The Best Laid Plans…

Let the sea and what fills it resound…
Let the rivers clap their hands…

From Psalm 98:7-8

I have a dear friend who is truly a world traveler. When John plans a trip, it’s usually several weeks in duration and may involve not one cruise, but two. I admire his wandering spirit and I enjoy reliving his adventures with him when he returns home. For the past few days, however, I’ve been following John’s cruise on Facebook only to discover that it has unfolded quite unexpectedly. He’s actually spent three days in “canal limbo” because of a ship failure. After 48 hours of unsuccessful repair attempts, it was determined that the ship needs to be dry-docked. After another 24 hours in “traveler limbo”, John managed to book a few side trips which will fill the time until his second cruise begins. As I noted earlier, I truly admire John’s wandering spirit!

How often we find ourselves in the midst of unplanned scenarios which seem determined to keep us dry-docked for a while! How often we struggle to escape these circumstances only to find that we sink deeper into their mire! Finally, when we stop fighting our circumstances and start planning ways to deal with them do we find peace. Like my friend John, we sometimes have to re-plan, regroup and begin again. Like my friend John, sometimes we find ourselves in far better circumstances after all.

Life isn’t perfect for any of us. Still, when we keep ourselves attuned to the peace deep within, we focus on the things which matter most. In the end, we actually find a better way.

Loving God, thank you for being the peace which sustains us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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K… Kindness, Unexpected, Life-Giving Kindness

Because he had cured many, all who had
afflictions kept pushing toward him to touch him.

Mark 3:10

K is for Kindness. Unexpected kindness is the most effective variety of this virtue. When I’m not at my best, an unexpected bit of TLC brightens the moment for all concerned. I became a recipient of random kindnesses early on in my life. When I woke my mom in the middle of the night with a childhood woe, she responded with patience and love. She returned me to my room and tucked me into my bed with a second good-night kiss. Thoughtful teachers responded to my rare transgressions with understanding rather than anger. Their mercy encouraged me to be my best. When life became more complicated through my teens and into adulthood, I responded far more positively to a kind word than to a less-than-civil reprimand. The good news in all of this is that I took these lessons in kindness to heart. When I became a teacher and a parent, I found that my students and my own children responded best when kindness set the tone of our interactions.

You know, it’s easy to extend kindness to the people we love and to those who offer the same courtesy to us. Unfortunately, those whose names aren’t on our “A List” likely need our kindness most. We need only to look Jesus’ way to find examples of kindness offered indiscriminately. Each one changed a life and this world forever.

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the capacity to be kind. Inspire us to do so, especially when it is most difficult and most needed.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Face The Unexpected With God

As I glanced at the new page on my calendar, my eyes moistened. February teems with special days. Ten of my family members celebrate their birthdays this month. My mother’s birthday is Valentine’s Day and she married my stepfather on the seventeenth. She passed away eleven years ago on February 20. It is this event which explains my teary eyes. I look at my mom’s picture on my desk and I wonder how she managed the last four months of her life.

My mom accepted the news of her cancer with remarkable grace. The truth is that her forgetfulness likely troubled her more than the diagnosis which would take her to heaven. The rest of the truth is that God answered my demanding prayer by keeping my mother free of physical pain. Her only discomfort came when she recognized her memory loss. I shared that discomfort most poignantly on the day her nurse called to tell me that my mother was “ready.” I puzzled over the nurse’s comment and asked, “What’s my mom ready for?” The nurse explained, “Your mother says you’re picking her up.” Near tears, I explained that I wasn’t visiting that day. Two of my sisters planned to visit, but there were no plans to take my mom out. The nurse sweetly absolved me of my responsibility and promised to tell my mother that we had our days confused and that I would see her soon. In spite of the nurse’s absolution, I returned to my computer heartbroken over the disappointment my mother felt. Though my mom’s memory loss likely limited her sadness to a few minutes, I fretted for another hour. In the end, I grabbed my coat and went to visit my mom.

I set my February memories aside to prepare for this writing. When I looked over the scripture readings, I wondered if my mom had sent me an early Valentines’ Day gift in the form of inspiration. Though my mom was confused on that day so long ago, she responded as was her custom by dealing with the unexpected as best she could. By the time I arrived for my unplanned visit, she had enjoyed my sisters’ company and then ambled down the hallway to see what her housemates were up to. Though my mom did not recall her worry over missing me that afternoon, she told me about my sisters’ visit and the day’s news with complete clarity. Yes, my mom continues to inspire. “Face whatever comes your way,” she says.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:22-40) tells us that this is precisely what Mary and Joseph did as they struggled to raise Jesus. That the Lord God Almighty entered into human history in the person of Jesus is truly the most unexpected event of all time. Still, in spite of this seemingly insurmountable challenge, Mary and Joseph embraced their roles as Jesus’ parents. This passage describes the couple’s first outing with their infant son.

Mary and Joseph fulfilled the Law by engaging in Mary’s purification and their son’s presentation in the temple. In the midst of their effort, Simeon, a good and holy man, approached them. Simeon immediately embraced the child for whom he had waited a lifetime. After thanking God for the gift of this encounter with the Messiah, Simeon turned to Mary to warn her that, “…this child is destined to be the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted-and you yourself a sword will pierce.”

With Simeon’s words weighing heavily upon them, Mary and Joseph completed the prescribed rituals and then returned home with Jesus. With every step, they came to realize that they walked an uncertain and treacherous path. Yet, in spite of all of this, Mary and Joseph provided the nurturing home which prepared Jesus for his work among us. Indeed, Jesus changed the face of humankind with his lessons in love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy, patience and humility. Jesus taught his followers well to deal with the unexpected in their lives, just as his parents had taught him, just as my mother taught me, and just as God teaches us all today.

Today’s message is a message of faith. In spite of Simeon’s prophetic words and warning, Mary and Joseph returned home to nurture their child as only they could. Life was confusing at times for them, just at it was for my mom and just as it is for us all. Still, Mary and Joseph carried on because God was with them every step of the way. Like them, we carry on as well because God is with us, too.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved