The Best Invitation of All

Invitations honor us. When others ask us to join them for a gathering, especially a meal, they invite us into their lives. Perhaps this is the reason we become a bit nervous when an invitation comes from someone we don’t know very well. This was the case not long ago when the respective parents of a wonderful young couple decided it was time to spend some quality time together. (I’ve changed their names to protect the innocent!) Though the couple’s parents had met casually a few times, they hadn’t spent an entire evening together. Since Joe and Maggie had dated for four years and an engagement seemed imminent, it was time. Joe’s parents gladly accepted Maggie’s parents’ invitation to dinner. They loved Maggie and had hoped for quite some time that the relationship would blossom into something permanent. Maggie’s parents loved Joe. They’d already made him feel like a part of their family. Still, as the evening approached, both sets of parents worried. Maggie’s parents fretted about their preparations. What would they serve? Should they cook outdoors or host a more formal dinner? Maggie and Joe sent numerous texts relaying questions and responses between households. Finally, an exasperated Joe sent a text in all caps: TELL YOUR PARENTS THAT MY PARENTS WILL EAT ANYTHING! As for Maggie, she instructed her mother to cook whatever would be easiest as she knew all of the parents would prefer to spend more time talking than eating!

When “dinner day” arrived, tension increased in both households. Maggie’s mom was certain something would be over or under-cooked, while Joe’s mom was certain she would be over or under dressed. As both fathers feigned a relaxed exterior, Maggie’s dad began to sweat a little while filling the ice bucket. Though that ice wasn’t heavy enough to draw beads of perspiration from his forehead, the thought of handing his daughter over to even the nicest of young men was very heavy indeed. Joe’s dad whistled as he selected a plaid shirt to compliment his khakis. On the inside, however, his stomach churned. A single tear fell from the corner of his eye as he pictured his son staring at Maggie as she walked down the aisle. Only Maggie and Joe remained calm as they laughed over their parents’ nervousness. After all, weren’t they the ones who should worry about the evening going well?

After completing all that she could before their guests arrived, Maggie’s mom retraced the steps of every recipe in her head. Maggie’s dad began to pace. Maggie stared wide-eyed at the two of them. Al the while, she wondered how a little dinner could reduce her wonderful and intelligent parents to bumbling ineptitude? They were a mess! Joe would share the same observation regarding his parents much later that evening. Joe’s parents were uncharacteristically quiet during the drive to dinner. Joe tried to make conversation as he sensed his parents’ nervousness. Regardless of what he asked, his mom and dad responded in single syllables, seemingly oblivious to the topic.

In spite of the worries of all concerned, dinner went perfectly well. Joe’s mom can’t recall what she wore that night. She only knows that she was perfectly comfortable. Joe’s dad enjoyed the meal, though he cannot recite the menu. Maggie’s mom isn’t sure that the meal turned out as planned, but she was pleased by the lack of leftovers. Maggie’s dad forgot the name of the wine he served, but he knew everyone enjoyed it. All of this is fine because none of those details mattered. In the end, Maggie and Joe celebrated the fact that their parents got along. Everyone who gathered at the table that evening agreed that they were in the best of company. As it has happened, these families have come together often since “dinner day” with far less complicated preparations and the same joyful outcome.

Invitations honor us. When others ask us to join them for a meal, they invite us into their live. For the past several weeks, John’s gospel has assured us that Jesus himself assumed the role of host. Rather than a single invitation to a meal, Jesus extended a lifetime of invitations to everyone within earshot. Jesus first honored his followers by welcoming them to share a few loaves and fish. Though he might have sought out a much-needed meal and some rest for himself, Jesus invited the crowds to rest and to eat with him. This was Jesus’ way with everything. He welcomed and he listened. He embraced and he healed. Everyone Jesus met along the way was invited to partake of his precious company and to embrace his life-giving way of life. Jesus nurtured the people with God’s goodness in everything he said and did and he invited his followers to do the same by loving and caring for one another.

Because they love Maggie and Joe, their parents offered and accepted that initial invitation to dinner. The result is an expanded family which continues to be nurtured by the love and care they offer one another. Because he loves us, Jesus invites us into relationships with him and with all whom we meet along the way. When we open our hearts to God’s love and to each other, we accept the best invitation of all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Feeds Us Well!

My husband is a far more adventurous cook than I. Mike has a knack for determining whether or not a dish will please the palate by simply reading its recipe. I can count the errors he’s made over the decades in this regard on one hand and I don’t need all five fingers to do so! Before we retired, Mike and I found cooking together to be relaxing. We enjoyed shopping for and preparing these mystery meals which distracted us from the headaches we left at work. Even today, Mike continues to assess the offerings in the food section of the newspaper and those he encounters online. As for me, I’ve outgrown these culinary adventures. Since I’ve left those work worries behind, I no longer need the distraction. The truth is that I grew up with enough mystery meals to last a lifetime…

The family menus of my childhood resembled those of most of my generation. We appreciated the nutritional values of fruits and vegetables and we didn’t consider the consequences of frying. Fortunately, my mom had naturally healthy preferences and we ate fairly well. Still, our large family complicated meal planning. In addition to my parents and the six of us children, my uncle and grandfather shared our flat. (Yes, it was a circus at times!) My dad and Uncle Gee ate everything without complaint. Any negativity from Grandpa related more to his frustration with his poor health than to my mom’s cooking. We children were another matter. I was more willing than the others to try the “something new” my mom so often tested on us. I was honestly no more adventurous than they were. I just felt sorry for the poor woman when it came to cooking for us all.

Our greatest challenges were the meals which least resembled something fit for human consumption. (Sorry, Mom!) There were casseroles and hashes which included unrecognizable ingredients. We tasted them on the basis of smell alone. Often, my mom avoided naming a meal. She simply assured us that it was just like something we’d previously enjoyed. If we liked her secret concoction, my mom identified it. If we rejected the mystery meal of the hour, it’s true identity remained her secret. My mom probably hoped to pass it off in another form at another time. Looking back, I think my mom’s ability to feed all of us on a very limited budget deserves applause. Her success in distracting us from the actual content of her offerings is impressive. In the end, my mom saw to it that each one of us had all that we needed to grow and to flourish. Though we didn’t always appreciate her efforts, my mom never stopped caring for us. I share all of this because God has been doing the same since the first of us feasted upon the fruits of Creation ages ago.

Today’s scriptures chronicle some of God’s efforts in this regard. The excerpt from Exodus (16:2-4, 20-24) offers an example of the Israelites’ complaints throughout their flight from Egypt. Tired and hungry, they’d exhausted their patience. The people moaned to Moses that they were better off as Pharaoh’s slaves than starving in the barren desert. Though God knew all of this, Moses prayed on their behalf and, as always, God provided. Every night, quail filled their camp to provide plenty for supper. Every morning, manna appeared. When the people failed to recognize their breakfast, Moses showed them the flakes lying beneath the dew. In the end, all were nourished with what they needed to embrace each new day. The passage from Ephesians (4:17, 20-14) tells us that Paul experienced frustration with his people as well. When the Ephesians also failed to appreciate what lay before them, Paul pointed out that they’d been nourished as well. God’s very presence graced their lives and it was up to them to live accordingly. In the gospel (John 6:24-35), John shares one of Jesus’ lessons in nutrition. Hungry crowds had followed him because they wanted yet another free meal. Jesus responded by explaining that God offered them far more than a no-cost lunch or dinner. Through Jesus, God’s presence had taken tangible form. God dwelled among them and within them and it was up to them to let go of their worry and to embrace this lasting sustenance.

My mother often said that food didn’t have to look like meat and potatoes to taste good. When Mike tries a new recipe, he encourages me not to allow the ingredients to discourage me from tasting it. Every day, God does much the same. God offers each of us a feast of opportunities throughout this life. Though we may not like the looks of everything on our plates, God assures us that tasting what lies ahead will be worth the effort. When we set aside our fear and worry to embrace what God provides, we take in all that we need to grow and to flourish. Today, we’re invited to join the Israelites, the Ephesians and that hungry crowd who followed Jesus in taking in God’s nourishment wherever it lies: In our work and in our leisure, in those we know and in the strangers we met along the way; in our own prayer and in our worship together; in everything!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Let Go…

A time to keep and a time to cast away.
From Ecclesiastes 3:6

I’ve persisted in my effort to purge our home of unneeded items. This is in spite of the fact that most of these items hide in closets, drawers and a storage room in our basement. The old adage “Out of sight, out of mind” certainly applied in this regard until recently. I’m committed! With that, I turned to some boxed books I’d retrieved from my study. Where would I begin?

I started with an assortment of inspirational books. Each one touched me the day I received it. Still, I hadn’t looked at most of them for years. I decided it was my turn to inspire and placed all but two of them in my give-away box. My collection of novels had renewed my empathy for my fellow humans in many ways. Still, though I’d reread a few of them, I likely never will again. I kept the autographed copies and added the remainder to that give-away box. There was no question regarding my books on death, dying and the hereafter. They sustain my hope, so I kept every one. My children’s books feed my imagination and strengthen my bond with our grandchildren. I decided to keep a few and to donate the rest to my favorite after-school program.

I’d spent over an hour on this task when I discovered an old catechism. A bookmark rested at the chapter entitled GRACE. I learned long ago that grace is God’s very life within us. I laughed as I noted that a bit of grace had flowed through almost every book I’ve ever read. Still, in spite of this joyful revelation, I hauled that box of give-away books to the garage with a promise that I’ll deliver it ASAP!

