A Lifetime of Second Chances

God created us in God’s image…
God looked at everything God created and found it to be very good.”

From Genesis 1

The treasures I recall from my childhood include our children’s bible. This huge book consisted of cardboard front and back covers which held together several small booklets. A new booklet arrived in the mail every month. Each time, my mom carefully removed the bible’s cardboard cover, inserted the new booklet and then replaced the cover. Afterward, my sisters and I poured over this newest addition where colorful pictures adorned every page. When we were finished, I always returned to the first booklet’s story of Creation, Adam and Eve, the snake and that forbidden tree. Eden looked amazing to me, at least as grand as heaven. “Why,” I often asked myself, “would Adam and Eve turn away from God who gave them so much?”

Life in this troubled world of ours answers that question every day. It’s lucky for us that God never returns the favor when we walk away. God simply watches with great expectations as we feebly do our best to make things right again. God also waits with arms outstretched for our return.

A friend recently shared a story from his childhood which illustrates this point. My friend was about twelve years old when he’d made a mess of a small chore. His ever-patient mom offered him the opportunity to try it again. My friend was so encouraged by his mother’s faith in him that, the second time around, he completed the task perfectly. My friend shared this story to make a point. “You know,” he said, “God gives us all a lifetime of second chances just like my mom!” I couldn’t agree more.

Generous God, thank you for the second and third and twenty-ninth chances which you offer us day in and day out. Give us the wisdom to embrace every opportunity to begin anew.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Love Beyond Measure

While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him…
He ran out to meet him, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

From Luke 15:20

Because I’m a reasonably good listener, people sometimes share their troubles with me. So it is that I do my best to lessen their burdens. First, I listen. Sometimes, listening is enough. Sometimes, I can do something tangible to help in a small way. Sometimes, the person involved needs a change of heart which can be difficult at best to come by. Sometimes, the person needs a change of venue in order to carry on with some semblance of peace in his or her heart. Sometimes, my troubled friend simply needs to feel loved.

On these occasions, I peer deeply into my own heart for the things which keep me going. Then, I share these things as best I can. You see, I can’t keep my heart from breaking for a person who doesn’t believe that God’s love is intended for him or her. So it is that I willingly invest several minutes and sometimes several conversations to convince this person otherwise. I say, “Though I was far from perfect, my mom loved me. Lot’s of people loved me. Though I’m far from perfect, I’ll never stop loving my kids. If I can be so stubborn in this in spite of my imperfections, how much better must God be at loving me? How much better does God love you?”

You know, many aspects of this life are out of our control. Still, we can all rekindle our trust and embrace God’s love. Though life around us seems to have run amok, God has not. “Yes,” God tells us, “I’m here for you!”

Dear God, you have voiced your love for us again and again. Help us to take your words to heart for ourselves and for one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Second Chances

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.

Psalm 51:3

I’m grateful for the signs of spring which renew my hope with every new sprout-sighting. The change of seasons always induces reflection on my part. Usually, this is very good news, except for those times when I reflect upon the negative for a little too long…

I’m often told that I have a selective memory. The worst of my personal history lies deep within me. The best of it glows in a rose-colored aura which attests to my many blessings. Occasionally, something unexpectedly jars a dark recollection from its hiding place. Such memories tempt me to give in to guilt or despair. I’m happy to report that I’ve resisted this temptation more often than not as of late.

You see, I learned something from my walk through Holy Week and Easter. I’ve also learned something from Spring 2019. Both experiences promise life after winter, life after failures and life after death. Regardless of my success or failure to use the moment at hand optimally, another opportunity awaits me in the moment after that. This doesn’t mean that I’ll intentionally waste even a second of the time I’m given. What it does mean is that when I make a mistake I’ll be as patient with myself as God is.

Merciful God, help me to do my best. When I don’t, help me to acknowledge my guilt honestly, to express my sorrow sincerely, to accept your forgiveness fully and then to move on.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The One Without Sin…

“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”

From John 8:7

I turned off the television and told myself, “I must be getting old!” The last item in the newscast I’d abandoned highlighted a recent scandal, this time by a political figure. I chose not to listen further because I’ve heard far too much of the same as of late. Scandals used to shock me. They shook my faith in whichever of our human institutions was affected. Still, though our morality is more than a little lax these days, we continue to pick up stones and to throw them whenever given the chance.

The woman caught in adultery sinned. I know. If she had not, Jesus wouldn’t have felt the need to forgive her. Still, Jesus offered his absolution. Then, Jesus sent her off with a single bit of advice: From now on, do not sin any more. Though I’m incapable of writing a treatise on sin, I think there is a lesson here. Jesus’ point is that God is far more merciful than we when it comes to our failures and the things that bother us most seem far less consequential to God. It seems to me that we need to leave the judgment of our sisters and brothers to our merciful God. We have more than enough of our own sins to fret over. Perhaps we need to leave our own judgment to God as well. God is far more patient and forgiving of us than we are of ourselves.

The moral of the story? Lighten up! We must forgive our adversaries and forgive ourselves. God is a firm believer in second chances and we should be, too!

Forgiving God, thank you for your enduring mercy and forgiveness. Be with us as we try to forgive as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Blanket of Opportunity

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow…

Isaiah 60:5

It was December 9. After offering my usual “Thanks for the sleep and this new day” to the Almighty, I crawled out of bed and opened the shades in our room. As soon as I’d drawn the first one a quarter of the way up the window, I saw it. An amazing full-sized heart-warming blanket of white covered the entire world, at least as far as I could see! The beauty before me took my breath away. It was a full minute before I could shout downstairs to my husband, “It snowed!” When I did, Mike seemed surprised by my announcement. He responded with an “I know” which seemed to indicate “What did you expect?” In spite of his lack of enthusiasm, I couldn’t get over my elation over this wonderfully inspiring surprise.

I love snow, especially the first snowfall of the year. That morning’s treasure couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. I’d been exhausted for several days by unexpected though worthy tasks which added to my own pre-Christmas frenzy. The world-at-large continued to suffer as did too many good souls nearby. Though I truly did all that I could to infuse peace and a bit of joy into the moments at hand, I felt that I was in the midst of a losing battle. Then I opened the shade and discovered a new world and a new day and a new opportunity to begin again.

As it happened, I began that day by clearing the lovely blanket from our driveway and walk. With every shovel of that glittering white stuff, I exposed another opportunity to see my world with new eyes. Nothing would be the same that day and nothing will be the same today.

This is the first day of New Year 2018 and God blesses each one of us with an amazing full-sized heart-warming blanket of opportunity. Let’s make the most of it. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Generous God, than you for a lifetime of opportunities to begin anew!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Sense

When I got up this morning, I planned to check this reflection for typos and then to schedule it for next Sunday (today, to you, Dear Reader). This was before I heard the news regarding that horrific shooting in Las Vegas. Suddenly, the sadness within me and around me took a back seat to the events unfolding fifteen hundred miles away. I had written about that overwhelmingly painful place we visit when our heartache gets the best of us. I’ve been there. I know some of you have been there as well because you’ve shared your stories with me. “There” is that place far beyond disappointment and well past anger. “There” is that place where our misery gives way to tears as we wonder what to do next. I’m writing of those times when you or I or a loved one has done everything right only to discover that, in spite of our best effort, the result is completely wrong. After watching subsequent news reports, I’m certain that those hurt and their loved ones question this wrong turn in their reality. In today’s gospel (Matthew 21:33-43), Jesus offers the parable of a landowner who has been to this place as well…

The landowner in Jesus’ story is a savvy businessperson who’s done everything necessary to net a healthy crop of grapes from his property. Jesus told his audience that the man “…planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine-press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.” It seems that this landowner was a person of means accustomed to engaging in such transactions. He employed tenants to whom he’d given housing and a living wage to tend his vineyard. As a result, these tenants enjoyed the opportunity to live respectably and the landowner increased his holdings. This arrangement should have been a sweet deal for all concerned. Unfortunately, the tenants didn’t live up to their responsibilities in all of this. They wanted much more than their fair share. At harvest time, when the landowner sent his servants to retrieve his share of the grapes, two were beaten and one was killed. What should have been a simple settling of accounts developed into an ugly scenario. When the landowner sent a second cohort to gather what was his, they were met with violence as well. Completely shocked by this outrage, the landowner sent his son to settle the matter. He was convinced that the tenants would respect his son and hand over what was due. Unfortunately for the landowner and his son, the tenants viewed the young man as an obstacle. Those tenants killed the man’s son to secure his inheritance for themselves.

I would never have predicted this end to Jesus’ parable. The landowner had behaved appropriately in everything. He was a good businessperson who paid his employees well. When things went completely wrong and he lost his own son, what more was there to do? Jesus posed this very question to his followers who responded, “…He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Though I see what those present were getting at, I can’t let go of the reality that nothing will bring back the landowner’s son. If I’d been in the landowner’s shoes, I would have been able to do nothing more than to weep over the senseless loss of my child until my tears ran out. Neither future tenants nor bountiful harvests nor successful business deals of any sort would fill the emptiness within me. The families of those lost in that Las Vegas shooting likely share these sentiments.

I’ve puzzled over this parable. In the process, I’ve discovered that I don’t like being immersed into a scenario which so accurately echoes the events which cause us heartache today. I’m reluctant to analyze Jesus’ words. Still, the pain of the moment compels me to do just that. Deep within, I realize that God will eventually make sense of everything. Deep within, I realize that God shares that “sense” with us if we take the time to attend to it. It is God’s “sense” of things which makes it impossible for me to leave that landowner in his misery. It is God’s sense which insists that this isn’t the end for those hurt and lost in Las Vegas. Though Jesus never offered an outcome to his parable, I will. I say the landowner left those tenants to the authorities and then moved on. How could he find solace in further bloodshed when his son’s death had robbed him of so much? I say that the landowner found a way to get past his trauma. I say that God entered into the landowner’s story to assure him that he wasn’t alone. I say God helped him to embrace this life once again. I say God will do the same for our Las Vegas friends and for us.

God entered into your story and mine long ago. I think it began the day God first breathed life into us. This is the reason that, as sorrowful and hurtful as life can be, we somehow pull ourselves up to begin again Actually, it is God who offers the hand on which we balance ourselves and finally make it back to our feet.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved