God’s Treasure

How shall I make a return to God
for all God has done for me?

Psalm 116:12

My husband and I have replaced three white pine trees. These once majestic trees had overrun our yard and our neighbor’s yard while also dangling precariously over our roofs. We’d delayed the inevitable until this spring because Mike and I have a difficult time parting with trees. Finally, we called in our friend Daniel-the-Gardener and his crew to take them down.

After a nerve-racking morning with menfolk perched far higher in trees than they should ever venture, the work was done. A few days later, Daniel planted three much smaller arbor vitae and one spruce in their place. A day after that, my husband filled in the empty spaces around those new little trees with grass seed and soil. While Mike planted, I raked the displaced landscape stones into place. In the process, I’d gathered lots of twigs and leaves as well. I knelt next to the piles I’d formed and separated the rocks from the dirt, twigs and leaves in which they were hiding.

Since I was on my knees, it seemed appropriate to offer a word or two to God as I worked. I could have finished this task in half the time, but I didn’t. Rather, I studied each stone, even the ones which were covered with mud. I brushed the mud away and added each rocky bit of treasure to my collection. As I worked, I shared, “Dear God, I’ll use every one of these rocks just as you use every one of us to share your love. Thank you for considering each of us a treasure.”

After acknowledging God’s graciousness in looking upon us as treasure, it occurred to me that I must do the same. I know that these are tough times. Still, as we learn to embrace our new normal, we must also embrace one another. Though our opinions may differ regarding how to proceed, our status as God’s treasure remains the same.

Dear God, inspire us to love as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Love… Always!

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

Ecclesiastes 3:2

A time to be born… I enjoy walking outdoors because of Nature’s ongoing evolution. The entire world seems to engage in rebirth during springtime. This growth continues through summer when flowerbeds and gardens flourish. Leafy trees respond to September’s mix early on with subtle changes in color. October brings those changes to fruition only to give way to November winds. Leaves crunching beneath my feet remind me that winter is near. Even then, barren trees hold the promise of new life. Especially now, I’m happy to celebrate that there is always time to be born and to be reborn.

A time to die… Just as Nature engages in rebirth, it also engages in dying all the while. Something old continually gives way to something new. Seeds fall from trees and dance in the wind until they find rest on the ground below. Though no longer part of a living plant, they hold all of the potential they need for life anew. These seeds nestle into the ground with great hope in the things to come. How I thank God for this hope today!

A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant… If those seeds are lucky, a watchful gardener will see that they are covered with enough soil to survive. If they sprout too closely to one another, that gardener will gently relocate them so each will have room to take root and to receive its share of sunlight and water. Perhaps God is seeing to it that we have the room to flourish during these tough times…

A time to love… Fortunately for us all, God feels it is always time to care for us. Especially now, I am truly grateful for God’s attention.

Caring God, thank you for your consistently timely love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Back To Normal Again…

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

In spite of the cold, I bundled up to take a stroll through the neighborhood. My husband and I returned from a trip to the Holy Land a few days earlier and I hoped this trek through winter would help me to shake the jet-lag which held me captive. Happily, as soon as I reached the sidewalk in front of our house, I felt better.

Snow piles on either side of the walk reached well above my ankles. Occasional blocked sidewalks caused me to detour into the street where snowplows had left clear paths. It was there that I looked up to thank God. “Yes, I’m home,” I said aloud, “and I feel like I’m home! Thank you!” With that, I discovered a patch of gray-stained snow beneath my feet. “Hmmm. Though you’ve lost your luster, you’re still snow,” I whispered reassuringly.

I’d certainly lost my luster during the long flights home. I hoped that those nearby could see past my tired exterior to the real me. I smiled as I recalled reassuring voices from my past who’d urged me on when I’d lost my sparkle here and there. Their encouragement had made all of the difference. As I walked on, I found similarly afflicted bits of nature: A mighty birch bent low under heavy snow; an invisible pond hidden under a blanket of white; a row of arbor vitae reduced to a mass of tangled branches pointing everywhere but up. “Don’t worry,” I promised. “You’ll all be back to normal before spring.”

You know, when God created this earth, God also created an amazing source of hope for humankind. In the greatness and foibles of nature, God revealed the greatness and foibles which beset us all. When we take the time to learn from the gifts around us, we find encouragement, mercy and God’s awesome unconditional love. We also find the promise of another chance to regain our luster and to become our best selves once again.

Thank you, Creative God, for the gifts of Creation and for the lessons in life which we find among them.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Glimpses of God

Since the creation of the world, invisible realities,
God’s eternal powers and divinity, have become visible
through the things God has made.

Romans 1:20

I’ve shared often that I love the outdoors. Though I’m not a mountain climber, boater, skier or even a seasoned hiker, I do enjoy brisk walks in any weather. It matters little if I’m exploring new territory or retracing steps I’ve taken for a dozen years. Whichever the case, I always manage to find something new to appreciate along the way. It seems to me that God intended these amazing discoveries when God orchestrated the creation of this world and the universe which surrounds us. Though I’d like to think that I’ve come to appreciate a bit about God throughout the decades, I admit that I’ve failed to scratch the surface of the Almighty.

With so much in nature to learn about God, imagine how much more we humans have to teach one another about our Maker! After all, of the things God has created, we humans are the ones who are made in God’s image. Perhaps I need to give a second and third and hundredth look toward my brother and sister humans. Perhaps it is in these amazing discoveries that I will finally scratch the surface and revel in a glance at God’s essence.