Loving God, thank you for the gift of inspiration I find in the written word and for my ability to let go of a few of those books.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Timely Inspiration

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to for every purpose under heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’ve discovered that I write best when I’m not surrounded by clutter. My recent file cabinet purchase allowed me to clean off my desk and to empty a few drawers. In the process, I eyed the bookcases nearby. “There’s no time like the present,” I told myself. “I can tackle a shelf or two and still have time to write today.” I looked lovingly upon novels, books on death, dying and the afterlife, inspirational books, children’s books and an old catechism.

Each inspirational book touched me as it had on the day I received it. They inspired my creation of a “To Keep” pile. The novels had renewed my empathy for my fellow humans. I kept the most memorable and began a “Give Away” pile with the rest. My books on death, dying and the hereafter sustain my hope. I kept every one. Children’s books feed my imagination and strengthen my bond with our grandchildren. I decided to keep few at home and to give the rest to them.

I’d spent an hour with these treasures when I picked up that old catechism. I would have added it to the “Give Away” pile if a bookmark sticking out of it hadn’t piqued my interest. It marked the chapter entitled GRACE. I learned long ago that grace is God’s very life within us. I looked at the array of books before me and prayed, “Lord, your grace has flowed through every one of them.”

Though I had no intention of tackling those boxes at that particular moment, I prayed further, “Your timing is impeccable.” My desk-cleaning had refreshed my approach to writing and my book-sorting had refreshed my soul.

Dear God, your loving presence inspires me again and again.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Food That Matters

I have heard the adage “You are what you eat” throughout my life. Still, my sons, my daughters-in-law and my grandchildren have given it new meaning. Though Mike and Abby habitually eat healthfully, they were even more meticulous in their efforts when Abby was expecting our granddaughters. As each of the girls moved from mommy’s milk to solid foods, my appreciation for fruit, vegetables and all things natural deepened. While they await the birth of their baby, Tim and Kim continue these lessons. I have become almost as aware as they are of additives and other items to be avoided when preparing and indulging in a meal. The truth is that the more careful my dear husband and I are about these things, the better we feel. The better we feel, the more willing we are to embrace and to make the most of this life. The depth of our children’s wisdom hits home. When we become what we eat, we also become so much more. It is in making the most of our sustenance that we find the strength not only to endure, but also to enjoy the journey ahead.

As I contemplate this reality, I consider everything else that I “take in” each day. Though I may not sip them from a cup or lift them to my mouth with a fork, I take in these things just as tangibly. Sometimes, it is the company of a good friend or nature’s beauty during a walk which fills me up. Sometimes, it is a favorite passage from a book or the lyrics of a favorite song which fill me up. Sometimes, it is simply realizing in a given moment that God loves me. In any case, I take these things in and I am nourished by them. They change me for the better and I am grateful that I am what I eat and what I take in. Just as my empty stomach nudges toward food throughout the day, my hungry spirit urges me to seek out these spirit-lifting encounters regularly. This is the good news.

As I contemplate further, I realize that there are other things I take in which are not particularly helpful. Sometimes, I can control my intake by walking away from the television set or setting aside the newspaper. I can ignore the newsfeed online or excuse myself from a conversation. Sometimes, troubles closer to home cannot be set aside and my immediate attention is required. These are the times when I must be most careful regarding the things I take in. When I concentrate on superficial irritations and discomfort, I overlook the essence of the situation before me. I also allow those irritations and that discomfort to become part of who I am and what I bring to the table. It is rarely if ever helpful to bring negativity to the table.

It seems to me that this is what Jesus was getting at in John’s gospel (John 6:24-35; 6:41-51; 6:51-58). These passages begin with the account of Jesus’ multiplication of a few loaves and fish to feed a crowd of thousands. These desperately hungry followers willingly settled for that meager meal rather than looking more deeply for the true nourishment Jesus offered. When the people followed him in search of their next respite, Jesus shook his head. “Do not work for food that perishes,” Jesus told them, “but for food that endures for eternal life.” Jesus explained further that he himself would be that food for them. “Don’t become loaves and fish,” Jesus seemed to say. “Become me!” These passages end with Jesus’ invitation to us all to do the same by feasting on the Bread of Life.

Yesterday, while attending an event together, my sister noticed that my face had clouded over and that I was about to serve up a generous portion of negativity. Though Georgette acknowledged that I had good reason to feel the way I did, she encouraged me not to partake of those feelings. Rather, she urged me to feast on the food that endures. “You have a right to be angry,” she said, “but don’t buy into it. Respond to the aggravation with love.” When Georgette’s eyes glowed with the love she encouraged me to take in, how could I refuse her? So it was that I set aside a morsel of my anger and then another. Eventually, I relaxed and responded to the moment at hand appropriately. Though I must admit to chewing on a crumb of my anger later that day, I had finally let it all go by bedtime. The next morning, I realized that the peace that comes with love and forgiveness had become a part of me and that the anger was long gone. With gratitude, I thanked our dear Lord for helping me to become less like those loaves and fish and more like him. Yes, I am what I eat and there is nothing more satisfying!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved