“THERE” With God

When I woke that day, I’d planned to get through my morning routine in record time. Afterward, I’d proof this week’s reflection and send it off to meet an early deadline. Well, that was the case until the morning news sent me in another direction. I’d begun watching just in time to see a reporter standing in the midst of smoldering rubble. He was describing what he saw for miles around -one of the many western state towns burned to the ground by wildfires. That report was followed by an update regarding Hurricane Sally’s assault upon the gulf states. As I watched, my frustration regarding life-with-COVID-19 took a back seat and I opened my heart to those suffering all around me.

Suddenly, I found myself in that overwhelmingly painful place we visit when our heartache gets the best of us. I’d been there before. I know many 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 efforts, our situation has gone completely wrong. After watching subsequent news reports, I was certain that those suffering these disasters questioned the wrong-turn in their reality as well. In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 21:33-43), Jesus offers the parable of a landowner who experienced the same…
 
Jesus’ landowner was a knowledgeable businessperson. He’d 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 seemed that this landowner was a person of means accustomed to engaging in such transactions. He’d employed tenants to whom he gave housing and a living wage. In return, they would tend to his vineyard. Those tenants enjoyed the opportunity to live respectably and the landowner increased his holdings. That arrangement seemed to be a productive deal for all concerned.

Unfortunately, the tenants didn’t live up to their agreement and they wanted far more than their fair share. At harvest time, when the landowner sent his servants to retrieve his share of the grapes, two of them 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 all of this, the landowner sent his son to settle the matter. He was certain that the tenants would respect his family member and hand over what was due. Sadly, the tenants viewed the young man as an obstacle. Those tenants killed the man’s son hoping to secure even more of the landowner’s riches for themselves.
 
Honestly, I would never have predicted this end to Jesus’ parable. The landowner had behaved appropriately in every way. He was a good businessperson who paid his employees justly. When things went completely wrong and he lost his own son, what was he to do? When Jesus posed this very question to his followers, they 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 understand what Jesus’ followers were getting at, I can’t let go of the reality that nothing would 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 have filled the emptiness within me. The families of those lost in recent wildfires, to COVID-19 and to senseless violence in every form likely share these sentiments.
 
After puzzling over this parable, I found that I don’t like scenarios which so accurately echo the heartache we suffer today. Though I’m reluctant to analyze Jesus’ words, this suffering compels me to do just that. Finally, deep within, I realize that God makes sense of everything. Deep within, I realize that God shares that “sense” with us whenever we open our hearts to God. 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 of things which insists that this isn’t the end for those hurt by wildfires and injustice and a virus.

Though Jesus didn’t offer an outcome to his parable, I will. I say that the landowner left his tenants to the authorities and then he moved on. He could find no solace in further bloodshed because his son’s death had robbed him of too much. I say that the landowner found a way to get past his trauma because God entered into his story to assure him that he wasn’t alone. I say that God helped him to embrace this life once again. Finally, I say that God will do the same for us for as long as our suffering lasts. God entered into your story and mine the day God breathed life into us. This is the reason that, as difficult as this life can be, we somehow pull ourselves up to begin anew. Actually, it is God who offers the hand we hold as we try, try, try again.

©2020 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

There’s Always Another Chance

The woman saw that the tree was good for food,
pleasing to the eyes and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;
and she also gave some to her husband…

Genesis 3:6

When I was a child, my parents didn’t have money to spare. Still, they invested in books. One of these treasures was a children’s bible. It consisted of cardboard front and back covers, several separate booklets and extremely long laces which held the entire thing together. The seventy-two booklets which eventually completed this bible came in the mail periodically. When each one arrived, my mom carefully untied those laces, removed the bible’s cardboard cover, inserted the new booklet, replaced the cover and retired those laces. Afterward, I poured over every page. The colorful pictures and reasonably understandable text held my attention for some time.

When I finished perusing each new edition, I habitually returned to the first book’s story of Adam and Eve, the snake and that forbidden tree. Eden amazed me almost as much as heaven did. “Why,” I often wondered, “would Adam and Eve turn away from God who gave them so much?”

Life in this world answers that question every day. It’s difficult to read the headlines and listen to the daily news without wondering where we are headed these days. It’s fortunate for us all that God never strays from our company. God simply waits with arms outstretched for our return.

Dear God, thank you for the second and third and twenty-ninth chances your offer us day in and day out. Grant us the wisdom to start anew whenever we need to.

©2018 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