Creator God, help me to find you in all of the work of your hands, especially in the people with whom you have graced my path.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Unique Handiwork

I admit that today I’m writing quickly and offering prayers of thanksgiving all the while. The good deacon and I are returning to Israel for a final visit. While I’m absolutely thrilled about this, completing everything on our to-do lists beforehand has been challenging. When I finally felt that I had things under control, Mike reminded me that we needed to head north to check on our little cabin in the woods before boarding that plane. Fortunately, this bit of caretaking could be accomplished in a single day. Three days later, we set out just after the morning rush-hour morphed into manageable traffic. Mike chose the new scenic route we discovered during a recent stormy drive home. Though I rarely read in the car, I turned to this week’s scripture passages to get a head start on this writing. I needed inspiration and I hoped that it would come in the scenery I’d enjoy along the way. Though I read and reread the scriptures, I didn’t receive that nudge from above which elicits an audible “aha” and an idea I can’t ignore…

As it happened, we made excellent time until we saw what seemed to be a huge cloud of fog looming over the road ahead. Before we could comment on that eerie vision, we realized that the fog was actually a mass of tiny snowflakes which grew larger with every passing second. While Mike lamented the possibility of driving that last hour in a blizzard, I whispered a prayer of gratitude. As the poor man carefully drove on, the beautiful flakes dancing around the car captivated me. “Thank you!” I whispered again. I didn’t realize as I prayed that my plea for inspiration would soon be answered quite generously.

You see, of all of the amazing beauty which nature offers, I love snow most. As a little girl, my favorite art projects involved making snowflakes. I remember my teacher patiently demonstrating how to fold and cut scraps of white paper to fashion beautiful snow designs. She reminded us not to worry about the patterns we’d make because each of our creations was meant to be as different as real snowflakes. In the end, we covered our classroom windows with hundreds of unique bits of paper snow. Years later, a high school science teacher confirmed that every snowflake is different. During college, while I waited for Chicago el trains many a wintry day, I studied the snowflakes that rested on my blue pea coat. Their uniquely intricate artistry fascinated me.

As Mike and I drove through what evolved into a mere twenty minute diversion, I took advantage of the opportunity to study snow once again. Did you know that some snowflakes seem to fall in straight lines to the ground while others just a few inches away slant to the right or the left? Still others puff up into billowy clouds before making their descent. Some snowflakes zigzag to and fro regardless of the presence or absence of the wind. When the wind makes itself known, these seemingly hapless comings and goings continue more frenetically than ever. As I reminded myself that it was I who should move frenetically because of all I had to do, my spirit basked in the beauty of the snowfall that blanketed our car that day. As Mike navigated through that mini blizzard, the inspiration I was granted came to fruition.

It occurred to me that you and I aren’t very different from the snowflakes that brought me such peace that day. Each of us is unique in his or her own right. In spite of our opinions or those of others, our personal packaging and personalities, interests and talents are among God’s best work. Some of us travel in straight lines, while others zigzag with a bit of uncertainty or simply because they choose to do so. Still others find themselves suspended in the clouds before making their way home. Some travel only to the right or to the left. All of us adjust our courses with the wind. Is that wind actually God’s Spirit guiding and inspiring us along the way? In the end, like snowflakes, God sprinkles us where we’re meant to be to transform this earth as only we can.

In today’s Gospel, Matthew (4:12-23) tells us that Jesus was heartbroken over the death of his cousin John the Baptist. Still, Jesus followed God’s Spirit and John’s work by beginning his own work among us. Convinced of our importance to one another, Jesus began his ministry by calling others to his side. Peter and Andrew, James and John couldn’t imagine where that journey might take them, yet they willingly became the first of the community who would follow Jesus. Like the snowflakes which tossed and turned in the wind outside of our car, the disciples’ lives turned topsy-turvy during the three years that followed. All the while, God’s Spirit led them as Jesus walked at their sides. In the end, Jesus and his friends transformed the world even more beautifully than the blanket of snow that surrounded us on the way to the cabin that day.

Jesus invites you and me to answer God’s call and to open ourselves up to God’ Spirit as well. Though our journeys will likely not be as adventurous as those of the first disciples, our impact upon this world can be equally dramatic. Whether we veer to the left or the right, zigzag or land in a cloud, when we move with God’s Spirit, we accomplish what we are called to do and we end precisely where we are meant to be.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

C… Creation

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the Lord.

Psalm 96:11-12

C is for Creation. When life is going well, I’m drawn outdoors to share my good fortune with Nature. When I am troubled in great ways or small, Nature’s order and beauty beckon me with a promise of peace and better things to come. I cannot take in the tiniest of this earth’s treasures without also taking in the treasure of God’s loving care for me.

In my neck of the woods, we endured a December which was completely devoid of snow. That January morning, when I discovered the slushy white stuff clinging to the evergreens in our backyard, I felt as though I’d witnessed a miracle. Perhaps I had. The beauty I find outdoors is always miracle enough to nourish my spirit. It transforms the sorrow of the moment into joy. It enhances the joy of the moment a hundredfold.

As I continue my New Year trek toward becoming a better me, I rely heavily upon the gift of Creation. It is there that I find God’s wonder in its purest form. If Nature is so wonderfully fashioned, how much more so are you and I?

Dear God, help me to discover your creative beauty within those you have given me to love and within myself.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved