Rich In God’s Eyes

Some months after Marie passed away, her daughters sorted through her things. They’d allowed their mourning to ease a bit before dealing with this daunting task. The day they gathered, they lovingly and practically decided what to keep, what to pass on to Marie’s grandchildren and what to give away. All the while, these sisters shared many laughs and shed lots of tears over the memories which surfaced as they worked. An item that drew their attention spoke to one of Marie’s lifelong interests. It was a framed needlepoint rendering of a gray-haired woman sitting next to a mound of assorted fabric. Next to the woman, someone had meticulously stitched, “She who dies with the most fabric wins.” One of Marie’s daughters had gifted her mom with this artwork because Marie purchased fabric whenever it was offered at a good price. Marie’s walk-in closet was literally filled with the stuff when she left her condo for the last time.

Now Marie wasn’t a compulsive buyer. She always purchased fabric with a project in mind. When her daughters were growing up, Marie fashioned most of their clothes and her own. She also upholstered furniture, sewed drapes and did alterations for various family members. Among Marie’s favorite projects were the bridesmaids dresses she fashioned for her daughters’ weddings and the items she sewed for veterans confined to area VA Hospitals. Marie made lap blankets to warm the vets who spent their days in wheelchairs. She made neck pillows for those who were bedridden. She made ditty bags in which all of them could store their personal items for safekeeping. Marie never let anything go to waste. Years after her daughters’ weddings, Marie recycled those old bridesmaid dresses by using their fabric for these same items for women vets. Marie made good use of everything fabric-related. A few years before she passed away, Marie’s hands began to ache with arthritis. When she found that she could clothe herself with purchased items as inexpensively as with what she made for herself, Marie limited her sewing to items for the veterans. Marie determined that she’d use her stockpile in service of those most in need. Though she left her condo with that full closet, she’d actually used most of the fabric she’d collected over the years. Her daughters were quite certain that she had a plan in mind for every leftover bit of it.

Interestingly enough, though sewing was a huge part of Marie’s life, she moved on to other things after she left her condo. Marie concentrated on the new business at hand. She’d taken up residence with one of her daughters and her focus became being a good house-guest. It was Marie’s goal to cause as little disruption as possible in the lives of all concerned. Her sons-in-law agreed that Marie was easy to have around. When Marie was diagnosed with cancer, her life’s work changed once again. Marie’s new goal became to live the life she had left to the fullest just as she always had. All the while, her generosity continued to be evident. Marie enjoyed daily activities in her hospice setting, was a good patient when she needed care, provided upbeat company to her fellow residents, held onto her dignity at all costs and assured her daughters that she was absolutely fine. After four months, Marie left this world peacefully.

In his gospel (Luke 12:13-21), Luke shares Jesus’ parable of the rich man. This fellow seemed to believe, “Whoever dies with the most stuff wins.” Jesus told his friends, “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.’” The poor rich man didn’t understand the blessing that wealth of any sort is meant to be. He busied himself with building up storehouses of his own treasure rather than using what he had to enrich those God had given him to love. Poor rich man that he was, he didn’t enjoy loving others as much as he enjoyed loving himself. Poor rich man that he was, he didn’t understand at all the things that truly matter and the things that should have mattered to him.

Through everything that she said and did, Marie gave new meaning to her daughter’s needlepoint gift. Marie’s efforts echoed the message Jesus shared with his disciples that day. She who dies with the most fabric does win when she does as Marie did. Whether sticking to her meager budget by sewing for herself, clothing her children or making things for her vets, Marie used her wealth of talent well. Even that leftover stockpile served others after Marie’s passing because her daughters saw to it. It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: Whether we’ve been blessed with the ability to sew or to listen, with a kind heart, a healthy stock portfolio, patience or… you get the idea. God asks only that we take as good care of others as we do of ourselves with what we have. The truth is that I learned this firsthand. I’m the one who purchased that little needlepoint artwork. Marie is my mom.

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

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Caring For You…

Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that
I am fearfully, wonderfully made.

Psalm 139:14

A friend recently shared that she isn’t going to oversee an annual project this year. Though this effort supported a very worthy cause, she simply cannot expend the energy required this time around. She’s getting over the care-taking and recent loss of a loved one and she needs a break. I congratulated my friend for being caring enough and objective enough to prioritize all that is expected of her these days. That event needs to rank among the least of her concerns just now.

It occurs to me that each of us needs to take stock of our activities and responsibilities from time to time. Sometimes, we wrestle with self-imposed burdens which are sometimes far less important than we consider them to be. So it is that I will follow my friend’s example in the days ahead. It’s obvious that I should place the needs of my loved ones first. The difficulty comes with less pressing tasks which perhaps do more for my self-concept than they actually do for anyone else or for me. In the end, my need to love, to serve, to write and to rest must all be considered honestly and with the best interests of all concerned in mind.

Loving God, you have gifted us with a work-ethic and a love-ethic. Help us to live up to both with generosity and good judgment. Help us also to love and to care for ourselves in the process.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Keep or Not?

A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.

Ecclesiastes 3:6

The other day, when a pile of notes fell onto my keyboard as I tried to type, I determined that it was time for me to tidy up my desk once again. Though the rest of the house is neat and clean, I admit that my desk is precisely the opposite. And so I began…

The calendar on my desk stayed.
The yellowed notes with writing ideas -which have already be used- went to my recycle pile.
Greeting cards from our sons, their wives and our grandchildren stayed, though I stored them elsewhere.
The empty ink cartridges which needed to be recycled finally were recycled.

You get the idea, but not all of it. I need to go through the same sort of “checklist” when it comes to my calendar as well. (Didn’t I write about this the other day?) Some activities, like spending time with my family, are non-negotiable. I engage in them whenever and wherever they present themselves. Other activities, like cooking and doing the laundry, must stay as well ad infinitum. Still others, however, need to be sorted and categorized and ranked. I need to determine what I will continue to do and what I will pass on.

For the second or tenth or thirtieth time, I tell myself that it’s up to me to determine just how I will use my time. I promise myself and you that I won’t address this “time issue” again until I have progress to report…

Patient God, once again I ask you to be with me as I decide what to seek and what to lose, what to keep and what to cast away.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Time!

There is an appointed time for everything
and a time for every affair under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Time management is almost always an issue. If you interact with others in any way, you understand. In my case, even when I set aside a day or a few hours for my own use, I find that a persistent headache or a more persistent worry can derail my plans. This is the reason I’ve cited one of my favorite scripture passages for guidance.

This verse from Ecclesiastes indicates that there is time for everything. Still, throughout my entire life to date, I’ve never had time for everything. In spite of this fact, when it comes to time allotment, we all have important input. At age sixteen, I decided that I would likely not be a “straight A” student because I had to devote time to the part-time job which would fund my college education. Once I came to this realization, I balanced school and work more effectively. In the end, I maintained my grades and entered college with a scholarship and savings enough to keep me there.

Today, because time-allotment is an issue once again, I prioritize my concerns once again. The time my husband and I set aside to spend with our grandchildren is etched in stone -our choice. The book stored in that computer file, my head and my heart, which I’ve promised to finish is also a priority -my choice. Life-at-large always demands a measure of our time regardless of whose choices are involved. In the end, God asks only that we use the time at hand as best we can.

God of Love, be with us through all of this life’s the appointed times.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be There For Him

“You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”

John 12:8

An unexpected “invitation” to babysit for our granddaughters urged me to organize and to prioritize in short order. After adjusting my schedule and completing another of the tasks at hand, I sat to relax at our kitchen table. Though this isn’t our home’s most comfortable place to sit, its position next to a large patio door makes it very special. The views of our backyard and side yard that day included the greening lawn and budding bushes. Nature’s miraculous resurrection hinted at all that Jesus accomplished that first Holy Week so long ago. “There’s a story here,” I told myself.

I didn’t continue my musing because a gentle tap distracted me. A lovely dove sat staring at me from the large barren flowerpot outside that patio door. Though such visitors usually fly off when I draw closer, the dove remained, content to stare back at me. A ray of sunshine caused her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. As I wondered what this dove was up to, it occurred to me that she likely wondered the same about me. This is Holy Week, the week I’d promised to walk with Jesus.

I’d promised to recall all that happened to Jesus and to be there for him. My beautiful feathered friend encouraged me to do just that. I returned to the story which had come to mind a minute earlier. I put myself in Jesus’ shadow as it unfolded. Though I wasn’t able to change the outcome, I changed everything simply by being there.

This week, it’s our turn to love and to comfort and to be there for this Jesus who changed everything for us.

Dear God, thank you for that sweet dove’s reminder to express my appreciation tangibly by keeping watch with Jesus.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rules That Matter

The arrival of a new baby quickly turns the lives of all concerned upside-down. Our newest grandchild offers proof positive in this regard. Fortunately, his parents and older brother have adapted quickly and all is well. Some changes aren’t as easy to negotiate. So often, our daily lives are complicated by a difficult diagnosis, an unexpected job loss or a loved ones tough times. I can’t imagine how those in the midst of the wildfires on the west coast and the storms and floods on the east coast have coped. At the same time, violence in neighborhoods across this country continues to upend lives just as brutally. All the while, many others struggle in the grip of difficult realities which have become their daily lot. Though there is much joy to be found throughout our earthly lives, persistent drudgery can be mercilessly discouraging. When I gaze at my new grandson, I can’t help tearing up because the human condition hasn’t evolved much over the centuries. As he sleeps peacefully in my arms, he gives me reason to do all I can to improve life in this world as best I can for him and for us all.

My conviction that things haven’t changed much since we humans took residence on this earth was underscored when my husband and I traveled to Israel. I imagined Jesus making his way through the crowds, sometimes alone, but most often in the company of his friends, curious onlookers and those seeking something beyond their sadness. In Capernaum, Magdala, Nazareth and Tabgha, I envisioned Jesus responding to the sick, the lonely and the downtrodden. Their suffering piqued Jesus’ compassion and his love. He did what he could to ease their pain. My little grandson and all of those whom I’ve been given to love do the same. Whether a family member, neighbor or stranger, I find it very difficult to walk away from his or her troubles. Yes, Jesus, I get it most of the time.

Jesus knew that none of us get it right all of the time. His most pressing concern was to love us and to teach us to love one another. Issues arose when those who should have done this best failed to prioritize love. Oddly, this should have been nothing new to the temple hierarchy who irritated Jesus most in this regard. In today’s reading from Deuteronomy (4:1-2, 6-8), we find Moses presenting the Ten Commandments to the people. They’d exhibited hard-heartedness repeatedly while they wandered in the desert and they desperately needed guidance regarding their relationships with one another and with God. In response, God inspired Moses to present the people with ten simple laws. These straightforward principles would guide them in loving God and in loving and caring for one another. The Pharisees knew this story well, yet they grew those ten commands into hundreds of precepts which oppressed the people rather than uplifting them. The second reading from James (1:17-18, 21-22, 27) indicates that this was an ongoing problem. This excerpt was written in response to some in the early church who attempted to put faith alone above their love and concern for one another.

In today’s gospel (Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23), Jesus made his point. The Pharisees once again criticized Jesus for not following the letter of the law regarding temple rituals. They were quite indignant over Jesus’ and his followers’ apparent disregard for these mandates. The disciples ate with ritually unclean hands. When he touched the sick and ostracized who were off-limits in the temple, Jesus himself became ritually unclean as well. Jesus responded to these accusations by pointing out to the Pharisees that they had allowed their devotion to ritual to replace their devotion to God and to God’s people. The Pharisees valued clean hands far more than they valued the people. They valued meticulous obedience to their precepts far more than the people’s heartfelt prayer. Though God had provided the Ten Commandments to guide the people in forming a loving community, the Pharisees separated them into the worthy and the unworthy, the clean and the unclean. So it was that Jesus enlightened them on the matter. Jesus knew that none of us is perfect. He also knew that we make up for our shortcomings in any situation with love. At times, this requires setting aside a rule or two so we can touch a heart just as Jesus would.

As I turn my eyes to my sleeping grandson, I admit that it’s easy to set aside my own agenda for this lovable little child. If only that was the case with everyone I meet along the way! Today, God asks each of us to do just that for all of God’s children, lovable and otherwise. Jesus put it quite simply to the Pharisees and to us all. God asks only that we do our best to be the best we can. When we fail, God asks that we forgive ourselves, forgive one another and get on with the business at hand. God knows better than we that sometimes our role in the business at hand is simply to walk away. That business, by the way, has nothing to do with tracking our failings or those of others. The business at hand has everything to do with loving one another as Jesus did and as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved