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

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N is for…

God looked at everything God made
and found it to be very good.

Genesis 1:31

N is for Nature. If you check a dictionary, it will define “nature” something like this: the essential characteristic or quality which makes something what it is; its essence. I think it’s extremely important for us to remember the Source of our nature. God is the Source who made us who we are. It is God who created us and everything else from nothing more than an insatiable willingness to love.

The line I cite above from the Creation Story certainly gets to the nature or essence of God’s feelings for us and for all of God’s handiwork. It seems to me that our best response is to accept that we are good and to live accordingly. Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, it’s hard to see the good. Yet God insists that it’s there within me. Sometimes, my neighbor poses the challenge when he or she behaves in anything but lovable ways. Still, God insists that goodness dwells within every one of us and God asks that we behave accordingly. If this isn’t troublesome enough, God also insists that all of creation is good. Not only must I love my fellow humans, but also I must care for our earthly home.

N is for Nature. God asks that I live up to my nature by living with love toward myself, my fellow humans and this earth. Indeed, God looks at us all and finds us to be very good. What an amazing place this will be if we do our best to do the same!

Patient God, this is a tough one. Please be with me as I try to look upon everyone and everything with your loving eyes.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love As Jesus Did

“If I do not perform God’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works.”

John 10:37-38

Throughout my life, I’ve been told often that I’m naive. Still, I continue to trust in the goodness of my fellow humans. I’m not foolish enough to believe that there are no evildoers among us. Still, I do believe that in the right circumstances most of us would choose to do the right thing. So, I persist in trusting those I meet until they give me reason not to do so.

Jesus wasn’t naive at all. He knew that those who questioned his motives were blinded by hatred. Jesus’ threat to the status quo and to the power of his enemies was more than they could tolerate. Though Jesus’ works helped the neediest and most marginalized of his contemporaries, these kindnesses fueled the anger of the temple leaders. If acceptance and mercy soothed the people too much, their fear of the consequences of their alleged sins might dwindle. The scribes and Pharisees power over them might also dwindle. In the face of all of this, Jesus delivered God’s message of love, forgiveness, inclusion and mercy. In the mean time, Jesus’ enemies worked diligently to find a way to dispose of him. Jesus persisted anyway because every person he ecounterd absolutely worth the trouble.

You know, the people Jesus comforted had been looked upon as the drudges of society for much of their lives. Still, Jesus invested his time and his love in them. Though I don’t have Jesus’ capacity to love, I do have my own. So it is that I must persist as well.

Loving God, help us to open our hearts generously to those you have given us to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time Again…

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. My entire world engages 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. Yes, it seems to me that there is always a time to be born.

A time to die… Just as Nature engages in rebirth around me, 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 tree, 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.

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.

Loving God, you are the watchful gardener who places each of us precisely where we are meant to be. Help me to embrace my place with the certainly of those seeds who entrust their futures to your loving hands.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Meticulous Care

In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was with God
and the word was God.

John 1:1

While in Israel, over the course of a few days, it rained sporadically. I shared earlier that our guide Yossi did a happy dance in response as Israel was in the midst of a drought. This didn’t dampen our spirits until we realized that flood waters pouring down from the mountains caused us to be rerouted on our way to Masada. WE had to visit Qumran instead. Though the views from Masada are breathtaking, I secretly joined Yossi in his happy dance. I was eventually relieved and happy to share with my tour-mates that our view of Qumran rivaled that of Masada.

The rocky mountainside of Qumran was the home of what are called the Dead Sea Scrolls. These truly ancient writings were discovered between my toddler and teen years. Their importance was immediately recognized. By the time I entered college, their discovery had revolutionized Old Testament studies.

The caves of Qumran were used for storage only. Several scrolls from Genesis, Deuteronomy and The Psalms, among others, filled numerous ancient jars which protected them from the elements for what seems like forever. As I looked from cave to cave, I wondered about those who’d written the scriptures and those who devoted themselves to meticulously copying them. A few days later when I viewed bits of these scrolls at the Israeli Museum, I understood what an amazing miracle it is to have any of them in our possession in the 21st Century!

Sometimes, I wonder about the Lord God who so meticulously tends to you and me. All the while, God works to preserve our goodness and to arm us against the elements which threaten during this life. Perhaps God has discovered something in each of us which will revolutionize our little corners of the world. God only knows!

Dear God, thank you for your ever-present faith in each of us!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

He Walked On Water

When the disciples saw him walking on water, they were terrified.
“It is a ghost!” they said, and in their fear they cried out.

Matthew 14:26

Our guide Yossi is not only an excellent teacher of Israeli life and an accomplished musician. He is also an archeologist who has earned a doctorate in biblical religions. All of this contributed to the wealth of information he shared along the way. The day we sailed the Sea of Galilee was no exception.

After reading Matthew’s account of this middle-of-the-night encounter, Yossi explained that far more was going on here that meets the eye. The original passage indicates that the disciples saw something which touched them to their cores. The Hebrew word for that something can mean either “ghost” or “spirit”. Yossi maintains that the disciples saw Jesus very differently as he moved toward them. They saw not a ghost, but God’s Spirit emanating from their master. Suddenly, they knew that Jesus was much more than an itinerant rabbi who had given them a new view of the scriptures, of life and of their God. If they had no inkling up to this point, their eyes were certainly opened during the wee hours of that morning on the Sea of Galilee..

I’ve puzzled over the scriptures since I was a little girl. Back then, my only resources were my own imagination, my patient mother and teachers and our parish priest who clarified things for me as best they could. Today, we have numerous resources to help us along our scripture-reading way. That day on the Sea of Galilee, I happily accepted Yossi’s explanation. It made perfect sense for Jesus to share his essence with his closest friends. Why wouldn’t they see God’s Spirit within him? When I pay attention, I discover that Jesus reveals the same for me in amazingly simple, yet important ways.

Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself in ways I can sometimes understand.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved