each one was born. Her impression on our elder son was so great that Mike named his eldest daughter after Ellie. As for me, Ellie proved to be a source of parenting wisdom especially with regard to Mike.

We saw Ellie almost every day. When she relaxed on her patio, we joined her to catch up on the day’s news or to solve the problems of the world both far away and close to home. One such visit was the result of one of those problems in my own home…

Mike was just seven years old and he wasn’t at all happy with what I’d asked him to do. Rather than comply, he shouted “I hate you!” and stomped off to his room. I never used that word and it broke my heart to hear it from my little boy. Still, I remained calm until Mike’s bedroom door slammed. It was then that the tears flowed. When I went outside to our backyard to recover, Ellie saw the tears and called me over. After I reported the incident, I asked, “Did your kids ever say that to you?” Ellie smiled. “Sure they did. They were kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘That’s okay. I still love you!’” I hurried home to tell the same to Little Mike. As was the case with Ellie’s children, Mike never used those hurtful words toward me again.

Oddly, Mike doesn’t recall that incident. What he does recall are Ellie’s nurturing manner and kindness which he’s passing along to his own children.

Dear God, thank you for Ellie and the many good people who share your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Things That Stay With Us

It was after dinner Monday evening. Since my dear husband and I had spent the day with our grandson, I was fully prepared to snuggle in my recliner until bedtime. Mike sat a few feet away in his own chair with his laptop in position for an email and Facebook check. I would have dozed off as Mike typed away if he hadn’t begun to whistle Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. Before I could question Mike’s choice of melodies, I remembered that Danny and I had sung that song several times throughout the day. Danny is allowed to watch an episode or two of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood most days and he’s learned the lyrics to this and a few other favorites. Danny often sings them while we play. As for me, I remember every word because I used to sing those lyrics decades ago with Mr. Rogers and with our own sons. As Mike whistled away, I offered my thanks for Mr. Rogers’ influence during our sons’ formative years and for his continued presence to Danny through Daniel Tiger. I ended my prayer by observing, “Nice that those lyrics have stayed with me.”

Mike stopped whistling as he became engrossed in the evening’s Facebook posts and I dozed off. I awoke only when Mike asked me what my plans were for Tuesday. I didn’t tell him that I’d been napping and that I’d dreamed myself back to my own childhood. I’d been gazing skyward toward the white clouds which lingered above the backyard of my childhood home. Many a summer evening, I sat on a swing with my eyes fixed on the billowing white clusters above me. I loved the clouds because I knew that just beyond them God kept watch over me and my loved ones. Though my parents had never put it quite this way, their continued reliance upon our benevolent Creator assured me of this reality. “Nice that those memories have stayed with me,” I mumbled to myself.

When I finally turned my attention to Mike’s question, I told him that I had nothing special planned except to write. When he went on to ask if I wanted to see a movie and then added that the Mr. Roger’s documentary was available, I jumped at the opportunity. Mike would likely have chosen to see something else since we haven’t been to a movie in some time. Still, in spite of the thirty minute drive we’d have to make for the showing, my very dear husband checked the show times and then asked which one I’d prefer. As for me, I’d already begun to anticipate this viewing because I’d seen snippets a few days earlier. As I considered Mr. Rogers’ contribution to the welfare of so many children, I pictured him in his trademark sweater singing his welcome to the neighborhood to everyone within earshot. “Nice that his kindness has stayed with me,” I thought to myself.

The following day when Mike and I made our way into the theater, I was grateful that the Tuesday afternoon crowd was sparse. If my reaction to the previews I’d seen earlier was any indication, this would be a joyful and tearful afternoon for me. As it happened, the documentary offered far more than I expected. I recalled several of the episodes which were featured. I’d forgotten that Mr. Rogers had tackled tough topics which challenged even the most seasoned parents. He addressed divorce and death, racism and war. He featured persons with disabilities whose different bodies also housed amazing talents. Mr. Rogers explained everything in terms children could understand. At the same time, he reminded the adults who took the time to watch to appreciate the value each one of us brings to this world of ours. Outtakes with the crew revealed Fred Rogers’ humanity and his genuine nature. What we saw in those decades of episodes was indeed the real deal. What we saw in Fred Rogers’ activism in support of children’s television and in support of all of our humanity was the real deal as well. “Nice that the importance of this dear man’s work has stayed with us,” I told Mike on the drive home.

I share all of this because Fred Rogers learned from the best. When he focused upon the most important messages our children need to hear and did his best to see that those truths stayed with them, he did as Jesus did. When Jesus sent his disciples out on their first missions, Jesus hoped a few things would stay with them as well. Mark’s gospel (6:7-13) tells us that Jesus prepared his disciples carefully. After offering them the best of his teaching and the best of his example, Jesus gave a few final directives: Take nothing but a walking stick… Wear sandals and a single tunic… Stay where you are welcomed… Shake off the dust of any place that doesn’t welcome you… I can’t help wondering what Jesus whispered as he watched his best friends walk out into the distance: Remember I am with you… Reveal God’s love in every word and deed… Know that your best is good enough for me… I love you… This passage closes with the happy news of the disciples’ success. Nice that the things Jesus shared stayed with them, isn’t it? Nice that the things Jesus shared stay with you and me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Treasure

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

From Genesis 1:31

Though I’m currently immersed in my writing schedule, I stepped away from my keyboard long enough to address my to-do list. One item which has proven to be a perpetual part of that list is purging our home. This exercise never ceases to reveal treasures from our past which conjure memories of loved ones here and in the hereafter. During this particular episode, I focused on our kitchen counter.

Because we have ample counters, a few mementos have made their homes on them. One of these items is a tiny yellow school bus planter. Our very dear next door neighbor Ellie gifted me with that little bus at least thirty years ago. Ellie had been an auxiliary grandmother to both of our sons from the day each one was born. We saw Ellie every day. When she relaxed on her patio, we often joined Ellie to catch up on the day’s news or to solve the problems of the world both far away and close to home. Even during the winter months when we were confined indoors, we ventured through the snow to visit Ellie.

Though I cannot recall the reason Ellie gave me that bus, I think of her every time I see it. About ten years into that little bus’s usually peaceful life, I dropped it. When it cracked in half, I was beside myself. Ellie had passed away not long before this and I couldn’t bear being without my reminder of her presence in our lives. With that, I glued the bus as best I could and parked it on the counter. When I picked up my little bus in the midst of this attempt to purge, I determined that it will remain with us a while longer.

Dear God, you treasure us far more than I do my little bus and you never question the wisdom of keeping us close to you. Thank you!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved